The angel trio, Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy are at it again, answering the prayers of souls in need during the holidays, this time in the Big Apple.
Against Gabriel's wishes, Shirley insists upon helping dedicated school teacher, Brynn Cassidy, who has come from an elite girls school to the inner-city to head up a new program. Undaunted by the culture shock and her difficult students, Brynn is determined to help her charges get a good education, while teaching them how to dream of a brighter future. But she finds herself butting heads with Roberto Alcantara, the older brother and guardian of one of her most promising pupils, whose hard life has made him skeptical that education is the answer to getting out of the ghetto. But despite their conflicting opinions, the pair are irresistibly drawn to each other. Can they find a way to bridge their differences and make a relationship work?
Meanwhile, Goodness is tasked with helping Hannah Morganstern, a shy, Jewish, young woman, whose mother has been praying for her to make a good marriage. Hannah has been dating Carl, whom her parents love, and while he's a decent fellow, he simply doesn't inspire love or passion in Hannah. However, she's nothing if not a dutiful daughter, so when their families push for an engagement, she can't seem to say no, even though a chance meeting with attorney Joshua Shadduck at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade leaves her with all the feelings that are missing in her relationship with Carl. Can she find the courage to stand up to her parents and follow her own heart or will she end up breaking the heart of the man who fell in love with her at first sight?
Finally, Mercy is sent to help Jenny Lancaster, a bright-eyed, small-town girl who went to New York City with big dreams of becoming a Broadway star. For three years, she's been going to audition after audition but has never been chosen for a role. Instead, she works as a singing waitress, while telling her family little white lies about starring in an off-Broadway production. Her parents desperately want her to come home for Christmas, and truth be told, Jenny longs for home, too, but she simply can't bring herself to fess up to her little deception. Torn between homesickness and dreams of stardom, Jenny can't decide what to do. Will a surprise visit from Trey LaRue, the guy she'd crushed on for years growing up, bring her the clarity that she needs?
Touched by Angels is the third book in Debbie Macomber's Christmas themed series, Angels Everywhere. Once again, we're treated to the three well-meaning, but somewhat ditsy angels, Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy, as they come to earth during the holiday season to answer the prayers of their human charges. These three angels always bring a smile to my face and warm my heart with their antics, as well as their kindness and compassion. I actually think that they've grown a bit since the first two books. While they still enjoy experiencing human inventions and creating a little trouble now and then, they seem to be more on track and even more serious about their jobs this time around. Even their archangel boss, Gabriel, got in on the action a bit more in this story. Each of the angels are sent to New York City this time to help three different women at crossroads in their lives, but as always, the angels end up helping each other when things go sideways. I liked that each of the three separate stories contained strong romantic elements, which wasn't necessarily the case with the previous two books. I think this, along with me finding each of the women's lives to be relatable, made this my favorite book of the series so far.
Gabriel doubts that Shirley is ready for a complex assignment, so she has to pester a little to earn the right to help Brynn, a young, idealistic teacher who has transplanted from an exclusive, all-girls boarding school in Rhode Island to an inner-city school in New York. It's definitely a culture shock for her, but she's excited about the new program that she's running and is determined to make it work. The kids can be trying at times, but Brynn is a truly talented teacher who slowly wins them over and gets them more involved in the learning process. Then she meets Roberto, the older brother and guardian of one of her students, who challenges her in unexpected ways. Roberto doesn't hold much stock in education and couldn't care less whether his brother goes to school or not. He's spent too much time on the mean streets of his neighborhood to believe that anything will save them from that life. But at the same time Roberto and Brynn clash over her work, there's an undeniable attraction brewing. I really enjoyed their story. Brynn is nothing if not dedicated to her work. She genuinely cares about her students and has a wide-eyed optimism that's catching. I like how she tries to build her students up rather than tearing them down. Roberto can be a bit stubborn at times, but I liked him anyway. I think he's just seen too much of the hard side of life and it's made him cynical. But Brynn helps him to see a different path. This part of the story had an unexpected twist that made me shed a fews tears, but the ending was very uplifting.
Goodness is sent to help Hannah, a young Jewish woman whose mother has been praying for her to make a good marriage. Hannah has been dating Carl, the son of a rabbi. Her parents love him and think he's the perfect husband for their daughter. The only problem is Hannah isn't so sure, and after randomly meeting Joshua at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, she's even less certain. When Carl proposes, she feels pressured by their families to accept, but the more she sees of Joshua, the more she feels that Carl isn't the right man for her. But things keep happening to prevent her from calling it off. Hannah and Joshua's story was a very sweet romance. A lot of times, love at first sight stories don't work well for me, but this one did. What Hannah shares with Joshua is clearly much more loving and passionate than what she has with Carl, so there was no question in my mind that they were right for one another.
Mercy is assigned to help Jenny who desperately wants to be a Broadway star. She's been going to audition after audition for over two years, but so far, she's done nothing of note and merely works as a singing waitress while still waiting for that big break. With the holidays coming, she misses her family terribly and would like to go home to visit them, but she told a little white lie about starring in an off-Broadway production and doesn't want to disappoint them by fessing up. Then Trey, an old family friend and the guy she had a crush on growing up, comes calling. He makes her long even more for her former life, and soon she finds herself torn between wanting to be with Trey, who as a born and bred cowboy would never be happy in New York, and her ambition to be a star. Jenny and Trey's story probably has the least involved plot of the three couples. Trey doesn't show up until a little ways into the story. After that, they spend some nice time together, but their romance is largely dependent upon their past connection and Jenny's longing to return home. We also don't really get to see Jenny's thought-processes as she makes her final decision, so I wasn't entirely convinced that she was going to be happy in the long-run. But otherwise, this was a sweet, straight-forward romance that I enjoyed.
Overall, I found Touched by Angels to be a truly lovely, heartwarming read that helped put me in the holiday spirit. It's a gentle story that would be appropriate for most readers. It does have a little bit of language and some mild sexual tension, but otherwise there aren't any objectionable elements. I always enjoy Gabriel's update at the end as he tells Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy what the future holds for each of their charges and those around them. The angels bring a touch of humor and lightness to the story, while also caring deeply about those they've been sent to help. They're usually very intuitive about what each of them needs. Having each of the stories involve a romance this time added to my enjoyment, making this the first book of the series to earn keeper status from me. I very much look forward to seeing who the angels will be helping next time around.
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