Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Judgement Day by Wanda Dyson - re-post with Giveaway



This week, the




Christian Fiction Blog Alliance




is introducing




Judgment Day
WaterBrook Press (September 21, 2010)




by
Wanda Dyson


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Wanda Dyson – "a shining example of what Christian fiction is becoming..." (Christian Fiction Review). She's been called a "natural" and a "master of pacing," but her fans know that whether it's police thrillers, suspense, or bringing a true story to life, Wanda knows how to take her readers on a journey they'll never forget.

Wanda is a multipublished suspense author, currently writing for Random House/Waterbrook. Her one attempt at a nonfiction book was picked for an exclusive release on Oprah. In addition to writing full time, she is also the appointment coordinator for the CCWC, Great Philadelphia Christian Writers, and ACFW conferences.

Wanda lives in Western Maryland on a 125 acre farm with a menagerie of animals and when she's not writing critically acclaimed suspense, or away at conferences, you can find her zipping across the fields on a 4-wheeler with Maya, her German Shepherd, or plodding along at a more leisurely pace on her horse, Nanza.

With the release of her newest hit, Judgment Day, Wanda is heading back to the keyboard to start on her next high-octane thriller, The Vigilante.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Sensational journalism has never been so deadly.

The weekly cable news show Judgment Day with Suzanne Kidwell promises to expose businessmen, religious leaders, and politicians for the lies they tell. Suzanne positions herself as a champion of ethics and morality with a backbone of steel—until a revelation of her shoddy investigation tactics and creative fact embellishing put her in hot water with her employers, putting her credibility in question and threatening her professional ambitions.

Bitter and angry, Suzanne returns home one day to find an entrepreneur she is investigating, John Edward Sterling, unconscious on her living room floor. Before the night is over, Sterling is dead, she has his blood on her hands, and the police are arresting her for murder. She needs help to prove her innocence, but her only hope, private investigator Marcus Crisp, is also her ex-fiancĂ©–the man she betrayed in college.

Marcus and his partner Alexandria Fisher-Hawthorne reluctantly agree to take the case, but they won’t cut Suzanne any slack. Exposing her lack of ethics and the lives she’s destroyed in her fight for ratings does little to make them think Suzanne is innocent. But as Marcus digs into the mire of secrets surrounding her enemies, he unveils an alliance well-worth killing for. Now all he has to do is keep Suzanne and Alex alive long enough to prove it.
Watch the book trailer:



If you would like to read the Prologue and first chapter of Judgment Day, go HERE.

My review:

Awesome book! Definitely a read-in-one-sitting novel. I have been impressed with Wanda Dyson's books, and this has to be her best. She came up with a great plot which kept me on the edge of my seat - not easy to do when I was in a lazy boy with my feet propped up! I loved her characters. Two of the main characters were Christians and she created some winners with them. With some humor woven through the story, a touch of romance, suspense, mystery, murder, and underlying it all, the Christian message, not in a "in your face" manner, but a bit more subtle. The end result is a novel you must read if you enjoy good suspense/mystery. And she managed to pull it off without one swear/curse word!

Thanks to Waterbrook/Multnomah for the review copy.

Giveaway:

The author has graciously agreed to a giveaway of 2 autographed books. One each to two winners. Up for grabs is a copy of this book, Judgement Day, and a copy of her previous book, Shepherd's Fall. To enter, comment by telling which book you would like to win/read. You can read about Shepherd's Fall here.

I will pick two winners 10 days from today on October 8.

Edge of Apocolypse by Tim Lahaye and Criag Parshall

Book description:

Edge of Apocalypse pulls you into an adrenaline-fueled political thriller laced with End Times prophecy. From Tim LaHaye, creator and co-author of the world-renowned Left Behind series---the most successful adult fiction series ever written---and Craig Parshall comes an epic story ripped from the headlines of world events and filtered through Scriptural prophecy. Set in the near future, Edge of Apocalypse chronicles the beginning of The End---the earth-shattering events leading up to the Apocalypse foretold in Revelation. Joshua Jordan, former U.S. spy-plane hero turned weapons designer, creates the world's most sophisticated missile defense system, a laser shield code-named Return to Sender. Even as Jordan hopes to secure America against a brazen array of new enemies, he finds himself trapped between international as well as domestic assailants. Global forces conspire to steal the defense weapon even as U.S. government leaders will do anything to stop the nation's impending economic catastrophe---including selling-out Jordan and his weapon. With help from a group of powerfully connected Christian leaders known as The Patriots, Jordan works to save the nation from economic and moral collapse---and to clear his name. As world events begin setting the stage for the 'end of days' foretold in Revelation, Jordan must consider not only the biblical prophecies preached by his wife's pastor, but the personal price he must pay if he is to save the nation he loves.

My review:
I admit although I read the whole Left Behind series, I got burnt out on it, and am always wary of reading anything new from the authors, but this sounded like a great book, so I went for it, and was not disappointed. The book is co-authored with Craig Parshall, an established author on his own. His writing is clearly seen throughout the book, and  the combination of the two authors produced a great result.

The events in this book could be taken from today's headlines. It deals with the government gaining control over the media, and its effects, which we are seeing daily.
I thought the plot was great and well thought out, if not a bit scary. Looking forward to the next book in the series.

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy.

The Way Home...... a movie review

(Based on a true story)

Randy Simpkins works hard to support his family. Too hard. He is never around for them, and when the movie begins, he was supposed to be keeping an eye out for his two-year-old son, Joe.. but he didn't. Involved in other things, he let the little boy outside to play on his own, and then discovered the little boy had disappeared. Not knowing if their son had been kidnapped, had fallen into one of the many wells, ponds, or swamp areas around them, he and his wife become frantic, and are met with a massive outpouring of support and help from their community.

This is not a movie with a lot of action, but it is very moving and emotional. Maybe I shouldn't admit it, but I should have kept a tissue or two nearby while watching - so be forewarned.

This is definitely a Christian movie, no holds barred, but it is not tacky or cheesy as too many Christian movies tend to be. They have professional actors, and they do a great job portraying the emotions of parents whose child is missing. There is no cursing whatsoever in the movie. "Dang" is used twice, which is a word I don't use, but it is more of a slang word than a swear word.

The movie was great, and I highly recommend it. And is the boy found? And if so, dead or alive? Watch the movie and find out.

Movie trailer can be seen here.

The Way Home is available from Thomas Nelson.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Secret Of the Shroud by Pamela Ewen


This week, the



Christian Fiction Blog Alliance



is introducing



The Secret of The Shroud
B&H Books (September 1, 2010)



by
Pamela Ewen

 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Pamela’s first novel, Walk Back The Cat (Broadman & Holman. May, 2006) is the story of an embittered and powerful clergyman who learns an ancient secret, confronting him with truth and a choice that may destroy him.



She is also the best-selling author of the acclaimed non-fiction book Faith On Trial, published by Broadman & Holman in 1999, currently in its third printing.



Although it was written for non-lawyers, Faith On Trial was also chosen as a text for a course on law and religion at Yale Law School in the Spring of 2000, along with The Case For Christ by Lee Stroble. Continuing the apologetics begun in Faith On Trial, Pamela also appears with Gary Habermas, Josh McDowell, Darrell Bock, Lee Stroble, and others in the film Jesus: Fact or Fiction, a Campus Crusade for Christ production.



Her most recent novel, The Moon in the Mango Tree (B&H Publishing Group, May 2008) is currently available online and in bookstores everywhere. Set in the 1920’s and based on a true story, it is about a woman faced with making a choice between career and love, and her search for faith over the glittering decade. Pamela’s upcoming book, Dancing On Glass, which was recently short-listed as a finalist for the Faulkner/Wisdom creative writing novel award, will be released in the spring of 2011, and she is currently working on a sequel.



ABOUT THE BOOK



A frightened apostle in AD 33, a tragic child in the 1950s, and a slick, twenty-first century church leader are all linked by the secret of the Shroud of Turin, the purported burial cloth of Jesus-and by something more.



Wesley Bright, a corrupt, media-savvy clergyman, is out to destroy the Christian church of the God who abandoned him in his boyhood. Likable and entertaining, Bright keeps his motives well hidden. But as he seeks revenge, leading the church toward unknowing destruction, the mysterious Shroud of Turin stands in his way.



Strange characters and clues emerge like shadows limned in mist as the most recent discoveries on the Shroud connect the pieces of a fascinating puzzle. When Wesley learns the ancient secret, he’s forced to confront a terrible choice: keep the secret—and the power, wealth, and fame he’s won over the years—or expose it...and lose everything.



At stake is one thing: absolute truth.



If you would like to read the first chapter of The Secret of The Shroud, go HERE.

I have not received this book yet, so I have not had a chance to read it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Christian "F" word....And the family of God

I saw reference made to this on John Acuff on his site, Stuff Christians Like. I mentioned it in a blog post I did a few days ago, but decided to blog about it a bit.

So what is the Christain "F" word? It is "fine." It even has 4 letters. We all use it. Someone asks us how we are doing, and we say "fine." Even if we are not. There are a couple of reasons for doing so: We know the person just asked us a greeting, we know that they don't really want to know how we are REALLY doing, or we feel that they don't care.

What would happen if we were honest? I'm afraid in most cases, the person would run the other way. "Uh, I see Susie Smith and I really need to talk to her. Keep encouraged!"

Can you imagine if we said any of the following: "Not too good. I am really discouraged and feel like giving up, I am having an affair, I just lost my job, I am struggling with homosexuality and don't know where to turn, I am addicted to porn, my husband has been hitting me." Be honest, we don't want to hear that. We don't want to deal with it.

And it may not always be because we don't care. We are too busy. We have our famlies, our jobs, our little circle of friends, emails, facebook. And the list goes on. We don't have time for people. We don't have time for our "brothers and sisters" in the church. If we were honest, most of the people in our church are mere aquaintances, not a brother or sister. If someone does dare admit a problem, we pat them on the back, tell them to keep encouraged and/or we will be praying for them, and off we dash to something or someone more important.

Ernie Haase and Signature Sound have a song I really like, "We Need Each Other." Here are a few lines that stand out to me:
"Cuz if one of us is hurting none of us have peace

And if one of us is bound then none of us are free"

"Reach out and take my hand, I need your strength to stand

We're not alone in this world, we need each other
I am a part of you, you are a part of me
No longer strangers we're sisters and brothers
We need each other"

And then there is the timeless Gaither song:

"You will notice we say "brother and sister" 'round here,

It's because we're a family and these are so near;
When one has a heartache, we all share the tears,
And rejoice in each victory in this family so dear.

Chorus
I'm so glad I'm a part of the Family of God,
I've been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His Blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
For I'm part of the family,
The Family of God"

But is the song really true? If one has a heartache, do we really share the tears?

Back in the early days of the church, as I understand, it was pretty much "What's mine, is yours." Christians lived close to each other and took care of each other. How far we have come.

What if we really cared about our Christian brothers and sisters? As much as we are about our biological brothers and sisters? What if we asked someone how they were doing, and really wanted to know, no mattter how bad the reply?

I believe the Church has strayed far from what God intended it to be. Not just in this area, but in other areas.

So how are you doing? Really doing?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Very Private Grave by Donna Fletcher Crow

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:

Monarch Books (August 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Donna Fletcher Crow for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:






Donna Fletcher Crow is the award-winning author of more than 30 books, primarily novels dealing with British history.


Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Monarch Books (August 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1854249681
ISBN-13: 978-1854249685

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Felicity flung her history book against the wall. She wasn’t studying for the priesthood to learn about ancient saints. She wanted to bring justice to this screwed-up world. Children were starving in Africa, war was ravaging the Middle East, women everywhere were treated as inferiors. Even here in England—

She stopped her internal rant when she realized the crash of her book had obscured the knock at her door. Reluctantly she picked up the book, noting with satisfaction the smudge it had left on the wall, and went into the hall. Her groan wasn’t entirely internal when she made out the black cassock and grey scapular of her caller through the glass panel of the door. She couldn’t have been in less of a mood to see one of the long-faced monks who ran the College of the Transfiguration which she had chosen to attend in a moment of temporary insanity. She jerked the door open with a bang.

“Father Dominic!” Felicity was immediately sorry for her surly mood. Fr. Dominic was an entirely different matter. She was always happy to see him. “I didn’t realize you were back from your pilgrimage.” She held the door wide for him as he limped down the hall to her living room.

“Just returned, my dear. Just returned.” As he spoke he smiled with a twinkle in his eyes that belied his 85 years, but he couldn’t quite suppress a small sigh as he lowered himself stiffly onto her sofa.

“I’ll put the kettle on.” Felicity turned toward her small kitchen. “I’m so sorry I don’t have any scones.”

“No, no. Just tea today— black.”

She looked at him, puzzled for a moment, then remembered. Oh, yes— today was Ash Wednesday. Solemn fast and all that. Felicity mentally rolled her eyes as she filled the kettle with water and clicked it on.

A few minutes later she filled his cup with a steaming, amber stream of his favorite Yorkshire Gold tea. The Community had a year or two ago started serving a cheaper blend of tea and donating the money saved thereby to the African Children’s Fund Fr. Dominic chaired— a worthy cause, but the tea was dreadful.

He raised his cup, “Oh, who could ask for more? The nectar of the gods.” Still, she knew he was missing her scones for which he sometimes provided little jars of quince jam from the community kitchen. And at Christmas he had brought her favorite— slices of dark, rich fruit cake encased in marzipan an inch thick.

And yet today she wondered if he noticed what he was or wasn’t eating at all, he was so animated with his plans for the major funding drive the Children’s Fund was set to launch. “If one puts together abortion, infant mortality, AIDS and traumatic deaths, South Africa’s daily death toll is appalling. Thousands die in a matter of months. If this were a war, such troop causalities would not be acceptable. The entire future of that nation— the whole continent, really— is at stake. They simply cannot afford to lose so many of their people— especially the children who are the future. If you don’t maintain health and keep order, instability, violence and poverty tear a country apart.”

Felicity nodded vigorously. Yes, this was more like it. This was what she wanted to hear about, not some useless church history nonsense. Fr. Dominic had spent his life working in South Africa, and today his passion made every word strike her heart. “And it isn’t just South Africa, the rest of the continent looks to them— to us— for stability. If South Africa fails, millions of Africans will curse us— we who stand by and let it happen.”

Still, there was hope, Dominic had talked to key people while on pilgrimage and had secured a source for a vast amount for the fund, although he didn't say what that source was. “This will be enough to build a first rate hospital for AIDS babies in Africa and fund a research wing for prevention and cure. There are good leaders in the government. There are people working for justice. If we can just give the people hope to hold on— "

His eyes took on a dreamy look and a little smile played around his mouth. "Hope. That’s what it’s always been about. Through the centuries . . . At last, the treasure to be put to a truly worthy use. . ." He ducked his head and took a quick sip of tea. “Forgive me, I’ve said too much.” He became suddenly thoughtful and lapsed into a most uncharacteristic silence. All Felicity’s best efforts couldn’t coax any more stories from him. Perhaps it was just the solemnity of the day, but Felicity did miss his stories— even the ones she had heard multiple times.

He drained his cup and set it down. “Ah, thank you my dear. Always a pleasure to be in your bright company. But now I must be getting back up the hill. Father Superior has asked me to do the ashing at mass, so I must prepare.” He struggled to his feet, his broad-shouldered, once-muscular frame revealing gauntness under the weight of his black woolen cassock, as did the folds of flesh that hung beneath his square jaw.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” he patted the canvas scrip which hung at his side from a strap slung across his chest. “I thought this might interest you.” He held out a small parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied up with old-fashioned string. His hand shook ever so slightly as Felicity took it from him. The gesture was so endearing: his shyness charming; his eagerness humbling. If the circumstances had been vastly different he could have been a suitor offering jewels to his beloved, or perhaps in an earlier age a troubadour bestowing an ode to his lady. And oddly enough, Felicity had the distinct impression that he hadn’t at all forgotten, but rather that delivering this small package had been the sole object of his visit. One might almost say his mission.

Felicity couldn’t help herself. She stepped forward and kissed him on his cheek. “Thank you, Father.”

Unexpectedly he placed his hands on each side of her forehead. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always.” She felt a warmth from his hands that infused her whole head and radiated toward her body as if she were being bathed in warm oil. She almost fancied a faint scent of spice as he made the sign of the cross over her.

Moving inside a bubble of hushed awe, she held the door for him and he walked out slowly, as if reluctant to leave, stepping carefully to avoid limping. “I’ll see you at mass, Father.”

She shut the door behind him and turned to the window to watch his slow progress down the uneven sidewalk, his grey scapular blowing in the wind. Somehow she wanted to call out to him, to cling to the moment, but already it was passing, the normality of the day moving in on a holy moment. Yet even as she turned away from the window, the warmth of his touch remained on her head. She turned back one last time, her hand held out to him, but no one was there. Only a fleeting shadow brushed the corner of her eye. She shivered, but when she blinked the sky was clear.

"Right. Back to the real world." Felicity spoke aloud to make herself focus. She looked longingly at the small brown package in her hand. It felt like a book. A very slim volume. Had Father D. found a publisher for his poetry? Her fingers plucked at the string. No. If this was a collection of her friend’s poetry perusing it must not be rushed. Reading it would be her treat when she finished the work she had set for herself for the day. Lectures had been cancelled to mark the solemnity, but essays would still be due when they were due. With a sigh she slipped the gift into one of the copious patch pockets of her skirt and returned to the tome on the Anglo-Saxon church Fr. Antony had assigned, forcing herself to concentrate on its obscure irrelevancies.

That had been the hardest thing she had found about adjusting to her first year at theological college— the constant pressure for work, the lack of time to pursue her own interests— and that in a monastery, even. You really would think, living with a bunch of monks and future priests you'd have all the time in the world. Felicity shook her head.

And besides that, there was no margin for error on her part. As one of only four women among the student body of forty-some— and the only American— Felicity felt a double burden to reach the highest standards possible. This was the first year the Anglo-Catholic College of the Transfiguration had accepted women as ordinands, although they were still housed off campus awaiting alterations to the dormitories. Before "the Great Change" a few women enrolled as students, but were not allowed equal status with the male ordinands. Last year, however, the college had submitted to the winds of change and the powers that be, so now the women had full status— and double pressure.

Felicity, however was never one to let such barriers discourage her. She could rise to any challenge and her determination to succeed in this male-dominated world knew no limits. Anyway, she had few complaints. She had been warmly welcomed— by most. A handful of ordinands and perhaps two or three of the monks or lay teachers were less warm— whether because she was female or because she was American she wasn’t sure.

Two hours later the insistent ringing of the community bell called her back from her reading just in time to fling a long black cassock on over her shetland sweater and dash across the street and up the hill to the Community grounds. Her long legs carried her the distance in under three minutes— she had timed it once. Once inside the high stone wall enclosing the Community she slowed her pace. It never failed. No matter how irritated she became with all the ancient ritual and nonsense of the place, there was something about the storybook quality of it all that got through to her in her quieter moments.

The spicy scent of incense met her at the door of the church. She dipped her finger in the bowl of holy water and turned to share it with the brother just behind her. Shy Br. Matthew extended a plump finger without meeting her eyes. They each crossed themselves and slipped into their seats in the choir.

“Miserere mei, Deus. . .” The choir and cantors had practiced for weeks to be able to sing Psalm 51 to the haunting melody composed by Allegri. The words ascended to the vaulted ceiling; the echoes reverberated. Candles flickered in the shadowed corners. She had been here for six months— long enough for the uniqueness of it all to have palled to boredom— but somehow there was a fascination she couldn't define. “Mystery,” the monks would tell her. And she could do no better.

What was the right term to describe how she was living? Counter-cultural existence? Alternate lifestyle? She pondered for a moment, then smiled. Parallel universe. That was it. She was definitely living in a parallel universe. The rest of the world was out there, going about its everyday life, with no idea that this world existed alongside of it.

It was a wonderful, cozy, secretive feeling as she thought of bankers and shopkeepers rushing home after a busy day, mothers preparing dinner for hungry school children, farmers milking their cows— all over this little green island the workaday world hummed along to the pace of modern life. And here she was on a verdant hillside in Yorkshire living a life hardly anyone knew even existed. Harry Potter. It was a very Harry Potter experience.

She forced her attention back to the penitential service with its weighty readings, somber plainchant responses, and minor key music set against purple vestments. Only when they came to the blessing of the ashes did she realize Fr. Dominic wasn’t in his usual place. Her disappointment was sharp. He had definitely said he was to do the imposition of the ashes and she had felt receiving the ashen cross on her forehead from that dear man would give the ancient ritual added meaning. Instead, Fr. Antony, one of the secular priests who lectured at the college, not even one of the monastic community, stood to hold the small pot of palm ashes while Fr. Anselm, the Superior of the Community, blessed them with holy water and incense.

Felicity knelt at the altar rail, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes were cold, a sooty mark of grief, gritty on her forehead.

“Amen,” she responded automatically.

She was back in her seat, turning ahead to the final hymn, “Forty Days and Forty Nights,” when she heard the soft slapping of sandals on the stone floor. Oh, there’s Fr. Dominic. She relaxed at the thought, putting away her worries that he had been taken suddenly ill. But her relief was short-lived when Fr. Clement, the Principal of the college, and Jonathan Breen, a scholar making a retreat at the monastery, slipped to the altar for their ashes.

The final notes of the postlude were still echoing high overhead when Felicity rose from her seat and hurried outside. Dinner, a vegetarian Lenten meal, would start in the refectory almost immediately and it wouldn’t do to be late. If she hurried, though, she could just dash back to her flat and pick up a book of Latin poetry for Fr. Dominic. She had a new volume of Horace, and she knew Fr. D loved the Roman's half Stoic, half Epicurean philosophy. He would have time to enjoy what he called his “guilty pleasure” while he recuperated from his indisposition.

She bounded up the single flight of stairs, flung open her door and came to a sudden halt. “Oh!” The cry was knocked from her like a punch in the stomach. She couldn’t believe it. She backed against the wall, closing her eyes in the hope that all would right itself when she opened them. It didn’t. The entire flat had been turned upside down.

Felicity stood frozen for perhaps a full minute, trying to take it all in: books pulled from shelves, drawers pulled from her desk, cushions flung from chairs. Hardly breathing, she rushed into her kitchen, bath, bedroom— all chaos— sheets and duvet ripped from her bed, clothes pulled from her wardrobe. She picked her way through scattered papers, dumped files, ripped letters. Dimly she registered that her computer and CD player were still there. Oh, and there was the Horace book still by her bed. She pulled her purse from under a pile of clothes. Empty. But its contents lay nearby. Credit cards and money still there.

Not robbery. So then, what? Why?

Was this an anti-women-clergy thing? Had she underestimated the extent of the resentment? Or was it an anti-American thing? The American president was widely unpopular in England. Had he done something to trigger an anti-American demonstration? Felicity would be the last to know. She never turned on the news.

Well, whatever it was, she would show them. If someone in the college thought they could scare her off by flinging a few books around she’d give them something new to think about. She stormed out, slamming her door hard enough to rattle the glass pane and strode up the hill at twice the speed she had run down it. Not for nothing her years of rigorous exercise at the ballet barre. When she reached the monastery grounds she keyed in the numbers on the security lock with angry jabs and barely waited for the high, black iron gates to swing open before she was speeding up the graveled walk.

Felicity's long blond braid thumped against her back as she charged onward, her mind seething. If those self-righteous prigs who posed as her fellow students thought they could put her off with some sophomoric trick—

She approached the college building, practicing the speech she would deliver to all assembled for dinner in the refectory: “Now listen up, you lot! If you think you can push me around just because your skirts are longer than mine. . .”

She punched a clenched-fist gesture toward her imaginary cassock-clad audience, then saw the Horace book still clutched in her hand. Oh, yes. First things first. She would have missed the opening prayer anyway. She would just run by Father D’s room— then she would tell them.

She hurried on up the path beyond the college to the monastery, ran her swipe card through the lock, and was halfway down the hall before the door clicked shut behind her. She had only been to Dominic’s room once before, to collect a poetry book he was anxious to share with her, but she would have had no trouble locating it, even had the door not been standing ajar.

She pushed it wider, preparing to step in. “Father D— ” she stopped at the sight of a man in a black cassock standing there praying. He jerked around at the sound of her voice and she recognized Fr. Antony, her church history lecturer.

She took a step backward when she saw the look of horror on his sheet-white face. “Felicity. Don’t come in.” He held up a hand to stop her and she saw it was covered with blood.

“Father D! Is he hemorrhaging?” She lunged forward, then stopped at the sight before her.

The whole room seemed covered in blood. Bright red splotches on the pristine white walls and bedding, on the open pages of a prayer book, on the statue of Our Lord, forming lurid stigmata on His hands extended in mercy. . .

And in the center of the floor, in a pool of red, his battered head all but unrecognizable— her beloved Father Dominic. The smell of fresh blood clogged her nostrils. Gorge rose in her throat.

“Felicity— ” Fr. Antony extended his reddened hands to her in a pleading gesture.

“No!” She screamed, wielding her Latin book as a shield against the blood, a red haze of shock and horror clouding her vision.

She couldn’t believe Antony's face could get even whiter. “Felicity, wait. Listen—”

She dimly registered his words, but the voice in her head shouted with far greater force. No! It can’t be. It's a mistake. She was in the wrong room. Must be. She shook her head against the nightmare she had seen yet couldn't accept that she had seen. Blackness rolled toward her.

She staggered backward into the hall and slumped to the floor as the room spun before her. She closed her eyes against the darkness as her mind reeled, groping for a coherent thought. How could this be?

Only a short time ago she had been reveling in the peace of this remote holy place. Where could such violence have come from? How was it possible here? In a place of prayer? To a holy man. Why?

If Fr. Dominic wasn't safe who could be?

And even as the questions tumbled, half-formed through her head, even as her mind denied the act her eyes saw, she knew she had to find an explanation. How could she continue studying— believing in— purpose and justice if such senseless irrationality reigned free?

Focusing on the questions gave her strength to get her feet under her again.

Antony was still standing dazed in the gore-splattered room looking as though he could collapse in the middle of the pool of blood. Felicity grabbed his arm, jerked him into the corridor, and shoved him against the wall where he stayed, leaning heavily. He held his hands before his face as if unbelieving they were his own. “When he missed mass I came to check on him. . . I felt for a pulse— ”

“We must get help!” Felicity looked wildly around.

“Yes, of course.” Her energy seemed to galvanize Antony. He pushed himself forward unsteadily. “Forgive me, I feel so stupid. It was the horror. I— we must tell the Superior. He’ll call the police.”

“Police? You mean an ambulance.” Felicity started toward the room again. Yes, that was it— how could she have dithered so when they must get help. “He’s lost so much blood, but maybe—”

“No!” Antony gripped her shoulder with more strength than she realized he was capable of. “Don’t go in there again, Felicity. It’s useless.”

She knew. She had seen the blood.

My review:
I read a couple of Donna Fletcher Crow's books years ago, and enjoyed them, though they were not suspense. This is the first suspense novel I have read by her, and she does not disappoint. The book starts right off with a murder - right in the monastery. I enjoyed this book. The plot was great, she has interesting characters, and the setting was different - I enjoyed reading now only a mystery/suspense novel, but getting a look at what goes on inside a monastery. The end result makes a very engaging novel, and I am glad I had the chance to review it.

In Every Heartbeat by Kim Vogel Sawyer


This week, the






Christian Fiction Blog Alliance





is introducing





In Every Heartbeat
Bethany House (September 1, 2010)





by
Kim Vogel Sawyer







ABOUT THE AUTHOR:









Kim Vogel Sawyer is the author of fifteen novels, including several CBA and ECPA bestsellers. Her books have won the ACFW Book of the Year Award, the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, and the Inspirational Readers Choice Award. Kim is active in her church, where she leads women's fellowship and participates in both voice and bell choirs. In her spare time, she enjoys drama, quilting, and calligraphy. Kim and her husband, Don, reside in central Kansas, and have three daughters and six grandchildren.



ABOUT THE BOOK







As three friends who grew up in the same orphanage head off to college together, they each harbor a cherished dream.



Libby Conley hopes to become a famous journalist. Pete Leidig believes God has called him to study to become a minister. And Bennett Martin plans to pledge a fraternity, find a place to belong, and have as much fun as possible.



But as tensions rise around the world on the brink of World War I, the friends' differing aspirations and opinions begin to divide them, as well. And when Libby makes a shocking discovery about Pete's family, will it drive a final wedge between the friends or bond them in ways they never anticipated?



If you would like to read the first chapter of In Every Heartbeat, go HERE.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Becoming a better church

I have done a lot of posts about church, how I wish my church were different, etc. Some may think I am too hard on it, but it is the church I attend, so I see its faults..... not the faults of the church down the street.

I've been thinking about it, and decided to blog about how my church could become a better church. Maybe yours too.

1) Be friendlier. We have a welcoming committe on Sunday mornings. They shake your hand, give you a bulletin, and welcome you to the church whether you are a regular or a visitor. My brother-in-law calls them the "germ squad." But are they enough? No. We need to do more. Better.

    a) With visitors. My church seats close to 300, and has 3 sections. I sit in the left section, so I don't usually run onto people in the right section, and a lot from the middle. But..... I, and everyone else does not have an excuse to not welcome a visitor. I did yesterday. A woman sat in front of us with a couple from my church, Grace & Frank. When the service ended, I tapped her on the shoulder, shook her hand, and said Hi, Grace's friend, nice to have you here this morning." Easy? Convenient? No, and no. I am a bit backward with new people, and I like to get out of the church as soon as the service ends.

   b) Our "brothers and sisters." That is in quotes because I strongly believe if we are a family, that there aren't going to be casual aquaintances in the church that we never speak to, never acknowledge. Too many of us have a select group of friends..... a clique who we dash to after church and talk to 99% of the time. No one else matters. We don't care what the other people are going through. We just want to talk to Jim or John about hunting, or Martha and Mary about the great sale at Christopher and Banks.

2) Charity begins at home.... or our home church. It is great for the church to support missions and reach out to people in the community and get them into church, but if people in our own "family" are dying on the inside, on the verge of giving up, lonely, feeling disconnected..... are we not failing in some way? The Bible says to not forsake the gathering of ourselves together. Why? We could worship, pray, and sing at home.... so why go to church? To hear a sermon? Yes, but I believe God wants us to gather together for fellowship and to be encouraged by others in the church.

3) Balance the focus. My church has gone to a new forum for the youth, and it seems that is all everyone cares about. Fun and games for the youth. They even set aside a service each year to talk about it and have the youth talk about what they do. I always feel like I am watching trained seals..... Just kidding. Kind of.

My church isn't big enough to have much of a singles group, but I know others in the church are like me: too old for the youth group, and left out in the cold with none of the focus on us. There are others.... young married, older people... we don't seem to matter as much as the youth..... and don't get me wrong - the youth matter, but we ALL matter, and I feel my church is severely out of balance in this area.

4) Encourage others. There are many ways to do this, and I have done an entire blog post about this, so I will try to condense it. Instead of listing who to encourage, I will say anyone in the church. How? I'm glad you asked.......

    a) Testify. Huh? Sometimes I feel no one else in the church has any struggle, any doubts, discouragement...... It is refreshing for someone to get up admit to those things, and tell how God has been helping. Too many people never testify. I had a pastor who I consider a fake and a jerk to boot, but he made a statement that I kind of agree with. He said (to his congregation) that if someone there did not testify in a year's time, he would feel justified in asking that person to go to the altar. Extreme? Yes, but he does have a point. If God is doing anything at all for us, shouldn't we tell about it at some point? If He answers a prayer, shouldn't we tell it publicly, especially if we asked for prayer publically?

    b) Pat someone on the shoulder. Sound dumb? Not really. There are a couple of men at church who pat me on the shoulder occasionally when walking by, and it gives me a good feeling. A hug can also be good when appropriate.

    c) Send a card. Often we don't know what people are going through, but if someone comes to your mind, maybe there is a reason. Shoot them a card, or an e-card, email, facebook message, or a phone call. I sent an encouraging card once to a couple in my church. The woman approached me and asked who told me what they were going through. I honestly had had no idea. You just never know.

    d) Give $$. If you know someone is having it rough financially, slip them some cash. Every bit helps, and it will also encourage them knowing someone cares.

    e) Ask someone how they are REALLY doing - and mean it. I am pasting something I read on a blog Stuff Christians Like that falls into what I am talking about here:

Sometimes, we Christians, worry that if we admit things are not going well in our lives you will assume that our God is not good. You will see our struggles as a reflection of who our Lord is. So instead of being honest, we will drop the Christian “F” word, which of course is, “Fine.” Even though you can see on our faces that we were up all night arguing with our wives we will tell you “things are fine.” How’s the new project going? Fine. How’s the family? Fine. How are things with your wife? Fine. The problem with that approach, in addition to being really dishonest, is that we’re called to comfort people in the way we’ve been comforted. We’re called to roll up our sleeves and show our scars to other people and be real about them. Jesus came to heal the sick and when we pretend we aren’t, we’re just lying.  Life doesn’t have to be “fine.” You are not failing if it isn’t “fine.” God is not less loving or powerful or great if you tell someone the truth. If anything, when you open up and are honest, you get to share how even in the midst of something sucktacular God is carrying you through those times.

Good point. I have been guilty of using the "Christian F word." How about you?

    f) Take someone out to eat, or for coffee. Just to chat, see how things are going in their lives.


There are a few ways. Anyone else have any more?

   

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Autumn's Promise byShelley Shepard Gray


This week, the



Christian Fiction Blog Alliance



is introducing



Autumn's Promise
Avon Inspire (August 3, 2010)



by



Shelley Shepard Gray






ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Since 2000, Shelley Sabga has sold twenty-six novels to numerous publishers. She has written a seven book contemporary series for Avalon books. She also published The Love Letter, a western for Avalon. Five Star Expressions published Suddenly, You in February of 2007. This novel is a historical western set in the mountains of Colorado.



Shelley has written nine novels for Harlequin American Romance. Cinderella Christmas, her first novel with them, reached number six on the Waldenbooks Bestseller list. Her second book with them, Simple Gifts won RT Magazine’s Reviewer’s Choice award for best Harlequin American Romance of 2006. The Mommy Bride, was chosen by Romantic Times Magazine as one of their TOP PICKS for May, 2008.



Under the name Shelley Shepard Gray, Shelley writes Amish romances for Harper Collins’ inspirational line, Avon Inspire. HIDDEN and WANTED the first two novels of her ‘Sisters of the Heart’ series, were chosen to be Alternate Selections for the Doubleday/ Literary Guild Book Club. FORGIVEN, book 3, has received glowing reviews. Avon Inspire is releasing four novels by Shelley this year.



Before writing romances, Shelley lived in Texas and Colorado, where she taught school and earned both her bachelors and masters degrees in education. She now lives in southern Ohio and writes full time. Shelley is married, the mother of two teenagers, and is an active member of her church.





ABOUT THE BOOK



Some promises are meant to be broken...



Until Robert Miller met Lilly Allen, his world had been dark. A widower after only two years of marriage, he'd been living in a haze, feeling that, at twenty-four, his life was already over.



But thanks to his friendship with Lilly, he now has new reasons to wake up each day. He knows his connection to her doesn't make sense. She's only nineteen, with a past the whole town talks about. Even more, she's not Amish, like Robert. A marriage between the two of them could never happen.



Lilly's heart is drawn to Robert, not to his faith. No matter how much she admires his quiet strength and dependability, she doesn't think she could ever give up her independence and reliance on the modern world. Is their love doomed before it even begins?



If you would like to read the first chapter of Autumn's Promise, go HERE.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

To Save a life...... to save a church

I am in a blogging frenzy today....this being my 4th blog post today. :-) I recently posted a review of the movie "To Save A Life", and had some more thoughts about the movie. For non-movie watchers, it is also available in book form.

And before I start, a quick note: This post may contain some slight spoilers, so if you haven't watched it and intend to, proceed with caution.

To Save A Life starts out with a high school senior taking his own life at school because he feels no one cares, and he feels all alone. This starts his former best friend on a journey of change that leads to him becoming a Christian and seeking to befriend those who might be in the same place as the kid who killed himself.

I highly recommend the movie, although there is some cursing in it. That brought a comment from a blogging friend of mine who disagrees with me completely on cursing in Christian books that she couldn't believe I was recommending a movie with cursing. :-) And yes, "A", if you're reading this, I consider you a blogging friend despite our differene in opinion on that........ But anyway, I still think the cursing unneccesary in any case, but it is a great movie. Moving on......

One of my first thoughts was "that could have been me". I was picked on a lot in school, bullied even by some of my cousins. That still affects me today. Suicide never entered my mind in those days, but what if it had? I felt no one liked me. It was so bad that when I was even in a store, I felt people looked at me and disliked me on sight. For real. I was well into my twenties before I realized that wasn't true. A side note here - never let your kid be a bully, or be bullied. The scars can last a life time.

My next thought, and this could get me into trouble, but bring it on, baby...... is that I am still that kid, but instead of school, the setting is church. I moved back to this area after being away for two years. I have now been back for two years, and feel my church has changed. Part of it is the new youth focus - it seems no one else in the church matters. Only the youth.

Since I moved back, I have been suffering from severe depression, and even more severe discouragement. I have had so many doubts, been teetering on the verge of giving up, and no one notices. I used to be outspoken in church, had a great sense of humor. I am no longer that person. I used to testify in church fairly often. I haven't done so once since moving back. Does no one wonder? Does no one care?

My Sunday School teacher has been talking to me some, so I am not dissing what he has done, but what about the rest of the church? The church has become like the school in the movie. We have our cliques. We gravitate toward the popular, the talented. We have the same small circle of people to our house, we talk to the same small circle of people before and after church. We email the same small circle of friends, comment on their facebook page, etc, and the rest of the church doesn't even enter our minds. They don't matter. Because they aren't as beautiful, as desirable, as fun.

I wonder how many people in my church, in your church, pray for others they go to church with. My church averages 200-250 people, not an enormous amount. It wouldn't take that long to take the church directory and pray for everyone in the church at least once a week. How many do? Other than the pastor, maybe none.

We sing the Gaither song, The Family of God at church a lot. It is a great song, but I don't feel like I am part of the Family of God. I don't even feel like I am part of my church. I feel like an outsider. Like if I quit or died, that not many people would even notice. How many others in the church - in your church - feel the same way?

In the movie, To Save A Life, the star of the movie starts seeking out the friendless, hanging around with kids no one else hangs out with. His old friends quit hanging with him, they think he is weird and extreme. What if we did that at church? Asked someone over to our house that we never have before? Asked someone how they are REALLY doing and care about how they are doing? Talk to someone at church we don't usually talk to. Find out where they work, what their interests are?

Its true that we can't be nursemaids, and it is also true that one shouldn't crticize unless they are innocent themself..... so if you truly want to know why I am not setting about to make a change, email me and ask me, but beware..... I will be honest with you, and if you go to my church, you might not be able to handle my honesty.

I talked about masks in a post a while back. Wearing them, wishing I could take my own off. Incidentally, my Sunday School teacher used that post when he spoke recently in church - how cool is that?! Anyway.... is anyone else like me, that wishes they could be real at church? I do wish I could, but I don't think I ever could. There would be consequences I am not sure I could handle. Judging. People who would avoid me. I just wish when people asked me how I am doing, that I could throw aside the "fine", or similar repsonse, and tell them how I am REALLY doing. But people don't really want to know. That question has become just a greeting. They want you to say "fine", not "Life doesn't seem worth living. I feel God is a million miles away. I'm on the verge of giving up" - or anything like that. They don't want to hear that.

Too many in church want to sit in their padded pews, and leave feeling happy and pious. They don't want to deal with people who have messy lives, ugliness inside.

In the movie, the main character gets upset with  the youth group for their insincerity, lack of caring, and how apathetic they are. He has an outburts where he throws in a few curse words - which I am not voicing approval of. Then later, it is discovered that his girlfriend is pregnant - the sex was before he became a Christian. The pastor of the church met with the youth pastor and suggested that they stop the kid from coming to church, as he wasn't the kind of person they wanted there. Meanwhile, the pastor's own son was smoking marijuana. The youth pastor replied that Jake should be the one preaching, that he was living what they should all be living.

I said that to say this: I am afraid most of the people in our church have the same attitude. How would they act if a drunk started coming to church? A drug addict? A homosexual? What if my own personal struggle were made known? Sometimes, I have the attitude "I don't give a rip about what people at church think of me." And do I? Maybe I do, since I wish they did care about me..... yet on the other hand, I want people in my life to love and like me in spite of this ugliness inside, this "curse" from God Himself, as I sometimes feel about it. After all, if we judge people's worth by what they are, by their scars.... are we truly Christian and God-like? If we only care about a few certain people in church, are we Christ-like?

I once made the statement that if this is the family of God, I want new siblings. That is true. I want a church where people truly care about others in the church - not just about me, but about everyone. I honestly don't feel like my church is doing that. And can a church be what God wants them to be if they are failing in that area?

My church believes differently than many churches. We believe in true modesty in dress, and a definite difference in appearance between men and women - not saying that to preach or put down anyone, but to preface my next statement: I have wondered if I need to get several tattoos, some piercings, and show up in a muscle shirt and boxer shorts for people to look at me and figure I need help. Why is that? Are we so blind to others in the church that the only way we know something is wrong is if they do something extreme against our beliefs?

I titled this post "To save a life..... to save a church". I hope my meaning has come through on the latter part. In a way, my church needs saved. Yours might too. We need to be more than a place where people go, sing some nice songs, hear a nice sermon, then go home and live our life without thinking about our Christian brothers and sisters at church. We need to be more than a place for the spiritually healthy. We need to be a "hospital" for the sick, the sinner, the struggling Christian. We need to truly care.

In closing, some have suggested I change churches. I don't feel that is the answer. For one, I don't make friends easily - I truly am backward about that. For another, until I can change and try to do something myself, what difference would a different church make? Not enough.

Again, some may comment and ask why I don't do like Jake in the movie.... set out to make some changes myself. I have some reasons, and I make the offer again: Don't just comment and tell me I need to do something myself - email me and ask me, and I promise I will tell you.

And to my fellow church goers at Salem Wesleyan Methodist Church...... let us all get out of our comfort zone - make new friends at church, and start really caring about everyone, not just a few select ones.

Faith Like Potatoes

I was at a big Family Bookstore recently, and as at all Family Stores, they had some $5 special purchases at the register. One of those was the Faith Like Potatoes DVD. I bought it, and started watching it late the other night when my abscessed tooth was keeping me awake. I liked it. A great Christian movie.

"The growing genre of Christian cinema adds to its flock Faith Like Potatoes, based on the book of the same name about a real-life South African farmer named Angus Buchan. Buchan accepted Jesus at a moment of crisis and began experiencing miracles, ranging from sudden rain putting out a wildfire to reviving a woman struck by lightning. The movie follows Buchan (played by Frank Rautenbach, star of a South African soap opera) from his failed farm in Zambia to his rise as a lay evangelist, delivering a sermon in a massive South African stadium. He begins as a sullen, short-tempered man, quick to lash out at his wife (the lovely Jeanne Wilhelm) and the native Zulu workers on his struggling farm. But as his life takes on the purpose of spreading the Word, Buchan finds personal peace (though he also faces personal tragedies)." (Amazon)

Some Christian movies can be tacky/cheesy. In my opinion, this one is neither. It is a refreshing tale of true change a man experiences in Christ, and what true faith can do. Watch it. You won't be disappointed.

Is youth group the answer?

I am not anti-youth group. Honestly. My church took a different approach with their youth a few years ago. Up to that point, the youth group was ages 13-40. We would have a weekly service in the main sanctuary, which anyone could attend, and then monthly we would have an outside activity for the teens, and every 2 months or so, something for the younger married couples or singles my age.

Then some people decided that needed changed. They put the teens through age 22 or so downstairs in a cramped room. They made a Bible study for everyone else in the sanctuary. The new group is called "youth focus"...... and focus is exactly what it is. It seems to someone like me who was away and moved back, that that is all the church cares about - the youth. And yes, they are important, but what about the rest of us? Outside of making me feel that way, I have  another issue with it. One of the reasons put forth by the supporters of it was that we are losing too many of our youth and the church needs to do more. My dad got up at that point and said people need to quit blaming the church. That the parents are at fault, not the church. His remarks were not met with much reception, but I think he is right. You can't just dump your kids in a youth group and expect them to sail into heaven. The parents need to do more. Show a better example, be more careful who their kids hang out with, what their kids see and are exposed to.

A friend of mine sent me the following email after seeing the movie "To Save A Life". Names have been changed to protect the innocent. :-)

"it saddened me because it is NORMAL in this day and age for 1 out of every 10 or so kids or even less... I don't know the statistics... has to deal with that kind of a life.



I experienced it in the church I attended b/c of the Youth Group. Even as a teenager I knew that it would hurt our little Independent Baptist church.


I voiced my opinion and the Youth leader (who was barely over his teens himself) acted like I was an idiot.


He took us out of Wednesday service downstairs to play stupid, childish games instead of getting real spiritual nourishment. Honestly, I probably should have just stayed upstairs and listened to our wise pastor.


Yeah our youth group grew in numbers (because of the "fun"), but it also went downhill morally. I struggled too after awhile.


Youth group (at least the way most churches do it) really isn't the answer in my honest opinion. Young people need the love and nurturing of their parents. And pastors need to be teaching FATHERS how to disciple their own children instead of parents turning their parenting over to the church. It doesn't work and it's unbiblical. Ephesians 6:4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord


John Smith, (who teaches our teen SS class) was talking about doing outings with the teenagers and said he needed chaperones. I said, "That would be great if the parents could come too." His response was, " I doubt if any of the parents would want to come." To me that was discouraging!


My thing is that families should be building relationships so close that teenagers love their parents instead of wanting to be away from them.


It is sad that it doesn't happen this way. If parents knew what was going on and LISTENED to their children, these problems would virtually disappear.


I think about the Johnsons.... they are prime examples of close relationships with their children. I want to be like that.


O.k,. Off the soapbox and back to work. :-)"

I think she raised some good points. Yes, we need something for our youth, but it DOES need to be more than fun and games, and sometimes it is just a place for bad influence. What IS the answer? I think parents do need to be more involved. Not with just their kids, but with the youth group. Go to it occasionally, see what is going on, who your kids are hanging out with. We get one chance with raising kids in this life, we can't just throw the responsibility off on the church and youth group. Step up to the plate and take charge.

Tyler

There is a young boy who comes into the store a lot where I work. His name is Tyler, age 14, though I had put him at 12, as he is small for his age. Cute kid. He seems like a great kid... and honest. Recently, the coke maching outside gave him a pop and his money back. He came inside and gave it to us instead of keeping it. He often comes in and helps my co-worker out by putting bagged groceries in a cart for her. One day as I was filling the ice box outside, he walked up and asked if I needed help. It is a one-man job, so I thanked him and said I had it covered.

Last night, my co-worker, Shelly, paged me to the front. When I got up there, I saw Tyler and his mom waiting. He smiled and waved at me. I walked over to see what Shelly wanted. She said that Tyler wanted to tell me something. He proudly informed me that he had placed third place in an art contest in this week-end's Johnny Appleseed Festival. I patted him on the shoulder and congratulated him. His mother informed me that he was also keeping his grades up and was getting straight A's.

After they left, I commented to Shelly what a great kid he is. She replied "Yes, but he doesn't have a chance."

Why not? His homelife. His real dad isn't even in the picture. He has had several stepfathers.... how, I'm not sure after seeing his mother. They live in a small appartment with some other people. People who smoke, drink, do drugs. His mother is a chain smoker on food stamps, who has complained more than once about hardly having any groceries in the house.... yet can afford cigerettes and most likely beer.

What chance DOES a kid like that have? By age 16, he will most likely be smoking himself, drinking, and doing drugs. What chance does he have of becoming a normal upstanding, moral guy? And all across this nation, across our neighborhoods are tons of kids just like him.

I would like to try to get the kid into church, but am not sure about it. What if he has no interest, plus..... I am a single guy. What if my insterest in him is misconstrued. If you read this, pray about it. And meanwhile, let us pray and see what God wants us to do about the countless Tylers across this great nation of ours.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

City of Stone by T.L. Higley

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:



B&H Books (September 15, 2010)

***Special thanks to T.L. Higley for sending me a review copy.***


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Tracy started her first novel at the age of eight and has been hooked on writing ever since. After attending Philadelphia Biblical University, she earned a B.A. in English Literature at Rowan University. She then spent ten years writing drama presentations for church ministry. A lifelong interest in history and mythology has led Tracy to extensive research into ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome, and shaped her desire to shine the light of the gospel into the cultures of the past. She has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Italy to research her novels, and looks forward to more travel as the series continues.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 14.99
Paperback: 344 pages
Publisher: B&H Books (September 15, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1433668564
ISBN-13: 978-1433668562

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



The streets of Rome lay barren and empty, sucked dry by the colossal Flavian Amphitheatre that had swallowed seventy-five thousand Roman citizens in a single gulp, and would hold each one captive until they had enjoyed the horrors that Julian now raced to prevent.

More time. He needed more time. Already the crowd inside the four-story rim of stone cheered for the first event.

Julian’s sandals smacked the black basalt road that led toward the amphitheatre. The blistering Roman sun pounded the moisture from his skin and left him panting. He had run most of way, since an old servant in Vita’s house had pointed a gnarled finger toward the east, toward the Forum, toward the arena of death.

Eighty arches ringed the outside of the theatre on each of its first three stories. The bottom arches provided access to the public, and the second story’s niches held statues of the gods and emperors, who now looked down on Julian as he sprinted across the large travertine slabs that paved the arena’s edge.

He ran toward one of the four main entrances and fumbled for the tessera, the stone tile he wore around his neck. The designatores at the entrance would insist on examining it, to see the sector, row and seat to which he was assigned.

Indeed, the usher at this entrance was full of his own importance, and held a palm to Julian’s oncoming rush as though he could stop him with only the force of his arm.

“Too long in your bed this morning, eh?” His smug smile took in Julian’s hastily-wrapped toga and sweat-dampened hair.

Julian thrust the tessera before the man’s eyes. “Here, here, look at it.”

Still the amused smile. The usher opened his mouth to speak again.

“Look at it!”

Daunted, the man let his eyes travel over the tile, then took a tiny breath and stepped back. His grin faded to a look of regret over his own impudence, and he bowed his head. As if that were not enough, he bowed at the waist and extended a hand to invite Julian to enter.

Julian did not wait for an apology. He pushed past the usher and under the vaulted entrance, then straight through the arena’s outer corridor and up a ramp that led to the cavea, the wedge-shaped sections of marble seats. This main entrance led directly to the central boxes reserved for the elite.

He exploded from the dimly lit ramp onto the terrace. The morning sun slashed across half the seats, the height of the amphitheatre leaving the other half in shade. The red canvas velarium, the awning used to shade the spectators, would be raised before it got much hotter, but for now, thousands of bleached togas on white marble blinded the eye and the smell of the masses assaulted the nose.

Julian crossed the terrace in two strides, slammed against the waist-high wall that separated him from the arena, and saw a figure dash at him from the shadows.

His mother’s hands were on his arms in an instant. “Julian, what are you doing?” Her words were frantic, as clipped and terror-filled as his every movement.

“They have Vita, Mother!”

She wrenched his body fiercely to face her. Julian stood nearly a cubit taller than his mother, but Ariella had retained all the strength of her youth, along with the beauty. “There is nothing that can be done, my son.”

He yanked his arms from her grasp. “Do not say that!” Julian searched the cavea behind him, full to overflowing with the purple-edged togas of senators. “Where is Father? Is he here?”

“Julian, think! You must think.” Ariella’s voice was urgent and low and her clutching fingers again slowed Julian’s restlessness. “You will bring more harm – “

“I do not care!” His voice snagged with emotion, and he fought to harden the feelings into action. “I must end this.”

“You cannot, son.”

He turned flashing eyes on Ariella. “It is my fault! Do you not understand? I should be down in those cages.”

Ariella’s eyes misted. “I would not lose both my son and his betrothed on the same day.”

Betrothed. The word washed more guilt over Julian’s stricken soul.

A senator, one of his father’s friends, walked past and paused to hold out an arm in greeting to Julian. “Fine day for the games, is it not?”

Julian straightened at once, resuming the noble bearing trained into him since childhood, and returned the man’s grip. He nodded once in agreement, but did not speak. The senator moved on, and Julian dropped his shoulders, ashamed that he had not made a statement.

Ariella seemed to read his thoughts. Her dark eyes held his own. “It will take more than a day to change the Empire.”

Julian looked out over the yellow sand of the arena. “But this day, Mother, this day we must!” He slapped a hand against the top of the marble wall. “I am going to find Father.”

“Julian, you know that he can do nothing – “

He spun on her. “No. I am tired of both of you, always moving about your circles quietly, behind closed doors, the truth spoken only in whispers.” He lifted his own voice as an example. “There is a time to speak!”

Ariella’s nostrils flared, but she said nothing. Turning from her, Julian stalked to the nearest break in the seating and ascended the tiers alongside his father’s section. Here, the nobility did not sit on wooden planks as the rest of the citizens, but were given cushions or even chairs for comfort. He scanned the rows of seats for his father’s graying head, and instead met his dark gray eyes.

Julian shook his head and opened his mouth to shout across the intervening seats, but his father held up a hand, then stood and excused himself from his colleagues. He slid along in front of a dozen other senators, and emerged at the end of the row beside Julian.

Quietly, he spoke into his son’s ear. “I have just now heard. It is outrageous.”

Julian’s hands balled into fists at his side. “You must do something.”

“What can I do, Julian? The emperor has ruled, and Trajan is not a man to be defied.”

Across the arena, Julian watched as a trapdoor slid upward and a huddled band of men and women were prodded onto the sand at the end of Roman spears. Julian’s heart pounded with the shortness of the time left and he turned on his father with the frenzy of desperation. “She is out there, Father!”

But his father’s eyes held only grief, not anger. Not the fiery anger that could change the future, even now.

Julian pushed past him, down the steps. If his parents would do nothing from their positions of influence, then he would stop this madness from a position of strength.

It had been his fault, all of it. Trajan had made his stance clear. As long as they kept to themselves, did not flaunt their disagreement with imperial policy, did not take a public stand, they would be left alone. But that had not been enough for Julian. Passionate about the truth, eager to show himself a leader and foolish enough to believe himself invincible, he had spoken too loudly, in too many places.

And now this. Vita and the others arrested, convicted, and sentenced without his knowledge. Julian had brought this on them all, but he had escaped their fate.

At the terrace level he circled the arena toward the imperial box. The amphitheatre was one of the few places where the public had access to the divine emperor. Julian grasped at the thin hope that he could get near enough to plead for Vita’s life.

He had not loved her. Not like he should, though he had tried. He had never known a more virtuous woman. The arranged match between them was a good one. But Julian had never felt more than the flame of admiration and respect for her, and he saw nothing but the same in her eyes. Still, they would have been married.

We will be married.

The foot-stomps of the crowd rose around him like a hundred thousand drumbeats. The cadence resonated in his chest and pushed him forward. He knew that sound. It was the sound of a mob hungry for blood.

Terror drove his footsteps. He could not look to the arena. Not even when he heard more trapdoors rise and the low growl of beasts begin.

The crowd screamed as one, and their shouts lifted to the pale blue sky like a puff of evil smoke from the underworld. Julian’s bones seemed to turn to water. He raced on. The emperor’s raised box was in sight.

But then they were beside him again, both his parents this time, grasping at his arms, pulling him backward.

“It is too late, son.” His mother’s voice held the grief of both the present and the past, for she had seen much sorrow in the arena in her day.

His father turned him to the wall to face the sand. “You must say goodbye, Julian. You must say goodbye.”

He let his parents hold him there at the marble wall. He scraped his hands across the top, then gripped the white stone.

Lions. Six of them. Circling, circling the knot of friends in the center of the bright yellow sand that had been brought from one of the hills of Rome and spread on wooden planking to soak up the blood of gladiator, beast, and the condemned.

The lions charged at once, but for Julian, the moment stretched out, like a thread of silk spun from a slow-turning wheel, and though the crowd still bellowed, in his head all had gone silent and he saw only his group of friends, crumpling in on themselves like sand flowing into a sinkhole.

The lions must have roared before they pounced, though Julian heard nothing, and felt only the relentless scraping of his own hands across the stone wall. He scraped until his hands were torn and bloody, wanting to bleed with her, wanting to bleed with all of them, as he should have.

The sun had risen to pour its rays into the center of the arena, and the yellow sand beneath them turned to molten gold in the light, an oval of liquid gold with Vita and the others drowning in the center of it. He saw her face for a moment, lifted to heaven.

His mind disconnected and drifted strangely, then, to the words at the end of the Apostle John’s Revelation, and his vision of the New Jerusalem with its streets of pure gold.

Would Vita fall asleep in this golden sand and wake to streets of gold?

The beasts did their job well and quickly, and when it was over and the mutilated bodies of his friends lay scattered across the sand, Julian woke from his stupor and felt the guilt of every lost life bear down on him as though the stones around him had collapsed on his head. He tasted bile rising in his throat, and turned away from the wall to retch onto the paving stones.

His parents held his arms as he emptied the contents of his stomach. He heard the jeers directed toward him. When he stood, the tear-streaked faces of both his parents matched his own.

But he found no solace in their shared grief. They did not have to bear the guilt of it as he did. As he always would. He pulled from their embrace and escaped the amphitheatre, running back the way he had come, running like a haunted man.

Days later, when his guilt and grief had hardened into bitter anger, he tried once again to change the minds and policies of the Roman government. But in the end he brought only more disgrace, and more danger, upon his family.

In the cool of the evening three days after Vita’s death, he stood at the terrace wall of his father’s lavish villa in the Roman countryside, looking down into the flowered gardens his mother had commissioned, and listening to the fountain that trickled night and day into the central pool. He inhaled deeply of the night air, dragging in the scent of roses.

His guilt over Vita’s death had not abated, and he had added to it with his actions in the days since. His brazen words in the Senate House, and later the Forum, had identified him as one who should have also met his death in the arena that day.

Perhaps that was his wish. To be arrested himself, to be thrown before the gaping yaw of a dozen lions, to be given what he deserved.

But his family. He had not wanted the same for his family. His only brother, long since stationed in some military outpost, had never embraced the family’s beliefs, but even he could be reached by the long arm of the empire, and brought back to face condemnation with the rest.

Behind him, slaves stirred to prepare the evening meal and lit torches on the veranda. His parents would appear soon and they would all pretend that their privileged life continued.

But Julian had made a decision. His life in Rome was over. To protect his family, he must disappear.

He thought of his brother’s stories of the provinces that lay at the edges of the Empire. Of Britannia, of Judea. But even there the Roman army could search out a man. No, he must go further east than even Judea.

There was a place, a hidden city he had heard tales of since he was a boy. Stories that had sparked his imagination and given him the desire to travel across the desert sand to discover the city tucked between the rock cliffs of Arabia.

Petra. Capital of the Nabatean kingdom, wealthy center of the east-west trade route, and beyond even the Roman Empire’s reach.

Julian rubbed his hands together, palms still raw from being torn open the day Vita died. Yes, it was a good plan.

He would flee to Petra.




My review:

I have read 2 books by this author before and enjoyed them both, as I did this one. I not only enjoyed the plot and characters in this story, but I also enjoyed gettting some of th history and learning more about Petra. It is obvious that the author put a lot of research into this story. It shows, and results in a great read.

Heart of the Lonely Exile by BJ Hoff

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:

Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Karri James of Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


BJ Hoff’s bestselling historical novels continue to cross the boundaries of religion, language, and culture to capture a worldwide reading audience. Her books include Song of Erin and American Anthem and such popular series as The Riverhaven Years, The Mountain Song Legacy, and The Emerald Ballad. Hoff’s stories, although set in the past, are always relevant to the present. Whether her characters move about in small country towns or metropolitan areas, reside in Amish settlements or in coal company houses, she creates communities where people can form relationships, raise families, pursue their faith, and experience the mountains and valleys of life. BJ and her husband make their home in Ohio.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736927891
ISBN-13: 978-0736927895

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Friends Old and New

Youth must with time decay…
Beauty must fade away…
Castles are sacked in war…
Chieftains are scattered far…
Truth is a fixed star….

From “Aileen Aroon” GERALD GRIFFIN (1803–1840)

New York City
August 1847

It was a fine summer evening in the city, the kind of sweet, soft evening that made the young delight in their youth and the elderly content with their lot.

On this evening Daniel Kavanagh and Tierney Burke were indulging in one of their favorite pastimes—stuffing themselves with pastries from Krueger’s bakery as they lounged against the glass front of the building. As usual, Tierney was buying. Daniel as yet had no job and no money. But Tierney, with a week’s pay in his pocket from his job at the hotel and a month’s wages due from his part-time job at Patrick Walsh’s estate, declared he felt rotten with money and eager to enjoy it.

It had been a good day, Daniel decided as he polished off his last sugar kucken. His mother was visiting, as she did every other Saturday, delivered as always by one of the Farmington carriages. Every Saturday without fail, a carriage either brought her to the Burkes’, or came to collect Daniel for a visit at the Farmington mansion uptown, where his mother worked.

In truth, Daniel thought he preferred the Saturdays he spent at the Farmingtons’, for then he could visit with his friend, Evan Whittaker, and the Fitzgerald children, as well as his mother. He enjoyed his temporary living arrangement with Uncle Mike and Tierney, but often he found himself missing the daily contact with his mother and the Fitzgeralds—especially Katie.

The thought of Katie brought a smile to his face and a sting of worry to his mind. Katie was both his friend and his sweetheart; they would marry when they were of age—that had been decided long ago.

So committed to their future plans was he that Daniel paid little heed to Tierney’s relentless teasing about his “lassie.” The fact was that Katie Fitzgerald had been his girl from the time they were wee wanes back in the village, and he did not mind who knew it. But Katie had ever been frail, and the famine and the long, horrific ship crossing had taken a fierce toll on her.

Daniel could not help but fret about her health. He would have thought the good, plentiful food and proper medical attention she was receiving at the Farmingtons’ would be enough to have her feeling fit by now. Instead, she scarcely seemed improved at all.

Still, as his mother had reminded him just today, three months was not really so long a time—not with all the troubles Katie had been through. “You must be patient, Daniel John,” she had cautioned him. “You must be patient and faithful with your prayers.”

He was trying to be both, but it was hard, all the same, not to worry.

Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, Daniel turned his attention to Pearl Street. Although darkness was gathering, most of the neighborhood seemed to be in no hurry to return to their cramped living quarters. The sultry August atmosphere carried the sounds of children playing, mothers scolding, dogs barking, and men arguing. Most of the voices were thick with Irish brogue, although German and an occasional stream of Italian could also be heard.

Almost as thick as the cacophony of immigrant voices were the odors that mingled on the night air. The ever-present stench of piled-up garbage in the streets had grown worse with the recent warm temperatures; the fumes from sewage and animal droppings were more noxious than ever.

Still, there was no spoiling the pleasure of such a fine evening. Besides, Daniel was growing accustomed to the aroma of New York. Indeed, the smell rarely bothered him at all these days; it was negligible compared to the stench of Ireland’s rotten potato fields and the countless dead bodies lying alongside the country’s roads.

“So, then,” Tierney said, downing a nut kipfel in one bite before wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, “will they tie the knot soon, do you think? Your mum and my da?”

It was a question Tierney seemed bent on asking at least once a week, a question that continued to make Daniel feel awkward—almost as if his mother were somehow under an obligation to marry Uncle Mike. More and more Tierney’s prodding put Daniel on guard, made him feel the need to defend his mother—never mind that he secretly harbored the same question.

“I don’t suppose it’s for either of us to guess,” he muttered in reply. “Sure, and Mother does care a great deal for Uncle Mike.”

Tierney gave a curt, doubtful nod, turning the full intensity of his unnerving ice-blue stare on Daniel. “If that’s so,” he said, “then why is she still holding out?”

Daniel bristled. “It’s not that she’s holding out,” he protested. “She just needs more time, don’t you see? They haven’t seen each other for more than seventeen years, after all! She can hardly be expected to jump into marriage right away!”

Tierney regarded him with a speculative look, then shrugged. “You’re right, of course,” he said cheerfully, shoving his hands into his pockets. As if no friction whatever had occurred between them, he tilted a quick grin at Daniel. “I expect I’m just impatient because I’m wanting to see them wed.”

Not for the first time, Daniel found himself disarmed by his quicksilver friend. The older boy had a way of making abrasive, outrageous remarks, then quickly backing off, as if sensing he had caused Daniel discomfort.

Tierney had an incredible energy about him, a tension that sometimes made it seem that any instant he might leap from the ground and take off flying. He was impatient and blunt, decisive and headstrong. Yet he had an obvious streak of kindness, even gentleness, that could appear at the most unexpected moments.

Living with him was akin to keeping company with a hurricane. Wild and impetuous one moment, eager and conciliatory the next, he was entirely unpredictable—and a great deal more fun than any boy Daniel had ever known.

He liked Tierney immensely. In truth, he wished his mother would marry Uncle Mike so they could be a real family.

“If they do get married,” Tierney was saying, watching Daniel with a teasing grin, “you and I will be brothers. How do you feel about that, Danny-boy?”

Daniel rolled his eyes, but couldn’t stop a smile of pleasure. “Sure, and won’t I be the lucky lad, then?”

Tierney wiggled his dark brows. “Sure, and won’t you at that?” he shot back, perfectly mimicking Daniel’s brogue.


Avoiding Michael’s eyes, Nora stared at the flickering candle in the middle of the kitchen table.

The silence in the room, while not entirely strained, was awkward, to say the least. Nora had sensed Michael’s impatience early in their visit. She thought she understood it; certainly, she could not fault the man for wanting more of a commitment than she’d been able to grant him thus far.

On the other hand, she didn’t know how she could have handled things between them any differently. From the day of their reunion—Nora’s first day in New York City—she had done her best to be entirely honest with Michael. She had told him then—and on other occasions since—that she cared for him deeply but could not marry him for a time, if ever.

In the weeks and months that followed her arrival in New York, Nora’s life had changed radically. All that she had once held dear, everything familiar, had been mercilessly torn away from her. She had lost her home and her entire family except for Daniel John. Yet much had been given to her as well.

God had been good—and faithful. Daniel John had a home with Michael and Tierney, and she and the orphaned Fitzgerald children were safe and snug in the Farmington mansion with Lewis Farmington and his daughter, Sara—people who must be, Nora was certain, the kindest human beings God ever created.

Aye, she had fine lodgings—even a job—and she had friends, good friends: Michael, Evan Whittaker, Sara and Lewis Farmington, and Ginger, the Farmingtons’ delightful housekeeper. There was more food on her plate than she could eat, and a fire to warm her bones for the coming winter. Had any other penniless widow-woman ever been so blessed?

Yet when it came to Michael, something deep within her warned her to wait, to go slowly. There were times when she wanted nothing more than to run to the shelter of the man’s brawny arms and accept the security he seemed so set on offering—the security of a friendship that dated back to their childhood, the security of marriage and a home of her own. But in the next instant she would find herself drawing back, shying away from the idea of Michael as the solution to her problems.

She needed time, perhaps a great deal of time. Of that much, at least, she was certain. Time to heal, time to seek direction for her life. God’s direction.

And time to forget Morgan Fitzgerald…

“The Farmingtons seem more than pleased with your work for them,” Michael said, breaking the silence and jarring Nora back to her surroundings. “They cannot say enough good things about you.”

Struggling to put aside her nagging melancholy, Nora smiled and made a weak dismissing motion with her hand. “Sure, they are only being kind,” she said. “ ’Tis little enough they allow me to do. I suppose they still think me ill, but in truth I’m feeling much stronger.”

“I can believe that,” Michael said, studying her with open approval. “You’re looking more fit each day. I think you might have even gained a bit at last.”

Surprised, Nora glanced down at her figure. She did feel stronger physically, stronger than she had for months. “Indeed. Perhaps with all this fine American food, I’ll grow as round as Pumpkin Emmie,” she said, trying to ease the tension between them with reference to daft Emmie Fahey, one of the terrors of their youth.

“You’ve a ways to go, there,” Michael said, meeting her smile. “But you are looking more yourself, lass, and that’s the truth.”

Unnerved by the way he was scrutinizing her, Nora glanced away. “Our sons are becoming good friends, it seems.”

Michael, too, seemed relieved to move to safer ground. “Aye, they are,” he answered eagerly. “And I couldn’t be happier for it. Your Daniel is a fine boy—a good influence on that rascal of mine.”

“Oh, Michael,” Nora protested, “I think you’re far too hard on Tierney! He doesn’t seem nearly the rogue you paint him to be.”

With a sigh, Michael rose from the table to put the kettle on for more tea. “I’m the first to admit Tierney’s not a bad boy. Nevertheless, he can be a handful. And unpredictable—” He shook his head as he started for the stove. “Why, I don’t know what to expect from the lad one minute to the next, and that’s the truth.”

“It’s not an easy age for him, Michael. Don’t you remember how it was, being more grown-up than child, yet not quite either?”

Nora could have answered her own question. Michael had never seemed anything but a man grown, had never appeared to know the meaning of childishness or uncertainty, at least not in the time she had known him.

Returning with the kettle, he offered Nora more tea. When she declined, he proceeded to pour himself a fresh cup. “What I remember most about being a boy,” he said with just the ghost of a smile, “was trying to keep you and our lad, Morgan, out of the soup.”

Nora glanced quickly away. “Aye, you were like a brother to the both of us,” she said quietly.

“It wasn’t a brother I wanted to be to you, Nora,” he said pointedly, pausing with the kettle suspended above his cup. “That was your choice, not mine.”

“Michael—”

He looked at her, setting the kettle down between them. “Is it still Morgan, then?” A muscle at the side of his mouth tightened. “Is he the reason you cannot bring yourself to marry me?”

“No! No, Michael, it is not Morgan! I’ve tried to explain all this before. I thought you understood…”

His gaze on her didn’t waver. “Nora, I have tried. But I’m not blind, lass. I see the way things are.”

Nora looked away, but she could still feel his eyes on her. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that Morgan Fitzgerald still occupies a large space in your heart—perhaps so great a space there will never be room for another.”

“Michael—”

He waved away her protest, saying nothing. Instead, he went to stand at the window, his back to her. He stood there for a long time in silence. At last, he drew in a deep sigh and said quietly, “We’d be good together, I think. We could build a fine life, a good home—watch our boys grow to manhood.” Stopping he turned to face her. “Perhaps we could even have more children…”

He let his words drift away, unfinished. As he stood there, his gaze fixed on her face, the frustration that had hardened his expression earlier faded, giving way to a rare tenderness. The grim lines about his mouth seemed to disappear, and his eyes took on a gentle smile.

“We go back a long way, you and I,” he said softly. “And our boys—why, they’re well on their way to being brothers already. Ah, it could work for us, Nora! You must see that.” Shoving his hands down deep into his pockets, he stood watching her. “I know I cannot offer you much in the way of material things just yet, but we’d have enough, enough for us all. And things will improve, I can promise you that. I have prospects on the force—”

“Oh, Michael, you know none of that matters to me!”

With three broad strides he closed the distance between them. Bracing both hands palms down on the tabletop, he brought his face close to hers, his eyes burning. “What, then, Nora? What does matter? Tell me, lass, for I’ll do whatever I can to make this work for us. I swear I will! Tell me what I can do to convince you to marry me.”

Nora remembered he had asked her that same question once before, when he was still a young man preparing to go to America. He had done his best then, too, to convince her to be his wife.

That had been seventeen years ago. Seventeen years, and her answer was still not what he wanted to hear.

“Michael, you know you have ever been…special…to me.”

He said nothing, simply went on searching her eyes, his large, blunt hands now clenched to fists atop the table.

“I do care for you…” She did. She was not immune to Michael’s appeal, his almost arrogant handsomeness, the strength that seemed to pulse from him. But more than that, and far deeper, were the memories that bound them, the friendship that even today anchored their affection for each other. She could not bring herself to hurt him, but neither could she lie to him!

Suddenly, he stunned her by grasping both her hands in his and pulling her up from the chair to face him. Holding her hands firmly, he drew her to him. “And I care for you, Nora,” he said, his voice gruff. With one hand he lifted her chin, forcing her to meet his relentless gaze. “I have always cared for you, lass, and that’s the truth.”

Trembling, Nora held her breath as he bent to press his lips to hers. Irrationally, she almost wished Michael’s kiss would blind her with love for him, send stars shooting through her. Instead, she felt only the gentle warmth, the same sweet, sad affection she had felt for him all those years so long ago when he had kissed her goodbye, regret brimming in his eyes, before sailing for America.

He knew. He said nothing, but she felt his knowing as she stood there, miserable beneath those dark, searching eyes that seemed to probe her very soul. Gradually he freed her from his embrace, setting her gently away from him with a sad smile.

“You have been through a great sorrow,” he said huskily. “And I am asking too much of you, too soon. I’m sorry, lass. Perhaps it’s just that I’m anxious for you to realize that when you’re ready, I will be here. I will wait.”

“Oh, Michael, please—don’t…”

He put a finger to her lips to silence her. “Enough sober talk for tonight. Why don’t we have us a stroll? We’ll go and find the lads and see what they’re up to.”

Relieved, Nora nodded, managing a smile. “Aye, I’d like that.”

Michael smiled, too, watching her with infinite tenderness. Framing her face between his calloused hands, he brushed his lips over her forehead. “Remember that I am still your friend, Nora Ellen. No matter what happens—or does not happen—between us, I will always be your friend.”

Nora could have wept for gratitude at his understanding, his gentleness. “Thank you, Michael,” she whispered. “Thank you for being the man you are. And thank you,” she added fervently, “for being my friend.”