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The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood (Secrets of Marienstadt Book 9) [Kindle Edition]

Kathleen Valentine
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Novella (23k words) – Folklore / Mythology / Romance – When Father Nicholas Bauer becomes the pastor of St. Walburga's in a rural Pennsylvania Dutch community he make it his mission to revive some of the Old World Traditions including Belsnickel. According to the local legend, Belsnickel was an old man who lived in the woods and visited children on the evening of December 6th to see if they've been bad or good. He recruits his childhood friend Gretchen Fritz who owns a quilting shop called the Calico Cuckoo. Both of them grew up with Oliver Eberstark and Father Nick is determined to get Oliver to play Belsnickel for the local children. When they were young Oliver was a popular athlete and local heart-throb but now he is a recluse he lives alone at his grandfather's sawmill deep in Oplet's Wood. As the plans for Belsnickel and Christmas progress Father Nick hopes to understand what happened to Oliver and why he is now a hermit and Gretchen rediscovers why half the girls in town had crushes on him.

Editorial Reviews


Brew yourself a pot of hot chocolate and curl up with this story. Based in Pennsylvania Dutch folklore, it will renew your faith in Christmas, in love, and in basic human decency. - Book Lovers' Alert

From the Author

This story grew out of the tradition of Belsnickel visits that I grew up with in north-central Pennsylvania. It is an old tradition that goes back to the part of Germany that my great-grandparents came from. Throughout my childhood we had Belsnicks - both real ones and the kind that just filled our shoes. Some of my siblings still carry on the tradition for their children:
       Oliver Eberstark blamed Father Nicholas Bauer for putting him in this ridiculous position.
       "Oliver, the more you fidget, the longer this is going to take," Gretchen Fritz said taking the silver straight pins out of her mouth and glaring up at him.
       "Sorry," Oliver mumbled but he knew what he was sorry about was even being there in the first place.
       Gretchen sighed and said, "Turn."
       He took one small step to the right and she gave the long green robe he wore a sharp tug,  then folded up the hem and secured it into place with one of the pins clamped between her lips.
       "I'm sorry this is taking so long," she said, "but you're a much bigger Belsnickel than any we've ever had before. I'm certainly glad this robe could be let out."
       "I feel like I'm in a strait jacket," he grumbled.
       Gretchen sat back on her heels looking up at him. "Maybe I can let the shoulders out a bit more." She stood up and ran her hands over the smooth, velvety pile stretched taut across his back. "I could put a gusset down the back. It will be covered by your cape anyway."
       "Cape?" Oliver growled. "Nobody told me I had to wear a cape."
       "Oh, for heaven's sake, don't you remember Belsnickels when you were a kid? Belsnickel always wears a cape. It's over there on the sofa." She knelt back down and continued pinning up the hem. "If Father Nick had given me more warning I would have gotten the fabric to make you a new suit instead of making do with this old one."
       "If Nick had given me more warning I would have stayed in the woods until December was over. I can't believe he's making me do this."
       Gretchen sighed and said. "Turn."
       He turned and was able to twist his head around enough to see a midnight blue hooded cape lined with white fur. 
       "I really don't want to wear that," he muttered. "If Nick's so gung-ho to have a real Belsnickel why doesn't he do it himself?"
       "We tried that but it was a disaster. For one thing he's not big enough but even worse a lot of the children recognized him and parents were upset. You come into town so rarely that they don't know you, so you're perfect. Turn."
       He shuffled a few steps more. "Kids are supposed to love Belsnickel," he said, "I'm not the lovable type."
       She laughed nearly swallowing pins in the process. "There." She stood. "Take that off and I'll measure your chest." She removed the pin cushion attached to her wrist and rummaged on the big table covered with fabric, patterns, and all kinds of notions until she found a tape-measure. 
       He shrugged out of the heavy robe pulling it down over his thick arms with a tug.
       "Careful," she snapped, "don't tear it."
       He fixed her with a scowl. "Maybe when you let out the back you can make those sleeves a little wider too."
       "I'll try," she said taking the garment from him and spreading it out on her worktable to begin the job of hemming it by hand. The hem had been taken up four inches in order to fit Father Nick but now she would need every bit of that to make the robe clear the top of Oliver's boots. "It's only for this year," she said. "I'll make you a new costume for next year. Lift your arms."
       He scowled and held his arms over his head. She reached around him from behind and arranged the tape measure firmly in place.
       "Forty-six inches, you are a big one." She jotted the number down on the pad and moved the tape-measure to measure the difference from the base of his neck to his waist. "I'm sure you'll do just fine."
       "Belsnickel is very important to Father Nick. He was born on December sixth and was named after Saint Nicholas..."
       "I know that."
       "I know you do so can't you be a little more cooperative?" She turned away, slightly embarrassed by her criticism. From everything she knew about Oliver Eberstark she realized this was an unaccustomed effort for him. Oliver was as much of a recluse as anyone she had ever known. Even getting him to leave his home in the old Eberstark Sawmill that his great-grandfather had built was a coupe for Father Nick. If she managed to scare him off from the project Father Nick would never forgive her. 
       He was silent and when she glanced up at him the look in his light blue eyes was that of sheer panic.
       "It's good you have a beard," she said. "It looks much better than the fake ones. We can powder it down a bit to make it white."
       He glowered and reached for his red and black plaid jacket.
       "Would you like some stew? I made a big pot of beef stew today. It's nice and hot."
       He shook his head. "No thanks."
       "Oliver." She placed a hand on his arm - she had to reach up to do it. "This is really very nice of you. We all appreciate it."
       He looked down at her but said nothing. Gretchen thought for a moment about the Oliver Eberstark she had known when he was in high school. He had been a big, handsome, funny and charming boy back then. Captain of the football team and one of the town's heartthrobs - but that was a very long time ago and the man who filled up a lot of the space in her living room now bore little resemblance to that boy.
       "G'night," he said and turned toward the door.
       "Will you come back for one more fitting?"
       His hand was on the door knob and he didn't turn around. "When?"
       "How about Saturday?"
       "I'm busy Saturday," he said without turning.
       Of course, she thought. It was hunting season. He'd be out in the woods. 
       "How about Sunday? There's no hunting allowed on Sundays."
       "Okay," he said and, before she could get in another word, he was out the door, pulling it shut behind him.
       Gretchen sighed, picked up the phone on the work table and punched in the number of the rectory.
       "St. Walburga's," Father Nick answered on the second ring.
       "Well, he just left."
       "How was he? Did he give you a rough time?"
       "No," she said lowering herself into one of the over-stuffed arm chairs in her living room. "He didn't say hardly anything at all."
       There was a long pause on the other end of the line and then Father Nick said, "Okay, thanks for letting me know."

Product Details

  • File Size: 1651 KB
  • Print Length: 276 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Parlez-Moi Press (December 12, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0069A25CG
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #427,054 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delightful Christmas Read December 30, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I was looking for a good Christmas read, something a little lighter than Dickens and with a more contemporary, grown-up, approach. I stumbled onto this as a free Kindle download and am very glad I gave it a try. We always think of the 'magic' of Christmas as mysteries that we create for children to experience. In this story, the magic lies not in the mysteries that we playact for the little ones, but is in the very core of us, that drive to weave beauty and mystery into our lives and in that impulse, create the mystery of love. This story looks at the other side of this drive, too- the side that mourns when we lose that magic in our lives. I loved this tale of the sad, bereft man who is drawn into the happiness, warmth and brightness of life, despite himself, and finds that he isn't as empty as he thought. The author, Kathleen Valentine, crafts her story with beautiful simplicity, letting the tale tell itself and letting the characters speak for themselves in their own good time and way. This was a pure delight to read, and I'd recommend it for anyone wanting to capture the joy of the season in a modern setting.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful. A MUST-read! November 18, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
I have many favorite Christmas stories, and now, thanks to Kathleen Valentine, I have a favorite Feast of Saint Nicholas story. "The Reluctant Belsnickel" is an irresistible blend of folklore, rough-hewn realism, passion, love, heartbreak, triumph and joy. With consummate skill, Ms. Valentine introduces us to the wonderful figure of Belsnickel, a variation on Santa Claus, by weaving his history into the characters' conversation in a completely natural way, without ever sounding pedantic. At the same time, her characters, all of them drawn with depth and compassion, have their own painful histories, which we learn gradually and delicately. A perfect book not only for the holidays, but year-round. -- Clare Higgins
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful November 26, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
This was a wonderful book to read,it brought many memories of my childhood. This book is written with a back round and many traditions of the area in which I live. I could not put it down.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So glad I read this today! December 18, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I had recently read Ms. Valentine's The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic, and it was so wonderful, I wanted to try another. I like a shorter read as I don't have much time...especially during the Christmas season. This was a perfect read for that. I'm not usually one for seasonal stories, but I just loved this one.

To me, it was almost like watching an old holiday romantic Christmas movie. Her writing is so evocative. Reading about these traditions, gave me a renewed feeling for Christmas, which I've lost somewhere along the way. I loved the characters, I loved hearing about Belsnickel which I'd never heard of before. She painted a lovely portrait of a town where people actually cared about one another. This story in places brought tears to my eyes. But mostly smiles. If you want a nice Christmas read, this is it. I liked her little town so much, I really didn't want to come back.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood December 6, 2011
By roscoe
Format:Kindle Edition
What a wonderful story - especially during this holiday season! Belsnickel has long been celebrated in our little town for many generations and this story could be a page out of our own history book. As another reviewer stated, you get such a warm feeling after reading it. The characters are so friendly and welcoming you just want to be a part of it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down! November 29, 2011
By kt4
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I just finished this book via my kindle, non stop - could not put it down! Such a wonderful "must read". Really enjoyed all the familiar memories, names, landmarks, etc that I seem to share with the author - from being from the same area of Pennsylvania. Such a wonderful story to begin the Christmas season! This is the first book i've read from this author and will now add all of hers to my list of books I can't possibly pass up!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Grown-ups Christmas Tale November 25, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
I don't want to call this book cute, because I think that would be demeaning Kathleen's level of writing, but it was heart-warming and cozy, like a warm cup of hot chocolate in front of the fireplace on a cold snowy evening. Although, it wasn't my favorite Kathleen Valentine story (that award goes to Arthur's Story) it is a warm you from the top of your head to the bottom of your toes Christmas story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely Story with Real Characters November 8, 2012
By Epithet
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this heartwarming story. The characters felt real and likeable. There was a gentle romance, without the over-the-top sex that some writers think is necessary to sell a book. The story was believable and included an insight into the culture of part of Pennsylvania which I found interesting. The only reason that I gave the story 4 stars instead of 5 was due to the editing errors but I would definitely read more of this author's work.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood.... love the story!
The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelts Wood, At first I was not quite sure of what I was reading but into the second Chapter it got going and was really interesting. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Karen Hogan
4.0 out of 5 stars Homey and feartwarming
This book gas no muder, no suspense and no other-worldly creatures. It'd a story of good-hearted small-town folks and the love and care that bring a little glow to your heart.
Published 12 months ago by ceilidh
5.0 out of 5 stars A really good book
Kathleen is certainly a wonderful story teller. I love how she weaves St Marys people and places into her stories yet people from anywhere will enjoy her stories.
Published 16 months ago by Frances Dodrill
4.0 out of 5 stars Brought back memories.
Familiar places and things mentioned were fun to read about. Each was like a hidden gem found in the book.
Published 17 months ago by Sharon A Larkin
5.0 out of 5 stars Belsnickel is wonderful!
It is a delightful story! Kathleen never disappoints me. Her stories with their interesting characters, are perfect "Take Me Away" tales!
Published 17 months ago by g
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this story
What an absolutely perfect story for Christmastime. Quick read to escape from these busy times. Will be looking for more by this author.
Published 17 months ago by AngelRose
5.0 out of 5 stars Belsnickel, what a heartwarming story
I loved this book--wasn't sure I would, the name is too long. This is a story about a kind of hermit who finally opens up to an old friend. Read more
Published 17 months ago by S. Jackson
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful story
I loved this book!!! Read it all in one sitting. A beautiful story even if I hadn't grown up in that part of PA! Read more
Published 17 months ago by Patricia M. Bonghi
5.0 out of 5 stars What a heartfelt story
I grew up with stories of old St Nick especially since my uncle was born on his feast day and named after him. This is a heart warming story any one would enjoy. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Helen E Young
5.0 out of 5 stars A comfy fireside book
A lovely, curl up on the couch to read, kind of a book. Loved it. It left me with a warm feeling.
Published 20 months ago by Zoe Clemens
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More About the Author

Kathleen Valentine is the award-winning author of four novels, many novellas & short stories, books of knitting patterns, & a cookbook/memoir about growing up Pennsylvania Dutch. She has been listed as an Amazon Top Selling Author in Horror and in Mystery/Suspense. As a writer her primary interest is delving into the psychology of her characters. Her stories are sometimes mysterious, sometimes funny, usually romantic, and frequently frightening. Her characters range from lost children and grumpy old folks, to mysterious men and women who are not to be trifled with.

She lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, America's oldest seaport.

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