Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Salt Covenants by Sylvia Bambola

Back Cover Blurb:
Bambola (Rebekah’s Treasure) elevates a simple historical tale into something transcendent, in this beautifully written novel about a young Jewish noblewoman, Isabel, who flees the Inquisition on Christopher Columbus’s second voyage to the New World.” Publishers Weekly starred review

“But these plans they have laid out for me like an embroidered rug, showing me where my feet must travel, is to me an awful penance for sins I did not commit.” Isabel

Spain 1493: Isabel has broken her mother’s heart by becoming a sincere convert to Christianity. But when she is noticed by Friar Alonso at La Casa Santa, the Holy House, she is forced to flee the Inquisition by entering into a loveless marriage and sailing with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World. But all too soon Isabel is forced to struggle alone in her new life and new faith. With all the risks and hardships how is she to survive? And will she ever find love in this strange land? And what of the dangerous Enrique Vivar? Will his hidden agenda cost her her life?

Read an Excerpt:

Seville, Spain 1493

I have broken Mama’s heart. That thought has festered a fortnight. Our physician, Hernando Diaz, would call it a lingering agitation, the kind that upsets the bodily humors. He is full of such vague assertions. I am not as vague. I picture sores, like the ones on Catalina’s legs, marring the fabric of my brain and robbing it of peace.

The soft shuffle of Mama’s feet pulls me from my thoughts, and I turn from the cupboard. Please . . . look at me. But she does not. Her eyes have not met mine in weeks. And the silence between us is as thick as the Pillars of Hercules. It is strange, this silence, so foreign to us who once discussed the writings of Maimonides and Rashi for endless hours. I have the power to repair this breach but I will not. Even now that knowledge overwhelms me, and I wonder at the wisdom of my confession. I have learned too late that confessions are not always the satisfying exercise one anticipates, unless they are made to God.

“I have checked the larder for mold, and bunched the sage.” I wait for Mama’s response, but she just raises her knife in the air. The metal glints as it catches the light coming through the small overhead windows. In one swift motion she drags the blade across the edge of her thumb nail. A sliver, like an almond chip, flies across the room and disappears. My heart flies with it, for I know she is testing to see that the knife conforms to halakah, to Jewish law.

Oh Mama.

A rivulet of sweat works its way down her cheek, then her chin, then follows along the hollow of her neck, and ends at the large emerald hanging below her throat. Grandpapa’s gift. She has not worn it in months. Many claim emeralds bring success. Does she wear it now hoping to successfully turn me from my course, from the course I have foolishly revealed to her?

My stomach churns as I remove the ring of keys pinned to my bodice. The keys are a trust, an honor bestowed, for they secure all that is valuable in our home. It is a privilege reserved for the woman of the house or a trusted steward. I am neither, though Papa says I am better than any steward he has known. And Mama says my skills and good sense have earned me the honor.

But that was before Eastertide.

I unlock the spice cabinet; then take out a cone of sugar, all the while keeping Mama in my line of vision. She is busy stoking the embers beneath a large clay pot. Already the aroma of galingale and grains of paradise fills the room. Because she uses the large pot and not the one hanging from the tooth iron rack, I know there will be guests at our table tomorrow, and I am encouraged. Perhaps they will bring laughter into our sad home.

But my feelings of hope plummet when I notice the large leg of lamb sitting on the woodblock. Mama will certainly purge it to make it ritually clean. I watch her slice the lamb lengthwise, remove the vein, then begin to remove the fat. The back of my neck is a tangle of nerves as I glance around to see if anyone is watching. A foolish gesture. It is, after all, Friday, and as usual all our servants have been sent to the groves.

I squeeze the sugar tighter as Mama works. I must not speak. But even before the thought becomes vapor, I blurt, “Inesita Garcia was burned at the stake for purging her meat like that. You must stop this. Eventually someone will see. Eventually someone will tell.”

Mama looks up and finally meets my gaze. Her eyes are as blue as the rivers of Galicia, testifying that Ashkenazi blood intermingles with the Sephardic. Surprisingly, there is no anger in them, only shame for what I know she considers a cowardly remark. But I cannot stop now. I have opened this wound, and that took as much courage as Mama opening the lamb, though I doubt she would see it that way.

“We must be careful, now that Catalina has been discharged.”

Mama blows the tendril of hair that has escaped her netted halo-like headdress, and I notice, with surprise, how gray she has become. “Am I a child that you need to caution me? Do I not always send the servants away and prepare the Sabbath meal myself?”

“More than one person has been called to the Holy House because of the testimony of a vindictive servant.” “She had to be discharged. This is a respectable home. The scabs alone condemn her.”

I carry the sugar to the table where the mortar and pestle sit. A month ago I overheard our physician call Catalina’s scabs, las buas. These days las buas is as common as cankers, and I am old enough to understand how they are passed between a man and a woman when the oil lamps go out.

I also understand Mama’s objection. Catalina is not married.

“I do not question your action. I only remind you of its danger.”

“Danger?” Mama stops working the meat. Her long linen apron, newly made from the quarterly allocation of household fabric, is still unstained. In it she looks like a large sail blowing out over the deck of her kitchen. “Danger?” she repeats. “When you have been through as many pogroms as I, then speak to me of danger. Besides, what has changed? Why are you so worried now?”

Buy the book here:
Amazon Print

About Sylvia:
Sylvia Bambola was born in Romania but lived her early years in Germany, a Germany still reeling from the devastation of World War II.   At age seven she relocated with her adopted military family, and saw the Statue of Liberty and America for the first time.  But the memory of those years in Germany lingered and was the inspiration behind her second novel, Refiner’s Fire, which won a Silver Angel Award, and was a Christy Finalist.

Life as an “army brat” gave her the opportunity to live in several states, including Hawaii. Then came nursing school in New York after which she married and began a family. Raising two children and being the wife of a business executive made for an active life.  So did working in marketing for a telecommunications company, then a medical software company.

Bambola is the author of seven published novels and currently calls sunny Florida, home.  She has two grown children; has been a guest speaker at Women’s Aglow and various church functions; is a Bible study teacher at her church; and is learning to play the guitar. You can read more about her and her books at

Connect with Sylvia here:

SYLVIA is giving away a copy of THE SALT COVENANT. The giveaway is only available to U.S. addresses. To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You can enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post.

Happy Reading!
Caroline Brown

Friday, January 30, 2015

Lightning on a Quiet Night by Donn Taylor

In the years following World War II, a town too proud of its own virtues has to deal with its first murder. Despite the implications of this crime, the town of Beneficent, MS, population 479, tries desperately to hold onto its vain self-image. The young veteran Jack Davis holds that idyllic vision of the town and tries to share it with Lisa Kemper, newly arrived from Indiana. But she is repelled by everything in town. While the sheriff tries to find the murderer, Jack and Lisa’s contentious courtship reveals the town’s strange combination of astute perceptions and surprising blind spots. Then they stumble onto shocking discoveries about the true nature of the town. But where will these discoveries lead? To repentance? Or to denial and continuation in vanity?

Book excerpt

Chapter 1

The northeast Mississippi town of Beneficent, “A Town As Good As Its Name,” had never known a murder until Friday, January 9, 1948. Nor, in the oldest memory of its 479 citizens, had the town known a single felony.
Until the fatal moment, that January day progressed as hundreds had before. The winter dawn came late, struggling through clouds and fog to shed a dull gray light more kin to night than day. Cold rain fell to drench the thrush-brown land, and stolid hardwoods thrust black skeletal limbs upward against an iron-gray sky. Farmers revised work plans in deference to the rain, and storekeepers pondered its effect on weekend sales. But more than rain would be required that night to keep them from the Coosa County basketball tournament, an event as fundamental to their lives as seedtime and harvest. From all corners of the county they came in mud-spattered pickups, the less affluent in mule-drawn wagons, to converge on Beneficent. All brought good spirits to share an experience that came but once a year.
Yet among that cheerful crowd one stranger would come unwilling . . .
In her bedroom in the darkening evening, Lisa Kemper stared at the rain that drummed against her window. She did not want to be there at all. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? The psalmist’s words leaped unbidden into her mind, but she shut them out.
She was not here in captivity, the puddles in her yard were not the waters of Babylon, and she would not sit down by them and weep.
Still, she hadn’t bargained for this. After her mother’s death, last August, she’d postponed graduate school for a year to help her father adjust to life as a widower. Then she would get on with her studies— that is, if she could ever decide what to study. But when she made that decision in August, she never dreamed Stephen Kemper would leave his position with an Indiana corporation to manage the small chemical plant the company was building in Beneficent.
From first sight, she detested this backward town. She abhorred the unkempt fields and unpainted barns nearby, so different from the well-tended farms of Indiana. Most of all, she abhorred the boastful motto “A Town As Good As Its Name” and the complacency of the townspeople who thought they made it that way.
But she would get through this year, somehow. She had promised.
A car’s headlights flashed across her window. That would be Hollis Wilson, the newly elected state senator who would escort her and her father to the basketball tournament. People expected them to attend, he said.
“Are you ready, Lisa?” Stephen Kemper’s voice carried from the living room.
“I’m coming, Father.”
A critical glance in the mirror confirmed that her new gray suit brought out the blue of her eyes and emphasized her trim figure. But not too much. And if the locals thought she was overdressed, that was their problem. With a final pat at her dark brown hair, she scooped up her raincoat and headed for the living room.
Miraculously, the rain suddenly stopped, though low clouds scudded by overhead. Maybe Senator Wilson had fixed the rain as he had so many things to help them fit into the community. Lisa wondered how an insignificant mud hill like Beneficent could produce someone like Wilson. He was handsome as a movie star—a war veteran, she’d heard, and people bragged that at age twenty-five, he was the youngest senator in the state’s history. She didn’t doubt that he was, but she did doubt that anyone had bothered to research it.
“You’ll enjoy the tournament,” Wilson said. “It’s one of the great events of the year.”
Lisa answered with a smile and followed him out the door, her father close behind. For her father’s sake, she’d make sure people thought she enjoyed the tournament.

About the Author

Donn Taylor led an Infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, and worked with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia. Afterwards, he completed a PhD degree at The University of Texas and taught English literature at two liberal arts colleges. His prior published works include three suspense novels and a book of poetry. He is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences. He lives near Houston, TX, where he writes fiction, poetry, and essays on current topics.

To purchase Donn's book:
Barnes & Noble
Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas

Donn Taylor is giving away a copy of Lightning on a Quiet Night.  The giveaway is only available to U.S. addresses.
To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You may enter the book giveaway twice -- once on each spotlight post. (It's not too late to go back and leave a comment on yesterday's post.)

Off to read another great book!

Sandra M. Hart

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Warm Welcome to Donn Taylor

Is there a story behind your book Lightning on a Quiet Night?

Every time a person moves from one place to another, it brings a new beginning. My first experience of this came at age seventeen when my parents moved from central Mississippi to teach at a college in the northeastern corner of the state. I quickly grew to love the forested rolling hills of that region and to appreciate the people who lived there. Most important, though, I met Mildred, who taught me the meaning of love. The critical stage of our courtship occurred when the region was snowbound, with no electricity or transportation. By the time the snow melted (no, we didn't cause the melting) we were engaged.
So when I turned from crossover writing (The Lazarus File) to the Christian market, it was natural for me to return to that area and for the landscape to be prominent in the novel. The snow scenes are reminiscent, though never imitative, of Mildred's and my experience. And I wanted to write about the everyday citizens of the state—the storekeepers, small-town bankers, farmers—people of good will who seemed never to be well represented in fiction.
All of this, and of course more, coalesced into making the novel.

What started you on your writing journey?
            I don't remember a time when I wasn't trying to create something. I began writing music at age 14. Two years later I entered college as a music major, studied piano with an instructor on leave from Cincinnati Conservatory and played some of my classical compositions in her recitals. But at age 18 I got interested in poetry—the Romantics, of course—and began writing poetry and some very bad short stories. Since then, writing is just something I have to do, though there have been long periods when professional and family requirements pushed it far into the background. I always wanted to write a novel, and finally realized that ambition with The Lazarus File, a story of spies and airplanes in the Caribbean, still available as an e-book.

What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
            A definite split personality here. I love the classics: Homer, Virgil, Dante, Ariosto, Shakespeare, Milton, and Tennyson. In novels, Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again. I like nonfiction like Thomas Sowell's Intellectuals and Society and John Lewis Gaddis's post-Cold War summary We Now Know. In contemporary fiction, I recommend Donna Fletcher Crow's A Darkly Hidden Truth, Nancy Kimball's Chasing the Lion, Cathy Elliott's A Stitch in Crime, and Ane Mulligan's Chapel Springs Revival.

If you were a style of music, what style would you be?
            What an invitation to narcissism! In classic styles, I'd like to be the energy of the final movement of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, the lyricism of the slow movement to Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, and the humor and passion of Doynanyi's C-Major Rhapsody. In popular styles I'd like to be the singing reeds of Glenn Miller and his stylistic successors Ray Anthony, Jerry Gray, and Ralph Flanagan.

What makes you smile and/or laugh out loud?
Puns. Mildred could out-pun me any day, and our children could compete. When they were in high school and college, the evening dinner table often turned into a free-for-all punning session.

What is a favorite memory from your childhood?
When my brother and I were in grammar school, my father read us much of the Mark Twain canon, especially The Prince and the Pauper, Connecticut Yankee, and Life on the Mississippi.

Where do you escape for some quiet time to reflect, pray, read, etc?
I don't have to escape. Since the Lord called Mildred to join the heavenly choir, my norm is a silent house in which to reflect and pray. The Lord is my companion in these times.

Are there spiritual themes you like to write about?
In Lightning I dealt with pride and misplaced priorities in which virtuous acts become more important than the God who created virtue. In other novels I portrayed the incompleteness of life without God and Christ.

Share a verse or Scripture passage with us that is special to you.
It has to be Christ’s statement in John 5:17: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” God’s continuous working is a living force in this world. In Christ’s time the entire world, including Rome, was given over to cruelty and savagery. Through the influence of Christianity, that has gradually changed for the better in the areas where Christianity became the predominant religion. Within Christendom, the two great exceptions came from atheistic forces, Communism and National Socialism. Outside of Christendom, the world remains as savage as or more savage than it was in the time of Christ. Within Christendom, God’s working has made the difference. May it continue to be so.

Are you working on another book? Tell us about it.

I've completed a sequel to the lighthearted mystery Rhapsody in Red, and I'm working on a second sequel. Both continue the prospective romance and spiritual struggles of the protagonists in Rhapsody, and both novels continue to satirize political correctness on campus.

Back Cover Blurb
In the years following World War II, a town too proud of its own virtues has to deal with its first murder. Despite the implications of this crime, the town of Beneficent, MS, population 479, tries desperately to hold onto its vain self-image. The young veteran Jack Davis holds that idyllic vision of the town and tries to share it with Lisa Kemper, newly arrived from Indiana. But she is repelled by everything in town. While the sheriff tries to find the murderer, Jack and Lisa’s contentious courtship reveals the town’s strange combination of astute perceptions and surprising blind spots. Then they stumble onto shocking discoveries about the true nature of the town. But where will these discoveries lead? To repentance? Or to denial and continuation in vanity?

To purchase Donn's book:

About Donn:
Donn Taylor led an Infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, and worked with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia. Afterwards, he completed a PhD degree at The University of Texas and taught English literature at two liberal arts colleges. His prior published works include three suspense novels and a book of poetry. He is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences. He lives near Houston, TX, where he writes fiction, poetry, and essays on current topics.

To connect with Donn:

Donn Taylor is giving away a copy of Lightning on a Quiet Night.  The giveaway is only available to U.S. addresses.
To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You may enter the book giveaway twice -- once on each spotlight post. (It's not too late to go back and leave a comment on yesterday's post.)

Off to read another great book!
Sandra M. Hart

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

This week's Book Winners

Once again, we offer you a warm welcome to the Bookshelf of the Barn Door Book Loft. Come on inside!

And before we announce our four winners we’d like to offer a special thanks to our Christian Authors for offering a taste of their writing to our faithful readers.

Our Thanks go to:

Laura Jackson who offered her Young Adult Book  Worth the Time.
Delia Latham who offered her Inspirational Romance  Jingle Belle.
Michelle Levigne who offered her Fantasy Romance  Heir of Faxinor.
And Caryl McAdoo who offered her Historical Romance  Hope Reborn. 

 And now: We're pleased to announce this week’s winners:

Deanna Stevens has won Laura Jackson’s Young Adult Book  Worth the Time.
Robin Bunting has won Delia Latham’s Inspirational Romance  Jingle Belle.
Laura Pol has won Michelle Levigne’s Fantasy Romance  Heir of Faxinor.
And Susan Lulu has won Caryl McAdoo’s Historical Romance  Hope Reborn. 
Congratulations Winners! Remember, it's your responsibility to contact me  sharonalavy {at} gmail {dot} com) with your address so the author can send you a book. 

Be sure to check past winners posts. Subscribing by email will ensure you don't miss seeing the winners list.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Texas Author Kelly Irvin

Hello Kelly! Welcome to the Book Loft. Can you tell us a bit about your family, and what it is like where you live?

I recently became an empty nester. It’s been a huge adjustment. My husband, who is a professional photographer working for one of the local school districts, and I live in a two story house with more bedrooms than we now need. My daughter moved to Norfolk in April, taking my only granddaughter with her, to be with her husband, who is in the U.S. Navy. My son moved into his own apartment after getting a great promotion at work. I’m so thrilled and proud of them both. Life changes are bound to come for us all. We live in San Antonio, which is an incredible cultural melting pot, and home to the NBA champion Spurs basketball team (Just had to throw that in there). I’m originally from Kansas and my husband is from Minnesota, but we have called San Antonio home since 1989. It’s a great place to raise a family and put down roots.

What can you tell us about your new release, The Beekeeper's Son?

The setting is a critical aspect of the story, another character really. Bee County, Texas, is home to the only Amish District in Texas. South Texas is dry, has rocky soil, lots of cacti and scraggly mesquite and live oak trees. My heroine, Deborah Lantz, has just move to Bee County from Tennessee and she’s not happy about it. She misses her home and the man she thought would one day be her husband. Her new district’s homes are weather beaten and need a coat of paint. The landscape is barren and full of cacti and scraggly trees. After Deborah meets Phineas King, a young man with a scarred face and even more scarred heart, she’s forced to look at beauty from God’s perspective and not the world’s. Amish fiction readers will get a glimpse of an Amish district very different from the more idyllic settings they see in stories set farther north.

Did you have a specific theme in mind as you wrote? 

The theme became clear to me after a few visits to Bee County, which is about an hour and half’s drive south of my home. I couldn’t understand how the Amish folks living there could be so oblivious to the need to spruce up things in their little community. Why didn’t they clean up the junkyard next to the Combination Store? Why didn’t they paint their houses? It came to me as I drove home after a second or third trip? Outward trappings aren’t important to them. They have scant resources and they have to prioritize how they use them. Life has to be extremely difficult, trying to make a living from the land in such a barren place. How dare I judge them based on what I think is pretty or important? Me in my shiny new car, rolling home to my nice home and good paying job? Let’s just say the theme hit me right between the eyes! I was judging them by the world’s standards for beauty, not God’s. He created Bee County, just as he created the beautiful idyllic scenes a person sees in Lancaster County.
What is the last thing you wrote?

The second book in this series, The Bishop’s Son. I’ve finished the edits sent along by my editors and I’m looking forward to its release in June 2015. Readers will get to see how things are going in Bee County. It’s a very different story from The Beekeeper’s Son, but the spiritual theme is just as strong, I believe. Now I have to get started on book number three!

Do you ever go back to an old idea long after you abandoned it?

I have two romances I wrote a few years ago that I still love. I fully intend to publish them independently when I have time to do the work necessary to whip them into shape and worry about covers and marketing and such. Sometimes publishers don’t buy stories because of factors that have nothing to do with how good they are or how well they’re written. So I don’t give up on them, I simply set them aside for another day.

What’s one genre you have never written, and probably never will?

Horror. Definitely. I read murder mysteries and suspense, but I draw the line at horror. Too scary for me and I don’t like to contemplate the true horrors that are out there in the world! I certainly don’t want to live inside a horror story long enough to write it.

What are your five favorite words?

An editor-friend and I were just talking about this recently. My list varies Like favorite foods do. I decided my dress for the ACFW conference gala I attended recently really should be called a frock. It just looks like what I envision a frock to be. And we really like the word onerous. No one uses it anymore and we don’t know why. I like writing rural characters/stories because the words can be so descriptive and give flavor to the story. I recently used caterwauling and catty-wampus in a book I was writing. It made me very happy! Action verbs are very satisfying. Why walk when you can stroll, saunter, trudge, or catapult across the yard to the corral?

What character that you’ve created most resembles you?

I think it’s Bethel in Love Still Stands. Although I didn’t know it at the time I was writing a story similar to what I’m now living. She loves to learn and read and she’s independent. She doesn’t want to have to rely on others for help. And then she’s hurt in a terrible storm that destroys the schoolhouse and she can no longer walk without crutches. She’s afraid she won’t be able to be the wife and mother every Amish woman wants to be, is destined to be. She struggles to find a new identity in the wake of her loss of independence. I wasn’t hurt in a storm, but recently began to suffer from a degenerative condition combined with worsening scoliosis that has affected my ability to walk. The pain and the struggle to simply balance myself have changed the way I look at myself as an active, independent person. By the time this blog is published I will have had surgery that will keep my symptoms from getting worse, but may not give me back my ability to walk freely. Either way, I’ve learned to rely on God and my husband to ask for help when I need it. It hasn’t been fun, but it’s certainly brought home all those lessons I so blithely included for others in my story, Love Still Stands.

Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write your first draft?

I can’t help myself. I’m a journalist by trade so it’s very difficult for me to leave a misspelling or a grammatical error behind. Sometimes it helps me to get unstuck if I focus for a few minutes on “fixing” minor things.

When is your next book due out and can you tell us about it?

Next up is the second story in The Amish of Bee County series.  It is entitled The Bishop’s Son and it will release in June 2015. Here’s the catalogue copy:

Leila Lantz is in danger of losing her heart to a Plain man until she discovers he’s not so Plain after all.

Leila has been drawn to Jesse Glick, the bishop’s son, since the first day she met him at his father’s store, and she knows he feels the same way about her. But she can’t understand why he seems to make overtures one day, then withdraw the next.

Jesse has a secret. He has been attending an Englisch church youth group, and he’s starting to believe he’s being called to be a minister, something Amish men cannot be unless they draw the lot. He’s considering leaving his Amish community to follow his calling. The only reason he has stayed is Leila. Will, Jesse’s cousin, has his own feelings for Leila, but he has stood back in deference to his cousin for many months. Until he can’t stand the thought of Leila being hurt.

Leila can choose Will and know that she will never have to leave her home or family. Or she can choose Jesse and the love her heart desires, knowing she’ll have to say goodbye to her entire community. The day comes when Jesse, Will, and Leila all have to make their choices, choices that will deeply affect their small, close-knit community of Plain families.

Thanks for sharing with us today!

Connect with Kelly Irvin at:

Twitter: @Kelly_S_Irvin

Kelly Irvin is giving away a copy of The Beekeeper's Son. To be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You can enter the book giveaway twice—once on each Spotlight post for the author. Please note: The giveaway is for U.S. addresses only.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Beekeeper's Son by Kelly Irvin

Sometimes it takes a barren landscape to see the beauty of God’s creation.

Phineas King knows better than to expect anything but shock and pity wherever he shows his face. Horribly scarred from the van  accident that claimed his mother’s life, he chooses to keep his distance from everyone, focusing his time and energy on the bees his family raises. If no one sees him, no one can judge him. So why does he start finding excuses to seek out Deborah Lantz, the beautiful new arrival in town?

Deborah can’t get out of Bee County, Texas, soon enough. Once her mother and younger siblings are settled, she is on the first bus out of this dusty town. She is only waiting on the letter from Aaron, asking her to return to lush Tennessee to be his fraa. But that letter never comes. As she spends time getting to know Phineas—hoping to uncover the man beneath the scars—she begins to realize that she no longer minds that Aaron hasn’t sent for her.

As both Deborah and Phineas try to come to terms with lives that haven’t turned out the way they imagined, they discover that perhaps Gott’s plans for them are more extraordinary than they could have dreamed. But they need to let go of their own past sorrows and disappointments to find the joy and beauty that lies just ahead for them both.


Chapter 1

Getting lost might be a sign.
 Deborah Lantz wiped at her face with the back of her sleeve to hide her grim smile. Getting lost might be a sign Mudder shouldn’t marry a man she couldn’t really claim to know—not in recent years, anyway. Abigail Lantz would call such a thought pure silliness and she would be right. Why would God send them nine-hundred miles away from their home in Tennessee, only to give them a nudge in the wrong direction so they ended up lost deep in south Texas?
Not likely. God had a plan for the Lantz family. Deborah need only be patient. At least that was what she’d been told hundreds of times.
As if it were an easy task. Deborah wiggled, trying to get more comfortable between Hazel’s booster seat and Rebekah, who had her nose pressed to the van window, not wanting to miss a single thing, even after watching the same monotonous, flat countryside for hours. Deborah longed to feel the excitement of her younger sisters. At nineteen, she was old enough to know what she’d be missing back home. All the singings with her friends, the buggy rides with Aaron afterward, the frolics. She would miss the chance to become Aaron’s fraa and mudder of his children.
All the things she’d ever wanted.
Wrinkling her nose at the scent of sweat and warm feet, she leaned toward the window to watch the barren countryside now that Bert Richards had slowed down as much as he dared on a highway where the speed limit signs read seventy-five miles per hour.
“There! There it is.” Caleb, who served as map reader, pointed with one finger and fumbled the map with his other hand. “Tynan, County Road 796. Turn there. Turn there.”
“Got it.” Bert whipped the steering wheel to the left. The force of the turn sent them all listing in the same direction. Hazel crowed with laughter and clapped her chubby hands. Bert hazarded a quick glance back, his forehead wrinkled above bushy eyebrows only partially hidden by thick, black-rimmed glasses. “Sorry about that. I didn’t want to miss the turn a second time. Is George still behind us?”
 Deborah scooped up her notebook from where it had lodged against the van door and turned to peer through the back window. The van that carried their bags of clothes and the boxes of household goods still followed at a steady pace. “Jah. Yes, he’s still behind us.” Her tone sounded tart in her ears. She worked to soften it. “George is a good driver.”
Too good. Maybe a second or third wrong turn and they could wheel around and go home.
 Deborah hugged her notebook to her chest, thinking of the two letters she’d begun. One to Josie, her best friend, and one to Aaron, who’d been well on his way to being her special friend. If only she could write to them and say it was all a big mistake and they were coming home. Then she could erase the look on Aaron’s face as he watched her get in the van and wave until she couldn’t see him anymore.
One more turn. One more turn and she would meet her future.
Gaitan Road.” Bert sang out as he made a sharp right turn at a corner that featured a yellow sign that read Support Beeville Bees. Buy Local Honey. “We did it. We’re here.”
“Indeed we are.” Mudder clapped her hands, her face lighted with a smile. The weariness of the trip dropped away, and Deborah saw an Abigail Lantz she hadn’t seen in a long time—not since Daed’s death more than two years ago. “We made it. Praise Gott.
Praise Gott. Deborah hoped Mudder wouldn’t read her face. If coming to Bee County made her mother happy, than Deborah would make the best of it.
Make the best of it. That’s what Daed would’ve said.
Whatever it is.
Even if it involved leaving behind the only home they’d ever known and all their friends and most of their family because Mudder wanted to marry an old beau who’d stepped aside long ago when she married Daed.
The van rocked to a stop in front of a long, dirty white building with rusted siding and a tin roof. The sign out front read Combination Store. A broken-down black buggy sat in front of it as if someone had parked it there and left it to waste away until it collapsed and disappeared into the earth.
“Come on, come on, don’t just sit there. Let’s get out.” Mudder slid open the door. “Stephen will be waiting.”
“He’s waited this long . . .” Deborah bit back the rest of the sentence. Mudder did what she thought was best. Deborah had no business questioning. “Are you sure he’s meeting us?”
“I told him we were dividing the trip into two days so we would arrive middle of the afternoon today.”
 Deborah slipped from the van, glad to stand on solid ground. Dirt puffed up around her bare feet, then settled on her toes, turning them brown. Grasshoppers shot in all directions. Two landed on her apron. She brushed them away, more interested in the deafening sound in the air like a buzz saw cutting lumber. She’d never heard such a ruckus. The smell of manure mixed with cut hay hung in air heavy with humidity. She glanced back at Leila, who climbed down with more grace. She had the same bewildered look on her face as Rebekah. “What is that noise?”
“Cicadas, I reckon.” Rebekah shrugged. “Leastways that’s what I’m thinking. Caleb was reading about them in his books.”
Bugs. No doubt, her little brother would love this place.
The letters Stephen had written to her mother had talked about Bee County as if it were a garden oasis. Deborah had imagined groves of citrus trees so laden with oranges and grapefruits that the branches hung to the ground. He described wild grapes, olives, and figs, filling Deborah’s mind with images of something downright biblical—an Eden sprouting up in Texas. Eden with palm trees. After all, Stephen said the Gulf of Mexico wasn’t far. He even said they could wade in the salty water if they had such a hankering.
 Deborah definitely had a hankering, but it didn’t involve the ocean. She sidled closer to Leila. “This is the promised land?” She kept her voice down. “Citrus and orchards?”
Leila stuck Hazel on her hip and hoisted her canvas bag onto her shoulder. “Mudder sure thinks it is.” Despite the sweat on her face and the scraggly hair that had escaped her prayer kapp, Deborah’s younger sister didn’t look the least bit concerned about meeting the people who would be her new community. “She’s as happy as a bee on honeysuckle.”
Rebekah tittered and Hazel joined in, even though at three, she couldn’t know what was so funny.
“Are those twisted things trees?” Leila wrinkled her nose as if she smelled something bad too. “They sure are stunted looking.”
“Live oak, I think.” Caleb loved to share all the tidbit of information he squirreled away in his head from his beloved books. “The cacti are called prickly pear. The fat parts are nopales.”
He stumbled over the pronunciation of the last word. It came out no-pails. Whatever they were called, they didn’t look like they would be featured in the garden of Eden. They were more like the wilderness Deborah imagined when the bishop preached about the Israelites wandering around for forty years.
More thoughts she would keep to herself.
 “Stephen mentioned the drought.” She tried to fill her voice with bright hope for the sake of her brother and sisters. After Stephen showed up in Tennessee for a wedding, Mudder had started to smile more. Deborah liked her mother’s smile. “Some of the fields are green. Look over there—see that garden. It’s nice. They irrigate. And there’s a greenhouse. I’m sure that’s what Stephen was talking about. That’s probably his farm there across the road.”
The farm would one day be their home if Stephen had his way. And he would. Otherwise, why had Mudder agreed to move here?
The door of the Combination Store opened and Stephen strode out, one hand to his forehead, shielding his eyes from the sun. Onkel John marched right behind him, along with their cousin Frannie. Stephen had the lightest white-blond beard Deborah had ever seen. It matched
blond hair that curled under his straw hat and eyes the pale blue of summer sky. “You made it. I’ve been waiting for you. We didn’t know what time you would get here or the whole district would’ve turned out to greet you.”
He stumbled over some invisible rock. His face turned a deeper radish red under his sunburn. He hadn’t changed at all in the four months since they’d seen him back in Tennessee. “It’s good . . . very gut to see you again.”
Mudder’s face turned a matching shade of red. “I thought you might be in the midst of chores.”
“I’m here.” Stephen stopped short a few feet from where Mudder stood, arms dangling at her sides. His massive, sunburned hand came out. Then, as if he thought better of the idea, he wrapped his fingers around his suspenders and snapped them. “I’ve been waiting to see you . . . and the kinner.”
Mudder wiped her hands on her apron, then smoothed her prayer kapp. Deborah opened her mouth to try to break the strange pause. Leila elbowed her. She closed her mouth.
“Well, don’t just stand there, say hello to Stephen and your Onkel John.” Mudder slipped past Stephen and accepted a hug from her brother as if to show her brood how to do it. “I’m so grateful to be here. What a long drive. My legs couldn’t take much more of that. Come, kinner, say hello.” Mudder grabbed Deborah’s arm and tugged her forward. “Onkel John is offering us a place to stay in his home. I reckon the least you can do is say hello.”
Squeezing past Stephen without meeting his gaze, Deborah nodded to her onkel, who towered over her, the sun a halo around the flat brim of his straw hat. He settled for a quick wave, while Frannie studied her sneakers as if caught in a sudden fit of shyness.
“Let’s get your things out of the vans. That’s our place right there yonder.” John pointed to an L-shaped house down the road from the store. “No point in moving the vans. I’m sure the drivers are ready for supper and a place to lay their heads. They’ll have to drive back to Beeville for that.”
“I’ll take care of it, John. Y’all visit.” Stephen strode toward the back of the first van, Caleb, Leila, and Rebekah straggling behind him. “I imagine the kinner are hungrier than bears and tired enough to hibernate for the winter.”
He chuckled. Deborah searched for the humor and couldn’t find it. Mudder had packed plenty of food for the trip. They’d turned the meals into picnics at the rest stops along the way. If she admitted the truth, those picnics had been fun.
“I’m Frannie, remember me?” Frannie had her mudder’s wiry frame, upturned nose, and freckles. She had grown taller since the last time Deborah had seen her, but she was still a bundle of sharp corners. “Come on, I’ll help you. Careful where you step. The horses have been decorating the road today. Don’t worry, y’all will get used to this heat.”
Thankful for a friendly face on someone close to her own age, Deborah veered in Frannie’s direction, careful to avoid the horse droppings she’d been so kind as to point out. Deborah wanted to put off the moment when she would have to enter one of the houses with rusty siding desiccated by the wind and sun and submit to the reality that this would be her home from now on.
Appearances meant nothing. She knew that. Still, hardscrabble dirt and the buggy junkyard next to the store and the sorry looking houses bothered her. Because they didn’t look like home. She liked her district with the neat yards, freshly painted wood frame houses, plain, but clean. She liked the pinks, purples, and yellows of the flower garden Mudder planted every spring. Would God find fault in these folks picking up the place a little, making it more pleasing to the eye? He created beauty, didn’t He?
God didn’t make mistakes and God made this place.
If God didn’t make mistakes, why did Daed have to die? What kind of plan was that?
Too weary to try to sort out her disconcerting thoughts and impressions, all tangled up like fishing wire and piercing hooks, Deborah led Frannie around to the back of the second van. A strange, shelled brownish-black creature with a pointy face, pink nose, and long, scaly tail trundled toward her on four short legs. It stopped within inches of her bare toes and sniffed.
She stumbled back, arms in the air, screeched, lost her balance, and plopped on her behind in a heap on the hard, rocky ground.
The ugly animal changed directions and scurried into the scraggly, brown grass, apparently as afraid of her as she was of it. “What was that?”

A man with a shock of dark hair hanging in his eyes under the brim of his straw hat tugged a trash bag of clothes from the van and plopped it on the ground. “I’ve never had anyone scream at the sight of my ugly face before.” Despite his nonchalant tone, a scarlet blush burned across his face, deepening the ugly hue of the thick, ropy scars that marred it. He had the same twang as Frannie, but it was at odds with his hoarse voice and the harsh sarcasm that underlined his words. “Guess there’s a first time for everything.”

About The Author

Kelly Irvin is the author of The Beekeeper’s Son, the first book in the Amish of Bee County series, published by Zondervan/HarperCollins. She is currently working on the second book of the series, The Bishop’s Son, which will release in June 2015.

Kelly is also author of  the Bliss Creek Amish series and the New Hope Amish series, both from Harvest Housing Publishing. She has also penned two inspirational romantic suspense novels, A Deadly Wilderness and No Child of Mine.

Kelly has been married to photographer Tim Irvin for twenty-seven years. They have two young adult children, one gorgeous new granddaughter, two cats, and a tank full of fish. In her spare time, she likes to write short stories and read books by her favorite authors.

Purchase The Beekeeper's Son at:

Kelly Irvin is giving away a copy of The Beekeeper's Son. To be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You can enter the book giveaway twice—once on each Spotlight post for the author. Please note: The giveaway is for U.S. addresses only.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Warm Welcome to Carol G. Heilman

I'm excited to welcome Carol here today. Her book sounds fantastic, and I'm anxious to read it! Carol, tell us . . .

Is there a story behind Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar?
Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar began as a short story assignment for a creative writing class at the University of South Carolina over ten years ago.

Our instructor told us to place ourselves, along with some of our friends, in a foreign environment and to step back and see what developed.

I chose the porch of a retirement home because a standing joke, among a group of my friends and myself, was that one-day we would end up living in such a place together.

Before I had written two pages the characters, with their unique names took on their own personalities. I was fairly new to such writing adventures and was taken aback. They began to assert themselves and I decided I needed to pay attention, to listen and watch—for my scenes often unfold like a movie in my mind’s eye.

The short story ended when Agnes slipped out the back door of Sunset Manor, the name of the retirement home at that time. Then I began to ask questions. What if she . . .

I wish I could be more like my protagonist, who is outspoken and spunky, but she has taken on some of the aspects of my mother’s spirit. Writing fiction is such fun!

 Agnes Hopper’s story continues to evolve and surprise me. I am delighted to have a part in the telling of it.

Interesting! What started you on your writing journey? 
I began writing twenty years or so ago and an instructor named Trish became my Barnabas. She taught a class for seniors in the community at one of our local hospitals. I called to sign up and was told I didn’t qualify. I wasn’t old enough. Imagine that. But I kept calling until the lady on the other end relented and said, “I guess we can let you come.”

I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone that I was fifty-two years old. Trish taught two classes, one creative writing, the other autobiographical. I first began writing the family stories—and I had plenty of material. Daddy thought everything I wrote was wonderful while Mother was horrified. She often said, “We don’t have any secrets any more.” I think I get my exaggerating traits from her.

Trish told me to keep writing. She helped me get my first tiny article published about my daddy’s Appalachian humor. She believed in me. I give thanks to the good Lord for her. Everyone needs a Barnabas.

What distracts you from writing the easiest?
Social media. J If I’m not careful, it can eat up my time and energy and I have no creativity left inside my little brain.

What kind of books do you enjoy reading? (Book recommendations very welcome!)
Historical fiction: March by Geraldine Brooks and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Biographies: Living Like Lions by J.R. Duren
Bible study and Christian personal growth books:
Places People Pray by Karen Appleby and Enduring Faith by Nivine Richie

Which character in your new release most interested you while you wrote? Why?
PictureJack Lovingood is a young, kind-hearted man who works for a local produce market. He enjoys old people, without any ulterior motives, but one resident of Sweetbriar Manor does not trust him. Jack seemed to appear out of nowhere, while I was writing one day, and brought the residents a basket of strawberries. He is a drifter, and even though he loves his girlfriend Shirl, the manicurist at the Cut ‘N Loose, he will disappear in a future book. Where did he go? Will he return?

I like Jack because he is complex and he is sometimes misunderstood.

Oh, he sounds great. Hope I get the chance to read that one too! If you were a style of music, what style would you be?
Bluegrass. Because it reminds me of my heritage, growing up in coal mining camps.

:) What makes you smile and/or laugh out loud?
Remembering my daddy’s Appalachian humor

What is your favorite season of the year?  
Fall with its crisp air, colored leaves, and hot spiced tea

Mine too! What do you like most about the area where you live and/or grew up?
The mountains have always been a comfort to me, evidence of God’s majestic creation.

Ahhhh . . . Are there things you put off doing because you dread them? 
Yes. Ironing!

 Share a verse or Scripture passage with us that is special to you. (and why it's special)   
“He reached down from on high and took hold of me. He drew me out of deep waters.”
The place of reference escapes me right now, but I will find it. This is what the Lord did for me. Without his mercy and grace I would have drowned.  2 Samuel 22:17 NIV

That's a really good scripture verse. I like it a lot because it reminds me of how much God has done for me. When is your next book due out and can you tell us about it?
Writing the second book about Agnes now. She gets into more trouble when the owners of Sweetbriar Manor decide to sell the home and the interested party, representing a women’s prison, wants to turn the retirement home into a halfway house. And then one night there is a fire. . . . 

You're a new author to me and I can't wait to begin reading this book. Thanks for joining us.

Buy her book here:

About Carol:
Carol Heilman, a coal miner's daughter, married her high school sweetheart, a farmer's son. She began writing family stories, especially about her dad's Appalachian humor, for newspapers and magazines. One day her mother said, "We don't have any secrets any more!"

Carol's book, Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar, was inspired by her mother's spunky spirit and her dad's humor. She lives in the mountains of NC with her husband of fifty-plus years. They love to play cards, go antiquing, hike, and visit grandsons on the east and west coasts

Connect with Carol here:
Author Page:

CAROL is giving away a copy of AGNES HOPPER SHAKES UP SWEETBRIAR. The giveaway is only available to U.S. addresses. To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You can enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post.

Happy Reading!
Caroline Brown

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