Thursday, October 31, 2013

What Once Was Lost by Kim Vogel Sawyer, ©2013

I love the detail!
   The garden! Before long they'd need to plant vegetables and put in their corn and hay crop for animal feed. She'd always been proud of how much money she saved by canning vegetables and gathering berries and nuts to feed the poor farm residents. Would the board delay repairing the house until it was too late for Wes and her to plant seeds for a good harvest? She picked up the pen once more and added a reminder about the importance of being settled in time to put in the garden. She supposed Mr. Regehr might find her request impertinent since he'd been adamant about not leaving her in charge. But even if she was forced to step aside―oh, how her heart ached at the thought!―the others would still need to be fed, so a garden was imperative.
   --What Once Was Lost, 125
I jump ahead of myself, but this is so good. Permissible to rate this novel with T*E*N stars?

The Brambleville Asylum for the Poor, Kansas, 1890
ยงยงยง . Brick House StudioA year has passed since Christina Willems' father has died from a respiratory illness. Their rural farm has been shared with those in need of a home and care. A fire in the night brings further change for them, and the community of Brambleville, as Christina seeks housing for those in her care. The destroyed wood-sided kitchen and small bedroom will need to be rebuilt before they will be able to return.

The story is so well-written as you come with each of them and find whether they are cherished or taken in as an extra hand, excluded from family activities. It brings out the true nature of each home's occupants. Everyone has found temporary placement except for Tommy, a blind boy who has been with them for two years. Christina takes him to Levi Jonnson, the owner of a lumber mill outside of town, who has kept to himself. There is speculation about his hermitage, and this child they deem as handicapped. Levi finds out something about himself, as well.

So smoothly flowing, I did not want to put this story down. It is reminiscent to me of Leisha Kelly's Wortham Family series. I wanted to see them wanted and protected. I give this story two 5-star ratings!

Christina gives beyond herself in care of others and in turn, receives so much more.
A man's heart deviseth his way:
but the LORD directs his steps.
   --Proverbs 16:9
Author Kim Vogel Sawyer has placed this Scripture in the front of her story. Indeed, it is true.

This summed it up for me!
   She'd been drawn to Tommy from her first moments at the poor farm. Any fool could tell he was hurting. Hurting from being shucked away, same as she'd been. Maybe he'd been able to sense her deep painhe possessed an odd way of seeing with his heart since his eyes didn't work anymorebecause he'd seemed to attach himself to her. Seemed to like her more than the others at the poor farm. She chuckled, marveling. What a pair they were, him with his broken eyes and her with her broken spirit. And no hope for either of them to regain what they'd lost.
   --Ibid., 131
There is more, there is so much, much more...
~*I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.*~

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we've been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Amazing Grace Lyrics ~ John Newton (1725-1807) Stanza 6 anon.

***Thank you to WaterBrook Multnomah blogging for Books for sending me a copy of What Once Was Lost by Kim Vogel Sawyer to review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Excerpt ~ Chapters 1 and 2 ~ What Once Was Lost by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Chapter 1

Brambleville, Kansas
Mid-February, 1890
“Amen.” Her prayer complete, Christina Willems raised her head. Even after a full year of leading the residents of the poor farm in saying grace, she gave a little start as her gaze fell on Papa’s empty chair at the far end of the table. Loneliness smote her, as familiar as the smooth maple tabletop beneath her folded hands. Would she ever adjust to her dear father’s absence?
   To cover the rush of melancholy, she reached for the closest serving bowl, which was heaped with snowy mashed potatoes, and forced a smile. “Herman, would you please carve the goose? Louisa did such a beautiful job roasting it. I’m eager to see if it tastes as good as it looks.”
   Louisa McLain, one of the two widowed sisters-in-law who had lived beneath the poor farm’s roof for the past four years, tittered at Christina’s compliment. “Now, Christina, you know roasting a goose is a simple task. But bringing one down so we can all enjoy such a treat? We owe Wes our thanks for his skill with a shotgun.”   Wes Duncan’s wide, boyish face blushed scarlet, and he ducked his head but not before he flashed Louisa a shy grin.
   Herman Schwartz took the carving knife and fork and rose slowly, his arthritic joints unfolding by increments. Light from the brass gas lamp hanging above the table flashed on the knife’s blade as he pressed it to the goose’s crispy skin. While Herman carved, the others began passing around the bowls of potatoes, gravy, and home-canned vegetables grown in their own garden.
   Young Francis Deaton watched Herman’s progress with unblinking eyes, licking his lips in anticipation. He nudged his sister, Laura, with his elbow. “Lookit that, Laura. Finally get somethin’ ’sides pork for supper! Ain’t it gonna be good?”
   His mother set down the bowl of boiled carrots and gave the back of Francis’s head a light whack. Francis yelped and rubbed the spot as Alice shook her finger in her son’s face. “Shame on you. We should be thankful for every bit of food the good Lord sees fit to give us, whether it be goose, pork, or gruel. Now apologize to Miss Willems for complaining.”
   Francis, his lips set in a pout, mumbled, “Sorry, Miss Willems.”
   Christina accepted the boy’s apology with a nod and a smile. She well understood Francis’s delight in the succulent goose. The poor farm residents consumed a steady diet of pork because pigs were the most economical animals to raise and butcher. They hadn’t enjoyed a meal such as this in months—not since she’d evicted a ne’er-do-well named Hamilton Dresden for trying to sneak into Alice’s room one night. The man had been lazy, shirking jobs rather than contributing to the poor farm’s subsistence, but he’d been handy with a rifle, and their table had benefited from his good aim. Yet she didn’t regret sending him packing. She’d rather eat beans and bacon seven days a week and feel that her charges were safe than enjoy wild game and have to worry about illicit shenanigans.
   Their plates full, everyone picked up their forks and partook of the feast. While they ate, easy conversation floated around the table, covering the whine of a cold wind outside. It sounded as if a storm was brewing, but Christina had no concerns. The sturdy limestone construction of the towering three-story house could withstand Kansas wind, rain, hail, and snow. How she loved this house and the security it provided her and the needy individuals who resided beneath the roof of the Brambleville Asylum for the Poor. And what a unique group of needy now filled the chairs.
   Louisa assisted Tommy Kilgore, the little blind boy who’d been deposited on the poor farm steps two years ago, and her sister-in-law, Rose, saw to the seven-year-old orphaned twins, Joe and Florie Alexander. Their newest arrival, a quiet young woman named Cora Jennings, who claimed her mother had cast her out, slipped from her chair and circled the table, refilling coffee cups.
   On the opposite side of the long table, Wes helped himself to a second serving of corn and then ladled more gravy on Harriet Schwartz’s plate. Observing the simple-minded man’s solicitude for the elderly woman, Christina couldn’t help but smile. Then she swallowed a chuckle when Francis stole a piece of meat from his sister’s plate, earning a reprimand from his mother.
   Christina held her fork idle beside her plate and simply basked in the feeling of family represented by this ragtag assortment of discarded humanity. Love swelled in her breast for every one of the people sharing her table, from chubby little Joe to gray-headed Herman. Oh, Father… A prayer formed effortlessly within her heart. Thank You that even though Mama and Papa are with You now instead of with me, I am not alone. I will always have my residents who bring me such joy and fulfillment.
   “Miss Willems?” Wes’s voice pulled Christina from her reflections. “Ain’t there no bread? Need it to soak up my gravy.”
   Christina gave a rueful shake of her head. “No. We used the last of it at lunch. But don’t worry. I mixed dough this afternoon, and before I retire this evening, I’ll bake enough loaves to carry us through the coming week. We’ll have bread with every meal tomorrow.”
   Rose turned her pert gaze in Christina’s direction. “Would you like my help with the bread baking?”
   The residents shared the operations of the poor farm to the extent their age and abilities allowed. Despite Rose’s perky tone, her shoulders drooped with tiredness from dusting furniture and mopping the oak floors of the rambling house that afternoon. Christina squeezed the older woman’s hand. “Bless you for your willingness, but I’ll see to the bread making myself. And I’ll see to the supper cleanup, as well.” A soft mutter of protests rose, but Christina waved her hands and stilled the voices. “No, no, you’ve all done more than enough work today.”
   The others returned to eating with no further arguments. Satisfied, Christina pressed her fork into the mound of potatoes on her plate. Ultimately, the Brambleville Asylum for the Poor was her responsibility, just as it had once been her father’s. She would honor his memory by meeting the needs of her charges as well as Papa had.

“Miss Willems. Miss Willems, wake up…”
   The persistent voice cut through Christina’s dreams, rousing her from a sound sleep. She blinked into the gray-shrouded room. A small shape in a white nightshirt, giving the appearance of an apparition, leaned over her bed. One of the children. Although weary, Christina chose a kind tone. “Yes, who is it?”
   Hands pawed at the edge of the mattress. “It’s me, ma’am.”
   Tommy… He no doubt needed someone to escort him to the outhouse. “Couldn’t you rouse Francis?” Although Christina had assigned Francis the task of being Tommy’s eyes, the nine-year-old often shirked his duty. Especially at night.
   “No, ma’am. C’mon. We gotta hurry.” Urgency underscored Tommy’s tone.
   Pushing aside her covers, she swung her bare feet over the edge of the mattress. The boy danced in place as she tugged on her robe over her nightgown and stuck her feet into her unbuttoned shoes. Regardless of Tommy’s need, the February night was cold. Finally she took his arm. “All right, Tommy, let’s go to the outhouse.”
   He pulled loose, stumbling sideways. “No! We gotta get everybody out!”
   Fuzzy-headed from exhaustion—she’d plodded up the two flights of stairs to her attic room and tumbled into bed well after midnight—Christina caught hold of Tommy’s shoulders and gave him an impatient shake. “Tommy, you aren’t making sense. What—”
   “I smell smoke! There’s a fire.” Hysteria raised the boy’s pitch and volume. He clutched at her hands with icy fingers. “Please, ma’am, we gotta get everybody an’ get out!”
   Frowning, Christina sniffed the air. Only a slight hint of charred wood teased her nostrils. Tommy’s sense of smell was heightened—certainly a result of his inability to see. She’d kept the stove burning late. In all likelihood the boy smelled the leftover coals and mistakenly believed a fire raged. She adopted a soothing tone. “Calm down, Tommy. I’m sure—”
   “Miss Willems, please…” The boy began to sob, his body quivering. “We gotta get out, ma’am. We gotta get out now!”
   As Christina began to offer more assurance, a screech rent the air, followed by a shout. “Fire! Fire!” The clatter of footsteps sounded on the stairs. Then Cora burst into the room and threw herself against Christina. “Kitchen’s on fire!” she gasped.
   Chills exploded across Christina’s body. Curling one hand around Tommy’s thin arm and the other around Cora’s shoulder, she aimed both of them toward the gaping door. At the top of narrow stairway leading to the second floor, she pressed Tommy into Cora’s care. “Take him out and stay outside. I’ll get the others.” Trusting Cora to follow her directions, she hurried down the stairs. Papa’s silver watch, which hung on a chain around her neck, bounced painfully against her chest, and she paused to tuck it beneath the neck of her gown before proceeding.
   Her worn soles slid on the smooth wooden steps, but she kept her footing and charged through the upstairs hallway, banging on doors and hollering, “Fire! Grab whatever you can and get out! Everyone out!”
   Doors popped open. Panicked voices filled the air. The pounding of feet on pine floorboards competed with cries of alarm. Assured that everyone was alerted and moving, Christina hurried to the ground floor. Smoke created a murky curtain, but she fought her way through it and flung the front door open. Frigid night air swept in, blessedly sweet, but a whoosh sounded from the opposite side of the house. Flames exploded behind the kitchen doorway, then attacked the wooden frame, taking on the appearance of dancing tongues. Would the floorboards catch fire and carry those hungry flames to the front door?
   Her ears ringing with the fierce beating of her heart, Christina waved to the people on the stairs. “Hurry! Hurry!”
   Louisa and Rose hastened past with clothing draped over their arms. Alice and her children followed, also carrying an assortment of pants, shirts, and dresses, the sleeves of which dangled toward the floor, threatening to trip them. Joe and Florie trailed Alice’s family. Empty-handed, the pair wailed and clung to each other. Florie reached for Christina.
   “Outside!” Christina commanded, giving the little girl a push toward the porch. She longed to comfort the distraught child, but comforting would have to wait—safety came first. Fear turned her mouth to cotton, but she continued to encourage her charges to hurry, hurry.
   Cora, clothing draped over her shoulder, thumped down the stairs with Tommy hanging on her arm. As the pair passed, Christina said, “Get buckets from the barn and start a bucket brigade. Alice, Louisa, and Rose will help you.” Cora shot Christina a look of abject anguish, but she nodded as she stumbled out the door. Christina tried to count the number of people in the yard, but the darkness hindered her. Who hadn’t yet escaped?
   Heavy footsteps captured her attention, and she turned to spot Wes clopping down the stairs in his ungainly lope. He’d taken the time to dress, but his suspenders hung beside his knees, and his feet were bare. He reached the doorway and paused beside Christina, his wild-eyed gaze searching the yard. Then he grabbed the doorjamb with both hands. “Where’s Herman? An’ Harriet?”
   Only two people slept on the main floor of the poor farm residence—Herman and Harriet Schwartz. Herman’s advanced arthritis made climbing the stairs too difficult for him. Christina had been pleased to offer the elderly couple the small room, tucked beside the added-on kitchen as quarters for a maid.
   She clapped her hands to her cheeks in horror. The kitchen was completely engulfed. She wouldn’t be able to reach their room without running through the flames. “Oh, Lord, no…please, no,” she moaned as helplessness sagged her shoulders.
   Realization registered on Wes’s square face. Although he was more than twenty years old, his simple mind gave him the reckless impulsivity of a child. With a strangled cry, he pushed off from the doorframe and scrambled in the direction of the kitchen. “Herman! Harriet!”
   Christina raced after him and caught the back of his flannel shirt. “Wes! No!” He struggled against her grip, drawing her along with him. They tussled so close to the crackling flames that the heat scorched Christina’s face and her body even through her heavy robe. Gasping for breath, she tried valiantly to pull Wes back, but he was too strong for her. He broke free and stumbled to the doorway with its dancing circle of fire.

Chapter 2
Wes stood illuminated by the bright flames, shoulders heaving and hands flying erratically as if swatting at bats, while ribbons of orange and yellow snaked their way up the varnished wood trim on either side of the door. His anguished wails carried over the crackle and snap of the flames. “Herman! Harriet!”
   Choking on the smoke, Christina staggered after him. She wrapped both arms around his middle and tugged. Although he continued to cry in harsh, hiccuping sobs, he allowed her to draw him through the sitting room and into the yard, where they collapsed—Christina half on top of Wes’s inert form—on the snow-dusted grass. Her lungs ached from breathing smoke, and her heart ached at the thought of dear Herman and Harriet trapped in their room, helpless against the onslaught. She squeezed her eyes shut and battled the desire to join Wes in wails of sorrow.
   “M-Miss Willems? You will be all right?”
   At the sound of the gravelly, weak voice, Christina lifted her head from Wes’s shoulder. Herman stood a few feet away, his wrinkled face wreathed in worry. Harriet hovered near her husband, wringing her hands. Christina let out a gasp of relief and joy.
   “Soon as we smell smoke, I push the missis out the window. Then I fall out behind her.” He touched a bleeding scrape on his forehead, wincing. “I want to tell you the place, it is burning, but the stairs… All I could do just to walk ’round the house to the front.”
   Wes jolted upright, pushing Christina aside, and staggered across the grass. He threw his arms around Herman and buried his head in the curve of Herman’s shoulder, sobbing. Christina crossed to Harriet and folded the woman in an embrace. Thank You, Lord. Thank You… Relief at finding the couple safe nearly buckled her knees. But she couldn’t collapse. She had work to do.
   She grabbed Wes’s sleeve again and gave a mighty yank. “Come help with the buckets, Wes!”
   Harriet and Herman took charge of the children, and Christina and Wes raced behind the house. Cora, Louisa, Rose, and Alice had formed a line with Cora closest to the flames and Alice at the well. Wes took over dropping the empty buckets into the well’s depths and hauling them up, and Christina joined Cora at the front of the line. Christina’s arms ached, but she continued tossing bucketfuls of icy water onto the blazing walls until the roar died and only red-orange eyes of embers glowed from the charred shell of the kitchen.
   With a heaving sigh, she let the last bucket fall from her numb hands and then sank onto the cold ground. Immediately the poor farm residents surrounded her.
   Florie and Joe dropped into her lap and clung. Hands patted her shoulders, and fingers clutched her arms. A chorus of voices—some crying, others comforting—filled her ears. In a huddled mass they held on to one another as the wintry wind chilled their frames. Florie twisted around and cupped Christina’s face in her small hands. “Miss Willems,”—tears streaked the child’s round cheeks—“where’re we gonna live now?”
   Christina drew in a ragged breath. She searched her mind for an answer but found nothing that would offer even a smidgen of consolation to the bereft souls shivering in the February air. She hung her head, closing her eyes against the sting of tears. What should I do? Oh, Papa, how I wish God had answered my prayers to heal you from that respiratory illness. I need you now
   “Miss Willems, I’m c-c-cold.” Joe hugged himself and burrowed against Christina’s side. “Can we go in?”
   Christina glanced at the shivering bunch. Their nightclothes offered no protection from the cold. They needed shelter or they might all fall ill. The house’s sturdy limestone walls had prevented the fire from consuming more than the wood-framed addition, but smoke would penetrate every room. They shouldn’t go inside. There was only one other place of refuge.
   She gently set the twins aside and struggled to her feet. “Let’s go to the barn.” She herded the group across the hard-packed, uneven yard to the large rock structure at the back corner of the property. When she and her father had moved into the house eighteen years ago, following Mama’s death, Papa had bemoaned the distance between the house and the barn, stating how much smarter the Russian Mennonites were to build a barn attached to the house for ease in caring for the animals. Christina had agreed with Papa then, but now she thanked God the original owners hadn’t followed the Russian Mennonite practice. If the barn had filled with smoke, too, they’d have nowhere to go.
   The barn’s interior, redolent of fragrant hay and musky animal scent, offered immediate comfort. Its walls of thick limestone blocks held the wind at bay, and Christina instantly felt warmer even though her breath hung in a little cloud before her face. She turned to Wes. “Can you light a lantern, please?”
   At the spark from the flint, little Florie began to cry again and buried her face against Christina’s middle. Christina understood—the tiny flicker on the lantern’s wick now seemed sinister after witnessing the ravenous flames devouring the kitchen. But they’d need light to get settled, so she gave Florie a few consoling pats and told Wes, “Put the lantern on its hook there. Thank you. Now, everyone, gather near.”
   The others shuffled close. Their expectant faces looked at Christina, awaiting her directions. Tiredness—and responsibility—weighted her shoulders. They depended on her. She had to do something to assure them they’d all be fine. But where could she find assurance when only hopelessness crowded her troubled mind? Papa’s voice crept through her memory. “When in doubt, Christina, go to the Father. He alone has the answers to life’s ponderings.”
   She pulled in a shuddering breath—how her chest ached—and held her hands out to the two standing closest. Florie took one, Louisa the other. Without a word of instruction, they formed a circle and bowed their heads in readiness for Christina’s petitions to the Lord.
   “Heavenly Father…,” her voice rasped, the words scraping painfully against her dry throat. “Thank You for Your hand of protection and for allowing us to escape.” A murmur swept through the small throng—thank-yous and soft sobs. “You brought us safely from the fire, and now we trust You to continue to shelter us, just as You have in the past.” She injected confidence in her tone even as her insides trembled. They couldn’t live in the barn! “Please guide us”—Oh, Lord, please, please!—“and meet our needs. I place Herman and Harriet, Alice, Laura, and Francis, Louisa and Rose, Cora, Florie and Joe, Wes, and Tommy in Your capable, caring hands. In Your Son’s precious name, I pray. Amen.”
   A chorus of amens echoed. Then Florie tugged on Christina’s hand. “Miss Willems, you didn’t say your name.”
   Puzzled, Christina frowned at the child.
   The little girl pursed her lips. “You put all of us in God’s hands, but you didn’t put you in His hands.”
   The child’s innocent statement raised a warmth in the center of Christina’s chest. Peace flooded her, bringing a rush of grateful tears. She gave Florie a hug. “Honey, I’m always in God’s hands.” She swept a glance across the sad faces. “We all are.” She straightened, drawing on the strength her father had taught her was always available. “Alice, I know you carried out some clothing. Can you dole out articles to everyone? We need to wear something warmer than nightclothes if we’re to spend the night out here.”
   The thin-faced woman’s eyes lit, seemingly relieved to have something to do. “Surely, Miss Willems.” Alice bustled to the pile of garments lying on the barn floor. Her children and the Alexander twins scampered after her, their bare feet scuffing up bits of hay.
   Louisa McLain leaned close to Christina and whispered, “Rose and I carted out clothes, too, and we can share with Harriet, of course, if need be. But I got a look at the things Alice brought, and they’re mostly for youngsters. None of us thought to grab shoes, and we don’t have anything at all for the menfolk, I’m afraid.”
   Christina nibbled her lip. Wes had pulled on britches and a shirt over his long johns before leaving his room, but his bare toes had a bluish hue. Herman and Harriet huddled together in striped nightshirts, thick stockings covering their feet. The men would need britches and shirts, and everyone needed shoes quickly. They couldn’t enter the house and scavenge for belongings—it wasn’t safe—so the only place to find what she needed was in town.
    Although she hated to leave the security of the barn and take the others out into the cold, she had little choice. Needs had to be met, and she couldn’t see to them here on the farm.
   Christina touched Louisa’s arm. “As soon as we’ve dressed as warmly as possible, I’ll have Wes hitch the team. We’ll go into town. I’m sure people will offer us refuge until the house can be rebuilt.”
   Louisa’s brow pinched. “I’ve heard some of the folks in Brambleville weren’t too pleased about this fine house being made into a home for the destitute. They might turn us away, just as the innkeeper did to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem.”
   Indignation raised Christina’s chin. Let the townspeople try to leave her charges out in the cold! “I assure you, Louisa, we’ll be taken in.” She flung her arm around the older woman’s shoulders and offered an assuring squeeze. “The good Lord provides a nest for the sparrow, and He won’t leave His children in need of shelter.”
   Worry tried to eat a hole through Christina’s stomach as she aimed the wagon north out of town. The clop, clop of horses’ hoofs on frozen ground echoed across the lonely countryside. Only one poor farm inhabitant huddled in the back in the mound of hay—Tommy. Scarred, blind Tommy. Frustration rolled through her chest. He was just a little boy in need of care. Why did people find it so easy to turn him away?
   She flicked the reins, urging the horses to pick up their pace. Dawn would break soon. Already the sky’s velvety black was changing to a steel gray in the east. She’d promised the boardinghouse owner that she and Cora would prepare meals for her boarders—starting with today’s breakfast—in exchange for a tiny sleeping room. So finding a place for Tommy soon was imperative. Lifting her face to the bright moon hovering just above the treetops, she whispered a fervent prayer. “Lord, the mill owner is our last hope. Please soften his heart.”
   “Ma’am?” Tommy’s quavering voice carried on the icy wind.
   Without turning around Christina answered. “What do you need, Tommy?”
   “I’m scared.”
   So was she. But she couldn’t let Tommy know. Clutching the reins with one hand, she reached behind her with the other and found Tommy’s head. She gave his tousled hair a gentle stroke. “It’ll be all right. You wait and see.” Lord, let me be telling this boy the truth. He’s already suffered so much loss.
   The lane leading to Jonnson Millworks curved to the right, illuminated by the moon shimmering blue on the wisps of remaining snow. With a firm tug on the reins, she guided the horses to take the turn. Minutes later she brought the team to a halt outside a long, nearly flat-pitched house with a railed porch running its full length. Wide, whitewashed boards ran up and down with narrow strips of wood nailed over each seam. Glass windows reflected the muted predawn light. Although far from pretentious, the house looked sturdy and welcoming.
   Christina set the brake and held her borrowed skirt above her ankles as she climbed down. She then tapped Tommy’s shoulder. “Come on out.”
   The boy cringed. “You sure I oughta? Might be better if they don’t know who’s wantin’ to stay with ’em.”
   Pain seared Christina’s heart. She resented the way people recoiled from Tommy. The boy couldn’t see their reaction, but his acute hearing couldn’t miss the startled gasps or dismissive snorts. If Mr. Jonnson also turned him away, what would she do? Tommy had already suffered the loss of his sight, been cast aside by his own family, and been rejected by half the town. How much must a mere boy be forced to bear? Although Mr. Jonnson might very well refuse to harbor the boy when faced with Tommy’s limitations, she couldn’t try to hide them. It wouldn’t be honest.
   Very kindly she said, “Come on now.”
   She led Tommy across a pathway formed of flat gray rocks to the porch. “Step up.” The boards, cold and damp from the recent snow, creaked beneath their feet. Even before she raised her fist to knock on the wood door, a voice boomed from inside the house.
   “Who’s out there?”
   At the deep timbre and stern tone, Tommy shrank against Christina. She coiled an arm around the boy’s shoulders before answering. “Miss Christina Willems from the Brambleville Asylum for the Poor, Mr. Jonnson. Would you please open the door?”
   “What for?”
   Christina clenched her teeth. She was cold, tired, heartsore, and swiftly running out of patience. Sending up one more silent prayer for strength—at least the fifteenth since Tommy had awakened her a few hours ago—she gathered her remaining shreds of courage and said, “So I might speak to you without the need to holler.”
   Silence reigned.
   Tommy shivered uncontrollably.
   Christina’s patience was whisked away on an icy blast of wind. She gave the door a solid thump with her fist. “Sir, will you kindly open this door and allow us entrance? It is cold out here!”

Excerpted from What Once Was Lost by Kim Vogel Sawyer Copyright © 2013 by Kim Vogel Sawyer. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. - See more at:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Glittering Promises by Lisa T. Bergren, ©2013

The Grand Tour Series, Book 3

Glittering Promises

First sentence: "If you spot him again, shoot him on sight," my father said. "I shall deal with the repercussions myself."

So, are you in? What do you think of that?

On a Grand Tour of Europe, Glittering Promises is set in Italy. After a kidnapping, any sighting of danger would be alarming.

With the intentions of bidding Pierre de Richlieu adieu, Cora Diehl Kensington and her silent guard, Pascal, step into the gondola for her last visit with him before he returns to France. Stopping, Pierre and Cora leave the gondola and Pascal.
   Pascal sought my eyes, silently asking me if I was all right. I gave him a firm nod, "We'll only be a little while," I said. Where could we go? I suspected what the men did—that the only way in and out of this tiny building was right here through this waterway entrance.
   --Glittering Promises, 26
How unwise can she be ~ to desert her guard! The gondolier could have been paid in advance to watch for Pierre as he said, "Your normal route" to his question of, "Where to?"

But they do return, with Pierre's words he will come to Roma before she departs for America. Cora has told him of her love for William McCabe. The Dunnigan mine outcome will not separate them.
   I lifted a hand to my temple and massaged it. How was I ever to marry my old life to my new one? Who was I anymore? More Kensington than Diehl? Was it even possible for me to return to my old life, my old thoughts, given all that I'd experienced? This trip had molded me, changed me, strengthened me as well as weakened me...
   --Ibid., 38
Puppets, yet. Wallace Kensington's children are to do his bidding, no matter the cost. May her character remain, a surety to rely on the Lord. An inheritance that will not destroy.
Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart.
   --Psalm 119:111  
Espionage within plotting to destroy or bring freedom? Does Wallace Kensington plan on restoring his wealth to his daughter or is he using her for his own gain?
Book 1
Book 2
Book 3

~*Glittering Promises*~
Lisa T. Bergren’s popular Grand Tour series concludes as Cora Kensington journeys farther into Italy, wrestles with a terrible ultimatum from her father, and comes to terms with the Father who will never fail her.
America’s newest heiress must decide if her potential fortune is rationale enough to give up her freedom and all that God is leading her toward. And when her newly-discovered siblings are threatened with ruin, her quandary deepens. Then as Cora nears Rome, more journalists are tracking the news story of the decade—“Copper Cora,” the rags-to-riches girl—and want to know more about her family and the men vying for her attention. Meanwhile, a charming Italian countess decides that if Cora isn’t going to claim Will’s heart, she might just try…

Excerpt ~ Chapter 1 ~ Glittering Promises, 9-14

Chapter 1


"If you spot him again, shoot him on sight," my father said. "I shall deal with the repercussions myself."
   I gently pulled off my gloves and felt Will's grip on my elbow tighten. I looked about the room―at my younger sister, Lil; my brother, Felix; and one of our guards, Pascal, standing with Antonio and my father.
   "What's this?" Will asked, leading me closer to the others, deeper into the Venetian palazzo's grand salon. I was thankful that the long windows were wide open, allowing the brine-laced breeze to waft through. "What's happened?"
   "Oh, Cora!" Lillian cried, rising and entering my arms. She clung to me a second and then pulled back to look at me. "It was Nathan Hawke! I'm certain I saw him across the piazza today!"
   "Truly?" I asked. "Nathan? If you're right, he's far less clever than I though." I looked to my father, his words about shooting him on sight making far more sense now. Nathan Hawke was dangerous, insturmental in our kidnapping a week past, thwarted only because Will and Art had used other nefarious men to double-cross him. I lifted a hand to my temple and shook my head. "It makes no sense. He should be on a steamer to Greece by now. Not lollygagging about where one of us might spy him, report him. He risks imprisonment!"
   "Unless he wants to be seen," Antonio grumbled, thick chin in hand.
   "For what purpose?" Felix asked. "
   To make certain that we know who is behind the next kidnapping," bit out my father, throwing up a hand in frustration. "So that we might pay the ransom without hesitation."
   "His partners are in jail," I said. "What true threat is one man when we are so many?"
   "It took only one to take our Lillian," my father said, his blue eyes steel cold as he leveled them at me. "And another to nab you as well."
   "We are far less naive than we were when we began this journey. We never go out alone―"
   "Not that that resolves our concerns," my father said. "What would you do if he leveled a gun at you? Or your sister? Or young William here?"
   "Presumably our armed guard would protect us."
   He paced back and forth, flicking one hand in the air. "So he draws his pistol, Antonio draws another, and you are caught in the cross fire?"
   I bit my lip, stymied by both his logic and the sudden reminder that he might care for me and my future, regardless of the bad blood that had passed between us. I pinched my temples between thumb and ring finger. "We've been through this, Father. We cannot live in fear the rest of our lives. Like it or not, after that Life article, we'll be recognized wherever we go. Even more so once the next issue is off the presses and reaches Europe."
   "Which will be soon," said Hugh Morgan, one of our traveling companions, his tone uncommonly gentle. "It'll be any day now."
   I looked back at my father. Here, at last, was the gauntlet he'd warned me of―the trials of leading, of making choices. I had to show him I was up to the task. "If it's not Nathan Hawke, there will be others, yes? You have enemies. I, apparently, have enemies. This is our present reality. And we all must deal with that threat, here, now, so that we can be done with it forevermore."
   "It would be easier at home in Montana," my father said. "We wouldn't be so exposed."
   I held a breath, defeated by the idea of turning tail and running after all we'd endured. We'd fought to be here, earned the right to finish our trip, even if it was against Father's wishes. Hadn't we? But I recognized his fear, his concern for the others―my siblings, Felix, Vivian, and Lil, as well as the Morgans―even if I couldn't trust what he felt for me. I sighed and looked to Will.
   "When is the earliest we could leave, if we wished to?" Father said.
   "The Charleston ships out in a couple of weeks from Pisa. We might secure passage on her. But given that it's high season, she's likely sold every stateroom, and getting us all aboard, even if you all agreed to travel second class..." Will shook his head. "No, it's highly unlikely we'd find anything above steerage. There's a slim chance we could find accommodations on the Charlemagne, the following week out of Naples."
   "Oh, but the Charlemagne's a miserable ship," Pierre de Richelieu said, entering the room, his keen eyes covering each of us but resting on me. "Trust me. You'd never wish to board her wretched gang-plank." His eyes narrowed as he took in the dour mood of the room. "What's happened?" he asked, his French accent growing thicker. "What is it?"
   Antonio bent to whisper in his ear, and Pierre's handsome green eyes shifted to me, his brows furrowed in alarm―and then his gaze traveled down to Will's hand on my elbow. I knew he'd remained, even once Will and I began openly courting, hoping I might change my mind. He pinched his lower lip, then turned to a chair and sat down, heavily, as if beaten. He was due to leave for Paris within hours. I knew that this was perhaps the last time I'd ever see him, which made me alternately relieved and sad.
   My father strode to the window and put a hand on the frame as he stared outward. "It is you that Nathan Hawke is after, Cora. An heiress, a millionaire in her own right, now. That's the story the press shall propagate. Luc Coltaire would've taken any of you. But a Montanan like Hawke? He's after you."
   I let out a soft scoffing laugh. My sole inheritance―my claim on a portion of the Dunnigan mine―was in dispute. Father wished to hold it out before me like a carrot before a horse, forcing me to go in the direction he wished. I had secured an attorney and discovered I might have a change at fighting for a portion, whether my father approved of my decisions―continuing the tour, allowing Will rather than Pierre to court me―or not.
   "Perhaps you can flag Hawke down in the piazza," I said. "Explain to him that you are doing your level best to keep me and my parents from earning one dollar of our mine's bounty. That trying to wring a ransom from my banker will be as difficult as squeezing blood from a turnip since I have about three dollars to my name."
   I heard the tiny gasp from my sister Lil. Everyone in the room seemed to take a collective breath, all eyes now concentrating on the two of us.
   "Cora, this all mustn't be so trying," my father said, his blue eyes shifting in agitation to the others in the room. "And even if we weren't at odds about the Dunnigan mine, you know he'd come to me. Appeal to me as your father. I'm the known quality."
   "And we both know how far that would get him." I took a deep breath and looked to Will, then back to my father, feeling a wince of regret now over my harsh words and the shadow that passed through his eyes. "But if you feel it's me that Nathan is after, perhaps we should part company for a time. I don't wish to endanger the others."
   "No!" Lillian cried, coming to me and taking my arm before looking back to our father. Her blonde ringlets by her ears bounced. "Please, Father. Don't allow her to go. It isn't safe!"
   "We only have a few weeks left before the Olympic sails back home," I said, patting her hand. "We wouldn't be apart for all that long."

   "But I agree with your family," Will said, surprising me. "It's far safer for you to be with the others, under guard, than on your own."
   "Will, I―"
   "No," my father said. "Listen to him. If we are to tarry here in Italy rather than return home immediately, it is imperative that we remain together."

   Rising voices, floating down the marble staircase, drew our attention to the open doors. Vivian. And Andrew. They were getting closer, bickering, and then Vivian arrived, flushed and wringing her hands, Andrew directly on her heels. She looked up, belatedly realizing that so many of us had gathered and overheard them arguing.
   I splayed out my hands and forced a smile, eager to relieve the pressure of the group's attention. "We were just discussing the possibility of parting ways for a time."
   "Parting ways?" sputtered Vivian, her small features drawing together in a frown. "Who of us wishes to part ways with you?"
   I almost laughed at Andrew's steady gazed behind her. he was one, for certain. Somehow, he seemed ready to pin their growing dissonance on me.
   "I believe we are past that idea," my father said quietly. "Now we must plot our safest course."
   I considered him and then cast my eyes about the room, thinking. "What if we changed course again? Get off the Grand Tour track. See Antonio's Italy together?" I gestured toward our guide and then folded my arms. "Nathan Hawke is resourceful, but I wager it was Luc Coltaire that kept them on our trail before. If we up and disappeared in the wee hours, this very night, would we not likely slip from the city without him knowing where we'd gone? And if we kept to the smaller towns and villages, rather than the grand cities, would we not be far less likely to encounter those that knew the first thing about us?" My father's gaze shifted to me, his gray mustached twitching as he considered my plan. And it was then that I knew he agreed with me.
   "But what of the big cities?" Nell whined. "I do so want to see Milan. Turin. And Florence!"

Lisa Tawn BergrenLisa T. Bergren is the award-winning author of over thirty-five books, with more than 2 million copies sold. A former publishing executive, Lisa now divides her time between writing, editing, parenting three children with her husband, Tim, and dreaming of her next trip to Italy. She lives in Colorado Springs.
Find out more about Lisa Tawn at

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group for having a copy of Lisa T. Bergren's Glittering Promises sent to me to review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Glittering Promises by @LisaTBergren | Win an Italian feast delivered to your door & RSVP for Facebook Party!

Lisa T. Bergren is celebrating the release of her new book, Glittering Promisesby giving away a $200 Italian feast from Williams-Sonoma and hosting a fun Facebook party on October 29th.

  One winner will receive:
  • A $200 Italian feast from Williams-Sonoma delivered to your door
  • The three-book Grand Tour set
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on October 29th. Winner will be announced at the "Glittering Promises" Facebook Author Chat Party on October 29th. Connect with Lisa for an evening of book chat, European trivia, and prizes, and get an exclusive look Lisa's next book.

So grab your copies of the Grand Tour series and join Lisa on the evening of October 29th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the books, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by clicking JOIN at the event page. Spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway and party via FACEBOOK or TWITTER. Hope to see you on the 29th!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Perfectly Matched by Maggie Brendan, ©2013

Available October 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing

The Blue Willow Brides; Book Three
   She sighed and sipped her tea, then set the cup down. "The Blue Willow reminds me of my mother and sisters."
   "The tea set was my grandmother's," he said fondly, circling the rim of his cup with his thumb. "I use it on special occasions."
   --Perfectly Matched, 78-79

Cover Art

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure
justice for those being crushed.

   --Proverbs 31:8 NLT

Anna Olsen arrived yesterday as a mail-order bride and today, this minute, is saying her vows to Edward Parker. Preoccupied in thought, she almost misses her part. Everything is so different here in Denver than being at her sister's in Cleveland.

Edward had everything planned about today. In fact, upon arrival at their home, he produces a list of a schedule he has prepared for her ~ for each day to keep everything running smooth as clockwork. No pun intended, for he is a clock maker and a jeweler. His shop adjoins the house, so he will be nearby. He likes everything on time.

Mrs. Edward Parker is an adventurer and prone to a softness of bringing home an old, rheumatic dog that has been scavenging at the downtown shops for handouts. She has a conversation with the bank president, rescuing "Moose" from his ill treatment in front of his bank door. Moose will join Baby, her little dog she had shipped from her sister's... at least until she gets him cleaned up and his ribs not showing.
Edward is coming out of his perfect list for Anna's days when he discovers she has other creativity than cleaning. She has begun a rescue for animals, and others come to help her in her efforts. Friends rally around this couple as they become entwined with their church and neighbors.

As much as it is a humorous and cute story of learning to live together and be open with friends forming closeness, I cannot recommend this novel to my review readers. Throughout there is too much information behind their private doors.

***Revell Blog Tour Network sent me a copy of Book 3 in The Blue Willow Brides series, Perfectly Matched, by Maggie Brendan. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Deeply Devoted Twice Promised Perfectly Matched
The Blue Willow Brides series ~ Deeply Devoted, Book 1; Twice Promised, Book 2; Perfectly Matched, Book 3

Excerpt ~ Chapter 1, Perfectly Matched by Maggie Brendan

~* 1 *~

Denver, Colorado
Fall 1888

“Do you, Anna Olsen, take Edward Parker to be your lawfully wedded husband?” Reverend Buchtel cleared his throat and peered over the spectacles resting on the bridge of his large nose. After a moment of silence, he shifted his feet, and the hardwood floor moaned loudly under his weight. He sighed.
   Anna stared out the narrow church window, open to provide cross ventilation in the warm sanctuary, and watched a monarch butterfly flit across the sun-kissed lawn. She wished she were outside to catch it. She’d been reading up on wildlife and plants common to Colorado before leaving Cheyenne. A moment later, a black-chinned hummingbird paused to dip its tongue into rose-colored salvia. Oh, how she longed to paint the scene for Catharine’s twins!
   She turned her attention to her groom. Edward was quite dashing in a cutaway and four-in-hand stretched over his starched white collar. His gray-striped trousers were sharply creased above his polished shoes. The only thing he was missing was a top hat, but Anna bet if it were evening, he’d be wearing one. He cleared his throat and dabbed his brow with a monogrammed handkerchief, then pulled out his watch, and she noticed it was a fine gold timepiece before he slid it into his coat pocket. He turned to face her, his eyes resting on her.
   Reverend Buchtel coughed loudly. The sound snapped Anna back from her woolgathering. “If you care to join us now in this ceremony, Miss Olsen, I asked if you take Edward Parker to be your lawful husband,” he said in a clipped tone. His warm gray eyes narrowed in question, and his voice conveyed his dismay.
   The handful of witnesses snickered, and Anna’s face flamed in embarrassment when she glimpsed Edward’s face. Her silent bridegroom stared at her in open apprehension. He stood ramrod straight, giving her an annoyed look through narrowed eyes. He seemed to be very serious about everything. She could tell that the moment she’d met him yesterday, when he’d told her the ceremony was already set and planned down to the last detail.
   How could she let herself get distracted when Edward was here next to her? He seemed to be perfect . . . perhaps just a little too perfect? His letters, though few, had been careful but not fastidious. Now Anna was beginning to wonder if he ever relaxed. And did he ever laugh?
   “I—well, of course I do,” she muttered, barely loud enough for Edward and the reverend to hear. She looked down again at the wedding gown that Clara, Peter’s mother, had insisted she take when she’d left Cheyenne. Created from the finest Belgian lace over ivory sateen, it fit Anna like it was made for her. However, she knew that it wasn’t the latest fashion, and from the looks of Edward’s clothing, he would think it was terribly quaint indeed. Anna smoothed her hands over the bodice. It was a dear gift, and it was simply amazing Clara had parted with it at all. A true testament to the depth of their relationship.
   “Very well. Let’s continue on then,” the reverend said. Anna nodded. How she wished Clara was with her now! Clara, who was like a mother to her, had tried to dissuade her from leaving Cheyenne. But Anna felt stifled in her sister Catharine’s farmhouse, and she wanted her own home and family and a chance for adventure. After all, Greta and Catharine both were mail-order brides and quite happy with their new lives. Why couldn’t she find the same thing? Leaving Holland had been hard enough, but the experience had given her courage to spread her wings.
   Edward watched as his new bride tilted her chin up to meet his kiss after their vows were spoken. He supposed he was nervous as any typical bridegroom. He hesitated briefly. Yesterday, when she’d stepped o# the train, he’d been completely taken by this beautiful Dutch woman—slender, graceful without e#ort, with the most unfathomable blue eyes he’d ever seen. How in the world had he gotten so lucky! He could hardly wait to get her home.
   As he leaned down to meet her lips, a spark shot through his bones and threatened to completely undo him. Her full lips were luxuriously warm, sweet, and so deliciously soft that he had to stifle a groan that threatened to slip out. Quickly he took hold of his senses and pulled away, but Anna reached for his hands. Hers felt small in his larger ones, and while he stood smiling at her shyly, he suddenly felt he needed fresh air. It was terribly stu#y in the old church.
   The reverend caught his eye and then gave them both a gentle nudge, so Edward turned Anna toward the aisle. They walked past the handful of friends he’d invited, their warm wishes following them down the aisle out into the sparkling fall afternoon. He now had a wife, a helpmeet, a true partner. Life was proceeding according to plan!
   Edward was determined he would be a better husband than his father had been to his mother. The shame he felt was one of the reasons he’d decided to seek a mail-order bride, someone who didn’t know a thing about his family history—all the drunken brawls, his father’s disappearances for long periods of time, and Edward having to work after school at a young age because their pantry was empty. He sighed. Beyond that, he hoped a wife would be a big help with keeping the home tidy, giving him more time to design his timepieces.
   Today he would think on his bright future with his lovely bride. He did wonder, however, what other surprises were in store with Anna in his life. When he’d picked her up from the hotel to drive her to the church, she’d been more than fifteen minutes late to receive him. Her face was flushed, and her wedding dress was apparently borrowed. It looked old and a tad yellowed, and while it had a certain prettiness, it was definitely too snug for her womanly curves. He didn’t want others staring at her shapely form, but he held his tongue.
   From her letters, he knew that she had a good upbringing and her family had once been well-to-do. Perhaps after they got to know each other better, he could guide her in American customs and perhaps influence her manners concerning tardiness and her slightly rumpled look. All in due time, he thought. He just hoped she wouldn’t get homesick. He didn’t want a baby on his hands, and she looked so young and innocent. It must have been her luminous blue eyes. She’d wound her blonde hair into intricate braids about her head in an artful fashion of which he’d never seen the like. He wondered if her hair was long and hung to her waist. He’d soon find out. He swallowed hard.
   The pungent smell of fir and pine—a purely pristine Colorado scent that Anna was now familiar with—refreshed the outdoors. Its bracing effect only added to the anticipation coursing through her. From the time they left the church until they arrived at his sister Ella’s house for the reception, Anna felt Edward’s eyes on her. The reception was a small gathering, but Anna could tell that Edward was trying to make her feel at home.
   “I hope our reception meets with your approval, Anna,” Edward said. His eyes held hers briefly. “I had a little help from Ella in the planning.”
   “Then I’m impressed, Edward. Thank you for making this day special.” Anna smiled at him.
   “Come on, you two. It’s time to cut the wedding cake,” Ella ordered. She nudged them in the direction of the table, then handed Anna a knife.
   Anna laughed. Slicing cake evenly was not her expertise, but with Edward’s hand over hers, she managed to cut the first big slice of white cake. “Open wide,” Anna teased as she allowed Edward the first taste of cake.
   His eyes lingered on hers. “Your turn now,” he said, gently bringing the cake to her lips.
   Her sister Greta had told her the symbolism of sharing the first piece of wedding cake—it promised a special bond between the bride and groom. In her heart, Anna prayed it would be so.
   The guests clapped, then waited for Anna to slice the cake before Edward handed the slices around.
   He’d planned both the ceremony and reception with the aid of his sister. Not at all what she’d expected from her groom. Anna nibbled on her wedding cake and looked at the perfect table setting. Delicate pink roses adorned the center of the oval table, and a crisp white linen tablecloth was set with gleaming crystal dessert plates and silver utensils.
   “Ella, everything is just beautiful. Thank you for doing all of this,” Anna said.
   Ella smiled, then confided, “Oh, goodness! Edward did most of the shopping and the work. I just offered my home. Most of this was his doing, not mine. He’s a thoughtful person and kept telling me he wanted everything to be perfect for you.”
   Anna’s heart squeezed. He’d been thinking of her? How sweet. “Well, just the same, I appreciate your helping Edward.”
   “It was no trouble at all, Anna,” Ella said with a wave of her hand. “I pray you will come to enjoy living in Denver. It’s an exciting town. If there’s anything you need at all, remember, I’m only a couple of blocks away. If my brother can bear to part with you!” Her lighthearted laughter followed her tease.
   “I’m sure I’m going to like Denver. I think living in the city will be more exciting than the stillness of the Wyoming prairie. I rather enjoyed the hustle and bustle of city life, even when we went to Cheyenne to shop. It’s so invigorating.”
   “Then I think we shall become good friends.” Ella grinned.
   Anna touched Ella’s arm. “I would very much enjoy your friendship,” she answered. Ella was friendly and reminded Anna of her sister Greta, and Anna immediately felt at ease.
   Edward came and stood next to them. His hand firmly cupping her elbow, he gently guided Anna toward a small group who chatted away. “Anna, I’d like to introduce you to a few of my friends. This is Harvey Thompson.”
   Anna looked up to an a#able older fellow with a beard and a sagging jawline. He greeted her warmly. “I’m so happy to meet you,” he said.
   Edward paused for their handshake. “And this wonderful lady is a librarian. Mrs. Pearl Brooks.”
   Pearl stood about an inch shorter than Anna, her ample figure squeezed into a teal day dress almost the same shade as her eyes. “Congratulations on your marriage to Edward. We’ve been matchmaking for years to no avail.” She smiled through tight lips.
   “Dank U wel—thank you,” Anna murmured under the scrutiny of Pearl’s narrowed gaze.
   “Oh, you have a strong accent!” a woman with honey-colored hair said, extending her gloved hand rather stiffly. “I’m Callie Holmes, and I’m delighted to meet you.” She turned to the gentlemen standing next to her. “And this is Daniel Moore and Christopher Maxwell.”
   Anna nodded and extended her hand to each of the men. Daniel was tall and good-looking and looked as though he could crush a bear if need be, despite his fancy church clothes. He shook her hand with a firm grip.
   Christopher bowed slightly and tweaked his impeccable mustache between his forefinger and thumb, his eyes sweeping over her in appraisal. “You may call me Chris, Anna. If Edward gives you the slightest problem, let me know.” He winked at Edward. “His ways can be . . . a little disconcerting.”
   While she considered a response, Edward took her hand and gave it a squeeze. “I hardly think that we’ll have any problems, but thanks for your consideration.” Edward shot Chris a look, and Anna wasn’t sure if he was teasing or not. “We’d better see to our other guests before we leave. Come with me, Anna.”
   “It was nice to meet all of you, and thank you for attending our ceremony,” Anna said. As her husband led her away, she found herself curious about his friends. Would she and Edward be entertaining a lot? Oh, how she wished she’d paid more attention to Catharine’s cooking lessons!
   Edward drove the carriage through a stylish neighborhood of Victorian houses not far from Ella’s as neighbors and passersby waved to the newlyweds. They could’ve walked the two short blocks, Anna thought. Edward stopped the horse in front of a wrought-iron fence separating the yard from the street. Little had been said between them on the drive, and Anna took that to mean he was as nervous as she. She watched him out of the corner of her eye as he set the brake, hopped down, and hurried to her side of the carriage.
   “Here we are! I’ll put the carriage away after I show you where we’ll live,” he said, smiling up at her. “My jewelry shop is attached to the front side of the house, which makes it very convenient for my work, as well as visible from the street. The house was left to me by my parents after they died, and I added my shop after that.”
   Anna glanced at the large white painted house and admired the delicate gingerbread fretwork adorning its broad porch. Green plants and potted mums were scattered about, complementing the rockers and a porch swing. The only thing missing from the picturesque setting was a plump dog. Hmm . . . wait until he finds out about Baby later.
   Smoothing her gown, she rose from her seat in the carriage and stared down at his broad shoulders and capable, strong hands. He reached up for her hand, taking care to keep her gown from getting tangled in the carriage step, and then guided her down to the sidewalk. She was no more than a couple of inches from him, and she could smell his aftershave. She allowed her eyes to travel from his broad shoulders to his chest and then to his narrow waist. He was lean and very masculine—surprising, she thought, for one who worked mostly indoors.
   Thoughts of their wedding night sent a rush of heat to her face, and she hoped he hadn’t noticed. Edward’s steel-gray eyes locked onto hers briefly, but he quickly grabbed her about the waist, scooped her up in his arms, and then kicked back the gate, banging it hard against the fence. Was he going to be gentle with her? Or was this pent-up passion that he’d held back for years? A shiver coursed its way down her spine. Could she meet his need? She knew very little about what a wife was supposed to do.

Maggie Brendan, Perfectly Matched Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2013. Used by permission.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Journey of Josephine Cain, ©2013

The Journey of Josephine CainBecause Historical Fiction is my favorite genre, I enjoyed learning more about the building of the railroad from ocean to ocean. So many brave people going where they had never been, building our country from sea to shining sea. America the Beautiful.

Washington, DC, 1866.
Josephine Cain is waiting for her Papa to return from two months in Nebraska territory. Today is the day he is expected! She is prepared with her list of reasons to ask if she can go with him when he leaves again. With the death of her brother and cousin in the final days of the war, her mother and aunt Bernice continue beyond their year of full mourning. What a drab existence. However, he says no! He will be overseeing the building of the railroad connecting the West, beginning in Omaha, with the Central Pacific line coming East from Sacramento. So much promise and excitement as they meet! And... work for the men returning from the war.
With the news that Union General Reginald Cain will be taking over the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, Hudson Macguire and his youngest brother, Raleigh, join the work crews in Omaha. They are finishing up the glass skylights on the roof for the Union Pacific bunk cars. So exciting that the railroad is providing sleeping quarters now so they can advance the rails without having to stop and pitch tents using their energy to set up camp along the way. It was General Cain's invention idea.
To appease his daughter and return her to some semblance of society, General Cain invites a young illustrator home from the newspaper office with him for dinner. The editor offered the general two tickets to the opera. Finally, Mrs. Cain says yes to Josephine going when she is reminded how much their son had enjoyed the music. All is not as it seems with Mr. Lewis Simmons. His good fortune, actually, as he has admired General Cain's daughter from afar. Splendid to make her acquaintance over dinner in their home. Quite opportune to see the general entering the building while he was going there himself to try to sell his illustrations to the editor! Now he is taking their daughter to the opera. He will have to get money for the frills around it. Just the beginning of other outings, the general suggests to him. The Marriage of Figaro ~ a tale of deceptions and counter-deceptions.

   "What about going out west with your father?"
   She had considered this. As the evening progressed, and the old feelings of romance and hope and possibilities wove a warm cocoon around her, she'd thought, What about going with Papa? She hadn't allowed herself an answer then, and only reluctantly allowed herself an answer now. "I thinkI think I would be all right staying here."
   --The Journey of Josephine Cain, 43
Josephine receives an invitation to join the Union Pacific excursion trains to celebrate reaching the one-hundredth meridian ~ two hundred forty-seven miles west of Omaha. With her mother and aunt declining travel, two others are chosen to accompany her. Lewis and her companion, Mrs. Frieda Schultz, her Papa's cousin and lady's maid to her mother until Josephine's birth. Frieda was completely with her from that day on. It takes a week to arrive in Omaha to board, after train and steamboat adventures taking them further from home ... on toward General Cain as their destination.

Further adventures await.

When a socialite from the nation’s capital embarks on a journey to the Wild West, her life is changed forever.
A setting populated by hundreds of laborers, outlaws, and Indians is hardly the place for a wealthy general’s daughter. But Josephine Cain is determined to visit her father, who supervises the day-to-day work involved in the grandest ambition of post-Civil War America: the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. Life with the railroad is far from the proper life Josephine is used to, and she faces deadly gunfights, harsh weather, and vigilante uprisings. She is torn between the West and the East; between her privileged upbringing and the challenges of a new frontier; between the pull of the suitable beau her parents approve of and an attraction to a rough but charming Irish railroad worker. But if Josephine is willing, she just might find a new life, a unique purpose . . . and true love.

NANCY MOSER is the best-selling author of more than twenty novels. She is a winner and two-time nominee of the Christy Award, and her latest novel was named to Booklist’s “Top 10 Romance Novels of 2011.” Nancy and her husband have three grown children and three grandchildren, and they live in the Midwest.

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group for inviting me to be part of the tour for The Journey of Josephine Cain and for sending me a review copy. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Nancy Moser’s The Journey of Josephine Cain 5 book giveaway! The Journey of Josephine Cain by Nancy Moser follows the adventures of a D.C. socialite as she gets involved with the building of the Transcontinental Railroad right after the Civil War. Be sure to check out Nancy's fun Pinterest board for the book!

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Katie's Forever Promise by Jerry S. Eicher, ©2013

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:

Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2013)

***Special thanks to Ginger Chen for sending me a review copy.***


Jerry Eicher’s bestselling Amish fiction includes The Adams County Trilogy, the Hannah’s Heart books, and the Little Valley Series. After a traditional Amish childhood, Jerry taught for two terms in Amish and Mennonite schools in Ohio and Illinois. Since then he’s been involved in church renewal, preaching, and teaching Bible studies. Jerry lives with his wife, Tina, and their four children in Virginia.

Visit the author's website.

In book 3 of author Jerry Eicher’s Emma Raber’s Daughter series, Katie puts her life together after Ben Stoll's betrayal of her love. When she is baptized into the church, she receives a surprising offer that will keep her close to her Amish community—much to her mother’s delight.

I enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy and have looked forward to this third book. Katie has had to make adjustments all along and choices that will ultimately decide her future path. Will she have the determination to look to the Lord before her own will?
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
   --II Corinthians 12:9
From being alone with her mother, and then becoming part of a blended family, Katie has grown in perspective and hope. As she stays close, her prayers are answered. Reconciliation comes to her family and growth is spurted for the community.

This novel was slower-paced than the previous two, retelling snippets of them. It had merit on its own without so much of the back story. The characters seek restoration and healing when they discover their part in the happenings. Faith is predominant and paramount for problems encountered.
Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
   --Psalm 13:3-4
My favorite parts were when Katie went to her parents for counsel and prayer. They stood behind her and guided her.

Product Details:
Series: Emma Raber's Daughter (Book 3)
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736952551
ISBN-13: 978-0736952552


   Katie Raber sat on the tall, swivel chair with a smile on her face. She was now mistress and queen of this one-room Amish schoolhouse for the term. Her hiring had been reaffirmed this morning by Enos Kuntz himself, the chairman of the school board. Enos had paid her a special visit, leaving with a friendly nod and a quick comment. “I think you’ll do just fine with your new job, Katie. Let us know if you have any problems.”
   Katie swept the top of her teacher’s desk clean with a shaky hand, pausing to replace the small plastic pencil holder she’d knocked over. On the other side of the room, pushed up against the window, sat a table loaded with the year’s supply of schoolbooks. She was a little scared, but she told herself there was nothing to worry about. This world of learning called her, just as she was certain it would also beckon eager young students once school began next week. And then, in less than two months, she would be twenty-one, considered an adult in her Amish community. Her wages would be her own to spend how she chose instead of sharing them with her parents—Mamm and her new husband, Jesse Mast. How blessed Katie felt. It was still hard to comprehend all the changes that had occurred in the last few years.
   Katie stood and looked out the window. Enos was driving away in his buggy, his bearded face still visible through the open door. Calm was flooding over Katie now. There could be only one reason he would take the time to drive all the way over here this morning, the week before school officially begins. And it wasn’t because he harbored any doubts about her teaching abilities. The vote to hire her had been unanimous and given with pleased smiles on the faces of all three school board members.
   No, Enos had stopped by to emphasize his approval one last time. Likely he thought she needed it—this being her first year teaching. But it was more than that. Enos knew the details of her past, as did all the Amish community. And they wished her well as she continued to put her life back together after the awful situation with Ben Stoll. Even now Ben was sitting in jail, serving out the last few days of his sentence.
   Katie had survived that disastrous time because Da Hah had been with her, just as He’d been with Mamm and her after Katie’s daett died. And just as Da Hah had been with the two while Emma Raber raised Katie alone. Katie’s mamm had an awful reputation for a long time. After a love gone wrong in her teen years, a marriage to a man she learned to love, and then being widowed at an early age, Emma had chosen to remain a single mamm, raising her daughter on the land her husband had left her. She’d gone against usual Amish practice by refusing offers of marriage until, by Da Hah’s grace, she’d accepted a marriage proposal by a local farmer named Jesse Mast. That marriage had created a new atmosphere of change and acceptance, and Katie’s reputation had improved along with her mamm’s. After Katie fell in love with Ben and he’d turned out to be involved in the drug trade, part of her acceptance in the community came from how much she was admired for the way she’d handled herself since Ben Stoll’s arrest and imprisonment.
   She’d loved Ben with all of her heart. And he had broken and smashed her trust beyond repair. Now he was no longer part of her life. That had all happened over a year ago, when the news of Ben’s arrest had reached Katie while she was in Europe with her Mennonite friends Margaret Kargel, Sharon Watson, and Nancy Keim. Only Da Hah’s healing touch a few days later had kept her from spending years in bitterness and sorrow. The miracle had happened the morning they’d gone up in a cable car high in the Alps to Schilthorn, where she’d seen the mighty works of Da Hah’s hands displayed in the mountain range around her. The tears had flowed freely that morning, washing the deepest pain from her heart. Afterward, she’d returned home and continued mourning her loss for a time, but without the crushing hopelessness that had first gripped her heart. Then last fall she’d made application to join the instruction class to officially join the Amish church, and this spring the wunderbah day had arrived. She’d been baptized by Bishop Jonas Miller himself! She was now a member of the church.
   If anyone had entertained doubts about her, they’d been answered in how Katie had lived her life the past year. She still stayed in touch with her Mennonite friends Margaret and Sharon, but she saw them infrequently. The invitation to Margaret’s wedding had arrived in the mail yesterday, and Katie would certainly attend. Beyond that, Sharon and Margaret understood that Katie had made the best choice for her—to stay within the Amish faith. And it was, Katie told herself. Her heart was settled on the matter. The Amish were her people, and this was her home. She’d seen the land of the church fathers in Switzerland, and now she’d chosen this faith for herself. This community in Delaware was the place where her heart could rest for whatever time Da Hah had for her on this earth.
   Enos’s buggy was already a black speck just before disappearing around the curve in the road. In addition to his interest in her success in the classroom, there was the suspicion on Katie’s part that Enos had hopes she would be his next daughter-in-law. She could tell by the light that sprang up in his eyes when he spoke to her of his son Norman.
   Norman Kuntz, though, wasn’t like his daett at all. He was shy and withdrawn for the most part. The boy was handsome enough and came from an excellent family, so he ought to bubble with confidence, but he didn’t. So far he’d lacked the courage to take Katie home from the Sunday-night hymn singing—although he did spend considerable time stealing glances at her in the meetings. He’d mustered up enough courage lately to send a few tentative smiles her way.
   There was nothing in Norman that set Katie’s heart pounding so far. Not like Ben Stoll had done. That had been another matter entirely. But Katie knew she shouldn’t be comparing Norman with Ben. Her life had changed for the better now, and she wasn’t going back to the past. Ben had been a terrible misjudgment, and she didn’t plan to repeat the error.
   This time whoever the man was who drove her home, Katie wanted Mamm’s full support. And hopefully Jesse’s too, although he’d mostly care about whether the young man was a gut church member and knew how to work hard. Norman met both of those standards quite well. It helped, of course, that he would be a gut provider for his family, but that paled in comparison to the really important matter to Katie. Her main concern was that Norman would never do what Ben had done—break her heart.
   Katie sighed, pushing the dark thoughts aside. Things were coming together well for her. This offer of a teaching job had been another blessing from Da Hah. One of the many she’d been given since Ben’s betrayal.
   Katie sighed again, allowing her mind to wander into the past. For years she’d dreamed of capturing Ben Stoll’s attention. Mamm had warned her that such handsome boys were above her, and she shouldn’t dream that way. And that was long before Ben even knew Katie existed. But Mamm had been drawing from her own experience of rejection, and the young man she’d loved had never even asked her home. So Katie had rejected Mamm’s counsel and hadn’t drawn back when Ben finally noticed her at a Mennonite Youth Gathering. She’d ridden in Ben’s buggy and held his hand. They’d even kissed—often and with great joy. How could she have been so wrong about him? Katie pondered the question and managed a faint smile. Even in this situation she could be thankful. The pain of that question no longer stung as much. She’d given the pain and hard questions over to Da Hah. He knew the answers, and He would forgive her where she’d been wrong.
   Now she was being given a wunderbah opportunity by the community. They were entrusting her with the care of their children for a whole school year. This honor had been held by Ruth Troyer for the past few years. After chasing Jesse Mast before he’d married Katie’s mamm, Ruth had finally found a man who asked to wed her—Albert Gingerich. He was an older farmer in the community whose wife had passed away last year.
   Ruth had stepped down from consideration as a teacher this summer in preparation for her wedding, although she probably hadn’t imagined in her wildest dreams that Katie Raber would be offered her job. Ruth might have hung on for another year if she’d known that. After all, she’d been rebuffed by Jesse in favor of Katie’s mamm, Emma Raber, and the sting of the rejection and community talk surely still rankled in Ruth’s mind.
   Katie smiled at the memory of Mamm and Jesse’s courtship. The two widows—Emma and Ruth—had faced each other down, and Mamm had won! The strange thing was that Mamm hadn’t put up much of a fight—at least not out in the open. But maybe that was the allure that drew Jesse in. Katie decided she needed to allow that Mamm had more wisdom than she let on at times. Ruth had had all of Jesse’s children on her side at first, and she put her best moves on Jesse by baking the pecan pies he loved. Mamm, on the other hand, had turned down Jesse’s advances the first few times he came calling, which seemed to make him all the more determined. And when she finally came around, Emma offered nothing but herself. In the end, all of Jesse’s children except Mabel, the eldest, had come over to Mamm’s side.
   Mabel hadn’t been the easiest person to live with after the wedding, but since Katie’s return from Europe they were on decent terms. Mabel’s heart had been softened last year by seeing the great heartache Ben’s betrayal had caused Katie.
   A rattle of buggy wheels in the schoolyard interrupted her thoughts. Katie walked to the window again. She gasped as Ruth Troyer climbed out of her buggy. What did she want? Had she forgotten some of her personal possessions? If so, she could have come in the evening after I’d gone home, Katie thought. But, there was no sense avoiding Ruth, so she might as well put on a brave front.
   Gut morning,” Ruth said with a forced smile when Katie opened the door.
   Gut morning,” Katie replied as she held the door and invited Ruth in.
   “I thought I might catch you here this morning.”
   Yah,” Katie managed to get out, her smile gone now. “There’s much to do before school starts.”
   Ruth pushed past her and bustled inside. “I thought I’d drive over in case you might want some advice, seeing this is your first term and all. And remember, I did teach here for three years so I know many of the students and the material. If you have any questions, I’d be glad to answer them.”
   Katie swallowed hard. “Did the school board send you?”
   Ruth laughed. “Nee, I’m here on my own. Don’t tell me you’re too high and mighty to accept help? Just because you’re a schoolteacher now doesn’t mean we don’t all remember where you came from, Katie Raber. After all, that man of yours is still sitting in jail.”
   “I have no connection with Ben Stoll anymore,” Katie countered. “I haven’t seen him since before he was arrested.”
   “Well, that doesn’t matter now.” Ruth breezed around the room, speaking over her shoulder. “I guess we all make our mistakes. But I, for one, would have seen that one coming. And I suspect your mamm did, but she was too busy stealing Jesse from me to warn you.”
   Katie turned and watched Ruth. This was after all her schoolhouse now, and she’d better act like it was. Katie kept her voice even. “Mamm did have reservations about Ben—just to set the record straight. And she didn’t steal Jesse from you. Jesse made up his own mind.”
   Ruth turned around. “Things do turn out for the best now, don’t they? Thank Da Hah Jesse didn’t decide on me. Then I never would have been available for Albert’s proposal. Did you know he farms more than 100 acres northwest of Dover? Some of the best black soil in the area. It’s worth a fortune. He’ll have a mighty gut heritage to hand down to his children.”
   Katie forced a smile. “I’m glad for you, Ruth. And Mamm has fallen deeply in love with Jesse, so everything did turn out for the best.”
   “It always does.” Ruth glared at Katie. “And I guess you know gut and well why you got this job. Enos is expecting quite a lot out of his investment, if you ask me.”
   “I don’t expect you know what you’re speaking of,” Katie said. She tried to still her pounding heart. How this woman could get under her skin! Enos might hope she’d date his son, but he hadn’t made any requirement or suggestion for her to do so while hiring her.
   Ruth laughed. “I don’t think you’re that blind, Katie. Enos is a man of high standards. And your past hasn’t gone away, believe me. He’s just overlooking it right now. But if you turn down the advances of his youngest son, I doubt if things will stay that way for long.”
   Katie almost sputtered a denial, but she pressed her lips together instead. Nothing would persuade Ruth’s mind. Not once she’d made it up. And there likely was some truth to the woman’s statements.
   Ruth smiled, apparently taking Katie’s silence as victory. “Let me show you the books then, and I’ll get out of here. I have a ton of things that need doing for the wedding preparations, but I told myself this morning that I owe you at least one visit since I was the former teacher. I’m aware you know nothing about teaching. I do hate to see you thrown into this situation and making a total mess out of it—to say nothing about all the decent learning from the past few years that could be lost. Let’s look at the books for this term.”
   Katie walked toward the table by the window. Two of the books had fallen to the floor while she’d been going through them, but she hadn’t noticed until Ruth’s criticizing presence entered the room.
   Ruth marched over and bent down to pick up the books. “This is no way to treat new books! I always told myself, if I don’t respect the school’s property, how can I expect ‘my’ children to? Because they do, after all, learn more by example than by any lecture. But how would you know such a thing? Your mamm probably never taught you much.”
   Katie choked back her response. Ruth was trying to goad her into saying something she might regret. And Enos had just been here, and he’d said nothing about books lying on the floor. Everyone knew such things happened during unpacking. But Katie knew Ruth would only see more of Enos’s scheming and favor in his silence, so she might as well keep quiet about that too.
   Ruth’s voice continued in lecture mode. “These are your first-grade reading books, Katie. Be sure to spend plenty of time with that age group. The children need to learn quickly because everything else is at a standstill until they learn how to read.”
  Katie nodded, forcing herself to listen. Ruth was telling her some gut things, and she did have much to learn. She even managed to keep a smile on her face as the former teacher droned on far longer than Katie had hoped. Over an hour later, Katie was more than ready to see Ruth leave. She summoned up her best manners as Ruth finally prepared to go. “Thank you for your time, Ruth. I do appreciate it.”
   “It’s gut that you can listen,” Ruth remarked. “I guess your mamm taught you something after all. Now, will you come out and hold my horse for me? He gets a little skittish when I take off. Albert promised me a decent horse when I move into his house after the wedding. Now that’s a decent man, if you ask me.”
   Katie held her tongue as she walked outside. She held the bridle of Ruth’s horse as the former teacher climbed inside the buggy.
   “I hope you remember everything I told you,” Ruth said as she took off with a slap of the reins.
   Grinding her teeth, Katie watched Ruth go. That woman was the limit and then some. But Ruth was also a creature Da Hah had made, and her elder besides. And the woman had given her some useful advice.