Melody Carlson’s Once
Upon a Winter Heart
(Center Street) is a delightful story about the loss
and recovery of romance, love, and hope. Emma Burcelli says romance is dead.
After her beloved grandfather Poppi passes away, she thinks the last true
romantic is gone. She quits her marketing job to move in with her grandmother Nona,
Poppi’s widow. When she gets to Nona’s house, she finds her mother, Saundra,
already there. After years of a chilly marriage, Saundra has left her husband,
Rob. Emma feels like her family is falling apart, but she helps Nona with
cooking and cleaning and goes to work in Poppi’s bookstore in town.

A true
romantic, Poppi had a tradition of hanging Valentine’s Day decorations in his
bookstore on February 1st. But that’s also the day of his funeral, and when
Nona realizes that the decorations haven’t been put up, Emma volunteers to make
a late-night trip to do the job. To Emma, the pink and red decorations seem
garish and depressing; she’s given up on romance. But then someone comes into
the bookstore, Lane Forester. He was mentored by Poppi and helped him put up
Valentine’s decorations in the past. To Emma’s surprise, he brings out red
wine, chocolates, and a Dean Martin CD, saying that Poppi always decorated the
store in the right spirit. After an enchanting night, Emma goes home hopeful,
but the problem comes when Emma’s recently divorced sister, the elegant Anne,
stakes a claim on Lane’s affections.

Despite the
heavy subjects of the book—Poppi’s death, Saundra and Rob’s separation, Emma’s
conflict with her sister—Carlson infuses her story with positivity and hope,
creating an uplifting, enjoyable reading experience. This positivity springs
from Emma’s own heart, interactions between characters, and Nona’s sound
advice: it’s better to pray than to worry. Emma listens to Nona, lays her
worries before God, and trusts that He is working for her good.

Carlson’s characters are warm and good-hearted. Readers can
relate to Emma—she’s insecure, overshadowed by her mother and sister, and tries
to do the right thing. Her heart has been broken and she doesn’t believe in
romance or true love. At 32, she doesn’t think she has much of a romantic
future. Lane has also had a heavy past, and is hesitant to date again. He’s
spontaneous, patient, and kind. His heart for kids is evident in how he serves
as a mentor for Emma’s nephew, Tristan. Nona especially leaves a warm
impression—her homemade Italian food, wisdom, and gentle spirit sustain Emma
and readers alike throughout the novel.

Once Upon a Winter’s Heart will revive
anyone who’s given up on romance and wants a happy ending. Each character—Emma,
her parents, Lane, and Anne—is given a second chance at love. Carlson weaves
their stories together, showing how each character stumbles, restarts, tries
again, and starts to get it right. She fills their stories with hope, showing
that it’s never too late to give love another chance.

FamilyFiction’s book
reviewing intern, Niki, is a third-year English major at Westmont College in
Santa Barbara, California. She’s a fan of reading, writing, drinking tea, and

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