It’s Christmastime! Who doesn’t want a warm, comforting, cozy read at the holidays?
Single mom Christine is just trying to keep it all together. Working long hours in a restaurant with an ex-husband breathing down her neck, Christine’s kids remain her priority — but there never seems to be enough. Enough money, enough time, enough anything.
Threatened with termination if she’s late for work one more time, Christine is finally on schedule when she discovers a woman collapsed in her driveway — and though it means unemployment (and right before Christmas), she stops to help her. After Christine unceremoniously dropped at work and left scrambling for another position, she finds work in a bakery — and meets one of the handsome regulars, nicknamed Table Six.
Across town, department store owner Marshall is dealing with his surly grandson, Jason, a cocky, fresh-from-college idealist who values his own accounting skills too much to fold shirts. In town to assist his grandfather through the Christmas rush, he’s not planning to meet anyone — or stick around. But something about Rosemary, a sweet and harried server, catches his attention. But he’s carrying secrets of his own.
Donna VanLiere’s The Christmas Secret was . . . delightful! Warm, comforting, cute. I picked up a library audio copy based solely on the cover, seeking something pleasant to listen to on my commute, and VanLiere delivered. This novel was like sipping hot chocolate before a fireplace on Christmas Eve, you know? There is a religious element, but it was subtle and encouraging. Exactly what I wanted.
Christine is a dynamo. With two young children, rent to pay and plenty of troubles to weigh her down, she still manages to work hard and figure (most) things out. I was occasionally frustrated by her reluctance to accept help, but it was understandable given her situation. I loved how her slowly-building love affair played out, enchanted by the cases of mistaken identity that kept readers in the know while the principle players were in the dark.
But there were surprises, too! Several minor twists I did not see coming, and I loved that VanLiere wove subplots in without me noticing. As soon as details were revealed, I had that hand-hitting-forehead “of course!” moment I simply love. Jason was probably the character that experienced the greatest transformation, and I went from rolling my eyes at him to wanting to give ‘im a hug.
It was also easy to appreciate VanLiere’s way with dialogue. With a 7- and 5-year-old in the story, it would have been easy to suffer from Kids Talking Like Adults-itis — which I find distracting. But young Zach and Haley were kids who talked like kids, and weren’t simply props furthering Christine’s “Single Mom” plot line. They were sweet, funny, full of personality. I loved them.
Though we’re getting down to the wire before the big day is here, The Christmas Secret would make an excellent story to cuddle with before the arrival of family and friends. VanLiere has seven books in her Christmas Hope series, though they’re all independent works, and I intend to pick up another next year. Maybe I’ll even start my own holiday tradition!
4 out of 5!
About the audio: VanLiere narrates the novel herself, and I felt she did a good job. Her voices for various characters were sometimes hard to distinguish, but that was a minor quibble.