By Ramona Flightner
Jubilant Montana Christmas
(a short story in the Bear Grass Springs series)
On the challenges facing AIDS prevention workers in India...
"Jubilant Montana Christmas" by Ramona Flightner is a novella and the newest instalment in her Bear Grass Springs historical romance series. Even though I'm a big fan of Ramona's writing, I found myself with very mixed feeling about this series in particular. However, Karl and Leena's story, which I didn't really anticipate all that much seeing they were minor characters in the previous books, turned out to be a lovely read.Bear Grass Springs began with the stories of the MacKinnon brothers Cailean, Alistair and Ewan, in the first 3 instalments respectively titled "Montana Untamed", "Montana Grit" and "Montana Maverick". They also have a younger sister called Sorcha. They're from Scotland, but have settled in the Bear Grass Springs Montana in search of a better life. Cailean and Alistair own the only livery in town, which they've managed to make a successful business out of. Ewan is a carpenter and his business is thriving as well. The brothers were much sought after bachelors until they settled down with the love of their lives, Cailean with the town baker Annabelle, Alistair with Leticia who was a school teacher before she began helping Annabelle with her rapidly growing bakery business. Ewan finally found someone to love in Jessamine, a news reporter newly arrived in Bear Grass Springs; also the proprietor of the town's only newspaper. My feelings for all 3 books were pretty ambivalent.
Bear Grass Springs series also have some wonderful secondary characters. In one of the instalments, we were introduced to the Norwegian immigrants Nathanial, his sister Leena and his friend Karl, who'd arrived in Bear Grass Springs for much the same reason as the MacKinnons. Nathanial and Karl owned a sawmill so Ewan had been their customer. Over the years they'd become good friends, but Ewan is closer to Nathanial. Leena, a gifted baker, had begun working with Annabelle very recently. She loves her job and appreciates the friendship of the MacKinnons with her own family just as much as she does the money she earns from her work.
There weren't a lot about Nathanial and Leena's background in the previous books but it was mentioned that Leena and Karl were already engaged to be married. When "Jubilant Montana Christmas" opens up, apparently they'd gotten married a few months ago. Even though the novella reads as standalone, I'm sure you'd find it more enjoyable if you know the characters from their own books because all the MacKinnons make appearances throughout the story.
Though all seemed okay from the outside, Karl and Leena's marital bliss was not what it seemed. Karl, who turned out to be a bit of a lout, wasn't happy with Leena's job and wanted her to stop working with Annabelle. It was more to do with his dislike for Annabelle because of her somewhat of a rebellious (read: scandalous) status in the town. You'd learn the whys of it if you read the previous books.
This novella, in such a short space, also gives us some backgrounds on Leena, Karl and Nathanial's life in Norway. Leena and Nathanial have family there, with parents and other siblings. Karl, an orphan, had pretty much grown up with them. It seemed like they sort of chose each-other in their childhood so a marriage between them seemed only logical. However, it'd also seem that they had a lot to learn about one another. Karl couldn't understand why Leena wouldn't be happy just to be his wife and stay at home, while Leena couldn't get why Karl would be so angry when she's actually earning money that'd help them in the long run because they weren't really well off. So on and so forth.
For me, the beauty of the story lies in reading it. "Jubilant Montana Christmas" is all about our newlyweds' own realization - coming to terms with the reality as well as their personal feelings for one another, which apparently they never really thought to face before. But would Karl ever be reasonable enough to see it from Leena's POV? How she viewed her job and try to understand her sense of independence? Would Leena finally understand the depth of Karl's vulnerability and where it stemmed from? As Christmas approached in Bear Grass Springs with its snowflakes and celebratory aura, both Leena and Karl had to find a way to face their fears to make their marriage work, hoping they're not too late.
A lovely addition to Bear Grass Springs, "Jubilant Montana Christmas" is recommended for any fans of the series.
Punya H Rashid is a book reviewer