October 2012, Contemporary Romance
Mira, $7.99, 244 pages, Amazon ASIN 0778313948
I haven’t read a book by Heather Graham in ages, and based on this book, I won’t be reading another one soon either. I found this a very different type of Christmas story – not so much the celebration of the birth of Christ, but an allegory about the fight between good and evil. Maybe it is her version of It’s a Wonderful Life. I know that the film is oversentimental in the style of the 1940s but I sure didn’t expect to read a variation of that type of story in 2012.
The MacDougal family is in disarray. While Mike and Stacy are happily settled, their children’s lives are in a state of turmoil. Their oldest son Shayne and his wife Cindy are divorcing. Morwenna, a very successful career woman, works long hours at her advertising agency, leaving her very little time for her first love – drawing. Bobby, the youngest at twenty-one, has changed college three different times in his quest to find himself.
None of the kids are looking forward to spending Christmas at the family cabin retreat in the Blue Hills Mountains. Morwenna could have been in Cancun with her boyfriend Alex. She invited him to spend Christmas with her, but since he put together the office Christmas retreat, he told her he felt obligated to go. This will be Shayne’s first Christmas since separating from his wife. And while he is ecstatic that she let him have their kids, he is bitter over the fact that she is heading to Europe with her new boyfriend. And Bobby just knows he is in for a lecture from his family about how he needs to grow up and stick with something. In fact those are almost the first words out of Morwenna’s mouth.
The family squabbles and undercurrents are put on the back burner with the discovery of an injured man. Shayne immediately goes into doctor mode while his father Mike draws from his experience as a D.A. in the attorney general office. Mike has learned to be skeptical of men so even after the man gives his name, Gabe Lange, and asserts that he is with the Virginia State police, Mike still fears for the safety of his family. Still, Gabe seems to be so perceptive and astute about their struggles and fears. In fact Bobby finds it easy to share his dreams and career aspirations. Morwenna is astonished to discover that he is encouraging her not to settle – in love or her choice of career. Shayne, the bullheaded one who is always eerily right, seems to listen to what Gabe has to say. Still, Mike feels that his cynicism served him well when Luke DeFeo shows up in uniform claiming that he is police officer and Gabe is a fugitive.
As the family struggles with the doubts over who is telling the truth, they find themselves looking at their lives in a whole new light. But one of these men brings danger to the family and soon they will have to dig deep within themselves.
Before the mawkish theme came out, I was brought out of the story by what I perceived as plot consistencies. Leo attempts to kill Gabe with a blow to the head. He then steals his clothes. Rather than let him freeze to death, he puts his own clothes back on him. After I read that I thought, okay, maybe he doesn’t want him to die. But further in the book, Leo expresses surprise that he hadn’t killed Gabe.
The story incorporates a bit of mysticism but in the beginning it is very unclear exactly what is going on. I suspect whether you like the book or not will depend on your personal preference. I found it slightly silly. Although I can’t go into too much detail, around every corner there seems to be danger, with its improbable solution. Maybe it would have made more sense if Ms. Graham was clearer on the true nature of the men. As it was, it left me scratching my head in bewilderment.
The romance is very subtle as not to take away from the spiritual message. And that is one thing that is right about the book - family and love are very important in our lives. And yes, many of us do need to stop and count our blessings.
Still, I thought the whole theme was overdone. In fact I feel like I was the one who was hit over the head instead of Gabe. While I hate to be all humbug, this book definitely didn’t put me in the Christmas spirit.
-- Leigh Davis
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