Archives For Christmas Christian Fiction Reading Challenge

Tricia Goyer’s latest novella made me feel like giving gifts to everyone I know—and not just because of the gorgeous, seasonal cover!

Rose 1

What I loved best: This story celebrates the many ways we can gift the people around us. The book is filled with characters who learn to listen without judgment, exercise kindness and mercy, take personal risks for their fellow men, and treat strangers like family.

I especially loved the two sets of parents who know a love so big, they sacrifice their own happiness or comfort to gift a child with life.

Here’s the official book summary: Rose turned her back on the man she loves after he assisted the Englisch during World War II—only to discover she’s an Englischer herself. Born in the midst of the hardships of The Great Depression, Rose grew up in Berlin, Ohio, in the arms of a loving Amish family.

But she is overwhelmed by self-doubt when she learns that she was born Englisch and abandoned when her family moved West in search of work. Was she meant to be Amish or would she have been better off growing up with her own kind—Englischers?

When the man she loves leaves her behind, Rose is certain he left for good. Yet Rose discovers sometimes our greatest gifts are the ones we fear.

My advice: Grab copies of this heartwarming story—one for your family and the others to give away! Use them as Stocking Stuffers or add them to Gift Bags or Gift Baskets. (See above.) The ladies in your life will thank you! (The story is suitable for all ages.) Purchase a Christmas Gift for Rose at this link. ***Thanks to Tricia Goyer and Zondervan for providing a copy for me to review.

My favorite quote: The main character, Rose, has a sweet relationship with her Heavenly Father. I loved how God’s sweet whisper in her heart encouraged her to trust Him even when she didn’t understand what He was doing. Just knowing He saw her and heard her cries, gave Rose courage and hope.

rose3

Tricia3About the Author: Tricia Goyer is a busy mom of six, grandmother of one, and wife to John. Somewhere amid the hustle and bustle of family life, she manages to find the time to write both fictional tales and non-fiction titles. In 2010, she was selected as one of the Top 20 Moms to Follow on Twitter by SheKnows.com. Tricia is also on the blogging team at MomLifeToday.com, TheBetterMom.com, and other homeschooling and Christian sites.

In addition to her roles as mom, wife and author, Tricia volunteers around her community and mentors teen moms. She is the founder of Hope Pregnancy Ministries in Northwestern Montana and currently leads a Teen MOPS Group in Little Rock, AR. Tricia, along with a group of friends, recently launched www.NotQuiteAmishLiving.com, sharing ideas about simplifying life. She also hosts the weekly radio podcast, Living Inspired. Learn more about Tricia at www.triciagoyer.com.

You can connect with Tricia on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest. Continue Reading…

Take a few moments to read my last book review of 2010 . . .

You don’t think you’ll need a pick-me-up now, but you will. And this story is just the thing to bring a smile to your heart on a bleak January day.

When fourteen-year-old Marissa spends Christmas with Gran, she hears a story from the past that shows how God can transform our deepest disappointments into our most precious gifts—if we let Him.

It’s Christmastime, and Marissa’s family is enjoying their dream vacation in Hawaii—without her! Marissa has been desperately ill and is only now regaining her strength. Her recuperation will require weeks in bed, and the plane tickets are non-refundable. She’s sent to stay with her Gran, who welcomes a quiet Christmas after the recent loss of her beloved husband.

To while away the time, Gran shares the story of her first love with Marissa. She begins by showing the girl a photo of Grant Rockwell, a World War II pilot handsome enough to be a movie star. But what really gets Marissa’s attention is that she’s never heard of this man before!

Scene from Mrs. Miniver, British cinema 1940's

Then the story slips back to 1945, when a young Emily Robbins (Gran) travels from America to England to find Grant Rockwell and marry him, whether he likes it or not. When Emily arrives in England, the first sight of London shocks her:

“I thought I knew what it meant to live through the war years. Back home in America, more families than I cared to count had flown little flags from their front porches, signaling to the world that they had lost a loved one . . . But in that short journey across London, I learned that America had been spared more than I had ever dreamed possible. Destruction was everywhere . . . Men and women still worked in the flat helmets I saw in the Movietone News, and several times I saw real bombs that had been dug from the wreckage. The city seemed too spent to reform itself for the new day.”

From London, Emily travels to Grant’s last location, Arden-on-Thames. Her fiancé is nowhere to be found. But a charming cast of characters takes her in. Fred, the cab driver who never met a stranger, brings Emily to Miss Rachel, a feisty older woman who rents her a small flat.

Emily discovers that the War has left many people filled with bitterness at the losses they’ve sustained. Miss Rachel tells Emily about losing her husband and son and the day God healed her heart during a Sunday morning service. After Miss Rachel feels Emily has wallowed over her broken heart long enough, she takes her on a tour of the town:

“[We] turned through a pair of great stone gates and entered a long, tree-lined drive . . . Through the snow-covered boughs I caught glimpses of a house that drew a gasp from my lips. Four stories of stone and turrets and gables and gargoyles, a fantasy palace standing proud and stern in a vast sea of white . . . As we drew up before the entrance, the front doors opened, and a sea of little figures came cascading down the stairs . . . I watched as Rachel allowed them to draw open her door and engulf her . . . Their outstretched hands formed a skirt of arms extending out from the elderly woman. She responded with a crooning voice and strokes to as many faces as she could reach . . . ‘But who are all these children?’ . . . [Rachel responded,] ‘These are my little angels.’”

It turns out the town is caring for 300 orphans who’ve been displaced from all over Europe. Emily soon becomes enmeshed in the lives of the children. And she begins to work closely with Colin Albright, the young vicar who spends his days caring for the kids.

Colin is far from the sophisticated, Grant-type flyboy. Emily describes Colin as “an odd candidate for sainthood, with his shock of sandy hair that looked as though it had never seen a brush, and his utter disregard for the state of his clothes and truck. He was scatterbrained and forgetful and took on more work than could have possibly been handled by two men . . . But the children loved him, and he kept up a determined effort to never let them down.

As Emily works side-by-side with Colin to help the children, she finds herself changing in ways she never imagined. God helps her forsake her bitterness, forgive those who’ve hurt her, and find new joy in her salvation as she puts self aside to serve others. God teaches Emily in 1945 and Marissa in 1997 that “when you accept His gift, all is well.”

After Christmas Gift Guide: One of the lessons from this book is that “the Lord’s most wonderful gift knows no season.” The people in the book celebrate Christmas 3 months after the fact, but the time is just as sweet. So I saved this story to review after Christmas, when all the excitement and anticlimax have left you needing some inspiration. Use one of the gift cards you received to buy it and pass it around to all your friends. They’ll thank you for it! You can find the book at Amazon.com and Half.com.

Thanks to Margaret at the Creative Madness Mama blog. If she hadn’t started me on this Christmas reading challenge, I never would have found this book!

Scene from Foyle's War, PBS

I so wish this story had been made into a Hallmark movie! I can picture the set and costumes and supporting characters . . .

And even the actors who should play the leads!

Olivia Hallinan, Lark Rise to Candleford BBC

Laurence Fox, Inspector Lewis PBS

My first blog post is dated July 31, 2010. So on Friday this week, I will have been blogging for five months! I’ve wanted my blog to do-it-all: tell my own stories, relate other people’s stories, review great books, inspire, entertain, and offer giveaways. But the very best part of blogging has been connecting with new friends and old—readers, fellow bloggers, product reviewers, favorite authors, women of faith, other aspiring writers and book-aholics. So I hope you all will stick with me as we head into the New Year together!

This week I’ll be reviewing several books. On Tuesday I’m taking part in a blog tour for an intense suspense novel. Later in the week, I’m reviewing a perfect after-Christmas pick-me-up. And Monday is Book Club Day! If you love Amish fiction, you’ll want to know more about this month’s book.

Have you ever made a new acquaintance and almost immediately felt like you’d know them forever? That’s how I reacted to the charming Brenneman family. No matter that they’re creations of author Shelley Shepard Gray. After reading Grace: A Christmas Sisters of the Heart Novel, I wish I too had shown up at the door of the Brenneman Bed and Breakfast to be welcomed as an unofficial member of the family!

This story begins on December 20, with the Brennemans discussing how they’ve accepted no reservations for the week of Christmas. Their rooms will be filled with family. They have plans to spend their days reading, taking long walks, baking, doing puzzles, and otherwise, relaxing. All that changes when two unexpected guests arrive.

What happens next? Nothing out of the ordinary. A hunting trip. Some car trouble. A little fighting and misunderstanding and making up. New friendships are forged. Folks fall in love. A baby is born. And all within the space of a few days’ time.

The novel Grace focuses on the inner conflicts of several characters. Handsome Levi comes to the inn to wait out the holidays and their painful memories as best he can. However, the Lord wastes “no time in proving to him that it wasn’t possible to avoid feelings and responsibilities and hurts. They always came back.” In spite of his pain, he finds himself drawn to Melody, who is due to give birth any day.

Winsome Melody has been the victim of an assault that left her pregnant. At first, “she felt embarrassed and worried and scared. And so completely, totally worthless.” As she and Levi form a fragile friendship, she grows more confident that God has not abandoned her and has good things in store for her future. A future which might include raising her baby. When Levi asks if keeping her child will remind her of the terrible man who hurt her, Melody says, “Yes, but I think it will also be a reminder to me that the Lord doesn’t do anything without a reason. Perhaps one day I’ll discover what His reasons were for me to have this child.”

Gray also shows the budding friendship of another couple, Leah and Zack. Leah is Melody’s best friend, who is determined to make her way through a storm to be with her friend. And Zack is the young patrolman she meets along the way.

The Brennemans work their magic on all these people by exercising their gift of hospitality. They provide the atmosphere of acceptance, kindness, and peace. And God does the rest.

The theme of the book is summed up in the title: Grace. I once learned the definition of this word in acronym style:

G—God’s
R—Riches
A—at
C—Christ’s
E—Expense

Grace is epitomized by God sending His Son to pay the price for your sin and mine. Grace is God loving us while we were yet sinners. Grace is God giving us the gift of a relationship with Him, made possible because of all His Son gave up for us.

Are you interested in experiencing a taste of Brenneman life yourself? Author Shelley Shepard Gray has written two series, Sisters of the Heart and Seasons of Sugarcreek. You can follow this link to view all of her books and make a few purchases!

Discussion questions:

  1. At first Katie Lundy resents the arrival of Melody and Levi because she feels they’ve ruined her family’s Christmas. What is your idea of the perfect Christmas? Do you recall a Christmas when things didn’t go as planned? How did you respond and what did you learn?
  2. Melody never wavered in her decision to keep her baby. Was this the right decision? Would you have blamed her if she had wanted to give the baby up for adoption?
  3. Leah was determined to go out of her way to be by Melody’s side on Christmas Day. Have you ever gone out of your way for a friend? What was the result?
  4. The Amish rarely decorate for Christmas. They have no tree, nativity, or wreath. They sing no Christmas carols. However, many exchange Christmas cards, bake cookies, and give one or two meaningful gifts. Do you think most families would benefit from simplifying their Christmas a bit? In what ways?
  5. One of the Brenneman’s traditions is to read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. What are some family traditions you love?
  6. The concept of grace is an integral one to the story. How have you experienced grace in your life?

Now for the giveaway! I have a $10 Amazon gift card to give away to one fortunate winner. Mandatory entry: Follow my blog via Facebook at this link and answer one of the discussion questions–even if you haven’t read the book. (There are several to choose from in case you’re tired of talking about Christmas.)

Bonus entries: Make separate comments for each bonus entry.

1. Follow my blog through Google Friend Connect.

2. Subscribe to my blog via email–through the box in the sidebar–and make sure your subscription is verified.

3. Answer any additional discussion question.

Feel free to return to this post any time until the end of December to complete more bonus entries!

And . . . let me add that I give Joy to the World when I write about beautiful, uplifting literature!

Take a few moments out of your Christmas busy-ness to let this magical tale transport you. Right now the Kindle and Nook editions are only $1.99–so you could read this story with your family tonight–maybe in front of the Christmas tree while sipping hot chocolate.

I’m Molar Alan, and this is my story. It is as real to me as the Santa of my youth, and I share it with an enduring hope that you will carry its message beyond the realm of reindeer, elves, or toys and embed it deep in your heart where the distractions and disappointments of life can’t enter, where the worldly can look but not touch, and where the rich in spirit can come and go at will.” The Paper Bag Christmas by Kevin Alan Milne

It’s the late seventies, and nine-year-old Molar Alan (named by his dentist father!) reluctantly agrees to visit the mall Santa with his parents and brother. The attending elf gives him paper and pencil to write a wish list. As Molar waits in the endless line, he lists everything he can think of or sees in the toy store windows nearby.

When Molar meets Santa, the man explains why Molar and his brother Aaron won’t be receiving anything they’ve asked for. Why? Because Santa has bigger plans for them. He explains that “the gift they will receive will be better than everything they thought they wanted, but since they didn’t think of it themselves, [he calls] it everything they never wanted.”

Santa, aka Dr. Christoffer K. Ringle, is a pediactric oncologist. He instructs the Alan boys to meet him at his hospital and introduces them to the children in the cancer ward. Soon the boys embark on a strange adventure, which involves dressing up as elves, helping with the Christmas pageant, competing in gurney races, and learning some of life’s most important lessons.

Molar is especially affected by his friendship with Katrina Barlow. She is nine, like he, but there the similarities end. Katrina is a cancer patient and an orphan and knows far more about pain and loss than any nine-year-old should. And she loves to create a stir. When Molar first sees her, she is dressed in red pajamas, wrapped in white toilet paper stripes, and sporting a white paper bag on her head—she’s a life-sized candy cane. Even at his young age, he realizes he has met someone he will never forget!

Some compare this book with another children’s classic, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, since both stories involve reaching out to those who are often overlooked in society. I would add that The Paper Bag Christmas highlights even more the theme of selflessness in friendship and service. I consider it a must-read for all ages! You’ll laugh and cry with Molar and his friends as they learn about “giving up their pride and self-doubt and laying them at the feet of Him who is mighty to heal.”

I loved this story! I loved the language, the unique characters, the poignancy of the dialogue. One aspect I especially enjoyed was that each chapter of the book begins with a Christmas quote. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs? G. K. Chesterton
  • God is the God of men . . . and of elves. J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Christmas began in the heart of God. It is only complete when it reaches the hearts of men.
  • Christmas Eve was a night of song that wrapped itself around you like a shawl. But it warmed more than your body. It warmed your heart . . . filled it, too, with melody that would last forever. Bess Streeter Aldrich

Christmas Gift Guide: Grab a copy of this book and read it to a young person in your life. Or just savor it yourself. You’ll be glad you did! Don’t have a Nook or Kindle? Download the free Kindle or Nook app for your computer. Then download the book for $1.99 at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Also, I think there’s still time to have this book delivered by Christmas. However, even if you order a hard copy and don’t receive it until after Christmas, it just might be a great Pick-Me-Up for those after Christmas blues! You can purchase The Paper Bag Christmas at Amazon.com, Christianbook.com, and Half.com.

Bonus Idea: Parents, teachers, and homeschoolers, you can use this story as an opportunity to share age-appropriate service ideas with your children. Check out this possible companion piece, 101 Simple Service Projects Kids Can Do by Susan Lingo, now available at Christianbook.com. Start the new year by lining up a few of these projects for your kids!

I haven’t read the book, but the introduction says, “Welcome to the simplest, surest, sweetest ways to bring God’s love to others. These snappy service projects are easy-to-do, and most can be accomplished in the space of one classtime. With a few simple supplies and a bit of serving background, your kids will be touching lives in no time–and the results will last a lifetime!”

The table of contents includes:

  • Marvelous Missions: Powerful ways to support missions around the world or right next door.
  • Holiday Helps: Festive ways to help hurried holiday preparations slow down and become meaningful.
  • Quick Acts of Kindness: Sure-fire ways to touch people’s lives in an instant.

I hope one of these books will be a blessing to you! And for more great book reviews, follow this link to the Creative Madness Mama blog. (Scroll to the second list and click on any link to read a review.)

And before you go, treat yourself to the introduction of Kevin Alan Milne’s beautiful story:

Two words: Merry Christmas; or perhaps Happy Christmas if such fits your geographic predilection. Two words so full of promise but all too often relegated to commonplace by the jingling bells of wanting that accompany the season. Yet for those fortunate few who stumble across its underlying significance, Merry Christmas becomes a treasure trove of goodwill—a miraculous gift waiting just beyond the oft-hollow words, to be opened and enjoyed by all who comprehend it.


I often judge a book by the way I respond to the heroine. If the lead in the story is a vulnerable young girl, I’ll think, “She could be my daughter,” and find myself wanting to protect her. Sometimes the heroine is so sweet and pure and brave that I wish I could be her and live her life. In Myra Johnson’s One Imperfect Christmas, the heroine came alive to me in a special way for several reasons. First, because I moved my 81-year-old mother in with me this past year and could easily imagine being in Natalie’s situation. (See our family Thanksgiving photos here.) But mostly, I saw some of my own weaknesses and faults in Natalie. And even though I didn’t always like what I saw, I’m glad I took this journey with her.

What’s Natalie’s story? Here’s the blurb from the back of the book: Natalie Pearce loves Christmas so much she’d gladly make it a year-round celebration—until her mother suffers a massive stroke while taking down the decorations. Natalie’s guilt over not being there to help her mom soon builds a wall that separates her from the rest of her family, including her husband Daniel and their teenage daughter. As the next December approaches, the last thing Natalie wants to be reminded of is another Christmas season.

Natalie’s emotional pain is so great that she imprisons her heart in a protective shell. She loses touch with her joy and unique purpose. As she goes through the motions of daily life, her despair increases:

Seated on her secondhand apartment sofa, Natalie hugged her knees and watched the late-August sun climb into the morning sky. The effect lost some of its beauty as seen along the corrugated roofline of the sheltered parking area. Though she should have been dressed and on her way out the door by now, she still lingered in her gray sleep shirt, elephant-print bottoms, and bare feet. Despite the sunny morning, a dreary cloud hung over her—a lethargy of body and spirit . . .

A tremor worked its way up her body and culminated in a stifled sob. She felt as if she’d landed on a barren beach at the foot of a rocky cliff, with no way up and no way around. And behind her an angry sea closed in fast. If she didn’t find an escape route soon, she would surely drown. She needed help, and it was high time she admitted it.

Unfortunately, the prison with which Natalie punishes herself also brings pain to all those who once counted on her love and support, especially her feisty daughter Lissa. Will her family’s tenacious love and an unexpected Christmas gift from her mother help Natalie mend the broken pieces of their lives? Read the book and find out!

As I read this story, I couldn’t help but think of the following quote: “It’s amazing that we can know the God of the universe and not know our own hearts.” This book helped me know my heart better and reminded me that “God is greater than [my] heart and knows all things.” (I John 3:20) So why not trust Him to guard it?

Don’t be scared off by the serious tone of this story. Keep in mind the tragic parts of stories like A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. Those heart-wrenching scenes make the payoff at the end that much greater. So, yes, before you get to the hope-filled ending, you’ll hurt with Natalie, but you’ll also grow with her. If that keeps you from going to the same lengths before seeking God’s help and forgiveness, it’ll be well worth your time.

One Imperfect Christmas celebrates the central message of Christmas: that God came to a world full of hurting, imperfect folks like Natalie (and me!) to bring us peace and healing and, at long last, joy!

Christmas Gift Guide: Share this book with lover’s of women’s fiction who appreciate a story with substance. A young lady on the verge of adulthood might especially appreciate the lessons to be learned from both Lissa and Natalie. Bonus Idea: Since a star has special meaning in the book, decorate your package with a star ornament. The meaning of Natalie’s name also plays a role as the theme unfolds. So you may want to add a bookmark or ornament bearing the name of your giftee.

You can purchase One Imperfect Christmas at Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.

Myra Johnson

You can find author Myra Johnson at her personal website and at Seekerville, a great site for writers and readers of inspirational Christian fiction.

And don’t forget to visit Margaret at the Creative Madness Mama blog for other great Christmas-themed Christian book ideas.

The Christmas Glass by Marci Alborghetti tells the story of a group of people drawn together because each owns one piece of a special set of ornaments.

What is the Christmas glass they value so highly? The glass was made in Lauscha, Germany, where glassblowing was a family affair. The grownups did the hard part, forming the hot glass and pouring hot silver into the shapes. The children dipped the ornaments in lacquer and painted them. Here’s the description from the book:

“The ornaments seemed to be alive with light, and [she] fancied that if she touched them, she would feel their warmth. Each was a different shape, and the colors were so vibrant they appeared to glow. There was the Holy Family, with streaks of indigo coloring Mary’s dress, while green marked Joseph’s robe, and the Babe shone with gold. Three were long and thin, each in the shape of a wise man, and their robes were marked with scarlet and purple and deep green, all flecked with gold.”

“There was a crystal star with just the faintest sweep of fiery yellow lighting it from within, and an angel in joyous flight, his wings lined with silver. A starfish, awash with blue and green winked from the box, and a long icicle . . . flared with a thin spiral of silver and gold. There were two fish, symbols of the Lord: one spun with blue, green and silver and the other with red, orange and gold. And finally, [she] saw two perfect globes, crystal clear each, one with the merest sprinkle of red and gold, the other with green and silver.”

The story of The Christmas Glass begins with Anna, a compassionate young woman struggling to provide for seventeen orphans (three of which are Jewish) in her native Italy during World War II. For Anna the glass holds special meaning. It was passed down to her by her mother and reminds her of her loved ones–mother, father, husband–who have all been killed. She decides to box up the glass and send it to her cousin Filomena in America for safe-keeping. Anna cuts up her wedding dress to use as packing cloth, and Sarah, one of the young Jewish orphans, helps her wrap and send the ornaments.

Years later, the twelve ornaments have been distributed by Filomena to various family members and close friends. Filomena demands that each ornament be returned in person in order to orchestrate a grand reunion. The only problem is her family is in the midst of a feud, and her friends have problems of their own.

What happens? As the book blurb says, “After more than forty years, twelve people come to possess a piece of Christmas glass, some intimately connected by family bonds, some connected only through the history of the ornaments. As Christmas Day approaches, readers join each character in a journey of laughter and tears, fractures and healings, as Filomena, now an eighty-four-year-old great-grandmother, brings them all to what will be either a wondrous reunion or a disaster that may shatter them all like the precious glass they cherish.”

My favorite characters were Pastor Luke and Pastor Lou. They try to bring sanity and God’s Word to bear on the problems of the younger members of the twelve—those who are wise enough to seek counsel in the church. And I liked that the most solid, loving couples have relationships with Christ, attend church and Awana, and value their pastors’ input. Unfortunately, the book ends with only tenuous solutions for some of the biggest family problems. I guess we can assume that this family’s growth will be an ongoing process, kind of like real life!

Christmas Gift Guide: Since there’s not a lot of action in this story and much of it deals with regrets that come later in life, I would not give this to a teen. But it would be a good stocking stuffer for (dare I say, older?) women who enjoy reading life stories, with all the accompanying triumphs and tragedies that come with various relationship struggles—husband/wife, mother/son, mother/daughter. You name it, there’s an unlimited set of conflicts! (I’m surprised it was never made into a movie for Lifetime!)

Bonus Idea: The obvious—give this book with a glass ornament. Try to match one of the ornament descriptions above!

You can purchase a copy of The Christmas Glass at this link.

Don’t forget to visit the Creative Madness Mama blog at this link for more book reviews and gift ideas!

To a pair of steadfast Amish parents, a daughter like Annie Weaver spells trouble. At nearly seventeen, she’d refused every boy who had wanted to court her. She’d managed to lose three jobs. She was still sneaking into the barn to read books by lamplight. (I can so relate! See my post here.)

The Weavers feel the only option left is to send their daughter to an aunt for a time of rumschpringe, and Annie obeys. But as she leaves, she asks God to settle her restless spirit and bring her safely home.

Three years later, Annie returns. Now a trained RN, she’ll help the family nurse her father, who is recovering from a buggy accident. Well, actually, she’ll help the Amish version of a local physician’s assistant. His name is Samuel Yoder, and he’s sufficiently tall, dark, and handsome enough to make any girl look twice. However, Samuel is not quite over a tragedy that seems to have frozen his heart and turned him old before his time.

Annie tells herself she’s not interested in Samuel. She’s almost ten years younger than he, and the man’s cranky as a bear. They butt heads over her father’s care. Then one day Samuel realizes that provoking her has become a pleasure. And Annie’s not sure how she feels about that. She’s home, but minus the peaceful spirit she expected to experience . . .

I certainly knew where this book was headed as far as the romance goes, but getting there was truly a delight!

I also appreciated how the author described the pleasures of an Amish Christmas: “The evergreen boughs placed around the house, the small smattering of gifts wrapped with brown paper and tied in red ribbon stacked under the table holding the gas reading lamp. Battery operated candles in each window.”  Daughters sent on “missions of mercy” with gifts of pie.

And I was more affected than I expected to be by the theme of the story . . . That even within an idyllic setting, people can stop believing that “God has any good thing left for them” and refuse “the grace made plain to us at Christmas time.”

In the past, I’ve viewed Amish stories with some skepticism. I’ve thought, “Why doesn’t the heroine leave the community and re-join the real world? Problem solved.But with this book, I found myself contemplating how much of a Christian’s journey through life involves wrestling with how faith and culture fit together. And often, we place restrictions on ourselves in order to allow our testimonies to shine. Missionaries do this all the time when they leave what’s familiar and learn the ways of a strange new world.

And isn’t that what Jesus did? Philippians 2 tells us:

Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, and being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

And that’s the message of grace that Vanetta Chapman’s A Simple Amish Christmas makes plain for all of us!

Christmas Gift Guide: This book is the perfect stocking stuffer for preteen lovers of romance on up! Bonus idea: Since a bookmark is of special meaning in the story, you could slip a Christmas-themed bookmark into the book or decorate your package with it. Also, I learned from this article, Amish Christmas and Simple Holiday Traditions, that mittens, scarves, and candles are popular gifts. You could include those items with this book as well.

Follow this link to purchase a copy for someone on your gift list.

If you’re interested in reading more reviews of Christmas-themed Christian fiction, visit the Creative Madness Mama blog. Scroll to the second list on this post (before the comments) and click on any link to read a book review.

“You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they traveled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus?”

Thus begins Henry Van Dyke’s tale of Artaban, a noble Magi from Persia, and the journey that changes his life. Van Dyke’s novella is just the type of rich, old-fashioned story that touches your heart, even while its prose stretches your vocabulary. And the English teacher in me loved it! Soak up the beautiful language in the quotes I used.

When we first meet Artaban, he is described as “a tall, dark man of about 40 years” with “the brow of a dreamer. A man of sensitive feeling but inflexible will. One of those who, in whatever age they may live, are born for inward conflict and a life of quest.” Artaban and his fellow scholars have learned through their study of the stars that there is a Creator. One of the Magi states,

“The stars are the thoughts of the Eternal. They are numberless. But the thoughts of man can be counted, like the years of his life. The wisdom of the Magi is the greatest of all wisdoms on earth, because it knows its own ignorance. And that is the secret of the power.”

But Artaban is not content with his lack of knowledge and longs to know this Eternal One personally. He believes he has found a star by which to steer his course and invites his friends to join him on a quest: to follow the star to Jerusalem and “see and worship the promised one who shall be born King of Israel.” In preparation for the journey, Artaban sells all that he owns to purchase three precious jewels—a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl—as tribute for the King.

His friends, however, refuse to accompany him, attributing his vain dream to “too much looking at the stars and cherishing lofty thoughts.” In spite of this, Artaban departs on his quest.

What he discovers along the way shows how Christ’s birth should affect our everyday dealings with those around us, not just at Christmas but all the year.

I was first introduced to Artaban through the movie version of this story, The Fourth Wise Man, starring Martin Sheen and Alan Arkin. The movie captures the main themes of the novella but with a lighter, more comic tone. And the movie adds a great character, Artaban’s servant Orantes. Orantes, who has been forced to accompany his master, goes to some hilarious lengths in an attempt to convince Artaban to return home.

Pamela Kennedy also retold this tale in a children’s version of the story, which is enhanced by Robert Barrett’s elegant illustrations. The kids’ story stays true to the theme and retains a flavor of the the graceful language. I love Artaban just as much in this book. From the time he prays, “God of Truth and Light, show me the way of wisdom, which only You know,” to the end of his thirty-year journey, he remains noble and good. I shared this classic with my five-year-old niece, and I think she enjoyed it!

Christmas Gift Guide: Pick up whichever version of this story will work best for your family! The movie would be most appreciated by junior high age and up. The children’s book is aimed at ages 4 through 8.

Bonus ideas: If you homeschool, use a copy of the original novella to compare/contrast with the movie version for grades 6 or 7 and up. Use Scripture and the Pamela Kennedy’s story book with your little ones. Then print this notebooking paper of the wise men to recap the Bible story together. Or use the free cutouts from this Sunday school lesson to play a game called Search for Jesus.

You can purchase a copy of The Story of the Other Wise Man here. You can also take advantage of the free Kindle download. However, the illustrations will be missing.

You can purchase a copy of Pamela Kennedy’s The Other Wise Man at this link.

This link leads to the dvd of the movie The Fourth Wise Man.

And remember to hop on over to the Creative Madness Mama blog. Scroll to the second list on this post (before the comments) and click on any link to read a review of a Christmas-themed Christian fiction story.