THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE
by Jennifer Chiaverini
Release Date: October 1, 2019
Reviewed by Hellie
Just weeks before Christmas, severe wintry weather damages the church hall hosting the Christmas Boutique—an annual sale of handcrafted gifts and baked goods that supports the county food pantry. Determined to save the fundraiser, Sylvia Bergstrom Compson offers to hold the event at Elm Creek Manor, her ancestral family estate and summertime home to Elm Creek Quilt Camp.
In the spirit of the season, Sylvia and the Elm Creek Quilters begin setting up market booths in the ballroom and decking the halls with beautiful hand-made holiday quilts. Each of the quilters chooses a favorite quilt to display, a special creation evoking memories of holidays past and dreams of Christmases yet to come. Sarah, a first-time mother expecting twins, worries if she can handle raising two babies, especially with her husband so often away on business. Cheerful, white-haired Agnes reflects upon a beautiful appliqué quilt she made as a young bride and the mysterious, long-lost antique quilt that inspired it. Empty nesters and occasional rivals Gwen and Diane contemplate family heirlooms and unfinished projects as they look forward to having their children home again for the holidays.
But while the Elm Creek Quilters work tirelessly to make sure the Christmas Boutique happens, it may take a holiday miracle or two to make it the smashing success they want it to be.
This was a very perfect kind of Christmas gift--and one I saw was intended for the avid fans of the Elm Creek Quilts novels. It was a cozy, sweet with moments of bittersweet, and small town drama-filled story revolving around the dilemma of where to hold the much loved and needed fundraiser after a disaster strikes the church hall where it is typically held. Each chapter is told from the point of view from an Elm Creek citizen, and ones I believe who’ve had their own stories told in previous Elm Creek novels. While technically the book can be read alone, I believe my enjoyment of it would have been more if I had read the other books in the series. I would have had a familiar understanding of the author’s writing style as well as an investment in the characters.
While I was a new reader of the setting and author, I was able to follow easily with the storyline and the common dramas and issues at play, and the author’s writing style was such that she shared enough details from past stories (alluding to the other books, I believe) to catch up a new reader while reliving beloved moments for fans. The descriptions of the quilts made and/or being made are gorgeous, elaborate, and make even the most novice crafter long to be taught by this fun-loving group of ladies. The conflicts and reactions of characters--those beloved and those that were a struggle to like--felt authentic and well-rounded. It’s not unlike sitting with your family at Christmas. There’s a good chance not all your relatives are all ones you welcomed into the house with an authentic Merry Christmas, but in the end, you find you enjoyed yourself despite your family being a little crazy. You might even come away understanding their (wrong) point of view a little better. It is the season of miracles.
One of the very clever things I think the author did was introduce us very quickly to a character who I imagine was not likeable in other books. However, because I met her first--I rather bonded with her first and her issues and felt she was justified for her behavior. I did realize she was a bit Type A and really needed to realize she was creating this havoc--which she didn’t until it was too late and even then had issues accepting it--but I still felt like I could identify with her fears and issues more so than the other character who had been in other books, who had been picked on by my character, and who I felt was trying to be obnoxious on purpose. Eventually we even get that character’s POV and even then she’s unapologetically herself (read: obnoxious) but still with a certain charm. All this to say: these characters felt real and authentic.
For fans of the author and series, I can see this being a five star read, but for newcomers like me, the writing may feel slow and/or lots of infodumping. I believe the slow style and narrative writing is simply how this author creates stories while I am a reader who prefers more fast-pace scenes with lots of snappy, sassy dialogue. It’s not that kind of book; and I don’t think it’s that kind of series. But for what it is, it is very good--and I believe a welcome addition to your Christmas reading, if you’re in the mood for a cozy, small-town story.