Gretchen Daniels has just moved to the little town of Grandon, along with her children, to be closer to her mother, Miriam. Her new next-door neighbor, though, is anything but welcoming. Gretchen is inclined to dislike the woman almost immediately, because she barely says two words to Gretchen even when Gretchen is trying her best to be friendly and nice. Gretchen has barely been in her new condo a few days, when a strange man shows up at her door, looking for the woman next-door. He was landlord to her neighbor's mother who has died. He leaves the message of this sad news with Gretchen as well as an ultimatum that the mother's apartment must be cleaned out within the week or everything will be trashed. The last thing Gretchen wants is to break such terrible news to someone she barely knows, but then she thinks of what her husband would have done in the same circumstances. Reluctantly she not only tells her neighbor the news, but also impulsively finds herself offering to help with the clean-up.
Melissa McCreary has been traveling through life in a lonely blur. She goes to work at her two jobs every day and then comes home to an empty house. She has no real friends and there's no love lost between her and her mother. Melissa's mother was an alcoholic, who abused her growing up and had a different man in the house nearly every week. When Gretchen comes with the news that her mom is dead, Melissa feels relief more so than grief. At first she doesn't even want to clean out her mother's apartment, but Gretchen's unexpected kindness spurs her to finally go. In the chaotic mess of the apartment, they find a cryptic note, saying that Melissa has a brother and a sister she never knew about, but with no details at all on where to find them. At first, Melissa is angry that her mother dropped a bombshell like that on her without complete information, but again, through Gretchen's gentle prodding, Melissa eventually asks her boss at the law office to help her find the missing siblings. As Melissa waits for the search results, she and Gretchen begin building a friendship that leads to unanticipated and serendipitous bonds and the family Melissa has always dreamed of.
The Christmas Note is another gentle, heartwarming Christmas story from the pen of Donna VanLiere. This one has a little more of a women's fiction vibe, as it primarily follows the growing friendship of two very different women who are next-door neighbors. It is written in first-person POV, alternating between the two main female protagonists. As with all of Ms. VanLiere's books, this one has a touch of serendipity in the form of unexpected - perhaps even miraculous - connections being made. The only reason I gave this one four stars instead of the usual five that this author's books typically receive from me is that for some reason, it didn't speak to me in as deep of a way as her other books I've read to date have. It still has a nice message and was enjoyable to read, but at the same time, it wasn't quite as engaging. I also thought that occasionally the author's word choices were a little too simplistic. Stronger, more interesting words, might have helped draw me in a little better. But overall, it was another nice Christmas story from this beloved author.
Gretchen is the daughter of Miriam (The Christmas Promise). She has just moved to the little town of Grandon with her two young children. At the outset of the story, it's unclear where her husband is. We know that he was in the military and there was an explosion, but we don't know whether he's dead or alive. Gretchen is simply trying to get moved into her new home and gets drawn into her mother's best friend, Gloria's plans for a "bake a difference" fund-raiser for Glory's Place, her charity for women and children in need in the community. Initially Gretchen is off-put by her new next-door neighbor, Melissa. The woman is extremely quiet, almost to the point of being rude, even when Gretchen is trying to be friendly. When Melissa's mother's landlord stops by, insisting Gretchen give Melissa the message that her mother has died, Gretchen doesn't want to get involved. Not only does she not like Melissa much, but she barely knows her. Informing her of her mother's death would be incredibly awkward. Gretchen thinks of what her husband, Kyle, would do in this circumstance and knows she has to "man up." Not only does she finally tell Melissa about her mom, but she also offers to help her clean out the woman's apartment, which leads to some very unexpected information being discovered.
Melissa is a loner. She had a rough life as a child, growing up with a mom who was an abusive alcoholic and who didn't have any trouble finding a man but couldn't keep one around for more than a week. Melissa doesn't even know who her father is. She has low self-esteem and no real friends. She merely goes to work at her two jobs every day, in the morning at Wilson's department store and in the afternoons at Layton & Associates law office, but doesn't really know any of the people she works with. Melissa basically wanders through life, never experiencing any joy or happiness until Gretchen moves in next-door. At first, Melissa doesn't like Gretchen much. She views her as the type of woman who unlike her, has the perfect life and has everything together. Gretchen's small acts of kindness eventually get Melissa to let her guard down and allow someone to share her life. Eventually she meets Miriam and Gloria too and begins to feel like she's found the family she always wanted but never had. I enjoyed watching Melissa grow throughout the story. Keeping to herself like she's done in the past, Melissa never really did anything for anyone else, but Gretchen begins to inspire her to do more and helps her see how good it feels to do something nice for someone else.
Some of the characters from the previous books of the series pop up again. Gloria and Miriam whose equally unlikely friendship began in The Christmas Promise are front and center, baking up a storm and helping Gretchen and the kids get settled. Marshall Wilson isn't actually seen, but he is mentioned a few times. It seems the lonely widowed department store owner married Gloria somewhere in between books. Robert Layton (The Christmas Shoes) is Melissa's other boss, and he also helps her search for her missing and previously unknown siblings.
As I mentioned, The Christmas Note is a nice, touching Christmas story. I liked the building of the friendship between Gretchen and Melissa. They may not have liked each other at first, but they do give each other a chance and are surprised by what they find. I think more people need to have open minds and hearts like these two ladies did. I also really enjoyed seeing how the little town bands together at the end for a welcome home celebration. The way they help Gretchen and her family was extremely heartwarming. The Christmas Note may not have been quite as compelling as some of Donna VanLiere's other stories, but it was still an enjoyable read that brightened my holiday season.
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