Review of A Christmas Promise, by Anne Perry

christmas_promiseA Christmas Promise

by Anne Perry

Ballantine Books, New York, 2009. 193 pages.

There’s nothing like a cozy Christmas murder mystery to put me in the mood for the holiday!

Seriously, I’ve come to enjoy Anne Perry’s Christmas offerings. They are short and quick to read. They have just a hint of sweetness, but no overt sentimentality, and enough tension and mystery to provide a puzzle and a sense of relief when the danger is past.

Two poor girls in Victorian England are the focus of A Christmas Promise. Thirteen-year-old Gracie Phipps comes across little eight-year-old Minnie Maude, looking for Charlie, her Uncle Alf’s donkey. Minnie Maude insists that her uncle was murdered, and that Charlie must be lost and frightened because he didn’t come home.

Gracie’s compassion for the little girl quickly gets her involved. But what can two girls do if Uncle Alf was murdered?

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Review of Christmas Letters, by Debbie Macomber


Christmas Letters

by Debbie Macomber

Mira, 2006.  269 pages.

I read one last Christmas book to finish up the season.  I actually read most of this book waiting at the dentist office, which was a very good time to have something to laugh about!  Christmas Letters is a true romantic comedy.

The book opens with a Christmas Letter from Zelda O’Connor Davidson.  She says, “Let me warn you — this Christmas letter won’t be as clever as last year’s.  My sister, Katherine (whom you may know better as K.O.), wrote that one for me but, ironically, she hasn’t got time to do this year’s.  Ironic because it’s due to the popularity of that particular letter that she’s managed to start a little business on the side — writing Christmas letters for other people!…

“This year’s big news, which I want to share with all of you, has to do with a wonderful book I read.  It changed my life.  It’s called The Free Child and it’s by Dr. Wynn Jeffries.  My sister scoffs at this, but Dr. Jeffries believes that children can be trusted to set their own boundaries.  He also believes that, as parents, we shouldn’t impose fantasies on them — fantasies like Santa Claus.  Kids are capable of accepting reality, he says, and I agree!  (See page 146 of The Free Child.)

“So, this Christmas will be a different kind of experience for us, one that focuses on family, not fantasy.

“Zach and the girls join me in wishing all of you a wonderful Christmas.  And remember, a free child is a happy child (see page 16).”

After reading this letter, when we meet K.O., we easily understand her aversion to Dr. Wynn Jeffries and his philosophies, which she feels have turned her twin nieces into holy terrors.  Maybe she’s a little over the top in her reaction.  Perhaps she shouldn’t have ranted at a customer buying Dr. Jeffries bestseller and gotten herself banned from a local bookstore.  But we do understand her hesitation when she learns Dr. Jeffries lives in her building, and her sister wants her to get his autograph.  She decides to do it, but then give him a piece of her mind.

Then her best friend, who has been taking a class to develop her psychic powers, sees Katherine’s future in the kitty litter.  LaVonne believes that K.O. and Wynn Jeffries are made for each other.  She finds a way to set them up that they can’t refuse.

It all adds up to silly, heartwarming fun.  Perfect for holiday or after-the-holiday being cheered up at the dentist’s, for example.

This book is set on Blossom Street in Seattle, but we only see in passing the characters from Debbie Macomber’s other Blossom Street books (at least the ones I’ve read).  Still, it’s fun to be in the same setting, feeling like you’re among friends.  A cozy, feel-good, lighthearted Christmas romance.

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Review of Silver Bells, by Luanne Rice


Silver Bells

A Holiday Tale

by Luanne Rice

Bantam Books, 2005.  274 pages.

Here’s another Christmas story.  Oddly enough, I tried to read this book last year, and simply couldn’t get interested.  It felt predictable and sentimental.  This year, I picked it up, read past the beginning, and found it sweet, poignant and even unexpected.

Christopher Byrne is a Christmas tree farmer from Nova Scotia.  Every year, he sells his stock, commanding high prices, in New York City.  Last year, however, his 16-year-old son, Danny, decided to stay in New York City instead of coming back home.  This year, Christy and his young daughter Bridget want nothing more than to find Danny.

Meanwhile, librarian Catherine Tierney lives near the Christmas tree lot, but has a hard time with Christmas.  Three years ago, she lost her beloved husband to melanoma right at Christmastime.  However, Catherine tries to help people in memory of Brian, and all year a certain homeless boy has been wanting access to the private library she tends.

Yes, Christy and Catherine’s lives intertwine.  Yes, this story is about waking up to romance and about Christmas miracles.  The story is very nicely done.  I found that once I was in the right mood for it, I was treated to a heartwarming holiday tale.

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Review of The Handmaid and the Carpenter, by Elizabeth Berg


The Handmaid and the Carpenter

by Elizabeth Berg

Random House, New York, 2006.  153 pages.

I’ve been reading Christmas novels, so here’s a novel about the original Christmas.

There was a time when I couldn’t really enjoy novelizations of Bible stories — I would get upset over quibbles where they didn’t quite line it up with the Bible text, or the characters would not act as I had imagined them to act.  But perhaps I’ve outgrown that.  I’m quite sure this is not how I would imagine Mary and Joseph, but I did enjoy these characters.

What would it have been like to give birth to the Son of God?  And how would your betrothed react?  Elizabeth Berg does pull us into the story, in all its wonder, yet with a nod to the reality of dirty straw and a long journey and a village reacting to the story of an angel announcement.

This isn’t a dramatically in-depth novelization, but it gives you a taste of what that first Christmas might have been like.  Definitely good holiday reading.

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Review of Santa Cruise, by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark


Santa Cruise

A Holiday Mystery at Sea

by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark

Simon & Schuster/ Scribner, 2006.  261 pages.

I have enjoyed some of Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark’s earlier Christmas mysteries.  So I picked up this Holiday Mystery for some fun Christmas reading.

To start up his new cruise ship, Commodore Randolph Weed launches the “Santa Cruise” — a free trip for people who have done good in the world.  He even includes ten department-store Santas to cheer the crowd while enjoying the cruise.  Alvirah Meehan and her husband Willy are among the honorees, and Alvirah invites her friend, private detective Regan Reilly and her husband Jack, as well as Regan’s parents, Nora and Luke.

What the Commodore doesn’t know is that his nephew Eric is using the cruise to make some money on the side.  Eric has agreed to take two convicted felons on board and drop them off on an island in the Caribbean without an extradition treaty.

Right from the start, Eric’s plans get thrown off.  He has to give his large room to Alvirah and her husband, so the felons don’t have a convenient place to hide.  Good thing there are lots of Santa suits available.

Santa Cruise has lots of coincidences and never really works up to much feeling of suspense, but it does provide some light-hearted fun in a holiday setting.

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Review of Let It Snow


Let It Snow

Three Holiday Romances

by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

Speak (Penguin), 2008.  352 pages.

Starred Review

Okay, I’m in the mood for holiday reading, and this book of three intertwined holiday romances was completely delightful.  I began reading during a dentist appointment, and found when I got home, my recovery demanded further reading.

The three stories are all teen romances, delightfully told.  John Green’s story, told from the guy’s perspective, is in the middle, and makes a nice subtle change from the other two, but I loved all three.

Maureen Johnson tells the  first story, where Jubilee Donegal is on a train to visit her grandparents in Florida instead of at her boyfriend’s big family Christmas Eve Smorgasbord.  Her parents were arrested in a riot over collectible Flobie Santa Village buildings, and Jubilee got sent to Florida.  Unfortunately, she doesn’t get far before the train is stopped by snow.  She’s in a car with a group of cheerleaders off to a cheerleading competition and a cute guy obsessed with trying to call his girlfriend (and failing).  What can she do except go out through the snow and try to get to the Waffle House she sees across the highway?

What follows is a delightful story of adventure and eye-opening revelations and, yes, romance.

John Green’s story involves a guy and two friends trying to get through the snow to the Waffle House, where their friend, the store manager, is telling a hysterical tale about a group of cheerleaders needing “help” working on cheers.  He needs them to bring a Twister game, but if they take too long, someone else’s friends might beat them to it.  Once again, things don’t happen as they expect.

In Lauren Myracle’s story, we see the ex-girlfriend of the guy on the train, despairing because he didn’t show up and he didn’t even call.  Meanwhile, her friends need her to do a little something for them — and they don’t want to hear that there’s been another “crisis.”

The stories dovetail beautifully.  They are all funny and sweet and wonderfully entertaining.  Definitely recommended holiday reading!

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Review of A Christmas Grace, by Anne Perry


A Christmas Grace

by Anne Perry

Ballantine Books, New York, 2008.  210 pages.

Starred review.

Ah, there’s nothing like a nice cozy Christmas murder mystery by Anne Perry!  It’s getting to be a tradition for me that I especially enjoy.

Emily Radley gets a message that her estranged Aunt Susannah is dying.  Aunt Susannah was cut off from the family years ago for marrying a Catholic.  She lives in a remote part of Ireland, and now she wants to have family near her at Christmas, so she does not die alone.

Emily comes and gets a feel for the coastal village.  Then an enormous storm hits, with a shipwreck offshore and a stranger stranded on their beach.  Emily learns that the town is haunted by the memory of a similar event.  Only that earlier stranger was murdered.  Did he ask questions too uncomfortable to answer?  What did he know that he was killed for?

I’m not quite sure how Anne Perry manages to make murder mysteries so beautifully communicate a cozy and warm spirit of Christmas.  But her Christmas stories leave me feeling uplifted and remind me of what Christmas is all about.  Lovely.

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Review of A War of Gifts, by Orson Scott Card


A War of Gifts,

An Ender Story,

by Orson Scott Card

Tor, Tom Doherty Associates, New York, 2007.  126 pages.

Here’s a Christmas story that takes you into Ender’s world.  We follow the story of Zeck, who’s been brought up to believe that Santa is a form of Satan.  When Zeck is sent to Battle School, he refuses to participate or ever fire a weapon, because he also believes that War is not a valid field of study.

Then a Dutch boy puts out his shoe for Sinterklaas, and gets a Sinterklaas poem.  This starts a trend of the students, where religion is forbidden, finding subversive ways to celebrate Christmas, claiming it’s a national observance, not a religious one.

As the “war of gifts” escalates, Zeck’s life is touched in a way that he doesn’t expect.

A nice Christmas story, quite different from typical ones.  Ender fans will especially enjoy it.

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Review of Millie in the Snow, by Alexander Steffensmeier


Millie in the Snow

by Alexander Steffensmeier

Walker & Company, New York, 2008.  First published in Germany in 2007 as Lieselotte im Schnee.  28 pages.

Starred Review

Millie’s back!  Hooray!

Millie the bovine mail carrier stars in a new silly story, this time about Christmas.  Originally written in Germany, I was delighted by the pictures, bringing back memories of German Christmases.

Millie no longer ambushes the mail carrier.  Now she assists him.  At Christmastime, they are busier than ever.  However, Millie has trouble finding her way home in the deep snow, and the packages lose their tags.

Once again, the hilarity of this book is primarily contained in the amazingly expressive illustrations.  As a bonus, along with the exuberantly illustrated main story, there are multiple antics taking place in the background.

Millie is not your typical cow, and this is not your typical Christmas book.

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