Tag Archives: Christmas fiction

Two Short (Free!) Christmas Reads

Here are two short, feel-good Christmas reads that are free ebooks on a variety of platforms:

Bespoke: A Tiny Christmas Tale, by Amanda Dykes

Bespoke: A Tiny Christmas Tale, by Amanda Dykes

90 minutes to read: Arial has a radical plan to fix an old tragedy and surprise her dying father–but it’ll take the help of the village blacksmith. Set on an island between England and France, Bespoke has a gentle, historical feel. (Interesting background note: this tale was first written to raise funds to buy bicycles for missionaries.)

Tin Can Serenade, by Amanda Dykes

30 minutes to read: Isolated by a mountain winter, a young boy and girl living on opposite sides of a river exchange messages via a tin can on a rope. This short story opens and closes with poetry and tells its tale through the exchange of brief notes.

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Review: The End of the Magi, by Patrick W. Carr

The End of the Magi: a novel, by Patrick W. Carr

The End of the Magi, by Patrick W. Carr (Bethany House, 2019)

Whether he’s writing historical fiction or epic fantasy, Patrick W. Carr brings exotic settings to life and creates unlikely heroes who inspire strong reader loyalty.

The End of the Magi is an intense, danger-fraught novel of biblical fiction where the magi in question are those who come bearing gifts for the Christ child. But the story—and their role in it—doesn’t end there.

The culture and the prophecies fascinate, and the snippets of wry humour make me smile. And I love how the story shows God choosing to use someone from outside the Hebrew lineage, someone with questionable heritage and a physical deformity, as part of His purposes. How like God to use the unlikely and to include the excluded.

Favourite lines:

“The only thing worse than disagreeing with the king is being right when you do it.” [Kindle location 3182]

“You see yourself as a man cursed with a clubfoot and beset by trials at every turn… But I see a man who has triumphed over every obstacle placed before him.” [Kindle locations 3373 and 3376]

“It’s almost as if God takes delight in accomplishing His ends in the most unlikely way possible.” [Kindle location 3943]

This is a novel for Christmas or for any time of year, for savouring and for discussing. It reminds us that God works in His own methods and according to His own timetable, often in ways that surprise, and that He has a place for the willing heart in His service.

Well done, Patrick W. Carr! As a long-time fan of his fantasy fiction, I give my hearty approval to his first historical fiction.

For more about the author and to read samples of his work, visit patrickwcarr.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher through #NetGalley. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, by Michelle Griep

Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, by Michelle Griep | Christmas fiction, Christian fiction, novellas, historical fiction

Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, by Michelle Griep (Shiloh Run Press, 2019)

Three Christmas novellas set in 1850’s England, each with a cameo appearance from Charles Dickens, and each featuring a “second chance” coin—and a second chance at love.

The titles are nods to Mr. Dickens as well: 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, A Tale of Two Hearts, and The Old Lace Shop.

Once Upon a Dickens Christmas will charm readers who enjoy period historicals with quiet faith and feel-good endings. Each novella has a degree of suspense, but these aren’t stories that will keep readers up worrying what will happen next. They’re gentle, relaxing reads with winsome characters and some delightful turns of phrase.

Some of my favourites:

It was the kind of late January day that crawled under the best of woollen capes and took up residence in the bones. [Kindle location 1797]

He wore his wrinkles like a garment, the deep creases on his face in sore need of a good ironing. [Kindle location 2338]

Either your faith will move mountains, or your doubt will create them. [Kindle location 4901]

The three novellas are available individually as well as in this collection. For more about Christy award-winning author Michelle Griep and her other books, visit michellegriep.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher through #NetGalley.]

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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.]

Review: A Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven Laffoley

A Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven LaffoleyA Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven Laffoley (Pottersfield Press, 2017)

December, 1918. Halifax, Nova Scotia, is a grim place, still shattered by the massive explosion that caused so much death and destruction one year previously.

The Great War is over, and the surviving troops are coming home, those not wounded in body, wounded in mind. News headlines cry worldwide unrest, and fear of the so-called “Spanish Flu” is so high that citizens avoid public trams and walk to their destinations.

To newspaper reporter Michael Bell, hope is dead. He survived a gas attack in the war and came home to lose his family in the explosion. Bitter pursuit of the facts of the world’s dark spiral has become his sole purpose in life.

When assigned a story of goodwill just before Christmas, about a mysterious lad with a missing leg and a generous heart, Michael insists he’ll only report the facts. And if the facts don’t produce the upbeat story his editor wants, so be it.

He’s paired with a female reporter who rejects his “wisdom of the head” for “wisdom of the heart.” As well as following their search, readers trace the days of a nameless beggar with the soul of a poet.

The narration itself has a poetic feel at times, with both poetry and prose philosophy quoted. Michael and the beggar are both well-read. Not surprisingly, given the title, Dickens is referenced, usually through Michael’s denial of his continuing influence in this darkened world.

This isn’t a retelling of A Christmas Carol, but those who know that story will find many nods to it. For example, Michael goes home to his dark, lonely, and cold lodgings where he broods by the fire, and he’s disturbed by significant dreams. And the ending, in A Christmas Carol fashion, gives a narrative summary of how certain things turn out happily ever after. While that’s ordinarily annoying, it works here as a final Dickensian touch.

For all the grim setting, and the stories of loss and trauma that Michael uncovers in his search for the boy, this isn’t a hard book to read. The omniscient narrative is well-handled to keep us at enough of a distance that we can observe and learn without being overwhelmed. The author reveals insights, details, and even smells that could only come from extensive research, yet it all flows as part of the story.

Because I usually review clean or Christian fiction, I’ll include a language warning with this one. There’s frequent minor profanity and one misuse of the name of Jesus.

Inspired by a true story, A Halifax Christmas Carol offers a look into a dark time in history, and yet may leave you with a warm hope reminiscent of Dickens’ tale.

For more about award-winning Canadian author Steven Laffoley and his books, visit stevenlaffoley.wordpress.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Snowflake Tiara, by Angela Breidenbach and Valerie Comer

Snowflake Tiara, by Angela Breidenbach and Valerie ComerSnowflake Tiara, by Angela Breidenbach and Valerie Comer (Gems of Wisdom, 2014)

Two heart-warming novellas, linked through time: one historical, one contemporary. In 1889, Montana is granted statehood, and debutante Calista Blythe enters the inaugural Snowflake Pageant because the prize money ($100) would allow her to buy the freedom of a 6-year-old indentured servant she’s rescued from an abusive situation. But what if the handsome event organizer discovers Calista is illegally harbouring a runaway?

In 2014, Montana celebrates its 125th anniversary, and the Snowflake Pageant is revived. Calista Blythe’s descendant, Marisa Hiller, is a former model who works for a community-supported agriculture group. Winning the tiara would give her a platform to speak about the importance of healthy, natural foods—but the pageant throws her into company with the photographer who broke her heart.

I knew nothing about pageants except the stereotyped label of “beauty contest.” It was interesting to learn a bit about what these events really entail in terms of activities, motivation and purpose.  Author Angela Breidenbach is a former Mrs. Montana, so I trust the details to be accurate.

Naturally, contests of any sort are rife with competition, and in romantic novellas that includes vying for the heart of the handsome lead character. The historical novella is rich with gorgeous gowns and the burden of street children (Helena, Montana, is the final stop on the Orphan Train).

The present-day story has a more immediate feel and the world is much smaller. The plight of hungry children is still close to the 2014 pageant contestant’s heart. Now those children are both local and the ones she’s met through mission work in Kenya. Marisa is passionate about local, organic food—and about making it available to low-income families.

I enjoyed both stories. Favourite line:

Seeing him again created a pothole in her road, but she’d get back up to speed in a minute. (Marisa’s thoughts about Jase) [Page 184, Kindle version]

In each case, the Snowflake Pageant begins in December and winners are announced on Christmas Eve. Snowflake Tiara is a good read any time, but would make an ideal respite from the busyness leading up to Christmas. The reminder to care for others less fortunate than ourselves might prompt us to reach out in our own communities over the holiday season.

Angela Breidenbach and Valerie Comer make a good writing team. I’ll be interested to see if they follow this with other collaborative projects.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Cecile’s Christmas Miracle, by Ruth L. Snyder

Cecile's Christmas Miracle, by Ruth L. SnyderCecile’s Christmas Miracle, by Ruth Snyder (Helping Hands Press, 2013)

Christmas homesickness hits a young missionary nurse serving her first year in Botswana. Cecile gave up the man she loved to follow God’s call – but why is her heart still yearning for home?

This short story has potential for a full-length novel. Stopping where it does, with the miracle Cecile receives (I’m not telling what it is!) leaves plenty of scope for the imagination. Working in the limits of the shorter form, the author also doesn’t have room to fully deepen her characters.

Cecile’s Christmas Miracle is a feel-good Christmas story, and each aspect of the miracle is clearly from God. Whether or not you appreciate Divine intervention in your fiction, this one’s worth reading for the glimpse into rural mission life at Cecile’s clinic – and for an idea of the dangers facing villagers at the hands of profit-hungry businessmen and politicians from the nearby cities.

Ruth L. Snyder is a Canadian writer serving as President of InScribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship. Cecile’s Christmas Miracle is one of the novellas in Kathi Macais’ 12 Days of Christmas collection. For a little background information on Cecile’s Christmas Miracle, click here.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

Review: Christmas Stories to Warm Your Heart, by Karen M. Conrad

Christmas Stories to Warm Your Heart, by Karen M. Conrad (2010, ISBN: 978-0-9865779-0-1)

Christmas Stories to Warm Your Heart is a collection of short stories that Karen M. Conrad has written each year for the ladies in her Sunday school class. They’re designed to be read aloud, and sure to bring good feelings and a few chuckles.

The book is available in paperback, but also can be purchased as a series of three audio cds. With the strong narrator feel, I think listening to the stories would be a lot of fun.

I really enjoyed this book. Any tears it prompted were the “touching” kind and not from sadness. The stories lifted my spirits and helped ease me into the Christmas season.

An extra delight for me is that most of the 14 stories are set in my own Canadian province, Nova Scotia. One is set in Newfoundland and one farther afield. They’re mostly rural or small-town, peopled with believable and mostly lovable characters.

The stories can be about the young, the in-between or the old, about family dynamics, loneliness, good deeds or good old-fashioned shenanigans. They’re teaching-oriented, but they’re real enough to support the lesson. I liked them all, but my favourite is the final story, “The Blessing”.

I’d be remiss not to point out that Christmas Stories to Warm Your Heart could have used more editing for punctuation. If you can’t stand seeing an apostrophe out of place, you’d get a lot more out of the audio version. The layout is nice, though, and easy to read.

All proceeds from sales of the book will go to Camp Peniel, a Christian camp and retreat centre in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. Camp Peniel began in the early 1960’s.

You can order books or cds directly from the camp. It’s also available through Miracles Christian Store and Noah’s Ark Christian Bookstore.

[review copy from my personal library]

Review: Seeker of Stars, a novella by Susan Fish

Seeker of Stars, by Susan Fish (Winding Trail Press, 2005)

Melchi has always been fascinated by the stars’ slow dance in the night sky. Even after exhausting days learning the family trade of rug making, he steals to the rooftop at night to gaze on his “beauties”.

When his father at last permits him to go and study with the astronomers, Melchi plays a key part in discovering the meaning of a new star and joins the expedition to Jerusalem in search of the newborn king of the Jews.

Told in the first person by an adult Melchoir who looks back over the events leading to his journey—and what happened at its end—Seeker of Stars carries an exotic taste as if this ancient scholar had learned English and invited us to hear the tale.

I love the richness of the language, both in feel and in word choice. Susan Fish says a lot in a very few pages, and creates memorable, complex characters.

This novella has become a part of my Christmas tradition. The season’s first strains of “We Three Kings” bring the story to life in my mind, but I save the reading—like a treat—to savour in the days after Christmas. Ideally I’ll read it around the time of Epiphany, when Christians observe the Magi’s visit.

For more about Canadian author Susan Fish, visit her website: susanfishwrites.wordpress.com. [Note, Seeker of Stars has been re-released with an updated cover. The original is featured above.]

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