When a mysterious reclusive stranger leaves his beautiful old farmhouse, a huge barnful of animals and acres of gorgeous land to Abbey Williams and her father, she's stunned. Sadly, her father passed away not long after the old man, leaving Abbey the sole owner. She and Steve, her husband of more than thirty years, are excited to move in. The only stipulation in the man's will was that the animals had to stay and that Thomas, the little old man who cares for them, would continue to do so. Abbey loves animals and is glad to keep them around, but is rather baffled by the dozens and dozens of reindeer.
Abby and Steve excitedly prepare to have their sons home with them at Christmas for the first time in a long while. It turns out to be a joyous and life-altering occasion for all of them. On Christmas Eve, Abbey discovers the magical purpose of the reindeer and her new special calling in life. After the holidays, everything begins to change in more ways than one. Abbey and Steve face the greatest challenge of their lives, as Abbey learns that she must battle the monster of cancer once again, but the belief she found in the spirit of Christmas will give them strength to carry on as they learn that every person's life affects many others and will always continue to live on through the ones they love.
The Reindeer Keeper is a short novel about love, life, family and loss with a dash of magical realism on the side. It is by turns both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Abbey and Steve, the main protagonists are a more mature couple (around 60-ish), but their love and passion for one another hasn't dimmed one bit in the 30+ years they've been married. Their love was a palpable thing throughout the entire story. Their life together hasn't always been easy, but they've been each other's rock through the bad times, and taken great joy in the good times.
Abbey and Steve begin the book preparing to spend Christmas with their two sons, a daughter-in-law and the other son's girlfriend in a new house that was bequeathed to Abbey's father by a mysterious, reclusive stranger and then passed to her when her father died. It is the first time they've all been together in a while and it turns out to be a beautiful and joyous occasion. The magic of Christmas works through Abbey to finally help her make peace with her mother's death when she was a teenager. She in turn is able to see and understand the same feelings of loss in her daughter-in-law, who up to this point, has been rather difficult to like. Abbey is also able to help rekindle her son's dream/talent for cooking, and assist both him and his wife in understanding that they do have choices in life. It's just sometimes hard to make them when it means changing everything to which you've become accustomed. After the holidays and throughout the coming year, Abbey and Steve face the biggest challenge of their lives, as everyone deals with a devastating loss, but the spirit of Christmas continues to sustain them.
I liked how the author used a bit of magical realism in the form of Santa Claus. In the midst of an incredibly serious story, there were moments of surreal escape, but it wasn't just for fun and games. Santa became a universal, non-religious illustration of faith and how it sometimes takes going back to that pure faith of childhood in order to believe in something greater than ourselves. I liked how Santa took the characters back to that place in the past to help them understand the present and future. There is also a lovely message about how each person can touch other people's lives and even after death, they live on in the small things. Life still goes on for the living, and we just have to open our hearts to look for our loved ones who have passed on in the spirit they left behind.
The Reindeer Keeper was a much sadder book than I was expecting, so readers should definitely keep a box of tissues handy for this one. I'm tearing up just writing this review. It's difficult to use the word enjoy to describe a book that is this melancholy, but I did like it very much. This is one of those books that has a lovely message to impart rather than a feel-good story to tell. It has no objectionable elements which should make it appropriate for readers of all ages from teen and up, although the older protagonists and the mature subject matter may not resonate as well with younger people. The only thing that kept me from giving it a perfect five stars is that I thought the writing itself could have used a bit more polish. It was just little things like the dialog not flowing as naturally as it could have in places or needing a few more details here and there. Overall though, The Reindeer Keeper was a book filled with heart and soul from beginning to end that has found a spot on my keeper shelf. I definitely recommend that readers who liked The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere, or similar books, give this one a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author via the publicist, Bostick Communications, in exchange for my review.
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