Category Archives: book reviews

You Can’t Cancel Christmas

For the first time ever this year, I was sick for Christmas. So sick, in fact, that I had to call off the celebration. Christmas is the time for sharing, but the fever/flu I had was something I’d rather keep to myself. It was a quiet Christmas, one I spent mostly in bed or on the couch. I don’t think I’ve ever watched the film A Christmas Story so many times before!

While I was sick, however, I decided to polish off some of my “to be read” list.  As an English teacher, I’m always reading (and re-reading) the titles I teach, so I have little time during the school year to read for pleasure. Being sick was a great opportunity to tackle my short stack of Christmas reading for the year. So now, feeling much less feverish, I thought I’d share what I read with you:

Sing We Now of Christmas by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

This is a romance book rated “3” on the “heat index.” I won a copy on a blog contest and wanted to save the story to read around Christmastime. The tale follows Jessica and Johnny, a married couple perfectly in love. But Johnny leaves for an early-morning fishing trip on the Fourth of July and never makes it back. A terrible storm passed over the lake as Johnny was fishing, and everyone presumes him to be dead. Everyone, that is, except for Jessica. Sticking to her hope to the point that everyone else thinks she is insane, Jessica refuses to believe that Johnny is gone, and she holds out hope that she will return for the holidays.

The plot has suspense built right in. As soon as Johnny disappears, the reader wishes for him to return. Flashbacks of Jessica’s first meeting with him allow the reader to feel how perfect their relationship is and increases the sense of urgency to get them back together. Happy flashbacks to their past relationship sprinkled throughout the story help to break up Jessica’s despair at not knowing what happened to Johnny or why he hasn’t made any attempt to contact her. As an author, I appreciated the way Murphy used different points of view to add information, increase dramatic irony, and build suspense. As the story unfolds, we are given more and more information to piece together the mystery. And as promised, the climax of the novel happens right during the holidays, making it an enjoyable read for this time of year.

As I sat curled up in bed listening to my husband cooking in the kitchen, the book helped me to remember what’s really important in life: not having beautifully-wrapped gifts or a perfect Christmas dinner—rather, having those we love the most right by our side.

Journey to Christmas Creek by Melinda Elmore

Earlier this year, author Melinda Elmore’s husband unexpectedly passed away. “Journey to Christmas Creek” is a story her husband used to tell their children, and Melinda wrote it down. DWB, Melinda’s publisher, decided to publish the story as a benefit to the Elmore family, helping them to cover final costs for their beloved. The short story is a fast but enjoyable read—it took me maybe thirty minutes to read it. The cover is wonderful, capturing the beauty of unadulterated nature while also paying tribute to Tommy Elmore.

The story is a coming-of-age tale following Spotted Buffalo, an adolescent determined to help his tribe find a new home and prove his manhood. It is the 1800s, and Spotted Buffalo’s tribe is making the slow trek to search for a better place to live. Eager to find a new home while the rest of the tribe is resting, Spotted Buffalo trusts that the Great Spirit will help him find the legendary Christmas Creek–but his sister, Gentle Tears, tags along for the ride. On their journey, Spotted Buffalo breaks his leg, and his sister must face terrifying dangers on her way back to find help.

This would be a great story to share with family during the holidays. It is a fast, enjoyable read that could easily become a Christmas tradition of its own.

Both stories stress the importance of family, and during this last week of 2011, I hope that you get to spend lots of time with yours. It doesn’t matter how sick you may be or what circumstances you may confront: as long as you have a loving family, you just can’t cancel Christmas.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year.


Posted by on December 26, 2011 in book reviews, musings


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Review: Singer of All Songs by Kate Constable

I read this YA book to preview it for my high school students. This was a good read–I would definitely recommend to students. Constable’s descriptions are not so heavy as to weigh down the story, but they are enough to allow readers to paint their own pictures. Even though the chapters are long (in terms of number of pages), they fly by. The style/reading level is not overly challenging so as to discourage an adolescent reader; neither is it too simply to bore an advanced reader.

I enjoyed the premise: Calwyn is clinging to the old world of magic–a series of chantments that can control various aspects of nature and people. Most citizens of her world are distrustful of those who can sing these spells, even though the singers are simply misunderstood. Interwoven through this fantastical story were snippets of wisdom that can be applied to our own “non-magical” lives–observations on the nature of life and death, ambition and acceptance. These musings can serve as philosophical diving boards for more advanced readers to delve deeper into the text, drawing parallels between Calwyn’s world and their own. In short, the novel follows the typical archetypal journey with enough twists so that it doesn’t disappoint.

Specifics for students/young readers: The protagonist is female, which might be a turn-off to some of my male students, but the story contains enough action that male adolescent readers might be able to forget about the fact that the story is told through a female’s eyes. The third person point of view, I believe, will help make Calwyn’s story more palatable to male readers. Even when the action stops, there is enough interaction between characters to keep things interesting. For example, there is some subtle “love tension” between protagonist Calwyn and her male companion, Darrow, as well as some aggression between and among characters. Those interested will pick up on the subtleties of the characters’ relationships. Those uninterested can easily ignore them, following the action of the plot.

Specifics for adult readers: This book is meant for young adults. As such, the reading level will not be a challenge for adults, but the book will be a quick read. As an adult reading this book, I craved more layers of development, but the world Constable created was an interesting concept to consider. I did enjoy the more philosophical musings (that appeared more towards the end of the novel), as I could easily draw connections to our modern world in terms of power, balance, and the place of an individual within society.

Specifics for writers: From a writer’s point of view, I enjoyed picking apart how Constable was able to tell a complicated story in a concise way. She added just the right level of details to interest her target age group without burdening them with excess description or information. She really trusted her readers to fill in the gaps with their imaginations.

Overall, I would recommend this book. There are two more in the series, which I intend to read.

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Posted by on August 7, 2011 in book reviews