Everyday Tidbits...

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Musing Monday

This week's Musing Monday asks:

Do you keep track of what and/or how many books you read? How long have you been doing this? What's your favorite tracking method, and why? If you don't keep track, why not?

I've been keeping track of what I've read since about the time I started this blog, which would be October of 2007. I wanted a place to review the books I'd read and so I started this blog. About the same time, I was introduced to Goodreads and loved it.

I love having a place to keep track of the books I want to read as well, and Goodreads is perfect for that. I love using Goodreads along with my local library. I look at the Goodreads list and then go to the library's online site and request whatever books I want or what they have available. When the books are ready, I walk in and pick them up and walk out. It's awesome. I'm a member of Shelfari, but I found that after I'd found Goodreads and I didn't want to transfer everything over or use more than one application, so I've stayed with Goodreads. It has what I need (except the ability to give 1/2 stars in your reviews).

I love having the blog to review books as well, because I've met a lot of great readers and found so many book recommendations that I never would have found otherwise.

Check out more Musing Monday's here.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Lady of High Regard...Review

About the book:
Born into affluence, Mia Stanley is a winsome socialite with a knack for matchmaking. She's also a writer for Godey's Lady's Book magazine, much to the disdain of her family and their society friends. A proper young lady of her social standing isn't meant to labor in such a way, but Mia has always had a way with words...

When her writing draws her into the world of downtrodden seamen's wives on Philadelphia's docks, Mia uncovers a scheme that puts her in harm's way. But her heart ends up on the line as well.... Has her determination to always make a match driven away the one man whose esteem she covets?


A fun little historical read mixed with some romance and suspense. Mia Stanley is a wealthy young socialite in 19th century Philadelphia. She works for Godey's Lady's Book magazine, much to the chagrin of her proper parents. Mia's talent for matchmaking has brought her friends husbands, but none for herself.

Unsatisfied with simply writing about fashion, Mia's interests draw her into the world of the poor, downtrodden seamen's wives on the Philadelphia docks. Women who are terrorized and abused by their landlords, while their husbands are away or dead.

Mia feels called by God to help these women, but her desires to serve them put her in harm's way. Her closest friend, Garrett, finds himself falling in love with her even as he is frustrated with her lack of judgment and her compulsion to put herself in danger.

Christian without being overly preachy, the characters are likeable and the story is interesting. A compelling, yet easy read.

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

Read 3/09

* * *

3/5 Stars

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Petticoat Ranch...Review

About the book:
Sophie Edwards is doing just fine, until a strange-yet oddly familiar-man rides into her life, insisting on rescuing her and her four daughters. Can she find a way to love a headstrong mountain man? When Clay McClellan discovers his brother has been murdered, he's bent on finding the killers and seeing them properly hung. But first his Christian duty demands that he marry his sister-in-law. After all, Sophie needs someone to protect her - right? Faith and love help unruly wed newlyweds find common ground and a chance at love on the Texas frontier.

The first book in the Lassoed in Texas series by Mary Conneally. You can find the review for the third book, Gingham Mountain, here.

Sophie Edwards is a spunky widow raising 4 daughters alone in the Texas wilderness, after her husband, Cliff, was murdered by marauding outlaws. When his twin brother, Clay, shows up determined to do his Christian duty and marry his brother's widow, Sophie isn't sure she wants a man around. She's feisty and independent and doing just fine on her own.

The man who killed her husband still wants her ranch and has no qualms about killing her himself, in order to get it.

I read this mostly out of curiosity. I thought the characters were a bit more developed here than in the third one, but I found the story fairly contrived and hokey. Especially that Sophie's old friend, Adam and Clay's friend, Luther, could "hear" Sophie's pleas to God for help, and then knew where to go to find her.

Like the third one, it's a light, Christian read and a nice diversion when you want something light. Nothing stellar about it. I don't think I'll bother with the second book, Calico Canyon, although the main character in that story, is introduced here.

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

Read 3/09

* *
2/5 Stars

The Duggars: 20 and Counting!...Review

About the book:
This practical, positive book reveals the many parenting strategies that Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar use as they preside over America's best-known mega-family. Each time a new baby arrives, the press from around the world clamors for interviews and information. Visitors are amazed to find seventeen (baby number eighteen is due January 1, 2009) well-groomed, well-behaved, well-schooled children in a home that focuses on family, financial responsibility, fun—and must importantly, faith.

Readers will learn about the Duggars' marriage—how they communicate effectively, make family decisions, and find quality time alone. They'll discover how the Duggars manage to educate all their children at home, while providing experiences that go beyond the family walls, through vacations and educational trips. And they'll see how the Duggar family manages their finances and lives debt-free—even when they built their own 7,000-square-foot house.

Answering the oft asked question—How can I do with one or two children what you do with seventeen(soon to be eighteen)?—Jim Bob and Michelle reveal how they create a warm and welcoming home filled with what Michelle calls “serene chaos.” They show how other parents can succeed whether they're rearing a single child or several. With spiritual insights, experience-based wisdom,  practical tips, and plenty of humorous and tender anecdotes, the Duggars answer the questions that pour into the family's Web site on a daily basis—especially after every national media interview and TV appearance—including their segments on the Discovery Health Channel's “Meet the Duggars” series.

While I am, admittedly, not a television watcher, I have seen one or two of the shows about the Duggar family. They fascinate me. So, when I saw that this book was available, I picked it up at the library.

Jim-Bob and Michelle Duggar are an Arkansas couple with 18 children. Their oldest is 20 and recently married, and the youngest is an infant. They share their story: how they each grew up, how they met and fell in love and how they came to have so many children. They also share their financial history: how and why they made the decisions they made and how those decisions came to affect who they are today. How they came to be on the Discovery Channel and how they built their home is also documented.

After their first son was born, Michelle went on birth control pills. When she had a miscarriage, their doctor said that it was likely because of the birth control. They decided, then, that they wouldn't dictate how many children they had, but that they would let God decide.

They home school with a Christian-based curriculum. The book shares their ideas for raising and disciplining children, as well as managing a large family. I found many of the ideas interesting and sound. I admire them for the way they do everything with a God-based foundation. I don't understand their "Fundamental Christian" faith. Regular church attendance doesn't seem to be a part of it, and they admit to "using Old Testament teachings even though as New Testament Christians they don't apply". I don't understand that selective Christianity.

In the interviews and excerpts from the show that I've seen, Michelle is very sweet. I don't think she ever loses her temper. I only have two children and I have never managed that calm sweetness. I do admire the fact that they honestly seem like a happy, healthy, well-adjusted family. Sprinkled throughout the book are favorite family recipes as well as email questions they've received and their, or sometimes their children's answers. There is also an extensive reference section.

Overall, an interesting, easy read.

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

Read 3/09

* * *

3/5 Stars

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet...Review

About the book:
In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship–and innocent love–that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice–words that might explain the actions of his father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.


A completely enthralling story. I figured it would keep me busy for an entire 5 hour drive. I finished it in two. Written as a memoir and alternating between World War 2 and 1986, the novel tells the story of Henry Lee, a young Chinese-American boy living in 1940's Seattle.

Now an adult, Henry's wife has died and his son is somewhat distant. While out, Henry passes the Panama hotel one day in 1986 and sees that the new owner has found many old possessions left there by Japanese-Americans before they were sent to internment camps. The sight of an old Japanese parasol takes Henry back to his youth during World War 2.

Henry's father is anti-Japanese, obsessed with the war in China and while he wants his son to grow up American, he also yearns to send Henry back to China for schooling. Henry has no friends, except one: a young, black, Jazz-playing street musician named Sheldon. Henry is sent to an exclusive school and there meets Keiko Okabe, a Japanese-American girl and the only other Asian student. The two become fast, secret friends and eventually fall in love. When Keiko's family is sent to an internment camp, Henry fears losing her forever.

I found the story compelling. Easy to read, it completely captured my attention. I thought the characters were colorful and well-developed enough for the story. This time in history was tragic. I have such respect for those who were sent away to the relocation camps and reacted to the situation with dignity.

I did have my frustrations with this book, mainly that the Internet as we know it today, did not exist in 1986. On-line support groups, such as the grief one what Henry's son joins, were unheard of at that time. I also had some concerns as to the actual historical time lines, but those were easy to suspend. If the author bent some of history's dates to suit his story, it didn't really bother me. I thought it wrapped up well.

A terrific debut novel.

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

Read 3/09

Friday, March 20, 2009

She Always Wore Red...Review

About the book:
Jennifer Graham--mother, student, and embalmers apprentice--could use a friend. She finds one in McLane Larson, a newcomer to Mt. Dora, and is delighted to learn that the young woman is expecting a baby. While McLane's soldier-husband serves overseas, Jen promises to support McLane and then learns that her tie to this woman goes far deeper than friendship. When a difference of opinion threatens their relationship, Jennifer discovers weaknesses in her own character . . . and a faith far stronger than she had imagined. 

A sequel to Doesn't She Look Natural?, the story picks up several months later. Jennifer Graham is now taking courses to become a mortician. She seems to have settled into the Mt. Dora community and her boys are making friends. Gerald still works at the funeral home and surprise, surprise, Jennifer's unknown half-sister arrives, bringing her own drama.

For the coverage of such serious issues as racism and abortion, the story is still very light and trite, with little depth or character development. McLane seems to be a good addition, but her father is a stereotyped caricature rather than a developed character.

Predictably, the story wraps up neatly, although it's not a completely happy ending. Christian lessons are learned along the way.

My big complaint with this story is the same one I had with the first book: the narration. Jen's story is told in first-person, which I rarely like. The chapters then alternate between Jen and the other characters like her sister, Gerald, and her son. These supporting characters aren't written as first-person, but are an awkward present-tense third-person narrative. It was very annoying and quite distracting. The story would have been much stronger had the author maintained the same style throughout it.

Like the first one, I'd give it 2.5 stars if I could. Good, not great.

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

Read 3/08

* *
2.5/5 Stars

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Booking Through Thursday...Worst 'Best' Book

Today's Booking Through Thursday question:

Suggested by Janet: How about, “What’s the worst ‘best’ book you’ve ever read — the one everyone says is so great, but you can’t figure out why?”

This one is fairly easy if you're looking at contemporary books: the entire Twilight series. Hello? Still don't get it. Twilight and New Moon were just painful to get through, Eclipse wasn't bad and I thought Breaking Dawn was the best of the bunch. But, the series as a whole? Didn't care for it. Don't get the hype. It's like really bad fan fiction.

I'd heard rave things about Going Down South, A Walk with Jane Austen, and The Jane Austen Book Club, but didn't like any of them. And what's up with Memoirs of a Geisha? I still don't get the appeal of that one. I don't really care for Nicholas Sparks or James Patterson either: the stories are sad, depressing and all the same. As far as classics go? I've always hated Catcher in the Rye, which is heralded as a great 'coming of age' novel. Maybe so, but I didn't like it.

It's always interesting to read reviews and find that someone adores a book you hated or hates a book you think is terrific. What 'best' book did you find difficult to read?

Go here for more interesting Booking Through Thursday posts.

Saffron Dreams...Review

About the book:
You don't know you're a misfit until you are marked as an outcast.
From the darkest hour of American history emerges a mesmerizing tale of tender love, a life interrupted, and faith recovered. Arissa Illahi, a Muslim artist and writer, discovers in a single moment that no matter how carefully you map your life, it is life itself that chooses your destiny. 


After her husband's death in the collapse of the World Trade Center, the discovery of his manuscript marks Arissa's reconnection to life. Her unborn son and the unfinished novel fuse in her mind into one life-defining project that becomes, at once, the struggle for her emotional survival and the redemption of her race. Saffron Dreams is a novel about our ever evolving identities and the events and places that shape them. It reminds us that in the midst of tragedy, our dreams can become a lasting legacy. 

Fascinating. A fictionalized story, written as a memoir. Arissa is a young Pakistani-American woman who loses her husband in the 9/11 tragedy. Pregnant with a special-needs child, she struggles to find her place in this post 9/11 world. A world without her beloved husband, and a world where many people do not understand the life and faith of Muslims.

Arissa's story is told first-person through flashbacks and present day. Her childhood in Pakistan is covered: an affluent family, a loving father, an emotionally absent mother, and an arranged marriage with the man who would be her true love.

After her husband's death at the World Trade Center, Arissa discovers that her unborn child will have multiple disabilities. Her strength, as she moves forward with her life is remarkable and inspiring. With the support of her in-laws she takes on her challenges. Her son is born and becomes the center of her life. She discovers her husband's unfinished novel and sets out to finish it, and ensure that her husband is not forgotten.

A beautifully descriptive novel: full of color and flavor. A fascinating tale of love and loss, tragedy and triumph, and following your dreams even when they take you on an unexpected journey.

Thanks to Pump Up Your Book Promotion for the opportunity to review this book.

You can find out more about Shaila Abdullah here. You can read other reviews of this book here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 3/08

* * *

3/5 Stars

Red, White and Blue...Review

About the book:
"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Emily Benton is ready to take her place in the Oval Office, but her closest adviser, Kate Rosen, is plagued with doubts.As a person of faith, Kate owes her allegiance to a power higher than a mere political machine. And though Emily has shown some regret over past choices shes made, Kate fears that her best friend will still be corrupted by her quest for power. Soon Kate is torn between helping Emily stay at the top or bringing her down before she can remake America in her own image.

When scandal brings the presidency to the brink of disaster, Kate must weigh the bonds of loyalty and duty, ambition and submission, and choose to stand and fight . . . or walk away.


A sequel to America the Beautiful. Emily Benton has been elected President of the United States and has asked Kate Rosen, her best friend and campaign manager, to be her Chief of Staff.

After Emily's election victory, Kate realizes that she doesn't know her best friend as well as she thought. She tries to overlook small betrayals and Emily's ever increasing ability to blur the lines of honesty in her effort to achieve ultimate political power.

Kate begins to realize that maintaining her Christian values as a politician may be impossible. In addition, she struggles with her growing attraction to Emily's ex-husband. When Kate discovers a scandal that could destroy Emily's presidency, she is also faced with the reality that her best friend would willingly sacrifice her to retain the position of President of the United States.

I have to say that I enjoyed this book much more than the first one. I still don't like Emily, and her true colors really come out in this story. But, Kate really grew on me and I cared about her dilemmas. I appreciated the "insiders view" of the White House: it was believable, even though this is a work of fiction. The book brings home the idea that to be an honest Christian as well as a politician is difficult for many and impossible for some.

Compelling and interesting at the same time. The ending is a bit abrupt, but I think mostly appropriate for the story. I'd love to see another book explore the repercussions of Kate's decisions.

Thanks to First Wild Card for the opportunity to review this. You can read the first chapter here. You can find out more about Laura Hayden here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 2/09

* * *

3/5 Stars

Red, White and Blue...Wild Card!

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:


Red, White, and Blue

Tyndale House Publishers (February 5, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Laura Hayden began her reading career at the age of four. By the time she was ten, she’d exhausted the children’s section in the local library and switched to adult mysteries. Although she always loved to write, she became sidetracked in college where differential equations outweighed dangling participles. But one engineering degree, one wedding, two kids, and three military assignments later, she ended up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she met people who shared her passion for writing. With their support, instruction, and camaraderie, she set and met her goal of selling her first book. She has now published ten novels and several short stories.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (February 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414319401
ISBN-13: 978-1414319407

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Kate Rosen sat on the edge of the stage, the large hotel ballroom stretching beyond her, long emptied of people. The only things left behind were the detritus of a grand night of celebration—balloons skimming over the carpet, trampled paper streamers, discarded signs, and swags of limp bunting that sagged against the walls.

No more cameras, no strobe lights, no cheering throng.

The exuberant but exhausted audience had finally faded away hours earlier, the journalists following suit shortly afterward. America had finally gone to bed, either celebrating or lamenting the fact that that they’d just elected their first female president.

Kate cherished the silence. She needed someplace where she could collect her thoughts, which had been shattered tonight. She’d discovered things she could hardly believe even still about her best friend. And she’d been disillusioned in a way that nobody, even a politician’s top aide, was prepared to be. Her headache and heartache had been made worse by the oppressive crush of supporters commemorating their candidate’s—her candidate’s—triumph. Once Emily and her entourage, minus Kate, went upstairs, the party had finally broken up and the ballroom's capacity crowd started to stream home for their own private celebrations.

But Kate’s ears still rang with the sound of more than a thousand people cheering, screaming their support of their candidate.

“Benton! Benton! Benton!”

Emily Rousseau Benton, former governor of Virginia, Kate’s best friend, had been elected president of the United States, in no small part due to Kate’s hard work. Emily’s race for the White House had dominated both of their lives for the past four years. Everything Kate did, every action she took as Emily’s campaign manager, had been done solely in support of her friend’s bid for the presidency.

And now that Emily had won, Kate was alone, horrified at the prospect that she might have made a terrible mistake.

She slipped down from the stage riser and kicked idly at the balloons in her path, creating a slight rippling effect across the bubbled mass of them. An occasional balloon still floated down from the ceiling, a day late and a dollar short.

Kate’s most recent revelation had been like that, one day too late. . . .

“Hey, Kate.”

A lone voice penetrated the silence. She stiffened in surprise and raised her hand to shade her eyes and get a better look at the person standing on the balcony. Her mood lightened and her shoulders relaxed when she realized who had spoken.

“Hey, Wes.”

“Y'all all right? Need some company?”

She nodded.

It was a classic Southern salutation, and the familiarity of it was oddly comforting. Then again, Wes Kingsbury always knew what to say—he was equal parts her friend and her spiritual mentor. Disappearing into the shadows, Wes emerged a few moments later from the staircase leading to the balcony box.

Kate glanced at her watch and stifled a yawn—3:46. That was a.m. Too early to be called morning, too late to be called night. The true dark hours of the human soul, when body rhythm and spirit were at their lowest point.

“I can’t believe you’re still here,” she said. The man had a wife and a small child, a real world and home to which he could return. He hadn’t closed his life down to a single obsessively sought goal. That had been her mistake.

“And I can’t believe you’re not upstairs. M’s still up in the suite, partying hearty.”

She kicked at a balloon, stirring up a small whirl of color. “I know. I’m not in much of a party mood.”

“So I see.” He fell into step next to her. “What’s going on? I would have thought you’d be thrilled. This was the goal, right?” He pointed to an abandoned placard: Benton/Bochner ’08.

“It was. It is.” She couldn’t help but shiver. “It’s complicated.”

“It’s Emily. It’s always complicated.” He chuckled, then sighed. “Okay, what has she done now?” At Kate’s hesitation, he added, “It’s got something to do with Talbot, doesn’t it?”

Charles Talbot had been Emily’s opponent in her race for the White House. As such, he’d pulled out all the stops to find all the dirt he could on his challenger. Kate, as Emily’s friend and ally for more than twenty years, had been positive there was no dirt to be found.

She’d been so wrong. . . .

Talbot’s investigators discovered that Emily’s family had illegally won important highway construction contracts in Virginia while Emily was the state’s governor.

When Kate learned his camp was prepared to release this information, the only way she could stop him was to explain to him exactly the unsavory facts that her own investigations had uncovered on him—details she’d kept out of Emily’s hands.

The last thing Kate had wanted was her friend to strike an ill-timed and unnecessary first blow—using a nuke when a nudge would have worked just as well. She’d learned the hard way that Emily, though a talented politician, wasn’t exactly good at being subtle when she had a bigger weapon handy. But when Talbot made his big, bold move to not only discredit Emily but take down her family by attempting to dismantle the entire Benton legacy, Kate had intervened by threatening to use her opposition research.

Talbot had killed . . . and Kate felt that she had no choice but to remind him of the lengths to which he’d gone to cover up his own crimes. She had the bloody proof that he’d been criminally negligent, if not morally responsible, in the grisly death of his college girlfriend. Talbot might have maneuvered his way out of the scandal, but Kate had the goods on him—incontrovertible evidence.

If released to the public, her evidence would have been sufficient to end his campaign, destroy his reputation, and possibly land him in jail for a long, long time. Talbot saw the light and backed down from his threats.

So Talbot had been stopped. The situation had served to cement Kate’s resolve that Emily Benton would make a far better president than her opponent. Emily was a policy wonk who knew her stuff, she was talented at getting things done, she worked hard for the people she represented, and she was charismatic enough to persuade even those who opposed her to allow time for her ideas to have a chance to work. In other words, Emily was the best politician of her time.

However, Kate soon learned not only that her actions had made Talbot her enemy for life, but also that no one ever wins in a competition of “who has the best blackmail” because the games like that never end. She’d felt sickened, soiled, and finally betrayed.

Kate drew a deep breath. “Emily found out.”

Wes straightened for a moment. He’d been one of only two confidants who knew the sins of both candidates, other than the candidates themselves.

“About . . .” Wes paused and glanced around as if gauging the likelihood of being overheard. Even though no one was in sight, he kept his voice low. “About the ammunition you had? How?”

“I told her I’d stopped Talbot, but I refused to tell her how. I didn’t think she needed to know. So in the middle of the night, my best friend M sent one of her protégés to ‘borrow’ the report from me.”

“‘Protégés’?” Wes’s gaze narrowed. “Maia,” he said in a flat voice.

Kate nodded. “Our very own ingenue in training.” She stared across the vast ballroom, watching a piece of bunting as it slipped from the balcony railing and wafted gently to the floor. “Though apparently she’s more iron maiden than ingenue. Scruples don’t seem to concern her. I rip my heart out every day, trying to find the right balance between my Christian convictions and loyalty to my country and to my friends—especially Emily. I want to make a difference in the world, make people’s lives better. I don’t always like how I do it. Maia didn’t have a second thought when Emily asked her to steal the reports from me in the middle of the night. She made copies, then replaced the originals so I wouldn’t know. Then Emily had Maia contact Talbot with what you’d call a very thinly veiled threat.”

Wes read between the lines. “Destroying any hope of the campaign staying out of the gutter.”

“Yeah. But then came the weird part. It did—stay out of the gutter, I mean.” A shiver coursed up her spine and she crossed her arms in an effort to combat it. “Buttoned up tighter than Fort Knox. Maybe my way wasn’t effective enough. Maybe Emily’s decision to send him a second threat was the only real way to stop him.” A second tremor joined the first, and Kate knew it wasn’t because she was cold. “Maybe I was wrong. Or maybe I’m in the wrong business. Or maybe I’m simply overreacting.”

“Or maybe not.”

They took several more steps through the remains of the revelry before Kate stopped. She reached down and rescued a placard bearing Emily’s likeness.

“In any case, I don’t know . . .” She hated how her voice broke when she spoke. “I don’t know if I can stay. If I can continue working with her. She lied to me, stole from me. Maia actually expected me to be impressed by their cleverness. Emily knew better. But she set it up anyway.” She studied the picture plastered across the placard. Emily’s resolute smile looked effortless despite the fact it’d taken the photographer over two hours to capture the perfect expression.

“You have very high standards for your behavior.” Wes took a few more steps, then stopped, pivoting to face her, his hands jammed in his pockets. “Emily’s a lot more flexible; she’s a big proponent for ‘the end justifies the means.’ You know that. I know that. The question is, can you tolerate that? Jesus himself said, ‘Render unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s.’ But there have to be consequences when a person crosses the line. Nobody’s above the law, not even Emily—though she’d probably argue that point. The big question you have to answer here is what is the right thing for your faith and the right thing for the world. Think hard about that and then move forward. I’ll pray for you. I know it’s going to be a tough decision.”

Kate looked up from Emily’s compelling expression, the look in her eyes that said, You know you can trust me. “A decision I was hoping you’d help me make.”

To her utter surprise, Wes shook his head. “Nope.”

“But—”

He raised his palm to stop her. “Hear me out. I’m always willing to offer advice, lend a hand or even a shoulder, but when it comes to something like this, you need to work with a higher authority.” He pointed upward.

Kate managed to conjure up a tight smile. “Somehow, I don’t think you mean President-Elect Benton in the penthouse suite.”

“Nope. A lot higher.”

***

They rode up the elevator in silence. It wasn’t until they reached the door to the suite, flanked by Secret Service agents, that Wes hesitated.

Kate fought the urge to say, “You’re going in with me, aren’t you?” She realized she needed to speak to Emily in private. If any of the campaign entourage still hung about, Kate would have to bide her time, smile, make nice with the natives, and wait for her chance after all the hoopla finally ended. It had been relatively easy to have the candidate’s ear in private, but getting the attention of the next president would be more complicated.

She practiced her smile on the two agents, whose names she needed to learn. Then she stopped herself.

Or maybe after tonight it wouldn’t matter.

“This is where I say good-bye.” Wes leaned over and kissed her forehead. “And good luck. Let me know what happens.”

“Thanks. I will,” she whispered. Drawing in a deep breath, Kate reached for the doorknob, but the agent on the right beat her to it.

“Allow me, Ms. Rosen.” He opened the door.

It was a testament to the construction of the hotel that she heard little in the way of sound from the suite until the door opened. Then a cacophony of laughter and voices met her, the celebration evidently still in full swing. The crowd had dwindled some, but an impressive number of folks still lingered, including several of Washington’s biggest power players, senior members of the party, a large assortment of Benton family members, and some of the key campaign staffers.

Kate didn’t see Emily at first but finally spotted her in a corner of the room, holding court. They made eye contact and Emily raised her hand as if saying, Over here and motioned Kate over. In response, Kate began to pick her way through the clusters of people. She was stopped every foot or so to be congratulated, hugged, and offered a drink.

She felt odd accepting the accolades, but she had no trouble waving off the libations. The last thing she needed was the muddle of alcohol. She could only hope that Emily had kept a clear head as well.

Before Kate could reach Emily’s position, she bumped into a rather solid male form. Before she could recover her balance, a hand grasped her elbow and she was hit in the face with a cloud of whiskey breath.

“Katie-girl!” Emily’s old family adviser Dozier Marsh pulled her into an awkward embrace. He might have looked like someone’s sainted grandfather, but it was as far from what he really was as the North Pole from Antarctica. He was the ultimate political fixer—a devious, dangerous old power broker with a fondness for hard liquor and Emily, though not always in that order. And right now, he was acting like a lecherous uncle.

Great-uncle.

“Where you been, darlin’?” he wheezed. “Hard to have a party without Emily’s right-hand gal!” He tried to swing her around. The move would have made them both fall over had the young aide standing next to him not reached up and steadied him.

“Sir, perhaps you’d rather sit,” the aide said.

Dozier gave Kate a grin and leaned heavily against his aide. “I suspect you’re right, Percy. The room is definitely leaning to one side.” He dropped heavily into the nearest chair, managing to spill two drinks that were abandoned on the nearby end table. He stared blearily at the mess. “Would you be a dear, Kate, and get me a couple of cocktail napkins so I can clean up behind my sorry, drunken self? I’d ask Perry here, but he’s playing a key role in supporting me.”

“Now, Dozier . . .” Emily’s voice knifed neatly through the chatter, instantly commanding the attention of the room. “You’re not asking the future White House chief of staff to be your fetch-it girl, are you?”

Dozier’s ruddy complexion deepened. “Of c-course not, Emily. . . . I mean . . .” He pulled awkwardly to his feet, away from his aide, and managed a small stiff bow without falling over. “Madam President.”

The room went silent, no one quite sure what direction Emily’s response might head next.

“I’ve never really liked being called ‘madam.’” After a tense millisecond, Emily allowed a smile to spread across her face. “But I guess I’ll get used to it, if president gets to follow.”

Dozier, freed from the sharp conversational hook on which he’d impaled himself, offered a weaker version of her smile and lifted the drink he’d never lost grip of. “Hear, hear.”

With the momentary tension broken, the room went back to its earlier state—celebrating people clustering in small discussion knots. Dozier’s aide, a young man whose name was neither Percy nor Perry but Zack, distracted Dozier with something shiny, giving Kate a chance to escape. Once again, Emily gestured for Kate to follow her and led to the bedroom portion of the suite.

Once the door was closed behind them, Emily gave her a warm hug. “I was starting to get worried about you.” She gave Kate a close scrutiny. “Honey, you look like the weight of the free world is still on your shoulders. But the campaign’s over. We won. You can afford to relax now.”

“No. I can’t.” Kate said. She bit her lip before her words started pouring out, uncontrolled and bitter. She wanted to be completely in control of her emotions before she confronted Emily.

Emily sighed, obviously ignorant of the battle brewing inside Kate. “I know. I feel the same way. Campaigning is hard work, but nothing compared to running a country.” She dropped to the bed. “If I allowed myself a chance to stop and think about what I’m taking on, I’d probably run out of this hotel screaming like the Madwoman of Chaillot.

“Remember when we went to New York on spring break back when we were in school? How we jumped on our beds at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and had a pillow fight? Mom was horrified, but Dad told me that he hoped I’d never get too old to bounce on the bed.”

“Yeah,” Kate said. Decades of memories came crashing down upon her. Room service, going to plays, Emily’s genuine pleasure at sharing the treat with her friend. The phrase had become an inside joke, a motto for that trip and later, the watchwords for those times when the responsibilities of law school—and beyond—threatened to drag them down.

When Nick and Emily got married, their gift to each bridesmaid included a sterling silver box engraved with that motto. Kate still had that box sitting in a place of honor on her dresser.

“Well?” The next president of the United States, the Honorable Emily Rousseau Benton, took off her shoes and took a few experimental bounces on the bed as if to test the bed’s recoil potential.

“Not today.” Kate tried to smile, desperately wanting to recapture that same sense of giddy accomplishment that Emily evidently felt. Kate had indeed expected to feel a sense of joyous triumph when thinking ahead to this day. But now her heart was too heavy, her mind too burdened with the difficult decision that lay ahead of her.

Emily stopped jumping, the bed undulating in her wake. “Why not?” she said. The confusion that initially filled her face dissolved into an expression that Kate couldn’t quite understand. Then it passed almost immediately to a tight, guarded smile. “You have a point. I need to be dignified. Somehow, I don’t think the White House curator is going to let anyone jump on the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom. Not you. Not even me.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

Emily locked eyes with her for a moment. Then she turned away, unable to hold the contact for long. A Benton never crumbled under pressure. A real Benton dodged it. The president-elect slid off the bed, pulled on her heels, and straightened her skirt. She didn’t meet Kate’s gaze.

“You’re right. We’re both exhausted. You’ve always dealt with exhaustion in different ways than I do. Why don’t you take off a—”

“I’m exhausted. But that’s not the problem. I’m confused. Angry. And I’m disappointed in you.” Kate’s heart took the extra beat it always did when she made the final decision to confront her best friend. “You didn’t need to send Maia to steal the files from me. You should have talked to me about it.”

“Oh.” Emily spoke in a low, even voice. “You found out about that?”

Kate nodded.

“I didn’t send her,” Emily said. “She did that on her own, trying to curry my favor.”

Kate didn’t know whom to believe. She knew Emily better than she knew herself in some ways. Emily was brilliant, capable, the best person imaginable to have around in an emergency. She was a born leader. But part of that leadership tool kit was that she would also stop at nothing when she wanted something. Of course, Maia was cut from the same cloth. Emily’s words were plausible. “So did the favor currying work?” She tried to keep any emotion out of her voice. “Did she make a big impression on you?”

“Yes, but it was a mixed bag. I thought Maia showed a remarkable amount of initiative, but I told her that she’d chosen the wrong person to cross.”

“But that didn’t stop you from reading the reports, did it?”

“Of course not. I’d have been a fool to lose that unexpected opportunity. I’m no fool. You know that.”

“Yes, I do. And I guess that’s why you instructed her to send the threatening e-mail to Talbot. Were you just taking advantage of another unexpected opportunity?”

“Sure. It seemed the wise thing to do at the moment. He was a loose cannon. He needed to be locked down.”

“And now? Are you still glad you did it?”

Emily collapsed on the bed, her ice queen facade shattered. A single tear trickled down her face, leaving a glistening trail through her perfect makeup. “No. I regret it more than you’ll ever know.” She bent her head, trying desperately to hide the additional tears, but a sob tore through her, making her shoulders shake.

Kate almost gaped at her friend. She’d seen Emily’s crocodile tears before. But they didn’t look anything like this. This was the real thing.

Real emotion. Real regret. . . .

Emily continued. “Mind you, I didn’t hate what I did to Charles Talbot. He’s a pariah, an abomination. A murderer. He should never have been able to get away with driving that car while drunk, and leaving that poor girl behind, still clinging to life, to take the rap for his actions. Had he gotten her help at the time of the accident, she might have survived the crash as something other than a vegetable. But no, he had to save face, run away, pretend nothing had happened. He left her to die in that car. It took hours for anyone to discover the wreck. Then he had the audacity to bribe and threaten people into giving him an alibi. He had to make everyone think she’d been the one driving while intoxicated, even if it killed her. He’s the lowest of scumbags. I won’t apologize for pricking whatever fragments he has left of his conscience. I’m pretty sure all I did was dent his enormously bloated and unconscionable pride.”

Emily’s flare of anger dissipated quickly, as if she suddenly felt guilty of failing to be remorseful for her own actions. Kate knew that, for Emily, anger was an emotion easier to understand and embrace than remorse. Especially when she felt that anger was righteous. Emily could move mountains when she had on a full load of righteous anger. Kate had seen her shame an entire state legislature into voting for health insurance for disadvantaged children, all because she’d vented her anger into a biting five-minute speech to them.

Kate gave her friend a steady stare. “What he did and what you did are separate issues. And you know it.”

“I’m sorry.” Emily’s voice dropped to a whisper. “You’re right. When Maia gave me those copies, I did exactly what you were afraid I was going to do.” She looked up, naked emotion filling her face, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I allowed my need for revenge to overwhelm my sense of honor. I’m so sorry.” She stood, her arms at her side. Her voice broke in a show of raw emotion that Kate had never seen from her before.

“Kate, can you forgive me?”

Kate felt tears forming in her own eyes.

Could she forgive Emily? Of course she could. Christ was clear on the responsibility to forgive a repentant sinner. Kate could do no less.

But could she trust Emily enough to continue working for her? That was another question entirely.

For now, she reached over and hugged her friend. The two of them cried together for what seemed like hours.

But the big question—whether Kate would stay on after this—hung over them. No matter how often Emily asked it, Kate refused to answer.

Finally Emily said, “Take some time, go home, cool off, and then we’ll talk.”

As was often the case, Emily was right.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Galway Bay...Review

About the book:
One family’s epic journey captures both the tragedy and triumph of the Irish-American experience—and echoes the myths and legends of Ireland herself …

In a hidden Ireland where fishermen and tenant farmers find solace in their ancient faith, songs, stories, and communal celebrations, young Honora Keeley and Michael Kelly wed and start a family. Because they and their countrymen must sell both their catch and their crops to pay exorbitant rents, potatoes have become their only staple food.

But when blight destroys the potatoes three times in four years, a callous government and uncaring landlords turn a natural disaster into The Great Starvation that will kill one million. Honora and Michael vow their children will live. The family joins two million other Irish refugees—victims saving themselves—in the emigration from Ireland.

Danger and hardship await them in America. Honora, her unconventional sister Máire, and their children help transform Chicago from a frontier town to the “City of the Century.” The boys go on to fight in the Civil War and enlist in the cause of Ireland’s freedom.

Spanning six generations and filled with joy, sadness, and heroism, Galway Bay sheds brilliant light on the ancestors of today’s forty-four million Irish Americans—and is a universal story you will never forget.

"Epic" is the first word I would use to describe Galway Bay. The words "rich" and "lyrical" would follow. Mary Pat Kelly fully captures the tragedy and triumph of the 19th century Irish emigration.

Michael and Honora Kelly, young newlyweds, begin their life together on a small patch of land overlooking Galway Bay. Michael is a bagpiper and blacksmith by trade. He's the owner of a prized racehorse and plans to breed her and sell the colts. Honora's family are hardworking fishermen and she and Michael plant potatoes to feed their family and pay the required rents to their English landlords.

The plight of the Irish is well-documented. The English, who came in and took over, tried to do all they could to force the proud Irish people from their lands. Their heartless cruelty comes through, and these strong people resist as long as they can. But, after blight kills the potatoes three times in four years, Michael and Honora finally realize they need to leave Ireland for America.

Danger and adventure await them in America as Honora, her sister Maire and their seven sons set forth to find Chicago and Michael's brother, Patrick. The strength of these two women is remarkable and inspiring. Based on the author's great-great-grandmother, Honora's story is one that will captivate you. The Irish people have a strong reputation for storytelling and Galway Bay is the fascinating story of a woman who wants to protect her family and her Irish heritage.

Thanks to Miriam Parker at Hatchette Books and the Early Bird Blog Tour for the opportunity to review this book. You can find out more about Mary Pat Kelly here.  You can purchase your own copy of this book here.

See these book bloggers for other reviews of this book.

http://athomewithbooks.blogspot.com/
http://book-thirty.blogspot.com/
http://readersrespite.blogspot.com
http://www.myfriendamysblog.com
http://bermudaonion.wordpress.com
http://www.acircleofbooks.blogspot.com
http://www.corinnesbookreviews.blogspot.com
http://lorisbookden.blogspot.com/ http://www.bookthoughtsbylisa.blogspot.com
http://teddyrose.blogspot.com
http://libraryqueue.blogspot.com
http://allisonsatticblog.blogspot.com
http://cherylsbooknook.blogspot.com/
http://luanne-abookwormsworld.blogspot.com/
http://bookingmama.blogspot.com/
http://enroutetolife.blogspot.com/
http://thetometraveller.blogspot.com/
http://www.marjoleinbookblog.blogspot.com
http://peekingbetweenthepages.blogspot.com/
http://cafeofdreams.blogspot.com/
http://jennsbookshelf.blogspot.com/
http://thebookczar.blogspot.com
http://www.writeforareader.edublogs.org
http://linussblanket.com
http://booksbytjbaff.blogspot.com/
http://www.caribousmom.com
http://hiddenplace.wordpress.com/
http://www.chikune.com/blog
http://librarygirlreads.blogspot.com
http://diaryofaneccentric.blogspot.com
http://savvyverseandwit.blogspot.com
http://www.kayespenguinposts.blogspot.com
http://writebyfaith.blogspot.com
http://www.frommipov.blogspot.com
http://booksiesblog.blogspot.com/
http://www.bookbargainsandpreviews.com/reviews/history/galwaybay.htm
http://wendisbookcorner.blogspot.com
http://www.thisbookforfree.com
http://abookbloggersdiary.blogspot.com/

Read 3/08

* * * * *

5/5 Stars

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Editorial Response

After our local paper published an epic proofreading fail last week, I sent an email to the editor and she responded back to me very quickly. My letter is first and her response follows. I thought she responded appropriately, and very politely!
--------------------------------
The text of my letter (a wee bit snarky):

I'm sure that I'm not the only one who noticed the rather blatant error on the cover of the "total: health, body, mind" insert in today's paper. As an editor by trade, I realize that it can be difficult to catch absolutely every single error in a published manuscript, especially when one is under a deadline. However, in these days of electronic spell check, in addition to good old-fashioned proofreading, how did Dietebes land on the cover? Did no one check it, or is this a new way of referring to diabetes? Not only is an error like this unacceptable for a professional publication, it's a sign of carelessness. When a cover has a blatant error like this one, it sets a negative tone for the rest of the publication and credibility is lost.

If you're in need of an editor, or someone who can at least proofread, I'd certainly like to offer my services.

--------------------------------
The text of the response (very professional and polite):

Thanks very much for your email. You are asking the same questions that I’m asking about that misspelling. You are right, it is unacceptable and I’ll address it with my staff.

I appreciate your offer of services. I don’t have any openings right now. But in the event that we do have one, or need some temporary help it would great to have your resume on file.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Forgotten Warrior...Review

About the book:
Sydney Morgan is no wimp. A black belt in karate, her defensive moves help keep her tough even when her mom is diagnosed with cancer and her long-lost dad shows up to play nice guy. But when an unexpected gift transports her through space and time to the land of Zarahemla, Syd just might be in over her head. Accused of being a spy, she has to prove she's no threat to the locals, including Captain Helaman himself! As war quickly approaches, Helaman calls upon Syd to help his stripling warriors prepare to fight. Torn between concern for her family and for her new friends, Syd musters her wits, strength, and faith to face the coming battle, but her feelings for the chief warrior Tarik put her heart on the line. Who will survive the Lamanites' fierce onslaught? And will Syd ever make it home again?

16-year old Sydney Morgan has a black belt in karate and a tough attitude. She is devoted to her single mother and disabled sister. When her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Syd finds herself facing an uncertain future. When her absent father shows up, she is even more confused. A seeming chance encounter with a hospital custodian results in Syd's being transported back in time to the land of Zarahemla. Syd is accused of being a lamanite spy, but proves to the stripling warriors and Captain Helaman himself, that she is not. When Captain Helaman discovers Syd's ability to fight, he enlists her help in training his stripling warriors.

Syd manages to keep secret, the fact that she is a young woman, not a young man. However, she finds herself falling for Tarik, one of Helaman's chief warriors. Always hoping to return home, Syd draws upon her knowledge of the Book of Mormon to help her find her way in this new world.

I think Kathi Oram Peterson has crafted a story with great potential. She is open about the fact that while she has used real, well-known Book of Mormon heroes in her story, this is a work of fiction. She has created other characters and changed situations and time lines to suit her story. While I found much of the story implausible, I also found it fascinating.

I have to say that while I enjoyed the book, I'm really frustrated by the fact that everything is left hanging. Right up to the end, I kept wondering how it was all going to be resolved and the loose ends tied up. However, nothing is resolved. It is assumed that Steve, the hospital custodian who sent Sydney back to Zarahemla, did so for a specific purpose and not by accident. But, as everything is left open and unresolved, it's hard to see what that purpose is and how this adventure is going to help Syd, let alone her family, in the future. While I have been assured that this is the first of a series, there is no promise of a sequel, let alone a series at the conclusion of the book.

It would be nice to have had a teaser of "coming soon in the next installment of the Stripling Warriors saga..." to give us some hope that this story will eventually come together and be resolved. In any series, readers want some issues resolved along the way, even as they're kept hanging by others, rather than everything being resolved at the very end.

Overall, it was a compelling story that I liked, and one that I think has a great deal of potential. Entertaining and easy to read.

You can find out more about Kathi Oram Peterson here and on her blog where you can find some wonderful thoughts about the qualities of a stripling warrior. You can purchase the book here. Check out some other reviews here.

Kathi is hosting a "Latter-day Stripling Warrior Contest" on her website. You can nominate a young person between the ages of 8 and 18: someone who has performed a kind deed and who you believe is a Latter-day Stripling Warrior. Fill out the entry form here. The winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to Amazon.

Read 2/09

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The List...Wild Card!

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:


The List

Urban Books (February 24, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:





Dr. Sherri Lewis is an MD, author, ordained minister and conference speaker. She is the staff physician at a Georgia Department of Corrections’ women’s prison. She lives in Atlanta, GA.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Urban Books (February 24, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601629826
ISBN-13: 978-1601629821

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Tick, tock, tick, tock…

There it was. The sound that had been growing louder and louder in my brain – until now, it was no longer background noise. Groaning, I rolled over in bed and pulled a pillow over my face. I peeked out and cast an annoyed glance at my nightstand clock, but it was digital, so it couldn’t be blamed for the relentless ticking in my head. No, it was my own internal clock – the proverbial biological one. And now there was an alarm to go with it. An alarm with no snooze button to make it stop. The AMA alarm. Today was my thirty-fifth birthday and I was officially AMA – advanced maternal age. The age at which my eggs, encased in my ovaries since birth, started to get old and decrepit. If by some magic I were to meet Mr. Perfect tomorrow and we fell overwhelmingly in love and got married within the next six months, then got pregnant right away, I would still be considered a high-risk pregnancy just because of my age.

I sat up on the edge of the bed and stretched my arms upward, resolving that today, I would celebrate my life with thanksgiving, hope, and faith.

Hey, God. Thanks for waking me up healthy, beautiful and strong this morning. Thanks that I turned thirty-five today…

And then, for no apparent reason, I burst into tears. Sobs actually. I rolled onto the floor and curled into a fetal position, crying like someone had died.

I guess someone had. The thirty-five year old woman I had dreamed I would be when I was a little girl. Married to a gorgeous, black Ken look-a-alike – plastic smile and all – with two beautiful children living in a castle on the hill with two ponies in our stable and a thriving career as a firewoman or a ballerina.

Okay, so I was seven.

But still. I didn’t expect to be thirty-five, single and childless. I was supposed to wake up to breakfast in bed cooked by my wonderfully loving husband and two beautiful daughters – all bouncy, bubbly and giggly. They were supposed to burst into the room and scream, “Happy Birthday, Mommy” and cover me with little girl kisses. My husband was supposed to kiss my cheek, say “Happy Birthday, Dear” and give me a knowing look that said as soon as the girls got off to school, he was going to really wish me Happy Birthday.

But instead, I was all alone in my king-sized bed. Well, actually on the floor next to it. I grabbed a pillow, then pulled the comforter off the bed and snuggled underneath it. I could see God looking down from heaven shaking His head. He’d elbow Jesus who would roll His eyes. They’d both look at the Holy Spirit as if to say, “Please, go help our pitiful child.”

I imagined the Holy Spirit swiftly coming to my rescue. He’d come and get under the comforter with me and hold me in His arms, promising to love me until my earthly husband came along.

“God, for the millionth time – why can’t You take it away? Just make me completely satisfied with You and You alone. If You’re not going to fulfill it, then take away my desire for a husband and kids.” I yelled at Him from under the comforter. I imagined the Holy Spirit hugging me tighter. I appreciated the fact that He wasn’t moved by my angry outburst. He loved me no matter what.

I relaxed in His arms. Imagined myself snuggling into His chest and instantly felt better. “God, why can’t You send me a husband just like You? Send me You wrapped up in chocolate.” How awesome that would be. To be married to a guy like God.

I must have fallen back asleep in His arms, because when the phone rang and I looked at the clock, it was two hours later. I wasn’t in the mood for the onslaught of phone calls from people wishing me happiness for my birthday. I should have gone out of town like I originally planned. Instead, I had let my friends talk me into a “Girls’ Day” – some big surprise they had planned. Much as I loved them, I wasn’t in the mood for surprises.

All I wanted to do for my birthday was be alone with God.

The phone rang again and I ignored it. I thought about getting up to do a quick half-hour Taebo tape. Maybe some kicking and punching would get rid of some of my frustrations. Billy Blanks had become my best friend in the year right after my divorce. There was just something about being violent and calling it exercise. I had joined a gym with a big punching bag that I pretended on a regular was my ex and his mistress. I got a reputation at the gym as the girl no one wanted to spar with and would never want to meet in a dark alley.

My stupid ex. This was all his fault. My marriage should have never ended. After eleven years he decided that twenty-one was too young to have gotten married and that he needed to see what else was “out there”…

Fresh tears flowed down my face. What in the world?

Was I really crying over my ex? Really? My divorce was final almost three years ago. I hadn’t cried over him, or even thought much about him in the past two years. Had to check the calendar when I got up off the floor. This had to be my hormones.

I guess it wasn’t my ex I was crying over. It was the fact that the marriage hadn’t worked. That I was thirty-five, divorced, childless, and oh yeah, hormonal.

My cell phone chimed to indicate that I had gotten a text message. I picked it up and looked at the screen.

Get up off the floor. Dry your eyes. Get dressed and get ready to be celebrated. I promise the day will get better, but you have to get up first. Happy Birthday. Please, girl – get over it. Thirty-five is not that old! Love you!!!

I had to laugh. My girl, Vanessa. I decided to take her word for it. Maybe the day would get better if I just picked myself up off the floor.

***

I pulled up at Vanessa’s house an hour later – fresh faced and comfortably dressed as I had been instructed. As I got out of my car, I took authority over my hormones as I did every month. I could overcome in most battles in my life, but once a month, the day before my cycle started, I wound up crying endlessly and reacting irrationally to the dumbest things. Amazing that a strong, successful woman – producer at the nation’s newest up-and-coming black television station – and experienced spiritual warrior could be reduced to such ridiculousness by some estrogen. Please, God. Not today.

Vanessa must have been watching for me, because before I got out of my car, she threw open the door and held her arms out wide, walking toward me. It was rare that her petite frame was casually dressed in jeans and a simple blouse. She was one of those elegant suit ladies who wore shimmery stockings and 4-inch heels with the perfect short, sassy haircut. In spite of her casual attire, her make-up was flawlessly done as if she was about to do a photo shoot. Wearing her signature brilliant smile, she sang out, “Happy Birthday, Michelle!”

She looked so happy to see me and her eyes were so filled with love that I burst into tears. A look of horror flashed across her face. “Oh no!” She shook her head slowly in disbelief. “Hormone day on your birthday? What was God thinking?”

I laughed a little. She took me into her arms and held me for a few minutes. Her comforting voice spoke directly in my ear. “Oh, Father, help us today. We take authority over estrogen gone awry.”

I laughed a little more.

She broke our embrace and grabbed me by the shoulders. “Fix your face, girl, and snap out of it. It’s your birthday brunch.” She rubbed my arm and smiled. “Actually you know what? It’s your party and you can cry if you want to.” I laughed more and sniffled.

I wiped my eyes as she led me into the house. Vanessa was my shero. She had kept me alive and sane during my separation and divorce. She was the ministerial counselor at our church. Through our sessions, I decided that not only did I want to live, but that life could be good after divorce. Not too long after she released me from therapy, her husband died tragically in a car accident. I could only hope I was half the friend to her then that she had been to me. Our losses and our relationship with God had bonded us together into one of the best friendships I’d ever had.

Vanessa’s house was immaculate as always. I was amazed that a single mother of two teenagers, full-time counselor and minister could keep her five-bedroom house perfectly clean without a housekeeper. I, however – single with no kids – couldn’t seem to keep my townhouse straight to save my life.

As we entered her two-story foyer, I looked above the winding spiral staircase and saw a huge banner reading “35th Annual Michelle Bradford Celebration Day”. Simultaneously, I heard several voices cry out, “Happy Birthday, ‘Chelle!”

At the foot of the steps stood my girlfriends, Nicole, Lisa, and Angela. I burst into tears again. Lisa and Angela ran over to hug me.

Nicole stared at me. “Are you serious?” She looked over at Vanessa who winced and nodded. Nicole picked up her purse. “I’m out. You know I can’t stand her when she’s like this.” She got halfway to the front door before Vanessa grabbed her.

“Stop playing, Nicole.” Vanessa put her hands on her hips.

“Who’s playing? I can’t stand being around her snotting and crying because a butterfly splattered on her windshield or Revlon discontinued her favorite lipstick color. Naw, I’m out. I’ll meet you guys for the big celebration later.” Nicole turned toward the door again.

“Nicole.” Vanessa put on her mother voice and evil eye that always snapped her kids into perfect obedience.

Apparently it worked on Nicole too, because she took her purse off her shoulder and came over to hug me. “Happy Birthday, Michelle. You know I love you like a sister, but dang – can’t you take the pills for this? I know God is a healer, but for real though, until your manifestation comes, you need some earthly medicine. ”

“Nicole.” Vanessa said it like Nicole had one more time before she got sent to her room for a time-out. Lisa and Angela disappeared into Vanessa’s massive gourmet kitchen.

I had to laugh. It was funny to hear Nicole using spiritual lingo. She had just gotten saved two years ago and was still a little awkward when it came to using spiritual terms.

She gave me a big hug, which set off a new flood of tears. “Dang, girl.” Nicole called into the kitchen. “Can y’all see if Vanessa has some olive oil or something? Shoot, some Crisco will do.” She looked at Vanessa. “Can’t you lay hands on her and cast out this estrogen demon so we can all enjoy our day?”

That sent me into a fit of uncontrollable giggles. When I laughed really hard, I couldn’t stop myself from snorting. Snorting the snot from crying made me cough until I could hardly breathe. Vanessa pounded me on the back.

Nicole stared at me and let out an exasperated sigh. “What a crackhead.” She disappeared into the kitchen to help Angela and Lisa with whatever they were doing.

I was glad Vanessa had only invited my closest sister circle for brunch. At least they all understood my condition. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder was what my doctor called it. Insanity was what my friends called it. Hell on earth was what I called it. Fortunately, it usually only lasted a day in my case. I hoped it would pass before the big celebration later Nicole had mentioned.

Vanessa led me to the breakfast room table and sat me down. Angela, Lisa, and Nicole emerged from the kitchen a few minutes later, each carrying a tray. Vanessa fastened a tiara onto my afro, wavy from being let loose from two-stranded twists. “Today, we’re celebrating you with your favorite things. Sit back, relax and enjoy.”

I looked down at the trays my girls had brought from the kitchen. There were finger sandwiches – peanut butter, honey and bananas on wheat bread – chocolate covered strawberries, mango slices, crab cakes, jerk chicken wings with rice and peas, fried plantains, and ginger beer to wash it all down with. I clapped my hands and laughed. “All my favorites. Kind of weird together, but still. It’s so nice to be loved and for you guys to know what I love.” I looked up to see everyone holding their breath, as if they were afraid I was going to cry. “Loosen up, guys.” I smiled. “This brunch is perfect.”

I frowned at two capsules filled with greenish stuff on the side of my plate. Vanessa answered before I could ask. “It’s St. John’s Wort. The herb I told you about. I picked up some at the health food store.”

I stared at the pills.

Nicole put a hand on her hip. “God gave us plants for natural cures so it’s not like you’re not having faith for healing.” She picked up the pills and shoved them at me. “Look, we’re the ones that have to spend the whole day with you. The least you could do is try them.”

Angela tsked at Nicole. “Girl, stop being evil. You’ll only make it worse.”

Lisa chimed in, “Yeah, Nicole. At least she can blame emotional craziness on hormones and it only happens once a month. What’s your excuse?”

Nicole shot Lisa an evil stare.

I obediently swallowed the pills, ignoring the organic taste in my mouth.

We filled our plates with my special treats. Everybody was silent for a few minutes as we started eating.

Lisa finally spoke. “So, Michelle, you’re thirty-five today. How does it feel –”

She stopped talking when Angela elbowed her in the side and shook her head. Everybody kept eating.

After a few minutes, Vanessa said, “Michelle, we want you to know that…” her voice trailed off.

Nicole rolled her eyes. “This is ridiculous. We’re all afraid to talk because we don’t want her to cry? I tell you what. Michelle, talk about what’s bothering you – what we know you cried about when you woke up and in the car on the way over here. Let’s get it out in the open and deal with it so we won’t be dancing on eggshells all day. This is supposed to be a celebration. Sheesh…”

Everyone stiffened a little and looked at me.

I stared past Angela and Lisa out Vanessa’s breakfast room bay window at the lake behind her house. The water moved slowly with the sun reflecting off it, creating a tranquil glow.

“Well…” I nibbled on a chocolate strawberry. The bitter sweetness of the dark chocolate blended with the natural sweetness of the strawberry. “I woke up alone this morning. No husband. No babies. And I’m thirty-five. This wasn’t the life I dreamed of. But I have no choice but to accept it.”

I took a bite of mango. Its tropical, tangy sweetness contrasted sharply with the strawberry-chocolate combi-nation. I wondered if being hormonal made my taste buds more sensitive. I watched everyone waiting for the tears as I continued sampling the fruit. I was more surprised than they were when no tears came.

I decided to continue. “I’ve asked God countless times to send my husband, but I guess He’s not listening. Or maybe He doesn’t think I’m ready. I’ve done therapy. I’ve healed and forgiven and realized my mistakes. I think my heart is ready to love again. But I guess He doesn’t.”

I stopped for a minute to listen to the wind chimes tinkling outside the breakfast room door. It was a breezy, spring day and I could imagine how sweet the wind would feel kissing my cheeks. I almost wanted to move the party onto the patio but didn’t want to upset Nicole’s allergies. Her sneezing and snotting, and my crying and snotting would make for a very bad day.

“It’s pure torture. Wanting something you can’t have. Craving something, needing something and it not being there. I’m tired of begging. I want to not want it anymore. Just focus on my career, my friends, and chasing after God and let that be enough.”

Angela and Vanessa nodded. Lisa shook her head like she couldn’t get with me on that.

Nicole reached over and took my hand. “See? That wasn’t so bad. If that’s the worst, we can talk about anything now.”

I smiled. “Yeah. Thanks, Nicki. You can be pretty all right when you want to be.”

Everyone let out a collective sigh of relief, myself included. Maybe today could be a good day after all. Nicole squeezed my hand. As much as she could be evil and blunt, she was full of love – that ride or die chick a sistah always wanted around to have her back. I looked around the table and appreciated God for my friends. Maybe I didn’t have a man, but I had some beautiful, strong women in my life that loved me. For now, that would have to be enough.

I looked out the window at the lake again. There was a long-necked duck with her babies trailing behind her on the water. “Look! Baby ducks.” I pointed and everyone turned to look out the window. “They’re so cute.”

And with that, I burst into tears.

Nicole dropped my hand and shook her head in disgust. “Crackhead…” she muttered as she disappeared into the kitchen.

Vanessa passed me a napkin and I wiped my eyes and blew my nose.

“Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.” Lisa got up and followed Nicole into the kitchen. They both came back a few moments later – Nicole carrying champagne and orange juice, Lisa carrying Vanessa’s crystal flutes.

Nicole set the bottles down on the table. “I’m not sure how smart it is to mix alcohol, herbs, and hormones, but it can’t get much worse than crying over baby ducks.”

Lisa cut her eyes at Nicole. “You were the one that wanted her to talk.”

Nicole answered, “How was I supposed to know there would be ducks on the lake?”

Lisa said, “All we had to do was –”

“Ladies!” Vanessa interrupted. “Chill.” Vanessa opened the orange juice and began filling the flutes. “Honestly, I think Nicole had a good idea.”

Nicole crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue at Lisa like she was five years old.

“In fact…” Vanessa topped off the glasses with a small splash of champagne. None of us were drinkers, but we always had a drop or two of champagne when we celebrated. I guess it made us feel grown, even though we always ended up throwing away almost a full bottle of the expensive stuff. “…I think it’s a perfect idea for a birthday celebration. Instead of going to the spa, shopping, and eating cake, every woman’s birthday party should be a look at her life.”

Nicole muttered, “Oh boy, here goes the latest Vanessa psychobabbleology. Just when I thought this party couldn’t get any worse.”

Vanessa ignored her. “Yeah. That’s exactly what it should be.” Vanessa stared into space as she pushed the cork back into the champagne bottle.

“What?” Nicole tapped her fingers on the table.

“Shh, she’s thinking.” Lisa smacked Nicole’s arm.

Vanessa handed each of us a mimosa glass and sat back down in her seat, the wheels in her brain ticking. “For a woman’s birthday celebration, she should be surrounded by her sister-circle in a safe, loving environment. She should look at her past and see where she made it and where she missed it. Look at her present and see where she is and where she wants to be, and look at her future and if she’s doing the right things to get there.” Vanessa nodded and smiled to herself. “Then her friends should celebrate her by telling her wonderful things about her, giving her affirmations, blessings and prayers to press her toward her future.”

Angela and Lisa nodded. “I like it.” Lisa said. She turned to Nicole.

Nicole shrugged. “Y’all know I don’t like all that touchy-feely, psychobabble stuff.”

Lisa rolled her eyes. “Lord, Nicole, can’t you get over yourself and help us celebrate Michelle’s birthday?”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t do it. I’m just saying…” She pursed her lips together and glared at Lisa.

“Okay, then.” Vanessa glared at both of them like they were about to get a beating. “Since Michelle has identified what’s bothering her the most, let’s focus on that. If there are other areas you come up with, we’ll deal with that, too. We’ll break away for an hour or two and everybody take some paper and write something special for Michelle. Michelle – like I said, take an honest look at past, present, and future and whatever else you need to get out, and then we’ll reconvene. Pick your favorite spot – out by the lake, in the sunroom, by the fireplace, wherever you can get comfortable. Okay?”

“But I don’t want to spoil whatever you guys already had planned for me just because I woke up hormonal and lonely,” I said.

Nicole sucked her teeth. “Please, girl. We had planned to watch all your favorite movies. Love and Basketball, Love Jones, Brown Sugar...” She looked around the room. “There’s not enough tissue in the house for that. Even though it’s warm and fuzzy, touchy-feely, this is way better than you snotting and crying all day over a bunch of movies. And we still have your surprise for tonight.” She looked at Vanessa with a nod of approval. “It’s actually a good idea.” She frowned. “Just don’t expect to be psychoanalyzing me for my birthday.”

Vanessa laughed. “I wouldn’t dream of it. I don’t think my years of training or experience have in any way prepared me for that.”

Nicole’s eyes widened with obvious surprise at Vanessa’s dig.

Lisa laughed. “Good one, V.”

“Whatever.” Nicole lifted her champagne flute and indicated for us all to do the same. “To Michelle and celebrating her life. The good, the bad, and the ugly.”

“Nicole!” Lisa, Angela, and Vanessa said in unison.

Nicole looked around at everyone and shrugged her shoulders. “What?” She lifted her glass again. “For real though, we love you, girl. I haven’t known God long, but what I do know is that He’s good. And faithful. And you’re a beautiful example of Him living and breathing on earth. And no matter what, man or no man, your future will be bright and beautiful. I’m looking forward to being a part of it.” She looked around the table. “Is that better?”

Everybody laughed and lifted their glasses. “To Michelle.”

And, of course, I burst into tears.