Review: The Advent of Christmas, CD by Matt Maher

The Advent of Christmas, by Matt Maher

The Advent of Christmas, by Matt Maher (Essence Records, 2018)

This new Christmas album from Matt Maher mixes songs of worship with others that are just plain fun. Christmas, after all, is a time for both.

I love this album and would put it in my top three for Christmas. The musical styles are diverse, so don’t sample one or two tracks and think you have a feel for it all.

A bit about the songs:

  • “Gabriel’s Message” leads off, slow and haunting.
  • “He Shall Reign Forevermore” melds the traditional hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” with a new chorus and tune. It’s beautiful, and you may be singing it in your church this season. One of my three favourites on this album.
  • “Born on that Day” is a new one, with a soft rock feel. It’s my new favourite Christmas song.
  • “Jingle Bells” has a jazz/swing feel in a Michael Bublé style. This is a song I usually ignore, but not this time!
  • “The First Noel” is another song I wouldn’t ordinarily pick, because usually it feels like it drags on and on… Not this time. A new chorus replaces the endless “Noel, Noel” and I like it. It’s slow, gentle, reflective.
  • “Hope for Everyone” has a simple rhythm and repetition that makes me think of a campfire song.
  • “Glory (Let there be Peace)” is the first to encourage us “do not be afraid”.
  • “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a song I always like, despite its minor key. This version includes a new chorus of hope and encouragement.
  • “Always Carry You” (featuring Amy Grant). Okay, this one’s going on my playlist year-round, and has become very special to me. It’s another “do not be afraid” song, reflective in nature, and although it comes from the perspective of Mary later in life looking back at Jesus’ birth, it’s a song worshippers can make our own.
  • “Love Came Down to Bethlehem” is meditative and reflective.
  • “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” has a new chorus and a driving beat. You may hear it on Christian radio.
  • “Little Merry Christmas” is straight-out kitchen party, complete with some clever lyrics. This one might get you dancing.
  • “When I Think of Christmas” ends the album on a softer, nostalgic note.

The Advent of Christmas is available for download through the usual stores, and as a physical cd as well. Every track carries its weight well and contributes to the whole, so don’t short-change yourself by only buying a few pieces.

Award-winning singer/songwriter Matt Maher has also released a children’s book with the same title. You can see more about the book here: goodreads.com/book/show/41785402-the-advent-of-christmas. For more about Matt Maher, visit mattmahermusic.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

40% off Ebook Sale

40% off sale (Kobo only) for A Year of Tenacity, Without Proof, and Unknown Enemy. Ends Dec. 17, 2018.

Remember, the Kobo app is a free download for your phone, tablet, or other device at the Kobo store. Happy reading!

New Releases in Christian Fiction (December 2018)

December 2018 New Releases from Members of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW)

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.


Amish Romance:

The Amish Sweet Shop by Laura Bradford, Mary Ellis, and Emma Miller — It’s almost Valentine’s Day at Beechy’s Sweets, where the Amish gifts of love and faith are even sweeter than the home-made candy. In The Sweetest Courtship by Emma Miller, bachelor Jacob Beechy is a master candy maker whose mother longs for grandchildren, so she sets out to find him an assistant confectioner during the Valentine’s holiday—and a wife. In The Sweetest Truth by Laura Bradford, Sadie Fischer can’t see beyond her scars from a barn fire, but there’s a young man who sees only sweetness when he looks at her, and he’s sending her Beechy’s chocolate and mysterious gifts leading up to Valentine’s Day. In Nothing Tastes So Sweet by Mary Ellis, Pregnant widow Hannah wants to buy her English employer’s hardware store, but ends up following a clue from Beechy’s to clear a man’s name—and finds a partnership in work, faith, and love. (Amish Romance from Kensington)

Amish Christmas Memories by Vannetta Chapman — When a young Amish woman collapses in the snow shortly before Christmas, Caleb Wittmer rushes to her aid. Only, “Rachel” remembers nothing of who she is. Now his family has taken in the pretty stranger, disrupting Caleb’s ordered world. He’s determined to find out where she belongs…even if Rachel’s departure means saying goodbye to his old-fashioned heart forever. (Amish Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

A Quilt for Jenna (Apple Creek Dreams #1) by Patrick E. Craig — On her way to win a quilting competition—and a ticket out of Amish life, Jerusha finds her God, her missing husband, and a lost little girl in the heart of the Storm of The Century. (Amish Romance from P & J Publishing)

The Road Home (Apple Creek Dreams #2) by Patrick E. Craig — Adopted into an Amish family as a child, local historian Jenny Springer is looking for the parents she never knew. When Jenny meets Jonathan Hershberger, a drifter from San Francisco who lands in Apple Creek fleeing a drug deal gone wrong, she is intrigued by this Englischer with an Amish name, and offers to help him discover his Amish roots. While Jonathan discovers his need for home, family, and a relationship with God, Jenny finds more than she hoped for—truth and love and the knowledge that you can go home again. (Amish Romance from P & J Publishing)

Jenny’s Choice (Apple Creek Dreams #3) by Patrick E. Craig — When Jenny’s husband disappears in a terrible boating accident, she returns home to Apple Creek, Ohio and her adoptive parents. Working through her grief, she pursues newfound writing dreams and is presented with a possible romance with a handsome young publisher, until the elders of her church confront her consideration of going outside her faith to pursue her dreams. At the same a faint hope that her husband might someday be found alive holds her heart in the past. (Amish Romance from P & J Publishing)

Minding the Amish Baby by Carrie Lighte — Amish store clerk Tessa Fisher isn’t ready for marriage or a family—until a baby girl is abandoned on her doorstep. Now Tessa and her gruffly handsome landlord, Turner King, must mind the baby together. And soon Turner and the sweet-cheeked kind are burrowing into Tessa’s heart. But with secrets between them, can the temporary family find a way to stay together forever? (Amish Romance from P & J Publishing)


Contemporary Romance:

Who I Am with You by Robin Lee Hatcher — Jessica was pregnant and facing divorce when her husband and daughter were killed in a car accident. Withdrawing from friends and family, she feels far away from God. Then months later she receives her great-grandfather’s Bible at her grandmother’s funeral. Ridley has suffered his own loss. Bitter over disgrace at his job, an ended career, and subsequent breakup with is girlfriend, he retreats to a vacation property owned by his parents to lick his wounds and hide from the press. Thumbing through the Bible later, Jessica journeys through the aged margin notes, back to faith and wholeness. And the broken roads they have followed bring Jessica and Ridley to each other as well. (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)


Historical:

Three Christmas Novellas by Mary Connealy — Three Christmas Novellas in one volume: Long Horn Christmas, The Sweetest Gift and The Christmas Candle. (Historical, Independently Published)

The Making of Mrs. Hale by Carolyn Miller — Can a runaway marriage ever be redeemed? Julia Hale ran off to be married in Gretna Green, following romance instead of common sense. But her tale isn’t turning into a happily ever after. Her new husband is gone and she doesn’t know where—or if he’s ever coming back. Julia has no option but to head home to the family she betrayed by eloping and to hope they’ll forgive her.Along the way she will learn how relationship with God can bring restoration and hope, and find the answers she needs both for her husband and her future. (Historical, Kregel Publications)

Child of Light by Annette O’Hare — While praying for her own Christmas miracle after five years in a childless marriage, Margaret offers aide to a destitute and expectant young woman during the holidays. She is condemned for her decision to help a woman of ill repute and must face the consequences of doing what is right. Will Margaret’s prayers for a child of her own be answered this Christmas or does God have something else in store? (Historical from Harbourlight Books [Pelican])

The Plum Blooms in Winter by Linda Thompson — Inspired by a Gripping True Story from World War II’s Daring Doolittle Raid–Japan, 1948: A prostitute seeks her revenge; a war hero finds his true mission. (Historical from Mountain Brook Ink)


Historical Romance:

The MissAdventure Brides Collection by Mary Davis, Cynthia Hickey, Kathleen E. Kovach, Debby Lee, Donna Schlachter, Marjorie Vawter, and Kimberley Woodhouse — Seven daring damsels refuse to let the cultural norms of their eras hold them back! Follow along as they trek the wilderness as a fur trapper; teach in the backwoods; campaign for women’s rights; breed llamas; drive cross-country; become a hotel tour guide; and pursue art. Will they meet men who admire their bravery and determination? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Kiss Me Once Again by Gail Kittleson — When Glenora Carson’s first love perishes along with the crew of the U.S.S. Arizona on December 7, 1941, she locks away her heart and her dreams of attending college on scholarship, instead choosing to hold down the home front by helping out the family business – Carson’s Garage. The grease-stained overalls don’t do much to compliment her female figure, but they cover her female heart well enough. That is, until Hank Anderson, a wounded warrior back from battle, walks into the garage and into Glenora’s life. Is an old maid’s future Glenora’s fate, or will Cupid throw a wrench in her plans? (Historical Romance from WordCrafts Press)

Stagecoach to Liberty by Janalyn Voigt — Can a desperate young woman trust the handsome Irish stranger who wants to free her from her captors? (Historical Romance from Mountain Brook Ink)

Review: Deadly Noel, by Margaret Daley

Deadly Noel, by Margaret Daley | Christmas fiction, romantic suspenseDeadly Noel, by Margaret Daley (2015)

Assistant D.A. Kira Davis blames herself for the wrongful conviction of Gabriel Michaels in his wife’s murder. She was sure he was guilty, as were most members of the local law enforcement, but hindsight says she was wrong. Not that the police chief is willing to admit Gabriel is innocent.

Gabriel’s been released because the killing didn’t stop when he went to prison. Now he’s trying to rebuild life with his daughter and keep her out of his controlling mother-in-law’s clutches. He wants nothing to do with Kira, but when someone shoots at her on his property, his protective nature kicks in.

Kira and Gabriel team up to catch the killer before anyone else dies.

Deadly Noel is part of Margaret Daley’s Strong Women, Extraordinary Situations series, and it’s a tightly-woven romantic suspense set in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays.

Margaret Daley is a multi-published romantic suspense author. For more about her and her books, visit margaretdaley.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Incense Road, by Tracy Higley

The Incense Road by Tracy Higley | Christmas fiction, historical fiction, Christian fictionThe Incense Road, by Tracy Higley (StoneWater Press, 2015)

This ebook bundles Star of Wonder, Star of Night, and Royal Beauty into one, and it’s the best way to read the three novellas because they don’t stand alone well. Together, they form a sweeping and engaging historical tale of intrigue, romance, and spiritual warfare as a caravan of mages set out on a quest for a rumoured object of power, their way lit by a mysterious star.

The three central characters are Misha (a mage who rejects his Jewish heritage), Reza (a general who’d rather be a scholar), and Kamillah (an Egyptian princess sent to learn from the mages).

Their adventures drive them to trust one another and to discover truths about themselves – and about the true source of power.

I enjoyed the voice, the characters, and the pacing of the story, as well as the exotic setting.

The Incense Road collection takes place after the novel The Queen’s Handmaid, and some characters reappear. I hadn’t read the first novel and had no trouble following the plot.

Tracy Higley writes fiction set in the ancient past and has travelled extensively in her research. For more about the author and her books, or to check out her travel blog, visit tracyhigley.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Secrets and Lies Quiz

If you’ve read Secrets and Lies, give this quiz a try:

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New Releases in Christian Fiction (November 2018)

November 2018 New Releases from Members of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW)

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.


Contemporary Romance:

Christmas in Jingle Junction by Tabitha Bouldin — In the small town of Jingle Junction, Holly Winters owns the local coffee shop, Jolly Java. It’s here that she meets Patrick Cooper and promptly throws coffee everywhere. Not only does Patrick not like coffee, he also despises Christmas! It’s up to Holly to show Patrick that Christmas is worth giving a second chance, just as Patrick himself deserves a second chance when he is accused of robbing a local convenience store. In a town full of Christmas spirit, lively debates over the best superhero and riding in a sleigh pulled by actual reindeer is just a normal day. Will Holly be able to prove to Patrick that Christmas is more than a holiday that has to be endured? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

A Picture Perfect Christmas by Candee Fick — Freelance photographers Liz Foster and Ryan Callahan are finally making plans for their future. And what better time to get married than during the festive holiday season that brought them together? If only Liz’s parents weren’t standing in the way of a picture-perfect wedding. Spurred on by the ghosts of Christmases past, Dan Foster has already written Liz out of his will, so even attending the wedding—let alone walking his daughter down the aisle—is out of the question. However, this is the season for miracles and Ryan will do anything to make his bride smile. What will it take to bring this family back together in time for the wedding? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

On Magnolia Lane by Denise Hunter — When his secret crush joins a dating website, Jack takes a leap of faith and soon becomes Daisy’s online suitor. But when they begin growing closer in real life also, Jack finds himself with an unexpected dilemma. Is Daisy falling for the real Jack or for the online version of himself? And how is she going to respond when she finds out they’re one and the same? (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

A Merry Miracle in Romance by Melanie D. Snitker — Baxter Reid returns to his hometown of Romance, eager to see his childhood crush. Unfortunately, Savannah hasn’t forgotten all the ways he used to tease her back then. He’s got his work cut out for him if he’s going to get a second chance. Savannah Miller avoids Baxter and the embarrassing childhood memories he evokes…until he apologizes and suggests a truce. Now what is she supposed to do? Only time will tell whether the spirit of Christmas in Romance is enough to transform a grudging relationship into true love. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

I Still Do by Melanie D. Snitker — What’s worse than running into your ex-husband? Becoming snowbound with him and an avalanche of memories you can’t escape. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)


Contemporary/Women’s Fiction:

A Southern Season by Eva Marie Everson, Claire Fullerton, Ane Mulligan, and Linda Yezak — Four seasons. Four stories. Each one set in the enchanting world of the South. These are the kinds of stories your grandmother told you from a front porch swing. (Women’s Fiction from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)


Historical:

Second Chances by Carol Ashby — A widowed father, still grieving the loss of his wife and child, and a devoted mother, who leaves behind everything she’s ever known to rescue her daughter from the ex-husband who would hurt her, are first drawn together by their love for her little girl, but God has much more for them than either could have imagined. (Historical, Cerrillo Press)


Historical Mystery:

Murder of Convenience by Linda Shenton Matchett — May 1942: Geneva Alexander flees Philadelphia and joins the USO to escape the engagement her parents have arranged for her, only to wind up as the number one suspect in her betrothed’s murder investigation. Diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, she must find the real killer before she loses her sight…or is convicted for a crime she didn’t commit. (Historical Mystery, Independently Published)


Historical Romance:

The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides Collection by Lena Nelson Dooley, Rebecca Jepson, Carrie Fancett Pagels, Candice Sue Patterson, Kathleen Rouser, Pegg Thomas, and Marilyn Turk — Along the Great Lakes, America’s inland seas, lighthouses played a vital role in the growth of our nation. They shepherded settlers traveling by water to places that had no roads. These beacons of light required constant tending even in remote and often dangerous places. Brave men and women battled the elements and loneliness to keep the lights shining. Their sacrifice kept goods and immigrants moving. Seven romances set between 1883 and 1911 at Great Lakes Lighthouses bring hope to the lonely lighthouse keepers and love to weary hearts. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

A Musket in My Hands by Sandra Merville Hart — Two sisters have no choice but to disguise themselves as men to muster into the Confederate army in the fall of 1864–just in time for things to go very badly for the Southerners at the Battle of Franklin. (Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

Uncharted Journey by Keely Brooke Keith — Young widow Eva Vestal assumes loneliness is God’s permanent plan for her life. She keeps busy by raising her son and co-managing the Inn at Falls Creek with her elderly father, but her heart yearns for more. Solomon “Solo” Cotter has spent his life working with horses, but he secretly wants to write a book of the children’s stories his grandfather told him as a boy. He barters with Eva’s father for a 40-night stay at the inn, a needed respite from work to get his stories on paper. Once Eva discovers the barter, she believes Solo is taking advantage of her father’s failing memory. But when tragedy strikes and Solo works hard to save the inn, Eva sees his true nature. As her heart stirs with feelings for Solo, she wrestles with the guilt of loving someone new. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Snow Angel by Davalynn Spencer — Lena Carver works as her physician brother’s medical assistant, housekeeper, and cook. Maimed in a childhood accident at Christmas, she believes she is beyond love’s reach—until a dark-eyed cowboy arrives broken, bruised, and bent on changing her mind. Wil Bergman wakes in a stranger’s home with a busted leg and a bullet-creased scalp. Trail-weary, robbed, and penniless, he is at the mercy of a country doctor whose sister’s healing touch has power to stitch up his heart and open his eyes to the impossible. (Historical Romance from Wilson Creek Publishing)


Romantic Suspense:

Tell Her No Lies by Kelly Irvin — After Nina Fischer is accused of murdering her uncle and adopted father, she must unlock deadly family secrets in order to clear her name and learn to trust love again. (Romantic Suspense from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

North by Starlight by Diane and David Munson — Attorney Madison Stone hurries to help her client Jordan Star defeat a mysterious relative who claims a share in his inheritance, and during the Christmas season Maddie learns to leave past regrets behind her, embrace the warmhearted people of Starlight, and dig deep to find her true heart. (Romantic Suspense from Micah House Media)

Her Deadly Reunion by Beth Ann Ziarnik — What will it cost an estranged daughter when she meets her birth father at his home and discovers it’s a dangerous place to mix past and present? (Romantic Suspense from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)


Speculative:

Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse — When the new Lady of Ravenwood inherits her family’s secret gift of dreamwalking, she discovers a dark history. Women in her family have been wielding the gift to preserve her family’s legacy—through assassinations. She’s determined to find the true reason behind the gift, convinced there must be a more noble purpose. But she’s torn about upholding her family’s legacy–a legacy that supports her people. What will she do when she is tasked with assassinating the one man who can bring peace to the nations–but who is also prophesied to bring about the downfall of her own house? One path holds glory and power and will solidify her position as Lady of Ravenwood. The other path holds shame and likely death. Which will she choose? And is she willing to pay the price for the path chosen? (High Fantasy from Bethany House [Baker])


Thriller/Suspense:

Stratagem by Robin Caroll — Psychologist Grayson Thibodeaux creates mind-bending adventure games for businesses as team-building explorations. When his ex-wife’s company hires Grayson’s for their executive retreat, he doesn’t see how things can get worse. Until she dies during the course of the game he created…making him the prime suspect for murder. (Suspense from Barbour Publishing)

Heaven’s Prey Quiz

If you’ve already read Heaven’s Prey, last week’s sale wasn’t much fun for you. But how good is your memory? Feel up to taking a quiz?

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Review: The Dream of You, by Jo Saxton

The Dream of You, by Jo SaxtonThe Dream of You, by Jo Saxton (WaterBrook, 2018)

This book’s subtitle invites women to “let go of broken identities and live the life you were made for” – and if that calls to something inside you, you’ll find practical insights that make it worth the time to read and reflect.

The Dream of You is more than a collection of verses telling women how God sees us, although it does include Scripture. It’s more than a list of self-help steps to empower us. Part memoir, plus examples from present-day and Bible times, it’s an honest, sometimes unsettling, look at the damage done by circumstances and people – and it tracks author Jo Saxton’s personal fight to reclaim her identity as the woman God made her to be, for the purpose He intended.

A Nigerian raised in England and now living in the United States, Jo Saxton has something to say to all of us about the need – and the possibility – of rediscovering our true identities in a world that wants to define and limit us. Reading her story and those of others in the book showed me how sheltered I’ve been. Still, I found key points to sit with and apply.

The title could imply a self-indulgent book, warm and fuzzy. Don’t expect that. Instead, this is a valuable tool that can make a significant difference. It presents truth and hope, and each chapter has simple questions to ponder and act on. If you skim them on a first read, go back and dig into them on a second read. Don’t miss what God wants to say to you.

The book begins with a look at God. Knowing who He is – and thus whose we are – is foundational. In turning from what life has made us believe, we need to know the truth to turn to.

Then it addresses some of the things we may need to turn from. More than other books I’ve seen, it’s very direct about this being a process. A sometimes difficult process, with wilderness times when we expect an easy victory. Because the wilderness times are teaching times that God will use for our ultimate growth.

I love how it illustrates the ongoing battle to wield the truth of God’s Word against the lies we’ve internalized. Again, we look for a one-swing cut, but if the chains are solid-forged and wrapped in layers, it will take time to make them fall. Jo Saxton shows us how to do that.

Another strength of the book is that it doesn’t end with free, happy women basking in fulfilling lives like Disney princesses. It ends with the call to take the stories we’ve lived – and the Good News about Jesus giving us our true identity –to share with the people around us. Like the original disciples, we’re on mission for the rest of our lives.

For more about speaker and author Jo Saxton and her ministry, visit josaxton.com. For more about The Dream of You, including the book trailer and sample first chapter, visit josaxton.com/the-dream-of-you.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Five Years Ago

What happened on November 1, 2013?

Well… plenty of things. What am I celebrating today?

Cake with candle and caption: celebrate!

Photo credit: Janet Sketchley

Five years ago on November 1, 2013, also known as All Saints Day, my first novel, Heaven’s Prey, released. Since the heroine, Ruth, is an ordinary Christian woman in extraordinarily bad circumstances and since small “s” saint includes any of us ordinary folk who follow God I thought it was an appropriate choice.

To celebrate, the ebook version of Heaven’s Prey is discounted to 99 cents until Nov. 5, 2018. If you haven’t read it, give it a try unless you find the subject matter too disturbing. And please, tell your friends.

Heaven's Prey, Redemption's Edge Book 1. Ebook only 99 cents until Nov. 5/18.

Click for buy links.

Want to help spread the word? Share this post, or tweet one of the following.

The prayer warrior and the serial killer: Get the HEAVEN’S PREY ebook for #99cents until Nov. 5/18. https://www.books2read.com/heavens-prey #Christianfiction #suspense (click to tweet)

Would you pray for a dangerous offender? HEAVEN’S PREY by @JanetSketchley
#Ebook just #99cents until Nov. 5/18. https://www.books2read.com/heavens-prey #Christianfiction (click to tweet)

A grieving woman. A dangerous offender. A God who cares. HEAVEN’S PREY.
#Ebook just #99cents until Nov. 5/18. https://www.books2read.com/heavens-prey #Christianfiction (click to tweet)