Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Refuge on Crescent Hill by Melanie Dobson

This week, the


Christian Fiction Blog Alliance


is introducing


Refuge on Crescent Hill


Kregel Publications (March 11, 2010)


by


Melanie Dobson






ABOUT THE AUTHOR:





Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of The Black Cloister; Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana; and Together for Good.



Prior to launching Dobson Media Group in 1999, Melanie was the corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family where she was responsible for the publicity of events, products, films, and TV specials. Melanie received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Liberty University and her master's degree in communication from Regent University. She has worked in the fields of publicity and journalism for fifteen years including two years as a publicist for The Family Channel.



Melanie and her husband, Jon, met in Colorado Springs in 1997 at Vanguard Church. Jon works in the field of computer animation. Since they've been married, the Dobsons have relocated numerous times including stints in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Colorado, Berlin, and Southern California. These days they are enjoying their new home in the Pacific Northwest.



Jon and Melanie have adopted their two daughters —Karly (6) and Kinzel (5). When Melanie isn't writing or entertaining their girls, she enjoys exploring ghost towns and dusty back roads, traveling, hiking, line dancing, and reading inspirational fiction.







ABOUT THE BOOK



THE HOMECOMING WASN’T WHAT SHE EXPECTED…



Jobless, homeless, and broke, Camden Bristow decides to visit the grandmother she hasn’t seen in years. But when Camden arrives in Etherton, Ohio, she discovers that her grandmother has passed away, leaving her the 150-year-old mansion on Crescent Hill. The site of her happiest summers as a child, the run-down mansion is now her only refuge.



When Camden finds evidence that she may not be the mansion’s only occupant, memories of Grandma Rosalie’s bedtime stories about secret passageways and runaway slaves fuel her imagination. What really happened at Crescent Hill? Who can she turn to for answers in this town full of strangers? And what motivates the handsome local Alex Yates to offer his help? As she works to uncover the past and present mysteries harbored in her home, Camdem uncovers deep family secrets within the mansion’s walls that could change her life─and the entire town─forever.



If you would like to read the first chapter of Refuge on Crescent Hill, go HERE.

I am almost half way through this one and it is interesting so far.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Mailbox by Marybeth Whalen (Review)

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:



The Mailbox

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

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


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Marybeth Whalen is the general editor of For the Write Reason and The Reason We Speakas well as co-author of the book Learning to Live Financially Free. She serves as a speaker for the Proverbs 31 Ministry Team and directs a fiction book club, She Reads, through this same outreach. Most importantly, Marybeth is the wife of Curt Whalen and mother to their six children. She is passionate about sharing God with all the women God places in her path. She has been visiting the mailbox for years.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0781403693
ISBN-13: 978-0781403696

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



Sunset Beach, NC

Summer 1985


Campbell held back a teasing smile as he led Lindsey across the warm sand toward the mailbox. Leaning her head on Campbell’s shoulder, her steps slowed. She looked up at him, observing the mischievous curling at the corners of his mouth. “There really is no mailbox, is there?” she said, playfully offended. “If you wanted to get me alone on a deserted stretch of beach, all you had to do was ask.” She elbowed him in the side.


A grin spread across his flawless face. “You caught me.” He threw his hands up in the air in surrender.


“I gotta stop for a sec,” Lindsey said and bent at the waist, stretching the backs of her aching legs. She stood up and put her hands on her hips, narrowing her eyes at him. “So, have you actually been to the mailbox? Maybe the other kids at the pier were just pulling your leg.”


Campbell nodded his head. “I promise I’ve been there before. It’ll be worth it. You’ll see.” He pressed his forehead to hers and looked intently into her eyes before continuing down the beach.


“If you say so …” she said, following him. He slipped his arm around her bare tanned shoulder and squeezed it, pulling her closer to him. Lindsey looked ahead of them at the vast expanse of raw

coastline. She could make out a jetty of rocks in the distance that jutted into the ocean like a finish line.


As they walked, she looked down at the pairs of footprints they left in the sand. She knew that soon the tide would wash them away, and she realized that just like those footprints, the time she had left

with Campbell would soon vanish. A refrain ran through her mind: Enjoy the time you have left. She planned to remember every moment of this walk so she could replay it later, when she was back at home, without him. Memories would be her most precious commodity. How else would she feel him near her?


“I don’t know how we’re going to make this work,” she said as they walked. “I mean, how are we going to stay close when we’re so far away from each other?”


He pressed his lips into a line and ran a hand through his hair. “We just will,” he said. He exhaled loudly, a punctuation.


“But how?” she asked, wishing she didn’t sound so desperate.


He smiled. “We’ll write. And we’ll call. I’ll pay for the longdistance bills. My parents already said I could.” He paused. “And we’ll count the days until next summer. Your aunt and uncle already said you could come back and stay for most of the summer. And you know your mom will let you.”


“Yeah, she’ll be glad to get rid of me for sure.” She pushed images of home from her mind: the menthol odor of her mother’s cigarettes, their closet-sized apartment with parchment walls you could hear the neighbors through, her mom’s embarrassing “delicates” dangling from the shower rod in the tiny bathroom they shared. She wished that her aunt and uncle didn’t have to leave the beach house after

the summer was over and that she could just stay with them forever.


The beach house had become her favorite place in the world. At the beach house, she felt like a part of a real family with her aunt and uncle and cousins. This summer had been an escape from the reality of her life at home. And it had been a chance to discover true love. But tomorrow, her aunt and uncle would leave for their home and send her back to her mother.


“I don’t want to leave!” she suddenly yelled into the open air, causing a few startled birds to take flight.


Campbell didn’t flinch when she yelled. She bit her lip and closed her eyes as he pulled her to him and hugged her.


“Shhh,” he said. “I don’t want you to leave either.” He cupped her chin with his hand. “If I could reverse time for you, I would. And we would go back and do this whole summer over.”


She nodded and wished for the hundredth time that she could stand on the beach with Campbell forever, listening to the hypnotic sound of his voice, so much deeper and more mature than the boys at school. She thought about the pictures they had taken earlier that day, a last-ditch effort to have something of him to take with her. But it was a pitiful substitute, a cheap counterfeit for the real thing.


Campbell pointed ahead of them. “Come on,” he said and tugged on her hand. “I think I see it.” He grinned like a little boy. They crested the dune and there, without pomp or circumstance,

just as he had promised, stood an ordinary mailbox with gold letters spelling out “Kindred Spirit.”


“I told you it was here!” he said as they waded through the deep sand. “The mailbox has been here a couple of years,” he said, his tone changing to something close to reverence as he laid his hand on top

of it. “No one knows who started it or why, but word has traveled and now people come all the way out here to leave letters for the Kindred Spirit—the mystery person who reads them. People come from all over the world.”


“So does anybody know who gets the letters?” Lindsey asked. She ran her fingers over the gold, peeling letter decals. The bottom half of the n and e were missing.


“I don’t think so. But that’s part of what draws people here— they come here because this place is private, special.” He looked down at his bare feet, digging his toes into the sand. “So … I wanted to bring you here. So it could be our special place too.” He looked over at her out of the corner of his eye. “I hope you don’t think that’s lame.”


She put her arms around him and looked into his eyes. “Not lame at all,” she said.


As he kissed her, she willed her mind to record it all: the roar of the waves and the cry of the seagulls, the powdery softness of the warm sand under her feet, the briny smell of the ocean mixed with the scent of Campbell’s sun-kissed skin. Later, when she was back at home in Raleigh, North Carolina, she would come right back to this moment. Again and again. Especially when her mother sent her to her room with the paper-thin walls while she entertained her newest boyfriend.


Lindsey opened the mailbox, the hinges creaking as she did. She looked to him, almost for approval. “Look inside,” he invited her.


She saw some loose paper as well as spiral-bound notebooks, the kind she bought at the drugstore for school. The pages were crinkly from the sea air and water. There were pens in the mailbox too, some

with their caps missing.


Campbell pointed. “You should write a letter,” he said. “Take a pen and some paper and just sit down and write what you are feeling.” He shrugged. “It seemed like something you would really get into.”


How well he had come to know her in such a short time. “Okay,” she said. “I love it.” She reached inside and pulled out a purple notebook, flipping it open to read a random page. Someone had written about a wonderful family vacation spent at Sunset and the special time she had spent with her daughter.


She closed the notebook. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. She couldn’t imagine her own mother ever wanting to spend time with her, much less being so grateful about it. Reading the notebook made her feel worse, not better. She didn’t need reminding about what she didn’t have waiting for her back home.


Campbell moved in closer. “What is it?” he said, his body lining up perfectly with hers as he pulled her close.


She laid the notebook back inside the mailbox. “I just don’t want to go home,” she said. “I wish my uncle didn’t have to return to his stupid job. How can I go back to … her? She doesn’t want me there any more than I want to be there.” This time she didn’t fight the tears that had been threatening all day.


Campbell pulled her down to sit beside him in the sand and said nothing as she cried, rocking her slightly in his arms.


With her head buried in his shoulder, her words came out muffled. “You are so lucky you live here.”


He nodded. “Yeah, I guess I am.” He said nothing for a while.

“But you have to know that this place won’t be the same for me without you in it.”


She looked up at him, her eyes red from crying. “So you’re saying I’ve ruined it for you?”


He laughed, and she recorded the sound of his laugh in her memory too. “Well, if you want to put it that way, then, yes.”


“Well, that just makes me feel worse!” She laid her head on his shoulder and concentrated on the nearness of him, inhaled the sea scent of his skin and the smell of earth that clung to him from working

outside with his dad.


“Everywhere I go from now on I will have the memory of you with me. Of me and you together. The Island Market, the beach, the arcade, the deck on my house, the pier …” He raised his eyebrows as

he remembered the place where he first kissed her. “And now here. It will always remind me of you.”


“And I am going home to a place without a trace of you in it. I don’t know which is worse, constant reminders or no reminders at all.” She laced her narrow fingers through his.


“So are you glad we met?” She sounded pitiful, but she had to hear his answer.


“I would still have wanted to meet you,” he said. “Even though it’s going to break my heart to watch you go. What we have is worth it.” He kissed her, his hands reaching up to stroke her hair. She heard his words echoing in her mind: worth it, worth it, worth it. She knew that they were young, that they had their whole lives ahead of them, at least that’s what her aunt and uncle had told her. But she also knew

that what she had with Campbell was beyond age.


Campbell stood up and pulled her to her feet, attempting to keep kissing her as he did. She giggled as the pull of gravity parted them. He pointed her toward the mailbox. “Now, go write it all down for the Kindred Spirit. Write everything you feel about us and how unfair it is that we have to be apart.” He squinted his eyes at her. “And I promise not to read over your shoulder.”


She poked him. “You can read it if you want. I have no secrets from you.”


He shook his head. “No, no. This is your deal. Your private world—just between you and the Kindred Spirit. And next year,” he said, smiling down at her, “I promise to bring you back here, and you can write about the amazing summer we’re going to have.”


“And what about the summer after that?” she asked, teasing him.


“That summer too.” He kissed her. “And the next.” He kissed her again. “And the next.” He kissed her again, smiling down at her through his kisses. “Get the point?


“This will be our special place,” he said as they stood together in front of the mailbox.


“Always?” she asked.


“Always,” he said.


Summer 1985


Dear Kindred Spirit,


I have no clue who you are, and yet that doesn’t stop me from writing to you anyway. I hope one day I will discover your identity. I wonder if you are nearby even as I put pen to paper. It’s a little weird to think that I could have passed you on the street this summer and not know you would be reading my

deepest thoughts and feelings. Campbell won’t even read this, though I would let him if he asked me.


As I write, Campbell is down at the water’s edge, throwing shells. He is really good at making the shells skip across the water—I guess that’s proof that this place is his home.


Let me ask you, Kindred Spirit: Do you think it’s silly for me to assume that I have found my soul mate at the age of fifteen? My mom would laugh. She would tell me that the likelihood of anyone finding a soul mate—ever—is zero. She would tell me that I need to not go around giving my heart away like a hopeless romantic. She laughs when I read romance novels or see sappy movies that make me cry. She says that I will learn the truth about love someday.


But, honestly, I feel like I did learn the truth about love this summer. It’s like what they say: It can happen when you least expect it, and it can knock you flat on your back with its power. I didn’t come here expecting to fall in love. The truth is I didn’t want to come here at all. I came here feeling pushed aside and unwanted. I can still remember when my mom said that she had arranged for my aunt and uncle to bring me here, smiling at me like she was doing me some kind of favor when we both knew she just wanted me out of the picture so she could live her life without me cramping her style.


I tried to tell her that I didn’t want to come—who would want to spend their summer with bratty cousins? I was so mad, I didn’t speak to my mom for days. I begged, plotted, and even got my best friend Holly’s parents to say I could stay with them instead. But in the end, as always, my mother ruled, and I got packed off for a summer at the beach. On the car ride down, I sat squished in the backseat beside Bobby and Stephanie. Bobby elbowed me and stuck his tongue out at me the whole way to the beach. When his parents weren’t looking, of course. I stared out the window and pretended to be anywhere but in that car.


But now, I can’t believe how wonderful this summer has turned out. I made some new friends. I read a lot of books and even got to where I could tolerate my little cousins. They became like the younger siblings I never had. Most of all, I met Campbell.


I know what Holly will say. She will say that it was God’s plan. I am working on believing that there is a God and that he has a plan for my life like Holly says. But most of the time it feels like God is not aware I exist. If he was aware of me, you’d think he’d have given me a mom who actually cared about me.


Ugh—I can’t believe I have to leave tomorrow. Now that I have found Campbell, I don’t know what I will do without him. We have promised to write a lot of letters. And we have promised not to date other people.


A word about him asking me not to date other people: This was totally funny to me. Two nights ago we were walking on the beach and he stopped me, pulling me to him and looking at me really seriously. “Please,” he said, “I would really like it if you wouldn’t see other people. Is that crazy for me to ask that of you when we are going to be so far apart?”


I was like, “Are you kidding? No one asks me out. No one at my school even looks at me twice!” At school I am known for being quiet and studious—a brain, not a girl to call for a good time. Holly says that men will discover my beauty later in life. But until this summer I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t admit that no one notices me at school because, obviously, he believes I am sought after. And I knew enough to let him believe it. So I very coyly answered back, “Only if you promise me the same thing.”


And he smiled in that lazy way of his and said, “How could I even look at another girl when I’ve got the best one in the world?”


And so now you see why I just can’t bear the thought of leaving him. But the clock is ticking. When I get home, I swear I will cry myself to sleep every night and write letters to Campbell every day. The only thing I have to look forward to is hanging out with Holly again. Thank goodness for Holly, the one constant in my life. In math class we learned that a constant is something that has one value all the time and it never changes.

That’s what Holly is for me: my best friend, no matter what.


I wonder if Campbell will be a constant in my life. I guess it’s too soon to tell, but I do hope so. I’m already counting down the days until I can come back and be with Campbell. Because this summer—I don’t care how lame it sounds—I found my purpose. And that purpose is loving Campbell with all my

heart. Always.


Until next summer,

Lindsey

©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. The Mailbox by Marybeth Whalen. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.






Book Description:
When Lindsey first visits the Kindred Spirit mailbox at Sunset Beach, she has no idea that twenty years later she will still be visiting the mailbox - still pouring out her heart in letters that summarize the best and worst parts of her life. Returning to Sunset for her first vacation since her husband left her, Lindsey struggles to put her sorrow into words. Memories surface of her first love, Campbell and the rejection that followed. When Campbell reappears in her life, Lindsey must decide whether to trust in love again or guard herself from greater pain. The Mailbox is a rich novel about loss, hope, and the beauty of second chances.


My Review:
I have mixed feelings about this book. I have read a lot of debut novels this year so it had tough competiton to began with. The main plot line of the mailbox was good and it is interesting that there really is a mailbox like that in the real world. Certain parts of the plot did not feel realistic. Some of the characters needed more development. Lindsey and Campbell's relationship developed quickly but they did know each other before but it still did not ring true all the way. I did like the atmosphere of the book and the beach setting. Overall the book was okay and if you like contemporay Christian fiction with a beach setting you will probably like this book. :)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Simple Secrets by Nancy Mehl (Review)

This week, the


Christian Fiction Blog Alliance


is introducing


Simple Secrets
Barbour Books (June 1, 2010)


by


Nancy Mehl






ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Nancy Mehl lives in Wichita, Kansas with her husband Norman and her son, Danny. She’s authored nine books and is currently at work on her newest series for Barbour Publishing.



All of Nancy’s novels have an added touch – something for your spirit as well as your soul. “I welcome the opportunity to share my faith through my writing,” Nancy says. “It’s a part of me and of everything I think or do. God is number one in my life. I wouldn’t be writing at all if I didn’t believe that this is what He’s called me to do. I hope everyone who reads my books will walk away with the most important message I can give them: God is good, and He loves you more than you can imagine. He has a good plan especially for your life, and there is nothing you can’t overcome with His help.”



CREATING FICTION FULL OF FAITH, HOPE AND HEART…



Nancy Mehl is a mystery writer who loves to set her novels in her home state of Kansas. Her three-in-one book, COZY IN KANSAS, contains the first three Ivy Towers’s mysteries: IN THE DEAD OF WINTER, BYE BYE BERTIE, and FOR WHOM THE WEDDING BELL TOLLS which was nominated for the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year Award in mystery.



She and her husband attend Believer’s Tabernacle in Wichita.





ABOUT THE BOOK



Graphic designer Gracie Temple wants it all: the big city lifestyle and a successful job in advertising. And it looks like her life is on the right track when she takes a job at a struggling, midsize firm in Wichita.



But Gracie Temple's uncle left her a house in a rural Mennonite community. She soon learns he secluded himself for years to protect a secret about her own father. Now it's up to Gracie to decide if she'll keep the secret or if she can afford to expose it.



Sam Goodrich loves his fruit farm in Harmony, Kansas. But when he meets city-girl Gracie, he begins to wonder if he could leave it behind for a woman who makes him feel things he's never felt before.



When someone tries to keep Gracie from discovering the truth behind the town's collection of secrets, will Sam and Gracie cling to their faith to help them decide what's most important...before it's too late?



If you would like to read the first chapter of Simple Secrets, go HERE.

My Review:

I thought this was a good romantic somewhat suspenseful/mystery novel. I loved how the relationship between Sam and Gracie developed even though it was somewhat quick. The plot was interesting and well written. I did guess a few things before the end but it did not ruin the book for me. The characters and setting were unique and the author described them well. I really did not know anything about the Mennonite culture but the book was not heavy on it. I look forward to seeing where this series goes and more of the same characters. Recommended. :)

It's Monday What Are You Reading? June 28, 2010


Last week I read:
- Twin Targets by Marta Perry
- Killer Headline by Debby Giusti
- The Mailbox by Marybeth Whalen
- Simple Secrets by Nancy Mehl

What I am currently reading:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Refuge on Crescent Hill by Melanie Dobson

What I am reading next:
- Nightmare by Robin Parrish
- Nightshade by Ronie Kendig
- Unwilling Warrior by Andrea Boeshaar
- The Unshakable Truth by Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell
- Tomorrow We Die by Shawn Grady
- Boyfriends, Burritos, and an Ocean of Trouble by Nancy Rue

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Sunday Salon June 27, 2010

The Sunday Salon.com

* This has been a really busy weekend. I have read only one of the three books I needed to for next week. Not to mention my Russian Literature book I am working on.

* I have started working out at work before and after in the PT gym. I have lost five pounds. The weekends are tough. I walked three miles at the park yesterday and two today. I need to go again tonight but I am still doing laundry etc. I am also trying to eat a little better. It is going okay so far. It takes more effort which gets me and cost more money. But its my health so I am going to try it. I miss pizza, chips, and ice cream. My favorite holiday is coming up too, Fourth of July. I always eat the normal food on that day so I will just have to exercise more to make up for it.

* I am doing okay on my goal to read every day no matter how many pages it is in the book. I hope to keep it up. I am behind on writing book reviews though.

* I hope everyone has a great week and lots of reading time. :)

My Wordle for Summer Reading Challenge Two

Wordle: My Sunday

I made this wordle using one of my old Sunday Salon posts that has a lot of typical stuff in it for me.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer Break Reading Challenge 2010

I am joining The Summer Break Reading Challenge. I know I said no more challenges but I can't resist. My only goal for this challenge is to read everyday. I don't have a set number of pages or books. I will be happy with whatever I accomplish. I have had a hard time reading during the week this year and I think this will help keep me motivated. :)
It starts June 23 and ends the late part of August (no date on the blog).


The blog site is
http://summerbreakreadingchallenge.blogspot.com/
It is hosted by KarinLibrarian.

Spring Reading Thing 2010 Wrap Up Post

I can't believe summer is here already. I enjoyed this reading challenge. I did not read everything off my original list for various reasons. I read three of my four nonfiction books which is good for me. I read one of seven regular/classics on my original list. Below I'm posting what I did read. I read a total of 67 books. :) I look forward to participating in the Fall Into Reading challenge. Thank you Katrina at Callapidder Days for hosting.
http://callapidderdays.com/


76. A Case for Love by Kaye Dacus
77. High Plains Bride by Valerie Hanson
78. Heartland Wedding by Renee Ryan
79. Kansas Courtship by Victoria Bylin
80. Dad in Training by Gail Gaymer Martin
81. McKenzie's Montana Mystery by Shari Barr
82. Alexis and the Sacramento Surprise by Erica Rodgers
83. The Hero Next Door by Irene Hannon
84. Songbird Under a German Moon by Tricia Goyer
85. Plain Paradise by Beth Wiseman
86. Rodeo Sweetheart by Betsy St. Amant
87. The Cinderella List by Judy Baer
88. Asking for Trouble by Sandra Byrd
April
89. Sixteen Brides by Stephanie Grace Whitson
90. Through Thick and Thin by Sandra Byrd
91. Heading Home by Renee Riva
92. Cool Beans by Erynn Mangum
93. Too Close to Home by Lynette Eason
94. A Stranger's Wish by Gayle Roper
95. Never Let Me Go by Erin Healey
96. Forget Me Not by Vicki Hinze
97. In Harm's Way by Irene Hannon
98. Wonders Never Cease by Tim Downs
99. Hiking Through by Paul V. Stutzman (Non fiction)
100. Winter's Awakening by Shelley Shepard Gray
101. Spring's Renewal by Shelley Shepard Gray
102. No Hope for Gomez! by Graham Parke
103. The Anonymous Bride by Vickie McDonough
May
104. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
105. Love Will Keep Us Together by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt
106. Maggie Rose by Sharlene MacLaren
107. It Had to Be You by Janice Thompson
108. Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes
109. A Silent Fury by Lynette Eason
110. Witness to Murder by Jill Elizabeth Nelson
111. More Than Great Riches by Jan Washburn
112. Face of Betrayal by Lis Wiehl and April Henry
113. This Fine Life by Eva Marie Everson
114. A Matter of Character by Robin Lee Hatcher
115. For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn (NF)
116. Deadly Disclosures by Julie Cave
117. The Bridegrooms by Allison Pittman
118. So Over My Head by Jenny B. Jones
119. A Daughter's Legacy by Virgina Smith
120. Evidence of Murder by Jill Elizabeth Nelson
121. Steadfast Soldier by Cheryl Wyatt
122. Cowboy for Keeps by Debra Clopton
123. Nowhere, Carolina by Tamara Leigh
124. Abbie Ann by Sharlene MacLaren
125. Hurricanes in Paradise by Denise Hildreth
June
126. Green Like God by Jonathan Merritt (Nonfiction)
127. Not a Sparrow Falls by Linda Nichols
128. Texas Roads by Cathy Bryant
129. Dying to Live by Clive Calver
130. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett (Nonfiction)
131. A Hopeful Heart by Kim Vogel Sawyer
132. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
133. Snow Melts in the Spring by Deborah Vogts
134. Seeds of Summer by Deborah Vogts
135. The Six Liter Club by Harry Kraus
136. The Heart Mender by Andy Andrews
137. A Tailor Made Bride by Karen Witemeyer
138. Ransome's Honor by Kaye Dacus
139. The Princess by Lori Wick (Reread)
140. I'll Mature When I'm Dead by Dave Barry (Nonfiction)
141. The Babysitter's Club The Summer Before by Ann Martin
142. The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom
143. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Chasing Lilacs by Carla Stewart

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance


is introducing


Chasing Lilacs
FaithWords (June 17, 2010)
by


Carla Stewart






ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Carla Stewart’s writing reflects her passion for times gone by. She believed in Jesus, the power of the written word, and a good cup of coffee. She's a country girl living now in a mid-sized city with her engineering husband who just happens to be her best friend and biggest fan.She and her husband have four adult sons and delight in the adventures of their six grandchildren.



FROM CARLA:



I grew up in the Texas Panhandle with two younger sisters and loving parents. Small town school. Great neighbors. Today, those small-town, fundamental things resonate within me -- the twang in people's voices, the art of being neighborly and just being a decent human being.



Growing up, I preferred the company of books over TV and playing outdoors. I imagined myself in many different careers, but given my down-to-earth raising, I settled on nursing. I didn't faint at the sight of blood and did well in science, so it seemed a natural choice.



I worked as a registered nurse off and on through the years, but primarily I stayed home with my four rambunctious boys and dreamed of the day when I could write the novels I loved to read. When our youngest son was in high school, I quit my job as a nursing instructor and settled in to pen my first novel. It's been quite a journey. One I wouldn't trade for anything.



I'm committed to writing the stories of my heart and am truly thankful to Jesus, my Savior, for allowing me this freedom. May all the glory be His.



Chasing Lilacs is her first book!





ABOUT THE BOOK



It is the summer of 1958, and life in the small Texas community of Graham Camp should be simple and carefree. But not for twelve-year-old Sammie Tucker. Sammie has plenty of questions about her mother's "nerve" problems. About shock treatments. About whether her mother loves her.



When her mother commits suicide and a not-so-favorite aunt arrives, Sammie has to choose who to trust with her deepest fears: Her best friend who has an opinion about everything, the mysterious kid from California whose own troubles plague him, or her round-faced neighbor with gentle advice and strong shoulders to cry on. Then there's the elderly widower who seems nice but has his own dark past.



Trusting is one thing, but accepting the truth may be the hardest thing Sammie has ever done.



If you would like to read the first chapter of Chasing Lilacs, go HERE.

Claim by Lisa Bergren

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:


Claim: A Novel of Colorado (The Homeward Trilogy)

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Lisa T. Bergren is a best-selling author who offers a wide array of reading opportunities ranging from children’s books (God Gave Us Love and God Found Us You) and women’s nonfiction (Life on Planet Mom) to suspense-filled intrigue (The Gifted Trilogy) and historical drama. With more than thirty titles among her published works and a deep faith that has weathered dramatic career and personal challenges, Bergren is excited to add the Homeward Trilogy to her resume as she follows God’s direction in her writing career. Bergren lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with her husband Tim (a graphic design artist and musician) and their three children.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 143476706X
ISBN-13: 978-1434767066

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


1 August 1888

Gunnison, Colorado


“Keep doing that you’ll get yourself killed,” Nic said to the boy. Panting, Nic paused and wiped his forehead of sweat. For an hour now, as he moved sacks of grain from a wagon to a wheelbarrow and into the warehouse, he’d glimpsed the boy daring fate as he ran across the busy street, narrowly escaping horse hooves and wagon wheels.


“Where’s your mother?”


The brown-haired boy paused. “Don’t have a mother.”


“Well then, where’s your father?”


The boy cast him an impish grin and shrugged one shoulder.

“Around.”


“Is he coming back soon?” Nic persisted.


“Soon enough. You won’t tell ’im, will ya?”


“Tell him what?” Nic tossed back with a small smile. “Long as you stop doing whatever you’re not supposed to be doing.”


The boy wandered closer and climbed up to perch on the wagon’s edge, watching Nic with eyes that were as dark as his hair. Nic relaxed a bit, relieved that the kid wasn’t in imminent danger.


Nic hefted a sack onto his shoulder and carried it to the cart. It felt good to be working again. He liked this sort of heavy labor, the feel of muscles straining, the way he had to suck in his breath to heave a sack, then release it with a long whoosh. A full day of this sort of work allowed him to drop off into dreamless sleep—something he hungered for more than anything else these days.


The boy was silent, but Nic could feel him staring, watching his every move like an artist studying a subject he was about to paint. “How’d you get so strong?” the boy said at last.


“Always been pretty strong,” Nic said, pulling the next sack across the wooden planks of the wagon, positioning it. “How’d you get so fast?”


“Always been pretty fast,” said the boy, in the same measured tone Nic had used.


Nic smiled again, heaved the sack to his shoulder, hauled it five steps to the cart, and then dropped it.


“This your job?” the boy asked.


“For today,” Nic said.


Nic loaded another sack, and the boy was silent for a moment. “My dad’s looking for help. At our mine.”


“Hmm,” Nic said.


“Needs a partner to help haul rock. He’s been asking around here for days.”


“Miner, huh? I don’t care much for mining.”


“Why not? You could be rich.”


“More miners turn out dead than rich.” He winced inwardly, as a shadow crossed the boy’s face. It’d been a while since he’d been around a kid this age. He was maybe ten or eleven max, all wiry muscle and sinew. Reminded him of a boy he knew in Brazil.


Nic carried the next sack over to the wagon, remembering the heat there, so different from what Colorado’s summer held. Here it was bone dry. He was sweating now, after the morning’s work, but not a lot. In Brazil a man soaked his sheets as he slept.


“Listen, kid,” he said, turning back around to the wagon, intending to apologize for upsetting him. But the boy was gone.


Nic sighed and set to finishing his work. As the sun climbed high in the sky, he paused to take a drink from his canteen and eat a hunk of bread and cheese, watching the busy street at the end of the alleyway. He wondered if he’d see the boy again, back to his antics of racing teams of horses. The child was probably letting off steam, just as Nic had done all his life—he’d been about the child’s age when he’d first starting scrapping with others.


But that was in the past. Not since his voyage aboard the Mirabella had Nic indulged the need, succumbed to the desire to enter a fight. Several times now, he’d had the opportunity—and enough cause—to take another man down. But he had walked away. He knew, deep down he knew, that if he was ever to face his sisters, Odessa and Moira, again, if he was to come to them and admit he was penniless, everything would somehow be all right if he was settled inside. If he could come to a place of peace within, the kind of peace Manuel had known. It was the kind of thing that allowed a man to stand

up straight, shoulders back, the kind of thing that gave a man’s gut peace. Regardless of what he accomplished, or had in the past. Thing was, he hadn’t found that place of comfort inside, and he didn’t want what Manuel tried to sell him—God.


There had to be another way, another path. Something like this work. Hard manual labor. That might be what he needed most.


Nic heard a man calling, his voice a loud whisper, and his eyes narrowed as the man came limping around the corner, obviously in pain, his arm in a sling. “You, there!” he called to Nic. “Seen a boy around? About yea big?” he said, gesturing to about chest height.


“Yeah, he was here,” Nic called back. He set his canteen inside the empty wagon and walked to the end of the alleyway.


“Where’d he go?” the man said. Nic could see the same widow’s peak in the man’s brown hair that the boy had, the same curve of the eyes … the boy’s father, clearly.


“Not sure. One minute he was watching me at work, the next he was gone.”


“That’s my boy, all right.”


“I’ll help you find him.”


The man glanced back at him and then gave him a small smile. He stuck out his good arm and offered his hand. “I’d appreciate that. Name’s Vaughn. Peter Vaughn.”


“Dominic St. Clair,” he replied. “You can call me Nic.”


Peter smiled. His dimples were in the exact same spot as the boy’s. “Sure you can leave your work?”


“I’m nearly done. Let’s find your boy.”


“Go on,” Moira’s sister urged, gazing out the window. “He’s been waiting on you for a good bit now.”


“I don’t know what he sees in me,” Moira said, wrapping the veil around her head and across her shoulder again. It left most of her face visible but covered the burns at her neck, ear, and scalp. Did it cover them enough? She nervously patted it, making sure it was in place.


Odessa stepped away from washing dishes and joined her. “He might wonder what you see in him. Do you know what his story is? He seems wary.” Their eyes met and Odessa backtracked. “Daniel’s a

good man, Moira. I think highly of him. But I’d like to know what has burdened him so. Besides you.” She nudged her sister with her hip.


Moira wiped her hands on the dish towel and glanced out at him as he strode across the lawn with Bryce, Odessa’s husband. He was striking in profile, reminding her of the statues of Greek gods the French favored in their lovely tailored gardens. Far too handsome for her—since the fire, anyway. She shook her head a little.


“Moira.”


Irritated at being caught in thought, Moira looked at Odessa again.


“Trust him, Moira. He’s a good man. I can sense it.”


She nodded, but inwardly she sighed as she turned away and wrapped a scarf around her veiled head and shoulders. A good man. After Reid and Max and Gavin—could she really trust her choice in men? Odessa was fortunate to have fallen for her husband, Bryce, a good man through and through. Moira’s experiences with men had been less than successful. What made Odessa think this one was trustworthy?


But as Daniel ducked his head through the door and inclined it to one side in silent invitation to walk with him, Moira thought about how he had physically saved her more than once. And how his gentle pursuit both bewildered and calmed her. Daniel had done nothing to deserve her suspicions.


She moved over to the door. He glanced at her, and she noticed how his thick lashes made his brown eyes more pronounced. He shuffled his feet as if he were nervous. “You busy?” he asked.


“No.” Moira felt a nervous tension tighten her stomach muscles.


“Can we, uh …” His gaze shifted to Odessa, who quickly returned to her dishes. “Go for a walk?” he finally finished.


Moira smoothed her skirts and said, “I’d like that.” Then, meeting her sister’s surreptitious gaze, she followed him outside. It was a lovely day on the Circle M. The horses pranced in the distance. She could see her brother-in-law riding out with Tabito, the ranch’s foreman.


“So, you wanted to talk,” she ventured.


“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t want to talk to you, Moira,” he said.


She looked up at him and then, when she saw the ardor in his gaze, she turned with a sigh.


“Don’t look away,” he whispered gently, pulling her to face him. He reached to touch her veil, as if he longed to cradle her cheek instead.


“No, Daniel, don’t,” she said and ran a nervous hand over the cover. He was tall and broad, and she did not feel physically menaced—it was her heart that threatened to pound directly out of her chest. Perhaps she wasn’t ready for this … the intimacies that a courtship brought.


She’d been dreaming about what it would be like to be kissed by him, held by him, but he never made such advances before. Never took the opportunity, leaving her to think that he was repulsed by

her burns, her hair, singed to just a few inches long, her past relationship with Gavin, or her pregnancy—despite what he claimed. Her hand moved to the gentle roundness of her belly, still small yet making itself more and more prominent each day. “I … I’m not even certain why you pursue me at all. Why you consider me worthy. ”


He seemed stunned by her words. “Worthy?” he breathed. He let out a hollow, breathy laugh and then looked to the sky, running a hand through his hair. He shook his head and then slowly brought his brown eyes down to meet hers again. “Moira,” he said, lifting a hand to cradle her cheek and jaw, this time without hesitation. She froze, wondering if he intended to kiss her at last. “I only hesitate because I am afraid,” he whispered.


“Afraid? You think I am not? I come to you scarred in so many ways, when you, you, Daniel, deserve perfection.…”


“No,” he said, shaking his head too. “It is I who carry the scars. You don’t know me. You don’t know who I am. Who I once was. What I’ve done …”


“So tell me,” she pleaded. “Tell me.”


He stared at her a moment longer, as if wondering if she was ready, wondering if she could bear it, and Moira’s heart pounded again. Then, “No. I can’t,” he said with a small shake of his head. He sighed heavily and moved up the hill. “Not yet.”


An hour after they began their search for Everett Vaughn, Peter sat down on the edge of the boardwalk and looked up to the sky. His face was a mask of pain. “That boy was hard to track when I wasn’t hurt.”


“He’ll turn up,” Nic reassured.


Peter nodded and lifted his gaze to the street.


“What happened to you?” Nic said gently, sitting down beside the man. His eyes scanned the crowds for the boy even as he waited for Peter’s response.


“Cave-in, at my mine. That’s why I’m here. Looking for a good man to partner with me. I’m onto a nice vein, but I’m livin’ proof that a man’s a fool to mine alone.” He looked at Nic and waited until he met his gaze. “You lookin’ for work?” He cocked his head to the side. “I’m offering a handsome deal. Fifty fifty.”


Nic let a small smile tug at the corners of his mouth. He glanced at the man, who had to be about his own age. There was an easy way about him that drew Nic, despite the pain evident in the lines of his face. “That is a handsome offer.” He cocked his own head. “But I don’t see you doing half the work, laid up like you are.”


“No, not quite. But I’ve already put a lot of work into it in the past three years, and I’m still good for about a quarter of the labor. To say nothing of the fact that my name’s on the claim.”


Nic paused, thinking about it, feeling drawn to help this man, but then shook his head. “I’m not very fond of small dark spaces.”


“So … make it bigger. Light a lamp.”


Nic shook his head, more firmly this time. “No. I’d rather find another line of work.”


Just then he spotted the boy, running the street again. “There he is,” Nic said, nodding outward. The boy’s father followed his gaze and with a grimace, rose to his feet. As they watched, the boy ran under a wagon that had temporarily pulled to a stop. Then he jumped up on the back of another, riding it for about twenty feet until he was passing by them. His face was a mask of elation.


“Everett! Ev! Come on over here!”


Everett’s eyes widened in surprise. He jumped down and ran over to them, causing a man on horseback to pull back hard on his reins and swear.


“Sorry, friend,” Peter said, raising his good arm up to the rider. The horseman shook his head and then rode on.


Peter grabbed his son’s arm and, limping, hauled him over to the boardwalk. “I’ve told you to stay out of the street.”


“So did I,” Nic said, meeting the boy’s gaze. The child flushed red and glanced away.


“We’d best be on our way,” Peter said. “Thanks for helpin’ me find my boy.” He reached out a hand and Nic rose to shake it. Peter paused. “It’s not often a man has a chance at entering a claim agreement once a miner has found a vein that is guaranteed to pay.”


Nic hesitated as he dropped Peter’s hand. “I’ve narrowly escaped with my life on more than one occasion, friend. I’m aiming to look up my sisters, but not from a casket.”


Peter lifted his chin, but his eyes betrayed his weariness and disappointment. What would it mean for him? For his boy, not to find a willing partner? Would they have to give up the mine just as they were finally on the edge of success? And what of the boy’s mother? His unkempt, too-small clothes told him Everett had been without a mother for some time.


He hesitated again, feeling a pang of compassion for them both. “Should I change my mind … where would I find you?”


A glimmer of hope entered Peter’s eyes. “A couple miles out of St. Elmo. Just ask around for the Vaughn claim up in the Gulch and someone’ll point you in our direction.” He reached out a hand. “I’d be much obliged, Nic. And I’m not half bad at cookin’ either. I’d keep you in grub. Give it some thought. But don’t be too put out if you get there, and I’ve found someone else.”


“Understood,” Nic said with a smile. “Safe journey.”


“And to you.” He turned away, tugging at his boy’s shoulder, but the child looked back at Nic, all big pleading eyes.


Hurriedly, Nic walked away in the opposite direction. He fought the desire to turn and call out to them. Wasn’t he looking for work? Something that would allow him to ride on to Bryce and Odessa’s ranch without his tail tucked between his legs? The man had said the mine was sure to pay.… I’m onto a nice vein.…


Was that a miner’s optimism or the truth?


Not yet?” Moira sputtered, following him. She frowned in confusion. He had been coaxing her forward, outward, steadily healing her with his kind attentions these last two months. But now it was as if they were at some strange impasse. What was he talking about? What had happened to him?


She hurried forward and grabbed his arm, forcing him to stop and turn again to face her. Her veil clung to her face in the early evening breeze. “Daniel.”


He slowly lifted his dark eyes to meet hers.


“This is about me, isn’t it?” she asked. “You attempt to spare my feelings but find me repulsive. I can hardly fault you, but—”


“No,” he said, with another hollow laugh. “Contrary to what you believe, Moira St. Clair, not everything boils down to you. You are braver than you think and more beautiful than you dare to believe. I believe we’re destined to be together.”


Moira held her breath. Then what—


“No,” he went on. “This is about something I need to resolve. Something that needs to be done, or at least settled in my mind, my heart, before I can properly court you.”


“What? What is it, Daniel?” she tried once more.


He only looked at her helplessly, mouth half open, but mute.


She crossed her arms and turned her back to him, staring out across the pristine valley, the land of the Circle M. It hurt her that he felt he couldn’t confide in her as she had with him. She stiffened when he laid his big hands on her shoulders. “I don’t need to be rescued, Daniel,” she said in a monotone. “God has seen me to this place, this time. He’ll see me through to the next … with or without you.”


“You don’t understand.”


“No. I don’t. We’ve been courting all summer, whether you realize it or not. And now you say that there is something else that needs to be resolved? You assume much, Daniel Adams. You think that I’ll wait forever?” She let out a scoffing laugh. “It’s clear you do not fear that any other man might pursue me. Not that I blame you …” She turned partly away and stared into the distance. “Please. Don’t let this linger on. I cannot bear it. Not if you do not intend to claim me as your own.”


He was silent for a long minute. Oh, that he would but turn her and meet her lips at last …


But he didn’t. “We both have a lot to think through, pray through, Moira,” he said quietly.


“Yes, well, let me know when that is accomplished,” she said over her shoulder, walking away as fast as she could, lest he see the tears that were already rolling down her cheeks.


©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Claim by Lisa Bergren. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Huge TBR Readathon Wrap Up Post

I enjoyed this readathon. I did not keep up with how many hours but I did read some every day which was my ultimate goal. I am hoping to keep that up. I have gotten in the trend of not really reading during the week but reading a lot on the weekends mostly because of work, TV, and the Internet. I look forward to participating in this again. :)

Maid to Match by Deanne Gist

This week, the


Christian Fiction Blog Alliance


is introducing


Maid to Match
Bethany House (June 1, 2010)


by
Deeanne Gist






ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



After a short career in elementary education, Deeanne Gist retired to raise her four children. Over the course of the next fifteen years, she ran a home accessory and antique business, became a member of the press, wrote freelance journalism for national publications such as People, Parents, Parenting, Family Fun, Houston Chronicle and Orlando Sentinel, and acted as CFO for her husband’s small engineering firm--all from the comforts of home.



Squeezed betwixt-and-between all this, she read romance novels by the truckload and even wrote a couple of her own. While those unpublished manuscripts rested on the shelf, she founded a publishing corporation for the purpose of developing, producing and marketing products that would reinforce family values, teach children responsibility and provide character building activities.



After a few short months of running her publishing company, Gist quickly discovered being a "corporate executive" was not where her gifts and talents lie. In answer to Gist’s fervent prayers, God sent a mainstream publisher to her door who licensed her parenting I Did It!® product line and committed to publish the next generation of her system, thus freeing Gist to return to her writing.



Eight months later, she sold A Bride Most Begrudging to Bethany House Publishers. Since that debut, her very original, very fun romances have rocketed up the bestseller lists and captured readers everywhere. Add to this two consecutive Christy Awards, two RITA nominations, rave reviews, and a growing loyal fan base, and you’ve got one recipe for success.



Her 2010 books, Beguiled and Maid To Match are now available for order.



Gist lives in Texas with her husband of twenty-seven years and their two border collies. They have four grown children. Visit her blog to find out the most up-to-the-minute news about Dee.







ABOUT THE BOOK



Falling in love could cost her everything.



From the day she arrived at the Biltmore, Tillie Reese is dazzled, by the riches of the Vanderbilts and by Mack Danvers, a mountain man turned footman. When Tillie is enlisted to help tame Mack's rugged behavior by tutoring him in proper servant etiquette, the resulting sparks threaten Tillie's efforts to be chosen as Edith Vanderbilt's lady's maid, After all, the one rule of the house is no romance below stairs.



But the stakes rise even higher when Mack and Tillie become entangles in a cover-up at the town orphanage. They could both lose their jobs, their aspirations...their hearts.



If you would like to read the first chapter of Maid to Match, go HERE.





Join this SPECIAL GETAWAY (Click on the Button):







Monday, June 21, 2010

Healer by Linda Windsor

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:


Healer: A Novel (The Brides of Alba Series)

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



With an estimated one million books in print, Linda Windsor is an award-winning author of fifteen mainstream historical novels and one contemporary romance. She has also written another thirteen books for CBA publishers, including nine romantic comedies, laced with suspense, and a Celtic Irish trilogy for Multnomah entitled the Fires of Gleannmara series. A former professional musician, Linda speaks often (and sometimes sings) for writing and/or faith seminars. She makes her home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and prays for courage and strength to meet the needs of today's readers with page-turning stories that entertain, teach, and inspire.


Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764788
ISBN-13: 978-1434764782

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Glenarden, Manau Gododdin, Britain


Although cold enough to frost one’s breath, the day was as fair as the general mood of the gathering at the keep of Glenarden. The only clouds were those breaking away, fat with snow from the shrouded mountains—and the ever-present one upon the face of the bent old man who stood on the rampart of the gate tower. No longer able to ride much distance, Tarlach O’Byrne watched the procession form beyond.


Clansmen and kin, farmers and craftsmen—all turned out for the annual hunt, but they were more excited over the festivities that awaited their return. In the yard about the keep, gleemen in outlandish

costumes practiced entertaining antics, delighting the children and teasing the kitchen servant or warrior who happened to pass too near. Great pits had been fired. On the spits over them were enough succulent shanks of venison, boar, and beef to feed the multitude of O’Byrnes and the guests from tribes in the kingdom under the old king’s protection.


Below the ramparts, Ronan O’Byrne adjusted the woolen folds of his brat over his shoulders. Woven with the silver, black, and scarlet threads of the clan, it would keep the prince warm on this brisk day. A fine dappled gray snorted in eagerness as Ronan took his reins in hand and started toward the gate. Beyond, the people he would govern upon his father’s death waited.


The youngest of the O’Byrne brothers rode through them, unable to contain his excitement any longer. “By father’s aching bones, Ronan, what matters of great import keep you now?”


Were the pest any other but his youngest brother, Ronan might have scowled, deepening the scar that marked the indent of his cheek—the physical reminder of this travesty that began years ago. Alyn was the pride and joy of Glenarden, and Ronan was no exception to those who admired and loved the precocious youth.


“Only a raid on the mill by our neighbors,” Ronan answered his youngest sibling.


His somber gaze belayed the lightness in his voice. The thieves had made off with Glenarden’s reserve grain stores and the miller’s quern. Ronan had already sent a replacement hand mill to the mistress. But now that the harvest was over and the excess had been sold, replacing the reserves would be harder. It galled Ronan to buy back his own produce at a higher price than he’d received from merchants in Carmelide. This was the hard lot he faced—this farce, or hunting down the scoundrels and taking back what was rightfully his.


Every year on the anniversary of the Gowrys slaughter, Tarlach insisted that the O’Byrne clan search the hills high and low for Llas and Joanna’s heir. But instead of going off on a madman’s goose chase after his imagined enemy—a mountain nymph who was rumored to shape-shift into a wolf at will—the O’Byrnes manpower spent their time ransacking and burning one of the Gowrys mountain settlements in retribution, for they were undoubtedly the culprits. It was the only reasoning the Gowrys thieves understood—burn their ramshackle hovels and take some of their meager stock in payment.


Even so, taking such actions only stalled their mischief for a little while. Then it was the same thing all over again. As it was, Ronan had sent trackers out to mark their escape route, lest the wrong camp be destroyed.


“Can I ride after them on the morrow with you?” Alyn’s deep blue eyes, inherited from their Pictish mother, were alight with the idea of fighting and possible bloodshed—only because he’d never tasted it firsthand. “After the Witch’s End?”


Disgust pulling at his mouth, Ronan mounted the broad and sturdy steed he’d acquired at last spring’s fair. Witch’s End. That’s what Tarlach O’Byrne had dubbed the celebration of the massacre that had made him an invalid and driven him to the brink of insanity. In the old chief ’s demented thought, he’d brought justice to those who had betrayed him and stopped an enchantress forever. Sometimes, as on this particular day, it pushed him beyond reason, for it was a reminder that there was one thing left undone. The heiress of Gowrys still lived to threaten Glenarden … at least in his mind.


“The mill raid is no different from any other raid and will be handled as such,” Ronan answered.


“So I can go?”


“Nay, return to your studies at the university.” The hunt for a nonexistent witch was one thing, but Gowrys were skilled fighters. “’Twould suit a Gowrys naught better than to send a son of Tarlach

earthways with an arrow through your sixteen-year-old heart.”


“So you and Caden will go after the brigands.”


Alyn’s dejection rivaled that of Tarlach’s, except the youth’s would be gone with the next change of the wind. The older O’Byrne’s would not leave until his last breath faded in the air.


Ronan opened his mouth to assuage the lad when a downpour of water, icy as a northern fjord, struck him, soaking him through. “Herth’s fire!” Startled, his gray gelding danced sideways, knocking into the door of the open gate. “Ho, Ballach,” Ronan soothed the beast. “Easy laddie.”


“Take that, you bandy-legged fodere!” a shrill voice sounded from above.


“Crom’s breath, Kella, look what you’ve done,” Alyn blustered, struggling to control his own spooked steed. “Called my brother a bandy-legged deceiver and soaked him through.”


Wiping his hair away from his brow, Ronan spotted the cherub faced perpetrator of the mischief peering over the battlement, eyes spitting fire. Lacking the ripeness of womanhood, Kella’s overall appearance was unremarkable, but she surely lived up to her name with that indomitable warrior spirit, bundled in the innocence of youth. It was an innocence Ronan had never known. The daughter of Glenarden’s champion, Kella O’Toole was like a breath of fresh air. For that Ronan could forgive her more impetuous moments.


“And for what, Milady Kella, do I deserve the title of a bandylegged fool, much less this chilling shower?”


Kella gaped in dismay, speechless, as she took in Ronan’s drenched state. But not for long. “Faith, ’twasn’t meant for you, sir, but for Alyn! ’Tis the likes of him that finds the company of a scullery maid more delicious than mine.”


Ronan cast an amused glance at his youngest brother, who had now turned as scarlet as the banners fluttering overhead.


“Ho, lad, what foolrede have ye been about?” Caden O’Byrne shouted from the midst of the mounted assembly in wait beyond the gate. Fair as the sun with a fiery temperament to match, the second of Tarlach’s sons gave the indignant maid on the rampart a devilish wink.


“’Tis no one’s business but my own,” Alyn protested. “And certainly not that of a demented child.”


“Child, is it?”


Ronan swerved his horse out of range as Kella slung the empty bucket at Alyn. Her aim was hindered by the other girls close at her elbows, and the missile struck the ground an arm’s length away from its intended target.


“I’ll have you know I’m a full thirteen years.”


“Then appeal to me a few years hence when, and if, your Godgiven sense returns,” the youngest O’Byrne replied.


Ronan moved to the cover of the gatehouse and removed his drenched brat. Fortunately, the cloak had caught and shed the main of the attack. Already one of the servants approached with the plain blue one he wore about his business on the estate. Irritating as the mishap was, his lips quirked with humor as his aide helped him don the dry brat. It wasn’t as princely as the O’Byrne colors, but it was more suited to Ronan’s personal taste.


It was no secret that Egan O’Toole’s daughter was smitten with Alyn. With brown hair spun with threads of gold and snapping eyes almost the same incredible shade, she would indeed blossom into a beauty someday. Meanwhile, the champion of Glenarden would do well to pray for maturity to temper Kella’s bellicose manner, so that his daughter might win, rather than frighten, suitors.


Then there was Alyn, who hadn’t sense enough to see a prize in the making. Ronan shook his head. His brother was too involved in living the existence of the carefree youth Ronan had been robbed of the night of the Gowrys bloodfest.


“So, are you now high and dry, Brother?” Caden O’Byrne called to Ronan with impatience.


Ronan’s eyes narrowed. Always coveting what wasn’t his, Caden would like nothing better than to lead the hunt without Ronan. Would God that Ronan could hand over Glenarden and all its responsibilities. But Caden was too rash, a man driven more by passion than thought.


“Have a heart, Beloved,” a golden-haired beauty called down to him from the flock of twittering ladies on the rampart. Caden’s new bride spared Ronan a glance. “Ronan’s had much travail this morning already with the news of the Gowrys raid.”


“Had he as fair and gentle a wife as I, I daresay his humor would be much improved.” Ever the king of hearts, Caden signaled his horse to bow in Lady Rhianon’s direction and blew his wife a kiss.


“No doubt it would, Brother,” Ronan replied.


There was little merit in pointing out that the ambitious Lady Rhianon had first set her sights on him. No loss to Ronan, she seemed to make his more frivolous brother a happy man. The couple enjoyed the same revelry in dance and entertainment, not to mention the bower. Too often, its four walls failed to contain the merriment of their love play. Neither seemed to care that they were the talk of the keep. If anything, they gloried in the gossip and fed it all the more.


Battling down an annoying twinge of envy, Ronan made certain his cloak was fast, then swung up into the saddle again. Alyn’s problems were easier to consider, not to mention more amusing. “Is your wench disarmed, Alyn?” Ronan shouted in jest as he left the cover of the gate once again.


Beyond Lady Kella’s tempestuous reach for the moment, Alyn gave him a grudging nod.


Ronan brought his horse alongside his siblings, facing the gatehouse of the outer walls, where Tarlach O’Byrne would address the gathering. Like Alyn’s, Caden’s countenance was one of eagerness and excitement. How Ronan envied them both for their childhood. He longed to get away from the bitterness that festered within the walls of Glenarden. His had been an apprenticeship to a haunted madness.


Tarlach straightened as much as his gnarled and creaking joints would allow. “Remember the prophecy, shons of mine,” he charged them. He raised his withered left arm as high as it would go. It had never regained its former power since the night he’d tried to attack Lady Joanna of Gowrys. Nor had his speech recovered. He slurred his words from time to time, more so in fatigue.


“The Gowrys sheed shall divide your mighty house … shall divide your mighty housh and bring a peace beyond itch ken.”


Ronan knew the words by heart. They were as indelibly etched in his memory as the bloody travesty he’d witnessed through a six-yearold’s eyes. The quote was close, but whether Tarlach’s failing mind or his guilt was accountable for leaving out “peace beyond the ken of your wicked soul,” only God knew. If He cared … or even existed.


“Search every hill, every glen, every tree and shrub. Find the she-wolf and bring back her skin to hang as a trophy in the hall, and her heart to be devoured by the dogs. Take no nun-day repast. The future of Glenarden depends on the Gowrys whelp’s death.”


At the rousing cry of “O’Byrne!” rising from his fellow huntsmen and kin, Ronan turned the dapple gray with the group and cantered to the front, his rightful place as prince and heir. He didn’t believe the girl child had survived these last twenty years, much less that she’d turned into a she-wolf because of her mother’s sins. Nor did he wallow in hatred like his father.


A shudder ran through him, colder than the water that had drenched him earlier. Ronan looked to the west again, where thick clouds drifted away from the uplands. May he never become so obsessed with a female that his body and soul should waste away from within due to the gnawing of bitterness and fear. Superstitious fear.


On both sides of the winding, rutted road ahead lay rolling fields. Winter’s breath was turning the last vestiges of harvest color to browns and grays. Low, round huts of wattle and daub, limed white and domed with honey-dark thatching, were scattered here and there. Gray smoke circled toward the sky from their peaks. Fat milk cows and chickens made themselves at home, searching for food. Beyond lay the river, teeming with fish enough for all.


Glenarden’s prosperity was enough to satisfy Ronan. Nothing less would do for his clan. The tuath was already his in every manner save the last breath of Tarlach O’Byrne … though Ronan was in no hurry for that. Despite his troublesome tempers, Tarlach had been as good a father as he knew how, breaking the fosterage custom to rear his firstborn son under his own eye. A hard teacher, he’d been, yet fair—equal with praise as with criticism.


“You are the arm I lost, lad,” Tarlach told him again and again, especially when the drink had its way with him. “The hope and strength of Glenarden.”


~~~~~


Ronan humored the old man as much as followed his orders. At midday, instead of stopping as usual for the nun repast, he paused for neither rest nor food for his men. They ate on the move—the fresh bread and cheese in the sacks provided by the keep’s kitchen. The higher into the hills they went, the sharper the wind whipped through the narrow pass leading to the upper lakelands. Ronan was thankful that the former stronghold of the Gowrys wasn’t much farther.


“Faith, ’tis colder than witches’ milk,” Caden swore from the ranks behind Ronan.


“Witches’ milk?” the naive Alyn protested. “What would you know of such things?”


“A good deal more than a pup not yet dry behind the ears. ’Tis a fine drink on a hot summer day.”


“Or for the fever,” Egan O’Toole chimed in.


His poorly disguised snicker raised suspicion in the youth. “They play me false, don’t they, Ronan?”


“Aye, ask our elder brother, lad,” Caden remarked in a dry voice. “He has no sense of humor.”


Somber, Ronan turned in his saddle. “I have one, Brother, but my duties do not afford me much use of it. As for your question, lad,” he said to their younger brother, who rode next to Caden, “there’s no such thing as witches, so there can be no witches’ milk.”


“What about the Lady Joanna?” Alyn asked. “She was a witch.”


“Think, lad,” Ronan replied. “If she’d truly possessed magic, would she or her kin have died? It was love and jealousy that addled Father.”


“But love is magic, little brother,” Caden put in. “Make no mistake.”


“’Tis also loud enough to set tongues wagging all over the keep,” Alyn piped up. He grinned at the round of raucous laughter that rippled around them at Caden’s expense.


But Caden showed no shame. “That’s the rejoicing, lad.” He turned to the others. “Methinks our Lady Kella has little to fret over as yet.” With a loud laugh, he clapped their red-faced little brother on the back.


Rather than allow the banter to prick or lift an already sore humor, Ronan focused on the first few flakes of snow already whirling in and about the pass ahead of them and the nightmare that already had begun. Twenty years before, this very pass had been just as cold and inhospitable. With possible flurries blowing up, Ronan had no inclination to prolong the outing.


The crannog, or stockaded peninsula, was now little more than a pile of rubble rising out of the lake water’s edge. Cradled by overgrown fields and thick forest on three quarters of its periphery, the

lake itself was as gray as the winter sky. On the fourth was the jut of land upon which Llas of Gowrys had restored an ancient broch, bracing it against the rise of the steep crag at its back. With no regard for what had been, yellow spots of gorse had taken root here and there in the tumble of blackened stone.


Ronan could still smell the blaze, hear the shrieks of the dying.Ignoring the curdling in the pit of his stomach, a remnant of the fear and horror a six-year-old dared not show, Ronan dispersed the group. “Egan, you and Alyn take your men and search north of the lake. Caden, take the others and search the south. When I sound the horn, everyone should make haste back here. The sooner we return to warm hearths and full noggins of ale, the better.”


“I want to go with you,” Alyn declared, sidling his brown pony next to Ronan’s gray.


“I intend to stay here in the cover of yon ledge and build a fire,” Ronan informed him, “but you are welcome to join me.”


“I think not.”


Alyn’s expression of disdain almost made Ronan laugh.


“What if a raiding party of Gowrys happens upon you?” Caden spoke up. A rare concern knit his bushy golden brows.


“Then I shall invite them to the fire for a draught of witch’s milk.”


Caden laughed out loud. His square-jawed face, bristling with the golden shadow of his great mane of hair, was handsome by even a man’s standard. “I misjudged you, Brother. I stand corrected on the account of humor but would still hold that you act too old for your twenty-six years.”


“The Gowrys aren’t given to visiting the place where they were so soundly trounced … and I’m no more than a horn’s blow from help, should my sword not suffice,” Ronan pointed out.


He had no taste for this nonsense. What he craved most at the moment was the peace that followed after the others rode off, whooping and beating their shields lest the spirits of the slain accost them.

The hush of the falling snow and the still testimony of the ruins were at least a welcome change from the ribald and oft querulous babble of the hall. Time alone, without demand, was to be savored, even in this ungodly cold and desolate place. All he had to do was keep the memories at bay.


A movement from just above a hawthorn thicket near the base of the cliff caught Ronan’s eye, raising the hackles on the back of his neck. With feigned nonchalance, he brushed away the snow accumulating on his leather-clad thigh and scanned the gray slope of rock as it donned the thickening winter white veil. Nothing.


At least, he’d thought he’d seen something. A flash of white, with a tail—mayhaps a large dog. Beneath him, the gelding shivered. With a whinny, he sidestepped, tossing his black mane as if to confirm that he sensed danger as well. A wolf?


Drawing his sword in one hand, Ronan brought the horse under control with a steadying tone. “Easy, Ballach, easy.”


The speckled horse quieted, his muscles as tense as Ronan’s clenched jaw. The scene before him was still, like that of a tapestry. At his gentle nudge, the horse started around shore toward the high stone cliff. Dog, wolf, or man, Ronan was certain the steel of his blade was all the protection he’d need.

©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Healer by Linda Windsor. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.