Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: Christmas books

What I’m Reading Christmas: Mistletoe Kiss

Mistletoe Kiss Review

I’ve never understood the whole mistletoe thing. The basics, yes. Simple enough. Get caught standing under the mistletoe and you’re going to get kissed. But why? And who decided this was a good idea?

Luckily, no one I know decorates with mistletoe. I’m a fan of personal space, and an unexpected kiss would definitely be an unwelcome invasion of that space. I can’t imagine anyone would actually be a fan of this idea.

In my experience, kisses never end well when they start as a challenge, dare, or part of a weird game or tradition. Spin the bottle, anyone? It’s like the non-holiday version of mistletoe.

I admit they do make for great scenes in movies and books though. When Lucy and Jack get caught under the mistletoe in While You Were Sleeping, it was both awkward and sweet. It reinforces their growing feelings for each other, though neither is prepared to admit it.

Maybe that’s another drawback (or possibly perk) to a mistletoe kiss. Could it reveal what’s lying dormant under the surface of your relationship? It happened with Lucy and Jack.

And it happened with Chase and Rachel in Mistletoe Kiss by Andrea Boyd. Chase has loved his best friend for as long as he can remember, but she’s never seen him that way. When she suggests they participate in an attempt to break a world record for the most couples kissing under the mistletoe he agrees. But is it going to be a way to show her how he really feels or just a bittersweet moment to forever taunt him with the reminder that he can’t get out of the friend zone?

When she realizes their kiss has to last for ten seconds, Rachel has second thoughts about going through with her plan, no matter how much it means to scratch “beat a world record” off her bucket list. When the kiss is more amazing than she ever dreamed it would be, Rachel has to determine if it’s a fluke or if she should have taken Chase out of the friend zone a long time ago.

With Chase and Rachel hesitant to risk their solid friendship, neither is willing to admit their feelings to the other or even themselves. Every action and word is inspected for deeper meaning, as they try to sort out their own feelings and work up the nerve to take a chance on love with another Mistletoe Kiss.

Four Christmas Angel Rating

It’s a sweet and fun story. I enjoyed it and give it a solid three and a half Christmas angels. Though, again, I’m not into decapitating an angel so the picture will show four.

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What I’m Reading Christmas: Once Upon a Silent Night

What I’m Reading:
Once Upon a Silent Night

Dreams are funny things. Not the asleep in your bed kind of dreams. The what do I want to be when I grow up sort of dreams.

Dreams are goals on steroids. They’re the major goal that you meet all the minor goals to reach. And dreams have the ability to motivate you to do all sorts of things you wouldn’t otherwise consider. It’s all in hopes of finally achieving that one thing you’ve been straining to reach for who knows how long.

Dreams can also frustrate, confuse, and discourage you. “Only when you don’t reach them,” you might think. You’d be wrong.

Of course, working hard and planning every step to bring you closer to your dream only to find yourself further away than when you started is definitely a discouragement. I’m not arguing that point. But sometimes, the reality of achieving your dream isn’t what you thought it would be back when it was only an idea shining brightly in your mind.

Then, all you saw was the payoff, the prestige, or the fulfillment it would bring. When you finally succeed, the work to maintain the dream or to move to a new stage of the dream hits you squarely in the face. The dream is still sweet, but the maintenance of it can be draining. Still, you wouldn’t trade anything for chance to achieve the dream.

At least, that’s the thought that keeps Alessia Talbot warm at night in Kimberly Rae Jordan’s book Once Upon a Silent Night. I mean, it’s literally keeping her warm at night since she’s living in her car. Her dream got her kicked out of her home. When her dream didn’t immediately pan out, she ended up with a series of dead end jobs that eventually led to no place to call home except the SUV her parents gifted to her before her exile from the family.

With a low paying job, Alessia has a system worked out to provide her basic needs. She simply cannot afford an apartment. She knows she can always go back home, but it means giving up her dream of singing professionally for life as a lawyer in the family practice. She’d rather fight the cold than give in to their demands.

When a local church sign declares their building will be open 24 hours a day through the holiday season, Alessia takes the chance to warm up after her late night shift at the bar where she works. Gio has the overnight shift at the church, and his welcoming no pressure attitude frees her to come back night after night.

As these hours of warming up continues, Alessia soon warms up to Gio too. Though neither is completely open about their past, friendship is formed as they find they’re kindred spirits in many ways. The closeness they share is new for both of them, and they each battle with being attracted to the one they don’t believe they can ever have.

Gio introduces Alessia to the real meaning of Christmas while helping her reclaim a fondness for the holiday season. In the process, his support and encouragement opens Alessia up to possibilities she hasn’t considered for her life.

Even as they’re growing closer, Alessia knows she has to either give up her dream or walk away from Gio and the hope she’s found in the town of New Hope Falls. But she’s already given up so much to make her dream a reality. She’s not going to throw it away now, even if it breaks her slowly healing heart.

Fighting for our dreams is like that sometimes. We get stuck thinking the dream is the be all, end all. We have to achieve the dream no matter what we leave behind. We get so narrowly focused we can’t see God modifying the dream or changing it completely. We end up down a path God never intended us to travel.

Dreams are tricky. Sometimes they’re born out of our own desire. Other times they are God-given. How do we choose which ones to follow and which ones to leave behind? That’s the question Alessia faces in Once Upon a Silent Night.

Four Christmas Angel Rating

I give this book 3.5 Christmas Angels. (But since I don’t want to half an angel my picture still shows four). It was a good story, and I think it would have been even better if I’d read the earlier stories in the series.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, when I have to determine if a dream is mine or God-given, I start with giving it back to Him. I acknowledge to Him that my heart’s desire is whatever the thing is, but I desire His will above all else. I ask Him to keep me going forward if it is from Him, but to close doors if it isn’t a path I should take. It’s not always 100% clear, but He’s always given me little proofs of which direction I should go.

What about you? Do you have a dream you’ve had to give up things for? Was it worth it?

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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.

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What I’m Reading Christmas: While It Was Snowing

While It Was Snowing Review

Trust me. I know. Fall hasn’t given way to winter, and Thanksgiving deserves its time in the spotlight. While I am a supporter of Thanksgiving, there aren’t a lot of Thanksgiving themed reads out there. Besides, if I’m reviewing books so you can find ones to add to your TBR Christmas list, I need to start now.

Today’s book isn’t the first Christmas book I’ve read this year, but it is the one I finished most recently. It also happens to be the one I’m currently most excited about. Let me tell you why.

While It Was Snowing, by Tari Faris, has all the makings of a great, feel-good holiday story. On the surface it may seem like a tried and true friends to lovers story, but it mixes it up a bit right from the start.

Danielle Fair isn’t a girly girl. Raised by her father and older brothers, Danielle doesn’t even use her full name. Instead, she goes by Dan, and it isn’t just at home. So used to being one of the guys, she’s known as Dan everywhere she goes including on the job. Her job just happens to be in her father’s garage as the best mechanic he has. Of course, she has to prove that as her father seems unwilling to leave her the business when he readies for retirement.

The story starts with Dan being drafted into her friend’s wedding. Can I repeat here that she isn’t a girly girl. She doesn’t do dresses or makeup or hair. Coveralls are more her style. But she is loving friend, and she steps in despite her discomfort at being transformed into a princess for a day. Maybe it will even give her the chance to impress her best friend Gideon.

Gideon and Dan have worked together for years and become best friends. Gideon is gorgeous and catches the eye of every girl in town, including Dan’s. But he sees her as everybody does, one of the guys. Until he sees her dressed up for the wedding. Suddenly their easy going, share everything with each other friendship is thrown off kilter.

Dan finds herself in the position of proving to her father that she’s the best man for the job while trying to show Gideon that she’s the woman to win his heart. Coveralls and cover shoots don’t exactly mix, and Dan isn’t sure she has what it takes to be a desirable woman and a capable woman in a male dominated business at the same time. Is it even possible?

Gideon loves his friendship with Dan and doesn’t want to risk losing it. But after seeing her at the wedding, he can’t get her out of his mind. He begins to wonder how he has been so blind for all the years of their friendship. Sure, she’s attractive in a dress, but her coveralls don’t make her less of a woman or less beautiful. As he considers their friendship through the years, he starts to realize he loved Dan before he saw her as Danielle for the first time. He loves all sides of her. Now if he can only get her to see it isn’t the dress that makes her desirable, it’s who she is in her heart.

Throw in a snowstorm, a holiday, work drama, and a little bit of jealousy to complicate their journey to realizing their love for each other, and you have a fun Christmas story to start off your holiday reading. Plus, there are several moments with all the feels. (Those moments that leave you actually feeling excited or disappointed for fictional movie or book characters even though you know they aren’t real.)

My rating: 4 out of 5 Christmas angels. This is a contender for my favorite Christmas book of the year. Come back closer to Christmas to see if it wins.

What about you? Do you enjoy the friends to lovers scenario in books?

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Winds in the East

“Winds in the east, mist coming in. Like somethin’ is brewin’ and about to begin. Can’t put my finger on what lies in store, but I fear what’s to happen all happened before.” – Mary Poppins

It’s November, and we know what that means. NaNoWriMo is in full swing. I like to think of it, my annual month of failure. I’m sure this year will be a different NaNoWriMo month than last year for several reasons, but I’m also falling heavily in Bert’s camp. “I fear what’s to happen all happened before.”

I’m actually doing pretty good so far. I’m no where near where I need to be to finish 50,000 words by the end of the month, but I haven’t totally lost hope.

No. Let’s be honest. I’ll be surprised if I reach the goal. And that’s okay. At the end of the month, I will be further into my new story than I was in October. I’ll have worked hard and cheered on my overachieving friends who will type right past that 50,000 word goal. I will have grown as a writer, and I will have written close to every day. Those aren’t bad results.

What about you? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? How’s it going for you?

We’re also entering the holiday season, and I want to help readers take advantage of the opportunity to read seasonal stories without the judgment one might receive if you read them in July. With that in mind, I’m going to post reviews of holiday books and even some of my favorite Hallmark Christmas movies.

I think I’ll even give them scores. Jingle bells for movies and Christmas angels for the books. I used a scoring system for my movie reviews last year, and I had fun with it. I think expanding it to my book reviews will make it even better!

The last idea I’m toying with is part top ten countdown, part holiday shopping help. I want to give readers and those who shop for readers ideas to make gift sets based on books. I’ll include my own books, of course, and some of my favorite books from the last couple years. The ideas will be customizable to your budget needs. I’m still deciding whether I want to do these as blog posts, on my Facebook author page, or on my YouTube channel as videos. What do you think?

I’m excited to see where the winds take me in the next few weeks. I want to have fun but also provide inspiration for you as you shop for the book lovers on the list. If I can introduce you to a great Christmas book or movie while I’m at it, that’s even better.

And don’t forget to come back regularly for updates on my NaNoWriMo journey. Find out if “what’s to happen has happened before”? Maybe this time will be something totally new.

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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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Holiday Help Wanted!

christmasThe only thing better than getting cozy and watching the newest Hallmark Christmas movie is getting cozy and reading a great Christian Fiction Christmas book. I’d like to use my review days this month to highlight some great holiday reads.

Here’s where my “Holiday Help Wanted” comes in. Maybe you’re an author with a book that fits this description. Or maybe you’re just a person who loves to read as much as I do, and you’ve read the best CF Christmas book on the market. It doesn’t matter how you found this book. I want to know about it. It doesn’t mean I’ll be able to read them all before Christmas, but it will give me a place to start. So, think about your Christmas favorites and let me know the title and author in the comments. Thank you for your help!

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