Sunday, January 25, 2009

Random Question Day...this'll be interesting. >^.^<

okay guys and we are posting a question and my answer to it(and linkies to my friends's answers too hopefully). some of the questions I've read have been really funny so this isn't anything really serious but they can be thought provoking
and the hamsterpowered question generator has turn out this for today's question!!!!
If you were stranded on a Desert Island and could only bring two items, which two would you bring? (I'm calling it a deserted island though because my brain refuses to think of it as anything but)
now this question made me think for a good long while. I was debating if I should bring a cell or a water filter or my library of books (got to keep myself occupied so I don't go sane) I even got to the point of wanting to bring The Axiom from Wall-e but I decided on this instead.
I would bring my Deserted Island survival kit (sallelite cell phone, laptop, dvds, dehydrated provisions, water filter, metal pot etc) and Surviving Deserted Islands for Dummies book (cause of course there's a dummies book for everything nowadays) :D
anybody know what two items they'd bring to a stranded Desert Island? comment here and let us know!
and if anybody's got any ideas for questions(silly is definately appreciated) feel free to mention them here.
here is a link to one of my friends who answered the question too! so ya'll should definately check her blog out too!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour: The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs


This month we're touring a totally awesome fantasy book. it has almost everything you could ask for: mysteries, portals into other worlds, different creatures that though beautiful can be deadly, ordinary people thrust into extraordinary about everything covered.

The Book of Names by D. (Dean) Barkley Briggs (Book1 of the Legends of Karac Tor Series)




"Ancient portals. Myth and magic.What if the old legends were true?
After tragedy strikes, teen brothers Hadyn and Ewan Barlow must adjust to a depressing new life. But when a secret viking runestone opens the door to a world in peril, they are given a choice: join the battle or never find their way home.
In the Hidden Lands of Karac Tor, names are being stolen. Darkness spreads. As strange new powers awaken within, will the Barlows reluctantly answer the call to fight? Or will they succumb to Nemesia’s dark spell and join the Lost...forever."


Dean Barkley Briggs is an author, father of eight, and prone to twisting his ankle playing basketball. He grew up reading J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lews, Patricia McKillip, Guy Gavriel Kay, Stephen R. Donaldson, Ursila K. Leguin, Susan Cooper, Madeline L'Engle, Terry Brooks, Andre Norton and Lloyd Alexander (just to name a few)...and generally thinks most fantasy fiction pales in comparison. (Yes, he dabbled in sci-fi, too. Most notably Bradbury, Burroughs and Heinlein).


After losing his wife of 16 years, Briggs decided to tell a tale his four sons could relate to in their own journey through loss. Thus was born The Legends of Karac Tor, a sweeping adventure of four brothers who, while struggling to adjust to life without mom, become enmeshed in the crisis of another world. Along the way they must find their courage, face their pain, and never quit searching for home.


Briggs is remarried to a lovely woman, who previously lost her husband. Together with her four children, their hands are full.




I ABSOLUTELY ADORED THIS BOOK! at first I was a bit worried about getting through it because it is a pretty good sized book, but when I got into it though I just couldn't stop. ^.^ it's absolutely BRILLIANT! I absolutely love the fact that it has fey in it. (recently I've been reading fey stories so it's awesome to find a Christian fiction book with them being a bit of a factor in it is totally cool)


I thought Mr. Briggs did an awesome thing when he had the Riddle Quest (which was an awesome challenge). it wasn't that if you got all the answers right for the crossword that you'd be entered into a random drawing. it was that whoever got the correctly answered form sent in first got the prize. totally cool and I don't think I've ever seen that before.


I was a wee bit prepared for the ending of book1 but Mr. Briggs threw me for a loop at some of the ending. I love it when I get thrown for a loop in the plot line. keeps me on my toes and guessing. :D


I'm totally giving a copy of this book to my cousin for his birthday and I'd recommend others buying this book for presents too.


can hardly wait for book2 but I shall try not to make a hole in the floor from my impatience




* link link



Sally Apokedak
Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Rachel Briard
Valerie Comer
Frank Creed
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Timothy Hicks
Joleen Howell
Jason Isbell
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Alice M. Roelke
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Timothy Wise



Here's a sneak peek at the book!

In final days / Come final woes

Doors shall open / Doors shall close

Forgotten curse / Blight the land

Four names, one blood / Fall or stand

If lost the great one / Fallen low

Rises new / Ancient foe

Darkest path / River black

Blade which breaks / Anoint, attack

If once and future / Lord of war,

Queen la Faye / Mighty sword,

Rises ‘gain / As warrior king,

Prepare / For day of reckoning

If Aion’s breath / For music cursed

Sings making things / Made perverse,

Fate shall split / Road in twain

One shall lose / One shall gain

If secret lore / Then be found

Eight plus one / All unbound

Beast shall come / Six must go

Doors shall open / Doors shall close

If buried deep / Hidden seen

Ancient tomb / Midst crimson green

Nine shall bow / Nine more rise

Nine horns blow / Nine stars shine

If falling flame / Burning pure

Ten thousand cries / For mercy heard

Then plagues, peril / Horns of dread

End of days / Land be red

When final days / Bring final woes

Doors shall open / Doors shall close

Fate for one / For all unleashed

Come the Prince / Slay the beast

Cross the water / Isgurd’s way

White horse / Top the waves

Aion, fierce! / Aion, brave!

Aion rides / To save the day

— The Ravna’s Last Riddle

Chapter 1


The day was gray and cold, mildly damp. Perfect for magic. Strange clouds overhead teased the senses with a fragrance of storm wind and lightning and the faint, clean smell of ozone. Invisible energy sparkled like morning dew on blades of grass.

Standing alone in an empty field on the back end of their new acreage, Hadyn Barlow only saw the clouds. By definition, you can't see what's invisible, and as for smelling magic? Well, let's just say, unlikely. Hadyn saw what was obvious for late November, rural Missouri: leafless trees, dead grass, winter coming on strong. Most of all he saw (and despised) the humongous briar patch in front of him, feeling anew each and every blister and callous earned hacking through its branches.

Making room for cattle next spring, or so he was told; this, even though his dad had never owned a cow in his life. He was a history teacher for crying out loud. A college professor. Hadyn's shoulders slumped. It didn't matter. Everything was different now. Mr. Barlow didn't let his boys curse, but low under his breath, Hadyn did, mildly, just to prove the point. Life stunk. That was the brutal truth.

All true for the most part. Yet standing alone in the field, bundled in flannel, something else prickled his skin—something hidden in the rhythm of the day, at its core—and it wasn't just the chill wind. He couldn't shake it. A sense of something. Out-of-placeness. Faced with a friendless sophomore year, Hadyn knew that feeling all too well. It attacked him every morning, right before school.

But this was something more, more than the usual nervousness and name-calling stuff. His intuition was maddeningly vague. Hadyn sniffed the air, eyeing the field. A fox scampered in the distance. Bobwhites whistled softly. This had been his routine for weeks. Go to school, come home, do chores. Today was no different. Except for the clouds.

He looked upwards, struck again by the strange hues. The colors were still there; kinda creepy. They had lingered since the bus ride home. He had seen it happen with his own eyes, though he didn’t think much of it at the time. Right about the time school let out and the yellow buses began winding home, the skies had opened and spilled. Low banks of clouds came tumbling from the horizon like old woolen blankets. Like that scene from Independence Day, when the alien ships first appeared. Hues of purple, cobalt and charcoal smeared together. Not sky blue. Not normal. Riding on the bus, face pressed against the cold window, he didn’t know what to think. Only that it looked…otherworldly. Like God had put Van Gogh in charge for the day.


Earlier, the day hadn’t felt weird. If anything, he had felt relief. Two days until Friday...until Thanksgiving Break. Only two days. He could make it. Standing by the mailbox with his three brothers, waiting for the bus—he couldn’t wait to get his own car—mild winds had stirred from the south, scampering through row after row of brittle stalks in the neighbor’s cornfield across the road. He heard them in the leafless oak and elm of his own yard, hissing with a high, dry laughter. Warm winds, not cold. But about noon, the wind shifted. Again, no big deal for Missouri, always caught in the middle between the gulf streams of Mexico and Canada’s bitter cold. Temperamental weather was normal in these parts.

Yet there it was. From the winding ride home to this very moment, he couldn’t rid himself of that dry-mouthed, queasy feeling. It was more than a shift in wind. It was a shift in energy. Yes, the dark clouds and strange colors reminded him of the thickening air before a big, cracking Midwestern storm, but that wasn’t it. This was different.

Hadyn being Hadyn, more than anything else, wanted to identify the moment. To name it.

Though he didn’t actually verbalize until age three, Hadyn was born with a question mark wrinkled into his brows. Always searching, always studying something. He couldn’t speak a word before then—refused to, his dad always said—yet he knew the letters of the alphabet at a precocious 12 months. When he finally did decide to talk, words gushed. Full sentences. Big vocabulary. Not surprisingly, it was clear early on that Hadyn was one of those types bent toward structure, patterns. He hated incongruities, hated not knowing how to pinpoint the strange twist in sky and mood right in the middle of an otherwise typically dreary day. If it was just nasty weather, name it! What did it feel like? Wet fish guts? Not quite. A full wet diaper? He remembered those well enough from when the twins were little, but no. A three day old slice of cheese?

Yes, that was it. Cold, damp, moldy.

Velveeta, actually, he decided, feeling a small measure of satisfaction. He fumbled for the zipper of his coat as another icy breeze prickled his skin. Yep, another lousy Velveeta day in the life of Hadyn Barlow.

He thought of the roaring wood stove back home. Hot cocoa. Little consolation. Until dusk, the oldest Barlow boy was stuck outside in a field with hatchet and hedge shears. Stuck in a foul mood, stuck with a knot in his throat. Just plain stuck. His task, his life, seemed endless and pointless.

“Just a little bit every day, however much you can manage after school,” his father would remind him. “And don’t look so grumpy. The days are shorter and shorter.”

But not any warmer.

“Grr!” Hadyn grumbled aloud, snapping at the cold in his thoughts. He had chosen to “clear” the massive beast by carving tunnels in it, not just hacking mindlessly. Probably not exactly what Dad had in mind, but, well, to be honest, he didn’t really care. He was the one stuck out here in the cold. He had already carved several tunnels, and reentered the biggest one now, loping and clicking his shears at the endless mess of thorns and branches, alternated by halfhearted swings of the hatchet. The briar patch sprawled a couple hundred feet in every direction, comprised of dense, overgrown nettles, blackberry bushes and cottonweed. Untended for generations, the underbrush was so thick and tall a person could easily get lost in it, especially toward the center, where the land formed a shallow ravine that channeled wet weather rains toward the pond on the lower field. Hadyn guessed the height at the center point would be a good 12 feet or more. Enormous.

Really, it was a ridiculous task. Dad had to know that.

“Why not just burn the thing?” Hadyn had asked him. Burn it, then brush-hog it. Throw a hand grenade in and run.

Mr. Barlow never really answered, just said he wanted him to clear it by hand. After the first day of grumbling and complaining (which proved none too popular with his father), Hadyn started carving tunnels. His plan was to craft a maze out of it, maybe create a place to least have some fun before his dad made him level the whole thing

Fun? He caught himself, tasting the word like a spoonful of Nyquil. Fun is soccer with the guys back home.

He paused for a moment to wipe his brow. Home was no longer a city, not for four months now. It was a cow pasture. Home had been Independence, the suburb of Kansas City whose chief claim to fame (other than being the birthplace of Harry S. Truman) was that Jesus would return there, at least according to one of numerous Mormon splinter groups. For Hadyn, it was all about skateboards and traffic and rows of houses. Noise. Friends. Now, all that—everything familiar and good—was exactly three hours and nineteen minutes straight across I-70 on the opposite end of the state. Might as well have been on the opposite side of the planet. Home now: three hundred acres in the middle of nowhere, away from all he had ever known.

The town was called Newland. The name seemed like a smack in the face.

New town. New school. New faces. New troubles to deal with. New disappointments. His dad had tried to make a big deal of the “new” thing. This would be a new start for their family, a new chapter, blah, blah, blah. A change, from sadness to hope, he said. Hadyn hated change.

He didn’t want new. He wanted it how it used to be.

How it used to be was happy. Normal. Right. Fair. How it used to be meant they were a family of six, not five. Hadyn felt a familiar pang slice across his chest. He would have traded all the unknown magic in the world for five more minutes with—


It had been a year since she died. His mental images of her remained vivid, of a beautiful woman with porcelain smooth skin, naturally blonde, witty, vivacious. All four Barlow brothers shared her spunky attitude, as well as an even mix of their parents’ coloring: mom’s fairness, dad’s darker hair and complexion, the boys somewhere in between. Hadyn, rapidly entering his adult body, was tall for his age, muscular, lean, possessed of a sometimes uncomfortably aristocratic air. Some days his eyes were smoky jade, others, iron gray. But he had Anna’s cleverness.

His parents had been saving money for several years, studying the land all around Newland. Hadyn could not fathom why. What was so special about Podunk, America? But he knew his mom had been happy to think about life in the country. Once upon a time, that was enough. But now? Without her, what was the point? Why couldn’t they have just stayed in Independence? Moving wasn’t going to bring her back. Didn’t Dad know that?

For the second time that afternoon, a tidal wave of loneliness nearly drowned him, left him in a goo of self-pity, the sort of sticky feeling he didn’t want anyone to spoil by cheering him up. He took one more angry swing. Done or not, he was done for the day. Work could wait. Dad would just have to deal with it. Already, he had built a pretty impressive maze, though. Six unconnected tunnels so far.

Like I give a rip about these stupid tunnels, he thought as he crawled from the center toward the mouth of the largest, longest shaft. Or this stupid land, or town, or patch of—his knee jammed against a thorn protruding from the soil—thorny! ridiculous!...

He clenched his jaw, flashing through dozens of choice words, using none. Honoring his dad. Pain streamed as tears down his cheek, and it wasn’t just the thorn in his knee. It was life. Crawling forty more feet, he emerged to face the slowly westering sun melting down the sky. The otherworldly colors he had seen earlier were gone. Only the cold remained. And now, a bleeding, sore knee.

Behind him, he heard heard rustling grass and the high pitched, lilting notes of his brother’s tin whistle. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve and grimaced. Ewan, like his mother, was musical. Even more like her, he was sentimental. He often carried the whistle she had brought him as a gift from Ireland. It would, no doubt, have seemed humorous to some, to see him wandering the field, playing a spritely little tune. It only annoyed Hadyn. Thankfully, as Ewan drew closer, the song trailed away.

“Hey, Hadyn.”

Hadyn grunted. “What do you want?”

Ewan shrugged, tucking the flute into his back pocket. He wore blue jeans, and a blue embroidered ball cap, initialed ‘ECB’.

“Wondered how things were going.”

“Dad sent you to help, didn’t he?”

Ewan frowned. “Yep. Got done with my chores sooner than planned.”


“Major bummer,” Ewan emphasized. “Looks like you’re near the center, though. That’s pretty cool.”

Hadyn didn’t reply. With only two years between them, the two brothers had always been the closest of friends, the fiercest competitors, the quickest of combatants. They understood each other’s rhythms like no one else in the family. Whereas Hadyn was studied, wise and cautious, Ewan was quick, fearless and comfortable with long odds. No one could make Ewan laugh—gasping-for-air, fall-on-the-ground-cackling—like Hadyn. Likewise, Ewan could frustrate Hadyn to no end, or, with the sheer power of silliness, cheer him up when a sullen moment was about to strike. Not much wanting to be rescued from his mood at the moment, however, Hadyn let his silent response wrap around him like a barrier against further penetration. He didn’t notice that Ewan’s gaze had drifted from the briar patch to the low sky and paused there.

“What do you make of that?” he dimly heard his brother say, distracted, curious. Through the haze of his own thoughts, Hadyn followed Ewan’s line of sight, his pointing finger, straight into the sunset. At first, he saw nothing. Then it was obvious. Several large, black birds were swooping low on the horizon. Even at a distance, it appeared they were headed straight for the two boys, unveering over the slope of the ground, drawing swiftly nearer, a hundred yards or so away. From the sound of their raucous cry, they were like ravens, only larger, throatier, and if possible, blacker.

“Cawl-cawl,” they cried.

Hadyn counted four total, wings outstretched, unflapping, like stealth bombers in formation. There was something organized and determined about their flight. It lacked animal randomness.

“Do they look strange to you?” Ewan asked, cocking his head.

Hadyn pretended to be uninterested. It didn’t last. “What is that in their claws? What’re they carrying?”

“Yeah, I see it. Sticks?”

“Too thick. It would be too heavy. Wouldn’t it?”

“Hard to tell at this angle. Are they heading for us?” Ewan held up his hand to shield his eyes. “Man, they’re fast. What are they?”

“I don’t know, but they’re still—”

“Look out!” Ewan dove to the side, tripping Hadyn in the process. Both boys hit the ground on a roll, turning just in time to see the birds swoop suddenly upward, arcing high into the sky, turn, then turn again. The lead bird, larger than the others, croaked loudly; the other three responded. Over and over, the same phrase, like a demand: “Cawl!”

All four were pitch black, having none of the deep blue sheen of a crow’s feathers, or so it seemed in the failing light. They flew as black slashes in the sky, all wing and beak, not elegant in the air, but fast. Disappearing completely against the lightless eastern expanse, they reappeared again as silhouettes skimming the western horizon. At first it seemed to Hadyn the birds would fly away, as they swept up and out in a wide arc. But the curve of their path soon came full circle. They were attempting another pass. Both boys nervously scooted further outside the angle of the birds’ approach.

“What in the world?” Hadyn said, hatchet raised and ready. It was clearer now in silhouette form. Each bird carried the form of a long, thick tube in their talons.

The brothers hunched on the ground, motionless, muscles tensed, watching as the birds continued their second approach. Hadyn held his breath. The birds didn’t veer, nor aim again for the boys. Instead, they formed a precise, single-file line, a black arrow shooting toward the main tunnel of the thicket. With a final loud croak—“Cawl!”—and not a single flap of wing, all four swooped straight into the hole, one after the other. As they did, each released the object clutched in its talons. The tubes clattered together with a light, tinny sound at the mouth of the tunnel, literally at the boys’ feet. The birds were already beyond sight. Their throaty noise echoed for a moment, evaporating into an obvious silence marked only by the faint breeze of wings passing over broken grass.

Hadyn and Ewan stared first at the tunnel, then at the objects. Then at each other. Then back at the tunnel. In the same instant, each of them leaped toward what the birds had left behind: four thin, black metallic tubes, trimmed with milky white bands at top and bottom.

Hadyn slowly stretched out his hand and picked up a tube. He rolled it between his fingers. It was about the length of Ewan’s Irish whistle, but thicker, maybe the circumference of a quarter. Not heavy at all. In the middle of each tube, finely wrought in scripted gold filigree, the letter ‘A’ appeared.

Ewan lightly shook his tube, listening for clues to its contents. It sounded hollow.

“They didn’t even have us sign for delivery,” he deadpanned. “What do we do with these? They look important.”

“How should I know?” Hadyn said contemptuously, flicking his eyes cautiously toward the tunnel. “Where’d they even go? I mean, really. Are they just hiding back there until we leave?”

“Who cares!” Ewan said. His disgust was obvious. Hadyn’s was being an analyst again. “This isn’t hard, Hadyn. Some big birds dive bombed us. They dropped these cool tubes. It makes no sense. It’s awesome. Totally, factor 10 cool.”

Hadyn mulled it over. “Maybe they’re some sort of carrier pigeon, carrier pigeons even fly anymore?

“Only on Gilligan’s Island. TV Land. Listen to me, you’re just guessing.”

“Have you got a better idea?” Hadyn demanded.

Ewan waited, considered. Hadyn knew he hated being put on the spot like that, in the inferior position. Now it was Ewan’s turn to think.

“Okay, maybe you’re right. Maybe those birds really are carriers of some sort?—” Ewan held up a tube, “—obviously they are. What if they need to carry these things farther still? What if they’re just resting? What if they are trained to do this when they need to rest? Drop their packages, find a hole, rest, then grab their stuff and carry on?”

“So...are you suggesting we flush them out? Cause there is no way I’m going to crawl back there. They can get out later on their own.”

Ewan didn’t reply. Instead he dug into his pocket, pulled out a small flashlight, and scuttled into the tunnel the birds had entered. “Wait here,” he ordered.

“Hey, watch it back there!” Hadyn cautioned. Secretly, he wanted him to go, knew how to punch his brother’s buttons to make it happen. “Those claws looked sharp!”

While he waited for Ewan to return, Hadyn examined the tubes further. He shook one tube, flicked it, smelled another; picked up and twirled the third and fourth tubes. His efforts yielded the same muffled sensation of something barely shifting inside. Maybe a rolled up piece of paper? If the ravens (or crows, or whatever they were) were carriers of some sort, a written message did make the most sense. But who in the world still sent paper bird? By raven, no less. Hello, email anyone?

Presently, Ewan reappeared, breathing hard.

“They’re gone,” he said simply. “Must have flown out one of the other tunnels.”

Hadyn creased his brow. “No way. None of the tunnels connect yet.”

“They don’t?” Ewan’s eyes widened as it dawned on him that he hadn’t seen any other tunnels. “No...they don’t.”

The two boys stared at one another in silence. Evening enfolded them; soon, darkness. “They must have crawled through the branches,” Hadyn surmised, but he hardly sounded convinced. “Are you sure you didn’t see them?”

Ewan rolled his eyes. “Hello? Big, black flappy things. Yes, I’m sure.” He grabbed one of the tubes, shook it again. “This band looks like ivory, but it’s hard to tell in this light.”

“Reminds me of one of mom’s necklaces.”

Ewan grabbed the end and twisted. “Only one way to find out.”

This time Hadyn didn’t argue or analyze. Curiosity had gotten the best of him. The lid twisted off with surprising ease, followed by a thin hiss of sealed air. Ewan wrinkled his face. “Smells old. Yuck. Turn on your flashlight. Mine is getting weak.”

He tapped the open end against the palm of his left hand. The coiled edge of a piece of thick, cream-colored parchment slipped out. Hadyn leaned in closer. Ewan gingerly teased the scroll out. It had a heavy grain of woven cotton, with rough edges trimmed in gold foil. Both boys let out a long slow breath. Neither the silver moon hung off the treeline, nor the winking stars, provided light enough to clearly see. Hadyn turned on his flashlight as his brother unrolled the parchment. The paper was larger than normal, rich to the touch. Pinning both ends to the ground, both boys read at once the simple message beautifully scripted on the inside in golden ink: “You have been chosen for a life of great purpose. Adventure awaits you in the Hidden Lands.”

“Dude!” Ewan whistled softly. “Looks like something from King Arthur. What in the world are the Hidden Lands?”

Hadyn, who actually loved the lore of King Arthur—and Ewan knew it—was already reaching for another tube. Ewan followed his lead. Within twenty seconds, all four tubes were opened, and four identical parchments lay spread on the ground in the dark, illuminated only by flashlights. Golden ink glimmered, subtly shifting hues. Each bore the exact same message.

“You have been chosen for a life of great purpose. Adventure awaits you in the Hidden Lands.”

Hadyn grabbed the four sheets, quickly rolled them up, and inserted each back into its thin metal sleeve. “We need to head home before Dad gets worried,” he said. “You take two and I’ll take two. Stick them under your shirt and act cool. I have no idea what these are. But for now, they’re our little secret.”

He puffed up for a moment, the older brother. Still out of sorts with the world.

“And none of your games, either, Ewan. I mean it. I’m not in the mood.”

Friday, January 16, 2009

christmas tale

hope ya'll had a good and safe holiday season.
we had a crazy one here.
on Christmas Eve my dad and I mass baked up a ton of goodies and a houseful of family and friends came over for Christmas.

unfortunately we didn't get through this holiday season scott-free. my mom and I (and maybe my dad but it's hard to tell) all got ill and nasty feeling and the feeling is only now going away....<.<

really glad that we got sick AFTER Christmas because it would have totally sucked if it was right near Christmas.

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)

received this book in the mail while we were packing to move so it's safely in a box with other stuff that I'm bemoaning I have no access to....*cries*


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)

ohmygosh! this is probably my fav yet of the AAU series! I SO LOVE CARLY! she's wonderful and when some really difficult things are asked of her she pulls through with flying colors!

ya'll have GOT to read this series! it won't disappoint you! I guarantee it! ^.^

SOOOOO wanted to kill a couple of the in particular for being idiot(s) but in the end every good guy redeemed himself so I'm a very happy camper.

can hardly wait for book4 "Who Made You A Princess?"!

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.