Friday, July 31, 2009
With the holidays drawing near, Charlotte is starting to feel the pinch of having three extra mouths to feed. A cooking demonstration, plus a little nudging from her good friends, inspires Charlotte to start a pie-baking business to bring in some extra income in this busy time of year. She decides to make it a family affair, hoping that teaching the kids to bake will bring the family together, but when her business takes off, the whole thing becomes bigger than any of them ever imagined—or wanted. Meanwhile, Sam is pining for a car, Emily is on a campaign to improve the food served at Bedford High, and Christopher befriends a lonely outsider whose one mistake leads to a life-and-death situation. In the midst of so many trials, will Charlotte be able to maintain a spirit of thankfulness? Will she even have anything to be thankful for?
Nom nom nom. That's all I could say after reading this book. If I could eat what I read, this entire series would make me gain so much weight. This book features pies, and lots of them. I would have loved to help out Charlotte and her pie making business, although I will admit I might have been one of those sneaking away bites during the cooking process! Charlotte sounds like a wonderful cook who does enjoy cooking, although probably not for such high numbers with a deadline.
This book is a great combination of food, family, and friendship. Even with the fourth different writer contributing to the series, there is still continuity and flow within the books. Honestly, except for little tweaks here and there, I would not have been able to tell this book had been written by a different author. The characters' personalities remain the same as are the feelings and struggles they face. While the author has put his personal touches here and there, it's still very nice to read about the family and still have that same familiarity. Once again I appreciate that the teens in the family are portrayed with respect towards what real teens go through and are not treated as cardboard characters.
The only thing that really bugged me was the fact that Charlotte could not seem to say no to anyone. I understood that she wanted to help out everyone and didn't want to disappoint anybody. However there comes a time when you have to realize you can't please everyone and you can't do everything. It just took Charlotte a long time to realize this. I also don't understand why the townsfolk didn't seem to think that this could possibly be overwhelming for Charlotte. I would have thought in a small town this would have been easily noticeable. It was just a bit disheartening to see close friends seem to take advantage of Charlotte. Other than this, there's nothing to complain at all about this book and this entire series. Once again this is an excellent addition to the Heather Creek saga and I enjoyed spending time with the family. Looking forward to returning for another adventure!
Homespun Harvest by Robert Elmer is published by Guideposts (2008)
Thursday, July 30, 2009
One cold, autumn afternoon, all of that changes when Sarah's car plunges off a bridge and into a river. She is pronounced clinically dead to those on the "outside," but Sarah's spirit is still very much alive. What she discovers on the other side transforms everything about Sarah's view of life--past, present, and future.
When Sarah is revived, she is a changed woman. And the unsuspecting world around her will never be the same again.This book reminded me very much of the movie "It's a Wonderful Life." The message is that we don't know how much time we have left, and that any minute we could be taken away. Cherish the time you have with your family and don't take them for granted. Throughout the first half of the book, I just wanted to keep screaming at Sarah for the flippant way she was treating her family. I understand that her job was important, but the fact that she couldn't see how it was affecting her relationships really bugged me. I appreciated that the book did not try to make it seem that it was condemning women who work outside of the home and being away from their children. I have read some Christian fiction books that seem to make that point and it always annoyed me at how chauvinist it seemed that the women was supposed to stay at home while the man is the one that does all the work.. In this book however, the story is not blaming Sarah for wanting to work, just how she happened to handle everything.
I think the harshest moment in the book was the fact that Sarah has sacrificed everything for her boss and the company, and has pretty much died trying to do things for them. Yet it doesn't seem to matter at all. Her boss, after finding out about her death, pretty much dismisses it and is already looking to replace her with no sympathy at all. Another heart wrenching aspect of the story is when Sarah realizes why her mother treated and acted the way she did towards Sarah her entire life. While it still doesn't give her the right to act that way towards her daughter, Sarah's mother becomes a more sympathetic character when we find out about her past.
If there's anything I didn't like about the book, it would have to be the ending. I just thought it was too "let's tidy up everything" and seemed rather predictable. I thought it would have had a better effect if the unexpected had happened. Other than this, I enjoyed the book and thought it was a good read with a strong message. It makes you see life in a whole new way.
Any Minute by Joyce Meyer and Deborah Bedford is published by Faithwords (2009)
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Whitaker House (June 8, 2009)
Born and raised in west Michigan, Sharlene MacLaren graduated from Spring Arbor University, married her husband Cecil, and raised two daughters. She worked as a school teacher for over 30 years, then upon retirement began writing fiction, and now has six successful novels under her belt. The acclaimed Through Every Storm was Shar’s first novel to be published by Whitaker House; in 2007, the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) named it a finalist for Book of the Year. The beloved Little Hickman Creek series consisted of Loving Liza Jane; Sarah, My Beloved; and Courting Emma. Faith, Hope, and Love, the Inspirational Outreach Chapter of Romance Writers of America, announced Sarah, My Beloved as a finalist in its 2008 Inspirational Reader’s Choice Contest in the category of long historical fiction. Her other books include Long Journey Home, and Hannah Grace, the first in her Daughters of Jacob Kane series.
Visit the author's website.
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
“Next stop, Albany,” announced the train conductor, making his way up the aisle.
With a quick intake of air, Maggie lifted a finger and leaned forward. “Excuse me, sir.”
The conductor stopped, turned, and tipped his hat to her in a formal manner. “Yes?”
“Is this where I should disembark in order to change over to the New York Central?”
Tilting his head to one side and slanting a reddish eyebrow, he released a mild sigh that conveyed slight annoyance. “If that’s what your ticket says. You’re goin’ to New York, aren’t you?”
She gave a hasty shake of her head and adjusted the plume hat that had barely moved in all these many hours. Surely, by now, the slight wave in her hair, as well as the tight little bun at the back of her head, would be flatter than a well-done pancake. “Someone’s to meet me at Grand Central,” she explained.
He nodded curtly. “Get off here then and go to the red line, then put yourself on the 442.” This he said with a matter-of-fact tone, as if anyone with a scrap of common sense ought to know about the 442.
Sweaty fingers clutched the satchel in her lap as she peered up at him, debating whether or not to admit her ignorance. “Oh, the 442.” She might have asked him at least to point her in the right direction once she disembarked, but he hurried down the aisle and pushed through the back door that led to the next car before giving her a chance. The train whistle blew another ear-splitting shriek, either indicating that the train was approaching an intersection or announcing its scheduled stopover in Albany.
“What’s a pretty little miss like you doin’ going to the big city all by yourself?” asked the man beside her. Not wanting to invite conversation with the galoot, especially for all the smoke he’d blow in her face, she had maintained silence for the duration of the trip. Still, it was her Christian duty to show him respect, so she pulled back her slender shoulders and tried to appear pleasant—and confident. After all, it wouldn’t do to let on how the combination of her taut nerves and his rancid cigar smoke had stirred up bile at the back of her throat. For the twentieth time since her departure on the five a.m. that very morning—when her entire family, including her new brother-in-law and adopted nephew, had bid her a tearful farewell—she asked herself, and the Lord Himself, if she hadn’t misinterpreted His divine call.
“I’ve accepted a position at the Sheltering Arms Refuge,” she replied with a steady voice. “I’m to assist in the home, and also to work as a placing-out agent whenever trips are arranged.”
He quirked a questioning brow and blew a cloud of smoke directly at her. She waved her arm to ward off the worst of it. “It’s a charitable organization for homeless children. Using the U.S. railway system, we stop in various parts of the Middle West and place children in decent families and homes, mostly farms. Surely you’ve heard announcements about trains of orphans coming through?”
He looked slightly put out. “’Course I heard of ’em, miss, just haven’t never run across anyone actually involved in the process of cartin’ them wild little hooligans clear across the country.” He took another long drag and, fortunate for Maggie Rose, blew it out the other side of his mouth so that, this time, it drifted into the face of the man across the aisle. Apparently unruffled, he merely lifted his newspaper higher to shield his face.
“Where you from, anyways?”
“Sandy Shores, Michigan.” Just saying the name of the blessed lakeshore town made her miss her home and family more than she’d imagined possible. Goodness, she’d left only this morning. If she was feeling homesick already, what depths of loneliness would the next several months bring?
“Ah, that near Benton Harbor?”
“Quite a ways north of it, sir.”
He seemed to ponder that thought only briefly. “What made you leave? You got home problems?”
“Certainly not!” she replied with extra fervor, offended he should think so. In fact, she might have chosen to stay behind and continued life as usual, helping her dear father and beloved sisters at Kane’s Whatnot, the family’s general store. But God’s poignant tug on her heart would not allow her to stay. I sincerely doubt Mr.—Mr. Smokestack—would follow such reasoning, though, so why waste my breath explaining? she thought.
“Well, you can see why I asked, cain’t you? It’s not every day some young thing like yourself up and moves to a big place like New York, specially when she don’t even know her way around.”
“I’m sure I’ll learn quickly enough,” she said, trying to put confidence in her tone. “I hear there’s to be a big subway system opening soon, which should help in moving folks around the city at great speeds.”
He nodded and took another long drag from his dwindling cheroot. “Sometime in the next month or two, is what I hear,” he said, blowing out a ring of smoke. “That’ll be somethin’, all right. Before you know it, there’ll be no need for any four-legged creatures.” He chuckled to himself, although the sound held no mirth.
As they approached the station, the train’s brakes squawked and sputtered, and the mighty whistle blew one last time. Outside, steam was rising from the tracks, and Maggie Rose noticed a couple of scrawny dogs picking through a pile of garbage. Folks stood in clusters, perhaps anxious to welcome home loved ones or to usher in long-awaited guests. A tiny pang of worry nestled in her chest at the sight of such unfamiliar surroundings.
When the train came to a screeching halt, the passengers scrambled for their belongings, holding onto their hats as they snatched up satchels and crates bound in twine. Some of them were dressed formally; others looked shoddy, at best, like her seatmate with his week-old beard and soiled attire. Another puff of smoke circled the air above her, and it was all she could do to keep from giving him a piece of her mind—until the Lord reminded her of a verse she’d read the night before in the book of Proverbs: “He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor” (Proverbs 14:31).
Was she not traveling to New York out of a sense of great compassion for the city’s poor, lost children? And if so, what made her think the Lord exempted her from caring for people of all ages? Moreover, why had she spent the better share of the past several hours judging this man about whom she knew so little?
My child, you are tempted to look on his countenance and stature, whereas I look on the heart. The verse from 1 Samuel came to mind—oh, how the truth of it struck her to the core. Without ado, she looked directly at her seatmate, smoke and all. “And where might you be headed, sir?”
“Me?” A look of surprise washed over him. “My sister just passed. I’m goin’ to her funeral in Philly.”
A gasp escaped. “Oh, my, I’m…I’m sorry to hear that.” Silently, she prayed, Lord, give me the proper words, and forgive me all these many hours I might have had the chance to speak comfort to this poor soul.
He dropped what remained of his cigar on the floor and ground it out with his heel, stood to his feet, and retrieved his duffle from under the seat with a loud sniff. “Yeah, well, we weren’t that close. She quit speakin’ to me after I married my wife, her bein’ a Protestant and us Catholics.” He followed that up with a snort. “My brother died last year, and she still refused to acknowledge me at his funeral, even though my wife passed on three years ago.”
Blended odors of sweat, tobacco, and acrid breath nearly knocked her over as she stood up and hefted the strap of her heavy leather satchel over one shoulder, but newfound compassion welled up in her heart, lending her fortitude. The line of people in the aisle was moving at a snail’s pace, and she decided to make use of their extra seconds together.
“But you’re going to her funeral anyway?”
He nodded halfheartedly. “It’s my duty to pay my respects. She won’t know it, but I will.”
“Yes, and you’ll feel better afterward for doing so.” Suddenly, she had more to say to the man, but the line of anxious passengers was picking up speed, and he squeezed into the tight line. She followed in his wake, doing her best to keep her footing as folks shoved and jabbed. My, such an impetuous, peevish lot, she thought, then quickly acknowledged her own impatience.
“Watch your step, ladies and gentlemen,” the conductor said. One by one, folks stepped down from the train. Her fellow rider took the stairs with ease, then turned abruptly and offered her his hand. Another time, she might have pretended not to notice and used the steel hand railing instead. Now, however, she smiled and accepted his grimy, calloused palm.
Drooping eyes looked down at her. “New York, eh? You sure you don’t want to purchase your ticket back home? Ticket booth’s right over there.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder, and for the first time, she sensed that he was toying with her.
“Absolutely not!” Pulling back her shoulders, she gave her head a hard shake, losing a feather from her hat in the process. She watched it float away, carried by the breeze of passengers rushing by. “When the Lord tells a body to do something, you best do it, if you want to know true peace,” she said, lifting her eyes to meet his. “This is something He told me to do—to come to New York and see what I can do about helping the deprived, dispossessed children, just as I’m sure He prompted you to attend your sister’s funeral.”
Surprisingly, he chuckled and bobbed his head a couple of times. “Can’t say for sure it was the Good Lord Hisself or Father Carlson, but one of ’em convinced me to come, and now that I think on it, I’m glad.”
Out the corner of her eye, Maggie Rose sought to read the myriad signs pointing this way and that, hoping to find one to point her in the right direction. Slight queasiness churned in her stomach. Dear Lord, please erase my worries about finding my next train, she prayed silently. The man ran four grimy fingers through his greasy hair. Absently, she wondered if he intended to clean himself up before attending his sister’s burial service.
“You take care of yourself, little lady. It’s a mighty big world out there for one so fine and dainty as you.”
A smile formed on her lips. Fine and dainty. Had he made a similar remark to one of her sisters, Hannah Grace or Abbie Ann, an indignant look would have been his return. She extended her hand. “I’ll do my best, Mr.….”
He clasped her hand and gave it a gentle shake. “Dempsey. Mort Dempsey. And you are?”
“Maggie Rose Kane.”
He gave a thoughtful nod. “Has a nice ring to it.” Then, tipping his head to one side, he scratched his temple and raised his bushy brows. “At first glimpse, you look a bit fragile, but I’d guess you got some spunk under that feathery hat o’ yours.”
Now she laughed outright. “I suppose that’s the Kane blood running through me.
We Kane sisters are known for our stubborn streak. It runs clear to our bones.”
Several seconds ticked by. Mr. Dempsey glanced around. “You got any more baggage, miss?”
“My trunk’s due to arrive at the children’s home the day after tomorrow.” She gave her black satchel a pat. “I’ll make do with what I have till then.”
In the next silent pause that passed between them, a pigeon swept down to steal a crumb, a stray dog loped past, and in the distance, a mother hushed her crying babe. Mr. Dempsey removed his pocket watch. “Well, listen, little lady, my train for Philly don’t leave for another hour yet. What say I take you over to the red line? Number 442, was it?”
“Oh, but you needn’t….”
He’d already looped his arm for her to take. The man’s stench remained strong, yes, but Maggie Rose found that, somehow, in the course of the past few minutes, her nose had miraculously adjusted.
My, but the Lord did work in wondrously mysterious ways! Why, just this very morning, Jacob Kane, her dear father, had prayed that God might send His angels of protection to lead and guide her on her way, and now look: Mort Dempsey was taking her to her next connection.
Imagine that—Mort Dempsey, God’s appointed “angel.”
They parted ways at the Albany platform where she could board Number 442.
When she arrived at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, Maggie Rose saw a confusing mass of railroad lines converged in a place that also contained more people than she thought inhabited the earth.
Mr. Dempsey may have been an unlikely angel, but her next escort fit the bill with utmost perfection. She scanned the crowd and saw a pleasant-looking man, probably not much older than she, standing to one side and holding up a hand-printed sign that read: “Miss M. Kane.” Dressed in an evening suit, a bowler cap, and a bright-red bow tie that was almost blinding, he was searching the crowd with expectant eyes. When their gazes met, a broad smile formed on his face.
“Miss Kane?” he asked, greeting her with the warmth of a clear summer morning.
“Yes!” She had to tell her feet to walk in ladylike strides, even though her travel-worn body wanted to slump into the nearest bench with relief. They shook hands, and he introduced himself as Stanley Barrett, an employee—but more of a lifelong resident—at the children’s home. The Binghams had welcomed him through their doors many years ago when he’d lost both his parents in a fire.
“You must be tired,” he said, freeing her of her satchel without a moment’s hesitation, which suited her just fine. As it was, her shoulder ached from the weight of the bag, which held important papers, several personal possessions, some toiletry items, and the changes of clothing she would need until her trunk arrived.
Dusk had settled on New York City, so, without ado, Mr. Barrett led her like a pro through the throngs and straight to their carriage, waiting with numerous sets of nearly identical horses and black carriages lined up in long rows outside the terminal. Such efficiency impressed Maggie Rose, and she told him so. “I grew up here, so getting around is easy for me,” he explained, helping her onto the carriage. “You’ll catch on, especially once the subway station opens. But don’t worry; we usually travel in pairs or larger groups, anyway.”
Driving the carriage, he kept up his constant prattle as he dodged fast-moving streetcars, stray dogs, scurrying pedestrians, and the occasional motorcar. Even at this late hour, the city buzzed with activity such as Maggie had never seen. Why, in Sandy Shores, everything closes up tighter than a drum at five-thirty, she thought—that is, everything but the several saloons and restaurants. Here, though, people of all genders, races, sizes, and ages roamed the streets. Some were selling wares, others begging for quarters; some were huddled on street corners, others sitting on crates or boxes, perhaps looking for a place to lay their heads for the night.
“I can imagine what you’re thinking,” Stanley said as he maneuvered the carriage onto Park Avenue, heading north, and clicked his horse into a slow trot. “You’ve probably never seen anything like this place. Mrs. Bingham says you hail from some little town in Michigan. What part?”
“The west side, smack on the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan, about halfway up the state. The town is small, yes, but thriving. We have one main street running east and west—Water Street—with lots of little stores and businesses on either side. Don’t be running your horse too fast going west, though, or you’ll fall into the harbor,” she joked. “’Course, the railroad docks and barges would stop you first, I suppose.”
He chuckled, and she decided she liked the smooth tenor of his quiet laughter. “Of all the orphanages in the city, how’d you decide on the Sheltering Arms Refuge?” he asked. “We’re a lot smaller than the Foundling Hospital and the Children’s Aid Society.”
“Someone seeking financial support for your fine organization spoke at our church more than a year ago. I believe his name was Mr. Wiley.”
“That’d be Uncle Herbie—Mrs. Bingham’s brother.”
“He showed us a few pictures and talked a great deal about the destitute children wandering the city—‘street Arabs,’ he called them. Ever since then, the Lord has kept up His constant nudging, so after much correspondence back and forth, not to mention the process of convincing my father to let me loose, I’ve finally arrived!”
Stanley glanced casually in both directions before urging his horse through the intersection at East 50th and Park Streets, crossing streetcar tracks and skirting a good-sized pothole. Their amiable conversation continued, but she had to concentrate to drown out all the commotion going on around her, not to mention the smells—a blend of fried food, gasoline, manure, and rancid garbage. And the sounds! Why, the very streets seemed to reverberate with the clamor of loud conversations, tinny barroom music, thudding horses’ hooves, barking dogs, and the occasional baby’s cry from some upstairs flat.
Stanley Barrett veered the carriage onto East 65th Street, crossed Lexington, 3rd, and 2nd, and made a right on Dover, driving another couple of blocks before directing the horse up a long drive to a stately three-story brick structure. Maggie’s very senses seemed to stand on end. “Is this it?” she asked, feasting her eyes on the edifice, which appeared bigger than what she’d imagined from looking at the few photos she’d received.
Stanley guided his horse to a stop, breathed a sigh, and tossed the reins over the brake handle, turning to her with a smile. She decided he had a pleasant one, tainted only partially by a set of crooked teeth. “This is it. What do you think?”
She gazed at her surroundings—a brick house situated on a sprawling plot of land and surrounded by numerous trees, a stable, and several outbuildings. Who would believe that just blocks from this serene setting lay a whole different world? “I think—it’s beautiful.” Unexpected emotion clogged her throat. She looked up to see a head poke through the curtains of one of the upstairs windows. One of the orphans?
“Beautiful? Well, it’s old, I’ll give you that. Ginny, er, Mrs. Bingham inherited the historic place from her wealthy grandfather back in the 1880s. She and the Mr. have been operating it as an orphanage for the past seventeen or so years. In fact, I was one of their first residents. But I’m sure you’ll get the whole story, if you haven’t already, when you’re more rested.” He winked, gave another low chuckle, and jumped from the rig with ease. “Come on, I’ll help you down.”
With his assistance, her feet soon landed on solid ground. She lifted her long skirts and stepped away from the carriage, eyes fastened on the three-story structure and the aging brick fence that surrounded the property’s borders and was covered by lush blankets of ivy.
Stanley allowed her a moment’s peace as she stood before her new “home” and tried to picture its interior. Suddenly, the front door swung open. In its glow stood a portly woman with an apron tied about her waist; grayish hair hung haphazardly about her oval face, and a smile stretched from cheek to cheek as she lifted her hand to wave.
“Well, glory be, come and look who’s here, Henry. It’s the little miss from Michigan!”
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Gillian Kincade is a rising New York ballet star. When Jacob Ferrar—artistic director of a small, regional company—casts Gilly in his compelling ballet, it seems like a match made in heaven. But unexpected challenges and career conflicts soon have the couple questioning whether they’re truly following God’s direction – or their own.
This was one of the most wonderful stories I have read in a while. It's been a while since I've been to see a ballet live and I really miss it. There's nothing like watching the beauty, grace and elegance of the dancers on stage and seeing the wonderful performance right before your eyes. This book made me feel like I was watching a carefully choreographed dance with words. Gilly and Jonathan had wonderful chemistry together and I could picture both of them dancing together on both stage and in real life. They were characters that grew throughout the book and their transformations were intriguing to read. I enjoyed learning about the ballet and how hard it is to be a dancer and the struggles one has to go through to make it to the top.
While the book has a strong faith based message, it is not preachy. It handles topics such as abortion and homosexuality with grace and tactfulness and does not condemn those that choose those lifestyles. I really enjoyed seeing how the situation with Alexandra was handled. Too often in Christian fiction, there's always a cop-out ending with people getting away with things wrongfully. However, this time I was delightfully pleased with how everything played out, there was enough to satisfy my snarky side with forgiveness and mercy being displayed as well. It's always nice to see authors putting in recurring characters in their books for their long time fans. I enjoyed seeing Laurel and Cole make appearances in this book. It's like seeing long lost friends again. This is another wonderful book from Elizabeth White and I'm looking forward to reading her next book.
Tour de Force by Elizabeth White is published by Tyndale (2009)
Other blogs on tour with this book:
A Novel Menagerie
A Peek at My Bookshelf
Blog Tour Spot
Book Junkie Confessions
Books, Movies and Chinese Food
Cindy’s Stamping and Reviews
Drive Home Productions
Fresh Brewed Writer
Gatorskunz and Mudcats
Giving Up on Perfect
Life is one daily adventure
Net’s Book Notes
Real Women Scrap
Refresh My Soul
Scraps and Snippets
Steeler Girl’s Blog
The Law, Books and Life
The Sarah Jane Diaries
The Sassy Pear
The Writing Road
Wild Words . . . Photos and Fine Art
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Robin Parrish had two great ambitions in his life: to have a family, and to be a published novelist. In March of 2005, he proposed to his future wife the same week he signed his first book contract with Bethany House Publishers. They contracted him for the rights to not only that first book, Relentless -- but two sequels including Fearless and Merciless. A trilogy that unfolded in the consecutive summers of 2006, 2007, and 2008.
Robin Parrish is a journalist who's written about pop culture for more than a decade. Currently he serves as Senior Editor at XZOOSIA.com, a community portal that fuses social networking with magazine-style features about entertainment and culture. He and his wife, Karen and son live in North Carolina.
ABOUT THE BOOK
"Every Person on This Planet Has Disappeared."
Commander Christopher Burke and his crew are humanity's greatest explorers. They've finished their mission on the red dirt of Mars and now they just want to get back to Earth. To see friends, family, and loved ones. To be home. But even with communication to ground control cut and a perilous landing, nothing could prepare the crew for what they discover when they step foot back on planet Earth.
It's not a dream. It's not a trick. Now Burke and his team have one mission:find out who or what is behind the disappearance of all mankind.
If you would like to read the first chapter of Offworld, go HERE
Watch the book trailer:
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
For years Dennis Shore has thrilled readers with his spooky bestselling novels. Now a widower, Dennis is finally alone in his house, his daughter attending college out of state. When he's stricken by a paralyzing case of writer's block and a looming deadline, Dennis becomes desperate. Against better judgment, he claims someone else's writing as his own, accepting undeserved accolades for the stolen work. He thinks he's gotten away with it . . . until he's greeted by a young man named Cillian Reed--the true author of the stolen manuscript.
What begins as a minor case of harassment quickly spirals out of control. As Cillian's threats escalate, Dennis finds himself on the brink of losing his career, his sanity, and even his life. The horror he's spent years writing about has arrived on his doorstep, and Dennis has nowhere to run.
Ghostwriters are interesting characters as it's hard to imagine the thought of working hard on something and then letting another person take all the credit for it. This story manages to grab the reader from the get go, with material that pushes the edge and makes you cringe and squirm but keeps drawing you in. One thing I really did enjoy about this book was the tidbits it told about what life is like for an author. Just all the daily going ons of writing, touring, marketing, fan mail were very interesting to read and it made me wonder how many authors are struggling with these issues every day. The story builds up slowly but once it does it's like a non stop roller coaster.
I've been reading other reviews and have seen that other readers have found this book too gory, very dark, and quite scary. To be honest, I didn't feel that way at all. I have read other Christian fiction books that are way more gorier than this one. In fact, compared to books I've read that have people being gored up on doors or having their skin peeled off, this book paled in that factor. I will admit the storyline is very creepy. Cillian's character is one that gets under your skin and makes you very uncomfortable due to his obsession with having Dennis tell the truth. However on the other hand Dennis is also a character that you could despise because of his actions. To me that is more the horror of the story, the fact that you get so desperate that you do anything to save someone you love, even if it means going against everything you believe in.
A funny note: when I first picked up the book and flipped through it, the first thing I saw was Dennis Shore's bibliography. I was immediately confused and thought the publisher had inserted the wrong page from another book inside this one. Luckily though, I turned that page and all was made right.
I really enjoyed reading this book as it is a page turner and kept me on the edge of my seat. If you're in the mood for a thriller and you're looking for a new author to try, you must read this book. I'm looking forward to reading Travis' back list and whatever new he's cooking up.
Ghostwriter by Travis Thrasher is published by Faithwords (2009)
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Barbour Publishing, Inc (July 1, 2009)
An award-winning author, Mary Connealy lives on a Nebraska farm with her husband and is the mother of four grown daughters. She writes plays and shorts stories, and is the author of two other novels, Petticoat Ranch and Calico Canyon. Also an avid blogger, Mary is a GED instructor by day and an author by night.
Visit the author's website.
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Cassie wanted to scream, “Put down that shovel!”
As if yelling at the red-headed gravedigger would bring Griff back to life. A gust of wind blew Cassie Griffin’s dark hair across her face, blinding her.
For one sightless moment it was as if the wind showed her perfectly what the future held for her.
Hovering in a wooded area, concealed behind a clump of quaking aspens that had gone yellow in the fall weather, she watched the hole grow as the man dug his way down into the rocky Montana earth.
Muriel, the kind storekeeper who had taken Cassie in, stood beside the ever-deepening grave. If Cassie started yelling, Muriel would start her motherly clucking again and force Cassie to return to town and go back to bed. She’d been so kind since Cassie had ridden in shouting for help.
In a detached sort of way, Cassie knew Muriel had been caring for her, coddling Cassie to get her through the day. But Cassie had gone numb since Muriel’s husband, Seth, had come back in with the news that Griff was dead. Cassie listened and answered and obeyed, but she hadn’t been able to feel anything. Until now. Now she could feel rage aimed straight at that man preparing the hole for her beloved Griff.
“I’m sorry, little one.” Cassie ran her hand over her rounded stomach. “You’ll never know your daddy now.” Her belly moved as if the baby heard Cassie and understood.
The fact that her husband was dead was Cassie’s fault. She should have gone for the doctor sooner. Griff ordered her not to, but first Griff had been worried about the cost. He’d shocked Cassie by telling her they couldn’t afford to send for the doctor. Griff had scolded Cassie if she ever asked questions about money. So she’d learned it wasn’t a wife’s place. But she’d known her parents were wealthy. Cassie had brought all their wealth into the marriage. How could they not afford a few bits for a doctor? Even as he lay sick, she’d known better than to question him about it.
Later, Griff had been out of his head with fever. She stayed with him as he’d ordered, but she should have doctored Griff better. She should have saved him somehow. Instead she’d stood by and watched her husband die inch by inch while she did nothing.
Cassie stepped closer. Another few steps and she’d be in the open. She could stop them. She could make them stop digging. Refuse to allow such a travesty when it couldn’t be true that Griff was dead.
Don’t put him in the ground! Inside her head she was screaming, denying, terrified. She had to stop this.
Before she could move she heard Muriel.
“In the West, nothing’ll get you killed faster’n stupid.” Whipcord lean, with a weathered face from long years in the harsh Montana weather, Muriel plunked her fists on her nonexistent hips.
Seth, clean-shaven once a week and overdue, stood alongside his wife, watching the proceedings, his arms crossed over his paunchy stomach. “How ’bout lazy? In the West, lazy’ll do you in faster’n stupid every time.”
“Well, I reckon Lester Griffin was both, right enough.” Muriel nodded her head.
Cassie understood the words, “lazy” and “stupid.” They were talking about Griff? She was too shocked to take in their meaning.
“Now, Muriel.” Red, the gravedigger, shoveled as he talked. “Don’t speak ill of the dead.”
On a day when Cassie didn’t feel like she knew anything, she remembered the gravedigger’s name because of his bright red hair.
One of the last coherent orders Griff had given her was, “Pay Red two bits to dig my grave, and not a penny more.”
Griff had known he was dying. Mostly delirious with fever, his mind would clear occasionally and he’d give orders: about the funeral, what he was to be buried in, what Cassie was to wear, strict orders not to be her usual foolish self and overpay for the grave digging. And not to shame him with her public behavior.
“Well honestly, it’s a wonder he wasn’t dead long before this.” Muriel crossed her arms and dared either man to disagree.
“It’s not Christian to see the bad in others.” Red dug relentlessly, the gritty slice of the shovel making a hole to swallow up Cassie’s husband. “And especially not at a time like this.”
It was just after noon on Sunday, and the funeral would be held as soon as the grave was dug.
Cassie looked down at her dress, her dark blue silk. It was a mess. She’d worn it all week, not giving herself a second to change while she cared for Griff. Then she’d left it on as she rode for town. She’d even slept in it last night. . .or rather she’d lain in bed with it on. She hadn’t slept, more than snatches, in a week. Ever since Griff’s fever started.
She needed to change to her black silk for the funeral.
Cassie wanted to hate Muriel for her words, but Muriel had mothered her, filling such a desperate void in Cassie that she couldn’t bear to blame Muriel for this rage whipping inside of Cassie’s head, pushing her to scream.
“Well, he was a poor excuse for a man and no amount of Christian charity’ll change that.” Muriel clucked and shook her head. “He lived on the labor of others ’n spent money he didn’t have.”
“It’s that snooty, fancy-dressed wife of his who drove him to an early grave,” Seth humphed. Cassie saw Seth’s shoulders quiver as he chuckled. “Of course, many’s the man who’d gladly die trying to keep that pretty little China Doll happy.”
Cassie heard Griff’s nickname for her. She ran her hands down her blue silk that lay modestly loose over her round belly. Fancy-dressed was right. Cassie admitted that. But she hadn’t needed all new dresses just because of the baby. Griff had insisted it was proper that the dresses be ordered. But however she’d come to dress so beautifully in silks and satins, there was no denying she dressed more expensively than anyone she’d met in Montana Territory. Not that she’d met many people.
But snooty? How could Seth say that? They were slandering her and, far worse, insulting Griff. She needed to defend her husband, but Griff hated emotional displays. How could she fight them without showing all the rage that boiled inside her? As the hole grew, something started to grow in Cassie that overcame her grief and fear.
That shovel rose and fell. Dirt flew in a tidy pile and she hated Red for keeping to the task. She wanted to run at Red, screaming and clawing, and force Red to give Griff back to her. But she feared unleashing the anger roiling inside her. Griff had taught her to control all those childish impulses. Right now though, her control slipped.
[insert line break]
“A time or two I’ve seen someone who looks to be snooty who was really just shy. . .or scared,” Muriel said.
Red kept digging, determined not to join in with this gossip. But not joining in wasn’t enough. He needed to make them stop. Instead, he kept digging as he thought about poor Cassie. She’d already been tucked into Muriel’s back room when he’d come to town yesterday, but he’d seen Seth bring Lester Griffin’s body in. He couldn’t imagine what that little woman had been through.
“When’s the last time she came into our store?” Seth asked. “Most times she didn’t even come to town. She was too good to soil her feet in Divide. And you can’t argue about fancy-dressed. Griff ordered all her dresses ready-made, sent out from the East.”
Everything about Cassie Griffin made Red think of the more civilized East. She never had a hair out of place or a speck of dirt under her fingernails. Red had seen their home, too. The fanciest building in Montana, some said. Board siding instead of logs. Three floors and so many frills and flourishes the building alone had made Lester Griffin a laughingstock. The Griffins came into the area with a fortune, but they’d gone through it fast.
“That’s right,” Muriel snipped. “Griff ordered them. A spoiled woman would pick out her own dresses and shoes and finery, not leave it to her man.”
Seth shook his head. “I declare, Muriel, you could find the good in a rattlesnake.”
Red’s shovel slammed deep in the rocky soil. “Cassie isn’t a rattlesnake.” He stood up straight and glared at Seth.
His reaction surprised him. Red didn’t let much upset him. But calling Cassie a snake made Red mad to the bone. He glanced over and saw Muriel focusing on him as she brushed back wisps of gray hair that the wind had scattered from her usual tidy bun. She stared at him, taking a good long look.
Seth, a tough old mule-skinner with a marshmallow heart, didn’t seem to notice. “This funeral’ll draw trouble. You just see if it don’t. Every man in the territory’ll come a’running to marry with such a pretty widow woman. Any woman would bring men down on her as hard and fast as a Montana blizzard, but one as pretty as Cassie Griffin?” Seth blew a tuneless whistle through his teeth. “There’ll be a stampede for sure, and none of ’em are gonna wait no decent length of time to ask for her hand.”
Red looked away from Muriel because he didn’t like what was in her eyes. He was through the tough layer of sod and the hole was getting deep fast. He tried to sound casual even though he felt a sharp pang of regret—and not just a little bit of jealousy—when he said, “Doubt she’ll still be single by the time the sun sets.”
Muriel had a strange lilt to her voice when she said, “A woman is rare out here, but a young, beautiful woman like Cassie is a prize indeed.”
Red looked up at her, trying to figure out why saying that made her so all-fired cheerful.
Seth slung his beefy arm around Muriel with rough affection. “I’ve seen the loneliness that drives these men to want a wife. It’s a rugged life, Muriel. Having you with me makes all the difference.”
Red understood the loneliness. He lived with it every day.
“She’s a fragile little thing. Tiny even with Griff’s child in her belly. She needs a man to take care of her.” Muriel’s concern sounded just the littlest bit false. Not that Muriel wasn’t genuinely concerned. Just that there was a sly tone to it, aimed straight at Red.
Red thought of Cassie’s flawless white skin and shining black hair. She had huge, remote brown eyes, with lashes long enough to wave in the breeze, and the sweetest pink lips that never curved in a smile nor opened to wish a man good day.
Red thought on what he’d say to draw a smile and a kind word from her. Such thoughts could keep a man lying awake at night. Red knew that for a fact. Oh yes, Cassie was a living, breathing test from the devil himself.
“China Doll’s the perfect name for her,” Muriel added.
Red had heard that Griff called his wife China Doll. Griff never said that in front of anyone. He always called her Mrs. Griffin, real proper and formal-like. But he’d been overheard speaking to her in private, and he’d called her China Doll. The whole town had taken to calling her that.
Red had seen such a doll in a store window when he was a youngster in Indiana. That doll, even to a roughhousing little boy, was so beautiful it always earned a long, careful look. But the white glass face was cold. and her expression serious, rather than giving the poor toy a painted on smile. It was frighteningly fragile. Rather than being fun, Red thought a China doll would be a sad thing to own and, in the end, a burden to keep unbroken and clean. All of those things described Cassandra Griffin right down to the ground. Knowing all of that didn’t stop him from wanting her.
Cassie got to him. She had ever since the first time he’d seen her nearly two years ago. And now she was available. Someone would have to marry her to keep her alive. Women didn’t live without men in the unsettled West. Life was too hard. The only unattached women around worked above the Golden Butte Saloon and, although they survived, Red didn’t consider their sad existence living.
“You’re established on the ranch these days, Red. Your bank account’s healthy.” Muriel crouched down so she was eye level with Red, who was digging himself down fast. “Maybe it’s time you took a wife.”
Red froze and looked up at his friend. Muriel was a motherly woman, though she had no children. And like a mother, she seemed comfortable meddling in his life.
Red realized he was staring and went back to the grave, tempted to toss a shovel full of dirt on Muriel’s wily face. He wouldn’t throw it hard. He just wanted to distract her.
When he was sure his voice would work, he said, “Cassie isn’t for me, Muriel. And it isn’t because of what it would cost to keep her. If she was my wife, she’d live within my means and that would be that.”
Red had already imagined—in his unruly mind—how stern he’d be when she asked for finery. “You’ll have to sew it yourself or go without.” He even pictured himself shaking a scolding finger right under her turned-up nose. She’d mind him.
He’d imagined it many times, many, many times. And long before Griff died, which was so improper Red felt shame. He’d tried to control his willful thoughts. But a man couldn’t stop himself from thinking a thought until he’d started, now could he? So he’d started a thousand times and then he stopped himself. . .mostly. He’d be kind and patient but he wouldn’t bend. He’d say, “Cass honey, you—”
Red jerked his thoughts away from the old, sinful daydream about another man’s wife. Calmly, he answered Muriel, “She isn’t for me because I would never marry a non-believer.”
With a wry smile, Seth caught on and threw in on Muriel’s side—the traitor. “A woman is a mighty scarce critter out here, Red. It don’t make sense to put too many conditions on the ones there are.”
“I know.” Red talked to himself as much as to them. He hung on to right and wrong. He clung to God’s will. “But one point I’ll never compromise on is marrying a woman who doesn’t share my faith.”
“Now, Red,” Muriel chided, “you shouldn’t judge that little girl like that. How do you know she’s not a believer?”
“I’m not judging her, Muriel.” Which Red realized was absolutely not true. “Okay, I don’t know what faith she holds. But I do know that the Griffins have never darkened the doorstep of my church.”
Neither Seth nor Muriel could argue with that, although Muriel had a mulish look that told him she wanted to.
“We’d best get back.” Seth laid a beefy hand on Muriel’s strong shoulder. “I think Mrs. Griffin is going to need some help getting ready for the funeral.”
“She’s in shock, I reckon,” Muriel said. “She hasn’t spoken more’n a dozen words since she rode in yesterday.”
“She was clear enough on what dress I needed to fetch.” Seth shook his head in disgust. “And she knew the reticule she wanted and the shoes and hairpins. I felt like a lady’s maid.”
“I’ve never seen a woman so shaken.” Muriel’s eyes softened. “The bridle was on wrong. She was riding bareback. It’s a wonder she was able to stick on that horse.”
Red didn’t want to hear anymore about how desperately in need of help Cassie was.
Muriel had been teasing him up until now, but suddenly she was dead serious. “You know what the men around here are like, Red. You know the kind of life she’s got ahead of her. There are just some things a decent man can’t let happen to a woman. Libby’s boys are off hauling freight or I’d talk to them. They’d make good husbands.”
Muriel was right, they would be good. Something burned hot and angry inside of Red when he thought of those decent, Christian men claiming Cassie.
It was even worse when Red thought of her marrying one of the rough and ready men who lived in the rugged mountains and valleys around the little town of Divide, which rested up against the great peaks of the Montana Rockies. It was almost more than he could stand to imagine her with one of them.
But, he also knew a sin when he saw it tempting him, and he refused to let Muriel change his mind. She badgered him a while longer but finally gave up.
He was glad when Seth and Muriel left him alone to finish his digging. Until he looked up and saw Cassie as if he’d conjured her with his daydreams.
But this was no sweet, fragile China Doll. She charged straight toward him, her hands fisted, her eyes on fire.
“Uh. . .hi, Miz Griffin.” He vaulted out of the shoulder-deep hole and faced her. The look on her face was enough to make him want to turn tail and run.
She swept toward him, a low sound coming from her throat that a wildcat might make just before it pounced.
She’d heard it. All of it.
God forgive me for being part of that gossip, hurting her when she’s already so badly hurt.
Whatever she wanted to say, whatever pain she wanted to inflict, he vowed to God that he’d stand here and take it as his due. Her eyes were so alive with fury and focused right on him. How many times had his unruly mind conjured up the image of Cassie focusing on him? But this wasn’t the look he’d imagined in his daydreams. In fact, a tremor of fear ran up his backbone.
His grip tightened on his shovel, not to use as a weapon to defend himself but to keep her from grabbing it and taking a swing.
“Stop it.” Her fists were clenched as if to beat on him. “Stop saying those awful things.” Red saw more life in her eyes than he ever had before. She was always quiet and reserved and distant. “Give him back. I want him back!” She moved so fast toward him that, just as she reached his side, she tripped over her skirt and fell. A terrified shriek cut off her irate words.
“Cassie!” Red dropped the shovel and caught her just as she’d have tumbled into the open grave.
She swung and landed a fist right on his chin.
His head snapped back. She had pretty good power behind her fists for a little thing. Figuring he deserved it, he held on, stepping well away from the hole in the ground. He pulled her against him as she pummeled and emitted short, sharp, frenzied screams of rage. Punching his shoulders, chest, face. He took his beating like a man. He’d earned this by causing her more pain when she’d already been dealt more than she could bear. Of course he’d tried to stop it. But he’d failed now, hadn’t he?
“I’m sorry.” He spoke low, hoping to penetrate her anger. He could barely hear himself over her shouting. “I’m so sorry about Griff, Cassie. And I’m sorry you heard us speaking ill. We were wrong. So wrong. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” His voice kept crooning as he held her, letting her wale away on him until her squeaks and her harmless blows slowed and then ceased, most likely from exhaustion, not because she’d quit hating him.
Her hands dropped suddenly. Her head fell against his chest. Her knees buckled and Red swung her up into his arms.
He looked down at her, wondering if she’d fainted dead away.
In his arms, he held perfection.
She fit against him as if his body and his heart had been created just for her. A soul-deep ache nearly buckled his own knees as he looked at her now-closed eyes. Those lashes so long they’d tangle in a breeze rested on her ashen face, tinged with one bright spot of fury raised red on her cheeks.
“I’m so sorry I hurt you. Please forgive me.” His words were both a prayer to God and a request to poor, sweet Cassie. He held her close, murmuring, apologizing.
At last her eyes fluttered open. The anger was there but not the violence. “Let me go!”
He slowly lowered her feet to the ground, keeping an arm around her waist until he was sure her legs would hold her. She stepped out of his arms as quickly as possible and gave him a look of such hatred it was more painful than the blows she’d landed. Far more painful.
“I’m so sorry for your loss, Cassie honey.” Red wanted to kick himself. He shouldn’t have called her such. It was improper.
She didn’t seem to notice he was even alive. Instead, her gaze slid to that grave, that open rectangle waiting to receive Cassie’s husband. . .or what was left of him. And the hatred faded to misery, agony, and worst of all, fear.
A suppressed cry of pain told Red, as if Cassie had spoken aloud, that she wished she could join her husband in that awful hole.
Her head hanging low, her shoulders slumped, both arms wrapped around her rounded belly, she turned and walked back the way she came. Each step seemed to take all her effort as if her feet weighed a hundred pounds each.
Wondering if he should accompany her back to Muriel’s, instead he did nothing but watch. There was nothing really he could do. That worthless husband of hers was dead and he’d left his wife with one nasty mess to clean up. And Red couldn’t be the one to step in and fix it. Not if he wanted to live the life God had planned for him.
She walked into the swaying stand of aspens. They were thin enough that if he moved a bit to the side, he could keep his eye on her. Stepping farther and farther sideways to look around the trees—because he was physically unable to take his eyes off her—he saw her get safely to the store.
Just then his foot slipped off the edge of the grave. He caught himself before he fell headlong into the six feet of missing earth.
Red heard the door of Bates General Store close with a sharp bang, and Cassie went inside and left him alone in the sun and wind with a deep hole to dig and too much time to think. He grabbed his shovel and jumped down, getting back at it.
He knew he was doing the right thing by refusing to marry Cassie Griffin.
A sudden gust caught a shovelful of dirt and blew it in Red’s face. Along with the dirt that now coated him, he caught a strong whiff of the stable he’d cleaned last night. Cassie would think Red and the Western men he wanted to protect her from were one and the same. And she’d be right, up to a point. The dirt and the smell, the humble clothes, and the sod house—this was who he was, and he didn’t apologize for that to any man. . .or any woman.
Red knew there was only one way for him to serve God in this matter. He had to keep clear of Cassie Griffin.
The China Doll wasn’t for him.
Monday, July 27, 2009
The lawyers for the plaintiff and defendant Kelly Starling and Jason Noble are young, charismatic, and highly successful. They're also easy blackmail targets, each harboring a personal secret so devastating it could destroy their careers.
Millions of dollars and more than a few lives are at stake. But as Kelly and Jason battle each other, they discover that the real fight is with unseen forces intent on controlling them both.
This book was probably one of the most interesting law suspense novels I've ever read. It's a book that really makes you think about why you believe in certain things and how you came to have that viewpoint. In our country, the debate about gun control is highly controversial and is always a major topic during political elections. When one hears about a shooting, it's always easy to want to place the blame on someone. The immediate need is to bring someone and have justice done to make they pay for what has happened. In this case the widower of the murdered newscaster wants to bring down the gun manufacturer. The two young lawyers in this book have to face the hard questions being thrown at them about who is really at fault and who should take the ultimate blame. I really found the mock jury trials and selections very interesting. It makes one think about how controlled our judicial system really is and what goes on behind closed doors. It's also very scary to think about how lawyers can be manipulated by outside forces which can throw off an entire case. Since I'm from the Hampton Roads area, it was nice seeing a book set in Virginia Beach. It's always fun to see a book set in a location that I'm very familiar with and you can point out the places that really do exist. For example, The Purple Cow really does exist!
I felt that the ending seemed a bit rushed. I just felt that there was a lot of buildup in the entire book and the finale seemed a tad flat. I know however that readers chose this ending after watching video clips, so I'm not sure what to make out of that. However, my only true qualm was that Lisa was not the only victim of the fatal shooting, yet I didn't seem to recall any other family members of the other victims as part of this trial. This just struck me as very odd that no one else seemed to care except for her husband.
This was my first book by Randy Singer that I've read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This book is on par with other law thrillers such as those by John Grisham. In fact, this book reminded me of "Runaway Jury" with it's premise, just minus the strong language. I'm looking forward to going back and reading the rest of Singer's books and will be on the lookout for his new ones.
The Justice Game by Randy Singer is published by Tyndale (2009)
I'm giving away a brand new copy of today's book! Leave a comment with your email address so I can contact you if you win. I'll pick a name and announce the winner on Monday, August 3. US addresses only . Good luck!
Friday, July 24, 2009
This book continues the story of the Gallatin sisters and this book focus on Beth, the sister with the romantic dreams and wishes. She's an avid reader of dime store novels and seeks to find that storybook romance in her real life. Unfortunately for her, it's not as easy as for her to find true love as it is for the heroines in her books. Beth is the type of character I'm not really too fond of in books. I really don't like heroines that can't make up their minds about what they want. It's ok to be have goals and hope to attain them one day, but I despise wishy-washy folks. I did though enjoy reading about Beth's adventures with her sisters. It's nice to read about families that are still close even when they are adults. The historical bits are fun to read, and I still like reading about how they are running the house as a stop for travelers.
The romance in this book is very much there although slightly rushed. I thought the wedding in this book came rather abruptly, it seemed like it came out of nowhere. Obviously the signs were all there, but I just thought there would be more build up and growth of a relationship. The biggest thing that really bugged me about the book was the fact that the sisters did the whole laudanum trick again, this time on an entire saloon. I honestly cannot believe that they did not learn from their previous time doing this with their now brother-in-law, that this is very dangerous. It's played off for laughs but I just can't believe that they thought this was a smart idea. To be honest the whole book I felt sorta lackluster while reading it. I enjoyed it, as I always do Tracie's books. It was just that with this book, I felt that everything in the story has been written before in other books. There wasn't really anything that stood out to me to make this one special. Perhaps my problem is that since I've read all of Tracie's books, I can easily spot when a storyline gets reused. For a new fan, this won't be a problem and it is a very enjoyable book. Hopefully the third book in the series will be a little better for me.
A Love to Last Forever by Tracie Peterson is published by Bethany House (2009)
Thursday, July 23, 2009
When a mysterious relic is stolen from a Madrid museum, people are dying to discover its secrets. Literally.U.S. Treasury agent Alexandra LaDuca returns from Conspiracy in Kiev to track down the stolen artwork, a small carving called The Piet' of Malta. It seems to be a simple assignment, but nothing about this job is simple, as the mysteries and legends surrounding the relic become increasingly complex with claims of supernatural power.
As aggressive, relentless, and stubborn as ever, Alex crisscrosses Europe through a web of intrigue, danger, and betrayal, joined by a polished, mysterious new partner. With echoes of classic detective and suspense fiction from The Maltese Falcon to The Da Vinci Code, Midnight in Madrid takes the reader on a nonstop spellbinding chase through a modern world of terrorists, art thieves, and cold-blooded killersThis was another excellent read from Noel Hynd. I had thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series due to its fast paced action sequences and very impressive and engaging storyline. The second book in the series lived up to my expectations and brought me on another thrill ride. This time, Alex is taken from her vacation to go back into the force and finds herself on another mission that could possible harm her life. Once again, the historical research and details in this book are top notch. I learned a lot about art history from this book. Also of interest was the history of the Spanish Civil War. That is a topic that is usually never brought up in history classes and I've only read about it one other fiction series, so to see it here was a delightful surprise. If only for the historical facts alone, this book is a gem. I really like how the author uses current events to develop the story without having to resort to using pop culture references that go out of date almost immediately. The locales in this book are exotic and I really enjoyed reading about the history of Spain. It made me feel like I was actually there. A lot of the conversation deals with political issues, which can possibly get boring at times, but if you want to learn while you read, this is a fun and exciting way to get some knowledge.
There is, again, quite a bit of violence in this book. There's nothing gory, but the action sequences are very intense and there are many of them. The scene near the end is quite nail biting and a bit terrifying. There is some language but it's been bleeped out. The only thing in the book I did not seem to get was Alex and Peter's relationship. One minute Peter's the good guy, the next he's the bad guy and by the end of the book I still couldn't tell which side he was on. It made me wonder if Alex was able to tell as well. As I finished this book, all I could think was that Noel Hynd has become one of my new favorite suspense authors. I've honestly never really enjoyed reading a book more. This series is on par with mainstream books and would hold up to all the major suspense kings of literature. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next book in the series. HIGHLY recommended.
Midnight in Madrid by Noel Hynd is published by Zondervan (2009)
Other blogs on tour with this book:
A Peek at My Bookshelf
Be Your Best Mom
Blog Tour Spot
Book Nook Club
Books, Movies and Chinese Food
i don’t believe in grammar
Karen R. Evans
Life is one daily adventure
Real Women Scrap
Scraps and Snippets
The Friendly Book Nook
The Writing Road
Thoughts by Mrs. Rachel
wandering, wonderings of a whacked-out woman
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Whitaker House (June 4, 2009)
Tammy Barley’s roots run deep and wide across the United States. With Cherokee heritage and such ancestors as James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, she inherited her literary vocation and her preferred setting: the Wild West. An avid equestrian, Tammy has ridden horseback over western mountains and rugged trails in Arizona and uses these experiences liberally in her writing. Tammy excelled in her college writing studies, and in 2006 published Beautiful Feet: Meditations for Missionary Women. She won second place in the Golden Rose Contest in the category of inspiration romance, and she serves as a judge for various fiction contests. Tammy is a full time writer and editor who manages to find time to homeschool her there children at her home in northern Illinois.
Visit the author's website.
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Carson City, Nevada Territory
She was going to lose him. With trembling fingers, Jessica Hale pushed back the brown tendrils of hair the wind was whipping into her eyes. Further down the road, her brother handed the last of his cases to the driver on top of the stagecoach, then tossed his hat through the window onto a seat with an air of resolve. He turned and strode toward her.
His wavy, wind-tossed hair gleamed brightly in the morning sun, its sandy hue like gold coins dulled intermittently by shifting dust. His sky-blue eyes—eyes that gleamed with subtle mockery or shone with patient understanding—now attempted to disguise unspoken regret. He smoothed a hand over each of the sorrel coach horses and calmly took in the young town he was leaving behind. Jessica knew better. He was going to miss this—the town, their parents. But his heart called him home. Ambrose was every inch a Kentucky gentleman. He always had been. Her throat tightened.
She couldn’t help but smile. Jessica. Like always, he spoke her name with that deep, flowing timbre that made her think of the brook they had often played in as children.
“Now, what is that smile for?”
“I’ll miss the sound of your voice. It’s so pleasant.”
“It is?” Ambrose’s eyes sparkled at her in amusement. “You never told me that before.”
“Well, now you know.” She loved the Southern lilt of it, the quiet honor he wore just as naturally as his greatcoat. She took a deep breath to steady herself. “Are your bags loaded, then?”
“They are. The driver was kind enough to strap them down. With the rough going, I’ll get bounced out long before they will.”
Her smile faded. “Perhaps you should stay.”
“Jess….” Ambrose patiently drew her hand through the crook of his arm and tipped his head toward the road. “We have a few minutes left before the stage leaves. Let’s walk for a bit.”
Jess sighed in frustration but complied, letting her head fall against his shoulder as they walked. At the edge of town, she looked back at Carson City’s wide streets, lazy with the long, morning shadows of tall buildings and newly built frames that smelled of sawn wood. One by one, other pedestrians appeared, striding briskly; then came rattling wagons, kicking up trails of dust this way and that. The wind whipped at Jess’s skirt and Ambrose’s coat, cavorting among the silvery green desert sage leaves that fluttered around them. The sights and sensations that usually intrigued her had amalgamated into one frolicking, singing fool, playing cruelly to her burdened heart.
Jess’s gaze followed the road out of town, then lifted to rest on the peaks that rose high above. The Mexican people called these mountains the Sierra Nevadas—the snowy mountains. When she had come West with her family a year before, Jess had thought them magnificent. In a wild, untamed way, they reminded her of the Kentucky homeland they had left behind. Instead of the rolling green hills and broadleaf forests she had always known, the Sierras jutted boldly from the desert like a rare stone half buried in sand. Depending on the angle of the sun, their terrain was a glorious red or gold.
For a moment, Jess merely breathed, drawing in the fresh scent of the pinyon pines that dotted the distant slopes and mingled with the earthy aroma of sage. Only a few months ago, winter had prevailed, and so had the glittering snows on the Sierras.
Ambrose, dear Ambrose—had understood her need to be outdoors. He’d convinced their father a time or two to excuse him from work, then would take her riding amid the stark beauty of the mountains.
Jess frowned, pushing back strands of hair that had torn from their heavy twist and were stinging her eyes. A brusque but shrewd businessman and horse breeder from Lexington, their father had brought the family West to escape the growing turbulence in the South, and here, his import business thrived. With the recent discovery of untold millions of dollars in gold and silver buried in the land, the eager-to-be-rich swarmed to the Comstock from every major seaport in the world. Those fortunate enough to strike a vein of the mother lode scrambled to Hale Imports to stake their claims in society by acquiring French wines, Venetian glassware, Turkish carpets, and handcrafted furnishings made of dark German wood.
A golden dream for many, perhaps, but not for Jess. Her family had considerable wealth, but possessions beyond life’s basic comforts didn’t matter to her. What did matter were her father, her mother, and her brother, Ambrose, and the strength they had always given one another in face of the threat of war between North and South.
And the threat had become considerable.
Jess tightened her grip on Ambrose’s arm. He patted her hand reassuringly.
Worse, her family hadn’t left war fever behind as her father had hoped they would. Its effects were sweeping across the
country like the unstoppable waves of the sea. Miners and other men in town chose sides as the conflict loomed nearer. Heated political discussions often erupted into fistfights in the streets. In the same way, tension had escalated within the Hale family as their loyalties divided. And now, Ambrose was about to return to Lexington—against his father’s will—to rejoin his militia unit. It was predicted that war would break out within a year. Two days earlier, when Ambrose had announced to Jess and their parents his intent to fight for the South, Jess had stood strong—stunned but unflinching. The announcement was followed by two days of her father and brother yelling and her mother pleading. A lifetime of paternal love was burning to cinders.
Their father was still so angry about his son’s decision that he had refused to see him to the stage stop, coldly disallowing all but the briefest of good-byes between mother and son.
Jess finally broke the silence. “I thought this place would be the answer, Ambrose. I thought here we would be safe from the war.” She stopped walking and tossed him a valiant smile. “What will I do without you?”
Ambrose considered her soberly. She’d hoped he would tease her gently. Not this time. “You’re seventeen now, Jess. At seventeen, most ladies stop concerning themselves with their families and set their eyes on marriage.”
“Marriage? Marriage! How could you suggest that?” She flung aside her earlier self-promise to remain calm. “This particular subject has never come up before, but since it has, let me tell you, Ambrose, I don’t need a husband to manage my life and order me about.”
“I know you want to protect me, and I love you for it. But the South and its marrying traditions are a great distance away. Here, women are strong and independent”—she fought
to control the anger in her voice— “and so am I. I’ve seen too many wives’ hopes destroyed by their husbands’ selfish wants and ambitions. I could never live my life under some man’s boot heel. I’ll make my way on my own.”
Ambrose gave her a reluctant smile. “All right. There’s no talking you into an idea your mind is set against. Keep yourself busy, then. Tell Father you want to keep books at Hale Imports. You’ve been schooled the same as I have. You’ll do well.”
Jess’s legs nearly gave out. “Keeping his accounts is your job!” Ambrose wasn’t coming back at all—not even after the war. She really was going to lose him.
“No, Jess. Not anymore.” He shifted his gaze to the territory around them. “This place has never fit me the way it has you. That house in Kentucky is our house. Its lands are Hale lands. I was born and raised at Greenbriar, and so were you. That’s my home, Jess.” He faced her squarely. “When the war comes, I’ll defend it, whether the invading army is from the North or the South.”
Jess’s throat ached to beg him to stay. Their friendship was special, rare, in spite of growing up together amid talk of secession and war. Or perhaps because of it. She wanted to keep her brother close—and safe. Yet she forced down the urge to give words to her feelings. Ambrose’s blood flowed for Greenbriar, for Lexington. A year away hadn’t changed that. Yes, she loved him. Enough to understand that. Enough to let him go.
“I guess I always knew you’d go back,” she admitted, “and I understand, I really do. I just hate knowing that you’ll be right in the middle of the fighting.” She raised a hand. “And I hate that Father’s turned his back on you when you need him most! How could he do that to you? How could he do that to Mother?”
All at once, she knew. “He’s doing this because of Broderick, isn’t he?”
Broderick had died as a baby, when Jess was only five. Even now, she could clearly remember holding her little brother as his fever raged, could remember how helpless she had felt when she’d lain awake at night listening to his pathetic coughs in the nursery down the hall. Jess had been devastated when he died, but their mother…their mother had never been the same. Her joy and laughter Jess knew about only because Ambrose had told her of the way she had once been.
Ambrose acknowledged the fact. “Father doesn’t think Mother could bear to lose another son.”
Jess nodded slowly. “Then you’d best stay alive.”
The corner of his sandy mustache lifted. “You’re a Hale, that’s for certain. Idealistic and stubborn, through and through.”
“Hopefully stubborn enough to get through to Father. You know I can’t let things remain the way they are between the two of you.”
“Jess, I’d like to warn you against—”
“That would be pointless.” At his gentle frown of censure, she ordered her thoughts and explained. “For as long as I can remember, you were the one who held our family together. Not Father. Even when he was home, it was not Mother or anyone else, but you. You reasoned with Father when business made him unreasonable, you were a constant comfort to Mother, and you sat by my bed at night when storms and thunder threatened to shake the house apart.”
“You just wanted company while you were awake.” He lightly tugged a lock of her hair in a teasing way. “You never feared storms or anything else.”
“For the past few years, I’ve feared the coming war.” She lifted her chin and, with a mental step forward that she would never retrace, left the remnants of her childhood behind. “You won’t be here to keep us together. Now I’ll take your place and do what you’ve always done, and rely on solid Hale
determination to see me through. Ambrose, don’t worry about Mother, or about Father’s anger at your decision to go. I’ll hold our family together, and I’ll do all I can to change his heart.”
Gratitude battled concern in his face as he studied his sister, but Jess knew that he also understood firsthand the inborn loyalty that drove her. “Just be careful you don’t jeopardize your relationship with him on my account,” he said.
“I will be careful.”
There was a movement near the stagecoach. A mailbag was slung aboard.
Jess’s heart lurched. It was almost time for him to go.
Ambrose patted her hand and looked intently into her eyes. “I don’t know when I’ll see you again. We’d better say goodbye.”
“No!” She shook her head, fighting sudden tears. “I won’t say good-bye.”
“Jess, I don’t want to frighten you, but if the war comes—”
“Then the war will end! Ambrose, if we say good-bye, it’s as if we won’t see each other again. I can’t do that. I have to believe—I have to know—that one day you’ll come back.”
“Believe it,” he said, his gaze firm beneath his brows, “because I intend to.”
She tightened her grip until it pained her. “Then we don’t say good-bye?”
He hesitated, then shook his head to assure her. “We don’t say good-bye.”
Suddenly, Jess recalled what she had wanted to do. With a quick tug, she untied the green satin ribbon of the pendant necklace she wore, slipped the ribbon free, and pressed it into his hand. “I’ll want that back one day,” she said. “Until then, keep the best memories of us all close to your heart.”
Ambrose smiled and tucked the ribbon into his shirt pocket with a little pat. “I can’t think of a better place to put them.”
Another movement drew her gaze. The coach driver climbed into his seat.
“Pray for me, Jess. I’ll write to you as often as I can, I promise.”
Ambrose hurried toward the stage, Jess’s hand tucked in his. At the door, he pulled her into his arms and hugged her warmly.
“Will you write to me?”
Jess buried her face into the gray cloth of his coat. “Just try to stop me.”
He kissed the top of her head, briefly hugged her tighter, and then stepped away.
After Ambrose had swung aboard the coach, he turned and leaned out the window. His blue eyes shone. “The Lord has a plan, Jess!” he called. “Remember that!”
The driver cracked the reins and the six-in-hand pulled the stage away from Carson City, away from her. Jess watched until the coach disappeared through a pass in the mountains.
Keep him safe, Lord, she prayed. Whatever lies ahead, please keep him safe.
It was all she could do not to run for her horse and go after him.
Near Perryville, Kentucky
His boots firm in the stirrups, Ambrose leaned over the heaving neck of the mare as he charged into the sunlit field. Well-muscled and dappled gray, the mare tore up stones with her thrashing hooves while Ambrose’s cotton shirt ballooned
behind him and snapped in the blowing heat. His fear for General Bragg’s paltry command of sixteen thousand burned like liquid fire in his belly, and with heartrending despair, he recalled Mr. Lincoln’s reputed strong conviction that “to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game.”
His colonel’s rapidly scrawled reconnaissance report was secured in a leather pouch tucked into his waistband. It was the only warning Bragg would have that the Yankee advance at Frankfort was merely a diversion, and that the whole of General Buell’s Union army was, in fact, moving toward Bragg’s position. Buell meant to take Kentucky.
The enemy was fifty-five thousand strong.
Sixteen thousand up against fifty-five. Ambrose whipped a sleeve across his forehead to blot the sweat seeping from underneath his hat. If he didn’t reach Bragg in time for the general to pull back and regroup, Kentucky would fall to the Federals—and to their torches. Ambrose tilted his head to hear the distant pum, pum of cannon fire.
Fields dotted with white and blue wildflowers blurred by. This was his home, his land, and now, Greenbriar was his, too. Ambrose frowned as he recalled the letter written by his stiff-necked, outraged father—the sole one he’d sent—in which he had given him Greenbriar. His father intended the house as an accusatory monument to the heritage he believed his son had betrayed by ultimately fighting for the South. But to Ambrose, if Greenbriar survived the war, it would again become his home, his livelihood, and the place his old bones would be laid. He yearned to fall in love there, to marry there, to raise children amid all its gurgling streams and grassy paddocks. Children who would love it as he always had, and as Jess had.
Memories intruded—memories of the day Jess was born and the moment he first held her. He had been seven, and the tiny, warm bundle that stared up at him with curious green eyes had
captivated his heart. As she grew, it was to him that she would come for comfort and advice; with him, she shared her inmost thoughts. He had taught her more about the person she could become than their parents ever had, and she had matched his strength and dedication toward those whom she loved.
Now, Jess was his proponent and confidante. She wrote to him as often as he wrote to her, discreetly hiding his letters from their father. He knew many of their letters never made it through enemy lines since, in letters he did receive, Jess frequently referred to events he was unaware of, as well as to war news he had previously penned. Even so, they both persisted in sending them. As promised, she patiently worked to sway their father’s heart toward his son.
And she remained firm in her belief that her brother would survive the war.
His mind turned to the letter he had written to her only a few hours ago. He imagined her reading it at night by candlelight, the flame’s glow illuminating her casually knotted hair, highlighting the loose strands she rarely bothered with. He could almost hear the smooth flow of her Southern voice as if she were reading it aloud.
My dearest Jessica,
Like others here, I often look ahead to the end of the
war and dream of what I will do after.
For me, it has never been a question. The day I muster
out, I will come without hesitation to all of you there, to
make up lost years of brothering for you and baby Emma,
and to find a way to repair the damage between Father
and me. I will remain until Mother’s worries for me have
gone, and she sees her family healed. Until then, Jessica,
you must continue to convey to her news of my well-being,
and tell her of my unflagging determination to return to you all.
Then, as Grandfather would have wished for me to do, I will come back home to Greenbriar and rebuild what the war has ruined. I’ll fill its paddocks again with the prized horseflesh that has always graced its lands.
I yearn to walk again the brick path leading to the porch, to step into the downstairs hall and feel it welcome me home,…
Startled, Ambrose entered a town huddled beneath a haze of smoke. Perryville! The mare was slick with sweat and foam, but she had a bold heart, the likes of which he’d rarely seen in an animal. Spying a cluster of saddled mounts, Ambrose halted before a red brick house. The gray tugged at the reins while he listened to a soldier’s instructions on how to find General Bragg.
Ambrose immediately headed northwest on the river road. The roar of battle grew deafening. Yankee wounded and dead lay scattered over the hills.
He topped a rise. Below, gray-clad soldiers swarmed through thick smoke into the enemy, several falling beside their comrades. All around, cannon shells burst in sprays of jagged metal and earth.
“Lord in heaven,” Ambrose murmured, “help us all.”
Urging the mare along a path behind the lines, Ambrose ducked the whizzing cannon fire. He pulled out his leather pouch and withdrew the message.
…to throw open the nursery doors where we played, and step into the sunshine flowing through the window glass. Do you remember how we watched from that high
window the newborn foals bounding about? And the way you were ever leaning over the sill for a better look, knowing that I would hold you safe? After the war I must find myself a young lady, and convince her that we should fill the room anew with children’s laughter.…
A cannon shell exploded, and a terrible pressure struck his chest. The mare screamed. Groaning through his teeth, Ambrose clung to her neck. To the west, rifles barked flashes of orange as men in blue and gray surged into their enemies.
Ambrose pressed forward, searching the high ridges for the familiar starred collar and white-streaked beard of General Bragg.
…Lastly, I admit to looking ahead to sharing my life with someone who, like you, will write to me when I must be away, who will hold warm thoughts of me in my absence. I pray she may ever keep hope alive for our children that I will return to them, just as you, my sister, have done for our family. You have kept me alive through this war, Jess, for I know one by whom I will always be loved, always be remembered fondly, and always be welcomed home.…
Ambrose kicked the gray forward with all the strength he had. Fortunately, she lunged in response, not wavering at the unsteady weight on her back. Ambrose fought through the thickening fog in his mind and gripped the dispatch tighter.
A sudden burning burst along his thigh, and the smoky daylight and soldiers’ movements began to dim. Beneath him, the mare pulled ahead, pitching like a rocking chair. He imagined the stern face of General Bragg turning in surprise as he approached.
…I keep your ribbon in my pocket and frequently feel it
there. When I think of you, as I often do, the single thought
that comes is this: I cannot wait to see you again.…
He felt himself reaching out to her, to Jess. Wanting to see her one more time, to tell her how dear she was to him, had always been. He was fading. The message. He couldn’t feel it. Did the general receive the message?
Ambrose no longer knew what direction the mare took but threaded his fingers through her mane, imagining he was weaving hands with Jess.
…Your ever loving brother,…
No sky fell under his eyes; he saw only a lone field of dappled gray, oddly crossed with streams of red.
“Jess…,” he rasped.