Take a few moments to read my last book review of 2010 . . .
You don’t think you’ll need a pick-me-up now, but you will. And this story is just the thing to bring a smile to your heart on a bleak January day.
When fourteen-year-old Marissa spends Christmas with Gran, she hears a story from the past that shows how God can transform our deepest disappointments into our most precious gifts—if we let Him.
It’s Christmastime, and Marissa’s family is enjoying their dream vacation in Hawaii—without her! Marissa has been desperately ill and is only now regaining her strength. Her recuperation will require weeks in bed, and the plane tickets are non-refundable. She’s sent to stay with her Gran, who welcomes a quiet Christmas after the recent loss of her beloved husband.
To while away the time, Gran shares the story of her first love with Marissa. She begins by showing the girl a photo of Grant Rockwell, a World War II pilot handsome enough to be a movie star. But what really gets Marissa’s attention is that she’s never heard of this man before!
Then the story slips back to 1945, when a young Emily Robbins (Gran) travels from America to England to find Grant Rockwell and marry him, whether he likes it or not. When Emily arrives in England, the first sight of London shocks her:
“I thought I knew what it meant to live through the war years. Back home in America, more families than I cared to count had flown little flags from their front porches, signaling to the world that they had lost a loved one . . . But in that short journey across London, I learned that America had been spared more than I had ever dreamed possible. Destruction was everywhere . . . Men and women still worked in the flat helmets I saw in the Movietone News, and several times I saw real bombs that had been dug from the wreckage. The city seemed too spent to reform itself for the new day.”
From London, Emily travels to Grant’s last location, Arden-on-Thames. Her fiancé is nowhere to be found. But a charming cast of characters takes her in. Fred, the cab driver who never met a stranger, brings Emily to Miss Rachel, a feisty older woman who rents her a small flat.
Emily discovers that the War has left many people filled with bitterness at the losses they’ve sustained. Miss Rachel tells Emily about losing her husband and son and the day God healed her heart during a Sunday morning service. After Miss Rachel feels Emily has wallowed over her broken heart long enough, she takes her on a tour of the town:
“[We] turned through a pair of great stone gates and entered a long, tree-lined drive . . . Through the snow-covered boughs I caught glimpses of a house that drew a gasp from my lips. Four stories of stone and turrets and gables and gargoyles, a fantasy palace standing proud and stern in a vast sea of white . . . As we drew up before the entrance, the front doors opened, and a sea of little figures came cascading down the stairs . . . I watched as Rachel allowed them to draw open her door and engulf her . . . Their outstretched hands formed a skirt of arms extending out from the elderly woman. She responded with a crooning voice and strokes to as many faces as she could reach . . . ‘But who are all these children?’ . . . [Rachel responded,] ‘These are my little angels.’”
It turns out the town is caring for 300 orphans who’ve been displaced from all over Europe. Emily soon becomes enmeshed in the lives of the children. And she begins to work closely with Colin Albright, the young vicar who spends his days caring for the kids.
Colin is far from the sophisticated, Grant-type flyboy. Emily describes Colin as “an odd candidate for sainthood, with his shock of sandy hair that looked as though it had never seen a brush, and his utter disregard for the state of his clothes and truck. He was scatterbrained and forgetful and took on more work than could have possibly been handled by two men . . . But the children loved him, and he kept up a determined effort to never let them down.”
As Emily works side-by-side with Colin to help the children, she finds herself changing in ways she never imagined. God helps her forsake her bitterness, forgive those who’ve hurt her, and find new joy in her salvation as she puts self aside to serve others. God teaches Emily in 1945 and Marissa in 1997 that “when you accept His gift, all is well.”
After Christmas Gift Guide: One of the lessons from this book is that “the Lord’s most wonderful gift knows no season.” The people in the book celebrate Christmas 3 months after the fact, but the time is just as sweet. So I saved this story to review after Christmas, when all the excitement and anticlimax have left you needing some inspiration. Use one of the gift cards you received to buy it and pass it around to all your friends. They’ll thank you for it! You can find the book at Amazon.com and Half.com.
Thanks to Margaret at the Creative Madness Mama blog. If she hadn’t started me on this Christmas reading challenge, I never would have found this book!
I so wish this story had been made into a Hallmark movie! I can picture the set and costumes and supporting characters . . .
And even the actors who should play the leads!