Thursday, November 30, 2023

Christmas in the Crosshairs by Deena Alexander

 Christmas in the Crosshairs


About Christmas in the Crosshairs

Christmas in the Crosshairs (Love Inspired Suspense) 

Inspirational Romantic Suspense 

Setting – Seaport, Long Island, New York 

Love Inspired Suspense (November 28, 2023) 

Mass Market Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages

A baby in need of protection— and a hitman in pursuit.

After evading an attack, defense attorney Adam Spencer is on the run from a dangerous hitman. The killer’s wife is Adam’s only hope at apprehending the criminal—until she lands in the hospital. Now he must depend on her twin sister, Jaelyn Reed, to find the answers they need…all while protecting the baby niece Jaelyn didn’t know she had. But with threats at every turn, trust may be the deadliest trap…

From Love Inspired Suspense: Courage. Danger. Faith.

About Deena Alexander

Deena grew up in a small town on the south shore of eastern Long Island, where she met and married her high school sweetheart. She recently relocated to Florida with her husband, three kids, a son-in-law, and four dogs. Now she enjoys long walks in nature all year long, despite the occasional alligator or snake she sometimes encounters. Deena's love for writing developed when her youngest son was born and didn't sleep through the night, and she now works full-time as a writer and a freelance editor.

Author Links








Amazon Author Page:

My Thoughts

Christmas in the Crosshairs by Deena Alexander is a novel that grabs your attention right away.  I thought the story was well written with developed characters.  There was plenty of suspense and action that kept things lively (and kept me turning the pages).  I enjoyed the various twists and turns.  It is an emotional novel.  I felt for Jaelyn.  Her whole life is upended.  Unfortunately, her life has become a roller coaster and there are plenty of loop de loops ahead for her.  Adam is trying to keep Jaelyn safe.  He is unsure how much information to share with Jaelyn.  He is afraid that Jaelyn will reach her breaking point.  Of course, being in such close contact brings out feelings between Jaelyn and Adam.  But each of them has trust issues that could mean they are not ready to have a relationship.  The story will keep you guessing until the end.  This was my first book by Deena Alexander.  I am looking forward to reading more by this author.  Christmas in the Crosshairs is a captivating tale with an unknown twin, resolute killers, a secreted infant, trust troubles, unexpected explosion, and a surprising revelation.


“We’re losing her!” Chaos erupted as two paramedics shoved a gurney through the emergency department doors at a dead run. One of them called out, “It’s Jaelyn Reed. She was attacked.”

Jaelyn’s heart stuttered. She recognized the voice of her friend and fellow firefighter Pat Ryan. But what was he talking about? She was fine, just finishing up her Christmas Eve shift at the hospital, where she worked as a nurse when she wasn’t volunteering as a firefighter for Seaport Fire and Rescue. Since she had no family to go home to, she often worked the holidays.

Footsteps pounded as doctors, nurses, and technicians rushed toward a commotion in one of the nearby cubicles.

She followed the sound of Pat’s voice rattling off vitals down the corridor. Why had he said it was Jaelyn? That she’d been attacked? She’d known Pat Ryan since she was a kid, was friends with both him and his fiancĂ©e, Rachel, and she’d never heard the slightest edge of panic in his voice. Until now.

She stepped into the cubicle. “What’s going on?”

Pat glanced at her then snapped his head back in a double take. “Jaelyn?”

“Pat, what happened?”

His gaze shot to the gurney, where a young woman lay unconscious as the nurses assessed and began treatment.

When Jaelyn followed his stare, her breath caught in her throat. Looking down at the woman’s face was like looking into a mirror. The stranger shared the same long, nearly black hair as Jaelyn, though hers was tangled and matted with blood; the same delicate features, at least it appeared so beneath the contusions and swelling; and even the same slim, athletic build.

“I don’t understand.” Pat frowned and grabbed the woman’s purse from the bottom of the gurney. “She looks enough like you to be your—”

“Sister.” The one word escaped on a shallow huff of breath. Could this woman be her sister? The sister she hadn’t even known existed until a month ago? It’d been almost a year since she’d taken the DNA test—just for fun, something she’d let her fellow firefighters convince her to do to pass the time amid a blizzard that had gripped the area last winter.

Jaelyn had grown up in Seaport, New York, a small town on the east end of Long Island’s south shore, daughter of a prominent couple in the community, Dr. and Mrs. Elijah Reed. And she was an only child. The last thing she’d ever expected was to shake loose any deep, dark secrets from the Reed family tree. And then her results had come in…and last month the friends and family app had connected her to her twin. “Maya Barlowe.”

“Yeah.” Pat held out a slim photo holder with the woman’s driver’s license. The picture of the woman staring back at her could have been, well, her twin. “That’s the name on her ID. Is she your sister?”

Apparently. Since Jaelyn’s parents had been killed in a car accident five years ago, she hadn’t been able to ask them about her. She had no other family—no one to lean on after her fiancĂ© had left her for another woman while she was grieving—and she hadn’t wanted to go to any of her parents’ friends. At least, not yet. She’d needed time to process the information first. Jaelyn had yet to decide whether or not to reach out to the woman, try to ascertain how they shared not only the same DNA but the same birthdate as well. Even as she’d debated her options, she hadn’t fully accepted the fact it could actually be true, that she could have a long-lost twin sister she’d never known about.

“Out of the way, guys.” One of the other nurses shoved past her.

Coming to her senses, Jaelyn stepped aside, careful not to upset the delicate choreography as the doctors and nurses worked together in a desperate effort to save the woman’s life.

Pat gripped her elbow and led her out into the hallway. “Hey, you okay?”

Was she? She honestly didn’t know. While she hated the thought of seeing anyone suffer, what was she supposed to feel for this woman who might be her twin but whom she’d never met? Confusion was the overwhelming emotion. She shoved a few stray strands of hair out of her face. “Yeah, I guess, but I don’t understand what’s going on. Where did you find her? And what happened to her?”

“A call came in.” With a glance over his shoulder, Pat ushered her farther across the hall so they’d be out of the way. “A couple of kids riding dirt bikes came across her just before dusk in the woods behind the Seaport Bed and Breakfast. She’d been attacked, badly beaten. I’m sorry, Jaelyn, I didn’t even know you’d reached out to her. I guess with the holidays and all…”

“No. That’s the thing…” Only a handful of people knew about the secret Jaelyn’s DNA test had revealed, Pat being one of them. Could someone she’d trusted have contacted Maya? No, not possible. The few close friends she’d told knew that Jaelyn wasn’t sure how she wanted to handle the situation yet. None of them would have betrayed her confidence… Besides, she hadn’t shared Maya’s name with anyone. “I didn’t reach out, nor did she contact me. I have no idea what she was doing here. I didn’t even realize she knew about me.”

“Assuming she’s here because of you,” Pat pointed out.

“I guess, but according to the information I have, she lives in New York City. What are the chances she just happened to show up a few miles from where I live and work?” Even though plenty of people from New York City visited the south shore of Eastern Long Island, especially around the holidays, most of them flocked to the Hamptons or Montauk. Seaport wasn’t exactly a thriving tourist destination.

Pat frowned. “Slim to none, I’d say.”

So, her sister must have been trying to find her, which begged the question, why hadn’t she tried to contact her? Or had she? Jaelyn had been on duty for the past twelve hours and hadn’t bothered to check her messages. “My phone is in the locker room. I’ll have to see if she tried to reach out.”

“The police officers were questioning the kids who found her, but they’ll be here any minute.” He gestured in the direction of the locker room. “You should probably see if she tried to make contact before they get here. I’m sure they’ll want to know if that’s why she was in Seaport.”

Dazed, Jaelyn paused and glanced into the cubicle where her coworkers and friends worked to save Maya. Should she go in? Try to help? Technically, she was off duty now, but still…

“There’s nothing you can do for her in there, Jaelyn. She’s being taken care of. It would probably help her more right now to find out if she tried to call you, if she left any kind of message, maybe indicated she was in trouble, anything that would help the police find who did this to her.”

She nodded. He was right. “Yeah, okay.”

“And Jaelyn…” He turned to face her, rubbed his hands up and down her arms. “I’m really sorry about your sister, but I’m glad you’re okay. I’m not gonna lie, when we first arrived on scene and thought it was you, it gave both Jack and me a jolt.”

She covered one of his hands with hers. “Thank you, Pat.”

“Sure thing.” Releasing her, he stuffed his hands into his pockets and started down the hall with her.

“You didn’t check her ID there?” Jaelyn asked.

He only hesitated a fraction of a second, but it was a telling pause. “She’s in bad shape, Jaelyn. We stabilized her and transported her. Plus, like I said, we thought it was you, both recognized you immediately.”

She nodded, understanding the urgency of the situation in that moment. Nothing but saving the patient would have mattered to the paramedics.

“I’ll tell you what, I’ll wait here and keep an eye on her while you go ahead and get your phone. You may as well get changed while you’re in the locker room, so you can sit with your sister afterward.”

She smiled at him, grateful he understood her need to know how Maya was doing. “Thank you.”

“Of course.” He squeezed her arm once more, as if needing to reassure himself she was fine. “I’ll let the guys know you’re okay.”

She nodded and started toward the locker room at a brisk pace. Since she was not only a nurse in the emergency room, but also a volunteer firefighter and a member of a well-known family in the community, news of her being attacked would have spread quickly. Especially in the small town of Seaport. It would be good to squash the rumors before they could gain any real traction.

Thankfully, with Pat taking care of that, it was one less thing she had to worry about, and she could turn her attention to her sister. Sister. She still couldn’t quite wrap her head around the idea. Being an only child was all she’d ever known. She shook off the confusion and increased her pace. None of that mattered now. The sooner she gathered her things, the sooner she could return to Maya and hopefully get some answers.

As she passed the nurses’ station, a man’s voice brought her up short. “I’m looking for Maya Barlowe?”

Jaelyn turned at the mention of her sister’s name.

“Can you tell me if she was brought in—” A bulky man who had to be better than six feet tall shifted his attention from the nurses’ station even as he asked the question. As he glanced in her direction, his gaze clashed with Jaelyn’s. His expression showed confusion at first, but then it hardened and he straightened.

Jaelyn hesitated, caught off guard by the hostility marring his features.

His focus narrowed on her as he reached inside his jacket and pulled out a handgun.

Her breath caught in her lungs. A dull ache spread through her chest. Fear paralyzed her.

Eyes hard, hand dead steady, the man lifted the weapon toward her.

The chaos of the emergency department receded, and blackness tunneled her vision. It seemed nothing existed but the two of them caught in some deadly stare down. She desperately wanted to believe she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but her mind wouldn’t allow her to accept that. The gunman’s glare was too intense, his attention too pinpointed on her, and he’d just asked about her sister.

“Get down!” another man yelled.

Jaelyn couldn’t react. All of her training as a nurse, as a firefighter, had her remaining calm in the face of the weapon. It was the look in his eyes that had her blood running cold. She’d never seen such emptiness, such coldness, such…darkness.

And then someone tackled her from the side, even as the first bullets flew. Sheer terror swamped her.

More gunshots erupted. Screams, crashes, sobs tore through the emergency department as patients and staff ran or dove for cover, trying to protect those who were unable to flee.

Jaelyn landed hard on her elbow. Pain shot to her shoulder and her wrist, and her fingers went numb.

“Go, go, go!” The stranger half-dragged, half-shoved her toward an examination room door, knocking over the Christmas tree in an out-of-the-way corner.

Jaelyn scrambled in the direction she was led, hit the door at a crouch, and tumbled through.

Another round of gunshots pierced the air, too many for just the handgun she’d seen. Had the attacker had another weapon beneath his jacket, or was there a second gunman? Two shots shattered the window in the door.

Jaelyn covered her head and ducked against a row of cabinets.

Christmas in the Crosshairs is available from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Harlequin, Apple, and Google Play.  You can follow Deena Alexander on Amazon and receive an email when she has a new book release.  As part of the tour, the author is giving away a $25 Amazon gift card.  You can enter using the Rafflecopter form below or by clicking here.  Leave a comment for an extra entry!  Good Luck!  Would you like to win a $10 Amazon Gift Card?  All you need to do is leave a comment (such as what you would do with the Amazon gift card) and please remember to provide your email address (so I can contact you if you win).  The contest for the $10 Amazon gift card ends at 11:59 p.m. on December 10, 2023.  That gives you two chances to win two different yet wonderful prizes.  Good Luck!  I will return on December 5 with The Year of Goodbyes and Hellos by Kelly Irvin (you will need to have a box of tissues handy when you read this one).  I hope that you have a joyful day. Take care and Happy Reading!

Kris Anderson

The Avid Reader

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Tour Participants

November 28 – Maureen's Musings – REVIEW

November 28 – Just Another Teen Reading Books - REVIEW, AUTHOR GUEST POST

November 29 – Mystery, Thrillers & Suspense – SPOTLIGHT

November 30 – The Avid Reader – REVIEW, INDIVIDUAL GIVEAWAY

November 30 – Diane’s Book Journal – SPOTLIGHT


December 2 – fundinmental – SPOTLIGHT
December 3 – Celticlady's Reviews – SPOTLIGHT

December 3 – #BRVL Book Review Virginia Lee – SPOTLIGHT

December 4 – Reading Is My SuperPower – REVIEW

December 5 – Guatemala Paula Loves to Read – REVIEW
December 6 – Hearts & Scribbles – SPOTLIGHT

December 6 – Sapphyria's Books – REVIEW

December 7 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – REVIEW

December 7 – Novels Alive – REVIEW
December 8 – Ruff Drafts – AUTHOR GUEST POST

December 8 – Angel's Book Nook – SPOTLIGHT

December 9 – Lady Hawkeye – SPOTLIGHT

December 10 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – SPOTLIGHT

December 11 – Literary Gold – SPOTLIGHT

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Happy Thanksgiving!

 Happy Thanksgiving!

I will be enjoying a quiet day with my mother. We will be having an untraditional meal of fried chicken with biscuits (I am not a fan of turkey). We will finally be getting the Christmas tree up. In other words, my mother will supervise from her recliner while I do the heavy lifting. Tomorrow I will begin decorating the front yard.  I have all the pieces (various inflatables and lights), now I need to put them together to form one cohesive display.  I hope that you, your family, and friends have a heartwarming day. Take care and Happy Reading!


The Avid Reader 

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Her Secret Hope by Shelley Shepard Gray

Her Secret Hope
Book Summary

Almost two years after Lilly Kurtz first traveled to Pinecraft, Florida, with friends, she's decided to make a fresh start there. She's ready to be new-and-improved Lilly, a Lilly without a past, a Lilly with no secrets. At first, everything goes well. She gets a job, her coworkers feel like family, and she enjoys reconnecting with her friends. But it turns out the past is reluctant to be left behind.

When Lilly meets hardworking farmer Eddie Byler, she can't get him off of her mind. But then she discovers that Eddie actually lives just a few miles from her hometown in Ohio. Lilly knows that he's not going to like it when he finds out what secrets she's been running from. And she knows she could never follow the man she's falling in love with back to a place where she's never felt accepted.

Will Lilly have to give up on love in order to find peace? Or could it be that love is actually the solution to all of her problems?
Siesta Key is a beach that Lilly visits (it is my favorite beach)
My Thoughts

Her Secret Hope by Shelley Shepard Gray has Lilly Kurtz returning to Pinecraft for a fresh start. It has been two years since her first visit to the unique Amish and Mennonite town.  Lilly was adopted as a baby and her family never kept it a secret.  Actually, it seems one of the first things Mrs. Kurtz’s tells people (heavens knows why).  Lilly also did not feel accepted by the children at school.  Mary Margaret, Betsy, and Esther are the first true friends Lilly had had in her life.  I know what it is like to feel that you do not fit in and to have people judge you.  Lilly may be in a new city, but she has still has to learn to let people get to know her.  It seems that Lilly keeps a protective a shield around her.  The characters are realistic and developed.  I like that we get to catch up with Mary Margaret, Betsy, Esther, and their husbands.  

Lilly gets a job at bed and breakfast that is run by Nancy (the place the young women stayed on their first visit to Pinecraft).  I like that we get to catch up with Nancy and her friendly chef.  Lilly may believe that she is destined to remain single, but it seems God has other plans for her.  Of course, Lilly needs to be willing to let down her barriers and be happy with who she is.  I just love November Byler.  She is a spirited character.  I hope I am as lively and quick witted at that age.  I did feel that the story moved a little slow in places and there was a repetition of details.  The author captured Pinecraft and Siesta Key.  I understood why Lilly liked going to Siesta Key beach, it is a beautiful beach (it is my favorite beach).  Her Secret Hope is the third and final book in A Season in Pinecraft series.  It can be read as a standalone, but I recommend reading the series in order.  It will allow you to get to know the characters and their stories.  There are good life lessons in Her Secret Hope including that God is in control.  Her Secret Hope is a touching tale with a returning friend, a spirited grandmother, a bored farmer, a flirtatious chef, an alarming allegation, and a gracious God.

Her Secret Hope can be ordered through Amazon*.  The first two books in A Season in Pinecraft series are Her Heart's Desire and Her Only Wish.  Shelley Shepard Gray will have A is for Amish out on May 21, 2024.  It is the debut of the Amish ABCs series.  You can follow Shelley Shepard Gray on Amazon and they will send you an email when she has  new book release.  I appreciate you joining me today.  Due to health issues, I am taking some time off.  I will return on November 30 as a stop on the Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours for Christmas in the Crosshairs by Deena Alexander.  I am taking a little extra time off for health reasons.  I hope that you have a relaxing weekend.  Take care and Happy Reading!


The Avid Reader 

*This post contains affiliate links.  As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Murder Under the Mistletoe by Sherry Lynn

 Murder Under the Mistletoe
Book Summary

In a fresh new Maine-set holiday cozy, landscaper Kinsley Clark must root out a killer before she becomes the prime suspect.

Landscape artist and owner of SeaScapes, Kinsley Clark has been re-hired to decorate the town of Harborside for the upcoming holiday season and boat parade. Using the local elements found in Maine, Kinsley creates kissing balls—the town’s official mistletoe—to hang downtown and along the wharf. Kinsley is also responsible for Harborside’s official “lobster-stacked” Christmas tree, located beside the local marina, where the annual Harborside Boat Parade & Fireworks Display takes place.
When local alderman Chris Chesterfield—dressed up as the Grinch, right down to the green face paint—falls off the pier and into the icy Atlanticthe night of the annual kickoff event, the town is in shock. But all eyes turn to Kinsley and her beautiful decorations when it becomes evident that Chris didn't fall after all—and that he was looking to replace SeaScapes with a different decorating team. Kinsley, along with bestie, Becca, and Pete, the owner of the Blue Lobstah, must unearth the truth before Kinsley takes the fall.
My Thoughts

Murder Under the Mistletoe by Sherry Lynn has Kinsley Clark’s business Seascapes decorating Harborside, Maine for the holidays.  Kinsley gets help from volunteers to make the numerous kissing balls she needs to bedeck the town.  I enjoyed the descriptions of the town decorated for the holidays as well as the homes Kinsley and her crew adorned.  A boat parade is something that I am familiar with living in Florida.  At least I do not shiver (not most years) while watching it.  The author captured the chilly temperatures of Maine.  I could imagine the cold wind coming in off the water (brr).  The town alderman dressed appropriately as the Grinch gets murdered during the boat parade. 

The suspect list is longer than a five-year-olds Christmas list for Santa.  Kinsley accompanied by bestie, Becca set out to solve the murder.  I wish the guilty party had not been so obvious (there might as well have been a neon arrow pointing at the person). The mystery is neatly wrapped up at the end of the book in time for the holidays.  Kinsley’s brother is home for a month, but some unexpected news gets his visit off to a rough start.  There is a secondary mystery that is not resolved in this book.  I could have done with less romance.  There are numerous mentions of Pete and how Kinsley feels about him.  I like the gift Kinsley receives from her brother for Christmas.  I had a feeling she would receive this particular gift from the references throughout the story, but I still enjoyed her reaction to it.  Murder Under the Mistletoe is the second A Mainely Murder Mystery.  It can be read as a standalone for those who have not read Digging Up DaisyMurder Under the Mistletoe is a Christmas cozy with a chilly climate, a petty politician, a bar bruhaha, a slew of suspects, a surprising secret, scrumptious cocoa, and a Happy Holiday!

Murder Under the Mistletoe is available from Amazon*.  The first book in A Mainely Murder Mysteries is Digging Up Daisy.  If you follow Sherry Lynn on Amazon, they will send you an email when she has a new book release.  Thank you for stopping by today.  Tomorrow I will be featuring Her Secret Hope by Shelley Shepard Gray.  It is the final book in A Season in Pinecraft series.  We have been having delightful weather in Florida.  I have had the air conditioning off for almost a week (it is in the mid 70s during the day--still shorts and t-shirt weather).  I would like this lovely weather to continue.  I hope that you have a happy day.  Take care and Happy Reading!


The Avid Reader 

*This post contains affiliate links.  As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman


The Wishing Bridge

Book Summary

Once the hottest mergers and acquisitions executive in the company, Henrietta Wegner can see the ambitious and impossibly young up-and-comers gunning for her job. When Henri's boss makes it clear she'll be starting the New Year unemployed unless she can close a big deal before the holidays, Henri impulsively tells him that she can convince her aging parents to sell Wegner's--their iconic Frankenmuth, Michigan, Christmas store--to a massive, soulless corporation. It's the kind of deal cool, corporate Henri has built her career on.

Home for the holidays has typically meant a perfunctory twenty-four-hour visit for Henri, then back to Detroit as fast as her car will drive her. So, turning up at the Wegner's offices in early December raises some eyebrows: from her delighted, if puzzled, parents to her suspicious brother and curious childhood friends. But as Henri fields impatient texts from her boss while reconnecting with the magic of the store and warmth of her hometown, what sounded great in the boardroom begins to lose its luster in real life. She's running out of time to pull the trigger on what could be the greatest success of her career...or the most awkward family holiday of her life.

With unabashed winter charm, The Wishing Bridge sparkles with the humor and heart fans of Kristy Woodson Harvey, Nancy Thayer and Jenny Colgan love most.

Includes the bonus novella Christmas Angels.

About the Author

VIOLA SHIPMAN is the pen name for internationally bestselling LGBTQIA author Wade Rouse. Wade is the author of fifteen books, which have been translated into 21 languages and sold over a million copies around the world. Wade writes under his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, to honor the working poor Ozarks seamstress whose sacrifices changed his family’s life and whose memory inspires his fiction.

Wade’s books have been selected multiple times as Must-Reads by NBC’s Today Show, Michigan Notable Books of the Year and Indie Next Picks. He lives in Michigan and California, and hosts Wine & Words with Wade, A Literary Happy Hour, every Thursday.

Author Links

Author Website

Twitter: @Viola_Shipman

Facebook: Author Viola Shipman

Instagram: @Viola_Shipman


My Thoughts

The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman takes readers on a journey to Frankenmuth, Michigan.  I enjoyed the descriptions of the town decked out for Christmas.  I felt transported to this Bavarianesque town.  I had mixed feelings about Henri (I believe that is the idea.) I was not a fan of some of Henri’s choices and I had to wonder what she was thinking (she needed an intervention).  We get to see Henri look at her family, the town, and the family business through the eyes of a mature adult.  I enjoyed Henri’s memories of the Sears Wish Book as well as the JCPenney and Montgomery Ward Christmas Catalogs.  I looked forward to their arrival just like Henri.  Henri’s mentions a couple of items in the catalog that would not have been available in 1975.  Like other girls of that time period, I was a fan of Shaun Cassidy (I watched the Hardy Boys), and his first album was not released until 1977.  The Simon Says electronic game was released in 1978 (one of my cousins got one for Christmas) and the Star Wars figures came out in 1978 (I had a cousin who got the whole set, and we had fun playing with them). 

There were some good characters in the story.  I especially liked Henri’s parents, Bea, and Mabel, the family dog.  The store that Henri’s parents started was wonderful.  It is a Christmas wonderland (it would takes days to go through the whole place).  Henri’s high school boyfriend is divorced and the chemistry between the two is still palpable.  In a small town, they are bound to run into each other.  Henri is getting a second chance not only with her family but with a special fellow.  The Wishing Bridge is a heartwarming holiday tale that will appeal to those who love Hallmark’s Christmas movies (you never know, it could be one someday).  


December 7

I hit the brakes, my car fishtailing on the slippery road. I came to a stop just inches from the car before me.

Ah, the hazards of winter in Michigan and Detroit drivers who think snow is a reason to hit the gas.

I cock my head and see an accident just a few cars in front of me. A man is out of his car, screaming into the window of the car he hit.

Merry Christmas!

I take a breath, sip my coffee—which miraculously didn’t spill—hit my blinker and wait to merge into the next lane.

That’s when I notice it: the abandoned house I drive by every day to work.

There are many abandoned homes in many forgotten neighborhoods in this proud city whose shoulders were slumped by the mortgage crisis, layoffs in the auto industry and never-ending winters that used to be as brutal and mind-numbing as a Detroit Lions football season.  Neighborhoods stand like ghost towns, and, in winter, they look even sadder, the grass dead, the green gone, broken glass shimmering in the sun before the snow arrives to cover their remains.

This particular home is a three-story redbrick beauty that looks like a castle. The windows are broken, the walls are collapsing and yet the wooden staircase—visible to the world— remains intact. I slow down just enough every day to admire the finials, worn and shining from the hands that have polished them over the years.

There is a line of shattered windows just above the ground, and as you pass by, you catch a glimmer of red in the basement. Coming the opposite way, you swear you can see a man smiling.

I stopped years ago to investigate. I parked, careful to avoid nails, and wound my way in high heels through the weeds to the broken window. I knelt and peeked into the basement.


A plastic molded Santa smiled at me. It was a vintage mold—like the one my grandparents centered in the middle of a wreath on their front door every year—of a cheery Santa with red cheeks, blue eyes, green gloves, holding a candy cane tied in a golden bow.

I scanned the basement. Boxes were still stacked everywhere.

Tubs were marked Christmas!

In the corner of the basement sat a sign overrun with cobwebs that read Santa’s Toy Shop!

December 1975

“They’re here! They’re here!”

My voice echoed through my grandparents’ house. I ran to the front door, grabbed the first catalog, which seemed to weigh nearly as much as I did, and tottered down the steep basement stairs. Back up I went to retrieve the next one from Mr. Haley, the postman, who looked exactly like Captain Kangaroo.

“Don’t move!” I said, disappearing and returning moments later.

Then back down the stairs I scrambled once again.

Mr. Haley laughed when I returned the final time, out of breath.

“Last one,” he said. “Oh, and a bunch of Christmas cards for your grandmother.”

I bent over, panting, as if I’d just done wind sprints on the track.

“Tired?” he asked.

I shook my head. “No! Think of what Santa carries! Not to mention what you carry every day!”

“You got me there,” he said. “Here’s the cards. I’ll see you tomorrow. Merry Christmas!”

I watched him trudge through the freshly fallen snow, just enough to dust the world in white. If there’s one thing we never had to worry about in our town of Frankenmuth, it was a white Christmas. My dad said it was one of the gifts of living in a Christmas wonderland.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Haley!” I yelled, my breath coming out in puffs.

I shut the door, tossed the cards on the telephone desk sitting in the foyer and hightailed it back down to the basement.

I looked at the catalogs where I’d set them on the shag carpet and ran around them in a happy circle doing a little jig.

I turned on the electric fireplace. It was so cool, fake brick, and it just faded into the Z-BRICK walls. The flames seemed

to dance, even though they weren’t real.

I went over to the card table where my grandparents played games—bridge, canasta, hearts—and I grabbed my marker from a cup.

The red one.

The one I used every year.

The one Santa would recognize.

I took a seat on the orange shag and arranged the catalogs in a semicircle around me: the Christmas catalogs from JCPenney and Monkey Wards, and my favorite, the Sears Wish Book.

The catalogs were heavy and thick, big as the Buick my grandpa drove. They were brand-new and all mine. I began to f lip through the crisp pages, turning quickly to the ones that showed all the toys, clothes and games I wanted for Christmas.

I was lost for hours in the pages, dreaming, hoping, wishing. “Yes, yes, yes!” I said, my marker in constant motion.

“Are you using a red marker so Santa will see?”

I looked up, and my dad was standing over me. He was tall, hair as fair as mine. He had just gotten off work. He was an accountant at a car dealership, and he never seemed happy when he got home from work.

Until he came down to my grandparents’ basement.

“Of course!” I said. “Finn gets green. I use red!”

“So what do you want Santa to bring you this year?”

 I patted the carpet, and my dad took a seat next to me. I began showing him all the things I’d marked in the wish catalogs.

 “I want this eight-room dollhouse, and, oh! this Shaun Cassidy phono with sing-along microphone and this battery-operated sewing machine! It’s the first ever like this!” I stopped,

took a deep breath and continued, “And this dress, and this Raggedy Ann doll, but—” I stopped again, flipping through pages as quickly as I could “—more than anything I want this

game called Simon. It’s computer controlled, Daddy! It’s like Simon Says, and you have to be really fast, and…”

“Slow down,” he said, rubbing my back. “And what about your brother?”

“What about him?”

“What does he want?”

“He’ll want all the stupid stuff boys like,” I said. “Stars Wars figurines, an erector set, a Nerf rocket and probably a drum set.”

My cousin had the whole set including the Millennium Falcon

My father winced at the last suggestion.

“Maybe a scooter instead,” my dad suggested. “What do you think?”

“Good idea, Daddy.” I placed my hands over my ears.

He laughed and stood up.

“Hey?” I asked. “What do you want for Christmas?”

My dad headed over to the workshop he had on the other side of the basement. We lived in a small ranch house on the other side of town that didn’t have a basement, much less any extra room. My grandparents let my father convert this space a few years ago so he could pursue a second career and his true passion: Christmas.

“You know what I want,” he said with a smile.

My dad picked up a sign and turned it my way. It was a hand carved wooden sign that read Frohe Weihnachten! Frankenmuth is a Bavarian town filled with all things German: a wooden bridge flowing over a charming river, a glockenspiel that—on the hour—played the Westminster chimes followed by an entire show complete with dancing figurines,

a cheese haus and competing chicken-and-noodle restaurants. I was named Henrietta, my father Jakob, my brother, Finn. Only my mother, Debbie, escaped the German name game with the very American moniker.

“What’s this mean, Henri?” my dad asked.

“Merry Christmas,” I said.

“And what do I want?”

“Christmas all year long.”

“Exactly,” he said. “Just like you. Except as a grown-up.” He looked at his sign. 

“That’s my Christmas wish.”

For a long time, everyone thought this was just a hobby of my father’s, sort of like other dads tinkered on car engines, went fishing or coached baseball. For an even longer time, people thought my dad was nuts.

Why would a man spend all of his time creating Christmas signs in July, or designing ornaments in March?

They didn’t know my dad.

They didn’t how serious he was, that he often worked until three in the morning from October through December and countless weekends the rest of the year.

“You have a good job, Jakob,” friends would tell him. “Don’t ruin your life over some silly notion.”

But my mom and grandparents believed in him just as much as I believed in Santa.

I watched my father work. As he did, he began to whistle Christmas tunes.

The world was finally catching up with my father’s dream.

He was now creating window displays for two of the biggest stores in town: Shepherd Woolen Mill and Koch’s Country Store.

The Wishing Bridge is available from Amazon*, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, and HarperCollins.  You can follow Viola Shipman on Amazon and you will receive an email when she has a new book release.  Thank you for joining me today.  Tomorrow I am sharing my thoughts on Murder Under the Mistletoe by Sherry Lynn.  It is the second A Mainely Murder Mystery.  I hope that you have a jolly day.  Take care and Happy Reading!


The Avid Reader