Once I bought Blue Christmas I could not wait to get home and start reading. Sandra Hill is one of my favorite authors; so, starting at the beginning took lots of will-power. Now, having read the stories in order, I am glad I did. Not only is Sandra Hill's concluding story terrific, but the lead story by Amy Elizabeth Saunders is one of the most entertaining I have read. Sandwiched between these are stories by Linda Jones and Sharon Pisacreta which are commendable, especially as a bridge between the first and last stories.
"Can't Help Falling in Love" by Amy Elizabeth Saunders sets the stage. Imagine a joke along the lines of how many stragglers can you fit into the original VW beetle, add a stuffy writer in need of reaching out to touch someone, a stranded grandmother traveling with hundreds of pounds of fruitcake, a spunky, spiky-haired runaway teen, and one downed "Flying Elvi," then lace with an intelligent, feisty heroine at the wheel – voila. Amy Elizabeth Saunders has created a charming Christmas cocktail.
When the group piles out of the overloaded, tree-topped car in Memphis, Saunders foreshadows elements of stories to come as she tidies up the romance between her driver and the no-longer-quite-so-pompous journalist. The enchanting descriptions of the Original Heartbreak Hotel on Blues Street with its idiosyncratic suites, vacant parking lot, kooky, spirited bellhop and Elvis fans in every nook and cranny will have you calling your travel agent for reservations.
Linda Jones' story, "Always on My Mind," seem weaker by comparison, but as a story of insecure young lovers, it will pull at your heartstrings. Birmingham-based accountant Laura Marlow longs for stability, a home and children, but falls in love with penniless, gifted piano man, Michael Arnett. Michael dreams of fame and fortune but finds they are no substitute for love. Laura disappears, then reappears after four years, intent on telling him the truth about the daughter he has never known. Michael views this as his last chance to reclaim his one, true love.
One of the less credible aspects of this story is that Michael achieves fame and fortune while the savvy mother of his secret, love-child, remains clueless. When Laura finally decides to tell him the truth, she turns away from him when she discovers the truth about his recent financial success. Laura and Michael's daughter, Megan, is cute but more than ten "Elbis" references and one stanza of "Amazing Gwace" are a bit much. Linda Jones' story is not very original but is a useful building block in this anthology.
Sharon Pisacreta's "All Shook Up" has lots of charm and is an enjoyable read on its own. Kim Hanson comes to Memphis to woo one big client as the salvation for her nearly bankrupt public-relations firm. Spencer Modine, computer whiz, musician and all-round successful entrepreneur is the target. A nervous wreck, rather than turning him off, she gets her man by charming him with her need for lots of R&R. Whatever works at holiday time, I guess.
As with the Jones' story, Pisacreta's shows evidence of an author less comfortable with the short-story format. Characters get from here to there emotionally without adequate preparation, but her writing is strong and there are scenes which are fun to read and helpful to the building sense of the magic of both the holiday and the old hotel.
The final story, Sandra Hill's "Fever" brings it all on home. Imagine a younger, taller Richard Gere and a better-looking Julia Roberts, in a head-to-head confrontation over the sale and demolition of the magical Original Heartbreak Hotel. Princeton born and educated, venture capitalist Clayton Jessup III and farmer Annie Fallon meet when she and her brothers try to make a few extra bucks before Christmas posing as an Elvis-inspired nativity scene in the vacant lot next to his recently inherited hotel. Annie just needs a little money for gifts, a new barn roof, a semester in vet school for one of her five younger brothers, etc. You get the point. No brief description of this story could do it justice.
Whether you are a fan of Elvis Presley, whether you like country music, whether you know anything about Memphis, you will enjoy Blue Christmas. Consider it a cheap vacation – choose a suite with a roulette wheel, a carousel or a tunnel-of-love-shaped waterbed, then enjoy the holidays at the Original Heartbreak Hotel. These authors make everything from Beale Street to the ducks at The Peabody Hotel come alive. It's magic without being beyond belief!