Thursday, May 28, 2009

Giveaway! The G-Free Diet by Elisabeth Hasselbeck

For years, Elisabeth Hasselbeck couldn't figure out what was making her sick. She asked doctors and consulted nutritionists, but no one seemed to have any answers. It wasn't until spending time in the Australian Outback, living off the land on the grueling Survivor TV show, that, ironically, her symptoms vanished. Returning home, she pinpointed the food that made her sick -- gluten, the binding element in wheat. By simply eliminating it from her diet, she was able to enjoy a completely normal, healthy life. But that wasn't all. Hasselbeck discovered the myriad benefits that anyone can enjoy from a gluten-free diet: from weight loss and increased energy to even the alleviation of the conditions of autism.

In this all-inclusive book, Hasselbeck shares her hard-earned wisdom on living life without gluten and loving it. She gives you everything you need to know to start living a gluten-free life, from defining gluten - where to find it, how to read food labels - to targeting gluten-free products, creating G-Free shopping lists, sharing recipes, and managing G-Free living with family and friends.


My Review:
Written in an easy-to-read style, this book no doubt will be a great help to many who have frequent stomach pains and other strange symptoms. It could be an inherited predisposition to certain foods, and trigger a condition known as Celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease.  In addition, there's a link of gluten to autism.

I've heard about the evils of gluten, but I've never investigated it. I was surprised to discover how pervasive it is in everyday food--even some vinegars!

Included are recipes, along with tips on organizing a kitchen, shopping, parties, and restaurants. This will prove to be a handy reference tool.




If you would like to buy a copy, click below.



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The generous folks at Hachette Book Group are allowing me to host this book giveaway for five (5) copies!
  • Winners are restricted to the US and Canada. No PO Box mailing addresses, please.
  • Leave your email address in code in your comment (Please do not ask me to look it up! It's the only thing I ask of you.) Example of email in code: you[at]yourmail[dot]com
  • I'll close the comments at 6 PM EST June 11th and pick the winners. I will contact the winners via email to get their mailing information. The winners will have three days to respond. If I do not hear from a winner within three days, I will select another winner(s).
  • If you're interested, just say so in a comment with that all-important email address in code.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jillian Dare: A Novel by Melanie M. Jeschke

Jillian Dare leaves her Shenandoah Valley foster home behind and strikes out on her own as a nanny at a large country estate in northern Virginia. She is delighted with the beauty of her new home, the affection of her young charge Cadence Remington, and the opportunity for frequent travel to the Remington castle in England.

She is less certain about her feelings for her handsome but moody employer, Ethan. In spite of herself, Jillian realizes she is falling for her boss. 

But how can a humble girl ever hope to win a wealthy man of the world? And what dark secrets from the past is he hiding? 

This contemporary story, inspired by the well-loved classic Jane Eyre, will capture readers' hearts.

My Review:
Fans of Charlotte Bronte will love this romance suspense story. Set in Virginia and England, the reader will experience how the wealthy live. Jillian's life has been a struggle, and now she has the opportunity to live the good life while caring for a loving child. Someone sinister, however, wants to throw a wrench into those plans and dreams.

I read this one cover to cover in one day; it is an enjoyable read.

If you would like to read chapter one, click here.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Lucy's Perfect Summer by Nancy Rue

A Lucy Novel

New management at the radio station threatens to let Lucy’s father go, claiming his blindness is holding the station back. That may mean a move for Lucy and her dad.

In order to help her father, Lucy has to let him go for a while and that means leaning on God to help her make the sacrifice.

My Review:
This pre-teen (Ages: 9-12) book involves the game of soccer and making right choices. The protagonist is Lucy, a motherless girl with a super father who needs to go to a six-week school for the blind. To do this, Aunt Karen is coming in to be the adult in the house--a decision Lucy doesn't like.

Rianna, the antagonist, employs dirty tricks to win which makes cheating and "flopping" topics of soccer camp. Add to that all the drama a group of girls can produce, and the reader has a good read. Soccer fans will especially like this book.

And now, the first chapter:


Why My Life Is Just About Perfect

School is out for the summer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lucy would have made more exclamation points, but Lollipop, her pot-bellied kitty, was watching from the windowsill above the bed, her black head bobbing with each stroke and dot. She’d be pouncing in a second.

Lucy protected the Book of Lists with her other arm and wrote…

2. Aunt Karen is taking her vacation to some island so she won’t be coming HERE for a while. YES!!

3. We have a soccer game in two weeks, thanks to Coach Auggy. A for-REAL game, with a whole other team, not just our team split up, which is always lame since we only have 8 players to begin with. I cannot WAIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Lollipop twitched an ear.

“Forget about it,” Lucy said to her. She’d only just discovered the joy of making exclamation points from Veronica. Veronica was a girly-girl, but she did have her good points. Lucy snickered. “Good points, Lolli. Get it?”

Lollipop apparently did not, or else she didn’t care. She tucked her paws under her on the tile sill and blinked her eyes into a nap. Lucy slipped a few more exclamation marks in before she continued.

I get to hang out with J.J. and Dusty and Veronica and Mora any time I want, not just at lunch or soccer practice or church. Okay, so I already got to hang out with them a lot before summer, but now it’s like ANY time, and that’s perfect. Except we’re still stuck with Januarie. If she weren’t J.J.’s little sister we could just ditch her, but she needs a good influence. We’re a good influence. Well, maybe not Mora so much.
Lucy glanced at her bedroom door to make sure it was all the way shut. The Book of Lists was private and everybody else in the house—Dad and Inez the housekeeper nanny and her granddaughter Mora—knew to keep their noses out of it. Still, she always had to decide whether it was worth risking discovery to write down what she really, really thought.

“What do you say about it, Lolli?” she said.

There was an answering purr, though Lucy was pretty sure that was more about Lollipop dreaming of getting the other three cats’ food before they did than it was about agreeing with her. She went for it anyway.

Januarie still thinks Mora is the next best thing to Hannah Montana. Even though Mora got her in way a lot of trouble not that long ago she would probably give a whole bag of gummy bears just to have Mora paint her toenails. And that’s saying a lot. Januarie loves gummy bears. And Snickers bars. And those chocolate soccer balls Claudia sells down at the candy and flower shop. Which reminds me—

5. We can go buy candy in the middle of the day, or have breakfast at Pasco’s café or take picnics to OUR soccer field, because, guess what? It’s SUMMER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Something black whipped across the page, and Lucy’s pen flew into space, landing with a smack against the blue-and-yellow toy chest. Knocking down the ruler Lucy always kept there to hold it open, in case Lollipop needed to jump in and hide, the lid slapped shut, and Lolli sprang into an upside down-U before she leaped after it and skidded across the top with her claws bared. She glared indignantly at Lucy.

“You did it, Simplehead,” Lucy said. “Wait! I’ll open it for you.” But before she could even scramble off the bed, Lolli dove under it. A squalling fight ensued with Artemis Hamm, who had obviously been sleeping beneath the mattress.

“Break it up, you two!” Lucy said. But she didn’t dare stick her hand under there. One of them would eventually come out with a mouth full of the other one’s fur and it would be over.

“What’s going on in there?” said a voice on the other side of the door.

Lucy stuck the Book of Lists under her pillow. It was Dad, who couldn’t see anyway, but she always felt better having her secrets well hidden when other people were in the room.

“Come on in—if you dare,” Lucy said.

She heard Dad’s sandpapery chuckle before he stuck his face in. She cocked her head at him, her ponytail sliding over her ear. “What happened to your hair?”

He ran a hand over salt-and-pepper fuzz as he edged into the room. “I just got my summer ‘doo down at the Casa Bonita. Is it that bad?”

“No. It’s actually kinda cool.”

“What do I look like?”

“Like—did you ever see one of those movies about the Navy SEAL team? You know…before?”

“Yeah.”

“You look like one of those guys.”

“Is that good?”

“That’s way good.”

Dad smiled the smile that made a room fill up with sunlight. She could have told him he looked like a rock star and he wouldn’t have known whether she was telling the truth or not. But she liked for the smiles to be real, and she did think her dad was handsome. Even with eyes that sometimes darted around like they didn’t know where to land.

He made his way to the rocking chair and eased into it. It would be hard for anybody who didn’t know to tell he was blind when he moved around in their house, as long as Lucy kept things exactly where they were supposed to be. She leaned over and picked up her soccer ball, just escaping a black-and-brown paw that shot from the hem of the bedspread.

“Keep your fight to yourselves,” Lucy said.

“What’s that about?”

“Exclamation points! It’s a long story.”

“Do I want to hear it?”

“No,” Lucy said. Not only because she didn’t want to tell it, but because she could see in the sharp way Dad’s chin looked that he hadn’t come in just to chat about cat fights. She hugged her soccer ball.

“Okay, what?” she said. “Is something wrong? Something’s wrong, huh?”

“Did I say that?”

“Aunt Karen’s coming, isn’t she? Man! I thought she was going out in the ocean someplace and we were going to have a peaceful summer.” She dumped the ball on the floor on the other side of the bed.

Dad’s smile flickered back in. “What makes you think I was going to talk about Aunt Karen?”

“Because she’s, like, almost always the reason you look all serious and heavy.”

“You get to be more like your mother every day, Champ. You read me like a book.”

“Then I’m right.” There went her perfect summer. She was going to have to redo that list.

“But you’re in the wrong chapter this time,” Dad said. “I’m serious, but it isn’t about Aunt Karen. Last I heard, she was headed for St. Thomas.”

“He’s going to need to be a saint to put up with her.”

Dad chuckled. “St. Thomas is an island, Luc’.”

“Oh.” She was doing better in school now that Coach Auggy was her teacher, but they hadn’t done that much geography this year.

“I just want to put this out there before Inez gets here.”

His voice was somber again, but Lucy relaxed against her pillows. If this wasn’t about Aunt Karen coming here wanting to take Lucy home with her for the summer, how bad could it be?

“So, you know Inez will be coming for all day, five days a week.”

“Right and that’s cool. We get along good now.” Lucy felt generous. “I don’t even mind Mora that much any more.”

“Good, because I’ve asked her if she’d be okay with Mr. Auggy also coming in to do a little home-schooling with you.”

Lucy shot up like one of her own freaked-out kitties.

“School?” she said. “In the summer?”

Dad winced like her voice was hurting his ears. “Just for a few hours a day, and not on Fridays.”

“Dad, hello! This is summer time. I have a TON of work to do to get ready for the soccer games if I want anybody from the Olympic Development Program to even look at me. School work?” She hit her forehead with the heel of her hand. “Why?”

“You’ve improved a hundred per cent since Mr. Auggy started teaching your class—”

“Yeah, so why are you punishing me by making me do more work? I don’t get it.”

She wished she could make exclamation points with her voice.

“You’ll get it if you let me finish.”

Dad’s voice had no punctuation marks at all, except a period, which meant, ‘Hush up before you get yourself in trouble.’ Lucy gnawed at her lower lip. She was glad for once that he couldn’t see the look on her face.

“You ended the school year in good shape, but Champ, you were behind before that. That means you’re still going to start middle school a few steps back.”

“I’ll catch up, Dad, I promise! I’ll study, like, ten hours a day when school starts again and I’ll do all my homework.”

Dad closed his eyes and got still. That meant he was waiting for her to be done so he could go on with what he was going to say as if she hadn’t said a word. She was in pointless territory. It made her want to crawl under the bed and start up the cat fight again. It seemed to work for them when they were frustrated.

“Your middle school teachers are going to expect your skills to be seventh-grade level,” Dad said. “Right now, Mr. Auggy says they’re about mid-sixth, which is great considering what they were in January.”

If she had been Mora, she would have been rolling her eyes by now. What was the point in telling her how wonderful she was when she was going to have to do what she didn’t want to do anyway?

“So here’s the deal,” Dad said.

Lucy sighed. “It’s only a deal if both people agree to it, Dad.”

“You haven’t even heard it yet.”

She stifled a “whatever,” which was sure to get her grounded for a least a week of her already dwindling summer.

“You’ll work with Mr. Auggy until you get your reading up to seventh-grade level. That could take all summer, or it could take a couple of weeks. That’s up to you.”

Lucy looked at him sharply. “What if I get it there in three days?”

“Then you’re done. We’ll check it periodically, of course, to make sure it stays there.”

“It will,” Lucy said. But she hoped her outside voice sounded more sure than the one that was screaming inside her brain: You can’t do this! What are you thinking?

There weren’t enough exclamation points in the world to end that sentence.



If you would like to buy a copy, click below.



Saturday, May 23, 2009

Face of Betrayal: A Triple Threat Novel by Lis Wiehl with April Henry

Fox News legal correspondent and former Federal Prosecutor Lis Wiehl has created a suspense novel that's as timely as tomorrow's headlines.

While home on Christmas break, a seventeen-year-old Senate page takes her dog out for a walk and never returns. Reporter Cassidy Shaw is the first to break the story. The resulting media firestorm quickly ensnares Federal Prosecutor Allison Pierce and FBI Special Agent Nicole Hedges. The three unique women are life-long friends who call themselves The Triple Threat--a nickname derived from their favorite dessert and their uncanny ability to crack cases via their three positions of power.

Though authorities think Katie might have been kidnapped or run away, those theories shatter when Nicole uncovers Katie's blog. They reveal a girl troubled by a mysterious relationship with an older man. Possibly a U.S. Senator.

As the three women race against time to find Katie alive, their increasing emotional involvement brings out their own inner demons and external enemies. There are many faces of betrayal, but they must find one face in a crowd of growing suspects before they become the next victims.




My Review:
Three friends who met in college and team up to form the Triple Threat Club, and solve a crime in this fast paced suspense novel. There's Cassidy, a TV reporter, who covers crime, Nicole, a police officer, who fights crime, and Allison, an attorney who prosecutes criminals.

There's an understory as one of the friends is threatened and another understory of domestic abuse, giving the reader three stories in one book. Although I guessed the bad guy's identity, I was still surprised at the end. Good read! Reading group guide at the conclusion, along with an interview with the author by Bill O'Reilly.

Submit your recipe for Triple Threat Chocolate Cake contest.

If you would like to buy a copy, click below.



Friday, May 22, 2009

A Voyage Beyond Reason: An Epic of Survival Based on the Original Journals of Benjamin Wade by Tom Gauthier

He Dared to Dream an Impossible Dream. He risked Body and Soul to make it Real.

In 1996, twenty-four-year-old Benjamin Wade sets out on a solo voyage in a tiny sea kayak. His goal lies 6,000 miles away--and deep within his own soul.

The chance discovery of his journals, buried on a Colombian cliff above the sea, uncovers a mystery which took many years to finally solve. His journals tell of misery and elation, of triumph and failure, of insight and insanity.

Does the man make the journey, or does the journey make the man?

Follow the tiny kayak, and follow the mind of a young man set on a goal that no amount of torture can dissuade him from reaching, on a journey that brings him face to face with himself.


My Review:
Using a found journal of Benjamin Wade as an outline, the author has written an interesting tale, whereby he allows the reader to look over Wade's shoulder as he travels the adventure of a lifetime. Interspersed are actual words from the journal in italics. This easy-to-read book keeps the reader's attention during Wade's risky kayak trip from California to South America. 

Some of the terrors Wade faces are shark-infested waters, crooked Mexican police officers, machete-wielding strangers, a hurricane and a gang of druggies.

If you like action and adventure, this is one for you. Contains profanity.

If you would like to buy a copy, click below.



Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ruby Unscripted by Cindy Martinusen

Sometimes the best moments in a girl's life are the unscripted ones.

Ruby Madden moves to an affluent town in Marin County, California, believing her dreams are coming true, but her hometown life is drawing her back. Her not-so-secret crush finally likes her. Her older brother decides to stay behind with their newly remarried father. And her best friend gets a boyfriend who's all wrong for her.

And Ruby's new life isn't as easy as she envisioned. Marin High School is a place for the rich and famous with their BMWs, chic clothes, and liberal beliefs-a place where she clearly doesn't belong. Even with her new job at the Underground Coffeehouse & Cinema, she is unsure of how to act and feels insecure about who she is.

When she tries out for an amateur film group, the puzzle pieces finally begin to fit. And who is this mysterious guy who's messing with her heart?


My Review:
I enjoyed this teen Christian fiction novel. Ruby, the protagonist, tries to adjust to her new life. Her parents have divorced and married others. Ruby finds herself in a new locale, attending a new school and quite out of place.  The tug she feels pulling her back toward "home" and friends she's known since kindergarten reads true.

Her ever-present cell phone is an interesting character. The author uses it as a device to move the story along. The plot easily keeps the reader's attention. Most teen girls will like this one. Reading group guide included.

And now, the first chapter:

“Now he likes me?” I say aloud as I drop my phone to my lap and my heart does a strange little tuck and roll within my chest.

My ten-year-old brother, Mac, gives me a strange look from the seat beside me. With the top down in my aunt’s convertible, he can’t hear my words that are cast into the air to dance with the wind.

The orange towers of the Golden Gate Bridge loom toward us, with the darkening blue of sky and water filling the spaces between. Aunt Jenna is driving, with Mom talking beside her.

So it’s finally true.

Nick likes me.

I think I’m happy. Everyone will expect me to be happy. It’s not been a secret that I’ve liked him for . . . well, ever. Or at least for a few months.

And yet I have a very good reason for being completely annoyed about this.

The text stating Nick’s indirect admission of love, or at least “like,” arrives as we’re leaving an afternoon in San Francisco behind. But we aren’t driving the four hours home to Cottonwood. We’re driving toward our new life in Marin County.

Everyone at school knew that Nick liked me for a long time. His friends and my friends knew it. I knew it. But Nick apparently didn’t know his own feelings. Why can’t guys just trust others on these things?

I pick up my phone and reply to Kate’s text.


ME: Is Nick still standing there?

KATE: No. I think it freaked him out to wait for your response. The guys went to play Alien Hunter III before the movie starts. So what do you think? Patience paid off.

ME: I’m trying not to think that guys are really as dumb as most of us say they are.

KATE: Huh?

ME: Really now. I mean NOW. He says this on the day I move away?

KATE: Well you’ll be home most every weekend so it’s not that bad.

ME: But think about it. What made him decide today?

KATE: Who cares? He finally figured out he can’t live without you.


The car cruises along the bridge, and I stare up at the massive orange beams over our heads. Then I catch sight of a sailboat as it dips and bows on the evening waters of San Francisco Bay.

My brother is shout-talking to my mom and aunt. And with one earbud pulled out, I catch bits of the discussion being tossed around the car as the wind twists my hair into knots. The topic is “If you had one wish, what would you wish for?”

What poetic irony. Five minutes ago I would’ve wished that Nick would like me . . . and like some psychic genie working even before I wished it, the text arrived from Kate: “Nick said . . .”

So Nick likes me after I move four hours and a world away.

He likes me the day after I say good-bye to him and all my friends in Cottonwood.

I scroll back through my saved texts to find what he sent me after we said good-bye.

NICK: I wish you weren’t moving.

NICK: Next time you’re up visiting your dad let’s hang out.

NICK: How often will you be back?

NICK: So you don’t have a date for prom?

Men. I mean seriously.

So it’s like this. I’m moving to one of the coolest areas of California—Marin County. I’m going to live in this cool, quirky cottage that my aunt Betty gave us after she headed off on an extended Mediterranean honeymoon with the man, now her husband, she found online.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to live near San Francisco. Aunt Betty’s house was one of my favorite places. Kate and I plan to attend college down here. So now I get to live my dream sooner than expected.

Mac taps my arm, but I watch the little sailboat lean toward the open Pacific and wonder at its journey ahead, far or near, some California marina or faraway exotic isle.

My brother taps on my arm persistently. “Ruby-Ruby Red.”

I really dislike it when he calls me that. Then he reaches for my earbud, and I push his hand away.

“What?” I ask loudly, wiping strands of hair from my face. The sun falls easily into the cradle of the sea. It’s eventide—that time between sunset and darkness, a peaceful time of wind and bridges and dreams except for one annoying brother and an incoming text that could disrupt the excitement of a dream coming true.

“What do you wish for?” Mac asks earnestly.

My phone vibrates again, and I nearly say, “Don’t bug me, and don’t call me Ruby-Ruby Red,” but Mac’s sweet pink cheeks and expectant eyes stop me. I rub his hair and tickle him until he cries for mercy.

He laughs and twists away from my fingers, then asks me again what I wish for.

“Wait a minute,” I say, and he nods like he understands.


KATE: He said he’s been miserable since he said good-bye last night.

ME: So why didn’t he like me before?

KATE: He says he always did, he just kept it to himself.

ME: Or he kept it FROM himself.


Everyone said Nick said I was hot, that I was intelligent, that he’d never met a girl like me—which can be taken as good or bad. Everyone told him to ask me out, but he just didn’t. No explanation,

no other girlfriend, just nothing. For months. Until today.


KATE: He’s never had a girlfriend, give the guy a break. I always thought he’d be the bridge guy! Maybe he will be!

I rest the phone in my hands at that. Nick has been the main character in my bridge daydream—only Kate knows that secret dream of mine.

We’ve crossed the bridge into Marin County with signs for Sausalito, Corte Madera, San Rafael. The names of my new home, and yet I’m still between the old and the new.

“What are you smiling for?” my brother asks.

“Nothing,” I say and give him the mind-your-own-business look.

Mac stretches forward in his seat belt toward the front seat, and I’m tempted to tell him to sit down. But for once I don’t boss him around. He’s so happy about this wishing talk, with his wide dimpled smile and cheeks rosy from the wind. His cheeks remind me of when I loved kissing them—back when we were much younger.

“Remember, no infinity wishes. That’s cheating,” Mac shout says to Mom and Aunt Jenna, but he glances at me to see if I’m listening.

“This is really hard,” Aunt Jenna yells back. She points out the window to a line of cyclists riding along a narrow road parallel to the highway. “I bet those guys wish for a big gust of wind to come up behind them.”

Mac laughs, watching the cyclists strain up an incline.

Now they’ll probably start “creating wishes” for everyone they see.

I bet that car wishes it were as cool as that Corvette.

I think the people in that car wish they had a fire extinguisher for that cigarette . . .

Mom and her sister often make up stories about strangers while sitting outside Peet’s Coffee or, well, just about anywhere people watching is an option.

My phone vibrates in my hand, and then immediately again.


KATE: Hello?? No comment on Nick being your mysterious bridge guy?

ME: Nope

JEFFERS: So beautiful, are you there yet?

ME TO KATE: I just got a text from Jeffers.

KATE: LOL He’s sitting beside me and saw me talking to you.

JEFFERS: When can we come party in Marin?

ME TO JEFFERS: Almost there. Ten minutes I think. Uh party?

JEFFERS: Yeah, party! How could you leave us, I mean what could be better than us? You’ll be too cool for gocarts and mini golf after a month w/ the rich and sophisticated.

ME: I hate mini golf.

JEFFERS: See? One day and already too good for mini golf.

KATE: You’re having us all down for a party?

ME: Uh, no

JEFFERS: Kate’s yelling at me. Thx a lot. But bye beautiful, previews are on with little cell phone on the screen saying to turn you off.

ME TO JEFFERS AND KATE: K have fun. TTYL.

KATE: Write you after. Bye!

It’s a significant moment, this.

One of the most significant in my fifteen years.

Not the “wish discussion” between Mac, Mom, and Aunt Jenna; not the text messaging back and forth; not the music playing in one of my ears; not even Nick liking me.

The significance comes in crossing bridges. Not the bridge in my dream, but the ones that take me into Marin. The many bridges that brought my family here with my dad still in Cottonwood, and my older brother, Carson, driving soon behind us. And though we can turn around and drive back to the small

town I’ve always lived in, I wonder if, once you cross so many bridges, you can ever really go back.

The music in my one ear and the voices of my family in the other make a dramatic backdrop for this moment—one that will shape the rest of my life.

I feel a sense of wonder, but also of fear. It’s beautiful, this time of long evening shadows. The sky in the west where the sun has fallen turns from a subtle to defined sunset of red and orange.

The hills of Marin County rise to the nighttime with their myriad dots of light. The salty breeze is cool coming off the Pacific.

“What’s your wish?”

I jump as Mac shouts at me, leaning to get his face close to mine. I nearly throw my phone out the open rooftop.

“Mac! Mom!”

“Mac, leave your sister alone. She needs time to think,”

Mom calls back with a worried glance in my direction. She was more worried than I was about this move to Marin . . .well, until I said all the good-byes this week and especially now. I realize it’s the last remnant of what is, taking us from the past and what has been to the new place, the new life, and the what will be.

“Do you know what I wish?” Mac says in a loud whisper that only I can hear.

The innocent expression on his face soothes my annoyance.

He motions for me to lean close.

“I wish I was six again.”

“Why?”

“Promise you won’t tell Mom or Austin or Dad and Tiffany, ’cause I don’t want to hurt their feelings . . .” He waits for me to agree. “I wish I was six ’cause Mom and Dad were married then. But then that would make Austin and Tiffany go away, and I don’t really want them to go away, but I sort of wish Mom and Dad were married still.”

I nod and glance up toward Mom, who is staring out toward the bay. “Yeah, I know, Mac. But it’ll be all right.”

“So what do you wish for?” he asks again.

We’re almost there now, and I still have no singular wish. How do you make such a choice when your whole life is upended—for the good and the bad? I wonder if San Francisco Bay is like one giant wishing well, and in the coming years I can toss as many pennies as I want into the blue waters and have all the wishes I need.

I hope so. And maybe wishing that the bay would become one giant well breaks Mac’s rule about infinity wishes. But regardless, this is what I wish my wish to be.

It was my choice to move to Marin with Mom. But now I wonder if these bridges are taking me where I should be going. Or if they’re taking me far, far away.

“I wish for infinity wishes!” I say and kiss Mac on the cheek before he protests. “No one can put rules on wishes.”

And this is what I truly want to believe.



If you would like to buy a copy, click below.



Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Giveaway! Right on the Money: Financial Advice for Tough Times by Pat Robertson

You know that Pat Robertson is a world-famous televangelist, but did you know that he's also an expert in financial matters? In his weekly broadcast segment, "Money Monday," Dr. Robertson answers viewers' questions about all things financial. His deep knowledge of finance, based on sound economic - and Biblical - principles, has made him a "go to" resource for hundreds of thousands of CBN viewers.

Now he has written a book that is accessible to everyone and provides answers people desperately need in today's tough times. Among the topics he addresses are how to:

  • Create a healthy financial plan
  • Devise spending strategies tohelp you live within your budget
  • Identify areas where your money can grow
  • Build a nestegg
  • Maximize your tax savings
  • Cut costs
  • Diminish your debt
  • Invest wisely
  • Make prudent financial decisions
  • Plan for the future
  • Enjoy peace of mind and God's financial protection
This book also includes a financial glossary, worksheets, and a special section of the most frequently asked questions and answers about keeping what you have and growing your personal net worth.



My Review:
Written in an easy-to-read style, this tool would be useful to anyone concerned about money. From how to create a budget, to improving your credit score and funding your retirement, the author answers questions in a straight forward manner. 

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The generous folks at Hachette Book Group are allowing me to host this book giveaway for five (5) copies!
  • Winners are restricted to the US and Canada. No PO Box mailing addresses, please.
  • Leave your email address in code in your comment (Please do not ask me to look it up! It's the only thing I ask of you.) Example of email in code: you[at]yourmail[dot]com
  • I'll close the comments at 6 PM EST June 10th and pick the winners. I will contact the winners via email to get their mailing information. The winners will have three days to respond. If I do not hear from a winner within three days, I will select another winner(s).
  • If you're interested, just say so in a comment with that all-important email address in code.





If you would like to buy a copy, click below.



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

The generous folks at Hachette Book Group are allowing me to host this book giveaway for five (5) copies!
  • Winners are restricted to the US and Canada. No PO Box mailing addresses, please.
  • Leave your email address in code in your comment (Please do not ask me to look it up! It's the only thing I ask of you.) Example of email in code: you[at]yourmail[dot]com
  • I'll close the comments at 6 PM EST June 15th and pick the winners. I will contact the winners via email to get their mailing information. The winners will have three days to respond. If I do not hear from a winner within three days, I will select another winner(s).
  • If you're interested, just say so in a comment with that all-important email address in code.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blood Bayou by Karen Young

To Save a Victim, Camille St. James May Have to Become One Herself.

Seven years ago, tragedy ended the troubled marriage of Camille and Jack Vermillion. Now, as head of the Truth Project, her life safe and orderly, she focuses her lawyerly skills on freeing wrongly incarcerated individuals on death row.

Jack paid a bitter price for his mistakes. No longer a high-powered corporate attorney, he's now pastor of a small church in Blood Bayou. Unsure of her own beliefs, Camille is highly skeptical of the conversion of this man she hasn't seen in seven years.

Then tragedy strikes again. Jack's sister is murdered, apparently by a prisoner Camille has set free. To prove his innocence, Camille must return to Blood Bayou. But that means facing the hostility of the town -- and Jack.

And as She Works to Find the Real Killer, Someone Is Determined to Stop Her...by Any Means.


My Review:
I enjoyed this suspense novel set in Louisiana. It includes romance mixed in with murder, an attorney and a pastor who were married and bitterly divorced. The theme of redemption and forgiveness runs rings true in this work of Christian fiction.

The two main characters are believable, and the plot moves at a steady pace. After spotting the killer, the reader will hold her breath as the characters continued to interact with him.

And now, the first chapter:


PROLOGUE

Luanne Richard opened the door to her killer wearing a smile and little else. With a drink in one hand and invitation and mischief dancing in her eyes, she sensed no danger. After several martinis, her instinct for danger was hazy at best.

She’d been lounging on the patio in her bikini when the doorbell rang. It had occurred to her that a cover-up might be the proper thing, but she wasn’t much into doing the proper thing. Never had been. It got really boring trying to live life properly. Now, glancing through the peephole, she saw he was alone and thought it might be fun to tease him a little. No one

around, as far as she could tell. So she let him in, closed the door, and turned to face him.

That is when she saw the knife.

She sobered instantly. And when he raised it and lunged, aiming for her throat, she recoiled on instinct alone, tossed her drink at his face and somehow—miraculously—managed to

evade that first vicious slash. While he cursed and blinked gin from his eyes, she turned and ran on bare feet.

She raced through the huge house wondering frantically how to escape. She cursed her carelessness in leaving the gate open when she drove home from the club. It came to her that

she stood no chance while inside, so she flew through the living room and made for the den and beyond—the patio. She prayed the door was open, that she’d failed to close it when she got up

and came back in.

Please, oh, please . . .

Halfway there, she took a quick look over her shoulder and screamed. He was close and gaining. He would be on her if she didn’t do something. As she streaked past a very expensive Chinese vase, she gave it a push to tip it over, thinking to trip him. He stumbled but didn’t go down. He picked it up, tossed it aside, and laughed. Laughed!

This couldn’t be real. This kind of craziness happened in nightmares to other people, not to her. Hadn’t she had enough grief in her life? Hadn’t she tried her best to fight the demons that tormented her? Hadn’t she often resisted temptation? Was she to be damned for the times she didn’t?

I’m sorry, God. I’m sorry. I’m sorry . . .

No! She wasn’t going to let this happen. She had a lot of life to live yet. She would change. She had changed. Nobody understood how hard it was for her to keep to the straight and narrow. She kept to the path. Almost always.

Once out on the lawn, she realized she couldn’t make it to the front. It was too far away. He’d overtake her before she got halfway there. And there was no time to punch in the security

code to open the gate. She was trapped. Mad with fear, she ducked around lush landscaping, making for the walk that led to the pier and boathouse. She veered to avoid the cherub fountain and stumbled, twisting her ankle painfully. She flung out a hand for balance only to have it slashed on the lethal thorns of a pyracantha. Sobbing now, she dashed through a grove of wax myrtles, wincing at the slap and sting of limbs before finally reaching the pier jutting over the bayou. It was her only chance.

She looked again over her shoulder. He’d slowed, knowing she had no place else to run. The knife blade glinted brightly in the sun. She whimpered, trying to think. Blood dripped from

the gash on her hand and her ankle throbbed. Scalding tears ran down her cheeks. What to do?

“Gotcha now, Luanne,” he taunted. “The boathouse or the bayou, babe. What’s it gonna be?”

Not the bayou. Never the bayou.

She had a fear of Blood Bayou. It had almost claimed her once. None of the romantic legends spun about it held any charm for her. The water was too dark, too still, too deep, too alive with slimy things, predatory things. The bayou was death.

She was out of breath and in pain when she remembered the telephone in the boathouse only a few feet away. Checking behind her, she saw that he was still coming, but moving almost

leisurely, as if enjoying the chase, savoring her fear. Anticipating the kill?

The thought made her leap onto the pier. Hot from the August sun, the wooden planks burned the soles of her bare feet. Below the pier, black water slapped against the pilings, disorienting her. Don’t look down! Eyes straight ahead, she finally reached the boathouse door, grabbing at the latch, fingers clawing. Panic and blood from her wounded hand made her clumsy,

all thumbs, as she worked at the strange fastener. But at last she got it, wrenched it open.

Inside it was dark and dank and, like the bayou, smelled of rotting vegetation and decaying fish. But it was sanctuary and she scrambled inside, slammed the door shut, and set the bolt. It would not keep him out for long, but it offered a few precious seconds. Her eyes struggled with the dark. It was her only chance. But one thing nagged: Why was he giving her this chance? No time to worry about that. She flew to the wall-mounted phone, grabbed the receiver, and punched in 911.

He was at the boathouse now, rattling the door. Terror leaped in her chest. With her heart in her throat, she strained to hear the ring connecting her to 911. But nothing. In a panic, she jiggled the button up and down. Listened for a dial tone. Nothing. She frantically pressed the button up and down again. And again nothing. She gave an anguished cry and slammed the receiver against the wall. The phone line was dead!

She screamed at the thunderous crash. He kicked the door open. It slammed against the wall, shaking the boathouse to its foundation. As she watched, petrified, he took an unhurried step inside, filling the doorway. With the sun behind him, he loomed as large as a truck. He paused, no doubt to let his eyes adjust to the dark interior. He took his time. Then he began to move slowly toward her. “I’ve got you now, sugar,” he taunted, his smile grotesque.

Incoherent with terror, all she saw was the knife. She scrambled backward, desperate to get out of his reach. But he kept coming. With a bump, she backed against the sleek hull of a

boat. Trapped! Below was bottomless, black water. Sobbing, she looked at him piteously. She was going to die. The bayou was going to claim her after all.



If you'd like to buy a copy, click below.



Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Giveaway! The Moment Between by Nicole Baart

It is us against the world, Abigail thought. You and me. . . . Sisters.

Abigail Bennett was completely in control of her life until tragedy pushed her to the brink of something she’d never experienced: obsession. Now, she’s given up everything she’s ever worked for to chase down the object of that obsession. His name is Tyler Kamp. As Abigail follows him across the border into Canada to a beautiful winery in British Columbia, her journey is awash in memories of family and childhood, especially those of her younger sister, Hailey. Dangerously beautiful yet indefinably needy, Hailey seemed to take all the risks Abigail avoided. Until now. But even as Abigail races into her future, her past continues to pull her back. Only when she is brought to the edge of her obsession will she be able to come to terms with the tragedy that ignited it.

A breathtaking story about the emotional risks of relationships, it explores the cost of regret, the desire for revenge, and the redemptive power of forgiveness.


My Review:
Talk about impaired family living! Two sisters, one with a mental illness, plus a dysfunctional family equals a suicide and one sister on a quest to confront the guilty party. Abigail, firstborn, expert at pushing painful things down deep, appears to flourish on the outside. Hailey, the baby, stunningly beautiful, controls her world and its inhabitants by temper tantrums. Melody, definitely not Mom of the year, hides away when problems arise, and Lou, twisted in his love for one of his daughters, withholds love from the other.

The story is told in the third person voice of Abigail, with flashbacks to her childhood. The day she finds her sister dead from self-infliction wounds is interspersed throughout and printed in italics. Descriptive, flowery writing comprises half of the novel, and I wish it were reduced. The dialogue is excellent.

Many references are made to Catholicism and the beliefs of Catholics.

And now, the first chapter:


~ I ~

Abigail Bennett was the definition of unexpected. She was one year on the wrong side of the knife blade that was thirty, but if she turned up at your restaurant and ordered a glass of wine, even high-heeled and clad in a black sheath, you’d card her every time. Petite and narrow-waisted, with a pixie flip of hair the exact color of coffee beans, Abigail could easily pass for sixteen in a pair of ripped jeans and an Abercrombie T-shirt.

Not that she liked looking younger than her age. In fact, most of the time Abigail hated the constant reminders that no matter what she did or where she went, she would not be taken seriously. This explained the harsh line of bobby pins that held her wayward hair out of her face as if the severity of it could add years. It also explained the almost-dowdy clothes, the earth-toned makeup, and the hard, thin line of a mouth that could have been very beautiful.

Once people got past the fact that she wasn’t a teenager, Abigail looked very much like the ideal kindergarten teacher. Her stature and dress were the opposite of intimidating, yet there was a spark in her dark eyes as if from time to time a match was struck behind the velvety chocolate of her corneas. These eyes could freeze hell over with a well-timed look, a piercing arrow of unmistakable meaning. But there was also the hint of tenderness in Abigail that translated into quiet strength when paired with the sharp edges that were inevitably unveiled before anyone had a chance to form a false opinion of her. But then again, maybe it was all a facade. She didn’t let people get close enough to find out.

In reality, Abigail was not a kindergarten teacher, nor could she remember a phase in her life when she ever wanted to be one. She was an accountant. Numbers were stable, unchanging, and best of all, incapable of being mysterious or of forcing people to act and think and feel in ways that they would not normally act and think and feel. Numbers were predictable; people were not. And because Abigail trusted the reliability of her chosen field, she was good at her job, meticulous and capable of holding the smallest detail in her mind for as long as it was useful.

During tax season Abigail worked more hours than anyone else at her firm, and that was saying a lot. It was why she was made a partner after only five years with the company and why she occupied one of two corner offices, the one with a view of the swampy man-made pond that graced the complex of professional stucco buildings on Key Point Drive. Johnson, McNally & Bennett was a Rosa Beach institution, and though Blake Johnson and Colton McNally could claim most of the honor behind their prestigious position in the community, Abigail knew she filled an important and indispensable role. Southern Florida had its share of widows and divorcées, and for some not-so-surprising reasons they preferred to have a woman handle their money. Abigail was happy to oblige. It kept her busy and the firm in business.

Keeping busy was what Abigail did best. When she wasn’t working, which averaged sixty hours a week, she was either running or reheating days-old Chinese takeout in a dented wok. Both activities were little more than a personal experiment; they were representative of the only two things in Abigail’s life that she really, deep down hoped to accomplish someday: run a marathon and learn to cook.

The marathon was a goal that she had already partly achieved. On the day of her twenty-ninth birthday, she ran a half marathon in Miami. Abigail could have easily completed it, and in fact, the finish line was in sight only two blocks ahead when she realized it was enough to know that she could do it. Crossing the finish line would have meant that she ran for someone else, that she ran for the glory, the recognition.

So Abigail had slowed down a little and then a bit more until someone thrust a cup of water in her hand and yelled, “You’re almost there!” She smiled her thanks, sipped the water, and folded herself into the crowd while all eyes were watching the other runners throw their arms into the air for the last few triumphant yards.

The cooking, on the other hand, was little more than a pipe dream. Abigail’s greatest accomplishment was adding a diced chicken breast and some soy sauce to leftover chicken chow mein. It was too salty. But propped on her counter in an antique, wrought-iron bookstand was a Williams-Sonoma cookbook with full-color photographs and extensive instructions on how to cook homemade delicacies like potato gnocchi with wild mushroom sauce and baked clams with pine nuts and basil. Every morning, while she waited for the last few drops of coffee to drip into her Gevalia carafe, Abigail would thumb through the glossy pages of the cookbook and imagine what it would be like to make a wine reduction sauce as the sound of laughter filled her apartment. Someday, she told herself.

And though there were many somedays in Abigail’s life, she tried not to let the particulars of her existence get her down too much. It didn’t matter that she didn’t have a boyfriend. It didn’t matter that every day plodded on with the same pitfalls and small successes. It didn’t matter that her apartment was quiet but for the hum of her empty stainless steel refrigerator. It was the life that Abigail had chosen, and she was a grim optimist, resigned to the path she was on—she was getting exactly what she had always wanted. So what if it was tilted heavily toward work, personal discipline, solitude? So what if it left little room for the things other people craved? So what if her cupboards were as bare of exotic ingredients as her apartment was bare of cheerful company?

But sometimes, alone in her apartment with the shades drawn tight, Abigail would stand in front of the full-length mirror on the back of her bathroom door and relax enough to admire what she saw. Tousling her wet hair and practicing a self-conscious smile that showed her teeth—her impossibly white, perfectly straight teeth that were a genetic legacy instead of the result of extensive dental work—Abigail could almost pretend that she was ten years younger and that the world was unfurling itself before her.

For those moments in the steam and warmth, dark ringlets of hair curling around her temples as if she were some Grecian empress, Abigail wished much more for herself than what she had. She wished that she could rewind the clock and find Abby, the girl she used to be, perched on the cusp of her life instead of entrenched in the middle of it with no apparent way out.

Every once in a while, she could gather the courage to admit that it would be a very different life if she had it to do all over again.

***

When Abigail first came to Johnson & McNally, she had a chance at a different life.

It was no secret around the office that Colton McNally had a thing for the new accountant. He was twelve years older than Abigail and divorced, and that seemed somehow estimable according to Abigail’s less-than-high expectations. It wasn’t that she would settle for just anyone, but she also didn’t enter into much of anything with a long list of prerequisites.

In truth, Abigail found Colton very attractive. She thought his salt-and-pepper hair was distinguished—even though she suspected it came from the hands of a very talented colorist as he wasn’t quite forty—and she liked the way his tailored suits fell across the straight line of his shoulders. Best of all, he was nothing like the immature, self-absorbed boys Abigail had dated in college. They had nearly turned her off of men altogether. So when Colton turned his attention toward her, Abigail let him flirt. For a while, she even stopped wearing the stern bobby pins so that her dark curls framed her rather nicely arched forehead.

And yet Abigail wasn’t naive. She knew that her employer loved her because of the photo. It would have been too much to ask for Colton to love her, or at least think he did, because of herself. But while she probably should have been reticent of attention resulting from such a faint and improbable notion, Abigail accepted—almost expected—the source of Colton’s desire.

The photograph in question hung neatly squared and centered on a fabric-covered board adorning the west wall in the reception room. It was a concession to the more traditional bulletin board, replete with employee photographs that were intended to look candid but often looked overposed.

Abigail knew of the board, she even shot glances at it whenever she could to detect updates and changes, but she was not aware upon settling into her position that tradition dictated a spot for her photo front and center ASAP.

It was her third day of work, and Abigail was immersed in balancing infinitesimal details and worlds away from the air-conditioned office she inhabited when Colton startled her with a quiet “Ahem.”

Her head was bowed, and her forearms rested on endless pages that sprouted like an unruly crop of paper weeds across her generous desk. Abigail blinked and raised her eyes, just her eyes, in time to be blinded by the flash of Colton’s expensive Canon. He laughed and snapped a few more pictures for which she cleared off her desk, sat up straight, and smiled, thin-lipped and toothy and even coy, trying them all in the hopes that one would be right.

But the next day, Abigail was surprised to see that the photo gracing the quasi bulletin board was the first of the batch. She knew she was looking at herself because seeing the small, hunched form over the crowded desk was a sort of déjà vu—she had been there before. If not for that, Abigail would have never believed that the woman staring back at her was her own reflection. The woman in the photograph had luminous—there was simply no other word for them—luminous black eyes of the starry-sky variety: endless and opalescent and dark like a time before the genesis. Like the event horizon of identical black holes—no way out, but no matter, for who would ever want to leave? Beneath the twin universes of those eyes, her lips were slightly parted, pink and full and evocative of bruised raspberries. Her skin glowed faintly (fluorescent light reflecting off all that white paper?), and her shadowy curls were framing and soft. The woman was lovely.

But what unnerved Abigail the most was that Colton had caught her at a moment between. A rare, uncovered moment between expressions: a moment of evaporation before the advent of her surprise became the dutiful smile that spread across her face in the split second after the shutter snapped. This woman was a living mystery.

Abigail wished she knew her.

***

One day, a few months after she started at the firm, Abigail went into Colton’s office to ask him a question about the tax return of a dual citizen living out of country. It was a legitimate question, but Blake’s office was closer than Colton’s, and her admirer acknowledged that fact the second Abigail rapped her knuckles on the doorframe. She realized almost too late that her presence would be read as an invitation, and sure enough, a smile unfolded across Colton’s face like a flag pulled taut in a billowing wind.

“Come in, Abigail! Why don’t you close the door behind you? There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”

Abigail did as she was told and crossed the plush, carpeted floor of Colton’s office with her heart stuck fast in her throat.

“But first—” Colton set aside what he had been working on—“what can I do for you?”

Passing him the papers, Abigail lowered herself to balance on the arm of one of the leather chairs facing the wide, black walnut desk. But Colton raised an eyebrow at her, motioned that she should cross behind the desk to stand beside him.

They had flirted before, secret half smiles conveyed across crowded rooms and careful conversations littered with possibilities. And it seemed that the unmistakable chemistry between Colton and Abigail was a favorite topic around the watercooler, boasting far more people in favor of a match than against it. It was impossible for Abigail not to get caught up in it a little. But she also couldn’t help being cautious, and suddenly, with the door closed and Colton looking far more handsome than she remembered from only the day before, she knew that he was a man who wouldn’t play games for long.

Colton waved her over again and Abigail moved slowly, explaining about the nonresident and his recent payout from a life insurance death benefit. She had just gotten to the part where he intended to give enough of it away to slip below the line of taxable income when Colton grabbed her wrist and, in one smooth movement, pulled her forward until her face was inches from his. He studied her, still smiling, then kissed her full on the mouth as if he had been intending to do so for a long time.

It wasn’t that Abigail didn’t want to kiss him back. Actually quite the opposite. It wasn’t even that she was stunned by the inappropriateness of such a gesture. Instead, it was a Tic Tac that ruined everything, a burning little grain of peppermint that she inhaled when Colton’s lips touched hers.

She drew back, pulling out of Colton’s embrace and coughing violently until tears collected at the corners of her eyes. Abigail struggled for a moment, choking mutely as she watched Colton bolt out of his chair and grab her upper arms. When the breath mint was dislodged from her throat and she could feel it hot and peppery on her tongue, she knew it was a very small thing that would be significant in ways that might cause her years of lament.

“I’m sorry,” Abigail murmured, utterly mortified for one of the first times she could remember. “I . . .” She couldn’t continue.

Colton stared at her, concern and disbelief gathering foglike across his forehead. At first, Abigail thought he might fold her into his arms, that the almost-pitiable comedy of what had just happened would become the sort of story they laughed about months down the road when they told people the tale of how they came together. But then Colton laughed, rubbing his hands up and down her arms. The moment shattered and fell away, disappearing in a shimmer of doubt that made Abigail wonder if she had merely dreamed it.

“As long as you’re okay,” he boomed. And then he sat back down and pretended nothing had happened. He never mentioned it again and neither did she.

Eighteen months later, Colton married Marguerite, the receptionist who was hired at the same time as Abigail. Marguerite was a few years younger than Abigail, but she looked much older due to a succession of bad dye jobs and what appeared to be a lifetime of sun damage spotting her skin. Colton seemed happy; from what little Abigail could discern of her boss’s marriage, he genuinely longed for companionship and Marguerite’s horselike laugh didn’t turn him off so much that he considered her a poor match.

Although it was against her nature, shortly after the happy couple’s beach wedding, Abigail went through a brief stage where she fixated on what might have been. The entire office had once been invited to Colton’s sprawling house only a block off the ocean, and Abigail could almost picture herself the mistress of his columned colonial. What sort of a woman would she be if she were Mrs. McNally? What would she look like offering guests a second martini and lounging in some bright sari that she had bought on their honeymoon in Belize?

It was a nice scenario, but Abigail wasn’t one to waste too much energy on regret, and she abandoned such nonsense the same way she set aside every other impossible dream: she placed it firmly out of her mind. A few years later when Blake and Colton approached her about being a partner, she was even able to congratulate herself that her business card would read Johnson, McNally & Bennett instead of Johnson, McNally & McNally. She convinced herself that it was much more satisfying this way.

For his part, after their less than romantic encounter in his office, Colton was nothing but a gentleman to Abigail. He treated her with the same respect, the same quiet yet somehow condescending pride of a father figure. Abigail was reduced from a possible lover to the discarded role of a dependable daughter. It was a character she was rather good at playing.

***

Lou Bennett was a father when he could have been a grandfather.

He met Melody Van Bemmel at Chevy’s Café a week after he turned forty-five. It was nearly a blizzard outside, and she blew into the warm restaurant off-balance and trembling as if she were a leaf driven by the vicious wind. When the door slammed behind her, Melody gasped, stomped her booted feet, and flung the hood of her parka back. She smiled shyly, looking around as if her entrance had been staged, as if she were taking her place beneath the spotlight and now that she was front and center she had forgotten her lines.

Everyone in the café glanced up at her for the blink of an eye and then turned back to their coffees and specials of the day without a second thought. Everyone except Lou. He had fallen in love the moment Melody raised her hands to turn back her hood. They were little hands swimming in a pair of men’s work gloves that were so big on her fingers they nearly slid off. Lou imagined they were his gloves. He wished they were.

And just as quickly as he longed for her, Lou hated himself for it. She was a child. Her eyes were too clear, her skin too bright for her to even look twice at a man whose own skin was as deeply lined as those etchings he had seen on display in the American National Bank. But when she caught his eye, when her lips pulled up slightly just for him, Lou knew there was nothing that could be done about it. He was hers, even if she never acknowledged his existence. Even if he loved her in secret until the day he died.

As it turned out, he didn’t have to. Melody came to Lou in the most natural, ordinary way: she brushed against the edge of his life and found herself inexorably pulled in. He didn’t even know he was drowning until he felt himself reach for her and cling for dear life.

They were married less than a year later, and though Melody was not as young as Lou had imagined, when she walked down the aisle in a confection of white, a little shiver crept up Lou’s spine because she did not look twenty-five. Twenty years, he thought in the second before the preacher asked him if he would have her and hold her until “death do you part.”

Lou said, “I do” without hesitation, but somewhere in the back of his mind he faltered. There was a nagging suspicion, an accusatory guilt that made him wonder if he had made her the happiest woman alive like she claimed or if he had involuntarily ruined her life.

It took Melody almost six years to get pregnant, though they tried to make a baby on their wedding night. She saw doctors and gynecologists and fertility specialists, but no one could tell her why her womb would not swell with a child. For a while, Lou entertained the possibility of joining her at one of her appointments, but those sorts of things made him unbearably uncomfortable. He avoided the conversation he knew Melody wanted to have the same way that he avoided the drawer where she kept her neat pile of lace-trimmed underwear.

When Lou was fifty-one, Melody’s cheeks took on a greenish hue in the early morning, and the waist that he so loved to encompass in his enormous hands began to expand. She wouldn’t admit it at first—maybe she was scared to hope—but Lou knew almost immediately. Something about Melody had changed, the scent of her skin or the complexity of the air around her when she entered a room. Maybe both. Either way, Lou was relieved. It wasn’t him, it had never been him, and now she would be happy. They would be a family.

Lou didn’t think much about the baby until the doctor handed him a tiny, tightly wrapped bundle with a pink cap sliding down over her lashless eyes. They were two little commas, those eyes, a break amidst all the words that comprised his many years of life, though certainly not a beginning or even an end. Lou stared at her and realized that he had planned on having a son.

“Abigail Rose,” Melody called weakly from the bed. She smiled at him with all the energy she could muster, and her eyes were dancing with tears. “Rose for my mother and Abigail because it’s the most beautiful name I’ve ever heard. I think we’ll call her Abby.”

What was there to say? It was a fine name, and Lou hadn’t wasted a single thought on another. “Pretty,” he said finally and brushed his lips tentatively across the soft forehead because it seemed like the right thing to do.


Taken from The Moment Between by Nicole Baart. Copyright ©2009 by Nicole Baart. Used with permission from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.



If you would like to purchase a copy, click below:



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

I am willing to give away my ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) copy of this book. ARC is an uncorrected proof, meaning there may be a few typos here and there. Once you read it, you cannot resell it (like on eBay) because it is illegal to resell ARCs.

  • Winners are restricted to the US and Canada. No PO Box mailing addresses, please.
  • Leave your email address in code in your comment (This is the biggest mistake entrants make. They forget to leave their email address! Please do not ask me to look it up. This is the only thing I ask you to do.)
  • I'll close the comments at 6 PM EST July 31st and pick the winner. I will contact the winner via email to get mailing information. There will be three days to respond. If I do not hear from her within three days, I will select another winner(s).
  • If you're interested, just say so in a comment with that all-important email address in code.
    Example of email in code: yourname AT hotmail DOT com.



Saturday, May 9, 2009

Giveaway! Bobbi Brown Living Beauty by Bobbi Brown with Marie Clare Katigbak

Bobbi Brown began the trend toward natural-looking cosmetics with a simple philosophy: Women want to look and feel like themselves, only prettier and more confident. Today, top editors at elite fashion magazines--including In Style, Vogue, Allure, and Harpers Bazaar--revere her, and celebrities and millions of regular women throughout the world swear by her beauty advice.

Now Bobbi Brown has written THE book redefining beauty for women over 40. In this refreshing look at beauty and aging, Bobbi offers specific makeup tricks for a stunning face--showing how makeup can solve most of the flaws that many women go under the knife to fix. In fact, the right makeup can create an even skin tone, lift the cheeks, plump a smile...even take years off any woman's face. The key is to use makeup to enhance each woman's best features and showcase her natural beauty.

With step-by-step makeup instructions and quotes from beautiful women like Marcia Gay Harden, Vera Wang, Susan Sarandon, and Lorraine Bracco, Bobbi Browns natural, celebratory approach to aging will enlighten and inspire women everywhere.

My Review:
The best way I can describe this heavy volume is to list the chapter titles:
The Living Beauty Philosophy
Role Models, Skin Savers
The Makeup Face-lift
Your Crowning Glory
Instant Update, Menopause
The Real Fountain of Youth
Head-to-toe Makeovers
Beautiful Inside and Out
Create Your New Ideal

That's a comprehensive list, and this is a book that every woman interested in aging gracefully would appreciate owning. The author states, "It's not about looking younger, it's about looking as great as you can look for your age" (21).

Stunning glossy full-page color photographs of celebrities and products by Henry Leutwyler accompany step-by-step tips.

If you would like to buy a copy, click below.



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

The generous folks at Hachette Book Group are allowing me to host this book giveaway for five (5) copies!
  • Winners are restricted to the US and Canada. No PO Box mailing addresses, please.
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  • I'll close the comments at 6 PM EST May 19th and pick the winners. I will contact the winners via email to get their mailing information. The winners will have three days to respond. If I do not hear from a winner within three days, I will select another winner(s).
  • If you're interested, just say so in a comment with that all-important email address in code.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Always Watching (Rayne Tour series, Book 1) by Brandilyn and Amberly Collins

This daughter of a rock star has it all—until murder crashes her world.

The exciting and suspenseful Rayne Tour series features sixteen-year-old Shaley O’Connor, on tour with her mother’s popular band. Shaley lives in a whirlwind of backstage secrets, hotels, and limos. With beauty and fame of her own, Shaley wants for nothing … except the one thing she can’t have.

During a concert, sixteen-year-old Shaley O’Connor stumbles upon the body of a friend backstage. Is Tom Hutchens’ death connected to her?

Frightening messages arrive. Paparazzi stalk Shaley. Her private nightmare is displayed for all to see. Where is God at a time like this?

As the clock runs out, Shaley must find Tom’s killer—before he strikes again.


My Review:
Bestselling author Brandilyn Collins teams up with her daughter to produce this suspenseful whodunit series. Written in first person narrative from the perspective of Shaley, a sixteen-year-old, this teen story keeps the readers interest. The killer's thoughts, written in third person and interspersed throughout the story, have a chilling effect.

A typical teen, Shaley's BFF, Brittany, has an intuitive ability to know the future. Unfortunately, this reader does not have that ability. The novel is well written. The characters are believable, but the story stops just in time for the next book to begin. I understand that this is a series, but I feel gipped when left with a cliff-hanger.

And now, the first chapter:


FRIDAY

PROLOGUE

It’s not my fault I have to kill.

He’d been watching since the tour began. Eyes straight ahead, keeping cool, like he wasn’t even paying attention. But he noticed everything. Even got a sense for what was happening behind his back. His past life had taught him how to do that—out of necessity. When it was something bad, he felt a vibration in the air, pulling up the hair on his arms. And he’d know. He’d just know.

Sometimes he acted behind the scenes. Nothing that would be noticed. Just ended up in a certain place at a certain time—a presence that kept the wrong thing from happening. Other times he’d say what needed to be heard. Real casual, not sounding like a threat at all. No, he was just talking, shooting the breeze about some previous experience. But beneath the words there’d be a point: don’t cross me or mine.

Sometimes people were too dumb to get it. He’d give them every chance, trying to be the nice guy. Trying to do it the easy way. But no. Those kind of people had stubborn minds and black hearts. Couldn’t be trusted. They were headed for a fall and about to take some good people with them. His people.

That’s what it had come to now.

“Hey, can I see you a sec before you go?” He motioned, and the one who must die came, humming.

Humming.

Like a lamb to slaughter.


CHAPTER 1


The screams of twenty thousand people sizzled in my ears.

“Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign! …”

At the sold-out HP Pavilion in San Jose, California the crowd chanted and clapped and stomped for my mom’s group, Rayne—named after her—to do one more song as they left the stage. As usual I stood backstage with Tom Hutchens, my mom’s twenty-five-year-old hair dresser and makeup artist, and my closest friend on tour. Tom was short and slim, with thick black hair and an intense-looking face that didn’t match his crazy personality at all.

Tom feigned the pucker of a hip-hop artist and splayed his fingers in front of his red T-shirt. “Yo, she reign, they go insane!” He had to shout at me, his Vans-clad feet dancing. Tom always wore these wild-looking sneakers with blue, white, and red checks and a red racing stripe on the sides. “Ain’t nothin’ plain about rockin’ Rayne!”

I punched him in the arm, laughing. His silly rap rhymes were getting worse by the day.

Blonde hair bouncing, Mom came flying down the steps on the way to her private dressing room for the two-minute break. Sweat shone on her forehead as she passed by. She flashed her red-lipped grin at me and raised a palm. We high-fived as she sped past.

“They love us, Shaley!”

“’Course, Mom, they always do!”

The rest of the rock group—Kim, Morrey, Rich and Stan—descended more slowly, their faces showing fatigue. None of them had the energy of my mother after a concert. Tom and I gave them a quick thumbs-up before scurrying after Mom.

As we hit the dressing room with Rayne O’Connor’s name on the door, I checked my watch. 10:45. Yay! Almost time to head to the airport and pick up my best friend, Brittany. I hadn’t seen her since Rayne started touring three months ago, and I couldn’t wait to be with her again. This was Rayne’s third tour, and I always found it hard to leave all my school friends behind.

Without Tom to keep me laughing, touring would be terribly lonely.

I closed the dressing room door, shutting out some of the noise.

“Whoo.” Mom crossed to the left side of the room and plopped into the makeup chair facing a long, brightly lit mirror. To her right sat a wooden armoire full of her clothing. She always changed outfits during intermission. Along the back wall were the blue sofa and matching armchairs specified by contract for her dressing area in every arena. Opposite the makeup counter was the table loaded with catered food, also specified by contract—bowls of fruit, sandwiches, pasta salad, cheese cubes, chips, and M&Ms for me.

Mom studied herself in the mirror with her large crystal blue eyes. “Okay, Tom, do your magic.” She guzzled a drink from a water bottle on the counter.

Like she needed any magic. With her high cheekbones, oval face, and full lips, Mom was drop-dead gorgeous.

Tom winked at me as he snatched up a tissue. Sticking his scrawny neck out, he scrutinized Mom with animation, eyes narrowed and his mouth a rounded O. “Hm. Hmm.”

He sighed, stood back and spread his hands as if to say nothing to be done here, you’re perfect.

Mom rolled her eyes at me. I shrugged. As if I could control Tom’s antics.

“All right, lover boy.” Mom took another swig of water. “Get to it, I’ve got one minute left.”

“Yo, big Mama.”

Mom swatted his hand. “Would you stop calling me that? I don’t know why I put up with you.” Her mouth curved.

Tom leaned in to blot her face with the tissue. “’Cause I make you look bodacious, that’s why.” Expertly he retouched her blusher and lipstick, fluffed her hair.

Out in the arena the crowd’s yells and applause was growing louder. I smiled and squeezed Mom’s shoulder. Every concert the fans went wild, but it never got old for me. Night after night their adoration set pride for my mom welling in my chest.

Five years ago when I was eleven and Mom was twenty-eight, Rayne was barely hanging on. Mom and the band played little concerts here and there, working night and day to get noticed. I remember how hard she tried back then. A great lyric writer with a distinct, throaty-edged voice, she deserved to make it big. Then the song Far and Near hit the radio and after that—a rocket launch.

Tom stood back and surveyed Mom, his head cocked to one side. “Not bad. Not bad a-tall.”

“Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign!” The crowd was going crazy out there.

Mom tossed her hair back, looked at herself from side to side. “Great.” She sprang from the chair. “Gotta go.” She hurried toward the door.

I moved out of her way. “Mom, don’t forget we’re going to pick up Brittany in ten minutes. We’re leaving a little early because Tom wants to stop by a drugstore.”

“Oh, that’s right.” Mom pulled up short, one hand on the door knob. She looked to Tom. “Somebody else doing your clean-up?”

He glanced at me. “Got it taken care of.”

Disappointment pulled at my mouth. Mom knew how I’d counted the days until Brittany’s and my junior year of high school ended—just yesterday. My tutor had flown home this morning, and now Brittany was coming for two weeks. Mom was paying all her expenses—for that I was so grateful. But Mom could get so wrapped up in her work. Sometimes I just needed her to remember me.

Mom looked my way—and caught my expression. She smiled too wide, as if to make up for her distraction. “I’m so glad Brittany’s coming, Shaley. We’ll show her a great time.”

I nodded.

“Mick’s going with you, right?”

“Yeah.”

Mick Rader had been my mom’s main personal bodyguard for the past three years. The other two, Bruce Stolz and Wendell Bennington, would guard her on her way to the hotel tonight while Mick was with me.

“Okay, good. You’ll be safe.” Mom smiled as she opened the door. The crowd’s screams rushed in. “See you at the hotel.”

She blew me a kiss and disappeared.

The yelling suddenly frayed my nerves. I pushed the door shut and leaned against it.

Tom shot me his sad clown look, his lips turned down and eyebrows pulled into a V. He always read my mind so well.

I couldn’t help but smile. “It’s okay.”

His expression whisked away. Tom struck his hip-hop pose. “Got a new one for ya.”

“Oh, yeah?” I knew he’d create the lyrics as he went along, just to get me laughing again.

Tom’s feet started their shuffle-dance. “Let’s go for a ride down the avenue. Top down, wind-blown, my VW. The talk of the town in all we do. Shaley O’Connor puttin’ on the view—”

He froze, mouth open, frowning hard. Then jerked back into dancing. “Can’t think of another line, can you?”

I giggled. “Great, Tom, as fabulous as all your others.”

He bowed. “Thank ya, thank yaaa.”

Pulling up straight, he glanced at the wall clock. “Yikes, I gotta take care of some things before the limo comes. Meet you at the back exit?”

“Okay.”

As the door closed behind him, I crossed the room to check myself in the mirror. Excitement pulsed through my veins. Almost time to see Brittany! I chose a neutral lipstick and leaned toward the glass to apply it. Thanks to Tom I’d learned a lot of makeup tricks, and my face needed little retouching. Finished with the lipstick, I ran a brush through my long brown hair. Tom had recently layered it and feathered the bangs. I liked the look.

Despite the difference in hair color, many people said I looked like my mother. I considered that a high compliment.

I stood back and turned side to side. Not bad. My new designer jeans fit well and the blue top matched my eyes. Brittany would love the outfit. I grinned at myself, then glanced at the clock. Almost time for the limo to arrive.

In the arena the crowd roared. Rayne was taking the stage. The first of two encore songs started—the band’s new hit Do it Up Right.

For a few minutes I paced the room impatiently, munching M&Ms. Rayne launched into their final song of the night.

Two hard knocks sounded on the door—Mick’s signal. He stuck his square-shaped head inside. Mick is in his forties, ex-military. A thick neck and muscles out to here. Nobody messes with Mick. “Shaley, you ready?”

“Yes! Is the limo waiting?”

“Yeah.” His deep-set brown eyes swept the room. “Where’s Tom?”

“He said he had to take care of a few things. He’ll meet us at the door.” I crossed to the couch to pick up my purse.

“Okay. I’m going to stop in the bathroom, then I’ll see you there.” He gave me his squinty-eyed stare. “Don’t step outside of the building without me.”

I flicked a look at the ceiling. “Yeah, yeah.” Mick was so protective. It’s not like I’d be in any danger walking out that door. As with all arenas where Rayne sang, the HP Pavilion had a special entrance for performers, guarded by their own local security. And that whole section of the parking lot was roped off and guarded. No chance for any fans or paparazzi to sneak in.

Mick jabbed a finger at me for emphasis, then left.

Tingling with anticipation, I scurried out the door, intent on checking the other dressing rooms for Tom. No time to wait, let’s go, let’s go! Having been at the arena since four o’clock when sound checks began, I’d already learned the layout of the backstage area. There were eight dressing rooms—Mom’s the biggest.

I hurried down the wide hall, mouthing “hi” to people I passed. The sound and light crew were still working, but the backline crew—the guys who maintain all the instruments and switch them out during performances—were done now. Set carpenters, the managers, and all the people who tore down the stage also milled around until the concert ended.

First I went to the back exit and peeked outside. Tom wasn’t there.

I returned all the way up the hall, figuring I’d work my way back down.

For the first time I noticed all the dressing room doors were closed. Strange. If Tom had gone into one to pack up something, he’d have left the door open as a courtesy. Those assigned rooms were personal space to members of the band and Rayne’s production manager, Ross Blanke.

I peeked in the one next to Mom’s.

Empty.

Shoving my purse handles higher up my shoulder, I went to the third.

Empty again.

The fourth.

No Tom.

This wasn’t right. Tom was never late. Where was he?

Mick approached, signaling me with a roll of his finger—let’s get moving.

I nodded. “He wasn’t in the bathroom?”

Mick shook his head.

Together we walked to the fifth dressing room. Mick poked his head inside.

Empty.

I ran down to look in the sixth. No Tom.

I banged the door shut and looked around. What was going on? If he didn’t show up soon we wouldn’t have time to go out of our way to a drugstore. The airport was minutes away from the arena. We didn’t want Brittany waiting around by herself after dark.

“You take the next one.” Mick strode past me. “I’ll look in the one on the end.”

The seventh dressing room had been allocated as Ross’s office. At every venue he needed a private area for calling people, dealing with last-minute problems and basically seeing that everything in the contract was honored. I couldn’t remember seeing Ross in the hall. He might be inside, and I didn’t dare just barge in. The production manager’s office was off-limits to everyone unless invited.

I knocked, waited. Knocked harder.

No answer.

I opened the door.

Like Mom, Ross ordered the same room set-up each time. For him that included an oversized desk with black leather chair. On the desk he would stack his papers and folders, carefully position his laptop. A fax machine had to be on his left, a telephone with multiple lines on his right. Looking at Ross—a short, fat man with scraggly hair to his shoulders—you’d never guess what a neat freak he is.

And always on the wall—a large round clock.

As I stepped into the room, my eyes grazed that clock. 10:55. Brittany’s plane would be landing soon.

On the floor beside the desk I glimpsed a splash of color.

Something twisted inside my stomach, almost as if my subconscious mind had already registered the sight. Time seemed to slow.

Clutching the door handle, I turned my head toward the color.

A foot. On the floor sticking out from behind the desk. Wearing a Vans with blue, white and red checks, and a red racing strip. The foot lay on its side, toes pointed away from me, heel dug awkwardly into the carpet.

Deathly still.














CHAPTER 2




I stared across the room at the foot. The back of my neck prickled.

Run, my mind shouted. Run and check on Tom! But my feet rooted to the carpet, my fingers digging into the doorpost.

Onstage, the music stopped. Wild clapping and cheering rose from the arena.

The noise jerked me out of my zombie state. I lowered my purse from my shoulder. Set it on the floor. Holding my breath, I crept forward.

As I edged around the side of the desk, Tom’s jeaned leg came into view.

It wasn’t moving.

My legs stopped.

“T-Tom?” My voice cracked into a whisper.

No answer.

So what? He couldn’t have heard me above the crowd.

I took another step. Now I could see his second leg, drawn up and bent at the knee. Tom was lying on his side. I moved again and saw an arm flung out, fingers half-curled toward the palm.

I leapt forward until his head came into sight. Tom’s second arm lay crumpled against the carpet, his face partially turned into the short sleeve of his red T-shirt. His one visible eye was open, staring at the wall.

Air gushed out of my mouth. He was tricking me.

“You rotten thing!” I pushed at his leg with my toe. “How—”

No change. Just that wide-eyed stare.

All the relief that had spilled out of me reversed back down my throat. My windpipe closed until I could hardly breathe. I sank to my knees beside his chest.

“Tom?” I leaned down to look into both his eyes.

The other one was gone.

I mean gone. Just a black, bloody, gaping hole.

For the longest second of my life, all I could do was stare. It pulled at me, that hole. Like it wanted me to tumble inside it, a horror-film version of Alice in Wonderland.

Faintness gripped me. I swooned toward Tom’s ravaged face, my nose almost touching where his eye used to be …

At the last possible moment, my muscles jerked me back.

I shoved to my feet and screamed.














CHAPTER 3




My shrieks bounced off the walls during the crowd’s final shouts. In the same second all noise died away.

Silence rang in my ears.

I turned and ran.

Mick materialized in the doorway as I hurtled into it. I rammed into his rock-solid chest. With another scream I bounced off and collapsed on the carpet.

“What--?” Mick bent over me. I looked up, mouth flopping open. No sound came. I pointed a shaking finger toward Tom. Mick’s head jerked up.

Horror crossed his face.

He jumped over me and ran to Tom, his hand reaching for the gun clipped to his belt.

Mick bent down and disappeared behind the desk. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t do anything.

Voices of band members mingled in the hall, commenting on the performance. How strange the words sounded. So naïve. So unknowing.

Heavy footsteps approached. Ross rounded the corner and almost stepped on me.

“Ahhh!” I rolled away from him.

Mick raised up from behind the desk. Ross froze at the look on his face. “What’s going on?”

“Tom’s dead.” Mick’s voice was tight.

“What?”

“Somebody shot him.”

Ross blinked rapidly, then leapt around me to see for himself.

Mick reached for the phone on the desk. “I’m calling 911.”

I stared at the ceiling, mind going numb. My limbs felt like water. Tom was dead. Dead. My heart couldn’t grasp it. I’d just been with him. How could he be gone?

“Oh.” The word choked from Ross’s throat. He backed away from Tom.

“Yes,” Mick said into the phone. “I need to report a homicide. Hang on a minute.” He shoved the phone into Ross’s hand. “You talk to them. I need to get Bruce and Wendell. We’ll round up the band members, make sure they’re safe.”

Mom. Could whoever did this to Tom want to hurt her?

Mick ran past me, gun in hand. “Shaley, stay here.”

I barely heard him. Panic pushed me onto weak knees. I had to find my mother!

Somehow I crawled out the door. “Mom. Mommmm!”

Every person in the hallway jerked around.

Mick spun back to me. “Shaley, stay there!” He swung toward the others. “Everyone, against the wall and don’t move. Wendell, Bruce, where are you?”

People melted back, calling questions, their voices buzzing like a thousand bees in my head.

“Where’s my mom!”

Bruce ran out of the men’s bathroom, hand automatically going for his weapon. “What?” At six-foot-six, he has powerful, long legs and arms. I could see his head about everyone else’s.

Wendell burst from the stage area. “Here!”

“Shaley?” Mom’s sharpened voice filtered from up the hallway. “What’s happening?” She came toward me, eyes wide.

“Rayne, stay where you are!” Mick shouted.

Mom picked up speed. Her head whipped back and forth, gawking at everyone pressed against the walls. She started to run. “Shaley, are you all right?

I teetered to my feet. “Tom’s dead, Mom, he’s dead!”

Gasps rose from dozens of throats. Mom didn’t even slow. Mick grabbed her arm, but she yanked away. As if in a dream—a nightmare—I watched her tear-blurred form hurtle toward me. Mick, Bruce and Wendell spread their feet, guns raised, eyes darting back and forth, searching the hall for danger.

I flung myself forward, sobbing.

After an eternity Mom reached me. I collapsed into her arms, screaming Tom’s name.



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