Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Cozy Christmas Reads: JoAnn's story

Interview with JoAnn Durgin, author of A Serendipity Christmas:

Alexis: What does your story’s title, “A Serendipity Christmas” mean? Is there a special significance for it as related to your story? Explain. 

JoAnn: Serendipity is the name of the novel’s setting, a charming small town outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The town was introduced in the first book in the series, The Christmas Challenge (released last Christmas). The word serendipity is whimsical and means “finding something valuable or delightful when you’re not looking for it and least expect it.” Isn’t that fun?

Alexis: Victoria (Tori) Harper is the female lead in this story. What is she like? Describe her looks, personality and heart. 

JoAnn: Introduced in the first book of this series (sister of Donovan Harper, the hero in The Christmas Challenge), Tori works as a paralegal in a criminal defense firm in Philadelphia (a source of concern for her family and others), but she’s taking a month of accrued/paid vacation time. After living on her own for almost a decade, she’s back in her parents’ home in Serendipity and “solid” (her term) with God. The reasons behind the move back home are gradually revealed throughout the book.

Although smart and quick with a comeback, Tori’s sarcasm hides a very tender yet wounded heart. Physically, Tori is 5’8” tall, blue-eyed with dimpled cheeks and long dark hair. After battling image and body issues when she was younger, Tori still doesn’t feel quite “worthy” in some ways. She’s not one to sit still, so she’s helping out at HarperMorgan, her brother and sister-in-law’s advertising agency in Serendipity. Donovan asks her to join the HarperMorgan team for The Christmas Challenge, but then she finds out Donovan also asked the irritatingly handsome Henry Adams to join the team…

Alexis: Henry Adams is the male lead in this story. What is he like? Describe his looks, personality and outlook on life. 

JoAnn: Henry is American, but born to English parents, so he speaks with the proper “Queen’s English” accent (think Colin Firth and Hugh Grant) and prefers calling her by her given name. He is six feet tall, athletic, with warm brown eyes and wavy dark hair. A graduate of NYU and Columbia Law School, Henry practiced for several years in a Manhattan firm. For reasons stemming from becoming a Christian, he left New York and settled in Serendipity. Although he spars with Tori, Henry’s true generosity, compassion, and gentlemanly qualities become readily apparent.

Alexis: Why is Tori resistant to Henry’s charms? 

JoAnn: After a string of failed relationships—and after her most recent boyfriend, Quint, took off for Mexico with his tattoo artist—Tori’s had a moratorium on dating for the past year. Henry had also briefly dated her now sister-in-law, Claire (the heroine in The Christmas Challenge). Tori thought of Henry as somewhat arrogant and pompous, partly because of his English formality and wry sense of humor. Now that she’s home in Serendipity for the month, and as Tori spends more time getting to know the man she’s nicknamed “Snooty Scrooge,” she discovers they have much more in common than she could have imagined. Let the fun begin!

Alexis: The Coffee Nook sounds neat. What is it like? Describe its significance. 

JoAnn: In many of my books, particularly those set in a small town, a coffee shop, café, or diner, is a central meeting place for the town’s residents—including Tori and Henry. It’s the place where everyone meets, greets, and catches up on the news from their neighbors and friends. One of the sweet senior citizens (Mary, introduced in the first book), starts a new ministry in The Coffee Nook, and you can find out what that ministry is in the book!

Alexis: What about writing this book brought joy to your heart? 

JoAnn: In many ways, writing my books is a way I dig deep into God’s word, and A Serendipity Christmas is no exception. As my characters grow and learn biblical truths in their story, I never fail to learn, as well. One of the highest compliments a reader can pay me is that she either gleans a nugget of truth or wisdom from God’s word or that she’s convicted to examine, evaluate, or change something in her own life as a result of reading my book. What a blessing!

Alexis: Did you have a holiday song playlist when writing this story? If so, share some of your favorite songs on it. 

JoAnn: Most definitely! I still listen to CDs, and I recently visited my local Lifeway store to stock up! I listen to the WOW Christmas CDs, Jordan Smith, Danny Gokey, Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin, and many other Christian artists. Depending on what I’m writing, I sometimes prefer instrumental music, so I’ve also been listening to Lindsey Stirling’s new holiday CD, as well as the amazing Piano Guys. “O Holy Night” is one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs, and it’s featured in a pivotal moment in this novel.

Alexis: What do you want your readers to remember most about this book? 

JoAnn: There are events, often in our childhood—both good and bad—that can shape or even change our lives in some way. In recent days, these types of life events have been referred to as “watershed moments.” Many of these moments come from our relationships with our families. Forgiveness plays a large factor in Henry’s story. Feeling worthy has always been a struggle for Tori. I’d like for the stories of the two main characters to give readers hope—and isn’t the Christmas season all about hope?—that no matter where they’ve been, where they are now, and the struggles they’ve faced, God is there, He listens, and He walks beside them. Accepting that Christ paid the price for the sins of man is truly the greatest gift of all, no matter the season.

Alexis: Thanks for the interview, JoAnn! Do you have closing thoughts to share? 

JoAnn: Thank you so much for allowing me to visit with you and your readers today, Alexis! I’ve enjoyed sharing about Tori and Henry’s story. The book is only 99 cents and releases on December 3rd. Why a Sunday, you might ask? Well, that’s my birthday, and I started a fun tradition last year with The Christmas Challenge (also only 99 cents!) of releasing a Christmas-themed, full-length novel on that day as my holiday gift to readers (although they can be read at any point in the year!).

Blessings to all for a happy, healthy, and joyous Christmas season!

Author Bio:
A Serendipity Christmas is the second in USA Today Bestselling Author JoAnn Durgin’s Serendipity Christmas Series, following The Christmas Challenge (2016). 

JoAnn is also the author of the beloved Lewis Legacy Series as well as Prelude, the prequel to the series. 

Her other works include the Amazon bestselling Catching SerenityHeart’s Design and its sequel Gentle Like the Rain, The Wondrous Love Series, Echoes of Edinburgh, Perchance to DreamWhisper to My HeartThe Valentine VerseThee Will I Cherish, and the popular Starlight Christmas Series.

Blurb for JoAnn Durgin's book, A Serendipity Christmas
The holiday season has rolled around once again, and the townspeople of quaint Serendipity, Pennsylvania, are preparing for their annual Christmas Challenge. This year, the funds raised from the various events and activities will benefit the continuing relief efforts in the aftermath of a brutal hurricane season. 

Victoria (Tori) Harper agrees to participate in the more physically demanding sporting events of The Christmas Challenge alongside her brother and new father, Donovan, on behalf of his HarperMorgan Advertising Agency. But why has Donovan invited the insufferable and irritatingly appealing Henry Adams to join their team? The man seems determined to drive her to distraction, but Tori’s not about to fall under the charms of another handsome man with a smooth line, even delivered with Henry’s smooth-as-silk British accent.

As the youngest attorney in town, Henry has grown to love little Serendipity, and especially his verbal sparring sessions with Victoria Harper in The Coffee Nook and elsewhere around town. She might call him a Snooty Scrooge, but he’s determined to win her heart. If he can’t win that personal challenge by the end of the holiday season, he might as well move on and accept a tempting job offer from a New York law firm.

The second in The Serendipity Christmas Series, following The Christmas Challenge (2016), join Henry as he seeks to win Tori’s love and they’re both reminded of how God is always faithful in His promises. A Serendipity Christmas celebrates the very best of the holiday season—love, faith, family, small-town charm, and the true miracles of the Christmas season.

Connect with JoAnn:
Website - www.joanndurgin.com
Facebook - www.facebook.com/authorjoanndurgin
Twitter - https://twitter.com/gr8treads

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Cozy Christmas Reads: Belle's story

Interview with Belle Calhoune, author of Reunited at Christmas:

Alexis: The setting for your story, Reunited at Christmas, is an Alaskan town called “Love”. How sweet! It’s a very unique name for a town. What makes it special? Paint a picture of it with words.

Belle: Love is a quaint Alaskan town that is very special due to the charming townsfolk and its remote location. Love is only accessible via ferry boat and seaplane. The town has an imbalance of males to females, so the premise of the series is that the town mayor, Jasper Prescott, starts a program called Operation Love that brings single females who are looking for love to the lovelorn town called Love. There is lots of love in this town along with warm-hearted folks who live their life with faith.

Alexis: Ruby Prescott is the heroine of your story. What is she like? Describe her looks, personality and heart. 

Belle: Ruby is a beautiful woman with tawny colored skin, long black hair and warm brown eyes. She is African American. She is very brave. In the story she is suffering from amnesia, so when she returns to Love it is on a wing and a prayer. She’s forced into situations where she is completely lost, so she really has pluck and grit. She’s very honest and loving. She has a very big heart and she tends to think of others before she thinks of herself.

Alexis: How was Ruby’s life before the avalanche that almost claimed her life and how is it different now that she survived?

Belle: Prior to the avalanche she was working as a member of a search and rescue team which required a lot of courage and mental fortitude. She was happily married to Liam and raising a small child, Aidan. Although she and Liam were very much in love, he was very concerned about her career and the inherent dangers, so that was an issue standing between them. Overall, she was happy but conflicted about her career.

Alexis: Liam Prescott is the hero of this story. What is he like? Describe his looks, personality and tell us what defines his outlook on life.

Belle: Liam is very handsome. He’s tall with dark brown hair and brown eyes. He is probably the quietest Prescott. He’s a doctor who cares deeply about the world around him and his patients. He looks at life as an opportunity to care for others and show compassion and love. It takes a lot to anger or upset him. He’s a loving husband and devoted father.

Alexis: Ruby and Liam have a son. Tell us about him. How old is he? Who does he look like the most, his Mom or Dad? What is his favorite hobby?

Belle: Their son is named Aidan. He’s a really cool kid. He’s five years old. He looks like a sweet combination with dark hair and light brown skin. He’s biracial and beautiful. His favorite hobby is sledding. He loves the Alaskan outdoors and spending time in nature. He also loves pizza. 

Alexis: How did Liam and his son react when Ruby’s avalanche accident happened?

Belle: They were both devastated by her death. Liam had to hold it together so he could raise Aidan as a single father, but he was really messed up emotionally by losing Ruby, the love of his life. One of the beautiful aspects of this story is how Liam and Aidan had to band together in the absence of Ruby so that their little family didn’t fall apart at the seams.

Alexis: Why does Ruby have amnesia? What are her husband and son doing to help her regain her memory?

Belle: Because of the fall she sustained during the avalanche, Ruby suffered a head trauma. She does have spurts and flashes of memory, which lead her back to her hometown of Love. Through the course of the story we see that Ruby begins to remember things. The hope is that she will get back most of her memories, although it is quite possible some things will be forever lost to her. I think Liam and Aidan’s role is to be quietly supportive. Their very presence helps Ruby remember her past. 

Alexis: The cover models for your book are beautiful! What race are Ruby and her husband? Why did you choose to write about an interracial romance?

Belle: Yes, they really are gorgeous. Ruby is African American. Liam is Caucasian. Aidan is both. I wanted to write about an interracial couple because that reflects my reality. I myself am biracial and it is something very natural for me to see in my environment. My ancestry is diverse. I am African, Irish and have many other European ties. I think it is realistic in this day and age to show a loving, devoted couple who are interracial.

Alexis: What were the challenges of writing this book? What were the rewards?

Belle: It was challenging to write an amnesiac because I had to reconcile her new personality with her old personality. In essence, Ruby was born after the head injury. She’s the same person, but different. So I had to remind myself of that fact. Also, I had to portray amnesia in a realistic manner. I didn’t want to have Ruby suddenly remember everything. I think flashes of memory is more realistic. And also, I had to show that she may never regain those memories because that is what happens with real life individuals who suffer from amnesia.

Alexis: If you could spend this Christmas with The Prescott Family, what would you all do?

Belle: If I could spend Christmas with the Prescott Family I would ask them to take me sledding with them on the mountain. It would be so much fun to sled in Alaska and share fun times with this incredible family. I would also love to meet Mayor Jasper Prescott because he is the center of this quaint town and quite a character. He would definitely make me laugh out loud.

Alexis: Thanks for the interview, Belle! God bless you and Merry Christmas!

Belle: Thanks for having me on your blog. Merry Christmas to you as well. Blessings!

Author bio: 

Belle Calhoune grew up in a small town in Massachusetts as one of five children. 

Although her mother was a doctor and her father a biologist, Belle never gravitated toward science. Growing up across the street from a public library was a huge influence on her life and fueled her love of romance novels. 

Belle is the author of nine Harlequin Love Inspired novels with a tenth hitting the shelves in March of 2018. She has Indie published the popular and best-selling inspirational romance series, Seven Brides, Seven Brothers. The Secrets of Savannah and Pelican Bay are both spin-offs of her debut series. 

Belle loves writing romance and crafting happily-ever-afters. When she’s not wrangling her two high maintenance dogs or spending time with her husband and two daughters, Belle enjoys travel and exploring new places. 

Blurb for Belle's book, Reunited at Christmas:

A Season to Remember 

Two years after the avalanche everyone thought had claimed her life, Ruby Prescott returns to the remote Alaskan town of Love. And no one is more ecstatic than her husband, Liam, and their young son. 

Even if amnesia has robbed Ruby of her memories, she's soon woven back into the fabric of their lives. As they celebrate the holiday season, Ruby is falling head over heels for the man she's told was the love of her life. But she can't escape the feeling that there's something Liam is keeping a secret. 

Will the return of her memories tear them apart for good—or will this be a Christmas she'll never forget?

Connect with Belle:
Website - http://www.bellecalhoune.com
Twitter - https://twitter.com/BelleCalhoune
Facebook - http://bit.ly/2yTdF4v

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Cozy Christmas Reads: Darlene's story

Excerpt from Chapter 11 of "The Christmas Child" by Darlene Franklin:

Chatter rippled through the room after Joseph and Mary had joined the Masquerade ball. As volunteers prepared for the event, Mr. Orson spoke with Preston and Eliza. “You promised me my grandson would be here tonight for me to introduce to my workers.”

“It will happen soon.” After a brief prayer, Preston stepped up to a podium. “The time has come for us to reveal ourselves. “Who can guess my identity?”

A brave soul at the back shouted, “Marshall!”

Bowing, Marshall removed his mask and bowed. When the applause subsided, he drew Eliza forward.

“May I present to you…” He bowed in Eliza’s direction. She curtsied and removed the mask.

“Miss Eliza Lampert.”

More cheers erupted. Pride surged through Preston’s body and his throat. Here, at last, he’d linked their names as he’d wanted to do so often. A year from now, they might be wed, or at least promised to each other.

Mr. Orson stood to side, nodding politely, but his attention was elsewhere, focused on his inner sorrow rather than the gaiety of the masquerade. Preston had hoped the party might bring the man some comfort, but if so, he showed no signs of it.

During the unmasking, they took their time with town luminaries before plunging into to the line of guests. It was a true test to how well Mr. Orson knew his employees and the townspeople. A few times he had to ask. Woody had been a great help in that regard.

Mr. Orson’s attention kept wandering to the door, as if looking for his grandson.

He’s closer than you think. The procession wound down to a young couple at the end of the line..

Mr. Orson examined them curiously. Preston sent up an escape-clause prayer, asking God to make everything work out as they hoped. Eliza smiled at him. He took courage from that and called for Mary and Joseph.

Preston stood between the man and a woman. “I believe this couple, representing those frightened parents in ancient Bethlehem, deserve a special award. Do you agree?” He held his breath, hoping this part of their plan would go smoothly.

Enthusiastic clapping rose from the gathered crowd, and he relaxed.

Eliza tugged on his arm. In a stage whisper, loud enough to be heard across the floor, she said, “The king has ordered that this baby boy be taken away from his mother.”

Preston stood at attention. “Not as long as I have the means to fight it.” He knelt in front of the still-masked couple. “May I take you to safety?”

Silence had fallen across the room as the scene unwound.

“God is our defender,” the man dressed as Joseph answered. “We ask nothing but the blindness of your eyes when we pass.”

“Mary” stepped forward. “Before we leave, I have only one wish: that my son see his grandfather.” Marina removed her mask, revealing her identity. “Because they have never met.”

Mr. Orson stood and took a step forward. “Is that—?” He looked around in a daze.

Eliza and Preston approached Mr. Orson, each taking one of his arms.

“Come meet your grandson,” Eliza said. “And his mother.”

Marina matched Mr. Orson step for step until they met. He stared at the child, hunger written on his face. He needed this grandson the way a starving man needed bread. “May I?” The words came from a broken heart. Preston held his breath.

Marina settled the baby in Mr. Orson’s arms. “It’s a little soon, but I think he will have

Woody’s eyes. And he has his red hair.”

Mr. Orson didn’t stop smiling. “He does looks like Woody did as a newborn. What is he called?”

Preston was glad he was close enough to hear every word of this precious meeting.

Marina brushed a red ringlet from his forehead. “Woodrow John, but I call him John.”

Satisfaction settled on Mr. Orson’s face. “I’d be mighty proud if you would name him

Woodrow John—Orson.”

Marina looked him straight in the eye. “As long as you acknowledge him and love him as your grandson, you are welcome to visit as often as you wish.”

Author bio: 
Best-selling hybrid author Darlene Franklin's greatest claim to fame is that she writes full-time from a nursing home. She lives in Moore near her son, and is expecting her first great-grandchild in January. 

This fall, Captive Brides spent time at the top of the ECPA bestseller list and Christmas Mail Order Angels appeared at the top of one of Amazon’s bestseller lists.

She’s also contributed to more than thirty nonfiction titles.

Her column, “The View Through my Door,” appears in four monthly venues (including Oklahoma Senior News and Living.)

Book Blurb for The Christmas Child: A year ago scandal ruined the annual Nanepaushat Cotton Mill Christmas Masquerade—the owner’s son tarried with a mill worker and she left, shamed and pregnant. 

Tragedy strikes this year when the same son dies in a tragic accident. Can supervisor Preston Marshall and the shunned woman’s cousin redeem the flailing Masquerade and rescue the Christmas child? How will they overcome the difference in their positions?

Check out The Christmas Child to read this imaginative retelling of Herod’s massacre of the innocents of Bethlehem.

Buy Darlene's book on Amazon 

Review of Darlene's book: "Romance and faith collide to bring the reader a story of redemption and overcoming obstacles that seem insurmountable! I loved watching Eliza and Preston work together to salvage the annual event and bolster the mill workers after a terrible scandal. The ending was my favorite of all! There's many more things to love, it was a delightful Christmas themed story and brought the real meaning of the holidays about. Celebrating the true Christmas Child!" ~ Reviewed by Trixi Oberembt

Connect with Darlene:

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Fall into Love: Sherri Stewart's story

A Different Kind of Handsome
A Fall into Love story by Sherri Stewart

As I reflected on one of the lessons my main character, Nicole, deals with in my book Très Chic, I realized that some of my other books feature the same lesson. Simply put, Nicole, a flight attendant, judges a man based on outward appearance. How superficial, I thought. Don’t most people overcome that in their teenage years?

In Très Chic, Nicole is set up on a date with a scruffy-looking guy with bloodshot eyes. They enjoy a wonderful evening, but Nicole has planned her future around a debonair passenger who flies first class every Monday on her New York-to-Paris flight. Patrick—she knows his name because she checked the manifest—hasn’t given her a second glance, but she doesn’t give up and even enlists Scruffy-Guy’s help.

In two other books, the female characters make assumptions about the male leads based on their outward appearances. Of course, looks are deceiving, and the men’s inner strength, compassion, and convictions win the women over. Nothing original here. Turn on any Hallmark movie, lower the volume, and just by looking at the male characters, you can predict that the guy with stubble growing on his face will be the hero of the story, while the man in the Brook Brothers suit will make an involuntary exit.

So why did I choose that lesson? I didn’t; it chose me because I’ve had to deal with judging others on outward appearances. I’m a starer. You won’t find that word in the dictionary, but it describes a person who, like me, watches people. For some reason, starers believe that others won’t notice that they’re staring at them. But sometimes, they do. Then we starers glance away and look for the nearest exit. I’ve read that writers are great observers of life around them. I like that—it puts a better spin on the act of staring.

I married a scruffy-looking guy. We met in a diner. I taught French in a high school full time during the day but couldn’t make ends meet without working a night job. The first time I saw him I wasn’t impressed. He sat on a stool at the counter and showed me how to make a proper cup of tea. Not the kind where you float a teabag in a cup of hot water, but the kind where you steep the tea in a pot. He worked for a hockey team. I wasn’t impressed. I’d never liked hockey. But then he asked me out, but not only that, he told me I could pick any restaurant. I was in Hog Heaven. Imagine choosing a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, when your diet consists of different flavors of Ramen Noodles. Bill Gates and Apple hadn’t been born yet, so I conferred with friends, students, faculty members, and finally chose Anthony’s—an Antebellum restaurant—très chic! Two years later, we had our wedding reception there.

It takes time to fall for a scruffy-looking guy. His clothes needed pressing and his car smelled like a locker room. It came by the smell honestly—the backseat was full of hockey skates. But I noticed things about him—the way he searched for a watering can for a Russian defenseman who was having trouble growing a houseplant. Or the way he always brought me back a candy bar or a keychain from whatever city they were playing in.

I learned to love hockey—I’ve been to over a thousand games—and we’ve been married for forty years. He still doesn’t care about a crease in his pants, and he leaves crumbs on the table, but my husband is a kind, thoughtful, sensitive, trustworthy, gentle, loving man.

Appearance can get in the way of sound judgment. In I Samuel 16:7, God warned Samuel about Saul. “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I’m so glad I wasn’t deceived by the polished, debonair Patricks of my youth, but gave the scruffy guy a second glance.

Author Bio: 

Sherri Stewart loves a good suspense novel. She started writing almost seven years ago and hasn’t stopped. Her careers as teacher, principal, lawyer, and flight attendant have allowed her to draw on personal experiences. 

Her membership in Word Weavers, American Christian Fiction Writers, and The Christian Pen have helped her hone her skills.

She lives in Orlando with husband Bobby, son Joshua, and dog Lily. When not writing or editing, she likes to walk and swim. 

But her favorite thing is traveling to places to research her books. Her first novel won a Word Weavers award for suspense novel, and three others have won Tapestry awards. You can reach her at www.stewartwriting.com. She’d love to have you join her shortlist.

Book Blurb for 
Très ChicNicole has her eye on Patrick Duryea, the passenger in 3B on her weekly New York-to-Paris flights. He doesn’t know it yet, but she’s going to marry him someday. That is, if he can satisfy the requirements on her list of ten attributes of a perfect husband.  

The other man in her life, her friend Sal, whom she met on a blind date, sets out to prove that lists don’t work when it comes to love, and he’s willing to help her win over the elusive passenger to prove his point. 

When push comes to shove onto a New York street, will Nicole’s list fail or prevail?

Buy Sherri's book on Amazon

Connect with Sherri:

Amazon Author Page - https://www.amazon.com/author/sherristewart/
Email - sherristewart2@yahoo.com
Website - www.stewartwriting.com/blog
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/sherristewartauthor/
Twitter - https://twitter.com/machere
Goodreads -
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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Cozy Christmas Reads: Susan's story

Joy to the World

A personal essay by Susan M. Baganz

My daughter is what is now known as a “rainbow baby.” A child born after a loss to miscarriage or stillbirth. I didn’t know I was having a girl and in spite of being pregnancy number four and she was ten days late in coming.

Then they announced it was a girl. I seriously was expecting a boy but was elated with this bundle of joy God had given. But he almost took her away as well. A shot given at birth resulted in seizures where she would stop breathing. Rejoicing turned to fear as she was transferred to a Children’s Hospital.

I forgot my Bible in my haste to get to the hospital. But I had my journal and had written the Scripture in there from the last Sunday’s sermon. Psalm 37:4 (a Bible verse) was written in there: “Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart.”

I was able to stay in a room at the hospital to be close to her as they ran all kinds of expensive tests. I prayed for my daughter. I told God: “She belongs to You, Lord. My desire is to keep Joy (her name) but if You decide to take her, I will trust You in that as well. And, Lord, while you’re at it can we leave the hospital on Sunday?”

Joy Lucille will become a teenager this December. We did go home that Sunday and long story short, she is seizure free due to the help of a naturopathic doctor since other doctors refused to treat her because we lacked insurance.

Maybe it’s not unusual then that I put a baby in my Christmas novella, Gabriel’s Gift. Babies are special at any time, but a baby born near Christmas makes the season seem more personal. And every year I remember the sorrow and anxiety of those days battling doctors to spend time with my baby who was 9 pounds in a NICU and kicked off her leads and sent the alarms off.

She’s grown into a lovely young woman. And God gave me the desire of my heart in allowing me to keep my baby with me. Having godly desire isn’t bad and it’s the core of my novella. Gabriel desires Mattie but she’s reluctant. He lays that desire on the altar of God much like I did my daughter. And then He waited in faith for God to work.

Joy’s middle name is after my great grandmother who I adored. Put together her name means “joyful light-bearer.” My hope is that my novella shines the light of God’s love as much as my daughter does. And every day I still need to entrust all my children to God’s care. They have problems and issues that they have to cope with. And as they become more independent I have less influence on their choices. I only hope and pray I’ve invested enough in them to bear fruit and impact the kingdom like my main characters do in their book.

My books, like my kids, have a life of their own and it’s fascinating to watch and see the impact they make in the lives of those who read them. Perhaps it’s for fun, but hopefully the truths buried in the pages will be the way God can get into those dark places He longs to touch and heal.

Author Bio: 

Susan M. Baganz chases after three Hobbits and is a native of Wisconsin. She is an Editor with Pelican Book Group and writes adventurous historical and contemporary romances with a biblical world-view. 

Susan speaks, teaches and encourages others to follow God in being all He has created them to be. With her seminary degree in counseling psychology, a background in the field of mental health, and years serving in church ministry, she understands the complexities and pain of life as well as its craziness. She serves behind-the-scenes in various capacities at her church.

Her favorite pastimes are lazy ones—snuggling with her dog while reading a good book, or sitting with a friend chatting over a cup of spiced chai latte.

Book Blurb for Gabriel's GiftGabriel Morgan returns to the Northumberland village of Corby as the new church pastor. Eager to serve his parishioners, he settles into the position with energy and enthusiasm. He doesn't expect to run into Mattie Wilson, the girl he grew up with—the woman he fell in love with—and then lost years ago. 

Reconnecting with Gabriel stirs up long-lost dreams in Miss Matilda Wilson, but her father's overindulgences and shameful death, have brought her down in the world since her carefree, youthful days with Gabriel. Ashamed of her father's past and struggling to understand her Grandfather's quiet brand of faith, she struggles with believing anyone can find her worthy of love—especially Gabriel, whose love for God tugged him away from her once already.

As the two become reacquainted, and Gabriel recognizes Matilda's broken, hesitant spirit, his heart aches for her. While he eagerly shares with her the wonder of God, a small miracle binds them together—the discovery of an abandoned baby.

As Christmas draws near, can Gabriel break down the walls of Matilda's heart to see the wonder of it all? His affection for her blooms as he watches her uncover the greatest gift of all—unconditional love.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Cozy Christmas Reads: Cathe's story

Story Excerpt: Hope for the Holidays by Cathe Swanson 

Chapter 1

At the Unity Plenkiss Community Center

“It was nice to meet you, Dearie. I hope you like it here.”
The elderly woman patted Carrie’s hand, slid the candy into her purse, and headed toward the door.
Carrie started. “Hey!”
The old lady quickened her pace.
“That’s mine!” Indignant, Carrie hoisted her bag onto her shoulder before giving chase. No point in getting anything else stolen. “Wait!”
Even with the head start, Carrie would have caught up with her if it hadn’t been for the man holding the door open.
“Hello, Mary.”
His friendly greeting was cut off as she ducked under his arm and bolted down the sidewalk. He turned to stare after her.
“Stop that woman!” Carrie tried to push the man out of the way. “She took something that belongs to me.”
The man let the door close but stayed in front of it, blocking her pursuit.
“Excuse me!”
“What did she take?”
Carrie raised her chin and repeated, “She took something that belonged to me.”
He waited.
“She took my peanut butter cups.”
His brows shot up behind his glasses and a dimple creased his cheek. “Your peanut butter cups.”
“She knew they were mine.” Great. She sounded like a petulant child. She tried to slide past him, but he stepped back against the door.
“Please don’t chase her down. It’s just candy.”
“It’s not about the candy,” lied Carrie. It was all about the candy. She’d been anticipating the treat since boarding the airplane in Kinshasa nearly 24 hours ago and paid an extortionate price for it at the O’Hare airport, stuffing it into her bag so Roy wouldn’t tease her. She’d planned to eat it in her new office, as some sort of symbolic ritual, but she’d only made it as far as the unattended reception desk before stopping to chat with the old woman.
“I’ll buy you a new one.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. Was he patronizing her? She hated being patronized. Roy had already patted her on the head today, asking if she had achieved a full five feet yet, but Roy was her brother. This guy was a stranger.
“Why should you? It wasn’t your fault, unless she’s your mother or something.”
“Well,” he said, “I…”
The man was blushing. Her interest piqued, Carrie waited for him to continue.
“I’m the pastor of her church.”
She hadn’t expected that. “You’re her pastor? Have you ever mentioned to her that stealing is a sin? Because it’s one of the big ones, you know. Number eight on the top ten list.”
He scowled. “Yes, she knows that. We try to keep an eye on her. She doesn’t steal from stores or anything like that.”
“No bank robbery?” Carrie asked. If being the youngest of eight children had taught her anything useful, it was the old cliché: the best defense is a good offense. She wasn’t going to put up with ribbing about the candy. “What does she say when you confront her?”
“The last time someone tried to talk to her about it, she was so embarrassed that she stayed home from church and the community center for three days. When someone went out to check on her, they found she’d fallen and cracked a rib.”
“Ouch.” Carrie sighed. “Don’t worry about the candy. I’ll pick up another one tomorrow.”
“No, really, I’ll get you one.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Micah Neresen. Interim pastor at the Blessed Church of The Holy Lamb and Sacred Lion.”
“The Blessed Church of the… really?”
“Most people call it the Lamb ‘n Lion,” he said. “You’re welcome to join us. Worship at nine and Sunday school at 10:45.” He pointed. “Two blocks down. You can see it from here when there aren’t any leaves on the trees.”
“The Blessed Church of the Sacred Lamb…”
“No,” he interrupted. “Holy Lamb and Sacred Lion.”
“Ah. Got it. I’m Carrie Strough.”
“Oh!” The man appeared surprised. “I didn’t… I know your brother, and I knew you were coming. I didn’t realize…”
“That I’m white? Is that a problem?”
“No, not at all. Nice to meet you.” He looked around. “Isn’t anyone here to meet you?”
“Roy picked me up at the airport. We stopped at his apartment to drop off my luggage, and then he had to do something here, so I came along. I thought I could poke around before I officially get started.”
“Spying out the land?”
“Just looking around.”
Roy emerged from the hallway. Carrie had forgotten that about him—for such a big man, he could be remarkably quiet.
“Micah!” He shook hands with the pastor. “I haven’t seen you in a while. How’ve you been?”
“Good! I came by to pick up some Thanksgiving dinner fliers, and I met your sister.”
Carrie slipped away before Roy could ruffle her hair and say something annoying. She roamed the lobby as they chatted, impatiently waiting for Roy to free himself so he could give her a tour. Mostly, though, she wanted to see her new office. Would it be big? With a window? Roy said it had been a teacher’s office before they converted the old school into the women’s shelter and community center. It had a desk and two chairs, he said, and a file cabinet and computer. She could put up pictures and get some plants to make it homey.
No, she thought, not homey. Home was a low, rambly building half a world away, behind concrete block walls that didn’t completely shut out the noise of the city. She had a new home now, with Roy, in an apartment on a quiet street near the community center, shaded with leaves that were just starting to turn colors. She had expected commuter trains, crowded city traffic thick with exhaust fumes, slums and modern skyscrapers; she hadn’t realized that a Chicago neighborhood might feel like a small town, with respectable houses and tidy lawns. It was still foreign to her.
Author bio: 

Cathe Swanson lives in Wisconsin with her husband of 32 years. They enjoy spending time with their family and being outdoors, kayaking, hiking, birdwatching and fishing, but summer is short in Wisconsin, so it’s important to have indoor hobbies, too. 

Cathe has been a quilter and teacher of quiltmaking for over 25 years, and she enjoys just about any kind of creative work, especially those involving fiber or paper.

Her family is growing steadily; she and her husband had three sons, and those boys all grew up and married delightful women and started producing grandchildren: four boys and three girls so far! The long Wisconsin winters are perfect for writing and reading books! 

Cathe enjoys writing stories with eccentric characters of all ages. Her books will make you laugh and make you cry – and then make you laugh again.

Connect with Cathe:
Newsletter signup - http://www.catheswanson.com/newsletter
Website - http://catheswanson.com
Twitter - https://twitter.com/CatheSwanson 
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/CatheSwanson
Pinterest - http://www.pinterest.com/catheswanson 
Instagram - http://instagram.com/CatheSwanson 
Goodreads - http://www.goodreads.com/CatheSwanson 
BookBub Author Page - http://www.bookbub.com/authors/cathe-swanson 
Amazon Author Page - http://www.amazon.com/author/catheswanson

Hope for the Holidays book blurb: Newly arrived from her home in the Congo and armed with a brand-new degree in nonprofit management, Carrie Strough is eager to organize and improve the Unity Plenkiss Community Center. 

Unfortunately, no one wants to be organized, and only Micah Neresen, the charming and handsome pastor of the local church, is interested in her plans. Or is he just interested in Carrie?

With a cast of lively and eccentric characters including a homeless vet with PTSD, a con man, an elderly couple with an over-the-top Christmas display, a feisty committeewoman with a past of her own, and a police investigation, Micah and Carrie wonder if there is any hope for the holidays this year!

Hope for the Holidays book review: "Readers of Cathe’s first Christmas novella Snow Angels will enjoy revisiting their old friends in Maly Park, but Hope for the Holidays is a stand-alone book sure to please lovers of light mystery and suspense. Cathe’s willingness to tackle life’s deeper questions head-on sets her apart from other authors in this genre. Why does God allow some people to live in desperate circumstances while others live in abundance? Where is God in suffering, tragedy, and PTSD? Cathe’s skillful storytelling in answering these questions brings the reader to a place of hope and trust in the goodness of God." ~Reviewed by Anne E. Phillips

Info for buying the book: Hope for the Holidays is exclusively available in Making Spirits Bright, a collection of Christmas novellas from Cathe Swanson, Chautona Havig, April Hayman and Toni Shiloh. 

"The Christmas Lights Collection returns with four new, never-before-released novellas in Making Spirits Bright! From romance to cozy mystery, this collection features contemporary novellas sure to get you in the Christmas spirit."

Book purchase link - http://amzn.to/2jVndU9

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