Thursday, July 29, 2010

Angel Song by Sheila Walsh & Kathryn Cushman

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Angel Song
by Sheila Walsh &
Kathryn Cushman

Trade Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2010

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Cover, highly modified:
When Ann Fletcher returns to Charleston to see her younger sister, Sarah, receive her master’s degree, she finds herself riding in the back of an ambulance, watching helplessly as Sarah fights for life.

When Sarah dies, Sarah's neighbors reach out to Ann. Ethan McKinney, who does construction on old Charleston houses, volunteers to help Ann get the Fletcher family home ready to sell. Her neighbor Tammy and her 12-year-old son Keith, who has Down Syndrome, are always there to lend a hand or present a hand-drawn picture of angels. Keith believes he can see and hear angels, and he says they're all around Ann.

Ann is drawn to their friendship, but she's determined to make a name for herself as a modern interior decorator in New York city. It might somehow make up for the loss of Sarah's great potential. Ann struggles with why God didn't save Sarah or give a break to the grandma who raised them, both of whom were Christians. God begins to get Ann's attention through her new friends and through clearly supernatural events. Will she come to believe that God's angels really do surround us?

Angel Song is an inspirational romance novel (with a Christian/non-Christian romantic attraction, though at least the guy really does keep his hands off and a distance between them when he realizes Ann doesn't share his faith). This novel will probably appeal to those who enjoyed the Touched By An Angel TV show.

The world-building was excellent, bringing the jobs and locations alive in my imagination. The pacing was very good, and the suspense was created by the question of how much Ann is willing to give up in her efforts to become a well-known interior decorator. However, after the initial set-up, the story became predictable which stole some of the tension.

The "good" characters were nice and interesting, but I never felt like I really got to know the "real them." They seemed more like a role with some surface facts attached. This was partly because Ann kept others at a distance, but, even with her, I couldn't understand why she reacted so strongly to her past. I kept thinking there had to be more, something that reinforced how she dealt with her feelings of abandonment.

The symbolism with the house worked well for me until the end, where it got heavy-handed. I felt like the symbolism was forcing her actions. They didn't make sense considering everything that had led up to that point, and I found that distracting.

Ann didn't believe in God or the supernatural. She figured that if Christians still suffered pain and tragic accidents, that was proof God didn't exist because you'd think God would at least help those who worshiped him. But Sarah and her neighbors were Christians, so there were a few prayers and church attendance. The main supernatural events were troubled dreams, hearing divine music others couldn't, and seeing angels. The main spiritual topic was how God uses angels to help humans. Jesus was only mentioned once, and never to Ann. Though Ann did come to believe in angels and the existence of God, that's all that happened...but everyone treated her like she'd become a Christian.

There was no bad language or explicit sex. Overall, I'd recommend this novel 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 Chapter One
Red and blue lights spun off broken glass and twisted metal, shooting cold barbs through the warm South Carolina night. Ann Fletcher sat on the curb, hugging her knees to her chest. How could this have happened? She closed her eyes, trying to regain some sense of equilibrium, but that only intensified the stench of hot rubber and engine fluid. She gave up and opened her eyes.

The mulitcolored strobes highlighted the scene around her. She glanced at a policeman in black barking orders into a walkie-talkie. Nearby, a fireman in yellow turnouts sprayed water over a gurney. She was staying out of the way, as she'd promised the EMS team. If sitting here would keep their attention fully on Sarah, then that's what she would do.

"Here, I'm thinking you could use this." A woman in a black pantsuit held out a bottle of water, which Ann reached for gratefully.

"Thanks." She took a long drink, and then another, surprised by how thirsty she was.

"Is there anything else I can do to help you?" The woman's hair shone like copper in the flashing lights, and her face looked vaguely familiar, like someone Ann knew a long time ago. "Anything at all?"

Ann simply shook her head and looked toward the medics. "There's nothing."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Tale of Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt

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The Tale of Three Trees
retold by Angela Elwell Hunt

Hardback: 32 pages
Publisher: Lion Publishing
Released: 1989

Source: From my home library.

Book Description, my take:
Three trees on a hill dream about what they'll become when they grow large enough. They dream of becoming big, important, and admired objects: a treasure chest, a king's sailing ship, and a tall tree that will point people's gaze to heaven. They're all cut down and made into mundane, dirty objects--a hay trough for animals, a fisherman's boat, and a cross--which greatly disappoints them. "What happened?" asks the third. "All I wanted to do was...point to God." But then Jesus is born, and they realize their dreams, but in ways they never expected.

The Tale of Three Trees is a Christian children's book, but I've only ever seen adults read it. Probably because we're the ones with the "lost" dreams that we hope God will fulfill in unexpected and more-profound-than-we-dreamed ways. Anyway, if you've never read the "Three Trees" tale before, it's well worth reading--a good reminder when life disappoints and doesn't make sense. The illustrations matched the text and were nice and fairly detailed. Overall, I'd recommend it as a good, clean, and uplifting read.

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.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

And the winner is...

It's time to pick the winner of the Got Books? Celebration "your choice" giveaway. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:

mbreakfield who won "A Woman of Influence."

Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always join in the fun by buying the books at your favorite bookstore!

So Over It by Stephanie Morrill

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So Over It
by Stephanie Morrill

Trade Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Revell
First Released: 2010

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, my take:
Skylar's family is a mess. She's afraid her parents are going to divorce, and her 15-year-old younger sister has a 3-month-old baby. Skylar's not doing much better. She's trying to avoid an ex-boyfriend she still really likes but who betrayed her. She's been a Christian for a year, but somehow she keeps slipping back into her old, partying habits. And she's haunted by the fact she can't fully remember what happened at the party where her current kinda-boyfriend says he saved her from being raped by a cute stranger who must have drugged her beer.

She just wants to get away and make a fresh start, so she jumps at the chance to spend the summer with her grandparents in Hawaii and is considering going to college there as well. After a promising start, she realizes how much she'll miss out on by totally cutting off those back home. And it's like she's brought the past along with her. Is she doomed to stay stuck in the past or can she face her fears and truly forgive herself for her mistakes?

So Over It is a young adult Christian general fiction novel with some romance. It's the third book in the series, but I haven't read the previous books. While I could follow without confusion what was going on without reading the others, reading this one first spoils some things that happen in the first two books. Since this book was very good, I'd recommend starting with with the first book, Me, Just Different.

The characters were complex, realistic, and likable. I cared what happened to them. Skylar dealt with realistic problems, like worries about parent's arguing, a grumpy younger sister, and forgiving friends' betrayals. Skylar didn't always make decisions I thought were good ones, but they fit her character and her age. They also carried the natural consequences, so she learned from them.

The world-building was very good (though note that this wasn't an "all-about-Hawaii" novel), and the pacing was excellent. The tension was mainly from the relationship problems rather than actual physical danger. (The party that was dangerous happened before the start of this book.)

Skylar and some of her friends were Christians, and I felt that they were portrayed in a realistic way. Skylar's main struggle was getting rid of the "old Skylar" habits that she really doesn't want but can't seem to shake. The novel never got "preachy" since Skylar kinda figured things out by trial-and-error or by realizing she was doing the same things she condemned others for.

There was no bad language. There was no sex, though it was implied in the girls' gossip. Overall, I'd highly 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
My eyes, innocently grazing the new releases at Blockbuster, locked on Connor Ross.

I would've avoided him, especially since he stood there with Jodi, but we held eye contact too long to pretend we hadn't noticed each other.

We exchanged awkward smiles--what else could we do?--and moved closer.

"Hey," I said, being my usual creative self.

"Hi." His smile hung crooked. It didn't always. Just when he felt uncomfortable. Connor hadn't flashed me a straight smile since March. Three months and six days ago.

"Hi, Skylar." Jodi infused her voice with warmth. I couldn't trust myself to speak actual words to her. Even when I said simple things like, "Hi," it always sounded angry and bitter. Two things I felt, but had no intention of her knowing.

"What are you guys doing here?" I asked, then nearly cringed. Hello--what else would they be doing at Blockbuster?

Connor acted nice about it. "Trying to find a movie that'll make everyone happy."

"Not an easy task."

"Cevin's the real toughie," Connor said with a grin.

Both Jodi and I laughed--Cevin's the Ross family's dog--then stopped and looked at each other. So awkward.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ransomed Dreams by Sally John

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Ransomed Dreams
by Sally John

Trade Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Released: June 7, 2010

List Price: $13.99
ISBN-10: 1414327854
ISBN-13: 978-1414327853

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, my take:
In one horrifying moment, Sheridan Montgomery's life changed drastically. An assassin's bullet killed her best friend and permanently handicapped her husband. She went from being in the spotlight as the wife of a U.S. ambassador well known for her social work to hiding from her fears in a remote Mexican village while nursing a husband that no longer emotionally responds to her.

A year and a half later, Sheridan's sister sends a close male friend to track them down and give her some news: their father is dying, and she's discovered some papers that reveal he has a dirty past. This information might destroy her sister's potential political career and Sheridan's belief in her husband. For it looks like Sheridan's husband may have been involved and lied to Sheridan since the day they met. Should they dig deeper?

Sheridan leans on her friend's strength to help her face this past, find freedom from fear, and forgive her family. The question is: will she forgive her husband and learn to love him as he is or forge a new life based on her old dreams and goals?

Ransomed Dreams is a Christian general fiction novel set in Mexico and in Chicago in the USA. The story switched between the current story of overcoming fears and forgiving others and the story of the events leading up to the assassination attempt. They do connect together in important ways, and I thought it was handled well.

The world-building was very good. The tension in the story was created by the strain in the various relationships, and it had a slightly slower pacing. The characters were complex and dealt with realistic struggles. However, I never really bonded to the main characters because they weren't very likable, especially at the beginning. I was more interested in some of the secondary characters.

Sheridan and her husband were Catholics with an on-again-off-again relationship with God. The characters seemed to view God as real and active but...distant?...useful to ask help from, but usually irrelevant though nice to talk about? Well, something. Sheri would usually go sit in a (usually empty) church when she wanted to "connect" with God, and she found her greatest comfort in the familiar motions of taking the Eucharist. Since family and friends (including a priest) loved to give each other snippets of advice on handling fears and relationship troubles, some readers might view this novel as "preachy" (though it's good advice). I thought it was fine since the characters' acted like real people do in such situations.

The minor amount of bad language was in the "he cussed" style. There was no sex. 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.

About the Author:
When the going gets tough—or weird or wonderful—the daydreamer gets going on a new story. Sally John has been tweaking life's moments into fiction since she read her first Trixie Belden mystery as a child.

Now an author of more than fifteen novels, Sally writes stories that reflect contemporary life. Her passion is to create a family, turn their world inside out, and then portray how their relationships change with each other and with God. Her goal is to offer hope to readers in their own relational and faith journeys.

Sally grew up in Moline, Illinois, graduated from Illinois State University, married Tim in 1973, and taught in middle schools. She is a mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother. A three-time finalist for the Christy Award, she also teaches writing workshops. Her books include the Safe Harbor series (coauthored with Gary Smalley), The Other Way Home series, The Beach House series, and In a Heartbeat series. Many of her stories are set in her favorite places of San Diego, Chicago, and small-town Illinois.

She and her husband currently live in southern California.

Visit the author's website.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Topala, Mexico
Eighteen months later

Like everything about the small village tucked into the foothills of the Sierra Madres in central Mexico, sunrise was a leisurely event.

Sheridan waited for it, tea mug in hand, shawl over her cotton nightgown, bare feet chilled against the tile floor of the second-story balcony. Alone, she listened in the dark to the squawk of roosters and clung to their promise that the world would once again know light.

“Oh, good grief,” she murmured to herself with a groan. “That is so maudlin. Truly and hopelessly maudlin. You might try something more chipper. Something like . . . Something like . . .” Her foggy brain offered nothing.

She scrunched her nose in defeat. The morning had shuffled in on the heels of a sleepless night. Chipper was not going to happen, no matter how hard she tried to talk herself into it.

If she could turn the calendar back eighteen months, she would not be talking to herself. No. Eliot would be right next to her, responding, most likely pointing out a dozen chipper thoughts in that funny way of his.

Nostalgia and regret hit her, a powerful one-two punch that still took her breath away. She clenched her teeth, waiting for it to pass, mentally spewing forth a verbal attack at the counselor who had promised her that time healed all wounds, that month by month they would see improvement.

What drivel that was! Eighteen months—or to be more precise, seventeen months, three weeks, and two days; but who was counting? All that time had passed and only one thing was healed: Eliot’s gunshot wound. His other wounds, the invisible ones, still oozed like toxins from a waste dump site. He was not the same man she had married.

Sheridan took a deep breath and let the bitter argument go. Nostalgia and regret settled back down into whatever corner of her heart they’d found to hide out in. Their impact, though, lingered.

Would time ever erase her longing for the Eliot she had married? The animated one, the one others adored, the one who was engaged in every detail of life, whether simple or complex, with every person who crossed his path. The one from B.C.E., Before the Caracas Episode. Now, in their A.C.E. days, he might as well be a deaf-mute for all the interest he showed in the world around him.

Sleep-deprived, she totally blamed him. She didn’t mean to. It wasn’t like he had much of a choice. The bullet that shattered his nerves shattered their life. Everything about it was over. Health, career, home, friends. All gone. Kaput. Some days she barely recognized herself and Eliot. Where were the Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery she once knew? These routines, hometown, health, acquaintances, and even personalities seemed lifted from the pages of some stranger’s biography.

“Oh, honestly. Get over it already, Sher.” She forced a swallow of tea and focused on the scene before her.

A lone sunbeam pierced between two mountain peaks and sliced into the distant mists. Another followed. And another and another until finally pure light broke free. Valleys and canyons burst into sight. Loud birdsong erupted. Then, as if God had uncurled His fist, long fingers of sunlight shot forth and touched the wrought-iron railing where she stood.

It was achingly gorgeous.

Sheridan flicked at a tear seeping from the corner of her eye. “You should have stayed in bed, you foolish, stubborn woman.”

Sunrises were the worst because they represented the best of what had been.

Most days she could ignore that thought. Evidently not today. She and Eliot were morning people. Had been morning people. Their daily ritual of tea and conversation at an east-facing view, awaiting dawn, was seldom missed. With crazy-full schedules, they needed such a time to relate on the deepest levels. Some days their hearts positively danced and sang in union. Naturally, through the years the tune changed now and then, the tempo sped up and slowed down, but the music never stopped. It never stopped. They always talked. They always connected.

Until that day in Caracas.

Now she watched sunrises by herself.

“You really should’ve stayed in bed.”

But it was so beautiful. And it went on and on like a slow waltz. At the bottom of her street now, purple haze still shrouded the town square. The sky brightened in slow motion above it, the fiery ball itself still hiding behind a peak.

Something moved in the semidarkness below. A person. Early risers were not uncommon, but she was startled. Something felt off about this one.

Or was that just her hypervigilance? Compliments of the incident in Caracas, it kicked into gear at times without warning, filling her with anxiety and suspicion.

Now she could see that it was a man. He passed the bandstand, his strides too deliberate for a villager, too American. He headed straight for the steep incline that led up to her house. In city terms, the distance was perhaps a block. In Topala terms, it was simply up beyond the sculptor’s shop.

The sun overtook the peaks and the man came into view.

“No way.” Her heartbeat slowed, but not quite to normal.

Even with his face concealed by a ball cap, his body clothed in a generic khaki jacket and blue jeans, a city block separating them, she recognized him. She recognized him simply because the air vibrated with him.

Luke Traynor owned whatever space he occupied.

Sheridan set the mug on the table beside her, tightened the shawl around her shoulders, and massaged her left arm. She felt no surprise at his unannounced arrival nor at the early hour. It was as if she had always expected him to show up sooner or later.

But as he climbed the narrow street, an uneasiness rose within her. Her muscles tensed. Why was he here? He had promised not to come. Sixteen months ago he promised. Not that she was keeping track. . . .

The sound of a soft whistle drew her attention back toward the square. Javier, the young sculptor, stood on the porch steps outside his shop. Behind him, the handicraft shop owner emerged from his door.

Javier raised his chin in question.

Sheridan gave a half nod. They needn’t be concerned. The stranger was, so to speak, a known quantity. Not that she felt the least bit glad to see Luke. Eliot would most likely be severely distressed at his arrival.

Wishing Luke were an apparition did not make it so. He continued his steady pace, arms swinging gently, head down as if he studied the cobblestones, making his way to her house.

Since that day in Caracas—the day her husband died in every sense except physically, the day this man saved her life—Sheridan had understood intuitively that Luke would always be a part of her life. And there he was, out of the blue, ascending her street in the middle of nowhere on a spring day as if he visited all the time.

She suddenly remembered the date. “Good grief.”

It was Annunciation Day, a day of remembrance, of celebration for when the angel Gabriel visited Mary and announced her future. How apropos. Luke appeared without warning. He would not have come unless he had something to tell her, some message that would irreversibly change her future.

Was this his joke or God’s?

Luke neared and looked up, straight at her.

She saw not the man whose presence had always triggered apprehension in her, but rather the guardian angel who had saved her life.

Sheridan turned and made her way inside, down the stairs, and through the house.

* * *

Sheridan opened the front door and stopped.

Luke Traynor stood less than six feet away, at the low gate in the stone wall where her front terrace met the steep hill.

She returned his steady gaze, knowing full well her own expression did not mirror the one before her. While dread, relief, and excessive gratitude rearranged every muscle on her face, his remained perfectly composed. The sharp nose, thin lips, and deep-set eyes could have been made of the same cobblestone he stood on.

He flashed a rakish grin. “I was in the neighborhood.”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

He cocked his head, somber again. Always the gentleman, he waited for her to make the first move.

Sheridan clutched her shawl more closely and resigned herself to riding out the emotional disarray rumbling through her. She both loathed and loved this man. Of course he knew that, so it didn’t matter how she reacted to him except that she’d like herself better if she were polite.

With a quiet sigh, she walked to him, planted a kiss on his scruffy, unshaven cheek, and eased into his embrace. Nestled against the rough collar of his jacket, she smelled the familiar scent of him, an indescribable mix of earth, sun-drenched air, and confidence that bordered on lunacy. She felt the hardness of his body, always unexpected given his average height and build.

“Sheridan. How are you?”

“Fine.” She backed away, crossing her arms.

“And Eliot?” he said. “How is he?”


Luke blinked, a slow movement of lids indicating he could take the truth.

She wanted to shriek obscenities at him. The disconcerting thing about angels, though, was that it was impossible to keep up any sort of pretense. Like an angel, Luke had stayed close beside her for long weeks after the shooting. He had gone with her to the edge of hell, holding on to her until she came back. He knew her better than she knew herself. Glossing over answers was a waste of time with him.

She tried another phrase. “We’re doing about as well as could be expected.”

He nodded.

“Eliot is still asleep.”

“It’s early. Perhaps I can greet him later.”

The resistance drained from her. Yes, Gabriel had come to deliver a message, and he would not leave until he’d done so.

She had no inkling how to shield Eliot and herself from this unexpected source of distress but gave a lame attempt. “I don’t suppose you’re passing through town and simply must be on your way right now, this very minute?”


She inhaled, her shoulders lifting with the effort, and blew the breath out with force. “Coffee?”

“Love some.”

Excerpted from Ransomed Dreams by Sally John. Copyright 2010 by Sally John. Used with permission from Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Giveaway for the Got Books? Celebration

As a part of the Got Books? Celebration, I'm holding a "your choice" giveaway that will begin on July 23 and end at midnight on July 24, 2010.

The giveaway is for USA & Canada residents only.

You may enter to win one of the following novels:

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Boyfriends, Burritos & An Ocean of Trouble by Nancy Rue is a young adult Christian novel with some romance that also deals with serious, real life teen issues. This giveaway is for a final copy of the novel. You can learn more about this novel by reading my review.

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The Time Machine by Tim Chaffey and Joe Westbrook is a young adult Christian adventure novel. This giveaway is for a final copy of the novel. You can learn more about this novel by reading my review and a teen's review.

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A Woman of Influence by Rebecca Ann Collins is a historical mystery that turns into a romance. The giveaway is for my Advanced Readers Copy. You can learn more about this novel by reading my review.

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Promise Bridge by Eileen Clymer Schwab is a historical set in the pre-Civil War South. This giveaway is for my Advanced Readers Copy of the novel. You can learn more about this novel by reading my review.

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Nightshade by Ronie Kendig is a Christian military suspense novel that both men and women will enjoy. This giveaway is for a final copy of the novel. You can learn more about this novel by reading my review.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment to this post telling me the title of the above novel you'd like to win. Please also leave some way for me to contact you--or follow this blog so you can see the winner announcement.

The winners will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at noon (Central Time) on July 25, 2010 on this blog.

I'll send an e-mail notice to the winner if they left an e-mail address. If the winner hasn't sent me their mailing address within five days, I reserve the right to pick a new winner.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Promise Bridge by Eileen Clymer Schwab

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Promise Bridge
by Eileen Clymer Schwab

Trade Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: NAL Trade Paperback
First Released: July 2010

Author Website

Source: Advanced Reads Copy from publisher.

Book Description, Highly Modified from Back Cover:
A novel of rare friendship, unexpected risk, and the remarkable bonds that define a life.

"This is a promise bridge, and it bridges a promise flowing from your heart to mine. It can't never be broken...the promise is part of you now, understand."

Hannelore Blessing's act of compassion toward a badly injured runaway slave is sealed by a promise to her brother to protect her. This begins an unlikely friendship between a young plantation mistress and a slave girl named Livie. Through Livie, Hannah sees for the first time what life is really like for slaves and her heart rebels against her inability to do much about it.

Protecting Livie from being identified as a runaway and returned to her cruel master is harder than Hannah expected. As Hannah learns more about the Underground Railroad, she decides she must help Livie gain freedom and safety even if it means letting her friend go.

Hannah is aided by Colt, a devoted suitor hoping to win her heart. But a neighbor--a vicious slave catcher--stalks both Hannah and Livie. His unseemly motives and relentless pursuit threaten all that Hannah holds dear.

Promise Bridge is a historical set in the pre-Civil War South, but it also has some romance and suspense. The world-building was excellent, with the details of the setting and historical social and everyday details bringing the story alive in my imagination without slowing the pace. I think the author did an excellent job portraying both the good and the bad of the pre-Civil War American South (and North) without that ever seeming like it was the point of the story. It was the backdrop.

The characters were realistic and dealt with realistic problems. The "good" characters were likable, and I cared what happened to them. There were periods of danger and high suspense, but there were also lulls of safety filled mainly with interesting interactions as Hannah learned to see reality.

There was a very minor amount of cussing and swearing. There was no explicit sex. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as well-written, 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
Life at it very core changed forever the day I asked "please" of a colored man. I intended no harm or outrage; my manners got the better of me is all. In fact, the cedar mounts cradling Echo Ridge all but quaked the moment the words floated from my careless lips as I eased a heavy bundle toward Winston's outstretched arms. His playful eyes stoned into a stunned gaze, and though with two hasty blinks the ever-present smile recovered across his mahogany face, my heart sank into the pit of my stomach as his eyes hedged from mine and braced for the inevitable.

On the steps of the general store behind me, Twitchell Grayson stood with his worn snakeskin boot fixed heavily on a stool. Winston's son, Elijah, knelt at Twitch's crooked heel, wiping away dusty clumps of dried clay as best he could with a fistful of oil rag in his capable ten-year-old hand. Following Winston's glance, I turned in time to see Twitch's jaw clench fiercely around the stub of a cigar wedged beneath the coarse charcoal mustache thicketed like a horseshoe around a barely recognizable mouth.

"You forget your place, boy?" Twitch kicked the stool against a crested apple barrel wedged along side the mercantile door. Poor Elijah tumbled backward onto his threadbare britches as an avalanche of ripe red apples plunked down around him.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Nightshade by Ronie Kendig

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by Ronie Kendig

Trade Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books
First Released: July 1, 2010

List Price: $12.99
ISBN-10: 160260777X
ISBN-13: 978-1602607774

Book on Amazon

Source: Special thanks to Camy Tang and Ronie Kendig for sending me a review copy. This post is part of the FIRST Wild Card Tour.

Book Description, my take:
After spending years of his life as a Navy SEAL and facing the horrors of war, Max Jacobs retires at the request of his wife, Sydney. He refuses to get help for his temper and PTSD, though. When he accidentally hits her when she steps in to break up a fight, her older brother urges Sydney to file a restraining order and start legal action toward a divorce.

Max has lost everything he cares about and feels like a complete, hopeless failure. Then a man offers him a job leading Nightshade, a black-ops group made up of retired military veterans like Max. He still longs for his wife, but he finds purpose and friendship leading Nightshade. The team handles their missions with great skill.

Sydney tries to bury her doubts about leaving Max by pushing for a promotion from newspaper editor to journalist. While interviewing people for a human interest story, she stumbles upon something the US government obviously wants kept secret--a mysterious military group who is rescuing innocents in politically-sensitive areas. She's determined to find the men and discover what the government is up to. She has no idea it's her own husband that she's hunting.

When an American missionary family is kidnapped in the Philippines, Nightshade is sent into the rebel-infested jungle to save them. Everything starts to go wrong. Things get even worse when Sydney turns up hot on their trail, walking into more danger than she realizes.

Nightshade is a military suspense novel that both men and women will enjoy. It's fast-paced and intense, with danger lurking throughout the story for both Max and Sydney. Non-bad-guy characters do die. The world-building was excellent, bringing the story alive in my imagination. I liked the characters and cared about what happened to them. They acted in realistic ways, and I liked the tension of Max and Sydney still wanting to be together yet not seeing how that was possible with all the problems that had come between them.

This was a Christian novel. I thought that the Christian characters were portrayed realistically. Max's best friend (who was also one of his team members) was a Christian who could relate to what Max was going through due to his past. He urged Max to read the Bible--especially about King David--and to not give up on his marriage and just live with his anger but to get help. The male missionary was also a point-of-view character, and he had to deal with why God would allow his family to be kidnapped. I didn't feel like the author ever lectured at the reader.

There was a minor amount of "he cursed" style bad language. There was no sex. Overall, I'd highly recommend this as novel as well-written, exciting, clean reading. I'm looking forward to the next novel in this series.

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.

About the Author:

Ronie Kendig grew up an Army brat, married a veteran, and they now have four children and a Golden Retriever. She has a BS in Psychology, speaks to various groups, volunteers with the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and mentors new writers.

Visit the author's website and her book website.

Book Trailer:

Excerpt from Prologue & Chapter One:

Crazy lights swirled against the evening sky. Day morphed into the merriment of night. Cotton candy and hot dogs. Teens decked out in Goth gear contrasted sharply with young couples dragged from ride to ride by squealing offspring. White smeared over a man’s face as red encircled his mouth. Like a giant maraschino cherry, his nose squawked when a child squeezed it. He threw his head back and laughed. The little boy stood perplexed, as if uncertain whether to laugh or break into tears.

Olin Lambert shifted on the park bench as a parade of kids trailed the balloon-toting clown through the park. He glanced at his watch. His contact was la—

The boards under his legs creaked. A man dressed in a navy jogging suit joined him.

“You almost missed the fun.” Olin tossed a few kernels of popcorn into his mouth.

Rolling his shoulders, the man darted his gaze around the carnival insanity. “You know how dangerous this is? What it took for me to get out here without being seen?”

The danger and risk to his contact were no greater than what was stacked up against Olin. They both had a lot to lose—careers, reputations, families. . . . “We could leave now.”

“You know this has to happen.”

After a sip of his diet cola, Olin stuffed the half-full bag of popcorn on top of the overflowing trash bin. He wiped his hands and turned back to the man. “So, the body count’s finally high enough?”

Blue eyes narrowed. “I’m here. That should tell you something.”

“Indeed.” Olin waited as the ice cream vendor wheeled his musical cart past. “I need full autonomy for me and my team.”

Music burst forth as swings whirled occupants in a monotonous circle. A performer tossed flaming sticks and maneuvered one down his throat, swallowing the flames. Ohs wafted on the noisy, hot wind from the audience gathered around him. A scream pierced the night—a woman startled by another clown.

“Okay, fine. Just get on with this. I’m a sitting duck out here.” He rubbed his hands and glanced around.

Olin swiped his tongue along his teeth, took a draught of his soda, then slumped back against the slats. “I want it in writing. Two copies. Mine. Yours.”

The man shook his head. “No trails.”

The corner of Olin’s mouth quirked up. “You’ve already got one.” He nodded to the ice cream vendor, who reached over the register and tapped a sign with a hole in the center where a camera hid.

A curse hissed through the night. “You’d bleed me out if you could.”

“Whatever it takes to protect these men.”

Eyeing him, the man hesitated. “The men? Or you?”

“One and the same. If they’re protected, I’m protected. Whatever happens out there, we’re not going to take the fall for it.”

“If it goes bad, someone will get blamed.”

Olin pursed his lips and cocked his head to the side. “More dust has been swept under the proverbial Capitol Hill carpet than anyone will ever admit. You have to decide: Is the cost high enough? How many more lives are you willing to sacrifice?”


On his feet, Olin tugged up the hood of his jacket. “Then we’re through.”

The man caught his elbow. “Sit down.”

Teeth clamped, Olin returned to the bench. He bent forward and rubbed his hands together, more than ready to forget he’d ever tried to deal with this man, the only man with enough power on the Hill and the right connections to both fund and authorize deep-six missions. Missions nobody wanted to acknowledge.

The din of merriment swallowed the silence between them. A beat cop worked the scene, glancing their way as he walked, no doubt making a mental note to watch them.

“Get me their names. I’ll write a carte blanche.”

Olin’s gut twisted. “Not happening.” If he revealed the names of his elite, he would essentially place them on individual crosses to be crucified by some politician who got wind of this or by someone far more dangerous—media—if something went south. “Project Overlook happens under my guidance with all the freedom and resources I need, or it doesn’t happen and you have one heckuva mess to clean up.”

“If I do this, I could get put away for a long time, Lambert.”

“And a million people will die if you don’t.”

“We should sit back and let Congress grant the authorization to go in there.”

A deep-chested laugh wormed through Olin. “You’ve been around too long to believe that. Thick bellies and big heads crowd the halls of the Hill. They want the power and none of the responsibility.” Had he been wrong in talking to the man next to him? What if he went to the Hill and spilled the news about Project Overlook? They’d be dead before the elite soldiers he had in mind could get their feet wet.

He let out a long exhale. “If you aren’t going to pony up, this conversation is over. You contacted me because you knew I could take care of this little snafu. So let us go in and quell this before it destroys more and the body count rivals 9/11.”

He eyed Olin, a slow grin cracking his lips. “You’ve always impressed me, Lambert, even though you’re Army.”

“Navy lost the last game, Admiral.” Olin let his gaze rake the scene around him. “These men are fully capable, and the situation can be tamed before anyone is the wiser. We don’t have time to wrangle the pundits. Let’s get it done, Mr. Chairman, sir.”

Chairman Orr stood and zipped his jacket. “You’ll have it by morning.”

Chapter 1

Cracking open the throttle ignited a wild explosion of power and speed. Zero to sixty in less than three seconds left Max Jacobs breathless. Gut pressed to the spine of his Hayabusa, he bore down the mountainous two-lane road away from civilization, away from . . . everything. Here only pine trees, concrete and speed were his friends.

His bike screamed as it ate up the road. The thrill burst through him. He needed the rush. Craved it. Stop running, Max. Her words stabbed his conscience. Made him mad.

Rounding a bend, he slowed and sighted the drop-off in the road—remembered a full 10% grade, straight down. His gaze bounced between the speedometer and the cement. Common sense told him to decelerate. The boiling in his veins said otherwise.

He twisted the throttle.


Max leaned into the bike and felt the surge.


He sucked in a breath as he sped toward the break.

The road dropped off. The Hayabusa roared as the wheels sailed out. He tried to grip the handlebars tighter as nothing but tingling Virginia oxygen enveloped him. Silence gaped.

This could be it. This could end it all. No more pain. No more life without Syd . . .

Take me. Just take me.

The Hayabusa plummeted.

Straight down. Concrete. Like a meteor slamming to earth.

The back tire hit. A jolt shot through the bike. Then the front tire bounced. Rattling carried through the handlebars and into his shoulders. He grabbed the brake—

Stupid! The brake locked. Rear tire went right. He tried to steer into the skid but momentum flipped him up. Over. Pops snapped through his back as he spiraled through the air. In the chaos his bike gave chase, kicking and screaming as it tore after him.

Crack! Pop! The sound of his crashing bike reverberated through the lonely country lane. Scenery whirled. Pine trees whipped into a Christmas-color frosting. Tree bark blurred into a menagerie of browns, drawing closer and closer.

Thud! His head bounced off the cement. He flipped again.

Finally. It’d be over. He closed his eyes. No more—

THUD! “Oof.” The breath knocked from his lungs. Pain spiked his shoulders and spine. Fire lit across his limbs and back as he slid from one lane to another. Down the road, spinning. Straight toward the trees.

He winced, arched his back. Kicking, he tried to gain traction. If he wasn’t going to die, he didn’t want to end up paralyzed. Just like you not to think it through.

He dumped into a ditch.


Everything went black.

He blinked. Pain shrieked through his body, his thighs and shoulders burning. “Argh!”

Max pried himself onto all fours, hanging his head. A crack rent the face shield. A wicked throb pulsed through his temples and . . . everywhere. He fought with the helmet. Growled as he freed the straps. He pawed it off, cursing at the thing for saving his life. Those head whacks as he somersaulted through the air should’ve punched a hole in his skull. Warmth dribbled down his brow. He pressed a palm against his forehead. Sticky and warm. Blood. He grunted and strained to look across the road. Mangled. Twisted. His bike. Him.

Why couldn’t God just let him die? Humanity would be one up, and he wouldn’t have to face his consummate failures in life. “Just let me go!” he growled and pounded a fist against the pavement. He’d do anything to go back to the Middle East, pump some radicals full of lead, and unleash the demon inside. Anything that told him he still had purpose in life.

But that wasn’t an option anymore. Another bad choice. Could he get anything right? Maybe his father had been right to up and leave them. Just like his mother.

A glimmer of light snagged his attention. Less than a mile down the road, a black SUV barreled up the road from town. Max tensed. He’d seen a vehicle like that three times in the last week. But out here? In the middle of nowhere, invading his self-inflicted punishment? This wasn’t a coincidence. And he didn’t like being hunted.

Max dragged himself into the trees, wincing. Using his forearm, he wiped the blood from his face. Why? Why couldn’t he just die? Nothing here for him. No reason.

Sydney. . .

He banged the back of his head against the tree. Pain drove through him like an iron rod. Good. It felt good to hurt. A relief to the agony inside.

Glass popping and crunching snapped his attention to the road. The SUV sat like a giant spider. He wondered who was in the vehicle as he eased farther into the foliage. A carpet of pine needles concealed his steps. He glanced back to the intruder.

The SUV shifted as a man climbed out. Large, African American, and an expression that said he didn’t mess around. Whatever the guy wanted, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. At least not easily.

Even from ten yards away, Max could see the muscle twitching in the man’s jaw. He swallowed and licked his lips, readying himself for a confrontation. He swung back and gazed up at the canopy of leaves. Could he hoof it back to his apartment? Gathering his strength, he shrugged out of the shredded leather jacket, wincing and grunting as it pulled against raw flesh.

“You through? Or you want another go at it?”

What? Max peered around the trunk, surprised to find the man at the edge of the road, hands on his hips as he stared into the trees.

“We took you for stronger.” The man glanced back at the bike. “But maybe you’re nothing but broke and no use to no one.”

Heart thumping, Max jerked back and clenched his teeth. Who was this joker?

“So, what’s it going to be, Jacobs? You ready to face a little reality?”

How does he know my name? “Who are you?” Max hissed as the tree rubbed his raw shoulder. “What do you want?”


Max drew the SOG knife from his pocket and opened it. Holding it down, he pushed into the open, making sure his injuries didn’t show him weak. “What’s the game?”

The man’s eyebrow arched. He angled his left shoulder forward, tugged up his sweater’s sleeve, and flexed his oversized bicep. A tattoo expanded across his muscle. Marine. Force Recon, if Max made out the symbol correctly.

An ally? As he struggled out of the ditch and back onto the road, Max collapsed the blade. Heat rose from the cement, aggravating the exposed flesh on his back and legs.

“Navy and Marines, you and me. Almost brothers. It’s the Rangers I don’t like. So, I forgive you for coming at me with a blade. This time.”

Max stared. Confusion—and pain—wrapped a tight vise around his skull.

“What’s it going to be, squid?” The guy pointed to the wreck of a bike on the road. “You don’t have a ride back to town. So why don’t you climb in and listen to what I have to say?”

Might ignore the nickname jab, but the guy assumed too much. “You flash a tattoo and think I’ll just bend my knee? I don’t think so.” A silent brotherhood had closed Max’s knife. But he didn’t want company. The oaf’s or anyone else’s. But how else would he get home?

“What? You think you’re going home? To your can opener and mattress?”

Mr. Recon had a point. Still, he knew too much, and that made Max stiffen—fiery shards prickling his back.

“No obligation. Show me a little respect, and just hear me out.”

At least, as the man had said, he’d have a ride. Eyes on the large man, Max pocketed the knife as he trudged to the other side of the SUV and opened the door.

He paused at the plastic covering the seat. He jerked his gaze to the driver.

Mr. Force Recon grinned. “You’re predictable, Jacobs.”

Max lowered himself onto the seat, cringing as new fire crawled over his back and legs. He buckled in, the irony of the seat belt crossing his mind. “So what’s this about? Why have you been following me?”

A crisp cologne swirled in the air-conditioned interior as Mr. Recon folded himself behind the steering wheel. “You’ve been recruited, Lieutenant Jacobs.”

Max snorted. “Already did my time. I’m out.” He gulped against the flurry of emotions within.

“Yeah? How’s that working out for you?”

Glaring, Max resisted the urge to thrust his SOG into the guy’s gut. He’d left the service for Sydney. Only it’d been too late. And in one fell swoop, he lost everything. “Why don’t you tell me? You seem to know everything.”

Mr. Recon pursed his lips and nodded. “Okay.” He rubbed his jaw. “You were discharged ninety days ago. In that time, you’ve been arrested twice, once for fighting. The second time—less than three days ago—for assault against your now-estranged wife.”

The words cut deeper and stung worse than his now-oozing flesh. Max looked at his hand and flexed his fingers.

“Yesterday you were hit with a permanent protective order by said wife. She filed for separation.” He leaned on the console and again arched that eyebrow. “How am I doing?”

“If you knew anything about me, you’d dull your edge.”

Wrist hooked over the steering wheel, Mr. Recon continued unfazed. “The military discharged you. Honorably. A veteran of two wars. Untold combat situations and medals. They tried to put you out medically two years ago, but you fought it.”

“And won.”

“Yessir.” The man nodded for several seconds. “So, why now? Why’d you let them put you out this time?”

Max shoved his gaze to the heavily tinted windows. That was a story nobody needed to hear. Bury it six feet under and walk away.

“You’re a discarded hero, Lieutenant Jacobs.”

Head whipped back to the driver, Max fought the urge to light into the guy. But something in the amused eyes betrayed a camaraderie. An understanding. Acceptance.

“Who are you? What’s your story?”

“Name’s Griffin.” He bobbed his head as they pulled onto the highway, driving east toward the Potomac. “My story. . . ?” A toothy grin. “Let’s just say I got smart.”

The sound of crinkling and rustling plastic pervaded the cabin as Max shifted to alleviate a pinprick fire shooting down his leg. He hissed and clamped a hand over his thigh. “So, what’s the gig?”

“The gig is whatever nobody else will do. What you should ask about is our group—and I do mean our group, Lieutenant. Because you are fully a part of this. Are you ready to step out of the medical trappings of your discharge, of the devastation that has become your life since you’ve returned from your last tour?”

Max grunted. “Yesterday.”

“That’s what I like to hear.” Tires thumped over docks as Griffin steered into a warehouse. “Then this is where it starts.”

Elite soldiers stood in a semicircle, waiting. For what, Max wasn’t sure. And he wouldn’t ask. If his guess was right, then time would tell—because Griffin seemed to be the guy in the know, and his relaxed posture against the SUV said things were going according to plan.

“Hey, dude, want me to look those over?” A blond guy dressed in khaki shorts, a faded tank, and a pair of flip-flops motioned to Max’s scrapes and lacerations.

Right. Beach bum wanted to play nurse. “I’m good.”

“About as good as a dog in a meat grinder,” the guy replied.

Max clenched his teeth. Whatever kind of circus Griffin was running. . .

A diesel engine growled, the sound reverberating off the aluminum in the cavernous space, preempting the shiny blue dualie truck pulling into the dank building. The engine cut. A guy stepped out and donned a black cowboy hat that added about five inches to his six-foot-two frame.

Griffin’s laugh rumbled as he pushed off his SUV. “Colton.”

A broad grin spilled under the rim of the man’s Stetson. “Hey.” The two clasped hands and patted backs. “How’s Dante?”

A quiet dialogue carried between the two for several minutes that effectively cut out the rest of those gathered. Yeah, they had a friendship, one that said they trusted each other with more than superficial things. Something about the tight bond rankled Max. Hit deep.

“Why are we here?”

Max’s gaze bounced to the shortest and youngest of the six men in the building. The Kid had read his thoughts. A warehouse full of warriors? This setup smelled rotten.

“If you’ll be patient—” Griffin paused and glanced behind him. “I think it’s time.”

A black Chrysler 300 glided into the middle of the grouping. The hollow clunk of an opening door echoed off the steel rafters and grime-laden windows. A man emerged. White hair feathered back. A sun-bronzed nose sported dark-tinted sunglasses. The thud of the door almost swallowed the crunching of his squeaky shoes. New, expensive shoes. Maybe even tailor-made. He gripped the rim of his glasses and drew them off.

Was the old man supposed to mean something? Be someone who mattered? Irritation skittered along Max’s shoulders as the old man shook hands with Riddell and the cowboy.

“Who’s the hoo-hah?” Max mumbled to himself.

“You kidding me, man?” The blond look at him and smirked. “That’s—”

“For those not enlightened,” an authoritative voice cut through the surfer’s explanation, “my name is General Olin Lambert. I am a member of the Joint Chiefs. But among the seven of us, I am merely a citizen of the United States just like you.” Blue eyes probed each man.

Right into Max’s soul.

“With Mr. Riddell’s help, I’ve hand-chosen each and every one of you for a very specific purpose. There isn’t anything about you or your lives that I don’t know.” Lambert paused, as if to let his words sink in, but Max just wished he’d get on with it. Scabs were forming on his scrapes.

“Chosen us for what, ese?” asked the Hispanic man.

“A black ops team.”

And that meant two things: military and that this meeting was over. Max turned and started walking.

“It’s not military, Mr. Jacobs.”

Hesitation held him at the large, garage-style door he’d entered. “How can you do black ops without military aid, intelligence, and backup?” He turned around, ignoring what felt like glass stuck to his calves and thighs.

“I didn’t say we wouldn’t have aid or intelligence.” Creases pinched Lambert’s eyes at the corners. “I said it’s not military.”

“Come again?” the beach bum asked, disbelief coloring his words.

“Let the general explain.” Griffin leaned back against the truck with his cowboy buddy.

“Thank you, Mr. Riddell.” Lambert tucked his sunglasses in his left breast pocket, then threaded his fingers in front of him. Impressive and commanding. “Each of you has returned from combat changed, affected.”

Nervous glances skidded from man to man. Max glued his attention to the general, refusing to acknowledge the truth of Lambert’s words.

“You’re what I’ve dubbed discarded heroes.”

Grunts of approval rang through the building, and the group seemed to tighten in around the old man. Being a general, he knew what it was like to have slanted glances of pity from those who knew where you’d been, what you’d probably done, and what it was like to go against a politically correct ideology and fight for freedom on foreign soil. Or to have some tree hugger spit in your face and call you a murderer.

“You served your time, saw and experienced things no normal person would be expected to deal with. Sure, you were trained. Taught to expect evil. Demanded success. However, when confronted with the true terrors of war, no human mind can dissolve the images embedded in memory for all time.

“Then it’s time to get out. They yank you back here, give you a once-over, and toss you out with a ‘thank you very much and have a good life.’ So you go home, try to reintegrate into society, and—”

“It’s screwed up,” the Kid said. He shrugged when the others scowled at him. “Well? I’m right, aren’t I? From what I heard you saying earlier,” he pointed to the beach bum, “you’ve spent time in Afghanistan—a lot.” Then to the Latino, “You probably did your tours of duty in Panama or the like.” His gaze came to Max.

“Don’t.” Fists balled, Max willed his feet to remain in place. He didn’t want anyone digging in his brain.

“Mr. Vaughn is correct,” Lambert said. “You’ve all seen combat. You’ve all been trained to kill; then you come back, and what do you do with those skills but go out of your mind?”

Max shifted. Was it over yet? He eyed the wide-open berth to freedom behind the blue dualie.

“Max Jacobs.”

Hearing his name felt like a detonation that blasted his attention back to the general.

“You served eight years with the SEALs. Your experience in command and combat no doubt left indelible scars. Watched your best friend toss himself on a grenade to save the team.”

Bile pooled at the back of Max’s throat as the memory surged. He flared his nostrils, pushing the images back into the pit from which they’d been drawn.

Lambert stalked the inner perimeter, as if prepping troops for war with a pep talk. “Lieutenant Jacobs is the man I’ve chosen as team leader, but his position is no more valuable than anyone else’s. You’ve all seen war. In this building are years of tactical experience. Incredible wisdom. And one element that makes each of you vital for this to work.”

“What’s that?” Cowboy asked, his arms folded over his thick chest.

“Loyalty, Mr. Neeley. Your duty with the Marine Special Operations Team is bloated with exemplary conduct, commendation after commendation.” He waved his hand around the cozy circle. “I’ve reviewed all of your files and found the same thing in every one.”

Awkward silence cooled some of the tension in the room, and once again Max eyed the exit.

“Mr. Reyes, your career as a pararescue jumper, specifically your medic skills, saved dozens of lives.”

“Pair o’ what?” Cowboy taunted.

“Hey,” Reyes grinned. “You’re just jealous. I’m a PJ. Why you think they call me Fix?”

“Because you put everyone in one?” Griffin chuckled, eliciting more laughter.

“Nah, man. It’s ’cause of this,” he said as he drew out a crucifix from his shirt and kissed it. “My crucifix. They called me Cru at first, then since I’m a medic, they started calling me Fix.”

Swallowing his groan, Max ran a hand through his short crop. Religion and military. This was starting to feel worse than an AA meeting. And there wasn’t a point. “This is a lot of flowery, moving discourse, but what do you want from us?” Max mentally shook off the way the others looked at him. Was he the only one who was still waiting for the boom to lower?

“Mr. Riddell, if you please.” Lambert pointed to the black SUV as Griffin opened the tailgate. “Give each man one.”

Griffin handed out small black packs that bore a lone symbol. A strange star backed by a sword and wings. The Kid, the Beach Bum, and the Latino dug into the packs, almost excited. In seconds, a black phone, keys, a watch, and a set of duds spilled across the gray cement floor in front of them.

Max remained in place, his pack dangling from his clenched fist. He didn’t like being played. And this definitely felt like a setup.

General Lambert faced him. “Is there a problem, Mr. Jacobs?”

He dropped his pack onto the floor. “Not seeing the point.”

Behind the general, Griffin seemed to grow several inches as he towered over the aged officer. “What?” he growled. “You want to take another nose-dive off that hill? Hope this time there’s only enough of you left to fill a baggie? Want to make that estranged wife of yours a widow before you can be called a failure?”

Hands coiled, Max drew up his shoulders. Saw red. No. No. He wouldn’t give in to the goading. He dragged his attention back to the general.

“Ease up, Legend,” Cowboy said, patting Griffin’s chest. “Give the guy a chance.” Lambert remained unwavering. “The point, Lieutenant, is to establish a team that can penetrate hostile situations without any entanglements, without any blame on the good ol’ US-of-A or any other entity or government. You returned from two tours in Iraq, one in Afghanistan, and a covert mission nobody in this room will ever know about. You were the best, a natural, your CO said. But you were so volatile after those experiences took their toll they tried to discharge you, and your compatriots nicknamed you after a volatile chemical. Somehow you held it together. Then jumped ship out of the blue.” More than recitation of information lurked behind the general’s blue eyes. A knowing—no, an understanding, quiet and unnerving. “Tell me, Mr. Jacobs, what are you doing with your life now?”

“Minding my own business,” Max answered through tight lips.

Lambert laughed. “And that’s exactly what you’ll be doing as part of my team. Funding isn’t a problem. You’ll have unlimited resources.”

“That’d be a change,” the Kid grumbled.

“To go where?” the Beach Bum asked.

“Doesn’t matter,” the Kid interrupted. “Man, how is this any different than military? Igot out for a reason.”

“You’ll go wherever needed.” The general turned toward the younger man. “Yes, Mr. Vaughn, you did get out for a reason. Tell me, did abandoning the one thing you loved the most give you the love of your father after all?”

The Kid paled.

“Why?” Max couldn’t stand it anymore. “Why are you doing this? What’s this thing to you?”

Lambert lowered his head then looked back at Max. “I am. . .discarded just like you.”

“Bull.” Max tucked his hands under his arms. “You sit in a cushy chair in a carpeted office. You’re paid, you’re connected—”

“I know what you guys have been through.” The general tapped his temple. “MAC-V SOG in Nam. Two tours.”

Max’s eyebrows shot up. That meant the man before him had likely seen more carnage than the rest of them put together.

“Heard the phrase ‘peace with honor’?”

Max shrugged. “Yeah, sure. Who hasn’t?”

“It was a platitude.” Lambert’s eyes flamed under his passion. “The armchair generals lost the war, not the grunts on the ground. We won every battle they let us win. But that doesn’t make it any easier when you’re the only guy who comes home from your unit with all his parts and pieces still connected where God put ’em.

“I may not be young, I may not have done combat tours in Iraq like you, Lieutenant, but I was tossed aside, too. For years I languished.” The general pushed to his feet, his voice thick and his eyes weighted by the story. “But I slowly remembered that I’d joined the military for a reason—I wanted to be a man. A real man willing to defend my country with life and limb. I knew then I could screw up my career or I could do my best to make a difference in the lives of those who came after.”

Silence hung rank and thick in the abandoned warehouse. Something akin to admiration leaked past Max’s barriers as he watched the indignant rise and fall of the old man’s chest. A smile threatened his resolve as the old man glared at the hulking men around him.

Lambert’s lips tightened over a clean-shaven jaw. “What’s it going to be, gentlemen? Do you have what it takes to finish the fight with the gift God gave you? Or are you going to turn tail, accept what the government stamped on your papers, and leave—go quietly into the night?”

“Whoa-hoa!” Laughing, Beach Bum stepped forward. “Old Man’s got some fire under that shiny dome.”

Lambert spun toward the bum. “What’s it going to be, Sergeant Metcalfe?”

The blond pursed his lips, considered Lambert, then nodded. “I’m in.”

The bright blue eyes shifted to the Latino.

“You need some CPR, ese? You look worked up.”

A half smile slid into Lambert’s face. “A little passion never hurt, eh, Mr. Reyes?”

“You all right, old man.” He hooked Lambert’s hand and patted his back. “You all right.” Reyes leaned in toward the general’s shoulders and looked at the Kid. “But I don’t know about this kid. He don’t look like he’s out of diapers yet.”

“That’s wrong. That’s just wrong.” The Kid’s face flushed. “I spent six years in the Rangers. I have enough—”

“Rangers.” Max couldn’t help but grunt his disapproval. “That explains a lot.”

The Kid’s chin jerked up in defiance. “I’m in.”

It seemed Lambert grew with each affirmation. He shifted to the cowboy. “Mr. Neeley?”

Cowboy gave a slow, firm nod, his hat shading his eyes. “I’m ready.”

Lambert smiled. “Good. Good.”

They were all crazy. Joining a group like this meant more problems. “What if we get in trouble out there?”

“Then get out of trouble,” Lambert said. “Understand that this team does not exist. If anyone comes looking, there will be nothing to find. Only one man besides those of us in this facility knows it exists, and he’ll pay the highest cost if that confidence is broken. No one—and I mean no one—will know your names.”

“So our orders are coming from on high?” Metcalfe asked.

A twinkle brightened Lambert’s eyes and gave silent assent to the question, although he gave no answer. Instead, he continued. “Any mission, any activity will be utterly and completely disavowed by the United States. You will be disavowed. If you get into trouble, Mr. Jacobs, count on your ingenuity to get out. If you are killed, no one will know.”

“Or care.” The Kid shrugged, a sick smirk in his face.

Max wanted to punch him.

“Or maybe that’s where Sergeant Metcalfe, call sign Midas, will come in with his golden touch.” Lambert ambled toward him.

The beach bum made a tss noise and shook his head. “Nothing golden, just hard work.”

The general’s smile disappeared behind a stern facade. “What is your answer, Lieutenant Jacobs?”

“This is crazy.” What else could he do? Flip burgers at the nearest fast food? What was worth staying here for? No wife. No family. “Fine.” The separation papers told him he had nothing left here anyway. “I’m in.”

“Good.” General Lambert’s smile softened his commando persona. “Look around. The men here are your new brothers, your family. Only they will understand when the horrors of war invade your sleep. Only they will be there when you’re pinned down and need an extraction.

Arms wide, Lambert smiled like a proud father. “Gentlemen, welcome to Nightshade.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Motorcycles, Sushi, & One Strange Book by Nancy Rue

book cover

Motorcycles, Sushi, & One Strange Book
by Nancy Rue

Trade Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
Released: April 16, 2010

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
ISBN-10: 0310714842
ISBN-13: 978-0310714842

Book on Amazon

Source: Special thanks to Pam Mettler of Zondervan for sending me a review copy. This post is part of the FIRST Wild Card Tour.

Book Description from Back Cover:
Normal? While family dinners and vacations to touristy destinations are ordinary events for her “normal” friends, fifteen-year-old Jessie Hatcher’s normal life means dealing with her ADHD and her mother’s bipolar disorder. So why is Jessie shocked when the unexpected happens? Now her “normal” includes living in Florida with the father she always thought was dead and learning the secrets of sushi from a man who teaches by tormenting her. Life isn’t any saner with her dad, but a cute guy and a mysterious book might just be the crazy Jessie needs.

Motorcycles, Sushi, & One Strange Book is a fast-paced young adult novel with some romance. This is the first book in the Real Life series, but you can read them in any order without missing information or spoiling the other books in the series.

The world-building was excellent in all areas and brought the story alive in my imagination. I liked the characters. They acted realistically and dealt with realistic, hard problems. I cared about what happened to the characters, so I had a hard time putting the novel down.

This was definitely a Christian novel. Jessie found a strange, RL book with stories from the Bible about Jesus but they seemed written just for her and the situation she's going through. The Christian element was a main part of the story, but I didn't feel like the author was lecturing the reader or Jessie. It was handled in a way that was both comforting and challenging.

There wasn't any cussing or swearing. There was no sex. Overall, I highly recommend this novel as a 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.

About the Author:

Nancy Rue has written over 100 books for girls, is the editor of the Faithgirlz Bible, and is a popular speaker and radio guest with her expertise in tween and teen issues. She and husband Jim have raised a daughter of their own and now live in Tennessee.

Visit the author's website

Book Trailer:

Excerpt from Chapter One
I guess my life was crazy even before the day it really lost its mind. I just didn't think it was.

I did think my friend Chelsea's life was a little weird. Her parents had been married to each other for twenty years and her family sat down at the table to eat supper together every night. They always had dishes like broccoli-and-cheese casserole or green beans a la mode. Or something.

I definitely considered my friend Marcus's life to be strange. His family went on a two-week vacation every single summer to places like Key West and the Grand Canyon. The day my world went insane, he was off with his parents and his little sister in California where they were staying in hotels and eating in restaurants that had tablecloths. Totally off the wall.

Okay, so I need to get to the point, which as you'll see I sometimes have trouble doing. I was like that even before that Saturday morning in late June--or was it early July? Doesn't matter. It was summer, so there was no reason to keep track of what month it was.

Press the Browse Button to view the entire first chapter:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Boyfriends, Burritos & An Ocean of Trouble by Nancy Rue

book cover

Boyfriends, Burritos & An Ocean of Trouble
by Nancy Rue

Trade Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
Released: April 20, 2010

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
ISBN-10: 0310714850
ISBN-13: 978-0310714859

Book on Amazon

Source: Special thanks to Pam Mettler of Zondervan for sending me a review copy. This post is part of the FIRST Wild Card Tour.

Book Description from Back Cover:
Bryn O'Connor is good at keeping secrets. But when a car accident reveals her boyfriend's abusive behavior, the truth is unleashed. And it starts a tidal wave of trouble in Bryn's life: enemies who were once friends, a restraining order violation, and her world unraveled. If that weren't enough, her grandmother Mim arrives, attempting Mexican cuisine and insisting that Bryn try surfing. It's all too much! Even Bryn's habit of daydreaming won't offer an escape this time. But could a mystery book she found hold the secret to riding a tsunami like her life?

Boyfriends, Burritos & An Ocean of Trouble is a young adult novel with some romance that also deals with serious, real life teen issues. I loved it. I very highly recommend it to teen girls and adult women. This is the second book in the Real Life series, but you can read them in any order without missing information or spoiling the other books in the series.

The world-building was excellent in all areas and brought the story alive in my imagination. I liked the characters. They acted realistically and dealt with realistic, hard problems. I really cared about what happened to Bryn and the other main characters, so I had a hard time putting the novel down. The suspense/tension kept building throughout the story as the situation kept getting worse and worse. Despite the tough issues, the book was realistic but encouraging rather than depressing.

This was definitely a novel intended for Christians. Bryn found a strange, RL book with stories from the Bible about Jesus but they seemed written just for her and the situation she's going through. The Christian element was a main part of the story, but I didn't feel like the author was lecturing the reader or Bryn. It was just...comforting and challenging.

The minimal bad language was of the "he said a five letter word" type. There was no sex. Overall, I highly recommend this as a touching, well-written, clean novel.

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.

About the Author:

Nancy Rue has written over 100 books for girls, is the editor of the Faithgirlz Bible, and is a popular speaker and radio guest with her expertise in tween and teen issues. She and husband Jim have raised a daughter of their own and now live in Tennessee.

Visit the author's website

Book Trailer:

Excerpt from Chapter One
I didn't wish the car accident had killed me. But lying there on the table in the emergency room as that bald doctor with the tangled eyebrows shined his tiny flashlight in my eyes, I would have settled for unconscious. Just a nice coma so I wouldn't have to answer any questions. My few seconds of blackout didn't seem to count, because no one had stopped interrogating me since the paramedics had arrived on the scene.

The doctor--Jon Wooten, it said on his name tag--dropped the flashlight into his coat pocket and put his warm hands on the sides of my face. I tried not to shiver.

"So, you hit your head on impact?" he said, nodding at my throbbing forehead.

"No." I hoped what I'd learned in my drama classes would kick in as I faked a smile. "The air bag hit me. Those things are dangerous!"

"It got you right here."

He brushed his fingers along my cheek, and I winced.

"We'll clean that up and get you some ice for the swelling," he said. "It's an abrasion--it won't leave a scar."

I was so not worried about a mark on my face. What I was worried about was getting out of here before--

"All right, we're going to have you change into a gown so I can examine you."

Before that.

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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Decked by Carol Higgins Clark

book cover

by Carol Higgins Clark

Mass Market Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Warner Books
First Released: 1992

Source: Bought from library book sale.

Book Description (my take):
Regan Reilly--the daughter of a successful mystery writer and a funeral home owner--is a successful P.I. While attending her class reunion in Oxford, England, the long-dead body of her former roommate is uncovered. The police question the classmates about the girl's disappearance from the school those many years ago.

Regan continues to work with the police detective, hoping to remember anything that might be a clue, but she has to do it from a transatlantic cruise ship. She's agreed to act as a companion to Lady Exner after her normal companion nearly dies from poisoning. The widow's a handful, but the real trouble lies with a passenger desperate to get something inside Lady Exner's lavish cabin and another who wants Regan and Lady Exner dead. Will the detective and Regan solve the case in time?

Decked is a humorous mystery novel. The mystery was a who-done it that kept me guessing until about the same time as the detective figured it out. Several people with different motives wanted to be in or near Lady Exner's cabin, which built the suspense as each tried to achieve their goal and as I wondered if any of them would mess up the others' plans. And, of course, there was the suspense of knowing someone was intending to kill Regan and Lady Exner--and they didn't realize it.

Some of the characters were a bit exaggerated to create humor, but the characters were varied and had realistic motives. The pacing was good, and the story never lost my interest. The world-building was very good, especially in portraying what traveling on a cruise ship would be like.

There was no sex. There was a minor amount of bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as enjoyable, 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
Friday, June 19, 1992
At Sea

Gavin Gray hurried down the hallway, crashing into one handrail and then the other as he struggled to keep his balance. "If I weren't on a ship, I'd think I was drunk," he mumbled. But he didn't care. His adrenaline was pumping so much he felt light-headed. Another reason to bounce off the walls.

The ocean liner he was sailing on, a magnificent floating city, had hit rocky seas tonight. It would be another day and a half before they docked in Southampton, England. Not soon enough, he thought as he lunged his way to the safety of his cabin. He couldn't wait to see land again, and the weather they'd experienced during this crossing had nothing to do with it.

He had already spent enough time on this mammoth vessel playing host to a bunch of old broads. "Let them find someone else to make an idiot out of himself doing the cha-cha. No more black and blue marks for me," he cackled under his breath.

On these long transatlantic crossings, there was always an abundance of unescorted females. Hoping to help even the odds, the cruise line had hired him as a sixty-two-year-old host--a roving companion who would be only too willing to whisk them off onto the dance floor and suffer the brutality of their aimless kicks.

Just this morning he had been teaching the polka to an enthusiastic octogenarian wearing black bulky shoes. They were like gunboats hinged on her thick ankles, targeted for his luckless feet. Gavin winced when he thought of it. Stomping on someone's foot was supposed to be a form of self-defense, not a recreational activity.