Everyday Tidbits...

It's cold and foggy. I blame the Dementors...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Might As Well Laugh About It Now...Review

About the book:
Recollections, wisdom, and advice from the beloved entertainer, American icon, mother of eight children, and New York Times bestselling author.

When the Donny and Marie show ended its award-winning run on ABC in 1979, 19-year-old Marie was ready to leave the stage lights for a secretary’s life—she had prepared to say “goodbye” to fleeting fame by studying shorthand and typing! Clearly, life took a different turn.

Now, decades later and still a beloved superstar, Marie opens the door to her thoughts on many of her milestones and missteps, both the public and the personal. In a life brimming with a mixture of charm and chaos, blessings and hilarious bungles, victory and vulnerability, Marie recounts for her “family of fans” her greatest successes as well as her most crushing disappointments, career pressures and expectations, marriage and divorce, depression, weight issues, tough choices, honors and awards, and the incredible joys and challenges of raising children. Through it all, Marie has bounced back time and again with unstoppable enthusiasm, resilience, and an unbeatably healthy and positive outlook on life.

In
Might as Well Laugh About It Now, she imparts her insights on surviving all of life’s roadblocks and detours in a collection of friendly musings and heartening advice about learning to survive— and moving forward—with humor and optimism. 


Entertaining, but disappointing. I thoroughly enjoyed Marie's first book, Behind the Smile. This one was a bit of a let down. More a series of vignettes than an autobiography or memoir, Marie shares life experiences and the wisdom she gained from her own experiences as well as the example of others. Her main point is that life is better when you have a sense of humor and can laugh about it. I can't disagree.

What I found disappointing is that much of Marie's humor is meant to distract you from getting too close. I've seen this in interviews she's done and sometimes her humor seems inappropriate. There's also a sense of exaggeration that leaves you wondering what really happened and what is embellished.

I have no doubts that Marie's life hasn't been easy. I know she's overcome a great deal with regards to abuse, postpartum depression and divorce. I admire that pluck and the ability to handle it when everything goes wrong.

An entertaining, light read.   Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 6/09

* *
2/5 Stars

Monday, June 29, 2009

In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms...Review

About the book:

They number in the millions and they are incredibly important to families and to our society, yet they are under-appreciated, little respected, and even controversial.

Who are they?
They are the stay-at-home moms.

These are women who know in their hearts that staying home to raise their children is the right choice for the whole family. Some do it from the outset of their marriages, while others make the difficult transition from career-driven women to homemakers. Either way, it is a choice that is incredibly rich and rewarding, not to mention challenging.

Now Dr. Laura, building on principles developed during her long career as a licensed marriage and family therapist, provides a wealth of advice and support, as well as compassion and inspiration, to women as they navigate the wonders and struggles of being stay-at-home moms.
Learn how:
  • to hold your head high and deal with naysayers;
  • to see the benefits of being home not only for your children but also for your marriage;
  • to understand the changes you see in yourself;
  • to realize that the sacrifices you endure now will make for lasting bonds and a stronger family, in addition to a more cohesive community.
In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms is a special book, a profound and unique understanding of how important it is for mothers to raise their own children.

Having been a work-outside-the-home mom longer than I've been a stay-at-home mom, I can relate to both sides of this "issue".

While she claims to "come to praise at-home moms, not to bury full-time working moms", Dr. Laura's position is clear: stay at home moms are better. And, throughout the book, she does just that, praise stay-at-home moms. I did feel that she was hard on working moms and has the assumption that every woman who works has made the choice to work, and that if they just made more sacrifices it would be better. Sometimes that just isn't possible and working is necessary for some. And mothers who work from necessity do what they can to minimize the negative impacts on their children.

Dr. Laura talks about her own decision to stay home with her son, although she worked part-time and was able to manage it so that she and her husband took care of their son, rather than daycare. She's pretty harsh on daycare situations, which really bothered me. Perhaps an institutionalized childcare setting isn't ideal, and yes, parental influence should be the most important. However, her opinions on daycare situations were very generalized, in that all daycare is bad. I have to disagree. Do I wish I could have been with my children every moment of their infancy? Yes. Are they deficient in some way because I wasn't? No. They are happy, intelligent, well-adjusted children. Their in-home daycare provider was a blessing to us and is still a very dear friend.

As far as society goes, the influence of an involved, attentive parent is important. Having moral values influenced and reinforced at home is necessary. Can those things be done with working parents? Absolutely. Are working mothers the ideal? That depends on your personal situation and opinion. I did appreciate the praise and the pat on the back that Dr. Laura give SAHMs. Staying at home isn't easy, and often, it requires sacrifices of time and money, but I am very grateful that I am able to be home now.

I think that this is a terrific book. I think that SAHMs should read it, and I think their husbands should read it too. I also think it's a perfect book for women who stay at home, but feel inadequate and defensive about it. There are anecdotes and listener experiences and straight-forward Dr. Laura advice and opinions. I understand her purpose for the book and I applaud it.

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

Read 6/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Prairie Tale...Review

About the book:
A fascinating, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting tale of self-discovery from the beloved actress who earned a permanent place in the hearts of millions when she was just a child.
 

To fans of the hugely successful television series Little House on the Prairie, Melissa Gilbert grew up in a fantasy world with a larger-than-life father, friends and family she could count on, and plenty of animals to play with. Children across the country dreamed of the Ingalls' idyllic life -- and so did Melissa.

She was a natural on camera, but behind the scenes, life was more complicated. Adopted as a baby into a legendary show business family, Melissa wrestled with questions about her identity and struggled to maintain an image of perfection her mother created and enforced. Only after years of substance abuse, dysfunctional relationships, and made-for-television movies did she begin to figure out who she really was.

With candor and humor, the cherished actress traces her complicated journey from buck-toothed Laura "Half-pint" Ingalls to Hollywood starlet, wife, and mother. She partied with the Brat Pack, dated heartthrobs like Rob Lowe and bad boys like Billy Idol, and began a self-destructive pattern of addiction and codependence. Left in debt after her first marriage, and struggling to create some sense of stability, she eventually realized that her career on television had earned her popularity, admiration, and love from everyone but herself.

Through hard work, tenacity, sobriety, and the blessings of a solid marriage, Melissa has accepted her many different identities and learned to laugh, cry, and forgive in new ways. Women everywhere may have idolized her charming life on Little House on the Prairie, but Melissa's own unexpectedly honest, imperfect, and down-to-earth story is an inspiration.


Melissa Gilbert weaves an interesting and enthralling tale of life in Hollywood. She is open about the fact that she was adopted at birth, and how that information affected her perceptions of herself. She name drops at every turn, which is understandable, as she grew up in a show business family and her friends and acquaintances from an early age were actors. If you've thought of Melissa as a sweet, innocent actress, she shatters that perception. She's very open about the fact that she has addictive tendencies and because of that, struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse for years, before finally becoming sober.

Melissa talks a great deal about her time on Little House on the Prairie and the father figure that Michael Landon was to her, and his influence. Her little insights into the filming of the show were fun. She chronicles her long-term, often volatile romance with Rob Lowe and their adventures with the Brat Pack (including Tom Cruise and Emilio Estevez), and her drug use. She writes of her first marriage and divorce; of meeting her second husband, Bruce Boxleitner and their romance, and the subsequent premature birth of their son, Michael. Melissa also chronicles her stint as SAG President, and includes some snarky commentary about various difficult actors and actresses.

While entertaining and enthralling, this is the memoir of a woman who struggled with many issues throughout her life, including her identity, the need to present a perfect front, and her attraction toward dysfunctional, dangerous men. The book is a veritable Who's Who in Hollywood, including who slept with whom.

This was a book that I had high expectations for and while I wound up liking it, I was also disappointed at the same time. The narration was often disjointed and jumped around a bit. However, my biggest disappointment was in the amount of profanity, which is what kept me from giving it three stars. The crass, prolific vulgarity was distracting and unnecessary. Other than that, it was an entertaining read.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.

Read 6/09

* *
2/5 Stars

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Bollywood Piano...Review

About the book:

Parents, who can’t afford a piano tutor for any reason such as time, distance, finance etc., now have an option to musically educate their children and help them become successful.

In today’s sluggish economy when many parents are laid-off or fear loss of job, a better investment is to purchase The Bollywood Piano (ISBN 978-1934938355, 2009, 96 pages, Mill City Press, $14.95 www.bollywoodpiano.com) by Rajan Shah and conveniently stay at home while their children learn to master the piano in about 48 hours.


About three years ago Rajan Shah, an accomplished musician, was teaching his daughters to play the piano and became so frustrated purchasing one instructional book after another that Rajan decided to write his own piano book.


“The problem with the books I purchased for my daughters is they would introduce the basic scale of C and maybe G and then you’d have to buy another book to advance to another skill,” explains Shah. “So I wrote the complete instruction book that allows the reader to learn to play in just 30 minutes and to master the piano in the 48 hours it takes to read the 96 pages and take the exercises. So you only have to spend $14.95 for your child to learn the piano!”


The Bollywood Piano allows the student to learn to sight read or play their favorite song by ear, to articulate chord progressions, and to compose their own songs – all within one book. The Bollywood Piano is a complete method to learn keyboard based instruments like piano, accordion, and digital keyboards.


This logically laid out instructional manual offers an accelerated and innovative method by using old-fashioned songs like Jingle Bells to teach basic musical knowledge. Bollywood pop songs are then integrated to significantly shorten the learning curve for the sight reading process. From this base more advanced topics are introduced that require students to accurately read musical notation instead of simply guessing the note and its duration.


Rajan Shah included the Bollywood music in his book so students do not take a guess on a note or on the duration of a note as they might for American songs they are familiar with.


Rajan Shah’s intent in writing The Bollywood Piano is for students to fully comprehend music rather than enduring countless practices just to learn the scale, a few notes and chords. Instead Bollywood Piano students will learn to play the 16th note in the first few chapters while mastering the basic scale.


“Most songs can be easily performed once students get accustomed to the 16th note,” says Shah, “Upon successful completion of the book, the absolute beginners ages 8 and older will be able to perform all kind of music and gain the knowledge and skills that will help them become an expert pianist.


Purchasers of the book will have access to free mp3 downloads that were written to advance chord recognition skills and to enhance the student’s ability to play music by ear.


About Rajan Shah:
Rajan Shah is a composer, music arranger and a seasoned pianist with more than 30 years experience. Rajan has performed in more than 1,200 live shows in India and America, and recorded commercials and music videos in Bollywood. He is an adjunct professor at Northern Virginia Community College, and has written arrangements for more than 40 songs in 10 years. He became an author to teach his two daughters how to play the piano.

My Review:
I have played the piano since I was 11. I only took lessons for about two years, and I've always regretted quitting. However, I love to play the piano and am a fairly good master of simplified pieces.

When the opportunity to review The Bollywood Piano came, I was intrigued. I was not familiar with any Bollywood music, and the idea that one book could teach you the basics in two days. I'm pleased to say that the book lived up to my expectations.

I sat down at the piano, with the book and my ten-year old son. Since piano lessons aren't an option for us at the moment, I've been going through my old primary music books with him and he has grasped the concept of some things. However, within minutes of sitting down with The Bollywood Piano, he was playing Ode to Joy with his right hand. I love hearing my son play Beethoven, even just a simplified version!

I learned a great deal from the book: so many points and piano principles that I didn't remember, if I had known them at all. It really is a great, overall instruction manual. You can go through it as fast or as slowly as you want. We're taking a bit of a slow route with it.

Easily recommended for those wanting to learn how to play the piano or who want something to use as they teach their children.

Thanks to Scott Lorenz and Westwind Communications for the opportunity to review this book. You can find out more about Rajan Shah here. You can purchase the book here and here.

Read 6/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Talking to the Dead...Review

About the book:
Twenty-something Kate Davis can't seem to get this grieving widow thing right. She's supposed to put on a brave face and get on with her life, right? Instead she's camped out on her living room floor, unwashed, unkempt, and unable to sleep-because her husband Kevin keeps talking to her.

Is she losing her mind?
Kate's attempts to find the source of the voice she hears are both humorous and humiliating, as she turns first to an "eclectically spiritual" counselor, then a shrink with a bad toupee, a mean-spirited exorcist, and finally group therapy. There she meets Jack, the warmhearted, unconventional pastor of a ramshackle church, and at last the voice subsides. But when she stumbles upon a secret Kevin was keeping, Kate's fragile hold on the present threatens to implode under the weight of the past. and Kevin begins to shout.

Will the voice ever stop? Kate must confront her grief to find the grace to go on, in this tender, quirky story about second chances.


A terrific, thought-provoking book.

Kate Davis can't move forward after her husband's sudden death. She refuses to go upstairs to their bedroom. She finds even the most mundane, normal activities difficult, and soon finds herself sleeping in the living room, forgetting to shower and unable to sleep. The fact that Kevin keeps talking to her, doesn't help. As Kate tries to figure out why she hears Kevin's voice, she finds herself running from an attempted exorcism by a disturbed pastor, participating in an eclectic group therapy, visiting a psychiatrist's office, and finally, admitted to a mental hospital.

When she meets Jack, a non-traditional pastor of a grassroots church, she begins her return to finding her life again. But, when Kate discovers Kevin's hidden secret and confronts her own, buried memories, her tenuous hold on reality shatters.

As Kate struggles to confront her grief, she wonders if she will ever find the peace she desperately craves, and the ability to gain a second chance at life.

I enjoyed Kate's voice. I read the book in a day, I couldn't put it down! Bonnie Grove has captured grief, and takes you on an incredible journey as you walk through Kate's mind and life with her. As experiences unfold, you hurt for Kate and cheer for her at the same time.

The novel is Christian, but the focus is not at all preachy. In fact, any real mention of Christianity doesn't come until you're well into the story. The themes of betrayal and abortion are mature, but dealt with in a realistic manner.

An interesting, compelling story, and a terrific debut novel. I look forward to reading more from Bonnie.

Thanks to First Wild Card and David C Cook for the opportunity to review this. You can read the first chapter here. You can find out more about Bonnie Grove here. You can get your own copy here.

Read 6/09

* * *
3/5 Stars

Talking to the Dead...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:


Talking to the Dead

David C. Cook; New edition edition (June 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Bonnie Grove started writing when her parents bought a typewriter, and she hasn’t stopped since. Trained in Christian Counseling (Emmanuel Bible College, Kitchener, ON), and secular psychology (University of Alberta), she developed and wrote social programs for families at risk while landing articles and stories in anthologies. She is the author of Working Your Best You: Discovering and Developing the Strengths God Gave You; Talking to the Dead is her first novel. Grove and her pastor husband, Steve, have two children; they live in Saskatchewan.

Author website: www.davidccook.com – www.bonniegrove.com

Visit the author's website.





Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition edition (June 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434766411
ISBN-13: 978-1434766410

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Talking to the Dead by Bonnie Grove. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Kevin was dead and the people in my house wouldn’t go home. They mingled after the funeral, eating sandwiches, drinking tea, and speaking in muffled tones. I didn’t feel grateful for their presence. I felt exactly nothing.


Funerals exist so we can close doors we’d rather leave open. But where did we get the idea that the best approach to facing death is to eat Bundt cake? I refused to pick at dainties and sip hot drinks. Instead, I wandered into the back yard.


I knew if I turned my head I’d see my mother’s back as she guarded the patio doors. Mom would let no one pass. As a recent widow herself, she knew my need to stare into my loss alone.


I sat on the porch swing and closed my eyes, letting the June sun warm my bare arms. Instead of closing the door on my pain, I wanted it to swing from its hinges so the searing winds of grief could scorch my face and body. Maybe I hoped to die from exposure.


Kevin had been dead three hours before I had arrived at the hospital. A long time for my husband to be dead without me knowing. He was so altered, so permanently changed without my being aware.


I had stood in the emergency room, surrounded by faded blue cotton curtains, looking at the naked remains of my husband while nurses talked in hushed tones around me. A sheet covered Kevin from his hips to his knees. Tubes, which had either carried something into or away from his body, hung disconnected and useless from his arms. The twisted remains of what I assumed to be some sort of breathing mask lay on the floor. “What happened?” I said in a whisper so faint I knew no one could hear. Maybe I never said it at all. A short doctor with a pronounced lisp and quiet manner told me Kevin’s heart killed him. He used difficult phrases; medical terms I didn’t know, couldn’t understand. He called it an episode and said it was massive. When he said the word massive, spit flew from his mouth, landing on my jacket’s lapel. We had both stared at it.


When my mother and sister, Heather, arrived at the hospital, they gazed speechlessly at Kevin for a time, and then took me home. Heather had whispered with the doctor, their heads close together, before taking a firm hold on my arm and walking me out to her car. We drove in silence to my house. The three of us sat around my kitchen table looking at each other.


Several times my mother opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Our words had turned to cotton, thick and dry. We couldn’t work them out of our throats. I had no words for my abandonment. Like everything I knew to be true had slipped out the back door when I wasn’t looking.


“What happened?” I said again. This time I knew I had said it out loud. My voice echoed back to me off the kitchen table.


“Remember how John Ritter died? His heart, remember?” This from Heather, my younger, smarter sister. Kevin had died a celebrity’s death.


From the moment I had received the call from the hospital until now, I had allowed other people to make all of my bereavement decisions. My mother and mother-in-law chose the casket and placed the obituary in the paper. Kevin’s boss at the bank, Donna Walsh, arranged for the funeral parlor and even called the pastor from the church that Kevin had attended until he was sixteen to come and speak. Heather silently held my hand through it all. I didn’t feel grateful for their help.


I sat on the porch swing, and my right foot rocked on the grass, pushing and pulling the swing. My head hurt. I tipped it back and rested it on the cold, inflexible metal that made up the frame for the swing. It dug into my skull. I invited the pain. I sat with it; supped with it.


I opened my eyes and looked up into the early June sky. The clouds were an unmade bed. Layers of white moved rumpled and languid past the azure heavens. Their shapes morphed and faded before my eyes. A Pegasus with the face of a dog; a veiled woman fleeing; a villain; an elf. The shapes were strange and unreliable, like dreams. A monster, a baby—I wanted to reach up to touch its soft, wrinkled face. I was too tired. Everything was gone, lost, emptied out.


I had arrived home from the hospital empty handed. No Kevin. No car—we left it in the hospital parking lot for my sister to pick up later. “No condition to drive,” my mother had said. She meant me.


Empty handed. The thought, incomplete and vague, crept closer to consciousness. There should have been something. I should have brought his things home with me. Where were his clothes? His wallet? Watch? Somehow, they’d fled the scene.


“How far could they have gotten?” I said to myself. Without realizing it, I had stood and walked to the patio doors. “Mom?” I said as I walked into the house.


She turned quickly, but said nothing. My mother didn’t just understand what was happening to me. She knew. She knew it like the ticking of a clock, the wind through the windows, like everything a person gets used to in life. It had only been eight months since Dad died. She knew there was little to be said. Little that should be said. Once, after Dad’s funeral, she looked at Heather and me and said, “Don’t talk. Everyone has said enough words to last for eternity.”


I noticed how tall and straight she stood in her black dress and sensible shoes. How long must the dead be buried before you can stand straight again? “What happened to Kevin’s stuff?” Mom glanced around as if checking to see if a guest had made off with the silverware.


I swallowed hard and clarified. “At the hospital. He was naked.” A picture of him lying motionless, breathless on the white sheets filled my mind. “They never gave me his things. His, whatever, belongings. Effects.”


“I don’t know, Kate,” she said. Like it didn’t matter. Like I should stop thinking about it. I moved past her, careful not to touch her, and went in search of my sister.


Heather sat on my secondhand couch in my living room, a two seater with the pattern of autumn leaves. She held an empty cup and a napkin; dark crumbs tumbling off onto the carpet. Her long brown hair, usually left down, was pulled up into a bun. She looked pretty and sad. She saw me coming, her brown eyes widening in recognition. Recognition that she should do something. Meet my needs, help me, make time stand still. She quickly ended the conversation she was having with Kevin’s boss, and met me in the middle of the living room.


“Hey,” she said, touching my arm. I took a small step back, avoiding her warm fingers.


“Where would his stuff go?” I blurted out. Heather’s eyebrows snapped together in confusion. “Kevin’s things,” I said. “They never gave me his things. I want to go and get them. Will you come?”


Heather stood very still for a moment, straight backed like she was made of wood, then relaxed. “You mean at the hospital. Right, Kate? Kevin’s things at the hospital?” Tears welled in my eyes. “There was nothing. You were there. When we left, they never gave e anything of his.” I realized I was trembling.


Heather bit her lower lip, and looked into my eyes. “Let me do that for you. I’ll call the hospital—” I stood on my tiptoes and opened my mouth. “I’ll go,” she corrected before I could say anything. “I’ll go and ask around. I’ll get his stuff and bring it here.”


“I need his things.”


Heather cupped my elbow with her hand. “You need to lie down. Let me get you upstairs, and as soon as you’re settled, I’ll go to the hospital and find out what happened to Kevin’s clothes, okay?”


Fatigue filled the small spaces between my bones. “Okay.” She led me upstairs. I crawled under the covers as Heather closed the door, blocking the sounds of the people below.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The King's Legacy...Review

About the book:
In a land and time far from our own, there was an enchanted kingdom ruled by a benevolent and much-loved king. He had led his people through times of uncertainty and turmoil into a golden age of prosperity and peace.

Now nearing the end of his storied reign, the king longs to leave a lasting legacy for future generations. He considers soaring monuments, precious coins bearing his likeness, larger-than-life statues. But then the king's most trusted advisor steps forth with a remarkable idea: To discover the wisdom of the ages, the greatest secret of the known world to benefit the entire human race.

So the king invites citizens from all walks of life and all corners of the realm to share with him the best of their life lessons. Yet as the king encounters a wealth of wisdom from his subjects, he faces a new dilemma, just how to determine the single greatest truth in life. Little does he know that the profound answer will come from the most unexpected and unassuming of places.


A little book that packs a powerful punch.

In a land far away, a good and well-loved king had led his people through times of uncertainty and turmoil into a golden age of prosperity and peace. As his reign was now ending, the king desired to leave some kind of legacy for his people and future generations. He considers a monument or some kind of coin. But, wishing for more, he turns to his trusted advisers and one suggests that the king discover the wisdom of the ages. He can then leave the greatest secret, the best wisdom to his people. The king, unable to determine on his own what that wisdom is, invites the citizens of his kingdom to share their wisdom and life lessons. The king is hopeful that once the people have spoken, he will know what the greatest wisdom is.

Once the king decides to hear from the people, each chapter is the wisdom of those people: the Healer, the Teacher, the Parent, the Soldier, the Farmer, and more. Each person shares a life lesson and the king is touched by each one. As time progresses and he hears from the people, he finds it difficult to settle on one particular piece of wisdom. Many principles, while familiar, were still quite profound: I found myself underlining passages and sharing them with my husband, who is now reading the book.

The greatest wisdom finally comes to the king from a delightful and unexpected source. The book is short and doesn't take long to read. It would be a fabulous book to read aloud with your family, as it could provoke some good discussions and teaching moments.

Thanks to First Wild Card and David C Cook for the opportunity to review this. You can read the first chapter here. You can find out more about Jim Stovall here. You can purchase this terrific book for your own library here.

Read 6/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

The King's Legacy...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:


The King’s Legacy

David C. Cook; New edition edition (June 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Jim Stovall is a national champion Olympic weightlifter, former president of the Emmy Award-winning Narrative Television Network, and a highly sought after author and platform speaker. Jim was honored as the International Humanitarian of the Year, joining previous recepients Mother Teresa and Nancy Reagan. He is the author of the best-selling book The Ultimate Gift, now a major motion picture.

Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition edition (June 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434765938
ISBN-13: 978-1434765932

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Once upon a time, there was an enchanted kingdom in a land far, far away. The kingdom was ruled by a benevolent and much-loved king. He had led his people through many difficult times, and they had finally reached a golden age of peace, prosperity, and happiness.


The king summoned all of his wise men together and said, “Now that our land is enjoying a season of prosperity and peace, I wish to leave a permanent legacy of my reign as your ruler.”


The king went on to tell his wise men that he would like their best thoughts and ideas as to what he could do to create a fitting tribute to all the people of the kingdom and his reign as their leader. Each of the wise men left the Throne Room determined to come up with the best idea to present to the king, as they all knew that the king’s chosen action would be remembered for generations.


On the appointed day and hour, the wise men reconvened in the Throne Room.


The king said, “I want to hear your suggestions one at a time, so that I might determine what would be a fitting legacy for me to leave in honor of my reign as king.”


The first wise man approached the steps leading to the throne, bowed with dignity, and began. “Your Highness, since the beginning of recorded history, great rulers have left magnificent feats of architecture as tributes to their greatness. One need only look to the east and think of the great pyramids that have stood for generations and will remain throughout time, paying homage to the pharaohs.”


The wise man bowed again and backed away from the throne.


The king fell silent and was lost in deep thought, then said, “I am pleased with your suggestion as it has much merit. Indeed, a great edifice could stand for thousands of years to proclaim the greatness of our people and my reign as their king.”


The second wise man approached the throne and bowed reverently. He said, “Oh, great King, if I may humbly suggest that a gold coin be designed and minted bearing your image and in your honor. This coin could be distributed throughout the kingdom and, carried along the trade routes as if by friendly winds, it would literally be distributed around the world signifying your power and majesty.”


The king nodded and smiled. He seemed pleased with this suggestion also. He then beckoned the next wise man to approach. The wise man dutifully bowed and said, “Your highness, may I suggest that a monument of heretofore unknown proportion be erected in your image. Great reflecting pools and immense gardens would surround the statue. People would travel from the four corners of the earth to marvel at its splendor and pay respect and tribute to your greatness.”


The king smiled and stated, “Each of these suggestions has been well thought-out and presented. Before I go to deliberate my final decision, are there any other suggestions?”


After a long pause, the eldest wise man stepped forward. The king smiled and said, “My great and wise advisor, you have been with me from the beginning of my reign to this day, and you have always served me well. What say you in this matter?”


The elderly wise man replied quietly, “Your highness, may I suggest that each of my colleagues has proposed a fitting tribute to your greatness in the traditional sense; however, great buildings, gold coins, and monuments serve as tributes to other rulers from other days. May I humbly offer my suggestion? Something altogether different?”


The king nodded in assent.


“The one thing that could pay tribute to your greatness for thousands of years to come would be the proclamation of the Wisdom of the Ages. This would be an opportunity for you, oh great one, to communicate the greatest secret of the known world to benefit all humanity.


“Buildings and coins and statues will all pass away, but the Wisdom of the Ages would last forever. This would, indeed, be a fitting tribute to the king I humbly serve.”


The king fell into deep thought. Finally, he told all of his servants and the wise men to leave him so that he might choose the tribute most fitting to his reign as their king.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

DVD: Stretch 4 Life...Review by the Doctor

About the DVD:

Flexibility is an important aspect of overall health and well-being. The body has an enormous and amazing way of healing, and incorporating simple stretching exercises can be extremely helpful in speeding up recovery as well as in maintaining good physical fitness.. Licensed massage therapist and educator Lori Walter has developed Stretch 4 Life, a proven and effective tool for people of any age and level of muscular fitness. By using this full body stretch routine, relaxation and flexibility can easily be achieved. The Stretch 4 Life DVD and manual are a wonderful resource for anyone who wishes to pursue enhanced health and well-being. This fabulous routine will also help reinforce healthy habits.

With this practical and easy to use program, Stretch 4 Life will enable anyone to achieve increased flexibility. Tailor any stretch sequence you need to aid in your journey to better health. Individuals can get started with only a few simple stretches to begin the healing process. Later, as the range of motion and strength improve, individuals can increase the specialized plan by simply incorporating additional stretches from the manual and DVD.


Lori Walter is a licensed massage therapist and stretch instructor. She has developed this Stretch 4 Life routine over her 13 years of work with the goal to help people heal and repair their structural integrity. For more information or to place and order, visit www.Stretch4Life.com.


Frequently Asked Questions Why do I need to stretch? Although the mind is the dominant center of control, by attaining relaxation in the voluntary muscle system, we can influence relaxation in the involuntary muscles and other systems of the body. While the muscles in the heart will perform their jobs without conscious effort, we can assist them by ensuring that the muscles we can control do not become tense and thus interfere with the processes. Instead those muscles can be relaxed, which conserves our energy for those times when we need extra. By learning to relax we have a useful tool for release when life gets more complicated.

What techniques will I learn to help me relax?
Muscle work always has at least two parts. A muscle contracts and shortens or it relaxes and lengthens. In this way muscles also work together but in an exactly opposite and reciprocal relationship. For example, when we bend an elbow, the biceps muscle contracts and the triceps muscle behind lengthens to allow the movement. Sometimes this interaction may be disturbed, as when our foot goes into a cramp. The muscle remains in a state of contraction, which becomes painful because it is prolonged and very fatiguing. Relaxation is the physiological state that follows muscle contraction. To achieve relaxation, we will learn to move in one direction followed by a balance of movement in the opposite direction.

What is diaphragmatic breathing and why is it important?
Respiration at rest is performed most significantly by the diaphragm, and any “action” occurring in the abdominal area is quite passive. In fact, if the muscles of the abdomen are not relaxed and passive, then breathing is forced up into the chest. Diaphragmatic breathing and relaxation of the abdominal wall complement each other by helping us stay loose and keeping our breathing slow and deep.

Why is posture important and can I learn to stand up straight now?
Correct posture is energizing to the system of the body. It is the position your brain likes best and will re-learn it quickly and easily.
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When the opportunity to review this DVD came along, I knew it would be perfect for my husband to do the review. His assessment follows.
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As a Chiropractor, I’m always on the look out for anything that will help increase patient’s flexibility and overall motion.

I liked the stretches in this video. They were a good entry level stretching display, which people could work through without over-exerting themselves. The stretches are well displayed, and there are often graphical additions to help people visualize the muscle groups being targeted.

I think the control interface for the DVD was a little bit ‘clunky’, but that’s just me being a perfectionist, and did nothing to detract from the overall educational value of the program.

Overall, a nice starter video for people who need to stretch, but haven’t in a long time
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Thanks to Tracy McCarter at The B&B Media Group for the opportunity to review this DVD. You can learn more about Stretch for Life here.

Reviewed 6/09

Friday, June 19, 2009

Veiled Freedom...Review

About the book:
Na├»ve and idealistic, relief worker Amy Mallory arrives in Kabul ready to change the world. She soon discovers that as a woman in Afghanistan, the challenges she faces are monumental. As the new security chief to the Minister of the Interior, former Special Forces veteran Steve Wilson is disillusioned to find that the country he fought to set free has fallen into its old habits of greed and corruption. Afghani native Jamil returns to his homeland seeking a job while his painful past continues to haunt him. All three search for truth . . . and for freedom . . . but at what cost? 

Amazing. Absolutely amazing. The book opens in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2001. Steve Wilson, a young, idealistic soldier, and the American forces have liberated Afghanistan, or so they thought. Eight years later, when Steve returns to Afghanistan as security chief to the Ministry of Interior, he's no longer idealistic and is angered at the greed and corruption he sees everywhere.

Amy Mallory, a young relief worker, arrives in Kabul ready to change the world and liberate the women of Afghanistan. As a Christian woman, she is faced with many obstacles but, still, comes to love the people. As she finds her way, she meets Steve and his security team, as well as Jamil, a young Afghan man who becomes her translator and assistant.

Jeanette Windle has captured a society in all its honest and difficult detail. So much of the aid and relief that is sent into Afghanistan and other middle eastern countries is never seen by those who need it most. Greed and corruption is rampant. Women have never been seen as equals. I am not familiar with the people and politics of Afghanistan, but the descriptions and attention to detail here was incredible. Here we see not only the cultural differences within Afghanistan itself, but the cultural differences between Christianity and Islam.

As Amy works with women who were former prisoners, she organizes a half-way house where they can go as they try to find places for themselves after their release from prison. Most of these women are not true hardened criminals, but Islamic law has condemned them for different reasons. With Jamil to help her, she begins to make a difference in the lives of women and children. As she and Jamil strengthen their friendship, Amy shares with him her belief in Jesus Christ. Jamil's journey as he struggles to come to terms with his forced belief in Islam and his growing love for Christ is beautiful. I found myself underlining several passages as Amy and Jamil discuss the differences between Christianity and Islam. I am not familiar with Islam and so I don't know how accurate the portrayal of it is here, but the interactions between Amy and Jamil were moving.

The first couple chapters were a bit slow starting for me as I found my way around the subject matter and the foreign words and phrases, which were tossed in here and there. Once I found my footing, however, I couldn't put the book down. I was completely captivated. These were characters I cared about.

My copy is an unedited ARC, so I don't know what the finished product is like. I would have appreciated a glossary because there were many words and phrases I was not familiar with and while I could assume some meanings, definitions would have been appreciated. I also wish Amy and Steve's relationship could have been a bit more resolved, but the ending was perfect.

With compelling characters and an equally compelling narrative, Veiled Freedom is a remarkable book and one I highly recommend.

Thanks to First Wild Card and Tyndale House Publishers for the opportunity to review this. You can read the first chapter here. You can find out more about Jeanette Windle here. You can get your own copy here.

Read 6/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Veiled Freedom...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:


Veiled Freedom

Tyndale House Publishers (May 6, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



As the child of missionary parents, award-winning author and journalist Jeanette Windle grew up in the rural villages, jungles,and mountains of Columbia, now guerilla hot zones. Her detailed research and writing is so realistic that it has prompted government agencies to question her to determine if she has received classified information. Currently based in Lancaster, PA, Jeanette has lived in six countries and traveled in nearly thirty, including Afghanistan. She has more than a dozen books in print, including the political/suspense best-seller CrossFire and Betrayed.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (May 6, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414314752
ISBN-13: 978-1414314754

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Prologue

Kabul
November 13, 2001
“Land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The radio’s static-spattered fanfare filtered through the compound wall. Beyond its shattered gate, a trio of small boys kicked a bundle of knotted rags around the dirt courtyard. Had they any idea those foreign harmonies were paying homage to their country’s latest invaders?

Or liberators, if the rumors and the pirated satellite television broadcasts were true.

Scrambling the final meters to the top of the hill, he stood up against a chill wind that tugged at his light wool vest and baggy tunic and trousers. Bracing himself, he turned in a slow, stunned revolution.

From this windswept knoll, war’s demolition stretched as far as his eye could see. Bombs and rockets had left only heaps of mud-brick hovels and compound walls. The front of an apartment complex was sheared off, exposing the cement cubicles of living quarters. The collapse of an office building left its floors layered like a stack of naan bread. Rubble and broken pavement turned the streets into obstacle courses.

But it wasn’t the devastation that held him spellbound. So it was all true—the foreign newscasts, the exultant summons that had brought him back, his father’s dream. Kabul was free!

The proof was in the dancing crowds below. After five long years of silence, Hindi pop and Persian ballads drifted up the hillside. Atop a bombed-out bus, a group of young men gyrated wildly. Even a handful of women in blue burqas swayed to the rhythms as they bravely crossed the street with no male escort in sight.

Nor was blue the only color making a comeback against winter’s brown. To his far right, a yellow wing fluttered skyward. There was an orange one. A red. Scrambling on top a broken-down tank, two boys tossed aloft a blotch of green and purple.

Kites had returned to the skies above Kabul.

Another tank moved slowly down the boulevard. Behind it came a parade of pickups and army jeeps, machine guns mounted in their beds. A staccato rat-tat-tat momentarily drowned out the music. But the gunfire was celebratory. The dancing mobs were not shrinking back but tossing flowers and confetti, screaming their elation above the noise.

He shouted with them, the fierceness of his response catching him by surprise. He’d hardly thought of this place in long years, the warm, fertile plains of Pakistan far more a home now than this barren wasteland. Yet joy welled up to squeeze his chest, the watering of his eyes no longer from wind and dust.

“Land of the free and the home of the brave.” Down the hillside behind him, the radio blasted a Dari-language commentary. But the words of that foreign music still played in his mind. The sacred anthem his American instructors had taught their small English-language students in the Pakistani refugee camps.

As they’d taught of their homeland, America. A land where brave and honorable warriors guarded peace-loving and welcoming citizens who lived freely among great cities of shining towers and immense wealth. A land of wheat and rice and fruit trees, grape arbors and herds of livestock that offered to all an abundance of food. The very paradise the Quran promised to the faithful.

And Afghanistan? Land of his birth, his home? Brave, yes. No one had ever questioned the courage of the Afghan tribes. Not the Americans and Russians who were history’s most recent invaders. Nor in turn the British, Mongols, Persians, Arabs, all the way back to Alexander the Great, whose armies were the first to learn that Afghanistan could be taken with enough weapons and spilled blood but never held.

But free?

He blinked away the sudden blurring of his vision. When had Afghanistan ever truly known freedom? Not under all those centuries of alternating occupations. Certainly not when the mujahedeen had finally brought the Soviet empire to its knees because then they—and the Taliban after them—had turned on each other. The rockets of their warring factions had rained down on Kabul in such destruction that his family was driven at last to exile.

“Have faith,” his father had whispered into his ear. “Someday Afghanistan will be like America. A land of freedom as well as courage. Someday we will go home.”

Even then he’d known the difference between wishes and painful reality. And yet, unbelievably, there it was below him. Today the liberators’ anthem, his father’s dream had come true at last for his own country.

Yes, his country.

His people.

His home.

He’d missed dawn’s first call to prayer. Now he stripped his vest to spread it over the dirt. Prostrating himself, rising sun at his back, he began the daily salat: “Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem. In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.”

The memorized Arabic prayers were rote, but when he finished, he whispered his own passionate plea against the ground, “Please let it be true this time. My father’s dream. His prayers. Let my people know freedom as well as courage.”

Standing up, he shook out his vest. Beyond shattered towers of the city’s business center and compounds of the poor lay a quiet, green oasis. The Wazir Akbar Khan district, home to Kabul’s upper class. Its high walls, spacious villas, and paved streets looked hardly touched by war.

His sandaled feet slipped and twisted in his haste down the hillside. At street level, his old neighborhood proved less untouched than he’d thought. The walls were scarred by rocket blasts, sidewalks broken, poplar trees lining these streets in his memory now only stumps.

He headed toward the largest compound on the street, its two-story villa built around an inner courtyard. A brightly patterned jinga truck indicated the others had already arrived. The property differed so little from childhood memory he might have stepped back a decade. Even the peacock blue house and compound walls showed fresh paint. The Taliban officials who’d commandeered his home had at least cared for their stolen lodging. Or perhaps it had been his family’s faithful chowkidar who’d stayed when his employers fled.

Music and cheerful voices drifted over walls along with a hot, oily aroma that brought water to his mouth. Frying boulani pastries. He quickened his steps. He’d be home in time for the midday meal.

At first he thought this gunfire too was celebratory, but when the unmistakable explosion of a rocket-propelled grenade shook the ground, he broke into a run. A mound of rubble offered cover as he reached the final T-junction.

His mind reeled. Surely he’d seen this victory convoy from the hilltop. But why were they firing on his home?

Even as he crouched in bewildered horror, the distinctive rat-tat-tat of a Kalashnikov rifle crackled back from a second-story window. Down the street a fighter rose from behind a jeep, an RPG launcher raised to his shoulder. A single blast. Then a limp shape slid forward over the windowsill and toppled from view.

The action unfroze his muscles, and he sprinted toward his home. A shout, the whine of a bullet overhead told him he’d been spotted. Apple trees edging the property wall offered hand and foot holds.

His feet touched brick, then ground on the other side. The acridity of gunfire and explosives burned his nostrils as he raced forward. He stumbled across the first limp shape facedown on the lawn. Turning the body over, he fruitlessly tried to stem a red sea spreading across white robes. Their faithful caretaker would never again tend these gardens or paint these walls.

An explosion rocked him as he raced around the side of the villa. Just inside the main entrance, the painted wooden frame of the jinga truck was burning. Behind it, the blast had blown the metal gates from their hinges. Invaders poured through the breach.

But he only had eyes for another huddled shape on the mosaic tiles of the courtyard and a third sprawled across marbled front steps. The second-story gunman had fallen across a grape arbor. Through tears of smoke fumes and grief, he noticed the Kalashnikov rifle dropped from a dangling, bloodied hand.

Before he could snatch it up, a boot kicked the AK-47 out of reach. Another smashed his face into the grass. Hot metal ground into his temple. He closed his eyes. Allah, let it be quick!

“Don’t shoot! We need live prisoners. Here, you, get up!”

As the gun barrel dropped away, he struggled to his knees. Except for the poorly accented Dari and a shoulder patch of red, white, and blue, the flat wool cap, dark beard, hard, gray gaze, tattered scarf over camouflage flak jacket could have been as Afghan as the mujahid whose weapon was still leveled at his head. He knew immediately who this tall, powerfully built foreigner was. For weeks Pakistani news had been covering the American elite warriors fighting alongside the mujahedeen Northern Alliance.

Our liberators! His mouth twisted with bitter pain.

“Where are your commanders? Mullah Mohammed Omar? Osama bin Laden?” The American must have taken his blank stare for incomprehension because he turned to his companion, shifting to English. “Ask him: where are the Taliban who had their headquarters here? And if any of these—” a nod took in the sprawled bodies—“are bin Laden or Mohammed Omar. Tell him he just might save his own neck if he cooperates.”

“There are no Taliban here!” he said in English. He pushed himself to his feet and wiped a sleeve to clear dampness from his face and eyes. It came away with a scarlet that wasn’t his own. “This is a private home! And you have just murdered my family! Why? The fighting was over. You were supposed to bring peace.”

“Your home? With a house full of armed combatants?” The American’s boot nudged the Kalashnikov rifle now fallen to the grass. “You were firing on our troops.”

“They were defending our home. They weren’t soldiers. Just my father and brothers and our caretaker and his sons.”

“You lie!” A blow rocked his head back as the mujahedeen translator snapped in rapid Dari. “You speak to me! I will translate!”

“I am not lying!” He spat out blood with his defiant English. “This has been my family’s home for generations. Any neighbor can tell you. Yes, the Taliban stole it from us, but they have been gone for days. We only came back from Pakistan this very day.”

He threw a desperate glance around. The last pretense of fighting was over, the mujahedeen drifting off except for those making a neat, terrible heap like laundry sacks near the broken gate. Wailing rose from a huddle of burqas and small children being herded out into the street. Were his mother and sister among them? Or had caution left them behind in Pakistan?

Then his gaze fell on a face he knew. A mujahid in full battle fatigues instead of the mismatched outfits of the others. The mujahid turned and stared at him indifferently.

Yes, it was he. Older, gray streaking beard and hair. But it was the family friend who’d supplied his father’s business with imported goods. Who’d been in this home countless times before their exile. Who’d brought him and his siblings small gifts and strange foreign sweets.

“Ask him. He will tell you who I am. He knows my family. He bought and sold for my father when I was a child.”

“Who? The muj commander?” For the first time he saw a crack in the American’s disbelief.

The family friend walked over. His cold, measuring appraisal held no recognition as the translator intercepted him for a brief conversation. Then, unbelievably, he swung around and marched up the marble steps into the villa.

The translator spread out his hands to the American. “The commander says he knows neither this youth nor his family. And it is well known that all in this house have served the Taliban.”

“No, it isn’t true! Maybe he does not recognize me. I was only a child when we left. But he knows this house and my family. Please, I must speak to him myself.”

Another foreign warrior emerged from the villa, clipped yellow hair and icy blue eyes shouting his nationality louder than curt English. “All clear. Body count’s six male combatants. Minimal damage except the gate. This one’s the only survivor minus a handful of female dependants and kids. From what the muj told us, I expected more bodies on the ground. They must have been tipped off.”

“Maybe. Or the muj were fed some bad intel.” The foreign soldiers moved away, and he missed the rest of their low-voice exchange.

Then the yellow-haired American waved a hand. “We followed the rules of engagement. They were armed and shooting.”

“A handful of AK-47s. The kid’s right—that’s practically home protection around here. And the prisoner; he’s no combatant. I saw him come over that wall. Should I turn him loose?”

“You know better than that. The interrogators are screaming for live ones up at Baghram. Besides, you’ve no idea what else he might know. If he’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time, they’ll sort it out and let him go.”

A radio on the yellow-haired American’s belt sputtered to life. “Willie? Phil? Either of you available? We’ve got brass touching down at the airport. They need an escort to the embassy.”

“Okay, we’re out. The muj will finish here and deliver the prisoner. They’ve got a load of Arab fighters and al-Qaeda types heading to Baghram this afternoon.”

The translator snapped his fingers, and a knot of mujahedeen stepped forward to take his place. The translator hurried after the yellow-haired American, now marching toward the gate.

But the other foreign warrior hesitated. “Be there in a minute.”

He braced himself as the first American walked over. He didn’t allow himself to imagine sympathy in the foreigner’s gray eyes.

“Look, I’ve got no choice but to send you up to Baghram with the other battlefield detainees. But if you aren’t al-Qaeda or Taliban, you’ve got nothing to be afraid of. We don’t shoot prisoners. And the muj commander’s a stand-up guy. If there’s been an intel error, he’ll make things right.

“I can at least report that you arrived after the fighting was over and never raised a weapon. If I can find something to write on.” The American dug through the interior pockets of his flak jacket and pulled out an envelope, removing a folded note paper, then what looked like a snapshot of a yellow-haired young female surrounded by too many children to be her own.

A tiny, olive-colored volume fell into the American’s palm. Western script read New Testament. “I wondered what I was supposed to do with this.” Taking out a pen, he scribbled inside the cover. “Here. I’ve explained what I witnessed and given my contact info if Baghram needs confirmation. It might at least make a difference in where you end up. If you’re telling the truth.” The foreign soldier dared to offer a smile with the book.

Fury and hate rose in an acid flood to his throat. With a scream of rage, he struck at the outstretched hand. “You think this makes up for murdering my family? once again stealing our home? You call this freedom? How are you any better than the Taliban or the Russians?”

A rifle butt slammed him again to his knees. The blow scattered not only the olive-colored volume but the envelope and its other contents. The folded note fell into a sticky puddle, white rapidly soaking to scarlet.

The American made no attempt to retrieve it but scooped up the envelope, snapshot, and book. Above the dark beard, his mouth was hard and grim as he tucked the small volume into the prisoner’s vest. “I really am sorry.” Then he too headed toward the gate.

The foreigner was hardly out of sight when a bearded figure in battle fatigues emerged from the villa’s columned entryway, an honor guard of mujahedeen at his heels. The one-time family friend strolled over. This time his survey was no longer indifferent or unrecognizing. But nothing in the unpleasantness of that smile, the merciless black eyes above it renewed hope.

“So you are the offspring of—” His father’s name splashed in spittle across his feet. “You’ve grown tall since you abandoned your people. And now you think you can simply return to claim this place?” The mujahedeen commander pulled free the American’s offering. Its pages drifted in shreds to the grass. Then a rifle butt slammed into the prisoner. No one called for it to stop.

He closed his eyes, his body curved in supplication, forehead touching the ground. But this time he didn’t bother to pray. His father had been wrong. The dream was over. It would take far more than dreams, a few impassioned prayers to Allah, before his homeland could ever be called land of the free and home of the brave.

***

“So who’s the blonde chick? Picking them a little young, hey, Willie?”

The two Americans had commandeered one of the convoy’s pickups and a jeep for the airport run along with a volunteer posse of mujahedeen. Their translator was at the wheel of the jeep. Willie, the only name by which their local allies knew the twenty-two-year-old Special Forces sergeant, and his companion clambered in behind to brace themselves behind the roll bar.

Willie glanced down at the retrieved correspondence still clutched in his hand. The girl who’d drawn his teammate’s suggestive leer did indeed look very young, a pack of preschoolers crowded around her. “Nah, just some kid Sunday school teacher who pulled my name out of a hat. Like we don’t have enough to do looking for bin Laden and taking out Taliban, we’ve got to answer fan mail.”

“Why do you think I don’t bother picking mine up?” As the jeep engine roared to life, his companion plucked away the photo for a clinical scrutiny. “Though maybe I should. Cute kid. How about I take this one off your hands? The way things are shaping up over here, she’ll be old enough to date before we rotate home. So what’s she got to say?”

Willie didn’t bother explaining. But the accompanying note had been brief enough he had no problem recalling its contents:

Dear Sergeant Willie:

My Sunday school class picked your name to pray for. We’re so fortunate to be living here safe in the land of the free and home of the brave, and we’re so proud of how you all are fighting to bring freedom to the people over there. I’m enclosing a class picture and a New Testament if you don’t have one already. Someday when the fighting’s over, I’d like to go to Afghanistan to help make the kind of difference you are. But since I’m only sixteen, I guess I’ll stick to praying and writing for now. Anyway, we’re praying for you to be safe and that you’ll win this war soon so Afghanistan can be as free as we are.

The jeep jolted out onto the street. Willie turned his long body to run a swift appraisal over the rest of their convoy. The mujahedeen volunteers were still scrambling on board as the pickups moved into line behind the jeep. They didn’t look like men who’d reached the finale of a brutal military campaign. They were laughing as they jostled playfully for a position at the mounted machine guns, flower garlands from the morning’s victory parade draped across bandoliers, wrapped around rifle barrels, even tucked behind ears.

But Willie had witnessed these local allies charging suicidally into enemy entrenchments, even with American bombs crashing down all around them. If he was so sick of this war after a few weeks, what had it been like for them to live decades, for many an entire lifetime, of unrelenting fighting and death? Simply to have survived in this country required courage and fortitude seldom required of Willie’s own compatriots.

Freedom was another matter.

Catching Willie’s eye, a fighter barely into his teens raised a flower-festooned AK-47 from the next pickup. “Is it not glorious? We have won! We are free!”

Willie had divested himself of sentimentality before he’d ever made it through basic training. So it had to be the cold winter breeze that stung his eyes, dust gritting in his teeth that made him swallow. Willie had never doubted the value of his current mission. Nor even its ultimate success. Serving his country was a privilege, spreading freedom an honor worth these last difficult weeks.

But not even his rigorous training had prepared him for the brutality and ugliness of combat. The ragged chunks of flesh and bone that had once been human beings. Even worse, the screams from broken bodies that still held life. Too many of them his own comrades.

Yet scarcely two months since plane-shaped missiles had slammed into the heart of his own homeland, the people of Afghanistan were taking to these very streets to celebrate their liberation. Even now his countrymen were touching down to raise the flag over Kabul’s long-abandoned U.S. embassy compound. Okay, so everything hadn’t run as smoothly as their mission training. Maybe there’d been mistakes. Maybe even today. But at least those raucous dancing mobs with their music and kites, the battle-wearied fighters in the pickups behind him finally had a chance for real freedom.

A chance he’d helped to give them.

You can tell your kids their prayers have been answered, Willie composed a mental reply to that bright smiling young face. It’s all over but the mopping up.

The thought prompted him to lean forward, tapping the driver on the shoulder. “You’re heading back over here after the embassy run, right? Do me a favor and check on that kid for me. Make sure whoever’s hauling them up to Baghram delivers him in one piece. Some of the muj are a little trigger-happy.”

The translator turned his head after he maneuvered between rubble heap and a pothole. “I am sure the commander will have given orders for anything you have asked. He is very happy with you.”

“Happy?”

“But of course! Because of the property you have secured for him. The finest residence in the Wazir Akbar Khan. The commander has desired it for his own possession since before the Taliban. And now because of your weapons, it is his at last. We will move our headquarters here this very day.”

Willie went rigid in furious comprehension.

“Hey, easy, man!” The blond soldier’s arm was an iron-hard barrier, his voice low and warning. “Back off. It’s not his doing.”

Willie’s grip tightened to white knuckles on his M-4 assault rifle. “We’ve been had!”

“Hey, it’s not the first time, and around here it sure won’t be the last. Are you that naive? This is war. Their war. We’re only advisors, remember? And that doesn’t include refereeing property disputes.”

That his teammate was right didn’t temper Willie’s mood. The crinkle of paper reminded him his fist wasn’t empty. The envelope was a crumpled mess, and only now did he notice the rusty smudge blurring what had been a return address. He wouldn’t be answering this fan mail. Which was just as well.

Willie tossed the wad of paper over the side of the jeep, the adrenaline rush of this morning’s victory draining to intense weariness, his earlier elation as acrid in his mouth as the smoke rising from a burning truck just inside the wrecked gates. It was going to take a whole lot more than wishes and a few kids’ prayers before Afghanistan could ever be called land of the free and home of the brave.






Chapter One

Baghlan Province, Afghanistan
Present Day
A day from the past.

No, a day for the future.

The farmer stood proud, tall as he shuffled down the crowd-lined drive. A switch in his hand urged forward the mule pulling a cart piled high with huge, swollen tubers. They looked like nothing edible, but their tough, brown hide held sweetness beyond the sucrose to be squeezed from their pulp. The firstfruits of Baghlan’s revitalized sugar beet industry.

In a long-forgotten past, when the irrigated fields stretching to high, snow-capped mountains were not known best for landmines and opium, the farmer had worked his family’s sugar beet crop. He’d earned his bride price stirring huge vats of syrup in the sugar factory, Afghanistan’s only refinery and pride of the Baghlan community. Until the Soviets came and Baghlan became a war zone. For a generation of fighting, the sugar factory had been an abandoned shell.

But now past had become future.

The massive concrete structure gleamed with fresh paint, the conveyor belt shiny and unrusted, smokestacks once more breathing life. By the throngs packing both sides of the drive, the entire province had turned out to celebrate the factory’s reopening. In front of the main entrance was a dais, destination of farmer and cart.

The token harvest followed on the stately tread of regional dignitaries making their way toward the dais. Students, neat in blue tunics, offered pink and white and red roses to the distinguished arrivals. Among them the farmer spotted his grandson. No smile, only the flicker of a glance, a further straightening of posture, conveyed his pride. Too many sons and brothers and kinsmen had died in the war years. But for his remaining grandson, this day presaged a very different future.

On the dais, the factory manager stood at a microphone. Behind him, chairs held the mayor, regional governor, officials arrived from Kabul for the inauguration ceremony. “The government has pledged purchase of all sugar beet. Our foreign partners pledge equipment to any farmer who will replace current crops. So why plant seed that produces harvests only of violence? On this day, I entreat you to choose the seed of peace, of a future for our community and our children.”

The procession had now reached the dais. But it wasn’t the dignitaries’ arrival that broke off the factory manager’s speech. The roar of a helicopter passing low overhead drew every eye upward. Circling around, the Soviet-made Mi-8 Hind hovered down until skids touched pavement. Crowds scattered back, first from the wind of its landing, then as the rotors shut down, to open passage.

The government minister who stepped out was followed by foreigners, the allies who’d funded the refinery project designed to entice Baghlan farmers from opium poppies to sugar beet. The newcomers leisurely moved through the parted crowd. The minister paused to speak to his foreign associates, then turned back toward the helicopter.

The explosion blasted through the factory, blowing out every window and door. A fireball erupting from the open entrance enveloped the dais. A panicked swerve of the mule placed the heavy cart between farmer and blast, saving his life but burying him in splinters of wood and beet. He could not breathe nor see nor hear. Only when the screams began did he realize he was still alive.

Pushing through the debris, he staggered to his feet. Shrapnel had ripped through the crowd where the fireball had not reached, and what lay between dais and shattered cart was a broken, bleeding chaos. Those uninjured enough to rise were scattering in panic. The farmer ran too but in the opposite direction. Ignoring moans and beseeching hands, he scrabbled through the rubble. Then with a cry of anguish he dropped to his knees.

The school uniform was still blue and clean, a single white rose fallen from an outflung hand. The farmer cradled the limp form, his wails rising to join the communal lament. For his grandson, for so many others, the future this day had promised would never come.

***

Kabul International Airport
“Oh, excuse me. I am so sorry.”

Steve Wilson barely avoided treading on heels as the file of deplaned passengers ground to a sudden halt. A glance down the line identified the obstruction. In pausing to look around, a female passenger had knocked a briefcase flying.

The young woman was tall enough—five foot seven by Steve’s calculation—to look down on her victim and attractive enough that the balding, overweight Western businessman waved away her apology. Platinum blonde hair spilled in a fine, straight curtain across her face as she scrambled for the briefcase. A T-shirt and jeans did nothing to disguise the tautly muscled, if definitely female, physique of a Scandinavian Olympic skier. Though that accent was 100 percent American.

Steve had already noted the woman several rows ahead of him on the plane. With only a handful of female passengers, all discreetly draped in head shawl or full-body chador, her bright head had been hard to miss, face glued to the window as the Ariana Airlines 727 descended through rugged, brown foothills into the arid mountain basin that was Kabul.

Now as she handed the briefcase back, Steve caught his first clear glimpse of her features. It was a transparently open face, hazel eyes wide and interested under startlingly dark lashes and eyebrows. The candid interplay of eagerness, apprehension, and dismay as she turned again to take in her surroundings roused in Steve nothing but irritation. Wipe that look off your face or Afghanistan will do it for you.

As the line moved forward, Steve stepped out of it to make his own survey. Next to a small, dingy terminal only one runway was in service. Down the runway, a red-and-white-striped concrete barrier cordoned off hangers and prefabricated buildings housing ISAF, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Dust gusted across the runway, filling Steve’s nostrils, narrowing his gaze even behind wraparound sunglasses. He’d forgotten the choking, muddy taste of that dust.

The taste of Afghanistan.

Beyond the 727, a guard detail was uploading passengers into a white and blue UN prop plane. Steve recognized the bear paw and rifle scope logo on their gear. Private security contractors. He’d done contracts for that company, and if he dug binoculars from his backpack, he’d likely spot guys he knew. But the wind was picking up, the other passengers disappearing inside the terminal, so instead Steve lengthened his stride.

He needn’t have hurried. The immigration line was excruciatingly slow, the Afghan official scrutinizing each passport as though he’d never seen one before. The single baggage conveyor was broken, its handlers dumping suitcases onto the concrete floor with complete disregard for their contents. Air-conditioning was broken as well, the lighting dim enough Steve pushed sunglasses to his forehead.

But Steve had endured far worse. Besides, he was already on the company clock, so it wasn’t his loss if he wasted half the morning in here. With a shrug, he peeled a trail mix bar from his pack and settled himself to wait.

“Worse than Nairobi, isn’t it?”

Steve swung around on his heel. “Maybe. But it sure beats Sierra Leone.”

The man offering a handshake sported the same safari-style clothing Steve was wearing. There resemblance ended. Half a foot shorter and twice the circumference of Steve’s own lean frame, he was bald, by razor rather than nature from the luxuriance of that graying red beard, a powerful build sagging to fat.

Though there was nothing soft in his grip. Nor in the small, shrewd eyes summing up Steve in turn. Cop’s eyes. Steve could read their assessment. Caucasian male. Six-foot-one. Dark hair. Gray eyes. Tanned. Physically fit.

“Craig Laube, logistics manager, Condor Security. Call me Cougar. And you’re Steve Wilson, security chief for our new PSD contract.” The file with attached photo in his hand explained why his statement included no question mark. “If you’ll come with me, our fixer’s made arrangements to fast-track your team. The rest came in on the New Delhi flight. They’ve already left for the team house.”

The fixer evidently referred to the Afghan in suit and tie who plucked Steve’s passport from his hand, tucking a local currency note inside before moving to the front of the line. On the nearest wall, a sign advised passengers to report any requests for bribes to airport security. Not that Steve suffered any qualms of conscience at following on the fixer’s heels. In his book, a bribe involved paying someone to break the law. Tipping local bureaucracy to speed up what they should be doing anyway was a survival tactic in every Third World country he’d known.

At least fast-track was no exaggeration. The line had barely inched forward when they left the security area, entry stamp in hand. The scene was repeated at Customs, where Steve’s two action packers and duffel bag were waved through without a glance. A grin tugged at Steve’s mouth as he took in a bright head still far back in the first line. The woman from the plane looked frustrated, one small boot tapping impatiently, by her expression only too conscious of the stares her wardrobe choices were attracting.

Dismissing the hapless blonde from thought, Steve followed Cougar across a parking area to a black armored Suburban. The Afghan driver already had the engine running. Though an unnecessary swarm of porters had accompanied the baggage trolley, Steve counted out a bill into each outstretched hand. “Tashakor.”

Steve’s thank you engendered beard-splitting grins as the porters scattered.

Pulling his head from inside the Suburban, Cougar raised bushy red eyebrows. “So you speak Dari. I’d understood this was your first contract in Afghanistan.”

“It is.” Steve sliced into one of the action packers. The tactical vest he strapped on was not the screaming obvious black of a private security detail, where you wanted unfriendlies to know you were on alert, but a discreet utility vest style. “But I was in Kabul during liberation. And after. Picked up a fair amount of Dari and Pashto along the way. I assumed you knew that’s why I pulled this contract.”

“Sure, your bio says Special Forces. So you were Task Force Dagger, first boots on the ground, all that. That must have been a trip.” Cougar studied his taller companion’s clipped dark hair and deep tan. “Your coloring, I’ll bet you pass as a native if you grow a beard. Gotta be useful in these parts. So when did you make the jump to the private sector?”

“I was in Afghanistan about eighteen months. Got tired of being shot at so switched to a Blackwater private security detail. Then ArmorGroup embassy detail. Back to PSDs. Most recently Basra in southern Iraq. That was Condor Security, so when this came up, they gave me a call.”

Steve could have added, “And you?” But his contact info had included a bio. Craig “Cougar” Laube had done an army stint a lifetime ago, then put in twenty years with NYPD, more of them behind a desk than on the street. A second career as a security guard hadn’t proved lucrative enough to support an ex-wife and three kids because he’d jumped at the post 9/11 boom in the private security industry.

Strapping on his own tactical vest, Cougar retrieved M-4s and Glock 19 pistols for both from the back of the Suburban before handing Steve a manila envelope. So the guy had his priorities right.

The SUV’s air-conditioned interior was a far more comfortable ride into Kabul than the dust and jolting of an army convoy. As the Afghan driver eased past a mounted Soviet Mig fighter jet that marked the airport entrance, Steve rifled through the manila envelope. Mini-Bradt Kabul guide. Dari-English phrase book. List of embassy-cleared restaurants and lodging. An invite to an open house Thursday evening at the UN guesthouse. It was a welcome packet! Underneath were some blueprints and a city map.

“The diagrams are your two primary security zones.” Cougar carried his M-4 unslung, looking out the double-paned windows as he spoke. “How much did they fill you in?”

Steve stuffed the material back into its envelope, retaining the blueprints and a personnel data printout. “Just that CS picked up a private security detail for some Afghan cabinet minister, and they want me to pull together a team ASAP. So who is this guy, and what’s the big rush?”

“Our principal’s the new Minister of Interior. He figures he’s got a bull’s-eye painted on his back. Which isn’t such a stretch when you consider what happened to his predecessor.”

“You’re talking the sugar factory bombing.” Steve straightened up with sudden alertness. Bombings had become a dime a dozen lately in Afghanistan, but that incident had been significant enough to make international news. Reopening a sugar factory in the northeastern province of Baghlan was the crown jewel in an alternative development program intended to soften the impact of the US counter-narcotics campaign against Afghanistan’s proliferation of opium poppy. Any number of dignitaries had been on hand when a bomb went off inside the factory. With more than fifty killed and hundreds wounded, it had been the largest single-incident civilian death toll since liberation.

“Sure, I saw the Minister of Interior on the list of VIP casualties. And weren’t there Americans involved too? But that was more than two weeks ago.”

“It’s taken this long to get all the ducks in a row. There weren’t any American casualties, but a helicopter load that included embassy and DEA reps had just touched down for the ribbon cutting when the bomb went off, one reason the incident got so much international press. In fact, the chopper belongs to the current minister. If he hadn’t forgotten his briefcase in the chopper and just happened to turn back, there’d be two dead ministers instead of one.

“What makes this more interesting is that the late MOI had just been in office a couple months himself, appointed when his predecessor was removed for gross corruption and incompetence. Only after plenty of pressure from the West, I might add. The MOI’s by far the most powerful cabinet seat short of the president himself. It oversees the Afghan National Police, counternarcotics, the country’s internal security, and provincial administration. Which includes appointing the governors and regional law enforcement officials.”

Steve let out a low whistle. “So what’s left for the president?”

“There’s a reason they call our friend in the Presidential Palace the Mayor of Kabul. Not that anyone really runs the provinces except the provinces themselves. A lot of people point to MOI for Afghanistan’s current security failings. Not that there isn’t plenty of blame to go around, but the Afghan National Police are a joke, and too many provincial officials are former warlords up to their own ears in drug trafficking. Our late MOI had made it his mission to clean house and rein in the regional warlords.”

That drew Steve’s sharp glance from the data sheets. “You don’t think—”

“The sugar factory bombing could be payback—or just the local opium cartels trying to stamp out competition. But the new MOI’s taking it personally. He asked for a personal security detail as soon as he nailed the promotion. No local bodyguards either. They might be infiltrated. Western. And since Khalid’s a former muj commander—”

“Khalid!” Steve interrupted. “Khalid Sayef?”

“That’s right.” Cougar looked at Steve. “Hey, come to think of it, Khalid was part of the coalition that took Kabul. Any chance you ran across him?”

“Yes,” Steve responded. “Though when I left Afghanistan, Khalid was up to his neck in local politics, nothing like this.”

“Khalid’s still governor of his home district up in Baghlan. But like most of the muj commanders, he picked up a cabinet seat when the new government was signed in. But when the Minister of Counternarcotics threw in the towel a couple years back, it seemed like Khalid was in the right place to move up. Instead they brought in a complete outsider. Minister of Commerce originally. Moved up to Counternarcotics Minister a couple years ago. Since counternarcotics is the biggest piece of MOI, everyone figured Khalid would take over when his boss got the boot. Instead . . . outsider.”

Cougar’s shoulders hunched under his tactical vest. “Well, Khalid’s got the job now, and it’s our responsibility to keep the guy alive. The contract’s a Level One three-month renewable personal security detail. We should have on hand most equipment you’ll need. Ditto, transport. Scrambling a team wasn’t as easy on such short notice. But the bunch that flew in this morning are pretty decent. Their bios are in that packet. All Special Ops, all with security detail experience. Navy SEAL. Ranger. Delta. SAS.”

Steve’s attention shifted from data sheets to the windshield as the militarized airport zone gave way outside to bustling streets. Kabul had changed since he’d last passed this way—and it hadn’t. Steve wasn’t sure which was worse.

The biggest change was congestion. Vehicle traffic must have multiplied ten times over without a corresponding expansion of the street system. If there were traffic lanes or even sidewalks, no one was taking them seriously. Toyota Corollas, wood-framed trucks, motorcycles, and mule carts oozed through swarming pedestrians and street venders. Late-model SUVs, mostly white, bore acronyms on doors and roofs. Agency vehicles of the numerous Western government and aid organizations now making Kabul their home.

“The two security zones are Khalid’s personal residence and the Ministry of Interior,” Cougar continued. “The residence’s already in a high security district, but the MOI building’s smack downtown.”

City limits too now crawled much farther up the mountain flanks. Construction was still largely mud brick, but the glitter of Kabul’s new business skyline thrust itself like misplaced jewels above a haze of dust and smog. The Mashal Business Center, all futuristic blue glass and chrome. The five-star Serena Hotel rising like a sultan’s palace on a busy intersection. The Safi Landmark shopping mall where, according the welcome packet, any number of trendy restaurants offered foreign cuisine and forbidden alcohol.

Who in this dirt pile has disposable income to support this kind of infrastructure?

Cougar pointed at another new glass and brick department store. “Kabul isn’t the hardship post you all rolled into. Anything you want, some Afghan will have started an import outlet. The expat social scene’s pretty decent too. Mostly in what we call the green zone, Wazir Akbar Khan, Shahr-e-Nau and Sherpur districts where security’s tight enough you don’t have to worry about locals crashing the party. Or some mullah screaming over Jack Daniels or bikinis. Stay here awhile with all those burqas, and you won’t believe how good any woman in a bikini starts to look.”

Steve grunted. Astonishingly, the burqas hadn’t changed. He spotted many headscarfs, many of them expatriates by their features, as well as the more enveloping black chador. But the burqa remained the female norm, flitting like silent white or pale blue ghosts through an overwhelmingly male pedestrian mob, the face panels thrown triumphantly back when he’d last been in these streets now firmly in place.

The commercial district wasn’t the only construction boom. Steve counted the third rounded dome and tall minaret the SUV had passed in the space of five minutes. This one was a massive complex, gleaming with sparkling new mosaic tile. Behind it rose a series of five-story buildings Steve had assumed to be a housing development until he saw that the mosque’s perimeter wall enclosed them.

Cougar caught his stare. “Really something, isn’t it? That’s a new Shiite madrassa built by Iran. Bigger than the university. New mosques have been going up all over Kabul, mostly donations from other Muslim governments.”

“Useful outlay of aid funds,” Steve commented sardonically.

Cougar shrugged. “We build malls; they build mosques.”

For all the city’s new infrastructure, the acute poverty Steve remembered seemed little diminished either. They’d passed miles of hovels clinging to hillsides like human-size termite cells. How did people live without running water, sewage, or electricity? As for that apartment complex mujahedeen rockets had ripped open, Steve could swear it hadn’t been touched in all these years. Then he spotted plywood and plastic tacked down across a concrete cubicle, a burqa hauling a bucket up a shattered staircase. People were living in that ruin!

Beggars remained everywhere. Men missing limbs squatted on sidewalks or negotiated traffic on wheelchairs crafted from bicycle tires. Women in burqas exposed a cupped palm at intersections, small, ragged children at their skirts. Nor in the glut of automatic weapons and armed vehicles did Steve see any indication of a country at rest from war. It wasn’t just the ISAF convoys with their armored Humvees and turret guns. A dozen different uniforms belonging to the Afghan police, army, or hired security firms roamed sidewalks, stood guard at intersections and outside buildings, and crouched behind sandbags on the tops of walls.

And I thought we’d freed this place.

Just what did those war victims in their wheelschairs and burqas scrabbling for a daily food ration, the shopkeepers and street venders with their watchful eyes think of the new Afghanistan he’d helped create? Or of the Westerners flooding their city with new cars and shining towers and shopping malls and restaurants few Afghans could ever afford to enter? For that matter, of those equally ostentatious new domes and minarets that did nothing to put food on their tables?

Steve felt a sudden weariness that was not from jet lag. Why did I come back here?

Because it’s safer than Iraq, and the money’s even better. I was tired of being shot at, remember? After all, who was Steve to sneer when his own latest contract would net him five times what he’d ever earned as a proud member of his nation’s Special Operations Command?