Two Dickensian Christmas Stories

In A Tale of Two Hearts by Michelle Griep, Mina Scott is an innkeeper’s daughter in 1853 London. She enjoys Dickens novels when she can borrow them and dreams of a better life. She wouldn’t mind if William Barlow, a regular customer in her father’s tap room, was part of those dreams.

And then the unthinkable happens: William asks her to pose as his wife for a dinner with his uncle. The uncle is trying to determine which nephew will be his heir, and William thinks that appearing married will give him a better chance, especially considering his unstable earlier years.

Mina reluctantly agrees. She enjoys the visit to the restaurant and then the uncle’s townhouse, where she feels like a real lady. But she finds she really likes William’s uncle and feels bad for deceiving him. William does as well. Then they discover a scheme by the other nephew in line for the inheritance, and their focus turns to protecting the uncle. But how will they be believed without sounding like they are just angling for a better position themselves?

In The Old Lace Shop, also by Griep, Bella White is recently widowed, but not in mourning. Her husband was abusive, and she had only married him due to her father’s machinations. While selling off her husband’s property, she decides to keep one industry: a small lace manufacturer. She doesn’t need the income, but she needs to prove she can function on her own.

The shop has a partner, though Bella is the majority owner. When she moves to Nottingham to visit the shop, she’s stunned to find that the partner is the man she loved who left without a word to her several years before. After their awkward getting to know each other again and overcoming his resistance to her partnership, they try to find a good working relationship. But they clash on several points. And then they discover a plot that endangers both of them and the people they love.

These books were the second and third of Griep’s Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series. The first was 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, which I read a couple of years ago (linked to my review). The first two books were released separately in two subsequent years, but now they are combined in Once Upon a Dickens Christmas with the third.

As far as I could tell, the stories didn’t seem to be a retelling of a particular Dickens book. But they were from the same era and in similar style. Dickens himself shows up in the last two (I can’t remember if he did in the first).

Another common thread was a “second chance” coin—not a token of luck, but just a wish or acknowledgement for the recipient.

A few quotes:

Real joy is not found in the best moments of life, but in trusting that God is making the best of every moment.

My mother–God rest her– always told me to think of eternity, then live backward from that. Such a view has a way o’ whittlin’ down our current troubles to a size we can crumple up into a ball and toss aside.

His face was a road map of years.

Maybe, perhaps, true meaning in life had nothing to do with outward trappings but with inward genuineness.

Funny, is it not, that one doesn’t know how bad one really is until trying hard to be good.

One quote was overstated a bit. . . . “The heat of a thousand suns burned along every nerve, and settled low in his belly.”

I got a little frustrated with the characters and their choices sometimes. But these books weren’t bad companions for the last weeks of the year.

Literary Christmas Challenge Wrap-Up 2020

A Literary Christmas: Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.com

Tarissa at In the Bookcase hosts a Literary Christmas Reading Challenge to encourage reading and sharing at Christmas time.

I didn’t get to one book from my original plans, but I did listen to an audiobook I hadn’t planned to—so I guess it all worked out evenly in the end.

Here’s what I finished, linked back to my reviews:

  • Loving My Actual Christmas by Alexandra Kuykendall, nonfiction. Ways to enjoy Christmas as it is rather than an idealized version, with lots of tips.
  • Joy to the World: Daily Readings for Advent by Charles Spurgeon, nonfiction. Short excerpts taken from some of Spurgeon’s Christmas sermons and arranged as a 25-day devotional.
  • A Christmas Longing by Joni Eareckson Tada, nonfiction. A lovely book filled with Joni’s artwork and meditations about Christmas.
  • A Very Bookish Christmas by Sarah Holman, J. Grace Pennington, Kate Willis, and Rebekah Jones, fiction. Four stories each tie in with a classic book.
  • Mistletoe and Murder: A Christmas Suspense Collection of ten novellas by different authors, fiction. Very suspenseful!
  • A Tale of Two Hearts and The Old Lace Shop, two stories in Michelle Griep’s Once Upon a Dicken’s Christmas. I’m not quite done with the last one, but I wanted to get the wrap-up post in before the reading challenge closed completely.

Thanks to Tarissa for hosting once again! I always enjoy it.

Two Christmas Devotionals

I love to read a Christmas or Advent devotional in December as a way to focus on the spiritual aspect of the season. This year I couldn’t decide between two, so I read them both.

Last year I had a book of C. H. Spurgeon’s Christmas sermons and thought to read them a bit at a time, like a devotional. But it didn’t work. I felt like I wasn’t getting the full impact and flow of thought without reading the whole sermon in context. So I ended up reading one each weekend

This year, however, I found a devotional book made up of short (2-3 pages on an iPad mini Kindle app) excerpts from some of his sermons: Joy to the World: Daily Readings for Advent. I was looking for something with short readings since my regular reading routine is pretty full, and this fit the bill.

Sometimes books made of excerpts from other books or sermons don’t always come across well: it’s obvious that some context is missing. But that wasn’t the case with this book. Each reading seemed like a complete thought. The English has been modernized a bit, but it didn’t seem to take away from the readings to me.

One of the themes is how a humble manger birth made Christ approachable: “We might tremble to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger. Never could there be a being more approachable than Christ” (p. 20).

A couple of other quotes:

“Religion never was designed To make our pleasures less” (from “We’re Marching to Zion”). It is designed to do away with some of our pleasures, but it gives us many more, to make up for what it takes away; so it does not make them less (p. 32).

Now, Christ’s human flesh was God’s tabernacle, and it is in Christ that God meets with man, and in Christ that man has dealings with God. The Jew of old went to God’s tent, in the center of the camp, if he would worship: we come to Christ if we would pay our homage. If the Jew would be released from ceremonial uncleanness, after he had performed the rites, he went up to the sanctuary of his God, that he might feel again that there was peace between God and his soul. We, having been washed in the precious blood of Christ, have access with boldness unto God, even the Father through Christ, who is our tabernacle and the tabernacle of God among men (p. 51).

The tabernacle of old was not full of truth, but full of image, and shadow, and symbol, and picture; but Christ is full of substance. He is not the picture, but the reality; he is not the shadow, but the substance. O believer, rejoice with joy unspeakable for you come to Christ, the real tabernacle of God. You come to him who is full of the glory of the Father; and you come to one in whom you have not the representation of a grace which you needest, but the grace itself-not the shadow of a truth ultimately to be revealed, but that very truth by which your soul is accepted in the sight of God (p. 52).

The thought of Christ’s human flesh being our tabernacle was new to me, but poignant as our church is reading through Exodus and spent several days this month on the instructions for the tabernacle.

I also liked very much the thought in Day 6’s reading that God was pulling invisible strings to orchestrate the details of Christ’s birth, even to the point of the census being decreed to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where the Scriptures prophesied Christ would be born. That’s a comfort in these times.

A Christmas Longing by Joni Eareckson Tada is a gorgeous book filled with her art work, drawn by mouth due to her paralysis. It would make a lovely coffee table book if we had a coffee table.

It’s made up of 31 readings for each day in December (the above book had 25) centered on the theme of joy.

A few quotes:

Maybe we simply need to realize that our most unpleasant circumstances, much like Mary and Joseph’s, often have a way of becoming a beautiful portion of God’s magnificent design. God’s sovereign timetable is working in the life of your family, too, hard as that may be to accept at times. Despite the hardship, despite the inconvenience, despite our lack of understanding, God has something in mind. He is in control, and He has a design for your life this Christmas season… and through all the seasons of your life. (The book has no page numbers, but this is in “A Plan Behind the Pain.”)

Lives hinge and eternal destinies hang in the balance when men and women come face to face with Jesus the Christ. It isn’t always peaceful. It isn’t always painless. It isn’t always easy. But bowing the knee to Jesus Christ is always right. No matter what. (From “Simeon’s Message.”)

Maybe that’s why God puts those wistful longings in our hearts this time of year. He wants us to find the answers to those longings in the celebration of Jesus. He wants us to define that nostalgia as nothing more than a deep human desire to come home and adore His Son. (From “Create Your Christmas Spirit.”)

You see, when Christ entered history, He didn’t come waving a white flag. His coming was not simply a lull in the battle. It was more than a momentary cease-fire. When the angels sang, “Peace on earth, good will toward men,” they were announcing an armistice. It was V-Day—an end, not just to the battle between God and humans, but to the war.

The phrase “peace on earth” carries with it so much more meaning than simply a warm, fuzzy feeling between the Lord and us. Christ, our Prince of Peace, was God’s way of announcing the close to an awful war. The Lord Jesus invaded enemy territory to lay claim on what was rightfully His. He confronted sin, and His battle cry told men that He had come to set them free.Through His death and resurrection, He signed the peace treaty in His own blood. (From “Peace on Earth.”)

I read this in bunches, both because I received it late plus I wanted to finish it in time for this review. But I think next year I’ll read just one entry a day and go more slowly and thoughtfully through it.

Though different in style, both of these books were meaty, inspirational, edifying, and enjoyable.

(Sharing with InstaEncouragement, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: A Very Bookish Christmas

A Very Bookish Christmas is a collection of Christmas novellas which each have a tie-in to a classic book.

Gingerbread Treasures by Rebekah Jones is based on The Sign of Four, a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle. Emily Willis contacts her uncle’s friend to investigate a weird situation. Every December 12 of the last few years, she has received a gingerbread man with a key and instructions not to eat the cookie. On the fifth year, someone stole all four cookies plus her dog. Then she received an email “from a friend” requesting a meeting and saying she could bring two friends, but no police.

Molly and Anna by Sarah Holman is based on Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter. Molly and Anna Garcia’s parents have both died, and they are being flown from their small mission to their aunt’s house. Molly tries to play the “glad game” like her favorite book heroine, Pollyanna. But it’s hard, especially when her aunt doesn’t want her to talk about her father or speak in Spanish, as she’s used to.

Sylvie of Amber Apartments by J. Grace Pennington is based on Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. Sylvie is so into Anne of Green Gables that she includes on her Christmas list a dress with puffed sleeves like Anne craved. Sylvie’s imagination is more active than her mom thinks is practical. But when she slights her longtime friend for a new girl that reminds her of Diana in the book, perhaps her book world has intruded too much on real life.

Sincerely, Jem by Kate Willis is based on Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster. Jessie is an introverted book-lover who feels uncomfortable at parties. She brings along her inspiration book to write down observations, character sketches, etc. When a friend suggests a pen pal, Jessie likes the idea. She uses the pen name Jem and enjoys getting to know her correspondent without having to make awkward small talk. And she learns that part of friendship is extending herself.

I’m quite familiar with Anne, but it had been a long time since I had read the Holmes books, and I had never read the other two (though I’d seen the movie version of Pollyanna ages ago). Perhaps because I wasn’t as familiar with these classics, I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as I did the Thanksgiving version. Plus the first story seemed to contain a lot of unnecessary repetition.The Thanksgiving book was also the second written, so I think perhaps the writers had garnered a bit more experience.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book—I did, very much, especially the last three stories. I don’t know if the authors have any more collaborations up their sleeves (A Very Bookish Valentine’s Day, perhaps? Lots of possibilities there!). But if they do, I’m sure I’ll read them.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: Loving My Actual Christmas

Though we love Christmas time, its busyness stresses us out. Calendars are full anyway, and then we add gatherings, programs, extra shopping and food preparation, wrapping, decorating, and various traditions.

Alexandra Kuykendall tried an “experiment in relishing the season,” as her subtitle says. Instead of an idealistic or nostalgic or “perfect” Christmas, she wanted to create a realistic Christmas that didn’t leave her exhausted and frustrated when it was over. She lets us in on the experiment in her book, Loving My Actual Christmas. Though she includes ideas and tips, “it’s more for your spirit to absorb the message of the holiday among the lights and gifts.”

She chose the four weeks and themes of advent to guide her. She wanted not just to “do better” organizationally, but to implement, foster, and be guided by hope, love, joy and peace.

Because hope, peace, joy, and love are certainly words I want to associate with this time of year. Rather than overspending, overeating, undersleeping, and underrejoicing, I want to notice the goodness God has offered in the here and now. In this year. This Christmas. Regardless of the circumstances. Because I don’t want to resent this actual Christmas, I want to love it.

For each week of Advent, she wrote down her approach, the Scriptures she read, a daily recording of what happened that week, a summary of what she learned, a list of what practices she’ll continue, and questions for reflection.

One of the first things she did was consult with her family about their desires. Expectation can make the holiday sweet and exciting but also set oneself up for a letdown. So they discussed the different programs, traditions, etc., to see what was most important to everyone and what, if anything, could be left out for sanity’s sake.

Here are some of the quotes I highlighted:

Circumstances may not be what we want, but we can step over the “whens” and “if onlys” to notice God’s gifts right in our midst.

“And heaven and nature sing.” Because he rules the world, all of his creation rejoices. That’s it. It doesn’t say heaven and nature sing when the Christmas card is beautiful and perfectly photoshopped, but because he rules the world. That’s it then. Joy does really come back to Jesus.

My people don’t need the perfect Christmas, but a present mother, daughter, wife, friend.

Christmas isn’t a race that ends on the 25th with recovery after, but a true season of relishing.

Jesus didn’t come to earth in order that we might overspend every December and have terrible arguments about the holiday bills. He came that we might have life. Let’s figure out what we can afford and live within those parameters.

You don’t want to end the party season depleted by executing the details, but energized by the relationships that are strengthened by a shared time together.

There are no awards shows for Christmas party throwing. No prizes for “Best Able to Pull It Off Alone.” Ask guests to bring food or help with decorations, invitations, setting up, or cleaning up.

There was one place that made me wince a bit. In discussing the circumstances of the first Christmas and Mary’s quiet pondering mentioned in Luke 2:19, the author writes, “Here Mary has just given birth to God . . .” I know what she meant. Jesus was (is) God in flesh. He didn’t originate in this birth: He existed eternally. And He is part of the Godhead, along with the Father and Spirit. The author would agree with all this, so she’s not saying God had His beginning here. She’s just pointing out the wonder of a young woman giving birth to the Messiah in such a setting. But the way it was phrased was a little uncomfortable to me.

Most of us have to do some mental adjusting about the holidays by the time we’ve had many Christmases as adults. We have to continually reminds ourselves what the season is actually supposed to be about and adjust our perspective. I found the author’s thoughts and tips very practical and helpful.

(Sharing with Grace and Truth, InstaEncouragement,
Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Literary Christmas Challenge 2020

A Literary Christmas: Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.comI enjoy reading Christmas books after Thanksgiving through the end of the year. Tarissa at In the Bookcase hosts a Literary Christmas challenge for that purpose. You can find the details here, but the basic idea is to read Christmas books and write posts about them.

I have ten unread Christmas books on my Kindle app, plus one I’ve read but don’t remember and would like to reread. I don’t think I can get through them all in a month. I don’t want the challenge to be pressured, especially during a month with a lot else going on. So I’ll start with these and add some in if I have time and inclination.

An advent devotional—either Joy to the World: Daily Readings for Advent by Charles Spurgeon or A Christmas Longing by Joni Eareckson Tada. Haven’t decided yet.

Loving My Actual Christmas by Alexandra Kuykendall, nonfiction.

A Christmas by the Sea by Melody Carlson. This appealed to me because I grew up on the Texas coastline, so my early Christmases were more seaside than wintery.

Mistletoe and Murder: A Christmas Suspense Collection of ten novellas by different authors. Not the usual Christmas fare, eh? I’ve only read two of the authors and heard of a couple more. I’m mainly reading it for Adam Blumer’s entry, but I hope to enjoy all of them.

A Very Bookish Christmas by Sarah Holman, J. Grace Pennington, Kate Willis, and Rebekah Jones. A series of stories based on classic books. I loved the Thanksgiving version so much, I couldn’t wait to get the Christmas one.

That gives me a good start! Do you like to read Christmas stories? Do you have plans to read any this year?

(Sharing with InstaEncouragement, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: Good Tidings of Great Joy

I like to read an Advent or Christmas devotional in December. I didn’t have any new ones on hand last year and didn’t want to reread an old one. But then I came across Good Tidings of Great Joy: A Collection of Christmas Sermons by Charles Spurgeon in my Kindle collection.

I thought I could read a bit at a time, like a devotional book. And I could—but I just wasn’t getting as much out of the sermons as I did when I read them one at a time in their entirety. The only days I could work in reading a whole sermon at once were Saturdays. So that’s why I am just now finishing a book of Christmas sermons.

Spurgeon was not a big fan of Christmas, according to these messages. He thought it was too often used as an excuse for excess. And he disliked a superstitious keeping of church holidays. But he did concede that hard-working people could use the time off and that the holidays provided a time to bring out particular truths related to Christ’s birth.

There are eight messages in all, each focused on a text connected to Jesus’ birth. I won’t go into an outline or summary of each message, but I’ll just share a few quotes.

I. The Birth of Christ, Isaiah 7:14-15: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.”

Let us take courage here. If Jesus Christ was born in a manger in a rock, why should He not come and live in our rocky hearts? If He was born in a stable, why should not the stable of our souls be made into a house for Him? If He was born in poverty, may not the poor in spirit expect that He will be their Friend? If He thus endured degradation at the first, will He count it any dishonor to come to the very poorest and humblest of His creatures and tabernacle in the souls of His children? Oh, no! We can gather a lesson of comfort from His humble parentage and we can rejoice that not a queen, or an empress, but that a humble woman became the mother of the Lord of Glory!

And so, “let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Do not feast as if you wished to keep the festival of Bacchus! Do not live, tomorrow, as if you adored some heathen divinity. Feast, Christians, feast! You have a right to feast. Go to the house of feasting tomorrow! Celebrate your Savior’s birth. Do not be ashamed to be glad—you have a right to be happy.

Remember that your Master ate butter and honey. Go your way, rejoice tomorrow, but, in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem—let Him have a place in your hearts, give Him the glory

II. The Great Birthday, Luke 2:10: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

It is clear that if God condescends to be so intimately allied with manhood, He intends to deliver man and to bless him. Incarnation prophesies salvation. Oh, believing Soul, your God cannot mean to curse you.

If you know yourself lost by nature and lost by practice. If you feel sin like a plague at your heart. If evil wearies and worries you. If you have known the burden and the shame of iniquity, then will it be bliss to you even to hear of that Savior whom the Lord has provided!

God’s Omnipotence comes down to man’s feebleness and infinite Majesty stoops to man’s infirmity!

III. A Visit to Bethlehem: Luke 2:15b: “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

“Here,” says this faithful son of Abraham, “is the fulfillment of a thousand prophecies and promises! The hope, the expectation and the joy of my noble ancestry!”

Do you know, my children, that our comforts were purchased at the expense of His sufferings?

IV. Holy Work for Christmas, Luke 2:17-20

Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship.

That we may go again to the Bethlehem of our spiritual nativity and do our first works, enjoy our first loves and feast with Jesus as we did in the holy, happy, heavenly days of our espousals.

Let us go to Jesus with something of that youthful freshness and excessive delight which was so manifest in us when we looked to Him at first. Let Him be crowned anew by us.

We may well excuse ourselves from the ordinary ways of celebrating this season. And considering ourselves to be “holy work-folk,” we may keep it, after a different sort from other men, in holy contemplation and in blessed service of that gracious God whose unspeakable gift the new-born King is to us.

The mystery of God Incarnate, for our sake bleeding and dying—that we might neither bleed nor die! God Incarnate descending that we might ascend! Wrapped in swaddling cloths that we might be unwrapped of the grave clothes of corruption!

Learning need not be an impediment to grace and may be a fitting weapon in a gracious hand.

Let every man who truly hears the Gospel bid others come to drink of the water of life. This is all the warrant you require for preaching the Gospel according to your ability. It is not every man who has ability to preach the Word. And it is not every man that we should like to hear preach it in the great congregation, for if all were mouth, what a great vacuum the Church would be! Yet every Christian in some method should deliver the glad tidings. Our wise God takes care that liberty of prophesying shall not run to riot, for He does not give efficient pastoral and ministerial gifts to every man. Yet every man, according to his gifts, let him minister!

We set before you, now, another mode of keeping Christmas by holy wonder, admiration, and adoration.

Think not much of yourselves, but do not think too little of your callings. There is no trade which is not sanctified by the Gospel.

You have heard the faults of the preacher—let him mourn them. You have heard his Master’s message. Do you bless God for that? Scarcely will you ever hear a sermon which may not make you sing if you are in a right frame of mind.

V. The First Christmas Carol, Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

I wish everybody that keeps Christmas this year, would keep it as the angels kept it. There are many persons who, when they talk about keeping Christmas, mean by that the cutting of the bands of their religion for one day in the year, as if Christ were the Lord of misrule, as if the birth of Christ should be celebrated like the orgies of Bacchus. There are some very religious people, that on Christmas would never forget to go to church in the morning; they believe Christmas to be nearly as holy as Sunday, for they reverence the tradition of the elders. Yet their way of spending the rest of the day is very remarkable; for if they see their way straight up stairs to their bed at night, it must be by accident. They would not consider they had kept Christmas in a proper manner, if they did not verge on gluttony and drunkenness. They are many who think Christmas cannot possibly be kept, except there be a great shout of merriment and mirth in the house, and added to that the boisterousness of sin. Now, my brethren, although we, as successors of the Puritans, will not keep the day in any religious sense whatever, attaching nothing more to it than to any other day: believing that every day may be a Christmas for ought we know, and wishing to make every day Christmas, if we can, yet we must try to set an example to others how to behave on that day; and especially since the angels gave glory to God: let us do the same.

VI. The Incarnation and Birth of Christ, Micah 5:2: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

VII. God Incarnate, the End of Fear, Luke 2:10a: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not

Adam was afraid and hid himself from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Sin makes miserable cowards of us all!

Now may I come to God since God has come to me.

That holy, filial fear of God, which makes us dread sin and constrains us to be obedient to His command is to be cultivated.

VIII. A Christmas Question, Isaiah 9:6a: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”

Now, my hearer, have you a fear of God before your eyes—a filial fear, a fear which a child has lest it should grieve its parent? Say have you a child’s love to God? Do you trust to him as your father, your provider, and your friend? Have you in your breast “The spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father?”

My favorite of these was the fourth, which looks at how different people responded to the birth of Christ.

I wish whoever had compiled these messages had included the dates they were originally preached.

Spurgeon is always good for a thoughtful read and for bringing things out of passages I hadn’t seen or considered in quite as much depth. I disagreed with him in just a couple of places due to our differences on the implications of election and free will. But overall I enjoyed this and benefited from it very much.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: Yuletide Treasure

Yuletide Treasure is a collection of two novellas by Lauraine Snelling and Jillian Hart.

In The Finest Gift by Lauraine Snelling, Arley Hoople had been orphaned and then raised by her rich, imperious grandmother. Her grandmother had been rather cheerless since her own widowhood.

One of Arley’s ministries is reading to the children at an orphanage. After reading a book to the children about a dollhouse and seeing the longing in their eyes, Arley comes up with a plan to ask the local woodcarver to help her build a dollhouse, which she she will present to the orphanage at Christmas in her grandmother’s name as a present to her.

The woodcarver has a gruff grandson living with him. Nathan had been expected to take over the family business until an explosion scarred him inside and out. He was sent to recuperate with his grandfather. As he learns his grandfather’s trade, he begins to think he’d rather be a woodcarver than go into business. But he doesn’t think he can get out of his father’s expectations. He admires the young woman who comes to his grandfather for help with a dollhouse, but he comes across as so silent and unfriendly, he doesn’t think he’ll ever have a chance with her.

As the three work on the dollhouse and its furnishings together, something happens in each of their hearts. And surprises are in store when the house is presented.

In A Blessed Season by Jillian Hart, Rafe Jones is an intimidating bounty hunter. But an orphan girl who has been hired out to work melts his carefully guarded heart when she asks him to help her find her mother. All she has is a sewing box of her mother’s with the name Cora Sims engraved on it.

Rafe tracks down Cora and observes her for a while to assess the situation and see if the child would be safe with her. Cora owns a dress shop and considers herself a “plain bird,” an “old maid” at thirty. But Rafe thinks she is beautiful and admires her kindness. People usually steer clear of Rafe due to his size, demeanor, and the guns he carried. But Cora shows him the same grace she does everyone else. She doesn’t seem the type to abandon a child. Perhaps she had no choice, or was attacked?

As Rafe and Cora get to know one another, the two wounded hearts are drawn to one another and the mystery of the child’s parentage and the sewing box is revealed.

I enjoyed both of these sweet, heartwarming stories.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review and Giveaway: Catching Christmas

 In Terri Blackstock’s novel, Catching Christmas, Finn Parrish is a grumpy cab driver called to the house of an old woman named Callie. First he’s put out to make a residential call, as he needs money and can make more in the city or at airports. Then he finds the old woman alone and asleep in her wheelchair. She wakes up and introduces herself—and continues to fall asleep, wake up, and introduce herself for the rest of their time together. When she is awake, she makes unfiltered comments on the people she sees.

Finn takes her to her doctor’s office and tries to explain to the distracted receptionist. He leaves for a few hours, but can’t get his mind off Callie. He drives back by the doctor’s office to check on her, and finds her asleep right where he left her. He makes a fuss insisting that they see her now and waits for her, then takes her home. He leaves his card in case she needs help and wonders what kind of loved ones she has, that they would leave her in such a state.

Callie’s granddaughter, Sydney, is a lawyer in a firm that is downsizing. Her job is hanging by a thread, dependent on her current ridiculous case, one she doesn’t believe in. On top of the extra work created by layoffs, her grandmother suddenly seems to be not quite in her right mind. She wished she could have accompanied her to the doctor, but they both need her job.

The next day Finn gets an early call from his dispatcher. A customer has requested him by name. He’s thrilled until he finds out it’s Callie. She wants him to take her several places in town. He doesn’t want to be stuck with her all day, doesn’t want to be responsible for her, and can’t afford to spend his day on one fare. But he goes. Callie has a way of talking people into what she wants, and she has a secret mission.

This book is outside Terri’s usual suspense dramas (though there’s a touch of suspense when a black limousine shows up). But I’m so glad she wrote it. It’s a sweet and touching story, just right for the holidays. Finn and Sydney don’t have much of a spiritual foundation, but they’re impacted by Callie and some of the people in her life. The faith element is not spelled out quite as much as I’d like: Finn and Sydney are just beginning to understand what it means. But it’s a strong undercurrent.

I also enjoyed reading Terri’s afterword about the influences that went into the story.

I’d like to give away my gently-used copy of this book. If you’d like to enter a drawing to win it, leave a comment on this post. I’ll draw a name on Wednesday morning, Dec. 18, the same day as my giveaway for The Carousel Painter. You can enter both giveaways but only win one: if you’d like to enter both but have a preference of one over the other, let me know. Due to mailing costs, I can only ship to continental US addresses. I’ll count all comments on this posts as entries for Catching Christmas unless you ask me not to.

Even if you don’t win, I hope you’ll check out this great book.

(Sharing with Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

 

(Update: The giveaway is closed and the winner is Becka. Congratulations, Becka!)

Literary Christmas Reading Challenge 2019

A Literary Christmas: Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.comTarissa of In the Bookcase hosts the Literary Christmas Reading Challenge each year in November and December. The basic idea is to read Christmas books! Since I like to read Christmas books in December anyway, this challenge was a nice fit. The details of the challenge are here.

One of the requirements of the challenge is to write a post expressing our intent to participate and sharing what we’ll be reading.

I have these books on hand and hope to read as many of them as possible: