Saturday, May 08, 2010

Heading Home by Renee Riva

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Heading Home

David C. Cook; New edition (April 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings - Senior Media Specialist - The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


Renee Riva has enjoyed a lifelong love affair with words. She is particularly passionate about writing for young adults and children. Heading Homeis the third novel in the Indian Island Trilogy and reflects Renee’s love for animals as well as her desire to provide stories that families can enjoy together for years to come. In addition to the Indian Island Trilogy (Saving Sailor, Taking Tuscany, and Heading Home) Renee has written two titles for young children; Guido’s Gondola and Izzy the Lizzy. Her love for writing has ignited efforts to share her talents with others. Renee speaks at Young Author events, attends numerous writing conferences, and teaches writing workshops in the Northwest. She lives in Richland, Washington, with her husband and three daughters.

Visit the author's website.


From a crumbling castle in the
hills of Tuscany …

In the fall of 1968, when I was ten years old, our family moved to an old castle in Tuscany, Italy. My one regret was that I had to leave my dog, Sailor, behind. My sole comfort was that my friend Danny agreed to keep him for me until I could return someday. Someday turned into eight years.

We wrote letters frequently on behalf of Sailor. Every once in a while we would remember to mention his name.…

November 27, 1974

Dear Danny,

How's Sailor? Here's my school photo of me at sixteen. I can't believe I've been here for six years! I'm still planning to come to Indian Island when I turn eighteen, to attend veterinary school. Be sure and reserve Papoose for me to rent for the summer. Only two more years until I get to see Sailor again.

How are you? Are you a pastor yet? Besides a vet, I'm kind of thinking of being a nun. Then I could help starving animals and people. I wrote Sister Abigail about it. She said I could probably do both.
Write back, please.

Yours truly,

A. J.

December 13, 1974

Dear A. J.,
Sailor really liked your school photo. You sure don't look ten years old anymore. Sailor is very glad you're coming back. He wants you to be sure to call me as soon as you

get here. Things are going well for me. I'm now the youth pastor at Squawkomish Baptist.

I was walking through Saddlemyer's Dime Store when I saw this snow globe. For some reason it reminded me of you. Merry Christmas!

Hurry home--Sailor misses you,


Arrivederci, Roma!
July 13, 1976


My carry-on bag nearly drops from my hands as loud, smiling faces suddenly spring up out of nowhere. A mix of birthday balloons and banners with “GO WSU COUGARS” fills the already-crowded waiting area at my departure gate in the Rome International Airport.

“Happy birthday and arrivederci, kiddo!” Mama yells, accompanied by that confident gleam of victory, confirming that she has successfully pulled off the surprise party of the century. Who but my mother would stage a going away-birthday party in the middle of a busy airport?

This is the day that I have been longing for for eight years … my return to Indian Island, my childhood haven. I'm only hours away from being reunited with my best friend, Danny, and my faithful dog, Sailor, and looking ahead to a hopeful future in veterinary medicine.

“Now boarding flight 49 to New York.” As the announcement comes over the intercom, I am suddenly surrounded and smothered with hugs and kisses from Mama, Daddy, my sister, my brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, courtesy cousins, and best friends Bianca and Dominic.

Inching my way through the boarding line, my last hug comes from Dominic, my closest male companion of the past four years. “Ciao, Angelina.” He smiles and kisses my cheek. “I'm going to miss you.”

I return Dominic's kiss. “Ciao, amico mio.”

At my parting gate I wave good-bye to all I love, then turn and walk down the Jetway toward home … half a world away.

Return to Indian Island
July 1976

The rowboat smashes into the dock with a thud. A startled mallard plunges into the lake and paddles quickly away.

“I'm home!” I yell at the top of my lungs. I've waited eight long years to hear myself say those two words again. Stepping onto the shores of Indian Island is like stepping back in time. Hidden among the trees in the Pitchy Pine Forest, little Papoose awaits its family's return. Voices and laughter still echo from its walls: Mama, Daddy, Adriana, J. R., Dino, and Benji. The faint squeak of a hamster wheel drifts from the shed like a sad melody, carrying the memory of Ruby Jean.

Running toward the cabin, the words ring over and over in my head, I'm home! I'm home! I whisper it this time, just to hear myself say it again. Feeling quite smug that I still have the key, I let myself in, relishing the thought that no one else knows I'm here. I'd debated over clanging the bell on the main shore, knowing the mini tug would have come for me, but I wanted my reunion to happen right here, on my old, beloved island.

When I enter the cabin, I'm relieved to find everything in Papoose the same as when we'd left, as though no one has taken our place. My eyes dart to the phone number of Big Chief, still tacked to the wall above the phone. I've played this moment in my mind so many times.

Lord, help me to pull this off. Dialing the number, my hands begin to shake. The old, familiar ring blares in my ear.…


It's Danny. That same Southern voice that made my heart skip a beat the first time I ever heard it is making it pound now. “Well, howdy on ya!” I bellow, in the best Southern drawl I can muster-- not easy, after speaking Italian for the past eight years.

There's a long pause. “Howdy yourself. May I ask who's callin'?”

“You can ask all ya want, but I ain't gonna tell ya. I'm frankly more in'erested in that log cabin you've got over yonder from your place a piece. Any chance it might be up for rent this summer?”

There is no way Danny would even think of being stuck on an island with some kook. He'd rather leave Papoose empty than have to deal with a nutty neighbor.

“Who is this?” He sounds more curious than annoyed.

“Well, who in the Sam Hill do ya think it is?”

“Um, I have no idea, but in answer to your first question, I don't rent that cabin out. I have a family I keep it reserved for … for whenever she … they come back.”

I can't stand it any longer. “Well, Danny boy, it just breaks my li'l heart that you don't recognize a true Southern belle when you hear one.” That'll get his wheels turning.

“… No way … A. J.? Is that you?”

“Bingo! Race you to Juniper Beach--and bring my dog!” I slam down the receiver and dart out the screen door so fast it nearly flies off its hinges.

I'm whippin' down that old Pitchy Pine Trail faster than a baby jackrabbit. The first thing I see when I reach Juniper Beach is my big old dog.

“Sailor!” I cry, with tears streaming down my face. Sailor comes barreling down the beach, twice as fat and half as fast as when we parted. He pounces on me so hard I nearly fall over. I bury my face in his fur and sob like the day I found him on death row. When I look up, I see Danny walking toward me real slow, as though he doesn't want to intrude on my reunion with Sailor.

Wiping away my tears, my eyes come to focus on the face I've so longed to see--besides Sailor's. Oh … my … gosh. This is not the Danny I remember. Before me stands a towering six-foot-somethin' sandy-blond, sun-bronzed cowboy--a perfect cross between the Duke and Little Joe Cartwright. When we're within arms' reach of each other, we both just stop. Eight years is a long time--from saying good-bye as kids to saying hello as adults.

“Hey, A. J.,” Danny says, real tender.

No one has ever said my name the way Danny says my name … with the most beautiful Southern accent I've ever heard in my entire life. I stand still, just staring at him … and I have only one thing to say. “Can you ride a horse?”

Danny looks taken aback and amused at the same time. “Did you just ask me if I can ride a horse?”

(Daddy once told me, “A. J., when you find your cowboy, make sure he can actually ride a horse. Any man can put on the hat and the boots and call himself a cowboy, but only a real man can actually ride the horse.”)

“Um … never mind,” I answer. “But can you?”

“Ride a horse?”

I nod. “Uh-huh.”

Now he's grinning, like he just realized I must be the same quirky kid he knew before. Not bothering to ask why, he just answers the question. “Yeah, A. J., I can ride a horse.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Is that good?”

“Yeah. That's good.” That's real good.

Now Danny's looking at me with those blue, blue eyes that always made me feel like he could see right into the depths of my soul. Is this really my childhood friend? Our nearly four-year age difference that once posed such a gap between us seems strangely insignificant now.

Danny sticks his hands in his pockets. His expression suggests that maybe he's thinking the same thing. I wonder if he still sees me as the same freckle-faced kid with the fake Southern accent who could squirt half the lake between her two front teeth. At least I've grown into my teeth now and speak Italian instead of Southern.

So here we are face-to-face, after all these years, in a standoff, wondering how we're going to fill this awkward moment. In the midst of our dilemma, Sailor charges up from the water and takes a flying leap right for me. I'm shoved headlong into Danny and fall to the sand in his arms.

He smiles down at me then glances over at Sailor. “Good boy,” he whispers. “It only took me eight years to teach him that trick.” He laughs while gently brushing sand from my face. His eyes linger for a moment as though he's contemplating something, then he glances down the shoreline. “So … how would you like to go out on the water?”

“Drifting?” I've dreamed of nothing else since I left the island.

“Drifting it is. I'll launch the boat.” He helps me up then heads toward the old dinghy resting on shore. Wedged deep in sand and beach grass, it doesn't look like it's moved since I left. I watch Danny grab hold of the bow and hoist it from the shore to the water as though it weighs nearly nothing. With a shove, he launches it into the bay. “Your ship awaits you,” he calls down the beach to me. Sailor lops along the shoreline and leaps into the boat, barely clearing the oarlock. The old dog just ain't what he used to be, but he obviously still loves to drift.

Sailor takes the front seat with his nose to the wind, resembling a hairy bow ornament. I take the middle seat, Danny takes the stern. The sun is slowly sinking behind the hills, casting an orange glow over Indian Lake. I arrange myself in drift mode: lying on my back across the seat, eyes to the sky, feet hanging over the side of the boat. Danny follows suit, clasping his hands behind his head. I breathe in the sweet, warm summer air. “I'm home,” I whisper, glancing over at Danny.

He returns my smile. “Welcome home, A. J.”

A gentle breeze ruffles up Sailor's fur as he turns his nose to catch the scent in the wind. I'm so happy to be back with my dog. My eyes shift from Sailor to Danny. I cannot get over that this is really Danny Morgan.

He looks over and catches me staring.

“You've gotten taller, haven't you?” I say, trying to cover myself.

“Maybe a few inches.”

“Maybe a few feet! What did they feed you on that farm, Miracle-Gro?”

“Grits.” He smiles. “Lots of grits.”

Grits look good on you. “So, do you miss your farm life?”

“Sometimes. But I'm pretty excited about my plans for the island.”


He glances around like he's about to divulge a secret he doesn't want anyone else to hear. “You tell me your plans first, then I'll tell you mine.”

“Okay. Well … for starters, my veterinary courses start up in September, and will probably take me … about the rest of my life to complete.”

“Washington State University?”

“Yep. Go Cougs!”

“But you're staying on the island, right?”

“Right. Grandma's letting me use her car. The campus isn't that far, really--takes me less than a half hour each way. It'll cost a lot less to live here and commute than if I live on campus. As long as your new plans don't include upping the rent on me.”

Danny smiles. “I can probably swing you a pretty good deal-- like rent free, if I can get you to help me with my plans.” His smile turns to a grin.

“Really? You may have yourself a deal! I couldn't bear the thought of giving up the island to live in a dorm. Besides, they don't allow dogs in the dorms.” Sailor perks up at the word dogs and wags his tail. “Wait--maybe you'd better tell me what your plans are first.”

“Well … I'm thinkin' of turning the island into a summer camp.”

“A summer camp? On the island?” I swing my feet back in the boat and sit up, facing Danny.

“There are a lot of kids around here with nothing to do in the summer,” Danny says. “I'd like to offer them a place to go. My dream is to eventually work here full-time. Summer camps all summer, weekend retreats fall and winter.”

“What happened to becoming a preacher?”

“I can still preach to the kids at camp, but as far as becoming a full-time pastor for a church, my heart's turning more toward a summer camp on this island.”

“And what will you do on your summer camp island?”

“Well,” Danny swings his legs into the boat and sits up too. His eyes light up like a little kid talking about his birthday plans. “Every time I get out on the lake to go fishin', I look back at the island and picture the whole setup. Big Chief was first built as a hunting lodge, you know, so it's definitely big enough for the camp headquarters.”

That explains all those deer and moose heads hanging on the walls, anyway.

“The dining area could probably handle enough tables for a mess hall, and that old stone fireplace would be a perfect gathering place. Then I'll need to insulate the other two cabins to withstand the winters. That way we can rent the camp out for weekend retreats during the rest of the year to keep a cash flow coming in.”

“Who would be renting it?”

“Churches and social groups are always looking for peaceful getaways for their retreats. What could be more peaceful than this?” Danny looks around like he is the proud owner of the best island in the world. I happen to agree with him on that. “We could pull in business from Coeur d'Alene to Moscow along the Idaho border and from Spokane on the Washington side.”

He keeps saying we.

“Then, I thought Pocahontas could be the bunkhouse--should be able to fit about a dozen bunks upstairs and another dozen down-- around fifty campers total--counselors included. Girls upstairs, boys downstairs, with no common access. And Papoose … I'd like to keep Papoose for the local residents.” He smiles over at me. And he still has the bluest eyes I have ever seen. Sigh.

He continues, “Then, out in the Pitchy Pine Forest, over by your cemetery, I'd have archery.…”

“Hold on. You can't have a bunch of kids stomping through my critter cemetery chasing after arrows. Those are sacred burial grounds.”

Danny looks at me. “I hadn't thought about that. Now that's something new to consider. That might weird out a few of the parents if their kids come home talkin' about running through a critter cemetery.”

“There is nothing weird whatsoever about people burying their pets.”

“Pets, yeah. But bugs, lizards, mice, and rats may be a different story.”

“Who's going to know what's buried there if they don't dig 'em up? Besides, after eight years there's probably not much left of them.”

“Okay, fine. I'll put a locked gate on it. We'll just tell the campers we have a few of our dead relatives buried in there. It wouldn't be camp without the makin's for a few spooky stories.” Danny laughs.

“So anyway, as I was explaining, the best part is down at Juniper Beach. Get this: swimming, fishing, and sailing on the lake, with campfires and stargazing on the beach at night. And then … in the clearing over by the chapel, behind your critter cemetery, I'd build a corral for my ponies.”

“What ponies?”

“The ones I'm hoping to buy at the spring auction in time for the official camp opening next summer.”

“And how do you plan to get your ponies out to the island?”

Danny looks at me like it's the most obvious thing in the world. “On the tugboat.”

“Ah, the tugboat--of course.”

“By the way, I'm hosting about ten Sunday-school kids for an overnight campout this Friday. I thought it might be a good opportunity to get a feel for what I'm in for on a small scale. My assistant youth leader offered to help with the girls if I need her, but, now that you're here, I thought I'd offer the job to you first. Any chance you'd be willing to help with the girl campers?”

Looking back at the island, I'm trying to envision this quiet island retreat swarming with rowdy little campers. “Uh, sure, I'll help.” I get the feeling I may soon be living a reenactment of the Swiss Family Robinson. “So have you thought of a name for your camp yet?”

“Not yet. Any ideas?”

“Hmm, how about Camp Down Yonder?” I offer up in a nice Southern drawl. “Or maybe Camp Dan Yonder, after you.”

Danny looks subtly amused. “You makin' fun of my camp?”

“No, sir, just thinkin' it's a fine name for an Okie to call his summa' camp.”

He just stares at me, as though strongly considering throwing me overboard. Then something in his demeanor changes. “So, besides WSU this fall, what are your plans for next summer?”

“I'm considering some opportunities in … charity work. I'm not sure yet if, or where, that will happen.”

“Hmm.” He looks away for a moment, then looks back at me with those eyes. “Well, if you decide to stick around here for the summer, would you … consider being … my wrangler--for the ponies, I mean?”

His eyes are so penetrating, I can't look away.

“Um …”

“I'll throw a hamster in on the deal if you stay.”

“I'd … love to be your wrangler--I mean, the ponies' wrangler--if I stick around.”

©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Heading Home by Renee Riva. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.


  1. Hmmm... I love the exchange of letters part. I think that this is interesting. I'm thinking that is something everyone could relate with.

  2. Thank you for reviewing my book!!

    Happy Reading all---with Chinese food!

    Renee Riva
    author of Heading Home


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