Seven years ago, Gloria Bailey's husband passed away and her youngest son, Matthew, unable to deal with his father's illness and impending death, disappeared, leaving a huge hole in her life. After pining for them both, Gloria finally picked herself up and moved to a small town where she would be closer to her other children, but not a day goes by that she doesn't think of Matthew. To help fill her days, she collects donations and redistributes them to the needy members of the community. Many people have come to rely on her generosity, but her snobbish next-door neighbor, Miriam, doesn't appreciate all the "junk" people keep leaving in Gloria's driveway. The two women have been at odds for a long time, but after an unexpected turn of events, they end up living together and learn there is far more to each other than they ever could have imagined.
Chaz McConnell has just moved to town and gotten a job as a security guard at Wilson's Department Store. Chaz is a lonely drifter with a drinking problem who doesn't intend to stay long. He befriends Donovan, the young son of a cleaning lady who brings the boy to the store while she's working. A pretty store patron also catches his eye, but he believes himself far beneath her. Chaz harbors many secrets, but his budding friendship with Donovan makes him realize that there is a huge hole in his life that he longs to be filled. When Donovan's mother doesn't show up for work one night, Chaz goes in search of her, setting in motion a chain of events that give him a second chance at life and happiness.
The Christmas Promise was another great Christmas story from Donna VanLiere. The first three books in the Christmas Hope series embodied a sense of sadness with death taking center stage in each of them. While I loved all those books, it was nice to have one with a more whimsical tone where no one dies or is struggling mightily with someone else's death. There are some heavy themes, such as loneliness, alcoholism, domestic abuse and a missing child, but there was enough humor and lighter moments to keep those things from becoming depressing. This book also had more of an ensemble cast than the first three with several characters playing significant roles. Overall, The Christmas Promise was a heartwarming Christmas story that I would recommend to anyone needing to lift their spirits this holiday season.
As with the other books in this series, The Christmas Promise is written in alternating first and third person POV. The first person narrator this time is Gloria aka Miss Glory. She is a retired widow whose adult son has been missing for seven years. He left home just before Gloria's husband, his father, died, and she hasn't seen or heard from him since. She somewhat recently moved to the unnamed small town that has been the setting for all the Christmas Hope books. In an effort to keep busy and to help others in lieu of helping her son, she collects and sorts donations of food, clothing, household items, and even the occasional car, which she them redistributes to the needy in the community. I have to say that Gloria has my dream job. Being a philanthropist is something I've always longed to do. Gloria is a very kind-hearted and loving woman who cares about everyone she meets and helps, maybe a little too much, as it takes her a while to figure out that she can't always help everyone in the way she would like to. Still she is generous to a fault with the only possible exception being her next-door neighbor Miriam. The woman is something of a snob, who always threatens to call the city on Gloria each time someone leaves donations in her driveway. Even Miriam has her own story though. Gloria just hasn't heard it yet. They've spent so long as rivals, she hasn't really taken the time to get to know the other woman, but that all changes when an unfortunate incident leaves the two of them living together temporarily. It was really fun to see these two develop an appreciation for one another and a deep friendship after feuding for so long.
Then there is Chaz who just moved to town and got a job as a security guard at Wilson's Department Store. At first, he's very much a loner and a drifter, who only intends to stay long enough to earn a little money. He obviously harbors some secrets he doesn't want anyone else to know and on top of it all, is a functioning alcoholic who spends all his free time at the bottom of a bottle. He isn't exactly the most likable character initially, but things begin to slowly change for him as he discovers a caring side to himself he didn't realize existed. He works the night shift, and the turnaround starts with him caring for the little boy of a cleaning lady, who had nowhere else to take him and so brought him with her to work. Chaz develops a strong friendship with the little boy, Donovan, and to the extent she will let him into her life, the boy's mother, Carla, who is being abused by her boyfriend. Chaz also begins to feel a connection to Mike, the homeless man who sometimes stands outside Wilson's, and worries when Mike is hit by a car. Last but not least, Chaz falls in love at first sight with Erin, a pretty but very pregnant young woman who Gloria is helping.
What impressed me most about The Christmas Promise is how the author manged to seamlessly weave together all the lives of these characters until it was like they became one family unit. She even brought back a few favorites from past books like Robert Layton (The Christmas Shoes) and Jack and Nathan Andrews (The Christmas Hope). The Christmas Promise was very much a story of new beginnings. Each one of the characters in the book received some sort of second chance after life had thrown them a curveball. This time they chose the right path, but it wasn't without the help of strangers. The one thing I loved most about this book is the serendipitous nature of the characters' meetings which underscores the It's a Wonderful Life principle that each person's life touches so many others in ways that we often don't even know. The Christmas Promise is simply a warm, feel-good story that was a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
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