Friday Book Whimsy: The Christmas Train

I know, I know. Christmas is over. Even being generous of spirit, it’s about the 24th Day of Christmas and my true love isn’t giving me anything. Wait until next year. Still, I feel the Christmas spirit in my heart, and my heart led me to read one last Christmas novel. My heart along with the library, which finally offered me the book I had on hold all season long. Despite it being mid-January, I couldn’t possibly have enjoyed The Christmas Train, by prolific writer David Baldacci, any more than I did.

Burnt-out journalist Tom Langdon wants to get from his home in Washington, D.C., to his girlfriend in Los Angeles for Christmas. Circumstances prevent him from flying. He decides to take Amtrak instead, and to document his experiences in train travel at Christmas. In the way that Christmas novels go, he runs into an old girlfriend — his one true love who unexpectedly walked out on him years before — on the train. Sparks fly initially, but eventually they are forced to be congenial and work together — both on a professional project and then to save their lives and the lives of all of their fellow train travelers who encounter a fierce snowstorm in southern Colorado. The book has the essential happy ending.

My husband and I have ridden a number of trains in our lives, most of which were in Europe. Still, we have ridden on Amtrak’s California Zephyr on a couple of occasions, and we both loved the experience. While The Christmas Train doesn’t take place on the California Zephyr, it does take place on two of Amtrak’s real trains — the Capitol Limited from D.C. to Chicago, and Southwest Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles. The Southwest Chief takes a route that parallels a driving route I have taken many times, and I have seen the train very often.

Despite the number of books and series Baldacci has written, and despite the fact that I’m an avid mystery reader, I haven’t read a single book by this author. The book, however, was recommended to me by my sister, who knew I liked both Christmas novels and train rides. Imagine my joy to discover a book that met both criteria.

The author provides a wonderful description of train travel, at least train travel back in 2002 when the book was written. He offers a almost-believable cast of characters. And if the are too good to be true, the reader must remember that this is a Christmas novel. The more cheerful it is, the more we like it. Baldacci is a fine story teller.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you have an interest in trains. Or Christmas!

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Shepherds Abiding.

My favorite Christmas book – one I read every year – is Shepherds Shepherds AbidingAbiding, a Mitford novel by Jan Karon.

The theme is familiar – what is really important about Christmas? Our favorite priest, Father Tim, brings about Christmas joy to all of those he meets throughout the season in the delightful town of Mitford. As for himself, he – who always considers himself a man of thought and not a man who works with his hands, takes on the challenge of bringing back to life a terribly neglected and badly damaged Nativity set to give to his wife for Christmas. There is a delightful “Gift of the Magi” twist to the story that I won’t give away. Shepherds Abiding gives dedicated readers a deeper look at some of the Mitford family. It also gives the reader a sense of what Christmas is like in a small town.

I read this novel every Christmas as part of my effort to remember what the holiday season is really all about.

Friday Book Whimsy: A Quilt for Christmas

searchAware that I am prone to superlatives, I will nevertheless tell you that Sandra Dallas is one of my favorite authors. Part of the reason is that she lives in Denver, having graduated from one of my alma maters – the University of Denver. The main reason this is important to me is that many of her books take place in Colorado. I think it’s safe to say that most of her novels take place in the West or the Midwest, often during the 1800s. Think Willa Cather.

A Quilt for Christmas is, plain and simple, a wonderful story. Quilting is a somewhat common theme for Dallas’ novels, and while I’m not a quilter, I love the stories of pioneer women gathering together to collectively create something beautiful, sharing stories as their hands work.

While the book’s main character is Eliza Spooner, the real star of the show is the quilt she makes for her husband Will. The Spooner’s farm is in rural Kansas, and they are successful enough to eke out a satisfactory living as long as weather cooperates and they’re willing to work hard. Will has left to join the Kansas volunteers to fight with the Union in the Civil War. Eliza sends Will the quilt as a Christmas present to keep him warm as he fights in Virginia. Like many volunteers, Will doesn’t make it home, but through a circuitous route, the quilt does.

Eliza, who is a wonderful character – one of my favorite characters of all time – takes in a mother and child who have also lost their loved one in battle. The newly-formed and somewhat odd new “family” personify friendship and love and the real meaning of Christmas.

While the story takes a sad turn as Eliza learns early on about her beloved husband, A Quilt for Christmas is not a sad book. Rather, it is a joyous story, and I was sad when it ended. I learned through a bit of research that Dallas decided to make the characters in this book the grandmothers of the characters in one of her most well-known books, The Persian Pickle Club. I read that book eons ago, and am already prepared to reread it.

I heartily recommend this lovely book. It will leave you feeling good about humanity.

Here is a link to the book.

unnamed