Cora Crowder isn’t really feeling the Christmas spirit. The child of two alcoholics, Cora grew up in an abusive environment which she survived by immersing herself in her studies. When her mother threw her out of the house, Cora was fortunate to secure a college scholarship and a Christian family with whom she could board. It was then that Cora began living a life of faith. Now, in her fifth year living and working in a city several states away from her dysfunctional relatives, Cora shops for gifts to mail back to them. Still . . . since becoming a Christian, she finds the Christmas traditions and trappings — gift giving, nativity scenes, carols, decorated trees — confusing and unsettling.
Looking for the perfect book about knights, castles, and tales of adventure for her uncle, she happens upon a quaint bookstore, Warner, Werner, and Wizbotterdad’s, situated at 503 Sage Street, a charming little avenue that appears to be a throw-back to a simpler time. Tucked inside the book she purchases is a ticket to a Wizards’ Christmas Ball that requires her to wear a costume and promises “Dinner and Dancing . . . and your Destiny.”
Simon Derrick is Cora’s stern, no-nonsense boss. He also happens into the bookstore just as Cora is completing her purchase. He also receives a ticket to the mysterious Ball. But when his sister, Sandy, finds it, she wants to attend with Simon. So he must secure another ticket.
Is it fate or something else that seems determined to throw Cora and Simon into situations requiring them to interact with each other for the first time, even thought they have been working at the same company for five years? And who is behind the mysterious Wizards’ Christmas Ball? Does Sage Street even exist? Like the mythical city of Brigadoon, it seems to be there one moment, but not the next. Do Christian wizards really exist?
Author Donita K. Paul has been said to “expertly weave together fantasy, romance, and Biblical truths” in her DragonKeeper Chronicles series. Drained from her previous endeavors, she wanted to take a “busman’s holiday” and write something “just for fun, just for me; I didn’t care if it got published or not.” The result was the charming and delightful novella, Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball.
The owners of the bookstore are wizards who help unsuspecting folks find their soul mates by luring them into their store through internet pop-up advertising. Once there, they make sure that customers receive tickets to their annual Christmas Ball, attend, and are introduced to the love of their life.
The most refreshing aspect of the book is Paul’s effortless intertwining of the story’s magical setting and theme with her message about Christianity and faith. The eccentric and eclectic cast of supporting characters practically come to life and jump off the pages. In addition to the multi-generational Wizbotterdads, there are the two elderly sisters, Betty and Bonnie, who operate the costume shop. And thrown in for good measure is a villainess, Cora’s sister, Suzanne, a con artist who has previously taken advantage of Cora and threatens to ruin her chance to find true love and happiness with Simon.
“I would like people to allow themselves to laugh and not be so uptight.”
~ Author Donita K. Paul
Sandy, the beloved younger sister of Simon, is a twenty-four-year-old woman with Down’s syndrome who lives with Simon, their mother, grandfather, and aunt. With a strong faith and abiding belief in the goodness of life and those with whom she shares it, Sandy lends a wise, intuitive, and endearing voice to the narrative. Devoted to the sister who may or may not have much longer to live, Simon is determined to give her an adventure she will never forget by purchasing her a costume fit for the finest princess and escorting her to the Ball. But Sandy knows that Simon is falling for Cora, whom she has also come to love, and is equally adamant that they secure another ticket so the three of them can enjoy the festivities together. Readers will fall in love with Simon and Cora simply because of their beautiful, yet effortless, love for and relationship with Sandy.
But the focal point of the story is, of course, how Simon and Cora, both of whom have lived solitary lives up to this point — Cora alone in the apartment where she hides with her cat, Skipper, and Simon in the comfort of his familial home — come to realize that they were meant for each other. Paul describes Cora as very “uptight,” a young woman trying extremely hard to be successful at living out her faith. She harshly judges herself and her actions, finding that she comes short of her goals. She hides inside her apartment, not letting outsiders in, as a way of shielding herself and them from the truth about her past. However, she allows Sandy and Simon to enter, ostensibly so that Sandy can meet and select one of Skipper’s kittens, and soon finds herself welcoming them back, along with the rest of Simon’s family. She also finds herself opening up, explaining her background to Simon and Sandy, as she gradually learns to trust. Most surprising to Cora is the gradual realization that Christians are not all boring and incapable of enjoying themselves. Her delight is palpable when she discovers that what she perceived as a dour workplace demeanor is really just Simon’s singular devotion to and focus upon his professional obligations, a lesson he learned from his hard-working father. Outside the office, Cora finds Simon funny, charming, and quite handsome.
“The Christmas spirit is giving what you already have, not going out to find something to buy. . . . The gift is a symbol of respect, love, honor. And that’s what you have.”~ Simon to Cora in Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball
Paul is obviously a talented writer who possesses the rare ability to write with a whimsical tone, almost as though she is winking at her readers as they turn the pages. The action never slows, and she expertly divulges the truth about Cora’s difficult upbringing that has left her scarred and wary in small increments that keep the reader’s curiosity piqued. With the same deft touch, she unveils details about Simon’s upbringing and beliefs through vignettes involving his extended family members. Like Cora, Paul’s readers come to see that Simon is a man whose faith shapes his values and gives him the capacity to love deeply, fully and, most importantly, joyfully.
The complications work themselves out and, in the end, the Wizards’ plan comes to fruition. But getting there is so much fun that it doesn’t matter that the outcome is, from the outset, plainly obvious. You will fall in love with Cora, Simon and, in particular, Sandy, and find yourself wishing that your city had a Sage Street. After all, this is the most wonderful time of the year, and who doesn’t love a little Christmas magic that leads to true love? This was my first time reading Paul’s work. But after thoroughly enjoying this upbeat story, it definitely won’t be my last!