Recommendations

Sabbath Rest Book Talk/Open Book [August 2017]

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

an-open-book

The aforementioned Carolyn also joins me and Rebecca Willen every month for Sabbath Rest Book Talk.

Sabbath Rest Book Talk: a monthly live interactive event where we talk about the value of fiction in developing compassion, empathy, and healthy relationships

Our selections for August were:

Sabbath Rest Book Talk: Where Fiction Is Good For You! Join us for August 2017, and we'll talk about how these books show us what we humans can learn about growing up.

Adult Book: Soulless Creatures by Katharine Grubb

YA Book: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Children’s/Readaloud: Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

And here’s what we had to say about them:

And big congrats to Lisa Hendey, who won the signed paperback copy of Soulless Creatures by Katharine Grubb!

Plus, click here to check out our

NEW GOODREADS FEATURE!

It’s a list! On Goodreads! Vote for books we’ve already featured and add any books you think we should discuss in the future!

Remember, all SRBTs here on out, I’ll continue announcing the book selections and focus ahead of time, so you can read along and join the discussion a little more easily and thoughtfully. Voila, for September:

OpalsJubileeCover GoodMasterCover AnneGreenGablesCover

Adult Book: Opal’s Jubilee by Leslie Lynch

YA Book: The Good Master by Kate Seredy

Children’s/Readaloud: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED FOR AN OPAL’S JUBILEE GIVEAWAY:

deets on the way.  

That’s it for August! While we’re here, gentle reminder: To keep on top of each month’s SRBT selections, do sign up for my monthly newsletter. For notifications that each month’s SRBT is available for viewing/listening, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

What’s your #OpenBook?

Don’t forget to link up YOUR #OpenBook reviews over at Carolyn’s!

Sabbath Rest Book Talk: Where Fiction is Good for You! Join us for a monthly video exchange on how fiction makes us more human.

An Open Book (February 2017)

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

an-open-book

 Sabbath Rest Book Talk will return in March!

Sabbath Rest Book Talk: a monthly live interactive event where we talk about the value of fiction in developing compassion, empathy, and healthy relationships

There will be a few changes–good ones! First of all, I’ll be adding a few co-hosts.  Both Carolyn Astfalk and Rebecca Willen will be joining me for March 5th’s SRBT.  Also, we’ll be hosting the event over on my YouTube Channel as a YouTube Live Event.  You can still comment and play along, of course.  Lastly, I’ll be announcing the book selections and focus ahead of time, so you can read along and join the discussion a little more easily and thoughtfully.  To keep on top of each month’s SRBT selections, do sign up for my monthly newsletter.

While we’re here, here are the selections for SRBT for March, focusing on JUSTICE:

An Open Book Linkup: Dying for Revenge (murder mystery)

mikemulligancover Sabbath Rest Book Talk: Where Fiction Is Good For You! March 2017 will focus on JUSTICE

 

Meanwhile, I’m still reading.

HER ROYAL SPYNESS SOLVES HER FIRST CASE, Review by Erin McCole Cupp for #OpenBook Wednesday

Her Royal Spyness Solves Her First Case by Rhys Bowen.  

Oh, this was a rip-roaring fun thing to read. I initially picked it up because it’s been on my mind for a while to start this series, and Bowen’s latest (I think the latest?) was mentioned the 2016 list of Agatha Award nominees. The Agatha Awards are, “Loosely defined as ‘mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence,’ the Agatha Award salutes the books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie.” There’s a little too much racy talk in there for me to feel comfortable sharing this with my tween-readers. There are not, however, any actual sex scenes or horrifically detailed murders, etc. It was adult-funny, cleverly plotted, and peopled with fully-fleshed characters in spite of the fact that there were so many. I’ll be looking for more Royal Spyness.

Review of IN THE PLEASURE GROOVE by John Taylor (yes, that John Taylor) by Erin McCole Cupp for #OpenBook WednesdayIn the Pleasure Groove by (Nigel, ahem) John Taylor

In the Pleasure Groove was everything you’d expect from JT. It was compelling, entertaining, slick, sexy, jet-setty… and flavored with a sad undercurrent of, well, narcissism. Still. Even in his chapters on facing down his drug and alcohol addictions. Don’t get me wrong: I am super glad the guy is working so hard health in all its dimensions, so invested in being a good father and husband. I’m concerned, though, that as long as he stays his own Higher Power, it might not last. In the end, that made the book unsatisfying. Still, if you’re recovering from or still a hardcore Duran Duran addict, I can’t not recommend In the Pleasure Groove. There’s a bit of depth for the reader in it, even if the author himself may have missed it.

An Open Book book review linkup hosted by Carolyn Astfalk: get your recs here!Nutureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

One of the most influential books about children ever published, Nurture Shock offers a revolutionary new perspective on children that upends a library’s worth of conventional wisdom. With impeccable storytelling and razor-sharp analysis, the authors demonstrate that many of modern society’s strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring–because key twists in the science have been overlooked. Nothing like a parenting manual, NurtureShock gets to the core of how we grow, learn and live.

It’s amazing how actual science works and how easy it is for us to turn our backs on factual reality when it doesn’t fit what makes us feel good about ourselves, isn’t it?  Long story short: NurtureShock confirms the value of common sense parenting in the face of everything from participation awards to gifted class placement tests to fat shaming and schedule-cramming.  I got a lot of validation out of this book and some ideas for modifying my own parenting choices as well.

Get your recs here: An Open Book monthly book review linkup hosted by Carolyn Astfalk Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Yeah, totally embarrassing that this is the first Agatha Christie novel I’ve ever read in my whole life.  To my credit, I was in And Then There Were None in freshman year of high school (Ethel the maid–first one offed, but I got to scream really loud, so that was cool).

Anyway, quick read, clean enough, tight plotting, and even I forgot about one of the big clues at the beginning so that the end was a well-timed surprise.  That said, the end was a bit… unsatisfying in a moral sense, if you get what I mean.  As an investigator, Poirot was warmer than Sherlock Holmes and in that sense more enjoyable from a human perspective; Holmes quirks my eyebrows at both his brilliance and his awkwardness, but Poirot brings me along for the ride.

You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir by Melissa Ohden

You Carried Me : A Daughter's Memoir is an experience of tragedy, pain, hope, healing and triumph, told by an abortion survivor. Don't miss this book!What do you do when you find out you were not supposed to live?  Would you want the find the birthmother who, according to all medical records, wanted you dead? And how do you hold onto a voice in a culture that calls you a liar and silences you at any available opportunity… because your very existence challenges the culture’s most cherished ideas?  This is the story of a woman who survived an abortion in 1977 then went on to search for her birthparents.  The pain, healing and triumph of her experience is one that every human should read.  I give You Carried Me both five stars (would give a sixth if Amazon would let me) and a Four Kleenex Warning. I received a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.   I am honestly confident in giving this book the highest recommendation.  Look for an upcoming in-depth review and giveaway in the next few days.

That’s it for February!  While we’re here, gentle reminder: To keep on top of each month’s SRBT selections, do sign up for my monthly newsletter.

What’s your #OpenBook?

Don’t forget to link up YOUR #OpenBook reviews over at Carolyn’s!

Open Book January (December’s Reads)

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

an-open-book

Cured by Lol Tolhurst

CURED by Lol Tolhurst, reviewed at Erin McCole Cupp's #OPENBOOK review“On our first day of school, Robert and I stood at the designated stop at Hevers Avenue with our mothers, and that’s when we met for the very first time. We were five years old.” So began a lifelong friendship that fourteen years later would result in the formation of The Cure, a quintessential post-punk band whose albums-such as Three Imaginary Boys, Pornography, and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me-remain among the best-loved and most influential of all time….

Cured is not only the first insider account of the early days of the band, it is a revealing look at the artistic evolution of the enigmatic Robert Smith, the iconic lead singer, songwriter, and innovative guitarist at the heart of The Cure. A deeply rebellious, sensitive, tough, and often surprisingly “normal” young man, Smith was from the start destined for stardom, a fearless non-conformist and provocateur who soon found his own musical language through which to express his considerable and unique talent. But there was also a dark side to The Cure’s intense and bewildering success. Tolhurst, on drums and keyboards, was nursing a growing alcoholism that would destroy his place in The Cure and nearly end his life. Cured tells the harrowing and unforgettable story of his crash-and-burn, recovery, and rebirth.

Hooray! I’m so old that the bands I listened to as a teen have earned the cred to write their memoirs! Seriously, though, I saw this at the library and hesitated at the idea of picking it up.  The Cure was one of those bands I lurrrrved in high school but stopped following by young adulthood–frankly, once I’d achieved a certain measure of mental health (not saying that if you still like The Cure you’re bonkers; just that I liked them when I was not in a good place, so there are associations involved there).  I figured, though, it’s the library! It’s free! What do I have to lose, even if I don’t actually get around to reading it?

Needless to say, Cured didn’t go back into the book return unread.  In fact, I flipped open to the first page in the library parking lot while waiting for my brood to finish buckling up and was irritated that I had to, you know, STOP READING AND DRIVE THE CHILDREN HOME.  I finished Cured in the space of 72 hours.  I’m sure it helped that I had so many memories that connected to the author’s tale.  After all, Lol Tolhurst is the reason I had such a hard time in the 90s adjusting to the idea that LOL means “laughing out loud,” not a nickname for “Laurence.” It turns out Lol also is the name of a compelling memoirist.  Alcoholism doesn’t set many people free, especially those who descended so deeply into is as Tolhurst did.  He writes from a space of honesty, regret and hope all at once.  Cured is more than just a memoir of the post-punk age or even just an apology letter to a world wounded by alcohol addiction.  It’s the story of the pressures of creativity from within and without and of the power of a soul’s potential to break through even the heaviest bonds.  Even if you didn’t tease your hair into wild spikes, wear red lipstick and black eyeliner and powder your face white a decade before the word “goths” came into use as it is now (ahem, like I did, ahem), I still recommend Cured.

I’ve also picked up Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me for the first time in mumblemumble years….

The Secret of Glaston Tor (Book 1 of The Glaston Chronicles) by Donal Anthony Foley

The Secret of Glaston Tor, Book 1 onf The Glaston Chronicles by Donal Anthony Foley, reviewed at Erin McCole Cupp's #OPENBOOK reviewFifteen year old Matt Bergin is staying in Glastonbury for Christmas with his cousins, Luke and Annie Martin. Matt feels drawn to Glastonbury Tor, and St Michael’s Tower, which crowns its summit. The cousins learn the secret of Glaston Tor and find themselves propelled back in time to 1940s France and the Second World War.  They are given a mission by an enigmatic stranger, who asks them to help a young German couple and their son escape from wartime France. But the fearsome Gestapo are on their trail. Matt and his cousins will discover that their destinies are intimately linked to this family, and to a mysterious young stranger who will stop at nothing to learn their secret.

I was approached by the author with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.  It didn’t take much arm-twisting to get me to accept. British time travel with a Catholic twist, geared towards teens (two of which I now parent)?

HairTrembles

I am relieved and delighted to say this was a rip-roaring good time of a read! Besides the fast-paced adventure, the story illustrates a number of big questions that the YA audience is just starting to tackle: Does God matter?  Does prayer actually make a difference?  Why doesn’t God always answer our prayers?  Highly recommended for the YA set… and maybe even for yourself!

Angelhood by A. J. Cattapan

Angelhood by A. J. Cattapan, reviewed at Erin McCole Cupp's #OPENBOOK reviewSeventeen-year-old theater geek Nanette believes her life is headed toward stardom on Broadway. But when her dream theater college rejects her and her best friend dies in a terrible accident, Nanette decides the world would be better off without her. Unfortunately, the afterlife offers something less than a heavenly situation. Trapped between alternating periods of utter darkness and light, Nanette is stuck following a high school freshman around. Soon, she learns she’s a guardian angel, and the only way she can earn her wings is to keep her young charge, Vera, from committing the same sin she did—taking her own life. Unfortunately, Nanette is missing more than just her wings. She has no tangible body or voice, either. Frustrated by her inability to reach out to Vera and haunted by memories of her old life, Nanette wants to give up, but then she sees what happens when another Guardian at the high school turns his back on his charge. The shock is enough to supercharge Nanette’s determination. She’s going to find peace in the afterlife…as soon as she can convince Vera that living is what life is all about.

I won a copy of this book from the author, no strings attached, and I’m also delighted and relieved to give it a hearty endorsement.  The pacing is spot-on, the characters are well-drawn and well-motivated, the parents are a living (is that a pun?) and breathing part of the plot rather than just add-ons.  One caveat emptor: I am concerned about how the resolution of the story might make light of the permanence of suicide, especially in the minds of young readers who are on the more impressionable side.  I don’t want to give anything away, but I did want to put that out there as something for parents to consider when thinking about sharing Angelhood with their young readers. That said, it’s well-written and well deserving of all the awards it has received!  I’m looking forward to my next Cattapan read.

8 Notes to a Nobody (Book 1 in Birdface series) by Cynthia Toney

8 Notes to a Nobody, Book 1 onf BIRDFACE by Cynthia Toney, reviewed at Erin McCole Cupp's #OPENBOOK review“Funny how you can live your days as a clueless little kid, believing you look just fine … until someone knocks you in the heart with it.”  Wendy Robichaud doesn’t care one bit about being popular like good-looking classmates Tookie and the Sticks–until Brainiac bully John-Monster schemes against her, and someone leaves anonymous sticky-note messages all over school. Even the best friend she always counted on, Jennifer, is hiding something and pulling away. But the spring program, abandoned puppies, and high school track team tryouts don’t leave much time to play detective. And the more Wendy discovers about the people around her, the more there is to learn.When secrets and failed dreams kick off the summer after eighth grade, who will be around to support her as high school starts in the fall?

8 Notes was a quick, engaging read that dealt with a number of heavy issues in a compact story. And isn’t adolescence like that, really? It’s such a short time when so much happens to the heart, mind and soul. 8 Notes tackles all those issues with courage and truth and not too heavy a hand.  Wendy’s characterization was honest, as was the depiction of life in late middle school and the landscape of all the changing relationships therein.  The pacing felt right, and the development between and within the characters was engaging.  After this first book I have the rest of the books in the Birdface series now on my TBR list!  [I received a complimentary copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

Juuuust in case you’re wondering… what’s going on with Sabbath Rest Book Talk?

Sabbath Rest Book Talk: a monthly live interactive event where we talk about the value of fiction in developing compassion, empathy, and healthy relationships

The first four months of SRBT were, frankly, far more successful than I anticipated they’d be.  Taking that experience, I’m hoping to expand on it and develop something that is more useful to you as a reader.  If you want updates on that, do subscribe to my EMC Reader Newsletter.

Don’t forget to link up YOUR #OpenBook reviews over at Carolyn’s!

Promoting Global Perspective in the Homeschool: A Project Idea

Global Perspective in the Homeschool

[I know, I know.  I’m not keeping a consistent brand, veering off here into homeschooling when I’m supposed to stick with Faith, Fiction, and Love No Matter What.  World poverty is anything but fiction.  Still, as a lay Dominican, I’m called to contemplate and share the fruits of my contemplation.  Hence the breakdown in branding.  Anyway.  Read on, if you’d like.  Buy books or review them as I’d like.]

2017 is bearing down on us.  Christmas holidaying is once again threatening to turn my kids into self-centered brats (threatening;  they’re still pretty amazingly caring people, even after a lot of chocolate and no alarm clocks for a week])  We are so behind on school that I almost skipped our January Month of Service.  Almost.  I’m now scrambling to put it together.

The older kids during January month also get an assignment to research a country or region that has been scarred by poverty and stripped of opportunity.  In 2014, they had to pick one of the 50 poorest countries of the world and answer a series of questions about life there.  Last year, same thing but for a Native American reservation.  This year we’ve been going through the first volume of TAN’s amazing resource, The Story of Civilization. I highly recommend this history curriculum.  We just got to Greece after spending the first part of the year in the ancient Levant.  What better time to have the kids research one of the countries of said region?

Promoting Global Perspective in the Homeschool: A Project Idea

Modern child labor. [ By Яah33l – Flickr: Day 198/365, CC BY 2.0, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

I’m sharing this year’s research questions here in case you’re looking for something similar.  I took our questions from the 50 Poorest Countries project and made some minor modifications.  You can do the same.  Just keep in mind that the goal is to help kids learn to care about the suffering of others and see themselves connected to that suffering.

Get to Know Another Country

What country are you researching?

 

Where is this country located? [BONUS: Copy and paste an appropriate map of this country into this document, or include a link to a map.]

 

What’s the country’s official language?

 

What is the infant mortality rate?

What is the life expectancy?

 

What are the most common causes of death in this country? 

 

What are the most common diseases in this country?

 

What is the median annual income in this country? How does that compare to the median annual income in the United States?

 

How do people acquire food in this country? What is their diet like? How many times a day do they eat?

What are the country’s natural resources?

 

How would you describe this country’s current system of government?  Has there been a change in government in recent times? 

 

What does it mean for a country to be politically stable? 

 

Look up your country on the Global Economy ranking for political stability (make sure you’ve set the year to the most recent year available). What is this country’s ranking overall?  Has the ranking gone up or down over the past five years?  Compare this country’s ranking to the political stability ranking for the United States for the same year.

How has this country’s level of political stability affected its infrastructure: roads, hospitals, public transportation, cars, electricity, running water, radio, TV, internet access, etc.?

 

How are children educated in this country?

 

What are some reasons children in this country might not receive a good education?

 

Is this country at war?  Has it been at war in the past 100-200 years? What were the effects?

 

Was this country ever colonized by another country? By which, and for what years?  What mark has colonization left on this country? 

 

Would you want to be a child your age in this country today?  Why or why not? 

 

If you were in the government of this country, what changes would you make to help the people of your nation?

What other questions would you add, Dear Reader? Have you done something similar to this with your kids?  What was the result?

 

December’s SRBT & Open Book

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup! To which I’m arriving typically late, but what of that?

an-open-book

In the interests of being as efficient with my time as I possibly can, I’m killing two birds with one stone, I link up my video Sabbath Rest Book Talk with Carolyn’s Open Book.

Sabbath Rest Book Talk: a monthly live interactive event where we talk about the value of fiction in developing compassion, empathy, and healthy relationships

This month’s focus was compassion, and our featured fiction is…

Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk

Inspirational Romance that brings the reader the joys of Christmas all year long: ORNAMENTAL GRACES by Carolyn Astfalk

Christmas Hope by Leslie Lynch

Sabbath Rest Book Talk for December 2017 with Erin McCole Cupp

The Strangers at the Manger (Chime Travelers #5) by Lisa Hendey

strangersatthemanger

and as-yet-unread shoutout to Unearthing Christmas by Anthea Piscarik

Sabbath Rest Book Talk for December 2017 with Erin McCole Cupp

See the video here or click on the thumbnail below.

Don’t forget to link up YOUR #OpenBook reviews over at Carolyn’s!

Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk

Hey, there.  Long time no proper blog! I’m hosting Carolyn Astfalk as she shares the news about her latest romance, Ornamental Graces, so please read on! I’ll be talking about Ornamental Graces at my December 4th Sabbath Rest Book Talk.


Inspirational Romance that brings the reader the joys of Christmas all year long: ORNAMENTAL GRACES by Carolyn AstfalkAfter his duplicitous girlfriend left, Dan Malone spent six months in a tailspin of despair and destruction: emotional, physical, and spiritual. Just when his life seems to be back on track, he meets Emily Kowalski, younger sister of his new best friend.

Emily’s the kind of girl he’d always dreamed of—sweet, smart, and sincere. But he’s made a mess of his life and ruined his chances for earning the love and trust of a woman like her.

Could Dan be the man Emily’s been waiting for? How could he be when every time they get close he pulls away? And will he ever be free from his shady past and the ex-girlfriend who refuses to stay there?

An inspirational Christmas romance that spans every season.



Ornamental Graces on Amazon

Ornamental Graces on Goodreads

Pinterest goodies, recipes, and other extras for Ornamental Graces


Read an excerpt from Chapter 1: Sortir du froid (Come in from the Cold)

It had come to this. Daniel Malone sold instruments of torture just to keep food on his crappy Formica table for one. Of course, that probably wasn’t how others saw it.

They were bringing home a piece of the outdoors, a symbol of the season, a reminder of Christ’s nativity and resurrection, the eternal—evergreen—promises of God. Dan had seen things that way too before the past year took everything he had and shredded it with a mulcher. Mustering his remaining whit of self-respect, he’d succumbed to desperation and now sat in a drafty shack waiting for the next giddy Christmas revelers to select a fresh-scented, needle-dropping nightmare.

Okay, so maybe the trees weren’t exactly torturous, but he’d had enough of rough bark, sticky sap, and sharp needles to last a lifetime. After this, he’d be an artificial tree enthusiast—if he bothered to put up a tree at all.

Inside his small, weather-beaten shack, the one he’d assembled mostly from leftover wooden pallets, Dan couldn’t smell the fresh, evergreen scent, the only trait of Christmas trees he still enjoyed. Instead, the odor of burnt coffee lingered though he hadn’t made a pot in days. He never cared for the taste, burnt or not, but he had needed something to keep him awake during the long, boring hours when no customers visited his lot.

The space heater at his feet gave a death rattle, and its electrical hum ceased. He kicked it with the tip of his boot. Nothing.

Great.

Dan folded his large frame under the wooden table that served as his desk and jiggled the wire where it entered the cheap heater. It knocked against the laminate floor remnants and hummed to life. A blast of warm air hit his face and then penetrated his boots. As he sat upright, he glanced out one of the two square windows and spotted a young couple beneath the lights in the rear of the lot.

The man had lifted a Douglas fir from where it leaned against the rope Dan strung across the lot. He stamped its trunk on the frozen, dry ground a couple times and then twirled it around so the woman could see every side. It was a woman, wasn’t it? No telltale pink gloves or hand-knit, sparkly scarf. No expensive boots designed for gawking rather than walking. Just a puffy, navy jacket and white tennis shoes. It could be a skinny dude.

The person spent less than three seconds observing it before planting hands on hips and signaling disapproval with a shake of the head. Yeah, definitely a woman.

Dan rolled his eyes. Another one. If nothing else, this job had given him an unforgettable real-life lesson in male-female dynamics—a lesson that would’ve been helpful a couple of years ago. The man would ferret out the best-looking tree, well-shaped and full, and the woman would turn up her nose, forcing them to cycle through four to seven more trees before one met her approval—sometimes the same tree the man had first shown her.

Poor sap. He had at least three more trees to go.

Dan grabbed his gloves from the table, pulled the lined hood of his jacket over his knit cap, and made for the door. He knew from experience that if he wasn’t standing at the ready the moment the woman found the one, he risked losing a sale.

Dan glanced down to kick aside the rags that kept the cold air from creeping beneath the entrance. He twisted the knob and used his hip to shove open the door. The wind nipped at his bare neck, so he zipped his jacket over his beard and past his chin. He strolled toward the couple, expecting to see them examining another tree. Instead, he witnessed a scene that could serve as a death knell for any romantic relationship.

The man leaned toward her, gesturing wildly with one hand while the other clasped the tree trunk. When his hand dropped to his side, the woman yelled something Dan couldn’t quite make out and kicked the guy in the shin. He hunched to rub his injured leg, and she swatted his back with her gloved hand. The tree careened forward, hit the ground, and sent out a small spray of dust and gravel.

The man regained his footing, gave the woman a light shove, and stomped down the row, out of Dan’s line of sight.

The shove hadn’t been forceful, but Dan decided he should probably check to see that she wasn’t hurt. And that his tree hadn’t been damaged.

A small, white puff of breath billowed in front of the woman and then dissipated. Unaware of Dan’s approach, she crouched down and seemed to search for the best place to get a hold of the trunk. She muttered something to herself, the words unintelligible.

Dan stood beneath one of the overhead lamps, casting a shadow on the tree.

She rocked back onto her heels. “I’m sorry.”

Light brown eyes with amber flecks peered out from under long lashes and a worn, gray knit hat. He expected a huffy, controlling glare, not that doe-eyed innocent look that reminded him of his oldest sister, especially with the twin rosy patches blooming on her fair, winter cheeks. She wore no trace of makeup, but by his estimation, she didn’t need any.

She moved to grab hold of the tree.

“I got it,” Dan said. From the kick and the whap she’d given her companion, Dan knew she didn’t need his help, but the scrap of chivalry he maintained required him to at least offer.

“I didn’t think he’d drop the tree. I make one little suggestion, and . . .” She growled. “I should’ve kicked both his shins, the big jerk.”

Dan raised his brows. No way would he interfere in their lovers’ spat. He’d right his tree and head back to his shack. She could stay out here and fume about her boyfriend or husband or whomever he was as long as she liked. He set the tree against the line and brushed the needles from his gloves.

“Did you see which way he went?” She stood and squinted towards the parking lot.

“Uh—” He jerked a thumb in the opposite direction. “Walked off that way.”

Her gaze followed the path he’d indicated. Beyond the tops of the Christmas trees, a neon sign glowed in the narrow window of an aluminum-sided building. The front door swung open and shut as a couple of rotund men in flannel jerseys exited and thumped down the five wooden steps to the sidewalk. The unlit sign affixed to the second floor read: The Watering Hole. Beneath it, a smaller, vinyl sign read: Voted Pittsburgh’s Favorite Hometown Hangout.

The woman huffed again. “I should’ve known. He only told me three times I was keeping him from relaxing with a beer.”

Dan knew it was none of his business, but in an effort to wrap up the uncomfortable conversation and retreat to the relative warmth of his shack, he asked, “You going to join him?”

She let out a scoffing laugh. “I’d sooner army crawl naked over broken glass and a swarm of scorpions than sit in that stinky rat hole with him. I’ll wait.”

Dan suppressed a smile and shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

He retreated to the shack, closing the door behind him, and toed the rags back toward the base. He dropped onto a folding chair and rubbed his gloved hands together. Not feeling any warmth coming from the heater, he nudged it with his boot until warm air circulated at his feet.

He gazed out the window, expecting the young woman to have gone back to her vehicle, but instead she stood beneath the light where thick snowflakes landed on her hat and jacket. She rubbed her hands together and jumped up and down, presumably trying to warm herself. Maybe the guy had taken the car keys with him.

The snow came down harder, sticking to the cold ground. The wind gusted, blowing the flakes against the side of the shack. The woman clapped and did some kind of awkward hip-wriggling, bouncing jig to keep warm.

He didn’t want company, especially female company, but his heart would have to be colder than his toes to let her stay out there when he had four walls and a roof, paltry though they were. He cracked the door and called to her.

“You can wait in here if you want.”

She jogged toward him, her heel sliding on a patch of black ice partially covered with snow. Her arms flailed as if she were making a snow angel in mid-air before she caught her balance and stumbled forward, her cheeks redder than before.

He pushed the door open wider, and she slipped in. A blast of cold air followed.

“Thank you.” Her teeth chattered, and she hugged her arms close to her body.

“You want some hot cider?” He motioned to a miniature slow cooker on the battered table in the corner. The pot and its contents came courtesy of his sister Colleen. The strangely odorless, brown liquid didn’t tempt him, but maybe it would help warm her.

“I’d love some, thank you.”

He stirred the cider, ladled it into two mugs, and handed one to her. Now the spicy, warm scent of cinnamon wafted through the cool air.

She slipped off her gloves and wrapped her hands around the steaming mug. After blowing on the hot liquid a couple of times, she raised it to her lips. “Mmmm. That helps.”

Dan opened a metal folding chair and dusted the cushioned seat with his glove. He set it on the side of the table opposite him. “You can sit.”

“Thank you.” Her pink lips turned up in a small smile. She sipped her cider, draining the mug in no time. It must have worked in warming her because she unzipped her jacket and slipped the hat from her head.

Luxurious auburn-brown tresses spilled onto her shoulders, dark and luminous. His gaze traveled her back as her hair cascaded down. How could he have mistaken her for a man?

Her magnificent hair mesmerized him, but otherwise her features were pretty but not glamorous or beautiful like—

No. He would not allow her to invade his thoughts.

He turned his attention back to the cider and took a sip. Not bad. “I’ll, uh, keep an eye out for your . . . your boyfriend? Husband?”

She sputtered and covered her mouth with the back of her hand.

“You okay?”  He didn’t need some stranger choking in his ramshackle workplace.

She nodded and cleared her throat. “He’s not my husband or boyfriend. Robert is my stupid, know-it-all brother.”

“Oh.” Dan lifted his chin in acknowledgment. “Whoever he is, I’ll keep a lookout.” It explained their unnecessary roughness. He had four older sisters, and he’d admit to having shoved them a time or two. Not that he’d treat another woman that way.

“My name’s Emily.” She extended her right hand. “Thanks for letting me come in out of the cold.”

“You’re welcome.” He took her small hand in his and gave it a firm shake. “Dan Malone.”

She withdrew her hand and laid it inside her jacket, over her heart, her expression pinched.

“Are you okay?”

“Uh, yeah. Just . . . that was weird.”

He had no clue what she was talking about, nor did he want to know. She wouldn’t be hanging around much longer. He hoped. He’d give the guy another five, ten minutes before he went over there and dragged him out himself. Apparently they were no longer in the market for a tree. Another lost sale, and only one day left before Christmas Eve.

“I don’t know how Elizabeth puts up with him.”

Dan raised his brows. Should he have known who Elizabeth was?

“His wife. He can be such a blockhead. Insists it’s ridiculous for me to get a real tree when I’ll hardly be at my apartment for Christmas. But he can’t let it go at that. He’s got to lay into all the old spinster jokes.”

“Spinster?” Dan peered at her through squinted eyes. She couldn’t be more than twenty-three.

“I know, right? I’m not even twenty-five.”  She flung her hair back and pouted.

Dan shrugged. “I’m twenty-eight. Guess that makes me an old bachelor.”

She smiled, and it lit her face. It was a reserved smile intended to be polite and nothing more, but it made him wonder. When would a woman smile for him again? Not at him, at something funny he said or did, but because the joy he brought her couldn’t be contained.

He hoped never.

Dan switched on the radio, wanting to fill the dead air with something other than silence, and dialed through four stations before he found one that wasn’t playing Christmas songs.

The woman’s eyes, Emily’s eyes, glimmered, and her lips turned up as if she were suppressing a laugh.

“What?” It was his shack; he could listen to whatever he pleased.

She shrugged. “For someone selling Christmas trees, you seem intent on avoiding the sounds of the season. I understand passing over ‘Santa Baby,’ and ‘Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,’ but ‘Greensleeves’ and ‘O Tannenbaum’?”

“It’s not Christmas yet. When it’s Christmas, I’ll listen to Christmas carols.”

She opened her mouth to say something, but Dan pointed toward the window to cut her off. “Your brother?”

Robert stood in the center aisle of the lot, snow swirling around him. He called Emily’s name as he turned in each direction.

“I should make him sweat,” Emily said, her eyes narrowed at her brother. She stood, zipped her jacket, tugged on her gloves, and grabbed her hat. “Thank you for the heat and the cider.”

Dan nodded.

“Oh, and I’ll take the tree. The one we were looking at.”

Dan rubbed his hand over his beard. Her brother may be a know-it-all, but she was one headstrong lady.

Chapter 2

L’un est le nombre solitaire

(One is the loneliest number)

Emily rubbed her boot over the blue ice-melting pellets on the sidewalk, crushing the beads beneath her toes. She scanned the end unit apartment building with its nondescript red brick, darkened windows, and green shutters. With her arms folded over her chest, she huffed and waited as her brother untied the twine holding the tree to the roof rack of his minivan. He’d spent the first ten minutes of their ride badgering her about her stubborn streak and her foolishness for—how did he put it?—“getting cozy in some love shack” with a strange man.

“All I’m saying, Emily,” he said as he stepped off the van’s running board, “is you can’t be too careful. You went behind a closed door with a guy you don’t know. He’s bigger, and he’s stronger. He’s got that Grizzly Adams thing goin’ on with the beard. Who would’ve heard you if you screamed?”

“Certainly not you, since your butt was glued to a bar stool in that dive.” Emily clenched her fists at her side. Robert had been smothering her with his overprotectiveness since their parents died seven years ago. If she didn’t know his concern was born of love, she may well have strangled him by now. “If you hadn’t stomped off to the bar, leaving me stranded in a blizzard, I wouldn’t have been forced to sit in that rickety shanty with Scrooge, the tree salesman.” A closed-off Scrooge, who obviously didn’t want her there.

A twinge of guilt stung her conscience. Maybe she wasn’t being fair to Dan. He had been kind enough to welcome her in out of the cold, but even a wallflower like her could tell his invitation was grudging. Sitting uncomfortably in his folding chair, he’d only contributed curt responses to the conversation. He was a man well-practiced in avoidance.

Had Dan not told her his age, she would have guessed older—maybe late thirties? With a hat pulled low over his forehead and a scruffy beard and mustache bristling the lower half of his face, the only clues to his age had been his eyes. Those hazel irises guarded more pain and weariness than a man in his twenties should harbor.

“Earth to Emily. You gonna get the door for me?” Robert stood at the edge of her walk, the tree hoisted over his shoulder.

“Oh. Sorry.” Emily jogged to the door of the three-story building and opened it.

Robert stomped the snow from his boots, dragged the tree inside, and balanced it against the wall.

Emily, fiddling with her keys, rushed past him to get to her apartment door. Jostling the key in the lock, she turned it and held open the door.

Robert trudged by with the tree, trailing green and brown needles. “Where do you want it?”

“In front of the sliding glass door.” Emily walked to the far side of her living area, which extended via the doors to a concrete slab patio outside.

The small apartment, nondescript in its pale walls and beige carpet, had been home for almost four years. Robert and her sister-in-law Elizabeth had protested when she announced she’d be moving out of their house, but she suspected they were secretly relieved. At the time, there had been three adults and three children under the roof of their 1,600-square-foot house. Since she’d moved out, they’d added two more children. While Emily appreciated their generosity, it had been well past time to strike out on her own. She’d moved less than two miles away, but it managed to give her and them some much-needed privacy.

“Okay,” Robert said as he adjusted the tree in the stand. “Hold on and let me tighten it.”

Emily steadied the tree as Robert lowered himself to the floor and slid beneath the lowest limbs. In several minutes, he secured the tree.

“Thanks, Robert. You’d better get home.” Emily glanced at the wall clock. If he didn’t leave soon, Elizabeth would be drowning in bedtime madness getting all the kids bathed and ready for sleep.

Robert groaned. “Yeah, don’t want to miss an opportunity to chase a wet, naked toddler down the hall, strain a turd from the tub, or read How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? for the thousandth time.”

Emily smiled. She knew from experience that his kids were exhausting, but his small home nearly burst with love and life. Will I ever have that kind of life, or am I doomed to always be alone?

She ushered Robert to the door with a kiss to the cheek despite his infuriating behavior at the tree lot. Before she bolted the door behind him, she remembered she hadn’t gotten the mail and padded out to the group of mailboxes in the entryway.

Robert called from the open door beneath the exit sign. “You’re coming for dinner on Christmas Eve, right?”

“Yep. And we’re still doing that seven o’clock children’s Mass, aren’t we?”

“Yeah. Hopefully they all fall asleep on the way home.” The door swung shut behind him.

Emily hugged an arm across her midsection to fend off the cold air and gathered her mail from the metal box with her free hand. As she shuffled back to her apartment, she sifted through the mixture of catalogs, bills, and junk mail, finding two Christmas cards.

She closed and locked the door behind her, then plopped onto the couch. Sliding a finger under the seal of the first card, she pried it open. The photo card showed the smiling faces of her cousin, his wife, and their children in matching red and green scarves, relaxing in front of a fireplace. Twice she turned the envelope of the second card over in her hands, looking for a return address. Nothing. The postmark only said “Pittsburgh.”

Emily opened the envelope and pulled out a card decorated with glittering poinsettias. A three-by-five-inch photo slipped out and landed in her lap. A blond-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned man in his late twenties stared up at her. The most handsome face she’d ever laid eyes on. The face of the only boy she’d ever loved. His arm wrapped snugly around an olive-skinned woman whose exotic dark hair, dark eyes, and flawless skin made her a natural candidate for Miss Universe. She possessed the kind of looks that made men—and women—stop in the street and take another look.

A text banner at the bottom read, “We’re Engaged! Save the Date: August 3.” Emily scooped up the card and photo along with the other mail and flung them onto her end table. She kicked off her boots and shuffled to the kitchen. Her stomach rumbled, and she realized she hadn’t planned anything for dinner. Scanning the refrigerator, she found only yogurt, fruit, and lettuce. Nothing appealed to her. Celebrating Bryce’s engagement to Miss Universe required carbs, specifically sugar and chocolate. She yanked open the freezer door. Pushing aside a bag of frozen baby peas and a container of leftover soup, she reached for the quart of Moose Tracks ice cream in the back.

Retail therapy befitted the rich or perpetually in-debt. Ice cream therapy? Now, that even an average-looking girl overlooked by men and boys of every age and race could afford to indulge.

“So, you’ve decided to take the plunge, eh, Bryce?” She lifted her spoon and gazed up, as if he stood before her. “You could’ve had the plain but virtuous Emily Kowalski, beloved by small children and dowagers. I see instead you’ve chosen beauty, which I’m sorry to say is shallow and fleeting.” She jabbed the spoon into the ice cream, digging for a hunk of chocolate. “So, boo for you.” She slid a heaping spoonful of ice cream over her tongue, slowly scraping the metal spoon between her teeth. Tears welled in her eyes, and she sniffed. “In your defense, Bryce, I don’t think you knew I could make pierogies from scratch.”

As her spoon hit the bottom of the paperboard container, Emily’s stomach revolted. When would she learn? She pressed her hand to her belly and moaned. This wasn’t the first time she’d drowned her disappointment and envy in empty calories.

After tossing the nearly-empty carton into the trash and the spoon into the sink, Emily plodded to the bathroom, uncertain whether or not her chocolaty meal was going to stay down. She stared in the mirror at her plain, ordinary face. Brownish hair, brown eyes. But her nose was cute, right? She bared her teeth. Perfectly straight (after thousands of dollars of orthodontic work). She wasn’t ugly. She wasn’t!

With a hard swallow to force back the rising tide of Moose Tracks, she breathed deeply and resolved to change. Lord, I’m tired of waiting for life to happen to me. You have a plan for my life, and I’m fairly certain it’s not written at the bottom of an ice cream container.

The nausea settled. She filled a Dixie cup with water and held it up. “Here’s to the new Emily.” She sipped and tossed back her long, thick hair, easily her best feature. She lifted her chin and, for good measure, added, “Amen.”

Get the rest of Ornamental Graces on Amazon today!


Carolyn Astfalk, author of spicy clean romanceAbout Carolyn Astfalk

Carolyn Astfalk lives with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where the wind carries either the scent of chocolate or cow manure. She is a CatholicMom.com contributor and author of the contemporary inspirational romances Stay With Me (Full Quiver Publishing) and Ornamental Graces.

September’s Open Book & Sabbath Rest Book Talk

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

In the interests of being as efficient with my time as I possibly can, I’m killing two birds with one stone.  In addition to reviewing books for #OpenBook, I’ve started a monthly event on Facebook Live over at my author page.  It’s called Sabbath Rest Book Talk, and in it I’ll talk about a few of the books I’ve read in the past month in terms of how they, as fiction, help us grow in humanity.

This month’s focus was on meaning, or how fiction uses meaning to convey layer upon layer of experience, understanding, and dimensionality of the human experience.  When we humans use symbols to communicate meaning, we give flesh and bone and substance to the invisible.

September’s SRBT Featured Fiction:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

The Lion’s Heart by Dena Hunt

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

(Click here for my more detailed review of The Lion’s Heart)

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

Other stuff I’m reading:

It is Right and Just by Rev. John Cunningham, OP & Rev. George Cardinal Pell [nonfiction]

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

Night by Elie Weisel [narrative nonfiction]

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

And here’s September’s Sabbath Rest Book Talk video:

Fiction is Good for You: Sabbath Rest Book Talk meets An Open Book book review linkup bit.ly/SabbathBooks

What are you reading?  Don’t forget to link up YOUR #OpenBook reviews over at Carolyn’s!

#OpenBook and Sabbath Rest Book Talk!

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

an-open-book

In the interests of being as efficient with my time as I possibly can, I’m killing two birds with one stone.  In addition to reviewing books for #OpenBook, I’ve started a monthly event on Facebook Live over at my author page.  It’s called Sabbath Rest Book Talk, and in it I’ll talk about a few of the books I’ve read in the past month in terms of how they, as fiction, help us grow in humanity.

Sabbath Rest Book Talk: a monthly live interactive event where we talk about the value of fiction in developing compassion, empathy, and healthy relationships

For the August episode of SRBT, for the the thumbnaily-thing below to watch the video on YouTube:

Sabbath Rest Book Talk: Where Fiction is Good for You! Join Author Erin McCole Cupp for a monthly interactive event where we'll discuss all the ways fiction builds up our humanity.

And here are links to the books discussed in August’s episode, focusing on EMPATHY:

LunarChronicles

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

 

Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh the Hero by Geraldine McCaughrean

 

RolandWestLoner

Roland West: Loner by Theresa Linden

Don’t forget to link up YOUR #OpenBook reviews over at Carolyn’s!

This writer scheduled her blog tour while on pain meds. What she did next was a total embarrassment.

Jane EyerFinal-FJM_Low_Res_500x750

I’m usually pretty organized when it comes to writing-related stuff.  Getting that teeny little gall bladder out, however, threw me off my game so much more than I anticipated.

Anyway, remember how I posted all the links to the Unclaimed blog tour going on this week into next?  Yeah, I forgot to link to Dawn Witzke at Catholic Underground.  She has a review written by hers truly, and then over on Underground, she gives an excerpt and some feedback on the book from… one of her characters! Ingenious.  Do check out Dawn’s work.  Sorry, Dawn, for letting you get lost in the shuffle.  ::shuffles away, head down::

 

On a brighter, “hey, getting organized again is awesome” note, I’ve contacted all the recipients of the sponsored party favors tossed to attendees of the Unclaimed release party.  Check your messages and emails if you’re one of those! UNCLAIMED FB Party Cover

 

Open Book: June reads for July Reviews!

Carolyn Astfalk has a first Wednesday of the month book review linkup!

an-open-book

One thing can be said for having a couple of complications dragging out weeks after super minor abdominal surgery: there’s lots of time to do nothing but sit in bed and READ!   Perhaps that’s the only thing to be said for it, though; being unable to work on one’s own writing and publishing is pretty frustrating.  That said, today is the rescheduled release date for UNCLAIMED, Book 1 in The Memoirs of Jane E, Friendless Orphan.

Jane EyerFinal-FJM_Low_Res_500x750

Unclaimed cover art Copyright 2016 Fiona Jayde Media

I was chomping so badly at the bit to get that up and running by June 24, but instead I was propped up in bed with my iPad and this guy for my reading buddy.

SiggieReadingBuddy

Funny story: five days after I came home from  the hospital, Siggie (above) suddenly started sniffing around my belly and instead of making me take his tennis ball out of his mouth to play fetch, he just gave it to me.  The two days later I was back at the doctor, and lo and behold! I had an infection developing.  Of course, if he were really intuitive, he wouldn’t have kept trying to jump directly onto my belly… but he’s still a good recovery companion.

Okay, let’s look at what I got to read in June…

Testing Liberty & Fight for Liberty by Theresa Linden

I really cannot rave well enough about the Chasing Liberty trilogy.  If you took The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World, and 1984, wove them together with a fresh, deeply human sensibility and gave it just the lightest sprinkle of holy water… you might come close to getting a series as fast-paced, powerful and satisfying as Liberty’s three-part tale.

I loved Chasing Liberty, butTesting Liberty Brown Red in Testing Liberty, Linden really ups the ante.  It was like in Chasing we got to see the veneer of Aldonia’s oppressive deep green culture scraped painfully off, and then in Testing, we dive down deep, deeper into the hearts and lives threatened, destroyed, and changed for good or ill by the conflict between the Regimen’s culture and the inner drive for freedom and independence that some of the colonists live out for themselves… and are getting ready to share with Aldonia on a wider and far more risky basis.   Usually the middle installment in a trilogy is the most difficult to keep spinning on a lively axis, but Linden turns that idea on its head and somehow makes Testing even more heart-rending and engaging than its predecessor.

FightForLibertyAnd then in Fight for Liberty, it all comes so satisfyingly full-circle.  Something Linden does so powerfully in this conclusion(ish) to the series is that the encourages us to look at the future of freedom (and, frankly, the present) through the lens of our history.  The way she approached a renewal of personal freedom as a rebirth of the ideals and courage of the American Revolution is a tack we don’t see often taken in speculative fiction.  It works.  Fresh, engaging, honest and uplifting, we can see our future as fraught with danger… but also promising courage and hope and the best humanity has to offer.

Fight for Liberty dropped on July 4! Keep an eye out here for an in-depth interview with Theresa Linden later this week.  

The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem

The tomb

It’s the story of Mary and Martha illuminated in a way you’ve never imagined.  In this conclusion (I think?) to the Living Water series, Stephanie Landsem gives us a rich backstory on why Martha is the way she is–a controlling, put-upon, neat freak who’s never satisfied.  I’d never before considered the kind of heartbreak that might have gone into making a Martha.  Landsem took my preconceived notions of a picky, spoiled, overly pious Jewish daughter and made her into someone who’s been through just as much as any of us has in on our way to becoming the fragile, cautious creatures we can be… until we let Christ come in to our lives and change us.  This third book has just as much delicious angst as The Well but just as much sweet satisfaction as The Thief.  For readers who like a good ends-tied-up series, this last book makes that happen but infuses the ending of the trilogy with great energy; it left me happy for the characters (each in his/her way) but still sad to see it end.  Highly recommended.

At the Crossroad by Amy M. Bennett

At the Cross Road: Book 4 in the Black Horse Campground Mystery Series by Amy M. Bennett (Oak Tree Press)

People, I just adore this series.  It’s really so much fun to read.  Okay, I realize I just said that about a series with a body count, but hey, take me as I am.  In At the Crossroad, Corrie, Rick, and JD all have to face the past–their own and the ghosts of others.  The mystery is fast-paced, crisp, and richly human.  The storytelling is clean, and the violence and relationships are never gratutitous.  All these characters have come to feel like family to me over the years, to the point that, yes, I’ve declared myself #TeamRick (and Crossroad makes that seem even more possible than No Vacancy did… but I’m sure Amy will keep us guessing).  In fact, I kind of know who I want to set JD up with, but Amy would pee her pants if I told her, because it’s so outlandish… Anyway, I hope that the fact that these characters have taken on their own lives in my imagination (am I writing Black Horse fanfic in my head?!?!) is endorsement enough.

After the Thaw by Therese Heckenkamp

AfterTheThawCover

A sequel to Heckenkamp’s Frozen Footprints that yet stands strong on its own, After the Thaw is a story of courage, healing, redemption, self-sacrifice, and the value of honesty.  The plot was fast-paced and kept me well invested in the future of heroine Charlene, the people she loves, and the people who sought to use her for their own ends.  Serious and tragic but with a great touch of humanity, Thaw kept me turning the pages and caring about the characters.  Should Charlene really marry Ben?  I mean, he’s a good guy, but is he the guy?  And what is going on with Clay and that pregnant girl?  For all the angst of the beginning and middle, the end is super satisfying with a touch of just-right sweetness.  Tough but still clean, this would make a great beach read.

Sunflowers in a Hurricane by Anne Faye

Sunflower Front CoverA sweet, touching story of healing, forgiveness and closure, Sunflowers in a Hurricane weaves together the lives touched, smote and healed by an unlikely friendship. When single-mom Cheryl must clear out her estranged mother’s house, daughter Ruth becomes the garden help and Mass companion of elderly widower George next door.  The move brings Cheryl face-to-face with her difficult past, a past she’s been evading ever since Ruth was conceived, as well as with her fears for her own and Ruth’s future.  Meanwhile, George stands courageously and compassionately in the face of his own past losses resurfacing in ways he hadn’t expected. The two households mirror each other in ways that make us think more deeply about the nature of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and redemption.  Faye turns a tale with an honest kindness often missing from family drama fiction these days, while keeping readers hooked on the story.  This was an uplifting and enjoyable read you’ll want for your beach bag!

Don’t forget to link up YOUR reviews over at Carolyn’s!