Stuffed to the seams with wholesome holiday cheer, Manchester Christmas is an adorable Christian romance set in a snow globe-worthy small town in Vermont.
At the beginning of the fall, Chase, a cute-as-a-button writer, drives her convertible from Seattle to Manchester with her adorable dog, hoping to fulfill her deep yearning for pastoral life. Within moments of arriving, Chase is embroiled in a love triangle with two of the town’s most eligible bachelors: Owen, a widowed real estate agent and single parent to a boy on the autistic spectrum, and Gavin, a hunky farmer with a master’s degree. Their tight-knit community doesn’t believe in privacy, and soon, Chase’s love life is the talk of the town. Then she rents a rehabbed church and discovers that its rare Tiffany glass windows have the ability to communicate with her. As she grows to trust the windows’ messages, Chase enters a new relationship with a God, who has her best interests at heart.
For all of its crisp maple leaves, perfect waffles, aww-shucks dialogue, and shabby chic descriptions, Manchester Christmas also takes on serious questions about what “home” means to Chase. She’s depicted as independent, sassy, and in search of a sense of belonging; one of the novel’s most satisfying turns is in her budding bond to the god she sees in the church windows.
This is an apple-pie-sweet Christian romance, complete with tender kisses, fireflies, and just the right amount of conflict, as well as a distinctive cast of supporting characters who nudge Chase along as she figures out what she wants, and who she’s living for. Manchester Christmas is a seasonal fantasy that doesn’t worry too much about reality as its characters find new ways and reasons to rub noses in the snow.
CLAIRE FOSTER (December 18, 2020)
Cabin 135 is Katie Eberhart’s contemplative account of several decades in Alaska, through which she both reflects on the past and on environmental changes that could impact the future.
Eberhart moved to Alaska with her husband in the late 1970s. After brief stints in an apartment and a flooding, flat-roofed house, they moved into a log cabin that was built in 1935 as part of a New Deal project. As they engaged in home renovations, they came to feel linked to the people who had lived there before them. History pervaded the dwelling, while weather extremes and natural disasters, including the Mount St. Helens eruption, reminded them of human vulnerability to the elements.
The book collects short vignettes under recurring headings, including “Earth,” “Migration,” and “Water.” The structure is thematic rather than chronological: “I string together recollections according to connections I discern,” Eberhart writes. Gardening, camping, and preparing a dwelling for the winter are presented as seasonal activities that come in cycles. Eberhart also gives space to considering the past generations of her family.
Through travel interludes to the Arctic, Iceland, and Switzerland, the book crosses “terrain as well as time.” Volunteering at an archaeological site, Eberhart connects to previous centuries, while on a smaller scale, she remembers her parents’ orchard, and notes that apple trees always elicit nostalgia for her adolescence. Loving descriptions of nature and cooking projects result in a tranquil atmosphere that is furthered by the book’s lyrical style and inventive vocabulary, as when Eberhart remarks, while gardening, “I’m empress and laborer, nanny and tutor.”
Moving to Alaska gave Katie Eberhart a longed-for sense of rootedness, and Cabin 135 is her meditative memoir that covers her experiences there.
REBECCA FOSTER (October 27, 2020)
The Life of Mary Church Terrell
Alison M. Parker’s salient academic biography of undersung civil rights and women’s rights activist Mary Eliza Church Terrell analyzes excerpts from Terrell’s diary, letters, and autobiography to depict how personal and public events shaped her.
Terrell, a writer, community leader, and the first president of the National Association of Colored Women, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1863. Historical context about race and gender discrimination contributes to the book’s dense portrait of Terrell’s fraught ancestry: her parents had enslaved mothers and white, slaveholder fathers, and Terrell witnessed her family’s troubled resilience throughout Reconstruction.
Terrell was one of a few Black women of her time to graduate from Oberlin, and she married Robert Terrell, who encouraged her advocacy. Throughout, she is revealed as a formidable intellectual whose career was fueled by stalwart, strategic commitments, rather than heroic crusading. Both her work and her pain is recorded, as are her hopeful ambitions, frustrations, and passions. Her impact, however, is often submerged in the imposing details of organizational politics.
Sections regarding the Terrells’ efforts to uphold their status as part of Washington D.C.‘s Black elite illuminate the pressures involved in working toward racial uplift. Terrell is rendered as an overprotective mother, helping to frame her ambitions and concerns about representing herself well across color lines. The book covers her years on the anti-lynching lecture circuit, her differences of opinion with Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, and how she helped to found the NAACP. She is seen campaigning for the Republican party and working as an elder during the era of the New Deal. Terrell’s unique position as a public figure who spanned decades of the Black freedom movement is clear.
Unceasing Militant is an admiring yet fair tribute to activist Mary Church Terrell, whose sustained, determined belief is inspiring.
KAREN RIGBY (October 27, 2020)
War and politics rip a family apart in Marco Balzano’s historical novel I’m Staying Here.
When Mussolini tries to Italianize their German-speaking town in Northern Italy, many of Trina’s neighbors hope that Hitler will invade and save them. Trina and her husband Erich, an ardent anti-fascist, are less certain. But when war does come, it causes more damage and heartache than even they could have imagined. As outside events chip away Trina’s family piece by piece, she finds that all she has left to cling to is the future.
Trina narrates her life story as if she’s talking to her daughter, who went missing before the war. Trina’s story is intertwined with the story of Curon, the small farming village where she grew up and dreamed of a bright, happy life. Her aspirations die a slow death, strangled by the rise and fall of dictators and by her own neighbors’ apathy towards politics. Only Erich sees the writing on the wall; only his morals and his horrific experiences as a conscripted soldier allow him to peer into the future at the unfolding tragedies.
As the war rages and then ends, Trina hopes her family can live quietly, even if they cannot reconcile. But there are dangers closer to home. The threat of a dam that will flood Curon has loomed over them for so long that the locals become complacent. They are convinced it will never be built and that they have no responsibility to protect their own homes. Curon’s fate reflects the fate of fascism: good people can stop it, but most good people would rather bury their heads in the sand until it is too late.
I’m Staying Here is a heartbreaking historical novel about the effects of extraordinary events on ordinary people.
EILEEN GONZALEZ (October 27, 2020)
In Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and Peggy Ehrhart’s cozy novella collection Christmas Card Murder, strong women follow holiday clues to solve crimes in their communities.
Nothing spices up the holidays like getting the gal pals together to solve a small-town murder. These three novellas are driven by capable, determined women who juggle a variety of important roles in their neighborhoods. They are all aided by their journalism skills and tight-knit friend groups, which combine for engaging narratives around their mystery-solving processes.
Each crime is linked to a Christmas card, and the holiday atmosphere is portrayed in descriptions of decorations, cozy fires, and familiar traditions. Feminist undertones are present in the first story, “Christmas Card Murder,” about expectations related to women’s behavior over generations; in side-by-side plot lines, systematic justice is questioned. Because of its details and activity, the story is both full and deep.
In “Death of a Christmas Carol,” love and fidelity are put to the test as three empathetic women confess their relationship fears to each other following a scandalous claim. The story’s suspense is driven by the women’s anxieties and unexpected revelations, and followed up with a clear-cut resolution. Interludes in the form of local news articles are included, their cutesy background stories enhancing the story alongside usable recipes for festive drinks and snacks.
Mother and daughter dynamics are highlighted during “Death of a Christmas Card Crafter” alongside observations on friendship and scorned love. A few twists result in a surprise ending, though some characters are forgotten along the way. The story centers on crafting a group, Knit and Nibble, that can be replicated thanks to the story’s included instructions for a doll sweater and chocolate cake, both inspired by its events.
Christmas Card Murder is an entertaining cozy mystery Christmas collection ruled by multifaceted, empowered women.
DELIA STANLEY (October 27, 2020)