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Book Review: The Gift Counselor

The Gift Counselor. Sheila M. Cronin. Chicago, IL: Sheila M. Cronin, July 12, 2014, Trade Paperback and Kindle, 324 pages.

Reviewed by Deb Lecos.

The Gift Counselor is a work of fiction, devoted to the idea that there are usually reasons and preferred outcomes connected to our gifts. Set in Southern California in the 1990s, Jonquil Bloom is a single mother to a son, Billy, as well as a graduate psychology student doing research on “The Psychodynamics of Gift Giving.” The young mother comes to learn, by the benevolent example of her 10-year-old son, that gifts—true gifts—have no strings attached.

Jonquil parents with two objectives: keeping her son happy and hiding the truth of his father’s tragic death. These objectives become jeopardized on the same day when Jonquil loses her job as a clinician at Children’s Home, a residential treatment facility for emotionally disturbed children. The unexpected loss of income thrusts Jonquil into selling perfume at the once-great Clyde’s Department Store, during the busy holiday season.

On her first day at Clyde’s, Jonquil is introduced to Rita Oglesby, a colorful fifty-something woman with a “sense” for scents. As Rita teaches her the sales game, Jonquil becomes aware that she can bring elements of her schooling to her new job, by assisting customers with the psychology behind their gift giving. In short order, Clyde’s discovers that Jonquil can breathe new life into the old concept of holiday shopping by creating a new department devoted to counseling customers on gift giving. This opportunity allows Jonquil to utilize the experience in order to finish her research project. What she doesn’t expect is how much there is to learn about her own motives when bestowing presents.

As Jonquil is transitioning into her new job, her son Billy realizes that it is necessary for his mom to work long hours, leaving him little to do after school. He comes up with a plan to stay busy and help his mom, by making money dog walking for a neighbor. Billy adores all animals, but canines are at the top of his list. What he doesn’t realize is that Jonquil will be unsettled by his close proximity to dogs and the friendship he creates with a building contractor, Claude Chappel, working nearby. The unexpected additions of a new career and the handsome, available man to Jonquil’s previously orderly life, will bring her heart-felt secrets to the surface.

The Gift Counselor is a lovely surprise, like a thoughtful gift from a dear friend. Cronin carries the plot with a few twists, leading a reader into the true reasons behind our offerings. Some are warmly predictable, while others are fresh notions for our consideration.

I recommend The Gift Counselor for all readers, especially those who appreciate books with a message. It is an enjoyable concept, with something to offer during any time of year, but it is especially relevant during the holidays.


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