Christmas at Candlebark Farm
I tend to stick with anthologies for my holiday reading, but I noticed a fair number of full-length holiday stories on shelves this year, so I thought I’d broaden my horizons. While it has a few cheesy Hallmark Hall of Fame-style moments, Christmas at Candlebark Farm is basically a well-written and very sweet little Christmas story. I liked the setting and characters and for that, I’d be willing to overlook loose ends tied up a bit too neatly.
Keira Keely has left Sydney for a small town in New South Wales in order to deal with a bequest from her aunt. She plans to take care of business, sell her aunt’s home, and return home to resume her life. She has rented a room at Candlebark Farm and figures that will afford her a relaxing little country holiday. Upon arrival, Keira meets the owner of Candlebark, a widower named Luke Hillier. Describing Luke as a curmudgeon would be rather an understatement. The opening scenes between Luke and Keira would make one think Oscar the Grouch had relocated to rural Australia. Luke dismisses Keira as a pampered city girl, and I could not help wondering why he bothers renting out rooms at all.
Things soften up somewhat when Luke discovers Keira ill in the middle of the night. He soon learns that she is pregnant, alone, and suffering from sickness at all hours. Though Luke still maintains a certain amount of distance, he finds himself trying to help Keira as well, giving her tips on things that helped his late wife when she was pregnant with their son. An uneasy friendship starts to spring up between Keira and Luke, and it’s obvious that the two are attracted to one another, but they have lots of trouble figuring out how to communicate. Keira seems open and sunny by nature, and she readily forms a bond with Luke’s teenage son, but Luke is more prickly and as a result of the fallout from his wife’s death, he has almost completely cut himself off from the world around him.
As the story develops, Keira continues to suffer from morning sickness and other symptoms related to her pregnancy, and Luke ends up being ever more supportive. In addition, Keira very naturally starts to pull Luke out of his shell and as Christmas approaches, it appears that Keira will be spending the holiday at Candlebark. This marks a turning point in the story, but I don’t want to spoil the plot by sharing more. Suffice it to say that the story has some very sweet moments, and it really is good to watch Keira and Luke transforming each other as they dance around trying to build a relationship. Since the setting was a rather exotic one for me, I also enjoyed reading about Christmas in place where it’s summery in December.
While I did basically like Luke and Keira, and I did generally enjoy their love story, things were a little too cheesy for me at times. Luke has a lot of healing to do, and it seemed like every loose end in his life pulled together much too easily by the end. Some of the healing and some of Luke’s progress back to life and to interaction with his friends, former in-laws, and townspeople felt natural, but some of it seemed rushed. It might make for a very happy-sounding ending to have everything resolved like that, but it just didn’t seem real. Even so, Christmas at Candlebark Farm is a sweet story, and full of the spirit of the season.