Grace and the promise of new beginnings make Donna VanLiere’s fourth novel in The Christmas Hope series, THE CHRISTMAS PROMISE, a charmingly poignant seasonal read.
VanLiere tells her story through the characters of the delightful 60-year-old Gloria Bailey and the down-on-his-luck 24-year-old Chaz McConnell. Although tough and practical when it’s called for, “Miss Glory” has a heart as soft as a marshmallow for those in need. Assisting others also helps Gloria alleviate her own hurts --- the death of her husband and the disappearance of her teenage son seven years ago. “It’s a terrifying thing to give your heart to that small band of people around you, knowing that relationships can be messy and that someday your heart may be broken and you’ll come undone.” Every year Gloria puts an envelope on the Christmas tree for her husband with a promise inside it that she’ll never stop looking for their missing son.
Although she loves helping others, Gloria can’t warm up to the person in closest proximity to her --- the irascible widow and next-door-neighbor Miriam. When Miriam’s house turns into a disaster area and all the local hotels are booked solid, Gloria offers a room to the woman who repels her the most. How will she survive the holidays with such a bitter, repulsive, sarcastic person?
Meanwhile, Chaz is barely making enough money to get by. He’s despaired of turning over a new leaf after a checkered past of drinking and gambling, and when he takes a job at Wilson’s Department Store in security, he sees it as only temporary. Drinking is still the high point of his days. When Chaz finds himself beginning to care about a little boy whose mother works at the store and worrying about the homeless man who sleeps outside in the cold, he’s afraid of his emotions. Caring about people, he believes, comes at too high of a cost.
VanLiere does a good job portraying the vicious and abusive cycle women can fall into through the character of Carla, a young single mother who Gloria helps. Although her heart is soft, Gloria is clear-eyed and tough when she needs to be, and under no illusions about those she assists. Some of the sub-themes, such as the couple who keeps their Christmas lights on all year round and the unwed pregnant woman estranged from her mother, are guaranteed to melt the hardest heart, while the antics of the mischievous, fatherless boy Donavan will make readers smile.
Themes of forgiveness and unconditional love resonate throughout the novel. It won’t take readers long to put two and two together and figure out how the story ends, but even so, they may have to reach for a tissue. The story goes on a little longer than it should, but this will please those who like to have all the loose ends tied up, even if the conclusion seems a bit anticlimactic.
Plenty of humor is scattered throughout the book, and readers will especially enjoy some of the sayings on Gloria’s plaques. One favorite is this revision of the “Serenity Prayer”: “Grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, The good fortune to run into the ones I do, And the eyesight to tell the difference.” This little quote is going on my refrigerator door.
Readers who made THE CHRISTMAS SHOES, THE CHRISTMAS BLESSING and THE CHRISTMAS HOPE popular holiday reads will be delighted with this fourth installment in the series. Fans of happily-ever-after seasonal fiction should also find THE CHRISTMAS PROMISE exactly to their taste.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on October 30, 2007