"And perhaps after all the songs and poems and stories of the season, Christmas is really no more than that--humanity's search for the familiar. Every year we bring out the same songs, partake of the same foods and traditions, and share the things that make us feel that there's someplace we belong. And in the end all any of us are looking for is home." -- (My favorite passage) From the book

I admit it--I'm a sucker for Christmas stories. Skpping Christmas (a delightful story), The Christmas Train (a forgettable tale), A Redbird Christmas (another wonderful story)--I've read them all.

As Christmas draws near, I stay on the lookout for holiday heartwarmers found either at my local bookstores or at the library.

I came across Finding Noel at the library, not realizing that it was a new release. (Admittedly, Richard Paul Evans was unknown to me up until this book.)

Sadly, the author lost his mother on Valentine's Day 2006 and after weeks of struggling with his grief, he decided to write a story for her.

I, for one, am glad he did.

Although Macy and Mark are the central characters in this story, Finding Noel shares the universal struggles of *several* compelling characters, delving into areas such as emotionally detached parents, making ends meet, looking for meaning, surviving child abuse, terminal illness, sudden death of a loved one, and finding a soulmate who accepts and loves unconditionally.

Once I began reading Finding Noel, I couldn't stop. Several times--including the last few chapters--I had to put the book down for a good cry. At first, my worried husband looked over at me and asked "Are you OK?" (My first husband died of leukemia and my present husband understands how tales about any kind of death can really rip me up.) I said "Yeah, I'm fine. Just a great book with some major heartwarming moments..."

He smiled in that knowing way as I put down the book every so often to absorb what the author had written.

While I tend to be a book critic--especially with non-fiction books--tales like Finding Noel totally bypass this analytical part of my personality and hit me right in the heart. One reason is because of the author's flawless prose, but another is because he gets the characters *so right*. Anyone who has experienced the shocking, sudden loss of a loved one due to accident or the stinging cruelty of verbal or physical abuse perpetuated by a parent will recognize the authenticity of the characters that grace this book.

But don't think this book is a downer! Oh no--it's not. Yes, some difficult things happen therein and yes, we see humanity in naked, vulnerable states. But we also see the potential GO(O)D that humanity can do when they aspire to BE good--offering forgiveness, a smile, a helping hand, or seeing past appearances. In the book, Mark's character muses to himself "Man's extremities are God's opportunities" and "Be kind to everyone--you don't know what cross they're bearing and how sweet that kind word might ring."

A heartwarming tale of triumphing despite adversity, finding one's place in the world, living with optimism, and giving people a chance (or more than one!), Finding Noel delivers a bittersweet (mostly sweet!) Christmas tale sure to melt the heart of even the iciest of Scrooges.

Thank you, Mr. Evans, for penning this poignant story (and my condolences on the loss of your Mom.) Finding Noel has reminded me of the importance of the "little things"; personally, I will try to remember to offer understanding or a smile when I'm tempted to be not-so-nice when irritated, tired, or impatient...because, really, we don't really know what's going on "behind the curtain"...

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Finding Noel: A Novel - Richard Paul Evans