Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Daniel's Den

I just got this book last week and started reading it today so I can't tell you what I think of it yet. But scroll down to read the first chapter and decide for yourself. That's the cool thing about Wild Card Blog Tours!


It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Daniel’s Den

Harvest House Publishers (February 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Brandt Dodson was born and raised in Indianapolis, where he graduated from Ben Davis High School and, later, Indiana Central University (now known as The University of Indianapolis). It was during a creative writing course in college that a professor said, "You're a good writer. With a little effort and work, you could be a very good writer." That comment, and the support offered by a good teacher, set Brandt on a course that would eventually lead to the Colton Parker Mystery Series.

A committed Christian, Brandt combined his love for the work of Writers like Chandler and Hammet, with his love for God's word. The result was Colton Parker.

"I wanted Colton to be an 'every man'. A decent guy who tries his best. He is flawed, and makes mistakes. But he learns from them and moves on. And, of course, he gets away with saying and doing things that the rest of us never could."

Brandt comes from a long line of police officers, spanning several generations, and was employed by the FBI before leaving to pursue his education. A former United States Naval Reserve officer, Brandt is a board Certified Podiatrist and past President of the Indiana Podiatric Medical Association. He is a recipient of the association's highest honor, "The Theodore H. Clark Award".

He currently resides in southwestern Indiana with his wife and two sons and is at work on his next novel.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 324 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736924779
ISBN-13: 978-0736924771

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The dance of the blind.


Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:5

Daniel Borden was a happy man. He was in control of his life and he had all that he needed. He was secure.

That was about to change.

On Tuesday, April 5, Daniel rose an hour before sunup and drank a chocolate-flavored protein drink before dressing in red running shorts, light gray T-shirt, and New Balance running shoes. The shoes were less than a month old, but had already carried him more than a hundred miles. They were comfortable.

After dressing, he stretched by putting one foot against the stairway banister and bending at the waist, bouncing slightly, until the tightness in his leg receded. He then alternated legs and performed the maneuver again.

When his stretching was done, he did a hundred sit-ups followed by a hundred push-ups. Although the intensity of the calisthenics was unusual compared to the number for an average man, Daniel was not particularly muscled. Instead, he had the lean sinewy build of an Olympic gymnast. At thirty-five, he looked ten years younger. And in fact, he felt ten years younger too. He attributed his good health to a disciplined lifestyle.

When his warm up was complete he called for Elvis, the two year old black Lab he had adopted from a local animal shelter. The dog had been lying patiently on the comfortable over-stuffed sofa watching with detached interest as Daniel worked through his morning routine. But now it was time to run and Elvis liked to run.

On hearing his name, the dog leaped off the sofa and trod to his master, waiting patiently as his collar and leash were snapped into place. The leash was a requirement of Bayou Bay's restrictive covenants, one of the many features that attracted Daniel to the highly regulated New Orleans subdivision.

He opened the door. “Let's go, boy.”

They left the house and crossed the short expanse of lawn, beginning their run by heading north, a route they often took and that would return them to the house three miles later. They ran at nearly the same time everyday and were familiar with the predawn rhythms of the neighborhood.

Newspapers were delivered between four and five each morning, the garbage collection occurred on Monday, and the Brightmans, who lived several doors down from Daniel and who tended to rise nearly as early, were usually drinking coffee in front of their open dinning room window by the time Borden and the Lab passed their house. The neighborhood ran with the precision and dependability of a Swiss time piece.

Except this morning.

As they began their run, Daniel noticed a black panel van setting curbside less than two doors away. There was nothing particularly suspicious about the van, but it hadn't been there yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that. In fact, in all the months that Daniel had been running through the neighborhood he had never seen the van.

It didn't belong.

He paused to take a second look, when Elvis distracted him by pulling on the leash.

“Okay, okay. Sorry. Geeshsh.”

The morning air was still cool and dew had settled over the lawns giving them an almost aluminum sheen in the waning moonlight.

To the east, over the crest beyond which the city lay, a warm hue was beginning to illuminate the horizon as the sun woke for its ascent. It wouldn't be long before it would break the horizon, painting the sky over The Big Easy in a dazzling array of colors that would impress even the most skilled artist. Then the city would come alive as school children boarded buses, DJs took to the air waves, and rush hour traffic began to form.

But the neighborhood was quiet at this hour, which made for a quiet, peaceful run. Only the pounding of Daniel's feet, his own breathing, and the jingle of Elvis' tags broke the silence. It was a tune with which they had become familiar since Daniel acquired the lab, and it provided him a sense of stability that only the familiar can provide. And Daniel reveled in stability.

His need for the familiar, for the stable, as well as a passion to escape the near poverty conditions he had known as a child, had driven his career choice. As an investment analyst with one of the largest investment houses in the country, he learned that despite the ups and downs of an often volatile market, Wall Street could be relied on to do the one thing it does best--make money. Even in the most difficult of times the market could be depended on to correct itself. And it was the market's natural return to stability that convinced him most investors can control their financial futures if they were willing to make the hard decisions. The market may be unstable at any given moment, but the share holders needn't be. If they were willing to ride out the current travails, history showed they would have an excellent chance of recovery. If they had neither the stomach nor the time to wait for the inevitable market correction, they could sell and reinvest in another, more stable vehicle. True, they may suffer a loss, may even absorb a significant loss, but such were the realities of investing. But the truth underlying the matter is that the investor has the upper hand, even if exercising that option cost them in the short run. Far different than most, who viewed the market as a speculative ride, driven by greed and underwritten by risk, Daniel saw the market as the one place where savvy investors could control their destiny.

And Daniel needed to have control.

The runners approached the first turn in the road. This one would take then to the west, along Worth Street.

Daniel breathed deeply. The air was cool, invigorating, and renewed him in ways that made him feel lighter, as unbound by earthly constraints as the freedom that comes with unchecked flight. It was as though he could leave the earth and return at will.

As dog and master rounded the corner, Elvis began to tug at the leash, a clear sign that it was time to separate the men from the dogs.

“Want to run, huh?” Daniel said.

The dog woofed and pulled harder.

Daniel stepped up the pace, slow at first, but then faster as Elvis maintained his cadence effortlessly.

“Show off.”

Daniel had adopted the dog shortly after moving to New Orleans. Growing up as an only child whose parents moved frequently, more often than not to stay a step ahead of the bill collector, Daniel had often been lonely. Over time, his loneliness led to isolation. He had few friends (none who were particularly close) and was always the last one selected when choosing up sides.

And the abyss of loneliness was further deepened when, more often than not, his father was passed out on the sofa when Daniel came home from school and his mother was at work trying to earn enough money to keep the family in the same house for a single school year.

On those days, Daniel would go to his room and imagine himself a successful man who others admired and respected. He imagined himself traveling to places he'd never been, and would likely never see.

But on other days, when his father was not unconscious and his mother was home, he would try to earn their attention by initiating conversation or taking the lead in washing the after-dinner dishes. And when their favor didn't come Daniel would go outside to mope, or back to his room, feeling as discarded as the beer cans his father carelessly tossed about.

Daniel wanted a dog. Someone who would be glad to see him when he came home from school and who would lay on his bed at night, eager to hear about the day's events. But the realities of his parents' financial straits denied their son this one extravagance. “Dogs cost money,” his father said. “And if you take a look around you'll see that money ain't something that we have just laying about.”

So Daniel spent most of his time alone, dreaming of the day when he could make enough money to have a dog of his own--and take control of his life. And maybe, even make his parents proud.

Growing up alone, gave Daniel ample time for study.

After high school, he attended Ole' Miss on an academic scholarship and excelled in academic achievement. But his father often chided the boy for not wanting to work with his hands and his mother told him he might be reaching for heights that were beyond his ability. The desire to gain their approval began to wane, though, as he grew into manhood and became increasingly independent. But when his mother suddenly died, all desire to gain his parents approval died with her.

He left for Chicago shortly afterward, leaving his father to bury his grief-- real or genuine--in the same way he had buried everything else.

Later, when Daniel earned his MBA, his father did not attend the graduation ceremony, did not call, did not even send a card. The father son relationship officially ended, long before his father died in an alcoholic stupor three years later.

After graduation, it wasn't long before Daniel secured a position with the Chicago office of Capshaw-Crane and began to focus his efforts on climbing the ladder of success. At times it seemed inevitable that he would miss a step, slip up, and fall back to the disaster of his childhood, landing solidly on a pile of empty beer cans in a house of despair. But like the market, he would make the corrections necessary to maintain balance--even if not perspective.

Elvis woofed.

“Not fast enough, huh?” Daniel ran faster; the Lab kept pace.

Borden's concentration on the things in life that were important, on his career, his health, and his financial stability had clearly paid off.

Growing up, he had been lonely. Now he had Elvis. Growing up, he had been hungry. Now, although he chose not to indulge, he could dine in the finest restaurants in a city known for its unique culinary style. Growing up, he had lived in squalid surroundings, awakened as often by the sound of mice playing in his room as he was by his parents' seemingly never-ending arguments. Now he lived in Bayou Bay one of city's premiere residential areas.

Daniel had taken control. He was secure.

Until he noticed the van, again, parked alongside the street with its engine idling and exhaust spewing from the tail pipe. There was no doubt that this was the same van that had been parked on his street, just a few doors down from his house.

“We've seen that before, haven't we boy?”

Elvis continued to pull on the leash. The van was parked along the same side of the street as which they ran, with its nose pointed westward. It was a black panel van with a single red pinstripe encircling it.

It didn't fit. Didn't belong. And yet, here it was, a mile from where it had been parked just a few minutes before.

“This way, boy,” Daniel said, heading for the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street and away from the idling vehicle.

Elvis followed his master's lead, giving him a confused look, but maintaining the pace that would soon bring them parallel with the van. From his vantage point, Daniel could see that the side windows were covered in an opaque film that eliminated any chance of observing who was inside. But as they came alongside the van, Daniel began to slow, finally coming to a complete stop. Elvis gave his master another confused look.

“What have we got here, boy?” Daniel said, leaning forward, straining to get a better view of the van.

A low growl began to form in the dog's throat. As though he had just discovered the out of place vehicle and the possible threat it posed.

“You too?” Daniel said. “I don't like the-“

“Black Lab,” a voice said.

Daniel spun around to find that Elvis was facing to the right, opposite of where the van was parked.

“They're nice dogs,” the voice said. “I used to have one myself.”

Daniel focused on the shadows to his right. Barely visible, but silhouetted against the yard light behind him, a tall man emerged, dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe. He was carrying a garbage can.

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn't mean to startle you.”

Daniel exhaled. “That's okay. It's just that my dog and I never see anyone out at this hour.”

The man set the garbage can down at the curb. “And you wouldn't have this time either, if I could've remembered to do this the night before.” He reached to pat Elvis on the head. “The wife and I are leaving for vacation today and I needed to get this stuff out so it wouldn't pile up. We're going to be gone for a couple of weeks.”

The van pulled away from the curb with only its parking lights on. Daniel made a note of the license plate.

“Do you know them?” Daniel asked.

The man turned to watch as the van disappeared around the corner.

“No, can't say I do. But I wouldn't worry.”

“Why's that?”

He stooped to pat Elvis' head again, before extending a hand. “Hubert Johns.”

“Daniel Borden. And this is Elvis.”

“Elvis, huh? Well, he's sure a beauty. Aren't you boy?” He scratched behind Elvis' ear.

“Why shouldn't I worry?” Daniel asked.

“I'm head of the neighborhood crime watch. If there's anything going on around here, I'm usually the first to know.”

“Are there things going on around here?”

“You mean like burglaries and that sort of thing? No, pretty quiet. And we try to keep it that way.” He nodded to the house across the street. “There are some kids that live there. Teenagers. But they're good kids. A little loud sometimes with their music and all, and their mother lets them keep some pretty late hours, but they've always been polite.” He patted Elvis again. “Most likely the van was some of their friends.”

“Yeah,” Daniel said, feeling a little foolish. “Probably some friends of theirs.”

The man put both hands in the pocket of his robe. “You okay? You sound kind of rattled.”

Daniel laughed. “I'm fine. The van was just sitting there with its engine running. It unnerved me a bit, that's all.”

“I don't remember seeing you at the meetings. Are you a member of the watch?”

Daniel shook his head. “No, I'm afraid not. I tend to keep pretty busy and I don't have-“

“Don't have what? Time?” Hubert chuckled. “I was a cop for thirty years. If they were up to something, I would've noticed it. After thirty years of dealing with every piece of garbage there is, you get to a point where you can smell trouble,” he tapped his nose. “Know what I mean?”

“I guess so.”

“You ought to consider joining the neighborhood crime watch. You never know when you might be a victim.”

“I'll sure think about it.”

“You do that.”

Elvis began to tug at the leash. There wasn't a lot of time left to run and Daniel was wasting it.

“Well, it was nice to meet you,” Daniel said. “Sorry that we haven't met before.”

Johns nodded as he looked about the neighborhood. “Too many people keep to themselves. That's never a good thing. Two people working together are always better than one working alone.”

“Right.” Elvis began to pull hard on the leash.

“But I wouldn't worry about that van. Probably just some kids smoking dope or something.” He nodded toward the eastern horizon. “Besides, the sun is coming up now. If it was somebody that was going to do something, they waited too late.”

Daniel watched as the glow that had just started when he left the house, began blossoming into a new day. “Yeah. Probably nothing to worry about.”

Does Age Really Come Before Beauty?

I think I spaced and am getting this up a day late. Grr. Somehow I've missed a day. Ever have weeks like that?

This was a fun book. If you like chick lit or mom lit, you'll enjoy Ginny Smith's Age Before Beauty. She tackles issues most moms can relate to such as how to lose that baby weight, how to juggle home and career, and how to keep the marriage fires burning. All with a great dash of humor. Scroll down to read the first chapter


It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Age before Beauty, book 2 in the Sister-to-Sister Series

Revell (February 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Virginia Smith is the author of eight novels, including Age before Beauty, Stuck in the Middle, and A Taste of Murder. In 2008 she was named Writer of the Year at Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. A popular retreat speaker, Ginny keeps audiences enthralled with her high-energy presentations. She and her husband, Ted, divide their time between Kentucky and Utah, and escape as often as they can for diving trips to the Caribbean.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Revell (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0800732332
ISBN-13: 978-0800732332

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The mirror had to be warped. That was the only explanation for the image staring back at Allie from its treacherous surface. Her thighs couldn’t be that wide, her belly that flabby. Could glass warp? Of course not. But the weather so far this fall had been wetter than normal, following a horribly humid Kentucky summer. All that dampness wreaked havoc on the wooden front door at Gram’s house. And this mirror had a wood frame. That had to be it.

But the warping seemed only to be in the middle, like one of those fun-house mirrors. She squinted down at her pink toenails. Her feet looked normal. Her face looked okay. Pretty good, even. This was the first time she’d put on makeup in weeks, and a little color worked wonders. She could use a haircut, though the dark blonde layers falling in waves to rest on her shoulders managed to hold the extra length well.

She blew her bangs out of her eyes. Actually, the long hair made her face look fuller, and that offset some of the width of her hips. Which needed the help, especially now that she got a good look at them wearing only a nursing bra and panties. If she cut some of the volume out of her hair, she’d look like one of those toys she and Joan and Tori played with as kids. What were they called? Weebles. She’d look like Mother Weeble.

She swayed from side to side, eyeing her oversized bottom half as she sang the toy’s jingle. “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.”

“Did you say something?”

Allie whirled to find Eric standing in the bedroom doorway, a grin twitching at his mouth. She felt a blush creep up her neck. Though he was the world’s most awesome husband and devoted new daddy, she still felt awkward parading her postmaternity body around in front of him. A flabby belly covered in stretch marks was soooo sexy.

“How long have you been standing there?”

His voice dropped an octave as his smile deepened. “Long enough to admire my beautiful wife.”

No mistaking that husky tone. She snatched her jeans off the bed. “Don’t get frisky, lover boy. My sister will be here any minute.”

Eric’s lips twisted. “Story of my life lately.”

Allie crossed the room and placed a tender kiss on his cheek. “I’m sorry my family is here so often. They just don’t want to miss a day with the baby. She’s growing so fast.”

“I know, I know.” He grinned. “But tonight I get Joanie all to myself. Our first father-daughter date.”

Allie sat on the edge of the bed and slipped her feet into the jeans, avoiding Eric’s eyes. He had been looking forward to this evening for a full week, ever since Joan invited her to go to a stupid party where some fanatical woman would try to force her to buy something she didn’t want and for which she had no use. If only Joan hadn’t asked in front of Eric, she would have turned the invitation down without a second thought. But he had insisted it was time she took her first outing without the baby.

Pulling the waistband up around her knees, she gave Eric a worried look. “Are you sure you’ll be okay? She’s only taken a bottle a few times, you know. She might cry.”

“I’ll deal with it.”

“But—”

He held up a finger. “No buts. She’s five weeks old. In three weeks she’ll be taking a bottle at the daycare center when you go back to work. She needs to get used to it.”

Tears stung Allie’s eyes, and she looked away so Eric wouldn’t see. “I guess you’re right.”

“Of course I am. Now finish getting dressed while I go wind the baby swing again.”

He left, and Allie sat staring at the handwoven rug in front of their bed. Three weeks. Then she’d have to leave her precious little Joanie in the hands of a total stranger.

If only . . .

She jerked the shirt over her head. No. One of the things she and Eric had talked about before they got married was how they’d handle life after they started having children. She’d insisted on laying it all out, because Eric’s mother had been a stay-at-home mom, and Allie wanted to make absolutely sure he didn’t have the same expectations. Her toenail caught the edge of her sock as she tugged it up, and she hissed with pain. No way would she become one of those women relegated to a dull life of child rearing. She was a career woman—the second sock followed the first—with a college degree and plans for her professional future. She liked her job, liked the independence it gave her. Besides, they agreed on having two incomes so they could afford things like nice clothes and good cars and vacations at the beach.

But that was before she’d had a baby.

If only there was some way she could pursue her career and keep her daughter at home. She had quietly investigated every work-from-home scheme she could find lately, but all of them sounded more like scams than jobs.

Banishing the tears, she stood. No sense crying about it. She had no option. In three weeks she’d return to her job as a team leader at the social services office. She might even be able to recapture some of the excitement and ambition she’d felt before she got pregnant. At the moment, though, it sounded like a life sentence with no chance of parole.

She pulled her jeans up over her knees. This was the first pair of zippered pants she’d tried to wear since Joanie’s birth, having lived in sweats and oversized T-shirts once she put away the maternity clothes. Wiggling her hips back and forth, she inched them upward. Come on, come on, they had to fit. They were her biggest jeans, stretchy and so loose that she’d worn them all the way up to her fifth month of pregnancy. Just a little farther . . .

Ugh. She panted from the effort. But at least she’d managed to get them pulled all the way up.

Now the zipper. Suck that gut in. Pull hard. Harder. She hopped up and down, tugging at the waistband. Okay, if the zipper wouldn’t go all the way to the top, it didn’t matter. She’d just wear her shirttail out. Everybody did these days. As long as she could get the button fastened.

There! They fit! She was wearing pre-baby Levis! Well, sort of.

She stepped up to the mirror and bit back a gasp.

The stupid thing had to be warped.


***


“Hey, look at you all dressed up.” Joan stood on the doorstep, car keys clutched in one hand. “You look great.”

Allie scowled and tried not to think of the jeans she could almost wear shoved in the back of her bottom drawer. “These are maternity pants. Nothing else fits.”

“Oh.” Joan’s smile drooped a fraction, then brightened again. “But that’s not a maternity shirt. And turquoise is totally your color.”

Her eyes shifted to a point inside the room, then she practically bowled Allie over as she rushed toward the swing to snatch up the baby. Sighing, Allie closed the door. So much for Joanie’s nap.

Allie tried to ignore a wave of insecurity as she admired her sister’s slim frame, the way her jeans fit without a single bulge. Straight dark hair fell forward to tickle the baby’s face as Joan cooed at her slumbering namesake while she unfastened the safety strap. Soft baby noises answered as little Joanie’s eyelids fluttered open. Allie clasped her hands together to keep from taking the infant from her middle sister’s arms. She was so sweet when she first woke. Tiny fists rose above her head and she kicked her legs out to their full length and arched her back to stretch.

“Look at her! I swear she’s grown an inch since the last time I saw her.”

Allie answered dryly. “I doubt that, since you came over yesterday.” She held her hands out. “Here, let me change her.”

Joan clutched the baby closer. “I’ll do it.”

With a sigh, Allie followed her sister into the nursery. Bright pink daisies on fields of green bordered the white walls and also decorated lacy curtains and crib bedding. Joan laid Joanie on a daisy-covered pad atop the changing table. While she unsnapped the pink onesie, Allie took a diaper from the stacker and popped open the plastic cap on the wipes. The sweet smell of baby powder was quickly replaced with a less pleasant odor when Joan peeled the tape off the dirty diaper.

Eric stuck his head through the doorway as Allie pulled out a wipe and handed it to Joan. “Whew, I’m glad you girls got that out of the way before you left. Of course, the way this little piggie eats, I probably have at least one unpleasant surprise in store tonight.”

“Don’t worry.” Allie dropped the soiled bundle into the Diaper Genie and twisted the knob. “We won’t be gone very long. I’m sure we’ll be back for the next dirty diaper.”

“I’m kidding, Allie. You know I don’t mind taking care of my girl.” He leaned over and buried a kiss in Joanie’s chubby neck, eliciting a gurgle and an excited waving of arms and legs.

Joan snapped the onesie back in place over the fresh diaper and picked up the squirming infant. Allie stepped forward to take her, but instead Joan thrust her into Eric’s arms.

“It’s time to go. I don’t want to be late.” With a meaningful glance in Allie’s direction, she marched out of the room, Eric right behind her with Joanie hugged tightly to his chest.

Left alone in the nursery, Allie fought a wave of panic that caused her throat to tighten with unshed tears. Cheerful daisies mocked her. She knew this feeling, had sensed the edges of it creeping toward her all day. The moment had come. After five weeks of constantly being in Joanie’s presence, she was about to leave her in someone else’s care.

Don’t be ridiculous. She scrubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand. Joanie wasn’t staying with a stranger. She was staying with her daddy! He’d watched her many times while Allie enjoyed a long bath or a nap.

But what if she cries? What if she misses me?

She started toward the living room, and then stopped short as an even more distressing thought struck her. What if she doesn’t even notice I’m gone?

“Allie, are you coming?”

Joan’s voice propelled her feet into motion. She would not think about that.

“I’m ready.”

One step took her from the hallway into their tiny living room, where Eric had deposited Joanie on the mat beneath her baby gym. Allie fought to suppress a wave of regret when chubby infant hands waved with erratic enthusiasm at the dangling toys, and happy coos filled the room. It had only been in the past few days that she’d started noticing the toys. She was growing so fast, changing every day. What if she did something really cool for the first time tonight, while Allie wasn’t here to see it? She dropped to her knees and showered Joanie’s face with goodbye kisses.

“There are a couple of bottles all ready to go in the fridge,” she told Eric. “Run hot water over them to warm them. Don’t use the microwave.”

Eric stood and pulled her up with him. “I won’t.” He planted a kiss on her cheek.

“She ate two hours ago, so she’ll probably be hungry around eight. If she gets fussy before—”

Joan grabbed her arm and steered her forcefully toward the front door. “Come along, Mother. It’s time to go.”

Thoughts of all the terrible things that could happen pummeled her mind like giant hailstones. She pulled away and whirled toward Eric. “Don’t give her a bath until I get home. You know how slippery she is when she’s soapy.”

He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face the door. “Stop worrying. We’ll be fine. Now go have a good time.” A gentle shove pushed her forward.

From the porch, Joan seized her and jerked her through the doorway. Allie shook her off and spun around to remind Eric to put the baby’s sweater on because the house would cool when the sun went down, but the front door slammed shut in her face. Tears welled in her eyes.

“You’re pathetic.” Joan folded her arms across her chest and leveled an unsympathetic look on her.

Allie sniffled. “It’s the first time we’ve been apart in five weeks.”

“Then it’s about time you gave the poor kid some breathing room.” She shook her head. “You’re becoming one of those hovering mothers. I can totally see you stalking her on the kindergarten playground during recess.”

Actually, Allie didn’t see a problem with dropping by to check on your kids during the day, but in the face of Joan’s sardonic expression, she didn’t dare mention it. Instead she lifted a chin. “I will not be a hovering mother.”

A snort blasted from her sister’s nose. “I know my big sister. You’ll hover like a helicopter.”

Her head held high, Allie marched past Joan toward the driveway. “I thought you didn’t want to be late.”

She rubbed her hands on her arms. It was a chilly fifty degrees, and the orange October sun was rapidly dropping toward the horizon. They’d shoved her out the door without a jacket, but she didn’t dare go back inside now or she’d never hear the end of it. Serve them both right if she caught pneumonia and died.






For more information about Age before Beauty, visit www.VirginiaSmith.org




Used by permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright ©2009. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group. www.BakerPublishingGroup.com

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Peek into the Randomness That is My Life

Conversation today between me and Sissy after a trip to the bank.

Sissy: "Mom, wasn't that waterfall cool? It really worked, that wasn't the coffeemaker you were hearing."

Me: "There was a waterfall? I didn't see it. I was looking at the fireplace."

Sissy: "What fireplace?"

Were we in the same dimension?

***

Technology. I'm talking on the phone to my friend (who can out herself if she wants!) halfway across the world while she's trying on clothes. We hang up so she can text me a picture of herself in a dress so I can see it, call her back, and give her my opinion.

And hey, it was a cute dress. So now I can go shopping with a friend without leaving the comfort of my home.

My life is so exciting. Aren't ya just green with envy? Olive? Sage? Celedon? Lime? Mint?

(random thought: isn't it weird all of those colors are also food? I'm now hungry and will have to think about if that's true for other colors, that alternate names are mostly things you eat. Hmm.)

Can you tell the story of Robin Hood from Friar Tuck's POV?

Apparently you can, since that's what Lawhead has done with this book. I got it late so I'm not finished with it yet (It's a long book!), and even though this isn't a genre I normally pick up, I'm enjoying the story. So fantasy is your thing, I'm pretty sure you'd enjoy it.

I like that Lawhead has put a Welsh pronunciation guide in the front, and even though this book is the third in the series, I didn't have a problem hopping right in. I'll let you know more when I've finished it. Although if I don't hurry, my daughter is going to wrest it out of my hands!

As always, scroll down to read the first chapter.

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!



You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card author is:





and the book:



Tuck

Thomas Nelson (February 17, 2009)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Stephen R. Lawhead is an internationally acclaimed author of mythic history and imaginative fiction. His works include Byzantium, Patrick, and the series The Pendragon Cycle, The Celtic Crusades, and The Song of Albion.



Stephen was born in 1950, in Nebraska in the USA. Most of his early life was spent in America where he earned a university degree in Fine Arts and attended theological college for two years. His first professional writing was done at Campus Life magazine in Chicago, where he was an editor and staff writer. During his five years at Campus Life he wrote hundreds of articles and several non-fiction books.



After a brief foray into the music business—as president of his own record company—he began full-time freelance writing in 1981. He moved to England in order to research Celtic legend and history. His first novel, In the Hall of the Dragon King, became the first in a series of three books (The Dragon King Trilogy) and was followed by the two-volume Empyrion saga, Dream Thief and then the Pendragon Cycle, now in five volumes: Taliesin, Merlin, Arthur, Pendragon, and Grail. This was followed by the award-winning Song of Albion series which consists of The Paradise War, The Silver Hand, and The Endless Knot.



He has written nine children's books, many of them originally offered to his two sons, Drake and Ross. He is married to Alice Slaikeu Lawhead, also a writer, with whom he has collaborated on some books and articles. They make their home in Oxford, England.



Stephen's non-fiction, fiction and children's titles have been published in twenty-one foreign languages. All of his novels have remained continuously in print in the United States and Britain since they were first published. He has won numereous industry awards for his novels and children's books, and in 2003 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Nebraska.





Visit the author's website.



Product Details:



List Price: $26.99

Hardcover: 464 pages

Publisher: Thomas Nelson (February 17, 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1595540873

ISBN-13: 978-1595540874



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:





Prologue



Wintan Cestre



Saint Swithun’s Day





King William stood scratching the back of his hand and watched as another bag of gold was emptied into the ironclad chest: one hundred solid gold byzants that, added to fifty pounds in silver and another fifty in letters of promise to be paid upon collection of his tribute from Normandie, brought the total to five hundred marks. “More money than God,” muttered William under his breath. “What do they do with it all?”



“Sire?” asked one of the clerks of the justiciar’s office, glancing up from the wax tablet on which he kept a running tally.



“Nothing,” grumbled the king. Parting with money always made him itch, and this time there was no relief. In vain, he scratched the other hand. “Are we finished here?”



Having counted the money, the clerks began locking and sealing the strongbox. The king shook his head at the sight of all that gold and silver disappearing from sight. These blasted monks will bleed me dry, he thought. A kingdom was a voracious beast that devoured money and was never, ever satisfied. It took money for soldiers, money for horses and weapons, money for fortresses, money for supplies to feed the troops, and as now, even more money to wipe away the sins of war. The gold and silver in the chest was for the abbey at Wintan Cestre to pay the monks so that his father would not have to spend eternity in purgatory or, worse, frying in hell.



“All is in order, Majesty,” said the clerk. “Shall we proceed?”



William gave a curt nod.



Two knights of the king’s bodyguard stepped forward, took up the box, and carried it from the room and out into the yard where the monks of Saint Swithun’s were already gathered and waiting for the ceremony to begin. The king, a most reluctant participant, followed.



In the yard of the Red Palace—the name given to the king’s sprawling lodge outside the city walls—a silken canopy on silver poles had been erected. Beneath the canopy stood Bishop Walkelin with his hands pressed together in an attitude of patient prayer. Behind the bishop stood a monk bearing the gilded cross of their namesake saint, while all around them knelt monks and acolytes chanting psalms and hymns. The king and his attendants—his two favourite earls, a canon, and a bevy of assorted clerks, scribes, courtiers, and officials both sacred and secular—marched out to meet the bishop. The company paused while the king’s chair was brought and set up beneath the canopy where Bishop Walkelin knelt.



“In the Holy Name,” intoned the bishop when William Rufus had taken his place in the chair, “all blessing and honour be upon you and upon your house and upon your descendants and upon the people of your realm.”



“Yes, yes, of course,” said William irritably. “Get on with it.”



“God save you, Sire,” replied Walkelin. “On this Holy Day we have come to receive the Beneficium Ecclesiasticus Sanctus Swithinius as is our right under the Grant of Privilege created and bestowed by your father King William, for the establishment and maintenance of an office of penitence, perpetual prayer, and the pardon of sins.”



“So you say,” remarked the king.



Bishop Walkelin bowed again, and summoned two of his monks to receive the heavy strongbox from the king’s men in what had become an annual event of increasing ceremony in honour of Saint Swithun, on whose day the monks determined to suck the lifeblood from the crown, and William Rufus resented it. But what could he do? The payment was for the prayers of the monks for the remission of sins on the part of William Conqueror, prayers which brought about the much-needed cleansing of his besmirched soul. For each and every man that William had killed in battle, the king could expect to spend a specified amount of time in purgatory: eleven years for a lord or knight, seven years for a man-at-arms, five for a commoner, and one for a serf. By means of some obscure and complicated formula William had never understood, the monks determined a monetary amount which somehow accorded to the number of days a monk spent on his knees praying. As William had been a very great war leader, his purgatorial obligation amounted to well over a thousand years—and that was only counting the fatalities of the landed nobility. No one knew the number of commoners and serfs he had killed, either directly or indirectly, in his lifetime—but the number was thought to be quite high. Still, a wealthy king with dutiful heirs need not actually spend so much time in purgatory—so long as there were monks willing to ease the burden of his debt through prayer. All it took was money.



Thus, the Benefice of Saint Swithun, necessary though it might be, was a burden the Conqueror’s son had grown to loathe with a passion. That he himself would have need of this selfsame service was a fact that he could neither deny, nor escape. And while he told himself that paying monks to pray souls from hell was a luxury he could ill afford, deep in his heart of hearts he knew only too well that—owing to the debauched life he led—it was also a necessity he could ill afford to neglect much longer.



Even so, paying over good silver for the ongoing service of a passel of mumbling clerics rubbed Rufus raw—especially as that silver became each year more difficult to find. His taxes already crushed the poor and had caused at least two riots and a rebellion by his noblemen. Little wonder, then, that the forever needy king dreaded the annual approach of Saint Swithun’s day and the parting with so much of his precious treasury.



The ceremony rumbled on to its conclusion and, following an especially long-winded prayer, adjourned to a feast in honour of the worthy saint. The feast was the sole redeeming feature of the entire day. That it must be spent in the company of churchmen dampened William’s enthusiasm somewhat, but did not destroy it altogether. The Red King had surrounded himself with enough of his willing courtiers and sycophants to ensure a rousing good time no matter how many disapproving monks he fed at his table.



This year, the revel reached such a height of dissipation that Bishop Walkelin quailed and excused himself, claiming that he had pressing business that required his attention back at the cathedral. William, forcing himself to be gracious, wished the churchmen well and offered to send a company of soldiers to accompany the monks back to the abbey with their money lest they fall among thieves.



Walkelin agreed to the proposal and, as he bestowed his blessing, leaned close to the king and said, “We must talk one day soon about establishing a benefice of your own, Your Majesty.” He paused and then, like the flick of a knife, warned, “Death comes for us all, and none of us knows the day or time. I would be remiss if I did not offer to draw up a grant for you.”



“We will discuss that,” said William, “when the price is seen to fall rather than forever rise.”



“You will have heard it said,” replied Walkelin, “that where great sin abounds, great mercy must intercede. The continual observance and maintenance of that intercession is very expensive, my lord king,”



“So is the keeping of a bishop,” answered William tartly. “And bishops have been known to lose their bishoprics.” He paused, regarding the cleric over the rim of his cup. “Heaven forbid that should happen. I know I would be heartily sorry to see you go, Walkelin.”



“If my lord is displeased with his servant,” began the bishop, “he has only to—”



“Something to consider, eh?”



Bishop Walkelin tried to adopt a philosophical air. “I am reminded that your father always—”



“No need to speak of it any more just now,” said William smoothly. “Only think about what I have said.”



“You may be sure,” answered Walkelin. He bowed stiffly and took a slow step backwards. “Your servant, my lord.”



The clerics departed, leaving the king and his courtiers to their revel. But the feast was ruined for William. Try as he might, he could not work himself into a festive humour because the bishop’s rat of a thought had begun to gnaw at the back of his mind: his time was running out. To die without arranging for the necessary prayers would doom his soul to the lake of everlasting fire. However loudly he might rail against the expense—and condemn the greedy clerics who held his future for ransom—was he really prepared to test the alternative at the forfeit of his soul?









Part I



Come listen a while, you gentlefolk alle,



That stand this bower within,



A tale of noble Rhiban the Hud,



I purpose now to begin.





Young Rhiban was a princeling fayre,



And a gladsome heart had he.



Delight took he in games and tricks,



And guiling his fair ladye.





A bonny fine maide of noble degree,



Mérian calléd by name,



This beauty soote was praised of alle men



For she was a gallant dame.





Rhiban stole through the greenwoode one night



To kiss his dear Mérian late.



But she boxed his head till his nose turn’d red



And order’d him home full straight.





Though Rhiban indeed speeded home fayrlie rathe,



That night he did not see his bed.



For in flames of fire from the rooftops’ eaves,



He saw all his kinsmen lay dead.





Ay, the sheriff’s low men had visited there,



When the household was slumbering deepe.



And from room to room they had quietly crept



And murtheréd them all in their sleepe.





Rhiban cried out ‘wey-la-wey!’



But those fiends still lingered close by.



So into the greenwoode he quickly slipt,



For they had heard his cry.





Rhiban gave the hunters goode sport,



Full lange, a swift chase he led.



But a spearman threw his shot full well



And he fell as one that is dead.











1







Tuck shook the dust of Caer Wintan off his feet and prepared for the long walk back to the forest. It was a fine, warm day, and all too soon the friar was sweltering in his heavy robe. He paused now and then to wipe the sweat from his face, falling farther and farther behind his travelling companions. “These legs of mine are sturdy stumps,” he sighed to himself, “but fast they en’t.”



He had just stopped to catch his breath a little when, on sudden impulse, he spun around quickly and caught a glimpse of movement on the road behind—a blur in the shimmering distance, and then gone. So quick he might have imagined it. Only it was not the first time since leaving the Royal Lodge that Tuck had entertained the queer feeling that someone or something was following them. He had it again now, and decided to alert the others and let them make of it what they would.



Squinting into the distance, he saw Bran far ahead of the Grellon, striding steadily, shoulders hunched against the sun and the gross injustice so lately suffered at the hands of the king in whom he had trusted. The main body of travellers, unable to keep up with their lord, was becoming an ever-lengthening line as heat and distance mounted. They trudged along in small clumps of two or three, heads down, talking in low, sombre voices. How like sheep, thought Tuck, following their impetuous and headstrong shepherd.



A more melancholy man might himself have succumbed to the oppressive gloom hanging low over the Cymry, dragging at their feet, pressing their spirits low. Though summer still blazed in meadow, field, and flower, it seemed to Tuck that they all walked in winter’s drear and dismal shadows. Rhi Bran and his Grellon had marched into Caer Wintan full of hope—they had come singing, had they not?—eager to stand before King William to receive the judgement and reward that had been promised in Rouen all those months ago. Now, here they were, slinking back to the greenwood in doleful silence, mourning the bright hope that had been crushed and lost.



No, not lost. They would never let it out of their grasp, not for an instant. It had been stolen—snatched away by the same hand that had offered it in the first place: the grasping, deceitful hand of a most perfidious king.



Tuck felt no less wounded than the next man, but when he considered how Bran and the others had risked their lives to bring Red William word of the conspiracy against him, it fair made his priestly blood boil. The king had promised justice. The Grellon had every right to expect that Elfael’s lawful king would be restored. Instead, William had merely banished Baron de Braose and his milksop nephew Count Falkes, sending them back to France to live in luxury on the baron’s extensive estates. Elfael, that small bone of contention, had instead become property of the crown and placed under the protection of Abbot Hugo and Sheriff de Glanville. Well, that was putting wolves in charge of the fold, was it not?



Where was the justice? A throne for a throne, Bran had declared that day in Rouen. William’s had been saved—at considerable cost and risk to the Cymry—but where was Bran’s throne?



S’truth, thought Tuck, wait upon a Norman to do the right thing and you’ll be waiting until your hair grows white and your teeth fall out.



“How long, O Lord? How long must your servants suffer?” he muttered. “And, Lord, does it have to be so blasted hot?”



He paused to wipe the sweat from his face. Running a hand over his round Saxon head, he felt the sun’s fiery heat on the bare spot of his tonsure; sweat ran in rivulets down the sides of his neck and dripped from his jowls. Drawing a deep breath, he tightened his belt, hitched up the skirts of his robe, and started off again with quickened steps. Soon his shoes were slapping up the dust around his ankles and he began to overtake the rearmost members of the group: thirty souls in all, women and children included, for Bran had determined that his entire forest clan—save for those left behind to guard the settlement and a few others for whom the long journey on foot would have been far too arduous—should be seen by the king to share in the glad day.



The friar picked up his pace and soon drew even with Siarles: slim as a willow wand, but hard and knotty as an old hickory root. The forester walked with his eyes downcast, chin outthrust, his mouth a tight, grim line. Every line of him bristled with fury like a riled porcupine. Tuck knew to leave well enough alone and hurried on without speaking.



Next, he passed Will Scatlocke—or Scarlet, as he preferred. The craggy forester limped along slightly as he carried his newly acquired daughter, Nia. Against every expectation, Will had endured a spear wound, the abbot’s prison, and the threat of the sheriff’s rope . . . and survived. His pretty dark-eyed wife, Noín, walked resolutely beside him. The pair had made a good match, and it tore at his heart that the newly married couple should have to endure a dark hovel in the forest when the entire realm begged for just such a family to settle and sink solid roots deep into the land—another small outrage to be added to the ever-growing mountain of injustices weighing on Elfael.



A few more steps brought him up even with Odo, the Norman monk who had befriended Will Scarlet in prison. At Scarlet’s bidding, the young scribe had abandoned Abbot Hugo to join them. Odo walked with his head down, his whole body drooping—whether with heat or the awful realization of what he had done, Tuck could not tell.



A few steps more and he came up even with Iwan—the great, hulking warrior would crawl on hands and knees through fire for his lord. It was from Iwan that the friar had received his current christening when the effort of wrapping his untrained tongue around the simple Saxon name Aethelfrith proved beyond him. “Fat little bag of vittles that he is, I will call him Tuck,” the champion had said. “Friar Tuck to you, boyo,” the priest had responded, and the name had stuck. God bless you, Little John, thought Tuck, and keep your arm strong, and your heart stronger.



Next to Iwan strode Mérian, just as fierce in her devotion to Bran as the champion beside her. Oh, but shrewd with it; she was smarter than the others and more cunning—which always came as something of a shock to anyone who did not know better, because one rarely expected it from a lady so fair of face and form. But the impression of innocence beguiled. In the time Tuck had come to know her, she had shown herself to be every inch as canny and capable as any monarch who ever claimed an English crown.



Mérian held lightly to the bridle strap of the horse that carried their wise hudolion, who was, so far as Tuck could tell, surely the last Banfáith of Britain: Angharad, ancient and ageless. There was no telling how old she was, yet despite her age, whatever it might be, she sat her saddle smartly and with the ease of a practiced rider. Her quick dark eyes were trained on the road ahead, but Tuck could tell that her sight was turned inward, her mind wrapped in a veil of deepest thought. Her wrinkled face might have been carved of dark Welsh slate for all it revealed of her contemplations.



Mérian glanced around as the priest passed, and called out, but the friar had Bran in his eye, and he hurried on until he was within hailing distance. “My lord, wait!” he shouted. “I must speak to you!”



Bran gave no sign that he had heard. He strode on, eyes fixed on the road and distance ahead.



“For the love of Jesu, Bran. Wait for me!”



Bran took two more steps and then halted abruptly. He straightened and turned, his face a smouldering scowl, dark eyes darker still under lowered brows. His shock of black hair seemed to rise in feathered spikes.



“Thank the Good Lord,” gasped the friar, scrambling up the dry, rutted track. “I thought I’d never catch you. We . . . there is something . . .” He gulped down air, wiped his face, and shook the sweat from his hand into the dust of the road.



“Well?” demanded Bran impatiently.



“I think we must get off this road,” Tuck said, dabbing at his face with the sleeve of his robe. “Truly, as I think on it now, I like not the look that Abbot Hugo gave me when we left the king’s yard. I fear he may try something nasty.”



Bran lifted his chin. The jagged scar on his cheek, livid now, twisted his lip into a sneer. “Within sight of the king’s house?” he scoffed, his voice tight. “He wouldn’t dare.”



“Would he not?”



“Dare what?” said Iwan, striding up. Siarles came toiling along in the big man’s wake.



“Our friar here,” replied Bran, “thinks we should abandon the road. He thinks Abbot Hugo is bent on making trouble.”



Iwan glanced back the way they had come. “Oh, aye,” agreed Iwan, “that would be his way.” To Tuck, he said, “Have you seen anything?”



“What’s this then?” inquired Siarles as he joined the group. “Why have you stopped?”



“Tuck thinks the abbot is on our tail,” Iwan explained.



“I maybe saw something back there, and not for the first time,” Tuck explained. “I don’t say it for a certainty, but I think someone is following us.”



“It makes sense.” Siarles looked to the frowning Bran. “What do you reckon?”



“I reckon I am surrounded by a covey of quail frightened of their own shadows,” Bran replied. “We move on.”



He turned to go, but Iwan spoke up. “My lord, look around you. There is little enough cover hereabouts. If we were to be taken by surprise, the slaughter would be over before we could put shaft to string.”



Mérian joined them then, having heard a little of what had passed. “The little ones are growing weary,” she pointed out. “They cannot continue on this way much longer without rest and water. We will have to stop soon in any event. Why not do as Tuck suggests and leave the road now—just to be safe?”



“So be it,” he said, relenting at last. He glanced around and then pointed to a grove of oak and beech rising atop the next hill up the road. “We will make for that wood. Iwan—you and Siarles pass the word along, then take up the rear guard.” He turned to Tuck and said, “You and Mérian stay here and keep everyone moving. Tell them they can rest as soon as they reach the grove, but not before.”



He turned on his heel and started off again. Iwan stood looking after his lord and friend. “It’s the vile king’s treachery,” he observed. “That’s put the black dog on his back, no mistake.”



Siarles, as always, took a different tone. “That’s as may be, but there’s no need to bite off our heads. We en’t the ones who cheated him out of his throne.” He paused and spat. “Stupid bloody king.”



“And stupid bloody cardinal, all high and mighty,” continued Iwan. “Priest of the church, my arse. Give me a good sharp blade and I’d soon have him saying prayers he never said before.” He cast a hasty glance at Tuck. “Sorry, Friar.”



“I’d do the same,” Tuck said. “Now, off you go. If I am right, we must get these people to safety, and that fast.”



The two ran back down the line, urging everyone to make haste for the wood on the next hill. “Follow Bran!” they shouted. “Pick up your feet. We are in danger here. Hurry!”



“There is safety in the wood,” Mérian assured them as they passed, and Tuck did likewise. “Follow Bran. He’ll lead you to shelter.”



It took a little time for the urgency of their cries to sink in, but soon the forest-dwellers were moving at a quicker pace up to the wood at the top of the next rise. The first to arrive found Bran waiting at the edge of the grove beneath a large oak tree, his strung bow across his shoulder.



“Keep moving,” he told them. “You’ll find a hollow just beyond that fallen tree.” He pointed through the wood. “Hide yourselves and wait for the others there.”



The first travellers had reached the shelter of the trees, and Tuck was urging another group to speed and showing them where to go when he heard someone shouting up from the valley. He could not make out the words, but as he gazed around the sound came again and he saw Iwan furiously gesturing towards the far hilltop. He looked where the big man was pointing and saw two mounted knights poised on the crest of the hill.



The soldiers were watching the fleeing procession and, for the moment, seemed content to observe. Then one of the knights wheeled his mount and disappeared back down the far side of the hill.



Bran had seen it too, and began shouting. “Run!” he cried, racing down the road. “To the grove!” he told Mérian and Tuck. “The Ffreinc are going to attack!”



He flew to meet Iwan and Siarles at the bottom of the hill.



“I’d best go see if I can help,” Tuck said, and leaving Mérian to hurry the people along, he fell into step behind Bran.



“Just the two of them?” Bran asked as he came running to meet Siarles and Iwan.



“So far,” replied the champion. “No doubt the one’s gone to alert the rest. Siarles and I will take a stand here,” he said, bending the long ashwood bow to string it. “That will give you and Tuck time to get the rest of the folk safely hidden in the woods.”



Bran shook his head. “It may come to that one day, but not today.” His tone allowed no dissent. “We have a little time yet. Get everyone into the wood—carry them if you have to. We’ll dig ourselves into the grove and make Gysburne and his hounds come in after us.”



“I make it six bows against thirty knights,” Siarles pointed out. “Good odds, that.”



Bran gave a quick jerk of his chin. “Good as any,” he agreed. “Fetch along the stragglers and follow me.”



Iwan and Siarles darted away and were soon rushing the last of the lagging Grellon up the hill to the grove. “What do you want me to do?” Tuck shouted.



“Pray,” answered Bran, pulling an arrow from the sheaf at his belt and fitting it to the string. “Pray God our aim is true and each arrow finds its mark.”



Bran moved off, calling for the straggling Grellon to find shelter in the wood. Tuck watched him go. Pray? he thought. Aye, to be sure—the Good Lord will hear from me. But I will do more, will I not? Then he scuttled up the hill and into the wood in search of a good stout stick to break some heads.



Friday, February 20, 2009

How to Survive These Crazy Financial Times

Life has been crazy lately so while I have a list of blogs in my head, they aren't quite making it here. I'm hoping to get caught up this weekend. Hey, I can dream!

In the meantime, this week's book review has been one I've been able to promote at our local Family Christian bookstore. They've had it displayed near the cash register so I was able to tell them that I'd read the book and give it a good review.

Which I'll share with you.

What I like about this book is that it does such a good job of reassuring us during these crazy financial times. It's a short book and written in an easy, conversational style so it's not difficult to get through.

Unlike most financial books, this one spends a lot of time explaining and debunking the sensational headlines we've been seeing for the last year. The authors encourage us to understand what we might be afraid of and how to deal with that.

While the financial advice doesn't get into specific steps (I'd recommend Dave Ramsey for that) they give excellent principles and goals to help give you a plan to work through your fears and concerns.

Finally, there's also a neat list of practical resources in the back. This is a great book for anyone concerned or worried about today's financial news.

Scroll down to read the first chapter.

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card authors are:



Jeremy White

and the book:



Surviving Financial Meltdown

Tyndale House Publishers (January 20, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHORs:


Ron Blue has been a financial planner and consultant for over 30 years. He currently leads an international effort to equip and motivate Christian financial professionals to serve the body of Christ by implementing biblical wisdom in their lives and practices, resulting in financial freedom. Ron has appeared on national radio and television programs and has authored 13 books on personal finance, including the best-seller Master Your Money.

Visit the author's website.

Jeremy Whitehas been a Certified Public Accountant since 1988 with financial experience in public accounting and industry. He’s currently practicing as a partner with Blythe, White & Associates, a certified public accounting and consulting firm in Paducah, KY. Jeremy is a qualified member of Kingdom Advisors. He has coauthored or assisted with four other best-selling financial books including The New Master Your Money, Splitting Heirs, and Your Kids Can Master Their Money.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (January 20, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414329954
ISBN-13: 978-1414329956

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Riding Out Financial Storms

How to Prepare for Economic Uncertainty

Plunging home values. Declining stock market. Vanishing credit. Rising gas prices. Ongoing war against terrorism. Failing banks. Soaring food costs. Falling value of the dollar. Swelling budget deficits. (Suggested cover story for the next Money magazine—Best Investment Now: Antacids!)

If you’re worried, you’re not alone. You’re not the only one feeling the uncertainty. Consumer confidence measurements have reached their lowest level in decades.

Most of the world would still leap at the chance to trade economic situations with you. You realize that. But you’re still nervous and searching for answers.

It’s easy enough to present our case that economic times are challenging. The daily headlines back us up on that. Our challenge in this book is to prepare you so you have less fear and more financial peace.

We want to help you develop a common-sense financial strategy to weather the economic storms of today as well as those in the far-off financial future. In times of economic uncertainty, the strength of your strategy will determine whether you thrive or survive.

Let’s get started with a reminder of how you prepare for tough times: Prepare in advance.

Don’t Let Your Dreams Be Washed Away
The aerial photo is startling: An attractively designed yellow two-story home stands alone on highly sought-after real estate along the Texas Gulf Coast. Just a few days before, that house was part of a thriving community. Now, it is surrounded on every side by the wreckage of about 200 other homes and buildings. A private helicopter pilot, flying over the area after it had been slammed by Hurricane Ike, had taken the photo.

Not long after he posted the image on CNN’s iReport site, the buzz started. Viewers began debating whether the photo was a fake. After all, how could one home withstand 110 mph winds and a storm surge while every other building around it had been pulverized? The speculation ended when the sister of the home’s owners identified it and provided another photo of the house taken just a few months earlier.

Reporters quickly located the home’s owners, Warren and Pam Adams. Just three years before, the Adams’ home had been destroyed by Hurricane Rita. Because they loved the beach, the couple wanted to rebuild rather than leave the coast. So they did—but with the knowledge that their new home might also be in the path of a hurricane some day.

The couple hired an engineering firm to oversee the contractor as their new residence was built. The builder put the house’s bottom floor on wooden columns that raised it above the surrounding houses. The foundation was made with reinforced concrete, and builders followed the latest hurricane building codes to the letter.

Despite its solid construction, the home did sustain some damage in Hurricane Ike. The first-floor garage and a wooden staircase on the home’s exterior were destroyed. The interior suffered some water and mud damage. Yet unlike their neighbors, who returned to their former home sites hoping to find a few personal belongings among the rubble, the Adams can repair their home.

The precautions the couple took when rebuilding their home after Hurricane Rita may have seemed extreme to some. Yet their foresight appears brilliant now after the town sustained a direct hit by a hurricane. In fact, after Aaron Reed, a spokesman with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, confirmed that the Adams’ home was the only surviving home on that side of the beach, he added, “I thought, if I were ever to build a house on the coast, I’m going to contact the guy who built this.”1

In fact, the couple simply displayed common sense. They knew that their home had been destroyed once by a hurricane and that it could happen again. Of course, others along the Gulf Coast knew they faced that threat as well. The difference was in how they responded to that risk.

Like some Gulf Coast residents, many of today’s investors build their financial houses without much of a strategy. When you build something you want to keep, common sense dictates that you build it according to a plan and with materials that will last. This strategy works for all types of construction, from putting together a financial portfolio to building a house.

Warren and Kay Adams can’t prevent a hurricane from smashing into their home on the coastline. They can’t control which way the wind blows. They can, however, build their house to withstand the wind and water.

Mr. Blue Goes to Washington
Palms sweating and heart racing, I (Ron) remember climbing the granite steps of the Capitol building to testify as an expert witness before a Senate subcommittee. I entered the chamber room where the hearings took place. I had often seen it on television. It was impressive yet intimidating. The senators were seated higher than the witness table and the visitors’ gallery.

I recognized many of the senators’ names on the plaques at their table and took a deep breath. I reminded myself that I wasn’t in trouble—even though the room had the feel of a courtroom. The Senate subcommittee was holding hearings on “Solutions for the New Era: Jobs and Families.” I was one of several “experts” from various economic and social fields. Other participants on the panel pressed for more social programs.

When my turn to speak came, I was hoping my voice wouldn’t crack. Could I live up to my introduction as a financial expert? Leaning in toward the microphone on the table, I began to answer a senator’s question about what the average American family should do in the current economy to survive and thrive. I said I believed the American family could benefit from following a four-part financial plan:

1. Think long-term with goals and investing

2. Spend less than they earn

3. Maintain liquidity (or emergency savings)

4. Minimize the use of debt

The Senate chamber room fell silent for a moment. I was expecting laughter to reverberate among the marble columns and high ceiling at the simplicity of what I said. The committee chairman, Christopher Dodd, looked down at his notes. He furrowed his brow and pursed his lips. He recited the points back to me. Instead of chuckling at me, he then said, “It seems like this plan is not just for the family. It seems it would work at any income level.”

“Yes,” I replied with some relief. Now I was the one doing a bit of chuckling as I added, “including the U.S. government.” We went on to have an engaging conversation about how the senators could exercise strong leadership through wise financial practices.

Four Principles of Financial Success
I had prepared my four-part answer to the senator’s question over many years. In fact, I heard that same question over and over. After a presentation to a large audience or in response to a call-in radio program, people often ask how to get out of a financial mess—or avoid one. Often the questioners hope that I’ll provide a dramatic, one-time solution for their financial difficulties. Though they may be disappointed to hear my commonsense strategy, I know this time-tested, biblically supported answer works.

Let me briefly expand my explanation of these principles here:

Think long term. The longer term your perspective, the better financial decisions you’ll make. Set goals in writing for the future. Invest for the long term and worry less about short-term ups and downs in your 401(K) or investment portfolio.

Spend less than you earn. To accomplish this, you need to know what you’re earning and what you’re spending. Make a spending plan (or, if we dare use that loathed term: a budget). Monitor how you’re doing. Develop the self-control to avoid overspending. If you spend less than you earn consistently over a long period of time, you will do well financially.

Insert Sidebar 1 here

Maintain emergency savings. A reserve set aside will help you ride out the surprises life throws at you. You must spend less than you earn to build savings. Savings will then help you avoid debt. These principles work together.

Minimize the use of debt. Debt increases risk. It may allow you to do more or have more now, but debt will reduce your ability to have more in the future. I know of few cases of financial disaster occurring without debt. Financial problems are magnified with debt.

These four financial principles are so simple that they may easily be overlooked. Yet they have stood the test of time. They work when the economy is in a recession, depression, or boom times. They work despite inflation or deflation. They apply when gas prices or real estate values are rising or falling. They were outlined thousands of years ago in the Bible. Many rich people—and many poor ones—can attest to their truths.

Some technical professionals, such as doctors and engineers, initially think these principles are too simplistic. They want to make succeeding financially as technically challenging and sophisticated as their fields. But you can’t go wrong if you follow these steps. What kind of financial trouble would you ever get in if you spent less than you earned, minimized debt, kept savings available, and thought about the long term?

When Do I Apply These Principles?
Warren and Kay Adams prepared for possible disaster before it happened. The best time to apply these four steps is before the financial storms come.

Insert Sidebar 2


You may be thinking, Well, it’s too late for that. I’m in the midst of a financial crisis. The hurricane has already hit. Now what do I do? Here’s hope. You start with these four principles of financial success. If you haven’t done them before, then start now. You can’t lay a solid financial foundation without these four steps. They will lead you out of a crisis—and prevent many future ones.

Perhaps your financial crisis has already happened. You may have lost your job. You may be getting calls from creditors. Perhaps you fear a possible foreclosure. You’re picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild. What do you do? Same answer. You start with these principles.

Perhaps you don’t currently face a financial crisis but are anxious because of all the economic bad news. The Adams’s house is a great illustration that may motivate you to prepare for storms in advance. You can take great comfort in these transcendent principles that apply before, during, and after the crisis.

In fact, some positive results can come from our country’s current economic downturn. We’ve learned that a crisis can sharpen our focus. It helps us think more rationally. When gas prices rose significantly, consumers started moving from large sports-utility vehicles and oversized trucks to more fuel-efficient vehicles. This is rational. But even when gas was less expensive, was a Hummer ever a sensible purchase for an urban dweller?

People ask us, “Now that _____________ (you fill in the blank) is happening, what should I do?” we always give the same advice: follow these four principles. If you set long-term goals and invest accordingly, if you spend less than your income, if you have available savings, and if you eliminate debt, then you’ll be as prepared as possible.

No Surprise Ending with This Book—But Keep Reading
We suppose this would make a poor novel. No mystery or suspense here. We’ve already revealed the four principles of financial success and told you the ending of the story. The punch line came before the setup of the joke.

However, we hope you haven’t missed the paradox: these principles are easy to understand but they’re often hard to do. We’ve stated the principles but not yet helped you understand how you can begin doing them. In the coming chapters, we’ll explore these principles in greater detail. You’ll discover how to approach the future—any future—with financial peace of mind.

We realize that it’s not just a matter of doing four simple steps in a vacuum. You’re part of an overall economy. You can’t avoid feeling some of the effects of our nation’s economic downturn—but it doesn’t have to be as great as you fear. You hear things that make you anxious. Money issues carry with them emotions, baggage from the past, and uncertainty about the future. You probably don’t have a degree in financial management. When it comes to handling your own money, you’re probably in unfamiliar territory. So we’re going to begin by exploring what causes financial fears in our economy. Then you’ll identify your particular fears.

You can do this. You can learn to manage your finances wisely. It’s not too late. Reading financial how-to’s is like exercising or eating healthy food. You know you’re supposed to, but will you do it? You can. People with less education, less talent, less income than you have done it. Financial peace of mind can be more than just a future hope. It can be your expectation. In the pages ahead, you will learn how to take this expectation and make it a reality in your life.




Friday, February 13, 2009

A Sneak Peek at the Latest Karen Kingsbury Novel

In many ways, This Side of Heaven reads like a typical Kingsbury drama exploring emotions on the journey of being human. Yet from the beginning the story felt different. At first I thought it was because there was too much backstory--telling what had already happened before the story opened--and not enough tension to drive the story forward. Until partway through, when the plot takes a very unexpected turn and the story becomes something else entirely.

At the end of the book I discovered why this story was different: it was very personal for Kingsbury. As is typical when an author takes a slightly different path than is expected, readers will probably love or hate the change. Ultimately, while the story lacks much of the emotional tension Kingsbury is known for, it still plumbs the depth of human emotions in a unique way that many readers will identify with.

Scroll down to read the first chapter.

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!



You never know when I might play a wild card on you!





Today's Wild Card author is:





and the book:



This Side of Heaven

Center Street (January 6, 2009)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury is America's #1 inspirational novelist. She's written more than thirty novels, ten of which have hit #1 on bestseller lists, and her Center Street novel Just Beyond the Clouds hit #13 on the New York Times bestseller list. There are nearly seven million copies of her award-winning books in print, including more than two million copies sold last year alone. She lives in Washington state with her husband, Don, and their six children, three of whom are adopted from Haiti.



Visit the author's website.



Product Details:



List Price: $14.99

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: Center Street (January 6, 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1599956780

ISBN-13: 978-1599956787



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:









Thursday, February 12, 2009

Can a Strong-Willed Child Grow Up to Be a Responsible Adult?


That's the question that opens the book Journey of a Strong-Willed Child by Kendra Smiley, her son Aaron, and "resident dad" John.

I really enjoyed this book, having two strong-willed offspring of my own. The book takes an interesting track by having the adult child, as well as both parents, offer his point of view on growing up strong willed. The specific stories and the good sense of humor through out make this an enjoyable read as well as useful.

Personally, I was encouraged to focus on my children's unique strengths and to be consistent with them. And seeing the end result (Aaron's now a vet, a husband, and a dad--and practically my Indiana neighbor!) was one of the best parts of the whole book. It helps when you're in the parenting trenches to be reminded it's a process with an end result.

I recommend this book for anyone with a strong-willed child or who has to deal with one and would like some insight into their unique thought process.

Visit Kendra's website.
Check out what other bloggers are saying about the book.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New Blog Look for Valentine's Day

Like the new look? I'm sick of the winter look, so I'll have to come up with something else after February. If you want the header or the background (clearly not tiled) just let me know and I'll send you the jpgs. I drew them up pretty quickly today.

I do have more posts floating around in my head which I hope to find time to put on "paper." Currently I'm listening to Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. Fascinating stuff about what makes someone great. Hint: it's not what you think and it takes longer than you think.

If anyone else has read it, it could make for an interesting discussion. Definitely worth a read (or a listen).