Angels at the Table

Debbie Macomber
October 2012, Holiday
Ballantine, $18.00, 240 pages, Amazon ASIN 0345528875
Part of a series

Grade: B
Sensuality: Kisses

It's hard to believe that Christmas items are already on the shelves at retailers. These days, department store aisles are filled with tinsel, lights and ornaments long before Thanksgiving, and their book sections are filled with holiday novels. I admit that one of the highlights of the season for me is always Debbie Macomber's annual Christmas novella. This year is especially exciting since we are being offered our first angel book since 2007.

Shirley, Goodness and Mercy have proven themselves over the last several years and are now ready to train others. Their apprentice is Will, an eager young angel who loves humans and is excited to get down to Earth and interact with them. Naturally, Shirley, Goodness and Mercy are delighted to show him the planet and its people up close. Their "unofficial" (meaning unauthorized) look at New Year's Eve in Times Square sounds harmless to the three. What could possibly go wrong? Lots. Goodness accidentally flies across the jumbo screen and her image is seen by the crowd. Shirley gets distracted by a child in need. And Will, with an earnest heart and desire to help, causes two people to bump into each other and share a midnight kiss.

Lucie Ferrara seriously doubts the wisdom of being in Times Square on New Year's Eve. Along with her mother, she is launching a new restaurant and doesn't really have the time for fun. But her mom insisted, her friends insisted and here she is. When she becomes separated from her friends she sees it as a sign she should just head home. Then a handsome stranger stumbles into her. As the clock strikes midnight they share a kiss. A very enjoyable kiss. Aren introduces himself and invites Lucie out for a glass of wine. She readily accepts. Attempts to find a booth at a wine bar fail but they are successful at securing a seat in an all night diner. They talk, they laugh and they agree to meeting one week’s time at the top of the Empire State Building. This will give them both a chance to determine if what they are feeling is the holiday or genuine attraction.

Meanwhile, heaven is very flustered. Will unwittingly intervened in God's plan for Lucie and Aren to meet during the next holiday season. Has irreparable damage been caused by Will's forced bump?

Lucie spends all week debating whether she wants to start a new business and a new relationship at the same time. With lots of encouragement from her mom, she agrees to meet Aren. When she is on the way there she receives a call from the hospital regarding her mother. Abandoning her plans, she heads to the emergency room, accepting in her heart that she has lost this particular chance at love. She spends the next year thinking of Aren but doubting that in a city of this size they will ever run into each other again.

Aren waited for Lucie for hours to no avail. He has moved on (sort of) enjoying his job as restaurant critic for the New York Gazette and spending quality time with his sister, Josie. But he hasn't forgotten Lucie and still thinks often about that missed opportunity. When his job takes him to Heavenly Delights restaurant he has no idea that she is the chef. With her in the kitchen and him in a crowded dining room, neither gets to see the other. And neither of them has a clue that Shirley, Goodness, Mercy and Will are all there, ready to right their mistake from New Year's Eve. Unfortunately, they try to fix things by "fixing" Aren's meal. He is completely unimpressed with his sole, which arrives with extra salt, extra lemon and extra paprika courtesy of the heavenly helpers. He writes a scathing review in the paper under his pen name Eaton Well. Lucie takes an intense dislike to the man, who could have ruined her business if not for the loyalty of her customers.

Lucie's customers are indeed very loyal; they write the Gazette emails filled with righteous rage over what they feel was an outrageous review. The rebuttals pour in in such numbers that Aren's editor sends him out to do a second review. This time when he enters the restaurant, Lucie is looking into the dining room and spots him right away. The two reconnect. Lucie's world seems full of promise and hope once more. The only glitch is that she doesn't know the restaurant critic she despises and the handsome man she is falling in love with are the same person. What will happen when the big secret comes out?

There is so much to love in this little novel. Macomber did a fantastic job of peopling her book with wonderful characters that are easy to root for. Lucie is a terrific mix of tough businesswoman and sweet, lovable lady. She was also very ordinary, which I adored. She was pretty, rather than gorgeous, successful but not ridiculously so and I felt I could easily fit her into my own circle of friends. She was a bit inflexible and unforgiving but thanks to the angels she learns what it means to open up and embrace people with all their flaws.

Aren was the ultimate beta hero. He is a loving brother, nice guy, good worker and team player. He's ambitious without being so driven he plows over people. He is the perfect match of calm to Lucie's slightly more volatile personality. He had lots of integrity, too, especially in how he handled the situation with Lucie.

The love story is full of stops and starts but these felt very true to life and gave us an opportunity to see the characters as individuals. Many times in romance it seems the characters, especially the heroine, have nothing without each other. In this case, they both had good lives without each other and better lives with each other. I enjoyed their dates and getting-to-know-you moments and I also enjoyed the times they spent with other people.

There is also a sweet and short (blink and you'll miss it) secondary romance regarding Aren's sister. It was a bit like an extra sprinkle of sugar - not enough to ruin the dish but not really needed either.

One of the great perks of the novel was that it concentrated on Lucie and Aren, not Shirley, Goodness and Mercy . The angels were woven throughout the tale but they didn't steal the story. That was a very good thing since my only complaint with the book was that these three characters hadn't really changed since they first appeared in the '90's. I love Shirley, Goodness and Mercy but a touch of growth would not be remiss, especially in this novel where we had Will to add the touch of zany the books are famous for.

That tiny quibble didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the tale. The novel whet my appetite for Christmas and has me thinking cheerful holiday thoughts. You can't ask much more from a holiday story than that.

-- Maggie Boyd

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