Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Great Christmas Bowl Blog Tour

The Great Christmas Bowl Cover
Dear Readers,

I love Christmas books. And I love Susan May Warren. I very much want Susan May Warren's Christmas book to succeed but I cannot actually read it before Thanksgiving. I was going to, but then I read her prologue and knew this was a book I wanted to keep for a later date.

So I apologize that I selfishly am waiting to closer to the big date but the book is available now.

Susan has set up a great website that features a note from the author, fun updates from Big Lake Gazette, info on how to host your own Great Christmas Bowl Tea to benefit a local ministry or charity and a fun Recipe Exchange contest!

About The Great Christmas Bowl: Marianne Wallace is focused on two things this holiday season: planning the greatest family Christmas ever and cheering on her youngest son’s team in their bid for the state championship.
Disaster strikes when the team loses their mascot-the Trout. Is it going too far to ask her to don the costume? So what if her husband has also volunteered her to organize the church Christmas tea.
When football playoffs start ramping up, the Christmas tea starts falling apart. Then, one by one her children tell her they can’t come home for Christmas.
As life starts to unravel, will Marianne remember the true meaning of the holidays?

CONTEST: Be a part of the Great Christmas Bowl recipe exchange!
Susan loves getting recipes from friends, and sharing the delicious cookies, soups, breads and other fun fixings that go with celebrating the Christmas season. More than that, she loves the crazy stories about favorite Christmases – serious, touching, funny…whatever. Find the recipe contest here.

Will you share your story and recipe with Susan and the readers of the Great Christmas Bowl? She will post your story and recipe on the FRONT PAGE of the Great Christmas Bowl website, and send you a link when it goes up so you can tell all your friends. Then, at the Great Christmas Bowl party (December 5th, 10am, online! Details TBA) she’ll make the entire cookbook available for download!

For every recipe/story you submit (up to 3), you will be entered in a drawing to receive one of SMW’s collections (Noble Legacy, Team Hope, Heirs of Anton, Deep Haven Series, Josey series, or THE ADVANCED COPY of Sons of Thunder – Susie’s brand new epic World War 2 novel, due out in January 2010!)

This post is part of a blog tour. You can find the full schedule at the LitFuse Group site.


Monday, September 28, 2009

A Note and The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow

Yeah so fine. I'm not really on much of a blogging break anymore. :) I'm still twittering, reading other blogs, and doing a heck of a lot of work. I still have a lot of BBAW (Book Blogger Appreciation Week) tasks to wrap up, some new projects in the works, and stuff like that. Essentially, my recent trip to DC was just enough to give me a break and remind me to take the pressure off myself.

Additionally, I had absolutely no idea how committed this week was! (no I don't use a blogging calendar) I put off a lot of blog tours to this week thinking once BBAW is over I'll be fine, forgetting that I wouldn't have had time to read many of the books. But I'm really trying to slow down on commitments since I envision a much different purpose for this blog and my reading next year.

Anyway, here's this week's CFBA the way, it seems my address didn't update again for October so I apologize in advance for the review-less posts. I think we got it sorted out (but I requested a lot of October titles)

About The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow by Joyce Magnin: The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow is the story of an unusual woman, Agnes Sparrow. No longer able or willing to leave her home, where she is cared for by her long-suffering sister Griselda, Agnes has committed her life to the one thing she can do-besides eat. Agnes Sparrow prays and when Agnes prays things happen, including major miracles of the cancer, ulcer-healing variety along with various minor miracles not the least of which is the recovery of lost objects and a prize-winning pumpkin.

The rural residents of Bright's Pond are so enamored with Agnes they plan to have a sign erected on the interstate that reads, "Welcome to Bright's Pond, Home of Agnes Sparrow." This is something Agnes doesn't want and sends Griselda to fight city hall.

Griselda's petitions are shot down and the sign plans press forward until a stranger comes to town looking for his miracle from Agnes. The truth of Agnes's odd motivation comes out when the town reels after a shocking event. How could Agnes allow such evil in their midst? Didn't she know?

Well, the prayers of Agnes Sparrow have more to do with Agnes than God. Agnes has been praying to atone for a sin committed when she was a child. After some tense days, the townsfolk, Griselda, and Agnes decide they all need to find their way back to the true source of the miracles-God.


Read the First Chapter of Think No Evil

I've just started reading this short book Think No Evil, and I think it's going to be very interesting as it's written by a man who grew up Amish. Insider perspective! I'll try to review it more fully for you soon, but I'd love to know your thoughts on the Amish and their amazing capacity to forgive.

Chapter One: Gates Wide Open

It has become numbingly familiar. A man walks into a church, a store, a dormitory, a nursing home, or a school and begins shooting. Sometimes there is panic, sometimes an eerie quietness. But always bodies fall, almost in unison with the shell casings dropping from the gun. And always there is death. Senseless, inexplicable loss of innocent life. Within seconds, we begin hearing reports on our Blackberries or iPhones. Within minutes it is “Breaking News” on CNN, and by the end of the day it has seared a name in our memories. Columbine. Virginia Tech.

Or for me, The Amish Schoolhouse Shooting.

As I write this, it has been nearly three years since our community watched as ten little girls were carried out of their one-room school and laid on the grass where first responders desperately tried to save their lives. As a professional counselor and the founder of a counseling center that serves this area, I saw firsthand the effects this traumatic event had on our citizens. And as someone who grew up in an Amish household and suffered through my own share of tragedies, I found myself strangely drawn back into a culture that I once chose to leave. I know these people who still travel by horse and buggy and light their homes with gas lanterns, yet as I moved among them through this tragedy I found myself asking questions that, surprisingly, led me to back to a hard look at my own heart. How were they able to cope so well with the loss of their children? What enables a father who lost two daughters in that schoolhouse to bear no malice toward the man who shot them? And what can I learn—what can we learn—from them to help us more gracefully carry our own life burdens?

That last question is what prompted me to attempt to share what I have learned from the families who lost so much that day. The Amish will be the first to tell you they’re not perfect. But they do a lot of things right. Forgiveness is one of them. In my counseling, I have seen how lesser tragedies destroy relationships, ruin marriages, and turn people’s hearts to stone. Life throws so much at us that seems unfair and undeserved, and certainly the shootings at the Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania were both. And yet, not a word of anger or retribution from the Amish. Somehow they have learned that blame and vengeance are toxic while forgiveness and reconciliation disarm their grief. Even in the valley of the shadow of death they know how to live well, and that is really the story that I want to share—how ordinary human beings ease their own pain by forgiving those who have hurt them.

It is a story that began decades ago when I knew it was time to choose.


Little has changed in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania from the time I was a young boy to that fateful October day when shots pierced the stillness of our countryside. Towns like Cedar Lane and New Holland and Gap and Iva might have grown slightly, but as you drive through the hills and valleys along White Oak Road or Buck Hill Road, you’ll see the same quaint farms and patchwork fields that the Amish have worked for generations. Like most Amish boys, I learned to read in a little one-room schoolhouse and could hitch up a team of horses by the time I was twelve years old. I didn’t feel deprived because we didn’t have electricity or phones and it didn’t really bother me to wear the plain clothes that set us apart from my non-Amish friends. As far as I was concerned, being Amish was fine with me, except for one thing. I loved cars. I mean I really loved them. I couldn’t imagine never being able to drive one, but knew that’s what was at stake if I remained Amish.

In Amish culture, you may be born into an Amish family, but you must choose for yourself if you want to be Amish and that usually happens somewhere between the ages of sixteen and twenty one. You may have seen documentaries about Amish teenagers sowing their wild oats for a year or so before deciding to leave or stay within the Amish faith. While it’s true that Amish young people are given their freedom, in reality few teenagers stray very far from the Amish way of life. But all eventually must choose, and once you decide to stay and become baptized as Amish, you can never leave without serious consequences including being shunned by other Amish, even your own parents and relatives. I couldn’t imagine never being a part of my loving family, but I also felt a tug to explore life beyond my Amish roots, and I worried that it would hurt my father if I chose to leave. I remember once asking my dad why we did the things we did and he told me it was all about choice. We choose to live the way we do. It is not forced on us. So when I finally told him at age fifteen that I did not want to stay Amish, I know he was disappointed, but he was not harsh with me, nor did he try to talk me out of it. He respected my choice, which has profoundly shaped my thinking about the Amish. You can always trust them. They live up to their word. If they say they will do something, they will do it. You may have heard the expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Well, you would never hear that from an Amish parent. Whatever they teach their children, they back it up with their actions. My dad told me we had a choice and when I made a choice that he obviously wished I wouldn’t have made, he did not turn his back on me. He taught me an important lesson the way most Amish teach their children: by example. Many years later, in the wake of the tragic shooting, I would see Amish mothers and fathers teach their children about forgiveness the same way.

I left the Amish community, but I never left my family, nor did they abandon me. Because of that, I too would learn about forgiveness from my father’s example. Most of my brothers and sisters made the same decision to leave for their own reasons. But my parents remained Amish, and much of my world view is still seen through the metaphorical front windscreen of an Amish buggy.


During those winter months after the shooting so much about our community was covered in stillness. The shortening days felt somber and subdued as we were constantly reminded of the girls that had perished. Normally the sights and sounds surrounding my home in Lancaster County filled me with a sense of nostalgia: the rhythm of horse and buggies clip-clopping their way down our back country roads or the sight of children dashing home from school through a cold afternoon had always been pleasant reminders to me of growing up as a young Amish boy. But that feeling of nostalgia had been replaced with a solemn feeling of remembrance.

Lancaster County is a unique community, the kind of which seems to rarely exist in America anymore. Many of my friends come from families that have lived in this same area for over two hundred years, some even before our country was formed—often we are still connected by friendships held long ago by our parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents. You will find roadside stands selling produce or baked goods, and it is not unusual for them to be left unattended, the prices listed on a bucket or box where you can leave payment for the goods you take. The vast majority of the county is farmland, and in the summer various shades of green spread out to the horizon: beautiful forests line the hills and drift down to waving fields of corn and tobacco and hay.

In the fall months many of the small towns sponsor fairs or festivals, some established for seventy-five years or more. They were originally conceived for local farmers to bring and sell their harvested goods, but like much of the commerce in this area, they were also social events—an opportunity to get caught up with friends you hadn’t seen in a while. I can imagine that back in the day they were joyous times, the crops having been brought in, the community coming together to prepare for a long winter. Nowadays we still go to the fair every year and sit on the same street corner with all of our friends, some of whom we haven’t seen all year but can count on seeing there at the fair. The parade goes by, filled with local high school bands and hay wagons advertising local businesses. Our grandchildren vanish into the back streets together, another generation of friendships, riding the Ferris wheel or going through the haunted house. I like to think that in thirty years they will be sitting on that corner, with their children running off to ride the rides with my friends’ great-grandchildren.

The Amish people live easily among us: good neighbors, hard workers, a peaceful people. They attend the same fairs with their children. Their separateness goes only as far as their plain clothing, or their lack of modern conveniences like telephones and electricity, or the fact that they have their own schools. I have many good friends who are Amish. While they choose to live their lives free of cell phones and computers, they still walk alongside us. They mourn with us when we lose loved ones, and we with them. We talk to them about world events. They volunteer on our local fire brigades and ambulance crews and run businesses within our community.

When the media converged on our community on that fateful October day, I guess I was an ideal person for the media to talk to: someone who grew up in the Amish community, now a family counselor familiar with the effects of grief and tragedy on people’s lives. So I served as a contact for the media, doing countless interviews and sitting on various panels, almost all of which were directed at the Amish response of forgiveness. It immediately became the theme for the media and the millions of people who watched in their homes or listened in their cars—this unbelievable ability to forgive the murderer of innocent children. But tragedy can change a community, and I wondered how the acts of one man would change ours.

Like many individuals, I had already experience my share of personal turmoil over things I could not control. I knew that when these overwhelming experiences of hurt and loss occur, the very core of your being is altered. In fact, having experienced these tragedies in my life, and being counseled through them, led me to pursue becoming a counselor myself. Eventually I went back to school to do just that, and I studied quite a bit on my own as well. In May of 1992, just up the road from Nickel Mines, my wife and I opened the Gap Family Information Center (later it became the Family Resource and Counseling Center), a place where people from our community can come to find healing from a variety of ailments, whether physical, emotional or spiritual.

As a trained counselor I spend a lot of time listening to people pour out the pain of their lives and can see with my own eyes how it has affected them. Nearly every time I speak with a couple whose marriage has been torn, or visit with a family who has lost a child, I am reminded that there are some hurts in life that never completely disappear.

But now, after the shooting, I understand even better how tragedies can affect individuals and communities. I think back to places like Columbine or the areas in the south affected by Hurricane Katrina and I can relate to the trauma they faced and continue to live with. Our community felt shattered after the shootings in that small schoolhouse. Sometimes, as I drove those back country roads or stopped to talk to Amish men, I could hardly bear to think about the pain those girls’ parents felt, or the innocence that our community had lost. But tragedies can also bring communities closer together, if forgiveness is allowed take hold, and if any good can come out of our loss it is this unique practice of forgiveness that characterize the Amish response to evil and injustice.

Word of the Amish communities’ decision to forgive the shooter and his family spread around the world through the media in a matter of days (ironically, from a culture with little or no access to the media). This in itself seems like a miracle to me—if you or I wanted to market a product or a concept to the entire world we could spend millions of dollars and take years and still probably could not accomplish it. Yet the Amish, who do not own phones or computers, captured the world’s attention with a simple, preposterous act. It was almost as if they were illustrating the lyrics of that chorus from the Seventies: “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

While the public was fascinated with the Amish take on forgiveness, they didn’t quite know what to do with it. Some people refused to believe that anyone could offer genuine forgiveness to their children’s killer. They suspected the Amish were either lying or deluding themselves. Others believed the forgiveness was genuine but thought the stoic Amish must be robotic, lacking the normal emotions experienced by you and me, in order to offer up such a graceful sentiment.

Neither is the case. Both misunderstandings find their origins in our culture’s false perception of what forgiveness truly is, and the state of mind of someone offering such unusual forgiveness. The Amish are neither liars nor zombies. They are just like you and me and offer a sincere forgiveness with no strings attached, no dependence on any reciprocating feelings or actions. But they also hurt as deeply as the rest of us over the loss of a child, or a loved one. True forgiveness is never easy, and the Amish struggle with the same emotions of anger and retribution that we all do. But they chose to forgive in spite of those feelings.


About a year after the shooting I heard a story about one of the young girls who had been in the schoolhouse when the shooter entered. She was a survivor. She, along with her family and her community, forgave the man who killed those girls. But forgiveness does not mean that all the hurt or anger or feelings associated with the event vanish. Forgiveness, in the context of life’s major disappointments and hurts, never conforms to the old Sunday-school saying: “Forgive and forget.” In reality, it’s next to impossible to forget an event like the shooting at her schoolhouse.

This young survivor was working in the local farmer’s market when she noticed a man standing quietly off to the side of her counter. As she tried to concentrate on her work she found herself growing more and more agitated over the man’s presence. He seemed to be watching all the girls behind the counter very closely, occasionally starting forward as if he were going to approach, then stopping and standing still again, always watching and fidgeting with the bag he carried with him. There was something eerie about him. Was it the way he stood, or how intently he seemed to stare at them?

All around him the farmer’s market bustled with activity. The Amish were often the center of attention for first-time visitors to the market, so the Amish girl was somewhat used to being stared at, but something about that particular guy made her want to hurry the customer she was working with and then disappear into the back of the store. The difference between a curious stare and the way that stranger looked at her seemed obvious and stirred something inside her from the past.

Meanwhile, other customers walked between the long rows of stands, eyeing up the goods, making their cash purchases. The vendors took the money from each sale and crammed it into old fashioned cash registers or old money boxes. The floor was bare cement smoothed by years of wandering customers. The exposed ceiling showed iron cross beams, pipes and electrical wires. The whole place smelled of produce, fried food, and old books.

For many people outside of Lancaster County, farmer’s markets are the only place they interact with the Amish and their conservative dress—the men wearing hats, mostly black clothing with single-colored shirts and long beards, the women with their head coverings and long hair pulled into tight buns. Amish from Pennsylvania often travel to New York City, Philadelphia or Baltimore to sell their wares: fresh fruit and vegetables, home baked pies and cookies, quilts and handmade furniture. For some of the Amish that is their main interaction with people outside of their community as well. The Amish are hardworking, provide quality products, and almost all are outgoing in that environment and give friendly customer service.

But this particular girl, only months removed from the shooting that took place in the Nickel Mines school, got more and more nervous—she found her breath coming shallow and faster, so much so that her own chest rose and fell visibly. She looked around but no one else seemed to notice the man or her reaction to his presence. Her gaze darted from here to there, first looking at him, wanting to keep an eye on him, then quickly looking away if he looked in her direction. She tried to help the customer in front of the counter but concentrating was difficult.

Then she saw him approach. He strode forward, fishing around for something in his bag, then sticking his hand down deep and drawing an object out with one fast pull.

The girl cried out and fled to the back of the stand, shaking.

The man pulled the object out of his bag and placed it on the counter. It was a Bible, a random gift to the workers at the farmer’s market stand. He disappeared among the hundreds of browsing shoppers. The gentleman had no idea the scare he had just given the girl. No one outside the stand had noticed that something intense had happened. Everything continued on as normal—the shoppers wandered and the vendors shouted out their sales to the lingering crowds.

But in the back, the traumatized girl wept.

Not too long before, her schoolhouse had been hemmed in by police cruisers and emergency vehicles while the sound of a handful of helicopters sliced through the sky. And the thunderous crack of rapid gun shots had echoed back at her from the rolling hills.

Forgiveness is never easy.


During those solemn winter months following the tragedy in our community, my wife, Anne, was running errands in the countryside close to the place where the shootings had taken place. That particular area of southern Lancaster County, about sixty miles east of Philadelphia, was an alternating blanket of farms and forest. The trees stood bare. The fields in November and December and January were rock hard, and flat. Where spring and summer bring deep green and autumn blazes with color, winter often feels quiet and stark.

Anne, my wife, also grew up Amish, and we both understood the questions blazing up within that community in the wake of the killings: Should their schools have more secure steel doors with deadbolts to keep intruders out? Should they install telephones in the one room school houses in case of emergency, a serious break from their traditional decision to shun most modern conveniences? Should the gates that guard the entrance to most of their schools’ stone driveways be kept closed and locked to prevent strangers from driving on to the premises?

Anne came to a stop sign at a “T” in the road. She could only turn right or left. The roads rolled with the gently sloping landscape or curved along the small streams. A handful of scattered homes broke up the farmland that seemed to go on almost indefinitely. But as she paused at that intersection preparing to turn, she noticed something: directly in front of her was a one room Amish schoolhouse, not the one where the shooting took place, but one of the many within that ten mile radius.

Most of those schools look the same: a narrow stone or dirt lane leading from the road and up to a painted cement block building with a shingled roof and a small, covered porch; a school bell perched on the roof’s peak; separate outhouses for the girls and the boys. In some of the schools’ large yards you can see the outline of a base path where the children play softball. Some even have a backstop. The school grounds often take up an acre or so of land in the middle of a farmer’s field, usually donated by one of the student’s parents, surrounded by a three- or four-rail horse fence.

Yet there was something about this simple school that made my wife stop her car and park there for a minute. Part of it had to do with her thoughts of the children at the Nickel Mines school and all they had been through. She was also affected by visions of the parents who had lost children and their long road ahead, knowing as she does how heart-wrenching it is to lose a child. But on that particular day, in the wake of all the questions brought up within the Amish community about how they would deal with this disaster, there was one thing that immediately stood out.

The front gate was wide open.

We have all seen what happens in a community when people allow unforgiveness to rule their hearts. Lawsuits abound, separating the perpetrator and their family from those who were wronged, and in this separation the healing process is slowed dramatically. When forgiveness is withheld walls are built within a community and division occurs, leading to isolation and further misunderstanding. Anger and bitterness take hold.

The parents of those girls who were killed, along with their family members and neighbors, decided not to allow the shooting to further separate them from their neighbors. There were no lawsuits filed by the victims’ families against the shooter’s estate or the emergency services or the government, as is so often the case. They would not permit anger or fear to drive them into installing telephones, modern conveniences that their way of life had survived so long without. They would trust God to protect them, leaving the gate open to their hearts and to their communities, and move forward with forgiving hearts.

Given what happened, could that really be possible?

Think No Evil
Inside the Story of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting . . .
and Beyond

Jonas Beiler
with Shawn Smucker

Howard Books

West Monroe, Louisiana

[Refer to P4P regarding inclusion of purpose statement.]

Our purpose at Howard Books is to:

Increase faith in the hearts of growing Christians
Inspire holiness in the lives of believers
Instill hope in the hearts of struggling people everywhere
Because He’s coming again!

[Howard Logo] Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

Think No Evil © 2009 Jonas Beiler

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Howard Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

Published in association with Ambassador Literary Agency, Nashville, Tennessee

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data TK

ISBN 978-1-4165-6298-6

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

HOWARD and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Manufactured in the United States of America

For information regarding special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact: Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-866-506-1949 or

The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event, contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at

Edited by Cindy Lambert

Cover design by TK

Interior design by TK

Photography/illustrations by TK

[Permission information regarding Bible translations used (See "Bible Version Lines" list) TK]

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Slight Break of the Blogging Fast, the National Book Festival, and a first chapter.

Um, yeah, I know I said that I was going on a blogging fast, but I am breaking it today because I had a wonderful weekend! It was JUST what the doctor ordered. I was on the brink of a break down when I left but spending time with super fun blogging friends who love books, blogging, and life was the perfect solution.

And also leaving the blazing hot Southern California for the rain drenched National Book Festival was fab!

I loved every part of the weekend. I loved meeting so many blogging friends for a first time and seeing others again. I also got the chance to meet a few authors and listen to many others. And I saw the Library of Congress!

I'm not going to go into a ton of detail but my favorite part of the Library of Congress was seeing the Gutenberg Bible on display. There's something so incredibly precious about seeing the Bible like that for me...the way it was preserved and handed down so that we could know its contents. Even if you don't share my particular faith, you surely feel that way about some story that was saved for our pleasure!

My favorite part of the National Book Festival itself is a bit harder...I truly enjoyed parking myself in the children's and teen's tent and every author that came through. My number one goal was to see Jacqueline Woodson...I've become a total fangirl. Her session was excellent as she did "readings" from several books (in parentheses because it seemed many of them were from memory) and talked about her books a bit. But I also really enjoyed listening to Liz Kessler, James L. Swanson, Paula Deen, Shannon Hale, Carmen Agra Deedy, Sharon Creech, Kate DiCamillo and Rick Riordan. I then braved the rain to meet up with Swapna and Deborah and see the tail end of Junot Diaz who was interesting and I immediately knew I was no longer in the Children's and Teen's Tent by his colorful language! :) I persuaded the others to try the signing area and was able to briefly meet Jacqueline Woodson. I generally get a bit shy in the presence of authors so I said something brilliant to the effect of..."you're awesome!"

And then the icing on the cake of this wonderful weekend was a super fun dinner with several book bloggers. All the things you think about on your own in blogging and reading get chatted up, laughed about, and then...dismissed. It's good to have supportive and fun blogging friends! :)

I will probably post more details later, but I just wanted to hop on and let you know I had a fabulous time, that I'm already loving this no-pressure blogging week, and that everyone is just as fabulous as you imagine them to be.

Oh and it's Banned Book Week. I don't like banning books. I don't think books are threats, they are springboards for learning and thinking things through even when (or especially when) they present ideas different from our own. They should be available for everyone. So read a banned book or just savor the freedom to read this week. And be active in fighting book bannings year round.

And lastly, I agreed to post the first chapter of this final book, Three Weddings and a Bar Mitzvah of Melody Carlson's super fun chick list series about 84 Bloomberg Place. I haven't gotten to book three yet so I also didn't get to this one, but Deborah and I think if you enjoy chick lit you'd like Melody Carlson!

Megan Abernathy

“Okay, then, how does the second Saturday in June look?” Anna asked her housemates.

Megan frowned down at her date book spread open on the dining room table. She and Anna had been trying to nail a date for Lelani and Gil's wedding. Megan had already been the spoiler of the first weekend of June, but she'd already promised her mom that she'd go to a family reunion in Washington. Now it seemed she was about to mess things up again. “I'm sorry,” she said, “but I promised Marcus I'd go to his sister's wedding. It's been scheduled for almost a year now, and it's the second Saturday too. But maybe I can get out of it.”

Lelani just shook her head as she quietly rocked Emma in her arms, pacing back and forth between the living room and dining room. The baby was teething and fussy and overdue for her afternoon nap. Megan wasn't sure if Lelani's frustrated expression was a result of wedding planning or her baby's mood.

“Is it possible you could do both weddings in one day?” Anna asked Megan.

“That might work.” Megan picked up her datebook and followed Lelani into the living room, where she continued to rock Emma.

“Or we could look at the third weekend in June,” Anna called from the dining room.

“Shhh.” Megan held a forefinger over her lips to signal Anna that Emma was finally about to nod off. Megan waited and watched as Emma's eyes fluttered closed and Lelani gently eased the limp baby down into the playpen set up in a corner of the living room. Lelani pushed a dark lock of hair away from Emma's forehead, tucked a fuzzy pink blanket over her, then finally stood up straight and sighed.

“Looks like she's down for the count,” Megan whispered.

Lelani nodded. “Now, where were we with dates?”

“If you still want to go with the second Saturday,” Megan spoke quietly, “Anna just suggested that it might be possible for me to attend two weddings in one day.”

“That's a lot to ask of you,” Lelani said as they returned to the dining room, where Anna and Kendall were waiting expectantly with the calendar in the middle of the table and opened to June.

Megan shrugged as she pulled out a chair. “It's your wedding, Lelani. You should have it the way you want it. I just want to help.”

Anna pointed to the second Saturday. “Okay, this is the date in question. Is it doable or not?”

Lelani sat down and sighed. “I'm willing to schedule my wedding so that it's not a conflict with the other one. I mean, if it can even be done. Mostly I just wanted to wait until I finished spring term.”

“What time is Marcus's sister's wedding?” asked Anna.

“I'm not positive, but I think he said it was in the evening.” She reached for her phone.

“And you want a sunset wedding,” Kendall reminded Lelani.

“That's true.” Anna nodded.

“But I also want Megan to be there,” Lelani pointed out.

“That would be helpful, since she's your maid of honor,” said Anna.

Megan tried not to bristle at the tone of Anna's voice. She knew that Anna had been put a little out of sorts by Lelani's choice--especially considering that Anna was the sister of the groom--but to be fair, Megan was a lot closer to Lelani than Anna was. And at least they were all going to be in the wedding.

“Let me ask Marcus about the time,” Megan said as she pressed his speed-dial number and waited. “Hey, Marcus,” she said when he finally answered. “We're having a scheduling problem here. Do you know what time Hannah's wedding is going to be?”

“In the evening, I think,” Marcus said. “Do you need the exact time?”

“No, that's good enough.” Megan gave Lelani a disappointed look. “I'll talk to you later, okay?”

“You're not thinking of bailing on me, are you?” He sounded genuinely worried.

“No, but we're trying to pin down a time and date for Lelani.”

“It's just that I really want my family to meet you, Megan. I mean all of my family. And I want you to meet them too.”

“I know, and I plan to go with you.”

“Thanks. So, I'll see you around six thirty tonight?”

“That's right.” Megan told him good-bye, then turned to Lelani with a sigh. “I'm sorry,” she told her. “That wedding's at night too. Maybe I should blow off my family reunion so that you--”

“No.” Anna pointed to the calendar. “I just realized that the first Saturday in June is also my mother's birthday.”

“So?” Kendall shrugged. “What's wrong with that?”

Megan laughed. “Think about it, Kendall, how would you like to share your wedding anniversary with your mother-in-law's birthday?”

Kendall grinned. “Oh, yeah. Maybe not.”

“How about a Sunday wedding?” suggested Megan.

“Sunday?” Lelani's brow creased slightly as she weighed this.

“Sunday might make it easier to book the location,” Kendall said. “I mean, since most weddings are usually on Saturdays, and June is a pretty busy wedding month.”

“That's true,” agreed Megan.

“And you gotta admit that this is short notice for planning a wedding,” added Kendall. “Some people say you should start planning your wedding a whole year ahead of time.”

“Marcus's sister has been planning her wedding for more than a year,” Megan admitted. “Marcus says that Hannah is going to be a candidate for the Bridezillas show if she doesn't lighten up.”

They all laughed.

“Well, there's no way Gil and I are going to spend a year planning a wedding.” Lelani shook her head. “That's fine for some people, but we're more interested in our marriage than we are in our wedding.”

“I hear you.” Kendall laughed and patted her slightly rounded belly. She was in her fifth month of the pregnancy. They all knew that she and her Maui man, Killiki, were corresponding regularly, but despite Kendall's high hopes there'd been no proposal.

“I really don't see why it should take a year to plan a wedding,” Megan admitted. “I think that's just the wedding industry's way of lining their pockets.”

“So how much planning time do you have now anyway?” Kendall asked Lelani. “Like three months?”

“Not even.” Lelani flipped the calendar pages back. “It's barely two now.”

“Which is why we need to nail this date today,” Megan said. “Even though it's a small wedding--”

“And that remains to be seen,” Anna reminded her. “My mother's list keeps growing and growing and growing.”

“I still think it might be easier to just elope,” Lelani reminded them. “I told Gil that I wouldn't have a problem with that at all.”

“Yes, that would be brilliant.” Anna firmly shook her head. “You can just imagine how absolutely thrilled Mom would be about that little idea.”

Lelani smiled. “I actually thought she'd be relieved.”

“That might've been true a few months ago. But Mom's changing.” Anna poked Lelani in the arm. “In fact, I'm starting to feel jealous. I think she likes you better than me now.”

Lelani giggled. “In your dreams, Anna. Your mother just puts up with me so she can have access to Emma.”

They all laughed about that. Everyone knew that Mrs. Mendez was crazy about her soon-to-be granddaughter. Already she'd bought Emma all kinds of clothes and toys and seemed totally intent on spoiling the child rotten.

“Speaking of Emma”--Kendall shook her finger--“Mrs. Mendez is certain that she's supposed to have her on Monday. But I thought it was my day.”

“I'm not sure,” Lelani admitted. “But I'll call and find out.”

“And while you've got Granny on the line,” continued Kendall, “tell her that I do know how to change diapers properly. One more diaper lecture and I might just tape a Pamper over that big mouth of hers. Sheesh!”

They all laughed again. Since coming home from Maui, Kendall had been complaining about how Mrs. Mendez always seemed to find fault with Kendall's childcare abilities. In fact, Mrs. Mendez had spent the first week “teaching” Kendall the “proper” way to do almost everything.

To be fair, Megan didn't blame the older woman. Megan had been a little worried about Kendall too. But to everyone's surprise, Kendall turned out to be rather maternal. Whether it had to do with her own pregnancy or a hidden talent, Megan couldn't decide, but Kendall's skill had been a huge relief.

“Now, back to the wedding date,” said Lelani.

“Yes,” agreed Megan. “What about earlier on Saturday?”

“Oh, no,” Anna said. “I just remembered that I promised Edmond I'd go to his brother's bar mitzvah on that same day--I think it's in the morning.”

Lelani groaned.

“Edmond's brother?” Megan frowned. “I thought he was an only child. And since when is he Jewish?”

“Remember, his mom remarried,” Anna told her. “And Philip Goldstein, her new husband, is Jewish, and he has a son named Ben whose bar mitzvah is that Saturday.” She sighed. “I'm sorry, Lelani.”

“So Saturday morning is kaput,” Megan said.

“And Lelani wanted a sunset wedding anyway,” Anna repeated.

“So why can't you have a sunset wedding on Sunday?” Kendall suggested.

“That's an idea.” Megan turned back to Lelani. “What do you think?”

Lelani nodded. “I think that could work.”

“And here's another idea!” Anna exclaimed. “If the wedding was on Sunday night, you could probably have the reception in the restaurant afterward. I'm guessing it would be late by the time the wedding was over, and Sunday's not exactly a busy night.”

Lelani looked hopeful. “Do you think your parents would mind?”

“Mind? Are you kidding? That's what my mother lives for.”

“But we still don't have a place picked for the wedding,” Megan said.

“I have several outdoor locations in mind. I'll start checking on them tomorrow.”

“We'll have to pray that it doesn't rain.” Megan penned 'Lelani and Gil's Wedding' in her date book, then closed it.

“Should there be a backup plan?” asked Anna. “I'm sure my parents could have the wedding at their house.”

“Or here,” suggested Kendall. “You can use this house if you want.”

Anna frowned. “It's kind of small, don't you think?”

“I think it's sweet of Kendall to offer.” Lelani smiled at Kendall.

“I can imagine a bride coming down those stairs,” Kendall nodded toward the staircase. “I mean, if it was a small wedding.”

“I'll keep it in mind,” Lelani told her. “And your parents' house too.”

“It might be tricky getting a church reserved on a Sunday night,” Megan looked at the clock. “And speaking of that, I better get ready. Marcus is picking me up for the evening service in about fifteen minutes.” She turned back to Lelani. “Don't worry. I've got my to-do list and I'll start checking on some of this stuff tomorrow. My mom will want to help with the flowers.”

“And my aunt wants to make the cake,” Anna reminded them.

“Sounds like you're in good hands,” Kendall sad a bit wistfully. “I wonder how it would go if I was planning my wedding.”

“You'd be in good hands too,” Lelani assured her.

“Now, let's start going over that guest list,” Anna said as Megan stood up. “The sooner we get it finished, the less chance my mother will have of adding to it.” Megan was relieved that Anna had offered to handle the invitations. She could have them printed at the publishing company for a fraction of the price that a regular printer would charge, and hopefully she'd get them sent out in the next couple of weeks.

As Megan changed from her weekend sweats into something presentable, she wondered what would happen with Lelani's parents when it was time for the big event. Although her dad had promised to come and was already committed to paying Lelani's tuition to finish med school, Lelani's mom was still giving Lelani the cold shoulder. Make that the ice shoulder. For a woman who lived in the tropics, Mrs. Porter was about as chilly as they come. Still, Lelani had friends to lean on. Maybe that was better than family at times.

“Your prince is here,” Kendall called into Megan's room.

“Thanks.” Megan was looking for her other loafer and thinking it was time to organize her closet again. “Tell him I'm coming.”

When Megan came out, Marcus was in the dining room, chatting with her housemates like one of the family. He was teasing Anna for having her hair in curlers, then joking with Kendall about whether her Maui man had called her today.

“Not yet,” Kendall told him with a little frown. “But don't forget the time-zone thing. It's earlier there.”

“Speaking of time zones,” Lelani said to Marcus. “Did I hear you're actually thinking about going to Africa?”

Marcus grinned and nodded. “Yeah, Greg Mercer, this guy at our church, is trying to put together a mission trip to Zambia. I might go too.”

“Wow, that's a long ways away.” Kendall turned to Megan. “How do you feel about that?”

Megan shrugged as she pulled on her denim jacket. “I think it's cool.”

“Are you coming with us to church tonight, Kendall?” Marcus asked. “Greg is going to show a video about Zambia.”

“Sorry to miss that,” Kendall told him. “But Killiki is supposed to call.”

“Ready to roll?” Megan nodded up to the clock.

He grinned at her. “Yep.” But before they went out, he turned around. “That is, unless anyone else wants to come tonight.”

Lelani and Anna thanked him but said they had plans. Even so, Megan was glad he'd asked. It was nice when Kendall came with them occasionally. And Lelani had come once too. Really, it seemed that God was at work at 86 Bloomberg Place. Things had changed a lot since last fall.

“So are you nervous?” Marcus asked as he drove toward the city.

“Nervous?” Megan frowned. “About church?”

“No. The big interview.”

Megan slapped her forehead. “Wow, I temporarily forgot. We were so obsessed with Lelani's wedding today, trying to make lists, plan everything, and settle the date … I put the interview totally out of my mind.”

“Hopefully, it won't be out of your mind by Monday.”

“No, of course not.”

“So … are you nervous?”

Megan considered this. It would be her first interview for a teaching job. And it was a little unsettling. “The truth is, I don't think I have a chance at the job,” she admitted. “And, yes, I'm nervous. Thanks for reminding me.”

“Sorry. Why don't you think you'll get the job?”

“Because I don't have any actual teaching experience.” She wanted to add duh, but thought it sounded a little juvenile.

“Everyone has to start somewhere.”

“But starting in middle school, just a couple of months before the school year ends? Don't you think they'll want someone who knows what they're doing?”

“Unless they want someone who's enthusiastic and energetic and smart and creative and who likes kids and had lots of great new ideas and--”

“Wow, any chance you could do the interview in my place?”

“Cross-dress and pretend I'm you?”

She laughed. “Funny.”

“Just have confidence, Megan. Believe in yourself and make them believe too. You'd be great as a middle-school teacher.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Because I remember middle school.”


“And most of my teachers were old and dull and boring.”

“That's sad.”

“And I would've loved having someone like you for a teacher.”


He chuckled. “Yeah. If I was thirteen, I'd probably sit right in the front row and think about how hot you were, and then I'd start fantasizing about--”

“Marcus Barrett, you're pathetic.” Just the same, she laughed.

“What can I say? I'm just a normal, warm-blooded, American kid.”

“Give me a break!” She punched him in the arm.

“Is that your phone?” he asked as he was parking outside of the church.

“Oh, yeah, a good reminder to turn it off.” She pulled it out to see it was Kendall. Megan hoped nothing was wrong. “Hey, Kendall,” she said as Marcus set the parking brake. “What's up?”

“Guess what?” shrieked Kendall.

“I have no idea what, but it sounds like good news.” She stepped out of the car.

“Killiki just called.”

“That's nice.”

“And he asked me to marry him!”

Megan raised her eyebrows and looked at Marcus as he came around to meet her. “And you said yes?”

“Of course! Do you think I'm crazy?”

“No. Not at all. Congratulations, Kendall. I mean, I guess that's what you say.”

“So now we have two weddings to plan.”

Megan blinked. She walked with Marcus toward the church entry. “Oh, yeah, I guess we do.”

“And I'm getting married in June too!”

“That's great, Kendall. I'm really, really happy for you. And Killiki seems like a great guy.”

“He is! Anyway, we just looked at the calendar again. And we finally figured that I should just get married the same day as Lelani, only I'll get married in the morning. That way we'll all be able to go to both weddings.”

“Wow, the same day?”

“Otherwise, you'll be at your reunion or Marcus's sister's wedding. Or Anna will be at the bar mitzvah. Or Lelani and Gil will be on their honeymoon.”

“Oh, that's right.”

“And I want all of you there!”

“Yes, I suppose that makes sense.”

“It'll be busy, but fun.”

“Definitely.” Then Megan thanked Kendall for telling her, and they said good-bye. Megan closed her phone and just shook her head. “Wow.”

“Kendall's getting married?” asked Marcus as he held the church door open for her.

“Yes. Can you believe it?”

“Good for her.”

“And her wedding will be the same weekend as your sister's and the same day as Lelani's.”

Marcus held up three fingers and wore a perplexed expression. “Three weddings in one weekend? That's crazy.”

“Yep.” Megan nodded. “Three weddings and a bar mitzvah.”

“Huh?” Marcus looked confused, but they were in the sanctuary, and Megan knew she'd have to explain later.

©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Three Weddings and a Bar Mitzvah by Melody Carlson. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Faith 'n' Fiction Saturday on Hiatus

For one more week since I am travelling...sorry!!!! Please come back on October 3rd for a great time!


FIRST: A Cowboy's Christmas

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:

A Cowboy Christmas

Barbour Books (September 1, 2009)


As an award-winning author, Mary Connealy lives on a Nebraska farm with her husband and is the mother of four grown daughters. She writes plays and shorts stories, and is the author of two other novels, Petticoat Ranch and Calico Canyon. Also an avid blogger, Mary is a GED instructor by day and an author by night. For more information on Mary Connealy, visit her Web site at .

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (September 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602601453
ISBN-13: 978-1602601451


A mining camp in Missouri, November, 1879

“You’ll wear that dress, Songbird.” Claude Leveque grabbed Annette Talbot’s arm, lifted her to her toes, and shoved her backward.

Annie tripped over a chair and cried out as it toppled. The chair scraped her legs and back. Her head hit the wall of the tiny, windowless shack, and stars exploded in her eyes.

Stunned by the pain, she hit the floor, and an animal instinct sent her scrambling away from Claude. But there was nowhere to go in the twelve-by-twelve-foot cabin.

Her head cleared enough to tell her there was no escape, so she fought with will and faith. “Never.” Propping herself up on her elbows, she faced him and shouted her defiance. “I will never go out in public in that dress.”

“You’ll sing what I tell you to sing.” Claude, in his polished suit and tidily trimmed hair, looked every inch civilized—or he had, until tonight. Now he strode toward her, eyes shooting furious fire, his face twisted into soul-deep rot and sin.

“I sing as a mission.” Annie tried to press her back through the unyielding log wall. “I sing hymns. That’s the only thing—”

A huge fist closed over the front of her blouse, and Claude lifted her like a rag doll to eye level, but he didn’t strike.

He would. He’d proved that several times over since he’d come here with his disgusting demands.

She braced herself. She’d die first. Claude might not believe that, but he’d know before long.

“So, you’re willing to die for your beliefs, heh?” Claude’s fist tightened on her blouse, cutting off Annie’s air.

“Yes!” She could barely speak, but he heard. He knew.

“Are you willing to watch someone else die, Songbird? Maybe your precious friend, Elva?” He shook her and her head snapped back. “I can always find another piano player.”

“No!” Annie had to save Elva. Somehow. Of course Elva would be threatened. Annie hadn’t had time to think that far.

Elva would never stand for this. Elva would die for her beliefs, too.

A wicked laugh escaped from Claude’s twisted mouth. “She’s easily replaced. But I’ll never”—he shook her viciously—“find another singer like you.”

How had it come to this? God help me. Protect Elva and me.

“My answer is no! Elva wouldn’t play the piano for me if I wore that.” Her eyes went to the slattern’s dress hanging, vivid red, near the door. “She would refuse to play the piano for those vulgar songs.”

“We’ll see, Songbird.” Claude laughed again.

Annie saw the evil in him, the hunger to hurt. He wasn’t just hurting Annie to get his way. He was enjoying it. Her vision dimmed and blurred as she clawed at his strangling fist.

“I’ll go have a talk with your frail old friend and then we’ll see.” He shoved Annie backward, slamming her against the wall.

She hit so hard her knees buckled. What little air she still had was knocked away.

Claude charged out, shutting the door behind him.

Annie heard the sound of a padlock snicking shut as she slumped sideways.

She became aware of her surroundings with no idea how much time had passed. In the falling darkness, she could barely make out blood dripping down the front of her dress. Tears diluted the blood and she wept.

“Do something, idiot! You can’t just sit here crying.”

Annie proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was indeed an idiot by burying her face in her hands and sobbing her heart out. The tears burned. She swiped at them and flinched from the pain in her blackened eye.

Shuddering, she lifted her battered face from her hands and looked at the dress. It seemed to glow in the dim light, as if the very fires of the devil gave it light. Indecent, vivid red silk with black fringe. No bodice worth mentioning, the front hem cut up nearly to the knees. The garment was horrible and disgusting, and Annie’s shudders deepened. She shouted at the walls of the tiny, solidly locked cabin, “I won’t do it!”

Claude had known before he’d asked that Annie would never wear that sinful dress and sing those bawdy songs. Touching gingerly her throbbing, swollen cheek, Annie pulled her hand away and saw blood. Her lip was split, her nose bleeding. She knew Claude’s fists had been more for his own cruel pleasure than any attempt at coercion.

“Beat me to death if you want,” she yelled at the door. “I will never again perform onstage for you!” She felt strong, righteous. Ready to die for her faith.

Then she thought of Elva. Annie’s elderly accompanist was maybe, right now, being punished because Annie hadn’t fallen in line.

Claude’s cruel threats rang in her ears even with him gone.

For all her utter commitment to refusing the Leveques and singing only her beloved hymns, how could Annie watch Elva be hurt? Could Annie stand on principle while Elva was beaten?

The welts on Annie’s arm, in the perfect shape of Claude Leveque’s viselike hand, along with Annie’s swollen eye and bleeding lip, proved the hateful man knew how to inflict pain. He’d proved he had no compunction in hurting a helpless woman.

Noise outside her prison brought Annie to her feet. He was coming back! Annie was sick to think what the couple would do to the elderly woman who had spent her older years worshipping God with music.

Sick with fear that they’d force Annie to watch Elva being battered, Annie clenched her fists and prayed. God would never agree that Annie should wear that tart’s dress, sing vile, suggestive songs, and flash her legs for drunken men.

But Elva!

Please, Lord, guide me though this dark valley.

A key rattled in the doorway.

Annie braced herself. If she could get past Claude, she would run, find Elva, and get away. Go somewhere, somehow. Throw herself on the mercy of the men in this logging camp—the very ones Claude said would pay to see that dreadful harlot’s gown.

The wooden door of the secluded, one-room shack swung hard and crashed against the wall. Elva fell onto her knees, clutching her chest. “You have to run!” Elva, eyes wild with terror, lifted her head. Annie saw Elva’s face was battered; a cut on her cheek bled freely.

Expecting Claude and Blanche to be right behind the gray-haired woman, Annie rushed forward and dropped to Elva’s side. “Elva, what did they do to you?”

“I heard. . .I heard Claude making plans, awful plans for you. He caught me eavesdropping. He thought he’d knocked me cold, but I lay still and waited until he left. He’d hung the key on a nail, and I stole it and slipped away to set you free.” Elva staggered to her feet, every breath echoed with pain. She stretched out a shaking hand, and Annie saw Elva’s black velvet reticule. The one the sweet pianist, who made Annie’s voice sound as pretty as a meadowlark, carried always. “There’s money. All I’ve saved.” Elva coughed, cutting off her words. She breathed as if it hurt. “T–Take it and go. There’s a wagon. It’s already left, but run, catch it. Ride to town. Enough.” Coughing broke her voice again and Elva’s knees wobbled. She clung tight to Annie. “Enough for one train ticket.”

Annie realized what Elva was saying. “No, I won’t leave you.”

“It’s my heart.” Elva sagged sideways, clutching her chest. Annie couldn’t hold her dead weight, slight though Elva was. They both lowered to the floor. “When Claude landed his first blow, I felt my heart give out. Oh, Annie, the things he threatened for you. The evil, ugly words from a serpent’s mouth. My precious girl. Run. You must run.”

“I won’t leave you. They’ll kill you, Elva.”

“No. My heart. I’ve felt it coming for months and tonight’s the end. They can’t harm me anymore.”

“Elva, don’t talk like that.” Tears wanted to fall, but Annie had no time for such weakness. “You’re all I have!”

“Your father. Go home.”

“He doesn’t want me. You know that.”

Elva’s hand closed over the already bruised place on Annie’s wrist. Elva clearly saw what Annie had already suffered at Claude’s hands. “Go. There’s no time. What they want from you is a fate worse than death.”

Annie gasped. Those words could mean only one thing. She glanced at the indecent dress. A harlot’s dress.

“God is calling me home, my beautiful girl. He’s taking me b–because He knows you’d never leave me. God in heaven is rescuing us both. I’ll go home and so will you. I believe that.”

Annie looked into Elva’s eyes, and even now they clouded over.

“Go. Please. It’s my fault you’re in this place. I thought we’d bring the Lord to these people with your beautiful singing. I convinced you to stay when the Leveques took over. If you stay I will have died for nothing, Sw–Sweet Annie.”

Elva’s grip tightened until Annie nearly cried out in pain. Then as quickly as the spasm had come, it was gone.

And so was Elva. She sank, lifeless, to the floor.

Annie saw the very moment Elva’s spirit left her body—a heartbreaking, beautiful moment, because now Elva was beyond pain.

But Annie wasn’t.

“If you stay I will have died for nothing.”

A loud snap of a twig jerked Annie’s head around. She gazed into the nearby woods surrounding the sequestered shack she’d been locked in. The Leveques were coming.

“What they want from you is a fate worse than death.”

As if God Himself sent lightning to jolt her, Annie clutched Elva’s reticule, leaped to her feet, and ran.

“There’s a wagon. It’s already left, but run, catch it. Ride to town.”

Annie gained the cover of the woods and, without looking back, began moving with painstaking silence.

She heard Claude’s shout of rage when he discovered the cabin door ajar.

Poor Elva. No one to bury her. No one to make her funeral a testimony to her life of faith.

Annie hated herself for running away. It was cowardly. There had to be some way to stay and pay proper respect, see to a decent Christian burial. Every decent part of herself said, “Go back. Face this.”

She kept moving. Elva had insisted on it. Common sense confirmed it. God whispered it in her heart to move, hurry, be silent.

Silence was her only weapon and Annie used it. She’d learned silence in the mountains growing up, slipping up on a deer or an elk. Slipping away from a bear or a cougar.

As much as Annie had loved her mountain home, she’d never learned to hunt. Pa fed the family. But she loved the woods and was skilled in their use.

Heading for the trail to town, she was careful to get close enough to not lose her way but stay off to the side.

Not long after she’d started out, she saw Claude storming down the trail toward town. He’d catch the wagon Elva spoke of long before she did. And, she hoped, insist on searching it. Once Claude assured himself that Annie wasn’t there, she’d have her chance.

Annie felt the bite of the cool night air. She heard an owl hoot in the darkness. The rustle of the leaves covered tiny sounds she might make as she eased along. She knew the trail. She knew the night. She knew the woods.

All of it was filled with treachery.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Q&A With Cathy Marie Buchanan

Amy: The Day the Falls Stood Still is a love story set in Niagara Falls in 1915. Bess Heath, a privileged young woman falls hard for a not-so-privileged young man, Tom Cole, who has an uncanny ability to predict the often erratic behaviour of the Niagara River and Falls. Why did you choose to write a love story?

Cathy: In writing the novel I wanted to go beyond the traditional love story of boy meets girl, boy gets girl. I was

interested in what happens after boy gets girl, after the pair settles down to daily life. Almost always there is conflict, and such is the case with Bess and Tom. One source of friction is the massive hydroelectric development that is, true to history, taking place on the Niagara River. Tom Cole is against the development and the diversion of water away from the river and falls. Bess isn’t so sure she agrees. She sees how cheap, abundant electricity can better people’s lives. Tom and Bess struggle, and I wanted that struggle to be part of the love story.

Amy: In the Author’s Note at the end of the The Day the Falls Still, you tell us the novel was inspired by the life of William “Red” Hill, Niagara’s most famous riverman.

Tom Cole, the riverman central to the book’s plot, is loosely based on him. Can you tell us a little more about that inspiration?

Cathy: Growing up in Niagara Falls, it was pretty difficult to escape the lore surrounding Red Hill’s heroics. There’s a rusted-out hull of an old barge still lodged in the rapids a short ways back from the falls. I grew up knowing he rescued the men marooned there in 1918. I’d see the plaque commemorating the ice bridge tragedy that took place in the winter of 1912, when loads of people were blithely crossing the river and the ice suddenly broke up. And I’d know he’d risked his life to save a teenage boy. One of his sons was alive in my lifetime, and I’d open the newspaper and read a story about him carrying on the Hill tradition and rescuing a stranded tourist. All of these stories were percolating for years before I became a writer. When is came time to write my first novel, the lore of my hometown was a natural place to find inspiration.

Amy: The Day the Falls Stood Still is a novel, but it explores the very real subject of progress and its

environmental implications. By writing the novel, were you hoping to draw attention to the impact of the diversion of water for hydroelectricity on Niagara Falls?

Cathy: At the book’s opening in 1915, true to history, the engineers of the Hydro Electric Power Commission were working on a scheme to put an end to the power and money running to waste at Niagara Falls. Tom Cole is deeply reverent of the Niagara River, and he is dismayed as evermore water is diverted away from the falls to fuel the powerhouses.

I don’t think many tourists know that what they’re seeing tumbling over the falls is only 50% of the natural flow of the river. Sixty years ago, the Niagara Diversion Treaty was passed. The treaty set the minimum flow over the falls at about 50 percent of the natural flow during the daylight hours of tourist season and 25 at all other times. Today the largest diversion tunnel ever−it’s about 6 stories high−is currently being dug under Niagara Falls, Ontario. When it becomes operational in 2013 more water than ever before will be being diverted away from the falls. I can’t help but think Tom Cole would be preaching conservation rather than more diversion of water. I do think it’s important that we recognise the tradeoffs we make even for clean energy, and, yes, I do hopeThe Day the Falls Stood Still draws attention to the compromises we are making at Niagara Falls.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Going Dim

I was going to say I'm going dark, but I'll be around...a little bit. I have a few blog tour posts that are going up and Elizabeth and I will resume our Supernatural chat next week, but apart from that I'm forcing myself to take a mini little hiatus from the blog.

I am not taking my computer to Washington D.C., only my blackberry. When I come back, I am forcing myself to not instantly post a million things. It doesn't feel like it will be hard at all right now but I might feel differently in a few days.

I'll be back next Friday October 2nd for a blog tour, but until then I'm going to relax. I'm going to read books and watch TV and sleep and come up with an awesome new training plan at work.

I might pop onto Twitter or into a few blogs but I'm going to be really low key about it.

That way when I come back...I'll be refreshed and able to give you my best. :)

Have a fantastic week!


CFBA: One Imperfect Christmas by Myra Johnson

I apologize for the cookie cutter post, but I am too braindead to do anything else...still haven't seen the book show up at my house.

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

One Imperfect Christmas

Abingdon Press (September 2009)


Myra Johnson


Making up stories has been second nature to me for as long as I can remember. A select group of trusted friends back at dear old Mission High waited eagerly for the next installment of my "Great American Spy Novel" (think Man from Uncle) and my "All-American Teen Novel" (remember Gidget and Tammy?). I even had a private notebook of angst-ridden poetry a la Rod McKuen.

The dream of writing persisted into adulthood, although it often remained on the back burner while I attended to home and family and several "real" (read paying) jobs along the way. Then in 1983, while recovering from sinus surgery, I came upon one of those magazine ads for the Institute of Children’s Literature. I knew it was time to get serious, and the next thing I knew, I'd enrolled in the “Writing for Children and Teenagers” course.

Within a year or so I sold my first story, which appeared in the Christian publication Alive! for Young Teens. For many years I enjoyed success writing stories and articles for middle-graders and young adults. I even taught for ICL for 9 years.

Then my girls grew up, and there went my live-in inspiration. Time to switch gears. I began my first women's fiction manuscript and started attending Christian writers conferences. Eventually I learned about American Christian Romance Writers (which later became American Christian Fiction Writers) and couldn't wait to get involved. Friends in ACFW led me to RWA and the online inspirational chapter, Faith, Hope & Love.

So here I am today, still on this crazy roller-coaster ride. Still writing. Still hopeful. Writing, I'm learning, is not about the destination, it's about the journey. My current projects are primarily women's fiction and romance . . . novels of hope, love, and encouragement. Novels about real women living out their faith and finding love in the midst of everyday, and sometimes not so everyday, situations.


Graphic designer Natalie Pearce faces the most difficult Christmas of her life. For almost a year, her mother has lain in a nursing home, the victim of a massive stroke, and Natalie blames herself for not being there when it happened. Worse, she's allowed the monstrous load of guilt to drive a wedge between her and everyone she loves-most of all her husband Daniel. Her marriage is on the verge of dissolving, her prayer life is suffering, and she's one Christmas away from hitting rock bottom.

Junior-high basketball coach Daniel Pearce is at his wit's end. Nothing he's done has been able to break through the wall Natalie has erected between them. And their daughter Lissa's adolescent rebellion isn't helping matters. As Daniel's hope reaches its lowest ebb, he wonders if this Christmas will spell the end of his marriage and the loss of everything he holds dear.

If you would like to read the first chapter of One Imperfect Christmas, go HERE

Watch the trailer:

Chat with Joy Preble

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In Which I Bare My Soul

“The more concerned you are to avoid saying anything wrong or offensive, the less likely you are to say anything inspiring or true.” --Michael Kinsley

I read the above quote on Tess Gerritsen's blog and it really struck me. I am Miss Conflict Avoidance and because on blogs there's a huge tendency for misunderstanding I often shy away from taking a strong stand on things. Well, not always. But sometimes. ;)

I also think there's a tendency to just show our strength on blogs. We want people to think the best of us and there's enough drama in real life. Well, lately there's been enough drama in the blogging world too. And someone recently reminded me that bloggers can hide and not be transparent.

So I thought I'd write a post that shows you some of what I feel. Maybe you'll stop reading my blog. Or maybe you'll just know me a little better.

Last year when BBAW was over, I sent out surveys to ask for people's opinions. I won't be doing that this year for a couple of reasons. 1) Enough people have already publicly and privately expressed their opinions to me that I feel I have enough feedback to go on. 2) I am most interested in the feedback of those willing to volunteer. Therefore when volunteer applications go up...if you have an opinion you want to see put into action...volunteer!

Anyway, last year I sent out these surveys and they were anonymous, therefore a few came back that were SCATHING. I get that this is to be expected but I was crushed. In context, I was exhausted and had just poured hours of work into BBAW. But also I'm a sensitive person, there's no point trying to lie about it. There's a huge difference between constructive criticism and simply ranting about what you didn't like.

So I posted about it, but more to say thank you to the kind people. And someone commented that it was too bad the negative words stood out so strongly against the kind words. I have been thinking about that ever since. Why? Why do sharp critical words undo the good so many words of kindness do?

And it became clear to me this year. The critical words dig deep because they are like a confirmation of what I already suspect is true. I'm not good enough. I can't be good enough. I can't hope to successfully pull off an event like BBAW -- someone else could do it better. Someone who has been on prestigious awards committees or recognized by national publications. My blog and my attempt at an online festival for book bloggers will never be anything more than small potatoes--not to be taken seriously. The words of criticism confirm THE LIE.

The truth is...I'm not good enough. I can't be good enough on my own. This is why I'm a Christian....being a Christian allows me to fully embrace the reality that I can never be enough on my own. Anything that is good in me comes from Jesus. And daily He is renewing me and making me new. This is such a mystery and such a joy and such a relief. When I choose to believe this way, the words of kindness and the words of criticism become less important. My value is not found in what people say about me or my work but in my relationship with God and with others.

For the past four years, I have worked in a literacy program that celebrates failure. What I mean by that is we don't see failing or making a mistake as a negative thing. We see it as a valuable part of the learning process. That doesn't make our students feel better when they fail--it's still crushing and disappointing. But we provide an atmosphere where it's safe. There's no reason to expect perfection from the get-go. I think no less of my students when they fact I tell them it's an important part of learning. I try to apply this to my own life. It's not easy. Our society and culture demands and expects perfection. It rewards success and has little tolerance for weakness. But failure is important. Mistakes are necessary. We need them to learn, to be better.

It would have been great if we could have had a flawless BBAW last year and this year as well. But at the same time, I like to think that we're trying...just like the brain tries to learn to read or ride a bike and it takes several attempts before a right system is acheived we are trying out different ways of making the awards fair and the week fun and inclusive of all blogs. And I've definitely learned a lot through the whole process...not just about how to make BBAW better, but about how people deal with things differently, about the people I should give my respect to, and about love. I've been humbled by the graciousness of some.

I would be lying to say there wasn't a time or two when I was tempted to throw in the towel. BBAW is a lot of work with little tangible reward. Which is great when you think people are enjoying it, but it does become something to reconsider when it opens you up to random Twitter attacks, thinly veiled attacks in blog posts and references, and the general feeling that maybe it was the worst idea you ever had. :)

But then I remember it's okay to fail. I remember the encouraging words, I see people excitedly talking about the new blogs they discover and others touched by kind words said about them. We are human and we crave affirmation and BBAW is my love letter to the book blogosphere. It's not a letter everyone wants...I get that. But for those that do...I'm happy to give it.

I'm not asking for compliments or feedback on BBAW on this post. I just want to share where I'm coming from, why I'm willing to try again and that I'm really just very human.

(I do welcome feedback and concerns about BBAW at bookbloggerappreciationweekATgmailDOTcom I cannot reply to every email, but I do read them all. Feel free to tell me everything about how you feel especially if you are interested in the future of BBAW and wish to see it improve)


Author Chat Tomorrow Night

Just a friendly reminder that I'll be hosting author Joy Preble on the blog tomorrow night at 9 PM EST/6 PM PST.

She wrote Dreaming Anastasia.

Please come with questions...should be lots of fun!!!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Review: Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same by Mattox

Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same Cover
Back when I wrote about themes that I enjoy in books, I forgot to mention that one theme I really love to see explored is the power of community. Not in any trite sugary sweet way but rather in the power of a community in extremely difficult times. I was really touched by the community in Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same. It's not necessarily the main focus, but it was one of my favorite parts of the book.

Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same is the story of Cesar who is growing up in a rough area of Los Angeles that is overrun by gangs. When his older brother ends up in jail for stabbing someone, his mother decides to bring Cesar to the Alaskan village where she grew up. At first Cesar isn't sure about the place. There isn't much to do. But he becomes quite close to his cousin, Joe, who is known as Go-Boy. Go-Boy has a charismatic personality, a deep faith, and a genuine love and concern for everyone in his village.

Not a whole lot happens in the book...there are a few key events that show just how rough life is in the village and for the central characters. Cesar knows something is wrong with Go-Boy but everytime he's with Go-Boy he never feels like anything is wrong. But Cesar is also harboring his own shameful secrets that prevent him from becoming truly close to anyone.

The narrative isn't exactly linear, Roesch will drop a shocking statement and then retrace to explain how we got there. It works most of the time, but there were a few times I felt confused.

There's also a strong atmosphere to the book. The Alaskan setting is rich and interesting. But what I loved most about this book was Go-Boy and his crazy beliefs. I don't want to say too much because it gives away an important turn the book takes, but I found everything about the book to be real, the emotions and the struggles were genuine, even if I felt more attached to Go-Boy's story than to Cesar's story.

And even while I don't necessarily believe things Go-Boy believed, like Jesus is an Eskimo Woman, many of his actual ideas about people and the way we live and the idea that we can have Heaven on Earth...well I do agree with some of those ideas. Not Heaven exactly, but I do believe Heaven begins on Earth when we strive to love others. I found a lot of his insights to be profound and true. But because this is still Earth...well Go-Boy had his own issues to deal with. ;)

While this book doesn't bring the characters to full resolution, it allows them all to take a turn and I think that's the most realistic thing about it all. It's the story of a year in the life of some people and the profound pain they faced and their struggles. It's touching and hopeful, without being saccharine. I loved it and I desperately want a t-shirt as described in the book that says Same-Same.

Rating: 4.5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: a little bit of sex and language
Source of Book: ARC received from publisher
Publisher: Unbridled Books


The Sunday Salon -- Pretty Much Everything

It may shock you but this week the blog will return to actual book reviews!!! Although it's really strange, now that I have time to read more than a few pages a day, I'm not sure what to read. I'm so behind in review commitments and the like that I feel completely confused. It's a bit like being a kid in a candy many options I just don't know where to begin! I will hopefully have my review of Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same up later today (finally!) and I did read The Maze Runner but I feel like I should wait to post the review until it's been released. Both are books worth your time to read, though!

Live Author Chat Announcement
Also have you heard of the book Dreaming Anastasia? Joy Preble the author will be here on My Friend Amy for a live chat Wednesday night at 9 PM EST/6 PM PST. I will seriously be leaving for the airport just a few hours after the chat! I hope you'll join us!

Challenge Update
Speaking of so many books to read, I'm failing miserably at my challenges. I haven't read a single book for the Dewey's books challenge, only one for War Through the Generations, still haven't watched the Vampire Diaries from Thursday, haven't read my book for the Newsweek Project, only 2 of 5 for LOST Books Challenge, and only one of 13 for 1% Well Read. I was reading a few of the goals posts for BBAW and saw people say they wouldn't sign up for challenges because they were reading a list and not on impulse and I had to laugh. Apparently I'm an underacheiver because I don't consider it all that serious to fail at challenges....I sort of see them as suggestions. I do feel a bit of a let down when the time passes so quickly and I haven't read many of the books, but ultimately I just think they're a great way to learn about books and make possibility lists. :)

About goals...I ran out of time to write a post but I do have a few goals. I want to orient my reading more around the things I want to learn about. So these goals are really for 2010--I am going to host a challenge (aaah!) with a few other bloggers focused on social justice issues which I have a ton of ideas for but need to work out all the details with them. Also, I really want to educate myself on the world of comics and graphic novels and so I shall be designing some sort of self-education system for myself. And I want to work to promote quality Christian fiction which I'll be doing with Deborah, but I have a few more ideas for that as well.

But before all of that, I want to also take a few months to scale back the blogging and just relax. The past few months were quite busy for me and I'd get friends and family asking if I was doing anything but working on BBAW. And some other stuff came up that I think I need time to process but just sort of put off at the time. I'll likely still be posting quite a bit, but I need to force myself not to take anything new on for awhile. As Jen told me, I need to just read for awhile. :)

But I have seen two movies I enjoyed recently. I watched All About Steve which I thought looked kind of dumb, but I ended up giggling through most of it. It's completely over the top but I still liked it. and also Love Happens which I thought was lovely and upon reflection, really clean (no bedroom scenes). And I love Aaron Eckhart. However, it should be noted that these two movies which I enjoyed (we're not talking deep spiritual revelations just entertaining feel good movies) got terrible reviews! So it goes.

Flashforward starts this week!
I hope you'll tune in if you can...the pilot should be very exciting a bit like a movie. (as all pilots seem to be these days) I reviewed the book and also chatted about some of the transitions from book to TV, if you care to read them in preparation! It's amazing to me how many TV shows are based on books!

Okay I think I've talked your ears off! I hope you all have a lovely Sunday of reading and the like ahead of you! :) Tell me all about it!