Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

About the Book: Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for "a reliable wife." But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she's not the "simple, honest woman" that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed. Her plan is simple: she will win this man's devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. What she has not counted on, though, is that Truitt — a passionate man with his own dark secrets —has plans of his own for his new wife. Isolated on a remote estate and imprisoned by relentless snow, the story of Ralph and Catherine unfolds in unimaginable ways.

My Review: The hype for this book preceeded it by about a thousand miles, so I decided I had better read it before I read too many other reviews.

This is a very engrossing book and I have to admit that when I first started reading it, I wasn't sure that I actually liked it. It's pretty dark and the opening of the story reminded me a lot of the movie Original Sin. Since I had heard this book was incredibly fresh, I wondered if everyone else had missed that movie? The language was gorgeous, though, enough to keep me reading as it pierced me through. The precision and accuracy with which Goolick describes the internal torment, desires, longing, loneliness, and brokeness of his characters is nothing short of outstanding.

The plot does take a turn about 1/3 of the way in. While I predicted what I think was maybe meant to be a twist, it raises the stakes of the entire novel in new ways.

Ultimately, this book is very dark. But it's dark in a way that gives us a glimpse of the state of our souls, the despair of our situations, the destructive force of our pasts, in a way that helps us to value the glimmers of hope that can be found in our lives, and the precious fragile nature of our intimacies. It's been awhile since I've been able to read a book in one day, but I completely devoured this one. When I finished the book, I closed it and thought, "that was amazing." But after letting it sit in my head for awhile, I've to the conclusion that no it wasn't amazing, it was brilliant. I have no doubt it will live in my mind for a long time to come. Highly Recommended.

Rating: 5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: there is in fact a lot of sensuality to this book. And some sex.

Is my endorsement not enough? Two of my favorite bloggers are also reviewing this book today, S.Krishna and Devourer of Books.


Monday, March 30, 2009

A Question: Quoting from ARCs

For those of you who review ARCs from time to time, how do you deal with it when you want to quote something from the book?

I have this rather ethical issue with quoting from ARCs because the back usually asks me not, too.

But sometimes I'm just dying to add a few passages in, and I don't have time to go to the bookstore to check the final copy. Or maybe the final copy isn't out when I write the review.

I've seen some of you make a note that things might be different in the final copy....but what if they're radically different? A few books do go through that process.

Anyway, I'm interested in hearing what you think about this issue.


Review (with Ali of Worducopia): Etta by Gerald Kolpan

I put out a request on Twitter to do a co-review and Ali of Worducopia took me up on it...I'm so glad! We both read the book and then met in google chat (after some technical difficulties) to chat about it!

First though, here's some info about the book: Beautiful, elusive, and refined, Etta Place captivated the nation at the turn of the last century as she dodged the law with the Wild Bunch, led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Her true identity and fate have remained a mystery that has tantalized historians for decades. Now, for the first time, Gerald Kolpan envisions this remarkable woman’s life in a stunning debut novel.

Our Conversation:
Amy: So.....what did you think of Etta?
worducopia: Overall, I liked it. But I have to say, I was a little put off by the interview at the back of the ARC that said he'd made a bunch of stuff up to make it a better story.
It was an odd mix of historical fiction with real people as characters, and just plain fiction.
Amy: True. I guess I'm okay with them making stuff up, though some of it was pretty far out there..like when she pretended to be Annie Oakley...wait, it that too spoilery?
worducopia: I don't think that's too spoilery. That's exactly the type of thing I mean. Or, her relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt.I could never tell what was real and what was made up.
Amy: Yeah. What did you think of the format of the book? Articles, telegrams, diary entries, etc.?
worducopia: Normally, I love that, and in some instances I did. Some of the newspaper articles were distracting to me, though. I couldn't quite tell why they were there.
Amy: I have to admit, it was really obvious that this was written by a man!
I never felt like we got really deep into Etta's point of view...did you?
worducopia: The diary entries didn't read like a woman's diary.
No, I always felt like she was distant--even in the diary entries, which were in first person so should have been closer.
Amy: That's exactly how I felt! I was wondering..(sorry I'm all over the place) this was recommended to me several times for my try something new mini challenge in which I committed to reading a western. Have you read any other westerns? Is this how most westerns read?
worducopia: I have to admit, I have never read a western, or had any desire to! But this book got me curious about that era, more so than I had been.
Not that "western" is an era--but that time and setting, I mean.
Amy: It's kind of an era. :)
worducopia: So, that's my main praise of the book--it definitely piqued my interest!
Amy: It was fun in many ways and Etta was very likeable I thought...the way she rescued Little Snake and such
worducopia: I thought the Sundance Kid was likeable as well. Actually, Butch Cassidy kind of was, too.
Amy: Yes, I thought so too!
worducopia: Another thing I liked about the book was that, even though Etta did some crazy things I would never even consider doing, her character was always believable to me. Like, I "got" why she got involved in the Hole-in-the-wall gang.
Amy: Yeah, that's a good point. I thought that the dime store novel story was really funny.
worducopia: Gosh, I kind of skimmed that. I was ready to plow through to the end by that point.
Amy: LOL! I just thought it was funny because people wanted to like her, so they painted her circumstances as being very sympathetic.
worducopia: I liked the way she never was quite what people expected. She was so high-class, and then did things that didn't quite fit that persona.
So, who would you recommend this to?
Amy: Hmmm...anyone with an interest in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or that era. I wanted to read this book because I hoped to learn more them. I did, but I don't feel like I was ever fully transported to that time like some historical fiction can do.
worducopia: I didn't either. And because so much of it was made up, I didn't feel like I could "trust" the author to teach me more about the history--which is another thing I enjoy about historical fiction.
Amy: Also, I guess anyone who likes to read about mob chases might be interested. I got a little bit confused by all of that.
worducopia: Oh, true! Funny, I went from Etta to The Girl She Used to Be. I hadn't even made the connection that they are both about women running from the mob!
Amy: Ha! Are you enjoying The Girl She Used to Be? I started that but haven't finished it yet.
worducopia: I'm loving it, actually.


So, in case it wasn't entirely clear from our chat, we both felt the book was decent though the format didn't work for us one hundred percent of the time and we weren't transported to this time period in history. We liked the characters, but never felt we got deeply into their point of view.

While this is considered a western, it's not the western I'm reading for my Try Something New Challenge.

Rating: 3.25/5


Review: Salty Like Blood by Harry Kraus, M.D.

My Review: David and his wife have had a troubled marriage, but through it all their daughter Rachel has kept them together. Then one day, David, Joanne, and Rachel are out at David's father's home and Rachel goes outside for a few minutes and disappears.

Unable to accept the popular theory that Rachel was swept away by the water and drowned, David begins a search of his own and takes matters of revenge into his own hands. His wife is desperate to move on and cannot tolerate being around him. Enter in an old flame and you have a very complicated situation on your hands.

For the most part this book is quite riveting. It was not at any point clear what had happened to Rachel or what was happening in the town at all. There was a lot of mystery and different tensions constantly at play between the characters. I do have a few minor things to note, though. First of all, this is a book that utilizes both first person and third person point of view. That drives me crazy. I really really prefer consistency. This gave the book a slightly choppy feel. In fact, the first time the point of view shifted, I was really confused. Secondly, while it was clear they were grieving what had happened to Rachel, I didn't actually experience the anguish enough myself. And I couldn't for the life of me figure out why Joanne was such a prize, when she obviously had commitment issues.

Having said all of that, though, the book really kept me with it. There are definitely some surprise turns. To get a feel for the writing, the first chapter is included below. You can also visit the author's website here.

Rating: 3.75/5
Things You Might Want to Know; Christian fiction with an overt message on the freedom of forgiveness

Rachel and I tumbled into the tall grass at the bottom of the hill, having survived yet another Daddy-just-one-more sled ride from the edge of our front porch. I collapsed on my back, trying to find oxygen between gasps of laughter and looked up at the summer sky. My daughter, with limbs sprawled in a wide “X” and her head against my foot, shouted her delight toward the house. “We did it! We made it!”

Seconds before, airborne and soaring toward record distance, Rachel reached for an octave above the normal human voice range, squealing a note that rang on in my head and I suspected invited half the neighborhood’s canine population to play. I laughed and put my fingers in my ears, rolling them in an exaggerated twist as if she’d deafened me.

She moved to lay her head upon my chest and quieted herself there, listening to my racing heart.

I stroked her hair, inhaled the scent of mown grass, and nestled my head back into the tickle of green.

“Is it okay?” she asked.

“It’s okay.”

“It’s too fast,” she said, raising up and pushing a bony elbow into my gut.

“Oh so now you’re the doctor.”

She smiled. “Someday,” she said. “For now, you’re the doctor.”

“Don’t worry. I’m okay.” I scowled at my first-grader. “Really.”

We rested together, staring at the sky full of clouds of hippopotamus, horses, rockets—whatever Rachel imagined. Mostly I gasped and oohed. In a moment, I found myself blinking away tears, overwhelmed with the enormity of it all.

It was so ordinary. A summer Saturday morning without an agenda. It’s hard for me to describe beyond the sense I had of emerging, as if I’d been submerged for so long, and now, just to play and laugh and roll in the grass seemed a joy that would burst my heart. I smiled, taking it in, gulping in ordinary life as if I’d never have a chance again.

As Rachel chatted on with her running commentary of sky castles, fiery dragons and fairies, other images drifted through my mind, pictures of painful chapters that set my current joy into sharp contrast. Traveling with Joanne through the dark tunnel of post-partum depression. My mother’s battle with cancer. Memories of an intensive care unit visit while I was the too-young patient, watching my own heart monitor and wondering if life would be cut short.

Joanne’s voice swept me into the here and now. “What’s going on?”

I looked up to see her standing on the covered porch, eyeing a bottle of vegetable oil sitting on the white railing.

Rachel lifted her head. Her blond hair dotted with grass seed. “We’re sledding, Mommy.”

Joanne’s hands rested firmly on her hips. “It’s July, David.” She picked up the bottle. “And I’ve been looking for this.” She was serious, but her eyes betrayed her attempt at scolding me. Her happiness at my delight in our little Rachel couldn't be spoiled by my summer antics.

I exchanged a mischievous glance with Rachel. She betrayed me in a heartbeat. “It was Daddy’s idea.”

“Women!” I said, grabbing my daughter by the waist and swinging her around in a circle. “You always stick together!”

As I trudged up the hill with Rachel folded around my back, I grunted exaggerated puffs. “You’re getting so big.”

I set her on the top step and kissed her forehead. She started pulling away. “Wait.” I picked at the seeds in her hair.“You’ll need to brush this out.”

She opted for the shake-it-out method. “I’m a rock star.”

I smiled. My star. For Joanne and I, Rachel had been the glue that helped us stick together through a valley of misery.

Joanne reappeared carrying lemonade in tall, sweaty glasses. She handed me one and kissed me. She had thin lips to go with sharp, elegant features, dark eyes alight with mystery, and hair the color of caramel. She could have been a model before big lips became the rage.

I’d been to hell and back with Joanne, but the last six months, I’d sensed a real change in her. She seemed settled somehow. Content. More romantic toward me—like she had been back in my medical school days. Our relationship, once teetering on the precipice of divorce, was now solidly a safe distance from the edge. I’d seen significant pieces of my life’s puzzle fall together in the last few years. When the marriage one finally clicked into place, everything else brightened with it. It was as if I’d been living my life in black-and-white and someone just invented color.

I kissed her back, trying to discern her mood. There seemed a surface calm, but I sensed a deeper stirring. I’d become a champion at reading her. I knew the quiet of her bitterness, the bubbly way she prattled on when she felt guilty, and the aloofness that dared me to pursue her into bed. For a moment, our eyes met. It was only a flash, but in that instant, I felt the a foreboding that threatened my wonderful ordinary-life euphoria.

I took her hand. “What’s up?” She lowered her voice, but even at that volume, sharp irritation cut at the edges of her words, clipping them into little fragments.

“Your father.”

I raised my eyebrows in question.

“His neighbor called.”

I waited for more, but it seemed the silence only uncapped her annoyance. In a moment, she was on the verge of tears.

“He always does this. Every time we have plans, he has a crisis.”

Plans. The practice was dining at the country club tonight.

I started to protest, but she interrupted, pushing her finger against my lips. “You know they’re going to announce that you’ve made partner.”

I smiled. Partner. A year early. Just reward for the practice’s highest revenue-producer nine months in a row. Another puzzle piece in my wonderful life about to connect.

“Which neighbor?”

“That Somali family,” she said, flipping her hand in the air. “A woman. She has an accent. She said his place is a wreck. He’s ill.” She seemed to hesitate before adding. “He’s asking for you.”

It was my father’s way. The crab-fisherman wouldn’t pick up the phone and let me know he needed me. He sent word around the block and expected me to show. “Define ‘ill.’ ”

Joanne imitated the neighbor’s accent. “Mister Gus isn’t eating. He toilets in the bedroom.”

I groaned. Whatever the neighbor meant, I knew it couldn’t be good. I walked into the house to my study and picked up the phone. I was listening to the endless ringing on the other end when Joanne entered. “Not a good sign,” I said. “He doesn’t pick up.”

“What are we going to do?”

I looked at my wife. Petite. Strong. And so able to read my thoughts.

She threw up her hands. “We’re going to the shore,” she said. “Just like that.”

I nodded. I was predictable. Family first. We had to go.

She glared at me. I read the silence, loud and clear. That’s why I love you . . . and hate you.

“I’ll call Jim. The practice will understand.”

Joanne shook her head. “This is your night, David. The moment you’ve been waiting for. And you throw it away because of family.”

I couldn’t say anything. She had me pegged.

“I’ll see if Kristine will take Rachel for the weekend.”

“Let’s take her with us.”

Joanne’s face hardened. “With us? That place is so . . . “ She paused, apparently mulling over adjective options. “ . . . crusty.”

It was the gentlest description of several other options that came to mind.

“We’ll take care of the crisis and stay at that seaside bed and breakfast. It will be fun. A chance for her to see her grandfather.” I let a hopeful smile tease at the corners of my lips. “Even if he is crusty he does adore her.”

Joanne sighed in resignation. “Yes he does.” She tipped her glass against mine. “As long as we don’t have to sleep there,” she said, shivering as if that thought was horrifying. She gave me a don’t-even-try-to-cross-me look. “You’re driving.”

I walked out onto the porch and into the humidity we Virginians call “summer.” As I called for Rachel, I followed the border of the house, my prize lawn soft beneath my bare feet. From her perch on the back deck, my daughter ambushed me with open arms.

“Can we sled some more?”

I looked at the blue sky and my Southern Living home, and I pushed aside a fleeting presence. A ripple beneath the calm.

I’d been through too many hard times to trust the peace. Nothing this great can last forever.

“We’re going to Grandpa Conners’,” I said, trying my best to sound excited.

Rachel wrinkled her nose. To her, the shore meant stinky crabs and everything smelling fishy.

I poked her nose with a finger. “You’re too much like your mother.”

She poked me back. “You’re too much like your father.”

A sudden breeze lifted Rachel’s hair against my face. I stopped, looking east. In the distance, a small thundercloud hung over the horizon. Not today. I don’t want to travel the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in the rain.

My daughter squeezed my neck, bringing a smile to my face and pushing my anxieties aside. I nestled my face into her hair, trying to find an earlobe. She giggled and everything seemed right again.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose (and a giveaway)

I admit that when I first requested this book to review, I thought it looked like it had the potential to be interesting, but I wasn't really sure what I thought overall about the idea of it. In reality, it has turned out to be one of the best books I've read this year, I didn't want to put it down, and I've managed to find a way to bring it into most conversations this week.

I need to tell you a couple of things right off the bat, because there is no way I will be able to write this review without including a bunch of autobiographical information and analysis. The first is that I grew up in an evangelical Christian home, and the second is that I attended a Christian college.

Now...about the book. Kevin Roose is interning for A.J. Jacobs (The Year of Living Biblically) when they stop in at Thomas Road Baptist Church. While there, Kevin is a bit nervous at first about interacting with all of these evangelical Christians associated with Jerry Falwell. His knowledge of Jerry Falwell pretty much comes from the inflammatory things he said after 9/11. But while chatting with a few people from the church he learns about Liberty University, the country's largest evangelical Christian liberal arts university. When he can't stop thinking about it, he decides to go undercover for a semester at Liberty.

Now Kevin's own background is that of a Quaker, although he has never been able to fully believe in the concept of God. He was studying at Brown University before his semester at Liberty and is pretty liberal in idealogy.

He gets some crash course training in the life of an evangelical before going down to Liberty. He was warned of off cussing (which I found to be spot-on) as the sure-fire way people would know he wasn't who he said he was.

Now Liberty University is strict. Even stricter than the school I attended, which was also in the south and had some rules that other people can't believe. Some rules my school shared with Liberty include curfew, single gender dorms, room check (ours was every other week as opposed to three times a week, though), and mandatory chapel attendance. And of course no drinking or drugs.

When I want to my college, I went with the attitude that I wanted to be there and that I was going to submit to the rules and authority I was choosing to place myself under. I can still remember shortly after arriving, hearing some screaming in the hall. One of the girls on my hall had just been told she couldn't wear a certain pair of pants and she was MAD. Oh yeah, we had a fairly strict dress code. We would have fashion shows at the beginning of each semester to show us what was appropriate to wear. So clearly not everyone was happy with the rules. In fact, they were a subject of frequent discussion. My first roommate left after a semester because she couldn't take it.

I can imagine that to some of you, this sounds like the worst thing ever. But I don't think the rules were in place to punish, but rather because they were trying to educate and develop the whole person. I don't think all of them were necessary, but they had some unexpected side benefits. For example, curfew forced us to get to know our hallmates better and really bond. We had some very very sweet times after curfew.

Anyway, Kevin is at first exhausted after a few days at Liberty trying to fit in. One of the funniest parts of the book to me is when he tries to clean up his language and says things like "glory be!" He gets some strange looks, and soon realizes there are other substitutes for foul language!

One of the biggest things he seems to have trouble dealing with are the social values of a place like Liberty University. One of the biggest differences between Jerry Falwell's version of evangelical Christianity and my own is that politics plays a huge role. I'm not saying that a lot of evangelical Christians aren't Republicans....they are. But personally, I don't think that faith and politics should be that tied up in each other. While I think that faith informs politics, I don't think there are any cookie cutter answers. So it's sad to me that at a place like Liberty it's assumed that everyone is a Republican.

There's another part where he goes on a spring break trip of cold turkey evangelism. I cringed through the whole chapter. I just don't believe in that kind of evangelism at all and it was painful to read about.

So I am going to say this...if you are an evangelical Christian, there are portions of this book that will make you feel uncomfortable. If you are not an evangelical Christian, there are likely portions of this book that should make you feel uncomfortable, too.

Kevin's liberal family hates that he's there. But it's almost through some of the things they say that it's revealed how the deep the divide is in our country. For example, when his lesbian aunt says it's natural he'd connect with the people on a human level even if he disagrees with everything they believe, I couldn't help but think..."everything?" Some things yes, but everything? And when his family and friends send celebratory e-mails at the death of Jerry Falwell, it was hard not to think of them as being very cold. I wasn't a huge fan of Jerry Falwell, but I didn't even celebrate at the death of Sadaam Hussein...know what I mean? It seemed his family and friends could use some open-mindedness. Another little thing that bothered me was the frequent use of the word pious. Do they really use that word at Liberty a lot? I've never really heard any Christians use that word much!

But apart from that, this book is insightful, funny, interesting, and extremely well written. I didn't want to put it down at all. Kevin makes some good friends and comes away with some new perspectives even if he doesn't convert to evangelical Christianity. And reading the book reminded me of my own college experience and how wonderful it was...the depth of community we shared. When Kevin observes that people openly talk about their relationships with God, I felt a pang of longing. There was no place like college for that. Even in church, people are much more reserved. But when you're sharing so much of your lives together, there's no room for pretension.

I recommend this book to absolutely everyone. I do want to state again that it is not an example of all evangelical Christianity but really a more fundamental sort. Even so, the very best parts of what evangelical Christianity have to offer...mainly love, do come through.

Rating: 4.75/5
Things You Might Want to Know: There are some curse words.

Giveaway: Hachette has said that I can give away up to 5 copies so if you are interested in reading this book and have a United States or Canadian mailing address please leave a comment with a valid email address and tell me what interests you about this book. I hope to get a lot of entries! Giveaway is open until April 12.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Weekly Review -- 3/28

First of all, a huge thanks for helping me celebrate my blogiversary. Now that it's over, it's back to business as usual! :)

This week's review is a bit abbreviated...I haven't come across any poetic endorsements or anything, but life goes on, I suppose.


Twitter is a funny thing....madly addicting, used for all sorts of different reasons by different sorts of people. Some people still think it's a run-down of every detail of your day. It's not, though, not really. Anyway, here's how it all started.

If you're still not sold on the coolness that is Twitter, check out this article on how Twitter makes you a better writer.

Blogging and Tech

Pro-blogger is having a challenge...31 Days to Improve Your Blog. If you're looking for help in the blog department, check it out!

Alyce from At Home With Books shared a very helpful post on how to get your comments numbered in blogger.


Priscilla of The Evening Reader takes you deeper into Gone With the Wind by sharing a little tour. Kind of makes me want to go back to Atlanta and experience it myself. Also, they built that huge aquarium since I left.

Also Jeff Bezos plans to work in a warehouse!

Jen at Devourer of Books had a great review of The Tory Widow that you are definitely going to want to check out as well.

Have you heard of Wintergirls? Well check out Shelly's review! It caused Jen to request it at the library!

Carrie has some recommendations for you in the mysteries genre, and Wendi has another opportunity for you to win the Kitty Norville books. Speaking of giveaways, Nicole is offering a copy of Fight for Your Life.

Thanks to all who entered my blogiversary giveaways! I kept them rather low-key because I honestly wanted to give away things to my actual readers. :) Winners please email me at mypalamyATgmailDOTcom within one week.

Monday I offered up Buffy's first 2 seasons and the winner is Jennie!

Tuesday I offered up a book or an Amazon gift certificate and the winners are:
For the amazon gift certificate: Kathrin
For her choice of Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols, Amee!

Wednesday I offered up the first season of LOST, and the winner is Lorin! This is one of those times when I sincerely wish I could give it to everyone, I'm not even joking. That's how much I love LOST. :)

Thursday I offered a surprise and the winner is Marie!

And lastly Friday is winner's choice of Amazon or iTunes gift card and the person making that decision will be Nymeth.

That's it for now!! Winners please email me your addresses and anything else I need to know!


Friday, March 27, 2009

Faith 'n Fiction Saturday: The Christy Nominees!!

Welcome to Faith 'n Fiction Saturday. If this is your first participating, please read this post. It will tell you everything you need to know!

Did you know that Christian fiction has their own award? It's called the Christy Award. Here's some information about The Christy Award from the website:

The Christy Award is designed to:

* Nurture and encourage creativity and quality in the writing and publishing of fiction written from a Christian worldview.
* Bring a new awareness of the breadth and depth of fiction choices available, helping to broaden the readership.
* Provide opportunity to recognize novelists whose work may not have reached bestseller status

The 2009 Christy Award Nominees were recently announced. Today's assignment is to look at the list of nominees and share with us whether or not you have read any of them. If you haven't read that particular novel, have you read anything by that author? Have you read all of the books in any category? What are your favorite books on the list? Are there any books you haven't heard of?

And, I'm just throwing this out there, but I think one year there was a Christy challenge. A reading challenge is basically when you choose books off a pre-set list or around a theme to read within a certain time frame. Does anyone know if this is still going on? If it's not, would anyone be interested in joining in on one? I'd be willing to host it. And lastly, I'm working on Faith 'n Fiction Saturday having our own awards for books!

The Christy Nominees:
Beyond the Night by Marlo Schalesky • WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group
Finding Stefanie by Susan May Warren • Tyndale House Publishers
Zora and Nicky: A Novel in Black and White by Claudia Mair Burney • David C. Cook

Sisterchicks Go Brit! by Robin Jones Gunn • WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group
Summer Snow by Nicole Baart • Tyndale House Publishers
You Had Me at Good-bye by Tracey Bateman • FaithWords

Dogwood by Chris Fabry • Tyndale House Publishers
Embrace Me by Lisa Samson • Thomas Nelson
Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon by Debbie Fuller Thomas • Moody Publishers

Blue Hole Back Home by Joy Jordan-Lake • David C. Cook
Rain Song by Alice J. Wisler • Bethany House Publishers
Safe at Home by Richard Doster • David C. Cook

Shadow of Colossus by T.L. Higley • B&H Publishing Group
Until We Reach Home by Lynn Austin • Bethany House Publishers
Washington’s Lady by Nancy Moser • Bethany House Publishers

Calico Canyon by Mary Connealy • Barbour Publishers
From a Distance by Tamera Alexander • Bethany House Publishers
The Moon in the Mango Tree by Pamela Binnings Ewen • B&H Publishing Group

By Reason of Insanity by Randy Singer • Tyndale House Publishers
The Rook by Steven James • Revell
Winter Haven by Athol Dickson • Bethany House Publishers

The Battle for Vast Dominion by George Bryan Polivka • Harvest House Publishers
Shade by John B. Olson • B&H Publishing Group
Vanish by Tom Pawlik • Tyndale House Publishers

The Fruit of My Lipstick by Shelley Adina • FaithWords
I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires by Cathy Gohlke • Moody Publishers
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson • WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group

My Answer:
In the contemporary romance category, I've only read Finding Stefanie. It was fantastic. I love everything Susan writes, though! In the contemporary series category, I've only Sisterchicks Go Brit! I liked it, but am interested in reading the others. In the contemporary stand-alone I read Embrace Me. I liked Embrace Me, but I think Lisa has written better books. For first novels, I've read Rain Song, but didn't really like it. In the historical category, I read Washington's Lady by Nancy Moser. Good book, but I' not sure if it's award worthy. Finally, in the historical romance category, I've read two books! And I loved both of them with all of my heart, but if I had to choose a winner, it would be The Moon in the Mango Tree by Pamela Binnings Ewen. From a Distance is also excellent. I've read both By Reason of Insanity and Winter Haven in the suspense category. That's a tough call. This is going to sound funny, but Winter Haven is more of an award type book. By Reason of Insanity is one hundred percent enjoyable. Haven't read any of the Visionary books. (what's visionary mean????) I am THRILLED beyond words to say I've read On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and want it to win!!!

I am absolutely stunned and dismayed that Julie Lessman's books didn't make the list. But I really hope that both Andrew Peterson and Pamela Binnings Ewen win!!!

Your Turn

Just write your answers on your blog and link up!

Book Giveaway: If Tomorrow Never Comes by Marlo Schalesky

About the Book: Childhood sweethearts Kinna and Jimmy Henley had simple dreams—marriage, children, a house by the sea… Everything they needed for happily ever after. What they didn’t plan on was years of infertility, stealing those dreams, crushing their hopes.

Now, all that’s left is the memory of young love, and the desperate need for a child to erase the pain. Until…

When Kinna rescues an elderly woman from the sea, the threads of the past, present, and future weave together to reveal the wonder of one final hope. One final chance to follow not their dreams, but God’s plan.

Can they embrace the redemptive power of love before it’s too late? Or will their love be washed away like the castles they once built upon the sand?

I have one copy of this book to give away. If you are interested leave me a comment and tell me about one of your favorite fictional couples. You might also want to read Kim's review here. You can also read an author interview here. Open worldwide. Winner will be announced April 4th in the weekly review.

You Asked, I'm Answering: Blogging and Everything Else

Jen asked,
"I'm going to put on my travel agent hat and ask you a couple vacation questions. Where is the best place you have ever visited? What is your dream vacation? Tell us where it would be and what you would do there."

This is really hard. I have sincerely loved a lot of the places I've been, but I think the best place I've been was Mont St. Michel in France...absolutely gorgeous and so totally fascinating. I highly recommend it. That little mini trip (I was teaching English just north of Paris for a summer) was also the first time I stayed at a Bed and Breakfast. I wish I could go again right now!

I also, of course, recommend Kyoto, Japan which was my second choice.

As far as a dream vacation, I really want to go to Italy before I die. I thought about choosing someplace more exotic and less cliched, but if you told me I was going to die in a month and could only go one more place, I'd choose Italy. I would of course want to eat a lot, and visit all the beautiful museums and historical places, and go to Venice before it floods or whatever is bound to happen.

Beth asked,
"I don't participate in Faith in Fiction because I'm not a Christian and because I participate in a ton of memes already. But I'm impressed with the questions and tasks you come up with each week. What's your inspiration? How do you come up with 52 topics a year?"

Thanks Beth! It's actually really hard sometimes. I have a list of possible topics, but I am a blogger that needs to be struck by inspiration. Thankfully, there are just so many ideas to explore in the world of Christian fiction. Plus the participants are all very different in their approach to both faith and fiction that I enjoy seeing what everyone has to say!

Shelly asked,
"How do you juggle your online time vs. reading time?

My reading pile seems to be growing as I spend more time on Twitter, blog commenting etc. Anxious to see what you say."

It's possible I could read blogs all day. I think reading blogs is a valid form of reading...and an important one despite the naysayers. But I also love reading books.

My first tip, so to say, is to make sure you always have a book with you. There are a million unexpected little places during the day you can sneak in reading. I read everywhere possible...I hate waiting in line, so I read. (why waste the time?) I read during my lunch and on my breaks. I read before sleeping. And yes, I read at red lights, in drive thrus and all other manner of dangerous places.

Secondly, sometimes I just turn off the computer and go someplace to read. Otherwise I get tempted by e-mail or twitter or google reader.

And lastly...I have my google reader organized. I have about 20 blogs I try to read everyday. (I usually read more than that, but they are my "can't miss!") That way, if I have a day where I can't really spend time on the computer, I usually can read their posts. Then, I generally spend Saturday mornings catching up on sleep and my google reader.

As far as Twitter...it can really be a time suck. It's so much fun to chat with everyone through the day and I absolutely HATE to miss anything. I usually leave Twitter on at home, and check in a few times during the workday.

Beth asked,
"How do you define beauty?"

Wow! Honestly, I had never really thought about it before. I guess beauty is something that gives me hope or makes me believe that there is always something better. I say this because the one thing beauty always does is fill me with longing. Whether it's the beauty of nature, or of a kind act, or piece of music...if I choose to define it as beautiful, it has made me ache inside with hope and longing. Or homesickness. Of course if I'm saying beautiful man it's not quite that deep ;)

Marta asked,
"What is 10 + 6 + 5 +10?"

Marta! I said no math! Erm, um, I think that's 31.

Wordlily asked,
"Why do you like vampires?"

Oh, I wish I knew! I tend to be dramatic. I love tragic stories. It really doesn't get more tragic than being doomed to wander the earth in an undead state drinking blood, does it? There is so much symbolism, so much possibility for redemption, so much angst. I just love them! I've said it here before, but my mother absolutely hates that I do! Every time I've fallen in love with another vampire story she worries for the eternal condition of my soul. :) (just kidding) So as you can see, I prefer vampires with some personality...I'm not as much into the "vampires as monsters or demons" myths.

Bermudaonion asked,
"What has been your proudest moment in your life so far?"

This is also a difficult question. I'm going to cheat and tell you a moment that made me feel proud and like I was doing something good that happened recently. I tutor adults in reading improvement and from the very first day it was an uphill battle. It is not at all a glamorous job. I have seen several adults turn their reading around, though, and even get promotions at our workplace! But the moment that filled me with joy was when I was at the bookstore and bumped into a former student. "I never used to come here but now thanks to you I read all the time!" he told me. These moments...they are so few and far between. Most of the time, I'm plugging away just like my students. But when they happen, when I remember that what I'm doing does make a difference in the best possible way...well it's very sweet, indeed.

Euphrony asked,
"What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?"


No one asked this question, but here it is since it seems appropriate for this week:

Who are your blogging influences?

The first blog I read was the blog of Shaun Groves. It is still a daily read for me, though I don't comment as much as I used to. I didn't even really understand what a blog was, but I read Shaun's and ended up creating my own. In any case, Shaun is one of the best writers I've ever read. And for a few years there, his influence through his blog was profound on my life. That little community there at the time wrestled through a lot of issues together. If I could inspire and influence people through my blog a fraction of the way Shaun influenced me, I would be very happy indeed.

Kat Jacobs. It's not her real name, but Kat's blogging was a model to me. I learned a lot from reading her blog about blogging itself, including that you can have blogging activities! Before I thought of blogs as merely places where you wrote about what you were thinking, but Kat organized a collaborative blog event called the 40 Day Fast where 40 blogs chose a social justice issue to blog about and fasted on their day. It was a great experience. The reason I mention this is because if I hadn't known that you could do fun things like that, BBAW (Book Blogger Appreciation Week) would never have happened. Sadly, I don't think Kat reads my blog anymore (probably since I post 50,000 times a day) but I still look forward to when she has time to post.

Booking Mama. Julie probably doesn't know it, but she influenced me a lot in learning how to write reviews. I was terrible (or more terrible) at it before but I learned through reading her reviews. She's still ten thousand times better than me. I wanted to mention that I found her blog through Megan Crane! When she reviewed Names My Sisters Called Me, Megan linked to it and that's how I found her! And I'm so glad I did!

Thanks everyone for asking me questions and for bothering to read the answers! After I started this, I thought...oh my gosh, this is really self-centered. But I've had a ton of fun answering the questions and next week we'll get back to book reviews with an autobiographical slant.

I'd like to do another giveaway...please leave a comment and tell me about one of your blogging influences! If you don't blog, just tell me about a blog you enjoy. Or if you like just leave a comment relevant to the post. I'll choose one winner for their choice of a ten dollar gift certificate to Amazon or iTunes. Be sure to have a valid email address as well.

I have an insane amount of other giveaways at the moment don't forget to check them out!
Buffy Seasons 1 and 2
The Kitty Norville Books
LOST season 1
Don't Let Me Go
The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived


FIRST: Yesterday's Embers by Deborah Raney

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:

Yesterday’s Embers

Howard Books (March 24, 2009)


Deborah Raney is the author of several novels, including Nest of Sparrows and the RITA Award-winning Beneath a Southern Sky. Her novel A Vow to Cherish was made into the highly acclaimed Worldwide Pictures film of the same name. She lives with her husband and four children in Kansas.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (March 24, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416593098
ISBN-13: 978-1416593096


The parade of taillights smoldered crimson through the patchy fog hovering over Old Highway 40. Mickey Valdez tapped the brakes with the toe of her black dress pumps, trying to stay a respectable distance from the car in front of her.

The procession had left the church almost twenty minutes ago, but they were still barely two miles outside Clayburn’s city limits. The line of cars snaked up the hill––if you could call the road’s rolling incline that––and ahead of her, the red glow of brake lights dotted the highway, flickering off and on like so many fireflies. Cresting the rise, Mickey could barely make out the rows of pewter-colored gravestones poking through the mist beyond the wrought-iron gates of the Clayburn Cemetery.

She smoothed the skirt of her black crepe dress and tried to focus her thoughts on maneuvering the car, working not to let them stray to the funeral service she’d come from. But when the first hearse turned onto the cemetery’s gravel drive in front of her, she lost it. Her sobs came like dry heaves, producing no tears, and for once, she was glad to be in the car alone.

The line of cars came almost to a standstill as the second hearse crept through the gates.

The twin black Lincolns pulled to the side of the gravel lane, parking one behind the other near the plots where two fresh graves scarred the prairie. The drivers emerged from the hearses, walked in unison to the rear of their cars, and opened the curtained back doors. Mickey looked away. She couldn’t view those two caskets again.

When it came her turn to drive over the culvert under the high arch of the iron gates, she wanted desperately to keep on driving. To head west and never turn back. But Pete Truesdell stood in her way, directing traffic into the fenced-in graveyard. Mickey almost didn’t recognize Pete. He sported a rumpled navy double-breasted suit instead of his usual coveralls. How he could see through the tears welling in his eyes, Mickey didn’t know.

Her heart broke for the old man. She wondered if he was related to the family somehow. Seemed like everybody in Clayburn was related to at least one other family in town. Everybody but the Valdezes.

Pete waved the car in front of her through the gates and halted her with his other hand.

Maybe if she stayed in the car until the procession left the cemetery. She didn’t want to walk across the uneven sod. Didn’t want to risk the DeVore kids seeing her…risk breaking down in front of them. What would she say? What could anybody say to make what had happened be all right?

She didn’t know much about carbon monoxide poisoning, but she’d heard that Kaye and Rachel had simply drifted off to sleep, never knowing they would wake up in heaven. She wondered if Doug DeVore found any solace in that knowledge. Maybe it was a small comfort that his wife and daughter had left this earth together.

But on Thanksgiving Day? What was God thinking?

She’d never really gotten to know Kaye DeVore that well. They’d exchanged pleasantries whenever Kaye dropped the kids off at the daycare on her way to her job at the high school, but usually Doug was the one who delivered the children and picked them up at night when he got off work at Trevor Ashlock’s print shop in town.

The DeVore kids were usually the last to get picked up, especially during harvest when Doug worked overtime to keep his farm going. But Mickey had never minded staying late. It wasn’t like she had a family of her own waiting for her at home. And she loved those kids.

Especially Rachel. Sweet, angel-faced Rachel, whose eyes always seemed to hold a wisdom beyond her years. Mickey had practically mourned when Rachel started kindergarten and was only at the daycare for an hour or two after school. Now she forced herself to look at the tiny white coffin the pallbearers lifted from the second hearse. She could not make it real that the sunny six-year-old was gone.

Through the gates, she watched Doug climb from a black towncar. One at a time, he helped his children out behind him. Carrying the baby in one arm, he tried to stretch his free arm around the other four kids, as if he could shelter them from what had happened. How he could even stand up under the weight of such tragedy was more than Mickey could imagine. And yet, for one shameful, irrational moment, she envied his grief, and would have traded places with him if it meant she’d known a love worth grieving over, or been entrusted with a child of her own flesh and blood. She shook away the thoughts, disturbed by how long she’d let herself entertain them.

She dreaded facing Doug the next time he brought the kids to the daycare center. Maybe they wouldn’t come back. She’d heard that Kaye’s mother had cancelled her plans to winter in Florida like she usually did. Harriet Thomas would remain in Kansas and help Doug out, at least for a while. Wren Johanssen had been helping with the kids and house, too, when she could take time away from running Wren’s Nest, the little bed-and-breakfast on Main Street. Wren was like a second grandma to the kids. Thank goodness for that. Six kids had to be—

Mickey shuddered and corrected herself. Only five now. That had to be a handful for anyone. The DeVores had gone on vacation in the middle of April last year, and with their kids out for a week, the workload was lighter, but the daycare center had been deathly quiet.

Deathly. Even though she was alone in the car, Mickey cringed at her choice of words.

She started at the tap on the hood of her car and looked up to see Pete motioning her through the gates. She put the car in gear and inched over the bumpy culvert. There was no turning back now. She followed the car in front of her and parked behind it next to the fence bordering the east side of the cemetery.

A tall white tombstone in the distance caught her eye and a startling thought nudged her. The last time she’d been here for a funeral had also been the funeral of a mother and child. Trevor Ashlock’s wife, Amy, and their little boy. It would be five years come summer.

As if conjured by her thoughts, Trevor’s green pickup pulled in beside her. Mickey watched in her side mirror as he parked, then helped his young wife climb out of the passenger side. Meg walked with the gait of an obviously pregnant woman, and Trevor put a hand at the small of her back, guiding her over the uneven sod toward the funeral tent.

Mickey looked away. Seeing Trevor still brought a wave of sadness. Because of his profound loss, yes. But more selfishly, for her own loss. She’d fallen hard for him after Amy’s death—and had entertained hopes that he might feel the same about her. That she might be able to ease his grief. But he was too deep in grief to even notice her.

Then Meg Anders had moved to town and almost before Mickey knew what happened, Trevor was married. He and Meg seemed very much in love, and Mickey didn’t begrudge either of them an ounce of that happiness. But it didn’t mean she was immune to a pang of envy whenever she saw them together.

This day had to be doubly difficult for Trevor. It must be a comfort to Doug having Trevor here––someone who’d walked in his shoes and still somehow managed to get up the next morning––and the next and the next.

Again, she had to wonder what God was thinking. Where was He when these tragedies struck? How could He stand by and let these terrible things happen to good men…the best men she knew, next to her brothers? None of it made sense. And the only One she knew to turn to for answers had stood by and let it all happen.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Book Giveaway: The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived

About the Book:

In The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, Steven K. Scott reveals the hidden treasures to be found in Christ’s life as a human. When you learn from Jesus’ life on earth, your own life will be propelled to a whole new level of achievement, happiness, and success.

As you look at Jesus’ life, you will learn how to:

  • Find new meanings that will raise your life to new heights.
  • Develop missions that will produce greater creativity and productivity.
  • Communicate messages that will move the minds and hearts of your listeners.
  • Act in a manner that attracts others, increases your value, and heightens your self-esteem.
  • Adopt a method that accelerates extraordinary success.
  • Discover your incredible worth.
  • Give and receive a type of love that is truer than any you have experienced before.

I'm giving away a copy of this book! Just leave a comment with a valid email address. Winners will be announced Saturday April 4th in the Weekly Review. Open worldwide. Can't wait? Buy the book here.


You Asked, I'm Answering: Reading and Books

Marny asked,
"How do you choose the books you read? Recommendations from fellow book bloggers, random finds at the library/book store, ARCs?"

Great question! A combination of all of the above. While I do receive review copies, I still consider the ones I agree to review as selecting the books. I also buy and read books based on blogger reviews...that is probably the number one influence on my purchasing choices at present. And I also buy books that I see at the bookstore that look good.

Lilly asked,
"If you were reading romances in your adolescence, do you feel they may have left you with great expectations towards your future love life and men you'd meet?"
I think Lilly's worried about my singleness.

I actually didn't read many romances in my adolescence, the ones that stick out are the classics like Jane Eyre and L.J. Smith's books. It's so funny because I don't know if they influenced my expectations, but I love reading romances now. At the same time, I'm pretty happy being single. More than anything, I think I thought I would be happily married and finished having kids by now, because both my mom and sister married young and had kids young. But I'm really glad that didn't happen for me. I didn't have a shred of an idea of who I was and I did end up having some rather destructive relationships that I got the chance to grow through and learn through.

TexasRed asked,
"Here's mine -- what's the first book you can remember picturing yourself in (as one of the characters, or interacting with the characters)?"

Hmmm...I think from the moment books became part of my life I imagined the characters. I used to actually play Nancy Drew in school and this is so incredibly embarrassing but my friends and I asked our teachers to call us the names of the characters in the Baby-sitters Club. (then we didn't respond when they did...ha!)

In recent times, I could totally see myself as Becky Bloomwood...at least as far as being a shopaholic.

Marie asked,
"What is one book that you know that you have read at least three times? (doesn't matter when)"
That's actually really easy to answer because I read the same books over and over and over with my students! (we have a very small and specific library) But not counting that, I have read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone three times.

Nymeth asked,
"Who was your first favourite author? Are they still one of your favourites today? Why or why not?"
Well. The first author I can remember just absolutely adoring was Ann M. Martin. And no, I don't consider her a favorite today. I know she's written some other books, but I haven't read them, since she primarily writes for younger children. But some other favorites from when my mom read aloud to us (as opposed to reading to myself) like Laura Ingalls Wilder or Roald Dahl are still favorites.

Jenny Girl asked,
"Do you ever re-read books and if so which ones? Are they basically your all time favorites?
Who are your top 5 authors?"

I do re-read books, but I haven't for awhile. Generally, I re-read non-fiction more than fiction...particularly books related to my faith that serve as devotionals. I also will reread epic romances, feel good fiction, or series books.

Top 5 authors....that's hard!
Frederick Buechner
Julie Lessman
Francine Rivers
Sophie Kinsella
Ravi Zacharias

I don't know...those are all auto-buys but I love so many authors.

Melody asked,
"Which is your favourite genre and which is your least favourite genre? Why?"
This is such a great question, because I've been thinking a lot about it lately. Before I started reviewing, I'd pretty much get hooked on a genre and then read it for like 5 months straight...I went through a legal thriller phase, chick lit phase, Amish fiction phase, etc. But now, I guess I would say general fiction as in "literary" fiction (I know a lot of you don't like that terminology, but I don't know how else to describe it). Books that fit in this genre usually move me on a deeper level. While I read to escape sometimes, I also read to know and learn to be moved and to change. Sometimes, you read a book and rather than allowing you to escape it hits you right where you are. And how can you escape? Story has a way of slipping beneath the surface and digging in. (I just had this happen recently...the experience is fresh!)

As far as least favorite? I'm going to say traditional fantasy. It's so weird because I like the idea of fantasy...and even like urban fantasy. But when you are creating brand new worlds with a bunch of weird names and rules? I get confused. I think that's why I could never read Lord of the Rings. I really should give it another go, sometime, though.

I do have a giveaway today and I'm slipping it in here for the people who actually read the post. :) Just leave a comment...I'll draw a random winner and send you a surprise! Of course, this is open worldwide.


LOST Recap and Discussion: He's Our You

Oh man oh man oh man. What an episode and great for discussion!! Okay as you know...watch out!! Spoilers below.

"When you're that good at something, there are always going to be people who tempt you into staying the same."

This episode filled in a few gaps....we learned that Ben just sort of dumped Sayid, (and didn't Sayid look like he was happy? He actually saw Ben and smiled. Kind of weird, really considering his state of mind at the end of The Economist), Ilana is a bounty hunter (not the police), Ben told Sayid exactly what he is, (a killer), and Sayid rejected Ben's offer to do more killing after finding some peace, I guess, in the Dominican Republic.

Back in Dharma la la land, Juliet tells Sawyer that playing house is over, Kate seems surprised that Sawyer moved on with his life in THREE YEARS, Jack is totally laid back, Juliet is awesome and doesn't actually tell Kate to stay away like the promo monkeys made us think, and everyone wants to kill Sayid! What?!? Sawyer tries to get Sayid to go along with his plan, but Sayid doesn't want to lie and do it. So then he goes to the torturer and tells them everything...they think they gave him too much of the drug. That whole scene was very amusing. In any case, that's when they decide after a heartfelt plea for baby Ethan's safety from Amy, they need to kill Sayid.

But first....behold! A burning van! Sawyer grumps that the LOSTies have been back for 1 day and all this drama breaks out. Ben releases Sayid, they run out into the wood together, and Jin finds them.

But it's too late. See, Sayid is filled with purpose at this point. He knows why he was brought back to the god-forsaken island. He knocks Jin out, gets his gun and says to young Ben...you were right about me. I am a killer. And even though he's filled with anguish...he shoots.


Man! This is really hard for me to swallow. I've always known Sayid was a torturer and a killer but killing a child????? Plus, he always seemed conflicted, but now it's like he's accepted his lot in life is merely to kill. Man, man, man. Plus, this episode did a pretty good job of making the child Ben seem vulnerable and sympathetic. It would really take a killer to get the job done.

I don't feel like I know exactly how Sayid got to feeling about Ben as he does. I don't see enough reason that he would kill the child, unless he was simmering in anger down there in the DR for all that time. I'm hoping there's more to that story, to help me believe.

A few things to think about...when Sayid asked about Ben to Sawyer, Sawyer was pretty casual about it all. It would really have helped for them to you know, have talked about what had happened in the 3 years they'd been apart. But no.

Sawyer has really drunk the Dharma kool-aid hasn't he?

I think Kate thought she'd have a chance with Sawyer? Well, she probably does.

Can the writers redeem the character of Sayid? It was really hard to watch one of my favorite characters shoot a child. Especially since whatever happened happened...Sayid can't change the future and in fact, probably played a huge role in shaping the Ben we all love to hate.

So here's my discussion question for you....I asked it on Twitter right after I finished watching...

If you had a chance to kill Hitler as a child, knowing all the evil and destruction he brought into the world...would you have?

I'm really interested in how this will all play out...what's to come?


FIRST: Deadly Charm by Claudia Mair Burney

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:

Deadly Charm (Amanda Bell Brown Mystery Series, Book 3)

Howard Books (March 24, 2009)


Claudia Mair Burney is the author of numerous novels and the popular Ragamuffin Diva blog. She lives with her husband and their seven children in Michigan.

Visit the author's website and blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (March 24, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416551956
ISBN-13: 978-1416551959


Rocky showed up at my apartment door with an offer that, in his words, I “no coulda refuse.” Or maybe those were Marlon Brando’s words. I couldn’t be sure. My blond, dreadlocked former pastor slash ex-boyfriend locked me into a stare with those big, brown puppy eyes. He’d puffed out his jowls to utter the Godfather’s most famous line, while grazing his cheek with the back of his fingers—an excruciatingly amiss imitation. I’ve seen newborn babies’ smiles more intimidating.

“You look more like a hamster than a mobster, Rock.”

“Hamsters are cool.”

“But less compelling, you must admit.”

Rocky grinned and wagged his finger at me, “Never underestimate the power of a furry little creature.” He twitched his nose and started making hamster noises.

“Amen!” I said.

I thought of my vicious, former pet sugar glider, Amos. Although he’d become my friend and hero, I had to give him away to another nocturnal creature—otherwise, I’d never sleep again. My husband’s best friend, Souldier, had taken the murderous marsupial. Now Amos happily shreds his drapes.

“Come on in, my not-so-furry friend,” I told Rocky, mostly so he would stop making weird rodent sounds.

I moved aside so he could enter my little slice of paradise: shabby chic meets Africa is what Jazz, my husband called it. Rocky loved my funky, eclectically furnished place, too. He just didn’t describe it as aptly as Jazz did.

Who was I kidding? Rocky didn’t do anything as aptly as Jazz did. I had lost them both six weeks ago, and now here was Rocky, surprising me by showing up at my door like unexpected grace.

“Welcome back, Rocky,” I said. I know how lame I sounded, but I wanted him to know I was glad he’d come no matter what the reason.

He muttered a shy, “Thanks.”

We stood in my foyer exchanging reticent glances until I got bold enough to take a long look at him. I’d missed him so. He wore a typical Rockyesque uniform underneath his white down jacket—khaki pants and a long-sleeved Batman T-shirt. A cupid earring dangled in his right ear. Every year about this time he wore it to remind me to come to the Saint Valentine’s Day feast.

Without thinking I blurted out. “I see you and Cupid are still advertising our—” I bit my tongue. There’d be no “our” Saint Valentine’s Day feast this year for prodigal Bell. “Sorry,” I muttered.

“No problem,” he rushed to say, and then an awful silence descended on us like a cold, grey fog.

When I was still a member of his church, aptly named the Rock House, I never missed the event. Rocky would tell stories of the historical Saint Valentine; we’d eat candy conversation hearts, listen to live music, and share abundant amounts of food and laughter. It was Rocky’s way of making sure the lonely hearts wouldn’t spend the evening alone. There with my church family, not only did I get heaps of love, I could give out some from my meager supply.

That and we always had a chocolate fountain.

What was I going to do now?

I tried not to think about the sting of Rocky kicking me out of his church. I didn’t want to think about anything that had happened six weeks ago. Still, I figured whatever brought him to my door had an olive branch attached to it, and whatever he asked, short of sin, I’d be willing to do to reconcile with him.

Rocky hung up his jacket, kicked out of his Birkenstocks, and headed over to my rose-colored velvet sofa and sat. I followed, plopping down beside him.

“So, what’s the offer, Godfather?”

He stared at me. “Did you gain weight?”

Because I know it’s rude to kill your loved ones, I let that one slide and gave him a polite smile, but I did grab a mudcloth throw pillow and cover my expanding waistline.

“So, what’s the offer, Rocky?”

He gushed in a most un-Godfatherly like way. “I want you to go to a meeting with me. It’s only going to be the way-coolest event you’ve been to in forever.”

I cuddled the pillow and eyed him cautiously. He didn’t mean the Valentine’s Day feast. I braced myself. Rocky’s idea of way cool could get scary. “Can you be a little more specific?”

He didn’t answer. Just reached out and touched my hand, rubbing his thumb across my knuckles. “I really missed you.”

Oh, man. That small gesture—him touching the hand nobody held anymore—that tiny movement had the effect of a pebble in a pond, creating ripples of unexpected sadness that circled out of my soul. Lord, have mercy. I didn’t fling myself at him, begging like a rhythm-and-blues singer for him to keep loving me, to not give up on me, but something in me wished I could.

I didn’t want to marry Rocky, or even date him. He had never been the love of my life. In that moment I simply wanted to banish the nearly incarnate loneliness that had been dogging my heels as a solemn, maddening companion, shuffling me through all those days with no best-friend Rocky.

And with no husband Jazz.

I gazed up at him with my own version of puppy eyes. “I missed you too, Rocky.”

We let a bit of silence sit between us on the sofa like a third and very quiet presence. Our heads hung low. Apparently we both still smarted over our mutual pain of separation.

Minutes passed, our hands still clasped together, but Rocky’s merciful presence soothed my dry soul patches like olive oil.

Thank God. Thank God for every kind soul I don’t deserve in my life who loves me anyway.

“Rocky.” I made my voice as soft and small as a baby’s blankie.

He turned to me, his face as open and vulnerable as that blankie’s little owner.

I squeezed his hand. “I’m so sorry I hurt you.”

Those puppy eyes shone with the compassion I knew like the backs of my freckled hands.

“I’m sorry for the things I did, too, babe. For the things I said that night.”

“Don’t call me babe.”

He chuckled. “Some things never change.” Again, those gentle peepers bore into me. “Why didn’t you tell me you married Jazz?”

“At the time I didn’t seem too clear on it myself. Things happened pretty fast, and the next thing I knew, I was a wife.” I paused, the weight of that statement shifting just a bit since Rocky had shown up to help bear my burden. “He’s mad at me.”

“Duh-uh. You were kissing your blond boy toy.” He nudged me with his tattooed arm. “What’s going on with the two of you now?”

“I’ve seen corpses on Carly’s autopsy tables more involved than our marriage.”

I wondered if I’d ever get over what I’d lost with Jazz.

“I can only imagine what his parents think of me. I guess they’d say I’m the nightmare that took his ex Kate’s place.”

He regarded me with the care and concern I’ve seen him lavish on the fortunate souls he counseled as a pastor. Rocky may be only twenty-seven years old, but he’d been a pastor for two years. Two good years. He didn’t have the life experience an older pastor would, but God had given him an extraordinary shepherd’s heart.

“You’re not a nightmare,” he said. “You jumped into a marriage with no spiritual or emotional preparation.”

Like I, the clinician, needed him to tell me that.

I sighed. “Yet another psychologist heal thyself thing.” I looked away from him, guilt gnawing at me. “Maybe Jazz and I just aren’t meant to be, Rocky.”

“Have you talked to him?”

I shrugged. “Just once. He came over for a few minutes on Christmas Eve. I let him know I wanted him in a way I knew he’d understand. And then I waited. He never came back.”

“Why didn’t you go to him?”

“The same reason I didn’t come to you. I wanted to give him some space to feel whatever he felt and then to decide on his own.”

“But, maybe he’s not like me, babe.”

“Ya, think? And don’t call me babe.”

“Maybe he needs you to help him decide. Like, some extra reassurance or something.”

“That’s crazy, Rock.”

“It’s not so crazy, babe.”

I took back every nice thing I’d just thought about him. What did he know? Yes, he pastors a church of more than two-hundred members. He did missions work. He had a shepherd’s heart. He took pastoral counseling classes in seminary, but, honestly! His voice sounded just like Patrick’s on Sponge Bob.

Rocky glared at me. “Babe. . . .”

“Don’t call me babe.”

“Babe! You gotta go to him.”

“But he yells. Sometimes he cusses like a fish wife.”

“What’s a fish wife?”

“I don’t know, but my great-grandmother used to say that and it stuck with me. Maybe only females cuss like fish wives. Maybe he cusses like the fish.” Now I sounded like Patrick!

“Fish don’t cuss.”

“Okay, I know I should have reassured him.”

He sighed. Looked at me with those eyes. Squeezed my hand. “Will you ever let anyone love you?”

“People love me, Rocky. My sister. My secretary. Sasha.”

“I have doubts about Sasha.”

I thought about that and chuckled with him. “You may be right. My mother has done a few things that make me wonder. Now I’m really depressed.”

“I want to see you happy.”

“I want to see you happy, too. Speaking of which, how are you and Elisa?”

He grinned, reddened, looked away.

“What? Did you marry her in six weeks? My goodness!” For the first time, I didn’t feel jealous that someone was interested in Rocky. Well, not much.

“No. I’m not married. I’m . . . .”

“You’re what?”

“She’s really special, but it hasn’t been that long since she left creepy cult dude. I’m not sure I should be involved.”

“How involved are you?”

“I’m involved, babe.”

“You’re in love?”

He wouldn’t say anything, but his goofy grin spoke for him.


He nudged me, “Cut it out, babe.”

So, Rocky was really in love. Wow. I always knew it would happen, but I didn’t realize I’d still have the teensiest bit of pain knowing he’d moved on from me for good. I could see a flower of astonishing beauty blossoming between them when I saw them together, even though it nearly killed me at the moment. But God knows Rocky deserved the biggest, juiciest love he could find. He needed to look beyond the non-existent us. And he still calls me babe.

“Just take it slow, Rock. Trust me. The cost of moving too fast is astronomical, even if you are in love.”

I could tell he didn’t feel comfortable talking to me about Elisa. I decided to let their love blossom without my tending, pruning, or pulling up weeds. I got back to the business at hand. “Are you ever going to tell me what your offer is?” I eased into the lush upholstery of my sofa.

Rocky’s face lit up. Honestly, if that guy had a tail to go with those puppy eyes, it’d be thumping my sofa with joy.

“It’s gonna be awesome, ba— I mean, Bell.”

Apparently our little chat about Elisa made him correct himself.

“You think everything is awesome, Rocky.”

“I don’t think everything is awesome.”

“You said my Love Bug is awesome. You said Switchfoot’s new CD is awesome. You said my new zillions braids are awesome, and you said the ice-cream at Cold Stone Creamery is awesome.” Okay, the ice-cream at Cold Stone happened to be awesome for real. Lately I’d craved it like the blind crave sight.

“But, babe . . . ”

There he goes again. Honestly! A holy war couldn’t make that man stop calling me babe.

He went on. “Those things are awesome.”

“God is awesome, Rock. Awesome meaning the subject inspires awe, as in reverence, respect, dread.”

“You reverence your tricked-out VW Beetle,” he said, “And I respect Switchfoot, especially Jon Foreman, and your way-cool, African-goddess hair inspired me to get dreads.”

I stared at him. Comments like these coming from Rocky tended to render me temporarily speechless.

He filled the silence with his proposal. “I want you to go see Ezekiel Thunder with me.”

My eyes widened. Electroshock therapy wouldn’t have given me such a jolt. “Ezekiel Thunder?” I screeched. I jerked up from my slouch. I’d heard the un-right reverend wanted to hit the comeback trail, taking his miracle crusade with him.

Rocky gave me a wicked grin and settled himself smugly into the soft folds of my sofa. He knew I’d left Thunder’s particular brand of Pentecostal fire many years ago and had no desire to go back.

Rocky bobble-head nodded, as if his physical movement would affect a change in my attitude.

“Stop all that nodding!”

“I’m just trying to encourage you.”

I did not feel encouraged.

“It’ll be fun,” he said, blasting me with the full puppy-eyes arsenal. Oh, those eyes. Powerful! Mesmerizing! Like a basket full of cocker spaniel puppies wearing red ribbons. I could feel myself weakening.

“Rocky, that meeting will torture me. It will torture you!”

“No, it won’t. Ezekiel is my friend.”

“Your friend?”

“He led me to Christ.”

“Ezekiel Thunder led you to Christ?”

“I told you I came to Christ at a Bible camp.”

“Yes? And?”

“It was a Sons of Thunder Bible camp. I’m a Thunder Kid!” He beamed with what I hoped wasn’t pride.

“You never told me that!”

Honestly! You think you know somebody! He was my ex-boyfriend for goodness’ sake. We’d talked about marriage. I couldn’t believe I had no idea he was close friends with the infamous Ezekiel Thunder!

“You can be kinda judgmental about guys like Ezekiel.” He went on. “I didn’t mean to upset you or trigger bad memories of your tongues-talking days.”

“Then don’t ask me to go see him.”

“He’s a different man. He and his family want to buy a house in Ann Arbor. He’s living at the Rock House house until one comes through for him. ”

“God forbid!”

“He needs support. People to show up and cheer him on.”

“Cheer him on? We should stop him!” Had Rocky forgotten that Ezekiel Thunder had fallen as hard as many of his televangelist contemporaries in the eighties—and for a tawdry little tryst with a young intern? May it never be!

“How hard would it be for you to sit there and listen? Maybe say a few prayers for him.”

“God bless you as you do that for him.”

“I was there for you, supporting Great Lakes Seminary when they were struggling and going to lose their building. I did it because of how much you love Mason May.”

“Rocky! That’s not even comparable. Mason is a fine theologian training good men and women for powerful, effective ministries. He’s not a snake-oil peddler.”

“It’s not snake oil. It’s miracle prosperity oil.”

I stared at him. He’d stunned me to silence once again. I waited for Rocky to fill the silence with testimonies about the healing properties of miracle prosperity oil. Thankfully, he refrained. But he didn’t look like he’d let me off the hook.

I tried to reason with him. “You shouldn’t ask me to do this. You’re Emergent, Rocky, not a dyed-in-the-wool charismatic.”

“You don’t like post-modern, post-denominational, Emergent folks either.”

“I like them more than Ezekiel Thunders.”

“What’s that thing you say about the Emergent Church?”

“This is not about the Emergent Church. I’d go to an Emergent meeting with you anytime. You name the place: Mars Hill, Ann Arbor Vineyard. How ‘bout Frontline Church? ”

He didn’t budge. “Come on, babe. He’s like a dad to me.”

“A dad?”

“You always say Mason is like a dad to you.”

“But Mason has a PhD. He doesn’t sell ‘miracle prosperity oil’.”

“Ezekiel doesn’t sell it, either. He gives it away for a love offering.”

“A considerable love offering, if I remember! It’s plain olive oil he’s pushing to gullible babes in the faith who don’t know any better. How can I support his money-lusting schemes?”

“Ummm. By going with me?” Hope burgeoned in his voice as if I hadn’t just accused his mentor of being a hustler.

“Did you hear what I said, Rock? Ezekiel Thunder is everything I walked away from.”

“You walked away from a lot more than that, babe. And you’ve been known to hang out with people with worse theology than his. People way more dangerous.”

He had a point.

“Rocky . . . .” I didn’t want to go. Please, God, don’t make me go.

“He’s changed, babe. Give him a chance. For me.”

The eyes again, and a smile with an invisible tail wag.

I grumbled.

He grinned.

I gave him a dramatic sigh. “What time are we leaving?”

“If you’re not busy, and you’re not, we can leave in a few hours. I’ll pick you up at six.”

“How do you know I don’t have plans?”

“Because you have antisocial tendencies.”

“Don’t hold back, Rock. What do you really think about me?”

“Don’t worry,” he said, ignoring my insolence. “You’re gonna fall in love with Ezekiel.”

I rolled my eyes. “Not likely.”

He put his face right in front of mine until we were eye to eye. “You are feeling veeeeeery tired. You’re getting sleepy. You’re going to enjoy yourself at the crusade.”

“No fair,” I said, “Those eyes of yours are potent hypnotizers.”

“You are going to love Ezekiel Thunder.”

“I am going to love Ezekiel Thunder.”

Rocky got out of my face. “You’ve gotta admit, babe. This will be safer than sleuthing.”

No, it won’t, a disembodied voice--also known as the still, small voice of God--informed me.

I tried to ignore it. Maybe this Spirit prompting was speaking figuratively.

Couldn’t ignore it.

What, Lord, am I some kind of trouble magnet?

Don’t answer that, God.

I started rationalizing immediately to take the edge off what I truly hoped was not a prophetic warning. Maybe I could fall in love with the guy and respect him. Maybe he could even heal the egg-sized growth on my lower abdomen that scared me to death each time I ran my index finger across it. Maybe I could even find the keys to unlock the little room inside my heart where all the Ezekiel Thunders I’ve ever known were locked. I’d stored them there to keep me safe from the particular brand of harm only they could inflict.

I could feel my defenses shoot up as if a rocket propelled them.

Fall in love with Ezekiel Thunder?

I wished.

I shouldn’t have wished. My great-grandmother and namesake Amanda Bell Brown use to say, “Be careful what you wish for, baby. You just might get it.”

She ain’t never lied.