Greg Bennett is in the process of divorcing for the third time, has no real friends, and is about to lose his winery business if he can’t find a bank to give him a loan. Unfortunately none of the banks he’s been to so far have been willing to help. Feeling disillusioned with the track his life has taken, he wanders into a church where his disheartening words fly up to heaven. Soon Shirley, Goodness and Mercy are assigned to his case, but the angels have their work cut out for them. Greg has lived a selfish life, but when the angels engineer a “chance” meeting with a long-ago ex-girlfriend, it leads him to a new purpose that could not only save a young boy’s life, but also have the effect of healing deep rifts with both his brother and an old friend, neither of whom he’s spoken with in years.
"Shirley, Goodness and Mercy" is the fourth installment of Debbie Macomber's Angels Everywhere holiday series. Unlike the three books that come before it, which each had separate storylines for our three angels, this short novella has them working together on one case. Also, unlike most of those other cases, this one doesn't have a romantic element, which is probably for the best since the main character isn't very likable, at least not at first. The vibe of this story reminds me of Donna VanLiere's Christmas Hope series, and in some ways, it's reminiscent of the first book of that series, The Christmas Shoes. Both feature a wealthy workaholic main character who has been living a rather selfish life, and both have encounters with little boys who help set them on a path to becoming better versions of themselves, leading to a heartwarming redemption.
Greg Bennett is a vintner who lost his latest crop of grapes to a virus. Without a loan, he won't be able to replant the next year, but none of the banks in San Francisco seems willing to give him a loan. His third wife also left him, and he's facing yet another potentially contentious divorce proceeding. Feeling frustrated with the course his life has taken, he takes a walk and ends up in a church. Though not particularly religious, he takes a seat in a pew and begins to talk to whoever might be listening, and that happens to be the archangel, Gabriel. Up in heaven, the three mischievous angels, Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, are chomping at the bit to be assigned to another case on Earth during the Christmas season, and Gabriel decides to give them Greg's. But the heavenly messengers will have their work cut out for them, because up to this point, Greg has led a life that makes it hard for them to like the man. In college, he left the only woman he'd ever truly loved when she told him she was pregnant. Then he selfishly refused to help his best friend in the man's most desperate hour of need, and as a result, the friend lost his wife. And when his own mother was dying, he never made it to her bedside, instead going to a divorce hearing with his second ex-wife, something for which his brother has never forgiven him. Now Greg has a lot to make up for. Much like the angels, I didn't like Greg at first. He does show much-needed growth as the story progresses, though, and by the end, I felt more confident that he'd gotten his life on the right path.
Greg's story also intersects with those of his son from the girlfriend he left, his best friend, and his brother. I was glad to see some reconciliation between him and the friend and his brother. Each of them had to grow as well, leaving their bitterness and resentment behind in order to find peace. I was a little disappointed, though, that the same didn't happen with the son. I suppose this made the story a bit more realistic, and I understood the why of it. I just had hoped for a full slate of happy endings. At its heart, this is a gentle story about forgiveness, redemption, and about finding the things in life that are most important. The story is on the short side, and I wouldn't have minded if it was a bit longer to flesh out the characters and their individual storylines more. It was also perhaps a bit predictable, but I still enjoyed its feel-good quality and had fun visiting with our intrepid angels again. "Shirley, Goodness and Mercy" was originally published as a stand-alone book, but was later republished in the anthology, Choir of Angels, along with two other stories from the Angels Everywhere series.
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