Thursday, January 15, 2009

Wild Card: The God Question by J. P. Moreland

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:

The God Question

Harvest House Publishers (January 1, 2009)


J.P. Moreland is distinguished professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology. His many writings include Kingdom Triangle. Dr. Moreland served ten years with Campus Crusade for Christ, planted two churches, and has spoken on more than 200 college campuses and in hundreds of churches.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (January 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736924884
ISBN-13: 978-0736924887

Why Can’t I Be Happy?

In the mid 1980s, hard evidence revealed that something was seriously wrong with the American way of life. Rumors about the problem were prominent since the 1960s, but when the evidence was published, the rumors became public knowledge, though few today know what is going on. And more evidence has piled up in the past 20 years.

Some of the causes and symptoms of the problem shape the way we approach our lives and make it difficult to face this evidence. Not long ago, I was watching reruns of television commercials of the 1950s. In one quite typical ad, a medical doctor encouraged viewers to smoke cigarettes for their health. Smoking, he assured the viewers, calmed nerves, aided one’s appetite, and helped people sleep better. This widely accepted belief hindered Americans from realizing that cigarettes actually harm one’s health. Similarly, the conditions of contemporary life make the evidence mentioned above hard to accept.

And even if someone accepts this evidence, it is very, very difficult to know what to do about the situation. And I say to you with all my heart that you have been hurt by what the evidence shows. No, it’s worse than that. You and your loved ones have been harmed, not merely hurt. In the following pages I have some good and bad news. Let’s start with the bad news. What are the problems and the evidence to which I have been referring? What are the causes and symptoms that have hindered us from facing the evidence and overcoming our dilemma? Let’s look at these in order.

Americans Don’t Know How to Be Happy

The cover story of the December 2006 issue of The Economist was about happiness. The Economist is about as far from a pop psychology magazine as you can imagine, so the topic must have been something of great concern to the editors. Based on research data from 1972 to 2006, the article concluded that people in affluent countries have not become happier as they have grown richer, had more leisure time, and enjoyed more pleasurable activities and a higher standard of living.

In 2005, the results of extensive study on American happiness were released with similar findings: Americans are on average twice as rich, far healthier, more youthful, and safer than they were 50 years ago, but they are not as happy. Since the 1960s the percentage of Americans who say they are “very unhappy” has risen by 20 percent, and depression rates are ten times higher than they were during and before the 1950s. Each year, 15 percent of Americans (approximately 40 million people) suffer from an anxiety disorder.

For decades, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman has been the nation’s leading researcher on happiness. His study released in 1988 sent shock waves around the country. Seligman studied the happiness quotient and depression rate among Americans at that time compared to those of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Are you ready for this? He discovered that the loss of happiness and the rise of depression were tenfold in the span of one generation—the baby boomers. Something has gone terribly wrong with American culture, said Seligman, and the tenfold, short-term explosive loss of happiness and growth of depression—a factor that has continued to increase since the 1980s—is clearly epidemic. What is going on?

Digging Deeper

Without being harsh, I must say that we would be naive if we didn’t believe this epidemic has affected all of us. There is a way out of this mess, and the chapters that follow are my best offerings for embarking on a journey to a rich, deep, flourishing life. In fact, I would like you to read this book as my invitation to you for such a life—one that is brimming with drama and adventure, flowering with meaning and purpose. However, I am not interested in merely offering you an invitation. I also want to give you wise counsel that has been repeatedly tested and found trustworthy and helpful for the journey.

A journey has to start somewhere, and the best place to start this one is by digging more deeply into the causes and symptoms of our cultural crisis. We are looking for broad cultural factors that have generated a shift in the way we do life, a shift that has caused the epidemic. These factors are not likely to be things we regularly think about. If they were, most people would have made a priority of avoiding them, and that is not the case. I am not suggesting that people will reject the alleged factors once they are made explicit. Quite the opposite. I believe that once they are laid bare, most folks will experience an ah-ha moment and readily identify with them. No, in order to do their destructive work, these factors have to fly under the radar. They must be so pervasive that they are hardly noticed.

In their excellent book on anxiety and depression, psychologist Edmund Bourne and coauthor Lorna Garano identify three causes for the epidemic: (1) the pace of modern life, (2) the loss of a sense of community and deep connectedness with others beyond the superficial, and (3) the emergence of moral relativism. The increased pace of life does not merely refer to more work and less free time, though those are certainly factors. Well into the late Middle Ages, Europeans had 115 holidays a year! Besides free time, the sheer pace and speed at which we live—our language is filled with terms like “rush hour,” “hurry up,” and “fast food”—and the technology we use (including iPods, e-mail, television, and cell phones) make it difficult to be quiet and hear from ourselves. As a result, we feed off of adrenaline, our brain chemistry is not normal, and we are not capable of handling the stress of ordinary contemporary life. Maybe we were never intended to, but I get ahead of myself.

On the surface, the loss of community reflects two things: Western individualism (which is a good thing in moderation) gone mad, and the supposed lack of time required to cultivate deep friendships, especially among contemporary men, who have often been described as “the friendless American males.” On a deeper level, it reflects misplaced priorities due to a shift on our view of the good life. I will say more about this in the next chapter, but for now I simply note that we define success in terms of the accumulation of consumer goods and the social status that they and a culturally respected line of work provide. We seldom measure a successful life by the quality of family and friendship relationships we cultivate.

Regarding the factor of moral relativism, Bourne and Garano make this note:

Norms in modern life are highly pluralistic. There is no shared, consistent, socially-agreed-upon set of values and standards for people to live by…In the vacuum left, most of us attempt to fend for ourselves, and the resultant uncertainty about how to conduct our lives leaves ample room for anxiety. Faced with a barrage of inconsistent worldviews and standards presented by the media, we are left with the responsibility of having to create our own meaning and moral order. When we are unable to find that meaning, many of us are prone to fill the gap that’s left with various forms of escapism and addiction. We tend [to] live out of tune with ourselves and thus find ourselves anxious.

I cannot resist making an observation about their insightful point concerning moral relativism. The damage it does is one reason why the contemporary idea of tolerance is really an immoral, cold, heartless form of indifference to the suffering of others. The classic principle of tolerance is both true and important: We take another group’s views to be wrong and harmful, but we will treat the (alleged) errant people with respect, will defend their right to promote their views, and will engage in respective, civil debate in attempting to persuade them and others to reject their viewpoint. The contemporary idea is grotesque: We are not to say others’ views or behavior is wrong. This is immoral because it allows for genuine evil, such as racism and child molestation. We must judge the behavior to be evil before we can stop it! Bourne and Garano show us that it is also cold and heartless: If you think another is engaged in a lifestyle that is deeply immoral and flawed, the most loving thing to do is to help that person face and get out of that lifestyle. Even if you are wrong in your assessment, at least you cared enough to try to help. By contrast, contemporary tolerance creates indifferent people who don’t have the moral vision or courage to intervene in the lives of others and try to help.

We might summarize Bourne and Garano’s insights this way: First, our resistance to depression and anxiety is weakened by the pace of our lives. Second, we don’t have the relational connection we need for support and strength in finding a way out of unhappiness. And third, we lack the intellectual framework required to admit that there is a right and wrong way to approach life and to fuel the energy we need to seek, find, and live in light of the right approach. In fact, believing that there actually is a right approach seems intolerant to many.

I have spent hours thinking about these three points and how they inform my own journey. If I may say so, it wouldn’t hurt if you set the book down, took out a sheet of paper, jotted down these three factors, and brainstormed about how they have had a negative impact on you or your loved ones. Nevertheless, I do not believe that Bourne and Garano have identified the heart of the matter. We must probe more deeply.

Digging Deeper Still

Psychologist Carl Jung once observed that “neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.” Jung is referring to our tendency to avoid feeling genuine emotional pain and facing real personal suffering and dysfunction by creating, usually subconsciously, a neurotic pattern of thinking or behaving that allows us to be distracted from our real issues.

When I was attending seminary, my roommate was in constant fear that he had committed the unpardonable sin, an act for which there is no forgiveness. Try as I might, I could not reassure him that he had done no such thing. One day while probing him more deeply, I realized that his real issue was fear of abandonment, loneliness, and feelings of inadequacy due to harsh treatment in his early years by his father. However, it was too painful for him to feel and face these—something he needed to do to get well. Such self-awareness would have been legitimate suffering in Jung’s terms. Instead, he projected his anxiety on something more manageable, on something that distracted his anxiety from the real issues—the unpardonable sin—and neurotically worried about this repeatedly throughout his daily life.

I am convinced that this inability to face our deepest anxieties is at the heart of why we have trouble being happy. In chapter 2, I will expose why this inability is a distinctively contemporary problem for Western culture since the 1960s. For now, I want to mention two forms of “neurosis” characteristic of many of us. Just as my roommate obsessed about the unpardonable sin, we use these two items to manage our anxiety and cope with life while avoiding the deeper issues we have trouble facing. The two items to which I am referring are hurry and worry. When I speak of hurry, I am not simply referring to the (sick) pace at which we live our lives. That’s a problem in its own right. No, I am referring to the role that busyness and being in a hurry plays in coping with our fears in an unhealthy way. People are afraid to slow down and be quiet. As one thinker put it, the hardest thing to get Americans to do today is nothing. We fear solitude, silence, and having nothing to do because we fear what will happen if we aren’t busy. What do we fear? We fear that our anxiety will bubble up. We dread feeling insignificant. We fear hearing from ourselves because we might experience pain if we do. We all have responsibilities in which we invest time and effort. But if you compare our lifestyles with folks in earlier generations, it becomes apparent that our busyness and hurried lives are avoidance strategies.

We all have worries and things that could hurt us. But the degree to which we worry is, again, symptomatic of something much deeper. When I refer to worry as a coping strategy, I am not referring to worry about a threatening situation—losing one’s job, being sick, not getting married, and so on. I am talking about worry as an approach to life. In this sense, worrying is actually a learned behavior. As dear as she was, my mother was a very anxious person who worried about everything. I lived around her and absorbed her approach to life, so by the time I was a young adult, I had learned how to worry from an expert. And now I was the expert!

What roles do hurry and worry play in your life? I encourage you to spend some time pondering this question. As a help to you, I suggest you find some safe friends or family members and ask them to give you honest feedback about this. This issue is so deep and so much a part of the warp and woof of American life that it is hard to get in touch with the way we neurotically use hurry and worry to avoid problems.

One of our main fears is boredom and loneliness, and hurry and worry keep us from facing these fears. In fact, some patterns of ideas and beliefs that permeate the arts, media, and educational institutions of our culture make it all but impossible to face boredom and loneliness. More on that in chapter 2. Here I want you to ponder an additional fact: It takes a lot of emotional energy to “stuff” our real problems and manage appropriate anxiety by the hurry and worry strategy. And given the three pervasive cultural patterns we mentioned earlier—our pace of life, the loss of community, and the emergence of moral relativism—we have a very dangerous situation in our culture.

To live the way many of us do takes a lot of energy, so we are vulnerable to addiction. Various addictions provide some form of relief from a neurotic life and offer some reward on a regular basis in the form of the satisfaction of desire, usually bodily desire. However, all such addictions obey the law of diminishing returns. The more one turns to addictive behavior, the less it pays off and the more one must turn to the addiction. It may be social recognition, sexual stimulation, drugs or alcohol abuse, eating, acquiring consumer goods, and so on. Over time, we shrivel as authentic persons, and we become less and less in touch with our real selves. Instead, we must project a false self to others—a self we wish others to believe about us, a self that is a collage of parental messages, strategies for remaining safe and hidden, and behaviors that avoid shame and guilt. The range of our free will diminishes, and we become enslaved to safety, social rules, and bodily pleasures and their satisfaction.

It’s time to summarize. For at least 40 years, Americans have become increasingly unable to find happiness and, instead, are ten times more likely to be depressed and anxiety filled than Americans of other generations. Clearly, something about our culture is deeply flawed. As a first step toward identifying the flaws, I noted the adrenalized pace of life, the loss of a sense of community, and the emergence of moral relativism in American culture. Digging more deeply, I noted that for these and other reasons, we find it hard to face our real, authentic emotional pain and, instead, opt for lifestyles of hurry and worry that allow us to cope with our boredom, emptiness, and loneliness without having to face our true situation. Such an approach takes a lot of emotional energy and, partly to comfort ourselves, we turn to addictive behaviors that increasingly turn us into false selves who no longer know who we are.

An Invitation and a Word of Concern

I have received much help from others in my own journey, and I believe I have some genuinely good news for you in the pages to follow. I invite you to read on with an open mind and heart. However, I’m concerned about something. I am troubled that you may not be willing to think afresh with me about what follows and won’t benefit from whatever wisdom is offered. Why am I so concerned? It’s because of my topic and the two primary types of people with whom I want to travel.

Beginning with chapter 2, I am going to mention the G word—“God”—more specifically, the Christian God and Jesus of Nazareth. As we will see, whenever we focus on living a rich life and face our inability to be happy, broad questions about the meaning of life inevitably surface. This is as it should be. And lurking in the neighborhood will be questions about God. It has been said that the single most important thing about a person is what comes to mind when he or she hears the word “God.” This is a trustworthy saying.

So why am I concerned? Because it is so very hard to invite someone in this culture to give this topic a fresh hearing, especially from my two audiences. The first person to whom I am writing is not a follower of Jesus. You may be an aggressive atheist, mildly agnostic, or inclined to think that religion should be a private matter and that “Live and let live” should be one’s motto. If you fit this category, you may have picked up this book at a bookstore or found it online, or a friend or relative may have given it to you. If the latter is the case, you may feel defensive about reading the book. You may feel that your friend or relative wants to fix you or to “win” in your longstanding dialogues about Christianity. If you read this book with an open mind and fresh start, and if you come to agree with some of my offerings, you could lose face, as it were. Others could say you were wrong all along and this proves it.

I completely understand such defensiveness, having practiced it myself in various contexts. But to be honest, if you are concerned about such matters, you are actually not being true to yourself. Instead, you are letting others control you. You are giving them free rent in your mind. It’s as though they are looking over your shoulder as you read, just waiting to jump on you if you come to see things as they do. My advice is that you not let others have such power over you. Be yourself. Think for yourself. Give me a hearing, and when you have read the entire book, step back and decide for yourself what you think about these matters.

Besides friends or relatives, if you fit into this first group, I actually have a deeper concern—really, two concerns—about you being defensive in reading what follows. Having talked to atheists and agnostics for 40 years, I’ve seen that many of them don’t want God to exist. In a rare moment of frankness, atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel makes this admission:

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, I hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

Such an approach to life is hard to sustain. Influential young atheist Douglas Coupland frankly acknowledges how difficult it is:

Now—here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God—that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.

Fathers and Freedom

If you are an atheist or something close to it, I believe there may be two reasons why you think this way. I am sharing these with you to be helpful, not to throw this in your face. No one is here but you and me, so please see if these describe you. The first reason you may approach the question of God with anger or rejection is unresolved conflict with your own father figure. I have spoken on more than 200 college campuses and in more than 40 states in the last 40 years, and it has become apparent to me that atheists regularly have deep-seated, unresolved emotional conflicts with their father figures. To think that this plays no role in their atheism would be foolish. Paul Vitz, a leading psychologist in this area claims that, in fact, such conflict is at the very heart of what motivates a person to reject God or be indifferent to religion.

Let’s be honest. You owe it to yourself to see if this is causing you to be defensive about the topic of God. If it is, I urge you in the safety of our conversation to follow, to try to set this aside.

The second reason you may not want the Christian God to be real has been identified by Dinesh D’Souza: People want to be liberated from traditional morality so they can engage in any sexual behavior that satisfies them without guilt, shame, or condemnation. The famous atheist Aldous Huxley made this admission:

I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently I assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption… For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was…liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.

If you have a vested interest in wanting to look at pornography or to engage in sexual activity outside of a traditional marriage, your hostility to God may well be a way of enabling yourself to sustain your lifestyle while flying in a no-guilt zone. I take no pleasure in saying this, and I am not trying to be harsh or judgmental toward you. The opposite is the case. I have help for you and will offer it in the chapters to follow. All I ask of you is that you give me a hearing and not allow these factors to fuel your defensiveness in such a way that you are not teachable and open to exploring these issues together.

Caricatures of Christians

My first concern about defensiveness, then, is due to the role that unresolved father issues and sexual practices may play in preventing you from facing this topic honestly and with a good and open heart. My second concern is the associations that come to mind when people in our culture think of conservative Christians, most of whom would be called Evangelicals. You may see red at the very thought of Christians. They are hypocrites, intolerant bigots, nosy members of the Religious Right who try to tell others what to do and how to think. Christians are irrational, unscientific, nonthinking sorts who will gullibly believe anything. Comparing Christians (and other religious zealots) and secularists, University of California at Berkeley professor and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich gave this warning:

The great conflict of the 21st century will not be between the West and terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic, not a belief. The true battle will be between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is mere preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe in science, reason and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma. Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism itself is not the greatest danger we face.

With friends like that, who needs enemies! Reich needs to lighten up a bit. Still, you may share his opinion of what it means to be a Christian. May I suggest two counterarguments that may help you get something out of this book. First, Reich’s statement and the description of Christians in the preceding paragraph are gross caricatures that are far from the truth. It’s a cultural lie that the more educated you become the more you reject Christianity. A few years ago, University of North Carolina sociologist Christian Smith published what may be the most extensive study to date of the impact of contemporary culture on American Evangelicalism. Smith’s extensive research led him to this conclusion:

Self-identified evangelicals have more years of education than fundamentalists, liberals, Roman Catholics, and those who are nonreligious…Of all groups, evangelicals are the least likely to have only a high-school education or less; the nonreligious are the most likely. Furthermore, higher proportions of evangelicals have studied at the graduate-school level than have fundamentalists, liberals, or the nonreligious.

Sure, there are a few bad (ignorant and bigoted) eggs in our basket, but the whole basket should not be judged on this account.

Even if this demeaning picture of Christians contains more than a small grain of truth, becoming a follower of Jesus doesn’t have to make you like this. And there’s still the issue of you and your own life and welfare. You have a life to live, and if you are anything like me, you need all the help you can get to live it well. The real issue is whether the Christian God is real and can be known, whether Jesus of Nazareth was really the very Son of God, and whether the movement He started is what you need and have been looking for (consciously or not). At the end of the day, the issue is not whether Christians are hypocrites, Republicans, or whatever. The issue is Jesus of Nazareth and your life.


The second person to whom I am writing is a Christian who has become too familiar with the form of Christianity often present in our culture. If this is you, you may have become inoculated from the real thing. You are bored with church, you don’t like religious games, and you believe you have given the Christian thing a try and it isn’t what it was cracked up to be. In a way, you’ve lost hope. The fire in your belly has dimmed, and you despair of finding more as a Christian. You think you have already heard and heeded the invitation I am about to unpack, and you are not interested in hearing the same old stuff again. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.

Dallas Willard puts his finger on this problem:

The major problem with the invitation now is precisely over-familiarity. Familiarity breeds unfamiliarity—unsuspected unfamiliarity, and then contempt. People think they have heard the invitation. They think they have accepted it—or rejected it. But they have not. The difficulty today is to hear it at all.

I’m asking you to listen again to the invitation as though for the first time. In some cases, that won’t actually be true. You will likely read things in subsequent chapters that you have heard before. If so, I promise to try to give these things new life, to cast them in a new light. In other cases, that may actually be true. Some brand-new insights may follow. If you are a Christian who fits my description, all I can do is to ask you to read on with an open heart.

So let’s move on. You and I have lives to live. How can we get better at it? In chapter 2, we jump out of the pan and into the fire. We move to what I believe is at or near the bottom of why you and many of our fellow Americans can’t find much happiness in life. The central issue revolves around broad cultural ideas about life, reality, and confidence. The fundamental issue involves the mind and how we think about and see things. But before I can tell you that story, I’ll need to let you in on something about your brain.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wild Card: Fireflies in December by Jennifer Erin Valent

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Fireflies in December

Tyndale House Publishers (December 8, 2008)


Jennifer Erin Valent is the winner of the Christian Writers Guild’s 2007 Operation First Novel contest for Fireflies in December, her first published novel. When she’s not penning novels, Jennifer works as a nanny and freelance writer in Richmond, VA.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (December 8, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414324324
ISBN-13: 978-1414324326


The summer I turned thirteen, I thought I’d killed a man.

That’s a heavy burden for a girl to hang on to, but it didn’t surprise me so much to have that trouble come in the summertime. Every bad thing that ever happened to me seemed to happen in those long months.

The summer I turned five, Granny Rose died of a heart attack during the Independence Day fireworks. The summer I turned seven, my dog Skippy ran away with a tramp who jumped the train to Baltimore. And the summer I turned eleven, a drought took the corn crop and we couldn’t have any corn for my birthday, which is what I’d always done because my favorite food was corn from Daddy’s field, boiled in a big pot.

To top it off, here in the South, summers are long and hot and sticky. They drag on and on, making slow things seem slower and bad things seem worse.

The fear and guilt of the summer of 1932 still clings to my memory like the wet heat of southern Virginia. That year we had unbearable temperatures, and we had trouble, just that it was trouble of a different kind. It was the beginning of a time that taught me bad things can turn into good things, even though sometimes it takes a while for the good to come out.

The day I turned thirteen was one of those summer days when the air is so thick, you can see wavy lines above the tar on the rooftops. The kind of day when the sound of cicadas vibrates in your ears and everything smells like grass.

On that day, as Momma got ready for my birthday party, I told her that I wanted nothing to do with watermelon this year.

“We have some fine ones,” she told me. “Just don’t eat any.”

“But the boys will spit the seeds at us like they do all the time,” I said. “And they’ll hit me extra hard today since it’s my birthday.”

“I’ll tell them not to,” she said absentmindedly as she checked her recipe again with that squinched-up look she always got when trying to concentrate.

I knew I was only another argument or two from being scolded, but I tried again. “Those boys won’t listen to you.”

“Those boys will listen to me if they want to eat,” she replied before muttering something about needing a cup of oleo.

“They don’t even listen to Teacher at school, Momma.”

That last reply had done it, and I stepped back a ways as Momma picked up her wooden spoon and peered at me angrily, her free hand on her apron-covered hip. “Jessilyn Lassiter, I won’t have you arguin’ with me. Now get on out of this house before your jabberin’ makes me mess up my biscuits.”

I knew better than to take another chance with her, and I went outside to sit on my tree swing. If God wasn’t going to send us any breeze for my birthday, I was bound and determined to make my own, so I started pumping my legs to work up some speed. The breeze was slight but enough to give me a little relief.

I saw Gemma come out of the house carrying a big watermelon and a long knife, and I knew she had been sent out by her momma to cut it up. Gemma’s momma helped mine with chores, and her daddy worked in the fields. Sometimes Gemma would help her momma with things, and it always made me feel guilty to see her doing chores that I should have been doing. So I dug my feet into the dry dirt below me to slow down and hopped off the swing with a long leap, puffing dust up all around me.

I wandered to the picnic table where Gemma was rolling the green melon around to find just the right spot to cut into. “I guess this is for my party.”

“That’s what your momma says.”

“Are you comin’?”

“My momma never lets me come to your parties.”

“So? Ain’t never a time you can’t start somethin’ new. It’s my party, anyways.”

“It ain’t proper for the help to socialize with the family’s friends, Momma says.”

“Your momma and daddy have been workin’ here for as long as I can remember. You’re as close to family as we got around here, as I see it. I ain’t got no grandparents or nothin’.”

Gemma scoffed at me with a sarcastic laugh. “When was the last time you saw one brown girl and one white girl in the same family?”

I shrugged and watched her slice through the watermelon, both of us backing away to avoid the squirting juices.

“Looks like a good one,” Gemma said as the fragrant smell floated by on the first bit of a breeze we’d seen all day.

“All I see are seeds for the boys to hit me with.”

“Why do you let them boys pick on you?”

“I don’t let ’em. I always push ’em or somethin’. But they’re all bigger than me. What do you want me to do? Pick a fight?”

“Guess not.” A piece of the melon’s flesh flopped onto the table as Gemma cut it, and she popped it into her mouth thoughtfully. “I’ll never know why boys got to be so mean.”

“It’s part of their recipe, I guess.” I helped by piling the slices on a big platter, and I strategically picked as many seeds as I could find off the pieces before I stacked them. Never mind my dirty hands. “You come by around two o’clock,” I told her adamantly. “I’ll get you some cake and lemonade. You’re my best friend. You should be at my party.”

Gemma shushed me and shoved an elbow into my ribs as her momma went walking by us.

“Gemma Teague,” her momma said, “you girls gettin’ your chores done?”

“Ain’t got no chores of my own, Miss Opal,” I told her. “I figured on helpin’ Gemma instead.”

“Then you two make certain you keep your minds on your work, ya hear?”

“Yes’m,” we both mumbled.

Gemma’s momma walked past, but she looked back at us a couple times with a funny look on her face like she figured we were planning something.

In a way we were, but I didn’t see it as being a big caper or anything, so I continued by saying, “You know, I ain’t seein’ any sense in you not at least askin’ your momma if you can come by for cake. She’s usually understandin’ about things.”

“Every year it’s the same thing from you, Jessie. She won’t let me come, and besides, I’ll bet your momma don’t want me here no more than my momma does. It just ain’t done.”

“‘It just ain’t done’!” I huffed. “Who makes up these rules, anyhow?”

Gemma kept her eyes on her work and said nothing, but I knew her well enough to see that she didn’t understand her words anymore than I did.

Momma called me from the open kitchen window, but I ignored it and kept after Gemma. “Now listen. You just come on by after we’ve cut the cake and pretend to clean up somethin’, and I’ll be sure you get some.”

“Ain’t no way I’m gettin’ in trouble for some cake and lemonade that I’ll get after the party anyhow,” she argued. “You’re just bein’ stubborn.”

I sighed when Momma called me again. “She’s gonna tell me to take a bath, I bet. You’d think at thirteen I’d be old enough to stop havin’ my momma order me to take baths.”

“You’d never take one otherwise,” Gemma said. “Ain’t nobody wants to smell you then.”

“I hate takin’ baths on days this sticky. My hair never dries.”

“Takin’ a bath on a hot day ain’t never bad.”

“It is when the water’s hot as the air is.”

Gemma shook her head at me like she always did when I was being hardheaded. “Water’s water. Cools you off any which way.”

I didn’t believe her, but I headed off to the kitchen, where Momma had filled the big metal tub we’d had to take baths in ever since the bathroom faucets broke. The sheet she’d hung across the doorway into the next room flapped as the breeze I’d prayed for began to pick up.

I hopped out of my dungarees in one quick leap and crawled into the tub. “It’s hot as boiled water,” I complained.

“Well then, we’ll have you for supper,” Momma replied as she measured out flour, obviously undisturbed by my discomfort. “Your guests will start gettin’ here in a half hour, so don’t dawdle unless you want everyone findin’ you in the tub.”


“And don’t forget to clean behind your ears.”


Water splashed as I washed with my usual lack of grace, landing droplets about the kitchen floor. It didn’t really matter since Momma always made a mess when she cooked and the floor would need cleaning after she was done. No doubt the flour and water would mix into a fine paste, though, and she’d have a few words to mutter as she tried to scrub it up. As she measured sugar, I could hear her praying, “Oh, dear Jesus, let me have enough.” Momma prayed about anything anytime, anywhere.

By the time I’d scrubbed and dried, the smell of biscuits was drifting through the house and Momma was putting the oil on for the chicken. She was a good cook, no matter the mess, and she always put on quite a show for these birthday parties.

As I walked up to my room, wrapped in a ragged blue towel, I heard Momma call after me not to forget to put on my dress. Then she added, “Please, Lord, let the girl look presentable.” I think Momma often wondered why, if she was to be blessed with a girl, she had to get one that mostly acted like a boy.

“No dungarees!” she added. “And put on your church shoes.”

I rolled my eyes, knowing she was nowhere near me. I would never have dared to do it in front of her. I hated dressing up, but for every birthday, holiday, church day, and trip into town, I had to wear one of the three dresses that Momma had made me. She was as fine with a needle as she was with a frying pan, but I hated dresses nonetheless. Mostly because when I wore them, I had to sit all proper in my chair, and I couldn’t do cartwheels, at least not without getting yelled at. But I put on the dress because I had to and buckled up my church shoes.

I could hear Daddy’s footsteps coming down the hall, and I turned to smile at him as he stopped at my doorway.

“Lookin’ pretty, dumplin’,” Daddy said.

“That’s too bad.”

“Now, now. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with a girl lookin’ like a girl.”

“Who says wearin’ dresses is the only way to look like a girl?”

Coming into the room, his dirty boots leaving marks that Momma would complain about later, Daddy tossed his hat onto a chair and helped me finish tying the bow on the back of the dress. “We don’t make the rules; we just follow ’em.”

“Well, someone had to make the rules in the first place. We should just make new ones.”

“No doubt you will one day, Jessilyn,” he said with a sigh. “But for now, you’d best follow your momma’s instructions. She ain’t one to be disobeyed.”

“Are you gonna be at the party?” I asked hopefully, knowing full well that he’d been in the fields all morning and looked in need of a nap.

“Wouldn’t miss it, you know that. I got the corn on already.” Daddy rubbed his tired eyes, picked up his hat, and walked out, whacking the hat against his leg to loosen the dust.

He worked hard, especially this time of year, and no matter how many men were willing to work the fields, he would always put in his fair share alongside them. I had suspected of late, however, that he was working harder more out of necessity than a sense of duty. We’d had fewer men to help than in years past, and it wasn’t due to lack of interest, I was sure. I’d seen my daddy turn three men away just the day before.

Things were poor, especially in our parts, and for having a working farm and a good truck, we were fortunate. We even had some conveniences that other people envied, like a fancy icebox and a telephone, and Momma was pretty proud of that. We weren’t rich like Mayor Tuttle and his wife, with their big columned house and fancy motor car, but we were thought to be well-off just the same. Momma and Daddy never talked money in front of me, and I decided not to fuss with it. It caused too many problems for adults from what I could see. What did I want to do with it?

I made my way downstairs and stepped out onto the porch, disappointed to see Buddy Pernell was the first to arrive. I didn’t like Buddy very much. But then, I didn’t like many kids very much. I thanked him for coming—mainly because Momma’s glare told me to—and received the plate of cookies his momma handed me. In those days, we didn’t give gifts at parties; it was too extravagant. But every momma felt it only proper to bring some sort of favor along.

By the time we had a full crowd, one side of the food table was filled with jars of jelly, bowls of sugared strawberries, a couple pies, and even one tub of pickled pigs’ feet. I promptly removed those, but Momma stopped me cold.

“We accept all gifts with thanks, Jessilyn,” she hissed in my ear as she replaced the tub on the table.

“Even pigs’ feet?” I argued.

“Yes ma’am! Even pigs’ feet.”

It took only ten minutes before the first watermelon seed landed in my hair. All the other girls started screaming and ran for cover, but I fought back at the boys out of sheer pride. I did a little shoving, Momma did some yelling, but I got pummeled anyhow.

After we finished eating lunch, I spotted Gemma hanging laundry on the line and ran over to get her help brushing all those sticky seeds out of my hair.

“You ought to not let ’em do this to you,” she said.

“I told you before,” I said with my eyes shut tight to stand the pain of Gemma’s brushing, “they’re all bigger than me.”

“I think they’re too big for their britches. That’s the problem.”

“Maybe so, but that don’t change nothin’. I still can’t whip ’em.”

“Well, I did the best I could.” Gemma peered closely at my sun-streaked hair. “I can’t see no more.”

“Just wait till we go swimmin’,” I told her. “I’ll find some critter to stick down Buddy Pernell’s knickers. He’s the one leadin’ the boys in the spittin’.”

“You best be careful. Them boys might do somethin’ to hurt you back.”

“I ain’t scared of them,” I lied. “Besides, they got it comin’.”

Gemma shook her head and grabbed a pair of Daddy’s socks to hang on the line. “You’re stubborn as a mule, Jessie.”

I figured she was right, but I wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction of hearing me say it. Instead, I rejoined the party, grabbed a piece of cake, and stood by watching the boys scuff about with each other, playing some kind of roughhouse tag. The other girls stood around watching the boys, giggling over how cute this one was and how strong that one was. I couldn’t figure them out.

“All that fussin’ over boys,” I said through a mouthful of frosting. “If you girls had any smarts, you’d be playin’ tag right along with ’em.”

“Why don’t you?” Ginny Lee Kidrey asked.

“I’m eatin’. Ain’t no reason to stuff down cake when I can play tag anytime I want.”

“You’re just a tomboy, Jessie Lassiter,” said Dolly Watson, who always wore dresses and perfume that smelled like dead roses. “What do you know about boys?”

“Enough to know that they ain’t worth wastin’ time on.”

The girls turned their noses up at me—all but Ginny Lee, who was the only real friend I had outside of Gemma, and even she had started to become more like the other girls of late.

The only reason I even had those other children at the party was because Momma insisted on it. She liked entertaining guests, but in our parts we didn’t have much chance to entertain, and she took every chance she got. So every year I had to invite the kids from school to interrupt my summer vacation and celebrate my June birthday with a party. The only thing I ever liked about those parties was the food. I would have been satisfied to spend my birthday having boiled corn with Gemma.

Buddy Pernell stopped in front of me and tugged at my braid. “Still stuffin’ your face?” he asked with a smirk. “Don’t you like to do nothin’ but eat?”

Knowing my short temper, all the boys loved to tease me just to see how much they could rile me. I responded to Buddy in my usual way. “I just like standin’ here watchin’ you boys beat each other up. And besides, ain’t nothin’ wrong with eatin’.”

“There is if it makes you fat.”

“I ain’t fat!”

“You keep eatin’ like that and you’ll be fat as your momma.”

Now, my momma wasn’t fat. I knew that as well as I knew that Buddy Pernell’s momma was. But it didn’t matter. True or not, he’d insulted my momma, and it took me no time at all to react by shoving what was left of my cake right into Buddy’s face, making extra sure to push upward so the frosting would fill his freckled nose.

Buddy wasn’t so brave then. He began clawing at his face like I’d thrown acid on it, crying something fierce about not being able to breathe.

Momma ran over, hysterical, simultaneously scolding me and coddling Buddy. I responded to her by saying I’d never heard of anyone suffocating on cake before, but she didn’t appreciate my rationalizing. I got a whack from her left hand and Buddy got a wipe across his face from her right.

The other boys were laughing, throwing insults at Buddy about how he’d gotten shown up by a girl, but he was too worried about not being able to breathe through his nose to hear them.

I watched with a smile as Buddy’s momma grabbed a cloth and ordered him to blow his nose into it. Buddy blew like his brains needed to come out, and eventually he found that he was able to breathe right again, although his momma insisted on getting a good look up his nose to be certain that it was clear of frosting.

The boys loved the picture of Buddy having his nose inspected by his momma, and they couldn’t get enough of the jokes about it.

I got hauled into the house for a scolding and a whipping. I tried telling Momma that thirteen was too old for whippings, but she said if I was acting like a child, I should be punished like one. Every time I got another whack with that wooden spoon, I thought of a new way to make Buddy pay for the walloping. After all, if he hadn’t made fun of my momma, I wouldn’t have made him snort up that cake.

I took my punishment without explaining because I didn’t want to hurt Momma’s feelings by telling her what Buddy had said, and I made my way slowly and sorely back out to the party with revenge in my mind.

Gemma saw the silent tears that I’d been biting my lip to keep from letting out, and she came over to wipe them with her apron.

I smiled at her halfway. “I’m okay. At least I will be once I get back at Buddy.”

“Get back at him? He’s the one who’ll be wantin’ to get back at you.”

“Just let him try. I wouldn’t have gotten that whippin’ if he hadn’t made fun of my momma in the first place.”

“Don’t you go talkin’ like that. He’s already got it in for you, and if you do anythin’ else, he’ll go and do somethin’ awful.”

“I ain’t afraid of him!”

Gemma shook her braided head at me. “You talk tough, but you won’t be so tough if Buddy Pernell hurts you bad.”

I sniffed at her like she was worrying over nothing, but I knew deep down that I could have been asking for trouble by playing with Buddy. Boys with no sense can be dangerous, my momma had told me a few times, but my stubbornness didn’t leave any room for being cautious. I was determined to hold a grudge against Buddy, and that was that. But I could see that Buddy was keeping his eye out for his first chance to get back at me, and I watched him with a little worry in my heart as he and the other boys stood together in whispers.

I tried to pretend I wasn’t nervous, and when Gemma got called into the house, I joined the other girls, who’d gone back to twirling their hair and talking about the boys.

With the boys standing around making plans and the girls standing around watching them, my mother got irritated and told us to find something active to do. “Go on down to the swimmin’ hole. Get some exercise, for land’s sake.”

All of us girls went to my bedroom to put on our swimming suits, but with a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat, I changed slower than them all. Gemma had been right, I figured. I’d be paying, and good, and the perfect place for Buddy to get me would be at the secluded swimming hole.

After I’d changed, I went downstairs to find my momma. “Maybe we shouldn’t go to the swimmin’ hole,” I told her while she was making up another batch of sweet tea.

“It’s hot as hades out there. It’ll do you all good.”

“It’s not that hot.”

Momma stopped scrubbing and looked at me strangely. “Were you in the same air I’ve been in today? It’s thick as molasses.”

“But swimmin’ ain’t no fun.”

“You love swimmin’.”

“Not today, I don’t.”

By now, Momma was curious, and she wiped her hands on her apron before placing them on her hips. “Why don’t you just up and tell me what’s got you so ornery?”

“I ain’t ornery!”

“Don’t argue with me, girl. If I say you’re ornery, then you’re ornery.”

I looked down at my toes and sighed. I couldn’t tell Momma that Buddy had called her fat, and I didn’t want to show her I was afraid, anyway.

“Tell me one reason why you shouldn’t go to the swimmin’ hole.”

I continued staring at my dusty feet and shrugged.

“You don’t know, I guess you’re sayin’. Well, if you ain’t got a reason, you best be headin’ out to that swimmin’ hole. I’m too busy to wonder what’s goin’ on in that silly head of yours.”

I could feel Momma watching me as I scuffed out of the kitchen without another word, letting the screen door slam behind me. I took several steps before glancing back at Momma through the window, where she stood humming some hymn I remembered hearing in church. I took a deep breath. In my dramatic mind, it was as if I were saying a final good-bye. Who knew if I’d come back from that swimming hole alive? Momma would feel pretty bad if I ended up dying, and she’d have to live the rest of her life knowing she’d sent me to my death.

Poor Momma.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Wild Card: Be Strong and Curvaceous by Shelley Adina

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Be Strong and Curvaceous (All About Us Series, Book 3)

FaithWords (January 2, 2009)

Plus a Tiffany's Bracelet Giveaway! Go to Camy Tang's Blog and leave a comment on her FIRST Wild Card Tour for Be Strong and Curvaceous, and you will be placed into a drawing for a bracelet that looks similar to the picture below.


Shelley Adina is a world traveler and pop culture junkie with an incurable addiction to designer handbags. She knows the value of a relationship with a gracious God and loving Christian friends, and she's inviting today's teenage girls to join her in these refreshingly honest books about real life as a Christian teen--with a little extra glitz thrown in for fun! In between books, Adina loves traveling, listening to and making music, and watching all kinds of movies.

It's All About Us is Book One in the All About Us Series. Book Two, The Fruit of my Lipstick came out in August 2008. Book Three, Be Strong & Curvaceous, came out January 2, 2009. And Book Four, Who Made You a Princess?, comes out May 13, 2009.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (January 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446177997
ISBN-13: 978-0446177993


BE CAREFUL WHAT you wish for.

I used to think that was the dumbest saying ever. I mean, when you wish for something, by definition it’s wonderful, right? Like a new dress for a party. Or a roommate as cool as Gillian Chang or Lissa Mansfield. Or a guy noticing you after six months of being invisible. Before last term, of course I wanted those wishes to come true.

I should have been more careful.

Let me back up a little. My name is Carolina Isabella Aragon Velasquez . . . but that doesn’t fit on school admission forms, so when I started first grade, it got shortened up to Carolina Aragon—Carly to my friends. Up until I was a sophomore, I lived with my mother and father, my older sister Alana and little brother Antony in a huge house in Monte Sereno, just south of Silicon Valley. Papa’s company invented some kind of security software for stock exchanges, and he and everyone who worked for him got rich.

Then came Black Thursday and the stock market crash, and suddenly my mom was leaving him and going to live with her parents in Veracruz, Mexico, to be an artist and find herself. Alana finished college and moved to Austin, Texas, where we have lots of relatives. Antony, Papa, and I moved to a condo about the size of our old living room, and since Papa spends so much time on the road, where I’ve found myself since September is boarding school.

The spring term started in April, and as I got out of the limo Papa sends me back to Spencer Academy in every Sunday night—even though I’m perfectly capable of taking the train—I couldn’t help but feel a little bubble of optimism deep inside. Call me corny, but the news that Vanessa Talbot and Brett Loyola had broken up just before spring break had made the last ten days the happiest I’d had since my parents split up. Even flying to Veracruz, courtesy of Papa’s frequent flyer miles, and being introduced to my mother’s boyfriend hadn’t put a dent in it.

Ugh. Okay, I lied. So not going there.

Thinking about Brett now. Dark, romantic eyes. Curly dark hair, cut short because he’s the captain of the rowing team. Broad shoulders. Fabulous clothes he wears as if he doesn’t care where he got them.

Oh, yeah. Much better.

Lost in happy plans for how I’d finally get his attention (I was signing up to be a chem tutor first thing because, let’s face it, he needs me), I pushed open the door to my room and staggered in with my duffel bags.

My hands loosened and I dropped everything with a thud.

There were Vuitton suitcases all over the room. Enough for an entire family. In fact, the trunk was so big you could put a family in it—the kids, at least.

“Close the door, why don’t you?” said a bored British voice, with a barely noticeable roll on the r. A girl stepped out from behind the wardrobe door.

Red hair in an explosion of curls.

Fishnet stockings to here and glossy Louboutin ankle boots.

Blue eyes that grabbed you and made you wonder why she was so . . . not interested in whether you took another breath.


How come no one had told me I was getting a roommate? And who could have prepared me for this, anyway?

“Who are you?”

“Mac,” she said, returning to the depths of the wardrobe. Most people would have said, “What’s your name?” back. She didn’t.

“I’m Carly.” Did I feel lame or what?

She looked around the door. “Pleasure. Looks like we’re to be roommates.” Then she went back to hanging things up.

There was no point in restating the obvious. I gathered my scattered brains and tried to remember what Mama had taught me that a good hostess was supposed to do. “Did someone show you where the dining room is? Supper is between five and six-thirty, and I usually—”

“Carrie. I expected my own room,” she said, as if I hadn’t been talking. “Whom do I speak to?”

“It’s Carly. And Ms. Tobin’s the dorm mistress for this floor.”

“Fine. What were you saying about tea?”

I took a breath and remembered that one of us was what my brother calls couth. As opposed to un. “You’re welcome to come with me and my friends if you want.”

Pop! went the latches on the trunk. She threw up the lid and looked at me over the top of it, her reddish eyebrows lifting in amusement.

“Thanks so much. But I’ll pass.”

Okay, even I have my limits. I picked up my duffel, dropped it on the end of my bed, and left her to it. Maybe by the time I got back from tea—er, supper—she’d have convinced Ms. Tobin to give her a room in another dorm.

The way things looked, this chica would probably demand the headmistress’s suite.

* * *

“What a mo guai nuer,” Gillian said over her tortellini and asparagus. “I can’t believe she snubbed you like that.”

“You of all people,” Lissa agreed, “who wouldn’t hurt someone’s feelings for anything.”

“I wanted to—if I could have come up with something scathing.” Lissa looked surprised, as if I’d shocked her. Well, I may not put my feelings out there for everyone to see, like Gillian does, but I’m still entitled to have them. “But you know how you freeze when you realize you’ve just been cut off at the knees?”

“What happened to your knees?” Jeremy Clay put his plate of linguine down and slid in next to Gillian. They traded a smile that made me feel sort of hollow inside—not the way I’d felt after Mac’s little setdown, but . . . like I was missing out on something. Like they had a secret and weren’t telling.

You know what? Feeling sorry for yourself is not the way to start off a term. I smiled at Jeremy. “Nothing. How was your break? Did you get up to New York the way you guys had planned?”

He glanced at Gillian. “Yeah, I did.”

Argh. Men. Never ask them a yes/no question. “And? Did you have fun? Shani said she had a blast after the initial shock.”

Gillian grinned at me. “That’s a nice way of saying that my grandmother scared the stilettos off her. At first. But then Nai-Nai realized Shani could eat anyone under the table, even my brothers, no matter what she put in front of her, so after that they were best friends.”

“My grandmother’s like that, too,” I said, nodding in sympathy. “She thinks I’m too thin, so she’s always making pots of mole and stuff. Little does she know.”

It’s a fact that I have way too much junk in my trunk. Part of the reason my focus is in history, with as many fashion design electives as I can get away with, is that when I make my own clothes, I can drape and cut to accentuate the positive and make people forget that big old negative following me around.

“You aren’t too thin or too fat.” Lissa is a perfect four. She’s also the most loyal friend in the world. “You’re just right. If I had your curves, I’d be a happy woman.”

Time to change the subject. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about my body in front of a guy, even if he belonged to someone else. “So, did you guys get to see Pride and Prejudice—The Musical? Shani said you were bribing someone to get tickets.”

“Close,” Gillian said. “My mom is on the orchestra’s board, so we got seats in the first circle. You’d have loved it. Costume heaven.”

“I would have.” I sighed. “Why did I have to go to Veracruz for spring break? How come I couldn’t have gone to New York, too?”

I hoped I sounded rhetorical. The truth was, there wasn’t any money for trips to New York to see the hottest musical on Broadway with my friends. Or for the clothes to wear once I got there—unless I made them myself.

“That’s it, then.” Gillian waved a grape tomato on the end of her fork. “Next break, you and Lissa are coming to see me. Not in the summer—no one in their right mind stays in the city in July. But at Christmas.”

“Maybe we’ll go to Veracruz,” Lissa suggested. “Or you guys can come to Santa Barbara and I’ll teach you to surf.”

“That sounds perfect,” I said. Either of Lissa’s options wouldn’t cost very much. New York, on the other hand, would. “I like warm places for my winter holidays.”

“Good point,” Gillian conceded. “So do I.”

“Notice how getting through the last term of junior year isn’t even on your radar?” Jeremy asked no one in particular. “It’s all about vacations with you guys.”

“Vacations are our reward,” Gillian informed him. “You have to have something to get you through finals.”

“Right, like you have to worry,” he scoffed, bumping shoulders with her in a chummy way.

“She does,” Lissa said. “She has to get me through finals.”

While everyone laughed, I got up and walked over to the dessert bar. Crème brulée, berry parfaits, and German chocolate cake. You know you’re depressed when even Dining Services’ crème brulée—which puts a dreamy look in the eyes of just about everyone who goes here—doesn’t get you excited.

I had to snap out of it. Thinking about all the things I didn’t have and all the things I couldn’t do would get me precisely nowhere. I had to focus on the good things.

My friends.

How lucky I was to have won the scholarship that got me into Spencer.

And how much luckier I was that in two terms, no one had figured out I was a scholarship kid. Okay, so Gillian is a scholarship kid, too, but her dad is the president of a multinational bank. She thinks it’s funny that he made her practice the piano so hard all those years, and that’s what finally got her away from him. Who is my father? No one. Just a hardworking guy. He was so proud of me when that acceptance letter came that I didn’t have the heart to tell him there was more to succeeding here than filling a minority quota and getting good grades.

Stop it. Just because you can’t flit off to New York to catch a show or order up the latest designs from Fashion Week doesn’t mean your life is trash. Get ahold of your sense of proportion.

I took a berry parfait—blueberries have lots of antioxidants—and turned back to the table just as the dining room doors opened. They seemed to pause in their arc, giving my new roommate plenty of time to stroll through before they practically genuflected closed behind her. She’d changed out of the fishnets into heels and a black sweater tossed over a simple leaf-green dress that absolutely screamed Paris—Rue Cambon, to be exact. Number 31, to be even more exact. Chanel Couture.

My knees nearly buckled with envy.

“Is that Carly’s roommate?” I heard Lissa ask.

Mac seemed completely unaware that everyone in the dining room was watching her as she floated across the floor like a runway model, collected a plate of Portobello mushroom ravioli and salad, and sat at the empty table next to the big window that faced out onto the quad.

Lissa was still gazing at her, puzzled. “I know I’ve seen her before.”

I hardly heard her.

Because not only had the redhead cut into line ahead of Vanessa Talbot, Dani Lavigne, and Emily Overton, she’d also invaded their prime real estate. No one sat at that table unless they’d sacrificed a freshman at midnight, or whatever it was that people had to do to be friends with them.

When Vanessa turned with her plate, I swear I could hear the collective intake of breath as her gaze locked on the stunning interloper sitting with her back to the window, calmly cutting her ravioli with the edge of her fork.

“Uh oh,” Gillian murmured. “Let the games begin.”

© 2008 by Shelley Adina.

Used by permission of the author and Hachette Book Group USA.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Wild Card: Havah: The Story of Eve by Tosca Lee

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Havah: The Story of Eve

NavPress Publishing Group (October 10, 2008)


Tosca Lee is the author of the critically acclaimed Demon: A Memoir (2007), a ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Silver Award winner, American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year nominee, and Christy award finalist. Her eagerly-awaited second novel, Havah: The Story of Eve, released October 2008 to high praise, including a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

A sought-after speaker and first runner-up to Mrs. United States 1998, Tosca works as a Senior Consultant for the Gallup Organization. She received her B.A. in English and International Relations from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She also studied at Oxford University.

In her spare time, Tosca enjoys travel, cooking, history and theology. She currently resides in Nebraska.

Visit the author's website and blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 14.99

Paperback: 368 pages

Publisher: NavPress Publishing Group (October 10, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1600061249

ISBN-13: 978-1600061240



I have seen paradise and ruin. I have known bliss and terror.

I have walked with God.

And I know that God made the heart the most fragile and resilient of organs, that a lifetime of joy and pain might be encased in one mortal chamber.

I still recall my first moment of consciousness—an awareness I’ve never seen in the eyes of any of my own children at birth: the sheer ignorance and genius of consciousness, when we know nothing and accept everything.

Of course, the memory of that waking moment is fainter now, like the smell of the soil of that garden, like the leaves of the fig tree in Eden after dawn—dew and leaf green. It fades with that sense of something once tasted on the tip of the tongue, savored now in memory, replaced by the taste of something similar but never quite the same.

His breath a lost sough, the scent of earth and leaf mold that was his sweaty skin has faded too quickly. So like an Eden dawn—dew on fig leaves.

His eyes were blue, my Adam’s.

How I celebrated that color, shrouded now in shriveled eyelids—he who was never intended to have even a wrinkle! But even as I bend to smooth his cheek, my hair has become a white waterfall upon his Eden—flesh and loins that gave life to so many.

I think for a moment that I hear the One and that he is weeping. It is the first time I have heard him in so long, and my heart cries out: He is dead! My father, my brother, my love!

I envy the earth that envelopes him. I envy the dust that comes of him and my children who sow and eat of it.

This language of Adam’s—the word that meant merely “man” before it was his name—given him by God himself, is now mine. And this is my love song. I will craft these words into the likeness of the man before I, too, return to the earth of Adam’s bosom.

My story has been told in only the barest of terms. It is time you heard it all. It is my testament to the strength of the heart, which has such capacity for joy, such space for sorrow, like a vessel that fills and fills without bursting.

My seasons are nearly as many as a thousand. So now listen, sons, and hear me, daughters. I, Havah, fashioned by God of Adam say this:

In the beginning, there was God . . .

But for me, there was Adam.

The Garden

Chapter 1

A whisper in my ear: Wake!

Blue. A sea awash with nothing but a drifting bit of down, flotsam on an invisible current. I closed my eyes. Light illuminated the thin tissues of my eyelids.

A bird trilled. Near my ear: the percussive buzz of an insect. Overhead, tree boughs stirred in the warming air.

I lay on a soft bed of herbs and grass that tickled my cheek, my shoulders, and the arch of my foot, whispering sibilant secrets up to the trees.

From here, I felt the thrum of the sap in the stem; the pulsing veins of the vine; the beat of my heart in euphony with hundreds more around me; the movement of the earth a thousand miles beneath.

I sighed as one returning to sleep, to retreat to the place I had been before, the realm of silence and bliss—wherever that is.


I opened my eyes again upon the milling blue, saw it spliced by the flight of a bird, chevron in the sky.

This time, the voice came not to my ear, but directly to my stirring mind: Wake!

There was amusement in it.

I knew nothing of where or what I was, did not understand the polyphony around me or the wide expanse like a blue eternity before me.

But I woke and knew I was alive.

A rustle, a groan practically in my ear. I twitched at a stirring against my hip. A moment later, a touch drifted across a belly I did not yet know I owned, soft as a leaf skittering along the ground.

A face obscured my vision. I screamed. Not with fear—I was no acquaintance of fear—nor with startlement, because I had been aware of the presence already, but because it was the only statement that came to lips as artless as mine.

The face disappeared and returned, blinking into my own, the blue above captured in twin pools . Then, like a gush of water from a rock, gladness thrilled my heart. But its source was not me.

At last! It came, unspoken—a different source than the voice before—the words thrust jubilantly to the sky: “At last!”

He was up on legs like the trunks of sturdy saplings, beating at the earth with his feet. He thumped his chest and shouted to the sun and clapped his hands. “At last!” he cried, his laughter like warm clay between the toes. He shook his shoulders and stomped the grass, slapping his chest as he shouted again and again. Though I did not understand the utterance, I knew its meaning at once: joy and exultation at something longed for suddenly found.

I tried to mimic his sound; it came out as a squawk and then a panting laugh. Overhead, a lark chattered an extravagant address. I squeaked a shrill reply. The face lowered to mine, and the man’s arms wrapped, womb-tight, around me.

“Flesh of my flesh,” he whispered, hot against my ear. His fingers drifted from my hair to my body, roaming like the goat on the hills of the Sacred Mount. I sighed, expelling the last remnants of that first air from my lungs—the last of the breath in them not drawn by me alone.

He was high-cheeked, this adam, his lower lip dipping down like a folded leaf that drips sweet water to thirsty mouths. His brow was a hawk, soaring above the high cliffs, his eyes blue lusters beneath the fan of his lashes. But it was his mouth that I always came back to, where my eyes liked best to fasten after taking in the shock of those eyes. Shadow ran along his jaw, obsidian dust clinging to the curve of it, drawing my eye to the plush flesh of his lips, again, again, again.

He touched my face and traced my mouth. I bit his finger. He gathered my hands and studied them, turning them over and back. He smelled my hair and lingered at my breasts and gazed curiously at the rest of me. When he was finished, he began all over again, tasting my cheek and the salt of my neck, tracing the instep of my foot with a fingertip.

Finally, he gathered me up, and my vision tilted to involve an altogether new realm: the earth and my brown legs upon it. I clutched at him. I seemed a giant, towering above the earth—a giant as tall as he. My first steps stuttered across the ground as the deer in the hour of its birth, but then I pushed his hands away. My legs, coltish and lean, found their vigor as he urged me, walking far too fast, to keep up. He made for the orchard, and I bolted after him with a surge of strength and another of my squawking sounds. Then we were running—through grasses and over fledgling sloes, the dark wool of my hair flying behind me.

We raced across the valley floor, and my new world blurred around me: hyssop and poppy, anemone, narcissus, and lily. Roses grew on the foothills amidst the caper and myrtle.

A blur beside me: the long-bodied great cat. I slowed, distracted by her fluidity, the smooth curve of her head as she tilted it to my outstretched hand. I fell to the ground, twining my arms around her, fingers sliding along her pelt. Her tongue was rough—unlike the adam’s—and she rumbled as she rolled against me.

Far ahead, the adam called. Overhead, a hawk circled for a closer look. The fallow deer at a nearby stream lifted her head.

The adam called again, wordlessly: longing and exuberance. I got up and began to run, the lioness at my heels. I was fast—nearly as fast as she. Exhilaration rose from my lungs in quick pants—in laughter. Then, with a burst, she was beyond me.

She was gone by the time the adam caught me up in his arms. His hands stroked my back, his lips, my shoulder. I marveled at his skin—how smooth, how very warm it was.

“You are magnificent,” he said, burying his face against me. “Ah, Isha—woman, taken from man!”

I said nothing; although I understood his meaning, I did not know his words. I knew with certainty and no notion of conceit, though, that he was right.

At the river he showed me how he cupped his hands to drink, and then cupped them again for me. I lowered my head and drank as a carp peered baldy from the shallows up at me.

We entered the water. I gasped as it tickled the backs of my knees and hot hairs under my arms, swirling about my waist as though around a staunch rock as our toes skimmed a multitude of pebbles. I wrapped my arm around his shoulders.

“All of this: water,” he said, grunting a little bit as he swam toward the middle of the river where it widened into a broad swath across the valley floor. “Here—the current.”

“Water,” I said, understanding in the moment I spoke it the element in all its forms—from the lake fed by the river to the high springs that flow from the abyss of the Mount. I felt the pull of it as though it had a gravity all its own—as though it could sweep me out to the cold depths of the lake and lull me by the tides of the moon.

From the river I could see the high walls of our cradle: the great southern Mount rising to heaven, and to the north, the foothills that became the long spine of a range that arched toward the great lake to the west.

I knew even then that this was a place set apart from the unseen lands to the north, the alluvial plain to the south, the great waters to the east and far to the west.

It was set apart solely because we dwelt in it.

But we were not alone. I could see them, after a time, even as we left the river and lay upon its banks. I saw them in sidelong glances when I looked at something else: a sunspot caught in the eye, a ripple in the air, a shock of light where there should be only shadow. And so I knew there were other beings, too.

The adam, who studied me, said nothing. We did not know their names.

The first voice I heard urging me to wake had not been the man’s. Now I felt the presence of it near me, closer than the air, than even the adam’s arms around me.

I returned the man’s strange amazement, taken by his smooth, dark skin, the narrowness of his hips, his strange sex. He was warmer than I, as though he had absorbed the heat of the sun, and I laid my cheek against his flat breasts and listened to the changeling beat of his heart. My limbs, so fresh to me, grew heavy. As languor overtook me, I retreated from the sight of my lovely, alien world.

Perhaps in closing my eyes, I would return to the place I had been before.

For the first time since waking, I hoped not.

I slept to the familiar thrum of his heart as insects made sounds like sleepy twitches through the waning day.

When I woke, his cheek was resting against the top of my head. Emotion streamed from his heart, though his lips were silent.


I am the treasure mined from the rock, the gem prized from the mount.

He stirred only when I did and released me with great reluctance. By then the sun had moved along the length of our valley. My stomach murmured.

He led me to the orchard and fed me the firm flesh of plums, biting carefully around the pits and feeding the pieces to me until juice ran down our chins and bees came to sample it. He kissed my fingers and hands and laid his cheek against my palms.

That evening we lay in a bower of hyssop and rushes—a bower, I realized, that he must have made it on a day before this one.

A day before I existed.

We observed together the changing sky as it cooled gold and russet and purple, finally anointing the clay earth red.

Taken from me. Flesh of my flesh. At last. I heard the timbre of his voice in my head in my last waking moment. Marvel and wonder were upon his lips as he kissed my closing eyes.

I knew then he would do anything for me.

That night I dreamed of blackness. Black, greater than the depths of the river or the great abyss beneath the lake.

From within that nothingness there came a voice that was not a voice, that was neither sound nor word but volition and command and genesis. And from the voice, a word that was no word but the language of power and genesis and fruition.

There! A mote spark—a light first so small as the tip of a pine needle. It exploded past the periphery of my dreaming vision, obliterating the dark. The heavens were vast in an instant, stretching without cease to the edges of eternity.

I careened past new bodies that tugged me in every direction; even the tiniest particles possessed their own gravity. From each of them came the same concert, that symphony of energy and light.

I came to stand upon the earth. It was a great welter of water, the surface of it ablaze with the refracted light of heavens upon heavens. It shook my every fiber, like a string that is plucked and allowed to resonate forever.

I was galvanized, made anew, thrumming that inaugural sound: the yawning of eternity.

Amidst it all came the unmistakable command:


Monday, December 22, 2008

Wild Card: Before the Season Ends by Linore Rose Burkard

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Before the Season Ends

Harvest House Publishers (December 1, 2008)


Linore Rose Burkard lives with her husband, five children, and ninety-year-old grandmother in southeastern Ohio. She homeschooled her children for ten years. Raised in New York, she graduated magna cum laude from the City University of New York (Queens College) with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature. Ms. Burkard wrote Before the Season Ends because she could not find a book like it anywhere. "There are Christian books that approach this genre," she says, "but they fall short of being a genuine Regency. I finally gave up looking and wrote the book myself." She has begun four other works of fiction in the category.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 12.99
Paperback: 348 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (December 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736925511
ISBN-13: 978-0736925518


Chesterton, Hertfordshire



Something would have to be done about Ariana.

All winter Miss Ariana Forsythe, aged nineteen, had been going about the house sighing.

“Mr. Hathaway is my lot in life!”

She spoke as though the prospect of that life was a great burden to bear, but one which she had properly reconciled herself to. When her declarations met with exasperation or reproach from her family—for no one else was convinced Mr. Hathaway, the rector, was her lot—she usually responded in a perplexed manner. Hadn't they understood for an age that her calling was to wed a man of the cloth? Was there another man of God, other than their rector, available to her? No. It only stood to reason, therefore, that Mr. Hathaway was her lot in life. Their cold reception to the thought of the marriage was unfathomable.

When she was seventeen, (a perfectly respectable marrying age) she had romantic hopes about a young and brilliant assistant to the rector, one Mr. Stresham. It was shortly after meeting him, in fact, that she had formed the opinion the Almighty was calling her to marry a man of God. Mr. Stresham even had the approval of her parents. But the man took a situation in another parish without asking Ariana to accompany him as his wife. She was disappointed, but not one to give up easily, continued to speak of “the calling,” waiting in hope for another Mr. Stresham of sorts. But no man came. And now she had reached the conclusion that Mr. Hathaway--Mr. Hathaway, the rector, (approaching the age of sixty!) would have to do.

Her parents, Charles and Julia Forsythe, were sitting in their comfortably furnished morning room, Julia with a cup of tea before her, and Charles with his newspaper. A steady warmth was emanating from the hearth.

“What shall we do about Ariana?” Mrs. Forsythe, being an observant mama, had been growing in her conviction that the situation called for some action.

“What do you suggest, my dear?” Her husband reluctantly folded his paper; he knew his wife wanted a discussion of the matter and that he would get precious little reading done until she had got it.

She held up a folded piece of foolscap: the annual letter from Agatha Bentley, Charles’s sister, asking for Alberta, the eldest Forsythe daughter, for the season in London. It had arrived the day before.

Aunt Bentley was a childless wealthy widow and a hopeless socialite. For the past three years she had written annually to tell her brother and his wife why they ought to let her sponsor their eldest daughter for a London season. She owned a house in Mayfair (could anything be more respectable than that?) and knew a great deal of the big-wigs in society. She had, in fact, that most important of commodities which the Forsythes completely lacked: connexions. And as Charles’s family were her only living relatives, she was prepared--even anxious--to serve as chaperon for her niece.

Much to the lady's frustration, Julia and Charles had annually extinguished her hopes, replying to her letters graciously but with the inevitable, “We cannot countenance a separation from our child at this time,” and so on. Charles was unflinching on this point, never doubting his girls would reap a greater benefit by remaining beneath his own roof. They knew full well, moreover, that Aunt Agatha could not hope, with all her money and connexions to find as suitable a husband for their offspring as was possible right in Chesterton.

Why not? For the profound reason that Aunt Bentley had no religion whatsoever.

And yet, due to the distressing state of affairs with Ariana, Julia wished to consider her latest offer. With the letter waving in her hand she said, “I think we ought to oblige your sister this year. She must be lonely, poor thing, and besides removing Ariana from the parish, a visit to the city could prove beneficial for her education.”

Ariana’s father silently considered the matter. His eldest daughter Alberta was as good as wed, having recently accepted an offer of marriage--to no one’s surprise--from John Norledge. Ariana, his second eldest, had been irksome in regard to the rector, but to pack her off to London? Surely the situation was not so dire as to warrant such a move.

“I think there is nothing else for it,” Mrs. Forsythe said emphatically. “Ariana is determined about Mr. Hathaway and, even though we can forbid her to speak to the man, she will pine and sigh and like as not drive me to distraction!”

Taking a pipe out of his waistcoat pocket (though he never smoked), Mr. Forsythe absently rubbed the polished wood in his fingers.

“I recall other fanciful notions of our daughter’s,” he said finally, “and they slipped away in time. Recall, if you will, when she was above certain her destiny was to be a missionary--to America. That desire faded. She fancies this, she fancies that; soon she will fancy another thing entirely, and we shan’t hear another word about the ‘wonderful rector’ again.”

Mrs. Forsythe’s countenance, still attractive in her forties, became fretful.

“I grant that she has had strong…affections before. But this time, my dear, it is a complicated affection for in this case it is the heart of the ah, affected, which we must consider. It has ideas of its own.”

“Of its own?”

Mrs. Forsythe looked about the room to be certain no one else had entered. The servants were so practiced at coming and going quietly, their presence might not be marked. But no, there was only the two of them. She lowered her voice anyway.

“The rector! I do not think he intends to lose her! What could delight him more than a young, healthy wife who might fill his table with offspring?”

Mr. Forsythe shook his head.”Our rector is not the man to think only of himself; he must agree with us on the obvious unsuitability of the match.”

The rector was Thaddeus Admonicus Hathaway, of the Church in the Village Square. Mr. Hathaway was a good man. His sermons were grounded in sound religion, which meant they were based on orthodox Christian teaching. He was clever, and a popular dinner guest of the gentry, including the Forsythes. If these had not been true of him, Mr. Forsythe might have been as concerned as his wife. Knowing Mr. Hathaway, however, Charles Forsythe did not think a drastic action such as sending his daughter to the bustling metropolis of London, was necessary.

Mrs. Forsythe chose not to argue with her spouse. She would simply commit the matter to prayer. If the Almighty decided that Ariana must be removed to Agatha’s house, then He would make it clear to her husband. In her years of marriage she had discovered that God was the Great Communicator, and she had no right to try and usurp that power. Her part was to pray, sincerely and earnestly.

Mr. Forsythe gave his judgment: “I fear that rather than exerting a godly influence upon her aunt, Ariana would be drawn astray by the ungodliness of London society.”

“Do you doubt her so much, Charles? This infatuation with Mr. Hathaway merely results from her youth, her admiration for his superior learning, and especially,” she said, leaning forward and giving him a meaningful look, “for lack of a young man who has your approval! Have you not frowned upon every male who has approached her in the past? Why, Mr. Hathaway is the first whom you have failed to frighten off and only because he is our rector! 'Tis little wonder a young girl takes a fanciful notion into her head!”

When he made no answer, she added, while adjusting the frilly morning cap on her head, “Mr. Hathaway causes me concern!”

Mr. Forsythe’s countenance was sober. “’Tis my sister who warrants the concern. She will wish to make a match for our daughter--and she will not be content with just any mister I assure you. In addition to which, a girl as pretty as our daughter will undoubtedly attract attention of the wrong sort.”

Julia was flustered for a second, but countered, “Agatha is no threat to our child. We shall say we are sending Ariana to see the sights, take in the museums and so forth. Surely there is no harm in that. A dinner party here or there should not be of concern. And Ariana is too intelligent to allow herself to be foisted upon an unsuitable man for a fortune or title.”

Too intelligent? He thought of the aging minister that no one had had to “foist” her upon. Aloud he merely said, “I shall speak with her tonight. She shall be brought to reason, depend upon it. There will be no need to pack her off to London.”