The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere // Book Review

Twas the day before Christmas…

Length: 144 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; Reissue edition (November 9, 2001)
ISBN-10: 0312289510
Genre: Fiction, Holiday
Buy On: Amazon

SYNOPSIS:

Sometimes, the things that can change your life will cross your path in one instant-and then, in a fleeting moment, they’re gone. But if you open your eyes, and watch carefully, you will believe….

Robert is a successful attorney who has everything in life-and nothing at all. Focused on professional achievement and material rewards, Robert is on the brink of losing his marriage. He has lost sight of his wife, Kate, their two daughters, and ultimately himself. Eight year old Nathan has a beloved mother, Maggie, whom he is losing to cancer. But Nathan and his family are building a simple yet full life, and struggling to hold onto every moment they have together. A chance meeting on Christmas Even brings Robert and Nathan together-he is shopping for a family he hardly knows and Nathan is shopping for a mother he is soon to lose. In this one encounter, their lives are forever altered as Robert learns an important lesson: sometimes the smallest things can make all the difference. The Christmas Shoes is a universal story of the deeper meaning of serendipity, a tale of our shared humanity, and of how a power greater than ourselves can shape, and even save, our lives.

MY REVIEW:

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my mama, please
It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, daddy says there’s not much time
You see she’s been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if mama meets Jesus tonight
.

This song was my first introduction to the story of “The Christmas Shoes” about 8 years ago, and it was the first song that ever made me cry; it is also the first thing that comes to mind when I see any red high heels or the cover of this book.

My goodness, Donna VanLiere sure knows how to grab her reader’s heart and rip it out of the chest! The Christmas Shoes was heart-wrenching and emotional, and tragic, but it was also so beautiful and heart-ful. It seems like nowadays the real meaning of Christmas is lost behind all the gifts and decorating, and Santa Claus takes it place. However, The Christmas Shoes was a reminder of what Christmas really is–and what really matters.

As the book spans back and forth between two different POVs, the reader is introduced to Robert–a man who seems to have everything: a nice house, lots of money, and a good job, but who is losing sight and hold on the most important thing: his family and marriage–as well as Jack–a man who does not have much and leads a simple life, but places his value in his wife and son.

Throughout the book, the author does an expert job of bouncing back and forth between the characters, as well as weaving their stories together. She writes with such poignant style, and captivates the reader to each and every page. By the end of the book, it is almost impossible to have a dry eye.

It takes a skilled author to write a tragic story without leaving the reader feeling depressed, and Donna VanLiere is that author. Her story is tragic, and a tear-jerker, but she writes it with such an attractive dialogue. While The Christmas Shoes ends tragically, the author leaves the reader feeling grateful, convicted, and inspired. She shows that the real meaning of Christmas comes, not from gifts under the tree, but love in each and every one’s hearts.

I would recommend this story to an older audience (PG) who can appreciate the true meaning behind this beautiful story, and really live it out.

The Christmas Shoes is a perfect book to read on Christmas. It is a reminder of what Christmas is really about, and is also a slap-in-the-face of how short and important life is. Let us never lose sight of the important things.

Merry Christmas EVE! We only have two more days of blogmas!

I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree by Laura Hillman // Book Review

Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse (February 19, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1416953663
Genre: Non-fiction / memoir
Buy On: Amazon

SYNOPSIS:

“HANNELORE, YOUR PAPA IS DEAD.”
In the spring of 1942 Hannelore received a letter from Mama at her school in Berlin, Germany–Papa had been arrested and taken to a concentration camp. Six weeks later he was sent home; ashes in an urn.
Soon another letter arrived. “The Gestapo has notified your brothers and me that we are to be deported to the East–whatever that means.” Hannelore knew: labor camps, starvation, beatings…How could Mama and her two younger brothers bear that? She made a decision: She would go home and be deported with her family. Despite the horrors she faced in eight labor and concentration camps, Hannelore met and fell in love with a Polish POW named Dick Hillman.

Oskar Schindler was their one hope to survive. Schindler had a plan to take eleven hundred Jews to the safety of his new factory in Czechoslovakia. Incredibly both she and Dick were added to his list. But survival was not that simple. Weeks later Hannelore found herself, alone, outside the gates of Auschwitz, pushed toward the smoking crematoria.
I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree is the remarkable true story of one young woman’s nightmarish coming-of-age. But it is also a story about the surprising possibilities for hope and love in one of history’s most brutal times.

MY REVIEW:

I watched Schindler’s List a few years ago, and found Oskar Schindler’s story fascinating! I already loved World War II stories, so I was excited when I found this book!

I was not disappointed at all! I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree was everything I was expecting and more! It was suspenseful, tragic, and sweet (or at least as sweet as a WWII story can be). Hannelore’s story was unique to read because she had so much hope during such a dark time. She, and the Polish soldier she fell in love with, both promised each other that they would never give up in the concentration camps. They promised to never give up hope nor stop trying to survive. This promise was what kept Hannelore alive during her many months in the camps.

This and the hope that she would be one of Schindler’s women–the name all the prisoners gave to the women who were written on Schindler’s list and chosen to go work at his factory. For months, Hannelore clung to this hope that she would be rescued by Oskar Schindler. For awhile she was able to keep up this hope. However, she started to lose hope as months went by and she was transported from camp to camp until arriving in Aushwitchz–the death camp. God did not forget about Hannelore, though, because she eventually became one of Schindler’s women–and her life was spared.

I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree contains a superb story of a real-life Holocaust survivor. It also introduces the hero figure of Oskar Schindler. I recommend this book to an older audience (PG-13) as it has a mature subject in addition to some mature experiences Hannelore went through. Inside of the rating (PG-13), I would recommend this book to all adults/teens–as a reminder that the Holocaust was a real event, and something that should never be repeated.

Jay Got Married by James Robinson Jr. // Book Tour

Length: 142 pages
Publisher: Independently Published (September 6, 2019)
ASIN: B07WQQ28WW
Genre: Non-fiction / humor
Buy On: Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

SYNOPSIS:

Jay Got Married consists of 9 humorous and, at times, poignant essays chronicling the ironies of everyday life in word and picture. Take for example the lead essay, aptly titled, “Jay got Married,” where I find myself mired in a horrendous dream. 

In the fantasy, my aging father–dressed in his favorite Champion t-shirt with stains covering the front–marries my wife and I like he did 42 years ago but, this time around, the my 92-year-old ex-clergy dad forgets his lines causing me to coach him through the event with hints like: “ask for the rings, ask for the rings.” All the while, my best man sings Sonny and Cher’s, “I Got You Babe.” 

Finally married, my wife and I end the ceremony with a kiss. But as I turn to exit, my eyes catch a glimpse of the bridesmaid who is no longer my wife’s best friend but now Gal Gadot from Dell Comics and Wonder Woman Fame. She is dressed in full Wonder Women regalia and looks totally shocked by the whole affair. 

My mother turns to my father (now in the audience) with a quizzical look and says, “Dad, look at that bridesmaid. Isn’t that Superman?” She doesn’t get out much. 

As we exit the church, and the bubbles fill the air–no one uses rice anymore—my wife ignores the limo and takes off on a sleek motorcycle, leaving me in the lurch—hence the cover. 

Sure, it’s sounds crazy. But, in truth, isn’t the world of marriage crazy these days? In my case, what would one do when faced with the prospect of losing their beloved wife after 42 years? At age 67, would they remarry? Would they even want to remarry? These and other marital tidbits are discussed with humor and as much reverence as I could muster.  

P.S. The author pairs up with Wonder Woman again in a final bit of photo wizardry Why? How? How are tricky copyright infringement laws avoided? Read Jay Got Married and find out.

BOOK EXCERPT:

JAY GOT MARRIED

I had a frightful dream. I was standing at the altar with my wife and 400 guests in attendance. It seemed to be a repeat of our wedding in 1976. My now 95-year-old father performed the ceremony for my wife and me the first time around, and that’s how old he appeared to be in this vision. He kept forgetting the lines and was forever looking at me for support. At one point, I was whispering, “The rings, the rings.” I kept reaching for them, but they were disappearing before I could grab them.

Albie, my cousin and best man from my first wedding, was singing Sonny and Cher’s, I Got You Babe. Normally, he can’t sing for shit, but in this scenario, he had his hand on his chest and his head back, sounding like Luciano Pavarotti. What was this all about? 

My father, the minister, wearing his trademark Champion sweatshirt, with coffee stains on the chest portions, pronounced us man and wife. I turned to kiss my new bride and caught a glimpse of her bridesmaid. But instead of her best friend who was her attendant back in the day, it was Gal Godot from DC Comics and the movies. 

She was wearing her Wonder Woman garb, but she didn’t seem primed for a wedding. In fact, she appeared to be totally shocked by the whole affair. What kind of dream was this?

My wife and I ended the ceremony with a kiss. My mother turned to my father (who was then in attendance in the audience) with a quizzical look and said, “Dad, look at that bridesmaid. Isn’t that Superman?” 

She was close. She doesn’t get out much.

Oh, and then, though neither of us would be caught dead on a motorcycle, in this weird musing, we were apparently bikers. Instead of a limousine waiting for us at the curb, there sat a racy motorcycle with cans in tow. It looked like this one:

a person riding on the back of a motorcycle: The ground-up redesign for the S1000RR could catapult BMW to the pointy end of the literbike class.

I Googled it. It’s a BMW S1000RR—sleek, fast, and flashy.

But before I could get on the bike, she pulled off without me, as the cans tied to the wheels of the hot machine banged on the street, while her gown billowed in the breeze. She had left me standing in the street like a lost soul.

True, I shouldn’t have been drinking the caffeinated tea before bed, but more to the point, maybe, just maybe, this crazy vision was a warning, a forecast, an omen. Maybe it was God’s way of telling me that Wonder Woman could show up at your wedding without even paying her an appearance fee. Or even more to the point, perhaps it was to make me appreciate what I have. 

What if the unthinkable happened to my wife? What if she succumbed to a disease, or was killed in a terrible auto accident? Or worse, what if her life were cut short in a vicious pit bull attack? 

I jest. But you never know.

MY REVIEW:

I will start off with my negative review of the book…

Memoirs are usually my favorite genre; however, I am not usually a fan of memoirs in multiple short-story format. I prefer to read books in chronological Real-life events. When I saw this book, I hoped it would be different than the many other books, I have read in this format because, it had added humor to the genre. Unfortunately, I did not think it was.

I did not think the humor was very humorous–it was more absurd. I understand that the absurdness was the whole point for the humor, so if you are a fan of this type of genre, than I totally recommend this book. However, I am not a fan of absurdness, so I did not enjoy the humor that much. The only time I laughed in this book, was when I was laughing out of the pure ridiculousness of the stories–and it was not because I thought it was funny. I would have liked if the stories made me laugh because they were actually funny–not absolutely ridiculous. I think the author should have added genuine humor to the book–the type that makes yu laugh until your sides hurt.

All that being said, now on to my positive review…

I thought the author had a great writing style–and even though his stories were not very funny–he knew how to tell a good story. His stories were absurd but I have to give it to him, because he did a great job of telling them. He sure keeps the reader entertained and waiting to see what absurd thing is going to happen next. The stories are light reads but full of insightful nuggets about history and life that are nostalgic and fun. He also wrote the type of experiences in his own life that made you think “Yay, I’m not the only one who does that or thinks that way!”. I could relate to several of his stories–and thought they were so true. I did enjoy that he related to the reader a lot.

Overall, I am only taking one star off for the content–just because I think a humorous book, should have been just a bit more humorous–but I think the book really earned the other 4 stars. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy short, “humorous” reads. I personally did not think it was very funny, but I read several review of other readers who thought it was hilarious. So you never know! You should give this book a try!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

James Robinson, Jr. is so formal; call me Jim. People have also referred to me as James, Jay, Jayzer, and even Jimbo. (You can thank my middle daughter for the Jimbo thing. Kids have no respect for authority these days.) I’m a sixty-year-old father of three, thirty-plus daughters and grandfather of four who has been battered by gravity unmercilessly (see Fighting the Effects of Gravity). I was late getting into the writing game. Mainly because I was busy having children and trying to keep them fed.

I have written and published most of the books that you see here since 2012. My first book, Fighting the Effects of Gravity, was a long-term project that I started long before the digital revolution. My next book, Death of a Shrinking Violet, consists of 13 essays including the memorable entry, “Damn You Sam’s Club!” My latest work, a novella, is my first foray into the world of fiction. Along the way, I have managed to take home two Five-Star Readers’ Favorite Reviews and become an Indie Excellence and Readers’ Favorite Award finalist.

Author Links:

Instagram : Facebook : Amazon

AUTHOR INTERVIEW:

1. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

My most dramatic literary pilgrimage has been my lifelong journey from babe in the woods (in literary terms) at age 43—the year 1995–when I began writing in earnest to now as I write my 7th book. As I look back, I can’t believe how far I’ve come and how little I knew when I first began writing. 

When I began writing at age 45, there was no digital media—no internet, no email, no Kindles or Nooks. I wrote query letters to agents and included a self-addressed, stamped envelope. I went through 4 agents without getting a book deal. I put out my first Kindle book in 2012 at the age of 60–it took me 15 years to get the right cover and content–and entitled it: Fighting the Effects of Gravity: One Man’s Journey Into Middle Life. 

I’m on my 7th book since then including three fiction books but nonfiction seems to be my thing. As they say, It’s not a race, it’s a marathon.

2. What is the first book that made you cry?

Since I’m a fan of non-fiction genre, especially satire and humor, I’d have to say I’ve never really cried while reading a book. Sorry.

3. What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

Since I self-publish, I haven’t found too many unscrupulous practices in that industry. Early in my writing career when I was soliciting agents, they would sometimes ask for a reading fee before they would look at your manuscript even though such fees were strongly forbidden. I’m not sure if this practice is done anymore. 

With my first book, I joined a company called iUniverse just to take advantage of the new digital publishing craze that was taking place. They helped to improve my book. They editor whose services I purchased, really changed my life. But when I tried to get out of their group, I found out that they essentially owned the rights and I had to buy my way out.   

4. Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Both. Working on a first draft or the initial stages of a book or other work is exhausting. Working on a piece that I’ve already put the hard work into is exhilarating. Especially when dealing with humor. 

5.What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Thinking that your writing is the best that it can be without professional editing. Offer up the best that you have, hire a professional editor, and get ready for a long period of editing. Thinking that you will make a great deal of money with your writing. I only know of a few people that do. Work hard getting your books out there to readers and be happy with whatever few books that you manage to sell.

6. Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

A passion for writing, a willingness to learn, and hard work are the basis for a good writer. An ego helps nothing. A person with a large ego would probably think more of their writing than they should and refuse advice.

7. What is your writing Kryptonite?

I would have say that first drafts are like Kryptonite to me. Sometimes my initial drafts are so bad that I don’t see the need to go any further. “This will never amount to anything,” I say to myself. But I keep on plugging away and that horrible duckling using turns into my version of a swan. 

8. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

I am inflicted with reader’s block. People can’t understand how I can be a writer and read so little. I think I worry that it will ruin my originality. Sometimes I think that I just don’t have the patience. I am also a lover of movies and that  takes away from reading time. I will, however, diligently read a friend’s book and leave a review and they will do the same for me.

9. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I actually have considered it. I thought it might be fun. A couple of my writing friends do it. But I think it’s mainly for romance authors and I’ve never been able to come up with a good name. What would I call myself? How about Jerome Alexander? I’ll keep trying.

10. do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

My only goal is to be original. Have you ever heard the song, “I gotta be me…? Well, I can’t be anyone but myself. I’m sure I could write romances if I wanted but I hate the stuff. I have this warped sense of humor. When I sit down to write, that’s what comes out. It would be nice if readers enjoyed it but, if not, oh well.

Merry Christmas!! Happy Day SEVEN of Blogmas!

Brave Surrender by Kim Walker Smith // Book Review

Length: 192 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (April 2, 2019)
ISBN-10: 0310353998
Genre: Non fiction, memoir
Buy On: Amazon

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book by BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my review. All thoughts are my own and I was not required to post a positive review.

SYNOPSIS:

Kim Walker Smith’s passionate performance of “How He Loves” helped transform Jesus Culture into a global worship movement. Brave Surrender is the story of how Kim journeyed from a place of shame and fear to stages around the world where she boldly proclaims the unconditional love of God. Through her own story, Kim inspires us to experience true freedom and healing with Jesus.

Coming from a painful childhood, Kim struggled to believe that God could heal her heart or bring any sense from her past. Yet when faced with the choice to hand her struggles over to God and receive His love in return, everything began to change. On the other side of surrender, Kim began a journey of looking at one painful memory at a time with God and exchanging her perspective for His truth – a journey in which God rewrote her story of pain into a story of redemption and hope.

If you are longing to experience God more than the shame or hurts of your past, the pressures of your present, or the fear of your future, Brave Surrender offers a soul-healing path forward. As Kim learned in her own life, the first step – and the bravest step – is letting go. Once we let go of anything that gets between us and God, we are freed to take hold of the life that truly matters. As Kim writes, “When we encounter God’s love, it changes the way we see. And when we learn to see what He sees, we will never be the same again.”

MY REVIEW:

I first heard Kim Walker Smith on the radio, but I didn’t hear enough of her to get an opinion. Later that same year, I attended a Christmas K-love concert, where she was one of the lead singers, and I heard a whole lot more of her voice and songs. Overall, I thought she was a great singer, so when I saw that she had written a book, I couldn’t wait to read it!

I always love reading the behind-the-scenes of public figures, and Kim Walker Smith was no different. I really enjoyed reading about what she was like behind the camera, as well as what led her up to being a singer for Jesus culture. Her story is broken, but beautifully unique.

I enjoyed her book, and thought she had a great writing style. She kept me intrigued into her story, and made me want to read it again. I thought a few parts of her story were a little weird–but that is my own opinion.

I would recommend this story to anybody who has heard Kim Walker Smith sing, as well, as to any readers who like learning about the behind-the-scenes of public figures.

Merry Christmas and Happy Day SIX of Blogmas!

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flag // Book Review

Length: 224 pages
Publisher: Vintage Books USA; New Ed edition (November 1, 2005)
ISBN-10: 009949048X
Genre: Fiction, Christmas Story
Buy On: Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

SYNOPSIS:

With the same incomparable style and warm, inviting voice that have made her beloved by millions of readers far and wide, New York Times bestselling author Fannie Flagg has written an enchanting Christmas story of faith and hope for all ages that is sure to become a classic.

Deep in the southernmost part of Alabama, along the banks of a lazy winding river, lies the sleepy little community known as Lost River, a place that time itself seems to have forgotten. After a startling diagnosis from his doctor, Oswald T. Campbell leaves behind the cold and damp of the oncoming Chicago winter to spend what he believes will be his last Christmas in the warm and welcoming town of Lost River. There he meets the postman who delivers mail by boat, the store owner who nurses a broken heart, the ladies of the Mystic Order of the Royal Polka Dots Secret Society, who do clandestine good works. And he meets a little redbird named Jack, who is at the center of this tale of a magical Christmas when something so amazing happened that those who witnessed it have never forgotten it. Once you experience the wonder, you too will never forget A Redbird Christmas.

MY REVIEW:

I have never read a book written by Fannie Flagg so I didn’t know what to expect. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised.

When I first started the book, nothing drew me in, so I was a bit disappointed; however, I gradually got pulled into the book, until I could not put it down!

The characters were expertly written. The plot was beautiful and adorable, and festive. The POV switched between several different characters, so it gave the reader a look at the story from several different perspectives. Overall it really told the story, and made it very followable.

I loved the story line, and I liked the ending. The ending had a twist, but not enough to call it a surprise ending. It had a tragedy leading up to the ending so I was worried that this book would turn out how I absolutely HATE to have books end–with a sad ending. However–without spoiling what happens–I will just say that the author pleased me greatly with how she ended.

I wish I could say that I loved everything about this book and had no complaints, however, I can not. I was disappointed to read light bad language. There was nothing heavy, and when said, the words were not even that bad, but I thought they were used in an unnecessary way. I only take stars off a book for bad language if it is excessive or unnecessary, and unfortunately, in this book it was unnecessary.

In addition, the main character struggled with being an alcoholic–he used it as an escape from reality. However, he overcame this eventually, after he moved to his new home, so I will not take a star off for this.

Overall, the book was very festive, and beautiful (like I said before) and I really enjoyed it! I would definitely recommend this book–after warning about the few content issues I had–and would read it again if I was in the mood for a cute Christmas story. 😉

Merry Christmas and Happy Day 5 of Blogmas!

Random Christmas Facts

I know this post has nothing to do with books, but I thought it would be a fun and festive post to do this time of year! I hope you enjoy!

“Jingle Bells” was written for Thanksgiving, not Christmas. The song was written in 1857 by James Lord Pierpont and published under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh”. It was supposed to be played in the composer’s Sunday school class during Thanksgiving as a way to commemorate the famed Medford sleigh races. “Jingle Bells” was also the first song to be broadcast from space.


Rudolph’s red nose is probably the result of a parasitic infection of his respiratory system. According to Roger Highfield, the author of the book “The Physics of Christmas: From the Aerodynamics of Reindeer to the Thermodynamics of Turkey” the world’s most famous reindeer has a red nose due to a parasite. However, Rudolf’s relationship with his parasite is symbiotic: after all, the red nose illuminates the path through the winter night for the whole reindeer team.


In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas (the Dutch version of Santa Claus) arrives from Spain, not from the North Pole. And that’s not the only weird thing about the Dutch Christmas. Sinterklaas has his little helpers, but they are not adorable hard-working elves: they are black-faced boys and girls who can steal your kids if they misbehave, and bring them to back Spain which is, according to the Dutch, a severe punishment.


In Germany, Poland, and Ukraine, finding a spider or a spider’s web on a Christmas tree is believed to be a harbinger of good luck. According to one legend, a spider wove a blanket for Baby Jesus, according to the other – a spider web on the Christmas tree turned silver and gold once the sunlight touched it. One way or another, decorating a Christmas tree with artificial spiders and spider webs will inevitably bring you luck and prosperity!


Santa stretches time like a rubber band, in order to deliver all the gifts in one night. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are 2,106 million children under age 18 in the world. If we assume that each household has in average 2.5 children, Santa would have to make 842 million stops on Christmas Eve, traveling 221 million miles. Given the different time zones, Santa has 36 hours to deliver gifts, therefore his average speed would be approximately 650 miles per second. It is less than the speed of light (therefore, it’s, theoretically, doable but still quite hard for a chubby old man). Larry Silverberg, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University, suggests that Santa uses relativity clouds to get the work done. Relativity clouds, based on relative physics, allow Santa to stretch time like a rubber band which gives him months to deliver gifts, while only a few minutes pass for the rest of us.


Two weeks before Christmas is the one of the two most popular times for couples to break up. According to data analyzed from Facebook posts and statuses, couples are more likely to end their relationship two weeks before Christmas and two weeks after Valentine’s day, during the spring break. Christmas Day, however, is the least favorite day for breakups.


In Armenia, the traditional Christmas Eve meal consists of fried fish, lettuce and spinach. Many Armenians fast for a week before the Christmas Eve, that’s why, in order not to stress the stomach, the menu for the Christmas dinner is pretty light.


Japanese people traditionally eat at KFC for Christmas dinner. Although the percentage of christian people in Japan is close to zero, every Christmas, kids and grown-ups head to the closest KFC to enjoy some fried chicken – the closest food to turkey that you can get in Japan. It’s all thanks to a successful “Kentucky for Christmas!” marketing campaign in 1947. First aimed at foreigners, KFC offered a “Christmas dinner” that contained chicken and wine – a meal that remotely resembled the food expats and tourists had at home. After a huge success, Kentucky Fried Chicken started promoting this offer every year, until the fast food chain became strongly associated with the holiday season.


The “X” in “Xmas” doesn’t take “Christ” out of “Christmas. Xmas is a common abbreviation of the word Christmas, however, some people think that this spelling is not right, because it takes the “Christ” out of Christmas. Don’t worry, no one is taking the “Christ” anywhere. In the Greek alphabet, the letter X (“chi”) is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ or Christos.


The first artificial Christmas Tree wasn’t a tree at all. It was created out of goose feathers that were dyed green. The first artificial Christmas trees were developed in Germany in the 19th century, due to a major continuous deforestation. The feather trees became increasingly popular during the early 20th century and finally made their way to the US.


Iceland has 13 Santas and an old lady who kidnaps children. Christmas in Iceland is a colorful fusion of religion, fairy tales and folklore. Instead of one Santa, the kids are visited by 13 Yule Lads that either reward children for good behavior or punish them if they were naughty. The holiday period begins 13 days before Christmas and each day one of the 13 Yule Lads comes to houses and fills the shoes that kids leave under the Christmas tree either with sweets and small gifts or rotting potatoes, depending on how that particular child has behaved on the preceding day. The mother of Yule Lads, half-troll, half-beast, horrifying old woman Grýla, kidnaps naughty kids and boils them in her cauldron.


In Germany, Heiligabend, or Christmas Eve, is said to be a magical time when the pure in heart can hear animals talking. They can also see that rivers turn into wine, Christmas tree blossoms bear fruit, mountains open, revealing gems hidden inside and bell ringing can be heard from the bottom of the sea.


America’s first batch of eggnog was made in the Jamestown settlement in 1607. Its name comes from the word “grog”, meaning any drink made with rum. Non-alcoholic eggnog is popular as well.


In 1914 during World War I there was a now famous Christmas truce in the trenches between the British and the Germans. They exchanged gifts across a neutral no man’s land, played football together, and decorated their shelters. (Read more about it in the book “Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce” by Stanley Weintraub.)


The Christmas wreath was originally hung as a symbol of Jesus. The holly represents his crown of thorns and the red berries the blood he shed.


The tradition of hanging stockings comes from a Dutch legend. A poor man had three daughters for whom he could not afford to provide a dowry. St. Nicholas dropped a bag of gold down his chimney and gold coins fell out and into the stockings drying by the fireplace. The daughters now had dowries and could be married, avoiding a life on the streets.


Brenda Lee recorded “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” when she was only 13 years old.


Almost 28 sets of LEGO are sold every second during the Christmas season.


Merry Christmas and Happy Day 4 of Blogmas!

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson // Book Review

Length: 128 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins; Reprint edition (April 12, 2005)
ISBN-10: 0064402754
Genre: Fiction, Christian Fiction, Humor, Holiday
Buy On: Amazon

SYNOPSIS:

Laughs abound in this bestselling Christmas classic by Barbara Robinson! The Best Christmas Pageant Ever follows the outrageous shenanigans of the Herdman siblings, or “the worst kids in the history of the world.” The siblings take over the annual Christmas pageant in a hilarious yet heartwarming tale involving the Three Wise Men, a ham, scared shepherds, and six rowdy kids.

Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys Herdman are an awful bunch. They set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s toolshed, blackmailed Wanda Pierce to get her charm bracelet, and smacked Alice Wendelken across the head. And that’s just the start! When the Herdmans show up at church for the free snacks and suddenly take over the Christmas pageant, the other kids are shocked. It’s obvious that they’re up to no good. But Christmas magic is all around and the Herdmans, who have never heard the Christmas story before, start to reimagine it in their own way.

This year’s pageant is definitely like no other, but maybe that’s exactly what makes it so special.

MY REVIEW:

I would have to say that this is the most humorous holiday book I have ever read. It kept me laughing the whole time!

It’s a children’s chapter book, but I think the story is wonderful for all ages. A lot of us grew up being taught about Christmas and the birth of Jesus- but what about those who know nothing about it?

The Herdman kids were trouble makers who never set foot in a church–until they heard that Sunday school served snacks. Eventually they hear about the Christmas pageant that the church puts on every year–the play that shows the story of the night Jesus was born–and of course decide to sign up and take over all the lead roles. From Mary being portrayed by a rough-and-tumble teen, to the wise men bringing ham as a gift for Jesus instead of spices, the Herdmans paint a whole other picture on this famous story. The Herdmans have never heard the story of Jesus’ birth before, yet their perspective of what could have, and in their opinion, should have happened shed new light on the Christmas story. Their innocence, to this well known Bible story is a great picture of the whole purpose of Jesus’ life on Earth.

It is a good reminder that we often lose Christmas in the busy traditions. Just as the Christmas Pageant was messy and anything but ordinary so was the first Christmas so long ago.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a great book tradition to start. Bring this humorous–yet beautiful story into your home an learn a new perspective on the Christmas story–through the eyes of children.

Barbara Robinson weaves a beautifully-written story in her book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Even though it is a humorous story, it subtly redirects you to think and reconsider the amazing truth that Jesus really did choose to enter earth as a baby. This book is worth reading over and over.

Merry Christmas and Happy Day 3 of Blogmas!

Running For My Life by Lopez Lomong // Book Review

Length: 240 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson; Reprint edition (August 2, 2016)
ISBN-10: 0718081447
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir
Buy On: Amazon

SYNOPSIS:

Running for My Life is not a story about Africa or track and field athletics. It is about outrunning the devil and achieving the impossible faith, diligence, and the desire to give back. It is the American dream come true and a stark reminder that saving one can help to save thousands more.

Lopez Lomong chronicles his inspiring ascent from a barefoot lost boy of the Sudanese Civil War to a Nike sponsored athlete on the US Olympic Team. Though most of us fall somewhere between the catastrophic lows and dizzying highs of Lomong’s incredible life, every reader will find in his story the human spark to pursue dreams that might seem unthinkable, even from circumstances that might appear hopeless.

“Lopez Lomong’s story is one of true inspiration. His life is a story of courage, hard work, never giving up, and having hope where there is hopelessness all around. Lopez is a true role model.”

MICHAEL JOHNSON, Olympic Gold Medalist

“This true story of a Sudanese child refugee who became an Olympic star is powerful proof that God gives hope to the hopeless and shines a light in the darkest places. Don’t be surprised if after reading this incredible tale, you find yourself mysteriously drawn to run alongside him.”

RICHARD STEARNS, president, World Vision US and author of The Hole in Our Gospel

MY REVIEW:

Running For My Life is now my current top favorite book! It was an AMAZING story of perseverance and bravery. Lopez Lomong has a truly unique story to share.

This book is full of humor and suspense. I was laughing one moment and screaming at the book the next. Even my 6 and 11 year old siblings, who also read this book, loved it. They laughed and got into the book just as much as I did.

Running For My Life was impossible to put down. There was so much happening that I was afraid I would miss it if I paused.

When Lopez first arrived in the States after he immigrated from Sudan, the culture shock he experienced was hilarious. As he learned to use everyday objects and technology, it really showed how much we Americans take for granted.

The first restaurant Lopez ever went to in the States was McDonalds, and he thought it must be the best restaurant in all America because of the vast food choices. And when he was given his sandwich, he was afraid to eat the whole thing because he could not believe that he did not have to share it with anybody like he always did in Sudan. He said that in Sudan, the biggest meal they ever got was on Christmas Eve when they were given a whole chicken. However, each chicken was divided between ten other boys. Lopez, was also appalled at all the food Americans throw away. He saw people leaving the restaurant and throwing away half-eaten meals, and he thought that just one of those half-eaten meals would be enough to provide a meal for half of the boys in his tent.

This was only the beginning of Lopez’s shocking learning experience. As he began to learn the American ways, I was almost as surprised as he was to hear the comparison of what he was used to.

Not only that, but as I read his story I was so amazed at the determination that this guy possessed. He came from a third-world country and was used to so much poverty, that he had more gratitude in his heart for just the simple things, than I would say most Americans have for anything. He jumped at the opportunity to get an education, and worked his tail end off working for it. In addition, his dream had always been to run in the Olympics–from the time that he was just a young boy living in a refugee camp–and when he found out that it was possible if he worked really hard, that became his passion. He spent all his free time training, and took this opportunity as a true gift from God. He spent hours and hours, day in and day out, running. He trained so hard for the Olympics, and even when he was treated un-justly or un-fairly, he did not let it bother him, because he thought that if that was the price he had to pay for such a great gift as running in the Olympics, then he was grateful to bear it. I am telling you, I have never seen so much gratitude in one person before.

I have not even touched base with this book–there is so much packed into it. However, I am going to let you find out the rest…by reading it yourself!

I 100 % recommend this book to literally people of ALL ages. Like I said, even a 6 year old loved it! And with Christmas coming up, it is the perfect stocking stuffer to give! If you order it on Amazon it is guaranteed to arrive before Christmas. And while you’re at it, pick up one for yourself as an early Christmas present! It is worth every penny.

The First day of BLOGMAS!

I have seen many youtubers do this thing called “VLOGmas”. Basically it means, that they pick a certain date to start, and from that day until Christmas, they post a video every single day. I decided to adapt my own version of this tradition, and call it BLOGmas! Therefore, I will be posting something every single day from now until Christmas. I have some exciting posts coming up–author interviews, great book reviews, even some fun Christmas GIVEAWAYS, and MORE!! So make sure to come back every day to be apart of this festive new tradition on Ani’s Books!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

The Christmas Helper by Lia Manea // Book Review

Length: 88 pages
Publisher: Build Your BLISSS (October 15, 2019)
ASIN: B08214W765
Genre: Non-fiction, Information, Holiday
Buy On: Amazon

Synopsis:

Find your Inspiration and Get Organized for a Truly Wonderful Christmas! 

The magic of Christmas comes from something intangible: a mix of anticipation, childhood memories, the smell of freshly baked goodies, the chatter of family members, the joy in the children’s eyes when they unwrap presents and from feeling grateful and being involved in festive activities.

From a more practical point of view, the secret of a perfect Christmas lies also in careful planning and organizing.  

Are you constantly trying to remember every person you need to buy a gift for? Your husband, your parents, your child’s teacher, your sister-in-law, your best friend… the list goes on and on.
What about the parties you are hosting or attending?
What about all the fun things you want to do for yourself and with your loved ones during the festive season?
How are you going to keep everything organized and not fall into the trap of overspending?

The solution: your very own Christmas Helper, to give you top tips and the tools you need for a blissful Christmas and a stress-free holiday, including:

* November and December planning and activities (plus templates: Christmas Gift Tracker, Holiday Bucket List, December Calendar Planner, Christmas Parties and Events Planner, Christmas Card Mailing List, Online Order Tracker)
* Home Décor tips
How to choose epic gifts and avoid the trap of universal gift guides
* Suggestions of festive-themed books, movies, games and activities
Easy delicious recipes and fun cocktails
* What to do for a green, eco-friendly Christmas
* All about Secret Santa at the office
* Festive cartoons and jokes.

To every Christmas enthusiast’s delight, the book includes the most Christmassy poem of all times: “T’was The Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore.

This beautifully illustrated book comes with plenty of suggestions that will help you to:
* plan ahead so you can relax and enjoy the holiday season with your family
* schedule out activities and events so you will not miss anything important
* choose truly thoughtful gifts
* save time and keep track of your holiday spending
* enjoy a cozy time with friends and family at home
* create a festive celebration that will put Santa’s elves to shame

Also included: access to a download link for the Printables!
Disclaimer: this book may not be the best for the real Christmas ninjas out there, as it may not rise to their advanced level expectations. So, if your winter holidays preparations easily put Santa’s elves to shame and if your Christmas Planner is the stuff of legends, maybe just gift this book to your friend who is looking for some festive inspiration and for a cozy feel good read near the Christmas tree. She will thank you for it!

Get your copy now, spread Christmas cheer and be merry!

Hot tip: This book makes for a great Christmas gift and an affordable Stocking Suffer. Don’t forget to buy a few paperbacks for your friends who love everything Christmas!

Meet The Author:

Lia Manea is an author, interior decorator, happy mother of one and part of a beautiful family. She previously left the finance corporate world so she could better take care of her family, follow her interests and continue to learn and grow. She loves reading books, going to the movies, making sure that nothing goes to waste and occasionally travel the world.

Lia Manea wrote “Find That Perfect Gift!” with the intention to sum up her knowledge in the beautiful and creative area of gift giving and with the hope of helping as many people as possible in their efforts to offer moments of happiness to their loved ones. Her next book, “The Christmas Helper: Get Inspired and Organized for Magical Holidays” is meant to be a cozy read for anyone who loves everything Christmas and to offer inspiration and practical tools for avoiding overwhelm.

Get your FREE Checklist for Great Gifts at https://findthatperfectgift.weebly.com/your-checklist.html

Connect with the author: Amazon Goodreads

My Review:

Lia Manea just came out with her second book, “The Christmas Helper – Get Inspired and Organized for Magical Holidays”, and it is just as good as her first book–if not better!

I am always looking for holiday-inspired books around the holidays, so I was really excited when Lia contacted me and asked me to review her newest book. I really enjoyed her first book–Find That Perfect Gift–(you can read my review here), so I was expecting to enjoy The Christmas Helper just as well.

I sat down and read it in one read, because, it was so easy to read, yet interesting. I love short little books like this that pack a whole bunch of information and helpful tips into just a few short chapters. I have said many times before that I absolutely hate books that drone on and on to teach just teach a few principles. “The Christmas Helper” wax the complete opposite of this. It was the perfect length to satisfy the want I have sometimes to read something short with a nice cup of coffee (or Peppermint Mocha) or tea! I sometimes want just a short little book that I can read easily in one sitting while I am enjoying a short meal–or hot drink.

Not only did it satisfy this want, but I got a whole bunch of helpful tips for the holidays as well. Lia writes gift-getting and wrapping tips, game and craft ideas, as well some festive holiday recipes and even home décor tips. Could she have packed anything else in it?

Her writing style was awesome–she got straight to the point and didn’t waist anytime getting there, and opened some festive spirit to the reader in the process.

Whether you are struggling with trying to find the right gift, or entertain guests, or even just get some nice holiday tips, “The Christmas Helper” is the book for you! Get into a festive mood and acquire some knowledge in the process! Now is the perfect time to read “The Christmas Helper”.