Thursday, December 11, 2008

Interview with Author Bonnie Leon

Today, Bonnie Leon answers a few questions about herself and her latest heroine in her historical fiction book, Longings of the Heart. Read on to see why, in both cases, "She's got character!"

1. Bonnie, what is the most feisty thing about you?
Those who know me well also know that I can be spirited. I believe in speaking the truth, which has gotten me into trouble from time to time. And I try to be transparent. With me, pretty much what you see is what you get. I figure if I pretend to be someone I’m not then people won’t know the real me and that would be dishonest.

2. What is the most fun thing you offer in your books?

If you love history you’ll have fun when you read my stories. I research thoroughly and do everything I can to create scenes that are true to the time and place of my stories. I often hear from readers who say that while reading my books they feel as if they are actually planted in the story. That means I’ve done my job. 
I’m a true romantic and so I always include some romance in my tales along with a bit of adventure. Although some of my books look into dark places the journey is also entertaining.
And the bottom line for me is that I present a story that has something to say, something that glorifies God. I do my best to share Godly truths in my tales.

Questions for your heroine:
1. What makes you a feisty female character?

Although I’m constrained by society I believe in standing up for myself. It has gotten me into difficulty a time or two, but I shan’t pretend to be something I’m not. I also work alongside my husband, even riding astride whilst making trips to purchase sheep for our farm. Some are shocked to see a woman riding that way, but it’s the only sensible thing to do.
Most women in Parramatta are spirited. We must be if we’re to survive.

2. Why would readers want to be like you?

I’m not at all certain anyone would want to be like me. I am lucky to be educated. Most women in my station are not, but Mum believed in education and made certain I attended school at a church near our home in London.
I’ve done some dreadful things in my life and have endured unspeakable hardships. I’m only now beginning to understand God’s forgiveness and love. I dare say, many have experienced the same miseries that I have, and they’ve lived with the shame of sin and wondered how God could forgive such wickedness.
I do possess something truly grand, and that is the assurance that God’s love is steady and enduring. No matter my past or my future he offers grace to me.

3. What is a one-liner of advice you can offer your readers?

There is no sorrow, no sin, nor any kind of trouble too difficult for God.

Thank you, Bonnie! Your heroine sounds spirited but grounded. I look forward to "meeting" her in your book!

Friday, November 14, 2008

This Christmas, And Always!

You don't have to be a book publisher to know that books make a great gift. And if you choose from the hundreds of new inspirational fiction books available at Christian Book or any other bookstore, you know you're giving adventure and romance, or suspense and chills, a mini-vacation, all in one economical gift! That's what I call a wise choice in these days of watching one's pennies. I love to give books as gifts--both fiction and non-fiction--just ask my kids! If I didn't get them books, they'd feel cheated!

Give a book or two this Christmas. Be sure to give books of the sort that you would like to support. Publishers today watch, just as they did, then.

Happy book giving!(And here's a tip for good value. Sign up for the online newsletter for and and you'll get weekly coupons right in your inbox. Sign up at and you'll get weekly links to special sales and closeouts!)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Plain Perfect

Thomas Nelson (September 9, 2008)


Writing has always been a part of Beth Wiseman’s life. When she was introduced to the Amish, she gained an appreciation for their simpler way of life and began writing novels featuring this endearing group. Her first novel was Plain Perfect. She and her family live in Texas.

As a newspaper reporter, Beth has been honored by her peers with eleven journalism awards in the past four years - most recently, first place news writing for The Texas Press Association. She has been a humor columnist for The 1960 Sun in Houston and published articles in various publications. However, writing novels is where her heart is. Following completion of five manuscripts, Wiseman's inspirational fiction series set in Pennsylvania Dutch Country is where she found her voice.

"It took me a while," she says. "But I knew right away that Plain Perfect was the one. Writing about the Amish lifestyle within a fictional love story has been a wonderful experience. The Amish and Mennonite contacts I have established in Lancaster County help me to keep the books authentic. These very private people might dress differently, avoid the use of electricity and modern conveniences, but they are just like everyone else. They love, hurt, have daily challenges and struggles, and strive to be the best they can be. An often misunderstood sect of people, it has been a privilege to learn about their ways."

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 14.99

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: Thomas Nelson (September 9, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1595546308

ISBN-13: 978-1595546302


LILLIAN PEELED BACK THE DRAPES AT THE FRONT WINDOW and squinted against the sun’s glare. She’d called the taxi almost an hour ago. If her ride didn’t show up soon, she would have to forego her plan and spend another night with Rickie. Biting her lip, she worried if she would have enough cash to change her flight if she didn’t make it to the airport on time.

She lowered the drape and paced the living room in Rickie’s house, silently blasting herself for ever moving in with him in the first place. Her stomach writhed at the thought of one more day under the same roof with him. And yet her window of time for her departure was closing, she realized, glancing at her watch.

She tugged at the drapes again. Relief fell over her when she saw the yellow cab pull into the driveway. Snatching her red suitcase and purse, she bolted for the door, shuffling toward the driver as he opened the trunk.

“Please hurry,” she said to the driver, handing him her suitcase.

The driver stowed her luggage without comment and was climbing into the driver’s seat when she saw Rickie’s black Lexus rounding the corner and heading up the street. Her heart sank.

“Where to?” the driver asked.

“Intercontinental Airport,” she answered. “Hurry, please.”

As the driver made his way down Harper Avenue, Lillian watched out the rearview window. Rickie’s car slowly neared the house.

The cab driver turned at the corner. She’d made it. A clean getaway.

Irma Rose Miller couldn’t help but notice the bounce in her husband’s steps. The cancer kept him down and out on most days, but not today. Today Lilly was coming, and his anticipation and joy were evident.

“Danki,” Jonas said as Irma Rose poured him another cup of coffee.

“You’re welcome.”

Her tall husband, once muscular and strong as an ox, sat hunched over the wooden table between them. His healthy load of gray locks and full beard were now thinning and brittle. Dark circles under his eyes and sunken features revealed the many sleepless nights of pain he had endured over the past few months. God had given her husband of forty-eight years a challenging road to travel, and he was making the trip with dignity and grace.

“Our Lilly will be here this afternoon.” Jonas smiled and raised the cup to his mouth. His hands trembled, but his eyes twinkled with a merriment Irma Rose hadn’t seen since the first mention of their granddaughter coming to stay with them. She hoped he wouldn’t be disappointed. They hadn’t seen the girl in seventeen years, since she was ten years old.

Irma Rose stood to retrieve some donuts from a pan atop the wooden stove.

“It will be wunderbaar gut to have her here.”

Irma Rose placed two donuts on her husband’s plate. “Ya, that it will. But, Jonas, you must keep in mind how different our ways are. We will seem like foreigners to our Englisch granddaughter.”

“These donuts are appeditlich,” Jonas said.

“Danki. But, Jonas, you need to prepare yourself. Sarah Jane raised Lilly in the outside world. We don’t know her. As a matter of fact, we don’t know exactly how Sarah Jane raised her.”

The thought twisted Irma Rose’s stomach in familiar knots. It had been hard enough when her daughter chose to leave the Old Order Amish community at the age of eighteen, but even more difficult when she wrote to tell them she was in a family way soon thereafter . . . with no husband.

“She was a glorious child,” Jonas said. “Remember how quickly she learned to ice skate? What a joy she was. What a gut Christmas holiday we all had.”

Irma Rose shook her head at her husband’s ignorance of the obvious. Lilly wasn’t a child any more. She was a grown woman. Jonas had talked about that last Christmas together until the next season came and went. When Sarah Jane and Lilly didn’t show up the following year, he merely shrugged and said, “Maybe they will visit next year.” And each Christmas thereafter Jonas anticipated a visit that never happened.

Jonas never uttered a negative word about Sarah Jane’s choices. But she’d seen the sadness in his eyes when their daughter left home, and she knew the pain dwelled in his heart over the years. But he only said it was impossible to always understand God’s direction for His children—their child. Their only child. The good Lord had only seen fit to bless them with one. A beautiful daughter who had chosen a life rife with hardship.

Irma Rose had prayed hard over the years to cleanse herself of any discontentment with her daughter. Sarah Jane’s choice to leave the Amish faith was prior to her baptism and church membership. Therefore her daughter was never shunned by the community. She had chosen to avoid visits with her parents. From the little Irma Rose gathered over the years, Sarah Jane and Lilly had lived with friends and moved around a lot.

An occasional letter arrived from her daughter, to which Irma Rose always responded right away. More times than not, the letters were returned unopened. It was less painful to assume Sarah Jane had moved on and the letters were returned by the postal service. Although sometimes it cut Irma Rose to the bone when she recognized her daughter’s penmanship: Return to sender.

She was thankful her last letter to Sarah Jane had not been returned. She couldn’t help but wonder if the news about Jonas’s cancer had prompted her granddaughter’s visit. When Lillian’s letter arrived over a month ago, Irma Rose had followed her instructions not to return a letter but to call her on the telephone if at all possible. She wasted no time going to the nearby shanty to phone her granddaughter. The conversation was strained and the child seemed frantic to come for a visit.

“I’m a teacher and when school is out in May, I’d like to come for a visit,” her granddaughter had said on the phone. “Maybe stay for the summer. Or maybe even longer?” There was a sense of urgency in the girl’s tone.

Irma Rose feared her faith had not been as strong as her husband’s and that a tinge of resentment and hurt still loitered in her heart where Sarah Jane was concerned. She didn’t want any of those feelings to spill over with her granddaughter. She would need to pray harder.

As if reading her mind, Jonas said, “Irma Rose, everything will be fine. You just wait and see.”

It wasn’t until the plane was high above the Houston skyline that the realization of what she’d done hit Lillian. After landing in Philadelphia, she caught a train to Lancaster City and hopped a bus to Paradise, which landed her only a few miles from her grandparents’ farm. She was glad there was a bit of a walk to their property; she wanted to wind down and freshen up before she reacquainted herself with her relatives. Plus, she’d had enough time on the plane to wonder if this whole thing was a huge mistake. Her mom hadn’t wanted to be here, so why think it would be any better for her?

Not that she had much choice at this point. She had no money, no home, no job, and she was more than a little irritated with her mother. When her mom had begged Lillian to loan her the money she’d painstakingly saved to get away from Rickie and start fresh, Lillian reluctantly agreed, with the stipulation she got her money back as soon as possible. But her mom had never repaid a loan before. Lillian didn’t know why she thought it would be any different this time. When the promised repayment never came, Lillian quit her job and made a decision to distance herself from her mother and Rickie by coming to a place where she knew neither of them would follow: Lancaster County.

Lillian shook her head, wondering if she was making a bigger mistake by coming here. She didn’t know if she’d ever understand what ultimately drove her mother from the Plain lifestyle. From what she read, it rarely happened—Amish children fleeing from all they’d ever known. The circumstances must have been severe to drive her mother away.

Although . . . it didn’t look so bad from Lillian’s point of view, now that she was there. Aside from having a dreadful wardrobe, she thought the Amish men and women strolling by looked quite content. They seemed oblivious to the touristy stares. The women wore simple, dark-colored dresses with little white coverings on their heads. The men were in cotton shirts, dark pants with suspenders, and straw hats with a wide brim. Box-shaped, horse-drawn buggies were abundant.

Ironically, it all seemed quite normal.

She took a seat on a bench outside the Quik Mart at the corner of Lincoln Highway and Black Horse Road and watched the passersby. Clearly, Paradise was a tourist town, like most of Lancaster County, with everyone wanting to have a look at the Amish people.

Watching them now, she wondered if the Amish were all as peaceful as they appeared. Despite her initial thoughts, she decided they couldn’t be. Everyone had stress. Everyone had problems. Surely the Plain People of Lancaster County were not an exception.

But they could have fooled Lillian.

Samuel Stoltzfus gave hasty good-byes to Levina Esh and Sadie Fisher and flicked his horse into action, hiding a smile as his buggy inched forward. The competitiveness of those two widow women! First Levina had presented him with her prize-winning shoofly pie. Not to be outdone, Sadie quickly offered up her own prize-winning version. Stalemate. The two of them had stood there glaring at each other while he tried to think of ways to escape unhurt . . . and unattached.

He might have to rethink his shopping day. Both women knew he went to the farmer’s market on Thursdays . . . Once he cleared town, he picked up the pace. The road to his farm near the town of Paradise was less traveled, and he was particularly glad of that on this day. It was a glorious sunny afternoon, perfect for a buggy ride through the countryside.

Pleased he had chosen his spring buggy instead of his covered one, he relished the warmth of the late afternoon sun. Rachel had loved this time of year, when spring gave way to summertime and all the world felt full of promise.

God’s soil was tilled, and corn, alfalfa, and grain had been planted. Life would be busy as he awaited the bountiful rewards of spring’s labor. There was the garden, with peas to pick. The strawberries would be ready. Lots of canning and freezing. Much time went into preparing a garden for harvest.

And Rachel’s garden had always been lush and plentiful. Gardening was work for the womenfolk, but Samuel had done the best he could the past two years. He was thankful his sisters took care of most of the canning and freezing.

He closed his eyes, his shoulders lifting with his sigh. He missed Rachel the most this time of year.

Lillian felt like a fool. Didn’t “down yonder a spell” mean right down the road? The friendly Amish boy had pointed down Black Horse Road and uttered those exact words when she’d asked for directions to her grandparents’ farm. She’d thought the walk would do her good—help her shed some of the calories she ingested while sitting at the Quik Mart with a large cinnamon roll and cola.

Evidently, she’d mistranslated “down yonder a spell.” There wasn’t a farmhouse in sight.

She really should have considered the strappy sandals she was wearing before opting to venture down the road to nowhere. Her capri blue jeans and short-sleeved pink-cotton shirt were good choices, however. The clement sun mixing with a soft breeze made for a perfect day. An excellent day for a walk . . . if only she’d had better shoes.

Setting her red suitcase on the grassy shoulder of the paved road, she plopped down on top of it and scanned the farmland surrounding her. It was so quiet. Peaceful. She could only hope that some of the peacefulness the Amish were known for would rub off on her during her stay. She needed it. Life had not been easy to her the past few years.

Her mom’s idea of parenting had left much to be desired— jumping from one man to the next looking for something she never seemed to find. All the while she’d toted Lillian along. Lillian had grown up changing schools, saying good-bye to friends, and continually hoping Mom’s next boyfriend would be better than the last. At the first chance, Lillian had bailed on the situation, telling herself she could do better.

Despite her good intentions, she’d ended up close to following in her mother’s footsteps. After putting herself through college while living with three other girls in a small apartment, she’d landed a teaching job. There had been boyfriends, and she’d definitely made her own share of mistakes.

But always, something had whispered to her that there was another way to live. Sometimes she’d listened, sometimes not. But she never felt comfortable enough to ask herself just where that voice was coming from—she just didn’t know enough to form an opinion. She didn’t listen to the voice when it cautioned her not to move in with Rickie. But when the voice became too strong to ignore, she knew it was time to get out of that situation.

Despite the complete lack of religious upbringing, she always suspected there might be a God looking down on her. But in light of her mom’s thoughts on church, she couldn’t ask her about it. Her mother seemed angry at religion. While she heartily encouraged Lillian to attend various churches with her friends when she was a child, she herself would have no part of it. It was a huge contradiction in parenting, and Lillian didn’t understand it to this day.

Now, knowing the Amish to be solid in their faith, Lillian decided it might be best to keep her suspicions about a possible God to herself around her grandparents.

“Guess I better get moving and find out how far ‘down yonder a spell’ really is.” She jumped off the suitcase, gave it a heave-hoe, and started back down the paved road, gazing to either side where the acreage stretched as far she could see. The sun pressing down on the horizon left her a tad worried about how much further the farm was.

“Whoa, boy!” Samuel yelled to his horse. The animal slowed his pace to a gentle trot, bringing the buggy alongside an Englisch woman cumbersomely toting a bright-red suitcase. She was minus a shoe . . . if you called a flat-bottom sole with two small straps a shoe. Certainly not a good walking instrument.

“Can I offer you a ride?” He pulled back on the reins and came to a complete halt, as did the small-framed woman. When she turned, he was met by radiant green eyes in a delicate face.

Delicate, that is, until she grimaced and blew a tendril of hair out of her face.

Then she smiled, and her face transformed, lighting up like the morning sun. He was momentarily struck dumb.

It didn’t matter. The woman was focused on his horse. Deserting her suitcase on the side of the road, she stumbled over to Pete and reached out to stroke his nose without so much as a “May I?”

Thankfully, Pete was a gentle giant.

“He’s beautiful,” she said, glancing briefly in Samuel’s direction, eyes sparkling.

He cleared his throat. “Ya. And a fine work horse too.”

What an interesting woman this was. Unafraid. And beautiful, he had to admit. He watched as her long brown hair danced in the wind, framing her face in layers. She wore no makeup and seemed lacking in the traditional Englisch look, although her brightly colored blouse and calf-length breeches certainly gave her away. A tourist, most likely. But a tourist walking alone down Blackhorse Road?

The woman’s mouth curved upward in delight as she cooed over Pete. The horse gently snorted, nudged her, and she laughed heartily, her head thrown back. It was a thoroughly enchanting scene.

Suddenly uncomfortable at his thoughts, he straightened and coughed. It was enough to bring the woman’s attention back to him.

“I would love a ride!” With a final kiss on the old horse’s muzzle, she went back for her suitcase. “Where should I put this?”

“Ach, my manners.” Samuel jumped out of the buggy and made his way to the woman. “Let me.” He took the suitcase from her, quite surprised at how heavy the small bundle was. After stowing it behind the double seat, he offered his hand to assist her into the buggy.

“Thank you.” Now she was studying him . . . seemingly from head to toe. At her open glance, he felt a flush tint his cheeks.

“I’m Samuel Stoltzfus,” he said, extending his hand but avoiding her questioning eyes.

“I’m Lillian Miller.”

Her hands were certainly that of an Englisch woman, soft and void of a hard day’s work. The Plain women in Lancaster County tilled gardens, shelled peas, kneaded bread, and a host of other necessary chores uncommon to Englisch women from the city. City women’s hands were not only smooth and manicured, but pleasing to the touch.

Returning to his seat, he started up the buggy again. The woman was obviously tired and happy to be resting; with a slight groan she stretched her legs out. He found his eyes wandering her way and silently remonstrated himself.

“Where are you from, Lillian? Or, more important, where are you going?”

“I’m from Houston.”

“Ya, Texas,” he said, slightly surprised. They didn’t usually get Texans walking the roads out here. “Lots of farms in Texas. What brings you to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania?”

“I’m coming to stay with my grandparents for a while.” She smiled. “They’re Amish.”

Amish? He was once more at a loss for words. Not to worry— the Englisch woman wasn’t.

“Actually, I guess I’m Amish too,” she added.

Discreetly glancing at her Englisch clothes, he wondered how that could be so.

“My grandparents are Irma Rose and Jonas Miller. I’ll be staying with them for a while.” She looked his way as if waiting for a response that never came. “I’d like to adapt myself to the Amish ways. I need a peaceful, calm lifestyle away from the city. Anyway, I’ve decided to be Amish for a while.”

Samuel had been trying to connect this vivacious outsider with the staunch Irma Rose and Jonas he knew, but these words jostled him out of his musings. “You’d like to be Amish for a while?”

“Yes. Although I don’t plan to wear one of those dark-colored dresses or white caps like the women I saw strolling by earlier.”

In spite of himself, Samuel chuckled. “Do you even know what being Amish means?” He didn’t mean the remark as harshly as it sounded.

Lillian slanted her eyes in his direction, as if slightly offended.

Unexpectedly, the buggy wheel hit a rut. With an oomph, his new friend bounced in her seat. She was a tiny little thing. Luckily, she didn’t catapult right off the seat and onto the pavement.

“Yikes!” she said when her behind returned to the seat. And then she giggled. As Pete’s ears swiveled back to catch the commotion, Samuel couldn’t help but grin. The woman’s enthusiasm was contagious.

He decided to drop the subject. He knew Irma Rose and Jonas well enough to figure they’d set her right about being Amish and what it really meant. Samuel reckoned they’d have their hands full with their granddaughter.

As Samuel righted the buggy, he asked, “When is the last time you saw your grandparents?” He hadn’t even known Irma Rose and Jonas had a granddaughter.

“When I was ten. Seventeen years ago. It was the first time I saw snow. Real snow.” Her eyes twinkled from the memory.

“Anyway, I know things will be different from what I’m used to. But I can live without television. There’s too much bad news on TV anyway. And I know Amish women cook a lot. I’m a great cook.” She shrugged. “I’m a hard worker in general. I know Amish get up early and go to bed early. I know they work hard during the day. And if that’s what it takes to feel peaceful and calm . . . I’m in!”

Samuel found her enthusiasm charming, no matter how misdirected it was. “Lillian, I’m sure Irma Rose and Jonas will appreciate you helping with household duties, but it will take more than chores and giving up worldly things to provide you with the peacefulness you’re lookin’ for.”

“Well, it’s a start,” she said, sounding optimistic.

As for that . . . who was he to argue?

Lillian remembered the Christmas visit with her grandparents at their farm, especially the snow. Unlike the icy mix of sludge found rarely in her hometown state, snow in Lancaster County glistened with a tranquil purity. Almost two decades later, she could still recall the towering cedar trees blanketed in white and ice skating on the crystalline pond in her mother’s old ice skates.

The presents had been few. She remembered that. And while she recollected her grandparents as warm and loving, she also remembered the tension between them and her mother. Her grandfather had kept the mood festive, suggested the ice-skating, and seemed to make it his mission for Lillian to have a good time—even carting her to town and back in his gray, horsedrawn buggy. It had been the highlight of her trip.

“I remember liking the way my grandparents talked,” she recalled to Samuel. “I didn’t understand a lot of things they said. Things like ‘Outen the lights until sunrise when we’ll redd-up the house.’ And ‘It wonders me if it will make wet tomorrow.’ Mom translated those to mean ‘Turn out the lights until in the morning when we’ll clean up the house’ and ‘I wonder if it will rain tomorrow.’”

“That would be right,” Samuel said.

Grandma and Grandpa both spoke another language she’d later found out was Pennsylvania Deitsch. Lots of times they would commingle their language with English. “Danki, Sarah Jane, for bringing our little kinskind for a visit,” her grandfather told her mother that Christmas. To which Sarah Jane Miller forced a smile and nodded.

“Grandma, why are you and Grandpa wearing those costumes?”

Lillian recalled asking her grandparents.

Grandpa had just laughed and said, “It is our faith, my kinskind. We wear these plain clothes to encourage humility and separation from the world.”

At ten, Lillian had little understanding of what that signified. Except somewhere in the translation she knew it meant they couldn’t have a television or a phone. Several times after their one and only trip, Lillian had asked her mother if she could call her grandparents. Mom reminded her no phones were allowed at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

“Evidently, my grandparents came to Houston a couple of times before our visit at Christmas, but I don’t remember,” she told Samuel. “That Christmas was my last trip to Lancaster County and the last time I saw my grandparents. Until now.”

“I reckon Irma Rose and Jonas are really looking forward to seeing you.”

“I hope so.”

Lillian tried to keep her gaze focused on the road in front of her. But her eyes kept involuntarily trailing to her left. Samuel Stoltzfus was as handsome a man as she had ever seen in the city. His plain clothes did little to mask his solid build and appealing smile each time she glanced in his direction. But it was his piercing blue eyes Lillian couldn’t seem to draw away from.

“So, how long have you been married?” Nosey, nosey. The astonished look on his face confirmed her worry. She was crossing the line. “I’m sorry. I just noticed that you have the customary beard following marriage.” She’d done her research before arriving here. “And . . . I was just . . . curious.” And curious why? He’s Amish, for heaven’s sake.

“I’m not married. I’m widowed.”

“Oh,” she said softly, thinking how young his wife must have been when she died. “ I’m so sorry. When did your wife die?”

“Mei fraa, Rachel, passed almost two years ago,” he answered without looking her way.

“Again, I’m so sorry.”

Samuel continued to stare at the road ahead. “It was God’s will.”

There was no sadness or regret in his tone. Just fact. Lillian knew she should leave it alone, but . . . “I’m sure you miss her very much.”

He didn’t glance her way. “There’s Irma Rose and Jonas’s farm,” he said, pointing to their right. “I better take you right up to the house.” He coaxed Pete down a long dirt drive leading from the road to the white farmhouse.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that. I can walk.” She wondered if Samuel Stoltzfus was ready to be rid of her. His eyebrows edged upward beneath his dark bangs and he glanced at her shoeless foot.

Point taken. “A ride to the house would be great.”

As Pete trotted down the dirt driveway toward the farmhouse, reality sank in. This would be her new home for the summer—or however long it took to accomplish her goal. At first glance, everything seemed lovely. The prodigious fields on either side of the lane were neatly mowed, and the white fencing in good repair. But unlike the farms she passed on the way, there were no signs of new life planted. It wasn’t until they drew closer to the farmhouse that she spotted a small garden off to her left enclosed by a wire-mesh fence. Parallel rows of greenery indicated vegetables would be forthcoming.

Also off to her left was a large barn, the paint weathered and chipping. Another smaller barn to her right also was in need of a fresh paint job. She recalled the barns they had passed on her journey down Black Horse Road. Most were a bright crimson color.

The white farmhouse appeared freshly painted, but with flowerbeds absent of flowers or shrubs. They must have been beautiful at one time. But now they—and the rest of the yard—lent an air of neglect to the farm.

A wraparound porch with two rockers looked inviting. But while the idea of curling up with a good book in one of the rockers was appealing, Lillian knew it was the inside of the house and its inhabitants she feared most. Her grandma had seemed pleasant enough on the phone, but what if she and her grandfather were too set in their ways to make room for her? And what if she couldn’t adjust to their ways? No electricity meant no hairdryer, curling iron, or other modern convenience she considered a necessity. How would she charge her cell phone? And she couldn’t imagine a summer without air conditioning.

Grimacing as the thoughts rattled around her head, she reminded herself why she’d come. She’d had a month to consider all of these factors. She thought she had. But as her fantasy of leaving everything behind for this became absolute, her tummy twirled with uncertainty.

She was still attempting to envision her new way of life when Samuel brought Pete up next to a gray buggy parked on one side of the house. Samuel moved quickly to get her suitcase from behind the seat and extended his hand to help her out of the buggy. Towering over her, he promptly released her fingers.

“Thank you for the ride. Maybe I will see you again.” She could only hope. But his lack of response as he quickly jumped back in the carriage left her wondering.

Lillian waved good-bye and watched until horse, buggy, and man were back on the paved road. She knew she was stalling. Her grandparents would be strangers to her, and she would be a stranger to them. Yet they had encouraged her to come and stay with them. “For as long as you like,” her grandmother had said.

Striving to cast her worries aside, she turned around, picked up her suitcase, and headed up the walk toward what would be her new home . . . for a while.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Anne Rice--She's Got Character! A Real Life Heroine to Note

Writer Darlene Oakley posted this on one of my groups and I wanted to pass it along.

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana(AP)-- It's Halloween, and Anne Rice has a new book -- a memoir, in
fact -- that's climbing best-seller lists. Everything is normal, then.
Anne Rice
says she hopes to take her skills writing vampire books and "redeem
if it were 1994 -- the height of Rice's megaselling fame as a queen of Southern
Gothic pulp.
For those who haven't been paying attention lately to vampire lit,
America's most famous chronicler of bloodsuckers doesn't live in New Orleans
anymore -- and hasn't since before Hurricane Katrina hit -- and she's riding
new waves of enthusiasm: the memoir and Christian lit.
Her memoir, "Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual
Confession," is the latest piece of evidence that Rice is reinventing
herself in an attempt to build a reputation as a serious Christian writer.
In the memoir, the 67-year-old writer doesn't disavow the two
decades she spent churning out books on vampires, demons and witches -- with a
batch of S&M erotica thrown in -- following the breakout success of her
first novel in 1976, "Interview With the Vampire."
But she's clearly moved on.
In a telephone interview from her mountain home in Rancho Mirage, California , Rice laid
out her goal:
"To be able to take the tools, the apprenticeship, whatever I
learned from being a vampire writer, or whatever I was -- to be able to take
those tools now and put them in the service of God is a wonderful, wonderful,
wonderful opportunity," she said. "And I hope I can redeem myself in
that way. I hope that the Lord will accept the books I am writing now."
The memoir follows the release of two books in a planned
four-part, first-person chronicle of the life of Jesus.
And in this new 245-page memoir, Rice presents her former life as
vampire writer as that of a soul-searching wanderer in the deserts of atheism;
as someone akin to her most famous literary creations -- Lestat, her "dark
search engine," Louis the aristocrat-turned- vampire and Egyptian Queen
Akasha, "the mother of all vampires."
"I do think that those dark books were always talking about
religion in their own way. They were talking about the grief for a lost
faith," she said.
In 2002, Rice broke away completely from atheism -- nearly four
decades after she gave up her Roman Cat holic
faith as the 1960s started. It happened when she went off to college and found
her peers talking about existentialism -- Martin Heidegger, Albert Camus,
Jean-Paul Sartre. Religion, she writes, was too restrictive to the young Rice.
Too out of step.
Yet, religion had to come back into her life, she writes. For her,
it was something she'd have to face up to again like an absent parent or a
long-lost love child or Banquo the ghost in "Macbeth."
By the late 1990s, when she went back to Mass, Rice -- the author
whose books sold in the tens of millions and who had recharged Hollywood 's appetite for
vampire-inspired horror -- had fallen on hard times.
Her husband, poet and artist Stan Rice, died of a brain tumor in
2002. And she had become victim to diabetes.
Always over-the-top and beyond the rational, she writes that her
return of faith was preceded by a series of epiphanies -- many while on travels
to Europe's cathedrals, Israel and Brazil. In one episode, when she visited the
giant Jesus statue above Rio de Janeiro , she writes that she felt "delirium"
as the clouds broke and revealed the statue.
Her professed revelations recall the religious intoxication she
describes of her childhood.
When she was 12, she had her father turn a room on the back porch
of the family's Uptown home in New Orleans into
an oratory modeled after St. Rose of Lima
-- the saint Cat holics believe
turned roses into floating crosses. She wanted to be a saint, she writes.
In the memoir, Rice describes a familiar Cat holic
upbringing imbued with opulence and mystery. The incense. The statuary. The
stained glass. The darkness. She learned the world, she writes, through her
senses, through a "preliterate" understanding of the world. She
writes that she possessed "an internal gallery of pictorial images"
that, lamentably, was replaced "by the alphabetic letters" she
learned later.
"You might call it the Mozart effect, but it was the Cat holic effect on me," she said.
In a sense, the memoir also is a confessional about her struggle
as a writer to be a reader, a thinker and an author with a distinct literary
style. Her stories often are reveries with no end in sight -- and all too often
ugly with pedantic unwinding, numbing in detail and overly simplistic, a
pastiche of cliches.
Her turn in direction -- from vampire fiction to Christian musings
-- still isn't winning the critics over.
In The New York Times, Christopher Buckley slammed Rice's memoir
as "a crashing, mind-numbing bore. This is the literary equivalent of
And the bar is high when it comes to writing about Jesus.
"The best may be Nikos Kazantzakis' 'The Last Temptation of
Christ,' " said Jason Berry, a novelist and journalist who has written
extensively on the Cat holic priest
sex abuse scandal. "But also (G.K.) Chesterton, Norman Mailer. ... A lot
of narrative artists in both literature and film have taken on Jesus, so to
Rice isn't out to impress the critics, though.
"My objective is simple: It's to write books about our Lord
living on Earth that make him real to people who don't believe in him; or
people who have never really tried to believe in him," she said.
She pressed the point: "I mean, I've made vampires believable
to grown women. Now, if I can do that, I can make our Lord Jesus Christ
believable to people who've never believed in him. I hope and pray."
For her devotees, whatever she writes invariably goes down like a
smooth bloodbath, that favorite Goth beverage sometimes made with raspberry
liqueur, red wine and cranberry juice.
"There are so many people dedicated to her. They want her to
write more vampire books," said Marta Acosta, author of the popular
"Casa Dracula" series, a "comedy of manners" that plays on
vampire themes. She also runs the Vampire Wire, a book blog for fans of gore
and the undead.
As for her, Acosta couldn't care less if Rice sinks back into the
vampire vein.
"People think it's sexual, but it's not. It's suppressed
stuff. Southern Gothic," Acosta said. "How many centuries is Louis
(played by Brad Pitt in the movie 'Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire
Chronicles') going to whine?"
Never again, it seems.
Rice is busy writing about Jesus as a minister. And that's a
tall order, Rice said.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Today, I pass on a book review from Author's Choice Reviews because it sounds like a great read, with a fictional infusion to a REAL female character--Eve--that promises a huge payoff to readers. I'm putting this on my TBR (TO BE READ) pile for sure. Even wanted to know, "All About Eve?" I have. This is likely the closest we'll get this side of heaven!

HAVAH-The Story of Eve
By Tosca Lee
ISBN 978-1-60006- 124-0
Reviewer Cynthia Hickey

Eve, or Havah, as Adam called her recounts the story of her life from
the moment God whispers "Wake", to her last breath. From the Garden of
Eden through exile and the birthing of a world, Havah recounts her
struggles, her hopes, one son's murder by his brother, and the turning
from God of her descendents.

A sensual, passionate love story of the first woman for, not only her
mate, but for God. From the first bite of forbidden fruit, Eve spends
her life trying to get back to the verdant valley of her birth. Into
exile, she brings God's promise of hope, her bitterness toward a
husband who blames her for his eating of the fruit, and a searching to
see God's face again. Oh, the wonders Havah saw come to fruition, the
despair she battles with, and the hope she carries through her life.

Tosca Lee has crafted a story so real, so full of detail, the reader
will feel as if they know Adam and Havah intimately. The reader will
catch a glimpse of God so rich they will take it with them far beyond
the last page. This novel is a ten, not only on the faith scale, but
in a well-written story.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Faking Grace

Multnomah Books (August 19, 2008)


Tamara Leigh is the best-selling author of eleven novels, including Perfecting Kate, Splitting Harriet, and Stealing Adda. She began writing romance novels to “get the stories out her head.” Over the course of one providential year, she gave birth to her first child, committed her life to Christ, gave up a career in speech pathology, and released her first novel. Tamara and her husband, David, live with their two sons in Tennessee.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 12.99

Paperback: 400 pages

Publisher: Multnomah Books (August 19, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1590529294

ISBN-13: 978-1590529294




Grace [√]

Nice, upstanding Christian name—lucked out on that one. Must remember to answer to it.


Monochrome hair [√]

I flip down the visor mirror and peer at the “Marilyn Monroe” blond hair that waves off of my oval face. I so miss my stripes. But under my present circumstances, it’s not as if I can afford to keep up the multiple-shade “do.” Back to the list.

Minimal make-up [√]

Do I feel naked! Another peek in the mirror confirms the feeling. As I passed on foundation and blush, applying only a light powder to even out my tone, I look pale. The overall effect is that my hazel eyes practically jump off my face from beneath perfectly plucked eyebrows (the stragglers made me do it).

Below-knee skirt [√]

Button-up collar [√]

One-inch heels [√]

Almost wish I were naked.

Cross necklace and earrings [√]

WWJD bracelet [√]

I scrunch up my nose. “WWJD? Where would Jesus...? Why would Jesus...?” I tap the bracelet. “Ah! What would Jesus do?”

“Love Waits” ring [√]

Oh no, it doesn’t. Still, it’s a nice thought, especially considering the guy I left behind. But best not to go there.


Bible [√]

Bible Cover [√]

And, I must say, it’s a nice cover. I look to where it sits on the passenger seat with the “KJV” (whatever that means) Bible tucked inside—intensely spiritual with a tapestry print of a country church. And the faux tortoiseshell handles! Nice touch.

Twist pen with 7 different scriptures [√]

One for every day of the week.

“Footprints in the Sand” bookmark [√]

Touching poem. And a surprise ending too!

Fish emblem [√]

“Oops!” I open the ashtray, dig out the emblem, and drop it in my lap. “Check!”

“Jesus is my pilot” bumper sticker [√]

Crown of thorns air freshener [√]

I glance at the scented disk that hangs from my rearview mirror. Stinks, but nicely visible—practically screams “This is one serious Christian.”


“Jesus is my savior.” [√]

“Jesus died for my sins.” [√]

I close my eyes and run the lingo through my mind. “Got it!”

“I’m praying for you.” [√]

I wonder how many Christians really do.

“I need to pray about that.” [√]

Otherwise known as “No way, Jose'!” Or, in these parts, the “Nashville no.”

“Bless his/her heart.” [√]

Sympathetic aside tacked to a derogatory remark about someone to make it acceptable (possibly exclusive to the South, as I’d never heard it before moving to Nashville four months ago).

“My brother/sister in Christ.” [√]

“God’s timing.” [√]

“Have a blessed day.” [√]

“Yours in Christ.” [√]

Must remember to use that last one for note cards and such.


Church [√]

That one on West End should do—respectable-looking and big enough to allow me to slip in and out undetected should I need to place myself in that setting. Of course, I hope the need does not arise. Not that I’m not a believer. I am. Sort of. I mean, I was “saved” years ago. Even went through the dunking process—the whole water up the nose thing (should not have panicked). But the truth is that, other than occasionally attending church with my grandmother before and after I was saved, my faith is relatively green. Hence, the need for a checklist.

Testimony [ ]

“Uh! Just had to leave that one for last, Maizy. Yes, “Maizy,” as in “Maizy Grace.” Courtesy of one Grandma Maizy, one Grandma Grace, and one mother with a penchant for wordplay. Amazing grace! And Mom is not even a Christian. But Dad’s mom is. According to Grace Stewart, the only thing my parents did right was to name me after her. I beg to differ. I mean…Maizy Grace? Though growing up I did my best to keep it under wraps, my mom blew it during a three-girl sleepover when she trilled upstairs, “Oh, Maizy Grace! How sweet the sound. Won’t you girls come on down?” Fodder for girlhood enemies like Cynthia Sircy who beat me out for student council representative by making an issue of my “goody two shoes” name. And that’s why I never use “Grace.” Of course, it could prove useful today.

I return to my checklist. “Testimony…” I glance at the dashboard clock that reveals I’ve blown ten of my twenty minutes leeway. Guess I’ll have to think up a testimony on my way in to the interview. Not that I don’t have a story of how I came to know Jesus. It’s just boring. Hmm. Maybe I could expand on my Christian summer camp experience—throw in an encounter with a bear or some other woodland creature with big teeth. Speaking of which…

I check my teeth in the mirror. Pale pink lipstick is so boring. Glaringly chaste. Borderline anti-sexual. Of course, that is the effect I’m after. All good.

“All right, Maizy—er, Grr-ace—get in there and get that job.” A job I badly need if I’m to survive starting over in Nashville, as my part-time position as a lifestyle reporter at the paper has yet to translate into the full-time position I was led to believe it would after three months. Funds are getting low.

I fold my checklist and stick it in the book I picked up at Borders the day I surfed the classified ads and hit on “Seeking editorial assistant for Christian company.” Editorial assistant—a far cry from reporter. In fact, beneath me, but what’s a girl to do?

Closing the book, I smile at the title: The Dumb Blonde’s Guide to Christianity. Not that I’m blond—leastwise, not naturally. Another glance in the mirror confirms that although the $7.99 over-the-counter bottle of blond is no $75 salon experience, it lives up to its claim. Not brassy at all. Still, maybe I should have gone back to basic brown so I wouldn’t have to worry about roots. But talk about boring.

I toss the book on the passenger seat, retrieve the fish emblem and my purse, and swing my legs out the car door. After “hipping” the door closed, I hurry to the back. Unfortunately, unlike the bumper sticker, there seems no non-permanent way to apply the emblem. Thus, I have no choice but to pull off the backing and slap the fish on the trunk lid. Not sure what it symbolizes, but I can figure that out later—if I get the job.

I lower my gaze to the “Jesus is my pilot” bumper sticker. Nice statement, especially with the addition of the fish. Honestly, who wouldn’t believe I’m a deeply committed Christian? And if someone should call me on it, I could be forgiven—it is April 1st—as in April Fools’ Day.

As I start to look away, the peeling lower edge of the bumper sticker catches my eye. Should have used more Scotch tape. I reach down.

“It’s crooked.”

The accented matter-of-fact voice makes me freeze. I’m certain it was directed at me, but did he say “It’s crooked” or “She’s crooked”? Surely the latter is merely a Freudian slip of my mind. And even if it isn’t, I’m not crooked. Just desperate.

As the man behind me could be an employee of Steeple Side Christian Resources, I muster a smile and turn. The first thing I notice where he stands six feet back is his fashionably distressed jeans. Meaning he can’t be an employee. And certainly isn’t looking for a hand out—even better (though I sympathize with the plight of the homeless, they make me very uncomfortable). So he’s probably just passing through the parking lot. Perhaps heading for Steeple Side’s retail store that occupies a portion of the lower floor of their corporate offices.

The next item of note is his shirt—a nice cream linen button up that allows a glimpse of tanned collarbone. I like it. What I don’t like is his face—rather, expression. If not for his narrowed eyes and flat-lined mouth, he’d be halfway attractive with that sweep of dark blond hair, matching eyebrows, and decent cheekbones. Maybe even three-quarters, but that would be pushing it, as his two-day shadow can’t hide a lightly scarred jaw. Teenage acne?

I gesture behind. “My bumper sticker seems to be coming off.”

He lowers his green eyes over me, and though I may simply be paranoid, I’m certain he gives my cross earrings and necklace, button-up collar, and below-knee skirt more attention than is warranted. He glances at the bumper sticker before returning his regard to me. “Yes, it is coming off.”

British. I’m certain of it. Nowhere near the Southern drawl one more often encounters in Nashville.

“Of course...” He crosses his arms over his chest. “…that’s because you’re using tape.”

That obvious? “Well, doesn’t everyone?” Ugh! Can’t believe I said that. Maybe there is something to the warning that you are what you read, as I could not have sounded more like the stereotypical dumb blonde if I had tried.

He raises an eyebrow. “Everyone? Not if they want it to adhere permanently. You do, don’t you?”

Guilt flushes me, and is followed by panic even though I have no reason to fear that this stranger with the gorgeously clipped accent might expose me as a fake. “Of course I do!”

Is that a smile? “Splendid, then I’ll let you in on a little secret.”

Delicious accent or not, that doesn’t sound good. It isn’t, as evidenced by his advance. I step aside, and he drops to his haunches and begins peeling away the tape. “You see…” Holding up the sticker, he looks over his shoulder and squints against the sunlight at my back. “…self adhesive.” He peels off the backing, positions the sticker, and presses it onto my bumper—my previously adhesive-free bumper.

He straightens. That is a smile—one that makes him look a bit like that new James Bond actor. What’s his name?

“You’d be surprised at how much technology has advanced over the last few years,” he says.

I nearly miss his sarcasm, genteelly embedded as it is in that accent. “Well, who would have thought?” Be nice, Maizy—er, Grace. My smile feels tight. In fact, my whole face feels as if lathered by Lava soap. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time to affix my bumper sticker properly.”

He inclines his head. “If you’d like, I’ll try to straighten your fish.”

My…? It’s crooked, he said. Not the bumper sticker—my fish. Meaning he probably saw me stick it on. Were he more than a passerby, I’d be deeply embarrassed. “No, thank you. I like my fish slightly crooked.” I glance at the emblem that appears to have its nose stuck in the air. “It makes him look as if he’s fighting the current. You know, like a good Christian.”

Very good, Ma—Grr-ace! Were he a Steeple Side employee, you would have won him over.

“So you’re a Christian?”

So much for my self-congratulatory pat on the back. Of course, maybe his question is academic. I mean, it’s obvious I’m a Christian. “Of course! A Christian. And proud of it.” Good practice. Unfortunately, if his frown is anything to go by, I’m in need of more. “Er, Jesus is my savior.” Knew Christian speak would come in handy.

His frown deepens.

Or maybe not. Making a show of checking my watch, I gasp. Nothing at all fake about that, as most of my leeway has been gobbled up. Thankfully, I was lucky to—

No, blessed. Must think as well as speak “Christian.” Thankfully, I was blessed to snag a parking space at the front of the building—the only one, as the dozen marked VISITOR spaces were taken, and the remaining spaces on either side of mine are reserved for upper management, as evidenced by personalized signs.

I fix a smile. “Thank you again for your help. If you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment.”


I step forward and, as I pass within two feet of him, take a whiff. Some type of citrus-y cologne. Nice. Not sharp or cloying. Unlike Ben whose cologne of choice made my nasal passages burn. And the Brit is nearly six feet tall to my five foot six. Not so tall I couldn’t wear three-inch heels for fear of shooting up past him. Unlike Ben who’d limited me to one-inch heels—

Go away! Another reason to leave Seattle. With his liberal application of cologne and compact height and build, Ben was nowhere near the man for me. Not that his scent and size was the worst of him. Far from it. And am I glad to be far from him.

As I step to the sidewalk, I’m tempted to glance behind at the nicely-proportioned, bumper-sticker happy Brit. Temptation wins out.

Thumbs hooked in his pockets, he stands alongside my passenger door. Watching me.

Feeling as if caught doing something wrong, I jerk a hand up and scroll through my “Christian speak” for something to reinforce my claim of being a Christian. “Yours in Christ!” I flash a smile that instantly falters.

At the rumpling of his brow, I jerk around and head for the smoked glass doors of Steeple Side Christian Resources. Cannot believe I used a written salutation! Dumb blonde alert! Speaking of which….

The Dumb Blonde’s Guide to Christianity is on the passenger seat. Fortunately, if the man is nosey enough to scope out the interior of my car, it’s not as if I’ll see him again. That scrumptious accent and citrus cologne was a one-time thing. Unless he does work at Steeple Side and I do get the job. Fat chance.

As I pull open one of several sets of glass doors, I glance behind. He’s on the sidewalk now, head back as he peers up the twenty-some floors of the building. Definitely not an employee.

The lobby is bright and sparsely furnished, but what stops me is the backlit thirty-foot cross on the far wall. Fashioned out of what appears to be brushed aluminum, it’s glaringly simple. And yet I can’t imagine it having more presence.

Crossing to the information desk at the center of the lobby, I scope out the men and women who are entering and exiting the elevators. All nicely dressed. All conservative. I’ll fit right in—

I zoom in on a woman who’s stepping into the nearest elevator. Her skirt is above the knee by a couple inches. And that guy who just stepped out of another elevator? His hair brushes his shoulders.

I shift my gaze back to the towering cross. I’m at the right place, meaning those two are probably visitors. Same goes for the young woman who sweeps past and reaches the information desk ahead of me. Not only is she wearing ruched capris, but she has my hair. Rather, the hair I had. Ha! If she’s after my job, I’ve got her beat.

She drops a jingly purse on the desk and points past me where I’ve halted behind. “Jack is so hot!”

“Really?” The chubby-faced receptionist bounds out of her chair, only to falter at the sight of me.

“Yes, hot!” The “ruched” young woman jabs the air again, looks around, and startles. “Er, not ‘hot hot.’ ‘Hot,’ as in under the collar…ticked off.”

That’s my cue to appear relieved that she didn’t mean “hot,” as in “carnal,” as she’s obviously connected to this company—at least, the receptionist. I nod. “That’s a relief.”

She smiles, then puts her forearms on the desk and leans in to whisper in a not too whisper-y voice, “This time they stole his assigned parking sign.”

It would make me “hot” too if someone stole mine. Doubtless, some visitor would snap up my space and I’d have to park—

Oh no. The front parking space I snagged… The only unmarked space in the middle of dozens of marked spaces…

I look around and peer out the bank of glass windows. The Brit whose parking space I took, and who does work here, is striding toward the doors. And he does look hot, though I can’t be sure whether it’s more in the carnal way or the angry way. Regardless, I am not getting this job.

Monday, October 27, 2008

New Fiction Feature

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Diamond Duo

Barbour Publishing, Inc (October 1, 2008)


Marcia Gruver is a full time writer who hails from Southeast Texas. Inordinately enamored by the past, Marcia delights in writing historical fiction. Her deep south-central roots lend a Southern-comfortable style and a touch of humor to her writing.

Awarded a three book contract by Barbour Publishing for full-length historical fiction, Marcia is busy these days pounding on the keyboard and watching the deadline clock. Diamond Duo, the first installment in the trilogy entitled Texas Fortunes, is scheduled for release in October 2008.

Marcia won third place in the 2007 ACFW Genesis contest and third in the 2004 ACFW Noble Theme contest. Another entry in 2004 finished in the top ten. She placed second in the 2002 Colorado Christian Writer’s contest for new authors, securing a spot in an upcoming compilation book. “I Will Never Leave Thee,” in For Better, For Worse—Devotional Thoughts for Married Couples, was released by Christian Publications in January 2004.

She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Fellowship of Christian Writers, and The Writers View—and a longstanding member of ACFW Crit3 and Seared Hearts, her brilliant and insightful critique groups.

Lifelong Texans, Marcia and her husband, Lee, have one daughter and four sons. Collectively, this motley crew has graced them with ten grandchildren and one great-granddaughter—so far.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 10.97

Paperback: 288 pages

Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc (October 1, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1602602050

ISBN-13: 978-1602602052


Diamond Duo by Marcia Gruver, Chapter One

Jefferson, Texas, Friday, January 19, 1877

With the tip of a satin shoe, the graceful turn of an ankle, the woman poured herself like cream from the northbound train out of Marshall and let the tomcats lap her up. In the beginning, an upraised parasol blocked her visage, but no lingering look at her features could erase the impression already established by pleasing carriage, a lavish blue gown, and slender fingers covered in diamonds.

Bertha Biddie waited with stilted breath for the moment when the umbrella might tip and give up its secret. All about her most of Jefferson had come to a halt, as if the whole town waited with her. Without warning, the woman lowered and closed the sunshade.

Enchanted, Bertha followed the graceful lines of her form to her striking and memorable face. At first sight of her, Bertha thought she was the devil’s daughter. She bore no obvious mark of evil. Just smoldering eyes and a knowing glance that said life held mysteries young Bertha had yet to glimpse.

Her hair sparkled like sunrays dancing on Big Cypress Creek. Her lashes were as black as the bottom of a hole, and her lids seemed smudged with coal. Delicate features perched below a dark halo of hair, and a pink flush lit her fair cheeks. Her expression teemed with mischief, and her full ruby lips curled up at the corners as if recalling a bawdy yarn. She turned slightly, evidently aware of the gathering horde for the first time. With a tilt of her chin and barely perceptible sway, she cast a wide net over the men in the crowd and dragged them to shore.

Bertha watched them respond to her and realized Mama had been less than forthcoming about the real and true nature of things. Forgetting themselves and the women at their sides, they stared open-mouthed, some in spite of jealous claws that gripped their arms. Even the ladies stared, the looks on their faces ranging from admiration to envy.

The reaction of the men only slightly altered when the lady’s escort stepped out of the Texas & Pacific passenger car behind her. Though his clothes were just as spiffy and he carried himself well, the man who accompanied that gilded bird lacked her allure, bore none of her charm. Yet despite her confident display of tail feathers, the bluebird at his side clearly deferred to him as though he’d found a way to clip her wings.

With great care, the porter handed down the couple’s baggage, the matched set a rare sight in those parts, then held out his hand. Her companion tipped the man, gathered the bags, and walked away from the platform without offering a single word in the bluebird’s direction. She cast a quick glance after him but stood her ground, her demeanor unruffled in the face of his rebuke.

As was the custom, The Commercial Hotel, Haywood House, and Brooks House, three reputable hotels in town, each had transport standing by to haul incoming passengers from the station. Dr. J. H. Turner, landlord of Brooks House, waited on hand in the conveyance he called an omnibus.

The woman’s friend secured passage with Dr. Turner and helped him load their belongings then turned and crooked a finger in her direction. She pretended not to notice.

“Bessie!” he barked. “For pity’s sake.”

She lifted her head, reopened the parasol, and strolled his way without saying a word—giving in but taking all the time she pleased to do so. He handed her up onto the carriage, climbed in beside her, and settled back to rest a possessive arm around her shoulders.

Dr. Turner eased onto Alley Street and trundled away from the station, breaking the spell cast over the denizens of Jefferson. In slow motion they awoke from their stupor and returned to their lives.

Bertha released the breath she’d held and gripped her best friend’s arm. “What was she, Magda? I’ve never seen anything like her.”

When Magda shook her head, her curls danced the fandango. “Me neither. And we never will again. Not around here, anyway.”

She leaned past Magda trying to catch another glimpse. “She’s no earthbound creature, that’s for sure. But devil or angel? I couldn’t tell.”

Magda laughed. “She’s human all right, just not ordinary folk.” She pressed her finger to her lips. “Could be one of those actresses from a New York burletta.”

Bertha gasped. “From the Broadway stage? You really think so?”

“She’s certainly stylish enough.”

Bertha squinted down Alley Street at the back of the tall carriage. “That man called her Bessie. She doesn’t look like a Bessie to me.”

“Further proof that beneath all her fluff, she’s a vessel of clay like the rest of us.”

“How so?”

“Who ever heard of an angel named Bessie?”

Grinning, Bertha leaned and tweaked Magda’s nose. “Oh, go on with you.”

Of all the souls wandering the earth—in Jefferson, Texas, at least—Bertha Maye Biddie’s heart had knit with Magdalena Hayes’ from the start. They were a year apart, Magda being the oldest, but age wasn’t the only difference between them. Magda easily reached the top shelves in the kitchen, where Bertha required a stool. And while big-boned Magda took up one and a half spaces on a church pew, Bertha barely filled the remaining half. Magda’s russet mop coiled as tight as tumbleweed. Bertha’s black hair fell to her waist in silken waves and gave her fits trying to keep it pinned up. Nothing fazed self-possessed Magda. Bertha greeted life with her heart.

Magda nudged Bertha with her elbow. “Earthbound or not, I can tell you one thing about her. . .”

“What’s that?”

The look in Magda’s big brown eyes said whatever the one thing was it was bound to be naughty. She leaned in to whisper. “She knows a thing or two about the fellas.”

Bertha raised her brows. “You can tell that just by looking at her, can you?”

“Not looking at her, smart britches. I can tell by the way she looks at them.” She fussed with her curls, her eyes pious slants. “No decent woman goes eye to eye with strange men in the street, and you know it.”

“I guess some decent woman told you that?”

“Bertha Maye Biddie! Don’t get fresh with me.”

Bertha tucked in her chin and busied herself straightening her gloves. “Maybe she’s fed up with their scandalous fawning. Ever think of that?”

“Any hound will track his supper.”

The words made Bertha mad enough to spit, but she didn’t know why. “A pie set out on a windowsill may be a fine display of good cooking, but not necessarily an invitation.”

Magda narrowed her eyes. “What on earth are you talking about?” Before Bertha could answer, she stiffened and settled back for a pout. “Why are you siding up with that woman anyway? You don’t even know her.”

The truth was, Bertha’s head still reeled from the first sight of Bessie. And the way men reacted to her flooded Bertha’s young heart with hope and provided an opportunity, if she played her cards right, to fix a private matter that sorely needed fixing.

She knew a few things by instinct, like how to toss her long hair or tilt her chin just so. Enough to mop the grin off Thaddeus Bloom’s handsome face and light a fire in those dark eyes. But she was done with turning to mush in his presence and watching him revel in it. If Bertha could learn a few of the bluebird’s tricks, she’d have that rascal wagging his tail. Then the shoe would be laced to the proper foot, and Thad could wear it up her front stoop when he came to ask for her hand.

One thing was certain. Whatever Bessie knew, Bertha needed to know it.

She tugged on Magda’s arm. “Come on.”

“Come on where?”

Already a wagon-length ahead, Bertha called back over her shoulder. “To the hotel. We’re going to find her.”

“What? Why?”

“Save your questions for later. Now hurry!”

Bertha dashed to the steps at the end of the boardwalk and scurried into the street.

“You planning to run clear to Vale Street?” Magda huffed, rushing to catch up. “Slow down. It ain’t ladylike.”

“Oh, pooh. Neither am I. Look, there’s Mose. He’ll take us.”

Just ahead, Moses Pharr’s rig, piled high with knobby cypress, turned onto Alley Street headed the opposite way. The rickety wagon, pulled by one broken-down horse, bore such a burden of wood it looked set to pop like a bloated tick. When Bertha whistled, the boy’s drowsy head jerked up. He turned around and saw her, and a grin lit his freckled face.

“Bertha!” Magda hustled up beside her. “If your pa gets word of you whistling in town, he’ll take a strap to your legs.”

“Papa doesn’t own a strap. Come on, Mose is waiting.”

She ran up even with the wagon and saw that the mountain of wood had blocked her view of Mose’s sister sitting beside him on the seat. They both grinned down at her, Rhodie’s long red hair the only visible difference between the two.

“Hey, Rhodie.”

“Hey, Bert. Where you going?”

“To Brooks House. I was hoping to hitch a ride.”

Mose leaned over, still grinning. “We always got room for you, Bertha. Hop on.”

Magda closed the distance between them and came to stand beside Bertha, breathing hard. When Bertha pulled herself onto the seat beside Rhodie, Magda started to follow. Mose raised his hand to stop her.

“Hold up there.” He looked over at Bertha. “Her, too?”

Bertha nodded.

Mose cut his eyes back at the wood and then shrugged. “Guess one more can’t hurt. But she’ll have to sit atop that stump. Ain’t no more room on the seat.”

Magda adjusted her shawl around her shoulders and sniffed. “I refuse to straddle a cypress stump all the way to Vale Street.”

“Suit yourself,” Bertha said. “But it’s a long walk. Let’s go, Mose.”

Mose lifted the reins and clucked at the horse. Magda grabbed the wooden handgrip and pulled herself onto the wagon just as it started to move. Arranging her skirts about her, she perched on the tall stump like Miss Muffet. “Well, what are you waiting for?” she asked. “Let’s go.”

Laughing, they rolled through Jefferson listing and creaking, ignoring the stares and whispers. When the rig pulled up across from Brooks House, even the spectacle they made couldn’t compete with Bessie and her traveling companion.

The couple stood on the street beside their luggage, the carriage nowhere in sight. They seemed at the end of a heated discussion, given his mottled face and her missing smile.

When Bertha noticed the same sick-cow expression on the faces of the gathered men and the same threatened look on the women’s, she became more determined than ever to learn Bessie’s secret.

The man with Bessie growled one more angry word then hefted their bags and set off up the path. Not until Bessie followed him and disappeared through the shadowy door did the town resume its pace.

Mose gulped and found his voice. “She looked as soft as a goose-hair pillow. Who is she?”

Bertha scooted to the edge of her seat and climbed down. She dusted her hands and smoothed her skirt before she answered. “I don’t know, but I intend to find out.”

“Roll up your tongue, Moses Pharr,” Magda said from the back, “and get me off this stump.”

Mose hopped to the ground and hurried around to help Magda.

Rhodie, twirling her copper braid, grinned down at Bertha. “What are you going to do, Bert?”

Magda answered for her. “She’s going to get us into trouble, that’s what.”

Bertha took her by the hand. “Stop flapping your jaws and come on.”

They waved goodbye to Mose and Rhodie then hurried across the street, dodging horses, wagons, and men—though their town wasn’t nearly as crowded as it had once been.

Jefferson, Queen City of the Cypress, lost its former glory in 1873, when the United States Corps of Engineers blew the natural dam to kingdom come, rerouting the water from Big Cypress Bayou down the Red River to Shreveport. Once a thriving port alive with steamboat traffic, when the water level fell, activity in Jefferson, the river port town that had earned the title “Gateway to Texas” dwindled. To that very day, in fits of Irish temper, Bertha’s papa cursed the responsible politicians.

But through it all, Jefferson had lost none of its charm. Brooks House was a prime example of the best the town had to offer, so it seemed only right that someone like Bessie might wind up staying there.

Bertha and Magda positioned themselves outside the hotel and hunkered down to wait—the former on a mission, the latter under duress. It didn’t take long for the girls to learn a good bit about the captivating woman and her cohort. Talk swirled out the door of the hotel soon after the couple sashayed to the front desk to register under the name of A. Monroe and wife, out of Cincinnati, Ohio.

The gentleman, if he could be counted as such, addressed the woman as Annie or Bessie, when he didn’t call her something worse. The two quarreled openly, scratching and spitting like cats, and didn’t care who might be listening. By the time the story drifted outside, the locals had dubbed her Diamond Bessie due to her jewel-encrusted hands, and it seemed the name would stick.

Bertha shaded her eyes with her hands and pressed her face close to the window. “I don’t see her anymore, Magda. I guess they took a room.”

“Of course they took a room. Why else would they come to a hotel?”

Bertha ignored her sarcasm and continued to search the lobby for Bessie. Still catching no sight of her, she turned around. “Isn’t she the most glorious thing? And even prettier close up.”

“That she is.”

“Did you see the way men look at her? I never saw that many roosters on the prowl at one time.”

“And all for squat,” Magda said. “That chicken’s been plucked. The little banty she strutted into town with has already staked a claim.” She grinned. “He wasn’t all that hard on the eyes himself.”

Bertha frowned. “That strutting peacock? Besides his flashy clothes, she was the only thing special about him. Don’t see how he managed to snare a woman like that. He must be rich.”

Magda arched one tapered brow. “Did you see the rings on her fingers?”

“I reckon so. I’m not blind.”

Magda stretched her back and heaved a sigh. “I guess that’s it then. Let’s go.”

Bertha grabbed her arm. “Wait. Where are you going?”

“Home. This show’s over. They’ve settled upstairs by now.”

Lacing her fingers under her chin, Bertha planted herself in Magda’s path. “Won’t you wait with me just a mite longer?”

“She’s not coming out here, Bertha. Besides, you’ve seen enough for today.”

“I don’t want to see her. I need to talk to her.”

Magda drew herself back and stared. “Are you tetched? We can’t just walk up and talk to someone like her. Why would she fool with the likes of us?”

“I don’t know. I’ll think of a way. I’ve got to.” She bit her bottom lip—three words too late.

Looking wary now, Magda crossed her arms. “Got to? Why?”

“Just do.” Bertha met her look head-on. She wouldn’t be bullied out of it. Not even by Magda.

Resting chubby fists on rounded hips, Magda sized her up. “All right, what does this have to do with Thad?”

No one knew her like Magda. Still, the chance she might stumble onto Bertha’s motives were as likely as hatching a three-headed guinea hen. Struggling to hold her jaw off the ground, she lifted one shoulder. “Who said it did?”

Magda had the gall to laugh. “Because, dearie,” she leaned to tap Bertha’s forehead, “everything inside there lately has something to do with Thad.”

“Humph! Think what you like. I am going to talk to her.”

Magda glared. “Go ahead then. I can see there’s no changing your mind. But I don’t fancy being humiliated by another of your rattlebrained schemes, thank you.”

Bertha caught hold of her skirt. “Don’t you dare go. I can’t do this on my own.”

“Let go of me. I said I’m going home.”

“Please, Magdalena! I need you.”

Magda pulled her skirt free and took another backward step. “No, ma’am. You just count me out this time.”

She turned to go and Bertha lunged, catching her in front of the hotel door. They grappled, tugging sleeves and pulling hair, both red-faced and close to tears. Just when Bertha got set to squeal like a pestered pig, from what seemed only a handbreadth away a woman cleared her throat. Bertha froze, hands still locked in Magda’s hair, and turned to find the bluebird beaming from the threshold—though canary seemed more fitting now that she’d traded her blue frock for a pale yellow dress.

“What fun!” Bessie cried, clasping her hands. “I feared this town might be as dull as dirt, but it seems I was mistaken.”

Friday, October 10, 2008

Goodbye, Hollywood Nobody

Today's feature author is:


and her book:

Goodbye Hollywood Nobody

NavPress Publishing Group (September 15, 2008)


Lisa Samson is the author of twenty books, including the Christy Award-winning Songbird. Apples of Gold was her first novel for teens

These days, she's working on Quaker Summer, volunteering at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, raising children and trying to be supportive of a husband in seminary. (Trying . . . some days she's downright awful. It's a good thing he's such a fabulous cook!) She can tell you one thing, it's never dull around there.

Other Novels by Lisa:

Hollywood Nobody, Finding Hollywood Nobody, Romancing Hollywood Nobody, Straight Up, Club Sandwich, Songbird, Tiger Lillie, The Church Ladies, Women's Intuition: A Novel, Songbird, The Living End

Visit her at her website.

Product Details

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: NavPress Publishing Group (September 15, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1600062229
ISBN-13: 978-1600062223


Monday, July 11, 6:30 a.m.

I awaken to a tap on my shoulder and open my eye. My right eye. See, these days it could be one of four people: Charley, Dad, Grampie, or Grammie.

“’Morning, dear!”


Oh well, might as well go for broke. I open the other eye.

“Did you sleep well?”

I shake my head and reach for my cat glasses. “Nope. I kept dreaming about Charley in Scotland.” We sent her off with her new beau, the amazing Anthony Harris, two days ago. “I imagined a road full of sheep chasing her down.”

“That would be silly. They would have to know she hates lamb chops.” Grammie sits on my bed. Yes, my bed. In their fabulous house. In my own wonderful room, complete with reproductions of the Barcelona chair and a platform bed of gleaming sanded mahogany. I burrow further into my white down comforter. I sweat like a pig at night, but I don’t care. A real bed, a bona fide comforter, and four pillows. Feather pillows deep enough to sink the Titanic in.

She pats my shoulder, her bangled wrists emitting the music of wooden jewelry. “Up and at ’em, Scotty. Your dad wants to be on the road by seven thirty.”

“I need a shower.”

“Hop to it then.”

Several minutes later, I revel in the glories of a real shower. Not the crazy little stall we have in the TrailMama, which Dad gassed up last night for our trip to Maine. Our trip to find Babette, my mother. Is she dead or alive? That’s what we’re going to find out.

It’s complicated.

The warm water slides over me from the top of my head on down, and I’ve found the coolest shampoo. It smells like limeade. I kid you not. It’s the greatest stuff ever.

Over breakfast, Grampie sits down with us and goes over the map to make certain Dad knows the best route. My father sits patiently, nodding as words like turnpike, bypass, and scenic route roll like a convoy out of Grampie’s mouth.

Poor Grampie. Dad is just the best at navigation and knows everything about getting from point A to point B, but I think Grampie wants to be a part of it. He hinted at us all going in the Beaver Marquis, their Luxury-with-a-capital-L RV, but Dad pretended not to get it.

Later, Dad said to me, “It’s got to be just us, Scotty. I love my mother and father, but some things just aren’t complete-family affairs.”

“I know. I think you’re right. And if it’s bad . . .”

He nods. “I’d just as soon they not be there while we fall apart.”


So then, I hop up into our RV, affectionately known as the TrailMama, Dad’s black pickup already hitched behind. (Charley’s kitchen trailer is sitting on a lot in storage at a nearby RV dealership, and good riddance. I’m hoping Charley never needs to use that thing again.) “Want me to drive?”

He laughs.

Yep. I still don’t have my license.

Man. But it’s been such a great month or so at the beach. So, okay, I don’t tan much really, but I do have a nice peachy glow.

I’ll take it.

And Grampie grilled a lot, and Grammie helped me sew a couple of vintage-looking skirts, and I’ve learned the basics of my harp.

I jump into the passenger’s seat, buckle in, and look over at my dad. “You really ready for this?” My heart speeds up. This is the final leg of a very long journey, and what’s at the end of the path will determine the rest of our lives.

He looks into my eyes. “Are you?”

“I don’t know,” I whisper. “But we don’t really have a choice, do we?”

“I can go alone.”

I shake my head. “No, Dad. Whatever we do, whatever happens from here on out, we do it together.”

Headquarters of the FIRST group. A blogger alliance that publishes the first chapter of fiction books on the first day of each month. Join us!

Got Character?

Remember I'm here to post about books with great characters. What's my definition of a great fictional "character"?
A heroine (in this case, not the hero, since we're talking about the softer gender, here.)whose got spunk, guts, is fallible, but leans on God when she's in trouble and when she needs answers to life's problems. She's memorable, strong enough to stick to her principles, and not afraid to fall on her knees to talk with her Father. She's not ashamed of her purity, and knows that virtue brings its own rewards.

Does that sound like you? I hope so. If not, keep coming back as I discuss character issues, and how some fictional (and real) heroines are dealing with them.

More soon,


Sunday, October 5, 2008

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Long Journey Home

Whitaker House (September 2, 2008)


Born and raised in west Michigan, Sharlene MacLaren attended Spring Arbor University and graduated with an education degree. Now happily retired after teaching elementary school for 31 years, ‘Shar’ enjoys reading, writing, singing in the church choir and worship teams, traveling, and spending time with her husband, children, and precious grandson.

A Christian for over forty years, and a lover of the English language, Shar has always enjoyed dabbling in writing—poetry, fiction, various essays, and freelancing for periodicals and newspapers. Her favored genre, however, has always been romance. She remembers well the short stories she wrote in high school and watching them circulate from girl to girl during government and civics classes.

Sharlene’s books have had the opportunity to reach readers all across the world. The subject matters she touches on have changed hearts and lives resulting in a general fiction nomination for BOOK-OF-THE-YEAR by the American Christian Fiction Writers Association, various appearances on United Christian Broadcasters, Babbie's House, Harvest TV, and an extremely significant online presence.

Shar is a speaker for her local MOPS organization, is involved in KIDS’ HOPE USA, a mentoring program for at-risk children, counsels young women in the Apples of Gold program, and is active in two weekly Bible studies. She and her husband, Cecil, live in Spring Lake, Michigan with their lovable collie, Dakota, and Mocha, their lazy fat cat.

Other Books by Sharlene MacLaren:

Through Every Storm (ACFW finalist for Book of The Year 2007!)

Spring's Promise

Little Hickman Creek Series:

Each story in MacLaren’s Little Hickman Creek series depicts Kentucky in the late 1800s, focusing on a little town better known today as simply Jessamine County. Titles in the series include Loving Liza Jane (April ‘07), Sarah, My Beloved (October ‘07), and Courting Emma, (Spring ’08).

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99

Paperback: 399 pages

Publisher: Whitaker House (September 2, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1603740562

ISBN-13: 978-1603740562


Dan Matt son pushed the speed limit on Highway 6, feeling wild and reckless. With both windows down, radio blaring, map stretched out on his lap, he sped past a sign reading Oakdale: 10 Miles and breathed a sigh. Not far now, he told himself. With his back muscles aching and his stomach (and gas tank) nearly empty, he was more than a litt le anxious to reach his destination.

Along the way, he had noted several large farms, their rickety fences lining the roadside. Here and there, cows and horses huddled in groups, grazing on thinning,

grassy knolls. Restless and impatient, he ran his fingers through his thick, black hair, then reached down and turned up the volume on the radio. At the sounds of a familiar country tune, he began humming along with the radio until his cell phone started vibrating. He yanked it from his pocket, flipped open the cover, and spoke a hurried greeting.

“Danny, where are you?”

He should have known his sister would inquire after him before the day was done. “Hi, Sam. I’m not far from Oakdale.”

“Well, I miss you.” It was hard to ignore the pouty tone.

“Already? I just left this morning.” He forced a smile. Lately, it took a lot for one to come naturally.

“It doesn’t matter. Things are not going to be the same around here without you.”

“Things have not been the same for a long time, Samantha,” he corrected.

Had it really been more than a year since his life took a sharp, screeching turn? Even now, the past memories tangled with his present senses.

“That’s true, but did you have to move away? These things take time, Danny, and the constituency did give you six months to rest up and collect yourself,” she said.

Collect myself? Is she kidding? Six months had barely been enough time to shake off the numbness before reality set in. He swallowed down an angry retort.

“We’ve been over all this, Sam. It’s for the best.”

“Leaving your congregation was for the best?” she asked.


“Folks were just starting to heal. I don’t think you gave it enough time.”

Sam was nothing if she wasn’t forthright about her feelings. Of everyone in the family, she’d been the most adamant about him sticking it out with his congregation.

Did she think this last-minute conversation might convince him to turn around? It was almost enough to make him chuckle.

“I did what I had to do. Hanging around wasn’t doing my parishioners any good.”

“Do you know that for sure?”

He heaved an enormous sigh. “I was their pastor, Sam, but I was the one who needed shepherding.”

“God uses imperfect people all the time.”

“Maybe so, but a church needs strong leadership. What kind of pastor stands in front of the pulpit Sunday after Sunday and offers nothing more than a few babbling words? Shoot, Sam, even I had trouble following my sermons.”

Samantha giggled. “I have to admit, they were going from bad to worse.”

“There you have it,” he murmured, mindlessly reading passing billboards.

“I was kidding.”

“No, you weren’t. Did Mom put you up to this phone call, by the way?”

“Nope. In fact, she told me to leave you alone.”

“Smart woman.”

A tiny pause silenced Sam for a moment. “When are you going to stop blaming yourself for the accident?”

At her question, he tightened his grip on the steering wheel. “Who said I was?”

“It’s pretty obvious, although why you would is a mystery to me. You weren’t even with them when it happened.”

“Precisely. That, my dear, should explain my guilt.”

“So, you’re saying if you’d been with them it wouldn’t have happened? That’s silly. And what about this? If you’d been driving, you might all be dead. That was a treacherous storm.”

“I gotta hang up, Sam. I’m getting closer to town.”

“Dan, answer me this,” she persisted.

“What?” He gritted his teeth against his growing perturbation.

“Besides blaming yourself, do you also blame God?”

He sighed. “I am so tired of talking about this.”

“Just answer me.”

“I don’t know.” Some things were just too hard to put into words.

“Shall I discount all your past sermons about trusting God even through the tough times? I still remember you preaching at John Farhat’s funeral. You looked straight into his wife’s eyes and said, ‘We would never see the stars, Ellen, if God didn’t sometimes take away the day.’”

A ball of guilt formed a tight knot in his chest. How many people had he hurt in his leave-taking? Worse, how many had he led astray? “Let it go, Samantha.”

“I suffered, too, you know. I lost a sister-in-law and a precious niece. And think about Mom and Dad….”

Her voice drifted off as Dan watched the road ahead. “Gotta go, Sam. I’ll call you soon.”

He clamped the cover of the receiver down hard and stuffed the thing back in his pocket, then quickly yanked it back out, opened it up, and hit the off button.

Oakdale City Limits

Dan breathed deeply when he passed the familiar landmark. He’d visited Oakdale only briefly before, but something about its tranquil setting brought a sense of peace and belonging. Its rambling old oaks, fields of wild flowers, ageless pines nestled on faraway hillsides, and timeless brick homes surrounded by flower beds held a kind of idyllic appeal.

He passed an ancient cemetery and instinctively slowed, its sight only adding to his pensive mood. Cemeteries did that to him.

Andrea… Her name shot out of nowhere.

He pushed the accelerator. “God,” he muttered, “what were You thinking? Taking my family away from me was a rotten trick.”

Dan flipped the turn signal at the entrance to Oakdale Arms Apartment Complex, his new stomping ground—at least until he got a grip on himself. He saw the large moving van sitting in the parking lot. It contained a minimum of furniture, enough clothes to get by, and only those memorabilia that wouldn’t cause undue pain. He’d already made payment to the moving company, and the driver had said he would be back for his truck in a couple of days. Moving companies didn’t often operate that way, but since the driver was an old friend, he’d made special arrangements.

Dan parked the car, got out, and stretched. Oakdale looked like a nice enough community—quiet and pleasant, with a friendly aura. Its appeal was almost tangible. Maybe this would be his answer to finding some much needed peace.

He would go into the apartment he’d leased, then make a call to his old high school friend who’d offered him the construction job. He took in the sights and smells around him, felt the warmth of the summer sun on his back, and believed in his heart of hearts that he would find answers right here in this lovely little bedroom community on the outskirts of Chicago.

A hair-raising scream roused Callie May from her sleep-drugged state at precisely six fifty-six on Sunday morning. “Nooo,” she groaned, burying her head beneath her pillow. Hadn’t she just closed her eyes five minutes ago? Just give me another hour, Em. But as the screams rose in decibels, she surrendered to the fact that her eight- month-old baby was hungry and needed attention.

On her way to the nursery, she adjusted the thermostat. Early sun reached its spindly fingers through the half-drawn blinds, sending shafts of light through the kitchen window. Looks like another sunny day, she mulled. Too bad she couldn’t say the same for her spirits.

Emily’s pouty sob gave way to instant smiles when Callie walked through the door. “You’re a stinker, you know that?” she chided while lowering the bar on Emily’s crib and lifting the baby into her arms.

“Waking Mommy when she had just fallen asleep.”

Emily smeared a wet, warm kiss across Callie’s face, making Callie chuckle in spite of herself. “You think you can win me over with your kisses?”

After a hasty diaper change, Callie hoisted the baby on her hip and headed for the kitchen. “Ba-ba-ba-ba,” Emily chanted along the way, oblivious to her mother’s less- than-chipper mood, her recent “B” sounds coming out in an attempt to say “bottle.” Of course, Callie’s father begged to differ. “She’s trying to say ‘Grandpa,’” he claimed.

Pulling open the fridge door, she spotted a bottle of formula and snatched it off the shelf, then pushed the door shut with her hip. “Cold or hot?” she asked, holding the bottle under the baby’s nose. Emily reached for the bottle and steered it to her mouth. “Guess that answers that,” she said, tipping Emily back in her arms while the baby suckled.

As she reached for a mug for tea, a sudden racket in the hall outside her door sparked her interest. Yesterday, someone had started moving into the vacant apartment across the hall, but she’d been too self-absorbed to pay much attention. Now, however, she found herself padding across the room for a peek through her peephole.

At first, she saw nothing through the tiny hole in her door. But then, a tall, strongly built man emerged from the apartment, large crate in hand. He looked to be about her age—perhaps in his mid- to late-twenties. He paused just briefly, as if pondering something, giving her a chance to study his handsome, sober face with its clear-cut lines, generous mouth, and thick crop of black hair. An unexpected shiver scampered up her spine.

Even through the tiny opening, she sensed his angry mood; she saw it in his crinkled brow and clenched jaw.

He looks mad enough to spit poison. Who is he?

A squirming Emily forced her away from the door. She told herself that the man was of no concern to her, and not to mind his dark and dangerous appearance, never mind that her marriage to an abusive man had ended mere days ago and she was feeling vulnerable.

She had enough things to worry about without adding a dodgy-looking character into the mix.

Dropping into a soft chair, she gathered her baby close and blew out a loud breath. While Emily finished off the last few ounces of formula, Callie leaned back and closed her eyes. If the stranger held down the noise, she might be able to catch a few more winks before getting ready for church.

“What? You’re pregnant?” he screamed. “You finagling witch!”

An angry fist shot out and hit her square in the jaw, knocking her to the floor. Pain seared her face like fiery talons while a gasp of air pushed past her lungs. She skidded across the hardwood floor and slid up against the wall.

“Don’t hate me, Thomas. I—I didn’t mean for it to happen. Please…”

“Shut up!” he ranted, reaching for a fistful of her hair and yanking her head around till it snapped. “You’re gonna get rid of that mistake in your belly, you hear me?”

The urge to retch consumed her. Mistake? Timidly, she raised her face to him.

“I—I can’t do that.”

“You can and you will,” he wailed, pulling her hair until it nearly ripped from her scalp. She screamed with pain. Sneering, he dropped his hand and tramped to the door.

He wrenched his coat from its hook and pushed his arms through the sleeves. “I’m going out! I can’t stand the sight of you!”

When he slammed the door behind him, she lowered herself, exhausted, into a rumpled heap on the floor.

Her own sobs and the beads of sweat that dotted her forehead were what roused her from the nightmare. It wasn’t the first time she’d dreamt it, and it was unlikely to be the last. Shaken but relieved, she swabbed her brow with the back of her hand. Thomas was in Florida. She was in Illinois. The marriage was over—as was the abuse. Now, if she could just rid herself of the terrifying memories.