After her father left and her mother landed in jail, Lauren Gabriel spent many years in a series of foster homes. Although some of them were good, she never entirely felt at home in any of them. Now grown, she works as a cashier at a grocery store and goes home each night to an apartment she shares with a roommate she barely knows. Her life is unfulfilling and she longs for a home and family to call her own. As the holidays approach, the longing becomes nearly unbearable, driving her to impulsively post an ad for a family on Criaglist with mixed results.
In the meantime, one night after work, Lauren finds herself driving aimlessly and ends up in the town of Grandon, about an hour away from where she lives. After witnessing a hit-and-run accident, she's asked to return a few days later to identify a suspect. It's during this visit that she's introduced to the bag boy at the local grocery, who is something of a local celebrity for the inspirational messages he hands out to customers every day, as well as Gloria and Miriam, who run Glory's Place, a community outreach program for needy families. When Lauren comes up with a fresh idea and agrees to help out with the annual Christmas fund raiser for Glory's Place, she may discover that love, hope, and family can be found in the most unexpected places.
The Christmas Town is yet another charming holiday story in Donna VanLiere's Christmas Hope series that's set in the little fictional town of Grandon, Anywhere USA. In this one a young woman is searching for a family and a place she can truly call home, and through a series of serendipitous events, she discovers that what she's been searching for is right in front of her. Add in a few cute kids, a couple of past series' characters, and an intuitive bag boy from the local grocery, and you have the makings of a heartwarming read that's really put me in the Christmas spirit.
After her father skipped out on his responsibilities and her mother went to jail, Lauren grew up in a series of foster homes. While some were nice, she never quite found one where she fit and could genuinely call home. So after aging out of the system at eighteen, she set out on her own. She works as a cashier in a grocery store in a town about an hour away from Grandon, but it's a largely boring, thankless job. She longs for someplace she can truly feel at home and a family with whom to share the holidays. Desperately lonely she places an ad on Craigslist for a family for Christmas, and while most of the people who respond are cruel, there are two women who seem genuine. At the same time, after her shift one day, Lauren takes off, driving aimlessly and ends up in Grandon, where she witnesses an accident. She also goes to the local grocery for a quick meal, and chances to meet the "celebrity" bag boy, who hands out personal messages to customers who are happy to wait in line to receive them. The message Lauren gets resonates with her, so when she's called back to Grandon to identify a suspect in the hit-and-run, and is invited to coffee by Stacy, the victim, she can't resist accepting. This in turn leads to her meeting Gloria and Miriam (The Christmas Promise) and eventually volunteering at Glory's Place, an after-school program for needy kids in the community, where she helps teach the kids Christmas carols in time to perform for a big upcoming fund-raiser. Throughout all of this she begins to find a sense of belonging, but when her mother contacts her after seven long years, it may throw everything for a loop. I very much related to Lauren and think that many of us can experience this type of loneliness, especially during the holidays. I like that her heart was open when presented with the gift of family that she was so desperately searching for, and that she found a wonderful place to belong.
While the story primarily revolves around Lauren and her search for a home and family, there are plenty of secondary characters who help give her what she needs. First are best friends, Gloria and Miriam. They've been a part of each book since their own, always giving back so much to the community through Glory's Place. Now they're making plans for the annual silent auction fund-raiser that will take place in conjunction with the local Christmas parade. But they're not too busy to answer the ad of a lonely woman on Craigslist and become her "mysterious" friends. These two crack me up with how they always bicker but somehow still make their friendship work. Then there's Ben, the sweet, lovable bag boy, who was born with a condition that caused some brain damage, but in spite of his handicap, he has a miraculous intuition about exactly what each customer needs to hear. I loved his sunny disposition and his optimistic outlook that's positively infectious. It's no wonder most customers willingly wait in his line. There's Travis, the parks department worker, who ends up in Lauren's path as a romantic interest, when Miriam refuses to speak with him about using the gazebo. And then there's little Cassondra, a cute girl with a heart condition who comes to Glory's Place every day. Nathan Andrews (The Christmas Shoes, The Christmas Blessing) put in a cameo appearance, and several other supporting characters round out the fairly extensive cast.
The Christmas Town was a nice feel-good holiday story with a very gentle faith message. It has no objectionable content, so it could be read by just about anyone. Grandon is a quaint, homey little town, where everyone is ready to lend a helping hand. I'd love to live there if it really existed. The characters were all very likable, just the kind of people I'd love to be friends with. I knocked off the half-star, because like it's predecessor in the series, it seemed a little more predictable than some of the earlier books. Also it, too, was written in third-person present tense, which is a very unusual style choice and harder for me to get into. But overall, the heartwarming feel of the story overcame most of my issues and left me with warm fuzzies and a few happy tears, which is a sign that a book has done it's job. Several of the previous books of the series have been made into Hallmark movies and this one, too, would be perfect for Hallmark fans. I don't know if Donna VanLiere is planning any more books in this series. This one was published last year (2016). It appears that she's been releasing a new one about once every two years, so we might get another one next year (2018). If so, I'll be eagerly waiting to read it.
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