Book Review: I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Home I’ll Be Home For Christmas: Four Inspirational Holiday Novellas by Lenora Worth, Belle Calhoune, Jill Kemerer, and Allie Pleiter contains, as the title suggests, four stories that involve coming “home” in some way.

In A Hope Valley Christmas by Belle Calhoune, Mallory Jefferson is visiting her family over the holidays. The one person she hopes she doesn’t run into is Colton James. She’d had a serious crush on him back in the day, and her youthful exuberance and infatuation had led to some pretty embarrassing attempts to get his attention and show him her feelings. Yet who should walk into her father’s mechanic shop, just when she’s helping out, disheveled, and greasy, but Colton. Her father suggests she give Colton a ride home. As Colton and Mallory talk, Colton tells her his grandfather isn’t doing well. His grandfather wants to see Colton happy and settled with someone he loves. To ease his grandfather’s mind, Colton told him he did have a girlfriend. Then Colton gets the bright idea that Mallory can stand-in as his pretend girlfriend at an upcoming family dinner. Reluctantly, Mallory agrees, and they get to know each other as they are now, and not as they were in their high school memories.

In Sugarplums and Second Chances by Jill Kemerer, Chase McGill is a former NFL star trying to recover from mistakes in his past. In a fit of vengeance he had assaulted his wife’s killer and served time. Now he’s trying to make up for lost time with his son as well as help out another young man. Courtney Trudesta is the widow of his former teammate and wrote him regularly to encourage him while he was in prison. Courtney stops by on her way to a new job to visit with Chase for a few days. As they try to help each other deal with their losses and find their purpose in life, they wonder if those purposes might include each other.

In A Brilliant Christmas by Allie Pleiter, Zoe Walters’ passion is the community arts center that she runs. She has mixed feelings about the new artist-in-residence for the next six weeks: Nigel Langdon, a famous animator who has fallen from Hollywood graces. Besides the fact that he’s not currently popular, his gruffness doesn’t promise good things for his time with “her kids.” His first session does get off to a rocky start. But Zoe begins to fathom the hurt and the heart underneath his crusty exterior, and her devotion to her kids and program opens his eyes.

Seashell Santa by Lenora Worth is a different kind of Christmas in Key West, Florida. Navy Seal Rick Houston‘s beloved grandfather, Pappy, has died and requested that Rick come to his old cabin at Christmas and disperse his ashes. Who else should show up at the cabin but Willa Kincaid, Rick’s ex-girlfriend, who had received the same request. Realizing Pappy’s trick, they decide to put aside their differences to honor his wishes. In the meantime, as their arguing gives way to further discussion, they each realize they didn’t know everything about the other’s motives for their previous actions.

I’m not a fan of romances in general, both because of the silliness of tingling sensations and such, descriptions of kisses, and the end-all of romances being the declaration of true love (when, in real life, that’s just the beginning.) However, I do like when the characters have to learn or overcome something in the process of coming into a relationship, and that happens in each of these stories. Some of the stories have more of a faith element than the others. A couple of them contain characters from the authors’ other series, but the stories were complete enough in themselves that I didn’t feel I was missing pieces.

My favorite was Allie Pleiter‘s Brilliant Christmas. Both the story itself and the writing were refreshingly different. I’ll be looking up more of her work in the future. My favorite line from the book came from her story:

Our job is to bring out whatever talent or self-expression is there. Help them see that picking up a paintbrush might just be more powerful than picking up a knife. Get their emotions out in ways that don’t involve sending each other to the emergency room.

My least favorite line in the book came from Lenora’s story, about a character who “put out feelers to the Big Guy in the sky.” Big Guy in the sky? Seriously?

This collection is not showing up on Amazon anymore, but Sugarplums and Second Chances and A Brilliant Christmas are available individually. 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. All in all it was a nice Christmas read.

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

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Book Review: Twelve Days at Bleakly Manor

BleaklyTwelve Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep is the first in her Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series set in Victorian England.

Clara Chapman’s family has lost its fortune, and the person seemingly to blame was her former fiance, Benjamin Lane. Not only did Ben abscond with the family fortune, but he left her at the altar with no explanation. She’s been living with an aunt, trying to survive in reduced circumstances.

Out of the blue Clara receives an invitation from an unnamed host to Bleakly Manor. If Clara can stay the entire twelve days of Christmas, she’ll receive 500 pounds. At her aunt’s urging, Clara accepts the invitation.

Clara finds no host at Bleakly Manor, but she is surprised to see an assortment of people there who have all been promised various rewards if they will stay twelve days. A late and most startling arrival is none other than Ben!

As the participants get to know one another, personalities clash. The host remains absent. And odd occurrences begin happening: one person’s jewels go missing, strange foods are served at mealtimes, accidents happen that turn out not to be accidents. And then the group is informed that only one of them will win what they were promised.

This book started out as a cozy mystery, dragged just a bit in the middle for me, and then took a darker turn as the “accidents” increased in intensity.

I had to look up my review of Dickens’ Bleak House to remind myself of the characters there and see the parallels. This story is not meant to be a point-for-point retelling, but it does contain elements of the plot and some characters.

All in all an enjoyable Christmas read.

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

Two Short Christmas Reviews

In The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren, Marianne Wallace is an avid football fan, but none of her sons have been interested in playing – until her youngest son’s senior year. She becomes the Big Lake Trouts’ biggest fan. But is she a big enough fan to don the trout costume when the mascot is out for the season? Especially when her husband, thinking she needs some spice in her life, volunteers her to head the hospitality committee with its upcoming Christmas Tea (note to husbands: don’t do this!) and she’s trying to create the perfect Christmas for her family.

The Christmas Tea is a challenge as the older pillar-of-the-church ladies want to keep the tea the same as it has been for eons, but the younger women want to change it up. And as her grown children one by one cancel their plans to come for Christmas, this holiday season is shaping up to be one of the most disappointing and stressful ever.

The story is written in a humorous vein but it still manages to tackles key issues, for instance: is showing another person your love best done the way you think conveys it, or are the unusual and perhaps unorthodox opportunities that arise, that seem like hindrances, actually new opportunities to show love? Another: what’s the nature and focus of traditions and hospitality?

Loved this novella!

The second one also happens to be by Susan May Warren: Evergreen: A Christiansen Winter Novella. The Christiansens are facing their first Christmas with an empty nest. John is excited, planning a surprise trip to Paris to renew their vows at the top of the Eiffel tower. But Ingrid agrees for them to head up the church’s live Nativity, their dog has a major illness, wiping out the savings for the trip and needing their time and attention, and Ingrid’s sister, who is going into rehab after being arrested, asks them to take in her son, a nephew they haven’t seen in years. Their disagreements over these things dredge up past unresolved hurts, driving a wedge between them.

Some quotes from this one:

Even Mary had to let her child go…You have to wonder, as Mary watched Jesus on the cross, did she look back and ask herself if she had made a mistake? God had told her she would be the mother of the Savior. You can’t get more devastated than Mary, watching her Son—the Savior—die…But Jesus’ path wasn’t for Mary to determine. Her greatest ability as a mother was to be His mother. To love Him, nurture Him, care for Him. She embraced her destiny, then let Him go to embrace His. You have to let your children embrace theirs.

She didn’t want to hear it. To see his love in a thousand small ways. Because then she’d have to loose her hold on the ember of bitterness, let God heal her heart.

I should have leaned into God for courage, instead of reacting in fear.

Along with the nature of love and the best ways to show it, this one also discusses protection and fear. Protecting each other is something we’re supposed to do, yet sometimes it can stifle the other.

This was a different tone from the first one, but poignant and quite good. Evidently Susan has a whole series involving the Christiansens.

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

Book Review: One Enchanted Christmas: A Novella

Enchanted ChristmasIn One Enchanted Christmas by Melissa Tagg, Maren Grant had one of the best nights of her life one December evening. Her book was about ready to be published, and as she developed a serious crush on Colin Renwycke, the model posing for the cover of her book, he actually asked her out. They had a wonderful, “enchanted” evening going to dinner and then a carriage ride around the city, ending with his issuing an open invitation to come visit his family’s farm, even to stay there and write for a while.

A year later, even though Maren only heard from Colin once, via a postcard reminding her about his open invitation, and at the urging of her best friend, she decided to take Colin up on his offer. She had begun to think of him as her story’s hero, and was stuck in her next novel. She decided seeing Colin’s home and town might provide her with inspiration. She couldn’t reach him, so she decided to just show up. He had told her where to find the key if the family was away, and as she tried to retrieve it, who should arrive but – not Colin, but his brother, Drew, mystified as to why this woman was trying to break into his house.

After much explanation and the fortunate recognition of her by Drew’s niece, Winnie, who had read Maren’s first book, Drew invites her into the home he shares with his sister and niece. He had inherited the family farm and was trying to make a go of it as a haven for his siblings and himself, helping out with their problems the best way he knew how. He and Colin had argued over the inheritance, and Drew had not see his brother since. He begins to entertain the hope that this author might draw Colin back to the farm.

But as Drew shows Maren around town and as she unavoidably gets pulled into some of the family issues, they find they mesh well, her playfulness a complement to his seriousness. He may not want Colin to rediscover Maren after all.

My thoughts:

I had never read Melissa Tagg before, and romances aren’t my favorite genre, but this was a delight. I loved how Maren and Drew interacted, and a quirky narrator popped up occasionally to summarize, give background information, etc. Though the story has something of a romantic comedy feel, there’s drama as well from the family issues and misunderstandings. It’s a little light on the faith element, but otherwise it’s quite an enjoyable Christmas read.

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

Book Review: The Shoe Box

Shoe BoxThe Shoe Box by Francine Rivers is a novella about a boy named Timmy who has had to be removed from his home and placed with foster parents. He carries a shoe box with him everywhere he goes, but doesn’t show or tell anyone what’s in it.

Though the situation with his family is hard, his foster parents care for him tenderly.

One day he’s motivated to give his greatest treasure to a special person.

And that’s about all I can say without giving away too much, because this is really more of a short story than a novella. I wish I had known that going in, because the surprise and distraction of being only 50% through the Kindle version yet getting to the end took away from the enjoyment of the story (the rest of the Kindle version was a preview for another book). But it’s a sweet, touching story with beautiful illustrations, interspersed with the author’s family traditions and recipes.

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

Book Review: Keeping Christmas

Keeping ChristmasIn Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh, Stan and Judith Winters are empty nesters. Stan enjoys having a little more freedom of schedule and quietness, but Judith’s life has always been wrapped up in her children, and she misses them. She’s sad that they can’t come for Thanksgiving, but when she learns that none of them can come for Christmas, she falls into a deeper depression than Stan has ever seen. She doesn’t even have the heart to decorate the Christmas tree. That was something they had always done together, and most of their ornaments are what Stan calls “ugly ornaments,” ones Judith made with the kids.

Judith’s best friend does her best to distract her, with minimal success at first. Judith doesn’t think her friend understands, since all of her children and grandchildren live in town. But her friend conveys that just because they’re all there doesn’t mean everything is idyllic and shares some of the family conflicts and quandaries.

Judith and Stan had developed different and separate traditions for their after-Thanksgiving activities, and not only had they hardly talked over their meal, but Stan had even left the TV on. But as he tries to help lift Judith’s spirits, he becomes more attentive. Finally he has an idea, one involving the box of “ugly ornaments” and some sacrifice, but it’s his last option.

My thoughts:

Though predictable, this was a sweet story, not just about helping an empty nester mom’s depression, but about a husband and wife learning to reconnect after all their kids are gone. I’d be a little concerned that moms in the same situation reading this might be even more down since the Hallmark-type happy ending in the book is not likely to happen in real life. But perhaps there’s enough in everything else the characters go through and learn to be beneficial even without that ideal ending. Overall a nice, heartwarming Christmas novel.

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

Book Review: Silver Bells

Silver BellsSilver Bells by Deborah Raney opens in small-town Bristol, Kansas in August 1971. Michelle Penn has had to leave college after two years because her parents can’t afford to send both her and her brother, and they hope that having her brother in college will keep him out of Viet Nam. Michelle has found a job as the city reporter in Bristol’s small newspaper. She meets the sports reporter at the desk next to hers, and after she makes a comment about the boss’s son, she’s chagrined to learn that’s him. “First day on the job and she was toast. Burned-to-a-crisp toast.” Thankfully, the boss’s son, Rob, thinks the whole thing is funny.

He shows her the ropes and takes her along for a breaking case, which involves a domestic disturbance. While he’s snapping pictures, she’s supposed to be getting details, but compassion for the battered wife and daughter stop her in her tracks. She talks Rob into using the least graphic of the photos and goes back later to see if she can help the woman.

Later she humanizes the paper a bit by putting a fun, good-feeling photo on the front cover. At first the editor is not pleased that the cover photo did not involve politics or sports, but the response is so positive that he grudgingly assigns her the cover photo from now on. But he does warn her that he has a policy against employees dating.

Unfortunately, Michelle has already taken a liking to Rob, and he is attracted to her as well. They’re thrown together often to cover stories, but Rob’s father once again warns Michelle away from Rob and threatens her with losing her job. Rob wonders if it’s time to get out from under his father’s thumb so he can live his own life the way he wants to.

My thoughts:

This was a sweet, funny, touching, clean romance. I loved the banter between Rob and Michelle. The faith element was woven in naturally as the characters learned to seek and then to trust God with their situation. The 1970s were the era of my teens, and I enjoyed the touches particular to the times that Deborah incorporated. This era is not often written about, so it was refreshing from that aspect as well. The plot ends at Christmastime, making it a perfect Christmas read.

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