Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Best of 2011

Whew . . . this has been a difficult list to make. I've read quite a few books during the year and it's nearly impossible to identify my absolute favorites. However, I was determined to do it . . . and I have. I feel a bit bad because there were some really great books that I didn't include, but these are my favorites. And because I couldn't quite narrow it down to 10, you get a few bonus selections! (Click on the title to see my full review.)

What were your favorite books this year?

by Nancy Moser
 "I enjoyed every minute of reading this book! Several twists were thrown in that kept me guessing as to how things would be resolved in the end."
by Kim Vogel Sawyer
"I completely devoured Courting Miss Amsel . . . I was immediately drawn into the story . . . I am a true fan of Kim Vogel Sawyer!"
by Kathryn Stockett
 What an incredible novel! A "new classic" and one I think will be extremely important for generations to come.

by Catherine Richmond
"Richmond's writing style is fantastic. I was gripped from the very beginning and stayed completely engrossed to the very end. Jesse and Susannah . . . felt like friends by the end of the novel!"

by Laura Frantz
 "The Colonel's Lady may be the best book I've read all year. No lie. It's fantastic! The way she describes the people and places in this story made me feel as though I were actually there in Kentucke in 1779. I think I would recognize these characters if I met them on the street!"

by Tricia Goyer
 "This series is different than any other "Amish fiction" I've read. The focus is more on each characters' relationship with God than on the Amish way of life. Through writing the Sommer family's story, Goyer really reveals that being Amish is merely a way of life, and a relationship with Christ is still of utmost importance."

by Tamera Alexander
"Claire and Sutton were phenomenal characters. Once I got to know Claire a bit, I really connected with her. I wasn't ready to put it down when I reached the last page."

by Tricia Goyer
"I'm not sure that words can adequately express my thoughts on this book! This is an amazing story of love, loss, regret, family, friends, faith, and forgiveness. The book made me think about things in a whole new way."

by Elizabeth Camden
 "Simply put: I loved it. I was impressed with the way Camden wove together seemingly different story lines into one beautiful novel."

by Susan May Warren
"You have to read this book!!! The best part? There are three more books in the Deep Haven series! I can promise you that I will be reading ALL of them!"

Against All Odds
by Irene Hannon
This book was my introduction to Irene Hannon. I loved it so much that I promptly went out and found the rest of the series. My total Irene Hannon tally for the year is five incredible romantic suspense novels. Read them all! Perfect blend of suspense, romance, and beautiful writing!

by Dorothy Love
 "A beautifully written story. The characters are lovable and I truly felt their emotions through the different circumstances they faced. I repeatedly found myself reading 'just a few more pages,' only to realize that I was still reading WAY past my 'bedtime!'"

And . . . DRUMROLL please . . .
the TOP TWO books of 2011
are


The First Gardener
by Denise Hildreth Jones
"Absolutely fantastic! I literally did not put the book down for the two days it took me to read it. This is one of the most powerful and moving stories I have ever read. Denise has an incredible ability to make readers feel every emotion of every character. (Grab a box of tissue!) The ups and downs are dramatic . . . but she writes with hope and passion. This one has a permanent place on my bookshelf."

by Bo Caldwell
"Bo Caldwell's City of Tranquil Light is a riveting story of Will and Katherine, missionaries to China. I caught myself several times thinking of the characters as real people. Additionally, Caldwell's vivid description made me feel as though I had actually been to China simply by reading the book." I finished this book in January and it is still the book I remember most vividly from the entire year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Where Are You Reading? 2012 Challenge

Hosted by Book Journey
My goal? To read a book set in each of the 50 United States
I'm not sure if I'll be able to pull this one off or not, but it's definitely worth a try!


Alabama: The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck
Alaska:
Arizona: Dawn Comes Early by Margaret Brownley
Arkansas:
California: Backstage Pass series by Janice Thompson, A Bride Opens Shop by Keli Gwyn
Colorado: The Texan's Promise by Shelley Gray, Wish You Were Here by Beth Vogt; Proof by Jordyn Redwood, Accidentally Amish by Olivia Newport
Connecticut:
Delaware:
Florida: The Discovery by Dan Walsh, Not This Time by Vicki Hinze; Starring Me by Krista McGee
Georgia: Always the Wedding Planner, Never the Bride by Sandra D. Bricker, The Last Plea Bargain by Randy Singer; Always the Designer, Never the Bride by Sandra D. Bricker, The Reunion by Dan Walsh
Hawaii:
Idaho: Heart of Gold and Belonging by Robin Lee Hatcher, Mother of Pearl by Kellie Coates Gilbert
Illinois: The Pursuit of Lucy Banning by Olivia Newport, Full Disclosure by Dee Henderson
Indiana: Ellie's Haven by Sharlene MacLaren, Loving by Karen Kingsbury, Beyond Hope's Valley by Tricia Goyer; Coming Home by Karen Kingsbury
Iowa: Far From Here by Nicole Baart, The Ride of Her Life by Lorna Seilstad
Kansas: Song of My Heart by Kim Vogel Sawyer; A Texan's Honor by Shelley Gray
Kentucky: Words Spoken True by Ann H. Gabhart
Louisiana: Relentless Pursuit by Kathy Herman
Maine:
Maryland:
Massachusetts: A Love Surrendered by Julie Lessman, Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden
Michigan: Love Finds You in Mackinac Island by Melanie Dobson, Unending Devotion by Jody Hedlund, A Promise to Love by Serena B Miller
Minnesota: The Shadow of Your Smile by Susan May Warren, You Don't Know Me by Susan May Warren
Mississippi:
Missouri: After All by Deborah Raney; Lethal Legacy by Irene Hannon
Montana: The Accidental Bride by Denise Hunter, The Anniversary Waltz by Darrel Nelson; Firestorm by Lisa Tawn Bergren, The Trouble with Cowboys by Denise Hunter
Nebraska: The Key on the Quilt by Stephanie Grace Whitson
Nevada:
New Hampshire:
New Jersey:
New Mexico:
New York: Echoes of Titanic by Mindy Starns Clark & John Campbell Clark, Baroness by Susan May Warren, Bees in the Butterfly Garden by Maureen Lang
North Carolina: Hope Springs by Kim Cash Tate; Tidwater Inn by Colleen Coble
North Dakota: Through Rushing Water by Catherine Richmond (Dakota Territory)
Ohio: Sweeter than Birdsong by Rosslyn Elliott; The Scent of Rain by Kristin Billerbeck
Oklahoma:
Oregon: Heart Echoes by Sally John, Mary's Blessing by Lena Nelson Dooley, Eyes of Justice by Lis Wiehl, Cottage by the Sea by Robin Jones Gunn; Dying to Read by Lorena McCourtney
Pennsylvania: My Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade, Reckless Heart by Amy Clipston; Love's Reckoning by Laura Frantz
Rhode Island:
South Carolina: Beyond Molasses Creek by Nicole A. Seitz, When a Heart Stops by Lynette Eason
South Dakota:
Tennessee: First Date by Krista McGee; Beauty for Ashes by Dorothy Love, The Beginning by Karen Kingsbury, The Bridge by Karen Kingsbury
Texas: Winter Promise by Martha Rogers, Saving Hope by Margaret Daley, Blue Moon Promise by Colleen Coble, Lonestar Angel by Colleen Coble, Need You Now by Beth Wiseman, Trauma Plan by Candace Calvert, The Chase by DiAnn Mills; Thunder and Rain by Charles Martin, Courting Trouble by Deeanne Gist, Deep in the Heart of Trouble by Deeanne Gist, Shattered Silence by Margaret Daley, Her Surprise Sister by Marta Perry
Utah:
Vermont: 
Virginia: A Heartbeat Away by Harry Kraus
Washington: The Stars Shine Bright by Sibella Giorello, Where the Trail Ends by Melanie Dobson
West Virginia:
Wisconsin: Threads of Hope by Andrea Boeshaar
Wyoming: Christmas Roses by Amanda Cabot
Washington, DC: Cherry Blossom Capers, Wedded to War
England: The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund, Promise Me This by Cathy Gohlke, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie Klassen, Queen of the Waves by Janice Thompson
Atlantic Ocean: Heart's Safe Passage by Laurie Alice Eakes, By the Light of the Silvery Moon by Tricia Goyer
Argentina: Perfectly Ridiculous by Kristin Billerbeck
Algeria / Italy: With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin 
Scotland: Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs


Note: My participation in the challenge listed here should not be considered as an endorsement for the blogger(s) hosting these challenges or the content on their blog(s).

Updated 1/5/2013

Just for Fun Reading Challenge 2012


Hosted by Escape with Dollycas into a Good Book
My goal? Read one book each month just for fun!
I'm looking forward to this one! I have tons of books on my bookshelves and my TBR list and it will be nice to make time for some of these.

January: The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund
February: Hello, Hollywood! by Janice Thompson (caught up in June)
March: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
April: Deep in the Heart of Trouble by Deeanne Gist (caught up in September)
May: The Chase by Diann Mills
June: Stars Collide by Janice Thompson
July: The Beginning by Karen Kingsbury (caught up in September)
August: Perfectly Dateless by Kristin Billerbeck
September: Courting Trouble by Deeanne Gist
October: Selections from One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (caught up in November)
November: Gentleman of Her Dreams by Jen Turano
December: The Snow Angel by Glenn Beck (and quite a few others!)


If you want to see what everyone else is reading just for fun, check out the group in Goodreads

Note: My participation in the challenge listed here should not be considered as an endorsement for the blogger(s) hosting these challenges or the content on their blog(s).

Updated 1/5/2013

2nds Challenge 2012


Hosted by A Few More Pages
My goal? A full plate (12 books) of either the 2nd book in a series or the 2nd book I've read by a particular author.
* Update: After meeting my goal, I'm upping my goal to "all you can eat" - 20 books. *
Like I said, I've discovered SO many new authors in the past two years and I'm looking forward to the chance to go back and read them again!

  1. The Accidental Bride by Denise Hunter (2nd in series)
  2. Winter Promise by Martha Rogers (2nd by author)
  3. Sweeter than Birdsong (2nd in series & 2nd by author)
  4. Belonging by Robin Lee Hatcher (2nd by author)
  5. Far From Here by Nicole Baart (2nd by author)
  6. Beauty for Ashes by Dorothy Love (2nd in series & 2nd by author)
  7. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (2nd in series & 2nd by author) 
  8. The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck (2nd by author)
  9. Mary's Blessing by Lena Nelson Dooley (2nd in series & 2nd by author)
  10. After All by Deborah Raney (2nd in series & 2nd by author)
  11. The Chase by Diann Mills (2nd by author)
  12. Reckless Heart by Amy Clipston (2nd by author) * Challenge Complete - 5/31/2012 * 
  13. Love Lifted Me by Sara Evans (2nd by author & 2nd in series)
  14. Hope Springs by Kim Cash Tate (2nd by author)
  15. The Director's Cut by Janice Thompson (2nd by author & 2nd in series) 
  16. The Stars Shine Bright by Sibella Giorello (2nd by author & 2nd in series)
  17. Through Rushing Water by Catherine Richmond (2nd by author)
  18. Bees in the Butterfly Garden by Maureen Lang (2nd by author)
  19. Love Finds You in Mackinac Island by Melanie Dobson (2nd by author)
  20. Starring Me by Krista McGee (2nd by author & 2nd in series) * Completed 2nd goal - 8/10/2012 *
  21. A Texan's Honor by Shelley Gray (2nd by author & 2nd in series)
  22. Perfectly Dateless by Kristin Billerbeck (2nd in series)
  23. Always the Designer, Never the Bride by Sandra D. Bricker (2nd by author & 2nd in series)
  24. With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin (2nd by author) 
  25. The Reunion by Dan Walsh (2nd by author)
  26. The Key on the Quilt by Stephanie Grace Whitson (2nd by author)
  27. Shattered Silence by Margaret Daley (2nd by author & 2nd in series)
  28. Deep in the Heart of Trouble by Deeanne Gist (2nd in series)
  29. Unending Devotion by Jody Hedlund (2nd by author)
  30. Where the Trail Ends by Melanie Dobson (2nd in series)
  31. Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden (2nd by author)
  32. Accidentally Amish by Olivia Newport (2nd by author)
  33. A Flight of Fancy by Laurie Alice Eakes (2nd by author)
  34. A Change of Fortune by Jen Turano (2nd by author)

Here is the first quarter link-up for reviews.

Note: My participation in the challenge listed here should not be considered as an endorsement for the blogger(s) hosting these challenges or the content on their blog(s).

Updated 1/5/2013

New Authors Reading Challenge 2012


Hosted by Literary Escapism
My goal? Read books by 25 new-to-me authors.
* Update: I'm increasing my goal to 50 new authors. *
I've loved discovering so many new authors over the past two years, so I'm hoping to keep it up this year!
  1. Sandra D. Bricker (Always the Wedding Planner, Never the Bride)
  2. Krista McGee (First Date)
  3. Cara C. Putnam
  4. Gina Conroy
  5. Frances Devine
  6. Lynette Sowell
  7. Jody Hedlund (The Preacher's Bride)
  8. Andrea Boeshaar (Threads of Hope)
  9. Sharlene MacLaren (Ellie's Haven)
  10. Nicole A. Seitz (Beyond Molasses Creek)
  11. David Bordon (Everything Romance)
  12. Tim Winters (Everything Romance)
  13. Robin Lee Hatcher (Heart of Gold)
  14. Ann H. Gabhart (Words Spoken True)
  15. Shelley Gray (The Texan's Promise)
  16. Margaret Daley (Saving Hope)
  17. Cathy Gohlke (Promise Me This)
  18. Laurie Alice Eakes (Heart's Safe Passage)
  19. Margaret Brownley (Dawn Comes Early)
  20. Julie Klassen (The Maid of Fairbourne Hall)
  21. Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games)
  22. Dan Walsh (The Discovery)
  23. Beth Wiseman (Need You Now) 
  24. Olivia Newport (The Pursuit of Lucy Banning)
  25. Beth Vogt (Wish You Were Here) * Challenge Complete - 5/3/2012 *
  26. Becky Wade (My Stubborn Heart)
  27. Vicki Hinze (Not This Time)
  28.  Kathleen Morgan (A Love Forbidden)
  29. Lorna Seilstad (The Ride of Her Life)
  30. Darrel Nelson (The Anniversary Waltz) 
  31. Mary Connealy (Montana Rose)
  32. Stars Collide (Janice Thompson) 
  33. Keli Gwyn (A Bride Opens Shop)
  34. Jocelyn Green (Wedded to War) 
  35. Renee Metzler (Total Home Makeover)
  36. Lorena McCourtney (Dying to Read)
  37. Jordyn Redwood (Proof) 
  38. Kellie Coates Gilbert (Mother of Pearl)
  39. Harry Kraus (A Heartbeat Away)
  40. Lynn Austin (All Things New)
  41. Maggie Brendan (Twice Promised)
  42. Lynette Eason (When a Heart Stops)
  43. Julie Lessman (A Love Surrendered)
  44. Marta Perry (Her Surprise Sister)
  45. Lisa Jordan (Lakeside Family)
  46. Serena B. Miller (A Promise to Love)
  47. Carolyn Zane (Beyond the Storm)
  48. Michael King (A Thousand Sleepless Nights)
  49. Jimmy Wayne (Paper Angels)
  50. Jen Turano (Gentleman of Her Dreams)
  51. Sharon Dunn (Zero Visibility)
  52. Amanda Cabot (Christmas Roses)
  53. Ann Voskamp (Selections from One Thousand Gifts)
  54. Elizabeth Ludwig (No Safe Harbor)
  55. Glenn Beck (Snow Angel)
  56. Cheryl Wyatt (Doctor to the Rescue)
  57. Brenda Minton (The Rancher's Secret Wife)
  58. Hannah Alexander (The Wedding Kiss)
  59. Jillian Hart (Montana Dreams)

January mini-challenge: read 1-5 books by a new-to-you author.

Note: My participation in the challenge listed here should not be considered as an endorsement for the blogger(s) hosting these challenges or the content on their blog(s).

Updated 1/5/2013

2012 Ebook Challenge


Hosted by Workaday Reads
My goal? DVD Level . . . 25 e-books
Hubs gave me a Nook last year (because he loves me!) and I've read a fair number of e-books but it would be great to read more!
  1.  Always the Wedding Planner, Never the Bride by Sandra D. Bricker
  2. The Shadow of Your Smile by Susan May Warren
  3. Cherry Blossom Capers
  4. Ellie's Haven by Sharlene MacLaren
  5. The Texan's Promise by Shelley Gray
  6. Belonging by Robin Lee Hatcher
  7. Saving Hope by Margaret Daley 
  8. Lonestar Angel by Colleen Coble 
  9. The Last Plea Bargain by Randy Singer 
  10. The Chase by DiAnn Mills 
  11. Montana Rose by Mary Connealy
  12. Love Lifted Me by Sara Evans (w/ Rachel Hauck)
  13. Stars Collide by Janice Thompson
  14. Hope Springs by Kim Cash Tate 
  15. Starring Me by Krista McGee
  16. A Texan's Honor by Shelley Gray
  17. Always the Designer, Never the Bride by Sandra D. Bricker 
  18. The Key on the Quilt by Stephanie Grace Whitson
  19. Shattered Silence by Margaret Daley
  20. The Beginning by Karen Kingsbury
  21. Relentless Pursuit by Kathy Herman
  22. Her Surprise Sister by Marta Perry
  23. Lakeside Family by Lisa Jordan
  24. Gentleman of Her Dreams by Jen Turano
  25. Zero Visibility by Sharon Dunn
  26. The Rancher's Secret Wife by Brenda Minton
  27. Montana Dreams by Jillian Heart

Here is the first quarter linkup for this challenge.

Note: My participation in the challenge listed here should not be considered as an endorsement for the blogger(s) hosting these challenges or the content on their blog(s). 

Updated 1/5/2013

100+ Books In a Year Reading Challenge 2012

Hosted by Book Chick City
My goal? Read at least 100 books

I set a goal of reading 100 books this year and made it. Let's see if I can do it again in 2012!

  1. The Accidental Bride by Denise Hunter
  2. Always the Wedding Planner, Never the Bride by Sandra D. Bricker
  3. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
  4. The Shadow of Your Smile by Susan May Warren
  5. First Date by Krista McGee
  6. Cherry Blossom Capers by Cara C. Putnam, Gina Conroy, Frances Devine, Lynette Sowell
  7. The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund
  8. Winter Promise by Martha Rogers
  9. Threads of Hope by Andrea Boeshaar
  10. Ellie’s Haven by Sharlene MacLaren
  11. Sweeter than Birdsong by Rosslyn Elliott
  12. Beyond Molasses Creek by Nicole A. Seitz
  13. One Perfect Word by Debbie Macomber
  14. Everything Romance: A Celebration of Love for Couples by David Bordon & Tim Winters
  15. Heart of Gold by Robin Lee Hatcher
  16. Words Spoken True by Ann H. Gabhart
  17. The Texan's Promise by Shelley Gray
  18. Belonging by Robin Lee Hatcher
  19. Saving Hope by Margaret Daley
  20. Promise Me This by Cathy Gohlke
  21. Blue Moon Promise by Colleen Coble
  22. Far From Here by Nicole Baart
  23. Heart's Safe Passage by Laurie Alice Eakes
  24. Dawn Comes Early by Margaret Brownley
  25. Heart Echoes by Sally John
  26. Beauty for Ashes by Dorothy Love
  27. The Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie Klassen
  28. Song of My Heart by Kim Vogel Sawyer 
  29. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  30. Lonestar Angel by Colleen Coble
  31. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  32. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  33. By the Light of the Silvery Moon by Tricia Goyer
  34. The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck
  35. Loving by Karen Kingsbury
  36. The Discovery by Dan Walsh
  37. Echoes of Titanic by Mindy Starns Clark & John Campbell Clark
  38. The Last Plea Bargain by Randy Singer
  39. Need You Now by Beth Wiseman
  40. Baroness by Susan May Warren
  41. The Pursuit of Lucy Banning by Olivia Newport
  42. Wish You Were Here by Beth Vogt
  43. Beyond Hope's Valley by Tricia Goyer
  44. My Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade
  45. Not This Time by Vicki Hinze
  46. A Love Forbidden by Kathleen Morgan
  47. Trauma Plan by Candace Calvert
  48. The Ride of Her Life by Lorna Seilstad
  49. Mary's Blessing by Lena Nelson Dooley
  50. Eyes of Justice by Lis Wiehl
  51. After All by Deborah Raney 
  52. The Anniversary Waltz by Darrel Nelson
  53. The Chase by DiAnn Mills
  54. Reckless Heart by Amy Clipston 
  55. Glamorous Illusions by Lisa Tawn Bergren
  56. Montana Rose by Mary Connealy
  57. Love Lifted Me by Sara Evans w/ Rachel Hauck
  58. Stars Collide by Janice Thompson
  59. Hope Springs by Kim Cash Tate
  60. Spring Hope by Martha Rogers
  61. The Director's Cut by Janice Thompson
  62. Hello, Hollywood! by Janice Thompson
  63. Heart of Stone by Jill Marie Landis
  64. Cottage by the Sea by Robin Jones Gunn
  65. The Stars Shine Bright by Sibella Giorello
  66. The Schoolhouse by Jill Watson Glassco
  67. Through Rushing Water by Catherine Richmond
  68. A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California by Keli Gwyn
  69. Wedded to War by Jocelyn Green
  70. Perfectly Ridiculous by Kristin Billerbeck
  71. Bees in the Butterfly Garden by Maureen Lang
  72. Love Finds You in Mackinac Island by Melanie Dobson
  73. Lethal Legacy by Irene Hannon
  74. Tidewater Inn by Colleen Coble
  75. The Scent of Rain by Kristin Billerbeck
  76. Starring Me by Krista McGee
  77. Coming Home by Karen Kingsbury
  78. Perfectly Dateless by Kristin Billerbeck
  79. A Texan's Honor by Shelley Gray
  80. Always the Designer, Never the Bride by Sandra D. Bricker
  81. Firestorm by Lisa Tawn Bergren
  82. With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin
  83. Total Home Makeover by Renee Metzler
  84. Thunder and Rain by Charles Martin
  85. Dying to Read by Lorena McCourtney
  86. Proof by Jordyn Redwood
  87. Love's Reckoning by Laura Frantz
  88. Courting Trouble by Deeanne Gist
  89. The Reunion by Dan Walsh
  90. You Don't Know Me by Susan May Warren
  91. Mother of Pearl by Kellie Coates Gilbert
  92. The Key on the Quilt by Stephanie Grace Whitson
  93. A Heartbeat Away by Harry Kraus
  94. Shattered Silence by Margaret Daley
  95. Deep in the Heart of Trouble by Deeanne Gist
  96. The Trouble with Cowboys by Denise Hunter
  97. Unending Devotion by Jody Hedlund
  98. The Beginning by Karen Kingsbury
  99. All Things New by Lynn Austin
  100. Twice Promised by Maggie Brendan
  101. Relentless Pursuit by Kathy Herman
  102. Full Disclosure by Dee Henderson
  103. When a Heart Stops by Lynette Eason
  104. A Love Surrendered by Julie Lessman
  105. Queen of the Waves by Janice Thompson
  106. Where the Trail Ends by Melanie Dobson
  107. Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden
  108. The Bridge by Karen Kingsbury
  109. Her Surprise Sister by Marta Perry
  110. Lakeside Family by Lisa Jordan
  111. Accidentally Amish by Olivia Newport
  112. A Promise to Love by Serena B. Miller
  113. Beyond the Storm by Carolyn Zane
  114. A Thousand Sleepless Nights by Michael King
  115. A Flight of Fancy by Laurie Alice Eakes
  116. The Breath of Dawn by Kristen Heitzmann
  117. Paper Angels by Jimmy Wayne w/ Travis Thrasher
  118. Gentleman of Her Dreams by Jen Turano
  119. A Change of Fortune by Jen Turano
  120. Zero Visibility by Sharon Dunn
  121. Christmas Roses by Amanda Cabot
  122. Selections from One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
  123. No Safe Harbor by Elizabeth Ludwig
  124. Every Perfect Gift by Dorothy Love
  125. The Snow Angel by Glenn Beck
  126. Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs
  127. The 11th Hour by James Patterson
  128. Doctor to the Rescue by Cheryl Wyatt
  129. Sleep No More by Iris Johansen
  130. The Rancher's Secret Wife by Brenda Minton
  131. The Wedding Kiss by Hannah Alexander
  132. Montana Dreams by Jillian Heart

Here is the January linkup for this challenge.

Note: My participation in the challenge listed here should not be considered as an endorsement for the blogger(s) hosting these challenges or the content on their blog(s).

Updated 1/5/2013

Challenge Accepted for 2012

Wow . . . the last two weeks have really kicked my tail. I had tons of things in mind for the blog . . . some more snappy reviews, a top 10 of 2011 list, a last update on the Christmas challenges, a look ahead to 2012. As you can tell . . . none of those things ever happened. I may get around to some of that . . . but no promises!

Moving on, though. I had a great time with the two Christmas reading challenges I participated in this year, so I'm going to tackle some reading challenges for 2012. I'm participating in SIX challenges. Yep, I'm an overachiever. :) These challenges will be detailed in six subsequent posts . . . so hold onto your hats!

You can check back HERE for a comprehensive list of all reading challenges and links to posts tracking my progress. 

How about you? Are you participating in any reading challenges for 2012?

Note: My participation in these challenges should not be considered as an endorsement for the bloggers hosting these challenges or the content on their blogs.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

12 Pearls for Christmas: Jesus--The Reason for the Season

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Merry Christmas from all of us at Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoyed these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you missed a few posts, I hope you'll be able go back through and read them on this blog over the next few days. If you'd like to keep up with Pearl Girls and our new book project, Mother of Pearl, coming this spring, just click this link and sign up for our newsletter (lower left sidebar).

Also, just a reminder that today is the last day for the pearl necklace and earrings giveaway! Enter now by filling out this {form}. The winner will be announced on 1/1 at the Pearl Girls blog.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.



Jesus -- The Reason For the Season
By: Rachel Hauck

Through the narrow scope of 2000 years, Mary, the mother of Jesus, appears to be one lucky woman. Chosen by God to give birth to His son, the Savior of the world? All right, Mary, way to go.

“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you,” Gabriel said.

How many of us would like a declaration like that? Highly favored. The Lord is with you. But Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

The angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Mary’s seems confident and resolved when she responds, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

She’d just been told the Holy Spirit will come upon her, that God’s power will overshadow her, that she’d become with child even though she wasn’t married, and she said, “I’m the Lord’s servant. Let your words be true.”

I find this amazing! A young woman. Ancient Bethlehem. Unwed mother. They stoned women for such things in her day. But Mary believed in God. And submitted to His will. He gave her the Holy Spirit – the same Holy Spirit given to us. If He gave her confidence, He will give us confidence. Even though, like Mary, our situation seems impossible.

Listen to Mary’s song later on in the first chapter of Luke.

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me Holy is his name…”

Conceiving a child out of wedlock, by Divine intervention. Not a girl’s every day existence. Yet she had a Yes in her heart to God. She rejoiced. She boldly said, “Generations will remember me!”

How we struggle to trust God with our children. Our finances. Our emotional well-being. We worry. We fret. And wonder why we have no peace.

Christmas is the season where words like joy, peace and love are bantered around like Christmas candy. Let’s not take them as just words, but as truth. Let’s be like Mary and embrace God’s favor on our lives. Boldly declare "He’s done great things for me!”

Out of the grit of our own souls, we can reach His heart, and feel Him reaching for ours. No matter the pain of our past, present or future, God is there for us. He is able. Best of all, He is willing. “My soul glorifies the Lord this Christmas!”



Rachel Hauck is an award winning, best selling author who believes God has done great things for her. She lives in Central Florida with her husband and ornery pets. Her next release is Love Lifted Me with multi-platinum country artist Sara Evans, January 2012. Then in April, look for The Wedding Dress. www.rachelhauck.com.

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas! I pray you have a blessed day celebrating the birth of our Savior! I hope you'll be encouraged as you read the story below from Luke and Matthew.

The Birth of Jesus Foretold [Luke 1:26-38, ESV]
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Mary's Song of Praise [Luke 1:46-56, ESV]
And Mary said,
   “My soul magnifies the Lord,
  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
   For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
   and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
   to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
  And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

The Birth of Jesus [Matthew 1:18-25, ESV]
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
   and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

The Shepherds and the Angels [Luke 2:8-21, ESV]
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

  “Glory to God in the highest,
   and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The Visit of the Wisemen [Matthew 2:1-12, ESV]
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

  “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
   who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

If you are looking for a resource for your family worship today, I highly recommend the Christmas CDs from The Church at Brook Hills. Pastor David Platt will guide your family through an intentional time together in the Word and musical worship as you celebrate!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

12 Pearls of Christmas: The Panhandler's Breath

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will be announced on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.




The Panhandler's Breath
By Robin Dance

He slipped in sideways between the closing elevator doors, as if he were late to a meeting; he pressed the "5" without looking. Instead of suit and tie, though, baggy pants and faded navy hung on his tall, slim frame...and his stealth entry stiffened the hairs on the back of my neck.

I had noticed him a few seconds earlier, just after we had parted a sea of clamorous teens. He was smiling, grandfatherly, standing maybe 30 feet away where the electric shuttle picks up.

I had no idea he had been watching us, studying us, predator patiently awaiting his next prey.

The four of us were sealed in a four- by six-foot metal tomb. Tomb--that thought really scampered across my mind. I wondered if he had a knife in his pocket. I wanted to protect my son. Fight or flight pumped adrenaline but there was no where to run.

Extreme and ridiculous, these thoughts - and more - flashed through my mind. The Stranger began speaking.

"Yessir, I see you're a family man with your wife and your son here..." and he nodded in my and my son’s direction.

"...you see I'm homeless and all I've got..." and on queue, he reached into his left pocket and pulled out two old pennies blackened with age. Two cents to his name?! It was all too contrived, too practiced, and I didn't believe a word he was saying.

It was then I smelled it ~ the small space lent itself to that ~ and I doubted my doubt.

His breath.

It wasn't the scent of alcohol. His eyes weren't red, his voice didn't waver; his wizened face matched his graying hair.

His breath was morning's, zoo breath, the pet name I'd given to the scent inhaled when kissing my children awake when they were little.

He needed to brush his teeth. I wondered how long it had been since he brushed his teeth.

The elevator door opened and I handed him my leftover pizza as my son and I brushed past him. My husband handed him a bill and the Stranger thanked and God blessed him.

The elevator door closed behind us. Conflicted, I was relieved.

We got in the car and blurted first reaction--

"I didn't believe a word he said."

"That made me nervous."

"I wonder if he'll really eat the pizza."

In the quiet, we were left to our own thoughts, contemplating the right thing to do. At the end of the day, this is what I decided: It doesn't matter whether or not his story is true; for an old man to resort to begging, he has to be desperate. The money my husband gave him will never be missed. It was a reminder we've been entrusted with much and given much. Materially, yes, but more so spiritually. Loved, chosen, forgiven, redeemed, graced, lavished--every spiritual blessing. E v e r y.

There's a part of me that wishes I would have been brave enough to ask the man his story, made sure he knew he was loved...and bought him a tooth brush.

Later, it occurred to me he could have been an angel. Doesn’t that mean generosity, kindness and hospitality is always the right response? Then it's not about you or the stranger or the circumstance, it's about a simple, God-glorifying response.

Had we entertained an angel unaware? We'll never know.

But it wouldn't be the first time the Breath of Heaven smelled like a zoo.



In a decades-old, scandalous affair with her husband, Robin also confesses mad crushes on her three teens. As Southern as sugar-shocked tea, she’s a recovering people pleaser who advocates talking to strangers. A memoirist, Compassion International Blogger, and Maker-upper of words, Robin writes for her own site, PENSIEVE, and also for (in)courage by DaySpring (a subsidiary of Hallmark) and Simple Mom. She loves to get to know readers through their blog comments and on Twitter and Pinterest. www.pensieve.me

Friday, December 23, 2011

Snappy Reviews: More Christmas Stories!

As promised earlier, here are a few more Snappy Reviews to catch you up on the Christmas reading I've been doing. Whether you're participating in one of the Christmas challenges this month or just looking to get in the Christmas spirit, I think you'll enjoy these books! And if books aren't your thing (but really . . . why would you be here if they weren't?), I've included a bit about some of the movies that I've been watching this month at the end of this post.



The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

When the Herdmans storm Sunday school and take over the annual Christmas pageant, everyone braces for the worst. But no one is prepared for what really happens when the rottenest kids in the world take over the greatest story ever told. It's a pageant full of surprises for everyone–including the Herdmans themselves.

[Contemporary Fiction, Children's, Christmas / 82 pages / Published 1972 / Harper Trophy] 

My Thoughts
I remember this book from elementary school. Hubs had never read it (or didn't remember reading it, at least!), so we read it out loud together on a recent road trip. It's just as cute as I remembered! Plus, I found myself laughing out loud several times throughout. If you haven't read this (and especially if your children haven't), you won't want to miss the opportunity to read this together as a family! [4 stars]



The Gift 
by Richard Paul Evans

Nathan Hurst hated Christmas. For the rest of the world it was a day of joy and celebration; for Nathan it was simply a reminder of the event that destroyed his childhood until a snowstorm, a cancelled flight and an unexpected meeting with a young mother and her very special son would show him that Christmas is indeed the season of miracles.

Nathan Hurst meets Addison Park when they’re snowed in at the Denver airport. As Nathan is falling in love with this woman, he discovers her son’s gift of healing. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one. As Addison tries to protect her son, Nathan is drawn into the melee that unfolds. But there are things Addison doesn’t know about Nathan’s past….and her own son’s future.

[Contemporary Fiction, Christmas / 352 pages / Published Oct 2007 / Simon & Schuster]

My Thoughts
I read The Looking Glass by Richard Paul Evans several years ago and have read more of his books since then. Evans allows the main character in his stories to tell you the story. I don't generally like first-person narratives, but somehow Evans writes in such a way that it feels like you're talking to an old friend rather than stalking someone's thoughts. He writes deeply moving stories and The Gift was no exception! More than a romance or simple Christmas tale, Richard Paul Evans writes stories that have deeper meaning and make readers think after they've turned the final page. [4 stars]



Fa La La La Movies Challenge!

It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I love a good heart-warming Christmas movie. I could watch them year round. But that would be odd and my husband would probably get annoyed with Christmas soundtracks in June! I (of course!) have my stack of standard favorites . . . Home Alone, Christmas Vacation, The Holiday, Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, Polar Express, A Charlie Brown Christmas. And I'm always up for a new Christmas movie (Fred Claus or Christmas with the Kranks, anyone?!) But there's a special place in Christmas-viewing schedule for all of those ridiculously cheesy made-for-TV Christmas movies. We don't have cable so watching them directly on Hallmark, Lifetime, or ABC Family wasn't an option, but thanks to Netflix I still got my fair share of them this year.

Two in particular stood out as ones I would recommend (I mean, more than just awesome cheesiness): Christmas on Division Street and Christmas with a Capital C.

12 Pearls of Christmas: Inside Out Christmas

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will be announced on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.



Inside Out Christmas
by Debora M. Coty

My veterinarian friend, Dr. Katie, tells the story about the December when a woman brought a very sick black lab into her clinic. The dog was only ten months old, so she was really just a big puppy, but she’d been vomiting incessantly and her worried owner didn’t know what was wrong.

“Why don’t you go on home?” Dr. Katie told the owner. “I’ll need to run tests for about four hours. We’ll give you a call when we’re finished.”

Dr. Katie’s assistant took x-rays and hung them on the light panel for Dr. Katie to examine. Hmm. Something looked a little peculiar. Dr. Katie called her assistant over.

“Is it just me, or does that look like a … a camel to you?” she asked incredulously.

“Matter of fact, it does,” replied the astute assistant. “And look, there’s an angel here, a shepherd there, and down there in the colon, it’s Baby Jesus!”

At that moment the phone rang. It was the dog’s distraught owner. “I can’t believe this! I just got home and glanced at the coffee table where I put my manger scene yesterday. There’s nothing there but an empty stable!”

As I thought about this quite literal technique for internalizing the true meaning of Christmas, it occurred to me that sometimes I have the opposite problem. With all the bustling busyness, my inner joy in celebration of my savior’s birth never really makes it to the outside.

Oh, I have plenty of glittery, festive evidences of the holiday in decorations, baking galore, and gifts under my tree. But those things are for show. They’re merely the pretty wrappings, not the gift itself.

Can people really see the core-deep joy that radiates within me when I think of the true gift that Papa God sent the world in his son, Jesus? Is my immeasurable gratitude for eternal life evident as I dash through this hectic season?

I’m afraid all too often, the answer is no.

I’m just too preoccupied to allow my outside to reflect my inside so that nonbelievers recognize that I rejoice because of the hope that is within me. My joy is obscured by the mounds of clutter. Gratefulness is sucked out of my soul by the vacuum called urgency.

“But let the godly rejoice. Let them be glad in God’s presence. Let them be filled with joy” (Psalm 68:3, NLT).

This verse has become my prayer this Christmas season – that I would make the time to give priority to rejoicing, being glad in God’s presence, and letting my inner joy show for those who may be silently desperate to know the giver of true joy.

Yep, there’s a better way to internalize the gift of Christmas than the black lab technique. We can lodge the Little Lord Jesus in our hearts rather than our colons.



Debora M. Coty is a humorist, inspirational speaker, and award-winning author of twelve books, including Too Blessed to be Stressed, and coming in March, More Beauty, Less Beast: Transforming Your Inner Ogre. Debora would love to swap Christmas hugs with you at www.DeboraCoty.com.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Snappy Reviews: Christmas Challenge Update

Whew! I had some fantastic ideas about how this month was going to go. Between Hubs being (very!) sick, doing an early Christmas with part of our family, going out of town for a wedding, a deer hitting one of our cars, my father-in-law having surgery, and a surprise project at work, things haven't happened quite like I planned. However, we have had some great family time, and I have had more time to read than I normally do.

Because I haven't posted reviews on all of these books as I read them, I decided to introduce a new feature called Snappy Reviews. Basically, these reviews are going to be short and snappy. I probably won't do this much, but it will help me get my thoughts out quickly when I'm in a pinch!



Christmas at Harrington's 
by Melody Carlson

Sometimes the best gift is a second chance. Christmas is approaching, and Lena Markham finds herself penniless, friendless, and nearly hopeless. She is trying to restart her life, but job opportunities are practically nonexistent. When a secondhand red coat unexpectedly lands her a job as Mrs. Santa at a department store, Lena finally thinks her luck is changing. But can she keep her past a secret? Reading Christmas at Harrington's, a story full of redemption and true holiday spirit, will be your newest Christmas tradition.

[Contemporary Christian Fiction, Christmas / 167 pages / Published Oct 2011 / Revell]

My Thoughts
What a delightful story! I immediately felt deep compassion for Lena and hoped that she would find people in a new town who would allow her a fresh start. Her budding relationship with one of the town's wealthiest families gave me hope that she would indeed get her new beginning. Melody Carlson weaves together a beautiful story of hope, second chances, friendship, and grace. [5 stars]



The Christmas Wedding 
by James Patterson

The tree is decorated, the cookies are baked, and the packages are wrapped, but the biggest celebration this Christmas is Gaby Summerhill's wedding. Since her husband died three years ago, Gaby's four children have drifted apart, each consumed by the turbulence of their own lives. They haven't celebrated Christmas together since their father's death, but when Gaby announces that she's getting married—and that the groom will remain a secret until the wedding day—she may finally be able to bring them home for the holidays.

But the wedding isn't Gaby's only surprise—she has one more gift for her children, and it could change all their lives forever. With deeply affecting characters and the emotional twists of a James Patterson thriller, The Christmas Wedding is a fresh look at family and the magic of the season.

[Contemporary Fiction, Christmas / 288 pages / Published Oct 2011 / Little, Brown, and Company]

My Thoughts
James Patterson has been scaring me out of my mind for years. What a treat to discover that he can write a sweet, funny Christmas novel too! Gaby is determined to bring her family together for Christmas again. What better reason than a wedding! The catch? Only Gaby knows who the groom is! Gaby is one of the funnier characters I've gotten to know this year. I thoroughly appreciated her spunk and love for her family. The rest of the family was quite interesting as well . . . definitely a unique cast of characters. [Note: There is quite a bit of foul language in this book. I didn't think it was necessary to the plot or the development of the characters. Consider yourself warned.] [4 stars]



The Sound of Sleigh Bells 
by Cindy Woodsmall

Beth Hertzler works alongside her beloved Aunt Lizzy in their dry goods store, and serving as contact of sorts between Amish craftsmen and Englischers who want to sell the Plain people’s wares. But remorse and loneliness still echo in her heart everyday as she still wears the dark garb, indicating mourning of her fiancĂ©. When she discovers a large, intricately carved scene of Amish children playing in the snow, something deep inside Beth’s soul responds and she wants to help the unknown artist find homes for his work–including Lizzy’s dry goods store. But she doesn’t know if her bishop will approve of the gorgeous carving or deem it idolatry.

Lizzy sees the changes in her niece when Beth shows her the woodworking, and after Lizzy hunts down Jonah, the artist, she is all the more determined that Beth meets this man with the hands that create healing art. But it’s not that simple–will Lizzy’s elaborate plan to reintroduce her niece to love work? Will Jonah be able to offer Beth the sleigh ride she’s always dreamed of and a second chance at real love–or just more heartbreak?

[Contemporary Christian Fiction, Amish, Christmas / 208 pages / Published Oct 2009 / WaterBrook Multnomah]

My Thoughts
After reading The Christmas Singing, I simply had to go back and read The Sound of Sleigh Bells! I was not disappointed! Cindy Woodsmall has cemented my affection for the residents of Apple Ridge. I adore strong female characters and felt that Cindy did a wonderful job of combining the simplicity of Amish life and the strength that comes from loving the Lord in both Beth and Aunt Lizzy's characters. She also did a wonderful job of giving the characters real problems and helping them to overcome them without seeming trite or simplistic. You don't want to miss out on either of these Christmas novellas! [5 stars]

12 Pearls of Christmas: Simple or Sparkle?

Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas!

Enjoy these Christmas "Pearls of Wisdom" from some of today's most beloved writer's (Tricia Goyer, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Sibella Giorello and more)! Please follow the series through Christmas day as each contributor shares heartfelt stories of how God has touched a life during this most wonderful time of the year.

AND just for fun ... there's also a giveaway! Fill out this simple {form} and enter for a chance to win a beautiful pearl necklace and earring set ($450 value). Contest runs 12/14 - 12/25 and the winner will be announced on 1/1. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents. You may enter once per day.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we're all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.



Simple or Sparkle?
by Tracey Eyster

It’s a simple ornament made of thin cheap metal and it looks quite out of place on our CHRISTmas tree. But each year I lovingly and safely nestle it amongst its expensive and sparkly peers, without a care as to how unglamorous it appears.

Many of our CHRISTmas ornaments have a story and an uncanny way of welling up emotion in me, but this certain one causes an intense stir.

You see the ornament is engraved with the name of my grandmother, Sara, and was given to me by my mother, who ordered it from Hospice, after Grandmama’s death. Yes, the months leading up to her death carry memories of a frail and failing grandmama, but that ornament carries my thoughts to sweet CHRISTmas memories of the past.

CHRISTmas Eve dinners in her home, laughing, singing, gathering and celebrating a year filled with blessings as we remembered the birth of our Savior. CHRISTmas mornings, she was always there participating with glee, in our raucous CHRISTmas happiness. Her gifts were always bank envelopes gently tucked into the pine needles of our CHRISTmas tree, fresh cut from the property she grew up on.

All memories of my Grandmama make my heart swell. You see she was my Jesus with skin on. She lived her life full of joy, serving others and approached life selflessly with an attitude of, “What can I do for you?”

Just months before she left us, even as the Alzheimer’s was robbing her mind she shared her love of Jesus with a sweet little old lady friend, who came to know the Lord – a divine appointment.  The very next day that little old lady silently slipped away to meet in person the One Sara introduced her to just the day before.

At the time I wept, realizing that regardless of our own frailties and failings, God can still use those of us who are willing to do His work and are well practiced at hearing His voice...no matter our lack of sparkle in comparison to others.

A simple life lived for Him, a simple ornament in memory of Sara...a simple truth for you to ponder.



Tracey Eyster wife, mom, relationship gatherer and Creator/Editor of FamilyLife’s MomLife Today is a media savvy mom making a difference where moms are, on-line. Through speaking, writing and video interviews Tracey is passionate about encouraging, equipping and advising moms on every facet of momlife. Her first book, Be The Mom will be released August 2012. You can connect with Tracey at www.momlifetoday.com, her personal site www.traceyster.com or www.twitter/momblog.com.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Christmas Carol [A New Family Tradition]


I have a confession. Brace yourself.

I've never read Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Yes, you read that correctly. Somehow, I graduated from high school . . . from AP English, no less . . . without reading this wonderful classic. (Ironically, my British lit teacher hated Dickens, so we watched the Mickey Mouse version of the movie instead. We even took a test on it.) So, while I'm quite familiar with the story, I've never read the original version.

I recently had the opportunity to review the audio book from christianaudio. (I suppose, technically, I've still never READ the book. Close enough?) The original is even better than the Mickey Mouse version! Ha!

As much as I like to read, I always sell myself short on reading "true literature" . . . especially books that were written pre-20th century. Listening to the audio version was a wonderful re-introduction to Dickens! It was incredibly easy to follow along, and the story came alive. It was magical.

The narrator impressed me with all of the voices that he did. In scenes when multiple characters were conversing, it was easy to follow along due to the unique voices that he gave each character. His British accent made me feel as though Dickens himself could be narrating the story.

Listening to this book together would be a wonderful family tradition! Both young and old will love this story! AND in the month of December, A Christmas Carol is FREE on christianaudio! Don't miss out on this moving story!

I received a free copy of this audio book from christianaudio in exchange for my fair and honest review.



About the Book
A Christmas Carol is a novella by English author Charles Dickens first published by Chapman and Hall and first released on 19 December 1843. The story tells of sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge's ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation after the supernatural visitations of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come. The novella met with instant success and critical acclaim.

The book was written and published at a time when Britain was experiencing a nostalgic interest in its forgotten Christmas traditions, and at the time when new customs such as the Christmas tree and greeting cards were being introduced. Dickens' sources for the tale appear to be many and varied but are principally the humiliating experiences of his childhood, his sympathy for the poor, and the Christmas stories of Washington Irving.

The tale was pirated immediately, was adapted several times to the stage, and has been credited with restoring the holiday to one of merriment and festivity in Britain and America after a period of sobriety and somberness. A Christmas Carol remains popular, has never been out of print, and has been adapted to film, opera, and other media.

When Celebrating Is Difficult

I learned yesterday that an acquaintance of mine lost his father suddenly this week. I really thought about some things I’ve been reminded several times over the past few weeks. Christmas is a difficult time for a lot of people . . . for any number of reasons. Whether due to the loss of a spouse, parent, child, or other family member or a difficult financial situation or perhaps unrealized dreams for a child or whatever . . . the celebration and festive nature of Christmas tends to bring the hurt right to the surface.

I’ve been thinking about a few people in my own life who are celebrating Christmas this year amidst difficult personal circumstances. A woman who will celebrate Christmas without her husband after 60+ years of Christmases together. Parents missing their child. Children missing a father. Couples who long to have a baby and can't conceive. Families who are waiting to bring children home from Ethiopia, Uganda, and China. Parents who don't know where their child is or if he's safe. Couples struggling through the decision of whether or not to end their marriage. Families who trusted God to direct their steps and are now celebrating Christmas in a foreign country as they share the gospel with people who have never heard it before. Sometimes it's hard to get past our circumstances and find anything worth celebrating.

But here's the truth. Christmas is still worth celebrating. God is still God. And He is still worthy of our worship. Especially in the midst of our suffering.

If you’re having a difficult time celebrating Christmas this year, I’ve been reading through the transcripts of a message series (Why: The Gospel and Suffering by Pastor David Platt) for a project at work and have been so encouraged by it. It really has nothing to do with Christmas—but everything to do with God—and I can't get it out of my mind. I pray you will be encouraged by these truths of who God is as well.

Please, oh please, if you are having trouble celebrating, just grasp onto one thing—just one thing—that you know to be true about God and celebrate that.

And for those of you who have loved ones who are struggling, I received an email yesterday from Dayspring that offers some practical wisdom on this subject.

Encouragement - Show You CARE
Through my work as a writer and counselor, as well as personal experiences with grief, I've learned that the holiday season is hard for many people. Make a difference by showing you CARE.

Connect - When someone is hurting, we often don't know what to say or do. But even simply expressing, "I don't know what to say but I'm sorry and I care about you," in person or in writing can bring a lot of comfort.

Accept - When we try to help someone, it's easy to try to direct their emotions or give advice. By accepting others and allowing them to safely express sadness, anger, fear, frustration, and other emotions in our presence, we help them heal.

Respond - You can take action by bringing a meal, babysitting, or running an errand. Or you might do something more symbolic like donating to a charity in honor of a loved one, writing down a special memory in a card, or giving a thoughtful gift.

Extend - People are often flooded with attention when a loss occurs but support usually decreases over time. By remembering and continuing to reach out, especially during the holidays and on special occasions, you can help bring encouragement and hope.

-Encouraging words from Holley Gerth. For more from Holley visit her blog, Heart to Heart with Holley.

If you or someone you know is having an especially difficult time during this Christmas season, I would consider it an honor to pray for you/them. Would you consider leaving their first name in a comment on this post? (Remember this is the internet. Please don’t leave specific, personal details about their situation unless you have permission from them.)
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