Heather Greer

Stories of faith, life, and love

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Main Character Monday: Viktor – The Kalila Chronicles

If a person could fan-girl over a fictional character interview, today would be the day. From book one of the Kalila Chronicles by Erin Howard, I’ve loved Viktor. Yes, he’s the demon brother to Matthias. I know he’s not your typical good guy. In fact, he’s acting out of selfishness even when he does the right thing most of the time. But there’s something about the character that makes him one of my favorites in the series. And today, I get to interview him!

Viktor, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you through Erin’s Kalila Chronicles series. But for those who might not have had that same opportunity, can you tell us a little about yourself and your family?

Families are complicated. Or perhaps that’s just my family? My big brother, Matthias, is finally softening towards me. But I can’t blame him for the years of turmoil that I’ve put him through. See, he blames me for convincing our whole family to follow Lucifer. I mean, I can’t help that I’m a charismatic guy. I didn’t want them following me, but by the time Lucifer was kicked out of heaven, it was too late. Of course, Matthias didn’t see it that way and made it his vendetta to stop me. It made doing my job a lot harder when I not only had to watch my back from angels but also from my brother.  

You’ve spent a lot of time with humans, both trying to destroy them and more recently keeping them safe. Is there anything you admire about the humans you’ve come in contact with through the years?

If I have to tell something that I admire, I would say their ability to bounce back and keep going. No matter what is thrown their way, they have the capabilities to keep going.

Keeping in mind this is a purely hypothetical question, if given the opportunity would you want to become human? Why or why not?

No way. I wouldn’t want to give up being able to sneak around humans without them noticing and alter the atmosphere around them. It’s fun being me.

Given your background, I’ll refrain from asking you for your favorite or most inspirational scripture verse. However, I’d like to get your thoughts on one that makes me think of you when I hear it. Romans 7:15 says, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” While the verse pertains to the Christian struggle to live a godly life while the flesh keeps pulling us toward sin, my question is can you see yourself in this verse?

It does sum me up, doesn’t it? Matthias started all of this when he interrupted my plan of destroying Thea. Sometimes, I think it would have been easier if I would have gone ahead and murdered her. But that’s the problem, right? This back and forth war that is always waging inside of me.

Who is the person/being you most admire and why?

There are not many people that I admire. I don’t usually waste my time with humans or supernatural beings. When I have orders, I fulfill those orders, and then I move on. Do you know who never complains about having to do his job? Philip. I like that. 

Is there one thing you have experienced or learned that has impacted you more than everything else?

You like to dig deep with these questions, don’t you? I’ll do just about anything to get to Bethesda. That’s what is driving me. Everything else is just a distraction. This war going on inside? I hope it resolves itself soon.  

Is there one message you would like to share with the people reading this interview?

I feel like I’m the last one that can give advice or a message to whoever is reading this. There’s plenty of people rooting for me to fail. And I constantly feel like I’m one step away from slipping from one side to the other. But I’m trying. It goes against everything I’ve come to know, but I’m not giving up on getting to Bethesda. What will happen on the way, who knows? But I’m not looking back. You shouldn’t either. If you have goal, reach for it. Don’t give up.

Thanks for your time Viktor. And thanks to Erin Howard for sharing you with us today.

This is just a little snippet of life with Viktor. As you can probably tell, he’s a little bit complicated and a lot conflicted. Kind of reminds me of the rest of us at times. I hope you’ll check out The Silencer, but if you haven’t done so already be sure to read The Seer and The Soul Searcher first. It is a series, and it should be read in order.

Before we end things, why don’t we find out more about Erin Howard and her books.

New Release: The Silencer (The Kalila Chronicles, #3)

Release Date: 2/04/20

Publisher: Mantle Rock Publishing

Back cover blurb:

Sam’s parents asked him to do the unthinkable:
And it cost him everything.

When Sam Hart was forced to walk away from everything and everyone he knew, The Kalila became his new home. He thought he could keep the past buried but after an unexpected visit from his brother, a family secret is revealed.

Already reeling from a murder of one of their own, an unimaginable chain of events leaves everyone questioning each other’s loyalty. Will Sam, Viktor, and Matthias be able to stop this newest threat before they lose another?

Bio:

Erin R. Howard is a Developmental Editor, YA Urban Fantasy Author of The Kalila Chronicles, and has earned a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing/English from Southern New Hampshire University. When she’s not writing, Erin enjoys spending time with her family, fueling her craft addictions, and teaching writing workshops. Erin is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the KenTen Writers Group. She resides in Western Kentucky with her husband and three children.

Social Media:

Website: https://erinrhoward.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/E.R.H.Fiction/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ErinRHoward

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/erinrhoward/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/erinrhoward/

Newsletter: https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z6w4q4

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEiu-jq-KE-VMIjbtmGLbJA Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/Silencer-Kalila-Chronicles-Book-ebook/dp/B08361WNND

Write Stuff Wednesday with Michelle De Bruin

Michelle De Bruin reflects on the writing of L.M. Montgomery

The quote I am sharing today comes from the book, The Blue Castle. This book is one of my favorites. It was first published in 1926 by L.M. Montgomery, the Canadian author of the Anne of Green Gables series. Here is the quote from the book where we get a chance to see the world from the perspective of the heroine, Valancy Stirling:

Valancy was happy, gloriously and entirely so. She seemed to be living in a wonderful house of life and every day opened a new, mysterious room. It was in a world which had nothing in common with the one she had left behind, a world where time was not—which was young with immortal youth—where there was neither past nor future but only the present. She surrendered herself utterly to the charm of it.

The book is about Valancy who is a member of a large family clan. They are respectable, but stuffy. Their values and philosophies are left over from the Victorian era. Valancy has always been looked down upon and subdued by her family. She reaches her twenty-ninth birthday and also receives some bad news about her health. She has one year to live so takes the risk of leaving home and living her life the way she wants to live it and not according to the expectations of her snobbish clan. In the end, Valancy is pleasantly surprised in her choice of a husband and goes on to live a beautiful life of romance and freedom.

The story of Valancy is appealing because we all dream dreams and struggle against forces and attitudes that get in the way of them coming true. Even though it is fiction, The Blue Castle proves that dreams do come true, and we can help that happen by taking a stand for our values and being true to ourselves like Valancy did.

Meet Michelle: Michelle De Bruin lives in Iowa with her husband and two teenage sons. She has a bachelor’s degree in Religion with a Christian Ministry emphasis, and in Music. Michelle is the spiritual services provider for an organization that offers services for people with mental and physical disabilities. She has been a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) since 2015. Michelle writes inspirational historical romance about people who live in rural communities. Characters that bring to life the delights of farm and small-town living, whispers of Dutch heritage, and Christian faith make Michelle’s stories distinct. A romantic at heart, Michelle is always on the lookout for glimpses of God’s love through the window of a good story. Her first book, Hope for Tomorrow, released in 2018. The sequel, Promise for Tomorrow, released November 2019.

Faith’s Journey on Tour

I’m excited to announce Faith’s Journey is on its first blog tour with Celebrate Lit. I’ll admit I’m also a bit nervous. Why? Authors know reviews are critical in getting the word out about their books, but we also know not every book is a perfect fit for every reader.

We love to hear from readers who have connected with the stories we write. Hearing how our characters encouraged readers in their own struggles is amazing. The ministry element of our writing is meant to encourage and challenge people in their faith. Those good reviews give us a tiny glimpse into how God may be using the story to touch others. Do we have to have that glimpse? No. We can trust that if we’re doing what we feel God would have us do, He will also use it in the way He deems best. But it’s still kind of nice to hear sometimes.

On the other side of that is hearing the negative. Authors pour their heart into each work. Knowing that everyone has different tastes and not everyone will like what we’ve worked so hard to create doesn’t erase the sting when the negative reviews come in. It helps keep everything in proper perspective, but there’s still that little bit of let down. If it’s a particularly harsh review, bashing instead of offering constructive criticism or acknowledging it’s just not their cup of tea, it may bring more than a little let down. I know authors who refuse to read reviews for this reason.

Opening up your work to a blog tour is exciting, but nerve-wracking. It puts your work in front of a wider audience. That’s great. Authors need to be seen to be read. But the reviewers can say what they want, good or bad. That unknown part of the process is where the nerves come from. Will I let that stop me from enjoying this opportunity? Absolutely not. I’ll read and share each day’s post on my social media. And I’ll work to put all the comments, good or not so good, into perspective knowing I’m blessed to do what I’m passionate about regardless of how others respond to it.

If you’d like to join me in seeing what each new days brings, check out the link below. It lists all the blog stops for the tour and the days each stop takes place. Plus, you can enter to win my Cozy Winter Nights reading prize pack. There’s nothing better than a warm blanket, chocolate, teas and hot cocoa, and a new book (in the form of a $15 Amazon gift card to let you choose the right book for you!).

http://www.celebratelit.com/faithsjourney/

What I’m Reading: The Cupcake Dilemma

My husband and I drive to Cape Girardeau, Missouri once every couple months to eat at our new favorite restaurant. It’s an Irish pub with a fun atmosphere and great food, but that’s beside the point. One of the last times we went there, I ordered dessert. I never order dessert at restaurants because I’m always too full. But this time, I purposefully saved room.

I ordered bread pudding. I’d never had bread pudding before and had no idea what to expect. Bread and pudding in the same sentence don’t sound appetizing, much less putting them in the same dessert! But something intrigued me about it, and I decided to take the risk.

I may take more risks in the future. My first bite of this warm, rich dessert was filled with cinnamony goodness. Fall exploded on my tongue, and it was a beautiful thing. Adding caramel ice cream to hot bread pudding added to the perfection. I think I heard angels singing. It was that good.

It’s amazing when you find a dessert like that bread pudding, but equally (if not more) amazing is finding a book like that. A story that grabs your attention from the first page and invites you to dive in and keep reading until you reach the end. A story that’s sweet and fun and balanced and leaves you with a good feeling at the end. (And as a bonus, they leave you without the uncomfortable fullness that comes with indulging in decadent desserts!)

I had the pleasure of devouring one of these special books just a few days ago. The Cupcake Dilemma: A Rock Creek Romance Novella by Jennifer Rodewald grabbed my attention with a great presentation. The cover is simple and cute and the idea that the book would contain cupcakes added to my interest. Then, I read the first line.

Wow! It wasn’t profound. It wasn’t a poetically written description of some far off place that painted a perfect Monet in my mind. It was sassy and fun and set the tone for the story to come. It made me dive in, and I didn’t come up for air until I reached the last page.

I’m not usually a fan of first person story telling, but Jennifer Rodewald does it so well in this book I forgot it was done that way as I was reading. Kirstin Hill is funny and sassy and in completely over her head when she’s assigned to bring cupcakes to the town’s Valentine’s Day barn dance.

She’s a great teacher, but Kirstin is a kitchen nightmare. And she’s struggling to find her place as the new girl in town, only adding to the pressure to provide perfect desserts. Enter Ian Connealy, baker at and owner of Sweet Tooth Bakery.

Ian wows the entire town with his sweet creations. Kirstin’s been wowed by them since she moved to town. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that in addition to being a superstar bakers, Ian is gorgeous. Plus, he’s willing to help with Kirstin’s cupcake dilema, if she’ll agree to his terms.

The story is full of frosting, friendship, flirting, and fun. And it leaves readers with that “just tried the most decadent dessert” feeling without the need to head to the gym.

What I’m Reading: Lane Steen

I admit I shed a few tears the first time I listened to Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s rock opera, Beethoven’s Last Night. When Mephistopheles strikes a bargain with Beethoven to give up one piece of the music he’s created in exchange for his soul, Beethoven rants at Fate for having left him with this awful choice after the lifetime of hurts he’s already faced. She allows him to revisit scenes from his past and erase their pain from his life. But the hurts, disappointments, and losses sprinkled throughout his memories aren’t what moved me.

After reliving each painful experience, Beethoven makes his choice. As he sings “This is Who You Are”, it becomes clear. Beethoven can’t erase any of his past without erasing the beautiful music created from the things he experienced. One event changed in his past would change everything else about his life. He chose to keep the pain so the world would not lose the beauty drawn out of it. It’s a choice that probably hits close to home for many of us as we consider the mistakes and hurts of our own lives.

I imagine it’s a theme that played throughout Lane’s life in Lane Steen by Candace West.  Before she was out of her teenage years, Lane Steen’s life held enough hurts to fill ten people with the ache to erase the past. Raised in a shack on the outskirts of town was enough to make Lane feel like an outcast without adding in her tattered clothes and father’s bad reputation. Even those paled in comparison to the horror of living with an alcoholic father who didn’t need the addition of alcohol to make him physically and verbally abusive to his wife and daughter. With her own mother being emotionally disconnected from her, the only bright spots in her life are school and her friendships with Tabitha, Guy, and the new teacher who encourages Lane to find what she’s good at and pursue it.

Even these gifts in her life don’t lessen the hurt she feels or take away the hate Lane has for her father. Her only thoughts are to escape the town and her family and never look back. As opportunities open up small windows of hope into Lane’s life, Lane begins to wrestle with the possibility that God is there and, despite her awful circumstances, He may care about her.  

Lane takes a journey of self and faith discovery through the story. Each secret revealed about herself and her family’s past gives her more understanding. Lane learns what brings her joy and purpose. She finds out how healing God’s forgiveness and love can be to receive, and she is confronted with the need to extend that forgiveness and love to others. Lane’s eyes and heart are opened to what it really means to love someone and let them love in return. And she struggles to define what forgiveness should look like on a daily basis as she tries to move forward from the damage caused by others in her life. Lane had to learn how to let the past shape her without allowing it to trap her in a world of hate and retribution.

Whether it’s in the fictional world of Lane Steen or in our sometimes all too real lives, the past plays its part in who people become. Good and bad circumstances influence our outlooks, decisions, and emotions. Left on our own, we often turn to unhealthy ways of dealing with the past. We, like Lane, attach ourselves to ideas of retribution, hate, or despair.

It doesn’t have to be this way. God’s word offers hope that as we’ve been forgiven, we can forgive others whether they deserve it or not.  They don’t even have to accept it. We find freedom in ourselves to move into a better place when we choose forgiveness.

Scripture promises us that while the hurts may not fall away, God can grow good things in us despite and even through the pain. God assures us He will never leave us. When we feel we are all alone, we can cling to this promise and know that feeling is not from Him. He’s there to provide strength, encouragement, and direction in the middle of our hurts.

Navigating our pasts to become God’s best for us in the present and future isn’t an easy path. And it’s relevance in our lives is what makes Lane Steen’s fictional story resonate even if your pains are very different from hers. But coming to the places of acceptance of our pasts, forgiveness for those who hurt us, and allowing God to work in us will bring us to the place where we can be everything we were created to be.

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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