This book review of The Noel Diary by Richard Paul Evans is a little late in coming. I finished it before Christmas, and I know that once presents are opened, the majority of people consider the holiday over. I, however, like to celebrate it up until the end of December. At least. If I could convince my family to do the Three Kings day on January 6, I’d be all over that. So, if you have a few extra hours before busy life begins again in the new year, read this book.
Jacob Churcher is a decidedly unromantic romance writer. He’s written several best-selling novels and has thousands of dedicated fans (mostly female), but he can’t seen to transfer written romance to that of real life. It doesn’t help that his relationship with the most important female in his life—his mother—is pretty much non-existent after she kicked him out of the house for no apparent reason when he was 16. Since then, though, he’s done well for himself and avoids his Utah home-town like the plague.
He’s only back home now because his mother died, and loose ends need to be tied up. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt if he could gain some insight into the mentally ill woman who seemed to both love and hate him.
As he digs through the clutter of the past, both figuratively and literally, he meets Rachel, a woman struggling just as much with her past as he is with his. And then there’s an old diary, which might have answers for the both of them.
In this book, Churcher talks about the difference between being a romance writer and a writer of love stories. There’s a difference, he proclaims, and he’s one of the latter, not the former. I vastly prefer the latter as well because the story is about more than physical attraction. This book is a love story, and it’s one of the reasons I like it.
Jacob Churcher is clearly conflicted. He’s made something of himself, is successful, but close relationships—the things people learn about by being in a family—are beyond him. He tries and feels. Maybe he’s looking for love in all the wrong places (like among his readers) or he’s never been able to let go of the past and forgive his mother, making it impossible for him to move forward. Either way, he’s going to make his way through that minefield while making his way through the physical minefield of his dead mother’s house, a hoarder’s dream. I like Jacob’s character because he’s just a regular guy, not brilliant or macho, or self-centered. It’s an interesting look into a man’s soul.
Rachel also has a past with which to struggle. She’s looking for her birth mother and thinks that Jacob might know something. Her past has also defined her character, making the two of them an unlikely but perfect fit. I like how she’s seemingly meek, but contains an inner core of steel that sees her through the hardest moments and encourages her to fight for what she wants.
This book largely takes place over the holidays, a handful of eventful days, in Utah. There’s a quick drive to Arizona and then southern Utah, but this place that Jacob hated so much ends up being where his future starts to take form.
Richard Paul Evans has always been a master a weaving a provoking turn of phrase:
“The only true love is grace. All else is a counterfeit.”
“I believe that, for the most part, we don’t succeed in spite of our hardships but precisely because of them.”
This book might not be long or have multitudes of complicated themes, but what it has is heart. It tells a story that many of us can’t understand—the lack of familial love—and yet should try to grasp. It talks of love as being the ultimate act of grace. It’s not something that should be worked for or earned, but freely given. That lesson alone makes this book worth the few hours of your life.