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Christmas bells : a novel / Jennifer Chiaverini.

By: Chiaverini, Jennifer.
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookPublisher: New York : Dutton, [2015]Description: 317 pages ; 22 cm.Content type: text Media type: unmediated Carrier type: volumeISBN: 9780525955245; 9781101984796.Contained works: Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 1807-1882. Christmas bells.Subject(s): Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 1807-1882 -- Fiction | Women teachers -- FictionGenre/Form: Christmas stories. | Domestic fiction.DDC classification: 813/.54 Online resources: Cover image Summary: "New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini celebrates Christmas, past and present, with a wondrous novel inspired by the classic poem "Christmas Bells, " by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I heard the bells on Christmas Day/ Their old familiar carols play/ And wild and sweet/ The words repeat/Of peace on earth, good-will to men! In 1860, the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow family celebrated Christmas at Craigie House, their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The publication of Longfellow's classic Revolutionary War poem, "Paul Revere's Ride, " was less than a month hence, and the country's grave political unrest weighed heavily on his mind. Yet with his beloved wife, Fanny, and their five adored children at his side, the delights of the season prevailed. In present-day Boston, a dedicated teacher in the Watertown public school system is stunned by somber holiday tidings. Sophia's music program has been sacrificed to budget cuts, and she worries not only about her impending unemployment but also about the consequences to her underprivileged students. At the church where she volunteers as music director, Sophia tries to forget her cares as she leads the children's choir in rehearsal for a Christmas Eve concert. Inspired to honor a local artist, Sophia has chosen a carol set to a poem by Longfellow, moved by the glorious words he penned one Christmas Day long ago, even as he suffered great loss. Christmas Bells chronicles the events of 1863, when the peace and contentment of Longfellow's family circle was suddenly, tragically broken, cutting even deeper than the privations of wartime. Through the pain of profound loss and hardship, Longfellow's patriotism never failed, nor did the power of his language. "Christmas Bells, " the poem he wrote that holiday, lives on, spoken as verse and sung as a hymn. Jennifer Chiaverini's resonant and heartfelt novel for the season reminds us why we must continue to hear glad tidings, even as we are tested by strife. Reading Christmas Bells evokes the resplendent joy of a chorus of voices raised in reverent song"-- Provided by publisher.
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini celebrates Christmas, past and present, with a wondrous novel inspired by the classic poem "Christmas Bells," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day/ Their old familiar carols play/ And wild and sweet/ The words repeat/Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

In 1860, the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow family celebrated Christmas at Craigie House, their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The publication of Longfellow's classic Revolutionary War poem, "Paul Revere's Ride," was less than a month hence, and the country's grave political unrest weighed heavily on his mind. Yet with his beloved wife, Fanny, and their five adored children at his side, the delights of the season prevailed.

In present-day Boston, a dedicated teacher in the Watertown public school system is stunned by somber holiday tidings. Sophia's music program has been sacrificed to budget cuts, and she worries not only about her impending unemployment but also about the consequences to her underprivileged students. At the church where she volunteers as music director, Sophia tries to forget her cares as she leads the children's choir in rehearsal for a Christmas Eve concert. Inspired to honor a local artist, Sophia has chosen a carol set to a poem by Longfellow, moved by the glorious words he penned one Christmas Day long ago, even as he suffered great loss.

Christmas Bells chronicles the events of 1863, when the peace and contentment of Longfellow's family circle was suddenly, tragically broken, cutting even deeper than the privations of wartime. Through the pain of profound loss and hardship, Longfellow's patriotism never failed, nor did the power of his language. "Christmas Bells," the poem he wrote that holiday, lives on, spoken as verse and sung as a hymn.

Jennifer Chiaverini's resonant and heartfelt novel for the season reminds us why we must continue to hear glad tidings, even as we are tested by strife. Reading Christmas Bells evokes the resplendent joy of a chorus of voices raised in reverent song.

"New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini celebrates Christmas, past and present, with a wondrous novel inspired by the classic poem "Christmas Bells, " by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I heard the bells on Christmas Day/ Their old familiar carols play/ And wild and sweet/ The words repeat/Of peace on earth, good-will to men! In 1860, the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow family celebrated Christmas at Craigie House, their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The publication of Longfellow's classic Revolutionary War poem, "Paul Revere's Ride, " was less than a month hence, and the country's grave political unrest weighed heavily on his mind. Yet with his beloved wife, Fanny, and their five adored children at his side, the delights of the season prevailed. In present-day Boston, a dedicated teacher in the Watertown public school system is stunned by somber holiday tidings. Sophia's music program has been sacrificed to budget cuts, and she worries not only about her impending unemployment but also about the consequences to her underprivileged students. At the church where she volunteers as music director, Sophia tries to forget her cares as she leads the children's choir in rehearsal for a Christmas Eve concert. Inspired to honor a local artist, Sophia has chosen a carol set to a poem by Longfellow, moved by the glorious words he penned one Christmas Day long ago, even as he suffered great loss. Christmas Bells chronicles the events of 1863, when the peace and contentment of Longfellow's family circle was suddenly, tragically broken, cutting even deeper than the privations of wartime. Through the pain of profound loss and hardship, Longfellow's patriotism never failed, nor did the power of his language. "Christmas Bells, " the poem he wrote that holiday, lives on, spoken as verse and sung as a hymn. Jennifer Chiaverini's resonant and heartfelt novel for the season reminds us why we must continue to hear glad tidings, even as we are tested by strife. Reading Christmas Bells evokes the resplendent joy of a chorus of voices raised in reverent song"-- Provided by publisher.

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Excerpt provided by Syndetics

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof*** Copyright ©2015 Jennifer Chiaverini Christmas Bells by HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play, And wild and sweet The words repeat Of peace on earth, good-will to men! And thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom Had rolled along The unbroken song Of peace on earth, good-will to men! Till ringing, singing on its way, The world revolved from night to day, A voice, a chime, A chant sublime Of peace on earth, good-will to men! Then from each black, accursed mouth The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound The carols drowned Of peace on earth, good-will to men! It was as if an earthquake rent The hearth-stones of a continent, And made forlorn The households born Of peace on earth, good-will to men! And in despair I bowed my head; "There is no peace on earth," I said; "For hate is strong, And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!" Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men."                                                           CHAPTER ONE The Music Teacher's Tale   Only the most jaded of critics would deny that the Winter Holiday Concert had been an artistic triumph, and as far as Sophia could tell as the audience filed from the auditorium to meet the young performers in the cafeteria for juice and cookies, no one fitting that description had attended. Granted, the fourth-grade recorders might have been a little shrill on "Frosty the Snowman," and perhaps half of the second grade had mumbled all but the chorus of "I Have a Little Dreidel," and Sophia should have known better than to assign a treble solo to a boy who had started the semester as a sweet-voiced cherub but now looked as if Santa might need to bring him a shaving kit for Christmas. But despite those few glitches, the children had performed beautifully. Certainly the rapturous smiles and the crash of applause that met their curtain calls proved that the audience had been well pleased. With the assistance of the school custodian and a few helpful fifth-grade girls, Sophia soon had the costumes packed away, the cardboard sets dismantled, and the stage put in order, or at least as orderly as it could be, given the loose floorboards, the threadbare curtain, and the empty sockets they had insufficient lightbulbs to fill. Sophia knew they were lucky to have a theater at all, considering that decades of overcrowding had forced other local schools to convert performance spaces into classrooms. Sophia shared her music room with the art teacher, Yolanda, who served three different schools in the district and came to Peleg Wadsworth Elementary only twice a week. Yolanda had to haul most of her supplies from school to school, packing them into her fourteen-year-old compact car like pieces of a puzzle designed by Escher. Although she was by nature cheerfully optimistic, Yolanda looked perpetually harried and distracted as she pushed her overloaded plastic cart from parking lot to classroom and back, and she had developed a habit of constantly checking her watch and glancing at calendars to make sure she was at the right school on the right day. "Artists must suffer," she joked whenever Sophia asked how she was doing. "I've never felt more artistic." Sophia and her stage crew finished tidying up in time to join the reception in its final minutes. Empty bottles of apple juice filled the cafeteria's recycling bin, and only a few broken cookies remained of the plates of treats donated by the performers' families. Sophia savored each delicious bite of the last gingerbread reindeer, modestly accepting praise and congratulations from parents, grandparents, and staff. As the crowd dwindled, Sophia returned to her classroom to pack up her things, gifts from her students, and projects to grade over the winter break. Her stomach growled; she could have used a second cookie and a strong cup of coffee. If she hurried, she might have time to grab something on the way from school to choir practice at St. Margaret's Catholic Church, where she volunteered as the children's music director. She had just wrapped herself in a scarf and was slipping into her black wool coat when Linda, the principal's thin, gray-haired secretary, appeared in the classroom doorway. "Oh, good, Sophia. I caught you." She peered over the rim of her bifocals at the overstuffed satchel on Sophia's desk, so full of little handmade gifts, cards, and carefully wrapped sweets that it could not close. "Impressive. You brought in quite a haul this year." Sophia smiled as she buttoned her coat. "Yes, I should be fully stocked with fudge and peppermint through Epiphany." Linda laughed, but her amusement swiftly faded. "Janine would like to see you in her office before you leave." Sophia felt a flutter of nerves. "Did she say why?" "You should talk to her." Linda edged out of the doorway looking pained. "Have a nice winter break. Merry Christmas." "Merry Christmas," Sophia replied as Linda hurried away. Sophia's certainty that something was amiss rose as she entered the administration offices and the dean of students wished her happy holidays in a voice usually reserved for offering condolences. She found Janine standing behind her desk in her private office, frowning thoughtfully as she examined papers in a file. "Sophia," she said, glancing up, warmly professional as she gestured to a chair on the opposite side. "Thank you for coming. Please, have a seat." "It never gets easier," Sophia said lightly as she set her bag on the floor, loosened her scarf, and took her seat. "Being called to the principal's office, I mean, whether you're a student or a teacher." Janine Washington had been the principal of Peleg Wadsworth Elementary for eight years, and under her direction attendance had soared, test scores had risen, and suspensions had plummeted so low that the faculty dared hope they had become a thing of the past. Sophia had arrived on the scene three years into Janine's tenure, a student teacher full of idealism and grand plans to find a well-paying job with a prestigious music program in an affluent district as soon as she graduated. Instead, she had fallen in love with the children of Watertown and with Janine's vision of how to give them the excellent education they deserved, the kind their more fortunate peers in Beacon Hill and the Back Bay took for granted. "The concert was excellent," Janine said. "I think it was the children's best yet--and yours. Congratulations." "Thank you." Spiritedly, Sophia added, "I'm very proud of the students. Each and every one of them did their very best." "I agree. That makes what I have to tell you all the more difficult." Janine regarded her sympathetically. "You're aware, I'm sure, that the measure to raise the tax levy to increase the education budget failed to pass in last month's election." "Of course." For weeks, every conversation in the teachers' lounge had circled back to the ballot measure. In the days leading up to the election, Sophia had passed out leaflets encouraging citizens to vote yes, and, lacking a car, she had placed a bumper sticker in the window of her apartment. It was still there, a memorial to the failed measure, a reprimand to those who had supported the cause but had neglected to go to the polls, and a promise to herself to fight harder next time. "But the district will draw on emergency funds to make up the difference, right? I read that there's enough for the rest of this academic year and the next. By that time the measure will be on the ballot again." "I'm afraid those estimates were overly optimistic," said Janine. "They didn't take into account the mold problem at the high school, or the dip in interest rates. The district's reserves have been dealt quite a blow. I've been informed that at their next meeting, the school board plans to introduce new austerity measures." "Austerity measures?" Sophia echoed. "You mean budget cuts." "Emergency budget cuts." "I see." Sophia sat back in her chair, dismayed. It was no secret which programs were the first to be sacrificed in an emergency. "Janine, children need music in their lives. Most of our students aren't likely to get any arts education if they don't get it here." "I understand that." "It's been proven scientifically that music lessons help children's brain development and result in higher test scores, especially in math, and significantly fewer discipline problems. Students without education in the arts are five times more likely to drop out of school. Five times!" "I know." Janine raised a hand to calm her. "I've read the reports. I've helped write many of them. However, when deciding whether to fund fifth-grade chorus or keep the furnaces going, most people, including those in charge of our budget, see only one logical choice." "What does this mean for me?" Sophia asked, fighting to keep her voice from quavering. "Will I have to travel from school to school like Yolanda, spending a few days here and a few days there?" "Someone will," said Janine gently. "But I'm afraid that won't be you. The two other music teachers in the district have seniority. They'll drop to half time and share the single position that will remain. Sophia, I'm afraid you're going to be laid off." Sophia stared at her, scarcely able to breathe. "Going to be?" "Yes. At the end of the school year." "Oh, thank God. I thought you meant I was done, finished, today, without having the chance to say goodbye to anyone--" "Of course not. That would be a shameful way to repay you for the five years of exemplary service you've offered our school." Sophia forced a wan smile. "Would you be willing to put that in a letter of recommendation?" "Certainly. That's why I'm telling you now, even at the risk of losing you halfway through next semester, to give you time to find another position." Janine leaned forward and folded her arms on her desk, her expression full of regret and compassion. "I know you were considering a move to Chicago, and that you had several promising leads there. Perhaps it's time to follow up on them." "Oh, that's . . . not really an option. I'm not moving to Chicago." "I thought your fiancé had accepted a job there. I hear things in passing through the teachers' lounge, but perhaps I misunderstood." "Brandon did take that job in Chicago, but he's not my fiancé anymore." Not since October, when Sophia realized that she couldn't bear to leave her family--and her job and her students and her choir at St. Margaret's--to follow him. She could have, but she didn't want to--which forced her to admit that marrying Brandon would be a mistake even if he weren't moving away. "I see," said Janine. "My apologies. I wasn't aware." "It's not your fault. I announced the engagement, but not the end of it." "I still regret bringing up an unhappy subject and making a difficult conversation even worse." Janine rose and came around her desk to rest her hand on Sophia's shoulder, a motherly gesture that brought tears to Sophia's eyes. "We can talk more after winter break. I'll see you in January." Sophia stammered out a perfunctory reply and hurried from the office, keeping her head down as she left the school rather than be drawn into a conversation with any concerned coworkers she might encounter along the way. Outside, a capricious wind drove a burst of snow crystals into her face, startling her so that she gasped, but when the shock faded, she settled into an unexpected sense of calm. She had lost her job, but Janine had given her six months' notice. She would finish out the year as if nothing had changed, and surely she could find a new teaching position sometime before Labor Day. She wrapped her scarf more securely about her neck--her eldest sister had knit it for her out of the softest cashmere, and it was as warm as it was elegant--adjusted the strap of her overstuffed bag to shift the weight to a more comfortable position, and set off on foot for St. Margaret's Catholic Church. She dreaded breaking the news to her parents, who were, as ever, fraught with concern for her over the broken engagement and other disappointments. When Sophia was much younger, her parents had encouraged her dreams to become a renowned opera singer, their faith scarcely wavering even when she was not accepted at Juilliard or Oberlin. By the end of her first year as a voice major at Boston College, after many inspiring and humbling months learning and performing with other eager young students--all of whom, like her, had been the best singer in their high school choirs and had won every lead in drama club--she began to realize that she was talented, but perhaps not talented enough. Suffering a crisis of confidence, she had poured out her heart to her kind but pragmatic academic advisor. He had encouraged her to continue to study music, since it was her passion, but also to expand her repertoire to teaching, the better to share that passion with others. It proved to be excellent advice. Sophia had not long been a teacher when she realized that she was privileged and blessed to be able to pursue that calling, and now she could not imagine a more enriching or meaningful career. That made it easier to forgive her parents' unspoken disappointment that she had settled for less than her potential had promised, easier to endure the disdain of strangers who dismissed her as "only a teacher." She would figure it out, she told herself firmly as she strode along, chin buried in her scarf, hands tucked into her pockets, shoulders braced against the flurry in the wind. . . . She left Belmont and Mount Auburn streets behind and, quickening her pace, lamenting the impossibility of stopping for coffee, she eventually reached Brattle Street. Even though she was running late, she paused on the sidewalk before the stately Georgian mansion that had inspired one of her selections for St. Margaret's Christmas Eve concert. Although Boston was rich with history, the former residence known as Longfellow House captivated her imagination as much as any of the city's more famous locales, as did the great poet who had once called it home. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had known great love and success, but also terrible heartbreak. Sophia would never forget how moved she had been when she learned the origin of a Longfellow poem she particularly loved, written one Christmas Day during the Civil War. After suffering tremendous personal loss and enduring along with the rest of the divided nation the hardships of a terrible war, Longfellow had been inspired to compose one of his most beloved and faith-affirming poems--and yet most people, even as they sang the carol his poem had become, had no idea he had written it. A distant bell tolled the quarter hour. " I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play ," Sophia sang softly, gazing at the house, at the window to the room where, perhaps, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had written the poem. " And wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men ." And women too, she added silently, smiling wistfully. She could have used a little peace and goodwill right about then. Mindful of the time, Sophia hurried on her way. The wind had picked up while she had stood lost in reverie in front of the historic residence, whisking snowflakes in graceful swirls and eddies on the sidewalk. Soon thereafter, about a half hour after setting out from school, Sophia arrived outside St. Margaret's Catholic Church. She went around to the side door, which was always left unlocked on choir rehearsal nights, and had just placed her hand on the latch when the door swung open and a tall figure stepped forth. "There you are," said Father Ryan, relieved. He caught the door before it swung shut and held it open for her. "Lucas was getting worried, so he sent me out to search for you." Sophia quickly stepped into the warmth of the little foyer. "I'm not late, am I? I should've taken the bus." "No, you're right on time, but you're usually early, and that was cause enough for worry." Father Ryan was around thirty-five, with an athlete's build, thick strawberry-blond hair, and a dimple in his right cheek that deepened when he smiled, which was of- ten. Sophia had heard more than one parishioner sigh mournfully that his handsome face was wasted on a priest. "Lucas cares about you, you know." Sophia laughed and shrugged out of her coat. "He just doesn't want to be left alone with that pack of wild hooligans." "That's not fair," Father Ryan protested, grinning. "Not to the kids and not to Lucas. He's great with them and you know it. He's leading them in warm-ups as we speak." Then she was even later than she feared. Thanking the priest for his concern, Sophia stamped the snow off her boots on the mat, draped her coat over her arm, and hurried up the staircase and through the side entrance to the nave. Behind the altar in the choir loft stood forty children clad in a colorful array of sweatshirts and sweaters to ward off the chill, warming up with scales and solfège in rounds, accompanied by Lucas on piano. He wore his dark brown hair long, and his eyes were serious and kind and the color of comfortably faded denim. As she quietly set down her bag and coat and scarf on a front pew, several of the children noticed her and grinned-- ginger-haired Alex even broke form to wave, earning him a look of shocked reproach from his elder sister, Charlotte--but with his back to her, Lucas was unaware she had arrived. For all of her teasing, Sophia admired Lucas's patience with the boys and girls, his manifest kindness, his sudden flashes of humor that never failed to bring the young singers' wandering attention back to the music. Lucas was a brilliant pianist, a graduate student at Harvard, steadily booked for paying engagements, and not particularly religious, which made his unwavering commitment to his volunteer gig at the church a bit baffling, or so Sophia had thought when they first met. It was not long, however, until she concluded that he obviously loved playing the piano, he enjoyed the challenges and rewards of working with children, and the acoustics in the church were excellent. What other reason did he need to spend two evenings a week, most of his Sunday mornings, and one Saturday afternoon a month at St. Margaret's? Sophia and Lucas were not alone in enjoying the children's rehearsals. Sister Winifred smiled and nodded in time with the music as she quietly walked the aisles, raising kneelers and replacing hymnals and missals. A few parents were scattered among the pews, some in pairs chatting in whispers, others alone, frowning at laptops or tapping on smartphones. Charlotte and Alex's mother was there too, a perky red beret pulled over her long blond hair, her gaze fixed on the young singers, her expression incongruously bleak. Ever since her husband, Jason, had been deployed overseas with his National Guard unit, Laurie had become markedly tense and unhappy, but at that moment she looked more stricken and upset than Sophia had ever seen her. Concerned, Sophia was just about to approach her when her attention was abruptly pulled away by the muffled boom of one of the tall, heavy doors at the back of the church falling shut. A woman in her early sixties had entered, her short, dark hair neatly coiffed, a black handbag dangling from the crook of her arm. Her eyes met Sophia's; she smiled apologetically, unbuttoned her long coat to reveal a well-tailored red tweed suit and a double strand of lustrous pearls, and settled into the back pew. At that moment the warm-ups concluded. "Well done, kids," Lucas said, rising from the piano bench. "As soon as Miss Sophia arrives--" "She's over there," Alex interrupted, pointing. Lucas gave a start and turned, evoking a smattering a giggles from the sopranos. "We're all here now, so let's continue," Sophia replied, crossing the transept and joining Lucas at the piano. "Let's begin with 'I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.' " As the children turned to the proper page in their binders, Sophia sniffed the air, sighed, and said to Lucas in an undertone, "Some very lucky person nearby has coffee." "Yes, you." Busily arranging his sheet music, Lucas nodded to the floor beside his bench, where she discovered a travel mug and a small brown paper bag. "I figured your concert would run late and you wouldn't have time to stop. There's a cranberry scone in the bag if you're hungry." "Lucas, you didn't," she exclaimed, picking up the cup and bag. "You're a lifesaver, a saint, an angel." "Not really. Just a guy who walked past a coffee shop on his way here." He spared a glance for the children, who were becoming cheerfully restless. "How was the concert?" "The concert was great, but--" To her horror, a sob burst from her throat. "I lost my job. Or I'm going to. In June." "You're not going to teach us anymore?" protested Alex shrilly. "Father Ryan fired you? He can't do that! We like you too much." "No, no, Father Ryan didn't fire me," Sophia quickly assured him, and the other children too, for they all were regarding her with alarm. "I meant my other job. I'm not leaving St. Margaret's." As the anxious looks faded from the children's faces, she murmured to Lucas, "Curse his sharp young ears. I didn't mean for him to hear that." "It's okay," said Lucas, his brow furrowing. "Take a deep breath. Have some coffee. We can talk about it afterward." Cradling the mug in her hands, Sophia nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She closed her eyes and took a long, sustaining drink of coffee--still hot, comfortingly delicious, exactly the way she liked it. Lucas could deny it all he liked, but he was a saint. The children were waiting. "Trebles, let's hear from you first," she said, straightening her shoulders, mustering a smile. "Remember the eighth rest before you come in. Lucas, if you will?" He nodded, his gaze full of concern and kindness as he placed his hands--strong, long-fingered, elegant--upon the keys. She raised her baton, the children came promptly to attention, and the music began. Excerpted from Christmas Bells: A Novel by Jennifer Chiaverini All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Reviews provided by Syndetics

Library Journal Review

Inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "Christmas Bells," Chiaverini (Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker) intersperses the story of how Longfellow came to write the poem with the stories of several people connected to St. Margaret's, a church in contemporary Boston. In the early 1860s, Longfellow is mourning the death of his wife and worrying about his son on the Civil War battlefields while in the present a music teacher faces the loss of her job, a family worries about their missing father in Afghanistan, and brothers clash. With a little help from Sister Winifred, however, those at St. -Margaret's find the hope and joy of the season as they sing a hymn inspired by -Longfellow's words. VERDICT -Chiaverini writes a heartfelt story of Christmases past and present. [See Prepub Alert, 4/6/15.] © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Christmas Bells, a lamentation on the Civil War, is at the center of this uplifting Christmas tale. In Watertown, Massachusetts, Sophia learns that her job as a music teacher is in jeopardy due to budget cuts great news right before Christmas. She finds solace leading the children's choir at Saint Margaret's Church with lovesick accompanist Lucas. Alex and Charlotte, siblings and choir singers, are distracted by the bad Internet connection in Afghanistan that makes communication with their father impossible. Meanwhile, their mother, Laurie, is afraid to ruin the kids' holidays by telling them he is actually MIA. Each character, including batty Sister Winifred and a politician's widow, gets the chance to narrate a chapter of the story, alternating with Longfellow in the 1860s, first worrying about Southern secessionist rumblings, then mourning his wife, then trying desperately to prevent his oldest son from enlisting in the Union Army, and finally producing the famous poem of the title. Though her novel is a bit slow and strangely repetitive in places, Chiaverini nonetheless hits all the right emotional notes in this heartwarming story.--Maguire, Susan Copyright 2015 Booklist

Kirkus Book Review

Preparing for Christmas in Cambridge, Massachusetts, church members face challenges aided by faith and friends and inspired by the eponymous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellowwho, in an alternate storyline, fights despair as he confronts personal tragedy and the Civil War. Christmas is fast approaching, and St. Margaret's Catholic Church is a hub of activity. The children's choir, under Sophia's talented guidance, is practicing its program, which includes "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," the lovely carol based on the poem by Cambridge's own Longfellow. Sophia is determined to remain optimistic this season, despite her recently broken engagement and the threat of losing her job next spring. After all, these children lift her spirits, and she can always depend on Lucas, the saintly accompanist, to be there for her. Particularly talented are the red-haired siblings, serious Charlotte and precocious Alex, whose father is serving with the National Guard in Afghanistan and whose mother is overwhelmed by the crushing news that her beloved husband is missing, a fact she's trying to keep secret. Father Ryan loves his calling and his congregants and is doing his best to aid them in their trials even as he navigates his own fractured family. The odd but cheerful, elderly Sister Winifred offers help and reassurance with eerily perfect timing and perception. Meanwhile, in a separate historical storyline that is lightly attached to the contemporary one, we follow Longfellow through the Civil War and the life-altering events that tested his faith and nearly crushed his spirit. Chiaverini stitches together a series of lightly interlocking contemporary vignettes in an intriguing way and manages to tuck away all the ragged edges in the emotionally satisfying conclusion. In the background are Longfellow's tragic Civil War-era experiences, which, while poignant, feel emotionally distant. A gentle exploration of tragedy, hope, the power of Christmas, and the possibility of miracles. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.