Prolific inspirational novelist Kathleen Morgan offers a light yet poignant seasonal romance for her fans in ONE PERFECT GIFT: A Culdee Creek Christmas, which continues the MacKay family saga but can be read easily as a stand-alone.
It’s 1933, and Jessica Ashmore has arrived in Grandview, Colorado from Baltimore, Maryland with her six-year-old daughter Emma to take a position as a nurse. A change of plans lands Jessica and Emma at Culdee Creek Ranch, where Jessica cares for Abby MacKay after a stroke has left her bedridden. Abby and her husband, Conor, warmly welcome Jessica and Emma into their lives. Daughter-in-law Claire, who has been managing two households, is grateful for Jessica’s help.
The lone dissenter is the ruggedly handsome son, cowboy Sean MacKay, who rejects the widowed Jessica from the start (diehard romance readers won’t have to guess where the romance will come from because of this classic antagonism!). “We’ve managed just fine without you. And I reckon we could continue to do so,” he tells Jessica. Sean is still bitter from the disappointments of his first marriage, and the walls he puts up against Jessica and Emma threaten to drive her from Culdee Creek. But unlike other romance heroines, Jessica is straightforward with Sean and invites him to clear the air with her about his feelings as she senses his hostility. When Sean saves Emma from a perilous situation, Jessica finds her feelings for Sean turning to love.
Morgan is a pro with dialogue and pacing, and moves her seasonal story along at a brisk clip. The plot tension never bubbles past a gentle simmer, and the kind-hearted MacKay family winds their way into readers’ hearts. Although Jessica and Emma are alone and penniless, Morgan resists letting them become clichéd victims. We sense that Jessica is a strong woman who will find her way, no matter what the outcome of the romance. And indeed, when she is offered a permanent job in a hospital in Colorado Springs, Jessica will have to decide if there is anything worth staying for in Culdee Creek.
Morgan fleshes out her plot with a simple backstory about Sean’s days in the military and a past deception that cost him the love of his deceased wife and the respect of her family. She brings this subplot to a climax with a timely fire, in which Sean must decide if he’ll forgive --- even when forgiveness has not been asked --- and another character must decide if she will tell the truth. This storyline is a bit too neatly resolved, but it does keep the happy, inspirational spirit of the novel from moving into darker waters.
The “one perfect gift” would seem to be the birth of Christ, but other “gifts” are given as well. As Jessica prays, “I have so little to give You, Lord, on this night of miracles, the eve of Your birth…but all I have, I offer. My one perfect gift … a humble, contrite, loving heart.” Sean’s gifts are forgiving his former in-laws for the way they’ve vilified him and opening his heart to love again. Morgan shows through Sean and Jessica the ever-present possibilities of new beginnings.
Fans of the Brides of Culdee Creek series will enjoy seeing their favorite characters within these pages: Beth MacKay Starr, Evan MacKay, Claire Southerland MacKay and others. Culdee Creek readers will want to add this latest installment to their bookshelves.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on September 1, 2008