Dark Glass Ponderings

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. -1 Corinthians 13:12

Great Characters Are Like Peanut Butter, in my opinion.

Read more at The Writer's Alley today.

Title: Nightingale
Author: Susan May Warren

**Special thanks to Amy Lathrop at Litfuse Publicity Group for providing a copy of this novel to review.  The opinions expressed are strictly my own and I was not compensated in any way for this review.**

My Review:
World War II is one of my absolute favorite eras to read about and Ms. Warren does not disappoint in this page-turner full of unexpected surprises. 

When Esther Lange becomes pregnant with Linus’ child outside of wedlock (a scene that is never detailed in the novel), she feels trapped.  Trapped in a relationship with a man she barely knows who is away in Europe.  Trapped in a house with her boyfriend’s family who treat her unkindly.  Trapped in secrecy and shame, trying to make a better life for her beautiful daughter.

When Esther receives a letter from medic Peter Hess who took care of Linus when he lay dying her entire life changes.  As she goes to meet Peter for the first time she discovers his secret life. 

The characters are well-developed, this book kept me in a mad rush of page-turning until I put it down.  Ms. Warren’s skills at description keep the reader enthralled with the beauty of the language as well as the action.

I would have liked to have seen Esther’s spiritual progress fleshed out in more depth.  Peter sacrificially lives the life of Christ and though there is spiritual growth in Esther throughout the novel I yearned for her to go deeper. 

In all, this was a very enjoyable, difficult to put down novel and I am looking forward to reading more of Susan May Warren’s work.

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

WordVessel Press (October 18, 2010)
***Special thanks to Cathy Bryant for sending me a review copy.***


A Texas gal since birth, Cathy Bryant continues the Mayberry RFD--only Texas Style!--stories with Book 2 in the Miller's Creek series, A Path Less Traveled. Her debut novel Texas Roads was a 2009 ACFW Genesis finalist. Cathy lives in a century-old Texas farmhouse with her husband of almost 30 years and a phobia-ridden cat.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 312 pages
Publisher: WordVessel Press (October 18, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0984431128
ISBN-13: 978-0984431120

My Review:
Miller’s Creek, Texas is a delightful small town that I was thrilled to have the chance to revisit.  This book starts with a wedding.  It is emotionally charged since main character Trish James has recently lost both her mother and her husband.  It would have been wonderful for the wedding to have been elaborated on even more in this story, since it is between two characters we have come to love in the first novel.
This is a sweet small town story.  Like Mitford, at times the action is quite slow-paced, yet I enjoyed the relaxed small town atmosphere.  This book contains a garden-variety of small-town characters, I instinctively enjoyed taking part in their journey.  The spiritual journeys of the characters seem natural.
Little Bo was my favorite character in the first novel.  This novel touched me deeply on an emotional level as I watched Bo struggle through the trauma of seeing his father’s death.  Trish struggling with the death of her mother and her father’s re-engagement was another tissue-worthy scene.  I love that Ms. Bryant’s characters come out emotionally and spiritually strengthened through the trials they go through. 
I enjoyed my visit to this Mayberry-like setting and look forward to Cathy’s next volume in the trilogy. 


Chapter One ~ Tolling Bells

        In spite of the thousands of winking lights surrounding Trish James, a wedding somehow lost its luster in the wake of death. She nudged her shucked shoes out of the way with her big toe and adjusted the tulle on the wedding arch, the soft netlike fabric billowing beneath her fingertips as she encased the twinkle lights. The church sanctuary, with its white pews, stained-glass windows, and smoky blue carpet, served as the perfect backdrop to her design.

         “This wedding must be hard on you after Doc’s death.” Dani spoke the words as if uncertain she should speak at all.

        The ache in Trish’s heart started afresh, a wound that never healed, but she pushed it aside with practiced expertise. This wedding wasn’t about her. “I’m fine. It’s not everyday my brother marries the most wonderful woman in the world.” She forced a bright smile. “I’ve never seen Steve so happy.”

        Her sister-in-law-to-be didn’t return the smile. Instead the area above her clear blue eyes creased. “You sure you’re okay?”

        “Yep.” Trish snipped the word and bent low to snag a sprig of silk ivy, then inserted it in the proper place and blinked away tears. In truth, it would be great to have someone to share her concerns with, but within boundaries—not right before the wedding, not with anyone who lived in Miller’s Creek, and definitely not with family members. The last thing she wanted was for them to feel like they had to come to her rescue.

        She’d told Delaine some of the situation, but her best friend since high school now lived the fast-paced, Austin lifestyle, their conversations limited to when Delaine didn’t have something else on her agenda.

        “I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be both mother and father to Little Bo.” Dani lowered her head, blonde ringlets framing her face. “And then trying to start a business on top of everything else.”

        Oh, no. She wasn’t going there. Trish clenched her teeth. Steve had already given her this lecture. With his best brotherly concern, he’d told her she didn’t have to be Superwoman. Yeah, right. Try telling that to her empty checkbook and refrigerator. She glanced at Dani, who sat atop the piano railing swinging her legs. “Are you ready for the big day tomorrow?”

        A happy glow wreathed her friend’s face. “And the day after, and the day after that. I think I’ve been getting ready to marry Steve my entire life.”

        “I’m happy for you both.” Though it hurt to speak the words, she meant it. It wasn’t their fault her life was in the doldrums.

        Dani sprang from her perch and trotted down the steps to view the stage. “You have such a gift, Trish. Everything looks magical.”

        Trish gazed at the curly willow branches she’d ordered and spray-painted white, now wrapped with tiny sparks of light. The fairy tale forest blanketed the stage and meandered down the side aisles in an aura of enchantment. Once the ribbons and flowers were placed, and candles inserted into globes and nestled among the boughs, her vision would be complete. “I hope it’s what you wanted.”

        “It’s better than I could’ve ever imagined.” Dani hurried over and draped an arm across her shoulder. “Once everyone in Miller’s Creek see this, you’re gonna get loads of business.”

        A heavy sigh whooshed from her before she could contain it. “From your lips to my bank account.”

        Dani’s eyes clouded. “I don’t know how to say this, so I’m just going to say it and get it over with. Are you okay? I mean…do you need to borrow money or something?”

        No. Yes. Yes. She wasn’t okay. She needed money. She needed…something. “I’m fine.” The lie popped out as she stepped to the box perched on the piano bench. With care she lifted two delicate cracked-glass globes and moved to the candle stands. The words “I’m fine” were her constant mantra these days, like saying them made everything all right. Who was she kidding?

        She closed her eyes and reopened them with a slow blink, weary of pretending. But what choice did she have? Her brother’s wedding wasn’t the time or place to air her personal problems. Besides, she was thirty-two years old, more than old enough to handle life on her own. A glance at her wristwatch sent her pulse on a stampede. Still so much to do to make the decorations perfect. God, please let this bring me business.

        Dani plopped back onto the railing. “Is Little Bo doing better?”

        How could he be? “Sure, if you don’t count the nightmares and barely letting me out of his sight.” She omitted the fact that he was a hairsbreadth away from flunking kindergarten unless she could help him catch up before the school year ended.

        “So the psychologist is helping?”

        Before Trish could respond, the double white doors at the rear of the church burst open. Incessant rain poured from the April sky and silhouetted the form of a man. Dani let out a squeal. “Andy!”

        The petite blonde flew down the steps toward a man who looked vaguely familiar. He wore a lightweight suit with a loosened necktie, and had an easy-going smile that brightened the room. “Hey, how’s the bride?”

        Dani looked up at him, her face radiant. “Never better.”

        “Yeah, I can see that.”

        She tugged his arm. “Come here. I want you to meet someone.”

        His loose-limbed gait gave the impression of someone always relaxed, like he’d just returned from a vacation at the beach.

        “This is Andy Tyler, my friend from Dallas. Andy, this is Steve’s sister.”

        Sea-green eyes sparkled. “Well, does Steve’s sister have a name?” He jogged up the steps and held out a hand, his smile still bright.

        Trish laughed and took his hand. “I’m Trish James. Nice to meet you.”

        Dani’s face took on a crimson hue. “Sorry. Guess my mind is elsewhere.”

        Andy’s gaze rested on her bare feet. “Glad to know you have a name. What about shoes?”

        She couldn’t help but smile. “I have them, but kicked them off hours ago.”

        The hall door squeaked behind them, and Mama Beth, Dani’s mother and the mother figure of all of Miller’s Creek, bustled into the room. Along with her came the smell of fresh baked bread wafting from the fellowship hall. Trish could almost taste the melt-in-your mouth rolls. Maybe she could sneak a few leftovers for her and Bo to nibble on next week.

        “My goodness, Trish, if this isn’t the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen.” Mama Beth hugged Andy’s neck. “Hi, Andy.”

        A tender gleam lit his eyes as he wrapped his arms around the older woman’s shoulders and kissed her cheek. “Hi, sweet lady.” He turned raised eyebrows to Trish. “You did all this?”

        She ducked her head, and pushed a silky strand of hair behind one ear.

        “All of it.” gushed Dani. “And wait until you see the fellowship hall.”

        “Speaking of fellowship hall, I could sure use your help in the kitchen.” Mama Beth’s voice took on a commanding tone as she scuttled to the door. “We’ve got enough work to do for this rehearsal dinner to keep an entire army busy.”

        Dani looked torn. “But I can’t leave Trish down here to do all this by herself.”

        Trish wrestled the wieldy greenery in place, longing to comment that she didn’t need help. It would suit her just fine if they’d all go away and leave her alone.

        Andy rested his hands on his hips in mock protest, his tan jacket pulled back. “What am I? Pork belly? I’ll help Trish. You go help Mama Beth.” He held up a hand. “Trust me when I say I’ll be more help here than in the kitchen.”

        “Good point. I’ve had your cooking.” Dani grinned and rushed after Mama Beth. “Y’all know where to find us if you need help.”

        Andy chuckled and shed his jacket, then laid it across the front pew and turned her way. “What can I do to help?”

        Trish mentally checked her to-do list. “I was actually waiting for someone with more muscles than me to come around. There’s a box full of candles I need brought in from my Suburban.” She pointed toward the side door. “It’s out there and it’s unlocked.”

        He gave a mock salute that bounced his sandy curls. “Yes ma’am.” Andy’s stocky frame loped down the steps and disappeared through the doorway.

        Her eyebrows rose as she made her way to the pile of greenery on the front pew. Dani’s friend was more handsome than she remembered. Trish burrowed through the tangled mess, remembering the promise she’d made Dani to help Andy feel welcome. As if she needed a man to take care of along with her other responsibilities.

        The door slammed, Andy’s eyes and forehead barely visible above the box he white-knuckled. She ran to him. “Let me help. I know that’s heavy. I loaded it this morning.”

        “Nah, I got it.” The words wheezed out. “You loaded this by yourself?”

        She ignored the question and pointed to the stage. “Can you bring it up the steps?”

        He shot her a ‘you’ve-got-to-be-kidding’ glare then labored up the steps, his face red, his breath coming in agonized spurts. As he reached the last step, the toe of his leather loafer snagged the extension cord snaking along the edge of the stage.

        Trish tried to speak, but her words congregated behind locked lips. Andy stumbled, and the box flew from his arms, the candles launching like small missiles. He hit the floor with a thud, the box crash-landing at the base of the first tree.

        In slow motion, like carefully-placed dominos, the trees rippled to the floor in a sickening staccato of crashes and breaking glass. As if to punctuate the effect, the white metal archway in the center leaned forward with a creak as it teetered, then toppled forward with a bang.

        Her mouth hinged open, and her hands flew to her cheeks. All her hard work…ruined. In shock, it took a moment to realize Andy still lay face down on the carpet. “Are you all right?”

        He pushed himself up on all fours and surveyed the devastation.

        Assured he was okay, she slung herself down to the top step. The scene replayed in her mind. A giggle gurgled out then burst forth in an almost-maniacal laugh.

        Andy chuckled and crawled to sit beside her.

        Without warning, her laughter turned to sobs. She covered her face with trembling hands, rage surging at yet another unexpected crying jag. Now she’d never be ready on time. No one would be impressed. No one would want her services. No business. No money.

        “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Andy slid a hand down her arm. “I’ll fix it, Trish, I promise. I’m so sorry.”

        Trish fisted her hands, then straightened her spine and swatted at the tears on her cheeks. “Will you please stop apologizing?” There was no controlling her snappish tone. “For Pete’s sake, it was an accident. I’m not gonna sue.” She clamped her lips, rose to her feet, and waded through the ruins. Fingers at rest against her lips, she knelt to retrieve shattered slivers of glass from the broken globes. These weren’t even paid for.

        Andy stooped beside her, his eyes boring a hole into her skull. “Here, let me get that. You start putting things back where you want them.”

        Trish could only nod at his softly-spoken words, a knot wedged in her windpipe. She lifted a tree into position, the light strands dripping from the branches like a child had thrown them in place. So far her determination to prove herself capable had been met with nothing but industrial-strength resistance.

* * *

        It’s all your fault. The familiar words in Andy’s head relentlessly accused, ushering forth memories and ghosts from the past. Trish obviously spent hours on the wedding decorations, and he’d managed to undo her work with one false step. He forced the finger-pointing voice to the back of his mind and attempted to burn off the chill that now hung in the room. “You live here in Miller’s Creek?”

        “Yes.” Her answer sounded pinched. “My son and I live here. At least for now.” She didn’t look at him while she maneuvered the lights back on the branches with agile fingers.

        Son? Now he remembered. Dani had mentioned something about Steve’s sister losing her husband in a freak accident. A cow kick, or was it a horse? And how long ago? “You’re leaving town?”

        “I don’t want to, but we don’t always get what we want, do we?”

        True, but sometimes what you thought you wanted wasn’t what you needed. Andy rose, his hands cupped to contain the glass shards. “No, we don’t. You have a trash can?”

        Trish’s tawny eyes looked his way. She grabbed an empty box and hurried to him. “Here.” She glanced around the stage, her face gloomy, her shoulders slumped. “Are they all broken?”

        “Don’t know.” He dumped the pieces in the box, where they pinged against each other. “Is there some place I can buy replacements?”

        She rubbed one arm and shook her head. “No. I had them shipped in. I’ll drive to Morganville tonight after the rehearsal to see if I can find something that’ll work.”

        The sadness on her face made his breath stick in his throat. He’d been in Miller’s Creek less than an hour and had already goofed things up. “I’ll go with you and pay for them since it’s my fault.”

        Trish’s shoulders rose then fell. “It’s no one’s fault. It’s just something that happened.” She returned to the branches and hoisted another one back into position.

        Just something that happened. A shaft of light streamed through the stained glass windows and rested on her, and she slumped over like she couldn’t bear the weight of the world any longer. Was she remembering the accident? He removed a pack of peppermint gum from his shirt pocket and popped a piece in his mouth. Her problems made the mess with Sheila seem trivial. What could he do to make things better?

        “Dani told me you’re engaged. When’s the big day?” Trish strung lights along a tree branch. Perfectly.

        He shifted his weight to the other leg then squatted to pluck glass from the carpet. “Uh, we’re not…I mean…well, it’s over between us.”

        She raised her head, and her brown hair shimmered under the light. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

        “Don’t be.” He stood. “It’s for the best.”

        “How so?”

        Andy let out a half-laugh. “Turns out she still had a thing for her ex-boyfriend.” Thank the Lord he’d found out in time. A wife would be wonderful, but not the wrong wife.

        For a moment she didn’t speak, but her face took on a knowing look. “That must’ve been painful.”

        He nodded, his lips pressed together. “It was hard, but God can bring good from hurt.”

        Trish stared at him like she was trying to get a read on him then turned back to the lights. “So neither one of us are really in the mood to celebrate. Especially a wedding.” Her face matched her cynical tone.

        Out in the hallway, muffled voices grew closer. The hall door swung open, and the smell of Mama Beth’s home-cooking watered his mouth. A little boy that looked like Trish raced toward them, then stopped, his dark eyes round. “Whoa! What happened here?”

        Dani and Mama Beth followed, their mouths ajar. After them came Steve Miller, the mayor of Miller’s Creek, and Dani’s soon-to-be husband.

        “It’s all right. Don’t worry.” Trish rushed to the two women and laid a hand on each of their arms. “It’s nothing that can’t be fixed, I promise. We just had a little accident.”

        Andy watched through narrowed eyes. Now she comforted the two women when just a few minutes before she’d been in tears. A good way to get a severe case of whiplash.

        Steve sauntered toward him, his boots scuffing against the carpet, a friendly grin on his face.

        He shook Steve’s hand. “How you doing, Mayor?”

        The other man’s grin expanded as he tucked his fingers in jeans that looked new. “I’ll be doing a lot better in a couple of days.” Lightning fast, Steve untucked one hand and grabbed the boy’s arm as he streaked by. “Hold on, tiger. I don’t think you have any business up there. Have you met Aunt Dani’s friend?”

        The boy skewed his lips in a thoughtful pose and shook his head.

        “This is my nephew, Bo.”

        Andy stretched out a palm. “Give me five, buddy.”

        Bo reared back and delivered a hearty slap.

        “Ouch!” Andy pretended to shake off the sting. “Man, I’ll bet you can throw a baseball really far with that kind of muscle power.”

        The boy nodded, his face creased with a grin. “Yep, but I can’t catch so good.”

        “Well,” corrected Trish, as she came to stand with them. “You can’t catch well.”

        Andy assumed a catcher’s position beside him. The little guy had to be missing his daddy. Maybe he could help. “I used to be a catcher, so I can give you some pointers later. Would you like that?”

        Bo’s eyes lit. “Yeah.”

        “Yes sir.” Trish’s tone held a warning.

        “I mean, yes sir.” He looked toward his Mama. “Is it okay if we play catch, Mom?”

        She sent Andy a tight-lipped smile, her expression cloaked with reserve, but when she turned toward her son her face softened, and she tousled his hair. “Of course, but it might be tomorrow since Mr. Tyler’s already promised to help me clean up this mess.”        “Almost looks like a tornado touched down in here.” Steve rocked back on his heels and jangled the coins in his pocket.

        “A tornado named Andy.” Trish gave a play-by-play account.

        Steve laughed, but Mama Beth and Dani still fussed about like a couple of hens. “That’s one way to get out of carrying more boxes.” Steve winked. “I’ll have to remember that move.”

        “Hey, look at me!” Little Bo perched on the piano railing, one foot in front of the other, his arms out to balance. Andy’s heart moved to his throat. One wrong step would hurdle him toward the carpet, still full of glass.

        All of them raced for the railing, but Andy arrived first. He grabbed him by the waist and slung him over one shoulder, amused at Bo’s contagious belly laugh. “Come here, buddy, before you fall and hurt that amazing pitching arm.”

        Trish joined them, eyes wide with panic, her face white and strained. She gripped Little Bo’s arms. “How many times do I have to tell you not to pull stunts like that?” Her voice shook as she bent down, her face inches from his.

        The boy said nothing, his lips stuck out in a pout.

        Steve laid a hand on her shoulder. “Sis.”

        Volumes passed between the brother and sister before Little Bo bolted for the door. Trish raced after him, her dark eyes full of hurt.

        Both men faced the door, an awkward silence between them. Steve cleared his throat and turned, his eyes fixed on the floor. “Sorry about that. Trish is…uh…going through a rough time.”

        Andy nodded. An understatement if he’d ever heard one. Based on what he’d seen, he was pretty sure not even Steve knew exactly how rough.

Its not that I sit down and have trouble thinking of ideas, I just can't seem to keep up with the rapid sucession of events, things I've been thinking about. 

I'm thankful that God's plans are not always my plans...thankful that I can't always make sense of the timing.  Last Thanksgiving God sent us on a little trust journey about buying our house. 

Last year we spent nearly the whole year house searching.  We went through hurdle after hurdle and reached the point where we literally didn't know where we would be in a week.  We sold our house...and waited.

Our house deal came through mere minutes before the twelfth hour.  And yet we could not have picked a more perfect house for us.  Located a mere 7 minutes from Chris' work we have had HOURS, yes HOURS more together each day.  Hours to take walks and talk as the kids ride in the strollers.  Hours to read books aloud together and with the kids.  Time to sit by the fire snuggled up as a family.

Then he brought us the blessing of homeschooling.  As fall began, Elizabeth hated homeschool.  She was bored, not challenged enough by some things, and frustrated by others.  I really struggled with getting my routine together.  I'm so glad that God shows us which direction to go.  For the last 5 weeks we have been LOVING hoomeschool.  Homeschooling is a taking up a huge chunk of my time and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Then...there's the way he has worked in my writing life.  When I felt a gentle nudge to begin writing again last March...I had no idea where it would lead.

For all of you I have met online I am so thankful.  Everything in my writing life that has borne fruit has truly not been of my doing.   In His timing the Lord provided me with the right opportunities, connected me with people who have blessed and enriched my life.  What a blessing it was to meet several bloggers last week.  What a great reminder that the Lord cares about every detail.  He has provided the right people to critique my writing...at the right times. An opportunity, encouragement, correction...all of these He provides in His time.

How has the Lord provided for you this year, in the details of life?

This morning at my women's Bible study, our leader shared this piece, which blessed and convicted me:

Others May -- You Cannot

If God has called you to be really like Jesus, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility, and put upon  you such demands of obedience, that you will not be able to measure yourself by other Christians; and in many ways, He will seem to let other good people do things which he will never let you do.

Other Christians and ministers, who seem very religious and useful, can push themselves, pull wires and work schemes to carry out their Christian goals, but these things you simply cannot do.  Others may boast of their work or their writings or their success, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing, and if you ever try it, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.  Others may be allowed to succeed in making money, but most likely God will keep you poor, because He wants you to have something far better than gold, namely, a helpless dependence on Him and the joy of seeing Him supply your needs day by day out of an unseen Treasury.

The Lord may let others be honored and keep you hidden and unappreciated because he wants to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade.  He may let others do a work for Him and get the credit for it, but He will make you work on and on without others knowing how much you are doing; and then, to make your work still more precious, He may let others get the credit for the work which you have done and thus make your reward ten times greater when Jesus comes.

The Holy Spirit will rebuke you for little words or deeds or even feelings, or for wasting your time, which other Christians never seem to be concerned about, but you must make up your mind that God iSes an infinite Sovereign and He has a right to do whatever He pleases with His own.  He may not explain to you a thousand things which puzzle your reason in the way He deals with you, but if you will just submit yourself to Him in all things, He will wrap you up in a jealous love and bestow upon you many blessings which come only to those who are very near to His heart.

Settle it then, that He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue, or chaining your hand, or closing your eyes, in ways that He does not seem to use with others.  Now, when you are so possessed with the living God that your secret heart becomes pleased and delighted with this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and managment of the Holy Spirit over your life, then you will have entered the very vestibule of heaven itself.

-G.D. Watson (1845-1924)

Also at the suggestion of a blogger friend, I have been listening to some wonderful broadcasts from Eric Ludy.  At this site you can sign up for devotionals from Eric and Leslie and download audio from Eric's sermons and seminary speeches.  This week we've listened to "21 Father Truths" and "Zerubbabel" and God has used these teachings in my life. 

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Silent Order
Summerside Press (November 1, 2010)
Melanie Dobson


Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of The Black Cloister; Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana; and Together for Good.

Prior to launching Dobson Media Group in 1999, Melanie was the corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family where she was responsible for the publicity of events, products, films, and TV specials. Melanie received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Liberty University and her master's degree in communication from Regent University. She has worked in the fields of publicity and journalism for fifteen years including two years as a publicist for The Family Channel.

Melanie and her husband, Jon, met in Colorado Springs in 1997 at Vanguard Church. Jon works in the field of computer animation. Since they've been married, the Dobsons have relocated numerous times including stints in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Colorado, Berlin, and Southern California. These days they are enjoying their new home in the Pacific Northwest.

Jon and Melanie have adopted their two daughters —Karly (6) and Kinzel (5). When Melanie isn't writing or entertaining their girls, she enjoys exploring ghost towns and dusty back roads, traveling, hiking, line dancing, and reading inspirational fiction.


Rural America - 1928. After the murder of his partner, Detective Rollin Wells hides away in an Amish home near Sugarcreek, Ohio, to find out who in the police force is

collaborating with Cleveland’s notorious mob. While Rollin searches for answers to his partner’s death, he befriends an elusive young Amish woman named Katie and her young son. As Rollin learns about Katie’s past, he’s shocked at the secret Katie is hiding - a secret that has haunted Rollin for eight years.

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Silent Order, go HERE.

Julia's Review:

Prohibition era, the Mafia, and the Amish make for a surprising but delightful combination in Dobson’s novel.

This novel was a slow starter, but about 75 pages in I began tearing through the novel at breakneck pace.

The Silent Order is about the power of secrets. It is a power that ultimately destroys many of the characters in the novel.

Its also about the freeing power of forgiveness. Rollin Wells has spent his whole life trying to expose the Cardano family after his girlfriend dies at their hands. Will he find his life purpose beyond the chase.

I felt myself drawn in to the plot of The Silent Order with its twists and turns. The characters were likeable, although perhaps not as drawn out as I would have liked. Amish is not my preferred genre, but nothing about this book fit the clichés. In all I would rate Dobson’s book a 4 star read, fun, and quick-paced with spiritual takeaway.

I've been thinking about children's books a lot lately.  Quite natural, since my daughter uses literature-based homeschool curriculum.  I thought I would share each of their picks and a few of my own.

Chris' Picks:

Chris remembers enjoying these fantastical tales of a most adventurous mouse.  He also enjoyed The Hardy Boys.  In junior high he enjoyed Ray Bradbury, The Hobbit, and Sherlock Holmes stories.  As an adult he prefers to listen to his books.

Elizabeth's Pick:
This is our current literature selection and Elizabeth's favorite line is when the horse tells Charlotte "Please don't eat me."  This line is repeated with a chuckle each time we pick up the book.

Noah's Pick:
This changes almost daily, but Elizabeth recently lost a tooth.  Instead of the tooth fairy, we have a tooth pig who comes while children are awake, snorts and spits out money.    

Julia's Favorites:

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Trixie Belden series by Julie Campbell
Anything by Beverly Cleary
Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink
Mr Bumba Series by Pearl A. Harwood (Anyone else read these?)
The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars (I was thrilled to meet her at a signing as an elementary student, see I was a book nerd even then :)
Anne of Green Grables series by L. M. Montgomery

So what were your childhood favorites?  Do you have any favorite childhood memories centered around books?

Christy Award winning author Chris Fabry is guest blogger on The Writer's Alley, sharing his insights on what it means to be a writer. 

Also, please check out Chris' wife Andrea's blog Our Mold Journey to pray for the family.  I also learned some fascinating things about preventative health.

Title: The Preacher’s Bride

Author: Jody Hedlund

Publication Date: 2010

**Special thanks to Jody Hedlund and Bethany House for my review copy. The opinions expressed are my own.**

My Review:

Lyrical. Rich in textured historical detail. Breathtakingly romantic, with in-depth relationships. Spiritually satisfying and faith-challenging. Heart-pounding, can’t flip pages fast enough action. The Preacher’s Bride is all these things and more and has quickly joined my favorite reads of 2010 list.

Each event was painted so richly I found myself quickly caught in the grasp of Hedlund’s storytelling. This mom found herself burning the midnight oil as the climactic action is non-stop. There is just no good spot to put this book down.

Hedlund keenly matches well-researched historical detail with imaginative creativity to introduce us anew to a well-beloved preacher and his wife. This book is based on the story of John and Elizabeth Bunyan although the names in the story differ. Throughout the novel we are introduced to many very real characters in Puritan England and the novel includes several quotes from Bunyan’s vast store of literature.

John and Elizabeth’s romance is based on so much more than only attraction and feelings. Sacrifice, servanthood, and loyalty are the strengths that John and Elizabeth’s relationship is built on.

In a morally declining nation which in many ways reminds me of modern-day America, John took a stand for his beliefs. Risking beatings and imprisonments, Elizabeth and John refuse to give in to the culture’s temptation to water-down their faith. Very similar to what we are faced with in many churches in America. Unfortunately even in the Christian market it can be rare to find a novel that challenges your faith.

Ms. Hedlund has me anxiously awaiting her next tome and ready to devour anything I can get my hands on by and about the Bunyan family.

Title: Almost Heaven

Author: Chris Fabry

Publication Date: 2010

**Special thanks to Glass Roads for providing a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.**

My Review:

Almost Heaven is a good read, but not an easy one. Prepare your tissue box. Billy Allman can make radio equipment out of spare parts. He is a talented mandolin player who uses his skill to comfort his mentally ill mother. Billy’s life is interspersed with so much sadness, like bluegrass music itself. It is a hauntingly beautiful tune, the homesickness and sorrow singing through the novel. At times I really wanted to put this novel down, because of the constant trials of the main character. But I kept reading because of beautiful language such as this:

“I believe every life has hidden songs that hang by twin threads of music and memory. I believe in the songs that have never been played for another soul. I believe they run between the rocks and along the creekbeds of our lives. These are songs that cannot be heard by anything but the soul. They sometimes run dry or spill over the banks until we find ourselves wading through them.” (Fabry, 3).

The characters were portrayed very realistically. I can picture Billy Allman as a neighbor. I hurt deeply with Billy as he went through seemingly endless trials with unbelievable strength, but was brought to his knees by a painful secret from his past that he had never dealt with. In the end this book is a tribute to the ordinary lives of everyman in small town America.

It is also a portrait of the spiritual battle that goes on in the heavenly realms over each individual. Interspersed throughout the book were chapters by an angel who is sent to protect Billy. I was not sure what I would think of this, it was dealt with biblically. However, much of it seemed to be sermon and I would have preferred if the author had left out these sections.

All in all, Almost Heaven is an engaging read with characters that grip your heart long after you put the book down. I am now anxious to read June Bug after being introduced to little Natalie on the radio. In a few pages, Natalie has already grabbed my heart.

Title: The Sister Wife

Series: Brides of Gabriel #1

Author: Diane Noble

Publication Date: 2010

**Special thanks to Stephanie Selah at HarperCollins for sending me a review copy of this book.**

We live what has been termed the “burned over” district after Charles Finney’s revivals swept through the area in the early 19th century. Several cults were also formed in upstate, NY including Mormonism. If you’re offended that I called it a cult or if you want more information, see this site for my reasoning: http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/terms.html. Joseph Smith claimed to have found the golden plates 15 minutes from my house.

The Sister Wife does a very good job of portraying the truth of the early days of Mormonism, when polygamy was practiced by its founders. Noble does so in a way that is tasteful. I didn’t expect to identify with the characters as much as I did, but I really found myself routing for Mary Rose and Bronwyn.

Mary Rose’s grandfather is fascinated with the practices of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and decides to relocate from England to the American West in order to follow what he believes to be the truth. Mary Rose is in for a major shock as she goes from an upper-middle class English maiden to a Mormon “Sister” in the rough Old West. As she interprets a miracle she sees on the ship, she comes to believe that Mormonism is true. But accept her husband taking a second wife?

I found the characters in this book compelling and believable. Noble doesn’t glorify this lifestyle. However, although she continually “alludes” to the truth I would have liked to see biblical Christianity play more of a role in the story than it did. I will continue on with the series as many of the issues of questioning the Mormon faith came to a head at the end of the book, so I am expecting Christian themes to become more prominent as the series progresses.

A few years ago I embarked on a new hobby: couponing.  One of the first lessons I learned was in order to save the most money, you can't be brand loyal.  Now there are exceptions.  For instance, I always buy Philadelphia cream cheese if I'm making a cheesecake and I cannot abideb by any sandwich bread that sticks to the roof of my mouth no matter how cheap it may be.  But I have learned to set aside some preferences as I realized there often was little quality or taste difference.
Another lesson I learned quickly is the fact that shopping generically is cheaper is often a myth.  You can  buy brand name products just as inexpensively through couponing.  For the last few years almost all the shampoo, toothpaste, shaving rasors, and many other personal and home care products I have purchased have been free. 

As a homeschool mom, I've had to learn this lesson.  An older lady at my church has given me some valuable advice about homeschooling.  She advised me to not get "stuck" on a curriculum, but let the Spirit lead me. 

Last year when I first started homeschooling so many people told me about a certain curriculum.  Everywhere I went I would hear ad nauseum about this particular curriculum...how great it was and how advanced.  The lies crept in and I began to doubt myself.  So what if Elizabeth was having fun with this other curriculum? Maybe it wasn't providing everything she needed.  Maybe everyone was right about this other curriculum.  But I'm glad I decided to stay with the curriculum I was using. 

I started preparing for this year last spring and spent lots of time looking through catalogues and websites.  I became very interested in a particular curriculum that is very literature-based, however, it was expensive.  So I figured I would use the same curriculum from last year, after all I had liked it.  It seemed like a good curriculum.  A month into the school year my daughter and I became quite bored with this curriculum.  Back to the drawing board, some prayer about the school year...and what do you know I suddenly discovered a more inexpensive way to purchase the Sonlight curriculum.  So far (its only been a couple weeks) but my daughter can't wait to find out what we will be doing today for homeschool.

These past few weeks Chris and I have been enjoying listening to and discussing the ACFW 2008 Conference mp3s.  While listening to the agent panel we were struck by the obvious fact that each agent is individual, each publishing house is individual.  And God has an individual plan for all of our writing.  It is a good thing to be able to listen to criticism and make changes where appropriate.  It is a good thing to be always learning and growing through listening to workshops and reading books on craft. 

But let's not forget that our writing should be distinguishable from others.  Don't let yourself lose that voice that is unique to you.  It is a gift from God.  Don't become that generic dressed in a white and blue package.  BUT allow yourself and your style to change and grow.  If something isn't working, don't be afraid to switch brands...even mid-manuscript. 

What do you think distinguishes your writing from others? 

Or do you have a favorite author and what distinguishes them from  others? 

What is God telling you that you need to change in order to have optimal growth?

If you like to write (or if you are a teacher/homeschooler who teaches writing) be sure to check out my post at The Writer's Alley today (11/2/10) about some FREE computer programs that can help you in the process of storyboarding.


Title: Intercessors Arise

Author: Debbie Przybylski

Publication Date: 2008

**Special thanks to Stephanie Chalfant at NavPress for sending me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.**

My Review:

“Prayer is not an indifferent or a small thing. It is not a sweet, little privilege. It is a great prerogative, far-reaching in its effects. Failure to pray entails losses far beyond the person who neglects it. Prayer is not a mere episode of the Christian life. Rather, the whole of life is preparation for and the result of prayer.” –E.M. Bounds in E.M. Bounds on Prayer, as quoted on page 13 of Intercessors Arise.

I enjoyed hearing Ms. Przybylski’s stories from the mission field, serving in over 60 countries. I particularly enjoyed the stories she shared of meeting Corrie Ten Boom. As with any book, you have to separate the wheat from the chaff and there were a few things I disagreed with such as the translation used. I also disagreed with the examples of using “breath prayers.” “Pray a brief phrase to Jesus throughout the day that you can repeat in one breath” (19). I firmly believe we should pray without ceasing, but I disagree with using repetitive phrases in prayer (Matthew 6:7).

What I did appreciate in this book, however, were the vast and rich quotations. Some of these I plan to keep in my treasury. Some of my favorite authors such as E.M. Bounds, Henry Blackaby, and Elisabeth Elliot are quoted from. I was also as I studied the Scriptures in my own Bible quoted in the application section of this book. Although I didn’t agree with all of it, this book has some great nuggets of wisdom.

Julia M. Reffner

About Me

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Christ-loving bookworm & homeschool mom of 2 stealing the rare quiet moments to pursue that all elusive writing dream. I also write book reviews for Title Trakk and The Historical Novel Society.


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