In the Spirit of…Christmas: Chapter 1

I may be proverbially shooting myself in the proverbial foot here, guys: I really don’t think any Christmas romance can even hope to top the frakked-upedness of last year’s Christmas Town.  But I admit to being still intrigued with the Christmas romance genre, and I still do love me some sappy Christmas stuff, so here goes:


Judging by the brief blurb on the back, it looks like this is yet another Christian romance where a Good Christian Woman brings the Christmas (and Christian) spirit to an unbelieving or fallen-from-faith man.  I had hoped to find a romance in which the man was the believer, but one works with what one has.

Also, that title.  Why the ellipses?  Are we supposed to be surprised that it’s in the spirit of Christmas, and not in the spirit of something else?  The first Google fill-ins are “in the spirit of Chartres,” “in the spirit of Crazy Horse,” and “in the spirit of full disclosure.”  Is this some kind of Christian thing that I’m just not getting?

Oh well, enough messing about: a late Thanksgiving and a fascinating discussion on a fascinating movie have put me slightly behind schedule!

Our Hero, Jesse Slater, appears to be, at least in some ways, the opposite of Jordan Scoville (possibly the most beloved male character ever featured on this site).  Jesse lives out of his truck, though he used to be a rodeo rider.  (Of course he was.  After “business tycoon” and “cowboy” (which always turns out to mean “rancher”) former rodeo riders are terribly populous in romance novels.)

Like Christmas Town (and yes, looks like there will be many comparisons with Christmas Town, because it pleases me to write of them), In the Spirit of…Christmas features an adorable child.  But in this case, she’s the hero’s child, not the heroine’s.  Jade is six years old to Nathan’s “seven years and eight-point-two months.”  It should not be difficult at all to make Jade a more likeable character than the snotty, disrespectful, acquisitive, sexist brat that was Nathan Ratchford!

Jade is being raised by a single parent not because of divorce, but because her other parent died.  This is not surprising.  I wonder if there has ever been a Christian romance novel in which a mother abandoned her child?

As opposed to ever-complaining, self-absorbed Nathan, Jade is an easy-going, sweet child.  But clingy, for reasons which will soon become clear.

Also, as is required by law, the adorable little daddy’s girl has an adorable nickname: Jesse calls her “Butterbean.”

He does not specify whether he means this kind of butterbean:

Or this kind:


We have moved from South Carolina to Oklahoma’s Kiamichi Mountains.


Pretty gorgeous.  I’ve never been to Oklahoma, and I’ve always thought of it as really flat.

See, my blog teaches things!

Specifically, looks like the bulk of the action will take place at the home of one Lindsey Mitchell, who owns a farmhouse and the land it is on, where she grows Christmas trees.

I know very, very little about farming.  Is this a thing that happens a lot?  A farm raises nothing but trees for Christmas?  My intense two minutes of Google research reveals that there are such farms in my own state, though many seem to have additional, non-Christmas sources of income, such as dairy farming or orchards.  I’m not doubting the premise, but I am curious—I grew up in the suburbs, and until we got an artificial tree, we went to the tree lot for our tree.  My family never did the “go out into the country and pick and chop your own tree” thing.

Check out young Leonard from Big Bang Theory!

Jesse and Jade arrive at the tree farm in the early morning hours, and it appears that Jesse, like Jordan before him, has an ulterior motive for his presence (besides wanting a job, that is).

Home—a funny word after all these years of rambling.  Even though he’d lived here only six years after his mother had inherited the farm, they were formative years in the life of a boy.

[Jade] deserved a home.  And he meant for her to have one.  He lifted his eyes to the farmhouse.  This one.

Hmmm…looks like Lindsey might need to watch her back.

So Jesse just walks up to Lindsey’s front door, neat as you please, and asks for a job, even though “he abhorred any mention of the holiday.”

Lest we think him some sort of Grinch-ish monster, it is clarified that he hates Christmas because it “had changed the direction of his life—not once, but twice.”

The first time, we are told, was “the Christmas his mother had died and his step-daddy had decided he didn’t need a fourteen-year-old kid around anymore.”

Well.  God bless us every one, I guess.  I’ll also guess that the “twice” is because his wife died on Christmas.

Jesse has played this really smart by bringing his adorable child along on the unannounced job interview, and Lindsey, being a Good Christian Woman, takes to Jade immediately.

Including when Jade loses her shit upon seeing Lindsey’s dog.  Turns out the kid was “mauled” by a Rottweiler two years ago, so now the sight of any dog sends her into a panic.  Which…okay, I understand, but something needs to be done about that.  Kid’ll see dogs just about every day of her life, so this needs to be worked on.

But I have a feeling it will.  The dog is a sweet-natured German shepherd, name of Sushi, so I figure the dog will pull Jade out of a well before the story is done.

Not two minutes after the panic attack, and Lindsey is inviting Jade to Sunday school.  Turns out Lindsey keeps kiddie juice and snackies on hand at all times, because her Sunday school students regularly come over.

Which again, is not my area of expertise, so…is this usual?  Do Sunday school students regularly hang at their teachers’ homes, even if they do own Christmas tree farms?  If nothing else, Lindsey’s home seems way off the beaten track.

Anyway, Lindsey gives Jesse a perfunctory interview.  (Again, smooth move bringing the kid along, Jesse!)  He gives her a list of character references, and off they go.  All while he regrets that she’s so nice, because that’ll make it slightly awkward when he steals her house out from under her, or whatever he plans on doing before they fall in love.

The plot thickens!

Posted on December 8, 2013, in Books, Christmas Town, In the Spirit of...Christmas. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. So the farmhouse was his mother’s and that’s why he’s hoping to somehow get it back? Except I don’t really see a logical plan for getting it back, here. Unless he’s planning on romancing the owner from the get-go. (Which would be awkward if the owner had turned out to be already married.)

  2. So far, so Actually Not That Bad. That sentence “Home—a funny word after all these years of rambling.” isn’t bad, the Good Christian Woman hasn’t done anything wrong yet, and the unsaved heathen sounds believably flawed without being over the top evil. I agree with Ruby that it sounds he has some kind of manipulative plan, which isn’t nice. But he’s doing it because he wants his daughter to have a good house, which is. So there’s room for redemption, without making the guy an unlikable fuckwit.

    Bit of a shame they felt they had to make the unbeliever hate Christmas, but at least they gave him a believable reason.

  3. I’m guessing the main reason for the believer/unbeliever being this way round is that most romance readers are female, and one of the popular ways of reading a romance is to consider the protagonist as a self-substitute. So if you’re selling a Christian Romance, you need to make the female lead Christian.

    (And everybody knows that all non-Christian women are unattractive and loose-moralled, the latter presumably compensating for the former in trying to acquire men, that being the only thing that women are interested in.)

    Linda Goodnight’s backlist doesn’t contain any other titles starting “In the Spirit of…”, which was my first guess.

    I could easily believe in a Christian romance novel in which the hero is left raising a child because his non-Christian wife abandoned him and it. She would at some point come back and be a plot obstacle, but would die before the end because divorce isn’t real except when the pastor does it.

    If the farm really does only sell Christmas trees, nobody’s going to be taken on long-term — it’ll be a contract starting in maybe November and ending at the new year. Lumpy income streams like that are a pain to work with.

  4. The start hits a few of the Inspirational Romance Cliches, along with some of the stuff I’ve seen in the few Harlequin SuperRomances I’ve read (rural setting, cute kid, Main Male Character who comes back to his small town after X number of years due to some tragedy or another, seems to be headed toward being family-themed), but it’s looking pretty good so far. The leading man is, while doing something dishonest, is at least doing it for a good reason, so he’s at least…a billion points up on the guy from Christmas Town.

    Keeping my fingers crossed for another pleasant surprise, much like Christmas with a Capital C.

  5. My first thought about the title was that it was part of a series, and that there are other Christian Romances by other authors entitled “In the Spirit of… Easter/Pentecost/The Feast of the Holy Innocents/Ash Wednesday/etc.” But Google provides no evidence of same.

  6. Apropos of nothing, I can already tell my mental voice will be reading the title of this book with the voice of She-Ra shouting “for the honor of Grayskull”.

  7. So Jade’s mother AND her grandmother both died on Christmas? No wonder she’s prone to panic attacks. She must be terrified that maybe this year it’s going to be her turn. In fact, that gives me an idea to interpret the story in a completely different light…

    The Spirit of Christmas

    Jesse had still been a child when his father first told him of the terrible curse that had afflicted their family for generations. Naturally, Jesse had not believed any of it. It was just some ghost story his father had made up in an effort to scare him.

    Even when father died unexpectedly a few years later, Jesse did not make the connection. He was surprised though, at how fast his mother remarried. Only much later had Jesse understood that the hasty marriage was, in fact, mother’s desperate attempt to distance herself from the doom that stalked the Slater line.

    In the end, it was all in vain. One fateful Christmas the implacable spirit had come again, and then mother was dead. After that, Jesse believed.

    He did not mind his step-dad’s eagerness to be rid of him. He understood it well. Jesse was now the last of his line. Perhaps when his time came, the curse would finally be finished. And so Jesse spent every Christmas alone, waiting for the grim spectre to claim its last victim.

    A decade passed, and nothing happened. In time, Jesse was able to convince himself that it had all been a childish fancy, a young mind’s attempt to comprehend an incomprehensible tragedy. Slowly life went on. A new job. Marriage. The birth of his precious Butterbean.

    But the relentless ghost had merely been biding its time. And when it chose to remind Jesse of its existence, it did so by taking the life of his beloved wife.

    Jesse fled. He took his daughter and for years they travelled the length and breadth of the country, taking care never to spend Christmas in the same place twice. But in his heart Jesse knew that this would never keep them safe.

    And so, they had come back. Back to the land of his forebears. Back to the Kiamichi Mountains. Somewhere in these woods was the ancient grove, sacred to the druids, where his great-great-grandfather had once cut down a Christmas tree, bringing the curse upon all his decendants and their loved ones.

    As he knocked on the door, Jesse reflected on how desperate this all was. Somehow he had to convince the current owner of the property, one Lindsey Mitchell, not to cut any trees in the forest. He hoped that would be enough to propitiate the spirit and seek forgiveness for the desecration performed by his ancestor. It was a very thin hope, but Jesse could not face another Christmas with a fear of losing the one person most dear to him in this world.

    But as the door opened and Jesse saw the woman standing there, his heart sank. Hanging from her neck was a pendant, prominently displaying the shape of the cross. This woman would not believe in druid curses. On the contrary, she probably considered it her duty to cut down as many trees as possible to spread Christmas cheer.

    Jesse looked down at his daughter and saw her shivering in near panic. It was because of the dog, staring intently at these new arrivals. Jesse knew that this fear of hers was but a symptom of a much deeper fear. And that thought strenghtened his resolve. His daughter would not live her life under the same shadow that had darkened his.

    He turned his eyes back to the woman in the doorway. There was no other path for him now. Whatever it took, he had to ensure Lindsey Mitchell would not cut down a single Christmas tree.

  1. Pingback: Deconstruction Round Up, December 14th, 2013 | The Slacktiverse

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