Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On the Eighth Day of Christmas: Midnight Clear

Title: Midnight Clear
Author: Jerry B. Jenkins and Dallas Jenkins
Christmas Cheer Rating: 4

I have a confession to make. When I decided to read 12 books for Christmas, I was expecting to read stories that would add to my Christmas cheer. I thought I would be reading book about the beauty of Christmas and the holiday spirit. Apparently, I have the wrong idea of what the Christmas spirit is because I picked some of the most depressing plotlines I’ve ever read. Good thing I have a lot of Christmas spirit.

Midnight Clear did require me to dig into my Christmas cheer. It’s the story of the intersection of five lives on Christmas Eve. Each of them had lives that illustrate the dark side of Christmas. Some of them are lonely, sad, and suicidal, feeling like their lives have no meaning but they all experience the hope of Christmas.

This book actually tapped into a part of Christmas that the other books I read didn’t. It showed how one random act of kindness can change someone’s life in a drastic way. This book portrayed the message of Christmas, how something small changed the course of history.

I actually enjoyed the book, just not the kind of Christmas cheer I expected.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas: The Christmas Sweater

Title: The Christmas Sweater
Author: Glenn Beck
Christmas Cheer Rating: 0

I think this may be the lowest rating I’ve given a book since I started reviewing books. First, let me say I didn’t realize the author was the ultra-conservative and sometimes controversial commentator from FOX news. I only picked up the book because it was available at the library and it was being advertised on CBD (funny since Beck is a baptized Mormon).

The Christmas Sweater is basically a fictionalized account of Beck’s life. Eddie, the main character wants a bike for Christmas. It is his first Christmas after a great tragedy has hit his family. Instead of getting a bike, he gets a sweater knitted by his mother. Another tragedy hits and Eddie struggles with his understanding of what’s really important.

The problem with this book is that not completely horrible. I loved the way Beck portrayed Eddie’s grandfather and his shenanigans. Unfortunately, this secondary character wasn’t enough to keep me interested. All the other characters were forgettable or annoying (especially when it came to Eddie). I don’t think it’s wise to have such an irritating main character.

Despite all this, characterization wasn’t my major problem with this novel. It was the plot. Beck does something in this book that annoys me to no end and is grounds for me to put authors on the “Do Not Buy” list.


The whole book is a dream. I felt like I’d invested several days worth of reading for nothing. I think that is the worse plot device any author can use in a book, second to something supernatural like an angel tying up all the plots loose ends (deus ex machina). I feel cheated and Beck gave no hint that all this was a dream. And the dream itself required that I suspend belief more often than not.

Occasionally, I come across a book that makes me wonder how it earned a place on best seller lists. This is one of them. If Glenn Beck can write a book like this and achieve “success”, then there is great hope for my writing career.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

On the Sixth Day of Christmas: There's Something About Christmas

Title: There’s Something about Christmas
Author: Debbie Macomber
Christmas Cheer Rating: 2

I’d been looking forward to reading one of Debbie Macomber for a while and this challenge provided me a perfect opportunity to pick up some of her books. Unfortunately, this book was a disappointment.

There’s Something about Christmas is the story of Emma Collins, a reporter for a small newspaper in Puyallup, Washington. She longs to write something other than obituaries and doing ad sales. She gets her chance to write a personal interest story about local women who’ve are finalist in a national recipe contest. She had to face two things she hates: flying and fruitcake. Added to her distress is the fact that a local pilot had offered to fly her in return for free advertisement in the paper. She starts for fall for Olivier, fruitcake and ultimately Christmas.

As I read this book, I struggled to figure out why Macomber’s writing earned her a place on bestseller lists. I guessing that her other books are better than this one. The best word I can use to describe this book is flat. I had no emotional connection to any of the characters. I really didn’t care what happened to them. Not only that, I had not sense of the physical appearance of either characters. Normally I can form a mental picture in my head based from the description the author gives. Macomber kept saying that Oliver was handsome, but she didn’t give me any description to work with. And of course, the name Oliver didn’t help. All I kept seeing him as a middle aged, slightly overweight, bald guy. And I didn’t know Emma was blond until the middle of the book.

The other thing this book lacked was a lack of setting. Just as she didn’t describe her characters, Macomber didn’t describe location either. One piece of advice that I’ve read from writing books was to make your novel’s setting adds something to the tale. If your story could be set anywhere in the world, then the writer hasn’t put enough work into the setting. That’s the exact feeling I got from Puyallup, Washington. It could have been any small town in the world.

The third problem I had with the book is that Emma hated Oliver so much that it was hard to believe she’d done a 180 and was now in love with him. I understand that tension is a good thing when it comes to romance, but this was too much. Emma didn’t like anything about him. Once is started, the romance between them seemed artificial. They had no chemistry.

There is another one of her books on my reading list. I hope it does better than this one and I won’t find myself rushing through it simply to say I finished it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Official Kissing Day Blogfest

I've decided to participate in the Official Kissing Day Blogfest. No, this isn't the UK holiday of Kissing Day (July 6) but a day when writers are posting a kissing scene from their current WIP (work in progress, for all you who don't speak writer). Hope you enjoy.

The Official Kissing Day Blogfest is hosted by Sherrinda at A Writer Wannabe. If you would like to get in on the smooching fun, here's a link to the rules.

Kissing Scene, Love Simplified

As soon as the elevator door opened, Lance grabbed my arm hard and led me down the hallway to his office. His grip kept me from stumbling. I felt very much like Jane being dragged off by Tarzan. I briefly made eye contact with Shannon before he roughly guided me into the room. Fear danced across her features and transferred to me. But before I could escape, I stood in the lion’s den.

Lance released me, turned and slammed the door shut. Every picture on the walls rattled with the force. I half expected to see the glass panes fall from the window.

Lance whipped around and faced me, his anger so hot I felt like sunbathing. “Have you lost your mind?”

“I had a plan. Everything was under control.” I said.

He ran his hand through his hair and paced in a small circle before returning to face me. “Your plan included getting crushed?”


He stepped closer, further highlighting the fact that he towered over me. “Then what was your plan? To create mob scene on a public street?” he growled, his brow furrowed.

“No. I took advantage of a good publicity opportunity. It would have gone better if you hadn’t overreacted.” I spat back.

“I overreacted? You stir up a crowd of people with no security and I’m overacting. Why would you do something so…” he waved his hands in the air.

“Stupid?” I stepped closer, giving him my best I-dare-you-to-call-me-stupid look.

“Stupid!” he yelled. His secretary probably heard that. And everyone else on the floor.

“No you didn’t just call me stupid.” I stepped closer.

“You willfully put yourself in a dangerous situation. What would you call that? And for what?” he inched even closer and now we stood nose to nose. “We have less than a month left in production-“

I let out a sharp laugh. “That’s what this is all about. Your precious show.”

“This isn’t about the show.” He paused. His brow unfurled slightly and his eyes softened. “You could have been hurt.” His voice lowered with each word and the last one came out almost as a whisper. His expression held such a mix of emotions that I couldn’t peg. Anger, yes, but something else. Something just as strong as his rage.

And something that sent my stomach dropping to my toes. The crowd had grown rowdy and I didn’t think they would hurt me. They were my fans, excited about seeing me. But the truth remained that if Lance hadn’t pulled me out… I swallowed hard. He stood less than an inch away, his breathing still uneven from yelling.

“I-I didn’t think they would hurt me,” I said, averting my eyes. I found myself staring at his chest. A muscled chest barely contained in his gray tee. Did someone raise the temperature in the room? I returned my gaze to his eyes. Maybe he didn’t see me checking him out. His expression told me he had. His perfect hazel eyes held mine, long enough for me to notice the tiny green flecks in them.

Before I could catalog all the emotions coursing through my brain, he brought his hand up to my face and ran his thumb along my cheekbone. I sucked in a breath. The side of his thumb brushed my earlobe, making my earring sway and his fingertips slid into my hair. The coarseness of his touch sent every nerve on the back of my neck into a frenzy. A flicker of fear clouded his eyes as he studied my face. My own stomach did a flop. He leaned down and I found myself stepping up to the tips of my toes.

When his lips connected with mine, it felt as loud as the door slamming, sending shudders through my body. But his tenderness surprised me, like getting kissed by a breeze. He brought his other hand up to cup my face and changed the angle of the kiss, still gentle. Our mouths moved in perfect sync. Not like when Darryl and I kissed and our teeth collided. Darryl tried to impress me, forcing his kiss on me but Lance shared the kiss with me. A soft give and take.

My brain tried grasp the fact that I was kissing Lance within throwing distance of his secretary and enjoying it. Me. A girl who’d never been in love. A girl currently dating three men on national television. A girl who’d never had anyone make me feel like I did at this moment, especially by someone I mostly hated. I couldn’t ignore this kissed erased years of loneliness and sent my heart soaring but I couldn’t be falling for Lance.

As if he could hear my thoughts, Lance slowly pulled away but still cupping my face. All the anger had left his eyes and had been replaced with confusion. He studied me like I had grown horns since he’d brought me into the office. I took a tentative step backwards. Reality rushed into between us, chilling the moment. He’d just totally violated all my personal space…again. He couldn’t just kiss me without permission. Who does he think he is?

So I did what any self-respecting girl would do. I slapped him. Hard. “You had no right.” I tried to sound angry but my voice betrayed the fact that I felt like I’d just lived through an earthquake. He touched his hand to his face where my slap had landed, which had already started to turn red. He stared at the floor, his jaw worked for a moment, but he didn’t say anything. I wanted him to yell at me. Threaten me like he always did. But instead he stood stock still.

I rushed out the door before he could move from where he stood. I purposely turned my head so his secretary couldn’t see my face, since the only way to make what’d happened more obvious was to write I KISSED LANCE on my forehead with a Sharpie. I tromped down the hall to the elevators, feeling my resolve go the farther I got away from him. This cannot be happening, but my stomach confirmed that it was. Love wasn’t supposed to make you feel like you were going vomit, was it?

I jabbed my finger on the down button three times before the elevator pinged and opened. I stepped inside, thankfully alone. I punched the close door button and the doors lazily rolled closed. But not fast enough for me to miss Lance calling my name before the doors shut.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On the Fifth Day of Christmas: Engaging Father Christmas

Title: Engaging Father Christmas
Author: Robin Jones Gunn
Christmas Cheer Rating: 5

I reviewed the first book in this set for the fourth day of Christmas. Finding Father Christmas left an impact on me that the day I completed reading it, and realized that there was another book in the series, I rushed out and picked up a copy of Engaging Father Christmas. This novella continues the story of Miranda Carson who is returning to London. Waiting in for her return is her boyfriend and her new found family. Her ideas of a merry Christmas are squashed when Ian's father is hospitalized. She also faces the challenging of blending with her new family and finding her place.

Gunn paint Miranda's story lyrical beauty that gives the book a poetic feel. Her imagery is so crisp that you can almost feel the chill in the air and taste the Christmas dinner. This, along with Finding Father Christmas, are two books perfect for any Christmas reading list and can be enjoyed all year round.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas: Finding Father Christmas

Title: Finding Father Christmas
Author: Robin Jones Gunn
Christmas Cheer Rating: 5

As a child, one of the things that made me fall in love with books was their ability to transport me to another place. I loved when a book carried me off to some far-away land or just transported my thinking to a different perspective. Books made me forget where I was, physically and emotionally.

In my adulthood, I've not come across many books that made me feel like I was carried off by pixie dust to a magical land. I've read books that seeped me in the reality of now, and shown me the beauty in the ordinary world. But few whisked me off into a place I'd never been.

I am pleased to say that Finding Father Christmas has done that for me. Gunn deftly whisked me off to London and immersed me in the story of Miranda Carson. Miranda has set out to find the father she never knew and is surprised where the trail leads her. She has to decide what to do with what she finds.

As far as characters, each one is memorable in their own right. Each one finds their place into your heart and they don't compete with each other. The setting also draws you in. I've never been to London but spent three Christmases in Belgium. Gunn captures the feel of Christmas in European countries and their love for Father Christmas. There is a childlike wonder about Christmas among Europeans that American hasn't managed to capture and Gunn gives us a snapshot of that. Gunn weaves the character, the setting and plot together into a story that insulates you in the warmth of the season.

This was an incredible book and it completely validated my quest to read Christmas books this holiday.

Monday, December 7, 2009

On the Third Day of Christmas: The Judge Who Stole Christmas

Title: The Judge Who Stole Christmas
Author: Randy Singer
Christmas Cheer Rating: 5

If you've ever wondered about the legal implications of Christmas in a growing secular world, The Judge Who Stole Christmas is the book for you. It is centered around one man's battle concerning a manager on public property. This novella has a healthy dose of truth in it and gives you a good idea of how a legal battle would play out in our increasingly secular society.

Singer is the master of plots centered on legal issues which earned his other books I've read, The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney and By Reason of Insanity to my favorites list. I think most of all this book challenged your thinking about who the "good" and "bad" guys are. I've often believed that all that is done in the name of religious freedom is not beneficial to the Christian cause. This book contains several characters that prove my point and a few who help the clause along in surprising ways.

This book also breaks my expectations of a warm cozy Christmas story. This book makes you think and pray. It makes you cherish the freedoms we have as Americans to celebrate Christmas and understand the great need for the light of Christ to shine in this world. This book points out the deeper meaning behind the manger scene and challenges you to look at the separation of church and state from a different perspective. It’s a great holiday read.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On the Second Day of Christmas: The Angel of Bastogne

Author: Gilbert Morris
Christmas Cheer Rating: 5

I have wanted to read a book by Gilbert Morris for a long time. Morris is a very prolific writer and I have been eyeing his What the Cat Dragged In series for a while The Angel of Bastogne proved to be a good first exposure to his writing.

Ben Raines is a newspaper journalist who holds a cynical view of Christmas. He's not happy when he receives an assignment to write feel-good piece on Christmas. Begrudgingly, he cancels his vacation and goes to work on a story about his father's service in World War II. As he investigates his father's mysterious recount of an event on Christmas Day, Ben discovers the real miracle of Christmas.

I loved this book. It perfectly embodies the idea of Christmas and the impact that one simple act of sacrifice can have on those around us. The book was also well-written with memorable characters. I particularly enjoyed Ben’s transformation in the book. It didn’t seem forced and artificial. I think this book would make a great stocking stuffer for the reader in your life.