Monday, November 17, 2014

When Mercy Rains by Kim Vogel Sawyer, © 2014

The Zimmerman Restoration Trilogy, Book 1

Remember not the
sins of my youth,
nor my transgressions:
according to thy mercy
remember thou me for
thy goodness’ sake,
O Lord.

Psalm 25:7, KJV

Suzanne Zimmerman is called back home to care for her mother who was injured in a haying accident. Are they calling for her because she is convenient, or because they want to be restored as a family? Deep hurts have kept them apart. With young children, the other siblings are needing a break. With Suzanne's nursing experience she is qualified.

A surprise to the family is Suzanne's daughter, Alexa, they are unaware is coming with her to their Kansas farm. Far from their home in Indiana, Suzanne is taking a leave of absence from her job. Alexa is eager to know her extended family.

Dysfunctional at best, one sister harbors regrets and ill will. I am looking forward to a yielding on her heart, receiving freedom to live exposing her pain. The one left behind.... Under the facade of perfection and judging, cracks appear finally able to receive the balm necessary for healing.
Restoration and forgiveness indeed are needed as hidden truth comes to the surface. This is a wonderful story of mending and love coming alive in long bruised and hampered lives. Alexa is the bright spot as she gives all, bringing this family to the light of His grace. God's mercy and truth free them to live anew.
Summer Kitchen Inside
The transformation that comes into their lives gives them a second chance. An excellent story of a way out of destruction leaving disintegration behind. Deterioration of heart and soul is nipped as they begin to rejoice in the change honest sharing and love bring. Restoring not just themselves, but the community around them brought in to reclaim harmony leaving severed relationships an open door for a future.

sneak-peak_1852Enjoy this excerpt from When Mercy Rains by Kim Vogel Sawyer ~


Spring 1994

The hiss of approaching tires on wet pavement broke the tense silence between the mother and daughter seated on the bus-stop bench. Suzy flicked a look at Mother and dared a timorous comment. “Here it comes.” Now that her leave-taking was upon her, would her mother’s disapproving demeanor soften?
   The lines of Mother’s mouth remained etched in a stern line, the furrows between her brows forming a V so deep it might never depart. Suzy hunched into her wool coat—a coat far too cloying for the damp May dawn but also too bulky to fit in her small cardboard suitcase. She’d be gone well into the winter months, and Mother insisted she’d need it so she should wear it. And she always did what her mother said.
   Well, almost always. Who knew one foolish mistake could hold such far-reaching consequences? I’m so sorry, God.
   The bus groaned to a stop at the curb, and Mother curled her hand around Suzy’s elbow, forcing her to rise. Although Mother’s grip was hard, impersonal, Suzy welcomed it. Her ordinarily demonstrative mother hadn’t touched her even once in the past two weeks, as if fearful Suzy’s stains would rub off. So she pressed her elbow against her rib cage, needing to feel the pressure of Mother’s work-roughened fingers against her flesh. But the coat proved too thick a barrier. Suzy blinked rapidly.
   “Get your case.”
   The moment Suzy caught the handle of the old suitcase, Mother propelled her through the gray drizzle toward the bus. The slap of the soles of their matching black oxfords sent up dirty droplets from the rain-soaked sidewalk, peppering their tan hosiery. The dark spots reminded Suzy of the dark blotch now and forever on her soul. She pushed the thought aside and looked into the opening created by the unfolding of the bus door.
   The driver glanced from Mother to Suzy, seeming to focus on their white mesh caps and dangling ribbons—Mother’s black, Suzy’s white. Accustomed to curious looks from those outside her Mennonite faith, Suzy didn’t wince beneath the man’s puzzled scowl, but she battled the desire to melt into the damp concrete when Mother spoke in a strident tone.
   “I am Abigail Zimmerman, and this is my daughter. She is traveling one-way to Indianapolis.”
   One-way… Suzy swallowed hard.
   Mother gave her elbow a little shake. “Show him the ticket, Suzanne.”
   Suzanne. Not Suzy as she’d been tenderly called her entire life. She gulped again and drew the rumpled ticket from her pocket.
   The driver eased himself from the seat and plucked the rectangle of paper from Suzy’s icy fingers. He stared at it for a moment and then bobbed his head and waved a hand in invitation. “Come on aboard. Long drive ahead of you.”
   Suzy gritted her teeth to hold back a cry of agony. He didn’t realize how long. She turned to Mother, silently praying the mother who had dried her tears and bandaged her childhood scuffs would reappear, would read the fear in her eyes and offer a hug. A kind word. A hint of forgiveness.
   Mother leaned close, and Suzy’s heart leaped with hope. “The people at the…in Indianapolis know what to do. You do what they say.” Mother’s harsh whisper raised a slight cloud of condensation around her face, softening the fierce furrows of anger etched at her eyes and mouth.
   “I will.” Questions Suzy had fearfully held inside pressed for release. What had Mother and Dad told Clete, Shelley, and little Sandra? Did the fellowship know she was leaving? Would she be allowed to call home?
   “Afterward you can come to Arborville again. It will be as though this never happened.” Mother took a step back, shoving her balled fists into the pockets of her lightweight trench coat.
   Tears flooded Suzy’s eyes, distorting her vision. The suitcase encumbered one arm, but she lifted the other, her fingers reaching fleetingly toward her mother. “Mother, I—”
   “At least you will be able to bless your cousin Andrew and his wife. God will redeem your sin. Now go, Suzanne.” Mother jerked her chin toward the rumbling bus. “Go and put this unpleasantness behind us.”
   Behind us… Suzy’s shame had spilled over and tainted her entire family. She bowed her head, the weight of her burden too much to bear.
   “I will see you afterward.”
   Mother’s words sealed Suzy’s fate. With a heavy heart, she climbed the stairs, the unwieldy suitcase and her trembling limbs making her clumsy. She trudged down the narrow, dim aisle past snoozing passengers to the very last bench and slid in. Hugging the suitcase to her aching chest—to her womb, which bore the evidence of her shame—she hung her head and toyed with the plastic handle of the suitcase rather than clearing a spot on the steam-clouded window to see if Mother might wave good-bye.
   The bus lurched forward, jolting Suzy in the seat. She closed her eyes tight as a wave of nausea rolled over her. Her thoughts screamed, Wait! Let me off ! She didn’t want to go so far away. She needed her mother. She would miss her father and sisters and brother.
   And Paul.
   Her mother’s final comment echoed in her mind. “I will see you afterward.” After Suzy delivered this child and handed it to others to raise. The ache in her chest heightened until she could barely draw a breath. She leaned her forehead against the cool glass and allowed the long-held tears to slip quietly down her cheeks. She would leave her home in Kansas, and she would count the days until she could put this nightmare behind her and go back to being Mother and Dad’s Suzy again.

Chapter 1

Twenty Years Later

Suzanne Zimmerman balanced a clipboard against her hip and recorded the milliliters of antibiotic-infused solution administered via Mr. Birney’s IV, then she checked the box next to “pain medicine dispensed” and confirmed the time on her wristwatch before writing it down. Her clerical duties complete, she slid the clipboard into its plastic pocket on the wall and moved to the side of the tall, railed bed.
   The blinds were drawn against the night, and only one small fluorescent bulb glowed from a panel above the bed, but the dim beam of light was sufficient. To her relief, Mr. Birney’s face had lost its ashen appearance and his breathing was much less labored than when he’d been admitted three days ago.
   As she looked down at him, his eyes fluttered open. His gaze drifted around the room, confusion marring his brow, but then he fixed his faded gray eyes on her face, and his expression cleared.
   She touched the man’s wrinkled hand. “I’m sorry. Did I disturb you, Mr. Birney?”
   “Call me Ed. ‘Mr. Birney’ makes me feel like some old man.”
   Suzanne swallowed a smile. According to his file, Mr. Birney had turned eighty-two a month ago. He spoke in a crusty tone, but she admired his spunk. And she was thankful for it. He’d need spunk to recover from his bout of pneumonia. “Ed then. Are you comfortable?”
   “As comfortable as I can be in this crazy contraption. Hard as a rock and folding me in half like a pretzel. A bed like this belongs in a medieval torture chamber.”
   Reflecting upon the proverb about laughter being good medicine, Suzanne teased, “Well now, you guessed our secret. We purchase our beds from Torture Chamber Supply Company. After all, if you’re too comfortable, you won’t want to get well and go home.”
   Mr. Birney gave a brief snort of laughter that ended in a cough. He shook his head, the lines of his jowls shifting with the motion. “Torture Chamber Supply Company. That’s a good one.” His eyebrows beetled, real concern chasing away the glint of humor. “About goin’ home…I’ll be doing that, won’t I?”
   Compassion filled Suzanne. She looked directly into Mr. Birney’s watery eyes and spoke with great confidence. “You’ll be going home. No need to worry.”
   He heaved a rattling sigh, then set his jaw in a stubborn jut. “Wasn’t worried. Just wondering. Somebody’s gotta keep the bird feeders filled, you know.”
   “That’s true.” Suzanne was glad he had a reason to keep living. So many of the elderly patients who came to Mennonite Manor Hospital and Recovery Home had no motivation to get better. Attitude played a significant role in recuperation, and she suspected Ed Birney would be back in his little home feeding the birds very soon given his plucky attitude.
   Apparently reassured, Mr. Birney closed his eyes. Suzanne remained beside his bed for a few more minutes, watching the rise and fall of his chest, then sent up a quick prayer for his full recovery before stepping into the quiet hallway.
   In less than half an hour, the day-shift workers would begin to arrive and the hospital corridors would buzz with activity, but night shift was quieter, peaceful. She’d worked the graveyard shift for so many years now, she had no trouble catching her sleep during the daytime hours and couldn’t imagine any other schedule.
   She rounded the corner to the nurses’ station, the rubber soles of her white lace-up shoes squeaking on the freshly waxed tile. A familiar head of short black waves showed over the edge of the tall counter, and Suzanne gave a little skip to speed her steps. “Linda! You’re back!” As she stepped behind the counter, the hospital’s longtime bookkeeper rose and held her arms open. Suzanne wrapped her friend’s bulky form in a hug.
   “’Course I am.” Linda banged her thick palm against Suzanne’s shoulder several times before pulling loose. “Counted down the days ’til my vacation was finally over and I could head on back here. Whole time I was gone I worried the place would fall apart without me, but look at this—the walls’re still standing and nobody seems the worse for wear.” She balled her fists on her hips and pasted a fierce scowl on her face. “But these files are a mess and nobody bothered to refill the candy dish. How’m I s’posed to get anything done if I haven’t got any black cats to chew on?”
   Suzanne laughed. “You and your licorice cats. I’ll stop by Sarah’s Sweet Treats on my way home this morning and pick up a bag for you.” Surely Linda’s purchases of licorice cats had kept the little candy shop open over the years.
   “And that’s why you’re my favorite.” Linda released a deep, throaty chuckle. She dropped back into the wheeled chair and began organizing the manila files scattered across the long desk.
   Suzanne leaned against the edge of the counter and watched Linda work. “Did you enjoy your vacation? I bet the Caribbean islands were beautiful.” Every year, Linda and her husband visited an exotic location for her retreat from work. On more than one occasion they’d invited Suzanne to join them, but the cost was always beyond her means. Even so, she wouldn’t trade the years of raising her daughter for a hundred Caribbean cruises.
   “Beautiful and hot.” Linda fanned herself with both palms, pretending to pant. “I told Tom next year we’re going to Alaska. Polar bears instead of palm trees. Wanna come?”
   A vacation with Linda and her teddy bear of a husband would be pure delight. She loved both of them—they’d become her surrogate parents over the years. But she shook her head in gentle refusal.
   Linda snorted and returned to her file sorting. “Girl, you’ve got enough vacation time saved up to take off for six months.”
   “Seven,” Suzanne corrected with a smile.
   Linda rolled her eyes. “But do you go anywhere? Huh-uh. Work, mothering, church, work, mothering, church… That’s your whole life.” She gave Suzanne’s elbow a light smack. “You need to do something fun. Live a little. The Bible says, ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’”
   Suzanne burst out laughing. “The Bible says that?”
   “So maybe the good Lord Almighty didn’t say it, but it’s good advice all the same.” Linda’s round black face pursed into a worried frown. “You know I’m proud of you, Suzanne. Heavenly days, you beat all the odds, having that baby when you were hardly more than a baby yourself and then getting your nurse training without a family to support you. You raised Alexa right, and you made something of yourself. When I volunteer down at the crisis pregnancy center, I hold you up as an example of what those scared girls can be if they put their minds to it.”
   Suzanne lowered her head, both pleased and embarrassed. With God’s help and the loving support of friends like Linda, she’d managed to carve a decent life for Alexa and herself. Even so, the stigma of once having been an unwed teenage mother still lingered. A part of her resisted accepting Linda’s praise.
   Linda went on in her husky voice. “But that girl of yours is old enough to fend for herself now. Why not take some time off ? Do something for yourself for a change?” She leaned close, her dark eyes fervent. “You’ve earned it, Suzanne.”
   The mutter of voices and patter of footsteps signaled the arrival of day-shift workers. Suzanne bent forward and deposited a kiss on Linda’s plump cheek. “I’ll think about it,” she said, then turned to greet the incoming nurse.
   She updated the day nurse on medications prescribed to patients during the night, listened to one worker’s complaint about the hospital’s failure to change to computers in lieu of the old record-and-file system, and reminded her—as she’d done dozens of times before—of the small, mission-minded organization’s limited budget, completed and initialed her reports, and then finally headed to the bank of lockers for her coat and purse.
   As she pushed her arms into her trench coat, Linda’s suggestion to take some time off whispered through her mind. She’d promised to think about it, but thinking was all she’d do. She wouldn’t take time away from the hospital. Here she was needed. Respected. And busy, leaving her no time to reflect on the past or how things might have been.
   She slipped her purse strap over her shoulder and stepped out into the cool dawn. Beneath a rose-colored sky, she crossed the street to the small, graveled parking lot used by hospital employees and planned her morning. Breakfast with Alexa, a quick jaunt to Sarah’s Sweet Treats for a half pound—well, maybe a pound—of licorice cats, then pajamas and bed.
   She slammed the door on her late-model sedan, sealing away Linda’s suggestion. Her friend meant well, bless her loving heart, but Suzanne was satisfied with her life of work, mothering, and church. God had gifted her beyond all deserving. She had no desire for anything more.

The alarm clock’s buzz roused Suzanne from a sound sleep. She slapped it silent, then rolled over and stretched like a lazy cat. After tossing back the covers and slipping her feet to the floor in one smooth movement, she sat on the edge of the mattress for a few seconds and allowed herself to awaken by increments. Yawned. Rubbed her eyes. Yawned again.
   Finally awake, she padded to the window and rolled up the blinds. Late afternoon sunlight poured into the room, making her blink, but she welcomed the splash of brightness. During the winter months she often awakened to a black sky, making her feel as though the sun never shone. But now spring had arrived with its longer days and warmer evenings. Before long she and Alexa would be able to sit on their tiny balcony in the evenings, sip tea, and chat while watching the sun set over Franklin. One of their favorite activities. They’d always been content with little pleasures.
   The clatter of silverware found its way past her closed door. Alexa was setting the table, so apparently supper would be ready soon. Knowing how her daughter disliked letting a meal grow cold, Suzanne quickly showered then dressed in a work uniform—flowered scrub top over a long straight skirt, anklets, and her comfortable oxfords. She brushed out her damp hair, braided it into a single plait, and then twisted it into a bun on the back of her head. After running a soapy cloth over her face and brushing her teeth, she made her bed and then headed to the kitchen.
   Alexa looked up from chopping a red pepper into thin slices and smiled. “You’re just in time to turn the chicken breasts on the grill.”
   Suzanne raised her eyebrows. “You started the grill? Kind of early, isn’t it?” They’d only turned the calendar to April three days ago.
   Alexa shrugged, sending her long ponytail over her shoulder. The silky tresses, as richly brown as a mink’s fur, fell straight and sheeny down her slender back. “The sun warmed up the balcony, and I couldn’t resist having our first cookout.” She bobbed her chin toward the sliding doors at the far end of their small combination sitting and dining room. “Better go turn ’em before they scorch.”
   Suzanne grabbed the two-pronged fork from the end of the counter and stepped onto the balcony. The aroma that rose when she lifted the grill’s cover made her stomach roll over in eagerness. She poked the thickest chicken breast with the fork, and clear juices ran out to sizzle on the hot grid. She stuck her head inside and announced, “They’re done.”
   Alexa bustled over with a plate, and Suzanne transferred the chicken from the grill, then turned off the burner and closed the gauge on the propane tank. She entered the apartment just as Alexa carried the bowl of salad to the round table tucked in their tiny dining alcove.
   “I hope you don’t mind just having chicken and a salad.” Alexa lifted a pitcher of tea from the middle of the table and poured it over ice cubes in two jelly jar glasses. “A light supper will leave room for what comes later.” She waggled her eyebrows teasingly.
   Suzanne slipped into her chair, smiling. She’d gotten spoiled over the past years since Alexa had taken on the responsibility of cooking. Her daughter was especially adept at creating delectable desserts. Fortunately all of her hallway walking at the hospital worked off the extra calories. “What did you concoct this time?”
   “A triple-layer torte with both chocolate and strawberry fillings.”
   Suzanne nearly groaned. “Oh, that sounds rich. Where did you find the recipe?”
   Alexa offered another glib shrug and plopped into her chair. Suzanne would never cease to be amazed at how Alexa could move so quickly and still appear graceful. “I sort of made it up. If it turns out, you can take the leftovers to work and share.”
   Suzanne had no doubt she’d be sharing with her coworkers. She held her hand toward Alexa, and her daughter took hold. They bowed their heads in unison, and Suzanne offered a short prayer of thanks for the meal. Alexa used a pair of plastic tongs to serve the salad—a combination of colorful chopped vegetables, walnuts, and dried cranberries that was almost too pretty to eat.
   Suzanne lifted her knife and fork and cut into the tender chicken breast. At the first bite, she murmured, “Mm…how did you season this?”
   Alexa swallowed a bite and took a sip of tea before answering. “I brushed them with olive oil, then sprinkled on dried parsley, basil, a little seasoned salt, and some garlic pepper. I was afraid the garlic pepper might be overboard, but it doesn’t taste bad at all.”
   “It tastes great.” Suzanne stabbed up another bite.
   “I used the same seasonings and olive oil for the salad dressing but added some fresh-squeezed orange juice and a little bit of sugar.”
   “Sweetheart, everything is wonderful, as always.” Suzanne gave Alexa’s wrist a squeeze, pride filling her. “You’re going to make a wonderful homemaker for a lucky man one day.”
  A wistful expression crossed Alexa’s youthful face. “Well, you keep praying for my husband-to-be, Mom, and I’ll keep my eyes open. So far he’s stayed pretty well hidden.”
   Suzanne forced a light chuckle, but inwardly she cringed. If she’d raised Alexa in the Old Order sect, she’d probably already be published to marry. At nineteen, she was considered old enough to be a wife and mother. Although Suzanne prayed daily for a loving, God-honoring husband and faith-filled home for her daughter, she didn’t mind waiting another year or two for Alexa to find the man God had planned for her. She liked having her close. As Alexa had grown older, she’d become more than a daughter—she’d become Suzanne’s best friend. Would they be as close if—
   She chased away her inner reflections by asking about Alexa’s work. Alexa shared a few cute anecdotes about the children who came through the line at the elementary school where she helped prepare and serve lunch each day, then Suzanne told her about Mr. Birney and asked her to pray for his full recovery— as he’d said, someone needed to fill the bird feeders. Their supper hour passed quickly, and when they’d finished, Alexa carried their empty plates to the sink, then removed the torte from the refrigerator.
   As Alexa sliced into the towering dessert, she said, “Oh, Mom, I almost forgot. You got a letter today. From Arborville.”
   “Really?” Letters were rare, usually arriving around Christmastime, the time of year when families were expected to contact one another.
   “I put it on top of the daily newspaper.” She shook her head, pursing her lips in a what-is-this-world-coming-to expression. “Read the article on page three about the abandoned baby a kitchen worker found in the Dumpster behind a restaurant. I can’t believe someone would just leave a newborn in the trash that way…”
   Suzanne experienced an inner jolt of reaction to Alexa’s dismayed comment, but she didn’t respond. She knew all too well how children were tossed aside by unfeeling or desperate parents. As she crossed to the far side of the room and picked up the long envelope, she offered a prayer for God to provide a loving home for the little foundling. Every child deserved to be loved and nurtured by caring parents.
   Then she turned her attention to the envelope, and her hands trembled. The return address said Cletus Zimmerman in scrawling penmanship. Clete had never written before. Letters always came from Mother.
   “Cletus is your brother, right?” Alexa slid a sliver of cake onto a dessert plate and licked a smudge of icing from her thumb.
   Suzanne nodded woodenly.
   Alexa snickered. “He should be a doctor with handwriting like that. What does he say?”
   “I don’t know. I haven’t opened it yet.”
   “Well, don’t just hold it. Open it, goofy.” Alexa’s teasing grin did little to calm Suzanne’s rattled nerves.
   Suzanne managed a weak smile. She peeled back the flap and removed two sheets of yellow notepad paper. Clete’s messy scrawl covered the front and back sides of both pages. Mother’s letters, which were meant to encompass a year’s worth of news, never filled more than one sheet of paper. Comparatively speaking, Clete had written a book.
   Alexa touched Suzanne’s arm. She jumped in surprise, unaware Alexa had left the kitchen. A soft smile curved her daughter’s lips. “Mom, sit down and read your letter. I’ll put the cake back in the fridge, and we’ll have it when you’re done, okay?”
   Suzanne cupped Alexa’s smooth cheek in a silent thank-you. Then she sank onto the couch cushion, flicked on the table lamp, and angled Clete’s letter toward the light. She read slowly, frowning at times as she struggled to make sense of her brother’s sloppy handwriting, but eventually she reached the end. By the time she’d finished, her desire to sample Alexa’s triple-layer torte had fled. She wouldn’t be able to swallow a bite.
Kim Vogel Sawyer, When Mercy Rains WaterBrook Press, © 2014.

***Thank you to WaterBrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books for sending me a complimentary copy of Kim Vogel Sawyer's novel When Mercy Rains for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

When Grace Sings by VOGEL SAWYER, KIM When Grace Sings, The Zimmerman Trilogy, Book 2
releases March 17, 2015

The Christmas Cat by Melody Carlson, © 2014

Definitely not a ~*plain*~ house cat...

Garrison Brown has been called upon to distribute his recently deceased Grandmother's s~i~x cats to deserving households who will love them as their own in the manner in which they are accustomed.  Added to the mix is the fact that Garrison is allergic to felines. This should be easy, shouldn't it? Not so, as he endeavors to mix and match perfectly according to the list left behind for their appointing.
   "Seems she thought of everything." Garrison felt slightly overwhelmed. Was he really about to become the keeper of the cats?
   --The Christmas Cat, 31
What a wise woman, Garrison's Grandma was in making her will ~ providing for others and introducing Garrison to settled people in her neighborhood. Returning from overseas, Garrison is in need of friends who will support him and care for his Grandma's interests. Three selections and three to go ~ at least, he hopes all of them will get the right new home before he begins his new job and moves on. There is one he is becoming partial to ~*~ and... he doesn't especially care for cats with his allergies. One stipulation is two home visits spread out to make sure the cats are adjusting nicely. That also keeps Garrison around a little longer.

Come and visit as Garrison finds that not everything is as it seems. A very fun story that will be enjoyed by all ages. Wait upon dreams that are able to come true. Merry Christmas one and all!

Cover Art
Melody Carlson
Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of over two hundred books with sales of more than five million. She is the author of several Christmas books from Revell, including the bestselling The Christmas Bus, The Christmas Dog, and Christmas at Harrington's, which is being considered for a TV movie. She is also the author of many teen books, including Just Another Girl, Anything but Normal, Double Take, the Life at Kingston High series, and the Diary of a Teenage Girl series. She is the winner of a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the inspirational market for her many books, including the Diary of a Teenage Girl series and Finding Alice. Melody and her husband live in Oregon. For more information about Melody visit her website here.

***Thank you to Revell Reads for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour for Melody Carlson's The Christmas Cat and for sending me a review copy. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Where Treetops Glisten by *Cara Putman*Sarah Sundin*Tricia Goyer*, © 2014

Three Stories of Heartwarming Courage and Christmas Romance During World War II

~*Cookie Recipes in the Back!*~

Prologue ~ Sarah Sundin ~ Winter Wonderland
December, 1941. Louise Turner is up in the night anyway. Why not begin Christmas decorating? Helping herself to an early Christmas cheering, Louise stands on a chair to place lights and greenery ~ until her grandson, Pete, catches her. Reminiscing of wars, rationing, and now this generation's part, our story begins.

Cara Putman ~ White Christmas
Lovely snowy scene of country style porch in the winter with porch swing
December, 1942. Readying candy canes and puzzles for the children spending Christmas in the hospital brings more than expected. Abigail Turner, making candy above Glatz's soda fountain and confections store, and Jackson Lucas cutting out toy kits at the puzzle factory merge their talents. A Christmas that will be unforgotten.

Jackson rescues Abigail as she is attempting to cross the street to catch the approaching bus by her college campus for her shift at Glatz Candies. Jackson is on his way to his boardinghouse after his factory shift. Noticing he is troubled about something, Abigail mentions it but he "is fine." Dropping a small book from her bag, she hurries off the bus. Jackson retrieves it and sees that it is her calendar with the time noted at Glatz's. Returning her much needed schedule, Abigail invites him to her family's home for dinner and consult with her attorney father upon seeing Jackson reading a legal document.

I liked this warm story and the Turner family as they welcome Jackson and seek to help him solve the dilemma surrounding his mother and sisters at their family farm. He has come to the city to earn money to support them after the death of their father.

My favorite character is Abigail's Grandma, outspoken in her wise observations. In 1942 Lafayette, Indiana, this Christmas is missing siblings, Pete, training as a fighter pilot, and Merry, finishing up nursing school in Florida.

Sarah Sundin ~ I'll Be Home for Christmas
December, 1943. Pete Turner is home on leave, returning to a new post in January. This couldn't be the little girl he had teased? Grace Kessler and her little girl, Linda ~ Linnie ~, fulfill a longing in his heart. But... can Grace believe her brother's friend, Pete, could turn into a charming, lovely dream? Learning to trust has become very deep for Grace. Will it all be taken away in a moment... again? While on leave, Pete entertains Linnie, taking her to fun places and getting her wiggles out at the river all before settling down for homework. Grace's job goes smoother knowing Linnie is cared for so lovingly. Invited for Christmas Eve gift opening, the Turners bring ~*Home*~ to them. That is, until Pete speaks of his return in January to fly crafts again ~ she was so sure she understood he would have a desk job. With this love placed in her heart by God, will she ultimately be able to trust in His care, not allowing fear and anger to rule? Walking alongside each other, His love overfills to spill out on others from the God-sized hole in us only He can fill. Giving, receiving so much more in return.

Trisha Goyer ~ Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

December, 1944, Field Hospital, the Netherlands. Meredith ~Merry~ Turner
Sometimes where one's from isn't as important as understanding one's heart...
   She hummed "White Christmas," imagining Bing Crosby's rich baritone. From the way the patient glared at her, she knew this soldier was also German, but one would never know by looking at him. With their bloody, torn uniforms cast aside, the men appeared the same. They bled the same. They needed the same care. Yet it was the deceit of the heart that made the difference. Where one placed his allegiance.
   --Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, 241, 243
Meredith knew of deceit. David. Returning to his home country, taking her heart with him ~ betraying her and her country. How could someone she thought she knew so well leave her without a word? His memory traveled with her from nurses training in Miami Beach to her first postings with her troop in France, Belgium, and now the field hospital in the Netherlands. Soon, she had heard, they would be leaving for Germany. So close to the lines, hoping they will stay during Christmas with memories of home on her birthday. Especially, with letters from her brother, Pete, and her sister, Abigail, arriving with visions of  Daddy, and Grandma and Mama singing and scurrying in the kitchen. Cookies smells wafting through the air! A surprise comes to her as the hospital setting becomes Christmas with a tree, special piano music to sing by, and remembrances just for Merry. Home in the heart and forgiveness as truth brings joy to last beyond Christmas.

Epilogue ~ Cara Putman ~ Let It Snow, Let It Snow
Christmas Day, 1945. Louise Turner awaits the soon return of her granddaughter, Merry, as the long war on both fronts has truly ended. Today, her grandchildren Pete and Abigail and their families would be coming for dinner. What joy to be at their parents' home all together for this blessed day. The doorbell rings and... Merry is home, bringing a celebration, indeed.
But... this isn't the end. It a glorious beginning and continuance of love and life amid those at home!

Beautiful stories are shared of the Turner family during turbulent times. Key was their correspondence with their loved ones overseas, with news from home. Strength develops as they trust God and seek Him in their daily cares.

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for Where Treetops Glisten by Cara Putnam, Sarah Sundin, and Tricia Goyer. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Bound Heart by Dawn Crandall, © 2014

The Everstone Chronicles ~ Book Two


“God loves you, Meredyth, and wants to use your abilities to bless others as well as yourself. Even if you don't feel useful, you can be.”
    ― Dawn Crandall, The Bound Heart

Only Christ can rectify our past; we cannot ~ no matter how strenuously we might try. Circumvented by unforgotten events, we chide ourselves, never able to get out from underneath it on our own. Visualizing how we think it should turn out, our future is not entirely our own to decide. When others are involved, they too have free will to choose their own outcome ~ rather certain or retrospective in hidden thought.

Meredyth is longing to find fulfillment, her purpose, as she awaits her long-sought future unfolding.
The Everstone Chronicles
Dawn Crandall is an author to watch. I love her stories!
I began reading this second installment yesterday morning, interspersed until the wee hours. It was difficult to leave Meredyth in her quandary.

What an intriguing family the Everstones are. Some not so close, but yet when it comes down to it, they are very much aligned together. Meredyth Summercourt's family has a summer cottage on Mount Desert Island in Bar Harbor, Maine. Sailing from Boston every summer to cooler weather, families shared the summer months up and down the beach. Nearby, growing up, were Meredyth and her three older brothers, Lawry Hampton and his younger sister, Ainsley, and three Everstone brothers and their younger sister, Estella.

Determined to wait for one Everstone brother to return from years exploring Europe, Meredyth's story unfolds. Her heart is bound to him to right a wrong. I am waiting for her to find that is not who her alliance is to be with. Her struggles surface when she finds Lawry has interests that include her. Young Wynn Rosselet is rescued from a bully on the streets. Wynn is very vital in the story, as Meredyth begins to see what love looks like. Calling her an endearing "Mere'dy" is just the melody of her beginning to open her heart to hope.

Each chapter heading is followed by a quote that encloses the content perfectly. So rich in pursuit and received for who she is, Meredyth is lovingly drawn to forgiveness and freedom far greater than the self-loathing and unworthiness she has lived with for many years.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity...   --Jeremiah 29:11-14a
Love and acceptance available to reach out and have, to be alive and live. Safety in the one who waits for her. Written in first person from Meredyth's point of view, she seeks amid struggles to find where she rightfully belongs. Well-written, with the lives of those around her, the ending offers forgiveness and release looking to the welfare of others.

Dawn CrandallDawn Crandall writes long inspirational historical romantic suspense. She has a BA in Christian Education from Taylor University and lives in northeast Indiana with her ever-supportive husband, her three cats [Lilly, Pumpkin and Clover] and their newest addition, a little baby boy.

Book Review Blog
Twitter: @dawnwritesfirst
Author Website

***Thank you to author Dawn Crandall and Whitaker House for this copy of Book Two in The Everstone Chronicles ~ The Bound Heart. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Every Tear a Memory by Myra Johnson, © 2014

Till We Meet Again series, Book 3

France, 1919. Joanna Trapp is on her way home to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to help her brother Jack care for their teen sister, Lily, following World War I. Joanna served as a "Hello Girls" telephone operator during the war. She will be distancing from more than the Army Signal Corps, but a buried sweetheart.
WWI Hello Girls
US Army Signal Corps telephone operators or "Hello Girls," Tours, France, WWI.

Hot Springs, Arkansas. Thomas Ballard is manager of the prestigious Arlington Hotel and is in need of a switchboard operator for the late night shift. Joanna fits the bill! She will be home earlier in the day to follow up with her younger sister. Lily isn't thrilled to now have two older siblings trying to direct her life.
Constructed in 1893, the second Arlington Hotel contained 300 rooms.
Joanna has lasting memories and is glad to have this diversion at work. Thomas has a sorrow of his own ~ his brother, Gilbert, was injured in the war; the war Thomas wasn't medically able to be a part of. Regrets beyond his control.

"She is surprised by the attention from successful hotel manager Thomas Ballard, whose practical nature starkly contrasts her own spontaneous spirit." This quote sums up their awkward unplanned attraction to each other. Those returning to civilian life and those at home both have adjustments. This is such a good story! I liked how their every day unfolded. It would make a good movie script. Letting go of grief and moving on, having someone to truly love you and care as Lily finds as her sister shares with her. A keeper! Excellent writing.

Award-­winning novelist Myra Johnson examines life in post-­WWI America in her inspirational historical romance series Till We Meet Again published by Abingdon Press Fiction. The stories set in 1919 in the bustling Southern resort town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, explore the lives of three couples and their families, all of whom have been deeply affected by the events of World War I.

Fiction: Historical
When the Clouds Roll By
Myra Johnson
                                                        Abingdon Press

***Thank you to author Myra Johnson for sending me an Advance Reader Copy of her October 2014 release, Every Tear a Memory, Book 3 in her Till We Meet Again series. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Lady at Willowgrove Hall by Sarah E. Ladd, © 2014

Whispers on the Moors series, Book 3

Detham, England, 1814. Hurriedly rushed to Rosemere School for Young Ladies by her father, Cecily Faire is separated from her twin sister, Leah, and all she knows at Aradelle Park. Four years later, she is summoned to Wiltonshire, England, as a lady's companion to the elderly Mrs. Trent at Willowgrove Hall. Obtaining information that her sister is with an aunt at Manchester and working as a dressmaker, Cecily is hopeful to take the post and the prospect of being united with Leah again.
The paper bird and the girl who gave it all away
whimsicalepiphany Source: vestidoslindosatelier

Nearing Willowgrove Hall, she is dropped off by the coachman amid soaking rain and mire, as the bridge is out due to flooding. To the quick aid by the steward's dog, Cecily is rescued and invited by Nathaniel Stanton to spend the night with his family at Laurel Cottage. His mother and sisters are delighted sharing their home and look forward to her return.

Mr. Stanton is not a favorite of Mrs. Trent, and negatively tries to detour Cecily's responses to the Stantons. As their days become settled together, Cecily eases Mrs. Trent from her quarters with her kind words and fresh air walks, long lacking in Mrs. Trent's life. Her intended heir is waiting for her to falter, bringing more determination to remain.

Secrets are destructive as those at Willowgrove determine to keep their places intact. How sobering to have to use strength to hide what brought to the open would be freeing, for each of them. Not all is as it seems. Getting to know each other is so much more rewarding than issues and uninformed gossip and chatter about others. The wealth of really knowing and being known is so much richer.

Sarah E. Ladd brings you into this regency novel and the characters become well-invested friends. Hard to put down, you will enjoy A Lady at Willowgrove Hall ~ right to the ending! Riveting with honor and care, the threads woven into her writings project a promise and a hope. YaY! Waiting for the next installment. Hoping the next series continue for the rest of the story as their futures unfold.

Sarah E. Ladd received the 2011 Genesis Award in historical romance for The Heiress of Winterwood. She is a graduate of Ball State University and has more than ten years of marketing experience. Sarah lives in Indiana with her amazing husband, sweet daughter, and spunky Golden Retriever. Facebook: SarahLaddAuthor Twitter: @SarahLaddAuthor

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group and to Thomas Nelson for sending me a copy of A Lady at Willowgrove Hall by Sarah E. Ladd to review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy this excerpt from Sarah E. Ladd's third novel in her Whispers on the Moors series ~ A Lady at Willowgrove Hall, Chapter One ~


Blacksmith's Cottage at Aradelle Park
Detham, England, 1814

Is it always a sin to tell a lie?
   Sixteen-year-old Cecily Faire rolled over to glance at Leah, who slumbered in the narrow bed they shared. A worn, wool blanket was tucked tightly under her sister's chin, and her long, auburn braid lay limply against the pillow.
   For weeks she had kept a secret from her sister. Her dearest friend. Her closest confidante.
   Cecily swallowed the emotion that welled within her.
   Each little lie that she had told haunted her.
   But had there been any alternative? Secrecy was imperative.
   Cecily relaxed her head against her own pillow and stared at the rough, wooden beams running the length of their bedchamber and struggled to make out their uneven shape in the night's shifting darkness. Outside their room's only window, unremitting rain battered her family's modest cottage, clattering against the thatched roof and disturbing the shutters.
   Normally, she did not mind a rainy night. The weather changed without warning on the moors. She had grown accustomed to the peculiar groans and whispering creaks conjured by harsh winds. But tonight, the uneven cadence made it difficult for her to hear the single sound that mattered above all.
   The chime of her father's clock.
   How clearly her mind's eye could recall the timepiece's ivory face, golden hands, and intricate carvings of vines and leaves. It was by far the most elegant piece in their home. It sat in the parlor, just one floor below, marking each passing hour.
   Unable to remain still another moment, Cecily clamped her teeth over her lower lip, held her breath as she pushed the thin covers away, and sat up, careful not to wake Leah.
   Even as Cecily's heart trembled in anticipation, Leah's prior warning echoed like a boisterous raven, screeching its unpleasant song from the brush. Only two days past, Leah had discovered Cecily and Andrew arm in arm under the lacy shadows of the apple trees in Aradelle's south orchard.
   You would be wise to stay away from Andrew Moreton. Her sister's stern voice had quivered with anger as she grabbed Cecily by her work-worn hand and dragged her back to their cottage. He is not good for you. People in his position are not what they seem. Any relationship with him will only bring about your ruin.
   Cecily swiped her unruly hair away from her face, the very memory of the words igniting agitation.
   What did Leah know of love? Of passion?
   Cecily may only be sixteen years of age, but she knew well her heart.
   Andrew Moreton loved her. He wanted to marry her. Had he not said those very words? And he would be waiting for her at the midnight hour, just down the lane from their cottage gate, where the road bent and the copse of hawthorn trees gave way to open moorland.
   A wave of excitement pulsed through her at the very thought of Andrew's broad shoulders. His dark-brown eyes. The manner in which his cheek dimpled with his carefree, impulsive smiles and the affectionate warmth in his expression when he looked at her.
   Perhaps Leah would feel differently if she knew what it was like to be in love.
   Tonight she and Andrew would travel by carriage northward to Scotland where they would marry. She knew no other details, but Andrew had assured her that he had made the necessary arrangements. Even though he was only seventeen, he knew people. Powerful people.
   Her hands shook so that she could barely pull her nightdress over her head. She had remained fully clothed beneath in her best gown of straw-colored muslin in anticipation of her journey. She inched her way over to the chair next to the casement window. As she slipped on her half boots and tugged at the laces, she glanced to the garden below. The shrubbery bowed and swayed in a dance with the wind and raindrops. Cecily's hold on the laces slacked as she thought of how her mother, dead seven years now, would disapprove of the garden's wild state. Cecily had tried to tend it in a manner in which her mother would have been pleased, but with all of her other chores, time had slipped by.
   But once she was Mrs. Andrew Moreton, she would have no chores. No cares.
   She snapped the laces tight.
   Andrew had promised her as much.
   He had whispered in her ear the promise of love and security, of freedom from worry and want.
   She turned back to Leah. The moon's intermittent light now slanted over her twin's slight figure, glinting on the long, red hair. Only twelve minutes her senior, they were identical in so many ways. Looking at her was like beholding a living, breathing looking glass, from her straight nose to the smattering of freckles on her cheeks.
   But whereas Leah was far too cautious to follow the demands of her heart, Cecily was not.
   One day Leah would forgive her for stealing away in the dark of night. Once she married the heir of Aradelle Park, their worries would cease. No longer would she be merely the daughter of the man who worked the estate's forge and did odd jobs in the village. For when Cecily returned from Scotland, she would be a lady. The scandal would pass, and Andrew's family would accept her as one of their own. Then she would send for Leah. And the nightmare they lived would end.
   The chime.
   The familiar melody was soft at first, but it seemed to grow louder, like a beacon summoning her. Imploring her to move quickly. It taunted her, urging that if she did not hurry, she might awaken, and her cherished fairy tale would be no more than a tragic dream of what might have been.
   Lightning flashed in the tiny room, and at the brightness, Leah stirred. If Cecily was going to leave, now was the time.
   With her boots now secured, she stood, crossed the room, and pulled her packed valise from the corner where she had hidden it behind a chest. She opened a small box on the dresser and pulled out a folded piece of paper. At the top she had carefully written her sister's name in her finest handwriting.
   Everyone would wonder where she had gone. Someone needed to know.
   She propped the folded letter on the bureau where Leah would be sure to see it.
   A thrill surged through her, and she paused to look around the room that had been hers all her life. Even in the dark she could make out the low bed. The leaning wardrobe in the corner. The battered, painted chest beneath the window.
   She turned to leave but stopped as her eye caught on a simple coral necklace next to where she had placed the letter. It had been their mother's, and it was the only piece of jewelry that remained in their possession. Their father had sold everything else, but somehow this trinket had escaped his greedy eye. At the sight of it, her throat tightened and her vision grew misty.
   Their mother had always wanted more for them. More than they would receive as the daughters of a blacksmith.
   Would her mother approve of her decision to run away from everything for a chance at a better life?
   Cecily had no one to turn to for guidance.
   She had to trust her instincts.
   She snatched the piece of jewelry, tucked it in her bodice, glanced back at her sleeping sister, and quitted the room.
   The corridor was quiet, save for the steady fall of rain. It was too quiet—normally, their father's snores would fill the modest cottage. She tried not to let that fact dissuade her as she descended the steps, avoiding the spaces that would groan under her weight.
   With every step she should be feeling freer. Lighter.
   But at the foot of the staircase, doubt washed over her. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck prickled.
   Cecily fought the ominous suspicion and strained to hear the night sounds, but the erratic beating of her heart drowned out all other noises. Another flash of lightning sliced through the darkness, lancing her already taut nerves. The sooner she was free of this cottage, and the memories it held captive, the better she would be.
   She hurried through the kitchen and out the door to the overgrown garden. She hastened amid the neglected lavender, roses, and foxglove. The hedges of overrun hawthorn and elderberry, which once had been a place of play, now seemed dangerous and foreboding. Ahead of her was the wooden gate. Only a few more steps.
   Cecily stopped.
   Was that thunder?
   No. She took another step.
   A shout. One heavy with Irish brogue, rough and gritty like a growl.
   It was alarm, pure and violent, that pushed her farther into the unkempt garden. The blood raced through her ears, and try as she might to make out words, the wind muddled them. She dropped her valise and ran toward the gate. The overgrown shrubbery grabbed at her skirt, and she struggled to maintain her balance as her boots sank in the thick mud. It was as if the very ground were trying to keep her captive.
   Her father had discovered their plan.
   It could be the only explanation.
   She skidded to a stop by the gate and rounded the corner. There stood her father, towering over Andrew and appearing more like a hulking monster than a mortal man.
   "Stop, Father!" Cecily squealed, lunging forward and grabbing his thick arm. "Stop!"
   But with one swoop of his forearm, Joseph Faire knocked Cecily to the side, nearly sending her to the soggy ground. When she gained her balance, she swiped her drenched hair from her face. The weak light from the lantern at her father's feet flickered in hard angles on his wet face, his eyes mere slits.
   Fearing more for Andrew's safety than her own, she scrambled back to her father in an attempt to distract him, but he would not be deterred. His massive hands were fixed on Andrew's fine coat.
   "Stealing in like a thief in the night!" her father bellowed. "How many times did I warn ye? Tell y'ta stay away from 'er?"
   Andrew's eyes were wide and his chest heaved. Cecily had never seen him frightened before.
   Andrew's shoulders looked narrow in her father's grip as he pressed the young man against the stone wall. His Adam's apple bobbed. He glanced over at Cecily and then back to her father. "I love Miss Faire, sir. I intend to marry her."
   "Ha!" Her father's voice held vicious sarcasm. "You'll ne'er marry a daughter o' mine." The familiar scent of ale and rum wafted around her.
   She knew what her father was capable of.
   She was unsure if Andrew did.
   For so long she had tried to hide the truth of her father's rages. Now there could be no denying.
   Cecily's dreams were dissolving right before her, like a tallow candle left too close to the fire. Summoning every ounce of bravery in her small frame, she lunged forward, attempting one last time to divert her father's attention enough for Andrew to break free.
   The muscles in her father's exposed forearms corded, and his hands shook with intense pressure. He bunched his fists around the lapels of Andrew's coat. His words came out in a hiss. "Stay away from my daughter. If I see ye 'round her again, 'twill be the last time."
   He then shoved Andrew to the ground. He turned as if to leave, but then pointed a shaking finger back toward Andrew. "Your father may pay me wages, but dunna go thinkin' you can take what's mine. You dunna own me. You are a snake. You are all alike. The lot o' you."
   Her father stumbled toward him, and fear for Andrew's safety trumped Cecily's own desires. "Go, Andrew. Run!"
   With that, the youth scrambled to his feet and took off.
   Her father turned his angry eyes on her.

* * *

"Get down, girl. Be smart about it."
   Cecily winced at the harshness in her father's tone, but fear kept her lips pressed together. After the five-hour cart ride in the rain, in the dead of night, it was the first time he had spoken to her.
   This was the gamble she had made, for she had known if her father ever discovered her plans, there would be no reprieve from his fury. She'd been so careful to conceal them. Although rough, her father was a cunning man, his shrewdness—and his contempt—sharpened by a lifetime of striking blows. It didn't take long for him to notice that she was fully dressed in the black of night and to find her discarded valise. She confessed her plan in the hope that he would forgive her. But instead of finding redemption, she incited his anger further.
   Cecily clutched the side of the cart's bench and stared at the ground as if it were a pit of fire instead of dirt and gravel.
   "I'll be glad to be free of ye, y'romp." He spat. "I said get down!"
   Cecily jumped from her seat and scrambled down, propelled by the fear of bringing his wrath on her once more. She didn't dare look at him. She knew what she would find in his expression.
   Instead, she glanced up at the building, trying to figure out where they were.
   Somewhere in the misty distance, a wren broke into a morning song, and the gray light of an early spring dawn cast long shadows on the manicured landscape. Morning dew clung to the grass and evergreens, and in the light, it shone like diamonds.
   And then she saw the brass marker nearly hidden by shrubbery.
   Rosemere School for Young Ladies.
   As the words registered, Cecily's heart thudded, threatening to burst free from her chest. How many times had he threatened this? To send her away to a girls' school. To separate her from her sister.
   As if moving by some unseen force, she rounded the front of the cart. The donkey poked his nose against her arm, no doubt seeking a stub of a carrot or a lump of sugar. Hot tears stung her eyes. Would this really be the last time she saw the animal that had been her companion for as long as she could remember?
   She did not have time to contemplate it, for in two large steps, Joseph Faire reached around and snatched her up by her arm. A cry escaped her lips. His grip tightened around her arm, and he all but dragged her to the door.
   Struggling to maintain balance, she glanced up at the building—a formidable building of gray stone and latticed windows. A movement above caught her eye, and through the wavy glass, curtains parted and the faces of two girls appeared.
   Cecily bit her lower lip.
   Her father pounded against the heavy, wooden door, the volume of which disrupted the silence and set a dog barking. He adjusted the grip on her arm and muttered under his breath before pummeling the door once more.
   Shame forced her to look at the worn toes of her black half boots, and she tried to stay calm.
   Stupid, foolish girl!
   Her father continued to beat on the door until movement and muted voices stirred within. After several moments it swung open, revealing a tall, sinewy man in haphazard dress, his rumpled linen shirt hanging over his trousers, his frock coat askew on his shoulder, and his feet in stockings. Sleep marks creased his wrinkled face, and his graying hair pressed against his head.
   "What is the meaning of this?" the man hissed in an obvious attempt to keep his voice low. "It's barely dawn!"
   Her father, on the other hand, made little effort for discretion. "I have a new pupil for you." He shoved Cecily forward. She stumbled at the sudden jolt.
   The man shook his head, the crisp morning breeze whipping around the building's corner and disrupting his hair. He pushed his crooked spectacles up on his nose and assessed Cecily before speaking. "Return at a more suitable hour and we will discuss—"
   "I'll not return at another hour." Joseph Faire's tone darkened. "We'll speak now."
   Cecily was familiar with her father's brash ways, but the rise of the man's bushy eyebrows suggested he was not accustomed to being spoken to in such a manner.
   The man finally blinked at her, then back to her father. "This is most unusual, you understand."
   "What's unusual 'bout it?" Joseph Faire barked. "I've a girl, you've a school, and I've money to see her through 'til she's o' age—no more, no less."
   The distance and the nonchalance in his tone shouldn't have shocked her, but they did. He spoke as if he were bartering for services or trading animals. Their relationship had always been strained, but did she mean so little to him?
   A younger woman with a long, black braid appeared, dressed in a wrapper and hugging her waist. She placed a hand on the man's arm, her face drawn in pointed concern. "But we haven't the room. It will be at least another month before we can even consider—"
   "Well, she'll not come home with me," spat her father, interrupting their conversation. "So 'tis up to ye, either she stays here, or she is on her own."
   Her father pushed Cecily forward ... again. She stumbled. What a pitiful sight she must be. Her hair hung in stringy clumps about her face, and mud clung to the hem of her gown and books. And while she had not seen a mirror, she could feel the effect of her father's hand on her cheek.
   Tears burned hot in Cecily's eyes, a sharp contrast to the cool spring morning. Feeling emboldened by the piteous stares, she looked directly at her father for the first time in hours. "Father, plese. This is a misunderstanding."
   "Nay!" he shouted, his rough Irish brogue echoing from the stone walls and the canopy of birch trees flanking the entrance. "Ye've been naught but trouble for me since the day ye were born. Maybe they can make you mind your wild ways."
   Her father extended his hand, a leather pouch clutched in his rough fingers. "This will cover her expenses. When it's gone, she's on her own."
   At this, both the man and woman looked at her, speechless. Cecily began to tremble. It started in her legs and moved up to her stomach.
   And then with a quick motion, Joseph Faire turned to the cart. For a moment, nobody else moved, but when his intention to depart became clear, the older gentleman pushed past her. "But, sir! Your name? Where can we contact you?
   Her father looked at Cecily from the cart's bench with hard eyes, the iciness of which froze her every limb. With a shout and a slap of the reins, he urged the fat donkey into motion, never looking back. Cecily jerked free from the woman and sprinted toward the cart, but her feet shifted and she skidded across the loose gravel. "Father!" she shrieked. "Father, please don't leave me!"
   But her words were carried away by the wind. "What about Leah? Please, Father!"
   She stood fixed to the ground, staring at the empty space around the bend where her father's cart had disappeared.
   The woman approached her and touched her shoulder. "Come inside. No doubt you are chilled through."
   Cecily cast one last glance up the road, but it was not to look for her father. How her heart ached to see Andrew rushing up the lane, her valiant knight coming to rescue her. To whisk her away from the madness, just as he had promised. He was the one person who knew her heart. He said he would always love and cherish her, and she'd willingly given herself to him, heart, mind, and body.
   But now, the sickening realization that she had made a mistake pressed on her. She'd sacrificed too much for a chance at a better life, and now she was ruined, destined for a life of shame.
   She had seen the fear in his eyes. The disdain.
   He would not be coming ... and she would have to abide with the consequences of her actions.
Excerpted from A Lady at Willowgrove Hall by Sarah E. Ladd. Copyright © 2014 Sarah E. Ladd. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

New Regency from @SarahLaddAuthor AND a Kindle HDX giveaway!

Award-winning author Sarah E. Ladd examines how to escape the clutches of a tainted past in the final installment of her Whispers on the Moor series. A Regency-era novel, A Lady at Willowgrove Hall cleverly shows that even though our pasts may be shameful or painful, God can take the darkest personal histories and turn them into the brightest futures.

Celebrate with Sarah by entering her Kindle HDX giveaway!
One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • A Lady at Willowgrove Hall by Sarah E. Ladd
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on November 2nd. Winner will be announced November 3rd here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Promise to Cherish by Elizabeth Byler Younts, © 2014

The Promise of Sunrise Series, Book 2

CPS Camp # 24
Eli Brenneman leaves his Amish community in Sunrise, Delaware, upon receiving his draft notice during World War II. He serves as a conscientious objector to war, being assigned to a Civilian Public Service labor camp far from home.

With overcrowding and need for additional staff, Eli is transferred with a unit to Hudson River State Hospital near Poughkeepsie, New York, as an attendant for the mentally unstable. There he meets nurse Christine Freeman, a young woman dedicated to her job as she strives to financially care for her family following the death of her two brothers overseas. She is uncertain how she is going to respond to Eli, although they must work together. A time of war, a time of grief.

Eli serves for eighteen months and comes home changed. With changes in her own personal life, Christine is in need of time to think through her future decisions. Eli offers her a time of rest at his family's farm. Bringing an English girl home with him isn't that much of a surprise to all in his community. He is remembered as looking out for himself and not the young women he meets at the Singings, bringing first one and then another home in his buggy.

Christine stays in a cottage with Eli's elderly aunt across the field from his family's farm home. Aunt Annie is one of my favorite characters in the story. She is a midwife and Christine's nursing fits right in. Eli's sister-in-law befriends Christine and stood out to me as a strong supporter.

I have not read the first story in the series, Promise to Return, but felt this second story was complete as a stand-alone novel. This story could be written today, as well as of the mid-1940s. Hmm... I was cautioning Christine, a lot like my husband does football replays! So well-written as the characters explore their options. Forgiveness with life insights given for each character view. For some it was too late; for others new beginnings. Very visual writings like walking alongside. Very good and complete!
Elizabeth Byler Younts
Photograph Credit: Esther M. Byler


***Thank you to author Elizabeth Byler Younts for the invitation to read and review your newest novel, Promise to Cherish, and to Howard Books. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

 Enjoy this excerpt from Promise to Cherish by Elizabeth Byler Younts ~ Chapter 1



January sunlight spilled onto Christine Freeman’s face and reflected off her glasses. She closed her eyes in the white light and pretended she wasn’t just standing in front of a window in the drab hospital hall. She had always loved mornings. And she would continue to find beauty in her mornings even while she worked at the dreary Hudson River State Hospital as a nurse for the mad. With almost no budget, the hospital was nothing more than a primitive asylum. Had it ever truly been an asylum for its patients? A sanctuary? A protection? A refuge?
   She opened her eyes. Across the wintry lawn at the top of the hill stood the gothic Victorian Kirkbride structure. It was the hospital’s main structure and stood like a palace against the washed-out sky. Its green hoods pointed to the heavens. Its wards stretched in opposite directions like wings of an eagle, one for men and one for women. It was also where she lived, in one of the small apartments on the top floor. Though the Kirkbride building was designed to be a comfortable setting for the patients, giving them jobs and a purpose, during these bleak years of war many of those ideals were lost. The palatial building was more prisonlike than ever.
   Edgewood, the two-story building Christine worked in, was dwarfish and rough by comparison. Being from nearby Poughkeepsie, she’d often viewed the hospital from the outside. How many times had she and her friends ridden their bikes out to the edge of town where the timeworn Victorian buildings stood, hoping to catch a glimpse of the lunatics. She had never imagined that she would work there someday.
   Christine wanted to run down the path and away from this place. But there was no point entertaining such notions. Her family needed her to work. End of discussion. Their very survival depended on it.
   A mournful cry from the nearby dorm room infiltrated her thoughts. She released a long exhale, then moved away from the window. She pulled at the tarnished gold chain from under her Peter Pan collar. The small cream-faced watch at the end of the necklace ticked almost soundlessly in her hand. Her twelve-hour day couldn’t wait any longer. After tucking the watch back beneath her pale blue and white uniform, she stepped inside the thirty-bed dorm that then slept over forty-five men. She scanned the room to find the moaning patient. The paint-chipped iron beds were crammed so tightly it was difficult to see. The few who refused to leave their beds or had been sedated during the night shift were the only rounded figures atop the cots.
   Christine walked to the second row and went sideways through the narrow aisle to check on the noisy patient. Wally. Electroconvulsive therapy usually caused gastrointestinal and abdominal discomfort, but Wally’s always lasted longer than a typical patient’s. Christine didn’t have any medications with her but knew Dr. Franklin had a standing order of hyoscine to treat Wally’s nausea. Confirming his temperature was normal, she left the room.
   She passed several of the rooms with two beds and a few with only one, usually retained for contagious patients. She would have to visit each as soon as she spoke with the night nurse to assess how her shift had gone.
   Christine passed another dorm room with nearly fifty beds and let out a sigh, noticing how few of the beds had sheets. Even the mattresses themselves were thin and flimsy, covered in shabby vinyl and incapable of adding any warmth to their inhabitants. Though she’d gone through three years of nursing school at this very hospital, she had a difficult time growing accustomed to how little bedding and clothing the patients received. It was not as tragic in the summer—save for the patients’ modesty—but when the autumn breezes brought in winter storms, a sense of failure came over her.
   The Kirkbride patients were supposed to make clothing for everyone, but with dwindling supplies and money everything was at a minimum or a standstill. The state only provided one sheet and one set of clothing per patient. If they were soiled, the patient would have to go without. Her efforts to coordinate a clothing drive had been thwarted. The town wanted little to do with the institution. Outside of some extraordinary donation, the funding they needed would have to come from the state alone.
   As she moved on, Christine dreaded the scent of urine that lived in the very concrete blocks of the building’s walls. The smell in the day room heightened. The odor in the hallway was mild by comparison.
   “Remember, Christine,” she said quietly to herself as she pulled open the door. “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad.”
   Rejoice. Be glad. Rejoice. Be glad.
   In order to accept the difficulties, she focused on the good she wanted to do for her patients and her family. With her brothers dead and buried half a world away in a war-torn country, her parents needed her income. That thought alone gave her the encouragement she needed to continue.
   Christine’s lips stretched into a forced smile, she pushed her glasses up on the bridge of her nose, and walked into the day room. Every corner of the large, square, gray room was filled. The windows let the light pour in, though darkness would have been preferred. Nearly a hundred men were walking in circles, hugging themselves, leaning their heads against the walls, sitting in the corners, and only a small handful congregated and interacted with one another. There were a few metal chairs, three rickety tables, and one bedbug-infested davenport. The tables usually held a few boxes of mismatched puzzles, several checker boards, tattered newspapers, and outdated magazines.
   The night-shift staff gave Christine’s day-shift attendants a rundown of how their night had gone. Todd Adkins, the most experienced attendant, listened carefully to what the other attendants said. A loud crash came from the far right corner of the day room and the attendants jumped into action. Christine couldn’t see what the problem was in the sea of bodies but knew Adkins could handle it.
   What would she have done in her first month as an official nurse in Ward 71 if it hadn’t been for Adkins? Of course, Christine wasn’t alone. Nurse Minton was the experienced nurse in her ward. How the two of them managed to keep track of over a hundred men with only two aides, she didn’t know.
   Christine said good morning to a few of the nearby patients. None of them even looked in her direction, except for Floyd, the only mentally retarded mongol patient in their ward. He was secretly her favorite patient. It was one thing to study Dr. John Langdon Down’s work, which clinically described the syndrome in the mid-1800s, but to interact and observe Floyd was far better than learning from a textbook. He was sensitive, funny, and by far smarter than anyone gave him credit for. He bore no resemblance to the term mongoloid idiot used to describe his condition.
   Floyd’s small, almond-shaped eyes, like slits in his puffy face, sparkled. He smiled at her, with more gums than teeth, and then returned to tapping two old checker pieces together. She patted his head as she passed him. Christine walked over to the office in the corner of the room where she would prepare to hand out the morning round of medications.
   “We had to restrain Rodney a few hours after our shift started. He went after Floyd.” Millicent Smythe, one of the ward’s night-shift nurses, was writing in the patient logbook in the office. Her lips were pasty and unpainted, though twelve hours ago they’d been as red as Christine’s. Dark circles framed her brown eyes and her voice carried a hint of exhaustion.
   “What? Floyd? He wouldn’t hurt a flea.” Christine said.
   “Rodney said that Floyd was cussing at him. Rodney had all of them riled up—acting like the big cheese. It put a wrench in the whole night. Mr. Pricket even had a difficult time with him.”
   Mr. Pricket was one of the oldest and most experienced attendants in all of Hudson River. Surely Rodney’s latest outburst would finally get him transferred to Ryan Hall, where the truly violent and disturbed patients were kept.
   “I know what you’re thinking.” Millicent looked over at her and raised a dark brown eyebrow. “Ryan Hall.”
   “Aren’t you?”
   The other nurse shrugged. “They are even more crowded than we are and there are injuries weekly—both the patients and the staff. If anyone needs more help instead of more patients, it’s them.”
   Just before Millicent left she called over her shoulder. “Have an attendant check on Wayne and Sonny when you get a minute. Wayne was agitated last night. Oh, and the laundry is behind—again.”
   Christine nodded and hustled to get started handing out medications. The patients who were able lined up for their medications, which she handed through the open Dutch door. The attendants helped the less competent patients line up. She took a tray of medications out to the remaining patients who weren’t able to form a line or were bedridden. This took some time, since each had to drink down the medications in front of her so she could check inside their mouths—under their tongues and in the pockets of their cheeks.
   When she was nearly half through with administering the medications, the attendants began taking the patients in shifts to the cafeteria to eat breakfast. When a patient in the other hall needed an unscheduled electroconvulsive therapy, often referred to as shock therapy, she was pulled in to assist since Nurse Minton was busy with an ill patient who had pulled his IV from his arm.
   When she finally returned to the corner office in the day room her logbook was still open. Quickly Christine documented the lethargy of one patient she’d noticed earlier in the day and the aggressiveness of another. She reviewed the schedule for the rest of the day: more shock therapy, hydrotherapy for calming a few patients, and numerous catheterizations for the patients who refused to use the toilet. How would she keep up with it all?
   She didn’t have time to dwell and carefully picked up the tray of medications she needed to finish. Christine was only a step out of the office when Wally approached her.
   “Hey, nurse, have a smoke for me? Have a smoke for me?” Though his words were still slurred she was glad he had come out of his stupor from earlier that morning. “Come on, have a smoke for me?”
   “Wally, you know I’m not going to give you any cigarettes.” She smiled at him. It was difficult to have a conversation with the men when they stood nude in front of her. She had trained herself to treat them as if they were fully clothed individuals and would look them directly in their eyes.
   “Aw, come on, nurse, I know where you keep ’em,” he whispered loudly, stepping closer to her as she closed and locked the Dutch door. “What if I tell ya you’ve got some nice gams? You’re a real Queen ’o Sheba! Prettiest nurse here.”
   “I don’t smoke, Wally.” It was only a half lie; she did smoke on occasion, but would never give a cigarette to a patient. “Now go back and play checkers before you get beat.”
   “No one ever beats me. You know that. Never.” He repeated never over and over as he walked away.
   The door to the day room swung open and hit the wall behind it. Adkins jogged in. His eyes were round and his face was as colorless as his starched attendant’s jacket.
   “Nurse Freeman,” he said, breathless and shaky.
   “What is it?” She’d never seen Adkins rattled before.
   “I went to take some breakfast to Wayne and Sonny.”
   “Just now?” She sighed heavily. “Adkins, this isn’t like—”
   “While you were in shock therapy I had to pull Rodney into solitary and this is the first chance I’ve—it doesn’t matter now.” Adkins breathed heavy and shook his head. He stopped long enough to look into Christine’s eyes. “Wayne and Sonny are dead.”
   “Dead? What do you mean they’re dead? From influenza?” They’d been sequestered to a private room for contagion for the last forty-eight hours.
   He shook his head and grabbed her arm, making the small cups of pills on her tray rattle. “Froze to death.”
   Numbness fixed her where she stood. Christine wasn’t sure she would be able to move from that spot. Had she heard him properly? It was her fault. She should’ve sent Adkins to check on them as soon as Millicent mentioned it. How long had it been since they’d been checked on? Her heart bemoaned that she had not insisted Adkins or even an attendant from Minton’s hall check on them immediately. She took a deep breath and the stench of guilt filled her lungs.
   “Nurse Freeman?” His grip tightened on her arm.
   “Yes.” She returned to the corner office behind her and calmly put the tray of meds on the counter. Then, with Adkins on her heels, she jogged to the last room in the hall.
   Christine pushed her way through the crowd of patients gawking at the unclothed bodies that lay frozen. She wrapped her arms around herself, partly for warmth and partly for a sense of security. Her breath puffed white as her breathing quickened. Snow piled in small mounds on the floor and the walls were frosted around the two sets of open windows.
   “Get everyone out,” she said rigidly to Adkins, who obeyed immediately.
   Once the room was empty she had Adkins call for the administrator, Jolene Phancock. Christine also wanted to make sure Minton had heard the news. Once the two veteran staff members arrived they could instruct her on what to do next. Perhaps all that needed to be done was to call the morgue on the grounds to come pick the bodies up. They would hand them over to the state and have them buried in some unmarked plot for no one to grieve over.
   “Good morning, Nurse Freeman,” Ms. Phancock said in an even and pleasant voice as she walked in. She was too friendly not to give a proper greeting, but her voice carried the bitterness of the morning’s events.
   “Not a very good morning, unfortunately.” Christine tiptoed around the snow to the open windows and closed them. “Wayne is—was—always opening windows. We should’ve found a way to bolt the windows shut in here. I never thought this could happen. I feel responsible.”
   Like a hollow cavern, Christine’s voice echoed in her own ears. Reality and dream crossed each other and she wasn’t sure what was true anymore. Wayne’s naked body, in the fetal position, was blue, and his bedsores were flaky. A shudder shook her body. Sonny, also blue, was long and skinny, and his toes were curled. He lay flat otherwise and had not even curled around himself to conserve heat. Guilt filled her empty heart.
   She picked up Sonny’s chalk and slate on the floor next to his bed. As a young boy, deaf and dumb, he was sent to the Children’s Ward. There he’d been taught to write a few simple words in order to communicate. She blinked back hot tears when she saw what was scratched onto the slate.
   “Let me assure you that you are not to blame.” Ms. Phancock released such a heavy sigh Christine could feel the weight of it around her. The administrator made a fist with her hand and pursed her lips.
   “Ma’am?” She laid the slate back down on the frozen floor.
   “We need more workers.” Ms. Phancock’s fist pulsed up and down with each word. “You and the rest of the staff cannot possibly do more than you already are.”
   Christine agreed, of course, as she looked at the tragedy before her.
   She found herself sorry that Sonny’s nakedness was so visible, more than Wayne’s. Of course, they often had more naked patients than clothed ones. Keeping patients clothed was difficult if they were incontinent or when they displayed erratic behavior. But this time it seemed worse. He wasn’t just asleep or behaving dangerously. He was a human being who was lying naked in front of everyone coming in or near the room. She untied her apron and draped it over his lower body.
   “What are you doing?” Nurse Minton asked as she strode in. Christine looked up at the older nurse. Her hair was already coming out of her severe bun, as if she’d been working all day instead of only a few hours.
   “He deserves some dignity.” Christine turned to her superior.
   “Thank you, Nurse Freeman,” Ms. Phancock said. “You’re right.”
   Nurse Minton remained quiet.
   “Can we tell the state what’s happening here? Maybe they will find a way to get us the help we need.”
   “That sounds about as likely as a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” Ms. Phancock sighed as she spoke. She patted Christine on the shoulder and told her that Gibson from the morgue would be there soon, then she left.
   The two nurses remained in the room, silently together for several pregnant moments.
   “Did you record Rodney’s insulin shock therapy today?” Nurse Minton finally broke the quiet.
   “Nurse Minton, we have a real tragedy here, and you want to talk about insulin treatment?”
   “We are nurses, Freeman. This is our job.” Her voice came out harshly, and even the old, jaded nurse seemed to realize it and cleared her throat. “I’ve been around long enough to know this is part of the job—though terrible, I understand. I also know that we have to keep the ward running regardless; otherwise another tragedy will be right around the corner.”
   Christine nodded. Minton was right. She turned toward the older nurse and stifled a loud sigh. “Yes, Rodney got his insulin treatment.”
   “Did his anxiety and aggressiveness subside? I was dealing with the other hall and haven’t checked on him yet.”
   “Yes, ma’am.” Subsided was putting it mildly. Rodney had gone into a coma from the massive dose of insulin. He had lost all control several hours earlier when the doctor had come to see him about his outburst the night before. Like a frayed rope under too much strain, he snapped. “Tonic-clonic seizures continued for several minutes post therapy. He’s being observed for any aftershocks now.”
   “Fine.” Nurse Minton looked at Christine out of the bottoms of her eyes, with her chin up and nose in the air. The older nurse was no taller than the younger, but looked down at her in any way she could find. Tall women were typically placed on men’s wards with the expectation that they would be able to better handle the larger male patients.
   “Dr. Franklin has a standing order of barbital for him. If he wakes up agitated I will administer it. Dr. Franklin said to keep him in the restraints until he returns.” The use of the sleeping drug was a mainstay in the hospital.
   “I’ll leave you to deal with Gibson and the morgue; I’ll get back to the patients. We still have a full day.” The older nurse started walking out of the room.
   “Nurse Minton, don’t you wish there was more we could do? You’ve been here for years and I’m new, but I already feel so helpless.”
   “Adkins said you were idealistic.” The older nurse’s mouth curled into an unfriendly and mocking smile. “Idealism doesn’t work in a place like this. Look around, Freeman. This facility is its own town, with its own community. You know that. Do you think the state is going to listen to you, a woman just barely a nurse? Your very meals depend on the garden the patients maintain and their harvest and canning in the fall. Why do you think it’s like that?” She paused for a minuscule moment, appearing not to want an answer from Christine. “Because no one wants to bother with the patients. No one wants to even believe they exist, including the families that drop them off. They want to go on with their nice simple lives behind their picket fences and pretend this beautiful building isn’t more prison than hospital. Besides, even if we had more clothing for the patients, what we really need are workers. There’s just too many patients and not enough of us.”
   They’d been over capacity for a long time without any help in sight. The war had taken so many of their staff away while an excessive number of patients poured in—some of them soldiers returning from the war and unable to cope.
   Without another word, Nurse Minton walked away but turned back after several steps.
   “Adkins says you sing hymns to your patients.” One of her eyebrows arched and a crooked smirk shifted across her lips.
   “I think it helps their nerves,” she said pushing up her glasses though they had not slipped down her nose.
   “Sing all you want, as long as you’re getting your work finished.” The nurse turned and walked away.
   “S’cuse me, ma’am,” a deep voice said a few moments later.
   Christine’s eyes caught Gibson’s. He was holding one end of a canvas stretcher and a younger man held the other. Gibson was a tall, brawny colored man with a voice that was gravelly yet still somehow kind. His cottony hair and eyebrows reminded Christine of summer clouds. His eyes, on the other hand, haunted her.
   Gibson’s job was to gather the deceased and take them across the hospital grounds to the morgue. If warranted, a doctor would perform an autopsy before the patient was prepared for burial. In that brief moment she returned to a hot August day when she had observed an autopsy. Half her class fainted. Christine nearly had herself. The odor, sight, and sounds, mixed with the humidity, made her fantasize about running away from the school.
   Now, in the frozen days of winter, Christine wanted to pretend she was somewhere else. She shuffled awkwardly back toward the wall near the windows, her knees locked. She could not watch them take the bodies away, not like this. Without a word, she pushed past them and left the room. She ran to the opposite end of the hall and leaned against the stairwell door.

Best First Book finalist, 2014 RITA Awards ~ Elizabeth Byler Younts ~ Promise to Return, Book 1, Promise of Sunrise series

The Promise of Sunrise Series, Book 1