Review of THE CHRISTMAS SECRET by Donna VanLiere (see her website)
St. Martin's Press, October 2009
Single mother Christine Eisley is barely getting by. Her ex-husband doesn't pay his child support and she's losing her waitress job because finding child care sometimes makes her late. The final blow comes when a woman has a heart attack in front of Christine's house. By the time she gives CPR and summons an ambulance, Christine is late one time too many. Now she's on the verge of losing her house as well because she has been making only partial rent payments.
Jason has lost his job with a CPA firm and his grandfather summons him to work in his department store over the holidays. He's got a bit of a chip on his shoulder about having to work retail, but he's basically a good-hearted guy so he buckles down. When he meets a pretty waitress, he instantly falls for her, but for some reason she doesn't warm to him (she thinks he's a creep sent by her ex-husband). Jason and Christine begin a courtship filled with misunderstandings and wrong turns, yet one that seems fated to be.
Christine's new job is working for Grace, who is understanding of children and the problems they cause for working women. Grace helps Christine find child care and helps arrange that Christine's children will get at least something for Christmas. Still, every time she manages to have somet gift added to Christine's car, more complicated gifts and money show up as well. What is going on?
Author Donna VanLiere writes a heartwarming story of hope when all seems lost. Christine goes from being unemployed and single to happily employed and having a successful boyfriend who is willing to drop his career to stay in the same town as she does. Jason learns to appreciate people, learning that business is not about numbers, but about the human beings who make it complete. VanLiere's writing is engaging, and her depiction of Christine's problems with work, a non-paying ex, and rent all ring true.
Although THE CHRISTMAS SECRET is not marketed as an explicitly religious book, it will appeal primarily to Christians. The lecture Jason gets on making sure he calls it "Christmas" rather than "Holiday" might be offensive to non-Christian readers (as well as an unpleasant reminder of attempts to gain political points by criticising those who don't celebrate the holidays in majority-approved ways). And the relationship between Jason and Christine really needs a bit of work for us readers to see it as more than a crush. After all, until the end of the book, Jason doesn't even know Christine's name.
If you're looking for something warm and cosy for the holiday season, and if you're comfortable with overtly Christian understandings of the world, THE CHRISTMAS SECRET might just be right for you.
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