Monday, September 29, 2008

"John 3:16" Book Review


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

John 3:16

Tyndale House Publishers (September 9, 2008)

by

Nancy Moser




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nancy Moser is the author of three inspirational humor books and eighteen novels, including Solemnly Swear, Time Lottery, a Christy Award winner, and her latest historical, Washington's Lady.

Nancy and her husband Mark live in the Midwest. She’s earned a degree in architecture, traveled extensively in Europe, and has performed in numerous theaters, symphonies, and choirs. She gives Said So Sister Seminars around the country, helping women identify their gifts as they celebrate their sisterhood. She is a fan of anything antique—humans included.

Find out more at Nancy Moser.com and Sister Circles.com


ABOUT THE BOOK

Five people looking for a reason to keep living are about to find it in the last place they expect... In my usual "big cast" style comes a story of what happens when one man puts his faith on the line and holds up a John 3:16 sign at a sporting event. Roman Paulson's life revolves around his son, Billy, a University of Nebraska football hero with a promising life ahead of him. But when Billy's coach encroaches on Roman's relationship with his son, Roman fears he'll lose Billy forever. Roman isn't the only one whose world turns upside down. He's one of five unsuspecting people whose lives intersect on a bright fall day.

If you would like to read the first chapter of John 3:16, go HERE

MY REVIEW:

I was drawn to this book just by the cover and the idea of an ensemble cast in the book. So I didn't read the back of the book before starting it and imagine my surprise when the book not only takes place in Lincoln, Nebraska with an emphasis on UNL (Go Huskers!), but one of the characters is the UNL concessions organizer and Runzas are mentioned mutiple times! To top that off, Mom and I had lunch with Nancy Moser at ACFW and didn't put that together so Nancy knows what Runzas are and Mom owns 4 of them... I thought that was funny.

Anyway, this is an amazing book - an eye-opener. A "can one person really make an impact" kind of book. Nancy lets us follow 5 different main characters (at least) as we see their lives and how they start intertwining. There are twists and turns and even some - oh my gosh! moments. I don't want to say anything that would spoil this wonderful book for any of you... I would like to say that if you only read 3 books between now and Christmas (don't forget to check out my reading challenge here) then make this book one of those 3 - you will thank me!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"When The Soul Mends" Book (Sue) Review


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

When The Soul Mends

WaterBrook Press (September 16, 2008)

by

Cindy Woodsmall



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Cindy Woodsmall is a veteran homeschool mom. As her children progressed in age, her desire to write grew stronger. After working through reservations whether this desire was something she should pursue, she began her writing journey. Her husband was her staunchest supporter as she aimed for what seemed impossible.

Her first novel, When The Heart Cries, released in 2006 to much acclaim and became a Christian Book Association best seller. Cindy was a 2007 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist, along with Karen Kingsbury, Angela Hunt, and Charles Martin.

Her last book, When the Morning Comes, hit the New York Times best-sellers extended list and the Christian Book Association best-sellers list.

Cindy’s real-life connections with Amish Mennonite and Old Order Amish families enrich her novels with authenticity.

Cindy, her husband, their three sons and daughter-in-law reside in Georgia. Her husband is a registered land surveyor and a vice president at an engineering firm. Their oldest son has a bachelor’s degree in nuclear medicine and works at a local hospital. Their second son and his wife are both students at the University of Georgia. Their teen-aged son keeps the household energized with his love of music, books, and writing.


ABOUT THE BOOK

Returning to the home she fled in disgrace, will Hannah find healing for the wounds of the past?

After receiving a desperate and confusing call from her sister, Hannah Lapp reluctantly returns to the Old Order Amish community of her Pennsylvania childhood.

Having fled in disgrace more than two years earlier, she finally has settled into a satisfying role in the Englischer world. She also has found love and a new family with the wealthy Martin Palmer and the children she is helping him raise. But almost immediately after her arrival in Owl’s Perch, the disapproval of those who ostracized her, including her headstrong father, reopens old wounds.

As Hannah is thrown together with former fiancĂ© Paul Waddell to work for her sister Sarah’s mental health, hidden truths surface about events during Hannah’s absence, and she faces an agonizing decision. Will she choose the Englischer world and the man who restored her hope, or will she heed the call to return to the Plain Life–and perhaps to her first love?

If you would like to read the first chapter of When The Soul Mends, go HERE

“A skillfully written story of forgiveness and redemption. Woodsmall’s authentic characters illustrate beautifully how wounded souls can indeed be mended.”
Susan Meissner, author of The Shape of Mercy

“Like the stitches on a well-loved quilt, love and faith hold together Cindy Woodsmall's When the Soul Mends, the brilliantly written third story in the Sisters of the Quilt series. With deft plotting and characters that seem to jump off the page, this novel offers the timeless truth that forgiveness is the balm which heals all wounds and a blanket for the soul.”
Kathleen Y’Barbo, author of Beloved Castaway

“What a vibrant, strong, emotional story! When the Heart Cries will grip you and not let go, I promise. Highly recommended!”
Gayle Roper, author of Allah’s Fire and the Seaside Seasons series

“Reaching deep into the heart of the reader, Cindy Woodsmall pens a beautifully lyrical story in her debut novel When the Heart Cries.”
Tamera Alexander, bestselling author of Rekindled

MY REVIEW:
This is book #3 in Cindy's series of books and I have not read the first 2, but my mother-in-law (Sue) has them and loves them so I passed this book to her to get her comments on it from someone that knows what is going on in the series already - so here we go...

Sue's Review:
First off, there is a Who's Who in the front of the book that will help refresh your memory on who everyone is and really sets the stage for starting the book. Secondly, this is a very enjoyable book that is a great addition to the series of books. Cindy has made a series of books that is written in a very believable style - even with twists and turns in the storyline the characters stay within the bonds of reality. This is great because we all know that life is not always perfect. In this book - Hannah has a kind of predictable ending, but there is a real twist with Sarah - that was good.
If you were to compare Wanda Brunstetter and Cindy Woodsmall I would say that Wanda writes in a very simple, easy-to-read style that even preteens could read and follow. Cindy has more twists and turns and makes you think as you read so while her writing is good for teens and older, my granddaughter Sarah (12 years old) might be ready for White Christmas Pie by Wanda, she is not quite ready for When The Soul Mends by Cindy - but they are so good that I will be saving them for her!

Janna again -
I am excited about this series of books but knew I wanted to read them in order so I will be waiting til I can sit and read them in order - don't they sound great?!?

Highlights of ACFW...

Okay, getting to meet some of my favorite authors is obviously a huge highlight from being at the ACFW conference last week. I'm still sorting everything out in my head, but I had to show you a couple of my favorite authors.

I am still adamant that Julie Lessman has written the "Little Woman" for our decade when she wrote "A Passion Most Pure" and "A Passion Redeemed" is an excellent follow-up. She and I corresponded quite a bit over email after I read "A Passion Most Pure" and we really hit it off so I was excited about getting to meet Julie at ACFW. It was kind of funny how we ended up running into each other. She came into the bookstore and I heard her ask someone a question, I went over to see if I could answer her question for her and as she repeated her question we both glanced down at each other's name tags and then simultaneously we yelled out, "Julie!" and "Janna!" and gave each other a hug. It was hilarious to those around us looking at us like we were crazy :-) But that is okay with me. Julie is just as sweet and funny in person as I thought she would be... a total doll! She was a definite highlight...

Here is Julie with Cara and I at the awards banquet on Saturday night.







Another highlight in a very sweet way was getting to meet Rachel Hauck. I enjoyed her books "Diva Nash Vegas" and "Lost in Nash Vegas" and then just loved her books "Sweet Caroline" and "Love Starts With Elle" so she was on my wish list of authors to meet. I had done an interview with her before and so we had emailed back and forth some, but I never expected what actually happened. I had not made it into any of the general sessions when I finally snuck into the back and stood along a wall and this lovely lady walks up to me and introduces herself with a hug - it was Rachel and she sought me out! I really shouldn't be surprised, she is gracious and sweet and has a knack for making other people feel important. Did I mention that she leads the praise and worship at conference and that Sunday morning worship was awesome and amazing?!?


Here is a picture of us Sunday morning before we packed up and left. I feel blessed to have made a connection with Rachel and look forward to more opportunities to visit with her.

Friday, September 26, 2008

"White Christmas Pie" Book Review




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!

MY REVIEW:

Wanda has a gift for a telling a good story in a simple form while driving home themes of forgiveness, reconciliation and love. She takes a setting that many of us are curious about (the Amish lifestyle) and opens it up to us in ways we can understand. In this particular book she takes us to a place that really hurts - childhood abandonment. Did you know that the greatest childhood fear is abandonment? As adults we may fear public speaking and death, but as a child most people are terrified to be left or deserted (as a side note, no matter how bad or disobedient your child may be - don't threaten to leave them at Wal-Mart!). Wanda deals with this issue directly and sensitively. She takes her characters to hard places and brings them back. I enjoyed this book and fans of Wanda will want to add this book to their library.


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.

How much is too much?

When I found out that Quinn would be joining our family I was thrilled that he would join a family with 5 siblings, a mommy, daddy, grandma and grandpa all under the same roof to take care of him. I knew he would be well loved - and I was definitely right. In fact, if anything, I was curious how Quinn would ever get any alone time. And he doesn't get much, and just as I am wondering if this is going to be a problem later in life for him, I happened upon an article on colic (which Quinn definitely does NOT have) in the July issue of American Baby Magazine. There is a point made in the article which I found very eye-opening...


For some babies, crying may be curbed simply by holding them as much as possible in a front pack or sling. (May I insert here that Quinn loves his sling - it really is the closest thing to being in the womb that a baby can have and it keeps your hands fairly free - I love it!) "Holding and rocking won't spoil the baby," Dr. Karp assures. "In the uterus, babies were held and rocked 24/7, so even if you hold your baby 18 hours a day, which seems like forever to you, it's a significant cutback for your baby." Indeed, a study in the journal Pediatrics found that babies held by their parents for about 16 1/2 hours a day cried half as much as those whose parents held them for about 8 hours a daily.


Isn't that amazing - I held and rocked Quinn in the womb for 9 months (10 months really) and now we expect them to spend much of their day solo. I'm pleased to say that Quinn is held much closer to 16 hours a day than 8 and as the article suggests his demeanor reflects that - he is simply one of the happiest, most peaceful babies I've ever seen - and none of our babies have been fussy or colicky at all. God has definitely blessed us abundantly!

"Sunset" Book Review



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!

MY REVIEW:
I have been wanting to read this series of books by Karen Kingsbury (I love her 9/11 series of books and there is a #3 one coming out soon!) but this is Book #4 and I haven't read the first 3. Luckily I know someone that has read the first 3 so I turned this book over to my mother-in-law (Sue) and then asked her opinion of it to share with all of you...

Sue's Review :
Fans of Karen Kingsbury will love this book. Here she takes a familiar family of characters and walks them through the next stage in their lives. The girls in the family work through emotions and feelings dealing with their dad. It's not all a bed of roses and it shouldn't be either - that's just not life. Like most Karen Kingsbury books, the ending is feel good, but the package is almost too neat, maybe a little too perfect. But that being said, I really enjoyed this book and will probably read it again and I don't say that about just any book!

Janna talking again -
I look forward to sitting down and reading all 4 of the books in this series at some point, hopefully soon, but how can you go wrong with Karen Kingsbury?!?



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.



Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Heavenly Places" Book Review



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!

MY REVIEW:
I heard good things about this book and knew I needed to check it out for myself - what I found blew me away. Here we have a cast of characters that focuses on Treva, a wife and mother but mainly a career lawyer, who has her world pulled out from underneath her when they make a move for her husband's sake and she can't get her career going again. She is "forced" into a Bible study by her sister with 4 other women who she can't stand, barely tolerates being a mom and resents (and rightfully so) her own mother. Throughout the course of the book we get to sit in on the Bible study of Ephesians (very insightful), deal with many cultural issues (abortion, incest, modesty, career vs. family, etc...) as well as many spiritual issues (forgiveness, our Father's love for us, forgiveness, power of prayer, forgiveness, importance of the Word of God, forgiveness, etc...) and oh, did I mention forgiveness? There are too many things to even point out in a little 'ol review, but I was blessed by reading this book. I highly suggest finding a copy of this for yourself as I will be re-reading this one over and over. It is labeled as "African American Fiction", but I fail to see how the themes of forgiveness and God's love don't speak to everyone. Excellent book!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and 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.”

Kids Say The Funniest Things...


The other night during dance class, one of the 5 1/2 year olds said something that struck me very funny.

"It's almost my birthday and I'll be 6. I can tell its getting close because yesterday I had a bad head day." says the precocious 5 1/2 year old.

"A bad head day?" I tentatively reply.

"Yes, a bad head day. My brain was getting bigger, way bigger! So my birthday MUST be soon!" she adds with forceful sincereness.

I tried not to laugh at her, but I certainly giggled behind her back :-)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"Faking Grace" Book Review


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Faking Grace

Multnomah Books (August 19, 2008)

by

Tamara Leigh



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

After Tamara Leigh earned a Master’s Degree in Speech and Language Pathology, she and her husband decided to start a family, with plans for Tamara to continue in her career once she became a mother.

When the blessing of children proved elusive, Tamara became convicted to find a way to work out of her home in order to raise the children she and her husband longed to have. She turned to writing, at which she had only ever dreamed of being successful, and began attending church. Shortly thereafter, her agent called with news of Bantam Books’ offer of a four-book contract. That same day, Tamara’s pregnancy was confirmed. Within the next year, she gave up her speech pathology career, committed her life to Christ, her first child was born, and her first historical romance novel was released.

As Tamara continued to write for the secular market, publishing three more novels with HarperCollins and Dorchester, she infused her growing Christian beliefs into her writing. But it was not enough, and though her novels earned awards and were national bestsellers, she knew her stories were lacking. After struggling with the certainty that her writing was not honoring God as it should, she made the decision to write books that not only reveal Christianity to non-believers, but serve as an inspiration for those who have accepted Christ as their Savior. Her inspirational romances are peopled with characters in varying stages of Christian faith, from mature believers to new believers to non-believers on the threshold of awakening.

Tamara Leigh enjoys time with her family, volunteer work, faux painting, and reading. She lives near Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, David, and two sons, Skyler and Maxen.

Two of her latest books are Splitting Harriet and Perfecting Kate.


ABOUT THE BOOK

All she wants is a job. All she needs is religion. How hard can it be?

Maizy Grace Stewart dreams of a career as an investigative journalist, but her last job ended in disaster when her compassion cost her employer a juicy headline. A part-time gig at a Nashville newspaper might be her big break.

A second job at Steeple Side Christian Resources could help pay the bills, but Steeple Side only hires committed Christians. Maizy is sure she can fake it with her Five-Step Program to Authentic Christian Faith–a plan of action that includes changing her first name to Grace, buying Jesus-themed accessories, and learning “Christian Speak.” If only Jack Prentiss, Steeple Side’s managing editor and two-day-stubbled, blue-jean-wearing British hottie wasn’t determined to prove her a fraud.

When Maizy’s boss at the newspaper decides that she should investigate–and expose–any skeletons in Steeple Side’s closet, she must decide whether to deliver the dirt and secure her career or lean on her newfound faith, change the direction of her life, and pray that her Steeple Side colleagues–and Jack–will show her grace.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Faking Grace, go HERE

“Tamara Leigh takes her experienced romance hand and delights readers with Chick-Lit that sparkles and characters who come alive.” - Kristin Billerbeck, author of The Trophy Wives Club

“A delightful, charming book! Faking Grace has romance, truth, and a dollop of insanity, making Tamara Leigh a permanent addition to my list of favorite authors. Enjoy!”
- Ginger Garrett, author of In the Shadow of Lions and Beauty Secrets of the Bible

“Tamara Leigh does a fabulous job looking at the faults, the love, the hypocrisy, and the grace of Christians in a way that’s entertaining and fun. Maizy Grace is a crazy character I couldn’t help but like. I loved this book and highly recommend it!”
- Camy Tang, author of Sushi for One? and Only Uni

MY REVIEW:
I read and really enjoyed Splitting Harriet by Tamara Leigh and was looking forward to reading Faking Grace. Well, let me tell you, it is a delightful book full of spiritual truths that are suggested at, dropped as hints and slapped in your face. It is fantastic. Tamara has a writing style that would be considered humorous chick lit but it really delves into topics that most of us deal with but don't want to address.

In this book Maizy Grace gets herself fired and has to restart in a different town. She is only hired for part time and has to get a 2nd job to make ends meet. This 2nd job is for a Christian publishing company that includes a requirement of being a Christian. Maizy Grace accepted Jesus at a summer camp 10 years ago and so figures its not a total lie, she just needs to brush up. So out comes - Dumb Blonde's Guide to Christianity and here is where the stereotypes come out flying and start falling fast. I don't want to reveal all the great humor in the book and steal Tamara's thunder but let's just say that she starts going by her middle name, Grace, so that no one will know who she is - and by the end of the book she learns a hefty lesson about forgiveness, mercy and grace.

I will be pondering this book for a long time and will most likely re-read it to absorb some more of the awesome tidbits in this book - in the meantime if you hear me humming "Amazing Grace" you'll know I'm thinking of this book!