Tuesday, July 29, 2008



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 his/her book:


Sushi for One?

Zondervan (September 1, 2007)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Camy Tang is a member of FIRST and is a loud Asian chick who writes loud Asian chick-lit. She grew up in Hawaii, but now lives in San Jose, California, with her engineer husband and rambunctious poi-dog. In a previous life she was a biologist researcher, but these days she is surgically attached to her computer, writing full-time. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service.

Sushi for One? (Sushi Series, Book One) was her first novel. Her second, Only Uni (Sushi Series, Book Two) is now available. The next book in the series, Single Sashimi (Sushi Series, Book Three) will be coming out in September 2008!


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 12.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (September 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310273986
ISBN-13: 978-0310273981

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

Eat and leave. That’s all she had to do.

If Grandma didn’t kill her first for being late.

Lex Sakai raced through the open doorway to the Chinese restaurant and was immediately immersed in conversation, babies’ wails, clashing perfumes, and stale sesame oil. She tripped over the threshold and almost turned her ankle. Stupid pumps. Man, she hated wearing heels.

Her cousin Chester sat behind a small table next to the open doorway.

“Hey Chester.”

“Oooh, you’re late. Grandma isn’t going to be happy. Sign over here.” He gestured to the guestbook that was almost drowned in
the pink lace glued to the edges.

“What do I do with this?” Lex dropped the Babies R Us box on the table.

Chester grabbed the box and flipped it behind him with the air of a man who’d been doing this for too long and wanted out from behind the frilly welcome table.

Lex understood how he felt. So many of their cousins were having babies, and there were several mixed Chinese-Japanese marriages in the family. Therefore, most cousins opted for these huge—not to mention tiring—traditional Chinese Red Egg and Ginger parties to “present” their newborns, even though the majority of the family was Japanese American.

Lex bent to scrawl her name in the guestbook. Her new sheath dress sliced into her abs, while the fabric strained across her back muscles. Trish had convinced her to buy the dress, and it actually gave her sporty silhouette some curves, but its fitted design prevented movement. She should’ve worn her old loosefitting dress instead. She finished signing the book and looked back to Chester. “How’s the food?” The only thing worthwhile about these noisy events. Lex would rather be at the beach.

“They haven’t even started serving.”

“Great. That’ll put Grandma in a good mood.”

Chester grimaced, then gestured toward the far corner where there was a scarlet-draped wall and a huge gold dragon wall-hanging. “Grandma’s over there.”

“Thanks.” Yeah, Chester knew the drill, same as Lex. She had to go over to say hello as soon as she got to the party— before Grandma saw her, anyway—or Grandma would be peeved and stick Lex on her “Ignore List” until after Christmas.

Lex turned, then stopped. Poor Chester. He looked completely forlorn—not to mention too bulky—behind that silly table. Of all her cousins, he always had a smile and a joke for her. “Do you want to go sit down? I can man the table for you for a while. As long as you don’t forget to bring me some food.” She winked at him.

Chester flashed his toothy grin, and the weary lines around his face expanded into his normal laugh lines. “I appreciate that, but don’t worry about me.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. My sister’s going to bring me something—she’s got all the kids at her table, so she’ll have plenty for me. But thanks, Lex.”

“You’d do the same for me.”

Lex wiggled in between the round tables and inadvertently jammed her toe into the protruding metal leg of a chair. To accommodate the hefty size of Lex’s extended family, the restaurant had loaded the room with tables and chairs so it resembled a game of Tetris. Once bodies sat in the chairs, a chopstick could barely squeeze through. And while Lex prided herself on her athletic 18-percent body fat, she wasn’t a chopstick.

The Chinese waiters picked that exact moment to start serving the food.

Clad in black pants and white button-down shirts, they filed from behind the ornate screen covering the doorway to the kitchen, huge round platters held high above their heads. They slid through the crowded room like salmon—how the heck did they do that?—while it took all the effort Lex had to push her way through the five inches between an aunty and uncle’s
chairs. Like birds of prey, the waiters descended on her as if they knew she couldn’t escape.

Lex dodged one skinny waiter with plates of fatty pork and thumb-sized braised octopus. Another waiter almost gouged her eye out with his platter. She ducked and shoved at chairs, earning scathing glances from various uncles and aunties.

Finally, Lex exploded from the sea of tables into the open area by the dragon wall-hanging. She felt like she’d escaped from quicksand. Grandma stood and swayed in front of the horrifying golden dragon, holding her newest great-granddaughter, the star of the party. The baby’s face glowed as red as the fabric covering the wall. Probably scared of the dragon’s green buggy eyes only twelve inches away. Strange, Grandma seemed to be favoring her right hip.

“Hi, Grandma.”

“Lex! Hi sweetie. You’re a little late.”

Translation: You’d better have a good excuse.

Lex thought about lying, but aside from the fact that she couldn’t lie to save her life, Grandma’s eyes were keener than a sniper’s. “I’m sorry. I was playing grass volleyball and lost track of time.”

The carefully lined red lips curved down. “You play sports too much. How are you going to attract a man when you’re always sweating?”

Like she was now? Thank goodness for the fruity body spritz she had marinated herself in before she got out of her car.

“That’s a pretty dress, Lex. New, isn’t it?”

How did she do that? With as many grandchildren as she had, Grandma never failed to notice clothes, whereas Lex barely registered that she wasn’t naked. “Thanks. Trish picked it out.”

“It’s so much nicer than that ugly floppy thing you wore to your cousin’s wedding.”

Lex gritted her teeth. Respect your grandmother. Do not open your mouth about something like showing up in a polkadotted bikini.

“Actually, Lex, I’m glad you look so ladylike this time. I have a friend’s son I want you to meet—”

Oh, no. Not again. “Does he speak English?”

Grandma drew herself to her full height, which looked a little silly because Lex still towered over her. “Of course he does.”

“Employed?”

“Yes. Lex, your attitude—”

“Christian?”

“Now why should that make a difference?”

Lex widened innocent eyes. “Religious differences account for a lot of divorces.”

“I’m not asking you to marry him, just to meet him.”

Liar. “I appreciate how much you care about me, but I’ll find my own dates, thanks.” Lex smiled like she held a knife blade in her teeth. When Grandma got pushy like this, Lex had more backbone than the other cousins.

“I wouldn’t be so concerned, but you don’t date at all—”

Not going there. “Is this Chester’s niece?” Lex’s voice rose an octave as she tickled the baby’s Pillsbury-Doughboy stomach. The baby screamed on. “Hey there, cutie, you’re so big, betcha having fun, is Grandma showing you off, well, you just look pretty as a picture, are you enjoying your Red Egg and Ginger party? Okay, Grandma, I have to sit down. Bye.”

Before Grandma could say another word, Lex whisked away into the throng of milling relatives. Phase one, accomplished. Grandmother engaged. Retreat commencing before more nagging words like “dating” and “marriage” sullied the air.

Next to find her cousins—and best friends—Trish, Venus, and Jenn, who were saving a seat for her. She headed toward the back where all the other unmarried cousins sat as far away from Grandma as physically possible.

Their table was scrunched into the corner against towering stacks of unused chairs—like the restaurant could even hold more chairs. “Lex!” Trish flapped her raised hand so hard, Lex expected it to fly off at any moment. Next to her, Venus lounged, as gorgeous as always and looking bored, while Jennifer sat quietly on her other side, twirling a lock of her long straight hair. On either side of them …

“Hey, where’s my seat?”

Venus’s wide almond eyes sent a sincere apology. “We failed you, babe. We had a seat saved next to Jenn, but then . . .” She pointed to where the back of a portly aunty’s chair had rammed up against their table. “We had to remove the chair, and by then, the rest were filled.”

“Traitors. You should have shoved somebody under the table.”

Venus grinned evilly. “You’d fit under there, Lex.”

Trish whapped Venus in the arm. “Be nice.”

A few of the other cousins looked at them strangely, but they got that a lot. The four of them became close when they shared an apartment during college, but even more so when they all became Christian. No one else understood their flaws, foibles, and faith.

Lex had to find someplace to sit. At the very least, she wanted to snarf some overpriced, high calorie, high cholesterol food at this torturous party.

She scanned the sea of black heads, gray heads, dyed heads, small children’s heads with upside-down ricebowl haircuts, and teenager heads with highlighting and funky colors.

There. A table with an empty chair. Her cousin Bobby, his wife, his mother-in-law, and his brood. Six—count ’em, six— little people under the age of five.

Lex didn’t object to kids. She liked them. She enjoyed coaching her girls’ volleyball club team. But these were Bobby’s kids. The 911 operators knew them by name. The local cops drew straws on who would have to go to their house when they got a call.

However, it might not be so bad to sit with Bobby and family. Kids ate less than adults, meaning more food for Lex.

“Hi, Bobby. This seat taken?”

“No, go ahead and sit.” Bobby’s moon-face nodded toward the empty chair.

Lex smiled at his nervous wife, who wrestled with an infant making intermittent screeching noises. “Is that …” Oh great. Boxed yourself in now. Name a name, any name. “Uh … Kyle?”

The beleaguered mom’s smile darted in and out of her grimace as she tried to keep the flailing baby from squirming into a face-plant on the floor. “Yes, this is Kylie. Can you believe she’s so big?” One of her sons lifted a fork. “No, sweetheart, put the food down—!”

The deep-fried missile sailed across the table, trailing a tail of vegetables and sticky sauce. Lex had protected her face from volleyballs slammed at eighty miles an hour, but she’d never dodged multi-shots of food. She swatted away a flying net of lemony shredded lettuce, but a bullet of sauce-soaked fried chicken nailed her right in the chest.

Yuck. Well, good thing she could wash—oops, no, she hadn’t worn her normal cotton dress. This was the new silk one. The one with the price tag that made her gasp, but also made her look like she actually had a waist instead of a plank for a torso. The dress with the “dry-clean only” tag.

“Oh! I’m sorry, Lex. Bad boy. Look what you did.” Bobby’s wife leaned across the table with a napkin held out, still clutching her baby whose foot was dragging through the chow mein platter.

The little boy sitting next to Lex shouted in laughter. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t had a mouth full of chewed bok choy in garlic sauce.

Regurgitated cabbage rained on Lex’s chest, dampening the sunny lemon chicken. The child pointed at the pattern on her dress and squealed as if he had created a Vermeer. The other children laughed with him.

“Hey boys! That’s not nice.” Bobby glared at his sons, but otherwise didn’t stop shoveling salt-and-pepper shrimp into his mouth.

Lex scrubbed at the mess, but the slimy sauces refused to transfer from her dress onto the polyester napkin, instead clinging to the blue silk like mucus. Oh man, disgustamundo. Lex’s stomach gurgled. Why was every other part of her athlete’s body strong except for her stomach?

She needed to clean herself up. Lex wrestled herself out of the chair and bumped an older man sitting behind her. “Sorry.” The violent motion made the nausea swell, then recede. Don’t be silly. Stop being a wimp. But her already sensitive stomach had dropped the call with her head.

Breathe. In. Out. No, not through your nose. Don’t look at that boy’s drippy nose. Turn away from the drooling baby.

She needed fresh air in her face. She didn’t care how rude it was, she was leaving now.

“There you are, Lex.”

What in the world was Grandma doing at the far end of the restaurant? This was supposed to be a safe haven. Why would Grandma take a rare venture from the other side where the “more important” family members sat?

“My goodness, Lex! What happened to you?”

“I sat next to Bobby’s kids.”

Grandma’s powdered face scrunched into a grimace. “Here, let me go to the restroom with you.” The bright eyes strayed again to the mess on the front of her dress. She gasped.

Oh, no, what else? “What is it?” Lex asked.

“You never wear nice clothes. You always wear that hideous black thing.”

“We’ve already been over this—”

“I never noticed that you have no bosom. No wonder you can’t get a guy.”

Lex’s jaw felt like a loose hinge. The breath stuck in her chest until she forced a painful cough. “Grandma!

Out of the corner of her eye, Lex could see heads swivel. Grandma’s voice carried better than a soccer commentator at the World Cup.

Grandma bent closer to peer at Lex’s chest. Lex jumped backward, but the chair behind her wouldn’t let her move very far.

Grandma straightened with a frighteningly excited look on her face. “I know what I’ll do.”

God, now would be a good time for a waiter to brain her with a serving platter.

Grandmother gave a gleeful smile and clapped her hands. “Yes, it’s perfect. I’ll pay for breast implants for you!”

© Camy Tang
Used by permission of Zondervan

Note: Unfortunately I did not receive this in time to read it, so I have no review :(

Monday, July 21, 2008

Watcher in the Woods by Robert Liparulo



It's July 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!


and his book:



Thomas Nelson (May 6, 2008)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robert Liparulo is an award-winning author of over a thousand published articles and short stories. He is currently a contributing editor for New Man magazine. His work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Travel & Leisure, Modern Bride, Consumers Digest, Chief Executive, and The Arizona Daily Star, among other publications. In addition, he previously worked as a celebrity journalist, interviewing Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Charlton Heston, and others for magazines such as Rocky Road, Preview, and L.A. Weekly. He has sold or optioned three screenplays.

Robert is an avid scuba diver, swimmer, reader, traveler, and a law enforcement and military enthusiast. He lives in Colorado with his wife and four children.

Here are some of his titles:

House of Dark Shadows (Dreamhouse Kings Book 1)

Comes a Horseman

Germ

Deadfall


Product Details

List Price: $14.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (May 6, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595544968
ISBN-13: 978-1595544964


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

1

At twelve years old, David King was too young to die. At least he thought so.

But try telling that to the people shooting at him.

He had no idea where he was. When he had stepped through the portal, smoke immediately blinded him. An explosion had thrown rocks and who-knew-what into his face. It shook the floor and knocked him off his feet. Now he was on his hands and knees on a hardwood floor. Glass and splinters dug into his palms. Somewhere, all kinds of guns were firing. Bullets zinged overhead, thunking into walls—bits of flying plaster stung his cheeks.

Okay, so he wasn’t sure the bullets were meant for him. The guns seemed both near and far. But in the end, if he were hit, did it matter whether the shooters meant to get him or he’d had the dumb luck to stumble into the middle of a firefight? He’d be just as dead.

The smoke cleared a bit. Sunlight poured in from a school-bus-sized hole in the ceiling. Not just the ceiling—David could see attic rafters and the jagged and burning edges of the roof. Way above was a blue sky, soft white clouds.

He was in a bedroom. A dresser lay on the floor. In front of him was a bed. He gripped the mattress and pushed himself up.

A wall exploded into a shower of plaster, rocks, and dust. He flew back. Air burst from his lungs, and he crumpled again to the floor. He gulped for breath, but nothing came. The stench of fire—burning wood and rock, something dank and putrid—swirled into his nostrils on the thick, gray smoke. The taste of cement coated his tongue. Finally, oxygen reached his lungs, and he pulled it in with loud gasps, like a swimmer saved from drowning. He coughed out the smoke and dust. He stood, finding his balance, clearing his head, wavering until he reached out to steady himself.

A hole in the floor appeared to be trying to eat the bed. It was listing like a sinking ship, the far corner up in the air, the corner nearest David canted down into the hole. Flames had found the blankets and were spreading fast.

Outside, machine-gun fire erupted.

David jumped.

He stumbled toward an outside wall. It had crumbled, forming a rough V-shaped hole from where the ceiling used to be nearly to the floor. Bent rebar jutted out of the plaster every few feet.

More gunfire, another explosion. The floor shook.

Beyond the walls of the bedroom, the rumble of an engine and a rhythmic, metallic click-click-click-click-click tightened his stomach. He recognized the sound from a dozen war movies: a tank. It was rolling closer, getting louder.

He reached the wall and dropped to his knees. He peered out onto the dirt and cobblestone streets of a small village. Every house and building was at least partially destroyed, ravaged by bombs and bullets. The streets were littered with chunks of wall, roof tiles, even furniture that had spilled out through the ruptured buildings.

David’s eyes fell on an object in the street. His panting breath froze in his throat. He slapped his palm over his mouth, either to stifle a scream or to keep himself from throwing up. It was a body, mutilated almost beyond recognition. It lay on its back, screaming up to heaven. Male or female, adult or child, David didn’t know, and it didn’t matter. That it was human and damaged was enough to crush his heart. His eyes shot away from the sight, only to spot another body. This one was not as broken, but was no less horrible. It was a young woman. She was lying on her stomach, head turned with an expression of surprised disbelief and pointing her lifeless eyes directly at David.

He spun around and sat on the floor. He pushed his knuckles into each eye socket, squeegeeing out the wetness. He swallowed, willing his nausea to pass.

His older brother, Xander, said that he had puked when he first saw a dead body. That had been only two days ago—in the Colosseum. David didn’t know where the portal he had stepped through had taken him. Certainly not to a gladiator fight in Rome.

He squinted toward the other side of the room, toward the shadowy corner where he had stepped into . . . wherever this was . . . whenever it was. Nothing there now. No portal. No passage home. Just a wall.

He heard rifle shots and a scream.

Click-click-click-click-click . . . the tank was still approaching.

What had he done? He thought he could be a hero, and now he was about to get shot or blown up or . . . something that amounted to the same thing: Dead.

Dad had been right. They weren’t ready. They should have made a plan.

Click-click-click-click-click.

David rose into a crouch and turned toward the crumbled wall.

I’m here now, he thought. I gotta know what I’m dealing with, right? Okay then. I can do this.

He popped up from his hiding place to look out onto the street. Down the road to his right, the tank was coming into town over a bridge. Bullets sparked against its steel skin. Soldiers huddled behind it, keeping close as it moved forward. In turn, they would scurry out to the side, fire a rifle or machine gun, and step back quickly. Their targets were to David’s left, which meant he was smack between them.

Figures.

At that moment, he’d have given anything to redo the past hour. He closed his eyes. Had it really only been an hour? An hour to go from his front porch to here?

In this house, stranger things had happened. . . .


Personal Review: The second book was just as great as the first, if not better! It kills me that at the end of his books he writes, "NOT the end!" Aaaaaahhh!!! This book is filled with more action and mystery, and leaves you hanging at the edge of the cliff for dear life, and only the next book will be enough to keep you from falling. I think I speak for all of us when I say, "Robert, please hurry up with book 3!!"

Tuesday, July 1, 2008



It is July FIRST, time for the FIRST Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and her latest book's FIRST chapter!




The feature author is:



and her book:

A Mile in My Flip-Flops

WaterBrook Press (June 17, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

In sixth grade, Melody Carlson helped start a school newspaper called The BuccaNews (her school’s mascot was a Buccaneer...arrr!). As editor of this paper, she wrote most of the material herself, creating goofy phony bylines to hide the fact that the school newspaper was mostly a "one man" show.

Visit Melody's website to see all of her wonderful and various book titles.

Don't miss her latest teen fiction, Stealing Bradford (Carter House Girls, Book 2).


Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 336 pages

Publisher: WaterBrook Press (June 17, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1400073146

ISBN-13: 978-1400073146

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


I’m not the kind of girl who wants anyone to feel sorry for her.

So after my fiancé jilted me less than four weeks before our wedding date, and since the invitations had already been sent, my only recourse was to lie low and wait for everyone to simply forget.

Consequently, I became a recluse. If I wasn’t at work, teaching a delightful class of five-year-olds, who couldn’t care less about my shattered love life, I could be found holed up in my apartment, escaping all unnecessary interaction with “sympathetic” friends.

And that is how I became addicted to HGTV and ice cream. Okay, that probably calls for some explanation. HGTV stands for Home and Garden TV, a network that runs 24/7 and is what I consider the highest form of comfort TV. It is habit forming, albeit slightly mind numbing. And ice cream obviously needs no explanation.

Other than the fact that my dad, bless his heart, had seven quart-sized cartons of Ben & Jerry’s delivered to my apartment the day after Collin dumped me. Appropriately enough, dear old Dad (who knows me better than anyone on the planet) selected a flavor called Chocolate Therapy, a product worthy of its name and just as addictive as HGTV.

But now, eighteen months and twenty-two pounds later, I seem to be in a rut. And apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so.

“Come on, Gretchen,” urges my best friend, Holly, from her end of the phone line. “Just come with us–please!”

“Right…,” I mutter as I lick my spoon and dip it back into a freshly opened carton of Chunky Monkey–also appropriately named, but let’s not go there. Anyway, not only had I moved on to new ice cream flavors, but I also had given up using bowls. “Like I want to tag along with the newlyweds. Thanks, but no thanks.”

“Like I keep telling you, we’re not newlyweds anymore,” she insists. “We’ve been married three months now.”

“Yeah…well…”

“And it’s Cinco de Mayo,” she persists, using that little girl voice that I first heard when we became best friends back in third grade. “We always go together.”

I consider this. I want to point out that Holly and I used to always go to the Cinco de Mayo celebration together–as in past tense. And despite her pity for me, or perhaps it’s just some sort of misplaced guilt because she’s married and I am not, I think the days of hanging with my best friend are pretty much over now. The image of Holly and Justin, both good looking enough to be models, strolling around holding hands with frumpy, dumpy me tagging along behind them like their poor, single, reject friend just doesn’t work for me.

“Thanks anyway,” I tell her. “But I’m kind of busy today.”

“So what are you doing then?” I hear the challenge in her voice, like she thinks I don’t have anything to do on a Saturday.

I slump back into the sofa and look over to the muted TV, which is tuned, of course, to HGTV, where my favorite show, House Flippers, is about to begin, and I don’t want to miss a minute of it. “I’m, uh…I’ve got lesson plans to do,” I say quickly. This is actually true, although I don’t usually do them until Sunday evening.

She snickers. “Yeah, that’s a good one, Gretch. I’ll bet you’re vegging out in front of HGTV with a carton of Chocolate Fudge Brownie.”

“Wrong.” Okay, Holly is only partially wrong. Fortunately, I haven’t told her about my latest flavor.

“Come on,” she tries again. “It’ll be fun. You can bring Riley along. He’d probably like to stretch his legs.”

I glance over to where my usually hyper, chocolate Lab mixed breed is snoozing on his LL Bean doggy bed with a chewed-up and slightly soggy Cole Haan loafer tucked under his muzzle. “Riley’s napping,” I say. “He doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Like he wouldn’t want to go out and get some fresh air and sunshine?”

“We already had our walk today."

Holly laughs. “You mean that little shuffle you do over to the itty bitty park across the street from your apartment complex? What’s that take? Like seven and a half minutes for the whole round trip? That’s not enough exercise for a growing dog like Riley.”

“I threw a ball for him to chase.”

“So there’s nothing I can do or say to change your mind?” House Flippers is just starting. “Nope,” I say, trying to end this conversation. “But thanks for thinking of me.”

“Want me to bring you back an empanada?”

“Sure,” I say quickly. “You guys have fun!” Then I hang up and, taking the TV off mute, I lean back into the soft chenille sofa and lose myself while watching a hapless couple from Florida renovate a seriously run-down split-level into something they hope to sell for a profit. Unfortunately, neither of them is terribly clever when it comes to remodeling basics. And their taste in interior design is sadly lacking too. The woman’s favorite color is rose, which she uses liberally throughout the house, and she actually thinks that buyers will appreciate the dated brown tiles and bathroom fixtures in the powder room. By the time the show ends, not only is the house still on the market despite the reduced price and open house, but the couple’s marriage seems to be in real trouble as well.

“Too bad,” I say out loud as I mute the TV for commercials. Riley’s head jerks up, and he looks at me with expectant eyes.

“You just keep being a good boy,” I tell him in a soothing tone. Hopefully, he’ll stretch out this midday nap a bit longer. Because once Riley starts moving, my tiny apartment seems to shrink, first by inches and then by feet.

My hope for an elongated nap crumbles when his tail begins to beat rhythmically on the floor, almost like a warning–thump, thump, thump–and the next thing I know, he’s up and prowling around the cluttered living room. Riley isn’t even full grown yet, and he’s already way too much dog for my apartment. Holly warned me that his breed needed room to romp and play. She tried to talk me into a little dog, like a Yorkie or Chihuahua, but I had fallen for those liquid amber eyes…and did I mention that he’s part chocolate Lab? Since when have I been able to resist chocolate? Besides, he reminded me of a cuddly brown teddy bear. But I hardly considered the fact that he would get bigger.

After he climbed into my lap that day, licking my face and smelling of puppy breath and other things that I knew could be shampooed away, there was no way I could leave him behind at the Humane Society. I already knew that he’d been rejected as a Christmas present. Some dimwitted father had gotten him for toddler twins without consulting Mommy first. Even so, Holly tried to convince me that a good-looking puppy like that would quickly find another home.

But it was too late. I knew Riley was meant for me, and that was that. And I had grandiose ideas of taking him for long walks on the beach. “He’ll help me get in shape,” I assured Holly. She’d long since given up on me going to the fitness club with her, so I think she bought into the whole exercise theory. She also bought Riley his LL Bean deluxe doggy bed, which I could barely wedge into my already crowded apartment and now takes up most of the dining area, even though it’s partially tucked beneath a gorgeous craftsman-style Ethan Allen dining room set. Although it’s hard to tell that it’s gorgeous since it’s pushed up against a wall and covered with boxes of Pottery Barn kitchen items that won’t fit into my limited cabinet space.

“This place is way too small for us,” I say to Riley as I shove the half-full ice cream carton back into the freezer. As if to confirm this, his wagging tail whacks an oversized dried arrangement in a large bronze vase, sending seedpods, leaves, and twigs flying across the carpet and adding to the general atmosphere of chaos and confusion.

My decorating style? Contemporary clutter with a little eclectic disorder thrown in for special effect. Although, to be fair, that’s not the real me. I’m sure the real me could make a real place look like a million bucks. That is, if I had a real place…or a million bucks.

I let out a long sigh as I stand amid my clutter and survey my crowded apartment. It’s been like this for almost two years now.

Overly filled with all the stuff I purchased shortly after Collin proposed to me more than two years ago. Using my meager teacher’s salary and skimpy savings, I started planning the interior décor for our new home. I couldn’t wait to put it all together after the wedding.

“Have you ever heard of wedding presents?” Holly asked me when she first realized what I was doing.

“Of course,” I assured her. “But I can’t expect the guests to provide everything for our home. I figured I might as well get started myself. Look at this great set of espresso cups that I got at Crate & Barrel last weekend for thirty percent off.”

“Well, at least you have good taste,” she admitted as she stooped to admire a hand-tied wool area rug I’d just gotten on sale. Of course, she gasped when she saw the price tag still on it. “Expensive taste too!”

“It’ll last a lifetime,” I assured her, just like the Karastan salesman had assured me. Of course, as it turned out, my entire relationship with Collin didn’t even last two years. Now I’m stuck with a rug that’s too big to fit in this crummy little one-bedroom apartment–the same apartment I’d given Mr. Yamamoto notice on two months before my wedding. It was so humiliating to have to beg to keep it after the wedding was cancelled, but I didn’t know what else to do.

And now, a year and a half later, I’m still here. Stuck. It’s like everyone else has moved on with their lives except me. It wouldn’t be so bad if I had enough room to make myself at home or enough room for Riley to wag his tail without causing mass destruction…or enough room to simply breathe. Maybe I should rent a storage unit for all this stuff. Or maybe I should move myself into a storage unit since it would probably be bigger than this apartment.

As I pick up Riley’s newest mess, I decide the bottom line is that I need to make a decision. Get rid of some things–whether by storage, a yard sale, or charity–or else get more space. I vote for more space. Not that I can afford more space. I’m already strapped as it is.

Kindergarten teachers don’t make a whole lot. I feel like I’ve created a prison for myself. What used to be a convenient hideout now feels like a trap, and these thin walls seem to be closing in on me daily. Feeling hopeless, I flop back onto the couch and ponder my limited options. Then I consider forgetting the whole thing and escaping back into HGTV, which might call for some more ice cream.

But that’s when I look down and notice my thighs spreading out like two very large slabs of ham. Very pale ham, I might add as I tug at my snug shorts to help cover what I don’t want to see, but it’s not working. I stare at my flabby legs in horror. When did this happen?

I stand up now, trying to erase that frightening image of enormous, white thunder thighs. I pace around my apartment a bit before I finally go and stand in front of an oversized mirror that’s leaning against the wall near the front door. This is a beautiful mirror I got half price at World Market, but it belongs in a large home, possibly over a fireplace or in a lovely foyer. And it will probably be broken by Riley’s antics if it remains against this wall much longer.

But instead of admiring the heavy bronze frame of the mirror like I usually do, I actually look into the mirror and am slightly stunned at what I see. Who is that frumpy girl? And who let her into my apartment? I actually used to think I was sort of good looking. Not a babe, mind you, but okay. Today I see a faded girl with disappointed eyes.

Some people, probably encouraged by Holly, a long-legged dazzling brunette, used to say I resembled Nicole Kidman. Although they probably were thinking of when Nicole was heavier and I was lighter. Now it’s a pretty big stretch to see any similarities. To add insult to injury, Nicole has already hit the big “four o,” whereas I am only thirty-two. Her forties might be yesterday’s twenties, but my thirties look more like someone else’s fifties. And I used to take better care of myself. Okay, I was never thin, but I did eat right and got exercise from jogging and rollerblading. Compared to now, I was in great shape. And my long strawberry blond hair, which I thought was my best asset, was usually wavy and fresh looking, although you wouldn’t know that now. It’s unwashed and pulled tightly into a shabby-looking ponytail, which accentuates my pudgy face and pale skin. Even my freckles have faded. It doesn’t help matters that my worn T-shirt (with a peeling logo that proclaims “My Teacher Gets an A+”) is saggy and baggy, and my Old Navy khaki shorts, as I’ve just observed, are too tight, and my rubber flip-flops look like they belong on a homeless person–although I could easily be mistaken for one if I was pushing a shopping cart down the street.

Then, in the midst of this pathetic personal inventory, my focus shifts to all the junk that’s piled behind me–the boxes, the myriad of stuff lining the short, narrow hallway and even spilling into the open door of my tiny bedroom, which can barely contain the queensize bed and bronze bedframe still in the packing box behind it. If it wasn’t so depressing, it would almost be funny. I just shake my head. And then I notice Riley standing strangely still behind me and looking almost as confused as I feel. With his head slightly cocked to one side, he watches me curiously, as if he, too, is afraid to move. This is nuts. Totally certifiable. A girl, or even a dog, could seriously lose it living like this. Or maybe I already have. They say you’re always the last to know that you’ve lost your marbles.

“It’s time for a change,” I announce to Riley. He wags his tail happily now, as if he wholeheartedly agrees. Or maybe he simply thinks I’m offering to take him on a nice, long walk. “We need a real house,” I continue, gathering steam now. “And we need a real yard for you to run and play in.” Of course, this only excites him more.

And that’s when he begins to run about the apartment like a possessed thing, bumping into boxes and furnishings until I finally open the sliding door and send him out to the tiny deck to calm himself.

After he settles down, I go and join him. It’s pretty hot out here, and I notice that the seedling sunflower plants, ones we’d started in the classroom and I’d brought home to nurture along, are now hanging limp and lifeless, tortured by the hot afternoon sun that bakes this little patio. Just one more thing I hate about this place.

So much for my attempt at terrace gardening. I’d seen a show on HGTV that inspired me to turn this little square of cement deck into a real oasis. But in reality it’s simply a barren desert that will only get worse as the summer gets hotter. I feel like I’m on the verge of tears now. It’s hopeless.

This is all wrong. On so many levels. This is not where I was supposed to be at this stage of the game. This is not the life I had planned. I feel like I’ve been robbed or tricked or like someone ripped the rug out from under me. And sometimes in moments like this, I even resent God and question my faith in him. I wonder why he allows things like this to happen. Why does he let innocent people get hurt by the selfishness of others? It just doesn’t make sense. And it’s not fair.

Oh, I’ve tried to convince myself I’m over the fact that my ex fiancé, Collin Fairfield, was a total jerk. And I try not to blame him for being swept away when his high school sweetheart decided, after fifteen years of being apart, that she was truly in love with him. I heard that the revelation came to Selena at the same time she received our engraved wedding invitation, which I did not send to her. She wasn’t even on my list.

And I actually believe that I’ve mostly forgiven Collin…and that sneaky Selena too. And I wish them well, although I didn’t attend their wedding last fall. A girl has to draw the line somewhere.

But all that aside, this is still so wrong. I do not belong in this stuffy little apartment that’s cluttered with my pretty household goods. I belong in a real house. A house with a white picket fence and a lawn and fruit trees in the backyard. And being single shouldn’t mean that I don’t get to have that. There must be some way I can afford a home.

Of course, I’m fully aware that real estate isn’t cheap in El Ocaso. It’s on the news regularly. Our town’s prices certainly aren’t as outrageous as some of the suburbs around San Diego, but they’re not exactly affordable on a teacher’s salary. I try not to remember how much I had in my savings account back before I got engaged and got carried away with spending on my wedding and my home. That pretty much depleted what might’ve gone toward a small down payment on what probably would’ve been a very small house. But, hey, even a small house would be better than this prison-cell apartment.

And that’s when it hits me. And it’s so totally obvious I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. I will become a house flipper! Just like the people on my favorite HGTV show, I will figure out a way to secure a short-term loan, purchase a fixer-upper house, and do the repairs and decorating myself–with my dad’s expert help, of course!

And then, maybe as early as midsummer, I will sell this beautifully renovated house for enough profit to make a good-sized down payment on another house just for me…and Riley. Even if the secondhouse is a fixer-upper too, I can take my time with it, making it just the way I want it. And it’ll be so much better than where I live now.

I’m surprised I didn’t come up with this idea months ago. It’s so totally simple. Totally perfect. And totally me!

“We are going house hunting,” I announce to Riley as I shove open the sliding door and march back inside the apartment. His whole body is wagging with doggy joy as I quickly exchange my too-tight shorts for jeans and then reach for his leather leash and my Dolce & Gabbana knockoff bag–the one I bought to carry on my honeymoon, the honeymoon that never was. I avoid looking at my image in the big mirror as we make a hasty exit.

“Come on, boy,” I say as I hook the leash to his collar at the top of the stairs. “This is going to be fun!” And since this outing is in the spirit of fun, I even put down the top on my VW Bug, something I haven’t done in ages. Riley looks like he’s died and gone to doggy heaven as he rides joyfully in the backseat, his ears flapping in the breeze. Who knows, maybe we’ll find a house for sale on the beach.

Okay, it’d have to be a run-down, ramshackle sort of place that no one but me can see the hidden value in, but it could happen. And while I renovate my soon-to-be wonder house, Riley can be king of the beach. The possibilities seem limitless. And when I stop at the grocery store to pick up real-estate papers, I am impressed with how many listings there are. But I can’t read and drive, so I decide to focus on driving. And since I know this town like the back of my hand, this should be easy.

But thanks to the Cinco de Mayo celebration, the downtown area is crowded, so I start my search on the south end of town, trying to avoid traffic jams. I’m aware that this area is a little pricey for me, but you never know. First, I pull over into a parking lot and read the fliers. I read about several houses for sale, but the prices are staggering.

Even more than I imagined. Also, based on the descriptions and photos, these houses already seem to be in great shape. No fixer-uppers here. Then I notice some condo units for sale, and I can imagine finding a run-down unit in need of a little TLC, but it’s the same situation. According to the fliers, they’re in tiptop, turnkey shape–recently remodeled with granite counters and cherry hardwood floors and new carpeting and prices so high I can’t imagine doing anything that could push them a penny higher. My profit margin and spirits are steadily sinking. Maybe my idea to flip a house has already flopped. Just like the rest of my life.


Excerpted from A Mile in My Flip-Flops by Melody Carlson Copyright © 2008 by Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.



Personal Review: I LOVED this book! I have to say, it was much, much, much better than Mixed Bags. It was like a different person wrote this book. I realize she was writing for an older audience, but I still think A Mile In My Flip-Flops was written better than Mixed Bags. Also, A Mile In My Flip-Flops was written in first person POV, rather than third person, and I believe first is her strongest writing style.

Anyway, I really did enjoy this book. I felt like I was in the house with Gretchen, feeling every disappointment. I rejoiced with her when things were going great, I cried with her when things weren't going so great. And then there's Noah. *big grin and googly-eyed look* Need I say more? Oh yeah, and Kirsten ROCKED! Great job with this one, Melody!