On Barb’s Bookshelf: Best of All Gifts

I’m all about the Christmas novel (and novella). Follow me on Goodreads in the fall and winter and you’ll see that a big chunk of my fiction reading falls straight into the holiday-read category. There’s no shame in that; these are light reads, with sweet stories that pair perfectly with a white-chocolate mocha, fuzzy socks and a warm blanket.

Two Thanksgivings ago, I read Sheila Cronin’s The Gift Counselor, a perfect Christmastime read. In that story, we meet Jonquil, a young widowed mom who has carved out a unique job as a department-store gift counselor. She helps customers examine their motivation for the gifts they give, while advising them on good gift choices. Jonquil uses data gathered at work for her thesis so she can complete an advanced degree.

best of all gifts

Jonquil’s story continues in Best of All Gifts, which is just the right novel to enjoy now — at Thanksgiving time. Jonquil’s work nemesis is assigned to be her assistant, her new thesis advisor seems to have it in for her (and she’s inexplicably attracted to him), and the father who disappeared when she was eight years old resurfaces. And there’s more: Jonquil’s son has a very scary health crisis and she just isn’t sure that Claude, the contractor she began dating in the first book, really wants to marry her. And Thanksgiving is coming.

My favorite character from The Gift Counselor, Rita, doesn’t get very much face time in this story, but we do get to meet Jonquil’s grandmother, who is lovable and wise.

Grab a cup of tea and a slice of pumpkin pie and savor this well-told story. You’ll love Best of All Gifts.

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
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On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Gift Counselor by Sheila Cronin

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Lately I’ve been finding that good Catholic romantic fiction is out there–you just need to know where to look. I’m happy to share a great Christmas read by Sheila Cronin. (It may be too early to decorate for Christmas, but I’m always up for reading a good Christmas story.)

gift counselorThe Gift Counselor would make a great Hallmark Channel Christmas movie. I’m not saying that to disparage the book at all. It’s a wonderful, feel-good story with a main character I found to be easy to relate to.

Jonquil is a widowed mom with a 10-year-old son who, more than anything, wants a dog of his own–but she has her own reasons for denying Billy’s wish. Jonquil is a psychology student focusing on the topic of gift-giving for her doctoral dissertation, and when she finds herself out of a job at the Children’s Home, she takes a seasonal position at a local department store. Soon she’s blending salesmanship and psychotherapy, setting herself on a new professional trajectory as the Gift Counselor.

But let’s not forget the romance in the novel. Claude, the general contractor renovating a building in Jonquil’s neighborhood, falls hard for Jonquil and must prove that he truly wants what’s best for her and for her young son.

Sometimes it’s the peripheral characters in a novel who are among the most captivating. In this story, it’s the irrepressible Rita, who takes Jonquil under her wing in the fragrance department and becomes a mother figure to her. I couldn’t help but be charmed by Rita’s spunk and determination.

In every good story there’s a villain; Sheila Cronin has created a believable and vulnerable villain in Leigh, whose ambition and drive masks a heart full of pain.

I mentioned earlier that this is a Catholic romance. Jonquil and Billy have Father Tim, their parish priest, as one of their greatest friends and supporters. The flashback to how Jonquil and Father Tim met is one of the sweetest scenes in the novel.

Jonquil’s gift-counseling service at the store leads her to examine the motivations behind gifts, the reasons people give gifts and the reasons behind particular gift choices. The Gift Counselor is a great Christmas read, but why wait? Read it now, and you may gain a new perspective on your own gift-giving–just in time for Christmas.

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The Fine Print: I was given a copy of this book, and no other compensation, in exchange for my honest review. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.