Christmas in Vermont


A jolly portrait of the perfect New England Christmas.
In this latest offering from novelist Mooney (A Box of Chocolates, 2014, etc.), miracle upon Christmas miracle visits the small town of Woodstock, Vermont. Jack Reynolds, a native son returning home for the season, is an Iraq War veteran mourning his MIA brother and struggling with his needy, big-city girlfriend. Hope Caldwell, meanwhile, is a schoolteacher with a new job in Woodstock, where she has come to sort out the broken pieces of her past. Soon, the two team up to spread Christmas magic throughout the town, beginning by delivering a batch of misplaced Christmas cards from the year before. Serendipitous coincidences and holiday clichés abound: Every card happens to hold monumentally good news for its recipient, and between them, Jack and Hope carry out just about every good deed imaginable, from preventing a suicide to rescuing a doomed puppy. The story is so thoroughly saccharine that a happy ending seems predestined from the start, and any attempts at narrative conflict—the trouble caused by Jack’s insufferable girlfriend, for example—feel too manufactured to generate much suspense. Similarly, the writing often strays into triteness, especially in the voices of down-home characters. In one instance, Jack smiles and thinks to himself: “That’s the way it is in Vermont, neighbors helping neighbors.” The novel is staunchly nostalgic throughout, painting a simplistic picture of a storybook town where nothing ever changes and all wrongs are righted by the wonders of a traditional New England Christmas. Mooney succeeds, however, in conjuring a vivid sense of a town at its most joyful, and his captivating descriptions of Woodstock and its celebrations are a notable strength. Additionally, the realistic, nuanced depictions of veterans and their struggles provide the story with some much-needed gravity. While lacking in overall narrative depth and character development, the book remains a charming glimpse into an idyllic winter wonderland, which will likely please readers looking for a feel-good holiday escape.

Pretty as freshly fallen snow, and just as fluffy.

Pub Date: May 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-1494808839

Page Count: 204

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2014

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.


Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A highly readable account of how solid research and personal testing of self-help techniques saved a couple's marriage after...


Self-help advice and personal reflections on avoiding spousal fights while raising children.

Before her daughter was born, bestselling author Dunn (Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?: And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask, 2009, etc.) enjoyed steady work and a happy marriage. However, once she became a mother, there never seemed to be enough time, sleep, and especially help from her husband. Little irritations became monumental obstacles between them, which led to major battles. Consequently, they turned to expensive couples' therapy to help them regain some peace in life. In a combination of memoir and advice that can be found in most couples' therapy self-help books, Dunn provides an inside look at her own vexing issues and the solutions she and her husband used to prevent them from appearing in divorce court. They struggled with age-old battles fought between men and women—e.g., frequency of sex, who does more housework, who should get up with the child in the middle of the night, why women need to have a clean house, why men need more alone time, and many more. What Dunn learned via therapy, talks with other parents, and research was that there is no perfect solution to the many dynamics that surface once couples become parents. But by using time-tested techniques, she and her husband learned to listen, show empathy, and adjust so that their former status as a happy couple could safely and peacefully morph into a happy family. Readers familiar with Dunn's honest and humorous writing will appreciate the behind-the-scenes look at her own semi-messy family life, and those who need guidance through the rough spots can glean advice while being entertained—all without spending lots of money on couples’ therapy.

A highly readable account of how solid research and personal testing of self-help techniques saved a couple's marriage after the birth of their child.

Pub Date: March 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-26710-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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