I’ve not read many Heather Graham books, despite the number in my TBR mountain. But I have read at least one of her Christmas stories, A Season of Miracles, years ago and loved it. So when hoping for a few holiday books to review for you this year, I was glad to receive a copy of A Magical Christmas. I knew I wouldn’t be let down one bit.
I like the fact that Ms. Graham’s holiday spirit in her stories includes a bit of the paranormal. That enhances the mystique and feel of the season for me. This time we meet two families who are anticipating Christmas day. First are the Wainscotts, a family from the past, 1862, when the patriarch, Jesse, is due to be hanged with four of his men, after being captured by Custer. Jesse has regrets – not able to see his wife’s face one last time, the awful row he had with his son when the boy decided to fight for the Union. This is one of those situations where you should be careful what you wish for.
Then we have the Radcliffs, a family that is falling apart. Julie is close to filing for divorce. Her husband’s betrayal seven years before is something she just can’t forgive. Jon has done everything he can to provide for his family and to make up to Julie for his indiscretion. Their children are out of control, selfish and rarely minding either parent without an argument. Except for little six-year-old Ashley. She’s just confused and her pain weighs on her mother and father.
Jon wants to take a family Christmas vacation – to either heal their hurts and problems or be together one last time before their end comes. Julie objects and drags her feet, but she finally agrees, and miraculously she’s able to get reservations for the beautiful Victorian B&B, Oak River Plantation, where an old-fashioned, traditional holiday is guaranteed. From the moment they arrive, you can see the change – albeit a very slow change – in each and every one of them. Clarissa Wainscott is the perfect hostess, cooking delicious meals and offering a tender touch when needed. Jesse takes care of guests’ entertainment around the grounds, and son Aaron always comes home for Christmas.
What the Radcliffs won’t know until the very end, even after the reader is enlightened, is that that long-ago night when Captain Wainscott was to hang, his family came running with the hope to stop the tragedy – his wife with gun brandished and his son charging in with brothers-in-arms at his back. What ensued was complete chaos and a tragedy far more tragic than just one death. An entire family ceased to be that night, Christmas Eve, and now they wait each and every year for December 24 to come again so they can all be together just one night of the year, to heal hurts and feel the love they never truly lost. While waiting for that time, the Wainscotts also help heal other hurts for families who make it to Oak River, like the Radcliffs.
But most of the work has to be done by each family member, realizing that lost love can be found, they need each other in good times and bad, and life is a gift to be lived to the fullest. I like the way both Jon and Julie finally look at their situation from each other’s perspective, giving their marriage the chance it never had before. Their children also find a new path within the family, supporting one another with a stronger love than ever before. It’s not until a year later when returning to the B&B to thank their hosts for bringing them together again that they piece together and learn the truth about Oak River, its inhabitants, and ghostly past. I love the end of the book, from their nighttime discoveries to an unexpected confirmation of their suppositions.
Of course, the biggest lesson learned is to never walk away from your loved ones in anger, you never know what will happen in life that you may never see them again, the Wainscotts being the perfect example of this and who are now helping folks avoid a fate such as theirs. This is a wonderful holiday story, taking these characters from the depths of despair to the heights of happiness, done with an otherworldly hand. The Christmas spirit of love moves through you page to page as you come to know these characters. I found myself wishing the Waitscotts would be given new life, but then who would help all those in trouble during the holiday season? Everyone is right where they need to be.
Jon and Julie Radcliff are facing the last Christmas of a marriage in trouble. The love they once shared has been tattered by time and torn apart by divergent goals. Their teenagers, Christie and Jordan, are rebellious, and their youngest child, six-year-old Ashley, is showing the hurt and confusion of her family’s turmoil.
Yet somehow the Christmas season must be gotten through, even if their holiday spirit is only pretend. The perfect place for this is the Oak River Plantation, where the Radcliffs are promised a traditional Christmas. So imagine their surprise when they are met by the quaint couple in charge, Jesse and Clarissa Wainscott, dressed in costumes dating from before the Civil War. Have they somehow entered a place that spans the gulf between past and present?
Before Jon and Julie and their children can uncover the secrets surrounding their mysterious but marvelous hosts, they become aware of some profound truths about themselves. They discover that love lost can be found, making the bond of marriage and family strong enough to survive—even triumph.
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