Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim, ©2013

The Outcast

Raised in an Old Order Mennonite community, Rachel Stoltzfus is a strong-willed single woman, content living apart from mainstream society until whispers stir the moment her belly swells with new life. Refusing to repent and name the partner in her sin, Rachel feels the wrath of the religious sect as she is shunned by those she loves most. She is eventually coerced into leaving by her brother-in-law, the bishop.

But secrets run deep in this cloistered community, and the bishop is hiding some of his own, threatening his conscience and his very soul. When the life of Rachel’s baby is at stake, however, choices must be made that will bring the darkness to light, forever changing the lives of those who call Copper Creek home.
I read all of The Outcast to the end. It is a harrowing adventure of strength and bravery ~ to step into the unknown. Rachel leaves her community, Copper Creek, with her infant son, Eli, and is taken in by driver, Ida Mae, proprietor of an Amish goods store. The illness and subsequent impending surgery of Eli pulls them all together, revealing truth and requiring change.
When Russell drops her off at Ida Mae's, Rachel finds that the blue room she and Eli share has been changed to a saltwater green so pale, it would be hard to discern it had any color at all if not for the calming presence the new paint exudes. Curtains as fine as dandelion seed hang over the small window and are pulled to the side with green ribbon, allowing light to flood in where the heavy, Western-themed material once blocked it. The bunk beds had been traded for the wrought-iron twin that was covered with quilts in the store. An eyelet-lace coverlet and pillows replace the blue and red comforters. A white crib with yellow covers and bumpers is against the wall where the toy chest used to be. A changing table is also there, covered with the same material as the crib.
   "You don't like it?" Ida Mae asks, mistaking Rachel's silence.
   Rachel pulls Eli against her chest, which heaves with the magnitude of love she feels for this woman who was a stranger a few months ago but now feels more like family than her own flesh and blood. "Oh, no. It's the kindest thing anyone's ever done for me." She smiles at Ida Mae through her tears and kisses Eli's forehead. "Anyone's ever done for us."
   Ida Mae waves her hand in a self-deprecating gesture, yet it is easy to see the pride on her face. "Oh, it was time for a change."
   --The Outcast, 239
This is a first novel by Jolina Petersheim. She is a strong writer and very capable of addressing hard subjects with gentleness and exposing truth. I am reminded of Lamentations 2:13-14:
13 What can I say for you?
    With what can I compare you,
    Daughter Jerusalem?
To what can I liken you,
    that I may comfort you,
    Virgin Daughter Zion?
Your wound is as deep as the sea.
    Who can heal you?
14 The visions of your prophets
    were false and worthless;
they did not expose your sin
    to ward off your captivity.
The prophecies they gave you
    were false and misleading.

Hidden sin is an entrapment, a snare. The characters are unable to go forward until truth is revealed and forgiveness is sought and given. Repentance is necessary and brings freedom for all involved for generations to come.

One interesting naming is of the sisters, being Rachel and Leah. An important revelation was truth Leah gave Rachel. Truth wins.
Pride goes before destruction,
    a haughty spirit before a fall.

   --Proverbs 16:18
An important highlight of the story was the confession of a community leader that freed others too. As in the verses above, it was necessary for his iniquity to be exposed to release him from captivity. Pride had him separated and secluded in a self-made prison. I would like to read a continuing story of the outcome of his change.

The main negative for me was from the beginning having the newly deceased man become one of the narrators throughout the story. I think the overview could have been done without his voice, such as Earl Hamner did as the writer/narrator for The Waltons John-Boy stories. He also "returns" to talk to his son. Because of his inclusion, I am unable to recommend this novel. A visual description leading to the one night encounter would have benefited being omitted as the outcome producing a child already was given.

Jolina Petersheim 
Jolina Petersheim holds degrees in English and communication arts from the University of the Cumberlands. Though The Outcast is her first novel, her writing has been featured in venues as varied as radio programs, nonfiction books, and numerous online and print publications. Her blog is syndicated with the Tennessean's "On Nashville" blog roll, as well as featured on other creative-writing sites. Jolina and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their young daughter. Follow Jolina and her blog at jolinapetersheim.com.

*** A copy of Jolina Petersheim's novel, The Outcast was sent to me from Tyndale Blog Network. My review is written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Big Year for Lily by Mary Ann Kinsinger and Suzanne Woods Fisher, ©2013

Lily Lapp website
Cover Art Lily Lapp’s family has settled into their new home in Pennsylvania, but life still holds big changes and big steps for Lily. Good changes, like once again living close to her beloved cousin and best friend, Hannah. Bad changes, like a mean girl who plays tricks on her. And no change at all where Lily would most want one–Aaron Yoder sits near her in school and relentlessly teases her. Surprises are in store for Lily as she learns, with Mama and Papa’s help, to manage the ups and downs of growing up Amish.

The third of four charming novels that chronicle the gentle way of the Amish through the eyes of a young girl, A Big Year for Lily gives children ages 8-12 a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Amish–and lots of fun and laughter along the way. It combines Mary Ann Kinsinger’s real-life stories of growing up Amish and the bestselling writing of Amish fiction and nonfiction author Suzanne Woods Fisher. With charming line drawings in each book, this series captures the hearts of readers young and old.

My Review:

Lily Lapp is a fun-loving inquisitive girl you would like for a neighbor! The story opens and it is summertime. She and her friend Beth have fun in Beth's playhouse. Bats in the belfry? Maybe not, but Lily's new attic room has a secret entrance her father cannot find. As school begins, Lily looks forward to her new school year. My favorites? A Big Chief tablet ~ I loved the long smooth pages; two sharpened Ticonderoga pencils, and a fresh box of crayons. I always got tripped up when math problems were reversed ~ how could they have the same answer?

This is the third book in The Adventures of Lily Lapp series. Ages 8-12 will enjoy reading this series, as well as anyone else who likes Little House and Janette Oke prairie books. I especially like the illustrations by Tim Foley. They are pencil drawings that bring the story to life. My favorite is the Christmas at Whispering Pines picture.
   Papa was first to open the door, with Lily right on his heels. There on the porch were Grandpa, Grandma, and Aunt Susie! Behind them were Uncle Elmer's and Uncle Jacob's families. Everyone! Everyone was here!
   --A Big Year for Lily, 131

Purchase a copy: ow.ly/mVlq1

Meet Suzanne: Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of the Lancaster County Secrets series and the Stoney Ridge Seasons series, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. She is also the coauthor of a new Amish children's series, The Adventures of Lily Lapp. Her interest in the Anabaptist cultures can be directly traced to her grandfather, who was raised in the Old Order German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne is a Carol Award winner and a Christy Award finalist. She is a columnist for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazines. She lives in California. For more information, please visit suzannewoodsfisher.com and connect with her on Twitter @suzannewfisher. Get Amish proverbs delivered right to your iPhone or iPad! Download the Free App! bit.ly/134r55G

More about Mary Ann Kinsinger: Mary Ann is the gentle voice behind the very popular blog, A Joyful Chaos. Mary Ann Kinsinger lives with her husband and three children in the beautiful Appalachian mountains in southwestern PA…only a few miles from the house where she grew up in an Amish family. Mary Ann has enjoyed writing from a very young age and has had some of her work published in magazines. She is a busy mother and enjoys spending time with her family, reading, crafts, cooking, and for the past year blogging… where she is chronicling her journey from a happy little Amish girl to where she is today. --suzannewoodsfisher.com/blog/2012/07/this-week-on-amish-wisdom-ex-amish-blogger-mary-ann-kinsinger/

Learn more about Lily at adventuresoflilylapp.com/

***Thank you to Litfuse for sending me a copy of A Big Year for Lily. This review is written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Win an iPad Adventure Pack from @SuzanneWFisher | A Big Year for Lily Giveaway Extravaganza!

Suzanne Woods Fisher is celebrating the release of A Big Year for Lilybook three in the beloved Adventures of Lily Lapp series, with a giveaway extravaganza!


  One winner will receive:
Twelve winners will receive:
  • Special prizes specially picked by Lily (something new each day)! Suzanne will announce the winners on July 29 on her blog!
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on July 27th. All winners will be announced July 29th at Suzanne's blog.

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Whispers on the Prairie by Vickie McDonough ~ Book 1 in the Pioneer Promises series, ©2013 ~*an exciting new series set in 1870s Kansas*~

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Whitaker House (June 17, 2013)

***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling for sending me a review copy.***


Vickie McDonough is an award-winning author of twenty-six books and novellas. A member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, she served as treasurer of the organization for three years and also was treasurer for her local chapter. Vickie lives with her husband, Robert, in Oklahoma. They have four grown sons and one daughter-in-law, and are grandparents to a precocious seven-year-old girl. When she isn’t writing, Vickie enjoys reading, shopping for antiques, watching movies, and traveling. Pioneer Promises Book Two, Call of the Prairie, is set for release in January 2014.

Visit the author's website.


No PictureThe last thing Sarah Marshall wanted was to leave Chicago and travel the dusty Santa Fe Trail, but when her uncle demands she help her feeble aunt, she can’t refuse. Her aunt had taken Sarah in after her parents died. She becomes stranded at the Harper Stage Stop in Kansas, one of the first stops on the Santa Fe Trail, and her presence causes a stir. Ethan Harper’s well-ordered life is thrown into turmoil with his two brothers and every unmarried male in the county lining up to woo Miss Sarah whom Ethan views as an uppity city girl. Is it because she’s the wrong woman for his brother—or the right one for himself?

... "I've got some folks here that are looking for a couple of wagons and teams of oxen."
   --Whispers on the Prairie, 41
If you were going on the Santa Fe Trail and needed to be outfitted, who would you listen to? Your niece, who is assuring you that you only know about horses, or the outfitter who has determined the weight of your load ~ your large load, in fact? What about if his family has the last stage stop before the prairie? Lighten your load, but you will need to add grain to feed the horses you have the money for?
   "All right, then. Set me up with half a dozen mules and your best stock horses." Uncle Harvey turned to Mr. Harper. "Where are the wagons?"
   "Just down the street. You might want to consider getting another pair of mules for your freight wagon."
   Her uncle pressed his lips together and shook his head. "Six will be enough."
   --Ibid., 42
   Hmm.... Interesting.
   "What? Well, yes, this is the door to my home. A peril to your horses, you say?"  
   Okay, then. She selects the wagon too.
   ... "Your uncle has the list of supplies. You seem plenty efficient at purchasing things, so I'll bid you good day."
   --Ibid., 46
    They are on their way. Things do not turn out as Sarah has planned.
   "You can't always control circumstances. You have to learn to not fight the wind. God often uses unexpected situations to do good work in us."
   --Ibid., 57
   Sarah would do well to listen to Ethan Harper. Plus, he prays for her.

   Very enjoyable story. Explore Whispers on the Prairie for yourself. Sarah is easing in to who she is. You will like her. She is a quick thinker and changes are ahead for them. It is a soothing story of God's grace in the midst of turmoil. His peace is available to all who seek Him.

    I am looking forward to the continuing trilogy. Call of the Prairie and Song of the Prairie will be released in 2014.
Product Details:

Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (June 17, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603748415
ISBN-13: 978-1603748414


March 1870 * Chicago
    The toddler’s whimpers rose to an ear-splitting scream as the little girl pushed against the chest of the woman holding her captive.
    “Here, let me have her, Abigail.” Sarah Marshall reached for Mary, and her friend handed over the fussy child. The girl persisted in her cries, so Sarah crooned to her, swaying in time to a waltz playing in her mind as she rubbed circles on the toddler’s back.
    “I don’t see how you can have such patience with her. That obstinate child cries more than all the others in this orphanage combined.” Abigail bent down and reached for a handsome three-year-old boy, who came rushing toward her with a big smile that showed his dimples. “Personally,” Abigail raised her voice over Mary’s ruckus, “I prefer the quiet ones.”
Sarah smiled. “I prefer the needy ones.” She leaned her cheek against Mary’s head. “All is well, little one. All is well.”
   After a few more minutes, the wails finally subsided, and the girl began to relax. She sniffled, her whole body shaking as she finally fell into an exhausted sleep.
    “Poor little one.” Sarah’s heart nearly broke for the child, recently orphaned by the death of her mother. At least, at such a young age, she stood a chance to adapt more easily than Sarah had when her parents died. Though the accident that claimed their lives had happened over a decade ago, she still missed her father’s big smile and her mother’s comforting arms.
    “You’ll make a good mother one day.” Mrs. Rayburn leaned against the door frame, looking tired.
    “Are you sure you don’t want to move in here?”
    Sarah smiled. “If my aunt was in better health, you know I would take you up on your offer. And I do hope to be a mother someday. If I’m good, as you say, it will be only because I learned from the best.”
    Mrs. Rayburn swiped her hand in the air, but Sarah could tell the comment pleased her. If not for the generous care of the well-to-do widow, the six orphaned children who resided under her roof would most likely still be out on the cold Chicago streets, begging for scraps to eat, working for some cruel taskmaster—or worse.
    Abigail glided to the center of the bedroom that had been converted into a nursery, holding Tommy on her hip, and pretended to dance with him. “Sarah may take a giant step in the direction of motherhood this very night.”
    “Abigail!” Heat marched across Sarah’s cheeks as she thought of Walt and how he’d hinted at proposing—again—at her birthday dinner tonight. “I don’t want that news getting out.”
    “Why not?” Abigail spun the boy in a circle, eliciting a giggle. “You aren’t going to turn the poor fellow down again, are you?”
    Sarah glared at her best friend, wishing she would learn when to hush. She hoisted Mary higher on her chest and carried her to the adjoining bedroom. Stopping beside Mary’s bed, she rocked the girl from side to side to make sure she was asleep. Though she would never admit it to Abigail, the toddler’s wails did grate on her nerves from time to time, especially when she hadn’t slept well the night before. Holding her breath, she lowered Mary into her bed and then pulled the small quilt over her.
    Sarah kept her hand ready to pat Mary’s back, should she stir. Thankfully, she didn’t. Straightening, Sarah checked on the two napping babies. She then tiptoed across the big room to adjust the blanket covering Ian, the six-month-old whose father had deposited him on Mrs. Rayburn’s doorstep last fall. The poor man had lost his wife and couldn’t care for an infant. Sarah’s heart ached for each one of the youngsters. She knew how hard life could be without parents. Still, she counted herself among the lucky ones—she’d been taken in by family, though she hadn’t lived in a house as fine as Mrs. Rayburn’s mansion.
    Bending, Sarah filled her apron skirt with rag dolls, balls, and other toys, then deposited them in the toy basket as the mantel clock in the parlor chimed two o’clock. She tiptoed out of the nursery and back into the playroom.
    “Time for you girls to head home.” Mrs. Rayburn crossed the room and clapped her hands. “Tommy, would you like to hear a story?”
    The three-year-old lunged into the older woman’s arms. She hugged him and then set him down. “My, but you’re getting heavy.”
    “Too much porridge, I imagine.” Grinning, Sarah turned to Abigail. “Are you leaving now, too?”
    “Yes, Papa is sending his driver for me. See you tomorrow, Mrs. Rayburn.” Abigail waved good-bye as she walked from the room. She stopped in the doorway and faced Sarah. “Do you want a ride to your uncle’s shop?”
    “Thank you, but I’ll walk.”
    Tommy ran out of the nursery, lifted his little hand, and waved. Mrs. Rayburn followed him into the upstairs parlor and took hold of his hand. “I don’t know how I’d manage without you girls and your friends who volunteer in the evenings. I fear I’m getting too old to manage so many young children.”
    Mrs. Rayburn had said the same thing for the past two years, and yet she hadn’t turned Mary away when a neighbor had brought her last week. Still, Sarah couldn’t help wondering if the day would come when the kind woman would feel it necessary to close her door to the orphans. What would happen to them then?
    She and Abigail donned their cloaks and left the warmth of the cozy home behind as they stepped out into the blustery chill of March. The gusty wind off Lake Michigan whipped at Sarah’s skirts, and the gloomy sky released a light drizzle. Abigail’s driver stepped out from under the shelter of a nearby tree and opened the door of her carriage.
    “Are you sure you won’t let us give you a ride? It’s a miserable day to be out.”
    “Thank you, but I’ll be fine. I’m headed home, anyway, and that’s the opposite direction for you.”
    “So, you’re not clerking for your uncle this afternoon?” Abigail accepted her driver’s hand and climbed into the buggy. “How did you get out of doing that?” She sat, leaning toward Sarah, her eyebrows lifted.
    “I’m going home to help Aunt Emma get things ready for my birthday dinner.” Sarah turned so the wind was at her back and wrapped her fist around the edges of her cloak to hold it closed. “You’re still coming tonight?”
    Abigail nodded, grinning. “I wouldn’t miss seeing Walt propose again. I don’t know why you don’t just accept. Your uncle will probably throw you out one of these days, and then where will you be?” She motioned to her driver, who closed the door and scurried up to his seat.
    Sarah walked quickly toward State Street. She hadn’t missed how Abigail had poked her with her barbed comment about her uncle casting her out. That very possibility had been in the back of her mind. Uncle Harvey had barely tolerated her presence all these years. He’d never wanted children and wasn’t happy when his wife’s only sister died, leaving behind a daughter. It was a miracle the stingy man had agreed to let her live with them in the first place.
    She blew out a sigh of relief at the sight of the horse-drawn trolley, just a block away. Hurrying to the middle of the street, she waited until it drew near, then grabbed the rail and stepped aboard. The sides of the carriage blocked the wind, to a degree, but the chilly air still seeped inside, bringing with it the aromas of baking bread and roasting meat.
    The rain picked up, and she was glad she’d decided not to walk home. She stared out the window at the Chicago city streets, teeming with horses and buggies, fancy carriages, freight wagons, and even a man pulling a handcart. Busy people bustled up and down the boardwalks. She loved this town and hoped never to have to leave it.
    If she married Walt, most likely she wouldn’t. Yet she struggled with the notion of being his wife. He was a good friend, yes, and she’d hate to disappoint him. Still, shouldn’t a woman have stronger feelings than friendship for the man she married?
    Her uncle would be beside himself if she turned Walt down again. Maybe she should just say yes this time. At least then she’d be assured of having a home of her own—and of freeing herself from the heavy sense of owing her uncle. One would think the hours she’d spent doing chores in his home and clerking at his watch repair shop would be sufficient to cover any debt she owed, but she could never do enough to please Uncle Harvey. Still, she was grateful to have lived in his home these last twelve years. She should be satisfied and not wish for more.
    And yet she did. She longed to marry a man who made her laugh like her papa had, one whose broad shoulders were strong enough to protect her. But she hadn’t yet met that man. Maybe she never would. Maybe she needed to give up on wishing and just be satisfied with Walt.
    Sarah sat back and rested her hands in her lap, smiling in satisfaction with the meal. She stole a glance at the sideboard loaded with food she’d helped her aunt and the cook prepare—roast leg of mutton and currant jelly, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, fried parsnips, and glazed carrots. Just the thought of it all made her stomach ache, and they had not even served dessert yet.
Walt wagged a finger at the servant standing at attention.
    The servant hurried to the table from his post in the corner of the room. “Sir?”
    “Bring me some more of those parsnips.”
    Sarah winced at his commanding tone, then looked to the head of the table. Uncle Harvey was seated next to a stranger—Mr. Gibbons—who’d appeared at the door just before they’d sat down to dinner. The two were having a private discussion, but Sarah had overheard enough to know it was about the benefits of living on the western frontier. She couldn’t imagine what anyone found interesting about the untamed prairie, with its wild Indians and abundance of dust.
    At the other end of the table, Lizzie Monahan and Betty Phillips engaged her aunt in a lively chat about the latest styles in fashion, while Abigail sat infatuated with Howard Shibley, Walt’s best friend, who babbled on about a recent report that the population of Chicago had reached 300,000. Sarah nearly rolled her eyes.
    “What was that look for?” Walt dabbed his lips with his napkin.
    Sarah leaned closer to him, so not to be heard. “If Howard has any hope of winning Abigail’s heart, he should find a more interesting topic of conversation.”
    “I doubt romance has even entered his mind.”
    “Obviously.” Sarah shook her head.
    Walt rested his chin in his palm and caught her gaze, his hazel eyes gleaming. His ash-blond hair had been slicked down and combed back from his forehead. “Speaking of romance, are you ever going to agree to marry me?”
    She sucked in a sharp breath and glanced around the table once more. Nobody cast an odd look her way, so she assumed that no one had overheard the oh-so-unromantic proposal. She had pretty much made up her mind to say yes, but his casual manner of asking made her want to shake her head. Schooling her features and straightening her posture, she replied. “I don’t know.”
    Walt blinked, obviously taken aback. Seconds later, he scowled, then glanced across the room and motioned to the servant again. The man rushed to his side. “I seem to be out of parsnips again.”
Why couldn’t Walt have just kept quiet? She liked him well enough, but his frequent proposals were producing the opposite of their intended effect; they made her more inclined to avoid him than marry him. She snuck a glance at Abigail, still trying so hard to get Howard to notice her, while the man, clearly oblivious, just kept spouting his knowledge.
    Sarah peeked at Walt again. He wasn’t particularly handsome, but he wasn’t ugly, either. He would be a good provider, being the sole heir to his father’s shoe factory, but she had a feeling that life with him would be just as boring as their evenings together. She wanted to marry—to finally be free from her uncle’s overpowering presence and stern glare—but she wanted a man who thought she was the only woman in the world for him. Yes, Walt seemed to feel that way, but something held her back. Was there something wrong with her?
    An hour later, she stood at the door to see Walt on his way. Everyone else had already gone.
    Walt hung his head and twisted his hat in his hands. “I…uh, won’t ask you again.” He lifted his gaze to hers, pain evident in his eyes.
    She’d hurt him, and that was the last thing she’d wanted to do.
    “I’m twenty-nine, Sarah. I’m ready to marry and start a family. I need to know if there’s any hope that you’ll say yes one day.”
    “And I just turned nineteen—today.”
    He closed his eyes and exhaled a heavy sigh. “All right. I’ll give you a few more months to make up your mind.”
    Sarah bristled. What if she still didn’t have an answer? “And then?”
    He stared at her with a serious, no-nonsense expression she’d never seen before. “And then I’ll be forced to look elsewhere. I mean to be married before I turn thirty.” He slapped his hat on his head and stepped out into the blustery evening wind.
    She watched him jog down the steps with more purpose than usual. He wanted to get away from her, and that was just fine, as far as she was concerned. She shut the door. Some birthday party that had been.
    The sound of raised voices drew her to the parlor. Her aunt and uncle rarely argued, mainly because Aunt Emma’s chronic illness made her too weary to fuss over trifles.
    “Harvey, please. You can’t be serious about this.”
    Sarah held her breath, all manner of ideas racing through her mind.
    “You might as well come in here, Sarah. I know you’re out there.”
She jumped at her uncle’s stern command and was tempted to slither away, but her curiosity forced her to do as bidden. “I was just saying good night to Walt,” she explained as she entered the room.
    “Sit down. I have something to tell you.”
    Aunt Emma didn’t look up from the sofa but anxiously wrung her hands.
    Sarah sat next to her and laid a steadying hand over her aunt’s.
    Her uncle paced in front of the fireplace, where a cozy blaze heated the front half of the room. Still, a shiver clawed its way down Sarah’s spine. Whatever news she was about to hear, it wouldn’t be good, from the looks of it.
    Uncle Harvey stopped in front of the hearth, rested one hand atop the mantel, and stared into the flames. “You met Gibbons tonight.” He straightened and stared at her, an unreadable expression in his brown eyes. “He’s a wagon master. Been leading wagon trains down the Santa Fe Trail for the past twenty years.”
    Sarah’s thoughts whirled. Again she wondered about her uncle’s interest in such a rugged man as Mr. Gibbons. He hadn’t even worn proper attire for a dinner party.
    “Oh, dear. Oh, dear.” Aunt Emma fanned her face. “I fear I’m not feeling well.”
    Sarah’s uncle narrowed his gaze at his wife. “You may be dismissed as soon as I’m done.”
    Aunt Emma gave him a meek nod, keeping her head down.
    Uncle Harvey cleared his throat, drawing Sarah’s gaze again. “The truth of the matter is that my brother has written me from Kansas City to inform me that he’s moving his family to the New Mexico Territory, by way of the Santa Fe Trail.”
    “New Mexico?” Sarah pressed her lips closed, knowing her uncle wouldn’t appreciate her outburst. She sidled a glance at her aunt. Why was she so distraught? Turning her attention back to her uncle, she voiced the question that wouldn’t go away. “Why would your brother want to move to such an uncivilized place?”
    Uncle Harvey’s nostrils flared, and Aunt Emma uttered a pitiful moan.
    “Because there is great opportunity there,” her uncle insisted. “Bob says that one day, the New Mexico Territory will become a state. He has been to Santa Fe and plans to return to open a mercantile there.”
    Sarah blinked as she absorbed the information. The truth finally dawned, and she gasped, staring wide-eyed at her uncle. “Surely, you don’t mean to go there, too.”
    He lifted his chin, revealing his wrinkled, white neck from its hiding place beneath his beard. “I most certainly do. Chicago has dozens of watchmakers. According to Bob, Santa Fe doesn’t have a single one. I plan to set up shop next to his store. We’ll build a door between the two, so that we can assist each other when things get busy.”
    Sarah could see her well-ordered life spiraling out of control. She’d already lost her parents. How could she stand to lose Aunt Emma, too? Sarah stood and started pacing the room. “You already have as much business as you can handle. And how could you expect Aunt Emma to endure such a difficult trip?”
    “I’ve talked to the doctor, and he says the warmer climate will be much better for her. Lydia will be there to take care of her if she falls ill.”
    Falls ill? Didn’t he realize his wife was nearly always unwell? She’d been sickly ever since she’d survived a bout of scarlet fever a year before Sarah had come to live with them. The sickness had left her frail and had robbed her of her hearing in her right ear.
    Sarah doubted Aunt Emma could survive such a rugged journey. “Won’t you reconsider, Uncle?”
    He shook his head. “My mind is made up.”
    “And what about me?” Could she stay in this big house alone? He’d always expected her to pay her own way, and she could hardly afford a place as nice as this two-story brownstone.
    He shrugged. “I expect you to marry Walt, and then you’ll be his responsibility. I’ve already sold the house, so you can’t stay here.”
    Her aunt gasped and stood. “How could you do such a thing without consulting me?”
    Sarah’s heart ached for her aunt. How could Uncle Harvey be so insensitive?
    “Now, Emma. It’s my place to make such decisions. You’ll see once we arrive in Santa Fe that this move was for the best.”
    Emma screeched a heart-wrenching sob and ran from the room, her dark green silk dress swishing loudly.
    Sarah had never once stood up to her intimidating uncle before. This time, concern for her aunt stiffened her spine, and she turned on him. “How could you be so selfish? Such a trip will probably kill Aunt Emma! Is that what you want?”
    His nostrils flared. “She is no concern of yours.” He walked to the dark window and stared out through the panes. “I never wanted you to come here, you know. I never wanted children. They’re nothing but a nuisance. I will concede that you’ve been good for Emma, but she needs to learn to get along without you.” He turned back to her, his eyes narrowed. “Marry Walt. He’s a decent fellow.”
She’d always known her uncle hadn’t wanted her, but hearing the words spoken out loud pained her as badly as if she’d been stabbed in the heart. Out of respect for her aunt, she didn’t lash out at him as she wanted to. “I’m not ready to marry yet.” Uncle Harvey may have housed her all these years, but that didn’t give him the right to force her to wed a man she didn’t love. “I…I can find a boardinghouse to stay in.”
    He smirked. “And how do you intend to pay for it?”
    A wave of panic washed over her. She had a few coins her aunt had given her—nowhere near enough to live on, even for a short time. “I’ll find another job. Since I’ve worked for you for so long, I’ve honed my office skills and have plenty of experience.”
    “Hmpf. What employer would hire a female clerk when he can so easily find a man to do the task?”
    Sarah dropped back onto the sofa, realizing the truth of his statement. What would she do? Where would she live? How could she manage without her aunt’s loving guidance? The last time she’d felt as empty and confused as she did now was when she’d learned that her parents had died.
    Quick footsteps sounded outside the room, and Sarah and her uncle both looked to the door. Her aunt had returned, her eyes damp, her face red and splotchy. With a trembling hand, she held a handkerchief below her nose. Sarah longed to embrace her aunt, but she would wait until her uncle left them alone.
    “I see it’s too late to change your mind,” she said, her voice quavering. “You’ve wounded me deeply, Harvey. I hope you know that.”
    He started toward her, his expression softening, and took her hands. “Haven’t I always taken care of you, darling? Have you ever lacked for anything?”
    Her aunt didn’t respond, but Sarah could tell by her expression that she didn’t share her husband’s perspective. Steeling her gaze, Emma stared up at him with rare determination in her eyes. “I won’t go without Sarah.”
    “What?” Sarah and her uncle exclaimed at once.
    “I won’t go unless she goes, too.” Emma hiked her chin.
    Sarah didn’t know what to say. This was the first time she had seen Aunt Emma stand up to her husband, and she couldn’t bear to tell her that her efforts were wasted. But the last thing Sarah cared to do was leave Chicago and travel on a wagon train to Santa Fe.
    Even marriage to Walt would be preferable to that.

Monday, July 22, 2013

~*A Devotional Journey*~ God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea: Experiencing God in the Midst of Everyday Moments by Rose Chandler Johnson, ©2013

Update: July 26, 2013 ~ free http://www.amazon.com/God-Sweet-Iced-Relationships-ebook/dp/B00DQHQ4HM

continuing the journey
This devotional is designed to draw you closer to the heart of God.
   --Rose Chandler Johnson
Following the Lord is every moment, every second ~ daily. This devotional is like sitting down with a good friend and sharing life together. As a young mom shares her day, truth is reflected. Sharing hurts and hopes, our directional guide from Scripture leads the way to triumph and caring. Peek in each morning with your Bible and pen close by. Come alongside as Rose shares her heart in practical ways of overcoming lack we may feel with encouragement to look to the Lord daily.

Here is a snippet from one devotional day to share with you from Rose's devotional journal. Linger and don't rush through. Whether you enjoy sitting outside on a porch swing or rockers with a friend, or at your kitchen table, you will have a good springboard for your daily journey with God.

A Life of Service
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but
whoever loses his life for me will find it.
   --Matthew 16:25 NIV

   I remember the time, some twenty or so years ago, when my little children resolved around me like the planets circle the sun. I felt like I was holding them all in place, but God was holding us all. He was ever present.
   One especially exhausting day, as I was changing a diaper and hurriedly juggling many tasks, I said aloud in exasperation, "I don't have a life!"
   Without hesitation, the Lord responded emphatically to my words. In my spirit, I heard: No, you don't have a life. Didn't I tell you that whoever will save his life shall lose it, and whoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it?
   These words came directly to me, personal and real—interjected into my train of thought by a voice of authority.
   At that moment I knew the Lord had spoken to me. I realized I was doing exactly what He wanted me to do; I was taking care of the needs of my family. My service to them was not an obligation, but a holy calling—a vocation to serve the needs of those in my care.
   Jesus became a servant to all, taking on the form of a servant in his earthly life. His service was love in action. His selfless love, for our redemption and God's glory, is a model for all believers. It is with this same spirit that we can dedicate our lives to His service. By doing so, we are strengthened to give of ourselves to others, in our families and beyond, as we go about our everyday lives.

Suggested Reading: Matthew 16:24-26; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Corinthians 9:19; Philippians 2:7-8

Journaling Considerations: Can you think of times when your service to others causes you frustration? Self-pity?
( 5 blank lines)
What encouraging words would you like to hear at those times?
(5 blank lines)
In your own words, describe what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 9:19.
(5 blank lines)
Prayer: Dear God, I want to be at your service, doing whatever it is that you have called me to do this day. Strengthen me to serve. Give me the love I need to put into my actions. Show me the tasks you have called me to do, that I may live my life for Your glory.

Today's Sweet Tea Moment: What would Jesus do?

Prayer Focus: Those who devote their lives to God's service by serving others.

   --God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea, 69-72

Enjoy 52 devotionals and your time together with the Lord. Nothing is wasted with the Lord. As you draw near to Him, you will discover the richness of His Word and His love for you. May you be blessed as His sweet fragrance overflows to others.

Rose Chandler Johnson, a Southern girl from a tiny Georgia town, is the author of the devotional blog, Write Moments with God. A devoted Christian and mother of six, she has been a teacher of English and French over the last twenty years. She looks forward to continuing her writing ministry in the years ahead.

***Thank you to author Rose Chandler Johnson for sending me a copy of her devotional, God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea. This review has been written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Friday, July 19, 2013

Rosemary Cottage by Colleen Coble, ©2013

Here is a little about the book:

The cottage by the sea offers Amy a refuge to mourn her brother’s death and perhaps even discover a new love. But what if Ben’s death was no accident?

Rosemary Cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina has been in Amy Lang’s family for generations and offers her a haven within its peaceful walls. There she hopes to discover what really happened to her brother, Ben, even as she tries to come to grips with his death in the ocean months before.

She hopes the Coast Guard team will help her find closure, but they are quick to dismiss her concerns of foul play. Everyone in Hope Beach regards the suspicious e-mail she received as a vicious prank. When it seems discovering what happened to Ben will take longer than she expected, Amy moves her midwifery practice to Hope Beach.

Coast Guard officer Curtis Ireland may hold the key to many of her questions, but he also hides a secret that will change her world forever. And her own secrets could tear apart the fragile love developing between them. Will Amy have the courage to put down her mask and let Curtis love her for who she is? And can they both weather the danger that threatens to destroy the most precious thing in their lives?

PictureRosemary Cottage is book 2 in the Hope Beach series and released July 9, 2013. Colleen Coble is well known for her many novels, along with the first book in this Hope Beach series, Tidewater Inn. Other new writings include a new Rock Harbor series (Rock Harbor Search and Rescue), released in April. In Rock Harbor Search and Rescue, a middle grade fiction novel based on Colleen Coble’s bestselling Rock Harbor series for adults, kids will enjoy the mixture of pets, adventure, suspense, and a mystery. A new Smitten book, Secretly Smitten, and Safe in His Arms, book 2 in the Under Texas Stars series, both released in January. A new Rock Harbor digital novella titled Silent Night will be coming the end of November. Be sure to visit colleencoble.com.

My Review:

Rosemary Cottage is a coming-home place for Amy Lange, but this time she is coming home to memories. She arrives to search for clues in the ocean drowning of her brother, Ben, after receiving an e-mail suggesting his death was not accidental. I thought it was interesting to learn that rosemary is for remembrance and ties into the title and name of the cottage. Imagine standing with Amy as she opened the door for the first time alone, knowing she would not be met by her brother. The scents and covered furniture; their rooms, the daily coming in from surfing and sun would flood into her memory.

Curtis Ireland lives at the Hope Beach community year around. His sister has recently died in the water too. Her death has not been solved because of the boat that hit her not being found. As his job as a Coast Guard officer, I can imagine he would be watching for recklessly driven water craft. In his sister's will, he was named as guardian for his little niece, Raine, as next-of-kin. She is a happy, delightful addition to his every day life. His aunt Edith cares for her with him.

Curtis and Amy join together to look into the mysteries hidden as others go on with their lives. This may seem like a lot of information, but it definitely does not give away any spoilers. Rosemary Cottage is a suspense story turning pages to discover who might be involved. Is it someone they know, hidden in the "dailyness" of their lives?

Struggles are uncovered in unsuspected ways. Held-tight images are barriers, wondering if Curtis and Amy will be able to overcome the obstacles.

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for sending me a copy of Rosemary Cottage by Colleen Coble. This review is written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Colleen Coble’s “Rosemary Cottage” Nautical Summer Giveaway

Water can be calming and healing, but it can also be dangerous, as Amy Lange and Curtis Ireland both found out. Both lost their siblings to the sea, and they hope to find healing on Hope Island. But will they find it, or will their quest to find answers set them at odds with each other and with those who have secrets that need to stay hidden?

Find out in Colleen Coble’s latest book, Rosemary Cottage, which released July 9. To celebrate, Colleen is hosting a 12-day Nautical Summer Giveaway. From July 16-27, Colleen will be giving away a new nautical prize every day. She’ll announce the winners on July 29 on her website, so mark your calendars for that date to see if you were picked as a lucky winner!

Not on Facebook? Enter here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Bride for All Seasons ~The Mail-Order Bride Collection~ Brownley*Clopton*Connealy*Hatcher, ©2013

It's not everyday that you have the opportunity to discover four new favorite authors all in one novel. But today, you do! 
In A Bride for All Seasons, bestselling authors and friends Robin Lee Hatcher, Debra Clopton, Mary Connealy, and Margaret Brownley team up to create a fun collection of stories about mail-order brides in 1870. These women are all very different--but their stories of trying to find love or sometimes fortune will warm your heart and make you laugh. 
About the Book: 
It all started with an ad in a mail-order bride catalogue . . .
This charming bouquet of novellas introduces you to four Hitching Post Mail-Order Bride Catalogue prospects in the year 1870, all eager for second chances . . . and hungry for happiness. Year in, year out, they’ll learn that love often comes in unexpected packages.
“And then Came Spring” by Margaret Brownley
Mary-Jo has traveled halfway across the country to meet her match, arriving just in time for his funeral. Returning home seems like her only option until her would-be brother-in-law proposes a more daring idea.
“An Ever After Summer” by Debra Clopton
Ellie had no idea she’s not what Mathew ordered. And what’s wrong with being a “Bible thumper” anyway? She’s determined to show him she’s tougher than she looks—and just the girl he needs.
“Autumn’s Angel” by Robin Lee Hatcher
Luvena would be perfect for Clay if she didn’t come with kids. But kids are a deal breaker, especially in a rough-and-trouble mining town. ­ The trouble is, there’s no money to send them back . . .
“Winter Wedding Bells” by Mary Connealy
David’s convinced he’s not long for the world. He needs someone to mother his boys when he’s gone—nothing more. Can plucky Irish Megan convince him to work at living instead of dying?
Connect with the authors on Facebook

My Review:
What fun and unexpected happenings all in one place!

There are three sections in the back. For each of the four novellas in this book there is a Reading Group Guide. And... An Interview with the Authors ~ Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Matchmakers; followed by About the Authors.

Hitching Post Mail-Order Bride Catalogue 1870
The lot is cast into the lap,
But its every decision is from the Lord.
   --Proverbs 16:23 NKJV
And Then Came Spring by Margaret Brownley

There is a fun Glossary of Mail-Order Bride Advertising Terms (And What They Really Mean) following the story.

Melvin Hitchcock owns and edits the Hitching Post Mail-Order Bride Catalogue and "finds it his duty to present clients in the best possible light" ~ so a little rewording here and there before their ads are posted are sometimes in order. Sometimes a necessity, if the truth be told, and definitely Melvin wants a happily-ever-after union, not a frowned upon stretching of the apparent-upon-sight!

Miss Parker needs to be represented correctly if she is to linger. Superstitious at that! Mary-Jo has traveled from her home in Georgia to be wed to Mr. Garrett. Traveling on a Friday has caused his demise, she is sure of it. Not his traveling; hers. She arrives in town a little too late and is first greeted by young Master Garrett and then by his uncle, who happens to be the county sheriff. Of all the luck, or lack of it. In all of her travels to Kansas, she is out-of-luck. Completely.

Now what!
She hated to compare the sheriff to her gambling father, but Tom treated his nephew in much the same way Pa treated her. Eddie wasn't just running to catch up; he was knocking on the door of an empty house.
    --And Then Came Spring, 45
Young Eddie's uncle is unprepared to care for his newly deceased brother's eight-year-old son. In a short time, Mary-Jo Parker has already gotten Eddie out of a couple scraps standing up for him. All she has had to compare the sheriff to was what she had known. What is she to do? This is not at all what she expected.

I really enjoyed this story by Margaret Brownley. Once they get acquainted, Mary-Jo finds she is the one who needs a little changing.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~

"For I know the plans I have for  you," declares
the Lord. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm
you, plans to give you a hope and a future."
   --Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

An Ever After Summer by Debra Clopton

Ellie leaves home at the request of her aunt and is hoping for a happy-ever-after. She has been accused of causing the demise of her family ~ her mother at her birth, her father, following of heartbreak, and on and on gossip acknowledges that she is not one to stay around.

There is a curly-haired little girl needing her mothering and Purdy needing to be the protector of the little girl too. Her daddy has already settled his ever after.
   Right then and there he resolved he'd offer this woman his last name and his protection in exchange for care for his daughter. But not his love. Not his heart.
   --An Ever After Summer, 122
Toss in some cattle rustlers, and a dance to remember.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~
This means that anyone who belongs to
Christ has become a new person.
The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
   --2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT
Autumn's Angel by Robin Lee Hatcher

Love the handwritten letters within!
As long as he is good to me and kind to the children, as long as he is a Christian and has integrity, it doesn't matter who he is or where he lives or what he looks like. I'm not marrying for love. I'm marrying because it's the practical thing to do. The same reason hundreds of other women choose to travel west and marry complete strangers. People have been arranging marriages since almost the beginning of time. It will be all right. It will.
   --Autumn's Angel, 201
Has Mr. Hitchcock tampered with this to suit his perspective outcome of his magazine successes?
   Luvena turned toward the stagecoach and pointed toward the luggage that the Wells Fargo driver and station agent were unloading. "Those" two smaller trunks there and those two carpetbags are ours."
   Ours. He liked that she said it that way, even if she hadn't traveled light. Good thing he'd borrow a wagon instead of  a buggy. Still, she'd said ours instead of mine, and he knew they were going to get along. It was a good start for their union.
   --Ibid., 207
Well, well. Mr. Hitchcock has ad-libed ~at liberty~ omitting three important children, for sure. Especially when Clay Birch made it quite plain in his first letter he wasn't interested in a widow with children; never mind that they are her nieces and nephew. He sent fare for Luvena Abbott to come as his mail-order bride to foresee them doing good for others together. Hmm...

Grand Coeur Opera House. Clay is having the stage rebuilt in the old Grand Theater. He desires to have the folks of Grand Coeur see beauty and grace to make a difference in their daily lives.
"I don't suppose anyone would consider me a refined or cultured man, Miss Abbott, but I've seen how people can be transformed by performances of great artists. The audience may think they're just being entertained for a few hours, but it can be so much more than that. It can make them long for something better...."
   --Ibid., 228
Will he discover the change in him, beyond what he regards himself to be?
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
   --2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV
I especially liked how Luvena found the practical thing was not to be determined by circumstance.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art
with me; thy rod and they staff they comfort me.
   --Psalm 23:4 KJV

Winter Wedding Bells by Mary Connealy

Mr. Hitchcock has again edited the letters. He has sent on pages 1 and 3 of David Laramie's letter to Megan McBride.

And an Irish lass, for sure!! This half-Irish Kathleen likes that! [That would be me.] ~*~ Back to the story.... Fortunate for Megan she has had experience with five younger brothers. The sleek carriage arrives dispelling David and his two young sons as bedlam proceeds. A need for David and Megan each to rescue one from the Chicago streets. They are used to the country life and not the crossing hoofs of horses in both directions carrying their wares and supplier of transportation.
   Megan looked down at the boy she held. She asked, "And can I be trusting you to stay at my side, laddie? No running off? No horseplay?"
   The boy nodded as if he was quite terrified to disobey. Megan released the child, took a few moments to dust herself off. She straightened her bonnet, which had been knocked nearly off her head. Then she tidied Zachary with quick, efficient motions. Regaining Ben's hand, she said, "I'm ready to go in then. We can have our visit and decide if we'll be suited to one another, Mr. Laramie."
   "You just saved my son's life," Mr. Laramie said with grim satisfaction. "I reckon we'll suit just fine. In fact, we'll suit well enough you oughta call me David."
   --Winter Wedding Bells, 300-301
That's what I call "an introduction and referral."


David Laramie has his own train car; a borrowed one because of his health. He is in a slow recovery from pneumonia. They are preparing for their wedding meal.
   Megan stepped onboard and gasped. A velvet couch, brass lamps. A table with four chairs to her right, the table laden with platters covered by domed metal lids for keeping food warm. Her stomach growled.
   "We'll eat first." David pulled the door shut. She wondered if he'd heard her stomach.
   He threw a latch, which blocked off a means of escape for the rowdy boys.
   --Ibid., 303
Megan's new sons are four and five. The four of them are on their way to their ranch home in Wyoming. David met Megan in Chicago as he was there for doctoring care. They marry the day after meeting and go directly to the train. David married for his sons to have a mother's care, with his illness extinguishing his life ~ mentioned on the center page she did not receive. However, his eyes do not have death in them, nor does Megan's belief and heart.
Many plans occupy the mind of a man, but the LORD's purposes will prevail.
   --Proverbs 19:21 ISV
~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~
I thoroughly enjoyed these four novellas. ~ All together in one place. ~ Endearing, they will remain with you after the last written page.
A Bride for All Seasons | 12-Day Unexpected Packages Giveaway! Enter today. Four novellas, four brides, and four stories to fall in love with. 

Enter the world of mail-order brides with four of your favorite authors: Mary Connealy, Robin Lee Hatcher, Debra Clopton, and Margaret Brownley. In A Bride for All Seasons (Thomas Nelson) each of the prospective brides is hopeful for a second chance at love—and that second chance always seems to come in an unexpected package.
The authors are celebrating with a fun 12 Days of Unexpected Packages Giveaway! Between July 12-23 visit the author's Facebook Page to enter to win a new give away each day. Winners will be announced at the Facebook Author Chat party on July 23rd! Such fun!

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group for inviting me to be part of this blog tour for the four novellas and sending me a copy of A Bride For All Seasons ~ Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter ~ they have been delightful reads! This review is in my own words. No other compensation was received.***