Reviewer: Jessica Sichel
“Christmas” is a collection of four short stories written by Marcia Lee Laycock. “Missing Christmas,” “No Matter How Far,” “An Earthly Treasure,” and “An Unexpected Glory” are rather different from each other and each has a different take on the miracle and wonder of Christmas. Yet, all of the stories share the common theme of God as provider, whether the needs of the characters are physical, emotional, or financial.
In the first story, “Missing Christmas,” self-centeredness overwhelms the main character. Due to an unfortunate event, she and her husband are unable to attend Christmas with distant family as previous planned, leaving the unnamed narrator feeling very sorry for herself. However, towards the end of the story she is shown an unexpected kindness and says, “The sight…filled my soul with a light that made me forget about myself.” The wonder of Christmas wins over the narrator.
Next, Laycock tells the story of a man in desperate straits who almost gives in to the physical stress his body undertakes in, “No Matter How Far.” Help comes in various forms and in the end, the sequence of events, along with his background, propels him towards finding answers to certain questions.
The third story, “An Earthly Treasure,” is a little out there – literally! It is a science fiction tale which takes place in space and shows how, even when we are physically and mentally very far from where Jesus wrought miracles, God works anyway, crossing immeasurable boundaries.
The fourth story – and my favorite – is “An Unexpected Glory,” a classic tale of overcoming the desire for Christmas to be perfect. The mishaps which befall the characters are all too well known by many. When things seem to be falling apart all around, God can and does work all things for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
Laycock has a talent for storytelling and shows her versatility in the variety of genres, settings, and characters within this little collection. One story seems to have a more existential feel, while another is heart-warming, and a third is science fiction. When picking up a compilation of Christmas stories, one might expect a more traditional, consistent set of tales. Instead, Laycock modernizes Christmas by setting her stories in what seem to be present – and in one case, is actually future – scenarios. Furthermore, the characters themselves are rather approachable, feeling and thinking things that a reader may very well think for him or herself. Laycock does a good job making connections between the reader and her characters.
There are a few flaws in the tales, such as in the fourth story when a baby is given medication for an unknown ailment instead of being taken to a doctor for evaluation. The medication causes the child to sleep, which is not necessarily a sign of healing. This incident leaves a disturbing feeling in the mind. Also, some of Laycock’s characters could be made a little less flat, with more information or background being given about them. These are, however, short stories, so some brevity in such areas is to be expected.
Overall, for a different take on the traditional fireside short story, “Christmas” would be a good choice. Happy reading!
Reviewer: Cierra Loften
Everyone who knows me knows I love everything about the holiday season. The festivities, the decorations, the food, and of course, the real reason for the season: celebrating the birth of Christ. So, when I saw the title of Laycock's collection of 4 short stories, I decided to pick it up. The cover gets right down to the point of what the stories are about (the birth of Jesus) and the author bio on the back is also simple and lovely to look at. The cover earns an 8 from me. There were four separate stories, with their own respective characters, though, overall, I didn't really connect with the characters in any of the stories. I found them a tad boring, though they weren't awful by any means. I'll offer a 6 for the characters. Each story's plot was fairly simple and fairly interesting, though none of them really struck my interest for very long. Plot earns an 8 from me. Style wise, I can tell Laycock has been writing for quite a while. Her ideas flow very well and she does a wonderful job of closing each story. Style earns an 8. Unfortunately, when it comes to addictiveness, I really had a difficult time finishing these stories. As mentioned above, I didn't find them that intriguing and that made it hard for me to want to keep reading at times. Addictivenes earns a 4. Ending on a positive note, the stories were inspirational and did a beautiful job of capturing the peaceful, loving essence of Christmastime. Content earns a 10. Overall, Christmas earns a 4 star rating from me.
Reviewer: Laura J. Davis
I love a book that leaves me feeling inspired, especially in time for Christmas. The Christmas Angel Project by Melody Carlson is a sweet novella of friendship, faith and love that is perfect for the Christmas season.
The author takes the reader on a journey into the lives of four friends who were brought together into a book group by their one common friend - Abby. It was to Abby the group gave credit for bringing them together and it was Abby who knew each of them well enough that they all confided in her, but when she dies they are lost without her, ready to give up on the book group Abby started. Ready to give up on maybe creating friendships with each other that could be just as deep. We soon discover however, that when grief is shared, friendships become stronger and Abby's four friends learn more about each other and themselves then they ever thought possible.
While I was disappointed that Abby's character was not developed enough to make me care that she had died, the reader does learn about her from the way her friends react to her death and with the gifts she leaves each of them. If more effort had been put into Abby I might have been shocked and I might have cried right along with her friends. So for me, it wasn't a very moving experience.
That said, what happens to the four friends after Abby's death is something I think most women wish they had - great friends who support each other through their struggles and their joys. I loved the way the women begin to open up to each other as they try to honour their friend with the Christmas Angel Project. This is an inspiring story to read at Christmas and is one I'm sure you'll love. It may even inspire you to become a Christmas Angel!
Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Reviewer: Laura J. Davis
I wasn't sure what to expect when I happened upon A Miser, A Manger, a Miracle by Marianne Jordan. I thought it would be about a miserly old man who refused to give Mary and Joseph a room at the inn, and it was that, but it was so much more.
The author has taken A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and mixed it with the story of the birth of Christ and it works beautifully. The character of Ebenezer Scrooge, is still called Ebenezer, but he runs an inn in Bethlehem and he's hoping to make a buck because of the census Herod has called. All the characters are there - tiny Tim is Timothy, Bob Cratchit is Aaron and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future are instead, angels who make their visits to Ebenezer all in one night. And all the characters of the "first Christmas" are there as well - Mary, Joseph and of course baby Jesus. The author skilfully introduces them to Ebenezer through the angels who visit him and he gets a glimpse not only of Jesus in the manger, but he is able to see what happens to Jesus at the end of his life.
While the story is charming and interesting in its adaptation and could quite easily become a "Christmas Classic," it did not move me as it should have and that is probably because the "Scrooge" story is all too familiar. However, I loved the creative aspect of this story. The author has taken a Christmas classic that was devoid of Jesus, but heavy on redemption, and remade it to include Jesus who redeemed mankind. I highly recommend this book as something you should be reading this Christmas!
Reviewer: Jane Daly
Moonlight in Manhattan is a sweet holiday love story. The two main characters, Justin and Sarah, are believable and down-to-earth. They are an unlikely couple who meet after Sarah’s next-door neighbor, Lillian, is taken by ambulance to the hospital. Conflict arises as Sarah, a driven self-starter, thinks Justin is taking advantage of his grandmother, Sarah’s next-door neighbor.
There was a plot twist that I would have liked to see developed: a mystery anomaly of Lillian’s blood tests. It would add more tension to the story.
All in all, the story is an enjoyable read. The release is a timely one, right around the holidays. It made me want to put up Christmas lights and drag out my Nativity scene.
Reviewer: Mary Hemlow
Sarah Montgomery lives and runs her own business in Manhattan. A health emergency with one of her neighbours, an elderly woman, leads to Sarah’s discovery that the woman would benefit from her help. There’s only one problem. In order to help her, Sarah has to cooperate with the woman’s deadbeat, but attractive grandson, Justin. As Sarah gets to know Justin, she finds herself being attracted to him, against her better judgment. Justin isn’t being completely open and honest with Sarah. Added to everything are Sarah’s feelings of abandonment by her wealthy, money focused parents. Will Sarah deal with her fear and allow a man who loves her into her heart?
The story offers a glimpse into the lives of two characters, strengthened by their faith, but wrestling with doubts about relationships and emotions left by events from their pasts. Sarah’s heroism lies not only in these struggles but in that she lives and runs her own business in one of the largest cities in the world. The book delivers in the romance reader’s format. It’s an engaging read.
The title and cover promise a journey to a different place, which I think could have delivered more. The city itself is weakly portrayed. Names of places will be well known to those who have visited New York, but as a person who has not had that pleasure, I was unable to make the connections with the places and would have appreciated more descriptive detail about them. In spite of this minor deficiency, I give the book five stars.
Reviewer: Edwina Cowgill
Moonlight Over Manhattan is a fun read for this time of the year! Set during the months of November and December, there’s just enough seasonal undertones to put you in the holiday spirit, or keep you there!
Ms. Turansky has done an excellent job in writing and developing characters who wiggle their way into your heart early in the book.
Although not the heroine, “Miss” Lillian will remind you of your grandmother. With her gracious manners and mischievous matchmaking, she quickly becomes your favorite character.
Justin, the hero, is Lillian’s grandson and has come to stay with her as she recuperates from a fall. He is the “boy next door” that every mother longs for her daughter to fall in love with. Strong, honest, good-looking…need I say more?
And then there’s Sarah. An independent woman who is a professional organizer and owns her own business, she is determined to marry a like- minded professional, who can easily support himself and a family. And therein lies the conflict.
This story is written from a Christian perspective and Ms. Turansky does a good job in balancing the romance angle with the Christian perspective.
Moonlight Over Manhattan is a book you will enjoy reading and a story you will remember for a long time to come.
Reviewer: Laura J. Davis
Moonlight Over Manhattan by Carrie Turansky is a novella set in New York during Christmas and is a great way to get yourself into the Christmas Spirit.
The two main characters, Justin and Sarah, meet by chance when Justin's grandmother Lillian has a fall in her apartment. Sarah takes care of Lillian's dog Molly, while Lillian is in hospital. When Justin shows up to take Molly back they discuss Lillian's cluttered apartment. One gets the impression she is a hoarder. When Justin discovers Sarah is a professional organizer, she is hired to get Lillian's apartment in order by the time she gets back from hospital. The author does an excellent job of introducing us to the characters and of presenting Sarah as a no-nonsense kind of gal who knows her job and does it well. But as "put-together" as Sarah is she does have a few insecurities and the author presents them well. Justin, on the other hand is clearly a strong Christian, but with a secret which we discover further in the story.
One issue that does need to be addressed bothered me through to the end of the story. It was the insinuation that while in hospital the doctor's discovered something strange in Lillian's blood. Right away one starts thinking this may be a very sad story that will bloom with romance and heartache, because of Lillian's supposed illness, bringing our two main characters together to support one another. Unfortunately, the subject is never addressed again. We are left wondering what the doctors found. So, as I said, I think this part of the story needs to be addressed.
Another aspect I found wanting was the assumed belief that everyone was a Christian. This is not done in real life, so it was not something that felt natural. I got the impression early on that Sarah was not a Christian and yet a few chapters in she is talking about her conversion to Christ. So this confused me somewhat. In addition, the actual relationship and growing attraction between Justin and Sarah felt forced. Justin's actions towards Sarah seem awkward and slightly creepy for someone who had just met her. And Sarah, while admittedly enamoured by his looks, makes it more than clear she is not interested. So when things changed between them it didn't feel right.
That said, the author is a very good writer who still manages to keep you reading and draws you into the story. The spirit of Thanksgiving and Christmas are heavily featured and so it makes for a short read (it's only ten chapters) that will get you in the Christmas Spirit. The author is very good at placing the reader in the action and I could clearly see Lillian's apartment, New York at Christmas and the church service where Sarah has her epiphany. Despite a few inconsistencies, I did enjoy this book and would recommend it for your Christmas reading list.