Saturday, February 28, 2009
My Answer: I'm old enough to remember the Christian market when it held only a handfull of titles. It would be easy to say the market needs nothing else considering how huge it has become. However, after blogging for over a year and reading such a massive number of books, I think there is still a lack of good young adult fiction - for boys in particular. I have two teen boys at home who are avid readers. They enjoy a wide variety of genres, but I would love to see more books like Mel Odom's Appocalyse series - lots of action with a solid Christian message. I'd love to see more books like Robert Lawhead's Tuck - tons of action and a good solid plot. And of course I pray that Robert Liparulo keeps writing young adult books from now on - edge-of-your-seat action on every page! (Dreamhouse King Series)
I've read a lot of young adult fiction for girls - in abundance. Even when I go to the library there seems to be so many more young adult novels aimed at girls. I think sometime it is perceived that boys don't read a lot - and that may be true overall - but when you have boys who read in your home, it is often difficult to keep them in good material. Fortunately, I can share some of my "adult" reads with them, but it would be nice to have a wider selection of young adult books aimed specifically at boys.
Check out My Friend Amy's blog for more answers to this interesting question!
Friday, February 27, 2009
As a mother, this book is very difficult to read. My heart aches for Rachel’s parents. To read their account of that day at Columbine when so many were shot down in cold blood was so painful…so raw. I cannot imagine the terror – the hopelessness of seeing that last busload of children coming to the drop off point and realizing that Rachel was still unaccounted for. I pray I never have to know such pain.
But the hope contained in Thomas Nelson’s 10th anniversary edition of Rachel’s Tears is so powerful, so life-changing that there is no doubt in my mind that God brought eternal glory out of this dreadful tragedy. There is no way, except for the grace and strength of God, that Rachel’s friends and parents could write with such conviction about this wonderful gift that God gave the world in the life of Rachel Scott. I felt so blessed to read pages from this young lady’s journal – a testimony to God’s great love in her life and the strong desire she had to serve Him no matter the cost. I am thankful to God for allowing such rich blessing to pour from the hearts of those whose lives were forever changed at Columbine.
I did not have the opportunity to read this story when it was first released. I don’t know that I could have emotionally since I was raising toddlers at the time. Now those toddlers are teens, and they have to face this wicked world on their own terms, and the dangers are ever present. Many others have been gunned down in schools and work places across our nation since the Columbine tragedy. I am so thankful that Christ has allowed Rachel’s Tears to be such a bright light of hope in this very dark world. Without a doubt I will meet Rachel Scott in heaven one day and thank her for her faithfulness!
Please visit Thomas Nelson's website to learn more about this very special book!
Thursday, February 26, 2009
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Multnomah Books (February 17, 2009)
Chuck Black, a former F-16 fighter pilot and tactical communications engineer, is the author of eight novels, including the popular Kingdom series. He has received praise from parents across the country for his unique approach to telling biblical truths. His passion in life is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ and to love his wife, Andrea, and their six children. He lives with his family in North Dakota.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $8.99
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Books (February 17, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
“Bentley of Chessington, do you swear to uphold the Articles of the Code, to defend Chessington and her citizens from enemies both outside and within her borders?” Lord Kifus’s voice echoed through the great hall of the palace.
“I do.” Young Bentley looked up at Kifus. Sand-colored hair formed loose curls around the young man’s neck and ears. His square, cleanshaven jaw revealed a small, faint scar—a badge to remind him never to become prideful about his considerable abilities as a swordsman. Bentley’s shoulders were broad, and he carried himself with the distinctive posture of a nobleman. In spite of his comely appearance and his social charm, however, Bentley did not hold himself in high regard, and thus there was very little to dislike about the young man.
“Do you swear to uphold the honor of the Noble Knights, placing the protection of your fellow brothers-in-arms above your own?”
“I do,” Bentley replied.
Nearly all two hundred Noble Knights were present to witness the knighting of one more squire into their brotherhood. It was a timehonored tradition that often followed the family lines of the wealthiest men in Chessington, and such was the case with Bentley. Behind the Noble Knights stood two to three hundred highly respected citizens of Chessington, for this was a significant event for both the Noble Knights and the citizenry.
“Do you take this oath without reservation, fully understanding the authority and responsibilities granted to you by the King—an oath that binds you to the order of the Noble Knights until death?”
Bentley hesitated, looking past Kifus toward the two men standing behind him. His father, Sir Barrington, and Sir York, the man who trained him at sword—his role model and his mentor. Could any two men be more different?
Bentley looked toward York and then to his father. A few seconds passed, and the delay became awkward. Barrington gazed at his son, smiled, and nodded. The room filled with tension, and Kifus’s gaze became stone hard.
Bentley looked back to the white-haired knightly leader, an icon of the perfect knight in many eyes. This was what Bentley had wanted his whole life, and yet something tugged upon his soul from another direction. It was those last few words that caused him to hesitate, for such an oath was a seal that would establish the course of his life forever.
He repeated the words in his mind:“Do you take this oath without reservation…an oath that binds you to the order of the Noble Knights until death?” What could be more honorable than service to the King?
“I do.” Bentley lowered his head in submission.
As if the doors of a flooded chamber had opened, the tension abated. Kifus lifted his brilliant silver sword to just above Bentley’s shoulder.
“Then I dub thee Sir Bentley, protector of Chessington and Noble Knight of the King!”
He touched the flat of the blade to each of Bentley’s shoulders, and a roar of shouts and acclamation filled the great hall. Bentley stood and Kifus offered his arm as a token of brotherhood.
“Well done, Sir Bentley. You are young but well deserving of the honor.”
“Thank you, Lord Kifus.”
Kifus turned to greet some of the approaching prestigious knights and citizens. Bentley’s father stepped forward and embraced his son.
“I am proud of you, my son.” Barrington smiled broadly through
his cropped salt-and-pepper beard.
“Thank you, Father. You and you alone have been my inspiration.”
York stepped forward and grasped Bentley’s arm.
“Sir Bentley…has a nice ring to it, aye, laddie?” He slapped Bentley hard on the shoulder with a meaty palm. Bentley bowed his head toward York.
“I am indebted to you for all the training you have given me, sir.”
York’s smile vanished as his mind seemed to return to a former preoccupation.
“Aye, and ye’ll be needing those skills in the days to come. The Followers continue to be a menace to our cause, and Kifus tells me our missions to eradicate them will increase.”
“Yes, sir,” Bentley replied, but something in his heart resisted the words. “What was it like before?”
York squinted and cocked his head to one side.
“Before the…ah…Followers?” Bentley added. It was an unusual question, and it conveyed much more than curiosity. Those few words carried a subtle message that raised the eyebrows of both York and his father. York looked back and forth between Barrington and Bentley.When he spoke, his words vibrated with passion. “It was a time when the authority of the Noble Knights was never questioned! That’s why we must fight well in coming days. The lingering effects of that dead Stranger will end, and we will restore the order of the Noble Knights to its rightful place when we eradicate His imbecile Followers.”
York’s countenance had assumed a familiar ferocity, his eyes beneath their bushy black brows seemed to shoot forth fiery darts.Neither Bentley nor his father said a word. It was exactly the response Bentley had expected, and he wasn’t sure why he had even asked the question. The momentary awkward silence between them ended when his mother took his arm and a dozen other knights and citizens moved in to offer congratulations.
When the knighting ceremony was over and the accolades were finished, Bentley lingered behind in the great hall. It was a day he had looked forward to for a long time. he took a deep breath and tried to enjoy the moment. It felt good to be a Noble Knight…almost perfect.
Bentley’s heart pounded hard in his chest. He readied his sword in a midguard stance as he stood face to face with a fierce warrior whose markings Bentley had never seen before.The warrior yelled and initiated a diagonal cut that nearly blew Bentley’s sword from his grip. Preoccupied with his own survival, he was barely conscious of the clanging of other swords nearby.
He tightened his grip and countered with a rising cut, followed by a horizontal slice. His sword was met by the nearly immovable dark blade of the warrior, and he had to retreat to avoid the next deadly slice. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of his fellow Noble Knights fall to the ground—and realized that he, York, and his other five companions could shortly succumb to the same fate. The five warriors they faced were much more than mere marauders; they had the look of seasoned war veterans. The Noble Knights had the advantage in numbers only, for the skill and power of these men far surpassed anything they had ever experienced.
Bentley considered his next move. How could they have made such a serious miscalculation and come to such a desperate situation? The months following his knighting ceremony had been filled with raids on the Followers, but each week seemed more intense than the previous.
This was already their third mission this week.
They had received news from an informant that a handful of Followers was meeting near a hut in the hollow at the northwest edge of Chessington.When they arrived, a strange old woman had yelled at them and cursed them from afar. York had ignored her and insisted they search the hut and the surrounding area. When they dismounted and neared the hut, these five massive warriors had attacked. Bentley had barely been able to draw his sword in time before one warrior launched a deadly slice toward him. Ever since, he had been fighting for his life.
Another powerful slice came terrifyingly close, and Bentley ducked.
He heard the swoosh of his enemy’s blade pass just above his head. Bentley initiated another rising cut, but missed and found himself slightly off balance. He knew that such an experienced man of war would capitalize on Bentley’s mistake—and he did. The next slice came from Bentley’s left, and he was only able to raise his sword for partial protection before the grisly blade blasted through his defense.
The concussion on his sword carried on to Bentley’s left spaulder and slammed into his helmet. Bentley careened to the right, scrambling in vain to keep his footing, then crashed to the ground. He knew what would happen next. In seconds, he would feel the steel of his enemy’s sword pierce his armor and then his chest. He lifted his sword for protection against the vertical slice, but the edge of the warrior’s blade burst through his resistance and into his breastplate. The impact of the blow on his body seemed to force the last of his strength from him. His end was near.
Bentley froze as the warrior lifted his sword high above him for a final downward thrust.His physical exhaustion did not diminish his fear of death in the least. But just as the tip of the warrior’s sword began its plummet, Bentley heard an unfamiliar yell and watched a wide arcing blade slice across his enemy’s torso from behind.
Screaming in pain and frustration, the warrior recoiled and turned on his unknown assailant. Bentley’s strength immediately returned, and he rolled away, quickly finding his feet. The warrior was now heavily engaged with a new adversary, one Bentley had never seen before. Bentley chanced a quick glance about him and realized that four other knights had joined their cause against these massive warriors of destruction. Another glance filled him with shock as he recognized their insignia. Followers!
The newcomers bore the unmistakable mark of the Stranger. This was the enemy Bentley and his comrades had set out that morning to engage. Yet these men were fighting to save their lives. Bentley brought his sword to bear along with his unexpected ally against the dark warrior, who was now wounded and searching for an avenue of retreat.Together, they forced the warrior into flight and joined the remaining knights in vanquishing their foes. When the tips of the swords slowly settled to grassy harbors of rest, only oneman had fallen. Bentley and anotherNoble Knight went to him and began removing his breastplate, for the wound was serious.The other men stood breathing heavily as the rush within their bodies subsided. Bentley looked up in gratitude toward the man who had wielded sword to help him.
“Thank you for your help. We’ve never faced such men before.”
The Follower nodded in the direction the enemy had fled. “We have. They are enemies of the King.”
“As are ye,” came York’s voice from behind. “Drop yer swords.”
Bentley looked up incredulously. “But these men—”
“—are our enemies,” York repeated. “They’ll be imprisoned.”
The four Followers looked stunned, then slowly stepped back and away once they determined the burly knight was not bluffing. Bentley jumped to his feet.
“They just saved our lives!”
“Then they be fools as well,” York spat. “Disarm them!”
The other knights looked at one another and then at Bentley. Bentley met their eyes, then knelt back down to his fallen comrade. The delay allowed the Followers to separate themselves, and they ran into the trees of the valley.
“After them!” York commanded.
“Sir!” one of the older knights exclaimed. “Nordan is down and needs immediate treatment.We either help him, or we chase the Followers and let him die—you choose!”
York’s eyes burned with fury, and in that moment Bentley fully discerned how deep York’s contention with the Followers lay. It was a moment that set his mind on a different course.
Once again, my two teen sons grabbed this one when it came in the door. Both of them were eager to read more of Mr. Black's work, and they both enjoyed it a great deal. Since they are his target audience, I would say he has succeeded once again to reach those for whom he is writing.
I have not yet read this one, but I did read the first in the series, and it was terrific. You can read my review of the first book in the series here.
The Echo Within is a profoundly affecting, honest look at the myriad ways we are drawn into our life’s best work.
Written out of his own lifelong search for and response to the calling voice of God, Robert Benson recounts his discovery of the meaning of vocation, work, and purpose through the ups and downs inherent in family life, professional choice, and spiritual experience. With clarity and insight, and in the elegant prose for which he is known, he gently invites and encourages readers to find such deep truths for their lives as well. In particular, he illuminates the way for readers to explore:
· ways to sense the Holy in our pursuits, both in the pursuits themselves and within ourselves.
· how to fall into our vocation and chart a course toward it at the same time.
· how to love the work we do, and the process of doing it.
For anyone beginning a new career or sensing a needed change in their life or wrestling with a transition suddenly thrust upon them, Robert Benson delivers wisdom, humor, and heart in what he’s learned about listening for The Echo Within—and how it can help us discover our calling.
About the author:
Robert Benson has written more than a dozen books about the discovery of the sacred in the midst of our ordinary lives, including Between the Dreaming and the Coming True, Home By Another Way, and Digging In. His work has been critically acclaimed in a wide range of publications from The New York Times and USA Today to Spirituality & Health and The Benedictine Review. He is an alumnus of The Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation and was recently named a Living Spiritual Teacher by SpiritualityandPractice.com. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Disclaimer: I read this book. I do not agree with the author. I can not recommend this book. Rather than print a tirade of things I did not like about this book, I will say simply that this gentleman can't tell the difference between Eastern Mysticism and Christianity. He has them terribly confused. I do have an extra copy and you can leave a comment and make up your own mind.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
“Mama’s notes faded as fast as cut flowers.” (p. 352)
Jed Pepper is a fourteen-year-old young man who lives in a family where love, acceptance and happiness are as fragile and fleeting as the notes of apology that his mother writes upon the backs of flower petals she leaves for him to find. His father is the local pastor, his mother the submissive wife, his sister, like Jed is floundering to survive. For beneath the surface of this family serenity there is wickedness and abuse as lethal as any poison known to man. The only antidote Jed has against the poison is Daisy – and she is missing.
Daisy Chain has been my introduction to Mary Demuth’s writing, and I have to say it is painfully beautiful. Her prose is vivid and almost lyrical…leaving images in your heart and soul that linger long after you put the book down. This particular story was emotionally difficult to read because of the severity of the family’s dysfunction. What made it even sadder to me was that they were all coping with a child being kidnapped from among their small, quiet town, and there was no hope, no comfort, no support of any kind to be found for any of them. They lived each moment just trying to survive the demon that lived among them – the demon they had to call husband and father. I don’t know when I’ve ever so thoroughly despised a fictional character more than I did Hap Pepper.
However, Demuth introduces some very unlikely sources of hope into the lives of this bleak family, and by the end of the story I think most of them had found that ray of hope and were clinging tenaciously to its fragile strength. I loved the word image that Muriel shares with Hixon on page 353; “…Muriel told me our life is like a winding path with a deep ditch on either side…One ditch is our full-fisted rebellion. The other is our response to someone else’s rebellion. She told me, ‘The Devil couldn’t care less which ditch we fall into, he just wants us off the road.”
I think Muriel had a clearer understanding of the dysfunctional Pepper family than anyone, and through her often odd behavior, she wound up offering truth and hope into a very dark situation. She was my hero.
Daisy Chain is not an easy book to read. However, the truth written upon its pages is real. Christ does paint light in the midst of our darkest moments, and we have to learn to cling to that light and stay on the road headed toward His grace and mercy. Pick up your copy today!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mary E. DeMuth is an expert in Pioneer Parenting. She enables Christian parents to navigate our changing culture when their families left no good faith examples to follow.
Her parenting books include Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture (Harvest House, 2007), Building the Christian Family You Never Had (WaterBrook, 2006), and Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God (Harvest House, 2005).
Mary also inspires people to face their trials through her real-to-life novels, Watching The Tree Limbs
(nominated for a Christy Award) and Wishing On Dandelions (NavPress, 2006).
Mary has spoken at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, the ACFW Conference, the Colorado Christian Writers Conference, and at various churches and church planting ministries. Mary and her husband, Patrick, reside in Texas with their three children. They recently returned from breaking new spiritual ground in Southern France, and planting a church.
ABOUT THE BOOK
The abrupt disappearance of young Daisy Chance from a small Texas town in 1973 spins three lives out of control—Jed, whose guilt over not protecting his friend Daisy strangles him; Emory Chance, who blames her own choices for her daughter’s demise; and Ouisie Pepper, who is plagued by headaches while pierced by the shattered pieces of a family in crisis.
In this first book in the Defiance, Texas Trilogy, fourteen-year-old Jed Pepper has a sickening secret: He’s convinced it’s his fault his best friend Daisy went missing. Jed’s pain sends him on a quest for answers to mysteries woven through the fabric of his own life and the lives of the families of Defiance, Texas. When he finally confronts the terrible truths he’s been denying all his life, Jed must choose between rebellion and love, anger and freedom.
Daisy Chain is an achingly beautiful southern coming-of-age story crafted by a bright new literary talent. It offers a haunting yet hopeful backdrop for human depravity and beauty, for terrible secrets and God’s surprising redemption.
If you would like to read the first chapter of Daisy Chain, go HERE
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Harvest House Publishers (February 1, 2009)
Brandt Dodson was born and raised in Indianapolis, where he graduated from Ben Davis High School and, later, Indiana Central University (now known as The University of Indianapolis). It was during a creative writing course in college that a professor said, "You're a good writer. With a little effort and work, you could be a very good writer." That comment, and the support offered by a good teacher, set Brandt on a course that would eventually lead to the Colton Parker Mystery Series.
A committed Christian, Brandt combined his love for the work of Writers like Chandler and Hammet, with his love for God's word. The result was Colton Parker.
"I wanted Colton to be an 'every man'. A decent guy who tries his best. He is flawed, and makes mistakes. But he learns from them and moves on. And, of course, he gets away with saying and doing things that the rest of us never could."
Brandt comes from a long line of police officers, spanning several generations, and was employed by the FBI before leaving to pursue his education. A former United States Naval Reserve officer, Brandt is a board Certified Podiatrist and past President of the Indiana Podiatric Medical Association. He is a recipient of the association's highest honor, "The Theodore H. Clark Award".
He currently resides in southwestern Indiana with his wife and two sons and is at work on his next novel.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 324 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (February 1, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.
Daniel Borden was a happy man. He was in control of his life and he had all that he needed. He was secure.
That was about to change.
On Tuesday, April 5, Daniel rose an hour before sunup and drank a chocolate-flavored protein drink before dressing in red running shorts, light gray T-shirt, and New Balance running shoes. The shoes were less than a month old, but had already carried him more than a hundred miles. They were comfortable.
After dressing, he stretched by putting one foot against the stairway banister and bending at the waist, bouncing slightly, until the tightness in his leg receded. He then alternated legs and performed the maneuver again.
When his stretching was done, he did a hundred sit-ups followed by a hundred push-ups. Although the intensity of the calisthenics was unusual compared to the number for an average man, Daniel was not particularly muscled. Instead, he had the lean sinewy build of an Olympic gymnast. At thirty-five, he looked ten years younger. And in fact, he felt ten years younger too. He attributed his good health to a disciplined lifestyle.
When his warm up was complete he called for Elvis, the two year old black Lab he had adopted from a local animal shelter. The dog had been lying patiently on the comfortable over-stuffed sofa watching with detached interest as Daniel worked through his morning routine. But now it was time to run and Elvis liked to run.
On hearing his name, the dog leaped off the sofa and trod to his master, waiting patiently as his collar and leash were snapped into place. The leash was a requirement of Bayou Bay's restrictive covenants, one of the many features that attracted Daniel to the highly regulated New Orleans subdivision.
He opened the door. “Let's go, boy.”
They left the house and crossed the short expanse of lawn, beginning their run by heading north, a route they often took and that would return them to the house three miles later. They ran at nearly the same time everyday and were familiar with the predawn rhythms of the neighborhood.
Newspapers were delivered between four and five each morning, the garbage collection occurred on Monday, and the Brightmans, who lived several doors down from Daniel and who tended to rise nearly as early, were usually drinking coffee in front of their open dinning room window by the time Borden and the Lab passed their house. The neighborhood ran with the precision and dependability of a Swiss time piece.
Except this morning.
As they began their run, Daniel noticed a black panel van setting curbside less than two doors away. There was nothing particularly suspicious about the van, but it hadn't been there yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that. In fact, in all the months that Daniel had been running through the neighborhood he had never seen the van.
It didn't belong.
He paused to take a second look, when Elvis distracted him by pulling on the leash.
“Okay, okay. Sorry. Geeshsh.”
The morning air was still cool and dew had settled over the lawns giving them an almost aluminum sheen in the waning moonlight.
To the east, over the crest beyond which the city lay, a warm hue was beginning to illuminate the horizon as the sun woke for its ascent. It wouldn't be long before it would break the horizon, painting the sky over The Big Easy in a dazzling array of colors that would impress even the most skilled artist. Then the city would come alive as school children boarded buses, DJs took to the air waves, and rush hour traffic began to form.
But the neighborhood was quiet at this hour, which made for a quiet, peaceful run. Only the pounding of Daniel's feet, his own breathing, and the jingle of Elvis' tags broke the silence. It was a tune with which they had become familiar since Daniel acquired the lab, and it provided him a sense of stability that only the familiar can provide. And Daniel reveled in stability.
His need for the familiar, for the stable, as well as a passion to escape the near poverty conditions he had known as a child, had driven his career choice. As an investment analyst with one of the largest investment houses in the country, he learned that despite the ups and downs of an often volatile market, Wall Street could be relied on to do the one thing it does best--make money. Even in the most difficult of times the market could be depended on to correct itself. And it was the market's natural return to stability that convinced him most investors can control their financial futures if they were willing to make the hard decisions. The market may be unstable at any given moment, but the share holders needn't be. If they were willing to ride out the current travails, history showed they would have an excellent chance of recovery. If they had neither the stomach nor the time to wait for the inevitable market correction, they could sell and reinvest in another, more stable vehicle. True, they may suffer a loss, may even absorb a significant loss, but such were the realities of investing. But the truth underlying the matter is that the investor has the upper hand, even if exercising that option cost them in the short run. Far different than most, who viewed the market as a speculative ride, driven by greed and underwritten by risk, Daniel saw the market as the one place where savvy investors could control their destiny.
And Daniel needed to have control.
The runners approached the first turn in the road. This one would take then to the west, along Worth Street.
Daniel breathed deeply. The air was cool, invigorating, and renewed him in ways that made him feel lighter, as unbound by earthly constraints as the freedom that comes with unchecked flight. It was as though he could leave the earth and return at will.
As dog and master rounded the corner, Elvis began to tug at the leash, a clear sign that it was time to separate the men from the dogs.
“Want to run, huh?” Daniel said.
The dog woofed and pulled harder.
Daniel stepped up the pace, slow at first, but then faster as Elvis maintained his cadence effortlessly.
Daniel had adopted the dog shortly after moving to New Orleans. Growing up as an only child whose parents moved frequently, more often than not to stay a step ahead of the bill collector, Daniel had often been lonely. Over time, his loneliness led to isolation. He had few friends (none who were particularly close) and was always the last one selected when choosing up sides.
And the abyss of loneliness was further deepened when, more often than not, his father was passed out on the sofa when Daniel came home from school and his mother was at work trying to earn enough money to keep the family in the same house for a single school year.
On those days, Daniel would go to his room and imagine himself a successful man who others admired and respected. He imagined himself traveling to places he'd never been, and would likely never see.
But on other days, when his father was not unconscious and his mother was home, he would try to earn their attention by initiating conversation or taking the lead in washing the after-dinner dishes. And when their favor didn't come Daniel would go outside to mope, or back to his room, feeling as discarded as the beer cans his father carelessly tossed about.
Daniel wanted a dog. Someone who would be glad to see him when he came home from school and who would lay on his bed at night, eager to hear about the day's events. But the realities of his parents' financial straits denied their son this one extravagance. “Dogs cost money,” his father said. “And if you take a look around you'll see that money ain't something that we have just laying about.”
So Daniel spent most of his time alone, dreaming of the day when he could make enough money to have a dog of his own--and take control of his life. And maybe, even make his parents proud.
Growing up alone, gave Daniel ample time for study.
After high school, he attended Ole' Miss on an academic scholarship and excelled in academic achievement. But his father often chided the boy for not wanting to work with his hands and his mother told him he might be reaching for heights that were beyond his ability. The desire to gain their approval began to wane, though, as he grew into manhood and became increasingly independent. But when his mother suddenly died, all desire to gain his parents approval died with her.
He left for Chicago shortly afterward, leaving his father to bury his grief-- real or genuine--in the same way he had buried everything else.
Later, when Daniel earned his MBA, his father did not attend the graduation ceremony, did not call, did not even send a card. The father son relationship officially ended, long before his father died in an alcoholic stupor three years later.
After graduation, it wasn't long before Daniel secured a position with the Chicago office of Capshaw-Crane and began to focus his efforts on climbing the ladder of success. At times it seemed inevitable that he would miss a step, slip up, and fall back to the disaster of his childhood, landing solidly on a pile of empty beer cans in a house of despair. But like the market, he would make the corrections necessary to maintain balance--even if not perspective.
“Not fast enough, huh?” Daniel ran faster; the Lab kept pace.
Borden's concentration on the things in life that were important, on his career, his health, and his financial stability had clearly paid off.
Growing up, he had been lonely. Now he had Elvis. Growing up, he had been hungry. Now, although he chose not to indulge, he could dine in the finest restaurants in a city known for its unique culinary style. Growing up, he had lived in squalid surroundings, awakened as often by the sound of mice playing in his room as he was by his parents' seemingly never-ending arguments. Now he lived in Bayou Bay one of city's premiere residential areas.
Daniel had taken control. He was secure.
Until he noticed the van, again, parked alongside the street with its engine idling and exhaust spewing from the tail pipe. There was no doubt that this was the same van that had been parked on his street, just a few doors down from his house.
“We've seen that before, haven't we boy?”
Elvis continued to pull on the leash. The van was parked along the same side of the street as which they ran, with its nose pointed westward. It was a black panel van with a single red pinstripe encircling it.
It didn't fit. Didn't belong. And yet, here it was, a mile from where it had been parked just a few minutes before.
“This way, boy,” Daniel said, heading for the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street and away from the idling vehicle.
Elvis followed his master's lead, giving him a confused look, but maintaining the pace that would soon bring them parallel with the van. From his vantage point, Daniel could see that the side windows were covered in an opaque film that eliminated any chance of observing who was inside. But as they came alongside the van, Daniel began to slow, finally coming to a complete stop. Elvis gave his master another confused look.
“What have we got here, boy?” Daniel said, leaning forward, straining to get a better view of the van.
A low growl began to form in the dog's throat. As though he had just discovered the out of place vehicle and the possible threat it posed.
“You too?” Daniel said. “I don't like the-“
“Black Lab,” a voice said.
Daniel spun around to find that Elvis was facing to the right, opposite of where the van was parked.
“They're nice dogs,” the voice said. “I used to have one myself.”
Daniel focused on the shadows to his right. Barely visible, but silhouetted against the yard light behind him, a tall man emerged, dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe. He was carrying a garbage can.
“Sorry,” he said. “I didn't mean to startle you.”
Daniel exhaled. “That's okay. It's just that my dog and I never see anyone out at this hour.”
The man set the garbage can down at the curb. “And you wouldn't have this time either, if I could've remembered to do this the night before.” He reached to pat Elvis on the head. “The wife and I are leaving for vacation today and I needed to get this stuff out so it wouldn't pile up. We're going to be gone for a couple of weeks.”
The van pulled away from the curb with only its parking lights on. Daniel made a note of the license plate.
“Do you know them?” Daniel asked.
The man turned to watch as the van disappeared around the corner.
“No, can't say I do. But I wouldn't worry.”
He stooped to pat Elvis' head again, before extending a hand. “Hubert Johns.”
“Daniel Borden. And this is Elvis.”
“Elvis, huh? Well, he's sure a beauty. Aren't you boy?” He scratched behind Elvis' ear.
“Why shouldn't I worry?” Daniel asked.
“I'm head of the neighborhood crime watch. If there's anything going on around here, I'm usually the first to know.”
“Are there things going on around here?”
“You mean like burglaries and that sort of thing? No, pretty quiet. And we try to keep it that way.” He nodded to the house across the street. “There are some kids that live there. Teenagers. But they're good kids. A little loud sometimes with their music and all, and their mother lets them keep some pretty late hours, but they've always been polite.” He patted Elvis again. “Most likely the van was some of their friends.”
“Yeah,” Daniel said, feeling a little foolish. “Probably some friends of theirs.”
The man put both hands in the pocket of his robe. “You okay? You sound kind of rattled.”
Daniel laughed. “I'm fine. The van was just sitting there with its engine running. It unnerved me a bit, that's all.”
“I don't remember seeing you at the meetings. Are you a member of the watch?”
Daniel shook his head. “No, I'm afraid not. I tend to keep pretty busy and I don't have-“
“Don't have what? Time?” Hubert chuckled. “I was a cop for thirty years. If they were up to something, I would've noticed it. After thirty years of dealing with every piece of garbage there is, you get to a point where you can smell trouble,” he tapped his nose. “Know what I mean?”
“I guess so.”
“You ought to consider joining the neighborhood crime watch. You never know when you might be a victim.”
“I'll sure think about it.”
“You do that.”
Elvis began to tug at the leash. There wasn't a lot of time left to run and Daniel was wasting it.
“Well, it was nice to meet you,” Daniel said. “Sorry that we haven't met before.”
Johns nodded as he looked about the neighborhood. “Too many people keep to themselves. That's never a good thing. Two people working together are always better than one working alone.”
“Right.” Elvis began to pull hard on the leash.
“But I wouldn't worry about that van. Probably just some kids smoking dope or something.” He nodded toward the eastern horizon. “Besides, the sun is coming up now. If it was somebody that was going to do something, they waited too late.”
Daniel watched as the glow that had just started when he left the house, began blossoming into a new day. “Yeah. Probably nothing to worry about.”
Daniel Borden exists within the world of Wall Street investments and among people who wield power over other’s lives with whimsical indifference. Yet Daniel has achieved success while always operating within the law. When he is tasked to audit a co-worker’s fraudulent accounts he suddenly finds himself in a dangerous game of cat and mouse – running for his life.
Meanwhile, Laura Traynor is living on the brink of bankruptcy in the wake of her husband’s death, and she struggles to understand why God would exact such an unfair price from her circumstances and deprive her only son of his father’s dreams. When a stranger begins pressuring Laura to sell the remaining link to her husband – a restored Bed and Breakfast – she becomes more determined than ever to succeed no matter how difficult things become. She never dreamed she would soon be a fugitive with a wanted murderer.
What neither Daniel nor Laura could possibly know is that both of them have become pawns in an evil play for power. When their paths finally cross, it doesn’t take them long to figure out that their one common enemy won’t stop until they are dead. Their actions take on a frantic desperation as they try to stay one step ahead of their pursuers.
Daniel’s Den is a suspenseful read, but I never felt fully engaged. I kept coming across pages of meticulous detail about every single character that slowed the story down and did little to move the action along. I mean, I don’t need to know the killer’s emotional/psychological reasons behind his love for cream-filled snack cakes. The plot was great, but the ending was tied up a bit too neatly, and the romantic element seemed rushed and not entirely heartfelt. I think this story could have been told a lot more succinctly and it would have made it more of a thriller to read. Please, check it out and make up your own mind. It really is a good story.
Monday, February 23, 2009
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Revell (February 1, 2009)
Virginia Smith is the author of eight novels, including Age before Beauty, Stuck in the Middle, and A Taste of Murder. In 2008 she was named Writer of the Year at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. A popular retreat speaker, Ginny keeps audiences enthralled with her high-energy presentations. She and her husband, Ted, divide their time between Kentucky and Utah, and escape as often as they can for diving trips to the Caribbean.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Revell (February 1, 2009)
Have you ever read a book that made you feel like you were standing in front of a mirror? Well, Age Before Beauty was kind of like that for me. I was a college grad turned stay-at-home mom some years ago, and it wasn’t long before I was drawn into a sales-type situation not unlike the one Allie found herself drawn to in this story. The issues that sprang from Allie’s choices were different, but the search for identity after motherhood is a universal experience, and it is one Virginia Smith captures very well!
Allie is a new mom now, and the thought of leaving her daughter in the capable hands of strangers at the local day-care does not appeal to her at all. Eric’s mom shows up unexpectedly about the same time Allie is invited to her first home show based on direct sales. The combination of these two events proves to be the catalyst for Allie to consider a new career direction, and her husband eagerly supports her – at first.
However, as the story unfolds, Allie learns, along with the reader, that parenthood changes the dynamics of a family, and there are different needs that exist within an entirely unpredictable schedule. Allie finds herself dealing with a discontented husband, a child she barely spends time with and a mother-in-law with emotional needs of her own.
It isn’t long before Allie and Eric find that life can easily overwhelm when there is no one but yourself to lean on. As Allie’s sisters and mother are faithful to love them and show them the love of God, subtle changes begin to take place. As Allie and Eric recognize those changes, they find that God has been working through the details of their lives to reveal His love to them in a whole new way.
Age Before Beauty deals with very realistic life situations in a way that is both entertaining and poignant. I would say this is chic lit with depth, and I enjoyed it very much! This is book two in the Sister-to-Sister series, so I guess that means Tori’s story is up next! Be sure to read my review of Stuck in the Middle to learn more about this great series! And visit Virginia Smith’s website to learn more about the wide variety of books she has written! There is something for everyone! Enjoy!
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
But the warping seemed only to be in the middle, like one of those fun-house mirrors. She squinted down at her pink toenails. Her feet looked normal. Her face looked okay. Pretty good, even. This was the first time she’d put on makeup in weeks, and a little color worked wonders. She could use a haircut, though the dark blonde layers falling in waves to rest on her shoulders managed to hold the extra length well.
She blew her bangs out of her eyes. Actually, the long hair made her face look fuller, and that offset some of the width of her hips. Which needed the help, especially now that she got a good look at them wearing only a nursing bra and panties. If she cut some of the volume out of her hair, she’d look like one of those toys she and Joan and Tori played with as kids. What were they called? Weebles. She’d look like Mother Weeble.
She swayed from side to side, eyeing her oversized bottom half as she sang the toy’s jingle. “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.”
“Did you say something?”
Allie whirled to find Eric standing in the bedroom doorway, a grin twitching at his mouth. She felt a blush creep up her neck. Though he was the world’s most awesome husband and devoted new daddy, she still felt awkward parading her postmaternity body around in front of him. A flabby belly covered in stretch marks was soooo sexy.
“How long have you been standing there?”
His voice dropped an octave as his smile deepened. “Long enough to admire my beautiful wife.”
No mistaking that husky tone. She snatched her jeans off the bed. “Don’t get frisky, lover boy. My sister will be here any minute.”
Eric’s lips twisted. “Story of my life lately.”
Allie crossed the room and placed a tender kiss on his cheek. “I’m sorry my family is here so often. They just don’t want to miss a day with the baby. She’s growing so fast.”
“I know, I know.” He grinned. “But tonight I get Joanie all to myself. Our first father-daughter date.”
Allie sat on the edge of the bed and slipped her feet into the jeans, avoiding Eric’s eyes. He had been looking forward to this evening for a full week, ever since Joan invited her to go to a stupid party where some fanatical woman would try to force her to buy something she didn’t want and for which she had no use. If only Joan hadn’t asked in front of Eric, she would have turned the invitation down without a second thought. But he had insisted it was time she took her first outing without the baby.
Pulling the waistband up around her knees, she gave Eric a worried look. “Are you sure you’ll be okay? She’s only taken a bottle a few times, you know. She might cry.”
“I’ll deal with it.”
He held up a finger. “No buts. She’s five weeks old. In three weeks she’ll be taking a bottle at the daycare center when you go back to work. She needs to get used to it.”
Tears stung Allie’s eyes, and she looked away so Eric wouldn’t see. “I guess you’re right.”
“Of course I am. Now finish getting dressed while I go wind the baby swing again.”
He left, and Allie sat staring at the handwoven rug in front of their bed. Three weeks. Then she’d have to leave her precious little Joanie in the hands of a total stranger.
If only . . .
She jerked the shirt over her head. No. One of the things she and Eric had talked about before they got married was how they’d handle life after they started having children. She’d insisted on laying it all out, because Eric’s mother had been a stay-at-home mom, and Allie wanted to make absolutely sure he didn’t have the same expectations. Her toenail caught the edge of her sock as she tugged it up, and she hissed with pain. No way would she become one of those women relegated to a dull life of child rearing. She was a career woman—the second sock followed the first—with a college degree and plans for her professional future. She liked her job, liked the independence it gave her. Besides, they agreed on having two incomes so they could afford things like nice clothes and good cars and vacations at the beach.
But that was before she’d had a baby.
If only there was some way she could pursue her career and keep her daughter at home. She had quietly investigated every work-from-home scheme she could find lately, but all of them sounded more like scams than jobs.
Banishing the tears, she stood. No sense crying about it. She had no option. In three weeks she’d return to her job as a team leader at the social services office. She might even be able to recapture some of the excitement and ambition she’d felt before she got pregnant. At the moment, though, it sounded like a life sentence with no chance of parole.
She pulled her jeans up over her knees. This was the first pair of zippered pants she’d tried to wear since Joanie’s birth, having lived in sweats and oversized T-shirts once she put away the maternity clothes. Wiggling her hips back and forth, she inched them upward. Come on, come on, they had to fit. They were her biggest jeans, stretchy and so loose that she’d worn them all the way up to her fifth month of pregnancy. Just a little farther . . .
Ugh. She panted from the effort. But at least she’d managed to get them pulled all the way up.
Now the zipper. Suck that gut in. Pull hard. Harder. She hopped up and down, tugging at the waistband. Okay, if the zipper wouldn’t go all the way to the top, it didn’t matter. She’d just wear her shirttail out. Everybody did these days. As long as she could get the button fastened.
There! They fit! She was wearing pre-baby Levis! Well, sort of.
She stepped up to the mirror and bit back a gasp.
The stupid thing had to be warped.
“Hey, look at you all dressed up.” Joan stood on the doorstep, car keys clutched in one hand. “You look great.”
Allie scowled and tried not to think of the jeans she could almost wear shoved in the back of her bottom drawer. “These are maternity pants. Nothing else fits.”
“Oh.” Joan’s smile drooped a fraction, then brightened again. “But that’s not a maternity shirt. And turquoise is totally your color.”
Her eyes shifted to a point inside the room, then she practically bowled Allie over as she rushed toward the swing to snatch up the baby. Sighing, Allie closed the door. So much for Joanie’s nap.
Allie tried to ignore a wave of insecurity as she admired her sister’s slim frame, the way her jeans fit without a single bulge. Straight dark hair fell forward to tickle the baby’s face as Joan cooed at her slumbering namesake while she unfastened the safety strap. Soft baby noises answered as little Joanie’s eyelids fluttered open. Allie clasped her hands together to keep from taking the infant from her middle sister’s arms. She was so sweet when she first woke. Tiny fists rose above her head and she kicked her legs out to their full length and arched her back to stretch.
“Look at her! I swear she’s grown an inch since the last time I saw her.”
Allie answered dryly. “I doubt that, since you came over yesterday.” She held her hands out. “Here, let me change her.”
Joan clutched the baby closer. “I’ll do it.”
With a sigh, Allie followed her sister into the nursery. Bright pink daisies on fields of green bordered the white walls and also decorated lacy curtains and crib bedding. Joan laid Joanie on a daisy-covered pad atop the changing table. While she unsnapped the pink onesie, Allie took a diaper from the stacker and popped open the plastic cap on the wipes. The sweet smell of baby powder was quickly replaced with a less pleasant odor when Joan peeled the tape off the dirty diaper.
Eric stuck his head through the doorway as Allie pulled out a wipe and handed it to Joan. “Whew, I’m glad you girls got that out of the way before you left. Of course, the way this little piggie eats, I probably have at least one unpleasant surprise in store tonight.”
“Don’t worry.” Allie dropped the soiled bundle into the Diaper Genie and twisted the knob. “We won’t be gone very long. I’m sure we’ll be back for the next dirty diaper.”
“I’m kidding, Allie. You know I don’t mind taking care of my girl.” He leaned over and buried a kiss in Joanie’s chubby neck, eliciting a gurgle and an excited waving of arms and legs.
Joan snapped the onesie back in place over the fresh diaper and picked up the squirming infant. Allie stepped forward to take her, but instead Joan thrust her into Eric’s arms.
“It’s time to go. I don’t want to be late.” With a meaningful glance in Allie’s direction, she marched out of the room, Eric right behind her with Joanie hugged tightly to his chest.
Left alone in the nursery, Allie fought a wave of panic that caused her throat to tighten with unshed tears. Cheerful daisies mocked her. She knew this feeling, had sensed the edges of it creeping toward her all day. The moment had come. After five weeks of constantly being in Joanie’s presence, she was about to leave her in someone else’s care.
Don’t be ridiculous. She scrubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand. Joanie wasn’t staying with a stranger. She was staying with her daddy! He’d watched her many times while Allie enjoyed a long bath or a nap.
But what if she cries? What if she misses me?
She started toward the living room, and then stopped short as an even more distressing thought struck her. What if she doesn’t even notice I’m gone?
“Allie, are you coming?”
Joan’s voice propelled her feet into motion. She would not think about that.
One step took her from the hallway into their tiny living room, where Eric had deposited Joanie on the mat beneath her baby gym. Allie fought to suppress a wave of regret when chubby infant hands waved with erratic enthusiasm at the dangling toys, and happy coos filled the room. It had only been in the past few days that she’d started noticing the toys. She was growing so fast, changing every day. What if she did something really cool for the first time tonight, while Allie wasn’t here to see it? She dropped to her knees and showered Joanie’s face with goodbye kisses.
“There are a couple of bottles all ready to go in the fridge,” she told Eric. “Run hot water over them to warm them. Don’t use the microwave.”
Eric stood and pulled her up with him. “I won’t.” He planted a kiss on her cheek.
“She ate two hours ago, so she’ll probably be hungry around eight. If she gets fussy before—”
Joan grabbed her arm and steered her forcefully toward the front door. “Come along, Mother. It’s time to go.”
Thoughts of all the terrible things that could happen pummeled her mind like giant hailstones. She pulled away and whirled toward Eric. “Don’t give her a bath until I get home. You know how slippery she is when she’s soapy.”
He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face the door. “Stop worrying. We’ll be fine. Now go have a good time.” A gentle shove pushed her forward.
From the porch, Joan seized her and jerked her through the doorway. Allie shook her off and spun around to remind Eric to put the baby’s sweater on because the house would cool when the sun went down, but the front door slammed shut in her face. Tears welled in her eyes.
“You’re pathetic.” Joan folded her arms across her chest and leveled an unsympathetic look on her.
Allie sniffled. “It’s the first time we’ve been apart in five weeks.”
“Then it’s about time you gave the poor kid some breathing room.” She shook her head. “You’re becoming one of those hovering mothers. I can totally see you stalking her on the kindergarten playground during recess.”
Actually, Allie didn’t see a problem with dropping by to check on your kids during the day, but in the face of Joan’s sardonic expression, she didn’t dare mention it. Instead she lifted a chin. “I will not be a hovering mother.”
A snort blasted from her sister’s nose. “I know my big sister. You’ll hover like a helicopter.”
Her head held high, Allie marched past Joan toward the driveway. “I thought you didn’t want to be late.”
She rubbed her hands on her arms. It was a chilly fifty degrees, and the orange October sun was rapidly dropping toward the horizon. They’d shoved her out the door without a jacket, but she didn’t dare go back inside now or she’d never hear the end of it. Serve them both right if she caught pneumonia and died.
For more information about Age before Beauty, visit www.VirginiaSmith.org
Used by permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright ©2009. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group. www.BakerPublishingGroup.com
Saturday, February 21, 2009
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Thomas Nelson (February 17, 2009)
Stephen R. Lawhead is an internationally acclaimed author of mythic history and imaginative fiction. His works include Byzantium, Patrick, and the series The Pendragon Cycle, The Celtic Crusades, and The Song of Albion.
Stephen was born in 1950, in Nebraska in the USA. Most of his early life was spent in America where he earned a university degree in Fine Arts and attended theological college for two years. His first professional writing was done at Campus Life magazine in Chicago, where he was an editor and staff writer. During his five years at Campus Life he wrote hundreds of articles and several non-fiction books.
After a brief foray into the music business—as president of his own record company—he began full-time freelance writing in 1981. He moved to England in order to research Celtic legend and history. His first novel, In the Hall of the Dragon King, became the first in a series of three books (The Dragon King Trilogy) and was followed by the two-volume Empyrion saga, Dream Thief and then the Pendragon Cycle, now in five volumes: Taliesin, Merlin, Arthur, Pendragon, and Grail. This was followed by the award-winning Song of Albion series which consists of The Paradise War, The Silver Hand, and The Endless Knot.
He has written nine children's books, many of them originally offered to his two sons, Drake and Ross. He is married to Alice Slaikeu Lawhead, also a writer, with whom he has collaborated on some books and articles. They make their home in Oxford, England.
Stephen's non-fiction, fiction and children's titles have been published in twenty-one foreign languages. All of his novels have remained continuously in print in the United States and Britain since they were first published. He has won numereous industry awards for his novels and children's books, and in 2003 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Nebraska.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $26.99
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (February 17, 2009)
“It is an end worth fighting for,” mused Bran. “It may be for others to complete what we’ve begun, but there must be a beginning.” (p. 334)
Rhi Bran ap Brychan only wants restored what has been taken from him – his kingship on the throne of Elfael. Red William has led the Ffreinic in a seemingly endless battle against a mysterious group of outlaws under the leadership of King Raven. When he finally decides he will not tolerate another moment of rebellion – because he cannot afford the debt he must pay for the souls he has killed, a battle of epic proportions begins to form in the vale of Elfael.
Throughout the story, there is a short, stout friar named Tuck who faithfully fulfills the requests made of him by his fearless leader Rhi Bran. He is asked several times to go face to face with the enemy and ask that peace be considered, only to have his life threatened and his leader defamed. Yet Tuck remains faithful to pray for Bran and those who fight by his side, and the Lord is faithful to answer Tuck’s prayers in some very unexpected ways!
Although Tuck is the final book of Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven trilogy, it is a book that can be enjoyed on its own as well. I am almost embarrassed to admit that it’s my first introduction to Lawhead’s work, but you can be certain I am now a fan! Tuck absolutely transports the reader to another time and place, and from the opening sentence to the final page this epic story plays out in rich imagery, heroic daring and breathless chases! I couldn’t help but laugh at Alan A Dale and his hilarious interpretations during Bran’s masquerade as Count Rexindo, and I wept at the loss suffered by Bran and Scarlet during one of the final battles. Truly, the King Raven trilogy is an epic tale, and I highly recommend it!
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Saint Swithun’s Day
King William stood scratching the back of his hand and watched as another bag of gold was emptied into the ironclad chest: one hundred solid gold byzants that, added to fifty pounds in silver and another fifty in letters of promise to be paid upon collection of his tribute from Normandie, brought the total to five hundred marks. “More money than God,” muttered William under his breath. “What do they do with it all?”
“Sire?” asked one of the clerks of the justiciar’s office, glancing up from the wax tablet on which he kept a running tally.
“Nothing,” grumbled the king. Parting with money always made him itch, and this time there was no relief. In vain, he scratched the other hand. “Are we finished here?”
Having counted the money, the clerks began locking and sealing the strongbox. The king shook his head at the sight of all that gold and silver disappearing from sight. These blasted monks will bleed me dry, he thought. A kingdom was a voracious beast that devoured money and was never, ever satisfied. It took money for soldiers, money for horses and weapons, money for fortresses, money for supplies to feed the troops, and as now, even more money to wipe away the sins of war. The gold and silver in the chest was for the abbey at Wintan Cestre to pay the monks so that his father would not have to spend eternity in purgatory or, worse, frying in hell.
“All is in order, Majesty,” said the clerk. “Shall we proceed?”
William gave a curt nod.
Two knights of the king’s bodyguard stepped forward, took up the box, and carried it from the room and out into the yard where the monks of Saint Swithun’s were already gathered and waiting for the ceremony to begin. The king, a most reluctant participant, followed.
In the yard of the Red Palace—the name given to the king’s sprawling lodge outside the city walls—a silken canopy on silver poles had been erected. Beneath the canopy stood Bishop Walkelin with his hands pressed together in an attitude of patient prayer. Behind the bishop stood a monk bearing the gilded cross of their namesake saint, while all around them knelt monks and acolytes chanting psalms and hymns. The king and his attendants—his two favourite earls, a canon, and a bevy of assorted clerks, scribes, courtiers, and officials both sacred and secular—marched out to meet the bishop. The company paused while the king’s chair was brought and set up beneath the canopy where Bishop Walkelin knelt.
“In the Holy Name,” intoned the bishop when William Rufus had taken his place in the chair, “all blessing and honour be upon you and upon your house and upon your descendants and upon the people of your realm.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” said William irritably. “Get on with it.”
“God save you, Sire,” replied Walkelin. “On this Holy Day we have come to receive the Beneficium Ecclesiasticus Sanctus Swithinius as is our right under the Grant of Privilege created and bestowed by your father King William, for the establishment and maintenance of an office of penitence, perpetual prayer, and the pardon of sins.”
“So you say,” remarked the king.
Bishop Walkelin bowed again, and summoned two of his monks to receive the heavy strongbox from the king’s men in what had become an annual event of increasing ceremony in honour of Saint Swithun, on whose day the monks determined to suck the lifeblood from the crown, and William Rufus resented it. But what could he do? The payment was for the prayers of the monks for the remission of sins on the part of William Conqueror, prayers which brought about the much-needed cleansing of his besmirched soul. For each and every man that William had killed in battle, the king could expect to spend a specified amount of time in purgatory: eleven years for a lord or knight, seven years for a man-at-arms, five for a commoner, and one for a serf. By means of some obscure and complicated formula William had never understood, the monks determined a monetary amount which somehow accorded to the number of days a monk spent on his knees praying. As William had been a very great war leader, his purgatorial obligation amounted to well over a thousand years—and that was only counting the fatalities of the landed nobility. No one knew the number of commoners and serfs he had killed, either directly or indirectly, in his lifetime—but the number was thought to be quite high. Still, a wealthy king with dutiful heirs need not actually spend so much time in purgatory—so long as there were monks willing to ease the burden of his debt through prayer. All it took was money.
Thus, the Benefice of Saint Swithun, necessary though it might be, was a burden the Conqueror’s son had grown to loathe with a passion. That he himself would have need of this selfsame service was a fact that he could neither deny, nor escape. And while he told himself that paying monks to pray souls from hell was a luxury he could ill afford, deep in his heart of hearts he knew only too well that—owing to the debauched life he led—it was also a necessity he could ill afford to neglect much longer.
Even so, paying over good silver for the ongoing service of a passel of mumbling clerics rubbed Rufus raw—especially as that silver became each year more difficult to find. His taxes already crushed the poor and had caused at least two riots and a rebellion by his noblemen. Little wonder, then, that the forever needy king dreaded the annual approach of Saint Swithun’s day and the parting with so much of his precious treasury.
The ceremony rumbled on to its conclusion and, following an especially long-winded prayer, adjourned to a feast in honour of the worthy saint. The feast was the sole redeeming feature of the entire day. That it must be spent in the company of churchmen dampened William’s enthusiasm somewhat, but did not destroy it altogether. The Red King had surrounded himself with enough of his willing courtiers and sycophants to ensure a rousing good time no matter how many disapproving monks he fed at his table.
This year, the revel reached such a height of dissipation that Bishop Walkelin quailed and excused himself, claiming that he had pressing business that required his attention back at the cathedral. William, forcing himself to be gracious, wished the churchmen well and offered to send a company of soldiers to accompany the monks back to the abbey with their money lest they fall among thieves.
Walkelin agreed to the proposal and, as he bestowed his blessing, leaned close to the king and said, “We must talk one day soon about establishing a benefice of your own, Your Majesty.” He paused and then, like the flick of a knife, warned, “Death comes for us all, and none of us knows the day or time. I would be remiss if I did not offer to draw up a grant for you.”
“We will discuss that,” said William, “when the price is seen to fall rather than forever rise.”
“You will have heard it said,” replied Walkelin, “that where great sin abounds, great mercy must intercede. The continual observance and maintenance of that intercession is very expensive, my lord king,”
“So is the keeping of a bishop,” answered William tartly. “And bishops have been known to lose their bishoprics.” He paused, regarding the cleric over the rim of his cup. “Heaven forbid that should happen. I know I would be heartily sorry to see you go, Walkelin.”
“If my lord is displeased with his servant,” began the bishop, “he has only to—”
“Something to consider, eh?”
Bishop Walkelin tried to adopt a philosophical air. “I am reminded that your father always—”
“No need to speak of it any more just now,” said William smoothly. “Only think about what I have said.”
“You may be sure,” answered Walkelin. He bowed stiffly and took a slow step backwards. “Your servant, my lord.”
The clerics departed, leaving the king and his courtiers to their revel. But the feast was ruined for William. Try as he might, he could not work himself into a festive humour because the bishop’s rat of a thought had begun to gnaw at the back of his mind: his time was running out. To die without arranging for the necessary prayers would doom his soul to the lake of everlasting fire. However loudly he might rail against the expense—and condemn the greedy clerics who held his future for ransom—was he really prepared to test the alternative at the forfeit of his soul?
Come listen a while, you gentlefolk alle,
That stand this bower within,
A tale of noble Rhiban the Hud,
I purpose now to begin.
Young Rhiban was a princeling fayre,
And a gladsome heart had he.
Delight took he in games and tricks,
And guiling his fair ladye.
A bonny fine maide of noble degree,
Mérian calléd by name,
This beauty soote was praised of alle men
For she was a gallant dame.
Rhiban stole through the greenwoode one night
To kiss his dear Mérian late.
But she boxed his head till his nose turn’d red
And order’d him home full straight.
Though Rhiban indeed speeded home fayrlie rathe,
That night he did not see his bed.
For in flames of fire from the rooftops’ eaves,
He saw all his kinsmen lay dead.
Ay, the sheriff’s low men had visited there,
When the household was slumbering deepe.
And from room to room they had quietly crept
And murtheréd them all in their sleepe.
Rhiban cried out ‘wey-la-wey!’
But those fiends still lingered close by.
So into the greenwoode he quickly slipt,
For they had heard his cry.
Rhiban gave the hunters goode sport,
Full lange, a swift chase he led.
But a spearman threw his shot full well
And he fell as one that is dead.
Tuck shook the dust of Caer Wintan off his feet and prepared for the long walk back to the forest. It was a fine, warm day, and all too soon the friar was sweltering in his heavy robe. He paused now and then to wipe the sweat from his face, falling farther and farther behind his travelling companions. “These legs of mine are sturdy stumps,” he sighed to himself, “but fast they en’t.”
He had just stopped to catch his breath a little when, on sudden impulse, he spun around quickly and caught a glimpse of movement on the road behind—a blur in the shimmering distance, and then gone. So quick he might have imagined it. Only it was not the first time since leaving the Royal Lodge that Tuck had entertained the queer feeling that someone or something was following them. He had it again now, and decided to alert the others and let them make of it what they would.
Squinting into the distance, he saw Bran far ahead of the Grellon, striding steadily, shoulders hunched against the sun and the gross injustice so lately suffered at the hands of the king in whom he had trusted. The main body of travellers, unable to keep up with their lord, was becoming an ever-lengthening line as heat and distance mounted. They trudged along in small clumps of two or three, heads down, talking in low, sombre voices. How like sheep, thought Tuck, following their impetuous and headstrong shepherd.
A more melancholy man might himself have succumbed to the oppressive gloom hanging low over the Cymry, dragging at their feet, pressing their spirits low. Though summer still blazed in meadow, field, and flower, it seemed to Tuck that they all walked in winter’s drear and dismal shadows. Rhi Bran and his Grellon had marched into Caer Wintan full of hope—they had come singing, had they not?—eager to stand before King William to receive the judgement and reward that had been promised in Rouen all those months ago. Now, here they were, slinking back to the greenwood in doleful silence, mourning the bright hope that had been crushed and lost.
No, not lost. They would never let it out of their grasp, not for an instant. It had been stolen—snatched away by the same hand that had offered it in the first place: the grasping, deceitful hand of a most perfidious king.
Tuck felt no less wounded than the next man, but when he considered how Bran and the others had risked their lives to bring Red William word of the conspiracy against him, it fair made his priestly blood boil. The king had promised justice. The Grellon had every right to expect that Elfael’s lawful king would be restored. Instead, William had merely banished Baron de Braose and his milksop nephew Count Falkes, sending them back to France to live in luxury on the baron’s extensive estates. Elfael, that small bone of contention, had instead become property of the crown and placed under the protection of Abbot Hugo and Sheriff de Glanville. Well, that was putting wolves in charge of the fold, was it not?
Where was the justice? A throne for a throne, Bran had declared that day in Rouen. William’s had been saved—at considerable cost and risk to the Cymry—but where was Bran’s throne?
S’truth, thought Tuck, wait upon a Norman to do the right thing and you’ll be waiting until your hair grows white and your teeth fall out.
“How long, O Lord? How long must your servants suffer?” he muttered. “And, Lord, does it have to be so blasted hot?”
He paused to wipe the sweat from his face. Running a hand over his round Saxon head, he felt the sun’s fiery heat on the bare spot of his tonsure; sweat ran in rivulets down the sides of his neck and dripped from his jowls. Drawing a deep breath, he tightened his belt, hitched up the skirts of his robe, and started off again with quickened steps. Soon his shoes were slapping up the dust around his ankles and he began to overtake the rearmost members of the group: thirty souls in all, women and children included, for Bran had determined that his entire forest clan—save for those left behind to guard the settlement and a few others for whom the long journey on foot would have been far too arduous—should be seen by the king to share in the glad day.
The friar picked up his pace and soon drew even with Siarles: slim as a willow wand, but hard and knotty as an old hickory root. The forester walked with his eyes downcast, chin outthrust, his mouth a tight, grim line. Every line of him bristled with fury like a riled porcupine. Tuck knew to leave well enough alone and hurried on without speaking.
Next, he passed Will Scatlocke—or Scarlet, as he preferred. The craggy forester limped along slightly as he carried his newly acquired daughter, Nia. Against every expectation, Will had endured a spear wound, the abbot’s prison, and the threat of the sheriff’s rope . . . and survived. His pretty dark-eyed wife, Noín, walked resolutely beside him. The pair had made a good match, and it tore at his heart that the newly married couple should have to endure a dark hovel in the forest when the entire realm begged for just such a family to settle and sink solid roots deep into the land—another small outrage to be added to the ever-growing mountain of injustices weighing on Elfael.
A few more steps brought him up even with Odo, the Norman monk who had befriended Will Scarlet in prison. At Scarlet’s bidding, the young scribe had abandoned Abbot Hugo to join them. Odo walked with his head down, his whole body drooping—whether with heat or the awful realization of what he had done, Tuck could not tell.
A few steps more and he came up even with Iwan—the great, hulking warrior would crawl on hands and knees through fire for his lord. It was from Iwan that the friar had received his current christening when the effort of wrapping his untrained tongue around the simple Saxon name Aethelfrith proved beyond him. “Fat little bag of vittles that he is, I will call him Tuck,” the champion had said. “Friar Tuck to you, boyo,” the priest had responded, and the name had stuck. God bless you, Little John, thought Tuck, and keep your arm strong, and your heart stronger.
Next to Iwan strode Mérian, just as fierce in her devotion to Bran as the champion beside her. Oh, but shrewd with it; she was smarter than the others and more cunning—which always came as something of a shock to anyone who did not know better, because one rarely expected it from a lady so fair of face and form. But the impression of innocence beguiled. In the time Tuck had come to know her, she had shown herself to be every inch as canny and capable as any monarch who ever claimed an English crown.
Mérian held lightly to the bridle strap of the horse that carried their wise hudolion, who was, so far as Tuck could tell, surely the last Banfáith of Britain: Angharad, ancient and ageless. There was no telling how old she was, yet despite her age, whatever it might be, she sat her saddle smartly and with the ease of a practiced rider. Her quick dark eyes were trained on the road ahead, but Tuck could tell that her sight was turned inward, her mind wrapped in a veil of deepest thought. Her wrinkled face might have been carved of dark Welsh slate for all it revealed of her contemplations.
Mérian glanced around as the priest passed, and called out, but the friar had Bran in his eye, and he hurried on until he was within hailing distance. “My lord, wait!” he shouted. “I must speak to you!”
Bran gave no sign that he had heard. He strode on, eyes fixed on the road and distance ahead.
“For the love of Jesu, Bran. Wait for me!”
Bran took two more steps and then halted abruptly. He straightened and turned, his face a smouldering scowl, dark eyes darker still under lowered brows. His shock of black hair seemed to rise in feathered spikes.
“Thank the Good Lord,” gasped the friar, scrambling up the dry, rutted track. “I thought I’d never catch you. We . . . there is something . . .” He gulped down air, wiped his face, and shook the sweat from his hand into the dust of the road.
“Well?” demanded Bran impatiently.
“I think we must get off this road,” Tuck said, dabbing at his face with the sleeve of his robe. “Truly, as I think on it now, I like not the look that Abbot Hugo gave me when we left the king’s yard. I fear he may try something nasty.”
Bran lifted his chin. The jagged scar on his cheek, livid now, twisted his lip into a sneer. “Within sight of the king’s house?” he scoffed, his voice tight. “He wouldn’t dare.”
“Would he not?”
“Dare what?” said Iwan, striding up. Siarles came toiling along in the big man’s wake.
“Our friar here,” replied Bran, “thinks we should abandon the road. He thinks Abbot Hugo is bent on making trouble.”
Iwan glanced back the way they had come. “Oh, aye,” agreed Iwan, “that would be his way.” To Tuck, he said, “Have you seen anything?”
“What’s this then?” inquired Siarles as he joined the group. “Why have you stopped?”
“Tuck thinks the abbot is on our tail,” Iwan explained.
“I maybe saw something back there, and not for the first time,” Tuck explained. “I don’t say it for a certainty, but I think someone is following us.”
“It makes sense.” Siarles looked to the frowning Bran. “What do you reckon?”
“I reckon I am surrounded by a covey of quail frightened of their own shadows,” Bran replied. “We move on.”
He turned to go, but Iwan spoke up. “My lord, look around you. There is little enough cover hereabouts. If we were to be taken by surprise, the slaughter would be over before we could put shaft to string.”
Mérian joined them then, having heard a little of what had passed. “The little ones are growing weary,” she pointed out. “They cannot continue on this way much longer without rest and water. We will have to stop soon in any event. Why not do as Tuck suggests and leave the road now—just to be safe?”
“So be it,” he said, relenting at last. He glanced around and then pointed to a grove of oak and beech rising atop the next hill up the road. “We will make for that wood. Iwan—you and Siarles pass the word along, then take up the rear guard.” He turned to Tuck and said, “You and Mérian stay here and keep everyone moving. Tell them they can rest as soon as they reach the grove, but not before.”
He turned on his heel and started off again. Iwan stood looking after his lord and friend. “It’s the vile king’s treachery,” he observed. “That’s put the black dog on his back, no mistake.”
Siarles, as always, took a different tone. “That’s as may be, but there’s no need to bite off our heads. We en’t the ones who cheated him out of his throne.” He paused and spat. “Stupid bloody king.”
“And stupid bloody cardinal, all high and mighty,” continued Iwan. “Priest of the church, my arse. Give me a good sharp blade and I’d soon have him saying prayers he never said before.” He cast a hasty glance at Tuck. “Sorry, Friar.”
“I’d do the same,” Tuck said. “Now, off you go. If I am right, we must get these people to safety, and that fast.”
The two ran back down the line, urging everyone to make haste for the wood on the next hill. “Follow Bran!” they shouted. “Pick up your feet. We are in danger here. Hurry!”
“There is safety in the wood,” Mérian assured them as they passed, and Tuck did likewise. “Follow Bran. He’ll lead you to shelter.”
It took a little time for the urgency of their cries to sink in, but soon the forest-dwellers were moving at a quicker pace up to the wood at the top of the next rise. The first to arrive found Bran waiting at the edge of the grove beneath a large oak tree, his strung bow across his shoulder.
“Keep moving,” he told them. “You’ll find a hollow just beyond that fallen tree.” He pointed through the wood. “Hide yourselves and wait for the others there.”
The first travellers had reached the shelter of the trees, and Tuck was urging another group to speed and showing them where to go when he heard someone shouting up from the valley. He could not make out the words, but as he gazed around the sound came again and he saw Iwan furiously gesturing towards the far hilltop. He looked where the big man was pointing and saw two mounted knights poised on the crest of the hill.
The soldiers were watching the fleeing procession and, for the moment, seemed content to observe. Then one of the knights wheeled his mount and disappeared back down the far side of the hill.
Bran had seen it too, and began shouting. “Run!” he cried, racing down the road. “To the grove!” he told Mérian and Tuck. “The Ffreinc are going to attack!”
He flew to meet Iwan and Siarles at the bottom of the hill.
“I’d best go see if I can help,” Tuck said, and leaving Mérian to hurry the people along, he fell into step behind Bran.
“Just the two of them?” Bran asked as he came running to meet Siarles and Iwan.
“So far,” replied the champion. “No doubt the one’s gone to alert the rest. Siarles and I will take a stand here,” he said, bending the long ashwood bow to string it. “That will give you and Tuck time to get the rest of the folk safely hidden in the woods.”
Bran shook his head. “It may come to that one day, but not today.” His tone allowed no dissent. “We have a little time yet. Get everyone into the wood—carry them if you have to. We’ll dig ourselves into the grove and make Gysburne and his hounds come in after us.”
“I make it six bows against thirty knights,” Siarles pointed out. “Good odds, that.”
Bran gave a quick jerk of his chin. “Good as any,” he agreed. “Fetch along the stragglers and follow me.”
Iwan and Siarles darted away and were soon rushing the last of the lagging Grellon up the hill to the grove. “What do you want me to do?” Tuck shouted.
“Pray,” answered Bran, pulling an arrow from the sheaf at his belt and fitting it to the string. “Pray God our aim is true and each arrow finds its mark.”
Bran moved off, calling for the straggling Grellon to find shelter in the wood. Tuck watched him go. Pray? he thought. Aye, to be sure—the Good Lord will hear from me. But I will do more, will I not? Then he scuttled up the hill and into the wood in search of a good stout stick to break some heads.