Monday, September 29, 2008

The Miracle Girls by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card authors are:


and their book:


THE MIRACLE GIRLS

FaithWords (September 8, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHORs:


Anne was born in San Jose, California, where she wasted her childhood playing Nintendo and watching The Facts of Life. Eventually, she went off to Princeton where she learned many important things, including how to recognize a kumquat. Four years and a useless degree later, she landed a job at Random House, where she promptly got bored and applied to graduate school, trained for a marathon, and reminisced about her days as a competitive finswimmer. A few years later, a blond guy showed up at her door with power tools and gazpacho. They live in Brooklyn. An editor by day, she enjoys bad horror movies, good cheese, and Count Chocula.

May grew up in Panama City, Florida, otherwise known as the Redneck Riviera. She graduated from Baylor University in Waco, TX and went on to get earn her MA in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. After living in Brooklyn for four years and working at Random House as an Assistant Editor, Vanderbilt moved to fabulous San Francisco, putting an end to her long tour of undesirable cities. May is a Southern girl who is always on the search for decent grits in the Bay Area and makes artisanal cheese at home.

Together, they are the authors of Emily Ever After, Consider Lily, and The Book of Jane. Their next book, Breaking Up is Hard to do (Miracle Girls Series #2), will be released soon.

Visit the authors at their website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (September 8, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446407550
ISBN-13: 978-0446407557

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


I'm not even surprised when Mr. Mackey announces a pop quiz in Algebra 2. That's just the kind of day I'm having. No, scratch that. It's the kind of life I'm having.

I was happy in San Jose. It's a real city. I had friends there. But this summer my dad moved us to Half Moon Bay to open his own law practice, and my early conclusion is: this place is lame, lame, lame. The people here wouldn't know a decent person if she walked right up to them and said, "Hi, decent person here." Trust me, I thought about doing it.

And even though I've been going to school here for three weeks, I can feel in my bones that today is going to be my worst day yet. I mean, look how it all started out. This morning I overheard Maria telling my mom she has lupus, and that's why she's been sick so much. I wasn't supposed to hear, but the walls in our brand-spanking-new Easy-Bake Castle are so thin you can fall through just by leaning against them. That's what Mom and Dad get for buying a McMansion in Ocean Colony. (It's really called that. I gag every time I see the sign at the gates.) I don't know what lupus is, but I'm pretty sure it's deadly.

Maria may be just the housekeeper to my parents, but to me she's like a second mother, the non- crazy one, the one who doesn't spend her life decorating and redecorating our house, the one who actually gets what I'm going through in this town.

Then, when Dad dropped me off, I noticed a run in my tights, which only got bigger when I had to take them off and put them back on again in PE. (It's not like we really needed to suit up to be herded into the gym, sit still, and learn the rules of volleyball anyway, so the enlargement was entirely pointless.) Next, I found out my Key Club meeting at lunch had been canceled because the adviser, Mrs. Galvin, was sick, which means I didn't have to spend all last night drawing up proposals for service projects after all. Instead, I could have taken a little extra time to make sure I understood polynomials. But, of course, I didn't do that, so naturally we're being tested on them today.

Mr. Mackey begins to write the first problem on the whiteboard, and I copy it onto my paper carefully. The soft click of the clock hands sweeping around the face is almost drowned out by the furious scratching of pencils.

My dad's colleagues seem to think it's impressive that I'm in Algebra 2 as a freshman. I used to think so. Back in San Jose, I was always a year ahead of everyone else in my class in math and was even given a special tutor last year to learn geometry in eighth grade, but it turns out here in Half Moon Bay there are a lot of freshmen who took geometry last year. It was a lot more fun being in advanced math when it made me special. Now it's just a lot of work.

Math has always been hard for me. I can breeze through a novel in an evening and remember history timelines until my eyes roll back in my head, but even though I like numbers, they don't like me back.

Which, I guess, I should be used to. I glance at Tyler, but he's already crouched over his paper, his curly blond hair falling over his forehead. Tyler's a sophomore, and he's the lead singer in a band called Three Car Garage. He doesn't know I'm alive.

I sigh, then lean over to start working when I hear rustling behind me. I shoot a quick glance over my shoulder in time to see Riley McGee shove something into her purse. She sees me watching her and gives me a big fake smile, then pulls out a mechanical pencil. Sketchy. I turn back to my test, shaking my head. She wouldn't really . . . would she?

Okay, Ana. Focus. You're just trying to solve for X. I stare at the problems, trying to figure out the first step. The tricky thing is that X is different every time. And I don't like change. I like things to happen when and how they're supposed to.

I make a tentative mark on my paper, then hear a soft thud behind me. I sneak a peek under my arm and see that Riley has knocked her pencil onto the floor. I watch as she picks it up, then peeks into her bag. She grabs something, frowns at it, then shoves it back into the bottom of her bag and quickly sits up and starts to write.

She really would. Huh. I wondered how she got such a good grade on the last test. I should have known.

Riley McGee is a cheerleader and the most popular freshman in school. In my short time here, she's been rumored to be dating two different first-string football players. That's almost one upperclassman a week. Not exactly the kind of freshman you'd expect to find in Algebra 2. Thankfully, I've totally got her beat because for one thing, I've got a brain. Math may not come easily to me, but I work my butt off to get good grades and so far that has worked pretty well. I intend to walk out of this dump in four short years as valedictorian.

Riley peers into her bag again and smirks at what she finds. Isn't cheating hilarious?

What do I do? I didn't exactly see her cheat, but that's definitely what she's doing. I say a quick prayer for wisdom, then turn back to my paper. It wouldn't be nice to call her out in public. I'll just hang around after class for a minute and mention something quietly to Mr. Mackey. It's kind of sad, considering that I saw her at church on Sunday. I would have expected her to have a little more integrity, cheerleader or not.

"Five more minutes, my little mathletes," Mr. Mackey says, looking up from The Big Impossible Book of Advanced Sudoku. Old Mackey. He's almost as big around as he is tall and has the bushiest eyebrows I've ever seen. He's very weird, but I kind of like him.

I look back at my paper. Is it possible that X is zero? That always seems to be what happens when something doesn't make sense. It's like this joke the universe has—it's this little squiggle that means nothing (literally), and it makes everything around it meaningless, too. I resist the temptation to make another comparison to my life and move on to the second problem. Maybe this one's easier.

"Three minutes," Mackey says from behind his book. I quickly scratch out as much as I can on the rest of the quiz. It's not going to be pretty. I'll have to see if Mr. Mackey will let me do some extra credit to make up for this or it's going to seriously drag down my average. And I have to get an A. I just have to.

That's when I hear it again. Riley is looking at something in her bag, and she is definitely smiling about it. I turn around and stare at her. She writes something quickly, then looks up at me, rolls her eyes, and looks down at the quiz. Okay, that's it. Youth group or no, she can't get away with this. It's not right. Jesus would stand up for what's right. I raise my hand.

"Ana, do you have a question?" Mr. Mackey nods at me.

"Mr. Mackey—" I take a deep breath and slowly lower my hand—"I saw someone cheating on the pop quiz." I turn around to face Riley, righteous indignation washing over me. Someone behind me coughs, but it sounds like they're saying something under their breath.

"I did not cheat!" Riley screeches, her blue eyes wide. Riley is only a few inches taller than me, but it's enough to make her kind of intimidating.

"Oh really?" Mr. Mackey asks, cocking his eyebrow at me, then looking at Riley. "That's a serious accusation to make, Ana."

"I know, sir," I say as calmly as I can. I look around and notice that everyone is staring at me. I feel my face turning bright red. I hate this school. "But I saw her do it. She has the answers in her purse." Even as the words come out of my mouth, I'm wondering if maybe this wasn't the best way to handle the situation. Maybe this isn't what Jesus would do after all. It's hard to tell sometimes.

Someone coughs again, and this time I think I hear what they're saying: "God Girl." Who are they talking to?

Riley is looking at me like she could tear out my eyeballs. I lean back just in case she decides to go for it.

"I don't have anything in my purse!" she says, placing her hands on her hips and flipping her long blond hair over her shoulder.

Well, now I look like a fool. I have to show Mr. Mackey I'm right or I'll always be that girl who accused Riley. That'll do wonders for the friend search. I reach toward her chocolate brown bag. The nerve.

"Get away from my bag," she yells, grabbing it and hugging it to her chest as she stands up.

"Mr. Mackey, if I could just look in her bag, I could prove it," I say quickly, but Mr. Mackey is already walking toward us with anger in his eyes.

"Ladies, that's enough." He steps between us. "Riley, return to your seat." He looks at her, and she reluctantly sits down again. "For this little outburst, you'll both be in detention this afternoon."

"But—" Riley starts, but Mr. Mackey holds up his hand and continues.

"Ana, I'd like to see you after class."

"Just me?" What about her?! I glare at Riley, and she rolls her eyes at me. Mr. Mackey nods. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Tyler smirk.

"Now, please pass your quizzes to the front and open your books to page seventy- three," he says, turning away, indicating that the subject is closed. I take a deep breath, trying to hold back tears. She's the one who cheated!

I try to pay attention as Mr. Mackey goes on and on about factoring polynomials, but I can't focus on what he's saying. Detention. I've never had detention in my life. Does that go on your permanent record? I bet Princeton doesn't let in people with detentions on their records.

This never would have happened at my old school. Teachers there loved me and knew that I was going somewhere. Teachers here seem to think I'm headed straight to San Quentin. I've been here less than a month, and I'm already an outcast.

Finally the bell rings, and everyone around me throws their books into their bags. They're off to the grab food at the snack bar and sit on the smooth green hillsides and concrete steps that surround the school. There's no cafeteria here, but there are lots of places all over campus where groups of friends gather to eat. Someone coughs "God Girl" one more time, and though I'm not sure where it comes from, I know who it's directed at. I have to face that I have earned a nickname at my new school. Just great. I'm really going to miss being invisible.

Riley doesn't say a word to me as she walks by. I sit still, looking down at the fake wood grain on the smooth desktop in front of me. Engraved in the desk is a message for me: "Die, maggot."

I glance out the window and see people gathering together. Maybe it's good that Mackey is holding me after class. There are only so many times you can pretend not to care that you're eating alone, and it's not like I have anywhere to be, thanks to the Key Club meeting being canceled. Guidance counselors will tell you that joining clubs looks good on your college applications, but what they don't tell you is that it also gives you somewhere to go at lunch.

Slowly, the sound of voices begins to disappear, and locker doors stop slamming shut. Mr. Mackey walks over to the empty desk in front of me and sits down, turning to face me.

"Ana?" His eyes are narrowed, and he looks at me with what seems like concern. "You're doing well in this class." I nod and stare back down at my desk. Die, maggot, it tells me again. "You're doing exceptionally well for a freshman." I swallow. Where is he going with this? "But Riley— " he clears his throat and looks around, as if worried someone might overhear what he's about to say— "Riley has the highest grade in this class." My mouth hangs open in shock. Riley has the highest grade in the class?! "She hasn't missed a question yet."

I shut my mouth, for fear I might be attracting flies. "But see," I say, sitting up indignantly. "She must get the good grades by cheating. How else could she . . ."

"She's— " He coughs, and I hear phlegm rattle in his lungs. "She's quite good at math. Always has been. Teachers have been after her to join the math team for years, but she won't. I'm afraid she wasn't cheating on today's quiz."

"But she was looking at something in her bag!" I know I'm starting to sound a little hysterical, but I can't be wrong about this. I just can't. How could she be beating me?

"She was using her phone." He coughs. "To . . . what do they call it? Texting? She was texting."

"But . . ." But what? But how could he see that from all the way across the room? And cell phones aren't allowed at school. If he saw her, why didn't he stop her? How can it be true?

"That's why you both have detention," he says before I can say anything. "I just made up the quiz questions before class, so there's no way she could have had the answers hidden in her bag."

I gulp.

"I know you were only trying to do what's right today, Ana," he says, nodding at me. "So you'll serve the detention for disrupting the class, and then we'll put this behind us, okay?"

I look up at his bushy eyebrows and nod, biting my tongue to hold back the tears. The injustice of it all is overwhelming.

"Keep up the good work, Ana," he says, and I nod, looking down at my hands. He waits, but I don't move. "You're free to go now," he says, coughing again, as if I didn't get it the first time. Slowly, I stand up. I carefully place my book and notepad into my bag, looking down so he won't see the tears welling up in my eyes. He watches me as I walk toward the door and step out into the cool air.


Copyright © 2008 by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt

"This article is used with the permission of Hachette Book Group and Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt. All rights reserved."



Here is my review of this amazing novel for teens:

Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt have penned an incredibly moving novel in “The Miracle Girls.” This book grabbed me from the first paragraph. Make that the second paragraph. I’ve been there – many years ago – moved cross-country by parents during crucial formative and social years. I wish I would have had books like this when I was a teen. This novel is full of strong teenage faith lived out against a backdrop of real issues. That is something I find to be a wonderful example to my teenagers.

The authors’ voice is fresh – or should that be “voices”? I’m always amazed when writers team up to create a novel like this without it sounding choppy. This novel would be enjoyable for teens and young adults and those of us who are way beyond our “wonder years”, but like to reminisce. I highly recommend this book.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Forgotten Gospel by Mark McGrath



Mark's Practical Thoughts on Evangelism



Most of us are surrounded by people we care about, people we'd love to see respond to the gospel. We can readily picture the faces of immediate and extended family members, neighbors, friends and coworkers as we pray.

Sadly, studies show that a large percentage of us are not actively sharing their faith with these loved ones. We've become the silent victims of a widespread outbreak of Evangelism Avoidance.

Evangelism Avoidance can be traced to a number of causes:




  • We feel inadequate. While most of us know we have a responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission, the thought of sharing their faith makes most of us feel inadequate, unprepared and just plain nervous. And public speaking - even to an audience of two - just compounds the problem.


  • We don't want to mess things up. We know the stakes are high and that many of the people we care about have some pretty negative ideas about Christianity and some negative experiences with pushy bible-bashing Christians. We don't want add to the problem and we don't want to alienate our friends and family.


  • People don't understand what we are saying. Using words like "God," "sin" and "saved" in conversations produces quizzical looks or outright laughter. There might have been a shared understanding of these concepts twenty to thirty years ago, but they've been abandoned by today's diverse culture.


  • We don't know what to say. And although times have changed, the popular approaches to sharing the Gospel have not. We find ourselves still trying to convince listeners of their sinfulness, creating an antagonistic, counterproductive atmosphere that's perceived as judgmental and prevents on-going conversations.

    But even a quick reading of the Book of Acts shows that New Testament believers didn't share this struggle. What was their secret? A Forgotten Gospel explores that secret.


  • While preparing to teach his own church the basics of evangelism, church-planting pastor Mark McGrath noticed that the popular evangelism methods he'd learned were very different from those used in the Book of Acts.


  • Digging further, he saw that our modern gospel-presentation methods are largely based on explanations from the New Testament epistles, which are written to those who already believe.


  • Continuing his inventory of New Testament encounters revealed a pattern: Every gospel presentation delivered in the Book of Acts contained the same essential elements and emphasized one central theme.


  • Furthermore, he discovered that by following the example of the New Testament believers and sharing the Gospel with the same elements and the same theme, new doors were opened and people were much more willing to engage in honest conversations about their faith.

    Over the years, Christians have done a lot of thinking and re-thinking about evangelism. We've moved away from the more confrontational approaches, moved away from the crusade type of evangelism and the "drive-by gospel shooting" approaches where we blitz an area with the 'gospel' and then go home. We've discovered we need to practice what we preach, care about people before preaching at them. We've learned to serve the world around us and be friends with them in the hope of having a chance to see them come to faith. But something is still missing!

    "Faith comes by hearing..." No one can catch faith, like the flu. Someone has to share the Gospel with him or her. Hearing requires someone to do the speaking! And that is what makes us nervous all over again. No matter how much we care, how much we serve, what type of friend we've become, we will need to share the Gospel with our friends, and we are back at square one again. There is a better way.

    Today, Mark McGrath is teaching this easily remembered, New Testament method of evangelism to students on university campuses, as well as to churches in the U.S. and England. In A Forgotten Gospel, he shows believers how to use this same flexible approach to effectively communicate the gospel to their friends.

    No longer will caring believers wonder what to say or how to say it. By following the conversational approach explained in A Forgotten Gospel, they'll be cured of Evangelism Avoidance. And they'll be ready to clearly and confidently share the Gospel without alienating friends and loved ones.




About the Book:

Just hearing the word “evangelism” conjures up images of Bible-toters going door-to-door spreading the Good News. Most non-believers avoid answering the door, or feel strong-armed if they do get caught in the net called “witnessing.” Even most Christians become nervous at the thought of evangelism. Why? Because they have been guilted into believing they are somehow “less than” if they do not follow a specific pattern of what some call soul-winning. The thing is, the Good News sounds an awful lot like bad news, starting with, “You must acknowledge you are a sinner.” This is off-putting for the one witnessing as well as the non-believer.

Today’s culture presents challenges to sharing the gospel that were not present 20 to 30 years ago. Why create an antagonistic atmosphere that can be perceived as judgmental? It only shuts the door to the opportunity for future conversations.

Isn’t there a better way? A Forgotten Gospel presents a pattern that ordinary Christians can use to share Christ without alienating friends, loved ones and co-workers. Author Mark McGrath studied every instance a Christ-follower shared the gospel to a non-believer in Acts, and found some common denominators. Interesting, these factors are not found in most patterns for evangelism. A Forgotten Gospel shows believers how to present the gospel using a relevant biblical pattern with a flexible, conversational approach. The old models don’t hold up in today’s fast-paced, post-modern society.

About the Author:

Building on 25 years of church-planting experience—with churches started in New York, New Jersey and Great Britain—Mark McGrath, President of McGrath Communications Group, brings a unique blend of professional communications skills training and passionate commitment to developing effective church leaders. Mark conducts evangelism training with several national Campus ministries at Rutgers University in New Jersey and has launched an updated version of both the weekend and small group evangelism seminars he developed. These seminars are available to churches across the U.S.




What Others are Saying

In A Forgotten Gospel, Mark McGrath has taken the truth of the Gospel that "everything hinges on the resurrection of Jesus Christ" and made it simple for today's contemporary world. Many others died on a cross, but none of them are alive today! Jesus Christ is the king, and he wants our friends to know Him and let Him lead their lives. McGrath gives a new, fresh and yet scriptural approach to the Gospel that makes it easy to share our faith in Christ with our friends and family and then still have meaningful conversations afterwards. Presenting his material has started to encourage my students that they too can share Jesus with the people they live with while still calling them close friends.

Tony Yuhas
Campus Staff for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Rutgers University



Over twenty years ago we embraced the radical change Mark describes here in A Forgotten Gospel and it has completely altered both the approach to and the effect of our outreach. Because this approach coaches people to know how to engage in meaningful conversations with unbelievers, and how to keep the door open for future dialogue, the number of meaningful conversations with non-believers has increased, the level of our relationships with them has deepened, and the church is extremely confident when interacting with those outside the family of God. On top of that, the people who are now beginning to follow Jesus are coming with a genuine faith and real commitment! Whether you have a heart for evangelism or a fear of evangelism, this book is a must read.

John Singleton
Director of LifeLine Network International




I like this! And I'll tell you why.

It's clear and simple. It's positive, like the gospel. It's full of hope. It's free of religious jargon.

McGrath's desire to make the resurrection of Jesus the central aspect of our communication of the gospel to those who need it is right on! Sounds a lot like the book of Acts.

I especially appreciate his emphasis on learning to listen to others and showing real concern for them and their thoughts. His insistence on being sensitive to the voice of God is extremely important. His whole approach is well-balanced and he writes from a broad experience. Very encouraging, indeed!

Orville Swindoll
Missionary in Argentina for 32 years. Author of several books in Spanish and English. Founder and director of two Spanish-language magazines for Christians. Fifty-seven years of Gospel ministry, and married to the same woman for over 55 years. Four children. Nineteen grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. Pastor of a Hispanic church in Miami, Florida.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sunset by Karen Kingsbury



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card author is:


and her book:


Sunset (Sunrise Series-Baxter 3, Book 4)

Tyndale House Publishers (September 23, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Karen Kingsbury is currently America's best-selling inspirational author. She has written more than 30 of her Life-Changing Fiction titles and has nearly 5 million books in print. Dubbed by Time magazine as the Queen of Christian Fiction. Her fiction has made her one of the country's favorite storytellers, and one of her novels-Gideon's Gift-is under production for an upcoming major motion picture release. Her emotionally gripping titles include the popular Redemption series, the Firstborn series, Divine, One Tuesday Morning, Beyond Tuesday Morning, Oceans Apart, and A Thousand Tomorrows.Karen and her husband, Don, live in the Pacific Northwest and are parents to one girl and five boys, including three adopted from Haiti.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (September 23, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0842387587
ISBN-13: 978-0842387583

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


John Baxter had dreaded this day with everything in him, but the knock at the door told him the time had come. It was the last Tuesday in January, Christmas far behind them and long past time to take this step. He’d made the decision more than a year ago, and now he needed to carry through with it.

“Coming . . .” He walked from the kitchen to the front door and opened it.

“John.” Verne Pick nodded. He was a friend from church whose kids were involved with CKT, and he had a reputation for being one of the best, most thorough Realtors in Bloomington. His expression told John that he knew this was going to be a rough day. “You ready?”

He steeled himself. “I am.” He opened the heavy wooden door and welcomed the man inside. “Let’s move to the kitchen table.” John had brewed a pot of coffee, and he poured cups for both of them.

They made small talk, and after a few minutes, Verne pulled a folder from his briefcase. “We have a standard questionnaire we need to deal with first.”

John blinked, and a memory came over him. When Elizabeth died, it had taken every bit of his strength to walk through the planning of her service. But he remembered this one detail: The young woman from the funeral home who helped him with the process had presented every question couched in concern, as if she wanted to apologize for each step of the ordeal. That’s exactly how Verne was now, his brow raised as he waited for a response.

John motioned to the two closest chairs. “Let’s get the questions out of the way.”

“Okay.” Verne opened the folder and took out the document on top. He drew a long breath. “I guess we better talk about the fire first. It’s bound to come up.”

“Right. Just a minute.” John went to the next room and found a folder on the desk. He brought it back and set it on the table in front of his friend. “The garage has been completely redone, and all the repair work was signed off. Everything’s in the folder.”

“Good.” Verne lifted his chin and sniffed a few times. “No smell of smoke?”

“Not at all.”

“The place is really something.” Verne’s smile was tentative. “Should have it sold by summer, I’m guessing.”

“Yes.” A bittersweet sense of pride welled in John’s chest. “It’s a great house. Held up well through the years even with the fire.”

Verne settled in over the paperwork. “I’ve got some of this filled out already. Let’s do the basics first.” He lifted his gaze, pen poised over the top sheet. “Number of bedrooms?”

John pictured them the way they’d looked twenty years ago. He and Elizabeth in the large room at one side of the house upstairs. Brooke and Kari across from each other at the south end of the hall, Luke in the next bedroom on the left, and Ashley and Erin sharing a room at the north end. He pushed away the memory. “Five.” He took a quick sip of coffee. “Five bedrooms.”

The interview wore on, each question stirring another set of memories and reasons why he couldn’t believe he was selling the place. When they reached the end of the document, Verne bit his lower lip. “The tour comes next. I need to measure each room, get an official square footage.”

“The tour?” John looked toward the stove, and he could almost see Elizabeth standing near the kettle. “John’ll give you the tour,” she would say when company came over. “He’s so proud of the place—I like to let him do it.”

“Sure.” John gave his friend a smile. “Let’s start in the living room.”

They worked their way from one part of the house to the next, and as they went, Verne pulled out his measuring tape and captured the length of the walls.

John remained quiet. He wasn’t seeing his friend taking matter-of-fact measurements of the house he so loved. He was seeing Elizabeth, rocking their babies, Ashley learning to walk, Brooke bringing in a bird with a broken wing, and Kari screaming because she thought it might attack her. He could hear the piano, filling the house with hour after hour of not-quite-perfect songs during the years when the kids took lessons, and he could see the grandkids gathered around their tree each Christmas.

Whatever the square footage of the house, it couldn’t possibly measure what these walls had seen or the memories housed here.

They finished the final room, and Verne closed the folder. “Well, that’s about it. Just one more thing and I can get back to the office and list it.” He walked toward the front of the house. “I’ll get what I need from the car.”

John followed him into the entryway, and when he was alone, he slumped against the doorframe. For a heartbeat, he felt like he was no longer attached to his body. What was he doing, selling the house? Certainly one of his kids should’ve wanted it, right? He had six of them in the area, after all. But John had already asked each of them. Brooke and Peter liked the house they lived in because it was easy for Hayley and comfortable. “We have our own memories here,” Brooke had told him. “The Baxter place would be much too big for us.”

Kari had felt the same way about having her own memories. Ryan had designed the log house they lived in, and it had a sort of rugged lodge feel both Kari and Ryan loved.

Ashley had been a possibility at first. She had told him a number of times that she would love to raise the boys here, where she’d grown up. But she wasn’t painting enough to bring in regular money, and the mortgage on the house would be far beyond what Landon could afford, especially with their growing boys.

Once John had even considered calling Dayne, because it would’ve been nothing for him to loan Ashley and Landon the money—maybe at a lower rate or for a longer period of time.

But Ashley had begged him not to. “I don’t want Dayne to think of us like that, using him for his money.”

John could’ve argued with her, but there was no point, really. Ashley was right; the situation would have been awkward.

As for his other kids, Luke and Reagan needed to be close to Indianapolis for Luke’s job, and things were still very shaky between them. They’d found a nearby church, and John was encouraging them to get counseling at a local center. There was no way they’d be interested in moving again.

Last there were Erin and Sam. At first, when Erin called to announce that they were moving back to Indiana, John thought he had his answer, a way to keep the house in the family. But Sam worked long days, and Erin was busy with the kids. Upkeep on a house with acreage was more than they were willing to take on even for the sake of nostalgia. So they were out.

John wandered into the front room and peered through the window at Verne out front. Way down at the end of his driveway, his friend had taken a large For Sale sign from the back of his car. John’s heart swelled with frustration and futility as he watched Verne position the sign not far from the road. The Baxter house . . . for sale. John gritted his teeth and looked away. This was where he’d wanted to live out the rest of his days, so maybe he was wrong. Maybe this was all a mistake. He looked out the window again and narrowed his eyes.

No, there was no mistake in what he was doing. Living in this house into his twilight years meant sharing it with Elizabeth, and since she wasn’t here, the house could go. It had to. He and Elaine Denning were moving ahead with their plans to marry, and they needed a new place to begin their life together and—

The echo of a mallet against a stake resonated deep within him. It was barely loud enough to hear, but John knew the sound. He took a few steps closer to the window as Verne hammered the sign into the ground.

Why, God? Isn’t there some way to save the place?

In response there was only the sound of another blow, another strike of the mallet.

John winced as Verne finished the job. Yes, his years in the Baxter house were over. The time had come to move on, and with God’s help that’s what John would do. He gripped the windowsill and breathed in deeply the familiar smell of his home. He would survive letting go of this place, because he had no other choice.

Even if it all but killed him to say good-bye.

***

Ashley Baxter Blake flung open the bathroom window, braced herself against the sink, and stared at the mirror. Her hands trembled and her heart raced as she glanced at the clock on the bathroom counter—9:31 a.m. Okay, here goes. . . . She marked the second hand and stared at the mirror again. The next minute was bound to drag, and Ashley couldn’t make it go faster by watching the clock.

How could she have lied to herself for so long? She leaned closer, studying her look. Her makeup didn’t cover the dark circles under her eyes. She was dizzy and weary, drained from another morning of dry heaves, and no amount of fresh air staved off the nausea.

Through Christmas she had given herself a dozen reasons why she might be late—busyness and excitement during the holidays, running after Cole and Devin almost constantly, and the heartache of missing baby Sarah. It could take a year after losing a baby before her body found its normal routine of cycles. That’s what her doctor had told her. A year. It hadn’t been nearly that.

But she’d had just one period in the last four months, and finally Ashley had done what she thought about doing weeks ago. She bought a test, and now in less than a minute she’d know the truth. Not that she needed the test at this point. She touched her fingers gently to her abdomen. It wasn’t exactly bulging, but it was slightly rounded and firm, the way she’d always felt when she was in her first few months of pregnancy.

The difference was that every other time she had been ecstatic about maybe being pregnant, ready to rush to the drugstore for a test the moment she suspected she was a day or so late. Even in the weeks after losing Sarah, she and Landon had wanted nothing more than to try for another child. But somewhere along the journey of letting go of her daughter, Ashley had realized something deep within her.

She couldn’t lose another baby.

By God’s grace and with Landon by her side she’d survived losing Sarah, but another child? Ashley wasn’t sure she’d survive. The sound of her too fast heartbeat echoed against her temples, and she blinked at her image in the mirror. Standing here on the verge of having her answer, there was only one way to explain the way Ashley felt. She was terrified.

Her strange and new fears were impacting every area of her life—even her relationship with Landon. By now she should’ve told him about her suspicions, but she’d kept the possibility to herself. Every time she considered telling him, she stopped herself. If she told Landon, then she’d need to visit a doctor and go through the same steps as last time—the tests and ultimately the ultrasound. And that meant she had to be ready to handle the news that something could be wrong again. News she couldn’t face. Not yet anyway.

Besides if she told Landon too soon, he’d get his hopes up and then if . . . if something was wrong, they’d both be crushed. Almost as if by saying something she would instantly open the two of them to all the grim possibilities. Whereas by keeping her concerns to herself, she could avoid giving Landon a false sense of hope, avoid the doctor appointments, and most of all the dreaded ultrasound.

Ashley squinted at the test window. Was it her imagination or was a line forming down the center? The line that would confirm she was carrying another child? She closed her eyes and breathed in sharp through her nose. I can’t do it again, God. I can’t lose another baby. Please walk me through this.

Losing Sarah was the most wrenching pain she’d ever been through. Yes, she and Landon had found the miracle in Sarah’s brief life, and they would treasure forever the few hours they shared with her. But since then, she couldn’t walk past Sarah’s nursery without aching from the loss, couldn’t drive in the direction of the cemetery without seeing her painting, the one of her mother holding Sarah in a field of flowers in heaven.

She leaned hard against the bathroom countertop, her arms shaking. The doctor had said a repeat diagnosis of anencephaly wasn’t likely, but it was possible.

Landon must’ve known she was worried about having future children, because he’d brought up the subject only once since Christmas. “Do you think about it, Ash . . . having another baby?”

“At first. But lately I try not to.” Her voice had been kind, gentle. But fear put a sudden grip on her throat. “I couldn’t do it again. Go through what we went through with Sarah.”

Landon touched her cheek, her forehead. “My grandpa always told me God never gives us more than we can handle.”

“I know.” Ashley smiled, and in that instant she could see Sarah in her arms, feel that warm little body against her chest. She swallowed, trying to find the words. But they both dropped the subject.

Since then she’d talked briefly with Landon about her fears of having more children. But the truth was, somewhere along the days of pain and grief Ashley had formed a mind-set: better not to have more children than to face the possibility of losing another baby.

The thing was, in her life God had sometimes given her things that He must’ve known she’d survive, and she had indeed come through on the other side. God had always brought her closer to Himself through the process. But she was weary of the heartache, tired of the path of pain God sometimes led her down. If she were pregnant now, she would fight the fear of loss every morning, every hour between now and the birth of her baby. So maybe she hadn’t been crazy to deny the evidence of her body for this long. She simply wasn’t ready to face the sorrow that might be around the next corner.

More than a minute had passed, so whatever was in the test window would be visible by now. Ashley picked up the stick and looked at the two straight lines, both dark and pronounced, and the answer was instantly in front of her. No doubt whatsoever—she was pregnant. Fear tap-danced across the moment, but it was joined by an unexpected partner: the flicker of hope and joy. She was pregnant, and for now, no matter what might lay ahead, a brand-new life was growing inside her. The news was terrifying and thrilling at the same time.

Now it was merely a matter of finding the courage to tell Landon.


Copyright© 2008 by Karen Kingsbury. All rights reserved.






Here is my review of this final novel in the Baxter Family Series:

“Sunset” is a beautifully written novel by an incredible author. Karen Kingsbury brings the Baxter Family saga to a close in this fourth novel in the series. Although it is sad to say goodbye to these beloved characters, I have read that they will make up part of the background cast in another of Kingsbury’s book serieses. In this novel, Dayne and Katy are building their family – not without complications. John Baxter is moving on with his life after the death of his beloved wife – again, not without complications.

This novel reads okay as a standalone, but is so much better if you are already invested in the characters from previous stories in this series. There are some wonderful discussion questions in the back of the book for the reader to ponder or share with a reading group.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

And the winner of "Isolation" is...

The winner of the drawing for a copy of "Isolation" by Travis Thrasher is...



ladijo40@...



Congratulations, Jo! I have emailed you privately to obtain your mailing address. I hope you enjoy this wonderful suspense novel!

Character Issues

If I didn’t have them before, I believe I have them, now! "Character issues" - this was the reason I was given for my employment application being rejected during the background investigation process for a job I really wanted.

At first, this assessment shocked me. I have always believed that I possessed impeccable character! I believed this so deeply that this step in the hiring process didn’t cause me the least bit of concern.

Then I received their rejection and doubt set in. Did someone say something negative about me? Who could it have been? Did I do something that I neglected to disclose to my investigator? Did I NOT do something that I should have done?

Hurt mixed with anger appeared next. It didn’t help that “friends” tried to point fingers at everything and everyone in my life but me (and themselves, of course). I’ve learned that these people are not my true friends. They are like Job’s companions who didn’t glorify God because they advised him to curse the Heavenly Father and die. Take my advice and run as far and as fast as you can from these types of people. And as you are running, pray as hard as you can for them.

My healing began with true friends who expressed sympathy and made helpful and encouraging suggestions for securing employment elsewhere. I pray you know lots of these types of people. Those who will hug you and let you cry and they don’t need to say a word. Or even those who try to cheer you up and make you laugh because it hurts them to see you sad.

Not quite a week later, I can look in the mirror and admit that I DO have character issues! WE ALL DO! That is why Jesus died!!! If I had impeccable character as I arrogantly believed a week ago, I wouldn’t need a Savior! But I do. So do you. Have you asked Jesus to be the Lord of your life? What are you waiting for?

If you’ve decided to follow Christ, pray with me:

Jesus, I come to You today because I’m a sinner in need of a Savior. I admit that I do not have impeccable character and I need You to lead me in life. I know that You died for my sins, and I thank You. I also know that You rose from the dead and You have conquered death so I can live with You forever in heaven. Please come into my heart right now, and be the Lord of my life. In Your mighty name. Amen.

If you’ve just prayed, please contact a Christian friend or Pastor (or even me if you don’t have someone else) so that you can begin developing a wonderful relationship with Jesus.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Never Surrender *** A Soldier’s Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom by LTG (Ret.) William G. Boykin



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card author is:


and his book:


Never Surrender: A Soldier's Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom

FaithWords (July 29, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHORs:


Lieutenant General William "Jerry" Boykin served in a variety of posts during his 36-year career in the Army, most of them involving Delta Force and Special Forces. He is an original member of the Army's Delta Force. His last post was as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence in the Pentagon, overseeing the gathering and exploitation of intelligence during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Visit Lieutenant General Boykin's website.

Lynn Vincent is WORLD on the Web's features editor and the blog’s managing editor. She is the coauthor of two books. She covers news and politics, and most enjoys writing stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. A U.S. Navy veteran, wife, and mother of two boys, she and her family live in San Diego, California.

Visit Lynn's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $24.99
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (July 29, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446582158
ISBN-13: 978-0446582155

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

WASHINGTON, D.C., IS A FICKLE BEAST— especially in February. In that month, the world’s most powerful city can wrap itself in sheets of ice and dare folks to step outside. Or it can flirt a little, enticing with a false glimpse of spring. During the first week of February 2003, temperatures spiked into the fifties and I saw bureaucrats braving the Beltway in shirtsleeves when I arrived from Fort Bragg for an interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

I was a two- star Army general at the time— commander of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg— and the Army had nominated me for a third star. Here’s the way that works: Up through their second star, military officers advance in rank through promotion boards. But for any stars after that, the defense secretary has to submit a nomination to the President. Then the President has to endorse the nomination. Then the Senate has to confirm. That’s one more hoop than a Supreme Court justice has to jump through.


And Rumsfeld added another hoop: anyone nominated for a third star had to come in and interview with him personally. Which was why I made the trip to D.C. Rumsfeld was still in the media’s good graces then, which meant he was in America’s good graces. (The former, I would soon learn the hard way, is finely calibrated with the latter.) The Secretary had just overseen the U.S. military’s crushing defeat of the Taliban, the group U.S. intelligence identified as the primary backer of Osama Bin Laden’s September 11 attack. Now for some months, his attention had been tuned to a new target: Iraq. As Saddam Hussein pretended to cooperate with weapons inspections ordered by the United Nations Security Council, Rumsfeld, a former fighter pilot who served in Congress and under three presidents, sparred with the press over the Bush administration’s case for war. In the midst of all that, I walked into the Pentagon, just a routine item on the defense secretary’s daily calendar.

80052 i-x 001-358 r5k.indd 3 4/7/08 11:49:43 AM

N

The world’s largest office building, the Pentagon is built in five concentric rings. More than seventeen miles of corridors wind through the place, and I truly believe a person could wander for days and never find the office he was looking for. As I made my way to the inner sanctum, the powerful “E Ring” where the Secretary has his office, I remembered my first time there twenty- five years before. I had arrived just days after Iranian terrorists loyal to the radical cleric Ayatollah Khomeini seized the American embassy in Tehran. I was a young captain then, one of the first three officers to make the cut for America’s brand-new, highly secret counterterrorism unit, Delta Force. I could recall hunkering down for days in a cipher- locked secret room off the E Ring, helping plan Delta’s first mission— rescuing American hostages from Iran. I had done a Pentagon tour since then, but those tense, smoky sessions spent calculating against impossible odds were what flashed through my mind as I headed for Secretary

Rumsfeld’s office.

His senior military aide, Lieutenant General John Craddock, showed me into a large, dark- paneled executive space with a sweeping view of the Potomac and the Capitol complex beyond. Rumsfeld kept a large mahogany desk in his office, backed by a matching credenza. But there was no chair behind the desk. That’s because he never sat down while he worked. Instead, he did correspondence and paperwork behind an elegant chart table, standing up.

“General Boykin!” said Rumsfeld, striding toward me in his customary fleece vest. He always took off his jacket in his office, but thought the air conditioning chilly and usually wore a fleece vest over his shirt and tie.

“Thank you for coming in. Here, have a seat.”

He and I sat at a small circular conference table, opposite the stretch

conference table on the other side of the room. General Craddock sat down

on a sofa nearby. Rumsfeld flipped through my service record, which, because of my

career in Special Operations and intelligence, was classified. “You have a very interesting record here,” he said. “Spent a lot of years in Delta Force.” “Yes, sir,” I said. “About thirteen.” I had been a founding member of Delta Force, and later its commanding officer.

“You’ve spent most of your career in Special Operations?”49:43 AMN

“Yes, sir.

I did spend some time on the staff of the Joint Chiefs and some over at CIA, but most of my career has been in Special Ops.” With Delta, I oversaw both the rescue of CIA operative Kurt Muse from a Panamanian prison and the capture of Manuel Noriega, the brutal dictator who put him there. In Colombia, I helped hunt down the drug lord Pablo Escobar, a cruel and filthy-rich thug who terrorized a nation, personally ordering the deaths of more than a thousand people. The Secretary noted that I had also hunted war criminals in Bosnia, helped rescue hostage missionaries in Sudan, and tracked kidnappers in El Salvador. Among other things.


“You have two purple hearts,” Rumsfeld said. “Where’d you get those?”

“Grenada, 1983, and Mogadishu, Somalia, 1993.”

“You know, I still don’t understand that, how Mogadishu was considered

a failure,” he said. “When you consider the statistics, it appears to me

that we won that battle.”


“Well, that’s always been an issue with me,” I told the Secretary. I felt fairly certain Rumsfeld knew that the popular version of the events—both the book, Black Hawk Down, and the movie made from it— omitted my role as mission commander. “We killed or wounded eleven hundred, but lost eighteen and had seventy- six wounded. It’s an example of how you can win a battle and lose a war because of politics.”

“Yes, I agree with you,” Rumsfeld said, smiling grimly. “We’re dealing with some of that right now.”

Exactly thirty minutes after it began, my interview was politely terminated

by the Secretary. I walked out of his office and didn’t hear another word about our meeting for weeks. I was excited about the reason for the timing of my promotion. The chief of staff of the Army, General Rick Shinseki, had offered me a plum assignment as deputy commander of the Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Not only was it an opportunity to work directly with soldiers again, it was in the Tidewater region of Virginia, where my brother and sister and their kids lived. My wife, Ashley, and I had long wanted to buy a home in Virginia, with space for nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. The TRADOC assignment seemed like the ideal twilight tour— a low- key but productive way to wind up what would by then be a thirty- fi ve-year Army career. I immediately said yes.


Then, in late February at a military convention in Fort Lauderdale, Army vice chief of staff General Jack Keene walked up and put his hand on my shoulder. “Jerry, Secretary Rumsfeld told me he was very impressed with your interview. You did well.”

I was pleased. All the pieces appeared to be falling into place: it looked as if I’d be promoted to lieutenant general, serve my final Army tour in a command that would leave an important legacy for future troops, and retire to a house in the country. Perfect.

Or so it seemed at the time.





Here is my review of this incredible journey to freedom:

“Never Surrender *** A Soldier’s Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom” is a wonderful chronological history of a soldier’s journey to Christ. LTG (Ret.) William G. Boykin navigates his past amidst the backdrop of significant historical events to paint a picture of what true freedom really is.

The author is a former U.S. Army Special Forces Commander and is also the founding member of Delta Force. Only a man of his experience could so fully understand and tell this tale of salvation. I highly recommend this gripping autobiography.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

White Christmas Pie by Wanda Brunstetter



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card author is:


and her book:


White Christmas Pie

Barbour Publishing, Inc (September 1, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Fascinated by the Amish people during the years of visiting her husband's family in Pennsylvania, WANDA E. BRUNSTETTER combined her interest with her writing and now has eleven novels about the Amish in print, along with numerous other stories and ministry booklets. She lives in Washington State, where her husband is a pastor, but takes every opportunity to visit Amish settlements throughout the states.

Visit her at her website.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc (September 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1597899372
ISBN-13: 978-1597899376

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Three-Year-Old Girl Abandoned in Small Town Park.

A lump formed in Will Henderson’s throat as he stared  at the headline in the morning newspaper. Not another abandoned child!

The little girl had been left alone on a picnic table in a small Michigan town. She had no identification and couldn’t tell the officials anything more than her first name and the fact that her mommy and daddy were gone. While the police searched for the girl’s parents, she would be put in a foster home.

Will’s fingers gripped the newspaper. How could anyone abandon his own child? Didn’t the little girl’s parents love her? Didn’t they care how their abandonment would affect the child? Didn’t they care about anyone but themselves?

Will dropped the paper to the kitchen table and let his head fall forward into his hands as a rush of memories pulled him back in time. Back to when he was six years old. Back to a day he wished he could forget. . .


Will released a noisy yawn and rolled over. Seeing Pop’s side of the bed was empty, he pushed the heavy quilt aside, scrambled out of bed, and raced over to the window. When he lifted the dark green shade and peeked through the frosty glass, his breath caught in his throat. The ground and trees in the Stoltzfuses’ backyard were covered in white!

“Pop was right; we’ve got ourselves some snow!” Will darted across the room, slipped out of his nightshirt, and hurried to get dressed. He figured Pop must be outside helping Mark Stoltzfus do his chores.

When Will stepped out of the bedroom, his nose twitched, and his stomach rumbled. The tangy smell coming from the kitchen let him know that the Amish woman named Regina was probably making breakfast.

“It didn’t snow on Christmas like Pop said it would, but it’s sure snowin’ now!” Will shouted as he raced into the kitchen.

Regina Stoltzfus turned from the stove and smiled at Will, her dark eyes gleaming in the light of the gas lantern hanging above the table. “Jah, it sure is. It would have been nice if we’d had a white Christmas, but the Lord decided to give us some fluffy white stuff today, instead.”

Will wiggled his bare feet on the cold linoleum floor, hardly able to contain himself. “I can’t wait to play in the snow with Pop. Maybe we can build a snowman.” He rushed to the back door, stood on his toes, and peered out the small window. “Is Pop helpin’ Mark milk the cows?”

Regina came to stand beside Will. “Your dad’s not helping Mark do his chores this morning,” she said, placing one hand on his shoulder.

Will looked up at her and squinted. “He’s not?”

She shook her head.

“How come?”

“Didn’t you find the note he wrote you?”

“Nope, sure didn’t. Why’d Pop write me a note?”

Regina motioned to the table. “Let’s have a seat, shall we?” When she pulled out a chair, he plunked right down.

“After you went to bed last night, your dad had a talk with me and Mark,” she said, taking the seat beside him.

“What’d ya talk about? Did Pop tell ya thanks for lettin’ us stay here and for fixin’ us Christmas dinner yesterday?”

“He did say thanks for those things, but he said something else, too.”

“What’d he say?”

Regina’s eyes seemed to have lost their sparkle. Her face looked kind of sad. “Your dad said he would leave a note for me to read you, Will. Are you sure there wasn’t
a note on your pillow or someplace else in your room?”

“I didn’t see no note. Why would Pop leave a note for me?”

Regina touched his arm. “Your dad left early this morning, Will.”

“Left? Where’d he go?”

“To make his delivery, and then he—”

Will’s eyebrows shot up. “Pop left without me?”

She nodded. “He asked if we’d look after you while he’s trying to find a different job.”

Will shook his head vigorously. “Pop wouldn’t leave without me. I know he wouldn’t.”

“He did, Will. That’s why he planned to leave you a note—so you would understand why.”

Will jumped out of his chair, raced up the stairs, and dashed into the bedroom he and Pop had shared since they’d come to stay with Mark and Regina Stoltzfus a few days ago. There was no note on the pillow. No note on the dresser or nightstand, either. Will ran over to the closet and threw open the door. Pop’s suitcase was gone!


Will’s knee bumped against the table, bringing his thoughts back to the present.

He lifted his head and glanced down at Sandy, his honey-colored cocker spaniel, who stared up at him with soulful brown eyes. “Did you bump my leg, girl?”

Sandy whimpered in response.

Ever since Will had been a boy, he’d wanted a dog of his own, but Pop had said a dog wasn’t a good idea for people who lived in a semitruck as they traveled down the road. Papa Mark had seen the need for a dog, though. A few months after Will had come to live with Mark and Regina, he’d been given a cocker spaniel puppy. He had named the dog Penny because she was the color of a copper penny. Penny had been a good dog, but she’d died two years ago. Will had gotten another cocker spaniel he’d named Sandy. He’d bred the dog with his friend Harley’s male cocker, Rusty. Sandy was due to have her pups in a few weeks.

Sandy nudged Will’s leg again, and he reached down to pat her silky head. “Do you need to go out, girl, or are you just getting anxious for your hundlin to be born?”

Sandy licked his hand then flopped onto the floor with a grunt. Maybe she only wanted to keep him company. Maybe she felt his pain.

The lump in Will’s throat tightened as he fought to keep his emotions under control. A grown man shouldn’t cry over something that happened almost sixteen years ago. He’d shed plenty of tears after Pop had gone, and it had taken him a long time to come to grips with the idea that Pop wasn’t coming back to get him. Tears wouldn’t change the fact that Will had been abandoned just like the little girl in the newspaper. He wished there was a way he could forget the past—take an eraser and wipe it out of his mind. But the memories lingered no matter how hard he tried to blot them out.

Will’s gaze came to rest on the propane-operated stove where Mama Regina did her cooking. At least he had some pleasant memories to think about. Fifteen years ago, he had moved with Papa Mark and Mama Regina from their home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to LaGrange County, Indiana, where they now ran a dairy farm and health food store. On the day of that move, Will had made a decision: He was no longer English. He was happy being Amish, happy being Mama Regina and Papa Mark’s only son.

Now, as a fully grown Amish man, he was in love with Karen Yoder and looked forward to spending the rest of his life with her. They would be getting married in a few months—two weeks before Christmas. Will didn’t need the reminder that he had an English father he hadn’t seen in almost sixteen years. As far as he was concerned, Papa Mark and Mama Regina were his parents, and they would be the ones who would witness his and Karen’s wedding ceremony. Pop was gone from his life, just like Will’s real mother, who had died almost a year before Pop had left. Will’s Amish parents cared about him and had since the first day he’d come to live with them. They’d even invited Will and Karen to live in their house after they were married.

As Will’s thoughts continued to bounce around, he became tenser. Despite his resolve to forget the past, he could still see Pop’s bright smile and hear the optimism in his voice as he tried to convince Will that things would work out for them after Mom had been hit by a car. Pop had made good on his promise, all right. He’d found Will a home with Regina and Mark Stoltzfus. In all the years Pop had been gone, Will hadn’t seen or heard a word from him. It was as though Pop had vanished from the face of the earth.

A sense of bitterness enveloped Will’s soul as he reflected on the years he’d wasted, waiting, hoping for his father’s return. Is Pop still alive? If so, where is he now, and why hasn’t he ever contacted me? If Pop stood before me right now, what would I say? Would I thank him for leaving me with a childless Amish couple who have treated me as if I were their own flesh and blood? Or would I yell at Pop and tell him I’m no longer his son and want nothing to do with him?

Will turned back to the newspaper article about the little girl who’d been abandoned. “It’s not right,” he mumbled when he got to the end of the story. “It’s just not right.”

“What’s not right?”

Will looked up at Mama Regina, who stood by the table with a strange expression. He pointed to the newspaper and shook his head. “This isn’t right. It’s not right at all!”

She took a seat beside him and picked up the paper. As she read the article, her lips compressed into a thin line, causing tiny wrinkles to form around her mouth. “It’s always a sad thing when a child is abandoned,” she murmured.

Will nodded. “I was doing fine until I read that story. I was content, ready to marry Karen, and thought I had put my past to rest. The newspaper article made me think—made me remember things from my past that I’d rather forget.” He groaned. “I don’t want to remember the past. It’s the future that counts—the future with Karen as my wife.”

Mama Regina leaned closer to Will and rested her hand on his arm. “The plans you’ve made for the future are important, but as I’ve told you many times before, you don’t want to forget your past.”

“What would you have me remember—the fact that my real mamm died when I was only five, leaving Pop alone to raise me? Or am I supposed to remember how it felt when I woke up nearly sixteen years ago on the day after Christmas and discovered that Pop had left me at your house and never said good-bye?” As the words rolled off Will’s tongue, he couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his tone or the tears from pooling in his eyes.

“I don’t know the reason your daed didn’t leave you a note when he left that day, and I don’t know why he never came back to get you.” Tears shimmered in Mama Regina’s eyes as she pushed a wisp of dark hair under the side of her white cone-shaped head covering. “There is one thing I do know, however.”

“What’s that?”

“Every day of the sixteen years you’ve lived with us, I have thanked God that your daed read one of the letters I had written to your mamm when she was still alive. I’m also thankful that your daed brought you to us during his time of need and that Mark and I were given the chance to raise you as if you were our own son.” She smiled as she patted Will’s arm in her motherly way. “We’ve had some wonderful times since you came to live with us. I hope you have many pleasant memories of your growing-up years.”

“Jah, of course I do.”

Mama Regina glanced down at Sandy and smiled. “Think of all the fun times you had, first with Penny and now with Sandy.”

Will nodded.

“And think about the time your daed built you a tree house and how the two of you used to sit up there and visit while you munched on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sipped fresh milk from our dairy cows.”

Will clasped her hand. “You and Papa Mark have been good parents to me, and I want you to know that I appreciate all you’ve done.”

“We know you do, and we’ve been glad to do it.”

“Even so, it was Pop’s responsibility to raise me. The least he could have done was to send you some money to help with my expenses.”

Mama Regina shook her head. “We’ve never cared about that. All we’ve ever wanted is for you to be happy.”

“I know.” Will slid his chair away from the table and stood. “I think I’ll get my horse and buggy ready and take a ride over to see Karen. Unless you’re going to need my help in the store, that is.”

Mama Regina shook her head. “An order of vitamins was delivered yesterday afternoon, so it needs to be put on the shelves. But Mary Jane Lambright’s working today, and she can help with that.”

“Guess I’d better check with Papa Mark and see if he needs me for anything before I take off.”

“I think he plans to build some bins for storing bulk food items, but he’ll be fine on his own with that.” Mama Regina smiled. “You go ahead and see Karen. Maybe spending a little time with your bride-to-be will brighten your spirits.”

“Jah, that’s what I’m hoping.”

“Don’t forget your zipple cap,” she called as he grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.

“I won’t.” Will smiled as he pulled the cap from the wall peg. He was glad he and Mama Regina had talked—it had made him feel a little better about things. He figured he would feel even better after he spent some time with Karen.



Here is my review of this sweet, heartwarming novel:


Written in Wanda Brunstetter’s typically wholesome voice, “White Christmas Pie” is a heartwarming romance weaved through a young man’s childhood story of heartbreaking abandonment. The death of his mother was only compounded when Will’s father left him with an Amish couple who raised the boy as their own son.

My only complaint is that the story is too perfect. The conversations are too thorough to be believable. But this is typical of what I’ve read of Wanda’s work. Her novels are sweet and heartwarming. And this one includes the pie recipe that I can’t wait to try!


Monday, September 22, 2008

September CSFF Blog Tour: Marcher Lord Press

This month, the CSFF Blog Tour features a brand new PUBLISHING COMPANY!



features the best and brightest in Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction. Check out their website for an incredible contest and learn what a "Marcher Lord" is!
Here is a look at one of the novels that Marcher Lord Press opens with this month:


The Personifid Invasion

By

R.E. Bartlett











The Personifid Invasion is R.E. Bartlett's standalone sequel to her first novel, The Personifid Project. This gripping science fiction/fantasy title grabs the reader from the first page - make that the first paragraph!




Here is my review of this sci-fi/fantasy novel:


Normally, I am not a sci-fi/fantasy fan unless there is a consistent comedy element, but this novel got my attention. It was so suspenseful, so action-packed, that I had to read on. “The Personifid Invasion” by R.E. Bartlett opens with an intriguing body snatch completion, drawing the reader into the story. I am not a science fiction fan, but I really wanted to know why anyone would voluntarily undergo this surgery. Although a sequel, this novel can be read on its own without being lost. I think that true fans of sci-fi will be gripped by the opening scene and devour this manuscript completely. Outstanding read.


Take a minute to check out Marcher Lord Press publisher, Jeff Gerke's website.



Heavenly Places by Kimberly Cash Tate



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card author is:


and his/her book:


Heavenly Places

Walk Worthy Press (March 7, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Kimberly Cash Tate is an author and an attorney. She is also the founder and president of Colored in Christ International, Inc., a nonprofit ministry devoted to equipping and encouraging believers to “color” themselves in Christ. Her publications include the nonfiction book More Christian than African-American: One Woman’s Journey to Her True Spiritual Self (Daybreak Books 1999) and the novel Heavenly Places (Walk Worthy Press 2008). In addition, her article, “More than Skin Deep,” was published in the November/December 2001 issue of Today’s Christian Woman magazine.


Formerly, Kimberly clerked for a federal judge and practiced as a partner in litigation with a large Midwest law firm, a career she left to be at home with her children. She received a degree in criminology from the University of Maryland and a law degree from the George Washington University. She currently resides in the St. Louis, Missouri area with her husband of fifteen years and her two children.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 356 pages
Publisher: Walk Worthy Press (March 7, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1577948572
ISBN-13: 978-1577948575
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

I told Hezekiah I wanted to live in Potomac or Chevy Chase or North Bethesda, someplace with cachet, where people had money and minded their own business. I didn’t know this for a fact, of course—that they minded their own business—but it sounded good and gave me one more reason to tick off in favor of living there. If I had had my druthers, I wouldn’t have lived anywhere near the D.C. metropolitan area. But if we had to be there, the where had to be Montgomery County, Maryland.

Montgomery County had seasoned money and grand old homes—or, in Potomac, breathtakingly newer homes. Exquisite shopping. And neighbors who would be concerned mostly with themselves and, perhaps, the fleeting question of how another black family amassed enough nickels to break bread among them. They wouldn’t get to know me, I wouldn’t get to know them. And we would revel, the neighbors and I, in perpetual aloofness.

I definitely did not want to live in Prince George’s County; no matter how many new communities somebody built and called “exclusive.” No matter how many black executives made it their home, as the realtor was fond of sharing. P.G. with bells on was still P.G. Step outside the luxury home, tip past the golf course, and the love affair ends. No cosmopolitan breeze for miles. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. And worse--black folk everywhere who’ve worked hard and long enough to buy a few thousand square feet, who are happy to be around other black folk with a few thousand square feet, and who—I could just see it—would think it a wonderful thing to knock on the doors of said black folk and get to know them. I wanted no part of it and told Hezekiah so.

Well, I told him everything except the part about the neighbors because he would have scoffed. Hezekiah is a people person. In our former neighborhood outside Chicago, he knew everyone on our block, and many who resided two and three blocks over. He took walks, not as a form of exercise—he keeps his six-foot-two body fit with regular basketball runs and weight lifting—but to catch up with whomever was out and about. If he’d had his way, we would have had rolling dinner invitations starting up our side of the street and going down the other. I know because he suggested it once. And he must have known it was a long shot because when I suggested he might be crazy, he left it alone.

It’s not that I don’t like to get to know people. Well. I won’t sugarcoat. I’m not a fan of people. For the first half of my life, I cared about them too much--what they thought of me, why they thought what they thought of me. I cared about the words they said to me and would sometimes count them after an encounter to see if I could use up ten fingers. Often I needed only two. Usually it was, “Hi, Treva.” On a good day, five. “Hi, Treva, how are you?”

These rude people would treat me like that when they were in my home, or I was in theirs. They were peers and parents of peers, long-standing members of my parents’ social circle. We saw each other regularly at this function or that. And I ached for real interaction and inclusion. From time to time I’d rehearse in my head how I might turn those five words into a conversation; it seldom worked in reality. If I said, “Fine, how are you?” I got a “Fine” over the shoulder. If I planted myself where conversation was flowing, it was worse. The laughter and banter would swirl all around me while my own interjections fell flat.

Sometimes I wonder if time has exaggerated it all in my mind. Was it really that bad? But then I remember the utter sadness that would overtake me afterward, how I would cry someplace alone because once again I’d felt the sting of a brush-off. I cried, too, because of the reason. It wasn’t that they didn’t like me, in the sense of judging some aspect of my personality. They simply gravitated to their own, and I wasn’t one of them. They were various shades of fair with naturally straight hair and eyes the color of pools. I was milk chocolate with hair that grew—I was thankful—but needed help to get straight, and I had regular old dark brown eyes, too far on the other end of the spectrum to be one of them.

So by force of circumstance, and other more painful circumstances in my own family, I gravitated as well, further and further inside myself. I could never shake the burden of caring what people thought of me, but by college the hunger for interaction had turned cold. I didn’t look for friends; my focus was grades. In law school and then in the working world, the essence of that focus never changed. I was driven to succeed—yes, to prove myself. I had a vision of what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be, and where I wanted to be. It had to be a posh community, an established posh community. Every major city had one. And any major city would have been fine, except the one I was from—the District of Columbia. I never intended to return, not to the city itself nor anywhere in the Maryland-Virginia vicinity.

Since Hezekiah knew I wanted nothing to do with my former home, and since we found ourselves relocating there nonetheless, I figured he could at least let me choose the county. He didn’t, which meant a debate ensued—a good one, between my P.G. County-born-and-bred husband and me.

It was largely one-sided. Hezekiah refuted each of my points with only one—the cost. “We can get more for our money in Prince George’s County,” he insisted. I had my rebuttal at the ready.

“We can get more for our money in Chevy Chase too,” I said. “Instead of square footage, the ‘more’ is prestige. It matters where you live. A premier address speaks volumes.”

“Really,” Hezekiah indulged, pulling his chair closer, hand lovingly upon my knee. “And what does it say?”

“Success. Significance. That we’ve risen to a higher level.”

“I don’t need a house to tell me that. God already did.” Smiling, eyes penetrating.

“Hezekiah, the ‘speaking’ is not to you, it’s to others.”

“Oh, why didn’t you say so?” His half-chuckle was ominous. “We could’ve dispensed with this issue long before. The P.G. house—the one we can build from the ground up, the one that would be more spacious than any on your list—wins hands down because it’s smarter. It speaks to me. At one hundred thousand dollars less, it’s calling my name.”

That was it. Here I am. Unpacking. In Prince George’s County. And I’m about to scream because I haven’t been here but a few hours, movers still carting in boxes and beds, and some woman, a neighbor no doubt, has already stepped into my foyer.

“Hello?”

There she goes again. I am in the kitchen, rhythm broken, arm in the air, hoping the sudden silence sends this message: Get the hint and leave. I am not in the mood since I haven’t even come to grips with being here. I certainly don’t want to be bothered with a stranger who has the nerve to just walk up in my house. Granted, the door is open, but she’s a trespasser nonetheless.

“Hi, is anybody home?” the persistent voice sings out.

“Take a guess,” I sing back under my breath.

I resume work, pulling tightly packed swirl-accented glassware out of a box, unwrapping them, and lining them along the countertop to await a turn in the dishwasher. Quietly. I’m trying not to crumple the packing paper too much, resenting the fact that I can’t. Why would the woman drop by at such an inopportune time anyway? She couldn’t even wait for the moving truck to pull away.

A glass slides too quickly from my hand, making an awful ping as it catches the counter. I cringe, casting a furtive glance in the direction of the front door. I know she heard it. The kitchen sits a good distance from the entryway, tucked at the end of a slightly curved hallway, but that curve apparently does nothing to deflect sound. Her “Hello” was clear as a bell; my blunder had to be as well. I bet she’ll follow that ping and find me here. I bet she’s like that.

My eyes begin bouncing around the kitchen, hating the impression this will make if she sees it. It’s a mess—boxes and contents of boxes everywhere. I know that she knows that we are in the process of moving in, but what does that matter to my central nervous system? The thought of receiving a visitor in here right now is enough to make me hyperventilate. I need things in place, special dishware and collectibles perched behind lighted glass-front cabinets. I need countertops cleared of everything but the items strategically placed there, for neatness’ sake and for the sake of the tiny flecks of gold in the granite, just waiting to pop out and align themselves proudly with the burnt gold on the walls. It would be nice if one earthen-colored square of floor tile were visible, real nice if one could see the decorative tile pattern around the base of the center island. Definitely need a seasonal floral arrangement on the kitchen table, not that unsightly heap of mechanics’ tools that haven’t made their way yet into the garage.

And me. I’m a mess. Makeup’s faded, I’m sure. Nails chipped. Hair has no life, just hanging limp past my shoulders. And I’m wearing a sweatsuit, which I would wear only around the house, and that rarely, when I need to roll up my sleeves and work, like today, not in front of anyone outside of my family, and certainly not someone I am just meeting. When people do happen into my world, I have to be prepared so everything can be just right. Whatever I can make beautiful—my house, my hair, my clothes—I’ll strive every time to do it. Helps me to feel good about myself, and even then it’s hard.

I tilt my ear sideways. Haven’t heard her in a couple of minutes. Maybe she won’t walk back here after all. Maybe she’s gone. A sigh escapes as I relish the thought.

“Hi, my name is Hope. My mommy’s in the kitchen.”

I groan at my five-year-old’s annoying bent for hospitality.

“Hello, Hope, I’m Carmen Nelson. This is my daughter Stacy, and the baby’s name is Malcolm.”

What? Did she bring the whole family? My eyes flash to the ceiling and ricochet down. All I can do is beat a path to the foyer before Hope escorts her back here. The foyer is a much better option. Not much clutter there, so I won’t feel mortified the entire time we’re talking, and there’s nowhere to sit, which should keep it short. I can’t do anything about me, though.

Swiping a hand through my hair, I move my rubber soles quickly down the hall along the bamboo hardwood and into the domed entryway. I see her, illumined by a single ray of sun cast through the upper Palladian window. It complements her honey-nut complexion, which is the first thing I notice—where someone sits on the spectrum. She’s not on my end.

I muscle a smile and extend my hand. “Hi, I’m Treva Langston.”

Carmen tightens a one-arm grip around the baby and shakes my hand with the other. She’s wearing blue capri pants, a blue-and-white striped shirt, and Keds over bare feet. Her hair, pulled softly into a ponytail angled behind the ear, matches the color of her skin. I can’t tell if the hair color or the texture is natural. Eyes average brown. About five-five and in good shape, given the baby in her arms. She looks youthful and energetic. Peppy.

“Hi, Treva. My name is Carmen,” she says, and introduces her two children, both browner than she, the baby a much darker brown. He must take after the father.

Hope tugs at my arm, her rounded face animated with delight. She whispers, “Mommy, Stacy’s my age. She’s five.”

I give Stacy a smile and notice that she and Hope are about the same medium brown—another habit, comparing shades—all while quickly smoothing Hope’s flyaway hairs. She has several long braids, and none of them have been redone in days. I don’t know when or why she threw on these mismatched clothes—red shorts and a pink shirt with blue flowers—but I sure wish the boxes to her room had not yet been delivered. The girl loves to go digging in her clothes and pull out who knows what. And look at Stacy, wearing a cute pink sundress with cute pink sandals and a cute pink ribbon in her freshly combed hair. I glance up the spiral staircase, hoping my other two daughters remain hidden. They’re older than Hope, and more particular about their appearance, but I don’t want to take a chance. The two of us look bad enough.

“I hope we’re not disturbing you too much,” Carmen says. “We saw a moving truck down the block and thought we’d walk down and welcome you. Your husband is so nice. He talked with us outside and told us to go on in and call for you.”

“Oh, really?” Why am I not surprised?

And now that I know she’s seen Hezekiah, I’m even more self-conscious. I’m self-conscious whenever someone meets him first. Hezekiah’s skin is so light that I know people expect his wife to be, well, not so dark. I’ve seen the subtle double takes when I walk up to him at a gathering and he introduces me. Now, it could be my imagination. Hezekiah says my upbringing has caused me to read color into too many situations. But I might be right too. They might actually be thinking, How did those two get together? Or even, He could have done better. I wonder if Carmen did some shade-comparing of her own.

She smiles. “This is a great neighborhood, isn’t it?”

I give a slight nod to avoid stammering.

“I love the green space and the mature trees,” Carmen is saying. “It’s so serene. You’ll find it has an old-fashioned feel because the developer kept the lots to a minimum. People actually talk to each other, you know?” The baby whimpers, she switches him to another hip, fishes a Winnie-the-Pooh pacifier from a small shoulder bag, sticks it into his mouth, and continues on. “Last week a neighbor stopped by to say hi and brought homemade cookies because she hadn’t seen me around in a while. Wasn’t that sweet? She wanted to know if I was all right. Lots of good people around here. I really like it; reminds me of my hometown in North Carolina.”

Hope and Stacy hopscotch across imaginary squares, a needed distraction as I reach for something beyond a visceral response. This might be Hezekiah’s cup of tea but it sure isn’t mine. Folk dropping by at will. Random acts of kindness, accompanied no doubt by expectation of reciprocity. Thrilling. What’s the use of a gated community if the irritants live within? I’d prefer privacy to cookies.

Seems I don’t need a response. She’s still talking.

“The woman a few houses down from you is from North Carolina too, Winston-Salem. Real nice, you’ll like her a lot. Where did you move from, Treva?”

“From the Chicago area.”

“Oh, where in Chicago? I’m a little familiar with it.”

I watch Carmen step further inside the entryway, afraid she’ll plop the baby down any second and make herself at home. “In Evanston, North Shore.”

“Chicago is such a beautiful city—the skyline, the lake. D.C. doesn’t have a downtown like that but we love it. You’ll see there’s a lot to do.”

“Actually, I grew up in D.C. but we’ve been away for a number of years.”

“Really? Well, I would love for us to get together, maybe during the day when the kids start school. I live on this same street but down and around the bend at 8217.”

Why does this woman think I don’t have anything better to do than to sit around and chitchat? And why is she assuming I don’t work?

The smile twitches but holds as I cross the entryway and stand before the opened double doors. “Thanks, Carmen. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you.” Carmen heads to the stroller parked in the circular drive and Stacy trails, giggling with Hope about something I missed. I urge Hope to join Hezekiah in whatever he’s doing and I pick up where I left off in the kitchen.

I am working with greater intensity. Funny how a bad attitude helps you sail through a monotonous task. My thoughts are moving in tandem, fast and furious, assuring me that I really am unhappy in this fabulous new home. But I know it’s not the home that’s truly bothering me.

In truth—and I would never admit this to Hezekiah—, buying a home in Prince George’s County turned out to be the best part of this deal. The building process kept me intensely occupied, which meant less time to stew over the relocation itself. Hezekiah knew that I enjoyed decorating and would throw myself into the building of a home. He also knew that such immersion would be to his benefit, so he stepped completely out of the way and let me have at it.

I loved every minute. I loved making tough choices about layout and fun choices between hardwoods, granites, and stone. I loved picking appliances, searching like crazy for the right indoor and outdoor lighting, and even for the little knobs and pulls on the cabinet doors and drawers. I began to think maybe Hezekiah’s prayers were being answered, that I was feeling more at peace with the move.

I say “Hezekiah’s prayers” because the only prayer I was praying was to remain in Chicago. Even while my nose was buried in the building project, I made enough snippy comments to let Hezekiah know that I was proceeding under general protest and would have no problem chucking the whole thing and staying put. In the low moments, though, the builder would send digital pictures of the progress and I would grow excited about seeing the finished work.

One month ago we flew in for a walk-through of the completed home and were awestruck by what the builder had done. On that same visit, I met with an interior designer to implement the vision I have for the rooms and various spaces around the home. As instructed, I’ve already compiled notes and pictures of ideas in a nice little three-ring binder for our appointment in a couple of weeks. I’ve been greatly looking forward to that. I had the heated swimming pool filled a few days ago and lively colors applied to the builder’s off-white walls. The Jacuzzi was made ready as well, and I was looking forward to snuggling in it with Hezekiah, maybe as early as tonight.

But whatever peace I had managed to find fled last night as I did a final walk around our empty Evanston home. All of the turmoil I had originally felt, the turmoil that had gurgled and bubbled for months, boiled over and handily engulfed me. Everything was wrong. Everything.

I couldn’t believe I was actually leaving an associate position at Thompson and Klein in downtown Chicago. I could see the clouds from that office, the realization of my dreams. I could see future high-stakes litigation that would catapult me to higher echelons. I could see the federal bench from which I would one day rule. I could see the people before whom I would stand, graciously of course, with a fantastic, overwhelming, soul-satisfying smile of success that would say, “I told you so.”

I was leaving all of that and heading…nowhere. No, not nowhere. Heading to unemployment, which is a definite somewhere, a horrible somewhere. I had thought surely by moving day that I would have secured a fantastic position at a D.C. firm. That assurance had to be what buoyed me throughout the building process. But that very last day in Chicago, another three-line form letter had arrived from a top firm telling me that they were not hiring. The enormity of it all struck me as I stood in the middle of the kitchen floor. I couldn’t go without a desperate last stand.

“We can’t leave,” I said simply.The car was loaded and Hezekiah had come to check on my whereabouts. Tired from cleaning the house and the garage, with a ten-hour drive in front of him, he simply looked at me, so I said it again. “We can’t leave.”

“Treva, we’ve gone over this a million times,” he said. “Our house is sold. The truck is packed. The car is running. Let’s go.”

“Hezekiah, it’s not too late. You know it isn’t. Northwestern would take you back as a professor in a minute and my firm would do the same for me. We could find a house to rent until the Maryland house sells, and it should sell fairly easily since we got one of the last lots. What do you think of that house for sale over on Sheridan? It’s old but we could update it like we did this one, and we could—”

“Treva,” Hezekiah said calmly, “the girls are in the car. Take the time you need, then come on.”

I barely said a word the entire ten hours. If I wasn’t asleep, I was pretending to be asleep, the darkness a fitting serenade to my misery. By the time Hezekiah pulled into our new driveway, the sun had dawned bright and strong, but for me, it was still night.

I growl a sigh, unpack another plate, and sling it into the dishwasher, daring it to break. God, what am I doing here? Why in the world did You let Hezekiah move us from Chicago? I was blossoming there, on track with my life. And if I had to come back, I could have at least returned triumphantly. Why have I been uprooted and stuck in barren soil? Nothing makes any—

“Hey, Treva, guess who I found outside?” Hezekiah yells.

I jerk from my thoughts, gasp with knowing, and scurry to the foyer, feet flopping in tennis slides.

“Heyyyyyy!” My younger sister, Jillian, and I scream, hug, rock back and forth, look each other up and down, and scream again.

“Jilli, look at you; you look great!” And she does. I’ve known her all of her life and I’m still struck by her beauty. It doesn’t matter what she wears—she’s standing here in denim walking shorts, a rust colored T-shirt, and basic brown flip-flops, no makeup—she always shines.

Jillian was the sought-after one growing up, the one who blended in—her features a straight hand-me-down from our mother. The contrast never came between us; Jillian was my closest friend. But obviously, there was a contrast, and my mind, ever active, pointed it out on occasion. Like now, as I notice the slightly wet, wavy ringlets atop her head. That was one thing, well, one of the things, I couldn’t help but envy—her wash-and-go hair.

“When did you cut your hair off, Jillian?”

“Girl, two years ago. And look at yours. You’ve let it grow long. Turn around and let me look at you.”

I shrug and turn reluctantly. “Nothing to look at. I’m bummy today.”

“Please. You don’t know what ‘bummy’ is. Those are the cutest capri jogging pants I’ve ever seen, and the fuschia Tee looks great with the fuschia piping on the pants. And I see you’re still working out. Got the tight everything going on. You’d better not say anything about my rear.”

Hezekiah clears his throat. “Before you two get too deep….”

“All right, Hezekiah.” Jillian laughs. “You know I haven’t seen my big sister in three years. She acted like the Midwest didn’t have planes to transport her back East.” She raises a hand to my coming objection. “I don’t want to hear it. I don’t even know my nieces anymore. Where are they anyway?”

“No telling. Hope, the Welcome Wagon, is usually the first one at the door when company comes. But she and Joy may be in our room. They got tired of dodging movers so Hez set up the DVD player in there. Faith was working on her room last I saw her, but that was a long time ago.”

“Well, give me a tour and we’ll find them on the way.”

We chatter our way into the living room and I listen to Jillian gush over the house I’d sell in a heartbeat.

“Treva, these wall-to-wall windows. Look at the sun you get in here. And what is that area over there?” Jillian’s face is pushed against the window panes of the French doors that open to the rear of the house.

“A loggia.”

“A what?”

“A covered porch, furnished like an indoor living space. At least it will be one day.”

“HGTV?”

“Magazine, girl.”

“Hey, Jillian, thanks for coming,” Hezekiah calls out, leaning against a column just outside the living room, smiling as if there’s reason.

Jillian turns, curiosity in her brow. “Why?”

“Because your sister was acting mean before you showed up, mad all over again about moving out here. Now look at her, all smiles. I won’t take it personally, though.”

Hezekiah’s tone is light, an attempt at peace, but he must not know where I’ve been. In a corner. The corner he put me in while, for hours, he unpacked and organized around the house and outside the house, anywhere I was absent, to give me space. Well, I’m not a child, obligated to come out of a time-out with a better attitude than the one I went in with. Mine is worse, and as far as I’m concerned, he just rang the bell. I’m coming out swinging.

Backing a few steps to his full view—lips scrunched, hand on a jutted hip—I wait for two movers harnessed with weight belts to pass. They’re laughing while carrying an antique armoire at a precarious tilt. I glare at them until they park it against the dining room wall unscathed, and turn that glare on Hezekiah.

“Excuse me? Won’t take what personally?” I say, my voice rising. “That life, as I knew it, is over? That you get to keep climbing your career ladder but mine is kicked to the ground? Oh, but for good measure I get to wile away my time, not in a community with art galleries, antique shops, ethnic restaurants, and upscale shopping within walking distance.” I fling my arms wide. “No, the best shopping these parts have ever seen is Beltway Plaza and Landover Mall, that great hustler hangout that somebody had the mercy to shut down. Why should you take any of this personally?”

My thoughts sound worse now that I’ve given voice to them. Regret is squeezing my lungs, begging me to stop. I’m feeling like a spoiled brat as I breathe in the scent of beautiful calla lilies sent this morning by the interior designer with a “Welcome” card, now perched in a crystal vase on a pedestal in the foyer--the foyer that is roomier than my college dorm room. Jillian’s mouth is hanging open as she wonders, I’m sure, what happened since last we spoke and she applauded my attitude adjustment over the move. She’s praying for me right now, I just know it.

And Hezekiah, who had a fabulous offer from the University of Maryland and wouldn’t accept the position until he knew I had one, which I did (until I didn’t) and who likely would have moved to Montgomery County if I’d had a job but never said so to spare my feelings, is staring at me with a look I can’t quite figure out. He is not smiling. I feel bad, but stubbornness has taken hold. I know I shouldn’t—

“And let me add this,” I say, finger stabbing the air, “if all you’re going to say is, ‘God’s hand is in this move,’ save it. I’m tired of hearing it. God has a plan for my life—isn’t that what you like to say? So let me tell you God’s plan for my life: God would have left me in Chicago.”

With that, I corral my speechless sister with an arm hooked in hers, turn from Hezekiah, and continue the tour. “Let’s go outside; I’ll show you the loggia. The view from the—”

My breath catches as Hezekiah rushes me with a bear hug from behind, curling me forward with his two-hundred-pound muscular frame. His whisper teases up a sudden flutter: “If God’s will is for me to be here, which I know it is, then God’s will is for you to be here, because we’re one, and there is no me without you. I don’t know what will happen with your job situation, but I’ve been praying and I believe God will answer. I’ve also been praying about the other situation that’s upsetting you but you won’t talk about. Now, if you’re still mad and need space, I understand. Let me just do this one thing.”

I search his eyes but it’s too late. His knuckles begin to tickle my side. I struggle to free myself, hiding a half-smile. In no time I’m slumping to my knees in uncontrolled laughter.

“Stop, Hez, let me go. Seriously.” My body is writhing on the floor, a slave to two knuckles. “Jilli! Are you just going to stand there?”

“I’m cheering for Hezekiah. I always said he’s the best thing that ever happened to you.”

“Hez, no, it hurts.” I would say anything to get out from under this.

He releases me and I scramble to my feet feigning a frown, fists squared in boxing mode.

“So you’re Ali now?” Hezekiah says. “Or Sugar Ray Leonard? You know he lived over near P.G. Community College when he was starting out.”

“Yeah, and moved to Potomac when he made it big.” Laughing, I jab the air as Hezekiah leans right, then left. The moment is surreal, Jillian’s words echoing in my heart: He’s the best thing that ever happened to you. Before Hezekiah, I never loosened up and acted silly. In fourteen years of marriage, he has brought things out of me that I didn’t know were there, things that I like—when I allow myself. I land a left hook to Hezekiah’s chest and he grabs me again.

“You know you can’t stay mad at me,” he cajoles, dotting my face with quick kisses, “and I know how I can help you through this. If you ever want to run for Miss P.G. County, I’ll swear you’re only twenty-one and single. I bet you’d win with your good-looking self.”

I catch one of those quick kisses on the lips and let it linger. He’s right about my not being able to stay mad with him. He’s a master at dealing with me, always knowing what I need—how long I need to stew, when I need to snap out of it, and how it needs to happen. In this moment, with his strong arms around me, the night has suddenly turned to day.

This time Jillian clears her throat and I dart back to her with fresh spunk. I will find a job. I do want this house. All the time I put into building it, I ought to.

“Thanks for coming, Jill. I mean it this time,” Hezekiah shouts, bounding upstairs.

“I’ll see you this evening,” Jillian shouts back.

“Oh, Jilli,” I moan, walking through the French doors, “I forgot we planned to get together tonight. Now that I’m up to my neck in boxes, I’d rather work until it’s cleared away.”

“Girl, you can’t do it all in one night and you’ve got to eat. We live only ten minutes away—on the other side of the tracks.”

I give her a light shove. “Whatever, Jill.”

“Seriously, come on over.” Jillian admires the leaf of a shrub with great intensity. “And I think Mama’s coming too.”

A jolt surges through my body. I find that interesting, that my body reacts before my mind. It wants to sit down. The involuntary shaking is a clue. I look around as if furniture appeared while my back was turned, and then I remember that it exists only in my little three-ring binder. My body doesn’t mind; it settles for the wide tiles of the loggia. Legs pulled to the chest, arms wrapped around the legs, head tucked inside, it is hoarding relief as best it can, waiting for my mind to catch up, decide what we should do. The spunk that endured all of two minutes is gone. Thanks to Jillian, the Grand Dame has made her entrance, bringing with her, as usual, tangible distress.

She is the reason I never wanted to return—Patsy Parker Campbell, whom I haven’t spoken to in three years and whom, long before that, I had banished to the outermost ring of my life. I hadn’t even processed yet what it means to be near her again. I thought I could put off consideration of that reality for weeks, maybe months. I couldn’t have guessed I’d be dealing with it the first night.

I lift my head and ask accusingly, “She knows I’m back?”

“Is it a secret?”

“I sure hadn’t told her.”

“Well, I talk to her a little more than you do and it would have been unnatural for me to keep quiet about her daughter moving back to town.”

“You didn’t have to invite her to dinner. I have zero energy right now, and less for her. You know how she is.” I tuck my head back down.

Jillian touches my shoulder, eases down next to me on the tiled ground, and sighs. “I’m sorry. She called this morning and I honestly wasn’t thinking I had to be guarded, so when she asked what I was doing I told her I was cleaning the house, getting ready for you all to come over. She was quiet--you know Mama doesn’t get quiet--and I felt bad and said, ‘You’re welcome to come, too, if you want.’”

I groan loudly, understanding fully. The invitation didn’t have to be, if only Jillian had had the guts to honor the status quo; lack of contact has worked quite well. But maybe Patsy didn’t say she was coming. Jillian said, I think Mama is coming. Hopeful, I lift my head again. “And she said?”

“She said, ‘Okay.’”

I stare at the pool, blankly at first, then with great interest. Its otherworldliness is inviting, and not just because it’s a hot August day. I want to dive in, let the water swallow me whole. I want to feel the smack of a change in circumstance, the rush you feel when you don’t dip toe-to-shin-to-waist-to-neck until you’re completely under, but you just take the plunge. When I do that, I glide near the bottom and swim until I need a breath. I can’t hear, can’t see what’s happening above, can’t be bothered. My leg rocks side to side. It likes the idea, wants to give me a running start. The ripples conspire too, rolling lazily with the faint breeze in a come-hither fashion, promising to shut out the world. That’s what I need, an escape.

Jillian knocks her leg against mine and playfully obstructs my view with her face. “Treva?”

“What.”

“This could be a good thing. Maybe it’s time for you to build a better relationship with Mama. Maybe you could begin to see her in a different light.” Her earnest eyes fill my peripheral vision. “You’re a new person, Treva. God has given you the strength, you know.”

Jillian and Hezekiah, always quick with a pep rally.

“All things are new, Treva.”

“With God in your life, all things are possible.”

“Treva, God is living in you. You have everything you need.”



Here is my review of this contemporary novel:


“Heavenly Places” by Kimberly Cash Tate left me with mixed feelings. The cover art didn’t grip me. If I saw it on a shelf, I probably wouldn’t pick it up. Then, I was really put off by the genre being listed as “African American”. What does that mean? I did enjoy revisiting my east coast roots, and I love the reading guide full of discussion questions at the end of the novel for use by book groups. But I can’t say that I would recommend this novel.