Title: Deck the Halls
Author: Donna Alward
Release Date: October 2017
Length: 128 pages
Series?: Darling, VT #3.5
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
In the last year, George’s life has drastically changed. The formerly homeless veteran now has a job he likes, a family in the residents of Darling, VT, and for the first time in years, a home. But while his present is good, he’s still haunted by the past, a past that appears shortly before Christmas when the older sister of his brother-in-arms hunts him down and finds him in Darling, working at the Ladybug Garden Center.
Amy’s looking for closure for her family after her brother’s death in the Middle East, but the serious man she finds working in Vermont doesn’t resemble the soldier she remembers from years before. This man is hardened and yet somehow fragile, too, and in her desire to find out what really happened to her brother, she learns more about George than she ever expected.
With a little Christmas magic and the whole town supporting them, can these two bruised hearts make a future together?
This installment in the Darling, VT series focuses on George. Homeless and a vagrant when helped by Aiden and Laurel, he has been working at The Ladybug Garden Center for a while now. With the help of his new friends and a compassionate town, he now has his own little apartment. Despite his good fortune, he still suffers from his past that landed him on the streets. Like many veterans today, George lost his best friend in combat. Returning home to face his friend’s family was impossible. He didn’t keep his friend safe, and he lost his life because of George. Instead, George returned home and followed a few different paths before landing on the streets.
Fifteen years later, the twin sister of George’s friend finds him at The Ladybug. Amy shows up just weeks before Christmas following her own disaster of a divorce. George isn’t ready to face Amy – or the nightmares she brings back. While Amy is looking for closure for herself and her family, George cannot go back to that dark place. The guilt and PTSD kept George from contacting Amy’s family all these years. Amy is not leaving town until she can get George to share her brother’s final days and minutes of his life.
I loved the Christmas setting! Amy is installed in a rented farmhouse for her visit, and she does her best to spruce it and make it ready for the holiday away from home. George is making holiday wreaths at the Garden Center. Together they go shopping and decorate George’s apartment for Christmas, including a little tree. The cheer and moments that reminded me of the season helped to alleviate some of the pain you felt for George and Amy and all they lost.
I applaud Donna Alward for writing about the reality that many veterans face when they return to the United States after serving a hard deployment. This is just a touch of what it is like to live with the horrors they have seen while serving their country. PTSD is the silent killer of 22 veterans per day who take their own lives. Coming home from war, a six-month deployment on a ship, or simply transitioning from a life in uniform to a life without one, can be difficult and the various state and federal systems set up to deal with this transition and life after military services are unable to meet the need. The challenges of adjustment and transition, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, and physical disabilities, all need to be addressed especially as these things result in barriers to education, employment, healthcare, and overall individual well-being. There are just too many gaps in the system and our veterans suffer.
With George and Amy having a shared past and connection, it was easy to see they would be drawn to one another. While there is no moving on from a veteran’s past, they are able to move forward with their lives. Amy found herself wanting to be part of George’s moving forward.
The running theme throughout the book is second chances, and the heartwarming love and friendship from Amy really made those second chances possible beyond what George already had.
While bestselling author Donna Alward was busy studying Austen, Eliot and Shakespeare, she was also losing herself in the breathtaking stories created by romance novelists like LaVyrle Spencer, Judith McNaught, and Nora Roberts. Several years after completing her degree she decided to write a romance of her own and it was true love! Five years and ten manuscripts later she sold her first book and launched a new career. While her heartwarming stories of love, hope, and homecoming have been translated into several languages, hit bestseller lists and won awards, her very favorite thing is when she hears from happy readers!
Donna lives on Canada’s east coast with her family which includes a husband, a couple of kids, a senior dog and two crazy cats. When she’s not writing she enjoys reading (of course!), knitting, gardening, cooking…and is a Masterpiece Theater addict.