Thursday, July 31, 2008

Diva Nash Vegas

Diva Nash Vegas is another book by Rachael Hauck, author of Love Starts with Elle. It is about a hit country singer as she goes through some major changes in life and discoveres what is really important--faith, family and friends. I enjoyed the book, though it was nothing extraordinary.

The Rosary

I just don't "get" the rosary. Yes, I know how to say it. Yes, I've said more than a few of them in my life. I know you are supposed to meditate on the mysteries while saying the prayers. I know some studies have shown that saying the rosary alters brain wave activities. I also know that when I say a rosary, the main thing that seems to be on my mind is finishing. I can meditate of the mysteries, but not while repeating the prayers. I can think about the prayers, but not while trying to think about the mysteries.

We are preparing to enthrone the Sacred Heart in our home. Part of that process is saying the rosary as a family for nine days. So far my kids have been pretty cooperative. I'll be glad when the nine days is over, but I am going to try to move our family prayer up a little from where it hs been since the big kids were the baby's age. Anybody got any family prayer practices they'd like to share?

Remember Me

Remember Me by Deborah Bedford is my latest read. It is about a preacher who has had a lot of things go wrong in his life lately and who returnes to a favorite childhood haunt, re-meets his first love and re-connects with God. Some Christian fiction is basically regular fiction about Christians--such as a chaste romance novel where one or both main characters are Christian but where their Christianity doesn't really play that big a role in the book. Other books are sermons packaged as stories with characters too good to be true who talk about God and quote scripture so much that anyone who doesn't share their faith is likely to be off-put. The best Christian novels, in my opinion are those in which people wrestle with God and where He fits in their lives and how they are to live out His call. Maybe I feel that way because that is my struggle. In any case this book is one of those. No one has a lightbulb salvation moment. Life doesn't get all better because someone returns to God, but God is present and the characters realize it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

My Sushi Review

Sushi for One is the story of a thirtyish Asian-American woman whose grandmother has decided needs to marry sooner rather than later. The woman, who was once sexually assaulted, is an avid volleyball player and a volunteer coach of a volleyball team for underprivilged girls, a team whose expenses are underwritten by her grandmother. Her grandmother threatens to pull funding unless she finds a serious boyfriend--and then makes sure that no one else in the community will fund it either. I didn't like Grandma. The book involves the heroine's search for a husband and her search for funding for the team.

On the religion front, since it seems I've decided my niche in the First Wildcard group is to review this Protestant literature from a Catholic perspective, I found it interesting that the catalyst for one character's religious conversion is a large picture of the crucifixion which was found in the pastor's office. Looking at that graphic picture and seeing the pain of Christ turned this unbeliever into a believer--and the Protestants wonder why we Catholics fill our churches with statues and other images.

Sushi For One

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and his/her book:

Sushi for One?

Zondervan (September 1, 2007)


Camy Tang is a member of FIRST and is a loud Asian chick who writes loud Asian chick-lit. She grew up in Hawaii, but now lives in San Jose, California, with her engineer husband and rambunctious poi-dog. In a previous life she was a biologist researcher, but these days she is surgically attached to her computer, writing full-time. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service.

Sushi for One? (Sushi Series, Book One) was her first novel. Her second, Only Uni (Sushi Series, Book Two) is now available. The next book in the series, Single Sashimi (Sushi Series, Book Three) will be coming out in September 2008!

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 12.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (September 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310273986
ISBN-13: 978-0310273981


Chapter One

Eat and leave. That’s all she had to do.

If Grandma didn’t kill her first for being late.

Lex Sakai raced through the open doorway to the Chinese restaurant and was immediately immersed in conversation, babies’ wails, clashing perfumes, and stale sesame oil. She tripped over the threshold and almost turned her ankle. Stupid pumps. Man, she hated wearing heels.

Her cousin Chester sat behind a small table next to the open doorway.

“Hey Chester.”

“Oooh, you’re late. Grandma isn’t going to be happy. Sign over here.” He gestured to the guestbook that was almost drowned in the pink lace glued to the edges.

“What do I do with this?” Lex dropped the Babies R Us box on the table.

Chester grabbed the box and flipped it behind him with the air of a man who’d been doing this for too long and wanted out from behind the frilly welcome table.

Lex understood how he felt. So many of their cousins were having babies, and there were several mixed Chinese-Japanese marriages in the family. Therefore, most cousins opted for these huge—not to mention tiring—traditional Chinese Red Egg and Ginger parties to “present” their newborns, even though the majority of the family was Japanese American.

Lex bent to scrawl her name in the guestbook. Her new sheath dress sliced into her abs, while the fabric strained across her back muscles. Trish had convinced her to buy the dress, and it actually gave her sporty silhouette some curves, but its fitted design prevented movement. She should’ve worn her old loosefitting dress instead. She finished signing the book and looked back to Chester. “How’s the food?” The only thing worthwhile about these noisy events. Lex would rather be at the beach.

“They haven’t even started serving.”

“Great. That’ll put Grandma in a good mood.”

Chester grimaced, then gestured toward the far corner where there was a scarlet-draped wall and a huge gold dragon wall-hanging. “Grandma’s over there.”

“Thanks.” Yeah, Chester knew the drill, same as Lex. She had to go over to say hello as soon as she got to the party— before Grandma saw her, anyway—or Grandma would be peeved and stick Lex on her “Ignore List” until after Christmas.

Lex turned, then stopped. Poor Chester. He looked completely forlorn—not to mention too bulky—behind that silly table. Of all her cousins, he always had a smile and a joke for her. “Do you want to go sit down? I can man the table for you for a while. As long as you don’t forget to bring me some food.” She winked at him.

Chester flashed his toothy grin, and the weary lines around his face expanded into his normal laugh lines. “I appreciate that, but don’t worry about me.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. My sister’s going to bring me something—she’s got all the kids at her table, so she’ll have plenty for me. But thanks, Lex.”

“You’d do the same for me.”

Lex wiggled in between the round tables and inadvertently jammed her toe into the protruding metal leg of a chair. To accommodate the hefty size of Lex’s extended family, the restaurant had loaded the room with tables and chairs so it resembled a game of Tetris. Once bodies sat in the chairs, a chopstick could barely squeeze through. And while Lex prided herself on her athletic 18-percent body fat, she wasn’t a chopstick.

The Chinese waiters picked that exact moment to start serving the food.

Clad in black pants and white button-down shirts, they filed from behind the ornate screen covering the doorway to the kitchen, huge round platters held high above their heads. They slid through the crowded room like salmon—how the heck did they do that?—while it took all the effort Lex had to push her way through the five inches between an aunty and uncle’s
chairs. Like birds of prey, the waiters descended on her as if they knew she couldn’t escape.

Lex dodged one skinny waiter with plates of fatty pork and thumb-sized braised octopus. Another waiter almost gouged her eye out with his platter. She ducked and shoved at chairs, earning scathing glances from various uncles and aunties.

Finally, Lex exploded from the sea of tables into the open area by the dragon wall-hanging. She felt like she’d escaped from quicksand. Grandma stood and swayed in front of the horrifying golden dragon, holding her newest great-granddaughter, the star of the party. The baby’s face glowed as red as the fabric covering the wall. Probably scared of the dragon’s green buggy eyes only twelve inches away. Strange, Grandma seemed to be favoring her right hip.

“Hi, Grandma.”

“Lex! Hi sweetie. You’re a little late.”

Translation: You’d better have a good excuse.

Lex thought about lying, but aside from the fact that she couldn’t lie to save her life, Grandma’s eyes were keener than a sniper’s. “I’m sorry. I was playing grass volleyball and lost track of time.”

The carefully lined red lips curved down. “You play sports too much. How are you going to attract a man when you’re always sweating?”

Like she was now? Thank goodness for the fruity body spritz she had marinated herself in before she got out of her car.

“That’s a pretty dress, Lex. New, isn’t it?”

How did she do that? With as many grandchildren as she had, Grandma never failed to notice clothes, whereas Lex barely registered that she wasn’t naked. “Thanks. Trish picked it out.”

“It’s so much nicer than that ugly floppy thing you wore to your cousin’s wedding.”

Lex gritted her teeth. Respect your grandmother. Do not open your mouth about something like showing up in a polkadotted bikini.

“Actually, Lex, I’m glad you look so ladylike this time. I have a friend’s son I want you to meet—”

Oh, no. Not again. “Does he speak English?”

Grandma drew herself to her full height, which looked a little silly because Lex still towered over her. “Of course he does.”


“Yes. Lex, your attitude—”


“Now why should that make a difference?”

Lex widened innocent eyes. “Religious differences account for a lot of divorces.”

“I’m not asking you to marry him, just to meet him.”

Liar. “I appreciate how much you care about me, but I’ll find my own dates, thanks.” Lex smiled like she held a knife blade in her teeth. When Grandma got pushy like this, Lex had more backbone than the other cousins.

“I wouldn’t be so concerned, but you don’t date at all—”

Not going there. “Is this Chester’s niece?” Lex’s voice rose an octave as she tickled the baby’s Pillsbury-Doughboy stomach. The baby screamed on. “Hey there, cutie, you’re so big, betcha having fun, is Grandma showing you off, well, you just look pretty as a picture, are you enjoying your Red Egg and Ginger party? Okay, Grandma, I have to sit down. Bye.”

Before Grandma could say another word, Lex whisked away into the throng of milling relatives. Phase one, accomplished. Grandmother engaged. Retreat commencing before more nagging words like “dating” and “marriage” sullied the air.

Next to find her cousins—and best friends—Trish, Venus, and Jenn, who were saving a seat for her. She headed toward the back where all the other unmarried cousins sat as far away from Grandma as physically possible.

Their table was scrunched into the corner against towering stacks of unused chairs—like the restaurant could even hold more chairs. “Lex!” Trish flapped her raised hand so hard, Lex expected it to fly off at any moment. Next to her, Venus lounged, as gorgeous as always and looking bored, while Jennifer sat quietly on her other side, twirling a lock of her long straight hair. On either side of them …

“Hey, where’s my seat?”

Venus’s wide almond eyes sent a sincere apology. “We failed you, babe. We had a seat saved next to Jenn, but then . . .” She pointed to where the back of a portly aunty’s chair had rammed up against their table. “We had to remove the chair, and by then, the rest were filled.”

“Traitors. You should have shoved somebody under the table.”

Venus grinned evilly. “You’d fit under there, Lex.”

Trish whapped Venus in the arm. “Be nice.”

A few of the other cousins looked at them strangely, but they got that a lot. The four of them became close when they shared an apartment during college, but even more so when they all became Christian. No one else understood their flaws, foibles, and faith.

Lex had to find someplace to sit. At the very least, she wanted to snarf some overpriced, high calorie, high cholesterol food at this torturous party.

She scanned the sea of black heads, gray heads, dyed heads, small children’s heads with upside-down ricebowl haircuts, and teenager heads with highlighting and funky colors.

There. A table with an empty chair. Her cousin Bobby, his wife, his mother-in-law, and his brood. Six—count ’em, six— little people under the age of five.

Lex didn’t object to kids. She liked them. She enjoyed coaching her girls’ volleyball club team. But these were Bobby’s kids. The 911 operators knew them by name. The local cops drew straws on who would have to go to their house when they got a call.

However, it might not be so bad to sit with Bobby and family. Kids ate less than adults, meaning more food for Lex.

“Hi, Bobby. This seat taken?”

“No, go ahead and sit.” Bobby’s moon-face nodded toward the empty chair.

Lex smiled at his nervous wife, who wrestled with an infant making intermittent screeching noises. “Is that …” Oh great. Boxed yourself in now. Name a name, any name. “Uh … Kyle?”

The beleaguered mom’s smile darted in and out of her grimace as she tried to keep the flailing baby from squirming into a face-plant on the floor. “Yes, this is Kylie. Can you believe she’s so big?” One of her sons lifted a fork. “No, sweetheart, put the food down—!”

The deep-fried missile sailed across the table, trailing a tail of vegetables and sticky sauce. Lex had protected her face from volleyballs slammed at eighty miles an hour, but she’d never dodged multi-shots of food. She swatted away a flying net of lemony shredded lettuce, but a bullet of sauce-soaked fried chicken nailed her right in the chest.

Yuck. Well, good thing she could wash—oops, no, she hadn’t worn her normal cotton dress. This was the new silk one. The one with the price tag that made her gasp, but also made her look like she actually had a waist instead of a plank for a torso. The dress with the “dry-clean only” tag.

“Oh! I’m sorry, Lex. Bad boy. Look what you did.” Bobby’s wife leaned across the table with a napkin held out, still clutching her baby whose foot was dragging through the chow mein platter.

The little boy sitting next to Lex shouted in laughter. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t had a mouth full of chewed bok choy in garlic sauce.

Regurgitated cabbage rained on Lex’s chest, dampening the sunny lemon chicken. The child pointed at the pattern on her dress and squealed as if he had created a Vermeer. The other children laughed with him.

“Hey boys! That’s not nice.” Bobby glared at his sons, but otherwise didn’t stop shoveling salt-and-pepper shrimp into his mouth.

Lex scrubbed at the mess, but the slimy sauces refused to transfer from her dress onto the polyester napkin, instead clinging to the blue silk like mucus. Oh man, disgustamundo. Lex’s stomach gurgled. Why was every other part of her athlete’s body strong except for her stomach?

She needed to clean herself up. Lex wrestled herself out of the chair and bumped an older man sitting behind her. “Sorry.” The violent motion made the nausea swell, then recede. Don’t be silly. Stop being a wimp. But her already sensitive stomach had dropped the call with her head.

Breathe. In. Out. No, not through your nose. Don’t look at that boy’s drippy nose. Turn away from the drooling baby.

She needed fresh air in her face. She didn’t care how rude it was, she was leaving now.

“There you are, Lex.”

What in the world was Grandma doing at the far end of the restaurant? This was supposed to be a safe haven. Why would Grandma take a rare venture from the other side where the “more important” family members sat?

“My goodness, Lex! What happened to you?”

“I sat next to Bobby’s kids.”

Grandma’s powdered face scrunched into a grimace. “Here, let me go to the restroom with you.” The bright eyes strayed again to the mess on the front of her dress. She gasped.

Oh, no, what else? “What is it?” Lex asked.

“You never wear nice clothes. You always wear that hideous black thing.”

“We’ve already been over this—”

“I never noticed that you have no bosom. No wonder you can’t get a guy.”

Lex’s jaw felt like a loose hinge. The breath stuck in her chest until she forced a painful cough. “Grandma!

Out of the corner of her eye, Lex could see heads swivel. Grandma’s voice carried better than a soccer commentator at the World Cup.

Grandma bent closer to peer at Lex’s chest. Lex jumped backward, but the chair behind her wouldn’t let her move very far.

Grandma straightened with a frighteningly excited look on her face. “I know what I’ll do.”

God, now would be a good time for a waiter to brain her with a serving platter.

Grandmother gave a gleeful smile and clapped her hands. “Yes, it’s perfect. I’ll pay for breast implants for you!”

© Camy Tang
Used by permission of Zondervan

Friday, July 25, 2008

A REALLY Sexy Novel

I'll bet when you saw that title you rolled your eyes in amusement and figured I must have gotten ahold of one of those really torrid Harliquin or drugstore romance novels--they kind that spend pages telling who touched whom where and how, and what the verbal and physiologic responses were. Well, I didn't. I read yet another book by Christine Lynxwiler, whose Along Came a Cowboywas one of the First Wildcard books about which I posted. Like Along Came a Cowboythis was set in a small town in Arkansas and featured not only a romance but also the story of the relationship among four women friends, the Pinkie Promise Sisterhood. Promise Me Alwaysfeatures a 35 year old widow with two kids who has just been laid off from her job. She decides to follow her dream to start a landscaping business. After striking out at the bank, she learns of a contest, that should she win, would give her the capital with which to start her business and, of course, the publicity to get her first customers.

The guy in the story is the high school bad boy who hurt her feelings terribly in grade school. He has just moved back to town and owns a coffee shop/bookstore and works part time as a camera man for the TV station so as to support his eating habit. Anyway, at some point during the book, they kiss and it just sent chills down my spine. The description of the kiss was pretty mild compared to those torrid romances I have been known to read, but there was something about it that struck me as oh so HOT--and then it struck me--the reason that kiss was so HOT, so sexy is that he loved her (you can't tell me this is a spoiler--its a romance novel, of course they get together). He didn't see her across the room and want to tear her clothes off. He wasn't using her to get even with someone. She wasn't his captive nor did she need something from him. It wasn't an arranged marriage they were making the best of--or any of the other normal situations in those mainstream romance novels. No, he was a friend who wanted to be more, someone who was willing to risk being hurt and who wanted more than anything to spare her pain. When that kiss happened you knew it wasn't going any further and you knew it meant something other than "I'm horny". Guess that's why I think the guy in bed with me is so sexy (but I'm sure you'd think he was sexy if you saw him).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Georgia on Her Mind

After reading Love Starts with Elle, I went looking for more books by Rachel Hauk. I found Georgia on Her Mindwhich is about a business executive whose fifteen year high school reunion is on the horizon. As "Most Likely to Succeed" she is asked to emcee the program. Unfortunately, that same week she loses her job and her boyfriend. She reaches out to God to help her rebuild her life and finds that there are more than one way to define success. The book was a little preachy, but I enjoyed it.

Lover's Knot

The third book in Emile Richards' Shenandoah Album series is called Lover's Knot. It is set in the same town as the others and Helen, Sam and Elisa make appearances. A quilt is at the center of the plot. This story is about Kendra an invstigative reporter for the Washington Post who is shot one night in the city and comes out to a home her husband inherited to recover. Her body needs healing and so does her marriage. A quilt her husband inherited leads her on a search for his roots. She learns that it is our relationships with people that make our lives worth living; not our jobs or our toys. The best part of the book was the post-script--there is at least one more book in the series. I'm off to try to find it!

Nan's Journey

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and his/her book:

Nan's Journey

Tate Publishing & Enterprises (January 2, 2008)


Littau is a life-long resident of Perryton, TX. She met husband, Terry at the Apostolic Faith Bible College in Baxter Springs, Kansas in 1974. They married March 1, 1975 and reside on a small acreage near Perryton where they enjoy spending time with their family and friends. They raised three sons and now have three daughters-in-law and four grandchildren added to their family. They also enjoy visiting with their extended family located in Perryton, Clear Lake, Laverne, and Amarillo.

Author Elaine Littau is a busy woman who by profession is the church secretary for Harvest Time First Assembly of God Church in Perryton. Among other things she has led women’s groups and taught preschool, and was a mentor for the M.O.P.S. (Mothers of Preschoolers) group in her community. She has been active in Toastmasters and enjoys painting, crafts, and playing piano and organ. She was recently appointed to the Campus Education Improvement Committee for Wright Elementary in Perryton. She belongs to Christian Storytellers and Faith Writers writing groups.

“Nan’s Journey” was written over the course of several years. “A salvation message is at the core of the book.” Littau says. “If it weren’t for the Lord, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. I truly enjoy meeting new people.”

Littau is currently working on two other books that are continuations of “Nan’s Journey.” Book signings and speaking engagements are currently set up for venues in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Oregon.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 188 pages
Publisher: Tate Publishing & Enterprises (January 2, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602478325
ISBN-13: 978-1602478329


Chapter One

It was late. The moon had risen and the night symphony was in full force. Crickets chirped at their rivals, the frogs, and dominated the night chorus. Only one sound in the forest was foreign—a whimper from under the ferns. At the base of the largest pine in the woods was a small form crying, moaning, and whimpering. Black hair, matted and dirty, hung in long ropes down the front of the tiny girl. She had been in this spot for hours. At least that is what it felt like to her. Stretching, she cried out in pain. The blood-covered welts burst open to bleed again. Her back was wet with blood, and her dress was torn and useless.

Why had she dared to speak to the woman that she was obliged to call mother in that way? She knew that talking was not allowed from children before chores were finished. The accusations being made by “Ma” were totally false and she could not let Elmer take the blame for something she herself had forgotten to do. She shut her eyes tight against the memory, but it intruded anyway.

She had just gotten up to take the water off the stove to make up dishwater for the supper dishes. Ma had stepped outside the room to turn down her bed and prepare for sleep. When she reappeared in the kitchen, she realized that the wood supply next to the stove was low. Elmer was standing next to the table gathering the plates for washing. “Elmer, where is the wood you were supposed to bring up to the house?” Before he could answer, a hand had slapped him across his face. Getting back onto his feet and standing as tall as a five year old can stand, he looked her in the eye and said, “Ma, I was sick today, ‘member?”

“So, Elmer, you’re going to play up that headache trick again. Nan, didn’t your good for nothing Mama teach you people how to work, or are you just lazy?”

“Our Mama was good! Don’t you say mean things about her!” Nan yelled as her heart raced at the assault against her real Mama’s character.

“What about it, Elmer, are you like your weakling Mama or what?” Elmer’s eyes became very large and filled with tears. He could barely remember his real Mama, but when he did, he remembered soft kisses and sweet singing and a beautiful face. “I’m sorry; I’ll get the wood now.”

“No, Elmer, don’t. I promised you I’d do it today when your head was hurting, but I forgot. I’ll get it after I do these dishes.”

“Listen here, Nan, I’m the boss around here and Elmer will do what I say, when I say, and you will respect me.”

Nan’s eyes widened.

“Don’t look at me like that, little girl.”

Nan held her breath.

“Well, I guess you will be making a trip to the wood shed…with me!” Ma had grabbed her by the arm and jerked her along behind the shed. The strap was hanging there, waiting. Whippings were becoming more and more frequent. After Ma’s husband left, they had taken on a more cruel form. The last whipping was more like a beating. It took days for the marks to scab over and heal. Little Elmer had come in that night and brought some horse medicine from the barn and applied it to the oozing marks.

The next afternoon when the schoolteacher came over, Ma had already formulated a story. “Mrs. Dewey, we missed Nan and Elmer today at school. Are they sick?” Ma lied the first time in her life and said, “Well Miss Sergeant, since Mr. Dewey is going to be gone for another four weeks, I need more help around here to get things done. I’m holding the kids out until he gets back.” Week after week went by, and Mr. Dewey still hadn’t come home. Everyday Ma grew more and more angry. It became more and more impossible to please her. When she began hitting Elmer, it was too much. Nan had to do something— right or wrong; things couldn’t stay the way they were.

The coolness of the earth had settled into Nan’s bones. She stood silently for a minute and carefully crept up to the farmhouse. As she opened the door, she saw that Elmer was in the pallet at the foot of the stove next to her bedroll. Ma was asleep in her room. The door held open with a rock. Slowly she began peeling off the dress and the dried blood stuck to it. She reached for the old shirt she normally wore over her wounds and under her dress. She had washed it today. It had bloodstains on it, but it would keep her from ruining another dress. She retrieved the old work dress that she wore when chores were messier than usual; it was the only one left. She put it on swiftly and shook Elmer awake with her hand over his mouth. “Baby, we must leave. Do you understand? Stay quiet and I will get some stuff to take with us.”

She found large old handkerchief and began looking for food supplies. There was one sourdough biscuit and about a cup of cold brown beans. She located her tin cup and another rag. She would probably need that. Three matches were in the cup on the stove. She would just take two. Suddenly she heard a sound from Ma’s room. A scampering sound… just a rat. Ma turned over. Her breathing became deep and regular. For once Nan wished that Ma snored. She tied the handkerchief in a knot over the meager food supplies, grabbed their bedrolls, and slowly opened the door.

“Come on, Elmer. Can you carry this food? I’ll get your bedding. That’s a good boy. We must hurry!”

The cold air bit at their faces, but they walked bravely on.

“Elmer, we must go tonight so we can get as far away as we can before Ma wakes up and sees that we are gone.”

For the next half hour the pair walked in silence through the familiar woods past the graves on the hill. In one, a mother dearly loved, in another, an infant who had died the same day as his mother, and the third, a father that only Nan had memory of. Elmer was only two years old when Pa died in the logging accident. Nan snapped out of her reverie and urged Elmer on. Molasses, Pa’s good old workhorse, stood in the pasture. He skidded the logs Pa cut with his axe. His legs hadn’t healed quite right, but Mama hadn’t let Mr. Dewey kill him because he was all she had left of the husband of her youth. Molasses was a faithful friend to Nan and Elmer. He stood there and waited for them to mount him.

“Molasses, take us to…” Nan realized then that they had nowhere to go. Mrs. Dewey had said that they were ungrateful little imps who didn’t realize she and Mr. Dewey were taking care of them out of kindness, and they could easily be put into an orphanage. Nan didn’t know anything about orphanages except what Mrs. Dewey…uh, Ma had told her. “Molasses, just take us out of here.”

Nan's Journey: My Review

Nan's Journey is the story of two abused orphans who run away from thier stepmother and find love and acceptance in a family that recently suffered the loss of a young mother and child. It is set in Colorado in the 1800's. In the course of the story, Nan, the main character is wronged in a lot of ways by different people; however she and her brother find love with this new family, and through that love, she learns to accept Christ and forgive those who wronged her. While I found the climax scene involving the step-parents to be somewhat unrealistic, in general, I liked the story. I could feel the characters' pain and could admire their virtue, yet none of them seemed too good (or bad) It was a short and simple read and I'd recommend it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Homecoming of Sorts

My mom's family had a reunion this weekend near Durand WI, the place that is as close to my "hometown" as any. It is where Mom was born and raised and it served as home base during my dad's Air Force years. They planned to return to the area but politics intervened and they settled in Mississiippi instead.

The house is where my mom was born and raised. The farm has been in the family for over 100 years. I don't know what is going to happen to it when my uncle passes on. One of his daughters lives across the street, on what used to be part of the farm--but her husband works in an office, and seems to make good money. I doubt they want to work the farm. I have a cousin whose husband is farming some fields in the area; maybe he'll take on that property too. Like other businesses, farming isn't a small mom and pop operation any more; to make money you have to go big.

My dad and oldest brother also went to the reunion. I stayed with a cousin and Friday nite she and her husband, her sister and her husband, my brother and I sat around a fire and talked half the night. My brother had brought enough shrimp for a big shrimp boil on Saturday, but claimed he needed something else to finish stuffing the ice chest, so he also had a couple of bags of fish fillets. Since he knew those Yankees didn't know the proper way to fry fish, he brought some Zatairans and showed them.

Saturday all my first cousins, uncles and aunts were invited to a cousin's house for a shrimp boil. My brother not only brought a huge ice chest full of shrimp with him, he UPSed his boiling pot and boiler up there. Again we were there half the night talking and laughing. The last time I'd been up there was for my Grandmother's funeral ten years ago and while I enjoyed seeing everyone a funeral is not exactly a fun occasion. Of course all the little kids I saw then were teens and older now. There were a lot of us cousins and even though most of them live relatively close to the hometown; they all admit they don't see each other all that often.

Sunday morning I went to mass at the church where the ceremonies were supplied for my baptism, which is a fancy way of saying the doctor baptized me but later they took me to church and had me annointed and prayed over like they do when they baptize babies in a non-emergency situation. It is also where my parents were married and the church where my grandparents' funerals were held. I was in tears by the time mass was over. It just reminded me so much of so many people I loved. That afternoon was the official reunion. It was for all the decendants of my grandfather's siblings. In other words, it was for my mother's siblings and first cousins and their children, grandchildren etc. For the most part the people there were my mother's generation, but I suspect that since Dad, T and I came in town for it; most of my first cousins were there, and brought their kids. I got to see a few who hadn't been able to make it Saturday. When the picnic was over, we headed over to another cousin's for a while.

Monday I stopped in the cemetary. I took a picture of the graves of my grandparents and of an aunt who died when she was just a few days old.
Of course I shed more tears. I then drove out to the small community where my Grandmother was raised. I found the church but not the rest of it--though I know it is still there. Since they were cleaning the church I was able to go inside. More tears. It was raining or I might have explored the cemetary there.

Next I drove toward the Twin Cities, which is where I was catching a plane. I took the slow road and went through Pepin, which is the small town where Laura Ingalls Wilder was born (Little House in the Big Woods was set in Pepin). There was a small walk-through museum which I toured. I stopped at all the wayside overlooks and historical markers--something I've always wanted to do, but which we never had the time for. I even took a picture of the Mississippi River near its source. It looks a lot different there than it does here!

It was a great weekend getaway and I returned to a family that was glad to see me!

The Falcon and the Sparrow

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and his/her book:

The Falcon and the Sparrow

Barbour Publishing, Inc (August 1, 2008)


MaryLu spent her early years in South Florida where she fell in love with the ocean and the warm tropical climate. After moving to California with her husband, she graduated from college and worked as a software engineer for 15 years. Currently, MaryLu writes full time and resides in California with her husband and 6 children.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc (August 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602600120
ISBN-13: 978-1602600126


Chapter One

Dover, England, March 1803

Dominique Celine Dawson stepped off the teetering plank of the ship and sought the comfort of solid land beneath her feet, knowing that as she did so, she instantly became a traitor to England. Thanking the purser, she released his hand with a forced smile.

He tipped his hat and handed her the small embroidered valise containing all her worldly possessions. “Looks like rain,” he called back over his shoulder as he headed up the gangway.

Black clouds swirled above her, stealing all light from the midmorning sun. A gust of wind clawed at her bonnet. Passengers and sailors unloading cargo collided with her from all directions. She stepped aside, testing her wobbly legs. Although she’d just boarded the ship from Calais, France, to Dover that morning, her legs quivered nearly as much as her heart. She hated sailing. What an embarrassment she must have been to her father, an admiral in the British Royal Navy.

A man dressed in a top hat and wool cape bumped into her and nearly knocked her to the ground.

Stumbling, Dominique clamped her sweaty fingers around her valise, feeling as though it was her heart they squeezed. Did the man know? Did he know what she had been sent here to do?

He shot her an annoyed glance over his shoulder. “Beggin’ your pardon, miss,” he muttered before trotting off, lady on his arm and children in tow.

Blowing out a sigh, Dominique tried to still her frantic breathing. She must focus. She must remain calm. She had committed no crime—yet.

She scanned the bustling port of Dover. Waves of people flowed through the streets, reminding her of the tumultuous sea she had just crossed. Ladies in silk bonnets clung to gentlemen in long-tailed waistcoats and breeches. Beggars, merchants, and tradesmen hustled to and fro as if they didn’t have a minute to lose. Dark-haired Chinamen hauled two-wheeled carts behind them, loaded with passengers or goods. Carriages and horses clomped over the cobblestone streets. The air filled with a thousand voices, shouts and screams and curses and idle chatter accompanied by the incessant tolling of bells and the rhythmic lap of the sea against the docks.

The stench of fish and human sweat stung Dominique’s nose, and she coughed and took a step forward, searching for the carriage that surely must have been sent to convey her to London and to
the Randal estate. But amidst the dizzying crowd, no empty convey-
ance sat waiting; no pair of eyes met hers—at least none belonging to a coachman sent to retrieve her. Other eyes flung their slithering gazes her way, however, like snakes preying on a tiny ship mouse. A lady traveling alone was not a sight often seen.

Lightning split the dark sky in two, and thunder shook it with an ominous boom. For four years she had longed to return to England, the place of her birth, the place filled with many happy childhood memories, but now that she was here, she felt more lost and frightened than ever. Her fears did not completely stem from the fact that she had never traveled alone before, nor been a governess before—although both of those things would have been enough to send her heart into a frenzy. The true reason she’d returned to her homeland frightened her the most.

Rain misted over her, and she brushed aside the damp curls that framed her face, wondering what to do next. Oh Lord, I feel so alone, so frightened. Where are You? She looked up, hoping for an answer, but the bloated clouds exploded in a torrent of rain that pummeled her face and her hopes along with it. Dashing through the crowd, she ducked beneath the porch of a fish market, covering her nose with a handkerchief against the putrid smell.

People crowded in beside her, an old woman pushing an apple cart, a merchantman with a nose the size of a doorknob, and several seaman, one of whom glared at Dominique from beneath bushy brows and hooded lids. He leaned against a post, inserted a black wad into his mouth, and began chewing, never taking his gaze from her. Ignoring him, Dominique glanced through the sheet of rain pouring off the overhang at the muted shapes moving to and fro. Globs of mud splashed from the puddle at her feet onto her muslin gown. She had wanted to make a good impression on Admiral Randal. What was he to think of his new governess when she arrived covered in filth?

Lightning flashed. The seaman sidled up beside her, pushing the old woman out of the way. “Looking for someone, miss?”

Dominique avoided the man’s eyes as thunder shook the tiny building. “No, merci,” she said, instantly cringing at her use of French.

“Mercy?” He jumped back in disgust. “You ain’t no frog, is you?” The man belched. He stared at her as if he would shoot her right there, depending on her answer.

Terror renewed the queasiness in her stomach. “Of course not.”

“You sound like one.” He leaned toward her, squinting his dark eyes in a foreboding challenge.

“You are mistaken, sir.” Dominique held a hand against his advance. “Now if you please.” She brushed past him and plunged into the rain. Better to suffer the deluge than the man’s verbal assault. The French were not welcome here, not since the Revolution and the ensuing hostilities caused by Napoleon’s rise to power. Granted, last year Britain had signed a peace treaty with France, but no one believed it would last.

Dominique jostled her way through those brave souls not intimidated by the rain and scanned the swarm of carriages vying for position along the cobblestone street. If she did not find a ride to London soon, her life would be in danger from the miscreants who slunk around the port. Hunger rumbled in her stomach as her nerves coiled into knots. Lord, I need You.

To her right, she spotted the bright red wheels of a mail coach that had Royal Mail: London to Dover painted on the back panel. Shielding her eyes from the rain, she glanced up at the coachman perched atop the vehicle, water cascading off his tall black hat. “Do you have room for a passenger to London, monsie—sir?”

He gave her a quizzical look then shook his head. “I’m full.”

“I’m willing to pay.” Dominique shuffled through her valise and pulled out a small purse.

The man allowed his gaze to wander freely over her sodden gown. “And what is it ya might be willing to pay?”

She squinted against the rain pooling in her lashes and swallowed. Perhaps a coach would be no safer than the port, after all. “Four guineas,” she replied in a voice much fainter than she intended.

The man spat off to the side. “It’ll cost you five.”

Dominique fingered the coins in her purse. That would leave her only ten shillings, all that remained of what her cousin had given her for the trip, and all that remained of the grand Dawson fortune, so quickly divided among relatives after her parents’ death. But what choice did she have? She counted the coins, handed them to the coachman, then waited for him to assist her into the carriage, but he merely pocketed the money and gestured behind him. Lifting her skirts, heavy with rain, she clambered around packages and parcels and took a seat beside a window, hugging her valise. She shivered and tightened her frock around her neck, fighting the urge to jump off the carriage, dart back to the ship, and sail right back to France.

She couldn’t.

Several minutes later, a young couple with a baby climbed in, shaking the rain from their coats. After quick introductions, they squeezed into the seat beside Dominique.

Through the tiny window, the coachman stared at them and frowned, forming a pock on his lower chin. He muttered under his breath before turning and snapping the reins that sent the mail coach careening down the slick street.

The next four hours only added to Dominique’s nightmare. Though exhausted from traveling half the night, rest was forbidden her by the constant jostling and jerking of the carriage over every small bump and hole in the road and the interminable screaming of the infant in the arms of the poor woman next to her. She thanked God, however, that it appeared the roads had been newly paved or the trip might have taken twice as long. As it was, each hour passed at a snail’s pace and only sufficed to increase both her anxiety and her fear.

Finally, they arrived at the outskirts of the great city capped in a shroud of black from a thousand coal chimneys—a soot that not even the hard rain could clear. After the driver dropped off the couple and their vociferous child on the east side of town, Dominique had to haggle further for him to take her all the way to Hart Street, to which he reluctantly agreed only after Dominique offered him another three precious shillings.

The sights and sounds of London drifted past her window like visions from a time long ago. She had spent several summers here as a child, but through the veil of fear and loneliness, she hardly recognized it. Buildings made from crumbling brick and knotted timber barely held up levels of apartments stacked on top of them. Hovels and shacks lined the dreary alleyways that squeezed between residences and shops in an endless maze. Despite the rain, dwarfs and acrobatic monkeys entertained people passing by, hoping for a coin tossed their way. As the coach rounded one corner, a lavishly dressed man with a booming voice stood in an open booth, proclaiming that his tonic cured every ache and pain known to man.

The stench of horse manure and human waste filled the streets, rising from puddles where both had been deposited for the soil men to clean up at night.

Dominique pressed a hand to her nose and glanced out the other side of the carriage, where the four pointed spires of the Tower of London thrust into the angry sky. Though kings had resided in the castlelike structure, many other people had been imprisoned and tortured within its walls. She trembled at the thought as they proceeded down Thames Street, where she soon saw the massive London Bridge spanning the breadth of the murky river.

Her thoughts veered to Marcel, her only brother—young, impetuous Marcel. Dominique had cared for him after their mother died last year of the fever, and she had never felt equal to the task. Marcel favored their father with his high ideals and visions of heroism, while Dominique was more like their mother, quiet and shy. Marcel needed strong male guidance, not the gentle counsel of an overprotective sister.

So of course Dominique had been thrilled when a distant cousin sought them out and offered to take them both under his care. Monsieur Lucien held the position of ministère de l’intérieur under Napoleon’s rule—a highly respectable and powerful man who would be a good influence on Marcel.

Or so she had thought.

The carriage lurched to the right, away from the stench of the river. Soon the cottages and shabby tenements gave way to grand two- and three-level homes circled by iron fences.

Dominique hugged her valise to her chest, hoping to gain some comfort from holding on to something—anything—but her nerves stiffened even more as she neared her destination. After making several more turns, the coach stopped before a stately white building. With a scowl, the driver poked his open hand through the window, and Dominique handed him her coins, not understanding the man’s foul humor. Did he treat all his patrons this way, or had she failed to conceal the bit of French in her accent?

Climbing from the carriage, she held her bag against her chest and tried to sidestep a puddle the size of a small lake. Without warning, the driver cracked the reins and the carriage jerked forward, spraying Dominique with mud.

Horrified, she watched as the driver sped down the street. He did that on purpose. She’d never been treated with such disrespect in her life. But then, she’d always traveled with her mother, the beautiful Marguerite Jean Denoix, daughter of Edouard, vicomte de Gimois, or her father, Stuart Dawson, a respected admiral in the Royal Navy. Without them by her side, who was she? Naught but an orphan without a penny to her name.

Rain battered her as she stared up at the massive white house, but she no longer cared. Her bonnet draped over her hair like a wet fish, her coiffure had melted into a tangle of saturated strands, and her gown, littered with mud, clung to her like a heavy shroud. She deserved it, she supposed, for what she had come to do.

She wondered if Admiral Randal was anything like his house—cold, imposing, and rigid. Four stories high, it towered above most houses on the street. Two massive white columns stood like sentinels holding up the awning while guarding the front door.
The admiral sat on the Admiralty Board of His Majesty’s Navy, making him a powerful man privy to valuable information such as the size, location, and plans of the British fleet. Would he be anything like her dear father?

Dominique skirted the stairs that led down to the kitchen. Her knees began to quake as she continued toward the front door. The blood rushed from her head. The world began to spin around her. Squeezing her eyes shut, she swallowed. No, she had to do this. For you, Marcel. You’re all I have left in the world.

She opened her eyes and took another step, feeling as though she walked into a grand mausoleum where dead men’s bones lay ensconced behind cold marble.

She halted. Not too late to turn around—not too late to run. But Marcel’s innocent young face, contorted in fear, burned in her memory. And her cousin Lucien’s lanky frame standing beside him, a stranglehold on the boy’s collar. “If you prefer your brother’s head to be attached to his body, you will do as I request.”

A cold fist clamped over Dominique’s heart. She could not lose her brother. She continued up the steps though every muscle, every nerve protested. Why me, Lord? Who am I to perform such a task?

Ducking under the cover of the imposing porch, Dominique raised her hand to knock upon the ornately carved wooden door, knowing that after she did, she could not turn back.

Once she stepped over the threshold of this house, she would no longer be Dominique Dawson, the loyal daughter of a British admiral.

She would be a French spy.

My Review: The Falcon and the Sparrow

This historical/romantic Christian novel is set during the time of Napoleon. A young woman, who is the orphaned daughter of an English admiral and a French woman enters the home of an English admiral (who happenes to be a widower) as a governess for his young son--except that she is also there as a spy for the French, who have threatened to kill her beloved brother if she doesn't get them the information they desire. Of course, while she is in the admirals home, she falls in love with him. I'll leave you to guess the end, but there are a couple of unexpected elements.

The heroine is a devout Christian and part of the book focuses on her inner conflict between her Christian values and what is necessary to spy--and how God's will enters into all of it. It points out that God can use us in a lot of situations in which we would not choose to be. If you like this type of book, I'd say it is pretty typical, not extraordinarily good, or bad.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Passion Most Pure

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter! Plus, with this tour, you can win a copy of Julie's book! Leave a comment saying you wish to be in the drawing for the book.

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and her book:

A Passion Most Pure
Revell (January 1, 2008)


Julie Lessman is a debut author who has already garnered writing acclaim, including ten Romance Writers of America awards. She resides in Missouri with her husband and their golden retriever, and has two grown children and a daughter-in-law. Her first book in the Daughters of Boston series, A Passion Most Pure, was released January 2008, to be followed by the second in September 2008, A Passion Redeemed, and the third in May 2009, A Passion Denied (working title).

You can visit Julie at her Web site.

Product Details

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Revell (January 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0800732111
ISBN-13: 978-0800732110


“To the man who pleases him,

God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,

but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to

hand it over to the one who pleases God.

This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

– Ecclesiastes 2:26

Chapter One

Boston, Massachusetts, Late Summer, 1916

Sisters are overrated, she decided. Not all of them, of course, only the beautiful ones who never let you forget it. Faith O’Connor stood on tiptoe behind the side porch, squinting through her mother’s prized lilac bush. The sound of summer locusts vibrated in her ears as she gasped, inches from where her sister, Charity, stood in the arms of––

“Collin, someone might hear us,” Charity whispered.

“Not if we don’t talk.” Collin’s index finger stroked the cleft of her sister’s chin.

Faith’s body went numb. The locusts crescendoed to a frenzy in her brain. She wanted to sink into the fresh-mown lawn, but her feet rooted to the ground as firmly as the bush that hid her from view.

Three years had done nothing to diminish his effect on her. He was grinning, studying her sister through heavy lids, obviously relaxed as he leaned against the wall of their wraparound porch. His serge morning coat was draped casually over the railing. The rolled sleeves of his starched, white shirt displayed muscled arms snug around Charity’s waist. Faith knew all too well his clear, gray eyes held a maddening twinkle, and she heard the low rumble of his laughter when he pulled her sister close.

“Collin, nooooo …” Charity’s voice seemed to ripple with pleasure as her finger traced a suspender cinched to his striped trousers.

“Charity, yes,” he whispered, closing his eyes as he bent to kiss her.

Faith stopped breathing while his lips wandered the nape of her sister’s neck.

Charity attempted a token struggle before appearing to melt against his broad chest. She closed her eyes and lifted her mouth to his, her head dropping back with the ease of oiled hinges.

Faith rolled her eyes.

Without warning, Collin straightened. A strand from his slicked-back hair tumbled across his forehead while he held her sister at arm’s length. His expression was stern, but there was mischief in his eyes. "You know, Charity, your ploy doesn’t work.” His brows lifted in playful reprimand, making him appear far older than his twenty-one years. He adjusted the wide, pleated collar of her pink gabardine blouse. “You are a beautiful girl, Charity O’Connor. And I’m quite sure your doe-eyed teasing is most effective with the schoolboys that buzz around.” His fingers gently tugged at a strand of her honey-colored hair before tucking it behind her ear. “But not with me.” He lifted her chin to look up at him. The corners of his lips twitched. “I suggest you save your protest for them and this for me …"

His dimples deepened when his lips eased into that dangerous smile that always made Faith go weak in the knees. In one fluid turn, he backed her sister against the wall, hands firm on her shoulders as his mouth took hers. Then, in a flutter of Faith’s heart, he released her.

On cue, Charity produced a perfect pout, stamping her foot so hard it caused her black hobble skirt to flair at her ankles. Collin laughed out loud. He kissed her on the nose, grabbed his coat and started down the steps.

"Collin McGuire, you are so arrogant!" Charity whispered, her voice hissing as if through clenched teeth.

"And you, Charity O'Connor, are so vain––a perfect match, wouldn't you say?" He headed for the gate, whistling. Charity stormed inside and slammed the door. Collin chuckled and strolled toward the sidewalk.

Faith crept to the lilac hedge at the front of the house and peeked through its foliage. A stray ball from a rowdy game of kickball rolled into the street. Collin darted after it just as a black Model T puttered by, blaring its horn. He jumped from its path, palming the ball with one hand. In a blink of an eye, he was swarmed by little boys, their laughter pealing through the air as Collin wrestled with one after another.

All at once he turned and loped to a massive oak where tiny, towheaded Theodore Schmidt sat propped against the gnarled tree, crutches by his side. Raucous cheers pierced the air when Collin tossed his coat on the ground and bent to carefully hoist Theo astride his broad shoulders. The little boy squealed with delight. A grin split Collin’s handsome face. He gripped Theo’s frail legs against his chest and sauntered toward home plate. Scrubbing his palms on Theo’s faded, brown knickers, Collin dug his heels in the dirt and positioned himself. The pitcher grinned and rolled the ball. The air was thick with silence. Even the locusts seemed to hush as the ball wheeled in slow motion. Faith held her breath.

Collin’s first kick sailed the ball five houses away. Champion and child went flying, the back tail of Theo’s white shirt flapping in the breeze as Collin rounded the bases. They crossed home plate to a roar of cheers and whistles and all colors of beanies fluttering in the air like confetti. Theo’s scrawny arms flapped about, his tiny face as flushed as Collin’s when the two finally huffed to a stop.

Faith exhaled. Everybody’s hero, then and now.

Collin set the child back against the tree. He squatted to speak to him briefly before tousling his hair. Rising, he snatched his coat from the ground and slung it over his shoulder. The boys groaned and begged for more, but Collin only waved and continued down the street, finally disappearing from view.

Faith pressed a shaky palm to her stomach. She closed her eyes and leaned against the

porch trellis. A perfectly wonderful Saturday gone to the dogs! All she had wanted when she slipped out the back door was to escape to her favorite hideaway in the park. To write poetry and prayers to her heart’s content in the warm, September sun. But no! Once again, her sister had managed to strike, foiling her plans for a blissful afternoon of writing and reverie. Her eyes popped open and she kicked at a hickory nut, sending it pinging off her mother’s copper watering can.

It was bad enough Charity attracted the attention of every male within a ten-mile radius. Did she also have to be the younger sister? It was nothing short of humiliating! Faith plunked her hands on her hips and looked up. “Really, Lord, she’s sixteen to my eighteen and fends off men like a mare swishing flies. Was that really necessary?” She waved her hand, palm up, toward the infamous porch. “And now this? Now him?”

Faith jerked her blanket from the ground and slapped it over her shoulder. Retrieving her journal and prayer book, she thrashed through the bushes. She glanced at the side porch, leering at the very spot he held her sister only moments before. The impact hit and tears pricked her eyes. She swatted at something caught in her hair. A twig with a heart-shaped leaf plummeted to the ground, in perfect synchronization with her mood.

Her sister had it all––beauty, beaus and now the affections of Collin McGuire. Where was the justice? In Faith’s world of daydreams, he had been hers first, smitten on the very day Margaret Mary O’Leary had shoved her against the schoolyard fence. Helplessly she had hung, the crippled runt of the fifth-grade class, pinned by bulbous arms for the crime of refusing to turn over her mother’s fresh-baked pumpkin bread.

“Drop her, Margaret Mary,” the young Collin had said with authority.

The pudgy hands released their grip. “Cripple!” Margaret Mary’s hateful slur had hissed in Faith’s ears as she plopped to the ground, the steel braces on her thin legs clanking as she fell. The girl’s sneer dissolved into a smile when she gazed up at Collin, her ample cheeks puffing into small, pink balloons. “Sorry!” she said in a shy voice. With a duck of her head, she wobbled off, leaving Faith in a heap. Bits of bread, now dusted with dirt, clumped through Faith’s fingers as she stared up in awe. It had been the first time she ever laid eyes on him. Never again would her little-girl heart beat the same. He was tall and languid with an easy smile—Robin Hood, defending the weak.

“D’she hurt you?” he had asked, extending his arm.

The gentleness in his eyes stilled her. Shaking her head, she opened her hand to reveal a mangled piece of bread. Without thinking, she tried to blow off the dirt, misting it with saliva. “I don’t suppose you want some?”

The grin would be branded in her brain forever.

“That’s okay, Little Bit,” he said with a sparkle in his eye, “I’ll just help myself to some of Margaret Mary’s.”

Her mind jolted back to the present. Faith blinked at the lonely porch and sniffed. Jutting her chin in the air, she flipped a russet strand of hair from her eyes. “I refuse to entertain notions of Collin McGuire,” she vowed. Her lips pressed into a tight line. It’s just a crying shame Mother hadn’t found them first!

As if shocked at her thought, the sun crept behind a billow of clouds, washing her in cool shadows. She crossed her arms and glowered at the sky. “Yes, I know, I’m supposed to be taking every thought captive. But it’s not all that easy, you know.”

A curl from her half-hearted chignon fluttered into her face. She reached to yank the comb from her hair, shaking her head until the wild mane tumbled down her back. Hiking her brown gingham skirt to her knees, she ignored the curious stares of children and raced down Donovan Street.

She was almost oblivious to the faint limp in her stride, the only mark of her childhood bout with polio. Some of the children still laughed at the halting way she walked and ran, but Faith didn’t care. If anything, it only made her chin lift higher and her smile brighter. That slight hitch in her gait––that precious, wonderful gimp––was daily proof she had escaped paralysis or worse. She needed no reminding that countless children had perished in the Massachusetts polio epidemic of 1907, her own twin sister among them. She shuddered at the memory while her pace slowed. God had heard the prayers of her parents––or at least half. She alone had survived. And more than survived––she’d never need braces again.

Masking her somber mood with a smile, she waved and called to neighbors, flitting by the perfectly groomed three-decker homes that so typified the Southie neighborhood of Boston. She hurried beneath a canopy of trees where mothers chatted and toddlers played peek-a-boo around their petticoats. A tiny terrier yipped and danced in circles, coaxing a grin to her lips, while little girls played hopscotch on cobblestone streets dappled with sunlight.

In the tranquil scene, Faith saw no hint of impending troubles, no telltale evidence of “The Great War” raging in a far-off land across the sea. But the qualms of concern were there all the same. Insidious, filtering into their lives like a patchy gloom descending at will––in hushed conversations over back fences or in distracted stares and wrinkled brows. The question was always the same: Would America go to war? One by one, the neutrality of European countries toppled like dominoes. Romania, who had entered the war with the Allies, was quickly overrun by German forces. Now, within mere days, Italy had declared war on Germany as well, sucked into the vortex of hate. Would America be next to enter World War I? Faith shivered at the thought and then gasped when she nearly collided with a freckled boy darting out of Hammond’s confectionary.

“Sorry, miss,” he muttered, clutching a box of Cracker Jacks against plaid knickers.

“No, it’s my fault.” She rumpled his hair. He smiled shyly, breaking through her somber mood. Flashing a gap-toothed grin, he flew off to join his friends. Faith laughed and rounded the corner, sprinting into O’Reilly Park. She breathed in the clean, crisp air thick with the scent of honeysuckle. Exhaling, she felt the tension drift from her body.

Oh, how she loved this neighborhood! This was home, her haven, her own little place of belonging. She loved everything about it, from the dirty-faced urchins lost in their games of stickball, to the revelry of neighborhood pubs whose music floated on the night breeze into the wee hours of the morning. This was the soul of Irish Boston, this south end of the city, a glorious piece of St. Patrick's Isle in the very heart of America. And to Faith, not unlike a large Irish family––brash, bustling and brimming with life.

Out of breath, she choked to a stop at a wall of overgrown forsythia bushes that sheltered her from view. Emptying her arms, she snapped the blanket in the air and positioned it perfectly, smoothing the wrinkles before tossing her journal and prayer book to the edge. She kicked off her shoes and flopped belly down, popping a pencil between her teeth. Thoughts of Collin McGuire suddenly blinked in her brain like a dozen fireflies on a summer night. Her teeth sank into the soft wood of the pencil. She tasted lead and spit.

No! I don’t want to think of him. Not anymore. And especially not with her. Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed the fluttering pages of her prayer book, conspicuous as it lay open at the edge of the blanket. Her chest heaved a sigh. “I’ve gone and done it again, haven’t I?” She glanced up, her lips quirking into a shaky smile. “People always seem so taken with my green eyes, but I don’t suppose ‘green with envy’ is too appealing, is it? I’ll get this right, I promise. In the meantime, please forgive me?” She breathed in deeply, taking air like a parched person gulping cool water. Her final prayer drifted out on a quiet sigh. “And yes, Lord, please bless my sister.”

She reached for her journal and flipped it open, staring hard at a page she’d penned months ago. Her vision suddenly blurred and she blinked, a tear plunking on the paper. Collin. She traced his name with her finger. It swam before her in a pool of ink.

Dreams. Silly, adolescent dreams, that’s all they were. She had no patience for dreamers. Not anymore. After years of pining over something she could never have, she chose to embrace the cold comfort of reality instead. No more daydreams of his smile, no more journal entries with his name, no more prayers for the impossible. She would not allow it.

She flipped the page over and closed her eyes, but it only produced a flood of memories. Memories of a gangly high school freshman, notebook in hand and heat in her cheeks, trembling on the threshold of the St. Mary’s Gazette. She could still see him looking up from the table, pencil in hand and another wedged behind his ear. He had stared, assessing her over a stack of books.

“Uh, Mm … Mrs. Mallory said … well, I … I m-mean she said that I was to be on the p-paper so I—”

Recognition dawned. His eyes softened and crinkled at the corners just a smitch before that slow smile eased across his lips. “Little Bit! So, you’re the young Emily Dickinson Mrs. Mallory’s been going on about. Well, I am impressed—we’ve never had a freshman on the staff before. Mrs. Mallory told me to take you under my wing.” He pushed pencil and paper across the table and grinned. “Better take notes.”

And, oh … she had! In the year they’d been friends, she’d taken note of that perilous smile whenever he was teasing or the fire in his eyes when somebody missed a deadline. She adored that obstinate strand of dark hair that tumbled over his forehead when he argued a point. And she loved the way his voice turned thick at the mere mention of his father. His love for his father had been fierce. He’d often spoken of the day they would finally work side by side in his father’s tiny printing business. McGuire & Son––just the sound of the words had caused Collin to tear up.

The death of his father a week before graduation had been a shock. Collin never showed up to claim his diploma. Someone said he’d found a job at the steel mill on the east side of town. Occasionally rumors would surface. About how much he’d changed. How wild he’d become. The endless string of hearts he always managed to break. Almost as if his passion and kindness had calcified. Hard and cold, like the steel he forged by day.

Faith dropped back on the blanket, her body still. She squeezed her eyes shut. Despite the warmth of the sun, her day was completely and utterly overcast. How dare her sister be so familiar with the likes of Collin McGuire? How dare he be so forward with her, in broad daylight, and right under their mother's nose? Faith was disgusted, angry and embarrassed, all at the same time. And never more jealous in all her life.


With coat slung over his shoulder and a stride in his step, Collin whistled his way to the corner of Baker and Brae. Slowing, he turned onto his street, keenly aware his whistling had faded. The bounce in his gait slowed to sludge as he neared the ramshackle flat he shared with his mother. At the base of the steps, he glanced up, his stomach muscles tensing as they usually did when he came home.

Home. The very word had become an obscenity. This house hadn’t been a home since his father’s last breath over three years ago. She’d made certain of that. Collin sighed, mounting the steep, cracked steps littered with flowering weeds. Sidestepping scattered pieces from a child’s erector set, his eyes flitted to his mother’s window. The crooked, yellowed shade was still down. Good. Maybe he could slip in and out.

He turned the knob quietly and eased himself into the front room, holding his breath as he closed the door. The click of the lock reverberated in his ears.

“It’s a real shame you don’t bother to dress that nicely for the good Lord.”

Collin spun around, his heart pounding. He forced a smile to his lips. “Mother! I thought you might be in bed with one of your headaches. I didn’t want to wake you.”

“I’m sure you didn’t.” Katherine McGuire stood in the doorway of her bedroom with arms folded across her chest, a faded blue dressing gown wrapped tightly around her regal frame. Her lips pressed into a thin line, as if a smile would violate the cool anger emanating from her steel-gray eyes.

When his mother did smile at him, an uncommon thing in itself, it was easy to see why his father had fallen hopelessly in love with her. At forty-one, she was still a striking woman. Rich, dark hair with a hint of gray only served to heighten the impact of the penetrating eyes now focused on him. Before she had married his father, she had been a belle of society. The air of refinement bred in her was evident as she stood straight and tall. She lifted her chin to assess him through disapproving eyes.

“She’s too good for the likes of you, you know.”

He stared back at her, a tic jerking in his cheek. Every muscle and sinew were poised to strike. He clamped his jaw, biting back the bitter retort that weighted his tongue. No, he would not allow her to win. Ever. He tossed his coat on the hook by the door and turned, a stiff smile on his face. “She doesn’t care, Mother. She’s in love.”

“Her father will. It’s not likely he’ll want a pauper courting his daughter.”

Collin shook his head and laughed, the sound of it hollow. He avoided her eyes as he headed to his room at the back of the flat. “I won’t be a pauper forever,” he called over his shoulder. “I’ve got plans.”

“So did your father. And you saw where they took him.”

Collin stopped, his back rigid and his eyes stinging with pent-up fury. He clenched and unclenched his fists. How had a man as good and kind as his father allowed her to control him? His mouth hardened. It didn’t matter. She would never control him. Not in his emotions, nor in his life. He exhaled slowly, continuing down the shadowy hall. “Have a good day, Mother,” he said. And closing his bedroom door behind him, he shut her out with a quiet click of the lock.


“But, Mother, it’s not fair! Why can’t Faith do it?” Charity demanded, wielding a stalk of celery in one hand and a paring knife in the other.

Marcy O’Connor didn’t have to look up from the cake she was frosting to know she had a fight on her hands. Usually she enjoyed this time of day, when the coolness of evening settled in and her children huddled in the warmth of the kitchen near the wood-burning stove. Tonight, five-year-old Katie sat Indian-style, force-feeding her bear from an imaginary teacup while her brother, Steven, a mature eight years old, practiced writing vocabulary words on a slate. On the rug in front of the fire sprawled twelve-year-old Elizabeth, a faraway look in her eyes as she lost herself in a favorite book. Marcy set the finished cake aside and reached for the warm milk and yeast. She poured it into a bowl of flour and began rolling up the sleeves of her blouse.

"I don't understand why Faith can't do it. She doesn't have anything else to do." Charity turned back to the sink to assault the celery with the knife.

"But, Mother, you know I'm reading to Mrs. Gerson Saturday evening or I’d be happy to stay with the children." Faith's tone sounded cautious as she appeared to devote full attention to chopping carrots for the stew. In unison, both girls looked up at their mother.

Marcy couldn't remember when she had felt so tired. Her eyes burned with fatigue as she kneaded the dough for the bread she was preparing. With the back of her hand, she pushed at a wisp of hair, a stray from the chignon twisted at the nape of her neck, feeling every bit of her forty years. She eyed her daughters with a tenuous smile, her mind flitting to a time when she’d been as young. A girl with golden hair and summer-blue eyes who’d won the heart of Patrick Brendan O'Connor and become his “Irish rose.” Marcy sighed. Well, tonight, the “rose” was pale, wilted, and definitely not up to a thorny confrontation between her two daughters.

She paused, her hands crusted with dough. "Tell me, Charity, why is it so important you’re free on this Saturday night, in particular?" Marcy didn’t miss the slight blush that crept into Charity's cheeks, nor the look on Faith’s face as she stopped to watch her sister’s response, cutlery poised mid-air.

"Well, there's a dance social at St. Agatha's. I was hoping to go, that's all."

Marcy resumed kneading the dough with considerably more vigor than before. “And with whom will you be going, may I ask?"

"Well … there's a group of us, you see …"

"Mmmm. Would a certain Collin McGuire be among them?" Marcy's fingers were flying.

Charity’s blush was full hue, blotching her face with a lovely shade of rose. "Well, yes … I think so … perhaps … of course, I'm not definitely sure …"

A thin cloud of flour escaped into the air as Marcy slapped the dough from her hands. "Charity, we've been over this before. Neither your father nor I are comfortable with you seeing that McGuire boy. He's too old."

"But he's only three years older than Faith,” Charity pleaded.

"Yes, and that's too old for you. And too old for your sister when it comes to the likes of him. Absolutely not. Your father will never allow it."

"But why, Mother? Mrs. McGuire is a good woman—"

"Yes, she's a good woman, who, I'm afraid, has let her son get the best of her. Ever since his father died, that boy has been nothing but trouble. He's fast, Charity, out for himself and willing to hurt anyone in the bargain. You can't possibly see or understand that now because you're only sixteen. But mark my words, your father and I are saving you a lot of heartbreak."

Marcy dabbed her forehead with the side of her sleeve while Faith scooped up carrots and plopped them into the boiling cauldron of stew. The kitchen was heating up, both from the fire of the stove and Charity’s seething glare.

"It's because of Faith, isn't it?" Charity demanded, slamming her fist on the table.

"Charity Katherine O'Connor!" Marcy whirled around, her tone scathing.

"It's true! You don't want me entertaining beaus because poor, little Faith sits home like a bump on a log and couldn't get a suitor if she advertised in The Boston Herald!"

Faith’s mouth gaped open and color seeped from her face. Her knuckles clenched white on the carrot she stabbed in the air. "I could have more beaus, too, if I flirted like one of the cheap girls at Brannigan’s!”

"Faith Mary O'Connor!” Marcy’s tone suggested sacrilege, her fingers twitching in the dough. The kitchen was deathly quiet except for the rolling boil of the stew. Katie began to whine, and Elizabeth bundled her in her arms, calming her with a gentle shush.

Charity leaned forward. Her lips curled in contempt. "You couldn't get beaus if you lined ‘em up and paid ‘em!"

"At least I wouldn't pay them with favors on the side porch …"

Marcy flinched as if slapped. "What?” she breathed. She turned toward Faith whose hand flew to her mouth in a gasp at the shock of her own words. Charity’s face was as white as the flour on Marcy’s hands. “With whom?” Marcy whispered.

“Collin McGuire,” Faith said, her voice barely audible.

It might as well have been an explosion. Marcy gasped. “Is this true, Charity? Look at me! Is this true?"

Charity's watery gaze met her mother's and she nodded, tears trickling her cheeks.

Marcy barely moved a muscle. "Faith, take the children upstairs."

Faith was silent as she picked Katie up to carry her from the room. Elizabeth followed with Steven behind. Charity was sobbing. Without a word, Marcy walked to the sink to wash the dough from her hands, then returned to her daughter's side, wrapping her arms around her. At her touch, Charity crumpled into her embrace like a wounded child. Marcy stroked her hair, waiting for the sobs to subside. When they did, she lifted Charity's quivering chin and looked in the eyes of the daughter-child who so wanted to be a woman.

"Charity, I love you. But that love charges me with responsibility for your well-being and happiness. I know you can’t understand this now, nor do you want to, but you must trust us. Collin McGuire is not the boy for you. He’s trouble, Charity. Behind that rakish smile and Irish charm is a young man whose only thought is for himself. I've seen you smile and flirt with a number of young lads, and I suppose with most young men, that's innocent enough. But not with him. It's stoking a fire that could seriously burn you. Now tell me what happened on the porch."

Charity sniffed, wiped her nose with her sleeve and straightened her shoulders. "He … he wants me to go to the social and he … Mother, it was only a kiss!"

"Yes, and I'm only your mother. Charity, I love you very much, but you’ll not be going to the social this Saturday nor anywhere else for the next month. You will come straight home after school each day and complete your studies. And you will have the chore of doing the supper dishes for four weeks." Marcy's tone softened. "But only because I love you."

Charity’s eyes glinted as she spun on her heel and headed for the door. "I could certainly do with a little less love, Mother," she hissed.

Marcy couldn't help but smile to herself. She had been sixteen once.


The door flew open and a blast of cool air surged in. Faith braced herself. Charity stood, wild-eyed, hands fisted at her sides. “I hate you!” she screamed. She slammed the door hard and leaned against it, her chest heaving from the effort. "I will never forgive you for what you did. You are a wicked, evil person, and I hope you die an old maid!" She lunged and knocked Faith flat on the bed, yanking a fistful of hair.

“Ow!” Faith hollered, pain unleashing her fury. She kneed Charity in the stomach and

rolled her over, pinning her to the bed. "Stop it, Charity––I mean it! I never meant to tell Mother anything, and you know it. But you were so mean and hateful, it just popped out.” Her breath came in ragged gasps. “Look, I don't want to fight with you."

Charity scowled. "Fine way to prove it. I still don't know if I'm going to forgive you. You've gone and ruined everything with Collin. It’s going to be twice as difficult to see him now." She tugged her arms free and pushed her away.

In slow motion, Faith sat on the bed, incredulous her sister would even entertain the thought of defying their mother. "But you're not supposed to. Not now, not ever––that's the whole point Mother's been making. Don't you understand that?"

"Yes, I understand that," Charity mimicked. "My head knows it, but I’m afraid my heart’s having a bit of a problem." She stood up from the bed and smiled. "But you don’t quite get it either, do you, Faith? I love him. It's as simple as that. Mother may forbid me from seeing him, but she can't forbid me from loving him." Charity posed in the mirror, then hugged herself and whirled around, her golden hair spinning about her like a fallen halo.

Faith’s jaw dropped. "You can't love him! You’re sixteen, and he’s twenty-one. You don't even know him!"

"Oh, yes, I do,” she breathed, “and he’s wonderful!” She gave Faith a sly smile. “You know the studying I've been doing at the library? Well, I've been studying all right––my favorite subject in the whole world."

Faith’s facial muscles slacked into shock, prompting a peal of laughter from her sister. Charity plopped on the bed and grabbed her hand. "Oh, Faith, he's amazing! He's funny and bright, and all I know is I'm happier than I've ever been.”

"You didn't look so happy on the porch this afternoon." Faith snatched her hand away.

A flicker of annoyance flashed on Charity's face and then disappeared into a sheepish grin. "Yes, I know, he can be maddening at times. It’s part of his charm, I suppose. But I can handle him." Charity stood and reached for the hairbrush. She began stroking her hair in a trancelike motion.

"You didn't appear to be the one doing the handling …"

The brushing stopped. Slowly Charity turned, all smiles diminished. "I know what I'm doing, and I'll thank you to stay out of it. I love him. That's all there is to it." Charity tossed the brush on the bed and turned to leave, but not before bestowing one final smile. "I trust you, Faith. We’re sisters. And sisters love each other, right?"

Faith gritted her teeth. The Bible she read to Mrs. Gerson every Saturday night claimed "love never fails." She certainly hoped not.

A Catholic View

After I sent in my request for A Passion Most Pure, the author emailed me. She said that she noted on my blog that I was Catholic and said that as her book was one of the few works of Christian fiction about a Catholic family, she was looking forward to hearing my opinion. Well, here it is.

First of all, the book is a story of a Boston Irish Catholic family in the year just prior to and all through WWI. It especially focuses the two oldest daughters, who are dating age and the parents, whose 20 year marriage is still full of passion, not only for each other but for God. To say that there is sibling rivalry between the girls is to put in mildly. However, in the end, everyone lives happily ever after--and much as I like happily ever after, given other things that happened in the book, this one was almost too happy--one of those "trust God and everything will be great in the end" type of things. I really liked the overall message of the book--that it is by following the rules set down by God for romantic relationships that we will achieve the relationships that give us the love we seek, including the passion. Disobey those rules and we open ourselves up to using and being used by others. I enjoyed the story and had it been about a Protestant family, I'd say it was about what I expected--an enjoyable light read. The characters were a little one-dimensional (the good sister had few if any bad characteristics and the bad sister had little good in her). The problem is that the book is about a Catholic family, yet for the most part, they acted like the main market for this book--Evangelical Protestants.

I hope that some of the problems with the book are due to the author's lack of familiarity with Catholicism especially as it was practiced at that time, rather than a deliberate choice to mis-represent it. She has a main character, one of the teeanged daughters of this devout Catholic family, going over to the house of the Protestant next door and reading the Protestant's Bible to her. That would not have happened. Catholics didn't read the King James Bible; the teenaged girl would have known that and if she forgot, her parents would certainly have reminded her. On both Christmas and Easter the family went to mass at noon--after breakfast. At that time you had to fast from midnite to receive communion at mass, and its likely the family would have wanted to go to communion on Easter especially. It's not inpossible that they went to noon mass, just unlikely. At one point the oldest daughter, the religious one, has a date on Friday nite. They were in Ireland at the time. The author mentions they were eating chicken. My guess is that in Ireland at that time, no restaurant would have served chicken on Friday because no one would order it--Catholics didn't eat meat on Fridays. Good Friday and fasting is metioned, but attending Stations of the Cross or Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday was not. AT one point a daughter was reading from her prayer book--but the scripture quoted was from the KJV, not the Catholic Douay-Rhiems.

There are other things that I wonder if were left out because they didn't agree with the author's religion, or the faith of the majority of the people for whom she is writing. At one point a character who is practicing his faith only to impress the family is told by the "good" daughter that he should go to confession. He refuses, saying that just because he is acting this way to impress the family doesn't mean he is going to tell his sin to any priest. I don't have any problem with that, after all, why should someone who has no faith confess his sins, and repent of them? However, there are a couple of occassions where members of the family sin seriously and repent, but no mention is made of them going to confession. Any decent Catholic of that era was in the confessional regularly and would have certainly sought it out in the case of serious sin. We hear the family praying on many occassions, but they never make the sign of the cross. The family is told that a member of it died, and no one prays for him.

As you'll note, I read Christian ficton on a pretty regular basis. I know I'm not their target audience but I have basically the same moral values, and those values are reflected in these books. I like happy ending stories, and these usually are. I like to see faith reflected in the lives of people, and Christian fiction usually does that. In some ways, in reading these books I feel like I'm visiting their churches with a friend. As such, I expect to hear things with which I disagree--if I agreed with them, I'd be Protestant, but I don't like to see my faith and Church knocked either. I wouldn't say that A Passion Most Pure is critical of Catholicism but all the characters who are just going through the motions of religion are Catholic. The Protestants who are mentioned are people of faith who spread the faith. The good Catholics really seem to act more like Evangelical Protestants who happend to go to mass than like Catholics.

I sent the author a copy of a draft of this review. She agreed with my comments about the Communion fast and the chicken on Friday. She also noted that she had been a practicing Catholic until her 30's. When she first told me that the book was about a Catholic family I wondered whether 1)they'd end up converting 2) they'd be rule-bound unhappy folks who constantly invoked the saints (except for the one smart person who had become Protestant in heart if not by formal conversion) or 3) they'd be portrayed as they were--as Evangelical Protestants who happened to go to mass, utter an occassional prayer to a saint and say the rosary. I wasn't expecting a true picture of Catholic spirituality, doctrine or practice so I can't say I was disappointed in what I read, and frankly of the three options, I guess the third option was the least objectionable. There didn't appear to be any deliberate attempt to make Catholicism look bad or misrepresent it, it is just that some things that could have been there weren't. I've said before I wish someone out there was writing Catholic fiction like this. This story, written by a Catholic,or taking into account the comments I made above could have been a four start pick for me; as it is, I'll give it three (out of five).

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