recommendations and reviews for the aspiring reader

recommendations and reviews for the aspiring reader

Double Review: Seasons of Littleton

Christmas at Edgewood Park


Christmas at Cartwright Manor

a pair of novellas, by Shaela Kay


Happy New Year, my loyal readers and bookish enthusiasts! I hope you’ve all had wonderful and memorable holidays with the loved ones you have chosen to spend your time with, and that it was all laced with a certain amount of cozy charm.

The holiday season is one of my favorites to sink in to. Reading by the magical light emitted from a Christmas tree that is laden with homemade ornaments that my children have brought home over the years. Endless cups of hot cocoa topped liberally with whipped cream. The rush of ribbons of wind winding its way around my home and coaxing the last of the leaves from the trees.

It’s literally the perfect time of year to settle in and read. The backdrop is one that simply cannot be replicated, no matter the odd rainy weekend or chilly afternoon the rest of the year brings my way. I tend to do the bulk of my reading in the last quarter of the year, and in recent months, I’ve found a love and appreciation for short stories and novellas the likes of which I never in my life had before. I spent much of the first peek of winter diving in to those – from Hercule Poirot’s exploits among the streets of quaint countryside towns to Shadowhunter marriage proposals in tiny observatories full of fragrant flowers, and everything in between, I have loved the journey.

Novellas pack a powerful and concentrated punch, and it takes quite the accomplished writer to create a complete experience in 60,000 words or less. I had the pleasure of reading a pair of novellas set around that magical time of year that is Christmas, and was swept away to neighboring manors with a cast of characters full of grace, emotion, and undeniable charm.

The pleasures in life are often what you make of them, and Eleanor Eves has set her course on contentment. Not one to ever allow herself to become idle, she has taken her lot in life with grace and determination. Nearly thirty years old and unmarried, Eleanor has resigned herself to the fact that she may never have the life that she once dreamed of. No engagement in sight means no subsequent wedding and husband, and no husband means no carefully swaddled babies in the cradle. She is to live at home and care for her father, help the community to the best of her abilities, and maintain a cheerful demeanor.

When her brother Nathaniel comes home to spend the holidays with the family, he finds Eleanor as busy as a bee in a thriving hive. She’s consumed with repurposing a room in the house (and staying under budget, of course) as well as finding items to be held at auction for the annual town Christmas bazaar. It’s a charity that she’s passionate about and one that keeps her mind and arms full, but Nathaniel can’t help but wish for more for his sister.

Soon enough, a new man comes to town. The mysterious Mr. Albert Cartwright had reluctantly returned to his family manor, causing much conversation around the close-knit parish. He’s a quiet man who has spent his years traveling the world and learning to revel in his isolation. An accident in his youth scarred the man for life, and Mr. Cartwright has always dealt with the consequences of his unfortunate disfigurement as best he can.

One sunny afternoon, the pair of loners find themselves out and about, both on a course of their own making and their thoughts consumed. Eleanor comes across Albert on a path wound through their shared woods and cannot conceal her initial horror at his marred skin, despite her best intentional spirit. It is not in her nature to be judgmental or unkind, but the shock of coming across the stranger in the woods carried a weight that she did not intend. She fears that their neighborly relationship may be as irreparable as the puckering on his skin.

Nathaniel takes advantage of having a gentleman so near at hand. He invites Mr. Cartwright into the Eves home again and again, unknowingly leading the resolved Eleanor to put her best foot forward and attempt to relieve the scarred man of her regrettable first impression. When disaster strikes and Albert finds himself in the surprising position of being able to alleviate Eleanor’s worry, he takes a chance … finding himself justly rewarded. But what’s truly surprising to Albert Cartwright is just how much he cares.

In the sequel Christmas at Cartwright Manor, we find the married Cartwrights doing their best to adjust to a much quieter life than that of being unattached had forged. Once the unofficial caretaker of the parish, Eleanor has now found herself in a position of second place and largely obsolete. Nathaniel’s young wife is vibrant and full of ideas, and it didn’t take long for the fresh new face in the community to commandeer the inner workings of the bazaar, as well as much of the natural duties the single woman Eleanor had taken up dutifully and filled her time with. Now married and focused on her small household of two, Eleanor has done her best to step out of the light as gracefully as possible. She’d dreamed of the pleasures afforded to a married woman … especially those merry days with a nursery full of children, but it doesn’t appear that God has that intended for her.

Eleanor has everything that money can buy and a doting husband with a tender spirit and gentle touch, but the one thing that she longs for the most has not happened for her. She desperately wants a child of her own, and she cannot help but feel the sharp bite of jealousy each and every time she holds her brother’s children and sees his pretty young wife flitting around like a cheerful bird on a spring day. She cannot help but wonder if motherhood will ever happen for her, or if it will continue to linger outside of her grasp forever.

As the season takes a turn and brings with it a stepping cloud of horrible illness, much of the town is taken frightfully ill. Eleanor is insistent that she should be out in the parish helping, despite her husband’s wishes that she remain at home where he knows she will maintain her health and be safe. After a heartbreaking scene with a local woman and her small children, Eleanor is put into the hardest of positions. Can she put aside her carefully tended dreams and look to another option at happiness? Is her heart large enough to hold and cultivate the care of someone who wasn’t born to her by blood?

The twin novellas, Christmas at Edgewood Park and Christmas at Cartwright Manor are written by Shaela Kay, an author known for her clean Christian romances and her historical stylizing. Readers may remember Kay from a review I wrote featuring her book Scoundrel in Disguise; a wonderful love story with a beautifully done redeeming quality at the heart of it. Kay has done it again with this pair of stories, producing a pure romance written thoughtfully and with careful attention to historical detail.

While I loved both stories, Christmas at Cartwright Manor hit me harder than the former. I struggled with conceiving a child for two years and suffered a devastating loss before I was finally able to carry my youngest child to term. The realness with which Kay drew Eleanor and her feelings was rich and rang true, and I found myself connecting with Eleanor’s character on a deep level. Needless to say … you may need tissues while reading this particular story. The introduction of the ward and Eleanor’s feelings was an honest account and unforced. I am anxious for more stories from this quaint little part of the world.

Purveyors of Christian romance will especially appreciate the telling of love in Kay’s novellas and novels. While affection is not stifled, it is portrayed in a proper way and an accurate description of the historical time period that Kay prefers. I give both novellas 5 star ratings, and encourage readers to curl up and enjoy … regardless of the time of year.




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