Thursday, April 30, 2009

New York Debut by Melody Carlson ~ FIRST WildCard

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


New York Debut (Carter House Girls)

Zondervan (May 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Over the years, Melody Carlson has worn many hats, from pre-school teacher to youth counselor to political activist to senior editor. But most of all, she loves to write! Currently she freelances from her home. In the past ten years, she has published more than a hundred books for children, teens, and adults, with sales totaling more than 2.5 million and many titles appearing on the ECPA Bestsellers List.

Several of her books have been finalists for, and winners of, various writing awards including The Gold Medallion, The Christy, and The Rita Award. And most recently she is in the process of optioning some of her books for film rights.
She has two grown sons and lives in Central Oregon with her husband and chocolate lab retriever. They enjoy skiing, hiking, gardening, camping and biking in the beautiful Cascade Mountains.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714931
ISBN-13: 978-0310714934

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


“Where is Taylor?” asked Grandmother as she drove DJ home from the airport.
”Is she coming on a later flight?”

DJ hadn’t told her the whole story yet. In fact, she hadn’t said much of anything to Grandmother at all during the past week, except to leave a message saying that she’d changed her flight and planned to be home two days earlier than expected. Obviously, Grandmother had assumed that Taylor had changed her plans as well.

“Taylor’s in LA,” DJ said slowly, wishing she could add something to that, something to deflect further questioning.

“Visiting her father?”

“No…”

“Touring with Eva?”

“No…”
“What then?” Grandmother’s voice was getting irritated as she drove away from the terminal. “Where is the girl, Desiree? Speak up.”

“She’s in rehab.”

“Rehab?” Grandmother turned to stare at DJ with widened eyes. “Whatever for?”

“For alcohol treatment.”

Grandmother seemed stunned into speechlessness, which was a relief since DJ didn’t really want to discuss this. She was still trying to grasp the whole strange phenomenon. It was hard to admit, but the past few days of being mostly by herself in Las Vegas had been lonely and depressing and one of the reasons she’d been desperate to change her flight and come home early. She had really missed Taylor. The hardest part was when she discovered that Taylor wasn’t allowed any communication from outside the rehab facility. This concerned DJ. No cell phone calls, email, or anything. It seemed weird. Although DJ was praying for her roommate, she was worried. What if it wasn’t a reputable place? What if Taylor never came back? What if something bad happened to her? Not only would DJ blame herself, she figured everyone else would too.

Finally Grandmother spoke. “Did you girls get into some kind of trouble in Las Vegas, Desiree?”

“No…”

“I want you to be honest with me. Did something happen to precipitate this?”

“The only thing that happened is that Taylor came to grips with the fact that she has a serious drinking problem. If you’ll remember, I tried to let you in on this some time ago.”

“Yes, I remember the vodka bottle. I simply assumed it was a one-time occurrence.”

“I told you otherwise.”

“Well, I know that girls will be girls, Desiree. You can’t have spent as much time as I in the fashion industry and not know this.”

“Were you ever like that?” asked DJ. “I mean that girls will be girls bit?”

Grandmother cleared her throat. “I wasn’t an angel, Desiree, if that’s what you’re hinting at. However, I did understand the need for manners and decorum. I witnessed numerous young women spinning out of control. Beautiful or not, a model won’t last long if she is unable to work.”

“Isn’t that true with everything?”

“Yes…I suppose. How long is Taylor going to be in…this rehabilitation place?”

“I don’t know. You should probably call her mom.”

“Oh, dear…that’s something else I hadn’t considered. Certainly Eva Perez won’t be blaming me for her daughter’s, well, her drinking problem.”
“Eva is fully aware that Taylor had this drinking problem long before she came to Carter House.”

“Good.” Grandmother sighed and shook her head. “I just hope her treatment won’t prevent her from participating in Fashion Week. That would be a disaster.”

“Seems like it would be a worse disaster if Taylor didn’t get the help she needs.”

“Yes, of course, that goes without saying. But I would think that a week or two should be sufficient. Goodness, just how bad can a problem get when you’re only seventeen?”

DJ shrugged, but didn’t say anything. The truth was she thought it could get pretty bad, and in Taylor’s case it was bad. And it could’ve gotten worse. To think that Taylor had been drinking daily and DJ never even knew it.

“It’s just as well you came home early, Desiree,” said Grandmother as she turned onto the parkway. “Already Casey and Rhiannon are back. And Kriti is supposed to return tomorrow. Eliza will be back on New Year’s Eve.”

“I’m surprised she didn’t want to stay in France for New Year’s.”

“As am I. If I were over there, I’d certainly have booked a room in Paris. Nothing is more spectacular than fireworks over the City of Light. But apparently Eliza has plans with her boyfriend. Imagine—giving up Paris for your boyfriend!”

Of course, DJ knew that Eliza’s life of lavish luxury didn’t mean all that much to her. Like a poor little rich girl, Eliza wanted a slice of “normal.” Well, normal with a few little extras like good shoes, designer bags, and her pretty white Porsche.

“It’s good to be home,” DJ proclaimed as her grandmother turned into the driveway.

“It’s good to hear you say that,” said Grandmother.

And it was the truth. After a week in Vegas, DJ was extremely thankful to be back. Maybe for the first time, Carter House did feel like a home. She couldn’t wait to see Casey and Rhiannon.

“Welcome back,” called Casey as she opened the door, dashed out onto the porch, and hugged DJ. “Need some help with those bags?”

“Thanks.” DJ studied Casey for a moment, trying to figure out what had changed. “Your hair!”

Casey picked up one of DJ’s bags then grinned as she gave her strawberry blond hair a shake. “Like it?”

“It’s the old you—only better.”

“My mom talked me into it. The black was a little dramatic, don’t you think?”

“I think you look fantastic. And that choppy layered cut is very cute.”

“Your grandmother approved it too. And I got highlights.”

DJ touched her own hair. “Taylor had been nagging me to get mine redone. But it was so expensive in Vegas. I figured I’d do it here.”

Casey lowered her voice. “So how’d your grandmother take the news about Taylor?”

DJ stopped at the foot of the stairs and stared at Casey. “Did Rhiannon tell you everything?”
“Yeah, is it supposed to be a big secret?” Casey made a hurt face now. “I was wondering why you told Rhiannon and not me. I thought we were friends, DJ.”

“I didn’t mean to, but I sort of spilled the beans with Rhiannon because I was so desperate and didn’t know what to do at the time. But then I felt bad. I mean it was possible that Taylor wanted to keep it private, you know?”

Casey nodded somberly. “Yeah, I guess I do know.”

“You should.” After all, it had only been a few months since they had intervened with Casey in regard to her pain pill snitching.

“So, are you saying mum’s the word?”

“Until Taylor comes back. Don’t you think it’s up to her to say something or not?”

“Yeah. I can just imagine Eliza with that tasty little morsel of gossip. It’d be all over the school in no time.”

“Speaking of Eliza, that means Kriti too.”

“Kriti just got here about an hour ago.” Casey paused, nodding toward the room that Kriti and Eliza shared. The taxi dropped her and she went straight to her room. But something seems wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure. She just looks different. Kind of unhappy. I mean she didn’t even say hello or anything.”

“Maybe she was missing her family.”

“Maybe, but my guess is it’s something more.”

“We should probably try harder to reach out to her and make her feel at home.”

“You’re here!” Rhiannon burst out of the room and threw her arms around DJ. “Welcome home!”

“Man, it is so good to be back. Vegas—for more than a day or two—is a nightmare.”

“At least you got a tan,” observed Rhiannon. She glanced at Casey. “Both of you, in fact.”

“It’s that California sun.”

“Don’t make me envious,” said Rhiannon.

“Hey, look at you,” said DJ as she noticed that Rhiannon had on a very cool outfit. “Is that new?”

“Old and new. My great aunt gave me some of her old clothes and I’ve been altering them.” She held out her hands and turned around to make the long circular skirt spin out. “Fun, huh?”

“And cool,” said DJ.

“She’s got all kinds of stuff,” said Casey. “Hats and costume jewelry and scarves and things. I told her she should open a retro shop and get rich.”

“Maybe I will someday.”

“Or just sell things here in Carter House,” suggested DJ. “Between Eliza and Taylor’s clothing budget, you could clean up.”

“Oh, yeah, DJ, Conner just called,” said Rhiannon. “They just got back from their ski trip and he said he tried your cell a few times, but it seemed to be turned off.”

“More like dead. My flight was so early this morning, I forgot to charge it.”

“Well, I told him you’d call.”

Casey set DJ’s bag inside her door. “Speaking of boys, I think I’ll check and see how Garrison is doing—find out if he missed me or not.” She touched her hair. “Do you think he’ll like it?”

“How could he not,” said Rhiannon. “It’s so cool.”

“Later,” called Casey as she headed for her room.

“So, how’s Taylor?” asked Rhiannon quietly.

“You didn’t tell Kriti, did you?” whispered DJ, pulling Rhiannon into her room then closing the door.

“No, why would I?”

“I just wanted to be sure. I think we need to respect Taylor’s privacy with this.”

“Absolutely. So, have you talked to her?”

“They won’t let me. They have this no communication policy. No email, cell phones…nothing. It’s like a black hole. Weird.”

Rhiannon nodded. “Yeah, it was like that with my mom at first. I think they wanted to keep her cut off from any bad connections. Then after a while, you earn communication privileges.”

“Oh, that’s a relief. I was really worried.”

“I still can hardly believe Taylor went willingly.”

“Yeah, our strong-willed wild child…putting herself into rehab.” DJ shook her head.

“That remind me, Seth has called a few times too. He wanted to know why Taylor’s cell was off and where she was.”

“What’d you say?”

“That I didn’t know.” She shrugged. “Actually, that was the truth.”

“But nothing else?”
“No.”

“Good. I mean it’s not like we need to keep it top secret, but until we hear from Taylor, let’s not talk about it.”

“Sure.” Rhiannon put a hand on DJ’s shoulder. “And don’t worry about her, DJ. She’ll be fine.”
“I know.” DJ nodded as she put her bags on her bed and started to unzip them. But as soon as Rhiannon left, DJ wasn’t so sure. What if Taylor wasn’t fine? What if something had gone wrong? And what if it was all DJ’s fault?

Melody Carlson's New York Debut picks up right where Lost in Las Vegas leaves off. DJ is trying to keep Taylor's secret as quiet as possible. Unfortunately Eliza isn't one to be left out of a secret and does what she can to find out where Taylor is.

Meanwhile, DJ's grandmother has informed the girls she's going to start an etiquette class and open it up to several other girls from their school. Eight of the girls will be chosen to model clothing at NYC's Fashion Week.

Let the competition begin. Eliza is determined that the girls she chooses will be the ones to go. With Taylor out of the way Eliza has free reign. It doesn't help that the other girls in Carter House want to oust some girls from the competition.

Who is chosen to go to Fashion Week? Will Eliza find out where Taylor has slipped off to? Will DJ be forced to walk the runway? If you have a teenage daughter, this will be a fantastic follow up to the other 4 books in the Carter House Girls series. I know my girls really love it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

DVD ~ Painting Revelation: A Visual Exploration of the Last Book of the Bible GIVEAWAY

A Colorful Way to Come to Grips with the End Times
Giveaway Info @ End of Review

One-of-a-kind DVD study portrays Revelation’s prophecy in a whole new light

Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX—Revelation is one of the most difficult books of the Bible. Most of us can’t really picture the images the Apostle John describes. We’re often left scratching our heads: Who are all those strange characters? What do they have to do with my life?

Because Revelation is primarily a vision, we need more than words to understand it—we need pictures. Artist and teacher Debby Topliff has painted the scenes described in the last book of the Bible on a 5 x 7 foot canvas in her Saugatuck, Michigan studio. In the DVD study Painting Revelation: A Visual Exploration of the Last Book of the Bible, Topliff tells the story of Revelation by taking the viewer through 29 scenes from the book. The fascinating—and sometimes frightening—visions described in Revelation are unlocked in unique ways as Topliff depicts the apocalypse of John with a spectacular array of colorfully rendered scenes. The DVD-ROM also includes downloadable study guides and discussion questions for individuals and small groups who wish to spend more time with the book.
Debby Topliff holds a master’s degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois. Painting Revelation began as an expression of her own personal study of Revelation. “Several years ago, I challenged myself to dive in and swim around in the murky waters until I could sort things out and ‘take the dragon by the tail.’ When I emerged—with charts and drawings in hand—I thought it would be fun to put what I’d learned down on canvas,” she recalls. The resulting work of art, with its vibrant colors and primitive folk art style, is a modern icon that will speak to children and theologians alike.
Painting Revelation has drawn enthusiastic endorsements from Rob and Kristen Bell, founders of Mars Hill Bible Church; John Ortberg, author and teaching pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church; Brad Long, author and executive director of Presbyterian-Reformed Ministries International; and many other pastors and laypeople who have experienced Topliff’s unique view of the book of Revelation.
The 45-minute DVD is divided into five teaching sessions. Each section begins with a personal introduction filmed in the woods surrounding her Michigan home, then moves into her studio. Though the trend among many Revelation buffs has been attempting to decode every event and predict the likely identities of the characters and nations, Topliff clearly tells the story in words and pictures, much like the Apostle John must have experienced it.
“My intention is to show what the Bible actually says so you can uncover its meaning for your own life and receive the blessing promised to those who read and hear the words of this prophecy and take it to heart,” Topliff says.

In addition to the video, the DVD includes a 2-minute preview, a jpeg photo of the entire painting, a visual key and Scripture guide to the painting, and a 6-week study guide with leader’s guide, discussion questions, charts, and worksheets. The DVD is appropriate for all ages and can be used in a variety of ways.
The DVD Painting Revelation: A Visual Exploration of the Last Book of the Bible ($24.95) is available for purchase through Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, and http://www.paintingrevelation.com/. A short clip from the video can be viewed on the website, as well as samples of the study materials.
“Debby is an extraordinary person—she lives with this profound sense that every moment matters, every conversation counts, and God might really be here with us, right here, right now. She reminds me that sometimes prophets use paintbrushes.”

—Rob Bell, author and founding pastor, Mars Hill Bible Church


This is the first DVD I've had the opportunity to review and I'd like to start by thanking Tracy McCarter, Media Specialist @ The B&B Media Group. This came along at a very opportune time, though I wish it would've been much earlier. I say that only because our pastor has spent the last year and a half preaching from the book of Revelation! I know he'd have loved to use this as a resource during his teaching.
When I first saw the cover of the book I kind of squinted. I thought, "Is this a professional artist? I mean, who else would put together a DVD of their art if they weren't. It looks like some kid did this art." For a change, I'm happy to say that I shouldn't have judged a DVD by it's cover. To make matters more interesting, artist Debby Topliff begins by stating my first thoughts. She wasn't concerned about it appearing like a child had made the painting, she isn't a painter! :)
I honestly didn't know what to expect when I popped this into the DVD player. I thought there were going to be multiple paintings that she was going to lead us through. It turns out there is one large painting and she takes us on a journey through her depiction of the Apostle John's revelation.
The painting, as Debby went through it, changed from being childlike to God inspired. As she begins each section of her work, she takes us to the woods where she lives. She gently explains what's going on in the new part of the painting. Revelation comes to life through her paint brush. I've gone from somewhat skeptical of the cover to being enthralled with her account of what John is hearing, seeing, and learning.
Painting Revelation would make a fantastic resource for a church or someone leading a small group. We can all learn a lot from Debbie's retelling of Revelation on canvas.



If you'd like to check out this DVD, leave me a comment. It's really worth it! Make sure you leave your email address so that I can contact you if you win. Please, only U.S. residents at this time. Thank you for entering. Contest will end May 22.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Apothecary's Daughter by Julie Klassen Review/Interview and Blogger specific Giveaway

The Apothecary’s Daughter
by Julie Klassen
ISBN 978-0-7642-0480-7
Trade Paper; $13.99; 416 pp.
Release Date: January 2009



1.What attracted you to the time period of the early 1800s?

You may have heard this time period referred to as Regency England, and I think there is something about it that appeals to women especially. It was a time when being a true "lady" or "gentleman" was something people aspired to. A time when people were restrained by the rules of society and a high moral code. Things sometimes lacking in our world today. I also chose this time period because it is when Jane Austen published her novels, which I greatly enjoy.

2.How did you come up with the initial story idea for this book?

My first novel, Lady of Milkweed Manor, featured a young woman who finds herself in an unexpected profession—working as a wet nurse.My editor encouraged me to think of another “unusual profession” for a woman to have. That led to the main character of this book, Lilly Haswell, who finds herself doing the work of an apothecary, at a time when it was illegal for women to do so.

3.What is an apothecary?

Apothecaries prescribed, prepared, and dispensed herbal remedies or “physic.” Prior to the twentieth century, an apothecary was much more than a pharmacist (or what the Brits call a chemist). An apothecary also served as a general practitioner, acting as physician and sometimes even surgeon or midwife. There were relatively few licensed physicians at the time and most people could not afford their fees. The Apothecaries’ Society still exists in the UK, and is actively involved in licensing doctors and providing continuing education.

4.What sort of research did you do to write this novel?

I read stacks of books and also had the opportunity to travel to London, where I dragged my husband to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries and the Museum of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. Hopefully, I’ve managed to include only enough historical detail to give the “flavor” of a time period while keeping the characters and story focal. How much detail do today’s readers want about leeches and blood-letting? Not a lot, I’m guessing!

5.What is the underlying theme of the book?

The theme is based on a quote from a 17th-century English herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper: “Providence has made the most useful things most common, and for that reason we neglect them.”

6. Even though this is historical fiction, is there a message you would like today’s readers to take away from the book?

Yes, I think the book’s message is relevant today:While many of us search for elusive happiness “out there somewhere,” the most important things in life (family, friends, faith, and health) are often right before us and ought not be neglected.

7.What stands out about your characters? Do any of them have unusual traits.

Lilly’s brother is “slow of mind” from a prolonged birth (what we today might call birth asphyxia). And Lilly’s friend, Mary, suffers from epilepsy, then called “falling sickness.” Lilly herself has a nearly infallible memory—a trait I only wish I had!

8. Does the book tie in to any real historical event?

The plot reflects the historical strife between physicians and apothecaries (physicians believed only they should be allowed to treat and prescribe) as well the Apothecaries’ Act of 1815, which, among other things, made it illegal for an apothecary to refuse to fill a physician’s order—even if the apothecary knew the medicine might prove fatal.

8. One of the things I want to know about is the remedies you came up with for the illnesses. When you were in Europe, did you ask for each specific item that was put into the medicines described? Did you have to research illnesses that were common in that time? What about the laws of practicing? Was that hard to figure out for the time period?

The research was fascinating but tricky, too. Many of the same illnesses and remedies existed then as today, but under different names. All of the remedies mentioned in the novel were actual remedies or "physic" I found described in old books. (Yes, they really used "macerated millipedes" for example). When we were in England, my husband and I visited both the Apothecaries' Society and the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain and there learned about the laws and tensions between apothecaries and physicians and saw examples of the odd devices and medicines used throughout the centuries, as well as demonstrations in pill and tablet making.

9. Was it hard to figure out which man she was going to end up with or did you know from the beginning who the right man was for her? I was totally all over the place trying to figure out who I'd choose. The dark sinister man who's not aware of the woman before him finally coming to his senses? The doctor who's all business finally lets his heart spring a leak, and then the apprentice...it was hard for me to wrap my mind around him because he was so unassuming at first and seemed so much younger. In a way, their part of the story reminded me of "The Princess Bride."

I've been delighted by the emails I've received from readers who, like you, couldn't guess which man Lilly would choose-and enjoyed the suspense of not knowing. When I started writing, I did not know which man Lilly would end up with and actually was torn between a few of her suitors. When I realized which man it would be, it was a challenge write in such a way to keep readers guessing but also to develop and grow the characters so that by the end, at least most readers would think, "Yes, he is the best man for her."

10. And lastly, when is your next book coming out? Can you tell us anything about it?

My next novel is called The Silent Governess and is due out in December. Here is a description:

Lord Bradley has just learned a terrible secret, which, if exposed, will change his life forever. When he glimpses a figure on his estate, he fears a thief has overheard his devastating news. He is stunned to discover the intruder is a scrap of a woman with her throat badly injured. Fearing the young woman will spread his secret, he gives her a post and confines her to his estate. But Olivia Keene has secrets of her own...

As Olivia and Lord Bradley's hidden pasts catch up with them, will the truth dash their hope of love...or pave the way?

My review of The Apothecary's Daughter is as follows:

This was such a great book. I wrote to Julie after I got it to let her know I pretty much went without sleep when I started reading.

We meet Lilly, who has lived in a small village all her life. Her mother left when she was young leaving her father to take care of Lilly and her disabled brother. As an apothecary, he takes on an apprentice, who doesn't seem to get it. Lilly on the other hand memorizes prescriptions with ease.

Lilly is given the opportunity to go to London and learn about high society sponsored by her aunt and uncle. There she meets Dr. Graves. Will he see how capable a woman she is? There are a couple of other men in the novel that make the reader wonder if Lilly will end up with anyone.

I loved Lilly's transformation during the story. I think we can all relate to some degree about wanting to get away from a place we've lived all our lives, or maybe just too long. She finds her place, and I love where she chooses!

Alrighty Klassen fans, specifically bloggers, here's what we're going to do. We're going to circulate this ONE book though 10 bloggers. Each of us will read and review Julie's book and then pass this book on to the next blogger winner of your choosing. The last person to read/review The Apothecary's Daughter sends it back to Julie. That person can contact me to get Julie's mailing info. So, if you're game, leave a comment, the name of your blog, and your blog address. Oh, don't forget the all important email address. :) U.S. residents only please. I will draw a name on May 5. Thanks in advance for your commitment.

More Grad Songs to Choose From

Alrighty, back on March 18th I blogged about choosing Grad songs for my 1st child's graduation. I spent some time on YouTube and found more than I expected. Here are several more songs I found and wanted to get some opinions on them. I figured I could make a DVD and have all the songs streaming with snapshots of her life. What do you think? I'd love some feedback.

My Little Girl by Tim McGraw

Lee Ann Womack I Hope You Dance

You're Gonna Miss This ~ Trace Adkins

My Wish ~ Rascal Flatts

Vitamin C Graduation Song (Friends Forever)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

So Not Happening ~ Jenny B. Jones

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!


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







Today's Wild Card author is:









and the book:





So Not Happening (The Charmed Life)

Thomas Nelson (May 5, 2009)





ABOUT THE AUTHOR:








Jenny B. Jones writes adult and YA Christian Fiction with equal parts wit, sass, and untamed hilarity. When she's not writing, she's living it up as a high school speech teacher in Arkansas.





Visit the author's website.







Product Details:



List Price: $12.99

Reading level: Young Adult

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: Thomas Nelson (May 5, 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1595545417

ISBN-13: 978-1595545411



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:







One year ago my mom got traded in for a newer model.



And that’s when my life fell apart.



“Do you, Jillian Leigh Kirkwood . . .”



Standing by my mother’s side as she marries the man who is so not my dad, I suppress a sigh and try to wiggle my toes in these hideous shoes. The hideous shoes that match my hideous maid-of honor dress. I like to look at things on the bright side, but the only



positive thing about this frock is that I’ll never have to wear it again.



“. . . take Jacob Ralph Finley . . .”



Ralph? My new stepdad’s middle name is Ralph? Okay, do we need one more red flag here? My mom is marrying this guy, and I didn’t even know his middle name. Did she? I check her face for signs of revulsion, signs of doubt. Signs of “Hey, what am I thinking? I don’t want Jacob Ralph Finley to be my daughter’s new stepdad.”



I see none of these things twinkling in my mom’s crystal blue eyes. Only joy. Disgusting, unstoppable joy.



“Does anyone have an objection?” The pastor smiles and scans the small crowd in the Tulsa Fellowship Church. “Let him speak now or forever hold his peace.”



Oh my gosh. I totally object! I look to my right and lock eyes with Logan, the older of my two soon-to-be stepbrothers. In the six hours that I have been in Oklahoma preparing for this “blessed” event, Logan and I have not said five words to one another. Like we’ve mutually agreed to be enemies.



I stare him down.



His eyes laser into mine.



Do we dare?



He gives a slight nod, and my heart triples in beat.



“Then by the powers vested in me before God and the family and friends of—”



“No!”



The church gasps.



I throw my hands over my mouth, wishing the floor would swallow me.



I, Bella Kirkwood, just stopped my own mother’s wedding.



And I have no idea where to go from here. It’s not like I do this every day, okay? Can’t say I’ve stopped a lot of weddings in my sixteen years.



My mom swivels around, her big white dress making crunchy noises. She takes a step closer to me, still flashing her pearly veneers at the small crowd.



“What,” she hisses near my ear, “are you doing?”



I glance at Logan, whose red locks hang like a shade over his eyes. He nods again.



“Um . . . um . . . Mom, I haven’t had a chance to talk to you at all this week . . .” My voice is a tiny whisper. Sweat beads on my forehead.



“Honey, now is not exactly the best time to share our feelings and catch up.”



My eyes dart across the sanctuary, where one hundred and fifty people are perched on the edge of their seats. And it’s not because they’re anxious for the chicken platters coming their way after the ceremony.



“Mom, the dude’s middle name is Ralph.”



She leans in, and we’re nose to nose. “You just stopped my wedding and that’s what you wanted to tell me?”



Faint—that’s what I’ll do next time I need to halt a wedding.



“How well do you know Jake? You only met six months ago.”



Some of the heat leaves her expression. “I’ve known him long enough to know that I love him, Bella. I knew it immediately.”



“But what if you’re wrong?” I rush on, “I mean, I’ve only been around him a few times, and I’m not so sure. He could be a serial killer for all we know.” I can count on one hand the times I’ve been around Jake. My mom usually visited him when I was at my dad’s.



Her voice is low and hurried. “I understand this isn’t easy for you. But our lives have changed. It’s going to be an adventure, Bel.”



Adventure? You call meeting a man on the Internet and forcing me to move across the country to live with his family an adventure? An adventure is swimming with dolphins in the Caribbean. An adventure is touring the pyramids in Egypt. Or shopping at the Saks after-Thanksgiving sale with Dad’s credit card. This, I do believe, qualifies as a nightmare!



“You know I’ve prayed about this. Jake and I both have. We know this is God’s will for us. I need you to trust me, because I’ve never been more sure about anything in my life.”



A single tear glides down Mom’s cheek, and I feel my heart constrict. This time last year my life was so normal. So happy. Can I just hit the reverse button and go back?



Slowly I nod. “Okay, Mom.” It’s kind of hard to argue with “God says this is right.” (Though I happen to think He’s wrong.)



The preacher clears his throat and lifts a bushy black brow.



“You can continue,” I say, knowing I’ve lost the battle. “She had something in her teeth.” Yes, that’s the best I've got.



I. Am. An. Idiot.



“And now, by the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Finley. You may kiss your bride.”



Nope. Can’t watch.



I turn my head as the “Wedding March” starts. Logan walks to my side, and I link my arm in his. Though we’re both going to be juniors, he’s a head taller than me. It’s like we’re steptwins. He grabs his six-year-old brother, Robbie, with his other hand, and off we go



in time to the music. Robbie throws rose petals all around us, giggling with glee, oblivious to the fact that we just witnessed a ceremony marking the end of life as we know it.



“Good job stopping the wedding.” Logan smirks. “Very successful.”



I jab my elbow into his side. “At least I tried! You did nothing!”



“I just wanted to see if you had it in you. And you don’t.”



I snarl in his direction as the camera flashes, capturing this day for all eternity.



Last week I was living in Manhattan in a two-story apartment between Sarah Jessica Parker and Katie Couric. I could hop a train to Macy’s and Bloomie’s. My friends and I could eat dinner at Tao and see who could count the most celebs. I had Broadway in my backyard



and Daddy’s MasterCard in my wallet.



Then my mom got married.



And I got a new life.



I should’ve paid that six-year-old to pull the fire alarm.

I'm pretty sure Jenny B. Jones and I were cut from the same the same cloth. If I could write a teen novel, this would be how I'd hope to write! She is so stinkin' funny! I know that today was the day our reviews were supposed to be done, but since I didn't get the book til Saturday I only had a couple days to read. I'm saying that because once a review has been set to post I have a harder time finishing the book.

This one though, is so laugh out loud hilarious that I will easily finish it in the next couple of days. I only have a couple hours here and there to read.

So, what do I like so far about the book? The sarcasm is priceless. Jenny has created her character, Bella, to be the teen of today. Her references to Jimmy Choo's, txting between classes, and blogging are fun to read.

Something that's got me fuming is Bella's mom, dad, and step-family. What they are all putting her through is making me furious. I'm going to make a side note here, as a mom. When we uproot our children's lives, especially a teenager, we need their in put. Bella's mom keeps making these outrageous decisions without even talking to Bella. Her dad, at this point, a piece of work! The men in the step-family are no better either.

Ok, is Bella hasn't had the best attitude either, but I guess having gone through being uprooted, I can understand what she's going through. No, I was never a prima dona, my dad was never in E!, that kind of stuff. But, uproot a teen and they'll let you know what they think of it!

I'll pass this on to my girls to read and if they're ok with it, we'll try to part with it in a giveaway. I'll keep you updated!


Monday, April 20, 2009

Unwinding Cable Car ~ Anberlin YouTube Video Review

Anberlin is a band my oldest daughter likes and I have to say every time I hear this song I turn up the music. There's something about the mood of this song that draws you to it. I was going to post the lyrics I found at Air1.com, but saw they said the lyrics can't be reproduced without permission from the publisher. So, if you want to read the words while the video is playing click Air1.com and it'll give you the link.

Quickly speaking of Air1, if you haven't heard this station before, it's sweet! They have alternative Christian music. I don't listen to it all the time, but I do like to stream it when I'm cleaning. They play artists like Red, HawkNelson, Jeremy Camp, Anberlin, Kutless, etc. Not only that, they don't just air out of one city in most states. Here in MN they have numerous station numbers! You can become an "Insider" and rack up points to win prizes or enter contests.

Without further ado, here's Anberlin and their video Unwinding Cable Car.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Vote of Confidence by Robin Lee Hatcher

"Who says a woman can’t do a man’s job?

Put up or shut up! Complaining about Bethlehem Springs' dissolute mayoral candidate, Gwen Arlington is challenged to take on the role herself. For seven years, she’s carved out an independent life in the bustling mountain town of Bethlehem Springs, Idaho, teaching piano and writing for the local newspaper. But now she’s a single woman running for mayor — and in 1915 this decision is bound to stir up trouble.

Morgan McKinley is fed up with the delays that hinder the construction of New Hope Health Spa, a place where both rich and poor can come for rest and healing. New to the area, he has determined that serving as mayor would help him push through his agenda for progress.

Gwen and Morgan each want to prove they are the most qualified candidate, not only to voters but to each other, and so sparks fly as the two campaign. Although Morgan has learned to guard his heart as fiercely as Gwen guards her independence, could they learn to be allies instead of adversaries?"

A Vote of Confidence by Robin Lee Hatcher
Retail $14.99
Publisher: Zondervan
Paperback

This is my first book of Robin's that I've read. I kept thinking to myself, "do I add one more author to my reading list?" I figured I'd heard enough great reviews for Robin's books that it was time for me to read her on my own.

Oh, Robin does NOT disappoint. I was absolutely captured by A Vote of Confidence! I enjoyed getting to know Gwen, or Gwennie, as her sister, Cleo, calls her.

I enjoy that as a reader I get to see Gwen's emotions when those she interacts with don't always, unless they're family, or her political competition. Next on the scene is Morgan McKinley.

Morgan has recently come to Bethlehem Springs to build New Hope Health Spa. Unfortunately he's run into some problems and seems to think running for Mayor will help him. At the same time Gwen has decided she wants to run for Mayor because as far as she knows the only person running for Mayor is a drunk.

As they say, "Let the games begin." As Morgan and Gwen try to learn why the other is running they get to know each other better than they expect. Gwen can't stand the thought of winning because of her looks and woe to the person who mentions her beauty. Morgan is an outsider, but being a man gives him the upper hand.

I truly liked the characters in this book. It's great when I can have emotions towards the people in a story, whether it's a likable person or not. The times and circumstances allow us as readers to be annoyed with the ideas of several characters in this book with regards to women and what is expected of them. It's something we rarely run into in this day and age.

A Vote of Confidence was a fantastic read and I can't wait for Cleo's story later this summer! If you'd like to purchase A Vote of Confidence you can use the Christian Book link on the right side of my blog. It is worth your time!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

City of the Dead YouTube Video & Giveaway



Author T.L. Higley has traveled to Egypt and created a YouTube video for my blog!! How amazing is that? Ok, no, she didn't travel there just to make this video. It's part of her Seven Wonders series that she has been working on. Book #2 City of the Dead is available to readers. In fact I just received my copy today & am ready to devour it!

So, how exactly do you win one of 5 copies she's giving away? You NEED to leave a comment. If my blog has the highest number of comments out of all the bloggers she made videos for, 5 names from my comment list will be chosen as winners! How exciting is that?

I would love for my commenters to be the ones chosen to receive a book! Check out the video and then leave us a comment along with your email addy (mnjesusfreak at gmail dot com). The video is windy, heck T.L.'s at the bottom of a pyramid. It's only 2 minutes long. I like letting my YouTube videos load up then coming back when they're rarin' to go.

Thanks for stopping by, and yes this time numbers do matter. :) Blessings,




If you'd like to read the FIRST chapter of T.L. Higley's 1st book in the Seven Wonders series Shadow of Colossus click on this link to read it and my review: http://wovenbywords.blogspot.com/2008/11/shadow-of-colossus-by-tl-higley.html

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Real Solutions for Busy Moms by Kathy Ireland & Giveaway ~ FIRST WildCard

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!



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



Today's Wild Card author is:





and the book:



Real Solutions for Busy Moms

Howard Books (April 7, 2009)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:






Kathy Ireland is a former supermodel and the Chief Designer and CEO of Kathy Ireland Worldwide. Kathy is also a busy mom who raises her three children with her husband.





Visit the author's website.


Product Details:

List Price: $23.99

Hardcover: 240 pages

Publisher: Howard Books (April 7, 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1416563180

ISBN-13: 978-1416563181



AND NOW...An excerpt:





Chapter 2: Every Home Needs Happiness





Lately, it seems like our family time at home is depressing and tense, just one frustration after another. What's a better way?



Recently, during a furniture convention at the World Market Center in Las Vegas, our team was having a pretty exciting evening. We were surrounded by friends, family, our manufacturers, and retailers. My friend Erik Estrada was master of ceremonies for the party. My friend Anita Pointer was headlining a concert for us. You can imagine my surprise when she dedicated one of the Pointer Sisters' most exciting songs, "Happiness," to Kathy Ireland Home. My jaw dropped, and it got me to thinking: every home needs happiness.



When you and the rest of your family are happy, your day goes more smoothly, your problems are resolved more quickly, and your life flows like a fresh and beautiful spring. As world champion boxer and entrepreneur George Foreman has said, "You just can't beat ol' happy." Happiness is something we all desperately want and need. In childhood we learn about the Declaration of Independence and the phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." We Americans consider happiness an inalienable right, and we pursue it with passion -- but often, sadly, without success.



Happiness seems elusive for many of today's families. We're overwhelmed, underpaid, and under pressure, and the results in many homes are tension and conflict. Too many parents and their kids turn to destructive habits to get through their days: alcohol, drugs, inappropriate sexual activity, overspending, and more. In these as well as less dysfunctional families, bickering is a standard mode of communication. Families turn to counselors, therapists, and church leaders to mediate disputes between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, yet frequently the conflicts remain unresolved. Divorce, to a staggering degree, has become commonplace: more than half of today's marriages break up. In extreme cases, parents physically abuse their children, a terrible tragedy. But are we aware of our kids' vulnerability to emotional abuse? A thoughtless, cruel, or sarcastic comment at an unguarded moment can cripple a young life forever. Both forms of abuse take place every day.



Some time ago I heard a story I will never forget. A woman was describing how miserable her life was with her husband. When asked what she could do to change her circumstances for the better, the woman answered, "I'll never leave, and we'll never be happy, because my revenge on my husband is not complete." This bitter attitude toward life is scary, and it's likely more common than we realize.



What's wrong with us? We may be pursuing happiness, but we're not catching it. Are we sacrificing happiness today because of hurts from yesterday? Are we going to be discontented, or, worse, miserable for the rest of our lives? Do we have to live this way? The answer to that, of course, is no. In fact, you may be surprised how easy it is, after a little strategic thinking, to bring real happiness into your life and home. Keep reading, and I'll explain what I mean.





Defining Happy



By now you've probably asked yourself, "Am I happy?" Before you answer, I suggest you ask yourself another, far more important question: "How do I define 'happy'?" Go ahead, pull out a piece of paper or open up your laptop and record what comes to mind. What does your happiness look like? Feel like? How do you touch it? How do you experience it? Your answers to these questions will be more profound than you might think.



I once was a guest panelist at a speaking event with Barbara Walters and Dr. Maya Angelou, both women I greatly respect. We were speaking at the conference at different times. Ms. Walters made the statement that women can't "have it all." Later, when it was my turn to communicate, I politely disagreed with her. I said that women can have it all but that we may not be able to have it all at the same time. Marriage, career, motherhood, household CEO, commitments to church and other nonprofit organizations, and other life responsibilities are enormous challenges that can drain even the mosthighly skilled and motivated among us. Trying to fill all of these roles successfully as well as simultaneously is like juggling three balls while riding a bicycle across a tightrope over Niagara Falls. Sure, you might be able to pull it off, but it's far more likely that sooner or later, something will be going over the edge -- and it will probably be you!



My point is that you don't need to have it all at the same moment, with the pressures that go along with that. What does having it all really mean, anyway? Your "all" needs to be just that -- yours. You need to define it. Don't allow your perception of someone's fantasy to become your blueprint for living. Your life, like your fingerprints, will be different from someone else's. It's your unique gift from God. For me, that means following the path I believe God has set me on. That path is a wonderful place, where we can be happy.



If you're a mom who's trying to be everything to everyone, are you doing it because it brings you happiness or because it's part of someone else's agenda? As moms we aim to please. We want to meet and exceed the expectations of others, whether they are our children, spouse, friend, neighbor, or our own mother. We may buy into someone else's idea of a successful, happy life without ever really thinking about how it will impact our own. Be careful that you don't let another person's definition of happiness substitute for yours.



Letting go of others' expectations can be extremely freeing. Suddenly you don't have to work crazy hours each week to make payments on a car you don't really need. You don't have to prepare the perfect meal every night -- your family will survive the occasional tuna sandwiches and vegetable sticks. You don't have to have every item of clothing washed, folded, and put away at the end of the day. It'll wait until tomorrow. If taking off some pressure gives you greater peace in your heart -- and more happiness -- then allow yourself the freedom to be less than your image of perfection.



Knowing What's Truly Important



Let's take a look at what you wrote for your personal definition of happiness. Does it match up with the way you're living your life? When can you make changes to move closer to your definition of happiness? Don't put it off until tomorrow -- let's start today. If you aren't quite sure how to answer these questions or are simply feeling overwhelmed, make a list of your priorities. What is most important to you? What people and activities and attitudes bring you the greatest joy? Are you thinking "big thoughts" about your life and your future? Do you have a vision for fulfilling your goals? It's tough to be happy if your daily life and priorities aren't aligned. If you spend most of your time focusing on your priorities and passions, you'll probably be much happier.



When I write out my own priorities, my faith in Jesus Christ tops the list. He is my foundation. He is my daily source of purpose and joy. The Bible says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds" ( James 1:2). We can find joy even when the state of our lives isn't all we're wishing for. Since God wants us to find joy even in our trials and tribulations, I believe He expects us to celebrate the good times even more. That's a great encouragement to me.



One of the little things I do to remind myself about my priorities is to take a sheet of paper and write, in big capital letters, JOY. After each letter, I fill in a word: Jesus, Others, You. I keep one of these JOY signs on my bathroom mirror and another in my kitchen. On days when I'm feeling more stressed than joyful, those signs stop me in mid-step. I'll think, Okay, wait a second...maybe I need to rearrange my priorities at this moment. And when I do that, the joy returns. It's a simple technique, one anyone can use to help remind him or her of what's important. Your list will be different from mine. Whatever it is, keep it in front of you so that your eyes are focused on the prize. The key is to stay attuned to what matters most to you so you can maintain a joyful atmosphere in your life and home.



What matters most to the moms I talk with is time with their families. Kids, especially, change quickly and move into new phases of life. We don't want to miss anything. Our sons and daughters need our guidance and steady presence. They also need us to be happy so we can bring happiness into their lives. Yet unless we are vigilant in protecting our family time, it disappears. It's easy for seemingly important events to intrude on this precious resource.



I remember a wonderful offer that came to me several years ago. I was invited to participate in a short-term project that would pay three times the annual salary I was earning at that point. My advisers thought it was a great opportunity and strongly encouraged me to say yes. The problem was that it was scheduled on the same day as my wedding anniversary, it couldn't be changed, and I'd already made plans with my husband. I'd decided early in my marriage that celebrations on special days such as anniversaries and my husband's and children's birthdays were too important to postpone. I do admit that I have worked on my own birthday, and that's probably not the best boundary. When I considered what to do about the conflict with our anniversary, it was no contest. I turned down the project and enjoyed my time with Greg instead.



Husbands and, even more so, your children, will intuitively sense if they are cherished and if they are your priority. When you set aside other important and pressing issues to make time for them, it sends a message that they are first in your life. You may miss out on a business opportunity, a fun time with a girlfriend, or that haircut you really need. Sometimes you'll even miss out on your daily shower (we moms know that perfume is shower in a bottle). Yet by letting go of other priorities, you'll be honoring your family and cultivating a happy home. In the long run, it will be more than worth the sacrifice of any other opportunity.





The Power of Place



Another key to a happy home is maximizing the impact of our physical environment. For most moms, even if we work outside the home, our house or apartment is our primary "office." For better and worse, it is the space that communicates how we're feeling about ourselves and our lives. Never underestimate the power of place to either lift your spirits or take a toll on your emotional well-being. I urge you to step back and consider how your home is making you feel. Years of living in the same spot can have a numbing effect on your senses. You may not even realize that the atmosphere of your living space is making you tense, anxious, and depressed when it should be leaving you relaxed, at peace, encouraged, and happy.



You may sense that your physical surroundings are draining your energy but aren't sure why. It could be that your furniture feels hemmed in and out of balance. It's possible that the colors on the walls, which once felt exciting and enlivened your decor, now appear out-of-date, stuck in the past. If your life has changed, why haven't your colors? Or are you overwhelmed by one of the most common culprits of all -- clutter? With tons of clutter, you may not be able to even see the colors of your walls.



Is your home filled with things you no longer want or need? Are you hoarding to compensate for or cover up some emotion? Are your tables and floors covered with toys, clothes, dishes, and unread magazines? These are signs that clutter is taking over your life. It's easy to get weighed down by possessions. In some cases, the desire to acquire becomes a disease. People have closets and rooms full of things that weigh them down. If that's your situation, don't hesitate -- it's time to act. Attack your home one room at a time. As you come to each item, either put it to use or get rid of it. If it's a ticket from a movie with your kids that evokes a special memory, put it in a scrapbook to preserve the memory, design a Christmas craft with it, or throw it away. Learn to let go. As you do, you'll rediscover the inviting home you once knew and loved.



I don't mean that every item and scrap of paper in your home has to be out of sight. That's certainly not the case in our home. My desk, which used to be my kitchen table, is covered with paperwork. You might call it a mess. Yet I know what each piece of paper is and where it goes. It's an organized mess! So I'm not suggesting that your home has to pass a white-glove inspection. On the other hand, if your bedroom doorway is blocked by boxes of Christmas cards from people you haven't talked to in ten years, it's time to step in and "clutter bust."



I am a firm believer that we are influenced by our environment, usually more than we realize. You may be reluctant to put much energy into transforming your home into a more welcoming place. I understand. However, once you acknowledge the far-reaching impact a positive living space has on your spirit, you can begin making changes for the better. We'll talk in this chapter about how relatively small steps, such as adding a touch of aromatherapy or setting out candles, can make an enormous difference in the atmosphere of your home (it's hard to have arguments by candlelight). We'll discuss fun ideas for displaying personal items that celebrate your unique personality and make you feel comfortable and honored. We'll also explore ways to establish a cozy little nook in your home that is just for you, a private place you can turn to for tranquility.



If you're anything like me, you'll need help -- expert help -- to make all the changes needed to transform your house into a happy home. I freely admit that cooking and gardening are not among my strengths. That's why I often turn to my good friend Chef André Carthen of ACafe and renowned landscape designer Nicholas Walker of J du J for advice. In this chapter Chef André and Nicholas will offer you solutions for entertaining and for developing a refreshing physical environment outside your home -- as well as enabling some of that outdoor refreshment to come inside.



You may not be an expert on kitchen, garden, and living spaces. You are, however, an expert on you and what your family needs. Even if you have limited time and financial resources, with a little bit of help, you can develop a style for your home that reflects who you are and what makes you happy. We'll talk more about that, too. What is crucial is looking for opportunities to allow your surroundings to flourish. It can be the magnet that attracts the joy hidden inside your heart.





Looking for Joy in All the Right Places



We've talked about how many families are pursuing but not finding happiness. Some moms, though, are tired of the chase. They've tried for so long and have become so discouraged that they've given up. They're waiting for someone or something to come along and rescue them. They feel empty. They have a void in their hearts that desperately needs to be filled.



I remember the day one of our children wanted to run away from home. I'd read all the manuals and instruction books that said parents should question the decision but then allow their child to pack. The key was to never let the child see you panic or allow him to think he could intimidate you. Yet when my child was the one announcing plans to run away, my response was the complete opposite of what I'd read. As soon as I heard the words, I dissolved into tears. Not a good example of parenting! So believe me, I do understand how overwhelming, intimidating, and even frightening it can be to have mom responsibilities, and how that can leave mothers with an empty feeling that cries out to be filled.



For me, that void is filled by the Lord. When I take my troubles to Him, I find comfort and strength that give me an inner joy and allow me to keep going even when I'm discouraged by my circumstances. I appreciate that you may not share my faith. If you don't, you won't find your support in the same way I do. I will tell you this, though: if we wait for happiness, we are likely to find ourselves paralyzed by the waiting.



A mother once wrote to me and said, "I want to be happy. I'm waiting for something to happen to help me be happy." I wrote back and encouraged her to begin moving toward joy that day. We corresponded further, and I urged her to start with simple steps: Organize a junk drawer. Discard things she didn't need. Visit her children at school. Decide that rather than argue with her husband over their differences, she could realize that they each had their own visions for their lives, and she could focus on what they had in common. Today this mom leads a much happier life. She has stopped waiting for happiness to come to her and is starting to look for joy in the right places.



I don't mean to imply that discovering happiness is easy, especially for anyone struggling with genuine depression. Without doubt, there are circumstances and medical conditions that require professional help, including prescription medication. Emotional illness is as real as any physical illness. If you find yourself in a place of depression that you can't break through, or if you're overwhelmed to the point of danger to yourself or another human being, please put this book down immediately and get help. Too often, however, people turn to chemical substitutes -- even from our own physicians, who may be quick to prescribe them -- rather than attempt to solve the core problem. If you're unhappy, there is much you can do to change your situation. Life is too precious to go through it without joy.



One of the best ways to discover joy is to reach out to others. When we see beyond ourselves and observe the needs of the people around us, we open ourselves and our children up to all kinds of opportunities for joy. Years ago I worked in a convalescent home. It was a pleasure for me to deliver meals to the elderly patients, many of whom had no one else to visit them. Many were not happy. Their health was poor, and they were lonely. Yet the simple act of giving them a smile and hug and of serving them a meal brought heartfelt smiles to their faces. When my shift was done, I felt joy over the fact that basic acts of kindness could cause someone to feel a small difference in their life.



When you reach out to others, the impact goes beyond you and the person you're helping. Imagine the lessons your children will learn if, from an early age, they see you volunteering once a month to read to the blind or serve in a soup kitchen. Better yet, if your kids are old enough, encourage them to volunteer with you. In Santa Barbara we have a program in which we bring flowers to people who otherwise don't have access to them, so that they can experience one of God's wondrous creations. The program serves women and men who have limited mobility or are confined to their living space, including those in convalescent homes. Even people at our local mission, who may be temporarily homeless, benefit from the program and can enjoy the scent and beauty of a flower. This is something we've participated in as a family. I believe our children have learned powerful lessons from seeing firsthand the impact of kindness. No matter how much joy they give out, they receive even more.



I'm not suggesting that you should volunteer at the expense of your family time or your own overwhelmed schedule. It's important to set boundaries and establish what you can and cannot do. Still, when you make it a priority to focus on others, you may find that other, more trivial concerns will begin to fall away.



If you're reading this and thinking that you have very little time or money to give to others right now, I understand that. If you are a person of faith, however, you always have the option to pray. I'm reminded of a time when I learned that two boys at school were bothering one of our children. My first reaction wasn't very loving. I was upset. Later that evening, though, when I calmed down, our child and I prayed for those two boys. Just leaving the matter in God's hands was a blessing. Knowing that He hears and answers every prayer created a sense of peace and happiness for both of us. And the next day I found out that the situation had indeed improved.



Put simply, compassion leads to joy. In the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote, "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love...then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love" (Philippians 2:1-2). Any time that we follow the example of Jesus, we radiate joy. Everyone around us will see it, receive it, and most often, reflect it back.





Beginning Today



You can be happy today. Remember when I said that some people have a void they want someone or something to fill? It's as if they're stuck in an "if, then" mode. If I can just have a baby girl, then I'll be happy. If we can make enough to afford a new house, then I'll be happy. If my boss gives me that transfer I want, then I'll be happy. They're always waiting for some external event to bring joy into their lives.



You don't have to wait. You can choose happiness right now. God tells us to be patient in our trials and in waiting for the return of Jesus (see Romans 12:12 and James 5:7), but He doesn't say we have to wait for joy. On the contrary, He wants us to always celebrate our lives and faith: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4). Remember Paul and Silas, who were severely flogged and chained to a prison wall (Acts 16:23-24)? They seemed out of options, yet they raised their own spirits and those of their fellow prisoners by offering prayers and hymns to God.



Yes, we will have moments of sorrow in our lives; but real joy isn't based on circumstances. Real joy is something that cannot be taken away. Even in the midst of crisis or grief, deep in our hearts, we have the joy of knowing that we're not alone. We have God, the people we love, and the precious gift of life. No matter what else is going on around us, those are blessings we should never take for granted.



Real Solutions for Busy Moms © 2009 by Kathy Ireland Worldwide




I just received this book and started reading it. I have been pleasantly surprised. When I think of a "star" writing a book, I wonder what they'll really have to offer. I mean, come on, you're a star, how hard can life be? How are you going to relate at all to the everyday woman?

Well, Kathy pulls it off. She gives practical advice from her perspective and then brings in people who have backgrounds on certain topics to answer situational questions. They give great answers that us everyday women can put to use.

If you'd like a chance to win this book, leave a comment here letting us know what area of life you're super busy. For me, I'm a single mom with kids seeming to go in every direction! Trying to do it all without any family around gets a bit crazy. Good thing I have ADD. :) Make sure you leave your email so I can contact you if you win. Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Faith 'n Fiction Saturday: A Letter to an Author


Today's Challenge

We love to read our books, but sometimes we forget to appreciate the wonderful authors behind them. Authors who write for the Christian marketplace face many challenges with a smaller market and oftentimes the spiritual burden of writing about faith.

So today, I'd like for us to just appreciate our favorite authors. What I'm challenging you to do today is to write a letter of appreciation and encouragement to an author who has written a book that has touched your life or at the very least that you dearly love. Post the letter on your blog. Then, if you are really feeling the love, I suggest you print the letter out and research how to send it via snail mail to your favorite (or beloved) author. If you can't narrow it down to just one author, then I suggest you write more letters and send them in the mail!

My letter is going to be sent to Sharon Hinck. The authors that I love, I've contacted before, but I think this is such a fantastic idea.

Dear Sharon,

I want to thank you so much for your Sword of Lyric series. I grew up reading fantasy novels by authors such as: Piers Anthony, Jean Auel, Terry Brooks, Anne McCaffrey, and Robert Aspin. Those novels opened up a world for me that I wasn't prepared for at an early age.

That world convinced me that magic was the way to go. Magic was special. If I tried hard enough, I could make it happen for me. i believed there were fairies, but only those who truly believed would be able to see them. These books were my escape from life. It was a way Satan was able to get a foothold in my life.

I spent my days reading horoscopes. I got my own set of Tarot cards, which thankfully I only used one time. My spiritual life consisted of nothing that was from God.

I became a Christian a number of years ago and gave up all that stuff without ever looking back. When I started reading Christian fiction it was pretty much all romance novels. A couple years ago I found your book The Restorer. The cover of course grabbed my attention because there was a sword on the cover. I have a natural tendency to be drawn to those books.

When I turned the book over and read the back I knew I wanted to read this book. In a way it was going to be a test for me. Can a Christian author truly write a book that has an element of fantasy as part of the storyline. And if so, how is this going to be ok. I began reading this book with a slip of trepidation.

Sharon, you absolutely convinced me that Christian Fantasy is an appropriate genre for Jesus followers. You opened a door for me that I had been hesitant to walk through. The Restorer showed me the power of God's spoken Word. The people of Lyric had the One's word hidden in their hearts and were able to come against evil in ways that are lost to us in this day and age.

The joy that they had for speaking and singing God's word was so powerful. That an entire group of people were united in one spirit was a breath of fresh air. I wish that as a society we were in more agreement.

You also showed us through the Ruscian's how evil can permeate areas of our minds we didn't believe possible. Satan is a powerful enemy and he can whisper into our ears and put a foothold on us that's more powerful that we could've ever imagined. That is where you so clearly illustrated how God's word can conquer anything Satan sends against us.

Thank you Sharon for giving us a book that sent me to a world with sword fighting and fantasy that paralleled God's Word. I didn't believe it was possible, but you have done it spectacularly.

Many blessings,


Friday, April 3, 2009

If Tomorrow Never Comes by Marlo Schalesky ~ FIRST WildCard GIVEAWAY

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!



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





Today's Wild Card author is:





and the book:



If Tomorrow Never Comes

Multnomah Books (March 17, 2009)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:








Marlo Schalesky is the author of several books, including Beyond the Night and Empty Womb, Aching Heart. A graduate of Stanford University, Marlo also has a masters of theology with an emphasis in biblical studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. Married over twenty years, she lives with her husband, Bryan, and their five children in California.



Visit the author's website.



Product Details:



List Price: $12.99

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: Multnomah Books (March 17, 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1601420242

ISBN-13: 978-1601420244



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:





Only the fog is real. Only the sand. Only the crashing of the sea upon the restless shore. The rest is a dream. It has to be. I say it again and again until I believe it, because I cannot be here. Not now. Not with mist dusting my eyelashes, sand tickling my toes, salt bitter on my lips. Not when the whole world has narrowed to a strip of beach, a puff of fog, and a single gull crying in an invisible sky.



This is crazy. Impossible. And I’m too old for crazy. I won’t be some loony old woman with a house full of cats. I refuse to be. Besides, I prefer dogs. I touch my neck, and my breath stops. The chain is gone. My



locket.



My mother’s voice teases me. “Not impossible, hon. Improbable. Because with God all things are possible.” Her words, spoken in that ancient, quavering tone, hide a laugh turned wheezy with age. I hear her again. “Someday you’ll lose that locket, The a Jean. You just wait.” Her grin turns the sides of her eyes into folds of old parchment. “And that’s when the adventure will really begin.” But I don’t want any adventure. All I want is a comfortable chair, a good book, the sounds of my grandchildren playing tag under the California sun, and my boxer at my feet. I want to go home.



I glance out over the ripples of Monterey Bay. White-capped waves. Dark water. And then I know. That’s what I need to wake me up, get me home. I need a cold slap in the face. Something to shake me from this crazy-old-cat-lady delusion. I stride forward until the surf kisses my feet, the waves swirl around my ankles, knees, waist, arms. Cold. Icy. Welcome. The water engulfs me. And suddenly it doesn’t feel like a



dream.



Fog closed in around Kinna Henley as she fell to her knees and pawed in the sand. The grains bit into her hands, filled her fingernails like black soot. And still she dug. Deep into the oozing wetness. Deep enough to bury her sin. Or at least the evidence of it. No, not sin. She wouldn’t call it that. Desperation, maybe. Determination. But not sin. God wouldn’t bless that, and He had to bless today. He just had to. She was betting everything on it. Kinna glanced over her shoulder. Somewhere, a gull cried. Once. Only once. Somewhere, water broke along rocks and sand. Somewhere, the sun rose over the horizon. But not here. Here, there was nothing but the fog and the shore and the sand beneath her fingers. Alone. Barren. She hated that word.



With a deep breath, Kinna reached into the pocket of her nurse’s smock and pulled out six empty prescription vials that didn’t bear her name. She held them in her palm. Minute bits of liquid shimmered in the bottoms, reflecting only gray, all that was left of the medication that held her hope, flowed through her veins, and ended in her ovaries. Expensive medication she couldn’t afford on her own. But she needed it. She’d tried too long, prayed too long, believed too long…for nothing.



This medication, this Perganol, would change all that. It had to. She closed her fist. What’s done is done. I had to take it, God. Don’t You see? I had to. She turned her hand over, opened it, and dropped the vials into the hole. Then she covered them and pushed a fat, heavy rock over the top. Gone. Buried.



She wouldn’t think of how those vials had been accidentally sent to the hospital. Of how they were supposed to be returned. Of how she said they had been. Or how she slipped them into the pocket of her smock instead. She’d told herself it didn’t matter, no one would know, no one would care, no one would be hurt. She made herself believe this was the only way. And it was. Nothing else had worked. Not charting her temperature, not a million tests, not herbal remedies, not two failed attempts at adoption. Not even prayer. A dozen long years of it all had taught her that. God promised happily ever after, but so far, all she’d gotten was month after month of disappointment, pain, and the fear that nothing may ever change. But now, change would come. The medication was gone, the vials hidden, her ovaries full to bursting.



Finally. A sound came. A shout, maybe. Kinna leaped up and turned, but no one was there. No one walking down the beach. No one swimming in the surf. No one making sandcastles along the shore. She wouldn’t think of that now. She would not remember the first time she had knelt in this sand, dug in it, made castles at the edge of the water. She wouldn’t remember the boy who made her believe fairy tales could come true. Or what happened between them after that. That was gone. Past. All that remained was the promise that had flowed out of those stolen vials and into her blood. That was all that mattered. Today, everything would change.



Kinna picked up her bag and strode down the silent beach, her elbows bent, her arms swinging. Fast, determined. Five minutes up, five minutes back, turn and go again. Twice more, and she’d check exercise off her list for the day. Once, she exercised for fun. Now, it was a means to an end, a way to prepare her body, to convince herself that she was doing everything she could, everything she should. That’s what life had



become.



She sighed and quickened her pace. She missed the old Kinna, the one who laughed easily, who teased, who jogged along the beach just to feel the breeze in her hair and to smell the salty scent of the sea. The Kinna who still believed in fairy tales. But soon she would believe again. She would laugh, tease, but not jog. Not for nine months, anyway. Because now her dreams would come true and the pain would end. God would finally do for her what she’d asked, begged, and pleaded for so many years. Once, she’d been so sure that God would answer. So sure of her faith. God would not disappoint her, would not let her down. But the years eroded that faith, washing it away, bit by bit, as surely as the sea washed out the sand on the shore. Until today.



Now she had faith again. She would stop being that woman filled with pain and doubt. She would be filled with faith…and more. Right, God? She slowed. Doctor’s orders. Or at least, nurse’s orders. God didn’t answer.



But it didn’t matter. She’d waited long enough. Tried, prayed, hoped. And finally, she’d happened upon those vials as if they were meant for her. As though it didn’t matter if she just slipped them into her pocket. A simple act. Easy. So why did she still have to bury them in the sand?



She knew the signs of guilt. Growing up as a pastor’s daughter taught her that. She knew a lot about guilt. I did what I had to do. That’s all. I can’t live like this anymore. It’s got to change.



She’d done what she never would have believed. Kinna Henley had become a thief. She gripped her bag until it creased in her hand, pressing into the flesh of her fingers. Once, she’d wept and stormed, screamed and threatened. She’d sobbed into too many pillows, curled in too many corners, slammed too many doors. Until now.



A chill slipped under her nurse’s smock and twirled around the short hairs near her neck. It was so cold here, so lonely. Not even the call of a gull or the chatter of a sea lion kept her company. Nothing but endless waves and the eerie silence of the mist.



And God, just as silent. This time, God, don’t let me down. Please… Not again. This time she’d made plans, acted on them. This time, she’d sold her soul. No, it’s not that bad. It’s not! What if…? What if I fail again?



But it wouldn’t come to that. It couldn’t. God would listen. God would relent. Kinna didn’t want fame or fortune, shoes, clothes, or the latest Prada handbag. She didn’t want a new car, a new house, or even a new job. All she wanted was a child, a baby of her own. What she’d always wanted, as long as she could remember. A husband, a baby, and happily ever after.



Didn’t God say that to His faithful? Didn’t He say that all she had to do was pray? How could it be too much to ask for only what every other woman in the world seemed to have? Just a baby. To be a mother. Nothing more. It seemed so simple, so normal, so impossible. This was her last chance. At least that’s what the doctor said. “One more cycle, Kinna.” Cycles, not months. Everything was measured in cycles now. “And then you need to consider in vitro fertilization.” But she couldn’t afford IVF. She couldn’t even afford Perganol. The credit cards were maxed, the house mortgaged and mortgaged again. And Jimmy had said no more debt.



She closed her eyes. She’d done everything right. Perfect. She’d taken her prenatal vitamins, eaten her vegetables, not allowed a drop of caffeine to touch her lips, walked each afternoon. She’d charted her basal body temperature for a week, logged the dates, bought not one but two ovulation predictor kits with seven sticks each. She’d tested every day, twice a day, from day eleven to day fifteen. And this day, the time was finally right—the perfect time to conceive. And, of course, there were the vials.



Around her, the fog swirled and thickened. The ocean murmured words of doubt. She wouldn’t listen to that. Not anymore. She kicked a bit of sand at her feet. A string of dried kelp slid between her toes and sandals. She flicked it away, then reached into her bag and took out the ovulation predictor stick she’d put there. Two lines, both thick, equal. She squeezed it in her hand and then pulled a picture from her bag, a funny photo of a laughing baby with tulips scattered around her. The perfect baby.



Her thumb brushed the baby’s face. She blinked. Stop it, Kinna. God wouldn’t let you f ind that picture if He didn’t intend to answer your prayers. She glanced up. Don’t forget, God. I have faith.



Kinna reached the end of the beach and turned. Then she saw a glimmer in the sand. Silver buried in the tan-and-white blanket of a million tiny grains. She stooped and picked up the long chain, the dull necklace. She turned it over. An oval locket, old and worn. She grimaced. She had one just like it, except hers was new. A gift from Jimmy, who claimed it was an original. How like him to get a cheap knockoff and pretend it was something more. She ran her finger over the intricate double-tulip design on the locket’s surface. She opened it, and a bit of sand fell onto her fingers. She brushed it away.



Inside were two photos—an old man and an old woman, their faces wrinkled but still unfaded by time, clear enough that she could see their smiles, could tell they were happy. Happy faces, content faces, his half hidden behind thick glasses, hers yellowed by the years. Faces that made her ache. Once, she thought she would look happy like that when she grew old. She and Jimmy. And they would. Just as soon as God answered her prayers. Kinna closed the locket, dropped it into her bag, and listened as the chain rattled against the ovulation stick. And then someone screamed.



Someone get me a cat, because I think I really have lost my mind. What was I thinking? This isn’t a dream. The water is real. Too real. God is making fun of me, sending me here like this.



But it’s not His fault I’m in these waves. I shouldn’t blame Him. I’ve done this stupid thing. Batty old lady. That much, at least, seems true. I’d laugh, except my mouth would fill with salt water. It claws at me with freezing fingers. Reaches, grabs, forces my head under its black surface. And then I feel the first tendrils of fear. Of real, honest-to-goodness terror. What have I done?



I fight and scream. My arms flail, my hands wave in air too gray, too heavy. The waves pull at me, drag me farther from the shore. My eyes go blind in the salty surf.



One wave. Another. I shout again. My throat burns and I can no longer scream. Stupid. Crazy. Nuts.



The water grows colder. Arms of ice, embracing, drawing me down. Pulling me to the land of many cats. Maybe I should have known. Should have seen the truth the moment I knew the locket was gone.



Maybe...



But this is crazy.



This is real.



This...



What happens if you die in your dreams?



Kinna whirled toward the sound of the scream. It came again, a shriek like a blade across her nerves. She faced the water. The sound echoed off the waves.



A cry. A shout. A scream for help. She heard frantic splashing, a final, desperate cry. She threw her bag onto the sand and raced to the edge of the sea. There! She could see the figure now, a black shadow on the water’s surface.



A wave crested and the figure vanished. No other sound came. Kinna kicked off her shoes and dove into the water. Cold surrounded her. Waves plunged against her, stinging her eyes, lifting her higher, crashing her down. For an instant she glimpsed the figure in the water. A woman, older than Kinna, her arms thrashing, her head dipping beneath the waves. Sounds came again. Words and shouts that she could no longer distinguish.The woman went under.



Kinna put her head down and swam. Hard. Fast. Fighting against the surf and current. Water silenced any further sounds, filled her ears with only the roar of the tide. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Water in her mouth. Salt and bitterness. She paused, glanced up. She couldn’t see the woman. Oh no. God, help… A flash. An arm. Was that…? Then, nothing.



She swam toward the spot. Hoping, praying. Though God had never answered her before, still she prayed, believing, driving herself into the undulating waves. And then she was there. A froth of white on the surface of the sea. Floundering limbs. Gulping mouth. A final stroke and she was beside the woman, then behind her. “It’s okay. I’ve got—” A wave silenced her words, drowning them in a salty onslaught.



The woman thrashed. Her arm slammed against Kinna’s temple. The world turned black, then gray and green again. Kinna blinked, gasped for air.



The woman twisted and reached out, shouting words Kinna couldn’t hear, couldn’t understand. She started to climb, thin feet kicking into Kinna’s legs. Weak hands, suddenly strong, shoved Kinna’s shoulders deeper into the roiling waves. Water closed over Kinna’s head. She shoved the woman away, fought back to the surface. Air stung her lungs, water blinded her eyes. The woman grabbed for her, but this time, Kinna was ready. She grasped the woman beneath the arms, turning her by force. A foot impacted her stomach. A hand scratched her face. She shouted in the woman’s ear. “Relax! I’ve got you.” The woman shuddered.



“Don’t fight me.” Stiff arms stopped clawing. Kicking legs slowed. “That’s it. Stay loose now.”



Kinna secured her grip, turned on her side, and swam one-armed toward the shore. After six strokes the woman grew limp. “Stay with me.”



The woman’s breath rasped in Kinna’s ear. She would be all right. They would make it safely to the shore. A wave broke over them and still she swam, the woman pliable but breathing. A gasp. A cough. The waves came quicker, pushing them. Short, choppy, breaking in rolls of froth. Then Kinna’s toes found the bottom. She fought against the last of the surf, the final stretch of the sea. Her feet pressed into soggy sand,



her body rose from the water. And then they were free. Kinna dragged the woman onto the beach and fell to her knees beside her. She spat out a mouthful of water, then leaned, trembling, over the woman’s pale face.



The woman’s eyes fluttered open and fixed on Kinna. “You?” A single word, barely spoken. Then her eyes fell closed. “No!” Kinna grabbed the woman’s shoulders, pulling her upright and shaking her.



The woman’s eyes opened again, staring. Her mouth moved, muttering words Kinna could not hear. She leaned closer.



“The faces. Not crazy. Not.” The words were slurred. “Not a dream.” The woman’s head tilted, her breath ragged and unsure. “Shhh. We’ll get you to a doctor. You’ll be all right.” A hand gripped Kinna’s arm. The woman’s fingers tightened and pulled her closer. Her mouth moved again, and this time, the words were clear.



“You’re Kinna Henley.”



Kinna shivered. “How do you know me?”



The woman gave another shuddering breath, then fell back.



And breathed no more.

I really enjoyed this book. One thing I love about Marlo's books are that they have a twist, a good twist. It makes the story so much more than your every day novel. Of course, the twist is something I can't really discuss because even tho you pick up what's going on (or at least I did for a change) early in the story, I don't want to give the "twist" away.

We meet Kinna and Jimmy. Their marriage is on the rocks. Kinna is desperate to have a baby, while Jimmy is tired of going into debt to support his wife's obsession with getting pregnant. Marlo takes us on a journey in their lives here and now and as they grew up together.

We also meet Thea. She continues to show up in their lives at the craziest times, but exactly when she's needed. At least through Kinna's eyes you can tell she's unsure of this woman who keeps showing up unexpectedly and in the oddest places. Their first meeting is unforgetable!

Jimmy has strayed from the young man he was when he and Kinna were growing up to a cynical and somewhat hardened man. He is letting things slide in numerous areas of his life when the Spirit is prompting him to make other choices.

As we follow Jimmy & Kinna through a couple days of their lives we become woven into the their childhood sweetness and their adulthood pain.

One of the things I find extremely odd, and I never saw explained was why Kinna is forever spelling things. At one point Kinna is speaking to Thea and she says, "That you'll get pneumonia. P-N-E-U-M-O-N-I-A." She even spells "no" to an adult. A couple times Jimmy answers her angrily and spells a word at her. I would go nuts if someone had that kind of tic!

I'm going to ask our book club leader to read this book to see if she'd like to use it for book club. Because we only do 3 fictional books in the summer, she might already have 3 picked out. If she does, I'll be happy to put this book up for a giveaway. It's such a fantastic story!

Alrighty, our book club's loss is your gain! The books for the summer have been chosen and this wasn't one of them. So, leave me a comment to win along with your email. Please, US residents only. Found out recently shipping out of the country is spendy. :) Contest will run through June 1.

 
Creative Commons License
Woven by Words by Mimi B is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.