Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel
“It’s not always about the time, but the place we are in our lives.”
Jeannie Moon’s Christmas in Angel Harbor (Tule Publishing Group, LLC) is a heartfelt romance of love deferred. As with all of her work, she creates engaging characters of charm and honesty. In this case, she has set her novel on Long Island, in the fictional town of Angel Harbor.
Best-selling author Dan Gallo has returned home after an absence of several decades. It is revealed that his most recent novel inspired a psychopathic true-crime copycat. He has now decided to escape the fast lane and try to catch his breath by writing a more personal novel. He is also a man in search of himself; his quest is for an inner peace that his success has not provided. “He’d learned the hard way that a good life was a collection of small experiences. While big and flashy might impress in the short term, the millions of tiny details about an experience were what mattered.” He settles in with his sister’s family, living in a cottage on the property. He begins to unwind and to come alive.
Jane Fallon is the proprietor of Harbor Books. As a young woman, she had dreams of a world-spanning career in archeology. With her father’s sudden death, she felt obligated to return home to run the family bookstore. “It hadn’t been her dream job, but owning the store brought her many rewards and even more happy moments.” She is grateful for the life she has had — especially close bonds with both her mother, a retired school teacher, and her daughter, Tara. But Moon gives Jane a welcomed complexity: Jill still wonders about the life she could have had and that slight shadow of regret gives her an added dimension.
Throughout high school, Dan had used the table in the bookshop as his writing headquarters. Dan and Jane had been best friends since fifth grade and, while they had never been a couple, their relationship had an emotional intimacy. While Dan was getting ready for law school, Jane indicated that she wanted more. Spooked, Dan disconnected from Jane and the entire Angel Harbor community. Even when Jane’s father passed away, Dan maintained both distance and silence.
And now he has returned. Jane struggles with her feelings but, with great caution, allows him to begin writing at the table once again. “They were bound by an old friendship, and by the shared history of a small town that held one of them back, while the other shot forward.” Needless to say, they begin to rekindle what was snuffed out thirty plus years before.
What is delightful is the innocence of the courtship between two fifty year-olds. There is a sense of wanting to recover what was lost, picking up almost where they left off. Moon gives us a couple that is reminiscent of Our Town’s George and Emily: love and hope and possibility. “… there was something magical about her, something so centered it was seeping into him. Even as she faced huge changes in her own life, she found a way to focus on others … for the first time since he’d left home all those years ago, he wasn’t on edge.” But their relationship is not without heat, and the pull between them is genuinely strong.
The story begins two weeks before Thanksgiving and carries through the Christmas holiday. Both Dan and Jane are going through struggles, internal and external. Dan’s current project is outside his comfort zone; he wants to inspire readers and allow his work to be a source of healing. However, he is facing pressure from his “people” to stay with what works. Jane is facing her mother’s relocation to warmer climes and her daughter’s departure for college the following fall. As always, the store’s survival and growth is always present.
Playing as a backdrop for the story is a wonderful sense of village life in modern times. With shades of nostalgia, Moon finds the richness of a Long Island Christmas, from the perfect pastry to snowfall to walks in the brisk night air. The writing is easy and fluid, with characters rooted in personal realities as well the world she has vividly fashioned for them. It all rings romantically true.
A little past the half-way mark, the real crisis is introduced, throwing Jane’s fate into turmoil. It is not the suspense of what will happen but the painting of the community that rises to the surface. The denouement has shades of It’s a Wonderful Life.
Christmas in Angel Harbor gives us something that we need right now: the joy that can come in the Christmas season. Here is a romance with the sights and sounds but above all the heart that we associate with hope in the holidays. Looking for the gift of a little light in the darkness? This book is just the right present.
A school librarian by day, and an established author by night, Jeannie Moon has written 17 books to date. Christmas in Angel Harbor is available at bookrevue.com, barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com.