Thoughts on Blogging, Book Club Day, and A Giveaway!

Renee Ann Smith —  December 26, 2010 — 152 Comments

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:


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!

Renee Ann Smith

Posts Twitter Facebook

I teach literature in a Christian high school by day and write inspirational fiction by night. I love to share heart-touching quotes and stories here on my blog. So glad you stopped by!

152 responses to Thoughts on Blogging, Book Club Day, and A Giveaway!

  1. Sounds very interesting and would love a chance to win! Thank you kindly!

  2. Hi, I “like” your blog on Facebook (FB name: Maddie Brubaker).
    Question 2: Giving up a child for adoption is fine (I should know, I’m adopted!).

    • I think God directs in different ways for different kids. He just wants them to end up where they’re loved, healthy, and happy. Sounds like that’s what happened for you! . . . Thanks for visiting today!

  3. I follow your blog publicly via Google Friend Connect as shala_darkstone.

  4. Question 4: Yes, I think families would benefit from simplifying Christmas. We finally stopped exchanging adult gifts and instead each year we put money toward a summer vacation that we’ll all go on together after we’ve saved enough. It’s so much easier and less stressful!

  5. #6 I’ve experienced ultimate grace in my life through salvation in Jesus Christ.
    Liked your FB 🙂

  6. I like you on Facebook – my FB name is Amanda Moore. I think most families would definitely benefit from simplifying Christmas. It’s not about the presents really, it’s about being grateful for your time together and enjoying one another’s company! Good food and great conversation with your loved ones is the best gift you can have.

    • I so agree! I love it when I can get together with my sisters and their families and spend the day enjoying each others’ company–without any buyer’s remorse from spending too much money to haunt us.

  7. I follow your blog with google friend connect!

  8. One of my favorite family traditions is baking gingerbread with my kids! We always have so much fun, both baking and decorating our cookies!

  9. I would not have blamed Melody if she wanted to give her baby up for adoption, if she thought that was in her baby’s best interest. If she knows that she does not have the resources to give the baby a good life, I do not see a problem with the decision, although I could never imagine giving a baby up for adoption myself!

  10. like u on fb-Julie S Laws
    I think adoption is a right thing to do if one feels that its best for the child.My sister is unable to have children..she and her husband adopted 2 children-whom we all love dearly

    • Welcome, Julie! I’ve heard so many happy adoption stories. I think the author wrote that discussion question because some people in Melody’s life refused to be supportive of her unless she made the choice they agreed with. I have several friends who adopted. I look at it like God led them to the children that belonged in their families!

  11. follow blog as jelaws5

  12. I am a email subscriber

  13. Alex H. (Lexigurl) December 27, 2010 at 10:18 am

    I liked on FB: Alex Herring and commented!

  14. Alex H. (Lexigurl) December 27, 2010 at 10:18 am

    I follow via GFC

  15. Alex H. (Lexigurl) December 27, 2010 at 10:19 am

    I believe families would benefit from simplifying Christmas, remove the presents – make it what it should be about.

  16. Congrats on the 5 month mark!! YAY! Keep going girl….you’re a wonderful encouragemnt to many!

  17. follow your blog via facebook

  18. i follow mverno simify christmas mverno [at] roadrunner [dot] com

  19. one family tradition that we have had for many years is that after the hectic time of
    preparing the meal, clean up and dishes the women go into a room or corner by themselves and exchange little gifties with each other; it can be homemade or bought.
    This gives the women time to relax and bond. It started with Mom and us girls and then when nieces got older, daughters-in-law came into the family they joined in.


  20. follow via GFC as primrose

  21. subscribe via e-mail

  22. Facebook fan – maureen c
    Question 1: When my kids were little I wanted to make the perfect Christmas for everyone but I soon learned that I didn’t enjoy the season when I worried about everything being exactly as they were in magazines and television. Now I just try to enjoy going to Christmas Eve service and being with my family.

  23. I am a GFC follower.

  24. I am an e-mail subscriber.

  25. Great review Renee! I am a follower. Thank you for linking this up to No Ordinary Blog Hop.

  26. I am following on Facebook.

  27. I very happily subscribe by email to your blog, and verified it.

  28. Simplifying CHRISTmas? Yes, I do believe that some should. I think often people get wrapped up in all the commercialism and tradition of it that family gets lost. It is a time to reconnect with family and remember our Savior was born for all of us. Baking, decorating, and shopping can take away from time spent just holding, talking, and loving on the people who mean the most to us. I hope you had a wonderful CHRISTmas Renee. Thank you for the discussion questions that make me think more about my life, and what I am really giving back or not giving enough.

    • I did have a great Christmas! Hopefully you did, too, Lynda! I was doing exactly this–connecting with family and church friends. I did most of my shopping online and baked my side dishes ahead of time. So then I could just spend time my sisters from out of town and enjoy the snow here in New York state!

  29. Grace sounds like a wonderful book! I look forward to reading it.

  30. I follow you on facebook! And now, my husband does too…I didn’t know he was signed into facebook on my computer, so I “liked” your page, and then realized that it was his account. So we both like you now 🙂

  31. I follow you on GFC too.

  32. I subscribe to your blog via email. And by the way, congratulations on five months! I never would have guessed you’d been blogging for so short a time. You’re a pro!

  33. A new follower from Monday Mingle. See you.

  34. #5. My family always reads the Christmas story or has some sort of devotional before we open presents. Our traditions vary, but my husband’s family always celebrates on Christmas Eve by opening their stockings, then having a special Christmas Eve breakfast with eggs and cinnamon rolls, and then opening the rest of the presents, taking turns and starting with the youngest.

  35. I follow you on facebook @airplanesand dragonflies.

    I wouldn’t blame her for giving up her baby for adoption. But personally, I couldn’t do it.

    Heather K.
    mysticbutterfly37 at

  36. I subscribe to your blog via email.

    Heather K.
    mysticbuttefly37 at

  37. I follow your blog via GFC.

    Heather K.
    mysticbutterfly37 at

  38. The family tradition that we love the most is having Strawberry Waffles and whipped cream for breakfast on Christmas morning!

    Heather K.
    mysticbutterfly37 at

  39. I “like” Doorkeeper on Facebook (Jen Voss).

    I have several family traditions at Christmas I love. I love the Christmas eve service at church. I never fail to get chills when the candles are lit, the lights go out, and we sing Silent Night. I also love our tradition of giving 3 gifts to each of our kids. All of our children know that they receive only 3 gifts at Christmas because the Wise Men gave 3 gifts to the baby Jesus. It reminds the kids of the true meaning of Christmas and also helps keep the budget in check.

  40. I follow you on Google Friend Connect as Jen @ blog giveaway directory.

  41. I subscribe to your email updates. (confirmed)

  42. Maureen Timerman December 27, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    I do follow you on Facebook!
    I have tried to be there for friends. One friends husband was injured so terribly ..he should not be alive. I tried to be there for her whenever she needed me. I spent time with her and in the ICU…even though I wasn’t immediate family. This happened a number of years ago. Her Hubby tells me he knew I was there with his wife when he was in the ICU. We are still very close, and I watched God’s hand in all of this!

    • Hi, Maureen! So glad you’re a follower! . . . I think the power of “just being there” for folks is amazing. There’s no need for clever words or expensive gifts when what people really need is our presence and our prayers! You did a wonderful thing for your friend!

  43. <>

    I definitely think most families would benefit from simplifying their Christmas celebrations (our family included). We tend to rush around finding the perfect gift and doing a ton of baking and then fail to reflect on the reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place. I think Christmas could be simplified in a lot of ways by focusing on those Christmas traditions that reflect the meaning of the season and getting rid of the ones that have roots in commercialism or paganism.

    • Good observations! I think it’s ironic that in our desire to make it special for the folks we love, we have to work so hard not to transform Christmas into something it was never supposed to be . . .

  44. Maureen Timerman December 27, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    I follow your blog on GFC.

  45. Maureen Timerman December 27, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    I subscribe by email.

  46. Thanks for following and subscribing, Maureen!

  47. Maureen Timerman December 27, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    My most imperfect Christmas was the year my baby died. She only lived for 77 days and was never able to come home from the hospital. It was a very difficult time. Julie Ann had been born with Spina Bifida…never had heard of it until she was born. I came to realize that day that our Lord had such great compassion for her and her suffering that he took her home on his Son’s birthday.

    • I can’t imagine the pain you felt then or feel now. I only know that “God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.” Sometimes it’s so difficult to convince myself that He loves the ones who are precious to me even more than I do and that He has only compassion for them. I’m glad you can see that in His tender care for your sweet daughter.

      I praise Him that He made it possible for us all to be together with the ones we miss one day. A day when we’ll never have to suffer through painful good-byes again! What a celebration that will be! Better than any earthly one, right? Your testimony has touched my heart. Bless you, Maureen!

  48. Hi~ I am your newest follower from the Monday blog hop & would love it if you stopped by and returned the love 🙂

  49. Am blog hopping and am a new follower! Would love for you to check out my blog and follow back!

  50. Hi Renee Ann,

    I didn’t have time to read the book club pick for this month. 🙁 It sounds like it was a great book. I think you’d be an awesome host for January. Do you have any book suggestions? I haven’t really thought about it yet and I think Angie who’s hosting this month is having computer/power issues so she hasn’t put up a poll yet. Would you consider stepping in?


  51. Excellent review and discussion my friend. I loved this story! Levi’s ability to push away his pain and be there for Melody was inspiring!
    (not an entry)

  52. I also follow your blog. And I love it. It is just the type of one that I enjoy reading.

  53. I like question number 4. I think most of us would benefit by simplifying Christmas. It can be so busy and overwhelming. I am working on simplifying a little more every year. This year, I made most of the presents for my grandchildren. It was a lot of work, but it was a work of love and I actually enjoyed this year more than I have enjoyed any Christmas in a long time. Now, if I can just go a little less crazy each year, I will be able to be a little bit better.

  54. Following on GFC.


  55. I have followed on FB and answered a question.

  56. LIKE Doorkeeper on FB: JUlie Matek

    Some family traditions we have are: baking cookies, holiday shopping w/ my mom and nieces, watching It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story OVER AND OVER again:)

    jmatek AT wi DOT rr DOT com

  57. NEW GFC follower:)

    jmatek AT wi DOT rr DOT com

  58. I wouldn’t blame Melody if she decided to give the baby up for adoption. People themselves know if they can or are ready to handle raising a child. If there was doubt, then I believe another lucky family would be grateful to have the child:)

    jmatek AT wi DOT rr DOT com

  59. Yes I think many families would benefit from simplifying Christmas. I like to give my children 3 gifts like baby Jesus received from the wise men. I find that giving them only 3 gifts keeps me from getting caught up in buying them too many things.

    I’m a facebook follower: FB Name: Eric N Jill Boyd

    BoydFamily at pobox dot com

  60. Whew! Popular post! There were a lot of comments to scroll through to get down here to leave a comment!

    I “liked” your blog on FB.

    And I didn’t even read through the rest of the questions b/c I immediately thought of my answer for the first question. My idea of the perfect Christmas is one that includes being surrounded by all of my family, participating in all of our traditions. Oh boy, yes, I remember a Christmas that didn’t go as planned. The past 2 (not including this year) were just that! But I’ll just discuss the one 2 years ago or else I’ll be here all day commenting! We always go to my dad’s cousin’s house for Christmas Eve for a party with 60 of our family members and lots and lots of traditions. That year my dad said we couldn’t go because we needed to get home (3 hours away) before the ice storm hit. I had a horrible attitude about the whole thing. I stormed around my grandma’s house for awhile, with negative thoughts going through my head, and just acted like a spoiled brat about the whole thing. I am not proud of how I reacted. I even blogged during my little pity party about the whole situation. I eventually came around and realized that it wasn’t the end of the world after all (shocking!) and realized how important family is! I don’t take getting to go to Christmas Eve for granted anymore and I treasure each moment with my extended family. I also realized yet again that the world doesn’t revolve around me and I don’t get to do everything I want to. 😉

    • Sometimes having our plans spoiled is hard to swallow. Sounds like you learned a lot from your reaction and now know to guard against those negative thoughts. I think that’s so valuable, Leanne!

  61. I already subscribe via e-mail.

  62. Additional Question: Family Traditions-

    Haha, well, I already hinted at this in my previous comment. I love our Christmas Eve traditions. We always get dressed up, go to Dad’s cousin’s house, visit with family we haven’t seen all year, get all crowded into the little basement together, and eat tons of good food. We “break bread” together, which includes everybody having a piece of “bread” and we go around to every single person there and wish them a merry Christmas, hug them, and each break a piece of “bread” from the other person’s piece, and then eat it. Someone dresses up as Santa Claus upstairs so someone has to block the stairs so the kids don’t get up there. Then he comes down and has each kid sit on his lap to talk before giving them a present. Then my dad does “Felix’s Grab Bag”, which he took over after his Uncle Joe died because he was the one who did it. So we basically just get together and have a lot of fun!

    • I love your breaking bread tradition! Sounds lovely. And Felix’s Grab Bag must be fun. It’s nice that your dad is carrying on a family tradition for everyone else to enjoy . . . Thanks for being a follower and subscriber, Leanne!

  63. I Like your blog on FB. (name: Terri Winsome)
    Discussion question #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?
    I believe that if Melody wanted to keep her baby, then it was the right decision. I never would have blamed her or anyone if they decided to give the baby up for adoption. Pregnancy is easy but motherhood is hard!

  64. I follow your blog through Google Friend (Terri).

  65. I follow via GFC

  66. I subscribe via email

  67. Was this the right decision? Yes aborting the baby would be wrong in God’s eyes. Would you have blamed her if she had wanted to give the baby up for adoption? No because the constant reminder of what ahappened to her might be too much.

  68. I Google Friend Connect you.

  69. I like you on facebook and comment about family traditions there. Hope it was okay that it was a Christmas tradition, just a family one.

  70. I also wanted to comment on the question about giving up a baby. God works through everything. When I was 20, I experienced a surprise pregnancy. Please note, I said surprise, not unwanted. I have wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. I made a series of unfortunate decisions that led up to the pregnancy, and knew in my heart that God had produced beauty from my mess. I also knew that I was not the one He intended to raise the little boy I gave birth to. It was heart rending. I wrote him a letter telling him he was not a mistake, but a surprise. And I told him that a surprise is something you don’t know that you want until you get it, and that I had wanted him very much, but that sometimes being a parent means making choices that are best for your child even if they are beyond painful to you. I went on to marry and have 5 more children. I firmly believe I made the right decision. It is not a decision that everyone can or would make, but I honestly believe it is one that should be made far more often than it is.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Heather. You’ve made such an important distinction between “unwanted” and “surprise.” Thank you for giving your son a good life. I think God blessed you with your family because you were true to His Word. I can’t imagine the pain you went through but am so glad you have an eternal perspective!

      I have several friends who have adopted and firmly believe the kids they found had been intended by God to be in their families . . . A pastor contacted one of my friends when a teen girl wanted to give up her baby. After working out all the details, the couple and the girl (and her parents) met the pastor at church. The teenager handed her baby to the pastor. He prayed over the child and handed him to my friend. That’s kind of a picture of what God did for your son.

      Your story has touched my heart, Heather! Blessings!

  71. I get your emails too. 🙂

  72. Hi I am following you on Facebook (Ishrat Trishna) and once I did go out of my way to stop the self destructive behaviour of my best friend and told her mom all about it so that she could put a stop to it. My best friend did not speak to me for months. But now we have been friends for almost 10 years so it all paid off. 🙂

    • Thanks for following on GFC and Facebook, Tashrin! And good for you that you stepped in to help when your friend was out of control. Better to have her angry for a while then to know you didn’t do anything to save her. I’m sure that was hard for you but so worth it in the end! Blessings!

  73. I am also a Google friend connect follower (Ishrat Trishna)

  74. I liked your FB page- Quanda and I also commented. Thanks! 🙂

  75. GFC Follower – Naddez (please follow my blog).

  76. Hello, I just added you on FB. I’m glad I found your blog, because I think I will love it! I’m a college student right now… and reading is my hobby. Winning Amazon cards is another hobby too. Because the more Amazon I have, the more books and reading I get. =)

    Now that I’ve introduced myself, I should answer one of the questions. So, I think that families could definitely simplify Christmas. It is a wonderful, special holiday. But it’s not based on gifts. It should be based on love, quality time, and thinking about Jesus. We had a grand Christmas doing this… so I know that this works.

    • Welcome, Tarissa! I enjoyed stopping in at your sweet blog. I think it’s great that you former homeschoolers were encouraged to blog and now you can build connections far and wide. I love books, too, and like to win gift cards so I can read lots of good ones and share them with my friends. Glad to know you focused on Jesus during your Christmas celebrations. That makes everything special!

  77. I’ll also answer the question about family traditions… especially during the holidays. We love to sit around and sip on hot chocolate (or maybe eggnog), a piece of pumpkin pie, and play a game. We’ve been in the mood for Mexican dominoes lately. Or we’ll watch a good movie together. Those are always the special times.

  78. Hi there, new follower here.

    Happy New Year and Happy Reading 😉

    I hope you’ll stop by and follow me back when you get a chance.


  79. Awesome blog and thanks for the giveaway!
    Would love, love, LOVE to win this!
    Happy New Year!

  80. I liked you on facebook.
    What are some family traditions you love?
    My parents always allowed us to open one present on Christmas Eve and I still carry on that tradition.
    tshaw6580 [at] yahoo [dot] com

  81. I follow you on google friend connect
    tshaw6580 [at] yahoo [dot] com

  82. I subscribed to your blog via email and confirmed
    tshaw6580 [at] yahoo [dot] com

  83. Following on FB (Erin Greenup). I think all families could benefit from simplifying Christmas. It has become very commercial and about material items.

  84. GFC follower (greenup06)

  85. Terrific review! Sorry it took so long – it’s been a busy week!

  86. FB like you: Slehan
    4. Yes, I think all of us could simplify our holidays.
    Thanks for the contest.

  87. Thanks for entering, Sarah!

    This giveaway is now closed. Winner announced Sunday night.

    Happy New Year all!

  88. This sounds like a great book, and the winner is a lucky book reader…

    Thank you for participating in the Book Lover’s Blog Hop @ Story Time Under the Stars and Frugality Is Free. I hope you will link up a book review and participate in this week’s Book Lover’s Blog Hop as well.

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