Thursday, October 30, 2008

7 Random Facts Tag: Book Edition


Karla over at Another Road to Ramble tagged me for the "Random Facts" tag - Book Edition.

Here are my 7 random/weird facts (trying to stick with the book edition theme - we'll see how I do!)

1. My Grandmother unknowingly let me read my first "adult" book when I was around 8 or 9 years old - I was spending the night and found her book stash - it was an exotic tale set in a faraway land - I remember that it had a redish cover, and I sure wish I had the title! I'll find it one of these days and post it.

2. A favorite book that my Mom and I share: The Wicked Marquis by Marnie Ellingson. It is a Regency romance, and was very fun to read - if you get a chance, see if you can find it and let me know how you like it!

3. I'm pretty sure I've got at least a handful of books stashed in just about every room in the house (not the bathrooms or the laundry room - they are too small, but all other rooms are included!), with a few boxes in the garage.

4. During my first year in high school, I was recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so I ended up having one class period per day that I spent in the library - I learned how to catalog incoming books, reinforce the spine, apply the protective covering, and get them on the shelves, etc.

5. All through junior high and high school, I read all the regency romance books I could get my hands on, especially those by Georgette Heyer, Marion Chesney and Barbara Cartland!

6. My Dad introduced me to adventure books like those written by Clive Cussler, Jim Butcher and Matt Reiley.

7. I'm in three different book clubs, one of them includes my Mom, one of my High School English teachers (she taught my Mom her first year of teaching, and me her last year of teaching!), one of my junior high math teachers, her mother, her daughter and another math instructor - all of whom are wonderful women I enjoy keeping in touch with!

I'm going to tag 7 people who have book blogs, so they can continue the book theme if they want. I choose:

1. Kathy at Bermudaonions Weblog
2. Sandra at Fresh Ink Books
3. Shana at Literarily
4. Lisa at Minds Alive on the Shelves
5. Wendy at Musings of a Bookish Kitty
6. Michele at A Reader's Respite
7. Monie at Reading With Monie

Now - for your instructions:

1. Link to the person who tagged you, and post the rules on your blog
2. Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself
3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs
4. Let each person know that they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog!

Tag - You're It!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Review: Engaging Father Christmas (Father Christmas Book 2) by Robin Jones Gunn

Title: Engaging Father Christmas (Father Christmas Book 2)
Author: Robin Jones Gunn
Pages: 176
Publisher: FaithWords (October 30, 2008)
Genre: Christian Fiction
Edition: Standard - Many thanks to Miriam for sending me this book as part of the FIRST WildCard Tours!!





Perfect for : Personal reading, Book Club reading, GREAT Gift Book (Note: the book does include discussion questions at the end)

In a nutshell: I think this is my ALL-TIME favorite holiday book (especially when combined with the first book!). In book 2, it is one year after Miranda has found her father's family in England. She faces all-new challenges in book two, as she hopes to gain the acceptance of her father's wife, while hoping to cement the future of her relationship with Ian MacGregor. This book is just as wonderful as the first. I highly recommend both books, especially with the upcoming holiday season. These are great reads, and would make great gifts!


From Hachette Book Group USA (Faith Words):
Miranda Carson can't wait to return to England for Christmas and to be with her boyfriend, Ian. She has spent a lifetime yearning for a place to call home, and she's sure Carlton Heath will be it, especially when a hinted-at engagement ring slips into the conversation. But Miranda's high hopes for a jolly Christmas with the small circle of people she has come to love are toppled when Ian's father is hospitalized and the matriarch of the Whitcombe family withholds her blessing from Miranda. Questions run rampant in Miranda's mind about whether she really belongs in this cheery corner of the world. Then, when her true identity threatens all her relationships in unanticipated ways, Miranda is certain all is lost. And yet . . . maybe Father Christmas has special gifts in store for her after all.

Excerpt: (See below to read the first chapter, which was provided as part of the FIRST WildCard Tour earlier this month)

My Review:
I absolutely loved both books in this series (Finding Father Christmas, Engaging Father Christmas)! It was a fast read for me that made me feel warm and peaceful, with a very satisfying ending. I highly recommend both books for personal reading, book club reading (there are include discussion questions) and as books that would be great for gifts!


Characters: The original characters from the first book are back, with more emphasis on Ian MacGregor. Mark plays a more central part in this book, and shows how grown-up he is becoming while still retaining his youth. Margaret (Miranda's father's wife) also plays an important role in this story. All of the characters are written well, and help to make the story pull together and flow well.

Story-Line: The story-line in both books was easy to follow and very enjoyable. Now that Miranda has a family and friends to call her own (and a long-distance boyfriend), we see how the characters (and her faith) are "engaged" in this book. There are many touching scenes in this story, which help to keep the reader "engaged."

Readability: As with the first book, this was an enjoyable, easy read - only taking a few hours to read. I found it hard to put the book down once I started - I loved it SO much!


Overall: Another beautifully written book, that will surely be a cherished favorite among holiday stories. It is a nice easy read that could easily be shared with the rest of the family (no questionable scenes or language). readers will fall in love with the characters and ambiance throughout the book. I especially enjoyed the dark green printing in the book instead of the normal black lettering - it helped to complete the holiday feel!


It is time to play a Wild Card! And this time I'm doubling the score; you can preview not one, but two books by this amazing author. Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!


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

Today's Wild Card author is:


Robin Jones Gunn

and the book:

Finding Father Christmas


FaithWords (October 11, 2007)


Engaging Father Christmas


FaithWords (October 30, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Robin Jones Gunn is the bestselling author of sixty books, representing 3.5 million copies sold. A dozen of her novels have appeared on the top of the CBA bestseller list, including her wildly successful Sisterchicks series. Thousands of teens from around the world have written letters to Robin sharing how God used the Christy Miller and Sierra Jensen series to bring them to Christ as well as lead them to make life changing decisions regarding purity. Robin and her husband of thirty years live near Portland, OR, where they are members of Imago Dei Community along with other Christian authors.
Visit the author's website.

Product Details for Finding Father Christmas:

List Price: $13.99
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (October 11, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446526290
ISBN-13: 978-0446526296

Product Details for Engaging Father Christmas:

List Price: $
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (October 30, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446179469
ISBN-13: 978-0446179461

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:




A string of merry silver bells jumped and jingled as the north wind shook the evergreen wreath on the heavy wooden door. Overhead a painted shingle swung from two metal arms, declaring this place of business to be the Tea Cosy.

As I peered inside through the thick-paned window, I could see a cheerful amber fire in the hearth. Tables were set for two with china cups neatly positioned on crimson tablecloths. Swags of green foliage trimmed the mantel. Dotted across the room, on the tables and on shelves, were a dozen red votive candles. Each tiny light flickered, sending out promises of warmth and cheer, inviting me to step inside.

Another more determined gust made a swoop down the lane, this time taking my breath with it into the darkness of the December night.

This trip was a mistake. A huge mistake. What was I thinking?

I knew the answer as it rode off on the mocking wind. The answer was, I wasn’t thinking. I was feeling.

Pure emotion last Friday nudged me to book the round-trip ticket to London. Blind passion convinced me that the answer to my twenty-year question would be revealed once I reached the Carlton Photography Studio on Bexley Lane.

Sadly, I was wrong. I had come all this way only to hit a dead end.

I took another look inside the teahouse and told myself to keep walking, back to the train station, back to the hotel in London where I had left my luggage. This exercise in futility was over. I might as well change my ticket and fly back to San Francisco in the morning.

My chilled and weary feet refused to obey. They wanted to go inside and be warmed by the fire. I couldn’t deny that my poor legs did deserve a little kindness after all I had put them through when I folded them into the last seat in coach class. The middle seat, by the lavatories, in the row that didn’t recline. A cup of tea at a moment like this might be the only blissful memory I would take with me from this fiasco.

Reaching for the oddly shaped metal latch on the door, I stepped inside and set the silver bells jingling again.

“Come in, come in, and know me better, friend!” The unexpected greeting came from a kilt-wearing man with a valiant face. His profoundly wide sideburns had the look of white lamb’s wool and softened the resoluteness in his jaw. “Have you brought the snowflakes with you, then?”

“The snowflakes?” I repeated.

“Aye! The snowflakes. It’s cold enough for snow, wouldn’t you say?”

I nodded my reluctant agreement, feeling my nose and cheeks going rosy in the small room’s warmth. I assumed the gentleman who opened the door was the proprietor. Looking around, I asked, “Is it okay if I take the table by the fire? All I’d like is a cup of tea.”

“I don’t see why not. Katharine!” He waited for a response and then tried again. “Katharine!”

No answer came.

“She must have gone upstairs. She’ll be back around.” His grin was engaging, his eyes clear. “I would put the kettle on for you myself, if it weren’t for the case of my being on my way out at the moment.”

“That’s okay. I don’t mind waiting.”

“Of course you don’t mind waiting. A young woman such as yourself has the time to wait, do you not? Whereas, for a person such as myself . . .” He leaned closer and with a wink confided in me, “I’m Christmas Present, you see. I can’t wait.”

What sort of “present” he supposed himself to be and to whom, I wasn’t sure.

With a nod, the man drew back the heavy door and strode into the frosty air.

From a set of narrow stairs a striking woman descended. She looked as surprised at my appearance as I was at hers. She wore a stunning red, floor-length evening dress. Around her neck hung a sparkling silver necklace, and dangling from under her dark hair were matching silver earrings. She stood tall with careful posture and tilted her head, waiting for me to speak.

“I wasn’t sure if you were still open.”

“Yes, on an ordinary day we would be open for another little while, until five thirty. . . .” Her voice drifted off.

“Five thirty,” I repeated, checking my watch. The time read 11:58. The exact time I’d adjusted it to when I had deplaned at Heathrow Airport late that morning. I tapped on the face of my watch as if that would make it run again. “I can see you have plans for the evening and that you’re ready to close. I’ll just—”

“Che-che-che.” The sound that came from her was the sort used to call a squirrel to come find the peanuts left for it on a park bench. It wasn’t a real word from a real language, but I understood the meaning. I was being invited to stay and not to run off.

“Take any seat you want. Would you like a scone with your tea or perhaps some rum cake?”

“Just the tea, thank you.”

I moved toward the fire and realized that a scone sounded pretty good. I hadn’t eaten anything since the undercooked breakfast omelet served on the plane.

“Actually, I would like to have a scone, too. If it’s not too much trouble.”

“No trouble at all.”

Her smile was tender, motherly. I guessed her to be in her midfifties or maybe older. She turned without any corners or edges to her motions. I soon heard the clinking of dishes as she prepared the necessary items in the kitchen.

Making my way to a steady looking table by the fire, I tried to tuck my large shoulder bag under the spindle leg of the chair. The stones along the front of the hearth were permanently blackened from what I imagined to be centuries of soot. The charm of the room increased as I sat down and felt the coziness of the close quarters. This was a place of serenity. A place where trust between friends had been established and kept for many years.

A sense of safety and comfort called to the deepest part of my spirit and begged me to set free a fountain of tears. But I capped them off. It was that same wellspring of emotion that had instigated this journey.

Settling back, I blinked and let the steady heat from the fire warm me. Katharine returned carrying a tray. The steaming pot of tea took center stage, wearing a chintzquilted dressing gown, gathered at the top.

Even the china teapots are treated to coziness here.

“I’ve warmed two scones for you, and this, of course, is your clotted cream. I’ve given you raspberry jam, but if you would prefer strawberry, I do have some.”

“No, this is fine. Perfect. Thank you.”

Katharine lifted the festooned teapot and poured the steaming liquid into my waiting china cup. I felt for a moment as if I had stumbled into an odd sort of parallel world to Narnia.

As a young child I had read C. S. Lewis’s Narnia tales a number of times. In the many hours alone, I had played out the fairy tales in my imagination, pretending I was Lucy, stepping through the wardrobe into an imaginary world.

Here, in the real country of Narnia’s author, I considered how similar my surroundings were to Lewis’s descriptions of that imaginary world. A warming fire welcomed me in from the cold. But instead of a fawn inviting me to tea, it had been a kilted clansman. Instead of Mrs. Beaver pouring a cup of cheer for me by the fire, it was a tall, unhurried woman in a red evening gown.

An unwelcome thought came and settled on me as clearly as if I had heard a whisper. Miranda, how much longer will you believe it is “always winter and never Christmas”?

Copyright © 2007 by Robin’s Ink, LLC

This article is used with the permission of Hachette Book Group and Robin Jones Gunn. All rights reserved.






Around me swarms of Londoners rushed by, intent on their destinations and sure of their plans. My destination was the small town of Carlton Heath, and my plans revolved around a certain Scotsman who was now officially late.

I tried to call Ian again. His voice mail picked up for the third time. “It’s me again,” I said to the phone. “I’m here at Paddington station and —”

Before I finished the message, my phone beeped, and the screen showed me it was Ian.

“Hi! I was just leaving you another message.” I brushed back my shoulder-length brown hair and stood a little straighter, just as I would have if Ian were standing in front of me.

“You made it to the station, then?”

“Yes. Although I was about to put on a pair of red rain boots and a tag on my coat that read, ‘Please look after this bear.’ ” I was pretty sure Ian would catch my reference to the original Paddington Bear in the floppy hat since that was what he had given to my niece, Julia, for Christmas last year.

“Don’t go hangin’ any tags on your coat,” Ian said with an unmistakable grin in his voice. “I’m nearly there. The shops were crammed this morning, and traffic is awful. I should have taken the tube, but I’m in a taxi now. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes tops. Maybe less if I get out and run the last few blocks.”

“Don’t run. I’ll wait. It’s only been, what? Seven weeks and three days since we were last together? What’s another fifteen minutes?”

“I’ll tell you what another fifteen minutes is. It’s just about the longest fifteen minutes of my life.”

“Mine too.” I felt my face warming.

“You’re at track five, then, as we planned?”

“Yes. Track five.”

“Good. No troubles coming in from the airport?”

“No. Everything went fine at Heathrow. The fog delayed my flight when we left San Francisco, but the pilot somehow managed to make up time in the air. We landed on schedule.”

“Let’s hope my cabbie can find the same tailwind your pilot did and deliver me to the station on schedule.”

I looked up at the large electronic schedule board overhead, just to make sure my watch was in sync with local time. “We have about twenty minutes before the 1:37 train leaves for Carlton Heath. I think we can still make it.”

“I have no doubt. Looks like we have a break in the traffic jam at the moment. Don’t go anywhere, Miranda. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“I’ll be here.”

I closed my phone and smiled. Whenever Ian said my name, with a rolling of the r, he promptly melted my heart. Every single time. His native Scottish accent had become distilled during the past decade as a result of his two years of grad school in Canada and working in an architect office with coworkers from around the world. But Ian knew how to put on the “heather in the highlands” lilt whenever he wanted. And I loved it, just as I loved everything about this indomitable man.

I looked around the landing between the train tracks for an open seat on one of the benches. Since none were available, I moved closer to the nearest bench just in case someone decided to leave.

Balancing my large, wheeled suitcase against a pole so it wouldn’t tip over, I carefully leaned my second bag next to the beast. This was my third trip to England since my visit last Christmas and the first time I had come with two suitcases. This time I needed an extra bag for all the gifts I had with me, wrapped and ready to go under the Christmas tree at the Whitcombe manor.

Last Christmas and for many Christmases before that, the only gift I bought and gave was the one expected for the exchange at the accounting office where I worked in downtown San Francisco. Up until last Christmas I had no family to speak of — no parents, no siblings, no roommate. I didn’t even have a cat. My life had fallen into a steady, predictable rhythm of work and weekends alone, which is probably why I found the courage to make that first trip to Carlton Heath last December. In those brief, snow-kissed, extraordinary few days, I was gifted with blood relatives, new friends, and sweetest of all, Ian.

Christmas shopping this year had been a new experience. While my coworkers complained about the crowds and hassle, I quietly reveled in the thought that I actually had someone — many someones — in my life to go gift hunting for.

I had a feeling some last-minute shopping was the reason Ian was late. He told me yesterday he had a final gift to pick up this morning on his way to the station. He hadn’t explained what the gift was or whom it was for. His silence on the matter led me to wonder as I wandered along a familiar path in my imagination. That path led straight to my heart, and along that path I saw nothing but hope for our future together — hope and maybe a little something shiny that came in a small box and fit on a certain rather available finger on my left hand.

Before my mind could sufficiently detour to the happy land of “What’s next?”, I heard someone call my name. It was a familiar male voice, but not Ian’s.

I looked into the passing stream of travelers, and there he stood, only a few feet away. Josh. The last person I ever expected to see again. Especially in England.

“Miranda, I thought that was you! Hey, how are you?” With a large travel bag strapped over his shoulder, Josh gave me an awkward, clunking and bumping sort of hug. His glasses smashed against the side of my head. He quickly introduced me as his “old girlfriend” to the three guys with him.

“What are you doing here?” He unstrapped the bag and dropped it at his feet.

One of the guys tagged his shoulder and said, “We’ll be at the sandwich stand over there.”

“Okay. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Josh turned back to me. “You look great. What’s been happening with you?”

“I’m good,” I said. “What about you? What are you doing here?” I was still too flustered at the unexpected encounter to jump right into a catch-up sort of conversation after the almost three-year gap.

“Just returned from a ski trip to Austria with a group from work. Incredible trip. I’m in a counseling practice now. Child psychologist. I don’t know if you knew that.”

“No. That’s great, Josh. I know that’s what you wanted to do.”

“Yes, it’s going well so far.” He seemed at ease. None of the stiltedness that had been there right after I broke up with him came across in his voice or demeanor.

“And what about you? What are you doing in England?”

Before I could put together an answer, Josh snapped his fingers. “Wait! Are you here because you’re looking for your birth father?”

“You remembered.” Once again he surprised me.

“Of course I remembered. You had that picture of some guy dressed as Father Christmas, and it had the name of the photography studio on the back. That was your only clue.”

I nodded.

“So? What happened?”

“I followed the clue last Christmas, and it led me here, to my birth father, just like you thought it would.”

“No way! Did it really?”

I nodded, knowing Josh would appreciate this next part of the story. “The man in the photo dressed like Father Christmas was my father. And the boy on his lap is my brother, or I guess I should say my half brother, Edward.”

“Incredible,” Josh said with a satisfied, Sherlock Holmes expression on his unshaven face. “What happened when you met him?”

I hesitated. Having not repeated this story to anyone since it all unfolded a year ago, I didn’t realize how much the answer to Josh’s question would catch in my spirit and feel sharply painful when it was spoken aloud.

“I didn’t meet him. He passed away a few years ago.”

“Oh.” Josh’s expression softened.

“You know, Josh, I always wanted to thank you for the way you urged me to follow that one small clue. I’ve wished more than once that I would have come to England when you first suggested it four years ago. He was still alive then. That’s what I should have done.”

“And I should have gone with you,” he said in a low voice.

“Why do you say that?”

Josh’s eyebrows furrowed, his counselor mode kicking in. “I felt you needed that piece in your life. By that I mean the paternal piece of your life puzzle. I didn’t like you being so alone in the world. I wish you could have met him.”

“I do, too, but I actually think things turned out better this way. It’s less complicated that I didn’t meet him while he was still alive.”

“Why do you say that?” Josh asked.

I hesitated before giving Josh the next piece of information. In an odd way, it felt as if he needed the final piece of the puzzle the same way I had.

“It’s less complicated this way because my father was . . .” I lowered my voice and looked at him so he could read the truth in my clear blue eyes. “My father was Sir James Whitcombe.”


Copyright © 2008 by Robin’s Ink, LLC.

This article is used with the permission of Hachette Book Group and Robin Jones Gunn. All rights reserved.

Review: Finding Father Christmas (Father Christmas Book 1) by Robin Jones Gunn

Title: Finding Father Christmas (Father Christmas Book 1)
Author: Robin Jones Gunn
Pages: 176
Publisher: FaithWords (October 11, 2007)
Genre: Christian Fiction
Edition: Standard - Many thanks to Miriam for sending me this book as part of the FIRST WildCard Tours!!





Perfect for : Personal reading, Book Club reading, GREAT Gift Book (Note: the book does include discussion questions at the end)

In a nutshell: I think this is my ALL-TIME favorite holiday book (especially when combined with the sequel!). Going against her quiet nature, Miranda Carson leaves America and travels to England where she hopes to find her birth father by tracking down the studio who produced the only photograph she has of him. This is a heart-warming story of a blossoming faith and a quest to find family. I fell in love with the characters and the homey feeling this story gave me. My favorite characters in the book are Katharine and Andrew MacGregor, and Ellie and Julia Whitcombe. These characters help to spread a warmth throughout the story (along with the other characters of course!), full of new experiences, warmth, acceptance and growth. This was a quick read for me, made more enjoyable by the approaching holidays (yes - I would put up my Christmas tree today if my family would let me!) I highly suggest reading this book, and plan to give a few sets for Christmas gifts this year!


From Hachette Book Group USA (Faith Words):
In FINDING FATHER CHRISTMAS, Miranda Carson's search for her father takes a turn she never expected when she finds herself in London with only a few feeble clues to who he might be. Unexpectedly welcomed into a family that doesn't recognize her, and whom she's quickly coming to love, she faces a terrible decision. Should she reveal her true identity and destroy their idyllic image of her father? Or should she carry the truth home with her to San Francisco and remain alone in this world? Whatever choice she makes during this London Christmas will forever change the future for both herself and the family she can't bear to leave. Robin Jones Gunn brilliantly combines lyrical writing and unforgettable characters to craft a story of longing and belonging that will stay with readers long after they close the pages of this book.

Excerpt: (See below to read the first chapter, which was provided as part of the FIRST WildCard Tour earlier this month)

My Review:
I absolutely loved this book and the sequel, Engaging Father Christmas. It was a fast read for me that made me feel warm and peaceful. I highly recommend both books for personal reading, book club reading (there are include discussion questions) and as books that would be great for gifts!


Characters: With a handful of main characters, it was hard not to love each and every one of them, so I'll just talk about a few here, and let you read about the others yourself! ;) Miranda Carson is the main character, who goes on a quest to find her birth father. She has no family left in America, where she was raised by a fanciful actress mom until she was 11, then raised by a kind woman until 15, at which time she ventured out on her own to San Fransisco. (She lost both women, her Mom died in a theater accident, and her "aunt" died of cancer.) Along her journey, she meets Katharine and Andrew MacGregor, who invite her to join them for the annual Christmas play, then the after-party. Andrew has a wonderful Scottish accent, and a wonderfully warm and outgoing personality. She also meets Ellie and Edward Whitcombe and their two children Mark and Julia. Ellie is dressed in a wonderfully elegant dress, reminiscent of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Story-Line: The characters in the story help Miranda (and the reader) to feel welcome through the holiday season, opening their homes to a perfect-stranger. Katharine plays a very important part throughout the book, and I just loved her. The story carries the reader through Miranda's spiritual (yet bumpy) journey, and her literal journey to find what she hopes will be her father's family.

Readability: This was a very enjoyable, easy read. The author has done a wonderful job of helping the reader to experience the settings of the book, making it easy to lose track of time. I believe it only took me a few hours to read (along with a few distractions from my family).


Overall: This was a beautifully written book, that will surely be a cherished favorite among holiday stories. It is a nice easy read that could easily be shared with the rest of the family (no questionable scenes or language). readers will fall in love with the characters and ambiance throughout the book, and will look forward to reading the sequel. I especially enjoyed the dark green printing in the book instead of the normal black lettering - it helped to complete the holiday feel!


It is time to play a Wild Card! And this time I'm doubling the score; you can preview not one, but two books by this amazing author. Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

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


Today's Wild Card author is:

Robin Jones Gunn

and the book:

Finding Father Christmas

FaithWords (October 11, 2007)

Engaging Father Christmas

FaithWords (October 30, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Robin Jones Gunn is the bestselling author of sixty books, representing 3.5 million copies sold. A dozen of her novels have appeared on the top of the CBA bestseller list, including her wildly successful Sisterchicks series. Thousands of teens from around the world have written letters to Robin sharing how God used the Christy Miller and Sierra Jensen series to bring them to Christ as well as lead them to make life changing decisions regarding purity. Robin and her husband of thirty years live near Portland, OR, where they are members of Imago Dei Community along with other Christian authors.
Visit the author's website.

Product Details for Finding Father Christmas:

List Price: $13.99
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (October 11, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446526290
ISBN-13: 978-0446526296

Product Details for Engaging Father Christmas:

List Price: $
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (October 30, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446179469
ISBN-13: 978-0446179461

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



A string of merry silver bells jumped and jingled as the north wind shook the evergreen wreath on the heavy wooden door. Overhead a painted shingle swung from two metal arms, declaring this place of business to be the Tea Cosy.

As I peered inside through the thick-paned window, I could see a cheerful amber fire in the hearth. Tables were set for two with china cups neatly positioned on crimson tablecloths. Swags of green foliage trimmed the mantel. Dotted across the room, on the tables and on shelves, were a dozen red votive candles. Each tiny light flickered, sending out promises of warmth and cheer, inviting me to step inside.

Another more determined gust made a swoop down the lane, this time taking my breath with it into the darkness of the December night.

This trip was a mistake. A huge mistake. What was I thinking?

I knew the answer as it rode off on the mocking wind. The answer was, I wasn’t thinking. I was feeling.

Pure emotion last Friday nudged me to book the round-trip ticket to London. Blind passion convinced me that the answer to my twenty-year question would be revealed once I reached the Carlton Photography Studio on Bexley Lane.

Sadly, I was wrong. I had come all this way only to hit a dead end.

I took another look inside the teahouse and told myself to keep walking, back to the train station, back to the hotel in London where I had left my luggage. This exercise in futility was over. I might as well change my ticket and fly back to San Francisco in the morning.

My chilled and weary feet refused to obey. They wanted to go inside and be warmed by the fire. I couldn’t deny that my poor legs did deserve a little kindness after all I had put them through when I folded them into the last seat in coach class. The middle seat, by the lavatories, in the row that didn’t recline. A cup of tea at a moment like this might be the only blissful memory I would take with me from this fiasco.

Reaching for the oddly shaped metal latch on the door, I stepped inside and set the silver bells jingling again.

“Come in, come in, and know me better, friend!” The unexpected greeting came from a kilt-wearing man with a valiant face. His profoundly wide sideburns had the look of white lamb’s wool and softened the resoluteness in his jaw. “Have you brought the snowflakes with you, then?”

“The snowflakes?” I repeated.

“Aye! The snowflakes. It’s cold enough for snow, wouldn’t you say?”

I nodded my reluctant agreement, feeling my nose and cheeks going rosy in the small room’s warmth. I assumed the gentleman who opened the door was the proprietor. Looking around, I asked, “Is it okay if I take the table by the fire? All I’d like is a cup of tea.”

“I don’t see why not. Katharine!” He waited for a response and then tried again. “Katharine!”

No answer came.

“She must have gone upstairs. She’ll be back around.” His grin was engaging, his eyes clear. “I would put the kettle on for you myself, if it weren’t for the case of my being on my way out at the moment.”

“That’s okay. I don’t mind waiting.”

“Of course you don’t mind waiting. A young woman such as yourself has the time to wait, do you not? Whereas, for a person such as myself . . .” He leaned closer and with a wink confided in me, “I’m Christmas Present, you see. I can’t wait.”

What sort of “present” he supposed himself to be and to whom, I wasn’t sure.

With a nod, the man drew back the heavy door and strode into the frosty air.

From a set of narrow stairs a striking woman descended. She looked as surprised at my appearance as I was at hers. She wore a stunning red, floor-length evening dress. Around her neck hung a sparkling silver necklace, and dangling from under her dark hair were matching silver earrings. She stood tall with careful posture and tilted her head, waiting for me to speak.

“I wasn’t sure if you were still open.”

“Yes, on an ordinary day we would be open for another little while, until five thirty. . . .” Her voice drifted off.

“Five thirty,” I repeated, checking my watch. The time read 11:58. The exact time I’d adjusted it to when I had deplaned at Heathrow Airport late that morning. I tapped on the face of my watch as if that would make it run again. “I can see you have plans for the evening and that you’re ready to close. I’ll just—”

“Che-che-che.” The sound that came from her was the sort used to call a squirrel to come find the peanuts left for it on a park bench. It wasn’t a real word from a real language, but I understood the meaning. I was being invited to stay and not to run off.

“Take any seat you want. Would you like a scone with your tea or perhaps some rum cake?”

“Just the tea, thank you.”

I moved toward the fire and realized that a scone sounded pretty good. I hadn’t eaten anything since the undercooked breakfast omelet served on the plane.

“Actually, I would like to have a scone, too. If it’s not too much trouble.”

“No trouble at all.”

Her smile was tender, motherly. I guessed her to be in her midfifties or maybe older. She turned without any corners or edges to her motions. I soon heard the clinking of dishes as she prepared the necessary items in the kitchen.

Making my way to a steady looking table by the fire, I tried to tuck my large shoulder bag under the spindle leg of the chair. The stones along the front of the hearth were permanently blackened from what I imagined to be centuries of soot. The charm of the room increased as I sat down and felt the coziness of the close quarters. This was a place of serenity. A place where trust between friends had been established and kept for many years.

A sense of safety and comfort called to the deepest part of my spirit and begged me to set free a fountain of tears. But I capped them off. It was that same wellspring of emotion that had instigated this journey.

Settling back, I blinked and let the steady heat from the fire warm me. Katharine returned carrying a tray. The steaming pot of tea took center stage, wearing a chintzquilted dressing gown, gathered at the top.

Even the china teapots are treated to coziness here.

“I’ve warmed two scones for you, and this, of course, is your clotted cream. I’ve given you raspberry jam, but if you would prefer strawberry, I do have some.”

“No, this is fine. Perfect. Thank you.”

Katharine lifted the festooned teapot and poured the steaming liquid into my waiting china cup. I felt for a moment as if I had stumbled into an odd sort of parallel world to Narnia.

As a young child I had read C. S. Lewis’s Narnia tales a number of times. In the many hours alone, I had played out the fairy tales in my imagination, pretending I was Lucy, stepping through the wardrobe into an imaginary world.

Here, in the real country of Narnia’s author, I considered how similar my surroundings were to Lewis’s descriptions of that imaginary world. A warming fire welcomed me in from the cold. But instead of a fawn inviting me to tea, it had been a kilted clansman. Instead of Mrs. Beaver pouring a cup of cheer for me by the fire, it was a tall, unhurried woman in a red evening gown.

An unwelcome thought came and settled on me as clearly as if I had heard a whisper. Miranda, how much longer will you believe it is “always winter and never Christmas”?

Copyright © 2007 by Robin’s Ink, LLC

This article is used with the permission of Hachette Book Group and Robin Jones Gunn. All rights reserved.




Around me swarms of Londoners rushed by, intent on their destinations and sure of their plans. My destination was the small town of Carlton Heath, and my plans revolved around a certain Scotsman who was now officially late.

I tried to call Ian again. His voice mail picked up for the third time. “It’s me again,” I said to the phone. “I’m here at Paddington station and —”

Before I finished the message, my phone beeped, and the screen showed me it was Ian.

“Hi! I was just leaving you another message.” I brushed back my shoulder-length brown hair and stood a little straighter, just as I would have if Ian were standing in front of me.

“You made it to the station, then?”

“Yes. Although I was about to put on a pair of red rain boots and a tag on my coat that read, ‘Please look after this bear.’ ” I was pretty sure Ian would catch my reference to the original Paddington Bear in the floppy hat since that was what he had given to my niece, Julia, for Christmas last year.

“Don’t go hangin’ any tags on your coat,” Ian said with an unmistakable grin in his voice. “I’m nearly there. The shops were crammed this morning, and traffic is awful. I should have taken the tube, but I’m in a taxi now. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes tops. Maybe less if I get out and run the last few blocks.”

“Don’t run. I’ll wait. It’s only been, what? Seven weeks and three days since we were last together? What’s another fifteen minutes?”

“I’ll tell you what another fifteen minutes is. It’s just about the longest fifteen minutes of my life.”

“Mine too.” I felt my face warming.

“You’re at track five, then, as we planned?”

“Yes. Track five.”

“Good. No troubles coming in from the airport?”

“No. Everything went fine at Heathrow. The fog delayed my flight when we left San Francisco, but the pilot somehow managed to make up time in the air. We landed on schedule.”

“Let’s hope my cabbie can find the same tailwind your pilot did and deliver me to the station on schedule.”

I looked up at the large electronic schedule board overhead, just to make sure my watch was in sync with local time. “We have about twenty minutes before the 1:37 train leaves for Carlton Heath. I think we can still make it.”

“I have no doubt. Looks like we have a break in the traffic jam at the moment. Don’t go anywhere, Miranda. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“I’ll be here.”

I closed my phone and smiled. Whenever Ian said my name, with a rolling of the r, he promptly melted my heart. Every single time. His native Scottish accent had become distilled during the past decade as a result of his two years of grad school in Canada and working in an architect office with coworkers from around the world. But Ian knew how to put on the “heather in the highlands” lilt whenever he wanted. And I loved it, just as I loved everything about this indomitable man.

I looked around the landing between the train tracks for an open seat on one of the benches. Since none were available, I moved closer to the nearest bench just in case someone decided to leave.

Balancing my large, wheeled suitcase against a pole so it wouldn’t tip over, I carefully leaned my second bag next to the beast. This was my third trip to England since my visit last Christmas and the first time I had come with two suitcases. This time I needed an extra bag for all the gifts I had with me, wrapped and ready to go under the Christmas tree at the Whitcombe manor.

Last Christmas and for many Christmases before that, the only gift I bought and gave was the one expected for the exchange at the accounting office where I worked in downtown San Francisco. Up until last Christmas I had no family to speak of — no parents, no siblings, no roommate. I didn’t even have a cat. My life had fallen into a steady, predictable rhythm of work and weekends alone, which is probably why I found the courage to make that first trip to Carlton Heath last December. In those brief, snow-kissed, extraordinary few days, I was gifted with blood relatives, new friends, and sweetest of all, Ian.

Christmas shopping this year had been a new experience. While my coworkers complained about the crowds and hassle, I quietly reveled in the thought that I actually had someone — many someones — in my life to go gift hunting for.

I had a feeling some last-minute shopping was the reason Ian was late. He told me yesterday he had a final gift to pick up this morning on his way to the station. He hadn’t explained what the gift was or whom it was for. His silence on the matter led me to wonder as I wandered along a familiar path in my imagination. That path led straight to my heart, and along that path I saw nothing but hope for our future together — hope and maybe a little something shiny that came in a small box and fit on a certain rather available finger on my left hand.

Before my mind could sufficiently detour to the happy land of “What’s next?”, I heard someone call my name. It was a familiar male voice, but not Ian’s.

I looked into the passing stream of travelers, and there he stood, only a few feet away. Josh. The last person I ever expected to see again. Especially in England.

“Miranda, I thought that was you! Hey, how are you?” With a large travel bag strapped over his shoulder, Josh gave me an awkward, clunking and bumping sort of hug. His glasses smashed against the side of my head. He quickly introduced me as his “old girlfriend” to the three guys with him.

“What are you doing here?” He unstrapped the bag and dropped it at his feet.

One of the guys tagged his shoulder and said, “We’ll be at the sandwich stand over there.”

“Okay. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Josh turned back to me. “You look great. What’s been happening with you?”

“I’m good,” I said. “What about you? What are you doing here?” I was still too flustered at the unexpected encounter to jump right into a catch-up sort of conversation after the almost three-year gap.

“Just returned from a ski trip to Austria with a group from work. Incredible trip. I’m in a counseling practice now. Child psychologist. I don’t know if you knew that.”

“No. That’s great, Josh. I know that’s what you wanted to do.”

“Yes, it’s going well so far.” He seemed at ease. None of the stiltedness that had been there right after I broke up with him came across in his voice or demeanor.

“And what about you? What are you doing in England?”

Before I could put together an answer, Josh snapped his fingers. “Wait! Are you here because you’re looking for your birth father?”

“You remembered.” Once again he surprised me.

“Of course I remembered. You had that picture of some guy dressed as Father Christmas, and it had the name of the photography studio on the back. That was your only clue.”

I nodded.

“So? What happened?”

“I followed the clue last Christmas, and it led me here, to my birth father, just like you thought it would.”

“No way! Did it really?”

I nodded, knowing Josh would appreciate this next part of the story. “The man in the photo dressed like Father Christmas was my father. And the boy on his lap is my brother, or I guess I should say my half brother, Edward.”

“Incredible,” Josh said with a satisfied, Sherlock Holmes expression on his unshaven face. “What happened when you met him?”

I hesitated. Having not repeated this story to anyone since it all unfolded a year ago, I didn’t realize how much the answer to Josh’s question would catch in my spirit and feel sharply painful when it was spoken aloud.

“I didn’t meet him. He passed away a few years ago.”

“Oh.” Josh’s expression softened.

“You know, Josh, I always wanted to thank you for the way you urged me to follow that one small clue. I’ve wished more than once that I would have come to England when you first suggested it four years ago. He was still alive then. That’s what I should have done.”

“And I should have gone with you,” he said in a low voice.

“Why do you say that?”

Josh’s eyebrows furrowed, his counselor mode kicking in. “I felt you needed that piece in your life. By that I mean the paternal piece of your life puzzle. I didn’t like you being so alone in the world. I wish you could have met him.”

“I do, too, but I actually think things turned out better this way. It’s less complicated that I didn’t meet him while he was still alive.”

“Why do you say that?” Josh asked.

I hesitated before giving Josh the next piece of information. In an odd way, it felt as if he needed the final piece of the puzzle the same way I had.

“It’s less complicated this way because my father was . . .” I lowered my voice and looked at him so he could read the truth in my clear blue eyes. “My father was Sir James Whitcombe.”


Copyright © 2008 by Robin’s Ink, LLC.

This article is used with the permission of Hachette Book Group and Robin Jones Gunn. All rights reserved.

Music Review: Linda Eder - The Other Side of Me

Title: The Other Side of Me
Artist: Linda Eder



Strong, Inspirational and Flowing

I have just discovered Linda Eder, who has worked on Broadway, and has now released her 10th cd - a mix of pop/country music! I have really enjoyed this cd. It is great for listening around the house, in the car, and generally trying to have some "me" time (I find I don't listen to music as much when others are in the house as we don't always enjoy the same music).

I can honestly say I don't dislike any of the songs on the cd - which I generally don't say. Now and again, Linda Eder's voice has qualities that remind me of early Barbara Streisand - just a hint now and again, but for certain notes - it's there. If You Believe (The Way I Do) is my favorite song because it just washes over me in and pulls me along with the melody, and my next favorite is Lifted because she speaks of our soldiers coming home. Makes me smile!!

She has a wonderful voice, and I highly recommend this cd. Head over to Amazon (or another site that offers clips of the music) and check out her latest cd - if you aren't already a fan, you probably will be!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Author Interview: David Ebershoff (The 19th Wife)


I would like to start by thanking Mr. David Ebershoff for agreeing to take the time to participate in this interview. His latest book is The 19th Wife, a historical fiction book that tells two stories, the first based on the life of Ann Eliza Young. and the second, a present-day story of a young man named Jordan, whose life was profoundly influenced by polygamy. I was fascinated by David's book and look forward to reading more from him!

If you haven't read my review of The 19th Wife, click here.

What inspired you to write this book?

About seven years ago I was talking to a professor of 19th century women’s history. This woman knows a lot about the lives of 19th century American women, some well known others now obscure. In our conversation she mentioned a woman known as the 19th Wife. I stopped. What a strange nickname. And so I asked, Who was the 19th Wife? And, more important, What was it like to be the 19th Wife?

Can you personally relate to any of the characters or the things they faced/went through?

I like to think I can relate to all of them. If I couldn’t I’m not sure I would have been able to write them convincingly. But I suppose I relate most closely to the book’s outsiders: Ann Eliza, Jordan, and Tom. I have a special fondness for Kelly Dee, the graduate student from Brigham Young University. The combination of her intelligence and sincerity is potent. But I must admit to a soft spot for Brigham. Even though Ann Eliza opposed him, I came to understand his point of view. I couldn’t have imagined his night in prison without empathizing with his yearnings.

Were there any aspects of the book that you struggled with, ie. a particular scene, a character, an area of research?

The most challenging was writing the section called “The Prison Diary of Brigham Young”. It’s narrated by Brigham during the night he spends in prison in the midst of his divorce trial from Ann Eliza. At first I was intimidated, but the more I read by and about Brigham, the more comfortable I became taking on his voice. I wrote that section very quickly – over the course of three nights – and I felt I was staying up through the night just as Brigham does during his long night in jail.

If your book was being discussed by a book club, or a few friends meeting over coffee, what about the book do you think would drive the most discussion (particular character, event, theme)?

That’s a good question, but also a difficult one for me to answer conclusively. I’m sure some people would focus on the complex issues of polygamy: religious and/or personal freedom vs. protecting women and children. Other readers might discuss the religious questions: the mysteries of faith and God, and the individuality of each person’s faith. Others still might spend time on the book’s mysteries: is Jordan’s mother guilty of killing her husband and what, ultimately, happened to Ann Eliza Young. Some readers might contemplate the many characters: the motivations of Ann Eliza and Brigham Young, perhaps, and Jordan’s developing sense of self. And I suppose some readers would think about all of these, plus many, many more.

Are you working on another book? If so, can you give us an idea of what it is about?

I’ve just begun a new book about family and tennis.

Book Specific:

In the book, you have created/included some references that appeared to show how hard it was to obtain information from the LDS Archives. Did you run into any problems while trying to research Ann Eliza, LDS, polygamy, etc?

The LDS Church maintains general historical archives that are closed to non-members. I respect and understand this. Beyond that, the Church keeps private archives which are closed to all but the highest members of the Church’s leadership. About these archives we know very little, although many people speculate about what might be in those files. I assume they must include documents about Joseph, Brigham, polygamy, and early Church history. I could be wrong about this, but there are many reasons to believe that at least a portion of these archives are devoted to documents concerning the Church’s leadership in the 19th century. Yet of course I have no idea what these documents say – whether they are laudatory or unflattering or, most likely, some combination thereof. It’s worth noting, however, that nearly all religious institutions maintain private archives. We can only guess what stands on the private bookshelves in Rome. And before we let our imaginations run wild with conspiracies about the secret archives in Salt Lake City, let’s bear in mind that the closed archives of most organizations contain yards and yards of documents concerning the prosaic and the mundane.

I was fascinated to learn about the cult-type aspects of the Firsts. We had a distant relative who died in Jonestown, and I always thought it very strange that anyone could be so taken-in by a person so that they believed everything that person said and would do whatever was asked. Your book really opened my eyes to how easy it is to be drawn in to cults like this. It seems like the Firsts began by welcoming people who were looking for love and acceptance. What induced you to research and include the details of how people were enticed into joining the Firsts, and what type of impact did the knowledge have on you personally?

This is always the first thing we wonder about beliefs different from our own. How can anyone believe that? we ask ourselves. That is one of the book’s central ideas – the mysteries of faith. As Ann Eliza says on the first page: Faith is a mystery, elusive to many, and never easy to explain. In order to credibly portray a community like the Firsts, I knew the reader would need to understand how and why people would believe in polygamy as a core religious doctrine. And so I set out to show the reader how these beliefs have formed.

I found Jordan to be a very interesting character. (The influence of all those sister-wives and the neglect they showed to the children? His experience alone at 14, trying to survive in a harsh new world?) I also loved how his character found love and acceptance and an alternative “family,” it made me feel content, which surprised me. I found myself wondering why you chose to make his character gay. Can you give us any insights into the character of Jordan (or possibly Tom)?

In the novel’s contemporary narrative, Jordan is of course trying to figure out if his mother is guilty or innocent of killing his father. But he’s also on another kind of journey: he needs to come to terms with where he comes from and what has happened to him. As he goes about solving his father’s murder, he also begins to come to accept his own legacy. I made Jordan gay for many reasons, but one of them is I wanted him to meet someone like Tom. Tom is a Mormon who has been shunned by his family and church because he is gay. Yet despite this rejection, Tom maintains his faith. He tells Jordan he doesn’t need to enter a temple or attend Sunday services in order to believe. Faith is in the heart. I’ve met people like this: people who have been excommunicated but go on believing. It shows extraordinary resolve, wisdom, and compassion. And so I thought Tom and Jordan – two young men rejected from their respective communities for different religious reasons – would make an unusual and interesting pair. As you say, at the end of the book they form a family, which is the last thing Jordan ever thought he would have.

Lastly, do you have any last thoughts or questions you would like to share with readers?

I always love to hear from readers. Feel free to contact me via my website http://www.19thwife.com/

Thanks!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Again, I would like to say a huge thank you to David for agreeing to be interviewed! I had a great time chatting with him, and learning more about his book!

If you would like to visit his website, click here.


This interview has been added to the About the Author Index! Click here to read more author interviews.

Tuesday Thingers

Today's question: Legacy libraries. With which legacy libraries do you share books? Tell us a little about a couple of them and what you share.To find which books you share with Legacy Libraries, click on "Statistics" from either your profile or your home page; then click on "Legacy Libraries" in the second row of clickable choices.

My Answer: Ok - so this posting took me some work - I have never explored the Legacy Libraries before this morning, so I looked up a list of Classics, thinking it would be the easiest way to add a few favorites from my school days! (Prior to this morning, I've only added my recently received books - most of which have or will have reviews on this blog!) Here is what I found:

Marilyn Monroe - 2 Books
Alice's adventures in Wonderland, Through the looking glass and The hunting of the snark by Lewis Carroll
The great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tupac Shakur - 2 Books
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Machiavelli's The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Alfred Deakin - 4 Books
Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Eyre : an autobiography by Charlotte Bronte
The prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
The adventure of Huckelberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade) by Mark Twain


Ernest Hemingway - 6 Books
Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
The adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer's comrade by Samuel Langhorne Clemens
Alice's adventures in Wonderland and through the looking glass by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
Gatsby le magnifique by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
There are a few more . . .
I really had a great time learning about this feature, and I'll be working on adding a few more classics in the near future!
~ Wendi

Teaser Tuesday - Finding Father Christmas by Robin Jones Gunn

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

1. Grab your current read.
2. Let the book fall open to a random page.
3. Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. 4. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
5. Please avoid spoilers!

My 2 “Teaser” Sentences for today: (So I'm going to cheat a little today - I read this passage and it really touched my heart! Read on . . . oh - all right - I'm cheating on the length too!! It will probably mean more if you read the book, but let me just say that this is now my ALL-TIME favorite holiday book!!)

"By my best estimation, my mother was eighteen when I was born. Maybe nineteen. If she had relatives she could have sent me to, she never hinted at it. If she considered handing me over to an adoption agency, it was only a private contemplation.
Her decision had been to keep the two of us together, and now I understood why. This. This closeness. This chance to share the moments of wonder together. My mother wanted me. That in itself was a precious gift."
~ p.85, “Finding Father Christmas” by Robin Jones Gunn



Product Description from Hachette Book Group USA:
Bestselling author Robin Jones Gunn brings readers a poignant Christmas novella about a woman, desperate for a place to belong, who finds herself in London a few days before Christmas, looking for the father she never knew.
In FINDING FATHER CHRISTMAS, Miranda Carson's search for her father takes a turn she never expected when she finds herself in London with only a few feeble clues to who he might be. Unexpectedly welcomed into a family that doesn't recognize her, and whom she's quickly coming to love, she faces a terrible decision. Should she reveal her true identity and destroy their idyllic image of her father? Or should she carry the truth home with her to San Francisco and remain alone in this world? Whatever choice she makes during this London Christmas will forever change the future for both herself and the family she can't bear to leave. Robin Jones Gunn brilliantly combines lyrical writing and unforgettable characters to craft a story of longing and belonging that will stay with readers long after they close the pages of this book.
~ Wendi

WildCard Tour: Diamond Duo by Marcia Gruver


It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

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


Today's Wild Card author is:

Marcia Gruver

and the book:

Diamond Duo
Barbour Publishing, Inc (October 1, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Marcia Gruver is a full time writer who hails from Southeast Texas. Inordinately enamored by the past, Marcia delights in writing historical fiction. Her deep south-central roots lend a Southern-comfortable style and a touch of humor to her writing.

Awarded a three book contract by Barbour Publishing for full-length historical fiction, Marcia is busy these days pounding on the keyboard and watching the deadline clock. Diamond Duo, the first installment in the trilogy entitled Texas Fortunes, is scheduled for release in October 2008.

Marcia won third place in the 2007 ACFW Genesis contest and third in the 2004 ACFW Noble Theme contest. Another entry in 2004 finished in the top ten. She placed second in the 2002 Colorado Christian Writer’s contest for new authors, securing a spot in an upcoming compilation book. “I Will Never Leave Thee,” in For Better, For Worse—Devotional Thoughts for Married Couples, was released by Christian Publications in January 2004.

She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Fellowship of Christian Writers, and The Writers View—and a longstanding member of ACFW Crit3 and Seared Hearts, her brilliant and insightful critique groups.

Lifelong Texans, Marcia and her husband, Lee, have one daughter and four sons. Collectively, this motley crew has graced them with ten grandchildren and one great-granddaughter—so far.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 10.97
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602602050
ISBN-13: 978-1602602052

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



Diamond Duo by Marcia Gruver, Chapter One


Jefferson, Texas, Friday, January 19, 1877


With the tip of a satin shoe, the graceful turn of an ankle, the woman poured herself like cream from the northbound train out of Marshall and let the tomcats lap her up. In the beginning, an upraised parasol blocked her visage, but no lingering look at her features could erase the impression already established by pleasing carriage, a lavish blue gown, and slender fingers covered in diamonds.

Bertha Biddie waited with stilted breath for the moment when the umbrella might tip and give up its secret. All about her most of Jefferson had come to a halt, as if the whole town waited with her. Without warning, the woman lowered and closed the sunshade.

Enchanted, Bertha followed the graceful lines of her form to her striking and memorable face. At first sight of her, Bertha thought she was the devil’s daughter. She bore no obvious mark of evil. Just smoldering eyes and a knowing glance that said life held mysteries young Bertha had yet to glimpse.

Her hair sparkled like sunrays dancing on Big Cypress Creek. Her lashes were as black as the bottom of a hole, and her lids seemed smudged with coal. Delicate features perched below a dark halo of hair, and a pink flush lit her fair cheeks. Her expression teemed with mischief, and her full ruby lips curled up at the corners as if recalling a bawdy yarn. She turned slightly, evidently aware of the gathering horde for the first time. With a tilt of her chin and barely perceptible sway, she cast a wide net over the men in the crowd and dragged them to shore.

Bertha watched them respond to her and realized Mama had been less than forthcoming about the real and true nature of things. Forgetting themselves and the women at their sides, they stared open-mouthed, some in spite of jealous claws that gripped their arms. Even the ladies stared, the looks on their faces ranging from admiration to envy.

The reaction of the men only slightly altered when the lady’s escort stepped out of the Texas & Pacific passenger car behind her. Though his clothes were just as spiffy and he carried himself well, the man who accompanied that gilded bird lacked her allure, bore none of her charm. Yet despite her confident display of tail feathers, the bluebird at his side clearly deferred to him as though he’d found a way to clip her wings.

With great care, the porter handed down the couple’s baggage, the matched set a rare sight in those parts, then held out his hand. Her companion tipped the man, gathered the bags, and walked away from the platform without offering a single word in the bluebird’s direction. She cast a quick glance after him but stood her ground, her demeanor unruffled in the face of his rebuke.

As was the custom, The Commercial Hotel, Haywood House, and Brooks House, three reputable hotels in town, each had transport standing by to haul incoming passengers from the station. Dr. J. H. Turner, landlord of Brooks House, waited on hand in the conveyance he called an omnibus.

The woman’s friend secured passage with Dr. Turner and helped him load their belongings then turned and crooked a finger in her direction. She pretended not to notice.

“Bessie!” he barked. “For pity’s sake.”

She lifted her head, reopened the parasol, and strolled his way without saying a word—giving in but taking all the time she pleased to do so. He handed her up onto the carriage, climbed in beside her, and settled back to rest a possessive arm around her shoulders.

Dr. Turner eased onto Alley Street and trundled away from the station, breaking the spell cast over the denizens of Jefferson. In slow motion they awoke from their stupor and returned to their lives.

Bertha released the breath she’d held and gripped her best friend’s arm. “What was she, Magda? I’ve never seen anything like her.”

When Magda shook her head, her curls danced the fandango. “Me neither. And we never will again. Not around here, anyway.”

She leaned past Magda trying to catch another glimpse. “She’s no earthbound creature, that’s for sure. But devil or angel? I couldn’t tell.”

Magda laughed. “She’s human all right, just not ordinary folk.” She pressed her finger to her lips. “Could be one of those actresses from a New York burletta.”

Bertha gasped. “From the Broadway stage? You really think so?”

“She’s certainly stylish enough.”

Bertha squinted down Alley Street at the back of the tall carriage. “That man called her Bessie. She doesn’t look like a Bessie to me.”

“Further proof that beneath all her fluff, she’s a vessel of clay like the rest of us.”

“How so?”

“Who ever heard of an angel named Bessie?”

Grinning, Bertha leaned and tweaked Magda’s nose. “Oh, go on with you.”

Of all the souls wandering the earth—in Jefferson, Texas, at least—Bertha Maye Biddie’s heart had knit with Magdalena Hayes’ from the start. They were a year apart, Magda being the oldest, but age wasn’t the only difference between them. Magda easily reached the top shelves in the kitchen, where Bertha required a stool. And while big-boned Magda took up one and a half spaces on a church pew, Bertha barely filled the remaining half. Magda’s russet mop coiled as tight as tumbleweed. Bertha’s black hair fell to her waist in silken waves and gave her fits trying to keep it pinned up. Nothing fazed self-possessed Magda. Bertha greeted life with her heart.

Magda nudged Bertha with her elbow. “Earthbound or not, I can tell you one thing about her. . .”

“What’s that?”

The look in Magda’s big brown eyes said whatever the one thing was it was bound to be naughty. She leaned in to whisper. “She knows a thing or two about the fellas.”

Bertha raised her brows. “You can tell that just by looking at her, can you?”

“Not looking at her, smart britches. I can tell by the way she looks at them.” She fussed with her curls, her eyes pious slants. “No decent woman goes eye to eye with strange men in the street, and you know it.”

“I guess some decent woman told you that?”

“Bertha Maye Biddie! Don’t get fresh with me.”

Bertha tucked in her chin and busied herself straightening her gloves. “Maybe she’s fed up with their scandalous fawning. Ever think of that?”

“Any hound will track his supper.”

The words made Bertha mad enough to spit, but she didn’t know why. “A pie set out on a windowsill may be a fine display of good cooking, but not necessarily an invitation.”

Magda narrowed her eyes. “What on earth are you talking about?” Before Bertha could answer, she stiffened and settled back for a pout. “Why are you siding up with that woman anyway? You don’t even know her.”

The truth was, Bertha’s head still reeled from the first sight of Bessie. And the way men reacted to her flooded Bertha’s young heart with hope and provided an opportunity, if she played her cards right, to fix a private matter that sorely needed fixing.

She knew a few things by instinct, like how to toss her long hair or tilt her chin just so. Enough to mop the grin off Thaddeus Bloom’s handsome face and light a fire in those dark eyes. But she was done with turning to mush in his presence and watching him revel in it. If Bertha could learn a few of the bluebird’s tricks, she’d have that rascal wagging his tail. Then the shoe would be laced to the proper foot, and Thad could wear it up her front stoop when he came to ask for her hand.

One thing was certain. Whatever Bessie knew, Bertha needed to know it.

She tugged on Magda’s arm. “Come on.”

“Come on where?”

Already a wagon-length ahead, Bertha called back over her shoulder. “To the hotel. We’re going to find her.”

“What? Why?”

“Save your questions for later. Now hurry!”

Bertha dashed to the steps at the end of the boardwalk and scurried into the street.

“You planning to run clear to Vale Street?” Magda huffed, rushing to catch up. “Slow down. It ain’t ladylike.”

“Oh, pooh. Neither am I. Look, there’s Mose. He’ll take us.”

Just ahead, Moses Pharr’s rig, piled high with knobby cypress, turned onto Alley Street headed the opposite way. The rickety wagon, pulled by one broken-down horse, bore such a burden of wood it looked set to pop like a bloated tick. When Bertha whistled, the boy’s drowsy head jerked up. He turned around and saw her, and a grin lit his freckled face.

“Bertha!” Magda hustled up beside her. “If your pa gets word of you whistling in town, he’ll take a strap to your legs.”

“Papa doesn’t own a strap. Come on, Mose is waiting.”

She ran up even with the wagon and saw that the mountain of wood had blocked her view of Mose’s sister sitting beside him on the seat. They both grinned down at her, Rhodie’s long red hair the only visible difference between the two.

“Hey, Rhodie.”

“Hey, Bert. Where you going?”

“To Brooks House. I was hoping to hitch a ride.”

Mose leaned over, still grinning. “We always got room for you, Bertha. Hop on.”

Magda closed the distance between them and came to stand beside Bertha, breathing hard. When Bertha pulled herself onto the seat beside Rhodie, Magda started to follow. Mose raised his hand to stop her.

“Hold up there.” He looked over at Bertha. “Her, too?”

Bertha nodded.

Mose cut his eyes back at the wood and then shrugged. “Guess one more can’t hurt. But she’ll have to sit atop that stump. Ain’t no more room on the seat.”

Magda adjusted her shawl around her shoulders and sniffed. “I refuse to straddle a cypress stump all the way to Vale Street.”

“Suit yourself,” Bertha said. “But it’s a long walk. Let’s go, Mose.”

Mose lifted the reins and clucked at the horse. Magda grabbed the wooden handgrip and pulled herself onto the wagon just as it started to move. Arranging her skirts about her, she perched on the tall stump like Miss Muffet. “Well, what are you waiting for?” she asked. “Let’s go.”

Laughing, they rolled through Jefferson listing and creaking, ignoring the stares and whispers. When the rig pulled up across from Brooks House, even the spectacle they made couldn’t compete with Bessie and her traveling companion.

The couple stood on the street beside their luggage, the carriage nowhere in sight. They seemed at the end of a heated discussion, given his mottled face and her missing smile.

When Bertha noticed the same sick-cow expression on the faces of the gathered men and the same threatened look on the women’s, she became more determined than ever to learn Bessie’s secret.

The man with Bessie growled one more angry word then hefted their bags and set off up the path. Not until Bessie followed him and disappeared through the shadowy door did the town resume its pace.

Mose gulped and found his voice. “She looked as soft as a goose-hair pillow. Who is she?”

Bertha scooted to the edge of her seat and climbed down. She dusted her hands and smoothed her skirt before she answered. “I don’t know, but I intend to find out.”

“Roll up your tongue, Moses Pharr,” Magda said from the back, “and get me off this stump.”

Mose hopped to the ground and hurried around to help Magda.

Rhodie, twirling her copper braid, grinned down at Bertha. “What are you going to do, Bert?”

Magda answered for her. “She’s going to get us into trouble, that’s what.”

Bertha took her by the hand. “Stop flapping your jaws and come on.”

They waved goodbye to Mose and Rhodie then hurried across the street, dodging horses, wagons, and men—though their town wasn’t nearly as crowded as it had once been.

Jefferson, Queen City of the Cypress, lost its former glory in 1873, when the United States Corps of Engineers blew the natural dam to kingdom come, rerouting the water from Big Cypress Bayou down the Red River to Shreveport. Once a thriving port alive with steamboat traffic, when the water level fell, activity in Jefferson, the river port town that had earned the title “Gateway to Texas” dwindled. To that very day, in fits of Irish temper, Bertha’s papa cursed the responsible politicians.

But through it all, Jefferson had lost none of its charm. Brooks House was a prime example of the best the town had to offer, so it seemed only right that someone like Bessie might wind up staying there.

Bertha and Magda positioned themselves outside the hotel and hunkered down to wait—the former on a mission, the latter under duress. It didn’t take long for the girls to learn a good bit about the captivating woman and her cohort. Talk swirled out the door of the hotel soon after the couple sashayed to the front desk to register under the name of A. Monroe and wife, out of Cincinnati, Ohio.

The gentleman, if he could be counted as such, addressed the woman as Annie or Bessie, when he didn’t call her something worse. The two quarreled openly, scratching and spitting like cats, and didn’t care who might be listening. By the time the story drifted outside, the locals had dubbed her Diamond Bessie due to her jewel-encrusted hands, and it seemed the name would stick.

Bertha shaded her eyes with her hands and pressed her face close to the window. “I don’t see her anymore, Magda. I guess they took a room.”

“Of course they took a room. Why else would they come to a hotel?”

Bertha ignored her sarcasm and continued to search the lobby for Bessie. Still catching no sight of her, she turned around. “Isn’t she the most glorious thing? And even prettier close up.”

“That she is.”

“Did you see the way men look at her? I never saw that many roosters on the prowl at one time.”

“And all for squat,” Magda said. “That chicken’s been plucked. The little banty she strutted into town with has already staked a claim.” She grinned. “He wasn’t all that hard on the eyes himself.”

Bertha frowned. “That strutting peacock? Besides his flashy clothes, she was the only thing special about him. Don’t see how he managed to snare a woman like that. He must be rich.”

Magda arched one tapered brow. “Did you see the rings on her fingers?”

“I reckon so. I’m not blind.”

Magda stretched her back and heaved a sigh. “I guess that’s it then. Let’s go.”

Bertha grabbed her arm. “Wait. Where are you going?”

“Home. This show’s over. They’ve settled upstairs by now.”

Lacing her fingers under her chin, Bertha planted herself in Magda’s path. “Won’t you wait with me just a mite longer?”

“She’s not coming out here, Bertha. Besides, you’ve seen enough for today.”

“I don’t want to see her. I need to talk to her.”

Magda drew herself back and stared. “Are you tetched? We can’t just walk up and talk to someone like her. Why would she fool with the likes of us?”

“I don’t know. I’ll think of a way. I’ve got to.” She bit her bottom lip—three words too late.

Looking wary now, Magda crossed her arms. “Got to? Why?”

“Just do.” Bertha met her look head-on. She wouldn’t be bullied out of it. Not even by Magda.

Resting chubby fists on rounded hips, Magda sized her up. “All right, what does this have to do with Thad?”

No one knew her like Magda. Still, the chance she might stumble onto Bertha’s motives were as likely as hatching a three-headed guinea hen. Struggling to hold her jaw off the ground, she lifted one shoulder. “Who said it did?”

Magda had the gall to laugh. “Because, dearie,” she leaned to tap Bertha’s forehead, “everything inside there lately has something to do with Thad.”

“Humph! Think what you like. I am going to talk to her.”

Magda glared. “Go ahead then. I can see there’s no changing your mind. But I don’t fancy being humiliated by another of your rattlebrained schemes, thank you.”

Bertha caught hold of her skirt. “Don’t you dare go. I can’t do this on my own.”

“Let go of me. I said I’m going home.”

“Please, Magdalena! I need you.”

Magda pulled her skirt free and took another backward step. “No, ma’am. You just count me out this time.”

She turned to go and Bertha lunged, catching her in front of the hotel door. They grappled, tugging sleeves and pulling hair, both red-faced and close to tears. Just when Bertha got set to squeal like a pestered pig, from what seemed only a handbreadth away a woman cleared her throat. Bertha froze, hands still locked in Magda’s hair, and turned to find the bluebird beaming from the threshold—though canary seemed more fitting now that she’d traded her blue frock for a pale yellow dress.

“What fun!” Bessie cried, clasping her hands. “I feared this town might be as dull as dirt, but it seems I was mistaken.”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mailbox Monday


I love participating in Mailbox Monday - it is so much fun to see what everyone is getting in the mail. A special thank you to everyone who stops by my mailbox and visits and/or leaves a comment - I LOVE hearing from people, and would love it if you left comments with links to your reviews of these books!

Thanks for taking the time to visit!

Here are the books that came into my house last week:

Beat the Reaper ARC by Josh Bazell - Fiction / Thriller - Available January 7, 2009

The Boomer Burden: Dealing with Your Parents' Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff by Julie Hall (The Estate Lady) - Non-Fiction / Family & Relationships / Aging / General -

Dangerous Heart ARC (Westward Hearts Book 3) by Tracey Bateman - Christian Fiction/Romance/Western - October 2008

Diamond Duo (Texas Fortunes Book 1) by Marcia Gruver - Christian Fiction / Romance - October 2008

Otis the Musical Owl by Joseph N. Chappelle - Children's Action/Adventure - September 2008

Where Am I Wearing ARC by Kelsey Timmerman - Non-Fiction - Available November 2008




What was in your mailbox last week??
If you would like to participate in Mailbox Monday, head over to The Printed Page and grab the logo. Make sure to visit other blogs hosting Mailbox Monday and comment/leave your link!
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