Tuesday, July 30, 2013

BLOG TOUR/GIVEAWAY: The Hero's Lot by Patrick W. Carr

heros lot tour

Review copy provided by publisher through NetGalley.
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

Riveting Sequel from Christian Fantasy's Most Talented New Voice. When Sarin Valon, the corrupt secondus of the conclave, flees Erinon and the kingdom, Errol Stone believes his troubles have at last ended. But other forces bent on the destruction of the kingdom remain and conspire to accuse Errol and his friends of a conspiracy to usurp the throne. In a bid to keep the three of them from the axe, Archbenefice Canon sends Martin and Luis to Errol's home village, Callowford, to discover what makes him so important to the kingdom. But Errol is also accused of consorting with spirits. Convicted, his punishment is a journey to the enemy kingdom of Merakh, where he must find Sarin Valon, and kill him. To enforce their sentence, Errol is placed under a compulsion, and he is driven to accomplish his task or die resisting.


Hero's Lot is the Sequel to A CAST OF STONES
 
An Epic Medieval Saga Fantasy Readers Will Love. In the backwater village of Callowford, Errol Stone's search for a drink is interrupted by a church messenger who arrives with urgent missives for the hermit priest in the hills. Desperate for coin, Errol volunteers to deliver them but soon finds himself hunted by deadly assassins. Forced to flee with the priest and a small band of travelers, Errol soon learns he's joined a quest that could change the fate of his kingdom. Protected for millennia by the heirs of the first king, the kingdom's dynasty is near an end and a new king must be selected. As tension and danger mount, Errol must leave behind his drunkenness and grief, learn to fight, and come to know his God in order to survive a journey to discover his destiny.

 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Patrick Carr was born on an Air Force base in West Germany at the height of the cold war. He has been told this was not his fault. As an Air Force brat, he experienced a change in locale every three years until his father retired to Tennessee. Patrick saw more of the world on his own through a varied and somewhat eclectic education and work history. He graduated from Georgia Tech in 1984 and has worked as a draftsman at a nuclear plant, did design work for the Air Force, worked for a printing company, and consulted as an engineer. Patrick’s day gig for the last five years has been teaching high school math in Nashville, TN. He currently makes his home in Nashville with his wonderfully patient wife, Mary, and four sons he thinks are amazing: Patrick, Connor, Daniel, and Ethan. Sometime in the future he would like to be a jazz pianist. Patrick thinks writing about himself in the third person is kind of weird.

Website * Facebook

REVIEW

I love this series! One of my all time favorites. Carr has created an amazing world with awesome characters and an incredible story line.  Errol is such a wonderful character, a former drunk turned amazing staff fighter, who has become vitally important in the future of his country. The problem is Errol's friends who are fighting for Illustra's future don't have any idea why.  But Illustra's enemies as well as her own power-greedy politicians want Errol gone and conspire to get him out of the way.  Errol must set off on a seemingly impossible quest with friends and allies determined to keep him alive.  Meanwhile, Martin, Luis, and Cruk try to find out just what makes Errol so important to the kingdom.

I'm not quite sure just why I love this series so much. Is it the fabulous writing? The imagery? The characters? The plot? I think I would have to say, all of the above.  Despite it's length the book reads quickly and everything in the story means something. The intricacies of the story I find amazing with surprises around every corner. Just when I thought I knew where things were headed something popped out to change things.  Lots of excitement, battles at sea, invasions, politics and religious conflict and an impossible quest take the reader on quite the ride.  The religious aspects I found especially fascinating. While the church structure was obviously made up it clearly is based on real-world religion and problems that can plague it, especially when it goes along with political power.  It's a interesting commentary on God (called Deas in the story) and his interactions with people.

All in all a fabulous read and one I can highly, highly recommend.


BLOG TOUR GIVEAWAY

$25 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash
Ends 8/14/13

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Monday, July 29, 2013

BOOK SPOTLIGHT and INTERVIEW: Motive for Murder by Marlene BatemanSullivan


ABOUT THE BOOK

Meet Erica Coleman: a gifted and quirky private investigator with a penchant for sleuthing and a passion for chocolate.

Erica imagined that her trip to Florida would be a slice of heaven—a chance to get away from it all and catch up with her best friend, Wendy. But a mere day into her idyllic vacation, all hope of fun in the sun is dashed with a shocking discovery: the body of an unknown man on the driveway. A failed second homicide attempt hits even closer to home when Wendy’s fiancé barely survives poisoning. There’s no way to sugarcoat it—a murderer is on the prowl, and no one is above suspicion.

Unsettled by the proximity of foul play, Wendy asks Erica to investigate. Erica is convinced that the near double-murder was no coincidence, so she accepts her friend’s request—with her skill, solving the mystery should be a piece of cake. But as she sifts through mounting evidence, one thing becomes clear: everyone had a reason for wanting both men dead. And as the plot thickens, it appears that Erica may have bitten off more than she can chew.



EXCERPT

​“As she drove back to Wendy’s house, the headlights cleaved the darkness and shone through the rain, which was falling harder now. Erica parked across the street and was nearly to Wendy’s door when she stopped suddenly, catching herself as she nearly fell over something.

It was the still figure of a man lying face down on the driveway. He was strangely unmoving. The light from the porch illuminated a puddle alongside him, which was growing bigger by the second. A chill shivered down Erica’s spine as she noticed that the puddle was streaked by dark red threads that ran and merged with rivulets of rain.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marlene Bateman Sullivan was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. She graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She is married to Kelly R. Sullivan and they are the parents of seven children.

Her hobbies are gardening, camping, and reading. Marlene has been published extensively in magazines and newspapers and has written a number of non-fiction books, including: Latter-day Saint Heroes and Heroines, And There Were AngelsAmong Them, Visit’s From Beyond the Veil, By the Ministering of Angels, and Brigham’s Boys. Marlene also wrote the best-selling novel, Light on Fire Island.

A busy writer, Marlene is set to have three books published this year. Gaze Into Heaven, a fascinating collection of over 50 documented near-death experiences in early church history, was published earlier this year. Next is Motive for Murder, the first in a mystery series featuring the quirky Erica Coleman. In July,Heroes of Faith, a collection of stories about people who risked their life for the gospel, will be released by Cedar Fort Inc.

INTERVIEW
What inspired you to write Motive for Murder?

I love mysteries so much that I finally decided to write one.  My first book, Light on Fire Island, was a combination mystery/romance, and while there is a little romance in Motive for Murder, it is more of a full-blown mystery. I loved the idea of a quirky, OCD private detective, so created Erica Coleman, who will star in forthcoming mysteries. Erica is both helped and hampered by her OCD tendencies, which alternately charms and irritates people.

Who is your favorite character in your book, and why?

I like Erica Coleman the best, but I had a lot of fun with Myrna and Coby Kincaid. I loved it when Erica helped Coby sneak some cookies while his wife isn’t looking!

Do you have any unusual habits while you write?

Not really, but I have four furry friends who keep me company. I have three cats and two dogs and both dogs and two of the cats follow me around wherever I happen to be working.  My husband built a little gazebo in the back yard, and I often go out there to write and my little friends always go out with me and curl up in the shade.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

My husband and I like to go camping.  We roughed it when we had kids, but then bought a 5th wheel. Much nicer! Air conditioning, queen size bed, microwave, stove, the works. I take my laptop of course, and occasionally “work” but it doesn’t seem like work when you’re sitting underneath tall pines and enjoying the great outdoors.

Do you have plans for a new book?  Is Motive for Murder part of a series?

I have BIG plans. Motive for Murder is the first in a series that feature Erica Coleman as a private eye.  In fact, the next two books in the Erica Coleman series have already been accepted.  In future books Erica continues ferreting out clues, and annoying people with her OCD even though it helps her pick out clues that others miss. At times, Erica will be in danger, and have to work to overcome her fears as she works to uncover the murderer.

Also, I hope to do a sequel to my non-fiction book, Gaze Into Heaven, which was published earlier this year. Gaze into Heaven is a collection of 50 near-death experiences in early Church History. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from readers, and that has been very encouraging.

What would you like your readers to get out of your writing?

First, I want readers to be entertained.  That’s why, after all, people read—to be entertained by an engaging story.  Second, I like to explore specific problems, such as in relationships or moral issues, the kind of thing all of us face. In Light on Fire Island, I had the main character deal with a fractured relationship with her father. She felt he didn’t love her, but he was just a crusty old sailor who didn’t deal well with relationships. They both needed to learn to forgive and accept others for what they are.  InMotive for Murder, there is conflict between Wendy and her teenage daughter, Megan. So often teenagers think the world revolves around them. But we also see things from Megan’s point of view and come to understand why and how Megan feels that her mother’s actions indicate a lack of caring toward her children. It’s interesting to see how each person sees the same thing differently and each character has valid points.
 
Where can we purchase your book?

Seagull BookAvailable on CD and paperback.  
AmazonAvailable on Kindle, and paperback.
Deseret Book:  Available as Ebook, CD, or paperback.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

FIRST WILD CARD TOUR: Never Gone by Laurel Garver

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:

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 14, 2012)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Laurel Garver holds degrees in English and journalism and earns a living as a magazine editor. She enjoys quirky independent films, word games, British television, Celtic music, and mentoring teens at her church. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter.

Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Days after her father’s death, fifteen-year-old Dani Deane begins seeing him all around New York—wading through discarded sketches in her room, roaming the halls at church, socializing at his post-funeral reception. Is grief making her crazy? Or could her dad really be lingering between this world and the next, trying to contact her?

Dani desperately longs for his help. Without him keeping the peace, Dani’s relationship with her mother is deteriorating fast. Soon Mum ships her off to rural England with Dad’s relatives for a visit that Dani fears will become a permanent stay. But she won’t let her arty, urban life slip away without a fight, especially when daily phone calls with her lab partner Theo become her lifeline.

To find her way home, Dani must somehow reconnect with Mum. But as she seeks advice from relatives and insights from old letters, she uncovers family secrets that shake her to the core. Convinced that Dad’s ghost alone can help her, she sets out on a dangerous journey to contact him one last time.



Product Details:
List Price: $9.89
Paperback: 236 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 14, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1479205079
ISBN-13: 978-1479205073


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

My dad and I have this game we play on elevators. One of us comes up with three related things and the other has to guess the category. If I say “Frick, Cloisters, Guggenheim,” Dad will know they’re museums — and our favorite Saturday haunts here in the city. He usually stumps me with weird British slang from his childhood or random facts about my mother. I have a way harder time stumping him. Even when I try classmates’ names, art terms, indie bands or obscure Harry Potter characters, he almost always gets it right.

As the floors blip by, I at last have the perfect clue: Self, Us, People.

Identity groups? he’d guess. Circles of moral responsibility? Subjects of your latest drawing? Blimey, is it the multiple points of view in Renoir’s group paintings?

Nope, he’d never get it. He never saw those coffee-ringed magazine covers in the ICU waiting room. He was the patient. And even though he died two days ago, I can’t stop playing Three Things on elevators.

By the time I reach the seventh floor, I have a strep-like ache in my throat. I shuffle into the hall, hugging a packet of Dad’s memorial service bulletins to my chest. I won’t lose it. I won’t. The minute I let one toe stray into that quicksand, it will suck me right under.

As I trudge toward our apartment, every muscle fiber screams, “No! Run!” like I’m the ditzy chick in some horror movie about to go explore the haunted attic alone.

The moment I slide my key in the lock, my mother yanks open the door. She stands there in her cashmere suit, fists on hips, dry-eyed and smelling of Tresor perfume, like she’d spent the afternoon in client meetings rather than a crematorium in Greenwich Village. I bet she’d let her long-lost Central Pennsylvania accent slip out before she’d ever shed a tear.

“Dani! Where have you been? I’ve been sick with worry. Your grandfather’s cab got back ages ago, and he said you were right behind him.”

“You didn’t get my message?”

She sags a little. “Do you have any idea how many people have left messages today?”

“Sorry, really. I, uh, stayed late to help with this.” I hand her the packet of bulletins, still warm from the copier. “The secretary let me do the layout. And a special cover.”

“So all this time you’ve been at church?”

I nod and follow her into the dining room, where the table is set for six. She tosses the packet onto the sideboard, then turns, frowning, to inspect my ink-stained fingers. “What on earth? You had a nail appointment.”

If she’d look in the packet, she might have a clue where the hours went and how I got so inky. But as usual, she can’t be bothered with anything tainted by stained glass and steeples.

I glance at Dad’s chair, wishing he were here to run interference. He’d compliment my skillful hands, explain how I can’t draw wearing those thick acrylic tips. But his chair is empty, and no matter how hard I wish it, I’ll never hear his voice again.

“Sorry. I just…ran out of time.”

“This simply won’t do, darling.” Mum prods my ragged cuticles. “You can’t stand in a receiving line and shake a hundred hands looking like this. Go wash up, and I’ll give you a manicure after dinner.”

Nice. Deviate from Mum’s precious plan and I’m dismissed like a coffee-spilling, Xerox-breaking temp. I doubt anyone will give a hoot about my stupid nails tomorrow.

I open my mouth to argue, then clamp it shut. If Dad were here, he’d say it was “jolly nice of your mum to offer” and make the sign language motion for “honor.” My cue to remember the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” To remember our long talks about Mum and God and how being a sullen jerk when she pushes my buttons only makes my faith a joke to her. Hypocrisy. A lie.

I sigh. “Okay, Mum.”

When I look toward Dad’s chair again, he nods and mouths, Well done.

Dad?

He runs a hand through his thick, ginger-blond hair and smiles. His blue eyes crinkle in the corners. I want to run to him and kiss those crinkles, kiss his hawk nose and big ears. Hang on and never let go. But I can’t move, can scarcely breathe. There’s no sign that his face was a crazy quilt of stitches, purple welts and crusted bandages. That machines kept his lungs working.

Mum waves a napkin in my face. “Dani? Hello? You all right?”

I peer around her. Dad’s chair is empty again, but the placemat at his space is askew. No way did Madame Perfect do that.

“Danielle?” Mum touches my arm and I jerk to attention.

“Sorry. I was just remembering —” I rifle through my coat pockets. “Here’s the receipts and change from the taxi. And I’m not hungry. But…I’ll take care of my nails. Now. On my own. But thanks for offering. I guess I’ll go now. To my room. So, um, bye.”

I stumble down the hall and pull my bedroom door closed behind me. For a dizzy moment, I grip the knob and gulp in air. I’m all right. It was nothing. A flash. A brain burp. After spending hours drawing his portrait from an old photo, I must have his face burned onto my retinas like an afterimage.

Except he moved. Gestured. Communicated. Bumped a placemat. I don’t think that’s usual for a grief hallucination.

Conflicting feelings scamper inside me like crazed squirrels. All around me is nothing but more chaos. Deep drifts of crumpled Kleenex, unfinished sketches, textbooks, and lotion tubes litter the floor. My bed’s lost under heaps of laundry. In one corner, my half-packed suitcase lays open beside an unopened stack of Christmas gifts. When Mum gets a spare moment to see this place, she’s going to flip.

“Dani?” Aunt Cecily calls outside my door. “Back, are you?”

I turn from the mess and open my door. Dad’s older sister shifts nervously in her tweed overcoat and tugs on a lock of her bobbed, sandy hair. She hands me a white garment bag from Macy’s. “Your mother asked me to find you something dark and dressy to wear tomorrow. None of your skirts or dresses is quite right for the occasion, she said.”

“Probably not.” I rip away the plastic. Something black and blandly shapeless emerges. Lord have mercy. What fashion travesty has Aunt Cardigan-Khaki-Loafers decided to inflict on me? She must’ve fallen into the clutches of Macy’s most sadistic sales clerk, or the most clueless — someone who assumes every Brit takes fashion tips from the queen.

Cecily’s forehead puckers with worry. “Is it all right, dearest?”

“It’s…nice,” I say, trying to not cringe as I rub the scratchy fabric between my fingers.

“You hate it.” She blushes, two red splotches spreading across her milky English skin.

Dad looked just like that whenever I asked him to pick up tampons at the store. I wince and turn away.

“We can take it back,” Cecily blurts, misreading me. She frantically digs through her pockets, finds the receipt, and jabs it at me. “Here, I still have the bill of sale. We can go now. Or after dinner. They’re open till ten at least.” She grabs up the shredded garment bag, noisily rustling plastic as she tries to rewrap the dress. “I don’t know why your mother asked me to shop for you. She knows I haven’t her capacity for glamour.”

It’s one thing for Mum to boss and bully me, but there’s no way she can do this to Cecily.

“Please stop fluttering. It’s fine.” I take the dress again and hang it on a peg, letting the plastic fall. There has to be some way to fix this, to spare my style-challenged aunt from embarrassment or having to fight the city crowds, which terrify her. Come on, brain.

“Oh, Dani,” she says. “Don’t settle on my account.”

“It’s just very…grown up, which is kind of startling. Like you see me as so, well, mature.”

“Of course you are, so brave through such a difficult time.” As tears pool in her eyes, she briskly pats my arm and ducks away from my room.

The scent of beef bourguignon wafts through the door as she goes. For a split-second I’m tempted to follow her. But Dad’s counting on me to “honor” Mum, which for now means doing what I say I will — skip dinner to fix my raggedy nails.

I kick a path to my dresser and rifle through my toiletries for an emery board. As I dig deeper, something cool oozes onto my fingers. Oh, no. Hand sanitizer. One whiff and I’m back in Dad’s ICU room with powered-down machines, a gray stone man in a bed. So cold. So silent. So gone. I hurl the leaky bottle across the room, and it lands just short of the trash can, by Dad’s shoe.

Dad’s shoe?

I stare at the scuffed, brown oxford, size 12. My gaze drifts up to jeans legs, a corduroy blazer. It’s Dad, leaning on my desk like he used to every night.

He tilts his head and knits his pale eyebrows. “Rough day, my love?”

My love. His Rosebud. Dance-pants. Doodlebug.

Tears sting my eyes. My heart tugs me to go hug him and pour out all my troubles, while my brain screams Flatline! Corpse! Crematorium!

I wobble and sink onto my bed.

“Oh, Dad,” I croak. “What am I supposed to do without you? Mum and I…it’s hopeless. I can’t do anything right in her eyes. To her, I’m just a pathetic slob.”

“Not so, not so. Grace brags endlessly about your talent to anyone who’ll listen. She just frets about you, you know, developing a proper artist’s eye for composition, symmetry and all that. A bit of order does help, right?”

“I guess.”

He smiles. “Very well, then, let’s get to it. Crank some tunes and we’ll have this place spiffed up in no time. Come on. It’ll be fun. I’ll do my Bowie impression.”

I snort at the thought of Dad waving his long, wiry arms to glam rock while shelving books and dusting. He always is happy to be an epic doofus if it makes boring chores entertaining.

Not is. Was. Shame flushes through me.

“This can’t be real.” I turn my hot face away and peel off my coat. Why am I talking to this hallucination or ghost or whatever it is? How could I possibly believe that Dad can go on having fun and playing peacemaker? It’s wishful thinking in the extreme.

When I turn back, he’s gone. Instead of a sweet breeze of relief, the loss hits like a fist.

“Dad?”

I squeeze my eyes shut and try to conjure him. The lilt of his northern British accent. The sharp scent of darkroom chemicals clinging to his clothes. But it’s no good.

“I’m sorry I doubted you, Dad. Please come back. I promise I’ll listen.”



* * *



My breath fogs the cold glass as I perch on my bedroom windowsill and frantically dial Heather. Stories below me, yellow cabs race down Columbus toward midtown.

At Heather’s end, the Mexican Hat Dance is probably jangling in a pocket of that heinous gold lamé knapsack she loves so much. I hope she can hear it. Chances are her Georgia relatives dragged her to a monster truck rally or line dance or whatever it is they do for holiday family fun. She headed south for winter break with her big, noisy family the day we were all so sure Dad would pull through. He did wake up for a while. And Christmas was coming.

But real life isn’t a cheesy holiday flick with miracles that arrive right on time. Dad didn’t pull through, and now my best friend is far, far away when I need her most.

The line clicks. “Hey,” Heather says. “I thought we were gonna chat online at nine. You okay?”

“No, I — It’s…something really, really weird has happened. I saw…um —”

“Becca!” she suddenly shouts at her toddler sister, “get your grubby paws off my pastels and go back to bed! Hang on a sec, Dani, I need to move my art stuff before Becca scrawls a tornado in Times Square.” The phone crackles on fabric and I hear Heather calling for backup.

I sigh with relief. Bless you, Becca, you sticky-handed terror. That was a close one. What was I thinking, trying to tell Heather I saw Dad? She’ll think I’ve gone off the deep end. Or worse, she’ll let something slip to our youth pastor or even my mother.

I grab my sketch pad and attack it with a charcoal stick while I wait. My jagged strokes form Dad and me on the steps of the Metropolitan. It sucks not being able to talk about his ghost or spirit or whatever it is, but what can I do? Who could I possibly trust with something this bizarre?

The phone clanks again. “Sorry ‘bout that. It’s too doggone noisy for Becca to sleep well here, with my redneck relatives hollering all the time. I keep hoping there’s some mistake and Daddy was switched at birth. Oh, get this — loony Aunt Pearl is going to clown college.”

My laugh comes out slightly strangled. Rusty. Like I forgot how.

“You don’t sound good, Dani. If the airport weren’t three hours away, I’d be on a plane home in a heartbeat. How about we take your dad some flowers when I get back Monday?”

“Sorry, but I can’t. I’m leaving on Sunday for England.”

“You are? But why?”

“The interment.”

“What’s that? Sounds like something Nazis would do.”

“It’s the, you know…the dirt part.”

“But I thought your dad was being buried in New York.” Her voice is thick and choked. “Aren’t we gonna get even a day of break to hang out?”

I blink back tears. “I wish. I really do. But the England burial is in Dad’s will. Sunday flights were cheapest.”

“You’ll come right on back though, won’t you?”

“No. Not for, um, two weeks.”

“Two weeks! Are ya kidding me? What about midterms?”

“Mum thinks she can cut a deal with the headmaster. I’m not sure what I’ll do if she can’t. I’ve got enough going on without worrying that my GPA is in jeopardy, too, right? I feel like I’m sinking into a swampy pit. I wish someone would throw me a vine.”

“I’ll try, Dani. Let me think. For your dad’s memorial service tomorrow, you need a plan, a way to bail if things get too ugly.”

“How bad can it get? I doubt we’ll have a pro-wrestling smack-down, like at your great-granddad’s funeral in Mobile. My family doesn’t really do ugly feelings, except for sulks and sarcasm.” I pick up my sketch pad again and layer on choppy cross-hatch shadows. “But if I get weepy and my mascara melts, I’ll…I don’t know. Hide in the bathroom?”

“Not very original, but it’ll do. Listen, you need someone there for you who won’t be a mess themselves.”

“Like who? Everyone I know left town for the holidays.”

“That can’t be true. But don’t you worry about it, all right? I got unlimited long distance and I won’t rest till I find someone.”

“Seriously?”

“Trust me, I wouldn’t let you be alone at a time like this.”

Trust her. I look at my desk, where Dad was standing just minutes ago. Trust her, my only friend who came to the hospital, ate bad cafeteria meals with me, typed my tear-stained homework.

“Heather, I need to tell you something a little freaky.” I take a deep breath. Trust her. Trust her. “I just saw my dad. And he talked to me.”

She gasps, and then the line’s silent.

“Heather?”

“You — You think your dad is…haunting you?”

“I don’t know exactly.” I go to my desk and touch the spot Dad had leaned against. “I was trying not to fight with Mum and he was suddenly there, kind of…helping me cope with her. Later he offered to help me clean my room. He seemed so real, down to the wrinkles around his eyes.”

“I know you miss him a lot, but what you saw…might not be quite what you think.”

“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence. You think I’m cavorting with evil spirits, huh?”

“That’s not what I meant.” She blows out a slow breath. “You’ve got me worried. Please don’t do anything extreme — like climb in a casket or something. You’re stressed out and hurting and your mind can play tricks on you.”

“Climb in a casket? As if. You are so morbid. Anyway, there is no casket. Dad was cremated to travel lighter. I’d need to be the size of a Barbie doll to fit in his urn.”

“Dani, you better talk to somebody who’s there in person. Like now. I know you and your mom aren’t exactly tight. But your dad’s parents are there, aren’t they?”

“Yeah. His big sister, too.”

“Talk to them, okay? Promise?”

“Fine. Whatever. See you in a few weeks.”

I plunk the phone on my jagged sketch of Dad and me. My face looks half-melted, like Quasimodo or pottery that collapsed in the kiln. Heather’s right. I’m losing my freaking mind. And now my inky fingertips have a fresh coat of charcoal. Great. I can’t do anything without making a mess.

I tiptoe to the bathroom, hoping Mum doesn’t stop me for a surprise inspection. I scrub my hands with wet wipes, pumice soap, then nail polish remover. A dozen cotton balls later, my fingers still have a faint blue tinge, like I’m oxygen-deprived. I ought to put on Goth-black polish to complete the look. Better yet, I could stick feathers in my hair and change my name to Dances-with-Ghosts. It’d be about as sane as keeping my promise to Heather.

I can’t go marching into the dining room and say, “Great news! Dad’s back. He just stopped by for a chat.” I can picture how swimmingly that’d go down with my family. Aunt Cecily would weep into her knitting, while Dad’s mother, Grandma Deane, would sit pale and stricken in her ivory twinset, teacup rattling in her hands. Dad’s father, the Reverend Elliott Deane, would either conk me with a crucifix like I’m possessed or give me the senile church lady treatment — a thoughtful frown, reassuring pat, and vague inspirational quote of the day. Mum would flash one of her apologetic “teenagers are such a trial” smiles, and say nothing. Not like she’d get a word in edgewise with Poppa Tilman grousing about her “un-daughterly” hospitality, “uppity” cooking, “plain-Jane” décor.

Well, I didn’t promise I’d talk about the ghost, only that I’d talk. I think I can manage to get “More tea anyone?” to come out of my mouth.

I towel off each knuckle and nail, chanting a prayer: Lord God. Have mercy. On me.

My heart rate slows. I can do this.

I shut off the light and slowly pad down the hall. Voices grow clearer as I near the dining room. Mum is blathering on about the real estate market in our Upper West Side neighborhood.

Then Grandma asks, “You’ve discussed this with Dani, haven’t you?”

I freeze. Discussed what?

Friday, July 26, 2013

FIRST WILD CARD TOUR: Lost & Found by Lyne Reider

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:

LIFE SENTENCE Publishing (May 1, 2013)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Lyne and Nicholas John Reider married in 2004 and had five children. Nicholas went home to be with the Lord in November 2012. Lyne has spoken to adults and youth all over the United States about pain and grief and how to find rest in Jesus Christ. The Reider family currently resides in Wisconsin.


Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

After losing two sisters, a best friend, and her thirty-seven-year-old husband, Lyne shares her incredible testimony of how God has not only kept her, but ultimately used every event to bless others.
Lyne came from a broken family. Her father is a convicted murderer. The first and only time she met him was while he was in chains and in prison. She was raised by an abusive stepfather and contemplated suicide several times. Lyne knew there was a God and she believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, the only thing keeping her alive.

Tragically, Lyne’s sister Michelle passed away at the age of twenty-four, and her other sister Antonya passed away at the age of sixteen. This ultimately led to severe depression. Nothing, however, prepared her for the pain she felt when her thirty-seven-year-old husband Nicholas died. Incredibly, she never lost hope in God and therefore, she chose life over death.

Regardless of a person’s status in society or how much money they have, grief affects anyone, in any culture. This book has touched the lives of many. And it will touch you.



Product Details:
List Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 102 pages
Publisher: LIFE SENTENCE Publishing (May 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1622450795
ISBN-13: 978-1622450794


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Why Not Me?
Growing up I knew that my twin and I had a different father from my older two sisters. I also knew that our stepfather was neither of ours. I’m not sure how I found out or at what age I found out. I do remember that I knew it at the age of about eight because a woman who had come to the house said that my twin looked just like our father, and we burst out laughing. We knew she must have been lying or she didn’t realize Zeke was our stepfather. Perhaps she really did think they looked alike, but we knew better.
The earliest childhood memory I have is when I was about five years old, and I was at Red Lobster with my sisters, mother, and cousin Lat. My next memory is around the same age, and we were in Michigan where I was born, and my mother and Zeke were leaving us with relatives to go to Texas. I remember that I cried like never before. I feared I would never see my mother again, but we soon moved to Marshall, Texas.
Growing up was hard for me. I was shy, fearful, and intimidated. I always thought I was ugly and unpopular because of the fear Zeke had put into me. My biological father had never been in the picture. He led a very destructive life and is now serving life in prison for it. Not only was he involved in multiple crimes, including robbery and rape, but he eventually committed the terrible crime of murdering a young woman. I never knew him. I only knew his name. I did have an old picture of him from the 1970s. I don’t remember how I got the picture, but I think my mother gave it to me when I asked her about him.
I used to stare at it because I could not see how in the world I looked like him. There were several times when I was young that my mom would get upset with me. I’m sure I did something wrong. She would say I had the same personality as my father, and I looked just like him. It made me mad because I could tell that in some small way, she was disgusted with me for reminding her of him.
So I stared at the picture and hated it. I had never met this man who was my biological father. I did obtain his prison address and wrote one or two letters to him in 1996. But when I got his letter back, he talked crazy, and it scared me. I never wrote him again.
When I was twenty-four, I did finally meet him. In the year 2001, while dating a guy named Jesse, I had such a burden on my heart to find out why he had killed that young lady. More than anything, I wanted to see him and talk to him face to face. I had a college ministry during that time at Iowa State University, and I was on fire for God. I wanted everyone to get saved.
I discussed this with Jesse, but we needed to get my name on my father’s visitors list. We did and we then drove to Michigan from Iowa.
Nervous and unsure of what I would say, I entered the maximum security facility. I was scared. After a lot of waiting, they called my name and did a normal body search. They took me to an area where people were talking through a thick glass or plastic window. I sat down and waited.
In about two minutes, he entered, wearing an orange jump suit. His hands were shackled and his feet were shackled. He could barely walk. I became numb. The only thing I remember is him telling me how much I had grown and how beautiful I was. All I could manage to ask was why he had murdered that young lady.
He said they were dating and smoking marijuana and drinking. In the middle of an argument, the young lady had grabbed a letter opener. He tried to take it from her, and all of a sudden he snapped and stabbed her.
I just sat there holding my breath. He knew I was a believer in Jesus Christ, and he told me that evil spirits came into his cell and tormented him. He was very afraid. He asked me to look on the internet about demonic spirits, and I nodded. I was in shock. But why was I nodding my head?
I didn’t need to know about demonic spirits. I knew about the power and blood of Jesus Christ! But I couldn’t get the words out. I prayed with him, but I don’t even remember what I prayed; I was so shaken up. I never went back, and I never answered any letters. I was so afraid of him knowing where I lived even though he had a life sentence in prison.
I had known that I had a bad father, but not much had ever been said about him. My early years were good as far as I could remember. One time in particular we had a huge Christmas. My stepfather Zeke wasn’t as mean back then. We had chores, and a lot of them, but our house wasn’t the war zone that it would later become. That Christmas we got so many toys, bikes, remote control cars, dolls, and stockings full of candy! That was the first and last nice Christmas I remember having. After that, Christmas consisted of maybe one shirt, some pajamas, and a stocking full of nuts and oranges. Life had taken a dramatic turn.
I wish people, especially parents, would realize that although children may have had happy moments in their lives, if the majority of their life was in darkness, that is what they will recall most often. That overshadowing darkness was especially the case with me.
Stark contrasts filled my early life. In high school, I was in band, and I twirled rifles and flags. Twirling rifles was pretty cool, and only about five to eight girls qualified, so you had to be good. And I was! We had to attend parades, but most of the time my sisters and I could not go.
We were all in band, and my twin twirled also. My older sister was the drum major. One time we went to a parade, but to my mom and stepfather, that was probably enough. However, we would get left there with no ride home.
By this time, we had moved from the city out to the country, in Nesbitt, Texas. Nobody ever wanted to take us home. We never had any money, so here we were in 101 degrees of hot Texas weather, and we had no way of buying an ice-cold drink. The parade was downtown, with no water fountains around.
I felt like I was going to pass out. I stared at other kids buying drinks and started to cry. Then my older sister Michelle came up and said she had begged her friend for some money to buy a Dr Pepper. The three of us drank from that small eight-ounce cup and savored every last drop. So what my parents thought was a fun event turned out to be terrible and humiliating to me.
I’m sure my mom did the best she could. I guess I was upset with her for choosing a husband who didn’t work, but stayed at home instead of supporting her. If he had worked, we would have had enough. I have such a dislike for laziness now, and that is a good thing.
Similarly, we would go to band practice and get left there. We would sit outside on the steps as everyone else left, hoping someone would pick us up. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. My band teacher, Mr. Robinson, often took us home but was reluctant to do so every time, and didn’t always offer. If my mother did pick us up, she would be late. Practice would be over at 5:00 p.m., and she would come at 8:30 p.m.
Sure, this isn’t the end of your life, but you sure start to feel that way. We seldom had new clothes for school. In the earlier years, we did. But starting in the sixth or seventh grade, we did not – no new clothes for the first days of school. I know this because I remember being embarrassed at school about it when I didn’t even have new school supplies either.
As I worked out in the yard, I daydreamed about wearing an outfit that I had seen in a JCPenney catalog. I wanted that outfit. We worked a lot. We lived in the country on a farm, and we had goats, chickens, cows, and dogs. I learned how to gut a fish before I was ten years old, and I knew how to kill and skin a chicken. I hated my life.
My sisters and I spent countless hours a day working on that farm while Zeke stayed in the house and dictated to us from the back steps. This was not easy work, and it was too hard for a little ten-year-old. We had to clean and rake out the outside sewage line. Nasty. Our yard was so large that once we raked leaves and burned them, Zeke would come outside and make us do it again because the wind had blown new leaves out of the trees. We used axes and sickles and cut down logs all day. It did not matter if we had school or not.
On Saturdays, Zeke would bark and yell at us to get up at 7:00 a.m. and go outside to work. I used to wish that we could watch cartoons. We would stay outside until dark, which was between nine and ten o’clock in the evening. We could only break to eat. I would be so sore that I cried.
I remember one night when we had been working all day and night, I was so tired. I didn’t get to bed until at least eleven o’clock, and that week I had been on “dish duty.” Well, there was one small saucer left in the sink. Zeke came into our room around one o’clock in the morning and yelled at me to go clean that one plate. I was so tired and weak, I just started crying.
I rarely had peace in our home. If I did, that meant Zeke and my mom weren’t home. They would argue so loud and so much that I would pull the pillow over my head and cry. One time the fighting got so bad that my mom pulled a gun out on Zeke. Of course, in Texas people hunt a lot, so we had a pistol and a rifle by the back door. My mom went to jail that night.
Our house was a mess, and I wanted to get out! We could never go over to our friends’ homes, and we could never have them over to ours. I didn’t care about that because I was too ashamed to have them over.
A dramatic change took place the day my sister Pinky died. I believe that was the day a part of my mother died as well. I can still see my sister. She was beautiful, and I thought she was the coolest person ever. Her name was Antonya, but we called her Pinky. My mom said that was because her skin color was pink when she was born. She was cool and she had cool friends. I remember a party we had for her, but we could only hang out in the backyard because we weren’t grown up enough to hang around her friends.
We traveled to Houston, Texas a lot. I saw MD Anderson Hospital a lot as well. You see, Pinky was sixteen years old and had melanoma carcinoma skin cancer. I don’t know exactly how long it was between them finding it and her dying. Not long though.
We went to Camp Star Trails for family members of cancer patients. I remember the first year that we went, Pinky had given me about sixty dollars. I didn’t know what it was for. But I knew I loved candy! I went into the camp candy store and bought the entire store out! The only thing I left was Chick-O-Sticks. Campers were in a theatre room, and I snuck next to Pinky and my sisters in the dark. Very sneakily, I showed them all the candy I racked up. My sister Pinky gasped and asked me where I got the money for all of that candy.
I said, “From the money you gave me.”
She shrieked back, “Girl! That was our bus money to get home!”
Of course she made me take the candy back and get our money back. At the end of camp, I received the “Candy Queen” award. That was funny. There was a beautiful girl there named Heather. I wished I looked like her. She was breathtaking. And then she died. Although camp was a fun atmosphere to take your mind off things, you were constantly reminded of the sickness.
I do think, however, that at camp was the first time I seriously had a crush on someone. His name was MacGyver, and he was our camp counselor. Of course, I was ten and he was in his twenties. He pretty much laughed at me. I would have too if I were him. He was married, and this little tike was begging for his attention. My sisters laughed at me.
Our move to the country had caused things to change with more chores, more work, and more abuse. Zeke never wanted anything good for us. One Halloween my mom wanted to take us to get candy. She shoved us into our pickup truck after she and Zeke had been arguing about us not going anywhere. As my mom tried to drive off, Zeke attempted to jump into the back of the truck. I didn’t even want to go home because I knew it would be bad when we returned.
One time Zeke made Michelle so mad that she grabbed a butter knife and pulled it out on him. She always was a pistol. As adults we later laughed because a butter knife would not have done anything harmful.
One day as my twin Ellaysa, my sister Michelle, and I got off the school bus, we noticed a lot of white chairs in the yard. No one was home. We often came home to an empty house because Zeke was next door at his father’s house. It was the country, and his father’s house was not close, but he was our neighbor. Michelle thought we were having a party, but Ellaysa thought Pinky had died. I leaned more on the side that Pinky was gone, but didn’t believe it.
My mom’s best friend Ora Brown brought Mama home, and she was crying. I knew Pinky died, but said nothing. Mama pulled all of us into the back bedroom and said that Pinky was gone. She was dead. All I could do was cry. I cried even more for my mom. That was her firstborn. That was her baby. Now that I am a mother I feel her pain even more. Oh, it had to hurt so badly. To lose the baby that you have adored, taken care of, loved, and raised. My mother lost a part of herself that day. I still grieve for my mother.
Because I had never seen a dead person before, I was terrified at the funeral. My beautiful sister and the coolest person in the world didn’t even look like herself. What did they do to her? It didn’t look like her at all. An usher tried to force me off the pew to go look inside her open casket. Who did he think he was? He didn’t know her. He didn’t know me. Didn’t he realize I could see her face from where I was sitting in the front row? I told him no as he tried to pull me up to go look at her, and then I became angry and yanked my arm from around him and firmly told him no again.
I didn’t want to see her like that. I later regretted that I did not go up and kiss her forehead. After it was over and she was buried, I just wanted to see her one more time, and I couldn’t. I hated myself for many years for refusing to see her one last time.
After this, I noticed that everything in my home changed. I love my mother. I always found peace, rest, and safety in her. But that all disappeared. After Pinky died, my mother had good jobs, but it wasn’t enough because Zeke was unwilling to work. The jobs my mother had didn’t pay much, or perhaps they did, but because Zeke could never keep a job, we always struggled. I resented him for being so lazy.
Out of all the years of living under that roof, I only remember him working straight for one month. He was always yelling about the white man and not wanting to be told what to do. So, he bummed on the couch all day, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. I hated that smoke. I still do because I’m allergic to it. My allergies are so bad that I take allergy shots. Zeke became more and more cruel. He knew how I would sneeze around smoke, and he would smoke in the car with the windows rolled up. He would refuse to roll them down if I asked. He was so miserable in his own pathetic life that he wanted to make ours the same.
I remember my mother sticking up for me one time. I was sneezing so much and couldn’t stop. Zeke became irritated in the car and yelled at me.
My mom yelled at him, “It’s more irritating to her than it is to you!”
It made no difference. I was still stuck in a smoky car. To this day, I do not like to see children in cars with their parents smoking. Why are you killing your child? Do you not love them enough to stop your habit for a car ride? You have a choice to smoke. They do not. You are the one that is making them smoke.
I will always be able to say I love my mother. I’m sure she did the best that she could, at least from the understanding and knowledge that she had. My only source of sadness comes from people not wanting to grow in their knowledge. For instance, someone may want to borrow money from you, but they do not want any knowledge of how to be debt-free themselves. It is a shame and very sad that people tend to not want any meaningful learning tools that would help them manage their money and be good stewards over what God has given them, especially if it is not received from a family member.
I cannot grasp the pain of losing a child. I can only imagine it. And the thoughts alone are unbearable. One thing I have learned on this journey is this: After I have tried for so long to make things normal in my life, I now realize that after the death of a loved one, things will never be normal again. People say you must find a new normal. No, take out the word normal because it will never be normal again. You must start a new chapter.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

BLOG TOUR/GIVEAWAY: Heaven's Just a Prayer Away by Diony George


ABOUT THE BOOK

Sometimes we wonder how, with so many people on earth, we matter to God. Like birdsongs in a city of sounds, answers to our prayers are easy to miss—unless we’re listening. Through inspiring personal stories, scripture, and prose, Heaven’s Just A Prayer Away answers many questions about communicating with and drawing closer to Jesus Christ and our Father in Heaven.

Here is a brief description of the book:
“Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let they heart be full of thanks unto God.” –Alma 37:37
Before we came to earth, we lived in heavenly realms. We knew our Heavenly Father. We walked and talked with Him. We heard His voice. We felt His love. In Heaven’s Just a Prayer Away, beloved author Diony George teaches us how to reestablish that relationship with Him here on earth.

With the help of this book you will:
• Learn that nothing is too small or unimportant to discuss with Heavenly Father

• Find peace and contentment through daily communication with God

• Gain a better understanding of why some prayers seem to go unanswered

• Develop a greater knowledge of the power of prayer
The inspirational and enlightening experiences found within these pages will change your life forever by strengthening your relationship with God and filling your life with peace, teaching us that heaven really is just a prayer away.

Praise for Heaven's Just A Prayer Away: 

"Heaven’s Just a Prayer Away is a sweet, heartfelt book with author Diony George’s personal experiences intermixed with compelling stories about how prayer can shape our lives. I found myself either smiling or teary-eyed as I immersed myself in the stories, reminded that prayer is healing and sanctifying, prayer can bring inspiration, prayer can ease burdens, and prayer lets us feel the love of God for ourselves and those around us.
Heather B. Moore, author of Christ’s Gifts to Women


"In Heaven’s Just a Prayer Away, Diony provides a comprehensive discussion on prayer through inspiring stories, basic principles, and heartfelt testimony. Her personal approach makes answers to prayer and divine blessings seem more within reach."

—John McConkie, stake president

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Diony George is a wife, stay-at-home mom of seven, grandmother of three, motivational speaker, and the author of four books. Through her writing and public speaking she loves helping others draw closer to God. An avid reader whose favorite genre is romantic suspense, Diony also loves to travel, sew, and bake—especially pies and homemade bread. Born and raised in Alaska, she currently resides in Salt Lake City with her husband and family. Mrs. George can be reached through her personal website at http://www.dionygeorge.com

REVIEW

Prayer is such a personal topic that it can be hard to talk about, but that doesn't hinder Diony George from writing a wonderful book on the topic.  Using both personal experiences, short stories, and quotes she covers the topic in a brief but powerful way.  Communicating with God can be such a wonderful thing if one takes the time and puts in the effort to do so. Highly recommended.

GIVEAWAY


1 print copy (US/Canada) OR 1 ecopy INTERNATIONAL
Ends 8/9/2013

a Rafflecopter giveaway

BLOG TOUR: Whisper Island by Anola Pickett


ABOUT THE BOOK

“Primmy, sure as anything, we should have named you Anne Bonny.”

He’s forever comparing me to the woman pirate who sailed our waters during Blackbeard’s time. Pa holds that Anne Bonny must have been a wild and careless girl. Like me. Although I have no desire to end up as a pirate.

I plan to be a Life Saver.

It’s 1913 in Whisper Island, North Carolina, and twelve-year-old Primmy Hopkins has dreams above her station. She wants to be a part of the US Life Savers Service, even though only men can join. She wants to do something worthwhile—to help people and make a difference. Her long-forgotten mother has other dreams for her, though. And when Primmy receives an invitation to spend her birthday with her mother, Primmy can only hope that she will accept her for who she is—or at least explain why she left their family.

This touching coming-of-age tale will keep you smiling at Primmy’s antics and rooting for its delightful cast of characters. Parents and children will both enjoy the rich historical setting and engaging humor of Anola Pickett’s latest novel.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anola Pickett grew up in a family of storytellers. Even her name has a story: it’s a combination of her two grandmothers’ names—Ann and Ola. Every family story grew longer and more colorful each time another person told it. In third grade Anola discovered that writing down stories was fun, too. In college she combined her love of reading and writing and earned a degree in English and creative writing. After spending several years as an elementary and middle school teacher, Anola worked as a school librarian. Now she writes full-time at her home in Kansas City, and a few years ago discovered that she enjoys writing historical fiction for young readers.

She and her husband, Peter, enjoy traveling together and always come back with at least one idea for another story!

You can learn more about her at www.anolapickett.com

REVIEW

Twelve-year old Primmy doesn't mean to get in trouble, it just seems to happen.  Between muddy sheets and runaway pigs, Primmy dreams of joining the Life Savers.  There is only one problem, she's a girl. And what about her mother who after running away nine years earlier suddenly wants to see her. Life in Whisper Island is anything it boring for young Primmy as she navigates her way through problems of all kinds.

I really enjoyed this book.  Primmy is a likeable character and made me laugh with her antics. Yet there are some thoughtful themes explored here as well, themes of growing up, pleasing others, and finding one's own path in life regardless of what the world has to say about it.  The inclusion of unusual vocabulary words and local dialect makes this historical fiction novel well worth sharing in the classroom.  Recommended.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

LDS BOOK REVIEW: Lifestyles of the Great and Spacious by John Bytheway

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ABOUT THE BOOK

With every passing day, the unforgettable imagery in Lehi’s dream becomes more real and more relevant. In our modern world, we can literally hear the taunts and see the pointing fingers of people like those in the great and spacious building. We find ourselves clinging with greater energy to the rod of iron as we work through the massive mists of darkness toward the tree of life. In Lifestyles of the Great and Spacious, John Bytheway looks at Lehi’s dream, and with his characteristic humor, comments from Church leaders, scholarly insights, and personal experiences, he expands our understanding of these precious verses of scripture.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Bytheway is a bestselling author, favorite speaker, and part-time instructor at Brigham Young University. His many titles include Heroes: Lessons from the Book of Mormon; Standards Night Live; Isaiah for Airheads; A Crash Course in Teenage Survival; Behind Every Good Man and his most recent book, Of Pigs, Pearls & Prodigals. He has also created numerous talks on CD, many of which are combined in The John Bytheway Collection, Vols. 1 and 2.

John served a mission to the Philippines and holds a master’s degree in Religious Education. He and his wife, Kimberly, have six children.

REVIEW

One of the things I love about John Bytheway's books is that they are written in a very easy to understand manner. It's not hard to see that he is a talented teacher.  In the case of this book, he explains a short section of scripture from The Book of Mormon, one of the books of scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon or LDS church).  This particular section of scripture is a dream/vision received by the Book of Mormon prophet, Lehi.  This dream is a powerful metaphor for mortal life. In the book the author quotes the scriptures related to the dream and then shares his thoughts and observations about it.  I appreciated that he goes through verse by verse, allowing the reader to think about each aspect of the vision and it's importance to the whole.  I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it, especially to those who have read The Book of Mormon but even to those who have not.

FIRST WILD CARD TOUR: Whispers on the Prairie by Vickie McDonough

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:

Whitaker House (June 17, 2013)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Vickie McDonough is an award-winning author of twenty-six books and novellas. A member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, she served as treasurer of the organization for three years and also was treasurer for her local chapter. Vickie lives with her husband, Robert, in Oklahoma. They have four grown sons and one daughter-in-law, and are grandparents to a precocious seven-year-old girl. When she isn’t writing, Vickie enjoys reading, shopping for antiques, watching movies, and traveling. Pioneer Promises Book Two, Call of the Prairie, is set for release in January 2014.


Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

The last thing Sarah Marshall wanted was to leave Chicago and travel the dusty Santa Fe Trail, but when her uncle demands she help her feeble aunt, she can’t refuse. Her aunt had taken Sarah in after her parents died. She becomes stranded at the Harper Stage Stop in Kansas, one of the first stops on Santa Fe Trail, and her presence causes a stir. Ethan Harper’s well-ordered life is thrown into turmoil with his two brothers and every unmarried male in the county lining up to woo Miss Sarah whom Ethan views as an uppity city girl. Is it because she’s the wrong woman for his brother—or the right one for himself?


Product Details:
List Price: $8.76
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (June 17, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603748415
ISBN-13: 978-1603748414


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

March 1870
Chicago
The toddler’s whimpers rose to an ear-splitting scream as the little girl pushed against the chest of the woman holding her captive.
“Here, let me have her, Abigail.” Sarah Marshall reached for Mary, and her friend handed over the fussy child. The girl persisted in her cries, so Sarah crooned to her, swaying in time to a waltz playing in her mind as she rubbed circles on the toddler’s back.
“I don’t see how you can have such patience with her. That obstinate child cries more than all the others in this orphanage combined.” Abigail bent down and reached for a handsome three-year-old boy, who came rushing toward her with a big smile that showed his dimples. “Personally,” Abigail raised her voice over Mary’s ruckus, “I prefer the quiet ones.”
Sarah smiled. “I prefer the needy ones.” She leaned her cheek against Mary’s head. “All is well, little one. All is well.”
After a few more minutes, the wails finally subsided, and the girl began to relax. She sniffled, her whole body shaking as she finally fell into an exhausted sleep.
“Poor little one.” Sarah’s heart nearly broke for the child, recently orphaned by the death of her mother. At least, at such a young age, she stood a chance to adapt more easily than Sarah had when her parents died. Though the accident that claimed their lives had happened over a decade ago, she still missed her father’s big smile and her mother’s comforting arms.
“You’ll make a good mother one day.” Mrs. Rayburn leaned against the door frame, looking tired. “Are you sure you don’t want to move in here?”
Sarah smiled. “If my aunt was in better health, you know I would take you up on your offer. And I do hope to be a mother someday. If I’m good, as you say, it will be only because I learned from the best.”
Mrs. Rayburn swiped her hand in the air, but Sarah could tell the comment pleased her. If not for the generous care of the well-to-do widow, the six orphaned children who resided under her roof would most likely still be out on the cold Chicago streets, begging for scraps to eat, working for some cruel taskmaster—or worse.
Abigail glided to the center of the bedroom that had been converted into a nursery, holding Tommy on her hip, and pretended to dance with him. “Sarah may take a giant step in the direction of motherhood this very night.”
“Abigail!” Heat marched across Sarah’s cheeks as she thought of Walt and how he’d hinted at proposing—again—at her birthday dinner tonight. “I don’t want that news getting out.”
“Why not?” Abigail spun the boy in a circle, eliciting a giggle. “You aren’t going to turn the poor fellow down again, are you?”
Sarah glared at her best friend, wishing she would learn when to hush. She hoisted Mary higher on her chest and carried her to the adjoining bedroom. Stopping beside Mary’s bed, she rocked the girl from side to side to make sure she was asleep. Though she would never admit it to Abigail, the toddler’s wails did grate on her nerves from time to time, especially when she hadn’t slept well the night before. Holding her breath, she lowered Mary into her bed and then pulled the small quilt over her.
Sarah kept her hand ready to pat Mary’s back, should she stir. Thankfully, she didn’t. Straightening, Sarah checked on the two napping babies. She then tiptoed across the big room to adjust the blanket covering Ian, the six-month-old whose father had deposited him on Mrs. Rayburn’s doorstep last fall. The poor man had lost his wife and couldn’t care for an infant. Sarah’s heart ached for each one of the youngsters. She knew how hard life could be without parents. Still, she counted herself among the lucky ones—she’d been taken in by family, though she hadn’t lived in a house as fine as Mrs. Rayburn’s mansion.
Bending, Sarah filled her apron skirt with rag dolls, balls, and other toys, then deposited them in the toy basket as the mantel clock in the parlor chimed two o’clock. She tiptoed out of the nursery and back into the playroom.
“Time for you girls to head home.” Mrs. Rayburn crossed the room and clapped her hands. “Tommy, would you like to hear a story?”
The three-year-old lunged into the older woman’s arms. She hugged him and then set him down. “My, but you’re getting heavy.”
“Too much porridge, I imagine.” Grinning, Sarah turned to Abigail. “Are you leaving now, too?”
“Yes, Papa is sending his driver for me. See you tomorrow, Mrs. Rayburn.” Abigail waved good-bye as she walked from the room. She stopped in the doorway and faced Sarah. “Do you want a ride to your uncle’s shop?”
“Thank you, but I’ll walk.”
Tommy ran out of the nursery, lifted his little hand, and waved. Mrs. Rayburn followed him into the upstairs parlor and took hold of his hand. “I don’t know how I’d manage without you girls and your friends who volunteer in the evenings. I fear I’m getting too old to manage so many young children.”
Mrs. Rayburn had said the same thing for the past two years, and yet she hadn’t turned Mary away when a neighbor had brought her last week. Still, Sarah couldn’t help wondering if the day would come when the kind woman would feel it necessary to close her door to the orphans. What would happen to them then?
She and Abigail donned their cloaks and left the warmth of the cozy home behind as they stepped out into the blustery chill of March. The gusty wind off Lake Michigan whipped at Sarah’s skirts, and the gloomy sky released a light drizzle. Abigail’s driver stepped out from under the shelter of a nearby tree and opened the door of her carriage.
“Are you sure you won’t let us give you a ride? It’s a miserable day to be out.”
“Thank you, but I’ll be fine. I’m headed home, anyway, and that’s the opposite direction for you.”
“So, you’re not clerking for your uncle this afternoon?” Abigail accepted her driver’s hand and climbed into the buggy. “How did you get out of doing that?” She sat, leaning toward Sarah, her eyebrows lifted.
“I’m going home to help Aunt Emma get things ready for my birthday dinner.” Sarah turned so the wind was at her back and wrapped her fist around the edges of her cloak to hold it closed. “You’re still coming tonight?”
Abigail nodded, grinning. “I wouldn’t miss seeing Walt propose again. I don’t know why you don’t just accept. Your uncle will probably throw you out one of these days, and then where will you be?” She motioned to her driver, who closed the door and scurried up to his seat.
Sarah walked quickly toward State Street. She hadn’t missed how Abigail had poked her with her barbed comment about her uncle casting her out. That very possibility had been in the back of her mind. Uncle Harvey had barely tolerated her presence all these years. He’d never wanted children and wasn’t happy when his wife’s only sister died, leaving behind a daughter. It was a miracle the stingy man had agreed to let her live with them in the first place.
She blew out a sigh of relief at the sight of the horse-drawn trolley, just a block away. Hurrying to the middle of the street, she waited until it drew near, then grabbed the rail and stepped aboard. The sides of the carriage blocked the wind, to a degree, but the chilly air still seeped inside, bringing with it the aromas of baking bread and roasting meat.
The rain picked up, and she was glad she’d decided not to walk home. She stared out the window at the Chicago city streets, teeming with horses and buggies, fancy carriages, freight wagons, and even a man pulling a handcart. Busy people bustled up and down the boardwalks. She loved this town and hoped never to have to leave it.
If she married Walt, most likely she wouldn’t. Yet she struggled with the notion of being his wife. He was a good friend, yes, and she’d hate to disappoint him. Still, shouldn’t a woman have stronger feelings than friendship for the man she married?
Her uncle would be beside himself if she turned Walt down again. Maybe she should just say yes this time. At least then she’d be assured of having a home of her own—and of freeing herself from the heavy sense of owing her uncle. One would think the hours she’d spent doing chores in his home and clerking at his watch repair shop would be sufficient to cover any debt she owed, but she could never do enough to please Uncle Harvey. Still, she was grateful to have lived in his home these last twelve years. She should be satisfied and not wish for more.
And yet she did. She longed to marry a man who made her laugh like her papa had, one whose broad shoulders were strong enough to protect her. But she hadn’t yet met that man. Maybe she never would. Maybe she needed to give up on wishing and just be satisfied with Walt.
*****
Sarah sat back and rested her hands in her lap, smiling in satisfaction with the meal. She stole a glance at the sideboard loaded with food she’d helped her aunt and the cook prepare—roast leg of mutton and currant jelly, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, fried parsnips, and glazed carrots. Just the thought of it all made her stomach ache, and they had not even served dessert yet.
Walt wagged a finger at the servant standing at attention.
The servant hurried to the table from his post in the corner of the room. “Sir?”
“Bring me some more of those parsnips.”
Sarah winced at his commanding tone, then looked to the head of the table. Uncle Harvey was seated next to a stranger—Mr. Gibbons—who’d appeared at the door just before they’d sat down to dinner. The two were having a private discussion, but Sarah had overheard enough to know it was about the benefits of living on the western frontier. She couldn’t imagine what anyone found interesting about the untamed prairie, with its wild Indians and abundance of dust.
At the other end of the table, Lizzie Monahan and Betty Phillips engaged her aunt in a lively chat about the latest styles in fashion, while Abigail sat infatuated with Howard Shibley, Walt’s best friend, who babbled on about a recent report that the population of Chicago had reached 300,000. Sarah nearly rolled her eyes.
“What was that look for?” Walt dabbed his lips with his napkin.
Sarah leaned closer to him, so not to be heard. “If Howard has any hope of winning Abigail’s heart, he should find a more interesting topic of conversation.”
“I doubt romance has even entered his mind.”
“Obviously.” Sarah shook her head.
Walt rested his chin in his palm and caught her gaze, his hazel eyes gleaming. His ash-blond hair had been slicked down and combed back from his forehead. “Speaking of romance, are you ever going to agree to marry me?”
She sucked in a sharp breath and glanced around the table once more. Nobody cast an odd look her way, so she assumed that no one had overheard the oh-so-unromantic proposal. She had pretty much made up her mind to say yes, but his casual manner of asking made her want to shake her head. Schooling her features and straightening her posture, she replied. “I don’t know.”
Walt blinked, obviously taken aback. Seconds later, he scowled, then glanced across the room and motioned to the servant again. The man rushed to his side. “I seem to be out of parsnips again.”
Why couldn’t Walt have just kept quiet? She liked him well enough, but his frequent proposals were producing the opposite of their intended effect; they made her more inclined to avoid him than marry him. She snuck a glance at Abigail, still trying so hard to get Howard to notice her, while the man, clearly oblivious, just kept spouting his knowledge.
Sarah peeked at Walt again. He wasn’t particularly handsome, but he wasn’t ugly, either. He would be a good provider, being the sole heir to his father’s shoe factory, but she had a feeling that life with him would be just as boring as their evenings together. She wanted to marry—to finally be free from her uncle’s overpowering presence and stern glare—but she wanted a man who thought she was the only woman in the world for him. Yes, Walt seemed to feel that way, but something held her back. Was there something wrong with her?
An hour later, she stood at the door to see Walt on his way. Everyone else had already gone.
Walt hung his head and twisted his hat in his hands. “I…uh, won’t ask you again.” He lifted his gaze to hers, pain evident in his eyes.
She’d hurt him, and that was the last thing she’d wanted to do.
“I’m twenty-nine, Sarah. I’m ready to marry and start a family. I need to know if there’s any hope that you’ll say yes one day.”
“And I just turned nineteen—today.”
He closed his eyes and exhaled a heavy sigh. “All right. I’ll give you a few more months to make up your mind.”
Sarah bristled. What if she still didn’t have an answer? “And then?”
He stared at her with a serious, no-nonsense expression she’d never seen before. “And then I’ll be forced to look elsewhere. I mean to be married before I turn thirty.” He slapped his hat on his head and stepped out into the blustery evening wind.
She watched him jog down the steps with more purpose than usual. He wanted to get away from her, and that was just fine, as far as she was concerned. She shut the door. Some birthday party that had been.
The sound of raised voices drew her to the parlor. Her aunt and uncle rarely argued, mainly because Aunt Emma’s chronic illness made her too weary to fuss over trifles.
“Harvey, please. You can’t be serious about this.”
Sarah held her breath, all manner of ideas racing through her mind.
“You might as well come in here, Sarah. I know you’re out there.”
She jumped at her uncle’s stern command and was tempted to slither away, but her curiosity forced her to do as bidden. “I was just saying good night to Walt,” she explained as she entered the room.
“Sit down. I have something to tell you.”
Aunt Emma didn’t look up from the sofa but anxiously wrung her hands.
Sarah sat next to her and laid a steadying hand over her aunt’s.
Her uncle paced in front of the fireplace, where a cozy blaze heated the front half of the room. Still, a shiver clawed its way down Sarah’s spine. Whatever news she was about to hear, it wouldn’t be good, from the looks of it.
Uncle Harvey stopped in front of the hearth, rested one hand atop the mantel, and stared into the flames. “You met Gibbons tonight.” He straightened and stared at her, an unreadable expression in his brown eyes. “He’s a wagon master. Been leading wagon trains down the Santa Fe Trail for the past twenty years.”
Sarah’s thoughts whirled. Again she wondered about her uncle’s interest in such a rugged man as Mr. Gibbons. He hadn’t even worn proper attire for a dinner party.
“Oh, dear. Oh, dear.” Aunt Emma fanned her face. “I fear I’m not feeling well.”
Sarah’s uncle narrowed his gaze at his wife. “You may be dismissed as soon as I’m done.”
Aunt Emma gave him a meek nod, keeping her head down.
Uncle Harvey cleared his throat, drawing Sarah’s gaze again. “The truth of the matter is that my brother has written me from Kansas City to inform me that he’s moving his family to the New Mexico Territory, by way of the Santa Fe Trail.”
“New Mexico?” Sarah pressed her lips closed, knowing her uncle wouldn’t appreciate her outburst. She sidled a glance at her aunt. Why was she so distraught? Turning her attention back to her uncle, she voiced the question that wouldn’t go away. “Why would your brother want to move to such an uncivilized place?”
Uncle Harvey’s nostrils flared, and Aunt Emma uttered a pitiful moan.
“Because there is great opportunity there,” her uncle insisted. “Bob says that one day, the New Mexico Territory will become a state. He has been to Santa Fe and plans to return to open a mercantile there.”
Sarah blinked as she absorbed the information. The truth finally dawned, and she gasped, staring wide-eyed at her uncle. “Surely, you don’t mean to go there, too.”
He lifted his chin, revealing his wrinkled, white neck from its hiding place beneath his beard. “I most certainly do. Chicago has dozens of watchmakers. According to Bob, Santa Fe doesn’t have a single one. I plan to set up shop next to his store. We’ll build a door between the two, so that we can assist each other when things get busy.”
Sarah could see her well-ordered life spiraling out of control. She’d already lost her parents. How could she stand to lose Aunt Emma, too? Sarah stood and started pacing the room. “You already have as much business as you can handle. And how could you expect Aunt Emma to endure such a difficult trip?”
“I’ve talked to the doctor, and he says the warmer climate will be much better for her. Lydia will be there to take care of her if she falls ill.”
Falls ill? Didn’t he realize his wife was nearly always unwell? She’d been sickly ever since she’d survived a bout of scarlet fever a year before Sarah had come to live with them. The sickness had left her frail and had robbed her of her hearing in her right ear.
Sarah doubted Aunt Emma could survive such a rugged journey. “Won’t you reconsider, Uncle?”
He shook his head. “My mind is made up.”
“And what about me?” Could she stay in this big house alone? He’d always expected her to pay her own way, and she could hardly afford a place as nice as this two-story brownstone.
He shrugged. “I expect you to marry Walt, and then you’ll be his responsibility. I’ve already sold the house, so you can’t stay here.”
Her aunt gasped and stood. “How could you do such a thing without consulting me?”
Sarah’s heart ached for her aunt. How could Uncle Harvey be so insensitive?
“Now, Emma. It’s my place to make such decisions. You’ll see once we arrive in Santa Fe that this move was for the best.”
Emma screeched a heart-wrenching sob and ran from the room, her dark green silk dress swishing loudly.
Sarah had never once stood up to her intimidating uncle before. This time, concern for her aunt stiffened her spine, and she turned on him. “How could you be so selfish? Such a trip will probably kill Aunt Emma! Is that what you want?”
His nostrils flared. “She is no concern of yours.” He walked to the dark window and stared out through the panes. “I never wanted you to come here, you know. I never wanted children. They’re nothing but a nuisance. I will concede that you’ve been good for Emma, but she needs to learn to get along without you.” He turned back to her, his eyes narrowed. “Marry Walt. He’s a decent fellow.”
She’d always known her uncle hadn’t wanted her, but hearing the words spoken out loud pained her as badly as if she’d been stabbed in the heart. Out of respect for her aunt, she didn’t lash out at him as she wanted to. “I’m not ready to marry yet.” Uncle Harvey may have housed her all these years, but that didn’t give him the right to force her to wed a man she didn’t love. “I…I can find a boardinghouse to stay in.”
He smirked. “And how do you intend to pay for it?”
A wave of panic washed over her. She had a few coins her aunt had given her—nowhere near enough to live on, even for a short time. “I’ll find another job. Since I’ve worked for you for so long, I’ve honed my office skills and have plenty of experience.”
“Hmpf. What employer would hire a female clerk when he can so easily find a man to do the task?”
Sarah dropped back onto the sofa, realizing the truth of his statement. What would she do? Where would she live? How could she manage without her aunt’s loving guidance? The last time she’d felt as empty and confused as she did now was when she’d learned that her parents had died.
Quick footsteps sounded outside the room, and Sarah and her uncle both looked to the door. Her aunt had returned, her eyes damp, her face red and splotchy. With a trembling hand, she held a handkerchief below her nose. Sarah longed to embrace her aunt, but she would wait until her uncle left them alone.
“I see it’s too late to change your mind,” she said, her voice quavering. “You’ve wounded me deeply, Harvey. I hope you know that.”
He started toward her, his expression softening, and took her hands. “Haven’t I always taken care of you, darling? Have you ever lacked for anything?”
Her aunt didn’t respond, but Sarah could tell by her expression that she didn’t share her husband’s perspective. Steeling her gaze, Emma stared up at him with rare determination in her eyes. “I won’t go without Sarah.”
“What?” Sarah and her uncle exclaimed at once.
“I won’t go unless she goes, too.” Emma hiked her chin.
Sarah didn’t know what to say. This was the first time she had seen Aunt Emma stand up to her husband, and she couldn’t bear to tell her that her efforts were wasted. But the last thing Sarah cared to do was leave Chicago and travel on a wagon train to Santa Fe.
Even marriage to Walt would be preferable to that.
 
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