Thursday, December 31, 2015

Book Review: A Regency Christmas, by Anita Mills and 4 Other Writers (Fourth review for The 6th Annual Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge)

This is my fourth and last review for
The 2015 Christmas Spirit 
Reading Challenge, hosted by 
Michelle @ The Christmas Spirit!

A Regency Christmas 
(Signet Regency Christmas, Book 1)
Anita Mills, Patricia Rice, Mary Balogh, Gayle Buck, Edith Layton
Mass Market Paperback, 
347 pages
Signet, 1989
Christmas Romance, Historical Fiction, Holiday Romance

Book Synopsis:
Written by five artists of extraordinary talent, these very special, newly written stories celebrate the simple joys and traditions of Christmas -- with each heartwarming tale evoking its own unique style and flavor. — In Gayle L. Buck's "Old Acquaintances," the magic of Christmas is remembered in a story of love and longing, while in "A Gift of Fortune," Anita Mills writes of the snowbound reunion of two unlikely lovers. Both Edith Layton's "The Duke's Progress" and Mary Balogh's "The Star of Bethlehem" are moving stories of holiday sadness, hope and the renewal of spirit. And "The Kissing Bough" by Patricia Rice is a bittersweet tale of love and reconciliation.

These are stories to warm your heart with the romance, generosities, and joys of the season -- holiday tales that can be read and enjoyed year after year.

My Review 

The Regency period has always been my favorite when reading Christmas-themed romance novels. That's because this particular romance sub-genre was influenced by the novels of Jane Austen, and thus, are part of her literary legacy. Also, there's something very special about romance set in this time period; it's particularly heartwarming and cozy. Entire families are often involved, and I love that!

The five stories in this collection were written by renowned Regency romance authors, but for me, the story that truly shines is "The Star of Bethlehem", by the incomparable Mary Balogh. She is my favorite Regency romance writer, and I have enjoyed her stories and novels at other times during the year, as well. In fact, I will read anything that has her name on it!

This story is a little masterpiece, as it tells of a diamond ring known as 'The Star of Bethlehem', and how a small urchin comes into the lives of a duke and duchess during the Christmas season, totally transforming their marriage. The influence of Dickens is very obvious here, which makes me like this story even more! Like him, Balogh is great at using psychology in the depiction of her characters, which gives her stories more depth.

"A Gift of Fortune", by Anita Mills, is also a touching story. Three travelers -- a young widow, her daughter, and her aunt -- are stranded in a snowstorm when their coach overturns. They are aided by a lord with a dubious past, and a young woman with an even more dubious past. In the hands of this very talented writer, the story turns into a true example of the Christmas spirit.

I also loved "Old Acquaintances", by Gayle Buck. The characters come sharply alive, and there are plenty of touches of humor throughout the story, especially in the case of one very obnoxious woman who happens to land in the house of one of the main characters. Love wins out in the end, and all previous difficulties are smoothed out, just in time for Christmas.

"The Kissing Bough", by Patricia Rice, is another great story, one in which misunderstandings play a major part. It's also a very poignant one, due to the loss of a family member before the story opens. In fact, family dynamics also have a major role, but again, everything is satisfactorily resolved in the end, all difficulties overcome, and the lovers reunited.

My least favorite story was "The Duke's Progress", by Edith Layton. This really surprised me, as I have read other Layton stories in the past, and really liked them. In this particular tale, she takes much too long to get to the really important part of the narrative -- the love story, which is then much too rushed, and, indeed, even forced. 

Another element of this story I disliked was the depiction of an encounter between the male lead and his mistress. This took place before the actual love story, and I feel it was totally unnecessary. Besides, the scene depicted was much too vulgar and sordid. It really had no place within a Christmas story.

Had it not been for the Layton story, this anthology definitely would have deserved five stars, instead of four. It's unfortunate that this one story marred the whole impact of the book. Still, I do recommend this collection to Regency romance fans who, like me, enjoy reading such tales during this beautiful, joyful time of year! 

About the Authors

Anita Mills is a former History and English teacher, and turned to writing in the mid-1980s. Her historical novels and Regency short stories are considered among the best in their respective genres. The parents of four children, Anita and her husband Larry live near Plattsburgh, Missouri.

With several million books in print and New York Times and USA Today's bestseller lists under her belt, former CPA Patricia Rice writes emotionally-charged, contemporary and historical romances which have won numerous awards. She is married to her high school sweetheart and has two children. They live in Southern California.

Mary Balogh is the New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Slightly novels. She is also the author of the Simply series, her dazzling quartet of novels set at Miss Martin's School for Girls. A former teacher herself, she grew up in Wales and now lives in Canada with her husband. They have three children, three grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Gayle Buck has freelanced for regional publications, worked for a radio station, and as a secretary. Until recently she was involved in PR for a major Texas university. Besides her Regencies, she has also written fantasy, romantic suspense, and inspirational romance. She lives in Bandera, Texas, with her husband and two sons.

Edith Layton (1938 - 2009) grew up in Queens, New York. She was a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines before publishing her first novel. She won numerous awards, including the 1984 Romantic Times Award for Best New Regency Author. She wrote a total of 30 novels and many short stories. She was married for over 35 years to Dr. Norbert Felber, with whom she had three children.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Book Review: A Husband For Christmas, by Paula Tanner Girard (Third review for The 6th Annual Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge)

This is my third review for
The 2015 Christmas Spirit Reading
Challenge, hosted by

(I have already posted two
reviews on my YA blog,

A Husband for Christmas
(Trilogy, Book 3)
Paula Tanner Girard
Zebra Books
(Kensington Publishing Corp.)
December 1, 1997
Christmas Romance, Historical Romance, Holiday Romance
Source: Amazon

Book Synopsis:
Lady Caroline Cavendish wants the perfect beau for Christmas. Instead, she's been given a baby! Someone has left a baby girl named Poppy in her carriage, and Lady Caroline is enchanted. But fate soon puts them in the hands of the infamous Bandit King. If anyone can reform him, it's Lady Caroline; if anyone can capture her heart, it's this remarkable rogue. And with a little child to guide them, they may find what everyone needs for Christmas--the incomparable gift of love. A Regency romance original.
My Review

Regency Christmas romance novels are my favorite type of romance to read during the Christmas season. This is, of course, because they remind me of Jane Austen's works. Also, there's just something very special about this period in English history.

It's wonderful to see Austen's legacy reflected in these books, although they might not be quite at the level of mastery she commanded. Still, they do abound in witty dialogues, and, like Austen's novels, faithfully observe and comment on the upper classes (and sometimes the lower classes, as well) of this fascinating time period.

Girard was an American writer, yet, thanks to her travels in England (and, I'm sure, thorough research, as well), she wrote very polished novels, with perfect historical accuracy and a keen eye for characterizations. The result is that she appears to be a British-born author.

A Husband For Christmas is the third book in a trilogy that began with Charade of Hearts, and then, A Father for Christmas. Now I want to read the two previous books!

This short novel, with its touches of humor, also reflects the legacy of Charles Dickens. The back story of the little girl named Poppy could have come straight out of Oliver Twist, for instance.  I found this combination quite interesting -- Austen's witty observations of high society, and Dickens's concern for social justice. The result? A most delightful reading experience!

At the beginning of the novel, Lady Caroline is the typical pampered aristocrat with a sense of entitlement and a rather large ego. By the end of it, she has grown to become more compassionate, kinder, and much more approachable. This is in large measure due to the little girl, Poppy, who mysteriously appears in her carriage one day. However, it's also due to the witty, tongue-in-cheek observations of her French maid, Suzette, who knows how to handle Lady Caroline, unbeknownst to that worthy.

In fact, I could go on and on about Suzette! I love how wisely she counsels Lady Caroline, while letting her think that all her decisions are self-determined. Furthermore, Suzette always refers to herself in third person, although she will at times slyly insert the first person in the middle of a comment. This is a shrewd move, as she subtly distances herself from these comments, while letting Lady Caroline think that she speaks this way because she's a foreigner. Below are some of her comical, and very spot on, remarks:

"Suzette thought him most pleasant, mademoiselle," said her maid. "It is my opinion that his lordship thinks that anyone as beautiful as you must by nature be charitable as well." (pg. 38)

"Mademoiselle must practice the patience. Suzette is trying to show you that the point is not at the end of a straight line." (pg. 79)

"Suzette really didn't have to go beyond the kitchen. It is amazing what information is available right under us. You should go there sometime." (pg. 173)

In short, I found this character entirely delightful!

As for Lady Caroline's love interest, Kendale, he was very dashing, indeed. I liked that he was not a member of the aristocracy, although he had been sponsored by a member of that group, who had rescued him from a future life of crime, when Kendale was just a boy. Although he had no title, Lady Caroline was attracted to him from the very first. He's a very charming, kind, unassuming person, with a great head for business, as well; he has made a fortune with his own fleet of ships.

And then there's Poppy. What a sweet, adorable, little girl she is! She immediately wins Lady Caroline's heart, as well as the hearts of her entire household staff. Taking care of her becomes a full-time job for all of them, for Poppy is fond of playing peek-a-boo. She totally brings out Lady Caroline's maternal side, consierably softening her aristocratic sense of entitlement.

There are many touches of humor in this novel. Much of it is provided by Suzette and Poppy, but another of the characters, Elroy, who is Lady Caroline's uncle by marriage, is outrageously hilarious. He's about her age, a total fop, and fond of gambling. His constant whining, aside from being annoying, is also very funny. Still, his heart is in the right place, where Lady Caroline is concerned. His insistence on calling her "Caro" grates on Lady Caroline's nerves, and adds to the fun.

Most of the action in the novel takes place in and around London, and the reader is treated to some nice descriptions of that city's most famous parks, as well as the social scene of the time. 

The one thing I didn't quite like about this novel was the fact that one of the characters was involved in the kidnapping of several aristocratic heirs, and got away with it. The whole thing, though, was a bit confusing. This was toward the end of the book, which, incidentally, was also a bit too melodramatic, although I did enjoy it, anyway.

Aside from the above, A Husband for Christmas is an engaging, totally enchanting tale, a comedy of manners in true Austen style. Reading it will make any historical romance reader's Christmas lighter and more joyful, as well!

if I were to use stars for rating on this blog, I would give this book four of them! 

About the Author

October 19, 1929 - November 28, 2008

Born in South Bend, Indiana (USA), Paula Tanner Girard  was an artist as well as a romance writer.
She graduated from Principia College in 
Elsah, Illinois, with an Associates of Arts degree.
She then transferred to The Academy of 
Fine Arts in Chicago for additional training in
studio art. 
She married Jerry Girard in 1951, and they
had three children, subsequently moving
to Maitland, Florida (USA).
Ms. Girard also earned a BGS degree in
Elementary Education from Rollins College, 
in Winter Park, Florida, and a Master 
of Education degree from the
University of Central Florida. She worked as
an art teacher for ten years.
Her first Regency romance novel, 
Lord Wakeford's Gold Watch
was published in 1995.
Among her several novels are: Charade of
Hearts (1996), A Father for Christmas (1996),
A Husband For Christmas (1997), and 
The Reluctant Groom (1999).
She was a member of Romance Writers
of America, Central Florida Romance
Writers, Volusia County Romance Writers.
and Virginia Romance Writers.
(Source: Tributes)

Online Links

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Book Review: A Rabbi Looks at the Afterlife, by Jonathan Bernis

A Rabbi Looks at the Afterlife: A New Look at Heaven and Hell with Stories of People Who've Been There
Jonathan Bernis
Trade Paperback, 252 pages
Destiny Image Publishers, Inc.
November 18, 2014
Source: Family Christian Bookstores
Christianity, Judaism, Metaphysical, Nonfiction, Paranormal Studies, Religion, Theology

Book Synopsis:
People genuinely want to know if there is life after death. However, there are many different ideas about the afterlife. Some believe that once you are dead, “that’s it.” Nothingness. Others sincerely hope that there is something beyond this life, but are not sure. Uncertainty.

Is it possible to know that there is life beyond the grave? If so, how does this change your life today?

In A Rabbi Looks at the Afterlife, Jonathan Bernis takes you on an unforgettable journey of faith, exploring Scripture, history, and first-hand accounts of those who have experienced the afterlife.

My Review

The topic of this book might seem morbid to some people, but I have been fascinated by it for a long time, having read a couple of books on the subject, by Raymond Moody and Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross. However, these are secular writers and researchers. I had not come across a book written from the perspective of clergy from one of the major religions. Therefore, when I came across this one in a local Christian bookstore, it immediately caught my attention.

Bernis has penned a very interesting book indeed, one that will raise the faith of those who believe, and give food for thought to those that don't. His perspective is not only based on Judaism, but Christianity, as well, since he's a Messianic Jew. He is thus in a unique position to examine the beliefs of both religious traditions, and he does a very creditable job of it.

The book is divided into four sections. Part One contains the Introduction, as well as Chapters 1 and 2. Together, these give a general overview of the book. Part Two deals with heaven, and encompasses Chapters 3, 4, and 5. Part Three deals with hell, containing Chapters 6, 7, and 8. Part Four, which consists of Chapters 9 to 15, plus the Conclusion, is probably the most compelling part of the book, and is titled, "Those Who Have Gone Beyond the Veil".

It was the last part of the book, of course, that really drew me in, although the other sections also had material of great interest to me. The last part, though, has such incredibly fascinating stories!

The author first points out the following in his Introduction: "Most of the six billion people in the world today believe that life continues after death." (pg. 11) He then goes on to quote the famous Christian fantasy writer (who also wrote Christian nonfiction) C.S. Lewis, who, according to Bernis, " making an extremely strong case for the existence of a grand design -- and a Grand Designer -- behind the universe." (pg. 13) From this, Bernis goes on to briefly criticize the theory of evolution, as, in his view, it fails to explain how life evolves from non-life, and also discusses moral relativism and free will. 

Bernis begins Part Two with the observation that every culture throughout history has had a belief in a heaven or paradise. He cites the Vikings, Romans, and Egyptians, also mentioning Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim beliefs about heaven.

Chapter 4 discusses Jewish beliefs about heaven. Christians are usually not aware that Judaism encompasses more than what Christians know as The Old Testament. In addition to these writings, there's the Talmud, which itself came from the Mishnah, the written version of the oral law. The Talmud is a detailed explanation of the commandments contained in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament). Bernis also explains that the Torah, Talmud, and other rabbinic writings comprise what is known as Halakkah. This is the overall content of Jewish law. 

Most fascinating to me in this chapter was the author's mention of a belief in reincarnation in Judaism. This comes straight from the Kabbalah, as well as several ancient rabbinic writings. 

As for who is qualified to enter heaven, and when the resurrection of the dead would take place, there has been a lot of disagreement among Jewish sages for centuries. Some of them, though, seemed to believe that even non-Jews would have a place in heaven. 

Christian views of heaven are outlined in Chapter 5. In the early stages, Christian beliefs were much like Jewish ones. Some early Christians believed that the body and soul were inseparable, and thus, both would go to heaven. Others insisted that, since all humans had sinned, human flesh was thus too corrupt to enter heaven. 

This chapter mentions the teachings of several early Church Fathers, such as Origen, Irenaus, and Justin Martyr. It also mentions The City of God, which details St. Augustine's view of heaven.

Bernis also points out that both Judaism and Christianity share the belief that humanity is separated from God because of sin. Additionally, Christians believe that God sent His son Jesus to redeem all humans from their sins. The author then points out that "...the single most fundamental truth of New Testament faith -- (is that) the way to eternal life is found through Jesus the Messiah and him alone." (pg. 194)

Several contemporary Christians mentioned by Bernis in this chapter, such as John McArthur, firmly assert that we will be totally free from sin and other corruption in heaven. C.S. Lewis stated that we would all keep our earthly personalities in heaven, as does Randy Alcorn, who answers many questions about heaven in his book of the same title.

Part Three opens with a general look at the belief in hell. Bernis admits that he would prefer it if no such place existed, but affirms that it does. He then references Dr. J.P. Moreland, a professor of philosophy and ethics, and author of the book, Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality, according to whom hell is "...something God was forced to make because people chose to rebel against him and turn against what was best for them and the purpose for which they were created." (pg. 126, Lee Strobel quoting Moreland in The Case for Faith, pg. 175) 

Bernis then goes on to state that ancient cultures also had a belief in hell, although the Egyptians, for instance, did not have a doctrine of eternal punishment. Classic Greek mythology mentions a place known as Tartarus, where, Plato stated, souls were sent after being judged for their deeds on earth.

In Bernis's discussion of Jewish and Christian beliefs about hell, I was surprised to discover some differences between the two religions. For instance, Jewish belief did not unanimously include an eternal hell, whereas Christian belief always has.

Chapter 7 details Jewish views of hell, mentioning that ancient Jews called it Hades, a name which was borrowed from the Greeks. However, this place was not seen as anything but the abode of the dead. Later on, it was known as Sheol.

Bernis stresses that Jews have long believed in a place where humans who have passed on are separated from God and His blessings. He cites several Bible verses from the Old Testament that refer to this.

Another term used for hell is Gehenna, which actually refers to the Valley of Hinnom, just south of Jerusalem. This valley has a rather sinister history, as human sacrifices took place there in ancient times. The name eventually acquired the characteristics of an eternal place of punishment, although some Jews believed that it was instead a place of rehabilitation for souls ultimately destined for heaven. 

Yeshua -- this is the Hebrew name of Jesus, which is used by Messianic Jews -- firmly stated that Gehenna is a place of eternal punishment.

In Chapter 8, which details Christian beliefs about hell, Bernis again mentions early Church Fathers. He also references the Apostles' Creed, which can be traced back to the 4th century, A.D., part of which mentions that, before His resurrection, Jesus descended into hell.

Bernis also refers to recent criticisms about the existence of hell by some Christians. Michigan pastor Rob Bell, in his book, Love Wins, challenges the traditional Christian belief in hell. The late theologian Clark Pinnock also questioned its existence. Surprisingly, even the Catholic Church has altered its definition of hell. In 1999, Pope John Paul II declared that hell is not a place of eternal punishment, but is really a condition, brought about by our own attitudes and actions. In so stating, the then pope denied the traditional Christian view of divine judgment.

Contradicting all of the above, Bernis cites Christopher W. Morgan, who co-authored the book Hell Under Fire with Robert A. Peterson: "...the future punishment of the wicked in hell is a significant theme in the New Testament."

In the fourth part of the book, Bernis recounts the true-life stories of six people who have actually experienced the afterlife: Howard Storm, Dr. Gary L. Wood, Don Piper (famous for his book, 90 Minutes In Heaven), Bill Wiese, Curtis "Earthquake" Kelley, and Dean Braxton.

As I stated above, this part was absolutely fascinating and riveting! I actually jumped to it in the middle of the book, read it in its entirety, and then went back later to where I had left off. 

Three of the men listed above -- Storm, Wiese, and Kelley -- experienced the torments of hell, while the rest experienced the bliss of heaven. Each one describes his experience in detail. Wiese, for instance, screamed in such anguish one night, that his wife woke up. She found him on the floor, shaking and asking her to pray for him. His was not an NDE, though, but a vision. 

The men who experienced heaven have equally vivid stories to tell. Wood, for example, mentions clapping trees and singing flowers, and says that everything in heaven praises and worships God. Piper mentions a joyful reunion with loved ones, including his grandfather, who had died suddenly from a heart attack. And Storm tells of being rescued by Jesus as demons relentlessly attacked him.

Piper was already a pastor when he had his NDE experience, but most of the others were not living good Christian lives. After their experiences -- and this is especially true of the men who saw hell and/or were attacked by demons -- their lives totally changed, and they firmly committed to God. It was so inspiring to read about this type of thing!

I am very glad to have read this book! It has reaffirmed some things I had begun to doubt, and has really lifted my spirits, as the hope in and love of God have become more evident to me. What I especially like here is the author's combination of apologetics -- through a presentation and explanation of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs about the afterlife -- with the stories of six men who have gone there and returned to tell others about it.

I do think I need to re-read this book at some future point, as I'd like to thoroughly study its theological aspects. Unfortunately, Bernis doesn't provide a bibliography, although the book is extensively annotated, and he does give the titles of books he has consulted. Still, I think a bibliography would be most useful. 

The comment above is just one small issue I have with this book. Overall, I thought it was an excellent, highly interesting read, and one written in a simple, straightforward style that I had no trouble following, although the ideas and doctrines presented are deep ones. 

This book is perfect for Messianic and Christian laypeople, as well as for the theological student who might want a concise exposition of Biblical views on it, along with true-life stories that serve to strengthen the faith.

I don't give actual star ratings on this blog, but, if I were to do so, I would definitely give this book five stars! It's now a part of my 'Favorites' shelf!    


About the Author

Jonathan Bernis is an influential Messianic Rabbi, as well as President and CEO of Jewish Voice Ministries International. This is a Messianic Jewish non-profit organization, with branches in Canada and the UK. Its mission is to spread the Gospel of Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) to the Jewish people. This organization provides humanitarian aid to impoverished Jews around the world. It has also set up Messianic congregations in different parts of the world.
In addition to his leadership in the Messianic movement, Rabbi Bernis has written several books, such as A Rabbi Looks at Jesus of Nazareth, A Rabbi Looks at the Last Days, A Hope and a Future, and Etz Chaim: Tree of Life.
Rabbi Bernis is also an international speaker and TV personality. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, with his wife, Elisangela, and their two daughters.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Friday, December 11, 2015

The 2015 Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

Welcome to The 2015 Christmas
Spirit Reading Challenge,
hosted by Michelle, @

Every year at this time, Michelle hosts 
this wonderful reading challenge,
which gives every Christmas addict
(and I count myself among those)
an opportunity to indulge in
the pleasant pastime of reading
Christmas books exclusively during
this beautiful, joyful, and sacred season!
(I'm joining in a little late this year....)
This is the sixth year of the challenge,
and I sure hope there will be
many more to come!

Here are the rules:
1.) The challenge will run from Monday,
Nov. 23, 2015, through
Wednesday, January 6, 2016.
(This is Twelfth Night, or Epiphany.)
2.) Crossover with other challenges
is totally permitted AND
3.) These must be Christmas novels,
books about Christmas lore,
books of Christmas short stories or poems,
books about Christmas crafts,
and, there's a children's 
Christmas books level, too!

Here are the levels:
1.) Candy cane: read 1 book
2.) Mistletoe: read 2 - 4 books
3.) Christmas Tree: read 5 or 6 books
(This is the fanatic level....LOL.)

Additional Levels
Fa La La La Films: watch a bunch of or a few
Christmas's up to you!
Visions of Sugar Plums: read books with
your children this season, and share
what you read.

The additional levels are optional.
You must still complete one
of the main reading levels above.

Michelle has already posted 
a review Linky as a page on her blog.
You will find the link at the top
of the right sidebar on her blog.
She will also be hosting a giveaway!
Please visit her blog for more details,
as well as to add your blog's name
and URL to the signup Linky!!

Mistletoe Level

Below are the books I will attempt
to read this year. In fact, I 
have already started reading the first one.

I'm really looking forward to reading
all the reviews by all the 
 participants in this wonderful meme!