Book Review: Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Cold Outside

Dottie Morgan just wants to be left alone. Even at Christmas. Especially at Christmas. A part of her died when her son, Nelson, died in WWII. She’s not been well-favored in the town of Frost, Minnesota, since she ran off and married a “Dapper Dan” stranger, only to return pregnant and alone when her husband went to jail and later died. She and the town had held each at arm’s distance ever since. She felt that even God was keeping His distance from her because of her mistakes.

And then a blizzard trapped four other people in her house.

First Violet Hart came to tentatively ask Dottie about using the star she and Nelson had once made for the Christmas dance. But Violet got into an accident right in front of Dottie’s house and had to be tended to. Violet had been in the WAACs during WWII, a crack mechanic, but people didn’t respect her service. Now, even when she changed a light bulb or fuse, people wondered why she did a man’s job. But Violet had always felt more comfortable with mechanical issues than typical women’s pursuits. She had met one young man, Alex, overseas and corresponded for years. She had hoped he’d come to visit, but when her last letter came back stamped “Return to Sender,” she could only conclude he wasn’t interested, and she’d end up an old spinster like Dottie.

Jake Ramsey was the inadvertent cause of Violet’s accident when he tried to catch her. He had been Alex’s best friend all his life. When Alex died, all his belongings came to Jake, including Violet’s letters. Jake sort of took over Alex’s place, writing in his stead. In the process he began to get to know Dottie and then to love her. But how would she react when she learned that Alex had died and Jake had pretended to be him?

Gordy Lindholm had been Dottie’s neighbor across the street for as long as they could remember. He had loved her once. Still did, in fact. But she had married someone else. He had loved Nelson like his own, but Dottie resented that Gordy had taught Nelson to shoot and then inspired him to be a soldier. Dottie and Gordy had maintained a distant truce over the years, but he watched out for her, filled her wood bin and such. Now he heard the accident and went over to see what was wrong when the blizzard suddenly blew in. He could probably make it home, but it looked like he could be of help at Dottie’s house – if she’d let him.

Arnie Shiller had to stay after school as punishment for daydreaming. Darkness and cold descended on him as he made his way home, and then a sudden snow storm. He tried to make it home, but when that seemed impossible, he strove to make it to his designated Storm House, Mrs. Morgan’s.

Susan May Warren deftly weaves all these lives together in  Baby, It’s Cold Outside. I had started this before Christmas, but then set it aside to finish a library book that I could not renew due to holds on it. After Christmas I planned to put this book away for next Christmas. But I picked it up and read a few pages where I had left off – and got hooked into the story.

Susan has managed to write a tale of five wounded souls with all their flaws, unrecognized virtues, and issues without it becoming sappy or trite Christmas fare.

I loved this book. I loved each person’s story, their interactions, misunderstandings, and journey to make peace with God and each other.

And there were some brilliant moments throughout. As one example (in a slight spoiler), Arnie has been out in the cold too long when he is finally discovered. As they try to warm him, Jake explains that as feeling comes back into Arnie’s limbs, they’re going to be painful at first before they get better. In an aha moment, I realized that the exact same thing was happening to Dottie inwardly. All the emotions she had numbed since her son died were being rubbed back to life by all the circumstances and conversations, and at first they caused nothing but pain. I love that Susan made that parallel without being blatant about it, setting it up to dawn on the reader. She explains in her afterward another parallel or symbolism in the storm house itself.

A few quotes:

God doesn’t expect us to be strong without Him…we’re supposed to need Him, and there’s no disgrace in that. In fact, weakness just might be the mark of a man of God. Don’t call yourself weak because of the things you can’t do. Call yourself weak when you don’t let God take over, do His work in your life…That’s the point of Christmas, isn’t it? Our weakness, His strength? Him coming to our rescue? (pp. 225-226).

Hope, however fragile, is the one thing that keeps us from getting lost…We can’t stop the pain. We can only apply the comfort of God to it (p. 281).

Excellent book, even after Christmas.

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

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Literary Christmas Wrap-Up

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Here’s what I finished reading for Tarissa’s Literary Christmas Challenge this year (each title links back to my review):

I enjoyed them all, but my hands-down favorite was The Christmas Hirelings.

I didn’t end up reading everything on my original list. However, I did add a couple not on my original list that I received for free this month (can’t beat that!) I tended to read more from my Kindle app and listened to a couple on audiobook. My paper book reading was taken up by trying to finish a non-Christmas library book. I did start Baby, It’s Cold Outside by Susan May Warren and will finish, but probably after the end of the year. Everything else I’ll save for next December.

Thanks, Tarissa, for hosting the challenge! I like to read a few Christmas books in December anyway, but it’s nice to link up with others doing the same thing and see what they’re reading.

 

Book Review: Gospel Meditations for Christmas

GM4Xmas-product-cover-front-NEWGospel Meditations for Christmas by Chris Anderson, Joe Tyrpak, and Michael Barrett is the latest in their “Gospel Meditations” series (some of you might know Chris Anderson as the author of hymns such as His Robes for Mine and My Jesus Fair). The booklet is divided into 31 pages, one a day through the month of December (or any time, really, since these truths are eternal). Each page lists a Bible passage to read and then delves into some facet of the passage for a handful of paragraphs. The primary focus of the book is the Incarnation, and different aspects of it that the book covers are Christ’s humility, holiness, human ancestry; His being our peace, our mediator, our shepherd,; prophecies and promises about him; various names applied to Him; His Deity and humanity; and more. Quite a lot for 31 pages!

The best way to give you a flavor of the book is to share a few quotes from it:

Only as man could He die as a substitute for other men. And only as God could He suffer infinitely, paying for the sins of all the redeemed. (Day 4)

Escaping judgment begins with acknowledging that you deserve it. (Day 5)

Matthew begins his account of the good news with a record of Jesus’ ancestry. This isn’t some boring list of personal details that Matthew came across in research and decided to include as space-filler. No, this genealogy is Matthew’s attention- grabbing introduction, and it’s jam-packed with significance. (Day 7)

Consider whether your mental picture of Jesus fits the picture that Micah paints. The King that was born in Bethlehem is no longer a cherubic Baby. He’s a strong Shepherd, a majestic King, and the greatest military Commander of history. Jesus is the returning King and Judge before Whom every human will give account. Jesus is no longer a small Baby evoking your tender sympathy; He’s the world Sovereign demanding your total submission before it’s too late (Acts 17:31) (Day 9)

Having a biblical view of Jesus shouldn’t only lead you to lifelong submission; it should also lead you to patient perseverance. Like Micah’s original audience, we may respond in faith, yet die, having never seen the promises fulfilled. We must let it sink in that Micah’s generation never saw God make good on these words. Like them, we may spend our entire lives in unfulfilled longing. But if this Christmas prophecy that Micah uttered makes any difference to us today, it should fuel our persevering hope in God’s promises. Christian, even though we’re almost three millennia removed from Micah’s prophetic messages, keep longing for the return of the Shepherd-King from Bethlehem. Don’t lose heart. (Day 9)

What is a word? Don’t overthink it. It’s basically a means of communication. It’s a message, spoken or written, from one person to another—a form of revelation…Jesus Christ is God’s best and final communication to mankind. The Bible is God’s inspired Word. But Jesus is God’s incarnate Word—God revealed in human flesh. One of Christ’s great purposes in coming to earth was to reveal the unseen God. The apostle John returns to this motif throughout his writings. (Day 13)

This experience was so deeply satisfying for Simeon that he could say: “Now I’m ready to die.” God doesn’t promise us (like He had promised Simeon) that we’ll get to physically see Jesus before we die. But God does promise everyone who follows King Jesus that we will see His face and live in His presence after we die, and forever! To know and love and see the Lord is what we were made for. So the only way we can die in peace is if we have embraced the gospel by faith and if we are confident that very soon we are going to see the King with our very eyes. (Day 27)

Christmas sentimentality doesn’t help in tough circumstances. As I look back over the past decade and remember what Decembers have looked like for me, I recall many happy memories, but a lot of hardships, too. At Christmastime I’ve visited halfway houses, nursing homes, and funeral homes. I’ve received news of birth defects and of strokes, of terrorism and of persecution. And I’ve spent much time with loved ones who still don’t see their need for Jesus. When such burdens weigh heavily in December, Christmas lights don’t help. But Christmas truth does! (Day 31)

This is an excellent resource to focus your hearts and minds on Jesus and what was involved in His coming as well as many ways His incarnation should affect us personally.

(Sharing with Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesdays, Coffee for Your Heart, the Literary Christmas Reading Challenge, Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carol’s Books You Loved)

Literary Christmas Reading Challenge Wrap-up

A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.com

Tarissa at In the Bookcase has been hosting a Literary Christmas Reading Challenge the past few weeks which I have enjoyed participating in.

Here are my Christmasy reads this year:

Evergreen: A Christiansen Winter Novella by Susan May Warren
Gospel Meditations for Christmas by Chris Anderson, Joe Tyrpak, and Michael Barrett (will finish this today or tomorrow)
The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren
Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh
One Enchanted Christmas by Melissa Tagg
Sarah’s Song by Karen Kingsbury
The Shoe Box by Francine Rivers
Silver Bells by Deborah Raney

I think that’s more than ever before, but due mostly to most of them being shorter novellas.

Thank you, Tarissa! It was fun!

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)

Literary Christmas Reading Challenge

A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.com

Tarissa at In the Bookcase is hosting a Literary Christmas Reading Challenge, and, since I like to read Christmasy books in December, I decided to join in! More information on the challenge is here.

I have read or am planning to read the following (the ones I have already read and reviewed are linked back to my reviews):

Sarah’s Song by Karen Kingsbury
Silver Bells by Deborah Raney
Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh
I’ll Be Home For Christmas, four novellas in one.
The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren
Gospel Meditations for Christmas by Chris Anderson, Joe Tyrpak, and Michael Barrett

That will probably be more than enough, but I have a few others on hand or in my Kindle app if needed. 🙂

Book Review: Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

Let Every HeartForgive me for spending the first week of the year catching up with Christmas reviews. As I said yesterday, I don’t usually have the computer time when I finish these to talk about them, and when I do I feel it’s probably too far past Christmas. But Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Daily Family Devotions for Advent by Nancy Guthrie is another that I’ve read several times now and want to share more about with you.

This book is written in a much different style than her compilation of essays in Come Thou Long Expected Jesus that I discussed yesterday. It’s written for use as a family devotional, so the language is in a simper style that I think very young children could comprehend, but I enjoyed it even as an adult reading for myself. Each chapter ends with a prayer, some discussion questions, and a few more Scriptures on the topic of the chapter. There are 31 readings: I like that it doesn’t stop at Christmas but extends through the month. (I know I said I liked that Come Thou Long Expected Jesus only had 22 readings, but those in this book are short enough that I don’t think it would be a problem to keep up with all month). The sizing of the book, too, is small enough that I think children would be comfortable holding it and taking a turn at the family reading.

In addition, there are lined pages where you can jot down anything you want to remember about the discussions aroused from the readings and a few pages of Christmas songs with their history.

The readings cover several topics that you would expect, but also a few you might not have thought of, such as this quote:

When you look at something through a magnifying glass, it looks much bigger than it actually is. Is that what Mary meant when she said, “My soul magnifies the Lord”? Was she trying to make God look bigger than He actually is?

 We can never make God bigger or greater than He is. The truth is, we can never fully take in or understand God’s greatness. But we can magnify Him. We magnify God not by making Him bigger than He truly is, but by making Him greater in our thoughts, in our affections, in our memories, and in our expectations. We magnify Him by having higher, larger, and truer thoughts of Him. We magnify Him by praising Him and telling others about His greatness so they can have bigger thoughts about Him, too.

 Sometimes we wonder why we aren’t happy, why we make sinful choices, why we feel distant from God. Often it’s because we have small thoughts about God and magnified thoughts of ourselves, our wants, our rights, our accomplishments. Mary, the one God chose to be the mother of His Son, could have easily allowed thoughts of herself to become larger, even prideful. But instead of magnifying herself, she magnified the Lord (p. 29).

And this:

Sometimes we are given a gift that we think is not really useful to us, and therefore we never take it out of the box. We stash it away in a closet or on a shelf somewhere in case we need it someday. Sadly, that’s what some people do in regard to Jesus. They want to keep him handy for when something comes along that they can’t handle on their own, but for now they have no interest in making him part of their day-to-day lives, and so they put him on the shelf. They simply don’t believe he is as good as the Bible says he is, and so they have no real or lasting joy in having received this great gift (p. 79).

Day 17’s reading on “Glory Revealed” is one that especially stood out to me.

I appreciate Nancy’s thoughtfulness and depth in these devotionals, even couched as they are in simple language.

I’ve used this book several times, once with Jesse when he was younger and then on my own. It’s one I am sure I will use again, and I am happy to recommend it to you.

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