A miraculous Christmas tree farm brings a couple together in Passey’s (Mothering through the Whirlwind, 2015) novel.
Young, single mother Angela Donovan takes her 8-year-old daughter, Caroline, to Shafer Tree Farm in small-town Massachusetts, trying to take her own mind off the decidedly un-festive state of their lives. She’s strapped for rent money and $1,000 in debt, but wants to ignore all that so Caroline can have some kind of traditional Christmas. At the farm, she meets Mark Shafer, a handsome young man who’s set to become its new owner; when she notices him, her first thought is “Attractive. Not what I need right now.” Meanwhile, the farm’s current owner—Mark’s grandfather, “Papa” Shafer—promises little Caroline that if they “put up one of these Shafer trees and believe,” then she’ll have “a Christmas miracle.” Mark is immediately attracted to Angela, but he has his own problems; he’s been offered a very lucrative deal to sell the tree farm to corporate interests, but Papa is sure the deal would make wood chips out of the trees “faster than that little BMW of yours can get you to Boston.” Passey fairly briskly sets up a standard inspirational-romance plot, with a conflicted couple that may end up being each other’s salvation and a wise old man assuring everybody that there’s more to life than what we can see. However, the author saves the material from being completely derivative through the dialogue and chemistry of her two main characters. Mark, for example, has all the outward trappings of a simplistic jerk, but never actually is one, and Angela’s emotional shifts are conveyed crisply and believably. Passey successfully complicates the path of true love with plot turns that feel organic, not manipulative or contrived. Some secondary characters feel a bit simplified, such as Mark’s girlfriend, Natalie (“I love you,” he says, and one of her replies is “I guess you do”). But the novel’s climax delivers warm, sentimental memories of Christmases past.
A feel-good holiday romance.