Wednesday, July 30, 2008
BTW - here's an updated picture of Quinn - 5 1/2 weeks old already (arghhhhh - not so soon!)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Donita K. Paul retired early from teaching school, but soon got bored! The result: a determination to start a new career. Now she is an award-winning novelist writing Christian Romance and Fantasy. She says, “I feel blessed to be doing what I like best.”
She mentors all ages, teaching teenagers and weekly adult writing workshops.
“God must have imprinted 'teacher' on me clear down to the bone. I taught in public school, then home schooled my children, and worked in private schools. Now my writing week isn’t very productive unless I include some time with kids.”
Her two grown children make her proud, and her two grandsons make her laugh.
Donita is an award-winning author of the Dragon Keeper Chronicle series including DragonFire and DragonKnight.
When not writing, she is often engaged in mentoring writers of all ages. Donita lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado where she is learning to paint–walls and furniture! Visit her website at www.dragonkeeper.us.
ABOUT THE BOOK
The fantastic land of Amara is recovering from years of war inflicted on its citizens by outside forces–as well as from the spiritual apathy corroding the Amarans’ hearts. With Kale and her father serving as dragon keepers for Paladin, the dragon populace has exploded. It’s a peaceful, exciting time of rebuilding. And yet, an insidious, unseen evil lurks just beneath the surface of the idyllic countryside.
Truth has never been more important, nor so difficult to discern.
As Kale and her father are busy hatching, bonding, and releasing the younger generation of dragons as helpers throughout the kingdom, the light wizard has little time to develop her skills. Her husband, Sir Bardon–despite physical limitations resulting from his bout with the stakes disease–has become a leader, serving on the governing board under Paladin. When Kale and Bardon set aside their daily responsibilities to join meech dragons Regidor and Gilda on a quest to find a hidden meech colony, they encounter sinister forces. Their world is under attack by a secret enemy… can they overcome the ominous peril they can’t even see?
Prepare to experience breathtaking adventure and mind-blowing fantasy as never before in this dazzling, beautifully-crafted conclusion to Donita K. Paul’s popular DragonKeeper Chronicles fantasy series.
If you would like to read the first chapter of DragonLight, go HERE
"DragonLight is a delight, but I wouldn't expect anything less from the marvelous Donita K. Paul. I heartily recommend her books to all ages who love inspirational fantasy and wonderful creatures. Ms Paul not only supplies imagination and talent, she provides heart and soul. Another winner!"
~KATHRYN MACKEL, author of Boost
"Donita K. Paul is amazing! DragonLight has the allegorical depth to satisfy the most discerning adult seeking spiritual depth, yet it is fun enough to fascinate a child. This book will enthrall, uplift, and if allowed, change lives--as we are gently drawn to realize that each of us is flawed and must have patience with other flawed believers."
~HANNAH ALEXANDER, author of Double Blind
This is one book that I am happy to remind you about - a great series and a great new addition to it. Since I previously did a review you can check that out at here.
This time I am pleased to offer a copy of the book for giveaway - so leave a comment telling me about your favorite fantasy series or why you'd like to try out Donita's series and be sure to leave your email. I'll draw for a winner - good luck!
Monday, July 28, 2008
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
M. L. (MARYLU) TYNDALL grew up on the beaches of South Florida loving the sea and the warm tropics. But despite the beauty around her, she always felt an ache in her soul--a longing for something more.
After college, she married and moved to California where she had two children and settled into a job at a local computer company. Although she had done everything the world expected, she was still miserable. She hated her job and her marriage was falling apart.
Still searching for purpose, adventure and true love, she spent her late twenties and early thirties doing all the things the world told her would make her happy, and after years, her children suffered, her second marriage suffered, and she was still miserable.
One day, she picked up her old Bible, dusted it off, and began to read. Somewhere in the middle, God opened her hardened heart to see that He was real, that He still loved her, and that He had a purpose for her life, if she'd only give her heart to Him completely.
Her current releases in the Legacy of The Kings Pirates series include:The Restitution, The Reliance, and The Redemption
ABOUT THE BOOK
When Mademoiselle Dominique Dawson sets foot on the soil of her beloved homeland, England, she feels neither the happiness nor the excitement she expected upon her
return to the place of her birth. Alone for the first time in her life, without family, without friends, without protection, she now faces a far more frightening prospect, for she has come to the country she loves as an enemy-a spy for Napoleon.
Forced to betray England or never see her only brother alive again, Dominique has accepted a position as governess to the son of Admiral Chase Randal, a harsh man, still bitter over the loss of his wife. Will Dominique find the strength she needs through God to follow through with the plan to rescue her brother? Will Chase find comfort for his bitter heart in God's arms and be able to love again?
And what new deceptions will they both find in France when they arrive to carry out their plan?
If you would like to read an excerpt of The Falcon And The Sparrow, go HERE
Friday, July 25, 2008
It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
I love MaryLu's writing - she takes you to a different time and a different place through her characters, settings and even plot lines. She has an incredible attention to detail that just makes her writing come alive. She has her series about pirates (The Redemption, The Reliance, The Restitution) that is amazing and now she has outdone herself with The Falcon and The Sparrow. For one thing, this is a stand alone book, no need to get involved in a series and you will have closure by the time you put the book down. For another, the characters in this book are fantastic. Mainly you have Dominique (I've always loved that name!) and the Admiral, Chase. Dominique is this amazing heroine - she is a Christian that is striving to make a difference in the lives of those around her, praying for her enemies, telling others of God's love even when she is mocked for it, with a sweet spirit that just makes others smile. She's wonderful - oh except for that little detail of being a governess in the British Admiral's house when she's spying for the French! I love that she's the heroine, but she's the bad guy!!! That creates too many interesting situations for me to get into here... you must read it for yourself. Chase is a strong character, falling for the very person that could destroy his career and life. Then there are many secondary characters that make this book full and entertaining... William the Admiral's 6 year old son that just wants to be loved - Katherine the Admiral's sister that has already been betrayed by the French once and isn't about to let it happen again, Percy the Admiral's best friend who sees what most others can't and schemes to bring it out in the open ... and it just goes on.
I was enraptured by this book and strongly recommend it if you like a good historical novel - it has mystery, romance and some suspense - good luck putting it down once you've picked it up!
and his/her book:
Barbour Publishing, Inc (August 1, 2008)
MaryLu spent her early years in South Florida where she fell in love with the ocean and the warm tropical climate. After moving to California with her husband, she graduated from college and worked as a software engineer for 15 years. Currently, MaryLu writes full time and resides in California with her husband and 6 children.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc (August 1, 2008)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Dominique Celine Dawson stepped off the teetering plank of the ship and sought the comfort of solid land beneath her feet, knowing that as she did so, she instantly became a traitor to England. Thanking the purser, she released his hand with a forced smile.
He tipped his hat and handed her the small embroidered valise containing all her worldly possessions. “Looks like rain,” he called back over his shoulder as he headed up the gangway.
Black clouds swirled above her, stealing all light from the midmorning sun. A gust of wind clawed at her bonnet. Passengers and sailors unloading cargo collided with her from all directions. She stepped aside, testing her wobbly legs. Although she’d just boarded the ship from Calais, France, to Dover that morning, her legs quivered nearly as much as her heart. She hated sailing. What an embarrassment she must have been to her father, an admiral in the British Royal Navy.
A man dressed in a top hat and wool cape bumped into her and nearly knocked her to the ground.
Stumbling, Dominique clamped her sweaty fingers around her valise, feeling as though it was her heart they squeezed. Did the man know? Did he know what she had been sent here to do?
He shot her an annoyed glance over his shoulder. “Beggin’ your pardon, miss,” he muttered before trotting off, lady on his arm and children in tow.
Blowing out a sigh, Dominique tried to still her frantic breathing. She must focus. She must remain calm. She had committed no crime—yet.
She scanned the bustling port of Dover. Waves of people flowed through the streets, reminding her of the tumultuous sea she had just crossed. Ladies in silk bonnets clung to gentlemen in long-tailed waistcoats and breeches. Beggars, merchants, and tradesmen hustled to and fro as if they didn’t have a minute to lose. Dark-haired Chinamen hauled two-wheeled carts behind them, loaded with passengers or goods. Carriages and horses clomped over the cobblestone streets. The air filled with a thousand voices, shouts and screams and curses and idle chatter accompanied by the incessant tolling of bells and the rhythmic lap of the sea against the docks.
The stench of fish and human sweat stung Dominique’s nose, and she coughed and took a step forward, searching for the carriage that surely must have been sent to convey her to London and to
the Randal estate. But amidst the dizzying crowd, no empty convey-
ance sat waiting; no pair of eyes met hers—at least none belonging to a coachman sent to retrieve her. Other eyes flung their slithering gazes her way, however, like snakes preying on a tiny ship mouse. A lady traveling alone was not a sight often seen.
Lightning split the dark sky in two, and thunder shook it with an ominous boom. For four years she had longed to return to England, the place of her birth, the place filled with many happy childhood memories, but now that she was here, she felt more lost and frightened than ever. Her fears did not completely stem from the fact that she had never traveled alone before, nor been a governess before—although both of those things would have been enough to send her heart into a frenzy. The true reason she’d returned to her homeland frightened her the most.
Rain misted over her, and she brushed aside the damp curls that framed her face, wondering what to do next. Oh Lord, I feel so alone, so frightened. Where are You? She looked up, hoping for an answer, but the bloated clouds exploded in a torrent of rain that pummeled her face and her hopes along with it. Dashing through the crowd, she ducked beneath the porch of a fish market, covering her nose with a handkerchief against the putrid smell.
People crowded in beside her, an old woman pushing an apple cart, a merchantman with a nose the size of a doorknob, and several seaman, one of whom glared at Dominique from beneath bushy brows and hooded lids. He leaned against a post, inserted a black wad into his mouth, and began chewing, never taking his gaze from her. Ignoring him, Dominique glanced through the sheet of rain pouring off the overhang at the muted shapes moving to and fro. Globs of mud splashed from the puddle at her feet onto her muslin gown. She had wanted to make a good impression on Admiral Randal. What was he to think of his new governess when she arrived covered in filth?
Lightning flashed. The seaman sidled up beside her, pushing the old woman out of the way. “Looking for someone, miss?”
Dominique avoided the man’s eyes as thunder shook the tiny building. “No, merci,” she said, instantly cringing at her use of French.
“Mercy?” He jumped back in disgust. “You ain’t no frog, is you?” The man belched. He stared at her as if he would shoot her right there, depending on her answer.
Terror renewed the queasiness in her stomach. “Of course not.”
“You sound like one.” He leaned toward her, squinting his dark eyes in a foreboding challenge.
“You are mistaken, sir.” Dominique held a hand against his advance. “Now if you please.” She brushed past him and plunged into the rain. Better to suffer the deluge than the man’s verbal assault. The French were not welcome here, not since the Revolution and the ensuing hostilities caused by Napoleon’s rise to power. Granted, last year Britain had signed a peace treaty with France, but no one believed it would last.
Dominique jostled her way through those brave souls not intimidated by the rain and scanned the swarm of carriages vying for position along the cobblestone street. If she did not find a ride to London soon, her life would be in danger from the miscreants who slunk around the port. Hunger rumbled in her stomach as her nerves coiled into knots. Lord, I need You.
To her right, she spotted the bright red wheels of a mail coach that had Royal Mail: London to Dover painted on the back panel. Shielding her eyes from the rain, she glanced up at the coachman perched atop the vehicle, water cascading off his tall black hat. “Do you have room for a passenger to London, monsie—sir?”
He gave her a quizzical look then shook his head. “I’m full.”
“I’m willing to pay.” Dominique shuffled through her valise and pulled out a small purse.
The man allowed his gaze to wander freely over her sodden gown. “And what is it ya might be willing to pay?”
She squinted against the rain pooling in her lashes and swallowed. Perhaps a coach would be no safer than the port, after all. “Four guineas,” she replied in a voice much fainter than she intended.
The man spat off to the side. “It’ll cost you five.”
Dominique fingered the coins in her purse. That would leave her only ten shillings, all that remained of what her cousin had given her for the trip, and all that remained of the grand Dawson fortune, so quickly divided among relatives after her parents’ death. But what choice did she have? She counted the coins, handed them to the coachman, then waited for him to assist her into the carriage, but he merely pocketed the money and gestured behind him. Lifting her skirts, heavy with rain, she clambered around packages and parcels and took a seat beside a window, hugging her valise. She shivered and tightened her frock around her neck, fighting the urge to jump off the carriage, dart back to the ship, and sail right back to France.
Several minutes later, a young couple with a baby climbed in, shaking the rain from their coats. After quick introductions, they squeezed into the seat beside Dominique.
Through the tiny window, the coachman stared at them and frowned, forming a pock on his lower chin. He muttered under his breath before turning and snapping the reins that sent the mail coach careening down the slick street.
The next four hours only added to Dominique’s nightmare. Though exhausted from traveling half the night, rest was forbidden her by the constant jostling and jerking of the carriage over every small bump and hole in the road and the interminable screaming of the infant in the arms of the poor woman next to her. She thanked God, however, that it appeared the roads had been newly paved or the trip might have taken twice as long. As it was, each hour passed at a snail’s pace and only sufficed to increase both her anxiety and her fear.
Finally, they arrived at the outskirts of the great city capped in a shroud of black from a thousand coal chimneys—a soot that not even the hard rain could clear. After the driver dropped off the couple and their vociferous child on the east side of town, Dominique had to haggle further for him to take her all the way to Hart Street, to which he reluctantly agreed only after Dominique offered him another three precious shillings.
The sights and sounds of London drifted past her window like visions from a time long ago. She had spent several summers here as a child, but through the veil of fear and loneliness, she hardly recognized it. Buildings made from crumbling brick and knotted timber barely held up levels of apartments stacked on top of them. Hovels and shacks lined the dreary alleyways that squeezed between residences and shops in an endless maze. Despite the rain, dwarfs and acrobatic monkeys entertained people passing by, hoping for a coin tossed their way. As the coach rounded one corner, a lavishly dressed man with a booming voice stood in an open booth, proclaiming that his tonic cured every ache and pain known to man.
The stench of horse manure and human waste filled the streets, rising from puddles where both had been deposited for the soil men to clean up at night.
Dominique pressed a hand to her nose and glanced out the other side of the carriage, where the four pointed spires of the Tower of London thrust into the angry sky. Though kings had resided in the castlelike structure, many other people had been imprisoned and tortured within its walls. She trembled at the thought as they proceeded down Thames Street, where she soon saw the massive London Bridge spanning the breadth of the murky river.
Her thoughts veered to Marcel, her only brother—young, impetuous Marcel. Dominique had cared for him after their mother died last year of the fever, and she had never felt equal to the task. Marcel favored their father with his high ideals and visions of heroism, while Dominique was more like their mother, quiet and shy. Marcel needed strong male guidance, not the gentle counsel of an overprotective sister.
So of course Dominique had been thrilled when a distant cousin sought them out and offered to take them both under his care. Monsieur Lucien held the position of ministère de l’intérieur under Napoleon’s rule—a highly respectable and powerful man who would be a good influence on Marcel.
Or so she had thought.
The carriage lurched to the right, away from the stench of the river. Soon the cottages and shabby tenements gave way to grand two- and three-level homes circled by iron fences.
Dominique hugged her valise to her chest, hoping to gain some comfort from holding on to something—anything—but her nerves stiffened even more as she neared her destination. After making several more turns, the coach stopped before a stately white building. With a scowl, the driver poked his open hand through the window, and Dominique handed him her coins, not understanding the man’s foul humor. Did he treat all his patrons this way, or had she failed to conceal the bit of French in her accent?
Climbing from the carriage, she held her bag against her chest and tried to sidestep a puddle the size of a small lake. Without warning, the driver cracked the reins and the carriage jerked forward, spraying Dominique with mud.
Horrified, she watched as the driver sped down the street. He did that on purpose. She’d never been treated with such disrespect in her life. But then, she’d always traveled with her mother, the beautiful Marguerite Jean Denoix, daughter of Edouard, vicomte de Gimois, or her father, Stuart Dawson, a respected admiral in the Royal Navy. Without them by her side, who was she? Naught but an orphan without a penny to her name.
Rain battered her as she stared up at the massive white house, but she no longer cared. Her bonnet draped over her hair like a wet fish, her coiffure had melted into a tangle of saturated strands, and her gown, littered with mud, clung to her like a heavy shroud. She deserved it, she supposed, for what she had come to do.
She wondered if Admiral Randal was anything like his house—cold, imposing, and rigid. Four stories high, it towered above most houses on the street. Two massive white columns stood like sentinels holding up the awning while guarding the front door.
The admiral sat on the Admiralty Board of His Majesty’s Navy, making him a powerful man privy to valuable information such as the size, location, and plans of the British fleet. Would he be anything like her dear father?
Dominique skirted the stairs that led down to the kitchen. Her knees began to quake as she continued toward the front door. The blood rushed from her head. The world began to spin around her. Squeezing her eyes shut, she swallowed. No, she had to do this. For you, Marcel. You’re all I have left in the world.
She opened her eyes and took another step, feeling as though she walked into a grand mausoleum where dead men’s bones lay ensconced behind cold marble.
She halted. Not too late to turn around—not too late to run. But Marcel’s innocent young face, contorted in fear, burned in her memory. And her cousin Lucien’s lanky frame standing beside him, a stranglehold on the boy’s collar. “If you prefer your brother’s head to be attached to his body, you will do as I request.”
A cold fist clamped over Dominique’s heart. She could not lose her brother. She continued up the steps though every muscle, every nerve protested. Why me, Lord? Who am I to perform such a task?
Ducking under the cover of the imposing porch, Dominique raised her hand to knock upon the ornately carved wooden door, knowing that after she did, she could not turn back.
Once she stepped over the threshold of this house, she would no longer be Dominique Dawson, the loyal daughter of a British admiral.
She would be a French spy.
It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
I have not quite finished this book yet, but it has been quite refreshing. Just a real, down to earth approach on how to put Jesus first in your life by putting yourself last. Not even to the point of making yourself a rug to let others walk all over, but using the story of The Good Samaritan to illustrate how to do that. Jeremy uses many real life examples (always the most interesting and grabbing parts of non-fiction books in my eyes) to show this playing out (or not playing out) in ways that he has seen.
It is a good book that will increase your awareness of how you can help others and increase Jesus in your life everyday. If you would like to win a copy of this book then leave a comment telling me how you try to increase Jesus in your life (make sure to leave an email address) there are no wrong answers, I just want to get you thinking. I will do a drawing for this book and you can be in it - don't forget that email address!
and his book:
Tyndale House Publishers (Jun 15 2008)
Touching the hearts of more than 65,000 people a year, Jeremy Kingsley is passionate about seeing the lost come to Christ and the saved walk more intimately with Him. Jeremy, the founder and president of Onelife Ministries, is a highly respected teacher and one of the most sought-after speakers today. He has interacted with hundreds of thousands of people in the United States and has also been involved in ministry in Africa, Mongolia, India, and Central America. His servant spirit, transparent heart, and deep love for Jesus challenge listeners to live authentic lives dedicated to Christ. Jeremy and his wife, Dawn, live in Columbia, South Carolina, with their sons, Jaden and Dylan.
Visit him at his website.
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
How Do I Become Great?
“Being Last” by Living a Life of Service
But being good at something and being great at it are not the same. There is a difference between having strong skills and being great with those skills. The same is true for our Christian experience. Maybe you’re known as “pretty good,” a Christian who can teach well or sing well or lead well or memorize well or serve well. Have you ever wanted your Christian experience to become great? Maybe you’re not even very good at following Jesus right now but you still want to become great. That kind of hunger usually resides in those who have met Jesus and have seen how amazing he is.
When you think about your Christian experience, would you call it “great”? Would you say that you have achieved “greatness” or at least are headed in that direction? The question may be a bit too hard to ponder, but the quest for greatness is a topic worth pursuing. Of course, there is no way to determine the “greatness” of one’s life with Christ until we define the word itself. And that can be a difficult task because our presumed definitions are often skewed by the surrounding culture’s values.
When it comes to business, music, or sports, greatness is easier to define. For example, the statement that Michael Jordan was a great basketball player is hardly contestable. His six championships, Olympic gold medal, MVP awards, appearances on All-Star teams, scoring records, and game-winning shots prove it. His actions and awards place him above all his competitors. Boxer Muhammad Ali, football receiver Jerry Rice, and golfer Tiger Woods have accomplished similar feats in their own sports, feats that demonstrate greatness. But how do we define greatness in the Christian life? Can checking stat sheets and lists of awards provide a clear standard for evaluating the greatness of a Christian? How do I become great?
Is it worth expending the energy required to experience God’s great life for us? Well, if I’m defining greatness, I don’t know whether it’s worth pursuing. And if you’re defining greatness, I’m not sure you’ll want to chase an arbitrary idea that you made up for yourself. But if the greatest One of all defines greatness for us, we would be wise to learn what he says—and the greatest One who has ever lived has spoken about greatness. The King of kings and Lord of lords has told us how we should approach the journey toward greatness. So just like golfers who pay thousands of dollars for instruction from Tiger or computer software engineers who listen intently to Michael Dell, we should drop everything and tune into Jesus’ approach to greatness.
God’s Cheering Section
The John 12:41 the writer explains that the prophet Isaiah saw and described the glory of Jesus in Isaiah 6. So if we want to get a taste of how great Jesus was before he came to earth as a human being, we should check out what Isaiah saw in his vision of the Messiah’s glory hundreds of years before Christ came. It may take a little time for us twenty-first-century Americans to understand how profoundly Isaiah’s vision depicts Jesus’ greatness, but stick with me, and I’ll try to explain. First, let’s see what Isaiah 6:1-4 says:
It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.
Words certainly do not do justice to what this experience would have been like for Isaiah. One moment he is praying, and the next moment he is swept into a vision of the Lord himself. He sees the inside of God’s heavenly home—a temple different from the one Solomon built on Mount Zion because of the giant throne in it—and he encounters a sanctuary full of creatures bringing down the house with their alternating chants focused on Jesus.
In this vision Isaiah sees a room filled with seraphim. Now these are not the type of angels who look human or your classic “two wingers.” These are special beings that have three pairs of wings. Each pair of wings has a specific purpose. When these beings are in the presence of Jesus, they use one pair of wings to cover their faces out of humility. With the second pair they cover their feet out of respect. They use the third pair to maintain flight. Apparently it takes specially designed body parts to give Jesus the honor he deserves when you’re in a room filled with his magnificence.
The job of the seraphim is simpler to describe than their unique physique. The seraphim have only one reason to exist: to tell God all the time how awesome he is. All they do is shout back and forth, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” and let their chants about his global glory blow up the decibel meter. They were created to be his constant cheering section, like a “divine dawg pound”! What a life! Imagine constantly getting to cheer for your favorite sports team in its home stadium and knowing that your team is the eternally undisputed world champion.
Do you understand what all this hoopla means? These heavenly beings have been created for the single purpose of chanting and cheering about Jesus’ glory. That’s all they do. Think about it. You’ve got to be indescribably great if angels have been created just to shout about you forever. Suppose you went up to one of these angels and asked, “Excuse me, Angel 3058, what is it that you do?”
Angel 3058 would reply, “I yell about how amazing Jesus is.”
If you asked him, “What do you do after work?” he’d say, “There is no ‘after.’ I just keep calling out how great Jesus is.”
If you begged him to come help you with something, he’d have to respond, “I can’t stop telling Jesus how amazing he is. We’re about to start the MVP chant, and there’s just no way we can have one less voice publicizing God’s fame. I’ve got to go!”
That gives Jesus the right to define greatness for us if he desires.
When Does Jesus Teach Us How to Become Great?
If Jesus is so great, then he knows that we need him to show us how to become great. A few times in his life would have seemed prime opportunities for him to do that. Maybe his birth would have been a great time? If he was going to teach us how to be great, he should probably have started off his time on earth with a grand entrance. Christmas morning should have been more like the Fourth of July, with fireworks coming out of heaven to light up the whole earth. Jesus should have flown in like a comet whose blazing light dwarfed the radiance of the sun so that every human being would have been awakened by his arrival and overwhelmed by the warmth of his presence. Then he could have ordered his seraphim posse to start up a universal chant and shake the atmosphere with their shouts of his holiness. The ensuing light, heat, and earthquake would certainly have moved all the people on the planet to cover their eyes, tremble in awe, and acknowledge that someone greater than all others had descended on their world.
He could have been born in a palace to a great king and queen. Lived in the most luxurious “crib” ever built. Had silk diapers, cashmere blankets, the purest baby food, gold teething rings—the whole nine yards. But nothing of the sort happened. Jesus took an entirely different approach.
Instead, he came out of Mary’s womb to an audience of animals in a small Judean town called Bethlehem. His parents were from Nazareth, a town in the Galilean backwoods with a reputation for producing nothing good (see John 1:46). His adoptive dad was a blue-collar worker struggling to make an honest shekel, and his mom got pregnant with him before she was married. That had to have had people talking—a pregnant girl “showing” before the wedding. That was not a great situation. To all appearances, Jesus came on the scene like just one more illegitimate child, born into a poor backwoods family, with little hope of doing anything great in his life. Remember, there was no room for him in the inn. But suppose there had been room in the inn. What if you had been born in a Motel 6? Would that be embarrassing to you, or humiliating? Well, Jesus didn’t even get that. When he was born, his mother laid him in a manger, a feeding trough for farm animals. Why would Jesus—the One with angels created to tell him how great he is—come to earth that way, birthed around smelly farm animals and dung droppings? Now God did supply angels to make a special announcement to a group of local shepherds, but otherwise the world went on essentially undisturbed. Only some rich guys from the Far East saw any other sign that the glorious One had come to earth. Few people even knew he had come. That just doesn’t seem to communicate greatness.
If Jesus’ greatness was not revealed in a big way at his birth, then maybe that revelation came during his adult life? The closest we do come to an event where Jesus reveals his glory on earth is the Transfiguration. As Mark 9 records, Jesus took three of his disciples and went up on a mountain, where he was transformed into a figure shining with glorious light. The disciples who were with him fell down in awe and could only stumble for words. They were getting a view of Jesus’ true glory and didn’t know how to react. At one point Peter even asked if they could build shelters for Jesus and his two glorious companions, Moses and Elijah, to inhabit.
For the three disciples, this experience would have been a lot like Isaiah’s experience. Is that what Isaiah saw? They got to see God’s glory glowing around Jesus and hear the thunderous voice of the Father say, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7).
And we should. But seeing a bit of Jesus’ glory for a few moments was different from having him teach the disciples how to be great. All of his miracles—healing the blind, bringing people back to life, walking on water, and casting out demons—showed his greatness, but then Jesus was fully God and fully human. What about giving us humans a chance to be great? Where was the recipe for greatness?
The friends Jesus made and the people he touched showed no signs of having achieved greatness through meeting the right people in places of power and influence. Jesus himself was actually known as a friend of low-life Jews who collected taxes for the oppressive Roman government. He spent time with drunks and prostitutes in his effort to call Israel back to holiness. He did not wine and dine at fancy Roman parties or get chummy with the priests who controlled the Temple and ran the Jewish law courts. His compatriots were anything but great, and he did more to make the famous and powerful leaders of Roman Palestine angry at him than he did to win their respect and honor. So he certainly did not teach us how to be great by working his way up the ancient corporate food chain into a place of authority and prominence.
So if not at his birth and not throughout his life, maybe he would teach us greatness during his final entrance into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover, just a few days before he died? That would have been a great time to show us. He could have slowly gathered a mass of followers who would all rise up and crown him king when he entered the city. He could have taken a patient and covert approach that waited until enough people recognized his greatness before he called on them to declare it publicly in word and deed. In this approach, the disciples could have organized music and choirs. There could have been a Jewish army of 500,000 soldiers and an angelic army of one million, with other followers dressed in fancy robes and carrying banners. All of these could have descended on the city in full battle array with a thousand chariots and great stallions leading the charge. Now that would have been great!
But no such rise to greatness occurred during the Triumphal Entry. Instead of a parade of chariots and stallions leading an army marked by banners proclaiming Jesus’ kingship, Jesus came waddling down the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem on a young donkey. Instead of a band with music echoing through the valley, a crowd of ordinary people came out, shouting his praise and throwing branches and clothes on the ground in front of him. Those with power and influence in Jerusalem gave him no respect, and a few Pharisees even told Jesus to make his little followers stop shouting. Although his small band of followers showed their support, Jesus did not show us how to unleash greatness and ascend to status and prestige at just the right time in one’s career. He came to a city where influential people plotted his death.
In our search to find out where Jesus teaches us how to become great, we seem to be running out of time. He didn’t seem to show us how to do it when he came on the earthly scene or while growing up here, and he didn’t seem to show us how to do it when he arrived at Jerusalem for his final days. Or did he? He certainly had a ministry full of great acts, but he spent most of his time with the poor and rejected elements of the Jewish population instead of working his way up to the top. But now, with only days left before his death, there’s another chance. Do you remember? He broke up a conversation among his disciples about who was the greatest, and he dropped a huge bombshell: The last will be first. The humble person is the greatest. Jesus had actually been showing us the whole time, from his birth all the way to this point. But he had been saving a special final lesson for the night before his death. And now for everyone who had missed it being displayed his whole life, he would show us very plainly how to become great.
Getting Down and Dirty
In John 13 we find Jesus around a table with his disciples for the Last Supper. They have all just come in from a day of ministry in the dusty streets of Jerusalem. Their feet are dirty, and there is no servant to wash the filth from them. So Jesus picks up a towel, gets some water, and decides to be the humble servant among his disciples.
Now the other men in that room knew how inappropriate it would be for any of them to touch one another’s feet, much less the One who had angels created to praise him! The job of foot washing was saved for the lowest of the low, the servants of the servants. Only the least important, most underprivileged people—in other words, those who had been born poor, among a bunch of farm animals—got stuck with that duty. In fact, rabbinic documents show that rabbis and Pharisees in the time after Christ would force their disciples to serve them in every way that slaves would serve their masters except for one thing: They were never, ever to touch anyone’s feet. That was simply too demeaning for any “respectable” human being to endure.
So the statement Jesus made by washing his disciples’ feet would have been profound. He had said before that greatness came from humbling oneself. He had said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first” (see Matthew 19:30), but now he was showing it. He was getting down and dirty. Most kings get served. His greatness would not be achieved by working his way up through the political or religious ranks. He did not try to schmooze powerful people or gather an armed crowd that could rise up against the establishment and make him king. His greatness was being worked out as he went out of his way to serve those around him. In a move that ran counter to his culture, he descended to greatness.
Do I Know How to Serve?
When I was twenty-two, I spent a couple of years as an intern under Adrian Despres, an itinerant evangelist with Kingdom Building Ministries and the current chaplain for Steve Spurrier and the University of South Carolina Gamecocks football team. I was under the impression that the internship was designed to help me improve as a speaker. I traveled with Adrian to different speaking events all over the world to see what he could teach me about effective communication.
To my chagrin, I found myself attending a bunch of events for my “speaking internship” but never speaking. Adrian would invite me along, tell me where to sit, and then have me listen to him. Eventually he let me start introducing him before I took my seat, but still I didn’t get a chance to speak. I constantly wondered whether I had misunderstood the point of the internship. Did Adrian not know that he was supposed to help me become a better communicator, a professional speaker, and not a better audience member? He did finally carve out a one-minute opening spot where I could share a story before sitting down, but that hardly gave me a chance to warm up before taking my seat.
As I kept tagging along to different events, I became more and more bewildered about how I could learn to improve my communication skills. Instead of speaking and getting his feedback, I got to participate in his strange “rituals” before and after his presentations on stage—offstage actions that I thought had nothing to do with speaking. Sometimes we would arrive early at a camp or a church, and he’d have me set up tables and chairs, maybe even vacuum or volunteer in the kitchen. Adrian was the kind of guy who picked up trash and put away shopping carts that other patrons had left scattered around the parking lot. I tried to remind him that “people get paid to do those jobs,” but he didn’t much care. He would say, “I know. I just want to help ’em out!” Those “rituals” were part of his approach to life and ministry. Maybe somehow these things were linked to Adrian’s speaking ministry.
One day, about a year into my internship, Adrian asked if I thought my internship was going okay. On the inside I was thinking, Not really! How in the world can I get better at speaking if I don’t speak? Doesn’t practice make perfect or something like that? Of course, I didn’t come out and say those things. I just answered his inquiry with an affirmative and waited for an explanation. That’s when he said something that I’ll never forget: “Before we started this whole thing, I knew you could speak. I didn’t know if you could serve.”
Adrian’s comments changed my life. I wanted to be a great speaker. Adrian wanted me to be great spiritually.
Let those words ring in your head for a while, and fill in the blank with whatever you are good at. I know you can organize; I just don’t know if you can serve. I know you can set up a network in a day; I just don’t know if you can serve. I know you can lead a Bible study and pray in public; I just don’t know if you can serve. I know you are good at any number of things; I just don’t know if you can serve.
You see, Adrian knew that humility + service = greatness. Prideful people usually don’t serve unless they do it out of wrong motives. Do you know how to be last? Let that question sink into your conscience. Let it measure your true greatness. And ask yourself, If someone tested you for the next year on whether or not you were a humble servant, what would that person find? Would you show yourself to be great? Would you imitate Jesus and descend to greatness? Or do you have trouble taking a backseat and being last?
I Came to Serve
Jesus’ ultimate act of humility is described in a poetic formula that Paul likely borrowed from a first-century hymn. The song tells the story of Jesus in his glory making the tough choice to get down and dirty on earth as a human servant. Paul writes, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). What “divine privileges” did he give up? Jesus did not give up his deity. But he did give up his rights to full glory, complete majesty, a sinless environment, and continuous praise. The Greatest gave all that up to be last.
When you think about it, Jesus gave up majesty for a mud hole. He came from a trophy room to a cold, smelly manger and a sickly world. Hollywood’s Cribs has nothing on the mansion and glory Jesus left behind. He gave up a throne room of perfect peace for a place of conflict, where abuse, criticism, suffering, ridicule, and indescribable pain would follow him for thirty-three years and ultimately take his life.
Paul’s words in Philippians 2:6-8 make it clear that Jesus’ painful and humble service was no accident. He didn’t come expecting to receive glory and the accolades of the world. He knew all along that true greatness lives in the form of lowly service. He knew that the path to success in God’s economy required a descent to greatness—an unusual twist in our expectations.
Our culture presumes that being first, richest, hippest, happiest, and most liked is the key to finding joy and contentment, the key to being great. The good life is marked by convenience and freebies. Even the church, in some instances, mistakes a blessed life with an easy and unchallenged life. But Jesus calls us to give up our pretensions of greatness defined by fame, carefree living, or accomplishment. Contrary to popular opinion, greatness is defined by the humble and often hidden actions of a person who has given up on coming out on top. It’s consistently putting Jesus and others first. Living a life of greatness is actually walking a difficult path of self-sacrifice and inconvenience, driven by a greater concern for others. A truly great person does not need to be served but is bent on serving others. Jesus said it himself: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 28:20).
So now, let us begin the journey of being last and descending to greatness.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Patricia Hickman is an award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction, whose work has been praised by critics and readers alike.
Patricia Hickman began writing many years ago after an invitation to join a writer's critique group. It was headed up by best-selling author Dr. Gilbert Morris, a pioneer in Christian fiction who has written many best selling titles. The group eventually came to be called the "Nubbing Chits". All four members of the original "Chits" have gone on to become award-winning and best selling novelists (good fruit, Gil!).
Patty signed her first multi-book contract with Bethany House Publishers. After she wrote several novels "for the market", she assessed her writer's life and decided she would follow the leanings of her heart. She says, "It had to be God leading me into the next work which wound up being my first break-out book, Katrina's Wings. I had never read a southern mainstream novel, yet I knew that one lived in my head, begging to be brought out and developed." She wanted to create deeper stories that broke away from convention and formula. From her own journey in life, she created a world based upon her hometown in the 70's, including Earthly Vows and Whisper Town from the Millwood Hollow Series.
Patty and her husband, Randy, have planted two churches in North Carolina. Her husband pastors Family Christian Center, located in Huntersville. The Hickmans have three children, two on earth and one in heaven. Their daughter, Jessi, was involved in a fatal automobile accident in 2001. Through her writing and speaking, Patty seeks to offer help, hope and encouragement to those who walk the daily road of loss and grief.
ABOUT THE BOOK
In this story of sisterhood and unexpected paths, Gaylen Syler-Boatwright flees her unraveling marriage to take refuge in a mountain cottage owned by her deceased aunt. Burdened with looking after her adult sister, Delia, she is shocked to find a trail of family secrets hidden within her aunt’s odd collection of framed, painted dresses. With Delia, who attracts trouble as a daily occupation, Gaylen embarks on a road trip that throws the unlikely pair together on a journey to painful understanding and delightful revelations.
Steeped in Hickman’s trademark humor, her spare writing voice, and the bittersweet pathos of the South, Painted Dresses powerfully captures a woman’s desperate longing to uncover a hidden, broken life and discover the liberty of living authentically, even when the things exposed are shrouded in shame.
If you would like to read the first chapter, go HERE
Let me start off by saying that I had really been looking forward to reading this book when it arrived. But at the same time, women's fiction (as a genre) is probably not my favorite - tends to be very emotional without lots of action. When I started "Painted Dresses" I might not have been in the right frame of mind for emotional writing, it was one of the first books in a long time that I almost put down without finishing. I just couldn't seem to get attached to the characters and I felt like I didn't know what was going on. At about chapter 4 I almost put it down, but decided to wait one more chapter. At that point something finally clicked and by the end of the book I couldn't put it down because I needed to see what happened and how it ended. I needed to say that, but now let me tell you why I finally got attached...
It is the story of two sisters, very different from each other but with a need for each other that neither of them really realized was there until their road trip. There is an interesting story that unfolds as they travel to different relatives and try to uncover the hazy past. Neither of them are bad people, just different - but they do discover someone bad in their family and they have to deal with that too. I liked the way it reflects real life in that not all the strings are neatly tied up in bows at the end of the book. I wouldn't say that storylines are left unfinished, just not tied up beautifully. In real life things don't always work out perfect either (do they ever work out "perfect"?) but we do sometimes get closure and that is more like what Gaylen finally gets.
It is a good women's fiction book, I just think there was a lot of groundwork to lay at the beginning and that is why it took me awhile to get pulled in. Very interesting storyline with some unanswered questions at the beginning that you walk through with Gaylen as she tries to get them answered. I am having a drawing for this book so leave a comment if you would like to win this book - make sure you leave your email address or your entry will be disqualified. If you like women's fiction you will probably enjoy "Painted Dresses" too.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
It's May 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!
Thomas Nelson (May 6, 2008)
I still think this is one of the best series of books that I have started in awhile. It is unique, clever, mysterious, suspenseful and definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat. It is listed as Young Adult but anyone that likes mystery/suspense would like these. I was giving away the set of the first two books in this series but the winner hasn't contacted me yet. If I don't hear from them by Wednesday night then I will redraw - so if you want a chance to be in that drawing leave a comment here and I will add it on to the drawing if I have to redraw. Make sure to leave an email or your entry doesn't count!
Robert Liparulo is an award-winning author of over a thousand published articles and short stories. He is currently a contributing editor for New Man magazine. His work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Travel & Leisure, Modern Bride, Consumers Digest, Chief Executive, and The Arizona Daily Star, among other publications. In addition, he previously worked as a celebrity journalist, interviewing Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Charlton Heston, and others for magazines such as Rocky Road, Preview, and L.A. Weekly. He has sold or optioned three screenplays.
Robert is an avid scuba diver, swimmer, reader, traveler, and a law enforcement and military enthusiast. He lives in Colorado with his wife and four children.
Here are some of his titles:
House of Dark Shadows (Dreamhouse Kings Book 1)
Comes a Horseman
List Price: $14.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (May 6, 2008)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
At twelve years old, David King was too young to die. At least he thought so.
But try telling that to the people shooting at him.
He had no idea where he was. When he had stepped through the portal, smoke immediately blinded him. An explosion had thrown rocks and who-knew-what into his face. It shook the floor and knocked him off his feet. Now he was on his hands and knees on a hardwood floor. Glass and splinters dug into his palms. Somewhere, all kinds of guns were firing. Bullets zinged overhead, thunking into walls—bits of flying plaster stung his cheeks.
Okay, so he wasn’t sure the bullets were meant for him. The guns seemed both near and far. But in the end, if he were hit, did it matter whether the shooters meant to get him or he’d had the dumb luck to stumble into the middle of a firefight? He’d be just as dead.
The smoke cleared a bit. Sunlight poured in from a school-bus-sized hole in the ceiling. Not just the ceiling—David could see attic rafters and the jagged and burning edges of the roof. Way above was a blue sky, soft white clouds.
He was in a bedroom. A dresser lay on the floor. In front of him was a bed. He gripped the mattress and pushed himself up.
A wall exploded into a shower of plaster, rocks, and dust. He flew back. Air burst from his lungs, and he crumpled again to the floor. He gulped for breath, but nothing came. The stench of fire—burning wood and rock, something dank and putrid—swirled into his nostrils on the thick, gray smoke. The taste of cement coated his tongue. Finally, oxygen reached his lungs, and he pulled it in with loud gasps, like a swimmer saved from drowning. He coughed out the smoke and dust. He stood, finding his balance, clearing his head, wavering until he reached out to steady himself.
A hole in the floor appeared to be trying to eat the bed. It was listing like a sinking ship, the far corner up in the air, the corner nearest David canted down into the hole. Flames had found the blankets and were spreading fast.
Outside, machine-gun fire erupted.
He stumbled toward an outside wall. It had crumbled, forming a rough V-shaped hole from where the ceiling used to be nearly to the floor. Bent rebar jutted out of the plaster every few feet.
More gunfire, another explosion. The floor shook.
Beyond the walls of the bedroom, the rumble of an engine and a rhythmic, metallic click-click-click-click-click tightened his stomach. He recognized the sound from a dozen war movies: a tank. It was rolling closer, getting louder.
He reached the wall and dropped to his knees. He peered out onto the dirt and cobblestone streets of a small village. Every house and building was at least partially destroyed, ravaged by bombs and bullets. The streets were littered with chunks of wall, roof tiles, even furniture that had spilled out through the ruptured buildings.
David’s eyes fell on an object in the street. His panting breath froze in his throat. He slapped his palm over his mouth, either to stifle a scream or to keep himself from throwing up. It was a body, mutilated almost beyond recognition. It lay on its back, screaming up to heaven. Male or female, adult or child, David didn’t know, and it didn’t matter. That it was human and damaged was enough to crush his heart. His eyes shot away from the sight, only to spot another body. This one was not as broken, but was no less horrible. It was a young woman. She was lying on her stomach, head turned with an expression of surprised disbelief and pointing her lifeless eyes directly at David.
He spun around and sat on the floor. He pushed his knuckles into each eye socket, squeegeeing out the wetness. He swallowed, willing his nausea to pass.
His older brother, Xander, said that he had puked when he first saw a dead body. That had been only two days ago—in the Colosseum. David didn’t know where the portal he had stepped through had taken him. Certainly not to a gladiator fight in Rome.
He squinted toward the other side of the room, toward the shadowy corner where he had stepped into . . . wherever this was . . . whenever it was. Nothing there now. No portal. No passage home. Just a wall.
He heard rifle shots and a scream.
Click-click-click-click-click . . . the tank was still approaching.
What had he done? He thought he could be a hero, and now he was about to get shot or blown up or . . . something that amounted to the same thing: Dead.
Dad had been right. They weren’t ready. They should have made a plan.
David rose into a crouch and turned toward the crumbled wall.
I’m here now, he thought. I gotta know what I’m dealing with, right? Okay then. I can do this.
He popped up from his hiding place to look out onto the street. Down the road to his right, the tank was coming into town over a bridge. Bullets sparked against its steel skin. Soldiers huddled behind it, keeping close as it moved forward. In turn, they would scurry out to the side, fire a rifle or machine gun, and step back quickly. Their targets were to David’s left, which meant he was smack between them.
At that moment, he’d have given anything to redo the past hour. He closed his eyes. Had it really only been an hour? An hour to go from his front porch to here?
In this house, stranger things had happened. . . .
Monday, July 21, 2008
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
JAMES SCOTT BELL is a former trial lawyer who now writes full time. He has also been the fiction columnist for Writers Digest magazine and adjunct professor of writing at Pepperdine University.
The national bestselling author of several novels of suspense, he grew up and still lives in Los Angeles. His first Buchanan thriller, TRY DYING, was released to high critical praise, while his book on writing, Plot and Structure is one of the most popular writing books available today.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Ty Buchanan is living on the peaceful grounds of St. Monica’s, far away from the glamorous life he led as a rising trial lawyer for a big L.A. firm. Recovering from the death of his fiancée and a false accusation of murder, Buchanan has found his previous ambitions unrewarding. Now he prefers offering legal services to the poor and the underrepresented from his “office” at local coffee bar The Freudian Sip. With his new friends, the philosophizing Father Bob and basketball-playing Sister Mary Veritas, Buchanan has found a new family of sorts.
One of his first clients is a mysterious woman who arrives with her six-year-old daughter. They are being illegally evicted from a downtown transient hotel, an interest that Ty soon discovers is represented by his old law firm and his former best friend, Al Bradshaw. Buchanan won’t back down. He’s going to fight for the woman’s rights.
But then she ends up dead, and the case moves from the courtroom to the streets. Determined to find the killer and protect the little girl, who has no last name and no other family, Buchanan finds he must depend on skills he never needed in the employ of a civil law firm.
The trail leads Buchanan through the sordid underbelly of the city and to the mansions and yachts of the rich and famous. No one is anxious to talk.
But somebody wants Buchanan to shut up. For good.
Now he must use every legal and physical edge he knows to keep himself and the girl alive.
Once again evoking the neo-noir setting of contemporary Los Angeles, Bell delivers another thriller where darkness falls and the suspense never rests.
If you would like to read chapters 1 & 2, go HERE
“Bell has created in Buchanan an appealing and series-worthy protagonist, and the tale equally balances action and drama, motion and emotion. Readers who pride themselves on figuring out the answers before an author reveals them are in for a surprise, too: Bell is very good at keeping secrets. Fans of thrillers with lawyers as their central characters—Lescroart and Margolin, especially—will welcome this new addition to their must-read lists.”
“Engaging whodunit series kickoff . . . Readers will enjoy Bell's talent for description and character development.”
“James Scott Bell has written himself into a niche that traditionally has been reserved for the likes of Raymond Chandler.”
—Los Angeles Times
“A master of suspense.”
“One of the best writers out there, bar none.”
—In the Library Review
I was not really aware when I started this book that it was #2 in a series about Ty Buchanan. Turns out that it is and it doesn't matter. It is expertly written (I haven't even figured out how he accomplished it quite so smoothly) so as to fill you in on important details from book #1 (why he is living where he is, info on the big case he won, why people know who he is now, etc...) without making you feel like you don't know what is going on. In my mind this is very important. With that resolved I could go on to enjoy the rest of the book.... which believe me - I did!
The dialogue in this book is fantastic - James has created such a great character in Ty, he is flawed but with a good heart, a hero that is not a Christian but rather surrounded by them and on a spiritual journey whether he knows it or not. He is witty with a sharp humor - if there is a conversation between him and someone else then don't skip lines - it is a riot. The conversations remind me of the dialogue that I loved so much in Claudia Mair Burney's books (Murder, Mayhem and a Fine Man series) they could literally get me laughing out loud.
The plot is really inventive with lots of twists and turns and dead bodies and "who dun what to who" kind of stuff - and in the middle of all of it is a 6 year old little girl who has tagged Ty as her hero, a basketball playing nun, a falsely accused priest and Ty. What is not to love???
You must read this book - I know I can't wait to go back and read Try Dying (book #1) just for more great writing! So leave a comment and I'll enter you in a drawing for a copy of this book (and no, it's not my copy - I'm not giving that up!) but you must leave your email or I'll pick someone else. Good luck!
"The Hunted" by Mike Dellosso goes to - Katy Lin
"She Always Wore Red" by Angela Hunt goes to - blueviolet
"House of Dark Shadows" and "Watcher in the Woods" by Robert Liparulo goes to - Christy Jan
I have not been able to contact Christy Jan so if she doesn't get me her address by Wednesday night then I will redraw a new winner for that set of books.
Also, check out all the book giveaways currently going on -
"Try Dying" by James Scott Bell (getting posted late Monday)
"Blood Brothers" by Rick Acker
"Promises, Promises" by Amber Miller
"Sisterchicks Go Brit!" by Robin Jones Gunn
"Wind River" by Tom Morrisey
"Edge of Recall" by Kristin Heitzman
Sunday, July 20, 2008
and his book:
Kregel Publications (May 31, 2008)
Rick Acker writes his novels while commuting to and from his "real job" as a Deputy Attorney General in the California Department of Justice. His most recent novel, Blood Brothers, is an intense sequel to the legal thriller Dead Man's Rule. Christy award-winning author Randy Ingermanson calls Blood Brothers "an excellent legal suspense novel, with a strong biotech backdrop. It reminded me of Michael Crichton's latest novel, Next, except that Blood Brothers is better." Rick is also the author of the well reviewed Davis Detective Mysteries, a series of adventure/mystery novels for "tweens."
Rick is a transplanted Chicagoan who spent thirty-five years in the Midwest before finally trading the certainty of winter and mosquitoes for the risk of earthquakes. He now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, Anette, their four children, and two cats.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (May 31, 2008)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
A chill April rain fell outside Chicago’s Field Museum, drenching the wide black umbrellas that protected the designer gowns, suits, and hairstyles of the arriving guests. They came in couples or small groups, checked their coats and umbrellas, and found their way to the reception in the Founders’ Room, a venerable chamber with the feel of old money. The room’s reception area held a collection of fine artifacts never seen by the general public. A massive, ornately-carved fireplace greeted guests with a roaring blaze. Two large crystal chandeliers cast a soft light from the high ceiling onto the guests mingling below.
The room was full, but not too full—the mark of a well-planned event. White-coated servers maneuvered deftly among the clusters of chatting guests, offering appetizers or glasses of champagne. The selection of baked appetizers reflected a bias for salmon—perhaps because the hostess had been craving it when she planned the menu. Fortunately, most of the guests seemed to like salmon.
Ben Corbin, who did not like salmon, stood by a table of cheese-based hors d’oeuvres and watched his wife work the crowd. Two hours ago, Noelle had been a no-nonsense accountant, but now she had fully morphed into the role of society hostess: bright smile, well-coifed brown hair, unostentatious—but not inexpensive—diamond jewelry, and an elegant blue sheath dress that complemented her athletic figure and matched her brilliant sapphire eyes. Her dress had been let out a little in the middle to make room for her expanding belly; she was four months pregnant with their first child and just starting to show.
Shortly after Ben and Noelle had told his mother the happy news, she had commented to Ben that pregnant women “glow.” Ben had privately questioned whether glow was an appropriate synonym for “exhausted, moody, and nauseated,” but now he saw what his mother had meant. Tonight, Noelle glowed. She radiated happy expectancy and never tired of answering the same questions about how far along she was, how she was feeling, whether they had settled on names yet, and so on.
Ben put down his plate and sauntered over to intercept his wife as she walked from one group of guests to another. “Having fun?” he asked as he fell in stride beside her.
“Yeah,” she said distractedly as she quickly scanned the crowd for new arrivals she hadn’t greeted yet. There were at least two dozen, and more on the way.
Ben followed her gaze. “Too much fun?”
“Yeah. I’ve got to say hi to Senator Fintzen and Justice Gaido. Could you go talk to those people over there?” She nodded in the direction of a group just leaving the name tag table. “That’s Gunnar Bjornsen and his family.”
Ben sauntered over to a group composed of two young men in their twenties, an attractive woman of about fifty, and an imposing sixtyish patriarch. The younger men were both blond and handsome; otherwise, they looked nothing alike. The older one had slightly unkempt long hair, earrings in both ears, a paunch, and a Bohemian air. His younger companion had short-cropped hair, a lean, muscular build, and a well-tailored Brooks Brothers suit.
He looks like he just stepped out of a Young Republicans leadership meeting, thought Ben.
Both men were over six feet tall, but they were dwarfed by the man whom Ben guessed to be Gunnar; he stood at least six feet four and still had the arms of a weightlifter, despite his age.
The two young men talked to the woman, an elegant, aristocratic-looking lady whom Ben assumed was their mother. The older man loomed over the little group, saying nothing, but scanning the crowd with intense, pale gray eyes. His craggy face wore an undisguised look of displeasure, though it wasn’t clear what had upset him.
“Hello,” Ben said as he walked up smiling. “My name is Ben Corbin. Thank you for coming to the reception tonight.” He glanced at their name tags. “Are you related to the Bjornsens of Bjornsen Pharmaceuticals?”
The storm clouds on the older man’s face darkened further. “I am the Bjornsen of Bjornsen Pharmaceuticals.” His basso profundo voice had a trace of a Scandinavian accent.
Oops. Ben’s smile didn’t waver. “Pleased to meet you, sir,” he replied, extending his hand. “Thank you for your company’s generosity in making this exhibition possible. I know the museum is very excited to be able to display artifacts from a royal Viking burial. I’m personally looking forward to spending an afternoon or two in the exhibition hall.”
“So am I,” said the big man as he shook Ben’s hand with a firm grip. “Gunnar Bjornsen. This is my wife, Anne, and our sons, Markus and Tom.” The sweep of his hand identified the Bohemian as Markus and the Republican as Tom. “My brother Karl runs Bjornsen Pharmaceuticals now,” he continued with a trace of bitterness in his voice, “so I never saw the final selection of pieces for this exhibition.”
“Oh.” Momentarily at a loss for words, Ben wished he had paid more attention when Noelle had briefed him on the guest list last week. “I . . . well, I hope you like the choices he made. I’ve seen pictures of some of the items, and they look terrific.”
Anne Bjornsen took pity on him and changed the subject. “Are you the same Ben Corbin who won that lawsuit against the terrorists?”
Five months ago, Ben had discovered that a routine breach of contract lawsuit was actually a battle over possession of a deadly biological weapon. “That’s me. I had a lot of help, though—and I had no idea I was up against terrorists when I took the case.”
“I read about that in the papers,” commented Gunnar. “Very impressive. But I assume litigating against terrorists isn’t a standard part of your practice—or is it?”
“If I did that full time, I would have a very short career. No, that’s the first—and hopefully the last—time I take on a case like that. My real specialty is business disputes: breach of contract cases, shareholder fights, things like that.”
Gunnar looked at him with interest. “Is that so? I’d like to—” he began, but Noelle’s voice over the speaker system cut him off. “Thank you all for coming. As you know, we’re here tonight to celebrate the tremendous generosity of Bjornsen Pharmaceuticals. They have made it possible for the Field Museum to be the first American museum to display artifacts from the Oseberg excavations and the Trondheim Riksmuseum. Let’s welcome Karl Bjornsen, president of Bjornsen Pharmaceuticals, to the Field Museum.”
“Please excuse me,” said Gunnar. He turned abruptly on his heel and headed for the door. The other attendees applauded as a large man approached the front of the room, where Noelle and half a dozen museum worthies awaited him. He appeared to be a bit shorter than Gunnar, but burlier, and he had the same fading blond hair and fierce gray eyes. He walked with the confident, shoulder-swinging stride of a man who was used to having people make way for him.
While all eyes were on Karl Bjornsen, Ben also took the opportunity to slip out of the room. He had never been a great fan of the windy speechmaking that went on at receptions and award dinners. Worse, when executives from corporate donors spoke, they often seemed to feel that they had been invited to do an infomercial for their companies. Now that Noelle had sat down in one of the chairs on the dais, Ben figured he could quietly escape. He made for the entrance to the exhibit hall, which was framed by wooden pillars and a lintel carved with entwined geometric patterns, mimicking the entrance to a Viking hall.
* * *
Back at the reception, Karl Bjornsen walked up to the podium and looked out over the crowd. He recognized a dozen CEOs and other senior executives, several reporters, and the head of a large mutual fund. There were lots of decision makers here tonight, and that was good. “Thank you, Noelle,” he began, with a smile and a nod in her direction. “And thank you, Field Museum. Without the partnership of this great institution and the hard work of its staff, this exhibition would not have been possible.”
“I am very lucky to be part of this great effort to bring treasures of ancient Norway to this new land. When I was a child growing up in Oslo, I remember going to the museums with my parents to see beautiful artifacts that had lain buried and forgotten for a thousand years. It thrilled me then, and it thrills me even more now, to share the glories of my ancestors with the people of this great city where I have made my home and built my company.
“But I would like to take a few minutes to tell you about a Norse treasure that is not locked in museum cases—a treasure that we can hold in our hands and that can change each of our lives. Last year, a hiker in one of Norway’s national parks got lost in the mountains. He wandered for days, growing hungrier and weaker. He would have died of starvation and exposure if he had not saved himself . . . by starting an avalanche.”
A few chuckles rumbled through the crowd.
“How does an avalanche feed a hungry man? The rock and ice that thundered away down the mountainside that day uncovered a cave that had not seen the light of the sun for a millennium or more. And in that cave were some leaves and seeds from an extinct tree.
“The hiker took those leaves and seeds and ate some—but fortunately not all of them. After he ate, he had a new will to live, more energy, and he was suddenly able to think of a way to escape from his predicament. He managed to rip open one of his hiking boots and pull out the steel shank. He found a sufficiently hard stone and struck sparks off it into a pile of dry grass and pine needles. Once he had a fire going, he made himself a torch and limped along the timberline starting fires at regular intervals, which he knew would get the attention of the park rangers pretty quickly. They did, and he was rescued.” Karl paused for a moment to let his audience appreciate the story. “Quite a tale, isn’t it?
“But why didn’t the hiker think of that sooner? And where did a man on the brink of death get the strength to tear apart a hiking boot?
“The hiker was unable to guide the rangers back to the cave he’d found, so unfortunately whatever secrets it still holds have been lost again. But he did have some of the leaves and seeds in his pockets. Norwegian scientists began studying them, and what they found was truly amazing: the leaves, and particularly the seeds, contained complex compounds that acted together to make it possible for neural impulses to move through chains of nerve cells more efficiently and at greater speed. Theoretically, that means that these chemicals should make the subject’s brain operate faster and his reflexes quicker.
“Theoretically, that’s how it should work, but what does it really do? We knew the hiker’s story, of course, but that was only one individual and was hardly a controlled experiment. I wanted to find out more, so my company licensed the rights to perform experiments on extracts from these plants and make products from them. Let me show you what we found.”
The lights dimmed and a motor whirred as a screen descended from the ceiling. The crowd watched in complete silence.
Karl picked up a remote control from the podium and clicked. The screen came to life, showing two lab rats negotiating identical mazes. A digital display at the top of each maze tracked the rats’ performance.
“The rat on the right has been fed an extract from the seeds,” Karl said. “The rat on the left has not.”
As the video proceeded, the rat on the right finished well ahead of the other rat.
“On average, rats with the extract finished mazes twenty percent faster than those without it.
“But those are rats. What about something closer to a human being?” He pressed another button on the remote. The scene on the screen shifted to show two rhesus monkeys struggling to open clear containers with complicated lids that looked like blacksmith’s puzzles. Inside each container was an apple slice. Again, a digital monitor timed each monkey. “The results were even more impressive than with the rats. The monkeys who took the extract completed the same intelligence-testing puzzles in roughly thirty percent less time, and they were able to do more difficult puzzles than the control group monkeys. In fact, they did puzzles more difficult than rhesus monkeys had previously been known to solve.
“And there may be another benefit to this extract.” He clicked the remote again and a picture of a monkey cage appeared on the screen. The cage was empty and two of the bars had been noticeably bent. “This is a picture we took last week. We left the bowl of apples too close to the monkeys one night.”
A laugh ran through the crowd.
“But as often happens in science, our mistake led to a fascinating discovery: those cages are actually designed to hold larger and stronger monkeys than the ones we were using. There’s no way that our monkeys should have been able to bend those bars—but they did! There was nothing wrong with the metal; we tested that. So the only possibility left was that these rhesus monkeys did something that rhesus monkeys can’t do.
“We’re doing additional studies right now, but our best guess is that the extract increases muscle strength by increasing the speed and strength of the electrical impulses transmitted by the nerves to the muscle cells. That’s only a guess, but it happens to fit the facts as we know them today.”
He turned off the projector and the screen recessed into the ceiling. “Many companies say that their products will ‘change the world,’ and virtually all of them are wrong. But I ask you to imagine a time when a firefighter can take a pill that will give him increased strength and speed of mind and hand before he enters a burning building; when our men and women in uniform can make themselves stronger, faster, and smarter than their enemies during battle.” He swept his hands over the audience. “A time when any of us can make ourselves a little smarter and faster whenever we need to face life’s challenges.”
He held up a single leaf. “This came from a tree grown from one of the seeds found in that ancient cave. It is a gift from our past. It is also our future, and it is a future bright with promise. We stand here tonight at a meeting of the ages. Past, present, and future have come together, each enriching the other. Thank you for coming tonight. I hope you enjoy the exhibition.”
* * *
Ben crossed the threshold of the exhibit hall and paused to let his eyes adjust. The interior had been made to look like the longhouse of a Viking king. There were no windows, and the only light came from the entrances and strategically spaced “smoke holes” in the roof. Dark timbers covered the walls and sloped upward to form a steeply peaked roof supported by richly carved beams bearing images of dragons and serpents that intertwined to form complex patterns that confused the eye. Artifacts protected by Plexiglas cases were arranged to make them appear to be a natural part of the long hall. A collection of eight golden arm rings, each in the form of an emerald-eyed serpent swallowing its tail, lay carelessly arranged in an iron-bound chest, as if some warlord had tossed them there after returning from a raid. Two swords with gold-inlaid hilts hung from pegs on the wall, their bright blades still bearing the notches of long-ago battles. In a dark corner near the end of the hall, an ancient chair of exquisitely carved black oak sat in a rough circle with several modern copies, in which visitors could sit and imagine a conversation with the lord of the hall. To complete the illusion, one of the chairs held the hulking figure of a Norse warlord bent in thought and shadow, brooding over plans for his next conquest.
Ben decided to give his feet a rest and headed for the little grouping of chairs. As he got closer, he noticed that the clothing on the Viking mannequin didn’t look right, though the light was too dim to say exactly why. As Ben approached, the figure stirred and looked up. It was Gunnar. “Ah, Mr. Corbin. I see that I’m not the only escapee from the hot air blowing out there.”
“The speeches do start to sound the same after a while. I figured the exhibit might be more interesting than the people talking about it.”
“Well, what do you think?”
“Pretty impressive, especially when it’s empty like this. They’ve really created the atmosphere of another place and time. When I walked in here, I almost felt like I’d arrived early for a Viking war council and that any minute the king and his generals would walk in.”
Gunnar regarded him with an odd, piercing look for a moment. “It’s interesting that you should put it like that. I—” There was a noise behind them and Gunnar looked past Ben’s shoulder. Ben turned and saw Karl Bjornsen walking up to them. “Gunnar!” he said in a booming voice. “I’m so glad you could make it to our exhibition.” He was smiling, but it was the hard, predatory smile of the victor greeting the vanquished.
“I wanted to make sure you didn’t screw it up too badly after I left,” Gunnar replied. He stood and looked around. “It looks good. I assume someone else took care of it.”
Ben shifted his weight uncomfortably and looked away, but Karl continued to smile. “You’re right. I was so busy cleaning up the mess you left at my company that I didn’t have time to work on this myself.”
Gunnar’s face hardened. “Ditt selskap, sier du?”
“Ja. Og min teknologi som du stjal,” Karl growled in reply.
Gunnar tensed and clenched his fists. “Din helv—” He stopped himself as he noticed a group entering the exhibit hall from the reception. “Excuse me; do any of you speak Norwegian?”
“Yes, I do,” replied a matronly woman with white hair and a tentlike dress.
“How unfortunate. Since that is the case, I will limit my remarks to wishing you all a good night,” Gunnar continued with an icy smile. “Even you, little brother.” Then he pushed past Karl and out of the hall.
* * *
Two hours later, the festivities were winding down. The bar was closed, everyone who wanted to see the exhibit had been through the hall, and most of the crowd had left. The Corbins had spent the past half hour near the door, saying good-bye to guests. At last, even Karl Bjornsen and his wife had gathered their coats and were on their way out into the blustery night. As Ben watched their retreating backs, he leaned over to his wife and asked, “What’s the deal with him and his brother? I thought they were going to start fighting when they ran into each other in the exhibit.”
“I told you about that,” replied Noelle. “They founded Bjornsen Pharmaceuticals together decades ago. Karl was the chairman and Gunnar was the president, but they set it up so that neither of them could make any major decision without the other’s consent. That worked fine for a long time, but about a year ago they stopped agreeing. It turned into a feud over control of the company, and Karl won. He forced Gunnar out in a proxy fight about a month ago.”
Ben vaguely recalled seeing articles about the brothers’ battle, though he hadn’t read them. “That was in the Tribune a while back, wasn’t it?”
“And Crain’s,” replied Noelle. “A couple of the board members didn’t want to invite Gunnar tonight, because they thought there might be a scene.”
“There was a scene.” Ben recounted the incident in the exhibit hall.
Noelle sighed. “I’m glad it wasn’t worse. It sounds like Karl gave Gunnar the bump just as their company was developing a new product that could be huge. I’ve never heard of anything like it.”
“What new product?”
She looked at him first with surprise, and then with suspicion. “You snuck out before Karl’s presentation, didn’t you?”
“I knew the speeches would go downhill as soon as you stopped talking,” he replied.
She smiled affectionately. “Good answer, but you missed a really interesting talk.” She summarized the story of the hiker’s discovery and the results of Bjornsen Pharmaceuticals’ test results.
“Wow,” Ben said when she had finished. “I’m sorry I missed that. So he’s invented brain steroids, huh? I wish we’d had those when I was in law school.”
One of the servers walked up with a question, and Noelle turned her attention to the aftermath of the party. “The caterer says there’s seven pounds of grilled salmon left,” she informed Ben a few minutes later. “What do you say we bring it home?”
“Brutus will love it,” he replied. Brutus was their ten-pound cockapoo—fifty percent cocker spaniel, fifty percent poodle, and one hundred percent terror. Noelle had picked the breed, and Ben had picked the name. Brutus was still a puppy and had a huge appetite, particularly for human food.
She made a point of looking appalled. “No way are you giving it to the dog!”
“It’ll stink up the fridge if we have it in there for more than a day,” Ben countered.
“Okay. We’ll take half, and it will be gone in thirty-six hours.”
Ben knew she was up to the challenge. “Deal.”
* * *
Gunnar’s car would have been uncomfortably silent had it not been for Markus’s intermittent snoring. Tom nudged his brother, who was quiet for a moment before starting up the chain saw again.
Markus was drunk, as he generally was by late evening. After a contemptuous remark from his father in the parking lot, Markus had put in his iPod earbuds, tuned out his family, and fallen asleep by the time the car reached the highway. About fifteen minutes later, Gunnar said “Markus!” in an irritated voice. No response. “Markus!” he boomed.
His son bolted awake and cringed. “What?”
“You were snoring. Stop it.”
“Yes, sir,” Markus replied in a slurred mixture of subservience and resentment. He turned up the volume on his music and closed his eyes again. But he didn’t snore.
Gunnar drove fast. He always did when he was angry. Early in their marriage, Anne would urge him to slow down, but she soon learned that there was no reasoning with him when he was like this. All she could do was wait for the storm to pass and pray that he didn’t hit anyone. So far, he hadn’t.
“Are you still planning on taking the boat out on Thursday?” she asked, hoping to distract him from his wrath.
“Maybe,” he said.
“Did the weather forecast change?”
She debated whether to dig deeper and decided it was worth the risk. “Then why wouldn’t you go sailing?”
He was silent for so long that she began to think he wouldn’t answer. “I think I’m going to see a lawyer.”
She leaned over and whispered, “About the boys’ inheritance—about Markus?”
“No,” he replied. “About the other problem male in the family.”
* * *
The Corbins walked into their Wilmette home and were energetically greeted by ten pounds of fur, tongue, and bark. “Whoa! Down boy!” said Ben as he tried to protect the pants to his best suit. “I just had these dry cleaned.”
After Brutus’s affections subsided, Ben and Noelle trudged upstairs, worn out by the busy evening. Ben changed into a pair of sweats and got ready for bed. Then he lay down and let his mind idle as he waited for Noelle to finish her complicated ritual for removing her clothing, jewelry, and makeup after society evenings.
His thoughts wandered for a few minutes, but he soon found himself thinking about the exhibition. The intricately worked gold, the weathered runic inscriptions, and the sense that he had been walking among the ghosts of warrior kings all percolated in Ben’s tired brain. He imagined mist-shrouded fjords and mountain forests growing over the burial mounds of ancient Viking lords.
Noelle walked in, interrupting her husband’s Nordic reverie. “Hey, honey,” he said, “what do think about maybe taking a trip to Norway? We’ve never been there, and it’ll be a lot harder to take trips after the baby comes.”
“That’s true.” She thought for a moment. Every now and then they had vaguely discussed taking another overseas vacation, but they had mostly talked about Asia, not Scandinavia. “We’ve also never been to China.”
“Yes, but just imagine how good the Norwegian salmon will be. Also, I’ll bet the plumbing is a lot more modern in Norway.” Two years ago, they had spent three weeks touring southern Italy and Greece. During their travels, Noelle had found exactly one bathroom that was remotely acceptable by her standards.
“Those are excellent points,” she responded. “But do you think you can take any more time off from work?”
Ben hesitated before answering. Shortly after his victory against the terrorists, and partly because of his sudden celebrity, he had settled a large trade secrets case on very favorable terms. The contingent fee portion of his compensation had amounted to two million dollars, plus one hundred thousand per year for at least the next ten years. That, combined with some good investing, meant that he no longer had to work unless he wanted to—and he often didn’t want to.
He had a couple of cases that occupied about fifteen hours per week, and some pro bono work that took around five hours more, but that was it. He spent most of his time reading, working in his woodshop, or watching old movies. Noelle was not a great fan of her husband’s newly relaxed lifestyle, and had said so on more than one occasion. Her question was therefore a dangerous one and needed a careful answer. “I think so. Things are starting to pick up at the office, but I should be able to make the time for a vacation. Besides, this will probably be our last chance before the baby is old enough to travel.”
She thought about that for a moment and then shook her head. “Maybe you can take the time, but I can’t. There’s just too much to do. I’ve got two new clients with quarterly reports coming due, and one of them has SEC filings to make. And that’s on top of all the other stuff I’ve got to do.” Ben knew that most of that “stuff” involved catered brunches in large homes, luncheon board meetings, and charity dinners. He was surprised she hadn’t put on thirty pounds even before she got pregnant. “Oh, and it looks like we’re going to get invited to the Adlers’ son’s bar mitzvah. The Bishops and Gossards are likely to be there.”
“That’s nice,” Ben replied with a yawn. “We can send him a card and a sweater from Norway.”
“You mean we could if we were going to be there instead of at his bar mitzvah.”
“You’d give up three weeks in the Land of the Midnight Sun for three hours making small talk with the Bishops and Gossards? They’re nice people, but they’re not that nice.”
She looked at him with raised eyebrows. “You were thinking of taking three weeks off?”
“Okay, two weeks.”
She shook her head. “I just don’t have time, bar mitzvah or no. And neither do you. Going to Norway would mean even more time out of the office—and you couldn’t possibly spend less time there without retiring.”
Ben rolled his eyes. “If I take up shuffleboard and start complaining about how young people drive, would you stop bugging me about that?”
“No, I’d bug you about being boring.” She changed her tone and tried again. “Do you remember what you said when we were thinking about going out on our own?”
He shrugged. “I said a lot of stuff. The only one that sticks in my head was that I was going to miss the free catered lunches at B&R.”
“The one that sticks in my head was that you wanted to do something more important than defend the rights of Fortune 500 companies. Remember that? We prayed about our decision, and you said you felt that God was calling you to use your gifts to make a real difference in the lives of real people. What happened? Now that we’ve got money, is God calling you to spend more time sitting in front of the TV or to make Shaker chairs in the basement?”
“Man, you’re hard to please! A few months ago, you were complaining because I worked too much. Now you’re complaining because I’m not working enough. Make up your mind.”
“I’m not saying you have to spend all your time suing people, I’m just saying you should do something. Maybe you could do some work for the Field. I could introduce you to some very interesting and charming people.”
“There are plenty of interesting and charming people in the world,” Ben replied testily. “Not all of them have five-thousand-square-foot homes and live on the North Shore. In fact, I’ll bet a lot of them live in Norway. Who knows, maybe we can even find some rich people there for you to talk to.”
She stopped getting ready for bed and glared at him. “Do you really mean that? Do you really think I spend over a hundred hours every month working for free just so I can talk to rich people?”
Ben sighed inwardly. Why did these speak-the-truth-in-love conversations always seem to happen when he wanted to go to bed? “That was a cheap shot, and I’m sorry. No, I don’t think that’s the only reason you do it, but I do think it’s one of the perks. I mean, if there was nothing to it, would I have hit a nerve like that?”
“Let’s test that little theory,” she returned sharply. “Why don’t I try hitting a few of your nerves, and then you can tell me whether there’s anything to my comments. Deal?”
Ben chuckled ruefully and sat up in bed. “How about I apologize again and you forgive me and then I give you a backrub to soothe that nerve I hit. Deal?”
“No deal. As long as we’re sharing constructive criticism here, I want a real answer out of you on why you think it’s okay to spend ten hours a day putzing around here at home and only four or five in the office. And half the time when you’re there, I see you playing solitaire on your computer or surfing ESPN.com.”
“I need to remember to keep my door shut.” He yawned. “Look, we’ve had a long night and I’m beat. Can’t we talk about this over coffee and muffins in the morning?”
“No, we can’t. You’ve been ducking this one for months. I want to hear what you have to say for yourself.”
He flopped back down onto his pillow. “Okay, fine. The answer is that I worked my butt off for eight years after law school because I had to. Now I don’t have to anymore. I kind of like the change, but I’m not as motivated as I used to be. Maybe I should be, but I’m not. It’s a lot harder to drag myself out of bed at six o’clock every morning when the only reason I’ve got to go into the office is that I feel called to do it. Satisfied?”
She smiled. “Of course. I just needed to hear you say it. And I think you needed to hear yourself say it. Now, did you say something about a backrub?”
* * *
Captain Tor Kjeldaas put the Agnes Larsen’s engines in reverse and pulled her out of the slip she occupied at the crowded municipal pier in Yuragorsk, a small but booming port city tucked away in the far northwest corner of Russia. It was a starless, rainy night and the seas were choppy, but the captain welcomed the darkness and the foul weather.
The Agnes Larsen was a fishing boat, but there were no fish in her holds tonight. The Norwegian and Russian processing plants had dropped the price they would pay for cod, and the crew of the Agnes Larsen were feeling the pinch. So they decided to supplement their income by importing fifty cases of vodka with them when they returned to their home port of Torsknes, Norway. The Norwegian government held a monopoly on sales of hard liquor and charged exorbitant prices—usually three times or more the price in neighboring countries. The result, of course, was a brisk bootlegging business over Norway’s long and sparsely populated borders and coastline.
Captain Kjeldaas steered his little ship cautiously, his leathery face a picture of concentration in the dim, green glow of the instrument panel. He continually made minor adjustments to the wheel and throttle, his gnarled hands moving with great precision and delicacy despite arthritis and dozens of scars from a half century of working these waters. His experienced blue eyes scanned the black waters for the subtlest change.
April was a dangerous time for sailors on the Arctic Ocean, even in calm waters and bright daylight. Warmed by the spring sun, icebergs calved off from the polar ice pack and coastal glaciers, drifting for weeks or even months until they finally melted. They ranged in size from huge floating islands, which could be easily spotted and avoided, to small chunks that were little more than ice cubes and bounced harmlessly off even the thinnest hulls. The truly deadly bergs lay between these two extremes—jagged masses of ice that barely disturbed the waves rolling over them, yet could smash fatal holes into any ship unlucky enough to meet them.
The Agnes Larsen puttered along at only a few knots to minimize the risk from ice. Her speed was further reduced because the running lights were set as dim as possible to avoid detection by the Kystvakt, the Norwegian coast guard. Captain Kjeldaas was a careful and experienced sailor, but neither care nor experience were complete protection against the hazards of the Arctic Ocean. As he looked out through the rain-streaked pilothouse window, he saw an odd pattern in the waves a hundred meters ahead. He frowned and turned his craft a few points to starboard to avoid whatever was causing the water to behave strangely. Then a trough in the waves exposed a pale white mass several times the length of his ship. Most of it lay to port, but a long spar of ice jutted straight toward the bow of the ship.
The captain swore and slammed the wheel as hard to starboard as he could, but the wind and current pulled the little craft to port and she barely altered course. The captain gunned the engine in a desperate effort to give the Agnes Larsen enough power to answer her helm. She began to turn, but it was too late. “Hold fast!” he shouted to his crew as he braced himself against the pilothouse walls.
A second later, the ship lurched, shuddered, and tilted sharply to starboard. Men shouted incoherently belowdecks and objects fell and crashed. A loud, deep groan issued from the ship’s timbers, accented by the squeal of ice on wood. Then came the sound the captain feared the most: a sharp crack followed by screams of “Water! Water! The pump!”
All at once, the Agnes Larsen rolled back to port and then rode level. The noises of wood and ice ceased, but the men still shouted belowdecks. Captain Kjeldaas swore again and hurried down to see how bad the damage was. The Agnes Larsen was too small to carry a lifeboat, so if the ship went down, he and his crew would be adrift in the frigid sea. Hypothermia would kill them a few minutes after they went into the water.
Water sprayed in from a half-dozen leaks, but the hull planks had buckled in only one place—and that was above the waterline. The men had already started the pump and were breaking out the emergency patching kit. The first mate looked up at Captain Kjeldaas with a giddy, relieved grin. “She’ll be dry in half an hour, captain!”
The captain surveyed the scene again and nodded curtly. “Good.” He turned and went back to the pilothouse.
As dawn broke, signaled only by a lightening of the gray sky, the Agnes Larsen limped into Torsknes. Water continued to drip inside the hull and the pump ran intermittently. The growing light showed that much of her paint had been scraped away on the port side, which also bore several deep gouges. Captain Kjeldaas knew where his share of the vodka profits was going. In fact, he’d probably have to make another smuggling run next week just to cover the cost of repairs.
The ship cleared the sea wall and came into view of the dock. Captain and crew had expected to see a truck waiting at the dock to take their cargo. Instead, they saw a police car. Two Kystvakt launches floated just inside the sea wall, lest the Agnes Larsen try to run back out to sea.
Captain Kjeldaas set his mouth in a hard line and headed for the dock. He’d lose his cargo, of course, and probably get slapped with a stiff fine. That would likely be all, though. There were enough ex-fishermen in the police force and judiciary to ensure some leniency when an old sea captain got caught in the time-honored practice of rum-running. Still, the loss of his cargo, a fine, and the repair bill for his ship would come close to bankrupting him. He’d have to find a way to make a lot of money fast—faster than he could smuggling vodka, and a lot faster than he could catching cod.
* * *
The evening was a great triumph, Karl decided. A great triumph. He walked over to the living room window of his palatial sixtieth floor condo and looked out on the glowing Chicago skyline, replaying pleasant memories from a few hours ago—the interest and applause during his remarks, the enthusiastic questions about his new product from stock analysts and captains of industry, and the jealous bile in his brother’s face and voice. With luck, Bjornsen Pharmaceuticals’ stock would be up strongly tomorrow as reports of his presentation circulated.
His satisfied smile faded as he recalled a detail he hadn’t focused on at the time. Gunnar had been talking with a younger man who seemed vaguely familiar, but whom Karl couldn’t immediately place. He also recalled having seen the man with the hostess at some point during the evening. Who was he? And what had he and Gunnar been talking about in the exhibit hall during the speeches? Karl turned as his wife walked into the room. “Gwen, who was that man at the reception with Noelle Corbin?”
“In his thirties, brown hair, athletic build, good-looking, but a little on the short side?” she responded.
“You have an excellent memory of him,” Karl replied drily. “Yes, that’s the one.”
She laughed. Before marrying Karl fifteen years ago, Gwen LaCharriere had been a runway model known for two things: her elegant, raven-haired good looks and her reputation as a flirt—though she had always thought of herself as merely friendly. One of the things that had drawn her to Karl was the fact that he was confident enough not to be bothered when she talked to other men. Still, it was fun to tease him. “That’s her husband, Ben Corbin. He was in the papers a while back—something about Russian terrorists.”
Now he remembered. He stood silent for a few seconds, weighing the significance of this new piece of information. “Chechens,” he said. “The terrorists were Chechens. They bought their weapons from Russian smugglers. Ben Corbin was the lawyer who beat the Russians in court and then hunted down the Chechens, wasn’t he?”
“That sounds right.”
Karl began to understand his brother’s interest in Mr. Corbin. He also began to wonder just how much Gunnar knew about Bjornsen Pharmaceuticals’ activities. This situation bore watching. Close watching. In fact, it bore more than that.
Karl considered what to do next. When he and Gunnar were boys, one of their favorite pastimes was to spar with long sticks. At first, Gunnar always won, because he was older and had a longer reach than Karl. But Karl eventually learned that if he could strike the first hard blow, he could put his brother on the defensive and control the fight.
Let me say up front that I was so blown away by how good it was that it will probably show up on my Best Books of 2008 list and so I am keeping my copy on my must save shelf. Having said that let me also clarify that you must get a copy of this book - it is a fantastic read! There is political intrigue, mystery, suspense, drama and above all it is so intense that you just can't put it down.
It is apparently a sequel but you wouldn't know it because Rick does such a good job of introducing characters and situations that I couldn't even tell you who is from the first book and who is new to this one. It is quite seamless and makes it enjoyable to read with out feeling like you are out in the dark.
There is a lot going on in this book - plots that intertwine, characters that eventually cross paths, surprises and twists and turns. The best part of this book is the ending - it was so perfect that I was blown away by the simplicity of it. If you have ever trusted me on what are good books and what aren't - then trust me now - this is a good book!
Now you can enter to win this fantastic book! Leave a comment (with your email address) and I'll enter you in the drawing. Tell other people about this drawing and for everyone that enters and puts your email address under their own - you will get an extra entry. Good luck!