Christine Eisley can't seem to catch a break. She's the single mother of two young children whose ex-husband is constantly trying to drag her into court even though he's the one not paying child support. Now she's lost her waitressing job for being late to work even though it wasn't her fault. She was saving the life of an older woman who'd had a heart attack at the wheel of her car right in front of Christine's driveway. Unfortunately, her heroic efforts mean nothing to her boss. Christine had been late for work several times before due to unreliable babysitters, and he viewed this latest incident as nothing more than yet another excuse. Luckily, Christine finds another job, but otherwise, her run of bad luck continues until the magic of Christmas finally brings a few miracles her way.
Jason Haybert is the grandson of Marshall Wilson, owner of Wilson's department store. The young accounting major is in between jobs, so when his grandfather calls, asking him to come work for him through the holiday season, Jason figures he might as well. After all, he has nothing better to do. Jason has an overinflated sense of self-importance, and his grandfather is determined to teach him that business is about more than just the numbers. It's about the people. The first thing Marshall tasks Jason with is finding the young woman who saved the life of his employee and friend. It's about the last thing Jason thinks he should be doing, and as it turns out, a rather tall order. He's having no luck locating "Christy," but his eye has been caught by the pretty new waitress at a local restaurant. Between his flirtations with her and his volunteer job, working with some cute kids at the local community center he has no idea belong to her, Jason is starting to rethink his priorities in life and realizing he wants the kind of love his grandparents shared as well as a family of his own.
I can always count on Donna VanLiere to give me a heartwarming holiday read, and The Christmas Secret is no exception. I've absolutely fallen in love with the nameless small town where all her Christmas Hope books take place and would love to live there. The residents of the town really bring it to life, creating a warm, inviting atmosphere. They're always ready to lend a helping hand to those in need, and I love how all their lives intertwine into a beautiful, intricate web. Every time I read one of Ms. VanLiere's books, I'm reminded of the It's a Wonderful Life principle that each of our lives touch so many others, we are simply part of a much larger picture and not an island unto ourselves. I also enjoyed the fact that The Christmas Secret is a little more upbeat than some of the earlier books in the series that dealt with heavier topics. This one even has a wonderfully serendipitous little romance, which as a romance lover, I thoroughly appreciated. All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better book to put me in the holiday spirit.
The author continues her tradition of alternating first and third person POVs. In this book, the first person narrator is Christine, a struggling single mother of two young children. As the story opens, Christine loses her job as a waitress due to circumstances outside her control. She's been late to work several times due to unreliable babysitters and is given one last warning. The next day, her car is trapped in her driveway by the car of a older woman who has had a heart attack at the wheel. Fortunately, Christine is able to save the woman's life, but her heroic effort is lost on her boss. Luckily, she manages to find employment at another restaurant, but her life has otherwise become one huge instance of the old adage "when it rains, it pours." She's constantly threatened by an ex-husband who isn't paying child support, but who dares to call social services on her. She's being evicted for not keeping up with her rent, and then, all the Christmas gifts she buys for her children are stolen from her car, not to mention, the car breaks down. Poor Christine just can't seem to catch a break, but in spite of being desperately in need herself, she generously takes time to talk with and monetarily help another woman who is a regular customer at the restaurant.
The primary third person narrator is Jason, who is the grandson of Marshall Wilson, owner of the iconic Wilson's department store that has become the centerpiece of the town in these books. While in between jobs, Marshall invites Jason to come work for him in his store. In Jason's mind, it isn't the ideal job, but having nothing better to do while waiting for his headhunter to call, he agrees. Jason is a young accounting major who has a slightly overinflated sense of self-importance. He comes from the city and doesn't really pay much attention to the people around him. I love the lesson his grandfather teaches him with his repeated quizzes that business is not just about the numbers but the people. By the time Jason is finally able to answer the questions correctly, I think he's learned his lesson well. Marshall also encourages Jason to volunteer at Glory's Place, a program that assists single mothers and their children. I think Jason was a bit surprised to find how good he is with the kids. The thing I liked most about Jason though, was the gentle way he flirted with Christine every time he came into the restaurant. Initially, she gives him the cold shoulder, because she thinks he's there playing spy for her ex-husband. In spite of her stand-offish-ness, Jason never gives up on trying to get her to go out with him, until slowly but surely these two start to fall for one another even though neither knows the other's real name. Through all of his experiences with the store, the kids, and Christine, Jason gradually comes to realize that he wants more out of life than what he's been pursuing up to that point. He wants a forever kind of love like his grandparents shared.
A few of the secondary characters get their own POV scenes. Marshall is struggling with a life-changing decision. Gloria (The Christmas Promise) returns along with her best friend, Miriam. The two of them become a support system for Christine. Patricia Addison (The Christmas Hope) is the social worker who looks into the allegations of child neglect brought by Christine's ex-husband. Many other characters from past novels in the series have briefer supporting roles, or at the very least, are seen in the background. I've always loved how Donna VanLiere can pull together multiple story lines into one big whole. There are certain subplots that the reader is kept in the dark about throughout the entire book, but when all is said and done, they all converge into a perfect ending that could easily be tied up with a bow. I think it's this cohesive sense of oneness that makes this little town feel so warm and close-knit. The Christmas Secret was another great read in this already wonderful series. I'll certainly be looking forward to continuing with the series and eventually re-reading it for many Christmases to come.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook