The Christmas Promise by Donna VanLiere

The Christmas Promise by Donna VanLiere
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday, Mainstream Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Each Christmas we are given a promise from heaven. And each year on earth we make promises to each other. This is a story about how a promise from one person to another shows us the true meaning of faith, remembrance, and love.

Seven years ago Gloria endured a family tragedy that almost shook her faith entirely. Each Christmas she places a card in an envelope on her tree, restating a promise she made to her husband before he died. Now, having moved from her small town and all the painful memories it held, she is building a life by caring for people in need. Whether it’s a young mother who can’t pay her electric bill or a family who needs some extra food, Gloria always finds a way.

Miriam is a thorn in Gloria’s side. Miriam is a constantly critical, disapproving neighbor who looks with suspicion at all the good things Gloria does. When a twist of fate makes them roommates instead of neighbors, it’s the ultimate test of patience and faith.

Chaz has a good job as head of security at Wilson’s Department Store, but each night he returns home to an empty apartment. He longs for a wife and family of his own but realizes that the life choices he’s made have alienated him. He befriends a young boy whose mother has fallen on hard times, giving him a chance to have a life he thought impossible.

In The Christmas Promise, the lives of these characters collide and we learn that even as we move ahead, the past is never far behind. And when we are forgiven much, we love much. In this warmly humorous and deeply poignant story, we are reminded that the Christmas Promise is the promise of second chances.

Sometimes it’s nice to try something unknown, and this story by Donna VanLiere, a new-to-me author, was one of those books that took me by surprise because I ended up liking it. By and large, I’m a romance reader so I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. It has romantic elements and of a fashion, it does have an emotional and satisfying happy ever after. It’s not the type I’m used to but for this novel, it was perfect. It was happy, it was poignant, it left me with the ‘feel goods’ and the writing was well done if a bit unusual. It was unusual because the point of view switched from first person, which followed the story of the main female lead, Gloria, also called Miss Glory, and the third person point of view from some of the secondary characters. I don’t remember if I’ve ever come upon a story written quite this way. In The Christmas Promise, it worked.

Because the author wrote the chapters and storylines of a few of the characters like the weaving of a tapestry, everything spirals down to a point. I found that style of storytelling quite challenging. Not because it was confusing, it impressed me more than anything else. Everyone’s lives seemed to touch another’s in one way or another. It brought a sense of unity to the community. Gloria seems to be the person who spearheads charitable works for anyone and everyone she comes across who is experiencing hardship in one way or the other. I think that is where the ‘Christian Fiction’ label can apply. It wasn’t on the level of inspirational, but the guiding principle of taking care of a neighbor in need falls under the purview of corporal works of mercy. That’s where all the important secondary characters are found. Mary-am, Spaz, Donovan, Carla, Erin and quite a few others are not only helped by Gloria but she eventually is helped by them. The blessings she receives in doing for others far outweigh anything she could have imagined at the start of the story.

On an aside, I am compelled to mention that the synopsis or blurb for The Christmas Promise is actually different depending on if you look up the title as a print or as an audiobook. I prefer the print version’s blurb but combined, it gives a potential reader a clearer idea of what the novel is about. It mentions humor and I didn’t have any laugh out loud moments while reading. A few ‘Awws’ and ‘that’s so sweet’ when it came to the interactions between Spaz and Donovan, a few smiles with Miriam’s crabby antics, but the big emotional pull and downright tear jerker is between Gloria and one of the secondary characters. If a reader enjoys stories that are strong in the ‘feels’ area, then this book is going to bring about those happy sappy tears so make sure you have a tissue handy, just in case.

On the whole, The Christmas Promise is a powerful story of faith, friendship, redemption, true Christmas spirit and love of family and neighbor. It’s incredibly well-written and the pace is constant. I usually prefer light fluffy stories but I’m glad I took a chance on something a bit more solid. It reminded me of what the holiday’s focus should be. Not material things, but people. Not only family, but friends and sometimes friends of friends. Even though this story has a Christmas theme, I personally feel this story can be read at any time of year. It’s a timeless message. If you haven’t read this story yet, or heard of this author, please give her a try. I’m glad I did.

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