Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fireworks over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff

Every so often that story comes along that reminds us of what it’s like to experience love for the first time—against the odds, when you least expect it, and with such passion that it completely changes you forever.

An unexpected discovery takes eighty-four-year-old Lily Davis Woodward to 1945, and the five days that forever changed her life. Married for only a week before her husband was sent to fight in WWII, Lily is anxious for his return, and the chance to begin their life together. In honor of the soldiers' homecoming, the small Georgia town of Toccoa plans a big celebration. And Jake Russo, a handsome Italian immigrant, also back from war, is responsible for the elaborate fireworks display the town commissioned. But after a chance encounter in a star-lit field, he steals Lily's heart and soul--and fulfills her in ways her socially-minded, upper-class family cannot. Now, torn by duty to society and her husband--and the poor, passionate man who might be her only true love--Lily must choose between a commitment she's already made and a love she’s never known before.

Fireworks Over Toccoa takes us to a moment in time that will resonate with readers long after the book’s unforgettable conclusion. A devastating and poignant story, this debut novel will resonate with anyone who believes in love.

My Review:
What's a well-bred, albeit headstrong, Southern girl to do when confronted with a magnetic, compelling Italian? This romance novel settles the question with a few twists. Jake creates fireworks for the small town's 4th of July celebration as well as in Lily's heart.

It made me want to hum, ♬"When an irresistible force such as you...♬"

I have a problem with the character of self-willed Lily who gives into her mother's opinion about how her hair should look, yet keeps a secret romance with a "common" man. That doesn't ring true.

The plot keeps the reader's interest while it answers Lily's question of which life should she choose.

Note: One section contains some steamy love-making.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Divine Appointments by Charlene Ann Baumbich

A Snowglobe Connections Novel

With the big 5-0 fast approaching, Josie Brooks begins to question her structured, picture-perfect (mid)life.

Josie Brooks, at the age of 47, thought she was leading an enviable single life. A successful consultant, she calls her own shots, goes where the money is, and never needs to compromise. But her precisely managed world begins to falter during a Chicago contract when an economic downturn, a bleeding heart boss, and the loyalty and kindness between endangered employees ding her coat of armor.

Throw in hot flashes, a dose of loneliness, a peculiar longing for intimacy, an unquenchable thirst—not to mention a mysterious snowglobe with a serene landscape, complete with a flowing river and lush greenery that seems to be beckoning her in—and Josie’s buttoned-up life is on the verge of coming completely undone. Maybe her solitary existence isn’t as fulfilling as she has convinced herself to believe.

It will take a few new friends, a mystical encounter, and an unexpected journey to set Josie on her own path to “right-sizing” and making the life changes that really matter. Filled with laugh-out loud moments and a gentle dash of inspiration, Divine Appointments is another heartwarming charmer from a master storyteller.

My Review:
I enjoyed this contemporary romance novel. Set in today's corporate world, the plot centers on a company in the midst of down-sizing with the protagonist, Josie, a hired "hatchet man" doing a fine job of thinning the ranks without feelings. At the opposite end of the spectrum is her boss, Lyle, a sensitive man with enough feelings for everyone.

I am confused about the reason for the mystical snowglobe woven throughout the story; I feel that it could have easily been left out. In an otherwise plausible plot, it is a perplexing touch of fantasy. The novel is labeled a work of Christian fiction, but other than a few characters mentioning prayer and church attendance, I see little else Christian about it. This fact coupled with the snowglobe coming to life, had me scratching my head.

Nevertheless, characters are well-rounded, believable, and dialogue is spot on. The plot flows, and I read with an occasional smile and/or tear. Most readers will like this one.

Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and WaterBrook Press for my copy.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Lightkeeper's Bride by Colleen Coble

A Mercy Falls Novel
A thrilling romantic mystery set in the lush Victorian age.

Central Operator Katie Russell's inquisitive ways have just uncovered her parents' plan for her marriage to wealthy bachelor Bartholomew Foster. Her heart is unmoved, but she knows the match will bring her family status and respectability.

Then Katie overhears a phone conversation that makes her uneasy and asks authorities to investigate. But the caller is nowhere to be found. Mysterious connections arise between the caller and a ship lost at sea. Against propriety, Katie questions the new lighthouse keeper, Will Jesperson.

Then a smallpox epidemic forces their quarantine in his lighthouse. Though of low social status, Will's bravery and kindness remove Katie's suspicion and win her love. Katie and Will together work to solve the mystery of the missing girl and the lost ship as God gives the couple the desire of their hearts.

My Review:
This is an easily-solved mystery romance novel. There were no surprises--at least for me. Although the tale moves along at a good pace, the ending seems rushed, as if the author wanted to quickly tie up the lose ends. Not wanting to ruin it for others, I can not discuss the abrupt ending.

Characters are flat. The good guy is totally good, and the bad guy is totally bad with no redeeming qualities.

Fans of Colleen Coble will enjoy this one. A Reader's Group Guide is included.

Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and Thomas Nelson for my copy.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection by Carol Burnett

Carol Burnett is one of the most beloved and revered actresses and performers in America. The Carol Burnett Show was seen each week by millions of adoring fans and won twenty-five Emmys in its remarkable eleven-year run. Here, Carol really lets her hair down and tells one funny or touching or memorable story after another – reading it feels like sitting down with an old friend who has wonderful tales to tell.

In engaging anecdotes, Carol discusses her remarkable friendships with stars such at Jimmy Stewart, Lucille Ball, Cary Grant, and Julie Andrews; the background behind famous scenes, like the moment she swept down the stairs in her curtain-rod dress in the legendary “Went With the Wind” skit; and things that would happen only to Carol – the prank with Julie Andrews that went wrong in front of the First Lady; the famous Tarzan Yell that saved her during a mugging; and the time she faked a wooden leg to get served in a famous ice cream emporium. This poignant look back allows us to cry with the actress during her sorrows, rejoice in her successes, and finally, always, to laugh.

My Review:
The beloved comedian tells about her life from childhood until the present day. Because each chapter is a single anecdote, this book can be picked up, read and enjoyed for a long or short periods, and saved to be picked up again at another time. However, because the author is such an interesting story teller, I found the saving "for another time" almost impossible. I did not want to put it down!

If you would like to read an excerpt, click here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham

A perfect murder.
A faceless witness.
A lone courtroom champion knows the whole truth… and he’s only thirteen years old.
Meet Theodore Boone.

In the small city of Strattenburg, there are many lawyers, and though he’s only thirteen years old, Theo Boone thinks he’s one of them. Theo knows every judge, policeman, court clerk—and a lot about the law. He dreams of being a great trial lawyer, of a life in the courtroom.

But Theo finds himself in court much sooner than expected. Because he knows so much—maybe too much—he is suddenly dragged into the middle of a sensational murder trial. A cold-blooded killer is about to go free, and only Theo knows the truth.

The stakes are high, but Theo won’t stop until justice is served.

My Review:
I love to read a Grisham novel, and I was pleased when my twelve-year-old grandson loaned me his copy of this legal thriller, written for the younger crowd. Grisham's characters are fleshed out so well I feel as if I know them. His plots moves along at just the right pace, and the endings settle the murder mystery. However, this ending had me wanting even more; I wanted the author to tie up the loose end of Omar Cheepe. Perhaps we'll meet him again in a future Theo novel.

I recommend this novel to young and old. There's much to be learned about the law within these pages. The writing is well done, without any profanity or inappropriate scenes. I sure enjoyed it!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Soar: Are You Ready to Accept God's Power? by Kenny Luck

God's Man Series

Discover the thrilling freedom of living in God’s power.

Jesus’ disciples were worried, because soon He would be gone. How would they find the strength to live faithfully for their Master?

Men today face the same dilemma—and have access to the same answer: Spiritual power comes through the Holy Spirit. Yet for many, the gift of the Holy Spirit remains misunderstood, under-appreciated, and under-utilized.

Soar reveals the Holy Spirit afresh for the modern Christian man. Men’s pastor and church leader, Kenny Luck says that the time is ripe for a movement showing the world the supernatural power of God because men are:
Saying “yes” to the Holy Spirit
Opening their lives to His work inside of them
Actively pursuing and partnering with the Holy Spirit
Releasing powerfully the ministry of the Holy Spirit to a waiting world.

Soar offers a breakthrough encounter with the person and purpose of the Holy Spirit for men weary of bland faith and hungry for gravity-defying freedom that will empower a global advance of the cause of Christ.

Isn’t it time for you to SOAR in the power of God?

Includes a study guide for individual use and small group discussion.

My Review:
I like the flow of this book. Written for men, about the person of the Holy Spirit, it's filled with anecdotes and examples taken from both the Bible and everyday life. For instance, Muhammad Ali and "Smokin' Joe Frazier are compared to Goliath and David.

The author demonstrates self-control growth of choosing to become a man of God by using an example of his son, Ryan. He goes on to clearly make his point by equating our sinful nature to that of a boy.

It's laid out with three sections: Transitions, Transformations, and Transactions. A workbook and questions for chapter-by-chapter study in the back. Good to use for a personal or a group study.

Thank you to FirstWildCard and Staci Carmichael at WaterBrook Press for my copy.

And now, the first chapter:

in the midst

Hell on earth would be to meet the person you could have become.

—Ken Blanchard

“Don’t fight me!”

The firm and calm rebuke came from Gary, a flight instructor with twenty-nine years of glider experience. Sailing along at four thousand feet above the ground over California’s central coast, only moments before—after I had released the tow cable and Gary had trimmed us out—he asked, “Do you want to take the stick?”

“Yeah!” I yelled, almost bursting Gary’s eardrum, and eagerly grabbed the stick with my whole hand. Unknown to me, Gary gripped his “chicken stick,” which is the second flight control stick used by the instructor in case an overeager and undertrained novice forgets that flying gliders is not his day job.

Apparently, I had messed up, so Gary had rebuked me with his “Don’t fight me!” command and took control of the aircraft.

Shocked and surprised at his words, I quickly released my hand from the stick.

“Let’s try again,” Gary said calmly. “Forward is down. Back is climb. Left is left, and right is right.”

Slowly, I put my hand back on the stick and again grabbed it with my whole hand.

“Don’t fight me!” Gary said even more firmly this time.

I felt the “invisible force” wiggle my hand off the stick. My spirits dived again after hearing those buzz-killing words: “Don’t fight me.” Patiently Gary explained one more time how less is more when you are riding the wind in a glider. Specifically, that means a thumb, an index finger, and light pressure on the stick. “Gently keep the nose up and head for that mountain,” came the voice from behind me. “Gently,” he repeated.

For the third time I assumed control, this time lightly grasping the stick with my thumb and index finger, and for the next fifteen exhilarating minutes I rode the wind. Gary told me where to fly the glider, and after each prompt, I gently leveraged the physics of those long, skinny wings to float us silently toward different points on the horizon. For me, the third try was the charm. It was amazing.

I got into a rhythm of small, calculated, subtle adjustments on the stick. The silence and lack of more chicken-stick takeovers from Gary meant that I had earned his confidence. I suppose embarrassment makes you listen more closely so that you apply instructions and integrate the learning pronto. For those fifteen “Don’t fight me”-free minutes, the only gliding-related comments from Gary were of the chest-inflating nature. As in, “You’re a natural.”

When he said that, a loud voice in my brain shouted, What? Talk about a flip-flop! I’ve gone from “Don’t fight me!” to “You’re a natural” in ten minutes? What a turnaround!

I went from embarrassment to elation, from doghouse to penthouse, and from novice reactions and failure to a new intuition and success in the skies. High above the earth, inside that canopy, I was literally and emotionally soaring. Victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat, shame, and embarrassment. Selfishly, I was thinking what any man would be thinking: Thank God, I turned it around up here!

We landed, popped open the canopy, and were greeted by my buddy Paul, who asked, “How’d it go?”

Gary offered, “He’s a natural.”

Attaboy, Gary.

Now here’s the embarrassing confession: I took that ride in the glider before writing this book, not to learn how to fly, but mainly to experience the feeling of soaring. I went up there for an emotional rush, not to get called out by a teacher! What a downer when all you want is to experience something, not to learn or think about it that much. I wasn’t prepared for correction. But when Gary directed those three little words at me four thousand feet above the ground, the real life lesson began to sink in. More specifically, a message from up there was being directed at me for consideration down here where I really live. Gary was the blissfully ignorant but perfect voice to say what needed to be said. Or rather, to say what God wanted to tell me at this point in my life: Don’t fight Me.

Needle Sticks and Splinters

When someone says to another person, “Don’t fight me,” or “Don’t fight it,” it’s because something’s going on that is counterintuitive or not in line with expectations.

I recall another “don’t fight me” incident. I was with my son Ryan in the emergency room of Mission Hospital, watching his face redden by the second. He was pinned by heavy Velcro straps to a wooden backboard. Blood trickled from his nose where a nasogastric tube dripped black charcoal down his throat to soak up the medicine in his stomach that he’d swallowed because it “looked like candy. ”Worst of all, he had a hurt and accusatory look on his face that pleaded, “Aren’t you gonna do something?” Our eyes met, and I told him, “Dad’s here, son, and it’s going to be okay,” so that h could stop fighting the terrible process intended to help him. Ryan had to trust me, and my message was, “Don’t fight it.”

Amazingly, as we locked eyes and he began releasing himself to my calming presence and instruction, his breathing slowed, the redness in his face returned to his normal color, and he made his peace with the most terrifying experience thus far in his short life. Ryan relaxed.

Or imagine the scene as a nurse tries to stick a syringe with vaccine into a panicked child’s arm or a mom tries to extract a splinter shoved deep under the skin of her daughter’s finger. Any way you experience it, “Don’t fight me” is synonymous with the discomfort and suffering that are necessary for other positive things to happen. It’s an emotional stretch, especially if you are the one getting poked on, plucked, or stuck for a “higher purpose.” And when love doesn’t listen to the cry to make it stop or make it go away, but instead does the painful thing because that’s the most loving thing, the reality is disillusioning.

Up in that glider cockpit, God delivered such a message to me. Gary didn’t know how I was struggling to get my arms around certain events of my life, my insecurities over the future, and some circumstances engulfing me for the first time. He was just doing his job of helping me fly a glider, but God figured that I would be motivated in such a place to hear a message I desperately needed.

Here’s the kicker, though: I learned from one of the workers at the airfield that Gary doesn’t usually let the uninitiated take the stick on a first flight. But since I was writing a book titled Soar, he took a risk, and God seized the opportunity. He’s very clever, and His sense of humor knows no bounds!

My spiritual condition that day was reminiscent of an aircraft that is not “trimmed” out. That’s pilot lingo for an airplane not adjusted and aligned to match the wind conditions on the nose during flight. An untrimmed aircraft is unwieldy and unstable, thus tough to fly. It will struggle to stay airborne because its rudder, ailerons, and elevator are fighting the conditions versus being adjusted to fly in those conditions. Sadly, that was my personal condition—unstable and unwieldy under some forceful and unpredictable headwinds in my life.

What exactly was God’s Spirit getting at with His “Don’t fight Me” message?

Don’t fight My purposes in your circumstances.

Don’t fight the growth I want to bring about in you.

Don’t fight My providence in your life.

Don’t fight My authority to mess with your expectations of how you feel your life should be.

Don’t fight My voice that is asking you to go against your feelings to be God’s Man in this season.

Don’t fight Me when I ask you to surrender to this process.

Don’t fight the new man I am making in the midst of uncomfortable circumstances.

I probably felt like Ryan did when, against his will, he lay strapped on that emergency room backboard, looking into his dad’s eyes, fighting to reconcile the panic and pain of the unknown with the strong presence and promise of his father. My son had powerfully conflicting emotions flying head-on into an equally powerful force in his life: me. The more he looked at me, the more peace and resolve he found to endure the process that would save his life from toxic poisoning. The more he listened, the more calm he became.

Ryan stopped fighting. He soared in the midst of disorientation and emotional challenge and came out the other side healed.

Invitation to Elevation

In the day we live, where all of God’s Men are challenged economically, culturally, relationally, emotionally, and spiritually, what might the Holy Spirit be saying to you and me?

• You can rise above and face the challenges before you because I have custody over you and your circumstances.

• All undesired, unplanned, and unexpected conditions you find yourself in today are to show the world how My people can rise above all because I AM above all.

• You were created to soar in the midst of, not in the absence of, tribulation and trial.

• You may be weary and confused, but I am strong, confident, and crystal clear about My goals.

• My kingdom will advance most powerfully in you and through you because of your difficulties and challenges, not in spite of them. That is My will.

• So don’t fight me! Instead, discover me in the midst of trouble…and soar.

When the Holy Spirit says, “Don’t fight me,” to God’s Man, it is an invitation to elevation. He is saying, “Why act like a common pigeon when I designed you to fly like an eagle?” Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah:

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who wait upon the LORD

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28–31)

This promise was directed at God’s people as they faced dynamic and challenging times. In a similar way, in the midst of disillusioning and uncertain times, all men need to make adjustments. The main adjustment is to determine how to connect what’s happening to them personally to the larger life context so they can meaningfully live in the midst of their challenges. They need to be “trimmed out,” adjusted, and realigned to fly into some serious wind. If a man doesn’t do this, he’s going to succumb to the gravities of life on earth, lose altitude, and fall out of the sky.

Through His man Isaiah, God said to His people then and to God’s Man today:

You can choose to soar or crash in the midst. Remember who I am. Dial me in and listen to me. Wait upon my word to you and receive it. Let me “trim you out” so that you can fly high in these conditions. Make the adjustments I tell you to make. I will stabilize, strengthen, and steady you so you can rise above even the most severe winds.

Not many books invite you to welcome and fly directly into the storms of life. Yet you are holding a book that does.

Just like my friend Paul’s invitation to take a glider ride was too tempting to pass up, this book is an invitation to experience a different and thrilling dimension of the spiritual life through the power of the Holy Spirit. It may not be what you were looking for, but it just might be what God intended from the moment He created you.

Eagle or Pigeon?

My buddy Dan loves eagles. And while he loves to see them up close in nature, he hates seeing eagles in a cage. His thinking goes like this: a “sitting eagle” is an oxymoron. Imagine being created to soar but being grounded for perpetuity in a zoo. Think about it for a second. This is a bird designed by God to drift, wings spread, effortlessly over mountains, climbing thermals, and covering many miles with ease. As far as birds go, eagles are as strong as they come. They can ascend to altitudes of ten thousand feet or more. They rarely have to flap their wings when migrating to feeding areas, and yet they can hit speeds up to seventy-five miles an hour when descending to nest or munch on a rabbit.

Dan told me about once visiting an eagle cage in a zoo. While comparatively large and expansive to the other holding areas, the cage was totally enclosed with thick black netting and a fence. Curious, Dan asked the handler, “What would happen if the netting and cage were gone?”

“He’d stay right there on the branch,” the handler replied. Apparently this eagle was past the point of no return. It had imprinted (or attached) to its environment in captivity and fully recalibrated its natural instinct, desire, and design to soar. This was an eagle acting like a common pigeon. This magnificent creature would never experience the full promise, potential, or power of his design. He would rather perch than fly.

My purpose in this book is to remind every God’s Man that he is an eagle, not a pigeon. The problem is that we have millions of men who are eagles that have imprinted, practically and spiritually, like they are pigeons. They are majestic, highly created servants of God who are acting out of character, contrary to their design, wings tucked, and imprisoned by their own bad thinking about themselves and their God. They are swallowing the lies of their feelings, flesh, and fantasies about who they really are and what they are really supposed to be experiencing. The result:

• Low-level living

• Low-level hope

• Low-level discipline

• Low-level spiritual growth

• Low-level risk

• Low-level witness to the world

• Low-level Christianity

This is all wrong. We are able to rise above and live differently in the midst of the earth because we are connected to the Most High God. Every person ever born is created to live in this realm, connected to the eternal, transcendent God. That person can, because of this connection, transcend, rise above, and live figuratively like an eagle among pigeons. Why? He is intimately connected to the winds and workings of the Holy Spirit. The only way to live such a life of transcendence while on earth is to make a transition in the way you look at life and experience the Holy Spirit’s work in and through you. Miss that, and you miss the transcendent life.

Amid the winds of change and challenge, God’s Man must activate, partner, and grow with the Holy Spirit—God’s active power on earth. Practically, we do this by embracing the four key SOAR principles that will be outlined throughout this book:

Say yes to the Holy Spirit now…make a switch.

Open new doors to the Holy Spirit…make way.

Actively pursue the Holy Spirit…make strong.

Release the power of the Holy Spirit…make a powerful impact.

Got that? Make a switch. Make way. Make strong. Make a powerful impact. These are the ways in which God’s Man trims out his faith to ride the winds of change and challenge. Each action is spelled out clearly in the flight operations manual (Bible) so you can ascend to the exact altitudes of faith and growth as God’s Man in the midst of earth. No need to fear these heights.

Equally plain in the Scripture is the fact that the Spirit-formed life will always be challenged by the storms, natural gravities, and injustices of life. That means, as spelled out in the other books in this series (Risk, Dream, and Fight), these principles and accompanying disciplines are not an event but a way of life for God’s Man.

Final Orientation

God comes to man most powerfully in the midst of his darkest hours and biggest challenges, calling him to trim out his faith and fly into the wind. Versus what? Fragmenting or panicking in the midst of trials, choosing to speak and act “pigeon,” and ending up planted comfortably on a ten-foot perch in a cage (looking goofy). The difference between flapping hard to stay afloat in the air versus soaring in a different dimension is knowing how your faith is designed to respond in the midst of some heavy winds.

Writing this book has compelled me to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask, “Am I living like an eagle or a pigeon? I want this book to help you ask the same question and make you reflect seriously on how you are going to approach your spiritual journey with God.

You will experience God confronting and then encouraging. Most likely, He will give you a laboratory to test and prove what you are learning in real time. He will throw some delay and difficulty into the mix if you are not already there. He’s a great dad, and good dads know how to shape boys into men. So as we enter the arena of Holy Spirit growth, the encouragement from the Scripture and me is that squirming is expected, but staying in the process makes a man.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!

(Hebrews 12:7–9)

So how about you? Are you ready to get off that perch and spread those wings? Your Father, through His Spirit, wants to say to you, “Could I have a word with you, son?”

It is time to accept the power and soar higher. Don’t fight Him.

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

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Season of Miracles by Rusty Whitener

Looking back on the 1971 Little League season, Zack Ross relives the summer that changed his life.

Gunning for the championship is all that matters until twelve-year-old Zack meets Rafer, a boy whose differences make him an outcast but whose abilities on the baseball field make him the key to victory. Admired for his contribution to the team, Rafer turns everyone's expectations upside down, bestowing a gift to Zack and his teammates that forces them to think—-is there more to life than winning or losing? And what is this thing called grace?

My Review:
Written in the first-person narrative from the perspective of Zack, a twelve-year-old baseball-loving boy, this Christian fiction is a pleasurable read. The characters are well written--even the character of Sawdust, Zack's dog, who hangs around the Little League ball field. The twist is Rafer, an autistic boy who doesn't interact socially, but he sure can hit a ball. Rafer blossoms under Zack's kind encouragement.

Zack's best friend is Donnie, the son of the local pastor. At his invitation, Zack attends church service and comes away with many questions. Those questions sound a good deal like the ones most folks ask. The answers make sense.

Set in 1971, in an Alabama small town, anyone who longs for the "good ol' days" will enjoy this read. Lovers of baseball will find it particularly enjoyable, but even those who don't much care for ball (like me) will appreciate the story line. I understand that a movie is being made. What an inspiring film that will be.

Although this is written for adults, I'm giving my copy to my bright, twelve-year-old grandson. He loves reading and baseball; I'm sure that he'll be thrilled!

Thank you to FirstWildCard and Cat Hoort at Kregel Publications for my copy.

And now, the first chapter:

I didn’t set out to believe in miracles. Nobody does. That’s what makes them miracles.

The events of 1971 would pick me up in a tornado of changes and set me down in an amazing place of grace. As with Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, it would be a kind of homecoming, except that I would be coming home for the first time.

Around the middle of March, about the time my hometown of Silas started to escape the gray Alabama winter, Little League baseball would crowd out everything else for my attention.

I wasn’t alone. Those days, Little League in our county was akin to a small-town parade down Main Street. Everybody went, not really expecting to see the remarkable so much as the familiar. Pretty near every boy in town played the game. And most every player’s parents went to watch, clap, groan, and cheer.

Little League is a game played by Charlie Browns and Joe DiMaggios. Most children that age are Charlie Browns, still struggling with how to handle an oversized pencil, let alone how to grip a baseball and hurl it a particular direction. They are likely to throw the ball farther from their target than it was when they retrieved it. They even look like you imagine Charlie Brown would, running in preadolescent distress to recover the ball they just threw in the wrong direction. On the weaker Little League teams, Charlie Browns mosey around the outfield, and DiMaggios man the infield. Players who hit the ball over the infielders’ heads usually have an easy double. Stronger teams have a DiMaggio anchoring center field, or maybe left. If anyone better than Charlie is in right, then either the team is stacked with talent or something magical is going on. Maybe both.

I don’t remember ever not being able to hit the ball into the outfield. I didn’t think much about it, really, except for the basics: relax, breathe, don’t swing so hard, don’t pull your head. Bring the bat to the ball and drive it on a line. I was a little tall for my twelve years, but I also had something much better than size. Confidence. I knew I could hit the ball, and hit it hard. Not every time, but most of the time. And batting over .500 with power will scorch any league.

I was the best hitter I had ever seen. Until 1971.

It was a cool Saturday in mid March. I called my best friend, Donnie White, and he called Batman Boatwright and Jimmy Yarnell. I really didn’t spend a lot of time with Batman and Jimmy throughout the rest of the year. Just spring and early summer. When Little League season came into focus, so did Batman and Jimmy.

I always took the back way to the old field, cutting through woods so thick and dark it was like traveling and hiding at the same time. My wicked cool Sting-Ray, with butterfly handlebars and a fat banana seat covered in leopard spots, gave me an edge in races with the guys. But in woods that thick, I’d just get to pumping the pedals hard before I’d have to dismount and negotiate the bramble bushes and low hanging, cobwebbed pines that duped nature by growing with so little sun.

Sawdust wasn’t real keen on those woods. A hound-collie mix, he had followed me home two summers before and decided I needed him. Through these woods, along the rough path of moss and bracken, he got nervous when I had to stop the bike and walk. He looked back and forth and around, seemingly wary that something might sneak up on us. He barked his approval when we climbed the last ridge and tumbled out of the sun-spun shadows crisscrossing our wooded trek and into the sun’s soaring shine over the ancient baseball field behind Mill Creek Fire Station.

It wasn’t a real baseball diamond anymore, just a big space of worn-down grass. But it was enough of a practice field for us. There was even an outfield fence of sorts, a lot of chain no longer linked. A backstop someone put up years before helped us out. If the ball got by the hitter, it caromed off the chain links and dribbled in the general direction of the pitcher. If it didn’t get a good enough carom to send it close to the mound, the batter picked it up and tossed it back to the pitcher. Who needed a catcher?

Donnie, Batman, and Jimmy were already there, tossing the ball in a triangular game of catch.

“It’s about time, Pardner!” Donnie raised his arms in a “what’s the deal?” gesture. “We’re startin’ to take root here.” He dropped his arms and threw the ball too high in Jimmy’s direction. Jimmy threw his glove after the ball, and then turned to look at Donnie like he couldn’t believe he put up with a friend who threw that poorly.

“Sorry,” said Donnie with a big smile. “Too high, I guess.”

“Zack,” Jimmy said, turning to me, “can you tell this guy about cool?”

“What do I know about cool?” I said, not really asking.

Sawdust barked at Jimmy and Batman, darting between the two. He made quick little circles around Jimmy, like they were old friends. They weren’t.

“Whaddya always have to bring the mutt for?” Jimmy sounded seriously miffed.

“Sawdust likes chasing the balls,” I said.

“I know that,” said Jimmy. “He gets ’em all slimy.”

Batman drawled, “He’s got your glove now, Hoss.”

Jimmy gave a squawk and bounded after Sawdust, who was running in large circles back and forth across the field.

“I’ll make a glove outta you, ya mutt!” Jimmy’s threat broke us up, and I laughed pretty hard until I saw the new kid. At first, I thought something was seriously wrong he was so still. He sat at the base of a tree, his back ramrod straight against the trunk, his legs straight out from his body, arms at his sides. He looked almost unreal, not moving his head, stock-still, eyes frozen. Not moving anything.

“Whatcha looking at, Pardner?” Donnie gave nicknames to people he really liked, and people he struggled to like. Come to think of it, that’s just about everybody. He once told me it was hard to call someone by a good nickname and still not like them. Donnie wanted to like everybody.

“That boy,” I said, “over there.”

“Oh man, he don’t look so good.” Donnie stared. “He even . . . is he alive?”

“What kind of a question is that?” I said, still staring at the kid under the tree, who still had not moved. “Of course he’s alive. I mean . . . don’t you think?”

Batman jogged up to us. “Are we gonna play or what?”

“Look at that kid over there.” Donnie pointed with his gloved hand.

“I see him,” Batman said. “So what?”

“Is he alive?”

“Whaddya mean?”

“I mean he doesn’t look alive.” Donnie said the words slowly, as if he were announcing something important, like the moral at the end of a story.

“Well he’s not dead,” said Batman.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because he sits there like that all the time. I’ve seen him before, when we come here to play.”


“Lots of times,” Batman said. “I think he’s a retard.”

“Come off it.” Donnie looked at Batman and shook his head, like he was disappointed in him.

“It’s the Forrester kid,” Batman said. “Everybody knows he’s touched.” Batman was blowing massive bubbles and struggling to move the gum to the side of his mouth so he could talk. “Don’t tell me ya’ll haven’t seen him at school.”

“I seen him,” said Donnie.

“I don’t think I have,” I said. “How come, you reckon?”

“Maybe ’cause you’re always looking at Rebecca Carson,” Batman joshed. “Anyway, he’s touched.”

“Okay, he’s got some problems . . . ,” Donnie started.

Batman decided to pluck the wad of gum out of his mouth and hold it in his free hand, a rare move he reserved for emergencies. “Serious problems,” said Batman.

“Okay,” said Donnie, “serious problems, but we don’t have to call him—”

“Hey guys,” I said. “Guys, I think he’s coming over here.”

The Forrester kid was on his feet, walking toward us.

“Holy metropolis,” Batman whistled. “Look alert, Batfans.”

Jimmy ran up, holding his glove away from his body, between a thumb and forefinger, the leather shiny with Sawdust drool.

“This is so foul, ya’ll. I can’t play with this nasty thing. Do ya’ll . . . do ya’ll know that fella is coming over here?”

“Yeah Jimmy, we know,” I said.

“Do ya’ll . . . do ya’ll know he’s a retard?”

“He’s not a retard. He has some problems, that’s all,” said Donnie, loudly.

“His problem is he’s a retard—and his dad’s a drunk, ’cording to my folks.”

I really don’t think Jimmy meant to say anything mean. That’s just the way he was. Shoot from the lip and take no prisoners.

“Shut up, Jimmy,” Donnie’s voice was a sharp whisper now. “There’s nothing wrong with his ears.”

Rafer Forrester walked straight up to me, stepping up close, his face no more than a foot from mine. The other kids instinctively took half-steps back, clumsily trying to give me more space. Sawdust sauntered into the picture, sat down razor close to Rafer and put a paw on the boy’s shoe. Without looking, Rafer put his hand on the dog’s head and stroked it.

“Hey,” I said quietly. “How’s it going?”

I guess I hadn’t really expected an answer. But I did expect him to say something. After some long seconds he did.


“You wanna hit?” I asked.


“You wanna hit?” I said again.

“Hit. Rafer hit.” His face was still devoid of expression.

I heard Jimmy’s voice behind me. “I think the fella wants to try to hit the baseball.”

“You mean the ball?” I held it up in front of me, about six inches from his eyes.

“I don’t think he’s blind, Zack-man,” Batman said, his voice joining Jimmy’s in a nervous flutter of laughs.

“All right, guys,” said Donnie. “Hey, Pardner, why don’t you let him try?”

“Oh, come on, Donnie,” Batman said. “Jimmy and me gotta go in about thirty minutes. We don’t have time.”

“Let him try, Pardner. Just a couple of tosses.” Donnie was already walking toward home plate. “I’ll catch so we don’t have to keep fetching the balls.”

I looked right in Rafer’s eyes. “You want to hit the baseball a little?”

“Rafer hit.”

“Okay, Rafer. Do you wanna take the ball yourself”—I pressed the ball gently in his hand—“and just toss it up in the air and hit it?” I figured he could do that. Hitting a pitched ball didn’t seem plausible, no matter how slow I tossed it.

“Rafer hit.” He pushed the ball back at me.

Batman moaned and sat down on the ground. “C’mon guys, we’re wasting time.”

“Okay, I can pitch it,” I said.

Rafer walked slowly toward home plate and picked up the bat. Donnie was already crouched behind the plate calling to me. “Okay, Pardner. Toss it in, and Rafe here is gonna knock the cover off the ball. Here we go, Pardner.”

Rafer stopped in front of Donnie and said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Zack pitch. No Pardner.”

Behind me I heard Jimmy’s chuckle. Batman, sitting on the ground behind the pitcher’s mound, laughed so hard his gum started slipping down the back of his throat. “Oh . . . oh, my gosh. I almost swallowed it, ya’ll,” he managed to say.

Donnie just smiled real big at Rafer. “That’s right, Rafer, my buddy. He is Zack.” Then, rocking back and forth in a low catcher’s crouch, he called to me. “Okay, Zack, just toss it in gentle-like.”

So I did. I tossed the ball underhand, as slow as I could, across the plate. As fat a pitch as I could make it.

Rafer didn’t swing. He watched the pitch the whole way and the bat never left his shoulder. Donnie threw the ball back to me, and I tossed it again. Again, no swing.

From his spot now reclining on the ground, his head resting on his glove, Batman’s groans were like a sick boy’s. “Oh, guys. We’re gonna be here all day. And we gotta go home soon.”

“Batman,” said Jimmy, “if we gotta go home soon, then we can’t be here all day.”

Jimmy crashed on the ground next to Batman, resting his head on his glove. Then an odd expression invaded his face. He bolted upright, frantically wiping dog spit from the back of his head. “Oh, that’s stinking! Oh, that’s so raw!”

Batman just groaned again.

Donnie called to me, “Maybe you need to get closer, Pardner . . . I mean Zack. You know, toss it from a shorter distance.”

As I started to step off the mound, Rafer bellowed, “No!”

I froze.

“No!” he said again. “Zack pitch. Rafer hit.”

“Okay, okay.” I got back on the mound. I tossed it again, underhanded, only this time as the ball was crossing home plate, Rafer caught it with his right hand. He dropped the bat. For several seconds he did not move. “Zack pitch,” he said again as he started moving through an elaborate windup, turning his body like Tom Seaver and kicking his leg high like Juan Marichal, coming down with his throwing hand over the top. The ball rocketed from his hand to my glove, which I reflexively raised to protect my face.

Dead silence.

Then Jimmy drawled, “Well, good night, ya’ll.”

Donnie, barely audible, said, “He wants you to pitch it fast, I guess. God help us.” I wasn’t sure what to do. I had a strong arm from playing third base.

“Come on, Zack. Fire it in here.” Donnie was suddenly confident about the situation.

“Can you catch it?” I asked him.

“Oh, come on, of course I can catch it. You’re not that fast, you know.”

That was all my adolescent ears needed to hear. I wound up and released, letting the ball spring naturally out of my grip. The ball crossed the heart of the plate in a white blur.

At least it would have.

Rafer dropped the head of the bat, quick like a cat, just in front of the ball. Coaches tell hitters to focus on getting the barrel of the bat on the ball, and let the pitched ball do all the real work, ricocheting off the bat. That’s what Rafer did. And my perfect strike was now a perfect line drive, streaking into the gap in left center field. It had just started to drop when it banged off the old outfield fence.

“Throw him another one, Pardner!” yelled Donnie.

“He Zack,” said Rafer.

“I know, I know, he Zack! I mean, he’s Zack. Throw him another one, Pardner! And put some real zip on it this time.”

I wound up and put everything I had into the pitch. Again, Rafer swung as if he were simply dropping the bat onto the ball in one quick, measured motion. The ball left his bat and left no doubt. It cleared the fence in left field, disappearing in trees ten or fifteen feet past the fence. We had never seen a ball travel that far off this field. Not even when Jimmy’s brother, a starter on the high school JV team, had tossed a few in the air and socked them as far as he could.

“Don’t throw him any more,” Jimmy hollered, climbing over the fence with Batman after the ball. “These are my brother’s balls, and he’ll kill me if I don’t bring ’em all back.”

Donnie ran out to me at the mound. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking? We can get him. I bet he ain’t on a team . . . I bet my silver dollar he ain’t. We can get him.”

I walked up to Rafer, still standing in the batter’s box, expressionless. “Rafer, how old are you?”

“Rafer twelve.”

Donnie went into a silent victory dance, a kind of jump and twirl.

“Do you wanna play on our team, on our Little League team, the Robins?”

“Yeah. I play.”

“Great,” I said, trying to stay calm. “Great, Rafer. We’re going to have tryouts, right across the street, at McInerney Elementary School. I pointed in the direction. Right on that field, this coming Monday after school. Can you be there?”

He didn’t seem to get what I said. Just when I thought he wasn’t going to say any words, he said three.

“Mack . . . and Ernie.”

“Who are they?” said Donnie. “No, no, you tell him we just want him.”

Donnie was standing right next to both of us. I didn’t know why he thought I was Rafer’s interpreter, except that I kind of felt that way too. Like I was a bridge between Rafer and Donnie and whomever.

“Who are Mack and Ernie, Rafer?” I asked.

“Mack and Ernie School.”

“Oh.” I smiled. “I get it. Hey, that’s pretty funny, Rafer.”

Only Rafer wasn’t smiling, and I worried about him not showing up for the tryouts.

“Rafer, can you be here”—I pointed to the ground—“next Saturday?” I figured I could walk across the street with him to the actual tryouts.

“Mack and Ernie,” he said without expression.

Donnie started to laugh and I gave him a sharp look. I was trying to get something important done.

“Rafer, I will meet you right here, next Saturday, by your tree.” I pointed. “Then you and me will go to tryouts . . . I mean, play some baseball together. All right? Saturday morning. Is that okay?”

“Rafer hit.”

“That’s right. Saturday morning, you’ll hit.”

“I hit Saturday.” I probably imagined it, but it looked like his mouth was turning at the corners in a small smile. Then he turned and started to walk. He passed his tree.

Watching Rafer disappear into the woods, I heard Donnie’s anxious voice. “We can’t let the other coaches see him bat. We gotta find a way to make him a Robin without, you know, without the others seeing him bat.”

“I know,” I said. “I’ll think of something.”

From a long ways off we heard Jimmy, sounding like someone you hear hollering when you’re in your house with the windows closed.

“I found it. Hey guys, I . . . found . . . it.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Amy Inspired by Bethany Pierce

Amy Gallagher is an aspiring writer who, after countless rejections, has settled for a career as an English professor in small-town Ohio just to pay the bills. All her dreams suddenly start to unravel as rejections pile up--both from publishers and her boyfriend.

But just as Amy fears her life is stuck in a holding pattern, she meets the mysterious, attractive, and unavailable Eli. She struggles to walk the fine line between friendship and something more with Eli, even as staying true to her faith becomes unexpectedly complicated.

When secrets, tragedy, and poor decisions cause rifts in Amy's relationships, she must come to terms with who she's become, her unrealized aspirations for her life, and the state of her faith.

Can she dare to hope that she will find love and fulfillment despite it all?

My Review:
As the story begins, the reader thinks, "poor Amy." Another rejection notice for this wanna-be author. To make matters worse, Amy's boyfriend clumsily dumps her by telling her that he doesn't want to "settle." What a slam to her ego! She teaches college English and Creative Writing as an adjunct in order to earn enough money to get by while she waits to have a work published. Therefore, she forever wrestles with a mountain of papers to grade.

I grew to like hanging around the characters of Amy, Zoe,and Eli. Together, they experience life: a wedding, a birth, and a funeral. (Hm, sounds like a good title.)

Pastor Maddock's thought-provoking message about the desire to be known, to be affirmed, to be valued, became a good bone for me to chew on. What a message! I'd go to that church if I could!

I enjoyed this contemporary work about life as a frustrated writer/English teacher all the way through until the end--which I read twice. It's one of those books that when the final page is turned and the cover is closed, the reader contently sighs.

Thank you to Bonnie at Christian Fiction Blog Alliance and Jim Hart at Bethany House for my copy.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People Amy Sedaris

America's most delightfully unconventional hostess and the bestselling author of I Like You delivers a new book that will forever change the world of crafting. According to Amy Sedaris, it's often been said that ugly people craft and attractive people have sex. In her new book, she sets the record straight. Demonstrating that crafting is one of life's more pleasurable and constructive leisure activities, Sedaris shows that anyone with a couple of hours to kill and access to pipe cleaners can join the elite society of crafters.

You will discover how to make popular crafts, such as: crab-claw roach clips, tinfoil balls, and crepe-paper moccasins, and learn how to: get inspired (Spend time at a Renaissance Fair. Buy fruit, let it get old, and see what shapes it turns into); remember which kind of glue to use with which material (Tacky with Furry, Gummy with Gritty, Paste with Prickly, and always Gloppy with Sandy); create your own craft room and avoid the most common crafting accidents (sawdust fires, feather asphyxia, pine cone lodged in throat); and cook your own edible crafts, from a Crafty Candle Salad to Sugar Skulls, and many more recipes.

PLUS whole chapters full of more crafting ideas (Pompom Ringworms! Seashell Toilet Seat Covers!) that will inspire you to create your own hastily constructed obscure d'arts; and much, much more!

My Review:
I found myself smiling and chuckling aloud as I read through this book. Almost every page contains color illustrations and photographs showing comedian Amy Sedaris' wacky sense of humor. She tells the reader how to:
"make something that doesn't exist and nobody has ever thought of or even dared to dream about. An object so exceptional that it cannot be described by words because there is nothing of this earth to compare it to."
The inclusion of some chapters left me perplexed. "Crafting for Jesus" and "Making Love" appear to be inserted only for shock value. I did not find them at all funny.

There's a dress code for craft clubs which includes "elastic is good" and "no straw hats." It seems they cause fires!

Real recipes for fudge, cookies, and sausage are included. You don't need to be a crafters to enjoy this book.

Note: contains profanity.

Thank you to Karen Ukraine at Hachette Book Group for my copy.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Everything Christmas by David Bordon and Thomas J. Winters

Opening this book is like opening a box full of Christmas cheer. Christmas is a time of celebration and wonder, a time to embrace longstanding traditions and establish new ones. It’s a time for meals made of memories and heartwarming stories shared around the fireplace. It’s a time for worship, reflection, and remembrance of God’s greatest gift.

Everything Christmas brings all the best ideas for the holiday season together in one volume. In this book, you’ll find your favorite classic Christmas stories and a few new ones destined to join them. You’ll discover the most delectable holiday recipes, enjoy the words to treasured hymns and carols, be encouraged by inspirational Christmas poems, and find renewed joy in the Nativity story. From decoration ideas to Christmas trivia and humor – it’s all here!

My Review:
The title for this volume says it all: Everything Christmas. This 312-page book is chock full of anything you might wonder about and many more things about Christmas that you never realized. It contains all of the answers.

With a section for every day of December, I can see it being used for daily devotions. Families who celebrate Advent will find it extremely useful. Anyone who celebrates Christmas, would enjoy this perfect reference.
    Here's a listing of the extensive index:
    Christmas Crafts and Decorations
    Christmas Dinners (listed by countries)
    Christmas Gifts
    Christmas Memories, Letters, and Reflections
    Christmas Poems
    Christmas Quotations (listed by names)
    Christmas Recipes
    Christmas Scriptures
    Christmas Songs, Carols, and Hymns
    Christmas Stories
    Christmas Traditions
    Christmas Trivia and Humor
A presentation page is included which makes this a perfect gift idea.

Thank you to FirstWildCard and Staci Carmichael, Marketing and Publicity Coordinator, Doubleday Religion / Waterbrook Multnomah, Divisions of Random House, Inc. for my copy.

And now, the first chapter:

December 1

Let Us Keep Christmas

Grace Noll Crowell

Whatever else be lost among the years,

Let us keep Christmas still a shining thing;

Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears,

Let us hold close one day, remembering

It’s poignant meaning for the hearts of men.

Let us get back our childlike faith again.

The History of Christmas

Many of our Christmas traditions were celebrated centuries before the Christ child was born. The twelve days of Christmas, the bright fires, the yule log, gift giving, carnivals, carolers going from house to house, holiday feasts, even church processions can all be traced back to the early Mesopotamians. These traditions were passed down throughout the known world and were popular in Rome long before the birth of Christ.

Most historians say that some three centuries after the birth of Christ, Christianity was spreading rapidly. Church leaders were alarmed that their converts continued to honor the ancient celebrations honoring pagan gods. Early Christians had chosen to keep the birth of their Christ child a solemn and religious holiday, without merriment. For centuries they had forbidden their members to take part in those ancient celebrations. But now it seemed it was a losing battle. As a compromise, they agreed to allow their members to partake in a demure and respectful celebration of the birth of Christ. Thus, the Christian celebration we know as Christmas was born in Rome, near the date 336 AD.

The actual date of Christ’s birth is unknown, so the early Christians chose December 25, probably to compete with the wildly popular Roman festival of Saturnalia. Eventually, most of the customs from the festival of Saturnalia were adopted into the celebration of Christmas and given new and sacred meanings.

Today, Christmas is both a holiday and a holy day. In America, it is the biggest event of the year, celebrated by people of all ages.

Christmas Every Day

William Dean Howells

The little girl came into her papa’s study, as she always did Saturday morning before breakfast, and asked for a story. He tried to beg off that morning, for he was very busy, but she would not let him. So he began:

“Well, once there was a little pig—”

She stopped him at the word. She said she had heard little pig stories till she was perfectly sick of them.

“Well, what kind of story shall I tell, then?”

“About Christmas. It’s getting to be the season.”

“Well!” Her papa roused himself. “Then I’ll tell you about the little girl that wanted it Christmas every day in the year. How would you like that?”

“First-rate!” said the little girl; and she nestled into comfortable shape in his lap, ready for listening.

“Very well, then, this little pig—Oh, what are you pounding me for?”

“Because you said little pig instead of little girl.”

“I should like to know what’s the difference between a little pig and a little girl that wanted Christmas every day!”

“Papa!” said the little girl warningly. At this her papa began to tell the story.

Once there was a little girl who liked Christmas so much that she wanted it to be Christmas every day in the year, and as soon as Thanksgiving was over she began to send postcards to the old Christmas Fairy to ask if she mightn’t have it. But the old Fairy never answered, and after a while the little girl found out that the Fairy wouldn’t notice anything but real letters sealed outside with a monogram—or your initial, anyway. So, then, she began to send letters, and just the day before Christmas, she got a letter from the Fairy, saying she might have it Christmas every day for a year, and then they would see about having it longer.

The little girl was excited already, preparing for the old-fashioned, once-a-year Christmas that was coming the next day. So she resolved to keep the Fairy’s promise to herself and surprise everybody with it as it kept coming true, but then it slipped out of her mind altogether.

She had a splendid Christmas. She went to bed early, so as to let Santa Claus fill the stockings, and in the morning she was up the first of anybody and found hers all lumpy with packages of candy, and oranges and grapes, and rubber balls, and all kinds of small presents. Then she waited until the rest of the family was up, and she burst into the library to look at the large presents laid out on the library table—books, and boxes of stationery, and dolls, and little stoves, and dozens of handkerchiefs, and inkstands, and skates, and photograph frames, and boxes of watercolors, and dolls’ houses—and the big Christmas tree, lighted and standing in the middle.

She had a splendid Christmas all day. She ate so much candy that she did not want any breakfast, and the whole forenoon the presents kept pouring in that had not been delivered the night before, and she went round giving the presents she had got for other people, and came home and ate turkey and cranberry for dinner, and plum pudding and nuts and raisins and oranges, and then went out and coasted, and came in with a stomachache crying, and her papa said he would see if his house was turned into that sort of fool’s paradise another year, and they had a light supper, and pretty early everybody went to bed cross.

The little girl slept very heavily and very late, but she was wakened at last by the other children dancing around her bed with their stockings full of presents in their hands. “Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!” they all shouted.

“Nonsense! It was Christmas yesterday,” said the little girl, rubbing her eyes sleepily.

Her brothers and sisters just laughed. “We don’t know about that. It’s Christmas today, anyway. You come into the library and see.”

Then all at once it flashed on the little girl that the Fairy was keeping her promise, and her year of Christmases was beginning. She was dreadfully sleepy, but she sprang up and darted into the library. There it was again! Books, and boxes of stationery, and dolls, and so on.

There was the Christmas tree blazing away, and the family picking out their presents, and her father looking perfectly puzzled, and her mother ready to cry. “I’m sure I don’t see how I’m to dispose of all these things,” said her mother, and her father said it seemed to him they had had something just like it the day before, but he supposed he must have dreamed it. This struck the little girl as the best kind of a joke, and so she ate so much candy she didn’t want any breakfast, and went round carrying presents, and had turkey and cranberry for dinner, and then went out and coasted, and came in with a stomachache, crying.

Now, the next day, it was the same thing over again, but everybody getting crosser, and at the end of a week’s time so many people had lost their tempers that you could pick up lost tempers anywhere, they perfectly strewed the ground. Even when people tried to recover their tempers they usually got somebody else’s, and it made the most dreadful mix.

The little girl began to get frightened, keeping the secret all to herself, she wanted to tell her mother, but she didn’t dare to, and she was ashamed to ask the Fairy to take back her gift, it seemed ungrateful and ill-bred. So it went on and on, and it was Christmas on St. Valentine’s Day and Washington’s Birthday, just the same as any day, and it didn’t skip even the First of April, though everything was counterfeit that day, and that was some little relief.

After a while turkeys got to be awfully scarce, selling for about a thousand dollars apiece. They got to passing off almost anything for turkeys—even half-grown hummingbirds. And cranberries—well they asked a diamond apiece for cranberries. All the woods and orchards were cut down for Christmas trees. After a while they had to make Christmas trees out of rags. But there were plenty of rags, because people got so poor, buying presents for one another, that they couldn’t get any new clothes, and they just wore their old ones to tatters. They got so poor that everybody had to go to the poorhouse, except the confectioners, and the storekeepers, and the book sellers, and they all got so rich and proud that they would hardly wait upon a person when he came to buy. It was perfectly shameful!

After it had gone on about three or four months, the little girl, whenever she came into the room in the morning and saw those great ugly, lumpy stockings dangling at the fireplace, and the disgusting presents around everywhere, used to sit down and burst out crying. In six months she was perfectly exhausted, she couldn’t even cry anymore.

And now it was on the Fourth of July! On the Fourth of July, the first boy in the United States woke up and found out that his firecrackers and toy pistol and two-dollar collection of fireworks were nothing but sugar and candy painted up to look like fireworks. Before ten o’clock every boy in the United States discovered that his July Fourth things had turned into Christmas things and was so mad. The Fourth of July orations all turned into Christmas carols, and when anybody tried to read the Declaration of Independence, instead of saying, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary,” he was sure to sing, “God rest you merry gentlemen.” It was perfectly awful.

About the beginning of October the little girl took to sitting down on dolls wherever she found them—she hated the sight of them so, and by Thanksgiving she just slammed her presents across the room. By that time people didn’t carry presents around nicely anymore. They flung them over the fence or through the window, and, instead of taking great pains to write “For dear Papa,” or “Mama “ or “Brother,” or “Sister,” they used to write, “Take it, you horrid old thing!” and then go and bang it against the front door.

Nearly everybody had built barns to hold their presents, but pretty soon the barns overflowed, and then they used to let them lie out in the rain, or anywhere. Sometimes the police used to come and tell them to shovel their presents off the sidewalk or they would arrest them.

Before Thanksgiving came it had leaked out who had caused all these Christmases. The little girl had suffered so much that she had talked about it in her sleep, and after that hardly anybody would play with her, because if it had not been for her greediness it wouldn’t have happened. And now, when it came Thanksgiving, and she wanted them to go to church, and have turkey, and show their gratitude, they said that all the turkeys had been eaten for her old Christmas dinners and if she would stop the Christmases, they would see about the gratitude. And the very next day the little girl began sending letters to the Christmas Fairy, and then telegrams, to stop it. But it didn’t do any good, and then she got to calling at the Fairy’s house, but the girl that came to the door always said, “Not at home,” or “Engaged,” or something like that, and so it went on till it came to the old once-a-year Christmas Eve. The little girl fell asleep, and when she woke up in the morning—

“She found it was all nothing but a dream,” suggested the little girl.

“No indeed!” said her papa. “It was all every bit true!”

“What did she find out, then?”

“Why, that it wasn’t Christmas at last, and wasn’t ever going to be, anymore. Now it’s time for breakfast.”

The little girl held her papa fast around the neck.

“You shan’t go if you’re going to leave it so!”

“How do you want it left?”

“Christmas once a year.”

“All right,” said her papa, and he went on again.

Well, with no Christmas ever again, there was the greatest rejoicing all over the country. People met together everywhere and kissed and cried for joy. Carts went around and gathered up all the candy and raisins and nuts, and dumped them into the river, and it made the fish perfectly sick. And the whole United States, as far out as Alaska, was one blaze of bonfires, where the children were burning up their presents of all kinds. They had the greatest time!

The little girl went to thank the old Fairy because she had stopped its being Christmas, and she said she hoped the Fairy would keep her promise and see that Christmas never, never came again. Then the Fairy frowned, and said that now the little girl was behaving just as greedily as ever, and she’d better look out. This made the little girl think it all over carefully again, and she said she would be willing to have it Christmas about once in a thousand years, and then she said a hundred, and then she said ten, and at last she got down to one. Then the Fairy said that was the good old way that had pleased people ever since Christmas began, and she was agreed. Then the little girl said, “What’re your shoes made of?” And the Fairy said, “Leather.” And the little girl said, “Bargain’s done forever,” and skipped off, and hippity-hopped the whole way home, she was so glad.

“How will that do?” asked the papa.

“First-rate!” said the little girl, but she hated to have the story stop, and was rather sober. However, her mama put her head in at the door and asked her papa:

“Are you never coming to breakfast? What have you been telling that child?”

“Oh, just a tale with a moral.”

The little girl caught him around the neck again.

“We know! Don’t you tell what, papa! Don’t you tell what!”

William Dean Howells (1837—1920) Best known as an editor and critic, this American fiction writer produced more than forty novels and story collections. He challenged American authors to choose American subjects, portray them honestly, and create characters who use native-American speech. As a critic, he helped to introduce writers like Mark Twain, Hamlin Garland, and Stephen Crane to American readers.

What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past,

courage for the present, hope for the future.

It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow

with blessings rich and eternal, and that

every path may lead to peace.

Agnes M. Pharo

Scented Applesauce-Cinnamon


3 cups applesauce

3 cups ground cinnamon

Mix applesauce and cinnamon together until it is thick enough to hold a form. Flatten the mixture on a flat surface and cut into cookie-cutter shapes.

Place cookie shapes on a cookie sheet to dry for 3 to 4 days depending on the size and thickness of the cookies. If using as a hanging ornament, make a hole with a toothpick before drying.

Makes 15 ornaments.

Chestnut Dressing

8 Tbsp. butter

3 ribs celery with leaves, chopped

16 ounces chestnuts

1 large chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 pound sourdough bread, cubed

3 cups turkey stock

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut a deep X into the flattest side of each chestnut and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes, or until outer skin of chestnut splits. Wrap roasted chestnuts in a towel to keep warm. Peel off the tough outer skin of the chestnut and thinner inner skin with a sharp knife. Chop the chestnuts coarsely and set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Empty skillet contents into a large bowl. Add cubed bread, parsley, and enough stock to moisten the mix, about 2 1/2 cups. Stir in chestnuts and add salt and pepper to taste.

Use to stuff poultry or place in a buttered baking dish, drizzle with 1/2 cup more stock, and bake 30 minutes to an hour.

Makes 10–11 cups.

Roasted Goose

1 goose, 10–12 pounds

1 orange, halved

kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

For giblet stock (used in gravy):

2 onions, quartered

1 carrot, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

2 pints of water

2 sprigs of sage

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 Tbsp. cornstarch (to thicken)

The goose should be defrosted and left at room temperature for at least 2 or 3 hours before cooking to bring it to equilibrium. This will improve the overall texture of the finished product. Remove the giblets from the goose and set aside. Wash the bird thoroughly inside and out with cool water and pat dry with a kitchen towel. Cut away any loose pieces of fat. Then rub the orange inside and outside of the bird. Mix the salt and pepper and rub into the skin and inside the cavity of the bird to season it.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Truss the bird by folding the wings back under the body. Then tie the legs together with butcher’s twine. Lightly prick the skin of the bird several times with a fork to allow the fat to adequately render during the cooking process. It is important not to pierce the flesh of the bird. Place the goose breast-side up on a rack in the roasting pan, and bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes to develop some initial color. Then reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and continue cooking for approximately 3 hours.

Make a simple giblet stock to fortify and enrich the gravy while the goose is roasting by placing the giblets in a saucepan with some goose fat and cooking over low heat until browned. Add chopped onion, carrot, celery, herbs, and water. Bring to a boil and then simmer gently for about one hour. Strain and cool until needed.

The goose is done when the internal temperature of the thigh reaches 175°F. For a visual test to see if the goose is cooked, insert a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh. If the juices run clear, then it is ready. If not, then return to the oven for additional roasting time.

Once the goose is cooked, allow it to rest for 20–30 minutes. This will allow the meat to firm up and will help retain the juiciness of the bird. Remove all of the drippings from the roasting pan, strain, and remove the fat. Add these defatted drippings to the giblet broth and season to taste. To thicken the gravy, combine 1 Tbsp. of cornstarch with 3 Tbsp. of water and add to the gravy. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1–2 minutes or until thickened.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Phillips Brooks

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,

While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.

O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,

And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;

So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heav’n.

No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy pray to the blessed Child,

Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;

Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,

The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

Historical Note:

On Christmas Eve, 1865, Phillips Brooks was in Jerusalem, a trip intended to inspire spiritual rebirth after the horrors of the Civil War. Just a few months earlier, he had spoken at the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln. That clear night as he walked the streets of the Holy City, he had a sudden inspiration. Renting a horse, he set out for Bethlehem. After a solitary journey under the clear night sky, Brooks reached the tiny, remote village and was surrounded by the spirit of the first Christmas. His impoverished soul was refreshed as he considered what had happened there so many years before. Three years later on Christmas Eve, 1868, as he sat alone in his study preparing his sermon for the next day, he felt inspired to pen the words to this beautiful carol.

I, the Lord All-Powerful,

will send my messenger

to prepare the way for me.

Then suddenly the Lord

you are looking for

will appear in his temple.

The messenger you desire

is coming with my promise,

and he is on his way.

(Malachi 3:1, cev)

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