Wednesday, November 17, 2010

‘Christmas at Harrington’s’ by Melody Carlson – Book Review

Buzz this

The Christmas season is drawing near. My latest read is a redemptive story entitled ‘Christmas at Harrington’s’ by the talented author, Melody Carlson.

Here is the synopsis of this delightful book:

Sometimes the best gift is a second chance. Christmas is approaching, and Lena Markham finds herself penniless, friendless, and nearly hopeless. She is trying to restart her life, but job opportunities are practically nonexistent. When a secondhand red coat unexpectedly lands her a job as Mrs. Santa at a department store, Lena finally thinks her luck is changing. But can she keep her past a secret?
Reading Christmas at Harrington’s, a story full of redemption and true holiday spirit, will be your newest Christmas tradition.

Here is the biography of this author:

Melody Carlson is the prolific author of more than two hundred books, including fiction, nonfiction, and gift books for adults, young adults, and children. She is also the author of The Christmas Bus, An Irish Christmas and The Christmas Dog. Her writing has won several awards including a Gold Medallion for King of the Stable (Crossway, 1998) and a Romance Writers of America Rita Award for Homeward (Multnomah, 1997) and recently was nominated for a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the inspirational market. She lives with her husband in Sisters, Oregon.

Lena finds herself relocating after her release from prison. She made a wonderful acquaintance on the bus ride there:

Lena was ashamed of herself as she slowly unwrapped the sandwich. To think that she’d almost shooed Moira away. Here this kind woman was generous enough to share food – really good food too. In fact, if Lena hadn’t already given up on old ideas of faith and God’s goodness, she might’ve even wondered if Moira could possibly be an angel in disguise. As it was, she didn’t think it likely. (p. 14)

Moira had a tender heart toward Lena, and she knew life had dealt her a bad hand:

“My husband was in the ministry, but he wasn’t exactly an ordained minister. Of course, I didn’t know when I married him. It came out later.” Too much later, she almost added.
“Was he a wolf in sheep’s clothing?”
Lena couldn’t help but smile at this. “Yes, that’s a fairly accurate description of the man.”
Moira tsk-tsked. “I’m so sorry for your sake, Lena. I can tell that you’re a lovely person and it must’ve been quite an ordeal that you’ve been through.”
“Really?” Lena asked. “You can tell that just by looking at me?”
Moira nodded. “Oh yes, it’s in your eyes, dear. I knew as soon as I saw you that you were a woman who’d been hurt deeply.” (p. 20)

Despite the troubles she’d endured, she felt hopeful about the future:

If she had a bit more faith or some kind of assurance that God still cared about her – and she felt bad that she didn’t – she would’ve prayed before going to sleep. As it was, she was encouraged that she was slightly hopeful about her future. That in itself was just short of miraculous. (p. 85)

As things progressed, her analytical mind assessed the different way people interpreted life, and she decided which side she wanted to be on:

Then a quiet calm came over her. Or…what if – as some people seemed to believe – God was kind and forgiving and generous and loving? And heaven was real and eternity mattered? And what if she missed out on all that goodness and wonder because she’d never really grasped it? Kind of like a human oversight…or being off by one number in a long equation and getting the whole thing wrong as a result. What if?
Still shivering, she sat up and pondered this theory, this what if? Being a mathematical sort of a person, she decided to tally things up. On one side of her brain she listed the people in her life who had hurt and discouraged her – her parents, her husband, her childhood church, the legal system, prison… Right alongside them she listed what they represented – things like anger, unforgiveness, judgment, punishment, hatred, strife.
On the other side of her brain she listed the people in her life who had helped and encouraged her – her grandmother, a few teachers, Mrs. Stansfield, Moira, Sally, Jemima, Cassidy, Beth…And alongside them she listed the things they represented – kindness, generosity, hope, forgiveness, love.
Suddenly, it seemed crystal clear. Why should she embrace the belief system of people who had given her only pain and grief? Why should she accept their flawed image of an angry, judgmental, and punitive God? A God she wanted nothing to do with. A God who would grind her out beneath the heel of his boot. What reason did she have to believe people like that – to blindly accept their God?
But the ones who’d befriended her, trusted her, loved her, and encouraged her…of course she could trust them. She’d be a fool not to. And likewise she should trust their hopeful image of a kind, loving, and gracious God. It simply added up. It made sense to her. (pp. 122-123)

She decided she could trust a loving Father like that; who couldn’t?!

She became more and more bold in her testimony. Here is an exchange between her – as Mrs. Santa – and a reporter after she read a story about the real meaning of Christmas in a public library:

“You see,” she told the reporter, “children are capable of understanding that Christmas is more than just Santa and gifts. Right, kids?” They responded positively. “And too many people treat children as if they have half a brain, but we know they have a whole brain. Right, kids?” Even more positive responses came from this. “And children like to know the truth.”
“But coming in here as Mrs. Santa and then telling a Jesus story?” the reporter persisted.
“Check your history books,” she told him. “Santa Claus and Jesus have enjoyed a good long relationship for centuries. Even the origins of Santa Claus, Father Christmas, and Saint Nicholas are linked to Christ and the church.” (p. 147)

As Mrs. Santa, she spoke on behalf of Santa:

“But Santa wants us to honor the one whose birthday we’re celebrating by admitting when we do something wrong. He wants us to say we’re sorry if we hurt someone. He wants us to forgive anyone who has hurt us. And if we remember to do that, we can all have a very merry Christmas!”
Someone in the back shouted, “Amen, Mrs. Santa!”
“And that’s what I wish for you all,” she said with a smile. “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good life!”
This is the first book by Melody Carlson that I have read. I really loved it! There were so many great life lessons in it; here are just a few:
     1.  Our past does not have to define our present or our future.
2.  We need to be careful not to judge a person based on his past.
3.   We need to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
4.   Jesus is alive and well and working through His people.

I highly recommend that you add it to your Christmas library, so you can read it year in and year out.

You can order this book here.

Available November 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This book was provided by Revell for review purposes.

2 comments: said...

Wow! What a fantastic review! I posted a link to it on my own site for my own readers to see.

I thought Christmas at Harrington’s was a charming little read. Melody Carlson is a truly heart-warming author.

You can see my thoughts on this book here:


Andrea Schultz said...

Thanks for the kind words & the link at your blog. I will check yours out as well.

Blessings & Merry Christmas -


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