Friday Flashback: Two Tickets to a Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul (My First Book Review!)

Being unfamiliar with the name Donita K. Paul, I did a quick internet check which showed she had published other books under the pen name Kathleen Paul, several of which I had read.

So when I received my book, Two Tickets to a Christmas Ball, a few days ago, with great excitement, I curled up in my chair and began to read.

The story starts with Cora Crowder, a young Christian lady from a dysfunctional, non-Christian family who feels Christmas is too commercialized but also feels the obligation to get family presents.

Cora finds a charming bookstore in an old part of town almost no one remembers or goes to anymore and upon recommendation from the owner, buys a book for her uncle.

Her first encounter with the owner and the son of Warner, Werner and Wizbotterdad’s bookstore, leaves her feeling slightly off-kilter as if something is a bit askew, but there is no real no explanation for the feeling.

The story introduces Simon Derrick, Cora’s fellow employee, at the bookstore, where she quickly recognizes him having worked with him for five years. He’s practically clueless as to who she is when she says hello and repeatedly throughout the book calls her by the wrong name.

As the story progresses from her chance meeting of her boss’ boss, the book she buys with a ticket to the Christmas Ball tucked inside, on through to the end of the story there is a fanciful mix of fantasy, magic and reality. All is tied up loosely with a beautiful bow at the Christmas Ball.

Danita K. Paul does a good job of mixing the worlds of magic and Christianity along with a tolerable explanation of things normally not considered acceptable in the Christian world, such as fairies, wizards and magic.

The character development seems to suffer from the story being so short-there are many things begging to be more fully developed and people you would love to get to know better.

Technically a novella, Two Tickets to a Christmas Ball provides a quick, light read on a pre-Christmas night.

This book was provided to me free in exchange for a blog review.

(Slight revisions made)

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Friday Flashback-A Christmas Promise (Christmas Holiday Extravaganza) by Tamera Lynn Kraft

My Review

Anna Brunner faced many obstacles and a rough life in Schoenbrunn Village, Ohio, in 1773. One of the things she didn’t want to face was her husband’s need to hide details of his mission work from her.

John Brunner felt protecting his wife from things that would distress her justified his half-truths.

John’s desire to help ease his wife’s anxiety was admirable. However, his methods were not.Even though we know it is to avoid conflict and ease our conscience, many of us fall into the same trap John did, with half-truths and evasions. We justify our actions by telling ourselves we are doing it for the other person’s feelings.

We all, as individuals like Anna, sometimes want to bury our heads in the sand to avoid hurt and pain. However, this only sets us up for more heartbreak and pain.

There are many lessons to be learned from A Christmas Promise. Even though the story is a novella, therefore it is short, it packs several messages into the pages you read.

A Christmas Promise (Christmas Holiday Extravaganza) by Tamera Lynn Kraft focuses on Christmas for Moravians in colonial America. I am a little familiar with the Moravian faith and some of its Christmas traditions, so I especially enjoyed learning more.

I received A Christmas Promise (Christmas Holiday Extravaganza) from the author. However, I was not required to give a review.

Publisher’s Summary

During colonial times, John and Anna settle in an Ohio village to become Moravian missionaries to the Lenape. When John is called away two days before Christmas to help at another settlement, he promises he’ll be back by Christmas Day. When he doesn’t show up, Anna works hard to not fear the worst while she provides her children with a traditional Moravian Christmas. Through it all, she discovers a Christmas promise that will give her the peace she craves.

12 Days at Bleakly Manor: Book One in Once Upon a Dickens Christmas by Michelle Griep

My Review

If you enjoy stories with mystery and intrigue, twists and turns keeping you guessing at who is orchestrating the events, quick short reads (only 192 pages) and best of all-tied up with a Christmas bow-then Bleakly Manor is the perfect short story for you!

I don’t usually like mystery/suspense stories. However, Michelle Griep’s first book in her series, Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, exudes just the right amount of inscrutability, that you will be reading quickly to get to the “who is doing it?” and then you’ll wish you’d savored it just a little longer.

Although there are some intense, mildly violent scenes, the story overall is one of trying to recover what each person feels they have lost. Some of the characters, like most people, are more at peace with themselves and God than others. Hence some are more pugnacious and cruel than others.

Don’t expect a happy time at Christmas in Bleakly Manor; it isn’t there in an overt or obvious way. Nonetheless, the ending (and the explanation of the traditions) provide the skinny Christmas bow.

I’m looking forward to the next edition in the series, and there is a sneak peek at the end of the book!

Publisher’s Review

A mysterious invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home may bring danger…and love?

England, 1851: When Clara Chapman receives an intriguing invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home, she is hesitant yet feels compelled to attend—for if she remains the duration of the twelve-day celebration, she is promised a sum of five hundred pounds.

But is she walking into danger? It appears so, especially when she comes face to face with one of the other guests—her former fiancé, Benjamin Lane.

Imprisoned unjustly, Ben wants revenge on whoever stole his honor. When he’s given the chance to gain his freedom, he jumps at it—and is faced with the anger of the woman he stood up at the altar. Brought together under mysterious circumstances, Clara and Ben discover that what they’ve been striving for isn’t what ultimately matters.

What matters most is what Christmas is all about . . . love.

Pour a cup of tea and settle in for Book 1 of the Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series–a page-turning Victorian-era holiday tale–by Michelle Griep, a reader and critic favorite.

I received this book from Barbour Publishing. However, I was under no obligation to post a review.

A Christmas Promise (Christmas Holiday Extravaganza) by Tamera Lynn Kraft

 #ReadChristmasinJuly

Welcome to our last Christmas in July story!

Publisher’s Summary

During colonial times, John and Anna settle in an Ohio village to become Moravian missionaries to the Lenape. When John is called away two days before Christmas to help at another settlement, he promises he’ll be back by Christmas Day. When he doesn’t show up, Anna works hard to not fear the worst while she provides her children with a traditional Moravian Christmas. Through it all, she discovers a Christmas promise that will give her the peace she craves.

My Review

Anna Brunner faced many obstacles and a rough life in Schoenbrunn Village, Ohio, in 1773. One of the things she didn’t want to face was her husband’s need to hide details of his mission work from her.

John Brunner felt protecting his wife from things that would distress her justified his half-truths.

John’s desire to help ease his wife’s anxiety was admirable. However, his methods were not.Even though we know it is to avoid conflict and ease our conscience, many of us fall into the same trap John did, with half-truths and evasions. We justify our actions by telling ourselves we are doing it for the other person’s feelings.

We all, as individuals like Anna, sometimes want to bury our heads in the sand to avoid hurt and pain. However, this only sets us up for more heartbreak and pain.

There are many lessons to be learned from A Christmas Promise. Even though the story is a novella, therefore it is short, it packs several messages into the pages you read.

A Christmas Promise (Christmas Holiday Extravaganza) by Tamera Lynn Kraft focuses on Christmas for Moravians in colonial America. I am a little familiar with the Moravian faith and some of its Christmas traditions, so I especially enjoyed learning more.

I received A Christmas Promise (Christmas Holiday Extravaganza) from the author. However, I was not required to give a review.

Christmas in July sponsored by          https://www.asimplyenchantedlife.com/christmas-in-july-signup/

A Christmas Jar for Santa: A Christmas Jars Short Story by Jason F Wright

A Christmas Jar for Santa: A Christmas Jars Short Story by [Wright, Jason F.]

 #ReadChristmasinJuly

Publisher’s Summary

The Christmas Jars tradition:

“…one by one, family members will empty their pockets and delight at the cling-clang of change hitting the empty glass bottom. Most days will yield a quarter, a dime, perhaps two nickels and a stray penny. Occasionally Mother will make change for herself by drop- ping in a worn dollar bill and pulling out an appropriate combination of cool silver coins. Over the months that follow, the gathering change will leave no recognizable void. Occasionally the temptation to borrow for laundry, a movie, or the ice-cream truck will float through the house, over the jar, and out the back door. But it never lands. The money is spoken for.” (Excerpt from Christmas Jars, copyright 2005, published by Shadow Mountain.)

Christmas Jars, a New York Times Bestselling novella by Jason Wright, first became a phenomenon during the 2005 holiday season. Readers across America reacted to the message of daily giving and sacrifice by creating their own Christmas Jars.

Today, thousands of glass jars rest on kitchen countertops, slowly collecting the spare change generated each and every day. On Christmas Eve, each jar, now overflowing with both money and goodwill, will anonymously find a new home. In turn, the grateful recipients will put the money to good use in their lives and begin their own jar. Thus hearts and lives are changed and the cycle continues.

This short story follows in the tradition and spirit of Christmas Jars. If you’ve read the original, you’ll love this sweet addition to the Christmas Jars family.

My Review

“Santa” and his wife Pauline were unable to have children. However, Pauline loved children so much that “Santa” ended up loving them mightily, too. So, when a church Santa became ill one year, “Santa” stepped in to take his place, and just kept doing it every year thereafter.

A Christmas Jar for Santa, by Jason F. Wright, is a short, short story-only nine or ten pages long. I had planned on reviewing a book length Christmas story, but this one . . . this one couldn’t and wouldn’t allow me to ignore it. It left a lasting impression on me as I’m sure it will on you, too when you read it.

There are at least four more Christmas Jar stories, and I can’t wait to read them all.

Merry, Merry Christmas in July!

                                   Christmas in July sponsored by                                              https://www.asimplyenchantedlife.com/christmas-in-july-signup/

Angel Song by Mary Manners

#ReadChristmasinJuly

Publisher’s Summary

Down on her luck, college-educated art teacher Quinn Sanders is a single mom who’s returned to Landers Hollow to raise her five-year-old daughter, Linsey. While working at the local diner, Quinn is befriended by Jason Graves. She has no idea Jason’s the youth director of Landers Hollow Community Church until he asks her to lend a hand with the children’s Christmas pageant. Jason is dealing with issues of his own—a painful divorce following a doctor’s confirmation that he’ll never be able to father a child. Jason longs for a family of his own, but, rejected and disheartened, fears it may never come to pass. Jason and Quinn are both searching for a Christmas miracle. What they find is sweeter than an angel’s song.

My Review

Quinn Sanders, single mom, lost her job because of budget cuts and has returned home, only to find work as a waitress. She’s barely able to eke out a living for herself and her daughter. To make matters worse, it’s almost Christmas, her car won’t start and all four of the tires on her car are bald.

Jason Graves, church youth director, lost his help for the annual Christmas pageant and thinks Quinn is the answer to his prayers. Only one problem; she doesn’t agree!

Mary Manners’ novella, Angel Song, is an enchanting short story about the Christmas season. I felt the bitter cold as Quinn unsuccessfully tried to start her car, the frustration of her feeling as if it were just one more thing on a mountain of disappointments and the feeling of redemption as her life began to slowly turn around. I also delighted in Linsey, Quinn’s daughter! She added warmth, laughter and tenderness to the lives of everyone she touched.

Miss Manners does a wonderful job of portraying two souls reeling from rejection and heartache, learning to trust God in all circumstances.

Angel Song is the perfect story for Christmas in July, evoking memories of the joy of the season and the reasons we celebrate it.

                                          Christmas in July sponsored by                                                 https://www.asimplyenchantedlife.com/christmas-in-july-signup/

An Apple for Christmas by Darlene Franklin

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#ReadChristmasinJuly

Publisher’s Summary

Ruby Nelson trades her job in the laboratory for teaching in a small girls’ school in Vermont. Twin sisters challenge her position—and their father captivates her imagination. Will the orchard grower graft Ruby onto his heart?

My Review

Ruby Nelson, the teacher for Spruce Hill Female Academy in Vermont, is clearly overqualified for her position.

MacIntosh “Mac” Cortland, widowed father to twins, Pippa and Margil (all three of the Cortland’s are named after a type of apple), is curious as to why Ruby is teaching instead of following her original vocation as a scientist. He’s not sure he wants her teaching his girls.

I especially enjoyed Pippa as she is spunky and inquisitive, sometimes to her detriment. Both Pippa and Margil are lonely without a mother and are trying to find their way through life, trying the patience of their father and their teacher.

Darlene Franklin has written a cute, heart-warming and enjoyable story focused around apples. Although An Apple for Christmas isn’t centered around Christmas, it does address the holiday and has inspirational overtones.

(Some of the book appears to be in draft form. Nevertheless, the story is fun to read.)

                               Christmas in July sponsored by                                                 https://www.asimplyenchantedlife.com/christmas-in-july-signup/

The Fruitcake Challenge By Carrie Fancett Pagels

Banner Christmas in July 2

#ReadChristmasinJuly

Publisher’s Summary

When new lumberjack, Tom Jeffries, tells the camp cook, Jo Christy, that he’ll marry her if she can make a fruitcake, “as good as the one my mother makes,” she rises to the occasion. After all, he’s the handsomest, smartest, and strongest axman her camp-boss father has ever had in his camp—and the cockiest. Moreover, she intends to bring this lumberjack down a notch or three by refusing his proposal. The fruitcake wars are on! All the shanty boys and Jo’s cooking helpers chip in with their recipes but Jo finds she’ll have to enlist more help—and begins corresponding with Tom’s mother.

Step back in time to 1890, in beautiful Northern Michigan, near the sapphire straits of Mackinac, when the white pines were “white gold” and lumber camps were a way of life. Jo is ready to find another life outside of the camps and plans that don’t include any shanty boys. But will a lumberjack keep her in the very place she’s sworn to leave?

My Review

Josephine “Jo” Christy has two brothers, Ox and Moose-whose nicknames are representative of their sizes- who protect her while she works as a cook in their father’s lumber camp. She doesn’t know of their protection either, but she wouldn’t mind even if she did because all she wants is to start her own bakery someday. Her job as camp cook is providing her with good training.  However, when Tom Jefferies has a “proposal” involving a fruitcake, she decides to take him on so she can teach him a lesson. However, maybe Jo learns a lesson!

I enjoyed getting to know the characters in the story; they were fun and sweet. Everyone contributed to the “proposal,” making it a most “delicious” part of the plot.

Carrie Fancett Pagels has written a delightful Christmas story in book 1 of The Christy Lumber Camp Series. Miss Pagels draws from her own history to authenticate and realistically depict the lumber camp setting.  As you read The Fruitcake Challenge, you feel the bitterly cold wind, revel in the competition and root for the main characters. Miss Pagels also includes a strong inspirational message in the book, which I appreciate.

The Fruitcake Challenge is an enchanting book to read, be it at Christmas or any other time of year!

I received this book from the author. However, I was not required to write a review.

From the Author

I wrote this book with inspiration from the memory of my mother, who was moved to a lumber camp when she was a young girl. My grandmother served as the lumber camp cook where my grandfather had his logging camp and my mother helped. I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and met many of my mother’s friends from her lumber camp days. Many people of different nationalities who still could speak their native language, e.g., Finnish. I set my story in the 19th century, however, at the end of the “White Gold” book in Michigan’s lower peninsula.

If you enjoy lumberjacks and logging camps, I suggest you visit the Tahquamenon Logging Museum in Newberry, Michigan. My paternal great-grandparents’ cabin is housed there. That side of the family had lumberjacks, too, but not like on my maternal side. The museum is a great place to visit to learn more about lumber camps. And if you visit, try to plan when they are doing their famous “Lumberjack Breakfasts” because they are not to be missed!

Another place I love is Hartwick Pines, which has old growth trees including some of the big white pines that are now gone.

The right fruitcake is very tasty! I challenge you to set any prejudices against this holiday cake aside and come up with a version that suits your own taste buds. And my mom really did make the best fruitcake–just like Tom’s mother.

                                            Christmas in July sponsored by                                                 https://www.asimplyenchantedlife.com/christmas-in-july-signup/

Friday’s Fiction

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A Christmas Carol Meets It’s a Wonderful Life

A letter for Sonja’s deceased friend arrives at the post office in Michigan, and with it a proposal. With her father threatening to kick her out of his home, Sonja impulsively responds, offering to travel west to be a substitute bride. At the same time, Louis’s railroad promotion sends him back to Michigan, the one place on earth he’d hoped to never return—where Christmas past was full of pain. A mysterious stranger leaves him marked copies of “A Christmas Carol” as he considers romancing Sonja in Christmas present. Will Louis discern the best choices for Christmas future? Does it include the Poor House, again? Even so—will God bring healing and love to him this year?

Sonja Hoeke is the last daughter left at home, and her father never lets her forget it either. Sonja works hard as a substitute mail carrier for her father when he is ill, and you would think he would appreciate her help and assistance. Instead, he humiliates her by announcing to the townsmen that he wants her married and telling her he will kick her out if she’s not married by his deadline.

Louis (Smith) Penwell has been a pen pal with Sonja’s best friend, Cora. However, unknown to him when he proposed to her by letter, Cora had passed away.

Reeling from her father’s cruelty, Sonja impulsively sends Louis a letter offering to be a substitute bride.

Carrie Fancett Pagels has written another delightful and well researched novella, this time centered around Christmas in 1891. She has brought to life the horrors of the “poor house,” the restrictions imposed on young women and the beauty and the majesty of the snow-covered city of Shepherd, Michigan.

The Substitute Bride can be read quickly. However, the story of forgiveness and God’s grace will stay with you much longer.

Monday’s Fiction

Christmas Star Novella

Christmas Star Sapphire: A Second Generation Jewel Series Novella (The Jewel Series Book 6)

by Hallee Bridgeman

About Book

MADELINE VISCOLLI finds herself on the Gulf shores of Alabama, where she takes part in a graduate program to earn her MBA. On her first day there, she meets JOE WESTCOTT, team leader for a campus ministry. Despite a mutual attraction, Joe’s personal rule of no romance with any student keeps any kind of deep relationship from developing.

Joe has no desire to have a relationship with anyone, ever, anyway. He left a life of luxury and his family’s business behind to live alone on a sailboat and serve in ministry. Then Madeline walks into the auditorium the week school starts and Joe suspects his personal rules might not apply to this graduate student.

That is, until he discovers Madeline is one of the Viscollis, and that her destiny lay in running her father’s massive corporation. Having rejected wealth and all its trappings since childhood, Joe finds himself falling for the vivacious sapphire-eyed beauty. Madeline knows she loves Joe, but is not willing to throw away her destiny of taking over at the helm of Viscolli Enterprises.

A Christmas Eve funeral washes all Joe’s plans away. Will their love succumb to the rising tide caused by their differences in lifestyles, or will raging seas calm and allow them to sail off into the sunset?

My thoughts

Hallee Bridgeman introduces the second generation of the Jewel Series with Christmas Star Sapphire.

In this charming novella, we catch up with Madeline Viscolli, daughter of Tony and Robin Viscolli of the vast Viscolli enterprises. Madeline moved to Gulf Shores, Alabama (a beautiful area, by the way!) to earn her MBA. During her undergraduate years, she has been very active in Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ).

On Madeline’s first day, she meets Joe Westcott, team leader for Cru. She is understandably too tired, after a lengthy flight to stay for the meeting. However, after further meetings and getting to know Joe, she feels a deep attraction to him. Joe, on the other hand, has sworn off love, especially if the woman involved comes with lots of money.

As Joe and Madeline get to know each other better, Joe begins to question everything he, heretofore believed. Can he put aside his attraction? Should he even put it aside?

Hallee Bridgeman has written an interesting and intriguing story highlighting the struggles faced when one has a lot of wealth. She has developed the characters well and imbued them with a deep spiritual connection to God.

Christmas Star Sapphire works well as a standalone, but the story is so good you want to read the stories of the first generation Viscollis.

Miss Bridgeman has also included discussion questions and a delicious luncheon menu, complete with recipes, at the end of the story.

I received this book from BookCrash in exchange for an honest review.