A Miser, A Manger, A Miracle: The First Christmas Carol by Marianne Jordan ~ Review

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A Miser, A Manager, A Miracle: The First Christmas Carol by Marianne Jordan

What a marvelous adaptation of the Christmas Carol by Dickens! I’ve never heard of anyone taking the Christmas story and adapting it this way. Better yet, this book came about as a result of a play written by the author for her church production. What the author has done is to flesh out the story for the readers. She has done this so well that at times I was walking with Ebenezer in his soul searching journey led by three different angels.

Ebenezer was the Inn keeper in the tiny town of Bethlehem. He was delighted at the opportunity to earn a great deal of money when the Romans decreed that the descendants of David register in their home town to be counted and taxed. Ebenezer loved making money. He didn’t care how he accomplished that or who he hurt on the way. He considered himself above the rabble anyway. As people crowded into the small spaces of the Inn, Ebenezer had one room left and he was holding onto it to save it for a rich customer who could afford his lavish rates. One couple he turned away was a man and his pregnant wife.

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Then that night the angel Gabriel appeared to him in his home. He would be visited that night by three more angels, in an effort to redeem his corrupted soul. First he visited his past. Then the present. But nothing touched his heart until he started to get to know a man called Jesus. Even the man’s teaching didn’t touch his heart until he witnessed the scourging and the crucifixion of this innocent one. Finally he was a broken and repentant man. For the first time in his life, he wanted to save this man’s agony by offering his life for Jesus’ life. Then he was told this was Jesus’ choice, to die for him, the wretched, greedy Ebenezer.

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Don’t let the familiarity of the story scheme distract you. The author has done a marvelous job of allowing us to see life from Ebenezer’s eyes. There are many other elements of the Christmas Carol you’ll find familiar when you read this book.

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All of this enhances the experience Ebenezer lived in his one night of revelation. Since we already know the outcome of the story, and even the way it is being told, the joy is in the details. And the author did a wonderful job of telling this story with realistic detail and heart. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I hope you do too.

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True Love at Christmas by Juliette Duncan ~ Review

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True Love at Christmas by Juliette Duncan

This is one of those books that are tucked between books in a series. In this case, it fits into “The True Love Series” between books two and three. All of these are Christian romances. Even though this is an in-between book, it was written so that it could stand alone, although I certainly think it would be more meaningful if read with the series. I have not read any of the other books in the series, felt that it was a good read, but would have loved knowing more the context than I did. In any case, this is such a short story you can read it in a couple of hours.

The focus is on Margaret and Harold, parents of twin sisters who are grown, married and have children. Their single son Harrison lives nearby. Past Christmas’s have been stressful because of tension in the family. This year there is the potential for more problems because Harold is too ill to travel, as they had planned, to visit their twin daughters and new grandchildren whom they haven’t seen yet.

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A solution is needed and Harrison is the man to help coordinate it. There is a pleasant ending to this story, but not enough development to really get to know any of the main characters well. My guess is that it is accomplished in the series books. So the intention of this book is a pleasant side track to get to know known characters just a little bit better. If it’s read like this, then it’s a pleasant sidebar and nice read for getting into the Christmas spirit.

 

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The Christmas Shoppe by Melody Carlson ~ Review

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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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Christmas by the Sea: A Surf’s Up Novella by Beth Wiseman ~ Review

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Christmas by the Sea: A Surf’s Up Novella by Beth Wiseman

Personally, I loved this story. But I have to add a warning to anyone who may have been unfavorably affected by some of the recent hurricanes and storms, this may be a story that could trigger unhappy memories or worse. If that’s true for you, then don’t attempt to read this story until you’re ready. The device used in this story is a hurricane that affects two main characters in and around Galveston, Texas.

Parker McIntyre was trapped, shoved up against a concrete pillar and somehow unable to get his leg free of whatever was crushing it. The water was creeping up his chest as darkness began to encroach. He figured he was going to die here. He thought about his 4 year old son and began to pray.

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At the last moment, he saw a person come to his aid. Alex Hansen had been to the hospital to visit her father. She knew he had very little time left. By the time she headed home, this unusual hurricane in November was whipping up serious strength. Then she saw someone out in the water. The head was barely visible in the gloom. She immediately called for help dialing 911. Then she plunged into the deepening water. She hoped she could get to him in time!

It was a struggle, but Alex had Parker’s head above water by the time rescue units were there to help. The men took Parker to the hospital, and Alex to her friend’s home. After that, she tried to find him, but couldn’t. She figured she was not supposed to see him again. The same was true for Parker. Parker wanted to find Alex again to thank her for saving his life. But without her last name, he didn’t know how to find her.

As I mentioned before, this is such a great short read. It only took me a few hours to read it, but it was well worth it. I know this is part of a series by Beth Wiseman, but I haven’t read any of the other stories in the series. It stands alone very well. It is packed full of action and I could barely put the book down once I started reading it.

My favorite part is the ending, which I’m not going to tell you about. You are just going to have to read this for yourself. My only regret about this book is that the story isn’t longer and more developed. But this short story has convinced me to seek out this author and try reading some of her other books.

 

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The Deuce (Midtown Blue Book 1) by F.P. Lione ~ Review

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The Deuce (Midtown Blue Book 1) by F.P. Lione

CKN Christian Publishing did readers a favor by bringing this book to our attention. Not too long ago I reviewed another book by F.P. Lione, which by the way is a writing team, not a single author. It’s apparent the team loves to use New York City as a setting. So first of all, if you are a country loving person like me, don’t turn away from the book because of this. Give it a fair chance. It is well worth it.

Second, if you are a person who easily gets lost in the trees for the forest, you may struggle a little bit with the beginning half of the book. There are a lot of details, but if you take a moment and look at the big picture, there is a good reason for this. The first half of the book sets the scene, the premise, and the background of the main character, Tony Cavalucci, a 10-year veteran NYPD cop. The reason I say this is because this writing team demonstrates a rare quality I do not find often in the writing industry, in my opinion. Wannabe writers often hear the warning, “show, don’t tell.” In other words, don’t just tell the reader what you want them to know, show them. Make it an experience. Most writers I know try really hard to do this, but it isn’t easy to accomplish. Well, if you want to see how it is done, then read this book. But you must read it all the way through to the end without judgment to understand the point of the story. I’m afraid many readers just won’t get it. The pace is not the breakneck speed we are used to when watching crime and cop shows on television. It tends to move more slowly at first, picking up the pace mid way. It could possibly be too easy to get lost in the details and miss the crux of the matter.

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Thirdly, if you love police procedurals, this is a story you’ll enjoy. At the very least, the first half of the book is about the daily life and matters during the main character’s patrol with his partner Joe. Just be aware this is not written to give you an adrenaline rush. What I appreciate about this part of the book is that it is gritty and nasty, but not crude or graphic. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s family reading, but it is a good clean read without filth. The point however in this first section is that you feel what Tony feels about his life. I think the authors did a remarkable job in portraying the despair and futility that hits Tony day after day. It is written in such a way that the reader is meant to feel this with him. If you don’t, you may miss the crucial turning point for this good cop in the second half of the book.

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I won’t say much about the turning point of this story except to say that it takes time and it’s subtle. It’s not as easy as turning Tony from sour to saint. Not at all. In fact, the way the story ends is much more true to life than most Christian fiction books I read. Instead of a definitive end, you could say that at the conclusion of the book you feel that this is just the beginning for Tony. I felt that way and thought to myself, “I would definitely want to read more.” So if the hints are true, and this is a series, then I’ll be very happy to read more. I hope you will too when you read this book.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from CKN Christian Publishing 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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Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh ~ Review

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Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh

For many folks, Christmas is a happy time of year. It’s filled with warm cozy memories, family, food and fun. But it is not that way for everyone. For some people this holiday only brings them pain and emptiness. There may be bad memories or a lack of good memories. What then? Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh is all about one couple dealing with the emptiness of loss at one of the most family oriented times of the year.

Stan and Judith Winters are empty nesters. And this year it was painfully obvious. Their three children are grown, married, with families and good jobs. And they are scattered all over the US. None were able to come home for Thanksgiving, and Judith has just learned that none of them will be able to afford to come home for Christmas either. This has put Judith into a deep depression which she has been unable to shake. Stan and Judith’s best friends, Barney and Betty (I don’t know their last names, but it probably isn’t Rubble!) even tried to cheer Judith up. Nothing seemed to work. Stan knew there had to be a solution to the problem, but he just couldn’t think what it could be.

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There were so many poignant moments in this book. Judith’s feelings are understandable and very true for many other people dealing with the empty nest. It drew me in, made me feel a little sad as I read her plight. But even though the predominant problem is sad, there were still plenty of funny and even feel-good moments. I enjoyed the book so much, in fact, that I have read it several times in the past couple of years.

My favorite part of the story was a discussion between Judith and Betty about their husbands. Keep in mind that this book is written by a male author, so it was so surprising to read their discussion about how men seem to have switches on their feelings, and how often they can switch off those feelings while the wife just can’t do that. The discussion was precious. I found myself agreeing, “Yeah, how is that possible?” The author nailed that conversation.

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The second most favorite part about the story was the description of the ugly ornaments and their significance. Again, I felt a heart tug here because our children and I used to make ornaments when they were younger. There were a lot of fond memories wrapped up in those years. As it turns out, those ornaments play an important part in the resolution, which was a perfect way to end the book. Even if you’re not an empty nester, I believe you’ll enjoy reading this story.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley on behalf of the author and Revell. I was not required to write a positive review. 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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Entrusted: Surrendering the Present (Surrendering Time Bk.1) by Julie Arduini ~ Review

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Entrusted: Surrendering the Present (Surrendering Time Bk 1)

Jenna Anderson leaves Ohio and big cities behind when she takes a job in the tiny town of Speculator Falls, located in the Adirondacks. It’s a bit of culture shock when she discovers her GPS and her little car won’t work well in the mountains. And that’s just the beginning of her troubles.

Jenna’s presence in the little town is both welcomed and unwelcomed. She has become the new director of the senior citizen center in town. It wasn’t long before she learned that she was hired by Sara Bivins who went behind the backs of the town council. So now she was tasked with bringing life back to the center while trying to win the town council over to having the center open again. Her primary obstacle is Ben Regan, the local grocer and councilman, Sara’s grandson.

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The author does a terrific job of building tension between Jenna and Ben. The tension exists because while there is some conflict, there is also some attraction between them. There is also some great personalities among the seniors at the center while Jenna brings the community to life with her original suggestions. It doesn’t take long for the reader to develop a sense of anticipation, facing conflicts as she gains approval in the little town. I loved the way each personality plays into the general theme of growth, acceptance, a sense of community and trust.

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The other thing I enjoy about this book is that this author does not shy away from writing about spiritual issues, using many of the senior citizens’ wisdom as well as the wisdom of the local church’s pastor in facing doubts, fears, and change. While I realize some readers do not like “preaching” in their books, I rather enjoy it, especially when it’s done with warmth and heart and out of genuine love and concern. That’s the way it’s supposed to be anyway since living a Christian life is about relationships and reconciliation with God rather than as a religion of do’s and don’ts. This author adroitly shows us how this can fit into a small community such as Speculator Falls.

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This book is a short read. I easily read it in just a few hour’s time. I enjoyed the romantic elements in the book. The author did a lovely job in the space of a short story of developing her main characters. There were also other people in the story whose story is going to be continued in the next two books of the series. There are no undeveloped cliff hangers. The important issues are nicely resolved.

 

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