Everyday Tidbits...

"Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile." - William Cullen Bryant

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Giveaways

Check out these great blogs for some giveaways.

Not Entirely British for a copy of Abinadi by Heather B. Moore. (11/14)

SMS Book Reviews for a copy of Chameleon, Butterfly, Dragonfly by Cindy Silbert (11/9)

SMS Book Reviews for a copy of Stop Clutter from Stealing Your Life by Mike Nelson. (11/9)

A Peek at My Bookshelf for a set of 3 Chick-Lit books. (11/8)

Books on the Brain for a copy of The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. (11/7)

Camy's Loft for a copy of An Irishwoman' Tale by Patti Lacy. (11/6)

Callapidder Days for a copy of Divine Mentor by Wayne Cordeiro. (11/6)

5 Minutes for Books for a copy of Home Another Way by Christa Parrish. (11/5)

Red Lady's Reading Room for a copy of The Paperback Christmas by Kevin Alan Milne. (11/5)

Tara's View on Books for a copy of The Paperback Christmas by Kevin Alan Milne. (11/1)

Need More Shelves
for a collection of 7 books. (10/31)

Diary of an Eccentric for a copy of Lydia Bennet's Story by Jane Odiwe. (10/31)

At Home with Books for copies of Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran. (10/31)

Peeking Between the Pages for copies of Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran. (10/31)

Booking Mama for a copy of Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. (10/31)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Paper Bag Christmas...Review

About the book:
Dr. Christopher Ringle is the last person you'd expect to find moonlighting as Santa Claus at the mall on the day after Thanksgiving. But it is there that he meets a young man named Molar Alan, who desperately needs a new perspective on the underlying value of Christmas. Dr. Ringle recruits Mo and his older brother as volunteers at a nearby children's hospital for the holiday season. At the hospital, Mo is tasked to help bring holiday cheer to the young cancer patients on the fifth floor. His biggest challenge is befriending a decidedly angry girl who is so embarrassed by her scarred appearance that she hides her face behind the safety of a paper bag. Almost in spite of himself, Mo finds that Christmas joy emanates from a source far greater than the North Pole, while the young girl learns that she is more beautiful than she had ever imagined.

An inspiring, charming little story about finding "everything you never wanted for Christmas."

Mo and his brother Aaron meet Santa at the mall. Santa is a pediatric oncologist and instead of simply giving them a present, he enlists their help as Santa's elves in the children's ward at the hospital. Each boy is tasked with getting to know a specific patient.

Aaron befriends Madhu, a charming boy who, although not Christian, has a fascination with Christmas and wants to learn all he can. Mo befriends Katrina, a young girl who has been through surgeries which have left her scarred and vulnerable. She wears a paper bag on her head and hides away from everyone.

The boys learn the true meaning of friendship and what kinds of gifts we should give at Christmas.

A magical novella. Easily read in one sitting, a funny, heartwarming story and one that will stay with you. I loved it. This would make a great Christmas film.

Thanks to Hatchette Books for the opportunity to read this. You can find out more about Kevin Milne here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 10/08

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Going Down South...Review...DNF

About the book:
When fifteen-year-old Olivia Jean finds herself in the “family way,” her mother, Daisy, who has never been very maternal, springs into action. Daisy decides that Olivia Jean can’t stay in New York and whisks her away to her grandmother’s farm in Alabama to have the baby–even though Daisy and her mother, Birdie, have been estranged for years. When they arrive, Birdie lays down the law: Sure, her granddaughter can stay, but Daisy will have to stay as well. Though Daisy is furious, she has no choice.

Now, under one little roof in the 1960s Deep South, three generations of spirited, proud women are forced to live together. One by one, they begin to lose their inhibitions and share their secrets. And as long-guarded truths emerge, a baby is born–a child with the power to turn these virtual strangers into a real, honest-to-goodness family.

Most reviews I've seen call it "wonderful" and a great book for and about mothers and daughters.

It's meant to be a thought-provoking, coming of age, multi-generational book. A young girl becomes pregnant and her mother takes her down south to her grandmother's home. Mom and grandma are somewhat estranged, mom and daughter are somewhat estranged. Most of the men are losers. Secrets are shared and ideally everyone comes together at the end.

I couldn't even finish it. I didn't care about the characters. I couldn't relate to any of them and they inspired no compassion in me whatsoever. The book jumped around a lot, it wasn't a smooth read. It was too raw, with profanity and s*x scenes: and a vulgar edge that was uncomfortable. I'm sure it was "realistic" for many, but I didn't like it.

You can check out other, more positive reviews at Peeking Between the PagesDiary of an Eccentric, Red Lady's Reading Room, Booking Mama, and Bookworm's Dinner.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 10/08


1/5 Stars

What's On Your Nightstand?

Every month, 5 Minutes for Books hosts What's On Your Nightstand? There are several ways to participate:

Share a list of books you hope to read this month, with or without a picture of the stack.
Go into a bit of detail about what you're reading and why. How did a particular book come to be on your nightstand? Why are you reading this book this month?

Give a few quick reviews of books that you read over the past month.


This is the current nightstand. Some books just stay in the stack until the mood for reading them strikes. Harry Potter is one I like to re-read so I always have a Harry book around. Funnily enough, none of these are library books. I just realized that. They're either ARCs or books I've won in giveaways. Cool.

Head on over to 5 Minutes for Books to check out what other people are reading.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Giveaway Winner

And the winner of Finding Father Christmas and Engaging Father Christmas is Bree from The Things We Read!

Congratulations Bree! I sent you an email, so as soon as I get your mailing info we can get these out to you.

Thanks to everyone who entered. Hopefully I'll have another giveaway soon.

Fall of Candy Corn...Wild Card!



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

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





Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


The Fall of Candy Corn

Zondervan (October 1, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Debbie ViguiƩ has been writing for most of her life. She has experimented with poetry and nonfiction, but her true passion lies in writing novels.

She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing from UC Davis. While at Davis she met her husband, Scott, at auditions for a play. It was love at first sight.

Debbie and Scott now live on the island of Kauai. When Debbie is not writing and Scott has time off they love to indulge their passion for theme parks.


The Sweet Seasons Novels:

The Summer of Cotton Candy
The Fall of Candy Corn
The Winter of Candy Canes
The Spring of Candy Apples


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310715598
ISBN-13: 978-0310715597

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Candace Thompson knew she was crazy. That was the only possible explanation for why, once again, she was sitting across the desk from Lloyd Peterson, hiring manager for The Zone theme park. A lot had changed since the day in June when she had been hired to operate a cotton candy machine. Still, sitting across from Lloyd, she felt self-conscious and a bit insecure.

“So,” he said, staring at her intently. “You think you can be a maze monster for Scare?”

She nodded. Scare was what they called the annual Halloween event at The Zone. Aside from putting frightening elements in traditional rides, during Scare there were a dozen mazes where monsters did their best to scare park guests as they wound their way through dark and creepy corridors.

“Then show me something scary.”

It was eleven in the morning in a brightly lit office. What on earth did he expect of her? She wanted to say something smart. She wanted to say something funny. With horror she realized she didn’t have anything to say.

“Come on, come on,” he said. “Be a monster, jump around, growl, something.”

She got out of her seat and did the best growl she could. Unfortunately, she sounded less like a monster and more like a frightened Chihuahua.

“Threaten me!”

She got closer to him than she would have liked, jumped up and down, swung her arms, and pounded her fist firmly on his desk. She could tell by the look on his face that he wasn’t impressed.

She growled again and yelled, “I’m going to get you!” She felt like the world’s biggest idiot. No one would be scared of a teenage girl, especially not one wearing a gray business suit and sensible shoes.

“Scream!” he ordered.

She threw back her head and screamed her loudest, shrillest scream. That, at least, was easy. It was a game her best friend, Tamara, and she had played when they were little. They had competitions to see who could scream louder or longer or higher.

She screamed for ten seconds and then sat back down in her chair. She expected Lloyd to laugh; she expected him to say something derisive. Instead, he looked at her thoughtfully.

“I have the perfect role for you to play,” he said. He wrote something on an orange slip of paper. “You’re going to be Candy in the Candy Craze maze.”

“Candy?” she asked questioningly. “Am I going to be dressed up like a giant Twix bar or something?”

He shook his head. “Nothing like that. You should be proud; it’s our latest maze. The lines for it will wrap halfway through the park.”

He handed her a stack of papers. “You can go fill these out. Then Saturday at nine a.m. report to the costume warehouse for your fitting and orientation. At that time you’ll also be able to pick up your badge, ID, and parking pass.”

“Saturday at nine,” she confirmed as she took the stack
from him.

“There’s a table — ”

“Out in the courtyard,” she finished for him.

Since she was a returning referee — which was the The Zone’s name for an employee — there was slightly less paperwork this time. There was, however, an entire book of rules and policies regarding Scare. She had to sign several forms stating that she had received it, she had read it, she had understood it, and she promised to abide by it. It seemed like the golden rule of Scare was “thou shalt have no physical contact of any kind with players.” Players was what they called the customers. Touching a player during Scare apparently was grounds for immediate dismissal.

Once she finished filling out and signing all her paperwork, she returned it to Lloyd Peterson.

Checking her watch, she discovered that she still had an hour before she had to meet Tamara for a late lunch. She decided to head into the theme park to see a few friends.

The first thing she noticed when she entered the park was that the Holiday Zone was closed. Temporary walls set up around the area prevented players from going inside or even getting a peek at what was going on.

The Holiday Zone was one of nine themed areas inside The Zone theme park. The theme of the Holiday Zone changed throughout the year to reflect different holidays. It was the day after Labor Day so all the Fourth of July themes from summer were now being replaced with Halloween themes for fall. The transformation would take about ten days, and then the Holiday Zone would be open again for business.

Several key attractions throughout the rest of the park were also closed, getting their Scare overlay. The Muffin Mansion was one of them, she discovered when she went there looking for her friend Becca. The Muffin Mansion was unique in the park because half of it was in the Exploration Zone and half of it was in the History Zone. The Exploration Zone half was located near most of the kitchens, which looked a lot more like laboratories. There was a small counter where they sold the muffins. The side that was in the History Zone looked like an old-fashioned mansion, and guests could eat their muffins at one of the tables scattered around the parlor. It was from the History side that it got its name. It was from the Exploration side that it got its wild concoctions of muffins and its ever-expanding menu.

She stared for a moment at the construction walls around the building and wondered what the Muffin Mansion would look like when the walls came down. She also wondered where Becca was working while the mansion was getting its Halloween makeover. She glanced at her watch and thought about who else she might be able to track down to chat with.

She knew that two of her other friends, Josh and Roger, had ended their summer jobs and weren’t there. Fortunately, both of them were going to be working Scare. They had managed to talk her into joining them. Spending time with them was one of the best perks of working the event. One of the others was that it paid slightly more than her summer job had.

Martha, her former supervisor, spent a lot of time off field in the employee-only areas. Candace wasn’t sure if Sue, one of her other friends, had already quit her summer job as a janitor or not. That left Kurt. So Candace made her way to the History Zone.

Kurt was her boyfriend. The word was still exciting and new to Candace. He worked as a mascot, a costumed character. They had met the day she first became a Zone referee and, after some rocky moments, had ended the summer as a -couple. She found him dressed like Robin Hood in the medieval area of the History Zone. She had gotten good at recognizing his dark hair and brilliant blue eyes no matter what costume or mask he was wearing.

“Hey, gorgeous!” he said, when he saw her, and he gave her a quick kiss.

“Eeeww!” a little boy holding an autograph book said.

“She’s not Maid Marion,” the boy’s sister protested.

“She’s not?” Kurt asked, feigning surprise.

“I don’t think Maid Marion has red hair,” another little girl commented.

Kurt turned back to Candace, “Away lady, for you are not my dearest love.”

Candace pretended to be crushed and put her hand to her forehead as though she might faint. The children laughed at that. “But I am! I am wearing this disguise to hide from the evil Prince John.”

“Robin will protect you!” the little girl said excitedly.

The little boy handed Candace his autograph book with great solemnity. She signed Maid Marion’s name, and he seemed immensely pleased.

After the children left, Kurt smiled at her. “Nice job.”

“Thank you. I’m practicing my acting skills for Scare.”

“You signed up?”

“Just now.”

“That’s great! What did you get?”

“Apparently it’s the new maze. I’m playing Candy.”

Kurt looked startled, but before he could say anything, he was besieged by several more children wanting pictures and autographs. Soon a line formed. Candace glanced at her watch, and Kurt shrugged and gave her a smile. She waved good-bye and headed for the front of the park.

Twenty minutes later she was sitting with Tamara in their favorite ice cream parlor.

“Want to split the turkey sandwich and a banana split?” Tamara asked.

“Split the split? You took the words right out of my mouth,” Candace said.

After the waitress took their order, they discussed the fact that they had only a few hours of freedom left before school started up in the morning.

“I can’t believe we only have two classes together this year,” Tamara complained.

“At least one of them is homeroom,” Candace said.

“Drama should be fun though,” Tamara said.

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into signing up for that.”

“Come on, you’re going to be a maze monster. What’s a little acting to you?” Tamara teased.

Candace smiled. “I am pretty jazzed about that,” she admitted. “I just hope I do a good job. I totally couldn’t pull off ‘scary’ in front of the recruiter today. I should thank you, though. I got a position based on my ability to scream.”

“You’re welcome,” Tamara said. “See, all those hours in the garage paid off.”

“You’re going to come see me in the maze, right?”

Tamara was adventurous, but she hated anything that
resembled a monster or something that went bump in the night. She couldn’t stand horror films and hadn’t even been able to make it through the old movie Jaws the year before without freaking out and vowing never to go swimming in the ocean again.

“I guess if you’re going to overcome your fear of mazes enough to work in one, the least I can do is come see you in it,” Tamara said with a heavy sigh.

“You’re the best.”

“I know.”

After lunch they did some last-minute school shopping, and each of them ended up with pencils, paper, and three pairs of shoes.

“Seriously, I don’t think I can wear these to school,” Candace said, pulling a pair of three-inch black heels out of one of the bags.

“Then you can wear them after school when you go out with Kurt,” Tamara said. “That officially makes them ‘school adjacent’ and so, school shoes.”

“You have messed-up logic, Tam, but I love it.”

“Knew you would.”

They headed back to Candace’s house so she could change clothes before youth group. While Tamara unpacked her shoes for her, Candace threw on a pair of jeans and a Zone sweatshirt she had borrowed from Kurt.

“You’re never giving him back that sweatshirt, are you?” Tamara said.

“Not if I can help it,” Candace laughed. “Besides, it’s the duty of a girlfriend to swipe some article of clothing from her boyfriend. It’s like a sacred trust. The guy carries around a picture of the girl, and the girl snags his sweatshirt.”

“You weren’t even cold the other night at the theater when you got that, were you?”

“I’ll never tell,” Candace said with a laugh.

When they left the house and headed for church, Candace was both excited and a little nervous. Because of her summer job, she had missed out on youth group all summer. Now she was returning and she was officially a senior. It would be her first senior-y thing.

Once they arrived and entered the familiar building, though, she began to relax. The youth building was large and furnished with old beat-up couches, chairs, and plenty of pillows for sprawling on the floor. Almost a hundred -people were in attendance. The freshmen were easy to spot with their wide-eyed looks of excitement. They had finally entered the major leagues, and it was a big night for them too.

Candace and Tamara staked their claim to one of the smaller couches just before the youth pastor, Bobby, called everyone together. They prayed and then sang a -couple of praise songs.

“Okay, welcome, everyone, to a new year. We’re glad to see all you freshers out there. And seniors, congratulations on being the top dogs.”

There was a weak yell from the freshmen, which was dwarfed by the shout of the seniors. The sophomores looked relieved that they were no longer freshmen, while the juniors looked enviously at the seniors.

“Make sure you take a fall schedule home tonight. We’ve got a lot of great events coming up in the next -couple of months. There’s the girls’ all-night party next Friday night. Don’t forget the annual all-church marathon the following Sunday. We’ll have a guest band at the end of the month, which I know you won’t want to miss. We’re also doing something brand new this year. The first Friday in October we’ll get on buses and head on over to Scare at The Zone!”

Cheers went up from almost everyone in the room. Candace was stunned. She knew a lot of church youth groups went to Scare, but this was the first year her youth group was planning on it. She began to rethink her employment options. It was going to be weird enough playing a monster on display in a maze without her entire youth group there to see her. Slowly, she sank down lower on the couch, willing herself to be unseen.

Tamara waved her hand in the air, and, before Candace could stop her, Bobby called, “What is it Tamara?”

“I just thought everyone would like to know that Candace is going to be a monster in one of the mazes.”

Candace could feel her cheeks burning as she glared at Tamara.

“Hear that everyone? Make sure you come with us to Scare, and you can see Candace at work!”

There were more cheers as Candace sat there in dismay.

A freshman girl raised her hand.

“Yes, what’s your name?” Bobby asked.

“Jen. How much will Scare cost?” she asked, clearly concerned.

“Well, Jen, that’s the best part. This is the perfect time to invite out all your friends — Chris-tians and non-Chris-tians. The entire event, including entrance ticket, transportation, food, and a souvenir T-shirt, is completely sponsored. So it’s free!”

And now, with the exception of Candace, there was a standing ovation. Candace just glared up at Tamara. “This is your fault, isn’t it?” she asked.

Tamara just smiled innocently. “I have to support my best friend, don’t I?”

Candace thought that maybe she could use a little less support and a lot more privacy, but she didn’t say so. Tamara’s entire family was beyond rich. Tamara and Candace had been friends before either of them even understood what was up with money. Most of the time Tamara played it casual, but every once in a while she did something generous and outrageous. This time her generosity was going to put Candace fully in the spotlight. As cool as it often was to have a friend with money, there was a downside.



“How could you do that to me?” Candace asked when she and Tamara were back in the car after youth group was over.

“I love you, Cand, but if you think I’m going through those mazes by myself, you’re crazy. I plan on putting as many bodies between me and the guys in the scary masks as possible.”

“But I’m one of the guys in the scary masks! Besides, it’s perfectly safe. They’re not allowed to touch players at all.”

“That’s what you say.”

“It’s true. It says so in the handbook.”

Tamara rolled her eyes. “Sure, and how many -people aside from you bothered to read it?”

“That’s not fair. It’s in the pamphlet too,” Candace protested.

“Oh, and because it says so in the pamphlet it must be true,” Tamara said. “Maybe if they posted it on the Web it would be doubly true.”

“Knock it off,” Candace said, still irritated and in no mood to play.

“Seriously, you’re not worried are you?” Tamara asked, doing her best to stop smiling.

“No, I love being in the spotlight,” Candace said, letting the sarcasm flow freely. “Hello! Remember me? Your best friend? I hang around with you so I can be spotlight adjacent, as in, not in but nearby.”

“Well you need the drama class worse than I thought,” Tamara said.

“I don’t want to be in the spotlight.”

Tamara pulled up in front of Candace’s house and parked. “You know,” she said, her voice suddenly very thoughtful, “for someone who doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, you seem to spend a lot of time in it lately.”

“Hello? Not my fault,” Candace said.

“I’m not saying it is,” Tamara answered, putting her hand on Candace’s shoulder. “I just think you seem to end up there no matter what you do. I mean you were a cotton candy operator all summer, and how many times did you name something at the park or win some competition or otherwise draw everyone’s attention your way?”

“Too many,” Candace muttered.

“Exactly. Stuff like that doesn’t just happen. I think maybe God’s trying to tell you something.”

“Like what?”

“Like maybe you’re not meant to live your life spotlight adjacent. Maybe you’re meant to be front and center.”

Candace was quiet for a moment while she thought about that. It seemed like such a crazy idea. She had always lived in a way that ensured she blended into the background. The thought of standing apart from it was intimidating. Yet, hadn’t she done exactly that when she and her team won The Zone Scavenger Hunt? Or the time she stood up for her rights when she was falsely accused at work? That hadn’t exactly been blending in.

She shook her head. It was a lot to think about, and the part of her brain that was already freaked out so didn’t want to go there. “Maybe it’s just coincidence,” she said.

“I don’t believe in coincidence,” Tamara said. “I believe in plans God makes and doesn’t tell you about until later.”

Candace smiled. “Any chance God plans to make it snow or something so we don’t have to go to school tomorrow?”

Tamara looked at the readout on her dashboard. “It’s nine thirty at night, and it’s still eighty-seven degrees outside. Besides, this is Southern California. When God makes it snow here, it’s not a plan; it’s a miracle.”

Candace couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Thanks, Tam,” she said after a minute.

“Hey, that’s what friends are for,” she said with a shrug. “Wanna carpool tomorrow?”

Candace nodded. “You driving or me?”

“I will. See you in the morning.”

Once in her room Candace thought about calling Kurt or her friend Josh. Reason won out, though, since she had school in the morning, and calling either of them could result in her being up way too late.

“Morning’s going to come awfully early,” she confided in Mr. Huggles, her stuffed bear.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Dark Pursuit...Review

About the book:
“Ever hear the dead knocking?”

Novelist Darell Brooke lived for his title as King of Suspense—until an auto accident left him unable to concentrate. Two years later, reclusive and bitter, he wants one thing: to plot a new novel and regain his reputation.

Kaitlan Sering, his twenty-two-year-old granddaughter, once lived for drugs. After she stole from Darell, he cut her off. Now she’s rebuilding her life. But in Kaitlan’s town two women have been murdered, and she is about to discover a third. She’s even more shocked to realize the culprit is her boyfriend, Craig, the police chief’s son.

Desperate, Kaitlan flees to her estranged grandfather. For over forty years, Darell Brooke has lived suspense. Surely he’ll devise a plan to trap the cunning Craig.

But can Darell’s muddled mind do it? And—if he tries—with what motivation? For Kaitlan’s plight may be the stunning answer to the elusive plot he seeks . . .

Christian suspense which is a genre I haven't read before. An engrossing book. Kaitlan is a recovering drug addict and estranged from her author grandfather. After finding a dead woman in her home and suspecting her police officer boyfriend of the murder, Kaitlan enlists her grandfather's help in figuring out what to do. Her grandfather, a famous murder mystery author who is in ailing health, finds a new lease on life as he reconciles with his granddaughter and finds new inspiration for his writing.

I was not familiar with Brandilyn Collins' work before I received this book in the mail. It was suspenseful without being gory and gross like so many murder mysteries. There are some twists and turns that make it engrossing, yet it's a fairly light, easy read. I read it in an afternoon. I enjoyed how her chapters alternated between the manuscript(s) and the story.

My one complaint, which seems petty I know, is that the author chose non-traditional spellings for Kaitlan and her grandfather Darell. It was distracting because I kept thinking of them as spelled wrong!

A good, easy read. The book will be released on November 7th. Thanks to the author for sending me a copy to review. You can find out more about Brandilyn Collins here. I need to check out her other books now.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 10/08

* * *
4/5 Stars

When the Heart Cries...Review

About the book:
When Hannah dares to love across the boundaries of tradition, will she lose everything?

Despite being raised in a traditional Old Order Amish family, seventeen-year-old Hannah Lapp desires to break with custom, forgo baptism into the faith, and marry outside the cloistered community. She's been in love with Mennonite Paul Waddell for three years, and before returning to college for his senior year, Paul asks Hannah to be his wife. Hannah accepts, aware that her marriage will change her relationship with her family forever.

On the evening of their engagement, tragedy strikes and in one unwelcome encounter, all that Hannah has known and believed is destroyed. As she finds herself entangled in questions that the Old Ways of her people cannot answer, Hannah faces the possibility of losing her place in her family, in her community; and in the heart of the man she loves.

The first in a trilogy, it's the story of a young Amish woman. Born into a strict Old Amish family, Hannah falls in love with a young Mennonite. Her family will not approve of Paul, but she becomes engaged anyway. When Hannah is assaulted by a stranger while on her way home one day, her life changes forever. Hers becomes a story of secrets and fear that once Paul learns what happened, he will no longer love her.

I found myself very angry with Hannah's parents. When she comes home after her assault, she expects some care and concern. Her parents show minimal concern and her mother acts as if the attack happened to her, personally. Her father feels that a bath and time will help Hannah heal and is more concerned with whether he should tell their bishop what happened.

Her sister is jealous of her and spreads some rumors about her that ultimately tear their family apart. While the Amish life fascinates me, I do not understand the strictness of their religious beliefs. While there is talk of God and how He never leaves you, there is never talk of Christ and forgiveness. It's all about the punishment and shunning of someone who has transgressed. While some of Hannah's friends and family show her love and support, others are severe in their judgments of her, even when their judgments are founded in untruth.

I am anxious to read the rest of the series. I like Hannah and her strength even in times of fear and sorrow. For a debut novel, I thought this one was terrific.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 10/08

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Booking Through Thursday...Coupling

Today's Booking Through Thursday asks:

“Name a favorite literary couple and tell me why they are a favorite. If you cannot choose just one, that is okay too. Name as many as you like–sometimes narrowing down a list can be extremely difficult and painful. Or maybe that’s just me.”

What a cool question. 1 More Chapter had pictures with her list, which I thought was awesome, so I'm doing that too!

Well, you must have Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth on your list. He's so faithful. He loves her for so long, even after she refuses him. She's so strong. She puts up with her wacky family and yet, her heart is always his. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope...I have loved none but you." (Your picture must be of Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root. Rupert Penury-whatshisname was ok as Frederick, but Sally Hawkins was pathetic. That version was just sad...)

Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe. From childhood rivals to sweethearts. "I don't want diamond sunbursts or marble halls...I just want you."

Elizabeth and Darcy. Need I say more? "It taught me to hope,'' said he, "as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before. I knew enough of your disposition to be certain that, had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly.'' (Your picture must be of Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Because while Matthew Macfadyen was an acceptable Darcy, Keira Knightley's Elizabeth was an absolute travesty.)

Harry and Ginny. Seeing them finally get together in the Half-Blood Prince and then break up was sad. Knowing that they still loved each other throughout the Deathly Hallows. How can you not be happy to see Ginny marry Harry? It was so totally perfect. "And without thinking, without planning it, without worrying about the fact that fifty people were watching, Harry kissed her."

Ron and Hermione are great too. don't get me wrong. Comic relief all the way... "And what did you tell her Ron's got?" "A Pygmy Puff, but I didn't say where." ... "There was a clatter as the basilisk fangs cascaded out of Hermione's arms. Running at Ron, she flung them around his neck and kissed him full on the mouth."

Riker and Troi (Bluestocking had this one and I completely agree!!) While not completely literary, I totally loved them and it was so awesome to finally see them get together. "Do you remember what I taught you, Imzadi? Can you still sense my thoughts?"

Scarlett and Rhett... How can you not like Scarlett and Rhett? Ashley was such a putz and she wasted so much time over him. "But, Scarlett, you need kissing badly. That's what's wrong with you...You should be kissed and by someone who knows how."

The Doctor and Rose... It ended up being on a parallel universe with the second tenth doctor because of a human biological metacrisis but still, “How long are you going to stay with me?” “Forever."

Jo March and Frederich Bhaer. Everyone roots for Jo to marry Laurie. But, she and Frederich are true soulmates. You see this so much clearer in the sequels. "Jo, I haf nothing but much love to gif you. I came to see if you could care for it, and I waited to be sure that I was something more than a friend. Am I? Can you make a little place in your heart for old Fritz?" he added, all in one breath.

Same Kind of Different As Me...Wild Card!



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

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





Today's Wild Card authors are:


and the book:


Same Kind of Different as Me

Thomas Nelson (March 11, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Ron Hall is an international art dealer whose long list of regular clients includes many celebrity personalities. An MBA graduate of Texas Christian University, he divides his time between Dallas, New York, and his Brazos River ranch near Fort Worth.

Denver Moore currently serves as a volunteer at the Fort Worth Union Gospel Mission. He lives in Dallas, Texas. Today, he is an artist, public speaker, and volunteer for homeless causes. In 2006, as evidence of the complete turn around of his life, the citizens of Fort Worth honored him as "Philanthropist of the Year" for his work with homeless people at the Union Gospel Mission.

Visit the authors' website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (March 11, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 084991910X
ISBN-13: 978-0849919107

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Well—a poor Lazarus poor as I

When he died he had a home on high . . .

The rich man died and lived so well

When he died he had a home in hell . . .

You better get a home in that Rock, don’t you see?

—NEGRO SPIRITUAL


Denver


Until Miss Debbie, I’d never spoke to no white woman before. Just answered a few questions, maybe—it wadn’t really speakin. And to me, even that was mighty risky since the last time I was fool enough to open my mouth to a white woman, I wound up half-dead and nearly blind.


I was maybe fifteen, sixteen years old, walkin down the red dirt road that passed by the front of the cotton plantation where I lived in Red River Parish, Louisiana. The plantation was big and flat, like a whole lotta farms put together with a bayou snakin all through it. Cypress trees squatted like spiders in the water, which was the color of pale green apples. There was a lotta different fields on that spread, maybe a hundred, two hundred acres each, lined off with hardwood trees, mostly pecans.


Wadn’t too many trees right by the road, though, so when I was walkin that day on my way back from my auntie’s house—she was my grandma’s sister on my daddy’s side—I was right out in the open. Purty soon, I seen this white lady standin by her car, a blue Ford, ’bout a 1950, ’51 model, somethin like that. She was standin there in her hat and her skirt, like maybe she’d been to town. Looked to me like she was tryin to figure out how to fix a flat tire. So I stopped.


“You need some help, ma’am?”


“Yes, thank you,” she said, lookin purty grateful to tell you the truth. “I really do.”


I asked her did she have a jack, she said she did, and that was all we said.


Well, ’bout the time I got the tire fixed, here come three white boys ridin outta the woods on bay horses. They’d been huntin, I think, and they come trottin up and didn’t see me ’cause they was in the road and I was ducked down fixin the tire on the other side of the car. Red dust from the horses’ tracks floated up over me. First, I got still, thinkin I’d wait for em to go on by. Then I decided I didn’t want em to think I was hidin, so I started to stand up. Right then, one of em asked the white lady did she need any help.


“I reckon not!” a redheaded fella with big teeth said when he spotted me. “She’s got a nigger helpin her!”


Another one, dark-haired and kinda weasel-lookin, put one hand on his saddle horn and pushed back his hat with the other. “Boy, what you doin’ botherin this nice lady?”


He wadn’t nothin but a boy hisself, maybe eighteen, nineteen years old. I didn’t say nothin, just looked at him.


“What you lookin’ at, boy?” he said and spat in the dirt.


The other two just laughed. The white lady didn’t say nothin, just looked down at her shoes. ’Cept for the horses chufflin, things got quiet. Like the yella spell before a cyclone. Then the boy closest to me slung a grass rope around my neck, like he was ropin a calf. He jerked it tight, cutting my breath. The noose poked into my neck like burrs, and fear crawled up through my legs into my belly.


I caught a look at all three of them boys, and I remember thinkin none of em was much older’n me. But their eyes was flat and mean.


“We gon’ teach you a lesson about botherin white ladies,” said the one holdin the rope. That was the last thing them boys said to me.


I don’t like to talk much ’bout what happened next, ‘cause I ain’t lookin for no pity party. That’s just how things was in Louisiana in those days. Mississippi, too, I reckon, since a coupla years later, folks started tellin the story about a young colored fella named Emmett Till who got beat till you couldn’t tell who he was no more. He’d whistled at a white woman, and some other good ole boys—seemed like them woods was full of em—didn’t like that one iota. They beat that boy till one a’ his eyeballs fell out, then tied a cotton-gin fan around his neck and throwed him off a bridge into the Tallahatchie River. Folks says if you was to walk across that bridge today, you could still hear that drowned young man cryin out from the water.


There was lots of Emmett Tills, only most of em didn’t make the news. Folks says the bayou in Red River Parish is full to its pea-green brim with the splintery bones of colored folks that white men done fed to the gators for covetin their women, or maybe just lookin cross-eyed. Wadn’t like it happened ever day. But the chance of it, the threat of it, hung over the cotton fields like a ghost.


I worked them fields for nearly thirty years, like a slave, even though slavery had supposably ended when my grandma was just a girl. I had a shack I didn’t own, two pairs a’ overalls I got on credit, a hog, and a outhouse. I worked them fields, plantin and plowin and pickin and givin all the cotton to the Man that owned the land, all without no paycheck. I didn’t even know what a paycheck was.


It might be hard for you to imagine, but I worked like that while the seasons rolled by from the time I was a little bitty boy, all the way past the time that president named Kennedy got shot dead in Dallas.


All them years, there was a freight train that used to roll through Red River Parish on some tracks right out there by Highway 1. Ever day, I’d hear it whistle and moan, and I used to imagine it callin out about the places it could take me . . . like New York City or Detroit, where I heard a colored man could get paid, or California, where I heard nearly everbody that breathed was stackin up paper money like flapjacks. One day, I just got tired a’ bein poor. So I walked out to Highway 1, waited for that train to slow down some, and jumped on it. I didn’t get off till the doors opened up again, which happened to be in Fort Worth, Texas. Now when a black man who can’t read, can’t write, can’t figger, and don’t know how to work nothin but cotton comes to the big city, he don’t have too many of what white folks call “career opportunities.” That’s how come I wound up sleepin on the streets.


I ain’t gon’ sugarcoat it: The streets’ll turn a man nasty. And I had been nasty, homeless, in scrapes with the law, in Angola prison, and homeless again for a lotta years by the time I met Miss Debbie. I want to tell you this about her: She was the skinniest, nosiest, pushiest woman I had ever met, black or white.


She was so pushy, I couldn’t keep her from finding out my name was Denver. She investigated till she found it out on her own. For a long time, I tried to stay completely outta her way. But after a while, Miss Debbie got me to talkin ’bout things I don’t like to talk about and tellin things I ain’t never told nobody—even about them three boys with the rope. Some of them’s the things I’m fixin to tell you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Giveaways

Check out these great blogs for some giveaways.

Red Lady's Reading Room for a copy of The Paperback Christmas by Kevin Alan Milne. (11/5)

Tara's View on Books for a copy of The Paperback Christmas by Kevin Alan Milne. (11/1)

Need More Shelves
for a collection of 7 books. (10/31)

Diary of an Eccentric for a copy of Lydia Bennet's Story by Jane Odiwe. (10/31)

At Home with Books for copies of Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran. (10/31)

Peeking Between the Pages for copies of Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran. (10/31)

Booking Mama for a copy of Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. (10/31)

Camy's Loft for a copy of One Perfect Day by Lauraine Snelling. (10/30)

Book Splurge for a copy of Bon Appetit by Sandra Byrd. (10/30)

5 Minutes for Books for a copy of The Professor's Wives' Club by Joanne Rendell. (10/26)

My Giveaway! for Finding Father Christmas and Engaging Father Christmas by Robin Jones Gunn. (10/25)

At Home with Books for a copy of One Perfect Day by Lauraine Snelling. (10/22)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Quilter's Kitchen...Review

About the book:
Anna Del Maso had known that she wanted to be a chef since she was in the seventh grade. "Somehow everything in my life ends up being about food," she realizes, as she begins the latest of her food-themed quilts. Her twin passions have converged in a brand-new position as head chef for Elm Creek Quilts, Waterford, Pennsylvania's popular quilting retreat.


As she joins the circle of quilters at historic Elm Creek Manor, Anna is eager to preserve the manor's culinary heritage, dating to 1858, while also celebrating the new favorites of their many guests. Yet as Master Quilter Sylvia Bergstrom Compson well knows, the manor's kitchen, last updated in the 1940s, can't create food that compares to the state-of-the-art quilting instruction for which Elm Creek Quilts is renowned.

A full renovation of the kitchen must be completed by the start of the new camp season. Though the task is daunting, Anna is assured in her belief that "A kitchen is the heart of a home." As she and Sylvia begin to dismantle the old to make way for the new, Sylvia's reminiscences remind them both of just how many of the manor's traditions have involved food and celebrations. Whether the feast is one of the holiday menus prepared and enjoyed by generations of Bergstroms, or one of the Welcome Banquets and Farewell Breakfasts that have become hallmarks of Elm Creek Quilt Camp, there is a story for every recipe, and a recipe for every story.


The Quilter's Kitchen follows Anna's flavorful explorations of the kitchens of Elm Creek Manor, past and present. As she records beloved recipes and creates original dishes seasoned with love, she discovers anew how the gifts of the table gather friends and family ever closer.

In the tradition of every character needing their own book, comes The Quilter's Kitchen. Anna was introduced to Elm Creek in Circle of Quilters. In that book, she interviewed to become one of the new Elm Creek Quilters but was, instead, hired as the head chef for Elm Creek Manor. This book covers one day as Anna and Sylvia clean out the Elm Creek Manor kitchen in preparation for a major remodeling.

Anna is trying to find her place among the quilters and, predictably, the story is full of Sylvia's reminiscences and she shares her memories with Anna as they come across old family heirlooms. Elm Creek stories are always about traditions and here we learn more about the Bergstrom family feasts and celebrations. Elm Creek stories are also about Sylvia helping the younger members learn about life and their place in it, and this book is no different. Lessons are learned, the kitchen is cleaned and a new quilt is planned.

The book is as much a cookbook as it is a novella. As a recipe is mentioned as part of a memory, the real recipe is shared at the end of a chapter.

While I like the story's premise that "a kitchen is the heart of the home" and "gifts of the table gather family and friends close", I think that you can have too much of a good thing. I don't think that every character needs their own story. Having said that, I did enjoy the book.

A short, easy read.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 10/08

* * * *
3/5 Stars


Monday, October 20, 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society...Review

About the book:
“ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

I have seen very few negative reviews of this book and for good reason. It was completely captivating.

Juliet is an author who begins corresponding with a group of people who live on Guernsey, one of the Channel islands between England and France. During WWII this island was occupied by the Germans, and some of the citizens formed their own literary society which enabled them to socialize during this occupation. Told through a series of letters between Juliet, the literary society, Juliet's editor and her best friend, we come to know a delightful and somewhat quirky group of people.

World War II affected those in Britain and Europe so differently than those in America. I am fascinated with stories that describe the living conditions and how people managed to survive under such difficult circumstances.

This is a charming, witty book that conveys not only the heartbreak of war, but the heartwarming depths of true friendship. When Juliet finally travels to Guernsey, her life is forever changed.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 10/08

* * * *
4/5 Stars

One Perfect Day...Review

About the book:
This is the story of two mothers, strangers to one another.

The first has two children--twins, a boy and girl, who are seniors in high school. She wants their last Christmas as a family living in the same home to be perfect, but her husband is delayed returning from a business trip abroad. And then there's an accident--a fatal one involving a drunk driver.

Meanwhile, the other mother has a daughter who needs a new heart, and so the loss of one woman becomes the miracle the other has desperately prayed for. While one mother grieves, and pulls away from her family, the other finds that even miracles aren't always easy to receive.

Nora wants the perfect Christmas with her family. Jenna wants a miracle for her daughter. One snowy day, right before Christmas a tragic accident changes both of their lives forever. The story alternates chapters between Nora and Jenna. Nora struggles with grief and depression after the loss of her child. Jenna struggles with accepting the miracle of a new heart for her daughter, knowing that somewhere, another mother is grieving.

Beautifully written. Lauraine Snelling is a captivating storyteller. She captured the emotions of each mother so well and so believably. I haven't lost a child, but I've lost a parent and I know all too well how encompassing that grief feels. I haven't had a child who needed a heart transplant, but I have a child who was born with a heart condition that required open-heart surgery. I remember being in the NICU and seeing so many babies who wouldn't go home, and feeling guilty because mine would. I can only imagine how one would feel knowing that because one person died, your child lived. The mix of gratitude and grief could be overwhelming.

I'd never read Lauraine Snelling before, but you can bet that I will in the future. A lovely, touching story.

Thanks to FaithWords for the opportunity to read this book. You can find out more about Lauraine Snelling here. You can read the first chapter here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 10/08

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Salon

It was an interesting book week here at 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews. My husband reviewed another book for me, Operation Blue Light.

I read and loved Finding Father Christmas and Engaging Father Christmas. Hatchette Books is offering a set for me to giveaway. So don't forget to enter!

I read and liked, The Secret Journal of Brett Colton. Sister's Ink was cute and Midwife of the Blue Ridge was fascinating.

I also reviewed Chasing Diana and didn't like it, so my review wasn't positive. Subsequently, the author didn't like my review either. I can't blame her. It can't be easy to pour your heart and soul into a book and then see negative reviews written about it. However, I think that it's unrealistic for an author to expect every reader to love and adore their book like they do.

So how about you? Have you ever had an author comment on one of your reviews? Do you think honesty is important in reviewing books or should negative reviews be softened? Share your insights with me. Please!

Have a great reading week. For more Sunday Salon posts, click here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

One Perfect Day...Wild Card!



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

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





Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


One Perfect Day

FaithWords (October 22, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Lauraine Snelling is the award-winning author of more than sixty books, with sales of over 2 million copies. She also writes for a wide range of magazines, and helps others reach their writing dreams by teaching at writer’s conferences across the country. Lauraine and her husband, Wayne, have two grown sons, and live in the Tehachapi Mountains with a cockatiel named Bidley, and a watchdog Basset named Chewy.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 13.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (October 22, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446582107
ISBN-13: 978-0446582100

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Nora

Gordon, where are you?

Betsy, a middle-aged yellow Lab, looked up as if she had heard Nora speaking. The two — owner and pet — had been best friends for so long that the twins frequently teased their mother about mental telepathy — with a dog. Betsy thumped her tail and gazed up from her self- assigned spot at Nora’s feet.

Leaving the bay- window seat, where she’d been staring out at the moon lighting fire to the frost-encrusted winter lawn, which sloped down to the lakeshore, Nora crossed the kitchen to set the teakettle to boiling. Tea always helped in times of distress. She brought out the rose-sprinkled china teapot and filled it with hot water. Tonight was not a mug night but a “stoke up the reserves” night. If there had been snow on the ground, this was the kind of night, with the moon so bright every blade of grass glinted, when she would have hit the ski trails. An hour of cross-country skiing and she’d have been relaxed enough to fall asleep whether Gordon called or not. So, instead, she drank tea. As if copious cups would make her sleep deeply rather than toss and turn. Perhaps she would work on the business plan if she got enough caffeine into her system.

Betsy’s ears perked up and she went and stood in front of the door to the garage.

Nora’s heart leaped. Gordon must be home after all. But why hadn’t he called to say he was at the airport? His business trip to Stuttgart, Germany, had already been prolonged and here they were trying to get ready — with just four days until Christmas. The last one for which she could guarantee the twins would still be home. Her last chance for perfection. When he’d told her a week ago he had to fl y to Stuttgart again, the word “again” had echoed in her head. Betsy’s tail increased the wag speed and she backed up as the door opened.

“Mom, I’m home.” Charlie, the older twin by two minutes, and named after his father, Charles Gordon Peterson, came through the door in his usual rush. “Oh, there you are.” Grinning up at his mother, he paused to pet the waiting dog. “Good girl, Bets, did you take good care of Mom?” Betsy wagged her tail and caught the tip of his nose with her black- spotted tongue. “Smells good in here.” He glanced around the kitchen, zeroing in on the plate of powdered-sugar–dusted brownies. “Heard from Dad?”

“No.” Nora cupped her elbows with her hands and leaned against the counter. At five-seven, she found that the raised counter fit right into the small of her back. When they’d built the house, she and Gordon had chosen cabinets two inches higher than normal, since they were both tall. Made for easier work surfaces. “Go ahead, quit drooling and eat. There’s a plate in the fridge for you to pop in the microwave.” “Where’s Christi?” Charlie asked around a mouthful of walnut- laced brownie.

“Upstairs. I think she’s finishing a Christmas present.”

“Are we going to decorate the tree tonight?”

“We were waiting on you.” And your father, but somehow he always manages to not be here at tree- decorating time.
While Gordon was not a “bah, humbug” kind of guy, his idea of a perfect Christmas was skiing in Colorado. They’d done his last year, with his promise to help make hers perfect this year. Right. Big help from across the Atlantic. While Nora knew he’d not deliberately chosen to be gone this week before Christmas, it still rankled, irritating under her skin like a fine cactus spine, hard to see and harder to dig out. Charlie retrieved his plate from the fridge and slid it into the microwave, all the while filling his mother in on the antics of the children standing in line to visit Santa. Charlie excelled as one of Santa’s elves, a big elf at six feet, with dark curly hair and hazel eyes, which sparkled with delight. Charlie loved little kids; so when this perfect job came up, he took it and entertained them all in his green- and- red elf suit. He could turn the saddest tears into laughter. Santa told him not to grow up, he’d need elves forever.

“One little girl had the bluest round eyes you ever saw.” Charlie took his warmed plate out and pulled a stool up to the counter so he could eat. “She had this one great big tear trickling down her cheek, but I hid behind my hands” — he demonstrated peekaboo with his fingers — “and she sniffed, ducked into Santa, caught herself and peeked back at me. When he did his ‘ho ho ho,’ she looked up at him with the cutest grin.” He deepened his voice. “ ‘And what do you want for Christmas, little girl?’ ” Charlie shifted into shy little girl: “ ‘ I — I want a kitty. My mommy’s kitty died and she needs a new one.’ ” He paused. “ ‘And make sure it has a good motor. My mommy likes to hold one that purrs.’ ” Charlie came back to himself. “Can you believe that, Mom? That’s all she wanted. She reached up and kissed his cheek, slid off his lap and waved good- bye.” “What a little sweetheart.”

“I checked with Annie, who was taking the pictures, and got their address. You think we could find a kitten that has a good motor at the Humane Society?”

“Ask Christi, she’d know.” Christi volunteered one afternoon a week at the Riverbend Humane Society and would bring home every condemned animal if they let her. She’d fostered more dogs and cats in the last year than most people did in a lifetime. She’d found homes for them too, except for Bushy, an older white fluffy cat, with one black ear and one black paw. His green eyes captivated her, or at least that was the excuse for his taking up permanent residence. “I will. Be nice if there was a half- grown one with a loud motor.”

“Loud motor for what?” Christi, Bushy draped across her arm, wandered into the kitchen, a smear of Sap Green oil paint on her right cheek, matching the blob on the back of her right forefinger. Tall at five-nine, with an oval face and haunting grayish blue eyes, she looked every bit the traditional blond Norwegian. As much as Charlie entertained the world, she observed and translated what she saw onto canvases that burst with color and yet drew the eye into the shadows, where peace and serenity lurked. Christi would rather paint than eat or even breathe at times.

“A little girl asked Santa for a kitty for her mother” — he shifted into mimic — “ ‘ ’Cause Mommy’s kitty died and she is sad.’ ” “That’s all she wanted?”

“Gee, that’s what I thought too.” Nora motioned toward the teapot and Christi nodded. While her mother poured the tea, Christi absently rubbed the paint spot on her cheek. “There are three cats for adoption right now. I like the gold one, she loves to be held. The other two would rather roughhouse.”

“You think it would still be there until after school?” “I’ll call Shawna and tell her to hold it for you. Are you sure you want to do this? What happens if she doesn’t really want it?”

“Can anyone turn down one of Santa’s elves?”

“You’d go in costume?”

“Why not?”

“I could paint you a card.”

“Would you?”

“Sure, have one started. All I need to do is change the color of the cat. Luckily, I made it white, like Bushy here.” She rubbed her cheek on the cat’s fluffy head. “How long until we decorate the tree?”

“Give me five minutes.”

“Okay, you two start on the lights and I’ll finish the card. You want me to sign it for you?” Christi had taken classes in calligraphy and had taught her mother how to sign all the Christmas cards in perfect script.

“You know, you’re all right for a girl.” Charlie bounded up the stairs to his room, where all his herpetological friends lived. Arnold, a three- foot rosy boa that should have been named Houdini, was his favorite.

Nora handed Christi her mug of tea. “Take a brownie with you.”

“Thanks, Mom. You heard from Dad yet?”

“No.” Nora knew her answer was a bit clipped. “Something must be wrong.” Christi’s eyes darkened in concern. “Did you call him?”

“I tried, cell went right to voice mail.”

“So, he was on it?”

“Or he let the battery run out.” As efficient as Gordon was, you’d think he could remember to plug his phone into the charger. The two women of the family shared an eye rolling.

“He’ll call.”

“Unless he’s broken down someplace.”

“You always tell me not to worry.”

“Well, advising and doing are two different things.” Nora set her cup and saucer in the dishwasher. “Want to help me unroll the lights?”

“I was going up to finish that card.”

Nora checked her watch. “Ten minutes?” “Done.” Christi scooped Bushy up off the counter, where he’d flopped, and headed up the stairs, not leaping like her brother, but lithe and regal, the residuals of her years of ballet and modern dance.

Nora and Betsy headed for the living room, but when the phone rang, she did an about- face and a near dive for the wall phone in the desk alcove. “Hello.”

“Nora, I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner.”

“There, you did it again.” She tried to sound harsh, but relief turned her to quivering Jell- O.

“What?”

“Apologize. Now I can’t be mad at you.” His chuckle reminded her of how much she missed him when he was gone.

“Where are you?”

“Still in Stuttgart. Art and I got to talking and I didn’t realize the time passing. I had to get some sleep.” “You’re up awfully early.”

“I know. Trying to finish up. Is the tree up yet?”

“What, are you trying to outwait me?” “What ever gave you that idea?” He coughed to clear his throat.

“You okay?”

“Just a tickle. Look, I should be on my way home this afternoon. I’ve got to wrap this thing up, but I told them the deadline is noon and I’m heading for the airport at three, come he- heaven or high water.”

“Well, don’t worry about the tree.” She slipped into suffering servant to make him laugh again. “The kids and I’ll get that done tonight.” It worked. His chuckle always made her smile back, even when he couldn’t see her. “They have school tomorrow, right?”

“Right. Last day, so there’ll be parties. I have goodie trays all ready to take.”

“You made Julekaka for the teachers again?” Nora chuckled. “Gotta keep my place as favorite mother of high- school students.”

“Is that Dad?” Charlie called from the stairs. “Tell him to hurry home. I have to . . .” The rest of his words were lost in his rush.

“Charlie says to hurry home.”

“I heard him. Give them both hugs from me.” “Do you need a ride from the airport?” She glanced at the clock. Nine p.m. here meant four a.m. in Germany. Good thing Gordon was a morning person.

“No, I’ll take a cab. I love you.”

“You better.” She hung up on both their chuckles. How come just hearing his voice upped the wattage on the lights? And after twenty- two years of marriage. As people so often told them, they were indeed the lucky ones. “Please, Lord, take good care of him,” she whispered as she blew him a silent kiss. She joined Charlie in the living room, where a blue spruce graced the bay window overlooking the front yard, where she and Gordon had festooned tiny white lights on the naked branches of the maple, which burst into fiery color in the fall, and the privet hedge, which bordered the drive. Lights in icicle mode graced the front eaves, while two tall white candles guarded the front steps. She’d filled pots with holly up the flagstone stairs and hung a swag of pine boughs, red balls and a huge gold mesh bow on the door. “Here.” Charlie handed her the reel of tiny white lights and pulled on the end to plug it in.

“I already checked them all this afternoon. Just start at the top of the tree.”

They had a third of the lights on the eight- foot tree when Christi joined them, setting the finished card on the mantel to dry.

“I didn’t put it in the envelope yet, so don’t forget this in the morning, or are you coming home before going over there? Shawna said she’ll put your name on the golden cat. She’s already been fixed, so she is ready for her new home.” Christi picked up another reel of light strings. “You need to put them closer together.”

“Yeah, right, Miss Queen Bee has spoken,” Charlie mumbled from behind the tree.

“You don’t have to get huffy.”

“You don’t have to be bossy.”

“All right, let’s just get the lights on.” All they had to do was get through this drudgery part and then all would be well. Gordon always tried to skimp on the lights too. Like father, like son. Silence reigned as they wound the lights around the tree branches, punctuated only by a “hand me another reel, please” and “ouch” when a spruce needle dug into the tender spot under the nail. Nora sucked on her finger for a moment to ease the stinging. Inhaling the intoxicating spruce scent brought back memories of the last years and made her grateful again for all the joys they’d had. One more thing to miss tonight, the rehash she and Gordon always did post–tree trimming, when the children had gone to bed, like Monday morning quarterbacking, only with more smiles and laughter. Much of the laughter came because of Charlie’s clowning around.

“What if she doesn’t like the cat?” Charlie asked.

“Then we’ll take it back,” Christi said matter-of-factly.

“By ‘back,’ I’m sure you mean to the Humane Society. Bushy would not like another cat around here.” Nora’s hands stilled. This she needed to clarify.

“Of course, Mom.”

Nora looked up in time to catch a head shake from her daughter and one of the “I’m trying to be patient” looks Christi was so good at. Why was it so quiet? “Oh, I forgot to put the music on. Messiah all right?”

When both twins shrugged, she knew they’d rather have something else, but were giving her the choice. She crossed to the sound system, hit the number three button and waited a moment for Mariah Carey’s voice to flow out. She’d play the Messiah after they went to bed. They’d all attended the “ Sing-Along Messiah” concert the second weekend in December.

At least Gordon had been home for that tradition. A bit later they all three stepped back with matching sighs. “All right, throw the switch.” She looked at Charlie, who had taken over that job years earlier. This certainly was a night for memories.

When the tree sprang to life, they swapped grins and nods. The ornaments were the easy part. By unspoken agreement, they decided to hang the ornaments, which they’d bought one per year on their annual family shopping trip and dinner- out tradition, higher in the tree to keep away from batting cat’s paws and a dog’s wagging tail. While the twins snorted at her sentimentality, she hung the ornaments they’d made through the years, some like the Santa face with a cotton ball beard, beginning to look more than a bit scruffy, but dear nevertheless. The ornaments that their Tante Karen had given them through the years on their Christmas presents brought up memories and set the two to recalling each year and what their interest had been then. Nora knew that her sister watched both the twins and the shops carefully through the year to find just the perfect ornament. When the twins had trees of their own, they would already have seventeen ornaments each to take with them. The thought made Nora pause. The home tree would look mighty bare. She hung the crocheted and stiffened snowflakes she had made one year and had given for gifts. Then three little folded- paper- and- waxed stars she’d made in Girl Scouts took their own places.

When they’d hung the final ornament, they stared at the box with the glorious angel that always smiled benignly from the top of the tree.

“Let’s leave that for Dad.” Christi turned toward her mother. “I agree.” Setting the angel just right with a light inside her to make her shimmer was always Gordon’s job — for years because he was the only one tall enough and now because they wanted him to have a part, no matter how many miles separated them.

Charlie shrugged. “I am tall enough, you know.” “I know.” Nora gathered her two chicks to her sides and they admired the tree together. “Thank you. I know it is late, with school tomorrow, but I really appreciate your helping the tradition continue.” She tried not to sniff, but her body went on automatic pilot.

Charlie’s arm around her back squeezed and Christi leaned her head against her mother’s. Together they turned and surveyed all the decorations; the mantel was the only thing that Nora changed year after year, and all was done but hanging the Christmas stockings. The hooks waited. Charlie picked up the fl at box that held the cross- stitched or quilted stockings and they each hung up their own. Nora hung hers and Gordon’s, while the kids hung the ones for Bushy and Betsy. “Now Santa can come.” Christi smoothed the satin surfaces of her crazy- quilt stocking, with every satin or velvet piece decorated with intricate embroidery stitches, cross- stitch, daisy chain and feather. “When I get married, will you make my husband a sock to match?”

“I will.” Just please don’t be in too big a hurry. Not that Christi was dating anyone. She often said she left all the flirting up to her brother, since all the girls were after him all the time. But Nora often wondered if Christi was a bit jealous, not that she would ask. Her daughter talked more with her father than she did with her mother. Unless, of course, it was a real female thing.

“Anyone for cocoa? The real kind? I can make it while you get ready for bed. I’ll bring the tray up.” “And brownies?” Charlie asked.

“Fattigman?” Christi loved the traditional Norwegian goodies Nora made only at Christmastime. “Of course, and since you’ll be getting home early tomorrow, you can help me with the sandbakles.” Charlie groaned. Pressing the buttery dough into the small fluted tins was not his idea of fun.

“ ‘He who eats must press.’ ” Christi sang out the line her mother had often repeated since the time they were little. Nora watched her two swap shoulder punches as they climbed the stairs. No matter how much they teased each other or argued, the bond between them ran deeper than most siblings. Gordon called it spooky; she figured it was a gift from God.
Time to make cocoa, as her family had called it. In her mind, hot chocolate came in a packet or tin. Good thing she’d picked up the miniature marshmallows. Betsy padding beside her, she returned to the kitchen to fix the tray. If only Gordon were here. Carrying the tray up the stairs was his job.

Copyright 2008 Lauraine Snelling