Thursday, February 28, 2013

Surrendered Love, The Amish of Webster County Book 2 by Laura V. Hilton

Tour Date: March 1, 2013

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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:

Whitaker House (April 1, 2013)

***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling for sending me a review copy.***


Amish romance writer Laura V. Hilton, of Horseshoe Bend, AR is a pastor’s wife, stay-at-home mother of five, homeschooler, breast cancer survivor and avid blogger. Her passion has long been the mission of Christian fiction, initially as a reviewer, but in the past two years as the author of four successful novels including The Amish of Seymour series (Patchwork Dreams, A Harvest of Hearts, and Promised to Another) and Healing Love, first of The Amish of Webster County. Her books have sold thousands of copies and garnered kudos from reviewers and readers alike with A Harvest of Hearts receiving the 2012 Laurel Award.

Visit the author's website.


Janna Kauffman enjoys her job as a personal shopper for the homebound in her Amish community. But when Janna’s niece, Meghan, comes to live with her family—part of a plan by Janna’s sister to rid her daughter of her rebellious ways—Janna spends less time shopping and more time explaining Meghan’s erratic behavior to local police officer Hiram “Troy” Troyer, who was raised Amish but left the faith after a fatal accident that killed his brother and also a brother of Janna’s. Frequent interactions draw Janna and Troy together, rekindling an attraction they first experienced in their youth. What will become of their relationship? And will headstrong Meghan ever tame her ways?

Product Details:
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (April 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603745076
ISBN-13: 978-1603745079


The police officer sorting though the Gala apples reminded Janna Kauffman of Hiram Troyer, but this Englischer couldn’t be her teenage crush. With a sigh, she focused again on the display in front of her. Cabbage. She picked up a head. Homemade coleslaw would go well with the hamburgers and baked beans she had planned for supper. As she set the cabbage in her cart, she couldn’t help stealing another peek at the good-looking officer. Dark blond hair, cut in a fancy hairstyle; trim build…ach, she shouldn’t be noticing such things about an Englischer.

Janna looked away, but not before he glanced back at her. She did a double take. She thought his eyes were blue, like Hiram’s, but she couldn’t be sure; he turned around and walked away. Probably headed for the doughnuts. She smiled and turned her attention to her shopping list.

10 bags carrots (5 lbs. ea.)

When she placed the carrots in her cart, the hair on the back of her neck stood up with a tingling sensation, as if someone were watching her. She turned and caught the policeman’s glance just before it slid away. A thrill shot through her to think that an Englischer might be attracted to her, an Amish woman, but she stifled it. His interest was a moot point. Of course, he might have just been curious about why she’d loaded her cart with so many carrots.

He disappeared around a corner and down an aisle. She picked up her list again.

10 oranges (Emma Brunstettler)

Emma believed that an orange a day kept all sickness away. And it seemed to work for her. Janna selected ten ripe ones and loaded them into Emma’s mesh bag. The hair on the back of her neck rose again, as did her pulse. Her breath hitched.

She wouldn’t look. Instead, she lowered the bag of oranges into the cart. Somehow she missed, though. They tumbled out and went rolling across the floor.

“Klutz.” A woman carrying a plastic basket stepped over the fallen fruit and hurried away.

As Janna bent to pick up the first of the escaped oranges, she noticed a pair of legs wearing blue pants approaching. It might be a store manager, coming to yell at her. Hopefully not. Worse, it might be the police officer. Had he witnessed her clumsy humiliation? She didn’t know which she dreaded more. She risked a glimpse as he crouched and started gathering up the oranges. The police officer. He grinned as he reached out to hand them to her. She tried to keep her burning face averted as she stretched out a quivering hand to accept the fruit and then stuffed each piece back inside the bag.

His smile would have made her weak in the knees, if she weren’t already squatting. Even so, she put one hand on the floor to keep her balance.

He stood, picked up his few grocery items from the edge of a display, and turned to go.

She found her voice. “Danki.”

He glanced back at her and winked, causing her heart rate to accelerate even more. “Careful with those oranges. They’ll get you every time.” He strode toward the checkout lines. She smiled when she noticed the box of doughnuts and canister of coffee he had tucked under one elbow. In his other hand was a bag of apples.

Janna gripped the bag of oranges in one hand and slowly stood, watching him as he moved through the checkout line, even as she gave herself a silent yet stern lecture for ogling him the whole time.

An hour later, she pushed the cart, piled full with her bagged purchases, outside and across the parking lot to her buggy, her thoughts still on the handsome police officer.

She started sorting through the bags, searching for the Yoder family’s groceries to load first, since their home was the last stop she would make along her delivery route.

“Janna Kauffman?” An Englisch man’s voice shattered her concentration.

Janna’s heart stuttered. Was it him? She stopped rifling through the plastic bags in her cart and looked up. A policeman approached, but he wasn’t the one from the store. This man had dark hair, and sunglasses covered his eyes. Her heart crash-landed somewhere in the vicinity of her toes.

“I’m Officer Pete O’Dell.”

Janna summoned a smile. “Is there a problem, Officer?”

He didn’t grin back. His lips didn’t even twitch. She stiffened, trying to prepare herself for the bad news she felt sure she was about to hear. She searched her mind for possibilities. She knew she hadn’t double parked, and dropping oranges wasn’t against the law. Ach, maybe there’d been an accident.

Just then, the passenger door of the police cruiser parked behind him opened. Her rush of thoughts stopped as the blond officer from the store climbed out and approached her, sliding his sunglasses down from the top of his head to cover his eyes.

Her face heated again in shame for having stared at him in the store. He looked at her buggy, and the stacks of coolers labeled with the full names of Amish men. “Where’d you get all these?” He opened up the lid of a red cooler labeled “Elam Troyer”—the father of her childhood crush. That seemed like a slap in the face. The cooler would be empty, except for an ice pack.

Janna sucked in a breath. The officers probably thought she’d stolen the coolers. “It isn’t what you think.” She waved a hand toward her cart, still piled with plastic bags. “I do their grocery shopping.” Embarrassed at being caught in yet another humiliating situation by the cute cop, she pulled her shopping list out of her pocket and shoved it toward him.

He took it and began scanning it.

Officer O’Dell shifted his weight. “Are you the guardian of a Meghan Forrest?”

Renewed panic filled Janna. She pushed down her fears and nodded. “She’s my niece.”

“Has she contacted you today?”

“No, but she can’t; she’s in school.” At least, that’s where she was supposed to be. But if he was asking, then maybe it was Meghan who was about to receive bad news. “Is it her mom?” She froze, dreading the answer. If anything had happened to her sister Sharon, she didn’t know what she’d do.

“Your niece was just picked up for shoplifting,” said Officer O’Dell, matter-of-factly. “We need you, as her guardian, to come to the police station.”

“Excuse me?” Janna shook her head. This couldn’t be happening. “I think you must have the wrong person. Megan is still in class.” She glanced at the position of the sun, then looked for a watch. She found one, conveniently located on the arm of the handsome officer. Almost noon.

The other officer still studied her shopping list, not contributing anything to the conversation.

“Well, apparently she decided to skip school today. Will you come with us to the station, Ms. Kauffman?” Officer O’Dell’s question sounded more like an order, as if she had no choice.

A knot formed in her stomach. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” But she stood there, staring at the plastic bags in the cart. Plastic bags full of perishables. She needed to deliver the food first. Or sort it, at the very least, load it into the coolers, and pray that it would still be cool enough after she’d handled the situation with Meghan. Otherwise, she’d have to pay out of her own pocket to replace the spoiled food. Besides, late or incomplete orders wouldn’t help her business any. And here, she’d been marveling at how well her day had been going.

“Now would be a good time, Ms. Kauffman.” Officer O’Dell grabbed a plastic bag from her cart and tossed it into the buggy.

Janna reached for the bag and pulled it back out. “I’ll be there as soon as I can,” she said again. Maybe he hadn’t heard her the first time. “I have to get these bags sorted and put the food in the coolers so it won’t spoil.”

“Go on, O’Dell. I’ll help her.” The blond policeman handed her back her list. He ran his fingertip over Elam Troyer’s name written in black permanent marker, then turned is dark sunglasses in her direction. “What can I do?”

Officer O’Dell scowled and strode back to his cruiser.

Janna swallowed. She wasn’t Meghan’s parent—just one of her temporary guardians, until Sharon felt ready to welcome Meghan back home. She sighed. Since the police probably wouldn’t ask a parent to fly in, she would have to deal with it. Unless Daed could do it. For a second, her hopes flared. Then died. Nein, Daed and Mamm were in Springfield, visiting someone in the hospital. Their driver wouldn’t bring them home again until this evening. She was it.

“I don’t know if you can help,” Janna said. “I need to pack the items on my list in the proper coolers. I tried to keep the orders separate in the store, but the bagger sort of packed them into the cart at random, so I still need to figure out who gets what.” Normally, she was better organized, but this time, the police officer had taken her rational capacities prisoner.

“Then, you tell me which cooler it goes into and I’ll put it in.”

She watched his eyebrows rise above his dark glasses. He really did seem familiar…

“So, why do you do their grocery shopping?” He tapped his fingertips on the lid of Elam Troyer’s red cooler.

She shrugged and decided to answer generally. The Troyers’ reasons were personal and certainly none of his concern. “Oh, various reasons. Some are too sick or old or physically unable; some are mamms with newborns at home. Others are widowers with no interest in shopping.” She looked through the contents of one bag, consulted her list, then handed it to the officer. “This goes to Elam Troyer.”

A muscle flickered in his jaw. She wondered if the name meant something to him.

But it was probably her overactive imagination.


He should be shot for neglecting his parents like he did. Hiram Troyer, better known as Troy, removed his hand from the top of the cooler, lifted the lid, and lowered the plastic bag inside. He’d run by their house on the way home and check on them. If they were paying someone else to do their grocery shopping, then something must have happened.

He held up another bag. “Same family?”

She nodded distractedly as she sorted through another bag.

He dropped it in the cooler, keeping his gaze on her. Janna Kauffman. I’d figured she would have gotten married by now. She always stood out at the singings and frolics, back when—. No point going there. That was a lifetime ago. Still, when he’d seen her eyes for the first time in years, it had felt like an earthquake, rocking his heart and rearranging his mind. The aftershocks still rumbled through him.

But his thoughts were no longer scrambled; they were crystal clear—and he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He just didn’t know how he was going to do it.

Janna handed him several more bags. “These are the last of Elam Troyer’s.”

He was glad his sunglasses hid his eyes as his gaze slid down her curvy body beneath the usual cape dress, hers lavender. She was still as attractive as ever, with light brown hair and hazel eyes. She’d skipped the black bonnet the women usually wore over their prayer kapps when they went out—but he’d seen other women do that, especially as the days got warmer. And they’d been reaching 80 degrees almost daily for almost a week now. Eighty-two, he thought he read on the digital sign in front of the bank. He could have been mistaken, though, because gazing into Janna’s eyes left him reeling. He looked away.

He’d left Meghan locked up in custody in the otherwise empty police station. He slid his glance back to Janna, then away. “Hurry and finish.”

Okay, that was a bit abrupt, but he needed to get back to the station before the manager of the store Meghan had allegedly robbed showed up to give a statement. She’d been running the cash register and needed to find someone to cover for her.

Troy glanced in the direction of the police station. Maybe O’Dell had gone straight back there. Troy had told him he’d talk to Janna, but, as usual, O’Dell hadn’t listened. Probably because a hint of action beat the dispatcher job O’Dell was supposed to be doing today.

Come down to it, Troy needed to do his job, instead of standing there staring at this woman. He needed to get away from Janna and the feelings she awakened in him.


Years of striving to be the model bishop’s daughter, and here she was, on her way to the police station. At least she wasn’t the one in trouble. She hoped shoplifting wasn’t punishable with jail time. Sharon would never forgive her if Meghan ended up with a sentence to serve. Maybe she could talk the nice blond policeman into going easy on her niece. And somehow keep the news from her older sister.

As Janna maneuvered her buggy into the parking lot of the police station, she began to regret the samples of meat and cheese she’d succumbed to while shopping. They weighed heavy in her stomach.

She climbed out of the buggy, tied the reins to a telephone pole, and went inside the station, wishing again that she didn’t have to handle this. Wishing the problem would just disappear. If only the blond policeman had waited for her. But he’d disappeared before she could talk her horse, Tulip, into leaving the grocery store parking lot.

Officer O’Dell sat at the reception desk with his feet propped up in front of him, a full mug of coffee in one hand, what appeared to be a McDonald’s burger in the other. The room smelled like fresh-brewed coffee. A glance around showed an almost full pot on a file cabinet.

“Ms. Kauffman,” he said around a mouthful of food. “Go on in.” He pointed abruptly over his shoulder at a partially closed door.

Janna inclined her head to acknowledge his directions and then stepped over to the door. She knocked once, then pushed it open.

The blond officer sat behind a big desk, talking on the phone. King of the office, apparently. He cast a quick glance in her direction but made no visible acknowledgment of her presence. He was handsome, but instead of the friendliness she’d seen earlier, now his expression was stern. She probably didn’t know him. Maybe she’d just seen him around town a time or two.

Meghan sat hunched over in a far chair. She didn’t look over at all. Not gut.

A woman wearing tight black pants and a low-cut hot pink stood against the wall on the other side of the desk. She, too, kept her eyes down, as she played with the bangles on her wrist.

Janna inhaled as deeply as she could, given the knot in her stomach. She pressed a hand to her abdomen, hoping to keep her snacks down.

The officer finally set the phone in its cradle and looked up at Janna. His blue-eyed gaze pierced her. He was good-looking but scary—not someone she’d want to tangle with on a dark dirt road. Or even in a brightly lit office.

He nodded at the empty chair facing his desk. “Please, have a seat.”

She thought she’d rather stand, like the woman with the bangle bracelets. Position herself right there by the garbage can, in case her food decided not to stay put. But obediently, she dropped compliantly into the chair. Again she glanced over at Meghan, who studied the floor as if fascinated by the pattern in the linoleum tiles.

Janna cleared her throat. “I’m sure this is just a simple misunderstanding.”

The officer slid a card holding a pair of earrings across the desk. They were dangly and sparkly. Definitely something Meghan would wear. “We found these in your niece’s possession.” His voice was stern. “Would you like to see the surveillance video?”

Not really.

He went ahead and pushed a button of the remote control on his desk. On the monitor behind him, a rather grainy picture appeared of Meghan and someone Janna didn’t know. She must have gotten away, or maybe they’d put her in another room. Despite the poor quality of the film, it was clear enough to see both girls slip some merchandise into their pockets.

He pushed another button, and the screen went blank. His cold eyes speared Janna again before he shifted his gaze to Meghan. “Shoplifting is a serious crime, and it usually lands you in jail for up to a few months. But, since this is your first offense, we’re willing to work with you.” He gestured to the woman with the bracelets. “Ms. Taft, the store manager, has said she won’t press charges if you agree to six weeks of community service. I just talked to the DA to make sure this was agreeable. He said you could begin Monday after school. You’ll report to the county courthouse. And you will not enter that store again. If you do, the management won’t hesitate to report you for trespassing.”

Janna nodded. “I’m sure it won’t happen again.” I hope. She glanced at Meghan to look for any indication that she felt the same way, but her niece’s face was impassive.

He tapped the card holding the earrings. “The DA also expects you to pay for the merchandise you stole. Three times the retail value.”

Janna glanced at Meghan. “How much did they cost?”

“Forty-nine ninety-five,” said the woman standing there. Her tone was less than friendly.

Janna couldn’t hold back her gasp. “And you want her to pay three times that much?” Acid burned in the back of her throat. She stood and moved to the trashcan.

“Take a seat, Ms. Kauffman.” This officer meant business. She wondered what had become of the kind gentleman who’d help her gather her fallen orange and later load her buggy with groceries. This man looked the same, but his attitude and bearing were completely different.

Janna cast him a frantic look, then lost the contents of her stomach—and what was left of her pride.

Ms. Taft gagged.

“Eww, Aunt Janna. Gross!”

At least Meghan had generated a reply.

Blinking back tears, Janna wiped her mouth with her sleeve.

The officer stood, opened a miniature refrigerator, and produced a bottle of water. Her throat burned.

“Thank you.” She reached to accept the water from him.

When their hands touched, fire shot through her fingertips, and she glanced quickly at him. His blue eyes widened as they met hers, but his expression remained sympathetic. Maybe he was friendly after all, and not so scary. She set the garbage can outside the door and then approached his desk again.

“Now. Back to business.” The officer’s voice hardened, and he sat down, all traces of kindness gone. “As I was saying….” He repeated himself, with enough force to make Janna’s stomach churn again. No matter the punishment Daed would kum up with for Meghan, it couldn’t be harsh enough for forcing Janna through this torture.

Something the policeman said must have penetrated Meghan’s indifference. She flung a wad of cash on the desk. Her hands didn’t even shake.

Janna stared in disbelief at the bills. Sharon sent Meghan a monthly allowance, but with the way Meghan spent money, Janna hadn’t thought she’d have any money left.

The manager reached for the stack and flipped through it. Apparently satisfied with the amount, she slid it into her pocket. “Thank you, Officer,” she almost purred. Then, she turned to Janna and hissed, “If that thieving brat ever sets foot in my store again, you can be sure I’ll have her arrested.” She flipped her hair, spun on her heel, and stomped out of the office.

“Thank you for coming in, Ms. Kauffman.” The uniformed man rose to his feet. “You can go now. I’ll escort your niece back to school.”

Janna didn’t even try to force a smile. “Thank you, sir.” She turned to Meghan. “I expect you to kum straight home after school. We are going to have a talk.”

“What. Ever.” Meghan punctuated the words with a sneer. “You aren’t my mom.”

Her comment struck like a fist, knocking the air from Janna’s lungs. No, she wasn’t Meghan’s mom. But she had once been her favorite aunt. They’d been more like sisters, really, since they were only five years apart.

Janna glanced at the police officer on her way out. In light of the humiliation she had just suffered, she decided that if she never saw him again, it would be way too soon.

She also decided that, whatever Sharon’s reasons for sending Meghan to Seymour to live with her Amish relatives, they weren’t gut enough.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Come Eat at My Table by Ruth O'Neil

Tour Date: February 28, 2013

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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:

Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

***Special thanks to Ruth O'Neil for sending me a review copy.***


 Ruth O’Neil has been writing for over 20 years. She has published hundreds of articles in numerous publications. She loves to touch the emotions when she writes. “If I can make one person laugh or cry, I’ll consider myself successful.” Her first novel “Come Eat at My Table” has just come out in ebook form and can be purchased on her website. She homeschools her three children (well, one now, as two have graduated). She and her husband have been married for 20-plus years. In her spare time she enjoys quilting, crafting, and reading.

Visit the author's website.


Karin Miller has a need to feed everyone. One of her twin daughters always teases her about it. The other daughter, Faith, realizes that there’s more to it than that. Faith’s suspicions are confirmed when she is assigned a project in school that forces Karin to talk about her past, mainly her childhood. Most people have fun and pleasant memories from childhood, but not Karin. There are a lot of secrets, which she has kept hidden for twenty years that have contributed to her vulnerability and lack of self-esteem. Her husband convinces her that it would be good for her to let it all out. He tells her it would also be good for the girls to learn more about their mom and why she is the person she is. When it’s all said and done, Karin is a much stronger person and so are the members of her family. Until Karin faces her past, she and her family cannot face their future.

Product Details:
List Price: $7.99
File Size: 307 KB
Print Length: 133 pages
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
Text-to-Speech: Enabled
X-Ray: Not Enabled
Lending: Enabled



It’s said that the way we are raised forms who we are as adults. It’s all the experiences we have had in life that make us who we are. Mom was no different. Her experiences definitely shaped who she was.

I learned at an early age that it was my mom’s goal in life to feed everyone. She believed that food connected people and made them happy. Many of my own most vivid memories come from when we were sitting at the table eating with friends and family. Besides just inviting friends over for dinner, Mom would have someone over to eat in payment for a good deed. Mom would always make a meal for someone who was sick or in need. If she knew that someone was depressed, they would be the recipients of a plate of cupcakes. It was her signature touch of love, which made all her food special. Mom never failed to include a card, along with the food, with a few words of encouragement. If dessert was given, it was always presented on a pretty plate intended for the receiver to keep. Mom was famous for her cooking, especially for her cupcakes that were decorated individually.

It wasn’t until the year that my sister and I turned sixteen that we realized why mom had an underlying need to feed everyone. She wanted everyone to know they were loved - by her and by God. I remember that year as being one of the best of our lives. I don’t exactly know why because it was a year of difficulty for my parents and for us as a family. In spite of those difficulties, I remember that year as being fun and good.

Mom was one of those people that didn’t realize all the good she did or the number of people she touched. She did what she did because she felt God told her to. She didn’t do it for show. There was something deep down inside her that made her want to reach out to others. She never wanted anyone to feel like she had felt as a child, which was unloved. It wasn’t until the project for school our sophomore year that my sister and I found out why mom was the way she was.

It’s a story I will never forget because it was one that was difficult for my mom to tell and for us to hear. She wanted to shade my sister and me from her past, but I think I’m the better for knowing it. I think you will be, too.

Faith Miller

Chapter One

“Only two more days till Christmas!” Hope danced around the kitchen chanting while getting underfoot. She was good at that, but not always a whole lot of help.

“Yes, we know!” Hope’s twin sister Faith said, while frosting some of the cookies she had baked earlier in the day with their mom.

Hope picked up the cookie as soon as Faith set it aside to let the frosting set.

“You didn’t burn these did you?”

“I haven’t burnt anything in a long time!” Faith said.

“Yeah, it’s been at least a week!” Hope said sarcastically.

“We’d get more done if you helped a little more besides eating everything.” The girls’ mom, Karin, said to Hope without looking up from what she was doing.

“I’m taste-testing.” Hope said with her mouth full. “And taking pictures.” She held up her other hand, which contained a camera. It was an older camera that used film, but she found taking pictures enjoyable and she was good at it. She used her talent and became the photo editor of their school newspaper. She would often get right up in people’s faces to get a close-up shot. Karin and Faith hated that, which made Hope do it even more.

Hope and Faith were identical twins who would turn sixteen the next July. While they looked alike, they made every effort to look different. They had the same honey colored hair and green eyes as their mom. The three of them looked so much alike that their father often called them his triplets.

Karin wore her hair long, down to her waist. Faith had hair that came down past her shoulder blades, but more often than not, she had it up in a ponytail to keep it out of her way. Hope kept her hair only to her shoulders and she would straighten hers since she didn’t particularly like the waves that her mom and sister kept.

As far as their personalities were concerned, the twins couldn’t have been more different. Faith was the no fuss twin. Hope was the one who was more concerned about her appearance. She always took the time to do her hair and put on clean clothes and make-up before she took out the garbage.

Faith liked to cook alongside of her mother. Although she used to burn a lot of meals, after the last couple years of practice, she had become a much better cook. Faith liked to play sports and hated shopping. Hope liked shopping and hated sports. Hope was more popular at school and had a lot of friends. Faith was well liked, but she was much quieter than Hope and was loyal to her small group of close friends. Hope was much more talkative and more interested in the latest trends.

Hope talked incessantly, while Faith was a listener. Faith saw and heard things that Hope had no idea were there. Hope’s personality was more like her dad’s and Faith’s was more like Karin’s.

Faith was baking and frosting cookies while Karin was preparing Christmas dinner. When she pulled the ham from the oven she said as much to herself as to the girls. “I don’t know why I’m getting all this food ready now.” She had pretty much cooked everything so that on Christmas Day it would just have to be reheated.

“Well, now we can enjoy more time together as a family this year,” Faith said. “We always get up early, open presents, spend a few hours cooking, an hour eating, and the rest of the day sitting around doing nothing.”

“Yeah,” Hope agreed. “We can sleep in. We aren’t little kids anymore who are so anxious to open presents that we can’t wait till daylight.”

“We can sleep in as long as dad doesn’t wake us up.” Faith laughed.

It was true, their dad, Rob, was always the first one up on Christmas Day. He often got up and unsatisfied to be alone and to wait patiently, he would go and wake up the whole household. It didn’t matter that it was only four o’clock in the morning, it was Christmas and it was time to open all the presents that waited under the tree. If only he would leave everyone alone they could sleep in a little longer and still have plenty of time to enjoy the day and eat all the delicious food they were preparing.

Just then, the front door opened. All three of them looked to see who had entered. A little boy shyly stood there with a big smile. “Are you baking cookies?” He asked.

“We sure are.” Karin was always amazed at how Matt could show up at exactly the right time. “You’re a little late, Matt. I cracked the eggs a while ago!” Karin smiled.

One time when he came over while Karin was baking cookies, he told her he had heard her cracking the eggs. That was their own little joke now. He also heard her cracking the ice cube trays in the summer when he was hopeful of getting Karin’s famous lemonade.

Karin felt sorry for Matt. He was often at home alone. Matt was only ten years old. He had a single mom who worked extra hard just to make ends meet. Karin knew Matt’s mom’s schedule and they had an agreement that Karin would keep her eye out for their young next-door neighbor when he wasn’t in school.

Karin knew that if she offered to watch Matt his mom would feel obligated to pay her. Karin wasn’t looking for payment; she just wanted to be a good neighbor. Karin also knew that money was tight for Matt and his mom, so she often sent a plate of food home for her after Matt had eaten dinner with them. This arrangement worked well and kept them all happy.

Matt fit right in with the family, filling the role of little brother. Faith took him under her wing and nurtured him. Hope took him under her wing and conspired with him. Right now Hope and Matt sat on bar stools on the opposite side of the counter of where Karin and Faith were working. Hope was picking up two cookies, one more for herself and one for Matt.

None of them could resist Matt’s bright, blue eyes, blonde hair and the fattest cheeks anyone could ever imagine on a skinny, little kid. He was cute, of that there was no doubt. This was one reason Karin found it hard to resist his smile when he showed up on her doorstep, hoping for a cookie. He happily chewed on his treat as the three girls talked and sang Christmas songs as they played on the radio.

The four continued their baking, decorating, and eating. When Hope’s favorite Christmas song came on the radio, she ordered everyone to be quiet so she could listen and sing, when actually her singing ruined the song for everyone else. She grabbed a wooden spoon out of the crock on the counter and used it as a microphone as she sang and danced around the kitchen. Neither her singing nor her dancing was pleasant entertainment, but she ignored anyone who told her so.

Fortunately, the phone ringing interrupted her performance. Since her mom and Faith were both busy, Hope answered the phone without turning down the music.

“Hello? Merry Christmas!” She just about shouted into the phone. “Just a minute, please.” She handed the phone to her mom. “It’s Mrs. Carter, from church.”

Karin took the phone from her daughter. “Hello?”  It only took about two seconds for her whole demeanor to change. Hope was still singing, stealing cookies, and sharing them with Matt who had by now acquired a cup of hot cocoa, too.

Hope may not have noticed the change in her mom, but Faith, the one who saw everything, did see it. She also saw her mom walk into another room to avoid the noise. Faith turned down the volume on the radio not only so her mom could hear better, but also so that she could hear what her mom was saying.

“Hey!” Hope said as Faith turned the music down.

“Shhh!” Faith responded.

“I’ll take a meal over to them tonight.” Karin was saying. “I’ll also go ahead and set up meals for at least the rest of the week.”

When she hung up Faith asked what was wrong.

Karin put her hands on her hips like she was thinking. “Mrs. Lloyd broke her leg this morning.” She said.

“How did she do that?” Faith asked.

“She slipped on some ice and fell.” Karin answered.

Faith already knew exactly what was going through her mom’s mind. When Karin heard of a need, she automatically went into high gear. During the next few moments Karin spoke, but only to herself. The girls, and even Matt, knew not to interrupt.

“They are going to need food. There is no way Lisa is going to feel like cooking anything let alone a fancy Christmas dinner. I wish I had time to bake some cupcakes. I can do that later, instead of today. I don’t know how many people will be able to fix meals the week of Christmas. Hmmm. She’s going to need more help than that, too. She has five small children.”

When she looked up, the girls knew that they were now included in any further discussion. The funny part is that there wasn’t any conversation. The three of them looked at each other for a few moments. Took their eyes off each other long enough to scan over all the food that was spread out on the counter and the tables. There was ham, sweet potatoes, apple and pumpkin pies, herbed corn, and homemade rolls. When their eyes met again the decision had been made, all without saying one word. Hope grabbed one more cookie before the deal was sealed.

“Your dad doesn’t particularly care for ham anyway. He’s always saying he wants pizza for Christmas dinner; that we should go against tradition. How about we give him what he wants this year?” Karin asked the girls without expecting an answer. “Now I know why God had me prepare Christmas dinner early. See, girls, everything happens for a reason.” She commented. “Isn’t God amazing?” Karin just beamed.

Faith smiled. Hope acted a little disappointed. Both of the girls knew that their own Christmas dinner would be a little bit less than what was originally planned, but they both also knew that mom would make it special, even if it was just pizza.

“Mom’s got to feed the world!” Hope said. Her tone was sarcastic, but she said it with all the love she had in her heart for her mom. Everyone who knew her knew that Karin Miller had an innate need to feed everyone she met. And everyone she met was more than willing to eat at Karin Miller’s table, for her food was a treat for all to thoroughly enjoy.

Hope grabbed a couple more cookies. Faith went and got out one of the pretty plates her mom kept for such occasions. Karin would buy these plates when she found them on sale or at second hand stores or yard sales. It was one of those extra touches that were purely Karin. The plate was a gift along with whatever food was placed on it and was not to be returned.

“Here, Matt,” Faith began to hand him another cookie, but changed her mind when she looked at him. “Can you cram anymore cookies in those cheeks of yours?”

Matt tried to smile, but had to cover his mouth with his hand to keep cookie crumbs from falling out.

Faith continued, “Which cookies do you think the Lloyd’s will like?”

While munching on his own cookies, Matt helped Faith choose some of the prettier looking cookies to give to a family who would be in need of Christmas treats.

Faith arranged the cookies on the plate so they looked attractive. Then she covered the whole thing tightly with plastic warp so the cookies wouldn’t slide around. This would be dessert for the Lloyds to go along with the dinner her mom would soon be packing up.

Faith also grabbed a large plastic bag and filled it with cookies.

“What’s that for?” Matt wanted to know. Even though he didn’t live there, he knew Karin always put cookies on a nice plate and not in a plastic bag.

“These are for you and your mom.” Faith smiled.

“Oh, boy!” Matt said excitedly, rubbing his hands together.

“Yeah,” Hope interjected. “Make sure you save some for your mom. I heard she didn’t get any of the last batch.” She teased.

Matt just grinned. He knew he was guilty as charged. The last time Karin sent Matt home with some cranberry-ginger cookies, Matt ate them all. He paid for it the next day with a horrible stomachache.

“Hope, since you aren’t doing anything but eating, grab me some of those foil pans that are in the pantry.” Karin asked. “That way Mrs. Lloyd won’t need to worry about washing or returning any dishes.”

The Lloyd’s were a family at their church. They were relatively new members and Karin would do her best to make them feel like a part of the family.

When Hope came back with the foil pans in hand, Karin gave her another order. “Go get me that box of cards that is on the desk in my bedroom.”

That was another thing for which Karin had a talent. Whenever she gave anyone food, she also sent a card with much needed encouragement. Somehow, she always found the right Bible verse for every occasion. Karin didn’t know it and she certainly wasn’t keeping track, but she had touched many hearts with her efforts. Karin was well loved by everyone. A few people had even told her she should be a writer because the notes she wrote in the cards were so encouraging.

“There we go!”  Karin said as she finished packing up the ham dinner she thought she had been preparing for her own family. She smiled from ear to ear. Where many people would have been upset to put all that work into a meal and not be able to eat it, Karin was the opposite. She was in her glory, or God’s glory as her husband, Rob had come to call it. He may have teased her about all the food she prepared for other people, but he was known to help by telling her about people he knew were in need. He had delivered more than one meal in their twenty years of marriage.

“Hope can start putting stuff in the van if she ever comes back.”

“I’ll help.” Matt offered.

Faith handed him the bag of cookies. Matt happily carried his bag of cookies outside.

Hope came into the room. “There aren’t really any cards that are appropriate.”

Karin quickly looked through them. “You’re right.”

“Want me to go to the store and pick one out for you?”

Karin just looked at her daughter. “You can’t drive.”

“Yeah, but in seven months I’ll be able to, so why don’t you let me start practicing now?”

“Because it isn’t legal. I’ll stop and get a card on the way. Let’s go.”

“Are we going to the dollar store?” Faith wondered.

“Yeah, probably. That way I can see if they have any more pretty plates. I’m running low.”

The dollar store was one of her favorite places to find those small treasures. Often she would also find small pieces to use on the table as decorations for all of her entertaining. She often said, “Entertaining doesn’t have to be expensive, but it can still be beautiful.” And her table was often very lovely.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Beyond the Rapids by Evelyn Puerto

Tour Date: Feb 27, 2013

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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!

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Pleasant Word-A Division of WinePress Publishing; First Edition edition (May 25, 2010)

***Special thanks to Evelyn Puerto for sending me a review copy.***


 Evelyn Puerto left a career in health care planning to serve as a missionary for seven years in Russia. During those years, she met and was inspired by the Brynza family, whose story she tells in Beyond the Rapids. After her return from the mission field, she got married, inheriting three stepdaughters, two stepgrandsons and a cat.

Visit the author's website.


Imagine that you are a believer living in a communist country. You live with the knowledge that at any time you could be imprisoned, tortured or killed simply because you are a Christian.

Award-winning Beyond the Rapids is the true story of Ukrainian pastor Alexei Brynza and his wife, Valentina, who endured persecution in a culture that was hostile to their faith as they struggled to raise their children as believers The Brynzas children were tempted by ambition, wealth, love and popularity as they struggled with the choice between embracing the communist system or believing in God. Beyond the Rapids is an inspiring story of God's grace and faithfulness in all circumstances.

Product Details:
List Price: $19.99
Paperback: 348 pages
Publisher: Pleasant Word-A Division of WinePress Publishing; First Edition edition (May 25, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414116055
ISBN-13: 978-1414116051


Beyond the Rapids

One Family’s Triumph over Religious Persecution in Communist Ukraine

Chapter 1

Grandpa and the Firing Squad

Stone walls do not a prisone [sic] make.1

George Bernard Shaw

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John 8:32

As told by Lena

My parents didn’t allow my three brothers and me to play with the other children in the neighborhood. They built a wood fence around the yard and installed a gate, which Mama locked every morning after Papa left for work. Then she let us amuse ourselves in the yard while she was cooking or planting potatoes or taking care of the goats. We often stood at the gate, peeking through the bars, stretching our hands into the air, rejoicing that our hands were free, even if we were not, waving at the neighbors passing by, neighbors who laughed at us, remarking we were like prisoners in jail.

Maybe the neighbors were joking; maybe they remembered that our grandfather had been imprisoned during the Great Patriotic War. Many Ukrainians rejoiced when our country was invaded. Some greeted the German army with bread and salt, the traditional symbols of welcome, hoping the Nazis would rule more humanely than the iron-fisted communists. After two years of German occupation, the Soviet Army drove the Nazis out, fighting so fiercely around Zaporozhe that the Dniepr River ran red with the blood of the dead.

The Soviet Army rounded up all the men who survived the occupation to take to the front. My grandfather, Gavril, was among them. He refused to fight. The Baptist church left decisions about participating in war or bearing arms to each person’s conscience. For Grandpa, it was clear. “I am a Christian,” he said, “and I will not kill anyone.”

To the Soviet authorities, this was traitorous. How could any citizen shirk his duty to defend the Motherland from the fascist invaders? The Nazis treacherously attacked our country, plundered wantonly, slaughtered millions of people, and carried off thousands more to slavery in Germany. Maybe my grandfather would have been more willing to help a regime that had not been so cruel to believers. He certainly wasn’t going to compromise his principles to help the Communist Party complete its Five Year Plan. He would remain true to his faith and convictions no matter what.

For many years the authorities sought reasons to arrest Grandpa for his faith; now they had grounds to execute him. He was tried, sentenced to death by firing squad, and flung into the death cell with others condemned to die. There he sat for an entire month. The guards distributed almost no food and offered no medical care of any kind to these prisoners, reasoning that the inmates were going to die anyway. Why waste good food or medicine on traitors and criminals?

Every morning, as the pale winter sun peaked through the tiny window high up in the wall of the unheated cell, the cell’s door grated open and a guard would appear. As he probed the faces of the condemned with his flashlight, the prisoners waited, resigned, knowing what was about to happen—one of their number would be called out never to return, and each one hoped to be spared one more day. But the guard’s light would finally settle on one weary face. “You.  Let’s go.”

One morning the light drilled into Grandpa’s face. He calmly said good-bye to his cellmates. After a month in the death cell he still wasn’t sure why he had been arrested. Was it for refusing to fight in the army, refusing to kill another human being? Or was it simply for his faith? Now his sentence was about to be fulfilled; it didn’t matter why he was to die. He staggered to his feet, lightheaded from hunger, stiff from inactivity.

The weak light of the winter sun pierced Grandpa’s eyes when he left the cell. Each step was a struggle, every muscle protesting, pain shooting through his feet as he walked to certain death, his heart at peace. He knew that in a few minutes he would be rewarded for his faith and enjoy eternal life with God. The guards marched Grandpa along the muddy streets of the camp. As they passed the headquarters, an officer came out. “Where are you taking this man?” he asked.

“To the firing squad.”

“What has he done?”

“He’s a Baptist leech who won’t fight.”

“My mother was a Baptist,” said the officer. “I can’t allow you to kill him. Give him another trial.” At the second trial they sentenced Grandpa to ten years hard labor in a concentration camp in Siberia. Grandpa’s suffering was only beginning.