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Review: Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me: I love Christmas. As soon as the Thanksgiving dinner is cleared away, our house undergoes a tinsel-and-tree transformation as we prepare for the Christmas season. We make large pans of fudge and (with a nod to my Ohio roots) hundreds of peanut-butter-chocolate Buckeyes. We bake dozens of cookies. We even wrap all the paintings on our walls in Christmas paper—an inexpensive holiday tip borrowed from a physician’s office years ago. So it’s no surprise that I also love Christmas books. This year, I’m excited to share the latest release from my friend and fellow Florida author Dan Walsh. Keeping Christmas: A Novel is a story to which I can relate. Not only does it take place in my beautiful hometown of Mount Dora, Florida, but the central characters are empty-nesters—just like my husband and me. Christmas looks different to us in this stage of life than it did when our five children were small, and it does to Stan and Judith, too. Their three children are grown and gone, with families of their own—and none of them can make it home for the holidays. All the couple has left are their memories and a box of what they call “The Ugly Ornaments,” lovingly crafted by their children through the years. Stan, an avid fisherman, seems eager to embrace their new lifestyle. After all, this is the Christmas when he and his best friend plan to buy their dream rig, the fishing boat of their dreams. But Judith has more than a bit of trouble moving beyond her loneliness and into the wonder and beauty of Christmas.    Walsh, as always, does a masterful job of creating characters about whom we care. This time, he weaves the threads of their lives into a beautiful tapestry with more than a hint of compassion, love, and Christmas magic. Include this book on your list of books to read—and give—this Christmas, and watch for my coming interview with Dan about Keeping Christmas along with news of a Christmas contest. If you live in the Central Florida area, be sure to visit charming Mount Dora on December 6, 6-8 p.m. and enjoy an in-person visit with Dan at the 2015 Christmas Book-tacular. Maybe I’ll see you there!   (FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel free from the author. I was not required to post a review or a positive response.) Find a local Christian bookstore where you can purchase Keeping Christmas. Find this book on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, or at Christian Book Distributors. Read Marti’s article about Christmas in Mount Dora in More to Life Magazine (page 60).    ...

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Words with Friends: Cynthia Ruchti

Dear Friends, I’m excited to re-introduce an author friend to you today. I met Cynthia Ruchti several years ago at the very first writers conference where I had the opportunity to teach. Her grace, kindness, and beauty are matched only by her skill as a writer. I fell in love with her back then, but I’ve fallen in love with her words since. I don’t dare present her work as an unbiased reviewer, but I also thought you might enjoy the opportunity to get to know one of my favorite people. Today, I’m thrilled to interview Cynthia and to give her the opportunity to share a little more about her new novella release, An Endless Christmas. Let’s go! Welcome, Cynthia. I know you live in Wisconsin, but you do a great job of setting the scene for Endless Christmas near Stillwater, Minnesota. How did you decide on this location, and what research did your writing involve?  I love spotlighting places that have captured my attention and affection. Stillwater is one of those locations. The story of An Endless Christmas is centered on a too-small cottage about five miles from town, just far enough for the cottage to seem separated from the hubbub of the small-town tourist destination, but accessible to it. I’ve visited Stillwater several times over the years. My husband and I took a day trip to Stillwater as the book was being written so I could recapture the feel, lock down specific landmarks in my mind, and collect some of the details that make Stillwater such a destination spot. I researched online, tapped into the experiences of friends who either lived near or had vacationed in Stillwater, gathered more ideas from their Chamber of Commerce, their Historical Society, and from Pinterest pages that confirmed what I’d discovered personally. I love your care and thoughtfulness. The Binder family has lots of Christmas traditions. Does your own family have any of these in common with your characters? Two key traditions are borrowed from my extended family. For many years, one of the holiday meals always provided a variety of soups. My brother’s Killer Chili for the strong of heart, a milder chili, chicken wild rice soup, and maybe a couple of other choices. When Mom was alive, oyster stew was one of the options. It had been a holiday tradition in her family for many decades. The other tradition that worked its way into the story was deciding to forego exchanging gifts in favor of taking up a collection for a meaningful charity, given first in honor of my father the year after he died. Now, the gifts are collected on behalf of both our father and mother. We’ve truly delighted in sending donations...

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Review: An Endless Christmas by Cynthia Ruchti

Dear Friends, Not long ago, I wrote about The Perfect Christmas and how, even with at least one child unexpectedly absent, I know it will be the perfect Christmas after all. Author Cynthia Ruchti’s new novella,  An Endless Christmas, also describes a perfect Christmas. And a perfect family. And a story that’s just—perfect, right? Maybe. Nurse practitioner Katie Vale sees herself as the one huge blot on an otherwise-flawless family Christmas scene in wintry Minnesota. When she turns down boyfriend Micah Binder’s unexpected proposal at the start of the holiday, she plans to pack her bags and return to her Florida home. But Micah and his large, loving extended family urge her to stay. And somehow, the grace-laden magic of an endless Christmas starts to work in ways that surprise everyone. In my case, the obstacle to a perfect Christmas was my attitude. Read the book to find out what Katie discovers about herself and her own imperfect holiday. An Endless Christmas is a tender, thoughtful story that, like every good Christmas gift, delivers much more than glitter and glitz. Watch for my “Words with Friends” interview tomorrow with author Cynthia Ruchti (a friend as well as an award-winning novelist), and go buy this novella for anyone who loves characters who become friends, timeless truth, and a page-turning story bright with Christmas wonder and hope. Have you had a Christmas that started out less than perfect but ended up better than you thought? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or on social media. Blessings! For His glory, Marti   Find a local Christian bookstore where you can purchase Endless Christmas. Find this book on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, or at Christian Book Distributors. (FTC Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this novella free from the publisher. I was not required to post a review or a positive...

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Review: The Caregiver’s Notebook by Jolene Philo

Dear Friends, It’s been a while since I posted a book review, so I hope you enjoy this one. I know so many authors and others in the publishing industry that I stopped posting reviews on bookseller sites a while ago, but I still review books occasionally on my blog. I also post “Words with Friends” interviews so you can get to know the books and authors I love. I haven’t met Jolene Philo, the author of The Caregiver’s Notebook: An Organizational Tool and Support to Help You Care for Others (Discovery House, 2014) personally, but she and I both belong to AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) and the Christian Authors Network. The title and concept of her book intrigued me, and I was delighted to take a closer look. Chances are that if you’re an adult in 2015, you are or you know someone (probably more than one someone) who serves as a caregiver. With the graying of America come additional responsibilities to care for a parent(s), spouse, disabled child, or others who need special assistance because of physical and/or mental disabilities. And that means you know someone who needs this book. In The Caregiver’s Notebook, Jolene Philo does an amazing job of pulling together resources, records, and refreshment in the form of multiple ideas for caregivers in one compact place. The spiral-bound book (it lies flat–an asset when filling out pages) has fifteen tabs, including “Contacts,’ “Calendar,” “Medications,” “Insurance Information,” and “Routines and Schedules,” among others. Although I’m not a caregiver at present, I watched my mother serve as my father’s caregiver for several years, and I have had several friends in this situation. Since caregivers’ lives are already so full, I understand the need to collect and organize much of the information related to caregiving in one easy-access place. Each tabbed section begins with instructions (sometimes short, sometimes longer) about how to use the pages that follow. Also included are tips from fellow caregivers, Scripture verses and other inspirational quotes, and small but vital takeaway points labeled as “Stress Relievers.” As you can tell, Jolene knows the needs of caregivers well. In fact, I believe the author herself is the book’s greatest asset. The wisdom gained from her many years of  past and present caregiving experience both informed and inspired this valuable tool. One concern I have with the book is its small size (approximately 6.5 x 9.5”). Although convenient, its compact nature left me wondering about storage for the many additional medical and other forms that seem to accompany caregiving. However, the book’s final section provides potential assistance. It highlights another website of hers, which includes links to organizational resources, downloadable forms, and other helps for caregivers. That...

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Pray: Top Ten Signs You’ve Just Returned from a Short-Term Mission Trip

Pray: Top Ten Signs You’ve Just Returned from a Short-Term Mission Trip

It’s no secret: we’ve raised a family of missionaries. Over the years, all five of our children—plus Tom and me—have taken multiple mission trips. In 2014 alone, five of us have served in East Asia (Karissa, five months); Slovenia (Andrew, one week); New York City (Tom, five days); Nicaragua (Melanie, five weeks); Panama (Karissa, five weeks); and Costa Rica (Tom and Marti, ten days). Because Tom and I just returned from Costa Rica on July 20 and our girls also returned from Central America on July 25, there’s a whole lot of readjusting going on at the Pieper home. I present this list as both a humorous and serious look at the aftermath of short-term missions service. And no, I won’t identify who is exhibiting which sign. You know you’ve just returned from a short-term mission trip when. . . 10. The house fills with the smell of unwashed (or less-than-well-washed) socks and sweaty T-shirts. 9. That salad/milkshake/hamburger/Starbucks/Chipotle/Chick-fil-A/other Western food you missed most tastes really good. 8. You begin every other sentence with, “One time in (insert name of international city or village).” 7. You go to your neighborhood grocery store and all you can think about are the children you met who lived on rice and beans—if their parents could afford them.                                                                                                                                                                                                             6.  You open one of your 27 Bibles and remember the people who were so eager to receive their first one. 5. You can’t forget the looks on the faces of those who received Christ. Or the tears on yours for those who didn’t. 4. You missed your family while you were gone, but now that you’re home, you miss your fellow missionaries more. 3. You realize that the same God who works in power overseas cares just as much for the people at home. 2. You can’t listen to comments about how wonderful you are for going to the mission field because you’ve met the real heroes who serve there every day. 1. You’re not sure you should unpack your suitcase. After all, you know God will call you to go again soon....

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READ: Just 18 Summers by Rene Gutteridge and Michelle Cox

“Don’t forget—you have just 18 summers. Take time to make some memories.” This simple comment by her pastor after a child’s dedication did more than resonate with my friend, author Michelle Cox. It set her heart humming, her mind whirling, and before long, “Just 18 Summers” moved from concept to a parenting blog, a novel, and a screenplay. It seems appropriate that I review the Just 18 Summers novel just before Mother’s Day. This also happens to be the week that our youngest daughter graduates from home high school. Like most parents, I face this milestone with mixed emotions. I’m thrilled for our daughter and the Christ-follower she has become. Not only has Melanie been named the valedictorian of her class at the private school that keeps our records, but she has also received at least three scholarships toward her future studies in Mass Communication/Public Relationships at the University of South Florida. Before she enters college, she’ll serve as a missionary to Nicaragua for five weeks as part of a team sent by Awe Star Ministries. We have much for which to be thankful, and much to celebrate. Because we started her homeschooling career a bit early, this is only our seventeenth summer with Melanie. But that doesn’t take away from the validity of Michelle’s concept or the strength of her novel, written with popular novelist Rene Gutteridge. Just 18 Summers covers four families at different stages and facing different challenges in their parenting journeys. The death of Butch’s godly wife, Jenny, has touched each one. Butch, a contractor, has the challenge of parenting his young daughter without his wife’s wise and loving influence. His employee, Tippy, and his wife Daphne, are expecting their first child and wondering if following all the right parenting rules will give them all the right answers. The Anderson family’s nest is almost empty, but what about their daughter’s choice for a husband? Robin sees him as her handsome prince, but to her parents, he’s more like a pizza-delivering frog. And what about their snooty neighbors, the Buckleys? Is it too late for them to realize the things they valued most may have the least significance? I enjoyed this novel—and not only because I have an almost empty-nest. The chapters flip from one family’s story to another’s, and it took me a little while to keep the characters straight. But this minor issue was more than offset by the way Gutteridge and Cox made me care about each family and their lives. Michelle, author, speaker, and food blogger for Fox News personality Todd Starnes, has authored seven previous books ranging from inspirational to humor to cookbooks. Her nonfiction skills and Gutteridge’s fiction expertise combine...

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