Excerpt from the book "Christmas Star Sapphire" by Hallee Bridgeman:
When Madeline Viscolli arrived a few minutes late at the small auditorium on the east side of the University’s campus, she expected to see a few dozen people already there, but found only one lone man sitting on the floor with his back against the base of the raised stage. Frowning, she glanced at her watch. Surely on the campus of one of the largest universities in Alabama, the Cru program had more than one person involved.
Once called Campus Crusade for Christ, Cru served on college campuses all over the world. Cru provided students with worship and fellowship opportunities in a body of believers – a family away from family. While an undergraduate at the University of Florida, she’d spent hours and hours with her Cru family, and grew into a deeper relationship with God than she’d ever even thought possible. She’d gone on four mission trips spanning a total of eight different countries, volunteered in summer programs, and had developed friendships she knew she would treasure for the rest of her life. Now, pursuing a Master’s degree in business, she found herself on the coast of Alabama hoping to integrate into a new Cru group.
Never shy, Madeline walked into the nearly empty building and marched straight down the aisle. The man looked up from his book and smiled at her. He had light red hair and a goatee that looked nearly blond. As she drew closer, she recognized the logo on his T-shirt from her favorite seafood restaurant in Key West.
“Hello,” he greeted, setting his book aside and standing. Even though Madeline stood just two inches shy of six-feet, she had to look up at him. He smiled warmly and looked directly into her rich blue eyes as he held out his hand. “Joseph Westcott – Pastor Joe – though most people just go with Joe.”
“Madeline Viscolli.” She shook his hand. Even though he kept his grip purposefully light she felt the hard calluses on his palms. Her father, an avid rower, had similar calluses. So, he was a pastor. Why was no one else here, then? “Am I in the right place for the Cru meeting?”
“You sure are,” he answered, his green eyes shining with amusement, “and you’ll be right on time in about fifty-eight minutes.”
“Doesn’t the meeting start at six?” Madeline frowned checking her watch.
“Yes. It does.” He raised an eyebrow. “Still on east coast time?”
Why would he be asking…? Feeling her face flood with heat, she realized. “Of course. We’re in Central Time.”
With a friendly laugh, he gestured toward a cooler that sat on the floor near the stage. “Takes a little while to lose that hour. Water?”
“That would be lovely, thank you.” Accepting the ice cold bottle from him she slipped her bag off of her shoulder and sat in one of the comfortable auditorium seats. “I didn’t get in until just now. Came straight from the airport. I actually scheduled my arrival to coordinate with the meeting.”
“Where you comin’ from, Miss Viscolli?” While he casually dropped the verb much like a native, his accent didn’t sound Deep South to her ear. It made his manner of speaking interesting. His warm smile made it even more interesting.
“I graduated last spring from the University of Florida.” She took a long pull from the bottle, not realizing how thirsty she felt until the icy water hit her dry throat. “I’m going to be getting my Master’s here.”
“Gators? Let me think.” He hopped up onto the stage, facing her. He wore leather deck shoes with no socks and, despite the red hair, had a rather dark tan. “Chris Wilson still the Cru director there?”
Picturing the dark brown face and laughing light brown eyes of Pastor Chris, Madeline smiled. “He is. His wife just had their second baby.”
“He showed me pictures at our annual conference.” He gestured at his T-shirt. “I usually spend a good bit of the summer in Florida myself.”
The calluses on his palm and the tan lines despite his fair complexion had her guessing his hobby. “Do you sail?”
His eyebrows rose in surprise. “How did you know that?”
Madeline shrugged. “Lots of little clues, I guess.” Plus, she could see him, in her mind’s eye, on the deck of a little catamaran, skimming the turquoise waves off the Florida Keys. Her family had a home down there, and she had spent her childhood living in either Boston or southern Florida. Sailboats were just a part of what she considered normal in life.
“Quite observant, Miss Viscolli.” He pronounced her name perfectly, long o sound and all. He looked at his watch. “We have some time before the meeting. If anyone else had their times mixed up, they would have been here by now. Honestly, you should probably eat something now if you’re still on Eastern Time. You’ll be starving in a few hours. Want to grab a coffee and a snack or something?”
“Actually, I think I’ll skip tonight and go find my apartment.” She stood, almost instantly regretting turning down the offer. She suddenly realized she might enjoy getting to know Mr. Westcott better. “I thought I’d have more energy. I just got in from spending the last several weeks in England with my brother and his wife, and I’m a bit jet lagged.” Waving a hand around the room, she added, “Hence the mix-up with the time.” She picked up her bag and slipped the strap over her shoulder. “I look forward to the next few years, Pastor Joe Westcott. Cru has been a major focus of my life since my first day at college. I’m praying I’ll be able to develop the kind of friendships I had in Florida.”
He scooted off of the stage and held out his hand. Without hesitation, she placed her hand in his again.
“It was truly a pleasure to meet you, Madeline Viscolli. I look forward to seeing you again very soon and I’ll be sure to email Chris Wilson and let him know I met you.” He held her hand throughout this tiny little monologue, then gave her fingers a gentle squeeze before he released her grasp. Did he hold her hand a heartbeat longer than necessary, or was that just her jet lagged brain slowing everything down?
With over half a million sales, Hallee Bridgeman is a best-selling Christian author who writes action-packed romantic suspense focusing on realistic characters who face real world problems. Her work has been described as everything from refreshing to heart-stopping exciting and edgy. Hallee loves coffee, campy action movies, and regular date nights with her husband. Above all else, she loves God with all of her heart, soul, mind, and strength; has been redeemed by the blood of Christ; and relies on the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide her. ~*~ Blurb for Hallee's book, Christmas Star Sapphire: Madeline Viscolli finds herself on the Gulf shores of Alabama, where she takes part in a graduate program to earn her MBA. On her first day there, she meets Joe Westcott, team leader for a campus ministry. Despite a mutual attraction, Joe’s personal rule of no romance with any student keeps any kind of deep relationship from developing.
Joe has no desire to have a relationship with anyone, ever, anyway. He left a life of luxury and his family’s business behind to live alone on a sailboat and serve in ministry. Then Madeline walks into the auditorium the week school starts and Joe suspects his personal rules might not apply to this graduate student.
That is, until he discovers Madeline is one of the Viscollis, and that her destiny lay in running her father’s massive corporation. Having rejected wealth and all its trappings since childhood, Joe finds himself falling for the vivacious sapphire-eyed beauty.
Madeline knows she loves Joe, but is not willing to throw away her destiny of taking over at the helm of Viscolli Enterprises.
A Christmas Eve funeral washes all Joe’s plans away. Will their love succumb to the rising tide caused by their differences in lifestyles, or will raging seas calm and allow them to sail off into the sunset?
~*~ Customer Review of Hallee's book (Christmas Star Sapphire):
Rating: 5 stars Review title: A Must Read This Christmas Season Once again, Hallee Bridgeman has written a superb Christian novella just in time for the Christmas season! Christmas Star Sapphire is inspired by the Jewell series and continues the storyline of Viscolli family. Madeline, the only daughter of Robin and Tony Vicolli, is being educated and groomed to one day assume the leadership role in the Viscolli empire of hotels and other enterprises. In traveling to Mobile, Alabama to work on her Master’s degree at the University of Southern Alabama, she meets Pastor Joe Westcott, the head minister of Cru which is the campus’s Christian organization for college students. Madeline’s feelings for Pastor Joe begin to grow into a desire to know him on a more personal level. Pastor Joe begins to feel the same, but there are two problems. One, she comes from a wealthy family and is being groomed for that life style. His childhood has left a bad taste in his mouth for money and power. Two, she is a student, and he is a staff member. Can Madeline and Joe overcome their pasts to make a life for their future together? Will Joe allow God to heal his heart and guide his life? Mrs. Bridgeman is able to present a deeply religious message within the pages of this short read. I recommend this light hearted novella for an enjoyable quick read this season. *I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Interview with Dori Harrell, author of A Christmas Hallelujah:
Alexis: Congrats on the Nov. 6 release of your debut novel, A Christmas Hallelujah! How long has this book been in the works? Dori: Hi, Alexis! Thank you for hosting me on your blog! I’m excited to join you here.A Christmas Hallelujah had been in the works since spring 2017, when I was invited to join the e-book boxed set Wonderland Wishes, which features seven brand-new Christmas stories. Wonderland Wishes is doing so well as an e-book that I launched A Christmas Hallelujah as a paperback, as I had so many requests for a “book I can hold in my hands.”
Alexis:How does it feel to be a first-time author, especially with your background as a sought-after book editor?
Dori: I’m a well-published and award-winning article writer, but publishing my debut fiction book is thrilling. But the real thrill is writing a story worthy of readers, poring over the plot and story line and sentences and words, keeping the reader in mind at every turn. Alexis:Why did you choose to write Contemporary Romance and not another genre?
Dori: I’ve been a longtime reader of contemporary romance, and I had a concept for a small-town series set in my area, the beautiful Yakima Valley in Washington state. Contemporary romance was the perfect genre for that series. Alexis:Describe this book’s setting, Cranberry Creek. What makes it special?
Dori: This small town in the Yakima Valley bills itself as the holiday destination of central Washington. The town had been rundown at one time, with closed-up shops in a dwindling downtown. In the early 2000s, wineries started locating in Cranberry Creek (Washington state is the USA’s second-largest wine-producing region in the nation, second only to California, and the Yakima Valley is Washington’s largest producer of wine grapes). Town officials and community members seized the opportunity to transform the city, and they created a bustling downtown of boutique stores, wineries, and coffee shops (no chains). Cranberry Creek goes all out for the holidays and is a prominent holiday destination in central Washington—and beyond.
Featured in the story both physically and metaphorically are the Cascade Mountains, the mountain range dividing western Washington from eastern Washington. Life on the west side of the Cascades is fast-paced and technology based, while on the east side, it’s slower paced and agricultural based. Cranberry Creek is set east of the Cascades, and the west-side versus east-side division is a feature in the plot.
Alexis:Let’s talk about the heroine in your story, Piper Castleton. What’s she like? Describe her dreams, motivation, and the conflict that blocks her from achieving her goals.
Dori: Piper, a children’s book illustrator, is special and amazing, but she doesn’t know it. When her mom takes off to “find herself,” Piper is thrust into the role of parenting her teenage sister, Libby, and managing the family alpaca ranch. Piper feels like a failure, like she can’t get Libby under control, like she doesn’t know where to turn next, and like her future is uncertain—which it is. Her dream is that her mother come home to take care of Libby. But if her mother doesn’t return home, Piper will have to finish raising Libby alone, because under no circumstances will Piper abandon her sister (Piper and Libby’s father had died two years before the story begins).
Libby doesn’t want to celebrate the holidays without their mother, but Piper insists they celebrate Christmas, which of course Libby resists and resents.
The turmoil in Piper’s life means that romance isn’t even on the back burner of her mind, so when Alex comes her way unexpectedly, she can hardly fathom future possibilities given the elements working against her and Alex. But she certainly dreams about the possibilities.
Alexis:Let’s talk about the hero of your story, Alex Saunders. What is he like? Describe his heart, motivation, and the conflict that stands in the way of his dreams.
Dori: Alex is not your typical alpha-male hero. He’s a kindhearted single dad who’s stepping out of his comfort zone—the Seattle area and his Belltown condo—for the first time since his wife died a year and a half ago. He agrees to spend Christmas on the east side of the Cascades at his parents’ Cranberry Creek home, and his focus is on raising his three-and-a-half-year-old son, Jake. His dream would be to fix his past, but without that possibility, he struggles to know how to proceed in the present, because what he does affects Jake—who suffers from severe anxiety separation disorder and is glued to his dad’s side 24/7.
Even though Alex views Piper as one of the most quality women he’s ever met, how can he consider moving forward in a relationship with her when he can’t even take her on a real date, when he can’t see her without a child present, and when he lives on the other side of the mountains? Alex can design apps that solve all kinds of problems, but he can’t design any that solve the problems in his own life. He dreams of a normal life, in which Jake goes to Sunday school and preschool without his dad, in which Alex gets a chance to do things different (he really screwed up in his past) with the woman he’s falling in love with.
Alexis:What role does Alex’s son play in this story? Describe his significance.
Dori: Jake is a little charmer, but he panics big time if he can’t see his dad, so Jake even has to sleep in the same room as his father. He goes to work with his dad and considers Alex’s office Jake’s office too. His dad designs apps, and Jake considers that his job too.
This is the first time Jake’s been around his grandparents for any length of time, and while Alex had never even thought much about the east side of the state, Jake responds well to the slower-paced life—and to the addition of his grandparents and Piper and Libby (as well as their alpacas) to his life.
And even as Alex makes plans to see a psychologist to get help for him and Jake, the new relationships in Jake’s life, particularly his friendship with Libby, begin to heal Jake—and for that matter, Libby too.
Alexis:Alpacas are an important feature in this story. Why?
Dori: Alpacas are sweet creatures, and an alpaca farm presented a great opportunity to showcase the healing relationships between Piper and Libby, as well as Jake and Alex. And that healing produces an opportunity for two people to form a romantic relationship when previously, neither had believed that was a possibility.
Alexis:Describe the research that you did to write this story. How much time did it take? Where did you go?
Dori: I did extensive research into alpaca farming, and I discovered a rare element to the creatures that changed the direction of the characters, plot, and story line. I was able to weave the story around this rare element. I’m dying to give it away, but I want your readers to discover it for themselves!
In addition, I spent all day at the local alpaca farm that I based my setting on, Sage Bluff Alpacas in Prosser, Washington (also east of the Cascades). The owners graciously spent time and energy teaching me important facts about alpaca farming and the response of the animals to children. And they also clued me into “pronking”—a near daily event by crias (baby alpacas). If “pronking” intrigues you, be sure to read the story!
Besides the alpaca farm, I researched severe separation anxiety disorder and what is done to resolve it. In A Christmas Hallelujah, the resolution (though it’s not totally resolved in the story) is centered on the grace of God, how His plans for solving our problems are so much great than the avenues we try to create for ourselves.
Overall, I spent several days researching the various elements of the story (including Belltown), with the goal of giving it more depth and continuity.
Alexis:Describe Piper and Alex’s cute meet. What were their first impressions of each other? Were they lasting impressions? Explain.
Dori: Alex and Jake (there could be no meeting without Jake present, given his anxiety separation disorder) meet Piper on her alpaca farm, and shortly thereafter, Libby storms onto the property, furious with Piper.
Even though Alex is initially attracted (much to his surprise) to the redheaded Piper, he’s instantly on guard, as the last thing he needs is more drama, and it looks like Piper’s life is loaded with it.
Piper’s attracted to Alex but sees him as a Seattleite, a west-side techie guy who wouldn’t be interested in an east-side ranch girl. When Libby arrives, Piper becomes anxious because Libby makes a terrible scene, and Piper figures she won’t see Alex and Jake again—but it’s not as if she had planned to see them again anyway.
And then…Libby sees Jake, and an unexpected and heartwarming friendship begins between the four that leads to God revealing his plan of grace for Alex and Piper.
So in the case of this story, yes, the lasting impressions do remain—but the characters work to develop a romance despite the conflicts, even when the resolutions are so uncertain.
Alexis:What is it about Alex that warms Piper’s heart and what is it about Piper that makes Alex want to be with her forever?
Dori: Piper loves how dedicated Alex is to his son and how kind he is to Libby, even though Libby is so difficult sometimes. Alex never condemns Piper for how she handles her sister, but rather he goes out of his way to support her and Libby, even given the hardship of his own situation. And when Alex is near, it seems as if Piper’s future is filled with possibilities rather than impossibilities. A song begins in her heart, one she’s never heard.
As for Alex, he recognizes quality when he sees it, and he’s impressed with the sacrifice Piper willingly makes for her sister (Piper left her thriving career in Spokane to return to the family farm). He’s also touched by her sensitivity and fondness for Jake. And he loves Piper’s ponytail! Even though he lives on the other side of the Cascades, how can he—after the holidays—possibly return home and to his life on the west side? What would the loss of Piper and Libby mean to Jake?
Alex knows he’d be crazy to let Piper slip away, and he realizes she’s a package deal—she comes with her sister. But while that give him pause, it doesn’t scare him—because he’s a package deal too. But how will he conquer the mountain dividing them?
Alexis:If you could spend the Christmas holiday with Piper and Alex, what would you do?
Dori: I’d spend it with them at the alpaca farm, cozying up to the animals, drinking homemade mulled apple cider, enjoying an elk roast, swinging on the tire swing under the Chestnut tree, and sitting around the outdoor fire pit while snow drifts softly from the sky. Alexis:What do you want readers to remember most about this book? Dori: That God’s grace is more amazing than we can even fathom, that His plans for us are so much greater than those we make for ourselves—enough to make us want to shout “Hallelujah!”
Alexis:Thanks for the interview, Dori! Would you like to share closing thoughts?
Dori: Thank you, Alexis, for your joyful heart and for this interview—I appreciate you and your readers! And I wish you and your readers a Merry Christmas! What in your life causes you to shout “Hallelujah” this Christmas season?
~*~ Author Bio:
Dori Harrell is a multiple-award winning writer, and she reads more books than anyone she knows.
Dori grew up on the rainy west side of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state, in the Seattle area, and graduated from the University of Washington. She crossed over to the sunny, arid east side of the Cascades when she married her husband, Doug. She’s an avid runner and knitter and loves to camp, fish, hike, and watch Seahawks games (go Hawks).
She and Doug have four grown children, and they don’t get to see their seven grandchildren nearly enough. A Christmas Hallelujah is her debut books and is book 1 of the Cranberry Creek series.
~*~ Blurb for Dori's book, A Christmas Hallelujah:
Romance is the last thing on either of their minds—who’d take on their drama anyway?
When her mom decides it’s time to “find herself” and takes off to points unknown, illustrator Piper Castleton finds herself in charge of her hurting, troubled teenage sister and the family’s alpaca ranch. Giving up her job in the city and returning to the farm is a no-brainer, but how is she supposed to raise her sister when all she wants is their mother back? And Christmas? That’s off the table.
Alex Saunders’s young son was diagnosed with severe separation anxiety disorder after his mother’s death a year and a half ago, and he hasn’t left Alex’s side in months. Alex is stretched too thin to even think about celebrating Christmas this year, so when his mom suggests they spend the holidays in Cranberry Creek, he cautiously agrees.
But when Piper and Alex meet, life takes a few unexpected turns. As a surprising and heartwarming friendship unfolds before their eyes, will Piper and Alex orchestrate a Christmas hallelujah out of the beautiful messes that are their lives?
~*~ Buy Dori's book A Christmas Hallelujah on Amazon
Character interview with Reba Farwell of One Christmas in Winter:
Alexis: Hi, Reba! Thanks for taking the time to be interviewed by me. My first question is about the author of your story. She’s new to this but do you think that she told your story well?
Reba: As someone who makes a living telling stories in movie form, I’d say she did a pretty good job crafting my journey to Winter and meeting Hoyt!
Alexis: Your story is set in Winter, Montana. What’s it like? Use words to paint a picture of your story’s setting.
Reba: Winter is…odd, but I mean that in the best way. It’s like this perfect little down with quirky people but it’s got heart. So much heart! When I first arrived there I was shocked—I mean, we’d been given photos from the location scout, but Winter was even more amazing in person. Cold, but decked out in Christmas lights. And I do mean decked—every shop on Main Street is overflowing with Christmas cheer. It’s a place you want to go to especially during the holidays.
Alexis: You and your crew spent two weeks in Winter, Montana to make your script, “First Christmas Kiss”, come alive in a movie. What was that experience like? Describe the highs and lows, challenges and rewards.
Reba: First challenge: COLD! I mean freezing! I grew up in Arizona and then moved to L.A. and you just don’t experience that type of biting cold down south. Thankfully, our crew were troopers and we rented a bunch of heaters so no one froze too much. Another challenge was the unpredictable weather. Snowstorms may create the perfect backdrop for a Christmas movie, but they also create a lot of issues…like not being able to drive or even get out of your trailer sometimes. But, with the issues came the rewards, like the stunning mountainous backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, the crisp and brilliant snow, and the people. Honestly, the people of Winter really made this movie so much fun to shoot!
Alexis: How hard was it to keep your secret from your cast and film crew? The secret being that you wrote the script for the movie.
Reba: It was very challenging, especially since, as a director, they trust my vision. My crew follows me and my imagination through every shot and not telling them that I’d created the “map” (as it were) was very hard. Not telling my co-director Kori was really tough too, especially when we’d be hashing out how to shoot a specific scene and I’d written it to be one way and he saw it another. It was very personal, but like any creative person, you’ve got to let your work “go” a little to make it become the best it can be.
Alexis: Your lead actor slipped on the ice and got hurt so badly that he could no longer play his role in your movie. What were your first thoughts when that happened?
Reba: First off, I was beyond shocked. Then, I became a little (or maybe a lot) annoyed. I feel like it’s a bit of a no-brainer that you just don’t do stupid things when you’re in a main role like Peter was. It was also a bit frightening seeing as how, without a hero for the story, I wouldn’t be able to complete the on-location shooting.
Alexis: Hoyt Bradley is a hottie! True or false? Lol. Why did you ask him to replace your lead male actor in your movie, “First Christmas Kiss”?
Reba: *Blushes* TRUE! But, aside from that, I wasn’t really given a choice. My boss Clyde pretty much gave me an ultimatum to hire him or else. But…on the other side of things, I’d worked with Hoyt enough (him as the stand in up until that point) to know that he is a really great actor with a lot of natural talent. It helped that he’d done film work in the past too. And with that smolder…well, let’s just say it makes the movie that much better.
Alexis: Hoyt did his best to steer clear of you and your film crew. How did you convince him to star in your movie?
Reba: It was tough—and I’ll admit to sinking lower than I would have liked to in order to convince him. I knew from the get-go that he is a really kind and compassionate man. I knew that if I mentioned how many jobs were on the line if I couldn’t replace Peter, he would step in. But I also had a feeling he wanted the role—even if it was just a small part of him.
Alexis: Have you tried Hoyt’s famous lemon meringue pie or lemonade that he makes for his customers who eat at Bentley’s Diner, which was owned by his late father? If so, describe the taste.
Reba: Funny you should ask! I just convinced him to make me a lemon meringue pie. I brought his mother Cora in on it and she got the Meyer lemons he needed to make it. And the taste? Unbelievable. First off, his crust (a recipe he says his dad told him in confidence) is flakey and amazing. Then there’s the smooth and very tart filling topped off with a thick, fluffy meringue that’s lightly browned on top. He serves his with a dusting of powdered sugar on the plate and a few flakes of lemon zest on the top. I’m now requiring him to make that for me at least once a month.
Alexis: It’s been said that, “Winter (Montana) has a way of bringing people together”. Was that saying true for you? Explain.
Reba: Absolutely! Not only did it bring Hoyt and I together, but it’s also brought me into the most amazing family. Hoyt’s family—the Bradley’s—are the most loving and compassionate people! Since my mom suffers from dementia and doesn’t really remember me, it’s like I gained a whole new family. Plus, the town of Winter has practically adopted me in the short weeks I’ve been there. I may not be a native, but they treat me like one!
Alexis: Winter weather is cold but what is it about Hoyt that makes your heart warm?
Reba: I’ve talked about his good looks and that ridiculous smolder, half-smile thing he does *sigh*…but Hoyt is so much more than what you see on the outside. He loves his family so much and would sacrifice anything for them. Plus, he truly cares about people. He’s not perfect (and neither am I) but I think he’s perfect for me—and that makes my heart very warm indeed.
Alexis: Now that the production of your movie is complete, how’s it doing in the box office?
Reba: It’s doing so well! I’m unbelievably proud—and not because I wrote it, but because of the amazing crew I worked with. I couldn’t have done it without them!
Alexis: How’s your relationship with Hoyt post-production of your movie? Are you still together? What do you want to happen for your relationship with him in the next five years?
Reba: We are very much together and I couldn’t be happier. I just moved to Winter and found a super cute cottage to stay in and Hoyt’s still in his apartment with his brother Beau, though I’ve heard rumors Beau has plans to move out soon! We’ll both be communing back and forth to Los Angeles and wherever we’ll be filming next. I’ve got a few scripts in process and Hoyt’s already been cast in another holiday movie! I’ve loved this transition to Winter and hope that, in the next five years, I’ll be transitioning my last name, if you know what I mean.
Alexis: Thanks for the interview, Reba. Merry Christmas and God bless you!
Reba: Thanks so much Alexis! Merry Christmas to you as well!
~*~ Author bio:
Annabell “Bell” Renshaw has always loved books and the power of a good story.
She turned those passions toward writing at an early age, finding solace and adventure in made-up worlds when her mother would read to her as a kid.
She’s grown up now, but still finds herself lost in those worlds.
She believes in the power of a happy ending and the fact that–no matter what–love will always find a home.
~*~ Blurb for Bell's book:
Reba Farwell is finally getting a chance to live out her dreams. Sent to Winter, Montana to direct filming for a crucial, on-location shoot, she knows the next two weeks will make or break her career. And she could definitely use a break. As if that isn’t enough, she’s got a secret that none of her crew knows. All she’s asking for is two weeks of small town, Christmas beauty and a little bit of on-camera sizzle.
Five years ago, Hoyt Bradley’s heart and future shattered in one fell swoop that landed him back in Winter. Thankfully, making lemonade—or his father’s famous lemon meringue pie— out of lemons is what he does best. Running Bentley’s Diner has filled the gaps left in the wake of his heartbreak, even if it hasn’t healed him completely. Not wanting to relive memories of his rocky start in the film industry, Hoyt does his best to steer clear of the dreaded film crew, but Winter has a way of bringing people together.
After one fateful delivery and a score of icy bad luck, Reba finds herself in a bind and at the mercy of what Winter can offer. Will she pull the film together in time to salvage her name as a director? Or will the sparks flying off-camera create more of a distraction than she knows how to handle?
Come visit Winter, Montana in this Christmas Novella where the Christmas lights are always on and the snow falls most frequently when loved ones share a kiss.
My Inspirational Romance A guest post by Jenna Brandt
I love Christmas time. I love it so much that I wanted to incorporate it into my writing by creating a Christian Christmas anthology full of romances to bring joy to readers this holiday season. It’s why I recruited seven other authors to contribute their novellas with happily-ever-after endings to the project.
My novella, The Christmas Bride, focuses on Lucy and Matthew who were introduced in my fourth book, The Oregon Pursuit. My story takes place in the Old West in 1870. Lucy is a saloon worker/turned manager of The Trail’s End and Matthew is the local pastor’s son and works at the sawmill. They come from completely different worlds but their connection makes the most unlikely pairing. Flashbacks take you back to the pivotal moments in their relationship and the rest of the novella shows how their love can not only withstand but flourish, despite the obstacles, his family and her past, throw at them.
There are wonderful moments in the snow, at the local Christmas tree lighting ceremony and a holiday party, and of course, there is mistletoe. Two scenes full to be exact. So, if you are interested in reading a wonderful story about opposites attracting and the power of God-changing love, then this is a story you will want to read.
~*~ Author bio:
My name is Jenna Brandt and I am a historical fiction author and my books span from the Victorian to Western to WWI eras with elements of romance, suspense and faith. I have been an avid reader since I could hold a book and started writing stories almost as early. I have been published in several newspapers and magazines as well as edited for multiple papers. I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in English from Bethany College and was the Editor-in-Chief of my college newspaper.
I'm a contributor for The Mighty Website, The Girls Who Write VLog as well as a contributor and curator for the Novel PASTime Website. My first Blog was published on Yahoo Parenting and The Grief Toolbox as well as featured on the ABC News and Good Morning America websites. I am member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Romance Writers Association (RWA) and Melissa Storm's All Access Engine.
Writing is my passion but I also enjoy cooking, watching lots of movies while I write, engaging in social media and spending time with my three young daughters and husband where we live in the Central Valley of California. I am also active in my local church where I serve on the first impressions team and write for the church’s creative team.
~*~ Blurb for "The Christmas Bride": Lucy Rogers traveled west, running from a troubled past. As a new Christian she meets and forms a relationship with Matthew McCoy, the son of the local pastor. Lucy runs The Trail’s End saloon while Matthew works for the local sawmill. As they plan their Christmas wedding, Lucy’s past comes back to haunt her. Will her past allow them to build a future together?
Buy the boxed set ("Under the Mistletoe: 8 inspirational stories to bring you joy this Christmas season")in which Jenna's book is featured on Amazon.
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 Serenity, Heart’s Design and its sequel Gentle Like the Rain, The Wondrous Love Series, Echoes of Edinburgh,Perchance to Dream, Whisper to My Heart, The Valentine Verse, Thee 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.
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.