4 stars out of 5
It's sweet, for the most part predictable and smacks of "The Music Man," "White Christmas" and "Grease." In short, which it is at just 219 pages, it's a nice book to read before the holiday season. A friend at Goodreads recommended it just as I was looking for something to counter the somewhat downer effects of a heavy-handed war-action thriller, and when I learned it's free with my Kindle Unlimited membership, I downloaded it immediately (the regular price is $2.99).
When Trudie Parks, a former student of retired high school drama teacher Myrna Childs, learns that her beloved teacher may have terminal cancer, she contacts two of her best friends from way back then (Trudie is 38, unmarried and living in her late father's house). The three, all stars of the annual Childs-directed Christmas show, at the time were so close that they were dubbed "The Christmas Girls," although they've scattered to other parts of the country and rarely see each other. Moved to do something to honor their former teacher, the three decide to recreate the show 20 years after the fact.
As they contact the classmates who were involved in the original production to bring about a reenactment, they come face-to-face with old rivalries, old dreams and (big surprise!) old romances. Will they manage to pull it all together, deal with their ghosts from the past and stage a smashing show? And, given their teacher's weakening condition, can they do it in time?
As I implied at the outset, there aren't many big surprises here - not that there's anything wrong with that. And I admit to feeling special connections as I read along. To begin with, the setting is a small town called Deer Lake, Ohio, just south of Columbus. As an almost lifelong Buckeye who grew up not far from our wonderful capital city, I've never heard of Deer Lake, although Deer Creek State Park is in the approximate area. But the subject matter struck close to home as well; both my husband, a retired high school English teacher, and our daughter, a middle school language arts teacher, have been heavily involved in high school play production (our daughter still is).
For years, we've lived through all the excitement, last-minute glitches, personality clashes and anticipation of opening nights; and not a few of the classmates in this book - including the hometown clown turned well-known Hollywood actor - resonated in my own memory bank. I know firsthand how much work, time and frazzled nerves are involved - and I also know that no matter how apprehensive teacher-directors may be on opening night, parents, grandparents and friends will know for certain that the students they came to see are nothing less than Bing Crosby, Shirley Jones, John Travolta or Olivia Newton-John.
All that said, it was an enjoyable read for me. I do, however, have one tiny nit to pick: At one point, the author says one of the classmates attended "Perdue" after high school - to study engineering, if I recall correctly. Unless he secretly was taking classes in chicken plucking, though, I suspect he really went to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where the overall undergraduate engineering programs are ranked 9th nationally.
The Christmas Women by Elyse Douglas (Amazon Digital Services Inc., September 2014); 219 pp.