Home for Christmas: Stories for Young and Old compiled by Miriam LeBlanc

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ If you want Christmas stories that capture the season without being syrupy, this book is for you.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 The writing is consistently good in every entry, and many authors show they are not afraid to show a sad situation before showing the goodness.


Authors:  Henry Van Dyke, Pearl S. Buck, Beatrice Joy Chute, Ruth Sawyer, Elizabeth Goudge, Selma Lagerlöf, Rebecca Caudill, Madeleine L’Engle

Published October 5, 2021 by Plough Publishing

ISBN: 9780874860313

Genre: Fiction, Short Story Collection, Holiday Stories, Christian Fiction

🔪 Some stories occur in poverty scenes with stark imagery, or feature threats of violence that aren’t carried out.
💋 No sex scenes, little romance.
🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 A Trigger Warning: this book has references to alcoholism, sex with masochistic dialogue.


Christmas is a time that inspires many, and makes them reconsider just what they think about God (and more particularly, Jesus). For writers willing to lean into the questions that the season brings up, Christmas stories can convict as well as inspire. This collection includes twenty acclaimed Christmas stories from authors in different cultures and periods. From stories about Christmas in gritty urban environments (“Transfiguration” by Madeleine L’Engle) to historical tales set in Siberia (“The Guest” by Nikolai S. Lesskov) to fantasy stories about supernatural encounters (“The Cribmaker’s Trip to Heaven” by Reimmichl), these stories show Christmas in its many shades and environments.


Christmas books, like Christmas songs on the pop station, often lean so far into sentiment until they become silly and insubstantial. This collection aims for quality over sentiment, collecting pieces from many different decades (some going as far back as 1910, or the last 1800s). Famous Christian authors like Madeleine L’Engle are included, as well as more obscure ones like Henry van Dyke that are worth rediscovering. This gives the book a very diverse feel, and not all of the stories are for young children. However, the Christmas themes of generosity, beauty out of chaos show up in every story in some way, showing how Christmas’ core message and ideas truly resonate across social classes, generations and locations.


Quality storytelling makes this book that very rare thing: a Christmas story collection worth not only reading once, but poring over multiple times. Many readers will even find that it’s a book worth reading throughout the year.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

All the Lost Things by Michelle Sacks

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ I’d give this book five stars for incredible writing, characterization, and plot. It’s a slow-burn suspense, and the first half of the book is more fun and lighthearted as Dolly pretends the bad stuff never happened.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 This book is a unique read. It takes a very skilled writer immersed in the voice of the characters to pull off what Sacks pulled off in this novel—telling the story from start to finish from the perspective of a seven-year-old. This is a suspense novel for those who love soap operas—more family drama than suspense, but with all the fixings of a good kidnapping novel.


Published June 4th, 2019 by Little, Brown and Company

ISBN: 9780316475457

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Family Drama, Road Trip Novels

🔪 This book gets one knife for violence. Altogether, this is a fairly clean read. All violence is off screen and intentionally ignored by the narrator for most of the book. That said, if you’re sensitive to mentions of domestic abuse, be careful reading this book.

🚩 🚩 🚩 This book is a family drama fraught with memories of domestic violence and the conflicting feelings of a daughter toward her abusive father. It’s a picture of how abusive situations can slip through the cracks until it’s too late, and a depiction of how many kids learn to cope with trauma.


Dolly Rust likes dancing and playing pretend games with her best friend, Clemesta, a toy horse. (But if you asked Clemesta, you’d learn she was actually a magical horse queen, and also Dolly’s twin sister.) Clemesta and Dolly were in the middle of saving a stuffed lion’s life when her dad came and said it was time to go.

At first, they’re going on the best daddy-daughter adventure ever, and everything is amazing because Dolly has all of her dad’s attention and it’s a special trip just for them.

But the farther they drive, the less fun this special adventure becomes, and the more Clemesta insists that Dolly needs to remember the things she’s hidden away in the Secret Secret box of her brain.

Eventually, her dad starts acting strange, always checking behind them in the mirror and asking Dolly to wear a hat, cutting her hair and wearing glasses that he doesn’t need.

Will Dolly be able to ask for help before it’s too late and they’re too far lost?

This is an incredibly unique read. It takes a highly skilled writer to maintain an accurate voice of a seven-year-old narrator from start to finish, and to make a road trip where most of the time is spent in the back seat of a car with a toy horse interesting to read.

The suspense begins to ramp up about halfway through the book, and it doesn’t slow down after that. But even with a less suspenseful start, the plot’s mystery and the dramatic irony was enough to pull me through until I couldn’t put it down.

Dolly is an incredibly lovable character, in large part because of how she represents childhood. She has word slips and sporadic trains of thoughts and snippets of memory that reveal the drama of her home life bit by bit all the way up until the end. Some may feel this makes the story disjointed, but the longer I read in Dolly’s voice the more I got used to her thought patterns and was able to anticipate the narrative flow, which made it easier and easier to read as the book went along.


Reviewed by J. J. Hanna

J. J. Hanna is a writer from Littleton, CO. She has a B. S. from Taylor University in Professional Writing, and has worked in various roles in the publishing industry including literary agent, freelance writer, virtual assistant, and publicist. Her favorite genre is suspense, but she also enjoys Fantasy and SciFi. Connect with her online @authorjjhanna and http://www.authorjjhanna.com.

This review was originally published April 14, 2020.

Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Perfect for classic crime noir fans, and for readers seeking a well-developed psychological thriller.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 The author creates an almost cinematic style with strong images, tight plotting and careful pacing the suspense elements.


Published December 7, 2021 by New York Review of Books

Edition: Movie tie-in edition

Originally published in 1946.

ISBN: 978-1681376103

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Crime

🔪🔪 One death by poisoning, a violent fight at the climax, various scenes of psychological suspense.
💋💋💋💋 Various sexual references in dialogue, and three to five brief sex scenes (all of which move the plot forward). None of the sex scenes include much detail, but one has quasi-violent undertones.
🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 A Trigger Warning: this book has references to alcoholism, sex with masochistic dialogue.


Stan Carlisle isn’t planning to spend the rest of his life as a low-level carnival lackey. He’s got plans, and a taste for stage magic which Madam Zeena helps him develop. Before long, the carnival isn’t big enough for Stan’s dreams, so he and his new wife Molly hit the road as a mentalist act. When Stan changes masks to become Reverend Carlisle, Spiritualist minister and counselor to those interested in the other side, Molly worries that they’ve gone beyond putting on a show for honest money. As Stan targets a wealthy new “client,” he nears the line that he may never return from.
This novel was a bestseller when it came out in 1945, then in and out of print for decades – this edition was released for Guillermo del Toro’s new movie version. C.S. Lewis fans may be familiar with it, since the author’s ex-wife Joy Davidman went on to marry Lewis (an unusual courtship captured in the movie Shadowlands). Like many noir novels, Nightmare Alley is an antihero story about a character’s lusts taking him into dark territory. Gresham makes Stan likeable enough that even as he descends, he’s still fascinating to watch. Molly increasingly becomes the moral voice, but the story balances her warnings and Stan’s hunger for more, making each compelling. The balance is helped by Gresham capturing the suspense in magic acts – the magician collecting or deducing information, pretending he’s struggling to get a reading, the climax as he shocks the audience. Like a great thriller novelist describing a heist, Gresham transports readers into these scenes, making each detail feel vital. Thus, even as it becomes hard to imagine how Stan can survive his journey, readers stay to see how he reaches his destination.
Stan isn’t the only fascinating character – Gresham describes the carnival and its inhabitants with vivid language. Many have compared the carnival scenes to Tod Browning’s 1932 movie “Freaks,” an inside look at circus performers that makes even the most unusual performers (the man with no legs, the conjoined twins) seem human. This helps the book enormously, keeping the “weird events at the carnival” setting from becoming garish or cliché.
Overall, Gresham tells a classic noir tale of someone flirting with forbidden things, a journey that feels preordained but can’t be missed. The characters walk dark paths, but the book never lands in nihilism. Readers see how characters lose their way, but the morals are implied rather than preached. Decades later, this gut-wrenching thriller still holds up.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

Annabel Lee by Mike Nappa

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ If you like suspense and mystery novels, you’ll like this book.

🖋️🖋️🖋️🖋️ The plot was predictable at times, but altogether enjoyable even when I knew what was coming.


Published March 1, 2016 by Revell

ISBN: 9780800726447

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Supernatural Suspense

🔪🔪🔪🔪 There are many deaths, though few are gruesome, and at least one dog attack.


Leonard Truckson was always a secretive man. Annabel knew he had secrets. She also knew she was one of those secrets. Why else would he need a German Shepherd trained to eat fingers?

None of that really prepared her for the day he woke her in the middle of the night, told her to get dressed, and brought her out to where that dog lived. She also wasn’t prepared for him to pull a  lever next to the dog house that revealed a secret bunker. She was least prepared to be locked in that bunker with that dog with the strict orders to not let anyone in unless it was him and he said the safe code.

Trudi Coffey and Samuel Hill had once been married, but his covert missions had put stress on their relationship and led to a divorce. So, when he shows up asking for a book he gave her years ago, she knows something is up. She’s even more suspicious when Dr. Jonathan Smith shows up and questions her as one used to receiving answers.

Driven by a need to discover the truth about Dr. Smith and the strange clues Leonard Truckson left in his absence, Trudi finds herself wrapped up in an intense plot involving the CIA and other secret societies. Soon, what began as a desire to know the truth becomes a race against Dr. Smith to get to Annabel first.

This is a binge-worthy read. Nappa has a wonderfully unique style and tone that plays into the way he crafts mysteries and characters.


Reviewed by J. J. Hanna

J. J. Hanna is a writer from Littleton, CO. She has a B. S. from Taylor University in Professional Writing, and has worked in various roles in the publishing industry including literary agent, freelance writer, virtual assistant, and publicist. Her favorite genre is suspense, but she also enjoys Fantasy and SciFi. Connect with her online @authorjjhanna and http://www.authorjjhanna.com.

This review was originally published March 25, 2019.

Rust and Stardust by T. Greenwood

⭐⭐⭐ While well-written, this book is a heavy read. I highly recommend it as a literary read. However if you’re looking for something light and entertaining, this book is NOT the book you should pick up.

🖋️🖋️🖋️🖋️🖋️ This book is extremely well-written, keeping you on your toes all the way to the end. The characters are entrancing and the way Greenwood brings them to life is like magic.


Published August 7th, 2018 by St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 9781250164193

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime, Suspense

🔪🔪 This is a kidnapping, and there are some violent sequences. However, it’s mostly limited to threats and fear of violence rather than vivid violence. Domestic violence is the main contributor.

🚩🚩🚩🚩 A trigger warning: this book as multiple accounts of rape and sexual abuse, though none are written explicitly.


Set in 1948, Rust & Stardust follows the story of eleven-year-old Sally and her family during and following a tragic kidnapping.

Sally Horner is a lonely girl looking for friends. When a group of girls offers to let her into their club if she completes an initiation, she is determined to win their favor. As she attempts to steal a notebook from the local store to please them, a man catches her arm, claiming to be an FBI agent. Caught in her guilt for stealing, and desperate to avoid the consequences the FBI agent told her were coming her way, she agrees to meet him after school the next day and also to tell no one about her crime and his involvement. Unwilling to put her mother through the pain of knowing she’d raise a thief, Sally lies, and lies again, until the man, going by Mr. Warner, has taken her for a vacation at the beach and kept her away from home for over a month.

With tensions rising and Sally getting more and more desperate to go home, Mr. Warner gets nervous and takes her across state lines to Baltimore. Then to Texas. Then to California. The closer the police get, the less they stay in one place, always on the move, always on the run, until finally, two years later, the police catch up.

But the story doesn’t end with her rescue. It continues on through the effects of the kidnapping and ending with the eventual, sudden death of Sally Horner in a car accident.

This is not a pretty story. This is not a happy story. It’s a heavy and important story.


Reviewed by J. J. Hanna

J. J. Hanna is a writer from Littleton, CO. She has a B. S. from Taylor University in Professional Writing, and has worked in various roles in the publishing industry including literary agent, freelance writer, virtual assistant, and publicist. Her favorite genre is suspense, but she also enjoys Fantasy and SciFi. Connect with her online @authorjjhanna and http://www.authorjjhanna.com.

This review was originally published July 9, 2019.

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