Archives For Christmas Christian Fiction Reading Challenge

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!

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.

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.