Everyday Tidbits...

It's cold and foggy. I blame the Dementors...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Beautiful Mess: The Story of Diamond Rio...Review

About the book:
Can a band comprised of six very talented but very different musicians make a difference with their music?

What made it possible for Diamond Rio to weather the storms inherent in the fickle world of fame and fortune and go more than two decades without a single lineup change? Any reader in search of transparency and a behind-the-scenes look into the life of the band as a unit as well as the individual lives of the players and singers will be well satisfied. Can true loyalty exist within the competitive, seemingly unforgiving music industry? In A Beautiful Mess, Marty Roe, Dan Truman, Jimmy Olander, Brian Prout, Gene Johnson, and Dana Williams each has an entire chapter devoted to his personal and professional life. A Beautiful Mess is a wild ride from the edge of disaster and a little-known secret to an ongoing heart-warming revival.

I love Diamond Rio. They're one of my favorite bands. I had an opportunity to meet them after a concert and I can attest to the fact that they are the genuine article: warm, friendly and down to earth.

In this entertaining story, we see the early beginnings of the band and find out how Diamond Rio became Diamond Rio. Through beginnings at Opryland, circumstances beyond their own control and decisions they made, the band molded itself into the fabulous group they are today. Each member has his own chapter that details the important issues and experiences that brought him to where he is today. We learn about Marty's struggle with his hearing and voice and how he finally faced his fears and sought help when his band members confronted him. The band members are also straight forward and unabashed about sharing their faith in God.

Here you learn that faith and family are important, that perseverance pays off, and that giving back to the community is an integral part of these guys' lives. I was not aware of the amount of charity work that Diamond Rio does.

With family and band photos, this is a fantastic book for any Diamond Rio fan. A terrific story about a terrific group of guys, who truly can be called role models. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thanks to the Thomas Nelson Book Blogger program for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about the book here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

When Jesus Was Born in Bethlehem...Review

About the book:
There is no story to match the drama of the birth of Jesus Christ. The miracle of his conception, Mary's travail and young Joseph's frustrated efforts to find adequate lodging, the rustic setting in which the babe was born, the triumphant angelic announcement, the shepherds' wonder and awe, and the import of His birth have for centuries inspired countless poets, writers, and artists.


...These paintings portray in spectacular fashion the emotions that are at the heart of Christmas—the humble circumstances of His birth, Mary's love for her baby, and the portent of the Savior's mission. In a style reminiscent of the old Masters, the artist has used color, light, and a wonderful grasp of form and composition to create a panorama of beautiful paintings, filled with symbolism and produced exclusively for this magnificent picture book.

Even a glance will reveal that Joseph Brickey has achieved a masterpiece—a spectacular body of art that will enable you and your family to read the Christmas story in a whole new way and transport you to the time when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.


This is truly one of the more gorgeous books I've ever seen. The text of the story comes directly from Chapter 2 of Luke in the bible, and simply tells the story about the birth of Jesus Christ. We read this each Christmas Eve.

The illustrations are truly breathtaking. The story of Christ's birth is brought to life so richly, that you can almost imagine yourself part of it all. A beautiful addition to any Christmas collection. This is one book that you will pick up again and again each Christmas.

You can purchase your own copy of this gorgeous book here.

Personal copy reread 12/09

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Day in the Morning...Review

About the book:
Rob wants to get his father something special for Christmas this year -- something that shows how much he really loves him. But it's Christmas Eve, and he doesn't have much money to spend. What could he possibly get? Suddenly, Rob thinks of the best gift of all...

Author of nearly a hundred books for children and adults, and winner of both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, Pearl S. Buck has captured the spirit of Christmas in this elegant, heartwarming story about a boy's gift of love. Originally published in 1955, this classic story is now being issued, for the first time ever, as a picture book with glorious full-color art by acclaimed artist Mark Buehner.


This has always been one of my favorite Christmas stories, and a couple of years ago, my mom gave me this lovely hardcover version of it.

The story opens with a man remembering a long ago Christmas when money was scarce and he wanted to find the best possible gift for his father. Overhearing his father tell his mother how much he hates to waken his son each morning to do the milking, Rob realizes how much his father really does love him. He decides that the gift he will give his father is to do all the milking on Christmas morning, so that his father won't have to do it.

This is a lovely story of selfless love and service. The interactions between father and son are beautiful. An easy book for children to read and a perfect book to read aloud as a family.

You can purchase your own copy of this book here.

Personal copy reread 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Legend of the Candy Cane...Review

About the book:
One dark November night a stranger rides into a small prairie ton. Who is he? Why has he come? The townspeople wish he were a doctor, a dressmaker, or a trader. But, the children have the greatest wish of all, a deep quiet, secret wish.

Then a young girl names Lucy befriends the newcomer. When he reveals his identity and shares with her the legend of the candy cane, she discovers the fulfillment of her wishes and the answer to the town's dreams. Now will she share what she has learned?


A beautiful explanation of the origins and symbolism of the candy cane. As Mr. Sonneman explains the significance of the candy cane to Lucy--the curve, the shape, and even the colors--the symbolism becomes more significant. As they then set out to share this message with the town, Lucy realizes that the love of Christ is something to share with others.

The illustrations are gorgeous and the story is simple, yet profound. The history of the candy cane is fascinating and some sources say that a candy maker in Indian did develop the candy cane as an example of the shepherd's staff and witness of the love of Christ. Whether or not this is, indeed, true is unknown, but the story is a sweet one and I love the thought that something so sweet and tasty can also be a symbol of the love of Jesus Christ.

You can purchase your own copy of this delightful story here.

Personal copy reread 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tales of the Heart...Wildcard!

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:


Tales of the Heart (3-in-1 Collection: Bridget’s Bargain; Kate Ties the Knot; Follow the Leader)

Whitaker House (January 2010)

***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


A prolific writer, Loree Lough has more than seventy-one books, sixty-three short stories, and 2,500 articles in print. Her stories have earned dozens of industry and Reader’s Choice awards. A frequent guest speaker for writers’ organizations, book clubs, private and government institutions, corporations, college and high school writing programs, and more, Loree has encouraged thousands with her comedic approach to “learned-the-hard-way” lessons about the craft and industry. Loree and her husband split their time between Baltimore suburbs and a cabin in the Allegheny Mountains.


Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (January 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603741674
ISBN-13: 978-1603741675 :

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Magnolia Grange, south of Richmond, Virginia

1866

Chapter One

“It’s hard to believe you’ve been with us four years, Bridget.”

Winking one thick-lashed blue eye, the maid grinned. “Aye, Mr. Auburn.” She blew a tendril of flaming red hair away from her eye and secured a gigantic white satin bow to the railing. “Time has passed like a runaway engine.”

Fumbling with his collar, Chase chuckled. “You’ve always been a joy to have in the house, and your way with words is but one of the reasons.”

Bridget slid the ribbon up and down until it exactly matched the height of the decoration on the other side of the porch. In response to the great gulp of air he took in, she straightened from her work. “Were you this nervous the first time you were a bridegroom, sir?”

He leaned a shoulder against the pillar nearest him. “To tell the truth, I don’t recall.” And, raising both brows imploringly, he pointed at the lopsided knot at his throat. “Would you mind…?”

She stepped up to the man who’d been more of a big brother than an employer to her these past years. “Wouldn’t mind a bit.” And to think that during her long sea voyage from Ireland to Virginia, she’d envisioned him a brute and a monster!

Standing on tiptoe, Bridget repaired the damage he’d done to his black string tie. “There, now,” she said, brushing imaginary lint from his broad shoulders, “that’s got it.”

His hand trembling, he dug a gold watch from his pocket. “The guests will begin arriving soon. Is everything—?”

“All’s well, Mr. Auburn, so I pray ye’ll relax. Else ye’ll need another bath!” Gathering her bow-making materials, Bridget hustled through the front door. From the other side of the screen, she said, “I’ve a few things to see to in the kitchen, and then I’ll be lookin’ in on yer bride-to-be.” She started toward the parlor, then stopped and faced him again. “Mr. Auburn, sir?”

He stopped rubbing his temples to say, “Yes?”

“I set aside a pitcher of lemonade. Might be just the thing to calm your nerves. Now, why don’t you settle down there while I fetch you a nice tall glass?”

As she made her way toward the kitchen, she heard the unmistakable squeak of the porch swing. “Hard to believe you ever thought that dear, sweet man capable of beating his servants bloody.”

“What’s that?”

Scissors, ribbons, needles, and thread flew into the air, then rained down upon her at the sound of the rich, masculine voice. “Goodness gracious, sakes alive!” she gasped, hands flattened to her chest. “You just shaved ten years off m’life!”

“Sorry,” said the tall intruder. “Didn’t mean to frighten you.”

Rolling her eyes, Bridget stooped to retrieve the fallen articles. “No harm done, I suppose.” Then, narrowing one eye, she sent him a half smile. “Provided you help me clean up the mess ye’re responsible for.”

Immediately, he was on his hands and knees, and once they’d untangled the ribbon, she put it all in the linen cupboard. “Don’t recall seein’ you around here before.”

“Just arrived last evening.” He nodded toward the barn. “I’m bunking in the loft. Chase…uh, Mr. Auburn is hoping I can improve the lineage of his quarter horses.”

“Ah,” she said, returning the sewing supplies to their proper shelf, “so you’re the new stable hand we’ve all been hearing about.” Dusting off her hands, she started up the stairs, stopping on the bottom step to give him a quick once-over. “Don’t know why, but I thought you’d be older.”

Leaning both burly arms on the newel post, he frowned slightly. “The proper title is ‘stable master’.”

“Is that a fact, Mr. Big-for-His-Britches?” Grinning good-naturedly, she added, “Tack whatever fancy name ye choose to the work. You’re still the hired help, same as me, ’cept you’re likely more at home with a muck shovel in your hand than a mop or broom.”

For a moment, a look of embarrassment darkened his handsome face, but, to his credit, he shook it off. “It’s honest work, and the horses are my full responsibility, so they might as well be my very own.”

She scrutinized him carefully. “All right, then, so you’ve got the master’s horses, but have ye the horse sense to go with ’em?” Halfway up the curving staircase, she leaned over the landing banister. “And what might your name be, Mr. I’m-So-Sure-of-Myself…just so I’m sure to address you properly next time we meet?”

“Lance,” he said. “Lance York.”

Bridget’s smile disappeared. “You’re—you’re English?”

Another nod. “But only half.” The frown above his gray eyes deepened. “Why do you look as though you’ve just smelled something unpleasant? Is there something wrong with being English?”

Only if you’re a poor tenant farmer in County Donegal, Ireland, she thought, continuing up the stairs. Since they both worked for Mr. Auburn, she’d likely run into this fellow often, and she had no intention of behaving like one of those uppity town girls who were so difficult to get along with. “Well,” she said coolly, “I suppose we all have to be something, now, don’t we?”

Her peripheral vision told her he hadn’t budged as she reached the next landing. Bridget would not allow herself to look at him. What, and give him the satisfaction of knowing an Englishman had humiliated yet another Irishman? Not in a million Sundays!

Bridget hurried up the remaining stairs and set her mind on seeing what, if anything, Drewry might need, because in no time at all, she’d become Mrs. Chase Auburn. No doubt she’d be at least as fidgety as her bridegroom.

Funny, she thought, how folks tend to pair off at weddings. Most of the servants had spouses to accompany them to the shindig. All but Bridget and the hired hands’ children. More’s the pity the stableman has the blood of those thievin’ English flowin’ in his veins, she thought, ’cause he’d make a right handsome companion….

***

Bridget watched as the servants and hired hands of Magnolia Grange raced around, putting the finishing touches on the wedding preparations. How handsome they all looked dressed in their regal best, thanks to Chase Auburn’s generosity.

She remembered the day, not so long ago, when he’d stood beside the big buckboard, ushering every member of his staff into the back of the vehicle, oblivious to their slack-jawed, wide-eyed protests. “Magnolia Grange has survived locusts and storms and the Civil War, so I hardly think our little trip into town will cause its ruination.” Grabbing the reins, he’d added, “When we get to Richmond, every last one of you will choose a proper wedding outfit. And remember, money is no object.”

The wagon wheels had ground along the gritty road, drowning out the shocked whispers of his hired help. “Been with that boy since he was born,” Matilda had said behind a wrinkled black hand, “an’ I ain’t never seen him smile so bright.”

“I do believe he done lost his mind, Matty,” Simon had said. “This is gonna cost a fortune.”

“You just worry ’bout tending the fields,” she’d shot back, “an’ let Mistah Chase worry ’bout what he can afford.”

In town, the maid, the housekeeper, the foreman, and the field hands had quickly discovered that every Richmond shopkeeper had been instructed to put the suits, gowns, shoes, and baubles chosen by Auburn employees on Chase’s personal account. At first, they’d shied away from quality materials, picking through the bins for dresses of cotton and shirts of muslin. Until Chase had gotten wind of their frugality, that is.

“You’ll not attend my wedding dressed like that!” he’d gently admonished them, snatching a pair of dungarees from Claib’s hands. Holding some gabardine trousers in front of the tall, thin man, he’d said, “You’ve earned this.” Then, looking at each employee in turn, he had said, “You’ve all earned this. Why, Magnolia Grange wouldn’t be what it is without you!” With that, he’d disappeared into the bustling Richmond street.

Now, Bridget stepped into the full-skirted gown she’d chosen that day at Miss Dalia’s Dress Shop. Ma’s cameo would have looked lovely at the throat, she thought, buttoning its high, lace-trimmed collar. But the pin had long ago been handed over to the ruthless landlord Conyngham when he’d raised the rent yet again.

Slipping into slippers made from fabric the same shade of pink as the dress, Bridget recalled that in one of her mother’s leather-bound volumes—before Conyngham had demanded those, too—she’d seen a pen-and-ink sketch of a ballerina. According to the book, ballet originated in Renaissance Italy, where, as the nobility began to see themselves as superior to the peasantry, they rejected the robust and earthy steps of traditional dance. Emulating the slower, statelier movements of the ballerinas, they believed, accentuated their own elegance. Her arms forming a graceful circle over her head, the beautiful lady’s torso had curved gently to the right. Her dark hair had been pulled back tightly from her face, and on her head had been a tiny, sparkling crown. Long, shapely legs had peeked out from beneath a gauzy, knee-length gown, and on her feet had been satin slippers.

Smiling at the memory, Bridget stood at the mirror. Gathering her cinnamony hair atop her head, she secured it with a wide ribbon that matched her shoes. Lifting her skirt, she stuck out her right foot and, looking about to see if she were truly alone, grinned as mischief danced in her eyes. How long had it been since she’d struck this particular ballerina pose? Five years? Six? Then, feeling both giddy and girlish, Bridget covered her face with both hands and giggled. Ye’d better count yer blessin’s that nobody can see you, Bridget McKenna, for they’d cart y’off to the loony bin, to be sure!

The big grandfather clock in the hall began counting out the hour. Goodness gracious me, she thought, hurrying to the door, how can it be midday already? And with only an hour till the weddin’!

When Bridget entered Drewry’s room, she found the bride standing in front of a big, oval mirror like the one in her own room, smiling as Matilda pinned a white poinsettia in her long, dark hair. “You do make a lovely bride,” said the housekeeper. “Mistah Chase be one lucky fella, gettin’ a wife as fetchin’ as you.”

Blushing, Drewry hugged the woman. “Thank you, Matilda. But I’m the lucky one.”

“Not lucky,” Bridget said, closing the door behind her. “Blessed.”

The curious glances exchanged by the bride and housekeeper told Bridget that her interruption had stunned them. True, she’d never been overly chatty, but lately….

Several months ago, Mr. Auburn had walked into the kitchen as she’d been ciphering. When she’d admitted that she’d saved almost enough to send for her family, he’d promised to find work for her father and four siblings. And just this morning, a little more ciphering told Bridget that in six months, maybe eight, she’d finally have what she needed to bring them here from Ireland. If that didn’t put her in a chatty mood, a wedding was sure to do it!

“You’re so right,” Drewry said, grasping Bridget’s hand. “Luck had nothing to do with it. It was the good Lord who brought Chase and me together.”

“And He’ll keep you together, too.”

“Seems our gal here know as much about the Good Book as anyone,” Matilda said.

Bridget remembered another day, not long after her arrival at Magnolia Grange, when Mr. Auburn had invited her to join the family in prayer. “How many times must I tell you, Bridget McKenna,” he’d thundered, “that it’s not a sin to read the Scriptures!” He’d picked up the large, leather-bound Bible and opened it for the household’s morning devotions. On the other side of the big, wooden table, Bridget had begun to weep. It had been Drewry, the children’s nanny, who had passed her a lace-edged hanky.

“But Mr. Auburn, sir,” she’d cried, “my ma taught us that readin’ the Holy Scriptures is a sin and a crime. Learnin’ like that…it’s only for the clergy, who are blessed by God to understand what they read.” Trembling, she’d hidden her face in Drewry’s hanky. “Oh, please, sir…I don’t want to go to hell!”

Softening his tone, Chase had said, “I hate to disagree with your sweet mother, but I’m afraid she was mistaken.”

His comment had only served to cause a fresh torrent of tears, inspiring Drewry to scoot along the bench and drape an arm around Bridget. “Mr. Auburn is right, Bridget,” she’d said, her dark eyes shining and sweet voice soothing. “Our reading the Scriptures pleases God. Why else would He have given them to us?”

Bridget stopped crying and studied Drewry’s face. “But…how d’ye know for sure that it’s true, ma’am?”

“Because the Lord Jesus Himself said, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ “You see, going to church on Sunday and hearing about Jesus is but one way of growing closer to the Lord. Reading His Word for ourselves, why, there’s no better way!” And from that moment on, life at Magnolia Grange had changed for Bridget. Having access to the comfort of God’s Word was a key that unlocked a world of hope.

“So, what you think, li’l Miss Bridget?” Matilda said. “You knows the Bible as good as anybody?”

“Hardly!” she said, laughing. “The more I learn,” she admitted, “the more I realize how little I know.” Then she wagged a finger at the bride. “Now, you’d best be gettin’ yourself downstairs, Miss Drew. Pastor Tillman has arrived, and the guests are gatherin’ in the chapel. It’s a mighty pretty day for a wedding, ’specially for December!”

“I have God to thank for that, too,” Drewry admitted, tugging at the long snug sleeves of her white velvet gown. With arms extended, she took a deep breath as Matilda fastened the tiny pearl buttons on each cuff. After fastening her mother’s cameo at the high, stand-up collar, Drewry picked up the bouquet fashioned of red roses, white poinsettias, and greenery from Chase’s hothouse, which he had delivered at dawn.

“You gonna carry that to the altar, Miss Drew?”

“I most certainly am, Matilda. Perhaps Chase and I will start a trend…bridegrooms delivering flowers to their brides, and brides carrying the bouquets to the altar.” She punctuated her statement with a merry giggle. “Well, I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be, so I suppose we should get this wedding started!”

With Matilda leading the way, the women walked down the wide, curving staircase and onto the porch. Bridget saw that Claib had parked the carriage out front. He’d polished its chassis until the enamel gleamed like a black mirror. The farmhand cut quite a dashing figure in his long-tailed morning suit, and Bridget planned to tell him so the minute they returned to the kitchen to serve the guests at the reception. Bending low at the waist, Claib swept a gloved hand in front of him. “Your carriage awaits, m’lady,” he said, mimicking Pastor Tillman’s English butler.

The sounds of laughter and chatter grew louder as the buggy neared the chapel. “They’re here!” a woman shouted.

“Start the music!” hollered a man.

As the four-piece string ensemble began to play Beethoven’s Ninth, Drewry stood beside her Uncle James at the back of the chapel. Such a lovely bride, Bridget thought. And this little church in the woods is lovely, too. The red holly berries trimming the roof winked merrily, and a soft garland filled the air with the fresh, clean scent of pine. Massive arrangements of red and white poinsettias, along with evergreen boughs, flanked the altar, where Mr. Auburn waited alone.

But not for long.

Bridget and Matilda, in their new store-bought frocks, stepped importantly down the aisle in time to the music and took their places in the Auburn family pew. Chase’s daughter, Sally, stepped up in front of Drewry, one hand in her basket, prepared to sprinkle rose petals along the path that her new mother’s high-topped white boots would take. Behind Sally, her brother, Sam, held the white satin pillow that cushioned the wedding band. Bridget smiled as he tugged at the collar of his shirt and smiled adoringly up at Drewry.

The children love her so, and so does Mr. Auburn, Bridget thought. And it’s plain to see she loves them, too.

Just then, the throbbing strains of the “Wedding March” poured from the organ’s pipes, filling the chapel as Pastor Tillman took his place at the altar. Bridget watched Chase, resplendent in his black suit, as he focused on Drewry, the object of his hopes and dreams and promises soon to be fulfilled. “I love you,” he mouthed to her.

Bridget turned in her seat just in time to see the bride answer with a wink and a smile. Will I ever know love like that? she wondered, facing front again. Sighing, she felt her shoulders sag. Not likely, since all I do is work, work, work and save, save, save…. A feeling of guilt washed over Bridget, and she chastised herself for allowing such self-centered thoughts to enter her head. She had much to be grateful for, and this was Drewry and Chase’s day, after all!

Still, the bride and groom’s for-our-eyes-only communication made her yearn for a love like theirs—a love that reached beyond the bounds of family, binding man to woman and woman to man, cloaking them in trust, friendship, and companionship forever.

A chilly wind blew through the chapel, making Bridget shiver. Hugging herself, she focused on the rough-hewn cross that hung above the altar and, closing her eyes, prayed silently. Dear Lord, if it’s in Your plan, I wouldn’t mind havin’ a bit of love like that, for I’m weary of being cold and alone.

***

Drewry’s Uncle James and his lady friend, Joy, had arrived two days earlier. In many ways, the handsome couple reminded Bridget of Chase and Drewry.

Bridget and Joy had chatted while decorating the mansion. Joy, Bridget discovered, had been raised up north, near Baltimore. “Why, there’s a Baltimore, Ireland, too!” she’d said, excited at all she had in common with her new friend.

Bridget hadn’t had as many opportunities to talk with Drewry’s uncle, so when she saw him during the reception, standing alone under the willow tree, she didn’t know quite how to approach him. His grief was raw and real, that much was plain to see. And she knew precisely what had destroyed his previous high-spirited mood. For as she’d been gathering plates and cups nearby, she’d overheard the conversation….

James had dropped to one knee and taken Joy’s hand in his, then looked deep into her eyes and whispered hoarsely, “Miss Naomi Joy McGuire, will you do me the honor of becoming my bride?”

So romantic! Bridget had thought. She’d been taught better than to eavesdrop, but if she’d made any attempt to move just then, she would have alerted them to her presence, and what if that destroyed the whole mood? Then Joy had blinked, swallowed hard, and stiffened her back. “I can’t, James,” she’d said. Then, snatching back her hand, she’d lifted the billowing blue satin of her skirt and raced across the lawn to the house.

Hours passed before Bridget returned to collect the last of the dishes and glasses scattered about by the guests. Yet he still stood alone where she’d last seen him. “Is there anything I can do for you, sir?”

Without looking up, James shook his head.

“Won’t you come inside and let me brew you a cup of tea?”

But he only shook his head again.

“But sir, ye’re pale as a ghost, and I can’t in good conscience leave you here alone. I’ll make a pest of myself, if I must, to get you inside, where it’s warm.” She gestured toward the yard. “Ye’ll catch yer death if you stay out here.”

When he gave no response, she linked her arm with his and led him to the house, chattering nonstop the whole way about the way Pastor Tillman had nearly choked on a wad of tobacco before pronouncing Drewry and Chase husband and wife; about the perfect weather, the delicious food, the pretty decorations…anything but the ceremony itself. “My name is Bridget, sir,” she said as they approached the front porch. “Bridget McKenna.”

The way he climbed the steps, Bridget couldn’t help but picture the tin soldiers lined up on the shelf at McDoogle’s Store back home. The poor man had found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his days with, and her refusal had broken his spirit. Surely, Joy had a good reason for saying no, but that didn’t stop Bridget from feeling sorry for him.

Once inside, she stopped at the parlor door. “Why not have a seat there by the fire? I’ll fetch you a nice hot cup of tea.”

“I think I’d rather just go to bed.”

As she opened the door to his room, she said, “If you need anything, anything at all, just ring for me.”

Though he nodded as he stepped into the room, Bridget had a feeling he wouldn’t ring. In fact, something told her she might not see him at all before he returned to Baltimore. “Well,” she muttered as he closed the door, “I don’t suppose all matches are made in heaven….”

“Like Drewry and Chase, you mean?”

A tiny shriek escaped her lungs. “Land sakes, man,” she said, recognizing Lance. “Ye’ll be the death of me, sure!” Bridget regarded him with a wary eye. “Ye’ve got cat’s paws for feet. How else can I explain how you slink around without making a sound?”

Chuckling, Lance pocketed both hands. “I wasn’t slinking. You were so deep in thought, a herd of cattle could have thundered through here, and you wouldn’t have noticed until the dust cleared.”

Bridget raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I might’ve noticed a wee bit before then.” Pointing at his feet, she said, “There’d have been the stink of the stuff you’ve tracked across my clean floor to bring me around.” Planting both fists on her hips, she met his eyes. “Perhaps you have been raised as fine as those fancy airs you put on, Mr. York, for no self-respecting stable hand would enter the master’s house without first puttin’ his soles to the boot scrape by the servants’ entrance!”

***

Lance glanced down at his boots and the telltale clumps of mud and horse manure that showed the path he’d taken since entering the foyer. Feeling strangely like an errant child caught sneaking cookies before dinner, he was about to inform her that although this was indeed a grand mansion, it sat upon fertile pastureland. Did she really expect everyone who entered to wipe his boots? And who did she think she was, anyway, scolding him as if he were an ordinary—

Yet the moment he looked into her eyes to deliver his rebuttal, Lance’s ire abated. She was perhaps the loveliest creature he’d ever seen, tiny and feminine and just scrappy enough to be reckoned with. A mass of shining brick-red waves framed her heart-shaped face, and even after a long day of tending to and tidying up after wedding guests, her milky skin glowed with healthy radiance, making the pale freckles sprinkling her nose even more noticeable.

And those eyes! He’d seen her before, both up close and from a distance. Why hadn’t he noticed how large and thickly lashed they were?

“So, there’s another lesson yer ma obviously didn’t teach you. First, you thoughtlessly mess up the floors, and then, you stare like a simpleton.”

Lance blinked, then frowned in response to her anger. “What? I—I wasn’t—”

“You were, and you still are,” she interrupted him, crossing her arms over her chest as she lifted her chin.

If he didn’t know better, he’d say she was daring him to disagree!

Lance had no earthly idea where the thought came from, but, suddenly, he wanted nothing more than to grasp the narrow shoulders she’d thrown back in defiance and kiss her square on those full, pink lips. Sweet Jesus, he prayed, keep me true to my vow….

Newly resolved and strengthened, he straightened to his full five-foot eleven-inch height. “I didn’t mean to track dirt into the house,” he said at last. “If you like, I’ll help you clean it up. And you have my word, it won’t happen again.”

Grinning, she wiggled her perfectly arched brows. “Oh, that won’t be necessary.” Then, “I suppose I could have been a mite gentler with you, now, couldn’t I?” On the heels of a deep breath, Bridget added, “It’s been a long, hard day, not that that’s a good excuse for my harshness.” With one hand up to silence his denial, she continued, “I set aside a bit of cake and lemonade. Will you let me get it for you, as a peace offerin’?”

Truth was, he’d stuffed himself at the reception and had no idea where he’d put another bite of food, so his answer surprised him. “Only if you’ll share it with me.”

She turned on her heel and, wiggling a finger over her shoulder, said, “Then follow me, English.”

He did, too, like a pup on his boy’s heels. As they made their way down the stairs, she said, “What you said earlier….”

Lance fell into step beside her. “In response to your ‘not all matches are made in heaven’ comment?”

Rounding the corner into the kitchen, she nodded. “How’d you know that’s what I meant?”

He straddled a stool and leaned both elbows on the table. No woman had ever willingly served him before, unless he counted roadside tavern maids. Lance rather enjoyed watching Bridget bustling about, preparing the snack that had been her idea. “I overheard what went on between Drewry’s uncle and his lady friend, too,” he said. His smile became a frown. “Sad, the way she treated the bloke.”

Bridget laid a neatly folded napkin near his left elbow and unceremoniously plopped a silver fork atop it. “Now, let’s not be too quick to judge, English. We have no way of knowing why she said what she did.”

By the time she set the tall goblet of lemonade near the tines of his fork, he was all but scowling. “It’s been my experience,” he began, “that women don’t need a reason to be cruel.” He sat up straighter and feigned a dainty pose. “You’re such a darling man,” he sighed in a high-pitched falsetto. “Is that your heart?” he asked, pointing a dainty finger at his imaginary tablemate’s chest. Then, his hand formed an ugly claw as he pretended to tear into the invisible man’s rib cage. “I’ve got it!” he all but shouted, pretending to stuff it into his mouth.

Bridget stood gawking with one hand on her hip and then wrinkled her nose. “After ye’ve learned to wipe yer feet,” she said, sliding the cake plate in front of him, “we’ll have a go at teachin’ you how to make interesting table conversation.” After taking a sip of her own lemonade, she sat down across from him. “A body could only guess from that sorry demonstration that you’ve been wounded a time or two by love.”

“Not really,” he said around a bite of frosting. “And I’m sorry for the outburst.”

Smiling, she pressed a hand to his forearm. “You can apologize for scarin’ the soul from m’body, for dirtyin’ my floor.” Leaning closer, Bridget narrowed her eyes. “But don’t ever let me hear you say you’re sorry for what you feel, English.”

Resting his elbow on the table, Lance let the empty fork dangle from his hand. “What have you got against the English, if you don’t mind my asking?” Slicing off another hunk of cake, he added, “Keep in mind, I’m English only on my father’s side….”

Sighing, Bridget sat back. “Have you ever been to Ireland?”

Lance shook his head.

“And what do you know about the way your people dealt with the Irish during the famine?”

In place of an answer, Lance only shrugged.

She folded her hands on the tabletop. “Now, I’ll warn ye, ’tisn’t a pretty story.” Winking, she looked from side to side, as if in search of a spy. “And there’s a good chance you’ll dislike your folks as much as I do when I’ve finished.” Pausing, she said, “You sure you want me to go on?”

“I’m sure,” he said with a grin.

And for the next hour, she held him spellbound with her tale.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Sheriff's Surrender...Wildcard!

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 Sheriff’s Surrender

Barbour Books (December 1, 2009)

***Special thanks to Angie Brillhart of Barbour Publishing for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Award-winning author Susan Page Davis is a mother of six who lives in Maine with her husband, Jim. She worked as a newspaper correspondent for more than twenty-five years in addition to home-schooling her children. She writes historical romances and cozy mysteries and is a member of ACFW. Visit her Web site at

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (December 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602605629
ISBN-13: 978-1602605626

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Fergus, Idaho

May 1885


Gert Dooley aimed at the scrap of red calico and squeezed the trigger. The Spencer rifle she held cracked, and the red cloth fifty yards away shivered.

“I’d say your shooting piece is in fine order.” She lowered the rifle and passed it to the owner, Cyrus Fennel. She didn’t particularly like Fennel, but he always paid her brother, the only gunsmith in Fergus, with hard money.

He nodded. “Thank you, Miss Dooley.” He shoved his hand into his pocket.

Gert knew he was fishing out a coin. This was the part her brother hated most—taking payment for his work. She turned away. Hiram would be embarrassed enough without her watching. She picked up the shawl she had let fall to the grass a few minutes earlier.

“That’s mighty fine shooting, Gert,” said Hiram’s friend, rancher Ethan Chapman. He’d come by earlier to see if Hiram would help him string a fence the next day. When Cyrus Fennel had arrived to pick up his repaired rifle, Ethan had sat down on the chopping block to watch Gert demonstrate the gun.

“Thank you kindly.” Gert accepted praise for shooting as a matter of course. Now, if Ethan had remarked that she looked fine today or some such pretty thing, she’d have been flustered. But he would never say anything like that. And shooting was just work.

Fennel levered the rifle’s action open and peered at the firing pin. “Looks good as new. I should be able to pick off those rats that are getting in my grain bins.”

“That’s quite a cannon for shooting rats,” Gert said.

Ethan stood and rested one foot on the chopping block, leaning forward with one arm on his knee. “You ought to hire Gert to shoot them for you.”

Gert scowled. “Why’d I want to do that? He can shoot his own rats.”

Hiram, who had pocketed his pay as quickly as possible, moved the straw he chewed from one side of his mouth to the other. He never talked much. Men brought him their firearms to fix. Hiram listened to them tell him what the trouble was while eyeing the piece keenly. Then he’d look at Gert. She would tell them, “Come back next week.” Hiram would nod, and that was the extent of the conversation. Since his wife, Violet, had died eight years ago, the only person Hiram seemed to talk to much was Ethan.

Fennel turned toward her with a condescending smile. “Folks say you’re the best shot in Fergus, Miss Dooley.”

Gert shrugged. It wasn’t worth debating. She had sharp eyes, and she’d fired so many guns for Hiram to make sure they were in working order that she’d gotten good at it, that was all.

Ethan’s features, however, sprang to life. “Ain’t it the truth? Why, Gert can shoot the tail feathers off a jay at a hundred yards with a gun like that. Mighty fine rifle.” He nodded at Fennel’s Spencer, wincing as though he regretted not having a gun as fine.

“Well, now, I’m a fair shot myself,” Fennel said. “I could maybe hit that rag, too.”

“Let’s see you do it,” Ethan said.

Fennel jacked a cartridge into the Spencer, smiling as he did. The rag still hung limp from a notched stick and was silhouetted against the distant dirt bank across the field. He put his left foot forward and swung the butt of the stock up to his shoulder, paused motionless for a second, and pulled the trigger.

Gert watched the cloth, not the shooter. The stick shattered just at the bottom of the rag. She frowned. She’d have to find another stick next time. At least when she tested a gun, she clipped the edge of the cloth so her stand could be used again.

Hiram took the straw out of his mouth and threw it on the ground. Without a word, he strode to where the tattered red cloth lay a couple of yards from the splintered stick and brought the scrap back. He stooped for a piece of firewood from the pile he’d made before Fennel showed up. The stick he chose had split raggedly, and Hiram slid the bit of cloth into a crack.

Ethan stood beside Gert as they watched Hiram walk across the field, all the way to the dirt bank, and set the piece of firewood on end.

“Hmm.” Fennel cleared his throat and loaded several cartridges into the magazine. When Hiram was back beside them, he raised the gun again, held for a second, and fired. The stick with the bit of red stood unwavering.

“Let Gert try,” Ethan said.

“No need,” she said, looking down at her worn shoe tips peeping out beneath the hem of her skirt.

“Oh, come on.” Ethan’s coaxing smile tempted her.

Fennel held the rifle out. “Be my guest.”

Gert looked to her brother. Hiram gave the slightest nod then looked up at the sky, tracking the late afternoon sun as it slipped behind a cloud. She could do it, of course. She’d been firing guns for Hiram for ten years—since she came to Fergus and found him grieving the loss of his wife and baby. Folks had brought him more work than he could handle. They felt sorry for him, she supposed, and wanted to give him a distraction. Gert had begun test firing the guns as fast as he could fix them. She found it satisfying, and she’d kept doing it ever since. Thousands upon thousands of rounds she’d fired, from every type of small firearm, unintentionally building herself a reputation of sorts.

She didn’t usually make a show of her shooting prowess, but Fennel rubbed her the wrong way. She knew he wasn’t Hiram’s favorite patron either. He ran the Wells Fargo office now, but back when he ran the assay office, he’d bought up a lot of failed mines and grassland cheap. He owned a great deal of land around Fergus, including the spread Hiram had hoped to buy when he first came to Idaho. Distracted by his wife’s illness, Hiram hadn’t moved quickly enough to file claim on the land and had missed out. Instead of the ranch he’d wanted, he lived on his small lot in town and got by on his sporadic pay as a gunsmith.

Gert let her shawl slip from her fingers to the grass once more and took the rifle. As she focused on the distant stick of firewood, she thought, That junk of wood is you, Mr. Rich Land Stealer. And that little piece of cloth is one of your rats.

She squeezed gently. The rifle recoiled against her shoulder, and the far stick of firewood jumped into the air then fell to earth, minus the red cloth.

“Well, I’ll be.” Fennel stared at her. “Are you always this accurate?”

“You ain’t seen nothing,” Ethan assured him.

Hiram actually cracked a smile, and Gert felt the blood rush to her cheeks even though Ethan hadn’t directly complimented her. She loved to see Hiram smile, something he seldom did.

“Mind sharing your secret, Miss Dooley?” Fennel asked.

Ethan chuckled. “I’ll tell you what it is. Every time she shoots, she pretends she’s aiming at something she really hates.”

“Aha.” Fennel smiled, too. “Might I ask what you were thinking of that time, ma’am?”

Gert’s mouth went dry. Never had she been so sorely tempted to tell a lie.

“Likely it was that coyote that kilt her rooster last month,” Hiram said.

Gert stared at him. He’d actually spoken. She knew when their eyes met that her brother had known exactly what she’d been thinking.

Ethan and Fennel both chuckled.

Of course, I wouldn’t really think of killing him, Gert thought, even though he stole the land right out from under my grieving brother. The Good Book says don’t kill and don’t hate. Determined to heap coals of fire on her adversary’s head, she handed the Spencer back to him. “You’re not too bad a shot yourself, Mr. Fennel.”

His posture relaxed, and he opened his mouth all smiley, like he might say something pleasant back, but suddenly he stiffened. His eyes focused beyond Gert, toward the dirt street. “Who is that?”

Gert swung around to look as Ethan answered. “That’s Millicent Peart.”

“Don’t think I’ve seen her since last fall.” Fennel shook his head. “She sure is showing her age.”

“I don’t think Milzie came into town much over the winter,” Gert said.

For a moment, they watched the stooped figure hobble along the dirt street toward the emporium. Engulfed in a shapeless old coat, Milzie Peart leaned on a stick with each step. Her mouth worked as though she were talking to someone, but no one accompanied her.

“How long since her man passed on?” Ethan asked.

“Long time,” Gert said. “Ten years, maybe. She still lives at their cabin out Mountain Road.”

Fennel grimaced as the next house hid the retreating figure from view. “Pitiful.”

Ethan shrugged. “She’s kinda crazy, but I reckon she likes living on their homestead.”

Gert wondered how Milzie got by. It must be lonesome to have no one, not even a nearly silent brother, to talk to out there in the foothills.

“Supper in half an hour.” She turned away from the men and headed for the back porch of the little house she shared with Hiram. She hoped Fennel would take the hint and leave. And she hoped Ethan would stay for supper, but of course she would never say so.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I Believe in Santa Claus...Review

About the book:
Finally, a book that says it's OK to believe in Santa Claus, yet shows how this time honored symbol is meant to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.

I love this gem of a book. It's very short and very simple, but it draws a beautiful parallel between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ. With beautiful illustrations and explanations of the symbols of Christmas, this is a wonderful addition to any collection of Christmas books. Fun for children to look at and easy for them to read. Santa Claus is a wonderful symbol of Christmas and I, for one, believe in Santa Claus.

You can purchase your own copy here.

Personal copy reread 12/09

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Little Red Buckets...Review

About the book:
Every day, 10-year-old Jenny carries food up the hill to poor, elderly Mr. and Mrs. Nie. As a token of gratitude, Mrs. Nie gives Jenny a crystal angel--her most prized possession. But the greatest gift comes after Jenny's family is struck by tragedy, and Mrs. Nie provides a miraculous Christmas Eve gift-on the wings of an angel-that heals their hearts...

Little Sarah loves baking bread with her Grandma Jenny, and as the bread rises, Grandma Jenny tells Sarah stories from her childhood.

Her story of the little red buckets is a heart-warming one of love and service. As she watches her mother give selflessly to others, Jenny learns about Christ-like love. When she visits with old Mrs. Nie, she learns of guardian angels who look out for each of us. And one, snowy, Christmas Eve, Jenny learns that our guardian angels are those special people we already know and love.

This is a beautiful little story that I re-read every Christmas.

I reviewed my own personal copy. However, you can purchase your own copy of this sweet story here.

Read 12/09

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jacob's Gift...Review

About the book:
Jacob is a young boy with a gift for carpentry who is busy finishing up a project for a contest. His teacher, Rabbi Simeon, not only instructs him in carpentry, but also teaches him important lessons about God. Rabbi has just taught Jacob that when you give a gift to one of God's children, it's like giving a gift to God. The night before the contest while working on his project, Jacob has fallen asleep in the workshop and is awakened by a bright light. The light is a star which is directly over Jacob's father's stable. As he approaches the stable, he sees a man, a woman, and a newborn baby which is laying in the straw.

Remembering what Rabbi Simeon had told him, Jacob returns to the workshop and takes his project (a feeding trough) to the new family. The morning of the contest, the Rabbi pleased to find out that Jacob has acted upon the lesson he learned and has truly given a gift to God.


Jacob has a true gift for woodworking and a desire to please his Rabbi and God. One quiet night, Jacob sees a beautiful star and is drawn to a nearby stable. What he observes changes him and his perspective forever. When he realizes this new baby has no place to sleep, he gives his manger to the new family.

A beautiful story about the birth of Jesus Christ from an unusual perspective. I love rereading this story each year, and I love watching my boys read it. The illustrations are simple and the lessons taught, so important. God has given us His son, and the best thing we can give back is to serve others as we serve Him.

You can purchase your own copy here.

Personal copy reread 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Legend of the Christmas Stocking...Review

About the book:
This wonderful Christmas tale, set in the late 1800s, shares the touching story of a young boy named Peter. He sells newspapers to help his family while his father is away at sea, and he’s been saving a bit of his earnings to buy a model schooner in the woodworker’s shop. But after Uncle Jim, the woodworker, tells him the story of St. Nicholas, Peter discovers the meaning behind the hanging and filling of Christmas stockings and learns a heartfelt lesson in kindness and generosity.

Filled with the rich, realistic illustrations of Jim Griffin, children ages 4 to 8 will discover the depth of God's love shown through others as they learn the Christian meaning revealed in The Legend of the Christmas Stocking.


One of my favorite Christmas stories. This tells the legend of how the filling of the stocking came to be a symbol of Christmas. Peter's father is at sea and no one knows when he is expected back. Peter has been selling newspapers to save money to buy a model ship. After he learns the story of Nicholas, a generous man who shared his fortune with others, Peter begins to realize the importance of faith and family. His generosity blesses his mother and sisters, even as a Christmas surprise awaits him.

A lovely story of how generosity and kindness to others blesses you. The illustrations are gorgeous. Children and adults alike will enjoy this beautiful Christmas book which shows us that while the legend of Santa Claus progressed over the ages, the origins of the story are rooted in the Christian belief of service to others.

You can purchase your own copy of this special book here.

Personal copy reread 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Everyday Greatness by Stephen R. Covey...Review

About the book:
Inspiring stories and practical insights challenge readers to live a life of everyday greatness.

Best-selling author Stephen Covey and Reader's Digest have joined forces to produce an extraordinary volume of inspiration, insight, and motivation to live a life of character and contribution. The timeless principles and practical wisdom along with a "Go-Forward Plan" challenge readers to make three important choices every day:

  1. The Choice to Act - your energy
  2. The Choice of Purpose - your destination
  3. The Choice for Principles - the means for attaining your goals
Topics include:
  • Searching for Meaning
  • Taking Charge
  • Starting Within
  • Creating the Dream
  • Teaming with Others
  • Overcoming Adversity
  • Blending the Pieces
With stories from some of the world's best known and loved writers, leaders, and celebrities, such as Maya Angelou, Jack Benny, and Henry David Thoreau, and insights and commentary from Stephen Covey, the Wrap Up and Reflections at the end of each chapter help create a project that can be used for group or personal study.

I love story collections and compilations. I enjoy picking up a book, reading a short story or two and coming away inspired to do better or be better.

Stephen R. Covey, along with Reader's Digest, has compiled a wonderful book full of moving stories. Everyday Greatness is a way of living, not something you do one time for fame and glory. We all have people we look up to because these individuals are simply good people with qualities we admire: hard work, respectful, dependable, kind, etc.

Stephen Covey says that there are 3 choices we make every day: The Choice to Act; The Choice of Purpose; and the The Choice for Principles. The stories in this collection are from people who have made these choices. With 7 sections that highlight a total of 21 values, there is something to inspire each and every one of us. Each value ends with a wrap-up summary and reflection and additional short quotes.

A wonderful addition to any library, this is an enjoyable book to have nearby so you can read a story or section and come away inspired and ready to try harder. Easily recommended.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishers for the opportunity to review this book.

Read 11/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Monday, December 7, 2009

English Trifle...Review

About the book:
High Crimes at High Tea 
Things to Do in England: Visit Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and the London Zoo. Take the Jack the Ripper tour. Creepy! Sample authentic English scones and crumpets. Discover a dead body.

What begins as a holiday trip for amateur sleuth and cooking aficionado Sadie Hoffmiller and her daughter, Breanna, turns into a bizarre mystery when they discover a dead body in the sitting room of an English manor. Breanna's boyfriend, Liam, is heir to both the family title and the family estate of Southgate, where everyone seems to have a secret . . . or two. 

When the body in the sitting room disappears, Sadie and Breanna are stranded at the estate until the police can clear them to leave. With their departure delayed, they might as well solve the murder. Armed with a jogging whistle, her personal recipe collection, and an unfailing sense of American justice, Sadie begins her own investigation to find the killer. 

But as Sadie uncovers layer after layer of misdirection, secrets, and outright lies, she wonders if anyone is telling the truth or if the case is really as hopeless as it appears to be. Take a missing family history, toss in a secret romance, mix with a mysterious murder, and this is one vacation Sadie will never forget.

A sequel to Lemon Tart, this is the second in the Sadie Hoffmiller Culinary Mystery series. And, this novel is just as much fun! Sadie Hoffmiller returns and manages to find death and mayhem in upper crust England.

Sadie and her daughter Breanna are off to visit England with Breanna's boyfriend, Liam, who is heir to an English title and a fancy English estate, complete with servants and a dead body in the living room.

The body disappears, the staff have secrets and the British police are inept. In true Hoffmiller fashion, Sadie decides that she is better equipped to find the murderer than any British inspectors. And if she can learn how to make crumpets along the way, so much the better!

Like Lemon Tart, this one is laugh out loud funny in places. Sadie is funny and forthright and determined to find out the truth. Like an English Trifle dessert, she uncovers layer after layer of secrets as she works her way through the manor, the staff, Liam's family history and the kitchen!

A fun, easy read, Josi has also included lots of fun recipes, including some authentic English ones. While I had a hard time following all the details of how titles are passed on, and who was who, it didn't detract from the story at all. Definitely recommended!

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

Read 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Christmas Jars...Review

About the book:
Where had it come from? Whose money was it? Was I to spend it? Save it? Pass it on to someone more needy? Above all else, why was I chosen? Certainly there were others, countless others, more needy than me...

Her reporter's intuition insisted that a remarkable story was on the verge of the front page. Newspaper reporter Hope Jensen uncovers the remarkable secret behind the "Christmas Jars", glass jars filled with coins and bills anonymously left for people in need. But along the way, Hope discovers much more than the origin of the jars. When some unexpected news sets off a chain reaction of kindness, Hope's greatest Christmas Eve wish comes true.


The first time I read The Christmas Jars I liked the premise, but didn't think too highly of the writing. I enjoyed the book, but it didn't move me all that much. I thought it was a nice Christmas book, but that was all.

This year when I reread it, I reacted differently. Perhaps it's where I am in my life now, as opposed to where I was the first time I read it. Who knows? This time around I enjoyed it even more. Oh, I still didn't love the writing, and it's got all the hallmarks of a good Christmas story: enough sweetness, some predictability and the requisite sentimental cheese. Some have said it's forced and contrived. But, I think it also has a wonderful premise: the joy that comes from serving others. And that premise is what touched me this time around.

Christmas stories, by nature, are short and easily read in one or two sittings. It's difficult to have fully developed characters in these short stories. The point of Christmas stories is to help the reader feel the Christmas spirit. The Christmas Jars does that. As you follow Hope's quest to find out who gave her the Christmas jar and, along the way, meet the almost too perfect Maxwell family, you have that involuntary, tender tug at your heartstrings: could you really not only start, but also give away a Christmas Jar yourself?

A sweet book you can read in an hour or so. I'm glad I picked it up again, and I see myself rereading this each Christmas.

You can purchase your own copy here. You can learn more about Jason Wright here and true stories of Christmas Jars here.

Personal copy reread 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thanksgiving at the Inn...Review

About the book:
Ever since his mother left, life has't been easy for Heath Wellington III. Between his father's (Junior's) bouts with alcoholism and literary rejection, and Heath's own wrongful suspension from school, there hasn't been all that much to be thankful for.

But following the tragic death of estranged grandfather Senior, father and son alike stand to inherit a life-changing fortune . . . with one catch.
Heath and Junior must spend the next three months managing Senior's bed and breakfast, located in the same Massachusetts home Junior has spent the last eight years trying to escape.

Upended from his everyday life and relocated to a town where everyone knew and loved the grandfather he can't even remember, Heath finds an inn full of some of the strangest people he's ever met, such as:


* Winsted, the old, wise Jamaican man who used to lead the prayers in Senior's factory;


* Mrs. Farrel, an elderly woman giving away her late husband's fortune letter by letter;


* Mustang Sally, the muscle-bound, tattooed grease monkey who doubles as a children's author;


* And Carter, the silent TV news junkie and secret Harvard graduate.


And, at a nearby school is Savannah, Junior's first love, and her adorable, autistic daughter, Tori.


But most of all, there's Junior himself, vinegar to Heath's oil. As Heath adjusts to his new world, what he needs most is to start anew with his father, to understand that Junior, too, is dealing with loss, and to realize that, even in the most tragic of times, there's a lot in life to be thankful for.


Thanksgiving at the Inn is a beautiful story of family and forgiveness, and a sure holiday classic. Tim Whitney's fantastic, heartwarming debut is one you'll want to read with the whole family for years and years to come.


Heath is a delightful, thoughtful boy who struggles with finding his place in life. He craves his father's love, but all Junior can seem to do is criticize and neglect him. Like many fathers and sons, Heath and Junior butt heads and can't seem to get along, and Junior's own struggle with alcoholism and finding his own place in life, doesn't help the situation. Once Heath and his father arrive at the inn, however, Heath finds the family he's always dreamed about having, even as his own father grows more distant. The other residents take him in and, from them, he begins to learn about love and gratitude, and even begins to understand his father a little better.

I think that this is a terrific book to read any time of year, but it's particularly heartwarming to read during the holidays when gratitude and family are at the forefront of people's lives. While the target audience is middle school age, it is certainly a book for all ages. I loved Heath and Winstead and Sally. I found the characters fairly well developed and certainly likeable. Some might say the story is predictable, but I loved the lessons that Heath and his father learned: the true meaning of gratitude; that family is important; and being there for someone else really just might make a difference.

This was a charming novel and a terrific debut for Tim Whitney.

Thanks to Harrison Demchick of Bancroft Press for the opportunity to review this book. You can purchase your own copy of this terrific book here.

Read 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars


Friday, December 4, 2009

Essie in Progress...Wildcard!

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:


Essie in Progress

Kregel Publications (April 1, 2009)

***Special thanks to Marjorie Presten for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Marjorie Presten is a native Georgian who has her own fair share of experience juggling career and motherhood. She lives outside of Atlanta with her husband, Tom, and their three children.


Listen to a radio interview about the book HERE.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (April 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 082543565X
ISBN-13: 978-0825435652

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Prologue

1972

In a thirty-second phone call, Hamilton Wells would make a decision that would earn him more money than he could spend in his lifetime. Everything was on the line, but he was not nervous, euphoric, or eager with anticipation. In Hamilton’s mind, the matter was not speculative, debatable, or anything less than a sure thing. Hamilton had the gift, and it had never let him down. Yet even before he made the call, he knew money wouldn’t cure the unrelenting pain of his grief. He sat at his desk with only a single orange banker’s lamp for illumination and cried silently.

Her death had been inevitable, but feelings of helplessness still overwhelmed him. His young son’s dependency on him only multiplied his grief and anger. Six-year-old Jack Wells had insisted his father do something to help Mama, but the only thing Hamilton could do was sit at her bedside and try not to cry. Now it was six weeks after her death, and Hamilton knew his son needed him to be strong, to return life to normal. A neighbor had enrolled Jack in the local church baseball league. They played a game every Wednesday afternoon. It will be good for him, they’d said. Life has to go on.

Hamilton cradled his head in his hands and groaned. The enormity of the risk he was about to take didn’t concern him. It was purely mechanical. He would surrender all he owned for just one more blissful afternoon at the lake he and his wife both loved, but now that was impossible. His wife was dead. Nothing he could do would change that.

He remembered the book of Job. Would a loving and caring God do this to the love of my life? Well, he did, Hamilton thought bitterly. Earline had lingered for months. The doctors said it was miraculous that she had endured as long as she had. Be grateful for these last days to say goodbye, they’d said. But for Hamilton, the prolonged end only added anger to his bottomless sorrow. Standing alongside his son as a helpless witness to her slow deterioration and suffering in the final weeks was more than he could bear. It was the worst time of Hamilton’s life. Nothing really mattered anymore, and it seemed he had nothing left to lose.

Under different circumstances, he might have played it safe and put the proceeds away for his son’s education, bought a new house, or perhaps invested in a bit of lake property. He could have become like the rest of the players and worn monograms on his starched cuffs so everyone could remember whose hand they were shaking. Instead, he had gone it alone. His brokerage business had few clients. He was the only big player left. Now he planned to risk everything on something happening on the other side of the world.

Ham couldn’t remember exactly when he had recognized his innate ability to pick the winner out of a crowd. It had always been there, ever since he was conscious of being alive. The talent had blossomed in the military when the card games occasionally got serious. Now, with every dollar he had to his name, Hamilton approached wheat futures with that same instinct. The Russian harvest had been a disaster, and the United States was coming to the rescue. The price of wheat was going to go through the roof, and then through the floor. He was going to make a fortune on both ends.

He picked up the phone and dialed a number on the Chicago Mercantile exchange. He listened for a few moments as the connection was made. Young Jack tugged at his father’s shirtsleeve. “Pop? Can we go now?” Jack held a baseball in his hand and a glove under his arm. Hamilton swiveled his chair, turning his back to his son.

A familiar voice announced his name. “How can I help you?”

“It’s Ham,” he said. “Short the entire position.”

“What? Everything?” the voice asked.

“Everything.” No emotion colored his voice.

Young Jack crept gingerly around the chair to face his father. “Pop,” he whispered, “come on, the game is about to start.” Hamilton shook his head and looked away.

The voice on the phone was still talking. “Most folks are still enjoying the ride, Ham. You could get hurt.”

“It’s not going a penny higher. Short it all.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Warn me? My wife is dead. What else matters?”

The voice mumbled something about her passing.

“She didn’t pass. She’s dead. Just do what I ask.”

“OK, Ham.” The phone disconnected.

Jack was standing there in front of him, shoulders slumped. The ball hung loose at the end of his fingers, and the glove had fallen on the carpet. “Pop, can we go now?”

“Sorry, Son. Not today.”

“It’s not fair!” Jack erupted. Hot tears sprang up in his eyes. “What am I supposed to do now?”

Ham looked down, silent.

Jack hurled the ball to the floor, wiped his tears angrily, and stormed out of the house.

Ten minutes later on the futures board, wheat ticked down.

It ticked down again.

And so it would continue. Ham would be richer than he’d ever imagined. He’d never experience another financial challenge for the rest of his life. It was not really important, though. Scripture came back to him: “what good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”

He would trade it all to have his love, his life, back again.

But that was not an option.

Out his window, Ham could see young Jack riding his bicycle furiously down the street. He watched with a passive surrender as his son’s small frame shrank into the distance.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Christmas Kitchen: The Gathering Place for Making Memories...Review

About the book:
The Heart of the Home
Even in today's busy times, the kitchen is the heart of the home. Author Tammy Maltby believes the true meaning of Christmas is realized when families gather to share activities that make Christmas "the most wonderful time of the year." More than any other holiday, Christmas is when family and friends gather for a cup of hot chocolate, fresh-baked cookies, and lots of laughter.

Look inside this holiday treasure for:
- Easy-to-do holiday recipes
- Hints for new traditions
- Personal gift ideas
- Kid-friendly activities
- Simple decorating tips

The Christmas Kitchen is more than a recipe book, it's a book designed to help you enjoy the holiday season, not be burdened by it. Take a few minutes each day to browse these pages for the help you've been looking for.

Merry Christmas and may your kitchen be filled, first, with the sweet aroma of love, and then with the spices of the season.

A beautiful little novelty book full of ideas and recipes for celebrating Christmas. From decorating, planning ahead, cooking with children and the importance of traditions, this little gem is sure to be a hit. It's beautifully illustrated with photos that include the author and her family.

It's an easy book to browse through and, along the way, gain a new idea or insight to help you with your Christmas planning and celebrations. If I have one complaint, it would be that there isn't a photo for each recipe. I always want to see a finished product! This doesn't detract, however, from the book at all. It would make a lovely gift.

Thanks to First Wildcard and Jennifer Willingham at Simon and Schuster for the opportunity to review this book. You can peruse some of the book here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

The Christmas Kitchen: The Gathering Place for Making Memories...Wildcard!

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 Christmas Kitchen

Howard Books (October 6, 2009)

***Special thanks to Jennifer Willingham of Simon and Schuster for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Tammy Maltby is a writer, speaker, and media personality. For eight years, she was the co-host of the Emmy Award-winning television talk show, Aspiring Women. She serves on the board of the National Women’s Ministry Association, Christian Women in Media and Arts, and Women of Courage International. She and her family live in Colorado Springs, CO.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Hardcover: 132 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (October 6, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416587659
ISBN-13: 978-1416587651

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Press this picture to browse inside the entire book: