Number eight in Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilt series delivers predictable yuletide cheer and saccharine sentiments.
Awkwardly inserted into the series’ time frame, this slim holiday offering takes place a year and a half after The Quilter’s Apprentice (1999) began with widowed Sylvia Bergstrom Compson’s reluctant return to the family home she abandoned a half-century earlier, in the middle of her successful partnership with Sarah McClure in a quilting school, but before Sylvia’s marriage to dapper old Andrew in The Master Quilter (2004). It’s Sylvia’s first Christmas at Elm Creek Manor in 50 years. Sarah and husband Matt, who tends the property’s orchards, are staying with her rather than visiting Sarah’s estranged mother. Nursing her own regrets about family quarrels, Sylvia urges Sarah to reconcile with her mother, but she refuses and heads off to the attic. Long-stowed decorations and an unfinished Christmas quilt bring back Sylvia’s suppressed memories of perfect Bergstrom Christmases past. Flashbacks move from scenes of her girlhood to the final, tragic Christmas she spent at the manor as a young woman. She learns from her dying mother how to make the famous Bergstrom apple strudel, discovers what true charity is during the Great Depression, competes fiercely with older sister Claudia, pieces together the Christmas quilt, chops down a Christmas tree with new husband James and waits for James and her brother Richard to return from WWII. (Those who have read the earlier novels know that they never do.) Intended to evoke the charms of Simpler Times, the novel is a sappy concoction of conventional wisdom and lessons learned. Previous Elm Creek Quilt installments offered solid, diverse characters and plots relevant to contemporary readers; this slapdash effort seems more a holiday project conceived for fans than a story needing to be told.
Diehard admirers will probably love the homespun stickiness and background secrets revealed; others should pass.