Once Upon a Winter’s Heart by Melody Carlson (novella review)

onceuponawintersheart_carlsonFrom the back cover:

Emma Burcelli has suffered over a decade of dating disasters.  But she concedes that love is officially dead when her grandfather Poppi suddenly passes, leaving her grandmother Nona devastated.  To help out, Emma works in the family bookstore, which Nona insists must web decks out in sweetheart decor as Poppi would have done for Valentine’s Day.  Although she feels like a V-Day Scrooge, Emma quickly learns to enjoy the task with the help of a handsome family friend, Lane Forester.  He shows her that hanging hearts is much more fun when done to the tune of dean Martin.  As Emma and Kane share time and memories of Poppi, she reconsiders the notion that romance is alive.

Just as Emma’s heart begins to lift, however, she learned her sister has already staked a claim on Lane.  Emma’s mother and sister insist Lane only sees her as a future sister-in-law, but she can’t help wondering if it could be something more.

◊   ◊   ◊

This novella was a great choice to kick off a cozy reading time as well as to get me reading again, after January left me unable to focus on reading.  Now, it started of a bit rocky.  I loved that Emma was working in Seattle and that the story moved to a small mountain town (as I’m originally from a small mountain town outside of Seattle) but she gets there driving a Prius, triggering my automotive prejudices.  After I was able to forgive the choice of vehicle, the story went on at a nice pace and I quickly warmed up to Emma and her family.

…she felt like a bag lady in her dirty cleaning clothes… Perhaps that’s what made her decide to speak her mind.  What difference did it make what he thought of her?  “Valentine’s Day is like a cruel joke..” (pg.52)

If you are looking for a Valentine’s Day novella that is not too sugary, sappy, or full of perfect people, look no further.  Emma is convinced that Poppi was the last of his kind, as all the marriages in her family are falling or have fallen apart.  On top of this, her very Italian looks have made her feel less attractive than her blond, blue eyed mother and sister since she was young.  This might seem a bit cliche, and so might her father’s words to her, but it fits the story and helps give a lovely feel to certain scenes.

As a teenager Emma had secretly labeled what her mom and sister had as PS–princess syndrome.  As an adult she suspected she hadn’t been too far off. (p.25)

I really enjoyed the bookstore aspects of this story and the way that Emma becomes aware of Lane, as well as Emma’s relationship with her Nona and Lane’s with Poppi.  I also enjoyed the short scenes involving who is sitting where in church.

The relationship between Emma and Lane develops quickly, but there are setbacks along the way which make the story all the sweeter.  There is a depth to the characters in this story that I don’t always find in novellas, though perhaps that is just my reading.

Whenever a romance heroine is a little older (Emma is 32) it adds to my enjoyment, as does a familiar setting.  More importantly, though, is that the plot is well structured and nicely paced.  There was a lot to like in this novella.

A sweet and enjoyable story, with the romance balanced by grief and marital dysfunction.   This is the first book I’ve read by Melody Carlson and I’m definitely up for more.


Once Upon a Winter’s Heart by Melody Carlson | Center Street, 2014 | paperback, 160 pages (purchased at Dollar Tree)

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