Book Review: The Christmas Heirloom

Christmas Heirloom The Christmas Heirloom: Four Holiday Novellas of Love through the Generations by Karen Witemeyer, Kristi Ann Hunter, and Becky Wade follows a family brooch handed down through generations.

“A Legacy of Love” by Kristi Ann Hunter takes place in 1827 England. Sarah Gooding came about her job as a lady’s companion in an unusual way, and she and her employer have a close relationship. Sarah is attracted to her employer’s grandson, but their different stations in life would prohibit anything more than friendship between them. Yet they do come to each other’s attention in protecting Lady Densbury’s interests, and she’s unconventional enough to help their relationship along. She bequeaths Sarah a brooch that had been given to her by her husband when they first married.

“Gift of the Heart” by Karen Witemeyer takes place several generations later in 1890. Ruth Fulbright is a young widow starting a new chapter in life with her daughter. They travel several miles via stage coach to a new job as a cook in Hope Springs, TX. She carries her heirloom brooch in an bag embroidered with her initials plus those of its three owners before her. Not having quite enough money for accommodations, she proposes giving the brooch as collateral to her landlord until she can earn enough to buy it back. Normally he would not accept such an arrangement, but she does not take no as an answer, and he sees how much it means to her. He has been almost a recluse since an injury and disfigurement of his arm in his youth changed his mother’s perception of him. He thinks everyone must feel about his handicap the same as she did. But Ruth’s bright spirit draws him out.

In “A Shot at Love” by Sarah Loudin Thomas, Fleeta’s parents have passed away, and she lives with an aunt and uncle in Bethel, West Virginia in 1958. Her main interest in life is guns: known as a crack shot, she also loves building them and carving designs into them. Her hope is to have her own gun store. Fleeta’s aunt brings out the brooch and tells Fleeta about it, saying her mother had wanted her to have it “when the time was right for [her] to find true love.” Fleeta doesn’t have much interest in love. Grief for her father hastened her mother’s demise, and other women seem to be held back by the romantic relationships in their lives. But then a stranger comes to town, a friend of a friend, who is just as good a shot and has just as much an interest in guns as she does. And he’s not put off by her unconventional femininity.

“Because of You” by Becky Wade tales place in modern-day Merryweather, Washington. Maddie Winslow had a crush on Leo Donnelly, but Leo married her friend, Olivia. But Olivia has passed away, leaving behind a young son as well as a grieving husband. Maddie still loves Leo but feels loyalty to Olivia places him “off limits.” Maddie and Leo are paired together for their church’s “Mission Christmas,” in which the different participants work together to help a family without means during the holidays. Maddie comes across the brooch while looking in the attic for items for a fund-raising rummage sale. She asks her mother about it and learns the story. Thankfully someone’s family history research reveals the brooch’s past. Leo had had no thoughts of loving again, but as he gets to know Maddie, he begins to think his heart can love again. The only thing I didn’t like about this one was multiple mentions of going to bars and drinking alcohol. I know Christians have a variety of opinions these days as to what exactly is acceptable in the realm of drinking, but I’d rather it was not “pushed” as normal. Having had an alcoholic father and visited a few bars before my salvation, to me, alcohol is part of the old life. There are any number of other places the folks in the story could have met.

There’s some mention of the brooch bringing its owners love, but the authors dispel the notion of it as something of a good luck charm, saying rather than love comes from God’s leading and provision.

This was a sweet, clean, enjoyable holiday read.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Book Review: Finding Christ in Christmas

Tozer ChristmasTozer wrote the words contained in Finding Christ in Christmas, but he didn’t actually write the book. Someone pulled together quotes relating to Christmas and the Advent season from Tozer’s other writings. Thus there’s no flow of logical thought from one entry to the next, (at least, I didn’t pick up on it if it was there). Each is taken out of context, and some leave the reader hanging a bit. Whoever compiled these did not note what writings each of the entries comes from, so there is not a way to look up the context of the entry unless you google a phrase and find a reference online.

Despite those failings, the book contains some nuggets worthy of consideration. I’ve never found Tozer to be a warm, cozy devotional speaker. Rather, he makes us think with his incisive rhetoric. And that, to me, is what gives this book value.

Here are just a few samples:

Thousands each year find their desire for salvation and holiness becoming too acute to bear, and turn to the One who was born in a manger to die on a cross. Then the fleeting beauty that is Christmas enters their hearts to dwell there forever. For who is it that imparts such beauty to the Christmas story? It is none other than Jesus, the Altogether Lovely.

He sacrificed many pure enjoyments to give Himself to the holy work of moral rescue…He pleased not Himself but lived for the emergency; and as He was so are we in this world.

The Law was given by Moses, but that was all that Moses could do. He could only “command” righteousness. In contrast, only Jesus Christ produces righteousness. All that Moses could do was to forbid us to sin. In contrast, Jesus Christ came to save us from sin. Moses could not save anyone, but Jesus Christ is both Savior and Lord.

[On Isaiah 53:2 portraying the Messiah being “a root out of dry ground] Had Israel been like a young woman at the peak of her reproductive powers, the rising of such a prodigy as Jesus from within her might have had some logic in it; but He was born of Israel when her powers had waned and her strength had withered. By no stretch of fancy could anyone who knew Israel in that day have visioned Jesus as her offspring. Israel was dry ground —politically, morally and spiritually effete.

The theology of Christmas too easily gets lost under the gay wrappings, yet apart from its theological meaning it really has none at all.

Though we are keenly aware of the abuses that have grown up around the holiday season, we are still not willing to surrender this ancient and loved Christmas Day to the enemy.

Man is lost but not abandoned. Had men not been lost, no Savior would have been required. Had they been abandoned no Savior would have come.

In our mad materialism we have turned beauty into ashes, prostituted every normal emotion and made merchandise of the holiest gift the world ever knew. Christ came to bring peace and we celebrate His coming by making peace impossible for six weeks of each year. Not peace but tension, fatigue and irritation rule the Christmas season. He came to free us of debt and many respond by going deep into debt each year to buy enervating luxuries for people who do not appreciate them. He came to help the poor and we heap gifts upon those who do not need them. The simple token given out of love has been displaced by expensive presents given because we have been caught in a squeeze and don’t know how to back out of it. Not the beauty of the Lord our God is found in such a situation, but the ugliness and deformity of human sin.

The editors ended the compilation with the last quote, which, though convicting, ends the book on a note of condemnation. I wish they had ended with a quote of hope.

There are readings for December 1 – 25, and each day’s reading ranges from just a paragraph to little more than a page. So the selections are easily readable.

Despite the frustrations I mentioned, I found the book highly beneficial.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, and Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: The Christmas Hirelings

Christmas Hirelings I had never heard of The Christmas Hirelings, written in 1894 by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, but an audiobook of it was Audible‘s free Christmas gift to members, so I tried it out. I loved it! Braddon is known for more “sensational” writings: from what I understand, this is the only story of its kind that she wrote. But it hits all the right notes for a classic Victorian Christmas tale.

The story opens with Sir John Penlyon, his niece Adela, and his good friend Danby. As Sir John grouses about how boring Christmas is, Danby says “Nobody knows how to enjoy Christmas if he has no children to make happy. If one has no children of one’s own, one ought to hire some for the Christmas – week.” He then proposes to do just that, with Sir John’s permission. There’s much discussion about what kind of children should be brought, and Sir John finally tells Danby he can do anything he likes as long as he doesn’t bother Sir John about it.

Then the author switches to Sir John’s backstory and how he came to be a gruff old man alone in his mansion, and his story unexpectedly touched my heart. He was no Scrooge: he was generous and kind, unless crossed. But life’s circumstances had sapped all the joy from his life. At one point he said, “My life was barren, but peaceful. What more did I want?” Much later in the book, Danby said one reason he proposed this experiment was to prove to Sir John that he did indeed have a heart.

The children and Sir John get off on the wrong foot at first until the youngest, four-year-old Moppet, bravely attaches herself to him. One of my favorites of their exchanges:

Moppet: “Little girls sit on their fathers’ knees, don’t they ?”

Sir John: “Sometimes.”

“I mean good little girls. And that isn’t being forward, is it ?”

“No, Moppet, no. Fathers are made to be sat upon.”

The joy of having children around and doing for them enlivens the whole house and all its occupants, until tragedy strikes.

I had an idea where the story was going and who the children actually were by chapter three, but I still enjoyed seeing if I was right (I was) and how everything would play out (not like I expected!)

Oddly, there’s not a Kindle version, but the text is online here. The audiobook was superbly read by Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies). I nearly forgot at one point that one man was voicing all the characters. Here’s a bit of background for Audible’s recording with Armitage:

Another free audiobook is available from Librivox. Although the narration can’t compare to Armitage’s, it does have the advantage of a preface from Braddon telling how the book came to be and who Danby and Moppet are based on. The Librivox narration is also on YouTube here.

Thanks so much to Audible for introducing me to this lovely story.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Homeless for the Holidays

HomelessIn the novel Homeless for the Holidays by P. S. Wells and Marsha Wright, Jack Baker’s future looks bright. He has a lovely family, a great job, and expectations of a good Christmas bonus and possibly a promotional. His boss is a bit demanding, calling him nights, weekends, even Thanksgiving. But if Jack can hang on til he gets the promotion, everything will be better – so he tells his wife.

As the Bakers prepare for Christmas, they stuff shopping carts, max out credit cards, competitively search for the last of the “hot” toys. And when encountered by a child seeking donations for a charity or a Salvation Army bell ringer, Jack begrudgingly hands over the spare change in his pocket and gripes about people who don’t work for a living.

Then the unthinkable happens. A mistaken label on one of Jack’s company’s products creates a hazard. To save face, Jack’s boss makes Jack the fall guy, placing the responsibility for the fiasco on his shoulders and firing him. Jack’s boss promises Jack that once the hoopla has died down, Jack can have his job back.

In the meantime, Jack’s search for a job proves fruitless and bills start piling up. One by one his family loses services, then their car, then their home.

The book’s tag line says, “One family learns what is truly important when they lose it all and find they have everything.”

Overall it is an enjoyable book. You feel the characters’ fear and angst as the walls close in and the losses pile up and then as they discover that having all the “stuff” doesn’t matter as much as time for each other, humility, faith, and compassion. There’s a telling exchange when Jack’s wife tries to apply for food stamps and runs into all kinds of weird rules.

The one factor that keeps this story from being just another “learning the true meaning of Christmas” tale is that it is based on true events from the life of scriptwriter George Johnson. George eventually produced a movie based on his experience called Homeless for the Holidays, which released in 2009. In the back of the book George tells about his own situation and how the movie came to be.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

 

 

Literary Christmas Reading Challenge

e7f96-a-literary-christmas-banner-2017

Tarissa hosts the Literary Christmas Challenge in December: actually, it started in November, but I like to hold off on Christmas reading til after Thanksgiving. The main rule: read Christmas books! And link up your posts about them (via a blog, Goodreads review, etc.).

Here’s what I am planning to read this month:

Finding Christ in Christmas by A. W. Tozer (99 cents for the Kindle app as of this writing. Tozer always makes one think.)

Tozer Christmas

Homeless for the Holidays by P. S. Wells and Marsha Wright.

Homeless

Christmas Stitches by Judith Miller, Nancy Moser, and Stephanie Grace Whitson. I’ve read many of Judith and Nancy’s books, so I am looking forward to this Christmas collection.

Stitches

Baby, It’s Cold Outside by Susan May Warren

Cold Outside

I’ll Be Home For Christmas: Four Inspirational Holiday Novellas by Lenora Worth, Belle Calhoune, Jill Kemerer, and Allie Pleiter. This is not showing up on Amazon anymore, but you can read more about it on Goodreads here. I’ve not read any of these authors, but I used to follow a blog that Lenora contributed to, so that’s probably what prompted this purchase.

Home

If I should finish all these and I’m not tired of Christmas stories at that point, I’d love to get Terri Blackstock’s Catching Christmas and Michelle Griep’s Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series, Twelve Days at Bleakly Manor and A Tale of Two Hearts. I’m trying to read what I have already accumulated through sales before I add any more.

And that’s it for this year! Do you plan to do any Christmas-themed reading this month?

Book Review: Finding Father Christmas and Engaging Father Christmas

father-christmasAfter reading Pam’s engaging post on the difference between the Hallmark and written versions of Robin Jones Gunn’s Finding Father Christmas, the novella sounded so charming I had to look it up. I found it bound with its sequel, Engaging Father Christmas. I’ve enjoyed some of Robin’s Sisterchicks novels and I think maybe one or two others, so I was glad to read her again.

In Finding Father Christmas, Miranda Carson is a single working woman who grew up as the only child of a single actress. She knew nothing of her father: in fact, in her youngest years her mother told her fairy tales of how she came to her, so she didn’t think she even had a father. Miranda had an unconventional childhood hanging out around theaters while her mom practiced and performed, and they lived in cheap hotels. One day Miranda discovered an old blue velvet purse of her mother’s and opened it to find her birth certificate, a photo of a boy sitting on the lap of Santa Claus, and a playbill for The Tempest. From that time on, realizing that she had been deceived by her mother, she lost any love for fairy tales and vowed never to go to the theater again.

Miranda’s mother died when Miranda was 11, and she was taken in by a friend. When that friend died, Miranda falsified her age and struck out on her own, choosing an accounting career because numbers were more reliable than words.

But the longing to know her father caused her to take vacation time in England, where the photo in her mother’s purse had been taken. She only had the name of the photo studio and a street to go on, but arriving in the village of Carlton Heath, she entered a shop called the Tea Cosy and met its proprietors, Andrew and Katherine MacGregor, and started from there. Once she found the information she was looking for, she then had to decide the best way to deal with it.

I can’t say much more without revealing too much of the plot, but I enjoyed it quite a lot. The setting, the characters, Miranda’s journey all were every bit as charming as Pam made them sound. I very much appreciated that Robin was not afraid to deal specifically with Miranda’s spiritual journey as well: Miranda had little to no spiritual context and didn’t even realize her need of or longing for God as her Father until she encountered Him. In a day when so many Christian authors handle spiritual matters lightly (if at all) lest they come across as “preachy,” Robin proves that you can deal with them realistically and naturally within the context of the story. I loved the many literary references as well.

In Engaging Father Christmas, Miranda comes back in England for a visit about a year later. A romance blossomed with a man she met right at the end of the first story, and she’s hoping this visit will result in an engagement ring and the making of Carlton Heath her longed-for home. But her idyllic Christmas plans are threatened by serious obstacles.

One of my favorite passages occurs between crises as she views a beautiful nighttime scene:

Was everything around us more or less a fixed snapshot that alluded to a greater beauty? A deeper mystery? A hint of what was to come? How many unknown layers were there to life–to the eternal life that was hidden in Christ? What glorious surprises awaited us in the real land of which this earth was only a snapshot? Let heaven and nature sing

These novellas were the perfect Christmas reads: clean, warm, lovely, and heart-stirring. There is a third in the series just out recently, Kissing Father Christmas. I’ll have to look out for that one next year.

Genre: Christian Christmas fiction
Objectionable elements: None.
My rating: 10 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Book Review: Forever Christmas

forever ChristmasIn Forever Christmas by Robert Tate Miller, Andrew Farmer is quickly moving up the ladder as a literary agent. But his frequent travels and need to move away from their home town have been hard on his wife, Beth. She could endure it all, however, if they still had the closeness they used to, but Andrew has been busy, distracted, and distant. Andrew has to travel again just before Christmas, and when he gets back on Christmas Eve, they argue over a misunderstanding. When Beth goes for a walk to cool off and clear her head, Andrew goes after her. He sees a taxi speeding toward her, but is unable to reach or warn her in time.

In his grief, he is met by a mysterious stranger named Lionel, who offers him a gift: the opportunity to do the last three days over. Beth will still meet her fate, but Andrew has the opportunity to give her a different kind of send-off, to let her know that he truly does love her. Andrew accepts, but his attempts just seem to show up how out of touch with his wife he really is.

Along the way we learn some of their back story and Andrew discovers that old issues, like his hatred and unforgiveness of his father, who left his family when Andrew was young, are affecting his ability to love now. Will he be able to work out his issues, get past his ambitions and self-centeredness, and truly learn how to love before it is too late?

I wouldn’t say this is exactly a Christian story. In fact, there were a couple of statements I strongly disagreed with, like Andrew’s remembering his grandmother saying, “When all earthly endeavors have been exhausted, there’s always God” – as if we should only consult Him if we’ve tried everything first and can’t make it instead of asking for His guidance and help from the beginning. And “The universe is harmonic, Andrew. If your life isn’t harmonious, it’s because you’ve chosen disharmony.” I would disagree with that on more levels than I can go into at the moment.  But there is a subtle underpinning of faith, the need to pray, the need to forgive. It’s not a story I would send someone to for doctrine, but as a basic story of the need for self-sacrifice in love, it shines. Miller writes the gut-wrenching emotional scenes quite well, and keeps the story moving without dragging.  It’s not a long book – only 169 pages. I started and finished it in one evening, which is rare, but I was staying up late waiting for my son to come home, so that helped. 🙂

I thought this sounded a lot like a movie I had seen ads for, and after a bit of research I found that Miller had also written the script for one with the same characters and plot called Three Days. In this case it looks like the movie came before the book. I have not seen it but I might see if I can find it online some time. If you’ve seen it, let me know what you thought of it.

This is the kind of book I like to read during December – touching and heart-warming without being sappy.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Book Review: Merry Humbug Christmas

7d4cb-merry_humbug_christmasI picked up Merry Humbug Christmas by Sandra D. Bricker when it was on sale for the Kindle app (at the moment it is 99 cents, but that could change at any time) mainly because I enjoyed her The Big 5-OH! a couple of years ago.

This is a two-part story of two friends. The first, Joss Snow, was born on Christmas day, and her parents in a burst of holiday and  new parent inspiration decided to name her Merry with her middle name as Christmas. Merry Christmas Snow. “Her name had come to seem like a Before and After puzzle from Wheel of Fortune.” By adulthood she’d had enough of the jokes and wisecracks such a name brought out, and she had it legally changed to Jocelyn, going by Joss. When a family tragedy occurred on Christmas Eve, she was done with the holiday. “She’d made a decision long ago not to ask too many questions about the why of that turn of events. Instead of turning on God, she’d turned on Christmas.” She not only did not celebrate it, she went out of her way to avoid it along with her best friend, Reese Pendergrass. This year she’s found the perfect getaway for herself and Reese: a Bah Humbug Cruise that promises no festive seasonal vestiges. The only problem is that Reese drops a traitorous bomb on her: her boyfriend has just proposed and she is going to meet his family at Christmas.

Joss decides to go alone, only to discover when she arrives to board the ship that her cruise has been canceled and she has been rebooked on the “12 Days of Christmas Fun Cruise.” It takes a certain suspension of disbelief to accept that that would happen without her having received some notice beforehand, and that she would find herself actually on the ship, deciding to disembark only after it was too late. But setting that aside, Joss soon meets “a walking commercial for Christmas at Dollywood” in the platinum blond, overly adorned and talkative Connie, and steels herself for a miserable time tucked away in her room. Connie, however, won’t let her get away with that, and in the course of events Joss also meets a potential client for her business and a handsome guy with an Irish brogue.

Meanwhile, Reese is nervous about meeting the seemingly idyllic family of her fiance when she herself comes from a non traditional hippie-ish family. An accident in which they hit a deer on their way and have to finish their journey on foot in the snow sets off a series of disasters which makes Reeses doubt she will ever be accepted by the family.

In one scene Reese thinks that it’s like they’re in the middle of a cheesy holiday movie, and, yes, the book did have a TV holiday movie feel about it. I did wince at Reese’s calling her fiance, Damian, Damie, and Joss calling some guy gorge, as in gorgeous (I had never heard the latter before – is that a thing now?) But overall the book is full of Bricker’s trademark humor and is a light, fun holiday read. I especially enjoyed the interaction of the two friends at the beginning and end of the book. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Christmas book without Joss realizing that Christmas is “not really so bad…under the right circumstances.”

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Christmas Book Giveaway

I have accumulated a pile of Christmas books, and some of them I am not likely to read again. So I thought I’d offer them to you. 🙂

I will list what I have with a link back to my review, if I have one for it. If you are interested in any, let me know in the comments on this post (not the posts of the book reviews). If you have one in particular you’d like, mention that title, and if you are the only one who wants it, you will get it. If two or more people want a book, I will use random.org to draw a winner. If you want to list a first, second, and third choice, that’s fine: if you don’t care which one you get, that’s fine, too.

I will draw names the Friday after Thanksgiving and will send them at the cheapest rate, but they should still get there in time for some Christmas reading. I’m sorry, but I will have to restrict these to US addresses due to shipping prices.

So here are your choices:

Wreath of Snow

A Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs

Christmas at Harrington‘s by Melody Carlson

Treasure of Christmas, a collection of three stories by Melody Carlson (The Christmas Bus, Gift of Christmas Present, and Angels in the Snow).

Snow Day by Billy Coffey. One reservation with this one, but otherwise it is good.

25 days

25 Ways, 26 Days to Make This Your Best Christmas Ever by Ace Collins.

If I have linked everything correctly, clicking on the title should take you to my review (some of them are grouped together in shorter reviews), and clicking on the book image will take you to Amazon if you’d like to learn a little more about the books.

The giveaway and comments are now closed. And the winners are……

A Wreath of Snow: Brenda

 Christmas at Harrington’s: Kaycee

Treasure of Christmas: Abi

Snow Day: rcblibrary

26 Days: Michele

I am sending an email to notify each winner. If I do not hear back from them with their address by the end of the week, I will draw a new winner.

Thanks so much for entering!

Book Review: The Christmas Dog

Christmas DogBetty Kowalski is having trouble obeying the Bible’s command to love her neighbor. Her neighbor isn’t making it any easier, with a heated dispute over a fence between their properties, a pile of rubbish in the yard, including her former neighbor’s prized pink toilet, remodeling noise all hours of the day and night, and now his dirty, pesky dog doing his business on her dogwood tree.
Add to that an unexpected visit from a troubled granddaughter, an upset in her son’s family, and a promise to help with a friend’s 50th anniversary celebration, and Betty has her hands full.

Christmas books can sometimes be overly sentimental, but The Christmas Dog by Melody Carlson was a delightful surprise. I figured I knew where things were headed with the dog, given the book’s title, but Betty’s transition from curmudgeon to caring Christian was both heart-warming and convicting.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)