Friday, November 17, 2017

My Review: Blind Spot

"Love defied logic, defied hatred, defied division." - Kate Maxwell

FBI agent Declan Grey is in the chase of his life--but isn't sure exactly what he's chasing after. Threatened by a terrorist that "the wrath is coming," Grey fears something horrible is about to be unleashed on American soil. When his investigation leads him to a closed immigrant community, he turns to Tanner Shaw to help him. She's sought justice for refugees and the hurting around the world, and if there's anyone who can help him, it's Tanner.

Tanner Shaw has joined the FBI as a crisis counselor . . . meaning she now has more opportunity to butt heads with Declan. But that tension also includes a spark she can't deny, and she's pretty sure Declan feels the same. But before anything can develop between them, they discover evidence of a terror cell--and soon are in a race against the clock to stop the coming "wrath" that could cost thousands their lives.

About the Author:
Dani Pettrey is the bestselling author of the Chesapeake Valor series and the Alaskan Courage series and winner of the 2014 Daphne du Maurier award for Inspirational Novel, the 2014 Christian Retailing's Best Award for Suspense, and the 2013 Holt Medallion for First Novel. She and her husband reside in the D.C. Metro area. She can be found online at

My Review: 5 stars!
This is the third book in Dani Pettrey’s Chesapeake Valor series and I have been impatiently awaiting Declan and Tanner’s book!  I have so enjoyed the other two books in the series, so of course, I had high expectations and I can happily say Blind Spot surpassed them all!  

One of my very favorite things about Ms. Pettrey’s books is how she weaves them together.  Though this book technically could be read alone, it makes so much more sense if the others are read first, and I definitely have to read the last one, now!  I love how the characters’ lives intertwine, continuing from the last book as though little time has passed.   I love the camaraderie and relationship not only between the hero and heroine, but the others in the group as well.  These four friends are always there for one another, regardless of the hour of day or what might be going on in their own lives.  This also plays out in the dual mystery, something else I greatly enjoyed.  I appreciated reading the story from several different perspectives and trying to piece together the answers with them.  It also definitely increased the suspense, having it jump from one person and mystery to another.  I do confess that there were a couple times I had a bit of trouble keeping up with everything that was going on and all of the new names!  But the author did an excellent job of connecting the dots for me and reminding me who was who, without seeming repetitive.

I definitely enjoyed getting to know Declan and Tanner better!  Their story actually starts in the first book in the series, “Cold Shot,” and has continued through this one.  I so enjoyed seeing these two stubborn people finally find their footing and decide that yes, a relationship was in the works.  There are some sweet moments between them, a couple rather steamy ones, and for sure some crazy ones as they chased a terrorist plot across the country.  Another thing I appreciate about Ms. Pettrey’s writing style is how she is able to weave a romance through a mystery plot, without having either feel neglected or overwhelmed by the other.  She strikes a fine balance between the two that has me both smiling and cheering them on as they chase the bad guys.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this story and am anxiously awaiting the fourth (and by my understanding, last) book in the series!  Especially after that cliff-hanger!

As always, thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to read my review!  I hope you enjoyed it!  I'm thinking about occasionally adding a question for discussion that pertains to the stories I'm reviewing . . . any thoughts?  Is that something you'd enjoy?  Would you take the time to answer it here, or even just mentally?  I would love some feedback!  Please and thank you!

Have a lovely day!

P.S. Purchase links are below, along with one for GoodReads, in case you'd care to add it to a shelf or something.  :)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

My Review: All This Time

"Make peace with your own imperfect love.  Understand that you can't fix everything.  Give yourself some grace and your fears to God.  Put your faith in His perfect love."  - Raegan Walker

Bear McKinley's past refuses to let go...

Ten years ago, Bear gave up everything--his freedom and his reputation--for his mess of a family. But after years of distance and too many attempts at starting over, he finally has a new life doing noble work in Brazil . . . until his past catches up to him once again. Suddenly he finds himself back in Maple Valley, charged with the care of his missing brother's children, convinced he's out of second chances to make his life count. And yet, with every day that passes, these kids, this quirky town and the woman he never stopped missing help patch the holes in his heart. Maybe this is the fresh start he's been longing for all along. But as his newfound hope grows, so does the mystery surrounding his brother's activities--and when the threat reaches into the lives of those he loves, it's clear he can't run away this time.

Fear holds Raegan's future captive...

Raegan Walker is fine. She's happy working a slew of part-time jobs, still living in her childhood bedroom and rarely venturing from her hometown. At least, that's what she tells everyone . . . and herself. But she can't help wondering what might've happened if she hadn't abandoned her art so many years ago--and if Bear McKinley had never left. When Bear returns and she's commissioned for a painting that just might revive her artistic ambition all in one week, it's time to finally reach for more than fine. But doing so means facing the fears that have held her back all this time, including admitting the secret she's kept from Bear and her family. With her dream and her heart on the line, how much will Raegan have to risk to finally chase her happy ending?

About the Author:
Melissa Tagg is the author of the popular Walker Family series, the Where Love Begins series and the Enchanted Christmas Collection. She’s a former reporter, current nonprofit grant writer and total Iowa girl. Her spring 2016 release, Like Never Before, was named to one of Publishers Weekly’s Top Ten lists and her fall 2017 release, All This Time, was a Romantic Times 4.5-Star TOP PICK. Melissa has taught at multiple national writing conferences, as well as workshops and women’s retreats. When she’s not writing, she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever—not that she’s biased—watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. Melissa loves connecting with readers at and on Facebook and Instagram.

My Review: 5 stars!
Goodness!  There are so many things I want to say about this book and I’m just not sure where to start!  First off, this review will undoubtedly be incredibly biased, since Melissa Tagg is one of my very favorite authors and I just adore her books.  Since that’s out of the way, I definitely loved this book!  I’ve been eagerly awaiting Bear and Raegan’s book since my first glimpse of this couple and it’s finally here!  And with such a lovely cover that I can’t help staring at!  That old adage to not judge a book by it’s cover?  I give you permission - this book is as wonderful as the cover implies!

This story is just so stinkin’ sweet, and sigh-worthy, and laugh-out-loud funny, filled with small town charm, with just a bit of tear-jerker thrown in.  And I loved every single page of it!  As always, Ms. Tagg completely out did herself!  Her books draw me in from page one and grab on to my heart, refusing to let go until long after the final page has been sighed over.  I stayed up late finishing it, and then wanted to pick it up the very next day and start all over again.  She has such a beautiful way of describing things that just brings Maple Valley and the Walker family to vivid color.  I so enjoy the creative things she comes up with for this quirky little town that make me so wish it was a real place and the characters real people!  Why, yes, I’d love an extended stay in Maple Valley at Mr. Case Walker’s house.  Fortunately, there’s no rule that says I can’t binge read her books over and over again until I can quote entire pages from memory.  

I’ve been impatiently waiting to get to know the youngest Walker better and my goodness, does Raegan have a story to tell!  I just fell in love with her, with her quirky artist ways and determination.  I love her stubborn streak and tendency to simply tell Bear what to do.  Being the youngest, she feels she has something to prove and a high standard to live up to - I so enjoyed getting to see behind her “I’m fine” facade and watch her slowly step out in faith, rather than fear.  

And Bear McKinley.  *sigh*  I can easily see why Raegan loves him!  He’s just so good!  And equally determined to take care of everyone.  My heart just melted, watching him with Erin and Jamie.  He is a protector through and through, though he doesn’t see it in himself.  He’s spent half of his life running from his past, and the other half trying to make up for it.  I was incredibly curious to find out his story and it definitely falls into the “tear jerker” category.  And their relationship!  It had me smiling, while also wanting to Gibbs’ slap them a time or two as they slowly figured out what I could see so obviously.  I loved the cringe-worthy awkward moments, the laugh-out-loud-can’t-believe-she-thought-of-that scenes, and the can’t-help-sighing- so-incredibly-sweet pages.  This is definitely a book I’m going to be reading and rereading many times over!

As always, thank you so much for taking the time to read my review!  I hope you enjoyed it!  If you'd like to learn more about this book, the links are below, per usual. 

Side note: Melissa was one of the authors I was so stoked to meet at CFRR this past August!  I can't tell you how excited I was when she stopped beside me saying, "you're Sarah, right?" and hugged me - totally a fangirl moment!  And I was so happy to find myself on her team for the games (Book Boyfriends, of course) I love the memories and it makes me love her books just a tiny bit more - if that's even possible.

Anyway, just wanted to share that - have a lovely day!

Friday, November 3, 2017

My Review: Daring to Hope

I truly wish I had the means to share a copy of this book with everyone I know.  It has been that powerful in my life, and a little over a week after finishing it, I'm still contemplating many of the things I read.


How do you hold on to hope
when you don’t get the ending
you asked for?

When Katie Davis Majors moved to Uganda, accidentally founded a booming organization, and later became the mother of thirteen girls through the miracle of adoption, she determined to weave her life together with the people she desired to serve. But joy often gave way to sorrow as she invested her heart fully in walking alongside people in the grip of poverty, addiction, desperation, and disease.
After unexpected tragedy shook her family, for the first time Katie began to wonder, Is God really good? Does He really love us? When she turned to Him with her questions, God spoke truth to her heart and drew her even deeper into relationship with Him.
Daring to Hope is an invitation to cling to the God of the impossible—the God who whispers His love to us in the quiet, in the mundane, when our prayers are not answered the way we want or the miracle doesn’t come. It’s about a mother discovering the extraordinary strength it takes to be ordinary. It’s about choosing faith no matter the circumstance and about encountering God’s goodness in the least expected places.

About the Author:
Katie Davis Majors moved to Uganda over a decade ago with no idea that this would be the place that God chose to build her home and her family. Today, she is a wife to Benji and mom to her fourteen favorite people. Katie and her family invest their lives in empowering the people of Uganda with education, medical care, and spiritual discipleship. She is also the founder of Amazima Ministries, an organization that cares for vulnerable children and families in Uganda and the author of the New York Times bestseller Kisses from Katie.

My Review:  (there aren't enough stars to give this powerful book)
This book!  Oh, my goodness!  This book is one that if I could, I would share a copy with everyone I know, and perhaps a few people I don’t.  It is so beautiful.  And heart-wrenching.  And grace-filled.  It is beautifully, and sometimes painfully, honest.  Mrs. Major’s heart shines through on every single page and I found myself so absorbed in her words.  She writes her story, her daughters’ story, and God’s story.  In every chapter, I was taken through a time in their lives that greatly impacted the author’s faith and showed her another facet of this King she so faithfully serves.  She shows us her struggles, the moments where she didn’t think she could take one more step, and the moments where joy was abundant.  This wasn’t an easy book to read.  It challenged me, inspired me.  Brought me to tears more than once and and to my knees in prayer, as I was reminded of another important truth.  It offers hope in the only place it can truly be found - God. 

"His love wrapped around me like a warm embrace.
He didn't take away my pain; He held me while I hurt."

And I love the title - it is so fitting!  This book is written as though I’m sitting across from Mrs. Majors, listening to her tell me her story.  I loved that!  She engaged my heart and mind, introducing me to a culture I’ve never known, and teaching me deeper truths about a God I thought I knew (but she showed me anew many things about Him!).  Her love for Him is written in every line, across every margin.  Even in the moments she speaks about arguing with God, even in the hard times, and the ugly, love is a constant.  I so admire the faith that brought her to this point, the faith that carried her through every trial and raised her up in the joyful times.  I also loved the wisdom I found with every turn of a page.  I kept a notebook beside me while reading this one, because I was constantly pausing to jot a quote or a thought to recall later.

"God is who He says He is.  He is here with us in the hard places and the happy ones,
when things go as planned and also when they don't.
Our hope in Him is not determined by our circumstances,
but by His character, always faithful to us."

I would highly recommend this book to anyone going through a difficult time, or even anyone who knows someone struggling.  Which is pretty much everyone!  I personally found it to be so encouraging and it is a beautiful reminder that we are never alone in our battles.

As always, thank you so much for stopping by!  I hope you enjoyed my review - this book encouraged me so much!  I sincerely hope you'll look into reading it yourself. 
Have a fabulous day!


Christian Book


Friday, October 20, 2017

My Review: Christmas Captive

On his cousin's Christmas cruise wedding, navy SEAL Jordan Somerton anticipated having the typical best man duties--not facing down criminals boarding the ship. But when the luxury liner is infiltrated by men determined to kidnap the flower girl, he's plunged into an unexpected mission. Maid of honor and DEA agent Amy Delgado hasn't forgiven Jordan for a misunderstanding in their pasts. But with her young niece targeted, she must draw on Jordan's skills as a protector. Signs point to an inside job. With a traitor in their midst, can they ensure that every passenger returns home safely for the holidays...even as they find love amid deepening danger?

About the Author:
Liz Johnson fell in love with Prince Edward Island the first time she set foot on it. When she's not plotting her next trip to the island, she works as director of marketing for a Christian radio network. She is the author of several novels including The Red Door Inn and Where Two Hearts Meet, a New York Times bestselling novella, and a handful of short stories. She makes her home in Tucson, Arizona.

My review: 5 stars
I always enjoy Liz Johnson’s books and this one is no exception!  I’ve been anxiously awaiting Jordan and Amy’s book and couldn’t wait to get started!  I first met Amy in “Navy SEAL Noel” and knew she was going to be perfect with Jordan, who held a special place in my heart after seeing him with Kristi and Zach’s son in “Hazardous Holiday.”  I love how all of the Men of Valor books connect, but can also be read alone (although why anyone wouldn’t want to read the rest of the series is beyond me).  

As always, Ms. Johnson drew me in right from the start and I didn’t want to put it down!  I was quickly absorbed in the story and hated having to pause for even a few moments.  I enjoyed the mystery and suspense, how she kept the story hopping, even when they actually had a calm moment.  My favorite part is always the characters, and that’s definitely accurate with this book!  I so enjoyed getting to know Amy and Jordan and finally getting the back story behind the animosity between them.  I loved that Jordan’s random jokes made me laugh, during an otherwise suspenseful story and seeing these two finally get their “happily ever after.”  The romance surprisingly didn’t feel rushed, despite the story taking place over only a couple days, but it definitely helped that Amy and Jordan had a past to connect them.  And those kisses!  *sigh*  

I also very much appreciated how much spiritual depth Ms. Johnson was able to include in this comparatively short novel.  I enjoyed watching the characters as they grew and changed, learning to forgive and to truly live, without fear.  
Overall, I loved this story and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys suspense and romance!

Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to read my review! 
As always, links are below if you'd like to check it out further!
Have a lovely day!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

My Review: The Two Of Us

"Love is a choice.  It's keeping promises when they're tough to keep.  It's staying when you want to leave.  And it's seeing the other person through the same forgiving lens through which God sees us all."  - Chaplain Grant

After two broken engagements, nurse practitioner Mia Robinson is done with dating. From now on, she only trusts herself and God, and she's focused on her eighteen-year-old sister, Lucy, and caring for patients. Just as she applies to work for an international aid organization, a phone call from Lucy, who's pregnant and running off to marry her twenty-one-year-old boyfriend, throws a wrench into all of Mia's plans.

Jake Tanner may have recovered from the physical injuries he sustained on the job as a police officer, but his heart has yet to heal from losing his former partner in the tragedy. He's poured himself into starting a camp for the sons of fallen officers and mentoring Sam, the adult son of his deceased partner, who's asked him to be his best man at his wedding.

Mia is expecting a mess when she arrives to sort out the situation with Lucy, but she wasn't expecting Jake. And Jake, who can't help envying Sam and Lucy, doubts he'll ever experience their happiness for himself. But maybe Jake's courage and Mia's caring spirit are just what they need to bring them a lifetime of healing and a forever kind of love. . . .

About the Author:
Victoria Bylin writes contemporary and historical romances acclaimed for their true-to-life characters and stories. Her work has finaled in contests such as the Carol Awards, the RITAs, Inspirational Reader's Choice Awards, and the Reviewers' Choice Award. A native of California, she and her husband now make their home in Lexington, Kentucky. Visit her website at to find out more.

My Review: 4 stars

This is only the third book Ive read from Victoria Bylin and they seem to just get better and better!  I believe this one may be my favorite, yet!  I do have to say, that the cover is what first drew me to this story! Its perfect for the tale it contains and it just makes me smile to look at it.  Im often told not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case, I think thats totally acceptable!

Its been a bit since Ive read any of Ms. Bylins books and Im sorry its taken me this long to pick up another one.  I so enjoyed her writing style and just fell in love with Echo Falls and these characters!  I loved her details and descriptions, how she brings the story to life with such vivid word images and inspires my imagination.  I also so enjoyed the words of wisdom woven throughout the story.  This story tackles some difficult topics, such as PTSD and Alzheimers, and along with just every day decisions and how to make a new marriage work.  I so appreciated how Ms. Bylin handled these things with grace and finesse.  I saved several quotes that seemed as though the author was speaking directly to me, through the characters and their situations.

I have to say that the characters were undoubtedly my favorite part of this story!  I just adored Mia and Jake, as well as Lucy and Sam.  I wasnt expecting the journey they went on and to so easily relate to their struggles and doubts.  Mia has made a commitment and shes determined that God doesnt change His mind and neither should she.  So when things in her life suddenly begin changing, shes thrown, unsure what her next step should be, what she should do next.  I enjoyed following her as she searched for Gods plan for her life and did her best to prepare for what that plan might entail.  Jake is also faced with difficult decisions, as well as trying to heal from the past.  Hes strong and stubborn, willing to sacrifice anything for those he loves and incredibly supportive of their decisions.  I loved his relationship with Sam and Lucy, offering a bit of advice and mostly just a shoulder to lean on as they figure out marriage and how their life together is going to work out.

And the romance!  Definitely worth a few sighs and the occasional frustrated huff as the characters walked the uncertain path toward happily ever afterand took a couple side trips along the way.  I do confess to getting a mite impatient with them a time or two, but looking back, I found even the uncertain moments, the frustrated ones, to be incredibly realistic.  If the story had moved any fasted, it wouldve seemed unrealistic and that might have taken away from the journey this story took me on.  So I really cant complain.

Overall, this book is something of a light romance, but intertwined with real life.  Messy, unpredictable, sometimes difficult, sometimes blissful, life.  And I would highly recommend it!  

Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and read my review!  I hope you enjoyed it!  As always, purchase links are below - I'm just going to go stare at the cover a bit longer (isn't it gorgeous?!), before I find it a home in my bookcase.  :)

Have a beautiful day!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

My Review: An Inconvenient Beauty, plus giveaway!

"God had blessed him with a brain, and Griffith intended to use it."
(I just thought this quote summed Griffith up rather well.)  :)

Griffith, Duke of Riverton, likes order, logic, and control, and he naturally applies this rational approach to his search for a bride. He's certain Miss Frederica St. Claire is the perfect wife for him, but while Frederica is strangely elusive, he can't seem to stop running into her stunningly beautiful cousin, Miss Isabella Breckenridge.

Isabella should be enjoying her society debut, but with her family in difficult circumstances, her uncle will only help them if she'll use her beauty to assist him in his political aims. Already uncomfortable with this agreement, the more she comes to know Griffith, the more she wishes to be free of her unfortunate obligation.

Will Griffith and Isabella be able to set aside their pride and face their fears in time to find their own happily-ever-after?

About the Author:
Kristi Ann Hunter graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in computer science but always knew she wanted to write. Kristi is the author of the Hawthorne House series and a 2016 RITA Award winner and Christy Award finalist. She lives with her husband and three children in Georgia. Find her online at

My Review: 5 stars!
It can’t be over!  I’ve been anticipating this book for months and now, it’s over!  What?!  I fell in love with the Hawthorne siblings in the first few pages of “A Noble Masquerade” and have adored joining them on their sometimes less-than-smooth paths to love.  That being said, my excitement for this book was tempered just the slightest bit because this is the last book!  And I’ve been waiting for Griffith’s book since first meeting this protective, loving, sometimes a bit arrogant, always particular, big brother and what if this book wasn’t what I’d been expecting?  What if, by some strangeness I can’t even comprehend, I didn’t like it?  What if I didn’t love Griffith as much between the pages of his own story?  Honestly, I don’t even know why I entertained any of these questions, because I absolutely adored this book!  

I so wanted to take my time and savor this last Hawthorne House story, but best intentions flew right out the window the moment I turned the first page and I flew right through it, sighing as I flipped the final page hours later.  Ms. Hunter always keeps me turning pages long after I’ve promised myself and others “just one more paragraph/page/chapter,” and this story is definitely no exception!  As always, I loved her writing style, the unique way she describes things, her quirky characters, and interesting plot twists.  I so enjoyed having all of the siblings back and harassing one another in love.  There were quite a few “laugh out loud” moments that had other people questioning my sanity and me trying to explain, “you’d have to have been there.”  I love how completely Ms. Hunter’s stories draw me in, until it seems as though I’m right there with them, standing on the ballroom floor, wondering what on Earth I’ve gotten myself into.

 I’ve already said how much I adore Griffith, but Isabella “Bella” Breckenridge was entirely a surprise for me!  I simply fell in love with her character!  I loved her heart for others, in particular her cousin, Frederica, and her family.  She’s willing to sacrifice anything for them, even her own happiness.  She is beautiful, but underneath the trappings, she’s witty, sarcastic, funny, caring, kind, and straight-forward, despite the deceit that brings her and Griffith together.  She’s someone I’d dearly love to be friends with - and not just because I’d get to meet Anthony, Ryland, Trent, and Griffith - that’s just a perk.

Okay, I do have to expound on Griffith just a bit more.  I can’t resist!  He’s so swoony!  I know I say that a lot, but a guy that goes to his little sisters for advice and takes a lady to look at the trees . . . *sigh*  Too bad he’s taken.  But, there’s so much to be said for this giant of a man who adores his family and takes his role as Duke so seriously that he makes a plan for who and how he’s going to marry, unwilling to even consider making a mistake in something so important.  I loved the heart behind the idea, but I was right there with Ryland and Anthony, laughing at Griffith trying to plan something like falling in love.  And I had to applaud Bella for unintentionally throwing a huge wrench in his grand plan.  Their romance was so sweet!  If more than a little odd (which seems to be the case for these siblings).  Neither of them is what the other was looking for, but the story never seemed contrived.  I couldn’t resist sighing at the sweet moments and laughing as their best laid plans went very awry.  

All of that to say, I loved this book!  Go, read it, sigh often, laugh out loud, and fall in love!

Now, for the reason you clicked on this link in the first place - the giveaway! 
What You Win:
I loved this book so much (obviously), as well as the entire series, that I want to share a copy with someone!  Actually, I want to share a copy of one of Kristi Ann's books with you - so if you're new to her books (we need to talk) and would prefer to start with the first book, I'll happily send you a copy of it.  Or if you missed owning one of the previous books, it's winner's choice. It's also winner's preference, paperback or ebook. :)

The Details:
The giveaway will be open until Midnight on Sunday, October 15th.
Just leave me a comment answering the question below and enter your info into the Rafflecopter form and I'll (hopefully) notify the winner on Monday, the 16th.
This giveaway is open to International friends (please, join us!), but just so you know, if you win, you'll automatically get an ebook.

The Question:
What's a book you've read recently that was so good you wanted to share a copy with everyone?

a Rafflecopter giveaway
And I think that's it!  As always, thank you so much for stopping by!  I hope you took a moment to enter the giveaway!  And if you don't want to wait on a copy, or if you'd like to learn more about Kristi Ann's books, links are below. :)
Have a lovely day!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Unexpected Hero - Guest post with Danielle Hammelef

Two weeks ago I had a writing contest and today I am delighted to share the winning story and introduce you to the author!  So, without further ado, Danielle's story! :)   

Danielle S. Hammelef

I crossed the finish line a million miles in last behind the other cross country runners on my team. I limped a cool-down lap around the school track, my knees burning as if I’d skidded across the sun during the race, instead of the asphalt road.
“Amy, are you okay?” My teammate Emma jogged up beside me.  
I nodded, but I really wasn’t. I ached inside and out. “I’ve been practicing every day. State Meets are next week and I don’t think I’m fast enough to win.”
“If it’s any help, you’ve really improved your pacing.”
I swiped sweat from my forehead. “I wish I’d get faster sooner. I just want to go home and not think about racing the whole weekend.”
“But what about tomorrow?” asked Emma. “You’re going, right?”
My shoulders slumped. “Special Olympics! I forgot. Why didn’t our troop vote to pick up trash in the park instead?”
Emma stretched, touching her toes. “I think helping at Special Olympics will be much more fun than picking up stinky trash for our My Community Badge.”
“But what if we have to talk to the athletes?” I asked. “What do we say?”
Emma shrugged. “I think we cheer for them like, ‘you can do it!’”
I knew nothing about Special Olympics except that it’s a sport competition for people with mental disabilities. I’d never met anyone like that before. And now tomorrow I’d be working with lots of Special Olympics athletes. “Maybe I’ll get a job filling water cups.”
Emma stopped mid-lunge and squinted up at me. “You act like they have a contagious disease or something. My mom says they’re people just like us, except they may need a little extra help sometimes.”
“But they aren’t like you and me,” I thought.
I worried the rest of Friday and all the way to the high school Saturday morning.  
Olivia, one of the girls in my troop, pinned a volunteer badge on me. “We’re going to be “huggers.”
“Huggers?” I asked, my voice squeaking. I didn’t think there was any hugging involved in track events, just high-fives.
“We hug the athletes after they cross the finish line,” Olivia explained. “Then we take them to the scoring tables to get their times and then to the awards table for their medals.”
My stomach dropped to my sneakers.
I must have looked scared because Olivia added, “It’s easy and fun. I’ve done it lots of times. It’s so much better than filling up water cups like Emma and Jessica.” She nodded across the field where Emma and Jessica scrambled to keep enough cups filled for everyone.
I couldn’t believe how many people were here—way more than for my middle school meets. I wouldn’t like losing in front of this many people.
After the high school band finished playing the National Anthem, the crowd recited the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Olivia dragged me to our spot near the finish line. “The first race is the 50 meter. My older sister Marissa is in lane two.”
“What’s your sister doing in this race?” I asked.
“She’s running. What do you think she’s doing?”
Then I knew why Olivia was such a Special Olympics expert. “Your sister’s mentally disabled?”
“I don’t think of her that way. She just has Down Syndrome.”
The starting gun popped. The racers sped toward us. Marissa crossed the finish line fourth. She raised her arms, whooping as if she’d won.
Olivia stepped onto the track and hugged a racer.
I froze, not knowing how to offer a stranger a hug.
But I didn’t have time to figure that out—Marissa skipped over to me and waited with open arms.
I patted her back and said, “Better luck next time.”
Marissa squeezed me, grabbed my hand, and pulled me to the scoring table. I was getting used to being dragged around today. But now I knew where Olivia got it from. While I waited, I whispered to Olivia, “Why is Marissa so happy? She lost.”
“She’s just excited to race,” Olivia said.
The 100 meter was next. Marissa took her mark in lane four. She got set and at the gun, flew out of the start. One girl raced ahead of Marissa, but Marissa closed the gap. I cheered her on. “Go, Marissa! You can do it!”
Then the leader stumbled and tumbled on the track. I grimaced, remembering my wipeout yesterday. My knees ached all over again.
But instead of going for the victory, Marissa stopped and helped her up. Arm-in-arm, Marissa and the fallen racer crossed the finish line in a tie for last.
I stared, open mouthed in Marissa’s direction. How could Marissa give up the chance to win? Wasn’t winning the most important thing? When I fell, no one on my school team stopped.
The Special Olympics oath echoed through my brain again as Marissa and I proceeded to the time table. I didn’t understand the oath before, but thanks to Marissa, I think I did now. I was right. These athletes are different than my friends and me. Unlike us, Marissa knew winning wasn’t the most important part.
When the 800 meter was announced, only Marissa lined up.
I turned to Olivia. “Where’s everyone else?”
Olivia sighed. “This happens a lot with the long race. Marissa just races herself.”
I huffed. “But that’s like memorizing lines for a play and nobody buying tickets!”
Dressed in my scout uniform, I lined up next to Marissa. We high-fived and crouched to race.
Marissa won fair and square. I gave her an Olympic-size squeeze. This time, losing didn’t sting liked scraped knees.
Olivia and I watched Marissa receive her gold medal.
Marissa slipped it over my head. “For you.”
I cradled the medal in my hands. I felt as if I was running on air.
“I think Marissa has a new hero,” Olivia said.
I smiled at Marissa. “I think I do too.”

Ah!  I just love it!

About the Author:
Danielle enjoys writing for children and has had her short stories, articles, poetry, and puzzles published in magazines including Highlights and Pockets. She also plays her flute in her community band and spends time with God and his creation every morning while she runs. Dark chocolate is always in her desk drawer. She lives with her husband and three daughters, her golden retriever, and eight aquatic frogs.

Thank you so much for sharing your lovely story with me/us, Danielle!  I've so enjoyed this writing contest adventure and may have to try another one, sometime. 
I also think I would quite like to have more guest posts . . . . I'll have to work on that.  :)

As always, thanks so much for stopping by and I hope you're having a fantastic day!