Everyday Tidbits...

"I am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." - Anne Shirley

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Unsung Lullaby...Review

About the book:
Stepping over the threshold seemed symbolic of a certain level of acceptance- a joining of the hopes and dreams formed within these walls to the bitter reality that those dreams were dead. They would not have a child-not ever.

For years, Matt and Maddie have held onto their hope of becoming parents. Now, suddenly faced with the reality that they will not have a child together, Matt is shocked to discover that the consequences of a past mistake may change their lives forever. Having completed the steps of repentance years earlier, Matt has chosen not to tell Maddie about his prior misuse of intimacy. But how can he tell her now- especially when she seems locked inside her own sorrow? In this story of loss, forgiveness, and perseverance, a romantic beginning transitions into a true love story made stronger through the trials the characters face and overcome together.

 

An easy read, but by no means light. Matt and Maddie Shep have struggled with infertility through their entire marriage. After their hopes are dashed yet again, and Maddie learns that she will never conceive a child, they begin to talk of adoption. When they discover that Matt has a child from a past, teenage transgression, their lives change dramatically.

Josi does a great job tackling a difficult subject matter. Not only is the subject of infertility difficult, but having the couple discover the husband has a 9-year old son he knew nothing about, from a one-time teenage error in judgment, is tough too. Matt must deal with the knowledge that he has a son and the impact it will have on everyone. Maddie must not only learn to trust Matt again, knowing that he had gone through the repentance process and been forgiven, but accept this boy as her stepson. As she does this, she comes to understand what it means to be a mother.

While typically LDS with themes of love, forgiveness and the Atonement, the book is also honest and captures the shock and frustrations well. Matt and Maddie must work through their issues as they work to accept Matt's son and make him a part of their family. I found the Native- American element interesting. I remember the LDS Indian Student Placement program and using it in the story provided an interesting, if melodramatic twist.

It all wraps up neatly, with the predictably happy LDS ending. But, overall, an easy, interesting read.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 2/09

* * *

3/5 Stars

Friday, February 27, 2009

Proofreading Error of the Day

Our local paper has a monthly health-related insert. Look at the cover of yesterday's insert and see if you can spot what is wrong.

Did you see it? Did you know that there is a new spelling for diabetes? It's Dietebes.

Now, as an editor by trade or at least, education, I know it can be extremely difficult to find every possible error in a manuscript, especially if you're under a deadline. However, with today's technology of spell check and even with good old-fashioned proofreading, how do you miss a blatant error on the cover of a publication? Not only is an error like this unacceptable for a professional publication, it's a sign of carelessness. When a cover has a blatant error like this one, it sets a negative tone for the rest of the publication and credibility is lost.

I should start a "Proofreading Error of the Day" blog, or at least a monthly post with all the proofing errors I come across. I read so much that I find a lot. Some, I can understand why they were missed. Others, especially when they're on a cover, not so much.

I sent a rather snarky letter to the paper's editor offering my editorial services. I wonder what the response will be...

Married Strangers...Review


About the book:
What do you do when you think you've married the wrong person? If anybody has ever found themselves asking that question, it's Rayna.  And coming up with the answer is no easy feat as far as she's concerned.

Shortly after getting married, Rayna discovered that marriage is not all it was cracked up to be.  On the outside, she appears to be the happily married newlywed, but on the inside, she secretly wants out of this marriage that she knows she entered into for all the wrong reasons.  And now she knows that she needs to get out of the marriage for all the right ones; because she's not physically compatible with her husband.

Her friend, Aja, has problems of her own. She's dealing with baby momma drama and sometimes regrets her decision to get married, too.

Shania is in love and recently engaged…until she uncovers a secret that could rip her world apart. Will she even make it to the altar?

These three main characters in
Married Strangers takes the question of "Why Did I Get Married?" to a whole other level.

In theory, this has the potential to be a fascinating book. The story follows three couples, all of whom have their relationship issues and disagreements. The chapters alternate between each couple, with some minor story overlapping. Each perspective is third-person narrative, with Shania's chapters being first-person. It was hard to tell who the actual story was about.

Rayna is a newlywed who discovers that marriage is not always a daily fairy tale. Aja has issues of her own with her husband's ex, finances and a young suitor, whose advances she doesn't completely discourage. Shania is recently engaged to Mr. Perfect when her sister shows up with a drug-dealing boyfriend and her own issues.

The story is billed as "real life", and one that people can relate to, if it is assumed that every person questions why they got married. Perhaps other people can relate to that. I can't. I've never doubted my marriage, my reasons for marriage or my husband.

I found the story choppy and uneven, with little character development and nothing that drew me to any of the couples. Honestly, most of the time I found myself annoyed with them and their attitudes. It was contrived and forced and then suddenly, every thing was wrapped up too neatly. As it jumped around, I kept wondering if I'd missed some information somewhere. I think it was a story with a great deal of potential. Certainly the issues addressed here are real. Perhaps it would have been better if it had actually centered on one main couple and how they worked through things, rather than three different ones.

Thanks to First Wild Card for the opportunity to review this. You can read the first chapter here. You can find out more about Dwan Abrams here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 2/09

* * 
2/5 Stars

Married Strangers...Wild Card!

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:


Married Strangers

Urban Books (December 1, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Dwan Abrams is a full-time novelist, freelance editor, publisher and speaker. She's the best-selling author of Married Strangers, Divorcing the Devil, Only True Love Waits, The Scream Within, and Favor (a short story appearing in The Midnight Clear anthology). She's also the founder, publisher and editorial director of Nevaeh Publishing, a small press independent publishing house.

Visit the author's website and blog.


Product Details:

List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Urban Books (December 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601629753
ISBN-13: 978-1601629753

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Rayna

Rayna’s eyes welled with tears as feelings of loneliness and disappointment overtook her emotions. All of the romance and passion she envisioned would occur during her honeymoon didn’t happen. She imagined that this would have been one of the happiest times of her life. Instead, she was miserable. She had already felt a sense of cognitive dissonance, better known as “buyer’s remorse,” after her new husband, Bryce, had promised to take her on an exotic vacation in Cancun. Yeah right! she thought. Here they were, two weeks before Christmas, in a log cabin at Forrest Hills Mountain Resort in Dahlonega, Georgia. It was a five day package that Bryce’s best friend, Fox, had given them for a wedding present. A friend whose nickname came as a result of not so savory sales tactics, Fox earned the nickname because, according to Bryce, he was slicker than a snake oil salesman. Rayna found it strange that Bryce would refer to his friend in such a derogatory manner. It vexed her spirit, and she immediately remembered Proverbs 27:19: A mirror reflects a man's face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses.

Now Rayna faced a deeper problem, the dislike of her honeymoon location. Besides the fact that Rayna was not the outdoorsy type, hiking and horseback riding never appealed to her. She and Bryce had discussed at length where they would spend their honeymoon… on the beach. Rayna’s fondest memories are of her vacationing in the Bahamas, Hawaii, and different beaches in Florida. There was something about the tranquil waters that made her feel at peace; almost as if she was communing with God.

Bryce had promised her they’d go to Mexico. At the last minute, he told her that he was unable to get the time off from work. He worked as a field reporter, and although he could have gotten a few days off, it wouldn’t have been long enough. She was disappointed. Her heart was set on an exotic locale, not somewhere with frost on the trees and snow on the ground. She wondered whether she was catching a glimpse of what her life with Bryce would be like. Broken promises. Even with advance notice, he still wasn’t able to come through for their honeymoon. The only person she blamed was herself for not getting to know her husband better before marrying him. As far as Rayna was concerned, a year of knowing Bryce hadn’t been nearly enough time. Trying to deal with her regret seemed overwhelming at times.

Rayna considered herself to be spiritually intuitive. But this time, she ignored the signs. A couple of weeks before getting married, Rayna had a disturbing dream about her wedding day. In the dream, her wedding day was a fiasco. She couldn’t remember all of the details, but one thing was clear—her feelings throughout the dream were unpleasant. At one point she said, “I’m marrying the wrong man.” Having awoken with beads of sweat on her forehead, Rayna dismissed the dream as a case of wedding jitters.

Even though the log cabin was nice—hot tub, double showers, and fireplace—the problem was Bryce.

“Good morning, Mrs. Henderson,” Bryce said as he kissed Rayna on the cheek.

“Morning.” She stretched her arms over her head.

The way Bryce said, “Mrs. Henderson,” sent shivers up her spine. To her, he sounded so macho at times. She found that whole “I’m Tarzan, you Jane” thing sexy.

“You hungry?” he asked.

She looked at the clock sitting on the wooden nightstand next to the canopy bed. The LED display read 9:00 a.m. in red digits.

“We need to hurry up before they stop serving breakfast,” she said.

Rayna wanted to escape out of bed and get dressed before Bryce touched her, again. His passionate desires seemed to be insatiable. Once, she asked him whether he had an implant or took drugs, because even after making love, Bryce’s physical disposition remained the same. Of course, he denied it. Most women would love to have a man who could last for hours. For Rayna, it didn’t take all that. Not if he knew what he’s doing. Unfortunately, Bryce wouldn’t know how to satisfy her if she were an air traffic controller directing him from the lighthouse. She remembered hearing that sex comprised only two percent of a relationship, if it’s good. But when it’s not-so-good, it’s about ninety-eight percent, she thought. Having an ungratifying sex life made it difficult for her to appreciate the good things about Bryce. Like the way he’d rub her feet whenever they sat next to each other on the couch, or the way he’d give her an all over body massage.

“Let’s take communion first,” Bryce suggested, revealing a devilish grin.

Communion was Bryce’s way of asking for physical intimacy, and she thought it was sweet. He had this good guy, bad boy routine down to a science. Rayna looked over at him and immediately became turned on. Her husband was hot. Brad Pitt and George Clooney had nothing on Bryce. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and his smooth, hairless chest was toned and muscular. She noticed that his abs workout was working, because the lining of a six-pack was visible. She thought he was sexy. Too bad he can’t deliver.

“Not right now,” she grumbled.

It amazed Rayna how her husband could have so much going on—good looks, a body like a Greek Adonis, sex appeal, a smile that could light up a room, yet he didn’t know how to straighten her hair and curl her toes, so to speak. It’s not like she hadn’t expressed her dissatisfaction to Bryce. He knew full well that she was frustrated; yet he wouldn’t do anything to change it. Every time she wanted to try something new or different, he called her sadistic. Her feelings were crushed. More than anything, she wanted to please him, and in the process, get pleased. His inflexibility made Rayna feel less desirable and unappreciated.

She got out of the king-sized bed, walked across the hardwood floor, and went into the double showers. Thankfully, the water running down her face camouflaged the tears streaming down her cheeks. Rayna felt as if she had made a terrible mistake by marrying Bryce. After they consummated their marriage a couple of nights ago, she went into the bathroom and cried. How could two people be so physically incompatible? she thought. She had never heard of such a thing, especially not with married couples. She wondered what she had done to deserve such an unfulfilling union. Silently, she prayed.

Lord, forgive me for my sins. Please help me deal with this marriage. Whatever sin is blocking me from being a good wife, I ask that you remove it. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

As she exited the shower and wrapped her body in a towel, Bryce entered the bathroom. He embraced Rayna, and she melted. Her desire to be close to him was overwhelming; then the thought of being disappointed crept in and immediately turned her off. Not because she didn’t love him, because she did. It was more because of his indifferent attitude. When they made love, she sensed that his thoughts were elsewhere. He wouldn’t look at her, and that bothered her. She wondered whether it was because he was white, and she was black. Then she quickly dismissed that notion because Bryce didn’t seem to have a racist bone in his body. His expectation of going all the way at the slightest hint of affection made her hesitant to hug or kiss him. She couldn’t even rub her hand along her leg without him getting turned on.

Freeing herself from his toned arms, she looked at his disappointed face and said, “I saved you some hot water. I’m going to get dressed.”

She went back into the bedroom. Since it was cold outside, she slipped into a cashmere sweater, jeans and boots. Her hair was styled in a short, curled “do” like the actress Halle Berry.

Several minutes later, Bryce came from out of the shower. “You look nice,” Bryce complimented as he dried off, and changed into a gray mock neck sweater, jeans and Timberlands.

“Thanks. So do you.”

They put on their coats and gloves and left the cabin. Rayna noticed there was frost on the surrounding trees. They walked to the couples-only “Secret Garden” dining room, which happened to be a few feet away.

The hostess, dressed in a sweater and jeans, said, “Are you on your honeymoon?”

“Yes,” Bryce replied, smiling. “How could you tell?”

Rayna felt like saying, “Because we’re in the couples-only dining room,” but she refrained. In Bryce’s defense, they could’ve been dating and vacationing together, she reasoned.

“You have that glow about you,” the hostess replied.

Bryce looked at Rayna lovingly, and grabbed her gloved hand.

“It’s a buffet,” the hostess explained, smiling. “Seat yourself wherever you like.”

Thank goodness, Rayna thought. Every time they went out to eat, Bryce always asked the waiter or waitress, “What do you recommend?” It used to bother Rayna, so she asked him why he did that. He told her that it eliminated the guesswork. “Who better to tell you about the food than the people who work at the restaurant?” Bryce replied. She understood, but never adopted that philosophy. She enjoyed scanning the selections. When she would narrow her choices down to two entrées, then she would ask the waiter or waitress for their opinion. Her indecisiveness tended to bother Bryce, but she didn’t care.

They sat at a table surrounded by large, panoramic windows. They took off their coats and gloves and placed them on an empty chair.

“Can I get you something to drink?” the hostess asked.

“Two hot teas with sugar and lemon,” Bryce replied.

“And an orange juice,” Rayna added.

After the hostess took their drink orders, they got up and each fixed themselves a plate. The food looked scrumptious and fresh. Rayna had the cheese grits, scrambled eggs and bacon. Bryce filled his plate with French toast and sausage links.

They went back to their table, and Bryce led them in prayer.

“Father, thank you for this food and fellowship. I pray that this meal is nourishing to our minds and bodies. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

She mixed her eggs with the grits and crumpled bacon on top. Then she stared out the window. Trees for as far as the eyes could see… acres and acres of secluded woodlands. Her thoughts drifted to the first time she and Bryce met.

They were standing in line at the cafe in the Barnes & Noble off Cobb Parkway in Atlanta. After striking up a general conversation, Bryce paid for her latte. He seemed intelligent, not to mention handsome, with that sandy blond hair and green eyes. So when he asked for her phone number, she gave it to him.

Rayna went home immediately afterward. Within twenty minutes, her phone rang. It was Bryce, asking her to go out with him.

“When can I see you, again?” Bryce asked.

“How about tomorrow night?” she responded in a flirtatious tone.

“Great.” He sounded excited. “Where would you like to go?”

“Pizza Hut,” she laughed.

“Pizza Hut?” She could tell by the influx in his voice that he had expected her to name some fancy restaurant.

“Yes.”

Besides the fact that Pizza Hut was her favorite pizza establishment, she didn’t want Bryce to feel as though she were trying to take advantage of him. When they met, he was dressed in a suit. Not a cheap suit either. Rayna checked his shoes and Bryce wore black Kenneth Cole. He seemed to be doing pretty well. Even still, Rayna had wanted to get to know him personally. At the time, she was not impressed by the fact that by all appearances, he could have taken her to an expensive restaurant.

The following day, he picked Rayna up at her apartment in a rental car and took her to Pizza Hut. While at the restaurant, he explained to her that he actually lived in Chicago and was in Atlanta on business. He worked as a field reporter and was chronicling a news story. He also wrote a newspaper column. His profession seemed exciting to Rayna, because she had written numerous poems and short stories. One day, she planned to write a full-length book. Speaking with a real life reporter/writer fascinated her. As he told Rayna about his travels and how he became a writer, she hung on his every word.

“I have always been fascinated by the written word,” Bryce explained. “You know, it’s funny how I became a columnist,” he chuckled. “A friend of mine used to write a column for Chicago Tribune. She got a promotion and recommended me for her old job.”

“Wow! That was a major blessing.” Rayna smiled.

“I know,” he laughed. “Especially since I had just graduated from college.”

Rayna was not surprised to hear about Bryce’s accomplishments. He seemed so eloquent, well- spoken, cultured, and poised. When they arrived at the restaurant, they talked incessantly. She felt as though she were in a therapy session, because he was so easy to talk to.

“Where are you from?” Bryce asked, looking at her.

“I grew up in Orlando, but my parents and I moved to Georgia about…” she rolled her eyes upward, “ten years ago.” She took a bite of pepperoni pizza.

“Tell me about your family.”

She held up her index finger while she chewed the pizza. After she swallowed, she said, “I’m an only child. My mom’s a pharmacist, and my dad’s a neurologist. What about your family?”

“I have two older brothers and two younger sisters. I’m the middle child. I spent a great deal of my childhood being raised by my grandmother.”

“What happened to your parents?”

He sipped a glass of soda, or “pop” as he called it. “My dad died of a heart-attack when I was five, and I don’t have a good relationship with my mother.”

Curious. Rayna was taken aback. What kind of guy doesn’t get along with his mother? she wondered.

“My brothers and sisters have the same father, and I have my own father,” he explained. “As you can imagine, I was the black sheep.”

“You’re the middle child, yet you have a different dad?” she said more of a statement than a question, trying to make sure she understood him correctly.

“Yes. My mom was married, but she had an affair. I’m the result.” He stared at a scratch in the wooden table before taking a sip of his sparkly drink.

Rayna cleared her throat, not really knowing what to say. His candor surprised her.

He looked at her and sucked in his cheeks as if he were sucking a lemon. “My mom’s marriage suffered because of it, but they stayed together and had my twin sisters.”

“Then why did you have to stay with your grandmother?” She tilted her head to the side.

He looked her in the eye and said seriously, “Because my stepdad didn’t treat me the same as the other kids. He was harder on me. My mom figured that with me out of the house, the family could be put back together.”

“That’s terrible.” She furrowed her brow.

She felt sorry for him. Rayna hadn’t expected to learn such personal information about him on their first date. In a strange way, seeing him in such a vulnerable state attracted her to Bryce. She had finally met a man who was in touch with his feelings and knew how to convey them. Something in his almond shaped eyes expressed sadness. She could tell that his hurt ran deep. He was so nice that she wanted to help him.

Bryce squeezed Rayna’s hand, which was resting on top of the table, and said, “What were you thinking about?”

Rayna had been so deep in thought that she hadn’t even realized that the hostess had placed their drinks on the table.

“How do you know I was thinking?” she answered, smiling. “I could’ve been admiring the scenery.”

“You might’ve started out doing that, but I can tell by the way your eyes shifted downward and to the right that you were remembering something.”

He’s so analytical, she thought. He pays attention to everything. That’s what she gets for hooking up with a brain-iac.

“I was thinking about us,” she admitted. “I can’t believe that after six months of being engaged, we’re finally married.”

Rayna’s decision to marry Bryce was an easy one. He proposed to her three months after they met. They had been talking on the phone every day, several times per day. Maintaining a long distance relationship wasn’t easy. She missed him terribly and wanted companionship. She was twenty years old and a sophomore at Mercer University. Bryce was three years her senior. They were deeply in love.

“Rayna,” he said, interrupting her thoughts once again. “I love you so much,” he grinned sheepishly, licking his pink lips.

“I love you, too.” She gave a faint smile.

“You don’t understand. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anybody, including my own mother. I don’t know what I’d ever do without you, Rayna,” Bryce declared.

Somehow, hearing Bryce say he loved her more than his mother disturbed her, because although she loved him, she didn’t think it could be compared to the love she has for her parents. Never had she met anyone who could make her remotely think that she loved them more than either one of her parents. She couldn’t even imagine. Then again, she thought, Bryce’s relationship with his mother was strained. So was it really far-fetched for him to love someone more than her?

Even though she believed him wholeheartedly, Rayna wasn’t sure how to respond to his statement. The first time Bryce ever told Rayna that he loved her was one week after they met. It caught her completely off guard. She found it peculiar, because she thought it was too soon for them to exchange those three little words that carry a whole lot of weight. She didn’t say it back to him, because she didn’t take saying, “I love you” lightly.

Marrying Bryce seemed to make logical sense to Rayna. He was an avid reader, had an incredible vocabulary, and was well-versed in many different things. And she couldn’t deny the obvious. Bryce was fine and saved. And in Rayna’s opinion, that was definitely a plus. Not to mention that he’s a visionary and ambitious. One of the things Rayna admired about him was the fact that he knew a little about a wide array of subjects. He was able to discuss anything with anyone ranging from jazz music to the Greek classics to the Bible. And her parents loved him. Before deciding to commit, Rayna had a conversation with her Aunt Sylvia, which persuaded Rayna to marry Bryce.

Aunt Sylvia and Rayna had a close-knit relationship. She was Rayna’s mother’s younger sister, in her forties, and has never been married. Based on what she had told her aunt, like the way Bryce would call throughout the day, or send flowers, or take Rayna to nice restaurants, Sylvia was convinced that Bryce loved Rayna. What tilted the scale in Bryce’s favor was when Aunt Sylvia said, “Girl, what are you dragging your feet for? Do you know how hard it is to find a man who wants to get married?”

Rayna was glad when the hostess returned and asked, “How’s the food?”

“Fine,” she replied. That way, she didn’t have to acknowledge Bryce’s declaration.

He bit into his French toast. “Delicious.”

Rayna picked up her cloth napkin and wiped the powdered sugar off Bryce’s full lips. His lips don’t look like the average white boy. Not Mick Jagger, but luscious and sexy. He smiled a dimpled smile. She could tell he appreciated the gesture. They finished their breakfast and walked back to their cabin, glove in glove. As they breathed the cold, crisp air, smoke formed every time they exhaled.

Back in the cabin, Bryce started a fire in the gas log fireplace. They took off their shoes, wrapped themselves in a colorful quilt, and cuddled in front of the blazing fire. It was quite romantic. Rayna closed her eyes, listened to the crackling noises being emitted from the fireplace, and imagined that Bryce would ravish her body and leave her feeling satisfied. Fantasizing and praying helped her get through the remaining three days of her honeymoon. Thankfully, she had her fantasies.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tuck...Review

About the book:
"Pray God our aim is true and each arrow finds its mark." King Raven has brought hope to the oppressed people of Wales--and fear to their Norman overlords. Along the way Friar Tuck has been the stalwart supporter of King Raven--bringing him much-needed guidance, wit, and faithful companionship.

Deceived by the self-serving King William and hunted by the treacherous Abbot Hugo and Sheriff de Glanville, Rhi Bran is forced to take matters into his own hands as King Raven. Aided by Tuck and his small but determined band of forest-dwelling outlaws, he ignites a rebellion that spreads through the Welsh valleys, forcing the wily monarch to marshal his army and march against little Elfael.

Filled with unforgettable characters, breathtaking suspense, and rousing battle scenes, Stephen R. Lawhead's masterful retelling of the Robin Hood legend reaches its stunning conclusion in Tuck. Steeped in Celtic mythology and the political intrigue of medieval Britain, Lawhead's trilogy conjures up an ancient past while holding a mirror to contemporary realities. Prepare for an epic tale that dares to shatter everything you thought you knew about Robin Hood.


Absolutely wonderful. The story is told, in part, from the perspective of Friar Tuck. However, it is still a third-person narrative rather than a first-person like Scarlet. Tuck's role in this third novel is much more significant. And the idea that a humble priest can have such an impact on the lives of everyone around him, including the King of England is important.

Tuck picks up right where Scarlet leaves off, with Bran and his followers leaving the King, after the King has gone back on his promise of justice and returning Elfael to Bran. Bran vows revenge and he is darker here than he has been in the previous books. He's angry and not quite as compassionate as he has been before. He kills a bit easier, as he exacts his revenge on the Normans, Sheriff de Glanville and Abbot Hugo, who was given control of Elfael by King William.

The killings here are just as numerous and brutal as they are in the previous books. But, when the Normans stumble into Cel Craidd, tragedy strikes in a heart-breaking way.

Through it all, Friar Tuck stands by Bran's side. Faithful to the end, he does what is asked of him, all the while praying and guiding Bran's Grellon. That it is Tuck who manages to convince the King to do the right thing isn't a surprise, once you've come to know this wise little priest.

In this book, we also meet Alan a'Dale, a minstrel who joins Bran and his followers. The chapters begin with Alan's songs, which tell the tale of Rhi Bran y Hud. Alan is a delightful addition to the Grellon and a faithful supporter of Bran.

Lawhead, as he has done in the previous books, provides an epilogue which details more of the history and shows how minstrels moved from place to place, influencing the people they met. Their songs started in one place and as they moved around the country, were adapted and changed according to the area and the people. Thus, while one song started in Wales, about a man named Bran, a sheriff called de Glanville and King William, it could eventually be sung in England about Robin, a sheriff in Nottingham and King John.

A terrific end to a fascinating trilogy. Easy to read, enthralling and captivating.

Thanks to First Wild Card for the opportunity to review this book. You can find out more about Stephen Lawhead here. You can read the first chapter here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 2/09

* * * *

4/5 Stars

Monday, February 23, 2009

Scarlet...Review

About the book:
After losing everything he owns, forester Will Scarlet embarks on a search for none other than King Raven, whose exploits have already become legendary. After fulfilling his quest--and proving himself a skilled and loyal companion--Will joins the heroic archer and his men.

Now, however, Will is in prison for a crime he did not commit. His sentence is death by hanging--unless he delivers King Raven and his band of cohorts.
That, of course, he will never do.

Wales is slowly falling under the control of the invading Normans, and King William the Red has given his ruthless barons control of the land. In desperation, the people turn to King Raven and his men for justice and survival in the face of the ever-growing onslaught.

From deep in the forest they form a daring plan for deliverance, knowing that failure means death for them all.

Scarlet continues Stephen R. Lawhead's riveting saga that began with the novel Hood, which relocated the legend of Robin Hood to the Welsh countryside and its dark forests. Steeped in Celtic mythology and the political intrigue of medival Britain, Lawhead's trilogy conjures up an ancient past and holds a mirror to contemporary realities. Prepare for an epic tale that dares to shatter everything you thought you knew about Robin Hood.


Scarlet is the second in the King Raven trilogy about Robin Hood. The story picks up where Hood leaves off, with Will Scarlet being kept prisoner by Count de Braose. Will is in prison for alleged treason to the crown, and will be hung, unless he tells the count where to find King Raven. While in prison, Will is narrating his story to a young monk named Odo, so parts of the story are from Will's first person perspective and others are a third person narrative. The dual narratives work here. Will starts his narration with how he came to join Bran ap Brychan's rebel group. Disillusioned with his life as a forester, he seeks out the legendary King Raven's band of outlaws.

As Will becomes an integral part of the Cel Craidd community, he finds love with Noin, a relative newcomer herself. Merian has also remained with Bran, rather than returning to her father. Bran is as committed as ever to defeating the Norman invaders and reclaiming his throne and kingdom.

Scarlet shows us more of the political intrigue and maneuverings of the day. Political lying, deceit and self-preservation were just as much in effect then, as they are today. The King of England proves himself just as dishonest and capable of deceit as one would expect.

This isn't a stand-alone book. You need to read the first one, Hood, to really understand the story.

At once, engaging and entertaining. An easy read and one that will keep you captivated until the end.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 2/09

* * *

3/5 Stars

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tuck...Wild Card!

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

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


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Tuck

Thomas Nelson (February 17, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


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

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

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

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

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


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $26.99
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (February 17, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595540873
ISBN-13: 978-1595540874

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Prologue

Wintan Cestre

Saint Swithun’s Day


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

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

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

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

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

William gave a curt nod.

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

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

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

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

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

“So you say,” remarked the king.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Something to consider, eh?”

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

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

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

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




Part I

Come listen a while, you gentlefolk alle,

That stand this bower within,

A tale of noble Rhiban the Hud,

I purpose now to begin.


Young Rhiban was a princeling fayre,

And a gladsome heart had he.

Delight took he in games and tricks,

And guiling his fair ladye.


A bonny fine maide of noble degree,

Mérian calléd by name,

This beauty soote was praised of alle men

For she was a gallant dame.


Rhiban stole through the greenwoode one night

To kiss his dear Mérian late.

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

And order’d him home full straight.


Though Rhiban indeed speeded home fayrlie rathe,

That night he did not see his bed.

For in flames of fire from the rooftops’ eaves,

He saw all his kinsmen lay dead.


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

When the household was slumbering deepe.

And from room to room they had quietly crept

And murtheréd them all in their sleepe.


Rhiban cried out ‘wey-la-wey!’

But those fiends still lingered close by.

So into the greenwoode he quickly slipt,

For they had heard his cry.


Rhiban gave the hunters goode sport,

Full lange, a swift chase he led.

But a spearman threw his shot full well

And he fell as one that is dead.





1



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well?” demanded Bran impatiently.

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

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

“Would he not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hood...Review

About the book:
Robin Hood
The Legend Begins Anew

For centuries, the legend of Robin Hood and his band of thieves has captivated the imagination. Now the familiar tale takes on new life, fresh meaning, and an unexpected setting.

Hunted like an animal by Norman invaders, Bran ap Brychan, heir to the throne Elfael, has abandoned his father's kingdom and fled to the greenwood. There, in the primeval forest of the Welsh borders, danger surrounds him-for this woodland is a living, breathing entity with mysterious powers and secrets, and Bran must find a way to make it his own if he is to survive.

Like the forest itself, Hood is deep, dark, and at times savagely brutal-yet full of enchantment and hope. Internationally-acclaimed author Stephen R. Lawhead has created a lyrical rendering of a time-honored story that will lead you down strange pathways into another time and place.


A fascinating take on the Robin Hood legend. Stephen Lawhead has taken the story and set it in 1093 Wales. Bran ap Brychan is heir to the throne of Elfael. After his father's death and after his kingdom is overtaken by Norman invaders and the people enslaved, Bran flees and is presumed dead. He takes refuge in the forest near the Welsh border. Severely injured, Bran is nursed back to health by a mysterious, mystical old crone who convinces him that his duty and honor lie within Elfael. Bran soon finds himself the reluctant leader of those Elfael refugees who fled into the forest when the Normans arrived.

This first installment of the King Raven trilogy takes us through the early beginnings of the man who will be known as Robin Hood. We also meet Little John, Tuck and Merian. I hope that Little John, especially, gets more character development as his role was very minor here. Tuck is delightful and it will be interesting to see how Merian's character evolves as the story continues. A bit of mysticism blended with faith in God brings a richness to the story which I had not anticipated.

I've seen reviews that call the ending abrupt and the story slow, I didn't find this at all. Lawhead mixes English with Welsh and while some of the names, places and words were a bit difficult to understand, it didn't detract from the story. I appreciated the pronunciation guide provided at the end of the book.

Lawhead also provides an epilogue which explains his reasoning for setting the story in Wales and not in England. He provides historical examples of how the legend not only evolved but could have originated somewhere other than Nottingham in England.

Overall, an interesting, compelling story and a relatively easy read. I am anxious to see how the trilogy progresses.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 2/09

* * * *

4/5 Stars

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gingham Mountain...Review

About the book:
When Hannah Cartwright meets Grant, a disreputable-looking wrangler, she’s determined to keep him from committing two orphan-train children to hard labor on his ranch. How long will she have to play the role of schoolmarm before she gets a chance to rescue the children? Prudence, the town dressmaker, has designs on Grant. Will she succeed in securing his affections? As Grant struggles to run the ranch and raise six orphans, he finds love making tracks to his heart. Will he be caught in a web of deceit or lassoed by the love of one good woman?

Hannah Cartwright, a young woman who, an orphan herself, has ridden the orphan train trying to find a home for her younger sister. At the end of the line, in a little town called Sour Springs, Texas, her sister Libby is adopted by Grant Cooper. Grant is a bachelor rancher who was once an orphan and vowed that he would help as many abandoned children as he could.

Hannah mistakenly believes that Grant intends to use these children as laborers on his ranch. She stays in town, managing to get hired as the town school teacher, in order to keep an eye on her sister and prove that Grant is using the children as hard labor. Predictably, Grant and Hannah fall in love, and the question about whether they will finally get together is answered.

Add two annoying subplots and there you have Gingham Mountain. The subplot of Prudence, the shady seamstress and her hidden husband Horace was completely unnecessary to the story. It was very contrived. Grace, Hannah's sister, had her own story in book 2, Calico Canyon. Perhaps if I'd read that book first, I would have liked Grace. As it was, all I came away with was that in addition to being annoying, the woman was nuts and her husband and stepsons all needed a good thrashing.

This is the third book in the Lassoed in Texas series. It's the first one I've read. While I believe it can stand on its own, I also think that reading the first two books should give the reader a better understanding of some of the characters. Mary Connealy assumes that you've read her other books.

I found myself wishing for more detail and character development. It's as if the author had the story in her own mind, but couldn't quite get all the details painted for the reader.

Overall, a light, entertaining Christian read. Nothing stellar about it or the writing. But, a nice diversion when you need something light and clean.


Thanks to First Wild Card for the opportunity to review this book. You can find out more about Mary Connealy here. You can read the first chapter here.  You can purchase your copy here.

Read 2/09

* * *

3/5 Stars

Gingham Mountain...Wild Card!

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:


Gingham Mountain (Lassoed in Texas, Book 3)

Barbour Books (February 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


MARY CONNEALY is married to Ivan a farmer, and she is the mother of four beautiful daughters, Joslyn, Wendy, Shelly and Katy. Mary is a GED Instructor by day and an author by night. And there is always a cape involved in her transformation.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602601410
ISBN-13: 978-1602601413

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Sour Springs, Texas, 1870


Martha had an iron rod where most people had a backbone.

Grant smiled as he pulled his team to a stop in front of the train station in Sour Springs, Texas.

She also had a heart of gold—even if the old bat wouldn’t admit it. She was going to be thrilled to see him and scold him the whole time.

“It’s time to get back on the train.” Martha Norris, ever the disciplinarian, had a voice that could back down a starving Texas wildcat, let alone a bunch of orphaned kids. It carried all the way across the street as Grant jumped from his wagon and trotted toward the depot. He’d almost missed them. He could see the worry on Martha’s face.

Wound up tight from rushing to town, Grant knew he was late. But now that he was here, he relaxed. It took all of his willpower not to laugh at Martha, the old softy.

He hurried toward them. If it had only been Martha he would have laughed, but there was nothing funny about the two children with her. They were leftovers.

A little girl, shivering in the biting cold, her thin shoulders hunched against the wind, turned back toward the train. Martha, her shoulders slumped with sadness at what lay ahead for these children, rested one of her competent hands on the child’s back.

Grant noticed the girl limping. That explained why she hadn’t been adopted. No one wanted a handicapped child. As if limping put a child so far outside of normal she didn’t need love and a home. Controlling the slow burn in his gut, Grant saw the engineer top off the train’s water tank. They’d be pulling out of the station in a matter of minutes.

“Isn’t this the last stop, Mrs. Norris?” A blond-headed boy stood, stony-faced, angry, scared.

“Yes, Charlie, it is.”

His new son’s name was Charlie. Grant picked up his pace.

Martha sighed. “We don’t have any more meetings planned.”

“So, we have to go back to New York?” Charlie, shivering and thin but hardy compared to the girl, scowled as he stood on the snow-covered platform, six feet of wood separating the train from the station house.

Grant had never heard such a defeated question.

The little girl’s chin dropped and her shoulders trembled.

What was he thinking? He heard defeat from unwanted children all the time.

Charlie slipped his threadbare coat off his shoulders even though the wind cut like a knife through Grant’s worn-out buckskin jacket.

Grant’s throat threatened to swell shut with tears as he watched that boy sacrifice the bit of warmth he got from that old coat.

Stepping behind Martha, Charlie wrapped his coat around the girl. She shuddered and practically burrowed into the coat as if it held the heat of a fireplace, even as she shook her head and frowned at Charlie.

“Just take the stupid thing.” Charlie glared at the girl.

After studying him a long moment, the little girl, her eyes wide and sad, kept the coat.

Mrs. Norris stayed his hands. “That’s very generous, Charlie, but you can’t go without a coat.”

“I don’t want it. I’m gonna throw it under the train if she don’t take it.” The boy’s voice was sharp and combative. A bad attitude. That could keep a boy from finding a home.

Grant hurried faster across the frozen ruts of Sour Springs Main Street toward the train platform and almost made it. A tight grip on his arm stopped him. Surprised, he turned and saw that irksome woman who’d been hounding him ever since she’d moved to town. What was her name? Grant’d made of point of not paying attention to her. She usually yammered about having his shirts sewn in her shop.

“Grant, it’s so nice to see you.”

It took all his considerable patience to not jerk free. Shirt Lady was unusually tall, slender, and no one could deny she was pretty, but she had a grip like a mule skinner, and Grant was afraid he’d have a fight on his hands to get his arm back.

Grant touched the brim of his battered Stetson with his free hand. “Howdy, Miss. I’m afraid I’m in a hurry today.”

A movement caught his eye, and he turned to look at his wagon across the street. Through the whipping wind he could see little, but Grant was sure someone had come alongside his wagon. He wished it were true so he could palm this persistent pest off on an unsuspecting neighbor.

Shirt Lady’s grip tightened until it almost hurt through his coat. She leaned close, far closer than was proper to Grant’s way of thinking.

“Why don’t you come over to my place and warm yourself before you head back to the ranch. I’ve made pie, and it’s a lonely kind of day.” She fluttered her lashes until Grant worried she’d gotten dirt in her eye. He considered sending her to Doc Morgan for medical care.

The train chugged and reminded Grant he was almost out of time. “Can’t stop now, Miss.” What was her name? How many times had she spoken to him? A dozen if it was three. “There are some orphans left on the platform, and they need a home. I’ve got to see to ’em.”

Something flashed in her eyes for a second before she controlled it. He knew that look. She didn’t like orphans. Well, then what was she doing talking to him? He came with a passel of ’em. Grant shook himself free.

“We’ll talk another time then.”

Sorely afraid they would, Grant tugged on his hat brim again and ran. His boots echoed on the depot stairs. He reached the top step just as Martha turned to the sound of his clomping. She was listening for him even when she shouldn’t be.

Grant couldn’t stand the sight of the boy’s thin shoulders covered only by the coarse fabric of his dirty, brown shirt. He pulled his gloves off, noticing as he did that the tips of his fingers showed through holes in all ten fingers.

“I’ll take ’em, Martha.” How was he supposed to live with himself if he didn’t? Grant’s spurs clinked as he came forward. He realized in his dash to get to town he’d worn his spurs even though he brought the buckboard. Filthy from working the cattle all morning, most of his hair had fallen loose from the thong he used to tie it back. More than likely he smelled like his horse. A razor hadn’t touched his face since last Sunday morning.

Never one to spend money on himself when his young’uns had needs—or might at any time—his coat hung in tatters, and his woolen union suit showed through a rip in his knee.

Martha ran her eyes up and down him and shook her head, suppressing a smile. “Grant, you look a fright.”

A slender young woman rose to her feet from where she sat at the depot. Her movements drew Grant’s eyes away from the forlorn children. From the look of the snow piling up on the young woman’s head, she’d been sitting here in the cold ever since the train had pulled in, which would have been the better part of an hour ago. She must have expected someone to meet her, but no one had.

When she stepped toward him, Grant spared her a longer glance because she was a pretty little thing, even though her dark brown hair hung in bedraggled strings from beneath her black bonnet and twisted into tangled curls around her chin. Her face was so dirty the blue of her eyes shined almost like the heart of a flame in a sooty lantern.

Grant stared at her for a moment. He recognized something in her eyes. If she’d been a child and looked at him with those eyes, he’d have taken her home and raised her.

Then the children drew his attention away from the tired, young lady.

Martha Norris shook her head. “You can’t handle any more, Grant. We’ll find someone, I promise. I won’t quit until I do.”

“I know that’s the honest truth.” Grant knew Martha had to protest; good sense dictated it. But she’d hand the young’uns over. “And God bless you for it. But this is the end of the line for the orphan train. You can’t do anything until you get back to New York. I’m not going to let these children take that ride.”

“Actually, Libby joined us after we’d left New York. It was a little irregular, but it’s obvious the child needs a home.” Martha kept looking at him shaking her head.

“Irregular how?” He tucked his tattered gloves behind his belt buckle.

“She stowed away.” Martha glanced at Libby. “It was the strangest thing. I never go back to the baggage car, but one of the children tore a hole in his pants. My sewing kit is always in the satchel I carry with me. I was sure I had it, but it was nowhere to be found. So I knew I’d most likely left it with my baggage. I went back to fetch it so I could mend the seam and found her hiding in amongst the trunks.”

Grant was reaching for the buttons on his coat, but he froze. “Are you sure she isn’t running away from home?” His stomach twisted when he thought of a couple of his children who had run off over the years. He’d been in a panic until he’d found them. “She might have parents somewhere, worried to death about her.”

“She had a note in her pocket explaining everything. I feel certain she’s an orphan. And I don’t know how long she was back there. She could have been riding with us across several states. I sent telegraphs to every station immediately, and I’m planning on leaving a note at each stop on my way back, but I hold out no hope that a family is searching for her.” Martha sighed as if she wanted to fall asleep on her feet.

Grant realized it wasn’t just the children who had a long ride ahead of them. One corner of Grant’s lips turned up. “Quit looking at me like that, Martha, or I’ll be thinking I have to adopt you so you don’t have to face the trip.”

Martha, fifty if she was a day, laughed. “I ought to take you up on that. You need someone to come out there and take your ranch in hand. Without a wife, who’s going to cook for all these children?”

“You’ve been out. You know how we run things. Everybody chips in.” The snow was getting heavier, and the wind blew a large helping of it down Grant’s neck. Grant ignored the cold in the manner of men who fought the elements for their living and won. He went back to unbuttoning his coat, then shrugged it off and dropped it on the boy’s shoulders. It hung most of the way to the ground.

Charlie tried to give the coat back. “I don’t want your coat, mister.”

Taking a long look at Charlie’s defiant expression, Grant fairly growled. “Keep it.”

Charlie held his gaze for a moment before he looked away. “Thank you.”

Grant gave his Stetson a quick tug to salute the boy’s manners. Snow sprang into the air as the brim of his hat snapped down and up. He watched it be swept up and around by the whipping wind then filter down around his face, becoming part of the blizzard that was getting stronger and meaner every moment.

Martha nodded. “If they limited the number of children one man could take, you’d be over it for sure.”

Grant controlled a shudder of cold as he pulled on his gloves. “Well, thank heavens there’s no limit. The oldest boy and the two older girls are just a year or so away from being out on their own. One of them’s even got a beau. I really need three more to take their places, but I’ll settle for two.”

Martha looked from one exhausted, filthy child to the other then looked back at Grant. “The ride back would be terribly hard on them.”

Grant crouched down in front of the children, sorry for the clink of his spurs which had a harsh sound and might frighten the little girl. Hoping his smile softened his grizzled appearance enough to keep the little girl from running scared, he said, “Well, what kind of man would I be if I stood by watching while something was terribly hard on you two? How’d you like to come out and live on my ranch? I’ve got other kids there, and you’ll fit right in to our family.”

“They’re not going to fit, Grant,” Martha pointed out through chattering teeth. “Your house is overflowing now.”

Grant had to admit she was right. “What difference does it make if we’re a little crowded, Martha? We’ll find room.”

The engineer swung out on the top step of the nearest car, hanging onto a handle in the open door of the huffing locomotive. “All aboard!”

The little girl looked fearfully between the train and Grant.

Looking at the way the little girl clung to Martha’s hand, Grant knew she didn’t want to go off with a strange man almost as much as she didn’t want to get back on that train.

“I’ll go with you.” The little boy narrowed his eyes as he moved to stand like a cranky guardian angel beside the girl.

Grant saw no hesitation in the scowling little boy, only concern for the girl. No fear. No second thoughts. He didn’t even look tired compared to the girl and Martha. He had intelligent blue eyes with the slyness a lot of orphans had. Not every child he’d adopted had made the adjustment without trouble. A lot of them took all of Grant’s prayers and patience. Grant smiled to himself. He had an unlimited supply of prayers, and the prayers helped him hang onto the patience.

Grant shivered under the lash of the blowing snow.

The boy shrugged out of the coat. “Take your coat back. The cold don’t bother me none.”

Grant stood upright and gently tugged the huge garment back around the boy’s neck and began buttoning it. “The cold don’t bother me none, neither. You’ll make a good cowboy, son. We learn to keep going no matter what the weather.” He wished he had another coat because the girl still looked miserable. Truth be told, he wouldn’t have minded one for himself.

Martha leaned close to Grant’s ear on the side away from the children. “Grant, you need to know that Libby hasn’t spoken a word since we found her. There was a note in her pocket that said she’s mute. She’s got a limp, too. It looks to me like she had a badly broken ankle some years ago that didn’t heal right. I’ll understand if you—”

Grant pulled away from Martha’s whispers as his eyebrows slammed together. Martha fell silent and gave him a faintly alarmed look. He tried to calm down before he spoke, matching her whisper. “You’re not going to insult me by suggesting I’d leave a child behind because she has a few problems, are you?”

Martha studied him then her expression relaxed. Once more she whispered, “No Grant. But you did need to be told. The only reason I know her name is because it was on the note. Libby pulled it out of her coat pocket as if she’d done it a thousand times, so chances are this isn’t a new problem, which probably means it’s permanent.”

Grant nodded his head with one taut jerk. “Obliged for the information then. Sorry I got testy.” Grant did his best to make it sound sincere, but it hurt, cut him right to the quick, for Martha to say such a thing to him after all these years.

“No, I’m sorry I doubted you.” Martha rested one hand on his upper arm. “I shouldn’t have, not even for a second.”

Martha eased back and spoke normally again. “We think Libby’s around six.” She swung Libby’s little hand back and forth, giving the girl an encouraging smile.

All Grant’s temper melted away as he looked at the child. “Hello, Libby.” Crouching back down to the little girl’s eye level, he gave the shivering tyke all of his attention.

Too tiny for six and too thin for any age, she had long dark hair caught in a single bedraggled braid and blue eyes awash in fear and wishes. Her nose and cheeks were chapped and red. Her lips trembled. Grant hoped it was from the cold and not from looking at the nasty man who wanted to take her away.

“I think you’ll like living on my ranch. I’ve got the biggest backyard to play in you ever saw. Why, the Rocking C has a mountain rising right up out of the back door. You can collect eggs from the chickens. I’ve got some other kids and they’ll be your brothers and sisters, and we’ve got horses you can ride.”

Libby’s eyes widened with interest, but she never spoke. Well, he’d had ’em shy before.

“I can see you’ll like that. I’ll start giving you riding lessons as soon as the snow lets up.” Grant ran his hand over his grizzled face. “I should have shaved and made myself more presentable for you young’uns. I reckon I’m a scary sight. But the cattle were acting up this morning. There’s a storm coming, and it makes ’em skittish. By the time I could get away, I was afraid I’d miss the train.”

Grant took Libby’s little hand, careful not to move suddenly and frighten her, and rubbed her fingers on his whiskery face.

She snatched her hand away, but she grinned.

The smile transformed Libby’s face. She had eyes that had seen too much and square shoulders that had borne a lifetime of trouble. Grant vowed to himself that he’d devote himself to making her smile.

“I’ll shave it off before I give you your first good night kiss.”

The smile faded, and Libby looked at him with such longing Grant’s heart turned over with a father’s love for his new daughter. She’d gotten to him even faster than they usually did.

Martha reached past Libby to rest her hand on the boy’s shoulder. “And Charlie is eleven.”

Grant pivoted a bit on his toes and looked at Charlie again. A good-looking boy, but so skinny he looked like he’d blow over in a hard wind. Grant could fix that. The boy had flyaway blond hair that needed a wash and a trim. It was the hostility in his eyes that explained why he hadn’t found a home. Grant had seen that look before many times, including in a mirror.

As if he spoke to another man, Grant said, “Charlie, welcome to the family.”

Charlie shrugged as if being adopted meant nothing to him. “Are we supposed to call you pa?”

“That’d be just fine.” Grant looked back at the little girl. “Does that suit you, Libby?”

Libby didn’t take her lonesome eyes off Grant, but she pressed herself against Martha’s leg as if she wanted to disappear into Martha’s long wool coat.

The engineer shouted, “All aboard!” The train whistle sounded. A blast of steam shot across the platform a few feet ahead of them.

Libby jumped and let out a little squeak of surprise. Grant noted that the little girl’s voice worked, so most likely she didn’t talk for reasons of her own, not because of an injury. He wondered if she’d seen something so terrible she couldn’t bear to speak of it.

The boy reached his hand out for Libby. “We’ve been together for a long time, Libby. We can go together to the ranch. I’ll take care of you.”

Libby looked at Charlie as if he were a knight in shining armor. After some hesitation, she released her death grip on Martha and caught Charlie’s hand with both of hers.

“Did I hear you correctly?” A sharp voice asked from over Grant’s shoulder. “Are you allowing this man to adopt these children?”

Startled, Grant stood, turned, and bumped against a soft, cranky woman. He almost knocked her onto her backside—the lady who’d been waiting at the depot. He grabbed her or she’d have fallen on the slippery wood. Grant steadied her, warm and alive in his hands.