It's another holiday season in the little Kansas town of Crossing Trails, and as Christmas approaches, the town is looking for a new Santa Claus. While trying to maintain the status quo, Mary Ann McCray unintentionally ropes herself into becoming the town's first Mrs. Santa Claus instead. Determined to make the role her own with a unique message for all, she really gets into the spirit of the character. But when her services come into greater demand all over the state, what will become of her poor husband, George, who's left at home alone with a haphazard assortment of Christmas decorations and no wife to help him out with the holiday preparations?
Meanwhile the McCray's youngest son, Todd, has returned to Crossing Trails to become the assistant manager of the newly opened city animal shelter. He's brought with him an incorrigible little dog named Elle, who he's determined to turn into a service dog, but Elle just can't seem to stay out of trouble long enough to learn the things she needs to know. At the same time, Todd makes plans to move in with his long-time girlfriend, Laura, but worrying that his parents might be disappointed in him, he doesn't quite know how to tell them.
Then there's the McCray's friends, the Robinsons, who decide to get divorced at the holidays, throwing their two young children's lives into a tailspin. Mary Ann tries to help out with the kids, while offering her advice to Abbey Robinson, who is struggling to keep things as congenial as possible. Abbey's soon-to-be ex-husband, Link, however, has struggles of his own. Out of work, unable to find a new job, and facing the necessity of leaving his kids behind to move hours away to make a living, he's close to falling off the wagon and drowning his sorrows at the bottom of a bottle again. Both the McCrays and the Robinsons are in need of a Christmas miracle, and in Crossing Trails, anything could happen.
Noelle is the latest heart-warming installment of Greg Kincaid's A Dog Named Christmas series. It's set in the fictional small town of Crossing Trails, Kansas and follows the continuing story of the McCray family while adding a new family, the Robinsons, into the mix. For the first time, there are three separate sub-plots playing out at the same time, which then later converge into one happy ending. It was a lovely story that gave me warm fuzzies and was a great addition to the series.
The first sub-plot involves the McCray parents, George and Mary Ann, who are getting older. George is starting to slow down, his old war injury and the aches and pains of aging beginning to get to him, while Mary Ann is still energetic and always on the move. She's a music teacher, debate coach, and guidance counselor at the local high school and also serves on the board of the local library. When the other board members want to fire the man who's been playing Santa during their holiday festivities every year for the last forty years, Mary Ann goes to bat for him using her debate skills. But it backfires on her and she instead finds herself coerced into becoming the new Anna Claus. If she's going to do this, Mary Ann wants it to be something new and different with Anna spreading a different message than Santa, but at first she struggles with just what that message should be. Once she gets it figured out, she surprisingly becomes a hit, drawing attention not only in Crossing Trails, but all across the state of Kansas. Soon she finds Anna Claus in high demand and travels to other communities, while poor George is left at home with a haphazard assortment of Christmas decoration sitting around and not certain how he feels about all this hoopla.
Our second part of the story involves George and Mary Ann's youngest son, Todd, who was such a big part of the previous two books. Despite suffering from developmental delays, he's proven himself to be extremely talented with animals. He loves them and they love him. In the previous book, A Christmas Home, Todd received an opportunity to go away from home for a while to learn how to train service dogs. Now that he's completed the program, he's returned to Crossing Trails to become the assistant manager of the newly reopened local animal shelter, but he wants to try to continue training dogs on the side to help people. He's quite taken with a little misfit dog named Elle who is his hardest case to date. She's an energetic little creature who always seems to be getting into trouble, and everyone says she'll never make a good service dog. But Todd isn't ready to give up on her yet. On top of that, Todd and his long-time girlfriend, Laura, who he also met in the previous book of the series, decide to move in together, but they aren't quite sure how to tell Todd's parents who have always been a little over-protective of their special needs son.
The final sub-plot of the book is about the Robinsons: Link, Abbey, and their two young children, Keenan and Emily. Link and Abbey are just a little older than Todd and are friends with George and Mary Ann. Unfortunately Link lost his job, which sent him into a downward spiral of alcoholism and led to him getting a DUI while his kids were in the car with him. Abbey can't take it anymore and files for a divorce, which leaves their kids, especially impressionable Keenan, angry and adrift. Mary Ann tries to use her counseling skills to help Abbey and the kids as much as she can, but this family really needs a Christmas miracle to keep Link on the straight and narrow, heal the pain of the separation, and keep them from being torn apart even further than they already are.
Overall, Noelle was another enjoyable book in the A Dog Named Christmas series. I liked all the individual pieces of the plot, but I have to admit that it wasn't grabbing me quite as much as I wanted it to until toward the end when all the sub-plots started to come together. Up until then it was probably running around 4 stars on my ratings meter, but the ending was so sweet and touching, I couldn't help bumping it up the extra half-star. I would highly recommend it and the other books in the series to fans of Hallmark movies. In fact, two of the books of the series have already been made into Hallmark films. Unless a character who's struggling with alcoholism and/or a young couple living together would bother you, there's no objectionable content which makes it appropriate for nearly everyone. It was my first holiday-themed read this year, and it really helped to put me in the Christmas spirit. I don't know if Greg Kincaid has any more books planned for this series. The ending left just enough open that I could certainly see more story to tell if he chooses to do so, and I would gladly welcome it if he does.
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