Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Place at Our Table by Amy Clipston, © 2017

Amish Homestead, Book 1

A Place at Our Table

My Review:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
This story focuses primarily on the Riehl and Dienner families as they meet each other and their lives become interwoven through loss and moving forward. It is a story of hope and continuance in the building of relationships with each other and growing trust in the Lord.

love going to Amish communities - been to Arthur and Arcola in IL and Nappanee and Shipshewana in INJames Riehl, affectionately called Jamie by his family and close friends, has a lot on his plate that has nothing to do with food. As the oldest son, he is determined to be responsible for the major upkeep of their Amish homestead to lessen the chores on their dairy farm for their daed, Vernon Riehl. Jamie has been a volunteer fireman since a teenager and is in his middle twenties. He has a twin brother and sister near his age, Mark and Laura, and a younger sister, Cindy, 17. Jamie has recently transferred to Station 5.

A must for Chicagoans! Blue Gate Amish restaurant in Shipshewana, IN.  SUPER Delicious!!Kayla Dienner's family own a restaurant in Bird-in-Hand, near the fire station. Her brother, Simeon, was a firefighter and died during a rescue the previous year. Meeting Jamie when Station 5 is called to their barn fire, her younger teen brother, Nathan, discloses his desire to be trained too. Simeon's widow, Eva, and their baby live in an apartment within their family home. They all work together at their Dienner's Family Restaurant.

The families initially come together to help during the rebuilding of the Dienner's barn. I liked the growing relationship between Kayla and Jamie's sisters, Laura and Cindy. Struggles surface with what Kayla perceives as interference when Jamie tells Nathan about previous assistance calls, she sees as encouraging him when she has already lost one brother.

The support within the families is encouraging for them as difficulties are talked about together with a listening ear. Standing by each other, they develop an ability to see beyond today to a future that can be promising beyond their painful memories and cares. But it doesn't come quickly as burdens are shared and processed. A budding relationship is tenderly nurtured without becoming crowding or advising by those close to them, but knowing "I am here for you."

author Amy Clipston

A Place at Our Table is very special to me because it’s the first in my Amish Homestead series. I’m thrilled for my readers to meet the Riehl family members, and experience their joys and heartaches with them. Since Jamie Riehl, the hero in this book, is a volunteer firefighter, this book is dedicated to all the brave men and women who are serving or have served as firefighters and emergency medical technicians. ~ author Amy Clipston

***Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for sending a copy of this novel. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay, © 2017

Mary Davies, Nathan Hillam, and Isabel Dwyer may find Bath, England, more than a two-week getaway amid other Austen character wannabees. A fancy ball and social interaction may prove to be more than a contemporary replay for them. Join author Katherine Reay as she explores the excitement and period hideaways as these characters become enthralled beyond what they could have imagined. Somehow, it all points to their now and future by exploration of the past.

I don't know how fair this is...

     Isabel's conversation with Mary:
"... I owe you. I don't want you to be angry, but I did something. I..." Her eyes darted over my shoulder and she swallowed whatever she was about to say. "Oh. Your friend Moira is headed this way."
   --Austen Escape, 25
and, when will she get back to it ~ or will she expound on it further? I have read all of Katherine Reay's novels, and they get deeper. So be sure and join in! You will enJ*O*Y the adventure.

Two best friends journey from Austin, TX to Bath, England. An unexpected twist in their vacation leaves them both imagining something new for their friendship and their lives.
~ author Katherine Reay

What a beautiful drawing of some of Austen's novels.
Regency England ~ the town of Bath
Arriving early with minimal sleep due to anticipation and excitement Mary and Isabel drew near. Before them stood Braithwaite House, their home for two weeks.
   The gallery was empty. I stood and absorbed the complete stillness. Here the silence felt right. I wondered if I'd ever truly heard it before. The realization of how much noise filled my world only became apparent in its absence.
   --Ibid., 109
The dawning of a new day; the absorption of a different world, a different time before us, if we would but breathe it into our beings.

(Okay! Another character told what Isabel didn't. We'll see what develops...)

Pride & Prejudice. I have to say my favorite sappy, romantically…Real or imagined, role-play within their new surroundings encapsulated them, easily drawn to an earlier time period they had only envisioned. Would the choice of their character reveal who they are, or as an observation placed upon them by another?

While you are downtown or walking The Hike and Bike Trail make sure to stay till sunset.  From March to September you can see the world's largest urban bat colony (close to 2 million) fly at nightClarity became focused in returning to the Austin left behind. With absorption of the time away, the lens became clearer.

I like the unexpected in Katherine Reay's writings. It all accumulates however, not in the way you might think is before them. My favorite character was Gertrude, an older lady who is able to see her own life through the new occupants of Braithwaite House.

Katherine Reay
author Katherine Reay
Thomas Nelson

***Thank you, author Katherine Reay, for inviting me to come along on the book launching of The Austen Escape, and to Thomas Nelson Publishing for sending me an Advanced Reader's Copy. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Dear Mr. KnightleyLizzy & JaneThe Brontë PlotA Portrait of Emily Price

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Christmas Blessing by Melody Carlson, © 2017

Cover Art

I first read Melody Carlson's Whispering Pine series and continued to read her Tales of Grace Chapel Inn books, followed by single titles. The Christmas Blessing is 2017's release just in time to add to her previous Christmastime stories. Set in the early 1940's, this story is during the unsettled time of WWII. As today, families were separated and loved ones longing for news. Amelia Richards receives dreaded news and prepares to leave San Diego to go to her baby's grandparents ~ whom she has not met previously. Will love's journey conquer the unknown reception when she gets there?

The station platform at San Diego
Becoming ill, both she and her baby come under the care of Dr. George Bradley, a very vital person in the story. His wisdom in prayer outshines any uncertainty brought by the interweaving of their lives.

A courageous story of hope, bravery, and most of all trust, Amelia's love for her child is selflessly demonstrated. A very visual story, the author brought the characters to life and each one's perspective is shown.

I really liked this story.

***Thank you to Early Reviewers ~ LibraryThing for my win of Melody Carlson's The Christmas Blessing. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

The Beloved Christmas Quilt by Wanda E. Brunstetter, Jean Brunstetter, and Richelle Brunstetter, © 2017

Three Stories of Family, Romance, and Amish Faith

       One Quilt Binds Three Generations of Amish Women
Enjoy the gift of a brand new romance from New York Times bestselling author Wanda E. Brunstetter, along with stories by her daughter-in-law, Jean and granddaughter, Richelle.
For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me. Psalm 31:3
The scripture embroidered on the back of a beloved quilt brings hope to three generations of Pennsylvania Amish women at Christmastime.

 My Review:

The beginnings of a treasured quilt passed down to the next generation. Not only that is passed down, but wonderful writings!! I must confess the last story is my favorite written by Mrs. Brunstetter's granddaughter, Richelle... but, let's start at the beginning.

Luella's Promise
by Wanda E. Brunstetter

Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania
Day breaks like any other ~ sunshiney, barn chores, an awaited breakfast with family around the table. Luella Ebersol is then on her way to her beloved friend's home to care for her. Dena Zook is looking to the ways of her family, and it includes Luella.

It's always interesting to see how the Amish haul their building supplies. Atlee Zook becomes a strong figure in the story. I would like to have entered his woodworking shop with the scents of curly shavings about as he concentrates to complete his orders for his customers. His young son, Daryl, is well taken care of by Luella as she continues working in their home after the passing of his wife.

Karen's Gift
by Jean Brunstetter

Lykens, Pennsylvania
This is a beautiful story of adjusting to a move away from parents and the decisions Karen Allgyer and her husband, Seth, each come to in regard to their home. As their family grows, the relationship is continued for the children with visits from their grandparents.

Seth's growth in character is developed and enriched as he deepens relationship within their immediate family and faces challenges on his work duties. Open communication becomes a strength for them as Seth and Karen learn by sharing their hearts together.

Roseanna's Groom
by Richelle Brunstetter

Lykens, Pennsylvania
This story is about Seth and Karen Allgyer's children as they are older. I liked so much the closeness of this family covering three generations. The joy within the home is so apparent by the connection of their lives and shared fun and chores between them. With difficulties faced, they listen to each other and develop strong bonds that enable them to go forward and to trust the Lord with their lives.
He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.
Proverbs 16:20
I especially liked the decision-making process that formed truth in their lives by depending on the Lord. A continuation of generations before them developed into a love that endures.

Image result for amish pies
A pie recipe follows each story!

EnJ*O*Y this excerpt from The Beloved Christmas Quilt

Luella’s Promise
by Wanda E. Brunstetter

Chapter 1

Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania

Luella Ebersol had never been lazy, but this morning it was all she could do to push the covers aside and pull herself out of bed. She’d put in long hours yesterday, taking care of Atlee Zook’s wife, Dena, and their son, Daryl. When Dena’s health declined a few months ago, Luella had been hired as her caregiver while Atlee was at work in his shop or had to be away from home for other reasons. Atlee usually stayed home from their biweekly church services on Sundays, so Luella could go with her family, but sometimes she sat with Dena, allowing Atlee to attend the service.
   It was not easy leaving the warm confines of her blankets this morning, and Luella cringed when her bare feet touched the cold wooden floor. The late November weather had turned chilly, and snow was in the forecast. The dull light coming into her room was an indication of how dreary it was outdoors. The Indian-summer days of autumn were gone, and she already missed having the windows open at night. “I’ll never complain about hot summer days again,” Luella mumbled as she slipped into her robe and fuzzy slippers.
   Quickly making the bed, she shivered, guiding her hands over the sheets and covers to smooth them out. Mama was probably downstairs scurrying around the kitchen; which prompted Luella to close her eyes and inhale deeply. Tantalizing aromas drifting up from the kitchen made her stomach gurgle in protest.
   Walking over to the window, Luella ran her fingers down the moisture on the glass. Looking toward the barn, she saw the door was open. Dad had most likely been there awhile, getting his morning chores done.
   Forcing herself away from the view, Luella needed to hurry and dress so she could help get breakfast on the table. Surely, her full-of-energy, twelve-year-old sister, Sara, would already be there. Luella and Sara were ten years apart, so with the exception of their easygoing personalities, they had little in common. Sara liked to be outdoors with the animals, whereas Luella enjoyed indoor things like embroidery work, reading, and cooking. One of her favorite things to make this time of year was apple butter bars. She’d baked a batch of them last night to take over to the Zooks’ this morning.
   “And I’d better get dressed or I’ll never get there.” Luella washed her face and hands with water from the basin on her dresser then chose a plain, dark blue dress to wear. Once she’d gotten dressed and put on her shoes, she secured her hair in a bun and put her heart-shaped white head covering on.
   Downstairs in the kitchen, the first thing she did was slip her black apron on. “What’s for friehschtick, and what can I do to help you?” she asked her mother.
   Mom turned from where she stood at the stove. “Thought we’d have pannekuche for our breakfast this morning.”
   Luella grinned. “Pancakes sound good to me. Shall I mix up the batter?”
   “Already done.” Mom stepped aside and pointed to the griddle on the stove, where bubbles formed on the surface of four nice-sized pancakes. “Sara set the table, and now she’s outside helping your daed in the barn.”
   Luella’s brows furrowed. “How come Samuel’s not helping Dad feed the animals? Did my little bruder sleep in this morning?”
   “Your brother came down with the flu during the night. He’s resting in bed.”
   “I’m sorry to hear it. Sure hope he feels better soon and no one else gets it.” Luella especially didn’t want to get sick. It would mean not being able to take care of Dena, and Luella certainly didn’t want her dear friend to get the flu. It was bad enough Dena’s heart was failing. Atlee’s wife was pure sweetness, and although her heart had weakened, she never complained. According to what the doctor had told Atlee, Dena would not live to see their young son become a man.
   “Daughter, did you hear what I said?” Mom tapped Luella’s shoulder, halting her contemplations.
   Luella turned around. “Ach. Sorry, Mom. I was deep in thought.”
   Mom gave a nod. “It looked as if you were.”
   “What did you say to me?”
   “I asked what time you need to be at the Zooks’.”
   Luella glanced at the battery-operated clock. “I should leave within the hour.”
   “Then we’d best eat soon. Why don’t you run out to the barn and tell your daed and schweschder to stop what they’re doing and come in for breakfast? If they’re not done, they can finish up when the meal is over.”
   “Okay, Mom.” Luella pulled her woolen shawl from the wall peg and slipped out the back door.
   Pulling the shawl tighter around her shoulders as she approached the barn, Luella heard Dad whistling. He always made music when he fed the livestock. Luella felt blessed to have such a cheerful father. For that matter, both of her parents had positive attitudes, even when faced with trials. Luella hoped someday, when she was married and had children, that she could set a good example for them as well.
   Upon entering the barn, Luella spotted her sister down on her knees, petting one of the barn cats.
   Luella cleared her throat real loud and, with a jerk of her head, Sara looked up. “You shouldn’t sneak up on a person like that. Almost gave me a hatzschlack.”
   Hearing her sister say “heart attack” caused Luella to think about poor Dena again. Ever since she had begun working for Atlee, she thought about him and his wife’s situation. How sad it would be to marry someone and then a few years later learn they were gravely ill.
   In an effort to redirect her thoughts, Luella knelt beside Sara and reached out to stroke the cat. “I thought you were supposed to be helping Dad feed the animals.” She wagged her finger.
   Sara’s pale brows lowered, and she pushed a lock of silky blond hair back under the head scarf she wore to do chores. “For your information, I’ve already fed the katze and the hund, so now I’m just takin’ a little time to pet Cloud.”
   Luella snickered. Her sister loved animals and had named every one of their cats. This one she called Cloud because of its fluffy white fur. “Okay, Sara, I understand, but Mom sent me out here to fetch you and Dad so we could eat breakfast.”
   Sara rose to her feet. “Oh, good ’cause I’m hungerich.”
   Luella smiled. “You go ahead to the house, and I’ll get Dad.”
   “All right. See you up in the kitchen.” Her sister scampered out the door with Cloud following close behind.
   First, Luella paused to check on Buttercup, the Nubian goat her parents got for her sixteenth birthday. The floppy-eared goat came to the front of the stall and bleated, most likely hoping Luella would follow through with the normal ear scratching. “Don’t worry, I didn’t forget you, Buttercup.” Luella had to giggle when the goat leaned into her hand as she scratched behind its ears. “Why, I believe you are actually smiling.”
   After fussing with Buttercup, Luella followed Dad’s whistles to the back of the barn. She found him inside the stall of Mom’s buggy horse.
   Seemingly engrossed in his chore of spreading fresh straw, Dad didn’t notice her at first. It wasn’t easy running a farm, but somehow he put enjoyment behind the hardest of work. Even now, as her father followed his normal routine of freshening the stall, one would never know he’d been up before daybreak, putting in a few hours before breakfast.
   She stood watching him a few seconds longer, until he paused to wipe his forehead. “Ach, Luella! I didn’t hear you come in. How long have you been standing there?”
   “Not long at all. I’ve enjoyed the tune you’ve been whistling, while watching you work.”With tender emotions, she looked at her dad. “You know what I always say, Dad. ‘Keep your happiness in circulation.’”
   He grinned, giving his full dark beard a tug. “You know me. . . always singin’ or whistlin’ when I have chores to do.”
   She nodded. “The reason I came out is to tell you breakfast is about ready. Since I have to leave for the Zooks’ house soon, Mom said I should call you in to eat.”
   He gestured to the pile of straw yet to be spread. “I still have a little more work here.”
   “I know, but Mom thought you could finish up after breakfast.”
   He reached under his straw hat and scratched his head. “Jah, I suppose I could do that all right. Who knows, I might be able to work a lot harder once my belly is full.” Dad winked at Luella. “Agreed?”
   She grinned up at him. “Jah, Dad, I agree. But ya better not eat too much, or it’ll make you sleepy.”
   “I’ve never looked at it that way,” her father said with a chuckle, as he put his arm around Luella’s shoulder and they walked out of the barn together.

“How is Dena doing today?” Luella asked when Atlee let her into his house.
   “Not well.” Atlee slowly shook his head, glancing toward their bedroom, which was on the first floor. “She didn’t sleep well last night, so I insisted she stay in bed this morning and rest.” He reached up to rub his neck. The poor man’s somber expression said it all; he was worried about his wife.
   Luella wanted to offer him comfort but wasn’t sure how. She certainly couldn’t give Atlee a hug, like she did whenever Dad was troubled about something. That would be inappropriate. “I’m sorry, Atlee. I’ll keep Daryl entertained today and make sure Dena’s needs are met.”
   His shoulders drooped, and he rubbed the heel of his palm against his chest. Luella saw only sadness in Atlee’s brown eyes. His thick, dark brows, matching the color of his hair and beard, pulled downward. He looked so defeated. “According to the doctor, short of a miracle, my fraa doesn’t have long to live.”
   Luella’s heart went out to him. Although Atlee tried to stay strong for his wife and son, she could see the stress was wearing on him. Dark circles under his eyes suggested he’d gotten very little sleep last night. She’d been praying and praying for Dena, but the dear woman seemed to be getting weaker every day. How would Atlee cope when she was gone? How would their son manage without a mother? At times such as now, Luella couldn’t help but question God. Why did He call some people home in the prime of their life, while others got to live to a ripe old age? It didn’t seem fair, but it wasn’t her place to question God. As their bishop had said in a sermon lately, “God’s ways are not our ways, and He has a plan for every one of His people, even if we can’t see or understand it.”
   Luella tilted her head toward the stairs but heard no noise coming from up there. The Zooks’ house was a large two-story, with one bedroom down, and the other four bedrooms on the second floor. “Is Daryl still in bed?” she asked, feeling the need to talk about something else—something that didn’t speak of death.
   “Jah.” Atlee ambled over to the woodstove and picked up the coffeepot. “Would you like a cup of kaffi, Luella?”
   “No, thank you. I’ll fix you some friehschtick, though.”
   He shook his head. “I’ve already had breakfast.”
   Luella glanced at the table, where only Atlee’s empty cup set. No sign of any plates having been out, nor was there a frying pan or kettle on the stove. “What did you have?”
   “I ate a piece of that tasty shoofly pie you made yesterday, to go with my coffee.”
   “I see.” She glanced at the kitchen sink, but it was empty.
   As if he could read her thoughts, Atlee quickly said, “I didn’t use a deller. I put the pie on a napkin and ate it with my fingers.” He held up his hand and wiggled his fingers. “It got kind of sticky, but that’s what soap and wasser are for.”
   She resisted the urge to laugh, certain that he didn’t mean it to be funny. Truthfully, the only time Luella saw Atlee laugh, or even smile, was when he took time out from his job to play with his son. Atlee had a woodworking shop in a separate building on his property, where he made doghouses, birdhouses, picnic tables, lawn chairs, and some small storage sheds. He did most of the work himself, but one of the young Amish men in the area came to help when Atlee had too many orders to fill. At noontime and at least once more during the day, Atlee came into the house to check on Dena and spend a little time with Daryl. If Luella had learned one thing about Atlee since she’d been working for him, it was that he was a devoted husband and father. She hoped to find a man someday who would be equally devoted to her. For now, though, her only goal in life was to be a good caregiver for Dena and see that Daryl had everything he needed. That’s what Atlee had hired her for, and she wouldn’t let him down.

Chapter 2

Luella took a seat in the chair beside Dena’s bed, while Daryl played with his wooden horse on the floor nearby. Luella had brought the boy into the bedroom with her, partly so she could keep an eye on him and also to give Dena a chance to be with her son.
   “You don’t have to sit here with me.” Dena’s brown eyes closed then fluttered open. It was an obvious struggle for her to stay awake. “I’m sure you have other things to do.”
   Luella shook her head. “The lunch dishes are done, and the laundry is hanging on the line outside, so there isn’t much I need to do till it’s time to bring the clothes in and start supper.” She touched Dena’s pale hand. “Besides, I enjoy talking with you. But if you’re too tired to visit, I can come back later to check on you and see if there’s anything you need.”
   “What I need is to get up and do something meaningful. I don’t know why Atlee insisted I stay in bed all day.” Dena released a lingering sigh. “I feel so useless.”
   “Would you like me to bring your basket of yarn so you can sit up in bed and knit or crochet?”
   “I suppose I could do that, but it’s not the same as cooking for my family, cleaning house, or going for a walk with my precious little bu.” When Dena turned her head to look at Daryl, tears gathered in the corner of her eyes. “I’m missing so much not being able to care for him like I should, and. . .” Her voice lowered. “It breaks my heart to think that I won’t be around to see him start school.”
   Luella gently squeezed her friend’s fingers. “Please don’t talk like that, Dena. You must not give up hope.”
   Dena lifted a shaky hand to push a wisp of auburn hair away from her colorless cheek. “My hope lies in Jesus, but I have to face reality. My heart’s not getting any stronger, and it’s only a matter of time until. . .” Her voice trailed off as several tears seeped out from under her lashes. “There’s so much I want to tell you, Luella, but I can barely keep my eyes open. We can talk later. But for now, why don’t you take Daryl outside to play while I take a nap?”
   Luella nodded. “I can do that. Is there anything I can do or get for you before we head outdoors?”
   “No, I’m fine. I just need to sleep for a while.”
   Luella patted Dena’s arm then tucked the lovely quilt covering her bed up under her chin. “I’ll be in to check on you after we come back inside.”
   “Danki.” Dena closed her eyes.
   Luella continued to sit a few more minutes, until she was sure Dena had fallen asleep. Then she left her chair, took Daryl’s hand, and led him silently from the room.

“Why can’t Mammi come outside with us?” Daryl’s innocence tugged at Luella’s heart.
   “Your mamma is a little tired still, and she needs her rest.”
   With no more questions, Daryl stretched out each arm while Luella slipped his jacket on, then put her heavy woolen shawl around her shoulders.
   As they stepped off the porch, Luella stopped. In certain spots, sunlight glistened on the grass, making dewdrops sparkle like tiny diamonds. But in other shaded areas, yet untouched by the warmth of the afternoon sun, frosty patterns coated the still-frozen blades of grass. Luella was glad they both wore heavier attire, as she blew air from her mouth and watched the vapor dissolve into the cold, nippy air.
   “Schnee! Schnee!” Daryl pointed to the thin layer of sparkling ice lingering on the trees in the Zooks’ backyard.
   “No, Daryl, it’s frost, not snow,” Luella said in Pennsylvania Dutch. At the age of four, he was still too young to understand most English words, but that would change when he turned six and went to school.
   The boy tipped his auburn head back, looked up at her curiously, and repeated the word schnee.
   She didn’t correct him this time. He’d learn the difference between snow and frost eventually. As chilly as it was, all too soon Daryl would be correct in yelling, “Schnee.”
   Luella watched as the young lad ran through the yard, making a matted-down trail in the frost as he went. While Daryl was content amusing himself, she turned and looked back at the large, five-bedroom house. How exciting it must have been when the Zooks were first married and moved into this place.
   She wiped the tears that had escaped her eyes. No doubt they’d planned for a big family with plenty of children to fill all those bedrooms—hopes and dreams that would never be fulfilled.
   Continuing to study the house, Luella couldn’t help noticing all the beautiful shrubbery planted here and there. In between the bushes, and along the fence line surrounding their property, were remnants of late summer and autumn flowers, now blackened or lifeless by the brutal cold frost. Dena must have felt such joy when planting those flowers and watching them bloom, adding color to the landscape. Tending the house, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of her husband and son—it would be hard to give it all up.
   As Luella looked around the rest of the property toward the barn, and then back to Daryl, the ache inside her grew deeper, knowing what all three of these good people would be losing. It was a horrible situation, no matter from whose perspective she looked at it. Dena was losing out on all the hopes and dreams she would have shared growing old with her husband.
   I can’t even think what will happen to Atlee and Daryl once Dena is gone. Will Atlee stay here, or will it be too hard to be reminded daily of the precious memories he and Dena made inside and outside this home? Will this land and house be too big for just him and his son?
   Luella knew when the time came, only Atlee could decide what would work best for him and the boy. Oh, how her heart ached for them, though.
   Startling Luella out of her thoughts, Daryl ran up to her and pointed to the frosty designs in the grass. “Look what I did.” He giggled as the sun went behind a cloud.
   “Now that is quite pretty, isn’t it?” Luella had to chuckle at Daryl’s pleasure, even with the foreboding going through her mind. Taking a deep breath, she reached for the boy’s hand. “Why don’t we go for a walk?”
   “Daadi! Daadi!” Daryl pointed across the way to his father’s woodshop.
   Atlee would be busy, but to deny his son the right to say hello wouldn’t be right, either. “Okay, we’ll go see your daddy. But only for a little while, because he has work to do.”
   Luella thought about the shoofly pie Atlee had eaten for breakfast this morning, and wondered if he’d like another piece. Or maybe he would enjoy some of the apple butter bars she’d brought from home.
   “Let’s go inside for a minute and get a treat for your daed.” She guided Daryl toward the house. “Would you like some dessert, Daryl?”
   The boy’s round face broke into a wide smile as he bobbed his head. “Kichlin.”
   She smiled. They weren’t cookies, but it was all the same to Daryl. Maybe along with the bars, I’ll take a Thermos of coffee out to Atlee.

Atlee’s stomach growled. It had only been a few hours since lunch, but for some reason he was hungry. Guess I should have had a second sandwich when Luella offered it to me. That’s what I get for bein’ polite. Atlee appreciated Luella’s willingness to help out. Of course, she was being paid for her work. But he had a hunch the young woman would have done it without any pay.
   It amazed him how quickly his wife and her caregiver had become friends. Even though they were more than ten years apart, Dena and Luella always seemed to have something to talk about. In addition to keeping Dena company and Daryl entertained, Luella was an excellent cook, and they were all well fed. She also did the laundry, cleaning, and other household chores, all without the slightest complaint. Luella was patient and kind, and most always had a smile on her face. Hiring Luella had been the best medicine he could have given his precious Dena.
   When the door to his shop opened, Atlee’s musings came to a halt. Seeing Luella and Daryl come in, he dropped what he was doing and went over to greet them.
   “Daryl wanted to visit his daadi,” Luella explained. She held out the plate, along with Atlee’s old Thermos. “And I thought you might enjoy these apple butter bars and some coffee.”
   Grinning, he ruffled his son’s wavy hair. “You bet I would.”
   Daryl stood close to Atlee. While the two of them ate their share, Luella remained off to one side, watching them.
   “Aren’t you gonna join us?” Atlee gestured to a chair near his workbench. “Why don’t you have a seat?”
   “I ate a bar before we came out of the house.”
   “Well, there’s no reason you can’t have another. After all, you’re the one who made them.”
   A light in Luella’s blue eyes shone when she smiled and nodded. “True. All right, I’ll eat another one, but then Daryl and I need to go back in the house so I can check on Dena.”
   “How’s she doing this afternoon?” He poured himself some coffee and waited for her reply.
   “Dena seems quite tired today. She was sleeping when I left her.”
   Atlee gave his full beard a tug. “She didn’t sleep well last night, so I told her to stay in bed today.”
   “Jah, that’s what Dena said.”
   He set his coffee down and crossed his arms. “My wife would like to be up and around, doing all the things she used to do, but she’s not up for that anymore.” He paused, reaching around to rub a sore spot on his lower back. “I don’t know how we’ll get along without Dena. This may be our last Christmas together.” He paused, and glanced down at Daryl, glad his son couldn’t understand much English yet.
   “You mustn’t think that.” Luella tipped her blond head to one side. “Your wife may be here for a good many months yet.”
   Atlee groaned. “I hope so, Luella. Jah, I truly do. If only God would give us a Christmas miracle.”

Back in the house, Luella put Daryl down for a nap. He didn’t want to rest, of course, but after she read him a story, he fell asleep on the sofa. Now it was time to see how Daryl’s mother was doing.
   Luella peeked through the small opening in Dena’s door and was surprised to see her sitting up in bed. She poked her head into the room. “I see you’re awake now. Would you like some dessert and hot chocolate?”
   “Maybe after a while.” Dena glanced toward the door. “Where’s Daryl?”
   “He’s asleep on the living-room sofa.”
   “I’m glad. Some kinner his age don’t take naps anymore, but my son does better when he’s had one.” Dena offered Luella a weak smile. “He will be in a good mood during supper.”
   “Would you like to get up for a bit, and sit in your rocking chair?” Luella asked.
   “Maybe later. Right now, I need to talk to you about something.”
   Luella felt concern, seeing Dena’s serious expression. “What is it?” Biting her lip, she pulled the rocking chair next to the bed.
   Dena picked up one corner of the lovely quilt on her bed and held it close to her heart. “The pattern for this is called ‘Country Patch,’ but I call it my beloved Christmas quilt, because my mother, who made the covering, gave it to me and Atlee for Christmas the first year we were married.”
   “It is a lovely quilt. Your mamm was a talented quilter.”
   Dena got a faraway look in her eyes. “Jah, she certainly was. I miss my mamm and wish she was still alive to take care of Daryl when I’m gone.”
   Luella’s throat felt swollen, and it was difficult to swallow. She wished Dena would stop talking about her imminent death.
   “Would you do me a favor, Luella?”
   “Jah. What do you need?”
   “I’d like you to take this quilt home with you, as an early Christmas present.”
   “Ach, no, I could never accept such a gift.” Luella’s fingers touched her parted lips. “It should remain in your family; especially with it being a present from your mother. Besides, it’s not even Christmas yet.”
   Dena shook her head. “I may not be here to give it to you on Christmas Day. Please, Luella, I want you to have this beloved quilt. It would mean a lot to me, knowing you will someday pass the quilt on to your eldest daughter.”
   “But I’m not even married, and I may never find a husband, so really, you should reconsider.”
   Dena shook her head. “I have no sisters, and since my parents have both passed on, I have no family to give the quilt to. Please, Luella, I insist that you take it.”
   “Oh, okay. Danki, Dena. I will treasure it always.”
   Dena breathed in and out slowly. “I have another favor to ask.”
   Luella was hesitant to even ask what. She hoped her dear friend didn’t want to give her some other family heirloom. “What other favor?”
   “I want you to promise that after I’m gone, you will take care of Atlee and Daryl.”
   “Well, of course, I will come over and check on them regularly, but I really wish you wouldn’t talk of such things.”
   “It’s important that I say all this now.” Dena stroked the quilt lovingly. “My son will still need someone to care for him while Atlee’s working in his shop. And Atlee—well, he’s not good in the kitchen, and he won’t have time to clean house or do laundry. Won’t you please agree to keep working for him after I’m gone, as you are now? It would give me a sense of peace to know that my family will be taken care of after I die.”
   Luella had to force a smile as she nodded and said, “Jah, Dena, I will take care of the household and watch your son.”
   “Be a friend to Atlee, too.” Dena lowered her head. “Please. . . I know it won’t be easy for him, but he will need someone to talk to.” Luella squeezed her friend’s hand. “Jah, Dena, I will.”
   “My husband is trying to stay strong for me and our son, but I feel his sadness and the concern he has for me.” Tears welled up in Dena’s dark eyes as she released a sigh. “Danki, Luella. This means so much to me. I feel such a relief knowing you’ll be here for them.”
   Although she kept her thoughts to herself, Luella realized the decision of whether she would continue to work here or not would be up to Dena’s husband. She would only be able to keep her promise to Dena if Atlee agreed.
Wanda E. Brunstetter, The Beloved Christmas Quilt Shiloh Run Press, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., © 2017. Used by permission.

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.**

        ~*~   Three Generations of Brunstetter Women   ~*~

author Richelle Brunstetter
author Jean Brunstetter
author Wanda E. Brunstetter

Monday, October 30, 2017

12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep, © 2017

Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series, Book One

The Second Chance Coin.
The Second Chance Coin

My Review:

Time stands still as changes are on the horizon, unexpectedly; a suddenly.

I was so surprised by this story ~ a quaint assembly of hodge-podge attendees to a Christmas season they will not forget; well most won't. It left me with questions about the secret cubby and its occasional inhabitant; how they kept silent without being seen. Not even a sneeze on a cold winter's night?

I wondered if the character names were part of a clue to discover their participant journey? But let's gather at Bleakly Manor and discover the intent of the visitors.

Bleakly Manor at sunrise.
Bleakly Manor at sunrise.

Two of the people have met before. Clara Chapman and Benjamin Lane had deep expectations that were hampered by an unforeseen timing of events. Were they pawns in a game of deceit?

Clara Chapman
Benjamin Lane

Longing to find the truth, they scramble to be understood without building walls of defense.

Bleakly Manor
Bleakly Manor
Image result for clue
Would you stay at Bleakly Manor, being promised your one wish could be attained? It appears cozy enough while they wait for their host to appear. Each knock at the door delivers another inkling of suspicion as the question arises, "How do they know the casual occupants and their inclusion?"

Unraveling the sequence to the end, you may await with the characters to find out their course.

EnJ*O*Y this excerpt from 12 Days at Bleakly Manor ~ Chapters One - Four

The First Day
DECEMBER 24, 1850

Chapter One

London, 1850

Christmas or not, there was nothing merry about the twisted alleys of Holywell. Clara Chapman forced one foot in front of the other, sidestepping pools of. . .well, a lady ought not think on such things, not on the morn of Christmas Eve—or any other morn, for that matter.
   Damp air seeped through her woolen cape, and she tugged her collar tighter. Fog wrapped around her shoulders, cold as an embrace from the grim reaper. Though morning had broken several hours ago, daylight tarried, seeming reluctant to make an appearance in this part of London—and likely wishing to avoid it altogether. Ancient buildings with rheumy windows leaned toward one another for support, blocking a good portion of the sky.
   She quickened her pace. If she didn’t deliver Effie’s gift soon, the poor woman would be off to her twelve-hour shift at the hatbox factory.
   Rounding a corner, Clara rapped on the very next door, then fought the urge to wipe her glove. The filthy boards, hung together more by memory than nails, rattled like bones. Her lips pursed into a wry twist. A clean snow might hide the sin of soot and grime in this neighborhood, but no. Even should a fresh coating of white bless all, the stain of so much humanity would not be erased. Not here. For the thousandth time, she breathed out the only prayer she had left.
    Why, God? Why?
   The door swung open. Effie Gedge’s smile beamed so bright and familiar, Clara’s throat tightened. How she missed this woman, her friend, her confidant—her former maid.
   “Miss Chapman? What a surprise!” Effie glanced over her shoulder, her smile faltering as she looked back at Clara. “I’d ask you in but. . .”
   Clara shoved away the awkward moment by handing over a basket. “I’ve brought you something for your Christmas dinner tomorrow. It isn’t much, but…” It was Clara’s turn to falter. “Anyway, I cannot stay, for Aunt’s developed a cough.”
   Effie’s smile returned, more brilliant than ever. “That’s kind of you, miss. Thank you. Truly.”
   The woman’s gratitude, so pure and genuine, rubbed Clara’s conscience raw. Would that she might learn to be as thankful for small things. And small it was. Her gaze slipped to the cloth-covered loaf of bread, an orange, and used tea leaves wrapped in a scrap of paper. Pressing her lips together, she faced Effie. “I wish it were more. I wish I could do more. If only we could go back to our old lives.”
   “Begging your pardon, miss.” Effie rested her hand on Clara’s arm, her fingers calloused from work no lady’s maid should ever have to perform. “But you are not to blame. I shall always hold to that. There is no ill will between us.”
   Clara hid a grimace. Of course she knew in her head she wasn’t to blame, but her heart? That fickle organ had since reverted to her old way of thinking, pulsing out “you are unloved, you are unwanted” with every subsequent beat.
   Clara forced a smile of her own and patted the woman’s hand. “You are the kind one, Effie. You’ve lost everything because of my family, and yet you smile.”
   “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. I suppose you know that as well as I, hmm?” Her fingers squeezed before she released her hold. “I wish you merry, Miss Chapman, this Christmas and always.”
   “Thank you, Effie. And a very merry Christmas be yours, as well.” She spun, eyes burning, and pushed her way back down the narrow alley before Effie saw her tears. This wasn’t fair. None of it.
   Her hired hansom waited where she’d left it. The cab was an expense she’d rather not think on, but altogether necessary, for she lived on the other side of town. She borrowed the driver’s strong grip to ascend onto the step, then when inside, settled her skirts on the seat while he shut the door.
   Only once did she glance out the window as the vehicle jostled along London’s rutted roads—and immediately repented for having done so. Two lovers walked hand in hand, the man bending close and whispering into the woman’s ear. A blush then, followed by a smile.
   Clara yanked shut the window curtain, the loneliness in her heart rabid and biting.
   That could have been her. That should have been her.
   Why, God? Why?
   She leaned her head back against the carriage. Was love to be forever denied her? First her father’s rejection, then her fiancĂ©’s. She swallowed back a sob, wearier than twenty-five years ought to feel.
    Eventually the cab jerked to a halt, and she descended to the street. She dug into her reticule and pulled out one of her last coins to pay the driver. At this rate, she wouldn’t have to hire a cab to visit Effie next Christmas. She might very well be her neighbor.
   “Merry Christmas, miss.” The driver tipped his hat.
   “To you, as well,” she answered, then scurried toward Aunt’s town house. A lacquered carriage, with a fine pair of matched horses at the front, stood near the curb. Curious. Perhaps the owner had taken a wrong turn, for Highgate, while shabbily respectable, was no Grosvenor Square.
   Clara dashed up the few stairs and entered her home of the last nine months, taken in by the charitable heart of her Aunt Deborha Mitchell. The dear woman was increasingly infirm and housebound, but in her younger days she’d hobnobbed with people from many spheres.
   Noontide chimes rang from the sitting-room clock, accompanied by a bark of a cough. Clara untied her hat and slipped from her cloak, hanging both on a hall tree, all the while wondering how best to urge Aunt back to her bed. The woman was as stubborn as. . . She bit her lower lip. Truth be told, tenacity ran just as strongly in her own veins.
   Smoothing her skirts, she pulled her lips into a passable smile and crossed the sitting room’s threshold. “I am home, Aunt, and I really must insist you retire—oh! Forgive me.”
   She stopped at the edge of the rug. A man stood near the mantel, dressed in deep blue livery. Her gaze flickered to her aunt. “I am sorry. I did not know you had company.”
   “Come in, child.” Aunt waved her forward, the fabric of her sleeve dangling too loosely from the woman’s arm. “This involves you.”
   The man advanced, offering a creamy envelope with gilt writing embellishing the front. “I am to deliver this to Miss Clara Chapman. That is you, is it not?”
   She frowned. “It is.”
   He handed her the missive with a bow, then straightened. “I shall await you at the door, miss.”
   Her jaw dropped as he bypassed her, smelling of lavender of all things. She turned to Aunt. “I don’t understand.”
   “I should think not.” Aunt nodded toward the envelope. “Open it.”
   Clara’s name alone graced the front. The penmanship was fine. Perfect, actually. And completely foreign. Turning it over, she broke the seal and withdrew an embossed sheet of paper, reading aloud the words for Aunt to hear.
The Twelve Days of Christmas*As never’s been reveled Your presence, Miss Chapman,Is respectfully herald.Bleakly Manor’s the placeAnd after twelve nightsFive hundred poundsWill be yours by rights.
   She lowered the invitation and studied her aunt. Grey hair pulled back tightly into a chignon eased some of the wrinkles at the sides of her eyes, yet a peculiar light shone in the woman’s faded gaze. Aunt Deborha always hid wisdom, but this time, Clara suspected she secreted something more.
   “Who sent this?” Clara closed the distance between them and knelt in front of the old woman. “And why?”
   Aunt shrugged, her thin shoulders coaxing a rumble in her chest. A good throat clearing staved off a coughing spell—for now. “One * Brief explanations of historical traditions mentioned throughout this story can be found on pages 183–184. does not question an opportunity, my dear. One simply mounts it and rides.”
   “You can’t be serious.” She dissected the tiny lift of Aunt’s brows and the set of her mouth, both unwavering. Incredible. Clara sucked in a breath. “You think I should go? To Bleakly Manor, wherever that is?”
   “I think”—Aunt angled her chin—“you simply must.”
* Brief explanations of historical traditions mentioned throughout this story can be found on pages 183–184.

Chapter Two

Running an absent finger over the burnt scabs on his forearm, Benjamin Lane sagged against the cell’s stone wall, welcoming the sharp sting of pain. It wouldn’t last long. The crust would fall away, leaving a series of black numbers etched into his skin. A permanent mark, forever labeling him a convict to be feared, and driving a final stake through the heart of his efforts to be something in this world. Turning aside, he spit out the sour taste in his mouth, then his lips curled into a snarl. He was something, all right.
   An outcast.
   Anger rose in him like a mad dog, biting and completely impotent, for he had no idea who’d put him in this rat hole. The only thing he did know, he wished he didn’t. Not now. Not ever. Growling roared in his ears. Was that him? Oh, God. Not again.
   Betrayal from an enemy he could understand, but from the woman he loved? What man could fathom that? For nine months he’d turned that question over and over, examining every angle, each nuance, and still he could not reckon Clara’s duplicity.
   Why, God? Why?
   A finger at a time, Ben opened his hand and stared fiercely at a small chunk of stone, barely discernable in the darkness. Worn smooth now by nearly a year of caressing. He flipped it over, just like his unanswered questions, the sleekness of the rock against his palm reminding him he was human, not beast. Outside his cell, a shriek crawled beneath the crack in his door, reaching for him, taunting him to believe otherwise. To join the howl and become one with the pack of hopeless men.
   He flipped the rock again. The movement tethered him to sanity.
   Cocking his head, he listened with his whole body. Something more than screams crept in. The scrape of boot leather. Growing louder. Metal on metal, key battling key. The low murmur of a coarse jest shared between two guards.
   Sweat popped out on Ben’s forehead. He pressed his back into the wall, an impossible wish to disappear digging into his gut. The footsteps stopped. Only a slab of scarred wood separated him from his tormentors. Some Christmas this would be.
   The key jiggled in the lock, and his stomach twisted. It was safer to remain here. In the dark. At least in this womb of crumbling brick and blackness he still heard the cries of other prisoners, as regular as a mother’s heartbeat. He yet felt the dampness of rot on his skin, tasted the rancid gruel served once a day. Still breathed. Still lived.
   He flipped the rock again.
   The door swung open. A lantern’s glow silhouetted two ghouls.
   One stepped forward, a club in his grasp. “Out with ye, Lane. Warden’s got a little Christmas gift with yer name on it.”
   Ben wrapped his fingers tight around the stone. Should he make a run for it? Spring an attack and wrestle for the club? Go limp? He’d sigh, if he had any breath to spare, but even that seemed a precious commodity nowadays.
   No, better to face this head-on and not relinquish the last morsel of his dignity. He shuffled forward, the chains on his feet rasping. Shackles bit a fresh wound into his ankles with each step.
   Leaving behind the only haven he’d known the past nine months, he stumbled into the corridor, guards at his back, prodding, poking. He lurched along, passing other doors, other convicts, inhaling the stench and guilt of Millbank Prison. How many wretches as innocent as he perished behind those doors?
   One foot. Then the other. Drag, step. Drag, step. Until the stairway. The weight of his chains pulled him back as he ascended. By the time he reached the top, blood trickled hot over his feet.
   “Move it!”
   The guard’s club hit between his shoulder blades, knocking him forward and jarring loose his precious stone. It clacked onto the floor, as loud to him as the hammer pounding in Christ’s nails, then bounced down the stairs, taking his soul along with it.
   He wheeled about, diving for his only remainder of hope.
   But a boot caught him in the gut. A club cracked against his skull. Half-lugged, half-dead, he landed in the warden’s office like an alley cat thrown against a curb. The warden’s sigh barely registered.
   “Don’t know why I expected anything different. Thank you, gentlemen. You may wait outside. Up you go, Lane.” Warden Hacksby extended a hand.
   Ignoring the offer, Ben sucked in a breath and forced his body up, staggering until the room stopped spinning.
   “If nothing else, you are consistent.” Hacksby chuckled and seated himself behind a desk as angular as the man himself. “Do you know what day it is?”
   Ben worked out the soreness in his jaw before words could escape. “Sorry. I’ll have to check my calendar and get back to you. Or. . .wait a minute. Ahh, yes. Am I to sail for Australia today?” He narrowed his eyes. “But we both know I’ll never reach the shore.”
   “Ever the cynic, eh? Really, Lane. After all the hospitality I’ve shown you.” Hacksby tut-tutted, the curl of his lip exposing yellowed teeth. “But no. There’s been a change of plans. You’ve received another offer, should you choose to take it.”
   Bitterness slipped from Ben’s throat in a rusty laugh. “What, the gallows? A firing squad? Or has Queen Victoria invited me for Christmas tea?”
   “Aha! So you do know what day it is. Always the sly one, are you not?” Hacksby rose from his seat and leaned across the desk, a creamy envelope with Ben’s name in golden script on the front. “For you. Your freedom, possibly—providing you play by the rules. If not, you’re to be shot on sight for any escape attempt.”
   Ben eyed the paper. What trick was this? He was supposed to be transported to a labor camp halfway across the world, not handed an engraved invitation. He stiffened. This was a trap. He knew it to the deepest marrow in his bones.
   Nevertheless, he reached out, and for the smallest of moments, the warden held one edge, he the other. Liberty hanging in the balance.

Chapter Three

Despite her cold fingers, Clara rubbed away the frost on the coach’s window, then peered out into the December night. She ought be sore by now, riding such a distance over country roads, but truly, this carriage was magnificent—and so was the mansion that popped into view as they rounded a bend. She leaned closer, then reared back as her breath fogged the glass. With a furious swipe of her glove, she stared out the cleared circle, slack jawed.
   This was Bleakly Manor?
   A grand structure, torches ablaze, lit the night like the star of Bethlehem. The building stood proud at three stories tall, with candles winking behind row upon row of mullioned windows. Clearly whoever owned Bleakly didn’t care a fig about window taxes. Clara held her breath and edged closer, careful not to muddle her view with rime. Garland swagged from the roofline the entire length of the building. How on earth had they managed that? Red bows with dangling ribbons hung from each wall sconce, and as the carriage drew nearer, a gust of wind lent them life, and they waved a greeting.
   She sat back against the cushion, stunned. There was nothing bleak about this manor. Who had invited her—a lowly lady’s companion— to such an estate? Who would even want to keep company with her? And more importantly, why?
   The coach stopped, and the door opened. She gave up trying to solve such a puzzle as the footman helped her to the drive.
   “I’ll see to your bags, miss.” A lad, no more than fourteen yet dressed in as fine a livery as the older man, tipped his head in deference.
   The respectful gesture stung. She hadn’t been so favored since that awful day, that nightmare day nine months previous, when she’d stood in front of an altar in a gown of white.
   “Ready, miss?”
   The footman’s voice pulled her from the horrid memory. She lifted her skirts to follow him without tripping. “Yes.”
   She was ready, truly, to meet whoever had invited her. Perhaps if she explained the frail state of her aunt, she wouldn’t be required to stay the full Twelve Days of Christmas.
   After ascending granite stairs, she and the footman passed through an arched doorway and entered a foyer the size of Aunt’s dining and sitting rooms combined. A crystal chandelier dripped golden light over everything, from a cushioned bench against one wall to a medieval trestle table gracing the other. Fresh flowers filled a cut-glass vase atop the table. Marble tile gleamed beneath her feet, the echo of her steps reaching up to a mounted lion head on the wall in front of her, just above a closed set of doors. She couldn’t help but stare up into the cold, lifeless eyes, wondering how many people before her had done the same.
   “I should be happy to take your cloak and bonnet, miss.” The footman held out his arm.
   Her fingers shook as she unbuttoned her coat and untied her hat, though she was hard-pressed to decide if the jittery feeling was from cold air or nerves. Handing over her garments, she waited for further instruction from the tall fellow.
   But without a word, he pivoted and disappeared down a darkened hallway to her left.
   She stood, unsure, and clenched her hands for fortification, sickeningly aware of a gaze burning holes through her soul. Yet the only other pair of eyes in the foyer besides hers was the lion’s.
   She sucked in a breath. Nerves. That’s what. Had to be.
   To her right, another set of doors hid secrets, merry ones by the sound of it. Yellow light and conversation leached out through a crack between threshold and mahogany. Licking her lips, she squared her shoulders, resolved to meet the master of the house, then pushed open the door.
   Across the Turkish carpet, perched upon a chair and balancing a small box on her lap, a white-haired lady held up a quizzing glass to one eye and peered at Clara. “Oh, lovely! Such a beautiful creature. Don’t you think, Mr. Minnow?”
   “Why yes!” A lean man, more bones than flesh, jumped up from a settee and dashed toward Clara so quickly she retreated a step.
   He bowed, deep enough that his joints cracked, and held the pose longer than necessary. The scent of ginger wafted about him. When he straightened, he smiled at her with lips that were far too elastic. “Mr. Minnow at your service, mum. William Minnow, esquire. Well, not quite yet, but soon, I am certain. And you are?”
   Clara blinked. Was this the master of Bleakly Manor? A lanky eel in a suit?
   Instant remorse squeezed her chest. Who was she, a woman fallen from the graces of society, to judge the appearance of a man of substance? She dipped her head. “I am Clara Chapman.”
   “Clara Chapman! Oh, but I like the sound of that.” The elder on the chair waved a handkerchief at her. “Step nearer, dearest, and let’s look at you up close, shall we?”
   Familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the elderly, she complied, but froze several paces in front of the woman. A pink nose with whiskers poked out of the box on the lady’s lap, where a hole had been cut jaggedly into the side. Red eyes emerged, followed by a furry body and a naked tail, flesh-coloured and long. A second mouse emerged after it. The two scampered to the edge of the old lady’s knee and rose up on hind legs, testing the air with quivering noses.
   Clara stiffened. Hopefully the creatures would turn right around and disappear back into the box.
   The lady merely scrutinized her as if nothing more than a teacup and saucer rested on her lap. “Such a marvelous creature, Miss Chapman.”
   Was she speaking of her or the mice? “Th–Thank you,” she stuttered. “I am sorry, but I didn’t catch your name, ma’am?”
   “No, you did not.” The lady beamed at her. “I am Miss Scurry, and now we shall all be the jolliest of companions, shall we not?”
   “We shall, and more.” Mr. Minnow’s heels brushed against the carpet, then he reached for her hand and placed it on his arm. “Come, sit and warm yourself, my pet.”
   Pet? She barely had time to turn the word over before he escorted her to a settee near the hearth and pushed her into it.
   “I’m wondering, Miss Chapman”—Mr. Minnow smiled down at her—“not that Miss Scurry and I aren’t exceedingly grateful, for we are, but why exactly have you invited us here to share the Twelve Days with you?”
   “Me?” She shook her head, yet the movement did nothing to make sense of his question. “But you are mistaken, for I received an invitation myself.”
   “Bosh! This is a pickled herring.” Flipping out the tails of his suit coat, he joined her on the settee, much too close for propriety. “I thought you, being a lady of such grace and beauty, surely belonged to this house.”
   “I’m afraid not.” She edged away from him.
   “Sh-sh-sh.” Miss Scurry, evidently just discovering the two escapees had scampered to the top of the box, shooed both mice into the hole on the side and plugged it up with her handkerchief. “Rest, my dears.” Then she gazed over at Mr. Minnow. “Don’t fret so, my fine fellow. The day of reckoning will come soon enough, and all will be made clear.”
   Mr. Minnow clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “I suppose there’s nothing to be done for it but to wait for the host to appear.” His head swiveled, and he narrowed his eyes at Clara. “You’re sure that’s not you?”
   “I am, Mr. Minnow. Very sure.”
   She bit her lip. Clearly neither of these two eccentrics was the host. So, who was?

Chapter Four

The prison cart juddered over a hump in the road, rattling Ben’s bones. He’d curled into a ball in one corner, tucking his knees to his chest and wrapping his arms about them. Even so, after hours on end and with the chill of night bearing down, there was no stopping the chattering of his teeth. He snorted. Between teeth and bones he was quite the percussionist.
   A low “whoa now” slowed the wheels, and finally the cart stopped. Ben jerked upright, crouched and ready, the sudden hammering of his heart forgetting the cold. The long ride here had given him plenty of time to consider his situation, and he’d come to one conclusion—these were his last hours on earth.
   So be it. He’d go out fighting against such a wicked injustice and find some measure of worth in the fray.
   The scrape of a key shoved into the metal lock, then a click, a creak, and the door swung open. “Yer ride ends here, Lane. Out ye go.”
   The dark shape of the guard disappeared and light poured in. Ben’s eyes watered. Light? Was it day, then? How far had he traveled?
   He edged forward, cautious, scanning, as more and more of the world expanded into his view. Black darkened the sky, so it was still night, but torches ablaze changed the immediate area to morning.
   “Move along! I’ve still got a drive back to London.” The guard spat out a foul curse. “Ye’d think I’d signed up to be a bleedin’ jarvey. They don’t pay me enough, I tell ye. Not near enough.”
   Ben dropped out of the door and immediately wheeled about, fists up, stance wide, prepared for battle.
   The guard merely shoved the door shut and relocked it, ignoring him—and there was no one else around.
   Truly? No one? Ben stared hard into the darkness beyond the light. The expansive grounds were rimmed with trees along the perimeter, black against black. Nothing moved except the wind through barren branches. Apparently he’d been taken some distance into the countryside. He turned to face the manor. Impressive, really. Tall. Well masoned. Crenellated at the top. Perhaps used as a stronghold centuries ago.
   He spun. The cart lumbered down the curved drive, the guard urging the horses onward—without him. He was left standing alone. Unfettered. A brilliant mansion at his back and acres of freedom in front. He could run, here, now. Tear off and flee like the wind. Should he? He scrubbed a hand through his hair, recalling Hacksby’s threat.
   “You’re to be shot on sight for any escape attempt.”
   The prison cart disappeared into the night. But slowly, emerging out of that same darkness, another shape loomed larger. A carriage, and a fine one at that. Should he wait and meet head-on whomever it carried?
   Cold ached in his bare feet and up his legs, yet the pain of the unknown throbbing in his temples hurt worse. He’d have a better chance of putting up a fight if he could actually move his frozen body. Pivoting, he climbed the stairs to the main entrance and rapped the brass knocker.
   The door opened immediately, as if the butler had stood behind it waiting for him.
   “Welcome, Mr. Lane.” The man’s upper lip curled to nearly touch his nose.
   Ben smirked. He ought be ashamed of his stench, but his time at Millbank had dulled that emotion, especially when it came to issues of hygiene. Even so, he took out his manners and dusted them off. “Thank you. I see you were expecting me.”
   “Yes, sir. We have a room prepared for you after such a journey. If you would follow me.” Turning on his heel, the butler strode the length of the grand foyer toward a door with a stuffed lion head mounted above it.
   Ben studied the man as he went. He could pose a threat, for his shoulders were broad as a ceiling beam and those stout legs might pack a wallop of a kick. But the silver streaks in his hair labeled the fellow past his prime. Even so, better to keep his distance.
   He followed, leaving plenty of space between them, then paused and stared up at the lion head. Light from the chandelier reflected back brightly from those eyes, transparent, lifelike and—
   “Mr. Lane?”
   He jumped at the butler’s voice. What was wrong with him? There were bigger mysteries afoot than a dead lion. “Of course. Sorry.”
   He caught up to the man, who’d opened double doors, revealing an even bigger lobby. A wide, carpeted staircase, lit by intermittent wall sconces, led up to a first-floor gallery, where more lamps burned. Interesting that pains had been taken to decorate the outside of the manor, yet not one sprig of holly or mistletoe hung inside.
   Behind them, the front door knocker banged. Two stairs ahead of him, the butler stopped and pulled out a gold chain from his waistcoat, then flipped open the lid of a watch tethered to the end of it. His eyebrows pulled into a solid line, and a low rumble in his throat gruffed out. “Pardon me, Mr. Lane. If you’d wait here, please.”
   Here? On the stairs? A duck at rest to be shot from behind? He waited for the butler to pass, then tracked him on silent feet and slipped into the shadow cast by a massive floor clock.
   A man in a sealskin riding cloak entered, frost on his breath and hat pulled low. He stomped his boots on the tiles, irreverent of the peace.
   The butler dipped his head. “Mr. Pocket, I presume?”
   “I am.” The new arrival pulled off his hat and ran a hand through his shorn hair, the top of his head quite the contradiction to his bushy muttonchops. A rumpled dress coat peeked through the gap of his unbuttoned coat, and his trousers looked as if they’d never seen a hot iron. Clearly the man was not married, nor was he the master of the manor.
   “You were not due to arrive for another half hour, sir.” A scowl tugged down the corners of the butler’s mouth.
   Mr. Pocket twisted his lips, his great muttonchops going along for the ride. “Yet the invitation did not specify an arrival time, unless. . . ahh! I see. The deliveries were spaced out to ensure a regulated arrival schedule. Am I correct?”
   “Very clever, Inspector.”
   “Part of the job.”
   So the fellow was a lawman. Ben flattened his back against the wall, sinking deeper into the shadow of the clock. Questions ticked in his mind with each swing of the pendulum. Was Pocket sent to make sure he didn’t run or to finish him off? Or possibly set him up for something more sinister than embezzlement and fraud? But why the big charade? Why not just kill him in jail or ship him off as planned?
   “If you wouldn’t mind stepping in here until dinner, sir.” The butler opened a door in a side wall, but his back hindered Ben’s view into the room. “You may meet some of the other guests while you wait.”
   “All right. Don’t mind if I do.” Mr. Pocket swept past the man and vanished.
   Ben dashed back to the stairs, folded his arms, and leaned against the railing as if he’d never moved.
   The butler hesitated on the bottom stair only long enough to say, “My apologies for the delay, Mr. Lane. Please, let us continue.”
   Ben trailed the man as he traveled up two flights, then noted every door they passed and any corridors intersecting the one they traveled. There were two, one lit, one dark. They stopped at the farthest chamber of what he guessed to be the east wing.
   The butler opened the door but blocked him from entering. “You’ll find a bath drawn in front of the hearth, grooming toiletries on a stand opposite, and a set of dinner clothes laid out on the bed. I shall send a footman up to retrieve you in”—he reclaimed his watch once more and held it up for inspection before tucking it away—“forty-five minutes. Is that sufficient?”
   “Very generous,” he replied.
   “Very good.” The butler stepped aside, allowing him to pass, then pulled the door shut.
   Ben froze. The chamber gleamed in lamplight and gilt-striped wallpaper, so large and glorious it might overwhelm a duke. At center, a four-poster bed commanded attention, mattresses high enough to require a step stool. Against one wall stood an oversized roll-top desk and matching chair, decked out with full stationery needs. Several padded chairs and three different settees formed two distinct sitting areas. A screen offered privacy for necessary functions, and thick brocaded drapery covered what must be an enormous bank of windows.
   He changed his mind. This would overwhelm a king.
   Shaking off his stupor, he stalked to the copper basin in front of the fire. Steam rose like a mist on autumn water, smelling of sage and mint. Nine months. Nine never-ending months of filth and sweat and blood.
   He stripped off his prison garb, heedless of ripping the threadbare fabric, and kicked the soiled lump from him, uncaring that it lodged beneath the bed. Good riddance.
   Water splashed over the rim as he sank into the water, warmth washing over him like a lover’s embrace. A sob rose in his throat. This time last year, he’d bathed before dinner just like this. Dressed in fine clothes similar to those laid on the counterpane. Dined by candlelight with the woman he loved fiercely. Kissed Clara’s sweet lips until neither of them could breathe.
   What a fool.
   He snatched the bar of soap off the tray hooked to the tub’s side, then scrubbed harder than necessary. Of course this wasn’t like last Christmas Eve. It could never be.
   For he wouldn’t see Clara ever again.
Michelle Griep, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor Shiloh Run Press, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., © 2017. Used by permission.

Image result for michelle griep
author Michelle Griep
**I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.**


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Modern Quilt Magic: 5 Parlor Tricks to Expand Your Piecing Skills by Victoria Findlay Wolfe, © 2017

17 Captivating Projects

Modern Quilt Magic

*· A magic wand for quilters! Take the fear out of tricky piecing with simple, step-by-step instructions

· Piece 17 projects for intermediate-level quilters, including 12 quilts and 5 smaller pillows and mini quilts

· Stitch new takes on well-known techniques with award-winning quilter Victoria Findlay Wolfe (blog, teaching site).

My Review:

I preordered a signed copy of Modern Quilt Magic in July after seeing the wonky colors! Love how they are put together in an irregular pattern and not matching at all! Loved it!! The patterns of our lives are not following a trail of another but rather the path God sets before us, individually.

Cascade is what drew me in!
Arrange the Pieces
On a design wall (or the floor), arrange the pieces to create a gradational effect. I started with pairs of left and right curves from the same fabrics in an arc. Then I played with some, making matching pairs into V's and filling in with other single curves. Use the photo as a reference and have fun seeing how your fabrics work together from dark to light and back again!
   Modern Quilt Magic, 113
This scrappy quilt pattern shows Fabrics, Crib, Twin, Full, Queen, and King along with how to make the curve. Step-by-step is shown with instructions on cutting and arranging the pieces; constructing and joining the rows and finishing.

Image result for "Cascade" Victoria Findlay Wolfe, 2016, quilted by Shelly Pagliai
"Cascade" Victoria Findlay Wolfe, 2016, quilted by Shelly Pagliai

Here are topics covered: Partial-Seam Construction; Blocks with Partial Seams; Mini Made Fabric; Y-Seams; Free-Form Curves; with Coloring Design Pages and Patterns with a notation to "use a ruler to measure these inch marks to verify that printout is correctly sized."

I enjoyed this book so much I wanted to share it!

***This review was written in my own words. No compensation was received. I preordered this book from the author's website.***

The One Year® Experiencing God's Love Devotional by Sandra Byrd, © 2017


“Only one person never changes and is always with us: our Lord. With God, we can be more intimate than with any other because he is omnipresent—always with us. “So do not fear, for I am with you,” he pledges in Isaiah 41:10. “The Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you,” Deuteronomy 31:6 promises. I have long known that God loves me and loves you. But I long to experience it each and every day.” ~ author Sandra Byrd

My Review:

I have always loved Sandra Byrd's writings and in addition to several of her historicals, I have another devotional she shares ~ The One Year® Home&Garden Devotions. Her devotionals may be picked up any day and begin reading, so you don't have to wait for the new year... but, this may just be the one you choose for your Christmas gift to yourself to begin afresh on January 1, 2018. A wonderful gift to give to others, this devotional released October 3, 2017, ready now!

Why do I like these dailies? They come out of her heart and life and may bring to remembrance a similar time in your own life. A companionship of hearts ~ to boast us forward, to realize we do not stand alone, to encourage another and get us beyond our doors to share His love and life abundant. Sandra begins with a story, an applied Scripture, and a nudge for us.

Here are two excerpts from January (applies to any calendar year):


In Need of a Little Christian-­ease

So often we Christians exhort others to “have faith.” Have faith that the situation will be resolved in the right way. Believe that all will end well, although current events seem to be careening out of control. Trust that shattered relationships will be restored, that God is bigger than any situation or circumstance that we face and can overcome for and with us. Our advice is true and biblical. After all, we walk by faith and not by sight, as 2 Corinthians informs us. We’re so used to saying “just have faith,” though, that it’s become Christianese, something we casually reference but don’t practically facilitate.
   I’m here to tell you, it’s not “Christian- ­ease” to have faith in difficult times; it’s “Christian- ­hard.”
   We rejoice and praise together when times are good, but we must persevere and lean into faith in both God and his faithful followers when times are tough. God has promised that he will never leave nor forsake us, but as a child once said, I sometimes wish I had Jesus with skin on him, right here and right now, in my house.
   That little child’s prayer can be answered. The word encourage means to inspire courage or confidence in someone. People who need courage are facing a daunting, tiring, or worrisome situation. We are to help them be brave, to hold them up as it were, as they stand or fight. We experience the love of God in an unmatchable, powerful way when we act as his agents, on his behalf, offering that love to others. To “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37) to someone who is disheartened is a marching order from Jesus Christ to all who believe.
   To whom, today or this week, can you bring a little “Christian-­ease” by your loving, helping presence? Having a “Christian-­hard” week, yourself? Be brave. Reach out to a loved one and ask for help and hugs.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.                                                                                Hebrews 10:23‑25


Experiencing the Love of God

Training our senses, both physical and spiritual, to sense and see God at work around us takes practice. But it can be done and is well worth the effort to communicate with him in this manner every day. When we learn to discern his hands at work and act as his hands at work, we experience his love—and our partnership with him—in a deeper, more meaningful way.
   Scripture tells us that “whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father (see James 1:17, NLT), so that’s a great place to start. Got something good going on? Thank you, Lord!
   Scripture also tells us that “for whom the Lord loves He chastens” (Hebrews 12:6, NKJV). Had a gentle (or not so gentle!) correction lately, one that sent you in the right direction? Thank you, Lord!
   I have always had a thing with pennies, between God and me. When I see one I remember what is stamped on it, “In God We Trust.” It reminds me to trust him. When I’m feeling weak or worried, I often find a penny on the floor or on the ground, and I know he’s drawn my eye to it.
   One day I was under a lot of stress, and I asked the Lord, “Please reassure me.” I walked into the dry cleaner, which is owned by Christians, and heard a lovely praise song. I just knew that was from God! And then, as I paid, my eyes were drawn to a huge cup FILLED with pennies. “Need one? Take one!” it said. My eyes filled with tears. That was from him too.
   How do you see God’s work in your life in the natural world around you this week? Don’t skip past this. Stay here, prayerfully, until you can list at least five ways.






Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.                                                                                              James 1:17, NLT
Sandra Byrd, The One Year® Experiencing God's Love Devotional, © 2017 Tyndale, © 2017. Used by permission.

Whatever the season, join in and let the Lord touch your heart with His wonderful plan for your individual life. His mercies endure forever!
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
Philippians 1:6 NLT
His grace is readily available to us. Discover the many and varied ways we experience the love of God!

Sandra Byrd
author Sandra Byrd
Click here to enJ*O*Y this wide selection of Sandra Byrd's writings! Something for everyone.

***I would like to thank author Sandra Byrd and Tyndale for sending me a copy of The One Year® Experiencing God's Love Devotional. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***