I have heard the author’s name several times through Project Linus, so I decided to try her out through the Christmas Reading Challenge.
On an old estate in rural Pennsylvania, two ladies have built a quilters’ retreat. I understood it to be something like summer camp, so of course it is empty at Christmas. The elder partner Sylvia, the owner of the estate, is a bit of a humbug this year. The junior partner, Sarah, doesn’t want to go home, so she pulls all of the old holiday stuff out of the attic. Much of the story is told in Sylvia’s flashbacks to the holidays of her youth, and later, to the days before she left her home.
There is a lovely theme about how traditions are made and passed down through the years. It also points out that some traditions are accidents. Or even spiteful.
My absolute favorite part is when Sylvia is about eight years old. Her mother, long ill, probably doesn’t have much time left, but insists on carrying on the family tradition of making apple strudel for every friend, partner and neighbor for the holiday. She doesn’t know much about The Great Depression. Doesn’t know that while their family will make out ok, they don’t have much to spare and the flour and sugar that she sees is just about all there is. She finds out as she is delivering the strudel to the neighbors.
After expressing her displeasure over the comforting lies she has been told, she insists that it is all the more reason for their family to do more for their neighbors. So as worn out and ill as she is already, she spends her Christmas Eve sorting through all of the clothes and shoes in her closet to give away. Downstairs in the kitchen, the men are all grumbly about what she has given away. Pouting because there is no sugar left for their Christmas cookies. Sylvia’s aunt replies simply that she has some eggs she can trade. Nice.
Other parts of the story have a heavier hand that starts to weigh down the narrative. “Relationships must be mended”, I get it. But this story does what I think the great ones do with a holiday-theme in a series: create a narrative that introduces the newbies to the people and places while offering a Christmas lens to the true fans – giving them a piece of their favorite characters that they have never seen before. Well done.