By the Book

where a love of God and good books meet

Month: December 2019

What I’m Reading: Ordinary Snowflakes

Southern Illinois definitely did not see a Hallmark worthy white Christmas this year. In fact, the temperatures were more like late spring or early summer. While I appreciated not having to bundle up (I’m really not a fan of weather in either extreme), it didn’t feel entirely right to celebrate Christmas in a t-shirt without a jacket. Even the twinkling lights on the way home from my in-law’s house seemed less festive without the chill of winter to add to their mystique.

I needed an infusion of white, and I needed it quickly. My holiday spirit was beginning to fade. I did what any Hallmark Christmas movie loving reader would do in this situation. I scanned my shelf for a new snow-filled Christmas book. My gaze landed on Ordinary Snowflakes by Jennifer Rodewald. Perfect. Couldn’t get more winter-filled than a book with snowflakes actually in the title, right?

I’d read a couple other books by Jennifer Rodewald, and I enjoyed them. If you’re interested, look up my reviews of Blue Columbine and Red Rose Bouquet. My one concern with this Christmas themed novella was whether or not it would be a heavy read. I’d enjoyed the last Christmas book I’d read, but it was fairly heavy by the end. I wasn’t sorry I’d read it, but I was ready for something a little lighter that still held some conflict to make the story interesting.

Ordinary Snowflakes delivered exactly what I was looking for. Kale is a single mom raising a child with special needs thanks to an accident early in childhood. She’s a great mom, but she suffers the same mom guilt most of us battle along with a large dose of guilt from the choices of her past.

Kale’s guilt pushes her to be extra protective with her daughter, in areas where she feels Sydney might be hurt. This extends to everyday activities most children take for granted. It’s in an instance of lashing out in fear that Kale meets Craig, a handsome, charismatic man who ignites the gushy feelings of crushing on a guy that Kale hasn’t felt in a long time. Everything she feels for Craig stands in direct opposition to what she’s known with Joe, her friend and Sydney’s physical therapist since her accident.

Joe has been her rock, standing beside her as she cares for Sydney and her aging father. He’s offered wisdom and support, but friendship is where their relationship stops. There aren’t sparks, and he doesn’t make her weak in the knees. As he pushes her in different areas regarding Sydney’s care, conflict tinges their friendship. Kale becomes even more aware of the differences between the two men in her life.

While Kale considers the role each man should play in her life, Sydney brings fun and adventure to her days. Their relationship is sweet and honest just like the story itself. And scattered along the way are nugget (or maybe snowballs in this case) of truth for the reader to take away. One of my favorite is a reminder to chase the things that are important to the heart of God rather than those things the world says we should check off our list. It’s a lesson for Kale and for us that’s especially pertinent as we say good-bye to 2019 and begin 2020.

And, in my opinion, you can never go wrong starting the year off with a good book. So tomorrow, while you’re still tired from the late New Year’s Eve night, take time to relax with Ordinary Snowflakes. It’s a quick , enjoyable read that will encourage you to start the new year right.

https://www.amazon.com/Ordinary-Snowflakes-Romance-Christmas-Novella-ebook/dp/B01LXNRC2C

What I’m Reading: The Year in Review

The last month has been a struggle for me as a writer and blogger. I guess it started in earnest about seven months ago. Then, about a week before Thanksgiving, life changed drastically again, and I’ll be honest, with the adjustments and holidays colliding together, I don’t feel I’ve found my footing yet.

Even with the ups and downs of my chaotic life over the last several months, I’ve not been completely stagnant. My third book, the final one in Katie’s story, is with the publisher and due to come out in June. I finished writing another book in November and look forward to finding an agent for that one. And this year brought opportunity to read some great books by several others authors, most of them new to me.

While I won’t do a “Top Ten” post, I do want to share a few of the books that stand out as I review the list of books I’ve read. For more information on any of the books I mention, look back through my “What I’m Reading” posts. You should be able to find each of them there. Keep in mind, the books I mention are in no particular order.

Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock – This one is an emotional and heartwarming story set at Christmas. There’s no intrigue or suspense usually associated with Blackstock, but the story draws you in with just the right balance of humor and drama and realistic characters.

The Great River Romance Series by Kari Trumbo – In the spirit of full disclosure, I should let you know I bought my first two in the series because of the covers. Whole Latte love is only available in a set if you want ebook, but you can get it individually in paperback too. Want Ad Wonder is my favorite of the covers. But Check Out Crush and Central Park Paradise are great too. Each book has needed conflict, but overall they are sweet, quick romances.

Holy in the Moment by Ginger Harrington – I met Ginger at a writer’s conference. I enjoyed getting to meet her, and her book stayed true to the tone and personality I was introduced to at the conference. This one is nonfiction and full of great reminders of what it means to live out holiness in our daily lives.

Blue Columbine and Red Rose Bouquet by Jennifer Rodewald – These stories heavier themes, but the stories were as well-crafted as any of the others on the list. Dealing with real world issues, the author challenges readers to step outside their comfort zones and consider themes that are quickly becoming commonplace in our society from different angles.

A Bound Heart by Laura Frantz – Beautiful. That single word encompasses not only the story the author lays out for readers but also the way in which she writes it. In days when there is a push for less description and scene setting, I found the author’s attention to detail well used and artistic.

Tainted and Awakened by Morgan Busse – I’ve always read historical fiction and contemporary fiction, but until I won a copy of Tainted I’d never really considered Christian fantasy. I’m so glad I did. I bought the second book as soon as I reached the last page of the first one. I’m looking forward to reading the two new ones I downloaded in 2020 and sharing my thoughts on them as well.

There they are, a sampling of the books I read in 2019. It isn’t even close to a comprehensive list of the great books I read this year, but you can always revisit my “What I’m Reading” posts to find out more. And if you missed any of the ones I mention above, you still have time to get your own copies and start off 2020 with a few great reads!

What I’m Watching: Countdown to Christmas

Hallmark Christmas ornament

I know. This is a book blog. It’s always been a book blog. It will always be a book blog. But today, I’m switching things up because one of my favorite Christmas traditions (much to the dismay of my male dominated household) is watching the new Hallmark Christmas movies.

I’m a little behind this year. I have four new ones to catch up on, but it can’t be helped. I will catch up. There are rare times I will pass over a movie due to casting choices, but for the most part, if it airs I will watch it. And before all you naysayers start in, yes, I realize how the plots are going to play out. I don’t care. I’m not in this for a big surprise at the end. I’m in it for entertainment, nostalgia, a spirit of love and joy, on screen chemistry, and a happy ending. That’s what I get from the best of what Hallmark has to offer and the criteria for rating the three movies below.

Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen: 3 1/2 Hallmark Ornaments

I love watching Erin Krakow and Kimberly Sustad. I watch every movie Hallmark puts out starring either of them. I also enjoy watching movies with Luke Macfarlane as the male lead. Using this trio as the lead characters gives this movie a star before it ever starts. To be honest, I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. I’m over the remakes of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. It made me hesitant to watch this one, but I tuned in because of the three reasons above. I’m glad I did.

The event planning business Ella and Marianne own is going well, but there’s tension between the sisters because of very different personalities and styles. As Ella creates the perfect party for Edward while also sanding off his grinchy edges with her enthusiasm for all things Christmas, she faces various set backs. The dynamic between the sisters increases the tension but also adds to the satisfaction of a well planned party and joy at family discord being smoothed over. Add to that a man with reawakened Christmas spirit and new love, and you have a movie you’ll watch again when it airs again.

Christmas in Evergreen: Tidings of Joy – 4 Hallmark Ornaments

Is Christmas in Evergreen too good to be true? Is the snowglobe really magical? And where is the legendary time capsule that has intrigued Evergreen’s inhabitants for years?

This is Christmas in Evergreen’s third installment, and it’s full of everything you’ve come to expect to find at Christmas in Evergreen. The skeptical newcomer, Katie, is played by Maggie Lawson who can’t believe the hype about Evergreen. From her first encounter with Paul Greene’s Ben, her doubt is challenged. As she’s drawn into a quest to find the time capsule left by the town’s inhabitants years ago during a blizzard, she meets the characters who live in Evergreen and starts to see they are exactly who they’re rumored to be and the town really is that full of Christmas spirit.

I’m not sure how I feel about Hallmark revisiting so many of their previous movies. Evergreen, Father Christmas, and A Gift to Remember all have two or thee installments at this point. But I’ll forgive Hallmark because I really enjoyed this movie. I love the pairing of Maggie Lawson and Paul Greene. It doesn’t hurt that Paul Greene is my all-time favorite male lead in any Hallmark movie. I even modeled one of the characters in my third book after him. I’ll watch his movies every time, and I guarantee I’ll be watching more than once. That includes Christmas in Evergreen: Tidings of Joy

Picture a Perfect Christmas – 5 Hallmark Ornaments

Who doesn’t like Christmas surprises? This movie is definitely a Christmas surprise, a really glad it happened kind of surprise. I thought it might be enjoyable, but I never expected it to land in the top spot for favorite Hallmark movie of the season. And while it is true that the season isn’t over yet, I don’t expect the rest of the lineup to topple this one from Santa’s sleigh.

I’ve watched other Hallmark movies with Merritt Patterson in them. And while she’s not on my “must watch this movie” list, I enjoy her work. I especially liked Forever in My Heart and The Christmas Cottage. She does a good job as world travelling photographer Sophie in Picture a Perfect Christmas as well. She brings a little humor and a lot of caring to the character who comes home to spend Christmas with her injured grandma and finds herself volunteering to care for the neighbor’s nephew. With the boy leading the way and the grandma playing matchmaker, Sophie joins Troy and his uncle David on their family Christmas adventures and finds herself falling in love during this unexpected Christmas at home.

David is played with near perfection by Jon Cor. I’ve only seen him in one other Hallmark movie, Love on Safari, and in one episode of Supernatural. (Please don’t kick me out of the Hallmark watching club for admitting I watch and enjoy Supernatural too!) In my defense, I didn’t realize I’d seen him in Supernatural until recently, but that’s beside the point. He was everything a Hallmark casting director should be looking for in this movie and ultimately the reason this movie earned its fifth ornament.

There are times when the emotions playing across a character’s face can bring back that feeling of newly discovered attraction we may not have felt for a while or break a viewer’s heart with the vulnerability we see in their eyes. And while I know on-screen chemistry, the director’s vision, and the script itself play roles in this happening, it is ultimately the actor who puts the bow on that beautiful present and places it under the tree. That is exactly what Jon Cor does in Picture a Perfect Christmas, and I have to admit I’ve already watched this one twice since it aired.

What I’m Reading: Calm and Bright

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Though none of us can say who actually said it first (some say Will Rogers, Oscar Wilde, or an advertisement for a suit from the 1960s), we tend to be well acquainted with its meaning. We consider it as we choose clothes for a first date or job interview. We practice our presentation for the hundredth time even though we know it backwards and forwards. We do it because we know the importance of that first impression.

My DNA is made up of every possible hindrance to a good first impression. I’m an introvert who needs well defined parameters for social situations to function at my best. I’m the proud recipient of the unrefined grace gene rendering me incapable of getting through events without awkward moments of embarrassment. Add to those my tendency to answer questions off the cuff incorrectly. Someone tells me thanks for shopping at their store, and without missing a beat I say something like “you too”. And after any conversational train wreck, I, of course, spend hours thinking about what I could have done differently.

All this wonderfully embarrassing DNA leaves me uncomfortable in many situations, but it’s also taught me something the quote failed to do. I may not have a second chance to make a first impression, but I can redeem a first impression with what comes next.

Changing a first impression isn’t easy. Depending on the situation it can take dedication and hard work. For Brad Hughes, the male main character in Autumn Macarthur’s book Calm and Bright, it may even take a Christmas miracle.

Brad’s life changed after Maddie divorced him and returned to her small hometown in Idaho. When he’s invited to spend Christmas with Maddie for the sake of their four year old, he jumps at the chance. It may be his opportunity to change her mind about him and their marriage. But her impression of him and their time together is harder to overcome than he first imagines.

Even with a few good memories, a son they both love, and one of Maddie’s relatives in his corner, Brad realizes there are a lot of things separating them. He quickly learns the patterns of behavior he adopted during their marriage meant one thing to him and felt completely different to Maddie. Besides, Maddie seems to thrive in the small community she returned to while he has done well with big city life and the demands of a high profile job.

The impressions Brad left Maddie with when they divorced are ingrained in Maddie’s mind. They leave her questioning and fighting every good feeling Brad’s arrival tries to bring. Brad learns words are not enough to undo the past. He’s got to listen to Maddie and show her how much he’s changed if he hopes to turn her heart to him by the end of Christmas.

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