If you're like me and you can't get enough of Philip Gulley's novels, you'll gladly shell out $12.95 for THE CHRISTMAS SCRAPBOOK, a slim holiday novella that offers a new installment of delightful doings of Quaker pastor Sam Gardner.
Like all of Gulley's novels set in the small town of Harmony, Indiana, this one is chock-full of wry humor and just a little bit poignant. The well-meaning Sam has a history of dreadful gift-giving, including the ceramic pelican kitchen sponge holder he gave his wife Barbara last Christmas. Determined to redeem 18 years of bad presents, he secretly enrolls in a scrapbooking class on Wednesday nights to make her something memorable.
Of course, his good intentions end up wreaking havoc. Barbara becomes suspicious of his nights out and the money Sam is withdrawing from their account. Sam, she decides, is having an affair, a suspicion that soon makes the rounds in Harmony. Sam has never been a good liar, "a serious detriment for a minister, who must often fudge things a bit in order to keep people happy." After fending off Barbara's suspicions, Sam muses: "He wished now he'd told her it was a Bible study, then suggested she attend also, which would have nipped her curiosity in the bud."
As the only man in a class of 20 scrapbookers, Sam finds that the craft requires some talents he lacks. He's in danger of flunking the class. His instructor, Mrs. Hilda Gruber (a former drill sergeant), tells him, "Your glue work is atrocious, and your scissor performance is simply deplorable." A mishap with the glue leads to a buzz haircut for Sam, which spurs another round of rumors in Harmony that he is succumbing to a terminal illness. Barbara morphs from being angry about his possible affair to worrying over him, sure that he's spending his last Christmas with the family.
Because his scrapbook is looking poor, Sam wonders if he should go ahead and purchase the pink ceramic Flamingo ring holder and matching pot holder and dishtowel for Barbara at Kivett's Five and Dime. With the pelican kitchen sponge holder from the year before, he decides, he can complete the set. And just as Christmas looms, Sam has a freak accident that ends with his foot in a cast and him in a terrible frame of mind. "His suffering cast a pall over their home; his sons were avoiding him as if he were week-old road kill, so foul was his mood." Sam tours the progressive nativity in a wheelchair, greeted by the "kindly gestures and muffled sobs" of his friends, who are sure his life is nearing the end and "marveled at his bravery in the face of certain death."
Various characters make cameo appearances: Fern Hampton, who is up to her usual scolding and threats; Dale Hinshaw, who is hard at work on the annual progressive nativity scene; and Kyle Weathers, who barbers Sam to within an inch of his life. To top it off, Frank, Sam's 76-year-old secretary, plans to go on strike three weeks before Christmas if he doesn't get a raise, a new photocopier, and an extra coffee break. The real focus of the book, however, is on Sam and Barbara, and their tender, funny, down-to-earth relationship.
Although you can read this as a stand-alone novella, if you haven't read the "Harmony" series you'll want to read the earlier ones first. Gulley's stories never disappoint. This short holiday novella will delight readers and find its way into multiple Christmas stockings this season.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on September 20, 2005