Friday, September 5, 2014


Following is the first chapter from my new novel, Last Family Standing, available September 15th from Abingdon Press. Enjoy!


“Your daughter’s on television.”
“What?” I just about drop the spoon I’m using to stir my custard mixture. Is this a joke? A wrong number? I pull my cell phone away from my ear and read the ID on the screen. Nope. That’s Jules’s name, right under the picture of her wearing a red, white, and blue stovepipe hat at last year’s July 4th picnic.
“Monica? Are you there?”
Her voice calls through the speaker, and I slowly put the phone back to my ear. “Yeah. I’m here.”
“Did you hear what I said?”
I close my eyes and shake my head, as if that will bring some clarity to my mind. It doesn’t work. “I heard, but. . . are you sure?”
“Absolutely. I recorded it to the DVR so you can see for yourself.”
Leave it to Jules to think of the practical answer to my questions. “I’ll be right there.”
“I’ll leave the porch light on.”
As we end the call, I look down at the spoon I’m still holding, motionless in the sauce pan. Instead of creamy custard, I now have something more akin to runny scrambled eggs. It’s ruined. Being a chef, I don’t usually make such stupid mistakes, but I’m more than a little shell-shocked from the bomb that just fell on me.. I turn off the flame, pour the contents down the disposal, then drop the pot and spoon into the sink with a clatter.
Running upstairs to grab my shoes, scenes from the past flash through my memory.
The hospital. All those white walls. The antiseptic smell. The rhythmic squeak-click-click-squeak of the gurney. The turtle-shaped water spot on the delivery room ceiling. The sharp cry of lungs being filled with oxygen for the first time. When I turned my head away, one nurse said to the other, “She’s not keeping it. We’re supposed to give the baby right to the adoptive  parents.”
That had been my idea. Don’t give the baby to me. Why should I hold something that’s not mine to keep? I thought it would be easier that way.
I was wrong.
Still, twenty-five years later, I do believe I made the right decision for my daughter. As I stuff my feet into my sneakers, I still think it was the right thing to do. For everyone. Even so, my knees feel slightly wobbly as I trot back down the stairs. My hand shakes as I grab my house keys. And when I call to my dog, Ranger, my voice shakes.
“I’ve got to go out.”
He lifts his shaggy brown head from the couch and looks my way, no doubt thinking he can stop me with a longing look from his big, soulful eyes. But I dash right past him.
“Sorry, buddy. No walk tonight.”
As I pull the front door closed behind me, a velvety breeze rubs across my cheeks, my bare arms, and my shorts-clad legs. I’ve lived in the Las Vegas valley long enough to know that 100-degree weather during the day often results in the most wonderful night-time conditions. Everyone else on the block knows it, too, and it looks like most of them are taking advantage of it tonight.
Mr. Williams raises his hand in greeting as he approaches, and I wave back. His dog, a black and white Great Dane named Caesar, tugs him along, straining at the leash. It’s obvious who’s walking whom.
“Where’s Ranger?” Mr. Williams asks.
I motion behind me. “Hanging out at home. I’m heading over to see Jules.”
The wind picks up and a gust lifts his silver comb-over and drops it on the other side of his head. Smoothing it back in place with one hand, he nods. “Have fun, then. See you –” The rest of his words are blown away as Caesar propels him down the block.
I’m thankful for the wind. It provides an excuse to keep my head down. Hands stuffed in my pockets, shoulders curled forward, ponytail swinging wildly, I speed walk the three-house distance to Jules’s without having to interact with anyone else. 
Just as she promised, the porch light is on and I open the front door without knocking. Inside the foyer, I kick off my shoes and call out, “It’s me!” I’m immediately swarmed by tweenager John, and eight-year-old twins Jerrod and Justin.
“Hey Aunt Monica!”
“Did you bring something yummy?”
“Where’s Ranger?”
Opening my arms wide, I try to hug them all at once. “Sorry, boys. Only me tonight.” It’s pretty rare for me to come over here without some kind of food offering for the rug rats.
“Guys, give Aunt Monica some breathing room.” Jules leans her five-foot-nine-inch frame over the boys, bracing one hand on Jerrod’s head, and plants a kiss on my cheek. Then she looks back down at her sons. “Head upstairs. Now.”
The three grumble in unison, but they don’t argue. It makes me wonder what Jules said to them before I got here. Did she tell them we needed to have a big-person talk? Or did she warn them there might be crying? The threat of experiencing female emotion would be enough to scare them away for at least the rest of the night. Possibly till puberty.
Jules links her arm through mine and pulls me through the house. We pass the room they use as an office, and a voice calls out. “Hey, Monica.”
“Hey, Jackson,” I call back to her husband. Apparently, he’s also been warned about the high likelihood of hysterics.
“You want a drink?” She asks as we walk through the kitchen.
“What have you got?”
“Everything we need for killer root beer floats.”
“Ooh, the hard stuff.” I shake my head. “Maybe later.”
When we get to the family room, my eyes immediately fly to the flat screen TV mounted on the wall, but it’s not even on.
“In a second.” Jules pats my back. “First, you need some details. Let’s sit down.”
We settle on the worn, chocolate brown sectional. I was with her when she picked it out. Chocolate was my suggestion, because I thought it would hide stains. She angles toward me and puts one hand flat on the seat cushion, right next to a big, dark spot of something. As it turns out, the antics of three young boys can’t be hidden, no matter how hard you try.
We look at each other, and I realize that for once my strong, take-charge friend is at a loss for words. So I get us started. “What was she doing on TV?”
Jules tucks a piece of blond hair behind her ear, but her hairstyle is so short, it just looks like she’s stroking the top of her ear. “You know that reality show I watch? Last Family Standing?”
I nod. “Yeah. It’s the one with the hot-but-snarky host.”
She sighs, but her mouth quirks up into a grin. “Why is that the only thing you remember about the show?”
Because I only watched it once, just to please her. And since I didn’t know who any of the contestants were or what was going on, all I had to concentrate on was the host. Who was pretty memorable.
“The basics are simple,” Jules says. “The season starts out with eight teams made up of two family members. All the teams are dumped in a remote location and have to rough it while they compete against each other until only two family teams are left. Then the audience votes to decide the winner.”
I hold my palm out to her. “Forgive me if I’m not fascinated, but what difference does it make? What does this have to do with my daughter?”
“Tonight was the season finale, and at the end, they introduce some of the contestants for the next season. She was one of them.” Jules looks down for a second, rubbing her finger along the edge of the cushion stain.
Now that I’ve had some time to process the news, questions begin to bubble up in my brain. “How do you know it’s her? You don’t even know what she looks like. Heck, I don’t even know what she looks like.”
“She looks a lot like you.”
I immediately picture a younger version of myself: dark auburn hair, blue eyes, and an upper lip that I’ve always thought was a bit too thin. Does she feel the same way? Does she ever look into the mirror and give it a pouty smile, making her lips as prominent as possible?
What am I doing? I shake my head, banishing the daydream and pulling my focus back to reality. 
“But that could be a coincidence. I have one of those faces, you know? People are always asking if they know me from somewhere.” I sigh. That’s it. That has to be it. “It’s just a mistake. She must be someone else’s –”
“She has your picture.”
The blood in my veins immediately converts to ice water. “My picture? Are you sure?”
Jules offers up a gentle smile. “Yes. It’s your graduation photo. And it has your first name and the date written on the back.”
My spine seems to have lost the ability to hold me upright. My shoulders slump and I plop back against the cushions. I don’t understand any of this. I chose the birth parents from a book full of hopefuls, and we even met once. But I never gave them my name, or a photo, or anything that would tie us together.
“Hey,” Jules grabs my hand and squeezes it between both of hers. “Are you okay?”
“No.” Only a handful of people know about this chapter of my life. Looking into the concerned eyes of my best friend, I’m glad she’s one of them. “I’m about as un-okay as you can get.”
She understands. The consummate nurturer, Jules also understands the importance of what we want to do versus what we need to do. She leans over and snatches the remote from the coffee table. “You ready?”
Can I ever be ready for this? Half an hour ago I was living a happy, uncomplicated life. My biggest worries were wondering if I should take Ranger to the vet for a teeth cleaning, and keeping the eggs from curdling in my custard. Now, I’m a woman with a past. A past that’s about to come to life before my eyes.
God help me. Please help me. I’m so not ready.
Without waiting for me to answer, Jules pushes a few buttons, bringing the TV screen to life.
Ready or not, here she comes.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Chatting on the Radio

On Thursday, October 17, Lisa Karon Richardson and I are guests on Shirley Mitchell's internet radio program, Aging Outside the Box.

To join us live at 7PM Eastern time, follow this link:

We'll be talking about the second book in our historical Charm & Deceit series: Vanishing Act. I hope you'll join us.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mistletoe Memories Treasure Hunt

Sometimes the owner of the old house on Schooley's Mountain finds things stored in the attic. It's your job to collect those items as you travel to each blog on the Mistletoe Memories Treasure Hunt. Read the post about the featured novella and see what the unique giveaways are. You will find the item on the antique post card further down the page. Giveaways are available on each post and the grand prize is the lovely 12.5" x 18" Christmas banner pictured at the left.
Mistletoe Memories
Barbour Publishing, September 2013
by Jennifer AlLee, Carla Olson Gade, Gina Welborn, and Lisa Karon Richardson

For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. ~Hebrews 3:4

One of America’s earliest summer resorts began atop the majestically wooded Schooley’s Mountain where the mecca of chalybeate springs (or “magic water”) drew visitors from near and far. Eventually the magic water disappeared, but the memories remained. Folks who live there tell the stories they heard from their grandparents who heard them from their grandparents. The four stories in MISTLETOE MEMORIES cover the almost 200 years after the house was built and center around a house that became a refuge that became an orphanage that became a home.

Comfort and Joy by Jennifer AlLee
When funding dries up a month before Christmas, Joy Benucci declares she'll do everything in her power to keep Comfort House, a transitional home for foster kids, operating. Even if she has to turn to modern-day Scrooge Evan Lancaster to do it.

My favorite character: I love Joy! She is spunky and determined, but she's spent so much of her time helping others that she's really ignored her own needs. Watching her figure out how to deal Evan - the handsome lawyer who just happens to be the one handing over the eviction notice - is all kinds of fun!

Giveaway: My special gift is an ornament for your Christmas tree that is also a picture frame. This way, you can memorialize your own mistletoe memory and relive it year after year.

Treasure Hunt: Post the answer to the question from your previous stop on the Mistletoe Memories Treasure Hunt (unless you started here). Answer the question below and bring your answer to the next blog and post it in the comment area. If this is your first stop you will return here and post an answer after visiting the third stop. Then you will be eligible for the giveaway on this page.

Question: The orphanage children will be happy to find this to play with in the snow. What is the toy?

Now please visit Carla Olson Gade, author of 'Tis the Season, the first novella in Mistletoe Memories to find the next treasure!

You may earn extra entries by following me and/or sharing this post. Include what you did in the comment.
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Feel free to share a favorite Christmas memory when you comment. Do you have a mistletoe memory?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

New Bloggy Attitude

You'd think that keeping up a blog would be easy for me. After all, I'm a writer. I write 80K word novels for a living. What's so hard about writing the occasional 250 word blog post?

As it turns out... all kinds of things.

I saw this on the back of a car, and thought it was hysterical.
My apologies for the slightly crude nature of the joke,
but some days, this is exactly how I feel!
Blogging is deceptive. It seems like it should be easy-peezy, but when you commit to a blog, it brings an unexpected pressure. What will I write about? What will my theme be? What if I don't have anything meaningful to say? What if people don't like it? Why isn't anyone leaving comments???

Obviously, the pressure to deliver got to be too much for me, which is why this is the first time I've posted since back in May. But tonight (at 4AM Pacific Time) I had a mini-epiphany.

I don't need to be scintillating.

Amazing, huh? All this pressure to deliver... It all came from me. So you know what? I'm releasing myself. I'm still going to blog, but I'm giving myself permission to use this particular piece of cyber real estate to be free. I might write about my latest attempt to lose weight, or the new TV season, or my new novel, or how frustrating it is when you get to the post office with your items all ready to go and the person ahead of you is carrying an open, unlabeled box with items still hanging out of it. But the point is, I'm just going to be me.

So, if you want posts that are a little more hefty in the "meaningful content" department, visit Inkwell Inspirations where I blog with 11 other amazing women. But, if you just want to hang out and experience my ramblings, come here. It'll be like joining me for coffee and gabbing about whatever comes to mind. Of course, I don't drink coffee, so imagine that I've got an iced tea.

Ahhh... I feel better already!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

On the Radio

On Thursday, May 2nd, Lisa and I will be doing a radio interview about our new release from Whitaker House, Diamond in the Rough. All the info is in the blurb below. We'd love to have you join us!

May 2, 2013... 6PM-CST... "Gambling On A Chance" with our "Guests" Jennifer AlLee and Lisa Karon Richardson, Writers and Co-Authors of "Diamonds In The Rough" on "Aging Outside the Box®" Syndicated Radio Show with National Author, Writer, Speaker, Syndicated Columnist and Celebrity Radio Talk Show Host, Shirley W. Mitchell, as they discuss "Gambling On A Chance" with...  Starting New Adventures, Diamonds In The Rough and The Fascination of Historical Romance. Join us "LIVE on AIR" every Thursday Night at 2PM-HIST, 3PM-AKST, 4PM-PST, 5PM-MST, 6PM-CST, 7PM-EST and 8PM-AST. Be the 3rd, 7th, or 13th E-Mail on the Show and receive a FREE Copy of Jennifer's and Lisa's book, "Diamonds In The Rough"!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

If only it was down about an inch...

My son spotted this when we were in Target:

Another example of why you need to be careful where you put the price tag :+]

Friday, March 22, 2013

The CFBA presents WINGS OF GLASS by Gina Holmes

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Wings of Glass
Tyndale House Publishers (March 1, 2013)
Gina Holmes


Gina Holmes began her career in 1998, penning articles and short stories. In 2005 she founded the influential literary blog, Novel Journey now called Novel Rocket and she is also the founder of Inspire The Fire.

Her debut, Crossing Oceans, was a Christy and Gold Medallion finalist and winner of the Carol Award, INSPY, and RWA’s Inspirational Reader’s Choice, as well as being a CBA, ECPA, Amazon and PW Religion bestseller. Her sophomore novel, Dry as Rain, was also named a Christy finalist. Her upcoming novel, Wings of Glass will releases this month. She holds degrees in science and nursing and currently resides with her family in southern Virginia. She works too hard, laughs too loud, and longs to see others heal from their past and discover their God-given purpose.


From the bestselling author of Crossing Oceans comes a heart-rending yet uplifting story of friendship and redemption. On the cusp of womanhood, Penny is swept off her feet by a handsome farmhand with a confident swagger. Though Trent Taylor seems like Prince Charming and offers an escape from her one-stop-sign-town, Penny’s happily ever after lasts no longer than their breakneck courtship. Before the ink even dries on their marriage certificate, he hits her for the first time. It isn’t the last, yet the bruises that can’t be seen are the most painful of all.

When Trent is injured in a welding accident and his paycheck stops, he has no choice but to finally allow Penny to take a job cleaning houses. Here she meets two women from very different worlds who will teach her to live and laugh again, and lend her their backbones just long enough for her to grow her own.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Wings of Glass, go HERE.

Gina Holmes has become one of my must-read authors. In other words, when she writes a book, I MUST read it. Holmes has a way of tackling hard issues that makes them accessible without shying away from cold, hard reality. Wings of Glass is no exception. With characters that live and breath on the page, she makes us think about the true nature of love, how we respond when that love is twisted, and shines a light on the hope that awaits us all.