Thursday, December 6, 2018

A Heartwarming Read for the Holiday Season | Review of Here to Stay



About the Book (from the author's website)

Blake Hunziker has played nomad for five years and landed in his fair share of trouble too. But now he’s finally returning to his hometown–the Lake Michigan tourist town of Whisper Shore. Counting on a not-so-warm welcome, he’s surprised at not only a positive reception but also a job offer. Determined to settle down and prove himself responsible, he agrees to the catch that comes with the job offer–coordinating the annual Christmas festival–even though he has no idea how he’ll pull it off.

Autumn Kingsley, inn owner and experienced organizer of the Christmas festival, has always dreamed of traveling the world. Now she has a job opportunity in Paris and a surprise potential investor coming to town who just might take on her family’s inn and finally leave her free to go. The only problem is that she has just two weeks to whip the inn into shape.

Their families have a long history of not getting along, but when Blake comes to Autumn for help with the festival, she actually agrees…in exchange for his help with the repairs to her inn. They may have struck a simple deal, but complications are quick to pile on when the guy who’s had enough of running away and the woman who can’t wait to leave join forces.

Available now!

My Rating

Spring/Summer

My Review

Ultimately, Here to Stay is a very heartwarming story about two characters who think they understand their needs and desires...but start to open their eyes and hearts to a future that looks much different than they expected. The setting of a cozy lakeshore town is enjoyable to visit through the pages, especially with the heroine (Autumn) running an older inn. And this is a great read for the holiday season, as the majority of the book takes place in the late fall and early winter, leading up to Christmas and the town's Christmas festival.

Possibly due to my mood or current preferences, I didn't feel 100% invested or engaged in the story. But the characters are definitely endearing, and there is a good amount of sweetly romantic scenes and cute/funny/difficult challenges for those endearing characters to face. I liked the growth of relationships and the thoughtfulness and love both Autumn and Blake show to others (and each other) on different occasions and in different ways.

Here to Stay is a lovely contemporary romance showcasing Melissa Tagg's talent in creating sweet settings and characters. While perhaps not a favorite for me and a little less exciting than the premise of her first book (Made to Last), I still enjoyed my visit as a reader-tourist to Whisper Shore.

*With thanks to Bethany House for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Christmas Book Shoppe | Book Blitz + Review + Giveaway


It's so fun to see dear blogger friends like Miranda Atchley (A Real Writer's Life) publishing new books! Today, as we celebrate the start of the Christmas season, we also celebrate the release of The Christmas Book Shoppe. Gather round to hear more about this sweet novella (and a chance to win an e-copy)!

About the Book

Keeping her book store might take a Christmas miracle…

Trudy Gallagher is quite content with her simple life. For the past five years, she has lived and worked at The Christmas Book Shoppe, a new and used book store formerly owned and operated by her great-aunt. She loves nothing more than spending her days in the Victorian house filled with books, surrounded by her cat and loved ones. As Christmas, her favorite day of the year, approaches, she begins the season with her usual verve and excitement.

Yet when her landlord threatens to sell The Christmas Book Shoppe, she is devastated. She cannot imagine life without the book store she calls home. As she struggles to create a plan to keep the book store open, it seems as if her whole word is turned upside down and her every attempt to save the store fails.

Can she find a way to keep the store she loves?


My Review

The Christmas Book Shoppe is a light, quick, and sweet novella. Trudy's plight to save the bookshop she loves is reminiscent to that of Kathleen Kelly in the beloved movie You've Got Mail, but this little story is populated with its own endearing characters and set in a charming small town in Arkansas.

I enjoyed this glimpse into Trudy's world. It's a very gentle read, especially in the beginning. Tension arises as the bookshop's existence is threatened, but the main draw of the story is in Trudy herself and her friends and family (and her lovely cat!).

Some details don't quite seem to add up, some scenes don't really add much to the plot, and the writing feels somewhat unpolished, but all in all, The Christmas Book Shoppe is simply sweet in its Christmas cheer and hope. This is a "day in the life" sort of story about a bookshop owner with kind parents and good friends—and it includes plenty of nods to the life of a modern reader. For those who share Trudy's love of books, independent bookstores, and the Christmas season, this would make a cozy little addition to a holiday collection!

*With thanks to the author for providing me with a complimentary e-copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*

About the Author

MIRANDA ATCHLEY has written several novels, both historical and contemporary, one of which was a finalist for an indie writing award. When she isn’t writing, Miranda loves getting lost in a good book and watching period dramas. She lives in a small town in Arkansas. Visit her blog and subscribe to her mailing list at arealwriterslife.blogspot.com

Connect with Miranda on social media:

Enjoy an Excerpt from 
The Christmas Book Shoppe...

As she placed the last ornament on the Christmas tree, Trudy Gallagher stood back and looked at her handiwork with a gratified smile. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, and she had spent the majority of the day decorating The Christmas Book Shoppe for the holiday. Like every other year, she and her assistant Marge had placed the eight foot artificial Christmas tree before the front window in the foyer, and Trudy had happily wrapped it in lights and tinsel, placing book themed ornaments along the branches.

“A little early to be putting up a Christmas tree, don’t you think?” Mr. Scranton, a regular patron at the book store—and the town’s resident curmudgeon—asked when he came to donate yet another stack of used books.

“Well, Thanksgiving was last Thursday,” Trudy replied in the kindest tone she could muster. It was tradition at The Christmas Book Shoppe to decorate for the holidays the Monday after Thanksgiving. After all, they were The Christmas Book Shoppe, a store that carried a mix of new and used books and was housed in the historic district of a small town called Christmas, Arkansas—which was named for the town’s settler as opposed to the holiday, as most out of towners understandably believed. They had to embrace the spirit of Christmas, just like most other businesses in town did. Yet there was always someone who accused them of decorating too early. Trudy couldn’t help but wonder; what would Mr. Scranton say if he knew that she had decorated her apartment on November first?

Scoffing at her, Mr. Scranton turned and went on his way, his pace slow as his cane assisted him. Trudy could have sworn she’d heard him mutter “bah humbug” under his breath as he exited through the front door, his harsh tone clashing with the twinkling bell above the door. Though that could have simply been her imagination, which, given all the novels she read, was usually quite overactive. 

Trudy shrugged as she placed the two heavy plastic bags full of moldy paperbacks on the desk and began to sort through them.

Really, who could blame her for embracing the Christmas spirit as fully as she did? After enduring long humid Arkansas summers that often started as early as April and boasted weeks of temperatures in the high nineties and low hundreds, it was a relief to have cooler weather. When the heat of summer was too much to bear, she often daydreamed about the Christmas season just to distract herself from the reality of living in such a humid climate.

But it wasn’t just the cold weather she enjoyed. She loved everything about Christmas. Watching classic Christmas movies, drinking hot cocoa while reading a light and cheery Christmas novella, and listening to Christmas songs all December were some of her favorite things. And there was just something about all the pretty decorations and lights that made the whole town of Christmas, Arkansas, look like the inside of a snow globe…minus all the snow. It was simply a magical time of year.

“I’m glad you enjoy decorating the tree so much,” said Marge when Trudy made her way back to the front desk. With a deep sigh, she added, “Putting that tree up just wears me out.”

Looking up from the copy of Thoreau’s Walden she’d been inspecting, Trudy offered a smile and said, “Well, I’m happy to do it.” 

With raised eyebrows, Marge shook her head. “I can certainly tell.”

Marge was a middle aged woman who had been working at The Christmas Book Shoppe for the last few years. While she was a good employee, she didn’t share Trudy’s excitement about literature and holidays and found her boss’s enthusiasm rather tiring. It was amazing that the two got along as well as they did.

Trudy once again smiled and then took the newly arrived books and began to shelve them. It was a little curious that Mr. Scranton had donated so much as of late. Counting what he’d brought in today, he’d donated a total of ten bags full of books in two weeks. Trudy wondered how many books he had in that old, somewhat off-putting house he lived in on the edge of town.

After Mr. Scranton’s donations were situated on the shelves, Trudy took to straightening the book cases, and in the process she found herself somewhat distracted, reading the synopsis scrawled on the back covers of titles that caught her attention. She often found herself similarly distracted while working here at the shop and realized that this was one reason why her to-be-read pile was growing entirely out of control.

When she found a particularly interesting novel set in the Edwardian era, she flipped open the cover and read the first few pages. Soon her mind was thousands of miles and a hundred years away, caught up in a world of lords and ladies.

“That a good book?”

With a gasp, she slammed the book shut. Looking up, she saw her friend, Reed Thornton. A roguish smile twisted his mouth, making him look more like Downton Abbey’s Tom Branson than ever.

“You scared me to death,” she said, taking a deep breath in an attempt to steady her heart rate. “And yes, it is a good book. I think I’ll keep it for myself.”

In his hands, she saw a stack of books, all bearing familiar titles. The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, Persuasion. In Trudy’s world, it was unusual for most guys to even like reading. But for a guy to pass up science fiction and thrillers for classic romance? That was just unheard of.

“Looking for a good romance, are we?” she asked as they made their way back to the front desk.

He gave her the same exasperated expression he offered each time she made a wise crack about his reading habits. “It’s required reading for my classic lit class.”

Trudy smiled skeptically. She knew Reed had in fact enrolled in a classic lit class at the university after recently going back to college in order to earn a master’s degree in literature. Yet she also knew that Reed had always been a sucker for classic literature, just like her. They’d taken literature classes in high school together and their mutual love of the classics was one reason why they’d been such good friends for most of their lives.

“You know there isn’t any shame in guys reading romance novels, right?” With a snort she added, “I mean, look at Nicholas Sparks. His novels have been giving women false hopes for years now. And Fitzgerald was a guy, and he wrote The Great Gatsby. Besides, haven’t you already read that?” 

“When we were seniors in high school,” he said with a half frown. “But that was a long time ago. I’ve read too many books since then to remember all I need to know about it for this class.”

“Well, it is a pretty good one to revisit,” she said as she rounded the corner of the front desk.

As she scanned the barcode on Persuasion, she cocked an eyebrow at Reed.

He sighed as he dug his wallet out of his back pocket. “It’s the only Austen I haven’t read yet.”

She chuckled as she placed the stack of books in a bag bearing the store’s emblem.

“Do you give all your customers this hard of a time?” he asked as he accepted the bag.

She simply laughed in reply.

“You know, I could just buy my books on Amazon. I’d get a lot less cheek if I did.”

“Yeah, but you’d pay a lot more. Plus, you wouldn’t get this sparkling customer service that brings in customers from miles around.”

Chuckling, he rolled his eyes, took his bag and left.

Giveaway!

One winner will receive a Kindle download of The Christmas Book Shoppe. The giveaway begins December 4 and ends December 7. Open internationally to anyone who can receive a Kindle download via email. Must be 18 or older to participate.

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Monday, December 3, 2018

Brimming with Emotion, Adversity, and Hope | Review of Burning Sky



About the Book (from Waterbrook Multnomah)

A Christy award-winning novel about a woman caught between two worlds, and the lengths she goes to find where she belongs

Abducted by Mohawk Indians at fourteen and renamed Burning Sky, Willa Obenchain is driven to return to her family’s New York frontier homestead after many years building a life with the People. At the boundary of her father’s property, Willa discovers a wounded Scotsman lying in her path. Feeling obliged to nurse his injuries, the two quickly find much has changed during her twelve-year absence: her childhood home is in disrepair, her missing parents are rumored to be Tories, and the young Richard Waring she once admired is now grown into a man twisted by the horrors of war and claiming ownership of the Obenchain land.

When her Mohawk brother arrives and questions her place in the white world, the cultural divide blurs Willa’s vision. Can she follow Tames-His-Horse back to the People now that she is no longer Burning Sky? And what about Neil MacGregor, the kind and loyal botanist who does not fit into in her plan for a solitary life, yet is now helping her revive her farm? In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, strong feelings against “savages” abound in the nearby village of Shiloh, leaving Willa’s safety unsure.

As tensions rise, challenging her shielded heart, the woman called Burning Sky must find a new courage—the courage to again risk embracing the blessings the Almighty wants to bestow. Is she brave enough to love again?

My Rating

Summer

My Review

Burning Sky brims with emotion, adversity, and hope. I'm ashamed to say I've had my copy since 2013, and it honestly should not have taken me five years to finally sit down and read it! Based on reading (and loving) Lori Benton's second book, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, I knew she could write an engaging story with beautiful characters. And once I got to know Burning Sky, Neil MacGregor, Joseph Tames-His-Horse, and others, Lori's debut didn't disappoint.

I will say it was a heavier, somewhat slower, read for me, as the main character (Willa or Burning Sky) has a long, painful, question-filled journey to take in the months covered through the pages of this historically rich novel. But it's a very meaningful journey, and I can absolutely see why this book won multiple Christy awards.

One of my favorite things about this book is the ending. Based on first impressions, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn might be my favorite of the two (although I might have to reread it to be sure!), but the one thing that disappointed me a bit with that book was what stood out to me as I finished Burning Sky. I would have loved a bit more from Tamsen's conclusion, but the end of Burning Sky was incredibly satisfying, moving, and uplifting.

This is a romance, yes, and I ultimately loved the direction it took. But this story also deals with other kinds of love and matters of faith and identity. With many layers and challenges, Burning Sky is the kind of read that takes time but offers much to take with you when the journey is done.

*With thanks to the author and Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me with a complimentary ARC of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Winner and Tour Conclusion | Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! Blog Tour

Good morning and happy December! Our festive Christmas blog tour has reached its end—but we still get to announce the giveaway winner, share some tour highlights, offer some gift ideas, and wish you a very merry Christmas! Let's get started...

Winner Time

Congratulations to the winner of the "party in a box" giveaway...

Cheryl H.!


She won a signed copy of Yes, Carol...It's Christmas!, two Betty Crocker sugar cookie mixes, two cookie cutters, a four-pack of sprinkles, a strand of Christmas lights, and two glass ornaments. Woohoo! Thank you to everyone who entered and spread the word. :)

Tour Highlights

This tour was filled with fun, creative, and touching posts from Cindy and our team of bloggers. If you missed any of them, it's not too late to check them out! Here are some handy links...

Cindy's Christmas Party Tips
Visiting Christmas Past, Present, and Future with...
'Twas the Night Before Christmas
Reviews
  • "I liked Yes, Carol…It's Christmas! even more than A Christmas Carol if that is even possible, and it will now become a Christmas season re-read in the years to come." | Carissa's review
  • "If you are looking for a fun and fast Christmas read, this one will surely put you in the Christmas spirit!" | Julie's review
  • "I highly recommend adding this novella to your Christmas reading list this year." | Heather's review (+ author interview and fudge recipe!)
  • "Full of sass and heartwarming moments, this novella moves at a swift pace." | Miranda's review
  • "A very short, breezy read to help you get into—or sustain—the Christmas spirit." | Jes's review

Christmas Gift Ideas

With this blog tour, we've been celebrating Cindy Vincent's novella, Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! (which would make a fun holiday gift for yourself or a loved one!). But Cindy is also the author of many other books...

Perfect for Kids (and Cat-Lovers)


The Buckley & Bogey Cat Detective Capers
#1 The Case of the Cat Show Princess
#2 The Case of the Crafty Christmas Crooks
#3 The Case of the Jewel Covered Cat Statues
#4 The Case of the Clever Secret Code

To learn  more about Buckley and Bogey, visit www.buckleyandbogey.com.

Perfect for Historical Mystery Fans


The Tracy Truworth, Apprentice P.I., 1940s Homefront Mysteries
#1 Bad Day for a Bombshell
#2 Swell Time for a Swing Dance

Perfect for Friends and Family


Daily Devotional
Cats Are Part of His Kingdom, Too

Find Cindy's books on Amazon, and learn more about Cindy and her work at cindyvincent.net.

Merry Christmas!

Cindy and I want to offer our sincere gratitude to all the bloggers who participated in the Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! blog tour, as well as all those who joined the fun by leaving comments and entering the giveaway! It was wonderful to kick off the Christmas season with you all. :) Wishing each of you a joyous Christmas!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Cindy's Christmas Past, Present, and Future | Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! Blog Tour


In honor of Cindy Vincent’s novella, Yes, Carol…It’s Christmas!—a fun modern-day reimagining of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens with its ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future—Cindy is going to visit Christmas past, present, and future in today’s tour post. Enjoy!

Christmas Past

When it comes to Christmas Past, one of my favorite memories is from Christmas 1988, when my husband, Rob, and I were still dating and just a few months from getting engaged. That year, his Christmas present to me was one of the most special he has ever given me.

So what was this treasured gift? Diamonds, emeralds or rubies? Nope. He gave me a computer program. MS Word, to be specific. On the surface, it doesn’t sound all that exciting, does it? Especially since I didn’t even own a computer. Back in 1988, computers weren’t so prevalent like they are today, and not everyone had one.

But Rob did own a computer, an Apple Macintosh. (And yes, it was a pretty big hint that he bought me a computer program to use on his computer someday, considering we had a long-distance relationship at the time!) But here’s the rest of the story.

Only months before, I went through my employee evaluation at work, and my boss asked what my long-term goals were. Of course, I listed all the usual things, but I also told him that I wanted to write books. It wasn’t a big leap in my mind, since I’d enjoyed writing fiction as a child, and later, my college professors had encouraged me to write professionally. Thankfully, my boss responded with encouragement, too, and I left his office feeling elated.

Then I ran smack dab into a whole lot of discouragement. When my colleagues asked how my meeting had gone, I told them about my goals. Much to my horror, my much older colleagues (mostly with Ph.D.’s) treated the idea like it was a joke. After all, I was only in my twenties at the time and merely had a master’s degree. What could I possibly know about writing a book? To make matters worse, after I mentioned the idea to friends later, I got a pretty lukewarm reception from them, too. 

With so much negative feedback, I immediately started to wonder if my dream of authoring books was too outlandish and beyond my abilities. And for a while, I actually listened to those naysayers. That was, until Christmas morning when I unwrapped my present from Rob—a computer program. A program he thought I would need when I wrote my first book. In other words, my soon-to-be husband not only gave me a huge vote of confidence, but he also gave me the practical application to achieve my goals. It was just the encouragement that I needed, and it also let me know that he was the man for me. We got engaged less than a month later.

Christmas Present

Every year at Christmas, it always seems like there’s a mad rush to get all the decorations out. I put up three inside trees every year, and plenty of other inside embellishments as well. But the biggest show for us takes place outside, in our front yard. And this year, we’re expanding our Griswolds-style light show. We’ve got three controller boxes hooked to a computer, and the lights are choreographed to music. Here’s a picture of last year’s lights.


And here’s a picture from a couple of years ago. (Yes, we often win the neighborhood light competition!)


Otherwise, for once, we’re just looking forward to a quieter Christmas season than normal. Instead of hosting a party this year, I think we’ll have some friends over for dinner and maybe take some time to relax and contemplate the reason for the season. Sometimes it’s just nice to slow down and gaze at the stars.

Christmas Future

To look forward to Christmas Future, I want to start by looking back. Specifically, to the old black-and-white movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Within the story, you’ll note that celebrating Christmas and wishing people “Merry Christmas” was commonplace during that era. Much like it was when I grew up in the 1960s and 70s. But over the last few decades, I’ve seen a decline in the celebration and open expression of Christmas, with a debate on whether people should even wish each other “Merry Christmas” or not. In fact, here in Texas, our governor signed into law something that was dubbed the “Merry Christmas Bill,” making it legal for teachers and other school employees to continue to say, “Merry Christmas,” without fear of being fired. To me, it’s pretty sad that such a bill might even be necessary.

So . . . when I look to Christmas Future, I know in my heart that I want to do all I can to help preserve the traditions of Christmas, so that future generations can know the joy I have known, as we celebrate Christ’s birthday during this very special season.

How about you? 

Cindy and I would love to hear a favorite memory, your plans for this holiday season, or a dream you have for a future Christmas! Also, don’t forget to enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a “party in a box”! (See the tour introduction post for more details.)


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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Cindy's Christmas Party Tips: Part 1 | Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! Blog Tour


The blog tour for Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! continues with the first of three posts featuring Cindy's Christmas party tips. Since the heroine of her novella is a former party host, it's a perfect topic for the tour—and so timely for this season!

Today, discover some delightful decorating tips...

Cindy’s Christmas Party Tips
Part 1: Decorating

Ah, Christmas . . . Just the mere mention of the name can bring back all kinds of wonderful memories for those who celebrate the season. In fact, many of us take a wonderful trip down memory lane every year when we decorate our trees, with each ornament bringing back thoughts of old friends and parties and times gone by.

Needless to say, Christmas is steeped in tradition, so it’s important to keep that in mind when hosting your own Christmas party. And while holiday decorating styles come and go, there are some things that are so iconic and so completely associated with Christmas that they will immediately make partygoers feel the joy and warmth of the season.

A Christmas tree, of course, is just one of those items, and I’d suggest having at least some kind of tree in your home for a party. Thankfully, you have tons of options to choose from—big, small, wide, narrow, real, artificial, tinsel, and on and on. Whatever you like, you’ll pretty much find it’s available. It’s a good idea to display your tree where all the party guests can see it and maybe even have their moment of basking in the beauty and lights of a decorated tree.


Considering you’ll have guests who really take the time to look at your tree, be careful about the kinds of lights you use for decorating it. LED lights are the modern thing, but frankly, most of those lights are just too bright for comfortable viewing. Especially if you have the room lights down low during your party. Instead, it’s better to stick with the old-fashioned incandescent lights, which aren’t so vivid and are more comfortable to look at. To add interest to your tree, don’t forget to add a strand or two of blinking or running lights, which will typically appear to keep time to any music you might have playing.

Here’s a photo of a dress-form tree that I made, and not only is it a great conversation starter, but it’s also much easier to create than it looks.


I simply took the top section of an old mannequin and put it on the bottom half of an old Christmas tree. (I believe I found both items at a thrift store.) Then I sewed a bustier for the mannequin top, though you could easily just pull a piece of fabric around for a top, and either glue, pin, or staple it in place. I added marabou (fake feathers) and other sparkly trim that can be found at a craft store. Once I had that in place, I plumped out the branches of the tree bottom, to create the skirt. I wound two strands of lights—one red and one white—through the branches. Finally, I used a glue gun to attach varying sizes of fake poinsettias to the outer branches. If you want more of a “tree” look, you can glue on fewer flowers. But I wanted a more concentrated look, so I actually glued 200 flowers onto my tree.

Twinkle lights are also one of those iconic items that practically scream . . . or rather, blink . . . Christmas. Because let’s face it, what other time of year would you put strands of lights around your home? And the best part is, you’ll actually get more bang for your buck with a strand of lights than most other decorating items.


This year, I’ve especially enjoyed these little micro-lights that I found at Costco. You can get a pack of four for around $10, and they’re battery operated, so you don’t need a plug-in nearby. These little lights really do pack a punch and light up a nice area for their size. They also come with a multi-function feature, so they can blink, fade, and even change colors. They’re especially beautiful when placed around clear glass.


Using lights to decorate are also wonderful symbols of the season, as it evokes the concept of light out of darkness. It also exemplifies that most beautiful sight of all—the star in the night sky over Bethlehem, on that very first Christmas of all!

And now, be sure to join us tomorrow (November 29th) for my second post on Christmas party entertaining at another wonderful blog, My Favorite Pastime. See you there!

Let the Party Continue!

We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. How do you like to decorate for Christmas? What do you enjoy seeing at a Christmas party?

Don't forget to enter the giveaway below for a chance to win your very own "party in a box"! (See the introduction post for more details.)


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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Visiting My Christmas Past, Present, and Future | Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! Blog Tour


With December 1st only a few days away, it’s almost time for me to pull out the wreath for our door, the tree for under our stairs, and all the little decorations that make our house just a bit more festive for this most delightful time of year. :) I can’t wait!

In honor of Cindy Vincent’s novella, Yes, Carol…It’s Christmas!—a fun modern-day reimagining of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens with its ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future—I’m going to visit Christmas past, present, and future in today’s tour post.

The Past
A Favorite Christmas Memory 

On December 10th, two years ago, my boyfriend and I spent the day on the coast. It was a Christmas miracle that he even made it for a visit—you can read more of the story HERE. After having breakfast with a beach view and walking around cute and festive Old Town, we drove to Heceta Head Lighthouse. As we looked down on the lighthouse from a trail, my boyfriend proposed and became my fiancé. :)

We then made our way back down to the bed-and-breakfast (what used to be the lightkeeper’s home), which was all decked out in its Christmas finery, and indulged in some cookies and a bit of Christmas cheer to conclude our memorable coastal outing.



I do so love that bed-and-breakfast, and it really is lovely dressed up for the holiday season! If you’d like to make their Christmas open house part of your plans this year, you can learn more HERE.

The Present
Plans for This Christmas 

As far as family goes, it’s just Josh (my husband) and me in this part of Montana. So if our Christmas this year is like our holiday last year, it will be simple and sweet, the two of us combining some of our favorite traditions. :)

One tradition Josh enjoys is baking and decorating Christmas sugar cookies. His family has a delicious recipe that calls for a bit of orange zest, which makes the cookies extra special.



I’m sure we’ll make more of these yummy cookies this year! I actually used the recipe for making Halloween cookies not too long ago…but I’m excited to make a bigger batch, with enough to munch on and share. :)

One tradition I enjoy is decorating the Christmas tree. My parents have a rather large artificial tree, and when I was growing up, it was a fun event to fill it with all sorts of Hallmark ornaments and other meaningful decorations. The tree even rotates, so guests can see everything and try out the interactive ornaments that speak or light up or play music.

Josh and I have a lovely little artificial tree a dear friend gave me when I was living on my own in Oregon. And happily, it fits perfectly under our stairs! The branches can hold quite a few ornaments, too, so I’m looking forward to once again adding some cheer to this spot in our main room.



The Future
Dreams for Christmas…Someday 

I have so many wonderful Christmas memories, and I hope to make even more with Josh and any children we might have someday. :) I want to pass along some of my parents’ and Josh’s parents’ traditions and create some more of our own. My deepest hope for Christmas future, should kids be part of the picture, is to pass along a love for Jesus and a desire to celebrate His coming to earth with reflective, joyful, grateful, and generous hearts.

As for a whimsical dream… If Josh and I were to ever own and run a bed-and-breakfast someday, I think it would be delightful to decorate the rooms and building, serve extra treats throughout December, and gather around a fire in the sitting room as we swap Christmas memories with our guests and maybe even hand out a few little gifts. It would be so warm and cozy! :) 

How about you? 

Cindy and I would love to hear a favorite memory, your plans for this holiday season, or a dream you have for a future Christmas! Also, don’t forget to enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a “party in a box”! (See the tour introduction post for more details.)


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Monday, November 26, 2018

Welcome Christmas with This Festive Novella Blog Tour! | Introduction Post


With Thanksgiving 2018 now a memory and December less than a week away, it's time to deck the blogs with Christmas posts! I'm thrilled to be the coordinator for this tour on behalf of author Cindy Vincent. :) Yes, Carol...It's Christmas! is a contemporary novella that reimagines A Christmas Carol with a former party host as the heroine. Keep reading to learn more about the book, Cindy, the tour schedule, and the tour-wide giveaway...


About the Book

As the top salesperson for Pfunn Party Supplies, Carol Frost doesn’t exactly know how to have fun herself these days. Though she wasn’t always such a humbug. Once upon a time, she was famous for hosting Christmas parties that were filled with everything from laughing guests and luscious hors d’oeuvres, to artfully iced sugar cookies and creatively decorated Christmas trees. To top it off, she even wrote a bestselling book that became the authoritative tome on Christmas party entertaining at the time—The Complete, Total, Ultimate, Everything-You-Might-Possibly-Want-to-Know Guide to Hosting the Best Christmas Parties Ever.

Yet that was long ago, before her life changed and she stashed her tinsel and twinkle lights away once and for all. And while Carol soon learned to settle for her boring but comfortable existence, an old friend knows that Carol isn’t really living up to her potential. An old friend who . . . well . . . now enjoys her eggnog in the afterlife, you might say. To goad Carol into going back to her former party-hosting ways, said friend sends three of her specter pals to pester Carol. Then, much to Carol’s annoyance, she is visited by the Ghost Hosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future on a plane filled with plenty of holiday revelers. And though Carol only wants to be left alone, the Ghost Hosts have other plans. Instead, they take her on an adventure that wasn’t exactly on her itinerary . . . or printed on her ticket stub. From that moment on, Carol’s life will never be the same. Provided, of course, she survives the jingle-bell rollercoaster of a ride and makes it home in time for Christmas . . .

Available now!


About the Author

CINDY VINCENT, M.A. Ed., was born in Calgary, Alberta, and has lived all around the US and Canada. She is the creator of the Mysteries by Vincent murder mystery party games and the Daisy Diamond Detective Series games for girls. She is also the award-winning author of the Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Caper novels and the Daisy Diamond Detective series. She lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and an assortment of fantastic felines.

The Tour Schedule

Monday, November 26 
Tuesday, November 27 
Wednesday, November 28 
Thursday, November 29 
Friday, November 30 
Saturday, December 1 


Giveaway!

Put together your own best-ever Christmas party with this fun “party in a box” giveaway! Enter for a chance to win a package with the following prizes: a signed copy of Yes, Carol…It’s Christmas! by Cindy Vincent, two Betty Crocker sugar cookie mixes, two cookie cutters, a four-pack of sprinkles, a strand of Christmas lights, and two glass ornaments. Due to shipping costs and varying international laws, this giveaway is open to US residents (age 18 or older) only. Void where prohibited. Good luck!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

An Adventure with Drama and Rekindled Hope | Review of The Liberty Bride



About the Book (from the Daughters of the Mayflower website)

War Forces a Choice Between Love and Country

A trip home from England to Maryland in 1812 finds Emeline Baratt a captive on a British warship and forced to declare her allegiance between the British and Americans. Remaining somewhat politically neutral on a ship where her nursing skills are desperately needed is fairly easy—until she starts to have feelings for the first lieutenant who becomes her protector. However, when the captain sends her and Lieutenant Owen Masters on land to spy, she must choose between her love for him or her love for her country.

Releases December 1, 2018!

My Rating

Spring

My Review

The Liberty Bride harks back to some of MaryLu Tyndall's earlier historical romances, particularly her Surrender to Destiny series, which is set in the same era. (One of the books is even referenced in the author's note.) And as with those novels, I enjoyed this new adventure with its tension and drama and rekindled hope.

Most of the first half of the story takes place at sea (albeit not far from land). While life aboard a British naval ship is quite different from the chaotic, dangerous atmosphere this author portrays aboard pirate ships in other books, there are still moments of violence, fear, and intrigue for this story's heroine, Emeline.

Then the plot shifts to land, bringing a few new characters and challenges to the fore. I love the way the hero, Owen, shines in this part—Emeline too! Their kindness and desire to do the right thing make for some sweet scenes in the midst of trying to outwit their enemies.

Some elements feel a bit too perfectly aligned or a little inauthentic in what some characters say and do. I wouldn't say this is my favorite MaryLu Tyndall book—although I think my tastes have changed somewhat over the years. Still, this story's conclusion is heartwarming, and fans of inspirational historical romance with some excitement (as well as fans of this author's style) should find The Liberty Bride very enjoyable.

*With thanks to Barbour Publishing through NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*

My Reviews of Other Books in This Series...
The Mayflower Bride (#1)
The Captured Bride (#3)
The Cumberland Bride (#5)

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Journey with Interesting and Surprising Turns | Review of The Cumberland Bride



About the Book (from the Daughters of the Mayflower website)

Love and Adventure Are Discovered on the Wilderness Road

In 1794, when Kate Gruener’s father is ready to move the family farther west into the wilderness to farm untouched land, Kate is eager to live out her own story of adventure, like he did during the War for Independence, and to see untamed lands. And she sets her sights on learning more about their scout, Thomas Bledsoe. Thomas’s job is to get settlers safely across the Kentucky Wilderness Road to their destination while keeping an ear open for news of Shawnee unrest. But naïve Kate’s inquisitive nature could put them both in the middle of a rising tide of conflict. Is there more to Thomas’s story than he is willing to tell? Is there an untapped courage in Kate that can thwart a coming disaster?

Available Now!

My Rating

Spring

My Review

The Cumberland Bride takes some interesting and surprising turns that really engaged me as the story progressed. Starting off, I was curious about the set up, the characters, and the coming journey, but I wasn't sure if this story would stand out. While it didn't wind up a favorite for me, I still quite enjoyed it and found myself eager to keep reading—especially after the halfway point.

Kate is a sweet character, and she won me over with her resiliency and gentleness. Her obsession with learning Thomas's history feels a little odd at times, and she seems to get into trouble or sticky situations rather often (although it's nice in that it forces Thomas and Kate to actually spend time together).

Thomas...left me with conflicted feelings. His first impressions are ones of coldness and apathy, and I don't know if he ever fully claimed my heart. But he's forced to open up as the plot picks up, and I do like how he confidently steps into the role of hero in later scenes.

Despite a few tumbles and points of tension in the first half, this book begins in a quieter way as the family's journey unfolds. But when Kate and Thomas find themselves in some serious danger, watch out! Historical romance fans like me will find it hard to stop reading.

The way one character from later in the book is portrayed feels a bit inauthentic to me...perhaps out of character or somewhat modern? And some things feel a bit rushed toward the end. But it's quite clear from the author's notes that she did her research, and overall, I enjoyed this fictional journey along the Wilderness Road.

P.S. I love when the cover is tied into the story, and I was quite satisfied with the scene in which the cover model's outfit makes an appearance! :)

*With thanks to Barbour Publishing through NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*

My Reviews of Other Books in This Series...
The Mayflower Bride (#1), The Captured Bride (#3)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Grateful for Beautiful Moments...and the Motivation to Find Them

I'm grateful for the way my husband helps me find beautiful moments. His sense of adventure and his love of God's creation make him eager to get outdoors much more often than I would normally be motivated to do on my own. On a quiet Saturday, it feels inconvenient to pack up layers of clothing and prepare for a nearly hour-long drive. But even while not feeling the best himself, Josh prepared a thermos of hot apple cider for me and drove us to Glacier National Park, where we experienced the incredible, fleeting moments of sunset beneath the mountains...







A few other people also enjoyed the alpenglow from this little stretch of shore by Lake McDonald. It was neat to share this moment, to know we were all savoring the grandeur and beauty God had provided on a cold, clear Saturday evening.

As you can imagine, I'm grateful I didn't stay home. :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Fate and Fortune Blog Tour | Two Reviews + Gift Card Giveaway

On tour with Prism Book Tours


Fate & Fortune
(Fate & Fortune #1)
Robin Daniels
YA Contemporary Romance, Duology
ebook, 279 Pages

Bryce has liked Paige since they were little but has never had the guts to act on his feelings. Paige is devastated over being dumped by her long-time boyfriend and can’t seem to move on. They’re stuck in a rut, until fate decides to pull them out.

Both Paige and Bryce are talked into seeing a fortune teller at the annual Summer’s End Carnival. Neither of them buys into the mysticism, until the psychic’s predictions start coming true. Now, the most bizarre things are happening and there isn’t a clear explanation. Each of them must figure out if they’re the subject of an elaborate hoax or a bigger plan forged by destiny.

*This book is part one of two. Books should be read sequentially.

Review

Fate & Fortune (especially when followed up by its companion Kismet & Karma) is so fun! Reading the first part of this young-adult love story is like watching someone perform a magic trick... You know something's up, but you can't quite figure out how they pulled it all off. And you don't have to know the answers to enjoy the crazy, quirky, and entertaining ways Bryce and Paige are drawn together.

This is a fairly clean read in terms of content (minus making out), but this duology does include a fair amount of crude humor and innuendo. Also, as is probably clear from the title and description, there are references to fate, fortune telling, magic, and tarot cards. While all this is included with a rather light-hearted flair, if any such references bother you, this might not be the series for you.

But if you're looking for a high-school story filled with an endearing group of characters, their antics, and some romance, you'll find a lot to enjoy! The author has a very readable and engaging writing style, and I love the early setting of a small-town fair, as well as the odd but fun ways the romance plays out for the main characters. Fate & Fortune is a cute and entertaining YA read!

*With thanks to the author and Prism Book Tours for providing me with a complimentary e-copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*

Kismet & Karma
(Fate & Fortune #2)
Robin Daniels
YA Contemporary Romance, Duology
ebook, 270 Pages

Bryce and Paige belong together, but they’ll never make it happen alone. When inspiration strikes in multiple ways, a friend decides it can’t be a coincidence; it’s a call to action. With a little luck, the help of fate, and the matchmaking plan of the century, Bryce and Paige just might get their happy ending.

You heard Paige and Bryce’s version of the story in Fate & Fortune. Now join Eric, Amy, Cody, Kennedy, and Genie to see how things really went down.

***This book completes the series. Book one can be read as a standalone, but book two cannot. Fate & Fortune should be read first.***

Review

As noted in the description, this story's pacing and puzzle of scenes probably won't be all that enjoyable unless you've read book one. But if you liked Fate & Fortune, then Kismet & Karma is a fun companion story! I believe it's best to read one right after the other.

As with book one, this book contains crude humor, innuendo, and perhaps (in some ways) a bit stronger emphasis on fate, which I feel a little saddened by. But the star attraction of the show is the characters—the crazy group of friends who all care so much about one another despite their snarky ways of interacting and their various personalities. While book one focused on Paige and Bryce, this book invites you to get to know the rest of the group and their own trials, dreams, and schemes.

I enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at the plot of Fate & Fortune, as well as the complete conclusion you don't quite get in book one alone. There's a particular scene near the end (not quite the last) that's especially delightful in terms of setting, romance, and friendship. As part two of a clever duology, Kismet & Karma is a charmer!

*With thanks to the author and Prism Book Tours for providing me with a complimentary e-copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*

About the Author

Robin Daniels

The most important thing to know about me is that I'm basically a sixteen-year-old trapped in an adult's body. It's why I feel such a great connection to all of my characters and why I love to write romantic comedy. The kid in me just wants to be goofy. Besides being a writer, I'm a wife, mother of five, volleyball enthusiast, and home-decorating guru. My list of favorites includes: reading, Christmas, pedicures, dessert, steak, Arizona winters, and most importantly, Diet Coke.

Tour Giveaway!


1 winner will receive a $50 Amazon e-gift card
Open internationally
Ends November 21, 2018

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Monday, November 12, 2018

Let This Creative YA Novel Whisk You Away | Review of The Enchanted Sonata



About the Book (the author's website)

Clara Stahlbaum has her future perfectly planned: to marry the handsome pianist, Johann Kahler (ah!), and settle down to a life full of music. But all that changes on Christmas Eve, when Clara receives a mysterious and magical nutcracker.

Whisked away to his world—an enchanted empire of beautiful palaces, fickle fairies, enormous rats, and a prince—Clara must face a magician who uses music as spells…and the future she thought she wanted.

The Enchanted Sonata, a retelling of The Nutcracker Ballet with a dash of The Pied Piper, will captivate readers of all ages.

Available Now!

My Rating

Spring

My Review

I absolutely adored Entwined by Heather Dixon, so I was excited for another book by her with such a promising premise. And it truly is a charming story!

First of all, the way the story is told is very clever and fun, a story within a story with plenty of adventure and surprises. Second, Heather excels at imaginative descriptions, and this book is full of them—from the way Nutcracker is portrayed to the grandeur of the train and city to the delightful candies and cozy rooms in Polichinelle's. (Now there's a fictional business I'd love to visit!) Third, just like with Entwined, the characters are quite lovable, especially the two main ones.

I'm not sure if the review e-copy I read was final or not, but it did feel somewhat unpolished. I would say that the story is a little like a toy soldier marching—a bit clunky in some plot pieces, but also a bit too neat in how some of the plot is resolved. While it may feel less polished and impactful than how I remember Entwined, the way this story unfolds and then gets tied together is still sweetly satisfying.

I really enjoyed Clara's journey, how she matures and what she learns about the nature of love and dreams worth pursuing. Heather's writing is fun and engaging and very distinctive, and The Enchanted Sonata is a lovely new presentation from her. Let the music whisk you away in this creative young-adult tale that balances some intense topics with a light voice—a great choice for the holidays.

*With thanks to Smith Publicity and the author through NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*