Thursday, October 22, 2009

Emmy's Equal by Marcia Gruver & My Review

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:

Emmy’s Equal

Barbour Books (October 9, 2009)

***Special thanks to Angie Brillhart of Barbour Publishing for sending me a review copy.***


Marcia Gruver lives with her husband in Huffman, Texas, and has published various articles, poems, and devotionals. Her novel, Love Never Fails (renamed Chasing Charity), won third place in the 2007 American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Genesis Contest. Marcia is a member of ACFW, Fellowship of Christian Writers (FCW), and The Writers View.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (October 9, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602602077
ISBN-13: 978-1602602076


Humble, Texas, August, 1906

The stagnant well appeared bottomless, as dank and murky as a grave. Emmy rested her arms on the cold, jagged stones and leaned to peer into the abyss. Mama’s embroidered lace hankie, shimmering in the meager light, hung from an outcropping of rock about four feet down. Narrowing her eyes, she peered at the spot of white that stood out from the surrounding darkness and heaved a sigh, stirring the fetid air below and raising a noxious odor that took her breath.

She pushed up her sleeves and blasted a droopy blonde ringlet from her eyes with a frustrated puff of air. There was no help for it—at the risk of certain death, she had to retrieve that handkerchief.

A figure loomed, drawing alongside her with a grunt.

She jumped, and her heart shot past her throat. Chest pounding, she wasted a glare on the dark profile, noticing for the first time a scatter of lines around his eyes and tiny gray curlicues in his sideburns.

“Nash! I nearly leapt over the side.” She swatted his arm. “I’ve asked you to stop sneaking up on me. I’ve a good mind to fit you with a cowbell.”

A chuckle rumbled from his chest, as deep as the chasm. “I didn’t go to scare you, Miss Emmy.” He bent his lanky body so far she feared he’d tumble headfirst into the never-ending shaft. “Say, what we looking for inside this hole?”

“We’re not looking for anything. I’ve already found it.” Emmy clutched his shirtsleeve and pulled him away. “Go fetch me a lantern, and be quick about it.” She tucked her chin in the direction of the palomino pony languishing under a nearby oak, nibbling at the circle of high grass around the trunk. “Take Trouble. He’ll be quicker than walking.”

Nash frowned and rubbed the knuckles of one hand along his temple, as if an ache had sprung up there. “What you need a lantern for, with the sun up and shining the past five hours? There’s plenty of light to see.”

She braced herself and pointed. “Not down there.”

Nash’s sleepy eyes flew open. His startled gaze bounced along her finger to the circular wall of weathered stones. “Down there?” He took a cautious step back. “What’s in this sour old pit that might concern you?”

Emmy swallowed hard. She could trust Nash with anything but dreaded his reaction all the same. “It’s. . .one of mama’s hankies.” She squeezed her eyes shut and ducked her head.

His shoulders eased, and he ambled over to gaze inside. “Is that all?”

If only it were. Emmy risked a peek at him. “You don’t understand.”

He winced as if she’d spoken a bad omen. “Uh, uh. Not from her good batch? Them she’s always cackling about?”

Emmy cringed and nodded.

The delicate, lacy linens held an uncommon depth of meaning for Emmy’s mama. Hand embroidered in Germany by her grandmother then brought to the Americas and placed in Mama’s hope chest, they represented heart, hearth, and homeland to Magdalena Dane. In equal measure, they represented distress, discontent, and discord to her only daughter, because the bothersome bits of cloth seemed determined to cause Emmy grief.

Nash’s stunned expression hardened into an accusing glare. “Why, Miss Emmy? Why you done brought about such misery? You ain’t s’posed to touch ’em, and you know it.” His graying brows fluttered up and down, like two moths bent on escape. “There’s scarce few left, and your mama blames you for them what’s missing.”

She moaned and flapped her hands. “I didn’t mean to take the silly thing. It was warm when I rode out this morning. I knew I’d likely sweat, so I snagged a hankie from the clothesline. I never looked at it until a few minutes ago. That’s how this terrible mishap came about. I held it up as I rode, staring in disbelief. Trouble was galloping across the yard when the wind caught it and. . .” She motioned behind her. “The willful rag drifted down the well before I could stop the horse and chase after it.”

Emmy lowered her eyes then peered up at him through her lashes. “None of this is my fault, Nash. Papa should’ve covered this smelly cistern months ago, and those wretched handkerchiefs have a mind of their own.”

The hint of a smile played around Nash’s lips. “If so, they harbor a mighty poor opinion of you.”

She wrinkled her nose at him.

Wagging his head, he rested the back of his hand on his side. “In all my years of working for your family, of all the fits I’ve seen your mama pitch, the worst have been over the loss of them fancy scraps of cloth.” He shuddered. “Miss Emmy, I’d be mighty grateful if you’d wait and break the news to her after I leave for the day. She gon’ be powerful upset.”

Emmy held up and wiggled a finger. “On the contrary. I won’t be upsetting Mama.”

“How you figure that?”

“Because there’s no need to tell her.”

Nash propped his elbow in one hand and rubbed his chin with the other. “Missy, I thought you was done telling lies and scheming. Don’t forget you’re a saint of God now.”

A saint of God. Yes, she was, through no fault of her own. Like Elijah’s fiery chariot, God had swirled into Emmy’s life in a weak moment and delivered her from herself. Not that she minded His day-to-day presence. In fact, she rather enjoyed the peace He brought. It was during times of temptation when she found the constant stirring in her heart to do the right thing a bit of a bother. Yet no wonder, really. In the past, she’d had precious little practice in doing the right thing.

She blinked up at Nash. “I have no plans to lie, and I won’t need to scheme. We’re simply going to return great-grandmother’s hankie to Mama’s clothesline, washed, rinsed, and fresh as a newborn calf.”

Nash stared then shook his head. “No ma’am. You jus’ forget about what we gon’ do. Question is how are you gon’ pull it off?”

“I’ll show you.” She shooed him with her hands. “Run fetch that lantern like I asked and leave the rest to me.”

Still shaking his head, Nash mounted Trouble and laid in his heels. The horse bolted the short distance across the yard to the well-kept shed tucked behind Emmy’s two-story house. With a furtive glance toward the porch, Nash eased the door open and slipped inside.

While she waited, Emmy watched a rowdy band of crows swarm Nash’s cornfield. The black bandits bickered and pecked for position before settling in for a meal, oblivious to the mop-headed stick Nash had dressed in a ragged shirt and floppy hat and then shoved in the ground. She dared not call his attention to the culprits or he’d bluster after them, shouting and waving his arms like a demented windmill, leaving her to cope alone with her pressing dilemma.

She jerked her gaze from the birds when Nash rode up and slid off Trouble to the ground, a lighted lantern in his hand.

Handing over the light with a flourish, he lowered one brow and pinned her with a squinty look. “Here’s what you asked for. Jus’ be sure to leave me plumb out of the story when you go explaining yourself to your mama.”

He turned to go, but Emmy caught hold of his shirttail. “Not so fast. I’m not done with you.”

Nash covered his ears and reeled away. “Don’t tell me no mo’. I ain’t seen nothing, and I ain’t heard nothing. If anybody needs me, I’ll be feeding the chickens.”

Emmy aimed a haughty laugh at his back. “It’s too late for that. You’re in up to your hat, and it’s no less punishment than you deserve for sneaking about all the time.”

Nash dug in his heels and stood facing the grove of loblolly pine at the edge of the yard, his body stiff as a post.

Repentant, she softened her voice to a plea. “I’m sorry, Nash. I had no call to utter such a thing. It’s just. . .I can’t do this without you.”

Arms dangling at his sides, he tipped his head toward the sky and whispered something, a prayer no doubt, before turning to face her. “What you want me to do?”

She peppered him with grateful kisses then grabbed his hand. “Come over here.” Hauling him to the gaping cavity, she lowered the lamp. “See? There it is.”

They gazed at the only bright spot in the oppressive gloom, their ability to see inside the shaft made no better by the frail circle of yellow light.

Nash shrugged and drew back from the side. “Too far down. May as well wave it goodbye then go fess up to what you done.”

Emmy gripped his arm. “Nonsense. We can get it out of there.”

“How, short of fishing it out with a cane pole? And I got no hooks.” He scratched his head. “I reckon I could take my hammer and pound a bend in a nail.”

She shook her head. “Too risky. If the hankie slips off it’ll settle to the bottom, and that’ll be the end of it.” She drew a determined breath. “I have a better idea.”

Nash’s eyebrows rose on his forehead, reaching new heights, even for him. “What sort of idea? Harebrained or foolhardy? Them’s the only two kinds you have.”

She swallowed hard and fingered the wooden bucket sitting on the wall. “I’m going to straddle this, and you’ll lower me down to fetch it.”

The shaggy brows bested their last mark. “You cain’t mean it, Miss Emmy.”

“I do so.”

“Then your idea is both harebrained and foolhardy. You must be plain tetched up under them pretty white locks. S’pose that rope snaps in two?”

“Oh, pooh.” She patted the heavy hemp coiled around the crank. “This rope is thick and sound.” She pointed over her shoulder at the horse. “You could lower Trouble down that well.”

He nodded. “Yes’m. That’s exactly what I’d be doing.” He jerked off his weathered hat and dashed it against his leg. “Don’t ask me to put you in that kind of danger. No, missy. I won’t do it. Not for nothing in this wide world.”

Touched, Emmy smiled at the man who’d been like a father to her over the years, far more of a parent than her own papa, who didn’t stay home often enough to have much practice at the role. She took Nash’s hand and squeezed it. “I won’t be in any danger. As long as you’re holding the handle, I know I’ll be safe.” She peered up into his sulky brown eyes. “You know if you don’t help me I’ll just find a way to do it myself. I have to get that hankie.”

He gaped at her. “The silly thing ain’t worth dying for, is it? Your mama has fussed at you before, and you lived to tell the tale. Why is this time so all-fired special?”

She squared around to face him. “I can’t have her angry about anything just now. I’m planning to ask permission to go to St. Louis when Mama travels with Aunt Bertha to South Texas. It’ll be hard enough to convince her as it is. If she gets in a snit, my plan is doomed.”

“Why they going off so far?”

“It’s Aunt Bertha’s idea. Now that she has money, she’s determined to go into the cattle business. She’s bent on learning all she can. Papa knows a very successful rancher down south who’s willing to teach her everything he knows.”

“Cain’t you jus’ stay home?”

“They’ll be gone for a month or better. Mama refuses to leave me here alone for that long, and I’d much prefer going to see Charity.”

Nash smiled and nodded. “ ’Specially with her jus’ done birthing the little one.”

Emmy beamed. “Exactly. I can help Charity bring him home.”

A thrill coursed through her at the thought of seeing Charity and Buddy’s new baby boy. Emmy and Charity were as close as twin sisters, best friends like their mamas had always been. Emmy’s mama and Aunt Bertha had grown up together in Jefferson before moving to Humble.

Last year, a handsome young oilman came to town and found oil on Aunt Bertha’s land. Charity wound up married to him and soon left for St. Louis to meet his parents. When Buddy found out she was expecting, he kept her in the city so she’d be close to good medical care.

Not a day had passed that Emmy didn’t think of Charity and long to see her. She was coming home next month, bringing little Thad to meet the family.

Nash narrowed his eyes. “You ain’t jus’ trying to sneak off to St. Louis to see that oilman friend of Mistah Buddy’s, are you? Don’t think I didn’t see you making eyes at him the whole time that preacher was trying to marry off Miss Charity.”

Emmy whirled. “Who? Mr. Ritter?” She dismissed the thought with a wave of her hand. “Jerry Ritter was just a passing fancy.”

Nash raised a cynical brow.

“Oh, pooh, Nash! You stop that!” She fiddled the row of tiny buttons on her sleeve. “Besides. . .Aunt Bertha claims Mr. Ritter was recently betrothed to a childhood sweetheart.” She flicked off an insect from the cuff of her blouse and dashed away her humiliation with the same resolve. “Therefore, my desire to be in St. Louis has nothing to do with him. I just need to see Charity. If I get into any more trouble, Mama’s bound to haul me with them to that dreadful desert town instead. If she does, I’ll just dry up along with it and perish. I mean it!”

Grinding the toe of his oversized boot in the dirt, Nash sighed and shifted his weight. “I don’t know, Miss Emmy. . .”

Emmy stifled a grin. She had him. “I’ll be just fine. I promise. Now help me climb up.”

Still mumbling his objections, he offered an elbow to Emmy so she could pull up and sit on the uneven stones. Unfastening the buttoned flap on her split skirt, she swung her legs over and settled on the side, trying hard not to look past her boots. “Turn your head while I sit astride the pail. It won’t look so dainty in this outfit.”

Nash gazed toward the field, obviously too distracted to notice the raiding crows.

Still clinging to his arm, Emmy held her breath and pulled the dangling rope closer, guiding it between her legs. “All right, I’m ready. Lean your weight into the handle. I’m about to push off.”

Nash shifted his gaze to the sky. “Oh, sweet Jesus. Please protect this chil’.”

Holding her breath, she scooted from the edge, squealing when her body spun and dipped about a foot. “Nash! Have you got it?”

“I’ve got it. Stop squirming now. You heavier than you look.”

Emmy forced herself to still, more afraid than she’d expected to be. She felt more than saw the yawning gulf, a great gaping mouth poised to swallow her whole. “Hand me the lantern and then you can lower me. But go slowly, for heaven’s sake.”

She breathed a prayer as she spiraled past the opening and descended. Glancing up, she bit her lip and watched the rope unwind from the wobbly reel, outlined by a circle of light. Misguided but determined white roots that had pushed through cracks in the mortar groped at her, snagging her hem and sleeves. Crisscrossed nets of taught, silky threads offered whispers of resistance before giving way and sticking to the exposed parts of her legs. Emmy held the soft glow of the lamp closer to the side, shuddering when eight-legged bodies skittered in every direction. She gritted her teeth, suppressing a shriek and the urge to order Nash to haul her out of the wide-awake nightmare.

You can do this. Just a little more and you’ll be there. Three more turns and you’ll have Mama’s hankie in your hands. This will all be worth it then.

Exhaling her relief, she drew even with the jutting rock that had caught the precious heirloom. Holding the lantern out of the way, she swayed her body until the motion brought her closer to the wall.

She snatched at the white spot. Instead of soft linen, she felt thick, sticky padding. In place of the crush of a napkin gathered in her palm, there was the unmistakable writhing of something alive.

My Review:
I was hooked on this book. I had to keep reading so I could find out what happened. I wanted to find out why Emmy's dad acted the way that he did, and why Diego's mother disliked Emmy, and why Cuddy kept acting up, and I also wanted to find out why Emmy kept doing stupid things like sneaking out without a chaperone. I have the first book in this series, so it was good to find out what happened to the characters from that book. Now I really want to get the second book in the series so that I can find out what happened in between :)
I think that if you like historical fiction, that you would really enjoy this book!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stretch Marks by Kimberley Stuart & My Review

Sorry this is so, so late!! My review is down the bottom :)

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:

Stretch Marks

David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2009)


Kimberly Stuart holds degrees from St. Olaf College and the University of Iowa. After teaching Spanish and English as a second language in Chicago, Minneapolis, Costa Rica, and eastern Iowa, she took a huge increase in pay to be a full-time mom. She makes her home in Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband and three young children. She is also the author of Act Two: A Novel in Perfect Pitch.

Visit the author's website.

Stretch Marks, by Kimberly Stuart from David C. Cook on Vimeo.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0781448921
ISBN-13: 978-0781448925


Under the Weather

Mia's nose was stuck in her own armpit. Not a lot of glamour there, but she was working toward a higher purpose.

“Think of how your organs are thanking you for thinking of them, for being considerate enough to stretch them.” Delia's voice floated from the front of the room where, Mia knew without looking, she joined the class in a binding pose that could make most grown men cry like little girls.

Mia breathed an audible breath, collecting a healthy whiff of deodorant-infused sweat. In the nose, out the nose, throat relaxed. She closed her eyes, feeling the ends of her fingers beginning to slip out of the bind. Liver, pancreas, you're welcome, she thought and felt her stomach make an uncharacteristic lurch. The radiator kicked in beside where she stood, infusing heat and a bass hum to the room. Mia focused on an unmoving spot on the floor and not on the spandexed and heaving tush of the woman on the mat in front of her.

“And now using the muscles in your core, slooowly release and come back to mountain pose.” Delia manipulated her voice and cadence to stretch like honey. On any other day, her instructor's voice sounded like a lullaby to Mia, a quiet but persistent reminder to breathe deeply and recycle paper and plastic. Today, though, Mia felt an urge to ask Delia to speak up. She wanted concrete sounds, solid sounds; the feathery intonations landing lightly around the room made her insides itch. She pulled out of the bind and stood at the top of her mat, feet planted, palms outturned.

“Feel better yet?” Frankie whispered to Mia from the mat next to her.

Mia sighed. “Not yet.”

“Let's move into our warrior sequence.” Delia modeled the correct form on her lime-green mat and the class obediently followed suit.

Four poses later Mia hadn't shaken the bug she'd hoped was just an out-of-sorts feeling to be shed with a good workout. She felt elderly, cranky. Not even downward-facing dog had brought any relief. She lay on her back during the last minutes of class, trying to melt into the floor, be the floor. The spandexed woman was snoring. This final pose, savasana, was intended to provide participants final moments to recover, to be still and let their minds quiet before reentering the chaos of the outside world. Most yoga aficionados soaked up the pose. In Mia's class she'd spotted a plump, permed woman wearing a sweatshirt that declared in stark black print “I'm just here for the savasana.”

Today, though, Mia couldn't keep her eyes shut. She curled and flexed her toes, wishing Delia would crank up some Stones or Black Crowes instead of the Tibetan chimes lilting out of the stereo. Her impatience with a woman who freely quoted Mr. Rogers was beginning to worry her. Even in the hush of the room, her thoughts continued in an unruly spin, and when Delia brought everyone back to lotus, Mia glimpsed a scowl on her reflection in the mirror.

“Let's just enjoy the long, strong feeling of our bodies,” Delia said. Her eggplant yoga gear revealed taut muscles. “Our organs are thanking us for a good massage.”

Right. Organs. Mission accomplished, Mia thought, trying to concentrate on the gratitude her body owed her. But her mind crowded with images of bloody, squishy masses, pulsating or writhing in the way organs must do, and she found herself springing from her mat and bolting to the back of the studio. She threw open the door to the ladies' room and gripped the toilet bowl in a new pose, aptly christened “riotous and unexplained retching.” “Mia?” Frankie's voice was subdued, even though a postclass din was making its way through the restroom door.

Mia emerged from the stall. “I guess sun salutations weren't such a good idea.” She washed her face and hands at the sink, trying not to inhale too deeply the scent of eucalyptus rising from the soap. She watched her face in the mirror, noting the pale purple circles under eyes that persisted even with the extra sleep she'd indulged in that week. Mia smoothed her eyebrows with clammy fingers, taking care not to tug the small silver piercing, and glimpsed Frankie's concerned expression in the mirror. “Don't worry,” Mia said. “I feel much better now. Must just be a virus.”

Frankie handed over Mia's coat and a hemp bag proclaiming Save the Seals. “I'll walk you home. Let's stop at Gerry's store for soup and crackers.”

Mia made a face. “Crackers, yes. Soup, definitely not.”

Outside the studio weak February sunshine played hide-andseek with wispy cloud cover. Frankie planted her arm around Mia's waist.

Mia glanced at her friend. “I like the blue.”

Frankie turned her head to showcase the full effect. “Do you? I meant for it to be more baby blue, less sapphire, but I got distracted with this crazy woman on the Home Shopping Network and left the dye on too long.”

In the two years Mia had known her, Frankie had demonstrated a keen affection for adventurous hair coloring. Magenta (advent of spring), emerald green (popular in March), black and white stripes (reflecting doldrums after a breakup), now blue. The rainbow tendency endeared Frankie to Mia, who'd braved an extended though unsuccessful flirtation with dreadlocks during college, but otherwise had settled for a comparatively conformist 'do of patchouli-scented chestnut curls.

“How did this change go over with Frau Leiderhosen?”

Frankie whistled. “She loved it. In fact she wondered if we could have a girls' night out this weekend and take turns trading beauty secrets.”

Mia snorted, which was an unfortunate and unavoidable byproduct of her laughter. The snorts only encouraged Frankie.

“'But, Esteemed Employer,' I said, 'I can't possibly instruct the master! A mere mortal such as I? It'd be like a Chihuahua taking over the dressing room of J-Lo! Or Sophia Loren! Or Gisele Bundchen, a woman who shares with you, dear boss, an impressive German name and an uncanny sense of style!'”

“Stop it.” Mia clutched her stomach and groaned. “Yoga and laughter are off limits until further notification from my digestive tract.”

Frankie sighed. “I do feel sorry for her. I never should have shown up with a mousy blonde bob cut for the initial interview. I was so average librarian.” She shook her head as they slowed near Gerry's Grocery. “Only to turn on her the first week on the job.”

It had occurred to Mia more than once how much she could have benefited from a green-haired librarian in the small Nebraska town where she'd grown up. Not until she was well into adulthood did she realize that not all librarians were employed to scare children, like the dreaded circulation director at Cedar Ridge Municipal Branch with the spidery braid and hairy mole. Mia had cowered behind the legs of her father when he would stop in to check out an eight-track or the latest release by Louis L'Amour. The moled woman had snapped at Mia once when she'd fingered a book on a stand, announcing down her nose that the book of Mia's interest was for display only and could not be checked out. Never mind that Bird Calls of the Northeast had not exactly beckoned to eight-year-old Mia anyway, but the chastisement was enough to keep books at an arm's length for years. How different Mia's interest in reading could have been had a spitfire like Frankie been the one behind the desk! Frankie's supervisor, Ms. Nachtmusik, with her impossible surname that changed with each conversation, didn't know the gift Frankie was to her patrons.

“Hello, ladies.” Gerry looked over his glasses. He stopped pecking madly at a calculator on the front counter. “How are things with you?”

“Mia's sick, Gerry.” Frankie patted Mia on the head. “We need sick stuff.”

Gerry pushed back on his stool and stood. He clucked like an unusually tall occupant of a henhouse. “Sick, Miss Mia? Headache? Stomach? Fever?”

Mia shook her head. “Stomach, I guess. I think crackers will be enough.”

Gerry looked disgusted. “This is not your duty to decide. Miss Frankie and I will take care of the illness. Sit.” He pointed to his stool and waved at her impatiently when she didn't jump at his command. Gerry shuffled off, muttering about the tragedy of young people living in cities without their parents.

Mia slipped Frankie a rolled-up reusable shopping bag and whispered, “Make sure to steer him away from pesticides.” Frankie winked at Mia and skipped behind the man on his mission.

Mia greeted the next few patrons entering the store. She tried watching the game show on Gerry's small black-and-white, but she couldn't seem to follow the rules. I'll just lay my head here for a moment, she thought, pushing Gerry's calculator aside. “Oh, good heavenly gracious, we need to call an ambulance!” Gerry's words seeped like molasses through Mia's subconscious. She wondered who was injured and if it had anything to do with the impossible rules on that game show.

“Mia, honey, are you okay?” Frankie was tugging on her shoulder.

“Hmm?” Mia pulled her eyelids open into the glare of fluorescent lights. Her head was, indeed, on the front counter, but so was the rest of her body. She turned her head slowly to face Frankie, who had crouched down beside her and was inches from her face. “I'm lying on the conveyer belt.”

“Yes, yes, you are,” Frankie said while guiding Mia to a sitting position. She gauged her tone of voice to fit a three-year-old on Sudafed. “Gerry and I left to get some groceries and when we returned,” she enunciated, “you were lying on the counter.” She nodded up and down, up and down.

Mia shook her head. “I was really tired. I needed to sleep.” Her voice trailed off. She kept her hands on her face for a moment, fingers brushing past a stud in her right nostril and the ring in her eyebrow. Eyes open, she peeked through the cracks in her fingers. Behind Gerry, who was patting his pockets frantically for cigarettes that hadn't been there since he'd quit a decade before, stood his son, Adam. Mia tried running her fingers through her yoga-tangle of hair.

Adam cleared his throat and smiled.

Mia realized she'd dropped her hands and had commenced a creepy stare session. “Hi, Adam,” she said too loudly. “How are you?”

Adam bit his cheek in an attempt to take seriously a question coming from a woman sprawled next to a cash register. “I'm great, Mia. You?”

“Fantastic,” she said and swung her legs to the side of her perch. Gerry rushed forward to offer her his arm, Adam close behind. Mia held up her hands in protest. “I'm fine, really,” she said. “Just a little tired, apparently.” She walked slowly to the front door and turned to wave. “Thanks, Gerry. You're a great host. Adam, good to see you. Frankie, are you ready?” She opened the door without waiting for a response and stepped out onto the sidewalk.

Gerry pushed away Frankie's twenty-dollar bill and handed her the sack of sick stuff as she fell in behind her friend. They walked five minutes in silence. Dusk was long gone, the sun having set early in the February evening. Mia was from the Midwest and didn't much mind Chicago winters; Frankie, however, hailed from Southern California and moaned every few steps as wind from the lake found its way through coats and mittens and headed straight for skin.

“I will never know why we have chosen this misery.” Frankie held Mia at the crook of her arm like a geriatric patient. Mia felt too exhausted to protest. At the foot of the stairs leading to her apartment building, she stopped. She watched a dapper older gentleman with mocha skin descend the steps and allow his eyes to fall on her.

“Hey, Silas,” she said.

“Evening, girls,” Silas said. He dropped his keys in the side pocket of his suit and tipped his hat, a soft brown fedora trimmed in striped black ribbon. He cocked his head slightly and narrowed his gaze at Mia. “Girl, you don't look so hot.” Silas furrowed his brow and looked at Frankie. “What's the story, Francesca?”

“We're not sure,” Frankie said. “But don't worry. I'm taking her straight upstairs before she can toss her cookies again.”

Silas took a nimble step back, sidestepping puddles in his retreat. “Honey, I'm sorry. Ain't no fun getting sick.”

“Thanks,” Mia said. She handed him a box of Lorna Doones from her stash of groceries. “Brought your favorites. Goodness knows I won't be needing a visit with Miss Lorna this evening,” she said, wrinkling her nose at the thought.

Silas clucked and shook his head. “Your mama raised you right, girl. I thank God for you, Mia, and I know my dear Bonnie is happy to look down from glory and see me so well taken care of.” He patted her gloved hand. “I couldn't ask for a better neighbor. You get better now, you hear?”

The girls took the steps slowly. When they reached the front door and waited for Mia to fish keys out of her bag, Frankie cleared her throat.

“So, um, what was that business at Gerry's all about?”

Mia shook her head. She dug deeper in her purse. “This is one bizarre virus. I don't even remember making the decision to go to sleep.”

“Yes, right. I didn't mean the counter episode. I meant the eye-lock with Gerry's son.”

“Found them,” Mia said and pushed her key into the lock. “Sorry, what were you saying?”

“Hair-fixing, googly-eye thing with Fig Leaf.” Mia tried to look disapproving. “You and your nicknames. I like the name Adam. I cringe to think of what you call me behind my back.” “Hmm,” Frankie said. “Today would be a toss-up between Vomitronica and Queen of Feigned Emotional Distancing.”

“I'm not feigning anything, for those of us who've read too much Jane Austen,” Mia said. She led the way into the lobby elevator and pushed the button for the fourth floor. The door closed with a shudder and Mia shrugged. “It's really nothing.”

Frankie crossed her arms and positioned her finger above the emergency stop button.

“All right.” Mia sighed. “When I first moved to my apartment, I was momentarily single and also in need of a neighborhood grocery. I found Gerry's, and Adam was always there with his perfect smile and impeccable Persian manners.” She sighed and watched the numbers light up on their ascent.

“Oh, my gosh. This is so Rear Window.”

“Isn't that the one where the woman is paralyzed?”

“No,” Frankie said with labored patience. “That's An Affair to Remember. I'm hinting less at paralysis, more at love at first sight.”

Mia rolled her eyes as the elevator door opened. “I noticed him, he noticed me, we flirted, and then I was no longer single.” Mia stepped into the hallway. “It was nothing. Seriously. As you might remember, I'm happily in love with another man. End of story.” She led the way to her apartment door. “Sorry to disappoint. I was recovering from an episode, remember.”

“Exactly!” Frankie was triumphant. “Your defenses were down, you were caught off guard and didn't have time to censor what was and wasn't socially appropriate--”

“Shh. He might be home.” Mia paused at her apartment door and ignored Frankie's dramatic jab of her finger down her throat.

“That would be so unusual,” Frankie said, sotto voce. “You can't mean he would be eating your food and smashing organic potato chips under his rear as he watches Baywatch reruns on your couch?”

Mia called into the room, “Anybody here?”

Frankie muttered, “Because we wouldn't expect you to be anywhere else.”

Mia pinched Frankie's arm when she heard rustling in the living room. “Lars?”

He stepped into the entryway, blond hair tousled, mouth opened in a wide yawn. “Hey, babe,” he said around his yawn. “Hey, Frankie.”

“Hi, Lars,” Frankie said sweetly. Mia avoided eye contact with her friend and instead pulled her arms around Lars and gave him her cheek to kiss.

“Don't exchange any of my germs,” she said. “I think I'm sick.”

Lars stepped back, nudging Mia out of the embrace. “Really?” He wrinkled his nose. “Like puking sick?”

Mia unbuttoned her coat. Frankie tugged her friend's arms out of the sleeves and unwrapped her from a bulky crocheted scarf. “Like, totally puking sick,” she said, watching Lars for any recognition of her mocking tone. None detected, she rambled on. “She, like, ralphed after yoga and then at Gerry's she totally fell asleep under the scanner.”

Lars had turned and was heading for the fridge. Mia shot a pleading look at Frankie, who sighed and nodded a momentary truce.

“You should have called and told me you were going to the store. We're almost out of soy milk,” he said, nose in the fridge. “And I ate the last Carob Joy after lunch.”

Mia filled a glass with water. Lars had piled his dishes in the sink, and it occurred to her to thank him, as this was a marked improvement from finding them all over the apartment, crusty, molding, and sometimes neglected until they smelled of rot. Determined not to conjure up any more detail of those images and too tired to explain to Frankie later why dirty dishes piled in the sink was a step upward, she sipped her water and shuffled toward the bedroom.

“Thanks, Frankie, for taking care of me,” she said. “I owe you. But I can't think about it right now, okay?”

Frankie followed her into the bedroom. She turned the covers down as Mia undressed and placed a saucer of crackers on the bedside table. “You take care of yourself, do you hear me?” For a woman with blue hair, Frankie could command the maternal authority of Olivia Walton when summoned. “Call me tomorrow morning. Or before if you need me. Not that Lars isn't the nurturing, restorative type …”

Mia moaned. She lowered herself into bed and curled up into a fetal position.

“All right, all right.” Frankie spoke softly. She turned out the light. “Sleep well, Mimi.” She waited a moment for an answer from under the down comforter but Mia was already drifting toward sleep.

©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Stretch Marks by Kimberly Stuart. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

My Review:
This was a great book. The tensions between Mia and her mother were pretty funny. Her mother's personality was funny, but at the same time I could sympathize with Mia. The couple of scenes with her brother were pretty funny. The characters are quirky and real. I really enjoyed reading it, and I think that it would appeal to a wide variety of readers :)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pièce de Résistance by Sandra Byrd & My Review

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:

Pièce de Résistance

WaterBrook Press (September 15, 2009)


Sandra Byrd is a best-selling author of books for adults, teens, and children. Her notable series include the Friends for a Season series, the Secret Sisters series and the French Twist series, which includes the first two Lexi Stuart novels, the Christy Finalist Let them Eat Cake and its sequel, Bon Appetit. A regular contributor to newspapers and magazines, Sandra lives in Washington state with her husband and two children.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (September 15, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400073294
ISBN-13: 978-1400073290


Everything you want is out there waiting for you to ask.

Everything you want also wants you.

But you have to take action to get it.

Jules Renard

If I had known exactly where and in what kind of trouble I was about to land, I’d have stayed in Paris.

“Come on, dear.” A wizened woman dragged a shuffling friend past me and down the long carpeted hallway. “We don’t want to get in the way of Rosa’s granddaughter, even if she’s sitting on our couch.” She threw a dirty look over her shoulder.

I started to stand up and get out of her way, but she disdainfully waved me back into my seat.

“WHO?” her friend shouted as I sank back down.

“ROSA’S GRANDDAUGHTER. She’s sprawling on our couch.” I flinched at the vocal hurricane, but no one else seemed to notice. Or maybe they just couldn’t hear it.

For the time being, I was crashing at the guest apartment at my nonna’s retirement community. Where else could I get in on such short notice? It was twenty dollars a night, and only for a week or so…I hoped. “Well, they do have a lot of singles,” I’d told my best friend, Tanya, as she laughed at the news. “And they do love what’s left of life.”

“I think it’s cute,” she’d said. “You can get a personalized pill container and swap horrible doctor stories.”

“Ha ha,” I’d answered. “Be careful, or I’ll hold your bridal shower there on bingo night.”

I’d stayed with my parents on Whidbey Island for the two weeks since I’d been home from France. Yesterday they’d dropped me and my gear off at the retirement community, though most of my stuff was still in storage awaiting my “real” apartment. And now I sat in the common room, not realizing I’d poached what someone considered her personal couch, waiting for the afternoon bus to take me to my new job.

I checked my watch again. To pass the time, I thumbed through the Gideon’s Bible sitting on the side table, flipping by chance to the first chapter of Philippians and scanning the extra large print until my eye caught something that hooked into my heart.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and

more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be

able to discern what is best.

Oh yeah, I thought. Bring on the discernment. I was starting a new job—the job I’d been hoping for all my life and at which I desperately wanted to succeed. And I found myself embroiled in a romantic crisis where I not only didn’t hold all the cards, but the men involved had turned surprisingly poker-faced about their intentions.

Lost in thought, it took me a minute to realize that a kindly looking man had sat down next to me. He tried valiantly, but unsuccessfully, to clear the phlegm from his throat. I scooted over to both accommodate him and to offer us some personal space. He kept looking at me, but as soon as I looked back at him, he glanced away.

Finally he spoke. “Who are you?” he asked quietly. “And what are you doing here?”

That was indeed the question, and not only for my current living situation. I wished I had an answer.

Nonna breezed in through the lobby, snapping her mauve umbrella shut with a force that belied her age. She kissed the cheek of her companion, Stanley Jones, who tottered off to his own apartment, then came to get me.

“Lexi, love,” she said. “I’m glad I got here in time to see you off. Let’s wait by the door. The bus will be here soon.” On the way through the foyer, she whispered, “I thought I’d mentioned, dear—don’t sit on any upholstered furniture in the common areas. When you get to be my age, many of us have incontinence problems.”

Shocked, I reached around and felt my backside, not caring who saw me. Whew. Dry.

Nonna giggled at my distress, taking everything about aging in stride, as she always did, and looped her arm through mine. “I’m glad you’re home.”

I grinned back at her. “Me too, Nonna.”

“Why can’t one of those nice young men drive you to work today?” she asked.

“I don’t want to ask them. It’s…awkward. I’m not sure where I’m going with either of them right now, and they both have their own jobs.”

“Seems to me a man who likes a woman would offer her a ride,” Nonna sniffed.

“I’m sure plenty of men hitched up their buggies and took you to work back in the day,” I teased.

She grinned wickedly and leaned over to kiss my cheek. “So tell me about the Frenchman.”

“His name is Philippe. He’s really nice, a great baker, and has the most adorable daughter named Céline. He’s taking Luc’s place, the one who moved back to France.”

“He’s one of the owners of the bakery?” she asked, checking creds, as always.

“Yes, Nonna,” I said. “He’s an owner. He’s Luc’s cousin, and the whole family owns all the bakeries.”

“What about that lawyer you were seeing before you went to Paris?”

“Dan?” I kept my voice even.


“He’s…here still. Of course. I just talked with him a few days ago. It was his suggestion, actually, for the Delacroix Company to lease the space I’ll be working in. The new bakery.”

“That was nice of him. Who’s the better looking of the two?”

“I’m glad to see your values haven’t changed!” I said, but com- pared them in my mind anyway. Philippe was definitely good looking in a continental way, dark blond hair that just touched his shoulders, a bit taller than me. Dan was built bigger, taller, with broad shoulders I loved to see set off by suspenders. His strawberry blond hair perfectly matched his lightly tanned complexion.

“You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?” Nonna poked me out of my daydream. “Gotcha!”

She laughed, and I laughed with her as the rain slid down the outside of the window, my hometown Seattle lights blinking away in the drops. “Thanks for seeing me off today. I won’t be long. Just meeting Margot and getting a quick run-through.”

“Of course I’m seeing you off ! Everyone is jealous that my granddaughter is here. I need to brag.”

I saw the bus rounding the corner about a half mile down the road. Nonna saw it too.

“Go get ’em,” she said. “And bring something home from the bakery. Anything with fruits and nuts will be right at home in this place.” She grinned, but I knew she loved her home and her friends.

I walked out the door and started toward the covered bus stop. Not a moment later, though, a motorcycle pulled up and parked in front of the retirement center door a few feet away. Even with the helmet on, I recognized him immediately.


What is he doing here? Quickly followed by, He looks good!

“Good afternoon, mademoiselle.” He hopped off the bike and walked toward me, holding out a helmet. “As your employer, it’s my responsibility to get you to work on your first day at the new job, n’est-ce pas? And I was eager to see you again. Sophie told me where to find you and what bus you were likely to take.”

“Oh, thank you,” I said. I introduced him to Nonna, who’d come running out as soon as she’d seen me talking with a guy. “This is my grandmother, Rosa. Nonna, this is my…friend, Philippe.”

“Enchanté.” Philippe kissed her hand.

“Enchantée,” Nonna responded, pulling back her shoulders and making sure the gathering crowd, their noses pressed against the retirement center’s front windows, witnessed the exchange.

As I got on the back of the bike, I said, “I had no idea you had a motorcycle here. Do you also have a car?”

“Oui,” he said, “I do. Luc left his car for me, and I gave him mine in France. But I thought a motorcycle would be fun too.”

He sped up a little, and as he turned the corner out of the retirement center’s curved driveway, I recognized the truck pulling in.


I’d told him I’d be staying with Nonna and had planned to take the bus.

I caught his eye, and he caught mine, and I saw the bouquet of flowers carefully propped in the passenger seat. I had no time to wave before Philippe accelerated and we sped off.

I turned my head and squeezed my eyes shut to avoid seeing Dan’s reaction. Nonna would explain it to him.

Nonna was liable to say anything.

A few minutes later, Philippe pulled the bike up in front of a long, black marble-fronted building in the Fremont district.

“Eh voilà!” he said, parking and then holding a hand out to me. “This is it. Do you like it?”

I took his hand, got off the back of the bike, and looked at the building. There were already two gold fleurs-de-lis over the front door, with the gold-lettered word Bijoux—meaning “jewels,” the name of the bakery—centered over the door. Otherwise, it was a blank slate.

“It’s beautiful!” I walked to the huge picture windows and looked in. The room was mostly empty, holding only a jumble of boxes and supplies, and some tarps left over from a recent paint job. But what lines, what bones. What this place could be!

“I can’t believe I never noticed this building before,” I said. “It’s perfectly perfect.”

Philippe laughed. “It’s been recently restored. That’s one of the reasons Luc was drawn to it…until he found out it couldn’t be used for a restaurant. But, ooh la la, what a bakery, n’est-ce pas? Après toi, mademoiselle,” he said, holding the front door open for me.

I expected to be greeted by the chic calm the exterior promised. Instead, I was blasted by a streak of blue French from the kitchen.

“Margot?” I asked in a small voice.

Philippe grimaced. “Oui. La Margot.”

Philippe’s sister Margot was the one downside to this dream job. Since she was a great baker and a member of the family, she didn’t worry that her attitude might lose her a job. She didn’t bother to sweeten it either.

“Bonjour,” Philippe called in what I recognized as his fake singsong voice. I felt torn between my desire to see my new kitchen and my desire to flee at once. Philippe decided for me, pushing me forward.

“C’est Lexi,” he introduced me to Margot.

“Nice to see you again,” I said in English. It was the polite thing to say, even if I didn’t mean it. She ignored me.

“I’m glad we’ll be working together,” I tried in French, an even graver lie. She didn’t return the favor or grasp my hand, but she grunted. French it was, then.

“Alors.” Philippe led the way toward the back of the kitchen. “This part,” he indicated with his hand, “will be mostly for pastries, which Margot will do. She’ll be here part time and at the other bakeries part time too.” He smiled widely and indicated the largest part of the kitchen. “And this will be for the cakes and catering. That’s you!”

I looked at my part of the kitchen. Marble and stainless counters, and lots of tall glass-fronted cabinets for ingredients. A pair of gleaming industrial mixers. Drawers full of equipment, but not in the easiest-to-reach places. I didn’t know who placed some of the utensils and tools. Maybe the guys who’d brought equipment over from the other bakeries.

“It’s everything I could want,” I said. And it was. My own kitchen. Tiny though it was, it was mine.

Philippe opened an armoire. “Here’s where you’ll store the paperwork and computer, and the phone even fits in there. Will this be enough space for the accounting books?”

I blinked and answered, “I guess so.” He’d be a better judge of that than I would.

Margot slammed a drawer, and when I turned around, I saw her grab her cigarettes and a lighter from the countertop. I wrinkled my nose. They should at least be hidden. As she headed out back, Philippe followed her. “Un moment,” he said, winking.

While they were gone, I turned the radio to a warm, low-key favorites station and began rearranging my work drawers. After ten minutes, I had them just so. I also rearranged my countertops and cake decorating materials so it made sense to me.

When Margot and Philippe came back in, I asked him, “How will the front be decorated? Will there be furniture arriving?”

He took my arm, and we headed to the big front room. I could already envision engaged couples choosing their cakes in a chic, refined, leather-furnished room.

“Hmm,” Philippe said. “I hadn’t thought too much on that topic. I am so busy at L’Esperance…” He shrugged, and I knew the burden of taking over their biggest US bakery. “Would you like to do it?”

“Would I?” I grinned. “I would!” I pictured deep blue drapes framing the windows and subtle gold cording. I’d make an appointment for a window etcher to etch the company name in gold on the glass, just like the Delacroix bakery in Versailles.

It was going to look fantastique.

When we got back to the kitchen, my countertops had been completely rearranged back to the previous nonsensical order. Margot’s back was turned toward me, and she quietly hummed along with the radio—not the station I’d turned on. I looked through my utensil drawers. All returned to the way they’d been before I’d fixed them moments ago. I looked at Philippe. He shrugged. I determined not to escalate things and left everything where it stood—for the moment.

“Lexi?” His voice softened. “I have a few questions about some things for Céline…”

“Oh, yes, when is she coming?” I asked, delighted at the prospect of hugging that sweet little bonbon again.

“She’s at her grandparents’ in London but will be here in a few days,” he said. “I’ve signed her up for the French-American school, but there are some other things…” He opened his briefcase and held out a folder. “Do you know a good doctor? a good dentist? And many other questions I need your help with.”

I found it endearing to see him a little vulnerable for once; he was always so in charge. It made him even more appealing.

“Of course I can help you.”

He smiled. “Perhaps we can talk about it at dinner tonight? Incredibly, I have found a quiet little bistro…”

He must have caught the look on my face, because he stopped mid sentence.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve got dinner plans tonight.”

“Ah well.” He shrugged, but looked a little forlorn. “Perhaps another time.”

“Certainly,” I said. “Anytime this week. Stop by for lunch or let me know when it’s convenient.”

With that, he handed me a key and took his leave, and Margot left too. I locked the doors behind them and then sat on one of the bar stools next to the counter. I looked around.

It was all mine, my kitchen. Well, and Margot’s too. But I was no one’s assistant anymore. I was a chef.

I checked my watch, saw I had fifteen minutes to get to the restaurant where I’d agreed to meet Dan for dinner, and went to brush my hair. On the way out of Bijoux, before turning the lights out in the kitchen, I did two things.

I put Margot’s cigarettes and lighters into a drawer near her work station, and I turned the radio station back to the one I liked.

As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I saw him at a corner table. My eye caught his, and then my breath caught too. Dan was a good looking man in any pose, but when he smiled, he was downright divine. Though he’d picked me up at the airport and taken me to my parents’ house when I first got home from France, I hadn’t seen him since.

“The world traveler has returned,” he said, standing to pull my chair out and then scoot me back to the table.

“Do you mean from my travels in Paris or the urban oasis of Whidbey Island?” I grinned.

“Both.” He held out a bottle and a glass. “Wine?”

I nodded, and as the waiter came to take our order, we shared the last few weeks’ happenings, culminating in my announcement that I had been to Bijoux that day.

He nodded. “I left work early to come pick you up, but I arrived just a little too late.”

I knew he would bring that up. I knew it. And yet, we weren’t at the exclusive dating level yet, as far as I understood, so I didn’t have to explain myself to him, right? “Philippe thought it would be good to take me to work on my first day,” I said as casually as I could. “And he had the keys.”

Dan nodded and showed absolutely no emotion. Lawyer’s training, I supposed. A minute later, he loosened up again and asked about the kitchen and the countertops and what kind of oven it had—things nearly no non-baker would think to ask.

“Why are you interested in the ovens?” I teased.

“Because you are,” he said simply and without guile. And that was even more appealing than the dreamy smile.

I asked about his job too, and he regaled me with his latest case, somehow making the law funny, something my brother was never able to do. Then his phone rang.

He looked mortified. “I’m so sorry. I thought I turned it off. It’s new.” He took it from his pocket and fumbled for a minute to locate the Ignore button. Before the backlight went off, I saw the caller ID.


I met his eye and he looked away, and then the waiter brought our salads. While he ground some pepper for Dan, I reminded myself, You’re not at the exclusive dating level yet, as far as he understands, so he doesn’t have to explain himself to you, right?


My Review:
I love all the books in this series! They're so much fun to read, and I get involved in the lives of the characters. I've loved seeing Lexi's life unfold, and it's almost like she's a good friend. This one was just as good as the others if not better. It was really good to see which guy she finally chooses, and I was happy with who she chose :) It's definitely a series to collect!