The Protector by Shelley Shepard Gray

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Protector

Avon Inspire; Original edition (June 28, 2011)
by
Shelley Shepard Gray

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 

Shelley Shepard Gray is the beloved author of the Sisters of the Heart series, including Hidden, Wanted, and Forgiven. Before writing, she was a teacher in both Texas and Colorado. She now writes full time and lives in southern Ohio with her husband and two children. When not writing, Shelley volunteers at church, reads, and enjoys walking her miniature dachshund on her town’s scenic bike trail.

Check out Shelley’s Facebook Fan page

 

 

 

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Everyone needs a safe place to call home

When her mother passes away, Ella’s forced to auction off her family’s farm. Her father died years ago, and she could never manage the fifty acres on her own. But after she moves to town, she can’t deny the pain she feels watching the new owner, Loyal Weaver, repairing her family’s old farmhouse—everything Ella had once dreamed of doing.

What Ella doesn’t know is that Loyal secretly hopes she will occupy this house again…as his wife. He begins inviting her over, to ask her opinion on changes he wants to make. As their friendship blooms, Ella starts to wonder about Loyal’s intentions, especially when her best friend, Dorothy, hints that Loyal is not who he seems. There’s no way the golden boy of their close-knit Amish community could be interested in Ella, long the wallflower, hidden away caring for her ailing parents.

Should she trust the man she’s always yearned for, or the friend who’s always been by her side? When one of them threatens to disrupt the independence she’s finally achieved, Ella is faced with a choice. She can protect her heart and keep things the way they’ve always been. Or she can come out of her shell, risk everything for the love she’s always wanted, and finally have a place to call home.

If you would like to read an excerpt from The Protector, go HERE.

MY REVIEW:

The Protector is the second book in Shelley Shepard Gray’s Families of Honor series. Revisiting the town of Jacob’s Crossing, The Protector features Ella Hostetler and Loyal Weaver and continues several subplots that began in The Caregiver, the first book of the series.

“Plain Ella” has spent most of her life on the fringes due to her shyness, lack of confidence, and later the isolation of caring for her ailing mother. After her mother’s death, the property was sold to Loyal, one of the most popular young men in the area. When Loyal begins to seek out Ella’s companionship, she doubts his motives and even he is surprised by his own actions. As their friendship grows, Ella’s friend and landlord Dorothy becomes increasingly agitated and Ella’s newly gained peace turns to fear.

The Protector is another fine example of Gray’s writing gift. Her characters are real with believable emotions and reactions. The story is laced with just the right amount of drama, action, humor, romance, and faith and a pinch of suspense thrown in for good measure. Stories like this are one reason I will continue to read Gray’s novels even when I become weary of much Amish fiction.

Bridge to a Distant Star by Carolyn Williford

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing
Bridge to a Distant Star
David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2011)
by
Carolyn Williford

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 

Carolyn Williford has authored seven books, including Jordan’s Bend, Devotions for Families That Can’t Sit Still, and Faith Tango, as well as numerous articles. She and her husband, Craig, live in Deerfield, Illinois, where he serves as president of Trinity International University. They have two children and four grandchildren.

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE BOOK:

It All Comes Tumbling Down

As a storm rages in the night, unwary drivers venture onto Tampa Bay’s most renowned bridge. No one sees the danger ahead. No one notices the jagged gap hidden by the darkness and rain. Yet when the bridge collapses vehicles careen into the churning waters of the bay below.

In that one catastrophic moment, three powerful stories converge: a family ravaged by their child’s heartbreaking news, a marriage threatened by its own facade, and a college student burdened by self doubt. As each story unfolds, the characters move steadily closer to that fateful moment on the bridge. And while each character searches for grace, the storms in their lives loom as large as the storm that awaits them above the bay.

When these characters intersect in Carolyn Williford’s gripping and moving volume of three novellas, they also collide with the transforming truth of Christ: Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Bridge to a Distant Star, go HERE.

Double Take by Melody Carlson



MY REVIEW:

As is the case with all of Melody Carlson’s novels, Double Take was a well written entertaining and easy to read book that flowed smoothly and contained some important lessons in life. While not a bad book, it was not one of my favorites.

The story features socialite Madison and Amish Anna whose chance meeting leads to Madison suggesting that they changes places for a short time. With very little planning, Anna finds herself off to Manhattan while Madison takes her place in the home of Anna’s relatives. While the girl’s ignorance of their new surroundings are described, I found it just a little hard to believe that the people they came in contact did not catch on to their scheme. How could Anna’s aunt believe the tall tale Madison came up with to explain why she couldn’t perform basic household chores such as washing dishes and cooking?

Other than the fact that the believability was a real stretch, the story was entertaining and would probably be good material for a Hallmark movie.

This book was provided for review by
Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.



ABOUT THE BOOK:
Young Socialite Switches Places with Amish Girl to Escape Manhattan Scene!

 

“Why does everything have to be so complicated?” Madison shook her Blackberry at her mom…
“I’m sick of it…I can’t take it anymore…”

Anna Fisher was bored. But she knew better than to say that out loud – especially when everyone was busy with farming and fixing and all the additional chores that came with springtime.

Bestselling author Melody Carlson takes readers into the worlds of a socialite and an Amish girl struggling with who they are in Double Take (ISBN: 978-0-8007-1964-7, June 2011, $9.99). Have you ever wondered what would happen if you could switch your life with someone else for just one day? Readers will live the one-week experiences of a bored Amish girl and stressed out socialite when they decide to switch places in Double Take.

Spring break has arrived. It’s her senior year, and Madison VanBuren is fed up with her surroundings and the pressures of life. Stressed out over choosing an Ivy League school that will please her parents, their marital problems, and her boyfriend’s pressure, Madison gets in her car and drives west.

Meanwhile, eighteen-year-old Anna Fisher wants to escape the so-called simple life–which for her consists of caring for younger siblings, sewing, cooking, and gardening–and she’s well aware that her future will simply be more of the same with a man she doesn’t love.

Madison and Anna stumble into each other in a small town. Realizing their looks are uncannily similar, they both think their lives are boring. Thinking the grass is greener on the other side, they make a decision that will transform them forever and switch lives for one week.

Readers will love this funny and provocative tale of switching places from bestselling author Melody Carlson. As they get a glimpse and understanding of these two very different worlds. They may find themselves happy to be just who they are, and where they are.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of over two hundred books, several of them Christmas novellas from Revell, including her much-loved and bestselling books, Christmas at Harrington’s and The Christmas Bus. She also writes many teen books, including Just Another Girl, Anything but Normal, the Diary of a Teenage Girl series, the TrueColors series, and the Carter House Girls series. Melody was nominated for a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the inspirational market for her books, including the Diary of a Teenage Girl series and several books which  are being considered for TV movies. She and her husband serve on the Young Life adult committee in central Oregon.

Forever After by Deborah Raney



MY REVIEW:

The second book in Deborah Raney’s Hanover Falls series, Forever After focuses on two more characters affected by the devastating fire that destroyed the town’s homeless shelter and resulted in the deaths of several firefighters. Widow of firefighter Zach Morgan, Jenna has come to the realization that she can no longer pay for the lifestyle expected by her wealthy in-laws. She knows she has to make some serious adjustments but is fearful of returning to the poverty of her childhood. Lucas Vermontez is still recovering from injuries he received and is anxious to return to his duties at the fire department. Only his strong faith has kept him from despair during his long recovery period and his grief over his father’s death in the same fire. When Lucas and Jenna become reacquainted, their mutual attraction is evident but each of them has doubts about the wisdom of a relationship.

A convincing plot and well developed characters with authentic interactions made this novel a delight to read. Lucas in particular was a strong character who was not afraid to challenge Jenna when her behavior was questionable. His devotion to his family and to the Lord set a positive example that eventually helped Jenna to make the correct decisions. With  a combination of drama, humor, and romance blended with a compelling message of faith, Forever After is definitely a book I would recommend to all who enjoy contemporary romance that surpasses the norm.

This book was provided for review by
LeAnn Hamby with Glass Road Public Relations.



ABOUT THE BOOK:

 

Jenna Morgan mourned the loss of her husband, Zach, in the fire that destroyed the Hanover Falls homeless shelter and claimed the lives of three other firefighters. A year later, her ability to keep up the charade of prosperity she and Zach lived is at an end. Even with financial help from Zach’s parents, she can’t make the mortgage and credit card payments. But Jenna Morgan refuses to go back to the trailer home life from which she escaped. She’s come so far. She just can’t go back to that.

Lucas Vermontez has endured physical therapy for a year, but the legs crushed while he fought the homeless shelter fire are nowhere near 100% yet. Will his dream of returning to the fire station ever become reality? And can he conquer these feelings he has for his best buddy’s widow?

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Deborah Raney is the award-winning author of several novels, including A Nest of Sparrows and the RITA award winning Beneath a Southern Sky and its sequel, After the Rains. Deborah’s first novel,

A Vow to Cherish, was the inspiration for World Wide Pictures’ highly acclaimed film of the same title, which in December 2004 aired on prime time network TV for the second time.

Deb’s novella, Playing by Heart, was a National Readers Choice Award winner and a 2004 Christy Award finalist. Her most recent novel for Howard/Simon & Schuster, Yesterday’s Embers, appeared on the ECPA Christian fiction bestseller list.

Deb has also written nonfiction books and articles and often speaks at women’s retreats and writers’ conferences around the country. She and her husband, illustrator/ author Ken Raney, have four children and make their home in Kansas.

The Blackberry Bush by David Housholder

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

 

Today’s Wild Card author is:

 

 

and the book:

 

The Blackberry Bush

Summerside Press (June 1, 2011)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

David Housholder is a philosophical-spiritual influencer, a sponsored snowboarder and a surfing instructor who dreams of making this world a better place. As the senior pastor at Robinwood Church, an indie warehouse church near the beach in California, he can often be found preaching verse by verse in his bare feet. With his increasing desire to change the world around him, he is the director for several non-profit organizations. Housholder loves to travel and is an international conference speaker. He has spoken to groups in Ethiopia, Malaysia, Canada and London and has also been involved with mission trips. He is especially energized by evangelistic work among Muslims.

Housholder is an avid reader and carries an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. He received his undergraduate degree from Pacific Lutheran University and went on to receive his Master of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. Then he spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar at the Universität-Bonn in Germany. Housholder fluently speaks three languages, English, Dutch and German, and enjoys reading biblical Greek and Hebrew.

Housholder and his wife, Wendy, have one grown son, Lars. They reside in Huntington Beach, California. Some of his hobbies include photography and tinkering on his 1971 VW bug.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

The Blackberry Bush begins with two babies, Kati and Josh, who are born on opposite sides of the world at the very moment the Berlin Wall falls. You would think that such a potent freedom metaphor would become the soundtrack for their lives, but nothing could be further from the truth. They will follow a parallel path connected by a mistake their great grandparents made years before.

Despite his flawless image, Josh, an artistic and gifted Californian skateboarder and surfer, struggles to find his true role in the world. He fears that his growing aggression will eventually break him if he can’t find a way to accept his talent and the competition that comes along with it. Kati, a German with a penchant for classic Swiss watches and attic treasure-hunting, is crushed with the disappointment of never being “enough” for anyone—especially her mother. She wonders whether she will ever find the acceptance and love she craves and become comfortable in her own skin.

Craving liberation, Kati and Josh seem destined to claim their birthright of freedom together. With the help of their loving grandparents, they will unlock the secrets of their pasts and find freedom and joy in their futures. Today, like Katie and Josh, our youth often fall into two different cultures. Josh is part of the “bro” culture which is outdoor-oriented, with sports as a focus, and generally more conservative. Whereas Kati is part of the “scene” culture which is more liberal and indoor-oriented, focusing on music. These cultures are apparent in the novel and can aid in a better understanding of the issues today’s 21st century youth are facing as well as the struggles they have in coming to faith.

 

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Summerside Press (June 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1609361164
ISBN-13: 978-1609361167

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

~ Behind the Story ~

Angelo

Think for a moment. Isn’t there a splendid randomness to the way your day is coming together today?

After all, it’s not the big, dramatic things we foresee and expect that make all the difference in our lives. It’s the chance, random encounters—the subtle things that surprise us…and change the very course of our individual destinies.

The Blackberry Bush is a story about awakening to the fullness of this reality.

And you will never want to go back to sleep.

You can call me Angelo. I’ll be the one telling this story. As you and I travel together across generations and continents in a journey that will take just a few hours, you’ll discover not only the gripping stories of Kati, Josh, Walter, Nellie, and Janine but also uncover your own compelling back-story that will change you in ways you can never imagine.

And you’ll never be the same again….

PROLOGUE

1989

Berlin, Germany

Occasionally, out of nowhere, history turns on a dime in a way no one sees coming. Listen…do you hear the sound of jackhammers on dirty concrete?

“Wir sind ein Volk (We are one people)!” A large European outdoor crowd chants this over and over into the chilly November night. “Wir sind ein Volk!”

Thousands of hands hold candles high in the darkening night of Berlin. Throngs of young people with brightly colored scarves crowd the open spaces between concrete buildings. !ere are parties—with exuberant celebrants of all ages—even along the actual top of the wall. Flowers are stuffed into once-lethal Kalashnikov rises. Hope is contagious.

It’s November 9, 1989. The first sections of the Berlin Wall are removed, to mass cheers, with heavy machinery. It seems incomprehensible that a small weekly Monday prayer meeting in Pastor Magerius’s Leipzig, Germany, study grew into the pews of the Nicolai Church and eventually out into the Leipzig city square. !en today, this “Peace Prayer,” figuratively speaking, traveled up the Autobahn to Berlin and converged as an army of liberation on that iconic concrete symbol of Cold War division—with world-news cameras whirring.

Little things can make a big difference. Subtle potency. Gentle power.

“Wir sind ein Volk,” the crowd chants as one. The Berlin Wall—a filthy, gravity-based ring of rebar and concrete, tangled with barbed wire and patrolled by German shepherd attack dogs–has encircled and separated West from East for twenty-eight years. Now it is irreparably pierced.

Unthinkable. No one saw this coming.

Walls are real, you see, yet they always come down. Creation and nature never favor walls. They start to crumble, even before the mortar dries.

*

Elisabeth Hospital

Bonn, Germany

A day’s Autobahn drive from the festivities in Berlin

That same instant, a severely pregnant woman’s water breaks in the tall-windowed birthing room of the Elisabeth Hospital in Bonn, Germany.

Hours later: “Ein Mädchen (a girl)!” Een meisje, translates the exhausted mother with silently moving lips into her native Dutch. Linda, a sojourner in Germany, was born a generation ago in Holland.

Mere blocks away from the birth scene, the mighty Rhine River flows past Bonn on its way downstream to the massive industrial port city of Rotterdam, Linda’s hometown. Only a few hours away by river barge, Rotterdam, Holland, couldn’t be farther from Germany—on so many levels.

The labor has been long and brutally hard. !e father, Konrad, takes little newborn, black-haired Katarina up the elevator to the nursery. On the way up, an old woman in a wheelchair spontaneously pronounces God’s blessing over baby “Kati” (pronounced “KAH-tee,” in the German way) with the sign of the cross. Kati focuses her glassy little eyes on the woman’s wristwatch.

Konrad is concerned about how pale Katarina is. Was her older sister, Johanna, this porcelain-skinned at birth? Perhaps it’s the thick shock of black hair that sharpens the contrast with her complexion. How will Kati and Johanna get along? he wonders. I guess that will all start to unfold soon, when they meet each other for the first time.

I won’t be able to protect her, thinks Konrad. Parental anxiety starts creeping up his spine in ways it never did when Johanna, now two, was born.

Perhaps little Kati will need that elevator blessing, he muses uncomfortably.

*

Zarzamora, California

1989

Another Woman With Rotterdam Bloodlines, across the planet in sunny Zarzamora, California, is giving birth at the very same moment (although earlier in the day because of the time difference) to a boy. !e tiny $at-roofed hospital up in the mountains of the Los Padres forest is the port of entry for little baby Joshua.

Janine smiles up at husband, Michael, and takes a first look at Josh, expecting, for whatever reason, to see a pale baby girl. Genuinely surprised—after all, this is in the days before ultrasound was universal—to see a vibrant, reddish-hued boy, she suppresses a giggle of delight, a catharsis of joy after so many miscarriages. What fun they will have together! Will he lighten up her melancholy disposition, perhaps?

Janine sighs in relief as she confirms to herself, We’re not going to have to take care of him much. He’s going to be okay. I’m sure of it. I can tell.

The trumpets of the practicing local high school marching band waft through the open windows as German-born father Michael washes his son off in the sink of the delivery room. The piercing eyes of baby Josh, almost white-blue, glisten in the overhead lights. They stop to focus on Michael for a fleeting minute, then zero in on some yet unseen reality behind his father’s shoulder.

Shouldn’t I be saying some ancient German words, a blessing or something, while I’m doing this? Michael asks himself.

But he can’t think of any. He is adrift in the flowing current of this new experience.

The marching band plays on outside. Are they really circling the hospital, or does it just sound like that? the new father thinks… .

~ Behind the Story ~

Angelo
I can watch both births as I pick and eat blackberries from the thicket back in rainy Bonn. I smile. Joshua looks so happy to be here. He radiates physical warmth and doesn’t seem to need his blanket. He welcomes the new climate.

But Kati doesn’t like the cold. There’s almost a 30-degree (Fahrenheit) difference in ambient temperature from the womb to the room, and I see her struggle.

And then there’s the brand-new “breathing” thing. How can breathing go from unnecessary to essential in a few seconds? Yet some days we don’t even think about breathing, not even once. Amazing. Joshua’s American birth certificate reads 11-09-1989. Kati’s European one reads 09-11-1989.

How much of their lives are preprogrammed? How much of their minds will be stamped with the thoughts of others? Is life a roll of the dice, or is it a script we just read out to the end? Don’t we all wonder that same thing sometimes?

As Kati and Joshua start to adjust to life outside the womb, the Berlin Wall continues to crumble to shouts of joy.

I write the names Linda and Konrad in Germany, Janine and Michael in California on the inside of the book cover I’m holding. I always do that, so I don’t get confused about who’s who as I travel through their stories.

Both fathers, Konrad and Michael, have roots in the Germany that was rebuilding after World War II. Both are self-doubting, somewhat weak Rheinlanders married to practical, sober, very Protestant Dutch women.

Katarina and Joshua are on parallel paths. But only perfectly parallel paths never meet as they stretch into infinity. And since these paths, like ours, aren’t perfect…well, you can guess what might happen in this story.

Kati and Josh, born on one of the greatest days of freedom for all human kind, will grow up snared in the blackberry bush…like you.

But if you dare to engage their story at a heart level, a fresh new freedom might just be birthed in you.

So why not listen to that subtle twitter of conception inside your soul? !e one that says, !is year something exciting is going to happen that I can’t anticipate. And I’ll never be the same….

PART ONE
1999

Oberwinter am Rhein, Germany

Just south of Bonn

Kati

I love looking out our back picture window at the rolling farms. I’m watching for Opa, my dear grandfather Harald, who said he’d be home by 4 p.m. We live at the top of the road that winds uphill from the ancient Rhine River town of Oberwinter, just upstream from Bonn. That’s how everybody here writes it, but they say “Ova-venta.” I walk up and down the sidewalk along the switchback road almost every day.

Our home is perched at the top of the hill with the front of the house facing the street that skirts the skyline of the ridge and the back looking away from the river, out at the plateau of peaceful farms, which Opa says the ancient Romans probably worked.

Opa knows a lot of secrets. If he told me what he knows every day for the rest of my life, he’d never run out of things to say. But sometimes he gets sad. He never likes to talk about how things were when he was my age. His voice starts to sound shaky, and that makes me sad too. I stopped asking him about his wartime childhood a long time ago.

My watch says it’s another hour to wait. Really, it’s his watch, big on my wrist. The leather band smells like Opa. I’m very careful with it since it’s a Glashütte, which is infinitely special.

Sometimes Opa shows me his watch collection from the big mahogany box that’s a lot like Mutti’s (that’s what I call my mother) silverware holder. But the Glashütte was always my favorite, and one day he gave it to me. I’ve worn it ever since.

Mutti was angry at Opa for giving it to me. “It’s worth as much as a car!” she said. But Opa simply smiled. He never minds when people are upset with him.

Opa’s study is a magical place. In the corner is the totem pole he brought home from Alaska. !e wooden desk is covered with a sheet hands with people in suits and, right in the middle, a recent picture of me. !e books on his shelves are in English and German. He has me read aloud from the chair across the desk from his and tells me that I speak English without an accent, just as they speak it in Seattle, Washington, where he worked for a few years. We’re on our second time through Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Opa says it’s a very important book, so I believe him.

Opa is the only one who doesn’t seem worried about me. He never seems worried about anything. I can’t remember seeing him angry. Ever.

I hope he takes me out to his workshop in the shed this evening. It’s my favorite place. My big sister, Johanna, says it’s not fun for girls, but she’s wrong. Opa has hand tools and power tools, and all of them are perfectly hung and positioned. !e shed is as clean as Mutti’s kitchen.

Opa tells me that the Bible says all people have “gifts” from God and that all the gifts are open to girls as well as boys. He tells me I have the gifts of craftsmanship and interpretation. Those are big words, but they make me feel good.

We’ve made and fixed so many things together there. I have my own safety glasses. He lets me run the band saw all by myself. I can tell by looking at his eyes that he knows I’ll be safe. Mutti doesn’t have the same look in her eyes, no matter what I’m doing.

Mutti cuts my hair really short because she’s afraid it’s going to get caught in one of the power tools. I hate how it looks. She also tries, continually, to get me to eat more. She doesn’t like how skinny I am.

Papa works in Berlin. He got transferred there when the German government moved from Bonn after the Wall fell, when I was little. He comes home on the train most weekends. He works for the foreign diplomatic service, and he told me this month that he might get transferred again soon, and that we might have to move to America. He and Mutti have been arguing a lot about it while I try to get to sleep at night.

I can tell the arguments are bad, because Mutti slips back into Dutch when she gets angry and also when she talks to me and Johanna. Anger and parenting seem to come out of the same place inside her.

Mutti, unlike Opa, loves to talk about growing up, and how wonderful everything was then. It’s fun to hear the stories—and to see her smile while she tells them. We take the train to visit her Dutch parents often. It takes only a few hours to reach Rotterdam. I love riding through Cologne, past the blackened dual-spired cathedral. I have another grandfather in Holland who is kind of funny and crabby at the same time. I only have one grandmother, because my German Oma died of cancer before I was born.

I love Rotterdam. My Dutch grandfather (my other Opa) takes me on bike rides through the tunnel, under the big river, and to my favorite place—the Hotel New York in the heart of the port. He buys me a chocolate milk every time, and we watch the big ships come and go. He doesn’t like to talk about Germans, even though he reminds me that they built the bike tunnel and highway under the river. Every now and then someone mentions the War. I’ve always known my Dutch grandparents don’t like my father. They say it’s not because Papa’s German, but I think it is. He never comes along on our visits to Rotterdam.

Now I’m looking out the farm-facing window, still waiting for Opa. At the end of our backyard, the blackberry bushes start and wander off into the countryside in lots of directions. I could swear they get bigger every year. I love to play back there—especially with Johanna. I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t have a few scrapes on my arms and legs from the thorns. !e farmers in the fields work so hard to raise crops, but blackberry bushes grow all by themselves without any help.

I’m getting impatient, so I enter Opa’s study to wait there. In his le” second drawer is his drawing kit. Precise instruments to make perfect circles and angles. Papa tells me Opa designed this house with that kit.

Opa lets me play with everything in his desk. Using the compass, I draw a perfect circle. !en I draw myself in it. I’ve done this so many times. But I’m older in the picture than in real life. And my hair isn’t short. But I can’t stop drawing circles with slightly different sizes. Once I caught myself drawing dozens of overlapping circles around the picture of me. I’m not smiling in any of these pictures. I think a lot when I’m drawing the circles.

To me, getting older just means harder jobs. Johanna works harder than I do, and I know I’ll have to be like her soon. She evenmakes dinner sometimes. Math problems get harder. Books lose their pictures and are more challenging to read. I learn so much better with Opa, because there’s no pressure.

My parents fight about me when they think I’m asleep. Papa was angry with Mutti because she yelled at me about my school grades. Mutti shot back with, “She has to get good grades because she’s not pretty.” My whole body froze in bed when I heard that. I’m not really sure what grades have to do with being pretty, but it’s very bad somehow. I think Papa would like to be more like Opa, but he can’t make it happen.

They don’t know how good I am at English. I speak it a lot better than they do. I have to keep from laughing when they try. There’s an American couple down in the village with a new baby, living in an

old, crooked apartment. I heard them speaking English and jumped in to their conversation. They asked me where in America I was from.

I fibbed and said, “Seattle.”

I think about America a lot. Maybe I could be a different person there.

Johanna’s pretty; even I can see that. It makes people, all kinds of people, happy to look at her, and they look at her longer than they mean to. I, on the other hand, make people nervous. Except for Opa, people don’t like to look right at me.

And everyone always wants me to do better than I am doing. They say it’s because they want the best for me. But it doesn’t feel good. The older I get, the further behind I am. I don’t have enough

friends. I haven’t finished enough homework. My room is not clean enough. I wasn’t polite enough to my parents’ guests. And the hardest of all: people don’t like me enough. It’s really hard work to get people to like you. Or maybe I’m especially easy to dislike.

Opa’s study has a big mirror on the door. Standing in front of it, I’m surprised by how white my skin is. My hair is black, and I have a big nose. Opa says that’s because most of the families in town have Roman heritage, and that I must have ended up with the local hair and nose. Opa tells me this town has been around for at least a hundred generations. We go for walks in the hills around the village, and he shows me where the Roman roads, walls, and vineyards were. How can anyone know so much?

Even better, Opa is the one person who knows me. Last week he brought me a present from Bonn. I opened up the long, little box and removed a black, elegant Pelikan fountain pen. It came with a bottle of ink.

He then pulled out a fresh new ledger. I had to laugh. Opa knows how much I hate math at school. It doesn’t feel real—like somebody got paid to think up a bunch of problems to drive kids like me crazy.

But Opa keeps telling me how important math is for real life, even if I don’t think so now.

For the rest of that afternoon, Opa taught me double-entry bookkeeping in ink. Real-life stuff I can actually use even now, when I’m nine years old, to keep track of the little money I earn and spend. He told me that reckoning in German marks was only for practice, because they were going to disappear in a few years, replaced by the euro.

He also taught me that money is magic, and that if you give a lot of it away to improve the world, you’ll always have more left over than you started with. That’s not what my teacher says about

subtraction, but I know, without a doubt, that Opa is right, as usual. He showed me his accounting books, going back to the 1940s. The numbers got bigger and bigger over the years.

“How does that work?” I asked

.

He showed me the number in a special column telling how much he gave away last year. I gasped, and my hand came to my mouth.

“That’s how,” he answered.

I asked him what I would do if I made a bookkeeping mistake with the pen.

“You won’t,” he said and smiled.

Opa believes in God. My parents are not so sure. !is confusesme all the time. Opa takes me to church on Sundays. We walk down the hill together. He and I are evangelisch—Protestant or Evangelical. It’s hard to translate the term into English. Most of our neighbors in Oberwinter are Catholic. Our stone Protestant church is very small, very old, and musty smelling. !e temperature is always cooler inside than outside. I sometimes fall asleep there on Opa’s shoulder, and he likes that.

The organist is amazing. She plays on national radio. And the organ is very old: 1722 is painted on the pipes. For the rest of my life, I’m going to make sure I can listen to organ music. My imagination can go almost anywhere when she’s playing. After every Sunday service, the organist gives a little concert from the rear balcony where she sits. We stand, lean on the pews behind us, and watch her. We always clap when she’s done.

Johanna comes with us sometimes, but Opa says it’s important to go to church only when you want to. For whatever reason, Opa and I always want to. Maybe it’s just so we can spend Sundays together, but I know Opa would go even if I didn’t exist. It seems to help him be happy all the time and everywhere. I hope he’ll teach me this magic when I’m old enough.

I don’t understand much about what goes on in church, but I love it when they read the Bible stories for children’s worship, and the littler kids come and plop right down on my lap, as if they belong there. !is Sunday was the story about Joshua and the walls of Jericho. The German Bible says the Israelites were blowing trombones, and Opa’s English Bible says trumpets. Things like that make me think.

I hear the door.

Opa’s home.



MY REVIEW:

Despite all the glowing reviews I have read about The Blackberry Bush, I have mixed feelings about it. The theme of the story is good and there are many lyrically beautiful passages with symbolism worth digging for. Unfortunately, I was never quite able to connect with the primary characters of Kati and Josh – possibly because the narrative jumped all over the place in an attempt to fill the reader in on their backstories. I do understand that the author was trying to get across the message that who we are now is greatly affected by the lives of our ancestors and that he was attempting to illustrate that everything that happened to Kati and Josh were part of a greater plan and not just circumstance.

Having said all that, I will admit that The Blackberry Bush is still a worthwhile book and that I will most likely be able to glean even more from it upon a second read. Please do not let my impressions alone keep you from reading it. Be sure to read more reviews before making a decision.

To conclude I will share a passage from Kati that left an impression with me.

“I know now, without doubt, that we were all put on this earth for a reason, and sometimes it’s the subtle little things – the seemingly random, chance encounters – that lead to huge breakthroughs that lead us to discover this.

I’m convinced that our “goodness” (my church friends call it “holiness”) comes not from effort but by yielding to this infinite love and goodness that God keeps piling up for us. It’s not about effort and discipline but rather about opening ourselves up to all that God has for us. And listening to the ongoing singing of the Shekinah voice.”