Saturday, March 31, 2007

Christian Fiction Challenge - March (Read Outside Your Nomral Genre)

  • Title: Secrets of the Heart
  • Author: Al Lacy
  • Copyright: 1998
  • How long was the book languishing in your TBR pile? About a month
  • What made you buy/borrow the book in the first place? Actually I read this book when it originally came out but I'm currently going through the alphabet with Christian fiction authors and I was in the L's and I thought I'd reread it because I didn't remember the story.
  • What were your thoughts on the story? Well now I remember why I didn't really like this book the first time around. The premise of the series is interesting, about mail order brides and their decision to leave home to marry a stranger. This story however, is about revenge and how as a Christian you shouldn't want it. Not wanting to spoil the story for anyone who hasn't read it, a quick recap would be this: Poor girl marries rich guy, rich inlaws hate girl, husband dies, in laws take away daughter and won't let mother see her, mother answers mail order ad and marries guy out west and plans to get her daughter back BUT doesn't tell new husband any of this, new family becomes rich, inlaws become poor, new family goes back to get daughter, new husband becomes Christian, tells wife revenge is evil, wife finally becomes Christian, asks in laws to forgive her, everyone hugs, new family gives in laws money. Ok this was the most unrealistic ending and I hated it. If my daughter was taken away from me simply because I didn't have money, even if I became a Christian I would not let them back with open arms. It just seemed too perfect, no one would act like that.
  • Now do you wish you read the book sooner? Not really since I was really frustrated by the end of the book.
  • Any questions/statements for the author? Christians do not always have tidied up endings, it's fine to be angry!
  • Where will the book reside now? It's already back at the library, lol
  • The challenge is to read a book in a new genre or read a book you normally wouldn't read. Do you see the genre/sub genre in a new light? Will you read another book like this one? Well, I wouldn't mind reading more books about mail order brides, so I'm going back to try to read the rest of the series, which I never got around to finishing last time. But if the rest of the series keeps having endings which have to have everything all tidied up I prally won't finish them again
Join the Christian Fiction Challenge! Next month is April-Read Oldest book in TBR!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Book Review: "A Stitch in Time" by Allison Bottke

A change will do you good

Dee is now living the fabulous life. Once overweight and unhappy, thanks to gastric bypass surgery, plastic surgery and a great job she's starting to enjoy life a little more. She still won't forgive her ex-husband who cheated on her even though he keeps bugging her about it. She's enjoying her new image and wants to enjoy her life to her fullest. Unfortunately her two 30+ year children don't seem to share this idea with her and constantly bicker with Dee blaming her for their parents' breakup. Plus Dee's new clients are not the easiest bunch to work with. Then just as there is a new guy in the horizon, Dee is forced to work with her ex on the project! This definitely puts her new faith in Christianity to the test.

This was a really fun book to read. I enjoyed reading about Dee's business with all the movie stars. Loved the costume ball sequence with Patrick Swayze. I also enjoyed that the person who had kept doing wrong to Dee finally got found out and punished, without Dee extracting her own revenge. I also liked since Dee is new Christian, she is eager to share about her faith but she knows not to blast it out to people when they feel uncomfortable. She's still mostly the same person though, feeling insecure about herself and hoping that plastic surgery will ease all her troubles away. I enjoyed the fashion, shoes, clothes talk in the book. It made it more fun for me to hear about designer names even though I will never be able to afford them! Dee's a very likable character and the reader constantly wants to cheer her on. I felt that it was also very realistic to show that society was treating Dee better just because she was skinnier. Yes Christians are suppose to love everyone, but it's also truth that looks ARE being judged in society. The only thing I didn't like was that I felt the ending was a little too tidied up. I honestly didn't see why she had to go back to Lyle. Yes she should forgive him, but that doesn't mean she can't be angry with him. He lost her trust, she didn't have to take him back. I know he became a Christian but I would have liked to see him at least become more spiritually mature before Dee took him back. Other than this, this book is highly recommended. It's targeted for the baby-boomer set but I believe anyone who likes a fun chick lit book will enjoy this one at any age.

A Stitch in Time by Allison Bottke is published by Bethany House (2006)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"Reclaiming Nick" by Susan May Warren

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is introducing

( Tyndale Fiction, 2007) by


Award winning author SUSAN MAY WARREN recently returned home to her native Minnesota after serving for eight years with her husband and four children as missionaries with SEND International in Far East Russia. She now writes full time from Minnesota's north woods. Visit her Web site at

Here is my review from back in February:

I wanna be a cowboy baby

Nick Noble is a modern day prodigal son. He's finally returned to the family ranch after leaving ten years ago. His father has died and Nick has found out that the ranch has been split between him and his siblings and his former best friend Cole. He wants to know why Cole should get what is rightfully his. Piper is pretending to be a ranch cook so she can investigate Nick who she believes is the cause of why her brother went to jail. The two develop a relationship against Piper's wishes. Meanwhile many secrets float around the ranch, and it also looks like there is someone who doesn't want anyone to own a part of it.

First off, look at the book cover! Woooo! Love those dimples, he looks just like Colby from season 2 of Survivor. So it was really easy to picture Nick, which is good because he was a really interesting, well developed character. Him, Maggie, and Cole all have a history with everyone not knowing the full truth about each other. It sounds soap opera-ish but it doesn't come off that dramatic. I enjoyed Piper's attempts to hide that she couldn't cook. She really got lucky with the roundup takeout dinner. Although hearing about
Rocky Mountain oysters was just gross. Ewww. But it was very cool to learn about the happenings at a rodeo ranch (although those poor calves that got branded). Also you don't know who is causing all the bad things until the last few chapters, I mean I literally didn't see it coming. The only thing I didn't seem to get was that everyone was making such a big deal about Nick's discovery about Cole's relation to him. Yet no one says anything about Stephanie and Rafe's (well he isn't there) reaction to this news. It was like it was only Nick's situation to deal with. Stephanie also doesn't get fleshed out much but she'll be having her own book soon. I'm looking forward to the next book which will be about Rafe. Learning about cowboys has never been so much fun..and if Rafe's cover looks anything like Nick's..."VBG" Another highly recommended SMW novel!!!

If you would like to hear more about Nick, he has his own blog. Also, the first chapter is there...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Book Review: "Night Light" by Terri Blackstock

Could you survive?

The blackout story continues in the second book in the Restoration series. The town is beginning to adapt to an lifestyle without electricity. It is like living in the middle ages again, with the people having to discover new ways to survive. The Banning family has managed to create a semi-comfortable life in this new world. They have food, will soon have water, shelter, and most importantly each other. However not everyone has it this lucky, as the reader is introduced to a group of siblings trying to fend for themselves without their mother. The two groups clash with a battle about what it takes to truly survive in this new world.

Reading about the filth that the children had to live in made me really uncomfortable at times. It's really amazing how we take just a working toilet for granted. This book pretty much explains survival of the fittest. Only the people who lived in communities where there was some sense of order was able to live a semi-normal life while others were forced in extreme poverty and disarray. At times I sided with the children because they were just trying to survive, but then I'd side with the Bannings because they had worked hard for their food and didn't deserve for it to get stolen. It was really scary reading about how people will take advantage of others in desperate times, even children just to get food or other supplies. Aaron, even though sometimes his actions were wrong, had the right intentions for his siblings, putting his family first before everything. I felt that was such a parallel to Deni in the first book, she put everything but her family as her primary focus. The only thing I found irksome is that everyone forgives each other really quickly even for doing terrible things to them. I just felt it a little unreal in such a time like that. Other than that, this was another thrilling read, another deep thinker of a book. Looking forward to when the next book comes out.

Night Light by Terri Blackstock is published by Zondervan (2006)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Book Review: "Last Light" by Terri Blackstock

It's the end of the world as we know it...

The world has suddenly gone dark and quiet. Something has caused all forms of power to go out, from advanced forms of technology to even the smallest battery. Communication is at a standstill, cars are left unattended, people must now walk on foot to get around. Chaos is erupting everywhere. In the midst of this, the reader is introduced to the Banning family and their struggles to adapt to this new type of world. As their town tries to live in this new society, murders keep happening forcing the community to realize the murderer is one of their own.

When I read this book, I got freaked out thinking about what if this really happened today. Loss of communication would be totally devastating to our livelihood. Just when a hurricane or blizzard comes, we complain about not having electricity for a couple of days. Here in the book, the characters have no idea when or if they will ever get power again. It's scary to think about what it would it be like to not know what was happening elsewhere. Perhaps we take technology too much for granted? I understood how Deni felt about not having any contact with her fiance. I even asked my boyfriend what we would do in a situation like this because I would be worried like she was (he reassured me that he would come for me). My only complaint with the book is that the bad guy in the book is really predictable. I had a sneaking suspicion who it was from when the murders started and I was right at the end. Even the way the character acts totally gives him away. Deni is also very whiny and selfish at times, I know she was worried but she should have thought about her family first. Other than that, I did enjoy this book. It gives a new twist to the end times story and it makes you really think about needs vs. wants. A very thought provoking read.

Last Light by Terri Blackstock is published by Zondervan (2006)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Movie Review: "Marie Antoinette"

First off, I was going to boycott this movie. The reason is because I am not a Kirsten Dunst fan at all. Maybe it's because she acts annoying in all the movies she's been in. Maybe it's because she always dated actors I used to have crushes on. I mean I didn't (and still won't) see any of the Spiderman movies in theaters because of her even though I absolutely adore Tobey Maguire and James Franco. So when I saw the trailer for this movie portraying Dunst as the extravagant and flighty queen, I said forget about it. But then that trailer really got to me. I really liked the song "Age of Consent" by New Order so much that I put it on my MySpace page where it's been for the last couple of months even though I have received many pleads to change it (NEVER!!). I heard all the hype about how the movie is unique for using modern music in a period costume drama. So I caved and decided to watch it.

Well let me say, I was blown away, and I actually enjoyed this movie. The costumes are sumptuous and rightly deserved the Academy Award it won for them. The scenery, which I believe is the actually palace in France, is beautiful as well. Sofia Coppola really is a talented director for doing such a few number of films. This movie puts a new spin on Marie Antoinette who by fame is known for being not in touch with the common people of France. You feel sorry for her character, she is the pawn of two countries trying to form a union. She is expected to immediately have an heir and a lot of pressure is placed on her. Everyone keeps gossiping about her and so to avoid this she lives a life where she splurges a lot. A what a life that is, the dresses, and the shoes (Manalos!), and cakes. Oh and this movie also won points for having pugs!!

One thing I found odd is that everyone was allowed to keep their own accents in this movie. So you have the king and queen speaking with American accents, ladies in waiting speaking in British and Australian, and other members of the royal court in French. It's actually kind of distracting at first but then you forget about it after a while. I found the actors to be unique and interesting. I never would have thought of Jason Schwartzman as Louis XVI but I thought he gave it a different spin. I did like it very much how the king and queen's relationship grew over time and you could tell that they really did love each other by the end. Of course there's that little blip with her affair, but oh well. I really did like the fact they used 80's and modern punk rock for the soundtrack. It gave the movie a more youthful appeal. I've always wanted my life to have a soundtrack and the music here is perfect with the scenery. Now this movie has not made a Kirsten Dunst fan, but it has peaked my intersect more in the real Marie Antoinette. Some sexual situations aside, I would recommend this movie.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Book Review: "It Happens Every Spring" by Gary Chapman and Catherine Palmer

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is

introducing IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING ( Tyndale Fiction, 2007)

by Gary Chapman and Catherine Palmer


GARY CHAPMAN is the author of the New York Times best seller The Five Love Languages and numerous other books. He's the director of Marriage & Family Life Consultants, Inc., and host of A Growing Marriage, a syndicated radio program heard on over 100 stations across North America. He and his wife, Karolyn, live in North Carolina.

CATHERINE PALMER is the Christy Award-winning, CBA best-selling author of more than forty novels--including The Bachelor's Bargain--which have more than 2 million copies in print. She lives in Missouri with her husband, Tim, and two sons.

Got Spring Fever?

In the small town of Tranquility, everything seems to be picture perfect from the outside. It's your average small American town where everyone knows your name. It's also spring, a happy time because everything is new again. However inside Brenda and Steve's house it's ice cold chilly as the couple is having problems with their marriage. Each feels the other to blame and are almost ready to call it quits. However circumstances such as a homeless guy and the TLC club plan to put a stop to it and help them out. But a handyman seems to tempt Brenda while Steve's work seems to consume him. It'll take the whole season for them to realize how to work things out.

Ah, marriage relationships. Seems like everyone is always talking about them. Maybe it's because I'm not married yet and don't have kids, but I personally felt that Brenda was mainly to fault with her and Steve's relationship. I might be wrong here, but she seemed really moody and just plain mean to him. He kept trying to talk to her and she would blow him off and then get mad at him for talking to her. No wonder why men can't figure women out. To be fair, Steve did seem more preoccupied with work, and it seemed that every time he did try to talk to Brenda at night it was so they could have sex. Not the best intentions it seems. I also felt that the Cody situations seemed a little forced. While I liked his character much better near the end, he originally came off as kind of annoying to me. Brenda seemed a little too trustworthy in letting a random man sleep on her porch and only did it to rebel against Steve. I mean, Cody could have been acting and then murdered her when no one was around.

But that's the only complaints I have because I
really really enjoyed this book. The characters are refreshingly real and relatable. I liked the other women in the town, especially the multi hairstyle Patsy and her beauty shop. If I visited the town I would definitely stop there to get my hair done. I'm also looking forward to reading more about Ashley because I'm hoping that she will put sense into her husband. Lots of funny tidbits in the book that will get you laughing too. The whole town would be a wonderful place to live/visit. Reading the book was like drinking a cold iced tea, refreshing. I really enjoyed this book. I love the cover too, it's really colorful and so detailed. I can't wait for "Summer" to get here!

It Happens Ever Spring by Gary Chapman and Catherine Palmer is published by Tyndale (2007)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Book Review: "The Potluck Club: Trouble's Brewing" by Linda Evans Shepherd and Eva Marie Everson

A second helping please

The Potluck ladies are back with more adventures and more food to share. In this go-round, once again each character has her own back story that takes special meaning in her life. Evie is trying to get attention of her sheriff boyfriend and somehow becomes engaged to another man! Goldie is trying to settle into her new single life, but her former husband keeps trying to win her back. Vonnie brings her long lost son to meet the family of the father he never knew while Donna seems to be catching his eye and that of reporter Clay. Lizzy's adult son has moved back home after being separated from his wife. And then there's Lisa Leann, whose wedding shop is a hit and she starts her own column with a little help from the tidbits she picks up around the store. The characters all intertwined through their potlucks which bring a sense of togetherness to the story.

Once again, I had a grand time while reading this book. It was funny, the characters were fleshed out more, annoying characters made no so annoying anymore, and lots of good food mentioned throughout. People are more open in this book and not afraid to speak what's on their mind. I was really glad that Lisa Leann's daughter put her foot down to her mother's advice column. I felt like it was about time someone put a stop to her gossiping ways and especially from someone who Lisa Leann would actually listen to. It might get confusing at first about who's who, but each character's story is every bit delicious as the recipes they offer. In the last book, I had complained about how Clay felt like an unnecessary character in the story. In this book, he's more apart of the story as we learn more about his personality. In fact, the reader becomes sympathetic towards him and his unrequited feelings toward Donna. The problem with the love triangle is that you want Donna to end up with Vonnie's son but you want Clay to feel happy too. I also wish that Goldie would be able to be free to move on with her life, but I don't think Jack will allow that. You definitely need some goodies while reading this book, because it will give you the munchies. Can't wait for the third!

The Potluck Club: Trouble's Brewing by Linda Evans Shepherd and Eva Marie Everson is published by Revell (2006)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Book Review: "The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Tough" by Neta Jackson

Fight fire with fire

The Yada Yada Prayer group faces its toughest challenges yet. From white supremacy groups to interracial churches, lottery money to unplanned pregnancies, the group still manages to find time to get together and pray over all the hot issues in their lives. Heavy and serious topics are discussed making the reader feel like they are watching their evening news. Just be prepared to laugh, cry, get angry..just get ready to feel any emotion you have while reading this book.

I felt this book had the strongest message and dealt with the most serious issues discussed in the series so far. I really hate seeing the words of the Bible twisted and used to discriminate against others. How people can actually believe the lies told by these groups is beyond me. This was the first book in the series where I felt that everyone reacted realistically. With the group being so diverse, the race issue was bound to be brought up. It's also amazing how just by being Christians they were able to handle these issues in dignified manners. There is no one saying, "If you trust in God, then you shouldn't worry." While I believe that God will give you peace in stressful situations, it is not realistic to not worry in a time of crisis. Once again Jodi's reactions echo my own, although at one point she felt that she was being selfish for worrying about the safety of her own family instead of worrying about Noni and Mark. I felt that this is not a wrong feeling because your own family should always come first. I also liked seeing the churches come together, and the tension from each side being unwilling to unite is very apparent in society. You don't think about racism happening inside church because everyone is supposed to love each other no matter what. Once again this book really makes you think and pushes your beliefs and faith. With each Yada Yada book I feel more connected to the women and get drawn further and further into the story.

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Tough by Neta Jackson is published by Thomas Nelson (2005)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Book Review: "Landon Snow and the Auctor's Riddle" by R. K. Mortenson

Fantasy fun for the kiddies

Landon Snow, on a trip to visit his grandparents, finds himself transported into a magical world beyond the library. In it he discovers talking books, chess pieces that come to life, and trying to find out what is the meaning of the Book his grandfather keeps talking about. Strange clues and riddles keep him on his toes during his search. Will he find out the answer to what is the meaning of everything?

I read this book mainly because it was highly touted as a Christian alternative to Harry Potter. Since I am a huge Harry Potter fan, I was curious as to see whether or not this book could live up to the hype. Well, if I was just going to compare the two, I find myself slightly disappointed. This book is nothing like Harry Potter, if anything it's more Lemony Snicket where you learn things while you're reading. There is lots of imagery in this book, a lot which might go over the head of little kids. I must admit, I got confused quite a bit while reading this book, so I can only imagine how a 12 year old might react to it. I don't find it too preachy although it it obvious about the Christian elements in the story. I did enjoy the bit with the horse, the chess game did remind me of the scene in Harry Potter. I liked how he did indeed take the risk and jumped off the board. The scenes where Landon meets up with the books is enjoyable too. So my final verdict is, if you're looking for a good children's fantasy book I would highly recommend this. I just don't find it to be on par with Potter or even Lemony Snicket. If Just enjoy it for what it is. I got the children's librarian at our library to order the set, so hopefully the kiddies will enjoy it too.

Landon Snow and the Auctor's Riddle
by R.K. Mortenson is published by Barbour (2005)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Reliance by Mary Lu Tyndall

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

( Barbour, January 1, 2007)


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's only give her heart to Him completely.


A YOUNG BRIDE separated from her husband just as a child has been conceived...

A GRIEVING HUSBAND tempted to take his anger out through the vices of his past...

A MARRIAGE AND A SHIP threatened to be split apart by villainous Caribbean pirates...

In THE RELIANCE, Edmund Merrick tormented by the apparent demise of his pregnant wife Charlisse, sails away to drown his sorrows. He turns his back on God and reverts to a life of villainy, joining forces with the demented French pirate Collier. When his mind clears from its rum-induced haze, will Edmund find the will to escape?

Seemingly abandoned by her new husband, Charlisse battles her own insecurities as she is thrown into the clutches of the vengeful pirate Kent, who holds her and Lady Isabel captive.Will she be swept away by the undertow of treachery and despair?

Can Edmund and Charlisse battle the tempests that threaten to tear them apart and steer their way to the faith-filled haven they so desperately seek? Or will they ultimately lose their love and lives to the whirlpool of treachery and deceit?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Book Review: "Quaker Summer" by Lisa Samson

Word Imagery at its best

Heather Curridge is living the life she's always dreamed of and that everyone envies. She's married a doctor, has a wonderful son, good friends, a big house, and enough money to splurge on whatever she wants. However buying tennis courts and swimming pools isn't all it's cracked up to be. Soon Heather finds herself feeling unsatisfied with her life. Her son's encounters with a bully dredges up old memories from her past. It takes a jaywalking kangaroo, a car full of cake and two Quaker ladies to help Heather realize what are the most important things in her life.

First off I loved the Beatles references in this book. The book was divided into three parts, each named after a Beatles song. Heather's story was very intriguing. Her past with Gary and Mary kept getting hinted at throughout the book, giving you only slight glimpses into the past. This either will keep you wanting to read to find out more, or frustrates you because Heather keeps bemoaning over these events which the reader is clueless about. Heather, though, is a very realistic character who says things I would say and reacts to situations like a real person would. The secondary characters bring life into the story such as Sister Jerusha, Anna and Liza. What I really enjoyed about this book is that it is not at all preachy. The main character is not an active church goer and tells about problems she has with church itself. While at the end of the book Heather has changed, she doesn't become a stereotypical church fanatic like in some other Christian novels. This book had some of the best word imagery I have ever read. I enjoyed the descriptions in this book. I could literally see that car covered in cake and could feel the canoe riding across the lake. This was my first Lisa Samson book and it definitely won't be my last. Very enjoyable and highly recommended.

Quaker Summer by Lisa Samson is published by Thomas Nelson (2007)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Book Review: "The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Real" by Neta Jackson

Never a dull moment

The Yada Yada sisters are back again. This time around the group is facing issues such as Avis dating again after being widowed, Stu moving in above Jodi and the two clashing over their personalities and Delores' son wanting to date Jodi's daughter. The group is also trying to help out the same woman who threatened their lives some months ago. While there is dispute over how the matter should be treated, the group still finds time to bond together, helping each other out in times of sorrow, distress, and happiness.
This book is as real as real life is.

I've never read a book where I feel like I'm actually living the lives of the characters. They have so much going on in their lives that I wish I could participate in. I really liked Amanda's quinceanera and what Denny did for her. I wish more father's were that loving towards their daughters, society would be so much better off if they did. I also liked the Polar Plunge opening in the beginning of the book. No way you would catch me doing that! The writing of this book immediately hooks you thus making the books very addictive. You can't stop reading because they are so much like a slice of real life. The news stories sprinkled throughout the book add to the realism. Even though the main character is Jodi, because the group is so diverse it is easy to find someone in the group you can relate to.

Once again my only complaint about the book is the way the relationship with Becky is handled. Like I said before I have no problems with forgiving someone for the wrong they did to you and it's good of them to help her out. It just seems to me that in the book, the group members who feel uncomfortable around Becky or are still being affected by what she did to them are in the wrong and not as spiritually mature as the ones that have moved on. I have been in a similar scenario with Jodi and it took me a while to get over it but it wasn't because of weak faith. It just seems very unrealistic and makes the reader feel that you're not good enough of a Christian. But that just proves the power of good writing, if it makes you rethink about what you believe in.

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Real by Neta Jackson is published by Thomas Nelson (2005)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Watchers by Mark Andrew Oleson

This week, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is introducing

( Bethany House, March 1, 2007)




MARK ANDREW OLSEN whose novel The Assignment was a Christy Award finalist, also collaborated on bestsellers Hadassah (now the major motion picture: One Night With the King), The Hadassah Covenant, and Rescued. The son of missionaries to France, Mark is a graduate of Baylor University. He and his wife, Connie, live in Colorado Springs with their three children.


Just below the surface among the family of God lives another family tree--one traced in spirit, invisible and ageless, known as the Watchers. For two thousand years they've seen beyond the veil separating this world from the next, passing on their gift through a lineage mostly overlooked. Throughout history they've scouted the borders of the supernatural frontier, but now their survival hangs by a thread. And their fate lies in the hands of a young woman, her would-be killer, and a mystery they must solve....

"Congratulations. You just reached my own little corner of cyberspace.

Who am I?

Abby Sherman, that's who.

Who are you? And why are you checking me out?

Drop me a few pixels, and let's find out!"

With that innocent invitation, Abby Sherman unwittingly steps in the crosshairs of history, and thus begins her harrowing tale--taking her from ocean-front Malibu to the streets of London, the jungles in West Africa, the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, and to the very gates of heaven itself!

A sneak preview of eternity becomes her one-way ticket to danger--and discovery….

Two lives collide in a globe-circling adventure involving both peril and discovery: Abby, a young woman whose visions of heaven turn her into a Web-celebrity; and Dylan, a troubled young man sent by an ancient foe to silence her. From California beachfronts to Nigerian rain forests to Jerusalem and back again, THE WATCHERS is high-octane blends of action, mystery, and spiritual battle spanning centuries.

A woman's awe-inspiring vision launches her on a quest through distant lands and ancient history, face-to-face with eternity and into the arms of a family line on the brink of annihilation...

A man who is hired to exterminate her discovers the folly of blind loyalty, then learns how to wage war in a realm he never believed had existed...

An extraordinary saga of the unseen war against evil, the reality of the supernatural, and the transforming power of forgiveness.
"A writer who can take your breath away with a single sentence. A welcome, fresh voice that must be read!"--Ted Dekker

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Christian Blogsphere

Taken from Bonnie:

Michele the owner of the Blogging Chicks blogroll has started a new blogroll for Christians called the Christian Blogosphere blogroll. It is open to Christians of all demonations and gender. You can find out more information about the blogroll at the Christian Blogosphere.

More links on your blog are always good. :)

Book Review: "Love the Sinner" by Lynn Bulock

Hate the sin?

Gracie Lee Harris has moved to California and married a man who has turned out to be two timing con man. He has not only gotten into a car accident with her car and taken her money, he's also gotten another woman pregnant! And it's someone from Gracie's small group from church! Then if things couldn't get any worse, he gets murdered in the hospital! Gracie finds out there are several suspects that could have done this including her (evil) mother in law and her (nasty) step daughter. She has to discover who the murderer is before she becomes the next target.

This was a fun book. It's not your normal Christian happy family novel. There isn't really a happy, let's tie up all the ends, everyone hugs ending. And Dennis commits huge sins that he never repents for. Which is fine with me, to me that is more realistic than him getting a deathbed conversion. I really could not stand her mother in law or her step daughter. I know mothers are usually blind to their children's faults but Edna was just unbearable. I also found it interesting at how the ex-wives got along well with each other. Of course they had something in common, but it was interesting at how there wasn't any animosity. Although I did find it rather unbelievable that both Gracie and Heather would turn up in the same small group at church. I mean unless God planned it that way on purpose, the odds of a wife and her husband's mistress that were miles apart showing up together, is not strong. I thought Gracie had a good relationship with her son as opposed to Dennis' relationship with his daughter. I enjoyed reading about Gracie learning to use instant messaging to talk to Ben. It's cool when parents try to relate with their kids and I like reading about adults who do attempt to learn how to use the computer as opposed to those who just write it off as only something for the younger generation. Reading this book also shows how AIM could save your life! Good fun read, lucky for me I have the next book in the series on my bookshelf.

Love the Sinner by Lynn Bulock is published by Steeple Hill (2005)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Book Review: "Reluctant Burglar" by Jill Elizabeth Nelson

Art Smart Desiree Jacobs works as an art security adviser that has been trained in the ways of an art thief by her father. She knows everything about how to get around security systems in museums and how to tell a genuine piece of art from a fake. Then she gets the news that her father has been murdered and he has left behind to her a container full of stolen paintings. Desiree needs to return the paintings to their rightful owners before anyone notices. Meanwhile special agent Tony Lucano is hot on Desiree's trail, trying to find out what her plans really are. They have a sketchy relationship where he doesn't trust Desiree and she can't stand him. However the two will have to set aside their differences to find out who her father's murderer is and to stop the art thieves.

I think that Desiree had an awesome job. I really liked Desiree's ability to disguise herself enough to fool people for her job. I enjoyed the scene where she almost got caught even though the room she was in was almost impossible to get out of.
I know that the guy on the cover is supposed to be Tony but for some reason I kept picturing Tony Almeida from 24. He just suited better to me what Tony would look like. Desiree's and Tony's relationship starts off annoying at first because no matter what she does he doesn't trust her. Eventually he realizes her true character, it was just frustrating that he had already prejudged her. I kept thinking about the Da Vinci Code while reading the book because of the talk about paintings and art museums. And I also recalled an episode of Magnum PI where there is a father/daughter art thief duo just like in this book. While I enjoyed the book, I felt that some parts dragged a little. To me the middle part of the story didn't grab my attention the way the first part or the end did. I still enjoyed reading this book though. There were twists that I didn't see coming and lots of suspense. I also have a new respect for art after learning so much about it in this book. I'll be looking forward to the next one in the series. Reluctant Burglar by Jill Elizabeth Nelson is published by Multnomah (2006)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Book Review: "The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Down" by Neta Jackson

Real Life Fiction

The Yada Yada Prayer Group has been meeting for a while now and everyone is starting to get used to each other. Even though the group is very diverse, friendships are beginning to flourish and everyone is starting to open up little by little. But then one night at a group meeting, a woman comes into Jodi's house and threatens the group with a knife causing many old wounds to be opened in the group. Other issues with racism, anger, and trust put the group through a tough time as it tests all how strong is their friendship and their faith.

First off, I love love love the Yada Yada book series. I wish I was in a group like this. I love how this book series is very daring in the topics it chooses. Racism is something that most Christian books avoid because it's a touchy subject. Since the book is told from Jodi's POV, it's very easy to take her side on the issue with Ma Dear, Denny, and Adele. You get frustrated with everyone for not communicating with each other, yet at the same time you realize why both sides act the way they do. I also love how the group visits the different churches. It's nice to see them in the setting of a different denominations and have a new worship experience. Again since Jodi is the main character, you feel her pain and frustration. I felt the same way she did about certain issues. Some of the other characters seem a little too perfect at times, like how they are immediately ready to forgive Becky for what she did to them. I know that we should forgive those who hurt us, but It didn't seem realistic that people would be willing to open up their arms like that so soon. Sometimes you feel that since there are so many women in the group, it's hard to keep track of them all. I keep mixing up some of them or I forgot who's even in the group. I think that Jodie herself mentions this issue about whether or not the group is too big to keep close relationships with everyone. But it's really cool how diverse the group is, all races and ages are represented allowing readers of all ages to enjoy the book.

If you haven't already read the first book in the series, I definitely recommend it. This series is one of my favorites, the books are page-turners, you laugh, you cry, you get angry, you get irritated, it's like reading a slice of real life.

The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Down by Neta Jackson is published by Thomas Nelson (2004)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Schimatar's Edge by Marvin Olasky

It is March 1st, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!

This month's feature author is:

Marvin Olasky

and his book:

Scimitar's Edge


Dr. Olasky is editor-in-chief of World Magazine, a senior fellow of the Acton Institute, and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He and his wife Susan have been married for 30 years and have four sons. He has written 17 non-fiction books and has also started (with several others) a Christian school; he has been a crisis pregnancy center chairman, a foster parent, a Little League assistant coach, a PTA president, and an informal advisor to George W. Bush. He is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Michigan.

Stepping away from his roles as professor, historian, and creator of "compassionate conservatism," Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of WORLD Magazine has penned an edge-of-your-seat novel that educates as well as it informs.

SCIMITAR'S EDGE is the story of four unique Americans on a journey that takes them to a world of great beauty and great danger. Olasky uses his vast knowledge of the culture to pen a tale about the War on Terror that is so realistic it might have been taken from today's headlines.


1. What's the book about?

At its basic level it's about Americans who go to Turkey for a vacation -- I spent a month there two years ago -- and are kidnapped by Turkish Hezbollah; the question then is how to get away and whether to forget about the whole thing or attempt to fight back. In another sense Scimitar's Edge is about America and the war against terrorism: Now that it's almost five years since 9/11 many of us almost seem to be on vacation again, but the terrorists are not.

2. You're a journalist and professor by trade, with about 18 non-fiction books in your past. What led you to turn to fiction?

Largely fun. In one sense I was playing SIM Turkey: Drop four people into a harsh foreign environment, give them action and adventure, build a romance … I grew to like the characters and wanted to see what they would do. I also enjoyed the challenge: I've written lots of nonfiction books and know how to do that,but this was all new.

3. Is your research for fiction different from your nonfiction research?

The trunk is common - as I traveled through Turkey I took notes on geography, food, customs, and so forth - but the branches differ. My nonfiction research emphasizes accuracy concerning what has happened; for example, every quotation has to be exactly what a person said. In fiction, though, I'm inventing dialogue, yet everything that happens has to be true to the characters and the situation.

4. What's been the feedback from your fans since your switch to fiction? Oh, are there fans?

Actually, I've gotten excellent reactions from many of the folks who like my nonfiction. A few worry about sexual allusions - one of the characters is a serial adulterer and two of the others, as they fall in love, encounter sexual tension. Scimitar's Edge is also an action/adventure novel so there's some shooting, and one of the main characters is a terrorist who relishes lopping off heads. So anyone who wants a sugary book should look elsewhere.

5. You also include some descriptions of what's been called "the forgotten holocaust" a century ago, and explain some Turkish history.

Turkey was the proving ground for the first sustained governmental attempt at genocide, as Turks killed over one million Armenians and sent many to concentration camps; Hitler admired that effort. But Turkey has often been a central player in world affairs, not a backwater. Nearly two millennia ago Turkey became a Christian stronghold: The seven churches John addresses in the book of Revelation, for example, were in what is now Western Turkey. Going back one millennium, what is now Turkey was the front line for a clash of Christian and Muslim cultures.

6. I know you wrote your doctoral dissertation about film and politics from the 1930s through the 1960s, a time when Westerns were one of the dominant genres, and I see certain Western-like elements in this book.

Westerns came in about seven different varieties, and one of them was called the "revenge Western," where a bad man has killed a beloved person and the hero heads out to bring him to justice. In nuanced Westerns the hero at various points asks himself whether his end justifies his means and whether it's worth giving up a lot to carry out what he planned. An internal struggle of that sort occurs in this book as well.

7. Scimitar's Edge is an unusual novel that combines action against terrorists with quotations from Walker Percy. In fact, the book ends with an allusion to one of Percy's most enduring characters, Will Barrett. Were you consciously trying to walk a knife-edge between high-brow and low-brow culture?

Not consciously; that's just where I am myself. Since evangelicals are sometimes disparaged as dumb, some press to show we're not by tossing around Latin phrases or going to opera rather than popular movies -- not that there's anything wrong with opera, as long as there's a car chase within the first five minutes. To me it comes down to enjoying the pleasures God gives us, including those from both popular culture and literary culture.

8. Are you planning a sequel?

When I talk with students about careers we discuss the importance of both internal calling and external calling - do you feel God's pleasure as you do something, and do other people think you're good at it? I feel the internal call to write more novels; I'm trying to discern the external call from readers.


Note: All present-day characters are fictional except for the media and political personalities in chapter sixteen and one character in chapter twenty-one: There really is a Metropolitan Ozmen at the Deur-ul Zaferan Monastery near the Turkish- Syrian border.

Descriptions of historical characters are factual. Suleyman Mahmudi did build Castle Hosap in southeastern Turkey in 1643.

The chess game in chapter fourteen derives from one played by Gustav Richard Neumann and Adolf Anderssen in Berlin in 1864, but then it was not a matter of life or death.


Zeliha Kuris sat in her living room in Konya, scarcely believing what she was watching on TRT1, the major government-run channel in Turkey. The second of the twin towers of New York was crumpling. She cried, thinking of the horrible way so many were dying. Then came a knock on her door.

She peered out cautiously. Ever since her last book, threats from Hezbollah terrorists had come as fast as the sewage ran after heavy rains. One fatwa against her read, "She has confused and poisoned Muslims with her Western ideas. She deserves death."

But it was only a man, Trafik Kurban, whose ailing mother she had helped. They had met in the room at the hospital where the old woman was dying of lung cancer. Trafik's hollow cheeks and chain-smoking habits made generational continuity likely, but he had seemed friendly enough as he joked about his favorite American film, The Wizard of Oz. Zeliha opened the door to him.

"I have a present for you in my car," he said, taking her hand in his own—it was sticky soft—and pointing to a white Mitsubishi that sat at the curb. "You showed yourself a true daughter of Turkey during my mother's duress, and I want to thank you."

Zeliha looked up and down the street but saw no danger signs. She smiled and followed him to the vehicle. Trafik reached in, pulled out a three-foot-tall scarecrow stuffed with straw, and handed it to her. She gave it a puzzled look before smiling and saying, "It's lovely."

Then Trafik stuck a needle into her arm and shoved her into the car.

She came to in a dank basement. At first all she could sense was the overpowering smell of onions. The odor hung in the air and left her struggling for breath. Her hands were bound behind her back, her legs tethered to a pillar. All was quiet, but then she heard movement and conversation on the floor above.

She strained to catch what was being said. A man with a booming voice. He sounded joyous. "Passed the initiation . . . Trafik, one of us . . . member of Hezbollah."

Hezbollah! So Trafik was not just a petty criminal. Hezbollah! Instantly she knew what would happen though her tormentors made her wait. She lost track of the time and must have dozed because when she awoke her throat was parched and a glass of water sat just beyond her reach.

She often heard the man with the loud, harsh voice talking and then laughing outside the door. When the door opened, the smell of fresh bread wafted into the room. Only when her mouth was as dry as Saudi sand and her stomach cramped from hunger did the loud man enter. Even then he was patient, standing for a time just staring at her.

Finally he leaned close, smelling of garlic, his thick black mustache tickling her check. Spit from his mouth sprayed her face. "You wanted to be Turkey's Salman Rushdie or Taslima Nasrin, eh? They deserve to die, and you will."

On the first day he beat her. On the second day he dripped burning nylon on her, all the time complaining that he had to use primitive torture devices because her Western allies kept him from getting modern electroshock devices. He demanded information about the members of her conspiracy. She explained that there was no conspiracy, that she had only written what was true. He became furious.

Upstairs she could hear The Wizard of Oz playing nonstop, with the Munchkins' song turned up loud to cover up her screams. She imagined Trafik was watching, and her one hope was that he would come to see her so she could ask him how he felt betraying the woman who had been his dying mother's only friend. Trafik did not descend, but she heard him chortle as the Wicked Witch screamed, "I'm melting, melting."

Finally he did stand in front of her, but instead of displaying remorse he held a camera. As the loud man did his work, Trafik silently recorded the ravages of torture. Summoning her remaining strength, Zeliha spat at him. "How could you do this?" But before he answered, if he answered, she lost consciousness and never returned to life.



Providence Community Church in South Philadelphia was hosting its end-of-the-school-year rally. Five hundred members of church youth groups from the Philadelphia and Wilmington areas came to hear a hot rock band and enjoy a cookout, with a skit about the danger of growing gang violence sandwiched in between.

The band was hammering at high decibels in the low-lit sanctuary. Teens stood on the pews, swaying and clapping to the music. No one noticed a young man entering through the double doors at the back. A white and blue bandanna covered his head and an obscenity-laden T-shirt hung nearly to his knees, still not far enough to reach the crotch of his baggy blue jeans. His right arm was tattooed with spiderwebs, "laugh now, cry later" clown faces, and the name "Luis." His right hand held a .38. Before a greeter could offer a welcome, Luis sent a bullet through one guitar and another clanging into a microphone stand.

As the band members froze in confusion, teens in the audience laughed and applauded the clever opening to the skit. A third bullet tore into the bass drum and sent the band members scurrying.

A lone voice yelled, "He's shooting at us! Duck down!" The skinny youth pastor, looking not much older than the kids who packed the dark sanctuary, stood up and waved his arms wildly. "This is not the gang skit. This is for real." His voice cracked, sending the crowd into fits of laughter. Suddenly his left arm jerked wildly and a red stain spread over the sleeve of his white shirt. "Get down in the pews!" he screamed.

Kids close to him began to yell and duck under their pews. Those on the other side still thought they were part of an interactive skit. "Paintball!" one boy yelled. "Awesome!"

Luis was outraged. "Shut up! All of you just shut up! Enough of this Jesus crap!"

One girl whispered, "Can he say that in church?" The boy next to her shouted, "Wash your mouth out with soap!" His friends gave him high fives.

The shooter turned and glowered at them, cursing in a combination of Spanish and English, swinging the gun from side to side as he sidled away from the doors and snarled, "Where's Carlos?" He snapped off two shots, hitting a girl. She screamed, moved her hand to her shoulder, looked at her red-stained fingers, and screamed again: "He shot me!"

Her voice reflected shock and betrayal. That's when panic set in.
Across the parking lot in the church manse the old air conditioner rat-a-tatted as Washington Post national security correspondent Halop Bogikian finished his interview of pastor David Carrillo, known for his work with gangs. This was an unusual assignment for Hal, but reports of Al-Qaeda connections with a Hispanic gang, Mara Salvatrucha—MS-13 for short—were surfacing; and his editor thought he should learn about the gang and the possibility that it could smuggle an atomic bomb across the border.

The journalist and the pastor sat across from each other at a round oak table in the book-lined study. Carrillo leaned back in his chair, a smile playing around his lips. Hal thought the pastor too relaxed, too comfortable in his own skin, so it was time to pounce. Leaning forward, pen poised above his reporter's notebook, thin and wiry Hal searched the pastor's face. "You're saying that hard-core gang members, even members of MS-13, get religion and turn from their wicked ways?"

"I know you don't believe it, but that's what often happens." Hal shook his head as though dealing with an imaginative six-year-old. "Church and state issues aside, why should anyone believe that gang members will give up power—and what seems to them an efficient way to get money—for God?"

Carrillo smiled. "I'm not expecting you to take my word for it. A young man, Carlos, is waiting in the living room. He has a remarkable story to tell you if you've got the time."

Hal glanced at his watch. He wanted to get back on the road to Washington. This whole trip to Philly had been a mistake, proving once again that you couldn't trust an editor to know the elements of a decent story. He began to offer an excuse as he capped his pen, but the pastor looked like a little kid who had called him chicken. Hal removed the cap from his pen. "OK, I'll listen."

Carrillo opened the door to the living room. "Hey, Carlos, come on in." A heavy-set boy with a bad case of acne shuffled into the room, his pants dragging on the floor. His black hair was slicked back from his face, and the beginning of a wispy black goatee shaded his jaw. Though he was seventeen, his voice cracked when he spoke: "Me and my friends joined a street gang last year, La Mara Salvatrucha. Guys call it MS-13."

Hal nodded, thinking, Here comes one more of those born-again stories.

"A couple of weeks ago, a little after midnight, three of us were standing near a 7-11, and some chicas cruised by, shouting insults at us. Our leader, Luis, hurled a bottle at them, but they kept going. Then a few minutes later we saw this big old Chevy come by. Three guys from the South Side Locos with baseball bats. They chased us into the projects."

Hal thought, Might as well get some more human interest. He began writing.

"Luis said, 'Let's get our machetes and show them.' Those Locos saw us coming out and ran, man. It was funny. But one of them tripped. The others kept going, so we caught him. I kicked him a couple of times. But Luis said, 'Let's teach the Locos that they can't mess with MS-13.'"

Carlos was silent for a time. He pulled a chain out of his pocket, which he twisted and twined between his fingers. The faint roar of noise from the nearby highway continued. A car backfired.

The pastor said, "Sounds like the concert is over. I'm not hearing the bass." Hal took another look at his watch and tried not to let the kid see how impatient he was to be off.

Carlos started up again: "OK, I want to get this off my chest. Luis started to nick that guy with his machete: hands, head, all over. I tell you, Luis is more loco than the Locos. He covers his whole body with MS-13 tattoos. But when he started to cut that guy's fingers off it was bad, real bad."

Hal's pen flew over the page of his notebook. He kicked himself for not bringing a tape recorder. While he wrote, trying to capture the cadence of the boy's speech, he felt the first flutter of excitement: This could be a good column, maybe even award winning.

Across the table the boy's voice stopped. Hal looked up from his notebook and saw Carlos crying. "The guy was screaming. I was screaming. Luis kept cutting. Left only the thumb. He laughed and said the guy could hitch a ride home. That's when I decided I had to get out. My mom could tell something was wrong. She nagged me nonstop and wouldn't get off my back until I came to talk to the preacher."

Just then a young woman ran in. "Pastor, come quick." Hal took in bright hazel eyes, slender neck, soft shoulders, and a name tag reading "Sally." He had never seen anyone so lovely. Then her words sank in: "Someone's shooting in the sanctuary. I've called 911."

Carrillo jumped up and headed out the door to the church building. Carlos's face blanched. "Luis! It's gotta be. He's gonna kill me." He looked desperately for a place to hide. Sally bit her upper lip. "Stay here. You'll be safe." She looked up at Hal as though seeing him for the first time: "You stay with him."

Hal said, "Can't. I'm a reporter." He grabbed his pad and slammed through the front door toward his car. He heard Sally's scornful voice at his back: "That figures. He wants to be first with the story." She gave Carlos a reassuring pat on the back before following the pastor.

Carrillo entered the sanctuary through a side door and surveyed the scene. Children cowered behind the pews as Luis stalked back and forth, careful to stay away from doors and windows. "I want that traitor! Where is Carlos?" he kept yelling.

Carrillo took a step into the sanctuary: "Put the gun down, son. This is a house of God."

Luis sneered and swore at him. Carrillo kept his voice even. "You haven't killed anyone," he said, hoping it was true. "The police will be here soon. It will be better for you if you put the gun down."

"Shut up! I don't want more Jesus junk like the lies you told Carlos. I should just shoot you and put you out of your misery. Want to die?"

Carrillo said evenly, "You can shoot me if you want. I'm not afraid to die. I know where I'm going."

"Don't give me any heaven stuff," Luis screamed. "I can turn this place into hell. My boys and me are gonna nuke the city. And I'll start with you." He pulled the trigger, and Carrillo felt a piercing pain on the right side of the chest. As he crumpled to the floor, the shooter turned his gaze toward the front of the sanctuary.

Suddenly a voice from the back demanded, "Drop your weapon."

Sally stood just outside the side door through which the pastor had entered. With her foot she held the door open about six inches. She could see Carrillo on the floor. The mystery speaker was outside her line of vision. She strained to hear police sirens.

Luis ran past the side door toward the back. She could hear his heavy breathing and his heavy footfall on the tile floor. He raised his gun and fired twice. Then Sally heard an answering shot and the metallic sound of a gun being kicked across the floor. She opened the door cautiously and saw Luis on the floor, and a shadowy figure walking away.

With no time to puzzle over the identity of the second shooter, Sally pushed open the door completely and crab-walked to the pastor as he moaned and a rising chorus of cries filled the sanctuary. Carrillo's shirt was soaked with blood. Sally looked vainly for something to use to staunch the bleeding, before settling on her skirt. She unzipped it and slipped it off, then bunched it up and pressed it into the wound.

She waited for the sirens. What's taking so long? she thought. She hadn't prayed for a long time, but she did now, although it was more of a complaint: God, how could you let this happen? What's the point?
As the first police cars fishtailed into the church parking lot, followed by ambulances, Hal started up his Jetta, which he'd parked on the street across from the manse. The hand that had held the Colt .45 shook, and he wished that he still smoked. He didn't know if he'd killed Luis or not; he hoped not. Not knowing whether he should stay, he asked himself what the penalty was for a person with one shooting in his past using an unlicensed gun to save lives. He decided not to stay and find out.

As Hal headed onto the highway, he called his editor, gave him the outlines of the story, and said wire service reporters would be there soon. Brushing off demands that he stay and do the reporting, he used the sentence he had used many times before: "If you don't like it, fire me." Sometimes editors had complied.

He turned on the radio, scanning the stations until he found a news-talk station where some caller was blathering about delays at airport checkpoints. He was about to jab the button again when he heard a special bulletin giving brief details about the shooting. Then the soft voice of an eyewitness identified as Sally Northaway was describing the pastor's action and telling a reporter, "I've never before seen bravery like Reverend Carrillo's."

Hal scribbled "Sally" in his reporter's notebook as he tried to erase the memory of her scornful denunciation when he fled the room. He flipped to another station: "A pastor is in critical condition, and four others plus the accused gunman are wounded. It would have been much worse except for the intervention of an unidentified bystander."

Hal honked as a Mercedes cut him off. He let a Ford Focus get in front of him as they approached a tollbooth. He turned on the CD player and listened to Patty Griffin's melancholy voice: There's a war and a plague, smoke and disaster Lions in the coliseum, screams of laughter, Motherless children, a witness and a Bible, Nothing but rain ahead, no chance for survival.

Hal let himself be lost in her misery and hellish visions, preferring them to his own. Only when he reached the outskirts of D.C. and saw out of the corner of his eye an IKEA store with a sign proclaiming "Manager's special. Swedish meat balls $5.68. Comes with salad," did he think about eating. He parked in a huge lot, noting with irritation the SUVs surrounding him.

Hal entered the modern building and immediately felt himself relax. Something about the white walls, cool wood floors, and spare furniture always did that to him, though he didn't know why. Probably had to do with all the stories of human abuse and torture he'd been forced to endure at his granddad's knee: IKEA represented cool detachment.

The cafeteria was nearly empty except for a couple drinking coffee by the windows. Hal pointed at the meatballs and said, "No gravy, please. Vegetables instead of potatoes." He filled his salad bowl with lettuce and added two cherry tomatoes. The cashier rang it up: "$7.10."

Hal waited a second and said, "Taxes aren't that much, even here in Maryland. The sign said $5.68."

The cashier stared at him and replied, "That don't include the toppings on the salad."

He stalked back to the salad bar and dumped the tomatoes into their bin. He returned to the register: "How's that?


The cashier laughed. "Yes, sir."

Hal took a table away from the windows and as far from the register as he could get. He ate slowly, relishing the meatballs and remembering how his grandparents had told him to chew everything twice and hug every penny. Contemplating how they had nearly starved as small children during the Armenian holocaust that was a sidelight of World War I, he wiped his plate clean, then drove to his apartment in a not-yet-gentrified building east of Capitol Hill.

Outside his door, Hal took in the odor of urine that never went away. One of the neighbor kids had left a couple of matchbox cars in front of his door. He gave them a soft kick that sent them rolling down the corridor. He unlocked his door and stepped into the living room, which was largely filled by an IKEA couch, its once-white cushions turned gray. A round pine table covered with cigarette burns, stains, and words etched into the soft surface by Hal's too enthusiastic scribbling sat in front of the room's one window.

One wall was decorated with portraits of Armenian leaders that he'd inherited from his dad. On the opposite wall an entertainment center looked forlorn, with a twelve-inch television in the space allocated for one much larger. A folder containing photos taken of Hal with important politicians was nearly buried beneath a stack of papers. He threw his rumpled blazer onto the couch and flicked on the news. The church shooting received some play, but his role merited only a brief mention at the end: "Police are trying to pin down the identity of the hero who prevented a mass killing today."

He paced the room, thinking it crazy that he had a good story but couldn't write it and even had to hope that no one would connect him with the shooting. Maybe it would be best to get out of town for a while. He could use a vacation.

Hal spent the next hour jotting down notes for a presentation he would make the next morning in response to a speech from an academic crank—not just any crank but his freshman roommate from Columbia sixteen years before. Finally, near midnight, he flopped down on his mattress, which lay on the floor next to wire baskets filled with clothes. He complimented himself on his stoicism and lack of concern for material things. But as he drifted uneasily off to sleep, he was asking himself what he did care about.
Also at midnight Washington time—seven a.m. in Antakya, Turkey, the city known in biblical times as Antioch—a man who knew what he cared about convened a meeting in a terrorist safe house to discuss his next move.

The man, Suleyman Hasan, had a Middle Eastern marquee idol's features—height, thick black mustache, and olive skin. His lieutenant, Trafik Kurban, sat to the right, sucking furiously on a cigarette and grimacing frequently, as if pressing salt on an open wound. Mustafa Cavus, his well-muscled but potbellied special agent, sat to Suleyman's left in a molded plastic chair, wiping at his nose with a gray handkerchief as he waited for the chief to speak.
Sitting in the back were Suleyman's wife, Fatima, and a friend of hers, Kazasina, along with four students: Gurcan Aktas and Zubeyir Uruk from the University of Bosphorus in Istanbul, Sulhaddin Timur from Dokuz Eylul University in Izmir, and Fadil Bayancik from Mustafa Kemal University in Antakya.

The students all wore thick mustaches in imitation of Suleyman as well as school insignia because their leader insisted that his new insurgents have degrees. He had told them in his loud, deep voice, "We do not want to be seen as ignorant and poor people adopting terror out of desperation. We are poets and chess players, not gunmen."

Tonight Suleyman was so bored that he was soliciting suggestions: "It would be wonderful to have a nuclear bomb, but while we are waiting, what should we do?"

Mustafa and Trafik argued for what they knew how to engineer— more bombings of synagogues and government buildings— but Suleyman shot down that suggestion: "I'd like a vacation from small-scale bombings. They're the same old same old, as my classmates at the University of Texas used to say. Interns, what do you suggest?"

Sulhaddin perked up: "How about using poisonous gas on a subway train?"

Suleyman shook his head, arguing that it was too random in its effects: "We want to show the world that terror is not anarchy, that we can be precise in dealing even with those who resist Allah."

Gurkan had been weaned on violent videos: "Let's take a hostage and film his beheading."

Suleyman stood up and began pacing: "That's a good thought. I haven't kidnapped anyone for a couple of years. But how do we rise above run-of-the-mill hostage-taking?"

The room was silent until Suleyman pulled from a bookcase a small volume with yellowed pages. "I have an idea. I have studied the work of my ancestor Abu'l-Hasan al-Mawardi, al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah, peace be unto him. A brilliant scholar, he died in Baghdad in 1058, but first he discoursed on how to treat captured enemies. He gave four possible actions. The first of the four is to put them to death by cutting their necks."

"Yes, neck-cutting is good," Mustafa said in his high, puffy voice. "What are the others?"

"The emir also may enslave captives," Suleyman recited, almost seeming to go into a trance. "He may show favor to them and pardon them. He may ransom them in exchange for goods or prisoners."

"That would be fun," Fadil said. "We'd see the captives squirm, competing for our favor."

Suleyman stroked his mustache and agreed: "This could be a pleasant vacation activity while our allies work on finding nuclear materials. We could show the world that we act thoughtfully, in accordance with our history."

He paused in contemplation, and the room was again silent until Suleyman clapped his hands and said, "Yes, let's do it. We may have to wait a while, but I would like to capture four Americans vacationing in our country and use all four of my ancestor's options."

"An elegant plan," Mustafa exulted.

Suleyman spelled out the details: "We will cut the neck of one captive. A second will be a woman to enslave so we can repay the Americans for the way they treat women. A third we will pardon, so that person will tell the world our story along with one important detail: that we are ready to ransom a fourth."

"Brilliant," Trafik coughed.

"Excellent," Suleyman smiled. "We will do our scouting and find the right group of four. We will all have a wonderful vacation."