Book Review: The Redpoint Crux

When Red finds herself no longer able to qualify for rock-climbing competitions, she returns home, defeated, to the ballet.

Morgan Shamy’s personal knowledge of ballet and piano along with her husband’s gold-medal expertise in rock climbing makes her uniquely qualified to write the Redpoint Crux, where the three skills are woven together in a retelling of the novel Phantom of the Opera and the ballet Giselle.

My Thoughts on The Redpoint Crux

After reading the description of this particular book, I wondered if it could be a retelling of the Phantom of the Opera. A few phrases stood out, making me think it might be. These included: “A series of murders” and “a tortured young man who lives beneath the depth of the theater.”

The first chapter of the Redpoint Crux takes place in the mountains where the main character, Red, finds herself in quite a predicament… dying after falling from a cliff. An older sensation, similar to being whisked back in time, opens the next scene as readers are introduced to the theater and its new owner, Liam.

Most of the story takes place in the theater, which is located in Halifax, Canada.

Being a person who enjoyed the Phantom of the Opera novel by Gaston Leroux, my mind started making connections. I found Christine, Raoul, Meg, Carlotta, Madame Giry, a few other characters, and obviously, the phantom within this new novel. Throughout the story, other similarities came into view, a mirror with a hidden passage leading into a private room, a chandelier scene, a music box, a torture room of sorts, a violin at a funeral… a noose.

Of course, the story line caught my attention, too. But as I continued reading, the Redpoint Crux diverted from the Phantom of the Opera. Some characters changed. becoming different than they first appeared. Other mysteries popped up–mysteries I now recognize as similar to the story told throughout the ballet Giselle. Ghost-like ballerinas, a mentally-tortured character, a hero, and a love story that I hope isn’t over.

The difference between the chapters that take place at the theater and the chapters that take place away from it is fairly stark. Candles and behaviors similar to those found in the late 19th to early 20th-centuries with tutus and pressed suits (except for the main character, who misses rock climbing and wears casual clothes) fill the pages surrounding the theater. Modern technology and speech patterns cover the pages of the scenes away from the theater. These differences work well together throughout the story, and combine toward the end when Red must make a choice.

As I discovered similarities between the Redpoint Crux and the Phantom of the Opera, I worried they were too alike. I worried because the author’s description doesn’t mention a retelling. But in the end, I enjoyed The Redpoint Crux. Morgan Shamy writes well. She does a great job setting up a scene and making your heart race at the right moments. The ending of her novel surprised me some, and I hope there is a sequel planned. I still have questions that a character promised to reveal answers to. And they haven’t been answered yet. So, don’t take too long, Morgan; I’ll be waiting.

I do suggest the author mention her story is a retelling in the description. That way people familiar with the other stories (especially the well-known Phantom of the Opera) know to expect that. However, the fact that it is a retelling shouldn’t stop anyone from reading the Redpoint Crux. The differences are enough to make it time-worthy.

The Official Blurb

When Megan Van Helsburg gets kicked off the U.S.A. Climbing Team, she has no choice but to return home and leave her climbing career behind. With no coach, no money, and no prospects, she joins the corps de ballet determined to improve her strength and agility. But the ballet theater is in dire straits. Not only do a series of murders break loose, but the ballerinas are becoming deathly thin and brain-dead. As Megan investigates, she meets Bellamy, a tortured young man who lives beneath the depths of the theater. Megan falls hard and fast for Bellamy, who becomes her mentor, but something is off about him.

It isn’t until the company announces they’re doing Giselle for the fall performance that Megan realizes the parallels between the ghost story and the lives around her. Megan must find a way to not only save her climbing career, but balance her feelings for Bellamy, and stop the murders and dying girls before she, too, is numbered among the dead.

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I received this a copy of this book for free in exchange of a honest review. All opinions are my own.
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Book Review: Time Twist

Arianna agrees to decorate the Victorian mansion, hoping for a break from reality. Instead, she discovers a different kind of reality.

Jeanie R. Davis, author of Time Twist, calls herself an Arizona transplant. As mother of four daughters and a grandmother with extensive travel experience, Davis somehow manages to write wonderful books for us to enjoy. Her experiences certainly add flavor to her writing talents.

My Thoughts on Time Twist

Until Time Twist, I hadn’t read a time-travel novel in years. But I have watched a couple of time-travel Hallmark movies. I enjoyed the differences in Davis’ story. People don’t wake up in some weird century with no way to get home or with no understanding of how they got to the 21st-century. From the start, Christopher knows how he came to exist in the world of motorized vehicles and cell phones, and by the time he meet Arianna, he’s figured out modern society. Arianna doesn’t spend time introducing him to carbonated soda or the microwave. In fact, she has no idea Chris is from the future.

So, instead of the bumbling, but adorable Englishman who can’t figure out the 21st-century, readers find intrigue, adventure, and a love story worth reading. Arianna, an interior decorator, deals with a mad-man of a client, and Christopher supports her in the background as he works to solve his own mystery.

The first chapter of Time Twist immediately grabbed my attention. However, the second chapter almost felt foreign as I found myself in the beginning scenes of a Hallmark-style novel. Then, that specific trope fell away in an appropriate and pleasing manner as the stories of the first and second chapters wove together.

As I read and learned the backgrounds of the characters–the disappointments in their lives and the pains and agonies they’d experienced–I came to expect the story to go a particular way. It didn’t. It’s travel down the story-telling path worked well, but still left me with a minor question I hope to have answered as I read the rest of the series. In no way, though, was the book a disappointment. I enjoyed every minute I spent reading it.

I recommend Time Twist for readers 14-years-old and above, though it is adult fiction. Readers will find some discussion of sex before marriage and how it relates to Arianna’s ‘old-fashion morals’ as well as some violence. There are also a couple of kissing scenes.

Official Blurb

Arianna Miller tosses her luggage and her hopes into her Subaru and sets out to prove her talent—by decorating a Victorian mansion thirty miles from nowhere. She needs a fresh start and a break from painful memories. However, she is soon haunted by reminders of her past and endangered by foreboding mysteries.

Christopher Flemming is determined to stop his father’s crime spree, which began in nineteenth century London and now threatens present day Colorado. He must find and destroy the time-traveling machine that brought them forward in time. More importantly, he needs to save Arianna.
Because of Christopher’s blurred focus, Arianna finds her attraction to him untenable. She wants to help him, but he refuses to reveal his connection to the mansion.

Everything changes when Arianna stumbles onto the time machine before Christopher does. Will her future end up in the past?

More Info

Purchase your copy of Time Twist from Amazon. You can also pre-order your copy of Time Trap: The Somerset Series Book Two, which is available March 16, 2020.

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Book Review Flight of the Spark

Iskra lives in a small village with an abundance of laws to keep her safe, but do they keep her from happiness too?

Award-winning author Evelyn Puerto has given us a gift: Flight of the Spark Book One of the Outlawed Myth Fantasy Series. Like many authors, she spent years writing her first novel, but as you’ll see below, those years were well spent.

A lover of borscht and liberty, Puerto presumably also loves her psychotic cat.

My Thoughts on Flight of the Spark

Most fantasy takes a few chapters for me to settle into as I get used to the world the author creates and work to pronounce the names of the characters (perhaps the one thing I’d change about the genre). Flight of the Spark starts with Iskra, the main character, traveling from her little village of Gishin to Shinroo with a friend and the traders. Because Puerto took the time to introduce the world in a way I could process as I read, the story of this 15-year-old traveling a dangerous path wasn’t hard to grasp. It opened up my ability to savor the story without worry of forgetting some worldly law.

At first, I expected my review to discuss how Flight of the Spark shows the vast differences between communism and capitalism. People burdened by the laws forced on them in the name of safety, and the people who soar because few laws keep them from their dreams–aka the riskers.

But the more I read, the more I realized that while the story does have similarities to communism with leaders who live lavish lives while commoners live in cookie-cutter hovels, it focuses more on one emotion everyone experiences: fear. The villagers surrounding Iskra may be burdened by laws and aspects of communism, but fear keeps them in bondage.

Fear kept Iskra in bondage. Then Xico, a risker, saves her from a bandit, and a new world opens up to her. With that new world fear crashes down, and she has to decide what matters most in life.

The story, alone, intrigued and later amazed me, but the writing and characterization reaches levels every author wishes to attain. The years Puerto spent perfecting this novel shines through, brightening her talent for all to see.

Flight of the Spark falls under the YA fantasy genre. However, it does have closed-door sex between a married man and a prostitute, which is shown later in a negative light through his grief. There is also closed-door sex between husband and wife.

The Official Blurb

Iskra doesn’t question the rules. The rules are there to keep her safe from those who are deemed unsafe or unfair. Anyone who breaks the rules is taken, never to be heard from again. But that’s the price everyone gladly pays for peace and safety. And no one wants to live like the Riskers–barbarians who reject order and justice, and could kill or be killed at any moment.

When a friend is taken because of Iskra, the guilt forces her to do the unthinkable: seek out the Riskers. Iskra’s quest to save her friend quickly entangles her fate with a cryptic prophecy and a young Risker named Xico, who ensnares her heart and is willing to put it all on the line to win her.

With every risk Iskra takes, the closer she gets to true freedom. But every choice carries a consequence. The choices she makes set events she never imagined into motion, and the price of her freedom could very well be her life and the life of the man she loves.

More Info

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I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
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Book Review Cherokee Summer

When Ace spends her summer vacation in Cherokee, the last thing she’s looking for is a relationship, then she meets John.

Winner of the Missouri Romance Writers of America “Gateway to the Best” contest, Cherokee Summer, written by author Susan Anthony, brings some real-life problems and attitudes forward while characters Ace and John refuse to give up on love.

My Thoughts on Cherokee Summer

Alcoholic and dependent parents, racism, and questionable acquaintances are problems Ace and John face in Cherokee Summer. Co-dependent Ace struggles to find her independence from an alcoholic mother and a professional-gambling father while still caring for her autistic brother. Certainly not easy, she refuses to seek help because she doesn’t want to lose her brother, whom she loves deeply.

John lives a relatively stable life, but yearns for the love of his alcoholic mother, who left him when he was four and only visits when she needs money. Some of the friends he once associated with use and sell drugs, and participate in underage drinking.

I have mixed emotions about Cherokee Summer. Anthony knows how to write a story. Her word choice, structure, and ability to pull the reader in has many authors strapped over the proverbial barrel. As I read, I didn’t want to put the book down, despite my eye rolls at young love and concern that certain content might evolve to something I won’t read.

The situations the main characters find themselves in with family and friends are real for a lot of people. Alcohol, drug use, and nonacceptance of race, regardless of whether they are a minority or not. These affect the lives of millions. And I don’t shy away from stories where such factors play a part–as long as they aren’t shown in a positive light. And they’re not in Cherokee Summer.

Before moving on with my concerns, I want to explain some of my background. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches that what we read, watch, and experience in our lives affects us greatly. We learn to choose our entertainment carefully because of this. Morally, we believe in appropriate affection toward the opposite gender. This absolutely allows for appropriate kissing, but we teach our children to focus less on physical desires and more on getting to know each other. The Church also teaches that sex is a sacred gift, the power to create life, and is given to us to enjoy only within the bounds of marriage.

So where did I struggle? This book is filled with teenage hormones. Perhaps normal, considering the main characters are 18. But the friendship they build focuses first on physical touch, then actual friendship. It isn’t until after they’ve kissed several times and had a good make-out session that they focus on learning about each other. Hormones are real… Still, I wouldn’t let my teenage daughters read this book, and I’m not likely to recommend it to other adults without a strong disclaimer.

Within the pages, readers find regular ogling of both male and female bodies, French kissing, a girl lifting her top so her belly can touch her male counterpart’s while making out, mention of clothed grinding hips, and behind-the-scenes premarital sex between two consenting 18-year-olds. There is also underage drinking, once by a main character, and drug use by other characters. In terms of swearing, a biblical word is said several times, and the Lord’s name is used in vain.

If none of the above bothers you, then Cherokee Summer has a wonderful story line of a girl who loves her autistic brother and worries about his well-being. True to life, some characters pick on him and others adore him. I LOVED this part of the story, especially when able to mark the differences between characters. Anthony also includes a great suspense within the story that kept me reading. The love story shows two characters choosing their own paths in life and refusing to give up on each other, something I can appreciate as well.

As I said, I have mixed feelings. I don’t regret reading Cherokee Summer, but struggle to recommend it because of its more questionable content. If you decide to read it with the knowledge of what it includes, I have no doubt you will enjoy it.

The Official Blurb

When Ace leaves home to spend the summer in Cherokee, North Carolina the last thing she expects to find is a boyfriend—until she meets Cherokee Tribe member John Spears. As Ace and John’s friendship blossoms, they find their life experiences mirror each other and they fall in love. Despite hurdles thrown by well-meaning family members and jealous frenemies, the star-crossed lovers remain committed to their mutual belief that the universe has drawn them together. However, when Ace sends John a strange text and then suddenly disappears, the two must rely on their trust in each other to save both their lives and their love.

More Info

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 I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
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Book Review: The King’s Shadow

With civil war on the horizon and his brother dying, King Halavant must decide who to save first, his country or his family.

M.L. Farb, author of The King’s Trial, a Whitney Award nominee, has released The King’s Shadow (The King’s Trial Book Two). Don’t be surprised when you love it as much as I do.

My Thoughts on The King’s Shadow

As I’ve mentioned before, Amazon is riddled with poorly written fantasy. So much so, I am extremely careful when determining what fantasy books to accept for reviews. It would, then, make sense that becoming an award nominee in the fantasy category would not be a simple task. Yet, as I suspected, M.L. Farb managed the task. Don’t be surprised when The King’s Shadow shows up in the next Whitney Awards round. Just as wonderful as the first in the series, this book captures hearts.

The King’s Shadow continues the story of brothers Yoseph and Halavant. After traversing the King’s Trial and helping to save their people from Halavant’s evil mother, Yoseph remains with his brother. Together they work on a plan to equalize their people. But Yoseph is dying. In a last ditch effort to save him, Halavant travels to the land of the Carani in search of a cure for what ails his brother.

With old and new characters joining the story, readers follow the journeys of Yoseph, Katrin, Halavant, and Elise. Each battle their own demons as they strive to protect one another and their country. Fighting for all but themselves, they also learn to trust those around them and Yoseph’s god.

Filled with plenty more action, romance, and a story line that instills faith in God within its readers, The King’s Shadow has me hooked just as much as its predecessor. Expect mild war scenes, some PG-level violence, and mild kissing.

Official Blurb:

Two princes lead a war-broken people. One rules while the other serves in the shadows, haunted by encroaching death.

Halavant overthrew his queen mother to save his people from slavery, and now she seeks his life. Yosyph acts as the new king’s eyes and ears, but being invisible comes at great cost and his life is slipping away.

To save his closest friend, Halavant travels to the land of the skin-carving Carani, leaving Yosyph to rule a troubled people despite his ill health and the nobles on the verge of rebellion.

Unless Halavant can survive in the land of his enemies to find a cure and Yosyph can unite the frightened and starving people against a second war, both will die and their budding democracy will crumble under a new tyrant.

More Info

Purchase your copy of The King’s Shadow (The King’s Trial Book Two) on Amazon.

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Book Review: Frozen Secrets

When thirteen-year-old Max finally gets his chance to live on Jupiter’s moon, mysteries unfold in unexpected ways.

Myles Christensen has his hands in a lot of technology, an area some might consider an odd recipe for the makings of an author. As a design engineer and freelance product developer who teaches CAD at the university, he likely gets pieced in with those who live their lives surrounded by nothing but logic. However, each of these skills require creativity and finesse. Add game inventor to Christensen’s list of accomplishments, and author isn’t such a far stretch.

Christensen’s first novel Frozen Secrets is a middle grade, science fiction story that takes readers on an adventure to space and throws in an action-packed mystery in a way I didn’t expect.

My thoughts about Frozen Secrets

In Frozen Secrets, main character Max and his group of friends get tangled up in a mystery while on their way to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Before he knows what’s happening, someone tries to kill him… or a friend… or the pilot of the shuttle they are touring. Max thinks it’s because of something he saw, and he’s determined to learn the truth. What thirteen-year-old boy wouldn’t want to solve that mystery?

Though I’ve read some middle grade novels in the past, most of what I have read has bordered on the YA side of things. So, when I first started Frozen Secrets I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Too young my mind shouted at me. I had expected the book to fit within a higher reading level. Once I acclimated to the necessary he felt sentences, my interest in the story rose a surprising amount.

While reading, my eyes widened at times. My heart even raced. Such reactions were unexpected, considering my need to adjust to the reading level. But, instead of focusing on my other reading projects, I found myself intrigued with what would come next in Frozen Secrets.

Christensen’s writing and the editing done on this book is impeccable. Usually, I find at least a few typos in review books. None–that’s how many I remember in Frozen Secrets. And while those things matter, especially when I’m reading as a reviewer, the true test is whether or not the story pulls me in. While Frozen Secrets took a bit of time for me, an adult, to fall into, I believe young readers will have no problem immediately entering the adventure Christensen has laid.

Squeaky clean. Parents will find no swearing. There is a mild murder mystery and some middle grade ‘crush’ romance. Christensen lists the reading level at 8-18, which I agree with, especially on the lower end. Narrowing it significantly, I believe most 8 to 10-year-olds will find it a fantastic read. Who can go wrong with a space adventure?

Official blurb

Thirteen-year-old Max Parker is a grounded Earthling with the soul of a space explorer. So when he learns his family is relocating to Jupiter’s moon, Europa, he readily agrees to stay out of mischief. But his promise is soon forgotten, and his snooping lands him on a shuttle doomed for a fiery disintegration.

Convinced someone sabotaged the craft to cover up the theft he witnessed, he digs into the incident. Why was this robbery worth attempted murder? Dodging a series of deadly accidents, he follows the clues to an abandoned outpost and discovers a secret that could blow the lid off a moon-wide conspiracy…

Can Max solve the mystery before his interplanetary escapade gets him killed?

Frozen Secrets kicks off the thrilling, teen science fiction series, Europa Academy. If you like fearless friends, high-orbit mysteries, and immersive worlds, then you’ll love Myles Christensen’s action-packed adventure.

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Book Review: Not In the Plans

Jackson and Emory learn a special lesson this Christmas. Sometimes it’s not the giving but the receiving that matters.

What’s Christmas without a new Christmas story filled with holiday giving and romance? Some may say nothing, but this year, I prefer how Jessica Marie Holt explores the other side of giving–that of receiving in Not in the Plans: A Christmas Novella.

My Thoughts on Not in the Plans

One of the beautiful attributes of Holt’s writing is her ability to tell more than a story. Each one of her books and short stories leaves you with a little bit to ponder. Which character are you like? Have you felt the sting of rebuke? The angst of loss? The pull from something unexpected?

Not in the Plans is more than a story about two lonely people coming together at the hands of a darling little boy. And he is darling. Inside its few pages comes a story about two people desiring to be loved for who they are, willing to give everything, but who are still learning to recognize love and receive it graciously.

How many times do we need help? I’m not talking about those days when we want help and a little cheering up. Though those days can certainly be applied with this concept. I’m talking about those times when we cannot function because our water heater blew up our house, and then the hotel provided to us afterward floods. I mean those times when our choices are losing nearly everything or accepting help.

Do you dig in your feet, like I do, and continue to on a path you deem the only acceptable way? When someone gives too much, do you thank them, or do you say ‘it’s too much’ and question the reason why they attempted such a grandiose gift?

But it’s more than that… Do we let a little bit of ourselves go in order to accept the differences of others? Isn’t that a part of receiving?

Not in the Plans still brings two beautiful and truly charming people together. And the pure love of a child leads the way, but when you read Not in the Plans this week, be sure to consider the act of receiving. It can be as important as the act of giving.

The official Blurb

Two neighbors, on a quiet street, in a cozy Southern town. Jackson is a once-jilted bachelor looking for a way to patch up his broken dreams. Emory is a struggling single mom determined to hold things together on her own.

When Emory’s little boy brings them together unexpectedly, they find a new source of hope in each other, just in time for Christmas.

But then Emory’s past threatens to derail her little family’s future, and her new relationship with Jackson. Will hope be enough to save them?

More Info:

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Hope of a Shepherd

Kneeling at the tomb, Isaac tells the story of finding the Christ Child in the manager to his son.

Kneeling in the garden, I gazed at the tomb, which now lay open. All that I had seen as a boy flashed within my mind, reminding me of the knowledge God had given to me and the other shepherds. I turned to my son. “Now He has risen, the boy I once saw lying in a manager.”

“Abba,” my son’s curious gaze fell upon me. “You really saw Him as a babe?”

The winds swept past our feet that night, the cool breeze causing us to build small fires. Like most nights, I stared into the flames, the warm amber tinted with reds and blues. Drawing upwards, they danced with the air currents, the dry wood popping beneath them.

“Isaac, she peeks at you again.” My father tapped my foot with his staff. “You should say hello.”

Though I refused to shift my eyes to the pretty daughter of my father’s partner, Benjamin, I couldn’t help the small upward curve of my lips. Attention from such a pretty and smart girl would make any boy’s ears tingle with excitement.

I winked at my son, who plucked a flower from the ground. Nearing the age I had been then, he too, had a young maiden who peered at him with longing in her eyes.

“Abba, the story. Speak of Liza another day.”

“But such a pretty young thing, humor me, my son. Your mother once made me pluck flowers from the ground.” I chuckled and clasped his shoulder with my hand, squeezing lightly.

I prodded the coals, forming a place for our pot to warm the evening stew. Then a warm sensation from somewhere other than the fire entered my heart. Light brighter than the flames soon surrounded us. The sheep, though usually suspicious of change in the environment, remained still. My father stood beside me. I had never seen such brightness at night, and I shielded my eyes as I searched for the source. When my gaze discovered a man dressed in white floating above the ground, I joined my father and the shepherds of the field and we stumbled backward, frightened, until the being spoke.

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

The warm sensation, which had entered my heart earlier, pushed outward, and I felt none of the coolness of the breeze, nor did fear remain within me.

The incredulous look in my son’s eye reminded me of myself before the experience that night. It reminded me of some of the looks strangers gave me when I told them my story, too.

“Son, we kneel at the edge of the tomb for one who is no longer there. Do you question my words?”

“A man floating above the ground? Was it a dream?”

“No, not a dream. An angel of the Lord.”

He raised his hands outward and said, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

“Where?” my father questioned.

“How will we know Him?” Benjamin asked.

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

The angel who had spoken dropped his arms as hundreds more joined him.
Each heavenly host sang an anthem. The notes are a soft memory, but the words remain fully ingrained in my mind. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

“Christ the Lord, my son. We had heard the stories—read from Isaiah in the synagogues, but dare we believe? Dare we hope? The Saviour of the world. How much could He do for us? Some believed He would save us from bondage as Moses once had. But my father taught He would save us from something far greater.”

“Our sins?”

I nodded. “Our sins. Temporal and spiritual death.” I studied his eyes hoping to see understanding. “Without Jesus, we would be lost to everlasting darkness. Only He could pave our way to God. With His birth came hope.”

“So what did you do?”

None of us would wait to find the Christ Child. Gathering together, the men decided to trust the flocks to the dogs. If the Son of God was born, then certainly, the Father would watch over our flocks as we went to worship at His Child’s feet.

With haste, both man and woman, boy and girl left the fields, rushing into the town of Bethlehem. Inn after inn, we searched the stables. Families, there to be counted for the tax, crowded into each dwelling, but the stables held no Christ Child.

Forlorn, I looked toward the sky. A star shone toward the earth, brighter than any I’d seen before. Following its gleaming light, I took a step forward. Then another. In our search, we’d missed perhaps the most humble dwelling of them all, a small inn, hidden in the shadows of the rock.

I heard my father’s footsteps first, then the rest as they trailed behind me. Entering the inn, I asked the question we had asked so many times before.

“Does a new child wrapped in swaddling clothes reside in your stable?”
The owner peered at me, his eyes widening in wonder as he nodded and showed us the way.

“My son, the dreary stable, carved out of rock held sheep, donkeys, cattle, and all that one usually finds in such places. As you might imagine, it was no place for a babe. But He lay there, in a stone manager, with nothing but loose linen, swaddling clothes, to keep him warm.”

“How did you know it was the Christ, Abba?”

We immediately fell to our knees as the mother and her husband welcomed us into the single corner of the stable. The Babe’s eyes fluttered opened and He studied us as we gazed at Him. The animals made no sound. And the warmth I had experienced as the angel spoke reentered my heart, telling me we had found the Christ Child. The one who would save us.

His mother was Mary, who named the child Immanuel—God is with us—Jesus. We had read Isaiah, and we knew the rumors of a Joseph who had wed an expectant woman claiming to have known no man. We could not deny what we had seen and heard in the fields. The prophesies were true. Before us, lay the child prophets had proclaimed would come.

There, in that stable, I knelt next to the same pretty, young girl my father had teased me about and gave her little thought. I only wondered at the child foretold to carry the weight of the world on His shoulders. None of us really grasped what that meant, but we knew it meant something beyond anyone’s understanding—except God’s.

As we left the stable, my heart still soared. I couldn’t stop myself from telling everyone what had happened. Those who knew me well, they listened and wondered. We watched together as the child grew. He grew as most any other child—first babbling, then forming sentences. But once taught a rule, He never, ever broke it. As perfect as I thought I was, I soon learned differently.

I chuckled as my son smirked at the thought of my perfection. We both knew better.

“I think Eema plays a part in your perfect, Abba.”

“Perhaps.” I grinned wryly.

The stick I used to draw in the soil stilled, and I dropped it. Grasping my son’s hands I held them tightly. “All these years, your mother and I have watched Jesus and have seen proof of what the angel told us while in the fields. His works. The healings He performed. You witnessed five loaves of bread and two fishes feed a multitude of five-thousand people at His hand. We all listened to His words of peace and love.

“Now we kneel where His body was laid, and it is gone. Peter said He has risen.” I paused searching my son’s eyes, looking for the spark I knew he held within. “The faith and hope your mother and I discovered that night as we knelt next to a stone manager in a rock stable… I cannot question it. I’ve seen so much more. You asked if I saw Him. I did. Son, I did, and so did your mother.”

My son’s hands tightened their grip on mine. “The hope you had at His birth is fulfilled. Now we celebrate His life.”

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Grayson’s Christmas Cookies

Grayson can’t wait to eat his warm chocolate chip cookies, but his mom’s and sister’s sadness make doing so difficult.

Sturdy legs pumped underneath Grayson as he rushed home from school. Swerving around the other laughing children, he ran harder. Nothing could keep him from getting home first. If he didn’t beat his sister home, Mom would make him share his treat, and warm chocolate chip cookies were his favorite.

The scrumptious treat cradled carefully in his backpack were the last two remaining cookies from his class Christmas party. Missy’s mom brought them in hot and wrapped in foil. Maybe if they were cold, he’d share, but no way would he share warm cookies. Not even with Mom, and she was his favorite person in the whole world.

Cutting through his yard and bounding down the path through the hedge that lined the walkway to the front door, he threw the door open. It thudded against the wall, but he barely noticed, leaving it open. He stopped. Mom slumped in a chair, leaning against the dining room table with her hand covering her face.

“Mom?”

“Hi, honey. How was school? Did you enjoy your Christmas party?”

Mom’s voice sounded weird. Her eyes, which normal sparkled, dulled, accenting the reddened skin around them. Grayson closed the door.

“Yeah. Missy’s mom brought hot chocolate chip cookies!”

“That’s wonderful.”

His hands landed on the top of the table. Why wasn’t mom smiling? Mom’s were supposed to smile. The aroma of the cookies in his backpack caught up to him. Warm chocolate chips dotted each one. They were baked to perfection—a chewy middle and crisped edges. It almost seemed to touch his tongue. He paused, then reached up and patted Mom’s shoulder. “Why are you sad?”

“Oh, it’s nothing you need to worry about.” She gathered the half-empty mug in front of her and made her way to the kitchen.

Grayson watched as she placed the mug in the sink. She lifted her hand and wiped at her face. Every minute he waited to eat the cookies they cooled down. Waiting much longer and the chocolate would harden. He glanced back at Mom. “But you’re crying.”

“It’s just been a hard day. I’m okay, sweetheart, you go play.”

Hard days made Grayson cry too. The last hard day he had, Dad took away his Mega Nerf Blaster because he kept shooting his sister. But he only shot her like that because she took the TV remote. He cried a lot that day.

Following his mom to the living room, Grayson gazed at the Christmas tree lights. White lights reflected of shiny ornaments. His eyes fell to the nativity on the table next to it.

Sunday School usually meant an hour of sitting in a metal chair kicking his feet and being told to stop talking. But in the back of his mind, Grayson seemed to remember Sister Ross saying the baby Jesus suffered for everyone’s pain.

Grayson walked to the nativity and picked up the baby Jesus. “Mom, why doesn’t Jesus make you happy?”

After helping Grayson remove his backpack, she placed her hands on his shoulders. “He does. But he also lets us feel some sadness so we can know what happiness is.”

“Oh. Don’t you know what happiness is?”

“You make me happy.”

The front door rammed into the wall harder than it had when Grayson got home, interrupting their conversation.

“Mom, I hate school and boys!” Kayla stomped into the room, throwing her bag to the floor and herself onto the cushy chair.

He wouldn’t fight her for it today. He wasn’t getting himself beat up.

Mom’s shoulders dipped a bit lower. “I like some boys.”

She winked at Grayson, but her eyes still looked sad.

“I like school.” He did, but he was glad for the two-week break, too. Telling Kayla that seemed like a waste.

His sister rolled her teary eyes at him. “Go away. Mom, make him leave.”

“I don’t want to leave.” He picked up the remote and turned on the TV then stuck his tongue out at Kayla when Mom wasn’t looking.

Mom reached over and shut the TV off. “Grayson, can you take your backpack to your room and play in there for a little while?”

Cookies!

How had he forgotten so quickly? Lunging for his backpack, he ran to his room. The zipper screeched as he opened the bag, and the air filled with the aroma of freshly baked cookies. The outside of the foil warmed his fingertips, raising the corners of Grayson’s lips. Missy’s mom wrapped them real good. Cookies never stayed warm that long.

As he started to unwrap the delectable treat, he heard Kayla scream at her mom. “He said that in front of the whole class! That I’m dumb!”

Grayson frowned. A lot of times, Kayla made him angry, but she still took care of him, and she wasn’t dumb. She cooked all his favorite foods, and sometimes she helped him with his homework. Dumb people couldn’t do his homework—it was hard! He wondered when Jesus would take away Kayla’s pain. Mom probably still hurt too.

Unwrapping the cookies, he lifted the first one to his mouth, but couldn’t take a bite. Kayla and Mom like cookies too. If Jesus wasn’t going to help them be happy, maybe the cookies would.

He stared at the gooey desserts, each one perfectly round and perfectly golden. Soft in the middle, crispy on the edges, and the chocolate shined. All the other kids ate at the party, but he hadn’t.

Jacob had fallen at recess, and Grayson talked to him about the scratches he’d had after his own fall. After that, there wasn’t time to eat the cookies.

Chocolate chip cookies.

Giving away snickerdoodles or oatmeal raisin never hurt, but chocolate chip was his favorite.

The door creaked as he cracked it open to see where Mom and his sister were. Music from Kayla’s stereo filled the hall. She liked it loud. He knocked.

“Go away!”

He blew out his breath and inhaled courageously. “I have something for you.”

“What?”

“Open the door.”

She swung the door open. “What?”

Grayson offered Kayla the cookie.

“Where’d you get that?”

“School.”

She shifted on her feet before taking the treat. “Thanks.”

“You’re not dumb.”

Kayla rolled her eyes, but smiled. “Yeah, neither are you.”

The door closed and Grayson’s feet shuffled down the tiled hall to the kitchen, but Mom wasn’t there. Turning around, he headed back to her bedroom. Walking through the open door, he saw her leaning over one of her favorite blouses, which now had a large hole where a pocket had been.

“Mom?”

“What do you need Grayson?”

“Nothing, I just figured if Jesus won’t help you be happy, maybe this cookie will.”

Mom grinned and started crying again. “It certainly smells good.” She took the cookie and broke it in half, handing some back to Grayson. “You should have some too.”

“Thanks.”

Mom pulled him against her side. “Grayson, today you helped Jesus make me happy.”

“I did?” He scrunched up his nose and looked at Mom.

“Yup. Most of the time, Jesus makes us happy through the actions of others.”

“He does?”

“He does. Not every miracle comes with lightning flashes. Most come in everyday ways.”

Grayson grinned. “Like sharing my cookie?”

Mom gathered Grayson into her arms and planted a kiss on top of his head. “Like sharing your cookie.”

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Book Review: Accidentally Yours

When grannies June and Ellie open their clandestine match-making business, nothing can prepare them for their first client.

While some people think grannies have turned in all their flavor in lieu of dust and mustiness, it’s hard to argue with Granny June’s sweet pie and salty attitude in the Granny Pact Books. And Jessica Marie Holt knew it when she wrote Accidentally Yours, the second book of the collection. Musty or not, June and Ellie still manage to poke their heads around and find plenty of trouble you’re sure to get caught up in too.

My Thoughts on Accidentally Yours

There’s nothing more fun than watching grannies get involved in their family and friends’ relationships. If you’ve ready Reluctantly Yours, then you know June and Ellie have a knack when it comes to matchmaking. So there shouldn’t be much question as to whether or not their new business, the Match Mavens, can take off. You also know they’ll do just about anything to make sure the right match is made.

This time Maddie is the subject of their affection-making collusion. But Maddie’s mom, who hires them, has clear desires for her daughter: stability and success–anything but some creative working a low-paying, dead-end job. As you can guess, mavens set the fireworks off, and not all of them are romantic.

Accidentally Yours grabs everyone’s attention, keeping characters and readers on their toes. Holt adds one or two more grannies to the mix. Each one with their own flavor of craftiness, and I don’t mean hot glue and Popsicle sticks.

The book is filled with humor, cats, fun, and love–best of all the grannies. No one can go wrong with this sweet romance.

The official blurb

“Love, By Any Means Necessary. “

That’s the new motto of old friends Ellie and June.

Fresh off the success of their first matchmaking endeavor, these two feisty grannies are ready to take their skills to the next level. They’ll do whatever it takes to help Maddie–their next target–find true love, including hijinks, shenanigans, and good old-fashioned subterfuge. Unfortunately, Maddie’s meddling mom makes their task more problematic than they imagined, and they soon find themselves in over their heads. Can they engineer the right outcome? Or, will their schemes all come to nothing this time around?

More info

Purchase Accidentally Yours on Amazon

Follow Jessica Marie Holt on Facebook   &  Goodreads & Twitter

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