Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society by Beth Patillo

Sweetgum Knit Lit Society
WaterBrook Press
ISBN: 1-4000-7394-4
Paperback; $13.99; 352 pages

Beth Pattillo (Heavens to Betsy and Earth to Betsy) knows how to follow a dream—even with a pile of publishing industry rejection slips to her name. She spent seven years on the path to her first publishing contract, and the characters in her newnovel, The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society, embrace Pattillo’s persistence.

Eugenie, Ruth, Esther, Merry, and Camille are not perfect women. They each struggle with love in their own way—unrequited love, forbidden love, overwhelming love, even lost love. Yet they battle on, meeting every month in the Pairs and Spares Sunday school room to knit, discuss that month’s book selection, and puzzle out their lives.

When Eugenie throws neglected and abused teenager Hannah Simmons into their midst, however, walls decades in the making come crashing down. With secrets thrown on the table amid the tangle of yarn, needles and books, one thing becomes certain: The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society will soon discover what’s most important in the complicated lives they lead.

About Beth Pattillo

Beth Pattillo is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and holds a Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt University. She and her family make their home in Tennessee. Her novel,

Heavens to Betsy,
won the prestigious RITA award from the Romance Writers of America. TheSweetgum Knit Lit Society is her fourth novel. To learn more, visit

Q&A with Beth Pattillo, author of The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society

Q. What was your inspiration behind The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society?

The book was inspired by the knitting group at my church. I loved the way a group of diverse women, from their teens to retirement age, bonded over knitting and prayer. I think book clubs experience a similar phenomenon. Something about knitting or reading together really helps to create authentic community. One of the things I enjoyed most about writing this book was looking at the world from such different points of view. Each of the women in the novel is unique. And the variety of ages and life experiences kept things interesting.

Q. In the book, troubled teen Hannah Simmons has seen her share of neglect and abuse before meeting the ladies of the Knit Lit Society. Do you see many teens like Hannah in the course of your work as an ordained minister? If so, what is your philosophy in helping them find healing?

Unfortunately, I’ve met a number of teens over the years that were neglected by their parents. I’m a strong believer in youth ministry because I know it can provide guidance and care that’s often missing in a teenager’s home. In the novel, Hannah happens to be poor, but I’ve found that income level, however high or low, doesn’t always correlate to the quality of parenting. The love and attention of a youth minister and/or youth sponsor can often keep a teen from making bad choices with disastrous consequences. Teenagers need to feel competent and valued. A strong youth ministry provides an opportunity for young people to find their spiritual gifts and use them. It also makes God’s love tangible and powerful.

Q. Since not every town has a Knit Lit Society, what would your advice be to anyone who has a "Hannah" in their life or knows of a teen in a similar situation?

Most teens need someone to listen to them without judgment or agenda. Mentoring, serving as a youth sponsor, teaching Sunday school and Bible study – these are all great ways to reach out to teenagers. As a minister, in a particular situation, I have to assess whether a teenager needs the help of social services in addition to the love and care of a church family. All ministers are required by law to report suspected abuse. Neglect, though, can be a bit trickier. Ideally, a minister can reach out to the parents as well as the teen to try and help the family become more functional and caring. I always appreciated my church members letting me know if they thought a particular teenager needed help. I think it’s better to get involved and ultimately find that the situation wasn’t as serious as you thought than to ignore something until a crisis occurs.

Q. Do you knit in your spare time?

I love to knit! I’m into hand-tied yarn right now, taking eight or nine different yarns in a particular color palette and tying 2-3 yard sections end to end. The result is wonderfully shaggy scarves or shawls that have real depth of color and texture. (I was inspired by the owner of The Shaggy Sheep in my hometown of Lubbock, Texas – a terrific yarn store!) I’m afraid I have numerous unfinished projects around the house, but one day, I hope to finish them all.

Q. You spent seven years waiting to publish your first book and now The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society is your fourth book. What advice do you have for novice or aspiring writers?

Aspiring writers have to persevere. For that matter, so do published authors. The publishing industry is a rejection-based business. Work hard, acquire a thick skin, be open to good criticism, and revise, revise, revise. As writers, we take our work personally, but the publishing industry doesn’t. Rejection is a business decision, not a critique of our value as human beings!

My other piece of advice is to write every day, even if it’s only a small amount. I run an email loop called Club 100 For Writers. The challenge is to write 100 words a day for 100 days. I’ve seen this practice transform people’s lives. Instructions for joining the group are on my website,

My review:

I loved this book! I got into it, and found it hard to put down. I felt for Hannah, Merry, and Eugenie, but Camille, Ruth, and Esther frustrated me at times. Even though they frustrated me, I still sympathized with them. Well done, Beth!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Along Came a Cowboy by Christine Lynxwiler

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and his/her book:

Along Came a Cowboy

Barbour Publishing, Inc. (May 1, 2008)


Award-winning author and past president of American Christian Romance Writers, CHRISTINE LYNXWILER has numerous novels and novellas published with Barbour, including Arkansas, Promise Me Always, and Forever Christmas. She and her husband, Kevin, along with their two daughters, four horses, and two dogs live in the foothills of the beautiful Ozark Mountains in their home state of Arkansas.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.97
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc. (May 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1597898961
ISBN-13: 978-1597898966


Chapter One

Babies complicate life, but the human race can't survive without them. Maybe I should write that on the dry erase board out in the waiting room—Dr. Rachel Donovan's Profound Thought for the Day.

Ever notice how some months are all about weddings? When you turn on the TV or pick up a magazine, everything is white tulle and old lace. Then there are what I think of as baby months. Unlike June and December for weddings, baby months can pop up anytime.

And here in Shady Grove, Arkansas—just in time for summer, when the irises are pushing up from the ground, the new leaves are green on the trees, and the crepe myrtles are starting to bloom—we're smack dab in the middle of a baby month.

I finger the latest birth announcement on my desk. One of my patients just had her fifth child. You'd think, at this point, she'd be sending out SOS messages instead of announcements, but the pink card proudly proclaims the arrival of her newest bundle of joy.

The front door chime signals the arrival of our first patient, so I send up a silent prayer for the baby. Then my eyes fall on the family picture on my desk.

Lord, please be with Tammy, too, in her pregnancy.

My thirty-eight-year-old sister was so thrilled when she called a couple of months ago to tell me she was pregnant and so scared yesterday when the doctor put her on temporary bed rest.

While I'm on the baby thread, I mention my friend Lark who is desperate to adopt. I say amen, steadfastly ignoring my own out-of-whack biological clock.

My receptionist, Norma, sidles into my office like a spy in an old movie, softly shuts the door and turns to face me, her brown eyes wide. "Whoever warned mamas not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys," she whispers, "never saw the man in our waiting room."

"What?" I absently flip through the small pile of files on my desk. Not long ago I remodeled my entire clinic—repainted the walls with calming blues and browns, added new chiropractic tables and new waiting room chairs, and even got solid oak office furniture with nifty little cubbies. For about a week I could find things.

And did she just say the word babies? What did I tell you? It's one of those months. "Do you know where Mrs. Faulkner's file is? I thought it was here, but I can't find it."

Norma raises her eyebrows. "You saw her after hours Tuesday night, didn't you? I think it's on my desk waiting for charges."

Now I remember. "No charge," I say automatically.

She puts her hands on her hips. "C'mon, Doc, you can't fall for every sob story you hear."

I grin. "We make it, don't we? If I can't help out a sixty-two-year-old woman who lifts and bathes and cares for her grown son around the clock, then I'd just as soon not be in practice."

She shrugs. "You're the one who has to worry about paying your bills. I get my paycheck regardless." Her round face lights up and she motions to me. "Now come look."

Norma's always slightly out of sync with reality, but today is shaping up to be odd even for her.

"At the man in the waiting room," she clarifies, as if I'm a little slow. "You have to see him."

"I usually do see everyone who's in the waiting room, don't I? Eventually?"

She blows out her breath and folds her arms. "It'll only take a second."

"Who is it?"

She shakes her head, her short brunette curls springing with the movement. "I'm not telling. You'll have to see for yourself."

I sigh. I know I'm the boss, but once Norma has something in her head, it's easier just to go along with her. She turns to lead the way out to her desk where a large window overlooks the main waiting room. I promise she's tiptoeing.

"Hey, Nancy Drew," I say quietly.

She jumps and spins around. "What?" she hisses.

I grin. "Let's try not to be so obvious."

She presses her back against the wall and motions for me to go ahead of her. I saunter to her desk. Right on top is the file I was looking for. At least this wasn't a wasted trip. I retrieve it while I give the waiting room a cursory glance. The cowboy chooses that moment to look up, of course. A slow grin spreads across his face.

I fumble with the file and almost drop it.

Jack Westwood.

I don't believe it. Alma Westwood could give the-little-engine-that-could lessons in persistence. I return his grin with a quick professional smile and—holding the file high enough that he can see I had a valid reason for being there—walk back to my office.

Norma is right on my heels. She closes the door. "So? What did I tell you? That's Alma Westwood's son. The rodeo star."

"I know who he is." I toss the file on my desk and plop down in my chair to look at it.

"You know him?"

I shake my head. "We were friends when we were kids, but I don't know him really. I've just seen his picture in the paper like everyone else." And since he moved back a few months ago, I've seen him around town enough to know that women fall all over themselves when he walks by. Definitely not my type. Which is one reason I've avoided him.

"Oh yeah. His hat was shading his face in that picture." Her brows draw together. "Which is a cryin' shame."

I look up at her cherub face. "Hey, remember old What's His Name? The handsome guy you're happily married to?" I grin.

She shrugs. "Doesn't mean I'm blind. Besides, you aren't married."

Thanks for the reminder.

"So when Alma signed in, she said she brought her son to see her new X-rays."

"How nice." Not that I'm falling for her flimsy excuse. Alma is just one in a long line of Mama Matchmakers. My patients with unmarried sons seem to take my singlehood as a personal affront. Ever since Rodeo Jack moved back to run his family ranch next door to my parents, Alma has upped her efforts
to make me her daughter-in-law, or at least reintroduce me
to him.

Don't ask me why Jack needs his mama to fix him up with someone in the first place. Norma is not exaggerating. He was passably cute back when we were kids, and he's one of those men who gets better-looking with age. If he's lost any teeth or broken his nose riding in the rodeo, he's covered it well. Not only is he a real cowboy, but he could play one on TV. Last week at the diner, I was two tables away from him when he smiled at the waitress. For a moment I was jealous that the smile wasn't for me. But only for a moment.

Then common sense kicked in. Me and Jack Westwood? Not likely. Which is just as well, because on a less personal note. . .a chiropractor and a rodeo star? What a combination. I'd spend the rest of my life trying to fix the mess he makes of his body. Besides, I can't imagine myself with someone whose belt buckle is bigger than his IQ. And even though he seemed smart when we were in school, as far as I'm concerned, anyone who'll willingly climb on a bucking bull over and over is a few calves short of a herd.

Still, it's my job to educate patients and their families about their health. I turn back to Norma. "After you put them in a room, pull Alma's X-rays for me, okay?"

Norma starts to leave then smacks her forehead with the palm of her hand. "Oh, I almost forgot. Lark Murray is on line one."

I glance at the phone. Sure enough, line one is blinking. "Thanks."

Never mind that we let Lark sit and wait while we sneaked a peek at Alma's cowboy son. Norma marches to her own drummer, and I run along behind her trying to stay in step.

I reach toward the phone, and for a split second, I consider having Norma take a message. Lark is one of my three closest friends. I'm a few years younger than the rest and came late to the Pinky Promise Sisterhood group they formed in childhood. But ever since the night they found me crying in the bowling alley bathroom, the Pinkies have been family to me. We share our deepest secrets and craziest dreams and—now that we all live in Shady Grove, Arkansas, again—regular face-to-face gabfests.

And any other day of the year, I'm happy to hear from any of them. But this particular anniversary day is always filled with awkward conversations. They never know what to say, and neither do I.

I snatch the handset up before I give in to my cowardice. I'll just make it short and sweet. "Hey, girl."

"Rach, I'm so glad I caught you. I was afraid you'd already started with patients."

"No. Sorry you had to wait." Here it comes. The gentle "You okay today?" Or the "Just called to say hi and wish you a good day for no particular reason."

"I can't take this anymore." Her voice is trembling.

Okay, I wasn't expecting that. "What?"

"The waiting. Why do they make us go through an in-spection worthy of a Spanish Inquisition if they're not going to give us a baby?"

I release a breath I didn't know I was holding and sink back onto my chair. Lark is focused on one thing and one thing only these days, so thankfully this call isn't about me. "They're go-ing to give you a baby. They'd be crazy not to. These things just take time."

"You sound like the caseworker." She sighs. "I called her last night even though Craig didn't think I should."

"Lark, honey, I know it's hard to wait now that you've finally decided to adopt. But you're going to have to. God has—" My throat constricts, but I push the words out. "God has the perfect baby for you."

"It doesn't feel like it." She must be upset, because that's definitely a bit of a whine, something she never does.

"Has He ever let you down?"

"No. But maybe I was right before. Maybe it's just not His will for me to be a mom."

I thought we'd settled all that a few months ago when she showed up on my doorstep late one night with a suitcase because her husband wanted to adopt. Still, I can totally relate to old insecurities sneaking back in when you least expect them. "You're going to have to think about something else for a while, Lark. Are you helping Allie today?"

"I'm supposed to. I was thinking about seeing if she can make it without me though."

"How are y'all coming along?" Our Pinky friend Allie Richards recently won the Shady Grove Pre-Centennial Beautiful Town Landscaping Contest and consequently landed the town landscaping maintenance contract for the year. She has some real employees now, but during the contest her crew consisted of Allie's brother, Adam, Lark, me, and our other Pinky, Victoria Worthington. So we all have a vested emotional interest in TLC Landscaping.

Lark sighs. "We're swamped trying to get everything in perfect shape before the centennial celebration really gets going. I guess I really should work today. I know Allie needs me."

Good girl. "You know what your granny always said—a busy mind doesn't have time to worry."

"You're right. I'm going to have to trust God to handle this and go get ready for work. Thanks for talking me down off the ledge."


"See you tonight, Rach."

"I'll be there." When the connection is broken, I close my eyes.

Lord, please give me strength to face today.

I open my eyes and push to my feet. Time to cowgirl up.


As soon as I walk into the adjusting room, Alma stands. "Dr. Donovan, I'm sure you remember my son, Jack."

Jack holds his cowboy hat in his left hand and offers me the right. I promise I expect him to say, "Ma'am," and duck his head. "Dr. Donovan," he drawls, and from the boy who used to pull my braids, the title sounds a little mocking. "Nice to see you again." As we shake hands, he flashes that heartbeat-accelerating smile again.

"You, too." His hands are nice. Slightly calloused. Working hands, but not so tough that they're like leather.

I look up into his puzzled brown eyes and then back down at his hand, which I'm still holding. Behind him, his mother beams as if she has personally discovered the cure for every terminal illness known to humankind. I jerk my hand away. Should I tell him that I always notice hands, since my own hands are what I use most in my profession? Or would he think that was a pickup line? I'm sure he's heard some doozies.

Better to ignore it. I slap the X-rays up on the view box then focus my attention on Alma as I point out the key spots we're working on.

When I finish, Jack crosses the room in two steps and points to the X-ray. "This increased whiteness is arthritis, right?"

My eyebrows draw together. "You've had experience with X-rays?"

He shrugs and gives me a rueful grin. "Occupational hazard."

Of course. "In any case, you're right. It is arthritis, but no more than normal for someone your mother's age."

"Thankfully, Dr. Donovan keeps me going. Otherwise I'd be like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz," Alma pipes up from her chair in the corner.

"To hear Mom tell it, you're the Wizard of Oz," Jack mutters, still standing beside me. He turns to Alma. "Your X-rays are normal?"

Her eyes open wide. "Yes."

"Totally normal?"

She blinks at him. "Isn't that wonderful?"

"Yes, but—"

"I thought you'd be pleased to know your old mom was going to be getting around without a walker for a few more years." Alma's voice is soft and sweet.

He frowns. "You know I am. But since Dr. Donovan has apparently already explained these X-rays to you, you could have told me that on the ph—" He stops, apparently realizing that I'm like a reluctant spectator at a tennis game, watching their verbal volleying.

"But this way you can see for yourself," Alma says with a satisfied smile.

He opens his mouth then closes it and nods.

Game, set, match to Alma.

I turn back to her. "Any questions?"

She smiles. "Not a one. Thank you so much for taking the time to go over this with us."

"I'm always glad to help you understand your health better."

"I'm going to go freshen up before we head home," Alma says. And just like that, she's gone, leaving me with her son. No doubt the whole point.

"Jack," I say in what I hope is a coolly professional voice, "thank you for coming by."

He nods. "I'm sorry we wasted your time. I don't know why I'm surprised this was a setup. Our mothers have been singing your praises ever since I got back in town."

"Our mothers?" My mother and I barely speak, and I'm certain she's never sung my praises a day in my life. At least not since I was a teenager.

"They make you sound like Mother Teresa and the Alberts all rolled into one."

I raise a brow. "The Alberts?"

"Einstein and Schweitzer."

I can't keep from laughing. "Now that's an appealing combination. And don't forget the Wizard of Oz."

"They're probably not far off, actually. It's just that—" He runs his hands around the brim of the hat he's still holding. "Thanks for being a good sport." He grins. "And at least now when we see each other at the diner, we can say hello."

A hot blush spreads across my face. The curse of being a redhead. I blush easily and at the oddest times. It's not like he knows I was admiring him the other day while I was waiting for my food. At least, I sure hope not. "True." I open the door and step back for him to go through.

"I guess I'd better go. I'll just wait for Mom out here," he says dryly and saunters down the hall.

"Not a moment too soon," I mutter under my breath and retreat to my office for a few minutes. The last thing I need is a blast from the past. Especially in the form of a rugged, sweet-smiling cowboy.

My review:
I really got into this book! It was really well-written. Some of the things that Rachel did frustrated me, but I loved her character. Jack was an absolute legend! He was a really cool guy.
I'm definitely going to lend this book to all my friends.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mixed Bags by Melody Carlson

It's June 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!

and her book:

Zondervan (May 1, 2008)


In sixth grade, Melody Carlson helped start a school newspaper called The BuccaNews (her school’s mascot was a Buccaneer...arrr!). As editor of this paper, she wrote most of the material herself, creating goofy phony bylines to hide the fact that the school newspaper was mostly a "one man" show.

Visit the Melody's website to see all of her wonderful and various book titles.

Don't miss the second book in this series: Stealing Bradford (Carter House Girls, Book 2)

And one of her latest, A Mile in My Flip-Flops will be featured on FIRST Blog Alliance on July 1st!

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714885
ISBN-13: 978-0310714880


“Desiree,” called Inez as she knocked on the other side of the closed bedroom door. “Mrs. Carter wants to see you downstairs.”

“The name is DJ.”

“I’m sorry, but your grandmother has instructed me to call you Desiree.”

DJ opened the door and looked down on the short and slightly overweight middle-aged housekeeper. “And I have instructed you to call me DJ.”

Inez’s dark eyes twinkled as she gave her a sly grin. “Yes, but it’s your grandmother who pays my salary, Desiree. I take orders from Mrs. Carter. And she wants to see you downstairs in her office, pronto.”

DJ grabbed her favorite Yankees ball cap and shoved it onto her head, pulling her scraggly looking blonde ponytail through the hole in the back of it.

“You’re wearing that?” asked Inez with a frown. “You know what your grandmother says about?—?-”

“Look,” said DJ. “My grandmother might pay you to take orders from her, but I’m a free agent. Got that?”

Inez chuckled. “I got that. But you’re the one who’ll be getting it before too long, Desiree.”

“DJ,” she growled as she tromped loudly down the curving staircase. Why had she let Dad talk her into living with her grandmother for her last two years of high school? She’d only been here since last spring, late into the school year, but long enough to know that it was nearly unbearable. Boarding school would be better than this. At least she’d have a little privacy there and no one constantly riding her?—?-telling her how to act, walk, look, and think. She wished there were some way, short of running away (which would be totally stupid), out of this uncomfortable arrangement.

“There you are,” said Grandmother when DJ walked into the office. Her grandmother frowned at her ball cap and then pasted what appeared to be a very forced smile onto her collagen-injected lips. “I want you to meet a new resident.” She made a graceful hand movement, motioning to where an attractive and somewhat familiar-looking Latina woman was sitting next to a fashionably dressed girl who seemed to be about DJ’s age, but could probably pass for older. The girl was beautiful. Even with the scowl creasing her forehead, it was obvious that this girl was stunning. Her skin was darker than her mother’s, latte-colored and creamy. Her long black hair curled softly around her face. She had high cheekbones and dramatic eyes.

DJ noticed her grandmother smiling her approval on this unhappy-looking girl. But the girl looked oblivious as she fiddled with the gold chain of what looked like an expensive designer bag. Not that DJ was an expert when it came to fashion. The woman stood politely, extending her hand to DJ.

“I’d like to present my granddaughter, Desiree Lane.” Grandmother turned back to DJ now, the approval evaporating from her expression. “Desiree, this is Ms. Perez and her daughter Taylor.”

DJ shook the woman’s hand and mumbled, “Nice to meet you.” But the unfriendly daughter just sat in the leather chair, one long leg elegantly crossed over the other, as she totally ignored everyone in the room.

Grandmother continued speaking to DJ, although DJ suspected this little speech was for Taylor’s mother. “Ms. Perez and I first met when my magazine featured her for her illustrious music career. Her face graced our cover numerous times over the years. Perhaps you’ve heard of Eva Perez.”

The woman smiled. “Or perhaps not,” she said in a voice that was as smooth as honey. “According to my daughter, kids in your age group don’t comprise even a minuscule part of my fan base.”

DJ smiled at the woman now. “Actually, I have heard of you, Ms. Perez. My mom used to play your CDs. She was a serious Latin jazz fan.”

“Was?” She frowned. “I hope her taste in music hasn’t changed. I need all the fans I can get these days.”

Grandmother cleared her throat. “Desiree’s mother?—?-my daughter?—?-was killed in a car accident about a year ago.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

DJ sort of nodded. She never knew how to react when -people said they were sorry about the loss of her mother. It wasn’t as if it were their fault.

“Desiree,” said Grandmother, “Would you mind giving Taylor a tour of the house while I go over some business details with her mother?”

“No problem.”

Grandmother’s recently Botoxed forehead creased ever so slightly, and DJ knew that, once again, she had either said the wrong thing, used bad grammar, or was slumping like a “bag of potatoes.” Nothing she did ever seemed right when it came to her grandmother. “And after the tour, perhaps you could show Taylor to her room.”

“Which room?” asked DJ, feeling concerned. Sure, Taylor might be a perfectly nice person, even if a little snobbish, but DJ was not ready for a roommate just yet.

“The blue room, please. Inez has already taken some of Taylor’s bags up for her. Thank you, Desiree.”

Feeling dismissed as well as disapproved of, DJ led their reluctant new resident out to the foyer. “Well, you’ve probably already seen this.” DJ waved her arm toward the elegant front entrance with its carved double doors and shining marble floor and Persian rug. She motioned toward the ornate oak staircase. “And that’s where the bedrooms are, but we can see that later.” She walked through to the dining room. “This is where we chow down.” She pointed to the swinging doors. “The kitchen’s back there, but the cook, Clara, can be a little witchy about trespassers.” DJ snickered. “Besides, my grandmother does not want her girls to spend much time in the kitchen anyway.”

“Like that’s going to be a problem,” said Taylor, the first words she’d spoken since meeting DJ.

“Huh?” said DJ.

“I don’t imagine anyone is going to be exactly pigging out around here. I mean aren’t we all supposed to become famous models or something?” asked Taylor as she examined a perfectly manicured thumbnail.

DJ frowned. “Well, my grandmother did edit one of the biggest fashion magazines in the world, but I don’t think that means we’re all going to become famous models. I know I’m not.”

Taylor peered curiously at her. “Why not? You’ve got the height, the build, and you’re not half bad looking .?.?. well, other than the fact that you obviously have absolutely no style.” She sort of laughed, but not with genuine humor. “But then you’ve got your grandmother to straighten that out for you.”

DJ just shook her head. “I think my grandmother will give up on me pretty soon. Especially when the others get here. She’ll have girls with more promise to set her sights on.” At least that was what DJ was hoping.

“Has anyone else arrived?”

“Not yet.” DJ continued the tour. “This is the library.” She paused to allow Taylor to look inside the room and then moved on. “And that’s the sunroom, or observatory, as Grandmother calls it.” She laughed. “Hearing her talk about this house sometimes reminds me of playing Clue.”


“You know, the murder game, like where Colonel Mustard kills Mrs. Peacock with a wrench in the observatory.”

“Oh, I never played that.”

“Right .?.?.” Then DJ showed Taylor the large living room, the most modern space in the house. Grandmother had put this room together shortly after deciding to take on her crazy venture. Above the fireplace hung a large flat-screen TV, which was connected to a state-of-the-art DVD and sound system. This was encircled by some comfortable pieces of leather furniture, pillows, and throws.

“Not bad,” admitted Taylor.

“Welcome back to the twenty-first century.”

“Do you have wireless here?”

“Yeah. I told Grandmother it was a necessity for school.”


“This house has been in our family for a long time,” said DJ as she led Taylor up the stairs. “But no one has lived here for the past twenty years. My grandmother had it restored after she retired a -couple of years ago.” DJ didn’t add that her grandmother had been forced to retire due to her age (a carefully guarded and mysterious number) or that this new business venture, boarding teen “debutantes,” was to help supplement her retirement income. Those were strict family secrets and, despite DJ’s angst in living here, she did have a sense of family loyalty?—?-at least for the time being. She wasn’t sure if she could control herself indefinitely.

DJ stopped at the second-floor landing. “The bedrooms are on this floor, and the third floor has a ballroom that would be perfect for volleyball, although Grandmother has made it clear that it’s not that kind of ballroom.” She led Taylor down the hall. “My bedroom is here,” she pointed to the closed door. “And yours is right next door.” She opened the door. “The blue room.”

Taylor looked into the pale blue room and shook her head in a dismal way. “And is it true that I have to share this room with a perfect stranger?”

“Well, I don’t know how perfect she’ll be.”

“Funny.” Taylor rolled her eyes as she opened a door to one of the walk-in closets opposite the beds.

“I try.”

“It’s not as big as I expected.”

“It’s bigger than it looks,” said DJ as she walked into the room and then pointed to a small alcove that led to the bathroom.

“Do I get any say in who becomes my roommate?”

“I guess you can take that up with my grandmother.”

Taylor tossed her purse onto the bed closest to the bathroom and then kicked off her metallic-toned sandals. “These shoes might be Marc Jacobs, but they’re killing me.”

“So, you’re really into this?” asked DJ. “The whole fashion thing?”

Taylor sat down on the bed, rubbing a foot. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good.”

DJ felt the need to bite her tongue. Taylor was her grandmother’s first official paying customer to arrive and participate in this crazy scheme. Far be it from DJ to rock Grandmother’s boat. At least not just yet.

“Well, thanks for the tour,” said Taylor in a bored voice. Then she went over to where a set of expensive-looking luggage was stacked in a corner. “Don’t the servants around here know how to put things away properly?”

“Properly?” DJ shrugged.

Taylor picked up the top bag and laid it down on the bench at the foot of one of the beds and opened it.

“Don’t you want to go down and tell your mom good-bye?” asked DJ as she moved toward the door.

Taylor laughed in a mean way. “And make her think she’s doing me a favor by dumping me here? Not on your life.”

“Here are some more bags for Miss Mitchell,” said Inez as she lugged two large suitcases into the room, setting them by the door.

“Put them over there,” commanded Taylor, pointing to the bench at the foot of the other bed. “And don’t pile them on top of each other. This happens to be Louis Vuitton, you know.”

DJ saw Inez make a face behind Taylor’s back. But the truth was DJ didn’t blame her. Inez might be a housekeeper, but she didn’t deserve to be treated like a slave. Suddenly, DJ felt guilty for snapping at Inez earlier today. She smiled now, and Inez looked surprised and a little suspicious. Then DJ grabbed the largest bag, hoisted it onto the bench with a loud grunt, and Taylor turned around and gave her a dark scowl.

“Thank you,” she snapped.

“Later,” said DJ as she exited the room with Inez on her heels.

“Mrs. Carter wants to see you downstairs, Desiree,” announced Inez when they were out on the landing.

“Again?” complained DJ. “What for?”

“Another girl just arrived. Your grandmother wants you to give her a tour too.”

“What am I now?” asked DJ. “The official tour guide?”

“That sounds about right.” Inez gave her a smirk.

DJ wasn’t sure if she could stomach another fashion diva with an attitude problem, but on the other hand, she didn’t want to risk another etiquette lecture from her grandmother either. Once again, she clomped down the stairs and made her appearance in the office, suppressing the urge to bow and say, “At your ser-vice, Madam.”

“Eliza,” gushed Grandmother, “This is my granddaughter, Desiree Lane. And Desiree, I’d like you to meet Eliza Wilton.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Desiree.”

DJ nodded. She could tell by how formal her grandmother was acting that Eliza Wilton must be someone really important?—?-meaning extraordinarily wealthy?—?-even more so than the Mitchells. And that’s when she remembered her grandmother going on about “the Wilton fortune” this morning at breakfast. Of course, that must be Eliza’s family.

“Nice to meet ya, Eliza,” DJ said in a purposely casual tone. This girl was pretty too, but not like Taylor’s dark and dramatic beauty. Eliza was a tall, slender, impeccably dressed, blue-eyed blonde. She wasn’t exactly a Paris Hilton clone?—?-and she didn’t have a little dog as far as DJ could see?—?-but there was a similarity, except that Eliza’s face was a little softer looking, a little sweeter, but then looks could be deceiving.

DJ wondered if the Botox was starting to wear off, as her grandmother studied her with a furrowed brow, probably comparing her to Miss Perfect Eliza. Naturally, DJ would not measure up.

“Eliza is from Louisville,” said Grandmother. “Her parents are presently residing in France, where her father just purchased a vineyard. But Eliza’s grandmother and I are old friends. We went to college together. When she heard about what I was doing up here in Connecticut, she encouraged her daughter to send dear Eliza our way.”

“Lucky Eliza,” said DJ in a droll tone.

Eliza actually giggled. Then Grandmother cleared her throat. “Desiree will give you a tour of the house,” she said. “And she’ll show you to your room.”

“Which is .?.?.??” asked DJ.

“The rose room.”

Of course, thought DJ as she led Eliza from the office. Next to her grandmother’s suite, the rose room was probably the best room in the house. Naturally, someone as important as Eliza would be entitled to that. Not that DJ had wanted it. And perhaps her grandmother had actually offered it to her last month. DJ couldn’t remember. But she had never been a flowery sort of girl, and she knew the rose wallpaper in there would’ve been giving her a serious migraine by now. Besides she liked her sunny yellow bedroom and, in her opinion, it had the best view in the house. On a clear day, you could actually glimpse a sliver of the Atlantic Ocean from her small bathroom window.

DJ started to do a repeat of her earlier tour, even using the same lines, until she realized that Eliza was actually interested.

“How old is this house?”

“Just over a hundred years,” DJ told her. “It was built in 1891.”

“It has a nice feel to it.”

DJ considered this. “Yeah, I kinda thought that too, after I got used to it. To be honest, it seemed pretty big to me at first. But then you’re probably used to big houses.”

“I suppose. Not that I’m particularly fond of mansions.”

“Why aren’t you with your parents?” asked DJ. “In France?”

“They’re concerned about things like politics and security,” said Eliza as they exited the library. “In fact, they almost refused to let me come here.”


“Oh, I think they felt I was safer in boarding school. If our grandmothers hadn’t been such good friends, I’m sure they never would’ve agreed.”

“So, you’re happy to be here?” DJ studied Eliza’s expression.

“Sure, aren’t you?”

DJ frowned. “I don’t know .?.?. I guess.”

“I think it’ll be fun to go to a real high school, to just live like a normal girl, with other normal girls.”

DJ tried not to look too shocked. “You think this is normal?”

Eliza laughed. “I guess I don’t really know what normal is, but it’s more normal that what I’m used to.”

“But what about the whole fashion thing?” asked DJ. “I mean you must know about my grandmother’s plans to turn us all into little debutantes. Are you into all that?”

“That’s nothing new. Remember, I’m from the south. My family is obsessed with turning me into a lady. That was one of the other reasons my parents agreed to this. I think they see the Carter House as some sort of finishing school.”

Or some sort of reformatory school, thought DJ. Although she didn’t say it out loud. Not yet, anyway.

My review:
Mixed Bags was totally unlike what I was expecting. However, that didn't make it any less enjoyable. I got frustrated with DJ, and felt her pain and joy. I really like it when I can interact with a character, and Melody has done a really good job on this book!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Bride So Fair by Carol Cox

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and her book:

A Bride so Fair

Barbour Publishing, Inc. (April 1, 2008)


CAROL COX is a native of Arizona, whose time is devoted to being a pastor's wife, mom to her grown son, and a home-school teacher to her daughter, church pianist, and youth worker. She loves anything that she can do with her family: reading, traveling, historical studies, and outdoor excursions. She is also open to new pursuits on her own, including genealogy research, crafts, and the local historical society. She plans to write more historical inspirational romance, in which her goals are to encourage Christian readers with entertaining and uplifting stories and to pique the interests of non-Christians who might read her novels.

Other Novels by Carol:

Fair Game, Ticket to Tomorrow, Land of Promise, Golden Gate Gazette-Love and Suspense Make Headlines in Historic San Francisco

Visit her at her website.


Chapter One


Stop, thief!”  The commanding bellow cut through the pleas-ant chatter of the crowds strolling the grounds of the World’s Columbian Exposition.

Emily Ralston shielded her eyes against the noonday sun and scanned the gaily dressed fairgoers on Government Plaza, trying to spot the source of the commotion.

A lanky youth burst through a cluster of women and children on the far side of the plaza, scattering them like tenpins. Shrill exclamations followed him as he bolted past the ladies to the middle of the open area, where he slowed and glanced quickly from one end of its broad expanse to the other.

A stocky man in shirtsleeves charged through the same group, evoking more outraged squawks. He stopped short, gasping like a winded horse while he scanned the crowd.

“Hey, you!” he bellowed and started off in hot pursuit of the boy. In his haste, he collided with a young matron holding a small girl in her arms, nearly toppling them to the ground. The man halted long enough to steady the pair, although the infuriated look he cast in the boy’s direction showed his longing to continue the chase.

At the man’s angry shout, the fleeing youth looked over his shoulder and picked up speed. Emily saw him snap his hand to one side and watched a paper container arc through the air and disappear behind a potted palm.

Emily recognized the signs of someone doing something he shouldn’t. She balanced on the balls of her feet, poised for action. She could never keep up with the long-legged adolescent if she tried to follow him across the fairgrounds, but there was more than one way to foil a troublemaker.

The boy changed course and pounded across the pavement in her direction. Emily smiled. She waited until the last instant before he reached the spot where she stood then stepped into his path.

“Stop right there!” she demanded.

The boy’s eyes flared wide when he saw her blocking his escape. His feet scrambled for purchase as he veered abruptly to the right. Just as he passed, Emily darted forward and nabbed him by the ear.

“Ow!” The lad looked down at Emily with an astonished expression. “Leggo my ear!” He made as if to wrench himself out of her grasp, but a quick twist of her wrist brought him to his knees.

Emily allowed herself a brief moment of smugness. It wasn’t the first time she had been victorious against an opponent larger than herself. Growing up at the Collier Children’s Home had given her plenty of time to learn how to equalize a difference in size.

The stocky man raced up to them, puffing like a steam engine. “Thank you, miss,” he gasped. “That was quite a catch.”

Taking command of Emily’s captive, he seized the boy by his upper arm and jerked him to his feet. “Where are the goods you stole, you young guttersnipe?”

The look of alarm slid off the boy’s face, to be replaced by a cocky grin. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Of course not,” the man mocked. “Why were you running, if you hadn’t just stolen a package of Cracker Jacks right off the counter of my stand?”

Emily felt her jaw go slack. Cracker Jacks? She had risked her own safety for nothing more than a container of the new popcorn, peanuts, and molasses confection?

Looking more confident by the second, the boy shook his head. “I was just walking along, and you started shouting and chasing me.” He shrugged. “I thought you must be crazy. No one could blame me for running when someone so much bigger than me was on my tail.”

His captor looked at Emily with a glint of humor shining in his eyes. “It doesn’t look to me like it takes all that much in the way of size to get you under control.” His grin faded, and he gave the boy a shake. “Now where are the Cracker Jacks you stole?”

The boy shrugged again. “I’m telling you, you’ve got the wrong person.”

Emily broke into the exchange. “Then what was that I saw you throw away?”

The youth paled, and the vendor turned his attention back to Emily. “You saw him throw something?”

“Behind that potted palm over there.” Emily walked briskly toward the plant and reached behind it, retrieving a paper package that rattled when she shook it. She returned to the waiting pair and held out the parcel. “Is this what you’re looking for?”

The man took it with a grateful smile. “Thank you, miss. I’ll be obliged if you’ll stay around until I summon one of the Columbian Guards so you can tell him what you saw.”

Emily shook her head. “I’m sorry. I work at the Children’s Building here on the fairgrounds, and my lunch break is nearly over.” From deep within the massive Manufactures Building, she heard the clock in its alabaster tower chime the three-quarter hour. If she wanted to keep her job, she’d better get back to work and look sharp about it.

The man’s face fell. “If you don’t, it will be my word against his. I left my nephew watching my stand so I could catch this young rascal, and who knows what kind of mess he’ll have made of things by the time I get back? The least you can do is help me out.”

Emily wavered. Her supervisor took a decidedly dim view of tardiness, but the smug expression on the boy’s face decided her. “All right, but only for a moment.”

It took far longer than that for the guard to finish taking
her statement. With the thanks of the vendor ringing in her ears, she set off once more toward the Children’s Building. In the distance, she heard a clock chiming the hour.

“Oh no.” She glanced from side to side, taking note of the throngs of people dotting the broad walkways. None of them seemed to be paying a bit of attention to her. Taking heart from this, Emily hiked up the hem of her skirt, planted her hand on top of her hat to keep it from blowing off, and sprinted headlong across the plaza, paying scant attention to the gleaming white buildings as she raced over the bridges spanning the lagoon to the Wooded Island and then to the far shore. From there, a quick dash put her at the front of the Children’s Building.

She slumped against the outer door with one palm pressed against her heaving chest. When she managed to catch her breath, she pushed the arched door open and stepped inside. If she could assume her seat behind the reception desk before—

“Your lunch hour ended precisely three minutes ago.”

Emily skidded to a halt and turned to face the gaunt woman standing against the opposite wall. “I’m sorry, Miss Strickland. I—”

“If you plan to continue working here, Miss Ralston, I would suggest you make it a point to be punctual.” Her supervisor’s cold stare left no doubt about her disapproval.

“Of course, ma’am.” Emily ordered her knees to quit shaking and tried her best to appear composed as she hung her straw boater on the hat rack and walked toward her desk. Lucy Welch, her blue eyes shining with sympathy, rose from the heavy wooden chair to let Emily take her seat.

Emily cast a grateful look at her friend; then she turned to bestow a wobbly smile upon the woman and boy who stood waiting in front of her desk. “How may I help you?”

“Could we finish here, please?” The young matron tapped her foot and looked daggers at Emily. “I would much rather be outside viewing the fair instead of waiting for you all to sort yourselves out. I’m not certain I want to leave Alexander here if this is any indication of the competency of your staff.”

At the edge of her vision, Emily saw Miss Strickland’s rigid posture grow even more erect. She fumbled with the heavy black book that lay open on her desk. “I apologize for the delay. I wouldn’t have been late, except—”

“Excuses are unacceptable.” Miss Strickland’s harsh voice broke in. “I don’t tolerate tardiness for any reason.”

Emily clamped her lips shut to hold back the explanation she longed to give. She ought to have known better than to tarry long enough to give the Columbian Guard her version of what had transpired, but she couldn’t find it within herself to let that boy get away with stealing the vendor’s merchandise.

She looked up at the boy’s mother and forced a smile. “If you’ll just give me some information, I’ll check Alexander in and you can be on your way.” She entered his name and his mother’s in the ledger then pinned a numbered tag to the boy’s back and handed his mother a claim check bearing the same number. “Please keep this in a safe place. You’ll need it when you come back to pick up your son. Miss Welch will take Alexander to the gymnasium. I’m sure he’ll enjoy that.”

She beckoned to Lucy, who had been hovering in the back-ground, then turned back to the boy’s mother. “Enjoy your time on the grounds. He will be well cared for.”

Looking somewhat mollified, the woman slipped the ticket into her reticule and turned to leave. Just before she reached the door, it swung open. A man in the uniform of the Columbian Guards smiled and held it open for her; then he stepped inside. His glance wavered between Miss Strickland and Emily before he approached the reception desk.

She stared up at him, panicking at the thought that her attempt to do the right thing was going to cause her even more difficulty. “I already told the other guard everything I know.”

Miss Strickland raised her eyebrows and moved toward the desk with a firm stride. “Bad enough to be tardy. What other trouble have you gotten yourself into?”

“It’s no trouble of this young lady’s making.” The guard stepped to one side, and Emily realized a small boy encased in a heavy woolen coat stood behind him. The tall guard lifted the toddler into his arms and smoothed the boy’s tousled blond hair. A smile lifted the corners of his dark mustache when the boy sniffled and snuggled against his shoulder.

Then he turned the smile on Emily, and she felt as if a giant vacuum had sucked all the air out of the room. She stared open-mouthed until Miss Strickland prodded her between her shoulder blades. Emily sat bolt upright and felt her face flame. “How may I help you?”

Before the guard could respond, Miss Strickland leaned toward Emily and looked her straight in the eye. “I expect a high degree of professionalism from you, Miss Ralston. Your attitude reflects on the entire staff of the Children’s Building. Please keep that in mind.” Her heels clacked against the floor as she crossed the open court that occupied the center of the building and disappeared down one of the side corridors.

Emily drew her first easy breath since the larcenous boy had crossed her path. She knew perfectly well what she had to do, and she could do it much better without her supervisor looking over her shoulder. She nodded a greeting at a couple who entered with two small children in tow then turned back to the waiting guard.

“I’m sorry for the interruption. What can I do for you?”

The dark-haired guard hiked the child higher on his shoulder. “This little fellow seems to have lost his family.”

Emily took a closer look at the little boy, noting the tear streaks on his cheeks. He couldn’t be more than three years old. She felt her heart go out to him. Standing to put herself on a level with the child, she adopted a cheerful tone. “We have lots of things for you to do until we find your parents. Would you like to stay here while this nice man tries to find them?”

The youngster buried his face in the guard’s neck and shook his head. “I want Mama.”

Emily swallowed hard. She reached up to rub his back with a gentle touch. “What’s your name?”

The boy sniffled again then raised his head and looked at her. “Adam.”

“All right, Adam.” At least he was old enough to tell her that much. Emily turned toward the desk and pulled the ledger over to her. “I’ll write your name down here in this book, and then a friend of mine will come to take you to a room with lots of toys. You can play with them until your mama comes for you. Doesn’t that sound nice?”

Adam rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. Emily could see his lower lip quiver.

She dipped the pen in the inkwell and wrote “Adam” on the next blank line. She hesitated a moment with the pen poised in the air. “Do you know your last name?”

Adam shook his head.

“Do you know your mama’s real name?”

He gave the same response.

The guard drew nearer and said in a low voice, “Some people found him over by the north bandstand. When the performance was over, everybody walked away but this little guy.”

The father who had just entered with his family stepped forward. “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but overhear. I thought I recognized the boy. My family stopped to hear the performance at the bandstand, too. We saw his mother leave. I thought at the time it was awfully peculiar for her to go away and let such a young child stay there on his own.”

The guard turned an intense gaze on the man. “You saw her leave?”

“That’s right. In a hurry, too. She was practically running.”

“Could you give me a description?” The guard set Adam down beside Emily, and the two men moved a few feet away.

Emily checked the couple’s children in, half her attention on the task at hand, the other half focused on the story the father told while the guard made notes in a little notebook he pulled from his pocket.

“She was a nice-looking woman,” the man said. “Blond hair, dark blue dress.”

“With a gored skirt and a lovely shirred bodice,” his wife put in. “Very up-to-date. Her hat was trimmed with matching silk ribbon and ostrich feathers.”

Her husband chuckled. “Trust a woman to notice all the details of fashion.”

Emily handed two claim checks to the children’s mother and rang the small brass bell on her desk to summon Lucy.

Lucy appeared a moment later and gave all three children a bright smile. “Are you ready to come with me?” She bent to take Adam’s hand, but Emily motioned her away.

“Just those two for now,” she said. “Come back in a few minutes, and I’ll explain.”

The couple took their leave of their children. “We’ll be back when your mother has worn me out seeing all the exhibits she’s interested in,” their father joked.

When the door closed behind them, the guard walked over and knelt beside Adam. “I’ll go out and look for your mother now. You can stay here with Miss. . .” He looked up at Emily.

“Ralston,” she supplied.

“Miss Ralston.” He gave her another one of those smiles that made her stomach do flip-flops. “She’ll make sure the people here take good care of you.”

The little boy’s chin wobbled, but he turned to Emily and placed his hand in hers. “Hello, Miss Rost—Ralt—”

Emily smiled down at him. “Why don’t you call me Miss Emily?”

Adam nodded, his expression solemn. “Miss Em’ly,” he re-peated. His quick acceptance sent a rush of maternal feelings through her.

“Why don’t we take off your coat?” she suggested. “It’s lovely weather today, and I think you’ll feel much better without it. I’ll make sure we keep it safe so you don’t lose it, all right?”

Adam hesitated then allowed her to pull the heavy coat off. Emily bit her lip at the sight of the sailor suit he wore, with its middy blouse and knee pants. This child was just too precious for words!

While she tried to make Adam more comfortable, the guard left to go search for the child’s parents. A moment later, Lucy hurried back into the reception area. “What was it you couldn’t tell me before?”

“You’ll have to wait a little longer,” Emily told her. “Adam, this is Miss Lucy. She’ll take you to those toys I told you about.”

The little boy studied Lucy then reached out to take the hand she extended and toddled off beside her.

Free of responsibility for the moment, Emily propped her elbow on the desk and rested her cheek on her palm. She stared at the front door, lost in thought.

“He is a handsome fellow, isn’t he?” Lucy’s voice came from right behind her.

Startled out of her reverie, Emily jerked upright and banged her elbow on the edge of the desk. She yelped and glared at Lucy.

“Sorry.” Lucy’s unrepentant grin belied the sincerity of her apology. “I didn’t mean to make you jump. . .that much, at least.” Her grin faded. “And I truly am sorry about what happened with Miss Strickland. I tried to cover for you when I saw you were late, but she came in and caught me at it.” She wrinkled her nose. “I should have known it wouldn’t work.”

Emily sighed. “It’s all right. It was my fault for not being back on time. I knew Miss Strickland wouldn’t be happy about it, but she positively glared at me!” She rubbed her sore elbow and winced. “I hope she doesn’t fire me. I don’t want to lose the first job I ever had.”

“First paying job, you mean. You’ve been a hard worker ever since I’ve known you. And don’t worry about Miss Strickland. Did you know she has already gone through six receptionists in the four months the fair has been going on? I got that from Ruthie Lawson in the Day Nursery.” She looked over her shoulder and lowered her voice. “And they weren’t all fired by Miss Strickland, either. Some of them got so fed up with her demanding ways that they up and left. People just don’t do that on a whim, as hard as jobs are to find these days.”

“But that’s my point. People are hungry for jobs right now. She knows she doesn’t have to keep me here.”

Lucy snorted. “Listen to me. While you’re sitting here checking children in and out of the building all day, I have a chance to talk to the other employees. You are the best receptionist they’ve had yet. Everyone says so.”

Emily hoped her friend was right. The thought of losing her job was always an underlying fear. With the silver crash, masses of people were unemployed, making it harder than ever to find work. But even if jobs were as plentiful as the sand on the shores of Lake Michigan, she would hate to leave the Children’s Building. Providing a safe, nurturing place for children to play and learn while their parents saw the fair was a task she could embrace with her whole being, and taking part in such a worthwhile endeavor filled her with immense satisfaction.

She had to admit that Lucy was usually right in her assessment of any gossip she managed to overhear. Maybe she could relax. . . just a little, anyway.

Something pulled on her sleeve, and she realized Lucy was shaking her arm.

Emily blinked. “Did you say something?”

“Back in dreamland again?” Her friend sighed then took on the air of a patient teacher. “I said you never answered my question about the guard. Don’t you think he’s handsome?”

Emily reached for a stack of papers. “I suppose so. I didn’t really notice.”

Lucy snorted again. “Of course you didn’t.” She moved toward the back of the building. “Call me when you need me.”

The front door swung open again, and Emily whirled around, wondering if the guard had accomplished his mission so quickly. Her heart sank when she saw the slender man who stood before her dressed in a double-breasted serge jacket and flannel trousers.

“And how is my favorite receptionist today?”

Emily pressed her lips together and didn’t answer. She watched as Raymond Willard Simmons III crossed the floor with a swagger that reminded her of a strutting peacock.

What would it take to make him quit stopping by? Emily dreaded his unannounced visits almost as much as she dreaded arousing Miss Strickland’s ire. If only she could tell him to leave her alone! But Raymond’s father was one of the fair administrators, and upsetting Mr. Simmons would upset Miss Strickland. That was something Emily did not intend to do by choice.

She tried to arrange her features in a pleasant expression while Raymond pulled a paper bag from behind his back like a magician producing a dove from his hat.

“Something to satisfy your sweet tooth.” He set the bag on Emily’s desk with a flourish. When she made no move toward the gift, he opened the bag and withdrew a caramel, holding it out for her inspection. “From one of the finest candy makers in Chicago. I hope that when you enjoy them, you’ll think of me.”

Emily kept her smile in place, though what she would really enjoy doing was telling him never to darken the door of the Children’s Building again. “Thank you, Mr. Simmons.”

His broad smile drooped. “I thought we agreed we knew each other well enough to use our Christian names. Aren’t you going to call me Ray? That’s what my family calls me. . . and my closest friends.” He said the last few words in an intimate whisper that was probably intended to make her heart melt. She ground her teeth instead.

“It really wouldn’t be proper.” Emily put all the primness she could muster into the statement.

Raymond moved closer and rested his elbows on the desk, putting his face on a level with hers. “Perhaps that’s true here at the fairgrounds, where my father and I are seen as leaders. But away from the workplace, I see no reason to maintain such formality.” He moved his hand toward hers. Emily immediately began straightening the papers on her desk.

Raymond didn’t appear to notice the slight. “What about going to dinner with me tonight? It’s time you got away from the fairgrounds and that dreary boardinghouse and saw something of Chicago. We could eat at the Palmer House—”

“Without a chaperone? That would hardly sit well with your family, would it? What would they think if word got back to them that you had been seen in public with a young lady they’ve never met?”

Raymond’s face fell, and Emily knew she had scored a hit. His position as a member of one of Chicago’s leading families meant everything to him, and he would do nothing to bring about his parents’ disapproval or to risk their social standing.

Three couples entered and formed a line behind Raymond. Emily lifted her chin and tried to look as businesslike as possible. “I really must get back to work, Mr. Simmons.”

Raymond straightened and gave her a sour look. He opened his mouth as if to say more but settled for a nod and exited, leaving Emily free to enter names and distribute claim checks.

Alone once again, Emily tapped a stack of papers against the desk to square their edges then set them neatly in the upper left-hand corner of her desk. Spotting the bag of caramels Raymond had left, she set it in her bottom desk drawer, out of sight. She didn’t want Miss Strickland to find things in less than perfect order.

While she continued to straighten her work area, her mind turned back to the little boy the guard had brought in. There was nothing unusual about one of the Columbian Guards bringing a lost child to the Children’s Building—it had happened several times already in the two weeks she’d worked there. But something about that little tyke tugged at her heartstrings.

If she could feel such a connection toward a child she had just met, his mother must be frantic. Emily paused in the act of scooping up an armload of file folders. A frown tightened her forehead. Why would anyone go off and leave a child that age alone? And to leave in such a hurry, practically running, the man who witnessed it had said.

She pulled open the file drawer and slid the folders into their places. A woman running through the crowded fairgrounds would be unusual enough to draw notice from any number of people.

Emily wrinkled her nose. She had probably drawn a fair amount of notice herself with her undignified dash across the plaza earlier.

My review:
I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was well written, and there were twists thrown in that I didn't expect (I hate it when I can predict what's gonna happen!) It was a really nice book.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

DragonLight by Donita K. Paul

It is June FIRST, time for the FIRST Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!

The feature author is:

and her book:

WaterBrook Press (June 17, 2008)


Donita K. Paul is a retired teacher and award-winning author of seven novels, including DragonSpell, DragonQuest, DragonKnight, and DragonFire. When not writing, she is often engaged in mentoring writers of all ages. Donita lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado where she is learning to paint–walls and furniture! Visit her website at

The Books of the DragonKeeper Series:


Visit her website.


Castle Passages

Kale wrinkled her nose at the dank air drifting up from the stone staircase. Below, utter darkness created a formidable barrier.

Toopka stood close to her knee. Sparks skittered across the doneel child’s furry hand where she clasped the flowing, soft material of Kale’s wizard robe. Kale frowned down at her ward. The little doneel spent too much time attached to her skirts to be captivated by the light show. Instead, Toopka glowered into the forbidding corridor. “What’s down

Kale sighed. “I’m not sure.”

“Is it the dungeon?”

“I don’t think we have a dungeon.”

Toopka furrowed her brow in confusion. “Don’t you know? It’s your castle.”

“A castle built by committee.” Kale’s face grimaced at the memory of weeks of creative chaos. She put her hand on Toopka’s soft head.

The doneel dragged her gaze away from the stairway, tilted her head back, and frowned at her guardian. “What’s ‘by committee’?”

“You remember, don’t you? It was just five years ago.”

“I remember the wizards coming and the pretty tents in the meadow.” Toopka pursed her lips. “And shouting. I remember shouting.” “They were shouting because no one was listening. Twenty-one wizards came for the castle raising. Each had their own idea about what we needed. So they each constructed their fragment of the castle structure according to their whims.”

Toopka giggled.

“I don’t think it’s funny. The chunks of castle were erected, juxtaposed with the others, but not as a whole unit. I thank Wulder that at least my parents had some sense. My mother and father connected the tads, bits, and smidgens together with steps and short halls. When nothing else would work, they formed gateways from one portion to another.”

The little doneel laughed out loud and hid her face in Kale’s silky wizard’s robe. Miniature lightning flashes enveloped Toopka’s head and cascaded down her neck, over her back, and onto the floor like a waterfall of sparks.

Kale cut off the flow of energy and placed a hand on the doneel’s shoulder. “Surely you remember this, Toopka.”

She looked up, her face growing serious. “I was very young then.”

Kale narrowed her eyes and examined the child’s innocent face. “As long as I have known you, you’ve appeared to be the same age. Are you ever going to grow up?”

Toopka shrugged, then the typical smile of a doneel spread across her face. Her thin black lips stretched, almost reaching from ear to ear. “I’m growing up as fast as I can, but I don’t think I’m the one in charge. If I were in charge, I would be big enough to have my own dragon, instead of searching for yours.”

The statement pulled Kale back to her original purpose. No doubt she had been manipulated yet again by the tiny doneel, but dropping the subject of Toopka’s age for the time being seemed prudent.

Kale rubbed the top of Toopka’s head. The shorter fur between her ears felt softer than the hair on the child’s arms. Kale always found it soothing to stroke Toopka’s head, and the doneel liked it as well.

Kale let her hand fall to her side and pursued their mission. “Gally and Mince have been missing for a day and a half. We must find them. Taylaminkadot said she heard an odd noise when she came down to the storeroom.” Kale squared her shoulders and took a step down into the dark, dank stairwell. “Gally and Mince may be down here, and they may be in trouble.”

“How can you know who’s missing?” Toopka tugged on Kale’s robe, letting loose a spray of sparkles. “You have hundreds of minor dragons in the castle and more big dragons in the fields.”

“I know.” Kale put her hand in front of her, and a globe of light appeared, resting on her palm. “I’m a Dragon Keeper. I know when any of my dragons have missed a meal or two.” She stepped through the doorway.

Toopka tugged on Kale’s gown. “May I have a light too?”

“Of course.” She handed the globe to the doneel. The light flickered. Kale tapped it, and the glow steadied. She produced another light to sit in her own hand and proceeded down the steps.

Toopka followed, clutching the sparkling cloth of Kale’s robe in one hand and the light in the other. “I think we should take a dozen guards with us.”

“I don’t think there’s anything scary down here, Toopka. After all, as you reminded me, this is our castle, and we certainly haven’t invited anything nasty to live with us.”

“It’s the things that come uninvited that worry me.”

“All right. Just a moment.” Kale turned to face the archway at the top of the stairs, a few steps up from where they stood.

She reached with her mind to the nearest band of minor dragons. Soon chittering dragon voices, a rainbow vision of soft, flapping, leathery wings, and a ripple of excitement swept through her senses. She heard Artross, the leader of this watch, call for his band to mind their manners, listen to orders, and calm themselves.

Kale smiled her greeting as they entered the stairway and circled above her. She turned to Toopka, pleased with her solution, but Toopka scowled. Obviously, the doneel was not impressed with the arrival of a courageous escort.

Kale opened her mouth to inform Toopka that a watch of dragons provides sentries, scouts, and fighters. And Bardon had seen to their training. But the doneel child knew this.

Each watch formed without a Dragon Keeper’s instigation. Usually eleven to fifteen minor dragons developed camaraderie, and a leader emerged. A social structure developed within each watch. Kale marveled at the process. Even though she didn’t always understand the choices, she did nothing to alter the natural way of establishing the hierarchy and respectfully worked with what was in place.

Artross, a milky white dragon who glowed in the dark, had caught Kale’s affections. She sent a warm greeting to the serious-minded leader and received a curt acknowledgment. The straight-laced young dragon with his tiny, mottled white body tickled her. Although they didn’t look alike in the least, Artross’s behavior reminded Kale of her husband’s personality.

Kale nodded at Toopka and winked. “Now we have defenders.”

“I think,” said the doneel, letting go of Kale’s robe and stepping down a stair, “it would be better if they were bigger and carried swords.”

Kale smiled as one of the younger dragons landed on her shoulder. He pushed his violet head against her chin, rubbing with soft scales circling between small bumps that looked like stunted horns. Toopka skipped ahead with the other minor dragons flying just above her head.

“Hello, Crain,” said Kale, using a fingertip to stroke his pink belly. She’d been at his hatching a week before. The little dragon chirred his contentment. “With your love of learning, I’m surprised you’re not in the library with Librettowit.”

A scene emerged in Kale’s mind from the small dragon’s thoughts. She hid a smile. “I’m sorry you got thrown out, but you must not bring your snacks into Librettowit’s reading rooms. A tumanhofer usually likes a morsel of food to tide him over, but not when the treat threatens to smudge the pages of his precious books.” She felt the small beast shudder at the memory of the librarian’s angry voice. “It’s all right, Crain. He’ll forgive you and let you come back into his bookish sanctum. And he’ll delight in helping you find all sorts of wonderful facts.”

Toopka came scurrying back. She’d deserted her lead position in the company of intrepid dragons. The tiny doneel dodged behind Kale and once more clutched the sparkling robe. Kale shifted her attention to a commotion ahead and sought out the thoughts of the leader Artross. “What’s wrong?” asked Kale, but her answer came as she tuned in to the leader of the dragon watch.

Artross trilled orders to his subordinates. Kale saw the enemy through the eyes of this friend.

An anvilhead snake slid over the stone floor of a room stacked high with large kegs. His long black body stretched out from a nook between two barrels. With the tail of the serpent hidden, she had no way of knowing its size. These reptiles’ heads outweighed their bodies. The muscled section behind the base of the jaws could be as much as six inches wide. But the length of the snake could be from three feet to thirty.

Kale shuddered but took another step down the passage.

Artross looked around the room and spotted another section of ropelike body against the opposite wall. Kegs hid most of the snake.

Kale grimaced. Another snake? Or the end of the one threatening my dragons?

The viper’s heavy head advanced, and the distant portion moved with the same speed.

One snake.

“Toopka, stay here,” she ordered and ran down the remaining steps. She tossed the globe from her right hand to her left and pulled her sword from its hiding place beneath her robe. Nothing appeared to be in her hand, but Kale felt the leather-bound hilt secure in her grip. The old sword had been given to her by her mother, and Kale knew
how to use the invisible blade with deadly precision.

“Don’t let him get away,” she called as she increased her speed through the narrow corridor.

The wizard robe dissolved as she rushed to join her guard. Her long dress of azure and plum reformed itself into leggings and a tunic. The color drained away and returned as a pink that would rival a stunning sunset. When she reached the cold, dark room, she cast her globe into the air. Floating in the middle of the room, it tripled in size and gave off a brighter light.

The dragons circled above the snake, spitting their caustic saliva with great accuracy. Kale’s skin crawled at the sight of the coiling reptile. More and more of the serpentine body emerged from the shadowy protection of the stacked kegs. Obviously, the snake did not fear these intruders.

Even covered with splotches of brightly colored spit, the creature looked like the loathsome killer it was. Kale’s two missing dragons could have been dinner for the serpent. She searched the room with the talent Wulder had bestowed upon her and concluded the little ones still lived.

The reptile hissed at her, raised its massive head, and swayed in a threatening posture. The creature slithered toward her, propelled by the elongated body still on the floor. Just out of reach of Kale’s sword, the beast stopped, pulled its head back for the strike, and let out a slow, menacing hiss. The snake lunged, and Kale swung her invisible weapon. The severed head sailed across the room and slammed against the stone wall.

Kale eyed the writhing body for a moment. “You won’t be eating any more small animals.” She turned her attention to the missing dragons and pointed her sword hand at a barrel at the top of one stack. “There. Gally and Mince are in that keg.”

Several dragons landed on the wooden staves, and a brown dragon examined the cask to determine how best to open it. Toopka ran into the room and over to the barrel. “I’ll help.”

Kale tilted her head. “There is also a nest of snake eggs.” She consulted the dragon most likely to know facts about anvilhead vipers. Crain landed on her shoulder and poured out all he knew in a combination of chittering and thoughts.

The odd reptiles preferred eating young farm animals, grain, and feed. They did nothing to combat the population of rats, insects, and vermin. No farmer allowed the snakes on his property if he could help it. “Find the nest,” Kale ordered. “Destroy them all.”

The watch of dragons took flight again, zooming into lightrockilluminated passages leading off from this central room. Kale waited until a small group raised an alarm. Four minor dragons had found the nest.

She plunged down a dim passage, sending a plume of light ahead and calling for the dispersed dragons to join her. Eleven came from the other corridors, and nine flew in a V formation in front of her. Gally and Mince landed on her shoulders.

“You’re all right. I’m so glad.”

They scooted next to her neck, shivering. From their minds she deciphered the details of their ordeal. A game of hide-and-seek had led them into the depths of the castle. When the snake surprised them, they’d flown under the off-center lid of the barrel. As Mince dove into the narrow opening, he knocked the top just enough for it to rattle down into place. This successfully kept the serpent out, but also trapped them within.

Kale offered sympathy, and they cuddled against her, rubbing their heads on her chin as she whisked through the underground tunnel in pursuit of the other dragons.

Numerous rooms jutted off the main hallway, each stacked with boxes, crates, barrels, and huge burlap bags. Kale had no idea this vast amount of storage lay beneath the castle. Taylaminkadot, their efficient housekeeper and wife to Librettowit, probably had a tally sheet listing each item. Kale and the dragons passed rooms that contained fewer and fewer supplies until the stores dwindled to nothing.

How long does this hallway continue on? She slowed to creep along and tiptoed over the stone floor, noticing the rougher texture under her feet. Approaching a corner, she detected the four minor dragons destroying the snake’s nest in the next room. Her escort of flying dragons veered off into the room, and she followed. The small dragons swooped over the nest, grabbed an egg, then flew to the beamed roof of the storage room. They hurled the eggs to the floor, and most broke open on contact. Some had more rubbery shells, a sign that they would soon hatch. The minor dragons attacked these eggs with tooth and claw. Once each shell gave way, the content was pulled out and examined. No
hatchling snake survived.

The smell alone halted Kale in her tracks and sent her back a pace. She screwed up her face, but no amount of pinching her nose muscles cut off the odor of raw eggs and the bodies of unborn snakes. She produced a square of moonbeam material from her pocket and covered the lower half of her face. The properties of the handkerchief filtered the unpleasant aroma.

Her gaze fell on the scene of annihilation. Usually, Kale found infant animals to be endearing, attractive in a gangly way. But the small snake bodies looked more like huge blackened worms than babies.

Toopka raced up behind her and came to a skidding stop when she reached the doorway. “Ew!” She buried her face in the hem of Kale’s tunic, then peeked out with her nose still covered.

The minor dragons continued to destroy the huge nest. Kale estimated over a hundred snake eggs must have been deposited in the old shallow basket. The woven edges sagged where the weight of the female snake had broken the reeds. Kale shuddered at the thought of all those snakes hatching and occupying the lowest level of the castle, her home. The urge to be above ground, in the light, and with her loved ones compelled her out of the room.

Good work, she commended the dragons as she backed into the passage. Artross, be sure that no egg is left unshattered.

She received his assurance, thanked him, then turned about and ran. She must find Bardon.

“Wait for me!” Toopka called. Her tiny, booted feet pounded the stone floor in a frantic effort to catch up.

My review:
I really enjoyed this book! I'm not normally into fantasy-type books, but this was really good. I found it easy to keep track of who was who, some of the names were fun to try and pronounce, and the story really drew me in. Unlike what I do with most of my books, I read this in order (not reading the end before I started :P). I really enjoyed the book more, and it was a surprise as to what happened in the end! I loved it, and I'm definitely recommending it to my friends!