Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review - - The Christmas Room

The Christmas Room
By Catherine Anderson
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Reviewed by Janga

Cam McClendon fulfills a dream when he buys land in Mystic Creek, Montana, and moves there with his teenage son, Caleb, and his widowed mother, Maddie, a famous mystery writer. Shortly afterwards, he meets Kirsten Conacher, daughter of a local rancher, and is instantly smitten. Kirsten is as interested in Cam as he is in her, but her father has proved that there is bite to his bark by ruining the reputation and careers of other men who pursued his daughter. Having lost his wife to ovarian cancer, Sam Conacher is determined that he will not lose his daughter. With only himself and his Mexican foreman to depend on, he needs her help running the vast ranch that will one day be hers. And he needs her emotionally, especially since the bitterness and hot temper that consumed him after his wife’s death have alienated his friends and neighbors and the men who once worked for him. Kirsten resents her father for treating her as if she were sixteen rather than a decade older, but because she loves him and remembers the man he used to be, she tolerates his behavior. Reluctant to quarrel with her father and aware of Cam’s vulnerability to Sam’s brand of retaliation, she persuades Cam that they should meet secretly.

Cam, an upfront type, is unhappy with the clandestine nature of their relationship, and when it becomes clear that what is between him and Kirsty is more than physical attraction, he introduces her to his family and insists upon confronting her father. Cam and Kirsty are unaware that his son and her father have both, separately, seen them together. Caleb’s response is benevolent, but Sam’s is not. Brooding over the “white trash” stranger who has dared touch his daughter increases his rage and ensures that the meeting between him and Cam is a violent one. Cam, who refuses to retaliate against Sam’s attack, is battered but undeterred from his courtship. Kirsten, furious with her father, finally stands up to him, threatening to leave if he continues to interfere in her life. Maddie McClendon has no hesitation in standing up to Sam either, and their verbal battles are intense.

When Cam saves Kirsten from being crushed by a bull and is seriously injured himself, Sam changes his opinion. Even more radical is his change toward Maddie. He goes from burning her books to longing for her touch. But a secret Maddie has kept places their romance in jeopardy. It will take the spirit of the Christmas season to change a stubborn heart and bring happily-ever-afters all around.

The family dynamics are interesting. I’ve seen enough of controlling parents to find the relationship between Kirsten and her father believable, and the three-generation McClendon family, all devoted to one another, is endearing. But Sam’s redemption is so quick that it left this reader’s head spinning. I found Cam, a single father who assumed responsibility for his son when he was still a teenager, an interesting character, but Kirsten’s character was too thinly developed for me to see her as a satisfactory heroine. Caleb is a sweet boy but too close to perfect. Perhaps after more than three decades of teaching young people in their teens and early twenties and with seven teens in the family (thirteen to eighteen this year), I am too aware that the best of them have faults to believe in this one. Anderson devotes as much attention to the romance between the older couple as she does to Cam and Kirsten’s relationship. Sam and Maddie’s relationship also had more depth and more compelling conflict.

The best part of this book is that it succeeds in capturing the meaning of the holiday. The scene from which the book takes its title has a genuine sweetness, and it effectively demonstrates that the best gifts cost more than dollars can measure. The gift becomes even more effective as the celebration in the Christmas room widens to encompass the community and give peace on earth, good will to all a welcome immediacy.

I have several Anderson titles on my keeper shelves. At her best, she is excellent. However, this is not her best work. I did enjoy Sam and Maddie’s romance. I would have enjoyed it more if either Sam or Cam had been given a different name. That monosyllabic rhyme made me laugh at inappropriate moments.  I do give the novel extra points for its Christmassy feel. If you are addicted to Christmas romances or are looking for romances that feature love after fifty, you may find that the strengths of The Christmas Room outweigh its flaws.