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Sunday, November 22

Spread Some Joy with these Fantastic Christmas Reads!!

I love Christmas.  It brings out the best (and occasionally worst) in folks, and I love to see that outpouring of love.  You'll find many arts & crafts and cooking projects on our blog this time of year, but one of my favorite things is the new crop of holiday reads.  As an introvert, it's a great way to plow into the season without attending party after party... 

What a fabulous collection of new Christmas books for us this year!!!  I'm going to kick it off with children's books, because we tend to put our kids first.  Followed by fiction (always with my favorite on top), and wrapping it up with non-fiction.  There's sure to be something here for everyone on your list...and a few new classics, to boot!

Children's Books
Berenstein Bears, The Very First Christmas  (Jan & Mike Berenstein)

Join the Bear cubs as they learn all about Jesus’ holy birth. From the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary to the visit from the three wise men, join Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister, and Honey as they discover the story of the very first Christmas.

The newest Berenstain Bears book is out this year just in time for Christmas!  The story begins with the Angel coming to Mary, and ends with Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt to avoid King Herod.  In the spirit of the Berenstein Bears, this book shares values and the story of Christmas itself without being overly preachy.  The illustrations are colorful and interesting, and keep young children's attention as you go through the story.  If you're looking for a new story to add to your Christmas collection, this could be the one!
Legend of the Christmas Cookie  (Dandi Daley Mackall)
The Legend of the Christmas Cookie tells the story of a young boy named Jack who learns from his generous mother the story behind the Christmas cookie. The family who began the tradition of baking the special cookies gave them to the needy and shared the story of the very first Christmas. This sweet holiday book offers inspiration for readers to become cheerful givers themselves and encourages them to share the true tale of Jesus' birth. A delicious recipe is included on the jacket flap so readers can make their own Christmas sugar cookies.

I had never heard of this story before, but I loved it!  It is simple and beautifully illustrated.  The short version is that cookies were originally made to tell others about the real Christmas story of Jesus being born.   You'll want to read the story itself, though, to see the rest of the history.  It is set during the Great Depression, and weaves that history in as well.  The end includes recipes and ideas for your own children to continue teaching through Christmas cookies.  Overall, we feel this one is destined to be a classic.

Biff & Becka's Stupendous Vacation (Elaine Beachy)
Biff's anticipated family vacation takes an unexpected turn. How will he deal with bitter disappointment? Is his summer ruined? Will he be humiliated by his friends? In interesting twists and turns, the author takes Biff and his rabbit family through a trying time that has a surprising outcome. Engaging questions for each chapter at the end encourage lively discussion between your child or grandchild and you. The author paints a picture of a godly home to give encouragement and guidance to parents who struggle and kids who hurt. Biff and Becka's Stupendous Vacation helps your child know how to deal with disappointment. It also helps children relate to family and friends with honesty and respect.

Biff and Becka are recurring characters in a series. They are part of a family of rabbits being raised in a Christian home. I'm not sure why they are rabbits, since everything else about them is decidedly human.  Their parents speak constantly about scripture, which isn't always bad, but every.single.thing. is scripture or lesson-based.  It was a little heavy for a children's book.  That said, the content is definitely suitable for early elementary school, and there are plenty of life lessons to be learned.

Adult Fiction
Christmas Joy Ride (Melody Carlson)
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. Besides, a crazy trip with Joy would be more interesting than another Christmas home alone. Unemployed and facing foreclosure, Miranda feels she has nothing to lose by packing a bag and heading off to Route 66. But Joy has a hidden agenda for their Christmas joyride--and a hidden problem 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!

I cannot say enough good things about this book!  I will be buying extra copies for loved ones...and have been inspired myself.  This is such a fun book, with a serious underlying message, and you can't help but wish you were along for the ride!  You MUST run out an get your own copy.  Right now.

Bella's Christmas Bake-Off (Sue Watson)
Bella Bradley is the queen of television baking – a national treasure.
Her Christmas specials have been topping the ratings for years and her marriage to Peter ‘Silver Fox’ Bradley is the stuff of Hello magazine specials. But this year things are going to be different.  For Amy Lane, Bella’s best friend from school, life hasn’t held quite the same sparkle. And when Amy’s husband walks out three weeks from Christmas, it seems their lives are further apart than ever. Amy has watched Bella’s rise to fame fondly, despite the fact Bella was always a terrible cook. But when she realises that Bella’s latest Christmas book is made up entirely of Amy’s mother’s recipes, the gloves are off…  After winning a competition to appear on Bella’s TV show, Amy is going to make sure that for Bella and her viewers, this will definitely be a Christmas to remember…

This really wasn't at all what I was expecting, based on the cover and description, but it was SO MUCH BETTER!  It will make you laugh; it will make you sad; and it will make you want to call up your childhood best friend to reminisce.  This is a must-read, and I'll be looking for other books by this author!

An Endless Christmas (Cynthia Ruchti)

Christmas takes a very different turn when the guests of honor break up instead of announcing their engagement. Trapped with his family, they learn that love looks different than either 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...

This beautiful little novel is full of sweet surprises. Couldn't help but sigh at the tender steady heart of Micah, and hope things turned out better for him than they began. Felt for Katie with her feelings of inadequacy, afraid she may repeat her family's mistakes. Loved how creatively and meaningfully Micah's family celebrated Christmas. What a wonderful example his grandparent's were of a lifetime commitment to each other. Grace, love of family and living each day fully were themes that shined through. 

Amish Christmas at North Star (four novellas)

Guiding Star by Katie Ganshert : Curiosity gets the best of Englischer Chase Wellington when he investigates the twenty-five-year-old disappearance of an Amish baby. When he finds adventurous Elle McAllister in Iowa will his discoveries upend her world? 
Mourning Star
 by Amanda Flower : 
Eden Hochstetler slips from her parents’ fudge shop to investigate the death of her friend Isaac.  Who is guilty? Isaac’s handsome great nephew Jesse, an angry Englischer, or someone else?
In the Stars
 by Cindy Woodsmall : 
Heartbroken Kore Detweiler avoids North Star after Savilla Beiler rejects his love.  But when he is unexpectedly called to return home, he and Savilla must join forces to keep a family together.
Star of Grace
 by Mindy Starns Clark and Emily Clark : 
Andy Danner left North Star to join a new Amish settlement in Mississippi. His little brother devises a scheme to bring Andy home for Christmas and unwittingly unleashes the power of forgiveness in a reclusive widower’s life.

With the exception of Amanda Flower, I have read several books by each of the other authors, and love them all!  Mrs. Flowers fits in with this group well, and theses novellas are a wonderfully inspirational Christmas read.  The characters tie together well, but the stories are very different, reflecting each author's style.  In our house, it's never too early for Christmas books, and we'll be passing this one around the table to each of the women in the family.  This would make a lovely gift for a reader in your life.  It's perfectly inspirational.

All is Bright (Colleen Coble)

As manager of the Tidewater Inn, Delilah Carter has been planning a spectacular Christmas wedding for her friends at the grand hotel overlooking the ocean. While picking up still more twinkly lights and some last-minute groceries for the reception dinner, a huge truck runs her off the freezing, wet roads into the dark night. Her car stops just short of an enormous tree and the truck speeds off into the night. Delilah escapes with her life and has almost convinced herself the whole thing was an accident, but then she begins to receive threatening phone calls. With the wedding just hours away, she’s distracted and anxious. Then Sheriff Tom Bourne stops by the inn and volunteers to help.  Tom has always had a soft spot for Delilah, and he’s determined to protect her. But he is pulled away by a bizarre Christmas stunt that has the neighborhood reeling, and Delilah is attacked again.  Will Delilah have to cancel the Christmas wedding at Tidewater Inn? And will Tom’s protection be enough to save Delilah from the shadowy figure looming in the background?
I really enjoyed this book, and it was the perfect length for a gym workout! (Always a plus, in the winter.) The characters are developed and the story is well-written. There are twists throughout, and it all comes together nicely in a very short work. It's not very Christmas-y, but it's still a good mystery that takes place at Christmas. Overall, I'd look for more novellas from this author.

Twice Blessed (Barbara Cameron)
Her Sister’s Shadow : Katie and Rosie Stoltzfus work part-time in an Amish store and part-time in Two Peas in a Pod, their own business raising vegetables and fruits and canning them for sale. Although they are identical twins, their personalities are very different: while Katie has always been more outgoing and attractive to boys, Rosie has always felt in her sister’s shadow. It will take an unexpected business opportunity and one very special man to help Rosie see that she’s a unique woman of her own. 
His Brother’s Keeper : Ever since they were boys, Ben Fisher has trailed after his brother, Mark. Ben has always envied Mark because he’s always been more adventurous, but he's even more jealous now that Mark is engaged to Rachel, a woman they both love. When a terrible accident on Christmas Eve results in their mistaken identity, Ben suddenly has an opportunity to create the life he’s always wanted. While everyone believes he is his brother, who’s still in a coma, Ben finally has a chance with Rachel. But how can he realize an opportunity for real happiness if it means deceiving his kin?

This was an interesting concept...two Christmas stories about twins, and how those sets of twins' lives are interlocking. I much preferred the second story to the first, but they were both full of struggle, passion, and the strength to overcome. I would recommend this book to anyone that is a fan of Amish fiction!

The Time Garden (Daria Song)

Journey through the doors of a mysterious cuckoo clock into its inky inner-workings to discover a magical land of clock gears, rooftops, starry skies, and giant flying owls—all ready for you to customize with whatever colors you can dream up.  Cuckoo . . . cuckoo . . . cuckoo . . . When the clock strikes midnight, you’ll wonder, was it all a dream? The Time Garden features extra-thick craft paper, ideal for non bleed-through coloring, and the jacketed cover with flaps is removable and colorable. Special gold-foil stamping on the cover and spine and a To/From page make it perfect for gifting to adults and kids alike.

This would make a wonderful Christmas gift for children and adults alike!  This book is the story of a little girl and her journey through a clock integrated into an intricately designed coloring book. The words of the story are intermingled with the designs, but don't distract from them. What is really fun about this book is that you get to color the story as you go through the book, and you can make the story what you see of it by the way color the pages! The book is printed on both sides of the good quality paper, which seems to be the normal for the "story book" style of coloring book. (Soft color pencils are good, to be sure you don't have any ink bleed through the book onto the backside of the page.) The designs in this book include a number of intricate details, and I am sure I will need to keep my magnifying lamp nearby for those bits and pieces!  

Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe (Max Lucado)
Chelsea Chambers is on her own. After a public split from her NFL superstar husband, Chelsea takes a bold step out of the limelight and behind the counter of the Higher Grounds Café, an old-fashioned coffee shop in dire need of reinvention. But when her courage, expert planning, and out-of-this-world cupcakes fail to pay the bills, this newly single mom finds herself desperate for help. Better yet, a miracle.  Then a curious stranger lands at Chelsea’s door, and with him, an even more curious string of events. Soon, customers are flocking to the Higher Grounds Café, and not just for the cupcakes and cappuccino. They’ve come for the internet connection to the divine. Now the café has become the go-to place for people in search of answers to life’s biggest questions.  When a catastrophe strikes and her ex comes calling, Chelsea begins to wonder if the whole universe is conspiring against her quest to make it on her own. After a shocking discovery opens her eyes to the unseen world around her, Chelsea finds the courage to ask God a question of her own. Heaven answers in a most unexpected way.

This is my first fictional Max Lucado book, and I was not disappointed.  The underlying messages of keeping the faith alive, letting go, and having hope are just what so many of us need to be reminded of these days.  It did take me a while to get into it, and I nearly put it down before getting more than a quarter into it, but am really glad that I pushed further because it picked up and got much better!

Adult Non-Fiction  
It wouldn't be a holiday without someone getting into politics over the table...with an election year on the horizon, this year is likely to be no exception!
End of Discussion (Mary Ham & Guy Benson)
The political correctness born on college campuses has mutated into a new hypersensitivity. It’s weaponized in Washington, D.C. by a network of well-trained operatives, media, and politicians, and proliferated throughout the country. The new Puritans of the Left are quick to ban comedians and commencement speakers alike for the sin of disagreeing with them. They demand “safe spaces” while making dissent increasingly dangerous for Americans.  Ham and Benson demonstrate just how dangerous the outrage industry—a coalition of mostly liberal blowhards and busybodies—is to America. The media frenzy they create is designed to disqualify opposing viewpoints on everything from health care to education by labeling them racist, sexist, and evil. They punish speech that makes them uncomfortable, demanding boycotts, censures, and people’s jobs. They seek to win political and cultural debates by preventing them from happening.  And if you think this behavior is relegated to political fights or politicians, think again. The same activists are ready to foment outrage over your association with the “wrong” fried chicken joints, Internet browsers, breast cancer charities, pasta, children’s toys, Halloween costumes, TV shows, schools, and even comedians’ jokes.  With Ham and Benson’s help, readers can cut through the noise and find their voices again, fighting back against the rampant self-censorship and hair-trigger apologies that always make things worse, not better. With fresh reporting and insightful, occasionally tongue-in-cheek analysis, End of Discussion is a timely handbook for anyone who wants to make sure debate doesn’t meet an ugly death during the 2016 election. Despite President Obama’s frequent declarations to the contrary, the time for debate is not over.
The book is well written, and I liked the tone of the two authors - they're both funny and conversational.  I like their idea of a "coalition to chill the hell out."  That said, the book is targeted toward an audience that doesn't want two sides - they want validation for their side.  The examples they use ARE accurate, but there's no attempt at balance. A liberal audience will remain convinced that conservatives are crazy, and a conservative audience will remain convinced that liberals are evil bullies.  But the fact that the co-author Guy Benson is a gay conservative would be pretty good for discussion.  As I mentioned, these are right-leaning authors. If you want a left-leaning perspective, see Kirsten Powers' "The Silencing."
As the father of five boys (all under age 10), graphic designer Nathan Ripperger has found himself saying some rather funny, absurd, and downright bizarre things to his children, from "Stop riding that penguin, we're leaving" to "I am NOT talking to you until you are wearing underwear." He created poster-like images for each and posted them online. The response from other parents was overwhelming. With Things I've Said to My Children, Ripperger has assembled around 80 of the funniest, weirdest, and most amusing sayings and paired them with full-color, designed images that bring these outrageously hysterical quotes to life. Covering the essential parenting topics like food, animals, don'ts, and of course, bodily functions, Things I've Said to My Children is a light-hearted illustrated reminder of the shared absurdity of parenthood. Especially for those parents who've ever found themselves uttering some variation of the line, "Please don't eat the goldfish crackers you've put in your butt."
I think this will be our new coffee table know, the one that people flip through while waiting for a moment, and it sparks fascinating conversation!  (Does anyone else still do that?  Or is it just because we keep a smart-phone-free zone?)  The book is quick and lighthearted, and I found myself laughing out loud multiple times!  One or two puzzled me, but many of them have surfaced in this home before.  The author is a graphic designer, and has cute illustrations to accompany his wierd phrases.  Overall, it's cute, it's simple, and I liked it.  This would be a great gift for the new mom!
I received all of these books in exchange for an honest review.  I was not required to write a positive you can probably tell.