Monday, August 31, 2009

Book Review: "A Mile in My Flip Flops" by Melody Carlson

With a freshly broken heart, Gretchen Hanover swaps her wedding plans for home improvement shows---she's going to flip a house! But when the place turns out to be in worse condition than she realized, her retired contractor father needs help and calls in carpenter Noah Campbell. A whimsical look at building relationships and renovating hearts!

If you are a fan of the HGTV channel, you will love this book. I myself have only watched a couple episodes of some of the shows, usually while I'm channel surfing. My mother became a fan of the channel after staying with us one weekend and proceeded to watch over 5 hours straight of shows. This book focuses on the art of house flipping, where a person buys a house usually in disarray, renovates it completely and then goes back and sells it to make a profit. Gretchen seems to make a rash decision to pursue a dream of becoming a house flipper and uses up most of her savings to buy a decrepit house. Unfortunately things don't go as smoothly as she had planned. Pretty much everything that could go wrong goes wrong. While it probably wouldn't have been amusing to Gretchen, reading about her adventures was enjoyable and a hoot at times. I learned A LOT about not only house flipping but also the basics of renovation and upkeep. It was pretty much like reading an episode of one of the HGTV shows.

Gretchen's initial reaction to Noah is, while understandable, a bit put offish. I didn't like how she assumed that just because he was divorced, that meant that he was bad at making commitments. She didn't know the situation yet she was wrongly blaming him. However once the two finally settle their differences, they have excellent chemistry that is really fun to watch. Even better is when Noah's ex-wife comes on the scene which throws everyone for a loop. Another part of the story I liked was Gretchen's relationship with her father. I enjoyed reading about the two of them and especially her willingness to have him be involved with her house flipping plans. It's good to read about a father -daughter relationship, when no mother is involved, that's managed to stay pleasant and close throughout the years.

If you're looking for a fun read to end the summer with, grab this book. It's lighthearted chick lit with a dose of learning about learning who the ultimate fixer-upper is. Melody Carlson's books have the power to take me from whatever I'm doing and draw me right into her books. Whether it's one of her YA books or her edgy adult fiction or like this book, fun chick lit I always know I'm going to be in for a good read.

A Mile in My Flip Flops
by Melody Carlson is published by Waterbrook (2008)

Deadlock by Al & Joanna Lacy

In Deadlock, the Zarbo brothers are seasoned outlaws with a reputation for killing. Already wanted in two states, they set their sights on Colorado and a string of bank robberies. They don’t count on running into Chief U.S. Marshal John Brockman.

John arrests Lee Zarbo, but his brothers remain in hiding. Lee’s sentence to death by hanging incites them to desperate measures. They’ll do anything to get him out alive. Even kidnap the Chief U.S. Marshal’s daughter.

When John learns of his young daughter’s captivity and the conditions for her release, he must turn to the Lord for direction. It takes all the faith he can muster to wait for the answer. Without freeing a dangerous criminal, can John find Ginny before they kill her?

Al Lacy is an evangelist and author of more than one hundred historical and Western novels, including the Journeys of the Stranger, Angel of Mercy, and Mail Order Bride series, with more than three million books in print. JoAnna Lacy, Al’s wife and longtime collaborator, is a retired nurse. The Lacys have been married over forty years and live in the Colorado Rockies.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Create Your Own Cover



CREATE YOUR DEBUT YA COVER

1 – Go to “Fake Name Generator” or click
http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/
The name that appears is your author name.

2 – Go to “Random Word Generator” or clickhttp://www.websitestyle.com/parser/randomword.shtml
The word listed under “Random Verb” is your title.

3 – Go to “FlickrCC” or clickhttp://flickrcc.bluemountains.net/index.php
Type your title into the search box. The first photo that contains a person is your cover.

4 – Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Be sure to crop and/or zoom in.

5 – Post it to your site along with this text.

Movie Review: "The Time Traveler's Wife"

Thanks to Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog, I was able to get sneak preview passes to see this movie. Which was totally awesome since a) movie tickets in the DC Metro area are expensive so I probably wouldn't have seen this movie til it came out on DVD and b) we got to go to a part of DC we hadn't been before yet which was really nice and c) the day before our car had gotten broken into and our GPS unit stolen. Even more fun was that I got to sit next to Jenn from Jenn's Bookshelves as she had gotten passes too. I brought my husband along because he's not one to pass up a free movie. He didn't mind going to see a chick flick, after all he added the Romance Writers of America Literacy signing with me. I'm one of the few people who haven't read this book yet, so I honestly had no idea what to expect going into to the movie. Other than the trailer, I was pretty clueless about the storyline.

I discussed this with my husband on the way home and we both agreed that while we liked the movie, there seemed to be something off about the movie. One thing we both thought was extremely weird was the fact that no one at all thinks it's a bit scary that a naked guy (wrapped in a blanket yes but naked still) is hanging around a little girl. She doesn't seem to question this at all and is more than willing to become his friend. I don't think that's a lesson you really want to be teaching your kids (not that kids should be watching this movie) especially in this day and age. Also the whole time traveling thing is a bit sketchy. It probably comes off better in the book as things are more explained in detail. As it is in the movie, it's hard to describe it and comes off a bit confusing especially when two versions of Henry seem to appear right after each other. The ending apparently is different from what is in the book from what I heard. I don't want to spoil it but I have a feeling that Clare is going to do exactly what Henry told her not to. Oh and something that we both thought was rather odd: the scene in the diner when Clare starts to miscarry and notices blood on her fingers. She's wearing pants (I think they were jeans) yet when she looks at her hand, they were completely wet with blood. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but unless she's been bleeding profusely for a long time and just didn't notice it, even a big gush of blood wouldn't bleed out through the pants and make a puddle there. How then did she check? Reach in?

There's nothing really bad about the movie. I did enjoy it. I would have to say my two favorite scenes are when Henry goes back and see his mother on the train and then again when he first meets his daughter. Both were very touching. I thought the acting was done really well. Nothing Oscar worthy but still pleasant. I'm a huge fan of Eric Bana and I like Rachel McAdams. I thought they had really good chemistry together. The girls that plays their daughter are absolutely adorable and are sisters in real life. I did feel though that Ron Livingston in his character was pretty much a waste. I say this b/c Ron is a pretty big actor and he didn't do much in his role. He had maybe 1 or 2 stand out scenes but honestly they could have cast a no name guy in the role and it wouldn't have made a difference. One thing I was extremely disappointed was that I never got teary eyed or even sad at all while watching the movie. All around me I hear sniffles and see women wiping their eyes. Me...nothing. Which really bothered me because the trailer looked really sad and I went in the movie expecting a good cry (which I secretly love when going to the movies). I mean I bawl at the end of Return of the Jedi and here I sit completely dry eyed.

Overall I would say it's an enjoyable movie. It's a good chick flick, and one many women will enjoy. There is a bit of rear nudity, but it's from Eric Bana so I don't know any woman who would complain about that.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wedding Video!!!

After many months, I finally have a clip of the wedding to share with you. I was actually going to post the entire ceremony but it's way too big to upload so I have for you the end of the ceremony and the recessional.

Please turn up your speakers before you press play and enjoy! (And in case you were wondering, yes the entire song was played :)



Friday, August 28, 2009

Book Review: "Katt's In the Cradle" by Ginger Kolbaba and Christy Scannell


When you're in the trenches, sometimes you're up to your neck in mud. That's the not-so-glamorous life of a pastor's wife.

Felicia's family is...complicated. That's putting it nicely. Now they're flying in from LA -- all at once -- to stay with her...just when her brother-in-law, Javier, and Mama aren't even speaking to each other. And the whole church will be there to witness the feud.

Mimi has a lot on her mind with her four energetic kids -- especially Milo the screamer, with his Pavarotti voice. Then her live-in alcoholic dad starts to mow their lawn at midnight.

Lisa has her hands full with loudmouth Tom Graves and the other troublemakers at Red River Assembly. Then vicious rumors start to fly about the Barton family...and the attacks and threats get increasingly personal.

Jennifer is pushing her adopted daughter, Carys, in a stroller, when she notices a black town car -- the same car she's seen several times over the past week. Could someone be following her?

The PWs plunge into an unnerving mystery...and discover what "family" really means.

It's time to head back to Lulu's Cafe and meet up again with the ladies of the Pastors Wives Club. The story is once again a mixture of humor and seriousness and the four women tackle their own personal problems as well as those coming from their church families. It's a bit strange not have have Kitty around, making snide remarks and thinking she is holier than everyone else. However, not to fear, as her husband has remarried a younger Kitty-clone who seems to share too much info about what goes on in the bedroom.

The two stories I found to be most interesting this time around were Jennifer's and Lisa's. It's interesting because throughout the entire series, these two women have been my favorite with the most intriguing story lines. Jennifer's story had a mystery surrounding it plus it was nice to see Father Scott again. Lisa's story was highly emotional and extremely frustrating. From the beginning of the series, I've never liked their congregation and this book just solidified my views on them. Her family was very brave and strong to stick through the conflict. Lesser souls would have caved but they did not. Mimi's story involving her dad will probably ring true for some readers who have dealt with alcoholic family members. It's heart wrenching to see someone constantly hurt themselves and there's nothing you can do to stop them. I unfortunately did not find Felicia's story to be very interesting. It almost felt as if the authors felt like they had run out of story ideas for her character and just threw something together. There's nothing wrong with her situation but it just felt rather boring compared to the other three. There was a lack of drama or conflict. I did enjoy the scenes where all the pastor's wives in the area got together and finally realized that it was ok to become real with one another and share their burdens. It's sad how much pressure people put on pastor's wives and other members of the family simply because they are related to preacher.


Overall I really enjoyed this book. It was an extremely fast read for me and I'm sorry that the series has ended. Reading this series has broadened my outlook on the family's of pastors and given me more compassion and understanding towards them. We shouldn't put them on a pedestal or have such high expectations on them. They are human beings just like the rest of us and should be treated as such. I really recommend this entire series for both a fun read and a learning experience at the same time.


Katt's in the Cradle
by Ginger Kolbaba and Christy Scannell is published by Howard Books (2009)

The Sweetgum Ladies Knit for Love by Beth Pattillo

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:


Sweetgum Ladies Knit For Love

WaterBrook Press (June 2, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




RITA Award–winning Beth Pattillo combines her love of knitting and books in her engaging Sweetgum series. An ordained minister in the Christian Church, Pattillo served churches in Missouri and Tennessee before founding Faith Leader, a spiritual leadership development program. Pattillo is the married mother of two children. She lives and laughs in Tennessee.

Visit the author's website.




AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


One


Every Tuesday at eleven o’clock in the morning, Eugenie Carson descended the steps of the Sweetgum Public Library and made her way to Tallulah’s Café on the town square. In the past, she would have eaten the diet plate—cottage cheese and a peach half—in solitary splendor. Then she would have returned to her job running the library, just as she’d done for the last forty years.

On this humid September morning, though, Eugenie was meeting someone for lunch—her new husband, Rev. Paul Carson, pastor of the Sweetgum Christian Church. Eugenie smiled at the thought of Paul waiting for her at the café. They might both be gray haired and near retirement, but happiness was happiness, no matter what age you found it.

Eugenie entered the square from the southeast corner. The Antebellum courthouse anchored the middle, while Kendall’s Department Store occupied the east side to her right. She walked along the south side of the square, past Callahan’s Hardware, the drugstore, and the movie theater, and crossed the street to the café. The good citizens of Sweetgum were already arriving at Tallulah’s for lunch. But Eugenie passed the café, heading up the western side of the square. She had a brief errand to do before she met her husband. Two doors down, she could see the sign for Munden’s Five-and-Dime. Her business there shouldn’t take long.

Before she reached Munden’s, a familiar figure emerged from one of the shops and blocked the sidewalk.

Hazel Emerson. President of the women’s auxiliary at the Sweetgum Christian Church and self-appointed judge and jury of her fellow parishioners.

“Eugenie.” Hazel smiled, but the expression, coupled with her rather prominent eyeteeth, gave her a wolfish look. Hazel was on the heavy side, a bit younger than Eugenie’s own sixty five years, and her hair was dyed an unbecoming shade of mink. Hazel smiled, but there was no pleasantness in it. “Just the person

I wanted to see.”

Eugenie knew better than to let her distaste for the woman show. “Good morning, Hazel,” she replied. “How are you?”

“Distressed, Eugenie. Thoroughly distressed.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Eugenie truly was dismayed, but not from worry over Hazel’s discomfort.

“Yes, well, you have the power to calm the waters, ”Hazel said with the same false smile. “In a manner of speaking, at least.”

Since Eugenie’s marriage to Paul only a few weeks before, she’d learned how demanding Hazel could be. The other woman called the parsonage at all hours and appeared in Paul’s office at least once a day. Although Eugenie had known Hazel casually for years, she’d never had to bother with her much. Eugenie couldn’t remember Hazel ever having entered the library.

“How can I help you?” Eugenie said in her best librarian’s voice. She had uttered the phrase countless times over the last forty years and had it down to an art form. Interested but not enmeshed. Solicitous but not overly involved.

“Well, Eugenie, you must know that many people in the church are distressed by your marriage to Paul.”

“Really?” Eugenie kept the pleasant smile on her face and continued to breathe evenly. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Oh, not me, of course,” Hazel said and pressed a hand to her ample chest. “I’m perfectly delighted. But some people… Well, they have concerns.”

“What concerns would those be?” Eugenie asked with measured calm.

Hazel glanced to the right and to the left, then leaned forward to whisper in a conspiratorial fashion. “Some of them aren’t sure you’re a Christian,” she said. Then she straightened and resumed her normal tone of voice. “As I said, I’m not one of them, but I thought I should tell you. For your own good, but also for Rev. Carson’s.”

“I see.” And Eugenie certainly did, far more than Hazel would guess. Eugenie wasn’t new to small-town gossip. Heaven knew she’d heard her share, and even been the target of some, over the last forty years. She’d known that her marriage to Paul would cause some comments, but she hadn’t expected this blatant response.

“I’m mentioning it because I don’t think it would be difficult to put people’s fears to rest,” Hazel said. Her smug expression needled Eugenie. “I know you’ve been attending worship, and that’s a wonderful start.” Hazel quickly moved from interfering to patronizing. “The women’s auxiliary meets on Tuesday mornings. If you joined us—”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Eugenie answered. She was determined to keep a civil tongue in her head if it killed her. “I have to work.”

“For something this important, I’m sure you could find someone to cover for you.”

Eugenie tightened her grip on her handbag. In an emergency, no doubt she could arrange something. But this wasn’t an emergency. It was manipulation.

“Hazel—”

“Particularly at this time,” Hazel said, barely stopping for breath. “With all the losses we’ve had in these last few months… Well, our community needs leadership. Our church needs leadership.” She gave Eugenie a meaningful look.

Eugenie paused to consider her words carefully. “It has been a difficult summer,” she began. “Tom Munden’s death was so unexpected, and then to lose Frank Jackson like that. And now, with Nancy St. Clair…”

“So you see why it’s more important than ever that you prove to church members that their pastor hasn’t made a grave mistake.”

“I hardly think that my attending a meeting of the women’s auxiliary will offer much comfort to the grieving.” Nor would it convince anyone of her status as a believer. Those sorts of people weren’t looking for proof. They were looking for Eugenie to grovel for acceptance.

Hazel sniffed. “Don’t be difficult, Eugenie. You’re being unrealistic if you expect people to accept you as a Christian after forty years of never darkening the door of any sanctuary in this town.”

“I’ve always felt that faith is a private matter.” That was the sum of any personal information Eugenie was willing to concede to Hazel. “I prefer to let my actions speak for me.”

“There are rumblings,” Hazel said darkly. “Budget rumblings.”

“What do you mean?”

“People need to have full confidence in their pastor, Eugenie. Otherwise they’re less motivated to support the church financially.”

Eugenie bit her tongue. She couldn’t believe Hazel Emerson was standing here, in the middle of the town square, practicing her own brand of extortion.

“Are you threatening me?” Eugenie asked, incredulous.

Hazel sniffed. “Of course not. Don’t be silly. I’m merely cautioning you. As a Christian and as a friend.”

Eugenie wanted to reply that Hazel didn’t appear to be filling either role very well, but she refrained.

“I’ll take your concerns under advisement,” she said to Hazel with forced pleasantness. “I’m sure you mean them in the kindest possible way.”

“Of course I do. How else would I mean them?”

“How else, indeed?” Eugenie muttered under her breath.

“Well, I won’t keep you.” Hazel nodded. “Have a nice day, Eugenie.”

“You too, Hazel.” The response was automatic and helped Eugenie to cover her true sentiments. She stood in place for a long moment as Hazel moved past her, on her way to stir up trouble in some other quarter, no doubt. Then, with a deep breath, Eugenie forced herself to start moving toward Munden’s Five-and-Dime.

She had known it would be difficult, stepping into this unfamiliar role as a pastor’s wife. Paul had assured her that he had no expectations, that she should do what she felt was right. But Eugenie wondered if he had any idea of the trouble Hazel Emerson was stirring up right under his nose.

True, she hadn’t attended church for forty years. After she and Paul had ended their young romance, she’d blamed God for separating them. If Paul hadn’t felt called to the ministry, if he hadn’t refused to take her with him when he went to seminary, if she hadn’t stubbornly insisted on going with him or ending their relationship…

Last year she and Paul had found each other again, all these decades later, and she’d thought the past behind them. But here it was once more in the person of Hazel Emerson, raising troubling questions. Threatening Paul. Forcing Eugenie to examine issues she’d rather leave unanswered.



As the head of the Sweetgum Knit Lit Society, Eugenie had taken on responsibility for the well-being of the little group several years before. Since Ruthie Allen, the church secretary, had left for Africa last spring to do volunteer work, the group had experienced a definite void. It was time for an infusion of new blood, and after careful consideration, Eugenie had determined that Maria Munden was just the person the Knit Lit Society needed. What’s more, Maria needed the group too. The recent loss of her father must be quite difficult for her, Eugenie was sure. And so despite having had her feathers ruffled by Hazel Emerson, Eugenie walked into Munden’s Five-and-Dime with a firm purpose.

“Good morning, Maria,” Eugenie called above the whine of the door. For years she’d been after Tom Munden to use a little WD-40 on the hinges, but he had insisted that the noise bothered him less than the idea of a customer entering without him knowing it.

“Eugenie! Hello.” Maria straightened from where she stood slumped over the counter. She had red marks on her forehead from resting her head in her hands, and her nondescript shoulder length brown hair hung on each side of her face in a clump. Eugenie had come at the right time. Maria was in her early thirties, but her father’s death seemed to have aged her ten years.

Maria came around the counter. “What can I help you with today?”

“Oh, I’m not here to buy anything,” Eugenie said, and then she was dismayed when disappointment showed in Maria’s eyes. With the superstores of the world creeping closer and closer to Sweetgum, mom-and-pop shops like Munden’s were living on borrowed time. Even if Tom Munden had lived, the inevitable day when the store closed couldn’t have been avoided.

“What did you need then?” Maria’s tone was polite but strained.

“I have an invitation for you.”

“An invitation?”

Eugenie stood a little straighter. “On behalf of the Sweetgum Knit Lit Society, I’d like to extend an invitation to you to become a part of the group.”

Maria’s brown eyes were blank for a moment, and then they darkened. “The Knit Lit Society?”

“I can’t think of anyone who would be a better fit.” Eugenie paused. “If you don’t know how to knit, one of us can teach you. And I know you enjoy reading.” Maria was one of the most faithful and frequent patrons of the library. “I think you’d appreciate the discussion.”

Maria said nothing.

“If you’d like some time to think—”

“I’ll do it,” Maria said quickly, as if she didn’t want to give herself time to reconsider. “I know how to knit. You won’t have to teach me.”

“Excellent,” Eugenie said, relieved. “Our meeting is this Friday.”

“Do I have to read something by then?” Lines of doubt wrinkled Maria’s forehead beneath the strands of gray that streaked her hair.

Eugenie shook her head. “I haven’t passed out the reading list for this year. This first meeting will be to get us organized.”

Relief eased the tight lines on her face.

“We meet at the church, of course,” Eugenie continued. “Upstairs, in the Pairs and Spares Sunday school room. If you’d like, I can drop by here Friday evening and we can walk over together.”

Maria shook her head. “Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.” She paused, as if collecting her thoughts, then spoke. “I’m not sure why you asked me to join, Eugenie, but I appreciate it.”

“I’m delighted to have you. The others will be as well. ”Mission accomplished, Eugenie shifted her pocketbook to the other arm. “I’d better be going. I’m meeting Paul for lunch at the café.”

Like most of Sweetgum, with the possible exception of Hazel Emerson, Maria smiled at Eugenie’s mention of her new husband. “Tell the preacher I said hello.” Maria moved to open the door for Eugenie. “I’ll see you at the meeting.”

Eugenie lifted her shoulders and nodded with as much equanimity as she could. After years of being the town spinster, playing the newlywed was a novel experience. She hoped she’d become accustomed to it with time—if she didn’t drive away all of Paul’s parishioners first with her heathen ways.

“Have a nice afternoon,” Eugenie said and slipped out the door, glad that at least one thing that morning had gone as planned.


After Eugenie left, Maria Munden halfheartedly swiped her feather duster at the back-to-school display in the front window. Hot sunshine, amplified by the plate glass, made sweat bead on her forehead. What was the point of dusting the same old collection of binders, backpacks, and two-pocket folders? She’d barely seen a customer all day. She turned from the window and looked around at the neat rows of shelving. The five symmetrical aisles had stood in the same place as long as she could remember.

Aisle one, to the far left, held greeting cards, gift-wrap, stationery, office and school supplies. Aisle two, housewares and paper goods. Aisle three, decorative items. Aisle four, cleaning supplies and detergent. Aisle five had always been her favorite, with its games, puzzles, and coloring books. Across the back wall stretched the sewing notions, yarn, and craft supplies. Everything to outfit a household and its members in one small space. The only problem was, no one wanted small anymore. They wanted variety, bulk, and large economy size with a McDonald’s and a credit union. Not quaint and limited, like the old five-and- dime.

From the counter a few feet away, Maria’s cell phone buzzed, and she sighed. She knew without looking at the display who it would be.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Maria, you have to do something about this.” Her mother never acknowledged the greeting but plunged into a voluble litany of complaints that covered everything from the state of the weather to her older sister Daphne’s management of the farm.

“Mom?” Maria tried to interrupt her mother’s diatribe. “Mom? Look, I’m the only one in the store right now. I’ll have to call you back later.”

“Where’s Stephanie? She was supposed to be there at nine.”

“I don’t know where she is. ”Maria’s younger sister, the baby at twenty-five, was AWOL more often than not.

Maria heard the shop door open with a whine of its hinges, not too different from her mother’s tone of voice. She looked up, expecting to see her younger sister. Instead, a tall, dark-haired man entered the store. He took two steps inside, then stopped. His eyes traveled around the rows of shelves, and his lips twisted in an expression of disapproval. The hairs on Maria’s neck stood on end. The stranger saw her, nodded, and then disappeared down the far aisle, but he was so tall that Maria could track his progress as he moved. He came to a stop in front of the office supplies. Someone from out of town, obviously. Probably a traveling salesman who needed paper clips or legal pads. Maybe a couple of blank CDs or a flash drive. Maria had dealt with his type before.

“Bye, Mom,” she said into the phone before clicking it shut. From experience, she knew it would take her mother several moments before she realized Maria was no longer on the other end of the line. Such discoveries never seemed to faze her mother. She would simply look around the room at home and find Daphne so she could continue her rant. Maria tucked the cell phone under the counter and moved across the store toward the stranger. “May I help you?” Upon closer inspection, she could see that his suit was expensive. So were his haircut, his shoes, and his aftershave.

His head turned toward her, and she felt a little catch in her chest. His dark eyes stared down at her as if she were a lesser mortal approaching a demigod.

“I’m looking for a fountain pen,” he said. He turned back toward the shelves of office supplies and studied them as if attempting to decipher a secret code.

A fountain pen? In Sweetgum? He was definitely from out of town.

“I’m afraid we only have ballpoint or gel.” She waved a hand toward the appropriate shelf. “Would one of these do?”

He looked at her again, one eyebrow arched like the vault of a cathedral. “I need a fountain pen.”

Maria took a calming breath. A sale was a sale, and the customer was always right—her father’s two favorite dictums, drummed into her from the day she was tall enough to see over the counter.

“I’m sorry. Our selection is limited, I know. Which way are you headed? I can direct you to the nearest Wal-Mart. You might find one there.”

At her mention of the chain superstore, the man’s mouth turned down as if she’d just insulted him. “No, thank you. That won’t be necessary.”

“Is there anything else I can help you with?” she said, practically gritting her teeth. She resisted the urge to grab his arm and hustle him out of the store. Today was not the day to try her patience. In two hours, assuming Stephanie showed up, Maria was going to cross the town square to the lawyer’s office and do the unthinkable. At the moment, she didn’t have time for this man and his supercilious attitude toward Sweetgum.

“I need directions,” he said, eyeing her dubiously, as if he thought she might not be up to the task.

“Well, if you’re looking for someplace nearby, I can tell you where you need to go,” she said without a hint of a smile.

He looked away, as if deliberating whether to accept her offer. Honestly, the man might be extraordinarily good-looking—and wealthy, no doubt—but she would be surprised if he had any friends. He had the social skills of a goat.

The hinges on the door whined again. Maria looked over her shoulder to see another man entering the shop.

“James!” The second man grinned when he caught sight of the stranger at Maria’s side. “You disappeared.” The newcomer was as fair as the first was dark. “We’re late.”

“Yes,” the stranger replied with a continued lack of charm.

“But I needed a pen. ”He snatched a two-pack of ballpoints from the shelf and extended them toward Maria. “I’ll take these.”

Maria bit the inside of her lip and took the package from his hand. “I’ll ring you up at the counter.” She whirled on one heel and walked, spine rigid, to the front of the store.

“Hi.” The second man greeted her with cheery casualness. “Great store. I haven’t seen anything like this in years.”

It was a polite way of saying that Munden’s Five-and-Dime was dated, but Maria appreciated his chivalry. Especially since his friend obviously didn’t have a courteous bone in his body.

“Thank you. ”Maria smiled at him and then stepped behind the counter to ring up the sale on the ancient register. She’d pushed her father for years to computerize their sales—not to mention the inventory—but he’d been perfectly happy with his tried-and-true methods. Unfortunately, while he’d been able to keep track of sales and stock in his head, Maria wasn’t quite so gifted.

The tall man appeared on the other side of the register. “Three dollars and thirty-two cents,” she said, not looking him in the eye.

He reached for his wallet and pulled out a hundred dollar bill. Maria refused to show her frustration. Great. Now he would wipe out all her change, and she’d have to figure out a way to run over to the bank without anyone to watch the store. She completed the transaction and slid the package of pens into a paper bag with the Munden’s logo emblazoned on it.

“Hey, can you recommend a place for lunch?” the blond man asked. He glanced at his watch. “We need a place to eat between meetings.”

“Tallulah’s Café down the block,” Maria said. Even the tall, arrogant stranger wouldn’t be able to find fault with Tallulah’s home cooking. People drove from miles around for her fried chicken, beef stew, and thick, juicy pork chops. “But you might want to go soon. The café gets busy at lunch.”

“Thanks.” His smile could only be described as sunny, and it made Maria feel better. She smiled in response.

“You’re welcome.”

The tall man watched the exchange impassively. Maria hoped he’d be gone from Sweetgum before the sun went down. Big-city folks who came into town dispensing condescension were one of her biggest pet peeves.

“C’mon, James,” the blond man said. “I have a lot of papers to go over.” He nodded toward his friend. “James here thinks I’m crazy to buy so much land in the middle of nowhere.”

Maria froze. It couldn’t be.

“Oh.” She couldn’t think what else to say.

“We’d better go,” the tall man said, glancing at his watch. “Thank you. ”He nodded curtly at Maria, letting her know she’d been dismissed as the inferior creature that she was.

“But I thought you wanted—” Before she could remind him about his request for directions, the two men disappeared out the door, and Maria’s suspicions—not to mention her fears— flooded through her.

She should have put two and two together the moment the first man had walked into the store. A stranger in an expensive suit. In town for a meeting. Looking for a fountain pen to sign things. Normally Maria was good at figuring things out. Like where her father had put the quarterly tax forms and how she and Stephanie could manage the store with just the two of them for employees.

What she hadn’t figured out, though, were the more complex questions. Like how she had come to be a small-town spinster when she hadn’t been aware of time passing. Or how she was going to keep the five-and-dime afloat even as the town’s economy continued to wither on the vine. And she certainly had no idea how she was going to tell her mother and sisters that she, as executrix of her father’s will, was about to sell their farm, and the only home they’d ever known, right out from under them.

“Welcome to Sweetgum,” she said to the empty aisles around her, and then she picked up the feather duster once more.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Guest Blog by Author Janice Kaplan

A note from Deborah: Last year I reviewed the book A Job to Kill For here on my blog. I really enjoyed it and I was interested in how the author came up with the series and the characters. Well, my wish was granted and I'm pleased to welcome author Janice Kaplan to my blog.

People come to my website all the time to ask me decorating questions. And here’s the problem: I never know how to answer.

I’m a writer, an editor and a TV producer. But Lacy Fields, the heroine of my mystery series, is an interior decorator with an excellent eye for antiques. She can recognize an Aubusson carpet or a Rothko painting from across the room. Early in the first book, “Looks To Die For,” her husband, a famous LA plastic surgeon, is accused of murder. When the police come into the house to arrest him, Lacy worries about their shoes on the Italian marble staircase. At the start of the latest, “A Job To Kill For,” Lacy has decorated a penthouse apartment top-to-bottom in three weeks—with a fifteen-thousand dollar Hypnos mattress, floor-to-ceiling lacquered doors, and a gleaming onyx table.

Get the idea? Lacy is really, really good at what she does. She can turn a cheap flea-market find into a gold-finished bedside table that ends up in magazines.

I love seeing the world through Lacy’s eyes. Being a writer means you always get to have an alter ego. With Lacy, I sometimes feel like Superman. All day, I’m the hardworking editor-in-chief of PARADE magazine. Then I go home at night and become Lacy Fields, decorator-to-the-stars and supersleuth.

The decorating details are one way that I create Lacy’s world. So are the streets she travels and the stores she visits. Her home is in Pacific Palisades, California—a place I dreamed of living many years ago but couldn’t afford. As both an editor now and a TV producer earlier in my career, I’ve always spent a lot of time in the LA area. Who needs to move when you can live there on the page?

Whenever I visit LA now, I find myself thinking like Lacy. A few weeks ago, I had some time between meetings and stopped on Robertson Boulevard to wander into some furniture stores. I smiled to myself, knowing that all I was buying was the experience. After all, the bronze leaping-stag chandelier I’d seen once earlier at the Pacific Design Center had made its way into the first book. (But definitely not into my house.)

Many mystery writers plot their books carefully before they write a word. I don’t. I start with the characters and let them tell me what to do. I don’t always know who the killer is until I’m almost finished writing—and I think that makes for good reading. If my characters are real and the situations work, the truth unfolds for me and the reader together.

A writer is always looking for material. An important character in “A Job To Kill For” is a motorcyclist who lives on a boat in Marina del Rey. Based on a real person? Well, sort of. One day on the 405 freeway in LA, I was driving by the Marina, and a leather-jacketed guy zoomed out on a Harley. Not much to go on, but how much did I need? As I drove, an image began to form, and his complicated life story unreeled in my head. He wasn’t what I expected. And I hope, on the page, he isn’t what you expect.

I’m lucky to have a wonderful job and family in real-life. I’m forever grateful for them. But creating a different world is a whole lot of fun.

By the way, if you have decorating questions, feel free to ask.

Maybe Lacy will know the answer.


Janice Kaplan is Editor in Chief of Parade magazine. She has been an executive producer of prime-time specials for Fox, ABC, and VH1. The author of Looks to Die For, Kaplan has coauthored three previous novels, including the national bestseller Mine Are Spectacular! A Yale graduate, she lives in Westchester County, New York, with her family. Her latest book, A Job to Kill For, is now available in paperback.

The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper by Kathleen Y'Barbo



In The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper, the future is clearly mapped out for New York socialite Eugenia “Gennie” Cooper, but she secretly longs to slip into the boots of her favorite dime-novel heroine and experience just one adventure before settling down. When the opportunity arises, Gennie jumps at the chance to experience the Wild West, but her plans go awry when she is drawn into the lives of silver baron Daniel Beck and his daughter and finds herself caring for them more than is prudent–especially as she’s supposed to go back to New York and marry another man.

As Gennie adapts to the rough-and-tumble world of 1880s Colorado, she must decide whether her future lies with the enigmatic Daniel Beck or back home with the life planned for her since birth. The question is whether Daniel’s past–and disgruntled miners bent on revenge–will take that choice away from her.

Kathleen Y’Barbo is the best-selling, award-winning author of more than thirty novels, novellas, and young adult books, with more than a half-million in print. A graduate of Texas A&M University, she is currently a publicist with Books & Such literary agency.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Review: "Sometimes a Light Surprises" by Jamie Langston Turner

Several weeks before her mysterious death, Ben Buckley's wife met a woman who "turned her on to religion"---radically interrupting their happy marriage. Angry for how he treated her, Ben now hides behind walls of grief, broken relationships, and rigid routine. But when two unlikely people enter his narrow world, will he let down his guard?

This is a book about family. It's a story that you can't read fast, you have to let it sink in slowly. For readers familiar with Turner's previous works, the setting returns to Derby, South Carolina where folks in the town like to take things slow and easy. This time we're introduced to Ben, a widower who's never gotten over the unsolved murder of his wife. Due to his unresolved feelings, his relationships with his children have severely declined over the years. It's sad to see how a simple act can change the course of a person's personality and communication for the rest of their lives. I thought it was extremely interesting to read about Ben's relationship to the Kovatch family. I felt that Ben's reaction to the strict conservativeness of the Kovatch family to be quite spot on. It may be playing on stereotypes or pre-judgments but I think many people feel this way about people who act like the family and that would probably have been what they were thinking as well. Throughout the book we learn about Ben's family and the Kovatch family as well as Ben's assistant Caroline and her family. Each of these families is going through situations that that test how they act as a unit and the circumstances that cause them to be this way.

Even though I liked the book, there was something about it that was a bit off. Normally I'm a huge fan of Turner's books. Even though they are a slow read, usually the story just unravels gently and wraps you in. This time however, I never really felt like I could get into the story. It just never grabbed me like the other books had done. I couldn't connect to any of the characters, in fact they all seemed like they were keeping an arm's length away from me. A slight disappointment was the lack of characters from the other books, that usually tie them all together. I think there was a brief cameo of a past character, but it didn't feel like it was enough. I also felt that the mystery was never tied up, it was just left hanging. I understand why this would be the case, but it just very unsatisfying to have so much effort going into it and not have a final outcome. Overall I would have to say this probably was not one of my favorite books by Turner. It's a good read but it just didn't really warm up to me. I'm hoping that there will be another book featuring these characters because I feel that there is more to the story that needs to be told.

Sometimes a Light Surprises by Jamie Langston Turner is published by Bethany House (2009)

The Frontiersman's Daughter by Laura Frantz


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

The Frontiersman’s Daughter

Revell (September 1, 2009)

by

Laura Frantz



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

I was born and raised in Kentucky and my love of history goes deep - way back to the 18th-century when my family first came into the Bluegrass State. It will always be home to me, even though I now live with my husband, Randy, and my sons, Wyatt and Paul, in the misty woods of northwest Washington. I go back as often as I can to visit family and all the old haunts that I love.

I grew up playing on the original site of Fort Boonesborough and swimming in the Kentucky River and climbing the Pinnacle near Berea and watching the great outdoor dramas of the early settlers. Often my cousins and brother and I would play in my Granny's attic and dress up in the pioneer costumes she made us and pretend to be Daniel Boone, Rebecca, Jemima, or the Shawnee.

As I grew up I began to write stories and they were always historical, filled with the lore I had heard or read about. It's no accident that my first book (which is actually my fifth book - the others were practice!) is about those first Kentucky pioneers.

I feel blessed beyond measure to write books. My prayer is that you are doubly blessed reading them.

Note: Laura Frantz credits her 100-year-old grandmother as being the catalyst for her fascination with Kentucky history. Frantz's family followed Daniel Boone into Kentucky in 1792 and settled in Madison County where her family still resides. Frantz is a former schoolteacher and social worker who currently lives in the misty woods of Washington state with her husband and two sons, whom she homeschools.



ABOUT THE BOOK

Lovely but tough as nails, Lael Click is the daughter of a celebrated frontiersman. Haunted by her father's former captivity with the Shawnee Indians, as well as the secret sins of her family's past, Lael comes of age in the fragile Kentucky settlement her father founded.

Though she faces the loss of a childhood love, a dangerous family feud, and the affection of a Shawnee warrior, Lael draws strength from the rugged land she calls home, and from Ma Horn, a distant relative who shows her the healing ways of herbs and roots found in the hills.

But the arrival of an outlander doctor threatens her view of the world, God, and herself--and the power of grace and redemption. This epic novel gives readers a glimpse into the simple yet daring lives of the pioneers who first crossed the Appalachians, all through the courageous eyes of a determined young woman.

Laura Frantz's debut novel offers a feast for readers of historical fiction and romance lovers alike.

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Frontiersman’s Daughter, go HERE

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Book Review: "Sunflower Serenade" by Tricia Goyer


A small-town summer...

The days are long and lazy, the corn is high, the sunflowers are in bloom, and everyone in Bedford is gearing up for the biggest event of the summer: the annual county fair. But when a Nashville music producer approaches Bob about using Heather Creek Farm to film a country star's new music video, he and Charlotte are faced with a dilemma. Will they allow the glamour and enticements of big-city life to encroach upon their peaceful home? Will the excitement of celebrity drown out the simple joys of summer?

As you've probably seen on this blog, I'm a huge fan of the Home to Heather Creek series. Why is that? It's because of it's down to earth, good natured, comfort style reading. When I read one of these books, I'm able to escape to a simple life, down on the farm, with folks that love each other even while they're still getting in all sorts of scrapes and bangs. I also really enjoy how even though this series is written by several different authors, who normally have completely different writing styles, the stories all manage to blend and flow seamlessly. The authors have upheld the general personality and traits of each character and yet still manage to add their own brand of storytelling in each book.

Tricia's books are some of my favorite of the series. This is mainly due to the fact that since she has lots of experience with working with teens in real life, she is able to capture them accurately and brilliantly in her stories. Sam is worried about his old friend from California thinking Nebraska is just a bunch of hicks. Emily has taken up a new hobby with photography but finds herself at the brunt of the attacks from the mean pastor's daughter. Both teens are easy to relate to and you can totally accept why they feel what they feel.

I'm not a country music fan myself, but I could share in the family's excitement of having a country star making a music video at the farmhouse. That would be a totally awesome experience and something to talk about for years. I did appreciate how everything was shown as not being so glamorous and rosy. Even small details such as having a lawyer look over the contract to make sure everything is in order is included. Also of enjoyment to read was the country fair. I've never been to one myself so it's always fun to read about the joy that comes from going to one.

Once again, this was a really enjoyable book to read and it's a great addition to the series. I was telling Tricia that I thought for sure I knew what was going to happen in the ending and was a bit disappointed but she said not to worry, another book will have that ending. So until then, I say goodbye to Heather Creek but it's been another fun trip and I can't wait to come back!

Sunflower Serenade by Tricia Goyer is published by Guideposts (2009)

If you just want to order Sunflower Serenade you must call the Guideposts customer service number (1-800-431-2344).

CONTEST - Playing on one element of the book - big city entertainers vs. old county fair – the contest for this blog tour is City Girl Goes Country! Share your funniest story (about you or someone you know) about a time when you as the “city girl” goes to the country or “country girl” goes to the city. Enter the contest here: http://www.litfusegroup.com/latest/current-blog-tours/88-sunflower-serenade-blog-tour

To see other stops on the tour click here: http://triciagoyer.blogspot.com/2009/08/sunflower-serenade-blog-tour.html

Honor in the Dust by Gilbert Morris

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:


Honor in the Dust

Howard Books (August 25, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:





Gilbert Morris is the bestselling author of more than 200 novels, several of which won Christy and Silver Angel Awards. He is a retired English professor, who lives in Gulf Shores, AL, with his family.

Visit the author's website.




AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


May 1497

Sussex County, England-


Claiborn Winslow leaned forward and patted his horse’s sweaty neck. “Well done, Ned.” He had pushed the stallion harder than he liked, but after so many months away he was hungry for home. He straightened in the saddle and gazed in pleasure at Stoneybrook, the Winslows’s ancestral castle. It had withstood seige and battle, and bore all the marks that time made upon structure——as well as upon men. There was nothing particularly beautiful about Stoneybrook. There were many castles in England that had more pleasing aspects, designed more for looks than for utility. But Claiborn loved it more than any other.

The spring had brought a rich emerald green growth to all the countryside, and verdant fields nuzzled up against the very walls of Stoneybrook. If they were any indication, the summer’s harvest would be good, indeed. The castle itself rose out of a hillside, and was dominated by an impenetrable wall, on the other side of which a small village thrived. Even now, late in the day, people and carts and horses moved in and out of the central gate, and from the battlements he saw the banner of Winslow fluttering in the late afternoon breeze, as if beckoning to him.

“My heaven it’s good to be home!”

He laughed at himself adding, “Well, I guess the next thing they’ll put me in Bedlam with the other crazy ones talking to myself. I must be worse off than I thought.” His mind cascaded back to the battles he had seen, rare but fierce, and the men he had encountered. Some dreaded battle, feared it, and could not force themselves forward. Others found joy in the clash of weapons and the shouts of victory when the battle was over. Claiborn was one of these, finding a natural rhythm to battle, a path from start to finish as if preordained for him. When the trumpets sounded, and the drums rolled, his heart burned with excitement. God help him, he loved it. Loved being a soldier. But this, returning to Stoneybrook, had its own charm.

“Come on, Ned.” Kicking his horse’s side Claiborn guided the animal toward the gate, and as he passed through, he ran across an old acquaintance, Ryland Tolliver, one of the blacksmiths who served Sir Edmund Winslow and the others of the family as well.

“Well, bless my soul,” Ryland boomed, “if it’s not the soldier home from the wars!” He was a bulky man, his shoulders broad, and his hands like steel hooks from his years at the forge. He laughed as Claiborn slipped off his horse and came forward, and he shook his hand. “Good to see you, man. You’re just getting home. All in one piece, I see.”

“All in one piece.” The two man shook hands, and Claiborn had to squeeze hard to keep his hand from being crushed by the burly blacksmith. “How are things here? My mother and my brother?”

“The same as they were when you left. What did you expect? We’d fall to pieces without you to keep us straight?”

“No, I’m not as vain as that. I’m sure the world would jog on pretty well without me.”

“Tell me about the wars, man.”

“Not now. I need to go see my family, but I’ll come back later. We’ll have enough ale to float a ship. I’ll tell you lies about how I won the battles. You can tell lies about how you’ve won over the virtue of poor Sally McFarland.”

“Sally McFarland? Why, she left here half a year ago.”

“I thought you were going to marry that girl.”

“She had other ideas. A blacksmith wasn’t good enough for her.” He looked at Ned and said, “Not much of a horse.”

“He’s a stayer. That’s what I like. He needs shoeing though. I’ll leave him with you and feed him something good. He’s had a hard journey.”

“That I’ll do.” He took the reins from Claiborn. “What about you, Master? What brings you home at long last?”

Claiborn glanced back at him, and a smile touched his broad lips. “Well, I’m thinking about taking a wife.”

“A wife? You? Why, you were made to be a bachelor man! Half the women in this village stare at you when you walk down the street.”

“You boast on my behalf, but even if it was God’s own truth, I’ll not have just any woman.”

“Ahh, I see. So have you got one picked out?”

“Of course! Grace Barclay had my heart when we courted and never let it go.”

“Oh, yes, Grace Barclay.” There was a slight hesitation in the blacksmith’s speech, and he opened his lips to speak, but then something came over him, and he clamped them together for a moment.

“Ryland, what is it? Grace is well?” Claiborn said, his heart seizing at the look on the blacksmith’s face.

“She is well. Still pretty as ever.” Ryland had ceased smiling, and he lifted the reins in his hand. “I best go and take care of the horse. He must have a thirst.”

“As do I. I’ll return on the morrow. Give him a good feed too. He’s earned it.”


. . . . . . . . . . . .

The servants were busy putting the evening meal together, and as he passed into the great hall Claiborn spoke to many of them. He was smiling and remembering their names, and they responded to him well. He had always been a favorite with the servants, far more than his brother Edmund, the master of Stoneybrook, and enjoyed his special status. He paused beside one large woman who was pushing out of her clothing and said, “Martha, your shape is more…womanly than when I departed.”

The cook giggled and said, “Away with you now, m’lord. None of your soldier’s ways around here.”

He grinned. “You are expecting a little one. It is nothing shameful, I assume.”

“Shush! Mind that we’re in public, Sir. Such conversation is unseemly!” Her face softened and she leaned closer. “I married George, you know. A summer past.”

“Well, good for George. With a good woman and a babe on the way; he must be content, indeed. What’s for supper?”

“Nothing special, but likely better than some of the meals you’ve had.”

“You’re right about that. Soldier’s fare is pretty rough stuff.”

Passing on, Claiborn felt a lightness in his spirit. There was something about coming home that did something inside a man. He thought of the many campfires he had huddled next to out in the fields, sometimes in drizzling rain and bitter cold weather— dreaming of the smells and the sounds of Stoneybrook, wishing he was back. And now, at last, he was.

“Edmund!” He turned to see his brother, emerging from one of the inner passages.

Claiborn hurried forward to meet him and said, “It’s good to see you, brother.”

“And you,” Edmund said, holding him at arm’s length again to get a good look. “No wounds, this round?”

“Nothing that hasn’t healed,” Claiborn returned.

“Good, good. Mother will be so relieved.”

The two turned to walk together, down a passageway that would lead to their mother’s apartments. Claiborn restrained his pace, accommodating his smaller older brother’s shorter stride. “All is well here, brother? You are well?”

“Never better. There is much to tell you. But it can wait until we sup.”


A servant had just departed, after breathlessly telling Lady Leah Winslow that her son had returned. She wished she had a moment to run a brush through her gray hair, but she could already hear her sons, making their way down the corridor. She rose, straightening her skirts. How many nights had she prayed for Claiborn’s return, feared for his very life? And here he was at last!

The two paused at her door, and Leah’s hand went to her chest as her eyes moved between her sons. Claiborn’s rich auburn hair with just a trace of gold; Edmund’s dull brown. Claiborn’s broad forehead, sparkling blue eyes, high cheekbones, generous lips that so easily curved into a smile, determined chin. Here, here was the true Lord Winslow, a far more striking figure than his sallow, flabby brother. Her eyes flitted guiltily toward her eldest, wondering if she read her traitorous thoughts within.

But Claiborn was already moving forward, arms out, and she rushed to him. He lifted her and twirled around, making her giggle and then flush with embarrassment. “Claiborn, Claiborn!”

He laughed, the sound warm and welcoming and then gently set her to her feet. “You are still lovely, Mother.”

“You are kind to an old woman,” she said. She reached up and cradled his cheek. “The wars…you return to us unhurt?”

“Only aching for home,” he returned.

He took the horsehide-covered seat she offered and Edmund took another. A servant arrived with tea and quickly poured.

“Are you hungry, Son?”

“Starved, but the tea will tide me over until we sup.”

“Well, tell us about the wars,” Edmund said.

“Like all wars—bloody and uncomfortable. I lost some good friends. God be praised, I came through all right.”

Edmund let out a scoffing sound. “Don’t tell me you turned religious!”

“Religious enough to seek my Maker when facing death.”

Edmund laughed and Leah frowned. He had a high-pitched laugh that sounded like the whinnying of a horse. “Not very religious when you were growing up. I had to thrash you for chasing the maids.”

Claiborn reddened and guiltily glanced at Leah. “I suppose I was a terrible.”

“You were young,” Leah put in. “Now you are a man.”

“She forgets just how troublesome you were,” Edmund said.

“You might have been the same, had you faced manhood and the loss of your father in the same year. You were fortunate, Edmund, to be a man full grown before you became Lord Winslow.”

Edmund pursed his narrow lips and considered her words. “Yes. I suppose there is a certain wisdom in that, Mother. A thousand apologies, Claiborn,” he said, with no true apology in his tone.

“None offense taken. So tell me, what’s the feeling here about the king?”

“Most are for Henry. He’s a strong man—but it troubles all that he seems to have a ghost haunting him.”

“A real ghost?”

“No, but it might be better if it were,” Edmund grinned. “Henry defeated Richard III at Bosworth, and he claimed the crown. But he’s always thinking that someone with a better claim to the crown will lead a rebellion and cut his head off.”

“Do you think that could happen?”

“No. Henry’s too clever to let that happen.”

Leah fidgeted in her seat, wondering when Edmund would tell his brother what he must. Would it be up to her? She kept silent for ten long minutes as the men continued to speak of Henry VII and his various campaigns. When it was silent, she blurted, “Has Edmund told you of his plans?”

Edmund shot her a quick, narrowed glance, but then turned to engage his brother again.

“Plans?” Claiborn’s bright, blue eyes lit up. “What is it?”

“I’m to be married,” he said, uncrossing his legs and crossing them again in a studied, casual way.

“Well, I assumed you already long married. Alice Williams is your intended bride, I suppose.”

Edmund’s face darkened, and he took two quick swallows of tea and then shook his head. “No,” he said in a spare tone. “That didn’t come to fruition. She married Sir Giles Mackson.”

“Why, he’s an old man!”

“I expect that’s why Alice married him. She expects to wear him out, then she’ll be in control of everything.”

“I didn’t think Alice was that kind of a woman.”

“Come now, most women are that kind of woman. Apart from our dear mother, of course.” He reached out a hand to Leah and she took it. He held it too tightly, as if warning her. “You truly haven’t learned more of women as you’ve traveled?”

“Not of what you speak.” His eyes moved to his brother’s hand, still holding their mother’s. “Well, who is it then? Who is the future Lady Winslow?”

Leah couldn’t bear it then, watching her handsome son’s face. She stared studiously at her tea, waiting for the words to come.


“Obviously, I’ve considered it for some time,” Edmund said, releasing their mother’s hand, setting down his cup and rising to stand behind her chair.

Claiborn frowned but forced a curious smile. Why was he hesitating? “Cease toying with me, Edmund. Who is she?”

“I have selected Grace Barclay.”

Claiborn’s fingers grew white as he gripped the tea cup. With a shaking hand, he set it down before he crushed it. “Grace Barclay,” he whispered.

“Yes. She’s comely enough, and I’ve come to a fine arrangement with her father. We shall obtain all the land that borders our own to the east. That’ll be her dowry. We’ll be able to put in new rye fields and carry more cattle. It’ll add a quarter to the size of Stoneybrook. You know how hard I tried to buy that land from her father, years ago. Well, he wouldn’t sell, never would I don’t think, but when he mentioned the match I thought, well, why not? It’s time I married and produced an heir for all of this. I’ll show you around the property tomorrow.”

Claiborn said nothing further, and felt frozen in place. Edmund prattled on about the new land that would soon be added, how it would benefit them all, and finally turned toward the door and said, “Come along, you two. They ought to have something to eat on the table by now. You can tell us about the wars in more detail, Claiborn, now that you know all that’s new here.”

“Edmund, may I have a word with your brother?” Leah said quietly.

Edmund stared, as if having forgotten she was there. After a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Certainly, Mother. I shall see you both in the dining hall.” Then straightening his coat, he exited the room.

Claiborn struggled to speak. At last he asked, “When will the marriage take place?”

“The date has not been set, but it will be soon.” Leah turned warm eyes on her son. She reached out to touch his arm, but he flinched. She had stood idly by! Watched this transgression unfold! “Claiborn, it is a business arrangement. Nothing more.”

“But she was mine. He knew I courted her.”

“And then you left her. She has been of marriable age for some time, now. For all we knew, you could have already died on foreign soil, never to return. Like it or not, life continues, for those of us left behind. Grace needed a husband; Edmund needed a wife. It was a natural choice.”

Claiborn rose. “What of love? What of passion? Grace and I shared those things.”

“Years ago, you shared those things. Now you must forget them. Your brother, Lord Winslow, has chosen.”

“Chosen my intended!” Claiborn thundered, rising.

“You did not make your intentions clear,” Leah said quietly, pain in every word.

“I could not leave Grace, with a promise to marry. It was a promise I could not be sure I could keep. Too many die on the battlefield…” He turned away to the window, running a hand through his hair, anguished at the thought of never holding Grace in his arms, never declaring his love, enduring the sight of her, with him. His brother. His betrayer.

His mother came up behind him, and this time, he allowed her touch on his arm. Slowly, quietly, she leaned her temple against his shoulder, simply standing beside him for time in solidarity. “I’m sorry, Son. But you are too late. You cannot stop what is to come, only make your peace with it. It will be well in time. But you must stand aside.”


Claiborn went through the motions of the returned soldier through the rest of the evening. He was not a particularly good actor, and many of the servants noticed how quiet he was. Edmund did not, however, continuing to fill the silence with endless chatter. After the meal was over Claiborn said, “I think I’ll go to bed. My journey was long today.”

“Yes, you’d better,” Edmund said, mopping the gravy from the trencher with a chunk of bread “Tomorrow we’ll look things over, find something for you to do while you are home. Will you return to the army?”

“I’m not quite sure, Edmund.”

“Bad business being a soldier! Out in the weather, always the danger of some Spaniard or Frenchman taking your head off. We’ll find something for you around here. Time you got a profession. Maybe you’d make a lawyer or even go into the church.” He laughed then and said, “No, not the church. Too much mischief in you for that! Go along then. Sleep well and we’ll discuss it further on the morrow.”


. . . . . . . . . . . .


As Claiborn rode up to the property owned by John Barclay, he felt as if he were coming down with some sort of illness. He had slept not at all, but had paced the floor until his mother sent a servant with a vessel of wine, which he downed quickly, and soon afterward, fell into a dream-laden sleep. As soon as the sun had come up, he had departed, only leaving word for Edmund that he had an errand to run.

Now as he pulled up in front of the large house where Barclay lived with his family, he dismounted, and a smiling servant came out. “Greetings, m’lord, shall I grain your horse?”

“No, just walk him until he cools.”

He walked up to the door, his eyes troubled and his lips in a tight line. He was shown in by a house servant, and five minutes later John Barclay, Grace’s father, came in. “Well, Claiborn, you’re back. All safe and sound, I trust?”

“Yes, Sir. Safe and sound.”

“How did the wars go? Here, let’s have a little wine.”

Claiborn’s head was splitting already from the hangover, but he took the mulled wine so that he might have something to do with his hands.

John Barclay was a small man, handsome in his youth, but now at the age of forty he was beginning to show his age poorly. He pumped Claiborn for news of the wars, customarily passed along the gossips of the court and of the neighborhood. Finally he got to what Claiborn had come to address. “I assume your brother has told you that he and my girl Grace are to be married?”

“Yes, Sir, he did.”

“Well, it’s a good match,” he rushed on. “She’s a good girl and your brother is a good man. Good blood on both sides! They’ll be providing me with some fine grandchildren. A future.”

Claiborn did not know exactly how to proceed. He had hoped to find Grace alone, but Barclay did not mention her, so finally he said, “I wonder if I might see Miss Grace? Offer my future sister-in-law my thoughts on her impending nuptials?”

“Certainly! She’s up out in the garden. Let her welcome you home. She’ll tell you all about the wedding plans, I’m sure.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Getting up, Claiborn walked out of the castle. He knew where the garden was, for he had visited Grace more than once in this place. He turned the corner, and his first sight of her seemed to stop him in his tracks. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. A tall woman with blonde hair and well-shaped green eyes, with a beautiful smile. He stood there looking at her, and finally she turned and saw him. She was holding a pair of shears in her hands, and she dropped them and cried out, “Claiborn—!”

Moving forward, Claiborn felt as if he were in some sort of dream world. He came to stand in front of her and could not think of what to say. It was so different from what he had imagained it would be like when he first saw her after his long absence. How many times had he imagined taking her into his arms, turning her face up, kissing her and whispering his love, and her own whispered declarations…

But that was not happening. Grace had good color in her cheeks as a rule, but now they were pale, and he could see her lips were trembling. “Claiborn, you’re—you’re home.”

“Aye, I am.”

A silence seemed to build a wall between them, and it was broken only when she whispered, “You know? About Edmund and me?”

“I knew nothing until yesterday when Edmund told me.”

“I thought he might send you word.”

“He’s not much of a one for writing.” Claiborn suddenly reached out and took her by the upper arm. He squeezed too hard and saw pain rise and released his grip. “I can’t believe it, Grace! I thought we had an understanding.”

Grace turned her shoulders more toward him. “An understanding, of sorts,” she said quietly. “But that was a long time ago, Claiborn. Much has transpired since you left.”

He couldn’t stop himself. He reached out his hand to take her own, gently. “I’m sorry. I was a fool.”

“You were young. We both were. Perhaps it is best that we leave it as that.” She turned her wide, green eyes up to meet his.

He frowned. “Is that all it was to you? The passion of youth? Frivolity? Foolishness?”

“Nay,” she sais softly, so softly he wondered if he had misheard her. But then she repeated it, squeezing his hand. His heart surged to doubletime. Her voice was unsteady as she said, “I did everything I could to get out of the marriage, Claiborn. I begged my father, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He’s determined…and so is your brother.”

“I know Edmund is stubborn, but there must have been some way, Grace.”

“No, both your brother and my father see a woman as something to be traded. I don’t think my father ever once thought of what I wanted, of what you and I once shared, of would make me happy. Nor Edmund. He’s never courted me. It is purely an arrangement that suits well…on the surface.”

Suddenly Claiborn asked, “Do you think you might come to love him, Grace?”

Tears came into Grace’s eyes. “No,” she whispered. “Of course not! I love you, Claiborn. You must know that.”

Then suddenly a great determination came to Claiborn. He could not see the end of what he planned to do, but he could see the beginning—which would undoubtedly bring a period of strife. And yet any great battle worth fighting began the same way. “We’ll have to go to them both, your father and my brother,” he said. “We’ll explain that we love each other, and we will have to make them understand.”

Grace shook her head. “It won’t do any good, Claiborn. Neither of them will listen. Their minds are made up.”

“They’ll have to listen!” Claiborn’s voice was fierce. “Come. We’ll talk to your father right now—and then I’ll go try to reason with Edmund. My mother will come to my aid, I am certain.”

“I fear it will do no good—”

“But we must try.”

She accepted his other hand and met his gaze again. “Yes,” she said with a nod, “we must try.”

“Grace Barclay, if we manage this feat, would you honor me by becoming my bride?”

“Indeed,” she said, smiling with fear and hope in her beautiful eyes.

“Come, then,” he said, tucking her hand into the crook of his arm. “Let us see to it then.”

The two of them went inside, and found Grace’s father eating grapes. Claiborn knew there was no simple manner to enter the discussion at hand so he said, “Mr. Barclay, forgive me for going against you and your arrangement with my brother, but I must tell you that Grace and I love each other. We want your permission to marry.”

John Barclay stared at the two, then hastily swallowed a mouthful of grapes. The juice ran down his chin, and his face was scarlet. “What are you talking about, man? I’ve told you, she’s to marry your brother!”

“Father, I never cared for Edmund,” Grace said at once. She held her head up high, and added, “I’ve loved Claiborn for a long time.”

“Have you lost your senses, girl? Sir Edmund is the lord of Stoneybrook. He has the money and the title. What does this man have? A sword and the clothes he has on his back!”

“But father—!”

“Not another word, Grace! You’re marrying Edmund Winslow, and I’ll hear no more about it!” Barclay turned to Claiborn, and his face was contorted with rage. “And you! What sort of brother are you? Coming between your brother and the woman he’s sought for his wife! You’re a sorry excuse for a man! Get out of here, and never come back, you understand me?” He turned to Grace and shouted, “As for you, girl, go to your room! I’ll have more words for you later…!”


. . . . . . . . . . . .


As Claiborn rode out of the environs of Barclay Castle, he felt as if he had been in a major battle. He loitered on the way home, trying to put together a speech that might move Edmund after so utterly failing with John Barclay. When he reached the castle he saw his brother out in the field with one of the hired hands. He was pointing out some fences, no doubt, that needed to be built, and he turned as Claiborn rode up and dismounted.

“Well, you ran off early this morning. What was so pressing that you could not even stop to break your fast?.”

“I must have a word with you, Edmund.”

His brother said something else to the field hand and then turned to walk beside him. “Well, what is it? Have you given thought to your profession?”

“No, no, it’s about Grace.”

Edmund’s eyes narrowed. “Grace? What about her?”

Claiborn faced his brother and said, “Grace and I love each other. We have for a long time. Forgive me for this, but we wish to be married, Edmund.”

Edmund’s face contorted into a look of confusion. “Have you lost your mind, Claiborn? She’s engaged to me! Everyone knows about it.”

Claiborn began to try to explain, to reason, and even to plead with Edmund, but Edmund scoffed, “You were always a romantic dreamer, boy. But you are a man grown now. You must embrace life and all its practicalities, as I have. Think if it. The woman is handsome, yes, but what she brings to this estate is even more attractive. There will be another girl for you.”

“Perhaps Barclay will still give the land as Grace’s dowry if she marries me.”

“Of course he won’t! Are you daft? I’m the master here! Now don’t be difficult about this, Claiborn. It’s for the good of the House of Winslow. Let’s hear no more about it.”


. . . . . . . . . . . .


The thing could not be kept a secret, and soon everyone at both houses knew what had happened. Edmund made no secret of his displeasure, and finally, after three days, he found Claiborn, and his anger had hardened, but he gave Claiborn one more chance to change his mind. “Look you now, Claiborn,” he said. “You know you have no way to provide for a wife, without me. And if you stubbornly pursue this one as your wife, I shall turn you out. What kind of a life would a woman have with you then? You know as well as I she’d be miserable. Grace has always the best of everything. What would she have with you, outside of the House of Winslow? Dirt, poverty, sickness, misery, that’s what she’d have. You must see that.”

“But Edmund, we love each other. If you’d help me fit myself for a profession—”

“I will help you! I’ve said so already—but I’d be made to look ridiculous if my own brother took my choice for a wife from me. A lord cannot be made to look the fool. It will bind me in every future arrangement I make. No, the die has been cast. You must live with what has transpired in your absence.”

Claiborn had never asked his brother for anything, and he hated to beg, but he pleaded with Edmund until he saw that it was useless.

“You cannot remain here,” Edmund said flatly. “Not feeling the way you do about my intended. Refusing to act as a man. Refusing the way of honor.”

“I cannot be the man God made me, honor what he has placed on my heart, and do anything but this!” Claiborn cried, arms out, fingers splayed.

Edmund stared at him for a moment and said coldly, “I never want to see you again, Claiborn. You have betrayed me, turned away from all I’ve given you!”

“And you did not betray me? You knew I courted Grace!”

“Once upon a time, as a young whelp! How was I to know you fancied a grand return, a romantic reunion? No, I deal with a man’s responsibilities, and I shall move forward as that, as a man.”

Claiborn stared hard at him. “Mother will—”

“Mother will side with me. With the Lord of Winslow. She knows her place.”

“Just as Grace will know it, right? Pretty, and placed in a corner, until you have need of her in your bed.”

“Get out. My bride is my family, my business. And you, you are no longer kin to me.”


. . . . . . . . . . . .

“Grace, I’ve hoped you’d show more sense,” her father said. “You don’t see life the way it is, so I can’t let you make such a terrible mistake.”

“It would be a terrible mistake if I married a man I didn’t love.”

“Nonsense! You’ve been unfairly influenced by those French romances. I knew I should not have allowed them in my house!”

Grace sighed. To be fair, she had placed him in a terrible position, and never challenged him on anything of note. Up until now. “Father, I believe in love. Did you not once love my mother?”

“There was no nonsense. She understood how things progress, between a man and a woman. She…” He colored, growing so frustrated in choosing his words that he shook his finger in her face. “My father and her father saw that there were advantages to our marriage, and we were obedient. We had a good life.”

Grace lost her mother to the fevers when she was fourteen, just as Claiborn had lost his father at the same age—but she well remembered how unhappy she had been, how she longed for affection, but got very little from her husband. John had loved her mother, just as she knew he loved her, but he seemed incapacitated when it came to showing it. “I love Claiborn, Father,” she repeated. “I beg you, don’t force me to marry a man I don’t love.”

John opened his mouth as if to say something in fury, then abruptly closed it, turning away from her. He took a step toward the fire, burning in the hearth, and ran a hand through his thinning hair. “We shall discuss it no further. You are marrying Sir Edmund Winslow. I shall see to it myself.”


. . . . . .

“We’ll have to leave here, Grace.” Claiborn had come under cover of darkeness to meet with her in the garden. The air was heavy for the rain had come earlier and soaked the earth.

“Yes, we will.”

“I have nothing to offer you.”

Grace looked up. “But I have something to offer you. You remember my Aunt Adella?”

“She married an Irishman when we were but children, didn’t she?”

“Yes, and he died, and now she’s dead. She left the farm in Ireland to me. That’s where we must go and make our lives.”

It sounded like a dream—an unfavorable dream since Claiborn had no good opinion of Ireland. But it seemed they had little choice. Perhaps it was of God, this provision.

“This asks much of you, Grace. You’d have the life you were born to, here, if you married Edmund.”

“No, my life would be tragic, living with a man I didn’t love and never again seeing the man I do. There is no choice. Come for me, in two days’ time. I shall meet you by the side gate, when all are deeply asleep.


.. . . . . .

Two days later, Claiborn waited outside the Barclay estate in the dark, nervously shifting from foot to foot. He had stolen away from Stoneybrook as soon as even the lightest sleeper was deep into his dreams. But if she didn’t emerge soon…if Edmund discovered he was gone, and here, or if Grace’s father came upon them…his hand went to his sword. He would do what it took to get his intended away from here. But if anyone died as they departed, it would haunt them forever. “Please Lord,” he muttered under his breath. “Make a way for us. Help us depart in peace.”

Two men approached and Claiborn narrowly ducked around a copse of trees in time. But the lads had been too deep into the ale to notice him—-nor Ned’s soft whinny in greeting to their own horses. They trotted past, laughing so giddily Claiborn wondered how they stayed astride their mounts. His eyes moved back to the side door, where he had sent word for her to meet him. “Make haste, Grace,” he begged through gritted teeth. “Make haste!”

Edmund was not a fool. He was certain to have encouraged servants to keep an eye out for him and any suspicious actions within Stoneybrook. With each minute that ticked by, their risk of exposure increased. Claiborn’s eyes traced the outline of the side door, willing it to open. Had she changed her mind? Or been intercepted? His mind leapt through different options, should she not emerge within a few minutes. Steal inside? Summon a servant and demand he see her? Or walk away?

But then, there she was. He hesitated for a moment, wondering if his mind was playing tricks upon him. No, it was her. She had come! He hurried forward, wincing as the cart behind Ned creaked in protest. Her head swung toward the sound and she hurriedly shut the door behind her, turning a key in the lock and pocketing it.

He took her hands in his. “All right, sweetheart. We’ll find someone to marry us straight away, and then we’ll make a life together in Ireland. Thank you for this honor. Thank you for trusting me.”

“I’m trusting you and God, Claiborn.”

Claiborn was well aware that he did not really know God in the way that Grace did She had a firm faith in the Lord, and his religion had been more of a formality, but now he put his arms around her and kissed her. “I hope you’re right, Grace. At least we’ll have each other.”

“Yes,” Grace smiled up, tears in her eyes. “We’ll have each other.”