Monday, November 30, 2015

Book Review: The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado

The Christmas Candle
Max Lucado
Thomas Nelson Publishers

Official Synopsis

Journey back to a simpler time, to a small English village where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens. Except at Christmastime.

When a mysterious angel suddenly appears in a lowly candlemaker's shop, the holy and the human collide in a way that only God could imagine.

Glowing bright with a timeless message, "The Christmas Candle" will warm your heart with a surprising reminder of God's bountiful love.

My Thoughts

Christmas miracles warm the heart in so many ways, and none better than The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado.

Every 25 years, the same angel comes to the elderly candlemaker's shop in the little village of Gladstone, touching one candle, which the candlemaker then gives away to someone in need, instructing that person to pray to God for a miracle after having lit the candle. The miracle always happens. Only now the new minister isn't necessarily a believer in the supernatural workings of God, more of a mind that God created the earth and then left it alone. The candlemaker and his wife battle against the new minister's cynicism and even against their own mistakes, praying that God can and will continue to use them for His glory, this, the final candle they will receive during their lifetime.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book Review: The Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans

The Mistletoe Promise
Richard Paul Evans
Simon and Schuster

Official Synopsis

Elise Dutton dreads the arrival of another holiday season. Three years earlier, her husband cheated on her with her best friend, resulting in a bitter divorce that left her alone, broken, and distrustful.

Then, one November day, a stranger approaches Elise in the mall food court. Though she recognizes the man from her building, Elise has never formally met him. Tired of spending the holidays alone, the man offers her a proposition. For the next eight weeks—until the evening of December 24—he suggests that they pretend to be a couple. He draws up a contract with four rules:

1. No deep, probing personal questions
2. No drama
3. No telling anyone the truth about the relationship
4. The contract is void on Christmas Day

The lonely Elise surprises herself by agreeing to the idea. As the charade progresses, the safety of her fake relationship begins to mend her badly broken heart. But just as she begins to find joy again, her long-held secret threatens to unravel the emerging relationship. But she might not be the only one with secrets.

My Thoughts

I barely read 4 sentences of the synopsis before I knew that I would love this book, providing of course that there wasn't a lot of sexual content (which there isn't, can I get a witness!) Okay, so yes, the sufficient and pleasing lack of sexual content makes me very happy, so happy that I figured I might as well mention it at the beginning of my thoughts rather than at the end.

Oh my, how I love The Mistletoe Promise! I know that a lot of stories have been written around this concept, movies where a guy hires a girlfriend to accompany him to a wedding or vice versa, and it always sinks into depravity. Not so with this novel. My knowledge of Richard Paul Evans began and ended with The Christmas Box movie that I both loved and hated because it was such an emotional roller-coaster ride.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Book Review: Where Treetops Glisten by Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and Sarah Sundin

Where Treetops Glisten
Tricia Goyer, Cara Putnam, Sarah Sundin
Waterbrook Press

(Part of the Official Synopsis)

The crunch of newly fallen snow, the weight of wartime

Three siblings forging new paths and finding love in three stories, filled with the wonder of Christmas

Turn back the clock to a different time, listen to Bing Crosby sing of sleigh bells in the snow, as the realities of America’s involvement in the Second World War change the lives of the Turner family in Lafayette, Indiana.  

The Turner family believes in God’s providence during such a tumultuous time. Can they absorb the miracle of Christ’s birth and God’s plan for a future? 

 White Christmas by Cara Putnam

Official Synopsis

In White Christmas by Cara Putman, Abigail Turner is holding down the Home Front as a college student and a part-time employee at a one-of-a-kind candy shop. Loss of a beau to the war has Abigail skittish about romantic entanglements—until a hard-working young man with a serious problem needs her help. 

My Thoughts

The first story in this collection is fairly endearing and follows the life of Abigail Turner, the first of the 3 Turner siblings whose stories are included in this collection. Abigail is a young woman who's had her heart broken by loss and is afraid to love, and then you meet a young man, Jackson Lucas, who's burdened with financial troubles and kind of considers himself unlovable. I appreciated Jackson's depth of compassion for wounded and hurting children, and applauded his efforts at helping Abigail reach out and love others again, regardless of the fears that weigh her down from her past.

The atmosphere of this novella felt reassuringly accurate to the 1940s, and it gave a refreshing glimpse into the limitations and fears of the era. However, I will say that it felt a little too . . . convenient, with a harried rush to the romance (which is always a hazard with novellas). And without much of a climax. Novellas have their limitations, but there still should have been a plot to engage me, and White Christmas is lacking that type of plot. It's simply sweet, and of course, Christmas plays a huge part in the love story.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: The Christmas Shoppe by Melody Carlson

The Christmas Shoppe
Melody Carlson

Official Synopsis

The small town of Parrish Springs is not ready for Matilda Honeycutt. A strange older woman with scraggly gray hair and jewelry that jangles as she walks, Matilda is certainly not the most likely person to buy the old Barton Building on the town's quaint main street. When it becomes apparent that her new shop doesn't fit the expectations of Parrish Springs residents, a brouhaha erupts. After all, Christmas is approaching, and the last thing the town needs is a junky shop run by someone who looks and acts like a gypsy. But as townsfolk venture into the strange store, they discover that old memories can bring new life and healing.

Once again, Melody Carlson delivers a Christmas story that will touch hearts and delight the senses. Sure to be a classic, The Christmas Shoppe is filled with the special magic the best Christmas stories share--that intangible mixture of nostalgia, joy, and a little bit of magic.

My Thoughts

This story succeeds on the strength of its characters, mainly Tommy Thompson, the newspaperman, and Susanna Elton, the city manager. Both of these characters are endearing, Tommy especially, and I appreciated watching a man go from hating Christmas to appreciating it. A little like Scrooge, you might say, but not sooooooo Scrooge-like.

Each of the people who interact with Matilda Honeycutt have their lives changed for the better. She knows exactly what they need to help them deal with painful memories from the past, things that give them anger management issues, trust issues, commitment issues, you name it. Even the "villain" Councilman Snider undergoes a transformation of the heart before the end of the book.

We, the readers, know that Matilda must be an angel, especially since no one can recollect when she arrived in town or when she finally left, just that she helped them while she was there, whether they wanted her help or not.

The story is sweet, but not overly saccharine, and it really focuses on not letting big businesses run small businesses out of town, something I believe in very strongly. While I will do my fair share of shopping at Walmart, when it gets right down to it, I'm more excited to be in a little shop run by locals than a major franchise that I can wander in for hours because I can't find the exit. *cough, Ikea, cough*

The Christmas Shoppe is by no means as permanent as A Christmas Carol, but it is a delightful way to spend an evening, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to readers who enjoy light, fun Christmas fiction sprinkled with a hint of faith.

Click the above button for a link to the official page of links for this Christmas Fiction Extravaganza!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Christmas Fiction Extravaganza!

Christmas Fiction Extravaganza

Now that I have a book review blog, I figured why not!

There are literally no rules for this since it's not even a blogathon or a blog party, just an excuse for me to read and review Christmas fiction, a lot of which, I'm giving fair warning, will be Christian fiction. If you want to post my button on your page, I would be delighted, just so people can find my blog and hopefully some new Christmas books to read!

I've already begun reading and reviewing, but I won't begin publishing the reviews until the day after Thanksgiving. By that point, I'll likely have a review every day or every other day, which should give you plenty of time to find the books before Christmas.

If anyone wants to join in, I'd love to have you! Just, if you do write a Christmas book review, let me know in the comments of this post so I can compile a list here for others to easily find!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas

Ash & Bramble
Sarah Prineas

Official Backpage Synopsis

 A prince.

A ball.

A glass slipper left behind at the stroke of midnight.

The tale is told and retold, twisted and tweaked, snipped and stretched, as it leads to happily ever after.

But it is not the true Story.

A dark fortress.

A past forgotten.

A life of servitude.

No one has ever broken free of the Godmother’s terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems to be freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight. To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another—the one who helped her before and who would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
I love fairy tales and I rarely like a lot of re-tellings. But Ash & Bramble grabbed me with its unique take on the classic Cinderella story. Imagine a world where Story is a living thing with the power to govern the actions of other people, force people into molds to fulfill its own needs. That is the world of this book. These people with their happily-ever-afters don't really know each other. They've been plucked from their own stories and dumped into what Story wants them to do, all at the hand of the Godmother. It's a brutal and scary tale, but intriguing enough to keep me reading.

The Characters
I pretty much loved Pin and Shoe from the very beginning. Yes, I know their names seem silly, but since neither of them had any memory of their Before, they simply chose names based on their profession in working for the Godmother. Pin as a seamstress and Shoe as a shoemaker (duh). But the characters are both delightful and enthusiastic. I especially loved Shoe. His nature reminds me a little of Peeta from The Hunger Games. I was always a sucker for that character.

So yes, I loved the main characters.

However, the secondary characters, not so much. I feel like that required homosexual set of characters just keeps pushing its way into every story, and this one actually has two sets. I wasn't offended, simply bored at the monotony and obviousness of adding them. It made the story tedious, especially since it seems like in this world, love is love and no one took any interest in whether it was heterosexual or homosexual, which struck me as weird because it's still an old-fashioned setting. The addition of these characters just threw the tale off.

The Writing
This is Sarah Prineas' first YA novel, and I'd say she did a great job. I thoroughly enjoyed most of it, especially Part 1, which I thought was just brilliant. Being in the Godmother's fortress, not remembering your Before and not really planning for an After, two characters meet and suddenly escape is a worthwhile venture. It's a great storyline, and I thought a terrific twist on the classic Cinderella.

But I do think the plot lost some momentum, especially once Part 3 finally rolled around. I'd almost stopped investing in the characters a little bit. The love triangle between Pin, Shoe, and Cornelius was completely unnecessary and really bogged down my reading headway. It was just one thing too much. Part 3 almost felt like it could have belonged in a different book, it was so distant from the beginning of the novel, and that's sad to say about anything.

Final Thoughts

On the whole, Ash & Bramble is a solid YA offering from an author breaking into the genre. I enjoyed about 70% of it, and always liked the lead characters, which for me is sometimes a challenge. I just hope that in future offerings, Sarah Prineas tightens her story so it doesn't do quite so much evolving, and that maybe she tones down any love triangles. And just because homosexual marriage is legal now doesn't mean they need to be in everything because then it simply feels like cheap pandering.

Because this is a secular novel, let me also mention that it really is quite clean. No language that I can remember and no real sensual scenes or make-out sessions (homosexual or heterosexual). It is a bit on the gruesome side, but nothing overly bad, just some moderate violence and overall scariness.

I do hope that Sarah Prineas continues publishing YA fiction because she's actually quite good at it. I wish I'd wholeheartedly loved Ash & Bramble from start to finish, but even though I didn't love it, I still like it.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Update on reading Lorna Doone

Wait, what does "Her baint coom, Maister Zider-press" mean?
I think I must have been expecting something other than what it's giving me. For one thing, all of that old English is KILLING ME. Bleh! Okay, yes, I love Shakespeare. But that's mostly because Shakespeare had a lyrical quality to his writing that simply sucks me into the story. Everything makes sense, everything has a purpose and a point to it.

What is the point of John Ridd riding his cousin Tom's horse and nearly getting killed while doing it? I'm afraid that R.D. Blackmore found far too many side plots than he needed and managed to incorporate every single one of them into this story.

Combine that with the extremely old English and I'm floundering a bit.

When John was fishing in the icy stream and found his way into the Doone valley, I was interested. Those scenes had everything to do with the plot and because I already know some of the story from the film version, I was fascinated at how they were similar and how they differed.

Overall, though, this is one looooooooooong book and I would give anything for those characters with the dialogue I can't understand to just go crawl away into some other story!

As an update, I'm about 110 pages into Lorna Doone and I will persevere, but who knows how long it will take me to finish!

Has anyone ever read Lorna Doone before? What was your impression of it? How long did it take you to read it?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Doctor's Lady by Jody Hedlund

The Doctor's Lady
Jody Hedlund
Bethany House Publishers

Official Backpage Synopsis

Priscilla White knows she'll never be a wife or mother and feels God's call to the mission field in India. Dr. Eli Ernest is back from Oregon Country only long enough to raise awareness of missions to the natives before heading out West once more. But then Priscilla and Eli both receive news from the mission board: No longer will they send unmarried men and women into the field. 

Left scrambling for options, the two realize the other might be the answer to their needs. Priscilla and Eli agree to a partnership, a marriage in name only that will allow them to follow God's leading into the mission field. But as they journey west, this decision will be tested by the hardships of the trip and by the unexpected turnings of their hearts.

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
I grew up partly in Oregon, okay. Stories about wagon trains and the Oregon Trail were literally everywhere and so I just grew up loving them. My sister and I even converted a shed into a wagon train and used sawhorses for real horses with stick pony heads tied to them. It was awesome. So I was pretty much guaranteed to like a story about a wagon train. 

But it was making the story about missionaries that really clinched it for me. If there's one thing I deeply appreciate about Jody Hedlund, it's her ability to include strong elements of faith in her writing without it feeling overbearing. The story revolves strongly around the faith of Priscilla and Eli as they're making this perilous journey west. All because the gospel needs to be brought to the indiginous peoples of that region. It's a heartwarming theme and, for me, it never gets old. I love stories that involve American Indians and stories that involve genuine, loving missionaries and The Doctor's Lady had plenty of both.

The Characters
I love Priscilla. Not as much as I love Elizabeth Whitbread in The Preacher's Bride, but still, Priscilla comes pretty close. From the time she was a teenager, she knew she wanted to serve the Lord on the missions field. And even though she didn't like the shape of her dream to alter, she did finally acknowledge that God was in control of her calling and in choosing to lead her down a different path than the one she'd envisioned for herself. She's strong and determined, and she grows a great deal throughout her story, both in maturity and in her faith.

As for Eli, well, I'm particularly attracted to rugged, imperfect men. He has bad childhood memories that haunt him, a scant education, and severe trust and self-esteem issues, and yet he's still a man faithful to his calling to love the American Indians and to serve them in the Lord's name. What's not to love about a guy like that? Both of the leads were superbly rendered and I really didn't want to finish their story.

The Writing
Jody Hedlund rarely disappoints me. She certainly lived up to most of my expectations with The Doctor's Lady. She delivered strong thematic elements, vivid characters, and excellent research into the actual journey itself and the stops made along the way. One thing I do notice, however, is that she usually incorporates a near-rape in her books. It's becoming more prevalent in historic romance now where the heroine must be rescued from having her chastity stolen, and, to be honest, it's becoming predictable. I realize that women are always at risk, anywhere, but I think that plot device shouldn't be used as often and with as much vigor as some authors wield it.

Final Thoughts

From the moment I started this book, I was pretty much hooked. But I couldn't quite put my finger on why. I think I had a niggling suspicion lurking somewhere that I knew this story. After all, Jody Hedlund is prone to using real people to inspire her fictional characters. My guess was right. The Doctor's Lady is inspired by the real life missionaries, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. I've visited the Whitman mission, heard their stories, and grieved at the knowledge that they were murdered by the very people who they were so intent on saving.

Anyone ever watched the movie Seven Alone from 1974? The orphans in this story ended up at the Whitman mission where they found refuge until the Whitman massacre. The film doesn't cover the massacre, of course, but I knew the ending to that story simply because I'd visited the Whitman Mission.

Fortunately for those reading The Doctor's Lady, the story is not about Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, merely inspired by them. There is no tragic death of the lead characters, only the growth of mutual love and respect. But it is always exciting to learn that a story is inspired by true events, making the fictional characters more grounded in reality than they might otherwise be.

Overall, Jody Hedlund has more hits than misses with me and The Doctor's Lady is a definite hit.

Book Review: Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart (Kopp Sisters #3, 2017)

Original Summary Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges ...