Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Checkin' It Twice" Book Review

From the back cover:

Can Santa learn a lesson from the Savior?
Can a foreign exchange student help you see Christmas a little more clearly?
Do things really look better from a distance?
And just how many holiday ornaments does one woman need?

Get in the Christmas Spirit with Volume 2 of award-winning stories from LDS Publisher's 2010 and 2011 Christmas Story Contests! Sixteen short stories from popular LDS authors to help you remember the reason for the season!

Featuring LDS Authors:

Amie Borst • A Soldier’s Christmas
Angie Lofthouse • Broken Things
Brenda J. Anderson • Milkshakes and Mittens
Brian C. Ricks • Third Strike Christmas
Gussie Fick • Substitute Santa
Janice Sperry • Slushballs
Jennifer Carson Shelton • With Wondering Awe
Jennifer Ricks • Christmas Stash
Jennifer Ricks • The Two Hundred Forty-fourth Ornament
Kasey Eyre • Gifts from Jesus
LeeAnn Setzer • Christmas Bus
LisaAnn Turner • The Real Magic
Michael Young • Checkin’ It Twice
Rob Smales • Fishing Buddy
Teresa G. Osgood • Foreign Exchange
Weston Elliott • Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh
My Review:
I really enjoyed this compilation with stories that range from humorous to touching. This is a perfect book to read with your family--you can read one story each night as Christmas nears.
I was particularly touched by the story "With Wondering Awe" by Jennifer Carson Shelton. When I was four-year-old little girl, my dad left for work on December 19th. I never saw him again because he died in a car accident that night on his way home from work. His funeral was December 24th. Needless to say, Christmas was very different that year and in subsequent years. It's been four decades since that dark, sad night, but every year I remember my dad and I can't help but be a little sad for all the Christmases over the years that we've missed. 
The character in this story, "With Wondering Awe" has a similar experience, except it's her sister. when the story begins she is still mourning the loss of her sister a year before and she doesn't want to enjoy Christmas without her sister. By the end of the story, she realizes that her sister wants her to be happy and to go on living. It reminds me of what the pastor says in Courageous when he tells the main character, a mourning father, to stop being mad about what time he wouldn't have with his daughter and to be thankful for all the time he did have with her.
I was also touched by the story, "A Soldier's Christmas" by Amie Borst. It reminded me of my mother and how she must have felt when my father died. In this story, a young mother must face the death of her husband. I loved the poem in the story. It made me all teary.
Both of these stories really touched my heart, but I enjoyed all of them. I recommend you read this book next to a roaring fire while sipping some hot chocolate. It's a wonderful compilation from very talented writers.
Right now there's a Bonus Goodies package available for anyone who purchases a print copy before December 15th.  Just send a copy of your Amazon receipt to

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Aura, Chapter 1, Part 2

She reluctantly walked down the hall toward their bedroom. He rushed into the kitchen and emptied his pockets of the money he'd cashed out earlier from their bank account. Rummaging through a drawer, he found a piece of paper and pen and scribbled a note to the landlord. He didn't want any loose ends when they left—no trail that could lead back to them. Not if he hoped to protect his wife and unborn child from the monster who had once been his best friend.

He slammed his fist against the counter. Why hadn't he noticed it sooner? The muscles in his neck constricted. All he'd wanted to do was provide for his growing family by working for a legitimate business. He shook his head at his stupidity and misplaced trust.

Pam's footsteps interrupted his thoughts as she neared the kitchen. He finished the note telling the landlord they were leaving and wouldn't be coming back. He tucked it under a cup with enough bills to cover the remainder of the lease and turned to Pam. She stood in the doorway, wearing a solemn expression, dressed in a grey sweatshirt and jeans with a brown suitcase in hand.

"I packed as much of our stuff as I could." She tried to smile, but it didn't reach her eyes. Matt sensed her misgivings. How would he ever explain this to her?

"Good." He took the suitcase.

She stood firm. "I want you to tell me what's going on and why we're leaving in the middle of the night."

"We don't have much time—"

She crinkled her forehead. "What does that mean?"

"It means we need to go." He reached his hand out for hers but she didn't reciprocate.

"I don't understand what's happening."

Matt stepped close to her and ran his hand down her arm, grasping her hand in his. "I know this all sounds confusing and crazy, but I need you to trust me. Please. I'll try to explain everything after we leave." His eyes pleaded with her, hoping she wouldn't ask any more questions or weaken his resolve.

"You're acting so erratic. You're scaring me."

Matt set the suitcase down and pulled her to him, losing himself in the familiar strawberry scent of her hair. He wished things were different. But they weren't. All he could do now was run—run fast and run far, without looking back. Their lives depended on it. He stepped back and gazed deeply into Pam's eyes. "We have to go before they realize that I've left."


"Our lives are in danger."

Pam's eyes widened. "Danger?"

Matt nodded. "Yes. Let's go."

"Where are we going?" A tear snaked down her cheek. "What are we going to do?"


Monday, November 19, 2012

Aura, Chapter 1, Part 1

The brisk late-night air wound itself around Matt's neck while the house keys shook in his hand. He glanced over his left shoulder. Over his right. His heart thundered against his ribs. He scanned the neighborhood. Nothing out of the ordinary—but nothing was as it seemed. Never would be again. He wiped perspiration from his forehead and drew in a breath.

In one swift movement, he opened the creaky front door to the rental house, stepped inside, and closed the door. He locked the door and rested his head against it for a moment before turning around. With three strides he was standing next to the couch, where his wife lay sleeping, bathed in the glow of the television. He knelt next to the couch and attempted to calm his breathing while he watched the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest. So peaceful. Relaxed. Unaware.

He tugged on her arm, trying to rouse her. "Pam, honey, wake up."

Her eyelids fluttered open. He took several breaths, hoping to settle his raging heartbeat.

"Matt? What's wrong?" She lifted herself on one elbow and pushed a few strands of her long, blonde hair from her face. "You look terrified."

He didn't want to panic her or scare her. But he had no choice. "We need to leave."

She cleared her throat. "What are you talking about?"

"We can't stay here anymore." It sounded crazy and unreasonable—even to him.

Pam raised her eyebrows. "Why? You aren't making any sense."

"I can't explain right now." He raked his fingers through his hair, a stone of sadness in his stomach.

Pam sat up and adjusted her flannel nightgown.

Her pale face forced him to focus on her. "Feeling nauseated?"

She nodded and placed her hand on her belly. "All day and night. Whoever named it morning sickness got it wrong." She leaned her head over the small white trashcan next to the couch.

"I'm sorry you're sick. But we have to go. Now." Matt stood and crossed over to the window. He parted the curtains and searched the street. Had anyone followed him? The clock on the wall mocked him with its constant tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.

"What are you doing?" Pam asked, wiping at her mouth.

He turned to face her. "I was offered a promotion."

"That's great—"

"No. It's not great." He licked his parched lips. "Not great at all." A shudder rippled down his back.

Images. Bits of conversations. Paperwork. It all made sense now.

"Why not?" She tilted her head and peered at him.

"The company isn't what it seems. Nothing is as it seems." He stepped over to the couch and reached his hand out for hers, pulling her up.

"You're shaking." She placed her soft, warm hand over his. "What's going on?" Her eyes searched his.

"We need to get out of here. Tonight."

Pam stared at him, the fear and confusion apparent in her blue eyes.

"Please," he said. "Go to our bedroom and grab whatever you can. There isn't much time." He let go of her hand and turned back to the window again, looking urgently from side to side. A siren sounded in the distance, and several dogs barked in concert. The scene seemed ordinary enough, but he knew better.


He faced her. "Pam, please. Hurry."

Come back tomorrow for Part 2.

Friday, November 16, 2012

He Said His Part

I have been working and working with my youngest son on his speech. We have a fantastic speech therapist and he has progressed so much in the last few months. I'm so thankful that he knows the sounds of almost every letter of the alphabet and is trying new sound combinations every day. Since the flash cards I'm using to help him with his speech have both a picture and the word on them, he is learning to read as well. By the end of the week, he can not only say, but also read, most of the words we've been working on. We also review cards so he can remember the words from previous weeks, and he is still able to read them. Yay!

He was assigned a short part for the children's program at church. And he did it. He actually did it. All the words, "I choose to follow" and then he held up a picture of our prophet, Thomas S. Monson, for the whole congregation. And he said all four words together without me prompting him. I was thrilled. My husband and my sister both had tears in their eyes. Such a simple thing, but yet so huge.

We've been working really hard and to see some progress is wonderful. I never knew what went into learning to speak. I took it all for granted with my other 9 kids--they started talking (and most have never stopped to even take a breath) and I never thought much of it. Working with my son has taught me to be grateful for even the smallest things.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

All Fall Down by Julie Bellon

From the back cover:

Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes we all fall down . . .

That simple rhyme turns negotiator Claire Michaels’ current hostage situation into an international incident. Claire just wants to help get everyone out safely, but as the crisis escalates she realizes she’s dealing with an al-Qaeda operative who has the means to become another bin Laden---with the potential to attack America. Claire has her own personal reasons for wanting to stop al-Qaeda, but time is slipping away as negotiations break down. Can she overcome her scars of the past in order to get the hostage out alive and possibly stop an assault on U.S. national security?

Navy SEAL Rafe Kelly is on leave to recover from a knee injury he suffered during his tour in Afghanistan and he doesn’t expect to be fighting terrorists on his home turf. But when he is taken hostage and his brother is kidnapped, Rafe teams up with a hostage negotiator in order to stay alive and get his brother back. The terrorist is always one step ahead of them, however, and the situation quickly turns from desperate to deadly. Will Rafe be able to save himself and his country without anyone he loves getting caught in the crossfire?
My review:
Multi-published author, Julie Bellon, has written another great international suspense!
If you enjoy suspense, romance, and twists and turns, then you'll enjoy All Fall Down. Bellon is masterful at writing suspense. From the first page until the last, and I mean the very last (because there is a twist I didn't expect and I actually said out loud, "Are you serious? How can this get any worse?") it is a roller coaster.
The book starts with a hostage situation--I will never sing "Ring Around the Rosy" again without thinking about this book--and turns into an international suspense with lots of surprises.
I really liked the natural romance that developed, and I especially enjoyed some tender scenes.
I also liked how realistic the setting felt. Bellon must have traveled to these remote areas to be able to make it feel so authentic.
The characters are well-developed and the story is exciting. I recommend this book--just don't read it at night because you might stay up too late reading it!
You can learn more about Julie Bellon and all of her other published books here.
I did receive a review copy of this book, but it in no way influenced my review. My opinion is my own.