Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: book reviews

What I’m Reading Christmas: The Ornament Keeper

Every Christmas, when my children still lived at home, I bought a special ornament for each of my children. I tried to make the ornaments have meaning, whether it was a nod to something they enjoyed or a remembrance of a special time in their life from the year. When they moved out, they had a box of at least eighteen ornaments to take with them. While they are a practical way for my children to have a fully decorated tree when the money might not be there to purchase Christmas ornaments, I hope they are also a gateway to pleasant memories from their childhood.

Memories have power. They can paralyze us with fear, convince us to act differently than we otherwise might, and strengthen our grudges. But they don’t have to result in negative behaviors.

Remembering good ones can lift your spirits and bring hope for the future. An honest look at more difficult memories can help us see patterns in our lives we need to correct. Looking at them objectively can give us a new perspective on the events of the past and lead to freedom from the pains that try to bind us. God can use memories, even the hard ones, to bring us to forgiveness and healing.

Felicia Morgan, the main character in Eva Marie Everson’s The Ornament Keeper, doesn’t want to relive the past. As Christmas nears, her husband had moved out and celebrating the holidays isn’t an appealing option. Her children, however, have other ideas. Felicia finds herself decorating the tree with ornaments her husband has given her through the years.

Each ornament has a story, and the reader gets to relive those stories alongside Felicia. Switching between her past and present, we see the joys she’s forgotten. We stand beside her as she wanders through memories of the failures and trials still haunting her in the present. We begin to understand, along with her, how each vignette of her past has shaped how she sees herself, her husband, and her family.

And it’s these visions of Christmas past that lead Felicia through the lies she’s believed and to a place where healing can begin if only she will allow truth to change her heart.

The Ornament Keeper is far from a feel-good, light-hearted Christmas story. But it is a beautiful story of regret and remembrance that leads to the possibility of hope and healing. It’s a story that reminds us how powerful forgiveness can be in our lives, and that’s a truth we can all use more of at Christmas and throughout the years.

I give The Ornament Keeper four Christmas angels. Come back to see if it gets Five Angels and my choice for best Christmas story of the year. I’ll announce my top book a little closer to Christmas.

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!

The Baby and the Bathwater

You’ve probably heard the phrase “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”. I recently heard that it dated back to a time in early American history when washtubs were used and baths were taken in order from oldest to youngest. This left the baby to be washed in murky water that could lead to mistakenly throwing out the baby when you emptied the tub. A quick search of the phrase’s beginnings show this to be nothing more than the product of someone’s imagination and the willingness of people to believe everything they read on the internet. Aside from it being wrong, this story is also quite disturbing. What mother would walk away from her baby in a washtub for a long enough time that when she came back she wouldn’t remember the baby was in the tub in the first place? It doesn’t make sense.

No matter its beginnings, the phrase does carry an important lesson, and one I have wrestled with this week. Usually on Saturday I post a devotional review of whatever book I’ve read during the week. Today, I finished the book I initially thought would be the focus of this week’s post. I liked the book’s story and characters. I would recommend it to fans of historical Christian fiction, but I wouldn’t recommend it across the board.

I don’t pretend to be perfect. I’m far from it. I’ve been told my own book is missing one word. I’m not sure where, but I trust the one who told me though she couldn’t remember the passage either. As careful as I’ve been, I know there have been errors in my posts too. Mistakes happen. I understand that. I’ve found mistakes in books by my favorite authors which were published by some of the big publishing houses. It doesn’t bother me.

But this one did. Aside from formatting errors, which happened a few times, there were also missing or incorrect words in various places. But even those weren’t too distracting. What took me out of the story more than anything was the author’s use of phrases or words that didn’t seem to fit the time period of the book. A few I couldn’t let go. I had to look them up. One actually could have been used, though I still have serious doubts. The others were words out of time and place.

So I have questions for you readers out there. Do you let the errors stop you from reading what would otherwise be a pretty good book? How would you want a book like that reviewed? Would you even want it reviewed?

Now questions for the authors out there. Would you want someone reviewing your book if they were going to include the above information? If someone had to say they liked the story but…? Would you want a reader to contact you with the errors? Keep in mind this would be out of a desire to help them become stronger writers, not to bash them.

And let’s round it out with a life lesson for all believers. How many times have we been guilty of throwing the baby out with the bath water in our churches? When the going gets tough at church, and face it we are dealing with a group of people trying to function as one so there will be rough times, how do we respond? Do we pack up and move on? I’m not saying it’s never God’s time to leave a church, but it should not be our “go to” move every time something happens that we don’t like.

Or maybe you’re dealing with Christian people who seem to fail repeatedly. The temptation is to label them hypocrites. They aren’t true believers, and we don’t need to worry ourselves about them anymore. We spend our time and energy on those who get it right more often or at the very least fail in ways we find more palatable. There goes that baby again. Yes, there are true hypocrites, people who are willfully living in ways contrary to what they say they believe. They are nothing more than liars and fakes. But it’s good for us to remember there are sinful strongholds we all face in our faith. There are sins we may fight for years before we finally learn to conquer it. This doesn’t make us fake in our faith. It makes us weak. It makes us human. When we see someone struggling  (and the key word is struggling) with a sin or question of faith and belief, let’s not be so quick to slough them off. Let’s extend mercy and grace and love. Let’s help be the encouragement and example that can help them in their fight.

There are enough reasons to let go of certain things in our lives. Let’s learn how to celebrate the good and deal with the bad in godly ways instead of running or pushing away so quickly.

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