A Caryn Advent Release Day Review: The Holly Groweth Green by Amy Rae Durreson


Rating:  5 stars out of 5 

This is easily my favorite of all the Christmas stories I’ve read so far this year.  I love this author to begin with (she’s on my auto-buy list) and once again she has not disappointed!

This is a fairy tale:  not a retelling, but an original.  Although the setting is post-WWII England, the story still reflects that atmosphere of magic that you expect in a fairy tale.  There is an enchanted wizard, an unlikely hero, a curse to break, and a happy ever after.  Ms. Durreson’s prose very cleverly draws the reader from the mundane world of a cold train through the border between reality and magic to the enchanted cottage and a world that truly does feel set outside of time.  And then thrusts the reader right back into cold harsh reality – I felt like I was not just reading about Laurence, but was right there with him experiencing it!

Dr. Laurence Payne survived WWII, but he was not whole.  A head injury left him without certain critical thinking pathways which made him unsafe to continue practicing medicine, and he was at a complete loose end.  No family, no plans, so he decided to spend Christmas in the country, for lack of anything better to do.  On the way to Portsmouth on Christmas Eve, the train was stopped by snow, and Laurence, as one of the last passengers to get off, found there were no more rooms at the inn.  So he set off on foot to the village in hopes of finding a place to stay.

The winter afternoon was deceiving though, and Laurence felt that no matter which way he went, he kept getting farther away from his destination, and the night was coming on quickly.  When he came to a cottage surrounded in holly hedges, he was thankful, and though the beautiful man who answered his knock seemed a little strange and a little over-eager to welcome a stranger into his house, Laurence accepted his offer of hospitality.  Avery told him that he was born in 1579, that he could do magic, and Laurence immediately chalked him up as “a little mad” but found himself enjoying Avery’s company nonetheless.  The hours turned into days, and Laurence started falling in love and experienced a contentment and joy he’d never felt before.  On Twelfth Night, Avery asked him to stay, but Laurence was already thinking he had to get back to the real world, employment and all of the other prosaic realities of life, and it was only when he awoke alone the next morning, to find the cottage in ruins and Avery gone, that he finally believed that Avery had been right about magic all along.

I have to say here that one of the things I loved most about this story was how beautifully it was written, and how the author switched between more modern, factual descriptions of action and setting when Laurence was alone, and the softer, entrancing, and otherworldly notes of his time with Avery.  The difference was marked enough that when Laurence woke up after Twelfth Night, I also felt like I was waking from a dream, but it was subtle enough that I didn’t realize it was like a dream until that moment.  It is rare to find that level of writing skill in this genre, so I appreciate it all the more (those readers who are also fans of Harper Fox know exactly what I’m talking about!)

The writing was amazing, but I also enjoyed following Laurence from his start as a man who had lost his purpose and direction in life to the war and its aftermath, to a man with a purpose – not only to find and reclaim Avery, but also to make a life for himself and to become part of a community.  Breaking a curse in a modern world meant confronting his own demons and his own brokenness.  In doing so, he saved Avery, but he also saved himself.

Very, very highly recommended!

Cover art by L.C. Chase is pretty, and I felt the image of a man trudging through snow appropriate for the theme of the book.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 55 pages
Published December 1st 2017 by Dreamspinner Press
Edition LanguageEnglish

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