Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Christmas Singing - Cindy Woodsmall


Believing that her boyfriend Gideon Beiler had betrayed her, Mattie Eash had fled from Pennsylvania to Ohio one Christmas. Now settled into her new life with her Ohio relatives, she has opened a cake shop and has a successful career as a cake-decorator, and a lukewarm relationship with reliable Sol Bender. But when a catastrophe drives her back to her home community in Pennsylvania, she finds herself face to face with Gideon again. As she prepares cakes for two of her friends’ upcoming weddings, she’s forced to spend time with her old boyfriend, who is building the home that one of the couples will move into once they’re married. Their encounters make Gideon wonder why he gave Mattie up all those years ago, and whether now would be the good time to tell her the truth about why he broke up with her. Will Mattie be content to reconcile with Gideon, or have past hurts hardened her heart too much to allow her to forgive him?

This is your typical Christmas novel. The storyline has been done many times before, which makes it comfortable and reliable for the reader, but Cindy Woodsmall inserts a few changes here and there to make the story fresh and original. This has to be the first time that I've read a novel in which an Amish character makes and decorates cakes for a living, and I was equally surprised to read about another character that frequently went on hunting trips. I found it particularly refreshing to read about Mattie making a living for herself as a single woman. Most Amish novels don't go into much detail about the lives of the women who have to support themselves because they don’t marry young and don’t wish to stay at home and be a burden to their parents. Often crafts are shown to be hobbies that Amish women indulge in when they’ve finished with the day-to-day tasks of cooking, cleaning and raising a family, but there are many Amish women who do make their living from crafts such as quilting, sewing and in Mattie’s case, baking and decorating cakes. So it was encouraging to see Cindy revealing this often forgotten aspect of the lives of Amish women, and single women in particular.

I’m not going to deny that the story of a couple who have been separated for years being brought back together by a great catastrophe isn’t somewhat predictable and sometimes over-done. I’m not a massive fan of storylines that are created out of a lack of communication between a couple, but this is partly because I’m fortunate to be a relationship in which there is a lot of communication between both partners. The reason why communication-driven plots are so popular in the romance genre is that it is one of the simplest and most common causes of problems between couples. Mattie and Gideon’s story also contained another plot point that I’ve witnessed a few times recently in romantic fiction; that of one person discovering that they have some sort of medical problem and breaking up with their significant-other in an attempt to protect them from suffering alongside them in their illness. While I struggled to relate to Gideon and Mattie’s relationship problems in this story, I’m certain that the issues of keeping secrets and failing to communicate over misunderstandings will strike a chord with many other readers. If anything, I hope that someone will read this book and come out of it with the revelation and understanding that secrets should never be kept between two people who love each other, and that no matter how difficult it is, communication is key in order for a relationship to survive.

In all honesty, I wish this novella could have been longer. In discussing this book with my book group a lot of us felt that the shortness of the book limited the amount of time that Mattie and Gideon spent together on the page, and we really wished that we could have read about the day that they spent in each other’s company towards the end of the book. But this is the general issue with novellas – they’re short and sweet, but sometimes it just feels like there’s something missing. One thing’s for sure with The Christmas Singing, and that’s that I’ll be looking out for more of Cindy’s novels now that I know what her writing is like. A novella isn’t always the best example of an author’s work, but it’s often a good indication of whether you’ll like their books.

So if you’ve never read any of Cindy Woodsmall’s novels before, The Christmas Singing may be a good place to start. It does contain a well-used storyline, but the characters refresh it and make it into something new and original. This is the perfect book to get you in the Christmas mood, especially if you enjoy romantic tales of reconciliation.

Review title provided courtesy of Waterbrook.

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