The Christmas Shoppe by Melody Carlson ~ Review

Christmas Shoppe pic

The Christmas Shoppe by Melody Carlson

Parrish Springs was typical small town USA. Then Matilda Honeycutt purchased the old Barton Building in the downtown area and things began to change.

Councilman George Snider didn’t like change. First, the city hired a female city manager, Susanna Elton. So he tried to quietly make her life difficult. Sometimes he wasn’t so quiet about it. That’s how small town politics worked. When Ms. Honeycutt put in a bid for the old vacant building, it was accepted and that didn’t sit right with George Snider, either. He had wanted to buy that old building himself, although many in the community weren’t so excited about that. They had heard he wanted to sell it to a big box discount store. They all knew what would happen then. Local businesses would suffer.

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Matilda began preparing her building for her business. She didn’t tell anyone what type of business it was, but rumors were flying. Other businesses were nervous. Then a big sign was delivered to the old Barton Building. “Christmas Shoppe.” Before the doors were open for business, rumors began to fly all over town. Not all of them were very nice. People were now being nosy, curious, and nasty. They picked on Matilda’s appearance. They picked on the items a few have seen that were to be put on the shelves. It was all a mystery. No one could figure out this new businesswoman.

When the doors opened the mystery deepened. It looked like a shoddy thriftshop, not a Christmas store. People began to get angry and the other businesses on that street signed a petition to close Matilda’s store down. But while all this is happening, mysterious things were going on. Susanna was baffled when she tried to warn Matilda what people were saying about her. She wanted Matilda’s small business to succeed. But Matilda didn’t pay her any mind. One by one, people entered the shop and their lives were subtly changed.

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When I want a unique story to read, especially a Christmas story, Melody Carson is my go to author. Her books are refreshing, unique, and meaningful. I have read many of her Christmas stories, and my heart has always been touched in one way or other. This one is no exception. The plot is slow to develop, but holds our interest in many ways. We become engaged with the characters and with the town atmosphere. They are always so true to life. There is an air of mystery, almost a taste of fantasy, but always with a good heart issue at the core. I tried to guess what the purpose of the puzzling thrift shop could be, but as usual I was carried right up to the final pages unable to predict where the book would take me. And once again, it touched my heart. I highly recommend this book for those who enjoy small town stories, light mysteries, a touch of fantasy, and a good sound Christmas message.

 

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Colors of Christmas: Two Contemporary Stories Celebrate the Hope of Christmas by Olivia Newport ~ Review

Colors of Christmas pic

Colors of Christmas: Two Contemporary Stories Celebrate the Hope of Christmas by Ollivia Newport

This book by Olivia Newport has two contemporary stories that revolve around Christmas hope. Christmas in Gold, the first story, also has elements of historical fiction during the main character’s memories.

Through the magic of her pen, this author has chosen to deal with a few issues most of us don’t want to even think about at Christmas. Yet all of us experience loss of one type or another all throughout our lives. We experience loss of jobs, loss of homes, loss of friends, family, fellowship, respect, a good name, things and people important to us. The first Christmas tale tells of an octogenarian who has lost her mobility temporarily and her independence permanently. But this bright, alert and friendly grandmother has a heart of gold and cares for those within her sphere of influence, including her young physical therapist. Astrid’s sensitive nature has picked up how Carly seems unsettled and ill at ease most of the time. She becomes determined to be a blessing to this young mother and attempts to befriend her.

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At the same time, Astrid herself must deal with the changes in her life, precipitated by a fall and broken bones. Now she has an apartment and is making friends at the facility that is her new home.

While this is a contemporary short story, Astrid’s story is enhanced with flashes of memories of her childhood growing up in Nazi Germany. The reader is privileged to catch a glimpse of what life must have been like under the repressive regime for ordinary citizens who only wanted a peaceful life, to make a living, and to take care of their families. These rough experiences formed the woman Astrid had become before she emigrated to America. And all the while, Christmas is getting closer and preparations are buzzing all around her. Her immediate family may not even make it to visit her by Christmas.

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You would think this storyline would make such a tale maudlin, and certainly there are many poignant moments that make the reader pause. But the author has skillfully woven in themes of hope and regeneration into a moderately fast-paced tale I enjoyed reading. It is certainly one of the best Christmas themed short stories I have read this year.

In the second short story, Christmas in Blue, the author treats colors in all their representative forms. In the first story, the presence of gold colored ornaments triggered Astrid’s early memories of life in Germany. There were special gold ornaments in the past which held special significance for her. In the second tale, blue becomes a recurrent theme, woven all throughout the book in sometimes humorous, sometimes cringeworthy ways.

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In the small town of Spruce Valley, Angela was grieving the loss of her best friend. They had been friends for decades, and as Christmas was approaching Angela did not have a celebratory bone left in her body. Carole was the one with all the exuberance over Christmas. Every year she took charge of the town’s annual Christmas celebration called “A Christmas to Remember.” Angela had always been willing to assist her friend , doing anything Carole asked her to do. Carole’s love of all things Christmas carried them forward. But this year, there was no Carole and Angela’s Christmas spirit has fled.

Just eight days before the festival of the year was to occur, Angela discovered the planning committee had put her in charge. Just eight days! From that point on Angela was caught up in a mad dash to pull it all together in spite of how she felt. It was her way to honor her friend Carole. Then everything started to go wrong. Basement leaks, damaged props, melted candles, a broken sleigh, injured people. You name it and it was either broken, damaged or missing. Angela couldn’t help but think this year’s “Christmas to Remember” was going to be known as the “Christmas to Forget” or even as a “Christmas to Regret.”

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While this tale was sometimes filled with frustration, more often you couldn’t help but see the humor as the destruction piled in on itself. Only a miracle could pull all this together in time for the official moment. The author provides some interesting twists to the events, especially when someone special shows up and lends Angela a helping hand. It even made the theme, a blue Christmas, take on a whole new meaning.

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I absolutely loved both stories in this book. The author uses keen insight into the hearts of differing personalities, weaving together two amazing tales of hope, encouragement, fellowship and the grace and peace we find in a close relationship with God.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Barbour Publishing, Inc. on behalf of the author. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Our Father written by Rainer Oberthur and illustrated by Barbara Nascimbeni ~Review

Father pic

Our Father written by Rainer Oberthur and illustrated by Barbara Nascimbeni

This is a picture book that features the Lord’s Prayer illustrated and explained for children. The illustrations are simple, representative of items rather than realistic images, and beautifully colorful in toned down but bright earthy tones. The pages are thick and glossy, and the binding is very sturdy. This is a book that will stand up to use over time.

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Phrase by phrase, the book moves through the prayer, using simple but meaningful words that young children can understand about each part. The words make an effort to make the reader feel that God is close to us, caring, loving and accessible. I really like this feature about the book.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from LibraryThing on behalf of the author. I was not required to write a review, positive or negative. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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A Michigan Photo Presentation: Second Edition by John Macdonald ~ Review

A Michigan Photo Presentation Second Edition pic

A Michigan Photo Presentation Second Edition by John Macdonald

This photographer’s assortment of Michigan photos is impressive. Since I was born and raised in Michigan I have personally visited and enjoyed many places in these photos. As he said in the introduction, the Upper Peninsula alone has nearly 500 waterfalls. It’s impossible to photograph all of them. But that’s not all there is to see in Michigan.

His subjects are the best of all collections: bridges, waterfalls, lakes, sunsets, lighthouses, rock formations, wildlife, flowers, historic churches and buildings. All of them in fabulous color and some monochromatically displayed.

My favorites are the waterfalls and the Fall colors, of course. They are why I love living in this state. It’s a state that’s vast, roaming and beautiful and this photographer has captured much of the best views you can find.

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Perhaps in a future book the author/photographer can include something of our historic towns (such as the ghost town in Fayette State Park), the Indian Petroglyphs in the Thumb area, a couple of the old historic forts and a few more lighthouses. The possibilities are endless.

But in the meantime, enjoy this book. I highly recommend it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this commentary from Story Cartel on behalf of the author. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Goodbyes and Second Chances by T.I. Lowe ~ Review

Goodbyes and Second Chances pic

Goodbyes and Second Chances: Book 1 by T.I. Lowe

Life can throw us some pretty nasty curves. Some of it may be deserved, but some, and perhaps most, is not. Take, for example, people born into wealth, and people born into poverty and all the gradations in between. How do we deal with this? It depends on our perceptions. And that is what this tale is all about. Think of it as a modern day parable. For the modern part, rock stars and a rock band. The parable? Trailer trash stigma. What can we learn from them? Read and see.

Jillian has known Dillan since she was eight and he was six. Before that, even. They grew up in the same neighborhood with other friends that eventually formed a strong group that had each others’ backs. They all lived in the trailer park. They knew what that meant: stigma. They lived on the “other side of the lake.” Across the lake were the wealthy condos and homes. Would life even give them a chance?

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Dillon grew up with insane talents on several instruments and a smooth silky voice. He was a poet at heart and often wrote his own lyrics. His mother was fierce in her efforts to save him from a reputation as trailer trash. So by the time he was sixteen, he had found an opportunity to make it big in the music world. But to do that, he would have to leave his dearest friends behind, including his jewel, Jillian. He promised he would come back for her. She didn’t believe him. No one came back.

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The author has done a great job portraying the funny moments within the group of friends who lived in each others’ pockets. She includes their struggles, how close this group grew together, and how Jillian fit in as a sort of mom. It made me think of Peter Pan, Wendy and the Lost Boys. There were sad times, sweet moments, victories and failures. Be sure to bring along some tissues, as there were many poignant moments.

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The funniest and most tragic happenings in the story involved Maverick King. His story becomes the focus of book two in this series. He was part of Dillon’s rock band from the beginning. If you enjoy this book, you’ll certainly want to get book two which is told from Mave’s point of view. Overall, Goodbyes and Second Chances has several flawed characters, which we see change and grow up before our eyes. The author has done a great job making the reader feel as if they were part of this close-knit group.

 

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Hope Crossing: The Complete Ada’s House Trilogy by Cindy Woodsmall ~ Review

Hope Crossing: The Complete Ada’s House Trilogy by Cindy Woodsmall

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This is the trilogy, Ada’s House, that includes three full-length novels: The Hope of Refuge, The Bridge of Peace, and The Harvest of Grace. I have already written reviews of each book separately, so this book review is only about a few things about the bound trilogy.

Review for Book One

Review for Book Two

Review for Book Three

When it comes to binding three full length books into one volume, I feel a little ambivalent. On one hand, it’s convenient to have all three books in one volume. No searching, no hunting for a missing book. I like the convenience. On the other hand, it makes for a large, heavy book to hold up to read. Since I have carpal tunnel in one hand, it was uncomfortable if sitting up in a comfortable chair. It was not a problem sitting at a table. What I was given was a soft bound book, but it was still heavy. However, eventually, the spine broke and the book split in half. My given preference would be to have three separate volumes.

For an overview: The story begins with someone living outside the Amish communities that eventually come into focus for these books. We follow Cara’s story all throughout the three books. In a great twist of events, she discovers she was supposed to grow up in the Amish community of Dry Lake with her relatives. But instead, she ended up in foster care. She falls in love with Ephraim, makes friends in the community, and over the course of the three books struggles with personal issues to join the Old Order Amish community whole-heartedly to marry him.

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All the books are beautifully written, filled with people I came to care for, and full of great dynamic characterization. I cared for the people in these stories. I disliked the villains, felt fear with the ones in pain, triumphant with overcomers, and rejoiced with the marriages of friends. It was nearly like taking a journey with close companions. I would heartily recommend this trilogy. Just choose buying the three books separately and forgo the huge book of all three bound together.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House (a division of Baker Publishing). I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Why Did We Blame? by Paula Rose Michelson ~ Review

Why Did We Blame pic

Why Did We Blame? Book Two by Paula Rose Michelson

Why Did We Blame? by Paula Rose Michelson is the second book in her series on the Lamb Ministries 7 X 7: Biblical Recovery for Women Suffering from Trauma and Abuse. “Lamb Ministries was born to help women recover from the negative impact of what went before, so that each woman who undertakes this journey can grasp hold of the full blessings of God in Messiah (Christ). Had I not experienced what many of my LAMB Ladies had, God would have gifted this work to someone else.” Each book in this series is about the fallout of abuse; how to deal with the results that stay with us. Book one dealt with anger. This book helps us handle blame, or the continuing of abuse.

The beauty of this series is the key to recovery mentioned in the first book– the 7 X 7 method. It is simple and yet crucial for recovering women to do this work. The second key is journaling. Readers are often encouraged to write our candid ideas down, or to meditate on Scripture and write our thoughts on them. Sometimes there are lists to write down and pray over. The process is easy and short.

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The book is designed to be read like a devotional, a few pages at a time. It is not a book to be read and then placed on the shelf. It helps you progress through your recovery, which could take some time. So I found it a good book to return to, time after time. Book one was the same way.

The author and I have similar backgrounds in that we both had a relative with similar conditions. Our abuse was basically verbal, yet devastating. Verbal abuse is no less difficult to recover from than physical abuse. The scars are invisible, but still there. Additionally, we both found the same solution to our insecurities. So Ms. Michelson has a tremendous capacity for empathy. It’s quite evident in this series.

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I never felt I had “finished” my recovery, so the steps outlined in this book were helpful for me. I have discovered that as a person goes through different stages in their lives, new challenges arise and some of the fallout from abuse raises its ugly head once again. This is a series that can aid in taking that next step. Even if we must do so repeatedly.

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One of the things I like best in this book is how the author shares her own personal experiences and recovery with her readers. I love that. I didn’t feel that “she had it,” and I don’t “have it.” This book implies we’re all traveling this journey together. Do you find yourself caught up in the “blame game?” I have. I think you will find good suggestions to break this cycle. Your friends and family will love the new you when it’s broken.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received an ARC copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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