Archive for February, 2010

Abigail by Jill Eileen Smith

I was not sure about reading Biblical Fiction.  I have read a few and was quite disappointed.  That is not the case with Jill Eileen Smith’s The Wives of David series.  The first book, Michal, was fascinating.  The second book Abigail is just as fascinating.  Jill Eileen Smith does a wonderful job of keeping her fictional account of Abigail in line with the Biblical account.  One of my favorite parts of this series is how Smith deals with the multiple wife aspect.  I also found myself drawn into the story with more emotion.  At times when reading the Word I have a tendency not to think of the characters as emotional beings too.  They are.  Jill Eileen Smith portrays that very well.  The books are a rich portrail of one of the Bible’s most fascinating characters, David, and his wives.

I have really enjoyed The Wives of David series and cannot wait to read the next book.

About the Book:

What price must she pay for true love?

Her days marked by turmoil and faded dreams, Abigail has resigned herself to a life with a man she does not love. When her husband Nabal’s foolish pride angers David and his men, she boldly steps forward to save her family—and David, the would-be king, takes notice.

Circumstances offer Abigail a second chance at happiness with the handsome David, and she takes a leap of faith to join his wandering tribe. But her struggles are far from over. How can she share his love with the other women he insists on marrying?

Available February 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group

Thank You Revell for my review copy.

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The Country House Courtship by Linore Burkard

I absolutely adore Linore Burkard.  She is one of the sweetest ladies I know.  This is her third book in her Regency series.  Mention the word Regency and you have my attention.  Why?  I am a Jane Austen fan.  I have long loved her books.  The language, the setting, the story!  Linore is a modern day Jane writing in one of my favorite time periods.  I mean am I the only one who wishes we still dressed as they did?  :)

I loved the heorine Beatrice in this novel.  She was sassy and delightful.  And you know how I love a good series.  Beatrice is on a journey in this book.  Which is why it is probably why it is my favorite.  She is on a journey to find the one she loves…which any single girl understands!  This delightful book is full of twists and turns as we feel like Beatrice is on a roller coaster of emotions at times.  I think I understood Beatrice well which endeared me to her.

If you enjoy historical romance then The Country House Courtship is a fabulous read!

About the Book:

Readers are loving the third volume in Linore’s regency series from Harvest House Publishers,The Country House Courtship in which a young regency miss runs into conflict when her heart’s desires concerning a husband run counter to what her mind says is best.

It is 1818 and Miss Beatrice Forsythe is determined to marry well. After all, her sister married the Paragon, Mr. Phillip Mornay, five years earlier–which all but guarantees that she, Beatrice, can also make a famous match to a wealthy man.

But her sister and husband have disappeared from high society as they raise a family at their country estate.
Can Beatrice persuade them to chaperone her in London?

Meanwhile an old acquaintance, Mr. Peter O’Brien shows up at the house as the candidate for a vicarage to which Mr. Mornay holds the rights. Will old passions and jealousies be revived? Or can Mr. O’Brien and the Mornays ever live near each other as friends? And what about Beatrice’s rash promise to marry the curate, made years earlier? At seventeen now, she has no wish to marry a mere clergyman–despite his agreeable countenance and winsome gentle ways.

When Mr. Tristan Barton comes on the scene as the tenant of the Manor House, Beatrice’s hopes seem to have found their object. But when Ariana falls gravely ill, secrets come to light, motives are revealed, and the pretences that are easy to keep up in the sunlight begin to crumble. Hearts are bared, truths uncovered, and when all is said and done, a country house courtship like no other has occurred!

About the Author:

Publishers Weekly acclaimed the work of Burkard in its review of The House in Grosvenor Square, saying, “Ms. Burkard’s command of period detail is impressive..On the whole, it’s a tasty confection.”

Burkard, a fan of classic romances and graduate of City University of New York, began writing stories when she couldn’t find true Regency romance within the inspirational fiction category. “I knew that many women like me want stories that are historically authentic and offer glimpses of God’s involvement in our lives,” she says.

Raised in New York, Burkard now lives with her husband and five children in a town full of antique stores and gift shops in southwestern Ohio. To learn more about her, visit http://www.linoreburkard.com.

Thank You Glass Roads PR for the complimentary copy of The Country House Courtship.

Swinging on A Star by Janice A Thompson

Swinging On A Star is the second book in the Weddings By Bella series. I so enjoyed the first book and this one is no exception! The Rossi family is delightfully funny and endearing. Add in a movie star…who is a bachelor and on the most eligible list and you have a hilariously funny story. One of my favorite things about Janice Thompson’s writing is she is funny without trying to hard. Sometimes humor in books can come across as flat and not funny at all. Janice Thompson has no problem in that area. If you are looking for a faith filled humorous story about a crazy loveable family I highly recommend Swinging on A Star!

About the Book:

Bella Rossi’s life is nearing perfection. She’s got the perfect guy, she’s running a successful business, and she’s about to plan her most ambitious wedding yet; a Renaissance-themed fairy tale come true, complete with period costumes and foods, horse-drawn carriages, and even a castle.

There’s just one hitch. The best man just happens to be Brock Benson, Hollywood’s hottest and most eligible bachelor. Oh, and did we mention he’s staying at the Rossi house to avoid the paparazzi?

With all the pressure surrounding this wedding, Bella’s not sure she’s going to make it through. Add her starstruck sister, her feuding aunt and uncle, and a trio of large, sequined church ladies with even bigger personalities, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster–and a lot of laughs.

This hilarious romantic comedy is sure to delight both fans and new readers alike.

Available January 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Thank You Baker Publishing Group for my complimentary copy of Swinging on A Star.

Desperate Hope by Candi Pearson-Shelton

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:

Desperate Hope

David C. Cook; New edition (February 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Candi Pearson-Shelton is a worship leader, songwriter and independent artist. Known for her involvement with the Passion worship movement, she also wrote and performed the title track on the Dove-award-winning album, Glory Revealed. She and her husband Jonathan live in Southern California with their son, Elias.

Visit the author’s website.

Desperate Hope, by Candi Pearson-Shelton from David C. Cook on Vimeo.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (February 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434766144
ISBN-13: 978-1434766144

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Substance of Hope

Oh blessed hope, sole boon of man, whereby on his straight prison walls are painted beautiful, far-reaching landscapes, and stretched into the night of very doom is spread holiest dawn. —Thomas Carlyle

If you could hope for just one thing, what would it be? What is that one hope that causes you to wake every morning and trudge through these days? Something, something in the fiber of an existence fuels each breath. If not, then what good is living? Lost hope is lost meaning, and lost meaning is void—dull, still, black. This is no life. This is more like what I imagine hell would be.

We need a marvelous hope because we need purpose. We pray for what we hope for because our entire being screams out a deep longing for it, and to lose this would be to lose ourselves. So what can be the object of this kind of hope? What is the single greatest imaginable hope?

The substance of such a worthy hope, the kind that gives purpose and meaning to this life, is recorded in the gospel of John, tucked inside one of Jesus’ prayers. Chapter 17 records what Jesus thought important enough to pray for. This was His deep longing, and in His perfect marriage of deity and humanity, He offered us a glimpse of His object of great hope. In this chapter we find Jesus praying a remarkably simple prayer that can be broken into three distinct parts.

First, He prays for Himself. In the few beginning sentences, He establishes with His father the importance of their reciprocated glory, praying that God would glorify Him so that He could in turn glorify God. He confidently confesses the beautiful fulfillment of His mission, acknowledging the work He had been sent to do was done. His primary concern for Himself, His worthy and God-centered hope, was that in the time approaching—His betrayal, arrest, and death—He would continue in the reciprocal glory between Father and Son, and God would bring Him back into the glory they shared before the beginning of the world (verses 1-5). His desire for Himself? To reveal the glory of His Father and get back to Him as soon as possible.

The second part of the prayer is for His disciples. This piece of His prayer is especially moving because it reveals His genuine affection for these men, these friends and brothers, to whom He’d grown so close. The first part reads like a proud papa spouting off a list of the things His children have accomplished. They kept His word, they accepted it as truth, and believed Jesus to be the Son of God, and they glorified the Father because of it. Jesus’ tender love is revealed as He prays according to His great hope for these men. He asks for a bond of unity, the same brand He enjoys with God His Father. He asks for His own joy to be fulfilled—literally crammed—in them. He prays that God would keep them protected from the enemy as they carry out the tasks that were entrusted to them. His great hope for His friends, His disciples? That they would exist joyfully in unity as they spread the beauty of the gospel, which is the hope of glory and the promise of being with Jesus the Savior forever in His Father’s kingdom.

The third part of this prayer is my favorite because it puts an exclamation point on Jesus’ great hope. It happens to be where we come in, too. Jesus actually prays for us—you and me—in John 17! Isn’t that an amazing discovery? Before we were even given an earthly thought, He divinely prayed for us, and we have the proof of His thoughts toward us in this chapter. His prayer for us sounds very much like those for Himself and His disciples. He prays that we, those of us to come who would believe in Him, would also enjoy the same unity that He has with His Father. He set His glory on us so that we would fully know the unity He desires for us, and so the world would see how much we are loved by the Father. Then he adds the icing:

Father, I want these whom you’ve given me to be with me, so they can see my glory. (John 17:24)

There it is: Jesus’ great hope is for us to be with Him so we can relish His supreme grandness—to see His glory. In the three-part prayer for us all, He illuminated the hope that fueled His words, His actions, His life, and His death. He wants us all to see His glory, and He desperately wants us all with Him.

This incredible truth is far easier to read and accept with eager willingness, easier to apply to our own lives, when we haven’t found ourselves in the precarious position of praying against Jesus. Trying to reconcile our hopes with the hope that is evidenced in Jesus’ prayer means that we will no doubt find ourselves pleading against the very thing Christ has already prayed for. Rick’s sickness highlighted the opposing prayers God hears, as well as the wide contrast between our sometimes selfish hope and the pure and perfect hope of Jesus. We prayed for more time here, for healing, for miraculous things, but things that ultimately kept Rick physically intact and in close proximity.

And Ricky died.

And Jesus prayed for this!

I find it hard to say anything more eloquently and God-breathed than the words Charles Spurgeon has already penned:

Thus the disciple is at cross—purposes with his Lord. The soul cannot be in both places: the beloved one cannot be with Christ and with you too. Now, which pleader shall win the day? If you had your choice; if the King should step from His throne, and say, “Here are two supplicants praying in opposition to one another, which shall be answered?” Oh! I am sure, though it were agony, you would start from your feet, and say, “Jesus, not my will, but Thine be done.” You would give up your prayer for your loved one’s life, if you could realize the thoughts that Christ is praying in the opposite direction——”Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am.” Lord, Thou shalt have them. By faith we let them go.

Understanding the deep ramifications of an answered prayer, one way or another, is to consider all its facets. For me, it is an astonishingly brighter mourning when a child of God returns to Him because Christ’s prayers were answered rather than my own … that the death wasn’t just a blip on the radar screen of life, or a chance occurrence among the other random happenings here on earth. This was an event that has been prayed for over the course of history. Our prayers would have only recently joined in with that of Christ’s, which continues to ring out through time for each of us who believes. He loves us more than understanding can allow us to think upon, and sometimes God grants His Son’s prayer with a “yes” answer, at the expense of our mortal but temporary wounds, and to the blissful delight of all the beings in heaven. He did with Rick, and we continue to turn the diamond of an answered prayer in order to see more facets when the Light touches them.

Now I stand with the diamond in hand—His answer to our prayers. I stand in the aftermath of hope. To say that a journey of hope can have an aftermath is fiercely accurate, as only one who has been on such a journey can know. What a mere day looks like after such a grueling journey; how small moments suddenly inflict enormous emotion; how a lifetime feels in the wake of crushing sorrow and miraculous graces intertwined—all are a part of the full experience of the aftermath.

There is more to an aftermath than a simple time of felt consequences left from the disaster that brings it about. Instead, it is more akin to a second growth from the season of pain, the harvest of our grief bringing about a second crop. The aftermath of hope is about wandering around in the rubble, finding the green mingled in with the char, picking up the pieces that aren’t burned or completely shattered, and finding in the new growth a collection of new ideas, new vision, new character, and a new, more certain hope.

And whether from talent or compulsion of the soul, there is great value in recording the gentle whispers and hard-learned faith lessons that make up the aftermath, springing up like tender shoots of vivid green grass through the contrasting blackened dry soot. These are my blades of grass, the lessons in the aftermath, told with the heart of an explorer fresh from the adventure, brimming with tales of terror and scars, of beauty and redemption.

The aftermath of hope. Hope in all its glory.

©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Desperate Hope by Candi Pearson-Shelton. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Double Trouble by Susan May Warren

I so enjoyed the first book about PJ Sugar and was eager to read Double Trouble. Of course I have not met a Susan May Warren book that I have not loved! Double Trouble is no exception! I knew when I was laughing out loud three pages in that I was in for a crazy ride with PJ and pals. I found myself really connecting with the characters and understand the flow of emotions from each. I could not think of a word to describe PJ after I finished book one but in book two I realized just how tenacious PJ is. I found myself enjoying the story even more with knowing PJ’s background and I could not help but relate to her as she tries to find her footing in this oh so crazy world. PJ is easy to love and understand because she is so like us. She is flawed. Far from perfect. She messes up just like me. I find a comfort in knowing Susan May Warren has created a character that is so like many of us….it makes me feel almost normal ;)

Double Trouble has it all…mystery, romance, and plenty of laughs! So if you enjoy a book that has it all pick up a copy of Double Trouble by Susan May Warren today!

About Double Trouble:
With one solved case under her belt, PJ Sugar is ready to dive into her career as a private investigator. Or at least a PI’s assistant until she can prove herself to Jeremy Kane, her new boss. Suddenly PJ’s seeing crime everywhere. But is it just in her head, or can she trust her instincts? When she takes on her first official case-house-sitting for a witness in protective custody-Jeremy assures her there’s no danger involved. But it soon becomes clear that there is someone after the witness . . . and now they’re after PJ, too.

About Susan:
Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning author of twenty-four novels with Tyndale, Barbour and Steeple Hill. A four-time Christy award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Book of the Year. Her larger than life characters and layered plots have won her acclaim with readers and reviewers alike. A seasoned women’s events and retreats speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!. She is also the founder of www.MyBookTherapy.com, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice. Susan makes her home in northern Minnesota, where she is busy cheering on her two sons in football, and her daughter in local theater productions (and desperately missing her college-age son!) A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com

There is also a FUN contest!

DoubleTrouble

Double Trouble, the brand new PJ Sugar novel by Susan May Warren, is in stores now!  To celebrate the release, we’re running a HUMDINGER of a contest!!

One Grand Prize winner will receive a $150 SUPER SLEUTH prize package that includes:

* A brand new iPod Shuffle (perfect for those all-night stakeouts)

* A $10 iTunes gift card (we recommend the ALIAS soundtrack)

* A $10 Amazon gift card (why yes, they do sell spy pens)

* A $10 Starbucks gift card (for fuel, obviously)

* A pair of designer sunglasses (be stealthy AND super chic)

* A gorgeous scarf from World Market (can also be used as a blindfold, and/or for tying up bad guys)

* AND signed copies of both Nothing But Trouble & Double Trouble. (romance! danger! intrigue! sooo much better than Surveillance for Dummies!)

We’ll announce our super sleuth winner on March 1st.

Check out what others are saying about Double Trouble on the Blog Tour!

Thank You Litfuse Publicity for providing me with a complimentary copy of Double Trouble and a copy to giveaway!

***A GIVEAWAY!***

I have one copy of Double Trouble to give to one of YOU!  Just leave a comment on this post before midnight (EST) on February 17.  I will then use random.org to pick a winner and email them the next day.  Giveaway is open to those living in the US and Canada.

Third Time’s A Charm by Virginia Smith

I have so enjoyed the Sister to Sister series and the last book of the series, Third Time’s A Charm is no exception. It has been such fun getting to know these three sisters: Joan, Allie, and Tori. I think this book was my favorite as I understood a lot of Tori’s emotions and confusion. If you enjoy a heart warming story that involves a lovable family then the Sister to Sister series is a great read!

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About the Book:

(Dual Residency: UT & KY) – There’s not too much in this world that a little retail therapy can’t fix—except maybe the empty hole in your heart from lost and undiscovered love. Tori Sanderson is no exception. Facing abandonment issues with her father, Tori sets out to find the real reason he left her. Along the way she discovers even deeper truths. Add in two matchmaking sisters plus a couple of attractive men vying for Tori’s attention, as well as a tempting job promotion possibility, and you’ve got one confused sister. Through it all, Tori searches for the love she’s been missing all these years.

Author Virginia Smith, presents Third Time’s a Charm, the third installment of the Sister-to-Sister Series. Page-turning humor surrounding the lives of three sisters will once again engage readers, while somber self-discovery will unveil Tori’s struggles, and perhaps a few of your own. In a world with more than a few dysfunctional families, this story will ring true for many.

An Interview with author, Virginia Smith:

1. This book is the third and final book in your Sister-to-Sister Series. How did you feel when you completed this last book?

I felt a little sad, because I have lived with the characters for three years, and they’re very real to me. I’ll miss them. Plus, I wanted to leave readers with a good impression, so I was anxious for the last scene to be strong. I prayed over that last line for a long time, and when the words finally came, I got chills. They were absolutely the perfect wrap-up for the whole series. I still get tears whenever I read them.

2. Which of the sisters in this trilogy do you relate to the most? Why?

That’s a hard question to answer, because there is a piece of me in each of the Sanderson sisters. But I’d have to say I relate most closely with Tori, because she is professionally ambitious, and she struggles to balance her career and her personal life. I did that for over twenty years, so much of her conflict comes from my experiences.
3. You’ve been contracted to write 12 times in the last 4 years. To what do you attribute this success and how would you encourage others who are doing everything possible to get published?

Perseverance. I wrote for over twenty years before my first book, Just As I Am, was published. But I believed that the Lord gave me the desire to write, and even when my pile of rejections was growing (to an astounding 143 before my first publication!), I knew if He wanted me to write, I was going to keep writing. Even now – or maybe especially now – I trust Him for every story, every contract. Sometimes I still receive rejections, but I keep writing because He keeps giving me stories.

4. How is your relationship with your own sisters similar to Tori and her sisters? Did you pull from these sibling experiences when writing Third Time’s a Charm? How?

I sure did! Actually, my sisters were the inspiration behind the whole Sister-to-Sister Series. They are the most incredible women in the world, and I wanted readers to glimpse the relationship we have. And they were excited to have starring roles in my stories. It was funny watching them try to identify themselves in the books, because I took characteristics from each of us and mixed them up to create each of the Sanderson sisters. Tori, for instance, is a career-minded person, like me. She’s creative, like one of my sisters. And she’s a big flirt, like the other sister. Uh… I’d better not identify who that is, or I’ll start a family feud!

5. What’s next for Virginia Smith?

In May of this year I have a new book coming out from Steeple Hill. Researching A Daughter’s Legacy was a lot of fun, because it is set in a zoo! It’s my first straight romance, and was something of an experiment for me to see if I liked writing the genre. I loved it, and have a few ideas germinating in my mind for future romance novels.

Then later in the year, Into the Deep will hit bookstores. That’s a romantic suspense novel with a scuba diving theme. It takes place partly in Key West, and partly in Cozumel, Mexico. Can you tell I have a lot of fun researching my books?

Virginia Smith recently contracted her twelfth book in four years. Previous books in the Sister-to-Sister series include: Stuck in the Middle and Age before Beauty. In 2008 she was named Writer-of-the-Year at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. Stuck in the Middle was a finalist for American Christian Fiction Writers’ 2009 Book of the Year Award. A Taste of Murder was a finalist for the 2009 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. Ginny and husband, Ted, divide their time between Lexington, Kentucky, and Salt Lake City, Utah, escaping as often as possible for diving trips to the Caribbean. Admittedly, her adventurous outings are often as much fun as they are “book research.”

Thank You Kathy Carlton Willis Communication for providing me with a complimentary copy of Third Time’s A Charm.

**Comment for a chance to be entered in the KCWC contest :)

Hero’s Tribute by Graham Garrison

I read this book over my Christmas break and really enjoyed it. It is not my usual kind of read. What caught my interest was that it was set in my home state and the name of the town is very similar to the town I live in. One of my favorite things is that Graham Garrison really captured a picture of life in a small town. The story is excellent and I found myself caught up in the story…and pondering the ultimate question the book brings up…What makes a hero?

Hero’s Tribute is a fabulous read…if you love one genre in particular I suggest getting out of your box and trying this one. :)

***************

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:

Hero’s Tribute

Kregel Publications (September 21, 2009)

***Special thanks to Danielle Douglas of Douglas Public Relations for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Graham Garrison is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Atlanta. He has covered high school and college football games as a newspaper reporter, completed an internship with the U.S. Army at its National Training Center in the Mojave Desert and tested WaveRunners and Runabouts as the managing editor of a national boating magazine. He’s written about battlefields for America’s Civil War, interviewed medical innovators for Georgia Physician and even penned an editorial for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. When he’s not writing, he’s chasing his two-year old son Nicholas and their Beagle, Baxter around the backyard with his wife, Katie.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (September 21, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0825426855
ISBN-13: 978-0825426858

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Prologue

There were no famous last words from Michael Gavin. Nothing like George Washington’s “I die hard, but am not afraid to go,” or General Lee’s “Strike the tent.” When Michael stopped talking late in the night, he simply held Lynn’s hand. When he was too weak for even that, she took the weight of his pale left arm in hers and gently rubbed his palm. She watched his chest as it registered, however faintly, the struggle for each final breath, until she could barely tell if the battle was still joined. Finally, his eyes, once steely and strong, faded to a dull, dark black. Thirty-nine short years after his arrival, Michael Gavin, American hero, was gone.

It was a Monday.

Lynn Gavin sat by the bedside for fifteen minutes, with Michael’s lifeless hand still in hers, before reaching for the phone to call his parents. She felt selfish for taking that time to mourn alone while the rest of the family was unaware of his passing, but she had lost this fight with cancer as much as he had.

That horrible day when Michael was diagnosed.

The trips to chemo.

The sleepless nights as Michael shivered against the disease.

The day-by-day erosion of the strongest man she’d ever known.

Lynn dampened her sobs to a persistent, ragged groan that seemed to settle deep in her chest, and she started thinking as a parent instead of simply a wife. Addy, their six-year old, had slept over at Michael’s parents’ house last night, at Lynn’s request. She hadn’t wanted to expose Addy to the final throes of death, or to anything more than she had already experienced in the last few months. Even before Michael’s cancer, Addy had seen more from this world than any child should have to. A six-year-old should be singing along to Veggie Tales and laughing at Sesame Street, not tiptoeing around IV lines and smelling of disinfectant after hugging her daddy.

Guilt crept in. Shouldn’t everyone be here? Why did I want this time with him to myself? What kind of person am I?

She felt an impulse to ask forgiveness, as if Michael had died in the early morning hours only because there was an empty household for the first time in three weeks. She reached for the telephone on the nightstand and dialed Michael’s parents.

Chapter 1

Betty Gavin answered on the second ring. Only one person would be calling this early.

“Mom, Michael’s gone.”

Betty had braced herself for those words, but they still struck like a hammer to the ribs. She stifled a reflexive sob. “Oh dear,” she said, dropping the spoon she had been using to stir her tea. “I’ll be right over.”

“What should I do?” Lynn asked.

“You just sit tight, honey. I’ll be right there.” There was no correct protocol for times like these. Lynn had been so good about making the tough decisions during Michael’s illness. When friends or family stopped by to offer prayers or a kind word, Lynn would be consoling and encouraging them by the time they left. Now it was time for others to lift Lynn up.

Betty had just enough presence of mind to tell Lynn not to worry; that they would figure out what to do next, together. Then she found herself at the front hall closet, fumbling with the buttons on her coat.

If things took a little longer with arrangements, then that’d be fine. Addy would be fine at their place until they sorted things out. There was always someone around the neighborhood to help in a pinch, and this was one of those pinches the entire town would come around for.

She covered her face with her hands, her body convulsing. “Oh Lord, oh Lord.”

Paul Gavin didn’t have the best hearing in the world after sixty-seven years, but he had a sixth sense about when his wife needed him. At the crack of dawn on Monday, he was where he always was, sitting on the front porch, sipping coffee and tying his shoes for a morning jog down the same street where he’d beaten the pavement for years. He was religious about his morning constitutional: five days a week, rain or shine, he’d circle the neighborhood cul-de-sacs and wave to the commuters embarking on their forty-five-minute commute from town to city. He didn’t need to be at work at the local college until nine, the reward of tenure from teaching graduate-level business courses for more than a decade, following his service in the Army. This morning, instead of going for his jog, Paul opted to enjoy the sunrise and read the city paper. He’d make it up this evening, he told himself.

Paul didn’t hear the phone ring, or see Betty collapse onto the sofa, but he had a feeling he was needed inside.

As Paul stood to his feet and folded the paper under his arm, the front door opened and Betty stepped out onto the porch, ashen faced, the key to the Volvo dangling absently from her hand. Paul instantly knew what had happened.

Tossing the paper onto the rocker, he reached for Betty, wrapped her in his arms, and hugged her for all he was worth.

“Could you—” Betty’s words dissolved into a sob, and she tried to catch her breath.

“Don’t worry, sweetie, I’ll take care of Addy. You go.”

After Betty drove away, Paul returned to the front porch and sat in his rocking chair to sort through his thoughts and make sense of everything that would now be required.

Phone calls to relatives and friends. A Call to the newspaper to have an obit made so out-of-towners would know the details of the funeral. The family had made some of the arrangements in advance but still needed to finalize a few things with the funeral home.

Then there was the package he promised Michael he’d deliver.

A promise was a promise.

Analyzing decisions was Paul’s way of getting through tough times. Like Michael, he had a knack for remaining calm under duress, making snap decisions that others found too difficult or too emotional. But even now, as he sat in his rocking chair ticking off the preparations to make before saying good-bye to his son, his eyes retreated to a certain spot on the front lawn. The clearer the green became, the less he thought about the arrangements, and the more he walked through memories of Michael’s childhood.

He envisioned a ten-year-old boy with dirty knees, a Braves cap, and a big, broad grin on his face, winding up to toss the baseball back. Or sprinting for all he was worth toward the far corner, football helmet askew and arms outstretched for “just one more pass, Dad, before we head in.”

Paul stopped his mental checklist and just stared at the grass.

Word traveled fast in a town like Talking Creek, with or without cell phones. Granted, cell phone towers had popped up in this corner of northwest Georgia like in every other part of the country, and a cell phone company had put a store over on Main Street five years ago, but it’s not like the residents needed all that. You could shout from one end of Main Street to the other and someone could easily hear you, it was so small. And with a population of just under six thousand, everybody knew everybody, and probably knew everybody’s relatives, too. Only about a thousand of those folks came and went, those being out-of-town students of Tributary University, the local liberal arts college.

The west end of Main started with a hamburger joint and a pizza place, then proceeded through town, passing two banks, the grocery store, a busy café, the drug store, a combination book and coffee shop, the barber shop, hair stylist, and post office. On the east side, the town’s two big churches, United Methodist and First Baptist, sat on opposite sides of the street, close enough for parishioners to wave to one another before walking into their respective Sunday services.

Talking Creek’s claim to fame was the annual fall firemen’s parade. As home to one of the finest volunteer fire departments in the state—and possibly the entire Southeast, the town rolled out its big red engines every year and invited towns near and far to bring theirs too.

Gene Woods, one of Talking Creek’s volunteer firemen, lived three streets down from Paul and Betty in the town’s lone subdivision. Like Paul, he was a creature of habit. Up at the same time every morning, he showered, put on a dress shirt and tie, brewed a cup of black coffee, read the paper, and hit the road at 6:30 sharp for his job at the local power plant. Gene’s routine coincided with Paul’s run, and the two usually exchanged waves halfway between their two homes. Today, however, Gene noticed that Paul wasn’t running.

Gene knew Michael, and about his fight with cancer. Well, everybody in Talking Creek knew Michael. Many remembered him as the kid who’d broken all the state passing records in high school. Others still half-expected to see him hiking the Georgia mountain trails with those kids from the foster care retreat. Everyone knew what he’d done in the war; about the big, shiny medal he’d earned, and how quiet he’d been about it when he returned.

Gene’s wife, Mary, was in Betty’s prayer group at the Methodist church, and she had relayed Betty’s prayer concerns as Michael’s cancer had worsened. Each time Mary brought bad news, Gene would just shake his head. How could a strong kid like that get beat by something that starts so small? The power and frailty of the human body never ceased to amaze Gene. How in the world could a person live on pizza, beer, and cigarettes all their life and make it to eighty, while some middle-aged marathon runner has a heart attack at fifty? Or what about some stupid kid who drives drunk as a skunk and crashes head-on into a Suburban. He survives, with a few scratches and a bump on his head, but the family in the SUV doesn’t? And how can something no bigger than a speck when it starts cut down a tree trunk like Michael? It just didn’t make any sense.

Gene slowed as he neared the Gavins’ property. To most folks, spotting Paul on the front porch wouldn’t be cause for concern, but Gene’s heart sank. He knew his friend should be getting his laps in before work. Guys like Paul and Gene didn’t mess with their routine just for the heck of it. Maybe the polite thing to do would have been to keep on driving and let Paul be; but that didn’t set right with Gene, and he was in the business of doing the right thing. He pulled his Dodge Ram into the driveway and hopped out.

Paul and Gene were part of a close-knit fraternity. Both were combat veterans, Paul in the Army, Gene as a Marine sergeant. Their rival service loyalties elicited jabs and good-natured jokes between the two, but not today.

Paul stood and nodded as Gene got out of his truck. Gene took three steps down the walkway and paused. What should he say? He was always at a loss for words at times like these. He clenched his right first, frustrated at his lack of words. Then it hit him. He pivoted slightly toward Paul and in a crisp, forward motion, lifted his right hand to his temple.

Paul returned the salute.

“This town won’t ever forget your boy,” he said.

Ten minutes later, Gene was doing what he always did in a crisis: taking charge. He walked into the fire station storage room and grabbed Big Glory, the biggest American flag you’ve ever seen. Then, climbing the steps of the tallest landmark in Talking Creek, the fire tower they used for drills, he unfurled the flag and attached it to the brass hooks along the edge of the parapet. It seemed the right thing to do.

“Hey Gene, what in the world are you doing?” It was one of the paramedics on shift, looking up from the ground below. “Parade ain’t for another two weeks.”

Gene mulled over what to say. “You’re needed at the younger Gavins.”

“Oh.”

Gene watched as his words sank in.

“Okay, we’re on our way.”

After securing the flag at half mast, Gene went down to the dispatch room and called the chief of police.

“What’s up, Gene, is there a fire?” a groggy Heath Jackson muttered into the phone. He wasn’t due at the police station until three cups of coffee from now.

“No, no fire,” Gene said. “Paul’s son passed away this morning.”

“Oh, I hate to hear that, Gene.”

“Yeah, listen, you think you should send some of your boys down to the house to make sure everything’s all right?”

“Consider it done. Thanks for letting me know.”

A few miles away, Betty and Lynn tried to collect themselves. The shock was wearing off, but numbness crept in. That’s when Betty decided to call the funeral home to come and take Michael, and they received the first of many surprises from the town of Talking Creek.

“Yes, ma’am, the police department asked permission to handle your request,” the funeral home receptionist said. “And we’re really very, very sorry.”

She probably shouldn’t have been, but Betty was taken aback at how fast word had traveled. “Thank you,” she managed. “When do you think they will get here?”

“Ma’am, it should be there already.”

Skeptically, Betty looked out the window. Sure enough, parked by the fence was an ambulance, flanked by two squad cars. By the time Betty and Lynn walked out the front door, two more police cars had arrived. Police Sergeant Mark Lovejoy met them halfway, head slightly bowed. Betty didn’t bother asking him how they knew.

“We’re here to escort Michael,” Lovejoy said.

The ambulance and police procession through downtown to the funeral home proved more effective than any newspaper headline. One glance at the convoy set off a firestorm of discussion up and down Main Street. Once the people who knew—mainly Gene walking into Reese’s Café for his second morning coffee—gave the news to a few of the town’s movers and shakers, word spread quickly to shops like Smith’s Pharmacy, into the faculty offices of the university, and among parents in the carpool lane at the elementary and middle schools.

Talking Creek High School assistant principal Gus Hilliard caught wind of Michael’s passing from the front office workers. As Sue Holton was about to press the talk button on the school microphone for the daily announcements, Gus gently tapped her shoulder.

“I’ll take this one,” he said.

Gus never did the announcements. He hated public speaking. He did most of his talking behind closed doors, lecturing kids busted for chewing gum in class or running amok on school property. He was good at cracking skulls without touching them; just forcing the fear of God into misfits with his deep voice, broad shoulders, and harsh scowl.

The front office folks immediately hushed their conversations when Gus wrapped his knuckles around the microphone.

“This is Assistant Principal Hilliard,” he began. “We’ll be doing announcements differently today. Before we say the Pledge of Allegiance, I want to have a . . . a . . . moment of silence.”

The front office ladies let out a sigh, thankful he hadn’t said “moment of prayer.” Someone no doubt would have raised a fuss at the next school board meeting.

“And if you want to pray,” Gus continued, “well go ahead and do that too. And if anyone is offended by that . . . well, they can come and talk to me about it.”

Eyes rolled behind his back.

“A former Talking Creek High student died this morning. Michael Gavin. If you didn’t know him—and that’s probably just one or two of you—you missed out on knowing a good man and a true hero. He did a lot for this community, and a lot for this country, and we here at Talking Creek High are all going to miss him. Please take a moment or two now to remember him.”

Ralph Frink, owner of Southern Décor, got the news around lunchtime from one of his production managers. Southern Décor, a manufacturer of outdoor decorations, was Talking Creek’s largest employer, outside of Tributary University. Yesterday, the company had put the finishing touches on some Christmas decorations for a central Alabama town, and the production line was up and running. Frink didn’t have to think too hard about this one. He called a company-wide meeting in the plant, asked for a vote, and it was unanimous. The next day, Southern Décor would shift the line over to making large yellow ribbons and American flag decorations to wrap around every sign and streetlight from here to the county line. He’d foot the bill.

The churches geared up early. Mondays were Bible study days at both the Methodist and Baptist churches, and two group leaders who did their grocery shopping in the morning before class bumped into each other in the produce section, like they always did. Joanne Reed, a lifelong Methodist and friend of Lynn’s and Michael’s, was noticeably shaken.

Naturally, Liz Montgomery was concerned. She gave Joanne a warm hug and asked her what was wrong. When Joanne told her about Michael and Lynn, Liz’s eyes welled with tears. Then she got determined.

“Call your group leaders, and I’ll call mine, and we’ll figure out what to do.” By the afternoon, there wasn’t a cold oven in the city limits.

Smith’s Pharmacy ran out of Hallmark cards by 3 p.m. The first to go were condolences. Then encouragement. Then thank you cards; because by that point the only other cards in the racks said “Happy Birthday” or “It’s a girl.”

Mondays were also soccer days at Glenn Park. Kids walked out of the elementary school with their cleats and shin guards in hand, down the hill to Glenn Park and over to the soccer fields. The parents pulled up a few minutes before game time, helped their kids into uniforms, and then plopped lawn chairs on the sidelines to catch up on the latest news while cheering on a mass of children circling a ball for an hour.

The games couldn’t start without the national anthem. A Boy Scout or Cub Scout from one team would be in charge of raising the flag up the pole at the edge of the field while everyone saluted. Jesse Blackmon, a Tenderfoot, and by far the smallest kid on his team, got the assignment this time. His coach whispered something in his ear, and although he was a little confused by the request, Jesse dashed to the flagpole and, as everyone began singing, did exactly what his coach had told him to do. He raised it to half-staff.

Talking Creek football coach Bud Lawler didn’t let the news pass his team by. The current Eagles were a far cry from the glory days of Michael’s run at quarterback. Coach Lawler would know that better than anyone else; he’d been a tight end on those teams. He’d been back at his alma mater for seven years now, and was trying to rekindle some of the old magic. His resume included five winning seasons and two playoff berths, largely because of the Summers boys: Tripp, Taylor, and Travis. None of the three was very big, or had an arm like Michael’s, but man could those kids run. A few brave souls in town had even suggested—whispered is more like it—that they were as fast, if not faster, than Michael. During their respective senior years, Tripp, Taylor, and Travis had each led the county in rushing. Times had been good again for the Eagles with the Summers boys in school. During Taylor’s senior year, they’d even found themselves in the Georgia Dome for a semifinal game against powerhouse Buford. But that was three years ago, and now, in order to get the “Summers over” tag off his back, Coach Lawler needed to do something with this latest crop of boys.

The Eagles were 3–1 and preparing for their first regional game, against archrival Calhoun, which was ranked fifth in the state and had a three-game winning streak going against Talking Creek. A win against Calhoun and the Eagles would be in the driver’s seat of Region 5-A. A loss, and they’d be right back in the middle of the pack, where they’d been since the Summers boys graduated.

Fifty teenagers in blue and gold trotted out of the fieldhouse and onto the practice field across from Grady Stadium. It used to be that Talking Creek squads practiced on the stadium field, but seeing as how everybody else had a practice field for practice and a playing field for playing, Talking Creek boosters had chipped in to pay for some nearby brush to be cleared and a field to be readied. The team broke off into offensive and defensive squads. Coach Lawler limped out of the fieldhouse a minute later, game plan in hand and a scowl on his face.

“Boys, hats off and huddle up,” he said. The Eagles squeezed together amid sounds of chinstraps unsnapping and helmets coming off. “You know this week’s a big week with Calhoun. Well, it just got a lot bigger.”

He paused, checking to make sure he had everyone’s attention. “Michael Gavin died this morning. He put all those trophies in our gym. He brought a lot of great memories to this town, and now it’s our turn to make some more memories.”

“On Friday, that place”—he pointed behind his shoulder to Grady Stadium—“is going to be packed tighter than a can of sardines. And it ain’t just ’cuz we’re playing big, bad Calhoun. It ain’t ’cuz they’ve whipped us the last three years and their blood is up; and it ain’t ’cuz they want to shut you seniors out a fourth and final time.” He pointed to his two team captains.

“It’s ’cuz a lot of people are going to come to the game to remember what Michael Gavin did on that field years ago. And you know what? We’re gonna give them something to remember him by! So, you ain’t just playin’ for yourselves or for this team this week. It’s bigger than that. We need to do him proud.”


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