Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Joanne Bischof's new novella available for preorder ~* This Quiet Sky *~

a beautiful excerpt from author Joanne Bischof ~*

From This Quiet Sky:

Somewhere in the distance, I hear Mr. Davis call on one of the older girls across the aisle who has her hand raised. Tucker and I ought to stay on task or we’ll be in trouble. Tucker must have had a similar thought for he plucks up the slate pencil and finishes the equation. He helps me solve it, then another, and another. I don’t ask about him anymore and he doesn’t ask about me and its best this way. We just focus on numbers and variables and when the lunch hour comes, I thank him for his help and carry my pail out into the sunshine.

Within minutes, it’s clear that my sister is much more interested in playing tag than eating, so I settle in the shade of a tree by myself and pull out a piece of bread and one of the hardboiled eggs. Slow progress with peeling the shell gives me plenty of time to glance around. It’s then that I spot Tucker sitting near the woodpile where the glow of noon brightens the grass. Leaning back against the cut logs, he pokes at his food and glances my way. I look down, pick at my hardboiled egg, and have to work to keep from looking up again. Everyone plays around him as if he’s not there. Granted, he is seventeen and seems more like a man than a boy, but you’d think someone would at least say hello.

The thought of sitting by him comes and I try to push it away. It doesn’t go so well. By the time I’ve finished my egg, I’ve decided that life is short. If I don’t go now, I may never and I’ll look back on this moment with regret. I stand, pick up my pail, straighten my skirt and start that way.

Don’t do this, Sarah.
Another few steps.
You’re gonna regret this, Sarah.

But my heart’s not listening and my feet are carrying me over to him. He looks up at me and stops chewing.

I set my pail beside his and settle down in the grass. “May I sit with you?”

Slowly, he starts chewing again, then swallows, still staring at me. “If you’d like.”

I do. And also, “I want to thank you for your help this morning. I already feel that I’ve learned so much. L-Likely,” I stumble on the word when he seems amused by what I’m saying. “Likely we’ve only scratched the surface, but…whatever you teach me is an unexpected blessing.” I smile and it’s surprisingly easy. “How can I thank you?”

He looks a bit confused as he folds a napkin. That was a rather open ended question.

I search for some way to fix that. “Do you like cookies?”

Still peering down, his expression is soft. “I do.”

“Any particular kind?”

This draws his eyes to my face. “Nope. I like everything.”

Then I will make him some for next week. It hits me that there’s one in my pail today for Betsy and me to share. I can’t remember what kind, so I pluck out the handkerchief and free a thick oatmeal cookie. I hold it out to him. “For putting up with me.”

He smirks. “You’re no trouble. You’re actually very teachable.”

“Teachable and marryable. Two compliments in one day?”

He laughs. It’s a deep, sweet sound that makes me wish I had a brother just so I could hear that kind of laugh all the time. With me still holding out the cookie, he seems reluctant to accept it so I place the round in his palm and the brief brush of my skin against his shows he’s a little warmer. I’m glad he’s out here in the sun.
 
a $2.99 pre-order ~ Joanne Bischof's new novella!

Sixteen-year-old Sarah Miller doesn’t expect anything out of the ordinary when she begins her first day at the one-room-school house in her new hometown of Rocky Knob. But when she meets seventeen-year-old Tucker O’Shay—the boy with the fatal illness who volunteers to tutor her in algebra—she finds herself swept up in a friendship that changes the way she sees the world and a love that changes her life.

Publication date: December 18, 2014.

Nook and paperback coming soon!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Love's Fortune by Laura Frantz, © 2014

The Ballantyne Legacy ~ Book 3

The Ballantyne Legacy is about the power of choice and the legacy we leave through the choices we make.

wren 1
                              Rowena "Wren" Ballantyne

Take I the morning wings, and dwell
in utmost parts of sea;
Ev'n there, Lord, shall thy hand me lead,
thy right hand hold shall me.
                                       PSALM 139:9,
                              OLD SCOTTISH VERSION

After a sudden passage, Rowena "Wren" Ballantyne and her Papa arrive at his ancestral home in Pennsylvania. Clothing and modes are so different from what she has known. Missing her beloved Kentucky home, Wren is found wading in the swan pond by James Sackett, the pilot of the Rowena ~ the enormous Ballantyne steamer named after her ~
He glanced at her and she caught a flash of green. The sun lines about his eyes were chiseled deep, reminding her of mossy rocks in a millstream.
   --Wren ~ Love's Fortune, 62.
What if our thoughts tumbled out, but then they might if he were to look into her eyes he describes vividly to himself.
Though he couldn't see her eyes, he wagered they were like her mother's, the color of sea foam, that mesmerizing green on the curl of a wave.
    --James ~ Ibid., 30.
How do we leave behind who we are to meet the expectations of those we are newly among? Young cousins and older relatives who have lived separate from her with each day dawning? Wren is met by measurements, fittings, and etiquette lessons as she is prepared for her first social season projected with a resulting engagement outcome. Her father, Ansel Ballantyne, leaves for lengthy family business and James Sackett is selected as her escort. As part of her family's shipping business from boyhood, he is surprised to find he is developing feelings for her beyond being a safe escort.

This is a glowing story of generations, blending as all they have known. Enters free, unencumbered Wren. She is told not to speak to the staff, to select correct forks and spoons for their occasions, learning dances she has never seen, to impress people she has never known, carrying the family name and honor. Not all of the family, however, are honorable. Strife and competition set some of them awry. Fortunately, the majority do care for Wren and seek her good as she is placed in a new life among them.

As it centers around a granddaughter of Silas Ballantyne, Love's Fortune may be read as a stand-alone novel. Wren and James were excellent protagonists and I enjoyed the story very much. He was protective of her to the point she felt she was being set aside. Others coming alongside enhanced the story in a way that projected them forward, uncertain of their outcome. Wren is given temporary relief with joy playing her fiddle and while horseback riding that gave her some privacy and regaining of self. How difficult it would be to suddenly be thrust into a world of extreme difference. I awaited her father's return, to have some closeness she could call her own.

I highly recommend this series and look forward to further writings by author Laura Frantz.
~*~
With two very different horizons stretched out before her, one young woman stands on the cusp of an unknown future.

Ballantyne Estate, Scottish Highlands

 ~ via Laura Frantz, author

Sheltered since birth at her Kentucky home, Rowena Ballantyne has heard only whispered rumors of her grandfather Silas’s vast fortune and grand manor in Pennsylvania. Then her father, Silas’s long-estranged son, Ansel, receives a rare letter summoning him to New Hope. Rowena makes the journey with him and quickly finds herself in a whole new world—filled with family members she’s never met, dances she’s never learned, and a new side to the father she thought she knew. As she struggles to fit in during their extended stay, she finds a friend in James Sackett, the most valued steamship pilot of the Ballantyne’s shipping line. Even with his help, Rowena feels she may never be comfortable in high society. Will she go her own way . . . to her own peril?
   With her signature attention to historical detail and emotional depth, Laura Frantz brings 1850s Pennsylvania alive with a tender story of loss, love, and loyalty in this final installment of the Ballantyne saga.

About Laura

***Thank you to Revell Reads for this review copy of Love's Fortune, the final segment in the Ballantyne Legacy by Laura Frantz. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

revell logo best

Enjoy this excerpt from Love's Fortune by Laura Frantz ~

Prologue

                                         So throw off the bowlines. Sail
                                         away from the safe harbor. Catch
                                         the trade winds in your sails.
                                         Explore. Dream. Discover.
                                                                  MARK TWAIN

APRIL 1823

For the rest of his life James Sackett would remember this moment. He was just a boy, but he felt full grown. Free. Nearly winged. More master. Like the young man standing beside him.
   Ansel Ballantyne placed a firm hand on his shoulder, eyes asquint in the blinding sea glare. “Ready, James? For a new adventure?”
   James smiled up at him, feeling close as kin, entwined with the Ballantynes like he’d been. He didn’t look back at Philadelphia’s fading spires and steeples. He looked forward, beyond the ship’s proud bowsprit. To England.
   “You’re not missing Pittsburgh, I hope.”
   A firm shake of James’s head shot down the notion. “I want to do you proud, sir. I want Mister Silas and Mistress Eden to be glad that I’m with you.”
   “You’re good company, James. One day I hope to have as fine a son as you.” Ansel faced the wind’s salty spray, the wearied lines in his face easing. “Mayhap I’ll teach you to play the fiddle while we’re at sea. By the time we arrive in Liverpool, you might well outshine me.”
   The prospect brought a keen warmth to James’s chest. Together they stood, of one purpose, looking out on an ocean so wide and blue it seemed the sky turned upside down.
   Oh, to be a Ballantyne.
   He wasn’t one, but James wanted to be.
   Mayhap being a Ballantyne apprentice was a blessed second best.

1

                                        Soon after, I returned home to my
                                        family, with a determination to
                                        bring them as soon as possible to live
                                        in Kentucky, which I esteemed a
                                        second paradise.
                                                                      DANIEL BOONE

CANE RUN, KENTUCKY
AUGUST 1850

Papa had forsaken his black mourning band.
   The shock of it stole through Wren like ice water. For two years her father’s shirtsleeve had borne a reminder of her mother’s loss, as telling as the lines of grief engraved upon his handsome face. Not once had he taken off the black silk. But all of a sudden it was missing. And Wren ached to know what stirred inside his russet head.
   It had all begun with a letter from far upriver. From New Hope. She’d paid the post, wonder astir inside her as she studied the elegant writing. Ansel Ballantyne, Cane Run, Kentucky. They received a great deal of mail, mostly from Europe and the violin collectors and luthiers there, or from Mama’s family, the Nancarrows in England. Not Pennsylvania, with the Allegheny County watermark bleeding ink on the outer edge of the wrinkled paper.
   She ran all the way home and arrived at the door of their stone house flushed and so winded she could only flutter the letter in her fingers. As it passed from her hand to Papa’s, she measured his expression.
   Pensive. Surprised. Reluctant.
   Sensing he craved privacy, she turned on her naked feet and fled, climbing the mountain in back of their home place till her lungs cried for air. There she sank to her knees atop a flat rock and drank in the last colorful bits of day.
   The river before her was no longer blue but liquid gold. Wide and unending, it cradled a lone steamboat with fancy lettering on its paddle box, a far cry from the crude canoe of her childhood. Where it was headed she didn’t know and didn’t want to. Her world began and ended on this familiar mountain and always had.
   She didn’t move till her father’s husky voice cut through the sultry twilight, calling her home. The supper their housekeeper Molly made was waiting. Wren darted a glance about the too-still kitchen. No Molly. No letter in sight. Just cold cups of cider and deep bowls of hominy stew and corn bread drenched with butter.
   “A bheil an t-acras ort?” Papa stood in the doorway to the parlor speaking the Gaelic he’d used with her since childhood, warm and familiar as one of Molly’s hand-sewn quilts.
   Are you hungry?
   Hungry, yes. For mourning bands and Mama and explanations of strange letters from upriver. She nodded, sitting down and waiting for grace. Tears touched her eyes when he prayed. The words were Mama’s own, ushering in her sweet presence again.
   “Give us grateful hearts, our Father, for all Thy mercies, and make us mindful of the needs of others, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
   There was a moment’s hush.
   “I’ve news from Pennsylvania.” Swallowing some cider, Papa gestured to the mantel where the letter rested.
   “From your Ballantyne kin?” Wren nearly choked asking it, the grit of corn bread crumbs in her throat.
   “Aye. It’s been a while since they’ve written. Longer still since I’ve visited. Things there are changing . . .” Misery rose up and clouded the blue of his eyes. He took another sip of cider and then pushed up from his chair, nearly sending it backward. “I fear I’ve been away too long.”
   Tossing aside his napkin, he limped out the back door, his old injury tugging at her as he disappeared among fruit-laden trees. In the heat of the kitchen, she was left alone with her clamoring questions.
   All her life she’d wondered about their family in western Pennsylvania. She’d heard the romantic tale of how her Scots grandfather, Silas Ballantyne, had come over the mountains the century before and built a fancy brick house for his bride. She was sure the homespun bits of gossip whispered by Cane Run folk had been embellished over time with silken thread. Some sort of trouble had driven Papa away from there more than twenty years before. But that was a puzzle too.
   She picked up his bowl of stew, set it in the hearth’s embers to keep warm, and placed his plate of corn bread atop it. Though he’d gone outside, his profound disquiet lingered. She’d not seen him this afflocht since Mama’s passing.
   Darting a look at the mantel, she sighed. The letter that started all the trouble seemed to taunt her, Papa’s black mourning band coiled beside it, rife with mystery.

~*~

   Birdsong nudged her awake, just as it had for twenty years or better. Wren could smell coffee—and varnish. Someone was in the workshop situated across the dogtrot at the south end of the house. The instruments they crafted seemed to dry better there, soaking up the sun through the skylight in the vaulted ceiling, the room’s brightness calling out the rich pine and maple grain of the finished fiddles.
   She dressed hurriedly and donned an apron, then wove her hair into a careless braid, tying it o with a frayed, pumpkin-colored ribbon. It jarred sourly with her blue dress and brown shoes, giving her the look of a rag rug. She never fussed overlong about her mismatched wardrobe, not caring how she looked. A spill of varnish or a chisel gone awry had wrecked more dresses than she could count.
   The workshop door was open wide, revealing a long rack stretching the length of the room, jewel-toned violins strung like beads on a necklace. The smell of varnish wafted strong but not unpleasant, competing with the tang of freshly cut wood. Lingering on the door stone, she swept the shop in a glance. Papa? No, Selkirk, Papa’s apprentice. Straddling a bench, he was carving the scroll of a violin from a piece of pine, his back to her.
   “Morning, Kirk.”
   “Morning, Wren.” He didn’t so much as glance up, keeping his chisel true to the wood, a dusting of sweet shavings across his breeches.
   “The McCoy bow is finished,” she told him. “I rubbed it with pumice powder and oil just yesterday. But you’ll need to test it first.” She’d lost count of the bows that didn’t pass muster. The instruments they made had to be nearly faultless. Papa’s reputation as luthier depended on it.
   “I won’t be making any deliveries today.” Selkirk’s tone was low. Thoughtful. “Your father’s left for Louisville. Something about booking passage upriver to Pittsburgh.”
   She went completely still, nearly forgetting how strange it was to be alone with Selkirk without Papa present. Just outside, Molly was stringing laundry on the line. Mute Molly, Cane Run folk called her. When small, she’d been choked by a slave trader and robbed of her voice.
   Wren fought the catch in her own throat as she fastened her gaze on the instruments adorning the sunny room, not just fiddles but mandolins and dulcimers and psalteries, the work of their hands and hearts. “Pittsburgh sounds right far.”
   Kirk shrugged. “Just a few hundred miles easily managed by steamer.” He looked up, his chisel aloft. “Don’t you want to meet your Ballantyne kin, Wren?”
   Did she? In truth she rarely thought about them aside from Christmas, when Grandmother Ballantyne sent fetching, impractical packages downriver. An enameled jewelry box. A cashmere shawl. An ivory-handled parasol. Things far above Wren’s raising. “Mostly I forget all about them.”
   Kirk gave a chuckle. “Well, they’ve not forgotten you. Fact is, they’ve named a steamboat in your honor. She’s called the Rowena.”
   Her backside connected with the nearest stool. “You don’t mean it.”
   “Aye, I’ve seen her taking on cargo in Louisville. A first-rate steamer she is too, well deserving of your name.”
   “But . . . why?”
   “Because the Ballantynes name their steamers after the petticoats—er, ladies—in the family.”
   “I’m hardly a lady,” she replied, glancing at her varnish-stained apron and hands.
   “You might be by the time you come back here.”
   The very thought made her smile. She reached for a finished bow and newly strung fiddle, launching into a lively jig as if it could drive the ludicrous thought from the room. But it simply ensnared Kirk, keeping him from his work.
   He studied her, mouth wry. “If you tickle their ears with your fiddle, they might well forgive you for Cane Run. The truth is, Wren, you don’t belong here. Not like the Clarks and Landrys and Mackens who settled this place. Your mother’s people are of English stock, aye? And your father, for all his humility and homespun, is still a Ballantyne.”
   “I misdoubt I belong there either.”
   “How will you know unless you go?”
   Because some things the heart just knows.
   “If someone named a boat after me and begged me to come upriver, I’d be the first aboard.” Kirk traded one tool for another. “It’s a bit odd your father seldom speaks of his kin. Makes me wonder what drove him to Kentucky to begin with.”
   She rested her fiddle across her knees. “All I know is that Papa left Pennsylvania when he was young as you and sailed to England. He took up with the Nancarrows—Welsh luthiers and collectors—and wed my mother. After I was born they came to Kentucky.”
   “Bare facts, Wren. You’d best be finding out before you go.”
   She fell quiet, pondering the sudden turn of events, the steamboat Rowena, and Louisville, a place she’d never been. “When will Papa be back?”
   “Tomorrow or thereabouts.”
   She was used to his absences. His violin hunting often took him away for months on end. Sometimes Mama had accompanied him, but never Wren. Since Mama’s passing, Papa hadn’t gone anywhere at all.
   Why on earth would he now want to return to Pennsylvania?
Laura Frantz, Love's Fortune Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2014. Used by permission.


Love's Reckoning, Book 1 ~ The Ballantyne Legacy ~ Review:
http://lanehillhouse.blogspot.com/2012/09/loves-reckoning-by-laura-frantz-c2012.html

Love's Awakening, Book 2 ~ The Ballantyne Legacy ~ Review:
http://lanehillhouse.blogspot.com/2013/09/loves-awakening-by-laura-frantz-2013.html



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

~* Playing by Heart *~ by Anne Mateer, © 2014

20665063

Lula Bowman has finally achieved her dream: a teaching position and a scholarship to continue her college education in mathematics. But when she receives a shocking telephone call from her sister, Jewel, everything she's worked for begins to crumble.
   After the sudden death of Jewel's husband, Jewel needs Lula's help. With a heavy heart, Lula returns to her Oklahoma hometown to do right by her sister. But the only teaching job available in Dunn is combination music instructor/basketball coach. Neither subject belongs anywhere near the halls of academia, according to Lula!
   Lula commits to covering the job for the rest of the school year, determined to do well and prove herself to the town. Reluctantly, she turns to the boys' coach, Chet, to learn the game of basketball. Chet is handsome and single, but Lula has no plans to fall for a local boy. She's returning to college as soon as she gets Jewel back on her feet.
   However, the more time she spends in Dunn, the more Lula realizes God is working on her heart--and her future is beginning to look a lot different than she'd expected.


~*~
Lula Bowman's world changes as she leaves the university behind to come home to help her newly widowed sister, Jewel Wyatt, and her five, soon six children.

More is changing than she would suspect. Applying for a job at the high school, Lula finds she is not able to exchange places with the math teacher, as she'd hoped, but is hired as the music teacher and the girls' basketball coach ~ although she has never seen a game played. The switch between horse and buggy and Tin Lizzie creates other new beginnings in Dunn, Oklahoma, her hometown.

Tutoring students in math becomes a doorway to learning about basketball. She arranges to have the math/boys' basketball coach, Chet Vaughn, give her pointers in the game. I like how the camaraderie begins with the high school students in being a help to each other. Respect is earned as Lula continues ahead and doesn't falter in her newly-acquired teaching skills. Her love of music pulls her through as she realizes the giftings she has been given that fulfill her and others ~ especially a silent listener who scoots out before being recognized. Music of the soul.

Love Is Playing OnChet finds his worth isn't in what he does or doesn't do, but in who he is. His character overrides any doubts he might have. His integrity bears repeating as he encourages a student in his last year of high school to look to the future and not his circumstances to determine his outcome. I like how the ending served both he and his family in coming together in a new way without judgment.

Chet's gentle spirit shapes the heart-healing of Jewel Wyatt's ten-year-old son, JC, as he overcomes the loss of his father; a coming alongside to bear him up as Chet identifies with his own earlier needs. I especially would commend the owner of the livery stables in allowing JC to continue to come and tend the horses; a giving that helped with his mourning.

The story brings together forgiveness and healing, as going forward requires tenacity and forthrightness. Lula has left behind her teaching at the university and her scholarship in math to attend to the needs of her sister; a self-giving and sacrifice that turns out to be a betterment all around. Reliving moments of her growing up and the stigma others projected about her, Lula continues to be better than any drawback could be by not focusing on the past but enriching her life and those around her in the present.

I would recommend this novel for high school students as an encouragement to grow in their relationship with their peers and looking to what can be as they trust the Lord's path for them. An excellent story of hope and grace.

quote from Playing by Heart


Anne Mateer
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Ginger Murray



Anne Mateer is a three-time Genesis Contest finalist who has long had a passion for history and historical fiction. She and her husband live near Dallas, Texas, and are the parents of three young adults. Visit author Anne Mateer's website for more information; Twitter and Facebook.


***Thank you to author Anne Mateer for this review copy of her novel, Playing by Heart. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy an excerpt from Anne Mateer's Playing by Heart ~ Chapter One

1

LULA

“Mr.—” I glanced down at my seating chart, heart drumming in my ears. My third week in front of a college classroom filled with male students. Three weeks of looking past their disdain. Three weeks holding my ground by sheer force of will.
   I could do this. For myself. For my father.
   “Mr. Graham, could you please tell us about the concept of linear combination?”
   Mr. Graham stretched out his legs and glanced at his classmates on either side. His lips twisted into a smirk as he twirled his pencil through his fingers. “I could explain it, but are you certain you grasp its complexities?”
   I sucked in a breath, my back snapping as straight as a loblolly pine, my cheeks stinging hot. Not a new slur, to be sure, but no student had yet dared be insolent to my face.
   The air in the classroom stilled, anticipation hanging as heavy as a chartreuse sky over the Oklahoma plains in springtime. My body tensed, waiting to see if others would add their opinions. I didn’t know how to answer. I’d worked hard to get to this place, harder than I’d ever worked in my life. I couldn’t crumble now.
   I pressed a hand to my churning stomach. The committee had chosen me, Miss Lula Bowman, as the recipient of the Donally Mathematics Award. I received tuition to pursue my graduate degree as well as a stipend for teaching a first-year mathematics course. I’d weathered stronger gales than Mr. Graham to reach this place.
   Arching my eyebrows, I tried to peer down my nose at the boy-man, wishing I had a pair of spectacles to complete the look. “I’m perfectly capable of understanding it, thank you. Let’s hope you have the same capacity.”
   Mr. Graham’s disdain didn’t slacken. Instead, his mouth curved into a slow smile as his eyes raked down the length of me. “You aren’t so bad looking, Miss Bowman. Couldn’t you find a man that would have you?”
   My lungs expanded as far as my corset would allow, hands fisting and loosening with each angry breath. I pulled up to my full height—wishing it were more than five feet two inches—and tipped my chin toward the ceiling, hoping to add a bit more stature. “I don’t know why you are attending college, Mr. Graham, but I assume the others are here to learn. If you impede that process, I will take up your behavior with the dean. Are we clear?”
   But even as the words left my mouth, I trembled, knowing I had no real recourse. To admit I couldn’t manage the class would be the same as admitting failure. No, I had to handle Mr. Graham on my own, using the same granite resolve I had with my older brothers and sisters when they’d insisted college was a waste of time and money.
   “I will thank you to respect my position as a scholar even if you can’t reconcile it with my gender, Mr. Graham. Women are capable of more accomplishments than a pretty song on the piano or a tasty meal to fill your belly. You’d do well to remember that.”
~*~

   The pine table, littered with scribbled pages and mathematics journals, wavered. The pencil dropped from my fingers, rolled off the edge, and clattered to the floor. I rubbed my eyes and sucked in the still, hot air of an Indian summer, temperatures far too warm for the last week of September. I reached for a book and fanned it in front of my face as I considered once more my latest calculations, the ones that refused to be solved.
   A line of moisture rolled down the back of my neck, plastering an escaped strand of hair to my skin. I set it free, then blew out a long breath, attempting to make my own bit of breeze.
   I groaned into the silence, replaying my altercation with Mr. Graham earlier in the day. He’d been quiet during the rest of the class, but I suspected he’d continue to be trouble, and he knew I knew it.
   My elbows thumped to the table. I cradled my head in my hands and stared again at the equation that mocked me while voices buzzed through the hallway. A door closed in the distance. The clacking of shoes against the wooden floor grew louder. I sat up straight. The door opened.
   Professor Clayton’s white head appeared first, and then the rest of the rumpled man emerged. The corners of my mouth pulled upward in amusement. Ever since Mrs. Clayton’s passing two years ago, the professor didn’t seem to notice the niceties of life, only the unflinching surety of numbers.
   “Ah, Miss Bowman. I’d hoped to find you here.” He switched a clutch of papers from one arm to the other as he surveyed the jumble of materials in front of me. I reached across the table and cleared a corner. He let his burden slap to the surface, then riffled through the top few pages until he pulled one free from the stack. His deep blue eyes brightened. “And how is the first female recipient of the Donally Mathematics Award faring this day?”
   The male students of our college don’t think a female intellect suitable to the rigors of mathematics. But I couldn’t tell Professor Clayton that.
   “Quite well, thank you, sir.”
   One white eyebrow quirked. “I’ve heard something to the contrary, my dear.” He waited a moment. I didn’t confirm or deny it. Only held his gaze until he sighed. “But then I knew I could count on you to prove the Donally committee wasn’t mistaken in their choice.”
   “Yes, sir,” I whispered, staring at the table, at the page with the unfinished equation. After six years of alternating work and college classes, I could finally do both at the same time, in the same place, thanks to the award. I refused to let swaggering young men of eighteen or nineteen ruin all I’d earned.
   Professor Clayton peered at the paper in front of me. “Trouble with that one?”
   I nodded, shame spreading heat into my cheeks.
   “Work the problem again, Miss Bowman. You almost have the correct answer.” He crossed the room to his desk.
   I twisted in my chair. “But how can I fix it when I can’t figure out where I’ve gone wrong?”
   He blinked at me as if I’d asked him a question about the latest fashions, not mathematics. I started to repeat myself, but his hand rose to stop my words. “When all else fails, start again at the beginning.” He returned to shuffling papers.
   I stared at the page, at the scrawled numbers that refused to cooperate. Could Mr. Graham be right? What if I didn’t have it in me to understand?
   No. If I gave in, if I quit, I’d prove my daddy’s belief in me wrong. And prove the naysayers right. The ones who said “Fruity Lu” Bowman would never amount to more than a flibbertigibbet, a pretty little hummingbird who could never alight on one thing for more than a moment.
   My jaw tightened. I would not return to that reputation. Ever. I would finish what I’d started, no matter how difficult the task. Picking up my pencil from the floor, I flipped the paper over and copied the equation once more. Daddy and Professor Clayton believed in my ability to succeed in academia, so I did, too.
   A grueling twenty minutes later, I handed my page to Professor Clayton. He grinned, set it aside.
   Outwardly, I stood unfazed, fingers loosely clasped, but inside I rejoiced.
   “Go on with you now,” Professor Clayton said gently, jerking his head toward the door. “We’ve both plenty to do again tomorrow.”
   I glanced at the clock on the wall. Nearly five. Mrs. McInnish would scold if I came late to the supper table once more this week. I gathered a mathematics journal with my textbooks before darting to the door. Then I stopped. Turned. Professor Clayton’s head bent low, drawing his neat script closer to his aging eyes. I scurried back and planted a kiss on his cheek.
   He looked up, eyes wide with surprise, then returned to his work. Out on the dusty street, I no longer noticed the oppressive heat. Professor Clayton’s approval had turned the world as fresh and new as spring.
~*~

   “Miss Bowman? That you?” The lilt of a Scottish accent carried through the screen door as I raced up the steps.
   “It is, Mrs. McInnish. I’ll wash up and be right there!” I swooped up the stairs to my room, tossed my books on the bed, and splashed warm water over my face and neck before straightening the collar of my plain shirtwaist. The looking glass revealed a messy topknot, but I had no time to set my hair to rights. Back down the stairs I ran. I slid into my chair at the dining table just as Mrs. McInnish swept through the kitchen door with a bowl of green beans. I glanced at the three other boarders as I spread my napkin in my lap.
   Mrs. McInnish said a blessing, and we all began to spoon food onto our plates. Conversation bubbled like soup on a hot stove: Miss Thompson regaling us with stories about her music students, Miss Readdy complaining about the girl she’d hired to help at the millinery, and Miss Frank giggling over the romantic gestures of her latest beau. I forked food into my mouth and kept silent. I’d learned quickly that none of these girls were interested in the world of mathematics.
   My room at Mrs. McInnish’s served its purpose, but not in the company it afforded. Long ago I’d decided I had no time for young women engaged in less than serious pursuits. Which meant, of course, that I had few female friends. Or friends of any gender, for that matter. I dabbed at the corner of my mouth with my napkin, anxious to be away from the table and engrossed again in mathematical theories and practical problems. Numbers remained constant in a way other things did not.
   The telephone rang. Mrs. McInnish frowned and hopped up from her seat, wondering aloud who would interrupt supper. A moment later, she returned. “Someone wanting to speak with you, Miss Bowman.”
   All eyes turned to me. My stomach sank toward the floor. “Are you certain they asked for me?”
   “Certain as the day is long. Hurry up now. Susie said the call’s come through from Dunn. That’s to the west, isn’t it?”
   Dunn, Oklahoma. My heart flopped in my chest and my legs turned to lead.
   I hadn’t heard from my family in months. Only my sister Jewel’s occasional newsy letters filled the gap created when Daddy’s stroke left him unable to write. And come to think of it, I hadn’t had one of those letters since late August. My breath caught in my chest. Had something happened to Daddy?
   Mrs. McInnish pulled at my chair. I forced myself to stand, to jerk my way into the kitchen, where the telephone box hung on the wall. I pressed the receiver to my ear and spoke into the mouthpiece protruding like a nose beneath the two bells that looked like eyes. “This is Miss Bowman.”
   “Lula.” My name came as quiet as a breath across the line. “Lula, I need you.”
   “Jewel? Is that you?”
   The rhythm of crying. My fingers gripped the earpiece more tightly. “What is it, Jewel?”
   “Davy’s gone.”
   My whole body tensed. Davy? Her husband?
   “What do you mean, gone?”
   She hiccuped a sob. “The funeral’s Saturday.”
   Davy Wyatt, always so full of life and laughter, dead? How could it be?
   “I need you, Lula. The kids need you. Please come home.” Fear rose in my throat, threatening to choke me. All my life, I’d been in the way. The littlest sister. The baby. And yet it was Jewel who took me in when Mama passed, who helped me afford that first year of college. In spite of her infernal matchmaking schemes, I knew she loved me. And now she needed me. She needed me. “Of course I’ll come.”
   “Tomorrow?” She sounded so frail, so fragile.
   I swallowed hard, praying for strength. “Tonight.”
   “Thank you.” The line went silent, at least until Susie, the operator, squawked in my ear. I hung up, stumbled into the dining room, and fell back into my chair.
   “What is it?” Miss Frank leaned closer, her face as pale as mine felt.
   “My sister’s husband has died. I have to go to her.” New strength surged through my limbs. I rose. “I have to catch the train. Tonight.”
   Questions followed me up the stairs, but I had no answers. I brushed aside my satchel, filled a suitcase with a few clothes, then scrawled a quick note to Professor Clayton, telling him I’d return by the beginning of next week. I knew he’d understand. I only hoped the college administration would be as obliging.
Anne Mateer, Playing by Heart Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2014. Used by permission.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Christmas at Rose Hill Farm: An Amish Love Story by Suzanne Woods Fisher, © 2014

Billy Lapp's visitor's eyes were like that ~ Neither blue nor purple, they were a near-perfect match for the amethyst crystal interior of a geode he remembered that Dawdi Zook, his mother's father, had kept on his fireplace mantel back in Stoney Ridge....While the minerals on the exterior created a hard shell, the ones that seeped to the interior were transformed into beauty. An example from nature to show how God brings good out of bad.
   --Christmas at Rose Hill Farm, 18

Billy's memories of Stoney Ridge came to the surface unbidden. He is a rose rustler for Penn State ~ identifying heirlooms long forgotten. Like his life it seems.

Purchase a copy: http://ow.ly/ARPVX
Bess Riehl goes to the bus stop to pick up the stranger coming to identify their "lost" potted rose she found beneath a workbench in the greenhouse at Rose Hill Farm. Growing heirloom roses, this one stood off by itself, hidden from view it seemed. Strong rootstock had been in the Riehl family for generations; sturdy, disease resistant, and able to survive even in neglected gardens.

Billy left four years ago, unknown to Bess of his whereabouts. Cousin and childhood friend of Amos Lapp, Bess's soon groom-to-be, Billy comes back to Stoney Ridge to identify the rose. Having to wait until the rosebud opened to complete his research, Billy commutes from Penn State to the Riehl's greenhouse frequently. Memories from his past with his family and with Bess define what he has left behind.

This story grows as forgiveness is paramount in going forward. Within heart-searching, Billy, Amos, and Bess find true meaning in where they are and where they can be with pride extinguished. The bright spot in their lives is the bishop's daughter, Maggie Zook. She lightens up the mood with her quirkiness.

I looked forward to and anticipated George coming on the scene to help Billy out, in his wise words and in covering Billy's work at the College Station greenhouse while Billy was away. He is Billy's comfortable visitor coming in out of the cold, sharing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and hot coffee. He was ready with what was needed by Billy specifically.

I am reminded of Psalm 139, how our loving Father is with us and never leaves us.

About the author:  Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of the Inn at Eagle Hill series, Lancaster County Secrets series, and the Stoney Ridge Seasons series, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. She is also the coauthor of a new Amish children's series, The Adventures of Lily Lapp. Her interest in the Anabaptist cultures can be directly traced to her grandfather, who was raised in the Old Order German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne is a Carol Award winner and a Christy Award finalist. She is a columnist for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazines. She lives in California.

Download Suzanne's free app! http://bit.ly/10Tygyi
Find Suzanne online: website, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for Suzanne Woods Fisher's novel ~ Christmas at Rose Hill Farm. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy an excerpt of Christmas at Rose Hill Farm: An Amish Love Story ~ Chapter One

1

A pale thread of gray seeped over the windowsill, wakening Bess Riehl with its strange light. Outside, a limb tapped the eaves. Disoriented, still fuzzy from sleep, she lifted her head to peer out the window and gasped in delight. Overnight, Stoney Ridge had been blanketed with deep snow, transformed into a world of pristine white. Just in time to make the day, this Sunday, all the more special. Not just any Sunday, but the day her engagement would be announced at the end of church. Published, as they called it. And in less than two weeks, she would be married.
   Married. She was going to be a married woman. This Christmas, she would be married. For the rest of her life. Absentmindedly, she put her hand against the frosty windowpane to feel the chill. Her insides felt as quivery as her cold fingertips.
   Was it normal to feel all trembly inside, scared and excited and filled with strange feelings? She hoped so, because whenever she thought about the bishop announcing her name today in church, she felt light-headed, slightly dizzy, a little nauseous, and terribly worried about fainting. Bess was what her grandmother used to call a nervous little thing, as jumpy as a dog with fleas. Twenty now, she couldn’t deny the truth of that, but she was definitely bolder than she was at fifteen when she lived for a summer with Mammi at Rose Hill Farm. Bolder, certainly, and yet Bess still preferred to be invisible in any group setting. Such as . . . church.
   If she couldn’t handle having her name announced in public, how would she be able to survive her wedding day? She dropped her head. She had no idea. None at all.
   But she wouldn’t be alone. Amos would be there too.
   Amos Lapp. Her thoughts drifted off to him and a smile eased her anxiety. He was so kind, was Amos. They had met, years ago, through his cousin Billy Lapp, whom Bess refused to allow herself to think about for more than a moment or two, once or twice a week. Mostly, she wondered where Billy was and if he ever thought about her. And what he thought about her. And why he left.
   Stop. Stop it, Bess!
   There. She expunged Billy Lapp from her mind and went back to thinking about Amos, whom she adored. Not Billy, whom she didn’t.
   In a way, she envied Amos. He loved her so completely, so thoroughly. There was no doubt in his mind that Bess was the only girl for him. She didn’t think she could ever feel so sure, so free of doubts about her feelings. Amos’s devotion reminded her of the way she had once felt about Billy Lapp, but she was much younger then. Young and foolish. Die erscht Lieb roscht net, awwer schimmelich maag sie waerre, her grandmother used to say. First love does not rust, but it might get moldy.
   That’s what had happened to her feelings about Billy. Molded.
   Amos was a fine choice for a partner in life, in work. He was older than Bess by a few years, was already managing his late father’s farm at Windmill Farm, was solid and generous and accepting of Bess’s timorous nature. He was trustworthy and devoted and calm natured and he wasn’t wishy-washy about being Plain or loving Bess—unlike that someone else whom she tried not to think about. And then she realized what she was doing. Comparing.
   Stop it, Bess. Stop it!
   She covered her face with her hands. Why was she struggling to tamp down thoughts about Billy lately?
   Billy Lapp had been Bess’s first love. Only twelve when she had first met him after her grandfather’s funeral, she remembered feeling struck dumb by his good looks. But it was on her second visit to Rose Hill Farm, when she was fifteen and had come to Stoney Ridge for a short visit only to end up staying, that she lost her heart to him.
   It was the summer when her widowed father had met and married Lainey. Bess had fallen head over heels in love with Billy but was caught in something her friend Maggie Zook called a classic love triangle. Maggie knew all about these kinds of things from reading romance novels on the sly. Bess loved Billy, Billy loved Betsy Mast, Betsy loved someone else who didn’t love her. Bess’s love for Billy was dampened, watered down, but not extinguished. Not entirely. Then, the following year, she and Billy were slowly but surely finding their way to each other. Suddenly, Betsy Mast reappeared, out of the blue, on the same day that Billy had a terrible row with his family, and he left Stoney Ridge without a glance back.
   Once again, Bess felt her heart shrink like a sponge being wrung out. It was always in the back of her mind that, given the chance, Billy might choose Betsy over her as he had once done. It had been a sore point between them, and yet she understood it too—maybe there was just something about that first love. A tiny part of her couldn’t let go of Billy.
   And Amos, dear Amos, had always known a part of her longed for Billy. He courted her patiently and persistently, all the while his dark brown eyes would search her face, trying to see into her heart.
   Last month, when Amos asked her to marry him for the third time, he told her that he wanted an answer and he wanted it to be yes. She knew it was time to face reality. Billy was gone, Amos was here. Billy did not love her in a wholehearted way. Amos did.
   A conversation she’d once had with her grandmother floated up from the recesses of her mind. “Bess,” Mammi would say, “you can’t go back, not in this life. You have to go forward.”
   So she had said yes.
   Still, a nagging thought kept poking at her, like a sliver in her finger. Why wasn’t she more excited about getting married? She should be. Amos Lapp was a wonderful man. But she could never bring herself to tell him that she loved him in return. She thought she did love him, but the words clogged in her throat whenever she tried. Was it because she had imagined saying those words to Billy?
   Stop it, Bess. Stop!
   She turned from the window and dressed quickly, then hurried outside to be the first to make footprints in the snow, before her father woke and started choring. Childish, she knew, for someone her age, but she couldn’t help herself. It was a game she and her dad had played for as long as she could remember. Lainey, her dad’s wife, only smiled and rolled her eyes at their silly traditions.
   Bess delighted in the seasons, each one, and took special pleasure in winter’s first appearance. As she walked out the kitchen door, a cold blast of air hit her in the face, making her eyes sting. Wrapped in coat and mittens with a scarf on her head, she went out to the yard and for nearly a minute she stood utterly still, basking in the simple familiarity of such a sight, such a home. A place she loved. The world was so quiet, so muffled, under a blanket of snowfall.
   She wandered through the snow to the rose fields, breathing in the crisp, clean, freezing air, cheeks numb. She stood and gazed at the roses that her grandmother loved so much, roses that were pruned down to canes for winter’s rest. She turned around slowly in a circle, committing to memory every square inch of this farm she loved so dearly. The December sun was rising beyond the silhouette of the barn, pushing away the remaining clouds from last night’s snowstorm. A sunbeam reflected off the glass roof of the greenhouse. On an impulse, Bess walked over to the greenhouse, trudging through the snow so she left tracks, and twisted the door handle. A blast of warm, moist, humus-scented air hit her in the face. Out of nowhere, her cat Blackie appeared and curled around her legs.
   Bess bent down to scratch the cat behind its ears, then made her way down the brick walk in the dim morning light, between rows of clay pots holding shoulder-high rose canes being propagated for next spring’s fields. She checked the wall thermometer and smiled, satisfied: sixty-five degrees. Only as warm as necessary.
   Farther back, closer to the heat source, were bushes of roses in bloom. When she reached them, she stopped to breathe in their scent and admire their blossoms. There was the Dainty Bess, a hybrid tea, light pink, single petals, a gift from her dad for her eighteenth birthday. Frowning, she noticed something on Lady Emily Peel and leaned over to examine it. It was beautiful, but prone to powdery mildew. The rose, of course—not Lady Emily.
   The last two winters, Bess and her father had forced blooms using artificial lighting to trick the roses’ internal clocks into thinking spring had come. These roses were not for sale but to keep up a steady supply of rose petals. Bess’s grandmother had taught her to make soaps, teas, and jams from the petals. Among old garden roses, those with red and deep pink flowers tended to have the strongest perfume, so those varieties were the ones Bess used for rose products. Recently, she’d been studying up on another use for roses: remedies.
   It had started when Eli Yoder, an older fellow from church, asked if she knew of a cure for baldness. She hunted through her grandmother’s books and found a rose remedy for male baldness from a time when nature’s wonder drug was a rose. Rose honey to soothe inflamed tonsils. Rose vinegar to alleviate headaches. Rose poultices to stanch wounds. Bess found a recipe for rosewater compress to allay female hysteria, though she wasn’t sure there was much of a market to hysterical women. She certainly didn’t know any.
   Unfortunately, the remedy she found for Eli Yoder’s baldness didn’t have the desired effect, though he did tell her his athlete’s foot had cleared up.
   Warm now, Bess took off her coat and mittens and tossed them on the wooden stool. She heard the greenhouse door open and turned around to see her father cross the threshold. “You beat me to the snow!”
   She grinned. “If you snooze, you lose.”
   Jonah Riehl walked up the path, his eyes automatically checking on rose propagations along the way. Halfway up, he stopped and put his hands on his hips, frowning at a row of slips that hadn’t propagated. “This greenhouse needs a good cleaning out.”
   Bess nodded. Each long shelf was crowded with pots, nearly groaning with weight.
   Jonah took a few more steps along the brick path, then pivoted on his heels. “Might be time to think about a new greenhouse. A bigger one.”
   Bess spun around and busied herself with touching the soil of a few pots with her fingertips, to see how moist they were. In most every situation, Bess was the one who pushed her father to try new things, to think more broadly, to consider new rose products for the market. But not when it came to this greenhouse. She didn’t want to hear any such talk about a new greenhouse. So many cherished memories were captured under this old glass roof—of Mammi, of Bess’s education about roses. Of Billy Lapp.
   Even now, years later, she couldn’t go into the greenhouse without being aware of Billy’s influence on Rose Hill Farm. Very stirring stuff. He had been instrumental in setting Rose Hill Farm’s business into action. He had taught himself to graft roses onto Mammi’s strong rootstocks, ones that had been in the Riehl family for generations. The varieties were varied and unusual; grafting sped up the growing process. No longer did Mammi have to wait two years for slips to root and grow large enough to sell, or for rosehips that took even longer. Rose Hill Farm became the source for Pennsylvanians looking for heritage roses. They shipped bare root roses all winter and sold flowering rosebushes during spring and summer.
   Bess loved this greenhouse more than any other place on earth. As she worked, she could almost sense her grandmother’s pleasure as she peered down from heaven’s curtain.
   She wondered what Caleb Zook, the bishop, would say if she were to ask him such a question: Can those who have passed to Glory peer down on those who have not? She could imagine him bending over slightly, to listen carefully to what she was saying. He always did that. It was one of his nicest ways. Maybe she would ask him today after church. But maybe not.
   “Tomorrow,” her dad was saying, “I’ll get started thinning out those dead slips to give more breathing room to the propagated ones. For now, we’d better get back to the house. Lainey will be wondering what happened to us for breakfast. Church starts in less than an hour.”
   “I’ll be there in a moment. I’m just going to water a few dry plants.”
   Jonah turned and walked down the brick path, limping as he went. Years ago, when Bess was a newborn, he had been injured in a buggy accident that took the life of his first wife and left him with a bad back. She watched her father as he crossed the snowy yard to reach the house, feeling a swell of love rise in her heart. This morning, his spine seemed slightly more curved, the lines on his face etched a little deeper.
   What was the matter with her today? She felt so maudlin and sentimental. But she couldn’t imagine leaving Rose Hill Farm and that’s exactly what was going to happen.
   She watered a few plants that seemed a little dry, checked on a few others, and bent down to pick up her coat that the cat had pulled down to the ground and curled up on to nap. As she shooed Blackie away, something caught her eye. In the far corner of the greenhouse, tucked deep under the workbench, was a potted rose, fully leafed out with one lone bud, still enclosed in its green capsule. She got down on her knees and dragged the pot out into the open but it was too heavy for her to lift.
   Strange. It was a rose she didn’t recognize, and after so many years at Rose Hill Farm, she knew each and every rose. And why would it be about to bloom now? Yet with only one bud? She looked at it again, smelled the bud, studied the veining on the leaves. A wispy memory, fuzzy and out of focus, something she hadn’t thought about in years and years, floated through her mind.
   No. Not a chance. It couldn’t be that rose. That rose?!

~*~

   On Friday morning, Billy Lapp gave an all-over shudder as he walked into one of Penn State University’s greenhouses, happy to be out of the biting wind. There was a pleasantness to the greenhouse at this time of day that could always manage to take the edge off a man’s early-morning surliness, especially when the weather was bad. Even when snow, sleet, or biting cold pressed against the glass windows, inside the greenhouse, with the door sealed tightly, it was never chilly.
   Billy Lapp’s supervisor, Jill Koch, was waiting inside for him, examining some drought-resistant wheat seedlings he’d been experimenting with. She straightened when she saw him. “Morning. I got a call from someone who might have an unidentified rose on his property. He’s spent a week trying to find someone who could identify it and was directed to us by a Rose Society. I asked if he could send a photograph, but he said he didn’t own a camera.”
   Billy set down his thermos and brown-bag lunch on the shelf that served as a desk, yanked off his coat, and tossed it next to his lunch. “What kind of a rose?”
   “He’s not sure.”
   He rolled his eyes and groaned. “It’s probably an American Beauty.” The most common of all garden roses. No wonder the Rose Society shrugged it off.
   “I don’t think so,” she said thoughtfully. “He seemed to know his roses. He said he thought it might be an old rose.”
   Billy stilled. He was passionate about finding old roses. It was the reason he was given the unofficial job of being the university’s rose rustler. “Where did he find it? In a cemetery?” Old cemeteries were the best places to find old roses. It was an old custom to plant a mother’s favorite flower beside her grave and, most often, that favorite was a rose. Unlike gardens, cemeteries weren’t usually re-landscaped, so old roses survived long after they were pushed out of gardens. Many of those old heritage roses were sturdy, disease resistant, and survived complete neglect. Just wanting for someone, like Billy, to find them.
   “He didn’t say where he found it, but I think he said it was potted.”
   Billy was intrigued; nothing in the world matched the intrigue of discovering a rose’s identity. Nothing. “What did he want?”
   “He wanted someone to come out and identify the rose. The Rose Society told him we have a rose rustler on staff to track down unusual finds.” She lifted her eyebrows and gave him a smug smile. “You.”
   He glanced around the greenhouse to assess how much work he needed to finish before he could take a few hours away from it. “I suppose I could check it out on Monday. Did you get the address?”
   “I wrote it down the way it sounded on the answering machine. Not sure I got it all, though. I could have sworn I heard a horse passing by.” Jill handed him the slip of paper but held on as he reached out for it. “Do you have plans for Christmas?”
   He tugged the paper out of her hand and stuffed it in his jeans pocket. Over her shoulder he noticed that a PVC joint was coming undone in the skeleton of the greenhouse. He hated these cheap, plastic greenhouses, called hoop houses, that had sprung up in the last decade. Hoop houses with their plastic sheeting just weren’t made to last. He sidled around Jill to jam the PVC joint back together with the heels of his hand, pondering how much he longed for a good old-fashioned glass greenhouse. “Is it already Christmas?”
   “You’re kidding, right? It’s only a few weeks away.” She fingered the collar of his coat, hanging over the shelf. “Are you planning to spend it with your family?”
   He knew where this conversation was going and wished it were over. “To be honest, I haven’t given any thought to Christmas.” That was an honest comment. He scrupulously avoided any thoughts of Christmas.
   Jill walked up to him, standing just a little too close. “You never talk about yourself or your family. Sometimes I wonder if you’re part of the Federal Witness Protection program.”
   He grinned. “There’s just not much to tell. I’d rather hear about you.”
   “You’re not going to get away with that kind of talk. Someday, I’d like to find out all about you.”
   “Absolutely.” Not a chance. A girl like Jill Koch would turn tail and run if she knew about his humble upbringing.
   “So . . . would you like to join me for Christmas? Come for dinner?”
   He stiffened. “Let me get back to you on that.”
   The smile on her face faded into a frown. “Why am I not surprised that you’re dodging the question?” She leaned closer to him, lingering, and he stepped back, touched his hat, and said, “Thank you for bringing the message.”
   “One of these days, Billy Lapp . . .” She turned and sauntered down the long narrow aisle, stopping to check a plant here and there. She stopped at the wheat seedlings and turned back to him, all stiff and starchy. “They’re too dry. Get them watered.”
   Jill Koch was an attractive girl and had made no secret that she was interested in him, but he knew it wasn’t smart to combine work and romance, especially when she happened to be his supervisor and she reported directly to the greenhouse manager—who happened to be her uncle. If it didn’t work out between them, and it probably wouldn’t, he’d be the one out of a job.
   He needed this job. He loved it. He’d worked at Penn State Extension for almost four years now, pruning, transplanting seedlings, cultivating flowers, schlepping large bags of soil around, fertilizing, studying and implementing pest control, and gleaning as much about horticulture as he could. The work suited him perfectly.
   Everything was finally going right for him.
   Why, then, did something keep gnawing at him? An aching loneliness, a feeling that he was missing something. Out of habit, he tugged the end of his sweater sleeve over his left wrist. It was the holidays, he supposed. Christmas was the hardest time of all for him. Like he was always outside looking in at others.
   He unrolled the hose, turned it to low, and gently sprinkled the seedlings with water as he heard a soft, rhythmic knocking, just audible over the hiss of the hose. He turned off the hose and walked to the end of the greenhouse. Swinging the door open, Billy blinked twice. A dark-skinned man stood in the dim, gray morning. Tall and lanky, a fellow down on his luck, wearing a thin overcoat that wasn’t suited for a cold Pennsylvania winter.
   The greenhouses were at the back of the university campus near a run-down part of town and it wasn’t unusual for a stray fellow to wander in, looking for a place to warm up for a while. Hobos, tramps, vagabonds, and vagrants, Jill called them, rough customers. She warned him to chase them off, but Billy never did. To his way of thinking, everybody needed a little help now and then. Where would he be without the help a few had given him during that dark period when he first left home? “Why don’t you come sit by the heater and warm yourself?”
   “I don’t mean to intrude,” the hobo said. “I can see you’re busy.”
   “I’m not going to let you go without a cup of coffee to warm your belly.” Billy grabbed his widemouthed thermos and handed it to the hobo. Glancing at his face, he was struck by the unusual color of his eyes. Neither blue nor purple, they were a near-perfect match for the amethyst crystal interior of a geode he remembered that Dawdi Zook, his mother’s father, had kept on his fireplace mantel back in Stoney Ridge. He could envision it clearly, though it had been a decade since he’d seen it up close in his grandfather’s work-worn hands. Transfixed, Billy could practically hear his grandfather’s deep, rumbly voice: While the minerals on the exterior created a hard shell, the ones that seeped to the interior were transformed into beauty. An example from nature to show how God brings good out of bad.
   The hobo handed the thermos back to Billy, pulling him into the present. As Billy screwed the lid on the thermos, he was surprised to realize the man was younger than he had assumed—or maybe it was that his face was unlined. Untroubled. Without stress or strife. And he didn’t act defeated like so many of the other men who wandered through College Station.
   The hobo was admiring a set of orchids with their delicate blooms. “Beautiful, aren’t they? So intricately designed. Fragile yet long lasting.”
   “Are you a flower lover?”
   “Yes. Always have been. My father’s a top-notch gardener.”
   Beyond the hobo’s shoulder, Billy spotted his brown-bag lunch. “Are you hungry? I made two sandwiches.” He reached for the bag, opened it, took out one sandwich, wrapped in waxed paper, and handed it to the man. “Nothing fancy—just peanut butter and jelly. Made it myself.”
   “I am a little hungry. Had a long way to go this morning.”
   “Wait here.” Billy extracted a metal stool, grimy but sturdy, from under the rows of plants. Brushing it off with his hand, he set it down and beckoned the hobo to it. “Sit a spell. I’d enjoy the company on this cold morning.” He pulled a crate from under a shelf and turned it over to sit on.
   The hobo sat down and smiled at Billy. There was something calming about him, as if he had all the time in the world and there was no place else he’d rather be than right there, in a greenhouse with Billy.
   Before the hobo unwrapped his sandwich, he bowed his head and Billy thought he heard him offer some kind of quiet prayer spoken in another language. It was mumbled so softly, he might have been mistaken. Or maybe the man was drunk, though he didn’t seem to be. A few weeks ago, a drunk wandered into the greenhouse and Billy sobered him up with high-octane coffee, so thick you could cut it with a knife, before he sent him on his way.
   “So you’ve got quite a knack for plants, from what I hear.”
   Billy glanced up. “Where’d you hear that?”
   The man took a bite of the sandwich. “Skippy peanut butter?”
   Billy nodded. “I’m Billy, by the way.”
   “Call me George.”
   George took a swig of coffee to wash down the peanut butter sandwich. He looked up at Billy. “Folger’s?”
   “Yup.” It was on sale at the grocery store.
   “Old Quaker family from Nantucket. Benjamin Franklin’s mother was a Folger. Did you know that?”
   “No. No I didn’t.” Billy took a bite of the sandwich, chewed, swallowed. “George, mind if I ask how you ended up as a hobo?”
   “A hobo?” A smile flickered like a candle across George’s face. He stretched his legs out in front of him and leaned back on his elbows against the shelf.
   “You’re obviously a bright guy. Have you had trouble finding a job?”
   “Not so much. Work comes along just when it’s needed.” He finished the sandwich, swallowed one last swig of coffee, and rose to his feet. “Well, I’ll be off then. Thanks for sharing your lunch.”
   Billy looked at George’s threadbare overcoat. There was no way that thin coat could keep him warm. He grabbed his blue jacket from the shelf and tossed it at the hobo. “Take it. I have two.”
   A soft look came into George’s eyes as he gripped the jacket in his hands. “Thank you, Billy.” He slipped it on and slowly zipped the coat up to his chin. Then he reached out and wrapped his arms around Billy.
   Billy stood there, stiffly, awkwardly. Men don’t hug! He could never remember receiving a hug from another man. Not once. Receiving a hug from a man—a stranger! a hobo!—was awkward and uncomfortable. And yet, it felt like George was giving Billy a blessing and a benediction, wrapped up in a hug. A deep calm surrounded Billy and he felt himself relax, ever so slightly. George released him, gripping Billy’s upper arms and smiling gently with that calm old-soul smile. “Until we meet again, Billy Lapp.”
   George turned to leave and it occurred to Billy that he wanted him to stay. The desire to remain in the company of anyone—much less a hobo—was so unfamiliar that Billy wondered if he might be coming down with something. A cold or fever, perhaps.
   George stepped around Billy, then stopped and bent down to pick up a piece of paper. “I think you dropped this.” He handed it to Billy and passed him to reach for the door, then glanced over his shoulder. “This has all the makings to be a wonderful Christmas, Billy Lapp. One of the best.”
   As the door clicked shut behind George, a disturbing thought emerged. How did this hobo know Billy’s last name? That was creepy. Had George been watching him? Was he a psycho? Then Billy remembered that his nametag was pinned to his shirt pocket.
   He glanced at the slip of paper in his hand. It was the information Jill had given him about the caller with the unidentified rose. He unfolded the slip of paper and swallowed. The address was Rose Hill Farm in Stoney Ridge.
   Bess’s home.
   Billy’s peaceful mood turned sour.
Suzanne Woods Fisher, Christmas at Rose Hill Farm Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2014. Used by permission.


CHRISTMAS AT ROSE HILL FARM iPad Bundle Giveaway & sign up to host a Book Club Brunch!

Join best-selling, award-winning author Suzanne Woods Fisher for an Amish Christmas to remember. Filled with heart-twisting moments amid the sweet anticipation of love, Christmas at Rose Hill Farm will charm readers into the holiday spirit.

Suzanne is hosting a "Christmas Rose" iPad bundle giveaway and a nation-wide Christmas at Rose Hill Farm Book Club Brunch in November. Enter the giveaway below and sign up to host a brunch HERE.
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TWO grand prize winners will receive:
  • An iPad
  • A Rose-patterned iPad case
  • A Rose-patterned phone case (for any model phone)
  • A Christmas wreath
  • A set of Christmas hand-towels
  • Christmas at Rose Hill Farm by Suzanne Woods Fisher
Five second place winners will receive:
  • Christmas at Rose Hill Farm by Suzanne Woods Fisher
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on September 28th. All winners will be announced September 29th at Suzanne's blog.

rosehill-brunchbuttonHost a Christmas at Rose Hill Farm Book Club Brunch! This fall Suzanne is inviting book clubs across the nation to throw a Christmas at Rose Hill Farm Book Club Brunch. Sign up here between now and September 29. If you’re selected as one of the 50 hosts, you’ll receive a copy of the book plus two other Revell titles (give them away as party prizes or door prizes or keep them for yourself), a complete party kit, and a discount code to purchase copies of Christmas at Rose Hill Farm for your book club at a discount. Suzanne is also encouraging each book club brunch to collect non-perishable items for their local community shelter. She will be making a donation to her favorite charity (helping abused women and children) for every brunch that meets their goal. Click here for more details and to SIGN UP!

Don't miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to visit Suzanne's blog on the 29th to see if you won one of the great prizes! (Or better yet, subscribe to her blog and have the winner announcement delivered to your inbox!)