Thursday, November 05, 2015

Review: Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini

Title: Christmas Bells
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Published: October 2015, Dutton
Format: ARC Paperback, 336 pages
Source: Publisher

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.

My thoughts: I have long been a fan of Jennifer Chiaverini's books and so when I saw this one being released, I knew I wanted to read it. I've read most of her historical fiction books and always end up finding them completely fascinating and this one was no exception.

I love how this book is inspired by the Christmas poem, "Christmas Bells" written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. There are two story lines going on - the past story line involving Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and how that poem came to be, and the present story line, which revolves around those involved in the Christmas Eve concert at St. Margaret's Catholic Church. One of the the songs the children will be singing is "Christmas Bells."

It was so easy to get caught up in this book, and as it moved back and forth from the present to the past, you find yourself completely involved in both story lines. I admit that I was not all that familiar with Longfellow's history, so I found those chapters to be very interesting - one of the reasons why I love reading Jennifer Chiaverini's books. She takes people from history and brings them to life and leaves you wanting to know more.

The present day story was just as fascinating and I loved how Jennifer told it. Each chapter was told from a different person's point of view, which I was not expecting. But it made it so interesting and I loved how all the stories came together in the end, how they were all intertwined. 

I really enjoyed this holiday was heartwarming and touching, filled with hope, joy and perseverance. Now I have a much greater appreciation for the poem "Christmas Bells" and love knowing the backstory. I also would love to read more about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which is what I love about reading historical fiction...being left wanting to know more. This book is definitely a keeper!!!



  1. I don't know much about Longfellow and that poem is new to me but this sounds delightful. I like when stories from the past and present intertwine, provided it's done well. A friend of mine loves Chiaverini's books; I'll have to tell her about this one.

  2. Sounds great, I did see it on NetGalley but didn't get it, but love your review and will definitely put this on my wish list.


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