Sunday, February 28, 2010

Nancy Drew Challenge February Recap

The Nancy Drew Challenge is a reading challenge for 2010 for readers to attempt to read all 56 original yellow hardbacks that were in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. Click here for more information or to sign up for the challenge. At the end of each month, I will put up a post where participants of the challenge can recap how they did during that month.

The second month of the Nancy Drew Challenge ends today. How did you guys do this month?

Today was a rather slow month for me Nancy Drew wise. I only read two books this month for the challenge - The Clue in the Diary and Nancy's Mysterious Letter. This is not due to lack of interest but because I was trying to read for the young adult challenge and had several library books that had to be read quickly because of due dates. I have checked out the next 10 books so I'll be all set for March.

Thoughts about the two books I read
- We are introduced to Ned Nickerson (Nancy's "special male friend") in The Clue in the Diary. He's obviously smitten with Nancy from the beginning but she seems to be reluctant to develop a relationship. Interestingly Ned is first mentioned in The Secret of Shadow Ranch but it appears to have been a misprint as he doesn't meet Nancy til Diary.
- BTW Ned's kind of a wimp.
- Ned and his two friends who eventually become Bess and George's boyfriends go to college. Girls appear to also be at that school. I know we mentioned that Nancy, Bess and George might be "kept daughters" but it does make one wonder why they never consider going to college.
- Really "liked" how the mailmen back in the day gets to go through everyone's mail before delivering it.

Anywho next month will be a lot better for me in terms of reading. I'm actually halfway through The Sign of the Twisted Candles already. Still enjoying reading them!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Faith 'n Fiction Roundtable: Wounded by Claudia Mair Burney


The last Saturday of every month will be devoted to the Faith'n'Fiction Round Table hosted by My Friend Amy. A book is picked that several bloggers will read and discuss over. This month we discussed Wounded by Claudia Mair Burney. Look for a full review from me in a few weeks. Below is one of the many discussions we had over the book, which had LOTS to discuss (if you click on the link for the round table you can see the many subjects we talked about)

Poor in health but rich in faith, Gina Merritt--a young, broke, African-American single mother--sits ina pew on Ash Wednesday and has a holy vision. When it fades, her palms are bleeding. Anthony Priest, the junkie sitting beside her, instinctively touches her when she cries out, but Gina flees in shock and pain.

A prize-winning journalist before drugs destroyed his career, Anthony is flooded with a sense of well-being and knows that he is cured of his addiction. Without understanding why, Anthony follows Gina home to find some answers.


Deborah: While I liked the book (and more about other things later), there was one thing that REALLY kinda bothered me.

The repeated use of the n-word. I understand what the author was trying to say. I know why she was using it. I know it's an ugly word and seeing it is supposed to evoke certain feelings. But honestly I felt very uncomfortable seeing it used repeatedly, several times on the same page in fact. This is also interesting especially since this is a book published by a Christian publisher.

Could the same effect have been produced with using n-----?
How did you feel seeing it?
Should that word be used in a book that is being promoted as Christian fiction, which does tend to be marketed to a slightly more conservative audience?


Ronnica: I think repeatedly using an emotionally charged word like n-word is a cheap way to get your point across. I think it's possible to get the same point across with more diversified language (I say the same thing for authors who repeatedly use curse words).

Carrie: The "n" word. That word makes me flinch every time I read or hear it - it causes a gut reaction that only the most vulgar of swear words can cause. I honestly do not think it would have changed the book or made it better or worse to not use that word - or at least not use it so often. I do think that it would be very off-putting for many readers of Christian fiction - especially if that is the only genre they read.

Sheila: Regarding the "n" word. I am trying to recall where it was coming from in the book. It seems like I remember Ronnie using it a lot when referring to Priest and in this instance it just added to the whole repulsive mixed up character that Ronnie was. The woman drove me insane on how she treated her son and how she used everyone around her and acted as though it all came from God. The author in this case I feel used the word to emphasize how out of touch, insensitive to anyone but herself, Ronnie was. I totally agree that it is an ugly horrible word and one of those trigger words that always stops my flow of reading whenever I see it.

Julie: I feel that I need to address the "n" word because everyone else has. I guess it didn't really stand out to me and I was only offended in that it is an ugly word. In my mind, no one should say it (like other crude words.) I do believe that the author used this word very deliberately and that it was definitely (albeit unfortunately) in character for Veronica. Maybe the author used this particular word to evoke strong feelings in her readers? I realized just how much I didn't like Veronica or trust her motives pretty early on in the story. I can't pinpoint the exact moment, but I'm betting her treatment of Priest (and maybe even her use of the "n" word) had something to do with it.

Hannah: On the topic on the N word: Yes, it's a horrible, gut-wrenching word. As bad of a word as it is, though, its use does reveal something about the characters who are using it. Could we have been shown this another way? Maybe. But I believe fiction doesn't need to be sanitized to be Christian.

Thomas: When I came across the n word for the first time, I was shocked. However, it made sense after I had finished the book. I wonder if the author was not an African American whether the publisher would have allowed the use of the n word.

Participants in this month's round table included

Amy: My Friend Amy
Hannah: Wordlily
Heather: Book Addiction
Sheila: One Person's Journey Through a World of Books
Ronnica: Ignorant Historian

Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Review: "Dawn's Light" by Terri Blackstock

In the final book of the Restoration Series, the end of a global electrical blackout signals the beginning of the Branning family's ultimate test. Murder and affairs of the heart form the backdrop for a family sifting through the lessons they have learned--and how well they have truly learned them.

I have been eagerly awaiting the finale of this Restoration series for the past few years. I really enjoyed the first book and the sequels that followed because they showcased a world that many today could not imagine living in. The story has been following one main family, The Brannings, throughout the series and readers have seen how they have had to adapt to world they are not used to. In this book, relief and a sense of back to normalcy is finally coming to the world as scientists have been able to find a way to bring back electricity and stop the global technology blackout that has been plaguing Earth.

I was very surprised at some of the events that happened in this book. The first major incident that happened totally caught me off guard because I did not see it coming at all. In fact after reading it, I was just in shock because something happened to a major character that is not even hinted at anywhere from the descriptions of the book. The mystery and actions that surrounded this event were interesting to read as it brought out the true nature and actions of certain characters. The other main storyline featured Deni's two suitors but I felt that the storyline has always been predictable considering this love triangle.

Overall it was a decent end to the series. Questions were finally answered although I felt that the overall explanation for the worldwide outage was a bit hard to take in. I suppose that it could be possible for something from space to cause destruction like that but at the same time it still was a bit far fetched. Still this series has really made me realize how dependent on technology our society is and how much we use it to hide away from our real problems. If you have read the other books in the series, you will want to read this book to tie up all loose ends.

Dawn's Light by Terri Blackstock is published by Zondervan (2008)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

More Value Fiction from WaterBrook Multnomah

Fiction lovers don’t need to budget to travel this spring break with Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group’s six full-length novels by beloved Christian authors (WaterBrook, February 16, 2010). At the low cost of only $5.99, these well-read “get-aways” provide quality entertainment at a price that any reader can afford.



Yesterday’s Promise by Linda Lee Chaikin – Rogan Chantry faces danger from tribesmen, ruthless politicians, and his own family as he searches for gold in South Africa. In England, his beloved Evy is injured by a mysterious assailant. The greed and intrigue surrounding the diamond mines could very well drive them irrevocably apart.



Faithful Heart by Al and Joanna Lacy – The adventures of certified medical nurse and dedicated Christian Breanna Baylor continue as she travels by wagon train to visit her sister, Dottie, in California. Little does she know that her most dangerous encounter might be with Jerrod, her brother-in-law, who’s suffering from dementia caused by combat fatigue.

Other Titles include:

Secrets by Robin Jones Gunn

Beneath a Southern Sky by Deborah Raney

The Golden Cross by Angela Elwell Hunt

Deep Harbor
by Lisa Tawn Bergren

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Book Review: "Plain Jayne" by Hillary Manton Lodge

Jayne Tate loves her life as it is-living in a big city, working as a reporter for a fast-paced newspaper, and dating a guy who knows nothing about her past. When her father passes away though, she's forced to take another look at what she wants out of life. After losing out on the big career opportunity she was hoping, for she decides to escape to Oregon Amish country, seeking solace and maybe a big story.

Even in this land of buggies and bonnets, Jayne finds life more complicated than she expected. Can she persuade herself that her growing friendship with the mysterious and handsome Levi Burkholder is just about research? And what's a latte-drinking, laptop-using, motorcycle-riding reporter to do when this new life starts to change her?

Why can't all Amish fiction be like this? I had a blast reading this book by this talented debut author. Everything that I don't like in Amish fiction never showed up at all. Lodge describes her books as "urban Amish, totally not your mom's Amish". I totally agree with her. While older Amish readers might still enjoy this new series, I think that these books will appeal more to the 20-30 something crowd. At the very least I really felt as if this book was speaking to me.

Jayne is a very interesting character as she visits the Amish to find new life to her career. She's curious about the lifestyle but not in a mocking way. She tries her best to fit in but still takes advantage of the modern life she lives. She's a real spunky character and gets along well with everyone. Romantic relationships are a big part of her story but the way they are played out in the book is very realistic and enjoyable to read. I really liked her relationship with the Burkholder family and how both sides gained new found respect for each other.

What I liked best about this book was the blending of the outside world and the Amish world. This book however does what most Amish book don't do, which is allows the reader to make the choice about which world they want to be part of. Too many times, the Amish are portrayed as a Utopian society where their way of living is how everyone should be living and those who don't are made to feel guilty. Jayne questions many things about the Amish to their face, but without disrespect. She's genuinely curious but not to the point where she wants to switch lifestyles. One question she asked, which I felt was very important, was why can the Amish forgive everyone who does harm (both physical or psychological) but refuses to forgive people who leave the lifestyle. It's a question I've been asking for years.

I was really enthralled by this book and couldn't put it down. The writing is fresh and crisp, totally modern without resorting to random pop culture trivia. Maybe it's because the author is younger than most Amish authors, but like I said I really felt like I could relate to this book. I am around the same age as Jayne and she acted just like how I felt someone my age would act. This is probably one of my favorite new reads of this year and I know I'm going to be excited for when the next book in the series comes out. Even if you don't like Amish fiction, you should still give these books a try. They're definitely not what you think they are going to be. HIGHLY recommended.

Plain Jayne by Hillary Manton Lodge is published by Harvest House (2010)

This review copy was provided by a publicist

Ponderings

Woman in Despair Royalty Free Stock Vector Art Illustration


I don't usually blog about personal stuff on my blog because I like to keep my personal life and drama away from public view.

But this is sorta book related kinda so I guess it's ok.

I get mad in books when a character tries to tell how they feel and nobody will listen to them.

I get mad when the character is made to feel like they are all alone.

I get mad when a character is told they are over-dramatic and emotional.

I get mad when a character is constantly hurt by over and over again by someone they love who refuses to change.

I get mad at characters who allow themselves to stay in this situation.

Should I get mad at myself?

The Big 5-Oh! by Sandra D. Bricker

This week, the


Christian Fiction Blog Alliance


is introducing


The Big 5-Oh!
Abingdon Press (February 2010)


by


Sandra D. Bricker

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

For more than a decade, Author Sandra D. Bricker lived in Los Angeles. While writing in every spare moment, she worked as a personal assistant

and publicist to some of daytime television's hottest stars. When her mother became ill in Florida, she walked away from that segment of her life and moved across the country to take on a new role: Caregiver.



One of Sandie's passions revolves around the rights of animals. She's been involved in fundraising for Lost Angels Animal Rescue for several years now; in fact, a portion of the proceeds of Love Finds You in Holiday, Florida will go to help the non-profit group with their expenses. And Lost Angels paid her back in a big way: They brought a free-spirited Collie named Sophie into her life after the loss of her 15-year companion Caleb.

It was her 8th novel that opened the door to finding her way as a writer.

In Sandie's words: "I guess most people would see my career as a publicist as a sort of dream job. But giving it up turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me!" she declares. "Not only was I given the gift of getting to know my mother as an adult woman before she passed away, but I was also afforded the blessing of being able to focus completely on my dream of a writing career. I'm a Christian woman, first and foremost, so it was a bit of a dream-come-true when Summerside Press chose me as one of two authors to launch their new Love Finds You line."

ABOUT THE BOOK

Olivia Wallace has a birthday curse . . . or so she thinks. It was a broken heart on her 16th, a car accident on her 21st, pneumonia on her 30th, and a fall down a flight of stairs on her 35th. There were Ohio blizzards on her 38th, 39th, and 40th; and six days before her 45th, she lost the love of her life to a heart attack. Numbing grief stole that birthday and a couple more to follow and, on the morning of her 48th birthday, she received the call she’d dreaded ever since losing her mom so many years ago…she was diagnosed with stage-3 ovarian cancer. The doctors didn’t hold out a lot of hope, but Liv survived and maintained her faith. Months of surgeries and chemotherapy and radiation treatments followed.

But now, as her 50th birthday creeps up the icy Ohio path toward her, her hair has grown back, her energy level is up, and she is officially cancer free. It makes her nervous. After everything she’s gone through, Liv hates the idea of driving on icy roads and returning to work as an O.R. nurse in a local Cincinnati hospital.

Her best friend Hallie knows just the thing to break Liv out of the winter doldrums, while providing a safe haven of warmth, sunshine, and a time to regroup: a holiday in the Florida sunshine!

If you'd like to read the first chapter of The Big 5-Oh!, go HERE

Watch the trailer:



Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book Review: "Surrender Bay" by Denise Hunter

When Samantha Owen's estranged stepfather dies, she inherits his cottage in Nantucket--a place she left years ago, never planning to return. As a single mom, Sam can't afford to pass up on a financial windfall like ocean-front property. So she travels home to fix up the house and sell it . . . never suspecting that Landon Reed still lives two doors down. As their long-dormant romance begins to bud again, Sam must face the fact that Landon still doesn't know why she left the island. Will the secrets she's hidden all these years tear them apart . . . or is Landon's love really as unconditional as he claims?

Denise Hunter has a way of drawing the reader into the story that many authors seem not to be able to accomplish. Every time I read one of her books, I immediately get sucked into the minds of the characters and the setting to become one with the story. With this book the reader travels to Nantucket Beach, a place where Samantha never wanted to return. Her past is something she wanted to leave behind but circumstances have brought her back. She brings along her young daughter who wants to know about her past but doesn't have all the details. Sam's return to the beach house brings her back in contact with her childhood friend Landon who was devastated at Sam's sudden leaving years ago.

While I really enjoyed the story, there were times when Sam really got on my nerves. I understood why she had built up this wall around her and her distrust in men. However she began to fall into the stereotype of women who always go after the bad guy instead of the good guy. Landon was a GOOD guy without being unreal. There was nothing wrong with him yet for some reason Sam either could not or refused to see this and insisted on continually hurting him. She would go after guys she knew were not good for her and would treat her horribly. Therefore it would get on my nerves to see her treat Landon like dirt and he still keep trying to pursue her.

Even though this is a Christian fiction book, it is not preachy at all. In fact it is more allegory/parable than a straight up Christian book. There is no mention of anything Christian at all in the book. It may be a love story but it's not a perfect or even pretty love story. Hunter has written an extremely put together book and I really enjoyed traveling to Nantucket and meeting the characters. If you enjoy women's fiction, this is a great book to pick up.

Surrender Bay by Denise Hunter is published by Thomas Nelson (2007)

This ARC was provided by the publisher

Waiting on Wednesday

My Double Life by Janette Rallison
Releases: May13, 2010

Her whole life, Alexia Garcia has been told that she looks just like pop star Kari Kingsley, and one day when Alexia’s photo filters through the Internet, she’s offered a job to be Kari’s double. This would seem like the opportunity of a lifetime, but Alexia’s mother has always warned her against celebrities.

Rebelliously, Alexia flies off to L.A. and gets immersed in a celebrity life. Not only does she have to get used to getting anything she wants, she romances the hottest lead singer on the charts, and finds out that her own father is a singing legend. Through it all, Alexia must stay true to herself, which is hard to do when you are pretending to be somebody else!


"Waiting On" Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Book review: "Abigail" by Jill Eileen Smith

Abigail's hopes and dreams for the future are wrapped up in her handsome, dark-eyed betrothed, Nabal. But when the long-awaited wedding day arrives, her drunken groom behaves shamefully. Nevertheless, Abigail tries to honor and respect her husband despite his abuse of her. Meanwhile, Abigail's family has joined David's wandering tribe as he and his people keep traveling to avoid the dangerous Saul. When Nabal suddenly dies, Abigail is free to move on with her life, and thanks to her brother, her new life includes a new husband--David. The dangers of tribal life on the run are serious, but there are other dangers in young Abigail's mind. How can David lead his people effectively when he goes against God? And how can Abigail share David's love with the other wives he insists on marrying?

This is going to sound REALLY weird when I admit this but there is a specific reason why I remember Abigail from reading the Bible. It's because when she first meets David, she has loads of food in her possession to give to him due to her husband's rudeness. Now I know this because every time I read that passage, I tend to get hungry. I know, weird right? Either way, I've always wanted to know more about this woman who had an evil husband who is struck dead and then becomes part of King David's harem.

I really liked Abigail's character. She's humble and she wants to please her husband but because he's cruel to her she's in a dilemma. It's really sad how women at the time were treated because there's nothing for her to do but stay in a marriage that is horrible until one of them dies. Still she manages to hold her own and stay strong even when she becomes one of David's wives. It's not a pleasant situation for her but she loves her husband even if she has to share him with other women. She's not a passive character however, she does let him know her mind even when this makes him angry.

After reading the first book in the series, I started to dislike David, after years of thinking he was such a good king. This book only solidifies my dislike for him. Personally I have found him to be very haughty. He seems to keep thinking that only his way is the right way. There's no doubt about his faithfulness and love for God but the way he treats his wives just really annoyed me. He did the same thing to Michal that he repeats with each of his new wives. He keeps telling them that it's his duty and their duty to welcome the new wife into the household. He doesn't seem to realize that you cannot give the same amount of attention to multiple wives that you do with one spouse. Then he can't seem to figure out why his kids cry when they see him! Well, it's because you're pretty much a stranger to them! David also doesn't seem to be able to be satisfied with all these wives, as it will become evident with Bathsheba's story. Personally I wish Abigail had gone on with her original plan at the end of the book. Honestly I really think she would have been much happier so I was a tad disappointed when she went with the predictable route.

I was also a bit disappointed that all the revelations from Michal's story are nowhere to be found in this book. Yes I know that this story is from Abigail's point of view but Michal comes off as looking bad and haughty in this book. I had grown to like her from the first book after seeing what she had gone through and now she's back to looking like the bad guy again. I realize that Smith picked the most famous of David's wives to focus her series on, but after this book, I wish that Ahinoam and Maachah had bigger roles in the stories. After, besides Solomon, their sons (and Maachah's daughter) play a big role later on in David's reign and what it says about him as a father.


Overall though, I really enjoyed the book. Abigail is a Bible character I have always wanted to know more about and Smith really brought her to life in this book. She doesn't make Abigail into a cardboard character and allows her to question why she is in David's household and what good will come of it. If you are a fan of Biblical fiction, you will enjoy this book as a well known but underused character has finally come to life. I will be looking forward to reading the next volume in this series.

Abigail by Jill Eileen Smith is published by Revell (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Cowgirl at Heart by Christine Lynxwiler

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Cowgirl at Heart

Barbour Books (February 1, 2010)

by

Christine Lynxwiler



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Best-selling author Christine Lynxwiler lives with her husband and two precious daughters in the foothills of the beautiful Ozark Mountains. Christine has been writing toward publication since 1997. She sold her first story in 2001 to Barbour Publishing. Since then she's written and sold fourteen Christian romance novels and novellas including the four novels that were included in the best-selling book Arkansas, which has sold over 150,000 copies worldwide. Her novel, Forever Christmas, ranked number 12 on the Christian Bookseller's Association Bestseller List in January, 2009.

A four-time winner of the prestigious American Christian Romance Writers/American Christian Fiction Writers' Book of the Year Award, Christine recently signed a new six-book contract with Barbour Publishing bringing her total of contracted books to twenty. Besides, Along Came a Cowboy, her latest novels include Promise Me Always and Forever Christmas. She also writes mysteries with two of her sisters, Sandy Gaskin and Jan Reynolds. Their book, Alibis in Arkansas, is currently available nationwide, as well as in many bookstores. The first book in Christine's new McCord Sisters series, The Reluctant Cowgirl released in April, 2009 and was a TOP PICK in Romantic Times Magazine.

When Christine isn't at her computer, you'll often find her, with her husband, co-coaching their daughters' softball team, kayaking down beautiful Spring River with her family, or getting together with friends from church.


ABOUT THE BOOK

Elyse McCord always plays it safe─a fact she blames on being the biological daughter of a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. Even in the security of her adoptive family the McCords, the timid dog whisperer keeps her guard up with strangers. But when she discovers a dog being horribly mistreated, shy Elyse transforms into a mighty warrior and charges into a perilous situation, not only risking her life but also her heart

Reporter Andrew Stone has been fearless since the day his wife was shot and killed three years ago. He has one mission─use hid Texas Ranger upbringing to find her murderer and clear his own name of any involvement. When he sees a beautiful brunette in the hands of a pistol-welding maniac, he’s forced to abandon his covert surveillance and go to the rescue. The danger surrounding Andrew doesn’t scare him at all, but the awakening of his dormant heart terrifies him.

When painful pasts collide, the explosion is deafening. Can Andrew and Elyse pick up the pieces and go forward together? Or will they forever live with haunting memories, unable to forgive, unable to love?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Cowgirl at Heart , go HERE.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven" by Susan Jane Gilman

In 1986, Susan Jane Gilman and a classmate embarked on a bold trek around the globe starting in the People's Republic of China. At that point, China had been open to independent backpackers for roughly ten minutes. Armed only with the collected works of Nietzsche and Linda Goodman's Love Signs, the two friends plunged into the dusty streets of Shanghai. Unsurprisingly, they quickly found themselves in over their heads--hungry, disoriented, stripped of everything familiar, and under constant government surveillance. Soon, they began to unravel--one physically, the other psychologically. As their journey became increasingly harrowing, they found themselves facing crises that Susan didn't think they'd survive. But by summoning strengths she never knew she had--and with help from unexpected friends--the two travelers found their way out of a Chinese heart of darkness.

Like I have said before, I have been on a huge memoir kick lately. This book appealed to me because it takes place in China and there's traveling as well. I have become a HUGE fan of the Travel channel lately so I've been reading a lot of books that have to do with travel as it's something I can't do right now except in books. This book really captured my attention and I could not put it down while I was reading.

There were times of the book when I wanted to scream at both Claire and Susan.
I know this book takes place in the 80s when not much was known about mental illness as it we do now. Therefore I could understand why Susan thought Claire was just being annoying at first. However, when things started getting worse, instead of thinking about getting help, Susan still thought that Claire was just acting up and acting like a spoiled brat. I guess I really shouldn't be annoyed with Claire because it's obvious that she went through a mental breakdown. I honestly think that she should have never even left for the trip in the first place. It was obvious that her whole life she had been pampered and sheltered and never exposed to the real world before. Going to China and seeing what life was really like was a complete shock and she just couldn't handle it. I was tad disappointed that we don't know what happens to Claire at the end of the story. I can accept the explanation given but all the same it's still a letdown. Also of note, the author says in the beginning of the book that she had changed and hidden the identity of Claire so much, she was almost unrecognizable.

As I said, the book takes place in the 80s before even Tienanmen Square or the Beijing Olympics. A lot has changed in China since then so I think it would be interesting to see Gilman take another trip back to the country and discuss the differences. The book doesn't make China seem like a backwater dangerous country because you have to remember that the country is being seen by two college students who are young and vulnerable.
If you are expecting a travelogue type book, you're not going to find it in this book. It's a memoir and not a travel guide. Don't expect to read about sweeping adventures across China or tight focus on Susan's travels. It's more about her experiences in the country, both the physical and psychological adventures than it is a tour guide.

Personally I think this book would make a wonderful movie. Gilman does a really good job at making her story come alive and I really felt like I was there with her and feeling her emotions. This book was a page turner and I never once got bored while reading. Gilman hints that if she feels the urge, she would write a book about the rest of the travels she took while on that trip. I really hope she does because it would definitely be a book I would love to read. The book was a joy to read and I had a lot of fun traveling along with Susan. If you have wanted to discover China or a looking for a really good memoir, this book is perfect for you. HIGHLY recommended.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
by Susan Jane Gilman is published by Grand Central Publishing (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Review: "Hear No Evil" by Matthew Paul Turner


If you’ve ever had the opening bars of a song transport you back in time or remind you of a pivotal spiritual moment, Matthew Paul Turner’s honest—and frequently hilarious—musings will strike a chord. Straightforward and amusing, Hear No Evil is Turner’s “life soundtrack,” a compilation of engaging personal stories about how music—and music’s ability to transform—has played a key role in his spiritual life.

Groove along on his journey as young evangelical Turner attends forbidden contemporary Christian concerts, moves to “Music City” Nashville, and dreams of becoming the Michael Jackson of Christian music.

Cosmic and compelling, keen and funny, every page is a new encounter with the people, places, and experiences that have taught the music-editor-turned-author some new things about God, forced him out of his comfort zone, and introduced him to a fresh view of grace along the way.

I don't normally read Christian non-fiction but I have been on a memoir kick lately and also I am a huge music fan. Therefore this book, a memoir about Christian music highly appealed to me. I really could relate to what Matthew went through in this book. I grew up in a rather conservative Southern Baptist church most of my life (I know...Asians in Southern Baptist?) We grew up listening to praise and worship songs in the car and Christian kids taps (anyone remember Psalty?). It wasn't that my parents were against listening to other types of music, we listened to oldies music. I just think they, as still newly immigrants to the country, didnt really know about popular music and wasn't really sure about CCM. Eventually my first taste of contemporary Christian music was a tape that featured Amy Grant. Soon we discovered Sandi Patty, Michael W. Smith among others.

I really enjoyed Matthew's journey as he discovered CCM and the reactions by those who were both opposed and for it. Music is such a hot debate in the church and the extremes from both sides are enough to give anyone a headache. I also thought the debate about Amy Grant was highly interesting because it was such a huge "scandal" in the CCM world enough to spill over into the mainstream culture. The truth is we don't know the entire story behind what happened in that situation. Therefore no matter what we like to think happened and who's at fault, if Christians really are trying to practice what they preach, they have no right to judge Amy. That's all I'm saying. By the way, I just want to say I thought the opening chapter when Turner is able to tell that the guy is Christian rocker just by the way he looks was spot on hilarious. Seriously, I could not stop laughing. Why? Because it's SO TRUE.

I know that there are several people who didn't like the book and the flippant attitude the author had towards the church and other topics. So this book isn't for everyone. However, I REALLY enjoyed reading this book. I found it hilarious and could really relate to everything Turner went through. I honestly could not stop laughing while reading because I found almost everything said to be totally true. There are things about evangelical Christians that I don't agree with and they were pointed out in this book which made me happy to read. I say this because I'm tired of getting lumped in the same group all the time and it's good to hear that there are those out there who share my opinion. I'm no less of a Christian for thinking these things so the fact that there are others who are Christians who share my opinion makes me feel better. I think that those who grew up as music rebels in the strict Christian backgrounds will enjoy this book, as well as most music fans. Even if you aren't a Christian, I still think you'd enjoy this book as well. This is probably going to be one of the best memoirs I will read in 2010. HIGHLY recommended.

Hear No Evil by Matthew Paul Turner is published by Waterbrook (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Friday, February 19, 2010

Book Review: "All Things Hidden" by Tricia Goyer

Charlotte is cleaning out the basement of Bedford Community Church when she comes across a tattered and yellowed newspaper article. The clipping, published more than a century ago, implicates her great-great-grandfather in the loss of funds intended to help finish building the church. Charlotte has heard stories about the incident through the years, but now it seems the past has come back to haunt her. Is it just her imagination or are people treating her differently now that they think she’s descended from a crook? Will Charlotte be able to clear her family’s name once and for all?

Meanwhile, Sam is spending time with a new girl in town—and is keeping secrets from his grandparents about where they go. Christopher is trying to get an article published in the local paper, and Emily reluctantly partners with a foreign exchange student on a class project and eventually comes to see that they’re not that different after all. As old secrets are brought to light, the whole family is reminded that the truth is often more complicated than it seems.

I cannot get enough of this series. I know I say this every time I review a book from this series, but it's true. Each time I read a volume in this series, I speed through it really fast because I can't put it down. I must say, I am a bit biased to the books written by Tricia, mainly because I'm familiar with her books which I have all enjoyed. This one was again no exception.

Again what I think is best about Tricia's books is due to her experience at working with teens, Sam and Emily are the most realistic when she writes. I really love how Tricia incorporated her experience with a Czech foreign exchange student into this book. Emily takes a while to get used to Andrea but soon discovers that learning about a different culture is fun and enlightening. I really enjoyed how she becomes friends with a former nemesis. Hopefully a certain other person will get their due soon or a change of heart. I was also very excited to hear that Dana and Pete were finally getting married. I have missed out on a couple books in the series so I have missed that whole storyline so I'm hoping to one day be able to catch up.
The whole plot line involving Sam and his new friend was quite interesting. Mainly because it went a way I was NOT expecting. I'm also interested as to what Sam is going to do now that he's 18. I wonder if he will go off to college or stay at the farm. It will be interesting to see where that storyline ends up going.

Once again, Charlotte seems to prejudge someone before she actually meets them. You'd think she'd have learned her lesson by now, but apparently it seems to happen in almost every book! Still though, what I like best about her is Charlotte's ability to admit when she is wrong. She always is willing to look at other point of view and see where she made mistakes. She loves her grandchildren very much and is willing to change her lifestyle to make them comfortable. It appears that she has completely accepted Emily's vegetarianism as she makes a separate dish for her at every meal.

Overall, I was really pleased with this book. I have called this series comfort reading due to both all the food that is mentioned as well as the great feeling you get while reading it. I have enjoyed every trip I've taken to Heather Creek and I wish that I could visit there in real life. I will have to just wait to take another return visit through another book.

All Things Hidden by
Tricia Goyer is published by Guideposts (2009)

This review copy was provided for a book tour with Litfuse Publicity

If you just want to order All Things Hidden you must call the Guideposts customer service number (1-800-431-2344).

To see other stops on the tour click here: http://ow.ly/14nQc
CONTEST

Follow one of the options below to be entered into a contest to win the ENTIRE set of the Home to Heather Creek books (books 1-18)!

Tweet THIS: (must use hashtag #AllThingsHidden to be entered - no limit on entries! Tweet away!) Read #AllThingsHidden by @triciagoyer http://ow.ly/14nNd! RT for a chance to win all 18 books in the Home to Heather Creek series!

The Pastor's Wife by Jennifer AlLee

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

The Pastor's Wife
Abingdon Press (February 2010)
by

Jennifer AlLee



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jennifer AlLee was born in Hollywood, California and for the first 10 years of her life lived over a mortuary one block from Hollywood and Vine. An avid reader and writer, she completed her first novel in high school. That manuscript is now safely tucked away, never again to see the light of day. Her first inspirational romance, The Love of His Brother, was released in November 2007 by Five Star Publisher.

Besides being a writer, she is a wife and mom. Living in Las Vegas, Nevada, her husband and teenage son have learned how to enjoy the fabulous buffets there without severely impacting their waistlines. God is good!





ABOUT THE BOOK

Maura Sullivan never intended to set foot in Granger, Ohio, again. But when circumstances force her to return, she must face all the disappointments she tried so hard to leave behind: a husband who ignored her, a congregation she couldn't please, and a God who took away everything she ever loved.

Nick Shepherd thought he had put the past behind him, until the day his estranged wife walked back into town. Intending only to help Maura through her crisis of faith, Nick finds his feelings for her never died. Now, he must admit the mistakes he made, how he hurt his wife, and find a way to give and receive forgiveness.

As God works in both of their lives, Nick and Maura start to believe they can repair their broken relationship and reunite as man and wife. But Maura has one more secret to tell Nick before they can move forward. It's what ultimately drove her to leave him three years earlier, and the one thing that can destroy the fragile trust they've built.

If you would like to read the first Chapter of The Pastor's Wife , go HERE

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review: "The Battle for Vast Dominion" by George Bryan Polivka

Packer Throme, determined to demonstrate that power comes only from above, leads his people in a war against the dreaded Drammune. The evil Hezzan of Drammun will kill without remorse for the secret of the Firefish...and so will dark forces lurking within Nearing Vast.

As army faces army, and navy faces navy, all are drawn inexorably to the source of the epic struggle... the feeding waters of the Firefish within the Achawuk Territory. One final surprise awaits Packer Throme there in the foreboding place where the struggle for the dominion of the world will be settled at last.

I have admitted several times that I am not a big fantasy fan. There's nothing wrong with the genre, it's just hard for me to be able to get into the story. However, I have really enjoyed the Trophy Chase series and now with the third and final book, I was sad to see everything come to an end. Polivka takes the reader on another sweeping adventure above the Trophy Chase where Packer has to once again battle the Firefish as well as the Drammune. This time however, he has been newly crowned the king of the Nearing Vast which puts a spin on everything including an encounter with a foe he thought was dead.

What makes this book stand out for me is that even though the story is set in a made up land, with creatures that don't exist in our world, I still could totally relate to the characters. Most of the action that takes place, while using swords and other techniques from a Lord of the Rings situation, doesn't seem too far out there or something I would have to stretch my imagination too far to conjure in my mind. Also I really enjoy how strong the female characters in this book are portrayed. Panna, Packer's wife, has been one of my favorite characters throughout the series and once again she shines in this story.

I did feel that the book was a little slow at times. Also I was really hoping that this would be the book where Packer and Panna would have an adventure together but alas they were separated again for most of the story. However, if you have enjoyed the other two books in the series, you will definitely want to read this one as questions are finally answered, people are reunited, and heroes are proclaimed. This is a great read for fans of the fantasy and allegory genre and a fine end to a wonderful series.

The Battle for Vast Dominion by George Bryan Polivka is published by Harvest House (2008)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Listen by Rene Gutteridge

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:


Listen

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (January 11, 2010)

***Special thanks to Vicky Lynch of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Rene Gutteridge is the critically acclaimed author of more than fifteen novels, including the Storm series, the Boo series, the Occupational Hazards series, and the novelization of the motion picture The Ultimate Gift. She lives with her husband, Sean, a musician, and their children in Oklahoma City.

Visit the author's website.




AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:













Present Day

Damien Underwood tapped his pencil against his desk and spun twice in his chair. But once he was facing his computer again, the digital clock still hadn’t changed.

In front of him on a clean white piece of paper was a box, and inside that box was a bunch of other tiny boxes. Some of those boxes he’d neatly scribbled in. And above the large box he wrote, Time to go.

This particular day was stretching beyond his normal capacity of tolerance, and when that happened, he found himself constructing word puzzles. He’d sold three to the New York Times, two published on Monday and one on Wednesday. They were all framed and hanging in his cubicle. He’d sent in over thirty to be considered.

He’d easily convinced his boss years ago to let him start publishing crosswords in the paper, and since then he’d been the crossword editor, occasionally publishing some of his own, a few from local residents, and some in syndication.

The puzzle clues were coming harder today. He wanted to use a lot of plays on words, and he also enjoyed putting in a few specific clues that were just for Marlo residents. Those were almost always published on Fridays.

A nine-letter word for “predictable and smooth.”

Yes, good clue. He smiled and wrote the answer going down. Clockwork.

He glanced over to the bulletin board, which happened to be on the only piece of north wall he could see from his desk at the Marlo Sentinel. Tacked in the center, still hanging there after three years, was an article from Lifestyles Magazine. Marlo, of all the places in the United States, was voted Best Place to Raise a Child. It was still the town’s shining moment of glory. Every restaurant and business had this article framed and hanging somewhere on their walls.

The community boasted its own police force, five separate and unique playgrounds for the kids, including a spray ground put in last summer, where kids could dash through all kinds of water sprays without the fear of anyone drowning.

Potholes were nonexistent. The trash was picked up by shiny, blue, state-of-the-art trash trucks, by men wearing pressed light blue shirts and matching pants, dressed slightly better than the mail carriers.

Two dozen neighborhood watch programs were responsible for nineteen arrests in the last decade, mostly petty thieves and a couple of vandals. There hadn’t been a violent crime in Marlo since 1971, and even then the only one that got shot was a dog. A bank robbery twenty years ago ended with the robber asking to talk to a priest, where he confessed a gambling addiction and a fondness for teller number three.

Damien’s mind lit up, which it often did when words were involved. He penciled it in. An eight-letter word for “a linear stretch of dates.” Timeline. Perfect for 45 across.

So this was Marlo, where society and family joined in marriage. It was safe enough for kids to play in the front yards. It was clean enough that asthmatics were paying top dollar for the real estate. It was good enough, period.

Damien was a second-generation Marlo resident. His mother and father moved here long before it was the Best Place to Raise a Child. Then it had just been cheap land and a good drive from the city. His father had been the manager of a plant now gone because it caused too much pollution. His mother, a stay-at-home mom, had taken great pride in raising a son who shared her maiden name, Damien, and her fondness for reading the dictionary.

Both his parents died the same year from different causes, the same year Damien had met Kay, his wife-to-be. They’d wed nine months after they met and waited the customary five years to have children. Kay managed a real estate company. She loved her job as much as she had the first day she started. And it was a good way to keep up with the Joneses.

Until recently, when the housing market started slumping like his ever-irritated teenage daughter.

The beast’s red eyes declared it was finally time to leave. Damien grabbed his briefcase and walked the long hallway to the door, just to make sure his boss and sometimes friend, Edgar, remembered he was leaving a little early. He gave Edgar a wave, and today, because he was in a good mood, Edgar waved back.

Damien drove through the Elephant’s Foot and picked up two lemonades, one for himself and one for Jenna, his sixteen-year-old daughter who had all at once turned from beautiful princess or ballerina or whatever it was she wanted to be to some weird Jekyll and Hyde science experiment. With blue eye shadow. She never hugged him. She never giggled. Oh, how he missed the giggling. She slouched and grunted like a gorilla, her knuckles nearly dragging the ground if anyone said anything to her. A mild suggestion of any kind, from “grab a jacket” to “don’t do drugs” evoked eyes rolling into the back of her head as if she were having a grand mal seizure.

So the lemonade was the best gesture of kindness he could make. Besides offering to pick her up because her car was in the shop.

He pulled to the curb outside the school, fully aware he was the only car among the full-bodied SUVs idling alongside one another. It was a complete embarrassment to Jenna, who begged to have Kay pick her up in the Navigator. Some lessons were learned the hard way. But his car was perfectly fine, perfectly reliable, and it wasn’t going to cause the ozone to collapse.

She got in, noticed the lemonade, asked if it was sugar-free, then sipped it and stared out the window for the rest of the ride home. It wasn’t sugar-free, but the girl needed a little meat on her bones.

“Your car’s ready.”

Finally, a small smile.

***

“Have a seat.”

Frank Merret shoved his holster and belt downward to make room for the roll of belly fat that had permanently attached itself to his midsection. He slowly sat down in the old vinyl chair across from Captain Lou Grayson’s cluttered desk.

“You got a rookie coming in this morning.”

“I thought we had an agreement about rookies.”

“You ticketed Principal MaLue. We had an agreement about that too.”

Frank sighed. “He was speeding in a school zone.”

“He’s the principal. If he wants to hit Mach speed in the school zone, so be it. The rookie’s file is in your box.” Grayson’s irritated expression said the rest.

Frank left the captain’s office and killed time in the break room until lineup, where the rookie stood next to him, fresh-faced and wide-eyed. He was short, kind of stocky, with white blond hair and baby pink cheeks like a von Trapp kid. There was not a hard-bitten bone in this kid’s body.

Frank cut his gaze sideways. “This is Marlo. The most you can hope for is someone driving under the influence of pot.”

Lineup was dismissed, and the kid followed him out. “That’s not true. I heard about that bank robbery.”

“That was twenty years ago.”

“Doesn’t matter,” the rookie said. “I’m on patrol. That’s cool. I’m Gavin Jenkins, by the way.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Did you read my stats from the academy?”

“Not even one word.”

Gavin stopped midstride, falling behind Frank as he made his way outside to the patrol car. Gavin hurried to catch up. “Where are we going? Aren’t we a little early?”

Frank continued to his car. Gavin hopped into the passenger side. Frank turned west onto Bledsoe.

“Listen, Officer Merret, I just want you to know that I’m glad they paired me with you. I’ve heard great things about you, and I think it’s—”

“I don’t normally talk in the morning.”

“Okay.”

So they drove in silence mostly, checking on a few of the elderly citizens and their resident homeless man, Douglas, until lunchtime, when they stopped at Pizza Hut. The kid couldn’t help but talk, so Frank let him and learned the entire history of how he came to be a Marlo police officer.

Gavin was two bites into his second piece and hadn’t touched his salad when Frank rose. “Stay here.”

Gavin stared at him, his cheek full of cheese and pepperoni. “What? Why?”

“I’ve got something I need to do.”

Gavin stood, trying to gather his things. “Wait. I’ll come.”

Frank held out a firm hand. “Just stay here, okay? I’ll come back to get you in about forty minutes.”

Gavin slowly sat down.

Frank walked out. He knew it already. This rookie was going to be a thorn in his side.

Excerpted from Listen by Rene Gutteridge. Copyright ©2010 by Rene Gutteridge. Used with permission from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Review: "Outlaw's Bride" by Lori Copeland


Falsely convicted of bank robbery, drifter Johnny McAllister is sent to a rehabilitation program in the home of a California judge. When he goes to Judge McMann's home, his aim is to be a model prisoner, hoping to be released early and return to his life's mission: to kill the man who wiped out his family 15 years before. He's planned for everything - except his encounter with Ragan, the beautiful and kind housekeeper, and with the generous folks of Barren Flats. But can Johnny let go of his anger and embrace a new life? One that would include Ragan as his bride?

This tender story reveals how even the hard law of the land doesn't stand a chance when God's mercy and true love come to reside in a heart.

I enjoyed this book a great deal more than the second book in the Western Sky series, A Kiss for Cade. Both Johnny and Ragan are multi-dimensional characters that the reader gets to know and feels compassion for. Copeland also puts an interesting historical plot to mix with the romance story. During the 1800s, western towns had to deal with outlaws, vigilantes and gunfights quite a bit. It could be common for a town to be have to deal with this. The way that the town tries to figure out how to combat their problem is humorous, creative and very much of the times.

I really liked Ragan's character. She cares a great deal for the judge and even though she is the housekeeper, he treats her like a daughter and is very much grateful for her being there for him. She doesn't let Johnny get the best of her and holds her own against him. She never breaks down and lets him take charge of her. I despise females in romances that do this so it was extremely refreshing to have Ragan act in this way. Johnny himself, while stubborn at times, makes it clear to the reader why he acts the way he does. He is not cocky or thinks he knows better than anyone else. While he may not like the situation he's in, he understands why he must stay put even though his goal is to defend his family. I felt the chemistry between Ragan and Johnny to be realistic and that it moved the plot very well.

All in all this is a very sweet western romance. It doesn't break any new ground with it's writing nor does it raise pondering questions to dwell on afterward. Instead it gives a comfort read with an likable strong heroine and a story that keeps you on your seat. A great read for a weekend when you want to escape and go back in time to the wild west.

Outlaw's Bride by Lori Copeland is published by Harvest House (2009)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Waiting on Wednesday


You Wish by Mandy Hubbard
Releases: August 5, 2010

Kayla McHenry’s sweet sixteen sucks! Her dad left, her grades dropped, and her BFF is dating the boy Kayla’s secretly loved for years. Blowing out her candles, Kayla thinks: I wish my birthday wishes actually came true. Because they never freakin’ do.

Kayla wakes the next day to a life-sized, bright pink My Little Pony outside her window. Then a year’s supply of gumballs arrives. A boy named Ken with a disturbing resemblance to the doll of the same name stalks her. As the ghosts of Kayla’s wishes-past appear, they take her on a wild ride . . . but they MUST STOP. Because when she was fifteen? She wished Ben Mackenzie would kiss her. And Ben is her best friend’s boyfriend.

"Waiting On" Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book Review: "Swinging on a Star" by Janice Thompson

Bella Rossi's life is nearing perfection. She's got the perfect guy, she's running a successful business, and she's about to plan her most ambitious wedding yet, a Renaissance-themed fairy tale come true, complete with period costumes and foods, horse-drawn carriages, and even a castle. There's just one hitch. The best man just happens to be Brock Benson, Hollywood's hottest and most eligible bachelor. Oh, and did we mention he's staying at the Rossi house to avoid the paparazzi? With all the pressure surrounding this wedding, Bella's not sure she's going to make it through. Add her starstruck sister, her feuding aunt and uncle, and a trio of large, sequined church ladies with even bigger personalities, and you've got a recipe for disaster--and a lot of laughs. This hilarious romantic comedy is sure to delight both fans and new readers alike.

The previous book in this series, Fools Rush In, was one of my top ten reads of 2009 so I was uber excited to read the second book in the series. I was definitely not disappointed when I finished reading the book. The Rossi family reminds me of the family from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where they are very close knit and with all their quirks and unique personalities. It was so fun reading the adventures of Bella's wedding planning services. I'm not sure if I would ever order an over the top wedding like some of these folks but all the same it was a hoot to see it being put together. That's one of the key features about this book - the humor. There's lots of it sprinkled throughout the story and it makes the book way fun to read.

I LOVED how the Food Network was incorporated in the story. I was really excited that real shows, including some of my favorites, were mentioned and that fake shows and stars were not made up just to fill space. I think that I would totally bond with Rosa due to our mutual love of the Food Network and all things food. At the very least I would love to eat one of her meals and would probably die from gluttony if I was part of her family. One of my favorite parts of the book involved the subplot with Rosa and Laz and their bickering love/hate relationship. I really loved where that story line went in this book and will look forward to read more about them.

The key factor about this book that made it a winner to me was how realistic this book was portrayed. This book is not a straight up romance. It is more a blend of chick lit and contemporary romance. Bella is not a woman who depends solely on her man to keep her going in life. She runs her own business and is very capable of taking of herself (well for the most part). She loves her boyfriend but as clearly shown throughout the book, or there are times when she can deal without him in order to get by. There are many situations in the book where I could really relate to what Bella was saying or doing because I probably would have done the same things myself. This story would appeal very much to a 20-30 something age set although older audiences will enjoy the story as well. Pretty much, if you're looking for a story where there is a fantasy to the love story, you're not going to find it here. This book is all about finding love, done is a fun yet realistic way. HIGHLY recommended and I cannot wait until the third book comes out!

Swinging On a Star by Janice Thompson is published by Revell (2010)

This review copy was provided by the publisher

Raven's Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet

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:


Raven's Ladder

WaterBrook Press (February 16, 2010)

***Special thanks to Staci Carmichael of WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Jeffrey Overstreet is the skilled author of Auralia’s Colors, twice-nominated for a Christy Award, and Cyndere’s Midnight. His award-winning film reviews have appeared in Image, Books and Culture, Paste, and Christianity Today, and his “moviegoer’s memoir” Through a Screen Darkly is a popular exploration of faith and film in the U.S. and Europe. His website––LookingCloser.org––draws many thousands of readers each month. Jeffrey has recently spoken to large audiences in bookstores and universities across the U.S. and The Netherlands, including recent appearances at the Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing. Jeffrey and his wife Anne live in Shoreline, Washington.




AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
















CAL-RAVEN IN FOUR

KINDS OF TROUBLE

Auralia reached out to Cal-raven. As he approached, the flame of the candle he carried flapped like a flag in a hard wind.

Her smile was mysterious, just as he remembered it. That detail had proved most difficult. Other aspects had come easier as his hands sculpted the stone. Her humble stature. The tiny knob of her chin. Her feet—ten small toes emerging like a row of beads beneath a leafy skirt.

Cal-raven was not a tall man, and yet Auralia, slight for sixteen, had stood only to his shoulder. He could see her open hands pressing through the span of fabric that she offered to any visitor.

Almost a year had passed since he’d found her in the Abascar dungeon, wrapped in a magnificent cloak. Their fleeting conversation was burned in his memory more vividly than yesterday. Unflinching, Auralia had voiced her faith in phantoms dreamed and legends whispered––like the Keeper, that benevolent creature who haunted dreams, a silent guardian, a listener.

Cal-raven had sculpted, erased, and then reshaped Auralia’s lips, her eyebrows with their question pinched between them, her whole face filled with trembling hope that others would receive and understand her vision. She had been more than human. Or better, she had been more fully human than anyone around her.

The king’s hunting hound, his golden tail wagging, sniffed at the statue’s ankles. “Hagah.” The dog slumped down to the floor and sighed, resigned to wait.

That fabric the statue held––Cal-raven had not even tried to give it the textures and colors of Auralia’s cloak. How could he? Its threads had glimmered with colors no eyes in Abascar had ever seen.

“Tell the Keeper,” he whispered, “that I don’t know where to go from here.” He ran his fingertips along the span that spilled like a waterfall from her upturned hands. “When I was a child, I’d have called out myself. It was easier then to believe.”

Auralia’s expression did not change; it would not unless he changed it. Her polished eyes would not return his gaze for, in the tradition of House Abascar portraiture, they lacked detail. While each statue in the cavern was distinct––the beloved and the burdensome, the wise and the foolish, the soldiers and the miscreants––they shared that same indecipherable gaze, an affirmation of something altogether unnamable, inimitable. The mystery of the heart.

Embarrassed at his habit of addressing this likeness, he knuckle-knocked Auralia’s forehead. “Last visit. Watch over these worn-out people for me, will you?”

Something shifted in the cavern behind him. Hagah lifted his head and followed his master’s gaze through the long rows of statues.

“Wynn?” Cal-raven waited.

Hagah’s huge black nose emerged from flabby rolls of fur and sniffed. Then the dog set his chin back down on the ground.

“You’ll catch our pesky shadow in a dream, won’t you?” Cal-raven said, but he gave another look back.

Why am I so agitated tonight? he wondered.

Because some of them are turning against you, replied his father’s ghostly voice. It’s been almost a year. You’ve mentioned New Abascar, but you still haven’t shown them a plan.

The statues that crowded the Hall of Remembering listened. These extravagant stone monuments gave shape to Cal-raven’s promise that he would never let his people forget the lessons they’d learned and that they would build a new house to honor those lost in Abascar’s cataclysm.

But the name grudgers, once given to those who had rebelled against their previous king’s oppressive ways, now applied to people distrustful of Cal-raven. Grudgers objected to his embrace of the foolish along with the wise; his equal concern for the weak and the strong; his insistence that every person, no matter how “useful,” be fed and shown the care of their healer. Moreover, grudgers grumbled about the way Cal-raven gambled their futures on possibilities revealed to him in dreams.

Tonight Cal-raven had taken the fire walk. Lesyl’s turn had come, but he had offered to patrol the passages for her. He wanted to hear her sing the Evening Verse one last time before his departure the next sundown.

“I’ve written a piece that can only be played by two, ”Lesyl had said when the fire walk brought him to the chamber of Auralia’s gallery. Sitting against the wall decorated by an array of colorful weavings, she tuned the twelve stringed tharpe, a formidable, sonorous instrument. She seemed relaxed, even happy, and oblivious that this was a farewell.

“Here.” She picked up a wooden spiral. “You remember how to play the hewson-pipe, don’t you? Oh, come now, don’t tell me you lack the time. You need the practice. ”When he did not approach, she persisted. “Scared?”

“No,” he laughed. Yes, he thought.

He had torn himself away from that conversation to continue the fire walk for fear of losing his fragile restraint. Not now. Not yet.

So while she sang, he paced that routine progress, ensuring that torches would not spark any mishaps, that candles burned within the spheres prescribed, that everything was in its right place.

He had led these survivors through a hostile winter and a dispiriting spring. Just as they had begun to define a possible departure, a visit from the mage sent him scrambling in another direction. Tomorrow he would slip away and venture north to pursue the vision his teacher had given him.

The day will come, Cal-raven, when you’ll have no choice but to leave Scharr ben Fray’s imagination behind and live in the real world. His father’s fury buzzed in his ear like a skeeter-fly. If you don’t, the ground will crumble beneath you.

Facing his father’s likeness, Cal-raven felt his throat tighten. “Whose inventions plunged into the earth?”

Listen to me, boy!You’re too old for toys.Who will lead the people when I’m gone? Someone whose head is full of children’s stories?

“Show me someone better prepared for the task,” he said. “I do not enjoy the burdens you’ve left me. ”He took the shield from where it was draped over the shoulder of the king’s likeness.

The statue’s lips were parted, and a strange feeling of discomfort crept up Cal-raven’s spine. He did not know what scared him more—the thought of the stone speaking or the thought that his dreams might prove false.

Hagah’s inquisitive nose bumped the edge of Cal-marcus’s shield, and he woofed.

“You’re not waiting for him anymore, are you?”

A rough tongue exploded from the hound’s expansive smile, and his tail thumped against the floor.

“You’ve given up on them both.” Cal-raven’s gaze strayed to the statue of his mother. The runaway.

It was a good likeness, or so he’d been told. Jaralaine’s appearance seemed an echo lost in time’s clamor. But troubled scowls from older folk told him that they recognized this imperious beauty. He did remember occasional tenderness and sighs of insatiable loneliness before her disappearance. He also remembered a fury against any suggestion of a will greater than her own.

He found himself suspended between the gravity of these statues and the forested world beyond, which called to him like a feast to a starving man.

“We’re all ready to be runaways now, Mother. If we don’t leave soon, the bonds that bind us will break.”

Hagah sniffed the base of the queen’s statue.

“No!” Cal-raven shouted.

Disappointed, the dog lumbered off through the rows to settle on the lanky figure of a hunter known by his nickname—Arrowhead.

Go ahead, Cal-raven thought. Arrowhead was a grudger. He threatened my father’s life. Wouldn’t hurt him to take some abuse for a change.

Hagah would have merrily complied, but the sound of something slithering sent him bounding back to Cal-raven’s boots, fangs shining beneath his retracting lip. Cal-raven blew out and dropped the candle, held his father’s shield close, and knelt to withdraw the throwing knife at his ankle.

There was only silence. Cal-raven tiptoed through the statues, Hagah stalking low before him.

The dog led him to the western wall, where a corridor ran along the inside of the cliff. Hagah put his snout down to a crack in the floor, noisily drawing in air. His tail stopped wagging.

“What have you found, boy?”

Hagah stiffened. Then he began to back away from the fissure, a low, rolling growl changing into a worried squeal.

“Something nasty?” Scars like burns from rivulets of hot oil marked the floor all about the break. “Let’s go. This place is giving me jitters tonight.”

A puff of wind touched his ear and then––thung! He turned to see an arrow embedded in the wall beside his head.

He sprang forward, leaping over the dog, and ran through the corridor. Down the stairs. Through tiers of tunnels.

In the distance Lesyl sang the Evening Verse. But his pursuer—pursuers, he could hear their footsteps now—did not falter.

Hagah turned around snarling. “No!” Cal-raven knew the dog was no match for an arrow. “Run, boy!” He pointed, and the dog bolted ahead just as he had been trained.

Cal-raven did not follow. He faced the rugged wall, placing his hands against the rock. His fingertips sought hidden inconsistencies, and finding those points, he applied pressure and heat in a way he could never explain.

The stone awakened, rippling in a sudden wind.

Cal-raven’s body clenched like a fist, forcing energy out through his hands. Then he pressed himself through the wavering curtain.

A midsummer evening’s breeze cooled his burning face as the sand sealed itself behind him.

The grudgers are out of patience. He brushed grit from his garments. It would not take long for his hunters to find their own exit. They were watching.Waiting for me to be alone.

“Keeper, protect me,” he murmured. Crouching, he moved away from the cliffs into narrow paths through thorn-barbed thickets that blanketed the plains.

Several turns into that maze, he sat down to catch his breath. I must get back inside where it’s crowded.

He thought about standing up and calling for the guards on the tiers above. But they would not see him here in the brake. And what else might come in answer?

A strange wind moved through the shallow sea of thorns. Bramble bugs skrritch-skrritched across the plains. Something wriggled under his foot. He set his father’s shield aside, tugged off his boot, and shook loose a rock spider.

He looked up through the brambled frame. A shooting star scratched a line across the night’s black dome. As if excited by the mysterious sign, faraway wood dogs shrieked in song.

When he jerked his sleeve free of a bramble and stood, his rustling stirred up a cloud of twilight-suckers. These insects were always a help to hunters, for they uttered tiny shrieks of delight as they descended on fresh dung or carrion.

Sure enough, as the pest cloud dissipated, he saw two copper coins. He knew that reflective stare from a hundred hunts. A lurkdasher. A year ago the sight of this swift, bushy-tailed creature would not have surprised Cal-raven. Lurkdashers were common burrowers in beds of brush. But Abascar’s best hunters had been catching little more than weakened scavengers, rodents lean for lack of prey. Across the Expanse the land had gone quiet, as if emptied by some mass migration.

If Cal-raven had been out for any other purpose, he’d have thrown his knife so fast the dasher would have fallen mid sprint. But he stayed still. Something wasn’t right.

The lurkdasher vanished. Cal-raven stood in the quiet, just another secret in this complicated night.

Then he felt a chill. He could sense a presence, fierce and intent.

He turned his head slightly and drew in a deep breath. Only a stone’s throw to his right an enormous animal, many legged, lurked in the thick web of boughs. He held that breath and waited, eyes slowly translating the contours of darkness and deeper darkness all around him.

Like a mighty hand, the creature clutched the ground, tensing knuckled legs. The bushes around it shivered as the lurkdasher stole away, and like a spider the creature raised two of its front legs from the brambles, bracing the other five against the ground. It was as big as a fang bear. Cal-raven felt a faint tremor. Then he heard a hiss, and the creature shifted its weight slightly, turning those raised limbs toward him.

Considering the sword at his side, he flexed his hand.

A crush of branches sounded to his left. His heart fluttered, a trapped bird, frantic. He turned and saw the second creature—the very same kind—with its feet planted as if it might pounce. In terrified confusion he saw the wind disturb a canvas that the creature drew behind it, a dark black sheet covering the thorns.

He did not know these monstrosities. They looked like they could outrun a viscorcat. And the forest was a long, long run ahead of him through a narrow, winding passage that he could not see clearly. But the cliffs—he might just make it back to the wall. The solid stone wall.

Ever so slowly he planted his hand on the hilt of his sword. He stepped backward, placing his foot down soundlessly.

The creatures stood as still as sculpted metal.

He took another step, drawing his sword half out of its scabbard. No, he thought. The starlight. They’ll see the reflection.

At his third step the creature on the right planted its two raised feet down on the ground, digging in as if it might spring.

He heard movement behind him and felt a blast of air like a bellows. His feeble hopes went out. But something deeper than his mind, stronger than his will, unleashed a cry. He called out, as he had so many times in nightmares, for the Keeper.

The creatures leapt from the brambles and seized him. His sword never escaped the scabbard.

He had a moment to think of Lesyl, interrupted in her song, looking up to receive unexpected news, the hewson-pipe coiled beside her.

Hot limbs wrapped around him, and his feet left the ground. The creatures were shelled, bone-tough, their bellies cushioned with bundles of hair. He struggled, limbs flailing. He was falling skyward, upside down. The pressure did not increase. Nothing pierced or stung or bit. The ground, faintly chalked in moonlight, spread like the sky over his head, and beyond his feet the heavens glittered like Deep Lake at midnight. The creatures held him suspended, their vast canvases snapping in the wind as if they were wings.

And then he saw that they were wings, spread out from a towering creature.

His captors were not animals at all but hands. He hung unharmed in the clawed clutches of a monster and was carried up toward its massive equine head.

Its eyes, glassy spheres full of stars, were fixed upon the northern horizon. Flames lined its nostrils. Its mane wavered as if it were creating, not surrendering to, the night wind. And the scales on its golden neck caught more than moonlight.

A helpless toy in its hands, he watched its attention turn to him, and his fear turned to confusion.

He recognized this creature. This shape had been fixed in his mind since he first drew breath. It had moved at the edges of his dreams. In nightmares it had come when he cried out for help, and sometimes when he could not call at all. During the long days of learning, he had pillaged his father’s history scrolls and hunting journals for evidence.

Nothing had prepared him for this. The creature drew in a cavernful of air, the shield-plates of its chest separating to reveal a soft lacework beneath. It held that breath. He knew it was reading him, reading the night, the skies. Then the curtains of its eyelids came down.

Are you kind? he thought. Dreams…speak true. Let the Keeper be kind.

The creature was stranger than anything he had sculpted when imagining its shape and dimensions. He felt embarrassed by his simplistic appeals, his feeble prayers. He was a mouse in the talons of a brascle, and as the creature reared up on the pillars of its hind legs, wing upon wing upon wing unfolding from its sides like sails on a great ship, he waited for judgment.

A sound like deep recognition ran tremulous through its form. Calraven thought it spoke his name––not the name given by his mother, but the name given by the powers that had crafted him—and every thread of his being burned with attention. As the eyes opened again, the stars within were moving.

It exhaled a scattering of sparks, but gently. The sound was like the Mystery Sea, roaring as it received the river flowing out through the Rushtide Inlet.

The air about the creature shuddered. A wave of noise beyond the range of Cal-raven’s hearing stunned him, conveying a word as clearly as if the creature had spoken. He would not, in the aftermath, know how to translate such a word. But it provoked in him an immediate resolve, a reverent promise.

He would follow. What else could one do when commanded by the Keeper?

Smoke and spice clouded the air and dizzied him. He was passed from clawed hands at the edges of the creature’s wings to one of its enormous, rough-fleshed feet, which held him like a woman’s hand cradling a bird. The creature set him down within a footprint on the path, and a wind whirled fiercely about him. Squinting up through the storm, he saw that the creature had taken flight.

In the space of a sigh, it was gone, a succession of lights darkening across the sky, northward over the Cragavar forest. Cal-raven lay helpless and numb like a discarded doll in the Keeper’s footprint.

Breath burst back into his lungs. He heaved, folding and fighting, a bird shaking away the shards of a shell.

It came when I called.

Never more invigorated, never more single-minded in purpose, he smiled back toward the cliffs. He had been changed.

In that moment everything changed for House Abascar as well. It began with a jolt, not a tremor.

Tabor Jan had been yawning as he reclined atop a boulder and counted the brightening stars. Sleep, out of reach for many nights, had seemed almost possible.

But then the ground beneath him bucked like a furious steed.He scrambled to the path, unsheathing his sword as if he might smite the earth in reprimand. From deep within Barnashum came a sound like hundreds of drums. The shaking intensified. The refuge exhaled clouds of dust through shielded entryways.

“Not part of the plan,” he muttered.

Rubble spilled down the cliffs in the quiet that followed, dust sighing into the thickets below.

“Cal-raven,” he said. Another name came to mind. Brevolo.

Then came a distant cacophony of voices. Rivers of people were rushing out onto the open ledges.

Even as he scanned the scene for the woman he loved, Tabor Jan pushed his way through the crowds, shouting to soldiers that their first priority was to find Cal-raven.

Hagah bounded suddenly into Tabor Jan’s path. The soldier seized the dog’s flabby neck. “Hagah—Cal-raven!”

Thrilled by the command, the dog turned as if jerked by a chain and almost threw himself off the cliffs. It was all the captain could do to keep up with him.

He found himself running toward the sound of triumphant yelps beyond the base of the cliffs. Dog had found master. The king was alive.

Kneeling among the brambles, Cal-raven embraced Hagah, blinking as if he’d been knocked silly by a falling stone.

“Are you hurt?” Tabor Jan scanned the shadowed ground.

“Didn’t you see it?” Cal-raven pointed north toward the Cragavar.

“See it? I felt it. I think they may have felt it in Bel Amica. We may have cave-ins. I’m taking you back.”

“No, not the quake,” said Cal-raven, exhilarated. “Didn’t you see it?”

Tabor Jan braced himself. “See…what?”Then the exuberance of Calraven’s

expression triggered a spasm of alarm. “No! Don’t say it!”

“But Tabor Jan, I saw—”

“Swallow that story, my lord!” He would have preferred a beast man sighting. “Don’t speak of it to the people. Especially not tonight.”

“Not tonight! What could bring them more comfort than to hear—”

“If the grudgers hear you respond to this quake with some wild description of a phantom on our doorstep—”

“Grudgers attacked me tonight.”

“Did you see their faces?”

“No, but I became acquainted with their arrows.” He laughed. “I also became quite familiar with the Keeper. Nose-to-nose, in fact.”

Tabor Jan scowled. “I haven’t slept for so long I’m having nightmares while I’m awake.”

“It pointed me north, Tabor Jan! We’ve got to ride—”

“We’ll ride tomorrow, Cal-raven. Just as you planned.” He urged Cal-raven back toward the cliffs, and they clambered over piles of rubble newly shaken from the heights. A tumult of voices filled the sky.

Hurrying down a steep ridge, an enormous guard came stumbling to meet them.

“Bowlder, how many are hurt?”

“Cave-in!” he wheezed. “Must…dig out…three people.”

“I assume you’ve called for Say-ressa. Without her healing hands we…” Tabor Jan stopped, stricken as he read Bowlder’s expression.

He turned to Cal-raven, but the king was strangely preoccupied with the moon above the northern horizon.