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'The Noel Stranger': Richard Paul Evans' latest is the perfect Christmas stocking stuffer'

From past releases like "The Christmas Box" to his latest novel, "The Noel Stranger," author Richard Paul Evans has established himself as a master of the romance genre. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
Richard Paul Evans' latest novel, "The Noel Stranger," is the perfect Christmas stocking stuffer for those who like their holiday romance laced with memorable characters and an unexpected twist or two. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

You thought you knew what was inside the box.

Though it was wrapped, you could tell what it was. You shook it, upended it, and picked at the tape, absolutely positive that you knew what was inside that colorful paper — but as in the new novel "The Noel Stranger" by Richard Paul Evans, mistakes do happen at Christmastime.

Maggie Walther was sure that everyone in Utah was staring at her. It was for nothing she did, except to marry Clive all those years ago. Except to stand beside him, supporting him as he dived into politics, throwing fundraisers for him and playing hostess. Except to be the last to know that her husband had another wife and children in another state.

Stricken and ashamed, Maggie'd been staying home, away from crowds. She couldn't sleep, couldn't run her business, could barely even get dressed and her assistant, Carina, was worried. Couldn't Maggie at least manage to put up a Christmas tree?

And so, on a freezing pre-Thanksgiving weekend, Maggie went to find a tree. And that's where the holidays turned for her.

He was handsome and funny, and helped her find an easy tree to care for. His name was Andrew, and he offered to deliver the goods when Maggie's car turned out to be too small for tree-hauling. She offered him a cup of coffee. He offered to help decorate the tree. She made him dinner. They talked and laughed and compared divorce-survivor notes. And in two weeks' time, they fell in love.

It seemed impossible, really, that her heart could leap so quickly after being hurt so much but Maggie was head-over-heels. Andrew was responsible, kind, understanding, he was everything she needed. Carina warned her to slow down, especially after Andrew invited Maggie to Cabo for a week, but Maggie couldn't remember the last time she smiled as much as she did with Andrew around.

Yet, how much did she really know about him? Not much at all, as it turned out...

First, this: Fans of author Richard Paul Evans. Yes. Go ahead now, get this book. G'wan. Get outta here. Now. If you're new to Evans' fiction, what you'll get inside "The Noel Stranger" is a decent enough romancy-Christmassy tale in which someone has been hurt somehow, but meets someone else who heals them during the Holidays.

As you will inside other Evans holiday books, you'll find extremely well-crafted characters and deep details that make it all seem more real, plus a snowscape and an argument that throws the novel briefly off-course before Happily-Ever-After. That makes this story formulaic, yes, but it's as traditional and beloved as bulbs on branches and star on treetop, and it's going to put you in a good Christmas mood.

This is a book you can give to your teen and to Grandma without reservation. It's a pretty fast read, and it pairs fairly well with cocoa and a warm blanket on a cold night. For you, or to give, "The Noel Stranger" has it in the box.

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