Book Review | The Gift of Christmas Past by Cindy and Erin Woodsmall

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About The Gift of Christmas Past

Arson wasn’t the only fire that ignited between them.
Promises shattered.
Lies spoken.
She was arrested.
He returned to the safety of his wealthy parents.
Almost ten years later, Hadley and Monroe are both specialists in the field of speech therapy. They meet again . . . thrown together to help a four-year-old-girl rendered mute after being rescued from a fire.
Years of secrets and anger beg to be set free as Hadley and Monroe try to push aside past hurts and find common ground in order to help the traumatized child and her family.
Can the love of Christmas past drift into the present, bringing healing and hope for all?

My Review

I offered to review The Gift of Christmas Past because it wasn’t Amish and I was interested in knowing what Cindy Woodsmall was like as an author. I don’t know how close this is to her usual writing style, especially since this is co-written with her daughter-in-law, but I wasn’t impressed. The characters didn’t appeal to me—they were perpetual teenagers, and didn’t engage me emotionally (I doubt boredom was the effect the authors were aiming for).

I feel misled by the title. A lot of Christmas stories come out at this time of year. Most are stories of family and celebration, and take place over a short timeframe (you know, the Christmas season). Christian authors often take the opportunity to share something of the gospel story, even if it’s just a Christmas church service.

The Gift of Christmas Past had none of that. There were a couple of mentions of Christmas, but the main story spanned more than ten years, and the Epilogue was four years later (and included enough information to make another two novels). Christmas was mentioned only in passing.

The first third of The Gift of Christmas Past was backstory—the story of Monroe and Hadley as seventeen-year-olds.

This gave the novel a Young Adult feel, something that I expect if I’m reading a novel categorised as YA, but not something I expect in a novel aimed at the adult market (actually, I’ve read YA novels where the characters act more adult than these did).

The plot was all driven by external circumstance, and both main characters struck me as immature , especially in their teenage years. I could believe this of Monroe. Boys are often less mature than girls of the same age, and Monroe grew up in a sheltered and privileged environment. But Hadley was a girl and a foster child, and I expected her to be more mature, more savvy than Monroe. At least as savvy as my own seventeen-year-old. She wasn’t.

The story then skipped forward ten years.

Hadley has completed her Bachelor’s degree and is working towards her Masters, but she doesn’t seem to have matured or changed in the intervening decade. Sure, she’s a hard worker and she’s got her temper under control, but I never felt I knew the real Hadley. She was like the nice lady in church you never connect with beyond hello and goodbye each week.

The same goes for Monroe. He was a nice guy. Perfect, in fact. His only fault was obeying his parents and believing they knew what was best for him. And still letting his parents pay his mobile bill when he’s twenty-seven. In real life, perfect might be perfect. In fiction, it’s boring. Monroe didn’t mature as a person over the course of the novel, which contributed to the flat feeling.

The Elliott/Trent relationship was more interesting. It raised a lot of questions I would have liked to have seen answered in more depth, perhaps in a sequel. Unfortunately, the questions were all answered in full in the overlong Epilogue. I guess that means I shouldn’t expect a sequel.

There was plenty of external conflict, all of which was resolved with a nice apology at the end. Just like in real life. Not. The writing was solid, but often too formal to the point where it sometimes sounded like a PSA. Homemade soup is cheaper and more nutritious than canned soup. Who knew?.

The best part of the novel was the discussion of apraxia.

Apraxia is a speech disorder apparently suffered by ten in a thousand children (really? Wouldn’t it have been easier and more sensible to reduce this to the lowest possible fraction, i.e. one in a hundred, or 1%? Or were they trying to sound clever?), and selective mutism. The other theme was foster children, but this topic has been dealt with by other authors with more impact.

Overall, while I didn’t hate The Gift of Christmas Past, I only finished it because I’d said I’d review it. If I’d started by reading the Kindle sample, I probably would have finished there. If you enjoy the Kindle sample or you’ve enjoyed Cindy Woodsmall’s previous novels, you’ll probably enjoy this. If the Kindle sample doesn’t enthrall you, then I suspect the novel won’t enthrall you either.

Litfuse Publicity and the authors provided a free ebook in exchange for review. As you can no doubt tell, all opinions are my own.

About the Authors

Cindy Woodsmall is the New York Times and CBA best-selling author of eighteen works of fiction. She’s been featured in national media outlets such as ABC’s Nightline and the Wall Street Journal. Cindy has won numerous awards and has been finalist for the prestigious Christy, Rita, and Carol Awards. Cindy and her husband reside near the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains in Flowery Branch, GA.

Erin Woodsmall is a writer, musician, wife, and mom of three. She has edited, brainstormed, and researched books with Cindy for almost a decade. She is very excited about their first coauthored book.

You can read the introduction below:

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