Monday, June 28, 2010

The Time Machine, take two: a teen's review

book cover

The Time Machine
by Tim Chaffey and Joe Westbrook

Trade Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Risen Books
First Released: 2010

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

My review of this book is here. After finishing my review, I gave this book to a girl who's turning 13 years old next month. She read the entire novel in one night and told me the next morning, "It was SO AWESOME! I put it down and tried to go to sleep, but I just couldn't until I knew how everything turned out. So I finished it. And what a twist at the very end! When is the next book out?" She recommends it to both boys and girls.

Back Cover Description (highly modified):
What would you do if you could travel through time?

Jax and Isaiah, teen boys from the world’s top science academy, are creating a time machine for their science fair project. Their friends, two girls named JT and Mickey, bet them that their hover-board experiment will beat the boys' doomed-to-fail project in the fair. The race is on to see who will win...

When the boys attempt to go back to 70,000,000 BC to see dinosaurs, the time machine fails though they're sure it should have worked. Then they try to go back 4,500 years so they can witness the pyramids being built as research for an assignment for another class.

Imagine their shock when they come face-to-face with dinosaurs after all! Did the machine glitch and send them back to 70,000,000 BC? No time to test it out--Isaiah needs saving from an angry dinosaur, and Jax will need to convince the girls to help if he's going to save him.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

MiddleWorld by J & P Voelkel

book cover

The Jaguar Stones:
by J & P Voelkel

Trade Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Egmont USA
First Released: 2005, 2010

Book Website

Source: Review copy through Goodman Media International, Inc.

Back Cover Description:
“As I see it,” said Max, “all that stands between humankind and the end of the world is two talking monkeys, a crazy archaeologist covered in red paint, and a couple of kids with blowguns. Am I right?”

Fourteen-year-old Max Murphy, video-gamer extraordinaire, is furious when his archaeologist parents cancel the family vacation to go on a dig in Central America. But things go from bad to worse when Max is summoned to join them, only to discover that his parents have vanished. With the help of Lola, a fast-talking, quick-thinking Maya girl, Max embarks on a quest to find out just what’s going on. Soon Max and Lola are running for their lives in the perilous rainforest, as they unlock ancient secrets, meet mysterious strangers, and begin to understand that, in San Xavier, nothing is ever as it seems.

Fate has delivered a challenge of epic proportions to Max Murphy. But can a teen whose biggest talent is for video games rescue his parents from the Maya Underworld and save himself from the villainous Lords of Death?

MiddleWorld is a fast-paced adventure (with some fantasy elements) for boys and girls ages 10 and up. Both kids and adults will find it very entertaining; however, the authors used enough "big words" that I wondered if tweens and teens really were their target audience. Sometimes even I didn't know what the words meant. In a few cases, I think it was actually a typo (there were a noticeable, though not huge, number of misspelled words in the book).

The characters were engaging and realistic, and I cared about what happened to them. Though the main plot points were rather fantastic, the main characters also struggled with problems that every teenager deals with and they acted like teenagers do. (The adults were all a little wacky.) The teenager characters learned how to appreciate each others' strengths and to work together to achieve their objective.

The suspense built nicely throughout the story. There was also a humorous tone to the novel that kept the very real danger to the kids from seeming too scary.

The world-building was excellent, with details about the setting and the ancient Maya woven into the story. Black and white illustrations were scattered throughout the novel. There's also a glossary and some bonus information about the Maya at the back of the novel.

Usually, I don't like the frequent use of figurative language because it rarely clarifies a point or mental image. Often, it doesn't even make sense to me though it might sound nice. This novel had a good amount of figurative language, but it made the descriptions clearer and more vivid. It really, really worked for me.

The only religion mentioned was the ancient Mayan religion. Though the main characters were initially skeptical, by the end of the novel, they'd met several Mayan gods and believed they were real. The Maya gods weren't portrayed as nice or worthy of worship, but they were treated as real. The magic in the book consisted of the Jaguar Stones and the powers of the Mayan gods.

There was a very minor amount of bad language. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this fun novel as engaging, mostly clean fun.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
All was quiet.

Suddenly a flock of parrots explored from the trees, shrieking and squawking, and three men burst out of the rainforest. One of them pushed a hostage, a young girl, in front of him. The other two shot at anything and everything as they ran across the clearing toward the steps of the pyramid.

The noise was terrifying--guns shooting, men shouting, birds screeching--but Max tried to stay calm, waiting for the right moment. He knew he would only get one chance. And, armed with only a blowgun, he also knew the odds were against him.

In the end, it happened so quickly that he hardly had time to think.

Just as the men reached the bottom step, something caught their attention high above Max's head, and they stopped to blitz the treetops with bullets. He crouched behind a log, not daring to breathe, as leaves and twigs explored and rained down onto the forest floor. An animal shrieked and fell through the branches, landing with a thud somewhere behind him.

It was now or never.

Adrenaline pumped through his veins as he fired his three darts in quick succession.

Yes! Yes! No!

He'd hit the hostage--again.


Max threw down the controller in disgust.

What was he doing wrong? He'd jumped over the massive tree roots, sidestepped the boa constrictor sleeping in the leaf pile, bypassed the battalion of army ants, and outswum the hungry crocodiles that lurked under the surface of the river. He'd got everything right, but he still couldn't get past this level.

And what was that cross-eyed monkey trying to tell him?

He grabbed the case and scrutinized the small print. Nope, definitely nothing about cross-eyed monkeys. In fact, no rules at all.

Stupid game.

Where had it come from anyway? It was just lying on his bed when he came home.

Read an excerpt from chapter ten.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Time Machine by Tim Chaffey and Joe Westbrook

book cover

The Time Machine
by Tim Chaffey and Joe Westbrook

Trade Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Risen Books
First Released: 2010

Buy from Books-A-Million ($9.92), Amazon ($11.01), or three books in the set for $24.

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description (highly modified):
What would you do if you could travel through time?

Jax and Isaiah, teen boys from the world’s top science academy, are creating a time machine for their science fair project. Their friends, two girls named JT and Mickey, bet them that their hover-board experiment will beat the boys' doomed-to-fail project in the fair. The race is on to see who will win...

When the boys attempt to go back to 70,000,000 BC to see dinosaurs, the time machine fails though they're sure it should have worked. Then they try to go back 4,500 years so they can witness the pyramids being built as research for an assignment for another class.

Imagine their shock when they come face-to-face with dinosaurs after all! Did the machine glitch and send them back to 70,000,000 BC? No time to test it out--Isaiah needs saving from an angry dinosaur, and Jax will need to convince the girls to help if he's going to save him.

The Time Machine is a science-fiction adventure for boys and girls about age 8 to 14. This fast-paced, humorous adventure had an anime/manga flavor to it. There were black and white illustrations--about one per chapter, and the chapters were short.

The world-building was a bit sketchy (it's vague as to when and where the "present day" events occur), but I don't think most kids will notice or care since Middle Grade fiction often spends less time on such details. The characters were engaging, interesting, and acted in realistic ways. I cared about what happened to them. I also liked the ending. It wasn't necessarily what one might expect, and it turned out that way for a good reason.

There was a Christian element that was worked realistically into the story. Jax refused to go to church like his mom wanted him to because he didn't understand why a loving, all-powerful God would allow his father to die. Also, JT believed the machine really took them back 4,500 years while the others believed the machine glitched and sent them back to the previous entry, 70,000,000 BC, because there were dinosaurs. However, these issues were only briefly touched on. Rather than slowing the pace to give detailed answers in the story itself, the story acted more like a potential discussion-starter.

There was no bad language or sex. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as well-written and exciting clean reading for kids.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

A Teen's Review (added 6/28/10):
After finishing my review, I gave this book to a girl who's turning 13 years old next month. She read the entire novel in one night and told me the next morning, "It was SO AWESOME! I put it down and tried to go to sleep, but I just couldn't until I knew how everything turned out. So I finished it. And what a twist at the very end! When is the next book out?" She recommends it to both boys and girls.

Excerpt from Chapter One
After pressing his thumb to the biometric scanner that opened his locker, Jax Thompson rummaged madly through its contents. Amid the many loose papers, textbooks, candy bar wrappers, and his jacket and backpack, he knew he should be able to find his physics homework. Where is it? If I weren't spending so much time trying to solve the problems with that machine, I would probably remember where I put it.

He patted his pockets, rifled through books and pulled at his hair in frustration. About to give up, he noticed the corner of his assignment sticking out of a book. As he reached for it, the sound of running footsteps seized his attention.

"Jax!" Isaiah Weber, his best friend since seventh grade, skidded to a halt just short of crashing into him. "I figured it out."

Jax turned and grabbed his friend's shoulders. "What do you mean you figured it out?"

"I mean I know what's wrong with the machine."

Jax's hold tightened as he looked into his friend's excited face. "Izzy, are you saying that this thing is going to work?"

Read the prologue and more from chapter one.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Healer by Linda Windsor

book cover

by Linda Windsor

Trade Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook
Released: June 1, 2010

List Price: $14.99
ISBN-10: 1434764788
ISBN-13: 978-1434764782

Author Website
Book on Amazon

Source: Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy. This post is part of the FIRST Wild Card Tour.

Back Cover Description:
Sixth-century Scotland—in the time of Arthur...

“The Gowrys’ seed shall divide your mighty house and bring a peace beyond the ken of your wicked soul.”

Her mother’s dying prophecy to the chieftain Tarlach O’Byrne sentenced Brenna of Gowrys to twenty years of hiding. Twenty years of being hunted—by the O’Byrnes, who fear the prophecy, and by her kinsmen, who expect her to lead them against their oppressors. But Brenna is a trained and gifted healer, not a warrior queen. So she lives alone in the wilderness with only her pet wolf for company. When she rescues a man badly wounded from an ambush, she believes he may be the answer to her deep loneliness. Healing him comes as easy as loving him. But can their love overcome years of bitterness and greed...and bring peace and renewed faith to the shattered kingdom?

About the Author:

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

Healer is a historical romance set in 6th-century Scotland in the time of Arthur. The world-building was good, and the historical detail was woven into the story. The focus was mainly on the political and religious structure of the time period, though, rather than the day-to-day details of living. The romance was a pretty typical romance novel set-up. The falling-in-love felt a bit rushed to me, but I found it believable. The pacing was very good, and the characters were interesting and likable.

The novel explored the religions in Scotland during this time period, especially the difference between between pagan witches and Christian-trained healers in how knowledge was used and who it was used for. This played a very strong role in the novel.

Several of the characters had a strong Christian faith (which was tested). Others grew up with a general understanding of Christianity but never quite decided what to believe about God. Others tried to mix worship of God in with worshiping the pagan gods. And yet others just believed in pagan gods. The Christian elements were worked into the story naturally, but it was a main focus of the story. A non-Christian might feel it was too heavy an emphasis. On the other hand, people interested in Wicca might be interested in seeing the roots of where that religion came from.

There was non-explicit (married) sex. The minor amount of bad language was in the "he cussed" style. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as well-written, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Glenarden, Manau Gododdin, Britain

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

Clansmen and kin, farmers and craftsmen—all turned out for the annual hunt, but they were more excited over the festivities that awaited their return. In the yard about the keep, gleemen in outlandish costumes practiced entertaining antics, delighting the children and teasing the kitchen servant or warrior who happened to pass too near. Great pits had been fired. On the spits over them were enough succulent shanks of venison, boar, and beef to feed the multitude of O’Byrnes and the guests from tribes in the kingdom under the old king’s protection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So I can go?”

“Nay, return to your studies at the university.” The hunt for a nonexistent witch was one thing, but Gowrys were skilled fighters. “’Twould suit a Gowrys naught better than to send a son of Tarlach earthways with an arrow through your sixteen-year-old heart.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Child, is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crannog, or stockaded peninsula, was now little more than a pile of rubble rising out of the lake water’s edge. Cradled by overgrown fields and thick forest on three quarters of its periphery, the lake itself was as gray as the winter sky. On the fourth was the jut of land upon which Llas of Gowrys had restored an ancient broch, bracing it against the rise of the steep crag at its back. With no regard for what had been, yellow spots of gorse had taken root here and there in the tumble of blackened stone.

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

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

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

“I think not.”

Alyn’s expression of disdain almost made Ronan laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I'll be participating in the Book Blogger's Appreciation Week. They asked participants in the awards part to post links to five reviews for the blog to be judged on. Here are the links:

Motherhood is Murder by Diana Orgain

Secrets by Robin Jones Gunn

They Almost Always Come Home by Cynthia Ruchti

The Memory Thief by Rachel Keener

My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fatal Loyalty by Sue Duffy

book cover

Fatal Loyalty
by Sue Duffy

Trade Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications
Released: April 23, 2010

List Price: $12.99
ISBN-10: 0825425948
ISBN-13: 978-0825425943

Publisher Website
Book on Amazon

Source: Special thanks to Cat Hoort of Kregel Publications for sending me a review copy. This post is part of the FIRST Wild Card Tour.

Book Description (my take):
After his wife's struggle to break free from drug addiction, Florida Attorney General Tony Ryborg is determined to shut down and capture as many drug traffickers as he can. At the urging of his friends, he's decided to run for governor of Florida so he can continue his fight more effectively, but the drug traffickers will do anything to stop him.

When an assassination attempt against Andie Ryborg's father fails, she begins to get threatening calls: if she doesn't get her father to retire and stop running for governor, they'll kill her. But she shares her father's passion against drugs and doesn't want him to stop. She also doesn't want him to worry about her, so she tries to hide her danger from him. But as the threats escalate, she realizes something has to be done. She searches for a place to hide, but no where seems safe...

Evan Markham feels guilt over his father's occupation and wishes he could do something to set things right. He tries to protect Andie's life the only way he knows how, but when neither Ryborg seems willing to give in to the drug traffickers, he must decide what he's willing to risk to save people who would surely hate him if they knew who he was.

About the Author:

Sue Duffy is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Moody magazine, The Presbyterian Journal, Sunday Digest, and The Christian Reader. Her first novel Mortal Wounds was published in 2001 and she has also contributed to Stories for a Woman’s Heart (Multnomah). She and her husband, Mike, have three grown children.

Fatal Loyalty is a fast-paced Christian romantic suspense novel--though the romance happened a bit fast and near the end. The world-building was very good and brought the setting alive in my imagination. The characters were likable, realistic, and had realistic struggles.

After a bit of a rocky start, the suspense built nicely and kept me turning the pages. The first two "danger!" scenes got the reader to the "there's danger!" point--for example, a masked man in the window--then cut to another character's point of view where something totally unrelated was happening. By the time we got back to the character in danger, a week had passed, he/she was no longer in danger, and the character simply thought over or discussed what had happened. That rather cut the suspense for me. Luckily, after these first two times, the author kept with the scenes during the suspense, and the book turned out to be very enjoyable.

Several of the main characters were Christians and prayed to God for comfort and help. However, I didn't always agree with Andie's ponderings about good and evil--they weren't always biblical. There was a mild Christian message to the story, and one character started praying to God after having not done so for years.

There was no bad language and no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this as enjoyable, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Prologue
In an instant, his world collapsed, and no one knew it but him. The giddy chatter of students rushing to and from the cafeteria swirled about him as he felt blindly for something to lean against.

Eyes locked on the overhead television screen, Evan Markham backed slowly toward a post in the crowded student union. Just moments ago, he’d been one of them, a Florida State student preparing for exams and the long-awaited summer break. But what he’d just heard ended it all.

He had only glanced at the News at Noon anchorwoman with the glossy lips as he hurried to class. He caught something about a shootout in Tampa, but kept going. As he reached the door, though, he heard a name that stopped him cold.

“. . . Leo Francini.”

Evan turned suddenly and stared at the screen as the woman switched the broadcast to an on-the-scene reporter. A cold sweat sprang from his brow as he moved quickly toward others gathering before the monitor.

“This quiet residential street in Tampa was the scene today of a bloody standoff between FBI agents and members of a drug cartel run by Miami racketeer Leo Francini,” the somber-faced young man announced. “Before the violence ended about nine o’clock this morning, two FBI agents and Francini’s son, Donnie Francini, were killed. It is believed that Leo Francini was in the area, though not involved in the shootout. An intense manhunt by the FBI and local police is now underway. A house-to-house search is being conducted in . . .”

Steadying himself against the post, Evan turned to see if anyone was watching him. How could they know? No one knows.

Then another name caught him.

“Florida Attorney General Tony Ryborg, visibly shaken by the deaths of the two FBI agents, just moments ago issued what he calls an iron-clad promise to the people of this state, saying, ‘Leo Francini will be brought to justice and pay the severest penalty for these deaths.’”

Two hours later, Evan was packed and ready to leave. For where, he didn’t yet know. He’d removed all his belongings from the apartment and left a note for his roommate, whom he hardly knew. He hadn’t allowed himself to get close to many people, switching roommates often during the three years he’d been enrolled. Still, the guy deserved an apology for the sudden departure.

Evan returned to the student union to close his checking account and put a hold on his mail, evading inquiries about why he would do so before final exams.

As he left the building, he saw her. As usual, she didn’t notice him. Andie Ryborg seemed as absorbed in a private world as he was. Only hers hadn’t just ended in a gunfight.

One last time, he hung back and watched her. Dark hair fell loosely about her face as she sketched beneath a tree, focused on the gurgling fountain in the center of the green.

They’ll find you. Get away!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Visitation by Frank Peretti

book cover

The Visitation
by Frank Peretti

Hardback: 528 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 1999

Source: Church library.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
The sleepy, eastern Washington wheat town of Antioch has suddenly become a gateway for the supernatural--from sightings of angels and messianic images to a weeping crucifix. Then a self-proclaimed prophet mysteriously appears with an astounding message.

The national media and the curious flock to the little town--a great boon for local business, but not for Travis Jordan. Since his wife died, the burned-out former pastor has been avoiding getting involved with "church stuff" and arguing religious issues. Now the whole world is headed to his backyard to find the Messiah. This Messiah pushes him to chose sides and, in the process, forces him to relive all of his doubts about the church.

The startling secret behind this visitation ultimately pushes the town into a supernatural confrontation that will forever alter the lives of everyone involved.

The Visitation was an interesting Christian supernatural suspense novel. The world-building was excellent, with the details about the place and people bringing the story alive in my imagination. The characters were engaging and even the minor characters were realistic. There were so many reoccurring characters to keep track of that I occasionally had to stop and think to remember who a character was, but overall it wasn't a problem. The pacing was generally very good, but the (important) back story did drag a bit in spots.

The novel explored why God doesn't give people everything they ask for, like why He heals some people and not others. It also explored how the whole point of Christianity can get lost amid programs, denominational squabbles, promises made by famous preachers on God's behalf, doing "the church thing," and other, often well-intentioned or necessary things. This was a major focus of the novel. A non-Christian would probably find this confusing, so I'd only recommend this novel to Christians.

There was no sex. There was a minor amount of bad language. Overall, I'd recommend it as interesting (if you're interested in spiritual warfare with a bit of mystery and some good-natured poking fun at various denominations), fairly clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Sally Fordyce left the house as soon as the breakfast dishes were done, walking a little, jogging a little along Highway 9--a narrow, straight-as-a-string two-lane with a fading white line and an evenly spaced parade of utility poles. This was eastern Washington State, quiet and solitary. Wheat fields, spring green, stretched in every direction over the prairie swells. Straight ahead, the highway dipped and rose gently into the distance until it narrowed to a vanishing point at the far horizon. The sun was warm, the breeze a little biting. It was April.

Sally was nineteen, blonde, slightly overweight, and severely unhappy, mainly because she was no longer married. She had believed everything Joey, the trucker, told her about love, and how she was that girl silhouetted on his mud flaps. The marriage--if it happened at all--lasted three months. When he found another woman more "intellectually stimulating," she was bumped from the truck's sleeper and found herself coming full circle, right back to being Charlie and Meg's daughter living at home again. She had to keep her room clean, help with dinner and dishes, get home by eleven, and attend the Methodist church with them every Sunday. Again, her life was not her life.

She had tasted freedom, she thought, but she was turned away. She had no wings to fly and nowhere to fly even if she did. Life wasn't fair. (To hear Charlie tell it, he and Meg must have made up a list of all the dumb mistakes they hoped she would never make and given her a copy. Needless to say, things were tense.)

Even before she tried Joey, the trucker, Sally used to find escape out on the wheat prairie in the stillness of the morning. Now she returned, even fled to this place. Out here, she heard no voice but her own thoughts, and her thoughts could say whatever they wanted. She could pray too, sometimes aloud, knowing no one but God would hear her. "Dear God, please don't leave me stuck here. If you're there, send a miracle. Get me out of this mess."

In all fairness, it was past time for Sally to feel that way. Except for those who had wheat farming in their blood and couldn't wait to climb on a combine, most everyone growing up in Antioch heard a call from elsewhere--anywhere--sooner or later. When they came of age, all the kinds who could find a way out left--usually--for good. Sally had come of age, all right, but had not found a way out. Charlie and Meg would probably tell you that she was not the kind to look for one, either. She was still waiting for it to come to her.

The halfway point of her jog was a spreading cottonwood at the top of a shallow rise, the only tree in sight. It was monstrous, and had to have been growing there long before the roads, farms, or settlers came along. Sally double-timed her way up the rise and was breathing hard by the time she reached it. She'd developed a routine: Every day she braced herself against the huge trunk and stretched out her leg muscles, then sat and rested for a moment between two prominent roots on the south side. Recently, a short prayer for a miracle had also become part of the routine.

The stretches went easily enough. She had cooled down, her breathing had settled, she could feel the flush in her cheeks from the exercise and the cool air.

She rounded the tree--

And almost jumped out of her skin.

A man was sitting between the two roots, exactly in her spot, his back against the gnarled trunk and his wrists draped lazily over his knees. He had to have been there all during her stretching-out, and she was immediately curious, if not offended, that he had said or done nothing to indicate his presence.

"Oh!" she gasped, then caught her breath. "Hello. I didn't see you there."

He only chuckled and smiled at her with a kindly gaze. He was a remarkably handsome man, with olive skin, deep brown eyes, and tightly curled black hair. He was young, perhaps as young as she was. "Good morning, Sally. Sorry if I startled you."

She probed her memory. "Have we met before?"

He shook his head teasingly. "No."

"Well, who are you?"

"I'm here to bring you a message. Your prayers have been heard, Sally. Your answer is on his way. Be looking for him."

She looked away for only a moment, just a slight, eye-rolling gesture of consternation. "Be looking for who--?"

He was gone.


She walked around the cottonwood, looked up and down the road and across every field, and even looked straight up the trunk of the tree.

He was gone, just like that, as if he'd never been there.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hurricanes in Paradise by Denise Hildreth

book cover

Hurricanes in Paradise
by Denise Hildreth

Trade Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Released: May 10, 2010

List Price: $13.99
ISBN-10: 1414335571
ISBN-13: 978-1414335575

Author Website
Book on Amazon

Source: Special thanks to Vicky Lynch of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc for sending me a review copy. This post is part of the FIRST Wild Card Tour.

Book Description from Publisher's Website:
When Riley Sinclair stepped into her new job as director of guest relations at a posh resort on Paradise Island, she felt the final pieces of her once-broken life coming together. But the waters become choppy when Riley discovers that some who come to the Atlantis Hotel are accompanied by paralyzing secrets and overwhelming fears. Riley and three guests are in desperate but unknowing need of each other, eventually forging unlikely yet powerful friendships. With a hurricane headed straight for the island, together they embark on a journey of laughter, heartache, and healing.

About the Author:
Denise Hildreth is a novelist and international speaker. She has spoken for the last ten years to women's ministries, churches, and for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Denise began her career over seventeen years ago writing for other people. She eventually ventured into the world of fiction with her first novel, Savannah from Savannah, and has since published several books. Her novels have been featured in Southern Living; hailed as "smart and witty" by Library Journal; and chosen for the Pulpwood Queen's and Women of Faith book clubs.

Hurricanes in Paradise is Christian women's fiction. Since I don't think like any of the women in this novel nor have I had male-female relationship troubles similar to theirs (abuse, an affair, a widow having trouble letting go, and depression combined with alcoholism), I didn't connect emotionally with them. If I had, I think I would have really liked this novel since the characters did (mostly) deal with realistic problems.

The author was very fond of using figures of speech and extensively describing every detail (significant or not) of every character's clothing, their "police line-up" appearance, and the details of the decor in every room of the resort. This created a slower pacing in the first 100 pages or so, but then it picked up.

Occasional mixed metaphors and odd descriptions created some unintentionally amusing mental pictures, like "Her blank patent flats with wide silver buckles strode across the carpeted corridor in an unbroken stride." But mostly it was okay, especially if you like metaphors or have ever wondered what staying at a fancy hotel would be like.

The target audience seemed to be Christian women or women with a Christian background. The first part of the novel hardly had any references to God, but each woman in turn had a supernatural experience of emotional healing (including wind where there shouldn't be any, an actual conversation with God, and similar experiences) and then the praying and references to God became more frequent. The main theme was about forgiving yourself and facing your fears.

While the story was enjoyable enough once it got moving, I was left feeling a bit irritated at the author for something that happened at the end. It felt not-quite believable and wasn't necessary, so the ending didn't feel completely satisfying to me.

There were implied references to sex in the character's conversations, but no sex during the novel. The minimal bad language was of the "he cussed" style. Overall, I'd recommend this as clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One

The salt air of the Caribbean rushed through the open sliding-glass door with the force of a tropical storm gust and blew a picture frame on her coffee table to the floor, reminding Riley Sinclair that her second chance at life was just as fragile. Her bare feet stepped onto the warm concrete of the small balcony, and she leaned against the iron railing. Her pajama pants blew between the teal-painted slats as a soft curl swept in front of her face, its color as dark as the black tank top she wore.

She closed her eyes and breathed in, the oxygen traveling all the way to her toes. This was the smell she knew, the scent of her memories. She also knew the teasing dance that hurricanes played on the coastal waters. And this tropical paradise that she now resided in had avoided another close call in Hurricane Jesse. But rumor had it a new storm churned in the Atlantic. And though the Bahamas had avoided each storm this year, the mere chance was never good for business. She exhaled deliberately and released anything else that needed to go. The first prayer of the day was offered as the sun pressed its way through dissipating clouds.

When the discourse of her morning was over, she headed back inside to get some Dr Pepper, her new a.m. sugar kick of choice. The South knew how to grow its women proper, raise its boys to be gentlemen, and make its tea sweet. But Bahamians had no idea they were as southern as you could get, so sweet tea wasn’t a readily accessible commodity here. So she had switched to Dr Pepper.

She knew that amount of sugar probably wasn’t an ideal breakfast companion, but she figured if that was the only addiction she possessed after what she’d been through, she’d fared pretty well. She set her liquid sunshine down and turned the sleek silver shower handle upward to let the water heat up to just below scalding. When steam had taken over the shower door and made its way to the bathroom mirror, she entombed herself. As warm water cascaded over her, the low, melodic sounds of her hum reverberated through the stone bathroom. She closed her eyes and began to sing softly, letting the thickness of her alto voice take up the spaces the steam had left vacant.

The shower was over when she was finished singing. She dried off, dressed, and released her hair from a large clip; it fell to the center of her back as she glanced at her reflection in the mirror.

There were days she could see it. This was one of them.

Life had come back into her almost-thirty-nine-year-old face. It was as if she got younger with each day that moved her farther from her past. And sometimes, like today, she could actually see it in her eyes. They were alive. Even her laughter had changed. Okay, come back. And every time it arrived, she could feel it travel from somewhere in her gut. It was real. And it was wonderful. Yet still slightly foreign. But she was so grateful for it. And if it brought new lines with it, that was a fair trade. She’d trade the aged face of stress for a new one streaked with laugh lines as willingly as the gamblers here traded dollars for chips.

She gave her reflection a smile and pulled the taupe silk top over her head, then readied her face for the day. Now she was ready to face the biggest challenge of her day: waking Gabby.

The distance from her bedroom to Gabby’s was three full steps. Though at five foot two, for her, it was more like five. Even though the condo was only a little over nine hundred square feet, she and Gabby didn’t require much; plus it was right on the Atlantis property and a blessing of a deal for this season in her life. And it was peaceful. She was more than willing to sacrifice her four thousand square feet of turmoil for nine hundred square feet of peace.

The twin bed gave slightly beneath her weight as she sat down and pushed the curls that hid Gabby’s tiny face. They brushed across the Cinderella nightgown and fell over her shoulder. Riley relished this brief moment without her mouth moving. Since Gabby had learned to talk, she hadn’t stopped. That’s why Gabriella had quickly been shortened to Gabby.

She leaned over and pressed her mouth against the soft skin of her little girl’s face. Her words swept past Gabby’s ear. “Time to get up, sunshine. You’ve got to get ready for school.”

The tiny frame wriggled beneath the white down comforter. Long black eyelashes tugged at each other before they finally broke free and revealed eyes that carried as much variety of blue as the Bahamian ocean. Even though Bahamian waters could be as unique as aquamarine, as taunting as turquoise, and as regal as royal blue, they were the only waters distinguishable from space. Gabby’s eyes were able to transform as well, but Riley could recognize them from space too.

Gabby rubbed her eyes with the backs of her fists. Her mouth opened wide as she yawned away some of her sleepiness. Then she rolled over.

“Come on, Gabby. You’ve got to get up.” Riley rubbed her back. “It’s a big day, remember?”

Gabby rolled over and forced her eyes open. “I’m going to the science museum today.”

Riley stood up from the bed. “That’s right. Are you still taking Ted?”

Gabby slipped quickly out of the bed, her tiny feet dotting the carpet as she ran toward her fishbowl, where Ted resided. “Yep. I’m taking Ted,” she stated matter-of-factly in her distinctly raspy little voice.

She lifted his bowl and spun it around the room. Ted jolted from the rock he had been sleeping on, his stubby turtle legs rapidly trying to regain their positioning. “Don’t you want the little boys and girls to see you today on our field trip, Ted?” she asked.

Ted didn’t respond. He was still trying to get back to his throne.

“Slip on your clothes, and Mommy will go make your breakfast,” Riley said as she laid out some khaki shorts and a white polo. She hadn’t told Gabby that they didn’t have to wear uniforms today because it was a Saturday field trip to celebrate the end of this semester and to begin their three-week break from year-round school. She thanked God for school uniforms. They removed one morning battle. Pink ballerina outfits weren’t the best attire for first grade.

Riley headed to the kitchen. “What are you hungry for, angel girl?”

“I’m thinking pancakes would be good!” Gabby called out.

Riley laughed as she opened the refrigerator door. She kept a flourless, sugarless pancake batter in the refrigerator most of the week. A friend had given her the recipe and Gabby had no idea they were healthy. Riley had no intention of telling her.

Gabby finally bounded into the kitchen and pulled out a barstool from beneath the black granite countertop. Riley turned over the last pancake and put it on Gabby’s plate next to her glass of orange juice. She picked up her own plate and sat down beside her.

Gabby held up her hand as if Riley was about to intrude on her prayer. “I’ll bless it, Mommy.”

“Go for it.”

Gabby folded her tiny hands, where pieces of her hot pink fingernail polish clung for dear life. “God is great and God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed. Give us, Lord, our daily bread. Amen,” she announced with a bob of her head.

“Amen,” Riley echoed.

“Is Daddy coming to get me this week?” Gabby asked, half a piece of pancake hanging from her mouth.

“That’s pretty.” Riley laughed.

Gabby snickered and chewed wildly.

“No, he’s coming next Saturday. You’re going to spend the first part of your break with Mommy and the last part with Daddy.” Gabby smiled wildly; then Riley saw the light slowly dim behind Gabby’s eyes. For six, her mind worked way too hard. “Whatcha thinking?”

“That you’ll be by yourself. I don’t like you being by yourself, Mommy.”

Gabby could still get her in the deep place. Riley set her fork down. “Angel girl, you don’t have to worry about Mommy. I love it that you get to go see Daddy. And you need to spend that time enjoying him and Amanda, not worrying about me, okay? I’ve got a lot of things to keep me busy and I want you to have fun. That’s what matters to Mommy. Okay?”

Gabby had stopped chewing and begun talking, her Southern accent as thick as pluff mud, keeping Charleston always before her. “But now we have to fly to get to you. Used to, you could just drive.”

Riley placed her hand on Gabby’s exposed knee that stuck out from her shorts. “But Mommy can get to you at any time if I need to. So you just know that. Mommy’s not going anywhere. Got it? Not ever again. You can get to me anytime and I can get to you anytime.”

Gabby’s voice was solemn. “Anytime?”

Riley gave her a reassuring smile and wished for a six-year-old instead of a thirty-year-old. “Anytime. Now eat up. You and Ted have a busy day.”

Gabby jammed her fork into a piece of pancake and stuck it in her mouth. Her muffled tones came through anyway. “Ted’s going to be a hit!”

“A surefire hit.”


When Gabby’s form disappeared through the front door of St. Andrew’s School, the International School of the Bahamas, Riley could finally deal with the heaviness that Gabby’s words had blanketed over her heart. She had spent the last few years climbing out of heavy moments that were as boggy and stinky as Charleston’s marshes. Thankfully, she handled them much differently now than she had in the past. Now she plowed through them when they swept over her. She didn’t avoid them. Nor did she stay in them. She simply put her head down and didn’t look up until she got to the other side.

The second prayer of the day was made on the way to the hotel. And by the time she got there, one more moment had been experienced, grieved, and left. She was through existing. Even if living meant fording through pain, that was a journey worth taking. To her, living meant no longer hiding. Hiding had robbed her of years with Gabby, of her marriage, and almost of herself. No, there would be no more hiding.

Riley parked her car in the employee parking lot and headed toward The Cove, one of the exclusive properties on the Atlantis complex. This place took her breath away. She couldn’t imagine a day that it wouldn’t.

Towering palm trees swayed slowly with the subtle breeze of the tropical morning as she stepped into the porte cochere that welcomed guests at The Cove.

She passed a young valet. “Hey, Bart.” They had become friends on her first day.

“Hello, Miss Riley. You and Gabby enjoying your weekend?”

She smiled. “So far, so good.”

“So is this our week?” he said with his thick Bahamian accent, an accent that could move with such a quick cadence, she sometimes had to make him repeat himself.

“I’m thinking Friday would be great.”

His huge white smile took over his black face. “Well, that’s what I was thinking.” The pitch of his voice rose. “I’ll meet you at the end of the aisle.”

“Don’t be late,” she chided at their little joke. Then laughed from deep inside. He had been proposing marriage since she’d arrived, even though he was probably twenty years younger than she was. But now he no longer proposed marriage, only the wedding date.

She headed into the Nave, the open-air lobby of The Cove, with its thirty-five-foot teak ceiling and magnificent sculptured lines. This six-hundred-suite tower was her responsibility. Her small heels clicked on the stone flooring as she walked through the expansive walkway, then softened when they met the deep wood that encased the stone. She walked into the glassed-in guest services offices directly across the hall from guest registration.

“Hello, Mia,” she said to the newest staff member and her top assistant. Mia had arrived two weeks ago from Australia. The staff was as much a melting pot as were the guests who stayed in their rooms.

“Hello, Riley.” Her face lit up as Riley walked by. “Busy week, I hear.”

“Yes. A few special guests this week.”

Mia’s long blonde locks fell across her shoulder as she pulled a leather portfolio from her black Chanel bag. With the straw market at the port in Nassau where the cruise ships came in, Riley knew that fake designer handbags ruled in most of the Bahamas. But not so much here. Fake handbags were as scorned in this luxurious environment as husbands with laptops, but both sneaked in every now and then.

She followed behind as Riley walked into her office. Mia’s long, lean legs bridged the chasm quickly. “So who are our VIPs this week?”

Riley looked down at the large desktop calendar to the names written in red ink. Three women arrived today. Three women whose arrivals had been preceded by slightly panicked phone calls: one from a detailed agent, one from a concerned parent, and one conference call from three loving and determined children.

“Let’s see here; our primary focus will be Laine Fulton, the author. She’s coming here to research for her new book.”

Mia scribbled in her notebook like a diligent student. “I hear she’s demanding,” she said in her slightly frantic way.

Riley’s ears piqued at her statement. In the two weeks Mia had been here, Riley had been slightly disarmed by her moments of childishness quickly diffused by an action of maturity. She couldn’t figure Mia out. Her outward beauty was obvious. Her reactions not so much. “You have? How so?”

“Oh, I have a friend who hosted her at a property in Dubai. She used that as the setting of her last book. She said there are as many layers to Laine Fulton as there are characters in her novels.”

“I prefer to think she’s a woman who knows what she wants. And she happens to want things a specific way. I spoke with her agent this morning and—”

“Mitchell?” Mia interrupted.

Riley cocked her head. “Yes, Mitchell.”

“That’s her ex-husband. And I heard he wasn’t her agent anymore,” Mia responded matter-of-factly.

“Yes, well . . . okay.” Riley shook her head. “Let’s stay on our toes with her this week and make sure everything runs smoothly. Her specific room requests should have been taken care of, and it sounds like she’ll be occupying a lot of my time. So if you could go make sure everything is in place, that would be great. Just in case I don’t get to go back and check.”

“No problem.” Mia continued to write. “Who else?”

“We’ve got a young lady named Tamyra Larsen. She’s a ‘Miss Something,’ but I can’t remember what her title is.”

“Not a pageant girl.” Mia scrunched her nose and shook her head. “Really?”

“I’m sure she’s delightful. And her mother called and . . . well, she sounded really concerned about her.”

“So we’re to babysit a beauty queen? I hear they all need babysitting.”

Riley gave Mia her best smile. “We don’t babysit, Mia. We take care of our guests. Plus, I have a daughter. I know what worried parents sound like, and this mother was worried. So, beauty queen or not, we need to keep our eyes on her.”

Mia looked up. Her blue eyes held Riley’s. “Consider it done.”

“Finally, we have Ms. Winnie Harris.”

“Ms. Harris?”

“Yes, Dr. Harris actually, but her children said she only uses that title at school. She’s a principal at a high school in Nashville.”

“Oh, that kind of doctor.”

“Yes, that kind. And her children are really concerned about her because she has never been on a vacation alone. Her husband died three years ago and this is her first vacation without him. So it’s our responsibility to make sure she is taken care of. And she made a special request not to be able to see the Beach Tower from her room.”

Mia eyed her oddly. “Why?”

“I have no idea. We don’t ask why. We just fulfill the requests.” Riley patted her calendar and raised her head. “I believe that’s it.”

Mia closed her portfolio and stuck it back in her bag. “I’ll go check on each of their rooms and make sure they are ready as soon as our guests arrive.”

“Thanks. We’ll catch up later.”

Mia walked out of the office, and Riley sat down. She studied the three names again, making sure she had them committed to memory. She knew what it meant to a guest to be known by name. So she had made remembering a practice ever since she had gone into the hospitality business fifteen years ago. She knew there would be other guests that required her attention this week. But as of today there were only three that were demanding it. Whether they knew it or not.


Riley exited the elevator of the suite tower. Laine Fulton’s room was ready to go. Everything she had requested, from the fully stocked liquor cabinet to the pistachios and the all-black M&M’S, awaited her arrival. Her entire bedroom had been rearranged at Mitchell’s request, the desk placed in front of the sliding-glass doors to give a view of the ocean. Mia had done an excellent job paying attention to every detail. Now all Riley had to do was wait for her guests to arrive.

She headed down to the Cain, the adult-only pool, to check on Laine’s poolside cabana.

A body glided up beside her. “Hi, Riley. Mind if I walk with you?”

She turned toward him, but she knew that voice. She and Christian Manos had worked side by side, he at The Reef, she at The Cove, for the last six months. Their virtually identical jobs brought them to a place of familiarity quicker than most. And that closeness had awakened things in her she hadn’t felt in a long time. That’s why she had taken to avoiding him. Her pace increased with the rate of her heartbeat. “No. Not at all.” She pushed her hair back and turned to look into his beautiful, tanned face.

“Are you coming to the meeting this afternoon?”

She could smell his cologne. The breeze carried it right up her nose. “Umm . . . no.” She blinked hard. “I’ve got a couple arrivals this afternoon that I’ve got to make sure get settled in okay. Mia is covering for me.” She gave a soft smile.

“The luxury of revolving guests,” he said.

“Yes, must be nice to have stationary guests.” The Reef was a property of luxury condominiums with part-time residents instead of temporary vacationers.

“Very nice. But it looks as if it will prevent you from coming to the meeting. So does that mean it would prevent you from grabbing some lunch before?” he asked, stopping short of one of the poolside towel cabanas. His six-foot-one build towered over her petite frame.

Riley stopped too. “Oh?”

He smiled, the fresh sun on his cheeks. “Yeah, I just wondered if you’d like to have lunch. But it sounds like you’re pretty busy. Seems like work is taking up all your time. So I guess maybe we could make it dinner, then.”

She knew he could see her heart beating at the base of her neck. This was a date. A date offered by a man who did something to the increase of her pulse that even running a 5K didn’t do. She knew she must look extremely awkward, standing there, mouth slightly open, but she wasn’t sure what came after this. It had been so long.

“I’m thinking . . . you’re wanting to say something?” The subtleties of his Greek accent were still present.

She shook her head to try to break her trance. He was almost too pretty to be a boy. And every time he got near her, heat rose to her face no matter the temperature. “Oh yeah, dinner . . . Well, sure. I guess . . . I think dinner would be nice . . . maybe.”

He laughed, his white teeth taking over his face. Taking it over perfectly. And they were a stark contrast to his tousled black hair. “I’m thinking, ‘Sure, I guess, nice, maybe’ is not quite the response I was hoping for.”

Riley laughed awkwardly. “I’m sorry. I . . . Well, you don’t need to know all of that. But I . . .” She breathed in deeply and sighed loudly. This was what she had been trying to avoid. “I’d like that. Dinner. Sometime. Yes. Sure. I’d like that.”

He laughed again. “Okay, I’ll take that. I was thinking maybe this evening.”

She shifted on her heels, placing her hand awkwardly on her hip, and scrunched her lips. “Oh . . . this evening . . . well. That soon?”

He reached out and touched her arm. The hair on her arms shot to attention. She hadn’t been touched with this effect in a very long time. Old Mr. Tucker, who directed housekeeping and loved to touch her arm, had never caused quite the same reaction.

“If tonight doesn’t work, we can pick another night.”

She knew if she hesitated, she’d talk herself out of it. “No . . . no . . . tonight would be great. But it’s probably too late notice to get a sitter for Gabby.”

“Bring her. We’ll have a blast.”

She studied his face. But the inflection of his voice had convinced her he meant it. He let his hand fall to his side. She resisted the urge to grab it and put it back. “Yeah?”

“Sure. There’s this great little place over on Nassau. It’s where the locals hang out. Is that okay? It’s really casual.”

“Gabby and I do casual very well.”

“Can I pick you up at six thirty?”

“Yeah, six thirty will be fine.”

He reached up and patted her arm again, grabbing it slightly as he did. “It will be fun. Thank you for saying yes.”

“Sure. Yeah. No problem.”

She watched as he headed around the walkway and back up toward The Reef. His brown leather flip-flops slapped against the concrete and reverberated on her insides. She bit her lip. “Sure? Yeah? No problem? Are you an idiot?” she whispered as she headed back toward her office. “You get asked out on your first date in fifteen years—by a beautiful man, no less—and you say, ‘Sure. Yeah. No problem.’ You are an idiot.” She shook her head and turned toward the pool. Fear dropped with a thud in her gut. It pressed harder with each step she took. By the time she reached Laine’s cabana, it had taken over, verifying one thing. She would not be going out with Christian Manos tonight. Or any night.

Taken from Hurricanes in Paradise by Denise Hildreth. Copyright © 2010 by Denise Hildreth. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Dragon's Lair by Sharon Kay Penman

book cover

Dragon's Lair
by Sharon Kay Penman

Trade Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
First Released: 2003

Source: Bought in library book sale.

Back Cover Description:
July 1193. King Richard Lionheart lies in a German prison, held for ransom by the emperor. His mother, Dowager Queen Eleanor, ransacks England for gold to buy his freedom, while his younger brother, John, plots with King Philippe of France to ensure that he rots and dies in chains.

When a ransom payment vanishes, Eleanor hastily dispatches young Justin de Quincy to investigate. In wild, beautiful Wales, his devotion to the queen will be supremely tested–as an arrogant border earl, a cocky Welsh prince, an enchanting lady, and a traitor of the deepest dye welcome him with false smiles and deadly conspiracies. The queen’s treasure is nowhere to be found, but assassins are everywhere . . . and blood runs red in the dragon’s lair.

Dragon's Lair is a mystery set in 1193 in England and Wales. This novel was the third book in the series, but you don't need to have read the first two in order to understand this one. I haven't read the first two (yet), and it didn't appear that reading the books out of order spoiled the previous mysteries.

The historical detail was woven into the story and was accurate was far as I know, though the author occasionally had the characters use a modern turn of phrase. The political situation was described in a somewhat more obvious manner since it was the underlying motivating force behind the mystery and the author probably realized that most people know more legend than real history from that time period.

The characters were engaging and interesting. I liked how Justin had his sense of honor and stuck to it, but not in a snobbish way. The pacing was very good, and the mystery was a true "try to guess who did it." The author played the clues out very cleverly so that the reader could guess some parts before Justin but other parts were a mystery until the very end.

The novel was a bit crude at times and sex was implied or referred to, but there was no explicit sex. There was a minor amount of "he swore" style bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as well-written and fairly clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Prologue
July 1193
Nottingham Castle, England

The English king was dying. Despite the bone-biting chill of the dungeon, he was drenched in sweat and so gaunt and wasted that his brother barely recognized him. His skin was ashen, his eyes sunken, and his chest heaved with each rasping shallow breath. Even the vivid reddish-gold hair was dulled, so matted and dirty that vermin were burrowing into the scalp once graced by a crown. Would their lady mother still be so eager to cradle that lice-ridden head to her breast?

As if sensing he was no longer alone, Richard struggled to rise up on an elbow, rheumy, bloodshot eyes blinking into the shadows. The voice that once could shout down the wind, that was heard from one corner of Christendom to the other even when he whispered, now emerged as a feeble croak. "John...?"

"Yes." Stepping into the meager light of the lone candle, John savored the moment to come. Had Fortune's Wheel ever spun so dizzily as this? The irony was exquisite, that the brother so scorned and belittled should be Richard's only chance of salvation. "What would you, brother? You wish for a doctor? A priest? A king's ransom?" The corner of John's mouth curved, ever so slightly. "You need only ask, Richard. But ask you must."

Richard stretched out a stranger's hand, one that trembled as if he had the palsy, palm upward in the universal gesture of supplication. John reached for it reluctantly, for it would be like clasping hands with a corpse. Their fingers touched, then entwined. As John instinctively recoiled, Richard tightened his hold. There was surprising strength in this deathbed grip; to his alarm, John found he could not break free. Richard's fingers were digging into his flesh, leaving talon-like imprints upon his skin. So close were they that John could smell on Richard's breath the fetid stench of the grave, and his brother's eyes were as grey as their sire's, burning with fever and an inexplicable gleam of triumph.

"Rot in Hell, Little Brother," Richard said, slowly and distinctly. "Rot in Hell!"

John jerked upright in the bed, so violently that his bedmate was jarred abruptly from sleep. Ursula felt a surge of drowsy annoyance, for this was not the first time that John had awakened her with one of his troubled dreams. She was not so naive as to complain, though, indulging herself only with a soft, put-upon sigh and a pout safely hidden in the dark.

As the German dungeon receded before the reality of his bedchamber, John began to swear, angrily and profanely. Why had that accursed dream come back? It made no sense, for Richard was not being held in irons; last report had him being well treated now that negotiations had begun for his release.

Read chapter one.

Friday, June 4, 2010

They Almost Always Come Home by Cynthia Ruchti

book cover

They Almost Always Come Home
by Cynthia Ruchti

Trade Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Abingdon Press
First Released: 2010

Author Website

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, my take (except tag line):
He was supposed to be fishing. He was supposed to come home. And she was supposed to care.

Libby has been stuck in a depression since her beloved daughter died in a school shooting. Even her husband can't seem to help her--partly because she blames him. When Greg says he wants to go on a solo wilderness fishing trip, she doesn't object about the safety issues because she has a hard time caring anymore. But when her ever-faithful husband doesn't come home, she discovers that she cares more than she expected. Would it be easier if he was dead?

When she tells the police about her missing husband, they do a thorough search for him but suggest he might have used the trip as a cover for leaving an unrewarding marriage and job. Libby can't handle not knowing what's become of her husband. At the urging of her best friend, they convince her husband's father to take them on a wilderness trip--which they've never done before--to re-trace her husband's trip in an attempt to discover what happened to him. But before they find him, Libby must figure out what she's really hoping to find.

They Almost Always Come Home is a Christian general fiction novel with a lot of suspense. The characters were interesting and complex, and they dealt with realistic problems. The world-building was excellent, especially for the wilderness trip. The story came alive in my imagination, and it felt like these events really could have happened.

The first thirty-two pages were mostly Libby thinking about her situation and doing little but worrying about the various possibilities of what could have happened to her husband. It's tantalizing, but so little real, solid information was given about how this state of things came about that it felt a bit slow-paced to me.

However, after that, other people started interacting with Libby and she became more active in dealing with the problem. From that point on, the story was fast-paced and the suspense built nicely so I had a hard time putting the novel down. Near the end, we get Greg's perspective of his trip and what happened, which was nice and was worked into the story at a very good spot.

The target audience appeared to be Christians or those with a Christian background. The characters were Christians trying to figure out how to deal with a God who doesn't always give you what you think you need the most. It's not preachy (and there were no conversions), but it definitely had a strong Christian element to it.

The novel was written in first person, present tense ("I run" instead of "I ran"). (Married) sex was implied. There was no bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as exciting and insightful clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Do dead people wear shoes? In the casket, I mean. Seems a waste. Then again, no outfit is complete without the shoes.

My thoughts pound up the stairs, down the hall, and into the master bedroom closet. Greg’s gray suit is clean, I think. White shirt, although that won’t allow much color contrast and won’t do a thing for Greg’s skin tones. His red tie with the silver threads? Good choice.

Shoes or no shoes? I should know this. I’ve stroked the porcelain-cold cheeks of several embalmed loved ones. My father and grandfather. Two grandmothers—one too young to die. One too old not to.

And Lacey.

The Baxter Street Mortuary will not touch my husband’s body should the need arise. They got Lacey’s hair and facial expression all wrong.

I rise from the couch and part the sheers on the front window one more time. Still quiet. No lights on the street. No Jeep pulling into our driveway. I’ll give him one more hour, then I’m heading for bed. With or without him.

Shoes? Yes or no? I’m familiar with the casket protocol for children. But for adults?

Grandma Clarendon hadn’t worn shoes for twelve years or more when she died. She preferred open-toed terrycloth slippers. Day and night. Home. Uptown. Church. Seems to me she took comfort to the extreme. Or maybe she figured God ought to be grateful she showed up in His house at all, given her distaste for His indiscriminate dispersal of the Death Angel among her friends and siblings.

“Ain’t a lick of pride in outliving your brothers and sisters, Libby.” She said it often enough that I can pull off a believable impression. Nobody at the local comedy club need fear me as competition, but the cousins get a kick out of it at family reunions.

Leaning on the tile and cast-iron coffee table, I crane everything in me to look at the wall clock in the entry. Almost four in the morning? I haven’t even decided who will sing special music at Greg’s memorial service. Don’t most women plan their husband’s funeral if he’s more than a few minutes late?

In the past, before this hour, I’m mentally two weeks beyond the service, trying to decide whether to keep the house or move to a condo downtown.

He’s never been this late before. And he’s never been alone in the wilderness. A lightning bolt of something—fear? anticipation? pain?—ripples my skin and exits through the soles of my feet.

The funeral plans no longer seem a semimorbid way to occupy my mind while I wait for the lights of his Jeep. Not pointless imaginings but preparation.

That sounds like a thought I should command to flee in the name of Jesus or some other holy incantation. But it stares at me with narrowed eyes as if to say, “I dare you.”

Read the first three chapters.