I happened to see The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg on my last trip to the library and grabbed it. It looked like a good cozy story to read with the chill hitting the air and Christmas approaching. It's a retelling of the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus.
While I think this was a clever idea for a story, and I did read it in one sitting while cozily curled up with my cats, it fell a little short for me. She worked from the story in the Bible, which is pretty short, and she seemed somewhat hesitant to add too much to the story. It does help flesh out Mary and Joseph and you see how they many have both reacted to the situation they were in, but they still lacked depth.
I think part of the story struggled from Berg's not taking a clear stance on what actually happened. You could read the story either way, which on one hand works because that's what people do with the original story, but she leaves you feeling like you can't trust the characters and aren't sure what happened. She implies that Mary could have been raped, although Mary denies it, and they are visited by people immediately after his birth who proclaim Jesus the Savior. Mary and Joseph don't start those stories and aren't seeking that attention. Berg does show a few glimpses of Jesus as a child, and how if he was the savior, he must have been a very interesting, different child. Can you imagine a child who doesn't sin? His brothers and sisters must have hated him and tried to get him in trouble. Can you imagine the lectures they would get from their parents? "Why can't you be more like your brother?" "But, mom, he's without sin! That's not fair! I don't have a chance to look good next to him!" And, when you tried to start a fight he'd just keep turning the other cheek.
So, while there are some interesting points that the book raises and makes you think about, overall I'd say this is one to skip. Viewed on its own, it's a flat story with flat characters. Berg's writing in her other stories I've read is much better and her characters are more fully developed in the few books I've read by her. I'd pick up one of her other stories or better Christmas stories such as A Christmas Carol or Little Women instead.