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. Jennifer Chiaverini’s resonant and heartfelt novel for the season reminds us why we must continue to hear glad tidings, even as we are tested by strife. Reading Christmas Bells evokes the resplendent joy of a chorus of voices raised in reverent song.
Bubby: It’s no secret that Jennifer Chiaverini is one of our favorite authors. She has the gift of creating characters that really come alive and as a result, you care about them and the outcome of their story. In Christmas Bells, she juxtaposes eight modern-day characters with the story of how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow came to write the iconic poem “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day”. I loved the way everything meshed together and the historical aspect was so very interesting. My heart broke right along with Longfellow when his wife died and my heart rejoiced when…well, when the good things happened that I can’t reveal.
Sissy: Spoiler Alert! There are no quilts in this novel. No quilt making, no quilting circles, no quilting patterns, no quilting classes. Those familiar with Jennifer Chiaverini know that quilts usually have a strong presence in her books, even the historical ones. But not in Christmas Bells. After I got over the lack of quilts I quite enjoyed this departure for Chiaverini. I really do like stories that go from the past to the present, although the only links in the two time periods are the city of Boston and the fact that the present day children’s choir is singing “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Having said that, I did find the whole story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to be quite interesting. I had briefly heard it before but couldn’t remember the scope of his personal tragedies. It was with trepidation that I read to the end of his tale, so worried was I about the outcome. I need not have worried. Is that saying too much?
Bubby: Nope. We do have a happy ending guarantee here at Bubble Bath Books, and there are lots of happy endings in this tale. At one point I was actually yelling at one character in particular (you’ll know who when you read the story) to get their act together and do the thing that would have the outcome I wanted! But no worries–it all works out. This may be my favorite Jennifer Chiaverini novel ever. A must read for Christmas!
Sissy: My favorite character was Sister Winifred, the elderly nun who seemed to know a little more about everything than would be earthly possible. And I really liked the love story between accompanist Lucas and choir director Sophie. All the story lines gave me something to ponder on this Christmas season, and I truly felt inspired and happy having shared time with all the characters. My favorite version of Longfellow’s famous carol is the one with music by Johnny Marks and sung by Karen Carpenter. Christmas Bells has all the feel goods and depth you want in a holiday read, with none of the unwanted schmaltz and sappiness. I highly recommend it!
Click HERE to buy Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini