The Painter's Daughter by Julie Klassen {Book Review}



Julie Klassen
Historical Fiction

Sophie Dupont assists her father in his studio, keeping her own artwork out of sight. In private, she paints the picturesque north Devon coast, popular with artists--including handsome Wesley Overtree, who seems more interested in Sophie than the landscape.

Captain Stephen Overtree is accustomed to taking on his brother Wesley's responsibilities. Near the end of his leave, he is sent to find his brother and bring him home. Upon reaching Devonshire, however, Stephen is stunned to learn Wesley has sailed for Italy and left his host's daughter in serious trouble.

Stephen feels duty-bound to act, and strangely protective of the young lady, who somehow seems familiar. Wanting to make some recompense for his own past failings as well as his brother's, Stephen proposes to Miss Dupont. He does not offer love, but marriage "in name only" to save her from scandal. If he dies in battle, as he fears, she will at least be a respectable widow.

Desperate for a way to escape her predicament, Sophie finds herself torn between her first love and this brooding man she barely knows. Dare she wait for Wesley to return? Or should she elope with the captain and pray she doesn't come to regret it?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS INCLUDED



My Thoughts

The Painter's Daughter begins with a quote from Psalm 15 that encapsulates the whole story:
"The one . . . who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind . . . will never be shaken." Psalm 15 NIV
Captain Stephen Overtree is the epitome of that verse. He is the younger son so he isn't the one to inherit. Stephen has spent most of his life cleaning up the messes of his older brother Wesley and making sure the estate is kept afloat.

Unfortunately for Captain Overtree Wesley has left a big mess this time that will change the course of several lives. But this story is one of Providence. Sophie Dupont thinks that she has made an irrevocable mistake but God has different plans for her and Stephen. The story of their blossoming love is tender with an underlying passion that makes the reader continue to turn the pages long after they should have put the book down!

If you enjoy a good redemption story set in the regency era you'll devour this one. Klassen's writing style is that of the great British writers from a bygone age. I have yet to read one of her books that I didn't absolutely love.

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Photo Credit: © Farrow Media





NIV Bible for Teen Girls from Zondervan {Book Review}



Bible (Girls ages 13-18)

The NIV Bible for Teen Girls, designed specifically for girls ages 13 to 18, is for real teenage girls with real lives. Packed with daily readings, highlighted promises of God, challenging insights, smart advice, and open discussion about the realities of life, this Bible is designed to help teen girls grow in faith, hope, and love.

The NIV Bible for Teen Girls is as sincere about your walk with God as you are, helping you discover his will for all areas of your life, including relating to your family, dealing with friends, work, sports, guys, and so much more.

Features include:
  • Daily readings for teen girls by popular Christian female authors
  • Character profiles of women in the Bible
  • Book introductions for each book of the Bible
  • Highlighted promises of God: verses worth remembering
  • A concordance for help in finding verses
  • The complete text of the bestselling New International Version (NIV) of the Bible




My Thoughts

As we close in on the New Year I begin to think of new Bibles for my loved ones. I like to seek out a new Bible that will specifically target the person I am giving it to. One of the people on my list this year is a sweet girl that just entered the teenage years. The NIV Bible for Teen Girls has her name all over it!

The pictures of this book just don't do it justice. The cover is gorgeous. I love the doodly feel of it. Those little lovebirds appear in the graphics on the cover and throughout the book. The color palette is very appealing with a shabby chic feel. 

While I like the visual look of this Bible, what really made me pick it up is the contents. With so many mixed messages for our girls this version is a wonderful encapsulation of what real girl power is. There are numerous character profiles of important women in the Bible along with daily readings from some popular authors like Bethany Hamilton, Annie Downs, and Christine Caine. 
 
I think my absolute favorite thing is the pink highlights throughout that feature the promises of God in Scripture. Makes me want to do that same thing to my current Bible. When you flip the book open your eyes immediately go to that particular verse. Perfect uplift for everyone but especially fitting for teens in the midst of those turbulent years. 

If you have a teen girl in your life I would highly recommend you get a copy of this particular Bible for her. It will show her that you love her but more importantly the words that this book contain will reveal to her just how much her heavenly Father loves her.
 

My Christmas Stocking: Filled With God's Love by Crystal Bowman {Children's Book Review}



Written by Crystal Bowman
Illustrated by Claudine Gevry
Juvenile Fiction / Christmas

What happens on Christmas Eve while children sleep?

"Their stockings are filled up with candy and toys, and happy surprises for good girls and boys."

My Christmas Stocking tells little ones the story of a kindhearted man named Saint Nicholas, who hid a gift in a stocking long ago to remind everyone of the Gift that God sent.



My Thoughts

Each year for the month of December I wrap up twenty-four books. Then each night a different child picks one book to open and we will then read that particular book. This year My Christmas Stocking has made it into the mix.

When choosing books for this endeavor I like to find ones that are not only entertaining but educational as well. My Christmas Stocking tells the history of the hanging and filling of stockings in a charming sing song type of verse. 

We have a nine month old that hasn't quite figured out that books are not to be eaten so this particular book was chosen with him in mind. It is a board book and while I don't think it would withstand unlimited amounts of drool it is sturdy enough for me to have time to remove it from his mouth before serious damage can be done.

I really like the wonderful story and verses it contains, but the images by Claudine Gevry shouldn't be overlooked. She did a beautiful job of capturing the wonder and delight of the season.

If you have a little one in your household this would make a great addition to your collection of Christmas stories. They will learn all about the tradition of the Christmas stocking while being entertained with words and illustrations. 

A Refuge at Highland Hall (Edwardian Brides, Book 3) by Carrie Turansky {Historical Romance Review}



Edwardian Brides, Book 3
Historical Romance

The Great War shakes the world of a spirited young woman and the brave British pilot she loves, taking her from London to her family’s magnificent country estate, and sending him into the war-torn skies over France.


Penny Ramsey has always considered Highland Hall her home, but when Britain becomes involved in World War One she travels to London to assist her sister Kate with the eight orphan children she and her husband Jon have taken into their home. Doing her part for the war effort takes priority over Penny’s dreams of romance until she meets Alex Goodwin, a Royal Naval Air Service pilot in training.

Alex is determined to prove his worth and do his part to defend his country. Knowing he is heading off for the dangerous assignment of chasing Zeppelins across the front line in France, he feels it’s unwise to form any romantic attachments. But he can’t help admiring the pretty, warmhearted Penny and wondering what it would be like to find her waiting when he returns home from the war.

As Penny writes to Alex, their friendship blossoms, and she becomes his tie to home and normalcy as he faces the hardships war. But being an RNAS pilot means confronting the enemy, and the fallout form those experiences push Alex beyond Penny’s reach. Can God mend the brokenness left by the losses of war? Will faith and forgiveness bring them together again?

READ AN EXCERPT

My Thoughts

A Refuge at Highland Hall takes us back to the beautiful English countryside and the manor house of the Ramsey family. This time around we delve into the story of Penny Ramsey and Alex Goodwin who is a Royal Naval Air Service pilot. Much to my delight there is also a secondary romance that involves Lydia Chambers, a lady's maid, and Marius Ritter who is a German prisoner of war working on the estate.

The story begins in London in 1915. That time period is fraught with danger as England is about to enter into World War I. Once the bombings of London begin Penny and her sister Kate take the eight orphan children to Highland Hall to wait out the war.  

While Highland Hall may be safe from the bombs there is still danger that lurks. You can't help but be drawn in to all the drama that swirls around the people involved in the story. Kate's husband Jon is a physician and must stay in London to care for the wounded. Alex is called up to fight the enemy which is beyond dangerous. Meanwhile the women must deal with situations that arise with the children and the estate. 

If you are looking for a book that has a Downton Abbey feel then you will enjoy this. There is drama with the family and drama with the servants all in a setting of an aristocratic family manor home. 

This is book three in the series and can be read as a stand alone novel. However there are numerous references to the previous two books so if you plan to read them all it would be best to read them in order to avoid spoilers. Book one is The Governess of Highland Hall and book two is The Daughter of Highland Hall.

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May The Faith Be With You: 180 Devotions That Are Out Of This World {Review & Giveaway}



May The Faith Be With You
Zonderkidz
Juvenile Nonfiction (ages 8-12)

THE ONE DEVOTIONAL
THAT'S OUT OF THIS WORLD

Life in the Spirit isn’t about cushioned pews and easy living—it’s about adventure, risk, daring, and the pursuit of wisdom. It’s about letting the awesome power of God work through you to do things you never thought possible.

In May the Faith Be With You, you’ll read through 180 devotions learning the highest, truest, and most rewarding way to a life of wisdom, apprenticing with the Ultimate Master himself—Jesus Christ.



My Thoughts

If you've got a kiddo that's crazy about Star Wars or outer space in general this is the perfect devotional for them!

One of the habits that we encourage in our home is daily devotions. Each year I try to find new ones that will pique the interest of the intended recipient. May The Faith Be With You has my grandson's name written all over it.

I find the whole retro look of the book very appealing. It definitely reflects the time period of the first Star Wars movie. If you were around back then think about what hardback books were like. Remember the glossy cover and the newsprint type of pages? That's just what this book is like. It may be lost on the current generation but I found it fun.

Each day's reading has four different sections. The first is the daily Scripture reference. It is short and sweet but you are encouraged at the beginning of the book to also read the verses around it. (I always say to read the whole chapter to get context!)

The second section is entitled Master Moment. This is the devotion itself. The words encapsulate what the main point of the Scripture message was. The third section is called Ways Of Wisdom. This portion gives a little bit more information about the given Scripture.

The final section is called Use The Force. It is like a jumping off point for your closing prayer. I like how it gets the reader started but also allows them to continue on with their prayer time.

The Scripture contained is from the NIrV which is written on a 3rd grade reading level. Perfect for the 8-12 year old!


Now . . . how about a GIVEAWAY?!! We loved May The Faith Be With You so much that we wanted to make a way for one of our readers to get their own copy. To do that we have partnered with Zonderkidz to give one of our readers a copy of the book.

The giveaway is open to U.S. residents and will run through midnight on Tuesday, December 29, 2015. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. The winner will be contacted by email and will have forty-eight hours to claim the prize. If unclaimed, a new winner will be drawn. The winners’ entries will be verified. Please enter the contest using the Giveaway Tools form below. All entries are optional.


The Legend of the Christmas Cookie: Sharing the True Meaning of Christmas by Dandi Daley Mackall



Written by Dandi Daley Mackall
Illustrated by Richard Cowdrey
Juvenile Fiction / Christmas (ages 4-8)

As Jack stepped inside, the heavenly scent of sweet bread and licorice wafted from the kitchen. Cookies!

But it couldn't be. Mom put every penny dad sent home straight into the cookie jar. There hadn't been a single cookie in that jar for over a year.

When Jack smells something delicious coming from the kitchen, he can't believe his nose. But his excitement turns to disappointment when he learns the cookies aren't for him. Instead, Mother is baking them for the needy people at their church. While Jack helps roll out the dough, his mother tells him the legend of the Christmas cookie--a tender story of giving not just cookies, but gifts of the heart that last forever. 

This sweet holiday book offers inspiration for readers to become cheerful givers themselves and shares the true tale of Jesus' birth.



My Thoughts

Did you know there was a Christmas Cookie legend? I certainly didn't but after reading The Legend of the Christmas Cookie I am anxious to incorporate this tradition into our yearly festivities.

Christmas can be such a difficult time for children. With all the commercials for the perfect toy it can be especially hard on a child from an impoverished home or one where a parent is absent. That's just the situation that Jack is in. The story seems to be set during the depression era and Jack's father has gone away to find work to provide for his family. Due to limited finances he will be unable to return home for the holidays.

One day close to Christmas Jack comes home to find his mother baking some very special cookies. At first Jack is happy because they have not had any cookies in the house all year. When he learns they are not for him but rather needy people in the church he is disappointed. But Jack is a blessed boy because he has a momma that is more concerned with his spiritual well being than his temporary wants.

I loved the beautiful story behind the Christmas cookies. Such a perfect way to teach our children that it truly is better to give than to receive. Just as Christ sacrificed and gave us the ultimate gift of eternal life it is important that we celebrate that act by giving to others and sharing the life giving message of Christ. 

If you are looking for another way to have your holidays center around Christ this is the perfect gift. In our homes we read a different Christmas story each night leading up to Christmas and this new addition will be cherished for years to come.



The Third Sunday of Advent - The Shepherd Candle


Tonight on the third Sunday of Advent we gather to remember what Christ said in John 8:12, " I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

The first week we lit our first candle, The Prophecy Candle. Tonight we light it again and remind ourselves of the symbolism it represents. Long, long ago the prophets foretold of a coming Messiah. Isaiah 9:6 tells us that a child will be born and His name will be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 7:14 went on to tell us that the Lord Himself would give us a sign: A virgin will conceive and have a son. His name would be Immanuel.

Last week we lit our second candle, The Bethlehem Candle. We light it again tonight to recall that long ago night in the tiny town of Bethlehem. Luke 2:1-7 recalls the story of Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem and their search for a place to stay. When no suitable arrangements could be found they settled for a simple stable where the Christ Child was born.

Tonight we light The Shepherd Candle and recall the story of the Shepherd's search for the newborn Christ. Luke 2:8-20 says,
"In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then the angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Don't be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.' Suddenly there was a multitude of heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors! When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.' They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the feeding trough. After seeing them they reported the message they were told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told."
Father, we thank you for your gift of Jesus to the whole world. As the shepherds found Jesus in a manger, may we find Jesus in the love and joy that we share together. Help us to love one another. Help us to do our share to bring happiness, goodness and peace to the world.

At this point we sing The First Noel and Joy to the World! as we close our evening together.

It is our hope that your family will join ours in rejoicing in the real reason for the season . . . it is Jesus the true Light of the World.

A Season to Reflect {Five Minute Friday}




One Word Prompt ~ Five Minutes of Writing ~ No Editing
Today's Prompt: REFLECT

Go!

It's mid December and our house like many others are in the midst of the Advent season. Each year we trace the lineage of Christ leading up to His birth with a different story each night. Our immediate family is made up of four separate households. Two have kiddos and two don't. The houses with kids are using The Jesus Storybook Bible with ornaments that we made and the houses without kids are using The Story of God's Love For You. Both books are by the ultra talented Sally Lloyd-Jones and the readings are the same. 

If you are familiar with the books you know that the subtitle say, "Every story whispers His name." Such an appropriate thing to say! Every single story in the Bible points us to Jesus. This year as we reflect back on these things I'm intrigued by what sticks. For me I'm still stuck on day two.

Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and discovered that they were naked. God came along and clothed them and then removed them from the garden. (That's obviously the simplified version.) But what I've been reflecting on while I'm doing the dishes or making the bed or taking a shower, is that covering their nakedness (a.k.a their sin and shame) brought about the very first death. An animal was sacrificed to clothe them. Here's how Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it:
"But before they left the garden, God made clothes for his children, to cover them. He gently clothed them and then he sent them away on a long, long journey--out of the garden, out of their home." (The Story of God's Love For You, pg. 12)
I'm completely struck by the gentle love God has for us His people. At this very moment He knew all that would enfold and He still chose to cover them. I weep as I write this because our sin is not solitary unto itself, it always costs somebody else something. In this case it was an animal but ultimately it would be Jesus.

Let me leave you with the final words from day two's reading:
"Before they left the garden, God whispered a promise to Adam and Eve. 'It will not always be so! I will come to rescue you! And when I do, I'm going to do battle against the snake, I'll get rid of the sin and the dark and the sadness you let in here. I'm coming back for you!'
And he would. One day, God himself would come." (The Story of God's Love For You, pg. 14)
Stop!

Feeling inspired to write? Link up with us here at Kate Motaung's Five Minute Friday.


An Amish Christmas Gift by Amy Clipston, Ruth Reid & Kelly Irvin {Review & Giveaway}



Amy Clipston, Ruth Reid & Kelly Irvin
Contemporary Fiction / Amish / Christmas

Naomi's Gift  BY AMY CLIPSTON

Naomi has begun to believe that she isn't meant to find love, but she might receive more than she has ever hoped for this Christmas.

Twenty-four-year-old Naomi King has all but give up on marriage and children. As Christmas approaches, Naomi is certain that her life will be spent as an old maid, helping with the family's quilting busines and taking care of her eight siblings. Then she meets Caleb, a young widower with a 7-year-old daughter, and her world is once again turned upside-down.

An Unexpected Joy BY RUTH REID

Abigail has driven other suitors away, but can Micah find a way to show her he cares?

Being a caregiver for Micah Zook's grandmother is the answer to Abigail's prayers. In fact, the elderly lady keeps finding ways to set Abigail up with her grandson. Despite Abigail's constant chatter, Micah realizes he's beginning to care for her--until he makes a decision that leaves her feeling betrayed. With Christmas in their midst, can Micah find a way to reconcile with Abigail and to reveal the true feelings of his heart?

A Christmas Visitor BY KELLY IRVIN

Frannie Mast returns to Bee County for Christmas, but her heart stays back in Missouri with an Englisch farm boy.

Frannie knows her parents have the best of intentions when they send her back to Bee County, Texas, to live with her aunt and her aunt's new husband Mordecai. After all, Frannie knows nothing can come of a relationship with Rocky, the handsome Englisch farm boy back in Missouri. But all bets are off when Rocky follows Frannie to Texas to plead his case. Could he be the Christmas gift to end all gifts?





My Thoughts

Novellas and Christmastime just seem to go together. An Amish Christmas Gift is filled with three heart-warming tales by very gifted Amish fiction writers. All three of the stories were great but if I had to pick my favorite it would be A Christmas Visitor by Kelly Irvin. It was the most romantic by far of the three. 

The story of Frannie and Rocky was unusual for Amish fiction. Rocky is an Englischer that falls in love with Frannie. When Frannie's parents find out about it they send her off to her relatives in Texas. Much to the family's dismay Rocky follows her there. And while living among the Amish community he finds what his heart longs for even more than Frannie. This story is absolutely swoon worthy! 

My next favorite is An Unexpected Joy by Ruth Reid. While the previously mentioned story carried a serious storyline, this one is more upbeat and funny. Abigail claims that her gift of gab is from God Himself and it has given her the much deserved nickname of Gabby Abby by Micah Zook. 

Poor Micah tries to avoid Abigail but his spunky grandma has other plans. This story is sure to make you smile. Abigail has a personality that is just irresistible.

My least favorite of the three is Naomi's Gift by Amy Clipston. A short time into the story I realized that this is a reprint of a previously published novella that I read several years ago. I liked it then and I still like it now. I was just disappointed that it was packaged as a new story. 

Naomi and Caleb's story is endearing but it has its frustrations at the same time. This is one of those stories that the two people involved would be so much better off if they would just talk to each other. Amy Clipston is a wonderful writer and these characters are from The Kauffman Amish Bakery series so it is a nice little glimpse into that community.

An Amish Christmas Gift would make the perfect gift for the book lover on your Christmas list. If they enjoy Contemporary Fiction with an Amish flare this would be a great choice.


Now . . . how about a GIVEAWAY?!! We loved An Amish Christmas Gift so much that we wanted to make a way for one of our readers to get their own copy. To do that we have partnered with Family Christian Stores to give one of our readers a copy of the book.

The giveaway is open to U.S. residents and will run through midnight on Tuesday, December 15, 2015. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. The winner will be contacted by email and will have forty-eight hours to claim the prize. If unclaimed, a new winner will be drawn. The winners’ entries will be verified. Please enter the contest using the Giveaway Tools form below. All entries are optional.
 

Journey Through Time Eye Found It! Hidden Picture Game from Wonder Forge



I think we have found a new favorite game for our whole family to play. Journey Through Time Eye Found It! Hidden Picture Game from Wonder Forge is an engaging game for both children and adults. It is a nice mix of individual play as well as team play.

The game board itself is huge which adds to the excitement for the little ones. We have a long dining room table and it fit but if you don't have one that is at least six foot long you'll need to play this one on the floor.

You can play with one to six players. (We played with a few more due to little ones in adult laps.) Each player chooses to be the navigator, inventor, pilot, mechanic, archaeologist, or historian. Then each player spins and moves individually until they land on a certain spot and then everyone has one minute to find as many of the hidden objects as they can. It was fun to see how quick the little ones caught on.

The game takes you through seven different historic eras which include Prehistoric, Ancient Egypt, Medieval, Pirates, Wild West, and ending with the future.



At its core the game is simple which I appreciated. The simplicity allowed different ages of children to play well together without frustrating the adults by trying to explain complex rules.

Even with all of the silliness involved it took us under an hour to complete the game. Just enough time to make it worth playing but not too long to lose the interest of the youngest players.

If you enjoy a fun family game night you should give this one a try. Our family enjoyed it and we think yours will too.

You can purchase the game at Target either in store or online or it can also be ordered online from Amazon.





The Second Sunday of Advent - The Bethlehem Candle



A week has passed in this beautiful season of anticipation and waiting. Today we find ourselves at the second Sunday of Advent.

Last week we lit our first candle, The Prophecy Candle. Tonight we light it again and remind ourselves of the symbolism it represents. Long, long ago the prophets foretold of a coming Messiah. Isaiah 9:6 tells us that a child will be born and His name will be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 7:14 went on to tell us that the Lord Himself would give us a sign: A virgin will conceive and have a son. His name would be Immanuel.

This week we also light the second candle, The Bethlehem Candle. We light it to recall that long ago night in the tiny town of Bethlehem. Luke 2:1-7 recalls the story of a decree being sent out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire needed to register. Joseph and a very pregnant Mary set out from Nazareth in Galilee and traveled to Bethlehem in Judea.

Once they were there they found the town to be filled to bursting with people. Though Joseph looked high and low he had no luck finding suitable accommodations. Finally an innkeeper took pity on them and offered his humble stable for the couple. Before the night was through Mary gave birth to her firstborn Son. She wrapped Him up snugly and laid Him in a feeding trough.

One day that tiny Baby would grow up and live a sinless life only to be crucified for us all. Three days later He would conquer death and then make His way to the right hand of the Father. Until then we cling to the hope of His words in John 8:12, "I am the light of the world, he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Father, help us to see those around us and recognize those in need. Thank You for the friends and strangers that You have put in our path. Help us to remember to extend hospitality to those who are lonely or afraid or just plain weary. You have done so much for us may we extend that same compassion to others.

At this point we sing O Little Town of Bethlehem and Silent Night as we close our evening together.

It is our hope that your family will join ours in rejoicing in the real reason for the season . . . it is Jesus the true Light of the World.

An Endless Christmas by Cynthia Ruchti {Christmas Book Review}



Contemporary Romance / Christmas

Sometimes love looks different than we imagined.

Both in their eighties, Dodie and Wilson Binder celebrate every Christmas as if it were their last. This year, their grandson Micah is planning to ask his girlfriend, Katie, to marry him so they can celebrate with the whole family. But things go very wrong when she says “no.” Now they are stuck. Too many people, too much snow, and too little room should be a recipe for disaster. But sometimes too much is just enough. Especially when it’s Christmas.

Will Katie let herself love and be loved before it is too late?

My Thoughts

Cynthia Ruchti has taken all of those wonderful elements from some of our favorite family Christmas stories and captured them in the pages of this wonderful book. The Binder family is large and loud and on top of each other in their grandparents' cottage. And they would have it no other way. But to poor Katie it is just a bit overwhelming. She's never experienced such dynamics and isn't quite sure what to make of everyone.

To Micah this is normal. Why wouldn't you ask a very personal question in front of every single family member imaginable? Katie's answer isn't what he or the rest of the family expects but it's Christmas and there are time honored traditions in this family that must be carried out regardless.

This story brought out all the emotions for me. I laughed so hard at some of the lunacy that went on in this tale. Can I just say too many people and too few bathrooms? Then quite unexpectedly I found myself sobbing . . . yes sobbing, over a scene so gut wrenching and poignant. I'm not going to tell you what happened because it would ruin the book, but I will say that it is a true picture of family. (Want to hear something really silly? I'm tearing up about it as I write this.)

If you are blessed to be part of a family this book is going to tug at your heartstrings. Life can be messy, but it can also be beautiful. Experience both in this beautiful story of a flawed family made perfect through their love of each other and their trust in Christ. 

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Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh {Christmas Book Review}



Contemporary Fiction / Christmas

Stan opened the ugly ornaments box and pulled out the top three ornaments, the ones wrapped in green paper, the kids' favorites, and set them on the coffee table. He picked up the first one, the biggest one--Anna's blue pinecone--and began to unwrap it. Without thinking, Judith walked up, stopped him, and gently took it out of his hand. She wrapped it back up, set it carefully in the box. Then picked up the other two ornaments, put them in the box, and closed the flaps.

"What's the matter?" Stan said. "Did I do something wrong?"

"I don't think I can do this."



Nothing is more beautiful than family

For the first time since their children were born, empty nesters Judith and Stan Winters spent Thanksgiving without the kids, and it's looking like Christmas will be the same. Judith can't bring herself to even start decorating for the holiday; her kids always hung the first ornaments on the tree, ornaments they had made each year since they were toddlers. Sure, the ornaments were strange-looking--some were downright ugly--but they were tradition.

With Judith refusing to decorate the bare spruce tree in their living room, Stan's only hope for saving the holiday is found in a box of handmade ornaments . . .

READ AN EXCERPT

My Thoughts

Empty-nesters be forewarned . . . this is an emotional story targeted right at you! I've read many of Dan Walsh's books so I knew that this would be a book that would stir my heart and most likely bring me to tears. It did. What I wasn't prepared for was the stepping on my toes!

Stan and Judith are empty-nesters and for the most part they are okay with that. Until this year. This is the first year that none of their grown children or grandchildren would have a seat at their Thanksgiving table. To make matters worse they have already stated that they would also not be home for Christmas.

If you've never experienced this feeling, trust me it's hard. What is a person to do when all the family traditions are turned on their heads? Dan Walsh does a masterful job of depicting the emptiness you feel when the kids move on. I found myself empathizing with Judith and her helplessness in getting out of the slump that she found herself in.

Poor Stan. What's a guy to do when his wife feels as if everything she's done suddenly doesn't matter? It was so interesting to see the story play out from both of their perspectives. 

In my opinion you can't go wrong with a Christmas novella from Dan Walsh. It is sure to make you ponder your own life and then sigh with contentment when you close the cover. Be sure to pick this one up for yourself or a friend this holiday season.

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Goodnight Manger by Laura Sassi {Children's Christmas Book Review}



Written by Laura Sassi
Illustrated by Jane Chapman
Juvenile Fiction / Christmas

Stars are twinkling.
Baby's fed.
Mama says, "It's
Time for bed."

It's bedtime for baby Jesus, but who knew a stable could be so loud? Mama, Papa, and all of the animals try to lull the baby to sleep, but between itchy hay, angels singing, and three kings bearing gifts, it's just too noisy. Cuddle up as Mama finds a way for everyone to work together to shepherd Baby into peaceful dreams under the twinkling stars.




My Thoughts

Each year for the month of December I wrap up 24 Christmas books for each of my grandchildren's homes. I'm always on the lookout for a new title to add to the mix. This year I came across Goodnight Manger and decided it had to be included. 

We have previously enjoyed Goodnight Ark so I was pretty sure the kiddos would like this one as well. The combination of Sassi's witty rhyming verse and Chapman's vibrant illustrations make both of the books appealing to the younger crowd as well as the narrator. 

My favorite verse from the story is this:
"Mama's frantic,
In a tizzy.
Who knew stables
Were so busy?"
Truer words have not been spoken!  Can you just imagine the real scene? Smelly and noisy animals. Itchy hay. Angels singing. Shepherds and Wisemen visiting. Didn't they know a baby needs its sleep? (Not to mention the momma!) But of course this is no ordinary baby. This is the long anticipated Messiah so of course the angels are going to sing and the shepherds and wisemen are going to come and pay homage.

But in the end after a few choruses of Away in the Manger perhaps, everything and everyone settles down and finds rest.

We enjoyed this somewhat silly telling of the Nativity story. While all the facts aren't included and it doesn't stick strictly to Scripture it is still a delightful tale to read to your little one as they too drift off to sleep.

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The Christmas Joy Ride by Melody Carlson {Christmas Novella Review}



Contemporary Fiction / Christmas

Miranda did not put adventure on her Christmas list, but thanks to her eighty-five-year-old neighbor Joy, that's exactly what she's getting this year. When Joy tells Miranda that she plans to drive an old RV decked out in Christmas decorations from their Chicago neighborhood to her new retirement digs in Phoenix--in the dead of winter, no less--the much younger Miranda insists that Joy cannot make such a trip by herself. Unemployed and facing foreclosure, Miranda feels she has nothing to lose by packing a bag and heading off with Joy toward Route 66. But Joy has a hidden agenda for their Christmas joyride--one that could derail the whole venture.

No one captures the heartwarming fun of the Christmas season quite like Melody Carlson. Fasten your seat belt, because it's going to be an exciting ride!

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My Thoughts

Reading a Christmas novella by Melody Carlson has become a tradition in recent years. A tradition that I have come to eagerly anticipate I might add. When the book arrives in my home I begin plotting my evening of hot tea, comfy clothes and chair, soft blanket, and uninterrupted time to devour the book. 

This year's story is entitled The Christmas Joy Ride. When the story begins we meet Miranda and Joy who are neighbors and friends. Joy is an eighty-five-year-old woman that loves to spread cheer through her Christmas blog. Miranda is a young recently divorced woman that is about to lose her home. 

Joy's two sons have decided that it would be best for her to sell her home and move closer to them. She has conceded to their request but she plans on taking one last trip to spread some Christmas Joy along the way. In a fun twist Joy talks Miranda into coming with her. They plan to head out on Route 66 in Joy's motor home and make their way from Chicago to Phoenix with a few stops along the way.  

I happen to live along Route 66 so it was fun to imagine these two traveling through my territory. As with all of Melody Carlson's stories the important part isn't the actual trip but the people they meet along the way. Melody has once again brought to life quirky characters that reach out of the page and touch your heart. When I turned the final page I was wishing that there were more Joys in the world. The book is a good reminder that we should all strive to reach out to those in need and spread a little cheer when we have the opportunity.

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