Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"The Christmas Letter" by Steven H. Berman

REVIEW and EXCERPT
The Christmas Letter
by Steven H. Berman

The Christmas Letter by Steven H. Berman

The Christmas Letter by Steven H. Berman is currently on tour with Reading Addiction Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my review and an excerpt. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.


Description
Mary is a naïve twenty-year-old in 1945 when her high school sweetheart, Jack, returns to their small Indiana steel town wounded from World War II and makes her his bride. While Jack struggles to find his place in the world, Mary begins her own journey of self-discovery. As the years and letters unfold, Mary and Jack have five children, including their first-born son, Junior who is not "right", an issue that contributes to the turmoil in their marriage and impacts their lives in unforeseen ways. Mary's Christmas letters track her children from toddling to adulthood, while also commenting on her marriage, her friendships, and the world around her - advances in technology, the dawn of the nuclear age, the Cuban Missile Crisis, The Cold War, Vietnam, Woodstock, and more. Through disappointments, triumphs, dark moments of doubt and suspicion, loss of loved ones, and the lessons learned from hard experience, Mary’s Christmas letters are a constant in an uncertain world.


Excerpt
December 12, 1946
Dear Midge,
Another Christmas here again already! (Almost)
I’m a little early with this letter as Christmas isn’t for another week and a half, but we all know the mail can be unpredictable, and I didn’t want to chance this letter arriving too late. I know I haven’t written in too long. Thanks for your letters.
You sound like you and Willy are moving right along. Willy’s in college at the University of California? I always thought he was smart. Engineering? Sounds like big brain stuff to me (unless by engineer you mean he’s going to work on the railroad, ha-ha). Why not go with the G.I. Bill paying for it? I don’t think Jack would want to go to school, though I wish he would or at least try. I can’t even get him to look into the housing benefits, which I think allow a veteran to buy a house with no money down and a very low mortgage rate. He says there’s plenty of time and he doesn’t want that kind of burden right now.
I guess you’ll be keeping the typing pool job for a while. I sure hope it lasts. You should hang out in drug stores and get discovered like that Lana Turner. You’re as pretty as she is!
Everyone is coming here for Christmas dinner this year and bringing potluck, as the baby is still much too little to take anywhere, especially as it’s been so cold. For New Year’s we are just going to stay in, not like last year when our celebrating brought forth little Jack Junior, nine months to the day! He was small and spent his first week in the hospital in an incubator. I was there for a few days recovering, anyway. I was happy to stay there close with him. Now he seems all right. Between you and me I think he’s a little too quiet. But everyone says he’ll be screaming his lungs out soon enough. “Be thankful he’s not colicky,” Mom says. I’m trying to be thankful, but I do worry.
According to Mom, all three of us: me, Jenny, and Richard were screamers for the first six months we were babies. At least Richard and I grew out of it. Jenny’s still a screamer and a crier. Anyway, Jack Junior’s got huge blue eyes (still a little bit crossed) and one large blond curl at the top of his head. I swear there are times he looks exactly like that munchkin from The Wizard of Oz—the one that was in the Lollipop Guild. Remember that movie from before the war? Seems like so long ago.
Jenny is bringing over her new boyfriend, Patrick. He works at the radio station. I guess he did something with radio in the war. Maybe Jenny will be more serious with him. We’ve met him once. At least his ears are normal size, not like the last one. He says pretty soon he’s going to buy a television box. No one around here has seen one except in the magazines. Hard to believe you can actually “see” radio like you’re looking through a window. So instead of sitting in the living room, listening, you also watch what you’re hearing. It doesn’t seem possible to me. Anyway, why would you want to watch people talking? Isn’t that what you do when you’re just having a conversation with someone sitting in your living room to begin with? At any rate, we don’t have to worry about buying one. So expensive!
My brother Richard wants to go to college, but he’s probably going to be drafted. No one understands why there is still a draft when the war is over, but at least, Thank God, it is over. Everyone I talk to never wants there to be a war again. I know we saved Europe and ourselves from Hitler and Hirohito, but you would think the war would have taught people like that something—not to do it again.
Jack got a job at the mill, which is not what he wanted, but the fact is that with all the soldiers coming back from the war at the same time and with the factory work slowing down because the war is over, there just aren’t that many jobs open. His G.I. Bill unemployment payment of $30 a month wasn’t getting us very far (he got an extra ten because of his leg). It doesn’t seem fair that these men fought all that time and now they’ve come back and can’t even get a job. Is it the same way in California? I tell Jack we should be happy that he’s got a job at all, especially because he’s got new responsibility with Jack Junior all of a sudden.
He goes to work, don’t get me wrong. I would only tell you this, Midge. I guess the truth is he doesn’t seem quite the same since he came back from the war. I don’t know what he went through over there, except for his leg injury, and that has healed. You can’t even tell if you didn’t know because he doesn’t limp very much at all. He used to be easier. Do you know what I mean? He’s the kind that won’t ever say if something’s bothering him. I’m trying to be the best wife and mother I can be. I know Jack is trying to figure something out, and that something is bothering him. I’m sure it will all be okay.
Jack is on the list to buy a surplus jeep and if he gets one, he won’t have to take the bus to work. He says they should give every G.I. one because they earned it in the war. But of course, the jeep means we’ll have to buy gasoline, and that’s fifteen cents a gallon. Everything adds up so fast. Jack’s making almost twenty-two hundred dollars a year at the mill, but we have to stretch it, what with the baby and the paying off the hospital bills and everything else.
Still, we manage to have some fun, mostly because of little Jack Junior. I had to laugh the other day when Jack tried to change his diaper. Unfortunately, Jack Junior got him with all guns firing! Not only was Jack Junior still pooping when Jack changed him, but poor Jack also got sprayed with the “yellow peril.” Then finally, just when Jack managed to get the baby cleaned up, powdered, and pinned, and picked him up, sure enough, Jack Junior upchucked right down Jack’s back! Luckily, I was there before Jack threw him against the wall.
Mom and Dad are over the moon about little Jack Junior. He’s their first grandchild. Dad made him about a half-dozen hand-carved wooden toys— a boat, a plane, a car, those kinds of things. I guess he sees transportation in that baby’s future! Mom can’t get enough of him. She wants to hold him the entire time she’s here, so I let her.
I didn’t realize how much work a baby was going to be. At least with my job at the bank I got a coffee break and after work I could go home. Being a mother, there are no breaks and I’m already home and that’s where my job is! I’m just happy a day isn’t more than twenty-four hours. I have a whole new appreciation for Mom.
We’re all looking forward to Mom’s cookies this year. The rationing has eased for sugar for the first time in no one knows how long. She’s been buying all they will sell her and trading for more. My guess is she’ll make about a thousand cookies, and I’ll probably eat about nine hundred.
I’m going to bed now to try for a few hours of sleep before Jack Junior needs his 2 o’clock feeding. That’s one good thing about being a mother. I can fall asleep in an instant—lying down, sitting, standing, or leaning anywhere. The other good thing is that little Jack Junior is eating all the weight I gained carrying him right out of me. So, I’m already close to where I was before. Soon, Jack may take an interest in me again (I hope). But even with its challenges, I love motherhood. It’s what I was meant for. President Truman says, “The buck stops here.” Well, being a mother means the poop stops here… and so does everything else!
I’m going to finish the letter now; I actually fell asleep on the table last night. (That’s why the ink is smudged a little) Another night done. That’s what I want for Christmas—a good night’s sleep. Maybe Santa can do the 2 o’clock feeding on Christmas Eve. I wonder how Jack sleeps through it, but he works hard at the mill, so I can’t blame him. I’m just jealous, and like Jack says, he doesn’t have the equipment for it.
Jack says maybe we should move out to California. He thinks there might be more opportunity there. I reminded him that he has a good job here and who knows what he could get out there. What do you think? Isn’t everybody out there in the movie business? Jack can’t even handle our Brownie camera… or maybe he just doesn’t want to. I’ve taken a few pictures of Jack Junior. Everyone says how cute he is. He is cute, but sometimes he does look like Grampa falling asleep on the couch after Thanksgiving dinner. And I have to say, sometimes before he’s changed, he smells like Grampa, too… or Grampa smells like him (maybe Gramma needs to change Grampa). Anyway, I’ll send you a picture when I get the roll developed.
You can just feel the whole country is beginning to relax, can’t you? After all that time with the war. And for so long, everything you read in the paper was about the war and the rationing and worrying every single minute of every single day. Now, it’s really over and it’s like we can breathe a whole breath again. Somehow, it’s sweeter air than it was and fresher. It just tastes like hope. It’s the air of the future.
I hope you and Willy have a wonderful Christmas and while you’re eating an orange under your palm tree in the sun, think of us here shivering under a blanket of snow so deep Mom and Dad almost lost their new puppy dog, Shadow, in it. But seriously, have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Write me, I live for news from the outside world.
Merry Christmas! We miss you!
Love,
Mary, Jack, and Junior
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]


Praise for the Book
"Told in the annual Christmas letters Mary Townsend sends to her best friend, The Christmas Letter is an emotional roller coaster; an immersive, uplifting, deeply satisfying read. I loved it." ~ Warren Littlefield, Multi-Emmy, Peabody, Television Award winning Executive Producer of Fargo, and The Handmaid’s Tale
"A great literary gift of the Christmas or any season. It’s a story of a family so real, so moving and so heartwarming, you’ll want to invite Mary and her brood home for dinner." ~ Jeff Melvoin, Emmy Award winning Executive Producer, Designated Survivor, Army Wives, and Northern Exposure
"I could barely stand to leave these characters at the end of the book and have thought about them daily since, as though they were real and part of my real life. What a moving story, so beautifully written. ’The Christmas Letter’ is a testament to the strength of the human heart to persevere, against all odds and obstacles, bolstered by faith and stubborn belief." ~ Barbara Corday, Creator of Emmy Award winning series Cagney and Lacey, former President Columbia Pictures Television and Executive Vice-President of CBS Entertainment
"Steve Berman gives readers a poetic, beautiful and powerful understanding of the truth and love that connects hearts in his magnificent new book The Christmas Letter. The path these characters take, make it impossible for you to put this book down. ‘The Christmas Letter’ has courage and compassion. The finest convictions, the most challenging situations are met by true faith. You will experience a turbulent ride, with a result that speaks to friendship, family and faith. If you read one new book this year, please meet Mary and read The Christmas Letter." ~ Kathy Ireland, CEO kathy ireland Worldwide

My Review
I received this book in return for an honest review.


By Lynda Dickson
Beginning Christmas 1945 and ending Christmas 1981, The Christmas Letter consists of a series of Christmas letters written by Mary to her best friend Midge, who has just moved to Los Angeles with her husband. We visit Mary's family every year and get an update on births, deaths, and marriages. Over the course of the years, her letters describe her family life, as well as the movies, music, events, and politics of the times. As her family grows and life becomes more hectic, what starts off as a simple letter sent before Christmas gradually turns into a report of the Christmas happenings written over several days before and after Christmas.
Throughout it all, runs the thread of her mom's Christmas cookies, which I think should have featured on the front cover! I love the recipe for these cookies: "You start with love, put in some wisdom and add all the faith you can muster and finish them off with a hug and kiss." I also would have loved seeing the real recipe at the end of the book. But I guess it's a family secret!
It was hard to put this book down. I kept telling myself, "Just one more letter ..." When you close the book, you'll feel like you're saying good-bye to old friends. A must-read this Christmas season.

About the Author
Steven H. Berman
Steven H. Berman is a veteran writer-producer with more than fifteen produced credits, including a dozen Movies of the Week and five mini-series. His mini-series Roughing It brought him a Writers’ Guild of America nomination for best adaptation. His movie Twice Upon a Christmas premiered at the White House. The Christmas Letter is his first novel.
Steven lives in Los Angeles with his wife Marcia, the Director of Advancement at a private school. They have two children; Rachel whose debut novel, Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen was published last year, and Dan, an entrepreneur.

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