Some people like to watch Christmas movies in the build-up to the holiday; others prefer to curl up with a good book that revolves around the season.
When a friend asked me for a recommendation of a Christmas novel earlier this week, I immediately told her to get a copy of the 2004 Luanne Rice book “Silver Bells.”
The story about a widowed Nova Scotia Christmas tree farmer who comes to New York City every December to sell his stock – along with his two teenage children – is genuinely moving and deals with a lot of the challenges people face at this time of the year when they are inevitably reminded of much happier Christmases.
Christopher Byrne and his children only occupy half of the plot. The other major character, Catherine Tierney, was widowed three years earlier, and has not been able to move past that tragedy. She has a good job as a corporate librarian, a townhouse in Chelsea, and close friends who care about her, but her thoughts keep going back to the man she lost and his pledge to watch over her after he died.
Rice keeps the book tight – it runs only a bit over 300 pages – but it is packed with suspense, romance and great New York City color. The author has lived in Chelsea for many years, so she is able to make the setting vivid, packing it with landmarks like the Moonstruck and Empire diners and other shops and restaurants. Part of the fun in the book for those of us who know the neighborhood is that we get to go back to the quieter, less gentrified Chelsea of the pre-High Line days.
“Silver Bells” covers two Christmas seasons, with Christy’s older child Danny deciding to stay on in the city to break away from the Nova Scotia farm life. Christy is devastated and spends much of the second visit in the novel searching for his son. He doesn’t know that Catherine has been helping the boy explore his creative side by doing research in her library and taking photographs for one of a special project.
Rice includes just a touch of the supernatural in the working out of the story, but she also leaves those events open to a more realistic explanation if that’s what a reader prefers.
“Silver Bells” is a quick and thoroughly satisfying read that can easily become a perennial part of your holiday season, like “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Miracle on 34th Street.”