Thursday, April 30, 2009

New York Debut by Melody Carlson (sneak peek)

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

New York Debut (Carter House Girls)

Zondervan (May 1, 2009)


Over the years, Melody Carlson has worn many hats, from pre-school teacher to youth counselor to political activist to senior editor. But most of all, she loves to write! Currently she freelances from her home. In the past ten years, she has published more than a hundred books for children, teens, and adults, with sales totaling more than 2.5 million and many titles appearing on the ECPA Bestsellers List.

Several of her books have been finalists for, and winners of, various writing awards including The Gold Medallion, The Christy, and The Rita Award. And most recently she is in the process of optioning some of her books for film rights.
She has two grown sons and lives in Central Oregon with her husband and chocolate lab retriever. They enjoy skiing, hiking, gardening, camping and biking in the beautiful Cascade Mountains.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714931
ISBN-13: 978-0310714934


“Where is Taylor?” asked Grandmother as she drove DJ home from the airport.
”Is she coming on a later flight?”

DJ hadn’t told her the whole story yet. In fact, she hadn’t said much of anything to Grandmother at all during the past week, except to leave a message saying that she’d changed her flight and planned to be home two days earlier than expected. Obviously, Grandmother had assumed that Taylor had changed her plans as well.

“Taylor’s in LA,” DJ said slowly, wishing she could add something to that, something to deflect further questioning.

“Visiting her father?”


“Touring with Eva?”

“What then?” Grandmother’s voice was getting irritated as she drove away from the terminal. “Where is the girl, Desiree? Speak up.”

“She’s in rehab.”

“Rehab?” Grandmother turned to stare at DJ with widened eyes. “Whatever for?”

“For alcohol treatment.”

Grandmother seemed stunned into speechlessness, which was a relief since DJ didn’t really want to discuss this. She was still trying to grasp the whole strange phenomenon. It was hard to admit, but the past few days of being mostly by herself in Las Vegas had been lonely and depressing and one of the reasons she’d been desperate to change her flight and come home early. She had really missed Taylor. The hardest part was when she discovered that Taylor wasn’t allowed any communication from outside the rehab facility. This concerned DJ. No cell phone calls, email, or anything. It seemed weird. Although DJ was praying for her roommate, she was worried. What if it wasn’t a reputable place? What if Taylor never came back? What if something bad happened to her? Not only would DJ blame herself, she figured everyone else would too.

Finally Grandmother spoke. “Did you girls get into some kind of trouble in Las Vegas, Desiree?”


“I want you to be honest with me. Did something happen to precipitate this?”

“The only thing that happened is that Taylor came to grips with the fact that she has a serious drinking problem. If you’ll remember, I tried to let you in on this some time ago.”

“Yes, I remember the vodka bottle. I simply assumed it was a one-time occurrence.”

“I told you otherwise.”

“Well, I know that girls will be girls, Desiree. You can’t have spent as much time as I in the fashion industry and not know this.”

“Were you ever like that?” asked DJ. “I mean that girls will be girls bit?”

Grandmother cleared her throat. “I wasn’t an angel, Desiree, if that’s what you’re hinting at. However, I did understand the need for manners and decorum. I witnessed numerous young women spinning out of control. Beautiful or not, a model won’t last long if she is unable to work.”

“Isn’t that true with everything?”

“Yes…I suppose. How long is Taylor going to be in…this rehabilitation place?”

“I don’t know. You should probably call her mom.”

“Oh, dear…that’s something else I hadn’t considered. Certainly Eva Perez won’t be blaming me for her daughter’s, well, her drinking problem.”
“Eva is fully aware that Taylor had this drinking problem long before she came to Carter House.”

“Good.” Grandmother sighed and shook her head. “I just hope her treatment won’t prevent her from participating in Fashion Week. That would be a disaster.”

“Seems like it would be a worse disaster if Taylor didn’t get the help she needs.”

“Yes, of course, that goes without saying. But I would think that a week or two should be sufficient. Goodness, just how bad can a problem get when you’re only seventeen?”

DJ shrugged, but didn’t say anything. The truth was she thought it could get pretty bad, and in Taylor’s case it was bad. And it could’ve gotten worse. To think that Taylor had been drinking daily and DJ never even knew it.

“It’s just as well you came home early, Desiree,” said Grandmother as she turned onto the parkway. “Already Casey and Rhiannon are back. And Kriti is supposed to return tomorrow. Eliza will be back on New Year’s Eve.”

“I’m surprised she didn’t want to stay in France for New Year’s.”

“As am I. If I were over there, I’d certainly have booked a room in Paris. Nothing is more spectacular than fireworks over the City of Light. But apparently Eliza has plans with her boyfriend. Imagine—giving up Paris for your boyfriend!”

Of course, DJ knew that Eliza’s life of lavish luxury didn’t mean all that much to her. Like a poor little rich girl, Eliza wanted a slice of “normal.” Well, normal with a few little extras like good shoes, designer bags, and her pretty white Porsche.

“It’s good to be home,” DJ proclaimed as her grandmother turned into the driveway.

“It’s good to hear you say that,” said Grandmother.

And it was the truth. After a week in Vegas, DJ was extremely thankful to be back. Maybe for the first time, Carter House did feel like a home. She couldn’t wait to see Casey and Rhiannon.

“Welcome back,” called Casey as she opened the door, dashed out onto the porch, and hugged DJ. “Need some help with those bags?”

“Thanks.” DJ studied Casey for a moment, trying to figure out what had changed. “Your hair!”

Casey picked up one of DJ’s bags then grinned as she gave her strawberry blond hair a shake. “Like it?”

“It’s the old you—only better.”

“My mom talked me into it. The black was a little dramatic, don’t you think?”

“I think you look fantastic. And that choppy layered cut is very cute.”

“Your grandmother approved it too. And I got highlights.”

DJ touched her own hair. “Taylor had been nagging me to get mine redone. But it was so expensive in Vegas. I figured I’d do it here.”

Casey lowered her voice. “So how’d your grandmother take the news about Taylor?”

DJ stopped at the foot of the stairs and stared at Casey. “Did Rhiannon tell you everything?”
“Yeah, is it supposed to be a big secret?” Casey made a hurt face now. “I was wondering why you told Rhiannon and not me. I thought we were friends, DJ.”

“I didn’t mean to, but I sort of spilled the beans with Rhiannon because I was so desperate and didn’t know what to do at the time. But then I felt bad. I mean it was possible that Taylor wanted to keep it private, you know?”

Casey nodded somberly. “Yeah, I guess I do know.”

“You should.” After all, it had only been a few months since they had intervened with Casey in regard to her pain pill snitching.

“So, are you saying mum’s the word?”

“Until Taylor comes back. Don’t you think it’s up to her to say something or not?”

“Yeah. I can just imagine Eliza with that tasty little morsel of gossip. It’d be all over the school in no time.”

“Speaking of Eliza, that means Kriti too.”

“Kriti just got here about an hour ago.” Casey paused, nodding toward the room that Kriti and Eliza shared. The taxi dropped her and she went straight to her room. But something seems wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure. She just looks different. Kind of unhappy. I mean she didn’t even say hello or anything.”

“Maybe she was missing her family.”

“Maybe, but my guess is it’s something more.”

“We should probably try harder to reach out to her and make her feel at home.”

“You’re here!” Rhiannon burst out of the room and threw her arms around DJ. “Welcome home!”

“Man, it is so good to be back. Vegas—for more than a day or two—is a nightmare.”

“At least you got a tan,” observed Rhiannon. She glanced at Casey. “Both of you, in fact.”

“It’s that California sun.”

“Don’t make me envious,” said Rhiannon.

“Hey, look at you,” said DJ as she noticed that Rhiannon had on a very cool outfit. “Is that new?”

“Old and new. My great aunt gave me some of her old clothes and I’ve been altering them.” She held out her hands and turned around to make the long circular skirt spin out. “Fun, huh?”

“And cool,” said DJ.

“She’s got all kinds of stuff,” said Casey. “Hats and costume jewelry and scarves and things. I told her she should open a retro shop and get rich.”

“Maybe I will someday.”

“Or just sell things here in Carter House,” suggested DJ. “Between Eliza and Taylor’s clothing budget, you could clean up.”

“Oh, yeah, DJ, Conner just called,” said Rhiannon. “They just got back from their ski trip and he said he tried your cell a few times, but it seemed to be turned off.”

“More like dead. My flight was so early this morning, I forgot to charge it.”

“Well, I told him you’d call.”

Casey set DJ’s bag inside her door. “Speaking of boys, I think I’ll check and see how Garrison is doing—find out if he missed me or not.” She touched her hair. “Do you think he’ll like it?”

“How could he not,” said Rhiannon. “It’s so cool.”

“Later,” called Casey as she headed for her room.

“So, how’s Taylor?” asked Rhiannon quietly.

“You didn’t tell Kriti, did you?” whispered DJ, pulling Rhiannon into her room then closing the door.

“No, why would I?”

“I just wanted to be sure. I think we need to respect Taylor’s privacy with this.”

“Absolutely. So, have you talked to her?”

“They won’t let me. They have this no communication policy. No email, cell phones…nothing. It’s like a black hole. Weird.”

Rhiannon nodded. “Yeah, it was like that with my mom at first. I think they wanted to keep her cut off from any bad connections. Then after a while, you earn communication privileges.”

“Oh, that’s a relief. I was really worried.”

“I still can hardly believe Taylor went willingly.”

“Yeah, our strong-willed wild child…putting herself into rehab.” DJ shook her head.

“That remind me, Seth has called a few times too. He wanted to know why Taylor’s cell was off and where she was.”

“What’d you say?”

“That I didn’t know.” She shrugged. “Actually, that was the truth.”

“But nothing else?”

“Good. I mean it’s not like we need to keep it top secret, but until we hear from Taylor, let’s not talk about it.”

“Sure.” Rhiannon put a hand on DJ’s shoulder. “And don’t worry about her, DJ. She’ll be fine.”
“I know.” DJ nodded as she put her bags on her bed and started to unzip them. But as soon as Rhiannon left, DJ wasn’t so sure. What if Taylor wasn’t fine? What if something had gone wrong? And what if it was all DJ’s fault?

I only got to page 30 of this book. It's the 6th in the Carter House Girls series and I felt totally lost. From what little I read, the series is very chick-littish and light, but touches on serious subjects. This one, however, did not stand well alone. The author had written some sketchy background about each of the characters by the point at which I gave up. It just wasn't enough for me and I decided that rather than become frustrated by the book, it would be best to stop. I did like the light writing style and wasn't getting any "preachy" vibes at all, so I will definitely give this author another try.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stop the Traffik by Steve Chalke with Cherie Blair (review)

Stop the Traffic by Steve Chalke
with Cherie Blair
Copyright 2009
A Lion Book - Nonfiction
160 pages
Stop the Traffik website

Traffickers exploit need. The people they prey on are those struggling with poverty, desperate to improve their lot in life. Often, it is the women and girls who are lured into the sex trade with empty promises of money and travel, of well-paid jobs as cleaners, au pairs, waitresses, bartenders or models. In West Africa, for example, it is the children of the poor, especially boys, who are drawn into the cocoa plantations of the Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire) with empty promises of food and money. Before they know it, these people - people with the same hopes, needs and dreams as us - have been trapped, sold, shipped off and forced into a life of unimaginable humiliation and suffering.

I'm going to keep this review short because I have a bit of a stomach virus, but there are two things in particular that I learned from this book which really jumped out at me. One is that human trafficking occurs everywhere - not just in third-world nations, but also in places like Great Britain and the United States.

As I was reading the book, I thought about the news story from a few years ago, in which authorities discovered a truck packed with dead people who had been brought from Mexico into the U.S. I can't find an article online, but I recall that migrant workers were locked into the cargo area of a truck without food or water and they died either from lack of air, heat, dehydration or a perhaps a combination.

More than likely, those folks were at some point excited at the prospect of entering the U.S. to earn some money and improve their lot in life. I looked up "migrant workers dead truck" on Google and was horrified to discover a large number of links to various articles on migrant workers who had died of suffocation, in automobile accidents, and sometimes after being abandoned while locked inside trucks. None of them covered the specific story I was looking for and the number of different countries represented was probably the most shocking thing about that search.

The second thing that really caught my interest was the information about the origins of chocolate and how all but one of the large companies selling chocolate have refused to adopt policies that would allow for fair trade and help eliminate slavery. I had no idea that boys are kidnapped or sold into slavery to do the heavy work required to produce chocolate. The only company that has agreed to use only 100% Fairtrade cocoa and sugar in its products (as of printing) is Royal Verkade, owned by United Biscuits. A campaign in the Netherlands successfully convinced Verkade, but did not sway Kinder (owned by Ferrero).

My husband brought some Kindereggs home from Portugal and now I see the sores on the backs of child slaves when I look in my refrigerator. I don't want to be a part of that. As much as I love chocolate, I've decided I will not buy it at all until I see Fair Trade labels on the packages I purchase. Ouch. That is not going to be easy. I love my chocolate. But, chocolate manufacturers have actually lobbied to keep from being legally bound to eliminate unfair practices and I would feel wrong supporting their choice to encourage the enslavement of children.

Stop the Traffik contains statistics, numerous links and personal stories from people who have been trapped, kidnapped or seduced by human traffickers. It's painful to read. Please take the time to visit the Stop the Traffik website and decide for yourself.

Stop the Traffik by Cherie Blair and Steve Chalke

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Stop the Traffik: People Shouldn't Be Bought & Sold

Lion UK (April 1, 2009)


Cherie Blair is a human rights lawyer and campaigner on women's rights and empowerment, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and author of Speaking for Myself. Steve Chalke is UN.GIFT special advisor on human trafficking, and founder of Stop the Traffik. He is the author of several books, including Change Agents, Intelligent Church, The Lost Message of Jesus, and Trust.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $16.95
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Lion UK (April 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0745953603
ISBN-13: 978-0745953601


Wihini, aged nine, and her brother Sunni, aged seven, loved on Thane train station in Mumbai, India with their parents—both alcoholics. Wihini and Sunni went to a day centre where they learned to read and write and were given the chance to play.

One day Sunni and Wihini simply didn’t turn up. Street children often tend to disappear for days, as they try to scrape a living sweeping long-distance trains, but they had been attending the center daily for three months, so when a week or so went by the project staff became worried, and went in search of their parents. The workers found the father lying drunk on the station platform. When they roused him and asked about the children, he admitted that a man had come to him one morning offering money for them. He needed money for alcohol, so he agreed. The trafficker had taken Sunni and Wihini away for the equivalent of just 20 British pounds (currently equivalent to $30 US dollars). The father was angry because he had never received his money. Their mother wouldn’t speak about it. The children were never seen again.

What happened to Sunni and Wihini? Nobody knows. In that area of Mumbai, children often disappeared. They are kidnapped or sold into prostitution, forced labor, adoption, or even child sacrifice. The workers at the Asha Seep center had seen this before. But this was once too often.

Wihini and Sunni’s story proved to be a catalyst. The story was picked up and passed on and as evidence gathered we realized this is happening on a huge scale, around the world—and even on our own doorsteps. Not 200 years ago. Not even fifty years ago. It was—and is—happening today. And so STOP THE TRAFFIK was born.

Human Tafficking—A Definition

Human trafficking is the dislocation of someone by deception or coercion for exploitation, through forced prostitution, forced labor, or other forms of slavery.

-800,000 people are trafficked across borders each year (US State Department)

-It is estimated that two children per minute are trafficked for sexual exploitation. This amounts to an estimated 1.2 million children trafficked every year (UNICEF)

-In 2004, between 14,500 and 17,500 people were trafficked into the United States (US State Department)

-Human trafficking generates between 10 and 12 billion dollars a year (UNICEF)

-Total profit from human trafficking is second only to the trafficking of drugs (The European Police Office; Eurpol)

The numbers tell you the huge scale of this problem. But behind each number is a sea of faces. Behind the statistics are mothers and father, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, torn apart by trafficking; these are innocent lives ruined by abuse. These are human rights violations on a grotesque scale. And the problem is getting worse.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Guest Post by Karen White, author of The Lost Hours

I'm excited to welcome Karen White, author of The Lost Hours, for a guest post! I finished the book recently and you can read my review of The Lost Hours, here, if you missed it.

You can also visit Karen White's website at

Now a near fatal riding accident has shattered Piper’s dreams of Olympic glory. After her grandfather’s death, she inherits the house and all its secrets, including a key to a room that doesn’t exist—or does it? And after her grandmother is sent away to a nursing home, she remembers the box buried in the backyard. In it are torn pages from a scrapbook, a charm necklace—and a newspaper article from 1929 about the body of an infant found floating in the Savannah River. The necklace’s charms tell the story of three friends during the 1920s— each charm added during the three months each friend had the necklace and recorded her life in the scrapbook. Piper always dismissed her grandmother as not having had a story to tell. And now, too late, Piper finds she might have been wrong.

Without further ado, welcome to Karen White!

A Day in the Life of a Mother/Writer by Karen White

People are surprised when I tell them that my life isn’t glamorous. Sure, my tenth novel is about to hit bookstores, and my publisher is sending me on a three week media/booksigning tour in five states, and I just bought the cutest, most impractical yet expensive shoes just to wear on TV interviews. But at the moment, I’m dressed like a homeless woman because I’m in ‘writing mode’, I’ve been yelled at twice by each resident teenager (not including the one ‘I hate you’ from the 17-year-old female child), I’m sitting on a bed covered with three loads of unfolded laundry, and I’m thinking I need to take the dog to the vet tomorrow because he’s chewing on his leg which means he has another skin infection.

See what I mean?

Sure, I get lots of fan mail—my favorite part of this job—but all I have to do is glance up at the sticky kitchen counters, the shoes, text books, and sports apparatus scattered liberally around the house like pepper on scrambled eggs, and I’m back to the reality of my non-glamorous life.

I don’t want to burst anybody’s fantasy bubble, but I feel a dire need to set the record straight. I recently signed a two-book contract for my Tradd Street mystery series, but the books are going to come out two years apart because I simply couldn’t fathom keeping up with writing two books a year and having a life, glamorous or otherwise. When I mentioned this at a book club, the readers—and I love them all!—were up in arms that they would have to wait so long between installments. I told them if I could get the two teenagers and dog to move in with them for a year, I might be able to write a bit faster. Oddly enough, I didn’t have any takers.

Yesterday, as I was cleaning dog vomit from the back seat of my car, I found myself wondering why I make my life so crazy. Why do I have to write? Couldn’t I just keep to a leisurely schedule of a book every five years or so? The answer is easy: no. Writing isn’t just something I do—it’s who I am. When I get a story snagged in my brain, I’m compelled to write it—even if it means carting my laptop to the carpool line, the horse barn, the football field or the laundry room to get it written.

In my April book, The Lost Hours, the protagonist, Piper Mills, finds out too late that her grandmother, whom she’d always relegated to the back of her life, had a story to tell her. And when she goes to dig into her grandmother’s past, she opens up a Pandora’s box into her family’s darkest secrets.

I don’t want to be like Piper; I want to listen to the stories I hear in my heart, then put them down onto the pages of books to share with others NOW—not later. Even if it means getting less sleep than I should, and sometimes picking my children up from school at 3:30 in the afternoon still wearing the pajamas I wore when I dropped them off.

My life might not be glamorous, but it’s mine, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Besides, my children won’t be teenagers forever, and before long I’ll have a quiet, orderly life and house, and they’ll be calling me and telling me how wonderful I am and asking for my advice about life. And if that doesn’t happen, then I’ll just have to write them into my books so I can bend them to my will. Hey, I’m the writer and in my world, fantasies happen.

Thank you, Karen! Is anyone else horrified by the idea of picking up kids from school in pajamas? I'm absolutely 100% certain that if I did so, the day I wore pajamas would be the day someone rear-ended me and I would have to face a couple of deputies, a raft of hunky firefighters and two adorable paramedics . . . imagine that while wearing either robots or One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (yes, those are the designs on my pajamas). Not happening.

More about Karen:

Always, Karen credits her maternal grandmother Grace Bianca, to whom she’s dedicated THE LOST HOURS, with inspiring and teaching her through the stories she shared for so many years. Karen also notes the amount of time she spent listening as adults visited in her grandmother’s Mississippi kitchen, telling stories and gossiping while she played under the table. She says it started her on the road to telling her own tales. The deal was sealed in the seventh grade when she skipped school and read Gone With The Wind. She knew—just knew—she was destined to grow up to be either Scarlet O’Hara or a writer.

Karen’s work has appeared on the South East Independent Booksellers best sellers list. Her novel The Memory of Water, was WXIA-TV’s Atlanta & Company Book Club Selection. Her work has been reviewed in Southern Living, Atlanta Magazine and by Fresh Fiction, among many others, and has been adopted by numerous independent booksellers for book club recommendations and as featured titles in their stores. This past year her 2007 novel Learning to Breathe received several honors, notably the National Readers’ Choice Award.

In addition to THE LOST HOURS, Karen White’s books include The House on Tradd Street, The Memory of Water, Learning to Breathe, Pieces of the Heart and The Color of Light. She lives in the Atlanta metro area with her family where she is putting the finishing touches on her next novel The Girl on Legare Street.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Pie - a day with a light, buttery crust

I am much relieved to declare that my husband has safely returned from Portugal and (possibly the most important bit) he quickly fixed the dishwasher. It's likely that I'm more than a tiny bit envious that he got to see scenery like this without me:

Okay, yes, I confess. I'm green as Ireland. Maybe I can weasel a trip to Portugal, someday, but in the meantime I've enjoyed looking at his photos.

I finished The Blood of Lambs by Kamal Saleem, two nights ago, and I'm not sure . . . maybe I've already said too much about it. I seem to be having difficulty writing a decent review. I'll keep working on making the review worthwhile because the book is excellent, beautifully written and I think he gets his point across (we need to pay attention to what's happening under our noses if we're to keep the terrorist influence under control) without going so far as to bash Muslims in general. It's one of the most fascinating memoirs I've read, this year.

Since I was up very late, two nights in a row (the first night due to insomnia; last night because huzzybuns arrived at the airport quite late and I had to fetch him), I haven't read a word, today. I did, however, watch the first two installments of the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version of Pride & Prejudice. Ah, refreshing. No wet Mr. Darcy, yet. That's far ahead in the future, but I did admire his dark, twinkling eyes. To think, Colin Firth's friends assured him that he would ruin Pride & Prejudice. It's hard to fathom anyone saying or thinking such things.

I am on the verge of finishing Living Fossils, if I can just talk myself into locating a place to read. All the usual places are occupied either by a sleeping husband, a zonked teenager, a comatose cat, or a pile of laundry. And, it's so quiet! Okay, I'll go move the laundry. You convinced me.

Happy Sunday!

Bookfool, off to seek a reading spot

Friday, April 24, 2009

Brevity is not my strong suit . . .

. . . but I've still got those two vacation books to review, so I'm going to shoot for mini reviews, this time.

Real Solutions for Busy Moms by Kathy Ireland is a book that I read for FirstWild. You can read the Real Solutions Sneak Peek chapter, here. Kathy is a Christian and the book covers a surprising range of concepts about motherhood -- not just parenting, but little things that you can do to make your house more comfortable and appealing, how to keep your family safe and make the atmosphere in your home happy. Some of the book is written in question/answer format.

Some of you will recognize Kathy as a former model. It was interesting reading her thoughts about modeling and and how her beliefs clashed a bit with her job. She is no longer a model, although obviously she still looks perfect. Sheesh, if I looked half as good at 20 as she looks, now, I wouldn't have married at 19.

I thought most of this book was common sense and you can probably find all the same advice in other books, but I liked her particular viewpoint. She seems like an awfully kind, sensible, practical person. Some of what she said about homes simply doesn't apply to me. I do think she was coming into the "make your home happy" perspective from the viewpoint of someone who has a lot more to work with, but in general I enjoyed the book and found that she tends to think very much like I do.

Spiced by Dalia Jurgensen was the next book I finished on vacation (and the last -- not a very bookish vacation). Talk about a contrast. First, a book by a woman who believes in saving yourself for marriage, followed by one with a woman who went out with folks of both sexes. Like I needed to know that. Otherwise, I liked the book. I just hate reading about anybody's sex life -- soooo not my business.

Dalia Jurgensen is a pastry chef who worked in publishing for 5 years, but wasn't happy; in her heart she just wanted to cook for a living. The book opened as she quit the publishing grind and found a new job working at Nobu as the assistant pastry chef. I'm not a New Yorker, but I've heard of Nobu -- I have no idea how -- so the fact that she began in a well-known restaurant caught my interest. Dalia tells about her experiences in the kitchen and you get a very good picture of what life is life working in a restaurant. She moved from one restaurant job to another and the book ends with her thoughts about moving into a new phase of her life.

This is my first restaurant memoir and I thought it was excellent. I'd take her publishing desk job over frequent burns, high pressure and long hours any day, but it's fun getting a glimpse into what goes on in the kitchen of a high-class restaurant. This is a fascinating memoir and a very fun read. She's cooked at the kind of places I'm unlikely to ever eat, but that didn't matter a bit.

In other news:

Jason T. Berrgren, author of 10 Things I Hate About Christianity, left a message at my blog saying he has been interviewed for the premier episode of ABC's Beliefs. See the clip of Jason talking about 10 Things I Hate About Christianity, here.

"It will bring a level of clarity and peace . . . " That's my favorite line from the interview, when Jason describes the fact that Christianity isn't a magical panacea for everything that goes wrong in your life, but there's still good reason he's a devout Christian. I loved that. Jason and I don't agree on everything (I don't think the Bible is boring, although the King James version does make my eyes cross), but my feeling as I read his book was primarily a sense of relief, an "Ohmygoodness, it's nice to know I'm not alone in these thoughts" sensation. You can read my full review of 10 Things I Hate About Christianity here, if you missed it.

I am on the verge of finishing The Blood of Lambs by Kamal Saleem. I've already told you it's fascinating, horrifying and eye-opening, right? I'm really only stopping for a minute -- just to type a little and then shut off the computer. Must go back to finish this book! But, first, I must toss in this little article:

Guardian article entitled "Pakistan Anger at UK Terror Slurs"

Why? Because Saleem describes how terrorists are slowly infiltrating nations that are not heavily Muslim, with the intent of converting people to Islam and then leading new Muslims into their radical cause. He specifically mentions the fact that young people are targets and one of the ways radicals are able to hang out with students and influence them is through enrollment in universities, one of the simplest ways for foreign nationals to enter other countries. A relevant quote from the Guardian article:

Ten of those accused were Pakistani nationals who entered Britain on student visas, one is believed to be Afghani, and another is a British national granted sanctuary here after claiming persecution by the Taliban.

Unfortunately, I flipped ahead to the section on American Muslims in The Seven Faith Tribes (mentioned in my previous post) and found it unenlightening.

I'm anxious to get back to my book, so I'm going to skip adding a photo. Wishing you a healthy happy weekend!

Bookfool, about to cave in . . . after I finish my book

So Long, Status Quo by Susy Flory (review)

So Long, Status Quo by Susy Flory
Copyright 2009
Beacon Hill - Memoir/History/Self-improvement
158 pages, incl. appendixes, notes & further reading

So Long, Status Quo is a sweet, thoughtful little book. The author felt like she was spending too much of her time on the couch rather than really living her life and that she needed to become a less selfish person. She also became aware of just how many possessions she owned. When her family moved houses, Susy began to make lists of her possessions and worked on making changes in how she looked at need, then eliminated the excess in her home.

In order to step outside of herself and begin taking action, the author also studied the lives of women who have made a difference and who were self-sacrificing. Inspired by their willingness to forego personal comfort, Susy set out to sacrifice in her own ways.

Each chapter contains a mini biography of an amazing woman, including Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mother Teresa and the semi-fictional Rosie the Riveter. I loved the bios. They're beautifully written and I enjoyed them so much that I actually had a lot of trouble putting the book down. It was also quite interesting reading about how Susy chose each of her own little projects -- spending a day welding, another fasting and praying, traveling on a humanitarian mission to Cuba. At the end of each chapter, the author offers some alternate suggestions for action.

I really enjoyed this little book and I think I'll pass it around my Bible Study group. Most of the women in my group seem to be really involved, so my thought was that maybe they'll be inspired to say, "Hey, come help us." I've got to get over this shy thing; I don't bother asking if I can join in, simply because I can't get the words out of my mouth.

Definitely recommended. This is a Christian book. Again, not preachy from my viewpoint, but it's definitely geared toward doing good from a Biblical viewpoint. Of course, you don't have to be a Christian to be a humanitarian, so I'd recommend it to others for the inspiration and the nice little bios, alone.

In other reading news, I'm still about 100 pages away from the end of The Blood of Lambs. It's so full of violence and horror, as he reflects back on his early life, that sometimes I have to set it down for a while. But, I think it's really an amazing story and it's one that this chick needed to read. I had no idea what exactly the more radical Muslims believe and it's quite eye-opening. I also just received a book called The Seven Faith Tribes, which I hope will add to my understanding.

I've started reading a book called Living Fossils, which arrived two days ago and is so freaking beautiful that I could not stop myself from immediately opening it, sniffing those high-quality pages, admiring the photos . . . and reading. It's the second in a series of books about how the author tried to prove the theory of evolution scientifically -- by seeing if it could be disproven -- and discovered that there are many missing links in the chain of evolution. Rather startling, actually. More on that, later. It's a tour book, but so interesting that I'll probably whip right through it and review early, then post the sneak peek, later on.

I'm apparently a little less shy when standing with my nose pressed to the back of a camera. Both husband and eldest son think it's embarrassing when I take pictures of "total strangers" but I love this shot taken on the grounds of our hotel in Costa Rica, don't you? I always love seeing other people reading and the lighting was absolutely perfect.

Hope everyone has a happy, fun reading weekend!

So Long Status Quo by Susy Flory (sneak peek)

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

So Long, Status Quo: What I Learned From Women Who Changed the World

Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City (February 15, 2009)


SUSY FLORY grew up on the back of a quarter horse in an outdoorsy family in Northern California and she's not afraid to dive into the trenches to experience firsthand whatever she's writing about. If that means smuggling medical supplies into Cuba on a humanitarian trip or sitting down to coffee to talk about faith with a practicing witch, she's there with a listening ear and notebook in hand.

Susy's creative nonfiction features a first person journalistic style with a backbone of strong research and a dash of dry wit. She attended Biola University and UCLA, where she received degrees in English and psychology. She has a background in journalism, education, and communications. Her first book, Fear Not Da Vinci, released in 2006.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City (February 15, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0834124386
ISBN-13: 978-0834124387


Addicted to comfort

“I could not, at any age, be content to take my place in a corner by the fireside

and simply look on. Life was meant to be lived. Curiosity must be kept alive …

One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt, on her 77th birthday

I love my couch. It’s covered in a squishy soft velvety material the color of oatmeal laced with honey and the cushions are fat. Three big loose pillows rest against the back, the material woven into an exotic, vaguely Eastern pattern of impressionistic flowers and trees in tawny gold and lapis blue. My favorite spot in the entire house is the far end of this couch, with two smaller pillows behind my back and my legs stretched out long ways. I do this every day.

For a while we had an uptight couch. Bright Colonial red with little blue and yellow flowers, it reminded me of the calico dresses Melissa Gilbert used to wear on Little House on the Prairie. The fabric was quilted in the shape of puzzle pieces and the back rose straight up, pierced by a row of buttons. A boxy pleated strip of fabric ran along the bottom. It was really uncomfortable and almost impossible to take a nap in. That couch didn’t want you sitting there very long; it was a little Puritanical, wanting you up and around, taking care of business. We sold it at a garage sale for $20. Good riddance.

But the comfy oatmeal couch—it loves you. It calls you to sink down into comfort, and to stay awhile. A long while.

From the couch I can see the kitchen where my kids are grating cheese for quesadillas or searching the fridge for leftover pizza. I can look out the back window, at the drooping branches of the monstrous eucalyptus tree overhanging the back yard. Or, I can stare at the ceiling fan, slowly circling overhead. But, really, I hardly ever look at anything but words. Books, newspapers, catalogs, magazines, letters from friends—those are the things I look at when I’m stretched out on the couch.

Sundays are my absolutely favorite. After church, we eat lunch at the taqueria, then head home. The newspapers await; I don’t want to waste time changing my clothes so I head straight for the couch. News comes first, then business, travel, entertainment, and the Sunday magazine. Last are the sale papers: Target, Best Buy, Macy’s.

By this time I’m sleepy, melting a bit around the edges. My head grows heavy and I turn, curl up, and snuggle into the cushions. I fall asleep, papers crinkly around me.

A while ago my teenage son, just to aggravate me, staked a claim on the oatmeal couch. He’d race home after church in his little pick-up truck and head in the door, kicking off his shoes and diving into my favorite comfy spot in one gangly flop. He made it his goal to be asleep, limbs a sprawl, before I even made it inside the house. A few times I tried to extricate him but it was useless, like trying to wrestle a wire hanger out of a tangled pile.

I decided to wait him out and so after he slept on the couch a few Sundays, he gave it up. He had better things to do, usually involving his computer.

Things returned to normal, the oatmeal couch remembered the shape of my behind, and I took to snuggling into the tawny-lapis pillows once again.

It was safe, my velvety couch cave.

Just like my life.

In one of my favorite books, A Girl Named Zippy, Haven Kimmel writes about her mother, always on the couch with a cardboard box of books by her side. There she was, forever reading a book and waving at her children as they went back and forth, in and out of the house, busily doing whatever kids in a small Indiana town did. She stayed there, curled up on the couch, peacefully reading her books as her husband ran around who-knows-where, maybe coon hunting, gambling away his paycheck, or sleeping with the divorced woman across town. She was comfortable there. Zippy unexpectedly became a bestseller and Kimmel traveled around giving talks and signing books. The one question everyone asked her was, “Did your mother ever get up off the couch?”

I don’t live in Indiana; I live in a suburb of San Francisco. My kids don’t run in and out of the house; they pretty much stay put. My husband is a hard working, non-gambling, faithful guy who pays the bills. And my life is pretty good. But I have lived most of it lodged safely in the corner of my couch.

My secure couch cocoon was really a picture of what I had let my life become. Lethargic, sleepy, with a love for security and for comfort, I lived for self. I avoided suffering at all costs. I didn’t want to ever do anything uncomfortable. I think I was addicted to comfort.

My journey out of my couch-life started years ago when I was a college student on vacation, idly looking around a gift shop. Flicking through a box full of enameled metal signs, I came across one that read “We Can Do It!” Underneath was a portrait of a woman, looking sort of like Lucille Ball in her cleaning garb, hair up in a red bandanna. Glossy lips, a little pouty, with arched eyebrows and thick eyelashes. She wore a blue collared shirt, sleeve rolled up over a flexed bicep, toned and powerful. Her eyes were wide open, focused, determined. Who was she? I hadn’t a clue, but I bought the sign and installed it in a place of honor by my desk.

Later, when I was married, the mother of two small children and too busy changing diapers to sit much on the couch yet, I learned she was called Rosie the Riveter. She, and six million other women who toiled in factories while their men were off fighting in World War II, changed the world. Even now, as I look at the old enamel sign next to my desk, I’m haunted by the determination in the line of her jaw and the resolve in the curl of her fist. I wanted to be like her.

But the couch called. I forgot the sign; it migrated to the back of my bookcase and I took a part time job teaching English at a private high school. My kids were in school, my husband was fighting up the corporate ladder, and with the days sometimes a blur of homework, basketball practice, and ballet class, I hoarded my couch time.

Funny, though. It wasn’t satisfying. I just couldn’t ever seem to get enough.

And then, one day, stretched out reading the Sunday paper, I saw Rosie again. It was a full-page department store ad. Across the top ran a banner: “Help end hunger.” Something had changed. Rosie looked a little more glamorous than I remembered. The “can” in the “We CAN Do It!” was underlined and capitalized to emphasize the can of food in her fist. I unfolded the page and examined it; it was an advertisement for National Hunger Awareness day. If you made a $5 donation to the department store, they would in return give you a 15% coupon for regular, sale and clearance-priced merchandise. It’s our thanks to you for helping to relieve hunger in our communities.

I pondered the page; something didn’t quite make sense. Somehow, by partnering with Rosie to spend money at the department store, you would help to relieve hunger. Rosie and her factory worker sisters had changed the world by serving for low pay and little recognition on factory lines during a war. They had sacrificed personal comfort and convenience for a cause greater than themselves, a cause they believed in and sweated and grew calluses for. Now the department store was asking me to be like Rosie, tie up my hair, bare my biceps and leave my couch, so I could … shop? You’ve got to be kidding.

But my irritation that day over the hijacking of the Rosie the Riveter image piqued my curiosity. Who was Rosie? Was she a real person? Was she still alive? What would she think about the ways her image, once meant to encourage and inspire the Nazi-fighting women of World War II, had been used for merchandising? I was intrigued by her determination and I decided to roll up my sleeves and get to the bottom of her story. So I did. And after Rosie I found eight other women, amazing women, who changed the world. I found women who, with grit and guts, made their lives add up to something much more than just a satisfying Sunday nap. And somehow, in the finding, the oatmeal couch lost its allure.

I wanted to feel alive, to experience something more deep and dangerous than my middle class life. I wanted more than a Ford Expedition SUV with leather seats or a 401K groaning with employer contributions. I craved something beyond Ralph Lauren Suede paint or a giant glossy red Kitchen Aid mixer. I was ready to wake up from a very long nap and do something meaningful.

So this is the story of how, slowly, I began to get up off the couch of my boring, safe, sheltered, vanilla existence to something more real, sharper, in focus. Rosie led the way. Along came Eleanor, and Jane. Then Harriet, Elizabeth, and more. These women became mentors calling me to a different kind of life. Passionate for change, each woman sacrificed money, love, comfort, time, and, ultimately, self, to make a difference to thousands, maybe millions of people.

Living like the women who changed the world is not easy, but it’s good. It feels right. It is satisfying.

This is how I got up off the couch and tried, with much fear and trembling, to make a difference in my world. And I’ll never go back.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Right smack in the middle of this one . . .

I'm on page 150 of this book (a little less than halfway through the book) and it is tremendously gripping. I'd hoped to finish, today, but I've been shot down with a migraine so it'll probably be a day or two. The Blood of Lambs is the memoir of a former PLO terrorist and it's absolutely fascinating (and horrifying). I encourage you to read the excerpt in the sneak peek post, below, if you're even slightly interested as I think this is a very important book about how and why people become terrorists and how they are recruited very, very young and schooled in hatred and killing.

Saleem says terrorists are intelligent, often highly educated people who are quietly growing their cause within our borders, not just dropping in on occasion to blow things up. I think Americans tend to go around in a happy little cloud of ignorance, thinking we're immune to such things, even after the horror of 9/11, hence the word "important". It's notable that the author began his schooling as a terrorist at the age of 7. I hope to write a complete review by Friday.

Just moments ago, I discovered that I was wrong about only taking one poppet photo in Costa Rica. I'd completely forgotten that Nameless Dr. Poppet came out to pose in front of the volcano at Arenal. Look at lucky Poppet!
Now, if the volcano had been erupting, I'm not sure what Nameless Dr. Poppet would have thought, but as one of the locals said, "She is sleeping." So, no problem. Hope everyone is having a wonderful Wednesday!

The Blood of Lambs by Kamal Saleem (sneak peek)

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Blood of Lambs

Howard Books (April 7, 2009)


Kamal Saleem was born under another name into a large Sunni Muslim family in Lebanon. At age seven, he was recruited by the Muslim Brotherhood and immediately entered a Palestinian Liberation Organization terror training camp in Lebanon. After being involved in terror campaigns in Israel, Europe, Afghanistan, and Africa, and finally making radical Islam converts in the United States, Saleem renounced jihad and became an American citizen. He has appeared on CNN, CBS News, and Fox News programs, and has spoken on terrorism and radical Islam at Stanford University, the University of California, the Air Force Academy, and other institutions nationwide.

Collaborator Writer, Lynn Vincent: Lynn Vincent, a U.S. Navy veteran, is features editor at WORLD Magazine, a national news biweekly. She is the author or co-author of six books, including the New York Times bestseller, Same of Kind of Different as Me.

This true story of an ex-terrorist reveals the life and mindset of radical Muslims. Now a US citizen, Kamal heralds a wake-up call to America.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $23.99
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (April 7, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416577807
ISBN-13: 978-1416577805


Beirut, Lebanon


It was at my mother's kitchen table, surrounded by the smells of herbed olive oils and pomegranates, that I first learned of jihad. Every day, my brothers and I gathered around the low table for madrassa, our lessons in Islam. I always tried to sit facing east, toward the window above the long marble sink where a huge tree with sweet white berries brushed against the window panes. Made of a warm, reddish wood, our table sat in the middle of the kitchen and was surrounded by tesats, small rugs that kept us off the cool tile. Mother sat at the head of the table and read to us from the Koran and also from the hadith, which records the wisdom and instruction of Allah's prophet, Muhammad.

Mother's Koran had a hard black cover etched ornately in gold and scarlet. Her grandfather had given the Book to her father, who had given it her. Even as a small boy I knew my mother and father were devout Sunni Muslims. So devout, in fact, that other Sunnis held themselves a little straighter in our family's presence. My mother never went out without her hijab, only her coffee-colored eyes peering above the cloth that shielded her face, which no man outside our family had ever seen. My father, respected in our mosque, earned an honest living as a blacksmith. He had learned the trade from my grandfather, a slim Turk who wore a red fez, walked with a limp, and cherished thick, cinnamon-laced coffee.

Each day at madrassa, Mother pulled her treasured Koran from a soft bag made of ivory cloth and when she opened it, the breath of its frail, aging pages floated down the table. Mother would read to us about the glory of Islam, about the good Muslims, and about what the Jews did to us. As a four-year-old boy, my favorite parts were the stories of war.

I vividly remember the day in madrassa when we heard the story of a merciless bandit who went about robbing caravans and killing innocent travelers. "This bandit was an evil, evil man," Mother said, spinning the tale as she sketched pictures of swords for us to color.

An evil bandit? She had my attention.

"One day, there was a great battle between the Jews and the sons of Islam," she went on. "The bandit decided to join the fight for the cause of Allah. He charged in on a great, black horse, sweeping his heavy sword left and right, cutting down the infidel warriors."

My eyes grew wider. I held my breath so as not to miss a word.

"The bandit fought bravely for Allah, killing several of the enemy until the sword of an infidel pierced the bandit's heart. He tumbled from his horse and died on the battlefield."

Disappointment deflated my chest. What good is a story like that?

I could hear children outside, shouting and playing. A breeze from the Mediterranean shimmered in the berry tree. Mother's yaknah simmered on the stove — green beans snapped fresh, cooked with olive oil, tomato, onion, and garlic. She would serve it cool that evening with pita bread, fresh mint, and cucumbers. My stomach rumbled.

"After the bandit died," Mother was saying in her storytelling voice, "his mother had a dream. In this dream, she saw her son sitting on the shore of an endless crystal river, surrounded by a multitude of women who were feeding him and tending to him."

I turned back toward Mother. Maybe this story was not so bad after all.

"The bandit's mother was an observant woman, obedient to her husband and to Allah and Muhammad," my mother said. "This woman knew her son was a robber and a murderer. 'How dare you be sitting here in paradise?' she scolded him. 'You don't belong here. You belong in hell!' But her son answered, 'I died for the glory of Allah and when I woke up, He welcomed me into jannah.' "


My mother swept her eyes around the kitchen table. "So you see, my sons, even the most sinful man is able to redeem himself with one drop of an infidel's blood."

The Blood of Lambs © 2009 Arise Enterprises, LLC

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

So Not Happening by Jenny B. Jones (review)

So Not Happening by Jenny B. Jones
Copyright 2009
Thomas Nelson - Young Adult Fiction
328 pages

Before I say anything at all about this book, I want you to know that I absolutely loved So Not Happening and laughed out loud several times while reading it -- which is very, very unusual. There. Got that out of the way.

So Not Happening tells the story of Bella Kirkwood. Bella has lived a charmed life, the daughter of a plastic surgeon and a socialite living in a fancy apartment in Manhattan, attending private school, coddled by an adoring nanny and shopping with her own credit cards at her wealthy father's expense. But, a year ago Bella's life turned upside-down when her parents divorced. Now, her father is "going through a selfish phase" and thinks Bella should stay with her mother. And, her mother has just married a farmer and factory worker who lives in Oklahoma.

Bella's entire life changes when she and her mother move into the farmhouse in Truman, Oklahoma with her step-dad and his two sons. While Bella tries to adjust and make new friends, she still clings to her old life, texting her boyfriend and best friend and occasionally writing blog posts updating the readers of her former Ask Miss Hilliard column. When she writes a carelessly rude blog entry about life in Truman and someone from her school reads it, Bella quickly goes from being the welcomed "new girl" to pariah status. And, when Bella joins the school newspaper staff and overhears a secretive conversation, she places herself in danger to solve the mystery.

I'm not sure that's an entirely adequate summary because a lot happens in this book. Bella's adjustment to Truman is very, very gradual. Occasionally, she hops a plane to visit her father in New York so you get a glimpse of her former life, which helps to illuminate the contrast between her old life and new. She has to deal with a dramatic change in lifestyle with her new family, a new school, and a completely different environment. Bella goes from having parents who ignore her to suddenly being bound by house rules, being an only child to having step-brothers, big-city life to rural living. She's determined to prove herself to the editor of her school's newspaper, but he's apparently determined to give her the worst possible assignments. Oh, such fun.

Because I enjoyed all the little plot points -- the things that get thrown at Bella as things go from bad to worse -- I don't really want to go into too much detail and give anything away, but suffice it to say I really loved the character and I liked the fact that the author kept piling things onto poor Bella. I cared about her and wondered how on earth she was going to get out of all those messes.

Two things that didn't thrill me were the fact that Oklahoma was entirely fictionalized (even Tulsa, which was the closest big city to Truman, was not at all like the Tulsa I know and love -- there was no mention of real locations at all and no ducking tornadoes . . . a fact of life in Oklahoma) and I thought the most difficult situation was resolved too easily. Neither of those things were enough to stop me from gobbling up the book. While I would have loved to hear mention of the students going shopping in Utica Square or crouching in the hallway during a tornado warning, the story was so entertaining that the pages absolutely flew. I had not anticipated finishing any of this week's tour books at all and was thrilled to find a book that grabbed me and wouldn't let go.

Bella is a Christian and there are often little snatches of conversation with God, although they aren't any more dominant than her other internal thoughts. As Christian novels go, I think this one was done perfectly in that the her belief is simply a part of characterization and it's not only totally natural but also often very, very funny. The various names Bella gives to the church services held in the school cafeteria alone are hilarious. She's not a perfect person but she sticks to her principles, realizes when she's done something wrong and tries to amend the situation; and, Bella doesn't go around trying to foist her beliefs on everyone around her. I don't think non-Christians will find the book preachy or offensive. It's just a terrific, well-plotted, well-written, light book with some gentle lessons. Grab this book if you're looking for something light and fun or simply love Young Adult novels.

Also worth mentioning: So Not Happening is the first in a series, "A Charmed Life Novel". I cannot wait for the next one. Bella is definitely a character I'll want to continue to follow and I'm looking forward to more laughs in the next book.

The Poppets strongly suggest that Bella locate a Hideaway Pizza store, since she has been longing for good pizza. Last year, they posed next to Bookfool and Mr. Bookfool's drool-worthy pizza at a Hideaway in Oklahoma City. Mmm. Major yummo.

So Not Happening by Jenny B. Jones (sneak peek)

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

So Not Happening (The Charmed Life)

Thomas Nelson (May 5, 2009)


Jenny B. Jones writes adult and YA Christian Fiction with equal parts wit, sass, and untamed hilarity. When she's not writing, she's living it up as a high school speech teacher in Arkansas.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (May 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595545417
ISBN-13: 978-1595545411


One year ago my mom got traded in for a newer model.

And that’s when my life fell apart.

“Do you, Jillian Leigh Kirkwood . . .”

Standing by my mother’s side as she marries the man who is so not my dad, I suppress a sigh and try to wiggle my toes in these hideous shoes. The hideous shoes that match my hideous maid-of honor dress. I like to look at things on the bright side, but the only

positive thing about this frock is that I’ll never have to wear it again.

“. . . take Jacob Ralph Finley . . .”

Ralph? My new stepdad’s middle name is Ralph? Okay, do we need one more red flag here? My mom is marrying this guy, and I didn’t even know his middle name. Did she? I check her face for signs of revulsion, signs of doubt. Signs of “Hey, what am I thinking? I don’t want Jacob Ralph Finley to be my daughter’s new stepdad.”

I see none of these things twinkling in my mom’s crystal blue eyes. Only joy. Disgusting, unstoppable joy.

“Does anyone have an objection?” The pastor smiles and scans the small crowd in the Tulsa Fellowship Church. “Let him speak now or forever hold his peace.”

Oh my gosh. I totally object! I look to my right and lock eyes with Logan, the older of my two soon-to-be stepbrothers. In the six hours that I have been in Oklahoma preparing for this “blessed” event, Logan and I have not said five words to one another. Like we’ve mutually agreed to be enemies.

I stare him down.

His eyes laser into mine.

Do we dare?

He gives a slight nod, and my heart triples in beat.

“Then by the powers vested in me before God and the family and friends of—”


The church gasps.

I throw my hands over my mouth, wishing the floor would swallow me.

I, Bella Kirkwood, just stopped my own mother’s wedding.

And I have no idea where to go from here. It’s not like I do this every day, okay? Can’t say I’ve stopped a lot of weddings in my sixteen years.

My mom swivels around, her big white dress making crunchy noises. She takes a step closer to me, still flashing her pearly veneers at the small crowd.

“What,” she hisses near my ear, “are you doing?”

I glance at Logan, whose red locks hang like a shade over his eyes. He nods again.

“Um . . . um . . . Mom, I haven’t had a chance to talk to you at all this week . . .” My voice is a tiny whisper. Sweat beads on my forehead.

“Honey, now is not exactly the best time to share our feelings and catch up.”

My eyes dart across the sanctuary, where one hundred and fifty people are perched on the edge of their seats. And it’s not because they’re anxious for the chicken platters coming their way after the ceremony.

“Mom, the dude’s middle name is Ralph.”

She leans in, and we’re nose to nose. “You just stopped my wedding and that’s what you wanted to tell me?”

Faint—that’s what I’ll do next time I need to halt a wedding.

“How well do you know Jake? You only met six months ago.”

Some of the heat leaves her expression. “I’ve known him long enough to know that I love him, Bella. I knew it immediately.”

“But what if you’re wrong?” I rush on, “I mean, I’ve only been around him a few times, and I’m not so sure. He could be a serial killer for all we know.” I can count on one hand the times I’ve been around Jake. My mom usually visited him when I was at my dad’s.

Her voice is low and hurried. “I understand this isn’t easy for you. But our lives have changed. It’s going to be an adventure, Bel.”

Adventure? You call meeting a man on the Internet and forcing me to move across the country to live with his family an adventure? An adventure is swimming with dolphins in the Caribbean. An adventure is touring the pyramids in Egypt. Or shopping at the Saks after-Thanksgiving sale with Dad’s credit card. This, I do believe, qualifies as a nightmare!

“You know I’ve prayed about this. Jake and I both have. We know this is God’s will for us. I need you to trust me, because I’ve never been more sure about anything in my life.”

A single tear glides down Mom’s cheek, and I feel my heart constrict. This time last year my life was so normal. So happy. Can I just hit the reverse button and go back?

Slowly I nod. “Okay, Mom.” It’s kind of hard to argue with “God says this is right.” (Though I happen to think He’s wrong.)

The preacher clears his throat and lifts a bushy black brow.

“You can continue,” I say, knowing I’ve lost the battle. “She had something in her teeth.” Yes, that’s the best I've got.

I. Am. An. Idiot.

“And now, by the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Finley. You may kiss your bride.”

Nope. Can’t watch.

I turn my head as the “Wedding March” starts. Logan walks to my side, and I link my arm in his. Though we’re both going to be juniors, he’s a head taller than me. It’s like we’re steptwins. He grabs his six-year-old brother, Robbie, with his other hand, and off we go

in time to the music. Robbie throws rose petals all around us, giggling with glee, oblivious to the fact that we just witnessed a ceremony marking the end of life as we know it.

“Good job stopping the wedding.” Logan smirks. “Very successful.”

I jab my elbow into his side. “At least I tried! You did nothing!”

“I just wanted to see if you had it in you. And you don’t.”

I snarl in his direction as the camera flashes, capturing this day for all eternity.

Last week I was living in Manhattan in a two-story apartment between Sarah Jessica Parker and Katie Couric. I could hop a train to Macy’s and Bloomie’s. My friends and I could eat dinner at Tao and see who could count the most celebs. I had Broadway in my backyard

and Daddy’s MasterCard in my wallet.

Then my mom got married.

And I got a new life.

I should’ve paid that six-year-old to pull the fire alarm.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Unquiet Bones (sneak peek)

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Unquiet Bones

Monarch Books (November 4, 2008)


Mel Starr was born and grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He graduated from Spring Arbor High School in 1960, and Greenville College (Illinois) in 1964. He received a MA in history from Western Michigan University in 1970. He taught history in Michigan public schools for thirty-nine years, thirty-five of those in Portage, MI, where he retired in 2003 as chairman of the social studies department of Portage Northern High School.

Mel married Susan Brock in 1965, and they have two daughters; Amy (Kevin) Kwilinski, of Kennesaw, GA, and Jennifer (Jeremy) Reivitt, of Portage, MI. Mel and Susan have seven grandchildren.

***No author photo available. The church pictured is The Church of St. Beornwald (part of the setting for The Unquiet Bones). Today it is basically unchanged from its medieval appearance. Except for the name: in the 16th century it was renamed and since then has been called The Church of St. Mary the Virgin.***

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Monarch Books (November 4, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0825462908
ISBN-13: 978-0825462900


Uctred thought he had discovered pig bones. He did not know or care why they were in the

cesspit at the base of Bampton Castle wall.

Then he found the skull. Uctred is a villein, bound to the land of Lord Gilbert, third Baron Talbot, lord of Bampton Castle, and had slaughtered many pigs. He knew the difference between human and pig skulls.

Lord Gilbert called for me to inspect the bones. All knew whose bones they must be. Only two men had recently gone missing in Bampton. These must be the bones of one of them.

Sir Robert Mallory had been the intended suitor of Lord Gilbert's beautious sister, Lady Joan. Shortly after Easter he and his squire called at the castle, having, it was said, business with Lord Gilbert. What business this was I know not, but suspect a dowry was part of the conversation. Two days later he and his squire rode out the castle gate to the road north toward Burford. The porter saw him go. No one saw him or his squire after. He never arrived at his father’s manor at Northleech. How he arrived, dead, unseen, back within--or nearly within--the walls of Bampton Castle no one could say. Foul play seemed likely.

I was called to the castle because of my profession; surgeon. Had I known when I chose such work that cleaning filth from bones might be part of my duties I might have continued the original calling chosen for me: clerk.

I am Hugh of Singleton, fourth and last son of a minor knight from the county of Lancashire. The manor of Little Singleton is aptly named; it is small. My father held the manor in fief from Robert de Sandford. It was a pleasant place to grow up. Flat as a table, with a wandering,

sluggish tidal stream, the Wyre, pushing through it on its journey from the hills, just visible ten miles to the east, to the sea, an equal distance to the northwest.

As youngest son, the holding would play no part in my future. My oldest brother, Roger, would receive the manor, such as it was. I remember when I was but a tiny lad overhearing him discuss with my father a choice of brides who might bring with them a dowry which would enlarge his lands. In this they were moderately successful. Maud’s dowry doubled my brother’s holdings. After three children Roger doubled the size of his bed, as well. Maud was never a frail girl. Each heir she produced added to her bulk. This seemed not to trouble Roger. Heirs are important.

Our village priest, Father Aymer, taught the manor school. When I was nine years old, the year the great death first appeared, he spoke to my father and my future was decided.

I showed a scholar’s aptitude, so it would be the university for me. At age fourteen I was sent off to Oxford to become a clerk, and, who knows, perhaps eventually a lawyer or a priest. This was poor timing, for in my second year at the university a fellow student became enraged at the watered beer he was served in a High Street tavern and with some cohorts destroyed the place. The proprietor sought assistance, and the melee became a wild brawl known ever after as the St. Scholastica Day Riot. Near a hundred scholars and townsmen died before the sheriff restored the peace. When I dared emerge from my lodgings I fled to Lancashire and did not return until Michealmas term.

I might instead have inherited Little Singleton had the Black Death been any worse.

Roger and one of his sons perished in 1349, but two days apart, in the week before St. Peter’s Day. Then, at the Feast of St. Mary my third brother died within a day of falling ill. Father Aymer said an imbalance of the four humors; air, earth, fire, and water, caused the sickness. Most priests, and indeed the laymen as well, thought this imbalance due to God’s wrath. Certainly men gave Him reason enough to be angry.

Most physicians ascribed the imbalance to the air. Father Aymer recommended burning wet wood to make smoky fires, ringing the church bell at regular intervals, and the wearing of a bag of spices around the neck to perfume the air. I was but a child, however it seemed to me even then that these precautions were not successful. Father Aymer, who did not shirk his duties as did some scoundrel priests, died a week after administering extreme unction to my brother Henry. I watched from the door, a respectful distance from my brother’s bed. I can see in my memory Father Aymer bending over my wheezing, dying brother, his spice bag swinging out from his body as he chanted the phrases of the sacrament.

So my nephew and his mother inherited little Singleton and I made my way to Oxford. I found the course of study mildly interesting. Father Aymer had taught me Latin and some Greek, so it was no struggle to advance my skills in these languages.

I completed the trivium and quadrivium in the allotted six years, but chose not to take holy orders after the award of my bachelor’s degree. I had no desire to remain a bachelor, although I had no particular lady in mind with whom I might terminate my solitary condition.

I desired to continue my studies. Perhaps, I thought, I shall study law, move to

London, and advise kings. The number of kingly advisors who ended their lives in prison or at the block should have dissuaded me of this conceit. But the young are seldom deterred from following foolish ideas.

You see how little I esteemed life as a vicar in some lonely village, or even the life of a rector with livings to support me. This is not because I did not wish to serve God. My desire in that regard, I think, was greater than many who took a vocation; serving the church while they served themselves.

In 1361, while I completed a Master of Arts degree, plague struck again. Oxford, as before, was hard hit. The colleges were much reduced. I lost many friends, but once again God chose to spare me. I have prayed many times since that I might live so as to make Him pleased that He did so.

I lived in a room on St. Michael’s Street, with three other students. One fled the town at the first hint the disease had returned. Two others perished. I could do nothing to help them, but tried to make them comfortable. No; when a man is covered from neck to groin in bursting pustules he cannot be made comfortable. I brought water to them, and put cool cloths on their fevered foreheads, and waited with them for death.

William of Garstang had been a friend since he enrolled in Balliol College five years earlier. We came from villages but ten miles apart -- although his was much larger; it held a weekly market -- but we did not meet until we became students together. An hour before he died William beckoned me to approach his bed. I dared not remain close, but heard his rasping whisper as he willed to me his possessions. Among his meager goods were three books.

God works in mysterious ways. Between terms, in August of 1361, He chose to do three things which would forever alter my life. First, I read one of William’s books: SURGERY, by Henry de Mondeville, and learned of the amazing intricacies of the human body. I read all day, and late into the night, until my supply of candles was gone. When I finished, I read the book again, and bought more candles.

Secondly, I fell in love. I did not know her name, or her home. But one glance told me she was a lady of rank and beyond my station. The heart, however, does not deal in social convention.

I had laid down de Mondeville’s book long enough to seek a meal. I saw her as I left the inn. She rode a gray palfrey with easy grace. A man I assumed to be her husband escorted her. Another woman, also quite handsome, rode with them, but I noticed little about her. A half-dozen grooms rode behind this trio: their tunics of blue and black might have identified the lady’s family, but I paid little attention to them, either.

Had I rank enough to someday receive a bishopric I might choose a mistress and disregard vows of chastity. Many who choose a vocation do. Secular priests in lower orders must be more circumspect, but even many of these keep women. This is not usually held against them, so long as they are loyal to the woman who lives with them and bears their children. But I found the thought of violating a vow as repugnant as a solitary life, wedded only to the church. And the Church is already the bride of Christ and needs no other spouse.

She wore a deep red cotehardie -- the vision on the gray mare. Because it was warm she needed no cloak or mantle. She wore a simple white hood, turned back, so that

chestnut-colored hair visibly framed a flawless face. Beautiful women had smitten me before. It was a regular occurrence. But not like this. Of course, that’s what I said the last time, also.

I followed the trio and their grooms at a discreet distance, hoping they might halt before some house. I was disappointed. The party rode on to Oxpens Road, crossed the Castle Mill Stream, and disappeared to the west as I stood watching, quite lost, from the bridge. Why should I have been lovelorn over a lady who seemed to be another man’s wife? Who can know? I cannot. It seems foolish when I look back to the day. It did not seem so at the time.

I put the lady out of my mind. No; I lie. A beautiful woman is as impossible to put out of mind as a corn on one’s toe. And just as disquieting. I did try, however.

I returned to de Mondeville’s book and completed a third journey through its pages. I was confused, but t’was not de Mondeville’s writing which caused my perplexity. The profession I thought lay before me no longer appealed. Providing advice to princes seemed unattractive. Healing men’s broken and damaged bodies now occupied near all my waking thoughts.

I feared a leap into the unknown. Oxford was full to bursting with scholars and lawyers and clerks. No surprises awaited one who chose to join them. And the town was home also to many physicians, who thought themselves far above the barbers who usually performed the stitching of wounds and phlebotomies when such services were needed. Even a physician’s work, with salves and potions, was familiar. But the pages of de Mondeville’s book told me how little I knew of surgery, and how much I must learn should I chose such a vocation. I needed advice.

There is, I think, no wiser man in Oxford than Master John Wyclif. There are men who hold different opinions, of course. Often these are scholars Master John has bested in disputation. Tact is not one among his many virtues, but care for his students is. I sought him out for advice and found him in his chamber at Balliol College, bent over a book. I was loath to disturb him, but he received me warmly when he saw t’was me who rapped upon his door.

“Hugh . . . come in. You look well. Come and sit.”

He motioned to a bench, and resumed his own seat as I perched on the offered bench. The scholar peered silently at me, awaiting announcement of the reason for my visit.

“I seek advice,” I began. “I had it in mind to study law, as many here do, but a new career entices me.”

“Law is safe . . . for most,” Wyclif remarked. “What is this new path which interests you?”

“Surgery. I have a book which tells of old and new knowledge in the treatment of injuries and disease.”

“And from this book alone you would venture on a new vocation?”

“You think it unwise?”

“Not at all. So long as men do injury to themselves or others, surgeons will be needed.”

“Then I should always be employed.”

“Aye,” Wyclif grimaced. “But why seek my counsel? I know little of such matters.”

“I do not seek you for your surgical knowledge, but for aid in thinking through my decision.”

“Have you sought the advice of any other?”


“Then there is your first mistake.”

“Who else must I seek? Do you know of a man who can advise about a life as a surgeon?”

“Indeed. He can advise on any career. I consulted Him when I decided to seek a degree in theology.”

I fell silent, for I knew of no man so capable as Master John asserted, able to advise in both theology and surgery. Perhaps the fellow did not live in Oxford. Wyclif saw my consternation.

“Do you seek God’s will and direction?”

“Ah . . . I understand. Have I prayed about this matter, you ask? Aye, I have, but God is silent.”

“So you seek me as second best.”

“But . . . t’was you just said our Lord could advise on any career.”

“I jest. Of course I, like any man, am second to our Lord Christ . . . or perhaps third, or fourth.”

“So you will not guide my decision?”

“Did I say that? Why do you wish to become a surgeon? Do you enjoy blood and wounds and hurts?”

“No. I worry that I may not have the stomach for it.”

“Then why?”

“I find the study of man and his hurts and their cures fascinating. And I . . . I wish to help others.”

“You could do so as a priest.”

“Aye. But I lack the boldness to deal with another man’s eternal soul.”

“You would risk a man’s body, but not his soul?”

“The body cannot last long, regardless of what a surgeon or physician may do, but a man’s soul may rise to heaven or be doomed to hell . . . forever.”

“And a priest may influence the direction, for good or ill,” Wyclif completed my thought.

“Just so. The responsibility is too great for me.”

“Would that all priests thought as you,” Wyclif muttered. “But lopping off an arm destroyed in battle would not trouble you?”

“T’is but flesh, not an everlasting soul.”

“You speak true, Hugh. And there is much merit in helping ease men’s lives. Our Lord Christ worked many miracles, did he not, to grant men relief from their afflictions. Should you do the same you would be following in his path.”

“I had not considered that,” I admitted.

“Then consider it now. And should you become a surgeon keep our Lord as your model and your work will prosper.”

And so God’s third wonder; a profession. I would go to Paris to study. My income from the manor at Little Singleton was L6, 15 shillings each year, to be awarded so long as I was a student, and to terminate after eight years.

My purse would permit one year in Paris. I know what you are thinking. But I did not spend my resources on riotous living. Paris is an expensive city. I learned much there. I watched, and then participated in dissections. I learned phlebotomy, suturing, cautery, the removal of arrows, the setting of broken bones, and the treatment of scrofulous sores. I learned how to extract a tooth and remove a tumor. I learned trepanning to relieve a headache, and how to lance a fistula. I learned which herbs might staunch bleeding, or dull pain, or cleanse a wound. I spent both time and money as wisely as I knew how, learning the skills which I hoped would one day earn me a living.