Friday, February 27, 2009

Married Strangers by Dwan Abrams

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:


Married Strangers

Urban Books (December 1, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Dwan Abrams is a full-time novelist, freelance editor, publisher and speaker. She's the best-selling author of Married Strangers, Divorcing the Devil, Only True Love Waits, The Scream Within, and Favor (a short story appearing in The Midnight Clear anthology). She's also the founder, publisher and editorial director of Nevaeh Publishing, a small press independent publishing house.

Visit the author's website and blog.


Product Details:

List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Urban Books (December 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601629753
ISBN-13: 978-1601629753

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Rayna

Rayna’s eyes welled with tears as feelings of loneliness and disappointment overtook her emotions. All of the romance and passion she envisioned would occur during her honeymoon didn’t happen. She imagined that this would have been one of the happiest times of her life. Instead, she was miserable. She had already felt a sense of cognitive dissonance, better known as “buyer’s remorse,” after her new husband, Bryce, had promised to take her on an exotic vacation in Cancun. Yeah right! she thought. Here they were, two weeks before Christmas, in a log cabin at Forrest Hills Mountain Resort in Dahlonega, Georgia. It was a five day package that Bryce’s best friend, Fox, had given them for a wedding present. A friend whose nickname came as a result of not so savory sales tactics, Fox earned the nickname because, according to Bryce, he was slicker than a snake oil salesman. Rayna found it strange that Bryce would refer to his friend in such a derogatory manner. It vexed her spirit, and she immediately remembered Proverbs 27:19: A mirror reflects a man's face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses.

Now Rayna faced a deeper problem, the dislike of her honeymoon location. Besides the fact that Rayna was not the outdoorsy type, hiking and horseback riding never appealed to her. She and Bryce had discussed at length where they would spend their honeymoon… on the beach. Rayna’s fondest memories are of her vacationing in the Bahamas, Hawaii, and different beaches in Florida. There was something about the tranquil waters that made her feel at peace; almost as if she was communing with God.

Bryce had promised her they’d go to Mexico. At the last minute, he told her that he was unable to get the time off from work. He worked as a field reporter, and although he could have gotten a few days off, it wouldn’t have been long enough. She was disappointed. Her heart was set on an exotic locale, not somewhere with frost on the trees and snow on the ground. She wondered whether she was catching a glimpse of what her life with Bryce would be like. Broken promises. Even with advance notice, he still wasn’t able to come through for their honeymoon. The only person she blamed was herself for not getting to know her husband better before marrying him. As far as Rayna was concerned, a year of knowing Bryce hadn’t been nearly enough time. Trying to deal with her regret seemed overwhelming at times.

Rayna considered herself to be spiritually intuitive. But this time, she ignored the signs. A couple of weeks before getting married, Rayna had a disturbing dream about her wedding day. In the dream, her wedding day was a fiasco. She couldn’t remember all of the details, but one thing was clear—her feelings throughout the dream were unpleasant. At one point she said, “I’m marrying the wrong man.” Having awoken with beads of sweat on her forehead, Rayna dismissed the dream as a case of wedding jitters.

Even though the log cabin was nice—hot tub, double showers, and fireplace—the problem was Bryce.

“Good morning, Mrs. Henderson,” Bryce said as he kissed Rayna on the cheek.

“Morning.” She stretched her arms over her head.

The way Bryce said, “Mrs. Henderson,” sent shivers up her spine. To her, he sounded so macho at times. She found that whole “I’m Tarzan, you Jane” thing sexy.

“You hungry?” he asked.

She looked at the clock sitting on the wooden nightstand next to the canopy bed. The LED display read 9:00 a.m. in red digits.

“We need to hurry up before they stop serving breakfast,” she said.

Rayna wanted to escape out of bed and get dressed before Bryce touched her, again. His passionate desires seemed to be insatiable. Once, she asked him whether he had an implant or took drugs, because even after making love, Bryce’s physical disposition remained the same. Of course, he denied it. Most women would love to have a man who could last for hours. For Rayna, it didn’t take all that. Not if he knew what he’s doing. Unfortunately, Bryce wouldn’t know how to satisfy her if she were an air traffic controller directing him from the lighthouse. She remembered hearing that sex comprised only two percent of a relationship, if it’s good. But when it’s not-so-good, it’s about ninety-eight percent, she thought. Having an ungratifying sex life made it difficult for her to appreciate the good things about Bryce. Like the way he’d rub her feet whenever they sat next to each other on the couch, or the way he’d give her an all over body massage.

“Let’s take communion first,” Bryce suggested, revealing a devilish grin.

Communion was Bryce’s way of asking for physical intimacy, and she thought it was sweet. He had this good guy, bad boy routine down to a science. Rayna looked over at him and immediately became turned on. Her husband was hot. Brad Pitt and George Clooney had nothing on Bryce. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and his smooth, hairless chest was toned and muscular. She noticed that his abs workout was working, because the lining of a six-pack was visible. She thought he was sexy. Too bad he can’t deliver.

“Not right now,” she grumbled.

It amazed Rayna how her husband could have so much going on—good looks, a body like a Greek Adonis, sex appeal, a smile that could light up a room, yet he didn’t know how to straighten her hair and curl her toes, so to speak. It’s not like she hadn’t expressed her dissatisfaction to Bryce. He knew full well that she was frustrated; yet he wouldn’t do anything to change it. Every time she wanted to try something new or different, he called her sadistic. Her feelings were crushed. More than anything, she wanted to please him, and in the process, get pleased. His inflexibility made Rayna feel less desirable and unappreciated.

She got out of the king-sized bed, walked across the hardwood floor, and went into the double showers. Thankfully, the water running down her face camouflaged the tears streaming down her cheeks. Rayna felt as if she had made a terrible mistake by marrying Bryce. After they consummated their marriage a couple of nights ago, she went into the bathroom and cried. How could two people be so physically incompatible? she thought. She had never heard of such a thing, especially not with married couples. She wondered what she had done to deserve such an unfulfilling union. Silently, she prayed.

Lord, forgive me for my sins. Please help me deal with this marriage. Whatever sin is blocking me from being a good wife, I ask that you remove it. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

As she exited the shower and wrapped her body in a towel, Bryce entered the bathroom. He embraced Rayna, and she melted. Her desire to be close to him was overwhelming; then the thought of being disappointed crept in and immediately turned her off. Not because she didn’t love him, because she did. It was more because of his indifferent attitude. When they made love, she sensed that his thoughts were elsewhere. He wouldn’t look at her, and that bothered her. She wondered whether it was because he was white, and she was black. Then she quickly dismissed that notion because Bryce didn’t seem to have a racist bone in his body. His expectation of going all the way at the slightest hint of affection made her hesitant to hug or kiss him. She couldn’t even rub her hand along her leg without him getting turned on.

Freeing herself from his toned arms, she looked at his disappointed face and said, “I saved you some hot water. I’m going to get dressed.”

She went back into the bedroom. Since it was cold outside, she slipped into a cashmere sweater, jeans and boots. Her hair was styled in a short, curled “do” like the actress Halle Berry.

Several minutes later, Bryce came from out of the shower. “You look nice,” Bryce complimented as he dried off, and changed into a gray mock neck sweater, jeans and Timberlands.

“Thanks. So do you.”

They put on their coats and gloves and left the cabin. Rayna noticed there was frost on the surrounding trees. They walked to the couples-only “Secret Garden” dining room, which happened to be a few feet away.

The hostess, dressed in a sweater and jeans, said, “Are you on your honeymoon?”

“Yes,” Bryce replied, smiling. “How could you tell?”

Rayna felt like saying, “Because we’re in the couples-only dining room,” but she refrained. In Bryce’s defense, they could’ve been dating and vacationing together, she reasoned.

“You have that glow about you,” the hostess replied.

Bryce looked at Rayna lovingly, and grabbed her gloved hand.

“It’s a buffet,” the hostess explained, smiling. “Seat yourself wherever you like.”

Thank goodness, Rayna thought. Every time they went out to eat, Bryce always asked the waiter or waitress, “What do you recommend?” It used to bother Rayna, so she asked him why he did that. He told her that it eliminated the guesswork. “Who better to tell you about the food than the people who work at the restaurant?” Bryce replied. She understood, but never adopted that philosophy. She enjoyed scanning the selections. When she would narrow her choices down to two entrĂ©es, then she would ask the waiter or waitress for their opinion. Her indecisiveness tended to bother Bryce, but she didn’t care.

They sat at a table surrounded by large, panoramic windows. They took off their coats and gloves and placed them on an empty chair.

“Can I get you something to drink?” the hostess asked.

“Two hot teas with sugar and lemon,” Bryce replied.

“And an orange juice,” Rayna added.

After the hostess took their drink orders, they got up and each fixed themselves a plate. The food looked scrumptious and fresh. Rayna had the cheese grits, scrambled eggs and bacon. Bryce filled his plate with French toast and sausage links.

They went back to their table, and Bryce led them in prayer.

“Father, thank you for this food and fellowship. I pray that this meal is nourishing to our minds and bodies. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

She mixed her eggs with the grits and crumpled bacon on top. Then she stared out the window. Trees for as far as the eyes could see… acres and acres of secluded woodlands. Her thoughts drifted to the first time she and Bryce met.

They were standing in line at the cafe in the Barnes & Noble off Cobb Parkway in Atlanta. After striking up a general conversation, Bryce paid for her latte. He seemed intelligent, not to mention handsome, with that sandy blond hair and green eyes. So when he asked for her phone number, she gave it to him.

Rayna went home immediately afterward. Within twenty minutes, her phone rang. It was Bryce, asking her to go out with him.

“When can I see you, again?” Bryce asked.

“How about tomorrow night?” she responded in a flirtatious tone.

“Great.” He sounded excited. “Where would you like to go?”

“Pizza Hut,” she laughed.

“Pizza Hut?” She could tell by the influx in his voice that he had expected her to name some fancy restaurant.

“Yes.”

Besides the fact that Pizza Hut was her favorite pizza establishment, she didn’t want Bryce to feel as though she were trying to take advantage of him. When they met, he was dressed in a suit. Not a cheap suit either. Rayna checked his shoes and Bryce wore black Kenneth Cole. He seemed to be doing pretty well. Even still, Rayna had wanted to get to know him personally. At the time, she was not impressed by the fact that by all appearances, he could have taken her to an expensive restaurant.

The following day, he picked Rayna up at her apartment in a rental car and took her to Pizza Hut. While at the restaurant, he explained to her that he actually lived in Chicago and was in Atlanta on business. He worked as a field reporter and was chronicling a news story. He also wrote a newspaper column. His profession seemed exciting to Rayna, because she had written numerous poems and short stories. One day, she planned to write a full-length book. Speaking with a real life reporter/writer fascinated her. As he told Rayna about his travels and how he became a writer, she hung on his every word.

“I have always been fascinated by the written word,” Bryce explained. “You know, it’s funny how I became a columnist,” he chuckled. “A friend of mine used to write a column for Chicago Tribune. She got a promotion and recommended me for her old job.”

“Wow! That was a major blessing.” Rayna smiled.

“I know,” he laughed. “Especially since I had just graduated from college.”

Rayna was not surprised to hear about Bryce’s accomplishments. He seemed so eloquent, well- spoken, cultured, and poised. When they arrived at the restaurant, they talked incessantly. She felt as though she were in a therapy session, because he was so easy to talk to.

“Where are you from?” Bryce asked, looking at her.

“I grew up in Orlando, but my parents and I moved to Georgia about…” she rolled her eyes upward, “ten years ago.” She took a bite of pepperoni pizza.

“Tell me about your family.”

She held up her index finger while she chewed the pizza. After she swallowed, she said, “I’m an only child. My mom’s a pharmacist, and my dad’s a neurologist. What about your family?”

“I have two older brothers and two younger sisters. I’m the middle child. I spent a great deal of my childhood being raised by my grandmother.”

“What happened to your parents?”

He sipped a glass of soda, or “pop” as he called it. “My dad died of a heart-attack when I was five, and I don’t have a good relationship with my mother.”

Curious. Rayna was taken aback. What kind of guy doesn’t get along with his mother? she wondered.

“My brothers and sisters have the same father, and I have my own father,” he explained. “As you can imagine, I was the black sheep.”

“You’re the middle child, yet you have a different dad?” she said more of a statement than a question, trying to make sure she understood him correctly.

“Yes. My mom was married, but she had an affair. I’m the result.” He stared at a scratch in the wooden table before taking a sip of his sparkly drink.

Rayna cleared her throat, not really knowing what to say. His candor surprised her.

He looked at her and sucked in his cheeks as if he were sucking a lemon. “My mom’s marriage suffered because of it, but they stayed together and had my twin sisters.”

“Then why did you have to stay with your grandmother?” She tilted her head to the side.

He looked her in the eye and said seriously, “Because my stepdad didn’t treat me the same as the other kids. He was harder on me. My mom figured that with me out of the house, the family could be put back together.”

“That’s terrible.” She furrowed her brow.

She felt sorry for him. Rayna hadn’t expected to learn such personal information about him on their first date. In a strange way, seeing him in such a vulnerable state attracted her to Bryce. She had finally met a man who was in touch with his feelings and knew how to convey them. Something in his almond shaped eyes expressed sadness. She could tell that his hurt ran deep. He was so nice that she wanted to help him.

Bryce squeezed Rayna’s hand, which was resting on top of the table, and said, “What were you thinking about?”

Rayna had been so deep in thought that she hadn’t even realized that the hostess had placed their drinks on the table.

“How do you know I was thinking?” she answered, smiling. “I could’ve been admiring the scenery.”

“You might’ve started out doing that, but I can tell by the way your eyes shifted downward and to the right that you were remembering something.”

He’s so analytical, she thought. He pays attention to everything. That’s what she gets for hooking up with a brain-iac.

“I was thinking about us,” she admitted. “I can’t believe that after six months of being engaged, we’re finally married.”

Rayna’s decision to marry Bryce was an easy one. He proposed to her three months after they met. They had been talking on the phone every day, several times per day. Maintaining a long distance relationship wasn’t easy. She missed him terribly and wanted companionship. She was twenty years old and a sophomore at Mercer University. Bryce was three years her senior. They were deeply in love.

“Rayna,” he said, interrupting her thoughts once again. “I love you so much,” he grinned sheepishly, licking his pink lips.

“I love you, too.” She gave a faint smile.

“You don’t understand. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anybody, including my own mother. I don’t know what I’d ever do without you, Rayna,” Bryce declared.

Somehow, hearing Bryce say he loved her more than his mother disturbed her, because although she loved him, she didn’t think it could be compared to the love she has for her parents. Never had she met anyone who could make her remotely think that she loved them more than either one of her parents. She couldn’t even imagine. Then again, she thought, Bryce’s relationship with his mother was strained. So was it really far-fetched for him to love someone more than her?

Even though she believed him wholeheartedly, Rayna wasn’t sure how to respond to his statement. The first time Bryce ever told Rayna that he loved her was one week after they met. It caught her completely off guard. She found it peculiar, because she thought it was too soon for them to exchange those three little words that carry a whole lot of weight. She didn’t say it back to him, because she didn’t take saying, “I love you” lightly.

Marrying Bryce seemed to make logical sense to Rayna. He was an avid reader, had an incredible vocabulary, and was well-versed in many different things. And she couldn’t deny the obvious. Bryce was fine and saved. And in Rayna’s opinion, that was definitely a plus. Not to mention that he’s a visionary and ambitious. One of the things Rayna admired about him was the fact that he knew a little about a wide array of subjects. He was able to discuss anything with anyone ranging from jazz music to the Greek classics to the Bible. And her parents loved him. Before deciding to commit, Rayna had a conversation with her Aunt Sylvia, which persuaded Rayna to marry Bryce.

Aunt Sylvia and Rayna had a close-knit relationship. She was Rayna’s mother’s younger sister, in her forties, and has never been married. Based on what she had told her aunt, like the way Bryce would call throughout the day, or send flowers, or take Rayna to nice restaurants, Sylvia was convinced that Bryce loved Rayna. What tilted the scale in Bryce’s favor was when Aunt Sylvia said, “Girl, what are you dragging your feet for? Do you know how hard it is to find a man who wants to get married?”

Rayna was glad when the hostess returned and asked, “How’s the food?”

“Fine,” she replied. That way, she didn’t have to acknowledge Bryce’s declaration.

He bit into his French toast. “Delicious.”

Rayna picked up her cloth napkin and wiped the powdered sugar off Bryce’s full lips. His lips don’t look like the average white boy. Not Mick Jagger, but luscious and sexy. He smiled a dimpled smile. She could tell he appreciated the gesture. They finished their breakfast and walked back to their cabin, glove in glove. As they breathed the cold, crisp air, smoke formed every time they exhaled.

Back in the cabin, Bryce started a fire in the gas log fireplace. They took off their shoes, wrapped themselves in a colorful quilt, and cuddled in front of the blazing fire. It was quite romantic. Rayna closed her eyes, listened to the crackling noises being emitted from the fireplace, and imagined that Bryce would ravish her body and leave her feeling satisfied. Fantasizing and praying helped her get through the remaining three days of her honeymoon. Thankfully, she had her fantasies.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sir Bentley and Holbrook Court

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:


Sir Bentley and Holbrook Court

Multnomah Books (February 17, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Chuck Black, a former F-16 fighter pilot and tactical communications engineer, is the author of eight novels, including the popular Kingdom series. He has received praise from parents across the country for his unique approach to telling biblical truths. His passion in life is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ and to love his wife, Andrea, and their six children. He lives with his family in North Dakota.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $8.99
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Books (February 17, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601421257
ISBN-13: 978-1601421258

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Young Noble

Knight

“Bentley of Chessington, do you swear to uphold the Articles of the Code, to defend Chessington and her citizens from enemies both outside and within her borders?” Lord Kifus’s voice echoed through the great hall of the palace.

“I do.” Young Bentley looked up at Kifus. Sand-colored hair formed loose curls around the young man’s neck and ears. His square, cleanshaven jaw revealed a small, faint scar—a badge to remind him never to become prideful about his considerable abilities as a swordsman. Bentley’s shoulders were broad, and he carried himself with the distinctive posture of a nobleman. In spite of his comely appearance and his social charm, however, Bentley did not hold himself in high regard, and thus there was very little to dislike about the young man.

“Do you swear to uphold the honor of the Noble Knights, placing the protection of your fellow brothers-in-arms above your own?”

“I do,” Bentley replied.

Nearly all two hundred Noble Knights were present to witness the knighting of one more squire into their brotherhood. It was a timehonored tradition that often followed the family lines of the wealthiest men in Chessington, and such was the case with Bentley. Behind the Noble Knights stood two to three hundred highly respected citizens of Chessington, for this was a significant event for both the Noble Knights and the citizenry.

“Do you take this oath without reservation, fully understanding the authority and responsibilities granted to you by the King—an oath that binds you to the order of the Noble Knights until death?”

Bentley hesitated, looking past Kifus toward the two men standing behind him. His father, Sir Barrington, and Sir York, the man who trained him at sword—his role model and his mentor. Could any two men be more different?

Bentley looked toward York and then to his father. A few seconds passed, and the delay became awkward. Barrington gazed at his son, smiled, and nodded. The room filled with tension, and Kifus’s gaze became stone hard.

Bentley looked back to the white-haired knightly leader, an icon of the perfect knight in many eyes. This was what Bentley had wanted his whole life, and yet something tugged upon his soul from another direction. It was those last few words that caused him to hesitate, for such an oath was a seal that would establish the course of his life forever.

He repeated the words in his mind:“Do you take this oath without reservation…an oath that binds you to the order of the Noble Knights until death?” What could be more honorable than service to the King?

“I do.” Bentley lowered his head in submission.

As if the doors of a flooded chamber had opened, the tension abated. Kifus lifted his brilliant silver sword to just above Bentley’s shoulder.

“Then I dub thee Sir Bentley, protector of Chessington and Noble Knight of the King!”

He touched the flat of the blade to each of Bentley’s shoulders, and a roar of shouts and acclamation filled the great hall. Bentley stood and Kifus offered his arm as a token of brotherhood.

“Well done, Sir Bentley. You are young but well deserving of the honor.”

“Thank you, Lord Kifus.”

Kifus turned to greet some of the approaching prestigious knights and citizens. Bentley’s father stepped forward and embraced his son.

“I am proud of you, my son.” Barrington smiled broadly through

his cropped salt-and-pepper beard.

“Thank you, Father. You and you alone have been my inspiration.”

York stepped forward and grasped Bentley’s arm.

“Sir Bentley…has a nice ring to it, aye, laddie?” He slapped Bentley hard on the shoulder with a meaty palm. Bentley bowed his head toward York.

“I am indebted to you for all the training you have given me, sir.”

York’s smile vanished as his mind seemed to return to a former preoccupation.

“Aye, and ye’ll be needing those skills in the days to come. The Followers continue to be a menace to our cause, and Kifus tells me our missions to eradicate them will increase.”

“Yes, sir,” Bentley replied, but something in his heart resisted the words. “What was it like before?”

York squinted and cocked his head to one side.

“Before the…ah…Followers?” Bentley added. It was an unusual question, and it conveyed much more than curiosity. Those few words carried a subtle message that raised the eyebrows of both York and his father. York looked back and forth between Barrington and Bentley.When he spoke, his words vibrated with passion. “It was a time when the authority of the Noble Knights was never questioned! That’s why we must fight well in coming days. The lingering effects of that dead Stranger will end, and we will restore the order of the Noble Knights to its rightful place when we eradicate His imbecile Followers.”

York’s countenance had assumed a familiar ferocity, his eyes beneath their bushy black brows seemed to shoot forth fiery darts.Neither Bentley nor his father said a word. It was exactly the response Bentley had expected, and he wasn’t sure why he had even asked the question. The momentary awkward silence between them ended when his mother took his arm and a dozen other knights and citizens moved in to offer congratulations.

When the knighting ceremony was over and the accolades were finished, Bentley lingered behind in the great hall. It was a day he had looked forward to for a long time. he took a deep breath and tried to enjoy the moment. It felt good to be a Noble Knight…almost perfect.

Almost.



Bentley’s heart pounded hard in his chest. He readied his sword in a midguard stance as he stood face to face with a fierce warrior whose markings Bentley had never seen before.The warrior yelled and initiated a diagonal cut that nearly blew Bentley’s sword from his grip. Preoccupied with his own survival, he was barely conscious of the clanging of other swords nearby.

He tightened his grip and countered with a rising cut, followed by a horizontal slice. His sword was met by the nearly immovable dark blade of the warrior, and he had to retreat to avoid the next deadly slice. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of his fellow Noble Knights fall to the ground—and realized that he, York, and his other five companions could shortly succumb to the same fate. The five warriors they faced were much more than mere marauders; they had the look of seasoned war veterans. The Noble Knights had the advantage in numbers only, for the skill and power of these men far surpassed anything they had ever experienced.

Bentley considered his next move. How could they have made such a serious miscalculation and come to such a desperate situation? The months following his knighting ceremony had been filled with raids on the Followers, but each week seemed more intense than the previous.

This was already their third mission this week.

They had received news from an informant that a handful of Followers was meeting near a hut in the hollow at the northwest edge of Chessington.When they arrived, a strange old woman had yelled at them and cursed them from afar. York had ignored her and insisted they search the hut and the surrounding area. When they dismounted and neared the hut, these five massive warriors had attacked. Bentley had barely been able to draw his sword in time before one warrior launched a deadly slice toward him. Ever since, he had been fighting for his life.

Another powerful slice came terrifyingly close, and Bentley ducked.

He heard the swoosh of his enemy’s blade pass just above his head. Bentley initiated another rising cut, but missed and found himself slightly off balance. He knew that such an experienced man of war would capitalize on Bentley’s mistake—and he did. The next slice came from Bentley’s left, and he was only able to raise his sword for partial protection before the grisly blade blasted through his defense.

The concussion on his sword carried on to Bentley’s left spaulder and slammed into his helmet. Bentley careened to the right, scrambling in vain to keep his footing, then crashed to the ground. He knew what would happen next. In seconds, he would feel the steel of his enemy’s sword pierce his armor and then his chest. He lifted his sword for protection against the vertical slice, but the edge of the warrior’s blade burst through his resistance and into his breastplate. The impact of the blow on his body seemed to force the last of his strength from him. His end was near.

Bentley froze as the warrior lifted his sword high above him for a final downward thrust.His physical exhaustion did not diminish his fear of death in the least. But just as the tip of the warrior’s sword began its plummet, Bentley heard an unfamiliar yell and watched a wide arcing blade slice across his enemy’s torso from behind.

Screaming in pain and frustration, the warrior recoiled and turned on his unknown assailant. Bentley’s strength immediately returned, and he rolled away, quickly finding his feet. The warrior was now heavily engaged with a new adversary, one Bentley had never seen before. Bentley chanced a quick glance about him and realized that four other knights had joined their cause against these massive warriors of destruction. Another glance filled him with shock as he recognized their insignia. Followers!

The newcomers bore the unmistakable mark of the Stranger. This was the enemy Bentley and his comrades had set out that morning to engage. Yet these men were fighting to save their lives. Bentley brought his sword to bear along with his unexpected ally against the dark warrior, who was now wounded and searching for an avenue of retreat.Together, they forced the warrior into flight and joined the remaining knights in vanquishing their foes. When the tips of the swords slowly settled to grassy harbors of rest, only oneman had fallen. Bentley and anotherNoble Knight went to him and began removing his breastplate, for the wound was serious.The other men stood breathing heavily as the rush within their bodies subsided. Bentley looked up in gratitude toward the man who had wielded sword to help him.

“Thank you for your help. We’ve never faced such men before.”

The Follower nodded in the direction the enemy had fled. “We have. They are enemies of the King.”

“As are ye,” came York’s voice from behind. “Drop yer swords.”

Bentley looked up incredulously. “But these men—”

“—are our enemies,” York repeated. “They’ll be imprisoned.”

The four Followers looked stunned, then slowly stepped back and away once they determined the burly knight was not bluffing. Bentley jumped to his feet.

“They just saved our lives!”

“Then they be fools as well,” York spat. “Disarm them!”

The other knights looked at one another and then at Bentley. Bentley met their eyes, then knelt back down to his fallen comrade. The delay allowed the Followers to separate themselves, and they ran into the trees of the valley.

“After them!” York commanded.

“Sir!” one of the older knights exclaimed. “Nordan is down and needs immediate treatment.We either help him, or we chase the Followers and let him die—you choose!”

York’s eyes burned with fury, and in that moment Bentley fully discerned how deep York’s contention with the Followers lay. It was a moment that set his mind on a different course.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Drawers & Booths by Ara 13

I'd like to tell you all about an absolutely fascinating book I read recently- Drawers & Booths by Ara 13.

Product Description (from Amazon.com)

While a Marine Corps corporal acts as a liaison between an island nation and the U.S. Army, his story is hijacked by a displaced narrator seeking a suspected criminal. The disruption causes the characters to become aware of their role in a novel, even rebelling against the author's intent, in this layered, metafictional journey; poignant, hilarious, and utterly unique.

From the Publisher
An "Outstanding Book of the Year" Bronze Medal "Storyteller of the Year"

About the Award: Drawers & Booths won an IPPY--the world's largest international book awards competition, independent or otherwise. Ara 13 competed against releases from production houses such as, Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Yale, and other university presses, as well as Pulitzer finalist Dave Eggers' production house, McSweeney's, and Barnes & Nobles' alliance press, iUniverse. Ara 13's novel was selected from 3,175 entrants representing 16 countries: Trinidad to Thailand, Croatia to Czech Republic, and France to Finland. Drawers & Booths was one of 32 books to receive the moniker, "Outstanding Book of the Year," and Ara won a Bronze Medal as "Storyteller of the Year."

According to 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards, Ara 13 exhibits "the courage and creativity to take chances, break new ground, and bring about change, not only to the world of publishing, but to our society."

Here is a short video:



My Review

First of all I had NO idea what "metafictional" meant (apparently I live under a rock) so I looked it up in Wikipedia and here is what it had to say:

Metafiction is a type of fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction. It is the literary term describing fictional writing that self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in posing questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, usually, irony and self-reflection. It can be compared to presentational theatre, which does not let the audience forget it is viewing a play; metafiction does not let the reader forget he or she is reading a fictional work.
That definition most assuredly describes Drawers & Booths. I really enjoyed this book! I have honestly never read another book that even comes close to resembling this book. I absolutely loved Ara 13's unique writing style. This book has several deep themes that will keep you thinking well after you are done reading it. It reminded me a little of a "matrix-y" type storyline that sort of bends your mind while you try to understand what the heck is going on! Ara 13 also added a very healthy dose of humour to the story which made me laugh out loud a couple of times. The twists and turns in the storyline and in the style of writing kept me interested in this fun book and I loved how unpredictable it was. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a unique read!

Here is an interview with the author I found on his website...

FIRST 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 we are doing something special for Wild Card. Since February is the month of LOVE, we have three (really four, one is a boxed set) books dealing with love. The authors are:






and the books:


Love as a Way of Life Devotional by Dr. Gary Chapman

WaterBrook Press (October 7, 2008)


I Do Again by Cheryl and Jeff Scruggs

WaterBrook Press (December 16, 2008)


For Couples Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn

Multnomah Books (January 13, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHORs:


Love as a Way of life Devotional by Dr. Gary Chapman

Dr. Gary Chapman is the author of twenty-six books, including Love As a Way of Life and the New York Times bestseller The Five Love Languages. An internationally respected marriage and family-life expert, he hosts the daily radio program A Love Language Minute. Dr. Chapman and his wife, Karolyn, live in North Carolina, where he serves on a church staff.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (October 7, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307444694
ISBN-13: 978-0307444691

I Do Again by Cheryl and Jeff Scruggs

Cheryl and Jeff Scruggs are the founders of Hope Matters Marriage Ministries, and for the past several years they have shared their incredible story of a marriage restored with audiences across the nation. Jeff is an account manager with OshKosh B'Gosh, and Cheryl has served as director of the Frisco, Texas, office of the Center for Christian Counseling. They live in Dallas, Texas with their two college-age daughters

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (December 16, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400074452
ISBN-13: 978-1400074457

For Couples Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn

Shaunti Feldhahn is a public speaker and the best-selling
author of several books. She contributes the conservative opinion for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's popular online "Woman to Woman" column, which is syndicated nationwide.

Jeff Feldhahn is an attorney and the CEO of the tech company World2One. Jeff and Shaunti each hold graduate degrees from Harvard University. They are active small-group leaders in their Atlanta-area and the parents of two.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $19.95
Hardcover
Publisher: Multnomah Books (January 13, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601422482
ISBN-13: 978-1601422484


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTERs:


Part 1

Love as a New Way of Life


Bedtime Stories

I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

—ROMANS 8:38–39


When my grandchildren were toddlers, I read many books to them about farms, the alphabet, and how to have good manners. A more subtle theme among children’s picture books is unconditional love. “Mama, do you love me?” a child asks her mother. “How much do you love me?” a bunny asks his father. With a variety of settings and characters, countless books represent children asking, “What if I ran away? What if I hurt you? What if I traveled to the moon or broke a vase or hit my sister? Would you still love me?”

“Yes,” the parent says. “I will love you no matter what. I will always love you.”

These cozy bedtime stories reflect a universal need that we never outgrow: the need to know that someone, somewhere, loves us without restraint or condition. What a gift we give each other when we communicate that kind of love every day. We might not say it with words. In fact, we might choose to love by not speaking but by being patient in the face of frustration, kind when someone is rude to us, or humble when it would be easier to talk about our accomplishments. But every time we are purposeful about making love a way of life, we are affirming what we each need to hear— and what God speaks to us every day: You are loved. No matter what. Forever and always.

Thought

How would truly believing God loves you—no matter what—change your thoughts and actions in the next twenty-four hours?


Prologue

Cheryl

October 1999

Do you, Jeff, take Cheryl to be your wife, to love her, honor her, and cherish her, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for as long as you both shall live?”

I looked into Jeff ’s eyes and held both of his trembling hands. He looked back at me, but neither of us could see very well for the tears—mine boldly streaming down my cheeks.

“I do.” Jeff ’s voice was low but strong. The words echoed in my mind.

I do. I do.

The minister repeated the words, this time to me, and it was my turn to say it.

I do. I meant it with every fiber of my being. I wanted to shout it to everyone within hearing distance, scrawl it on the walls, write it in the sky. “I do!” I glanced around me. The tiny chapel nestled in the Colorado mountains was awash with rainbow-hued sunlight streaming through stained glass windows, as if God was personally pouring down his blessings on our little ceremony. I felt a chill run down my spine.

“What token of your love do you offer?”

Jeff and I watched as our twin daughters, eleven years old and sparkling in off-white dresses with matching shoes and tights, stepped forward to offer the minister our wedding bands. Brand-new rings, simple and elegant, perfect for our brand-new life.

“With this ring, I thee wed.” ”We repeated the words, mindful that we’d said them before but knowing this time it was different. I could barely remember the ceremony seventeen years earlier when I’d first promised to love, honor, and cherish Jeff. I didn’t keep my promise. But this time I would. As Jeff ’s eyes locked on to mine, I knew he was thinking the same thing.

“I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

Such simple words: Now. Husband.Wife.

So familiar, yet so…unbelievable. How long had I anticipated this moment? Seven years, for sure. Or was it more like eighteen? my entire life? Jeff and I shared a kiss and then pulled our daughters into the embrace. A family hug. We squeezed each other tightly while our tears flowed, and it was all I could do to keep my knees from buckling. We stood there, embracing, wiping each other’s tears, and laughing together. I smiled at my incredible husband, my heart overflowing with gratitude. So much gratitude. A whole new life together. It couldn’t possibly be real. We were a family again. Who would have thought? Who in the world could ever have thought this would happen?




One

Cheryl

2007

I don’t love him anymore.” Amy has barely gotten herself settled on the couch in my office when she blurts out her opening line. She is brunette, petite, and cute, wearing fashionable jeans and just a touch of makeup. She’s the picture of a suburban, got-it-all-together mom—every hair in place, her haircut the latest in chic. Only her expression gives her away. She stares at me, defiant. I recognize the anger. Been there, done that.

“Your husband. ”Who else would she be talking about?

“Actually, I don’t know if I ever loved him.”

Here we go again, I think, my stomach clenching. How many times have I heard the grief, seen the desperation, felt the rage? How many times has my heart broken for a despairing woman who’s come for counseling because she’s lost all hope of her marriage ever working? There are so many hurting couples, so many troubled souls.

“Okay. Let’s talk about it.” I open my notepad and prepare to hear the familiar words. She has no feelings left. She is numb. Wants out of the marriage. Never should have married him in the first place. What was she thinking? Picked the wrong guy. Amy takes a breath and hardly veers from the speech I’d anticipated.

“We’re separated right now. John doesn’t love me—he doesn’t even know me. It feels like he never wanted to know me. We don’t talk—we never have. He doesn’t care who I am.” She pauses. “I know this is wrong. I feel bad about the kids and everything, but I can’t take it anymore. I don’t feel like I can do this one more day.” She looks away. There is more, but she’s suddenly clammed up.

“Sounds like you’re in a lot of pain.”

She fidgets. Her stony glare has departed, and now her eyes flit around the edges of the room. I try again.

“Can you tell me why you don’t love him anymore?”

“I told you—he doesn’t love me. It’s dead. There’s nothing there. This

isn’t a marriage. I’m done.”

“Why did you want to talk to me?”

“I just… I didn’t know what to do. I want out. But I know I’m supposed to…you know, try. Everyone says get counseling. So here I am.”

“Are you looking for a way out, or are you hoping we might find a way to make your marriage work?”

The defiant stare is back. She looks at me, her eyes steely. “No, I… I

can’t do it.” She is suddenly looking at her lap. I consider her eyes, her body language. I try to listen to the words she hasn’t spoken. She’s clearly battered, beaten up emotionally. She feels unloved and worthless. And I wonder, Has she met someone who makes her feel loved again?

I’ve never met Amy before, but I’ve seen her countless times, sitting here on my office couch…or sobbing to me over coffee. Other Amys. Other women who find themselves at the same terrible crossroads. I was Amy once. And while my heart breaks for her, it simultaneously surges with hope. If only… Oh, God…My silent words are a prayer, both for Amy and for me.


Cheryl

1992


August 21, 1992. The worst day of my life. Ten years after walking down the aisle as a young, hope-filled bride, I walked into a courtroom to claim a different kind of hope: liberation from my awful marriage. This was the day I’d obtain the freedom to be with my new love, the soul mate I thought I’d finally found. Today I’d hold in my hands the piece of paper I’d been coveting, the ticket to a whole new and much better life. I stood in front of the judge and told him I wanted a divorce. Earlier that morning, I lay in bed for a moment after shutting off the alarm, groggy with sleep. Something’s happening today. What is it? I tried to clear the fog from my brain, and then my heart lurched as I remembered. Today’s the day! I waited for the excitement to kick in. You’re free today, Cheryl! You’ve been waiting for this for so long! But I felt heavy and unable to move. What is wrong with me? The morning passed in a haze as I readied Brittany and Lauren for preschool and got the three of us out the door. I tried to ignore the dull ache in my stomach. Breakfast was out of the question, and it was all I could do to sip a cup of coffee. After dropping off the girls, I sat in traffic on my way to the Collin County Courthouse in McKinney, Texas. With a few moments to think, I tried talking some sense into myself. Buck up, girl! This is what you wanted…the day you’ve been waiting for! You’re finally going to be happy. For the tiniest moment, I glimpsed a truth I didn’t want to see through a crack in the strong facade I’d built around myself. What if I was making a mistake? What if my traitorous stomach was trying to tell me something?

No. I won’t go there. I’m almost to the courthouse; I’m about to get what I wanted. I’ve always worked so hard, and getting what I want has never come easily. Right now, what I want is freedom, and by gosh, I am going to get it. I can’t allow any negative thoughts to distract me. The cold institutional hallway of the courthouse gave me shivers as I stood waiting for an elevator. Although the hustle and bustle of people surrounded me, I had never felt more alone. But I had on a classy suit, stylish heels, and my best determined smile, and I maintained my composure like a pro. Nobody would know I had the least bit of emotion in me. The reality was that feelings swirled in side my head and my heart, and I just wanted to go home, pull the covers over my head, and pretend my life did not exist. I met my attorney at the door of the courtroom.

“Good morning.” His voice was low and smooth, all business. “Today’s the day.”

I nodded, uncharacteristically mute. I don’t remember what happened next. I suppose there were other cases before the judge, other lives being turned upside down. All I know for sure is that my internal battle was raging and I fought to keep it quiet, to disregard it altogether, and make sure the cool detached expression remained plastered on my face. Finally it was my turn, and I stood, trembling visibly, next to my lawyer, facing the judge. Words were spoken; questions were asked. Did I want a divorce? Yes. But at the moment, I couldn’t remember why.

The judge wanted to know why my husband wasn’t there. How could I tell him that Jeff had not wanted the divorce? That he’d fought against it? Through tears of anguish he’d pleaded with me to change my mind. He prayed for reconciliation. He hoped for another chance. He yearned for my heart to soften. But he lost. At that instant, standing in the courtroom, I felt like a horrible person.

I wanted to turn to the strangers around me and let them know I was a good person. I really was. I loved being a wife and wanted to be a good one. I absolutely loved being a mom. Yet I could not go on in the emptiness…or in the dreadful lack of intimacy. I was dedicated and loyal, trustworthy and sweet. But I could not see any other way out of the chronic ache I had felt for years. I had worked it out in my mind and saw no option other than to escape and start over. I knew I would have a label now, even in Jeff ’s mind, of being an adulterer and a mean person. But the truth was that I was broken and hurting. How could I tell everyone this when my actions seemed to say the opposite?

“Jeff needed to work today,” I told the judge, who nodded. I don’t think he believed it for a second. Jeff was at the office, all right. I stood in front of the bench, wondering what was running through his mind as he sat at his desk attempting to work. Would he cry? Was he angry? How was he dealing with the fact that his marriage and family were being ripped apart? How did he feel knowing he would soon officially be a single, divorced dad? And what right had I to be worried about any of that? I was the cause of it. It was a little late for me to be worried about Jeff ’s feelings.

“Divorce granted.” The gavel went down with an authoritative thud.

Was it my imagination, or did the judge look a little sad? Perhaps disappointed. I wondered what it must be like to preside over the dissolution of families all day long. That word—dissolution—so cold and impersonal. I think the judge knew better. I think he knew he was seeing devastation… wreckage…sorrow…and there was nothing he could do but bang his gavel. The sound of that gavel nearly did me in. My hand went to my chest as I felt my heart explode into palpitations like I’d never felt before. The urge to throw up became overwhelming, and it took every ounce of willpower to steady myself and walk to the rear of the courtroom.

My echoing footsteps seemed to pound in my head as I walked down the dreary hallway. Next to me, my attorney was oblivious, moving quickly as always, focused on his dinner plans or his next case. He stopped when we reached the front entrance to the courthouse. At the top of the steps, he offered his hand.

“Congratulations,” he said, giving me a satisfied, I-just-won-a-case smile.

“Mmm hmm…” I shook his hand, but could not muster a response.

“Congratulations.” Did I deserve that? Did he? Something told me the answer was no. But this was what I’d wanted, fought for, worked toward. And here it was. As I drove away from the courthouse, I finally admitted to myself that I was confused. I had honestly expected to feel elated on this day, ready to break out the champagne and celebrate. I hadn’t allowed myself to doubt the course I was on. For over two years I had known in my heart that divorce was the right way to go. The only way to go. It was the single remedy I could fathom for my despairing hopelessness—the only way to find happiness. It was the only way to finally be with my new love, who was even now awaiting my phone call. I scolded myself for being so emotional and decided it was just the newness of the situation that was making me feel so desolate. Soon the excitement of freedom would kick in. Besides, I had no time for wallowing. I had to get to the bank. I stood in the crowded line, tapping my foot, my eyes darting around impatiently at all the people waiting to do their banking. Was anyone else here to divide up a shared existence? It struck me as odd that a relationship— a life—could be reduced to a few lines on a computer screen and declared finished as the numbers were separated and allocated. One life becomes two, just like that. Visions of my sweet family flashed in my mind—family portraits, candid shots—but I thrust them away, an expert now at doing so.

“How are you today?” the teller asked, as I pushed my paperwork toward her.

“Okay.” I managed a bittersweet smile. As she clicked her keyboard and took care of the details of financial distribution, she must have known better. But she gave me a perky smile right back.

“Let me go print out the checks.” She walked away as I nodded. Half an hour later I stood hesitantly at Jeff ’s office and gave a small knock. He looked up and slowly leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head. His red and swollen eyes spoke volumes. But his face was hard, giving nothing away. If I had to say what I saw in his expression, I would have said disbelief. He truly could not fathom that this was happening. I inched my way toward his desk and held out the check for his half. I couldn’t say anything, and neither could he. Jeff looked at the check, then as he tilted his head, his eyes met mine. His hand did not lift to take the check. Slowly I lowered it to the desk, and Jeff ’s eyes followed it. He stared at the piece of paper. I read his mind and answered silently. Yes, this is what it comes down to. A number with a dollar sign next to it.

I turned and walked slowly toward the door. When I got there, I stopped and faced him again, my eyes brimming with tears and my heart aching with sorrow. I wanted to run into his arms but held myself back, briefly wondering at this crazy desire. What was wrong with me? The look on his face stung. I couldn’t believe that after all this time he could still appear so…shocked. I had to ask him a question.

“Did you really think this was going to happen?”

I don’t know what I expected him to say. Part of me harbored an irrational hope that Jeff would suddenly be happy about the divorce—that he would confirm that I’d done the right thing. I needed to hear it. I needed absolution.

“Not until this very moment, Cheryl.”

For a moment I stood paralyzed as the truth hit me. There is not a more heartbreaking sight in the world than a man whose spirit has been crushed. That was the man I saw in front of me. My ex-husband. I quietly opened the door and walked out of Jeff ’s office, out of his life. For good, I thought. My life and my family’s lives were changed forever.


Boxed Set:

RETHINKING

RANDOM

Why you need a new map of the female universe


Like some guys I know, you might be tempted to skip this introduction and jump right to the sex chapter. And if you’re chuckling right now, it probably means you already did it. Or were about to. It’s not a bad choice, actually. Just a little self-defeating. If you’ve been in a committed relationship with a woman for more than, say, a day, you know that going just for what you want isn’t actually going to get you what you want for very long. A week, maybe? But let’s be honest—one of the main reasons you’re looking at this book is that you are trying to get something you want. Not sex (well, not just sex), but a more fulfilling, harmonious relationship with your wife, one that isn’t quite so hard or confusing. And the back cover gave you the wild idea that understanding her might actually be possible. Either that, or for some reason, the woman in question just handed you this book. Hmmm. Well, either way, take a look at the revelations we’ve uncovered. We think you’ll be convinced. Each chapter explains things about the woman you love that may have often left you feeling helpless, confused, or just plain angry. Each chapter points out simple, doable solutions. The only genius required is that you make a decision up front that you’re willing to think differently. This is a short book, but if you read it cover to cover, you’ll walk away with your eyes opened to things you may have never before understood about your wife or girlfriend.

__Each chapter points out simple, doable solutions.


That’s what happened with me—Jeff. And I’m just your average, semi-confused guy. (Actually, sometimes totally confused is more accurate.) And since us average, semi-confused guys have to stick together, that’s why, even though Shaunti and I are both authoring this book, I’ll be the one doing most of the talking.


First, Some Background

In 2004 Shaunti published For Women Only:What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men, which quickly became a bestseller. Based on a nationally representative survey, scores of focus groups, and other research, it opened women’s eyes to things that most of us guys had always wished our wives knew. Things like, most of us need to feel respected even more than loved. Or besides just getting enough sex, men also have a huge need to feel sexually desired by our wives. I’m not sure exactly why, but women everywhere were shocked. To me, those revelations seemed obvious. But by the flood of letters from around the country—from both women and their grateful husbands—we’ve seen how much good can come when the opposite sex finally has their eyes opened to things they simply didn’t understand before.

_♦I’m not sure exactly why, but women everywhere were shocked by how men thought.


In this book, the shock is on the other foot. Now it’s been Shaunti’s turn to say, over and over, “I can’t believe you didn’t already know that!” When Shaunti’s publisher first approached us about doing a companion to For Women Only to help men understand women, I had two major concerns. First, I didn’t think guys would read a “relationship” book since, for most of us, the last relationship book we read was in premarital counseling— and then only because we were forced to. But more to the point, I doubted that a woman could ever be understood. Compared to other complex matters—like the tides, say, or how to figure a baseball player’s ERA—women seemed unknowable. Random even. I explained my skepticism to one early focus group of women:

Jeff: Guys tend to think that women are random. We think, I pulled this lever last week and got a certain reaction. But when I pulled that same lever this week, I got a totally different reaction. That’s random! Woman in group: But we aren’t random! If you pull the lever and get a different reaction, either you’re pulling a different lever, or you’re pulling it in a different way.

Shaunti: What men need is a sort of map to their wives. Because we can be mapped. We can be known and understood terrain.

Jeff: See, guys think of a woman as a swamp: You can’t see where you’re stepping, and sooner or later you just know you’re going to get stuck in quicksand. And the more you struggle to get free, the deeper you get sucked in. So every guy on the planet knows that the best thing to do is just shut down and hope somebody comes along to rescue you. When I came to, Shaunti and the other women in the focus group assured me—and I have since seen for myself— that guys don’t have to live in a swamp. That realization led us to the eventual subtitle of this book: “A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women.”

∞_“Guys think of a woman as a swamp: You can’t see where you’re stepping, and sooner or later you just know you’re going to get stuck in quicksand.”


The Seven Revelations

The most important key to “de-swamping” the woman in your life is to realize that some of your basic assumptions about her may be either too simplistic or flat wrong. By simplistic, I mean that we tend to operate with a partial or surface understanding of our wife or girlfriend. And to make matters worse, most guys have no idea how to make their limited understanding work in actual practice. For example, most guys have heard that women want security. Okay—but what does that mean, exactly? A regular paycheck? A big house? A growing retirement fund? It’s a huge shocker to talk to hundreds of women and find that while financial security is nice, it isn’t nearly as important to them as feeling emotionally secure—feeling close and confident that you will be there for her no matter what. And believe it or not, ensuring emotional security turns out to be a lot easier than ensuring the financial security you are probably busting your tail to provide. For Men Only will help you move from surface understandings to the all-important recognition of what those things mean in everyday life with your woman. Once you start testing out these findings, I think you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes for both of you.

__For Men Only will help you move from surface understanding to recognizing what those things mean in everyday life.


The book is organized around six major findings outlined on the next page. Some of these will be surprises to you. Some won’t, at least to begin with. (But that’s the thing about “swamps”—what you see is rarely what is really there.)


OUR SURFACE

UNDERSTANDING

WHAT IT MEANS

IN PRACTICE


Women need to feel loved. Even if your relationship is great, your mate likely has a fundamental insecurity about your love—and when that insecurity is triggered, she may respond in ways that confuse or dismay you until she feels reassured.

Women are emotional. Women deal with multiple thoughts and emotions from their past and present all the time, at the same time—and these can’t be easily dismissed.

Women want security— in other words, financial security. Your woman needs emotional security and closeness with you so much that she will endure financial insecurity to get it. She doesn’t want you to fix it; she just wants you to listen. When she is sharing an emotional problem, her feelings and her desire to be heard are much more important than the problem itself. She doesn’t want much sex; she must not want me. Physically, women tend to crave sex less often than men do—and it is usually not related to your desirability. She wants to look attractive. Inside your smart, secure wife lives a little girl who deeply needs to know that you find her beautiful—and that you only have eyes for her.


How We Found Out: Our Methodology

For nearly a year, Shaunti and I worked to identify inner “map terrain” areas that are common to most women but that most guys tend not to understand. Besides conducting hundreds of in-person interviews, we gathered huge amounts of anecdotal information at dozens of women’s events where Shaunti was presenting materials from For Women Only. I spoke with stay-at-home moms, business owners, and secretaries; on airplanes, in focus groups, and over Shaunti’s book table as she was mobbed after women’s conferences. And I sifted through hundreds of e-mails and forum postings from Shaunti’s 4-womenonly.com website. In all these venues, I was really just the “embedded male.” Like the reporters who rode with the armored cavalry divisions at the opening of the Iraqi war, I kept my helmet on, my head down, and my notebook handy.

_ I was the “embedded male.” I kept my helmet on, my head down, and my notebook handy.


After all that research, we did a scientific national survey. As Shaunti had done for her previous book, we worked with survey-design expert Chuck Cowan, former chief of census design for the U.S. Census Bureau, and professional survey company Decision Analyst. They came together to help us design and conduct a groundbreaking, representative survey of four hundred women all over the country. In the end, between interviews, surveys, events, and other input, we estimate that well over three thousand women provided input for this book. I know you’ll be fascinated by the results. While some of the findings may be challenging or difficult to accept, most men have been surprised by how helpful many of these truths are and how simple they are to implement for a better, easier relationship.


The Map Key

Before we tackle each of the findings, some pointers on reading the map:


• This book holds to a biblical world view. Our aim is to be relevant and revealing, no matter what your worldview is. But because Shaunti and I view life through our Christian faith, we have seen that these findings are consistent with biblical principles. We believe that relationships are most fulfilling when both people have a common commitment to serving Jesus Christ. We do not quote very heavily from Scripture, but we do draw from and reference it as the only truly dependable guidebook for relationships. For example, our starting-point assumption is that husbands need to love their wives just as Jesus does us—which means to love, serve, and be willing to sacrifice everything for her good, even above our own.

• This is not a comprehensive marriage book. There are already plenty of marriage books on the market—including many terrific ones from Christian experts. So we stay away from well covered topics and areas that guys already tend to have a handle on, and we leave the heavy-duty theological discussions for those books. (If you want to investigate those further, we list several recommended resources at our website, www.formenonlybook.com.) Also, while we are writing more for married men, these insights will be helpful for anyone in a committed male-female relationship. That said, if your relationship is seriously on the rocks, this little book will probably open your eyes in some important areas, but it is not designed to cover a real crisis situation. We encourage you to get the kind of counsel and support your marriage deserves.

• This is not an equal treatment. Just as For Women Only was purposefully one-sided—and if your wife read it, you may have benefited from that fact—so is this book. Yes, you have needs too, and there certainly may be relationship issues arising because she doesn’t understand you. But For Women Only addresses many of those, and this book is not about them. This is only about the inner lives of women, and we’re focusing entirely on how men relate to women, not the other way around. (That is also why the survey only polled heterosexual women.)

• There are exceptions to every rule. Recognize that when I say “most women” appear to think a certain way, “most” does not mean all. We make generalizations out of necessity to be helpful in the widest number of circumstances possible. Inevitably there will be exceptions.

• Our findings may not be politically correct, but we try to be true to the evidence. As a newspaper columnist on women’s issues, Shaunti sometimes receives e-mails from women complaining that she is doing exactly what we intend to do in this book—making generalizations about women. Add the fact that I, as a guy, am daring to make those generalizations, and we recognize the potential for controversy. We don’t quite know how to get around that, so we decided to just report what we learned. (For any woman sneaking a peak: We do not intend to be offensive; we just want to speak frankly to men, from a man’s viewpoint, about you. Our sole intention is to help your man understand and love you better. Even if we have to poke fun at the male preoccupation with sex to do it.)

_♦We decided to just report what we learned.


The Thing to Do Next

We think in the pages ahead you’re going to receive a lot of very promising invitations to try some new things. Most are incredibly simple, but they may not come naturally. At least at first. Of course, if all you read about here is already instinctive to you, you wouldn’t be troubled by randomness, confusion, frustration…and did I mention swamps? My encouragement to you: Give the process time as you retrain years of incorrect assumptions and counterproductive reactions. Bring a humble attitude. Be willing to practice. Believe it can be done. Because I’ve learned that it can be. After several months of being the embedded male, I was watching a movie with Shaunti one night. Halfway through, I casually mentioned that I didn’t like the way one female character treated another. Shaunti sat up on the couch, grinned, and said, “You’re thinking like a girl!” Now, she meant it as high praise, but in the small Midwest town where I grew up, that kind of talk could get a guy slugged. But then I realized: Maybe I had learned a valuable thing or two about the female universe, just by listening in. Here’s hoping that you do, too.


LIGHTBULB ON!

How I Woke Up to What I Didn’t

Know About Men

The other half of the people

on the planet already know what

you’re going to read in this book.


As newlyweds, my husband and I lived in Manhattan, and like all New Yorkers we walked everywhere. But I quickly noticed something strange. Quite often we’d be strolling hand in hand and Jeff would abruptly jerk his head up and away. We’d be watching in-line skaters in Central Park or waiting to cross the street in a crowd, and he would suddenly stare at the sky. I started to wonder, Is something going on at the tops of these buildings? Turns out, something was going on, but it wasn’t up in the buildings. Have you ever been totally confused by something the man in your life has said or done? Have you ever wondered, looking at his rapidly departing back, Why did that make him so angry? Have you ever been perplexed by your husband’s defensiveness when you ask him to stop working so much? Yeah? Me too. But now, after conducting spoken and written interviews with more than one thousand men, I can tell you that the answers to those and dozens of other common perplexities are all related to what is going on in your man’s inner life. Most are things he wishes you knew but doesn’t know how to tell you. In some cases, they’re things he has no idea you don’t know. This book will share those interviews and those answers. But be careful, ladies. You might be slapping your forehead a lot!

•I can tell you that the answers to dozens of other common perplexities are related to what is going on in your man’s inner life.



HOW IT ALL STARTED…

Let me tell you how I got here. It all started with the research for my second novel, The Lights of Tenth Street. One of the main characters was a man, a devoted, godly husband and father. Because I wanted this character’s thought life to closely resemble what real men deal with, I interviewed my husband, Jeff, and many other male friends to try to get inside their heads. It took me a while to figure out how to handle what I found. You see, in the novel my character had a secret struggle: He loved his wife and kids and was a devoted follower of Christ, but he liked looking at women and had a constant battle with his thought life. A constant day-by-day, even minute-by minute battle with the temptations that beckoned from every corner of our culture, from the secret traps of the Internet to the overt appeal of the miniskirt walking down the street. In short—and this is what was such a surprise to me— instead of being unusual, my character was like almost every man on the planet. Including the devoted Christian husbands I was interviewing. That revelation led to others, on a half-dozen other subjects, and following those trails led to the hundreds of personal and written interviews with men—including a professional survey—that form the core of this book. I interviewed close friends over dinner and strangers in the grocery store, married fathers at church and the single student sitting next to me on the airplane. I talked to CEOs, attorneys, pastors, technology geeks, business managers, the security guard at Costco, and the guys behind the counter at Starbucks. I even interviewed a professional opera singer and a former NFL offensive tackle with a Super Bowl ring. No one was safe.


Light bulb on!

It turned out that these men shared some surprisingly common inner wiring. At their secret inner core, many had similar fears and concerns, feelings and needs.

•oThese revelations were mostly things that my own husband always wished I knew, but couldn’t figure out how to explain.



I discovered that there were many things I thought I understood about men—but really didn’t. In several areas, my understanding was purely surface-level. Once I got below the surface and into specifics, everything changed. I felt like a cartoon character who suddenly had a light bulb over my head. Even better, it turned out that those revelations were mostly about things that my own husband always wished I knew but couldn’t figure out how to explain. And that was a common refrain from most of the men I talked to. Although I still make many mistakes in my relationship with my husband—and will continue to!—finally grasping these things has hopefully helped me to better appreciate and support him in the way that he needs. I want that light bulb to go on for you as well

••We all know, for example, that “men are visual,” but, well…what exactly does that mean?



Why was this surprising?

In a way, I was surprised to be so…surprised. We women think we know many things about a man’s inner life. We all know, for example, that “men are visual,” but, well…what exactly does that mean? It turns out that what that means in practice is the key thing—the specific insight that will help you be a better wife, girlfriend, or mother. Using the “visual” example, the difference is vast between having the vague notion that men are visual and knowing that the sexy commercial he just watched has become a mental time bomb that will rise up and assault him the next day. The difference is vast between helplessly wondering what is going on in his head and having the insight of hundreds of men to help you understand not only what is going on, but also how to support him. Actually, there was a kind of double surprise in this research. When I interviewed men and drew some conclusions, they would often say, “But women already know that…surely they know that.” All too frequently, I found myself replying, “Well, I didn’t know that.” I began to realize that there’s so much about men that we don’t understand— and that men don’t even know we don’t know. And that sort of misunderstanding is the stuff that gives birth to a lot of conflict.


SEVEN REVELATIONS

So here are the revelations this book is going to cover— seven translations from “surface level” to “in practice” that you, like me, may not have realized before. As with all of us, the inner life of a man is a package, with these elements melded and wrapped up inside. Whether you are relating to a husband, boyfriend, or son, it is impossible to understand one part of his inner life in isolation. Every area affects every other area, and I’m only covering those few areas that I thought were the most important or helpful.


The survey

Thankfully, these revelations are also backed up by evidence— a groundbreaking professional survey of hundreds of men. Since I found no survey data like this on the market, two sets of experts, Chuck Cowan at Analytic Focus, the former chief of survey design at the U.S. Census Bureau, Our Surface What That Means Understanding in Practice and Cindy Ford and the survey team at Decision Analyst, came together to help me conduct this survey.


“Men need respect” ➺ Men would rather feel unloved than inadequate and disrespected.

“Men are insecure” ➺ Despite their “in control” exterior, men often feel like impostors and are insecure that their inadequacies will be discovered.

“Men are providers” ➺ Even if you personally made enough income to support the family’s lifestyle, it would make no difference to the mental burden he feels to provide.

“Men want more sex” ➺ Your sexual desire for your husband profoundly affects his sense of well-being and confidence in all areas of his life.

“Men are visual” ➺ Even happily married men struggle with being pulled toward live and recollected images of other women.

“Men are unromantic clods” ➺ Actually, most men enjoy romance (sometimes in different ways) and want to be romantic—but hesitate because they doubt they can succeed.

“Men care about appearance” ➺ You don’t need to be a size 3, but your man does need to see you making the effort to take care of yourself—and he will take on significant cost or inconvenience in order to support you.


The survey was blind, done at random, and meticulously planned and executed. Four hundred anonymous men across the country, ranging in age from twenty-one to seventy-five, answered two dozen questions about their lives and about how they think, what they feel, and what they need. The survey stressed that we weren’t dealing with outward behavior as much as with the inner thoughts and emotions that led to their behavior. Later, because the survey itself inevitably led to additional revelations, I conducted a more informal follow-up survey of another four hundred anonymous men—this time, specifically churchgoers—to ask a few additional questions (and some of the same ones). And later yet, I validated several of those additional insights with a second Decision Analyst survey. Amazingly, across all these surveys there were very few differences. After all the surveying, the results of my personal interviews were confirmed. Not only had I heard the same things over and over—quotes that I will include in the following pages—but those anecdotal results were now backed up by statistically valid evidence. I hadn’t just happened to interview the hundred weirdest men on the planet! (Since I am an analyst and not a psychologist, and since my grad-school statistics professor might politely question the statistical skills of someone who needed a whole semester to learn regression analysis, I was quite relieved that professional statisticians confirmed my findings!)

••Results were backed up by statistically valid evidence. I hadn’t just happened to interview the hundred weirdest men on the planet!



In the end, the men I spoke with and surveyed appear to have been extremely transparent and honest about some very personal subjects. So, men—whoever you are—I thank you.


BEFORE WE START:

GROUND RULES

You’re probably rarin’ to turn the page, but before you get to look inside the inner lives of men, here are some ground rules:

• First, if you are looking for male-bashing or proof that your husband is indeed a cad, you won’t find it here. I honor the men who shared their hearts with me, and I hope that by sharing their insight, more women might come to understand and appreciate the wonderful differences between us.

•If you are looking for male-bashing or proof that your husband is indeed a cad, you won’t find it here.


• Second, this is not an equal treatment of male female differences, nor do I deal at all with how your man can or should relate to you. Yes, we women obviously also have needs, and many of the truths discussed in these pages apply to us too. But since the theme is the inner lives of men and my space is limited, I’m focusing entirely on how we relate to men, not the other way around. (That is also why the survey did not poll gay men.)

• Third, recognize that there are always exceptions to every rule. When I say that “most men” appear to think a certain way, realize that “most” means exactly that—most, not all. I’m making generalizations out of necessity, and inevitably there will be exceptions. One reason I did the professional survey was to determine what was an exception and what was normal.

• Fourth, I’m addressing what is normal inside men, not necessarily what is right in their outward behavior. And since these pages are not the place for a lengthy exploration of any one issue, you can always go to www.4-womenonly.com to explore more resources, including the entire survey.

• Fifth, I need to warn you that some of the enclosed insight may be distressing because it affects our view of the men in our lives and our view of ourselves. It was tempting to exclude certain things, but I realized that I was hearing things men often weren’t willing or able to say directly to their spouses or girlfriends. So it was critical to include these comments. But please realize that in most cases, these comments have little to do with us— they are just the way men are wired. And we should celebrate that fact. After all, it is because he is wired as a man that you love him.

•o The more we understand the men in our lives, the better we can support and love them in the way they need to be loved.


• Finally, and most important, I hope that this book is not just about learning fascinating new secrets. The more we understand the men in our lives, the better we can support and love them in the way they need to be loved. In other words, this revelation is supposed to change and improve us. So read on, ladies, and join me as we look into the inner lives of men.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Age before Beauty by Virginia Smith

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:


Age before Beauty, book 2 in the Sister-to-Sister Series

Revell (February 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Virginia Smith is the author of eight novels, including Age before Beauty, Stuck in the Middle, and A Taste of Murder. In 2008 she was named Writer of the Year at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. A popular retreat speaker, Ginny keeps audiences enthralled with her high-energy presentations. She and her husband, Ted, divide their time between Kentucky and Utah, and escape as often as they can for diving trips to the Caribbean.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Revell (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0800732332
ISBN-13: 978-0800732332

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The mirror had to be warped. That was the only explanation for the image staring back at Allie from its treacherous surface. Her thighs couldn’t be that wide, her belly that flabby. Could glass warp? Of course not. But the weather so far this fall had been wetter than normal, following a horribly humid Kentucky summer. All that dampness wreaked havoc on the wooden front door at Gram’s house. And this mirror had a wood frame. That had to be it.

But the warping seemed only to be in the middle, like one of those fun-house mirrors. She squinted down at her pink toenails. Her feet looked normal. Her face looked okay. Pretty good, even. This was the first time she’d put on makeup in weeks, and a little color worked wonders. She could use a haircut, though the dark blonde layers falling in waves to rest on her shoulders managed to hold the extra length well.

She blew her bangs out of her eyes. Actually, the long hair made her face look fuller, and that offset some of the width of her hips. Which needed the help, especially now that she got a good look at them wearing only a nursing bra and panties. If she cut some of the volume out of her hair, she’d look like one of those toys she and Joan and Tori played with as kids. What were they called? Weebles. She’d look like Mother Weeble.

She swayed from side to side, eyeing her oversized bottom half as she sang the toy’s jingle. “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.”

“Did you say something?”

Allie whirled to find Eric standing in the bedroom doorway, a grin twitching at his mouth. She felt a blush creep up her neck. Though he was the world’s most awesome husband and devoted new daddy, she still felt awkward parading her postmaternity body around in front of him. A flabby belly covered in stretch marks was soooo sexy.

“How long have you been standing there?”

His voice dropped an octave as his smile deepened. “Long enough to admire my beautiful wife.”

No mistaking that husky tone. She snatched her jeans off the bed. “Don’t get frisky, lover boy. My sister will be here any minute.”

Eric’s lips twisted. “Story of my life lately.”

Allie crossed the room and placed a tender kiss on his cheek. “I’m sorry my family is here so often. They just don’t want to miss a day with the baby. She’s growing so fast.”

“I know, I know.” He grinned. “But tonight I get Joanie all to myself. Our first father-daughter date.”

Allie sat on the edge of the bed and slipped her feet into the jeans, avoiding Eric’s eyes. He had been looking forward to this evening for a full week, ever since Joan invited her to go to a stupid party where some fanatical woman would try to force her to buy something she didn’t want and for which she had no use. If only Joan hadn’t asked in front of Eric, she would have turned the invitation down without a second thought. But he had insisted it was time she took her first outing without the baby.

Pulling the waistband up around her knees, she gave Eric a worried look. “Are you sure you’ll be okay? She’s only taken a bottle a few times, you know. She might cry.”

“I’ll deal with it.”

“But—”

He held up a finger. “No buts. She’s five weeks old. In three weeks she’ll be taking a bottle at the daycare center when you go back to work. She needs to get used to it.”

Tears stung Allie’s eyes, and she looked away so Eric wouldn’t see. “I guess you’re right.”

“Of course I am. Now finish getting dressed while I go wind the baby swing again.”

He left, and Allie sat staring at the handwoven rug in front of their bed. Three weeks. Then she’d have to leave her precious little Joanie in the hands of a total stranger.

If only . . .

She jerked the shirt over her head. No. One of the things she and Eric had talked about before they got married was how they’d handle life after they started having children. She’d insisted on laying it all out, because Eric’s mother had been a stay-at-home mom, and Allie wanted to make absolutely sure he didn’t have the same expectations. Her toenail caught the edge of her sock as she tugged it up, and she hissed with pain. No way would she become one of those women relegated to a dull life of child rearing. She was a career woman—the second sock followed the first—with a college degree and plans for her professional future. She liked her job, liked the independence it gave her. Besides, they agreed on having two incomes so they could afford things like nice clothes and good cars and vacations at the beach.

But that was before she’d had a baby.

If only there was some way she could pursue her career and keep her daughter at home. She had quietly investigated every work-from-home scheme she could find lately, but all of them sounded more like scams than jobs.

Banishing the tears, she stood. No sense crying about it. She had no option. In three weeks she’d return to her job as a team leader at the social services office. She might even be able to recapture some of the excitement and ambition she’d felt before she got pregnant. At the moment, though, it sounded like a life sentence with no chance of parole.

She pulled her jeans up over her knees. This was the first pair of zippered pants she’d tried to wear since Joanie’s birth, having lived in sweats and oversized T-shirts once she put away the maternity clothes. Wiggling her hips back and forth, she inched them upward. Come on, come on, they had to fit. They were her biggest jeans, stretchy and so loose that she’d worn them all the way up to her fifth month of pregnancy. Just a little farther . . .

Ugh. She panted from the effort. But at least she’d managed to get them pulled all the way up.

Now the zipper. Suck that gut in. Pull hard. Harder. She hopped up and down, tugging at the waistband. Okay, if the zipper wouldn’t go all the way to the top, it didn’t matter. She’d just wear her shirttail out. Everybody did these days. As long as she could get the button fastened.

There! They fit! She was wearing pre-baby Levis! Well, sort of.

She stepped up to the mirror and bit back a gasp.

The stupid thing had to be warped.


***


“Hey, look at you all dressed up.” Joan stood on the doorstep, car keys clutched in one hand. “You look great.”

Allie scowled and tried not to think of the jeans she could almost wear shoved in the back of her bottom drawer. “These are maternity pants. Nothing else fits.”

“Oh.” Joan’s smile drooped a fraction, then brightened again. “But that’s not a maternity shirt. And turquoise is totally your color.”

Her eyes shifted to a point inside the room, then she practically bowled Allie over as she rushed toward the swing to snatch up the baby. Sighing, Allie closed the door. So much for Joanie’s nap.

Allie tried to ignore a wave of insecurity as she admired her sister’s slim frame, the way her jeans fit without a single bulge. Straight dark hair fell forward to tickle the baby’s face as Joan cooed at her slumbering namesake while she unfastened the safety strap. Soft baby noises answered as little Joanie’s eyelids fluttered open. Allie clasped her hands together to keep from taking the infant from her middle sister’s arms. She was so sweet when she first woke. Tiny fists rose above her head and she kicked her legs out to their full length and arched her back to stretch.

“Look at her! I swear she’s grown an inch since the last time I saw her.”

Allie answered dryly. “I doubt that, since you came over yesterday.” She held her hands out. “Here, let me change her.”

Joan clutched the baby closer. “I’ll do it.”

With a sigh, Allie followed her sister into the nursery. Bright pink daisies on fields of green bordered the white walls and also decorated lacy curtains and crib bedding. Joan laid Joanie on a daisy-covered pad atop the changing table. While she unsnapped the pink onesie, Allie took a diaper from the stacker and popped open the plastic cap on the wipes. The sweet smell of baby powder was quickly replaced with a less pleasant odor when Joan peeled the tape off the dirty diaper.

Eric stuck his head through the doorway as Allie pulled out a wipe and handed it to Joan. “Whew, I’m glad you girls got that out of the way before you left. Of course, the way this little piggie eats, I probably have at least one unpleasant surprise in store tonight.”

“Don’t worry.” Allie dropped the soiled bundle into the Diaper Genie and twisted the knob. “We won’t be gone very long. I’m sure we’ll be back for the next dirty diaper.”

“I’m kidding, Allie. You know I don’t mind taking care of my girl.” He leaned over and buried a kiss in Joanie’s chubby neck, eliciting a gurgle and an excited waving of arms and legs.

Joan snapped the onesie back in place over the fresh diaper and picked up the squirming infant. Allie stepped forward to take her, but instead Joan thrust her into Eric’s arms.

“It’s time to go. I don’t want to be late.” With a meaningful glance in Allie’s direction, she marched out of the room, Eric right behind her with Joanie hugged tightly to his chest.

Left alone in the nursery, Allie fought a wave of panic that caused her throat to tighten with unshed tears. Cheerful daisies mocked her. She knew this feeling, had sensed the edges of it creeping toward her all day. The moment had come. After five weeks of constantly being in Joanie’s presence, she was about to leave her in someone else’s care.

Don’t be ridiculous. She scrubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand. Joanie wasn’t staying with a stranger. She was staying with her daddy! He’d watched her many times while Allie enjoyed a long bath or a nap.

But what if she cries? What if she misses me?

She started toward the living room, and then stopped short as an even more distressing thought struck her. What if she doesn’t even notice I’m gone?

“Allie, are you coming?”

Joan’s voice propelled her feet into motion. She would not think about that.

“I’m ready.”

One step took her from the hallway into their tiny living room, where Eric had deposited Joanie on the mat beneath her baby gym. Allie fought to suppress a wave of regret when chubby infant hands waved with erratic enthusiasm at the dangling toys, and happy coos filled the room. It had only been in the past few days that she’d started noticing the toys. She was growing so fast, changing every day. What if she did something really cool for the first time tonight, while Allie wasn’t here to see it? She dropped to her knees and showered Joanie’s face with goodbye kisses.

“There are a couple of bottles all ready to go in the fridge,” she told Eric. “Run hot water over them to warm them. Don’t use the microwave.”

Eric stood and pulled her up with him. “I won’t.” He planted a kiss on her cheek.

“She ate two hours ago, so she’ll probably be hungry around eight. If she gets fussy before—”

Joan grabbed her arm and steered her forcefully toward the front door. “Come along, Mother. It’s time to go.”

Thoughts of all the terrible things that could happen pummeled her mind like giant hailstones. She pulled away and whirled toward Eric. “Don’t give her a bath until I get home. You know how slippery she is when she’s soapy.”

He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face the door. “Stop worrying. We’ll be fine. Now go have a good time.” A gentle shove pushed her forward.

From the porch, Joan seized her and jerked her through the doorway. Allie shook her off and spun around to remind Eric to put the baby’s sweater on because the house would cool when the sun went down, but the front door slammed shut in her face. Tears welled in her eyes.

“You’re pathetic.” Joan folded her arms across her chest and leveled an unsympathetic look on her.

Allie sniffled. “It’s the first time we’ve been apart in five weeks.”

“Then it’s about time you gave the poor kid some breathing room.” She shook her head. “You’re becoming one of those hovering mothers. I can totally see you stalking her on the kindergarten playground during recess.”

Actually, Allie didn’t see a problem with dropping by to check on your kids during the day, but in the face of Joan’s sardonic expression, she didn’t dare mention it. Instead she lifted a chin. “I will not be a hovering mother.”

A snort blasted from her sister’s nose. “I know my big sister. You’ll hover like a helicopter.”

Her head held high, Allie marched past Joan toward the driveway. “I thought you didn’t want to be late.”

She rubbed her hands on her arms. It was a chilly fifty degrees, and the orange October sun was rapidly dropping toward the horizon. They’d shoved her out the door without a jacket, but she didn’t dare go back inside now or she’d never hear the end of it. Serve them both right if she caught pneumonia and died.






For more information about Age before Beauty, visit www.VirginiaSmith.org




Used by permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright ©2009. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group. www.BakerPublishingGroup.com
 
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