Thursday, December 3, 2020

Review: Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini

Christmas Bells
by Jennifer Chiaverini

Publisher: Dutton
Pages: 336
Format: book
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads:  I heard the bells on Christmas Day / Their old familiar carols play / And wild and sweet / The words repeat / Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
In 1860, the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow family celebrated Christmas at Craigie House, their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The publication of Longfellow’s classic Revolutionary War poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” was less than a month hence, and the country’s grave political unrest weighed heavily on his mind. Yet with his beloved wife, Fanny, and their five adored children at his side, the delights of the season prevailed.

In present-day Boston, a dedicated teacher in the Watertown public school system is stunned by somber holiday tidings. Sophia’s music program has been sacrificed to budget cuts, and she worries not only about her impending unemployment but also about the consequences to her underprivileged students. At the church where she volunteers as music director, Sophia tries to forget her cares as she leads the children’s choir in rehearsal for a Christmas Eve concert. Inspired to honor a local artist, Sophia has chosen a carol set to a poem by Longfellow, moved by the glorious words he penned one Christmas Day long ago, even as he suffered great loss.

Christmas Bells chronicles the events of 1863, when the peace and contentment of Longfellow’s family circle was suddenly, tragically broken, cutting even deeper than the privations of wartime. Through the pain of profound loss and hardship, Longfellow’s patriotism never failed, nor did the power of his language. “Christmas Bells,” the poem he wrote that holiday, lives on, spoken as verse and sung as a hymn. 

Kritters Thoughts:  Two storylines contained in this sweet book.  One storyline goes back to 1860 and follows Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as you see his life that inspired his "Christmas Bells" poem that has outlived him.  The other storyline follows multiple people as they are preparing for a children's Christmas performance at a Catholic church and each chapter focuses on a character involved in one way or another with the performance and what they are dealing with during the holiday season.

I absolutely adored this book.  I did tend to enjoy the present storylines as it jumped from character to character more than the historical, but I appreciated the historical to give me some knowledge behind the poem and the author and his family.  I had never read anything about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and didn't know of the tragedy that befell him and his family, so to read his story and get context on how his art was created was interesting.  

Kids and adults each get the chance to share their stories during the present storylines.  There were moments where the past and the present mirrored with war going on in each storyline and the toll that it can take on the entire family.  I appreciated that the author was able to weave these stories in and out and they fit well together.  

I would recommend this read especially during the holiday season and even suggest it to a reader who doesn't tend to read historical fiction - with it mingled within a great story, it was a nice balance.  

Rating: absolutely loved it and want a sequel

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