For Eden’s Sake

What’s the biggest, most consequential, bad decision you’ve made? How did the process of facing its consequences change you? A wonderful new young adult novel, For Eden’s Sake, takes us inside the lives of one young man and one young woman who must figure out what they’re going to do in the wake of an enormous mistake that neither of them even saw coming. It’s a well-written, well-paced story with compelling characters who I grew to care very much about.

It’s also an amazingly quick read; once I got a couple of chapters into the story, I found it very difficult to stop. I started it one afternoon, while taking a break for lunch. That evening, I picked it up again with the intention of reading just a little more while I built up time on the DVR for a television program. Within minutes, I’d forgotten the TV program entirely. I didn’t put the book down again until I finished it.

The story alternates between two first-person narrators, which helps provide a more complete perspective on the depths of their dilemma. The young man, Isaac, is a recent college graduate who’s working at his first professional job and learning to make his way in the world. He’s a solid, well-formed Catholic kid from a loving, middle-class family; he grew up in the country, on a ranch, not far from the city where he’s now working. The young woman, Rebecca, is a college student and has had a very different life; her mother died when she was quite young, a tragedy her father dealt with by immersing himself in work and amassing a small fortune. Rebecca experiences him as distant, cold, and always on the verge of completely cutting her out of his life.

For Eden's Sake

The key bad decision, which serves as the premise for the rest of the story, is a one-night stand between the two central characters; it takes place immediately before the novel itself begins, and we learn of it through flashbacks (with no graphic details). The two had never even met previously, and probably wouldn’t have crossed paths had both not happened to be in the same restaurant. The act was completely out of character for both; alcohol was involved, and both had been caught off guard by how quickly it impaired their judgment. 

But decisions are decisions, and still have consequences. Rebecca discovers that she is pregnant, and is certain of only one thing: she wants not to be. She tracks down Isaac, delivers the news, and demands that he help her make the whole thing go away. And he’s certain of only one thing: he must find a different solution. 

I won’t give away any of the subsequent plot, other than to reiterate what I said earlier about this being an engrossing story, with compelling characters who I grew to care about very much. 

Although the story is about a young man’s deepening relationship with a young woman, this isn’t really a romance novel. I’m tempted to call it an “anti-romance,” because so much of the story is backward from how a traditional novel in that genre would be structured, but that isn’t the best label. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story, but I think it can best be described as a “love story.” Through the mistakes they’ve made, and the crazy situation they have found themselves thrust into, they learn to sacrifice their own wants for the needs of another, and to grow into the more generous persons they need to be.

It’s also tempting to say the story is a “cautionary tale” that teens ought to read as a warning about the consequences of promiscuity. It certainly is a cautionary tale, but one with an ultimately more important message than simply “see how bad your life will be if you do something you’re not supposed to do.” It’s more a tale of discovering what one is capable of doing to address the consequences of an ill-considered life decision that may have hit a person so fast, and that may have been made with so little reflection, that he or she hadn’t even seen it coming. Yes, the story tells Christian teens, Do all you can not to fall, but if you should happen to do so despite your best efforts … dig deep. You’re capable of more than you might think. You can rearrange your life. God can write straight with crooked lines. And, I would add, don’t let your shame keep you from confiding in your parents, and letting them help you as well.

I’d like to conclude with a final thought that I took from the story. I’m not a gambler, and can’t remember the last time I set foot in a casino, but on occasion I enjoy watching the World Series of Poker on television. What always strikes me is the speed with which a pro can look at a newly-dealt hand and immediately decide if it’s worth playing. If not, all the cards go in the discard pile, and he’s out until the next round. That’s no doubt a smart strategy for a professional gambler, who must maximize the value the hands he chooses to play. But what a contrast it is to real life, where some of our greatest growth — and most meaningful experiences — can flow from the struggles to play out a fistful of “cards” that we’re inclined to simply run away from, because they don’t seem to add up to very much. At least not on first inspection. But so many times, that perception can change once we shift those cards around a bit and look at them in a different light. A new strategy can emerge. Perhaps we need to let go of a plan or a desire that we’d held dear. Maybe we need to pick up a new skill, take on a second job, humble ourselves to ask another person for help, or stretch ourselves in some other way.

Regardless, it’s that process of being creative and “finding a way” — rather than immediately tossing everything into the discard pile and walking away — that can bring so much meaning and true satisfaction in life. This piece of wisdom can be difficult for a parent to sit down and explain to a teen who is on the cusp of adulthood. Rather than trying to “explain,” For Eden’s Sake brings this wisdom to life through the actions of relate-able and compelling characters, allowing the reader to experience it along with them.

That, for me, is fiction at its best.

Ella’s Promise

This past week, as the anniversary of its conclusion rolled around again, you no doubt heard a great deal about the First World War. Most of the commentary and retrospectives focused on the decisive (or not so decisive) battles, and the soldiers who served. But there’s a fascinating other layer to the events of World War I, and one that we seldom hear much about: the medical personnel staffing the field hospitals, many of whom were young volunteers.

Ellen Gable’s excellent new historical romance novel, Ella’s Promise, takes us inside that world. It’s the third and final installment in her “Great War-Great Love” series (here is my review of the first novel in that series). It’s a wonderful story, and an engrossing read. I began reading it at the start of a four hour flight, and couldn’t put it down; I finished it shortly before landing. As soon as I was allowed to use my phone, I dashed off a note to the author telling her how much I enjoyed it.

front-cover small

And this is coming from someone who doesn’t even like romance novels! That’s in part due to this story being so much more than a romance. Yes, boy meets girl. Yes, boy loses girl. And, yes, boy gets girl back. But all of these plot points and developments are tied up with events unfolding in connection with the war, including Allied espionage operations. Ella’s love interest, Garrett, is a Canadian intelligence officer. He’s of German descent, and speaks German fluently, so is a natural for the role. We get to follow him as he infiltrates the enemy ranks, risks getting exposed, and finds himself in a position of great peril.

Ella herself is an American, and had significant medical training before the war. She spends much of the early part of the story frustrated that she isn’t allowed to put these skills to greater use. The way she ultimately “proves herself,” and manages to turn the tables on those who were trying to keep her locked in a lower level role, makes for some truly wonderful reading.

Like Garrett, Ella is also of German descent, and also fluent in the language. Interestingly, her family expressed some qualms about her going to France and working against their mother country. She insists she’s not there to support the war efforts of any particular country, or even of any particular side. She volunteers for one reason only: to help persons who need it, regardless of nationality. She’s determined to stay out of the Allies’ larger strategic operations, refusing even to use her language skills to listen in on (and report back about) the conversations of enemy soldiers in her care. Her challenge is to remain true to herself, while assuring others that she’s not an enemy sympathizer. As the story unfolds, and her relationship with Garrett grows deeper, she is forced to make more difficult decisions about her role, and what she is willing to do to support the Allied effort.

As an avid cyclist, I was fascinated by one smallish detail in the plot: the use of an innovative, folding bicycle captured from the Germans. (Being able to fold it up made it easier for transport on a vehicle.) I’d never heard of these bicycles before, so I enjoyed learning about how they operated and were put to use. I’m hoping I get to see one in a museum someday.

I should mention that Ella’s Promise is a clean and wholesome story. The courtship is chaste, with the characters observing the social conventions of the time about appropriate behavior.

One other thing I should note: although the book is part of a series, it stands on its own as a story. You don’t need to have read the other two novels to appreciate this one (and I haven’t even been able to read the second one yet). Each novel focuses on a different female volunteer, with the “non focus” volunteers playing supporting roles. For example, Ella appeared in Julia’s Gifts, as one of Julia’s friends, but there’s nothing critical about her from that story that you need to know for this one. Likewise, you’ll appreciate Julia’s appearance in the current story more if you’ve read the first novel, but there is nothing from that novel which is essential to the plot of this one.

The bottom line is that Ella’s Promise is a wonderful novel, and I enjoyed it very much. I can’t believe I missed the second book in the series. I’m going to have to go back and rectify that as soon as I can.

Got Nothing Against the Big Town: The Yeoman Farmer’s Urban Adventure

We’ve been living on rural properties for nearly sixteen years now (hard to believe it’s been that long), and at this point I’m not sure I could ever again live or work in a city – or even a suburb. Once you get used to having this much open space, this much quiet, so many wonderful country roads, such beautiful night skies, and such terrific home-produced food … it’s not an easy thing to give up. We’re especially fortunate in that we live just outside a small town. Our township is rural and unincorporated, but we’re still close enough to town for high speed DSL internet — and we’re still just minutes from a hardware store, a grocery store, and a freeway to even more resources.

As much as I love country life, I do look forward to — and thoroughly enjoy — visiting bigger cities. Business travel takes me mostly to Washington, DC; when I’m there, I try to carve out some time to see the Smithsonian or other historical sights — or rent a bike and explore even farther.

And there is no other city quite like New York. I could never live there, or even work there on a regular basis. It’s far too large and too crowded for me — and not to mention extremely expensive. But what an amazing place to visit! What I’m always most struck by when I go there: New York seems to have a little bit of everything, and it’s all mixed together, and it’s all happening all at once. Every street is a kaleidoscope of sounds, different ethnic groups, languages, shops, restaurants, and activity. There never seems to be enough time to see everything, or to take everything in.

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Great Book Reviews

My novel, Full Cycle, has gotten some very nice reviews this summer. In addition to what readers have posted at Amazon, Mark Livingood at The TandemGeek’s Blog recently put up a terrific review of the book. An excerpt:

Full Cycle struck me as being a very compelling, life’s lessons story of believable proportions.  In other words, all of the characters seemed very credible and real.  I suspect the latter may be because there’s apparently a lot of Christopher Blunt’s life experiences captured in the story and its characters.

For tandem enthusiasts, yes… a tandem bicycle is very central to the story and the account of the main characters introduction to and riding experiences on the tandem was something that will resonate with all tandem riders, large and small.  And, small is the key to this story: it’s ultimately about a father and 12-year old son pairing up and taking on the annual Seattle to Portland (STP) ride.  The story offers a great perspective on how a tandem can build on strong family relationships between parents and their children as well as how cycling can play an important role in the modern family.

Earlier this summer, the Cascade Courier, the newspaper of the Pacific Northwest’s largest bicycle club, ran this wonderful review:

Cascade Full Cycle Review

Full Cycle is available in print at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and in Kindle format at Amazon.

Full Cycle

My new novel has just been published!

Full Cycle tells the story of eleven-year-old Alex Peterson, whose physical disability makes him the least-athletic boy in his school. When he first hears about the 200-mile Seattle to Portland (STP) bicycle ride, he’s immediately intrigued and inspired — and begins dreaming of how he might somehow be able to take part. He soon discovers that the key lies in getting his father, Rob, to return to the sport and train with him as a partner. Over the course of the next year, the two of them end up on an adventure (both on and off the bike) to places that neither could have gotten to on his own.

Full Cycle Front Cover

Is this a story about cycling? Of course. But, more than that, it’s a story about growing up. About growing together as father and son. About overcoming what we think are disabilities. About supporting and encouraging our kids when they strive to push beyond their limits. It’s a story about pursuing a crazy dream — and how much more meaningful that pursuit can be when it’s shared with someone else. Above all, this is a story about family. It’s a story for everyone, no matter how many or how few miles you rode your bike last year.

Every novelist draws on his or her own experiences when writing. I’ve been an avid cyclist since my youth, and loved the freedom it gave to go as far as my own efforts would take me. However, when kids started coming along, I found it increasingly difficult to put in the training miles necessary for the ultramarathon events I’d been doing. Late in the year our second child was born, I chose to hang the bike up. Only when the kids grew older, and became interested in riding, did I reconsider. We ended up buying a tandem, which proved to be the perfect way to ride together.

Homeschooled Farm Girl got bitten by the long distance cycling bug as badly as I did as a young adolescent, and her enthusiasm got me back in the sport full force. By the time she turned ten or eleven, she was already wanting to travel with me to Seattle to ride STP. She got her wish when, the year she turned twelve, our whole family went to the Pacific Northwest for a summer vacation. She did 130 of the 202 miles with me on our tandem — and would have done the whole thing, if her brothers hadn’t wanted their own turns. In many ways, her dedication inspired me to tell the story of Alex and Rob.

Above all, I’m indebted to my kids (and HFG in particular) for helping me discover that sports don’t have to be a wedge that divides parents from kids. Sports don’t have to be something that parents pursue on their own. Sports don’t have to consume the family’s time and attention, as parents shuttle kids all over creation to practices and games. Sports, done right, can bring parents and kids together.

And in that vein, I wrote Full Cycle to be enjoyed by parents and kids alike. It’s completely G-rated. It includes no profanity, no sensuality, and no violence. I wanted to be able to share it with my own kids. It is not a “young adult” (YA) novel, however; it has an adult-level vocabulary and length, and does not follow YA conventions. It’s an adult-level book. But, that said, adolescents and pre-teens who enjoy reading beyond the typical “YA” genre will enjoy it a lot. It’s a fast-paced story, and a quick read.

Full Cycle is available in print at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and in Kindle format at Amazon.

On Wheels

Homeschooling families are often asked “What do you do about sports?” It seems that this is the question we are asked second-most to all others. (Number One, of course, is “How are your kids learning to socialize with others?”)

We’ve consciously decided to avoid the typical team sports that involve shuttling kids all over creation to attend practices, games, and tournaments. Sure, baseball, hockey, football and soccer have value and can be quite healthy. But the schedules can consume enormous amounts of time that could be better spent with family; we’ve seen this happen to a number of our friends.

Just living on a farm, our kids get plenty of exercise. But they also participate in a relatively unusual sport. What this is, and how it came to be, is the focus of a fun article I just had published on MercatorNet. It begins like this:

If it’s true that an addict is the last to recognize his own addiction, that may be especially so when the compulsion is ostensibly healthy. But rock bottom is rock bottom, and mine came on November 20, 1999 — appropriately enough, near the lowest geographic point in North America, on one of the country’s most isolated roads.

You can read the rest of the piece here.

And for those who have been asking about my plans for a second novel, I do have a story in the works. The general plotline is inspired by the events recounted in this MercatorNet piece. I’ve finished a complete first draft, and the editor (and other initial readers) have sent me suggested changes. I am in the process of incorporating those edits now; I am hoping to have a final version for publication sometime next year.

In related news, my first novel, Passport, is now available in e-book format through the Amazon Kindle Store(for just $2.99). Also, Amazon has temporarily reduced the price for the print edition to $13.45; it can be found by clicking on the image below.

Saying Goodbye

That recent post about calling the vet, and calculating how much an animal is “worth” in vet bills, has now become highly relevant for us.

We have two farm dogs. Scooter the Border Collie gets most of the coverage here on the blog, because he’s such a useful worker. He’s young and very healthy, and loves nothing more than running with the livestock.

But there’s also Tabasco. She got more posts in the past, but has since gotten old and much less active. She’s largely been a companion, and spends her days and nights in my office. It’s hard to ask for a better pet than she has been.

The problem is, she’s been getting up there in years. Just how far, we don’t know. We got her nearly four years ago (seems much longer, though); she showed up at the local animal shelter the exact same day our collie was killed by a car, and we welcomed her as an addition to our Illinois farm. The vet estimated her to be at least six years old, but no one knew for sure. Anyway, late last fall she developed pneumonia. The vet x-rayed her lungs, identified it, and gave me some antibiotics to treat it.

She seemed fine. Then, over the last couple of months, she’s been getting increasingly slow and stiff. And then her belly began bloating. At first we thought that was a good thing; her days as a stray had left her very scrawny and bony, and it was nice to see her fill out a bit. But in recent days, the bloat has gotten so bad she’s had trouble breathing.

I was finally able to get her in to the vet today, and Tabasco looked so bad they let us cut to the front of the line even without an appointment. The vet x-rayed her lungs again, and put the image next to the one from December. Not only was the pneumonia back, but there was something worse: lots of nasty-looking growths and masses in her lungs. Those had been invisibly microscopic in the December x-rays, but were now sizable. She’s got a full-blown case of lung cancer, and it came upon her very fast.

Bottom line: at her age (and this vet estimates Tabasco is actually closer to 12-14 years old), there is nothing we can do to treat the cancer. And nothing we could’ve done, no matter when this had been diagnosed. Declining further treatment, in my mind, is a question of accepting the inevitible and not trying to prolong an animal’s suffering. He gave her a shot of steroids (to clear her airway), and a diuretic (to drain the fluid that’s been pooling behind her heart), and gave me a ten day supply of pills that’ll keep doing the same. The vet totally understood that the whole family needs some time to say goodbye, and to get used to the idea of not having her with us. He cautioned that she may not even survive the weekend. But if she makes the ten days, we should call and decide what to do next.

I never thought I’d break down at a vet’s office. After all, we lose animals all the time. I’ve personally put down any number of animals. But this was completely different. I managed to avoid totally sobbing until Tabasco and I were back at our car. I’m a dog person. And Tabasco is my companion dog. I’m going to miss her a lot.

In the meantime, I’ve had to let her out about a half dozen times to urinate — which is good. Hopefully she’ll get that fluid drained. And she’s already getting around a little better. We’re going to spoil her rotten for the next ten days, giving her all the choice stuff from our table. Scooter…he’s just going to have to wait.

There’s a novel I recently finished reading. It’s called The Art of Racing in the Rain. (Although I enjoyed the story, there are a number of reasons why I can’t recommend it.) Anyway, if you happen to have read the book, you’ll understand why a certain phrase has been in my mind since beginning the drive home from the vet:

Two barks means faster!