Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Angela's Song: My Review

About the Book:
Widow and mother of three, Angela 'Jel' Cooke is full of regret about her marriage to her late husband. Her close friends can see that she is keeping busy to avoid her pain. But no amount of cooking, baking, volunteering or late-night games of Yahtzee with her BFF can bring her any peace. When Jack Bartolomucci walks into her life, he challenges Angela to face her demons head on. What follows is a poignant, sometimes hilarious tale of hope and healing.

My Comments:
I really enjoyed reading this very Catholic romance.  That being said, this romance was VERY Catholic.  When looking at faith-based fiction, I always consider how much is too much.  As Catholics, indeed as Christians of any ilk (or for that matter people of any faith tradition), our faith is supposed to be part of who we are and an integral part of our lives; not just something we do for an hour on Sunday morning (or whenever we worship).  However, I'll admit that the folks who talk about Jesus all the time, who have houses that look like they robbed a church, or who otherwise stand out from the crowd due to public displays of faith make me uncomfortable.  Perhaps that's why this book often rubbed me the wrong way.

Since her husband's death, Angela has come to realize that her marriage left a lot to be desired.  Because she has volunteered to work with youth ministry at church (along with a bunch of other ministries, which are described), the parish sends her to a series of classes on The Theology of the Body, which for those not familiar with it, is a work by Pope John Paul II that deals with sex and intimacy in marriage and how it images the love of Christ for the Church.  It presents what are often seen as oppressive rules against fornication, birth control or homosexual acts in a positive way--as in doing right will give you far more happiness than doing wrong, rather than "you'll go Hell if you do wrong".  Of course as readers, we get to listen to parts of the class.  She falls for the teacher, and eventually they begin a very chaste courtship.  During the course of the story we learn that both Jack and Angela attend daily mass and pray the rosary regularly.  Angela starts the day with the Morning Offering.  She gets spiritual direction from her pastor and we sit in on a couple of sessions.  At one point Angela gets very mad at Jack, kisses him passionately (without his permission) and then slaps him.  The next day she won't go to communion because she needs to confess.  Every time they have a meal together, the fact that they say grace is mentioned.  Angela's husband had been run over by a drugged out man.  There is a scene in which she makes a statement in the courtroom at his sentencing.  She forgave him--as opposed to the family of the other victim who spewed hatred.  When Angela and Jack are having a major disagreement not long before the wedding, they go and pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and of course afterwards are able to work it out.  Their wedding night includes prayer.  In short, Catholicism  penetrates every part of this book and Creedon is clearly trying to both educate her readers about Catholic sexual morality  and convince them that it will bring happiness in this life, not just save them from damnation.  

Jack obviously cares a great deal for Angela, right from the beginning.  He is almost a God figure--he knows what's best, he insists they do things the right way.  He is there for Angela, but doesn't push himself on her.  He wants to take care of her.  As they grow closer, he insists on emotional intimacy and vulnerability.  He urges her to do things she needs to do to get her life in proper balance.  I read somewhere that it is our vocation as spouses to lead each other to heaven.  Jack is  clearly trying to do that to Angela.  

So, the final verdict?  Good story, lots of romantic tension since they did not kiss on the lips until after they were engaged, and then quickly decided to wait until they got married because it flared so much passion.  Characters were very religious people who sometimes didn't seem quite real--well, Angela seemed to struggle a little with Jack's limits on physical intimacy, but she wanted to do it right this time.  It is a very religious story that is clearly trying to teach about Catholic sexual morality and push Catholic spiritual practices.  In short, if you don't like religious fiction, this is far too religious to recommend to you.  If you are a firm believer in the sexual moral teachings of the Catholic Church and want to read a romance novel that comports with them, this will be right up your alley.  If you want to learn about the moral teachings of the Catholic Church, this is a pleasant wrapper, though I think you'd learn more reading some of the books listed  at the end of this book than from reading this story.  If you want to know how the average person in the pew lives Catholicism, well, maybe I'm not average, but I think these two are too good to be true.  

I got this book when it was an Amazon Kindle freebie though I'd like to thank Ellen Gable Hrkach for calling to to my attention.  Grade:  B--.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post.  Click here to sign up.

My Catholic book this week (I'm aiming for one/week, though I don't always manage) is Cravings, which is a book that approaches weight loss from the view of Catholic  spirituality.  A Snowglobe Christmas and Christmas Roses are inspirational Christmas romances.  Running Wild is a general market romance and How Lucky You Are deals with four female college friends years later.  

Cravings: My Review

About the Book:
In this first book on the topic written from a Catholic perspective, award-winning writer Mary DeTurris Poust offers personal, hard-won wisdom on the complex relationship between food and spirituality.

Mary DeTurris Poust draws on the rich appreciation of meals she first gained at the tables of her childhood in an Italian-American family, leading readers into reflection on the connections between eating, self-image, and spirituality. Like Geneen Roth in Women, Food and God, but from a uniquely Catholic point of view, Poust helps readers spot ways they use food to avoid or ignore their real desires--for acceptance, understanding, friendship, love, and, indeed, for God. Poust draws from scripture and the great Catholic prayer forms and devotions to assist readers in making intentional changes in their use of food. She also offers reflections on fasting, eating in solidarity with the poor, vegetarianism, and the local food movement.

My Comments:
This wasn’t the weight loss book I was looking for.  I want the one that tells me how I can lose weight while eating what I want when I want and not exercising.  If you are a publicist or author with such a book to offer, please be advised that if I find your system works, I’ll sing its praises daily.  

Yes, this is another eat less and exercise more to lose weight book.  So, what’s different about it?  Cravings looks at weight management from the perspective of Catholic spirituality.  Mary DeTurris Poust postulates that people who overeat do so to fill some void in their lives, a void that should be filled by God; in other words, getting your spiritual life in order is an important part of the weight loss process.  Most of the advice is pretty much the same as that given by other sensible weight control programs such as  eating slowly and mindfully, eating fresh whole foods rather than processed garbage and acknowledging your own self-worth.  It recommends a food and prayer journal.  What is different is the comparisons between ordinary meals and the Eucharist, which of course are accompanied by suggestions on how to make daily meals more like the Eucharist (which Catholics believe is the “Bread come down from heaven” which keeps  us from ever being hungry again).  Besides quoting popular authors like Leo Buscalia, Poust also quotes scripture and Church documents.

The book does not contain any diet or eating program.  It does not mandate any amount of exercise and does not promise any amount of weight loss. Rather, it is about changing your attitude about and approach to eating. Each chapter ends with  a set of reflection questions and action items.  For example, one of the questions in Chapter Two is “When you imagine yourself becoming the  person you want to be, what scares you the most?  How do you feel about unleashing your true self? What would it be like to value yourself with no conditions attached?”  The  “Practice” in Chapter Three is “Allow  yourself to eat one meal you really love with zero guilt. Savor every bite as a Roman would.  Go out to a restaurant or prepare it at home.  Eat slowly and with gusto.  Invite family or friends to join you.”  

I’ve read other places that Lent should be more than an excuse to lose a couple of pounds--it should be the opportunity for conversion in our lives, and that conversion is something that even the most devout among us need.  However, if you do need weight loss I think this book could be a wonderful Lenten guide since it calls not for just refraining from eating but also for conversion.  The book is eight chapters long so reading one chapter  per week and journaling on the reflection questions and following each chapter’s “Practice” should be a manageable Lenten practice that could result in long-lasting conversion.  

I’d like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B+.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review: A Snowglobe Christmas

About the Book:
Yuletide Homecoming by Linda Goodnight

Five years ago, Rafe Westfield broke his fiancée's heart when he left to join the military. Now the battle-scarred soldier is back in Snowglobe. Amy Caldwell tries to keep her distance, but the holidays, family and a sweet stray dog keep bringing her and Rafe together…maybe this time, forever.

A Family's Christmas Wish by Lissa Manley

Abandoned by her husband when she was eight months pregnant, single mother Sara Kincaid vowed to rely only on herself. But then she makes a deal with handsome widowed father Owen Larsen to provide babysitting services in exchange for his carpentry work on her inn. Can two pint-size matchmakers help them see beyond the past in time for Christmas?

My Comments:
Two short Christmas novellas set in a small Montana town.  Two heroines who were abandoned by their fathers and by their first loves.  Two women who learn that trusting God means trusting the men He sent into their lives.  No, the men aren't perfect either.  Rafe was the one who left Amy all those years ago, and now he hopes to win her back.  Owen's wife died, and he doesn't want to risk that hurt again.

These stories are very sweet and heartwarming.  They are also very religious.  The characters pray, go to church, and think about God's will for their lives.  Of course the characters are chaste, but they manage a bit of steam too.  All in all, an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, but nothing outside a pretty formula romance.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

If You Are a Proud Southerner--or Just Wish You Were

Beat the Black Friday Blues…order now at
Great gift for everyone on your Christmas List…especially Recommended for: 

Southern Fried Children
Southerners who live in the North
Old Women who have had Hot Perms
Teenagers who love horses
Anyone who has ever had a dog who loved them
Friends who love to read
Friends who should read
Favorite friends, neighbors and relatives
Everyone in The Long Blue Line
People whose name you drew randomly
People who have everything

***Author...Jimmie Moomaw... will sign and personalize all copies


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Review: Running Wild

Running Wild: The Men from Battle Ridge

About the Book:
Carlin Reed lives in fear, off the grid, moving from place to place. So Battle Ridge, Wyoming, a small town in the middle of nowhere, seems like a good place to lie low for a while. But after becoming cook and housekeeper to cattle rancher Zeke Decker, Carlin suspects that she’s made her first mistake. Rugged, sexy, and too distracting for his own good, Zeke is pure temptation mixed with something deep and primal that makes Carlin feel almost safe. Soon things are getting way too hot in the kitchen.

Zeke doesn’t challenge Carlin’s terms: cash, dead bolts, and no questions. It is easy to see that she’s a woman in trouble. Problem is, he’s so blindsided by his attraction to her he can’t think straight. Zeke tries to stay all business, no complications—but that game plan is sabotaged the second Carlin gets under his skin. And when her terrifying past follows her to the ranch, Carlin faces a heartbreaking choice: run away from the man she loves, or put him in the crosshairs of a madman.

My Comments:
This was a good story that kept me eagerly reading until the end; but I really didn't care for a lot of the language in this book.  I think that language also kept me from really becoming attached to the characters.  They used crude terms to refer to physical intimacy and body parts and while I realize that part of the reason for it was to show that the characters were  keeping their emotional distance, I still don't like it.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via Edelweiss.  I was not obligated to write a positive review.  Grade:  B-

Monday, November 19, 2012

Christmas Roses: My Review

About the Book:
Celia Anderson doesn't need anything for Christmas except a few more boarders, which are hard to come by in this small mining town. She certainly doesn't have a husband on her Christmas wish list. But when a wandering carpenter finds lodging at her boarding house, she admits that she might remarry if she found the right man--the kind of man who would bring her roses for Christmas. It would take a miracle to get roses during a harsh Wyoming winter. But Christmas, after all, is the time for miracles . . .

Amanda Cabot invites readers to cozy up with a romantic, heartwarming tale of the greatest gift of all--love.

My Comments:
I read this short Christmas novella (172 pages) in just a few hours.  It was a sweet Christmas romance, and while it had definite spiritual content and message, it wasn't really preachy and was an enjoyable way to spend the evening.  

Celia was widowed a few months ago.  While she had grown to love her husband and considered him a good man, she did not want to enter into another arranged or convenience marriage.  Mark came into town looking for the father who had abandoned his family years ago.  As they get to know each other love blooms...

Ok, it wasn't the most original plot in the world and one of them had to find God before they got to live happily ever after, but I already told you it was a Christmas story, so I doubt you ever wondered if Celia and Mark would get together.  

I'd like to thank Donna Hausler of Baker Publishing for providing me with a complimentary review copy of this book.  “Available September 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”  Grade:  B-

Book Review: How Lucky You Are

About the Book:
In the tradition of Emily Giffin and Marisa de los Santos, HOW LUCKY YOU ARE is an engaging and moving novel about three women struggling to keep their longstanding friendship alive. Waverly, who's always been the group's anchor, runs a cozy bakery but worries each month about her mounting debt. Kate is married to a man who's on track to be the next governor of Virginia, but the larger questions brewing in their future are unsettling her. Stay-at-home mom Amy has a perfect life on paper, but as the horrific secret she's keeping from her friends threatens to reveal itself, she panics. 

As life's pressures build all around them, Waverly knows she has some big decisions to make. In doing so, she will discover that the lines between loyalty and betrayal can become blurred, happy endings aren't always clear-cut, and sometimes you have to risk everything to gain the life you deserve.

My Comments:
Three college girlfriends, now in their thirties.  Waverly has lived with her boyfriend for years.  He's wonderful but they've never married.  Is there a reason?  Are they the real thing, or is it time to move on?  Her parents are dead, she has no close family.  She owns a bakery that is going broke.  Kate is a politician's wife, until he and his mistress end up on the evening news.  About this time Waverly learns that Amy's husband physically abuses her.  As we follow these friends through a few months of their lives we see them re-evaluate choices they have made, learn that others have problems too, and learn to count their blessings.  

My main problem with the book is that I didn't like any of these women. Somehow Kristyn Kusek Lewis failed to make them resonate with me.  I wasn't horrified or even upset when I learned Amy was abused; she was nothing but a statistic to me.  Waverly seemed to epitomize what is wrong with modern society--she's got a great guy but the lack of marriage (permanent socially recognized commitment) keeps her from really trusting him with her problems (or maybe she fails to commit because she fails to trust).  Kate too seemed almost a stereotype of a politician's wife, until she dumps him for cheating.  Again, Lewis didn't make me care about her.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of the book via NetGalley.  Grade:  B-

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post.  Click here to sign up.

This week I reviewed an audiobook--My Big Old Texas Heartache, looking both at the audiobook format and at that particular book.  A Cold Creek Noel is a romance.  Breath of Dawn is Christian romantic suspense.  Bible Adventures and Activities is a Catholic children's book that would be a great Christmas gift for a second to fourth grader.  

Bible Adventures & Activities

About the Book:
How do we pass on faith to our children, a faith which becomes integrated into their daily lives?

Introduce your children to the meaningful Bible stories contained within Bible Adventures and Activities, capturing their imagination and inspiring them for a lifetime. This is a great, affordable resource for parents and teachers alike. As a hybrid book comprising Bible stories and activities, your child or student can connect faith to everyday life.

Starting with God's creation and ending with Jesus' resurrection, each Bible story alternates with a corresponding set of activities to reinforce learning. The stories are written in an age-appropriate, easy-to-understand language. Colorful illustrations that are historically and culturally accurate accompany the text and activities for each story, providing helpful visual aids.

Activities include naming the creatures that God made, completing jigsaw puzzles of the Roman officer who had faith in Jesus, solving Moses' maze to the promise land, finding Bible characters in a word search, and unscrambling letters revealing what God has given David. By engaging in these stimulating activities, your child will be attentively focusing on the Bible stories while building creative and critical thinking skills.

Complete with a solutions manual, kids can participate in their own learning experience as they set out on the adventures of the Bible!

My Comments:
This one is a keeper and has earned the enthusiastic endorsement of my eight year old.  As a Catholic parent I have rejected some children's Bible storybooks or activity packs as containing material that goes against Church teachings.  I have accepted some other non-Catholic materials but have often found that their non-Catholic nature comes forth in the stories chosen, or more precisely, not chosen. I have found few non-Catholic children's Bibles that featured the Last Supper as one of the stories, and, if they tell the story about the Wedding at Cana, they downplay Mary's role.  

This book is published by Pauline Books and Media, a/k/a the Daughters of St. Paul so it is Catholic.  The stories do include the Last Supper and Mary is mentioned at the Wedding at Cana. 

Maybe I'm too Pollyanna-ish but I don't like it when books for young kids get too gory about the Crucifixion.  In this book, the Crucifixion is handled in a gentle way.  First there is a picture of Pilate judging Jesus and on those pages the story is told that Jesus was arrested and questioned by the Roman governor, who wanted to find a way to release him. It goes on to say that the crowd called for him to be crucified so Jesus was forced to carry his cross.  Despite all the good he had done, Jesus was crucified.  A few of his friends and his mother watched, weeping, until Jesus called out to his Father before dying.  The next two page spread has the activities, and on it you can see the backs of the crosses, and Mary weeping.  

Each story is followed by a two page spread with activities such as word searches, codes, mazes, or missing letter puzzles.  My eight year old is enjoying them.  

I highly recommend this book for the seven to ten year old age group.  Grade:  A.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Bible Adventures & Activities. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your family Advent activities and supplies this year, such as Advent wreaths and calendars for kids, as well as Christmas decorations such as nativity scene sets and religious Christmas gifts for the whole family.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Blog Tour Review: Breath of Dawn

About the Book:
Morgan Spencer has had just about all he can take of life. Following the tragic death of his wife, Jill, he retreats to his brother's Rocky Mountain ranch to heal and focus on the care of his infant daughter, Olivia. Two years later, Morgan begins to make plans to return to his home in Santa Barbara to pick up the pieces of his life and career.

Quinn Riley has been avoiding her past for four years. Standing up for the truth has forced her into a life of fear and isolation. After a "chance" first meeting and a Thanksgiving snowstorm, Quinn is drawn into the Spencer family's warm and loving world, and she begins to believe she might find freedom in their friendship.

The man Quinn helped put behind bars has recently been released, however, and she fears her past will endanger the entire Spencer family. As the danger heightens, she determines to leave town for the sake of the people who have come to mean so much to her.

Fixing problems is what Morgan Spencer does best, and he is not willing to let Quinn run away, possibly into the clutches of a man bent on revenge. But Morgan's solution sends him and Quinn on an unexpected path, with repercussions neither could have anticipated.

My Comments:
Kristen Heitzmann grabbed me from the very beginning of this book.  I don't know quite how she does it, but she had me feeling tension and dread throughout the book.  

I enjoyed Heitzmann's other books, A Rush of Wings and The Still of Night  (links are to my reviews) so being able to "catch up" on the characters was enjoyable; however Morgan is the only one with a major role in all the books and honestly, not reading them would not leave you without backstory you really need to understand this one.   

The faith elements in this book are important, but not in the usual manner of Christian fiction.  Much of the pain in Quinn's life was due to ministers who misused their authority.  I like the comparison Heitzmann made between Quinn's father and Morgan, and between the way Quinn saw God and the way Morgan did.  

I found some of the situations in the book to be somewhat improbable--I really didn't think a person in those situations really would have acted the way some of these characters did sometimes--but then I've never thought someone was trying to kill me.  

I'd like to thank the  folks at Litfuse for sending me a review copy of this book.  Grade:  B+

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Audio Book Review: My Big Old Texas Heartache

About the Book:
Dear Friends and Neighbors: How did life become so complicated? One minute I'm dating the hottest man in Dallas and the next I'm back in Cedar Dell, Texas, surrounded by grannies, gossip, and green bean casserole -- and helping my dad recuperate from a car accident. Did I happen to mention that I caused a scandal in town when I got pregnant at seventeen? No one has ever forgiven me -- not my hard-hearted father, my brother Mr. Perfect, or my pregnant-for-the-first-time-at-forty sister who's gone totally hormonal.
As if this weren't enough, who should also be back in town but Max Cooper, the former high school football star, who is my teenage son's father. And now he wants to date me?!
Who ever thought that so many new horizons and second chances would open for me during one long, hot Texas summer?

My Comments:
I didn't read this book; I listened to it.  I'm not generally an audio book person but I was in the library last Saturday and this caught my eye.  Since I've started visiting my Dad, who lives an hour and a half away, most Saturdays, I thought perhaps this would be a nice way to pass the car time.  

This is the story of Kate returning home to a small town where she is the object of gossip, until surprisingly, one revelation makes it all go away.  It is the story of her relationship with her father and her siblings as well as the story of her romantic life.  I think the author did a good job of weaving those threads together to create a story that was more than just a standard romance.  However, some of it was really overdone, I think.  I'll admit my experience in small town living is pretty limited, however, I find it hard to believe that she is still considered "The Cedar Dell Slut" seventeen years after having a baby out of wedlock, or that the name of her son's father was of all that great interest to all that many people.  I can't quite figure out why someone who felt as rejected by her father as she did agreed to give up her life to help him.  I'm not sure what she sees in Max Cooper either--I personally preferred the rich lawyer, who seemed a lot more interested in helping her than in taking care of himself.

What about the audio part?  Well, I doubt I'll ever become a real fan of audio books.  To put it simply, they just take too long.  I doubt it would take me much more than four hours to read this 352 page book; on CD it was over ten hour long.  While my husband is correct when he said "Even you can't read and drive at the same time", I don't like to leave books hanging.  Therefore, rather than waiting four more weeks to finish (3 hrs per week while driving to and from Mississippi) I sat and listened to it at home, and that just took too long.  

I do think that listening to someone read and change her voice a bit for each character added depth to the book that I wouldn't get reading it at my usual rapid pace.  Perhaps for a book that really had depth, that would make a difference.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Cold Creek Noel: My Review

About the Book:
Caidy Bowman had been the apple of her family's eye-until a devastating tragedy forced her to hide from the world. She was used to devoting her time to the animals on her family's ranch. Then widower Ben Caldwell and his two adorable children arrived in Pine Gulch, and suddenly, Caidy wanted more than a life in the shadows....  

As the town's new vet, Ben needed a place to stay for the holidays-and for his family to heal from their own loss. He absolutely wasn't looking for love again! But Caidy Bowman's sparkling green eyes and sweet smile touched Ben's broken heart, giving him hope for a new future. Their future-if he could convince the beautiful cowgirl that Christmas was a time for new beginnings....

My Comments:
This is a pretty basic romance novel, set at Christmas time.  It is set, as noted in the title, in Cold Creek, where RaeAnne Thayne has set several other books.  As noted above, Caidy has been mourning her parents' deaths and has basically put her life on hold since they died.  Ben recently lost his wife and has moved to Cold Creek to get away from the in-laws who blamed him for his wife's death and who were trying to turn his kids away from him.  Neither of them is looking for someone, both feel an instant attraction...  There are no major subplots to this book, what you see is what you get.  While he dreams of physical intimacy with her, we are never told that they are physically intimate.  Grade:  B-(about the best I give this kind of book).

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post.  Click here to sign up.

I'm getting back in the blogger grove again.  I read two short romance novels:  Jane's Gift and A Gift for All Seasons.    The Memory Jar is Amish romance.  Of a more serious nature is Exposed which is a story of sexual sins and conversion, written by a Catholic.  I'm giving away three copies of Pope Benedict's new book, Jesus of Nazareth:  The Infancy Narratives.  Entering is easy and I'd love to see you all win!  Finally, in the proud mama genre, I wrote about my daughter, who is a senior this year.

Review: Jane's Gift

About the Book:
A devastating house fire cost Jane Clark nearly everything: her husband, her confidence, and her looks, with the physical scars marbling her body. Now, two years later, she’s living and healing back in her childhood hometown of Lone Pine Lake. The upcoming holidays are the perfect opportunity to bring some Christmas cheer into her young children’s lives, starting with a visit to the firehouse, where her brother’s best friend has offered to help quell their residual fears.

Lone Pine’s resident playboy, fire captain Christian Nelson is happy with his single-guy lifestyle. He’s an everyday local hero, so he’s never wanting for attention around the holidays. But when Jane Clark shows up, Chris is immediately drawn to the beautiful widow—even though kids and commitment have never been his style.

Despite her brother’s warnings about his friend’s playboy status and dangerous occupation, Jane can’t help but fall for the gorgeous fire captain. The holidays are a time of new beginnings, but can two scarred people find the strength to let go of their pasts to live in the present, when a lifetime together might be the sweetest gift of all?

My Comments:
This was a pretty formula romance between two people who were both afraid to get involved, but who were so attracted to each other than they threw caution to the wind.  She had loved, and then lost her husband in a fire; his childhood home lacked loved, and so he has avoided marriage (and, he thought, hurt).

It was a quick easy read without substantive subplots.  They ended up in bed shortly after they got involved and the bedroom scenes are very romantic but not terribly graphic, though we are definitely not left outside the bedroom door.  My guess is that it is the first in a series as a couple of supporting characters got a few too many lines to just be dropped.  

I'd like the thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B-

She's a Senior!

Life is about to change around here.  My second child, my oldest daughter, is a high school Senior.  She's picked out a beautiful college about four hours from here, Northwestern Louisiana State University.  She likes the small size, the beautiful campus, apartment-style residence halls, historic town and being four hours away.  When we visited colleges last summer, I liked the fact that they were the one that sounded most likely to give her a substantial scholarship offer (though since she qualifies for our state scholarship program, her tuition is already covered).  Still, I'm going to miss her and I have to admit, some "what if's" are running through my mind. "What if" her brother was neurotypical? "What if" my late life surprise hadn't shown up?  Every year more friends become empty (or at least semi-empty) nesters; one is even a grandparent, yet my nest will be full for many years to come.  

Being this one's mother has always been fun, almost pure joy.  Everyone likes her. She's academically and artistically gifted.  She's even-tempered and has never pulled the emotional drama queen teen bit on us.  While in some ways we've found it hard to believe she is THAT good, in other ways she's been our reward for all the effort we've had to put forth with her autistic brother, effort that often seems to go unrewarded.  While my other two kids have always shown a marked preference for me, this is her Daddy's girl, but also one who likes everyone.  

The Senior Year started with Ring Day in May.  Around here, high school rings are a BIG thing.  The Catholic schools all have special Ring Masses where the seniors are presented their rings; the public schools have adopted "Ring Ceremonies" where the parents are invited to watch the principal present the kids their rings.  To my son, the highlight of that day was getting to leave early; for my daughter it was a special milestone to celebrate with parents and friends.

Our "Mother-Daughter Bonding Time" has changed; it used to be at 6:30 a.m. at the bus stop.  This  year however, the young man above (a neighbor, and as far as I know, just a friend) takes her to school most days; now "our" time is when we are actually awake--she is taking a dual enrollment class at the University of  New Orleans and I pick her up there two nights a week.  Next semester it sounds like she and a car-owning friend are going to pick the same class and my services will not be needed.  

I'm proud of her.  I'm excited for her.  I'm going to miss her.  

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Giveaway! Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives

About the Book:
The momentous third and final volume in the Pope’s international bestselling Jesus of Nazareth series, detailing how the stories of Jesus’ infancy and childhood are as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago.

In 2007, Joseph Ratzinger published his first book as Pope Benedict XVI in order “to make known the figure and message of Jesus.” Now, the Pope focuses exclusively on the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life as a child. The root of these stories is the experience of hope found in the birth of Jesus and the affirmations of surrender and service embodied in his parents, Joseph and Mary. This is a story of longing and seeking, as demonstrated by the Magi searching for the redemption offered by the birth of a new king. It is a story of sacrifice and trusting completely in the wisdom of God as seen in the faith of Simeon, the just and devout man of Jerusalem, when he is in the presence of the Christ child. Ultimately, Jesus’ life and message is a story for today, one that speaks to the restlessness of the human heart searching for the sole truth which alone leads to profound joy.

The publisher is allowing me to give away three copies of this book.  For your first chance to win, post a comment with your email address (or with a link to a profile where I can find it) telling me your favorite Christmas tradition.  For a second chance to win, post about this giveaway on your blog.  For a third chance to win, participate in the 11/11/12 version of Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival (you can combine two and three).  

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

My Review: Exposed by Shannon Deitz

About the Book:
EXPOSED is a true modern day love story between God and a girl and the enemy who wants to tear them apart.

Raped at seventeen and then again as a freshman in college, Shannon Deitz felt completely bypassed by love. Rebelling against the violent attacks on her body and struggling to quiet the pain through self–abuse, her feelings of worthlessness eventually became so palpable she could not fathom how anyone – most especially God – could love her. This only caused her to push deeper into her own torment.
Shannon Deitz spent nearly two decades of her life in the darkest valleys of self–destruction, believing she was unworthy of God's love. After witnessing as a child the sex and drug–induced downfall of her older sister, Shannon turned away from her Catholic faith and upbringing and found herself caught in a wild and carefree lifestyle. She drank, partied, and sought comfort in abusive relationships, only to be raped not once but twice–by two different men. 

"I endured countless, inexcusable trials walking further and further way from the embrace of Christ because I felt too unworthy to look back," Deitz recounts. "And worse, I didn't want to be like them, those who were self–righteous...holier than thou. I liked me." At least she thought she did. 

Then, at the age of 27, unable to fight the battle raging inside her any longer, she gave it all up. Face down on her bedroom floor with her life in shambles all around her, Deitz surrendered every aspect of her being to God. She gave up the self–judgment, the condemnation, the need to be better. She let it all go. And in that moment she finally understood the truth–that her life had never belonged to her. It had always belonged to God.

Exposed: Inexcusable Me . . . Irreplaceable Him is one woman's courageous journey down the path of spiritual self–discovery. Not only does this book expose the awful truths of physical and emotional abuse, but it also exposes the truth that, no matter how deeply our wounds may run, we will always be worthy of God's healing grace.

This book offers faith–based encouragement for teenagers and adults who have suffered physical or emotional abuse. Through the extremely personal, no–holds–barred account of one woman's journey down a self–destructive path, it addresses such issues as spiritual warfare, the need to be loved, and the need to relinquish control of one's self to God.

My Comments:
Shannon Deitz tells a powerful and very readable story.  She was the middle child in a middle class family, and I'm guessing she's about ten years younger than I am, meaning she was born in the early 1970's.  She sought the approval of her older siblings who, it turns out, were involved in drugs.  When in high school she was the perfect child on the outside but out of her parents sight she drank too much and was sexually active. Raised Catholic, she started attending a youth group at a Protestant church, but left when the youth minister tried to make her pick between his church and hers.  She went off to college where she continued to drink way too much and to give her body to the guys she dated.  She suffered through one date rape in  high school and another in college.  Counselling led to the sacrament of confession and then to more self-respect and more healthy relationships with men.  After marriage and motherhood she first becomes a youth minister and then a speaker and author.

Shannon tells stories of her experiences with demons and seeing a white light she knew was her miscarried baby.  She tells of feeling evil in some people.  She tells of a somewhat supernatural experience at World Youth Day.  In short, Shannon hasn't just experienced evil in the form of sin or lack of love, she believes she has seen it personified, present to her senses.

One of the Catholic bookstores for whom I review books always asks me about the Orthodoxy of the books they send me.  They didn't send me this one, a publicist with B&B Media Group did, however I will try to address that point.  Deitz was born and raised Catholic.  However, she claims her first powerful spiritual experience was in her aunt's Protestant church where she answered an altar call at the age of nine.  During high school she drew much spiritual nourishment and friendship from the youth group at a friend's Protestant church.  She quit going to Mass during college, except when she was at home and of course during high school and college she quit living according to any Christian beliefs.  When she felt the presence of demons she'd pray them away with the Our Father, Hail Mary and St. Michael prayers. The Sacrament of Reconciliation was an important part of her healing process.  While she touts Eucharistic Adoration, it is a Protestant minister with whom she discusses spiritual warfare on an ongoing basis.  She admits there is much she does not know about the Catholic faith, but she tries to learn.  

I read her story and think "but for the grace of God, there go I".  No, I never drank to the extent  that she did and luckily the guys I ran with did take no for an answer, but I made many of the same dumb choices she did, and I can spend the next few years praying that my daughter doesn't make those dumb choices--and realizing that she probably will make some dumb ones. 

I'd like to thank B & B Media Group for sending me a review copy.  Grade:  B+.
You can read more about Shannon and her ministry at Hopeful Hearts Ministry.

Monday, November 05, 2012

A Gift for All Seasons: My Review

About the Book:
Hiring Patrick Shaughnessy to landscape her new inn was strictly a business arrangement. Until April Ross got to know the war-scarred single father…and his irrepressible little girl. Patrick made it clear he wasn't looking for romance. Neither was April. But could she make him see that some risks were worth taking?
The lively, widowed blonde might be the most tempting woman Patrick had ever known, but the returning vet knew a happy ending wasn't in the cards. Still, that was before April started working her magic on his daughter…and on him. Maybe this Christmas was a time for new beginnings—if Patrick had the courage to go with the powerful feelings April had awakened in him….

My Comments:

Once upon a time we were with a bunch of friends who were married at the same time we were and who had kids about the same age as my older kids.  One night we got talking about what we would do if we lost a spouse--more specifically, whether we thought we would date/look for a new spouse, and if so, how, since we all pretty much said we didn't know anyone to whom we could introduce to a friend our age who was looking for a spouse.  I declared that I did not think I would date.  Simply put, I would not want to get emotionally involved with someone only to find out that he and my kids were not a good mix, and I wouldn't want to introduce my kids to a date before it got serious because I don't think a parade of men through Mom's life is a good thing for kids to see.    There would be time for dating once the kids were grown.

A Gift for All Seasons features Patrick, a single father who thinks much the way I do.  Whether he was using her as an excuse or genuinely felt that way, keeping his little girl from having her heart broken again was one of many reasons Patrick avoided a relationship with April, and in the end, of course, two girls had him wrapped around their fingers. 

I found Patrick to be very human; April seemed kind of good to be true.  Lili, his daughter, was adorable, but what four year old isn't?  

I enjoyed the story, but didn't like the way these folks who were barely getting to know each other headed to bed on the second date.  Of course it was great, but eventually she realized that was the main thing they had, and that she wanted more--no kidding.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  It was a sweet predictable read with some unnecessarily crude language (though not a lot).  I'll give it a B-

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Memory Jar: Blog Tour

Celebrate with Tricia by entering her Amish Kindle Gift Pack Giveaway and RSVPing to her Facebook party on November 7th. (And be sure to catch the fun video trailer or try your hand at one of the simple, keepsake crafts Tricia has put together on her website.)

One fortunate winners will receive:
  • A brand new Kindle Fire
  • Custom-made Memory Jar Kindle Cover
  • Amish-made decorative items {Wall hanging, horse/buggy and Amish houses}
  • The Memory Jar {Be swept away by this captivating series.}
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on November 6th. Winner will be announced at the "Memory Jar Author Chat Party on 11/7. Connect with Tricia for an evening of book chat, Amish trivia, and a live video chat! There will also be a chance to win gift certificates, books, and other fun prizes!

So grab your copy of The Memory Jar and join Tricia on the evening of the November 7th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book - don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun, RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 7th!

About the Book:
Every year, 30--40 young Amish men descend on the cozy little town of West Kootenai, Montana, arriving in the spring to live there for six months and receive 'resident' status for the hunting season in the fall. They arrive as bachelors, but go home with brides! Sarah Shelter has lived in West Kootenai for the last ten years and wonders if she will ever fall in love. Since the tragic death of her best friend, she carries her memories in a jar along with the small items connected to them. For just as long, she's also been carrying around her emotions instead of allowing them to penetrate deep into her heart. Now she's met a kind and gentle man who may be able to break down the wall. But can Sarah risk her heart to finally achieve her dreams?

My Comments:
Fans of Amish fiction will enjoy Trisha Goyer's newest addition to the genre.  Sarah is a little older than the average Amish single woman--an accident deprived her not only of her best friend but also of the guy she assumed she'd marry.  She has poured her heart into baking since then and is a valuable employee at a local eatery.  When the year's batch of Amish bachelors arrive, one catches her eye, but things don't always go as expected.  

One thing I like better about Christian romance when compared to many of the general market versions is that the Christian romances concentrate more on the relationship, and less on the physical attraction.  Sarah learns about Jathan's good qualities over time, particularly when faced with a crisis situation.  

Goyer's characters have to deal with the non-Amish world and I like the way she deals with that tension--not all characters handle it in the same way, things aren't black and white.

In short, The Memory Jar is an enjoyable piece of Amish fiction and those who enjoy these types of stories will probably enjoy it.  Grade:  B.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post.  Click here to sign up. 

This week I only had two posts.  I reviewed a Christian novel dealing with adoption and a Christmas romance anthology.  

Thursday, November 01, 2012

First Wildcard: Hidden in the Heart

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:

OakTara (September 15, 2012)

***Special thanks to Catherine West for sending me a review copy.***


Catherine West is an award-winning author who writes stories of hope and healing from her island home in Bermuda. Educated in Bermuda, England and Canada, Catherine holds a degree in English from the University of Toronto. When she’s not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking her Border Collie for long walks or tending to her roses and orchids. She and her husband have two college-aged children. Catherine is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America, and is represented by Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary.

Visit the author's website.


Everything Claire wants seems to be beyond her reach...

After losing her mother to cancer and suffering a miscarriage soon after, Claire Ferguson numbs the pain with alcohol and pills, and wonders if her own life is worth living. Adopted at birth, Claire is convinced she has some unknown genetic flaw that may have been the cause of her miscarriage. She must find a way to deal with the guilt she harbors. But exoneration will come with a price.

With her marriage in trouble and her father refusing to answer any questions about her adoption, Claire begins the search for her birth mother.

For the first time in her life, she really wants to know where she came from.
But what if the woman who gave her life doesn’t want to be found?

For all those who have loved, experienced loss, and lived life’s roller-coaster

Product Details:
List Price: $16.95
Paperback: 248 pages
Publisher: OakTara (September 15, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602903298
ISBN-13: 978-1602903296


Claire Ferguson stood outside Baby Gap, unable to look away from the Christmas display. Red velvet dresses and miniature-sized plaid waistcoats. Tiny suede boots, tiny patent leather shoes, tiny colorful striped hats and scarves.

Everything was tiny.

Claire stared at a little red dress, her eyes filling as she imagined and wished for the impossible.

People filed in and out of the store, smiling, laughing. Happy. An ordinary day filled with ordinary tasks and lists of things that must be accomplished. She had no such list—just an overwhelming need to pass time quickly on this day that was not so ordinary.

Claire steadied herself and glanced at her watch. Late afternoon. Shoppers jostled by, oblivious to her pain, all in a hurry to get their purchases and conquer the next store in the mall.

If only she had a reason to hurry.

‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ crooned from the mall loudspeakers. Claire bit her lip and cursed Bing.

Christmas would be merry when it was over.

Claire tightened her grip around the numerous bags she carried and slowly moved forward. Her heel slipped on a slick patch of tile. She regained her balance before falling, but the effort shook her and sent her pulse racing.

After walking a bit, her arms began to burn. Her overflowing shopping bags were heavy, but gave a sense of accomplishment. She’d gotten out of bed and had the purchases to prove it.

“Claire? Hey…yoo-hoo!” A woman’s greeting floated above the noise of the crowd.

Claire lowered her head and rummaged through her purse. She popped a few breath mints into her mouth and chewed as she weighed her options.

Pretend she didn’t hear. Pretend to be someone else. Or turn around and face the owner of the vaguely familiar voice still calling her name.

Curiosity won out and Claire turned.

“Hi, Claire! I thought that was you.” The woman waved and hurried over. Platinum blonde hair swooshed around her shoulders. “Long time no see. You do remember me, don’t you?”

“Um…” No. Claire pushed through the tangled cobwebs in her brain. “Ashley…right? High school?” The woman’s Colgate-bright smile never faltered. She could have been on the cover of a magazine. Or a toothpaste commercial.

“Amanda. Barrington.” Blue eyes twinkled as though she held some untold secret. “Gosh, it’s been a while. How are you? Have time for a coffee?”

“Coffee?” Claire screwed up her nose. Vodka tonic would be more enticing, but whatever. She didn’t have anywhere to be. Not really. “Sure.”

They settled around a table at Starbucks. Amanda insisted on buying, which was fine with Claire. A few minutes later she sipped an Espresso and managed a smile. “So. Amanda. What have you been up to since high school?”

“Oh, not too much, you know. Busy. You?”

Claire nodded. “Same. Busy. Very busy.” Busy not answering the phone. Busy surfing channels. Busy ignoring the whole world.

Amanda stirred another packet of sweetener into her Caffè Misto. “You got married a few years ago, didn’t you? You and James?”

A bizarre image of Guy Smiley from Sesame Street flashed before her and Claire wondered what she’d done to win a spot on This Is Your Life. She suppressed a giggle. That third drink at lunch probably hadn’t been such a great idea. “Yep. Me and James.”

“Any kids?”

As if on cue, a mother walked past them pushing a toddler. The kid looked her way and released a blood-curdling wail. Claire let out her breath. “Didn’t you go to Vassar?”

“Oh.” Amanda’s pretty smile petered out as she fiddled with the top of her cup. “Yes, but I dropped out. Had a breakdown of sorts.”

“Of sorts?” Maybe that was the same as being a little bit pregnant. A ripple of anxiety washed over Amanda’s face and Claire felt a pinch of guilt. “Hey, it’s cool. I’m the last person to be throwing judgment around.” She pulled at a loose thread on her sweater.

Getting out of bed this morning had been tiresome enough, she hadn’t given much thought to her wardrobe. Just grabbed a pair of yoga pants and a long sweater that covered her butt, and pushed her feet into a pair of Uggs. She took in Amanda’s pristine appearance, fumbled with her hair and tried to remember whether she’d even brushed it. “Are you…okay now?” Stupid question. Of course she was.

“Oh, yes.” Amanda answered too quickly. “Right as rain.”

“Funny, that.” Claire couldn’t stop a grin. “Right as rain. People always complain when it rains, don’t they? I mean, what’s right about it, really?”

Amanda didn’t hide surprise well. She opened her mouth but no words came. She nibbled on a bran muffin and dabbed cherry lips with a paper napkin. “Um. I heard your mother died. Last year, was it? I’m sorry.”

Of course she was sorry. Everybody was sorry. God was probably even sorry.

Claire studied her nails. The pink polish was chipped and faded, most of her nails worn down by her chewing on them. Another habit she couldn’t seem to break. “She had cancer. Only lived a few months after her diagnoses.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Yup.” Claire nodded, still pondering Amanda’s mysterious breakdown. She really wanted to ask how the accommodations were at the funny farm, because if things got any worse she might just be heading there herself. “So, what are you doing now, you know, now that you’re…okay?” Small talk seemed more appropriate.

Amanda perked up at the change of subject. “Oh, a bit of this and that. I’m planning a wedding, so you know how that goes. I got engaged a few months ago.” She waved a hand, a diamond the size of a small country in Africa almost blinding Claire. “You know, Claire…when I saw you, I remembered. You were adopted too, right?”

Hot liquid sloshed out of the small hole in the plastic lid and Claire put her cup down in a hurry. She dabbed at the mess and tried to think what an appropriate response would be. ‘None of your business’ probably wouldn’t go over so well.

“Too?” As Claire lifted the top off her paper cup to clean it, the lid on her memory slid off with it. “That’s right. You were the only other kid I knew who was adopted. Our mothers were friends for a while, weren’t they?”

“When we were in eighth and ninth grade.” Amanda’s eyes got misty. “I used to love going over to your house; you were so much fun. But then we…drifted apart I guess. You ran with the cool kids. I was a geek.”

“Oh.” Claire pushed down the lid of her cup and prayed she hadn’t been completely horrible to this poor girl who had apparently once been a friend.

“Anyway. I found my birth mother.” Amanda sat back, a small smile set in place. “That’s what I wanted to tell you. I thought you…well…that you would understand.”

“Your birth mother?” The words slammed into Claire, went straight for the gut, held tight and twisted. “No kidding?” She took another sip and hoped Amanda wouldn’t notice the tremor in her hand. “How?”

“It wasn’t that hard, really.” Amanda blinked and gazed across the crowded room for a moment. A bizarre heavy metal version of Jingle Bells blasted through the speakers and they shared a smile. “I suppose I just got tired of looking in the mirror and wondering. You know?”

Boy, did she know. Claire shrugged. “When was this?”

“Two years ago. I talked to my parents first, and they were okay with it. I wrote away for my non-identifying information and next thing I knew, Social Services was calling to put me in touch with her.”

“How’d that go?” A slow pounding began in her temples and Claire swallowed down the urge to puke. There was something wrong about this—having this conversation—today, on the anniversary of her mother’s death. Amanda of course, couldn’t know that. Couldn’t know that Claire had, of late, thought of doing the very same thing.


Searching for answers. Searching for truth. As if somehow knowing the circumstances concerning her birth would help her get her life back.

Thoughts of whether or not to proceed had become an obsession.

Maybe her best friend, Melanie, was right. “There are no coincidences, Claire. Only Godincidences.” Claire could hear her Melanie now. “It’s a sign. You should do it.”

The only sign Claire wanted to see was the one that said BAR.

She turned her attention back to her long lost friend and hoped she hadn’t missed anything earth shattering.

“We’re not that much alike, and after the first meeting…” Amanda prattled on. “But you know, did you ever think about it? I mean, your mom’s gone now and…”

“Me? Oh, no.” Claire checked her watch and frowned. She was supposed to meet James for dinner. “Hey, this was great, but…you know. My husband…we have plans.”

“Yes, of course. Well…” Amanda foraged in her Marc Jacobs bag and came up with a gold-embossed business card. “Give me a call sometime, Claire. And if you change your mind, you know, about searching, I’m here to help.”
 “Thanks. It was great to see you.”

“Merry Christmas.”

“Sure. You have a good one.”

Claire waded through the sea of shoppers until she reached the doors to the parking lot, and stumbled outside. Cold air brought clarity and she breathed deeply. She clasped her elbows and willed the trembling to stop, willed the world to stop spinning as she tried to get her bearings and headed in the general direction she hoped she’d parked.

She needed to get out of here. But to what?

Claire stopped walking and stared at the slush beneath her feet. The knot in her stomach pulled tight. James would be expecting her.

He wanted to talk. Again.

Claire had run out of words a long time ago.

She turned toward the warm building again, scanned the area inside the doors and spied a TGI Friday’s. It was a bit too early for food, but that didn’t matter.

She wasn’t planning on eating.

Two hours later, Claire peered at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Maybe she should call a cab. She splashed some water on her face, spritzed a little perfume on her neck and picked up her bags.

After waiting half an hour for a cab to come into sight, Claire’s feet were frozen. She gave up and headed back to her car. It would be fine. She hadn’t had that much to drink.

She maneuvered her car down the back roads as carefully as she could. Snow started to fall and got heavier by the minute. Claire shook her head and cursed the snow. Cursed herself for being so stupid.

Staying in bed would have been the more sensible solution.

She’d been doing better. Almost convinced she could make it through the holidays. Now all she could think about was Mom, and that stupid conversation she’d had with Amanda.

Pain rushed her with such force she considered pulling off the road to expel the liquid sloshing around in her stomach. She was re-living it all over again. That long, dark night when her world had shattered like a Christmas ornament dropped from the highest branches of the tree.

“She’s gone, Claire…”

They all thought death was something you could prepare for. Thought if you read up, prayed up and clammed up, it would all be okay.

Her father read books and retreated into silence.

James went to church, put them all on the prayer chain and talked to God.

And Claire just ignored it and hoped the day would never come.

But it had, come and gone, and taken her mother with it.

A blast of sirens jolted her back to the present. Her SUV swerved and she pulled on the wheel, slowing until the vehicle straightened. Obnoxious blue and red flashers intensified the pain in her head. Claire swore, flicked on her turn signal and pulled over. Great. Just what she needed to make a crappy day even crappier.

“Ya better watch out, ya better not cry…” The modern version of the classic blasted from the radio. “Ya better not pout, I’m tellin’ you why…” The Boss’s raspy voice belted out the warning.

Claire almost grinned. Too late, Bruce. Already on the black list this year.

Through the rear-view mirror she watched the officer step out of his vehicle. He sloshed through gray snow, his burly frame shadowed in the setting sun, but she’d recognize that bear-like gait anywhere.

Definitely not Santa Claus.

Claire shook her head, her throat drying up. Why did it have to be him?

She shoved her hand in her purse, pulled out her breath mints and put a few in her mouth, wishing she’d had a second cup of coffee. She chewed quickly and shoved another couple in just before he reached her car.

Robert Ferguson tapped on her car window, a scowl set in place. His dark blue jacket was zipped halfway, his badge glinting. Claire returned the scowl and prayed for an apocalypse.  He rapped again and Claire knew she had no choice. She pressed the button and the window slid down.

“Hello, Claire.” Her brother-in-law stepped back and folded his arms over his chest.

A blast of cold air smacked her face as she shifted to face him, tightening her grip on the wheel. “Robert. What a pleasant surprise.” Not. She forced a smile and thought about sending up a quick prayer, but what would be the point?

God wasn’t listening. Not to her.

Not anymore.

“You okay?” He studied her in silence, suspicion settling in his eyes.

Okay? She had a wet butt from falling in the parking lot, lived through that strange conversation with Amanda and had a case of major indigestion, but whatever. “Sure, I’m okay. Sweet of you to ask.” Her heart rate jumped in time to the music as he let out a sigh.

“Can you turn off the stereo, please?”

“Sure.” Claire blinked at the dash and squinted. The silver buttons were so small and they all looked alike. “Ah. There. Better?”

“Where’ve you been, Claire? You were driving a little erratically.”

“Erratically?” She widened her eyes, surprised he knew such a big word. “Oh, back there, you mean? Yeah, black ice. Thought I was done for.”

His scowl deepened, forming a crater above the bridge of his nose. “Black ice, huh? You were all over the road. Going too fast, then too slow…I’ve been following you about a quarter mile. I guess you didn’t notice.”

“Seriously? Guess I didn’t. You know, female drivers. We never check the rear view mirror unless we’re putting on lipstick.” Her palms grew moist despite the cold air flooding her car.

His bland expression told her he wasn’t buying it. “Have you been drinking?” Robert narrowed his eyes, leaning in a little closer.

Claire shook her head and the interior of the car spun. She covered her mouth with one hand and took a minute. “Of course not. I’m not stupid. I wouldn’t do something like that.”

“Claire,” he growled, placing his big hands on the ledge of the open window, “level with me.”

There might have been a hint of compassion in his eyes but it faded too soon. Claire stared at the falling snow and wondered what she’d look like in orange. “I…um…went out for lunch. I might have had a glass of wine. That’s all. Really. I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine.” He took a step back. “Want to get out of the car?”

“No,” she squeaked. “Come on, Robby. I just told you, I’m okay. Thanks for checking up on me though.” The back of her neck prickled and her throat constricted. He couldn’t possibly be serious.

Robert yanked the door open. “Get out.”
 “Please, Robert. I’m begging you. I’m not drunk. You can follow me home if you want to.”

“Get out of the car, Claire.” Anger dripped off his tongue and she knew she’d pushed his limit. Maybe if she pretended to pass out she’d wake up and find this was all some weird dream. Maybe she’d just pass out anyway.

“Claire. Today. If you wouldn’t mind.”

“I’m coming.” She struggled to stand, slipped on the slush beneath her and he caught her elbow before she fell. The towering pines across the road blurred into one big green snowball, hurtling toward her. She steadied herself and tried to focus on Robert. This was a nightmare. It had to be.

But no, she’d definitely had too much to drink and now she was busted.

Served her right.

There was always a price to pay.

She just wished Robert didn’t have to be the one to collect.

He barked instructions at her and Claire tried to follow what he was saying, but the buzzing in her ears made it hard to understand him. And she really had to pee.

“You’re a mess,” he muttered. He leaned forward, his eyes blazing into her. “You’re going to blow over, you know that, right?”

 “Maybe we should just skip it then.” Claire held out her wrists toward him and smiled.

 “Just get in the patrol car. I’ll drive you home.”

 “What? You’re not going to arrest me? You’re actually going to give me a break?” Claire stared in disbelief. “That’s…so…unlike you, Robby.”

He shifted and put his hands on his hips, his stance wide. “Claire, seriously? I’m trying to be nice here.”

 “Just spreading a little Christmas joy, huh?” Her eyes landed on the butt of his revolver, his hand dangerously close to it. Tears welled and one rolled down her cheek into the corner of her mouth.

“All right.” He zipped up his coat and propelled her toward the police car. “Let’s get you off the road before you kill somebody.”

“I don’t need your help, Robert.” She tried to squirm out of his grip but he was too strong.

“Do you want me to bring you in, Claire? Honestly, it would be a real pleasure. I’m only giving you a break out of respect for my brother. If you want to throw your life away, fine, I really don’t care, but don’t take him down with you.”

Claire whirled to face him. “Then arrest me! Go on. It’s what you’re supposed to do anyway, right?” The words flew out before she could stop them. She watched his mouth twitch.

“Get in the car.” His glare was enough to silence her into submission.

Claire climbed into the back of the black and white patrol car. It reeked of sweat, cigarettes and coffee. She leaned her head against the plastic-covered seat and waited. Out of the corner of her eye she saw him retrieve her purse from her vehicle while he talked on his cell phone. Her heart raced as she tried to second-guess him. He wasn’t going to arrest her. That was the good news.

Maybe she could get home without her father or James finding out. She’d sleep it off and be fine in the morning.

And never, ever, do anything so stupid again.

Done with his call, Robert tossed her purse onto the seat beside her and slammed the door. The car shook from side to side. Claire winced and closed her eyes. She pulled her knees up, resting her boots on the divider as he pulled back onto the road. “Excuse me?” She rapped on the plastic glass between them. “Can you maybe have my car taken home? There’s a lot of stuff in there. I just went shopping.”

“Before or after you stopped at the bar?”


“Relax, Claire.” He cracked his gum and sniffed. “There’s a tow-truck on the way. It’ll be impounded. You’ll get it back eventually.”

“Stop kidding around. You can’t do this to me. Come on…”

He slowed at a stoplight along Main. Claire inched down on the seat, searching the faces on the sidewalk. “Where are you taking me? The exit is the other way.”

“I know where the exit is.”

He hated her. He was going to arrest her after all.

Claire swallowed back nausea and chewed on a torn fingernail. “So, um…how’s the family?”

Robert’s shoulders stiffened and he cleared his throat, glancing back at her through the mirror. “Claire?”


“Stop talking.”

“Sorry.” Claire foraged through the jumbled mess of things inside her purse and came up with a lipstick. Didn’t bother checking the color. After applying a generous amount to her dry lips, she smacked them together. Bad idea. Her stomach rolled again and she popped a couple more mints in her mouth.

When he parked the car at the back of the precinct, Claire glared at the three-story gray building, crumbling in places. She swore it would fall down one of these days. With any luck Robert would be inside when it did.

“You said you were going to take me home.” Claire stared at the back of his big head, watching a fly settle on the short dark hair. Maybe she could smack it for him.

He cleared his throat and she pushed aside the idea.

“You’re staying at your dad’s house now, right?”


“That’s what I thought. That place is at least a half hour out on the other side of town. That would be going way beyond my family obligations. You can wait here until somebody comes for you.”

“Who’s coming? Who did you call?” Claire pushed herself out of the car but he ignored her and escorted her through the back doors. She walked slowly, determined not to slip. Or fall over. They passed a couple of officers in the hall. Claire saw some raised eyebrows and one of the men let out a low whistle. Wonderful. She’d be the talk of small town Connecticut within the hour.

Robert stopped outside a small office at the far end of the corridor. He kicked the door with his black boot and it swung open. He walked in, checked out the room and glanced her way. “Take a seat. Nobody will bother you. Unless I tell them to.”

Claire’s feet wouldn’t move. “Look, I can just call a cab…I…”

“Nope. You’ll stay right here until you sober up.”

She marched to the desk, threw her purse down and turned on him. “You can’t just shove me in here, Robert! I know my rights! Which you haven’t even read me by the way, and…”

“Claire.” He breathed out her name, sounding tired and beyond reasoning. “Sit down, and for the last time, shut up.” Fury ran across his face. “I told you, I’m not arresting you. But I should be. You should be thanking me, not yelling at me like you haven’t done anything wrong.” Robert stood near the door, his eyes softening. “You’ve got to start dealing with life, Claire. You can’t go on like this.”

She pushed hair off her face and pinched her lips together. “Where do you get off telling me how to ‘deal with it’?” Familiar anger coiled inside her stomach and the dull ache returned. She sank into the chair behind the desk. “First my mother dies; then I have a miscarriage. Why does everybody expect me to just forget, just get over it?” Claire leaned back and closed her eyes.

“That’s not what I meant. But it’d be nice if you started acting more like a mature adult instead of a spoiled, out-of-control teenager.”

“Are you done?” She put her head in hands.

“I’ll be back in a while.”

“Fine.” Claire gazed up at him, unsmiling. “Thank you.”

“Sure. Whatever.” He turned and slammed the door behind him. The noise reverberated around the small room and pierced through her skull.

Claire rubbed her temples and wondered if she could down a couple of Tylenol without water. Robert was probably enjoying every minute of this. He’d hold court later at his favorite watering hole and regale his buddies with the story of how he finally one-upped his wayward sister-in-law.

Claire groaned at the thought. Since Mom’s death, things just seemed to go from bad to worse. Her family, her husband, the whole world was against her. Every single day she had to endure some trial.

She slumped down, put her head on the desk and took a deep breath.

Robert was right though. This time.

She was guilty. She should have known better than to drink and drive. But once she got started, it was so easy to keep them coming. She just wanted to get rid of the pain. But whatever the amount she’d consumed today, it wasn’t enough.

It was never enough.

My Comments:
I wonder what it is like to be adopted--to know that however much you belong to the heart of those you call parents, that you did not spring from their loins?  I have one friend who was adopted and when asked if he has ever thought of searching for his real parents, replies that he knows who his parents are, and that who gave birth to him, or fertilized the egg, is not relevant to his life.  That is not the attitude of the the heroine of Hidden in the Heart.  She loves her adopted parents and knows she has a good life, but after a year that includes a miscarriage and the death of her mother, Claire seeks knowledge about her past as a way to heal in the present.

I originally thought the book was self-published as the typesetting is similar to many self-published books I've read.  However, I looked it up, and OakTara is not a self-publishing company, but rather a print on demand publisher which does not charge fees to authors.

The story itself is good, though things wrap up a little too neatly.  Grade:  B

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