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4

I’ll Be Yours: Chapter One

cream of the crop(1)

So the thing with pre-orders is you often can't see the chapter sample. NO BUENO.
My newsletter friends got a sneak peek of one of my favorite chapters/scenes from I'll Be Yours, but that didn't include the all-important chapter one. So…here 'tis!

image (1)

CHAPTER ONE

Sometimes I stare out my bedroom window, find the North Star, and wonder if it’s shining down elsewhere—on the life I was supposed to live.

A different version.
With different people.
And a different me.

When I was nine, I came to live with the O’Malleys. For my eleventh birthday, they adopted me. Rescued me, really.
They were a family of beautiful, athletic, overachievers.

And me?

Let’s just say if life were a nerd parade, I’d be its grand marshal.

“Harper, you just sighed three times in fifteen minutes.” My mom passed me a bowl of peas. “Are you feeling okay, honey?”

“Yeah.” I handed the offensive vegetables off to the person to my right, pulling my thoughts from the deep, dark edge, then shooting my two brothers a glare at their buffoonish guffaws. “Here, DeShawn. Your favorite.”

“Are you sure?” Mom asked again.

“Maybe after the guys leave, we could talk?”

Her pink lips gave me that familiar smile. “Of course.”

“What’s wrong over there?” my dad asked from the end of a table big enough to feed half of Kentucky and still leave elbow room.

“Nothing.” I adjusted the napkin in my lap, gaining the rapt attention of the two dogs on guard beside me. Jay-Z and Kanye were not stupid. If there was any time to expect floor scraps, it was when the football team came to dine. I’m a vegetarian who eats a whole lot of salads and beans, so the mutts gave up on me long ago.

“I know what’s wrong with her.” My oldest brother, Michael, wore a grin as wicked as a snake rattle.

I felt the earth shift beneath my chair.
Oh, no. Not this. Not now.
Not with them.
“That’s enough, Michael. I don’t need you to—”

“Harper likes a boy.”

Fifteen heads swerved in unison.

I sank lower in my chair. And watched the table explode.
This wasn’t just any dining room table. It was Coach O’Malley’s table. Almost every Sunday, my mom, dad, two brothers, and I sat down for pot roast or fried chicken. And so did about a fourth of the football team from the University of Southern Kentucky.
Voices fired around me like grenades, and I did what any miserable girl could. I reached for more gravy.

“Who is he?”
“He dat punk kid who wears the trench?”
“I want a name!”
“What’s his GPA?”
“He treat his mama right?”
“Where’s that fool live?”
“You got pictures?”
“He got a hot sister?”

Even with my burning face and exasperated thoughts, I couldn’t help but smile.

Though the faces of the players changed through the years, their presence in my life, at my dinner table—it was a constant I held close to my heart.

Most times I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
This wasn’t one of those moments.
I had finally, finally contracted the Love Plague.
And the only remedy was Andrew James Wesley Levin.
A boy so fabulous his parents had to give him three names just to contain all the wonder. He was basically the most amazing junior at Washington High School to ever sit in the trumpet section.
Unfortunately, when it came to guys, I was kind of remedial. We’re talking way behind.

At the age of ten, while my friends were writing love notes, I was watching Shark Week. When I was twelve, my friends all proudly had boyfriends. I just wanted to show off my VIP library card.
But six weeks ago, during an ordinary Monday of my junior year at Washington High, I got it.
The Boy Crazies.
It was as if a fairy had tapped me on my curly head and sprinkled love glitter and man-awareness magic.
Because on that auspicious day in September, not only did Andrew enroll at WHS, but he showed up in my band class.

Boys were scary business to me, but I had resolved to push through the fear this time. I would have a normal crush if it killed me. Not only could I confirm that I liked Andrew, but also I had developed a strategic plan in winning him over. So far I hadn’t implemented it, unless you considered stalking him from afar my warm-up.

The doorbell rang, and the melody was a chime of salvation. “I’ll get it!” I jumped up and ran toward the foyer. Sensing imminent danger, one of the dogs leaped after me, ready to maim someone with slobber.

I cut through the living room, walking past framed pictures hanging on walls and occupying tables. Pictures of my dad clutching championship trophies. My mom smiling at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. My brother Michael shooting a buzzer-beating three. Ten-year-old Cole in a graceful leap over a hurdle.
Oh, look. There was one of me. Holding a band camp certificate.
The bell sounded again, and mid-impatient ding, I swung the door wide open.

And I did not like what I saw.

I blinked against the sun, the heat, the arrogance.

On my front step stood Ridley Estes.

I took in his dark jeans and his Washington Wildcat T-shirt, observing a tiny hole in his sleeve and the outline of muscles sculpted from years of football. A baseball cap covered the short-cropped black hair that complemented his Latin skin, which looked forever tan. Pasty white girls like myself noticed these sorts of things.

“Hello . . .” His voice trailed off, as if he’d just hung a question mark in the air.

“Harper,” I reminded him. “My name is Harper.” I gave my best first-chair trumpet stare of intimidation. But it was no use for the one the girls called Ridley with all the reverence and awe usually reserved for pop stars and movie heartthrobs. Wide receiver of my high school football team, a little too rugged to be an Abercrombie model, king of campus, and unexpected guest. A guy who’d clearly made an illicit deal with the underworld.

I couldn’t stand his type. Too cool to be aware of the rest of us
mere mortals. Used to everyone oohing and aahing over him.

“Harper,” he said, trying my name out on his lips. “I knew that.”

“Oh, no reason to.” His crooked grin was a rubber band on the sunburn of my annoyance. “Just because we’ve been at the same school for four years, we had art together, and last year your locker was over mine.” Constantly hitting me in the head while he snuggled up to some honey. “No reason at all.”

He cocked his head as his brown eyes studied me. “I’m sensing some anger issues here, Harper. You might want to do something about that. Frustration could shrivel up some of those genius brain cells.”

Before I could respond, he looked past my shoulder and straightened his six-foot posture.

“Can I help you with something?” I asked. Like letting some air out of that ego?

He stared right through me. “Your brother invited me to lunch.”

“With the team? I doubt—”

“Ridley!” Michael stood behind me and nudged me out of the way.

“Don’t mind her. Come on in. Get yourself a seat.”

The two filed on into the dining room, and I was left to walk in their shadow.

“Dad, you know Ridley.”

My dad’s smile slipped as he sent a sharp eye to Michael. “Son, we live and die by NCAA rules in this house,” he said quietly. “I don’t have to tell you that possible recruits cannot be sitting with me at my dining room table.”

“He’s not.” My brother plopped back in his seat and grabbed another cob of corn. “He’s sitting at my dinner table.”

Dad mumbled something about a waiver and violations, but nobody else seemed too concerned.

So Ridley was a possible University of Southern Kentucky recruit. I knew he was good, but I hadn’t known he was that good. Normally my dad liked boys who had decent GPAs and stayed out of trouble. Surely that counted Ridley out.

The campus darling settled into a chair beside my brother.

Forks paused. Water glasses stopped mid-sip.
The stare down began. Happened every time a new person sat at our table, especially one who had his eye on being an Eagle. My football family was protective of us. Plus, they didn’t like to share Mom’s chocolate pie.

Mom cleared her throat. “Well, I’m glad you can join us.” She gave the team the discreet glare that promised dish duty to anyone not behaving. “We always love having the kids’ friends around. You know Harper, right?”

“Oh, yeah.” Ridley had the nerve to smile. “We go way back.”

My mother introduced my younger brother, then quickly named off the team.

Michael sent the senior captain a look that said, “He’s cool.”

Dominic Vago nodded, then smacked Ridley on the back. “Get you some potatoes. Mama O’Malley makes some mean mashed potatoes.”

“Yeah.” Tyler Nicholson talked with his mouth around a bite of green beans. “You gotta try her garlic bread too. She makes that herself, dude. It’s not frozen or nothing.”

“You guys are so sweet.” My mom’s face flushed pink as my dad wrapped an arm around her chair and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

“The lady can cook,” Dad said. “These Sunday lunches will add at least another hour to your workout.”

Ridley took the platter of roast from the junior wide receiver.

“Sounds worth it to me.”

“Harper”—Marcus Ross pushed up his glasses with a fat finger—“you were telling us the name of this boy you like.”

My eyes automatically flew to Ridley. Then away. Anywhere but him. “No. No, I wasn’t.”

“Yeah, she’s wasn’t,” said my ten year-old brother. “Michael was.”

I shot my oldest brother a look promising creative forms of death and torture. To no avail.

“His name is Andrew Levin.”

“No, it’s not!” I shook my head like my hair was on fire. “It’s not. I don’t like anyone. That’s just the name of some boy at school. Michael, I don’t even know where you got that.”

Cole took a bite of potatoes. “Your laptop. The file labeled diary.”

The blood drained from my face, my arms, my legs. If I looked down, surely there would be a pool of it at my feet.

“Did you read your sister’s diary?” Mom’s voice carried an edge that let my brother know he would be dealt with later.

“He like you back?” Marcus asked.

Marcus sat at my right, and I had to admit he was one of my favorites. Overweight, short, and totally in the closet. The book-reading closet, that is. Over the past two years, we’d spent many an hour talking Harry Potter, Shakespeare, and the psychology crap his professors made him read.

“He does not like her back,” Cole said. “Ow! Quit kicking me, Michael. You told me that’s what it said.”

I wanted to die. I wanted to flop in the floor like an oxygen-deprived fish in my torment and slip away into the great beyond—far, far away from this inhumane humiliation. My brothers were clearly conspiring to make sure I had zero self-respect left. Might as well announce to the table that I’d never had a date. That I’d never been properly kissed. That the only reason I had boobs was because I bought them at Victoria’s Secret.

“He’d be a fool not to chase you, Harper.” My dad smiled and gave me his comforting slow wink. Just one drop of the eyelid, one easy grin, and for a few seconds, I felt special. Beautiful.
I just wished it was enough for Andrew Levin.

“We should probably meet this dude.” Tyler Nicholson turned to Michael. “You know him?”

“Nah.”

“I do.” Ridley set down a pitcher of tea and looked right at me.
At this, the whole team broke out into celebration, like the boy had just handed off the game-winning pass.

“Let’s hear it.” Dominic cut into his roast beef. “Oh, girl, you in trouble now.”

“Maybe we should respect her privacy,” Marcus said.

“Yes, let’s.” I stared down every single member of the team.

Fifteen men dropped their attention back to their plates, and knives and forks clanked as they quietly returned to their lunch.

“Then again,” laughed Marcus, “she’s always up in my business.”

The table once again erupted into shouts, and soon the questions flew anew. Only this time for Ridley.

Mr. Arrogance watched me from the opposite end of the table, a pirate’s smile curving those lips. “I could talk to him for you, Harper.”

“That won’t be necessary.” As I expected to self-combust within the next minute.

“Just think,” Michael said. “If the Eagles offer Ridley a contract, he’ll be eating with us every Sunday.”

I glared at my brother’s newest annoying friend.

I was angry that he had shown up. Even more angry at my brothers.

But determined more than ever to be Andrew Levin’s next girlfriend.

Amazon Discounted Preorder: http://amzn.com/B01C26YF14
iBook DiscountPreorder: apple.co/21lhYM0

2

Books, Cats, and Cootchie Coo

By this time next week I will be back to school, ending one very short, but restful summer. But I don't want to talk about that. Quit bringing it up. Rude.

Don't forget, if you want to get in the drawing for books 1-4 of Shelley Adina's All About Us YA series, just go HERE to read the contest instructions. You have until Thursday night to enter. Winner will be announced Friday!

You can now read not just the prologue, but also the first chapter of Just Between You and Me, which hits shelves the first week of September.

Did you hear that Paula has announced she will not be back to American Idol? This makes me sad. I know she's…um, different. And when I say different, I mean often incoherent, a weird clapper, and glassy eyed. But you have to admit, she was so much more “with it” this past season. And I think her unpredictability (Will she be drunk? Did she chug NyQuil? Did she have a little Xanax coctail? Is that her real hair? If she wasn't leaning on Simon, would she fall over?)  is a draw to the show. It keeps things interesting. I think she provides a nice, if not buzzed, contrast to Cowell. I'm thinking about writing my Congressman. The one who calls my house and leaves nice, personal prerecorded messages.

Someone asked me yesterday about where the title came from for Just Between You and Me. The name came from page 72 of a book I have called “Book Titles That Will Guarantee You a Pulitzer.”  But sometimes we don't pick our own titles. And while I've had good luck myself, I would like to hire out whoever came up with the titles for Pregnesia. Or Covert Cootchie Coo.  Pregnesia? Is it just me or is her preggo stomach like 100 miles from her chest? I wonder if this is marketing at play. Like “Let's come up with the worst title ever and maybe people will buy it to see if the book contents are equally as ridiculous.” Because let me tell you, if I was in Barnes and Noble and saw Covert Cootchie Coo, I would be sorely tempted to pick it up. If no one was looking. And I'd had at least three double shot frappachinos. And I had taken some of Paula's “vitamins.”

I loved the movie Iron Man. Now I know where they got their inspiration.

Am I the only one who thinks that thing looks like it isn't quite ready for prime time? And notice none of the men in the video were smiling. Probably because they had just peed their pants.

The new edition of Christian Fiction Online Magazine is up. You can read it HERE. Author Jill Williamson gives us a nice shoutout in “All About YA.”  I love to read her YA column every month and had NO IDEA that was going to be in there. It's very weird to read about yourself. But nice. And clearly she got my $100.00 check I sent last month “just because.”

I'm loving your answers to the question “What's the best book you've read in 2009.” You guys have great taste in books. Some of them I haven't read, and I'm gonna have to make a list. Awesome recommendations. Don't you love talking books? A book I've read recently is by new YA author Stephanie Morrill. She was kind enough to send me her debut novel Me, Just Different. Girls, you will like this book.  It's about Skylar Hoyt, a girl who is soo popular and quite the boy magnet. (What? Is this my biography? Did I sign off on this?)  So even though I couldn't relate to that aspect of the book, teen girls will like Skylar's story. She is a girl who is seemingly perfect on the outside (did I mention she's exotically beautiful as well?) but within the walls of her home, things are falling apart. And there's one night at a party Skylar cannot forget. Not to mention, there's a love triangle! How can you resist a love triangle? I know I can't. This is the first book in a series and is getting some great reviews.

Another book that I can recommend is Robert Liparulo's Timescape. It's also a YA (young adult). I wanted to read it and give it a review, but…um, there's this page in the opening of the book that tells you you have to have read the previous books in the series before proceeding. And it's right. I couldn't get very far. But I read enough to see it was SO fast paced and suspenseful. I loved that. And it starts with a bang. Like immediately in the book you're thrown into action. You can read a synopsis and see a link to a sample chapter below my signature. And also check out the link for a contest for Robert's books. You might need them if you're gonna pick up Timescape.

So I have this drawer in my kitchen I call the “Receipt, Owner Manual, and County Fair Pen” drawer. Every once in a while I have to empty it all out and throw away pretty much all of it. I mean, I keep the owner's manuals for appearance's sake, but Lord knows I've never actually read one. (Actually this weekend I bought a new weed eater, and putting it together involved reading one whole page of instructions. I was like, “Ohhhhhh. It's so hard. I need to recline on a chaise. Do I have one of those? No? Okay, I'll just eat a Snickers instead.”)  I should've taken a picture of myself reading directions. Anyway, so I  had the drawer in the floor of my office, and Miller, Kitty Pukes-A-Lot, who has pretty much divorced himself from me in the last year and only comes out to meow at the door or eat kibbles…decides to make an appearance. Of all times.july-aug-09-019

“I personally like owner's manuals. Quite comfortable in fact.”

And that ended my cleaning frenzy. The drawer is still in the floor. And the cat is back to completely ignoring me.

So have a great rest of the week.  Don't get pregnesia!

JEN

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Timescape
Thomas Nelson (July 14, 2009)
by
Robert Liparulo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robert Liparulo is a former journalist, with over a thousand articles and multiple writing awards to his name. His first novel, Comes a Horseman, released to critical acclaim. Each of his subsequent thrillers—Germ, Deadfall, and Deadlock—secured his place as one of today’s most popular and daring thriller writers.

He is known for investing deep research and chillingly accurate predictions of near-future scenarios into his stories. In fact, his thorough, journalistic approach to research has resulted in his becoming an expert on the various topics he explores in his fiction, and he has appeared on such media outlets as CNN and ABC Radio.

Liparulo’s visual style of writing has caught the eye of Hollywood producers. Currently, three of his novels for adults are in various stages of development for the big screen: the film rights to Comes A Horseman. were purchased by the producer of Tom Clancy’s movies; and Liparulo is penning the screenplays for GERM and Deadfall
for two top producers. He is also working with the director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, Holes) on a political thriller. Novelist Michael Palmer calls Deadfall “a brilliantly crafted thriller.” March 31st marked the publication of Deadfall’s follow-up, Deadlock, which novelist Gayle Lynds calls, “best of high-octane suspense.”

Liparulo’s bestselling young adult series, Dreamhouse Kings, debuted last year with House of Dark Shadows and Watcher in the Woods. Book three, Gatekeepers, released in January, and number four, Timescape, in July. The series has garnered praise from readers, both young and old, as well as attracting famous fans who themselves know the genre inside and out. Of the series, Goosebumps creator R.L. Stine says, “I loved wandering around in these books. With a house of so many great, haunting stories, why would you ever want to go outside?”

With the next two Dreamhouse books “in the can,” he is currently working on his next thriller, which for the first time injects supernatural elements into his brand of gun-blazing storytelling. The story is so compelling, two Hollywood studios are already in talks to acquire it—despite its publication date being more than a year away. After that comes a trilogy of novels, based on his acclaimed short story, which appeared in James Patterson’s Thriller anthology. New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry calls Liparulo’s writing “Inventive, suspenseful, and highly entertaining . . . Robert Liparulo is a storyteller, pure and simple.” He lives with his family in Colorado.

ABOUT THE BOOK

David, Xander, Dad, and Keal have discovered a terrible secret. Now, finding Mom is only a small part of their mission. And time is running out. Using the portals to build an empire, Taksidian wants the house for himself, and there's nothing he won't do to get the family out. The consequences of his meddling reach far beyond the family–to the future of the world itself. The Kings know their survival depends on stopping the bloodthirsty assassin. If only they can find his weakness in time.

Most startling of all is their ability to change the path of history. But will their tinkering in time reunite the family and save the future . . . or set mankind on an irreversible course of destruction?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Timescape, go HERE

Enter the contest to win this book package by clicking on the image!!!

9

Sneak Peek Friday

Congrats to Sherry and Sherrinda, winners of The Big Picture, book three in the Katie Parker series. Ladies, email me (jen at jennybjones dot com) your home addies, and I'll get those books out to you.

My website has had some updates from the fabulous team at PulsePoint Design, and the prologue to Just Between You and Me is up. I thought I'd post it here as well.

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Here's a quick blurb of the story:

A novel of losing fear and finding God.
Maggie lives life on the edge, seemingly unafraid of anything. But the image she so carefully constructed is coming undone. Her job as a videographer takes her around the world. She tells people’s stories, especially those of impoverished children. That’s when she feels most alive, like she’s making the world better.

But when a secret from her past resurfaces, Maggie gets a call that sends her home. Her dad desperately needs her help. Her estranged sister has run off, leaving 8-year-old Riley in his care. She returns reluctantly, hoping to help her niece. There she reconnects with Cooper–a once awkward and shy, now handsome, veterinarian. Her feelings skyrocket when she’s with him, but she’s afraid if she shows him her true self, he’ll reject her.

An honest, hilarious journey that will transform Maggie–if she just learns to trust more and fear less.

Just Between You and Me: Prologue

To some women, fear is a man walking out the front door and never coming back. To others, it's looking at that black dress in the back of your closet and knowing–without a divine miracle or the return of the corset–you'll never be a size six again.

For me, in this moment right now, it's a Parisian river calm enough to lull a baby to sleep. And yet my palms are so slick with sweat, I can hardly maintain my grip on the boat rail. My heart beats violently in my chest and I haven't heard a word that's been said in the last hour.

“Here we go. Step off nice and easy.” Pierre, our guide, assists the captain by leaping onto the dock and tying the small vessel in place.

The crew of Passport to the World climbs out one by one. I go last, waiting for the black spots to subside as I stand and fight with gravity's pull on my wobbly knees.

“You did great, Maggie.” Carley, my friend and producer, pats me on the back as I focus on everything but the water. Unlike the rest of my coworkers, she's the only one who doesn't ignore the fact that I turn into a psychotic mess anytime I have to shoot a location involving water. Sometimes I can get an intern or another cinematographer to cover for me, but I have to pick those battles. And hte lazy Seine is not worth calling in a sub.

“You need therapy,” Carley says.

“I need a chocolate eclair.”

She shields her eyes from the noonday sun and hands me a Dasani from her bag. “Let's get some more footage at that cafe by the Champs-Elysees. I'm considering coming to Paris for my honeymoon. What do you think?”

My job as cinematographer for the travel show can be glamorous as the Eiffel Tower at sunset or as unattractive as a night in a leaky hut in Cambodia. Last year we became the number one show on Travel TV, picked up a few awards, and got moved to a killer time slot. I should be on top of the world–thrilled with life. But somehow lately I'm not.

My pocket buzzes, and I reach in and pull out my phone. My dad. Calling again. And two messages from John, my boyfriend. Are men born with a guidebook on how to be a nuisance? I could travel to the ends of the earth and some man would find me and expect some big sacrifice from me. Like a text. Or a date. Or a returned call. But I'm a busy person! I have things to do. Cities of the world to film. A week-old People magazine to read. And a candy bar in my bag that has been calling my name for the past two hours.

Getting out of the rented sedan, I stretch my arms, then reach for my camera.

“I want to talk to the cafe owner,” Carley says. “Will you translate again?”

“Sure.” We walk across the busy street and into the quaint restaurant. “Where's the owner?” I ask a waiter in French, reminding him who we are and why we're here.

He jerks his  head toward the back. “He's taking a cigarette break.” The slim man stares at his full tables, his brows furrowing as someone shouts a drink order.

“If it's okay, I'll get him” I shoo the waiter away. “Don't worry about us.”

I weave through the diners and back into the bustling kitchen, throwing up a hand in greeting to the staff. “Bonjour!” My eyes land on a partially opened back door, and I slip through it, blinking at the sun.

Beside me a Dumpster rumbles, and I gasp as I see two little legs sticking out, wiggling with the effort of digging.

“Hey,” I say automatically, then call out a greeting in French. “Salut!” I walk up to the Dumpster and tug on a dirty shoe.

A head pops up, and I'm face-to-face with a small boy, his cheeks smudged with grime, fear making his eyes round as dessert plates. He flings from the trash like a gymnast, his feet landing on the ground.

I hold out a hand. “Attends!” Wait!

Without a backward glance, he takes off in a  spring, running as fast as his little legs will carry him, dropping food behind like crumbs on a trail.

I sling my camera over my shoulder and race to the edge of the building, my lens trained on the slender blur. “Wait, please!” I shout to him in two different languages but he just keeps moving.

“Beggars.”

I whirl around and find the restaurant owner behind me. “Did you know him?”

He gestures toward the direction the boy ran. “What is there to know of one such as him? He is a thief and a pubic nuisance.”

My heart twists in my chest. “But he's so young. So thin.” I step back toward the restaurant. “Obviously he was hungry.”

The owner laughs, his belly making his shirt dance. “I have a business to run. I cannot feed every stray dog that shows up here.”

My breath catches with the insult, but I bite my tongue, knowing Carley would throw me out like a stale croissant if I made him mad and ruined her interview. “Does he live nearby?”

“Who cares?” He slams the lid down on his Dumpster and flings open the cafe door. He steps back inside, leaving an odor of cigarettes.

Who cares? Sometimes I ask myself that very same question. Could I have helped that little boy if he hadn't run away?

For a moment I stand there, the yellow sun beating down on my own red head. Who am I to help anyone anyway? I'm a girl with a camera and a suitcase. Nothing much more to give.

Because I've seen the world.

But sometimes I wonder. . . has it ever seen me?

*********

Stay tuned and we'll post chapter one soon. Next week…more book giveaways!
Have a great weekend!

JEN

20

But Normally I Love McDonald’s…

Happy Monday! In a few weeks I won't be able to say happy Monday without bursting into tears. It's almost time to go back to s-c-h-o-o-l. Oh, summer…we're so good together. Why must we part ways?

I'm giving away two copies of The Big Picture this week. This is the last book in the Katie Parker Production series and is up for YA Book of the Year by the American Christian Fiction Writers. The question I get the MOST in reader emails is if there will be a fourth Katie book to wrap some things up. The short answer is no. The complicated answer would be never say never. But for now…let's say no. But Katie and Mad Maxine live happily ever after, whatever that means for you. I always giggle over the pro-Charlie emails and the pro-Tate emails. Anyway, if you would like to get in the running for a copy of The Big Picture, you must fill in the blank for this statement:
__________________ never fails to make me laugh.

You can't pick me or one of my books. That would be total suckuppage. Not that I don't respect that sort of thing. But maybe a movie, a person you know, a book, a commercial, or a word. For example the word “duty” always makes me smile, if not laugh. It takes me right back to a Friends episode.  Janet Evanovich makes me laugh. As does Dave Barry. And my friend Sheila. Nacho Libre never fails to make me laugh. I find something new to laugh about every time. Ninth graders make me laugh. People falling or running into things on TV or movies makes me laugh. Oh, the list is too long. But you get the idea.

Something that did not make me laugh was the book Time Travelers Wife. Have you read it? Actually, I must confess, I only read about 1/3 of it because I got bored (and apparently I am a freak exception because I think the entire world loved this book). The movie preview looks good.

Having your man randomly disappear on you would be SO annoying.
You'd be all like, “Take out the trash, would you?”
And he'd be, “Uh-oh. Gee, I'd love to but…”
“No, do NOT start that crap again.”
“Yeah, sorry. Gotta go. See you next year. Don't forget the recyclables.”

How lame would that be? I remember a lonnng time ago, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, his then wife, bought the rights to The Time Travelers Wife. I wonder what became of that. Did they still have it when they divorced? Who got it? I hope Team Aniston did. I hope the movie does well because Eric Bana needs something to his resume besides “I Hulk out real good.”

Can you believe it's been ten years since we first saw Star Wars: Episode I? (Actually I didn't see it, but again, the rest of the world liked it.)  Check out little Anakin Skywalker. He's grown up.

Okay, so let's finish up my fascinating and intellectually inspiring trip pics, shall we? Here's a good one.
P1020367

Girls, if you must show skin between your pants and shirt, maybe just make sure you're not wearing your grandma's underwear? They do NOT match the chained gloves.

We went through a few castles, and not a single one had a much-needed escalator. Or a drawbridge. Could've at least had draw bridges. Anyway, people were really REALLY skinny back in the day. Here's why.
P1020916
Because they had to be in order to get from one floor to the other. Seriously these stairwells are steep and for tiny feet and nonwhiners and people who are no more than six inches across. Like dwarfs and two-year-olds. The doorways were often short as well because apparently people back in the day were short. It was like I found my homeland.

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See the woman in the white coat and white hair? Okay, the guy on her left is NOT George Bush. But he sure looked like him. I took like a million pics of him because he kept moving and the lighting was so bad. A woman next to me finally offered to move and let me get closer. I was like, “Oh, thank you. But I like to stalk my strangers from afar. It's the polite thing to do.”

We went to a dinner in the Bunratty Castle in Ireland on our last night. It was really good. Their costumes were mostly good.
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Check out those…pants. I don't know what you call that getup. But I do know what you call the shoes. Sketchers.

This advertisement got my attention at the airport in Ireland.
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Let's get a closeup…
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The Irish on the whole are pretty health conscious people. On candy bars, for example, which um, I saw a lot of, there is a big fat number on the front that tells you what percentage of fat/calories that is for your daily intake. I figured it was off due to that whole metric system thing, so I just ignored it. The warning labels on cigarettes were subtle little things as well.
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Wow. Smoke these and die!!!! When we got back home, I heard Obama signed a bill to have these same warning labels on our cigs. That's so Irish of him. (Dear President Obama, I have kept pretty quiet in terms of voicing any negativity about you and your administration. But if you put those fat percentage labels on our candy bars, I will turn into a Medusa of negativity. And in further retaliation, if I see your lookalike in a foreign country, I will never take your picture. Never.)

On our way to see the Highlands in Scotland, we stopped at this little cafe out in the middle of nowhere. I was surprised how CUTE it was. Made me want to go home and paint.
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And then I looked up. And saw what all the cafes back home were missing.
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Disco Ball!

This ancient catapult thingie got me to thinking about my classroom discipline.
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For some reason the airline wouldn't let me carry it on.

On our bus ride through the Highlands, my friend Kim and I lucked into sitting behind these two lovebirds.
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Blondie kissed her boyfriend's cheek every three minutes. Without fail. Ever.
Drove. Me. Nuts.
And gag noises did not deter them. I think his cheek was bleeding at the end of the tour. I did not offer a Band-Aid.

I can't remember where I was when I took this photo–I think in a museum. But apparently there is a food and hygiene scheme of some sort in Scotland.
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I would like to know what this scheme is. Should food care about its hygiene? These things I do not know.

Here's a McDonald's in Edinburgh, Scotland. Isn't it fancy? (Ashley of Thomas Nelson, that's for you)
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When I saw this though, I wanted to make a citizen's Food and Hygiene Scheme arrest.
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Would you like crack with your fries?

If I had to look at it, I thought you should too. I won't even tell you the nifty way we got that picture, but we are smooth criminals by now at getting what I call “People Who Should Not Be Allowed in Public” shots.

This McDonald's did have great bathrooms though. Check out this huge flush button!
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You can totally flush with your head! Very handy for those of you who don't like to touch the flusher with your hands.

In Ireland, we were driving around and in need of a bathroom stop. My friend yells, “There's a bathroom! Look at that huge sign!”
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We laughed about that all week.

Back in Scotland, we took two different bus tours. On the last one, we went to see Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, and a famous castle that wasn't open, but they'd still take your money and let you walk in to find out all you can see is the courtyard. (In the driving rain. Three drowned girls. Three TICKED girls. Much chocolate was eaten THAT night.) Anyway, we were on a small bus for this day, and the driver was CRAZY. Did 20 mph over the speed limit on curves that were just a series of u-turns. And yes, I watched the speedometer like a neurotic grandmother. So the driver began the tour by warning us the path was curvy, and we might want to put on these magnetic “motion sickness” bracelets. My friends and I all get a little queasy on bad car rides, but nothing serious. So of course I was NOT gonna wear that dorky magical thing on my wrist.  Okay, so fast forward a few hours.
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This is my friend Leslie video taping me in the front seat. Where I had to move. So I would stop sweating. And my eyes would stop watering. And I could put on one of those stupid magnetic bracelets. And I could roll down the window. So I wouldn't barf.

Before I moved, Leslie looked across the row and asked, “How are you feeling?”
I smiled. “A little puke-alicious.” I was mostly kidding.
Ten minutes later, I was not kidding. But I was determined to not cause a scene. I do NOT get car sick!
Leslie said she knew we were in trouble when I took off my jacket. Because it was like winter in Scotland. And I'm never NOT cold.
But I've also never been on a bus where the driver wanted to punish us all for England's sins and drive like a demented freak until I was ready to swear my allegiance to Rob Roy and sing “Scotland the Brave” if she would JUST STOP.

Anyway, Leslie made the driver stop, and I just moved up front. Totally embarrassing. But I was too busy sweating through my clothes and finding the pulse point on my wrist to notice much.

Finally, I leave you with this picture. These type of sinks are everywhere in Ireland.
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And every SINGLE time I saw one, I thought it said, “American Skanks.”

Have a great week. Don't forget to answer the question of the week. I'll draw two winners Thursday night and announce Friday.
JEN

7

More Breathtaking Pictures of My Vacation

Wow, thanks so much for all your comments about the book covers. Very, very helpful. It's like the pigs vs. the cows around here. You guys could totally have your own musical. (“When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way. From your first cigarette, to your last dyin' day!”)

Thanks for all the poison ivy weirdo bug bite well wishes. I think of you every time I inspect my various rashes.

I thought I'd continue showing you my lovely scenic pictures of my trip to Ireland and Scotland. Prepare yourself for the awe inspiring grandeur.

As mentioned, we visited quite a few museums. This one was at one of my favorite stops, Clonmacnoise.  I don't remember who this guy was supposed to be.
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“I'm Igor. I can't find my Chi this morning!”
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“Please, Igor. Grab my hand. I'll fix your hair for you…”

Clonmacnoise is THE place to see Celtic crosses and was just beautiful. This is on my desktop right now.
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This one is genuinely pretty I think.

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We were in Galway, Ireland on our last few nights in that country. The rainbow was much more pronounced, but I couldn't' get it. Isn't Ireland beautiful?

This one is almost as pretty as a rainbow.
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This was such a novelty to me. You can find these motion sensor trash cans in Super Mac's, the Irish version of a McDonald's. Not only do they sense you standing near and open up so you don't have to touch the nasty trash can (which is always full, and then you have to touch the bin AND the trash!), but it tells you to have a good day and thanks you for your patronage. Frankly, I do not get thanked enough for eating fries and cheeseburgers, and I found this uplifting to say the least.

This is one of those “only funny to people with brain malfunction” things. This was the Dasani of Ireland.
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Vulvic is everywhere. And it's so close to other words, that it became the butt of many jokes for us. In fact, we pretty much worked the word “vulvic” into any conversation possible.

Small cars rule anywhere BUT America.
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I saw it and immediately thought, “If I ever have to pick a moon rover, this is gonna be it.” My brother and I used to play this Atari game called Moon Patrol, and this car totally would've been on there.
We drove through Ireland for the four days we were there. And when I say “we,” I mean my two friends, as I was not allowed to get behind the wheel. My perfect driving skills make them jealous, and they retaliated by sticking me in the back seat. But that's okay because it took me most of the trip to get acclimated to the time change (plus it is light as day in the evenings, so NO SLEEPING= GREAT combination! Also equals me passing out in car every time the key was put in the ignition). One of our goals was to see some sheep in the road. (We are women of simple tastes and basic agricultural wants…)

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We saw plenty. Of course we stopped and talked to them. But they weren't really having it.
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“We're outta here. We don't want to talk about economic policy and Lady GaGa.”

We also saw a lot of these things. Baby bubbles.
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Has baby bubble wrap made it to America yet? It made me hyperventilate just looking at it. I wanted to unzip every one I saw. I guess it's so rainy in Ireland and Scotland though, if you're gonna be out, you need something. (I actually have no idea. I just made that up. I'm just determined there is a logical reason for putting your infant in the human equivalent of a Glad-Lock.)

There are many reasons I could live in Ireland, but this is a big one.

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Ice cream! There are ice cream “signs” everywhere. I love that! Just like a national symbol for hospital, deer crossing, or train tracks, Ireland has a nationally recognized beacon of my favorite frozen dairy product. And these cones are everywhere. They must really like their ice cream there. Just another reason the Irish are good folk.
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We stayed in four different bed and breakfasts between the two countries. Here is our room in Galway. Very 80s country, but we still liked it a lot.
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The woman who ran this place was so nice, a great cook, and full of stories. I could've listened to her for hours. She had seen a lot in her 35 years of running a B&B.  But do you know the true mark of a great bed and breakfast?
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Toilet paper cozies!!!

When my friend almost blew up my hand in the woman's house, I was afraid we were gonna be just another tale.
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See, we were having adapter problems. Our plug-ins don't fit in Ireland or pretty much anywhere else. So you need an adapter kit. And Leslie told me to try plugging in my hair dryer without one piece. Which piece, you ask? Oh, the piece that stops the fire from coming out of the socket, shocking your body, going BAM!, making your hand all black, making you say something you shouldn't, making your friend ask if your arm was still attached, and making you both laugh so hard you nearly pee your pants because you're so grateful you didn't burn down a nice lady's house or get a limb blown off.

In Doolan, my favorite Irish town, we had a little time to kill, so we went to a cave and saw the world's largest  stalagtite open to the public.
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I can't remember how tall it was. I think 23 feet.We walked down about 200 feet below ground level. We get to the bottom, and this guy from Egypt says, “I gotta go. Where are the bathrooms?” Um…you know those stairs we've been walking down for the last 15 minutes? Start walking.

We had to wear hard hats down in the cave. I've seen enough scary movies to be totally okay with that. Could've caved in. Could've had giant worms.
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It goes without saying that I was disappointed we didn't have headlights on our hats.

This is my friend Leslie right before she told me to watch my head.
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“For what?” I ran right into something. “Oh. You mean for that.”

Not that you can see it here, but in some places, the clocks were set military time.
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This really messed with my head. Not only do you think it's seven a.m. all night because the sun never sleeps here, but when you're still up in the wee hours of the morning, you have to do MATH!  Twelve plus three…

That's all my trip pics for this week. But don't worry, there are more where those came from.  Switching gears, did anyone watch So You Think You Can Dance this week? Mary's voice…there are no words. Ellen was funny, but she was on there why? And I can't believe who got sent home this week. But most importantly, what did you think of Katie Holmes song and dance? Why did she lip-sync? She didn't move enough to require that. I LOVED the Zombie dance. That was awesome. (If someone finds a YouTube clip, let me know!)

Have a fabulous weekend. We just learned The Big Picture is a finalist in the ACFW Book of the Year contest for YA, so I'll be giving away copies of the last installment in the Katie Parker series next week. See you then!

JEN

5

Boredom Busters and Other Ways To Waste Time

WOW!!! Everyone wanted a copy of A Man of His Word. So cool. Amish fiction is hot! But the winner is…Amber Mullis. Amber, email me (use contact page for the sake of being easy) and gimme your home address! We'll get that advanced reader copy to you. And you'll need to guard your mailbox because there are some ladies after that book. And I do not trust them when they are in this frenzied state of “I Want Book With Hot Amish Man On Cover” mode. I do not.

If you have a blog and do contests, do you know about the random number generators? They are so cool. I use THIS ONE. I like them because you get a fair drawing. And you would be amazed at how I used to do it. I've done everything from drawing names out of a hat to closing my eyes to spinning around and around, then pointing my pencil at my list of names on the computer. Then barfing. A random number generator is soooo much easier. And probably more accurate. And doesn't require me to take Dramamine.

The rest of this blog is a public service to those of you who are bored and need some time wasters. Fear not. I have found you some. I searched long and hard. I was supposed to be cleaning my house before FEMA tried to perform a search and rescue, but instead I decided to find nifty ways to pass the minutes. Or afternoon.

So guess what's coming to the big screen? Apparently Hollywood has used up every possible idea in existence…except one.

That's right. The Smurfs. Coming in winter of 2010. Unless Armageddon hits first. Watching that clip, I never noticed as a kid how husky Smurfette's voice was. Somebody had herself a few smurfy Marlboros, I do believe. Smurfette would be about 40 by now…and no doubt in the early stages of emphysema.

I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating. I LOVE this blog. Sarah, the Green Bean Teen Queen, has such an awesome YA review blog. YA lit is one of my favorite things to talk about, and this snazzy lady, a newlywed AND an ultra cool YA librarian, stays on top of what's hot in teen lit.  Highly recommended.

Another YA review blog I recommend is Literary Coldcuts on Toasty Buns. I've lived enough years now to know anything on toasty buns has to be good. And this blog is no exception.

I also have recently discovered the Read This Book! blog, where Kate reads and slaves over the reviews each week. What a big job she has! She even reviewed So Not Happening, which pretty much made my day.

You can also visit the Finding Hope Through Fiction blog, where Nora reviews Christian fiction–even CF young adult books. Like So Not Happening. Nora's running a contest to win a copy of SNH. Time's ticking, but you can still get in there and get your name in the drawing. Check it out HERE.

Here's another site to stop by and visit. David C. Cook, a publisher, is taking input on a Christian nonfiction book aimed at teens who might have picked up the Twilight series. You can see that HERE. I'm guessing from the subtitle that it's about how God is the only eternal dude. But who knows. The important part is you get to weigh in on their cover choices!!!!  I LOVE looking at covers (though my taste isn't always too accurate), and I definitely chimed in!

Christian Fiction Online Magazine is one year old this month, and you can read their fabulous July issue HERE.

I'm a huge fan of Susie magazine, and you can read one of my short stories, “Time of My Life,” which appeared in a previous issue HERE.

If you're bored, you could also drink some Evian. Like these guys.

Okay, so I think Sasha Cohen is just an idiot. He NEVER interviews out of character (such as Borat), but in searching for a clip of non-idiot Joel McHale, I found this interview of Cohen with Letterman. He was himself and was not an idiot! Kinda charming, but definitely funny. I hope it's appropriate. I don't remember anything bad… You can watch it HERE.

So I'm shopping for a new lamp for my living room. At one small period in time WalMart.com was actually a place to get cool, funky lamps. Cheap. But now? Now I find THIS. And WHY do I want a lamp that looks like I could roast marshmallows over it? There's even accompanying accessory lamps to match. Chic.  Caveman chic.

I hope you have a fabulous weekend. If you find any fun websites or YouTube clips to add to our “I Should Be Scrubbing A Toilet” repertoire, please send it my way. Until then. . .I'll be checking Facebook and Twitter vacuuming and dusting baseboards.

JEN