Saturday, December 18, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

From our hearts to yours, we want to wish you a very merry Christmas and an outrageously cool new year!






Ice crystals formed under the snow this week. It was just plain gorgeous!



FIRST Wild Card Tours will be back on January 3rd with a new year of great tours. Until then, may your hearts be glad, your tummies be full, and your hands be turning the pages. Merry Christmas to all our wonderful members and readers. We love and appreciate you!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Path Less Traveled (Book 2 in the Miller's Creek novels) by Cathy Bryant

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


A Path Less Traveled (Book 2 in the Miller's Creek novels)

WordVessel Press (October 18, 2010)

***Special thanks to Cathy Bryant for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



A Texas gal since birth, Cathy Bryant continues the Mayberry RFD--only Texas Style!--stories with Book 2 in the Miller's Creek series, A Path Less Traveled. Her debut novel Texas Roads was a 2009 ACFW Genesis finalist. Cathy lives in a century-old Texas farmhouse with her husband of almost 30 years and a phobia-ridden cat.

Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 312 pages
Publisher: WordVessel Press (October 18, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0984431128
ISBN-13: 978-0984431120

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One ~ Tolling Bells


In spite of the thousands of winking lights surrounding Trish James, a wedding somehow lost its luster in the wake of death. She nudged her shucked shoes out of the way with her big toe and adjusted the tulle on the wedding arch, the soft netlike fabric billowing beneath her fingertips as she encased the twinkle lights. The church sanctuary, with its white pews, stained-glass windows, and smoky blue carpet, served as the perfect backdrop to her design.

“This wedding must be hard on you after Doc’s death.” Dani spoke the words as if uncertain she should speak at all.

The ache in Trish’s heart started afresh, a wound that never healed, but she pushed it aside with practiced expertise. This wedding wasn’t about her. “I’m fine. It’s not everyday my brother marries the most wonderful woman in the world.” She forced a bright smile. “I’ve never seen Steve so happy.”

Her sister-in-law-to-be didn’t return the smile. Instead the area above her clear blue eyes creased. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Yep.” Trish snipped the word and bent low to snag a sprig of silk ivy, then inserted it in the proper place and blinked away tears. In truth, it would be great to have someone to share her concerns with, but within boundaries—not right before the wedding, not with anyone who lived in Miller’s Creek, and definitely not with family members. The last thing she wanted was for them to feel like they had to come to her rescue.

She’d told Delaine some of the situation, but her best friend since high school now lived the fast-paced, Austin lifestyle, their conversations limited to when Delaine didn’t have something else on her agenda.

“I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be both mother and father to Little Bo.” Dani lowered her head, blonde ringlets framing her face. “And then trying to start a business on top of everything else.”

Oh, no. She wasn’t going there. Trish clenched her teeth. Steve had already given her this lecture. With his best brotherly concern, he’d told her she didn’t have to be Superwoman. Yeah, right. Try telling that to her empty checkbook and refrigerator. She glanced at Dani, who sat atop the piano railing swinging her legs. “Are you ready for the big day tomorrow?”

A happy glow wreathed her friend’s face. “And the day after, and the day after that. I think I’ve been getting ready to marry Steve my entire life.”

“I’m happy for you both.” Though it hurt to speak the words, she meant it. It wasn’t their fault her life was in the doldrums.

Dani sprang from her perch and trotted down the steps to view the stage. “You have such a gift, Trish. Everything looks magical.”

Trish gazed at the curly willow branches she’d ordered and spray-painted white, now wrapped with tiny sparks of light. The fairy tale forest blanketed the stage and meandered down the side aisles in an aura of enchantment. Once the ribbons and flowers were placed, and candles inserted into globes and nestled among the boughs, her vision would be complete. “I hope it’s what you wanted.”

“It’s better than I could’ve ever imagined.” Dani hurried over and draped an arm across her shoulder. “Once everyone in Miller’s Creek see this, you’re gonna get loads of business.”

A heavy sigh whooshed from her before she could contain it. “From your lips to my bank account.”

Dani’s eyes clouded. “I don’t know how to say this, so I’m just going to say it and get it over with. Are you okay? I mean…do you need to borrow money or something?”

No. Yes. Yes. She wasn’t okay. She needed money. She needed…something. “I’m fine.” The lie popped out as she stepped to the box perched on the piano bench. With care she lifted two delicate cracked-glass globes and moved to the candle stands. The words “I’m fine” were her constant mantra these days, like saying them made everything all right. Who was she kidding?

She closed her eyes and reopened them with a slow blink, weary of pretending. But what choice did she have? Her brother’s wedding wasn’t the time or place to air her personal problems. Besides, she was thirty-two years old, more than old enough to handle life on her own. A glance at her wristwatch sent her pulse on a stampede. Still so much to do to make the decorations perfect. God, please let this bring me business.

Dani plopped back onto the railing. “Is Little Bo doing better?”

How could he be? “Sure, if you don’t count the nightmares and barely letting me out of his sight.” She omitted the fact that he was a hairsbreadth away from flunking kindergarten unless she could help him catch up before the school year ended.

“So the psychologist is helping?”

Before Trish could respond, the double white doors at the rear of the church burst open. Incessant rain poured from the April sky and silhouetted the form of a man. Dani let out a squeal. “Andy!”

The petite blonde flew down the steps toward a man who looked vaguely familiar. He wore a lightweight suit with a loosened necktie, and had an easy-going smile that brightened the room. “Hey, how’s the bride?”

Dani looked up at him, her face radiant. “Never better.”

“Yeah, I can see that.”

She tugged his arm. “Come here. I want you to meet someone.”

His loose-limbed gait gave the impression of someone always relaxed, like he’d just returned from a vacation at the beach.

“This is Andy Tyler, my friend from Dallas. Andy, this is Steve’s sister.”

Sea-green eyes sparkled. “Well, does Steve’s sister have a name?” He jogged up the steps and held out a hand, his smile still bright.

Trish laughed and took his hand. “I’m Trish James. Nice to meet you.”

Dani’s face took on a crimson hue. “Sorry. Guess my mind is elsewhere.”

Andy’s gaze rested on her bare feet. “Glad to know you have a name. What about shoes?”

She couldn’t help but smile. “I have them, but kicked them off hours ago.”

The hall door squeaked behind them, and Mama Beth, Dani’s mother and the mother figure of all of Miller’s Creek, bustled into the room. Along with her came the smell of fresh baked bread wafting from the fellowship hall. Trish could almost taste the melt-in-your mouth rolls. Maybe she could sneak a few leftovers for her and Bo to nibble on next week.

“My goodness, Trish, if this isn’t the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen.” Mama Beth hugged Andy’s neck. “Hi, Andy.”

A tender gleam lit his eyes as he wrapped his arms around the older woman’s shoulders and kissed her cheek. “Hi, sweet lady.” He turned raised eyebrows to Trish. “You did all this?”

She ducked her head, and pushed a silky strand of hair behind one ear.

“All of it.” gushed Dani. “And wait until you see the fellowship hall.”

“Speaking of fellowship hall, I could sure use your help in the kitchen.” Mama Beth’s voice took on a commanding tone as she scuttled to the door. “We’ve got enough work to do for this rehearsal dinner to keep an entire army busy.”

Dani looked torn. “But I can’t leave Trish down here to do all this by herself.”

Trish wrestled the wieldy greenery in place, longing to comment that she didn’t need help. It would suit her just fine if they’d all go away and leave her alone.

Andy rested his hands on his hips in mock protest, his tan jacket pulled back. “What am I? Pork belly? I’ll help Trish. You go help Mama Beth.” He held up a hand. “Trust me when I say I’ll be more help here than in the kitchen.”

“Good point. I’ve had your cooking.” Dani grinned and rushed after Mama Beth. “Y’all know where to find us if you need help.”

Andy chuckled and shed his jacket, then laid it across the front pew and turned her way. “What can I do to help?”

Trish mentally checked her to-do list. “I was actually waiting for someone with more muscles than me to come around. There’s a box full of candles I need brought in from my Suburban.” She pointed toward the side door. “It’s out there and it’s unlocked.”

He gave a mock salute that bounced his sandy curls. “Yes ma’am.” Andy’s stocky frame loped down the steps and disappeared through the doorway.

Her eyebrows rose as she made her way to the pile of greenery on the front pew. Dani’s friend was more handsome than she remembered. Trish burrowed through the tangled mess, remembering the promise she’d made Dani to help Andy feel welcome. As if she needed a man to take care of along with her other responsibilities.

The door slammed, Andy’s eyes and forehead barely visible above the box he white-knuckled. She ran to him. “Let me help. I know that’s heavy. I loaded it this morning.”

“Nah, I got it.” The words wheezed out. “You loaded this by yourself?”

She ignored the question and pointed to the stage. “Can you bring it up the steps?”

He shot her a ‘you’ve-got-to-be-kidding’ glare then labored up the steps, his face red, his breath coming in agonized spurts. As he reached the last step, the toe of his leather loafer snagged the extension cord snaking along the edge of the stage.

Trish tried to speak, but her words congregated behind locked lips. Andy stumbled, and the box flew from his arms, the candles launching like small missiles. He hit the floor with a thud, the box crash-landing at the base of the first tree.

In slow motion, like carefully-placed dominos, the trees rippled to the floor in a sickening staccato of crashes and breaking glass. As if to punctuate the effect, the white metal archway in the center leaned forward with a creak as it teetered, then toppled forward with a bang.

Her mouth hinged open, and her hands flew to her cheeks. All her hard work…ruined. In shock, it took a moment to realize Andy still lay face down on the carpet. “Are you all right?”

He pushed himself up on all fours and surveyed the devastation.

Assured he was okay, she slung herself down to the top step. The scene replayed in her mind. A giggle gurgled out then burst forth in an almost-maniacal laugh.

Andy chuckled and crawled to sit beside her.

Without warning, her laughter turned to sobs. She covered her face with trembling hands, rage surging at yet another unexpected crying jag. Now she’d never be ready on time. No one would be impressed. No one would want her services. No business. No money.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Andy slid a hand down her arm. “I’ll fix it, Trish, I promise. I’m so sorry.”

Trish fisted her hands, then straightened her spine and swatted at the tears on her cheeks. “Will you please stop apologizing?” There was no controlling her snappish tone. “For Pete’s sake, it was an accident. I’m not gonna sue.” She clamped her lips, rose to her feet, and waded through the ruins. Fingers at rest against her lips, she knelt to retrieve shattered slivers of glass from the broken globes. These weren’t even paid for.

Andy stooped beside her, his eyes boring a hole into her skull. “Here, let me get that. You start putting things back where you want them.”

Trish could only nod at his softly-spoken words, a knot wedged in her windpipe. She lifted a tree into position, the light strands dripping from the branches like a child had thrown them in place. So far her determination to prove herself capable had been met with nothing but industrial-strength resistance.

* * *

It’s all your fault. The familiar words in Andy’s head relentlessly accused, ushering forth memories and ghosts from the past. Trish obviously spent hours on the wedding decorations, and he’d managed to undo her work with one false step. He forced the finger-pointing voice to the back of his mind and attempted to burn off the chill that now hung in the room. “You live here in Miller’s Creek?”

“Yes.” Her answer sounded pinched. “My son and I live here. At least for now.” She didn’t look at him while she maneuvered the lights back on the branches with agile fingers.

Son? Now he remembered. Dani had mentioned something about Steve’s sister losing her husband in a freak accident. A cow kick, or was it a horse? And how long ago? “You’re leaving town?”

“I don’t want to, but we don’t always get what we want, do we?”

True, but sometimes what you thought you wanted wasn’t what you needed. Andy rose, his hands cupped to contain the glass shards. “No, we don’t. You have a trash can?”

Trish’s tawny eyes looked his way. She grabbed an empty box and hurried to him. “Here.” She glanced around the stage, her face gloomy, her shoulders slumped. “Are they all broken?”

“Don’t know.” He dumped the pieces in the box, where they pinged against each other. “Is there some place I can buy replacements?”

She rubbed one arm and shook her head. “No. I had them shipped in. I’ll drive to Morganville tonight after the rehearsal to see if I can find something that’ll work.”

The sadness on her face made his breath stick in his throat. He’d been in Miller’s Creek less than an hour and had already goofed things up. “I’ll go with you and pay for them since it’s my fault.”

Trish’s shoulders rose then fell. “It’s no one’s fault. It’s just something that happened.” She returned to the branches and hoisted another one back into position.

Just something that happened. A shaft of light streamed through the stained glass windows and rested on her, and she slumped over like she couldn’t bear the weight of the world any longer. Was she remembering the accident? He removed a pack of peppermint gum from his shirt pocket and popped a piece in his mouth. Her problems made the mess with Sheila seem trivial. What could he do to make things better?

“Dani told me you’re engaged. When’s the big day?” Trish strung lights along a tree branch. Perfectly.

He shifted his weight to the other leg then squatted to pluck glass from the carpet. “Uh, we’re not…I mean…well, it’s over between us.”

She raised her head, and her brown hair shimmered under the light. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Don’t be.” He stood. “It’s for the best.”

“How so?”

Andy let out a half-laugh. “Turns out she still had a thing for her ex-boyfriend.” Thank the Lord he’d found out in time. A wife would be wonderful, but not the wrong wife.

For a moment she didn’t speak, but her face took on a knowing look. “That must’ve been painful.”

He nodded, his lips pressed together. “It was hard, but God can bring good from hurt.”

Trish stared at him like she was trying to get a read on him then turned back to the lights. “So neither one of us are really in the mood to celebrate. Especially a wedding.” Her face matched her cynical tone.

Out in the hallway, muffled voices grew closer. The hall door swung open, and the smell of Mama Beth’s home-cooking watered his mouth. A little boy that looked like Trish raced toward them, then stopped, his dark eyes round. “Whoa! What happened here?”

Dani and Mama Beth followed, their mouths ajar. After them came Steve Miller, the mayor of Miller’s Creek, and Dani’s soon-to-be husband.

“It’s all right. Don’t worry.” Trish rushed to the two women and laid a hand on each of their arms. “It’s nothing that can’t be fixed, I promise. We just had a little accident.”

Andy watched through narrowed eyes. Now she comforted the two women when just a few minutes before she’d been in tears. A good way to get a severe case of whiplash.

Steve sauntered toward him, his boots scuffing against the carpet, a friendly grin on his face.

He shook Steve’s hand. “How you doing, Mayor?”

The other man’s grin expanded as he tucked his fingers in jeans that looked new. “I’ll be doing a lot better in a couple of days.” Lightning fast, Steve untucked one hand and grabbed the boy’s arm as he streaked by. “Hold on, tiger. I don’t think you have any business up there. Have you met Aunt Dani’s friend?”

The boy skewed his lips in a thoughtful pose and shook his head.

“This is my nephew, Bo.”

Andy stretched out a palm. “Give me five, buddy.”

Bo reared back and delivered a hearty slap.

“Ouch!” Andy pretended to shake off the sting. “Man, I’ll bet you can throw a baseball really far with that kind of muscle power.”

The boy nodded, his face creased with a grin. “Yep, but I can’t catch so good.”

“Well,” corrected Trish, as she came to stand with them. “You can’t catch well.”

Andy assumed a catcher’s position beside him. The little guy had to be missing his daddy. Maybe he could help. “I used to be a catcher, so I can give you some pointers later. Would you like that?”

Bo’s eyes lit. “Yeah.”

“Yes sir.” Trish’s tone held a warning.

“I mean, yes sir.” He looked toward his Mama. “Is it okay if we play catch, Mom?”

She sent Andy a tight-lipped smile, her expression cloaked with reserve, but when she turned toward her son her face softened, and she tousled his hair. “Of course, but it might be tomorrow since Mr. Tyler’s already promised to help me clean up this mess.” “Almost looks like a tornado touched down in here.” Steve rocked back on his heels and jangled the coins in his pocket.

“A tornado named Andy.” Trish gave a play-by-play account.

Steve laughed, but Mama Beth and Dani still fussed about like a couple of hens. “That’s one way to get out of carrying more boxes.” Steve winked. “I’ll have to remember that move.”

“Hey, look at me!” Little Bo perched on the piano railing, one foot in front of the other, his arms out to balance. Andy’s heart moved to his throat. One wrong step would hurdle him toward the carpet, still full of glass.

All of them raced for the railing, but Andy arrived first. He grabbed him by the waist and slung him over one shoulder, amused at Bo’s contagious belly laugh. “Come here, buddy, before you fall and hurt that amazing pitching arm.”

Trish joined them, eyes wide with panic, her face white and strained. She gripped Little Bo’s arms. “How many times do I have to tell you not to pull stunts like that?” Her voice shook as she bent down, her face inches from his.

The boy said nothing, his lips stuck out in a pout.

Steve laid a hand on her shoulder. “Sis.”

Volumes passed between the brother and sister before Little Bo bolted for the door. Trish raced after him, her dark eyes full of hurt.

Both men faced the door, an awkward silence between them. Steve cleared his throat and turned, his eyes fixed on the floor. “Sorry about that. Trish is…uh…going through a rough time.”

Andy nodded. An understatement if he’d ever heard one. Based on what he’d seen, he was pretty sure not even Steve knew exactly how rough.


Monday, November 22, 2010

THE CONFIDENT WOMAN DEVOTIONAL: 365 Daily Inspirations by Joyce Meyer

What I Thought:

At first glace, the amount of information per day seems very little, but Joyce packs a plethora of information into just a few paragraphs. This is perfect for a 'pick-me-up' devotional. Very wise words in a quick, easy format. I plan to use this every day this coming year...and the last month and a half of this one! ;-)


It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


THE CONFIDENT WOMAN DEVOTIONAL: 365 Daily Inspirations

FaithWords (November 22, 2010)

***Special thanks to Sarah Reck, Web Publicist, Hachette Book Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Joyce Meyer is one of the world's leading practical Bible teachers. A #1 New York Times bestselling author, she has written more than eighty inspirational books, including The Secret to True Happiness, 100 Ways to Simplify Your Life, the entire Battlefield of the Mind family of books, her first venture into fiction with The Penny, and many others. She has also released thousands of audio teachings, as well as a complete video library. Joyce’s Enjoying Everyday Life radio and television programs are broadcast around the world, and she travels extensively conducting conferences. Joyce and her husband, Dave, are the parents of four grown children and make their home in St. Louis, Missouri.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $15.99
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (November 22, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446568880
ISBN-13: 978-0446568883

Please press the BROWSE INSIDE THIS BOOK button to read the FIRST chapter:


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Surrender the Heart by MaryLu Tyndall

My Thoughts:

One of my favorite authors has written yet another great book. MaryLu Tyndall keeps the action and romance going throughout her latest swashbuckling adventure, Surrender the Heart. I would recommend every single one of her books. She also is wonderful with responding to her readers. Visit her blog and give her a cheerful comment. She'll love it.


It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Surrender the Heart

Barbour Books (August 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to MaryLu Tyndall and Camy Tang for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


M.L. Tyndall, a Christy Award Finalist, and best-selling author of the Legacy of the King’s Pirates series is known for her adventurous historical romances filled with deep spiritual themes. She holds a degree in Math and worked as a software engineer for fifteen years before testing the waters as a writer. MaryLu currently writes full time and makes her home on the California coast with her husband, six kids, and four cats. Her passion is to write page-turning, romantic adventures that not only entertain but expose Christians to their full potential in Christ. For more information on MaryLu and her upcoming releases, please visit her website or her blog.


Visit the author's website.
Visit the author's blog.



Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (August 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602601658
ISBN-13: 978-1602601659

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


June 18, 1812, Baltimore, Maryland


“I would rather boil in oil than marry Noah Brenin.” Marianne tossed the silver brooch onto her vanity.

“Hold your breath and stay still.” Rose said from behind her. “Besides, it is only an engagement party, not a wedding.”

“But it is one more step to that horrid destination.” Marianne sucked in her breath as Rose threaded the laces through the eyelets on her stays. “Why must women wear these contraptions?”

“To look our best for the gentlemen in our lives.” Cassandra appeared on Marianne’s left, a lacy petticoat flung over one arm. With shimmering auburn hair and eyes the color of emeralds, Cassandra had no trouble looking her best for anyone.

Marianne huffed. “I have no care what any gentleman thinks of my appearance.”

“Which is why you are still unmarried at five and twenty.”

“Then what is your excuse at three and twenty?” Marianne arched a brow, to which Cassandra responded with a shrug. “I have not yet met a man worthy of me.” She grinned.

“Where on earth is your chambermaid?” Rose grunted as she squeezed Marianne’s rounded figure into the stays and tied the final lace tight. “Shouldn’t she be doing this?”

“I dismissed her.” Marianne waved a hand through the air. “I prefer to dress myself.” She hoped they didn’t hear the slight quaver in her voice. If only they knew that her mother had been forced to let the entire staff go and the ones here today were hired just for her betrothal party.

“There.” Rose finished her work and stepped back as Marianne took the petticoat from Cassandra and slipped it over her head.

“Truth is, I do not wish to marry—ever.” Marianne squared her shoulders as Cassandra slid behind her and latched the petticoat hooks.

Rose put her hands on her waist. “Noah Brenin is a fine man and a good catch.”

Marianne gazed at her friend and couldn’t help but smile at the motherly reprimand burning in her crystal blue eyes. Tall and slender, with honey blond hair, Rose turned many a head in Baltimore. Just like Cassandra.

But not like Marianne.

“He is a boor.”

“Why so low an opinion of him? Haven’t you and he been friends since childhood?” Rose cocked her head and gave Marianne a look of censure.

“I wouldn’t call it friendship, more like forced acquaintance. And my knowledge of him is precisely why I know him for the churlish clod he is.”

Gathering a cream-colored silk-embroidered gown from Marianne’s bed, Rose and Cassandra tossed it over her head and assisted her as she wiggled into it. She adjusted the ruffled lace bordering her neckline and circling her puffy sleeves. Cassandra handed her a jeweled belt which Marianne strapped around her high waist and buckled in front. She pressed down the folds of her gown, admiring the pink lace trailing down the front and trimming the hemline. After slipping on her white satin slippers, Marianne moved to the full length looking glass and paused to eye her reflection.

Plain. Despite the shimmering, glamorous dress, plain was the first word that came to her mind. Perhaps because that was how she had always been described. Brown hair, brown eyes, average height, a bit plump. Nothing remarkable, nothing to catch an eye.

Simply plain.

Which was precisely why, when the other girls her age were being courted, Marianne had preferred to spend her time caring for her ailing mother and younger sister, particularly after their father died. No whirlwind romances, no soirees, no grand adventures lit up the horizon for her. She had resigned herself to lead an ordinary life. An ordinary life for an ordinary girl.

“Come now, it won’t be so bad.” Rose brushed a lock of hair from Marianne’s forehead and then straightened one of the curls dangling about her neck. “You look as though you were attending your own funeral.”

“I dare say I feel as though I am.” Tired of staring into the mirror with the hope her reflection would transform into that of a beautiful woman, Marianne turned aside, picked up her silk gloves from the vanity and sauntered toward the window.

“I, for one, cannot wait to get married,” Rose said. “To the right man of course. He must be a good, honest, god-fearing man. A man who stays home, not a seaman. And he must be agreeable in all respects.”

“What about handsome?” Cassandra asked, and Marianne turned to see a blush creep up Rose’s neck.

“Well, yes, I suppose I would not be opposed to that.” Her blue eyes twinkled.

Facing the window, Marianne slid the white gloves onto her hands and tugged them up her arms. Shouts echoed from the street below, accompanied by the clip clop of horse hooves and the grating of carriage wheels. She brushed aside the curtain to see people running to and fro darting between carriages. A warm breeze, heavy with moisture and the smells of the sea, stirred the curtains. A bell rang in the distance, drawing Marianne’s attention to the maze of ship’s masts thrusting into the blue sky like iron bars of a prison. A prison that could not constrain the ravenous blue waters from feeding upon the innocent—an innocent like her father.

Rose and Cassandra joined her at the window as more shouts blasted in with the wind. “What is all the commotion about?” Cassandra pushed back the other side of the curtains.

“There have been rumors that President Madison will soon declare war on Britain,” Marianne said.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that.” Rose peered over Marianne’s shoulder. “War is such horrid business.”

“But necessary if the British insist on stealing our men from land and sea and impressing them into their Navy.” Marianne felt her ire rising. “Not to mention how they rouse the Indians to attack us on the frontier.”

“They want their colonies back, I suppose.” Afternoon sunlight set Cassandra’s red hair aflame in ribbons of liquid fire. “England never was good at losing.”

“Well they can’t have them.” Marianne’s voice rose with a determination she felt building within. Though she’d been born after the Revolution, she had heard the stories of oppression and tyranny enforced upon them by a nation across the seas whose king thought he had the right to dictate laws and taxes without giving the people a voice. But no more. “We won our freedom from them. We are a nation now. A new nation that represents liberty to the entire world.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” Cassandra nodded with a smile. “Perhaps you should run for mayor?”

“A woman in public office?” Marianne chuckled. “That will never happen.”

The door creaked open, and Marianne turned to see her mother and younger sister slip inside.

Lizzie’s eyes widened and she rushed toward Marianne. “You look so beautiful, Marianne!”

Kneeling, Marianne embraced her sister. She held her tight and took a big whiff of the lavender soap with which their mother always scrubbed the little girl. “Thank you, Lizzie. I can always count on you for a compliment.”

“Now, Lizzie, don’t wrinkle your sister’s dress.” Marianne’s mother sank into one of the chairs by the fireplace and winced. The slight reminder of her mother’s pain caused Marianne’s heart to shrink. She squeezed her little sister again—the one beacon of joy in their house these past three years since Father died—and kissed her on the cheek. “You look very beautiful too.”

The little girl clutched her skirt and twirled around. “Do you really think so?” She drew her lips into a pout. “But when can I wear a dress like yours?”

“Come now, Lizzie,” Mother said. “You are only six. When you are a grown woman like Marianne, you may wear more elaborate gowns.” She gestured toward Rose and Cassandra. “Ladies, would you take Lizzie downstairs for a moment? I need a word with Marianne.”

“Of course, Mrs. Denton.” Rose took Lizzie’s hand. “Come along little one.”

Cassandra followed after them and closed the door.

Marianne sat in the chair beside her mother and gently grasped her hands. She flinched at how cold and moist they were. “How are you feeling, Mama?”

“Very well today, dear.” She looked down as if hiding something..

But Marianne didn’t need to look in her mother’s eyes to know she was lying. The sprinkles of perspiration on her forehead, the paleness of her skin, and the tightening of her lips when the pains hit spoke more clearly than any words.

Marianne squeezed her mother’s hands. “The medicaments are not working?”

“They will work. It takes time.” Her mother attempted a smile. “But let us not talk of that now. I have something more important to discuss with you.” She released a heavy sigh then lifted her gaze to Marianne’s. Though illness had stolen the glimmer from her eyes, it could not hide the sweet kindness of her soul. “You don’t have to do this, you know.”

The truth of her words sliced through Marianne. She stared at the floral pattern woven into the carpet. “You know I do.”

“It isn’t fair of me to ask this of you.” Her mother’s voice rang with conviction and deep sorrow.

“You didn’t ask, Mama. I want to do this.” A truth followed by a lie. Marianne hoped the good canceled out the bad.

“Come now. You cannot fool me.” Mama said. “I know this is not the match you would choose.”

Releasing her mother’s hands, Marianne rose from the chair and sauntered toward the window. The rustle of her gown crackled through the air with conviction. “In truth, I would choose no match.” She turned and forced a smile. “So if I must marry, why not this man?”

Her mother gazed at her with such love and sorrow that Marianne felt her heart would burst. Once considered the most beautiful woman in Baltimore, Jane Denton, now withered away with the sickness that robbed her of her glow and luster and stole the fat from her bones, leaving her but a frail skeleton of what she once had been. The physicians had no idea what ailed her save that without the medicaments they administered, she would die a quicker and more painful death.

Tearing her gaze from the tragic vision, Marianne glanced out the window where it seemed as though the approaching evening only heightened the citizens’ agitation. “Marrying Noah Brenin will save us. It will save you.”

“But what of saving you?” Her mother’s sweet plea caressed Marianne’s ears, but she forced down the spark of hope that dared to rise at her mother’s question. There was no room for hope now, only necessity.

“You know if we continue as is, all that is left of our fortune will be spent in one year on your medicaments. Then what will we do? Without my dowry, no man will look my way, since that and our good name is all that has caught this particular fish upon the hook.” And without a husband to unlock her inheritance, her father had ensured that the seven thousand dollars would remain as far from her reach as if she did not own it at all.

“Perhaps you will meet another man—someone you love?” Her mother said.

“Mama, I am five and twenty.” Marianne turned and waved her hands over herself. “And plain to look at.” She gave a bitter laugh. “Do you see suitors lining up at our door?”

“You are too beautiful for words, dearest.” Her mother’s eyes beamed in adoration. “You just don’t know it yet.”

Shrugging off her mother’s compliment as the obligation of a parent, Marianne stiffened her back before she attempted to rekindle an argument long since put to death. “We could take what’s left of our money and fund a privateer, Mama.” Marianne glanced out the window at a mob that had formed down the street. “War is certain and our fledgling navy will need all the help it can get.”

Her mother’s nervous huff drew Marianne’s gaze. “It is far too much of a gamble. And gambling destroys lives”—a glaze covered her mother’s eyes as she stared into the room—“and families.”

Marianne grimaced. “I am not like Papa. I have heard these privateers can make a fortune while helping to defend our country.”

A breeze stirred a curled wisp of her mother’s hair as she gazed at Marianne with concern.

Marianne twisted the ring on her finger. “Down at the docks, merchantmen are already outfitted their ships as privateers. The call for investors goes out daily.” If only she could convince her mother, not only would Marianne not have to marry that clod, Noah, but she could do something to help this great nation of hers.

Her mother’s boney hands perched in her lap began to tremble. “We could lose everything. And what of Lizzie? I could not bare it.”

Shame drummed upon Marianne’s hopes. She had upset her mother when the doctor strictly instructed her to keep her calm.

“Perhaps a trade of some sort?” Mama offered. “I hear that Mrs. Pickersgill makes a decent living sewing ensigns.”

A blast of warm wind stirred the gauzy curtains and cooled the perspiration forming on Marianne’s neck. “Mama you know I have no skills. I’m not like other ladies. The last gown I attempted to sew fell apart. My cooking would drive the hardiest frontiersman back to the woods, and the pianoforte runs when it sees me coming.”

Mother chuckled. “You exaggerate, dearest.”

But Marianne could tell by the look in her mother’s eyes that despite the humorous delivery, her words rang true. Though a governess in her younger years and her mother in her later years had strived to teach Marianne the skills every proper lady should acquire, she had found them nothing but tedious. She possessed no useful skills, no talents. As her father had so often declared before his death. In essence, Marianne had nothing to offer. If her mother would not agree to fund a privateer, Marianne would have to accept her fate in marriage.

“I’m an old woman and will die soon anyway,” Mama said with a sigh. “But I must ensure you and Lizzie are cared for.”

Gathering her skirts, Marianne dashed toward her mother and knelt at her feet. “You must never say such a thing.”

“Do not soil your beautiful gown.” Her mother smiled and wiped a tear from Marianne’s cheek. “Perhaps we should simply trust God with my health and let His will prevail.”

Marianne laid her head on her mother’s lap like she used to do as a child. She had trusted her father, she had trusted God.

And they had both let her down—her and her mother.

Trust no longer came so easily. “I will not let you die, Mother. I cannot.” Her eyes burned with tears. “As long as I have my inheritance and a man who is willing to marry me, I promise you will be well cared for. And Lizzie too. That is all that matters, now.” Marianne lifted her gaze to her mother’s, feeling strength surge through her.

“And mark my words, Mama. Nothing will stand in my way. Especially not Noah Brenin.”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Very Private Grave (Book 1: The Monastery Murders) by Donna Fletcher Crow

This looks like a totally exciting and fun book. I hope you enjoy the first chapter. This is definitely on my reading list!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


A Very Private Grave (Book 1: The Monastery Murders)

Monarch Books (August 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Donna Fletcher Crow for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:






Donna Fletcher Crow is the award-winning author of more than 30 books, primarily novels dealing with British history.


Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Monarch Books (August 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1854249681
ISBN-13: 978-1854249685

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Felicity flung her history book against the wall. She wasn’t studying for the priesthood to learn about ancient saints. She wanted to bring justice to this screwed-up world. Children were starving in Africa, war was ravaging the Middle East, women everywhere were treated as inferiors. Even here in England—

She stopped her internal rant when she realized the crash of her book had obscured the knock at her door. Reluctantly she picked up the book, noting with satisfaction the smudge it had left on the wall, and went into the hall. Her groan wasn’t entirely internal when she made out the black cassock and grey scapular of her caller through the glass panel of the door. She couldn’t have been in less of a mood to see one of the long-faced monks who ran the College of the Transfiguration which she had chosen to attend in a moment of temporary insanity. She jerked the door open with a bang.

“Father Dominic!” Felicity was immediately sorry for her surly mood. Fr. Dominic was an entirely different matter. She was always happy to see him. “I didn’t realize you were back from your pilgrimage.” She held the door wide for him as he limped down the hall to her living room.

“Just returned, my dear. Just returned.” As he spoke he smiled with a twinkle in his eyes that belied his 85 years, but he couldn’t quite suppress a small sigh as he lowered himself stiffly onto her sofa.

“I’ll put the kettle on.” Felicity turned toward her small kitchen. “I’m so sorry I don’t have any scones.”

“No, no. Just tea today— black.”

She looked at him, puzzled for a moment, then remembered. Oh, yes— today was Ash Wednesday. Solemn fast and all that. Felicity mentally rolled her eyes as she filled the kettle with water and clicked it on.

A few minutes later she filled his cup with a steaming, amber stream of his favorite Yorkshire Gold tea. The Community had a year or two ago started serving a cheaper blend of tea and donating the money saved thereby to the African Children’s Fund Fr. Dominic chaired— a worthy cause, but the tea was dreadful.

He raised his cup, “Oh, who could ask for more? The nectar of the gods.” Still, she knew he was missing her scones for which he sometimes provided little jars of quince jam from the community kitchen. And at Christmas he had brought her favorite— slices of dark, rich fruit cake encased in marzipan an inch thick.

And yet today she wondered if he noticed what he was or wasn’t eating at all, he was so animated with his plans for the major funding drive the Children’s Fund was set to launch. “If one puts together abortion, infant mortality, AIDS and traumatic deaths, South Africa’s daily death toll is appalling. Thousands die in a matter of months. If this were a war, such troop causalities would not be acceptable. The entire future of that nation— the whole continent, really— is at stake. They simply cannot afford to lose so many of their people— especially the children who are the future. If you don’t maintain health and keep order, instability, violence and poverty tear a country apart.”

Felicity nodded vigorously. Yes, this was more like it. This was what she wanted to hear about, not some useless church history nonsense. Fr. Dominic had spent his life working in South Africa, and today his passion made every word strike her heart. “And it isn’t just South Africa, the rest of the continent looks to them— to us— for stability. If South Africa fails, millions of Africans will curse us— we who stand by and let it happen.”

Still, there was hope, Dominic had talked to key people while on pilgrimage and had secured a source for a vast amount for the fund, although he didn't say what that source was. “This will be enough to build a first rate hospital for AIDS babies in Africa and fund a research wing for prevention and cure. There are good leaders in the government. There are people working for justice. If we can just give the people hope to hold on— "

His eyes took on a dreamy look and a little smile played around his mouth. "Hope. That’s what it’s always been about. Through the centuries . . . At last, the treasure to be put to a truly worthy use. . ." He ducked his head and took a quick sip of tea. “Forgive me, I’ve said too much.” He became suddenly thoughtful and lapsed into a most uncharacteristic silence. All Felicity’s best efforts couldn’t coax any more stories from him. Perhaps it was just the solemnity of the day, but Felicity did miss his stories— even the ones she had heard multiple times.

He drained his cup and set it down. “Ah, thank you my dear. Always a pleasure to be in your bright company. But now I must be getting back up the hill. Father Superior has asked me to do the ashing at mass, so I must prepare.” He struggled to his feet, his broad-shouldered, once-muscular frame revealing gauntness under the weight of his black woolen cassock, as did the folds of flesh that hung beneath his square jaw.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” he patted the canvas scrip which hung at his side from a strap slung across his chest. “I thought this might interest you.” He held out a small parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied up with old-fashioned string. His hand shook ever so slightly as Felicity took it from him. The gesture was so endearing: his shyness charming; his eagerness humbling. If the circumstances had been vastly different he could have been a suitor offering jewels to his beloved, or perhaps in an earlier age a troubadour bestowing an ode to his lady. And oddly enough, Felicity had the distinct impression that he hadn’t at all forgotten, but rather that delivering this small package had been the sole object of his visit. One might almost say his mission.

Felicity couldn’t help herself. She stepped forward and kissed him on his cheek. “Thank you, Father.”

Unexpectedly he placed his hands on each side of her forehead. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always.” She felt a warmth from his hands that infused her whole head and radiated toward her body as if she were being bathed in warm oil. She almost fancied a faint scent of spice as he made the sign of the cross over her.

Moving inside a bubble of hushed awe, she held the door for him and he walked out slowly, as if reluctant to leave, stepping carefully to avoid limping. “I’ll see you at mass, Father.”

She shut the door behind him and turned to the window to watch his slow progress down the uneven sidewalk, his grey scapular blowing in the wind. Somehow she wanted to call out to him, to cling to the moment, but already it was passing, the normality of the day moving in on a holy moment. Yet even as she turned away from the window, the warmth of his touch remained on her head. She turned back one last time, her hand held out to him, but no one was there. Only a fleeting shadow brushed the corner of her eye. She shivered, but when she blinked the sky was clear.

"Right. Back to the real world." Felicity spoke aloud to make herself focus. She looked longingly at the small brown package in her hand. It felt like a book. A very slim volume. Had Father D. found a publisher for his poetry? Her fingers plucked at the string. No. If this was a collection of her friend’s poetry perusing it must not be rushed. Reading it would be her treat when she finished the work she had set for herself for the day. Lectures had been cancelled to mark the solemnity, but essays would still be due when they were due. With a sigh she slipped the gift into one of the copious patch pockets of her skirt and returned to the tome on the Anglo-Saxon church Fr. Antony had assigned, forcing herself to concentrate on its obscure irrelevancies.

That had been the hardest thing she had found about adjusting to her first year at theological college— the constant pressure for work, the lack of time to pursue her own interests— and that in a monastery, even. You really would think, living with a bunch of monks and future priests you'd have all the time in the world. Felicity shook her head.

And besides that, there was no margin for error on her part. As one of only four women among the student body of forty-some— and the only American— Felicity felt a double burden to reach the highest standards possible. This was the first year the Anglo-Catholic College of the Transfiguration had accepted women as ordinands, although they were still housed off campus awaiting alterations to the dormitories. Before "the Great Change" a few women enrolled as students, but were not allowed equal status with the male ordinands. Last year, however, the college had submitted to the winds of change and the powers that be, so now the women had full status— and double pressure.

Felicity, however was never one to let such barriers discourage her. She could rise to any challenge and her determination to succeed in this male-dominated world knew no limits. Anyway, she had few complaints. She had been warmly welcomed— by most. A handful of ordinands and perhaps two or three of the monks or lay teachers were less warm— whether because she was female or because she was American she wasn’t sure.

Two hours later the insistent ringing of the community bell called her back from her reading just in time to fling a long black cassock on over her shetland sweater and dash across the street and up the hill to the Community grounds. Her long legs carried her the distance in under three minutes— she had timed it once. Once inside the high stone wall enclosing the Community she slowed her pace. It never failed. No matter how irritated she became with all the ancient ritual and nonsense of the place, there was something about the storybook quality of it all that got through to her in her quieter moments.

The spicy scent of incense met her at the door of the church. She dipped her finger in the bowl of holy water and turned to share it with the brother just behind her. Shy Br. Matthew extended a plump finger without meeting her eyes. They each crossed themselves and slipped into their seats in the choir.

“Miserere mei, Deus. . .” The choir and cantors had practiced for weeks to be able to sing Psalm 51 to the haunting melody composed by Allegri. The words ascended to the vaulted ceiling; the echoes reverberated. Candles flickered in the shadowed corners. She had been here for six months— long enough for the uniqueness of it all to have palled to boredom— but somehow there was a fascination she couldn't define. “Mystery,” the monks would tell her. And she could do no better.

What was the right term to describe how she was living? Counter-cultural existence? Alternate lifestyle? She pondered for a moment, then smiled. Parallel universe. That was it. She was definitely living in a parallel universe. The rest of the world was out there, going about its everyday life, with no idea that this world existed alongside of it.

It was a wonderful, cozy, secretive feeling as she thought of bankers and shopkeepers rushing home after a busy day, mothers preparing dinner for hungry school children, farmers milking their cows— all over this little green island the workaday world hummed along to the pace of modern life. And here she was on a verdant hillside in Yorkshire living a life hardly anyone knew even existed. Harry Potter. It was a very Harry Potter experience.

She forced her attention back to the penitential service with its weighty readings, somber plainchant responses, and minor key music set against purple vestments. Only when they came to the blessing of the ashes did she realize Fr. Dominic wasn’t in his usual place. Her disappointment was sharp. He had definitely said he was to do the imposition of the ashes and she had felt receiving the ashen cross on her forehead from that dear man would give the ancient ritual added meaning. Instead, Fr. Antony, one of the secular priests who lectured at the college, not even one of the monastic community, stood to hold the small pot of palm ashes while Fr. Anselm, the Superior of the Community, blessed them with holy water and incense.

Felicity knelt at the altar rail, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes were cold, a sooty mark of grief, gritty on her forehead.

“Amen,” she responded automatically.

She was back in her seat, turning ahead to the final hymn, “Forty Days and Forty Nights,” when she heard the soft slapping of sandals on the stone floor. Oh, there’s Fr. Dominic. She relaxed at the thought, putting away her worries that he had been taken suddenly ill. But her relief was short-lived when Fr. Clement, the Principal of the college, and Jonathan Breen, a scholar making a retreat at the monastery, slipped to the altar for their ashes.

The final notes of the postlude were still echoing high overhead when Felicity rose from her seat and hurried outside. Dinner, a vegetarian Lenten meal, would start in the refectory almost immediately and it wouldn’t do to be late. If she hurried, though, she could just dash back to her flat and pick up a book of Latin poetry for Fr. Dominic. She had a new volume of Horace, and she knew Fr. D loved the Roman's half Stoic, half Epicurean philosophy. He would have time to enjoy what he called his “guilty pleasure” while he recuperated from his indisposition.

She bounded up the single flight of stairs, flung open her door and came to a sudden halt. “Oh!” The cry was knocked from her like a punch in the stomach. She couldn’t believe it. She backed against the wall, closing her eyes in the hope that all would right itself when she opened them. It didn’t. The entire flat had been turned upside down.

Felicity stood frozen for perhaps a full minute, trying to take it all in: books pulled from shelves, drawers pulled from her desk, cushions flung from chairs. Hardly breathing, she rushed into her kitchen, bath, bedroom— all chaos— sheets and duvet ripped from her bed, clothes pulled from her wardrobe. She picked her way through scattered papers, dumped files, ripped letters. Dimly she registered that her computer and CD player were still there. Oh, and there was the Horace book still by her bed. She pulled her purse from under a pile of clothes. Empty. But its contents lay nearby. Credit cards and money still there.

Not robbery. So then, what? Why?

Was this an anti-women-clergy thing? Had she underestimated the extent of the resentment? Or was it an anti-American thing? The American president was widely unpopular in England. Had he done something to trigger an anti-American demonstration? Felicity would be the last to know. She never turned on the news.

Well, whatever it was, she would show them. If someone in the college thought they could scare her off by flinging a few books around she’d give them something new to think about. She stormed out, slamming her door hard enough to rattle the glass pane and strode up the hill at twice the speed she had run down it. Not for nothing her years of rigorous exercise at the ballet barre. When she reached the monastery grounds she keyed in the numbers on the security lock with angry jabs and barely waited for the high, black iron gates to swing open before she was speeding up the graveled walk.

Felicity's long blond braid thumped against her back as she charged onward, her mind seething. If those self-righteous prigs who posed as her fellow students thought they could put her off with some sophomoric trick—

She approached the college building, practicing the speech she would deliver to all assembled for dinner in the refectory: “Now listen up, you lot! If you think you can push me around just because your skirts are longer than mine. . .”

She punched a clenched-fist gesture toward her imaginary cassock-clad audience, then saw the Horace book still clutched in her hand. Oh, yes. First things first. She would have missed the opening prayer anyway. She would just run by Father D’s room— then she would tell them.

She hurried on up the path beyond the college to the monastery, ran her swipe card through the lock, and was halfway down the hall before the door clicked shut behind her. She had only been to Dominic’s room once before, to collect a poetry book he was anxious to share with her, but she would have had no trouble locating it, even had the door not been standing ajar.

She pushed it wider, preparing to step in. “Father D— ” she stopped at the sight of a man in a black cassock standing there praying. He jerked around at the sound of her voice and she recognized Fr. Antony, her church history lecturer.

She took a step backward when she saw the look of horror on his sheet-white face. “Felicity. Don’t come in.” He held up a hand to stop her and she saw it was covered with blood.

“Father D! Is he hemorrhaging?” She lunged forward, then stopped at the sight before her.

The whole room seemed covered in blood. Bright red splotches on the pristine white walls and bedding, on the open pages of a prayer book, on the statue of Our Lord, forming lurid stigmata on His hands extended in mercy. . .

And in the center of the floor, in a pool of red, his battered head all but unrecognizable— her beloved Father Dominic. The smell of fresh blood clogged her nostrils. Gorge rose in her throat.

“Felicity— ” Fr. Antony extended his reddened hands to her in a pleading gesture.

“No!” She screamed, wielding her Latin book as a shield against the blood, a red haze of shock and horror clouding her vision.

She couldn’t believe Antony's face could get even whiter. “Felicity, wait. Listen—”

She dimly registered his words, but the voice in her head shouted with far greater force. No! It can’t be. It's a mistake. She was in the wrong room. Must be. She shook her head against the nightmare she had seen yet couldn't accept that she had seen. Blackness rolled toward her.

She staggered backward into the hall and slumped to the floor as the room spun before her. She closed her eyes against the darkness as her mind reeled, groping for a coherent thought. How could this be?

Only a short time ago she had been reveling in the peace of this remote holy place. Where could such violence have come from? How was it possible here? In a place of prayer? To a holy man. Why?

If Fr. Dominic wasn't safe who could be?

And even as the questions tumbled, half-formed through her head, even as her mind denied the act her eyes saw, she knew she had to find an explanation. How could she continue studying— believing in— purpose and justice if such senseless irrationality reigned free?

Focusing on the questions gave her strength to get her feet under her again.

Antony was still standing dazed in the gore-splattered room looking as though he could collapse in the middle of the pool of blood. Felicity grabbed his arm, jerked him into the corridor, and shoved him against the wall where he stayed, leaning heavily. He held his hands before his face as if unbelieving they were his own. “When he missed mass I came to check on him. . . I felt for a pulse— ”

“We must get help!” Felicity looked wildly around.

“Yes, of course.” Her energy seemed to galvanize Antony. He pushed himself forward unsteadily. “Forgive me, I feel so stupid. It was the horror. I— we must tell the Superior. He’ll call the police.”

“Police? You mean an ambulance.” Felicity started toward the room again. Yes, that was it— how could she have dithered so when they must get help. “He’s lost so much blood, but maybe—”

“No!” Antony gripped her shoulder with more strength than she realized he was capable of. “Don’t go in there again, Felicity. It’s useless.”

She knew. She had seen the blood.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Petra: City of Stone by T. L. Higley

What I Thought: I haven't read this one yet, but it is next on my list. I totally adored the last three books by Tracy. She is a wonderful author. Exciting stuff! She is also a really neat person. I cannot say enough about how wonderful her books are. I hope that you read this chapter and love it so much that you run out and buy all of her books!


It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:




and the book:



B&H Books (September 15, 2010)

***Special thanks to T.L. Higley for sending me a review copy.***


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Tracy started her first novel at the age of eight and has been hooked on writing ever since. After attending Philadelphia Biblical University, she earned a B.A. in English Literature at Rowan University. She then spent ten years writing drama presentations for church ministry. A lifelong interest in history and mythology has led Tracy to extensive research into ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome, and shaped her desire to shine the light of the gospel into the cultures of the past. She has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Italy to research her novels, and looks forward to more travel as the series continues.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 14.99
Paperback: 344 pages
Publisher: B&H Books (September 15, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1433668564
ISBN-13: 978-1433668562

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The streets of Rome lay barren and empty, sucked dry by the colossal Flavian Amphitheatre that had swallowed seventy-five thousand Roman citizens in a single gulp, and would hold each one captive until they had enjoyed the horrors that Julian now raced to prevent.

More time. He needed more time. Already the crowd inside the four-story rim of stone cheered for the first event.

Julian’s sandals smacked the black basalt road that led toward the amphitheatre. The blistering Roman sun pounded the moisture from his skin and left him panting. He had run most of way, since an old servant in Vita’s house had pointed a gnarled finger toward the east, toward the Forum, toward the arena of death.

Eighty arches ringed the outside of the theatre on each of its first three stories. The bottom arches provided access to the public, and the second story’s niches held statues of the gods and emperors, who now looked down on Julian as he sprinted across the large travertine slabs that paved the arena’s edge.

He ran toward one of the four main entrances and fumbled for the tessera, the stone tile he wore around his neck. The designatores at the entrance would insist on examining it, to see the sector, row and seat to which he was assigned.

Indeed, the usher at this entrance was full of his own importance, and held a palm to Julian’s oncoming rush as though he could stop him with only the force of his arm.

“Too long in your bed this morning, eh?” His smug smile took in Julian’s hastily-wrapped toga and sweat-dampened hair.

Julian thrust the tessera before the man’s eyes. “Here, here, look at it.”

Still the amused smile. The usher opened his mouth to speak again.

“Look at it!”

Daunted, the man let his eyes travel over the tile, then took a tiny breath and stepped back. His grin faded to a look of regret over his own impudence, and he bowed his head. As if that were not enough, he bowed at the waist and extended a hand to invite Julian to enter.

Julian did not wait for an apology. He pushed past the usher and under the vaulted entrance, then straight through the arena’s outer corridor and up a ramp that led to the cavea, the wedge-shaped sections of marble seats. This main entrance led directly to the central boxes reserved for the elite.

He exploded from the dimly lit ramp onto the terrace. The morning sun slashed across half the seats, the height of the amphitheatre leaving the other half in shade. The red canvas velarium, the awning used to shade the spectators, would be raised before it got much hotter, but for now, thousands of bleached togas on white marble blinded the eye and the smell of the masses assaulted the nose.

Julian crossed the terrace in two strides, slammed against the waist-high wall that separated him from the arena, and saw a figure dash at him from the shadows.

His mother’s hands were on his arms in an instant. “Julian, what are you doing?” Her words were frantic, as clipped and terror-filled as his every movement.

“They have Vita, Mother!”

She wrenched his body fiercely to face her. Julian stood nearly a cubit taller than his mother, but Ariella had retained all the strength of her youth, along with the beauty. “There is nothing that can be done, my son.”

He yanked his arms from her grasp. “Do not say that!” Julian searched the cavea behind him, full to overflowing with the purple-edged togas of senators. “Where is Father? Is he here?”

“Julian, think! You must think.” Ariella’s voice was urgent and low and her clutching fingers again slowed Julian’s restlessness. “You will bring more harm – “

“I do not care!” His voice snagged with emotion, and he fought to harden the feelings into action. “I must end this.”

“You cannot, son.”

He turned flashing eyes on Ariella. “It is my fault! Do you not understand? I should be down in those cages.”

Ariella’s eyes misted. “I would not lose both my son and his betrothed on the same day.”

Betrothed. The word washed more guilt over Julian’s stricken soul.

A senator, one of his father’s friends, walked past and paused to hold out an arm in greeting to Julian. “Fine day for the games, is it not?”

Julian straightened at once, resuming the noble bearing trained into him since childhood, and returned the man’s grip. He nodded once in agreement, but did not speak. The senator moved on, and Julian dropped his shoulders, ashamed that he had not made a statement.

Ariella seemed to read his thoughts. Her dark eyes held his own. “It will take more than a day to change the Empire.”

Julian looked out over the yellow sand of the arena. “But this day, Mother, this day we must!” He slapped a hand against the top of the marble wall. “I am going to find Father.”

“Julian, you know that he can do nothing – “

He spun on her. “No. I am tired of both of you, always moving about your circles quietly, behind closed doors, the truth spoken only in whispers.” He lifted his own voice as an example. “There is a time to speak!”

Ariella’s nostrils flared, but she said nothing. Turning from her, Julian stalked to the nearest break in the seating and ascended the tiers alongside his father’s section. Here, the nobility did not sit on wooden planks as the rest of the citizens, but were given cushions or even chairs for comfort. He scanned the rows of seats for his father’s graying head, and instead met his dark gray eyes.

Julian shook his head and opened his mouth to shout across the intervening seats, but his father held up a hand, then stood and excused himself from his colleagues. He slid along in front of a dozen other senators, and emerged at the end of the row beside Julian.

Quietly, he spoke into his son’s ear. “I have just now heard. It is outrageous.”

Julian’s hands balled into fists at his side. “You must do something.”

“What can I do, Julian? The emperor has ruled, and Trajan is not a man to be defied.”

Across the arena, Julian watched as a trapdoor slid upward and a huddled band of men and women were prodded onto the sand at the end of Roman spears. Julian’s heart pounded with the shortness of the time left and he turned on his father with the frenzy of desperation. “She is out there, Father!”

But his father’s eyes held only grief, not anger. Not the fiery anger that could change the future, even now.

Julian pushed past him, down the steps. If his parents would do nothing from their positions of influence, then he would stop this madness from a position of strength.

It had been his fault, all of it. Trajan had made his stance clear. As long as they kept to themselves, did not flaunt their disagreement with imperial policy, did not take a public stand, they would be left alone. But that had not been enough for Julian. Passionate about the truth, eager to show himself a leader and foolish enough to believe himself invincible, he had spoken too loudly, in too many places.

And now this. Vita and the others arrested, convicted, and sentenced without his knowledge. Julian had brought this on them all, but he had escaped their fate.

At the terrace level he circled the arena toward the imperial box. The amphitheatre was one of the few places where the public had access to the divine emperor. Julian grasped at the thin hope that he could get near enough to plead for Vita’s life.

He had not loved her. Not like he should, though he had tried. He had never known a more virtuous woman. The arranged match between them was a good one. But Julian had never felt more than the flame of admiration and respect for her, and he saw nothing but the same in her eyes. Still, they would have been married.

We will be married.

The foot-stomps of the crowd rose around him like a hundred thousand drumbeats. The cadence resonated in his chest and pushed him forward. He knew that sound. It was the sound of a mob hungry for blood.

Terror drove his footsteps. He could not look to the arena. Not even when he heard more trapdoors rise and the low growl of beasts begin.

The crowd screamed as one, and their shouts lifted to the pale blue sky like a puff of evil smoke from the underworld. Julian’s bones seemed to turn to water. He raced on. The emperor’s raised box was in sight.

But then they were beside him again, both his parents this time, grasping at his arms, pulling him backward.

“It is too late, son.” His mother’s voice held the grief of both the present and the past, for she had seen much sorrow in the arena in her day.

His father turned him to the wall to face the sand. “You must say goodbye, Julian. You must say goodbye.”

He let his parents hold him there at the marble wall. He scraped his hands across the top, then gripped the white stone.

Lions. Six of them. Circling, circling the knot of friends in the center of the bright yellow sand that had been brought from one of the hills of Rome and spread on wooden planking to soak up the blood of gladiator, beast, and the condemned.

The lions charged at once, but for Julian, the moment stretched out, like a thread of silk spun from a slow-turning wheel, and though the crowd still bellowed, in his head all had gone silent and he saw only his group of friends, crumpling in on themselves like sand flowing into a sinkhole.

The lions must have roared before they pounced, though Julian heard nothing, and felt only the relentless scraping of his own hands across the stone wall. He scraped until his hands were torn and bloody, wanting to bleed with her, wanting to bleed with all of them, as he should have.

The sun had risen to pour its rays into the center of the arena, and the yellow sand beneath them turned to molten gold in the light, an oval of liquid gold with Vita and the others drowning in the center of it. He saw her face for a moment, lifted to heaven.

His mind disconnected and drifted strangely, then, to the words at the end of the Apostle John’s Revelation, and his vision of the New Jerusalem with its streets of pure gold.

Would Vita fall asleep in this golden sand and wake to streets of gold?

The beasts did their job well and quickly, and when it was over and the mutilated bodies of his friends lay scattered across the sand, Julian woke from his stupor and felt the guilt of every lost life bear down on him as though the stones around him had collapsed on his head. He tasted bile rising in his throat, and turned away from the wall to retch onto the paving stones.

His parents held his arms as he emptied the contents of his stomach. He heard the jeers directed toward him. When he stood, the tear-streaked faces of both his parents matched his own.

But he found no solace in their shared grief. They did not have to bear the guilt of it as he did. As he always would. He pulled from their embrace and escaped the amphitheatre, running back the way he had come, running like a haunted man.

Days later, when his guilt and grief had hardened into bitter anger, he tried once again to change the minds and policies of the Roman government. But in the end he brought only more disgrace, and more danger, upon his family.

In the cool of the evening three days after Vita’s death, he stood at the terrace wall of his father’s lavish villa in the Roman countryside, looking down into the flowered gardens his mother had commissioned, and listening to the fountain that trickled night and day into the central pool. He inhaled deeply of the night air, dragging in the scent of roses.

His guilt over Vita’s death had not abated, and he had added to it with his actions in the days since. His brazen words in the Senate House, and later the Forum, had identified him as one who should have also met his death in the arena that day.

Perhaps that was his wish. To be arrested himself, to be thrown before the gaping yaw of a dozen lions, to be given what he deserved.

But his family. He had not wanted the same for his family. His only brother, long since stationed in some military outpost, had never embraced the family’s beliefs, but even he could be reached by the long arm of the empire, and brought back to face condemnation with the rest.

Behind him, slaves stirred to prepare the evening meal and lit torches on the veranda. His parents would appear soon and they would all pretend that their privileged life continued.

But Julian had made a decision. His life in Rome was over. To protect his family, he must disappear.

He thought of his brother’s stories of the provinces that lay at the edges of the Empire. Of Britannia, of Judea. But even there the Roman army could search out a man. No, he must go further east than even Judea.

There was a place, a hidden city he had heard tales of since he was a boy. Stories that had sparked his imagination and given him the desire to travel across the desert sand to discover the city tucked between the rock cliffs of Arabia.

Petra. Capital of the Nabatean kingdom, wealthy center of the east-west trade route, and beyond even the Roman Empire’s reach.

Julian rubbed his hands together, palms still raw from being torn open the day Vita died. Yes, it was a good plan.

He would flee to Petra.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Alonzo

What I Thought:

This book grabs you from the first sentence and doesn't stop. It reads like fiction...which is totally scary to me, because it is all true. What Rebecca Alonzo went through will make you shiver. Read the first chapter below. It is excellent. I bet you'll go out and buy it.


It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


The Devil in Pew Number Seven

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (July 2, 2010)

***Special thanks to Christy Wong of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Rebecca Nichols Alonzo

Becky Alonzo never felt safe as a child. Although she lived next door to the church her father pastored, the devil lived across the street. This tormented man terrorized her family with rifle shots and ten bombings. When these violent acts didn't scare them away, he went even further. During dinner one evening, seven-year-old Becky and her younger brother watched as their parents were gunned down. Today Becky speaks about betrayal and the power of forgiveness. She is a graduate of Missouri State University and has been involved in ministry, including a church plant, youth outreach, and missions, for thirteen years. She and her husband, along with their two children, live in Franklin, Tennessee.




Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (July 2, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414326599
ISBN-13: 978-1414326597

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Walking, Crawling, Dead or Alive

I ran.

My bare feet pounding the pavement were burning from the sunbaked asphalt. Each contact between flesh and blacktop provoked bursts of pain as if I were stepping on broken glass. The deserted country road, stretching into the horizon, felt as if it were conspiring against me. No matter how hard I pushed myself, the safe place I was desperate to reach eluded me.

Still, I ran.

Had a thousand angry hornets been in pursuit, I couldn’t have run any faster. Daddy’s instructions had been simple: I had to be a big girl, run down the street as fast as my legs could carry me, and get help. There was nothing complicated about his request. Except for the fact that I’d have to abandon my hiding place under the kitchen table and risk being seen by the armed madman who had barricaded himself with two hostages in my bedroom down the hall. I knew, however, that ignoring Daddy’s plea was out of the question.

And so I ran.

Even though Daddy struggled to appear brave, the anguish in his eyes spoke volumes. Splotches of blood stained his shirt just below his right shoulder. The inky redness was as real as the fear gnawing at the edges of my heart. I wanted to be a big girl for the sake of my daddy. I really did. But the fear and chaos now clouding the air squeezed my lungs until my breathing burned within my chest.

My best intentions to get help were neutralized, at least at first. I remained hunkered down, unable to move, surrounded by the wooden legs of six kitchen chairs. I had no illusions that a flimsy 6 x 4 foot table would keep me safe, yet I was reluctant to leave what little protection it afforded me.

In that space of indecision, I wondered how I might open the storm door without drawing attention to myself. One squeak from those crusty hinges was sure to announce my departure plans. Closing the door without a bang against the frame was equally important. The stealth of a burglar was needed, only I wasn’t the bad guy.

Making no more sound than a leaf falling from a tree, I inched my way out from under the table. I stood and then scanned the room, left to right. I felt watched, although I had no way of knowing for sure whether or not hostile eyes were studying my movements. I inhaled the distinct yet unfamiliar smell of sulfur lingering in the air, a calling card left behind from the repeated blasts of a gun.

I willed myself to move.

My bare feet padded across the linoleum floor.

I was our family’s lifeline, our only connection to the outside world. While I hadn’t asked to be put in that position, I knew Daddy was depending on me. More than that, Daddy needed me to be strong. To act. To do what he was powerless to do. I could see that my daddy, a strong ex–Navy man, was incapable of the simplest movement. The man whom I loved more than life itself, whose massive arms daily swept me off my feet while swallowing me with an unmatched tenderness, couldn’t raise an arm to shoo a fly.

To see him so helpless frightened me.

Yes, Daddy was depending on me.

Conflicted at the sight of such vulnerability, I didn’t want to look at my daddy. Yet my love for him galvanized my resolve. I reached for the storm-door handle. Slow and steady, as if disarming a bomb, and allowing myself quick glances backward to monitor the threat level of a sudden ambush, I opened the storm door and stepped outside. With equal care, I nestled the metal door against its frame.

I had to run.

I shot out from under the carport, down the driveway, and turned right where concrete and asphalt met. The unthinkable events of the last five minutes replayed themselves like an endless-loop video in my mind. My eyes stung, painted with hot tears at the memory. Regardless of their age, no one should have to witness what I had just experienced in that house—let alone a seven-year-old girl. The fresh images of what had transpired moments ago mocked me with the fact that my worst fears had just come true.

I had to keep running.

Although I couldn’t see any activity through the curtains framing my bedroom window, that didn’t mean the gunman wasn’t keeping a sharp eye on the street. I hesitated, but only for a moment more. What might happen gave way to what had happened. I had to get help. Now, almost frantic to reach my destination, I redoubled my efforts.

I ran on.

To get help for Momma and Daddy. To escape the gunman. To get away from all the threatening letters, the sniper gunshots, the menacing midnight phone calls, the home invasions—and the devil who seemed to be behind so many of them.

But I’m getting ahead of the story.