2008, Inspirational Romance (1930s Colorado)
Revell, $14.99, 160 pages, Amazon ASIN 0800718836 Part of a series
The word I would use to describe Kathleen Morgan's Christmas inspirational romance, One Perfect Gift, is "thin." It's a hardcover book, but a most slender volume – only 152 pages of real story; which doesn't leave a whole lot of page space for either romantic plot or Christmas message. What you end up getting is a pretty but canned message for a fairly steep price.
When Jessica Ashmore travels with her daughter out to Colorado in the fall of 1933, it's kind of a Last Chance Ranch scenario for her. Jessica doesn't have any money, and with unemployment rampant, she has few job prospects in her field of nursing. She is afraid of staying out East because her wealthy mother-in-law has been making noises about suing for custody of her granddaughter. This makes it somewhat ironic since Jessica winds up at a ranch when the job she sought falls through and the doctor attempts to make it up to her by arranging for her to take care of his mother who has recently suffered a stroke - in return for room and board. There is only one snag. The doctor's brother, the handsome, enigmatic, angry Sean MacKay doesn't want Jessica there at Culdee Creek Ranch.
Close your eyes and imagine, Dear Reader, where you think this might go. Here in one corner you have a lovely widow with a charming daughter in need of home and family. Alone in the world, but brave and winsome. Driven from her home, possessed of needless guilt due to her feelings of anger at her putz of a dead husband. In the other corner is a brooding, handsome, strong, tortured Son of the Ranch, also alone. Also needlessly guilty. And it's Christmas.
The words really don't even have to be written, do they? But Morgan did write them, at least 152 pages of them, which was just enough to establish Sean's reason for being tormented (guilt over a friend's death in the war and his failed marriage to said friend's sister who never ever forgave him). Morgan also makes sure that readers know that deep down, these two are really good Christian folks, even if they are currently estranged from God. However as soon as they are happy their theological quibbles are swept under the rug.
152 pages is, unfortunately, not enough pages for a convincing plot, some decent characterization, and an altar call. Jessica and Sean don't have any real depth, and the cast of secondary character are there seemingly to reassure the reader that characters from other books in the series really did get their Happily Ever Afters. Except for Emma, Jessica's daughter. She's there because she needs a daddy and because she's cute.
Morgan's view of war and a man's duty during war is also irritatingly simple. Good men go off to war and serve willingly under their leader's guidance. Lazy men of bad character slack off and desert when push comes to shove. They don't have what it takes. There is no discussion of shell-shock or other mental rigors brought on by the horrible conditions under which men killed other men for reasons they knew not, nor any mention of moral reasons for objecting to war or refusing to fight.
Ultimately, I was glad One Perfect Gift was short because it meant less time I had to spend with it. Fans of Morgan's Culdee Creek series may want to seek out a library copy, but everyone else can just skip it without missing much.
-- Rachel Potter
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