Christmas past and present

Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past
Sharyn McCrumb
A Ballad Novella (160pgs) published Sept 2014
Review by Helen McIver

It feels like Christmas whenever McCrumb writes about Miz Bonesteel. I look forward to her books and any mention of her in the other McCrumb Ballad mysteries which are rich with Appalachian folklore and tradition. Part of it is the welcoming Scottish roots (hello the house, the comforts of so many Scottish customs and phrases). Some of it is the deep affection and respect I feel for Nora Bonesteel (and yes even after so many years, I would never be so forward as to address her as Nora). This time her story was tinged with more than a little melancholy as Miz Bonesteel is getting older and I worry about what will become of her, and if the Sight will be lost with her passing. She is a tough intriguing character and represents so much history and tradition, never more apparent than in this book where the second homeowners are transforming the landscape.
There are two parallel stories in this novella, each with favourite characters on this Christmas Eve. Sheriff Spencer Atwood and deputy Joe LeDoone are heading to the holler to bring in a man who dented the Mercedes of a senator. The senator won’t be getting their vote. even after the tables are turned and they have become angels. You will be charmed.
And then Miz Bonesteel visits the old Honeycutt house where a spirit is disrupting Christmas. An artificial Florida tree seems even more hideous and incongruent in the restored house. But Nora Bonesteel wanders into the past and understands. You will need a box of tissues.
This is a wonderful holiday book and a lovely addition to her ballad stories. A perfect gift for McCrumb fans. Please don’t label this a Christian novel or southern writer, either. I wouldn’t have read it. It is instead a gentle story, with depth of time and place about the meaning of Christmas and traditional historical values. And there are timeless messages for any season regarding those chestnut trees: what will be missing from our children’s environment and traditions? I hate starting Christmas early, but I couldn’t wait any longer to read and wasn’t disappointed (except for its length). But then I never want her books to end.
Received as a NetGalley ARC
4.5 stars (only because it’s short!)
NB
If you missed her full length historical novel King’s Mountain, don’t hesitate to get this. It is also a Ballad novel, but occurs solely during the Revolutionary War. I was astonished how little I knew of the mountain men and this battle that Jefferson said was the turning point of the war. For those of you missing Jaime Fraser and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, this is a real piece of history complete with Scotsmen on both sides.
And in writing this review I discovered that Nora Bonesteel is based on a real person! (Charlotte Ross) (and that the Sight was usually only discussed by women).

Quotes
I swear that part of the country is only in the map two days a week.
Miz Bonesteel was known to have the greenest thumb in the community. People said she could grow roses in the middle of the interstate….
She is as independent as a hog on ice.
He gave the benefit of the doubt to no one.
No good deed goes unpunished. (This seems more ominous than usual)
The wind feels like a chainsaw. (And it’s only 38F??!)

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