Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Blessings of Friendship Treasury by Mary Engelbreit, © 2014

This beautiful book by Mary Engelbreit will endear you and your children to it. With the many festive drawings within, your little ones will want to search for the bunny again, and find all the delightful characters. I am reminded of "A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You" by Joan Walsh Anglund and Tomie dePaoli's stories ~ books without words. Each of Mary Engelbreit's drawings capture a story your child can tell you by looking at the activities in the picture. But, indeed ... there are words. Beautiful poems, quotes, and Scriptures are threaded through The Blessings of Friendship Treasury.

One page I especially love, two little girls are having a tea party outdoors. One girl is handing the other girl a double-portion slice of cake. The girl says, "FOR ME??!!" On the other girl's plate is a tiny sliver piece of cake. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I love the borders she puts around her drawings.

Another has three little boys in their apple tree lookout with two little girls peeking up from below ~ "We have been friends together in sunshine and in shade." --Caroline Norton quote

The Blessings of Friendship Treasury, created by New York Times bestselling author and artist Mary Engelbreit, is a playful and poignant treasury of poetry, Bible verses, and quotes that celebrate the joy of friendship. Children will learn from timeless sayings and poems what it means to be a friend - helping, encouraging, listening, sharing with, and loving one another. Colorful and whimsical illustrations bring these words to life, as children learn the value of friendship. Verses from the Bible give us instruction on putting others above ourselves, loving each other, and being kind to one another. This book will make you smile with each turn of the page, remembering old friends and new friends alike.

Mary EngelbreitMary Engelbreit grew up studying the illustrations in the vintage storybooks of her mother’s own childhood, and she developed a unique style that harkens back to those simpler times. Mary’s distinctive images have made her a celebrity to millions, who eagerly snap up gift items, calendars, books, fabrics, and more. Mary’s dearest wish has always been to illustrate for children. Her New York Times bestselling The Night Before Christmas is already part of the holiday tradition for families across the country.

What medium do you use to create your art?
I use mostly colored markers. Before that, I did only black-and-white drawings because I was terrified I would ruin them if I used color. I moved on to colored pencils, and then I discovered markers. I'd do pen-and-ink outlines, follow that with markers, and then colored pencils to shade and highlight. Now I use colored pencils to completely color over the markers, which preserves the markers. Everybody thinks it's paint, but I actually can't paint, though someday I'd like to learn.

This will be a keepsake book your whole family will enjoy.

***Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for the offer of Mary Engelbreit's delightful The Blessings of Friendship Treasury to review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Prelude for a Lord by Camille Elliot, © 2014

Banished from the only home she has known, will her title be stripped from her too? Lady Alethea Sutherton is removed from Trittonstone Park, Somerset, England, by the new Earl of Trittonstone, her cousin whom has taken the title following the death of her father and brother. Displaced. Given a week to pack her lifetime of memories and few belongings that are truly hers, Alethea (al-EE-thea) readies for her move to her Aunt Ebena Garen's residence in the city, far from her country home.

Bath, England 1810
It is early morning. Alethea is returning from the market way before the fashionable hour of elites stroll the streets and parks. What a morning it is turning out to be. First, catching eyes of a remembered occupant of a carriage reminding her of her beloved music; stopped on the street by a man quite aware she has a violin his employer would like to possess, and then... arriving at Aunt Ebena's, her young cousin by marriage is in attendance. Upon their first meeting, Alethea is uncertain of Miss Margaret Garen as she is idly sitting by enduring the transfer from her Aunt Nancy to Aunt Ebena. An interesting day, at best.

The introductions are done very well, and I am appreciative of the overview of the primary characters in the front of the novel. Alethea is gifted in the violin and looked down upon by society for her lack of interest in the pianoforte and harp, which she also plays, but prefers her violin bequeathed to her by her beloved mother figure, a childhood Italian neighbor. The occupants of the carriage are three of a Quartet highly musically sought and admired before war took them apart.

Prelude for a Lord shares a story of heartfelt character qualities of Bayard Terralton (Baron Dommick) and Lady Alethea Sutherton in the care and protection of his sister, Clare, and her sister, Lucy. This endeared me to them. Also, that both had been shunned and gossiped about at soirees. By lowering their esteem, those speaking lower theirs instead. The love of countryside and music is enhanced between them. I liked how Bayard's friends are so supportive of him. A Regency Era novel of inner thoughts that far outweigh the turbulence without. Very well-written and I am looking forward to other writings from this author.

Back Cover:
An awkward young woman. A haunted young man. A forbidden instrument. Can the love of music bring them together . . . or will it tear them apart? ~* Bath, England – 1810 *~ At twenty-eight, Alethea Sutherton is past her prime for courtship; but social mores have never been her forté. She might be a lady, but she is first and foremost a musician. In Regency England, however, the violin is considered an inappropriate instrument for a lady. Ostracized by society for her passion, Alethea practices in secret and waits for her chance to flee to the Continent, where she can play without scandal. But when a thief’s interest in her violin endangers her and her family, Alethea is determined to discover the enigmatic origins of her instrument . . . with the help of the dark, brooding Lord Dommick. Scarred by war, Dommick finds solace only in playing his violin. He is persuaded to help Alethea, and discovers an entirely new yearning in his soul. Alethea finds her reluctant heart drawn to Dommick in the sweetest of duets . . . just as the thief’s desperation builds to a tragic crescendo . . .


Camy Tang writes romantic suspense under her real name and Regency romance under her pen name, Camille Elliot. Her first Regency, Prelude for a Lord, releases August 5, 2014. She is a staff worker for her church youth group and leads one of the Sunday worship teams. Visit her website at to read free short stories and subscribe to her quarterly newsletter.

***Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for Camille Elliot's Prelude for a Lord historical novel to review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Grand Design by Amber Stockton, © 2014 ~ A Quilts of Love story

author Amber Stockton
Alyssa Denham's best friend, Libby Duncan, instigates her entering a contest in Bride magazine. The destination of the all-expense-paid-trip for two is to Mackinac Island. Alyssa wins. Inviting Libby to come along with her, they leave Grand Rapids for a 14-day excursion to quietness, or... so it seems. Alyssa has history with the island. She and her father visited her grandmother there every summer until her early teen years. Libby enjoyed memories shared of Alyssa's summers and is excited to go with her. Alyssa is not so joyful to return to a past left behind. She calls her grandmother and is warmly welcomed. They are invited to join in a project her grandmother would like to complete ~ gathering quilt blocks from each lady who was once part of her quilting circle to form a special quilt. There is more to the outcome as requests are asked to be passed on for her grandmother to renew friendships.

Grandmother Edith has more in mind, it seems. She has hired her favorite young carriage driver, Scott Whitman, to escort Alyssa and Libby for these excursions to island cottages beyond tourist locations.

I liked this story in the Quilts of Love series. It was beyond being tourists and visiting a celebrated location, but rather a reacquainting of family from a different perspective. Both older and reflective, Alyssa and her grandmother are able to be open with each other and receptive for a future. As her friend, Libby, is more outgoing and there for a vacation, Alyssa is able to meet her past and move forward. This was an important turning point for her life. Because of the respect and relationship her grandmother had with other islanders, Alyssa, in turn, was remembered by those she visited to collect the quilt blocks. It brought a good remembrance of her youth and meeting those who knew her family. I would be interested in a second book by this author, picking up where this one leaves off.
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been writing stories since childhood. She is an award-winning author, a speaker, and a director with a relationship marketing company. She and her husband, author Stuart Vaughn Stockton, live in Colorado. They have a daughter and son, and their dog, Roxie. Author Amber Stockton website.

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for Amber Stockton's novel ~ A Grand Design. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy an excerpt of Chapter One and a bonus from Amber Stockton's A Grand Design ~

Quilts of Love Series
A Grand Design
Amber Stockton

“I hate the month of June!”
   Alyssa Denham shouldered her way through the revolving door to her office building and onto the concrete sidewalk, her arms laden with bridal shower grab-bag gifts. She should have tossed most of the stuff, or found an unsuspecting coworker and bestowed the gifts on her as a random act of kindness. Three office bridal showers in the first three weeks of April. It had to be a record. The predictable wedding invitations arrive in her inbox, and she still didn’t have a date for the events. Some of it was her fault. It shouldn’t bother her, but it did.
   I don’t have a date, period.
   Every year for the past five years, whenever a wedding occurred for someone she knew, it happened in June. And this year was no different. If June was her least favorite month, then April followed as a close second. As Alyssa stepped out from under the overhang, the light drizzle falling most of the day changed to a steady rain.
   “Perfect,” she muttered, looking up and down the street for a taxi to the train station. She usually walked, but the gift bags and little wrapped items she carried made the idea impossible. The six blocks would feel more like sixty.
   Alyssa straightened when she saw a yellow cab round the corner. She stepped forward and tried to free one arm to signal it. When the driver maneuvered toward the curb, relief coursed through her. Just as she reached for the door handle, a Tom Cruise look-alike in a dark gray tailored suit stepped in front of her. He opened the door and held it for a young blonde who could easily pass for a magazine model.
   Recognizing the girl as the latest bride-to-be from her office, Alyssa rolled her eyes and sighed. The pretty girls always get the guys—and the cabs. So what if the girl was also in a jam. The young woman and her fiancé might be late for dinner reservations, but Alyssa had an armful of packages—thanks to the two who had just stolen her ride. The cab pulled away from the curb and the rear wheels sent a spray of water in her direction.
   Her favorite cream slacks now sporting a dirty rainwater splatter, Alyssa headed for the corner to catch the city bus. It arrived just as she reached the stop. Balancing her bags on one arm, she managed to withdraw enough loose change from the purse dangling on her arm for the fare, then turned to find a seat. Sandwiched between a woman in a black business suit and stiletto heels with a cell phone pressed to her ear and a fifty-something gentleman with a rounded middle and gray-speckled hair, Alyssa couldn’t wait to get home.
   If you don’t do something besides work and stay at home, you’ll never meet Mr. Right. Live a little, Alyssa!
   The admonishment from her best friend floated through her mind as she surveyed the other riders. From the shabbily-dressed, college-age crowd to the handful of silver-haired men headed for retirement, there wasn’t a prospect in the bunch—unless she counted the Don Juan type with the slicked back hair and gold-capped smile who eyed her from across the aisle. At only twenty-nine, she wasn’t that desperate yet.
   Well, Lord, I would live a little. But on my salary, this is about as social as it gets.
   Thankfully, the ride to the train station wasn’t long, and Alyssa stepped off the bus. Grateful to be under shelter, she smiled and thanked the man who held the door for her and headed inside to catch her train.
   Forty minutes later, she walked through the door to her comfortable two-bedroom apartment. She deposited her armload onto the maple dining room table her grandmother had given her and breathed a sigh of relief. Alyssa flipped through the stack of mail. Nothing but bills and advertisements. She sighed. The usual. Suddenly, a bold word on the front of one envelope caught her attention.
   Alyssa stared at the return address. Oh, no! How in the world had this happened? She’d entered the magazine contest on a dare. And now, she’d won? She’d never won anything before in her life. Was this God’s answer to her current solitary life, or was He pulling her leg? Alyssa smiled. It had to be a God-thing.
   But why this? And why Mackinac Island of all places?
   Curious, Alyssa slit the envelope and pulled out the full-color, tri-fold brochure along with a letter. She kicked off her pumps, padded over to her favorite burgundy recliner, and extended the footrest. The one lone accent piece in her otherwise neutral décor. Settled into the cozy comfort of the soft velour, Alyssa scanned the enticing images and well-written descriptions. Just the way the mind of her youth remembered it. As if nothing had changed in all these years. The image of a lighthouse and a few seagulls reminded her of her father and the walks they used to take along the beach. Speculating on the types of people who had walked the beach leaving prints behind had been a favorite pastime for both of them.
   Every written description in the brochure promised an unforgettable time. And each picture included a happy couple enjoying the boating activities, horseback riding, rafting, and tennis, not to mention the horse-drawn carriage rides and scrumptious dinner selections. She’d done it all at one point many years ago. Advertising the island as a romantic getaway made sense. But it didn’t make her current status any easier to swallow.
   Couples, couples, couples! Didn’t singles go anywhere anymore? Just once she’d like to see a vacation spot showing someone having a grand old time alone. But as she unfolded the brochure, each new page revealed another toothy twosome, caught up in euphoric delight. And she was a “onesome”—an unsmiling “onesome” at that. Blotting out the images of the couples, she focused on the swimming, boating, and nature walks—things she loved to do and hadn’t done since she was a kid. And she hadn’t taken her vacation yet this year. Why not throw out the romance and do a getaway for one?
   But just the thought of going alone dampened her excitement. She’d played the odd-woman-out too many times. Not her idea of fun. She stared at the word two in the letter as if it were a death sentence. Two. Then, a flash of enlightenment tugged at the corners of her mouth. Not a couple. Just two.
   Alyssa snapped the recliner into its upright position and reached for the phone on the end table next to the chair. After dialing, she waited for her best friend to pick up. One . . . two . . .
   Alyssa straightened as the third ring stopped midway through and planted her feet on the carpeted floor. “Libby, you’ll never guess what’s happened.”
   “What?” Libby’s excitement transcended the distance between them.
   “Remember the contest the girls dared me to enter in the latest Bride magazine?” Alyssa twirled the phone cord around her fingers and leaned back. “The one promising a chance to win an all-expense paid trip for two and touted it as a ‘honeymoon in heaven’?”
   “How could I forget? You almost wouldn’t complete the thing,” Libby complained. “And I had to dare you to mail it.” Her friend’s breath hitched. “Wait, don’t tell me.”
   “Yep. I have the notification right here in my hand.” Alyssa held the phone away to avoid being deafened by Libby’s shriek. “There’s only one snag,” she said when it was safe. Tucking a strand of her cinnamon-colored hair behind her ear, she pivoted and propped her feet on the edge of the end table. “The getaway is for two.”
   “Now you listen to me, Alyssa Denham . . .” Libby predictably launched into attack mode. “This is not a problem. We’ll figure something out. I mean, you are always looking for some excuse to get out of changing your dull routine. If you can find any reason whatsoever not to do something, you will use it. This is just the kind of thing—”
   “I want you to come with me,” Alyssa interrupted, grinning.
   “—you do all the time. And frankly, I’m . . .” Silence filled the line, followed by an incredulous, “What?”
   Alyssa smiled. “I said I’m going, and I want you to go with me.”
   “Alright. Who are you? And what have you done with my best friend? Alyssa would not agree to do something like this so easily.”
   Alyssa laughed. “It’s me, Libby.”
   “Well, you sure don’t sound like the Alyssa I know and love. She would die before she’d make up her mind this quickly. I mean, this is the girl who waited a year before getting her hair cut in the latest style. She got her ears pierced ten years after all her friends did. And she waits until styles go out of season before she decides she likes them enough to buy them. So this can’t be Alyssa.”
   Alyssa crossed her ankles and picked imaginary lint off her cable-knit sweater. “Well, God and I had a little chat about my life on the bus ride home. And when I walked in the door, this letter was waiting. Seemed like a quick answer to me, so I decided to go.” Glancing back at the brochure on her lap, Alyssa sighed. “Just maybe, that friend you know is changing. Maybe she’s looking for a little excitement in her life.”
   “Wow. I always said it would take an act of God to get you to break out of the rut you call a life, but who knew He’d take me seriously.”
   Alyssa shook her head. Leave it to Libby to be sarcastic. They’d been best friends for almost twenty years. Libby’s rather boisterous style and brand of wit is what attracted Alyssa. Inwardly, she hoped some of it would rub off on her.
   “Come on, Libby. Cut me some slack here. You’re the one who’s always telling me to live a little. So are you in or out? Answer quickly before I have time to talk myself out of it.”
   “In,” Libby exclaimed. “Just bear with me. I’m still in shock.” She paused and took a breath. “And it’s free? No catches, no time-share spiels to listen to?”
   Alyssa picked up the letter of confirmation, reading it again, barely believing it herself. “It says so right here. And I have the letter to prove it.” She reclined the chair back and stared at the stucco finish on the ceiling, the white speckled design resembling the intricate patterns on the sand-washed rocks she had on the shelf in her bathroom. Another reminder of the life she’d lived as a child.
   “You seriously want me to come along?”
   “Well, who else would I take? I don’t exactly have a long line of suitors waiting at my door.”
   Libby’s grin came through the phone line. “No, I mean wouldn’t you want to take this trip alone? You never know. Mr. Right could be waiting for you. Speaking of which, where is this place?”
   “Mackinac Island in Lake Huron.” Alyssa examined the brochure again. “There’s even something here about it being named ‘Turtle Island’ by the local Chippewa Indians who discovered it.”
   “Turtle Island?” Incredulity laced Libby’s words.
   Alyssa shrugged. “Hey, I don’t write the descriptions.” She read further. “Anyway, the brochure says it’s a great getaway with lots to do and the perfect place for some excitement.” Raising one eyebrow, she pursed her lips. “Somehow, I think the ‘excitement’ they promise has more to do with their billing this island as a romantic getaway than the kind of adventure you and I could have.”
   “Do tell.”
   “There’s boating, horseback riding, cycling, parasailing—”
   “Parasailing?” Libby latched onto the word. “I can see it now. A skimpy little number with a drop-dead gorgeous instructor standing behind me as I fumble with the sail and play the dimwitted damsel who can’t tell which end is up.”
   Alyssa laughed and shook her head. Her friend’s flare for the extreme is what made their friendship work. “And what if the instructor’s a woman?”
   “Then I’ll give her to you while I scout out the Baywatch guy.”
   “Gee, thanks. Some friend you are.”
   “You know you love me.”
   “Only the Lord knows why.” But Alyssa did know.
   Life was an adventure to Libby, and she wanted her best friend to take part in it. Libby usually managed to pull her from her staid and simple existence to create memories far exceeding her wildest imagination.
   “So other than the obvious, tell me a little more about this place.”
   A big ball of fur jumped up into Alyssa’s lap. She waited for Kalani to find a comfortable position, then stroked the dark gray Persian’s ears, earning a rumbling purr in response. “The brochure says the main hotel was built around the turn of the century, and they don’t allow cars on the island.”
   “No cars? How do you get around?”
   “Bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, and your own two legs.”
   “Sounds like your kind of place. No modern conveniences.” Sarcasm dripped from Libby’s words. “Wonder if they have indoor plumbing.”
   Alyssa planted her fist on one hip, startling Kalani. “I appreciate my modernized lifestyle, thank you very much.” She gently coaxed the cat to relax. “But, I admit, a part of me would like to get a feel for a bygone era.”
   “Looks like you’ll get your chance.” Libby made a sound like snapping her fingers. “Hey, wait a second. Doesn’t your grandmother live on the island? And isn’t it the same island where you used to spend all your summers as a kid?”
   “I was wondering if you’d actually remember.”
   “As if I could forget. It was all you used to talk about when we first met. I always wished I could go with you just once.”
   “Well, it looks like you’ll get your wish,” Alyssa replied, throwing her friend’s words back at her.
   “Guess so.” She paused. “It’s been a while for you, hasn’t it?” came the soft words.
   Libby knew all about what had happened—all except for the real reason Alyssa hadn’t returned.
   Though her friend couldn’t see her, Alyssa nodded. “Nearly fifteen years.” Even now, moisture gathered in her eyes. She blinked several times and looked toward the ceiling. No. She wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t. She couldn’t. It would spoil the elation she should be feeling.
   “It’s been a long time.”
   “Yes.” Alyssa snatched a tissue from the box next to her and held it to the corners of her eyes. “In some ways, it feels like yesterday. In others, like forever.”
   “Well, experiences and memories don’t just go away. You and your dad had a lot of fun there for many years.”
   Alyssa sniffed. “And then Dad got sick, and well, somehow the joys of going didn’t hold as much enticement anymore.”
   “Because your mom never cared much for the island. Though I’m not sure why.”
   “Like you, she preferred the more modern conveniences and easy access to an abundance of stores, outlets, and entertainment options.” Alyssa shrugged. “The island just didn’t suit her as well as it did Dad and me.”
   “Probably the lack of cars,” Libby intoned. “Still, I think it’s been far too long for you, and it’s high time you returned. Guess God had the same idea.”
   Obviously He did. “Well, we’ve talked about taking a vacation together. And you said you had two weeks coming to you. I can take off as well. It’s the perfect opportunity.”
   “When are we supposed to fly off to our land of adventure?”
   Alyssa reached for the letter and scanned the page. “Umm, July seventh.” She kicked her feet against the table and swung the chair around, squinting to see the calendar on the wall behind her desk in the corner. “It’s a Monday.”
   Libby rustled some paper. “It gives us a little more than two months to plan. We can have an amazing two weeks, stop in and visit your grandmother, and get into all sorts of trouble. I can’t believe this is happening.”
   “Me, either.” Alyssa was almost tempted to pinch herself. She’d wanted a change for a while. This was just the opportunity to help her make it. And it followed all those weddings she’d been invited to attend. After being present to witness three more women she knew being joined in eternal wedded bliss, she’d need a vacation. Winning this trip sealed the deal. “We’ll have a blast, whether Prince Charming is there or not.”
   “You’re on, girlfriend,” Libby chimed in, obviously infected by Alyssa’s enthusiasm. “Mackinac Island, here we come!
   Well, almost. Alyssa had another phone call to make.

* * * * *

   “Oh, Alyssa dear, are you really coming back to our island?”
   “Yes, Grandma, I am.”
   “Praise be to Jesus. My little girl is coming home.” Her sniffle was like a knife in Alyssa’s gut. “Oh, how I have prayed and prayed for this day to come. I’d almost given up hoping you’d ever return, dear.”
   “I know, Grandma, and I’m sorry.” She shouldn’t have stayed away so long. But the days had become weeks, and the weeks had become months, and the months had become years, and before she knew it, fifteen years had passed. “I should have made more of an effort to come see you. What with school, and my summer jobs, and planning for college, then a career, it’s hard to imagine it’s been as long as it has.”
   “Child, there is no need to apologize, though I certainly do forgive you. Your mama needed you after my Richard passed away. It isn’t easy losing your soul mate, the love of your life.”
   Grandma knew it all too well, even if Alyssa could only imagine. First, Grandpa, and then five years later, Dad. And Alyssa had stopped her annual visits, only keeping in touch through cards or the occasional phone call.
   “No.” Alyssa sighed. “But it wasn’t fair to you to be left all alone up there. I mean it wasn’t just us. You lost Dad, too.”
   “Oh, child, I’m never alone on this little island. You should know that. I’ve lived here all my life and made a lot of friends over the years.” The faint sound of Wheel of Fortune came through the phone. One of Grandma’s favorite TV programs. Hers, too. “Then, there are all the tourists. Some of them provide a great deal of entertainment for me, and I only have to watch or listen to them for ten minutes or so. Now, you stop the line of thought leading you down a path of guilt right this instant, young lady.”
   Alyssa could almost see Grandma wagging a finger in her direction. She straightened, as if Grandma could see her and would tell her to stop slouching in the next breath. “Yes, ma’am,” she replied.
   “I am doing just fine, I assure you, my dear.” Her voice held all the conviction needed to make Alyssa believe it. “But to tell you the truth, your call and announcement couldn’t have come at a better time.”
   “Oh?” Just how orchestrated was this trip? “What’s happening?”
   “Tell me again, how long is this little vacation going to be?”
   “Two weeks,” Alyssa replied. “Why?”
   “And dear Libby is going to be joining you?”
   “Yes.” She sighed. “Grandma, what’s all this about?”
   “I have a little project for you while you’re here.”
   “A project?” It sounded ominous. Even though Grandma couldn’t see her, she narrowed her eyes and scrunched up her brows. “What kind of project?”
   “Oh, just a little something to keep you busy in the midst of all the parasailing, horseback riding, and boating I know you just love to do.”
   Yeah, right. Alyssa loved all of the adrenaline-inducing activity most of the tourists sought out as much as she loved the thought of going to three weddings as a solo act. Libby might live for it, but not her. Not in this lifetime. “Now, Grandma, you know me better than that.”
   “Yes, child, I do. And it’s why I know you’ll be excited to learn of a little something I’ve been meaning to do for over a year now, but I simply haven’t had the opportunity, or the ability.”
   Why was Grandma being so mysterious? Why not just come right out and say what she wanted Alyssa to do? It’s not like she’d have any say in the matter, not where Grandma was concerned. As sweet as she was, Grandma usually managed to persuade everyone to do her bidding and make them think it was their idea in the first place.
   “And I suppose Libby and I coming will now give you the opportunity?”
   “Yes, dear, it will. You see, I’ve started a special quilt. One to unite the decades and bring together many different families. But I can’t do it alone. It’s going to take you and Libby helping me to make it work.”
   A quilt? Alyssa swallowed. As in pieces of fabric sewn together in some semblance of a pattern? Her throat constricted. She didn’t know anything about quilting. She could barely sew on a button, much less attempt to make something as big as a quilt actually look good.
   “Um, Grandma?” She swallowed again. “Are you certain you want me helping with this? I mean, are you sure I won’t ruin whatever work you’ve already begun?”
   “Oh, pish-posh, Alyssa dear.” She could just see Grandma’s hand waving off her concerns. “I know your skill set doesn’t exactly involve the fine art of sewing. You leave that part to me.” A chuckle. “Though I can’t promise I won’t attempt to teach you a little while you’re here.” The background sounds of the TV muted. “No, what I have in mind for you and Libby is to help me collect the various blocks to make up the larger quilt. My old body doesn’t get around as easy as it once did, and your strong legs will take you all around the island.”
   “So, we’re going to be collecting quilt blocks from other people?”
   “Yes. From each lady who was once part of my quilting circle. I’ve lost touch with two or three of them, so reaching them might not be so easy. And two have since passed on, but their daughters or sons still live here on the island.”
   Oh, Libby was going to love this. It had adventure and challenge written all over it. Just the sort of thing to make Libby’s day.
   “You met most of them when you were a girl,” Grandma continued. “So, I’m sure it won’t take up much of your time. But it will mean a great deal to me to have your help.”
   “Of course, Grandma. You can count on Libby and me. We’d be glad to help you.”
   What sounded like a hand slapping a table came through the phone. “Splendid! I shall begin preparing the list of ladies’ names and addresses to the best of my knowledge, and it will be ready when you arrive.” She paused. “And Alyssa, dear?”
   “Yes, Grandma?”
   “I’m pleased to know you’re coming for a visit, more so than seeing this project finished. You know I do, don’t you, dear?”
   “Of course, Grandma.” How could she doubt her?
   “Very good. We shall be seeing each other soon. Between now and then, you make sure you pack your prettiest clothes and get a fresh haircut. There are quite a few handsome gentlemen on this island, and you never know who you might meet.”
   Alyssa rolled her eyes. First Libby, and now her grandmother. Was everyone going to try to pair her up? Libby and Grandma were both single, too. Besides, she wasn’t taking this vacation to meet men. Not even to meet one man. Now, she just had to convince everyone else of it.

Bonus ~

   “Lys, can you believe it? We’re actually here!” Libby spun in a circle, her arms outstretched. When she stumbled over her own makeup case, Alyssa laughed.
   “Well, we’re not there yet. We still have to cross part of the lake.” She pointed to where a lone motorboat sped toward them, the white-capped spray behind it diminishing as the boat drew closer to the dock. From what she could see, the name and logo for the Grand Hotel sparkled in pristine, bold colors on the side of the craft. “And it looks like our transportation is just arriving.”
   Libby shielded her eyes with one hand and looked across the water. “Mmm, and what a welcome wagon it is!” She fluffed her wavy, blonde hair and reached into her designer handbag for her ever-present favorite shade of lipstick, deftly swiping the glossy blend across her lips and stashing the tube in one fluid motion.
   Alyssa reached into her own functional purse for her colored lip gloss and did the same. Somehow, Libby gave the mundane action much more flair. After slipping her stick into the designated zippered compartment and clicking closed the faulty snap of her purse, Alyssa brushed her layered hair away from her face and looked up. Two bronzed men in pressed khaki shorts and polo shirts with the hotel and island logos emblazoned on the front disembarked from the motorboat. The lead man immediately made a beeline in Libby’s direction. Alyssa sighed as the man offered his arm to Libby and flashed his pearly whites. Typical. Libby always got the attention and the men first.
   “Now, this is what I call service with a smile!” Libby glanced back at Alyssa and tossed her a saucy grin, then focused again on her escort.
   Alyssa chuckled and shook her head. She should be used to this by now. Being overlooked when she stood in Libby’s shadow had pretty much become a way of life. But accepting it didn’t make it hurt any less. She bent to pick up her small carry-on and head for the boat.
   “Allow me,” a low voice said from right beside her.
   Alyssa straightened so fast, she lost her balance. Her purse dropped, and several items escaped the confines of the bag. Her left leg flailed and her arms waved, but two strong hands grasped her waist and held her upright.
   “Easy there,” the baritone soothed.
   “Swooning already, Lys?” Libby called out from the boat. “We haven’t even gotten to the island yet.”
   Heat rushed to her cheeks at Libby’s teasing assessment of her predicament. She didn’t dare look up at her rescuer. Instead, she regained her footing and stepped away. Perfect. The first day of vacation, and she was already off to a klutzy start.
   Keeping her head ducked and her warm cheeks hidden, Alyssa freed herself from her rescuer’s hands and bent down to replace the spilled contents of her purse. Acute awareness of the man beside her made it almost impossible to think clearly. As she stepped onto the dock and walked toward the boat, the man grabbed an armload of luggage and hastened after her. They encountered the other escort who went to retrieve the rest of the luggage.
   When they reached the edge of the dock, the man set down the bags he carried and extended his hand to assist Alyssa into the boat. She hesitated and caught Libby’s grin as amusement danced across her friend’s face. Alyssa swallowed her pride and accepted his assistance. She placed her left hand in the strong grip of her escort and held on to the side of the boat with her right. A tingle shot up her arm at the strength and assurance of his touch.
   Careful to maintain her balance, she put one foot onto the block positioned to create steps to the floor of the boat. With both feet firmly planted, Alyssa tried to pull her hand free, but her escort held firm. Captive and with no other alternative, she looked up and met his dark gaze.
   With a twinkle in his eye and a charming but lazy smile on his face, he spoke again. “Scott Whitman, at your service.”
   Alyssa swallowed, unable to respond. This was foolish. She shouldn’t be tongue-tied at the first handsome man they met. The playboy where she worked presented a greater risk than this employee. The office Casanova was always stopping by her desk for one reason or another. Libby’s nudge from behind brought her back to her senses.
   “Alyssa Denham. Pleased to meet you.”
   The other man stood at the edge of dock. “And I’m the Pied Piper, and your friend here is Little Miss Tuffet.” He nodded toward Libby as he shifted his load and waited to stow the luggage on the boat. “Now that the introductions are out of the way, let’s get this show on the road!”
   Libby laughed out loud, and the awkward moment was broken. Scott released Alyssa’s hand. She expelled the breath she’d been holding and found her seat next to her friend.
   “Aw, knock it off, Ben.” Scott hopped down into the boat with the agility of a mountain lion and reached up for the bags Ben handed down to him. “These ladies don’t need to be tortured by your self-proclaimed wit and humor.”
   “Au contraire, mon ami, I believe my sense of humor will only add to our adventure.” He flashed a broad smile in Libby’s direction. “Don’t you agree?”
   Libby’s expression danced with mischief. “Wholeheartedly.”
   “And how about our little damsel in distress?” Ben jumped into the boat and shifted his gaze to Alyssa.
   Her cheeks warmed again. Maybe she could help erase the first impression of her stumble moments ago. Here goes nothing. She grinned. “It all depends on if your jokes are good or not.”
   Scott guffawed and thumped Ben on the back. “Busted.”
   Seemingly unaffected, Ben winked at Alyssa. “Looks like the lady has a quick wit hidden beneath her shy exterior.”
   Libby looped her arm through Alyssa’s and grinned. “Oh, you have no idea!”

Quilts of Love | A GRAND DESIGN – Kindle HDX Giveaway & “Fall into Fall” Facebook Party!

Don’t miss this month’s Quilts of Love book, A Grand Design by Amber Stockton. Who hasn't struggled to let painful memories go and move into God's healing? You’ll be sure to love this heartfelt and encouraging tale set on historic Mackinac Island.

Celebrate August’s release by entering to win a Kindle from Quilts of Love and RSVPing for the "Fall into Fall" Facebook auth chat party.

Quilts of Love Kindle HDX Giveaway, Amber Stockton, A Grand Design

  One winner will receive:
  • A Kindle HDX
  • A Grand Design by Amber Stockton
  • Hidden in the Stars by Robin Caroll
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on September 16th. Winner will be announced at the "Fall into Fall" Facebook party with Amber Stockton and Robin Caroll. RSVP for an evening of book chat, quilting tips and tricks, prizes, and more!

RSVP today and spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 16th!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Home to Chicory Lane by Deborah Raney, © 2014

Chicory Inn Novel series, Book 1

Being newly empty-nesters six months earlier, Grant and Audrey Whitman have reconditioned their family home in southeast Missouri to become The Chicory Inn. Their open house generates new bookings and the excitement of having their children home welcoming the guests on the inn tours. With only one mishap, their neighbor fainting amid visitors, success seems on the way. Their youngest daughter has plans of staying beyond the weekend, however, inviting her married siblings to give their sisterly advise.

With dreams invested, reading the first chapters, I thought the story would be about the new bed and breakfast. This first book centers on the youngest daughter, Landyn, and her husband, Chase. They share idea suggestions to consider in decision-making. Given room to grow, Landyn and Chase are listened to and not judged. There is opportunity for important dreams to be realized and trust built. Book Two, Two Roads Home, begins with their oldest daughter, Corinne, her husband Jesse. Come and join this family as they look to the Lord for guidance through their days and you become acquainted with them. Introductions to the other adult children are Danae and husband Dallas; son Link; and their deceased son Tim's widow, Bree. Included is family dog, Huckleberry. He manages well, especially down at the creek bed and his favorite dip in bringing back muddy paws.

A peek at Book 2, Two Roads Home

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for Deborah Raney's novel ~ Home to Chicory Lane. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy the first chapter excerpt of Deborah Raney's Home to Chicory Lane ~

So, Mrs. Whitman, is everything ready?” Grant stood under the archway dividing the formal dining room from the parlor, smiling that cat-that-swallowed-the-canary grin Audrey adored. And had for nearly thirty-five years.
   She went to lean on the column opposite him. She loved this view of the house—no, the inn. She must remember to refer to it as such. This wonderful house where they’d raised their five kids and where she’d played as a little girl had finally become The Chicory Inn. The stately home just a mile outside of Langhorne, Missouri, had been built by her maternal grandparents on a wooded fifty acres with a clearwater creek running through it. Now it was her fifty-five hundred square-foot dream fulfilled. Or at least that was the plan.
   Audrey gave her husband a tight smile. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. I just know I’m forgetting something.”
   “Come here.” He opened his arms to her.
   She stepped into his embrace, desperately needing the strength of him.
   “Everything looks wonderful, and anything you forgot can’t be too important. Just look at the weather God supplied—sunshine, cool October breeze, and the trees are at their autumn peak. Even the chicory is still in bloom in the ditches. Made to order, I’d say.”
   She nodded, feeling as if she might burst into tears any minute.
   Grant pulled her closer. “Can’t you just enjoy this weekend? It’s no fun if you’re in knots the whole time.”
   “Were we crazy to invite the kids home for this?”
   He kissed the top of her head. “We were crazy to have kids, never mind five of them. But hey, look how that turned out.”
   “I wish your mom could’ve been here.”
   He cleared his throat. “Trust me, it’s better this way. Besides, you know she’ll find a way to get in her two cents, even from the wilds of Oregon. What do you want to bet she’ll call, just as guests are arriving, to make sure you didn’t forget anything?”
   She loved Grant’s mother dearly, but the woman did have a way of trying to run the show—even when it wasn’t her show to run. Grant was probably right. Cecelia—or CeeCee, as the kids called their grandmother—had timed her trip to visit Grant’s brother perfectly.
   Audrey’s cell phone chimed, signaling a text message.
   “See?” Grant gave her an I-told-you-so grin. “There she is.”
   She checked her phone. “Your mother barely knows how to make a call on a cell phone, let alone send a text. Oh, it’s Link. He’s running late.” She texted a quick reply to their son.
   “Link late? Well, there’s a huge surprise.”
   She laughed, grateful for the distraction. Their son was notoriously tardy. But after she put her phone back in her pocket, Audrey turned serious. “Oh, Grant . . . What if this whole thing is a big fat flop?”
   “And why, sweet woman, would it be a flop, when you’ve poured your heart and soul and passion into it for the last eight months?”
   “And most of your retirement funds, don’t forget.” The thought made her positively queasy. It wasn’t as if he could just return to his contractor job tomorrow and get back his 401K. “Not to mention a lot of sweat equity.”
   “And don’t forget the blood and tears.” He winked.
   “And your blood pressure,” she said with a look of warning. “How can you joke about this, Grant? What if we—”
   “Shh.” He tipped her chin and silenced her with a kiss.
   She knew Grant had been relieved to get out of the rat race his job had become. In fact, his doctor had prescribed retirement along with the blood pressure meds he’d put Grant on last fall. The past year of renovations had been anything but relaxing, but things would settle down now that the remodel was finished. Maybe this was all a sort of blessing in disguise. She let that thought soothe her. For the moment anyway.
   The doorbell rang.
   “That’ll be Corinne.” She pushed away from him. “She promised to help me with the hors d’oeuvres.”
   “I don’t see why we couldn’t just have chips and salsa or pretzels or—”
   “And don’t forget your tie.” Audrey scooped the despised noose, as Grant had dubbed it, off the end of the hall tree and tossed it at him.
   He caught it and dangled it by two fingers as if it were a poisonous snake. “You’re not really serious about that?”
   “Serious as a heart attack.”
   Grant’s grumbling faded behind her as she hurried to answer the door.
   Their eldest daughter stood on the wraparound veranda with almost-two-year-old Simone propped on one hip.
   “Corinne?” Audrey sagged. “I thought Jesse was going to watch the kids?”
   “He is, but I think Simone’s cutting teeth, and I didn’t want Jesse to have to deal with that, too. You know how he gets when—” Corinne stopped mid-sentence and eyed her mother. “It’ll be fine, Mom. Dad can watch Simone if we need him to.”
   “No, your dad has a whole list of things he’s in charge of. I need him.” She pushed down the resentment that threatened. “Never mind. You’re right . . . it’ll be fine.” She reached for her youngest granddaughter and ushered Corinne into the foyer.
   Corinne walked through to the parlor, her eyes widening. “Wow! It looks gorgeous, Mom. You’ve been busy.”
   “I just want everything to be perfect. Just this one time.” She didn’t have to look at her daughter to know Corinne was rolling her eyes.
   “Just this once, huh?”
   She ignored the sarcasm and tweaked little Simone’s cheek. “Are those new toofers giving you trouble, sweetie?”
   The baby gave her a snaggletoothed grin and wiped her turned-up nose on the shoulder of Audrey’s apple green linen jacket.
   “Simone!” Corinne’s shrug didn’t match the grimace she gave Audrey. “Well, at least it matches.”
   Audrey did not find that amusing.
   Corinne swooped in with a tissue, which made Simone screech like a banshee. Which made Huckleberry come running, barking as if he’d just cornered a squirrel.
   Great. Just great. “Can somebody please take this dog outside? How did he even get in here?” Audrey hated raising her voice to her family, but she knew too well that the playful Lab could undo in two minutes everything they’d spent a week preparing. “I want him outside until the last guest leaves.”
   “Come here, Huck,” Corinne coaxed, stroking the sleek chocolate-colored coat. “You bad boy.”
   “It’s okay. I’ll take him out.” Audrey handed the baby off to Corinne, put Huck outside, and came back to the sink. Grabbing a damp dishcloth from the basin, she scrubbed at her jacket, exchanging the toddler’s snot stain for a dark wet spot. She prayed it would dry before the first guests started arriving.
   The clock in the foyer struck eleven, and a frisson of panic went through her. They had less than two hours and so much still to do. She heard Link’s voice at the front door. Maybe she could enlist him to watch Simone for a few minutes. Like his brother Tim, Link had always had a way with kids.
   “Hey, Mom. Dad said to report in.” Tall and rugged-looking like his father, Link appeared beneath the arch of the kitchen doorway. “Smells good in here.” He gave Audrey a quick hug before snatching a bacon-wrapped canapé from a silver tray. He popped it in his mouth before Audrey could protest.
    She placed herself between her son and the gleaming marble counter full of food. “There are snacks out in the garage for you kids, but I’m not joking; this stuff is off limits until we see how many people show.”
   “Got it, Mom. Off limits.” In one smooth motion, Link gave her a half-salute and reached behind her for a sausage ball.
   “Cut that out! Shoo! Out of my kitchen!”
   “Place looks good, Ma.”
   Grant appeared in the doorway. “Reporting for duty.”
   Link shot his dad a conspiratorial grin but obediently backed into the entryway. Audrey wondered for the thousandth time why some sweet young girl hadn’t snapped up this handsome son of hers. But that was a worry for another day.
   “Hey guys,” Audrey said, “can you bring in some folding chairs from the garage? Maybe just half a dozen or so. I don’t want to set up more than we need.”
   “You’ll need more than six.” Grant sounded so sure the day would be a success. “Bring a dozen, Link.”
   She hoped he was right. But if not . . . Well, there would be no problem getting rid of all the food she’d made. The good ol’ Whitman family reunion they’d planned for the rest of the week-end would take care of that. The thought brought a pang of longing with it. It was wonderful to have most of her family together, but it wouldn’t be the same without Landyn and Chase.
   And Tim. Nothing would ever be the same without Timothy.


Landyn Spencer craned her neck to check the Interstate traffic behind her in the rearview mirror, but all she could see was the U-Haul trailer she was pulling. The extended mirrors on the behemoth were smeared with a dozen hours of rain and dust.
   New York was thirteen hours behind her, and with the sun finally coming up, she realized she was in familiar territory.
   She’d left the city after ten last night, starting out on only four hours of sleep. She’d been watching the lit-up Empire State Building fade into the skyline in her rearview mirror, and not until she’d passed through the Lincoln Tunnel and come out on the New Jersey side had she finally allowed herself tears.
   That was a mistake. She’d been crying ever since. But enough. She had to get hold of herself before she got home. She swiped at damp cheeks, took a deep breath, and steadied her gaze on the road in front of her. If her eyes got any more swollen, she’d have to pull the Honda over. And if she did that, chances were good the stupid thing wouldn’t start again. Then she’d really be up the Hudson without a paddle. Besides, right now, she just wanted to put the past—and Chase Spencer—as far behind her as she could.
   She still couldn’t believe that her husband of six months had gone so far off the deep end. Without even discussing it with her, he’d let their great, albeit small, apartment on the Upper West Side go—sublet their home to a stranger—and rented a fleabag excuse for a studio apartment in Brooklyn. What was he thinking?
   He wasn’t. That was the problem. He’d let his art rep convince him that living in Bedford-Stuyvesant near some stupid gallery that was supposedly the next hot thing would jumpstart his career. The agent had told Chase the studio would pay for itself in a matter of months—and probably herald in world peace too.
   Well, fine. Chase had made his choice. But they were newly-weds. She should have been his choice. Oh, he claimed he wasn’t forcing her hand. But if she did what he wanted and followed him to Brooklyn, it meant an almost two-hour commute for her every day. They saw each other little enough as it was! Had he thought any of this through? No, he had not. And despite what Chase said, leaving Fineman and Justus, and a marketing position she loved, didn’t leave her with many options. Especially not now . . .
   The tears started again and she shook her head. She couldn’t even let herself think about that right now.
   She attempted to distract her maudlin thoughts with the stunning colors October had painted on either side of the Interstate. She thought she’d crossed over into Kentucky, though she didn’t remember seeing a sign. If Chase were here, he’d no doubt be sketching the trees or shooting photos in a vain attempt to capture the vivid colors. Then he’d complain that the pictures didn’t even come close, and she’d have to—
   A horn blared behind her. She checked the mirror and then the speedometer. She was barely going fifty in the left-hand lane. Stupid cruise control had quit working again. Heart pounding, she accelerated and tried to whip back into the right lane only to have the trailer tug her over the line into the passing lane. She finally managed to maneuver to the proper lane, and she glared hard at the driver as he passed her.
   It was a stupid, childish thing to do. She was the one in the wrong. But the guy had almost scared her into having a wreck. It would serve Chase right if she had an accident. She quickly checked the thought. He wasn’t the only one she had to think about. Mom and Dad had already lost one child. Her throat tightened at the thought of her brother. If they had to go through that again, she wasn’t sure they’d ever recover. Besides, Mom and Dad didn’t know she was on her way home. If she had a wreck, no one would know why she was on a road all alone, miles from New York.
   It did make her smile to think about what her parents’ reaction would be when she pulled into the driveway. She hadn’t seen Mom and Dad since her wedding in April, and it would be fun to surprise them. Suddenly she missed them the way she had that first summer she’d gone away to church camp and learned the meaning of “homesick.”
   But how could she tell them she was leaving Chase? After only six months of marriage. She could hear her dad now. “Landyn Rebekah Whitman,” he’d say (somehow forgetting she was now a Spencer), “you get in that car and you drive yourself right back to New York.” He’d be mad at Chase, too, but she’d be the one who’d get the talking-to.
   Well, they didn’t know the details. And they wouldn’t. Chase had fought hard to win her parents over, and she wasn’t going to make him out to be the bad guy now—even though he was. One hundred percent, he was. It still made her furious.
   No . . . worse than that. It broke her heart.
   She was beginning to understand why her parents had been skeptical about Chase in the first place. He was letting this . . . delusion of getting rich and famous selling his art sidetrack him. Not that he wasn’t good. He was. He had a ton of talent, but that didn’t mean he could make a living at it. And their finances didn’t exactly allow for risky investments right now.
   Chase had landed a job in New York right out of college, working in the art department for a small local magazine. It was a job that used his art skills, and one with room to grow.
   But then this nut job art rep had seen Chase’s work and gotten him all wired with delusions of grandeur. In a way, she understood. Chase hadn’t received much encouragement growing up. His dad left when he was five, and he’d been raised by a single mom who seemed to have a new boyfriend every other week. The minute Chase graduated high school, Mona Spencer had followed some guy out to California. She’d come back for their wedding on the arm of yet another flavor of the week, but Landyn didn’t expect to see her again unless she and Chase took the initiative to make a trip out West someday.
   Still, despite his rough childhood, and a couple of wild years in high school, Chase had defied the odds and turned into a good guy. A really good guy. Their youth pastor from Langhorne Community Fellowship took Chase under his wing, and by the time Landyn was old enough to date, he was toeing a pretty straight line. Well, except for that tattoo. Dad had come completely unglued when he heard Chase had gotten inked. She’d finally calmed him down by explaining that Chase’s Celtic cross—on his collarbone, so it was hidden under most of his shirts—was a symbol of his faith and of the permanence of God’s love for him. Landyn had always loved her husband’s tat—one he’d designed himself. She’d even toyed with the idea of getting one to match. But so far the fear of her father’s reaction and the lack of cash had prevented her—not to mention the disturbing image of herself as a grandma with a shriveled tat on her chest.
   After Chase proposed, Mom and Dad insisted they go to counseling before getting married—more intensive than the required premarital counseling—with Pastor Simmons. And though she’d balked big-time at the suggestion, Chase had been willing. And when their sessions were over, she was certain Chase Spencer was ready to be the husband of her dreams—even if her parents weren’t convinced.
   Maybe she should have listened to them.
   Because now he’d quit his job and all but forced her to quit hers. Forced her to run home to Missouri. Except she didn’t have a home in Missouri anymore either. Her parents had turned their house into a bed-and-breakfast, and her room was now a guest room at the Chicory Inn. Real original, Mom. From what her sisters said—and from the photos Mom had e-mailed her of the finished renovation—Landyn wouldn’t even recognize the place.
   Sometime this week was the big open house for the inn, too. She’d told her parents she and Chase couldn’t get away—which was true at the time. But now she had no choice. She’d stayed with a friend from work for three days, but if she’d stayed there one more day, she’d have had one less friend. So she’d loaded up what little furniture Chase didn’t take with him, and she was headed back to Langhorne.
   At least in Missouri she wouldn’t be shelling out two thousand dollars a month in rent for some roach-infested studio. And she’d be a world away from New York. And him.

$200 B&B Weekend Getaway Giveaway & 9/9 Facebook Party with Deborah Raney!

The first book in Deborah Raney's new Chicory Inn series, Home to Chicory Lane, introduces us to Audrey Whitman, a mother who has launched all her children into life and now looks forward to fulfilling some of her own dreams during her empty-nest years. However, not all of her children are ready to stay out of the nest quite yet.

Deborah is celebrating the release of her new series with a $200 B&B Weekend Getaway and a Facebook author chat party.

  One winner will receive:
  • A B&B Weekend Getaway (via a $200 Visa cash card)
  • Home to Chicory Lane by Deborah Raney
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on September 9th. Winner will be announced at the Home to Chicory Lane Author Chat Party on 9/9. Deborah will be hosting a heartfelt book chat, giving away prizes, and answering questions from readers. She will also share an exclusive sneak peek at the next book in the Chicory Inn series!

So grab your copy of Home to Chicory Lane and join Deborah on the evening of September 9th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 9th!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Wanda E. Brunstetter's Amish Friends Christmas Cookbook, © 2014

Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness; Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.
2 Corinthians 9:10–11

Click here for Pre-Order Savings at Barbour Books! A copy for you and for those on your Christmas kitchen gift giving would be well received. Prepare one of the recipes to give with Wanda E. Brunstetter's Amish Friends Christmas Cookbook. This wipe-off glossy hard cover has a lay-flat spiral on the inside that is really nice. There are stories, scripture, and heritage memories along with the recipes and kitchen tips to enjoy.

Here is the first recipe in the cookbook:

Appetizer Roll-Ups
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 teaspoons dill weed
¼ cup thinly sliced green onions
½ pound each thinly sliced ham and turkey
Combine cream cheese, dill weed, and onions in mixing bowl.
Spread about 2 tablespoons on each slice of ham and turkey. Roll
up tightly and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight. Slice into
1½-inch pieces. Yield: 6 to 7 dozen.
Sharon Knepp
Chouteau, OK

The Knepp family, from Chouteau, Oklahoma, enjoys sledding on Christmas Day, if they have enough snow. They also have fun playing games, eating all the delicious food, and when possible, traveling to Indiana to visit their family.
From Wanda E. Brunstetter’s Amish Friends Christmas Cookbook, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

A section of ~* Gifts from the Kitchen *~ is actually included to help you along! Here are some yummy suggestions: Cappuccino Mix in a Jar; Hot Chocolate Mix in a Jar; Cookie Mix in a Jar; Brownies in a Jar to send afar ~ as well as three fudge recipes, caramels, taffy, gumballs, divinity, bars, and other treats. Including "Silly Putty" children will enjoy while you are looking at the recipes for soups, chowder, salads ~ a recipe for pizza dough and taco toppings ~ "Barbecue Meatballs" with homemade barbeque sauce directions included. Chili Pie Casserole. These recipes are simple with ingredients on hand. Peppermint Cheesecake! Cinnamon Rolls and Frosting... so many caught my eye and brought a smile.

There is a nice index in the back with alphabetized recipes under each chapter heading: Snacks and Bites; Breads and Rolls; Gifts from the Kitchen; Salads, Main Dishes, and Sides; Sweets and Desserts.

New York Times bestselling author, Wanda E. Brunstetter became fascinated with the Amish way of life when she first visited her husband's Mennonite relatives living in Pennsylvania. Wanda and her husband, Richard, live in Washington State but take every opportunity to visit Amish settlements throughout the States, where they have many Amish friends.

***Thank you to author Wanda Brunstetter for having a copy of your Christmas Cookbook sent to me from Barbour Publishing. I just now received it in the mail and wanted to alert others that it will be available on September 1, 2014, as well as pre-order as mentioned above. And... Christmas is four months from today! This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Sunday, August 24, 2014

To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn ~ Book 1 in the Ladies in Waiting series by Sandra Byrd, ©2011

Ladies in Waiting, Book 1

Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster
Author Sandra Byrd has written a very thorough account of the Tudor period under the rule of King Henry VIII through the eyes of Anne Boleyn's trusted and truest friend, Anne (Meg) Wyatt, her childhood companion and wardrobe mistress at Court.

I liked the first person telling as only a dear friend can; one who is an honest and forthright teller of day-to-day happenings and conversations. Historical fiction is my very favorite genre. Are we to repeat history or reclaim what is rightfully ours? A choice to be made, for sure.

In this telling of Anne Boleyn, I liked Meg and her character very much. She rose above a mistreated home life to become very valuable in following a calling she believed was hers. In putting her life solely for the betterment of her friend, in servitude, she gained a worthy stand above reproach. Trust and fidelity brought her a remarkable outcome.

Notice the necklace on the cover of this novel! Anne Boleyn, whether innocently or contrived became entangled in the life of Henry VIII, a villain in his own right ~ possibly starting out with good intent but becoming ensnared in his own deceit and power. During this time, the Tyndale New Testament of the Bible was being printed in English. Secret meetings during the English Reformation were attended not only by those in agreement, but by those wishing to stand by the king and his rulings. Anne sought to set in power those with alliance to the reform; Henry wanted to affirm his sovereignty. He passed acts beneficial to himself. Seeking a male heir, he found ways to dismiss his wives.

Included are listings of Family Trees showing their connection to each other within the story; author notes, research sources, reading group guide, and author Q&A.

***Thank you to author Sandra Byrd for this copy of To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn and the insight of the Tudor period. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Painting of Anne
by an unknown artist
At Hever Castle, Kent

There are many ways to arrive at the Tower of London though there are few ways out. Kings and Queens ride in before a coronation, retinue trailing like a train of ermine. Prisoners, however, arrive on foot, shoved through one cavernous gate or another by the wardens who live, as all do, at the mercy of a merciless king. Some unfortunate few are delivered to the Tower by water. The Thames lapped against our boat as it stopped to allow for the entry to be raised.

Sandra Byrd
Photograph © Studio B Portraits

Author Sandra Byrd

Enjoy this excerpt from To Die For ~ Chapter One

Year of Our Lord 1518
Allington Castle, Kent, England

Come with me,” I whispered to Anne. She turned to look at her older sister, Mary, busy flirting with our tutors—forbidden, and therefore enticing, conquests. After assessing the safety of our escape Anne turned back to me and nodded. She was up for an adventure, as I knew she would be. Rose Ogilvy sat in the corner, carefully plying her needle in and out of a stretch of linen. She was seventeen years old, same as Anne and I, but I knew she would shy away from this particular exploit, any particular exploit, in fact. To save her embarrassment I didn’t ask her along.
   We slipped out the door, gathered the layers of skirts in our hands, and then raced down the long stone hallway. Recently painted portraits of my Wyatt ancestors were awkwardly affixed to the walls. When he bought the castle, my father, Henry Wyatt, had placed them there to make our family seem more ancient and noble than it was. We were not exactly pretenders but not exactly of Norman blood, either. They stared down at me, ill at ease, smiths and butchers and small-time landowners now forced into velvets and ruffs within a span of time no broader than the width of my hand. And yet we were gentry now. My father expected me to act like the lady he’d suffered to make me be.
   We slid out the main entrance, one or two servants catching my eye and warning me back inside with a stern look. “No, Mistress Meg,” one urged me. I disregarded them. They knew what might lie ahead for me—they’d borne the same fate, maybe worse. But I refused to be intimidated.
   Anne and I linked arms and strolled toward the rows of unattended garden. Just beyond, on the neatly clipped field, our brothers play-jousted with long branches though all were training for real jousts as well. As we strolled by, my brother Thomas stopped, dipped into a bow, and flourished his hat in our direction. “What a polite young man,” Anne said. “Mayhap you’ll notice, my brother George isn’t tipping his hat toward me.”
   I grinned. “My brother isn’t tipping his hat toward me, either. He’d as soon ignore me as do me good. It’s you he’s trying to impress, as well you know.” A light flush of pleasure spread up Anne’s long neck and a little catlike mewl escaped her lips. She fully realized the effect she’d begun to have on men. Whilst she didn’t court their praise, false modesty was not her besetting sin, either.
   “I see another bow and this one is particularly in your direction,” she said. I looked up and saw Will Ogilvy.
   A year older than I, Will had brown hair that was long and tousled, his face slightly reddened from the joust. I couldn’t help but notice that his arms and chest had thickened over the summer as he grew from a gangly boy into an assured young man. Even from this distance I could see his eyes had the same merry twinkle for me they always had. I nodded primly in his direction—after all, I was a lady, and we were in mixed company. He winked at me.
   A wink! The audacity. Who else had seen it?
   “Mayhap Lord Ogilvy’s son should come out of the field. He seems to have dust in his eye,” Anne teased. I turned toward her and grinned, thankful for her faithful friendship. She never trained her charm on Will. She knew I planned to have him for myself.
   Rewardingly, he seemed completely uninterested in Anne.
   We sat in the gardens, enveloped in the haze of the exotic scent of my mother’s jasmine plants, gossiping about overheard conversations between Anne’s ambassador father and high-born mother; they had sent Anne and her sister, Mary, to apprentice at the French court when Princess Mary married some years back and they were to return shortly, after this visit home with their father. We talked about my sister, Alice, who had borne yet another child. I would soon go to stay with her for a few months, if my father allowed it. But as Alice was an obedient girl, marrying young and bearing quickly, my father favored nearly every request she made. Alas, the same could not be said for me.
   “We’ve got new horses.” I finally got the conversation around to its planned target. “My father’s horsemaster brought them round last week.”
   “Ooh,” Anne said. “Are they fast?”
   “I don’t know…,” I answered. We’d prided ourselves—unseemly, I suppose—on riding as fast and as well as any boy in our group.
   “Should we see?” she asked me, as I knew she would. For me to suggest the idea would be disobedient, but for me to accommodate a friend would be hospitality indeed.
   We ran to the stables and after petting old favorites we walked to the stalls where the new horses were housed. Our vanity guided our choices. Anne picked out her favorite, a raven mare, barely three years old with deep black eyes, like her own. I showed her the one I loved best, a tamed stallion with a thick auburn mane like my own. He glanced nervously about his stall till I gentled him with quiet words and touches.
   “Should you have them saddled?”
   “My father shouldn’t be home from court till tomorrow morning.” Then I called over a stable boy. “Saddle these two for us, please.”
   “If ’n you say so, miss,” he said, unable to disobey me but nervous nonetheless. I smiled kindly at him, hoping to gentle him as I’d done the stallion. “I do,” I said. And then Anne and I raced and rode.
   The fields were thick and green, flowers clinging on the tips of the field grass, ready to fall forward into the late summer’s heat. We slowed when we came to the woods and picked our way through the tangle of downed trees, their mossy shroud bringing a soft, dank smell.
   “I’ve missed this,” Anne said. “My father won’t let me ride our horses unattended anymore.”
   “Mine says the same.”
   “Why did you not say anything when I suggested the ride?”
   “I felt it would be our last time, as girls,” I told her. “We’re becoming women now and our lives are going to change.”
   We turned our horses around, back toward Allington.
   And then.
   I felt his eyes upon me afore I saw him from a distance. My father stood in front of the stables. My first trembling urge was to turn my mount and gallop back into the woods, as far as he could carry me, and not return. If Anne hadn’t been with me, I might have. But I couldn’t leave her and anyway, where would I go?
   “Your father…,” she said softly, though I heard her over the hoofbeats.
   I nodded. “He’s home early.”
   We rode the mounts into the stable. My father stood at the door, looking at me and no one else. My brothers, and Anne’s brother, George, were there, and Will Ogilvy…. as were all their sisters. Like a bearbaiting, I thought. Everyone come to witness the bloody violence, some there of their own will and pleasure, like my warped brother Edmund. The others dragged there by convention or lack of choice.
   My father indicated that we girls should be lifted from our mounts—more to protect the horse than myself, I knew.
   “I thought I told you not to ride alone. And you certainly understood not to lather my new mounts.” He tapped his horsewhip against his riding boot.
   “I’m sorry, Father.” I felt a trickle of sweat course down my back; it felt like a spider scurrying away.
   “It was really my fault.” Anne nobly stepped in and tried to protect me. “I suggested it.”
   “And I could have told her no.” I spoke up, not willing to let her shoulder the blame on her own. I needn’t have bothered.
   “Thank you, Mistress Boleyn,” Father said. “But Mistress Wyatt knew not to ride out and chose to disobey me anyway.” He cheerfully dismissed the Boleyn and Ogilvy children to the manor; their servants waited to take them back to their homes.
   We Wyatt children knew to stand fast. My brother Edmund grinned. Thomas focused his eyes on the ground, as always. I knew my father would be softer on me if I cried, but I refused to.
   I looked at my friends hastily retreating in the distance, and just as I locked eyes with Will, my father struck.
   He backhanded me against the cheek and for a moment I felt nothing but my teeth chattering as if they would loosen in my heavy skull. I fell to the ground. He yanked me to my feet and then slapped me from another angle. Blood dripped out of my nose and I felt the tingle through the top of it and across the bridge above my eyes. In the distance, I saw George Boleyn restrain Will from coming back to the stable and I silently thanked him.
   I stood up because I knew my father didn’t want me to. I fixed my eyes on his, not blinking, willing myself not to be snuffed out, and forced out the words that we both knew were meaningless. “I’m sorry, Father. Would you forgive me?”
   “You’re to be a lady, do you hear me?” he roared. I stood still as he strode back to the house, Edmund nipping at his heels. Thomas waited behind for me.

At the end of the summer our tutors held a picnic for us on the grounds of Hever Castle, the Boleyns’ home. Each of us was going a separate way, and though we would join again for social occasions and perhaps further instruction, we would not gather together weekly or monthly anymore. My brother Thomas would soon be sent to Cambridge and Edmund and I would continue at home with private tutors after my visit with Alice. My mother, ill again, could not be parted from me.
   Anne, and her older sister, Mary, of course, were going back to the French court to serve Queen Claude. My father allowed a servant to take me to Hever Castle, the Boleyns’ family seat, the day before the picnic so we could look through Anne’s wardrobe trunks as girls are wont to do.
   “Ooh, look at this!” I held up a skirt and stomacher of emerald green, perfect to set off her dark skin and eyes. “The waist is tightly fitted.” I danced around the room with it and curtseyed to my imaginary suitor.
   “Yes, I know,” Anne said drily, rolling her eyes at me. It wasn’t hard to see which of us was the refined friend and which the spontaneous one. Anne had a smart fashion sense and knew how to show off her best features.
   She held up another gown, this one of navy satin, slashed to show a snowy white kirtle below with long French sleeves. “I think this would look good on you.”
   “I do, too. Shall you leave it here?” I teased.
   “No, but sketch it quickly, if you want,” she said. “They’re in the French fashion, my father had them made for me in France. No one here will wear anything like them. Just you!”
   I took a piece of paper from her study book and quickly drew a few of her dress designs. Our seamstress could do a rough copy, I thought. Perhaps not perfect, but still.
   I ran my fingers through the treasures in her little jewel cabinet and then brushed my hand over the stack of her hose made of finest silk. “I think your father has grand plans for you and your sister.”
   “He’s the ambassador to France. Mayhap he wants England to be well represented,” she answered evenly.
   “Mayhap,” I said. “Are you nervous?”
   She nodded. “They have such big expectations for me and for Mary. And if we don’t meet them, they’ll set us aside. It’s family advancement first…. and last.”
   I nodded, wishing I could contradict her, but our friendship had been built on honesty and I wasn’t about to belittle it now with a soothing lie.
   “I believe in you,” I said. “And I’ll pray for you every day.”
   She squeezed my arm. “I know you will. I am glad one of us has faith.”
   “You have faith!” I contradicted her.
   “Not like yours.”
   After leaving her things for her maidservant to repack, we went down to the gardens outside.
   The chairs and table were set up in neat little quartets on the Hever property, and Master Ridley, our music teacher, had recruited friends to play lutes. The notes wafted over the field, the sweetest of aural perfumes. The mood was one of love, of friendship, of pledge. We’d all been forged together and though circumstances might separate us for a time, we were somehow inextricably bound for life. I sat down alone at a table near the edge of the garden, a private spot, and wished it to remain so but for the company of one.
   My wish was granted.
   “May I join you?” Will approached. I remained seated, as a lady should.
   “Of course.” I gestured to the seat next to me with grace and dignity that would have made my father proud. I caught Anne out of the corner of my eye gently steering the others to different tables so Will and I might have some time alone.
   “What’s this?” He touched the wreath of daisies I’d woven whilst waiting for the day to begin.
   “A wreath of the last flowers clinging to summer,” I said. “Something to both pass and mark the time.”
   “There is no flower here to contend with you. You believe they’re dying off because it’s the end of summer? Methinks they saw the competition and realized they must capitulate.”
   “Will Ogilvy, are you practicing courtly manners on me?” I teased.
   “No,” he said. “I mean it. May I have this wreath as a keepsake?” I wound it around his fingers and I wished it were my hand I was placing in his instead of that which my hand had created.
   I nodded my agreement and kept my eyes lowered. For once, overcome by the moment, I had no smart retort.
   We sat for a little while, intensely aware at the adult turn in our relationship. Will cheerfully turned the topic back to mathematics, and then horses, and finally Latin, which we both loved. We sparred over the rendering of a certain word, and in the end I believe I won.
   “Succumbo,” he admitted. “A rare victory, and one you will not soon duplicate.”
   “Is that a challenge?” I teased. But then his look turned somber. “Why not?” I asked, more subdued as I sipped from the goblet in front of me and tapped at the light sheen on my forehead with my kerchief.
   “My father is sending me to Cambridge.”
   “Ah.” I nodded. So now I knew why my brother Thomas was going to Cambridge. Not that my father couldn’t have thought of it on his own, but he admired the Ogilvys and Boleyns as his betters in many ways. Feeling unsure of himself, he often imitated their choices. If only he would send me to France!
   “I’ll surely see you at pageants now and again,” Will said. “And at the Christmas celebration at court.”
   “Surely,” I agreed, knowing that those pageants and jousts would be infrequent, that my mother was often ill and required my companionship, and that the studies at Cambridge were demanding and could take up to eight years to complete.
   “There are so many different teachers there.” His voice rose with excitement. “I hope to learn more about our Lord too. What we have here is so….” He shrugged his shoulders. “Limited.”
   I nodded, happy for him but envious of his opportunity. Anne and I had many rigorous debates about holy things, too, which would have horrified my father and even Will, had they known. “You’ll do well. I’m glad for you.” I echoed the sentiment I’d given Anne just an hour before, and the words, whilst well-intentioned, felt as dry in my mouth as my oft-prattled apologies to my father.
   “There are fine days ahead for you, too, Meg.” Will rested his hand on the table near mine, not able to take mine in his while others were around but showing me what was in his heart by his gesture. “I know it. Omnino scire.” He used the Latin word that meant “to know something without doubt, to be certain.” Strangely enough, I believed he was right. I’d had the feeling that their ships were setting sail, leaving port perhaps a year or two afore my own, but that my ship would set sail, too, and it would be in the same direction. I looked at Will, suffused with happiness, and Anne, an already court-worthy hostess. Then I looked toward the sky, where the heavy gray clouds of late summer were already beginning to clot.
   Lady Boleyn, ever the chaperone, made her way toward our table. As reluctant as I was to see her come, I understood she had my good name and Will’s in mind.
   “I’ll send you a note sometimes through my sister, Rose,” Will said, and I nodded.
   “Tui meminero,” I said. I will remember you.
   Perhaps because he was leaving and felt free to be candid, he answered me back more strongly. “Te somniabo.” I will dream of you.
   Later in the afternoon, when the others had mostly returned home, I stayed to say my final good-bye to Anne. We walked in the garden and sat on a bench, carved gargoyles expressing silent horror over her departure. “I’ll miss you,” I said. “Our constant companionship. Studying together.”
   “I’ll be home soon. If Mary or George gets married or if someone dies….”
   “Don’t say that!” I told her, aghast. Even my jesting wouldn’t go that far.
   “No, no,” she reassured me. “And then, soon, I’ll be home to stay.”
   “Yes,” I said. “And things will be as they ever were between us. We’ll marry rich, titled, wonderful men, and have renowned parties and beautiful children.” I looked at the gathering storm clouds and knew that if what I sensed was true then I was a liar and, worse, was breaking our friendship pledge of honesty. And yet I wasn’t sure my impressions were true. They were wobbly things, jellies to roll out from under my thumb as soon as I tried to pin them down.
   To make things even, I offered another oath. “You know how the boys, ah, relieve themselves together when they make a promise?”
   Anne, mannered and discreet, looked at me, shocked. “Surely you can’t be suggesting….”
   I blushed. “No, no, I speak too fast.” Oh my, what would my father think if he could overhear me now? “I just meant we could plight an oath too. Afore you leave.”
   She nodded and turned toward me on the bench before speaking. “A friendship oath. So you won’t choose Rose Ogilvy as your dearest friend in my absence.”
   “As much as I like Rose, she’s not the Ogilvy I desire to pledge an oath with,” I teased, and we laughed. It was one of our friendship’s better qualities, the ability to laugh together in the most difficult moments. “And make sure you don’t find a French friend to replace me,” I said.
   “Never.” She reached up and plucked one of the roses. She pricked her finger with its thorn till a little drop of blood oozed out. “It didn’t hurt much….”
   I looked at her hard, reminding her of the difficulties I faced with my father. “A poke to the finger is not going to harm me,” I said, grinning. I pierced my finger too.
   We held our fingers together and commingled our blood, friends to the end, never leaving one another’s side, loyalty firmly pledged, come what may.