Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Mary's Blessing" Book Review

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Realms (May 15, 2012)

***Special thanks to Althea Thompson | Publicity Coordinator, Charisma House | Charisma Media for sending me a review copy.***

I wouldn't say that historical westerns are at the top of my favorites list, but Lena Nelson Dooley books are. The first book in this series was so original and enthralling that I couldn't put it down. This book did not disappoint at all - I was engrossed from start to finish and honestly I can't wait for the third book to come out!
The set up for this series is that on a wagon train coming west a couple experiences tragedy when the wife goes into labor and delivers 3 healthy baby girls but passes away due to the trauma she goes through. The husband is overwhelmed with grief and doesn't know what he is going to do with 3 newborns on the trail. He gives two of the girls up for adoption to families on the wagon train with him. Then we jump ahead 17 years and in each book we follow one of the three girls. Of course the first two don't even know the others exist and that is a huge plot point. Seeing the different circumstances they are raised under has been really interesting and I am truly impressed by the quality of this series! Well done, Lena! I eagerly anticipate the third book!


Lena Nelson Dooley is an award-winning author with more than 650,000 books in print. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers—where she received the Mentor of the Year award in 2006—DFW Ready Writers, and Christian Authors Network. She lives in Hurst, Texas, with her husband of over 45 years.

Visit the author's website.


Mary Lenora Murray was adopted by parents who had recently lost a child while on the last wagon train west in 1867. When she is thirteen years old, Mary’s mother and her two older sisters die in the cholera pandemic, leaving her the oldest child with four younger siblings to raise. Her father, in his grief, pours himself into keeping the farm going, leaving the running of the home entirely in Mary’s hands.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Realms (May 15, 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1616386177

ISBN-13: 978-1616386177


"Pa?” Mary Lenor a Murray shouted back over her shoulder as she picked up the heavy picnic basket. “You ready to go?” Why does he always drag his feet when we’re going to


Her father came through the mud room into the kitchen, letting the screen door slam shut behind him. He smelled of heat, hay, and sunshine, with the strong tang of muck from the barn mingled in. By the looks of his clothes, attending church was the farthest thing from his mind. His ratty trousers held smudges of several dark colors. She didn’t even want to guess what they were. And the long sleeves of his undershirt, the only thing covering his torso, were shoved above his elbows. Grayed and dingy, the shirt would never be white again, no matter how hard she tried to get it clean.

Mary bit her tongue to keep from scolding him as she did her younger brothers and sister when they made such a racket entering the house. No doubt he would give her some excuse about having too much work to go to church. Not a big surprise. She’d heard it all before too many times.

He set a bucket of fresh water beside the dry sink and gripped his fingers around the front straps of his suspenders. That always signaled he was about to tell her something she didn’t want to hear.

“I’m not going today.” This time he didn’t really make any excuses, just this bald-faced comment.

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to calm her anger. She’d give him a sweet answer even if the words tasted bitter in her mouth. “The new pastor is coming today. We’re having dinner on the grounds after the service. Remember, I told you when we got home last Sunday.” She flashed what she hoped was a warm smile at him and prayed he couldn’t tell it

was fake.


M a ry ’s Ble s si ng

“What happened to the last one? He didn’t last very long, did he?” Pa started washing his hands with the bar of homemade soap she kept in a dish on the shelf. “Don’t understand why that church can’t keep a pastor. Someone musta run him off.”

Mary couldn’t keep from huffing out a breath this time. “I told you about that too.” She clamped her lips closed before she asked the question that often bounced around her mind. Why don’t you ever listen to me? At seventeen she was close enough to being an adult to be treated like one, and she’d carried the load of a woman in this household for years.

“His wife died, and his father-in-law begged him to bring the grandchildren closer to where they live, so he headed back to Ohio. Living in the same community as their grandparents, he’d have a lot of help with the younger ones.”

Mary had never known her own grandparents, none of them. Not her mother’s parents. Not her father’s parents. Not the par- ents of whoever gave birth to her. She didn’t wonder about any of them very often, but today her heart longed for someone who really loved her.

With bright red curly hair and fair skin that freckled more every time she stepped into the sunlight, she didn’t resemble anyone in this family that had adopted her as an infant. Since they were black Irish, they all had dark hair and striking blue eyes, not like her murky green ones. And none of them had ever wanted to know what she thought about anything—except her mother.

“Well, I’ve gotta lot to do today.” Her father reached for the towel she’d made out of feed sacks. “You and the others go ahead. I might come over that way at dinner time.”

No, you won’t. Mary had heard his statement often enough to know he was trying to placate her so she would leave him alone. So she would.

“Frances, George, Bobby, come on. We don’t want to be late.”


Lena neL son DooLey

She shifted the handle of the loaded basket to her other arm. “Frances, you grab the jug of spring water. We might get thirsty.” Her father’s icy blue eyes pierced her. “Pretty warm out today.

No sign of rain.”

“We’ll be picnicking in the field between the church and Willamette Falls. It’s cooler there, especially under the trees with the breeze blowing across the water.” She started toward the front door.

“Keep your eyes on the boys.” His harsh command followed her. “Don’t let either of them fall into the river. They could drown. Water’s fast right there.”

She nodded but didn’t answer or look back at him. All he cared about were those boys and getting them raised old enough to really help with the farming. He already worked them harder than any of the neighbors did their sons who were the same ages.

Six long years ago her mother and older sisters contracted diphtheria when they went to help Aunt Miriam and Uncle Leland settle in their house on a farm about five miles from theirs. On the trip to Oregon one of them had contracted the dread disease and didn’t know it until after they arrived. No one knew they were all dead until Pa went looking for Ma, Carrie, and Annette a couple of days later. He saw the quarantine sign someone nailed to a fence post and didn’t go closer until he had help. When he came home, he told Mary she would have to take over the keeping of the house. Six long years ago.

When did my life become such drudgery? Had it ever been any- thing else? At least not since Ma died, which seemed like an

eternity ago.


M a ry ’s Ble s si ng

4 4 4

Daniel Winthrop whistled while he dressed for church. He looked forward with anticipation to the moment when he would lay eyes on Mary Murray. Even her name had a musical ring to it.

He’d been waiting and planning what to say when he approached her. Today he would start his subtle courting. With the situation at the Murray farm, he knew he would have his work cut out for him to convince her she could start a life of her own with him. After he achieved that, he’d ask her father for her hand.

Visions of coming home to her each night and building a family together moved through his head like the slides of photo- graphs in the Holmes stereopticon they had at home. He loved her already, but more than that, he wanted to get her out of that house, where she was loaded down with so much work and responsibility.

Daniel had often gone with his mother when she bought fresh produce from the Murrays, so he knew what her life had been like since her mother died. Their families came to Oregon on the same wagon train, so he’d known her all his life. He was only three years older than she was, and he had watched her over the last few years as she blossomed into a beautiful young woman.

Mary needed to be appreciated and cared for, and he was just the man to do it.

“Daniel, we’re leaving soon.” His father’s voice prodded him from his dreams.

With a final peek into the tall cheval glass, he straightened his necktie before he headed out the door of his room. “I’m on my way.”

He bounded down the stairs and took their picnic basket


Lena neL son DooLey

from his mother. “Something really smells good.” He gave a loud sniff. “Do you need me to test and make sure it’s all right?”

He welcomed her playful slap on his hand that crept toward the cover on the basket. Her laughter reminded him of the chimes he had heard in the larger church in Portland.

“Not a single bite until dinner.” Like a queen, she swept out the door Father held open for her.

Their familiar ritual warmed his heart. He looked forward to creating family rituals with Mary. Once more he whistled as he headed toward the brougham. Nothing could cloud his day.

When they pulled up to the Methodist church, his father guided the team toward the back, where a large area paved with fine gravel gave plenty of space for those who arrived in horse- drawn vehicles. While Father helped Mother down from the open carriage, Daniel took the reins and tied them to one of the hitching rails that outlined the space. He chose the rail under

a spreading black cottonwood tree where the limbs were just beginning to show the leaf buds.

He scanned the lot, looking for the Murray wagon. Not there. Disappointed, he stared at the ground. Please, God, let Mary come today.

Clopping hoofs and a jingling harness accompanied a wagon

taking too fast of a turn into the parking area. Daniel cut his eyes toward the advancing disaster. Two of the wheels did indeed lift from the ground. Before he could get a shout out of his mouth, he heard Mary’s sweet voice.

“Lean to the right, boys!”

George and Bobby, Mary’s brothers, scrambled across the seat, followed by Frances. The wagon wheels settled into the gravel, and Mary pulled on the reins.

“Easy. Settle down.” Even though she spoke to the horses, he

heard every word.


M a ry ’s Ble s si ng

His heart that had almost leapt from his chest also settled down when he realized she was no longer in danger. Thank You, Lord.

The wagon came to a standstill, and Mary put her dainty hand to her chest and released a deep breath. The green cotton fabric, sprigged with white flowers, looked good on her, setting off her red hair, pulled up into a bunch on the top of her head. Without a hat or bonnet covering it, the sun danced across the curls. He loved seeing the wisps frame her face. That’s how he pictured her when he dreamed about their future.

Mary sat a moment without moving. She was probably scared out of her wits. Where was her father? He should have been driving the wagon, not her. How long had it been since the man had attended services? Daniel couldn’t remember the last time. It was not a good thing for a man to neglect his spiritual nature. He’d just have to pray harder for Mr. Murray.

Daniel hurried toward them. “Hi, Mary.”

She looked up, straight into his eyes, fear still flickering in the back of her gaze. “Daniel. Good morning.” Her words came out riding on short breaths.

He took hold of the bridle of the horse nearest him. “I can hitch your team under the trees for you.”

After releasing another deep breath, Mary nodded. “Thank you. I’d like that.” She turned toward her siblings. “Frances, you get the picnic basket, and George, you carry the jug of water. Go find us a pew, perhaps near the back of the sanctuary, and put the things under the bench. I’ll be right in.”

The younger children climbed out of the wagon and followed their sister’s instructions. Mary watched them until they’d gone around the side of the building toward the front. Then she stood up.

Before she could try to climb over the side, Daniel hurried to


Lena neL son DooLey

help. He held out his hand to her. She stared at it, then looked at his face.

“I’ll help you down.” He gave her his most beguiling smile. For the first time since she arrived, she smiled back, and pink

bled up her neck into her cheeks. Her blush went straight to his heart. Oh, yes, he loved this woman.

Mary slipped her slim fingers into his hand. Even through the white cotton gloves, he felt the connection as warmth sparked up his arm like fireworks on Independence Day. She glanced down so she could see the step. When she hesitated, he let go of her hand and both of his spanned her tiny waist. With a deft swing, he had her on the ground in seconds. He wished he had the right to pull her into an embrace. Wouldn’t that just set the tongues a-wagging? He couldn’t do that to her. Mary needed to be cherished for the treasure she was. And as far as Daniel could see, her father really didn’t treat her that way.

He watched her walk toward the front of the building, enjoying the way her skirt swayed with each step, barely brushing the tops of her black patent shoes. That is one beau- tiful woman. He turned back to her team. Walking beside the horses, he led them toward the hitching rail where his family’s brougham was parked, hoping it would give him the oppor- tunity to help her back up onto the wagon seat. As he crossed the lot, several other conveyances entered, and he waved and exchanged greetings with each family.

The church was the first one established in Oregon City. At that time, it was the Methodist Mission but grew as the town did. Along the way, members of this body had a great influence on what happened in the burgeoning city. And that was still true today. His Winthrop ancestors, who settled nearby, had been instrumental in both the growth of the church and of the

town. He felt a sense of pride at being a part of something that


M a ry ’s Ble s si ng

important, and he wanted to increase the town’s assets, because he planned to raise his own family here. Maybe establish a dynasty of his own, watching his sons and daughters, then his grandchildren, prosper.

His woolgathering slowed the progress of tying the horses to their spot. He needed to hurry so he wouldn’t miss the begin- ning of the service. As he opened the front door, Mrs. Slidell struck the first chord on the new Mason and Hamlin reed organ. The church had ordered the instrument from the manufacturing plant in Buffalo, New York. When it arrived only a couple of weeks before, the music added a special feeling to the worship and helped most people stay on the right tune better than the old piano did. He hummed along with the introduction to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” his favorite hymn.

Glancing around the room, Daniel finally spied Mary and her siblings sitting on the second pew from the back on the right side of the aisle. He squared his shoulders and confidently approached the wooden bench. He asked if he could sit with them, and she scooted over to make room. Just what he wanted. He would be sitting right beside her.

Throughout the service, Daniel had a hard time keeping his mind on the proceedings. Mary sat close enough for him to touch her if he leaned a little to his right. He was so tempted to bump against her arm, but he held back. He imagined clasping her hand in his and holding it for longer than just a few seconds while helping her down from a conveyance or through a doorway, really wrapping his large fingers around hers and intertwining their fingers. Just thinking about it caught his breath.

He whooshed it out, and she turned toward him, her eyes wid- ening with a question. After flashing a smile at her, he glanced up at Rev. Horton. The man’s delivery was smooth, and his words

made a lot of sense. He’d be a good pastor for them, but Daniel


Lena neL son DooLey

couldn’t keep a single word of his message in his mind. Not while he could feel Mary’s presence with every cell in his body.

Instead, in his mind he searched up and down the streets of Oregon City, seeking a place to turn into a home for him and his beloved. If the right house wasn’t for sale, he could build her one. She could help him choose the design. That’s what he’d do. Build her the home she’d always dreamed of. His heart squeezed with the knowledge of what he planned to do. He could hardly keep the idea to himself. He hoped it wouldn’t take too long for him to convince her that they should marry.

He’d even hire servants to help her manage their home. Whatever her heart desired, he’d do everything he could to present her with all she wanted. He only hoped it wouldn’t take too long. At twenty years old, he was ready to move on to the next phase of his life—with Mary by his side.

“Now let us bow our heads in prayer.” Rev. Horton raised his hands to bless the whole congregation.

Daniel dropped his head toward his chest. How had the man finished his sermon without Daniel noticing? Next Sunday he’d have to listen more closely. He really did want to get to know the new pastor and his family.

“Amen.” After the pastor pronounced the word, several other men echoed it.

Daniel watched his father rise from the second pew near the front on the left side of the aisle and take his place beside the new preacher. He placed his arm across the man’s shoulders. “Dear friends, on your behalf, I welcome our new pastor. Now let’s all meet his lovely family.” He waved toward a woman sitting on the front pew. “Mrs. Horton?”

The woman stood and turned toward the congregation. She was pretty, but not as young or as pretty as Mary.

“And,” Father’s voice boomed, “these are their children.”


M a ry ’s Ble s si ng

Four stair-step youngsters stood beside their mother. The tallest, a boy. The next, a girl. Then another boy, and the shortest, a cute little girl. As if they had rehearsed it, they bowed toward the people in unison.

Several women across the sanctuary oooed or aahed before a loud round of applause broke out. The three oldest children gave shy smiles, and the youngest tugged at her mother’s skirts. When Mrs. Horton picked her up, the girl waved to the people, clearly enjoying the attention.

“I hope you all brought your blankets and picnic baskets.” Father beamed at the crowd. “We’re going to spread our food together. I believe there are plenty of sawhorse tables set up near the building. And you can pick a spot under the trees to settle for your meal. Just don’t forget to take the time to greet our new ministerial family while you’re here.” Father led the Horton family down the aisle and out the front door.

Daniel turned back toward Mary. “Perhaps you and your brothers and sister could spread your blanket beside my family’s.” A tiny smile graced Mary’s sweet mouth. “If you’re sure your

mother wouldn’t mind, I’d like that.”

“Oh, yes. I’m sure.” He stepped into the nearly empty aisle and moved back to let Mary and her family precede him, and he quickly followed behind.

His heartbeat accelerated just thinking about spending spe- cial time with the object of his affections. Without thinking, he started whistling a happy tune.

Mary glanced back at him. “I didn’t know you whistled.”

“Oh, yes. I’m a man of many talents.” His heart leapt at the interest he read in her gaze. Things were well on their way to working out just the way he wanted them to.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"Live The Dream : No More Excuses" Book Review

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Center Street (April 3, 2012)

***Special thanks to
Sharon Farnell for sending me a review copy.***

My husband and I were privileged to be a part of Larry Winters team at a real growing stage in our lives. I have heard him speak live and I've never seen a more down-to-earth, genuine, funny, transparent person. He has a way of engaging a room of 10,000 people and making you feel like you are the only one in the room and he is speaking directly to you. His story is inspiring and takes away any excuse that might be holding you back. This book is well written and is almost as good as hearing him speak live (almost). One of the key points for me is that while he made his money in Amway, he isn't saying you have to be in Amway to succeed, but you do have to be your own boss and he is right about that. He has a lot of life experience to share and I recommend this book if you are needing a little inspiration in your life!


Larry Winters is an entrepreneur and popular motivational speaker. Through humor and passion, Larry has shared his life experiences and business philosophy to thousands for over twenty years – empowering them to pursue their own dreams. He is the founder and president of Leadership Team Development, Inc., a company that provides business support materials for Amway business owners in North America.

Visit the author's website.


Early in his career, Larry Winters found himself in a position so many Americans are in today. At the age of 24, working with his wife at a car wash, Larry Winters was struggling to get by. His credit cards were maxed out, he lived in a run-down, 900 square foot house with his wife where they couldn’t pay their rent, and at times, they could barely scrape enough money together to eat. Instead of giving up, Winters decided he needed to make a change for the better. He seized control of his life and, day by day, built his own business. Along the way, he learned many lessons about sacrifice, personal responsibility, determination and independence. LIVE THE DREAM: No More Excuses (Center Street, April 3, 2012, Hardcover) is Winters' inspiring story of his journey from a young man with no ambition to a man in control of his financial destiny. With personal anecdotes, hilarious narrative and insightful findings, Live the Dream: No More Excuses follows Winters’ life lessons through his brief career in minor league baseball, his opportunity to create a personal business, and his success that has led him to become a prominent motivational speaker today. He shares the business principles, people skills and spiritual revelations that changed his actions, attitude and the way he treated others. He realized he was living an excuse-filled life, and he had to face his unwarranted justifications for living an unfulfilled life.

A great tool for upcoming college and high school graduates, or anyone looking to make a change in their life, LIVE THE DREAM provides an inspirational blue-print for readers to give up excuses and achieve their life goals - all while staying grounded in what really matters: family, friends and faith.

Product Details:

List Price: $21.99

Hardcover: 208 pages

Publisher: Center Street (April 3, 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1455513628

ISBN-13: 978-1455513628


Drowning in a Car Wash

Who has never tasted what is bitter does not know what is sweet.

—German proverb

There are some times in life you can never forget—even though you’d love to. For me, the year was 1985.

My wife, Pam, and I were happily married and raising a young family, yet I felt as though I was a complete failure as a provider. Nothing seemed to be working, and the world was crashing in.

We were living in a nine-hundred-square-foot wood frame house that was built on a tiny lot just after World War II— and we were three months behind on the $225 rent. The pressure we were under was painful.

You should have seen the place. It was painted light green and had a driveway that held one and a half compact cars and had practically no backyard. The dirt-floor basement was unusable. To put it mildly, it was a mess.

When my checks bounced, the landlord would warn me, “Larry, this isn’t working. You’ve got to get caught up. It can’t go on like this!”

In truth, we were one sentence away from being home- less. There were many times when he could have said, “That’s it. I am locking the doors and calling the sheriff.”

If this had happened, we would have had to move in with either Pam’s parents or mine. I shuddered at the very thought. What an embarrassment that would have been.

“Richer or Poorer”

While I was just getting started in my new business, I had tried selling cars to bring in some much-needed extra cash. But the car business was so bad in the mid-1980s that I decided to give it up and look for something else. Of course, the car dealership took back the Volkswagen Rabbit they had loaned me. Bingo! We had no transportation.

That January, my cousin and I decided to launch a lawn care business with a borrowed pickup truck. But the weather was too cold in North Carolina for the first couple of months, so we had very few customers. Finally, I started getting twenty or twenty-five dollars to mow a lawn or do odd jobs, but since we had to sink some cash into equipment, my bills were far outpacing my income.

Everything was financed—our furniture, even our television set. Before long I was as much as nine months behind on what I owed Visa, MasterCard, Household Finance, and bank loans. The pile of bills was growing higher and higher, and we owed everybody—including Pam’s relatives.

I’d write checks for my phone and electric bills and pray I
could somehow cover them before they bounced.

I had no credit, no car. I was buried in debt, barely keeping my head above water.

In April 1984, our daughter, Tara, was born. She was our pride and joy, and we scraped together what little we could to buy her baby food and diapers. We would visit our parents’ home on the weekends—basically to get something to eat.

Pam and I often recited the vows that we made at our wedding: “For richer or poorer, for better or for worse.”

Truer words were never spoken. We were certainly poorer—and things were progressively getting worse!

Shake, Rattle, and Roll!

Pam’s parents were fully aware of the financial crisis we were going through, and they looked for ways to help. They told me, “We have this old car on our farm that isn’t working. If we can get it up and running, you can use it.”

What a sight it was! The 1977 Mustang II, a four-seat two door with over a hundred thousand miles on the speedometer, had been totaled twice and was sitting there with grass actually growing through the windows! It had no air- conditioning, and the seats were badly torn. I don’t know how we managed, but we straightened out the frame and somehow got it repaired and licensed.

It was painted primer-gray, and there wasn’t an ounce of gloss anywhere—just plenty of rust on the doors, the hood, and the fenders.

However, there was a much bigger problem. When I would reach fifty-five miles an hour, the car would begin to shimmy and shake so violently that I thought I’d lose control of the vehicle. It felt like the wheels were literally coming off! But, hey, at least it was transportation, so I just drove slower than I wanted to.

Our small rented house had a hundred-gallon kerosene heating tank. But at $1.50 a gallon, we could usually afford to feed it only about five gallons at a time. On cold nights, when the money ran out, so did the fuel.

This happened more than once. One evening when I arrived home, the water in the toilet was frozen solid and the dog’s water bowl was frozen over, too.

I vividly remember the time our dog, unbeknownst to us, bumped into the kerosene heater in the middle of the night. The flame went out, but the furnace kept blowing. We woke up the next morning, and the entire room was dusted black. I looked at Pam, and she had black soot smudged under her eyes and black in her nostrils. She glanced over at me, and I asked, “Do I look as funny as you do? ”

“Yes,” she said, smiling.

The curtains were black; the walls were black. Then the dog jumped up on our bed—and even the spots around his eyes weren’t white anymore!

In my mind’s eye I can still see that modest house. One window had a broken pane for three years because we didn’t have the money to repair it. Our furniture probably wouldn’t have been welcome at a garage sale. It was nothing but junk.

I look back on those days and wonder how we ever survived. However, there was one possession I had that outweighed all the pressure, all the stress, and every negative. As unlikely as it may seem, down deep in my heart I had an overwhelming, all-consuming dream that could not be denied.

In this book I want to share the lessons I have learned that I believe will get you to where you want to be whether you’ve experienced some success or you’re newly struggling as I was. I am telling my story in this book because I have been out of work and in debt, and I understand all too well the feelings of despair and hopelessness.

I reached the point where I ran out of excuses, but I did have a choice. I decided to live my dream rather than remain in a rut.

Let me tell you what brought me to that point.

A Lesson from Dad

As a young teen growing up in west-central New Jersey, I remember a particular day when I was standing beside my dad while he was shaving. He paused for a moment, then looked at me in the reflection of the mirror and said, “Larry, you are smaller than most kids. But that just means you are going to have to try a little harder than the next guy. It doesn’t mean you are any less of a person—you’ll just have to work more.”

His words were etched in my mind from that day for- ward. After all, I was about five feet five, so I knew I could never dunk a basketball, and I couldn’t sing or dance—so there was no future in sports or as an entertainer.

My first exposure to self-employment was my father. He owned his own Atlantic Richfield gas station (now ARCO) at the corner of Baird Boulevard and Marlton Pike in Camden, New Jersey.

Growing up, I remember that practically everybody I knew and liked bought gas from my dad’s station. Ours was a family business—and people supported us as if we were their relatives. If you needed a tune-up or a new set of tires, there was only one place for our friends to go: Dad’s service station.

Unfortunately, today such loyalty has almost disappeared. Instead, people, feeling the economic crunch, look at the price of gas on the huge signs before deciding where to fill up.

In 1973, times were changing, and my dad sold his business (which had expanded into towing and auto salvage), and he announced, “We’re moving to North Carolina.” I was sixteen years old and wasn’t exactly excited about leaving everything I knew and loved. But this wasn’t my decision to make.

During my teen years, Dad was always telling me, “Son, you need to work for yourself and own your own business. It’s the only way to go.”

However, I couldn’t relate to his advice. At school I was being told just the opposite: “Get a good education so you can find a good job.” In other words, go to work for some- one else, don’t quit, and maybe you can retire when you’re sixty-five.

Education wasn’t exactly my thing. In school, the only subjects I excelled in were recess and gym. I hated math and science. To me, homeroom was the place to close my eyes and take a nap.

I spent practically all my spare time playing baseball, and I even convinced myself I had enough talent to make the pros. I told my folks, “I’m going to be a millionaire someday”—and I honestly believed I would make it to the major leagues.

After we settled into our new life in North Carolina, one summer I worked at the Bonanza Sirloin Pit as a busboy. At least it kept me busy and put a few dollars in my pocket. But there were Saturday afternoons when, during a break after lunch, I would stand on the back porch and look up at that clear Carolina blue sky dotted with white, puffy clouds.

Drinking in the fresh air, I would think, If only I was waterskiing, out on the golf course, or riding dirt bikes with my buddies.

Reluctantly, I’d go back inside and be all smiles, trying to do a good job, but it was almost more than I could take. Why am I trapped in this restaurant? I wondered. Here I was, scraping food off of dirty dishes when all I wanted to do was to be outdoors enjoying a beautiful day. But my day- dreaming was futile because I needed the money to pay for the used car I had bought.

Even at the age of sixteen, I longed to be free!

While in high school, to make a few extra bucks, I began working at the Constan Car Wash for $2.30 an hour. It was a brick structure on Old Wake Forest Road in Raleigh, North Carolina, that had a hundred-foot pull-through tunnel, five full-service bays, and a cashier’s booth.

You should have seen me in those high school days. I wore long hair down to my shoulders and was trying to grow a mustache—but my upper lip looked like a catfish!

The car wash was a valuable experience. I had to show up on time, work hard, and practice plenty of self-discipline.

After graduation, my only dream was to head for Florida the following spring and try out for a major league baseball team. That was exactly what I did.

It was tough, but I was given a chance. I played in the International League for twenty-five dollars a game. I kept saying to myself, I’ve got the talent, and I’m going to make it. I just know it!

But as the days and weeks passed, there weren’t any solid offers. Well, maybe next year, I consoled myself.

At home, my car wash job was waiting for me—yet my heart was still in baseball.

That fall, however, I damaged my knee while having fun at one of my other passions, motocross bike racing. When the accident happened, I knew in an instant: There goes my knee. There goes my speed. There goes my baseball.

Instead of another spring training on those fields of dreams in Florida, my future seemed tied with a rope to the car wash. Where else was I to go? At that point I was a young man without much of a future.

The woman who would eventually become my wife had enrolled in a local college, but because of an illness missed so many classes she decided to drop out.

That’s when a friend asked her if she would like to take a job as a cashier at a local car wash. Needing an income, she quickly jumped at the opportunity.

So this is how Pam and I met. She was a good-looker and brightened up the day—not just for me, but for all the employees.

Her view of me, though, was somewhat different. As she describes it, “I thought Larry was obnoxious and a real jerk! In fact, I didn’t want anything to do with him.”

Let’s face it: I was far from being a great catch. At that time in my life, I used foul language, drank too much, and was definitely rough around the edges.

But as the Good Book says, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

In those days I was dating some other girls, but none had the exceptional qualities of Pam. She was a super nice, sweet girl, and I wasn’t used to that.

When we first started hanging out, there was a fellow who was interested in her, but I’m not sure if she trusted the guy. So on Friday and Saturday nights she would ask if I would tag along with the group. After a while, since we were spending so much time together, we realized that maybe we were meant for each other.

Pam and I dated for five years before getting married— we were both still working at the car wash. As she tells it, “I finally realized that deep down inside, Larry had a heart of gold and truly loved people.”

I don’t know how I deserved her, but I thank God every day that Pam fell in love with me.

When I was promoted to assistant manager, then manager, I thought I had it made. It was all I knew, and I felt I was on my way. But the pay was small, and the future was not much on which to pin my hopes. But what were my options? This seemed to be my lot in life, and I was going to make the best of it.

I tried to look important, wearing a huge key ring on my belt. Security became crucial when we joined a corrections department program and had convicted felons working for us at the car wash. A van would drop the men off at 7:30 a.m., and I was responsible for those guys for the rest of the day.

By now I was making $320 a week take-home pay, but I was risking my life! One day, I walked into my assistant manager’s office to find him on the floor being choked by a disgruntled prisoner who thought he wasn’t being treated fairly.

I thought, This is nuts! Surely there must have been a better way to make a living.

* * *

I hung out with people who drank beer, burped, and played softball. After a game the guys would send their wives and girlfriends home, and we’d head to a bar where we sat around and bragged how great we were in high school or American Legion ball. Of course I would tell exaggerated stories of my spring training escapades in Florida. We thought they were the “glory days.” The weeks and months drifted by, and I had no real direction in my life. I was on a path going nowhere.

At my job, I had been promoted to district manager of the car wash chain over four locations, and I was resigned to the fact that this would probably be my career. Between my income and Pam’s take-home pay of $280 a week we were getting by.

In August 1980, just three months after we were married, a friend asked if we would like to take a look at a business opportunity. I didn’t even think twice.

“Why not? ” I responded. I knew deep down that no matter how long and hard I worked at the car wash, I had to face the fact that it would eventually lead to a dead-end street—even if I stayed there my whole life.

The presentation I was shown that night was simple. I could become an independent business owner, selling exclusive and national-brand products—items people use every day, such as vitamins and household supplies. There was a compensation plan that would reward my efforts and plenty of support to guide and encourage me along the way. Plus, if I built an organization of men and women working with me, it could produce a stream of income with effort.

I wasn’t sure about having others join me, but when my friend said, “All a person can say is yes or no,” that somehow clicked with me.

However, almost immediately, a tug of war began playing in my mind. It was as if I was hearing two voices: one cheering, You can do this, the other warning, Stay where you are. But I knew in my heart I could work for the car wash until they dragged me out feet first and still never own the business.

“Sign me up,” I responded. What did I have to lose? Financially, I knew that even with an opportunity to be my own boss, it wouldn’t happen overnight, and I needed to keep working at my day job.

During the next few weeks and months, because of what I was learning about this new enterprise, I became so excited for the future that nothing else seemed to matter.

I went to work every day and put in my hours, but my mind was spinning like a top.

Before long, every possible moment I was sharing the business opportunity with those I knew—and even those I didn’t. From the beginning, my belief in the products and the strength of the organization gave me a determination to build a business that would change my future.

I was totally unfamiliar with the techniques of qualify- ing potential associates; mine was a shotgun approach, and I targeted anything that moved. What I lacked in strategy I made up for in enthusiasm!

For Pam, however, it was different. She saw a spark in my eyes but was personally too shy to get involved. To say she had a poor self-image is an understatement. Pam had been abused as a young teen and was living with shame. Her deep-seated problems were linked and layered—so much so that her confidence was shattered.

She would make excuses about why she couldn’t go with me to share this new business. “I’m too tired.” Or, “I’ve really got to stay home and do some cleaning.” One excuse was as good as the next.

The truth was that Pam was absolutely terrified of speaking—not just in public, but sometimes one-on-one. The very thought would make her break out in hives!

I can still remember the nights I would whisper in her ear, “Pam, you are a winner. You can do anything.”

Little by little, I was raising her self-esteem. Her belief was growing, and we were becoming a team.

As the days rolled by, I found myself reading self-help books, attending business events, and applying the principles I was learning to my daily life. Principles dealing with goal setting, personal development, team building, and more that we will discuss later in this book.

My optimism knew no bounds, and I threw myself headlong into building what I believed was our answer.

Nights, weekends, it didn’t matter. My calendar was full, and the dream for my future became a burning fire. Then came a moment of decision.

I had been building my new sales and marketing enterprise for about two years when my boss at the car wash called me into his office. What he said caused me to stop dead in my tracks. “Larry, we need to put you on a new schedule, and it means you will be working every other night and every other weekend.”

My heart sank. How could I build my dream if all my spare time was suddenly being yanked away from me? It was as if everything I had worked toward was coming to a halt.

He told me about a car wash location with problems that needed to be straightened out, and he let me know that would be part of my assignment. “I think you are the one to handle this situation.”

Instantly, I responded, “I’m sorry. I can’t do that.” My words fell on deaf ears.

“I have already talked with upper management, and you don’t have a choice. Either take the new schedule or we’ll have to fire you,” he bluntly told me.

“Sir,” I replied, “I do have a choice!”

He smiled. “I know you have a little business going on the side, but I also know you’re not making enough at that to pay your bills.” He thought he had me over a barrel. Looking him straight in the eyes, I said, “If I have to work every other night and every other weekend, I’ll never be able to build my business. And anyway, my future is not in washing cars.” My answer seemed to startle him, and immediately he shot back, “Larry, don’t you know I have to fire you? ” “I’ll save you the time,” I quickly responded. “I quit!”

He was shocked when I reached down, unlocked the ring of keys from my belt, handed them over to him, and repeated, “You heard it. I quit! I’m out of here!”

My decision was absolutely final. There was no turning back.

Logically, it made no sense. Here I was, a husband and father with serious financial obligations, yet I was walking away from my only steady source of income. My new business was just getting off the ground—but was far from producing the kind of money I needed to survive. I learned in a hurry that there was no “get rich quick” scheme.

In my heart and mind, however, it all made perfect sense. My dream for success as an independent business owner was growing by the day—and I wasn’t about to spend my life drowning in a car wash!

If I was going to be successful, I had to put things in high gear and share my opportunity with as many people as possible. There was no time to waste.

In starting a venture of any kind, momentum is essential. But I had the extra pressure of creating enough income to replace the paycheck I had left behind.

One evening, shortly after I began my new enterprise, the phone rang at about 7:30. A friend in the business asked, “Do you think you can show the plan tonight? ”

Without hesitation, I told him, “Just tell me the time. I’m ready.”

“Well, the fellow gets off work at 11:30. How about 11:45 tonight at your place? ”

Wouldn’t you know it: just before they arrived, our heater ran out of kerosene and I didn’t even have five dollars to run out and buy some more. I wasn’t about to cancel the meeting just because I didn’t have enough cash. No more excuses!

Pam was in the bedroom with an electric blanket, so I brought our little electric heater into the living room—but it was far too small to adequately do the job.

I prepared the best I could, even putting on a second layer of underwear beneath my three-piece suit. Plus, I drank a few cups of hot chocolate to warm up.

When my associate and his friend arrived, I apologetically said, “I know it’s a little chilly in here, but we’ll be fine.”

I set up a small whiteboard and began to diagram how the business worked. Then I began to explain how people would be interested because everybody needs some extra money. Plus, it’s a great way to form new friendships and prepare for long-term financial security.

At first, the men were sitting a few feet apart on the couch. But it seemed that every time I turned around, they had moved closer together. Finally, they pulled the afghan from the back of the couch and wrapped themselves together.

At the end of my presentation I bravely asked the fellow, “If you decide to become an independent business owner making $60,000 a year and could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? ”

“Someplace warm!” he answered.

Fulfilling my dream often meant driving long distances to present the plan and attend conventions.

One night I was returning to Raleigh at about two o’clock in the morning. It had been a long day, and I was really tired. Then, coming down a hill, my Mustang must have hit fifty-five miles an hour because it began shaking and swerving all over the road. It was like wheeling a shopping cart filled with bowling balls!

Suddenly, I saw a flashing blue light in my rearview mirror, and a patrolman pulled me over.

Shining a flashlight in my face, he asked, “Mister, have you been drinking? ”

“No, sir,” I told him truthfully, “I haven’t had a drink in years.”

He was puzzled. “I thought you were the worst drunk driver I had seen in weeks.”

Once he spoke with me, he realized I had not been drinking.

I finally convinced the officer that the car had a mechanical problem and could not go over fifty-five miles per hour without uncontrollable vibrations. He let me go.

The challenges seemed almost overwhelming, but nothing was going to dampen my spirit or slow me down.

One of my darkest days was when Pam and I had made a commitment to attend a business rally in the organization, and we were doing everything in our power to scrape up enough money for the event.

From our landscaping business we had put together about $600 in cash that Pam was to deposit in the bank the next day. That evening we spent time writing out checks to several companies we owed and put them in the mail.

However, when my wife made it to the bank, the $600 was nowhere to be found. She absolutely panicked. The sympathetic teller went out to the car with her to search for the cash because she understood the dire situation we were in. But the money was never found.

To us, this was like losing $1 million, because every one of those checks bounced.

To this day, I don’t know how we managed to keep our word and attend that event, but even through our tears we knew we had to be there. We scrounged up every dollar and dime we could find. In the long run it was the only answer we could see to learn how to correct our desperate financial situation, and I was totally committed to doing whatever it took to reach our objective.

Pam wondered, “Will success ever happen for us? Will our circumstances ever change? Is it always going to be this way? ”

Day after day, month after month, I reassured her: “Trust me. I know in my heart we are on the right path. What we have found is bigger than you can ever imagine. I won’t let you down—I promise.”

There were no more excuses for failure. We were going to live our dream. The question wasn’t if, but when.

This is an excerpt from LIVE THE DREAM by Larry Winters. Copyright © 2012 Larry Winters. Reprinted by permission of Center Street. All rights reserved.

"YESHUA: The King, The Demon & The Traitor" Book Review

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today's Wild Card authors are:

and the book:

Authentic Media (March 1, 2012)

***Special thanks to
Mike Parker for sending me a review copy.***

My kids and I loved the first book by these authors and are just as pleased with the second book. It is about time that someone took Bible stories and characters and brought them to life in an interesting way for the kids of this generation. That has been successfully accomplished by GP and Paula. I could not be more excited about the way my kids are reacting to these stories. I highly recommend these books!


GP Taylor is a New York Times best selling author whose works include Shadowmancer, Wormwood, Tersias, The Curse of Salamander Street and The Tizzle Sisters. He lives on the banks of a river in the midst of a dark wood, an arrow's flight from the Prince Regent Hotel near the 'town at the end of the line'. He spends his days writing and collecting firewood. Visit him online at

Paula K. Parker is a nationally recognized playwright, author, and freelance writer whose works include the stage plays, “Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility” and “Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.” She is highly respected in the Christian entertainment industry and is frequently called upon to write about it. Visit her online at


YESHUA: The King, The Demon & The Traitor is the second volume in the “Ancient Mysteries Retold” series from U.K.-based publisher, Authentic Media. This two-volume collection recounts some of the most wondrous stories from the greatest book of all time - the Bible. The first volume, YHWH: The Flood, The Fish & The Giant included 20 stories from the Old Testament while the new volume includes 29 stories from the New Testament, specifically from the life of Christ. Far from being simply a rehash of old Sunday school stories, these are rich, compelling tales that stand up to anything Harry Potter or Percy Jackson can dish out.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: Authentic Media (March 1, 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1860248292

ISBN-13: 978-1860248290


Chapter 1

The Birth

The remnants of the evening fire smouldered in the ring of stones. It had lasted long into the night but now, the moon had set long before and the sky was filled with bright stars. They clung to the canopy of the sky as if they were diamonds sewn on to the velvet of the night.

A small boy no more than ten years old lay huddled in the long cloak that belonged to his older brother. It was wrapped around him, covering all but his sun burnt face and dark eyes. It had been discarded in the panic. He was alone. The hillside was deserted. Stirring from his sleep as if the whispering wind was speaking to him of his fate, the boy slowly opened one eye and then the other. He was fearful of what he would see.

Looking out across the valley, the stars burned brighter than they had ever done before. It was as if they had come to life and moved across the galaxy, pushed by an unseen hand. It was then that he had the sudden and dreadful feeling that all was not well. Gone was his father. Gone was his brother. Gone were the rest of the men who had been on the hillside. Gone were the sheep. Yet, the boy knew he was not alone. He had the feeling before, one night when he was seven years old. Sleeping on the roof he had dreamt that something was staring at him from the darkness. It was only when he woke from his sleep and opened his eyes that he had seen the snake at the foot of his bed. Its head had been folded back as if about to strike. The long black tongue had flickered in the darkness and then… the hand of his father had snatched it around the neck and cast it from the roof.

Now, as he lay alone on the hillside in the dark of night with only the ever-brightening light of the stars, he felt the same.

‘Do you always sleep so deeply?’ the dark voice behind him asked. The boy dare not turn. He looked at the sky, convinced that the heavens were falling as the stars drew closer. ‘Daniel – do you hear me?’ the voice asked.

Daniel turned slowly. Whoever was there, knew his name.

‘Where is my father… my brother?’ he asked as his words fell from his mouth and then suddenly stopped. Terror gripped his throat as he looked up at the biggest man he had ever seen. His mouth fell open as he panted and gripped a tuft of grass.

The man threw his head back and laughed. He loomed above the boy, bright and radiant, a long sword in his hand.

‘Fear not, Daniel. I will not harm you.’

‘What…’ Daniel answered slowly, the only word his feeble mind could think of. He licked his lips and croaked, ‘…are you?’

‘An Angel – that is what I am – a messenger of the King of kings and I bring the word to you…’

The boy-shepherd screamed in terror. With every word that the Angel spoke he glowed brighter and brighter. It was then that Daniel realised that there was not one man standing before him but a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand. They were not stars in the sky but Angels that swooped back and forth above his head. As if in one voice they all sang, filling the night air. The boy fell back and lay on the ground staring up at the Angel who stood over him.

‘My father….’ Daniel screamed hoping his words would be heard. ‘What have you done with him?’

The Angel laughed, bent down and then, with one hand gripped around the boy’s waist, lifted Daniel from the ground and held him in the air.

‘The Heavens declare… that tonight… in Bethlehem … the KING is born and YOU… will be a witness to HIM…’ The Angel roared, his words like the howling of a volcano that echoed across the valley and around the mountains. ‘Go… find your father and you brother… they have gone to the town. NOW RUN…’ the Angel shouted as he put the boy on the ground and nudged him in the back. ‘As fast as you can – go… quickly…’

Daniel dared not look back. He ran through the parting phalanxes of radiant creatures that stood around him. As he passed each one, they turned into wisps of silver mist. Daniel ran and ran, tears streaming down his face as the words of the Angel echoed through his mind again and again.

‘A King… the baby…’ he said over and over as he ran towards the town on the path he had walked a hundred times.

In the town below, at the back of a small tavern above where the landlord kept the animals, an old man tapped on the door.

‘Congratulations!’ The old man paused. ‘There are some men – shepherds – who want to see the child.’

Inside, a man stood up and moved to the doorway, so as not to wake the woman who slept on a small bed by the fire. ‘What?’ he asked.

‘Yosef – wake Miriam… a rabble of dirty shepherds just arrived at my house and they stink more than my animals,’ the host explained. ‘They want to see the child. I told them, “No, leave the young couple alone,” but when they told me their story, I changed my mind,’ he said quickly, his voice raising in excitment.

‘Their story?’ Yosef asked. ‘What happened… how do they know we are here?’

‘I should let them tell you,’ the old man said as he walked away.

‘Yosef?’ his wife Miriam called to him. He crossed the floor and knelt by her, giving her a drink of water. Then he lit the lamp and set it back on the top of the post. ‘What is happening?’ she asked, her voice still weak with fatigue.

‘The owner of the house said that shepherds have arrived, wanting to see our baby.’

Before Yosef could finish speaking there was a knock at the door. The old man stepped inside, followed by six dirty, disheveled men. They were hesitant and wide-eyed as they entered. Each looked around the room as if expecting to see more than was before them. When they saw the sleeping baby, they gasped and fell to their knees.

‘It is the child!’ one of them said.

‘Just as we were told,’ another agreed.

Yosef and Miriam looked at each other and then at the shepherds. ‘Who told you about our baby?’ Yosef asked.

The shepherds looked at each other as though uncertain what to say. Finally, the one who spoke first turned to them. His words were hesitant. ‘An…angel,’ he whispered. ‘We were watching our sheep nearby. It was like any other night then suddenly a man appeared in the sky. He was an angel!

The door burst open a young boy rushed in and dived into the arms of one of the shepherds

‘Father! He was huge!’ Daniel said, ‘Taller than Goliath must have been, with a robe that was blinding white!’

‘Daniel, please, let me tell the story,’ his father said. He turned back to Miriam and Yosef. ‘I am not ashamed to say that we were terrified. We cried out and fell to the ground. This…angel…told us to not be afraid. Then he said he had good news. “It will be for everyone in the world,” he said. “Today, in the birth place of King David, a Saviour has been born. He is the Messiah. You will know it is him when you find a new born baby lying in a feeding trough.’

Daniel pushed free from his father and took hold of Yosef by the hand.

‘Suddenly the whole sky was filled with other angels,’ the boy told Yosef. ‘I have never heard anything like it; it sounded like all of creation was singing. Then they turned and – flew – upwards. This child is the KING…’

His father pulled Daniel back apologetically.

‘We had to come and see the child they had told us about.’ The shepherd peered at the sleeping baby. ‘And here he is, just as the angel said.’

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"Don't Panic - Quick, Easy, and Delicious Meals for Your Family" Book Review


Your family can have great meals even when you are on the run. The ladies who brought you Don't Panic--Dinner's in the Freezer now offer busy cooks Don't Panic--Quick, Easy, and Delicious Meals for Your Family. From quick meals made on the grill or in the saute pan to crockpot dishes that require little prep and cook while you're out for the day, the recipes in this cookbook are tasty, nutritious, and require less hands-on preparation than traditional meals. Easy appetizers and desserts, one-dish casseroles and pastas, simple soups, salads, and side dishes, and even fast breakfasts round out the selections. Meals that are freezer-friendly are marked for those who want to make ahead. You don't have to settle for feeding your family commercially packaged meals full of sodium and preservatives or fat-laced fast food. Serve them quick and healthy meals from your very own kitchen with this easy-to-use cookbook.

I love the way this cookbook is set up - some great sections with yummy recipes.
1) Small Bites and Appetizers
2) Breakfast, Breads, and Brunch
3) Soups, Salads, and Sides
4) Pasta, Pasta
5) Crockpot Collection
6) Easy Baked Oven Dishes
7) Grate Grills and Marinades
8) Savory Skillets and Quick Sautes
9) Desserts Divine

I have sampled a couple of the recipes so far and I have liked what I have tried but I am just getting started. I am purchasing a grill soon and can't wait to dive into the Grate Grills and Marinades section - it all looks divine! Doesn't Cajun Mahi-Mahi, Chipotle Peanut Barbeque Chicken, Steakhouse Burritos and Tahitian Chicken just to to name a few - hello yumminess! The Crockpot Collection will also be a new favorite for me because Crockpot cooking fits well into my lifestyle so new ideas are always welcome.

I actually tried the Scrumptious Baked French Toast and loved the fact that it was designed to make it the night before and then you bake it when you wake up in the morning. I however was not prepared for how much it was going to raise while it was baking... it did actually cause the topping to spill over and create quite a lot of smoke in the baking process. I will now have to clean my oven but it was worth it. My kids loved it and I will be trying this one again!

I also made the Cheesy Potato Casserole and was thrilled with it! Super simple with only 4 ingredients and it was fabulous! I made a couple adjustments just because I kind of had to - first I bought 2 cans of cream of celery soup like I was supposed to but when I was ready to make it my almost 2 year old had "misplaced" one of the cans... so I substituted a can of cheese soup for one of them. Then I decided I wanted to use it as a main dish instead of a side dish so I added diced ham to it for some protein - fantastic! I was in heaven. This will be a new staple in my house!

The only negative I found in this cookbook in any way shape or form is that there is not a single picture inside the cookbook - the only picture at all is on the cover and it doesn't even tell us what recipe that is (although it looks really good though). As someone that shops by picture when I go to a restaurant (like most of society) I was disappointed that they wouldn't spend a little extra on the cookbook and put pictures in it. I thought that was shortsighted when every other part of the cookbook was fabulous.

All in all I will still get a ton of wonderful recipes from this cookbook, but pictures would have made it 5 star.

Available April 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Thank you to Revell for sending me a copy of this book to review for my honest opinion.
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Thomas Nelson; 1 edition (May 1, 2012)

***Special thanks to Ruthie Dean of Thomas Nelson for sending me a review copy.***


Tracy started her first novel at the age of eight and has been hooked on writing ever since. After earning a B.A. in English Literature at Rowan University, she spent ten years writing drama presentations for church ministry before beginning to write fiction. A lifelong interest in history and mythology has led Tracy to extensive research into ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome and Persia, and shaped her desire to shine the light of the gospel into the cultures of the past.

She has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Italy, researching her novels and falling into adventures.

Visit the author's website.


The Untold Story of King Nebuchadnezzar's Daughter.

For seven years the Babylonian princess Tiamat has waited for the mad king Nebuchadnezzar to return to his family and to his kingdom. Driven from his throne to live as a beast, he prowls his luxurious Hanging Gardens, secreted away from the world.

Since her treaty marriage at a young age, Tia has lived an opulent but oppressive life in the palace. But her husband has since died and she relishes her newfound independence. When a nobleman is found murdered in the palace, Tia must discover who is responsible for the macabre death, even if her own is freedom threatened.

As the queen plans to wed Tia to yet another prince, the powerful mage Shadir plots to expose the family's secret and set his own man on the throne. Tia enlists the help of a reluctant Jewish captive, her late husband's brother Pedaiah, who challenges her notions of the gods even as he opens her heart to both truth and love.

Product Details:
List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson; 1 edition (May 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 140168680X
ISBN-13: 978-1401686802



Babylon, 570 BC

My name is Nebuchadnezzar. Let the nations hear it!
I am ruler of Babylon, greatest empire on earth. Here in its capital city, I am like a god.
Tonight, as the sun falls to its death in the western desert, I walk along the balconies I have built, overlooking the city I have built, and know there is none like me.
I inhale the twilight air and catch the scent of a dozen sacrifices. Across the city, the smoke and flames lift from Etemenanki, the House of the Platform of Heaven and Earth. The priests sacrifice tonight in honor of Tiamat, for tomorrow she will be wed. Though I have questioned the wisdom of a marriage with the captive Judaeans, tomorrow will not be a day for questions. It will be a day of celebration, such as befits a princess.
Tiamat comes to me now on the balcony, those dark eyes wide with entreaty. “Please, Father.”
I encircle her shoulders in a warm embrace and turn her to the city.
“There, Tia. There is our glorious Babylon. Do you not wish to serve her?”
She leans her head against my chest, her voice thick. “Yes, of course. But I do not wish to marry.”
I pat her shoulder, kiss the top of her head. My sweet Tia. Who would have foretold that she would become such a part me?
“Have no fear, dear one. Nothing shall change. Husband or not, I shall always love you. Always protect you.”
She clutches me, a desperate grip around my waist.
I release her arms and look into her eyes. “Go now. Your mother will be searching for you. Tomorrow will be a grand day, for you are the daughter of the greatest king Babylon has ever seen.”
I use my thumb to rub a tear from her eye, give her a gentle push, and she is gone with a last look of grief that breaks my heart.
The greatest king Babylon has ever seen. The words echo like raindrops plunking on stones. I try to ignore a tickling at the back of my thoughts. Something Belteshazzar told me, many months ago. A dream.
I shake my head, willing my mind to be free of the memory. My longtime Jewish advisor, part of my kingdom since we were both youths, often troubles me with his advice. I keep him close because he has become a friend. I keep him close because he is too often right.
But I do not want to think of Belteshazzar. Tonight is for me alone. For my pleasure, as I gaze across all that I have built, all that I have accomplished. This great Babylon, this royal residence with its Gardens to rival those created by the gods. Built by my mighty power. For the glory of my majesty. I grip the balcony wall, inhale the smoky sweetness again, and smile. It is good.
I hear a voice and think perhaps Belteshazzar has found me after all, for the words sound like something he would say, and yet the voice . . . The voice is of another.
“There is a decree gone out for you, Nebuchadnezzar. Your kingship has been stripped from you.”
I turn to the traitorous words, but no one is there. And yet the voice continues, rumbling in my own chest, echoing in my head.
“You will be driven from men to dwell with beasts. You will eat the herbs of oxen and seven times will pass over you, until you know that the Most High is ruler in the kingdom of men. To whom He wills power, He gives power.”
The tickling is there again, in my mind. I roll my shoulders to ease the discomfort, but it grows. It grows to a scratching, a clawing at the inside of my head, until I fear I shall bleed within.
The fear swells in me and I am frantic now. I rub my eyes, swat my ears, and still the scratching and scraping goes on, digging away at my memories, at my sense of self, of who I am and what I have done, and I stare at the sky above and the stones below and bend my waist and fall upon the ground where it is better, better to be on the ground, and I want only to find food, food, food. And a two-legged one comes and makes noises with her mouth and clutches at me but I understand none of it and even this knowledge that I do not understand is slipping, slipping from me as the sun slips into the desert.
And in the darkness, I am no more.

Chapter 1

Seven years later

The night her husband died, Tia ran with abandon.
The city wall, wide enough for chariots to race upon its baked bricks, absorbed the slap of her bare feet and cooled her skin. She flew past the Ishtar Gate as though chased by demons, knowing the night guard in his stone tower would be watching. Leering. Tia ignored his attention.
Tonight, this night, she wanted only to run.
A lone trickle of sweat chased down her backbone. The desert chill soaked into her bones and somewhere in the vast sands beyond the city walls, a jackal shrieked over its kill. Her exhalation clouded the air and the quiet huffs of her breath kept time with her feet.
Breathe, slap, slap, slap.
They would be waiting. Expecting her. A tremor disturbed her rhythm. Her tears for Shealtiel were long spent, stolen by the desert air before they fell.
Flames surged from the Tower and snagged her attention. Priests and their nightly sacrifices, promising to ensure the health of the city. For all of Babylon’s riches, the districts encircled by the double city walls smelled of poverty, disease, and hopelessness. But the palace was an oasis in a desert.
She would not run the entire three bêru around the city. Not tonight. Only to the Marduk Gate and back to the Southern Palace, where her mother would be glaring her displeasure at both her absence and her choice of pastime. Tia had spent long days at Shealtiel’s bedside, waiting for the end. Could her mother not wait an hour?
Too soon, the Marduk Gate loomed and Tia slowed. The guard leaned over the waist-high crenellation, thrust a torch above his head, and hailed the trespasser.
“Only Tiamat.” She panted and lifted a hand. “Running.”
He shrugged and shook his head, then turned back to his post, as though a princess running the city wall at night in the trousers of a Persian were a curiosity, nothing more. Perhaps he’d already seen her run. More likely, her reputation ran ahead of her. The night hid her flush of shame.
But she could delay no longer. The guilt had solidified, a stone in her belly she could not ignore.
She pivoted, sucked in a deep breath, and shot forward, legs and arms pounding for home.
Home. Do I still call it such? When all that was precious had been taken? Married at fourteen. A widow by twenty-one. And every year a lie.
“I shall always love you, always protect you.”
He had spoken the words on the night he had been lost to her. And where was love? Where was protection? Not with Shealtiel.
The night sky deepened above her head, and a crescent moon hung crooked against the blackness. Sataran and Aya rose in the east, overlapping in false union.
“The brightest light in your lifetime’s sky,” an elderly mage had said of the merged stars. The scholar’s lessons on the workings of the cosmos interested her, and she paid attention. As a princess already married for treaty, she was fortunate to retain tutors.
Ahead, the Ishtar Gate’s blue-glazed mosaics, splashed with yellow lions, surged against the purpling sky, and to its left, the false wooded mountain built atop the palace for her mother, Amytis, equaled its height. Tia chose the east wall of the gate for a focal point and ignored the Gardens. Tonight the palace had already seen death. She needn’t also dwell on madness.
Breathe, slap, slap, slap. Chest on fire, almost there.
She reached the palace’s northeast corner, where it nearly brushed the city wall, slowed to a stop, and bent at the waist. Hands braced against her knees, she sucked in cold air. Her heartbeat quieted.
When she turned back toward the palace, she saw what her mother had done.
A distance of one kanû separated the wide inner city wall from the lip of the palace roof, slightly lower. Tia kept a length of cedar wood there on the roof, a plank narrow enough to discourage most, and braced it across the chasm for her nightly runs. When she returned, she would pull it back to the roof, where anyone who might venture past the guards on the wall would not gain access. Only during her run did this plank bridge the gap, awaiting her return.
Amytis had removed it.
Something like heat lightning snapped across Tia’s vision and left a bitter, metallic taste in her mouth. Her mother thought to teach her a lesson. Punish her for her manifold breaches of etiquette by forcing her to take the long way down, humiliate herself to the sentinel guard.
She would not succeed.
With a practiced eye, Tia measured the distance from the ledge to the palace roof. She would have the advantage of going from a higher to a lower level. A controlled fall, really. Nothing more.
But she made the mistake of looking over, to the street level far below. Her senses spun and she gripped the wall.
She scrambled onto the ledge, wide enough to take the stance needed for a long jump, and bent into position, one leg extended behind. The palace rooftop garden held only a small temple in its center, lit with three torches. Nothing to break her fall, or her legs, when she hit. She counted, steadying mind and body.
The wind caught her hair, loosened during her run, and blew it across her eyes. She flicked her head to sweep it away, rocked twice on the balls of her feet, and leaped.
The night air whooshed against her ears, and her legs cycled through the void as though she ran on air itself. The flimsy trousers whipped against her skin, and for one exhilarating moment Tia flew like an egret wheeling above the city and knew sweet freedom.
This was how it should always be. My life. My choice. I alone control my destiny.
She hit the stone roof grinning like a trick monkey, and it took five running steps to capture her balance.
Across the rooftop, a whisper of white fluttered. A swish of silk and a pinched expression disappeared through the opening to the stairs. Amytis had been waiting to see her stranded on the city wall and Tia had soured her pleasure. The moment of victory faded, and Tia straightened her hair, smoothed her clothing.
“Your skill is improving.” The eerie voice drifted to Tia across the dark roof and she flinched. A chill rippled through her skin.
Shadir stood at the far end of the roof wall, where the platform ended and the palace wall rose higher to support the Gardens. His attention was pinned to the stars, and a scroll lay on the ledge before him, weighted with amulets.
“You startled me, Shadir. Lurking there in the shadows.”
The mage turned, slid his gaze the length of her in sharp appraisal. “It would seem I am not the only one who prefers the night.”
Long ago, Shadir had been one of her father’s chief advisors. Before—before the day of which they never spoke. Since that monstrous day, he held amorphous power over court and kingdom, power that few questioned and even fewer defied. His oiled hair hung in tight curls to his shoulders and the full beard and mustache concealed too much of his face, leaving hollow eyes that seemed to follow even when he did not turn his head.
Tia shifted on her feet and eyed the door. “It is cooler to run at night.”
The mage held himself unnaturally still. Did he even breathe?
As a child, Tia had believed Shadir could scan her thoughts like the night sky and read her secrets. Little relief had come with age. Another shudder ran its cold finger down her back.
Tia lowered her chin, all the obeisance she would give, and escaped the rooftop. Behind her, he spoke in a tone more hiss than speech. “The night holds many dangers.”
She shook off the unpleasant encounter. Better to ready herself for the unpleasantness she yet faced tonight.
Her husband’s family would have arrived by this time, but sweating like a soldier and dressed like a Persian, she was in no state to make an appearance in the death chamber. Instead, she went to her own rooms, where her two slave women, Omarsa and Gula, sat vigil as though they were the grieving widows. They both jumped when Tia entered and busied themselves with lighting more oil lamps and fetching bathwater.
In spite of her marriage to the eldest son of the captive Judaean king, Tia’s chambers were her own. She had gone to Shealtiel when it was required, and only then. The other nights she spent here among her own possessions—silk fabrics purchased from merchants who traveled east of Babylon, copper bowls hammered smooth by city jewelers, golden statues of the gods, rare carved woods from fertile lands in the west. A room of luxury. One that Shealtiel disdained and she adored. She was born a Babylonian princess. Let him have his austerity, his righteous self-denial. It had done him little good.
One of her women stripped her trousers, then unwound the damp sash that bound her lean upper body. Tia stood in the center of the bath chamber, its slight floor depression poked with drainage holes under her feet, and tried to be still as they doused her with tepid water and scrubbed with a scented paste of plant ash and animal fat until her skin stung.
When they had dressed her appropriately, her ladies escorted her through the palace corridors to the chamber where her husband of nearly seven years lay cold.
Seven years since she lost herself and her father on the same day. Neither of them had met death, but all the same, they were lost. Seven years of emptiness where shelter had been, of longing instead of love.
But much had ended today—Shealtiel’s long illness and Tia’s long imprisonment.
She paused outside the chamber door. Could she harden herself for the inevitable? The wails of women’s laments drifted under the door and wrapped around her heart, squeezing pity from her. A wave of sorrow, for the evil that took those who are loved, tightened her throat. But her grief was more for his family than herself. He had been harsh and unloving and narrow-minded, and now she was free. Tia would enter, give the family her respect, and escape to peace.
She nodded to one of her women, and Gula tapped the door twice and pushed it open.
Shealtiel’s body lay across a pallet, skin already graying. The chamber smelled of death and frankincense. Three women attended her husband—Shealtiel’s sister, his mother, and Tia’s own. His mother, Marta, sat in a chair close to the body. Her mourning clothes, donned over her large frame, were ashy and torn. She lifted her head briefly, saw that it was only Tia, and returned to her keening. Her shoulders rocked and her hands clutched at a knot of clothing, perhaps belonging to Shealtiel. His sister, Rachel, stood against the wall and gave her a shy smile, a smile that melded sorrow and admiration. She was younger than Tia by five years, still unmarried, a sweet girl.
“Good of you to join us, Tia.” Her mother’s eyes slitted and traveled the length of Tia’s robes. Tia expected some comment about her earlier dress, but Amytis held her tongue.
“I was . . . detained.” Their gazes clashed over Shealtiel’s body and Tia challenged her with a silent smile. The tension held for a moment, then Tia bent her head.
She was exquisite, Amytis. No amount of resentment on Tia’s part could blind her to this truth. Though Amytis had made it clear that Tia’s sisters held her affections, and though Tia had long ago given up calling her Mother in her heart, she could not deny that her charms still held sway in Babylon. From old men to children, Amytis was adored. Her lustrous hair fell to her waist, still black though she was nearly fifty, and her obsidian eyes over marble cheekbones were a favorite of the city’s best sculptors. Some said Tia favored her, but if she did, the likeness did nothing to stir a motherly affection.
Tia went to Shealtiel’s mother and whispered over her, “May the gods show kindness to you today, Marta. It is a difficult day for us all.” The woman’s grief broke Tia’s heart, and she placed a hand on Marta’s wide shoulder to share in it.
Marta sniffed and pulled away. “Do not call upon your false gods for me, girl.”
Amytis sucked in a breath, her lips taut.
Tia’s jaw tightened. “He was a good man, Marta. He will be missed.” Both of these statements Tia made without falsehood. Shealtiel was the most pious man she had ever known, fully committed to following the exacting requirements of his God.
Marta seemed to soften. She reached a plump hand to pat Tia’s own, still on her shoulder. “But how could the Holy One have taken him before he saw any children born?”
Tia stiffened and brought her hand to her side, forcing the fingers to relax. Marta rocked and moaned on, muttering about Tia’s inhospitable womb. Tia dared not point out that perhaps her son was to blame.
“But there is still a chance.” Marta looked to Amytis, then to Tia. “It is our way. When the husband dies without an heir, his brother—”
The single word came from both her mother’s and her own lips as one. Marta blinked and looked between them.
“It is our way.” Marta glanced at Rachel against the wall, as though seeking an ally. “My second son Pedaiah is unmarried yet. Perhaps Tia could still bear a son for Shealtiel—”
“You have had your treaty marriage with Babylon.” Amytis drew herself up, accentuating her lean height. “There will not be another.”
Tia remained silent. Her mother and she, in agreement? Had Amytis watched her languish these seven years and regretted flinging her like day-old meat to the Judaean dogs? Did she also hope for a life with more purpose for Tia now that she had been released? Tia lifted a smile, ever hopeful that Amytis’s heart had somehow softened toward her youngest daughter.
“Jeconiah shall hear of your refusal!” Marta stood, her chin puckering.
Amytis huffed. “Take the news to your imprisoned husband, then. I shall not wait for his retribution.” She seemed to sense the unfairness of the moment and regret her calloused words. “Come, Tia. Let us leave these women to grieve.” She meant it kindly but it was yet another insult, the implication that Tia need not remain for any personal grief.
Tia followed Amytis from the chamber into the hall, her strong perfume trailing. Amytis spun on her, and her heavy red robe whirled and settled. Her nostrils flared and she spoke through clenched teeth.
“By all the gods, Tiamat! For how long will you make our family a mockery?”