Friday, November 30, 2012

The Main Thing

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Or so the song says anyway.

It's not even December yet and I can already feel that pull toward becoming frustrated, overwhelmed, and uptight and away from the excitement, wonder, and meaning of the Christmas season.

I don't even mean for it to happen. But things have been busy—with a huge event at work, quick vacation tagged on at the end of a work trip, traveling for Thanksgiving, trying to get back in the swing of things, getting home at 10 every night this week. When I try to sit down and make plans for celebrating Christmas with all of our families (six Christmases total!), pick out a Christmas card, buy gifts, design a new wrapping paper scheme, locate recipes for favorite treats, etc. ... well ... it can quickly move from fun to exhausting.

Do you feel it too? Somebody please say you do!

While there are things that we obviously have to do in the next few weeks and there are tons of things that we want to do, I want—no, I need!— to make sure that I am intentionally making time each day to reflect, study, and remember the reason for this joyous season in the first place.

Christmas has nothing to do with shopping, cookies, spending lots of money, Santa, decorations, or Pinterest-inspired crafts and everything to do with the birth of a Savior, grace, salvation, redemption.

I found a few incredible (and free!) resources earlier this week to help our family spend time each day in December making the main thing the main thing. I pray these resources will help us to rest in the miraculous work of Christ instead of getting caught up in the frenzy.

How do you stay focused on Christ during the Christmas season?



The Expected One
The Church at Brook Hills
download here

“He’s coming!” This shout of anticipation is the heart of Advent, a time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. These weeks leading up to Christmas day are a special time of reflection on God’s gift to us: the child Jesus. Rejoicing in Jesus’ birth certainly brings glory to God, but sometimes during this season we can forget that God didn’t just send a child into the world; he sent a mighty Rescuer! During Advent, as we celebrate the first coming of The Expected One, let’s also look forward in hopeful anticipation of his second coming. Let’s keep in mind the whole picture of who Jesus is, worshiping him as the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to us.

This Guide is primarily designed for families, but we truly think that anyone wanting to meditate deeply on Christ will find it helpful. Each day has a passage accompanied by a brief explanation, as well as some “Review & Reflect” questions to help foster thought and conversation. However you use it, it is our prayer that this Advent season will be a time of rich, gospel-centered reflection for you and your family as you make much of Christ.

Good News of Great Joy
by John Piper
download here

Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent is designed especially for Advent 2012. With readings beginning Sunday, December 2, and going through Christmas Day, this book of Advent devotionals aims to put Jesus at the center of your holiday season. These short meditations are excerpted from the ministry of John Piper and correspond to the daily readings in Desiring God's free devotional app called Solid Joys (available in the iTunes store).

A Jesus Advent Celebration: Jesse Tree Journey
by Ann Voskamp
download here

Each of the 27 days of the Jesse Tree Family Devotional journey includes: (There are 27 days of devotionals — so begin the last week of November — so that you finish up by December 25th!)
  • The full Bible text of the day’s reading. Readings are selected to begin in Genesis and cover significant events throughout the Old Testament — each story pointing to the coming Messiah. It’s like an overview of the whole span of His Story — leading right up to the climax of the coming Christ!
  • A devotional read-aloud for the whole family – engaging enough (we pray!) for young children and yet meaty enough for teens and adults. Each reflection endeavors to not only highlight an important scene from God’s epic in time, but to always unwrap more of Jesus, the gift hidden in every story.
  • A short, simple action point for the day– “Unwrapping more of His love in the World” — a way to do something together as a family that not only invites the coming Kingdom of God and Jesus’ love into your home and community, but is an opportunity to apply and live out the day’s devotional. It’s like an Advent Calendar that gives back – becoming more like the gift Himself!
  • A free full color ornament, illustrated by Nancy Rodden and used with permission, to hang on your own Jesse Tree. The very last pages of the book include all of the ornaments in over several pages so you can easily cut each ornament out and creatively mount to your own preferences.
  • Black & white Coloring ornaments, if your children choose to color ornaments, while you read the devotional.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

WWW Wednesdays


WWW Wednesdays is a weekly meme hosted by Should Be Reading. Click on over if you want to join in the fun!

What are you currently reading? This has been the weirdest few weeks. I haven't read very much AT ALL - especially this past week. So, I'm reading No Safe Harbor by Elizabeth Ludwig. It's good so far, but I'm just ... distracted. Review is scheduled for next week, so I better get on it, huh?!

What did you recently finish reading? Christmas Roses by Amanda Cabot is the last book I finished. I'm pretty sure I said the same book last week. Ugh!

What do you think you'll read next? I'm hoping to start Every Perfect Gift by Dorothy Love soon. Really looking forward to this one!

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Few Suggestions for Your Christmas List

As I've mentioned before, our family believes in giving Thanksgiving a chance. That means no decorations, trees, lights, or hardcore Christmas shopping before Turkey Day. Although, I'll be honest and confess that there's something slightly appealing about trying to be done by October or so. But let's be honest, that will never happen! :)


Anyway. Now that Thanksgiving is officially behind us, I thought I'd offer a few suggestions for the book lovers on your shopping list — or maybe even for your own list! And because I recently joined the Pinterest craze, I pinned my list. (If you're not familiar with Pinterest, you can click on any of the book covers and go straight to my review on i blog 4 books.) Happy shopping! (And Merry Christmas!!!)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Blog Tour | Christmas Roses by Amanda Cabot

Christmas Roses
by Amanda Cabot
Christian Fiction / Historical / Romance
Available September 2012
Revell
172 pages



About the Book
Celia Anderson doesn't have a husband on her Christmas wish list. But when a traveling carpenter finds lodging at her boardinghouse, she admits that she might remarry if she found the right man--the kind of man who would bring her roses for Christmas. It would take a miracle, though, to find roses during a harsh Wyoming winter. But Christmas, after all, is the time for miracles . . .

My Thoughts
Christmas Roses by Amanda Cabot is a sweet Christmas novella that is sure to get you in the Christmas spirit! Celia is trying to build a life for her and her infant daughter after her husband's death. She has no intention of marrying again . . . until Mark arrives in town searching for his father. When he saves the life of her daughter, she offers him a room in her boarding house and their friendship develops from there.

Novellas are a little hit or miss for me because it's so hard to squeeze a full story into so few pages. However, Cabot does a great job of telling a complete story, finishing strong, and developing characters that I enjoyed reading about! I definitely recommend Christmas Roses for anyone looking to read a wonderful Christmas story to start this season off right!  [3.5 stars]

Available at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

I received a free copy of this book from Revell Books in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Amanda Cabot is an accomplished author under various pen names and a popular speaker. The author of Paper Roses, Scattered Petals, Tomorrow's Garden, and Summer of Promise, she is also a charter member of Romance Writers of America, the cofounder of its New Jersey chapter, a member of the ACFW, and an avid traveler. She lives in Wyoming.

Amanda Cabot Online
Website  |  Blog  |  Facebook

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Her Surprise Sister by Marta Perry

Her Surprise Sister
by Marta Perry
Texas Twins series, Book 1
Christian Fiction / Contemporary / Romance
Available June 2012
Love Inspired
224 pages



About the Book
Imagine her shock when Violet Colby discovers she has an identical twin sister she never knew existed. Why her family was torn apart remains a secret no one can answer—yet.

Hoping to develop a sisterly bond, Violet invites her sophisticated city twin to the Colby Ranch in tiny Grasslands, Texas. But when her sister's former fiancé arrives with questions of his own, country girl Violet finds herself drawn to handsome businessman Landon Derringer. And learns that true love requires faith—and a heart as big as Texas.

My Thoughts
Love Inspired novels used to be my guilty pleasure, so I decided to pick up a few recently for review. Her Surprise Sister by Marta Perry didn't disappoint. Slightly unbelievable at times—with look-alike women stumbling upon one another in a coffee shop only to realize they're twins—I still got totally caught up in this sweet, romantic read. I'm intrigued about the rest of the family members' stories and hope to be able to read the other books in the series. [4 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from Love Inspired via Net Galley in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Marta Perry realized she wanted to be a writer at age eight, when she read her first Nancy Drew novel. Most girls reached the end of that book wanting to be Nancy. Marta wanted to be the person who created the story.

The dream lay hidden for years while she pursued other career goals, but eventually it re-surfaced, and she began to write, beginning with short children’s stories for Sunday school take-home papers. After seeing hundreds of her short stories published in a variety of magazines, Marta finally started work on the novel she’d always wanted to write. Fifty-some published novels later, she still feels the same excitement when she begins a new book.

Marta lives with her husband in a century-old farmhouse in the Pennsylvania countryside, but spends winters at their vacation home in South Carolina. When she’s not writing, she’s active in the life of her church and enjoys traveling and spending time with her three children and six beautiful grandchildren.

Marta Perry Online
Website  |  Blog  |  Facebook

WWW Wednesdays


WWW Wednesdays is a weekly meme hosted by Should Be Reading. Click on over if you want to join in the fun!

What are you currently reading? The Edge of Recall by Kristen Heitzmann. This one's been on my shelf for a while, but after reading Heitzmann's latest, I couldn't resist any longer!

What did you recently finish reading? Christmas Roses by Amanda Cabot. I know, I know. It's a little early for Christmas stories ... but my review is due this week. :) Very cute! (Check back on Friday for my review.)

What do you think you'll read next? Maybe No Safe Harbor by Elizabeth Ludwig. This is a new author for me, and I'm looking forward to reading it after hearing so many good things.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Teaser Tuesday | Christmas Roses

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly post hosted by MizB on her blog Should Be Reading. Hop over for details or to link up!



Now all she could think of saying was a blunt "No, never," but that would be cruel, and Jacob didn't deserve that. (pg. 52)


Christmas Roses
by Amanda Cabot

No Safe Harbor Giveaway & Facebook Party!

Elizabeth Ludwig is celebrating her new book with a Kindle Fire Giveaway and connecting with readers at a Facebook Author Chat party on 12/6.
 

One winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire
  • No Safe Harbor by Elizabeth Ludwig
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on December 5th. Winner will be announced at the "No Safe Harbor" Author Chat Facebook Party on 12/6. Connect with Elizabeth, get a sneak peek of the next book in the Edge of Freedom series, try your hand at the trivia contest, and win some great prizes—gift certificates, books and a Book Club Prize Pack (10 copies for your book club or small group)!

So grab your copy of No Safe Harbor and join Elizabeth on the evening of the December 6th for a chance to connect with her and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun, RSVP today. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 6th!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Send a FREE Card from Treat!


Treat is the new greeting card brand from Shutterfly that makes it super easy to send unique, personalized cards for any occasion.

To help you get one thing checked off you ever-growing to-do list, they're having a special holiday promotion today and tomorrow to allow you to send one card absolutely FREE! Send a birthday card, Thanksgiving greeting, or get a head-start on your Christmas cards. Use the code TREATBLOGR at checkout, and the discount will automatically be applied. (Feel free to share this post with your friends to spread the freebie love!)

Head on over to Treat now to select, personalize, and send your card today!

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored Shutterfly. All opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Giveaway & Facebook Party w/ Kristen Heitzmann!

Kristen Heitzmann is celebrating The Breath of Dawn by giving away one of the new Paperwhite Kindles and hosting a fun Author Chat Party on Facebook. (11/27)



One fortunate winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Paperwhite
  • The Breath of Dawn by Kristen Heitzmann
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on November 26th. Winner will be announced at the "The Breath of Dawn" Author Chat Facebook Party on 11/27. Connect with Kristen, get a sneak peek of her next book, try your hand at the trivia contest, and chat with readers just like you. There will also be gift certificates, books and a Book Club Prize Pack to be won (10 copies for your book club or small group)!

So grab your copy of The Breath of Dawn and join Kristen on the evening of the November 27th for a chance to connect with Kristen and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book - don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun, RSVP today. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 27th!

Month in Review | October 2012

Last month I declared October "The Month of Too Many Books" and it proved to be true! I finished up with a total of 16 books. With everything going on personally and professionally last month, things got a little out of control (hence, this month in review post going up over two weeks late!), but I think things are settling down a bit now. Well . . . it's all relative, I suppose since Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner! Lots of great books last month, so be sure to check them out if you haven't already!

Books Read [16]
 

Favorites This Month?
Seriously, I don't know how I'm supposed to choose favorites after reading so much this month! I'm choosing four. It's my month in review, so I can pick however many I want, right?! A Promise to Love, A Love Surrendered, When a Heart Stops, and Against the Tide were all phenomenal!!!

Reviews Posted [17]
Giveaways
Other Noteworthy Posts / Happenings
  • With all of those reviews, I didn't post much else. BUT I did post an update about Compassion Blog Month.
  • It was also Banned Books Week earlier last month. Fun times!
So ... that's my month in review. How about you? Give it to me. The good, the bad, and the ugly. :)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Blog Tour | A Change of Fortune by Jen Turano

My post was supposed to go up as part of the CFBA Blog Tour earlier this week. Unfortunately, with some things going on personally and professionally, I got behind in scheduling my posts, was without internet for most of this week, and did not get my post up on time. My apologies to Jen Turano, Bethany House, and CFBA for the delay in getting my post up!



This week, the
is introducing
A Change of Fortune
by
Jen Turano



A Change of Fortune
by Jen Turano
Christian Fiction / Historical / Romance
Available November 2012
Bethany House
320 pages

About the Book
Lady Eliza Sumner is on a mission. Her fortune was the last thing she had left after losing her father, her fiance, and her faith. Now, masquerading as Miss Eliza Sumner governess-at-large, she's determined to find the man who ran off with her fortune, reclaim the money, and head straight back to London.

Mr. Hamilton Beckett, much to his chagrin, is the catch of the season, and all the eyes of New York society--all the female ones, at least--are on him. He has no plans to marry again, especially since his hands are full keeping his business afloat while raising his two children alone.

Eliza's hapless attempts to regain her fortune unexpectedly put her right in Hamilton's path. The discovery of a common nemesis causes them to join forces and, before she knows it, Eliza has a whole retinue of people helping her. Eliza's determination not to trust anyone weakens when everyone's antics and bumbling efforts to assist her make her wonder if there might be more important things than her fortune and independence.

When all of Hamilton's and Eliza's best-laid plans fall by the wayside, it will take a riot of complications for them to realize that God just might have had a better plan in mind all along.

If you would like to read the first chapter of A Change of Fortune, go HERE

My Thoughts
After reading the novella Gentleman of Her Dreams, I knew that Jen Turano would deliver a great, full-length novel, and I was right! A Change of Fortune was just incredible! I found myself loathe to stop reading—even while desperately needing to go to sleep. And then when the book was almost over, I couldn't help but read as fast as I could yet wanting it to never end! Definitely the mark of a good book!

Eliza was a great character! There was more to her than I first assumed, and I enjoyed getting to peel back the layers a few pages at a time. And Hamilton ... a sigh-worthy leading man! I'm so hopeful that we'll get to follow up on some of the other characters in subsequent books. Jen Turano, you have a new fan in me!  [5 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House and CFBA in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Jen grew up in the small town of St. Clairsville, Ohio, where she spent an idyllic childhood riding her purple spider bike, ice-skating on a little pond and reading Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon books in her tree house. High School was, surprisingly enough, fabulous as Jen spent time with her girlfriends. She headed off to college with no idea of what she wanted to be when she grew up, but settled on pursuing a career in fashion because she thought it sounded glamorous. Her parents thought she’d lost her mind, but they resigned themselves to her choice and after earning a BA degree in Clothing and Textiles, Jen set off to take the fashion world by storm, only to discover retail was certainly not the glamorous career she’d imagined it would be. She moved to Buffalo, New York to take a job in the buying office of a large department store, learning all there was to know about cookware, which again, was hardly glamorous, especially to a girl who did not have a knack for cooking. She met her future husband, Al, a few months after taking this job and eight months later, they were married. After moving into management at another department store and working that for a few years, the company went out of business and Jen decided she’d had enough. One year later her son was born and Jen hung up her heels for good and concentrated on being a mom.

She began dabbling in writing when her son, then in elementary school, said he liked her made up stories as much as those in his books. It was then that she fired up the computer and never looked back.

Jen loves to write humorous stories with quirky characters and a dash of intrigue and finds historical romances especially appealing, seeing as how she’s been reading them since she was a teenager. Her mother gave her a copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss, The Flame and the Flower, and Jen was hooked on the genre. When not reading romance, she loves to read mysteries, young adult and her favorite series of all time, Harry Potter.

Besides writing, Jen enjoys spending time with her family and friends.

Jen Turano Online

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sneak Peek | Sofia's Secret by Sharlene MacLaren

Sofia's Secret
by Sharlene MacLaren
River of Hope, Book 3
Christian Fiction / Historical / Romance
Available October 2012
Whitaker House
432 pages

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:

Sharlene MacLaren

and the book:

Sofia's Secret

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



About the Book
The River of Hope Series, set in the 1920’s, continues with the story of Sofia Rogers who is pregnant, unmarried, and guarding a secret. Nobody in Wabash, Indiana seems to know her real story and Sofia isn’t about to share it. She’d rather bear the shame than face the threat of consequences. When Eli Trent, the new doctor in town, gets involved, trouble escalates in the form of thievery, arson, and death threats. Nevertheless, Eli remains determined to break down the wall of silence behind which Sofia hides her secret. He is out to convince her she is not alone and to help her come to the realization that trusting him—and God—is the only thing that makes sense.






About the Author
Born and raised in western Michigan, Sharlene MacLaren attended Spring Arbor University. After graduating, she traveled, then married one of her childhood friends, and together they raised two ldaughters. Now happily retired after teaching elementary school for over 30 years, “Shar” enjoys reading, singing in the church choir, traveling, and spending time with her husband, children, and grandchildren—and, of course, writing. Her novels include Through Every Storm, Long Journey Home; the Little Hickman Creek series, the acclaimed historical trilogy, The Daughters of Jacob Kane, and the first two books in her latest series, River of Hope: Livvie’s Song and Ellie’s Haven.

Sharlene MacLaren Online
Website  |  Blog  |  Facebook


AND NOW . . . THE FIRST CHAPTER:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
—Psalm 51:17
June 1930
Wabash, Indiana
The blazing sun ducked behind a cloud, granting a smidgeon of relief to Sofia Rogers as she compressed the pedal to stop her bike in front of Murphy’s Market and, in a most inelegant manner, slid off the seat, taking care not to catch the hem of her loose-fitting dress in the bicycle chain. She scanned the street in both directions, hoping not to run into anyone she knew, then parked the rusting yellow bike next to a Ford truck. These days, she dreaded coming into town, but she couldn’t very well put off the chore much longer if she wanted to keep food on the table.
Her younger brother, Andy, had won the race to their destination. His equally corroded bike leaned against the building, and he stood next to it, his arms crossed, a burlap sack slung across one shoulder. As she approached, a smug grin etched his freckled face. “Didn’t I t-tell you I’d b-beat you?”
“That’s because you had a full minute head start on me, you rascal.” Sofie might have added that her present condition did not permit the speed and agility she’d once had, but she wasn’t about to make that excuse. “Just you wait. I’ll win on the way back home.”
“N-not if I can help it.”
She pressed the back of her hand to her hot, damp face and stepped up to the sidewalk. “We’ll see about that, Mr. Know-It-All.”
Andy pointed at her and laughed. “Now your face is all d-dirty.”
She looked at her hands, still soiled from working in the garden that morning, and frowned. “I guess I should have lathered them a little better when I washed up.” She bent over and used the hem of her skirt to wipe her cheek before straightening. “There. Is that better?”
He tilted his face and angled her a crooked grin. “Sort of.”
“Oh, who cares?” She tousled his rust-colored hair. “Come on, let’s get started checking those items off my shopping list.”
They headed for the door, but a screeching horn drew their attention to the street, where a battered jalopy slowed at the curb. Several teenage boys, their heads poking out through the windows, whistled and hollered. “Hey, sister! Hear you like to have a good time!”
At their crudeness, Sofie felt a suffocating pressure in her chest. With a hand on her brother’s shoulder, she watched the car round the bend, as the boys’ whoops faded into the distance.
“Who were those guys?”
“Nobody important.”
As if the baby inside her fully agreed, she got a strong push to the rib cage that jarred her and made her stumble.
“You alright?” Andy grabbed her elbow, looking mature beyond his eleven years.
She paused to take a deep breath and then let it out slowly, touching a hand to her abdomen. Even in her seventh month, she could scarcely fathom carrying a tiny human in her womb, let alone accept all of the kicks and punches he or she had started doling out on a daily basis. She’d read several books to know what to expect as she progressed, but none of them had come close to explaining why she already felt so deeply in love with the tiny life inside of her. Considering that she hadn’t consented to the act committed against her, she should have resented the little life, but how could she hold an innocent baby accountable? “I’m fine,” she finally assured her brother. “Let’s go inside, shall we?”
Inside Murphy’s Market, a few people ambled up and down the two narrow aisles, toting cloth bags or shopping baskets. Sofie kept her left hand out of view as much as possible, in hopes of avoiding the condemnation of anyone who noticed the absence of a wedding band on her left ring finger. Not that she particularly cared what other folks thought, but she’d grown weary of the condescending stares. Several women had tried to talk her into giving the infant up for adoption, including Margie Grant, an old friend who had served as a mother figure to her and Andy ever since their parents had perished in a train wreck in 1924. “The little one growing inside you is the result of an insidious attack, darling. I shouldn’t think you’d want much to do with it once it’s born,” Margie had said. “I happen to know more than a few childless couples right here in Wabash who would be thrilled to take it off your hands. You should really consider adoption.”
Because Margie had long been a loyal friend, Sofie had confided in her about the assault, including when and where it had occurred. As for going to the authorities and demanding an investigation—never! Margie had begged her to go straight to Sheriff Morris, but she had refused, and then had made Margie swear on the Bible not to go herself.
“That is a hard promise to make, dearest,” Margie had conceded with wrinkled brow, “but I will promise to keep my lips buttoned. As for adoption, if you gave the baby to a nice couple in town, you would have the opportunity to watch it grow up. That would bring you comfort, I should think, especially if you selected a well-deserving Christian couple.”
“I can’t imagine giving my baby away to someone in my hometown, Christian or not.”
“Well then, we’ll go to one of the neighboring towns,” the woman had persisted. “Think about it, sweetheart. You don’t have the means to raise a child. Why, you and Andy are barely making ends meet as it is. Who’s going to take care of it while you’re at work?”
“I can’t think about that right now, Margie. And, please, don’t refer to my child as an ‘it.’”
The woman’s face had softened then, and she’d enfolded Sofie in her arms. “Well, of course, I know your baby’s not an ‘it,’ honey. But, until he or she is born, I have no notion what to call it—I mean, him or her.”
“‘The baby’ will do fine.”
Margie had given her a little squeeze, then dropped her hands to her sides and shot her a pleading gaze. “I sure wish you’d tell me who did this to you. It’s a crime, you know, what he did.”
Yes, it had been a crime—the most reprehensible sort. And it was both a blessing and a curse that Sofie couldn’t remember the details. The last thing she could remember was drinking her habitual cup of coffee at Spic-and-Span Cleaning Service before starting her evening rounds. She’d thought it tasted unusually bitter, but she’d shrugged it off at the time. Half an hour later—at the site of her job that night, at the law offices of Baker & Baker—she’d been overcome by dizziness and collapsed. She’d teetered in and out of consciousness, with only a vague notion of what was going on. When she’d awakened, it had been daylight, and she was sore all over. Fortunately, it had been a Saturday, and the offices were closed; no one had discovered her lying there, nauseous and trembling, her dress torn, her hair disheveled. A particular ache had given her a clue as to what had gone on while she’d been unconscious. As the sickening reality had set in, she’d found beside her the note that had haunted her ever since.
Breathe one word about this and you can say bye-bye to your brother.
It had been typed on the official letterhead of the sheriff’s office, making her even less inclined to go to the authorities. Whoever had assaulted her had connections to the law, and she wasn’t about to risk her brother’s life to find out his identity. Plus, without a name, and with no visual or auditory recollection, she had nothing to offer that would aid an investigation.
By the time she realized she’d gotten pregnant, two months had passed—too late to go crying to the authorities. Not that she’d planned to. Her attacker’s threat had been enough to keep her quiet. She could bear the scorn and the shame, as long as he left her alone. And the only way of ensuring that was to comply with his demands. No, she couldn’t say anything more about it to Margie.
“Margie, we’ve been over this. It’s better left unsaid, believe me.”
“But, don’t you know people are going to talk? Who knows what they’ll think or say when you start to show? If they learned the truth, perhaps they’d go a little easier on you.”
“No! I can’t. No one must know—not even you. I’m sorry, Margie.”
Margie had rubbed the back of her neck as if trying to work out a kink. A loud breath had blown past her lips and whistled across Sofie’s cheek. “You know I love you, and so I will honor your wishes…for now.” Then, her index finger had shot up in the air, nearly poking Sofie in the nose. “But if he so much as comes within an inch of you again, I want you to tell me right away, you hear? I can’t abide thinking that he’ll come knocking at your door. You must promise me, Sofia Mae Rogers!”
Sofie had hidden the shiver that had rustled through her veins at the mere thought of crossing paths with her attacker again. Why, every time she went to work, she couldn’t get the awful pounding in her chest to slow its pace until she was home again. She’d stopped drinking and eating at work—anywhere other than at home, really.
“Show me your list, Sofie.” Andy’s voice drew her out of her fretful thoughts. She reached inside her pocket and handed over the paper. When he set off down an aisle, she idly followed after, her mind drifting back into its musings.
***
Dr. Elijah Trent parked his grandfather’s 1928 Ford Model A in the lot beside Murphy’s Market. As he climbed out, he was careful not to allow his door to collide with a bicycle standing nearby. Another battered bike leaned against the building. It looked as if it could use some serious repair work. He closed his door and took a deep breath of hot June air, then cast a glance overhead at the row of birds roosting on a clothesline that stretched between two apartment buildings across the street.
When he pulled open the whiny screen door, an array of aromas teased his nostrils, from freshly ground coffee beans to roasted peanuts in a barrel. As he stepped inside, a floorboard shrieked beneath his feet, as if to substantiate its long-term use.
“Afternoon,” said the shopkeeper, who glanced up from the cash register, where he stood, ringing up an order for a young pregnant woman. Beside her, a boy dutifully stuffed each item into a cloth bag. The young woman raised her head and glanced briefly at Eli, who sensed a certain tenseness in her chestnut-colored eyes. Then, she shifted her gaze back to the clerk.
“Say, ain’t you Doc Trent’s grandson?” the man asked.
“That I am, sir. Elijah Trent. But most people call me Eli.”
The clerk stopped ringing items for a moment and gave him an up-and-down glance. “Heard you’re takin’ over the old fellow’s practice. That’s mighty fine o’ you. I understand you graduated with honors from the University of Michigan, an’ you worked at a Detroit hospital for two years, but you were itchin’ for small-town livin’. Timing’s good, since Doc’s retirin’. S’pose you two been plannin’ this for quite a while now, eh? Hate to see Wilson Trent retire, but most folks seem to think it’ll be good to get in some new blood. Get it? Blood?” He gave a hearty chortle, causing his rotund chest to jiggle up and down.
Eli smiled at the friendly man. “It sounds like Grandfather’s been keeping everyone well-informed.”
“He sure has. Plus, the Plain Dealer wrote up that article ’bout you.”
“Yes, I heard that.”
The woman shifted her narrow frame and fingered one of her short, brown curls, but she kept her eyes focused on the counter. Beside her, the freckle-faced youngster poked his head around the back of her and met Elijah’s gaze. They stared at each other for all of three seconds, but when Eli smiled, the boy quickly looked forward again.
As the clerk resumed ringing up their order, Eli reached inside his hip pocket and grabbed the short list his grandfather had scrawled in his somewhat shaky handwriting. In Detroit, he’d taken most of his meals at the hospital. Helping his grandfather in the kitchen would be an entirely new experience. At least it would be only temporary, until Grandfather’s housekeeper of twenty-odd years, Winifred Carmichael, returned from her two-week vacation out West.
“You lookin’ for anythin’ in particular?” the clerk asked.
“Nothing I can’t find on my own, sir.”
“Pick up one o’ them baskets by the door for stashin’ what you need. Name’s Harold, by the way. Harold Murphy. I’ve owned this place goin’ on thirty years now.”
Eli bent to pick up a basket. He hadn’t thought to bring along a sack in which to carry the items home. The store he had occasioned in Detroit had offered brown paper bags, but the trend didn’t seem to have caught on in Wabash just yet. “Yes, I recall coming here with my grandmother as a kid.”
“And I remember you, as well, with that sandy hair o’ yours and that there dimple in your chin.”
“Is that so? You have a good memory, Mr. Murphy.”
A pleased expression settled on the clerk’s face. “You used to ogle my candy jars and tug at your grandmother’s arm. ’Course, she’d always give in. She couldn’t resist your pleadin’. Seems to me you always managed to wrangle some chewin’ gum out o’ her before I finished ringin’ her order.”
“It’s amazing you remember that.”
“Well, some things just stick in my memory for no particular reason.” He glanced across the counter at the freckle-faced boy. “Young Andy, here, he’s the Hershey’s chocolate bar type. Ain’t that right, Andy?”
The lad’s head jerked up, and he looked from Mr. Murphy to the woman beside him. “Yes, sir. C-c-can I g-get one today, Sofie?”
Her slender shoulders lifted and drooped with a labored sigh. “I suppose, but don’t expect any other treats today.”
“I won’t.”
The brief tête-à-tête allowed Eli the chance to disappear down an aisle in search of the first item on his list: sugar. He found it about the same time the screen door whined open once more, with the exit of the young woman and the boy. Next, Eli spotted the bread at the end of the aisle. He picked up a loaf and nestled it in the basket, next to the box of sugar.
“Well, I think it’s plain disgraceful, her coming into town and flaunting herself like that. My stars, has she not an ounce of decency? And what, pray tell, is she teaching that brother of hers by not keeping herself concealed?”
“I must agree, it’s quite appalling,” said another.
Eli’s ears perked up at the sound of female scoffs coming from the other side of the shelving unit at the back of the store. He stilled, slanted his head, and leaned forward. If he could push a few cans and boxed goods to the side without creating a commotion, he might manage a partial view of the gossips.
“I always did wonder about her and that pitiable little brother of hers, living all alone on the far edge of town. No telling what sort of man put her in a motherly way. Why, if I were in her place, I’d have gone off to stay with some relative in another state. One would think she’d have somewhere she could go. She could have birthed the child, given it to some worthy family, and come back to Wabash, and no one would’ve been the wiser.”
The other gossip cleared her throat. “Perchance her ‘lover’ won’t hear of her leaving, and she doesn’t dare defy him. She always did come off as rather defenseless, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes, yes, and very reclusive. Never was one to join any charity groups or ladies’ circles. Why, she doesn’t even attend church, to my knowledge. As I said before, the whole thing is disgraceful.”
Eli shuffled around the corner and stopped at the end of the next row, where he picked up a couple of cans of beans, even though they weren’t on Grandfather’s list, and dropped them into his basket with a clatter. The chattering twosome immediately fell silent. Eli cast a casual glance in their direction, and he almost laughed at their poses of feigned nonchalance. One was studying the label on a box, while the other merely stared at a lower shelf, her index finger pressed to her chin.
When Eli started down the aisle, both of them looked up, so he nodded. “Afternoon, ladies.”
The more buxom of the two batted her eyelashes and plumped her graying hair, then nearly blinded him with a fulsome smile. “Well, good afternoon to you.” She put a hand to her throat. “My goodness. You’re Doc Trent’s grandson?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Well, I’ll be. I overheard you talking with Harold, but I didn’t lay eyes on you until now.” She perused him up and down. “You sure are a handsome devil.”
“Oh, for mercy’s sake, Bessie, mind your manners.” The second woman bore a blush of embarrassment. “Don’t pay her any heed, Doctor. She’s such a tease.” She extended a hand. “I’m Clara Morris, the sheriff’s wife, and this is Bessie Lloyd. Her husband owns Lloyd’s Shoe Store, over on Market Street. Welcome to Wabash, Dr. Trent. We read about your impending arrival in the newspaper. I hope you find yourself feeling right at home here.”
“I’m sure I will.” Eli shifted his shopping basket and extended a hand first to Mrs. Morris, then to the annoying Mrs. Lloyd. He would have liked to remind them that two upstanding women in the community ought to put a lock on their lips, lest they tarnish their own reputations, but he hadn’t come to Wabash with the intention of making instant enemies, so he restrained himself. “Nice meeting you ladies. You have a good day, now.”
He glanced to his left and, seeing a shelf with maple syrup, snatched a can and tossed it into his basket. Casting the women one last smile, he headed down the aisle in search of the remaining items.
“My, my,” he heard Mrs. Lloyd mutter. “I think it may be time for me to switch physicians.”
“But you’ve been seeing Dr. Stewart for years,” Mrs. Morris said. “What about your bad knee?”
“Pfff, never mind that. I’d much rather look into that young man’s blue eyes and handsome face than Dr. Stewart’s haggard mug. Why, if I were younger….”
Eli picked up his pace and made it out of earshot before she finished her statement.
Several minutes later, he’d rounded up everything on his list, so he made his way to the cash register. As he did, the voices of the two gabby women carried across the store. Evidently, they’d found a new topic of conversation. “I went to McNarney Brothers yesterday,” Mrs. Lloyd was saying, “and would you believe they raised the price of beef by five cents a pound? Don’t they know times are tight? Before you know it, folks won’t be able to afford to eat.”
“She could afford to go a few days without eatin’,” Harold Murphy muttered. His eyes never strayed from his task, as he keyed in the amount of each item before placing it back in the basket.
Eli covered his mouth with the back of his hand until his grin faded. He decided it was best to keep quiet on the matter. Something else bothered him, though, and he couldn’t resist inquiring. He leaned in, taking care to keep his voice down. “That girl…er, that woman, who left a bit ago, who is expecting….”
“Ah, Sofia Rogers? She was here with her little brother, Andy.” Mr. Murphy rang up the final item, the loaf of bread, and placed it gently atop the other goods. Then, he scratched the back of his head as his thin lips formed a frown. “It’s a shame, them two…well, them three, I guess you could say.” He glanced both ways, then lowered his head and whispered, “Don’t know who got her in that way, and I don’t rightly care. When she comes here, I just talk to her like nothin’s different. Figure it ain’t really my concern. I know there’s been talk about her bein’ loose, an’ all, but I can’t accept it. Never seen her with anybody but that little boy. She takes mighty fine care o’ him, too.”
“She’s his guardian, then?”
“Sure enough, ever since…oh, let’s see here…summer of twenty-four, it was. They lost their ma and pa in a terrible train wreck. They’d left Andy home with Sofie for a few days, whilst they went to a family funeral somewhere out West, little knowing their own funeral would be three days later.” The man shook his balding head.
The news got Eli’s gut to roiling. Even after all those years of medical school, which should have calloused him to pain and suffering, his heartstrings were wound as taut as ever. He needed to learn to toughen up. Needed to accept that, thanks to Adam and Eve’s fateful decision in the garden, bad things happened to innocent people; that he lived in an imperfect world in which evil often won.
“Where do they live, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Somewheres out on the southwest edge o’ town. River Road, I believe, just off o’ Mill Creek Pike.”
Eli didn’t know Wabash well, but his grandfather certainly did, having driven virtually every street within the town limits to make house calls. But what was he thinking? He ought to bop himself on the noggin. He knew next to nothing about this woman, and the last thing he needed upon taking over Wilson Trent’s medical practice was a reputation for sticking his nose where it didn’t belong.
Eli paid the shopkeeper and took up the basket. He had a good feeling about Harold Murphy. “Nice to see you again, sir. I’ll bring this basket back next time I come in…or shall I return it to you tonight?”
Harold flicked his wrist. “Naw, you bring it back whenever it’s convenient. You give ol’ Doc a hearty hello from me.”
“I’ll do that.” Eli turned and proceeded to the door, shoving it open with his shoulder. The first thing he noticed when he stepped outside was the absence of the two bikes, and it occurred to him then that Sofia and Andy Rogers had ridden to and from Murphy’s Market on those rickety contraptions. A woman in what looked to be her seventh month of pregnancy, riding a bike clear to the edge of town? In a dress? And in this heat?
This time, he did bop himself on the head.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Take a Moment to Thank the Troops!


With Veterans' Day coming up this Sunday, Shutterfly is providing a way for us to say a huge THANKS to American troops stationed around the world.

The goal? To send a card to every man and woman serving in our country's military.

It's SO easy! Just select a card from four great designs, personalize it with your own message of thanks, and click send. Then Shutterfly will print and send your card to the troops. (It doesn't cost a thing.)


I just sent a card and it literally took three minutes. Will you take 3 minutes to say thank you to the men and women who help preserve our freedom?


Disclaimer: This post was sponsored Shutterfly. All opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Paper Angels by Jimmy Wayne & Travis Thrasher

Paper Angels
by Jimmy Wayne & Travis Thrasher
Christian Fiction / Contemporary / Christmas
Available November 2012
Howard Books
304 pages



About the Book
Kevin Morrell is a forty-three-year-old husband and father who runs a successful design and marketing firm that's crashed into the suffering economy. Attempting to navigate the busyness of the mall at Christmas, Kevin is humbled when he stumbles across the Salvation Army's Angel Tree Project. His wife insists that he take a paper ornament.

The name on the ornament is Thomas Brandt, a fifteen-year-old still reeling from the implosion of his family—from years of verbal abuse from an alcoholic father to a mother who finally left him behind, only to find herself and her children penniless and struggling. The only thing has allowed Lynn to survive is her faith. Thomas shares that faith, but he also wonders why God has seemingly abandoned them.

This is the story about a man and a boy one December. A man whose life is changed by a simple expression of kindness, and a boy who takes that expression of kindness and shows the true meaning of Christmas.

My Thoughts
I've seen the Angel Tree up in stores my whole life and have even chosen an angel a few times. I loved getting to read this sweet story about a man whose life is changed by choosing an angel and the family who receives the gifts. It gave a neat little "insider's view" made even better by the fact that the author, Jimmy Wayne, was a recipient of the Angel Tree as a child!

Paper Angels a great story about how we can be used by God to make a difference in others' lives and I will definitely be giving this book as a gift this Christmas!  [4 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from Howard Books in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Authors
Jimmy Wayne is an American country music singer and songwriter. He released his self-titled debut album in 2003 on the DreamWorks Records label. A second album, Do You Believe Me Now, was released in August 2008 via Big Machine Records subsidiary Valory Music Group, and its title track became his first Number One hit in late 2008.

Travis Thrasher is the author of more than a dozen works of fiction including two novellas, The Promise Remains and The Watermark. He has been called “the Nicholas Sparks of Christian fiction” by Christian Retailing magazine. Travis lives with his wife and daughters in a suburb of Chicago.
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