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Friday, November 23, 2012

The Christmas Star by Ace Collins (Author Guest Post / Book Review)

In association with Pump Up Your Book! Virtual Book Publicity Tours, Jersey Girl Book reviews welcomes Ace Collins, author of The Christmas Star!

Author Guest Post

Christmas Music Is A Joyful Time Machine
By: Ace Collins

Ace’s current novels are The Christmas Star, The Yellow Packard & Reich of Passage.

In my current novel, The Christmas Star, music and traditions play an important role in Jimmy Reed coming to fully understand the true meaning and power of Christmas. So to give you a little insight into why I love this holiday so much that I have penned five books on it, here is the way I view holiday music.

I really feel the power of Christmas songs is magnified because these beloved standards come back every year. In other words, these are musical time machines. They wipe away the years and bring us the feelings and emotions of our youth. Suddenly loved ones who have long been gone are almost there with us when we hear certain songs. Having written five nonfiction books about the stories behind Christmas music and traditions and one newly released novel celebrating the special miracles involved in embracing the Christmas spirit, I look forward to Christmas more than most children do. One of the things I can’t wait for each year is changing out the records in our 1959 Wurlitzer Juke Box and fill it with only Christmas singles. These are five songs that really define Christmas for me and why. I could list dozens but for me Christmas doesn’t really begin until I heard these five.

1. White Christmas by Bing Crosby. For many this song is special because of the two Crosby movies where it was featured. For me it became incredibly special when I found out the first time it was sung in public was on December 24, 1941 on Bing’s national radio show. When you consider that America had just entered a world war, the song’s impact must have been incredible. As millions via radio heard it they must have thought back to the Christmases when there was peace on earth and wondered when that would happen again. So whenever I hear Crosby’s version of this song, I consider how much it must have meant during World War II. It really was a secular prayer for those believing only a miracle could bring their family back together at Christmas.

2. Why Can't Everyday Be Like Christmas by Elvis Presley. Blue Christmas might have been his biggest holiday hit, but this was Presley’s favorite Christmas song and it has become one of mine. It asks a haunting question that remains open and unanswered and then considers a theory that is simple but also unattainable, “Oh why can’t everyday be like Christmas? Why can’t this feeling go on endlessly. If everyday could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world this would be.”

3. Silent Night by almost anyone. Great story behind the classic song and the story of how we know it today is even better and that makes it really hit home in my world. But the deeper reason for loving this song is that it brings out the child in me. There is nothing more moving than seeing Christmas through childlike eyes.

4. Merry Christmas Darling by The Carpenters. The song is great, the story behind it is cool, but this is my wife’s favorite Christmas song and thus it is special to me because of what it means to her. It always reminds me of the most special person in my life.

5. O Holy Night is my favorite true gospel classic. The way the story of Christmas is revealed and the meaning of that special night to the world is so moving. That fact this carol was also used by abolitionists in the U.S. as an anthem demanding Christians free their slaves is profound. And the added bonus of having it be the first song ever played on the radio means this number is ripe with spirit and history.

About The Author

Bestselling author Ace Collins has written more than fifty books including novels Farraday Road, Swope's Ridge and Words of the Father, as well as the nonfiction Stories Behind The Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, grAttitudes, and Lassie A Dog's Life. His books have become movies and network television specials. He has appeared on Good Morning America, the NBC Nightly News and The Today Show and has been featured in the Distinguished Lecture Series at the National Archives in Washington D.C. Ace Collins has sold more than 1.5 million books during his career.

His latest book is the Christian holiday fiction, The Christmas Star.

Ace Collins ~ The Christmas Star ~ Virtual Book Tour Page ~ Pump Up Your Book! Virtual Book Publicity Tours

The Christmas Star Book Trailer

Book Review

The Christmas Star by Ace Collins
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication Date: October 1, 2012
Format: Paperback - 224 pages / Kindle - 591 KB / Nook - 755 KB
ISBN: 1426714688
Genre: Christian Holiday Fiction

BUY THE BOOK: The Christmas Star

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Pump Up Your Book! Virtual Book Publicity Tours.

Book Description:

At the end of World War II, a young son mourns the loss of his Marine father who died a hero.

Robert Reed gave his life for his country in the early days of World War II. His sacrifice was honored when his widow and son were presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor. Each Christmas the final decoration Madge Reed hangs on the family’s tree is that medal. Rather than being a symbol of honor for young Jimmy Reed that shining star represents loss, pain, and suffering.

Yet a letter delivered by one of Robert’s fellow soldiers and a mystery posed in that letter put a father’s sacrifice and faith into perspective and bring new meaning to not just the star hanging on the Christmas tree but the events of the very first Christmas. Then, when least expected, a Christmas miracle turns a final bit of holiday sadness into a joy that Jimmy has never known.

Book Excerpt:

December 21, 1945 3:20 p.m.

It was doubtful that Sharp County had ever experienced such a collective sense of euphoria. First, the Great Depression and then the war had created an atmosphere of heartache, insecurity, chaos, and turmoil, tearing up families while dashing dreams and crushing security, but now there was a hope fueled by the fact that freedom had been preserved and “Peace on Earth” was no longer just a line on a greeting card, it was a reality. Christmas was more than just a holiday this year; it was a celebration! The promise that had been offered in Bing Crosby’s hit single “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” had been realized and for almost everyone in every corner of this part of Arkansas, as well as all over the United States, it was the most wonderful time of the year, the decade, and perhaps even the century.

December twenty-first was the day everyone in the rural school district, children and teachers alike, had been looking forward to. For those spending seven hours a day behind the native stone walls of Ash Flat High 3:20 p.m. was the moment when Christmas really began. As the clock signaled that specific instant and the final bell sounded, kids poured through the old two-story school building’s large oak front door and down the well-worn concrete steps like the bulls racing through the streets of Pamplona, Spain. Their warm spirits met a cold north wind as scores of enthusiastic kids rushed across the yard and onto Calvin Jenkins’ yellow GMC school bus. Other equally ecstatic youngsters raced past the mud-splattered vehicle, up the dirt road toward downtown Ash Flat just to spy all the wonder that was waiting to be discovered in the community’s handful of stores. Smiles and laughter were everywhere, as everyone seemed caught up in holiday spirit—everyone but Jimmy Reed.

While others rushed passed at supersonic speed, Jimmy, a tall, thin, sixteen-year-old hung back at the top of the steps, a tormented look filling his deep green eyes. Dressed in a blue wool jacket that was about two sizes too small, he stuck his ungloved hands deep into the pockets of his patched jeans. In a sense, he was an outcast in a world of holiday cheer. For the boy, there was no light at Christmas, only foreboding darkness brought on by great loss. While all his friends saw Christmas as a joyous dream, to Jimmy it was a nightmare, a prison of loneliness and a day of despair. If Jimmy could erase any day from the calendar it would be December 25.

“See you in January,” Wylie Rhoads called out from behind as Jimmy slowly ambled down the steps. Glancing back over his shoulder at the short, stocky school superintendent standing in arched entry, the youth shrugged his shoulders and smirked. That expression brought an immediate response.


“Yeah,” the boy shot back at the school administrator, his voice and body language showing great contempt and little respect.

As their eyes met, the man pointed his finger and barked, “Get the chip off your shoulder son. You’ve got two weeks to shape up that attitude. When you come back I want to see a different person. Someone with the kind of character your father had.”

“You leave my dad out of this,” Jimmy hissed.

Marching down the steps until he was face to face with the angry kid, Rhoads emphasized his threats in a firm, deliberate tone, “I can’t do anything about what happened to your father and neither can you. But you’re driving your mom to an early grave while you’re setting yourself up to end up in reform school or worse. You’ve got too much potential to waste it!”

“I haven’t done nothing that bad,” the boy hissed his green eyes never leaving the man’s.

“Not yet,” Rhoads shot back, “but it’s coming. I’ve seen it before. Starts with stuff like breaking windows, sneaking behind the fence to smoke, and going out getting drunk, but it always ends with a whole lot more. And you’re heading that way at a breakneck pace.”

Jimmy shook his head, “You don’t know nothing.”

Frustrated, Rhoads turned his back on the boy and marched back up the five steps and into the building. As he did, Jimmy leaned against the school wall and pulled a cigarette from his pocket. Who cared what old Wylie thought? So what if he got kicked out of school? It was a waste of time anyway.

“James Reed, don’t you light that up on campus or anywhere else.”

Audrey Lankins was one of the few students who hadn’t given up on him. Like Jimmy, she was a junior, but while he had developed a knack for getting into trouble, she walked on the right side of the street. She was Ash Flat’s prize student, with her blonde hair, blue eyes and striking figure, she was also the prettiest girl in the county and the youth leader at the Methodist Church. She was also the ideal daughter for her banker father and the apple of everyone’s eye. And as much as he didn’t want to admit it, Audrey was also the one person he truly wanted to impress. Yet she couldn’t know that, not now or ever. So though he yearned to reach out to her, he delivered his reply in a machine-gun fashion he hoped would shut her up and drive her away! At this point, he couldn’t afford to have anyone close enough to know what he was planning.

“What do you care? You won’t get in trouble if I have a smoke.”

“I just care,” the pretty blonde assured him. “I don’t want you in trouble. That’s not who you really are. You’ve always been my best friend or at least that’s how it used to be.”

Forcing his attention on the street, he twirled the cigarette from finger to finger of his right hand, slipping it between one and then the next with the dexterity of a magician, before finally letting it slide into palm and easing it into his coat pocket. When the thirty-second show was over, he looked back at the girl, “Didn’t feel like smoking anyway. I’ll save it. But it has nothing to do with what you want. You understand?”

Audrey smiled. Clutching her black purse to her chest, she moved to the boy’s side. “You coming to the church program on Sunday night?”

“Naw, got better things to do. Got something really special planned.”

“I’m going to sing,” she added enticingly, now she was more begging than just giving him information on the program. He approved of her approach, but he still couldn’t go. There was something far more important calling him.

“And you’ll do great,” he mumbled, “but, like I said, there are things I got to do.”

“Fine,” she replied in a huff. Then her tone changing, she added, “but it would mean a lot to me if you’d come. So please try.”

He didn’t understand why she cared about him. He couldn’t grasp why she continued to reach out to him. Maybe it was true that good girls liked bad boys. Who knew? So, though he had no intention of stepping into her church or any other on Sunday night or any other day, he nodded.

“Jimmy,” Audrey’s sweet voice pulled his eyes back to hers, “even if you don’t come. You have a Merry Christmas.”

Shaking his head, Jimmy laughed, “Christmas is for kids. I don’t need it and don’t like it. I don’t care if it ever comes. Just another day and not a very good one either!”

The smile drained from her face as quickly as a solitary raindrop evaporated in the scorching August sun. Pushing her hair over the shoulders of her coat she said, “I don’t understand. Everyone likes Christmas and on top of that everyone is home this year.” The words hovered in the cool air like a dark cloud. She probably knew the moment she spoke them she’d opened a wound too painful to contemplate much less talk about. Yet words can’t be unspoken, and they rarely disappear as quickly as they were said. And so, her words hovered just out of her reach for moments too long to count.

Turning his face back toward the old school bus, Jimmy chewed on Audrey’s observation. She’d opened a large door to a place where no one would have thought him rude to lash out at the girl. If the superintendent, or a teacher, or even one of his friends had spit out what she’d just said, he’d have jumped on them. But this was Audrey, she was incapable of pouring salt in a wound. It wasn’t her nature. So, after taking a deep breath, he said, “Christmas was OK when I was a kid, but that was before the war.”

Moving two steps closer, Audrey placed her right hand delicately on his shoulder and whispered, “What I said was stupid. I’m sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry for,” he mumbled, once more digging his hands deeply into his pockets. After all, she was not the one that had changed everything. She had no part in it. Christmas had once been wonderful for him too. There were still bittersweet memories that were etched in the fabric of his mind. He and his father had always gone out into the woods to find and cut a tree, drag it into the house, and laugh about a host of different things. And they had strung popcorn while Jimmy’s mother pulled out old decorations and hung them on the tree. After their turkey dinner and a dessert of homemade pecan pie, his dad had pulled out his Gibson guitar and for more than an hour they sang every carol they knew, many three and four times. And they always ended with “Silent Night,” his dad explaining the story behind the song before they sang all the verses. Finally, just before bed, Jimmy’s mother picked up his father’s well-worn Bible and read from Luke about Jesus’ birth while Jimmy moved their hand-carved nativity scene across the coffee table to match her words. But the war changed most of that. Yes, the nativity scene was still on the table, they still cut and decorated the tree but the guitar remained propped against the wall, as did the innocent joy that had once defined those December days. And it wasn’t just Christmas it changed, though the wounds might hurt the worst on December 25, in truth the war had altered everything.

“Jimmy,” Audrey’s voice brought him back from the past to 1945. “You OK?”

“Yeah,” he said, straightening his shoulders and forcing a smile.

“Your dad,” she assured him, her hand still lingering on his shoulder, her light touch pushing through the coat and into his heart, “was a great man.”

It was funny, Jimmy had once used those same words to describe Robert Reed. He’s boasted to his friends, including Audrey, that his father would lick the Japs all by himself. Back then, he supported that bragging by quoting from long, handwritten letters he and his mother had received from the Pacific Front. When he told what was in those communications, his friends hovered around Jimmy at the lunch table awed by the fact a Marine from their small town was fighting the Japanese in places they’d never heard of.

But all the bragging abruptly stopped in May 1942. Jimmy had just gotten home from school and was headed out to gather the eggs when he noted the dusty black truck pull into their long dirt lane. An old man he’d never seen, dressed in a dark blue uniform, got out of the vehicle and marched past Jimmy without saying a word or even acknowledging his existence. The stranger paused for a moment at the base of the porch, taking off his hat and smoothing his gray hair, then slowly, as if he was carrying a back-breaking load, climbed the three steps to the home’s landing, and, only after taking a deep breath, knocked lightly on the weathered front door. A few moments later, Jimmy’s mother, dressed in a blue flower print dress half-covered by a yellow apron, appeared. It seemed strange she said nothing or even smiled; rather she simply stepped out and nodded as if she knew what the visitor wanted. He didn’t speak either. Instead, he just pushed a shaky hand clutching a light brown envelope toward the woman. That simple action was just like turning the sound knob down on a radio; everything was suddenly tomb quiet. Marge Reed studied that envelope for almost thirty seconds, then, after wiping her hands on her apron, finally took it. No, now as he recalled those moments he realized she really didn’t take it; it was more as if she accepted it, because she knew she had no choice.

Jimmy stood mute and confused as his mother pushed her auburn hair back off her forehead and took a seat in the porch swing. She stared off toward the pond for several minutes, long enough for the Western Union representative to start his old Ford truck and head back down the Reed’s quarter-mile lane to U.S. Highway 62. It was only after the vehicle had disappeared over the hill in the direction of Agnos that she finally took a deep breath and gently tore open the communication. The thirty-year-old woman studied the message on the yellow paper briefly before setting it carefully down on the swing. Showing no emotion, she resolutely pulled herself to her feet and silently walked back through the front door, closing it gently behind her. It was only when Jimmy heard her rattling the pots on the stove that he stole from the yard, climbed up onto the porch, and moved quietly over to the swing. Picking up the telegram, he glanced at the message. It began simply enough, “We regret to inform you . . .” Those words were all that was needed for an adult to know how the story ended, but it was not enough for a thirteen-year-old boy. So he read on, “. . . that Private Robert J. Reed was killed in action while fighting in the Philippines.” He read no more before dropping the telegram onto the porch’s wooden planks and racing off into the woods. He would stay there, tears burning his eyes and streaming down his face, until the sun went down and he came home a much different person than he had been just hours before.

That news changed everything. From that day forward there would be no more letters from overseas and there was suddenly no pride in being the son of a Marine. The news of the war, which had once drawn him like a moth to a flame, was now avoided.

My Book Review:

In December 1945, Americans were celebrating the end of World War II, peace once again reigns throughout the world, and the attention swung towards the joyous Christmas holiday season. But for sixteen year old Jimmy Reed of Ash Flat, Arkansas, Christmas is a dark day full of loss, grief, pain, and anger. The holiday that once had been wonderful for him, now holds only bittersweet memories.

Jimmy's dad, Marine Private Robert Reed was killed in action while fighting in the Philippines in May 1942. On December 24, 1942, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions, but Jimmy doesn't consider his dad a hero because he didn't come home from the war like the other soldiers have. To Jimmy, the medal was not a symbol of heroism and honor, it was a symbol of his personal loss. To add insult to injury, this medal would forever cast a cloud over Christmas for Jimmy. Jimmy's mom, Marge, began a new holiday tradition that was most painful to Jimmy, she replaced the gold star that sat atop their Christmas Tree with the medal, setting off a change in Jimmy that would effect every facet of his life. From that day forward, Jimmy's attitude toward everything changed, he has a chip on his shoulder, and he begins to lash out and is heading down the wrong path. Jimmy starts to hang out with the wrong crowd who lead him astray with dangerous and illegal activities. The bitterness and hatred Jimmy feels for the holiday causes him to form a plan to make the holiday a memorable one that everyone would remember. But in a span of three days, from December 21-24, 1945, with the help of some special people and a Christmas miracle, Jimmy will learn lessons that will change his life forever.

The Christmas Star is a poignant and inspirational story that will simply touch your heart. Author Ace Collins weaves a heartwarming tale set in the post World War II era of December 1945, in the small southern town of Ash Flat, Arkansas. Written in the third person narrative, rich in detail and vivid descriptions of a nostalgic time in our country's history, the reader is transported into the world of sixteen year old Jimmy Reed. Jimmy is having a very hard time coping with the loss of his father, his bitterness and pain washes over into the Christmas holiday when the family receives Robert Reed's posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor, and causes Jimmy to react in a way that sets him in a downward spiral. The author engages the reader to step into Jimmy's shoes and feel his pain, while he embarks on a three day emotional journey from December 21-24, 1945, that will teach him lessons, provide him with a new perspective towards his father, and a Christmas miracle that will change his outlook on the holiday and life in general. The author does a wonderful job of describing how Jimmy comes to terms with his loss with the message of hope and faith that comes out of the darkest of places during this magical and joyful time of the year.

With an engaging cast of characters; realistic dialogue and interactions; wonderful nostalgic descriptions of the post war time period and classic Christmas songs; and a moving storyline with enough twists and turns that draws the reader in and keeps them captivated; The Christmas Star is an inspirational and warm Christmas classic that will be embraced and enjoyed by everyone.



  1. Wow, you really know how to make a review stand out...thanks for all you do, Kathleen!

    1. Hi Dorothy! Thank you for the kind comment, and for the opportunity to read, review and host this virtual book tour event. :)