Thursday, January 29, 2009

Parting the Waters

This has been the hardest review for me to write. At first I thought it might be because I know Jeanne and knew Jacob's story before reading the book. But what I've decided is that the book is so "full" that a simple review can't capture it all.

I met Jeanne at an ACFW writers' conference several years ago (2004 I think?) when we took Gayle Roper's intensive critique class. You know how there are some people you just click with? Jeanne was like that for me. She was fun to be around and found the same things amusing and interesting as I did.

At one point during the conference we were sitting at a table talking about our children. She told me briefly about Jacob and then said, "We've gotten to the point where we're not just thankful through it, but because of it, because of how we've seen God work through his accident."

She said it almost matter of factly, no pride, no great pronouncement of their holiness, just a simple acknowledgment of seeing God at work. Her words stuck with me precisely because I couldn't quite imagine being there if I were in her shoes.

As I read through Parting the Waters I cried often. Not so much from sadness but from that "fullness" I talked about earlier. From seeing God work in such personal ways in their lives, in the lives of their neighbors, friends, and people they didn't even know.

So often we ask God why bad things happen. So often that question is a stumbling block in someone's belief. Yet with Parting the Waters Jeanne shows how God walked with them every step, how He made His presence felt, how they clung to Him. By the end, I felt it was less a story about Jacob and more of a story about God and His tender love for His children.

There were a few parts of Jeanne shining through the pages. Her beautiful prose, her story-telling skills that keep you turning the pages, her heart for other people. She made such an effort to note the people who were involved in every situation and to represent their words and actions. She even includes a section at the end of the book where various players tell Jacob's story in their own words.

But what struck me the most was how vulnerable Jeanne made herself. There are details in the story that she could have kept to herself. But her heart for helping others going through painful situations, to know that they aren't alone, that their reactions are normal and part of the process...all of that showed as she bled on to the page.

As author Lisa Samson says on the cover of Parting the Waters, this book is for anyone who's life hasn't turned out quite as they expected.

Sounds like all of us.

Find it here:

More about Jeanne here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

NBCC Award Nominees

If you're like me and you like lists, particularly lists of things involving books, then you'll like the National Book Critics Circle's award nominee list. If anything, it makes for a good addition to the TBR pile.

Anybody read any of these? I was particular pleased to see Marilynne Robinson's HOME on the list. I haven't read it yet, but I did enjoy GILEAD tremendously.

NBCC Award Nominees

Roberto Bolano, 2666
Marilynne Robinson, Home
Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project
M. Glenn Taylor, The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart
Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kittredge

Dexter Filkins, The Forever War
Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the Civil War
Jane Mayer, The Dark Side
Allan Lichtman, White Protestant Nation
George C. Herring, From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations Since 1776

Paula J. Giddings, Ida, A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching
Steve Coll, The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family In An American Century
Patrick French, The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul
Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family
Brenda Wineapple, White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson & Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Rick Bass, Why I Came West
Helene Cooper, The House On Sugar Beach
Honor Moore, The Bishop's Daughter
Andrew X. Pham, The Eaves Of Heaven
Ariel Sabar, My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq

Richard Brody, Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life Of Jean-Luc Godard
Vivian Gornick, The Men in My Life
Joel L. Kraemer, Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization's Greatest Minds
Reginald Shepherd, Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry
Seth Lerer, Children's Literature: A Reader's History: Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter

August Kleinzahler, Sleeping It Off in Rapid City
Juan Felipe Herrera, Half the World in Light
Devin Johnston, Sources
Pierre Martory (trans. John Ashbery), The Landscapist
Brenda Shaughnessy, Human Dark with Sugar

Also, the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing went to Ron Charles.
NBCC blog

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I've blogged a little bit before about an interesting condition I have called synthensia. Here's a wiki article on it.

I haven't given it a whole lot of thought because it's just the way I am. I suppose if anything, I was surprised other people didn't see letters and numbers and music in color and taste shapes. But I think it's fascinating the way our brains work and all the variations of that. So when I was reading one of my favorite blogs, ColourLovers, and saw this article on synthensia, I wanted to share it.

The blogger's experience is different than my own. I don't see colors as distinctly as she does. My are more like halos or glows, I guess. It's a bit hard to describe. And I couldn't map all of them out the way she does. What's interesting is that we see letters and numbers as different colors. For example, her color map actually hurts me to look at it, almost like fingernails on a chalkboard, because her colors aren't "right." They're not the colors I associate with those words and numbers and it creates this discord in my brain that is almost painful.

But I love how she, also a graphic designer, talks about how her condition affects her work. I've never really thought of it that way, other than knowing some colors just didn't work in certain situations. It was fascinating to me. And maybe to you too.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Scripture Memorization #2

As I mentioned here I've committed with Beth Moore and her blogging group called Siestas to memorized two verses each month this year.

So on the 15th it was time to pick a new verse. But before I get into that, let me show you how I helped myself memorize the last verse.

It's not great art and it wasn't meant to be, although I did enjoy the process. But I wanted to play with the idea of taking the images I saw while I read the verse and putting them on paper along with phrases from the scripture.

I also wrote it out on a spiral-bound index card.

I propped that up next to my monitor at work and pinned up the picture. Seeing them through out the day helped me recall the verse and really ingrained it into my mind.

The verse for the second half of the month is going to be Isaiah 40:29-31, ESV: "He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."

I've memorized this verse before; it was our high school's verse. But I think I need to bring it to life again for me. I was struggling trying to figure out what verse I wanted to memorize. I have a whole list in the back of my index pack gleaned from others listing the verses they're memorizing. But nothing really fit until I heard that verse repeated in Sunday's sermon in a way that just hit home and made me realize it was the verse I needed for now.

I'm not sure how it'll play out in a picture, but stay tuned, I'll be sure to post the results.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

From Macro to Micro

We did something unusual at church today. We watched a video by Louie Giglio from the How Great is Our God tour. The whole thing is amazing but I was struck by two things.

At the very macro level, where stars are so big that the earth isn't even a pinprick on their surface in comparison, we see God's creation. Psalm 33:6 says, "The LORD merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born." He breathed that massive fireball into existence. His very breath created something so big, that our planet is incredibly tiny in comparison, let alone our puny human selves.

Then there's the whirlpool galaxy that is perpendicular to ours, so that the Hubble telescope can take this amazing picture of the black hole at the center.

Then zooming down to the micro level, to the very structure of our bodies and the cells that make them up and hold them together we find something called laminin. It's a protein molecule that hold our cells and membranes together.

And it happens to look like this:

In Colossians 1, talking about the supremacy of Christ, says this in verse 17: "He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together."

Wow. At every level of my life (since I tend to look at everything in relation to me), from the most mind-blowing, God-breathed, massive star to the most mind-blowing molecular level of me...God is there. Intimately.

And I draw this conclusion. If God designed all of that stuff I just talked about, and His Word and His actions say how much He loves me, how can I ever doubt His plan for me? He knows what He's doing, and I think He's just proved that just because I can't see that, doesn't mean it's not true. It's just that my mind can't comprehend the plans of a God who can breath stars into being and put His mark on the very cells of my body.

All Scripture from the NLT.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Blood Lines

Hey, we have a second fiction book today.

What initially attracted me to this book was that it was about NCIS. I watch that CBS show regularly, so I was curious to see how a fiction author would treat the same subject.

Very differently. But still good. The characters are unique and have depth. The theme of father-son relationships weaves throughout the book in a true and sensitive way. For the most part, Odom keeps the pages turning as you would expect in this kind of novel. Yet, he also takes the time to give his characters depth and struggles that you don't always see in action books.

And there lies the biggest problem I had with the book. More than once I felt the action slowed too much to dwell on the characters' inner thoughts. Several times a character would repeat almost verbatim thoughts he'd had before. It felt like just a bit too much.

For the most part, those passages didn't last too long and didn't interfere overly with my enjoyment of the book. I do look forward to reading other books in this series.

Scroll down to read the first chapter.

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Blood Lines

Tyndale House Publishers (December 8, 2008)


Mel Odomis a best-selling author with many published works to his credit. Mel has been inducted into the Oklahoma Professional Writers Hall of Fame and received the Alex Award for his fantasy novel The Rover. Paid in Blood was the first book in Mel’s three-book Military NCIS series. He has also published four military thrillers with Tyndale House; Apocalypse Dawn, Apocalypse Crucible, Apocalypse Burning and Apocalypse Unleashed. Mel teaches courses in forensic investigation, crime-scene investigation, profiling, and cold-case investigation. Mel and his family reside in Oklahoma City.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 432 pages

Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (December 8, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1414316356

ISBN-13: 978-1414316352



Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

1203 Hours

“Did you come here to play basketball or wage war?”

Shelton McHenry, gunnery sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, shook the sweat out of his eyes and ignored the question. After long minutes of hard exertion, his breath echoed inside his head and chest. His throat burned. Despite the air-conditioning, the gym felt hot. He put his hands on his head and sucked in a deep breath of air. It didn’t help. He still felt mean.

There was no other word for it. He wanted the workout provided by the game, but he wanted it for the physical confrontation rather than the exercise. He had hoped it would burn through the restless anger that rattled within him.

Normally when he got like this, he tried to stay away from other people. He would gather up Max, the black Labrador retriever that was his military canine partner, and go for a run along a secluded beach until he exhausted the emotion. Sometimes it took hours.

That anger had been part of him since he was a kid. He had never truly understood it, but he’d learned to master it—for the most part—a long time ago. But now and again, there were bad days when it got away from him. Usually those bad days were holidays.

Today was Father’s Day. It was the worst of all of them. Even Christmas, a time when families got together, wasn’t as bad as Father’s Day. During the heady rush of Christmas—muted by the sheer effort and logistics of getting from one place to another after another, of making sure presents for his brother’s kids were intact and wrapped and not forgotten, of preparing and consuming the endless supply of food—he could concentrate on something other than his father.

But not today. Never on Father’s Day.

The anger was bad enough, but the thing that totally wrecked him and kicked his butt was the guilt. Even though he didn’t know what to do, there was no escaping the fact that he should be doing something. He was supposed to be back home.

Usually he was stationed somewhere and could escape the guilt by making a quick phone call, offering up an apology, and losing himself back in the field. But after taking the MOS change to Naval Criminal Investigative Service, he was free on weekends unless the team was working a hot case.

At present, there were no hot cases on the horizon. There wasn’t even follow-up to anything else they’d been working on. He’d had no excuse for not going. Don, his brother, had called a few days ago to find out if Shel was coming. Shel had told him no but had offered no reason. Don had been kind enough not to ask why. So Shel was stuck with the anger, guilt, and frustration.

“You hearing me, gunney?”

Shel restrained the anger a step before it got loose. Over on the sidelines of the gym, Max gave a tentative bark. The Labrador paced uneasily, and Shel knew the dog sensed his mood.

Dial it down, he told himself. Just finish up here. Be glad you’re able to work through it.

He just wished it helped more.

“Yeah,” Shel said. “I hear you.”

“Good. ’Cause for a second there I thought you’d checked out on me.” Remy Gautreau mopped his face with his shirt.

He was young and black, hard-bodied but lean, where Shel looked like he’d been put together with four-by-fours. Gang tattoos in blue ink showed on Remy’s chest and abdomen when he’d lifted his shirt. Shel had noticed the tattoos before, but he hadn’t asked about them. Even after working together for more than a year, it wasn’t something soldiers talked about.

Before he’d entered the Navy and trained as a Navy SEAL, Remy Gautreau had been someone else. Most enlisted had. Then whatever branch of military service they signed on for changed them into someone else. The past was shed as easily as a snake lost its skin. Men and women were given a different present for that time and usually ended up with a different future than they would have had.

But they don’t take away the past, do they? Shel asked himself. They just pretend it never happened.

“Where you been?” Remy asked.

“Right here.” Shel broke eye contact with the other man. He could lie out in the field when it was necessary, but he had trouble lying to friends. “Playing center.”

Remy was part of the NCIS team that Shel was currently assigned to. His rank was chief petty officer. He wore bright orange knee-length basketball shorts and a white Tar Heels basketball jersey. Shel wore Marine-issue black shorts and a gray sweatshirt with the sleeves hacked off. Both men bore bullet and knife scars from previous battles.

The other group of players stood at their end of the basketball court. Other groups of men were waiting their turn.

Shel and Remy were playing iron man pickup basketball. The winning team got to stay on the court, but they had to keep winning. While they were getting more tired, each successive team rested up. Evading fatigue, learning to play four hard and let the fifth man rest on his feet, was a big part of staying on top. It was a lot like playing chess.

“You’ve been here,” Remy agreed in a soft voice. “But this ain’t where your head’s been. You just been visiting this game.”

“Guy’s good, Remy. I’m doing my best.”

The other team’s center was Del Greene, a giant at six feet eight inches tall—four inches taller than Shel. But he was more slender than Shel, turned better in the tight corners, and could get up higher on the boards. Rebounding the ball after each shot was an immense struggle, but once in position Shel was hard to move. He’d come down with his fair share of rebounds.

Basketball wasn’t Shel’s game. He’d played it all through high school, but football was his chosen gladiator’s field in the world of sports. He had played linebacker and had been offered a full-ride scholarship to a dozen different colleges. He had opted for the Marines instead. Anything to shake the dust of his father’s cattle ranch from his boots. None of the colleges had been far enough away for what he had wanted at the time. After all those years of misunderstandings on the ranch, Shel had just wanted to be gone.

“You’re doing great against that guy,” Remy said. “Better than I thought you would. He’s a better basketball player, but you’re a better thinker. You’re shutting him down. Which is part of the problem. You’re taking his game away from him and it’s making him mad. Problem is, you got no finesse. He’s wearing you like a cheap shirt. If we had a referee for this game, you’d already have been tossed for personal fouls.”

“Yeah, well, he doesn’t play like a homecoming queen himself.” Shel wiped his mouth on his shirt. The material came away bloody. He had caught an elbow in the face last time that had split the inside of his cheek. “He’s not afraid of dishing it out.”

“Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t say that fool didn’t have it coming, but I am saying that this isn’t the time or the place for a grudge match.” Remy wiped his face with his shirt again. “The last thing we need is for Will to have to come down and get us out of the hoosegow over a basketball game. He’s already stressed over Father’s Day because he’s having to share his time with his kids’ new stepfather.”

Shel knew United States Navy Commander Will Coburn to be a fine man and officer. He had followed Will into several firefights during their years together on the NCIS team.

The marriage of Will’s ex-wife was only months old. Everyone on the team knew that Will had taken the marriage in stride as best as he could, but the change was still a lot to deal with. Having his kids involved only made things worse. Before, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day had been mutually exclusive. This year the kids’ mother had insisted that the day be shared between households.

One of the other players stepped forward. “Are we going to play ball? Or are you two just going to stand over there and hold hands?”

Shel felt that old smile—the one that didn’t belong and didn’t reflect anything that was going on inside him—curve his lips. That smile had gotten him into a lot of trouble with his daddy and had been a definite warning to his brother, Don.

The other team didn’t have a clue.

“The way you guys are playing,” Shel said as he stepped toward the other team, “I think we’ve got time to do both.”

Behind him, Shel heard Remy curse.

* * *

1229 Hours

At the offensive goal, Shel worked hard to break free of the other player’s defense. But every move he made, every step he took, Greene was on top of him. Shel knew basketball, but the other guy knew it better.

A small Hispanic guy named Melendez played point guard for Shel and Remy’s team. He flipped the ball around the perimeter with quick, short passes back and forth to the wings. Unable to get a shot off, Remy and the other wing kept passing the ball back.

Shel knew they wanted to get the ball inside to him if they could. They needed the basket to tie up the game. They were too tired to go back down the court and end up two buckets behind.

Melendez snuck a quick pass by the guard and got the ball to Shel. With a fast spin, Shel turned and tried to put the ball up. But as soon as it left his fingers, Greene slapped the shot away. Thankfully Melendez managed to recover the loose ball.

“Don’t you try to bring that trash in here,” Greene taunted. “This is my house. Nobody comes into my house.” Sweat dappled his dark features and his mocking smile showed white and clean. “You may be big, gunney, but you ain’t big enough. You hear what I’m saying?”

Shel tried to ignore the mocking voice and the fact that Greene was now bumping up against him even harder than before. The man wasn’t just taunting anymore. He was going for an all-out assault.

Melendez caught a screen from Remy and rolled out with the basketball before the other defensive player could pick him up. One of the key elements to their whole game was the fact that most of them had played ball before. Greene was a good player—maybe even a great player—but one man didn’t make a team. Special forces training taught a man that.

Free and open, Melendez put up a twenty-foot jump shot. Shel rolled around Greene to get the inside position for the rebound. Greene had gone up in an effort to deflect the basketball. He was out of position when he came back down.

Shel timed his jump as the basketball ran around the ring and fell off. He went up and intercepted the ball cleanly. He was trying to bring the ball in close when Greene stepped around him and punched the basketball with a closed fist.

The blow knocked the ball back into Shel’s face. It slammed against his nose and teeth hard enough to snap his head back. He tasted blood immediately and his eyes watered. The sudden onslaught of pain chipped away at the control that Shel had maintained. He turned instantly, and Greene stood ready and waiting. Two of the guys on his team fell in behind him.

“You don’t want none of this,” Greene crowed. “I promise you don’t want none of this.” He had his hands raised in front of him and stood in what Shel recognized as a martial arts stance.

Shel wasn’t big on martial arts. Most of his hand-to-hand combat ability had been picked up in the field and from men he had sparred with to increase his knowledge.

“You’re a big man,” Greene snarled, “but I’m badder.”

Despite the tension that had suddenly filled the gymnasium and the odds against him, Shel grinned. This was more along the lines of what he needed. He took a step forward.

Remy darted between them and put his hands up. “That’s it. Game’s over. We’re done here.”

“Then who wins the game?” another man asked.

“We win the game,” one of the men on Shel’s team said.

“Your big man fouled intentionally,” Melendez said. “That’s a forfeit in my book.”

“Good thing you ain’t keepin’ the book,” Greene said. He never broke eye contact with Shel. “Is that how you gonna call it, dawg? Gonna curl up like a little girl and cry? Or are you gonna man up and play ball?”

Remy turned to face the heckler. “Back off, clown. You don’t even know the trouble you’re trying to buy into.”

Greene was faster than Shel expected even after playing against the man. Before Remy could raise his hands to defend himself, Greene hit him in the face.

Driven by the blow, Remy staggered backward.

Copyright © 2008 by Mel Odom. All rights reserved

Monday, January 05, 2009

Be Strong and Curvaceous

Today we have another Wild Card book review. This book was a fun read. And yet, not completely cotton candy fluff. Even though the story is about teen girls at a private high school, I still found their trials and struggles with growth engaging and realistic. I've given the book to my 11-year-old daughter to read. It'll be a little above her, but I think the honest depictions of trying to make your way through life as a teenager are better in this book than in anything she'd find on TV. Scroll down to read the first chapter.

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Be Strong and Curvaceous (All About Us Series, Book 3)

FaithWords (January 2, 2009)

Plus a Tiffany's Bracelet Giveaway! Go to Camy Tang's Blog and leave a comment on her FIRST Wild Card Tour for Be Strong and Curvaceous, and you will be placed into a drawing for a bracelet that looks similar to the picture below.


Shelley Adina is a world traveler and pop culture junkie with an incurable addiction to designer handbags. She knows the value of a relationship with a gracious God and loving Christian friends, and she's inviting today's teenage girls to join her in these refreshingly honest books about real life as a Christian teen--with a little extra glitz thrown in for fun! In between books, Adina loves traveling, listening to and making music, and watching all kinds of movies.

It's All About Us is Book One in the All About Us Series. Book Two, The Fruit of my Lipstick came out in August 2008. Book Three, Be Strong & Curvaceous, came out January 2, 2009. And Book Four, Who Made You a Princess?, comes out May 13, 2009.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 9.99

Reading level: Young Adult

Paperback: 256 pages

Publisher: FaithWords (January 2, 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0446177997

ISBN-13: 978-0446177993


BE CAREFUL WHAT you wish for.

I used to think that was the dumbest saying ever. I mean, when you wish for something, by definition it’s wonderful, right? Like a new dress for a party. Or a roommate as cool as Gillian Chang or Lissa Mansfield. Or a guy noticing you after six months of being invisible. Before last term, of course I wanted those wishes to come true.

I should have been more careful.

Let me back up a little. My name is Carolina Isabella Aragon Velasquez . . . but that doesn’t fit on school admission forms, so when I started first grade, it got shortened up to Carolina Aragon—Carly to my friends. Up until I was a sophomore, I lived with my mother and father, my older sister Alana and little brother Antony in a huge house in Monte Sereno, just south of Silicon Valley. Papa’s company invented some kind of security software for stock exchanges, and he and everyone who worked for him got rich.

Then came Black Thursday and the stock market crash, and suddenly my mom was leaving him and going to live with her parents in Veracruz, Mexico, to be an artist and find herself. Alana finished college and moved to Austin, Texas, where we have lots of relatives. Antony, Papa, and I moved to a condo about the size of our old living room, and since Papa spends so much time on the road, where I’ve found myself since September is boarding school.

The spring term started in April, and as I got out of the limo Papa sends me back to Spencer Academy in every Sunday night—even though I’m perfectly capable of taking the train—I couldn’t help but feel a little bubble of optimism deep inside. Call me corny, but the news that Vanessa Talbot and Brett Loyola had broken up just before spring break had made the last ten days the happiest I’d had since my parents split up. Even flying to Veracruz, courtesy of Papa’s frequent flyer miles, and being introduced to my mother’s boyfriend hadn’t put a dent in it.

Ugh. Okay, I lied. So not going there.

Thinking about Brett now. Dark, romantic eyes. Curly dark hair, cut short because he’s the captain of the rowing team. Broad shoulders. Fabulous clothes he wears as if he doesn’t care where he got them.

Oh, yeah. Much better.

Lost in happy plans for how I’d finally get his attention (I was signing up to be a chem tutor first thing because, let’s face it, he needs me), I pushed open the door to my room and staggered in with my duffel bags.

My hands loosened and I dropped everything with a thud.

There were Vuitton suitcases all over the room. Enough for an entire family. In fact, the trunk was so big you could put a family in it—the kids, at least.

“Close the door, why don’t you?” said a bored British voice, with a barely noticeable roll on the r. A girl stepped out from behind the wardrobe door.

Red hair in an explosion of curls.

Fishnet stockings to here and glossy Louboutin ankle boots.

Blue eyes that grabbed you and made you wonder why she was so . . . not interested in whether you took another breath.


How come no one had told me I was getting a roommate? And who could have prepared me for this, anyway?

“Who are you?”

“Mac,” she said, returning to the depths of the wardrobe. Most people would have said, “What’s your name?” back. She didn’t.

“I’m Carly.” Did I feel lame or what?

She looked around the door. “Pleasure. Looks like we’re to be roommates.” Then she went back to hanging things up.

There was no point in restating the obvious. I gathered my scattered brains and tried to remember what Mama had taught me that a good hostess was supposed to do. “Did someone show you where the dining room is? Supper is between five and six-thirty, and I usually—”

“Carrie. I expected my own room,” she said, as if I hadn’t been talking. “Whom do I speak to?”

“It’s Carly. And Ms. Tobin’s the dorm mistress for this floor.”

“Fine. What were you saying about tea?”

I took a breath and remembered that one of us was what my brother calls couth. As opposed to un. “You’re welcome to come with me and my friends if you want.”

Pop! went the latches on the trunk. She threw up the lid and looked at me over the top of it, her reddish eyebrows lifting in amusement.

“Thanks so much. But I’ll pass.”

Okay, even I have my limits. I picked up my duffel, dropped it on the end of my bed, and left her to it. Maybe by the time I got back from tea—er, supper—she’d have convinced Ms. Tobin to give her a room in another dorm.

The way things looked, this chica would probably demand the headmistress’s suite.

* * *

“What a mo guai nuer,” Gillian said over her tortellini and asparagus. “I can’t believe she snubbed you like that.”

“You of all people,” Lissa agreed, “who wouldn’t hurt someone’s feelings for anything.”

“I wanted to—if I could have come up with something scathing.” Lissa looked surprised, as if I’d shocked her. Well, I may not put my feelings out there for everyone to see, like Gillian does, but I’m still entitled to have them. “But you know how you freeze when you realize you’ve just been cut off at the knees?”

“What happened to your knees?” Jeremy Clay put his plate of linguine down and slid in next to Gillian. They traded a smile that made me feel sort of hollow inside—not the way I’d felt after Mac’s little setdown, but . . . like I was missing out on something. Like they had a secret and weren’t telling.

You know what? Feeling sorry for yourself is not the way to start off a term. I smiled at Jeremy. “Nothing. How was your break? Did you get up to New York the way you guys had planned?”

He glanced at Gillian. “Yeah, I did.”

Argh. Men. Never ask them a yes/no question. “And? Did you have fun? Shani said she had a blast after the initial shock.”

Gillian grinned at me. “That’s a nice way of saying that my grandmother scared the stilettos off her. At first. But then Nai-Nai realized Shani could eat anyone under the table, even my brothers, no matter what she put in front of her, so after that they were best friends.”

“My grandmother’s like that, too,” I said, nodding in sympathy. “She thinks I’m too thin, so she’s always making pots of mole and stuff. Little does she know.”

It’s a fact that I have way too much junk in my trunk. Part of the reason my focus is in history, with as many fashion design electives as I can get away with, is that when I make my own clothes, I can drape and cut to accentuate the positive and make people forget that big old negative following me around.

“You aren’t too thin or too fat.” Lissa is a perfect four. She’s also the most loyal friend in the world. “You’re just right. If I had your curves, I’d be a happy woman.”

Time to change the subject. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about my body in front of a guy, even if he belonged to someone else. “So, did you guys get to see Pride and Prejudice—The Musical? Shani said you were bribing someone to get tickets.”

“Close,” Gillian said. “My mom is on the orchestra’s board, so we got seats in the first circle. You’d have loved it. Costume heaven.”

“I would have.” I sighed. “Why did I have to go to Veracruz for spring break? How come I couldn’t have gone to New York, too?”

I hoped I sounded rhetorical. The truth was, there wasn’t any money for trips to New York to see the hottest musical on Broadway with my friends. Or for the clothes to wear once I got there—unless I made them myself.

“That’s it, then.” Gillian waved a grape tomato on the end of her fork. “Next break, you and Lissa are coming to see me. Not in the summer—no one in their right mind stays in the city in July. But at Christmas.”

“Maybe we’ll go to Veracruz,” Lissa suggested. “Or you guys can come to Santa Barbara and I’ll teach you to surf.”

“That sounds perfect,” I said. Either of Lissa’s options wouldn’t cost very much. New York, on the other hand, would. “I like warm places for my winter holidays.”

“Good point,” Gillian conceded. “So do I.”

“Notice how getting through the last term of junior year isn’t even on your radar?” Jeremy asked no one in particular. “It’s all about vacations with you guys.”

“Vacations are our reward,” Gillian informed him. “You have to have something to get you through finals.”

“Right, like you have to worry,” he scoffed, bumping shoulders with her in a chummy way.

“She does,” Lissa said. “She has to get me through finals.”

While everyone laughed, I got up and walked over to the dessert bar. Crème brulée, berry parfaits, and German chocolate cake. You know you’re depressed when even Dining Services’ crème brulée—which puts a dreamy look in the eyes of just about everyone who goes here—doesn’t get you excited.

I had to snap out of it. Thinking about all the things I didn’t have and all the things I couldn’t do would get me precisely nowhere. I had to focus on the good things.

My friends.

How lucky I was to have won the scholarship that got me into Spencer.

And how much luckier I was that in two terms, no one had figured out I was a scholarship kid. Okay, so Gillian is a scholarship kid, too, but her dad is the president of a multinational bank. She thinks it’s funny that he made her practice the piano so hard all those years, and that’s what finally got her away from him. Who is my father? No one. Just a hardworking guy. He was so proud of me when that acceptance letter came that I didn’t have the heart to tell him there was more to succeeding here than filling a minority quota and getting good grades.

Stop it. Just because you can’t flit off to New York to catch a show or order up the latest designs from Fashion Week doesn’t mean your life is trash. Get ahold of your sense of proportion.

I took a berry parfait—blueberries have lots of antioxidants—and turned back to the table just as the dining room doors opened. They seemed to pause in their arc, giving my new roommate plenty of time to stroll through before they practically genuflected closed behind her. She’d changed out of the fishnets into heels and a black sweater tossed over a simple leaf-green dress that absolutely screamed Paris—Rue Cambon, to be exact. Number 31, to be even more exact. Chanel Couture.

My knees nearly buckled with envy.

“Is that Carly’s roommate?” I heard Lissa ask.

Mac seemed completely unaware that everyone in the dining room was watching her as she floated across the floor like a runway model, collected a plate of Portobello mushroom ravioli and salad, and sat at the empty table next to the big window that faced out onto the quad.

Lissa was still gazing at her, puzzled. “I know I’ve seen her before.”

I hardly heard her.

Because not only had the redhead cut into line ahead of Vanessa Talbot, Dani Lavigne, and Emily Overton, she’d also invaded their prime real estate. No one sat at that table unless they’d sacrificed a freshman at midnight, or whatever it was that people had to do to be friends with them.

When Vanessa turned with her plate, I swear I could hear the collective intake of breath as her gaze locked on the stunning interloper sitting with her back to the window, calmly cutting her ravioli with the edge of her fork.

“Uh oh,” Gillian murmured. “Let the games begin.”

© 2008 by Shelley Adina.

Used by permission of the author and Hachette Book Group USA.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Free Book!

Hey all, my good friend and writing buddy, Diana Brandmeyer is interviewing Linore Rose Burkard on her blog. If she gets 10 comments, she'll have a free book to give away to one of the commenters. So go over and leave a note. Maybe win a book.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

2009. Seems odd to see it written out like that. Remember Y2K? And that it was NINE years ago!

I don't make resolutions. I just do things as I need to do them. Someone on Facebook called them "solutions" not resolutions. I like that. A much better way of looking at things.

However, there is something I'm resolving to do this year. Memorize scripture. Growing up and going through AWANA I memorized over 500 verses. I believe this was the foundation that kept my heart close to God through so many difficult seasons of life. But as an adult, I've let the practice slide. So when I saw this post on Beth Moore's blog, I knew this was something I had to be a part of.

Beth is challenging us to memorize two verses a month (we pick our own) and to post it on the blog to hold each other accountable. Everything that is challenging is done better when you have people to share it with. As I've scrolled through the comments and see what verses other are memorizing, I found myself making a list of verses I might want to memorize in the future. Just reading those verses was such a blessing and a terrific way to start out a new year.

I got a spiral-bound packet of index cards and a blue gel pen to write my verses on. I can prop it up on my desk during the day so it's in front of me. And it's not too late for you to join. Add your name to the original post, post your verse, and get memorizing!