Monday, September 29, 2014

Feast for Thieves, Debut Novel by Marcus Brotherton, © 2014

A Rowdy Slater Novel
Preaching or Prison? An impossible choice for a man who usually solves his problems with his rifle or his fists. Feast for Thieves - new from bestselling author, Marcus Brotherton.

Marcus Brotherton
author Marcus Brotherton
Summary: "Sergeant Rowdy Slater is the most skilled-and most incorrigible-soldier in Dog Company, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne, an elite group of paratroopers fighting for the world's freedom in World War II. Through a bizarre set of circumstances, Rowdy returns to the States after the war, turns his life around, and falls into the only job he can find-preacher at the sparsely populated community church in Cut Eye, Texas, a dusty highway town situated at the midpoint of nowhere and emptiness. The town's lawman, suspicious that Rowdy has changed his ways only as a cover up, gives an ultimatum: Rowdy must survive one complete year as Cut Eye's new minister or end up in jail. At first Rowdy thinks the job will be easy, particularly because he's taking over for a young female missionary who's held the church together while the men were at war. But when a dark-hearted acquaintance from Rowdy's past shows up with a plan to make some quick cash, Rowdy becomes ensnared due to an irrevocable favor, and life turns decidedly difficult." -- Provided by publisher ~ River North Fiction by Moody Publishers. Our goal is to provide high-quality, thought provoking books and products that connect truth to your real needs and challenges.

Author Marcus Brotherton's first historical fiction novel released three weeks ago, following his several non-fiction books. I am encouraged by seeing "A Rowdy Slater Novel" upon reading Feast for Thieves, in hopes there will be further writings about this protagonist!

Cut Eye, Texas, in 1946 is looking for just the change Zearl "Rowdy" Slater can bring ~ but... they don't know it yet, nor does Rowdy. In fact, he tries to leave Cut Eye but heads back to right a wrong. Inconceivably, Sheriff Halligan Barker suspects he has just the job for Rowdy, and calls Rowdy's former commander, Colonel Robert Sink, for a reference. Just as he suspected ~ Rowdy is his man.

Rowdy is experienced in bar fights, sharpshooter, and he has a conscience. Rowdy has a goal of staying out of jail by surviving a full year in Cut Eye as ~* the new Cut Eye Community Church preacher, Rev'rund Rowdy Slater. Beginning the story, I think of Jan Karon's fictional town of Mitford, North Carolina. The dialogue is tuned to the times and location, and the town has its distrustful and suspicious, grumps you can never seem to please, and those who think they are in charge. Sheriff Barker says to meet with Bobbie ~ whom Rowdy thinks is Bobby ~ until he meets a young woman who instructs him of his duties, taking over for her so she can go to language school to prepare as an overseas missionary.

Feast For Thieves
You will not be disappointed in the turns and twists that come Rowdy's way. I especially liked how his ingenious way brings the men to church. He gets to know the people in the small town repeatedly. Meals at Cisco Wayman's café come with his job ~ except the first morning he finds the proprietor doesn't know that. Hungry, he is turned away. Fortunate for him, Mrs. Wayman knows to feed him when he returns on her shift. The church secretary has been there eighteen years and likes things done in a certain way, especially punctuality.

I liked how Rowdy becomes endeared to the townspeople. He doesn't always get it right, learning along the way. Feast for Thieves is a humorous, growing, example of a life that is changed that gives hope. Choices: forgiveness and second chances are real and available for all. Long thought on after the last page, Feast for Thieves feeds hungry souls beyond their appetite for food. I read this book in two days, only because I finally needed to go to bed! Great works; applicable to any generation.

***Thank you to author Marcus Brotherton for this fine story and to Moody Publishers/River North for sending me this review copy. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***
Marcus Brotherton is a journalist and professional writer known internationally for his books and literary collaborations with high-profile public figures, humanitarians, inspirational leaders, and military personnel. He has authored or coauthored more than 25 books.
Notable works include We Who Are Alive and Remain, a New York Times bestseller; A Company of Heroes, which ranked No. 1 in the country among World War II/ Western Front books; and the widely-acclaimed Shifty’s War. Marcus’ debut novel, Feast For Thieves, releases in September 2014. Further author contact: web, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Hidden in the Stars by Robin Caroll, © 2014 ~ A Quilts of Love story

Quilts tell stories of love and loss, hope and faith, tradition and new beginnings. The Quilts of Love series focuses on the women who quilted all of these things into their family history. Featuring contemporary and historical romances as well as women's fiction and the occasional light mystery, you will be drawn into the endearing characters of this series and be touched by their stories.

PictureSophia Montgomery has made the U.S. Olympic gymnast team. She has come to spend time with her mother before reporting to the training center. Expecting an overnight delivery of papers from Sophia's coach, her mother opens the door. Violence pursues as two men barge in to demand what they are looking for from her mother. As added pressure, they attack Sophia. In an instant, her future is completely altered.

Unable to speak, a lip reader is called to the hospital to take Sophia's eyewitness statement of what happened to enable the police to piece clues together to apprehend the attackers. Sophia's grandmother is located to come to the hospital. Sophia tells the detectives that she doesn't recognize her. She doesn't know her.

As the story progresses leads are slim until Sophia's mother's memory quilt is explored. Author Robin Caroll has displayed the crime scene step-by-step as the detectives, aided by Sophia's lip reader, Charlie, move forward in a case with hidden clues to be exposed. Charlie was my favorite character with her compassion and interest in helping Sophia.

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for Robin Caroll's novel, Hidden in the Stars, and to Abingdon Press for sending me this Quilts of Love story for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

A quilt holds the secret to a killer still at large—and who his next victim will be.
Following an attack that killed her mother and stole her ability to speak, 21‑year‑old Sophia Montgomery has no choice but to accept her estranged grandmother’s offer to return to their family home. Although detective Julian Frazier is working hard on the case, Sophia unknowingly frustrates him because her inability to speak thwarts her eyewitness evidence. The fact that Julian is undeniably attracted to Sophia doesn’t help either, so Julian hides his feelings as concern for a trauma victim and focuses instead on finding the killer.
   Little do they know, the clues to solving the case may be right in front of them, displayed in Sophia’s mother’s “special” quilt design. Who will realize the secret Sophia’s unwittingly been hiding in plain sight? When the truth comes to light, will Sophia find her voice again? Or will the murderer—still at large—silence her forever?

Robin Caroll is the author of 22 published novels. When she isn’t writing, Robin spends time with her husband of 20 plus years, her three beautiful daughters and two handsome grandsons, and their character filled pets at home in Little Rock, Arkansas. She gives back to the writing community by serving as conference director for ACFW. Her books have been named finalists in such contests as the Carol Award, HOLT Medallion, Daphne du Maurier, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award, Bookseller’s Best, and Book of the Year. Contact Robin at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Robin shares in a Quilts of Love interview for her novel, Hidden in the Stars:

~* How did you get connected with the Quilts of Love series?
As a younger girl, we lived in a very rural area. During the winter months, my mother and I would quilt together. It was a very special time for me, with my mom. When I heard about the Quilts of Love series, I wanted to be a part of it and I wanted to write into the story the special connection between mother and daughter.

~* What made you take the direction you did with your book’s setting?
I’m drawn to both gymnastics and ballet, and I wondered what would happen if something caused you not only to lose the person you loved and depended on the most, but also caused you to lose the dream you’d worked for all your life.

~* Do you have a favorite character from your book?
I actually think my favorite is the heroine’s mother, Nina. She was a prima ballerina, yet sacrificed everything for her family, especially her daughter.

~* What lesson do you hope readers walk away with after reading your Quilts of Love book?
I hope readers will not only be entertained by this murder mystery, threaded with themes of family ties and sacrifice, but that they will also walk away from the book reminded that what others might mean for evil in our lives, God can use for good.

~* What was your favorite scene to write?
The opening scene. That’s always the most fun for me . . . it drops me right into the story and I get to figure out what my characters can do after that!

~* Do you have any writing rituals? What are they?
Not so much rituals . . . but I don’t turn down Starbuck’s white chocolate mochas or Tom’s Hot Fries when I’m writing. Ever.

~* What’s your favorite quote from the book?
I have so many. I guess my favorite would be: "The dead, hateful eyes stared silently back at him."

~* Anything else your readers should know about your Quilts of Love book?
I fell in love with these characters when I was writing the story, and I hope everyone enjoys getting to know them as well!

Enjoy the first chapter of Robin Caroll's Quilts of Love story ~ Hidden in the Stars


Beep. Beep. Beep.
   What on earth was beeping so loudly? And annoyingly.
   Sophia Montgomery blinked. Brightness burst through the slit she’d managed to force open. She squeezed her eyes shut tight again and sucked in air.
   A strange stench curled her nostrils. It was almost rancid . . . disinfectant mingled with sweat. That made no sense . . .
   There had been two men, banging at the door. Barging in. Knives. Big knives. Grabbing her by the hair and throwing her to the floor. She hit her head against the leg of the chair. The coppery-metallic taste of blood filled her mouth.
   Sophia tried again to open her eyes. W-what? she mouthed, but not a sound escaped. Burning shards closed around her throat as she tried to swallow against a gravelly resistance. Dear God, what’s happening?
   “Shh. Don’t try to talk,” a woman’s crackly voice soothed. “The doctor will be here in a moment.”
   Doctor? Sophia struggled to sit, but every muscle in her body resisted, a sure sign she’d overdone at practice. Gentle hands eased her still. A cool, damp cloth stroked her forehead.
   “You thought you could get away with it?” one of the men had yelled. His breath hissed against her face. Her neck.
   She blinked again, this time prepared for the light. Or so she thought. The brilliance burned. She moaned and snapped her eyes closed.
   “I’m sorry. Let me turn down the light,” the woman whispered in her guttural toned voice.
   Click. The sound echoed in Sophia’s head.
   “There. This should be better.”
   Sophia tried squinting a third time. While still brighter than the darkness she’d been comfortable in, the light wasn’t so searing. She barely made out the figure of a woman at her side, hunching over her bed.
   Wait a minute. Something wasn’t right. Where was she? God?
   “Well, good morning,” a man’s cheerful voice boomed.
   Still squinting, Sophia shifted her gaze to the voice’s origin. The fuzzy silhouette moved close to her.
   “I’m Dr. Rhoads. Nod if you can hear me okay.”
   A doctor? What was going on? She nodded and forced her eyes open wider as pain ricocheted around her shoulders.
   “Good.” Cold hands touched her forehead. She must have reacted in some way because he chuckled softly and said, “Sorry. Everyone says I have the coldest hands in Arkansas.”
   Arkansas . . . but she lived in Texas. Plano. Close to the gym where she trained.
   Training! Lord, what is going on?
   The doctor shined a light in her eyes, searing them with its intensity. She snapped them closed and turned her head, moving out of his hold.
   “I know it’s uncomfortable, but I had to check your pupils.”
   Sophia forced her eyes open, willing them to focus on the man. She could now see his white coat. Dark hair. Big smile—too big. She opened her mouth to ask what was going on, but razors sliced inside her throat.
   “Don’t try to talk. You sustained serious damage to your throat, including your vocal chords. We’re treating the injury, and you’ve responded well, but you won’t be able to talk until the swelling of your larynx subsides considerably.”
   She closed her eyes as scattered images raced through her mind. Pinned to the floor. The bulky man straddling her, putting all his weight on her abdomen. His hands around her neck. Squeezing. Not enough oxygen! Can’t breathe! Tighter. Tighter.
   She sucked in air and reached for her neck, but her arms wouldn’t lift her hands. Red, hot arrows of pain shot from her shoulders down to her wrists. Oh, God! She opened her eyes wide and looked into her lap. Everything was in clear focus.
   Sophia reclined in a hospital bed, the standard white sheet pulled up to her chest. Her arms sat on top of the sheet. Her hands were wrapped in gauze, big as footballs. Her right arm was in a cast up above her elbow.
   The skinny man holding a knife to Mamochka’s throat. Yelling. Demanding. The bulky one stepping on her right hand with his heavy, big boot. More pressure. The pain! Stop! Harder. Bones snapped. Please, please stop. The sobbing. Hers. Mamochka’s.
   The pounding of her heart echoed in her head, shoving aside the beeping sound getting faster and louder. No, Lord. Please!
   “Calm down, Ms. Montgomery. Your blood pressure is too high. I don’t want to have to give you anything right now,” the doctor said.
   “You must relax now, MIlaya Moyna,” the older lady whispered as she patted Sophia’s head with the cool cloth again. There was something so familiar about her . . . but . . . not.
   “There you go,” Dr. Rhoads said. “Breathe slowly. In through your nose and out through your mouth.”
   Even breathing hurt, but Sophia controlled her panic. Years of practicing self-control had made her a master despite her fears. Her hands. How would she compete?
   “Well done, Ms. Montgomery. I’ll go over your injuries with you in detail, if you’re ready.” Dr. Rhoads stared at her, a single brow raised.
   She nodded, sending slicing pain shooting down her spine. Sophia set her jaw and refused to wince.
   “Okay.” The doctor reviewed her chart. “You have sustained a laryngeal fracture with some mucosal tearing. We’re keeping you on voice rest to minimize edema, hematoma formation, and subcutaneous emphysema. We will continue the use of humidified air to reduce crust formation and transient ciliary dysfunction. We’ll also continue treatment by use of systemic corticosteroids to retard inflammation, swelling, and fibrosis and to help prevent granulation tissue formation.”
   Tears threatened, but Sophia blinked them back and concentrated on what the doctor said.
   “Since you sustained compound fractures of the larynx, we have you on systemic antibiotics to reduce the high risk of local infection and perichondritis, which may delay healing and promote airway stenosis. You’re also taking anti-reflux medications to reduce granulation tissue formation and tracheal stenosis.” Dr. Rhoads smiled. “Of course, this means you can’t eat or drink anything for a few more days. Understand so far?”
   Sophia swallowed instinctively, and regretted it immediately. She didn’t understand everything the good doctor said, but she got enough to know her throat was damaged enough that she couldn’t talk or eat. Still, it didn’t sound permanent, so it was something.
   He leaned forward, letting his weight add strength to his hands closed around her throat. No! She couldn’t see past his face anymore. His scowl. His eyes. They weren’t filled with rage, but just . . . empty.
   “Sophia? Do you understand?” Dr. Rhoads asked.
   She ignored the scattered images and gave a little nod. Her head began to throb in cadence with her heartbeat.
   “Good. Moving on . . . you’ve sustained serious, traumatic crush injuries to both of your hands. In surgery, we were able to remove all the tissue we couldn’t salvage. We were able to repair most of the damaged blood vessels to reestablish circulation in your fingers. All the broken bones were realigned and stabilized with temporary pins called K-wires and screws. We repaired the damaged tendons and ligaments. Post-op, you’re doing great. You should be able to begin physical therapy as soon as the bandages are off.” Again, the doctor smiled.
   “Tell us.” He stepped down on her hand. Pain. Bones cracked. Sophia cried out. “Stop!” Mamochka screamed. “Tell us.” He put all his weight on his foot. Bounced. Sophia screamed and tried to roll over to protect her hand. He slung her backward and plopped onto her hips, straddling her.
   The image disappeared. She stared at her hands lying gauzed and lifeless in her lap. Everything within her wanted to scream . . . cry . . . hit something. Why was this doctor smiling? Didn’t he get it? Her hands were her life! If she couldn’t sustain her weight on her hands, her career was over. Dear Lord, no. Anything but this.
   “О’кей MIlaya Moyna,” the woman whispered.
   No, it wasn’t okay. And who was this woman to be calling Sophia my sweet? Especially in Russian.
   Despite the excruciating pain the movement caused, she twisted her head to meet the woman’s stare. Sophia was certain she’d never met the woman before, but there was something . . . her eyes. They were just like Mamochka’s.
   Could it be? The woman looked to be about the right age.
   “Now,” Dr. Rhoads interrupted her thoughts, “about your pelvis girdle fracture.”
   Her pelvis was busted, too? He straddled her. Mamochka yelled out. Sophia kicked, trying to buck him off of her. She had to help her mother! He pinned her with his weight. Pain shot through her midsection and hips as if she’d missed a dismount and fell off the balance beam. “You aren’t going anywhere. Ever,” he whispered as he leaned over her and wrapped his hands around her neck.
   Unaware of her agony, the doctor continued. “There’s only one breaking point along the pelvic ring, with limited disruption to the pelvic bone and no internal or external bleeding. This means your pelvis is still secure despite the injury, and we can expect a prognosis of a quick, successful and complete recovery.”
   Great. So her pelvis would have a complete recovery. She could live without being able to talk. But would her hands totally recover? If so, when?
   She closed her eyes, refusing the tears access. All her life, coaches and instructors had drilled into her head crying was not an option. Tears were to be saved for her pillow.
   So many before her had sustained injuries and left the circuit, only to never return. Was it her fate? Abba!
   “The rest of your injuries are minor cuts and bruises that should heal without incident. Several areas required stitches. You have a laceration at the back of your head where you were hit from behind—”
   “Doctor,” a man’s deep voice cut off Dr. Rhoads.
   Even though things were a little fuzzy to Sophia right now, even she didn’t miss the frown etched into the doctor’s brow.
   Dr. Rhoads smiled at her. “Ms. Montgomery, you were very lucky. With the extent of your injuries, you could have been in a coma.”
   The other man cleared his throat.
   The doctor frowned as he looked at her. “Now, if you feel up to it, there’s a detective here who would like to ask you a few questions. Only if you feel up to it. Do you?”
   A detective? She swallowed, then regretted it, but still nodded.
   The doctor nodded and stepped back. “Keep it brief, please, Detective. She needs her rest.” Dr. Rhoads patted the bed beside her feet. “I’ll be back later to check on you.”
   “Ms. Montgomery, I’m Detective Frazier.” There was the deep voice again, authoritative, but with a hint of danger.
   Sophia stared at him as he stepped into her line of vision, and took a full inventory of her first impression of him. Hard to gauge his height since she was in the bed, but he stood taller than Dr. Rhoads. His black hair held a wave, even though it was short. He had broad shoulders and muscular arms apparent under the short-sleeve, button-down Oxford shirt he wore. He was probably no more than twenty-eight or so, at least in her estimation based upon the weariness in his face covered in stubble. His chin was cut and his cheekbones well defined. His nose had been broken at least once. But it was his eyes drawing her attention. They were so dark they appeared like a bar of dark chocolate.
   Then again, maybe it was just her distorted vision.

   Detective Julian Frazier had been silently assessing Sophia Montgomery from the corner of her hospital room since she’d been brought here following her surgery. Over the last two and a half hours, he’d gotten over the shock of her appearance. He’d been a cop for enough years that the damage a victim sustained shouldn’t have affected him, but he’d seen the pictures of Sophia Montgomery before the assault and to see her now . . .
   He pushed off the wall he’d been leaning against and approached her bedside. “I have a few questions. Do you know who you are?”
   She nodded, and unless he was imagining things, she actually rolled her eyes.
   Attitude. Good. She’d need it. According to the doctors, she had a long, painful road to recovery in front of her. “Do you know where you are?”
   She stared at him from her swollen, cut, and bruised face. There wasn’t one square inch of her face and neck without some visible sign of her assault. Even her lips were cut and cracked as she tried to lick them. With her head resting on the pillow, she gave a nod.
   “Do you know why you’re here?” he asked, flexing and unflexing his fingers against the coolness of the hospital room. It might be June outside, but the nurses had set the thermostat low enough it felt like winter in the critical care ward.
   She blinked.
   Then again.
   He met her stare with his own. Something about how small she was and the damage inflicted on her, yet she’d survived, nearly undid him. He’d overheard the nurses talking. They’d seen more people struck by vehicles with less damage than Sophia had endured. Whoever had attacked Sophia Montgomery and her mother had been especially vicious. Julian couldn’t stand it. Whoever was responsible would face justice.
   “Do you know why you’re here?” he asked her again.
   She tilted her head to the side. With her injuries, it had to hurt.
   “You’re unsure?”
   She nodded.
   Great. If she didn’t remember anything, it would make his job so much more difficult. As it was, he was at a loss how he’d proceed at this point. With her extensive injuries, she couldn’t speak and couldn’t write, so how he was supposed to get her statement was more than a little confusing. He’d definitely have to think outside the box on this one.
   She mouthed something. He couldn’t tell what. She mouthed it again. It was one syllable, but he   couldn’t make it out. She mouthed it a third time.
   “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.” He snapped his fingers. “Let me get someone to help, okay?”
   She nodded, but not before she shot him a look of pure frustration.
   He could relate. Ever since he’d been called to the crime scene at almost eleven last night, frustration had been his constant companion. Frustrated this had happened. Frustrated no one had gotten there in time. Frustrated there were no immediate suspects.
   Julian turned and stepped out of the hospital room, grabbing his cell phone from his hip. He quickly called his partner.
   “She awake?” Brody Alexander asked without greeting. His partner was not one to waste time or breath with small talk when there was work to be done.
   “Yep. Listen, we need to get Charlie up here ASAP to read her lips, so I can take her statement.” Julian stared over his shoulder at Sophia’s small and broken form lying so helplessly in the hospital bed. “And send some uniforms. I want someone posted by her room twenty-four-seven until we know what’s going on.”
   “Got it.” Brody hung up, business concluded. He might have an abrupt personality that had earned his reputation as an unappealing partner, but he suited Julian. After what happened with Eli, he wanted someone like Brody Alexander: all business.
   He needed someone like Brody.
   Julian put his cell back in its belt clip and strode back into the hospital room and observed. It had taken the police some time to locate Alena Borin as Sophia’s next of kin, only finding the connection through Sophia’s mother’s maiden name. The older woman fussed over Sophia, but Sophia didn’t look like she recognized her grandmother. Maybe she had suffered some sort of brain injury in the attack. It would make his job much more difficult.
   But not impossible. Because Julian refused to let whoever was behind this go unpunished. Someone would pay for this violence. He owed it to Sophia and her mother. The image of Sophia at the crime scene was one he would never forget. It would probably haunt him forever.
   He returned to Sophia’s bedside. Her eyes were guarded as she watched Alena Borin’s every move: straightening the covers, gently bathing Sophia’s forehead with the damp cloth. Sophia shifted her focus to collide with his gaze.
   The uncertainty in her stare tugged at something buried deep within him. Something he didn’t want to pull out and inspect. He cleared his throat until Ms. Borin gave him her attention.
   “I’ve called in a lip reader to take Ms. Montgomery’s statement,” he said to her privately, in a low enough voice Sophia couldn’t hear him. “This will take some time, and I’m sorry, but you can’t be present. Why don’t you go have some lunch?”
   The older lady scowled at him, shaking her head.
   “Ma’am, you don’t have a choice. This is official police business.”
   She glanced down at Sophia, then back to him. “I will not leave her alone.”
   “She won’t be alone. I’ll be here the entire time, and there will be officers outside her door within the hour.”
   A long moment passed. She didn’t say anything, nor did she move.
   “Ma’am . . .”
   Ms. Borin snatched up her purse. She smiled at Sophia. “I will be back in less than an hour, MIlaya Moyna.” After patting the foot of the bed and throwing Julian another glare, she marched out of the hospital room.
   Julian pulled the chair closer to the bed and sat. Sophia stared at him from behind her swollen face. He could read the wariness in her eyes as if it were a blazing neon sign.
   “Do you know who that woman was?” He made a deliberate effort to speak just above a whisper level. The nurses had mentioned she’d probably have a horrible headache when she woke.
   She shook her head—no, tilted it.
   “You don’t recognize her?”
   She tilted her head again.
   “You aren’t sure who she is?”
   A nod.
   Julian stopped. Maybe he should wait for the lip reader, so he didn’t misunderstand. She wasn’t sure if she recognized and knew who Alena Borin was.
   Sophia made a sound, but the pain it caused her marched across her face. She mouthed a single word, and this time, Julian understood exactly. “Who is she?” he asked.
   She nodded.
   He sat up straighter and looked her dead in the eye. “She’s Alena Borin, your grandmother.”

Quilts of Love | HIDDEN IN THE STARS – $200 Giveaway & “Fall into Fall” Facebook Party!  

Don't miss the newest Quilts of Love book, Hidden in the Stars by Robin Caroll. September's QOL release is a wonderful combination of mystery, romance, and family love bound together by a quilt and the story it tells.
Hidden in the Stars Robin Carroll Quilts of Love
Enter to win a "Night on the Town" (a $200 Visa cash card!) and RSVP for the "Fall into Fall" Quilts of Love Facebook party on 10/7.
One winner will receive:
  • A $200 Visa cash card (The perfect accessory for a "night on the town"!)
  • 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 October 7. Winner will be announced at the October 7th author chat 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 October 7th!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Joanne Bischof's new novella available for preorder ~* This Quiet Sky *~

a beautiful excerpt from author Joanne Bischof ~*

From This Quiet Sky:

Somewhere in the distance, I hear Mr. Davis call on one of the older girls across the aisle who has her hand raised. Tucker and I ought to stay on task or we’ll be in trouble. Tucker must have had a similar thought for he plucks up the slate pencil and finishes the equation. He helps me solve it, then another, and another. I don’t ask about him anymore and he doesn’t ask about me and its best this way. We just focus on numbers and variables and when the lunch hour comes, I thank him for his help and carry my pail out into the sunshine.

Within minutes, it’s clear that my sister is much more interested in playing tag than eating, so I settle in the shade of a tree by myself and pull out a piece of bread and one of the hardboiled eggs. Slow progress with peeling the shell gives me plenty of time to glance around. It’s then that I spot Tucker sitting near the woodpile where the glow of noon brightens the grass. Leaning back against the cut logs, he pokes at his food and glances my way. I look down, pick at my hardboiled egg, and have to work to keep from looking up again. Everyone plays around him as if he’s not there. Granted, he is seventeen and seems more like a man than a boy, but you’d think someone would at least say hello.

The thought of sitting by him comes and I try to push it away. It doesn’t go so well. By the time I’ve finished my egg, I’ve decided that life is short. If I don’t go now, I may never and I’ll look back on this moment with regret. I stand, pick up my pail, straighten my skirt and start that way.

Don’t do this, Sarah.
Another few steps.
You’re gonna regret this, Sarah.

But my heart’s not listening and my feet are carrying me over to him. He looks up at me and stops chewing.

I set my pail beside his and settle down in the grass. “May I sit with you?”

Slowly, he starts chewing again, then swallows, still staring at me. “If you’d like.”

I do. And also, “I want to thank you for your help this morning. I already feel that I’ve learned so much. L-Likely,” I stumble on the word when he seems amused by what I’m saying. “Likely we’ve only scratched the surface, but…whatever you teach me is an unexpected blessing.” I smile and it’s surprisingly easy. “How can I thank you?”

He looks a bit confused as he folds a napkin. That was a rather open ended question.

I search for some way to fix that. “Do you like cookies?”

Still peering down, his expression is soft. “I do.”

“Any particular kind?”

This draws his eyes to my face. “Nope. I like everything.”

Then I will make him some for next week. It hits me that there’s one in my pail today for Betsy and me to share. I can’t remember what kind, so I pluck out the handkerchief and free a thick oatmeal cookie. I hold it out to him. “For putting up with me.”

He smirks. “You’re no trouble. You’re actually very teachable.”

“Teachable and marryable. Two compliments in one day?”

He laughs. It’s a deep, sweet sound that makes me wish I had a brother just so I could hear that kind of laugh all the time. With me still holding out the cookie, he seems reluctant to accept it so I place the round in his palm and the brief brush of my skin against his shows he’s a little warmer. I’m glad he’s out here in the sun.
a $2.99 pre-order ~ Joanne Bischof's new novella!

Sixteen-year-old Sarah Miller doesn’t expect anything out of the ordinary when she begins her first day at the one-room-school house in her new hometown of Rocky Knob. But when she meets seventeen-year-old Tucker O’Shay—the boy with the fatal illness who volunteers to tutor her in algebra—she finds herself swept up in a friendship that changes the way she sees the world and a love that changes her life.

Publication date: December 18, 2014.

Nook and paperback coming soon!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Love's Fortune by Laura Frantz, © 2014

The Ballantyne Legacy ~ Book 3

The Ballantyne Legacy is about the power of choice and the legacy we leave through the choices we make.

wren 1
                              Rowena "Wren" Ballantyne

Take I the morning wings, and dwell
in utmost parts of sea;
Ev'n there, Lord, shall thy hand me lead,
thy right hand hold shall me.
                                       PSALM 139:9,
                              OLD SCOTTISH VERSION

After a sudden passage, Rowena "Wren" Ballantyne and her Papa arrive at his ancestral home in Pennsylvania. Clothing and modes are so different from what she has known. Missing her beloved Kentucky home, Wren is found wading in the swan pond by James Sackett, the pilot of the Rowena ~ the enormous Ballantyne steamer named after her ~
He glanced at her and she caught a flash of green. The sun lines about his eyes were chiseled deep, reminding her of mossy rocks in a millstream.
   --Wren ~ Love's Fortune, 62.
What if our thoughts tumbled out, but then they might if he were to look into her eyes he describes vividly to himself.
Though he couldn't see her eyes, he wagered they were like her mother's, the color of sea foam, that mesmerizing green on the curl of a wave.
    --James ~ Ibid., 30.
How do we leave behind who we are to meet the expectations of those we are newly among? Young cousins and older relatives who have lived separate from her with each day dawning? Wren is met by measurements, fittings, and etiquette lessons as she is prepared for her first social season projected with a resulting engagement outcome. Her father, Ansel Ballantyne, leaves for lengthy family business and James Sackett is selected as her escort. As part of her family's shipping business from boyhood, he is surprised to find he is developing feelings for her beyond being a safe escort.

This is a glowing story of generations, blending as all they have known. Enters free, unencumbered Wren. She is told not to speak to the staff, to select correct forks and spoons for their occasions, learning dances she has never seen, to impress people she has never known, carrying the family name and honor. Not all of the family, however, are honorable. Strife and competition set some of them awry. Fortunately, the majority do care for Wren and seek her good as she is placed in a new life among them.

As it centers around a granddaughter of Silas Ballantyne, Love's Fortune may be read as a stand-alone novel. Wren and James were excellent protagonists and I enjoyed the story very much. He was protective of her to the point she felt she was being set aside. Others coming alongside enhanced the story in a way that projected them forward, uncertain of their outcome. Wren is given temporary relief with joy playing her fiddle and while horseback riding that gave her some privacy and regaining of self. How difficult it would be to suddenly be thrust into a world of extreme difference. I awaited her father's return, to have some closeness she could call her own.

I highly recommend this series and look forward to further writings by author Laura Frantz.
With two very different horizons stretched out before her, one young woman stands on the cusp of an unknown future.

Ballantyne Estate, Scottish Highlands

 ~ via Laura Frantz, author

Sheltered since birth at her Kentucky home, Rowena Ballantyne has heard only whispered rumors of her grandfather Silas’s vast fortune and grand manor in Pennsylvania. Then her father, Silas’s long-estranged son, Ansel, receives a rare letter summoning him to New Hope. Rowena makes the journey with him and quickly finds herself in a whole new world—filled with family members she’s never met, dances she’s never learned, and a new side to the father she thought she knew. As she struggles to fit in during their extended stay, she finds a friend in James Sackett, the most valued steamship pilot of the Ballantyne’s shipping line. Even with his help, Rowena feels she may never be comfortable in high society. Will she go her own way . . . to her own peril?
   With her signature attention to historical detail and emotional depth, Laura Frantz brings 1850s Pennsylvania alive with a tender story of loss, love, and loyalty in this final installment of the Ballantyne saga.

About Laura

***Thank you to Revell Reads for this review copy of Love's Fortune, the final segment in the Ballantyne Legacy by Laura Frantz. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

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Enjoy this excerpt from Love's Fortune by Laura Frantz ~


                                         So throw off the bowlines. Sail
                                         away from the safe harbor. Catch
                                         the trade winds in your sails.
                                         Explore. Dream. Discover.
                                                                  MARK TWAIN

APRIL 1823

For the rest of his life James Sackett would remember this moment. He was just a boy, but he felt full grown. Free. Nearly winged. More master. Like the young man standing beside him.
   Ansel Ballantyne placed a firm hand on his shoulder, eyes asquint in the blinding sea glare. “Ready, James? For a new adventure?”
   James smiled up at him, feeling close as kin, entwined with the Ballantynes like he’d been. He didn’t look back at Philadelphia’s fading spires and steeples. He looked forward, beyond the ship’s proud bowsprit. To England.
   “You’re not missing Pittsburgh, I hope.”
   A firm shake of James’s head shot down the notion. “I want to do you proud, sir. I want Mister Silas and Mistress Eden to be glad that I’m with you.”
   “You’re good company, James. One day I hope to have as fine a son as you.” Ansel faced the wind’s salty spray, the wearied lines in his face easing. “Mayhap I’ll teach you to play the fiddle while we’re at sea. By the time we arrive in Liverpool, you might well outshine me.”
   The prospect brought a keen warmth to James’s chest. Together they stood, of one purpose, looking out on an ocean so wide and blue it seemed the sky turned upside down.
   Oh, to be a Ballantyne.
   He wasn’t one, but James wanted to be.
   Mayhap being a Ballantyne apprentice was a blessed second best.


                                        Soon after, I returned home to my
                                        family, with a determination to
                                        bring them as soon as possible to live
                                        in Kentucky, which I esteemed a
                                        second paradise.
                                                                      DANIEL BOONE


Papa had forsaken his black mourning band.
   The shock of it stole through Wren like ice water. For two years her father’s shirtsleeve had borne a reminder of her mother’s loss, as telling as the lines of grief engraved upon his handsome face. Not once had he taken off the black silk. But all of a sudden it was missing. And Wren ached to know what stirred inside his russet head.
   It had all begun with a letter from far upriver. From New Hope. She’d paid the post, wonder astir inside her as she studied the elegant writing. Ansel Ballantyne, Cane Run, Kentucky. They received a great deal of mail, mostly from Europe and the violin collectors and luthiers there, or from Mama’s family, the Nancarrows in England. Not Pennsylvania, with the Allegheny County watermark bleeding ink on the outer edge of the wrinkled paper.
   She ran all the way home and arrived at the door of their stone house flushed and so winded she could only flutter the letter in her fingers. As it passed from her hand to Papa’s, she measured his expression.
   Pensive. Surprised. Reluctant.
   Sensing he craved privacy, she turned on her naked feet and fled, climbing the mountain in back of their home place till her lungs cried for air. There she sank to her knees atop a flat rock and drank in the last colorful bits of day.
   The river before her was no longer blue but liquid gold. Wide and unending, it cradled a lone steamboat with fancy lettering on its paddle box, a far cry from the crude canoe of her childhood. Where it was headed she didn’t know and didn’t want to. Her world began and ended on this familiar mountain and always had.
   She didn’t move till her father’s husky voice cut through the sultry twilight, calling her home. The supper their housekeeper Molly made was waiting. Wren darted a glance about the too-still kitchen. No Molly. No letter in sight. Just cold cups of cider and deep bowls of hominy stew and corn bread drenched with butter.
   “A bheil an t-acras ort?” Papa stood in the doorway to the parlor speaking the Gaelic he’d used with her since childhood, warm and familiar as one of Molly’s hand-sewn quilts.
   Are you hungry?
   Hungry, yes. For mourning bands and Mama and explanations of strange letters from upriver. She nodded, sitting down and waiting for grace. Tears touched her eyes when he prayed. The words were Mama’s own, ushering in her sweet presence again.
   “Give us grateful hearts, our Father, for all Thy mercies, and make us mindful of the needs of others, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
   There was a moment’s hush.
   “I’ve news from Pennsylvania.” Swallowing some cider, Papa gestured to the mantel where the letter rested.
   “From your Ballantyne kin?” Wren nearly choked asking it, the grit of corn bread crumbs in her throat.
   “Aye. It’s been a while since they’ve written. Longer still since I’ve visited. Things there are changing . . .” Misery rose up and clouded the blue of his eyes. He took another sip of cider and then pushed up from his chair, nearly sending it backward. “I fear I’ve been away too long.”
   Tossing aside his napkin, he limped out the back door, his old injury tugging at her as he disappeared among fruit-laden trees. In the heat of the kitchen, she was left alone with her clamoring questions.
   All her life she’d wondered about their family in western Pennsylvania. She’d heard the romantic tale of how her Scots grandfather, Silas Ballantyne, had come over the mountains the century before and built a fancy brick house for his bride. She was sure the homespun bits of gossip whispered by Cane Run folk had been embellished over time with silken thread. Some sort of trouble had driven Papa away from there more than twenty years before. But that was a puzzle too.
   She picked up his bowl of stew, set it in the hearth’s embers to keep warm, and placed his plate of corn bread atop it. Though he’d gone outside, his profound disquiet lingered. She’d not seen him this afflocht since Mama’s passing.
   Darting a look at the mantel, she sighed. The letter that started all the trouble seemed to taunt her, Papa’s black mourning band coiled beside it, rife with mystery.


   Birdsong nudged her awake, just as it had for twenty years or better. Wren could smell coffee—and varnish. Someone was in the workshop situated across the dogtrot at the south end of the house. The instruments they crafted seemed to dry better there, soaking up the sun through the skylight in the vaulted ceiling, the room’s brightness calling out the rich pine and maple grain of the finished fiddles.
   She dressed hurriedly and donned an apron, then wove her hair into a careless braid, tying it o with a frayed, pumpkin-colored ribbon. It jarred sourly with her blue dress and brown shoes, giving her the look of a rag rug. She never fussed overlong about her mismatched wardrobe, not caring how she looked. A spill of varnish or a chisel gone awry had wrecked more dresses than she could count.
   The workshop door was open wide, revealing a long rack stretching the length of the room, jewel-toned violins strung like beads on a necklace. The smell of varnish wafted strong but not unpleasant, competing with the tang of freshly cut wood. Lingering on the door stone, she swept the shop in a glance. Papa? No, Selkirk, Papa’s apprentice. Straddling a bench, he was carving the scroll of a violin from a piece of pine, his back to her.
   “Morning, Kirk.”
   “Morning, Wren.” He didn’t so much as glance up, keeping his chisel true to the wood, a dusting of sweet shavings across his breeches.
   “The McCoy bow is finished,” she told him. “I rubbed it with pumice powder and oil just yesterday. But you’ll need to test it first.” She’d lost count of the bows that didn’t pass muster. The instruments they made had to be nearly faultless. Papa’s reputation as luthier depended on it.
   “I won’t be making any deliveries today.” Selkirk’s tone was low. Thoughtful. “Your father’s left for Louisville. Something about booking passage upriver to Pittsburgh.”
   She went completely still, nearly forgetting how strange it was to be alone with Selkirk without Papa present. Just outside, Molly was stringing laundry on the line. Mute Molly, Cane Run folk called her. When small, she’d been choked by a slave trader and robbed of her voice.
   Wren fought the catch in her own throat as she fastened her gaze on the instruments adorning the sunny room, not just fiddles but mandolins and dulcimers and psalteries, the work of their hands and hearts. “Pittsburgh sounds right far.”
   Kirk shrugged. “Just a few hundred miles easily managed by steamer.” He looked up, his chisel aloft. “Don’t you want to meet your Ballantyne kin, Wren?”
   Did she? In truth she rarely thought about them aside from Christmas, when Grandmother Ballantyne sent fetching, impractical packages downriver. An enameled jewelry box. A cashmere shawl. An ivory-handled parasol. Things far above Wren’s raising. “Mostly I forget all about them.”
   Kirk gave a chuckle. “Well, they’ve not forgotten you. Fact is, they’ve named a steamboat in your honor. She’s called the Rowena.”
   Her backside connected with the nearest stool. “You don’t mean it.”
   “Aye, I’ve seen her taking on cargo in Louisville. A first-rate steamer she is too, well deserving of your name.”
   “But . . . why?”
   “Because the Ballantynes name their steamers after the petticoats—er, ladies—in the family.”
   “I’m hardly a lady,” she replied, glancing at her varnish-stained apron and hands.
   “You might be by the time you come back here.”
   The very thought made her smile. She reached for a finished bow and newly strung fiddle, launching into a lively jig as if it could drive the ludicrous thought from the room. But it simply ensnared Kirk, keeping him from his work.
   He studied her, mouth wry. “If you tickle their ears with your fiddle, they might well forgive you for Cane Run. The truth is, Wren, you don’t belong here. Not like the Clarks and Landrys and Mackens who settled this place. Your mother’s people are of English stock, aye? And your father, for all his humility and homespun, is still a Ballantyne.”
   “I misdoubt I belong there either.”
   “How will you know unless you go?”
   Because some things the heart just knows.
   “If someone named a boat after me and begged me to come upriver, I’d be the first aboard.” Kirk traded one tool for another. “It’s a bit odd your father seldom speaks of his kin. Makes me wonder what drove him to Kentucky to begin with.”
   She rested her fiddle across her knees. “All I know is that Papa left Pennsylvania when he was young as you and sailed to England. He took up with the Nancarrows—Welsh luthiers and collectors—and wed my mother. After I was born they came to Kentucky.”
   “Bare facts, Wren. You’d best be finding out before you go.”
   She fell quiet, pondering the sudden turn of events, the steamboat Rowena, and Louisville, a place she’d never been. “When will Papa be back?”
   “Tomorrow or thereabouts.”
   She was used to his absences. His violin hunting often took him away for months on end. Sometimes Mama had accompanied him, but never Wren. Since Mama’s passing, Papa hadn’t gone anywhere at all.
   Why on earth would he now want to return to Pennsylvania?
Laura Frantz, Love's Fortune Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2014. Used by permission.

Love's Reckoning, Book 1 ~ The Ballantyne Legacy ~ Review:

Love's Awakening, Book 2 ~ The Ballantyne Legacy ~ Review:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

~* Playing by Heart *~ by Anne Mateer, © 2014


Lula Bowman has finally achieved her dream: a teaching position and a scholarship to continue her college education in mathematics. But when she receives a shocking telephone call from her sister, Jewel, everything she's worked for begins to crumble.
   After the sudden death of Jewel's husband, Jewel needs Lula's help. With a heavy heart, Lula returns to her Oklahoma hometown to do right by her sister. But the only teaching job available in Dunn is combination music instructor/basketball coach. Neither subject belongs anywhere near the halls of academia, according to Lula!
   Lula commits to covering the job for the rest of the school year, determined to do well and prove herself to the town. Reluctantly, she turns to the boys' coach, Chet, to learn the game of basketball. Chet is handsome and single, but Lula has no plans to fall for a local boy. She's returning to college as soon as she gets Jewel back on her feet.
   However, the more time she spends in Dunn, the more Lula realizes God is working on her heart--and her future is beginning to look a lot different than she'd expected.

Lula Bowman's world changes as she leaves the university behind to come home to help her newly widowed sister, Jewel Wyatt, and her five, soon six children.

More is changing than she would suspect. Applying for a job at the high school, Lula finds she is not able to exchange places with the math teacher, as she'd hoped, but is hired as the music teacher and the girls' basketball coach ~ although she has never seen a game played. The switch between horse and buggy and Tin Lizzie creates other new beginnings in Dunn, Oklahoma, her hometown.

Tutoring students in math becomes a doorway to learning about basketball. She arranges to have the math/boys' basketball coach, Chet Vaughn, give her pointers in the game. I like how the camaraderie begins with the high school students in being a help to each other. Respect is earned as Lula continues ahead and doesn't falter in her newly-acquired teaching skills. Her love of music pulls her through as she realizes the giftings she has been given that fulfill her and others ~ especially a silent listener who scoots out before being recognized. Music of the soul.

Love Is Playing OnChet finds his worth isn't in what he does or doesn't do, but in who he is. His character overrides any doubts he might have. His integrity bears repeating as he encourages a student in his last year of high school to look to the future and not his circumstances to determine his outcome. I like how the ending served both he and his family in coming together in a new way without judgment.

Chet's gentle spirit shapes the heart-healing of Jewel Wyatt's ten-year-old son, JC, as he overcomes the loss of his father; a coming alongside to bear him up as Chet identifies with his own earlier needs. I especially would commend the owner of the livery stables in allowing JC to continue to come and tend the horses; a giving that helped with his mourning.

The story brings together forgiveness and healing, as going forward requires tenacity and forthrightness. Lula has left behind her teaching at the university and her scholarship in math to attend to the needs of her sister; a self-giving and sacrifice that turns out to be a betterment all around. Reliving moments of her growing up and the stigma others projected about her, Lula continues to be better than any drawback could be by not focusing on the past but enriching her life and those around her in the present.

I would recommend this novel for high school students as an encouragement to grow in their relationship with their peers and looking to what can be as they trust the Lord's path for them. An excellent story of hope and grace.

quote from Playing by Heart

Anne Mateer
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Ginger Murray

Anne Mateer is a three-time Genesis Contest finalist who has long had a passion for history and historical fiction. She and her husband live near Dallas, Texas, and are the parents of three young adults. Visit author Anne Mateer's website for more information; Twitter and Facebook.

***Thank you to author Anne Mateer for this review copy of her novel, Playing by Heart. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy an excerpt from Anne Mateer's Playing by Heart ~ Chapter One



“Mr.—” I glanced down at my seating chart, heart drumming in my ears. My third week in front of a college classroom filled with male students. Three weeks of looking past their disdain. Three weeks holding my ground by sheer force of will.
   I could do this. For myself. For my father.
   “Mr. Graham, could you please tell us about the concept of linear combination?”
   Mr. Graham stretched out his legs and glanced at his classmates on either side. His lips twisted into a smirk as he twirled his pencil through his fingers. “I could explain it, but are you certain you grasp its complexities?”
   I sucked in a breath, my back snapping as straight as a loblolly pine, my cheeks stinging hot. Not a new slur, to be sure, but no student had yet dared be insolent to my face.
   The air in the classroom stilled, anticipation hanging as heavy as a chartreuse sky over the Oklahoma plains in springtime. My body tensed, waiting to see if others would add their opinions. I didn’t know how to answer. I’d worked hard to get to this place, harder than I’d ever worked in my life. I couldn’t crumble now.
   I pressed a hand to my churning stomach. The committee had chosen me, Miss Lula Bowman, as the recipient of the Donally Mathematics Award. I received tuition to pursue my graduate degree as well as a stipend for teaching a first-year mathematics course. I’d weathered stronger gales than Mr. Graham to reach this place.
   Arching my eyebrows, I tried to peer down my nose at the boy-man, wishing I had a pair of spectacles to complete the look. “I’m perfectly capable of understanding it, thank you. Let’s hope you have the same capacity.”
   Mr. Graham’s disdain didn’t slacken. Instead, his mouth curved into a slow smile as his eyes raked down the length of me. “You aren’t so bad looking, Miss Bowman. Couldn’t you find a man that would have you?”
   My lungs expanded as far as my corset would allow, hands fisting and loosening with each angry breath. I pulled up to my full height—wishing it were more than five feet two inches—and tipped my chin toward the ceiling, hoping to add a bit more stature. “I don’t know why you are attending college, Mr. Graham, but I assume the others are here to learn. If you impede that process, I will take up your behavior with the dean. Are we clear?”
   But even as the words left my mouth, I trembled, knowing I had no real recourse. To admit I couldn’t manage the class would be the same as admitting failure. No, I had to handle Mr. Graham on my own, using the same granite resolve I had with my older brothers and sisters when they’d insisted college was a waste of time and money.
   “I will thank you to respect my position as a scholar even if you can’t reconcile it with my gender, Mr. Graham. Women are capable of more accomplishments than a pretty song on the piano or a tasty meal to fill your belly. You’d do well to remember that.”

   The pine table, littered with scribbled pages and mathematics journals, wavered. The pencil dropped from my fingers, rolled off the edge, and clattered to the floor. I rubbed my eyes and sucked in the still, hot air of an Indian summer, temperatures far too warm for the last week of September. I reached for a book and fanned it in front of my face as I considered once more my latest calculations, the ones that refused to be solved.
   A line of moisture rolled down the back of my neck, plastering an escaped strand of hair to my skin. I set it free, then blew out a long breath, attempting to make my own bit of breeze.
   I groaned into the silence, replaying my altercation with Mr. Graham earlier in the day. He’d been quiet during the rest of the class, but I suspected he’d continue to be trouble, and he knew I knew it.
   My elbows thumped to the table. I cradled my head in my hands and stared again at the equation that mocked me while voices buzzed through the hallway. A door closed in the distance. The clacking of shoes against the wooden floor grew louder. I sat up straight. The door opened.
   Professor Clayton’s white head appeared first, and then the rest of the rumpled man emerged. The corners of my mouth pulled upward in amusement. Ever since Mrs. Clayton’s passing two years ago, the professor didn’t seem to notice the niceties of life, only the unflinching surety of numbers.
   “Ah, Miss Bowman. I’d hoped to find you here.” He switched a clutch of papers from one arm to the other as he surveyed the jumble of materials in front of me. I reached across the table and cleared a corner. He let his burden slap to the surface, then riffled through the top few pages until he pulled one free from the stack. His deep blue eyes brightened. “And how is the first female recipient of the Donally Mathematics Award faring this day?”
   The male students of our college don’t think a female intellect suitable to the rigors of mathematics. But I couldn’t tell Professor Clayton that.
   “Quite well, thank you, sir.”
   One white eyebrow quirked. “I’ve heard something to the contrary, my dear.” He waited a moment. I didn’t confirm or deny it. Only held his gaze until he sighed. “But then I knew I could count on you to prove the Donally committee wasn’t mistaken in their choice.”
   “Yes, sir,” I whispered, staring at the table, at the page with the unfinished equation. After six years of alternating work and college classes, I could finally do both at the same time, in the same place, thanks to the award. I refused to let swaggering young men of eighteen or nineteen ruin all I’d earned.
   Professor Clayton peered at the paper in front of me. “Trouble with that one?”
   I nodded, shame spreading heat into my cheeks.
   “Work the problem again, Miss Bowman. You almost have the correct answer.” He crossed the room to his desk.
   I twisted in my chair. “But how can I fix it when I can’t figure out where I’ve gone wrong?”
   He blinked at me as if I’d asked him a question about the latest fashions, not mathematics. I started to repeat myself, but his hand rose to stop my words. “When all else fails, start again at the beginning.” He returned to shuffling papers.
   I stared at the page, at the scrawled numbers that refused to cooperate. Could Mr. Graham be right? What if I didn’t have it in me to understand?
   No. If I gave in, if I quit, I’d prove my daddy’s belief in me wrong. And prove the naysayers right. The ones who said “Fruity Lu” Bowman would never amount to more than a flibbertigibbet, a pretty little hummingbird who could never alight on one thing for more than a moment.
   My jaw tightened. I would not return to that reputation. Ever. I would finish what I’d started, no matter how difficult the task. Picking up my pencil from the floor, I flipped the paper over and copied the equation once more. Daddy and Professor Clayton believed in my ability to succeed in academia, so I did, too.
   A grueling twenty minutes later, I handed my page to Professor Clayton. He grinned, set it aside.
   Outwardly, I stood unfazed, fingers loosely clasped, but inside I rejoiced.
   “Go on with you now,” Professor Clayton said gently, jerking his head toward the door. “We’ve both plenty to do again tomorrow.”
   I glanced at the clock on the wall. Nearly five. Mrs. McInnish would scold if I came late to the supper table once more this week. I gathered a mathematics journal with my textbooks before darting to the door. Then I stopped. Turned. Professor Clayton’s head bent low, drawing his neat script closer to his aging eyes. I scurried back and planted a kiss on his cheek.
   He looked up, eyes wide with surprise, then returned to his work. Out on the dusty street, I no longer noticed the oppressive heat. Professor Clayton’s approval had turned the world as fresh and new as spring.

   “Miss Bowman? That you?” The lilt of a Scottish accent carried through the screen door as I raced up the steps.
   “It is, Mrs. McInnish. I’ll wash up and be right there!” I swooped up the stairs to my room, tossed my books on the bed, and splashed warm water over my face and neck before straightening the collar of my plain shirtwaist. The looking glass revealed a messy topknot, but I had no time to set my hair to rights. Back down the stairs I ran. I slid into my chair at the dining table just as Mrs. McInnish swept through the kitchen door with a bowl of green beans. I glanced at the three other boarders as I spread my napkin in my lap.
   Mrs. McInnish said a blessing, and we all began to spoon food onto our plates. Conversation bubbled like soup on a hot stove: Miss Thompson regaling us with stories about her music students, Miss Readdy complaining about the girl she’d hired to help at the millinery, and Miss Frank giggling over the romantic gestures of her latest beau. I forked food into my mouth and kept silent. I’d learned quickly that none of these girls were interested in the world of mathematics.
   My room at Mrs. McInnish’s served its purpose, but not in the company it afforded. Long ago I’d decided I had no time for young women engaged in less than serious pursuits. Which meant, of course, that I had few female friends. Or friends of any gender, for that matter. I dabbed at the corner of my mouth with my napkin, anxious to be away from the table and engrossed again in mathematical theories and practical problems. Numbers remained constant in a way other things did not.
   The telephone rang. Mrs. McInnish frowned and hopped up from her seat, wondering aloud who would interrupt supper. A moment later, she returned. “Someone wanting to speak with you, Miss Bowman.”
   All eyes turned to me. My stomach sank toward the floor. “Are you certain they asked for me?”
   “Certain as the day is long. Hurry up now. Susie said the call’s come through from Dunn. That’s to the west, isn’t it?”
   Dunn, Oklahoma. My heart flopped in my chest and my legs turned to lead.
   I hadn’t heard from my family in months. Only my sister Jewel’s occasional newsy letters filled the gap created when Daddy’s stroke left him unable to write. And come to think of it, I hadn’t had one of those letters since late August. My breath caught in my chest. Had something happened to Daddy?
   Mrs. McInnish pulled at my chair. I forced myself to stand, to jerk my way into the kitchen, where the telephone box hung on the wall. I pressed the receiver to my ear and spoke into the mouthpiece protruding like a nose beneath the two bells that looked like eyes. “This is Miss Bowman.”
   “Lula.” My name came as quiet as a breath across the line. “Lula, I need you.”
   “Jewel? Is that you?”
   The rhythm of crying. My fingers gripped the earpiece more tightly. “What is it, Jewel?”
   “Davy’s gone.”
   My whole body tensed. Davy? Her husband?
   “What do you mean, gone?”
   She hiccuped a sob. “The funeral’s Saturday.”
   Davy Wyatt, always so full of life and laughter, dead? How could it be?
   “I need you, Lula. The kids need you. Please come home.” Fear rose in my throat, threatening to choke me. All my life, I’d been in the way. The littlest sister. The baby. And yet it was Jewel who took me in when Mama passed, who helped me afford that first year of college. In spite of her infernal matchmaking schemes, I knew she loved me. And now she needed me. She needed me. “Of course I’ll come.”
   “Tomorrow?” She sounded so frail, so fragile.
   I swallowed hard, praying for strength. “Tonight.”
   “Thank you.” The line went silent, at least until Susie, the operator, squawked in my ear. I hung up, stumbled into the dining room, and fell back into my chair.
   “What is it?” Miss Frank leaned closer, her face as pale as mine felt.
   “My sister’s husband has died. I have to go to her.” New strength surged through my limbs. I rose. “I have to catch the train. Tonight.”
   Questions followed me up the stairs, but I had no answers. I brushed aside my satchel, filled a suitcase with a few clothes, then scrawled a quick note to Professor Clayton, telling him I’d return by the beginning of next week. I knew he’d understand. I only hoped the college administration would be as obliging.
Anne Mateer, Playing by Heart Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2014. Used by permission.