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The Post Box at the North Pole–falling in love with Christmas
The Post Box at the North Pole
by Jaimie Admans
With less than a month until Christmas, Sasha is replaced in her job as an assistant to a dog groomer and gets a phone call from her adventurer father Percy informing her that he is recuperating from a heart attack. When her mother died, her father became an absentee parent traveling the world and never able to make it home for Christmas.
Sasha jumps at the chance to be with her father, to be needed by him. He says he is running a reindeer sanctuary in Norway. When she arrives, she discovers Percy is “Santa” at the North Pole Forest two hundred miles north of the actual North Pole. He and the mysterious, tall, quite independent and capable Tav are trying to bring the decaying Christmas attraction back to life.
Sasha resists all things Christmas because of her many disappointments over the years. Percy and Tav (also a part of the North Pole Forest enterprise) want to engage her again in the magic of Christmas.
It would be impossible to imagine a tale with more of the Santa Christmas spirit. The setting is an incredibly cold land with lots of snow. The North Pole Forest is decorated with white lights, and Santa’s house is the perfect cozy refuge where you can always find a mug of hot chocolate. Santa greets children in a grotto, and the onsite post office is overwhelmed with 500,000 letters to Santa each year. There are Christmas themed cabins and glass igloos for viewing the Northern Lights.
Unfortunately, the center is in disrepair because tourists are not flocking in. Percy had to let go his workers which continued the downward spiral. Tav is a reindeer whisperer with skills at managing and healing reindeer, but he has emotional wounds of his own and physical scarring that is usually covered in layers of clothes.
We don’t get to know Percy as well as Sasha and Tav, but all three are important to the story and will speak to your heart as you learn their motivations. If you are looking for some Christmas magic, you will find it in The Post Box at the North Pole.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: General Fiction, Romance, Women’s Fiction
Notes: I love Christmas decorations, music, and celebrations as much as anyone, and I do find the season magical, full of wonder. This book, which I highly recommend, emphasizes the “true meaning of Christmas” as the belief that anything is possible at Christmas. With all the focus on Santa, elves, and presents, the book skirts over the real “reason for the season:” to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born as a human to be like one of us. One of His names, Emmanuel, means God with us. He taught love of God and others, died an unjust and painful death, and was resurrected—all to take on himself our sins so that we can live forever. All we have to do is believe in Him. (John 3:16). Regardless of your beliefs about the season, I wish you a very Merry Christmas!
Publication: October 18, 2021—HQ
The excitement of sitting down to compose a letter, maybe drawing a picture with it, decorating the envelope, and then posting it…That’s magic to a child. The whole world has gone digital, but Santa is one person who should always uphold tradition.
Every star in the universe must be out tonight, twinkling down on us, the movement of the curtains of green gives the illusion that the stars are dancing in time with the lights. Shades of pink creep into each green splash and turn yellow before fading away completely, only to be replaced with more flowing streaks of light, and just watching them makes me emotional.
“If you can’t be a big kid at Christmas, when can you?” “I’m glad you’re coming round to my way of thinking.” He tilts his head to the side. “Too many people absorbed the lie that when you grow up you have to stop liking fun things and start liking adult things but the happiest people are those who embrace things they love without shame.”
Pride–love in the ‘hood
Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Remix
by Ibi Zoboi
In a fun retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, similar themes of class differences and the prejudices that accompany them are the focus of Ibi Zoboi’s Pride. The characters are of Haitian-Dominican background and the setting is the “hood” of Bushwick in Brooklyn.
Life changes dramatically for the Benitez sisters when the rundown property across the street is renovated by the upper class Darcy family. Ainsley Darcy, who attends Cornell, is attracted to Janae Benitez, a student at Syracuse. His younger brother Darius is treated harshly and with suspicion by our narrator who is also the protagonist, Zuri Benitez, age 17. The Darcy’s clearly don’t fit into the hood, but when Zuri goes out of Bushwick, she finds that she doesn’t fit in easily there.
This young adult novel explores the barriers put up intentionally and often unwittingly by the community and by individuals. It seems that Bushwick will be forced to change, but where does that leave its residents? If you are not from that community, dear reader, you will find yourself immersed in an unfamiliar culture with new words and customs. I found myself liking the characters and the warmness of their world although it is outwardly a much tougher one than the home community in which I was cocooned. This book exposes the assumptions it is all too easy to make when we are confronted with dissonance. Reading it will expand your horizons and make you dive deeply into your soul to consider how you view those whose life circumstances are different from your own.
Category: Young Adult, Romance, Fiction
Notes: Contains a fair amount of cursing as appropriate to the street language of the community
Publication: 2018—Balzer and Bray (HarperCollins)
Every book is a different hood, a different country, a different world. Reading is how I visit places and people and ideas. And when something rings true or if I still have a question, I outline it with a bright yellow highlighter so that it’s lit up in my mind, like a lightbulb or a torch leading the way to somewhere new.
If Janae is the sticky sweetness keeping us sisters together, then I’m the hard candy shell, the protector. If anyone wants to get to the Benitez sisters, they’ll have to crack open my heart first.
I’d look back at them with defiance and a little pride; a look that says that I love my family and we may be messy and loud, but we’re all together and we love each other.
A Portrait of Emily Price–forgiveness
A Portrait of Emily Price
by Katherine Reay
There is depth to Katherine Reay’s A Portrait of Emily Price. A story of painful pasts, the approaching death of a patriarch, and the love of family, it is a novel that draws the reader in with characters who seem straight forward at first, but are actually struggling to find their ways through life. It is the tale of people who, like all of us, have events in their pasts that affect their relationships and their futures.
Emily Price is a restorer and an artist. She has a talent for fixing thing. Ben is a handsome Italian chef who comes to Atlanta to reconnect with his brother Joseph after 18 years of separation, but quickly falls in love with Emily. In Italy she finds herself in a situation where she is unwanted; no matter what she does, she ruffles feathers.
Ben’s family has experienced great trauma, but no one is willing to bring the source out in the open so the distance between Joseph and his mother grows and their hearts harden. The author only gradually reveals the core of the difficulties as Emily confronts them. The tale is spun organically at just the right speed. We learn about Emily’s family’s troubles and Ben’s family’s problems as part of the pair’s character development and in such a way that, like Emily, we want to be able to fix them.
Life is not always easy and hurts do not always go away quickly. Giving and accepting forgiveness can be difficult. In the process of negotiating problems and overcoming pain, we learn more about ourselves and others. We grow through those trials. This book records a portion of the journey Emily experiences as she becomes part of a noisy, messy, Italian family.
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to HarperCollins Christian Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult)
Notes: Ends with questions for discussion or thought.
Publication: November 1, 2016—HarperCollins Christian Publishers
It almost made me wonder if I’d gotten it all wrong. Perhaps fixing things wasn’t about the end product—it was, oftentimes, about the process.
Home. That word again. In my life, it had always been transient, replaceable with each stepfather or with Mom’s next job. But there was nothing transient about this place. Lucio had said eight generations. This was the dream—stones warmed from above and roots that gripped deep below.
…while I might not know much about his family, I understood pressure, fear, the need to fix things, and the black hole that opened within you when you realized nothing could fix all that was broken.
Christmas Island–romance in Norway
by Natalie Normann
I am not moving to Norway. Ever. It’s too dark and too cold for me. I had a lot of reading fun coming to that conclusion, however, as I read Christmas Island, a romance that begins on a wet, cold, dark, rainy island in Norway. The snow and the need for many layers of heavy clothing would come later. The author, Natalie Normann, is highly qualified to be our atmospheric guide as she grew up in a shipping town on the west coast of Norway. When she writes about the many Christmas foods and traditions peculiar to Norway, she speaks from experience. Originally a Norwegian writer of historical romance, she has lived in Cardiff, Wales, since 2017, and Christmas Island is her second book written in English.
Holly Greene has an enforced four week leave of absence from her hospital job as a doctor resulting from a problem with a co-worker on the job. She is invited to Christmas on the island by her brother Jack as a way to help her survive this period. She meets Tor, mysterious and reclusive, who has rented a house on the island. The reasons both are there are revealed to the reader quite gradually. Holly lives in London and Tor in Oslo making a long-term relationship out of their holiday fling problematic to say the least. They are likable characters in need of healing. Will they find what they need in Norway? Within the island community? With each other?
Normann really helped me experience Norway. I felt like I was tasting the foods along with Holly. I understood her difficulties with the language. Once I raised my head from the pages almost expecting to see a wet snow drifting down. The backdrop she paints is important to the story and pervades the reader’s imagination.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins UK (One More Chapter) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #2 in the Very Hygge Holiday Series, but could clearly be read as a standalone.
2. There are too many American and British swear words and vulgarisms for my taste. When I embark on a Christmas read, I look forward to sweet and clean. Although there is a fling, there are no graphic details. Language is the only obstacle for me with this Christmas read.
3. Recipes for three sweet Christmas treats are included.
Publication: November 30, 2020—HarperCollins UK (One More Chapter)
“Fresh air is the Norwegian cure for everything. If you’re unwell, get some fresh air; if you can’t sleep, get some fresh air; if you’re feeling sad, get some fresh air. I think it comes from living too close to the sea and the mountains,” Tor said.
At the hospital gossip and rumours were part of the daily routine, and mostly it was friendly and amusing…until it wasn’t. But she didn’t want to dwell on that today.
Holly opened her mouth to answer, then got completely flustered and knew she was blushing like a whole crop of tomatoes.
Christmas Wishes–love crosses the Channel
by Sue Moorcroft
Good personal character is something that is often taken for granted, but in moments of crisis it can rise to the forefront to shine. That is what happens to Nico Pettersson when he takes his eight-year old daughter Josie to her mother Lauren’s home for a planned visit only to discover an alcohol and drug mess. Lauren is in no condition for a visit or to take care of her two-year old Maria. This precious little one is not Nico’s child. In fact, her conception had resulted in divorce. As a single parent, Nico has his own set of problems, but can he leave his daughter’s sister in a filthy, hungry, and thirsty state?
Throughout Sue Moorcroft’s Christmas Wishes, Nico has many decisive moments of conscience. Meanwhile, he reconnects with Hannah, a childhood friend who is his former hockey teammate’s little sister. She is confronted with a break in her relationship with Albin, a cold, wealthy, supercilious boyfriend who controls her shop and her residence in Sweden. The setting bounces back and forth between Stockholm, Sweden, and Middledip, England, with Hannah and Nico having ties in both countries.
The setting is beautiful and Moorcroft has a talent for descriptions. Christmas is not just a backdrop, but an integral part of the story. The plot and relationships are complex. The ups and downs of romance weave through the story and provide a few surprises. A well-behaved Josie and cute-as-a-button Maria are a wonderful pair of children, and my heart went out to them in their respective situations. Hannah’s grandmother, Nan Heather, is a wise and delightful ninety year old who rounds out the cast beautifully. Christmas Wishes is a Christmas gift to readers who want a good storyline coupled with romance in a Christmas setting.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins (Avon Books) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance, Women’s Fiction
Notes: 1. This book is part of the Middledip Series which seems to be loosely connected by a Middledip, England, setting and by an emphasis on seasons. My impression is that the books in this series do not need to be read in any particular order and that they make excellent standalones.
2. There is one place in the book where the description of a sexual encounter borders on too much detail for my taste, but it is not enough to make me wish I hadn’t read the book. Skim and move on!
Publication: October 29, 2020—HarperCollins (Avon)
The butterflies that journeyed home with her fluttered wings of ice…
Anders rocked a mixed retro look with a Seventies mustache but a Sixties short-back-and-sides. His wide-lapelled suits teamed with busy floral ties were a fashion mystery.
Autumn seemed to have decided not to bother this year and winter had swept in as if from Narnia. Iron-hard frosts stripped the color from the landscape, bleak but beautiful…
Out, Mouse!–cute Irish tale
written by Valerie L. Egar
audio narration by Paul Collins
Finn, an elderly Irish man, has unwelcome visitors as a mice family makes themselves at home in his cottage. Finn takes advice from Professor Dunderbutt’s book and writes a series of kind letters to Mr. and Mrs. Mouse making suggestions of places they would probably prefer to live. Unfortunately for Finn, they always find something unsuitable about the places he suggests. I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll say that it did make me smile.
I was referred to this book by blogging book reviewer Carla at Carla Loves to Read. She mentions in her review that she listened to the audio version while reading the printed text. I have been wanting to dip into the many audio versions of books currently offered. With an actor reading this with an Irish accent, this book seemed like the perfect one to begin my listening adventure. Although I will probably continue to prefer the written word, I did enjoy listening to this narration which was very well performed.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Whistle Oak for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction, Humor, Multicultural
Notes: 1. Publisher Recommended Ages: 6-9 years
2. Includes a section that encourages students to create pictures of what they imagined as they read the story.
Publication: April 6, 2021—Whistle Oak
Finn knew something was wrong as soon as he opened the door to his cottage. Something or someone, had made a mess of the breakfast he’d placed on the table before taking his morning walk.
If the mice don’t like your first idea, keep writing letters. Sooner or later, one of your letters will work and they will move. This method NEVER fails.
He found a scrap of red cloth and tied it around his neck. A tiny brass nail became a make-believe sword. He held it tightly in his hand, waving it back and forth.
Green Leaf in Drought–a missionary story
Green Leaf in Drought
by Isobel Kuhn
Arthur and Wilda Mathews and their baby spent a frustrating two years trying to discern and follow God’s will as missionaries for the China Inland Mission, a group spread widely over mainland China. Under the Communist regime, they were not allowed to witness to people about Jesus or to help people in need. They were eventually confined to their meager and uncomfortable quarters and socially isolated. Their living situation was desperate as the authorities tried to starve them and forced them to live in unhealthy conditions. Why had God brought them to this place? Why wouldn’t the authorities allow them to leave? Having arrived with enthusiasm, they eventually suffered through round after round of seeking God’s will in the midst of despair. Their little girl was a bright note as she absorbed and repeated the songs and Scriptures that sustained her parents during the difficult times.
If you are inspired by missionary stories or want to read about God working in the hearts of His children when times are hard, then you would probably find Green Leaf in Drought to your liking. The content is very interesting. Stylistically speaking, this book is not in the excellent category. Author Isobel Kuhn had very difficult resource materials to work with, mainly the writings of Arthur and Wilda Mathews. Their compositions were letters intended for family and recordings on paper of their thoughts, prayers, and poetry, which we would refer to today as journaling, often written in tiny script on thin airmail paper. Others were involved in deciphering and organizing the events which Kuhn then transformed into a readable narrative. As Kuhn tries to translate the couple’s thoughts into dialogue, the result is somewhat stilted. The descriptions, however, are well executed. Kuhn maintains the integrity of a biography. She does not veer off into historical fiction and is to be commended for that. Readers who want a more in depth character study will not find that because it was not provided in the source materials.
Rating: 4/5 (3/5 for writing style, 4/5 for interest and historical veracity)
Category: Christian, Biography
Publication: January 1, 2007—OMF International (first published in 1957)
The bamboo curtain shouts and bellows as it descends, boasts and preens itself. The Feather Curtain of God falls silently. It is soft and comforting to the sheltered one; but intangible, mysterious and baffling to the outsider.
Amazing how we plan everything so carefully and then God walks sovereignly right across the lot with something far better.
The slow wearing down of the human spirit is a species of torture which the communists delight to use and have found very productive for their purposes.
When We Were Young and Brave–kindness in the midst of despair
When We Were Young and Brave
by Hazel Gaynor
During our current tumultuous times, When We Were Young and Brave was somewhat of a difficult read for me, but I’m glad it is now a part of my personal reading journey. Hazel Gaynor’s latest book relates a fictional version of the events following Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor as they play out for the students and teachers at the China Inland Mission School in Chefoo, China. With Japan’s invasion of China, the Japanese seize and occupy the school, later interning the residents in the much larger prison camp known as the Weihsien Civilian Assembly Center where sanitation facilities are disgusting and meals are meager, nutritionally inadequate for growing children, and almost inedible. Despite the harsh conditions, the teachers protect the children as best they can while rallying them with insistence on routines, cleanliness, and a hearty “chin up” attitude. Of particular note is the role of their Girl Guide troop and standards that help the students in maintaining a positive outlook.
The last sections of the book, “Liberation” and “Remembrance,” are remarkable in the beauty of the skillful writing that describes the impact of the American liberation on the camp residents. They gain relief from the fears that haunted them daily, but endure the substitution of new anxieties and questions for the future. Where will they go and what will they do? Is anyone waiting for them at home?
The story is told by alternating narrators. Elspeth is a competent, well-organized, and kind teacher who has a special motherly feeling for Nancy, the daughter of missionaries in China. Their relationship is always teacher and student, but as months of internment become years, Elspeth takes on increasingly more of the commitment for safe care that she made to Nancy’s mother as they departed by boat to sail to the school, both as first-timers. We view their ordeals from both Elspeth’s and Nancy’s points of view.
There are a lot of themes in the book including resilience, relationships, releasing the past, and looking to the future. Symbolism is also important in the kingfisher that becomes the emblem of the new Girl Guide patrol and the sunflower which holds a special meaning for teacher and students.
The characters emerge as three dimensional figures as they are well developed. Realism comes into play with descriptions of the harsh conditions; no one’s story is fairytale like or even positive. The setting is well-executed with vivid word pictures. As the Chinese workers slosh through the camp, the odor of the filth of “honey-pot” buckets they pull from the latrines makes an unforgettable olfactory experience. There are also more pleasant descriptions of the beauty outside the camp, but glimpses are rare for those interned. The last two sections make the book a winner for me, but the first sections are also well written and essential to the success of this historical novel.
Category: Historical Fiction
Notes: There is a very informative section at the end of the book that describes the author’s research and thought processes and some historical background. The author has also included a brief history of the Girl Guides as that organization plays an important role in the girls’ lives. Other additions are a list of books and websites for further reading, including original source documents found at weihsien-paintings.org, and some questions for discussion.
Publication: October 6, 2020—Harper Collins
When she was cross, Miss Kent spoke in a way that reminded me of brittle twigs snapping underfoot on autumn walks. I felt my cheeks go red. Without giving me a ticking-off, she’d done exactly that.
I knew the smile she gave us that morning was the sort of “we must be brave” smile adults use when they’re trying to pretend something awful isn’t happening.
But, as I’d come to realize about life during a war, nothing stayed the same for long. Just when you thought you’d adjusted and adapted and found a way to cope, the situation changed.