Everyday Tidbits...

Be Kind. Do Good. Love is a Verb.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Mailbox Monday 8/31

It's time for another Mailbox Monday, hosted by Marcia at the Printed Page.

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks & audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.

This is what arrived in my mailbox last week!

Meggie's Remains, by Joanne Sundell
Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas, by John Blase
An Eye for an Eye, by Irene Hannon

Close Encounters of the Third Grade Kind, by Phillip Done
Distant Thunder: Book One of The Lightening Chronicles, by Jimmy Root, Jr.
Guardian of the Flame, by T.L. Higley

A Gathering of Finches, by Jane Kirkpatrick
The Captain's Bride, by Lisa Tawn Bergen
Tomorrow's Treasure, by Linda Lee Chaiken

A Promise for Breanna, by Al Lacy
What new books did you receive last week?
For more Mailbox Monday posts, check out The Printed Page.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Salon 8/30

School started this week and it couldn't have gone better for each of my boys. Of course, it started Tuesday, and I thought it started Wednesday. Fortunately we went to "Meet the Teacher" night at the elementary school on Monday and they set me straight. Thank goodness!!

We went to the fair on Monday and I remembered why I don't really like the fair. Too hot, too many people, and too many lines. However, the boys loved it and that's what's important.

I caught up on a few books, but I'm still behind on others. Sigh. I had big plans this week to get caught up on all my back reading, but bronchitis fubared that. I've read, but mostly I've rested. Thankfully, I think the meds have kicked in and I'm starting to feel better.

Here's to a better week, this week!

How was your week? Has school started for your kids? Do you like the fair?

You can find more Sunday Salon postings here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Doctor Who: The Clockwise Man...Review

About the book
England 1924: the Doctor and Rose find themselves caught up in the hunt for a murderer. With faceless killers closing in, can they solve the mystery of the Clockwise Man before London itself is destroyed? This is the first of a new series of hardcovers featuring the new Doctor Who from the new TV series. 

Rose and the Doctor land in 1924 London to attend the British Empire Exhibition. As usual, they find someone in trouble and that trouble leads to aliens: this time the mysterious Painted Lady and mechanical cats and men. The TARDIS disappears, servants are murdered and a sweet little boy helps save the day.

At times you can hear the ninth doctor's voice, but at other times you wonder who this man is. The climax at the end with Big Ben was fun. But, on the whole, entertaining and somewhat clever, but nothing special.

I did love the "bad wolf" comment! Continuity like that really makes my day.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.

Read 8/09

* *
2/5 Stars

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sweetgum Ladies Knit For Love...Review

About the book:
Once a month, the six women of the Sweetgum Knit Lit Society gather to discuss books and share their knitting projects. Inspired by her recently-wedded bliss, group leader Eugenie chooses “Great Love Stories in Literature” as the theme for the year’s reading list–a risky selection for a group whose members span the spectrum of age and relationship status.

As the Knit Lit ladies read and discus classic romances like
Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, and Pride and Prejudice, each member is confronted with her own perception about love. Camille’s unexpected reunion with an old crush forces her to confront conflicting desires. Newly widowed Esther finds her role in Sweetgum changing and is surprised by two unlikely friends. Hannah isn’t sure she’s ready for the trials of first love. Newcomer Maria finds her life turned upside-down by increasing family obligations and a handsome, arrogant lawyer, and Eugenie and Merry are both asked to make sacrifices for their husbands that challenge their principles.

Even in a sleepy, southern town like Sweetgum, Tennesee, love isn’t easy. The Knit Lit ladies learn they can find strength and guidance in the novels they read, the love of their family, their community–and especially in each other.

Picking up where the first novel left off, we again meet The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society: a group of women get together once a month to talk about the latest book they've read for the book club and show off the latest knitting project. It sounds so good and, relatively speaking, it is. Prickly librarian Eugenie has married her youthful sweetheart, now a widowed pastor and finds herself trying to find her place in his life and church. Esther is newly widowed with a potential younger suitor. Hannah finds first love and heartbreak in high school. Merry struggles with returning to work and Camille tries to find her place in the world. Newest addition, Maria, tries to find a new life and home for her family.

I'm not sure what it is about this series that doesn't quite do it for me. The premise sounds so promising, but like the first one, it sort of falls flat. The women here are more likeable, even the prickly Eugenie and Esther. But, it's completely predictable. Eugenie chooses "Great Love Stories in Literature" for the groups reading list and as the chapters unfold, we find the inevitable comparisons: Maria and James are Elizabeth and Darcy; Hannah can relate to Wuthering Heights and Romeo and Juliet; Camille can sympathize with Scarlett O'Hara and her desire to put her own needs before everyone else's...

There was a bit more depth to it and the characters seemed to interact more than in the first one. Here, they actually seemed more like friends. Two missing parts stand out to me: we never really do find out why Camille always turned down Dante in high school, even though she liked him and the bit about Esther's first child was just tossed in without any subsequent explanation, even though it seemed significant to her.

It's very light Christian and the faith of these women isn't in the forefront of their lives, it's more of an afterthought.

Still, it's a light, entertaining read and I did enjoy it more than the first one. While reading the first book adds a bit of history, each stands alone well.

Thanks for First Wildcard and Staci Carmichael at Random House for the opportunity to review this book. You can find out more about Beth Patillo here. You can read the first chapter here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 8/09

* *
2/5 Stars

Sweetgum Ladies Knit for Love...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:

Sweetgum Ladies Knit For Love

WaterBrook Press (June 2, 2009)


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

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (June 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400073952
ISBN-13: 978-1400073955



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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted to see.”

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

“Distressed, Eugenie. Thoroughly distressed.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have an invitation for you.”

“An invitation?”

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

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

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

Maria said nothing.

“If you’d like some time to think—”

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

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

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

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

Relief eased the tight lines on her face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi, Mom.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re welcome.”

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

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

Maria froze. It couldn’t be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families...Review

About the book:
Frenzied families find themselves fragmented in this high-speed, fast-paced, goal-oriented society. Even while racing to second jobs, appointments, lessons, practices, games and clubs, we crave an antidote. How do we counteract the effects of our over-committed culture? Replenish our depleted selves? Restore our rushed relationships?

Not So Fast: Slow-down Solutions for Frenzied Families explores the jarring effects of our high-speed, high-pressured, highly-scheduled lives and offers refreshing alternatives. Author Ann Kroeker relates her own story of how embracing a slower everyday pace has resulted in a richer, fuller, and more meaningful life.

Practical ideas and insight will spark creativity and personal reflection. Plus, ponder real-life stories from parents who put the brakes on the high-speed lifestyle and reaped the rewards of richer relationships. Not So Fast offers hope that families struggling with hurried hearts and frantic souls can discover the rejuvenating power of an unrushed life.

You can find a lot of talk around the Internet and news about the busyness of life, and the busyness of families. We live in a 24/7 world that never shuts down. Email and cell phones have made our lives "easier", but they've also made us accessible 24/7. In the drive to succeed, many of us put our children in as many activities as we can, hoping to make them into better people. Is that necessary? It's your decision. In this book, however, Ann Kroeker has had the courage to step up and say, no it isn't necessary.

In her book she talks about the effects that an over-committed culture can have on our families. Her perspective is Christian and she shares her own story about how embracing a slower pace of life has impacted her family in positive ways. I love the parts where she talks about the importance of letting children have a somewhat unstructured childhood, and encouraging them to explore and play and have fun.

With chapters called, Slowing Down Childhood, Too Fast to Care and Too Fast to Rest, or Slow Enough to Savor Traditions and Slowing Down Spending, Ann gives honest practical advice. Each chapter ends with Slow Notes, a section with practical ideas you can implement immediately. Each chapter also ends with Live From the Slow Zone, with anecdotes and experiences from people who are actively living a slower paced life. Applicable scriptures are sprinkled throughout the book.

One highlight for me was the family Load Line, where much like a ship has a load line or limit to how much cargo it can carry before it is unsafe, so a family has that same load line where too many activities can negatively impact family life. Another highlight was about traditions and the importance of not only having family traditions but taking the time to savor and enjoy them.

I love the resources at the end of the book. Ann has extensive footnotes which give references and sources for her information. She also lists blogs and other resources at her website.

I thoroughly enjoyed this gem of a book. It is one I will reread as I look to find ideas and ways to simplify my family's life.

Thanks for First Wildcard and Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for the opportunity to review this book. You can find out more about Ann Kroeker here. You can read the first chapter here. You can purchase your own copy of this remarkable book here.

Read 8/09

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Unplanned Journey...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:

Unplanned Journey

VMI (January 1, 2009)


In both her professional and personal life, Tanya Unkovich describes herself as “a mixed bag.” As a qualified CPA and expert in accounting software, she provides counseling and consulting services. Later in life, she received training as a life and corporate coach and now maintains a private coaching [therapy] practice in Auckland, New Zealand. Her latest career developments include writing articles for local magazines, publishing Unplanned Journey and the accompanying workbook, and fulfilling speaking engagements. On the personal side, Unkovich traces her passionate approach to life to her Croatian roots. She pursues health and wellness on all levels—physical, emotional, and spiritual—and prefers to fill her hours with fun, creativity, friends, family, and Fergus the cat, who is a source of absolute joy.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: VMI (January 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1933204753
ISBN-13: 978-1933204758




November 8, 2004

It was November 8, 2004; we were at my mom and dad’s home to celebrate Phil’s birthday, just the four of us that night. My parents were not aware that Phil and I were awaiting the results of a biopsy on a lump in his left armpit, a procedure that had been done some five days earlier.

The secret of this lump that Phil and I shared had caused me much distress during the previous two weeks; however, Phil insisted that we tell no one. My mother however, knowing her daughter, knew that something was not right with me during this time but did not push me for an answer when she approached me about my somber moods. Oh how much I wanted to share my concern with her, but I could not, as I had sworn to Phil that mom and dad were not to know. We were not to cause them any concern. I however could not help myself and had told three girlfriends during these two weeks, simply to release the pressure that was upon me and eventually he too had told a close friend.

On the day of his birthday, my concern was that it was five days later, and we still had not heard the result of this biopsy. Phil, however, was still not concerned. Earlier that day Phil and I had spoken on the phone, and when I asked him if he had heard from the doctor yet, he said to me. “No and I am not worried either Tanya. God is not going to give me sickness now. I have too much to do in this world.” He did add that it was only a five percent concern for him. I was not convinced that all was well until we had heard the final result, and the simple fact that this result was taking so long was worrying me.

The day of Phil’s birthday was long and arduous for me as each time the phone would ring my heart would pound as I wondered if this was the call we were waiting for. How I got through this day was by means of a fantasy that I had created and which replayed in my head constantly.

My fantasy was that we would be having dinner with mom and dad, one of her fabulous feasts. Phil would receive a phone call from his doctor whilst we were dining saying that all was well, that the lump was simply an infection of some sort and there was nothing to be concerned about. We would then tell mom and dad what we had been going through over the past two weeks and that everything was fine, and within days we could now move ahead and enjoy our dream holiday of a Caribbean cruise, on which we were due to leave three days later. We could then proceed to really celebrate Phil’s birthday and enjoy the remainder of the evening.

This was my fantasy and what I needed to hold onto in order to get through this day, November 8, as the alternative was too unbearable to invest any more energy into. Anyway, that sort of thing would never happen to me and was not part of my life plan.

Intuitively I knew that Phil would receive the call whilst we were there for dinner. However, I did not know which way the pendulum would swing for us––after all it was a fifty-fifty chance either way. What kept me positive and thinking that the outcome would be favorable was simply the belief that surely Phil and I would never be given such an enormous hurdle to overcome in our lives. We were the perfect couple, with the perfect love and perfect life. This alone kept me positive and any other outcome would simply be a tragedy.

There still existed many facts that continued to fuel my fear. Firstly and most importantly, the lump was still there, and it was not getting any smaller. Secondly and my most fearful was what my intuition kept telling me, that Phil had cancer.

I could not rest and be at peace during this wait. Little snippets of peace would blanket me, but would be short lived as the fear would roll in over and pull the comfort of this blanket away from me as if taken by a corner and whisked away, often leaving me shivering.

That evening I was unable to enjoy mom’s famous roast chicken, which as always, had a crunchy golden roasted skin, with the flavors of garlic, olive oil and salt in exactly the correct portions that only mom could measure to perfection.

It was just after 6.15 p.m. when Phil was about to cut his birthday cake when the sound of his cell phone ringing startled me. I recall the exact times very clearly as each moment was like an eternity for me that night. I knew that this was the call. My fantasy had begun. How would the pendulum swing?

Immediately my heart began to race as I heard Phil say, “Hello Rhona,” he stood up from the dining room table and walked about ten feet to the kitchen bench with the cell phone in his left hand. I followed him staring at his face, his blue eyes, just to get some indication from his expressions, his words or his tone that all was well and I could then continue to live out my fantasy that I had so perfectly composed with my perfect outcome.

It was Phil’s reply to Rhona in four words that altered my life forever, “What time tomorrow morning” that I knew the pendulum had not swung in our favor. I placed my hands on the kitchen bench, bent my head down and looked to the fawn tiled floor. The feeling of overwhelming nausea immediately came over me, and my breathing became heavy. It felt as though pins were jabbing into my head. I looked up and was facing Phil as he used his spare hand to look for a pen and began shuffling on the kitchen bench to look for some paper. He settled for the back of an envelope. He said very little at first then commenced to ask Rhona what the results were. She did not want to say on the phone, but he insisted that she tell him and said that he would rather know now than wait until the morning.

The walls of the kitchen began to turn around me as I watched Phil write on the back of this envelope the words, lymphoma and small cell carcinoma with a question mark. He ended his conversation to Rhona saying that he would see her at eight thirty the following morning.

Phil slowly placed his cell phone on top of the envelope that now held his fate, and I immediately draped my arms around his neck, terrified. I could not cry; I could barely get air into my lungs. I just held him as my head was nestled to his left. Phil appeared to be strong, in fact, like someone who did not want to be fussed over at that moment. He appeared in shock and was later to tell me that this was one time that he was in fact very frightened.

Meanwhile, my parents were still sitting at the dining room table confused and looking at us both. But by this stage knowing that something was seriously wrong. I can still see my mother’s look of confusion as she kept saying to me, “Tanya, what is wrong?”

It was I who looked at my mother and said, “Mom, Phil has cancer.” I recall seeing her look of confusion become a state of absolute disbelief in the words she had just heard. Briefly and hurriedly I informed them of the sequence of events during the previous two weeks.

Phil said very little, as he sat there, obviously in shock and stunned. It was then that my very intuitive mother told me that she had sensed something was wrong with me over the past weeks, that I was not the same. I was quiet and distant, but she was unable to pinpoint what was happening to me. However, she admitted that even this mother would never have expected something like this to be troubling her daughter, whom she knew so well.

Horror now replaced the joy that my parents had felt only ten minutes earlier as they were about to sing happy birthday to their son-in-law, who they referred to as their fourth son. “Not our Philip” were the words that mom repeated, I can still hear them.

Phil and I sat down again at the dining room table where his uncut birthday cake still remained. I wrapped my arms around my waist and started to cry in disbelief, rocking forwards and backwards in my chair. This cannot be happening to us; this is not true, not Phil, not my precious Phil, were the thoughts that were racing through my very confused mind.

Once again the dining room felt as though it was spinning around me, and all I wanted to do was to escape and return back two weeks to that feeling of bliss that I was experiencing in my perfect life.

Phil was slightly annoyed at my reaction, and he was trying to indicate to me that it was not something to panic about and not to frighten mom and dad any more than they should be. Mom and Dad both kept reassuring me of the same, saying that Phil would be fine and that I should calm down and that once they simply cut out the cancerous growth, “he will be fine,” they kept saying.

Never in my life had I hoped that my parents would be right as they tried to comfort their little girl, their terrified little girl. Phil did not show his fear that night as I did; whilst he was in shock and frightened, he tried to be strong for us all.

No matter what anyone said to me at the dinner table that night, I had a terrible feeling. Something inside me knew that it would not be as simple as cutting out a cancerous lump. It was far greater than this, and something big was about to happen in our lives.

Phil’s frame of mind changed to being slightly jovial, and he was determined to have a piece of his birthday cake that mum made for her son-in-law: banana with chocolate icing on top. He proceeded to cut his cake but without the usual joyous singing and ate this piece of cake in a manner to show his mum he appreciated and enjoyed the cake that she made for him. This was what he portrayed. Phil’s state of happiness was in fact his own defense mechanism kicking in as he was trying to protect himself from what his consciousness at that moment was actually not able to assimilate. I believe that Phil also wanted to protect us from seeing what he was really feeling at that moment.

Whilst we were still at my parent’s home that night, I went into the bathroom upstairs and made a phone call to my close friend Catherine. I was trying to speak as quietly as I could to tell her what we had just heard, and all I can remember is Catherine replying in her gentle Scottish accent saying “Oh no.”

Catherine had been my main support, not only during the previous two weeks, but also during many other painful journeys in my life. It was Catherine whom I had phoned in the early hours of a cold May morning in 1998 after we had discovered that my father had just been diagnosed with cancer. We cried together on the phone that morning and we would be shedding many more tears together in the months to follow this phone call.

As we drove away from mom and dad’s, I recall them standing at the front door of their home saying goodbye with hand waves that were not like the usual ones of joy but simply raising their hands in some form of acknowledgement, neither of us really knowing of what.

I knew very well what would happen behind that closed front door once they went inside. In spite of being strong for both Phil and I that night, normally mom and dad do not mind expressing their feelings, and this would have been done whilst they were together behind that closed door. Their tears would have flowed as they held each other, in utter disbelief of what they had just learned, of what had just been asked of their little girl and her husband to now endure in their life.

On our way home, not a lot was spoken in the car between Phil and I; we were silent. However we wanted to commence our fight against this beast inside Phil’s body immediately. Phil was an Area Manager for a supermarket chain, and his office was at our local supermarket, only a five minute drive from our home. Phil had always kept a very healthy diet and was at one point in his life a vegetarian, so he was very knowledgeable about food groups and what his body needed.

We had decided to stop there before returning home and we began buying organic vegetables, fruits, cereals, vitamins, and anything that we felt would help cleanse Phil’s body and somehow take away this nightmare. We were in shock and disbelief as we frantically looked around the market, wanting to find anything that would assist us and provide us with a feeling that we were doing something towards the cause.

Later that evening, the two of us sat in the lounge together praying that somehow this nightmare for us would end, and we could return to our simple life as it was only two weeks earlier.

All we knew was that Phil had either Lymphoma or Small Cell Carcinoma; we knew nothing about either of these types of cancer. I had heard that Lymphoma was treatable and knew of people whom had survived this type of cancer but was not sure about those other three words. Somehow, with the word small in the description, Phil naively assumed that Small Cell Carcinoma was perhaps not that bad. Little did we know how deadly three words could be.

We were later to learn that small cell carcinoma of unknown primary (SCUP) is a deadly and uncommon cancer that is usually diagnosed in the lymph nodes, liver, brain or bone. The prognosis varies from a few months to several years depending on the location, extent of disease and response to therapy.

The following morning I was physically and emotionally shattered. Apart from momentarily dozing, neither of us slept that night. Phil got up and went to the gym early that day, as he did every other morning. Today would be no different for him. He was going to continue with his life. I did not have the energy to do much at all; my body was in shock and shaking. It astounded me that Phil actually got up and did his usual gym routine.

At five thirty that morning I phoned my friends, Sue and Meg, the other two friends who were aware of our dilemma during the previous weeks, and I just wept. Whatever sleep I got the night before was not enough to remove the nightmare when I awoke that morning. Yes, last night did happen and yes, my fantasy that I had so perfectly scripted did not come true.

When Phil returned from his workout, he told me that his friend Tony stopped him at the gym and said “Mate, you are looking really good, what are you doing? I have never seen you look in better shape.” Phil told me that he sarcastically wanted to say, “oh just get cancer mate, that’s how you do it.”

Phil and I went together for the eight–thirty appointment. Even though we were early, Phil’s doctor Rhona came out to get us as soon as we arrived. The first thing I noticed as she approached us was firstly her gentle but very nervous smile and then her beautiful bush of black wavy hair.

Rhona had been wonderful to us both in the past. I had always respected her for how thorough she was and her beautiful manner during the times when I sat with her and cried to her about not being able to conceive and become pregnant. She was originally from South Africa, and I often felt comforted by her accent and soft voice. However, on this morning, no matter how softly and calmly Rhona spoke, when I heard the words “secondary cancer,” it was as if she was shouting them directly into my face.

My knowledge of cancer was reasonable, and what I did know for sure was that secondary cancer was not good and it meant that there was a primary cancer elsewhere in Phil’s body. The biopsy result was not yet conclusive, and further tests were being performed to rule out lymphoma. They believed that Phil had small cell carcinoma, which we were told apparently often originates in the lung. This meant that whatever was in his lymph nodes in his armpit was not all there was, and it was not going to be a matter of simply “cutting out a lump.”

Once again I began to feel nauseated, and the room was closing in on me. I could barely look at Phil, who was also in shock and feeling the same disbelief that I was. Immediately I visualized a tumor inside Phil, sitting on his lung. Then I began to tremble harder and stronger, wanting to escape from this cage that I was placed in. All I wanted was to return to my life before October 25 when all was well in my world, and I was ignorant of what in fact lay ahead in my life.

This was November 9. We were due to go on a Caribbean Cruise only two days later––a holiday that Phil desperately needed and one that up until October 25 I had looked forward to so much.

My immediate reaction was that we could not go on this holiday and that Phil had to begin treatment of some sort to remove this cancer from his body immediately. Rhona already had a verbal suggestion from an oncologist that Phil was not to travel, and I agreed. “We cannot go, please, let’s stay home and get you well. Start treatment, do whatever to stop this beast.” Phil said no, and he insisted that we go on this holiday. For him this was to be the beginning of his healing. He said he was tired and needed to rest and was adamant in Rhona’s office that nothing or no one would hold him back from this holiday which he so desperately needed.

He became angry with me in the office at my fearful reaction. I did not want to lose another moment to this disease which was inside Phil’s body and what I sensed was moving rapidly.

It is only as I now write this that I can look back and feel, Phil, you followed your heart your intuition and your decision was perfect. Who was I to suggest what you were to do with your body? Phil said no to everything that everyone was firing at him that morning. “This is my decision and I need to do this, we will go on this holiday, I need this holiday, I need this rest, I want to start my healing by resting my body, and I will not have chemotherapy.” It was as simple as that for Phil; this was his body and his call.

I don’t know how we got home that morning. All we had to do was to walk two hundred meters from the Doctor’s surgery which was across the road and down a side street from our home. We walked in silence. Looking at Phil was my greatest pain. At that moment, I could see his fear as we crossed the busy road, both of us oblivious to all the traffic on that Tuesday morning. Tuesdays would not be the same for me for many a month after that day.

Once we arrived home we made a couple of phone calls: one to Phil’s friend and confidant Debbie and once again I saw his fear. I held him tightly with my arms around his waist as he spoke to her.

A few moments later, I called mom and dad and told them in my Croatian tongue that it was worse than we thought––that it was on Phil’s lungs and who knows where else. I recall having to repeat it to Dad so that he understood and even louder again so he could hear what I was saying. This however was disrupted by the wailing in the background that came from my mother’s heart. I cried as I told my father. I could hear his tears also and feel his heart being taken from his chest as I did my best to explain what I understood of Phil’s condition.

I made this call from our bedroom as I was looking out at nothing on the street. It was a busy main road with the constant sound of cars going past. This morning however, the sound of the cars did not register in my thinking and the noise that would so often have bothered me just did not compute, because all I knew and could think about was that my husband Phil had cancer. Nothing else mattered any more.

Phil asked that my parents tell no one of his diagnosis, not even my brothers. I pleaded with him that we not keep this a secret that my parents needed support here also, and he finally agreed that yes my brothers could know, but no one else was to know at this point. My father left mom alone for awhile as he went to my brother Zel’s office to tell him what was now happening in our family.

Phil headed off to work shortly after our phone calls, and, once he had departed, Zel phoned me, and finally I was able to release the anguish that had lodged itself in my chest that morning. We were both in tears as we gently spoke. I was sitting on the edge of my bed, facing the mirror of my bedroom suite looking unbelievably at a distressed woman in the reflection as if I was watching a movie. I could not believe and did not want to believe that it was actually I who was looking back at me.

Horror overcame me as I watched this movie, and I began crying to Zel that I did not want to lose Phil. I did not want him to die. Once again, my arm was wrapped around my stomach as I sat on the edge of my bed rocking forwards and backwards. Did I think that this cradling of self would ease my pain, perhaps? I will never forget the words that Zel then spoke to me, “Tanya, if it is God’s will to take our brother Phil, then one thing I know is that he will be in Heaven, and that is what really matters.” Whilst I knew this to be true, this was not to be the outcome; it could not be.

Phil did want to visit his sister Marie that morning to let her know what had happened to us over the past two weeks and what he was now facing. Marie was special to him, very similar to his mother, Moira, who had already passed away some 18 years earlier. Marie was his “big” sister, with a big heart, who had a huge love for her “big baby” brother.

When we arrived at her shop she knew that something was wrong, since we had both shown up unannounced––something that had never occurred before. As I walked towards her I could see her apprehension which was hidden behind a smile that was placed on her face as if it was painted on.

It was Phil who began to tell her that he had cancer and the brief details of what we knew, and then came his first tears. Finally he was able to let his tears come with his big sister. He did not need to be brave at this moment. How he would have loved to have had his mom with him at that time I am sure.

Marie was stoic. The three of us held each other closely in her shop as I then completed the story which Phil had begun, as much as I could, with the only words that I knew, “cancer, secondary, probably lung.” I was strong, but my voice was trembling. I too wanted to cry, but I could not. This was Phil’s time now to shed those much needed tears, and, as difficult as it was for me at this time, I held mine in for now.

Those other big words, small cell carcinoma, meant nothing to me at this point. In time however, they would haunt me––they would wake me in the night and it would be a long time before I could see or hear those words without trembling.

The three of us continued to hold each other and formed a little triangle, me, hoping that these cuddles and love would be what would start to shrink this foreign beast that had lodged itself inside Phil’s beautiful body.

Phil was such a proud man. He trained hard at the gym and always liked to look his best. He was well known for his beautiful wardrobe of clothes. He was naturally lean. At six foot three inches tall he weighed in at only eighty four kilograms when we met; as he did a lot of running. However, that was something I knew would change after being in a Croatian family. He needed some padding; my mom thought, and she had much joy in doing this!

By the time of our wedding day some two years later, Phil was ninety kilograms and at the time of his diagnosis he was ninety six kilograms, of which he was very proud. I remember one night when he was coming to bed as he proudly waltzed in to our room after his typical lengthy shower, and I said to him, “Do you love your body honey”?

“Hell yeah,” was his jovial reply, “it’s the only one God gave me and I am going to look after it!” This was something Phil always did.

No matter what shape or size we naturally are, I realized first hand at the time of Phil’s illness how lucky we were that we had healthy bodies.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Passeggiata: Strolling Through Italy...Review

About the book:
Ms. Husak’s memoir of travels to Italy with her husband will appeal to those who love travel in general and Italy in particular. Their journeys are both personal and universal. From their first shared trip to Italy in 1993, which marked the first of their empty nest years, their annual passeggiata reflects the shift in their lives through the next decade. On their spring pilgrimages to major tourist centers, Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Naples, they develop appreciation for Italy’s art, music and architecture. Wandering together along out of the way paths in tiny hill towns and seacoast villages, they explore breathtaking scenery. By traveling light and learning the vagaries of Italian life, they have become Italian in spirit. The book provides many practical hints on how to travel like the locals, reminding us that even novice travelers can learn valuable lessons from immersion in another way of life, and that one’s companion can be an essential part of the pleasure of a journey.

Glen Husak and her husband Al return to Italy each year for a get-away, and have done so for 15 years. Each year they select one area to visit, rather than cramming the whole country into one vacation. By doing so, they have been able to come to appreciate so much more of the Italian country, its people and way of life. Glen shares their experiences and the often up and down hitches that happen. But, the perspective here is that the unexpected often becomes a serendipitous and delightful surprise.

While the book would be a great travel guide, its purpose is to remind us that there are wonderful lessons to be learned from visiting other cultures and immersing yourself in them, as well as trusting your companion and sharing experiences. One doesn't have to be familiar with Italy to appreciate the descriptions and anecdotes.

Having traveled in Italy several years ago, I found myself reminiscing about some of the places I loved as I read Glen's account of their experiences. I, too, wandered the streets of Venice and rode in a vapporetto; I saw the beautiful work of Giotto in a little, non-descript church in Padua and savored many a meal at a local restaurant. I remember the feeling of excess and lack of spirituality at the Vatican, but also appreciated the beauty and history as well. I remember walking for what seemed like hours to find the Church of St. Peter in Chains and seeing Michangelo's magnificent statue of Moses, and shopping in a street market in Florence.

Glen not only includes Italian history, but art history as well, which makes the book richer. I do wish she had included photos, although it would be easy to picture many of the well-known locations, even if you haven't seen them in person. Minor editing issues didn't detract from the charm.

A passeggiata is a slow, evening stroll through town, usually taken with people you care about, often arm-in-arm. This book was like taking a passeggiata through Italy. It was something to be savored, not rushed.

Thanks to Bostick Communications for the opportunity to review this book.

You can learn more about Glen and Al Husak here. You can purchase your own copy of this charming book here.

Read 8/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Honor in the Dust...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:

Honor in the Dust

Howard Books (August 25, 2009)


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

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (August 25, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416587462
ISBN-13: 978-1416587460


May 1497

Sussex County, England-

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

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

“My heaven it’s good to be home!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tell me about the wars, man.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Only aching for home,” he returned.

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

“Are you hungry, Son?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A real ghost?”

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

“Do you think that could happen?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why, he’s an old man!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have selected Grace Barclay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Chosen my intended!” Claiborn thundered, rising.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not quite sure, Edmund.”

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

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

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

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

“No, just walk him until he cools.”

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

“Yes, Sir. Safe and sound.”

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

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

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

“Yes, Sir, he did.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Aye, I am.”

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

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

“I thought he might send you word.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I fear it will do no good—”

“But we must try.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But father—!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, no, it’s about Grace.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claiborn stared hard at him. “Mother will—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . . . .

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

“Yes, we will.”

“I have nothing to offer you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

.. . . . . .

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m trusting you and God, Claiborn.”

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

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