2/24/14

The Thief

Stephanie Landsem's The Living Water Series brings Biblical stories to life. The Thief is the second book in this series and is in the time of Jesus's crucifixtion.  It centers around Nissa, a Jewish woman with a secret; her brother Cedron, a man born blind; and Longinus a Roman Centurian. These three individuals are each effected by the life and death of Jesus.
I enjoy Biblical fiction, especially when it helps me imagine what life was like at that time. The Thief added to my vision of Biblical Times. The setting and characters were well developed. My only complaint is there were a couple of points that contradicted the Bible. A fiction writer is entitled to certain liberties, and readers need to understand that it is a work of fiction; however, when working with Bible stories, there needs to be even more caution. I did enjoy the book.  The story flowed smoothly and had a strong message.  I would recommend it.

2/13/14

William Sirls’ THE SINNERS’ GARDEN iPad Mini Giveaway!

Meet William Sirls: Once a senior vice president in a large investment firm, he was incarcerated in 2007 for wire fraud and money laundering. Life lessons involving faith, grace, and forgiveness are evident in his writing. The Sinners’ Garden is his second novel.

William Sirls writes unique works of fiction.  I read The Reason last year and was very excited about The Sinners' Garden.  It includes another original plot, great characters, interesting backstory, and a strong theme.  Centered around a small family and their close friends in a little town of Lake Erie.  The story explores relationships, miracles, and mysteries.  It is an interesting and enjoyable read.  

William is celebrating the book's release with an iPad giveaway.

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One winner will receive:



  • A brand new iPad Mini

  • The Sinners' Garden by William Sirls

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on March 1st. Winner will be announced March 3rd on William Sirls' blog.




””



Don’t miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by William’s blog on the 3rd to see if you won.

1/11/14

Julie Klassen’s “The Dancing Master” giveaway and “All Things Jane” webcast 1/23!

Best-selling author Julie Klassen will be hosting a Kindle Fire HDX giveaway and a live webcast event (1/23) to celebrate the release of her latest novel, The Dancing Master. Enter and RSVP today!

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  One winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on January 23rd. Winner will be announced at the "All Things Jane (from Austen to Eyre)" Live Webcast Event on January 23rd. Connect with Julie for an evening of book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! Julie will also be taking questions from the audience and giving away books, Jane Austen DVDs, fun "Jane" merchandise, and gift certificates throughout the evening.

So grab your copy of The Dancing Master and join Julie and friends on the evening of January 23rd for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

I have read the book and loved it!  Alec Valcourt, the title character, moves his mother and sister to the small town of Beaworthy after difficult circumstances force them to leave London.  Unfortunately, there is no dancing in Beaworthy, due to a decree by Lady Amelia Midwinter years ago.  Julia Midwinter does not appreciate Lady Amelia's strictness or her watchful eye and is thrilled at the new family in town.  It seems that the Valcourts are hiding something about their past, but apparently so is Lady Amelia.  In Julia's quest for the truth, all of her relationships are challenged and she comes away a different person.  I really enjoyed the character development in this one.  The plot is interesting and moves quickly.  The characters and relationships are authentic.  I would definitely recommend this one!

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by signing up for a reminder. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 23rd!

11/15/13

To Know You

Julia Whittaker’s rocky past yielded two daughters, both given up for adoption as infants. Now she must find them to try to save her son.
Julia and Matt Whittaker’s son has beaten the odds for thirteen years only to have the odds—and his liver—crash precipitously. The only hope for his survival is a “living liver” transplant, but the transplant list is long and Dillon’s time is short. His two older half-sisters, born eighteen months apart to two different fathers, offer his only hope for survival.
But can Julia ask a young woman—someone she surrendered to strangers long ago and has never spoken with—to make such a sacrifice to save a brother she’s never known? Can she muster the courage to journey back into a shame-filled season of her life, face her choices and their consequences, and find any hope of healing?
And what if she discovers in her own daughters’ lives that a history of foolish choices threatens to repeat itself? Julia knows she’s probably embarking on a fool’s errand—searching for the daughters she abandoned only now that she needs something from them. But love compels Julia to take this journey. Can grace and forgiveness compel her daughters to join her?
In To Know You, Shannon Ethridge and Kathryn Mackel explore how the past creates the present . . . and how even the most shattered lives can be redeemed.

To Know You tackles some extremely difficult situations; adoption, finding your biological mother/daughter, dealing with a dying child, and asking others to donate organs for that child.  It weaves together the minor story lines with flashbacks and various points of view, allowing the reader to get to know each of the characters a little better.  The novel generates strong emotions and had me asking a lot of "what ifs."  Overall, this is a powerful novel.  I would recommend it.  
I did receive a free e-copy in exchange for my honest review.  

11/13/13

The Rent Collector

Years ago, I read a book that has stuck with me ever since.  I will always remember the power and emotion of that book.  It was Letters for Emily by Camron Wright.  Before I discuss his new book, I highly recommend reading this one!!  When I was given the opportunity to read and review Camron's new book, The Rent Collector, I was hopeful to experience some of that emotion again.  I was not disappointed.  This book is quite different from his other novel; however the thoughts, emotions, and images it provokes are equally powerful.

Sang Ly is a young mother who lives in a large dump in Cambodia with her husband and their one small child, Nisay.  Nisay is very sick, and Sang Ly wants to do everything she can to help him.  She discovers something about the rent collector of her neighborhood, and seeks help in an unexpected way.
This book is about the grittiness of life and relationships.  It stresses both hardships and unexpected blessings and delivers strong messages about hope and beauty.  I would definitely recommend it!

11/1/13

Just One More Thing Before You leave home

Just One More Thing_Gudgel

Just One More Thing: Before You Leave Home is a packed guide to help young adults enter life on their own. In the book, the Gudgels use stories, perspectives, and dialogues to discuss 30 indispensable topics to help teens survive, including: worldview, financial challenges, use of time, career moves, moral dilemmas, sex, painful experiences, and spiritual life, among others. Written from a Biblical perspective, the book is more of a guide to making good decisions than a lecture on how to live., It’s perfect for a parent and teen to go over together or to give as a thoughtful gift. This is a book they’ll reference for years to come.

I have a few years before we even have teenagers in the house, so thankfully I have lots of time to prepare them for when they leave the house.  (And to prepare myself!)  There is definitely advice that I wish I had recieved before leaving for college and beyond.  This book is a great guide that I plan to keep until my little ones may need to hear it!  

10/28/13

Sun Shine Down

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:

T S Poetry Press (August 18, 2013)

***Special thanks to Gillian Marchenko for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Gillian Marchenko lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and four daughters. Her writing has appeared in Literary Mama, MomSense Magazine, Chicago Parent, Thriving Family, Today’s Christian Woman, and Gifted for Leadership. A speaker, and active on Facebook, Twitter, and her website, Gillian says the world is full of people who seem to have it all together. She speaks for the rest of us.

Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Sun Shine Down. A memoir.

What if?

What if you dreamed of having a beautiful child, and in your mind you saw the life you'd share with that child. First steps, little league (or ballet). Maybe the child would play piano or make you proud on the Honor Roll. There'd be eventual graduations, college, even marriage and grandchildren. You might dream it out that far. Or not. Every parent has hopes. No parents wish for pain—their own, or a child's.

Then you had a premature delivery in a foreign country. And the words swirling around you said a different kind of "what if." What if something was wrong? The dream was at risk—or so it seemed. Would you be ready for that? Could you make peace? Or would it take you down?

These are the questions author Gillian Marchenko faced as she woke up after an emergency C-section in Ukraine. Only her newborn child could answer them, in time. But first she had to find a way to hear more than the words "Down syndrome."




Product Details:
List Price: $15.00
Paperback: 136 pages
Publisher: T S Poetry Press (August 18, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0989854205
ISBN-13: 978-0989854207


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

~ 1 ~



I woke up just before seven the morning of April 5, 2006, in a surgical recovery room in a hospital in Kiev, Ukraine. Sluggish, I scanned the room, unable to take in my surroundings. A thin white sheet covered my body. I shivered. A metal table housed a tiny television in the corner of the room. The bare walls were a pale shade of blue gray.

Did Sergei leave? Lifting my hand, I placed it on my breastbone and slid it toward my navel. My mid-section felt numb. Pushing down, it was as if I tapped another person’s toneless stomach. White gauze held my empty abdomen tight. I had been eight months pregnant.

Five hours earlier, I stood naked in a warm shower, my blond hair tucked into a flimsy paper cap. A delivery nurse crouched in front of my middle. “Krasata,” she hummed in Russian, smiling, telling me I was beautiful, while methodically shaving me.

I couldn’t see the nurse’s face over the bulge of my stomach. Her brown hair bobbed in and out of sight as she talked. I imagined her gold tooth sparkling as her mouth moved. In Russian, “krasata”  means beautiful as in, “you are a beauty.” My skin was now translucent, stretched to its limit. I looked like ET’s pregnant cousin, wide-eyed from fear, hair thinned.

“Tebye nada peesat?” the nurse asked as she cleaned off the razor. I nodded – yes, I have to pee, and then I squatted, awkward, as my bladder emptied. I hadn’t peed in front of someone since kindergarten, when I used to make my best friend, Carol Peruski, go to the bathroom with me. The yellow stream swirled around and around the shower floor before sliding down the drain. I wanted to be back home in Michigan, tucked away in an American hospital. I wanted to understand everything being said to me.

*

I had hugged my daughters goodbye that morning, expecting to return in a few hours. Elaina, five and a half years old, had a habit of patting my tummy hello and goodbye. Zoya, eighteen months younger, stood on her tiptoes and aligned her lips with my belly button for a kiss. They hurried our goodbye. They had big plans to make a fort underneath the dining room table with their beloved Ukrainian nanny, Lena.

Our “stalinka”—the historical apartment in Kiev where we’d been living for the last three years, since we’d moved from Chicago to Sergei’s native Ukraine to help start and grow churches—showed few signs of a baby coming. A pack of diapers and some second-hand clothes were piled in the corner. A stroller stood in the hallway by the front door next to a line of shoes. We needed more supplies: ointment and shampoo and bottles. Infant clothes needed laundering. There wasn’t a place for the baby to sleep.

After saying goodbye to the kids, I’d inhaled in an attempt to flatten my protruding belly, needing at least two buttons of my coat to fasten. Giving up, I grabbed a scarf hanging on a hook near the front door and looped it around my neck to keep the Ukrainian winter air at bay. There were three weeks left until my due date. A simple pregnancy check-up coaxed me out the door with a promise of some much-needed time with my husband.

We'd sat in the car a few minutes, waiting for the engine to warm and for the frost to break up on the windshield. I could see my breath. “Let’s swing by that American restaurant on the river after your appointment,” Sergei suggested.

 “You’re on!” I said. “And I know what I am going to order: Eggs Benedict. I am going to eat it all, too. It’s not like I can get any bigger than this, right?”

“You look beautiful,” Sergei said.

At the appointment, I lay on a long brown bed and watched the obstetrician measure my stomach with the kind of measuring tape my mother used to make our clothes when we were kids. The doctor measured once.

“Hmm.”

“Shto shto?” I asked in Russian. What? What do you see? Is something wrong?

Upon hearing my question, Sergei, who sat on the other side of the room, stood up and walked over to us.

“Shto takoye?” Is there a problem? Sergei asked.

“What? Oh no. Not a problem. I want to measure Gillian’s belly one more time.” The doctor positioned her right hand on the examination table next to my side and extended the tape across my abdomen. She hunched to ensure the right start and stop point on the tape and then held it out in front of her, stretching it wide.

“Your stomach hasn’t grown in two weeks.”

A sound like that of a police siren erupted inside my head, sending icy adrenaline shooting through me. Our baby wasn’t growing? Our baby wasn’t growing.

Sergei stood to the right of the doctor. He took hold of my hand and looked at me with that same steady gaze I'd noticed when we first met. When Sergei looked at a person, his eyes were unwavering, showing his confidence. At first that intimidated me but in our years together, it had become a great comfort. He heard what the doctor said and knew her words would worry me. He was with me and present, just as he had been for the last seven years.

The baby had measured small at checkups earlier in my pregnancy but the doctor had never been concerned about it. At one point the baby measured three weeks behind her due date in size and development. At that time, the doctor reassured me that I had nothing to worry about. “She is growing which is the main thing,” she'd said, winking. The doctor, jolly and round, acted like a female version of Kris Cringle. “There’s no problem. Either we miscalculated the due date or you have a petite little girl in there," she'd explained as she turned her attention to Elaina and Zoya who happened to be with us at that appointment. “Now, girls, are you excited about the baby? And how do you like living in Ukraine?”

“Sergei, please tell her we are concerned.” I'd wanted reassurance. To calm me, the doctor had ordered several ultrasounds and non-stress tests. Each time, the tests had shown the baby staying still. “Ona speet.” She’s sleeping, was all she’d say.

  Today she said, “Here’s what we are going to do, Gillian. We’re going to admit you to the hospital overnight. I suspect the baby needs extra vitamins and nutrients. That should get her back on track."

“Should we worry? Is it something else?” I glared at Sergei the way wives do when they want their husbands to telepathically understand they should jump in with questions and concerns of their own.

“No! Don’t worry!” the jolly doctor smiled at us.

Instead of heading off to breakfast as planned, we went directly to the hospital.  By noon I sat gowned in a room on the fourth floor. A nurse hooked a monitor to my belly to follow the baby’s heartbeats. I watched the squiggly green lines on the black screen dip low as my stomach tightened with each Braxton Hick's contraction. Something is wrong. I know it.

We were assigned a new doctor, tall and tan with a wide smile. His fuzzy, brown hair was gone in the back of his head. He wore glasses. He looked the part of the new Ukrainian, the guy who achieved success somehow during economic instability. The first two buttons of his crisp white shirt were open revealing a heavy chain that shimmered around his neck. Two huge, gold rings covered his knuckles. He was excited to have an American patient because he was learning English.

He introduced himself to Sergei first, in Russian, and shook hands with him. Then he peeked at me. “Hello, there. I see you having a baby? That’s great. I…um…ugh… I am happy to be of assisting of you today here in Ukraine. I am fond of America. And, um…, I am tried to work on my English.”

The new doctor continued to sputter and pause as he talked to me, searching for the right words to say in English. I would answer him in Russian, to let him know I could, and then wait for him to find his next English word.

I had studied Russian with a private tutor three times a week, two to three hours a session, for three and a half years. The day I met Tatiana Nikolayevna, my Russian teacher, I was nervous. She was a mountain of a woman with bleached blond hair. Her high cheekbones and pointed nose gave her a diplomatic air. She walked with a limp, suggesting she'd suffered a hip dislocation at some point in her life. One moment she’d give me an icy glare, then seconds later an approving smile would spread across her face.

For years I'd trudged along, immersing myself in basic conversation, memorization and grammar study. I cried at some point in every session. Tatiana was firm, but kind. In the beginning, I likened Russian to a blurry photograph. I knew something was there, but I could not make out the picture. It was humiliating and exhausting to try to speak a foreign language. Then one day the picture started to come into focus. I heard actual words, sentences, and eventually full conversations. I became an avid eavesdropper. My time deaf and mute in Ukraine came to an end. I had survived basic Russian language acquisition.

*

Outwardly I kept my cool at the hospital. But inside, I yelled at everyone who walked through the door. Check me and go away! Let me lie here and worry in peace. I’m not in the mood to teach English as a second language.

After meeting the new doctor and helping me settle into the room, Sergei left the hospital to go home and check on Elaina and Zoya, and arrange the rest of the day's schedule. About an hour after he left, I realized I would need a few things to stay overnight. I called him on the cell but got voicemail. “Hi, it’s me. Hope the kids are okay. Listen, since I’m going to be here for the night, can you grab a few things for me while you’re home? I need a change of clothes, my contact case, and maybe a book to read. Thanks. Love you.” After I hung up, I lay back on the hospital bed and focused on the clock on the opposite wall. There was nothing to do but wait. My hands were shaking.

Sergei got back to the hospital around four o’clock. Occasionally, the English-learning doctor came in, checked the monitor, and listened to my stomach with a stethoscope. Sergei asked questions. “How’s the baby doing? Do we know if the glucose and extra vitamins are helping yet?” We discovered that one phrase the doctor knew well in both English and Russian was “wait and see.” He would not outright answer our questions. “Wait and see,” he’d say, already turning to leave.

By nine o’clock, our American colleagues started to call. Julie, the mother hen of our ex-pat group, called first. Her husband James was our team leader, and they had been living in Ukraine for over ten years.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I called Lydia to tell her about you and the baby.” Lydia was another American working with us. Before moving to Ukraine, she was a postnatal nurse at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

“That’s fine, Julie,” I muttered, my frustration breaking through. I wasn’t mad at Julie. I was mad that I was stuck in the hospital. I was mad that we were told over and over again to wait and see.

Julie continued, “And we are coming to the hospital. Once our sitter gets here, James and I will pick up Lydia and we’ll be on our way.”

As soon as I hung up, the phone rang again. Lydia’s voice, strong but soft, filled my ear with questions and greetings.

The threat of tears tightened my throat and I could only manage a whisper,  “The baby hasn’t grown at all since the last visit to the doctor two weeks ago. I have an IV in right now, and I’m receiving glucose and other vitamins. The doctor says this will help bulk the baby up and get her back on track.” Sergei sat in the corner of the hospital room, pretending to be interested in a newspaper he'd picked up in the hospital lobby.

“Whenever I feel a contraction, the green squiggly line on the monitor drops low,” I said. I expected a response from Lydia. Instead, silence. For a second, I wondered if the phone lost its connection.

“Gillian, I will be there in a half hour. The next time your doctor comes in the room, you need to demand an emergency c-section. I don’t want to scare you, but in the States your baby would have already been delivered. She is not doing well. She’s in trouble. Listen to me; you have to talk to your doctor.” I tightened my grip on the phone. Sergei stood up, came over and sat down on my bed. “What’s wrong?” he mouthed. I shook my head and turned to the window.

“Okay, Lydia. We’ll tell him.” I hung up the phone and started to cry. Sergei leaned in and took me in his arms.

“Lydia said it sounds like the baby is in extreme distress. She said we need to demand a c-section.”

Always pragmatic, Sergei wondered out loud, “How can we know she is right? She isn’t even here. The doctor said the baby needs some extra help.” I moved out of Sergei’s arms so I could look him in the eye.
 “Lydia said if we were in the States, the baby would have already been delivered.” I felt a sob rise and my body began shaking. “Sergei, please find the doctor.”

My husband agreed and went to get the doctor. I was alone. I knew it. I’d known for weeks that something was wrong. I should have spoken up more. Oh God, please let the baby live. I want to go home. I did not trust the doctors in this hospital. I wanted my mother. A few minutes later, Sergei came back to the room with the English-learning doctor who had his usual broad smile.

“Umm, your husband said that you are worried that the baby be born?”

“Yes. I have an American friend who is a nurse. I talked to her on the phone and she said that with the baby’s heart beat dropping so low, I would have already had a caesarean section if we were in the States. I’m worried. We need to talk about delivering the baby.”

I stared at this man who was dressed in white pants and a white, button-down shirt with a lazy stethoscope draped around his neck. He was a doctor. I wasn't sure of the schooling process in Ukraine, but in America he would have completed close to a decade of education in order to qualify for this job. Shouldn’t he know? Didn’t he know?

“The baby is stabilizing with the IV. It hasn’t been enough time. I think we should wait and see. She needs more time.” The doctor glanced from my face and Sergei’s to see if his words registered. Sergei spouted back in Russian.

They talked a few more minutes and then the doctor smiled at both of us and left. The clock next to my hospital bed read eleven o’clock at night. The baby had been receiving fluids since noon. I studied the monitor next to my head. The baby’s heart rate still dropped once in a while.

“He doesn’t know what he’s doing!” I snapped at Sergei.

“I know this is hard, but he’s a doctor. He’s your doctor. We should listen to him. And I’m not saying this lightly. That’s my baby too in there. I’m worried. But Lydia isn’t here and the doctor is, and I think we should listen to him.”

Julie, James and Lydia arrived within the hour. They were upbeat, commenting on the nice hospital room, cracking jokes and squinting at me through the room’s bright lights. All three tried to act like it was the most natural thing in the world to hang out in a Ukrainian hospital room at midnight. I loved them for it.

A nurse located the English-learning doctor. When he came into the room, Lydia stepped forward and introduced herself. She went on to tell him what she told me on the phone. As she spoke, she kept taking steps closer to him. Soon, she stood right in front of his face. The doctor no longer smiled. “Doctor, this baby needs a cesarean section right away!” James and Julie hung back on the other side of the room. Sergei got up from the bed and stood next to Lydia.

“We are going to wait and see if the IV helps,” the doctor declared. Lydia persisted, eyeing my husband for language assistance and nodding incessantly as her words poured in a mixture of English and Russian. Her stern face and tone of voice pleaded with the doctor to take action.

I could tell by the projection of her voice that Lydia meant business. Here was one of my people, not only a colleague and a friend, but an American medical professional weighing in on the fate of my child.

After hearing more from Lydia, Sergei took her side. “We need to see if anything else is going on with the baby. My wife is frightened. We don’t want to wait and see anymore.” Sergei squared his deep blue eyes on the doctor.

“All right. I guess we can take a closer look at the baby through an ultrasound.”

“Spaseebo,” Sergei said. Thank you. “Spaseebo,” Julie, James, and Lydia all chimed in.

“Nyezashto,” the doctor replied. Don’t mention it. His expression was blank when he left the room.

*

Twenty minutes later I concentrated on Sergei’s face, as a coiled cord smeared icy liquid over my midsection. Doctors and nurses huddled around the ultrasound screen, whispering to one another in Russian. The technician tapped on my stretched skin, seeking the baby's beating heart beneath it. As my abdomen tightened again, the small huddle of Ukrainian professionals all gasped at the monitor.

“Sergei, ask them what they see.”

Sergei cleared his throat. “Izveneete pozshalusta. Shto takoye?” Excuse me, please. What is wrong? Our doctor turned around from the group and faced us. Oh no, here we go. Sergei took my hand in his.

“The baby’s heart beat goes too low with the contractions. We need to do a caesarean section right away.”

*

Back in my room, shaved and ready for surgery, I perched on the end of the high hospital bed and studied the imperfections on the tan walls. Sergei had gone downstairs to sign papers to allow the surgery. James, Julie and Lydia had gone to search for the nearest waiting room. All of a sudden I felt the need to take everything in. I wanted to remember every detail. A well-polished wooden desk with a matching chair stood against the wall in front of me. Cream-colored curtains with deep pleats framed the window. My stocking feet dangled above the alabaster tile floor. They seemed disconnected from my body.

I thought about Elaina and Zoya sleeping in their Estonian-made bunk beds back at the apartment. Sergei and I searched all over Kiev before purchasing the pale, hardwood beds. Thick cotton blankets were probably tucked up under the girls’ chins. I imagined their Babushka, Sergei’s mother, asleep in the next room, ready to provide a drink of water or a trip to the toilet. I wished I had kissed them goodnight.

I heard footsteps in the hall. The doctor stuck his head through the doorway. “Gotova?” No time for English now.

I nodded—ready.