Sunday, August 31, 2008

"The Summer the Wind Whispered My Name" Book Review and Giveaway!



It is time for the FIRST Blog Tour! On the FIRST day of every month we feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!






The feature author is:



and his book:


The Summer the Wind Whispered My Name
NavPress Publishing Group (August 2008)

MY REVIEW:

I finished this book this afternoon and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I think one of the best correlations I heard someone give this book is that if you remember the show "The Wonder Years" with Kevin Arnold then picture this as a written version of the show. It is well written and I think it covers issues of the day and time quite well. It started a little slow for me, but when it picked up pace I couldn't put it down! By the end of the book I was sorry to see it end and am now curious to read Don Locke's first book which is actually the sequel to this one.

I found the characters very real and watching the development of them was fascinating. We see racism covered as well as suicide, hatred, bigotry, love, parental relationships and more. For a laid back read I recommend this book.

For a chance to win this book, leave a comment telling me what you remember about the 1960's along with your email address and I will have a drawing for the winner...

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Don Locke is an illustrator and graphic artist for NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno and has worked as a freelance writer and illustrator for more than thirty years. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Susan. The Summer the Wind Whispered My Name, prequel to The Reluctant Journey of David Connors, is Don's second novel.



Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 355 pages
Publisher: NavPress Publishing Group (August 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1600061532
ISBN-13: 978-1600061530

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Preface

Until recently my early childhood memories weren’t readily available for recollection. Call it a defective hard drive. They remained a mystery and a void—a midwestern landscape of never-ending pitch-blackness where I brushed up against people and objects but could never assign them faces or names, much less attach feelings to our brief encounters.

But through a miraculous act of divine grace, I found my way back home to discover the child I’d forgotten, the boy I’d abandoned supposedly for the good of us both. There he sat beneath an oak tree patiently awaiting my return, as if I’d simply taken a day-long fishing trip. This reunion of spirits has transformed me into someone both wiser and more innocent, leaving me to feel both old and young.

And with this new gift of recollection, my memories turn to that boy and to the summer of 1960, when the winds of change blew across our rooftops and through the screen doors, turning the simple, manageable world of my suburban neighborhood into something unfamiliar, something uncomfortable. Those same winds blew my father and me apart.


One

Route 666

With a gentle shake of my shoulders, a kiss on my cheek, and the words It’s time whispered by my mom, I woke at five thirty in the morning to prepare for my newspaper route. Careful not to wake my older brother, Bobby, snoozing across the room, I slipped out of bed and stumbled my way into the hallway and toward the bathroom, led only by the dim glow of the nightlight and a familiarity with the route.

There on the bathroom floor, as usual, my mother had laid my clothes out in the shape of my body, my underwear layered on top. You’re probably wondering why she did this. It could have been that she severely underestimated my intelligence and displayed my clothes in this fashion in case there was any doubt on my part as to which articles of clothing went where on my body. She didn’t want to face the public humiliation brought on by her son walking out of the house wearing his Fruit of the Loom undies over his head. Or maybe her work was simply the result of a sense of humor that I missed completely. Either way, I never asked.

Mine was a full-service mom whose selfless measures of accommodation put the men of Texaco to shame. The fact that she would inconvenience herself by waking me when an alarm clock would suffice, or lay out my clothes when I was capable of doing so myself, might sound a bit odd to you, but believe me, it was only the tip of the indulgent iceberg. This was a woman who would cut the crust off my PB&J sandwich at my request, set my toothbrush out every night with a wad of Colgate laying atop the bristles, and who would often put me to sleep at night with a song, a prayer, and a back scratch. In the wintertime, when the wind chill off Lake Erie made the hundred-yard trek down to the corner to catch the school bus feel like Admiral Perry’s excursion, Mom would actually lay my clothes out on top of the floor heater before I woke up so that my body would be adequately preheated before stepping outside to face the Ohio cold. From my perspective my room was self-cleaning; toys, sports equipment, and clothes discarded onto the floor all found their way back to the toy box, closet, or dresser. I never encountered a dish that I had to clean or trash I had to empty or a piece of clothing I had to wash or iron or fold or put away.

I finished dressing, entered the kitchen, and there on the maroon Formica table, in predictable fashion, sat my glass of milk and chocolate long john patiently waiting for me to consume them. My mother, a chocoholic long before the word was coined, had a sweet tooth that she’d handed down to her children. She believed that a heavy dusting of white processed sugar on oatmeal, cream of wheat, or grapefruit was crucial energy fuel for starting one’s day. Only earlier that year I’d been shocked to learn from my third grade teacher, Mrs. Mercer, that chocolate was not, in fact, a member of any of the four major food groups.

Wearing a milk mustache and buzzing from my sugar rush, I walked outside to where the stack of Tribunes—dropped off in my driveway earlier by the news truck—were waiting for me to fold them.

More often than I ever cared to hear it, my dad would point out, “It’s the early bird that catches the worm.” But for me it was really those early morning summer hours themselves that provided the reward. Sitting there on our cement front step beneath a forty-watt porch light, rolling a stack of Tribunes, I was keenly aware that bodies were still strewn out across beds in every house in the neighborhood, lying lost in their dreamland slumber while I was already experiencing the day. There would be time enough for the sounds of wooden screen doors slamming shut, the hissing of sprinklers on Bermuda lawns, and the songs of robins competing with those of Elvis emanating from transistor radios everywhere. But for now there was a stillness about my neighborhood that seemed to actually slow time down, where even the old willow in our front yard stood like one more giant dozing on his feet, his long arms hanging lifeless at his sides, and where the occasional shooting star streaking across the black sky was a confiding moment belonging only to the morning and me.

From the porch step I could detect the subtle, pale peach glow rise behind the Finnegan’s house across the street. I stretched a rubber band open across the top of my knuckles, spread my fingers apart, and slid it down over the length of the rolled paper to hold it in place. Seventy-six times I’d repeat this act almost unconsciously. There was something about the crisp, cool morning air that seemed to contain a magical element that when breathed in set me to daydreaming. So that’s just what I did . . . I sent my homemade bottle rocket blasting above the trees and watched as the red and white bobber at the end of my fishing pole suddenly got sucked down below the surface of the water at Crystal Lake, and with my Little League team’s game on the line, I could hear the crack of my bat as I smacked a liner over the third baseman’s head to drive in the go-ahead run. Granted, most kids would daydream bigger—their rockets sailed to the moon or Mars, and their fish, blue marlins at least, were hooked off Bermuda in their yachts, and their hits were certainly grand slams in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series for the Reds—but my dad always suggested that a dream should have its feet planted firmly enough in reality to actually have a chance to come true one day, or there wasn’t much point in conjuring up the dream in the first place. Dreaming too big would only lead to a lifetime scattered with the remnants of disappointments and heartbreak.

And I believed him. Why not? I was young and his shadow fell across me with weight and substance and truth. He was my hero. But in some ways, I suppose, he was too much like my other heroes: Frank Robinson, Ricky Nelson, Maverick. I looked up to them because of their accomplishments or their image, not because of who they really were. I didn’t really know who they were outside of that. Such was the case with my dad. He was a great athlete in his younger years, had a drawer full of medals for track and field, swimming, baseball, basketball, and a bunch from the army to prove it.

It was my dad who had managed to pull the strings that allowed me to have a paper route in the first place. I remember reading the pride in his eyes earlier in the spring when he first told me I got the job. His voice rose and fell within a wider range than usual as he explained how I would now be serving a valuable purpose in society by being directly responsible for informing people of local, national, and even international events. My dad made it sound important—an act of responsibility, being this cog in the wheel of life, the great mandala. And it made me feel important, better defining my place in the universe. In a firm handshake with my dad, I promised I wouldn’t let him down.

Finishing up folding and banding the last paper, I knew I was running a little late because Spencer, the bullmastiff next door, had already begun to bark in anticipation of my arrival. Checking the Bulova wristwatch that my dad had given me as a gift the morning of my first route confirmed it. I proceeded to cram forty newspapers into my greasy white canvas pouch and loop the straps over my bike handles. Riding my self-painted, fluorescent green Country Road–brand bike handed down from my brother, I would deliver these papers mostly to my immediate neighborhood and swing back around to pick up the final thirty-six.

I picked the olive green army hat up off the step. Though most boys my age wore baseball caps, I was seldom seen without the hat my dad wore in World War II. Slapping it down onto my head, I hopped onto my bike, turned on the headlight, and was off down my driveway, turning left on the sidewalk that ran along the front of our corner property on Willowcreek Road.

I rode around to where our street dead-ended, curving into Briarbrook. Our eccentric young neighbors, the Springfields, lived next door in a house they’d painted black. Mr. and Mrs. Springfield chose to raise a devil dog named Spencer rather than experiencing the joy of parenthood. Approaching the corner of their white picket fence on my bike, I could see the strong, determined, shadowy figure of that demon dashing back and forth along the picket fence, snarling and barking at me loudly enough to wake the whole neighborhood. As was my custom, I didn’t dare slow down while I heaved the rolled-up newspaper over his enormous head into their yard. Spencer sprinted over to the paper and pounced on it, immediately tearing it to shreds—a daily reenactment. The couple insisted that I do this every day, as they were attempting to teach Spencer to fetch the morning paper, bring it around to the back of the house where he was supposed to enter by way of the doggy door, and gently place the newspaper in one piece on the kitchen table so it would be there to peruse when they woke for breakfast.

Theirs was one of only two houses in the neighborhood that were fenced in, a practice uncommon in the suburbs because it implied a lack of hospitality. Even a small hedge along a property line could be interpreted as stand-offish. The Springfields’ choice of house color wasn’t helpful in dispelling this notion. And yet it was a good thing that they chose to enclose their property because we were all quite certain that if Spencer ever escaped his yard, he would systematically devour every neighborhood kid, one by one. The strange thing was that the picket fence couldn’t have been more than three feet high, low enough for even a miniature poodle to clear—so why hadn’t Spencer taken the leap? Could it be that he was just biding his time, waiting for the right moment to jump that hurdle? So I was thankful for the Springfields’ ineptitude when it came to dog training because it allowed me to buffer Spencer’s appetite, knowing that whenever he did decide to make his move, I would most likely be the first course on the menu.

The neighborhood houses on my route were primarily ranch style, third-little-pig variety, and always on my left. On my left so that I could grab a paper out of my bag and heave it across my body, allowing for more mustard on my throw and more accuracy than if I had to sling it backhand off to my right side. This technique also helped build up strength in my pitching arm. I always aimed directly toward the middle of the driveway instead of anywhere near the porch, which could, as I’d learned, be treacherous territory. An irate Mrs. Messerschmitt from Sleepy Hollow Road once dropped by my house, screaming, “You’ve murdered my children! You’ve murdered my children!” Apparently I’d made an errant toss that tore the blooming heads right off her precious pansies and injured a few hapless marigolds. From that day on I shot for the middle of the driveway, making sure no neighbors’ flowers ever suffered a similar fate at my hands.

I passed my friend Mouse Miller’s house, crossed the street, and headed down the other side of Briarbrook, past Allison Hoffman’s house—our resident divorcée. All my friends still had their two original parents and family intact, which made Mrs. Hoffman’s status a bit of an oddity. Maybe it was the polio scare that people my parents’ age had had to live through that appeared to make them wary of any abnormality in another human being. It wasn’t just being exposed to the drug addicts or the murderers that concerned them, but contact with any fringe members of society: the divorcées and the widowers, the fifty-year-old bachelors, people with weird hairdos or who wore clothing not found in the Sears catalogue. People with facial hair were especially to be avoided.

You didn’t want to be a nonconformist in 1960. Though nearly a decade had passed, effects of the McCarthy hearings had left some Americans with lingering suspicions that their neighbor might be a Red or something worse. So everyone did their best to just fit in. There was an unspoken fear that whatever social dysfunction people possessed was contagious by mere association with them. I had a feeling my mom believed this to be the case with Allison Hoffman—that all my mother had to do was engage in a five-minute conversation with any divorced woman, and a week or so later, my dad would come home from work and out of the blue announce, “Honey, I want a divorce.”

Likely in her late twenties, Mrs. Hoffman was attractive enough to be a movie star or at least a fashion model—she was that pretty. She taught at a junior high school across town, but for extra cash would tutor kids in her spare time. Despite her discriminating attitude toward Mrs. Hoffman, my mother was forced to hire her as a tutor for my sixteen-year-old brother for two sessions a week, seeing as Bobby could never quite grasp the concept of dangling participles and such. Still, whenever she mentioned Mrs. Hoffman’s name, my mom always found a way to justify setting her Christian beliefs aside, calling her that woman, as in, “just stay away from that woman.” Mom must have skipped over the part in the Bible where Jesus healed the lepers. Anyway, Mrs. Hoffman seemed nice enough to me when I’d see her gardening in her yard or when I’d have to collect newspaper money from her; a wave and smile were guaranteed.

I delivered papers down Briarbrook, passed my friend Sheena’s house on the cul-de-sac, and went back down to Willowcreek, where I rolled past the Jensens’ vacant house. The For Sale sign had been stuck in the lawn out front since the beginning of spring. I’d seen few people even stop by to look at the charming, white frame house I remember as having great curb appeal. Every kid on the block was rooting for a family with at least a dozen kids to move in to provide some fresh blood.

A half a block later, I turned the corner and was about to toss the paper down Mr. Melzer’s drive when I spotted the old man lying under his porch light, sprawled out on the veranda, his blue overall-covered legs awkwardly dangling down the front steps of his farm house. I immediately stood up on my bike, slammed on the brakes, fish-tailed a streak of rubber on the sidewalk, dumped the bike, and rushed up to his motionless body. “Mr. Melzer! Mr. Melzer!” Certain he was dead, I kept shouting at him like he was only asleep or deaf. “Mr. Melzer!” I was afraid to touch him to see if he was alive.

The only dead body I had touched up till then was my great-uncle Frank’s at his wake, and it was not a particularly pleasant experience. I was five years old when my mom led me up to the big shiny casket where I peered over the top to see the man lying inside. Standing on my tiptoes, I stared at Frank’s clay-colored face, which I believed looked too grumpy, too dull. While alive and kicking, my uncle was an animated man with ruddy cheeks who spoke and reacted with passion and humor, but the expression he wore while lying in that box was one that I’d never seen on his face before. I was quite sure that if he’d been able to gaze in the mirror at his dead self with that stupid, frozen pouting mouth looking back at him, he would have been humiliated and embarrassed as all get out. And so, while no one watched, I started poking and prodding at his surprisingly pliable mouth, trying to reshape his smile into something more natural, more familiar, like the expression he’d worn recalling the time he drove up to frigid Green Bay in a blizzard to watch his beloved Browns topple Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers. Or the one he’d displayed while telling us what a thrill it was to meet Betty Grable at a USO function during the war, or the grin that always appeared on his face right after he’d take a swig of a cold beer on a hot summer day. It was a look of satisfaction that I was after, and was pretty sure I could pull it off. Those hours of turning shapeless Play-Doh into little doggies and snowmen had prepared me for this moment.

After a mere twenty seconds of my molding handiwork, I had successfully managed to remove my uncle’s grim, lifeless expression. Unfortunately I had replaced it with a hideous-looking full-on smile, his teeth beaming like the Joker from the Batman comics. Before I could step back for a more objective look, my Aunt Doris let out a little shriek behind me; an older gentleman gasped, which brought my brother over, and he let out a howl of laughter, all followed by a flurry of activity that included some heated discussion among relatives, the casket’s being closed, and my mother’s hauling me out of the room by my earlobe.

But you probably don’t really care much about my Uncle Frank. You’re wondering about Mr. Melzer and if he’s a character who has kicked the bucket before you even got to know him or know if you like him. You will like him. I did. “Mr. Melzer!” I gave him a good poke in the arm. Nothing . . . then another one.

The fact is I was surprised when Mr. Melzer began to move. First his head turned . . . then his arm wiggled . . . then he rose, propping himself up onto an elbow, attempting to regain his bearings.

“Mr. Melzer?”

“What?” He looked around, glassy-eyed, still groggy. “Davy?”

I suddenly felt dizzy and nearly fell down beside him on the porch. “Yeah, it’s me.”

“I must have dozed off. Guess the farmer in me still wants to wake with the dawn, but the old man, well, he knows better.” He looked my way. “You’re white as a sheet—you okay, boy?”

Actually I was feeling pretty nauseated. “Yeah, I’m okay. I just thought . . .”

“What? You thought what?”

“Well, when I saw you lying there . . . I just thought . . .”

“That I was dead?” I nodded. “Well, no, no, I can see where that might be upsetting for you. Come to think of it, it’s a little upsetting to me. Not that I’m not prepared to meet my maker, mind you. Or to see Margaret again.” He leaned heavily on his right arm, got himself upright, and adjusted his suspenders. “The fact is . . . I do miss the old gal. The way she’d know to take my hand when it needed holdin’. Or how she could make a room feel comfortable just by her sitting in it, breathing the same air. Heck, I even miss her lousy coffee. And I hope, after these two years apart, she might have forgotten what a pain in the rear I could be, and she might have the occasion to miss me a bit, too.”

Until that moment, I hadn’t considered the possibility of the dead missing the living. Sometimes when he wasn’t even trying to, Mr. Melzer made me think. And it always surprised me how often he would just say anything that came into his head. He never edited himself like most adults. He was like a kid in that respect, but more interesting.

“You believe in heaven?” I asked Mr. Melzer.

“Rather counting on it. How ’bout you?”

“My mom says that when we go to heaven we’ll be greeted by angels with golden wings.”

“Really? Angels, huh?”

“And she says that they’ll sing a beautiful song written especially for us.”

“Really? Your mother’s an interesting woman, Davy. But I could go for that—I could. Long as they’re not sitting around on clouds playing harps. Don’t care for harp music one bit. Pretty sure it was the Marx Brothers that soured me on that instrument.”

“How so?”

“Well, those Marx Brothers, in every movie they made they’d be running around, being zany as the dickens, and then Harpo—the one who never spoke a lick, the one with the fuzzy blond hair—always honking his horn and chasing some skinny, pretty gal around. Anyway, in the middle of all their high jinks, Harpo would come across some giant harp just conveniently lying around somewhere, and he’d feel obliged to stop all the antics to play some sappy tune that just about put you to sleep. I could never recover. Turned me sour on the harp, he did. I’m more of a horn man, myself. Give me a saxophone or trumpet and I’m happy. And I’m not particularly opposed to a fiddle either. But harps—I say round ’em up and burn ’em all. Melt ’em down and turn them into something practical . . . something that can’t make a sound . . . that’s what I say.”

See, I told you he’d pretty much say anything. I don’t think that Mr. Melzer had many people to listen to him. And just having a bunch of thoughts roaming around in his head wasn’t enough. I think Mr. Melzer chattered a lot so that he wouldn’t lose himself, so he could remember who he was.

“Yeah, well, anyway, I figure I’ll go home when it’s my time,” he continued. “Just hope it can wait for the harvest, seeing as there’s no one else to bring in the corn when it’s time.”

As far back as I could remember, Mr. Melzer used to drag this little red wagon around the neighborhood on August evenings, stacked to the limit with ears of corn. And he’d go door to door and hand out corn to everybody like he was some kind of an agricultural Santa.

“Do you know I used to have fields of corn as far as the eye can see . . . way beyond the rooftops over there?”

I did know this, but I never tired of the enthusiasm with which he told it, so I didn’t stop him. About ten years before, Mr. Melzer had sold off all but a few acres of his farmland to a contractor, resulting in what became my neighborhood.

“I still get a thrill when I shuck that first ear of corn of the harvest, and see that ripe golden row of kernels smiling back at me. Hot, sweet corn, lightly salted with butter dripping down all over it . . . mmm. Nothing better. Don’t nearly have the teeth for it anymore. You eat yours across or up and down?”

“Across.”

“Me too. Only way to eat corn. Tastes better across. When I see somebody munching on an ear like this”—the old man rolled the imaginary ear of corn in front of his imaginary teeth chomping down—“I just want to slap him upside the head.”

I was starting to run very late, and he noticed me fidgeting.

“Oh, yeah, here I am blabbering away, and you got a job to do.”

“I’ll get your paper.” I ran back to my bike lying on the sidewalk.

“So I see nobody’s bought the Jensen place yet,” he yelled out to me.

I grabbed a newspaper that had spilled out of my bag onto the sidewalk, and rushed back to Mr. Melzer. “Not yet. Whoever does, hope they have kids.” I handed the old man the newspaper.

“Listen, I’m sorry I scared you,” he said.

“It’s okay.” I looked over at a pile of unopened newspapers on the porch by the door. “Mind if I ask you something?”

“Shoot.”

“How come you never read the paper?”

“Oh, don’t know. At some point I guess you grow tired of bad news. Besides, these days all the news I need is right here in the neighborhood.”

“So why do you still order the paper?”

The old man smiled. “Well, the way I see it, if I didn’t order the paper, I’d miss out on these splendid little chats with you, now wouldn’t I?”

I told you you’d like him. I grinned. “I’m glad you’re not dead, Mr. Melzer.”

“Likewise,” he said, shooting a wink my way. When I turned around to walk back to my bike, I heard the rolled up newspaper hit the top of the pile.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"The Making Of Isaac Hunt" Posting



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!





Today's Wild Card author is:


and his/her book:


The Making of Isaac Hunt

Lift Every Voice (June 1, 2007)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Linda Leigh Hargrove blends suspense, humor, and faith into compelling stories about race and class in America. Her writings include two novels: The Making of Isaac Hunt (June 2007) and Loving Cee Cee Johnson (September 2008). The former environmental engineer currently resides in North Carolina with her husband and three sons where she occasionally designs a Web site.

Visit the author's website and her blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Lift Every Voice (June 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0802462693
ISBN-13: 978-0802462695

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

Prologue

On an ordinary afternoon in late October I discovered the truth about me. Like fire, that single truth stirred a hunger and created a hurt, but in the end it opened the door to a wholeness beyond my wildest dreams. All in all, I don’t regret embracing that truth. I only regret the time I wasted in running from the freedom that came with it.

I was planning to drive to Richmond that Sunday afternoon a few hours ahead of my parents. I told them I wanted to visit old school friends before our Sunday visit to the rest home where granddaddy stayed.

“I know it’s kind of a last minute thing,” I said, hoping it didn’t sound like another one of my lame stories. “But I haven’t seen any of them in a couple years.”

“Oh?” was mom’s response. It had been a long ‘oh’. She had stared at me with those big brown eyes over her half glasses and brought her Eartha Kitt-like voice up a half dozen notches. “Sounds interesting, Isaac,” she added like she expected to be invited along. Then she winked and said, “Give Senator Holloman’s daughter our love.”

Dad gave my hair a once-over, wagged his head, and grunted. “Behave yourself. Your mother and I will meet you outside your granddaddy’s room around two. Don’t go trampling in bothering him before we get there. He needs his rest. You need a haircut. How can you even see to drive?” He screwed up his brown face and went back to rummaging through his briefcase. Making preparations for upcoming meetings at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals took front seat to his concern over his only son’s dishonesty.

Later, I had sat in the Alzheimer’s wing outside my grandfather’s room for over an hour waiting for the woman I had lied for. A single white rose in my lap.

Her name was Rose. She had eyes the color of milk chocolate, skin like the choicest cream, and the pinkest lips. She was real and easy to be with. Every third Sunday for more than three months she’d dodge work at the front desk and meet me on the bench outside granddaddy’s room. We had a special spot in the woods.

I closed my eyes and leaned my head back against the mud colored cinderblock wall and pressed the rose to my lips. Then I placed the rose on the seat beside me and linked my hands behind my head.

Someone was walking toward me. The footsteps were muffled and slow. I kept my eyes closed, faking sleep. The footsteps stopped and someone poked me in the chest.

“Wake up, Isaac,” came the whisper.

Another poke to the chest. “Isaac.”

“Good afternoon, Mr. Patterson,” I said without opening my eyes.

He snorted and moved in closer. I felt his warm breath on my cheek. “We’ve been waiting all day, kid.”

He had been eating raw onions again. I coughed. “I’m not doing it anymore. That’s what I told you last time, Mr. Patterson.” I looked up into his blue-gray eyes “It’s over. Remember?”

He stuck out his bottom lip and gave me a squinty-eyed frown.

I shook the hair out of my eyes and looked at him hard. “I’m not doing it anymore.” I waved my arms like an umpire calling a man out. “No more.”

“What do you mean, you’re not doing it no more. Kid, it was your idea.”

“Well, it was a bad idea. And I don’t want to do it anymore. Besides, they know.”

Mr. Patterson sat down beside me and placed his silver cane across his lap. He stroked it with the heel of his hand. His age spots looked like coffee stains on white china. “They don’t know a thing we don’t let them know.”

He looked at me sideways and winked. “You know what I mean, bro.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Little white men with canes should only say the word bro if they want to be laughed at. “They know.” I winked hard and tipped my head toward the surveillance camera down the hall.

“Playing checkers,” he whispered, “That’s all they think we’ve been doing. Nobody has to know it’s anything more.”

The squeak of a wheel cut Mr. Patterson short. He was looking over my shoulder with wide eyes. The scent of cheap aftershave rose around me.

“Yes, Isaac. It’s just a friendly game of checkers,” said the voice behind me.

I turned and nodded to the thin clean-shaven man in a wheelchair. “Good afternoon, Mr. Smith. Getting a little exercise?” I forced a smile. Sweat glistened on the loose skin of his neck. There was a bead of sweat on his upper lip that made his face look dirty. His eyes, as pale as mine, sparkled irony.

He was pulling at his black leather biking gloves. For a few seconds I couldn’t take my eyes off them. That’s when I noticed what he had tucked in the folds of the blanket spread across his legs – an envelope marked I. Hunt.

Mr. Smith finished looking me up and down then nodded back at me. “Mr. Hunt.” Then he gave Mr. Patterson a smile that did nothing to warm the air and barked, “Bye, George Patterson.”

Mr. Patterson stood and gulped. “Afternoon, Mick,” he said and left.

Mr. Smith stared at me some more. I stared back some more.

“You’re quite the young entrepreneur for a shaggy-headed college student, Isaac Ulysses Hunt.” He jerked his head toward my grandfather’s door. “Old Ulysses would be proud.”

I glared at his white face then clenched my teeth and looked away.

He wheeled himself closer to me and lowered his voice. “They don’t know. That note you received came from me.”

I looked at him. He was a thin pasty old man. His Aqua Velva or whatever it was was starting to burn my eyes. The insulated shirt he wore only concentrated the aroma. His blue eyes were set back under a heavy brow with wild salt and pepper eyebrows. He narrowed those eyes and smiled at me. I looked away.

“That’s a very nice rose you have.”

“What do you want from me?”

“Want?”

“Yeah. This is where you ask me for that little favor so you can keep my little secret.”

He sighed. “If I wanted to black mail you I would have done it a long time ago. Besides it was kind of interesting watching you operate. Getting all these old white folk to trust you with their money. It beat Bingo and reruns of Diagnosis Murder, that’s for sure. What’d you do with the money?”

I stared at him. That’s for me to know and you to find out. My turn to narrow my eyes and smile.

His smile faded. “Doesn’t matter, I guess. Push me.”

“I’m waiting for someone.”

“Rose? She’s not coming.”

I frowned.

He glanced down the hall past me. “I’ll tell you outside. Just push me, Isaac. Too many eyes here.”

I laid the rose across the back of his headrest and I pushed.

Mr. Smith directed me toward a back entrance and down a wide leaf-littered path to a clearing with stone benches overlooking a small pond. Dry leaves rattled in the breeze. A few squirrels frolicked on a log nearby. I knew the spot well. It felt empty without Rose.

Mr. Smith shifted in his chair and reached under his blanket. He pulled out a half empty bottle of whiskey.

“Here, hold this.”

I took the bottle and sat on the bench beside his chair.

He reached under his blanket again and pulled out two crinkled paper cups. He handed me one and took the bottle back. His clammy white fingers brushed mine. I flinched.

“Hold your cup closer.”

And you’re against me gambling? I almost said. I rolled my eyes and placed the empty cup on the bench beside me.

“I take it you don’t care to drink with me then.”

Mr. Smith shrugged and screwed the cap back on the bottle before tucking it under his blanket again.

“I need to get back. My parents should be here soon.” Upsetting my parents was only a distant thought, I still had Rose on the brain.

“She’s not coming back, Isaac. Rose, I mean.”

“You’re repeating yourself. How do you know that anyway?”

He slumped and looked out over the pond. “Yesterday, Rose and I sat here and we talked about you.”

I frowned at him.

“Rose was my daughter.”

I couldn’t help but gape.

He shrugged and with a smirk said, “She got her mother’s looks.”

Mr. Smith shifted in his chair and gulped the rest of the whiskey in his cup. He poured himself another and continued. “She’s a bright girl most of the time but put her in the same room with a handsome face and a single white rose and she turns into a naïve flighty little thing. I asked her what she knew about you. Your work. Your family. She said she thought you were in finance and came to visit your mother every month.” He looked at me.

I winced. “We haven’t exactly talked about ...”

“She said she thought your mother was the widow Inez Hunt, a white woman that lives across the hall from me.”

I winced again.

“Then she went on and on about you. Your clothes. Your car. Your looks. ‘He has the most exquisite coloring, daddy.’ That’s what she said.”

Exquisite? She was one for strange words.

He shook his head. “That’s when I knew I had to tell her my little secret. Though I knew as soon as I opened my mouth that she’d do the same thing her mother did ten years ago. Leave me.”

He hung his head and stayed quiet for several minutes. He coughed and ran the back of his hand across his top lip. I stood up. Rose was a wash and I didn’t want to hear the rest of what this old white man had to suggest about me. “Mr. Smith, I …”

“You know what passing means, Isaac? Passing for white, I mean.”

A stiff breeze blew between us. I pulled the collar of my pea coat in tighter and leaned over him. “I’m not trying to pass, Mr. Smith.”

He tucked his cup and bottle away and stuffed his hands under the blanket. “My daddy was about like your folks. Real fair. My mother she could have passed. But she didn’t. She was a proud woman. Proud to be black. When I was seventeen, they were both killed in a car accident. Daddy’s brother took me in. I graduated high school. Enlisted Army. Did nine months in Korea. That’s where I was wounded.” He pointed at his legs. “And that’s where I discovered the benefits of passing. I came back. Conveniently forgot my uncle’s address. Fell in love with a white woman. Married her on her daddy’s front porch overlooking the Chesapeake. Had our lovely Rose. Made a nice living passing for white.

“My sweet Leslie thought the sun and moon rose and set at my command till the day my uncle shows up and I have to tell her my little secret. She took Rose and left. All these years I thought she’d told Rose. Yesterday, when I realized Rose didn’t know …

He shook his head and ran a shaky hand through his thinning hair. “You know what your granddaddy told me one day? He said ‘A lie is a lie is a lie. No matter how pretty you tell it or how long you live it, it’s still a lie and in the end when it’s brought to light, it breeds misery.’ Right out of the blue. That’s what he said. I was sitting in his room playing old Al Green and he kinda woke up and came to his senses just for a few seconds.”

He glanced at me and stopped short. I was trying hard not to roll my eyes. I’d heard that lie line many times from my grandfather. It was as tired as Mr. Smith’s blanket.

“‘I’m not black, daddy.’ That’s what my Rose said before she left me.”

He stretched out a hand, palm down, and looked at it. His hand started to tremble and he caught his breath. Tears dropped into his lap. I looked away then turned to go.

“Isaac. Wait.”

He handed me the envelope, “From Rose.”

I took it and stood there for a few seconds. Looking at that wilted rose and the shrinking old man. I remember thinking as I shifted on my cold feet that this talk had really been more for him than for me. It was obvious he didn’t care any more for me than the man in the moon but he needed to say these things to unload some guilt. He was old and guilt ridden. I knew the truth about who I was. I wasn’t living a lie, I told myself.

Man, I couldn’t have been more wrong.



# # #



“Where’s Betty’s boy?” came the scream a second time. It was my grandfather’s voice a few thousand decibels louder than anything I had heard coming out of him in a coon’s age, as he would say. And it was certainly louder than anyone at Glenbrook Rehabilitation Center would appreciate.

I chuckled and said something about his medication needing adjusting as I entered granddaddy’s room. My parents weren’t amused. Dad was hovering over his father’s bed. Mom was standing near the door wringing her hands.

When I walked in she pushed me back and pointed to the bench outside the room and said, “Sit.”

“I want to see Betty’s boy.” came another yell. “Can’t a dying man have a last request?”

Last request?

I pushed past my mother. “No, Mama. I want to talk with granddad.”

“Isaac …” my father started, then muttered, “Chloe, honey, stop him.”

Granddaddy’s eyes widened. He smiled and stretched his yellowing brown arms toward me. “There’s Betty’s boy. Come give me a hug, Isaac.”

I studied the old man from where I stood. His light brown eyes didn’t look like they had three months ago – wild and glassy like those of an animal in pain. During that visit, he’d talked endlessly to an invisible person named Mimi. The woman, I found out later, had been his secretary for a few months during his many years at the Department of Justice in D.C. Their affair had lasted for several years.

“Guilt will do that to a man in his last days,” Ricky Hunt, my father the wise judge had pronounced on the ride back to Raleigh.

Granddaddy had on one of those 9/11 tee shirts with a large bald eagle and flag enfolding the Twin Towers, and the words ‘In God We Trust’ across the top. I stared at it for a few seconds, not sure what to make of the words. God and Granddaddy? I chalked it up to another slip in reality for him.

I glanced behind me to where my parents stood – their eyes stretched wide. Dad shifted toward me a bit but stopped short when his foot hit the corner of a bulging duffle bag propped against the wall.

My mind went briefly to Mr. Smith out there crying in the woods. Racked with guilt and regrets. Weighed down with the burden of lying all his life.

What kind of burdens were weighing on my grandfather I wondered?

I stepped closer to the bed. His blue bathrobe, the one I had given him when I was twelve, was stretched over his thighs. I placed my hand on the worn terry cloth and leaned in. “Who’s Betty, granddaddy?”

“Your mama, Betty Douglas. She lives in North Carolina. In Pettigrew.”

The two adults behind me descended on the old man like an ER team, doing everything but cover his mouth with their hands. Looking back on that day, I think if they hadn’t been so obvious I wouldn’t have gotten so suspicious. I would have marked it up to another Mimi incident. Maybe he had had more than one tryst. He was a handsome old guy with those eyes and that square jaw, and probably had played the field as a younger man.

“What’s going on, Chloe?” asked granddaddy. His body fell back onto his pillow and he gasped, “Good Lord, help us all.”

Ulysses Hunt, the man I had grown to love and trust and learned to call Granddaddy Ulysses, died the next morning. Two days later, I hired a private investigator to help me find this Betty of Pettigrew.


"A Passion Redeemed" Book Reviw



This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing


A Passion Redeemed

Revell (September 1, 2008)

by

Julie Lessman



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:






Julie Lessman is a debut author who has already garnered writing acclaim, including ten Romance Writers of America awards. She is a commercial writer for Maritz Travel, a published poet and a Golden Heart Finalist. Julie has a heart to write “Mainstream Inspirational,” reaching the 21st-century woman with compelling love stories laced with God’s precepts. She resides in Missouri with her husband and their golden retriever, and has two grown children and a daughter-in-law. A Passion Most Pure was her first novel.




ABOUT THE BOOK

No man can resist her charms. Or so she thought. Charity O'Connor is a woman who gets what she wants. Her stunning beauty and flirtatious ways have always succeeded with men. Until Mitch Dennehy, that is.

Brilliant and dangerously handsome, Mitch is a no-nonsense newspaperman who wants nothing to do with her. Charity burned him once, destroying his engagement to the only woman he ever truly loved. He won't play with matches again. But Charity has a plan to turn up the heat, hoping to ignite the heart of the man she loves. And she always gets what she wants--one way or another.

Or does she? Will her best-laid schemes win his love? Or will her seductive ways drive him away forever? Book 2 in the Daughters of Boston series, A Passion Redeemed will captivate your heart and stir your soul with a story of faith and redemption rising from the ashes of temptation, desire, and shame.

Praise for the first book in the series:

"Full of romance, humor, rivalry, and betrayal, A Passion Most Pure will captivate readers from the first page." --Historical Novels Review "Superb! Incredible!

"I loved Julie Lessman's A Passion Most Pure from the second I picked it up until the very last moment I stopped reading." --Armchair Interviews

"I devoured this book and loved every single page. . . . This is a thick, juicy read, and one I would pick up again in a heartbeat." --christianreviewofbooks.com


If you would like to read an excerpt from A Passion Redeemed, go HERE.

MY REVIEW:
Julie blew me away with A Passion Most Pure and I really didn't think she could ever top it. I mean A Passion Most Pure was so fresh and new, it is like Little Women for 2008 - an epic saga that through the next books in the series will allow us to follow and continue to fall in love with the O'Connor family. We follow Faith closely in the first one and in A Passion Redeemed we follow her horrible, awful, dreadful sister Charity. Did I mention that she was basically the villianess in the first book? No, well she was though maybe vixen is a better word for it. At any rate I wasn't sure I really wanted to follow Charity and get inside her head. But I went for it and like I always say, there are 2 sides to every story and that holds true here.
I must be careful because I don't want to give away anything that would spoil it for you, but let me just say that I told Julie I didn't think she could pull one over on me with this book - but she did it again - the ending was fantastic! So come meet Faith and now Charity and I can't wait to join up with the O'Connors again soon and get to know Beth really well too!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Twice Loved" Book Review



This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing


Twice Loved

Avon Inspire (July 22, 2008)

by

Lori Copeland



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lori lives in the beautiful Ozarks with her husband Lance. Lance and Lori have three sons, two daughter-in-laws, and five wonderful grandchildren. They are very involved in their church, and active in supporting mission work in Mali, West Africa.

Lori began her writing career in 1982, writing for the secular book market. In 1995 after many years of writing, Lori sensed that God was calling her to use her gift of writing to honor Him. It was at that time that Lori began writing for the Christian book market. To date, she has more than 95 books published including Now And Always
and Bluebonnet Belle.

ABOUT THE BOOK



Texas, 1865 Willow Madison and her friends, Copper and Audrey taught school in neighboring Texas communities until the Yankees rode into the area and burned them out. In the midst of fear and chaos, survivors banded together to fight for what remained of their homes. Then word reached the people that the terrible war was over.

Now penniless but still hopeful, Willow vows she will take care of her friends, Copper and Audrey, and her ailing uncle, in Thunder Ridge, Texas, even if it means having to marry wealthy Silas Sterling, a man thirty years her senior. But standing in her way is handsome sawmill owner Tucker Gray, with his enticing eyes and infuriating headstrong manner—the man Willow cannot get out of her head . . . or her heart. Even though her friends beg her not to give up her dream of happiness, Willow is determined to do the right thing for those who are dearest to her. But which path does God want Willow to take: a life of duty and commitment . . . or a life of everlasting love?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Twice Loved, go HERE

MY REVIEW:
I found this book to be a great start to a new series of books by Lori Copeland. Three young schoolteachers end up defending their home at the end of the Civil War and now they have nothing left but each other. Willow is offered the opportunity by her uncle to be able to support her friends Copper and Audrey if she goes to start teaching school in Thunder Ridge and marries the wealthy bachelor there. Of course her uncle didn't tell the bachelor... and then of course there is the handsome mill owner who makes her crazy (in a bad way)... and then the schoolhouse is really a hen house... and the story is only beginning...
I really enjoyed the well written characters, the unique setting and time period (did I mention that it thunders all the time, but never rains?) and the fun plot. I look forward to following Copper and Audrey in the next installment of the Belles of Timber Creek series.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"When God Created My Toes" Book Review



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!


MY REVIEW:
I was absolutely enchanted by this book, as were my children, and I thought it was wonderful how it went into different body parts and yet the rhyming flowed so well, the illustrations are fantastic and the kids loved it. It was so fun to read that I will be doing it repeatedly :-) A great gift idea and addition to your family library!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and his/her book:


When God Created My Toes

WaterBrook Press (August 19, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Dandi Daley Mackall has published more than 400 books for children and adults, with more than 3 million combined copies sold. She is the author of WaterBrook’s two other delightful Dandilion Rhymes books, A Gaggle of Geese & A Clutter of Cats and The Blanket Show. A popular keynote speaker at conferences and Young Author events, Mackall lives in rural Ohio with her husband, three children, and a menagerie of horses, dogs, and cats.

Visit the author's website.

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR:


David Hohn is an award-winning illustrator who graduated with honors from the Maryland Institute College of Art. He has worked as both a staff artist and an art director for a children’s software company in Portland, Oregon, a position which led to his art directing an award-winning project for Fisher-Price. Hohn’s recent projects include Lisa Tawn Bergren’s God Gave Us Christmas.

Visit the illustrator's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (August 19, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400073154
ISBN-13: 978-1400073153

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One


Thursday, August 21, 2008

"The Book Of Names" Interview

Interview with D. Barkley Briggs
author of
"The Book Of Names"


1) Sometimes people think of authors as being bigger than life and not "real", so I thought we would start off with a very important question, one that will show people just how real you are! "What dessert can you not resist when it is time to indulge?"

Very simple: Ice cream. Put a half gallon of ice cream in front of me, give me the spoon, and walk away. One scoop is not enough. One bowl is not enough. Give me the spoon, and walk away. Don’t look back. It’s not pretty. :)


2) I have always wondered something about people that write fantasy books. You had to create an entire world in and of itself with its own rules, clothing, furniture, transportation, settings, languages even - how difficult is that? Do you spend years walking around with this other world rolling around in your head? Or did you just sit down one day and say, "I think I'll write a fantasy book about another world..." and it just poured out?

Yep, I admit it. I’m one of those fantasy geeks, or at least I was as a kid. I’m not a Star Trek convention kind of guy. I don’t wear Jedi robes to Star Wars movies. But I adored the way Peter Jackson brought The Lord of the Rings to the big screen. I thought it was truly masterful. So I’ve been immersed in a great variety of fantasy worlds since I was a kid. I voraciously read all the great authors, which gave me a pretty large mental vocabulary for the task of my own story.

In some respects, you could say I’ve had “this other world rolling around in my head” since my childhood, in that I’ve never really quit wishing I could visit Narnia or Middle Earth. To this day, if I’m wandering near a cave on a hike, or passing through some old building like a museum, I’ll wonder if on the other side of some doorway there might not be a secret, trapdoor with a ladder that leads down into another world. Silly, I know, but in my mind, that’s part of a boy’s heart that’s built by God and never meant to leave. It’s only removed with great effort (and probably many painful or practical defeats inflicted by adulthood). The Fairy Tale lives in the girl’s heart. The Heroes Quest lives in the boy’s. And really, they are the same thing, just viewed through a feminine or masculine lens. As for The Book of Names and the world of Karac Tor, the adventures that take place there are current to the last four years of my life. It was born of the experiences of my life, of losing my wife and facing the challenge---together with my four boys---of starting over in strange, new world.


3) I was enthralled by this book and can't wait to read the next one! How many are you planning for the series and when will they come out?

I’m contracted for three with Navpress, but they know I have five planned and we’ve discussed it. If enough readers like them, buy them, tell their friends about them and post great reviews at Amazon (hint, hint!), Navpress may just be persuaded to publish the whole series. The books are currently scheduled at about nine month intervals, so the next one is due, I think, sometime around April, ’09, give or take a few weeks. It’s called Corus the Champion, and it takes the world of Karac Tor to a whole other level. If you think this book is an adventure, get ready! C’mon readers! My fate is in your hands!


4) You have written a very engaging story in The Book Of Names and the importance of being called by your name really rung true with me. I actually teach a class during ministry weekends that our church does. The class is called "What's Your Name" and it deals with how people are labeled their whole lives (loser, stupid, ugly...) and how that can change the course of our lives. It goes into how God wants to bring you back to the name HE gave you and have you start walking in the victory HE has set before you. You brought that our with the Nameless and how their names represented situations or character traits (Greyday, Shy Eyes, Shame Face...) and their actual names were stripped away and that left them so empty and hollow. What other spiritual truths did you want to bring out through this series of books?

The series as a whole is layered with themes. Beyond the magic and thrill of the adventure, it is written as an exploration of virtue. Young and old, we all face a challenge: to live well in this world, no matter what our circumstance. So the first book explores Identity as a theme, and Courage as a virtue. The second book will explore Shame as a theme, and Mercy and Sacrifice as virtues. Underneath all five books lies this deep longing for home...for things missed, but carried forever in our hearts. I believe the ache of those things is meant to awaken and prepare us for eternity, where, like every great story should end, all is finally put right.


5) I looked up your name in the "Name Book" we use at my class and I found it interesting that the spiritual connotation for Dean means - prosperous, and the Bible verse attached to it is "A good man out of good treasure of his heart brings forth good things." Matthew 12:35. It seems very fitting for you because I would consider this book one of the good things out of your heart... What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

Prosperous? Interesting. I would love to see The Legends of Karac prosper. I would love to be able to bring all five books to market. I have many more stories to tell. I get to do some of that at my website, www.hiddenlands.net, which has lots of cool extras related to the world of Karac Tor: original pencil sketches, extra short stories and world history. Readers can send e-cards to friends or chat on the Bulletin Board with other fans---fun stuff like that. Plus, I’m doing a giveaway contest with a Free Wii and iPod Nanos as prizes. It’s called RiddleQuest.

Readers can check out the Official Trailer for the book (and a Blooper Reel with my kids) HERE

The Entry Form and Trailer for RiddleQuest is HERE

I have a life outside of fiction, though. Previous to the loss of my wife, I pastored for 11 years. I love the Word, so I have several teaching and inspirational books in me I’d like to develop. I may do some touring with worship leader Dennis Jernigan in ’09. And I’m looking at developing a blog for people who are hurting.

All of this brings me back to the name thing you mentioned, Janna. I think I’ve heard ‘Prosperous’ before, but most of my name references actually tell me Dean means, “Dweller in the Valley”. Certainly for this season of my life at least, that description seems more fitting. I’ve dwelt in the valley of death, losing my beloved of 16 years. The loss of my wife has shaped me quite painfully. And yet...God redeems. I never thought I would be able to say anything good about the last few years. They’ve been the darkest hell I’ve ever known. Yet the experience is only part of the story. The shaping is the other part. You spoke of treasures. There are treasures purchased at great cost in acts of pain. I hope these experiences can be meaningful connecting points with others who have experienced loss, who are hurting. There’s a guy in the Bible we universally associate with suffering: Job. In describing the rare value of wisdom, Job (ch. 28)compares the acquisition of wisdom to the process of mining for gold, sinking a shaft into dark, lonely places deep in the earth. He says wisdom is found in places “forgotten by feet”, not “in the land of the living.” Interesting, huh? Yet we run from pain. In America, especially, we run.

I’ve been in the midst of that descent into the dark places. For a long time, I didn’t care if I ever made it back to the surface. But life is meant to be lived with courage. Grace is there when you need it. And I need a lot. I want to end on an unshakeable truth. God is faithful. Thanks for including me in your blog.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Exploding Head Syndrome...

Have you ever felt like you had so much to do that you didn't know where to start and your head was going to explode? That would be me right now. I'm having an Open House for my dance studio tomorrow night from 5-7 and I have half a million things to get accomplished by then and my head is just swimming! What do I do first??? Clean the carpets. No wait, do the painting. No, get the bathrooms finished - better yet, set up the workout room... no, welcome packets need to be assembled - did I type the newsletter yet? Oh and in the middle of all this our 13th anniversary was yesterday (we had to go out to dinner!) and our oldest had her 12th birthday the day before - yes, we spent our 1st anniversary in the hospital with her :-)

So pray for my sanity until this is over - it'll be good, but I'm not handling the stress exceptionally well :-)

"House of Wolves" Book Review



This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

House Of Wolves

Thomas Nelson (August 12, 2008)

by

Matt Bronleewe

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Matt Bronleewe is a recognized producer, songwriter and author. The former member of the band Jars of Clay, has earned numerous awards producing and co-writing albums that have sold a combined total of over 20 million copies. His songs have recently been recorded by Disney pop sensations Aly & AJ, American Idol finalist Kimberley Locke, and more. Bronleewe has worked with Grammy Award-winning artists such as Michael W. Smith, International pop singer Natalie Imbruglia and Heroes star Hayden Panettiere.

Born in Dallas, Texas, Bronleewe was raised on a farm in Kansas, where he lived until he left for college in 1992. At Greenville College in Illinois, Bronleewe formed the band Jars of Clay with his dorm roommate and two neighbors, and the group soon found success. Though Bronleewe opted to leave Jars of Clay early on to pursue an academic career, he soon found himself in Nashville, co-writing, producing, and playing music professionally.

To add to his list of accomplishments, Bronleewe has expanded his love of story telling beyond music into authorship. He is currently penning a 5 book series for Thomas Nelson Fiction. His first book Illuminated began the adventurous series about rare manuscripts and the mysteries within.

Bronleewe currently resides in Brentwood, Tenn., with his wife and three children. He continues to write and produce music, and he also volunteers through his church to help disadvantaged youth in the community. Bronleewe enjoys reading, taste-testing good food and watching sports, as well as indulging his interests in art, architecture, design and science.

ABOUT THE BOOK


A mysterious book with a dangerous secret.

An evil brotherhood out to conquer the world.

One man stands between them . . . with his family in the balance.

In the twelfth century, Henry the Lion collected the rarest relics in Christendom. And to protect his most precious acquisitions, he encoded the whereabouts in a gorgeous illuminated manuscript called The Gospels of Henry the Lion.

The manuscript has been showing up and disappearing ever since. No one knows where the relic has been hidden . . . or its ultimate power.

Only one man holds the key to the mystery.

He's carrying it in his briefcase at his son's school for show-and-tell, and he thinks it's a fake. But he's about to find out just how real it is.

Because the wolves are rapidly closing in. And if August Adams can't decode the secret in time, the world's balance of power will forever be altered.

If you would like to read an excerpt of House Of Wolves, it will be HERE

MY REVIEW:
I just finished this book last night (or should I say this morning!) because I couldn't stop reading until the last page was finished. This was a rare book for me - it grabbed me from the first page and then Matt had this way of ending each chapter so you had to race on to the next one and starting each chapter by sucking you right in and not letting go. It made the book an experience for me, not just something I was reading but rather something I was participating in.
The storyline was incredible and in depth (WWII Nazis, Hitler, Ancient Relics and Manuscripts, Secret Society of Death...) but totally believable. I definitely want to go back and read the firs August Adams book now and I hope for more of them to come. The characters were great and you never really knew who was good and who was bad (a couple flip-flopped every once in awhile). The book was sheer genius and I totally enjoyed it!

"The Bride Bargain" Posting



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!





Today's Wild Card author is:


and his/her book:


The Bride Bargain

Barbour Publishing, Inc (September 1, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Life doesn't wait, and neither does Kelly Eileen Hake. In her short twenty-three years of life, she's achieved much. Her secret? Embracing opportunities and multitasking. Kelly received her first writing contract at the tender age of seventeen and arranged to wait three months until she was able to legally sign it. Since that first contract five years ago, she's reached several life goals. Aside from fulfilling fourteen contracts ranging from short stories to novels, she's also attained her BA in English Literature and Composition and earned her credential to teach English in secondary schools. If that weren't enough, she's taken positions as a college preparation tutor, bookstore clerk, and in-classroom learning assistant to pay for the education she values so highly. Currently, she is working toward her MA in Writing Popular Fiction. No matter what goal she pursues, Kelly knows what it means to work for it!

Kelly's dual careers as English teacher and author give her the opportunity explore and share her love of the written word. A CBA bestselling author and dedicated member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Kelly is a reader favorite of Barbour's Heartsong Presents program, where she's been privileged to earn numerous Heartsong Presents Reader's Choice Awards; including Favorite New Author 2005, Top 5 Favorite Historical Novel 2005, and Top Five Favorite Author Overall 2006 in addition to winning the Second Favorite Historical Novel 2006!

Her Prairie Promises trilogy, set in the 1850s Nebraska Territory, features her special style of witty, heartwarming historical romance. Barbour plans to release the first of this collection, The Bride Bargain, in fall 2008.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc (September 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602601755
ISBN-13: 978-1602601758

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

Nebraska Territory, Oregon Trail, two weeks journey past Fort Laramie, 1855


“That does it!” Clara Field gritted her teeth and tugged harder on her leather glove, which was currently clamped between the jaws of a cantankerous ox. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“I’ll get him in a headlock for you, Miss Field, and cut off his air so he’ll open his mouth.” Burt Sprouse sauntered over. “That should take care of things quick enough.”

“Oh, choking him wouldn’t be the right answer.” Clara struggled to hide her disgust at the very suggestion. “I have to marvel at how similar animals and humans can be. Neither group likes to be forced into anything, and try as I might, I can’t seem to convince him we’re trudging toward freedom.”

“Well, I reckon I could knee him in the chest to make him let go.” Sprouse shuffled closer. “Hickory’s got an eye on you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Sprouse. I’ll handle this.” Clara waited until the burly ex-lumberjack wandered away before pleading with the ox. “Your antics are going to get us kicked off the wagon train, Simon!”

At the sound of his name, the ox perked his ears and his mouth went slack, allowing Clara to yank away her glove. How an ox had a taste for leather escaped her, but bovine cannibalism counted as the least of her worries at the moment. She held up the mangled thing and sighed.

Thank You, Lord, that I brought an extra pair just in case I lost one. Her lips quirked at the tooth marks on the leather. Though I never thought things would come to this.

Yanking on the length of rope she’d tied around Simon’s neck, Clara urged him toward the makeshift corral the trail boss had set up for the night. The obstinate animal refused to budge, his eyes fixed on her glove with a greedy gleam.

“There’s lots of good forage and fresh water,” she tempted. “And plenty of rest.” Oooh, how good that sounded. A verse from Psalms floated into memory: “He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.”

For it being a river, the Platte came as close to still water as any running water could ever hope. Wide, shallow, and dark with mud, it was their constant guide and water source. Clara tried not to compare it to babbling brooks, flowing streams, or any other clear, flowing water with a friendly rush of sound.

As for the earlier part of that scripture. . .well, they’d only just stopped for the night. Until she got this last ox to the corral, gathered enough fuel for the campfire, and cooked dinner for herself, Aunt Doreen, and the blessedly helpful Burt, she wouldn’t be lying beside anything.

But we’re one day closer to Oregon. Eleven miles farther toward a new start. Not even Simon’s snacking can take that away.

Tension eased from her shoulders as Simon ambled toward the enclosure. She and Aunt Doreen had already lost two oxen on the trail, and when they settled in Oregon, the remaining stock would be used for food or trade. The sadness creeping over her at the thought explained, at least in part, why Clara wasn’t an accomplished driver. Even after weeks on the trail, she couldn’t bear to use a whip harshly.

With Simon safely tucked away with the rest of the train’s livestock, Clara began hunting for buffalo chips. The tall, dry grass rustled around her skirts as she searched. Typically, the prairie held a large and ready supply of the quick-burning fuel. But the recalcitrant ox had cost her valuable time. The areas closest to the circled wagons were picked over by the other women on the train whose husbands saw to the animals. She needed to go farther, though never too far, to scrape together a fair-sized load.

By the time she got back to camp and started their fire, Aunt Doreen already had vegetables—the same supply of potatoes, carrots, and an onion that they’d been using since the stop at Fort Laramie—chopped and in the pot for cooking and the batter ready for Petecake. Once the fire burned hot enough to heat the Dutch oven and cook the stew, Clara gratefully sank down beside the makeshift kitchen.

A healthy breeze carried away the smoke from the fire, bringing welcome coolness as the sun faded. The moon came into view, its modest glow bathing the plains in whitish blue light.

“Grub ready yet, Miz Field?” Burt Sprouse’s head tilted forward as he sniffed the air like a hopeful bear. In exchange for their cooking, alongside a bit of washing and mending, the ex-lumberjack provided them with fresh meat whenever possible, took on the night watches assigned to their wagon, and lent a hand when he could.

“Not quite, Mr. Sprouse.” Apologies wouldn’t make the rabbit cook any faster. “I had difficulty finding enough buffalo chips tonight.”

“Looked like the oxen gave you some trouble tonight.” Burt’s voice held no censure as he squatted down. “I’ll take on your watch tonight, like we agreed, but Hickory’s getting antsy about having you and your aunt in your own wagon. You were last in the row and last to set up camp tonight.”

“Sure were.” The trail boss, Hickory McGee, stomped over to glower at them. Disgust filled his tone. “Same as every day on this trail. I warned you gals I didn’t want to take on two women with no menfolk to shoulder the night watches, wagons, and livestock. You know the law of the trail—pull your weight or be left behind.”

“We know.” Clara forced the words through gritted teeth. Men who believed women to be inferior in every way put up her back as little else could. If you spent more time helping and less time harping, things would get done faster. As it is, you accomplish nothing with threats, yet Aunt Doreen and I hold things together in spite of them. A true gentleman—the kind of man a mother would be proud to raise and a woman would be glad to claim as husband—would be respectful and helpful.

She kept the thoughts to herself. Speaking her mind was a luxury she couldn’t afford if it angered the trail boss. A quick prayer for patience, and she swallowed her ire.

“I haven’t completely mastered the art of unhitching the oxen,” Clara admitted before staring him down. “But Mr. Sprouse makes sure our watches aren’t shirked, and you know it.” She cast a grateful look at Burt.

“You ain’t the ones doin’ it,” Hickory groused. “No call for a man with his own wagon and responsibilities to shoulder yours.”

“I don’t mind taking the extra watch in exchange for their cooking,” Burt put in.

“Don’t recall askin’ you, Sprouse.” Hickory turned his glare from Clara to the lumberjack. “But anyone causin’ problems can be left behind.”

“Worse comes to worse”—Mr. Sprouse shrugged—“I can sear some meat. Got an iron stomach, I do.”

“Glad to hear it.” The guide returned his attention to Clara. “You’re lagging behind as it is. Not being able to control your animals is one more hassle to endanger the train. One rampaging ox can set off a stampede.”

“We managed to sort it out.” Aunt Doreen tugged a bucket of water toward them. “We always do.”

“It didn’t put anyone else out.” Clara shoved aside her remorse over Mr. Sprouse’s late dinner. “We’ll be ready to pull out at dawn, same as everyone else.”

“Better be.” The disagreeable guide punctuated that statement by launching spittle toward their cookfire. It hissed as he stalked away.

When we get to Oregon, it will be worth it, she vowed to herself for the thousandth time since they left Independence and started out on the trail. The Lord will see us to a new life and a happy home.

“The johnnycake should be about ready.” Clara pushed the ashes off the top of the Dutch oven with her ladle handle, wrapped her hand in a dishcloth, and lifted the lid. The sweet smell of warm cornbread wafted toward them. “Let me slice a piece for you to have now while the stew finishes.”

“Mmmph.” A moment later, Mr. Sprouse plunked himself down and set to munching the hot bread. His obvious enjoyment didn’t soothe Clara as it usually did—not when he’d made it clear that their agreement wasn’t as strong as Hickory’s warnings.

“Here, Aunt Doreen.” Clara made sure her aunt got a large portion. After weeks on the trail, not only did their simple dresses boast enough dust to plant a garden, but the calico also hung from her aunt’s thin frame. After a grueling day of travel, any moment they could use for a good night’s rest was another small loss her aunt didn’t deserve to bear. Unacceptable.

Aunt Doreen passed Mr. Sprouse another piece before he asked. Their success on the trail depended on keeping the man well fed. So long as they did that and kept pressing onward, the trail boss couldn’t leave them behind.

Clara filled a tin with the steaming stew. Onions came from their supply, greens they’d gathered along the way, and the rabbit came courtesy of Mr. Sprouse’s shotgun. If it weren’t for their little arrangement with him, she and her aunt would be surviving on jerky.

“Best deal I ever made.” His grunt made both of them smile. Burt made no bones about the fact he liked to eat but couldn’t cook. Another’s misfortune was rarely cause for prayers of gratitude, but. . .

“I was just thinking the same thing.” Clara knew Aunt Doreen’s reply came from the heart, to say the least.

Until now, Mr. Sprouse was just one more example of how the Lord watched over them and would see them through this arduous journey, which had become more wearing than Clara anticipated. A continuous stream of mishaps drained their supplies and energy. And they’d yet to make it past the prairie to the hardships of the mountains.

“When we reach the mountains, things will go more slowly.” She meant the words as a comfort to her own aching bones and her aunt’s worries, but Burt Sprouse didn’t see it that way.

“Yep. Snow can make us lose days, get off the trail, have so many delays food runs out and animals freeze. Everything’s harder once you hit the Rockies.”

“Our oxen are too ornery to freeze.” Clara couldn’t help smiling even as she muttered the words.

“Even so, we’ll all probably lighten our loads.” Burt shrugged. “I hear the mountains are littered with furniture and heirlooms abandoned by travelers so they can get free of a snow bank or make it up a steep pass.”

Her aunt’s gasp made Clara wrack her brain for something positive to say.

“After that rough river crossing, we already lost several items.” She quelled the sense of loss that overcame her at the memory of her childhood trunk, filled with her doll and doll’s clothes. The last thing her father gave her, lost in the Platte forever. “So we probably won’t need to leave anything else behind.” She forced a smile.

“For all those reasons, you have to be careful not to get on the trail boss’s bad side.” Burt waved his spoon in the air. “We won’t make it without him, and he’s dead serious about leaving behind anyone who causes problems.”

He does care. Surely Burt said that nonsense about having an iron stomach just to placate Hickory. She eyed him fondly as he made his way back to his own wagon. Who would have thought a burly ex-lumberjack looking to make his fortune gold mining would be their saving grace?

“You go on ahead and get to bed,” Clara encouraged her aunt after they’d eaten their fill. “I’ll clean up and join you in a few moments.”

Aunt Doreen’s lack of protest and grateful nod spoke of her weariness more eloquently than if she’d carped over the long day. Yet the older woman never uttered so much as a word of complaint. Not that she ever had, even throughout the long years of living under Uncle Uriah’s thumb.

No matter how many verses her uncle warped out of context, how often he misinterpreted her own words or actions, Clara held firm to the conviction that Uriah’s chauvinism was personal prejudice, not truth. Oft-repeated lectures against the frail values and fragile mindsets of the so-called weaker sex only underscored the quiet strength of the woman who’d raised her.

The few months when she’d had Doreen’s sole attention soothed her soul, pulling her from the endless cycle of guilt and anger over Ma’s and Pa’s deaths. Clara owed everything to the self-sacrificing love of Doreen. Then she’d married Uriah Zeph, and their world tilted once more. For the worse.

Hopes ahead; regrets behind. Grandma’s saying had become their motto over the years and seemed more appropriate with each passing day. Tonight, as Clara fell into her quilt, she added one more phrase. . . .

And God alongside.


Outskirts of Baltimore


Filth everywhere. Dr. Saul Reed shook his head as he made his way from the room he rented to the area of the Baltimore outskirts that housed businesses. Brackish water and mud splotched the street. The odor of stale urine in the alleyways fought for dominance over the smell of stewed cabbages and onions.

To think, this was the better area of town, where most of the residents had roofs over their heads and cabbage to eat at all. There were others less fortunate, left to burrow under garbage or be chased away from bridges until pneumonia or fever took them away. The illness he could treat, the neglect of hygiene and sanitation he could fight, but all he could do was pray for the indifference neighbors showed for one another.

That’s why he’d chosen this place. A cozy practice in a whitewashed building in the heart of Baltimore would bring affluent clients, respectable standing, and a nice living. Here, though, he could put his knowledge to the best use. These were the areas where people otherwise denied medical attention needed his help.

If only You will open their ears, Lord, he prayed as he entered the post office. His youth became an impediment in the eyes of some, who saw more value in years than in his Edinburgh education. They didn’t take into account the school’s reputation as he had when making his choice. The university’s renown for technological advancement didn’t transmit beyond the medical community.

“Letter come for ya, Doc.” The post office worker thrust the note at him.

“Any packages?” Saul peered into the cubbyholes behind the desk to no avail. “Those forceps I ordered should be coming in any day now.”

“Any day ain’t today.” The man chewed his tobacco before sending a thick stream of sludge onto the floor beside an obviously oft-missed spittoon. “While yer here an’ all, though. . .”

“What’s ailing you?” Saul prayed the man wouldn’t do as he had the last time he’d asked for help and pull down his britches to display a carbuncle on his hip.

“M’ mouth.” The tobacco tucked into his cheek, he opened wide.

Holding his breath to avoid the foul blast of air, Saul tilted his head and surveyed browned teeth, yellowed gums, and a sore the size of his thumb on the man’s tongue. Saul pulled back to a safe distance and inhaled.

“You’ve got an open sore on your tongue.”

“Heck, Doc, even I knowed that much.” The man rolled his eyes. “What can I do about the thing?”

“I’ll make you a rinse of witch hazel to clean it out. Be sure to drink a lot of water and use the rinse after you eat anything.” Saul set his jaw. “Most of all, you must stop using the tobacco.”

“Wha’?” His jaw gaped, treating the doctor to another view of that open sore and losing the tobacco altogether. It landed with a soft thud on the dusty floor.

“Good. The tobacco is what’s causing the problem.”

“Naw.” The man stooped down, scooped up the wad, dusted it off as best he could, and plopped it right back in his mouth.

“Yes.” Saul closed his eyes. “Though taking things from the ground and putting them in your mouth doesn’t help, either.”

“Dirt don’t hurt.” Crossing his arms over his chest, he rolled the chaw in his mouth, sending another stream toward the ground. This time it landed perilously close to Saul’s boot. “Even a quack’d know that.”

“People track in more than dirt.” Saul’s voice became more stern. “The more you chew, the worse it’ll get. Keep on, and you’ll see more sores until they spread down your throat and you can’t speak.”

The man’s laughter followed Saul outside—another example of the ignorance that ruled this area. How can I make a difference if they won’t let me? What do I have to do, Lord, to make them see how to take care themselves? Give me the chance to make a difference.

As he rounded a corner, a shaky voice sounded. “Young and untouched. I’ll give ya a good time, sir.”

“No.” He made to move on, but her gaunt face stopped him in his tracks. The girl couldn’t be more than eleven. Shadows smudged her eyes, and bony wrists protruded from beneath too-short sleeves.

“I swear it’s true.” She drew closer, obviously misinterpreting his pause for interest. In the brighter light, livid bruises bloomed along her throat. Whether they’d been pressed there by a violent customer or an enraged pimp was impossible to say.

“Stay there.” He held out a hand to stay her progress. Between her youth, her assertion of innocence, and those bruises, he couldn’t walk away. “What is your name?”

“Whatever ya like.” She raised a nervous hand to the marks on her throat. “Whatever ya want.”

Enraged pimp then. Saul peered down the alleyway to see if the brute lingered behind. No one there.

“What can you do—no, not that.” He stopped her hastily as she prepared to speak. “Can you sew? Cook? Clean?”

“What?” Astonishment replaced the desperation in her gaze.

“I know a lady who runs a boardinghouse and is in need of some help.” Saul kept his voice muted. “If you’re an honest sort and not afraid of solid work, you might do.”

“I sews real fine—it’s what he used to have me do.” The glow of pride left her abruptly. “He’d find me.” The whisper almost floated past him unheard, but when her hand fluttered toward her neck again, Saul understood her fear.

“Where is he now?”

“Pub.” She jerked her head toward a side street.

“Come with me now, and he’ll never know.” Saul shifted his doctor’s bag so it came into a more prominent view, hoping the symbol of trusted authority would put her at ease.

“You’re one of them what purges babes when one of us gets unlucky?” Suspicion blazed to life in her pinched face. “Like him that came last night? He took the baby, right, but m’ sister hasn’t stopped bleeding since.”

“Absolutely not.” Saul closed his eyes at the image she evoked. “Where’s your sister?” Obviously the woman needed immediate help—if it wasn’t too late.

“Inside.” She backed away a step. “Be on yore way, sir. M’ sister don’t need any more help from no doctors. She didn’t want the first one to come, but he didn’t give ’er no choice.”

“The quack who did that to her was no doctor.” Rage boiled in Saul’s chest. “If she keeps bleeding, your sister will die.”

“And I’ll be alone wif”—her gaze darted in the direction of the pub she’d indicated earlier as her voice went hoarse—“him.” Though Saul wouldn’t have thought it possible, her face became even more pale. “He said he’d take care of us, but he turned Nancy out within a week. After last night he said I’d have to take her place.”

“No, you won’t. Take me to Nancy.”