Saturday, June 29, 2013

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; some folks are forgetting that! 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.

Only two posts for me this week.  Sleeping in Eden is a (slightly) Christian novel.  The Lady of Guadalupe is a children's book.  

Children's Book Review: The Lady of Guadalupe

About the Book:
Recounts the appearance of the Lady of Guadalupe to a poor Indian farmer in Mexico in 1531.

My Comments:
That's got to be one of the shortest book descriptions I've ever used--but then, it is very descriptive.  Tomie de Paola, with illustrations in the style shown on the cover,  tells us the story of the poor man from Mexico to whom the Blessed Mother appeared.  The writing level appears appropriate for a third or fourth grader.  It is on the long side to be read aloud in one sitting, and does not (at least in the galley I have) appear to have logical chapter divisions.  

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: Sleeping in Eden

About the Book:
She knew what he wrote . . .
One little word that made her feel both cheated and beloved.

One word that changed everything.


On a chilly morning in the Northwest Iowa town of Blackhawk, Dr. Lucas Hudson is filling in for the vacationing coroner on a seemingly open-and-shut suicide case. His own life is crumbling around him, but when he unearths the body of a woman buried in the barn floor beneath the hanging corpse, he realizes this terrible discovery could change everything. . . .

Years before Lucas ever set foot in Blackhawk, Meg Painter met Dylan Reid. It was the summer before high school and the two quickly became inseparable. Although Meg’s older neighbor, Jess, was the safe choice, she couldn’t let go of Dylan no matter how hard she tried.

Caught in a web of jealousy and deceit that spiraled out of control, Meg’s choices in the past ultimately collide with Lucas’s discovery in the present, weaving together a taut story of unspoken secrets and the raw, complex passions of innocence lost.

My Comments:
I'm usually a big fan of Nicole Baart's writing, and while I won't say this book disappointed me, I will say it is my least favorite of those I've read.  Baart noted that the book took her over ten years to write; she started it and then life (including other books) got in the way.  Perhaps her writing style has changed through the years; perhaps the story didn't grab me the way her other books did; all I know is that while Sleeping in Eden is a good book, it is not the extraordinary book Baart is capable of writing.  

Sleeping in Eden is a two-threaded book.  One thread, that of Lucas, takes place in the present day.  Lucas is trying to learn who the young woman found in the barn is.  Meg's thread is set ten years ago.  In the end, they come together.  The only question to resolve is how.   

One thing I really liked was Lucas' choice near the end of the book to crawl in bed with his wife and hold her, even though she said she didn't want that.  He made the choice to love her, he made the choice to reach out and risk rejection.  

The book is published by Howard Books which publishes faith-based books.  However, this is not your typical Christian novel.  There are no long prayers, no salvation scene, no calls for conversion.  The people are definitely not too good to be true.  They don't find God and live happily ever after.  Other than dealing with fidelity and love in marriage I can't think of anything particularly Christian about the book.  

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

Saturday, June 22, 2013

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; some folks are forgetting that! 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.

Lots of blog posts this week; most were written and prescheduled some time ago.  Somewhere Between Luck and Trust was a wonderful, highly recommended novel.  Willowleaf Lane is a pretty basic romance.  Barefoot Summer is a Christian romance.  Slow Moon Rising is a Christian novel.  Imitating Mary is a Catholic book about how imitating Mary, as the author sees her, leads us to Christ.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Somewhere Between Luck and Trust: My Review

Somewhere Between Luck and Trust (Goddesses Anonymous)

About the Book:
Christy Haviland served eight months in prison, giving birth behind bars to the child of the man who put her there and might yet destroy her. Now she's free again, but what does that mean? As smart as she is, a learning disability has kept her from learning to read. And that's the least of her hurdles. 

Georgia Ferguson, talented educator, receives a mysterious charm bracelet that may help her find the mother who abandoned her at birth. Does she want to follow the clues, and if she does, can reticent Georgia reach out for help along the way? 

Both women are standing at a crossroads, a place where unlikely unions can be formed. A place where two very different women might bridge the gap between generations and education, and together make tough choices. 

Somewhere between the townships called Luck and Trust, at a mountain cabin known as the Goddess House, two very different women may even, if they dare, find common ground and friendship.

My Comments:

As I said when I reviewed the first book, in this series, One Mountain Away--I LOVED this book.  Grade A.

Ok, I'll admit that the premise was a little far-fetched, but the details were not.  Christy was abandoned by her parents when she became pregnant (actually before then emotionally).  She couldn't read.  Her boyfriend was bad news.  That's probably the life story of over half the women in prison today.  I loved watching her get the help she needed to get her life back on track.

The Goddess house was donated by a woman who, in the final months of her life, realized she wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  She got some friends together to run it and it was to be a haven for women who needed a leg up in life.  I suspect Christy is just the first in a long line of stories of help and healing.

The book is series fiction and I think a little more back story would have helped.  It has been a long time since I read One Mountain Away, and I couldn't remember how everyone fit together.  Still, most of the characters who didn't fit weren't important to this story and those who haven't read it will wonder why they are mentioned at all here.

As someone who reads way too many romance novels, one thing I liked about  this book is that one of romantic couples was older--my age.  No, I'm not looking for a new romance in my life--I'm very happy with the one I have, but it is hard to find books about women my age who aren't embittered about aging or acting like teenagers.  Georgia is almost fifty and has reached the point in life where she is comfortable in her own skin and yet when she receives a clue about her birth mother, she wants to learn more. Who was this young woman, and why did she do what she did? 

In a lot of ways the book is a study in contrasts.  Christy can't read, but she's a gifted artist.  Two babies are involved; one loved, the other not, yet there is similarity. Analiese is a minister, but as far from the condemning self-centered person Christy's minister father was as possible.  Christy's old love was out for himself; her new love looks out for her.

The book is general market women's fiction, not Christian fiction, and in a lot of ways organized religion gets a bad rap here.  One of the real "bad guys" in the book is Christy's minster father--but as a study in contrast, when the chips were down, the church's deacons stuck by Christy.  Analiese is a minister but she listens, she doesn't preach.  Still the goddesses (no none of them think they are divine) feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, teach the ignorant...

Besides the heartwarming story of Christy getting her life together, the book includes two romances and two mysteries.  What more could you want?  

My birthday came early this year.  This book goes on sale on my birthday, which is coming soon, but I got to read it back in March, via NetGalley.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Review: Willowleaf Lane

About the Book:
Sometimes going back is the best way to start over.

Candy shop owner Charlotte Caine knows temptation.To reboot her life, shed weight and gain perspective, she's passing up sweet enticements left and right. But willpower doesn't come so easily when hell-raiser Spencer Gregory comes back to Hope's Crossing, bringing with him memories of broken promises and teen angst. A retired pro baseball player on the mend from injury-and a damaging scandal-he's interested in his own brand of reinvention.

Now everything about Spencer's new-and-improved lifestyle, from his mission to build a rehab facility for injured veterans to his clear devotion to his preteen daughter, Peyton, touches Charlotte's heart. Holding on to past hurt is her only protection against falling for him-again. But if she takes the risk, will she find in Spencer a hometown heartbreaker, or the hero she's always wanted?

My Comments:
I enjoyed paying another visit to the folks in Hope's Crossing.  This time the main characters are two young adults who grew up together.  His dad died when he was young; his mom was a drunk.  He worked three jobs in high school to keep food on the table.  Her dad "adopted" him and she used to help him with his homework, but she was the insecure fat girl so things never went further, even though she had a tremendous teenage crush on him.  Even though he's been part of a recent scandal, she's willing to give him the benefit of the doubt--but not her heart.  The more time he spends with her, the more he realized he wants her  heart.

The story touches on eating disorders, both compulsive overeating and anorexia, and how they are each in their own ways methods of self-comfort.

Like the other books in the series, this one contains one steamy scene that stops short of consummation.  Actually one thing I didn't like about this book is that Charlotte calls her virginity "inconvenient" and wishes that she'd had someone relieve her of it--but not in the sense that she wishes she'd had someone love her or even like her.

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

Reviews of Other Hope's Crossing Books:
Currant Creek Valley
Laurel Falls
Woodrose Mountain
Blackberry Summer

Blog Tour: Barefoot Summer

About the Book:
In the years since her twin brother’s drowning, Madison McKinley has struggled to put it behind her. Despite the support of her close-knit family and her gratifying job as a veterinarian in their riverside town, the loss still haunts her.

To find closure, Madison sets out to fulfill her brother’s dream of winning the town’s annual regatta. But first she has to learn to sail, and fast.

Beckett O’Reilly knows Madison is out of his league, but someone neglected to tell his heart. Now she needs his help—and he’ll give it, because he owes her far more than she’ll ever know.

Madison will do anything—even work with the infamous Beckett O’Reilly—to reach her goal. And as much as she’d like to deny it, the chemistry between them is electrifying. As summer wanes, her feelings for him grow and a fledgling faith takes root in her heart.

But Beckett harbors a secret that will test the limits of their new love. Can their romance survive summer’s challenges? And will achieving her brother’s dream give Madison the peace she desperately seeks?

My Comments:
One thing I've seen a lot of spiritual writers say is that we all have a God-shaped hole in our heart.  Some of us allow God to fill it; others try sex, alcohol, drugs, work, or even seemingly good things like our children our our spouse.  Madison blames the God-shaped hole in her heart on the death of her twin, and blames the death of her twin on God.  The hole in her heart is giving her nightmares and otherwise interfering with her life, but she thinks that living her twin's dream will fill the hole.  Of course, she is wrong.  

While Madison is part of a large loving family headed by the mayor of the town, Beckett is the son of the town drunk, a former "bad boy" who has done jail time.  He has filled the God-shaped hole in his heart with God and now is looking for human love--but he isn't sure he is lovable.  

This book deals with both the romance between Madison and Beckett as well as Madison's attempt to fill the God-shaped hole in heart.  I enjoyed the story and give it a B+.  I'd like to thank the folks at Litfuse for sending me a complimentary review copy.  

Denise Hunter is celebrating her new Chapel Springs Romance series with a Summer Fun Giveaway. The first book, Barefoot Summer, is already a favorite with readers. “Hold-your-breath romance, heartache, and laugh-out-loud moments. It’s more than a good read. It’s a delight.” -- Lisa
Summer: it’s all about sunny skies, star-gazing, swimming, spending time with loved ones, and living as if a small part of the weight of the world has been lifted off your shoulders.

Get ready for some serious summer fun with Denise’s 12-Day Summer Sun giveaway. From June 10-21, keep your computer near as you head to the lake or your friend’s barbecue because Denise will be giving away a summer essential each day!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Blog Tour: Slow Moon Rising

About the Book:
Cedar Key has long been a place of rest, healing, and release in the Claybourne family. But it might also be the birthplace of a lie that is poisoning the family from within. Join the strong Claybourne women--Anise, Kimberly, Jayme-Leigh, Heather, and Ami--as they each confront the truth. Their unique paths will lead them through heartbreak, misunderstandings, and pain. But their journeys will also bring reconciliation with each other and renewed love in their own lives.

In her lyrical, evocative fashion, Eva Marie Everson weaves a tapestry of complicated relationships that, when complete, reveals the most beautiful work of art there is--family.

My Comments:
Families are funny things; we (hopefully) love each other and are there for each other, yet because of that love, no one can hurt us quite like family can, whether they do it on purpose or not.  Anise is in her  late 30's.  She's never been married and the men she dates tend to be noticeably older than she is.  She admits it is because she felt abandoned by her father and is probably looking to replace him. Ross is a widower who is 20 years older than she is.  They meet when he is on vacation and for some reason some of his daughters are  less than pleased when he brings Anise home.  In this book we watch as Anise becomes a part of the family, as hurts are aired, as healing occurs and challenges are met.  

The book is Christian fiction.  I wouldn't call it preachy, and think that most who like "women's fiction" would  like it, unless any mention of religion is too much.  I enjoyed it and give it a B+

I'd like to thank the publisher for providing a complimentary review copy. This book will be available June 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Imitating Mary: My Review

About the Book:
In an age of much mothering advice but few admirable role models, award-winning Catholic journalist Marge Fenelon delves into ten instances--and corresponding virtues--of Mary's life that reveal her as the ultimate example and companion for the modern mom.
In this first and only book to offer Mary's life as a template for living as a faithful Catholic mother today, the Mother of God is presented as the ideal guide for the vocation of Catholic motherhood. A new addition to the Book series, Imitating Mary unpacks Scripture and Catholic tradition to examine ten biblical climaxes, including Mary's betrothal to Joseph, the Annunciation, the scene at the foot of the Cross, and Pentecost. In these scenes, Marge Fenelon introduces readers to a Mary who faced challenges familiar to every mother--impatience, frustration, sacrifice, and grief--and demonstrates how, in the face of these ordinary obstacles, Mary's response was an extraordinary example through the virtues of patience, joy, trust, and faith.

My Comments:
As a blogger, there are times I have to decide if I am going to write a negative review, or just get rid of the book and forget I ever saw it.  Sometimes the decision is made by those who sent me the book--they want a review of some sort, so they get one.  Sometimes I make the decision and that's why I am writing a negative review of this book.  Why am I bothering?  Because when I went to Amazon I could only find four and five star reviews.  That should tell you that there are people, (even people whose blogs I read) who have read this book and liked it, so I'm not going to tell you it was a bad book or that no one should read it. Rather I'm going to tell you what I didn't like, so that if you think like me, you can decide whether this is the book for you.

I guess it comes down to whether "sinless" means "perfect".  If I miss a chance to do something good, have I sinned?  Does the fact that Mary never sinned mean that she was all loving, all giving, all,well, perfect?  Because that's what this book paints her to be.  For example, when talking about the wedding at Cana, Marge Fenelon talks about Mary always being concerned about others, noticing what they need. She said  that Mary must have been one of the most honored guests there because she was so kind, so joyful, so full of hope, so loving.

Fenelon makes some assumptions about Mary that appear to be erroneous and/or without much scriptural basis.  For example, she talks about Mary dancing with Jesus at the wedding at Cana, noting that it would have been a noble and beautiful thing for a son to have danced with his mother.  While today, our  "normal" dances are a male and a female holding each other and,  in some fashion, moving to music, Jewish folk dances are traditionally single-gender affairs, or group functions.  It was far more likely that Jesus danced with Peter, James and John than with Mary.  Marge Fenelon then goes on to talk about how the dances Jesus and Mary did would have been holy and wholesome and how it is good for us to enjoy pastimes, it is the kinds that matter. She talks about how they have family movie night, and how she and her husband used to watch more adult fare after the kids went to bed until one of the kids told the other that the parents wanted to see a movie that was not good for them to see--that the parents were trying to protect them.  She then decided that if it wasn't good for the kids to see that stuff, it wasn't good for her and her husband.  I respect her right to make that choice, and she did say that the movies weren't sinful, but really??  The last movie I watched was Les Miserables and it definitely wasn't for kids (see my review) but to say it wasn't wholesome for adults?

In short, I found this book to make Mary too good to be true rather than an approachable mother.  I didn't finish it so I won't give it a grade.

More Whiskey Creek Books

About the Book:
Simon O'Neal's causing trouble again. And it's up to Gail DeMarco to stop him.
Gail DeMarco left Whiskey Creek, California, to make a name for herself in Los Angeles. Her PR firm has accumulated a roster of A-list clients, including the biggest box office hit of all—sexy and unpredictable Simon O'Neal. But Simon, who's just been through a turbulent divorce, is so busy self-destructing he won't listen to anything she says. She drops him from her list—and he retaliates by taking the rest of her clients with him.

Desperate to save her company, Gail has to humble herself by making a deal with Simon. The one thing he wants is custody of his son, but that's going to require a whole new image. He needs to marry some squeaky-clean girl who'll drag him off to some small, obscure place like Whiskey Creek….

Gail's the only one he can trust. She agrees to become his wife—reluctantly. But she isn't reluctant because he's too hard to like. It's because he's too hard not to love!

About the Book:
You're invited to a wedding in Whiskey Creek, Heart of the Gold Country

Unfortunately, it's the wrong wedding. Olivia Arnold is arranging the festivities—and it's the hardest thing she's ever done. Because she should be marrying Kyle Houseman. They were together for more than a year…. But her jealous sister, Noelle, stole him away—and now she's pregnant.

All their friends in Whiskey Creek know as well as Olivia does that Kyle's making a mistake. His stepbrother, Brandon, knows it, too. But Kyle's determined to go through with it, for his child's sake.

Olivia's devastated, but surprisingly Brandon—the black sheep of the family--is there to provide comfort and consolation. The intensity between them, both physical and emotional, shows Olivia that maybe Kyle wasn't the right man for her….

But is Brandon?

My Comments:
I've been reading my way through the Whiskey Creek books as they have become available on NetGalley.  Last week When Lightning Strikes showed up as as "special" on one of the Kindle newsletters to which I subscribed so I decided to grab it.  I also remembered that When We Touch was on my Kindle, as it had been a freebie at some point.  

Like the other books in the series (you can click on Brenda Novak's tag below to read about them) these books feature a large cast of characters who grew up together; however in both these books the extra characters play a small part, and, as I believe these books were the first, there isn't really any unknown backstory.  

If you are looking for a pleasant afternoon diversion either one of these will fill the bill.  Neither tackle difficult subjects and both have happy endings.  Grade B.  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

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; some folks are forgetting that! 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.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there.  Tonight at mass Father read some statistics about fathers and faith.  While I don't remember the exact numbers, the bottom line is that kids are much more likely to practice their faith as adults if their fathers practiced it.  Our culture today all too often makes fathers expendable  or disposable.  We've de-stigmatized unwed motherhood and as a result, made it seem like fathers are an optional accessory for the nursery.  Happy Father's Day to those men who show the love of God to their children and other children.  

This week I reviewed two Christian novels.  Sweet Mercy is set during the Depression.  That Certain Summer is set in the modern day, and is about two sisters developing an adult relationship with each other and with their mother.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review: Sweet Mercy

About the Book:
When Eve Marryat's father is laid off from the Ford Motor Company in 1931, he is forced to support his family by leaving St. Paul, Minnesota, and moving back to his Ohio roots. Eve's uncle Cyrus has invited the family to live and work at his Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge. 

St. Paul seemed like a haven for gangsters, and Eve had grown fearful of living there. At seventeen, she considers her family to be "good people." They aren't lawbreakers and criminals like so many people in her old neighborhood. Thrilled to be moving to a "safe haven," Eve is blissfully unaware that her uncle's lodge is a transfer station for illegal liquor smuggled from Canada. 

Eve settles in to work and makes new friends, including an enigmatic but affecting young man. But when the reality of her situation finally becomes clear, Eve is faced with a dilemma. How can she ignore what is happening right under their very noses? Yet can she risk everything by condemning the man whose love and generosity is keeping her and her family from ruin?

My Comments:
Sweet Mercy is a wonderful example of Christian fiction at its best.  It takes an issue--good people doing bad things-and explores it within a novel with characters who have real feelings and make decision in the imperfect manner most of us do.  From remembering that Al Capone helped her up when she fell roller skating, to learning that her first love is involved in bootlegging, to realizing that bootleggers wouldn't bootleg without customers, Eve has to examine right and wrong and realize that all of us can be the man in the front of the synagogue, and that all of us should be the person at the back begging for mercy.  Right and wrong are so easy to see when they are committed by strangers; when it is us or those we love, our vision is often blurry.

Often when Christian fiction has Catholic characters they either make them almost Evangelical Protestants or else make them into pitiable folks who just don't get it.  I'm happy to say that Ann Tatlock does neither in this book.  Another character gives Eve a St. Rita medal and tells her that St. Rita is the patron saint of the lonely.  He explains patron saints rather well.  A Catholic funeral is also described and while I don't know enough about Catholic funerals of that era to know if the details (which were few) were all right, the overall tone was respectful.

I'm not usually one to rave about the writing in a book, but this will be one of the exceptions.  I loved Tatlock's writing and would find myself reading bits out loud because I loved the way they sounded.  Yes, this one gets one of the few A's I give books.  I definitely recommend it.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

First Wildcard: Mail Order Man

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:

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (May 13, 2013)

***Special thanks to Heather Gray for sending me a review copy.***


Aside from her long-standing love affair with coffee, Heather’s greatest joys in life are her relationship with her Savior, her family, and writing.  Years ago, she decided it would be better to laugh than yell.  Heather carries that theme over into her writing where she strives to create characters that experience both the highs and lows of life and, through it all, find a way to love God, embrace each day, and laugh out loud right along with her.

Visit the author's website.


Some people get a mail order bride.  She got a mail order man.
A well-meaning friend places an ad to find a mail order husband for Sarah, the proprietress of Larkspur’s stage and mail office.  Sarah, who is generally quiet and reserved, doesn't know about the ad and has no idea what to do with all the people that are showing up in her community.  Before long, the town is overrun with men and mail alike.  Sarah is trying to avoid some men who have accosted her on the street when she stumbles into Samuel.  Through long days spent together at the stage office, some very adventurous pots of coffee and a shared faith, the two become friends.  Sarah knows that Samuel is hiding something from her, something important, but that doesn't stop her heart from leaping wildly into love.  Lacking the confidence to trust her heart, Sarah wars with herself over the feelings she can no longer deny.  When some of the men who have come to town show their true intentions, a shootout follows.  Sarah finally gets answers to many of the questions circling through her mind.  One question remains, though.  Where will her mail order man go when the dust settles?

Product Details:
List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (May 13, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1484965973
ISBN-13: 978-1484965979


Larkspur, Idaho Territory

April 1878

Sarah had noticed a number of new faces in town over the past few days, and it was beginning to make her more than a bit uncomfortable. The new faces were all men. Sure, men outnumber women in every frontier town, but Sarah had seen more than a dozen new men and had heard rumors that Mrs. Ginty’s boarding house was full-up, which had never happened before. Larkspur was a small frontier town in a territory sparsely populated, and Sarah had never before heard of Mrs. Ginty having to turn away customers.

New people in town can sometimes mean good news. Businesses certainly like having more customers. It can mean trouble, too, though, when the newcomers start to outnumber the homegrown townsfolk. Sarah had heard tell of towns where ruffians had swarmed in, taking over the town and practically holding the locals prisoner by sheer force of number. A small shudder overtook her at the thought of such brutality.

Sarah’s papa had well trained her how to take care of and provide for herself, but ever since he passed away, she had no one to protect her should the need ever arise. Sighing, she forced her loneliness back down, beating it into submission by sheer force of will.

Keeping her eyes directed down, Sarah walked from the small house she had once shared with Papa. She was heading to the stage office for a long day of work and, with all these new people in town, did not want to make eye contact with the wrong individual. The workday hadn’t even yet begun, but Sarah couldn’t wait for the day to be finished. This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it, Sarah quoted in her mind as she reminded herself to be grateful. She was looking forward to sharing a meal with her dearest friend tonight. Dinner with the Smiths held much more appeal than another long day at the stage office. Visiting with Minnie and her folks was always delightful. Sarah also hoped Minnie’s father, who was mayor of Larkspur, might be able to shed some light on the flood of strange men showing up in town.

Sarah heard a commotion to her left. Before she could even raise her eyes to see what was going on, someone came barreling out from the mercantile and plowed right into her. Sarah’s feet flew out from under her, and she landed out in the street, far from the boardwalk on which she had a moment ago been walking. Before she could take stock of the situation to determine if she’d landed in mud or manure, at least a dozen hands were reaching out to help her up. Frightened by all of the men crowding in around her and not sure of their intentions, Sarah scrambled to her feet and backed up from the growing crowd. She did not recognize a single face from the group that continued to step closer to her.

As she scurried backward, Sarah ran right smack into a wall. She didn’t remember a wall being there in the middle of the street, but sure enough, she was trapped between the wall behind her and the wall of men walking toward her.

“Pardon me, gentlemen, but I think you have frightened the lady here.” Sarah stiffened as she heard the wall behind her speak. Her head whipped back and up. With the sun shining right into her eyes, she couldn’t see the face of her rescuer, but his voice was confidently calm, loud enough to carry to all of the men who had been reaching toward her without actually sounding as though he’d raised his voice. “Miss, are you okay?” It took Sarah a moment to realize the talking wall was speaking to her.

“Y-y-yes, thank you.” Sarah struggled to get the words out past a suddenly dry and scratchy throat.

“That was quite a fall you took. Are you sure you are alright?”

Glancing down at her dress, Sarah saw that, thankfully, she had landed on a dry patch of dirt and, though dusty, was not covered with mud or worse. She knew she would be sore later, but she was still in too much shock right now to feel the effects of her fall into the street. Thank goodness a horse or carriage had not been riding by at the time – she could have been badly hurt!

“Yes, sir, thank you. I am fine and must be on my way now.”

Sarah considered the path up Main Street toward her destination and saw what now appeared to be more than twenty men standing around ogling her. Completely beside herself with discomfort at the situation, she tried to take a step back only to be reminded of the talking wall behind her.

Without removing her eyes from the crowd of men, she spoke to the one behind her. “Pardon me, sir, but could I be so bold as to request your assistance in a small matter?”

There was a smile behind the man’s voice, Sarah was certain of it, as he softly answered, “I will accommodate you if I can, Miss. With what do you need assistance?”

Sarah felt the hint of a shiver she knew could not be attributed to the weather. It was either fear because of the men in front of her… or something else because of the man behind her. Not wanting to dissect her feelings quite yet, she uttered, “I need to pass these men to get to the stage office. I find that…” Sarah tried to think of a delicate way to say she wasn’t sure if she’d make it there safely if she went alone.

Before Sarah could even take a full breath, though, or find the correct words, she felt herself lifted by the waist and placed back up onto the boardwalk. The talking wall immediately joined her and offered his arm to her. Sarah tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow, still not knowing the man’s name.

In the shade now, after having been blinded by the sun, Sarah took another glance up at her talking wall but still could not make out any features on the man’s face. She knew he was quite tall, and he appeared to have facial hair, but Sarah could not even identify the color of his hair, let alone any distinguishing features.

“I wonder what all of these men are doing in town. It’s a trifle disconcerting,” she said to the man walking beside her.

“Ah,” he replied. “I believe they are after the same thing most people are after.”

Not sure how to take that answer, Sarah asked, “What, then, is it most people are after?”


Sarah was surprised at the laugh that bubbled up inside of her, for she was the serious one, not prone to outbursts of laughter, or so she had always believed. Not sure what to think of her own laughter, she instead puzzled over the companion’s answer. She would not have associated a fanciful notion such as love with the talking wall that had rescued her.

She heard the smile in his voice again as he went on, “Either that, or someone to raise their children and do their laundry.”

“A wife then?” Sarah questioned. “Why would anyone come to Larkspur looking for a wife? We have no more women than any other town in the territory.” Certain the man beside her was having a joke at her expense, she waited for the punch line, but none was forthcoming. They arrived at the stage office where, without delay, Sarah unlocked the office door, stepped inside, and began opening the curtains.

“Thank you for escorting me. Could I offer you some coffee, Mr….” Hoping the talking wall would provide her with the information she sought, Sarah let her sentence hang. What she got for her effort was a deep-throated chuckle that seemed both sincere and humor-filled, and again she felt the joke was somehow at her expense.

Disgruntled, she put her satchel away and then stood there next to the percolator specifically not making any coffee. She gave him the best Do-As-I-Say look she could muster under the circumstances and made not a single move toward the coffee tin as she awaited his response. Sarah was shocking herself with her own audacity. Something about this man was making her act different, bolder. Sarah quickly decided she liked this new side of herself and that she also liked the man who drew it out of her.

“My apologies, Miss. You reminded me so much there of one of my cousins I couldn’t help but laugh. I sincerely meant no harm.”

Sarah relaxed her shoulders, somewhat mollified by his words.

“The pleasure of escorting you was all mine, I assure you. No thanks are necessary.”

As she continued to look at him pointedly, he held out one hand and began ticking off fingers as he spoke to himself in a voice intended to carry. “Let’s see. She thanked me for the escort, and I responded. When she didn’t like my laughing, I apologized. She offered me coffee… aha!” Looking up at her with a distinctive twinkle in his golden brown eyes, he said, “Why yes, Miss, I would enjoy a cup of coffee if it’s not too much trouble.” Winking at her, he added, “Samuel Livingston at your service.”

Sarah tried to be unaffected, but the way he swept his hat off and bowed as he introduced himself had her heart fluttering faster than a bumblebee in a field of clover. As for his wink, Sarah wasn’t sure which was more scandalous – the fact he winked or the way her heart raced at the sight of it.


The moment Sarah got the small stove lit, Cesar Martinez came into the office. “Good morning, Miss Jenkins.” He tipped his hat to her and asked, “What do you need me to do first this morning?”

Sarah instructed Cesar to sweep out the office and the front walk. She was going to send him on an errand, but she didn’t want him to go quite yet. Being alone with the talking wall no longer seemed the wisest choice. As Cesar collected the broom to start sweeping, Mr. Livingston hung his hat on the hook near the front door and leaned against the counter behind which Sarah normally worked. His relaxed posture made him seem less formidable. Without his hat on, Sarah could get a good look at his face for the first time. Casually stepping behind the counter, she hoped to get a better view of her talking wall without being obvious.

“Are you alright, Miss?” asked Mr. Livingston. Sarah nodded and glanced over to where the coffee was not quite ready. He was, by her own design, directly in her line of sight. All hope for an unobtrusive glance at her rescuer quickly fled as she absorbed the sight of him with all her senses. She was stunned to realize how beautiful he was. Never before had she seen a man whose mere presence took her breath away. Her heart no longer fluttered like a bumblebee. It thumped like a herd of wild mustangs.

Closing her eyes, Sarah allowed his image play across her mind’s eye. He was tall, but she’d already known that. He had intense eyes, chocolate brown at the outer edge and pure glittering gold around the pupil. His hair was cut short but remained just unruly enough to hint at being curly, and it, too, was filled with various hues of gold. He was tan but not the weather-worn dark tan of a rancher or farmer. He had a strong jaw, a straight nose, and lips that curled up in laughter even when he wasn’t laughing. He was dressed like a businessman, only flashier. The suit he wore was a fairly traditional grey, but his vest was bright red. He had a flair about him that Sarah could not quantify. One thing was certain, though. Sarah was sure she would drown in those eyes, forever losing herself, if she stared too long.

“Are you alright, Miss?” Mortified at her own imaginings and wandering mind – something she was definitely not prone to – Sarah tried to control her staring eyes and nodded, then quickly blushed. Feeling the heat of embarrassment climb up her neck and into her cheeks, she quickly turned her back on the man and went back over to where the coffee was percolating. Grabbing two mugs, she filled them both, handing one to Mr. Livingston and taking the other back over to her work counter. As she set her mug down she realized the brew appeared no stronger than what you might give a baby to drink. Groaning inwardly, Sarah hoped the man liked weak coffee. Who was she kidding? It wasn’t weak coffee. It was colored water!

As Sarah was about to apologize for the coffee, Cesar came through the door to tell her the morning stage was approaching. She peeked at the clock and said to no one in particular, “It’s an hour early. I hope nothing’s wrong.”

Cesar put the broom up and went out to greet the stage.

Sarah resumed her post behind the counter. Most all of the stage drivers knew her from when her father ran the stage office, but sometimes there were new drivers or unruly passengers, and so when her father passed away, Sarah had stopped going out to greet the incoming stage. Each driver was directed into the office to meet her there. She provided them with coffee, a kind word, and often a bite to eat, but she did not go out onto the platform if she could help it.

“How old is the lad who helps you?” asked Mr. Livingston.

“Cesar? He is 14, I think.”

“Awfully young to be working here. Shouldn’t he be in school?”

Sarah nodded. “Cesar and his brothers do not attend the local school. We used to have a teacher in town that had a problem with the family, so their mother started teaching them at home. A new teacher came along a few years back, but the family had settled into their routine and decided to keep it. All three of them are well ahead of their school-bound peers in their learning. Their mother does an excellent job with them.”

“Doesn’t working here keep him away from his studies, though?”

“May I ask why you have such an interest in my hired help?” Sarah did not want to sound surly, but she was not used to people questioning business decisions, such as her choice in employees.

“I am visiting town on a business matter and staying with my cousin and her husband. He is the school teacher in town. A person who spends any time at all with John will naturally learn to be attentive to educational matters and sensitive to the needs of rural families. For example, parents sometimes pull their kids out of school because they need the money their labor can bring.” Following an almost imperceptible pause, Mr. Livingston continued, “Larkspur is lucky to have such a caring teacher.”

Sarah gave Mr. Livingston a genuine smile, for she knew the school teacher and his wife well. They attended the same church as she and would, on occasion, invite Sarah over for dinner. They were wonderful people. Sarah remembered they had been praying for safe travel for a relative but could not at the moment recall anything more on the subject.

Nodding at Mr. Livingston, she said, “You can ask Ida and John about Cesar. I am certain you will be pleased with what you hear. John has helped Cesar’s mother obtain books and other materials whenever needed for her boys’ education. He checks in on them periodically, too, at the parents’ request to make certain the boys are not falling behind in any of their studies. Cesar and his two brothers all work here at the Stage Office. As the youngest, Cesar only started a month or so ago and works one day here by himself and sometimes comes in on Saturday to help as well.”

She couldn’t be certain, but Sarah thought she saw appreciation in Mr. Livingston’s eyes. His smile seemed genuine and quite dangerous in its charm. “Who helps you the rest of the week?”

There didn’t seem to be anything amiss with Mr. Livingston’s questions. After all, he knew Ida and John. However, habits of self-protection are hard to break, and her father had taught her from the time she was little that sometimes, when people ask questions that seem innocent, they are actually trying to get information that could cause harm. Sarah’s gut told her it was okay to trust Mr. Livingston, but she could hear her father’s voice telling her to do her due diligence. She would check with Ida and John about her talking wall before she revealed any additional information to him about the stage office, herself, or the wonderful family she employed at the office.

As she made her decision, the front door banged open and Cesar came in carrying a sack of mail and dragging another behind him. “My goodness!” said Sarah as she rushed to help him.

“There’s more,” Cesar said. “Lots more.”

“What on earth! We don’t get this much mail in a month of Sundays, let alone on one single stage.” Trying not to appear as discombobulated as she felt by this influx of mail, Sarah asked Cesar, “Where are the passengers? Does anyone have anything to store or need assistance finding accommodations?”

Cesar’s eyes searched wildly around the room as though seeking an answer in the wood and plaster. He almost seemed afraid to say anything more. Then, looking over his shoulders as if searching for someone lurking behind him, he whispered to her, “There are no passengers. This isn’t even the real stage. The stage will be here on time with passengers and mail. This is all the extra mail they couldn’t fit onto the coach. There’s about six more bags out there, and the driver is fit to be tied. No one planned on an extra trip out here this week, but the mail has been getting backed up at the last stop. Their office is small, and they couldn’t keep our mail there any longer waiting for room on the stages – so they sent it over straightaway to get it out of their office.”

Sarah glanced out the window at the office platform, saw the bags of mail being pulled from the stage and piled up there. “Oh my,”  she whispered. “I’ve never seen the likes.”

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Blog Tour: That Certain Summer

About the Book:
Karen and Val are family--yet they're anything but close. Karen has carried the burden of responsibility for her aging mother ever since her gorgeous sister left town years ago to pursue a career in theater. But Val had darker reasons for leaving town--as well as a secret to keep--and coming home has never been an option . . . until their mother suffers a stroke.

Reunited in their hometown, Karen and Val must grapple with their past mistakes, their relationship with each other, and their issues with a mother who is far from ideal. When a physical therapist raising his daughter alone and a handsome but hurting musician enter the picture, the summer takes on a whole new dimension. As their lives intersect and entwine, can each learn how to forgive, how to let go, and how to move on? And strengthened by the healing power of faith, might they also find the courage to love?

With her trademark compelling characters and heartwarming hope, fan favorite Irene Hannon offers her readers an inspiring true-to-life tale of complex family relationships, transgressions revealed and forgiven, and the complicated process of finding love.

My Comments:
I really enjoyed this book about two sisters, their mom and their loves.  Karen is a pleaser--she thinks that if she can just be what others want they will love her.  As a result, her mom walks all over her, just like her ex-husband did.  When her mom has a stroke, Karen is no longer able to carry the whole burden of caring for her and Val agrees to come home, something she has avoided for years. During the book we learn why.  

Often when I read references to Catholicism in Christian fiction I shake my head and wonder if the author got it wrong on purpose or was just clueless.  I'm happy to say that Irene Hannon got it right. No, the characters aren't Catholic, but Karen feels guilty about her divorce and isn't  sure that moving into another relationship is permissible for a Christian.  Someone points out to her that her ex had been unfaithful from  the beginning of their marriage and probably never meant to be faithful, and that the Catholic church, which is generally against divorce, grants annulments to people whose spouses never intend fidelity.  Hannon doesn't go into any complicated discussions about annulments, but gives a reasonably accurate short explanation.  

I enjoyed watching both Karen and Val take a look at their lives, make the changes needed and find love.  I think most who enjoy Christian romances will like this book, but there is probably too much religion for those  who don't like religion in their books.

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available.  Copies are available June 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.  Grade:  B+

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; some folks are forgetting that! 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 asked if public schools were really all that bad.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Are Public School Really That Bad?

One of the items making the rounds on Facebook right now is a comment by the governor of Mississippi that  the decline of the public schools started when moms entered the workforce.  I mean "everyone" knows that public schools aren't as good as they used to be, so something must be to blame, right?  Maybe the teachers are lousy now. Maybe its the broken families.  Maybe its Mom.  But the schools are broken, right?

Are they?  Or are we just measuring everybody now, and caring about everybody?  I graduated from high school in a middle-class town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1979.  I was on the advanced track most of the time.  The kids I was in classes with generally went on to college and now we are doctors, lawyers, salespeople, business owners, teachers, retired military, stay at home moms, nurses, paralegals, veterinarians, and ministers, just like our parents were.  We took four years of English, three or four years of math, three or four years of science, and three or four years of history/social studies.  Even among the college-bound, few took physics, many didn't take world history, and about half of the advanced crowd took senior math.  Most of us took study hall at least for a semester along the way.  None of us had to do summer reading.   Most of us took two years of a foreign language. None  of us earned college credit in high school.  Many seniors, especially those who didn't take a lot of study halls along the way, left school after lunch.  Among the crowd not going to college, two years of practical math was common, or else just Algebra I and Geometry.  They took physical science and biology, but not chemistry or physics.  They filled their class time with home economics, shop, or secretarial or business classes.

Today, in Louisiana, all students are required to pass Algebra I and Geometry. Anyone who wants to be admitted to a state-supported university has to pass four years of science, English, math and history and two years of foreign language.  Summer reading is a given, at least for honors classes.  The honors track students often earn college credit either through dual enrollment or through AP classes.  While some classes are double-blocked, kids in our district have eight periods a  year as compared to the six we had.   It sounds to me like things are more rigorous than when I was in school, not less.

Yea, but Johnny can't read, right?  I've read all the test scores in the paper, I know some of them stink.  My question is whether kids in Johnny's shoes could read 40 or 50 years ago.  I know I could read (but then so can my kids), but how did the poor minority students in segregated schools do?  How did handicapped kids do? When "those" kids were in different schools than "our" kids, did we really care how they did?  Yes, some did well; yes, many will tell you about school being a refuge from the hardships of poverty, but do we have data showing how well those schools catering to the poor actually taught the majority of their students? In today's parlance,how were their test scores?  I know that around here, lining schools up by their free lunch rates gives you almost the same order as lining them up by test scores--the higher the free lunch rates the lower the test scores.  The "problem" is that in the old days either overt racial segregation or, later, district boundary lines, kept "them" out of "our" schools.  Court orders have put them in our schools, along with others who used to be excluded or put in trailers at the back of campus--the handicapped.

Are schools today really all that bad?

Review: The Newcomer

About the Book:
Single dad and Thunder Point's deputy sheriff "Mac" McCain has worked hard to keep his town safe and his daughter happy. Now he's found his own happiness with Gina James. The longtime friends have always shared the challenges and rewards of raising their adolescent daughters. With an unexpected romance growing between them, they're feeling like teenagers themselves-suddenly they can't get enough of one another.

And just when things are really taking off, their lives are suddenly thrown into chaos. When Mac's long-lost ex-wife shows up in town, drama takes on a whole new meaning. Mac and Gina know they're meant to be together, but can their newfound love withstand the pressure?

My Comments:
This book was busy,  very busy.  You have Mack and Gina as noted above.  Then there is Sarah and Cooper.  Mac's daughter is seeing Sarah's son.  Gina's daughter was seeing last year's local sports star.  Mack's aunt is seeing the guy whose cabin Mack and Gina use.  Then there are the old relationships--Mac's ex-wife shows up and is up to no good.  Cooper's ex calls and she has news for him.  Gina looks up her daughter's father after all these years.  Sarah has to decide between a life she has learned to love (and maybe a man she has learned to love) and her job.  It's hard to keep everybody straight.

I found this book to be a quick engaging read with likable characters. It deals with teenage angst, including excessive phoning and texting and cyberbullying.  It deals with seemly excessive reactions to teen break-ups and with the long-term consequences of non-marital sex.  Still, the solution given isn't less non-marital sex but more birth control.  The story is set in a small town and certainly gives that small town vibe of everyone knowing all of everyone's business.

While lots of folks in this book are intimate with each other there is only one scene that gets very graphic and it includes ice cream.  

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

Saturday, June 01, 2013

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; some folks are forgetting that! 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.

Lots of blog posts this week.  Just in case you are wondering, most of my posts are pre-written and pre-scheduled now.  Blog tours have due dates; I'm asked not to publish reviews of NetGalley books too early; and I try to have posts throughout the month.  So what posts came up this week?
Pope Francis in His Own Words is a collection of short passages by our Pontiff.  The Promise Box is Amish Fiction.  A Chesapeake Shores Christmas is  a review of an audio book.  Rachel's Contrition is a Catholic novel.  

Review: Pope Francis in His Own Words

About the Book:
The moment the identity of the newly elected 266th pontiff was revealed, it was clear to the thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square, and to the watching world, that this pope was different in fascinating and exciting ways — the first from Latin America, the first Jesuit, and the first to take the name Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.

When Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, spoke from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, he greeted his audience colloquially: “Brothers and sisters, good evening.” Downplaying his power and position, he proceeded not to bless the crowd but to ask them for their blessing: “I ask a favor of you,” he said, bowing humbly. “Let us make, in silence, this prayer: your prayer over me.”

Francis has repeatedly foregone the fancy dress, lavish accommodations, and other luxuries of his position, emphasizing pastoral work with the sick and the poor and always seeking to empower the underdog. This revealing collection of his own words, gathered from sermons, interviews, and the Pope’s books, prompts understanding and insight into his way of being and believing — and inspires goodwill, love, and hope.

My Comments:
They say if you want to know someone, listen to what she or he has to say.  This book teaches us about Pope Francis by quoting things he has said in the past about various topics.  Most of the quotes are short, a paragraph or so.  While the book includes and extensive bibliography so readers can read even more about our new Pope, from the book itself you cannot tell if the quotes were taken out of context or not.  It is a  relatively short book that I read in a couple of hours.  I'll leave you with a few of the quotes:
The child has absolutely no responsibility for the state of his parents' marriage.  Often a baptism can be a new start for the  parents as well.
In some churches--and I don't know how to remedy this, honestly--there is a fierce competition         between bridesmaids and brides.  These women aren't observing a religious act; they're just showing off.  And this weighs on my conscience; as a priest, I am permitting this and I haven't found a way to put a stop to it. 
What world are we leaving our children?  Maybe it would be better to ask, "What children are we giving this world?"
 Where there is hope, there is happiness.
The most dangerous idols our own selves when we want to occupy the place of God.
 I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.
 This post is linked to New Evangelists Monthly.

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