Monday, March 30, 2009

Salty Like Blood by Harry Kraus, M.D.

David Conners, M.D., is on the fast track to creating a perfect life when his seven-year-old daughter disappears. David's all-consuming quest to find her -- dead or alive -- threatens to destroy everything he has left: his medical practice, his marriage, his integrity, and even his soul.

If Rachel is dead: Can a parent forgive someone who has done the unthinkable?

Can David forgive himself?

If she's alive: Can David find her in time to save her?

For your convenience, I'm listing the Author's website.

My Review:
What a great novel this is; it may be my all-time favorite! This Christian fiction contains a compelling plot with suspense, hope, romance, revenge, and forgiveness, centered around amazingly real characters. I suppose we've all asked the question, "Why would a God of love allow such pain?" This book attempts to answer that question, and the answer works for me! Perhaps it will for you too.

By writing the narrative of the protagonist, David Connors, in first-person, and interspersing with chapters written in third-person narratives of the other characters, the author allows the reader to peek into the thinking of all involved. Meanwhile, careful editing creates a mystery that cannot help but pique the interest. Joanna Connors, David's vulnerable wife, reacts quite differently from him and tension builds.

Even the periphery characters are well written and quite believable. The veiled, Somali neighbor, Amina, adds a layer to the complex tale, as do Sheriff Reynolds, who struggles to keep the law in his formerly peaceful town, Blake Swenson, the interfering former fiance, and Tricia Morgan, the ever-resourceful mother-in-law. Beautiful Swimmer, a boat, is a surprising character with all her attached memories.

Details make this story come alive. The setting for most of the work is in Tippins, a created small town on the Chesapeake Bay, famous for the Tippins Crab Festival each August. (The author knows the difference between those of us who know how to eat a hard-shelled blue crab and others who use picks and those silly wooden hammers.) It made me long to return to my childhood home next summer for a dinner of steamed crabs piled high on brown paper.

My suggestion is for you to get a copy ASAP. If you can't afford to buy a copy, contact your local library and request one be purchased so that you may be the first one to check it out.

And now, the first chapter:

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

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

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

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

“Is it okay?” she asked.

“It’s okay.”

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

“Oh so now you’re the doctor.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your father.”

I raised my eyebrows in question.

“His neighbor called.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Which neighbor?”

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

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

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

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

“What are we going to do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s take her with us.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Can we sled some more?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you would like to buy a copy, click below.

The Real Enemy by Kathy Herman

Sophie Trace Trilogy, Book 1

Brill Jessup would rather work than deal with the bitterness she feels about her husband Kurt's infidelity. They've made a fresh start with Brill taking a job as the new police chief in a small East Tennessee town. Kurt is genuinely contrite and making every effort to show his commitment to Brill.

Meanwhile Emily, their nine-year-old, is being the perfect little girl, as if she can make everything okay again.

So why can't Brill get over this anger? Work presents the perfect distraction as rumors and superstition are running rampant in the wake of the disappearances of seven people in seven days. As fear rises in the community, Brill works desperately to solve the mystery... until it threatens her family and she is forced to confront the real enemy.

My Review:
This is my favorite type of book to read. Written in third-person narrative, this Christian fiction thriller keeps the reader on edge. The plot is a brain teaser. I loved it!

Brill Jessup, the protagonist, comes across as a believable chief of police as she works 24/7 with the Sheriff and the FBI on a case that seems impossible to crack. Meanwhile, she does her best to ignore her husband, who strayed. One of the themes of this book is bitterness--the inability to forgive, a topic that will cause most people to relate. At times, I fully supported Brill, while other times, I wanted to sit her down for a heart-to-heart.

On the other hand, Emily, Brill's precocious nine-year-old daughter is written too flat, and several times I had trouble believing that any child, no matter how bright, would speak and act this way. That being said, it still is a terrific book and well worth the read. Discussion questions are included.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Faith 'n Fiction Saturday - The Christy Nominees

My friend Amy is the host for Faith 'n Fiction Saturday. She poses the questions and we try to answer them. If you're interested, check it out here.
The Christy Award is designed to:
* Nurture and encourage creativity and quality in the writing and publishing of fiction written from a Christian worldview.
* Bring a new awareness of the breadth and depth of fiction choices available, helping to broaden the readership.
* Provide opportunity to recognize novelists whose work may not have reached bestseller status.

Today's assignment is:
Look at the list of nominees and share whether or not you have read any of them. If you haven't read that particular novel, have you read anything by that author? Have you read all of the books in any category? What are your favorite books on the list? Are there any books you haven't heard of?

Christy Award Nominees, 2009:
Beyond the Night by Marlo Schalesky • WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group
Finding Stefanie by Susan May Warren • Tyndale House Publishers
Zora and Nicky: A Novel in Black and White by Claudia Mair Burney • David C. Cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Response:
I have read and LOVED Until We Reach Home by Lynn Austin and The Rook by Steven James. These books were terrific. I also read and enjoyed Rain Song by Alice J. Wisler. It's exciting to see these three listed as nominees, and I hope they win. My reviews are listed in my sidebar under both the title and the author.

I have just started If Tomorrow Never Comes by Marlo Schalesky. It's the first book I've read by her.

I've read and reviewed The Perfect Match by Susan May Warren. I hope to read more of her titles.

Among the nominees, Robin Jones Gunn is the author I've read the most. My list includes: Until Tomorrow, Secrets, Sisterchicks in Sombreros, and Engaging Father Christmas. In addition, I have three other titles of hers on my shelf waiting to be read: As You Wish, I Promise, and Gardenias for Breakfast.

I can't help but notice that my favorite author, Angela Hunt, was not nominated. She continually pumps out fantastic work. The Face was certainly worthy of a nod. However, it's wonderful that there are so many authors I haven't yet read and so many good titles waiting to be explored. We live in an exciting time.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Yesterday's Embers (Clayburn Novels Series #3) by Deborah Raney

The beloved Clayburn Novel series continues with the story of a widower who unexpectedly finds a second chance at love while trying to put his life and family back together.

Tragedy has left Doug DeVore with five children to raise alone. When Mickey Valdez, the children’s daycare teacher, lends a helping hand, sparks flicker between them and quickly ignite.

But romance and real life are two very different things, and too late, Doug and Mickey realize they've said "I do" to something neither of them bargained for.

Now they must find a way to untangle their knot of hasty choices without breaking the hearts of five precious children—or their own—in the process.

My Review:
I enjoyed this comfortable contemporary romance story. I read it start to finish in one day. The plot moves along smoothly, with a few bumps and bends in the predictable road to reach a satisfying conclusion. This is the third in the trilogy, but it can be read and enjoyed without the first two.

It was good to return to the small town of Clayburn. I was happy to see that the Latte-dah, the coffee shop, is thriving. Written in third person narrative, the reader easily follows the thought process of each character. The characters are people I'd like to meet. I'd love to keep in touch with Mickey and share her future. Perhaps she'll appear in a future book.

Discussion questions are included.

And now, the first chapter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But on Thanksgiving Day? What was God thinking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you would like to purchase a copy, click below.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Illusions by Wanda B. Campbell

After three years of marriage, Denise Hightower discovers that her husband, Pastor Bryce Hightower, has a secret addiction that not only jeopardizes his marriage, but impairs his ability to effectively preach the gospel.

Yielding to pressure from her mother and her husband, Denise agrees to keep his addiction a secret, although her self-esteem plummets. Her life as the perfect First Lady is falling apart at the seams.

Self-centered and determined to uphold his pastoral image, Bryce is oblivious to his wife's emotional state. He's convinced that he can overcome his "little problem" on his own, so he rejects the spiritual help God sends him. But when his secret is discovered, will he be able to come clean with himself, God, and his congregation?

My Review:
I admire the author for writing about pornography--a neglected subject matter--in this Christian fiction novel about an African-American pastor and his wife. The plot flows nicely, and I chose to stay up late to finish it. I wanted to see how it turns out. I'm glad that I made that choice.

The characters are beautifully written. Denise and Bryce are a couple in love with a serious problem to solve. I found myself rooting for their marriage to succeed. Benny and Lucinda cause some chuckles with their snappy dialog. Erin, the good friend, is quite believable; Jonas, though, is too good to be true.

The scenes at church are well written--even to the point of putting on the "church faces" and using the "church voices." Sins are sometimes hidden, best in churches.

I loved the metaphor of the ivy hedge.

However, there are some grammatical errors. Additional editing needs to take place, That said, it is still a worthwhile read.

And now, the first chapter:


Bryce, having been married for a little over three years, stared appreciatively at the bare woman before him. By all accounts, she was everything he physically desired in a woman; ample and curvaceous from top to bottom. Her honey colored legs seemed to go on forever. He could look at her perpetually and never get tired of the view she provided. Bryce had an arsenal of beautiful women at his disposal, but she was his favorite. He could drink the sweetness of her lips through eternity and still thirst for more.

Bryce often wondered how he ended up with such a beautiful and voluptuous woman, considering he was just an average looking man, and short at that. Bryce was only 5’9’’ tall. He didn’t house the physique of a body builder, but he did wear his 200 pounds well. Thanks to his love for Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, Bryce didn’t have a six pack, but a slightly budding pot belly. None of that mattered to the woman before him, though. To her, he was perfect. He was strong and secure. He was her king. Bryce was by far the best lover she’d ever had, and each time that they came together was always better than the time before.

Bryce blocked everything from his mind except her. He moaned deeply as his mind focused on the soft kisses she planted all over him and as her hands massaged him in places only known to her. He leaned back, allowing her full access to all parts of him. Bryce was hers and she could do whatever she wanted to do with him. The semi-sweet chocolate brother was all hers and she knew it. Bryce was so engrossed in his woman, he lost track of time. The knock on his office door brought him back to reality.

“Are you ready, Sir?” the voice on the other side of the door asked.

“I’ll be right out,” Bryce responded after steadying his breath.

He quickly closed the magazine and discreetly tucked it away in its hiding place between the wall and the tank of the toilet. After fastening his pants and belt, he washed his hands without looking in the mirror. He could never look himself in the face after an encounter with the woman he nicknamed, Daija.

Back at his desk, Bryce hurriedly put on his suit jacket and tucked his Bible and notebook under his arm then headed for the sanctuary. It was time for Pastor Bryce Hightower to preach the Word of God.

Chapter 1

Out of habit, Pastor Hightower greeted the elders and ministers seated on the platform with his customary handshake and brotherly hug. He continued the ritual by kneeling before his reserved leather chair and praying. The elders and ministers extended opened hands in Pastor Hightower’s direction, symbolic of touching and agreeing for the Lord to anoint their pastor to preach a powerful Sunday sermon. Pastor Hightower was too busy repenting for the defiled behavior he’d just participated in to be concerned about his sermon.

Being certain his cries for forgiveness reached heaven, Pastor Hightower rose to his full height, raised his hands with closed eyes and joined the congregation singing Total Praise along with the Praise & Worship ministry. Once seated, Pastor Hightower’s gaze drifted to the end seat on the front row. The overgrown smile that covered his face gave the appearance of being manufactured, but was genuine. That’s just the way Pastor Hightower smiled. Every facial muscle appeared strained whenever he displayed his perfectly straight white teeth. Pastor Hightower added a wave with the smile he afforded his wife. When Denise smiled back, the pastor mouthed the words, “I love you,” causing Denise to blush and cover her face. Satisfied that he still carried the ability to make his wife excited, Pastor Hightower directed his attention to his sermon. He grunted at scripture text then quickly closed his black leather organizer.

“How can I stand before these people and talk about Samson’s lust and weakness with Delilah?” Bryce’s heart asked the question, but his distorted mind blocked an honest answer from coming forth.

Pastor Hightower squeezed his eyes close in an attempt to shut out his conscience like he always did before mounting the podium and preaching another message he was incapable of living. Today, his evasion tactic worked too well. In no time, Pastor Hightower’s reality merged with fantasy, and in place of Samson, it was Pastor Hightower with the beautiful Delilah in the Valley of Sorek. It was his head lying in Delilah’s lap enjoying the feel of her soft expert fingers as they explored, sending a soft moan from his lips.

“Honey, are you alright?”

Pastor Hightower’s head jerked forward at the sound of his wife’s voice. His imagination had drawn him so deep into the illusion that he hadn’t heard Minister Jackson call him to the podium. He hadn’t noticed the entire congregation standing, waiting to hear the words the Lord had given him. When he didn’t respond after the third call, Denise rushed to his side and was now shaking him.

“Are you alright?” Denise questioned again.

Bryce mentally and frantically searched for an answer. He couldn’t tell his wife that the images he’d just experienced left him feeling better than alright. He also couldn’t lie in the sanctuary.

“Just mediating,” Pastor Hightower finally answered, then moved his head from side to side to demonstrate how “deep” he was.

Denise’s doubts dissipated once her husband rose to his feet and began speaking in tongues then started dancing the length of the platform.

Once he settled down, Pastor Hightower said, “Let’s pray,” and opened his Bible to the story of Daniel and the three Hebrew boys.

“Son, you know you preached today!” Lucinda stepped into Pastor Hightower’s office without knocking or being invited.

Bryce didn’t address the mother’s forwardness. Lucinda had been doing that since the day her daughter married Pastor Hightower. In Lucinda’s eyes, being the pastor’s mother-in-law had its privileges, and having free range of the church was one.

“Thank you, mother. I could feel you out there interceding for me.”

“That’s why you made me president over the Intercessory Prayer Ministry. You know I can get a prayer through. I can dismantle any attack of the devil once I start praying in the Spirit.”

Bryce studied his mother-in-law’s round face, searching her eyes for any indication that she was aware of how the devil not only attacked him, but triumphed over his will.

“Keep praying for me, Mother.” Bryce placed his Bible into his briefcase the same time Denise knocked and waited for permission to enter.

“Hello, First Lady.” Bryce leaned in to kiss Denise, but she didn’t reciprocate.

In the midst of the congregation was one thing, but behind closed doors, perpetrating wasn’t necessary. Before Bryce’s flirtation from the pulpit, he hadn’t spoken three words to her in as many days.

“Hello, Bryce,” Denise responded emotionless, almost cold.

“How dare you speak to your husband like that?” Lucinda scolded. “He’s a man of God. He deserves respect.”

“So do I, Mother!” Denise shot back. She glared at her husband. “And not just from the pulpit.” Denise continued holding his gaze.

Holding on to her anger was useless. Bryce knew with every squeeze Denise’s anger was evaporating. By the time his lips reached her neck, she couldn’t remember why she was mad in the first place.

“Stop.” She playfully hit him then returned his kiss.

“You know you like that.”

Her mother cleared her throat. “It’s time for y’all to go home.” Before exiting, Lucinda addressed her daughter. “Let this be the last time I see or hear you disrespect my pastor. I don’t care if he is your husband.”

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think she endured twenty-six hours of labor with you and not me.” Denise smirked.

Bryce didn’t respond to the statement, but asked Denise what she’d cooked for dinner.

“Me,” she answered flirtatiously and waited for his usual hungry response.

Bryce did respond, but neither fire nor desire radiated from him. His actions more closely resembled that of a convicted man being led off to prison, than that of a man needing to be alone with his wife. Bryce’s shoulders slumped and he inhaled deeply. With his third labored breath, he still hadn’t conjured up a tactful way to tell Denise he wasn’t interested in sex, at least not today and not with her.

Bryce held the office door open for his wife. “Let’s get something to eat first and then see what happens.”

Nothing happened. After dinner Bryce hibernated in his study until bedtime.


Denise studied her husband’s stiff torso and wondered what had happened to her once stress-free life. When she married Pastor Bryce Hightower three years ago, everything was perfect. She was both honored and delighted to be the wife of an influential man of God. In the pulpit, Bryce preached powerful life-changing messages. It was one of those “hot” messages that burned Denise’s soul and steered her down the aisle to her heavenly Father that hot Sunday afternoon in August. Having grown up in the church, the daughter of a deacon, Denise was familiar with God, but had resisted making Him her personal Savior. That is, until she heard Pastor Hightower’s preaching. Bryce’s teaching gift afforded him the ability to philosophically preach the Word of God on a scholarly level, but what mesmerized Denise was listening to him break the same Word down to the understanding of a two-year-old.

That second Sunday in August was Denise’s first time in six years attending services at the church in which she’d grown up. She’d left the Bay Area to attend college. After graduating Fresno State, Denise decided to give California’s central valley a chance at residency. Unfortunately for Denise, the valley’s thermostat reached an all-time high at the same time California was forced to rely on rolling blackouts as a way to conserve energy. When Denise’s air conditioner broke down, she packed her belongings into her Honda and headed for cooler climate.

After confessing before God and the congregation of Word of Life that Jesus was the Son of God, died and resurrected to save her from sin, Denise rejoined the church to the delight of her mother and the newly appointed pastor. Denise didn’t have to wait long before discovering Pastor Hightower was interested in more than the well-being of her soul. Along with the standard new member’s welcome letter that she received, Pastor Hightower included a handwritten note with a dinner invitation. A brief consultation with her mother was all the confirmation Denise needed to accept. The lavish wedding eight months later was still a conversation piece three years later.

At home, Bryce couldn’t keep his hands off Denise. As a twenty-six-year-old virgin bride, that made her feel special, because she was apprehensive of her ability to meet her husband’s needs. Bryce had more experience and his choice of available women in his church, but he loved every inch of her voluptuous size sixteen. In the beginning, Denise thought his sexual appetite was a bit excessive, but what did she have for comparison? He certainly gave her unlimited pleasure. The least she could do was to return the favor and give her husband all the loving he wanted, which is what she did. The problem was, lately Bryce didn’t want any loving from her.

Admiring his sleeping body, Denise couldn’t figure out what had changed. As if someone had blown out a candle, the fire in their bedroom was instantly gone. Bryce barely touched her anymore, and when he did, it wasn’t the same. Denise didn’t feel that her husband cherished making love to her anymore, but felt more like he was simply obliging her. Bryce used to be slow and caring with her, making sure she was completely satisfied. Now, he seemed so engrossed in his own world, Bryce hadn’t even noticed Denise counting sheep during their last encounter.

Denise turned over on her side and gave her body a thorough examination. She was the same size she was the day she married Bryce. She kept her hands manicured and her feet always looked like they’d been freshly dipped in hot wax. Denise had a standing appointment with Kadijah at the Hair Haven salon every week, insuring she was always presentable. She also made sure she dressed in clothes that accented her fuller figure and kept her makeup flawless. So why had Bryce lost interest?

Denise’s job as Budget Director at the local medical conglomerate didn’t prevent her from cleaning the house and cooking balanced meals every night. In the bedroom, she used powders and potpourri to scent their bed and candles to freshen the air on a regular basis. Denise never wore flannel pajamas or hair rollers to bed, instead, opting for sexy lingerie and sometimes nothing at all, depending on Bryce’s mood. That’s what she’d done tonight. She climbed into bed wearing nothing but a smile, hoping to get Bryce’s attention. It worked. She held his attention the entire five seconds it took for him to say goodnight, and then turn his back to her.

At church and public appearances, things were the same as they always had been. Not a Sunday went by that Pastor Hightower didn’t acknowledge his beautiful and devoted wife. “She’s the beat of my heart,” is what he’d say, or “the wind in my sail.” Denise was trained by the older mothers in the church so the young wife knew all the “insert smile here,” moments. Denise could put on the manufactured smile and nod in agreement faster than she could write her name. Every time Bryce preached, the devoted supporter provided him with his personal “Amen” corner. Tonight though, Denise was tired of the façade. If she couldn’t sleep, then neither would the perpetrating Pastor Bryce Hightower.

“Bryce, wake up.” She shook him until he groaned. “We need to talk.”

“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?” he grumbled.

“No it can’t,” Denise determined. “I’ve held this in long enough.”

Bryce sighed heavily, more out of irritation than fatigue. He turned over and sleepily looked at his wife. “What is it?”

His tone and demeanor told her this late night pillow talk would be fruitless. She pressed on anyway.

“Honey, what’s happening to us?”

“You’re pushing for a conversation that I don’t want to have. Aside from that, we’re fine.”

Denise’s heart sank because she knew Bryce really didn’t see anything wrong with their life. And why should he? He got every thing, including all the support and love from her that he needed.

“Bryce, we’re not fine. You haven’t touched me in over a month.” Denise pulled the sheet tightly around her. She hadn’t felt the need to conceal her body since their wedding night.

“Is that what’s this is about?” Bryce propped his body, using his elbow as support. “You woke me up because you want sex?”

Denise fought back the urge to cry. The expression on the face of her beloved husband was distorted and filled with distain. “It’s not just the lack of sex, Bryce. You hardly ever touch me at all anymore, and when we do have sex, it’s quick and routine. The only conversations we have are casual. You don’t even comment on how I look anymore.” Denise was able to say all that without losing her voice, but a tear had managed to escape and burned a trail down her cheek. Bryce noticed the tear and softened a little.

“Baby, come here.” He pulled her close to him and held her. She felt good to him and Bryce had to admit he missed her warm body against his. “I’m sorry.”

Denise tried to accept the comfort he offered her, but couldn’t just yet. It didn’t feel genuine. She held her head so she could gaze directly in his eyes. “Bryce, are you having an affair?”

The direct question seemed to have caught him off guard, causing Bryce to hesitate before answering. “No, I’m not having an affair. I’ve just been preoccupied with other things. Being a young pastor is a hard job.”

“Why can’t you share what’s on your mind with me? I’m your wife; I’m designed to help you.”

“I know.” Bryce kissed her forehead. “But some things I have to handle on my own.”

Denise placed her head against his chest. She didn’t say anything, just lay there listening to his heartbeat, wondering when it became out of sync with hers.

Bryce didn’t say anything either. He was fighting a war with his conscience and his spirit. He didn’t actually lie to Denise, or did he? He didn’t view his time with Daija as an affair. How could he have an affair with his imagination? True, the things he did with her, he should have been doing with his wife. The time he spent with his imaginary friend, could have been spent with his real-life wife. But when he finished with Daija, he was fulfilled and too tired to be with Denise. Bryce enjoyed being with Denise, but couldn’t let go of his fantasy. With Daija, Bryce was uninhibited and free, never having to worry about his desires being considered nasty or berated. That’s what it was. Daija allowed him to be free. What was so wrong with that? Everyone is entitled to a little fantasy. As long as he’s not having sex with anyone else, what was the harm?

If it’s right, why can’t you tell her?

As always, Bryce heard the still small voice loud and clear, but instead of responding, he closed his eyes in an attempt to prevent the truth from spilling from his lips. He wasn’t ready to face the truth. He didn’t really know what the truth was anymore. He believed he could stop his extra-curricular activity any time he wanted. Bryce just didn’t want to, but for Denise’s sake, he was going to try.

“I promise I’ll work on giving you more attention.” Then after a prolonged silence Bryce added, “I love you.”

Denise didn’t respond. The words, meant to be enduring, sounded void and hollow, but they were better than nothing. Bryce tightened his hold on her and she relaxed in his arms and fell asleep.


Bryce mounted the podium and quickly scanned the audience. Something was not right. He closed his eyes tightly then reopened them just to make sure he was seeing correctly. He was. “Oh God,” he gasped, surveying the congregation. He stepped toward the edge of the platform, hoping to see Denise, but she wasn’t there. His eyes frantically searched for his mother-in-law. She wasn’t there either. The elders and deacons weren’t there to offer him the much needed prayer and support. Bryce slowly walked back to the podium, bowed his head and wept.


At the sound of her voice, Bryce’s cries stopped and he jerked around to find Daija occupying his leather chair, beckoning him with her index finger.

“No!” Bryce screamed, but the congregation, filled with the faces of the many women with whom he’d found pleasure, cheered him on.

“Daija, you can’t be here! Not in the church!” Bryce’s attempt to sound authoritative amused Daija and the rest of the congregation.

Daija stood on Bryce’s chair, and after throwing her long black hair over her shoulder, motioned to the congregation. “Why not, Bryce; you brought us here.” Daija smiled and struck one of Bryce’s favorite poses.

“Pastor Hightower, why don’t you save us?” someone in the audience mocked.

Bryce fell to his knees and sobbed uncontrollably, “God help me!”

Bryce bolted from his bed dripping with perspiration and shaking. The dream, like the one two nights ago, frightened Bryce with the implications, however true they were. Bryce was polluting the house of God and his addiction rendered him defenseless to stop the infection from spreading. This morning, Pastor Hightower had a reality check as images captivated his mind and lured him into lust as he sat in the pulpit, the holy place, waiting to present the Word of God. Never before had he been overtaken in the House of God. His prayers were rendered useless. In the past, he’d do his business, ask God to forgive him, then mechanically fulfill his pastoral duties. That didn’t happen today and now his demons haunted his dreams.

After stumbling into the master bath and splashing water unto his face, Bryce studied his mirrored reflection. Except for the extra inch around the middle and short haircut, Bryce looked the same as he did seventeen years ago, at age 17, when he was forced to face life alone following the unexpected and tragic death of his parents. It was while sorting through his father’s belongings that pornography was officially introduced to him.

He’d known about the “business” his father kept in the bottom nightstand drawer most of his teenage life, but assumed the magazines were nothing more than women in string bikinis. He soon found out differently and discovered porn was “therapeutic” in helping him deal with the loss of his parents. In some distorted way, when Bryce carried out his secret acts, he felt close to his father.

It didn’t start out as a daily ritual; maybe once a month to help relax him on days he felt overwhelmed. When that wasn’t enough, he added masturbation. Eventually, the old magazines weren’t enough to satisfy Bryce; he began purchasing his own collection.

At age twenty-one, he gave his virginity to a woman without knowing her real name. For the right price, she was willing to do the things he requested without complaining.

After joining the church at age twenty-five, Bryce felt convicted about his habit. He began to feel dirty after every encounter. For` a while, he stopped masturbating and purchasing magazines, but one session with his pastor changed his mind. Following Bryce’s confession, the late Reverend Daniels brushed off the habit as if it were no more than a piece of lint.

“Son, ain’t nothing wrong with looking at a beautiful woman,” Reverend Daniels had said, “just as long as you don’t touch. When you get a wife to enjoy, the need for those pictures will go away.” Reverend Daniels gave him a look whose meaning could only be interpreted between men.

Bryce soon learned that the church that he attended had its own version of the “good ole boys’ club.” It was a common thing for preachers and elders not only to lust with the eyes, but to also sleep with the sisters in the church. The indiscretions were usually swept under the rug unless the sister in question became pregnant or if her husband discovered the affair. Then the woman would be shunned from the church, but not without being labeled a “loose Jezebel” or a home wrecker. The preacher, however, would continue preaching, and in some cases, be elevated to a higher office in the church.

Bryce didn’t buy into the double standard and tolerated behavior set forth by his spiritual fathers. Eventually, Bryce lost respect and moved his membership after enrolling in Seminary. There, Bryce was too busy focusing on the Word of God and praying constantly for his imagination to run wild. The more he read the Bible and the more he prayed, the less desire he had for self gratification. The day Bryce graduated Seminary, he vowed to parallel his life with the standards set forth in the Bible. Bryce was determined to be a true man of God. “If I can’t live this Gospel, I won’t preach this Gospel,” was his slogan. He recited those eleven words faithfully before every sermon. The more he preached, the purer the pictures in his mind. The more he fasted, the less he fantasized, until eventually, the imagery stopped. That’s when he met Denise.

From the day he saw her standing before him at the altar, giving her life to God, Bryce loved her. Actually, he’d noticed her before mounting the podium. She carried her curves well with her five-foot seven-inch height. Bryce loved the fullness of her body, but even more so, the sweetness of her spirit. He still loved her, but he’d allowed

himself to become comfortable in his walk with God. Now, he was paying the price in his bedroom, in the pulpit, and in his dreams.

“Are you sick?” Bryce was too engrossed in his thoughts to notice Denise standing in the doorway.

He turned and stared at his wife hard and long as she leaned against the door frame. She’d put on a robe and her hair hung wildly at the nape of her neck. Her face, void of make-up, allowed Bryce to see the genuine love she held for him. A love that said, “Whatever it is, I’m here for you.”

When he didn’t answer, Denise asked the question again. Bryce slowly made the three steps that placed them an inch apart. He wanted to tell her that he was, in fact, very sick. That he had broken fellowship with God and that the line between reality and fantasy was so blurred, he couldn’t tell the difference anymore. He wanted to tell her the reason for his inattentiveness and reassure her of his love for her. Bryce didn’t say any of what made his heart ache to have released. He simply kissed her forehead and went back to bed.

If you would like to buy a copy, click below.

Giveaway! Turning the Paige (A Getaway Girls Novel #2) by Laura Jensen Walker

From the Back Cover:
Welcome to the in-between world of Paige Kelley.

At thirty-five, she’s put her dreams on hold to care for her ailing, high-maintenance mother. Three years after her divorce she’s still not dating, still working at her temp job, and still longing for motherhood even though, as her own mother often points out, “You’re not getting any younger, you know!”

When her Getaway Girls book club friends urge Paige to break free and get on with her life, she desperately wants to try. But how? What about her mom? The unexpected answers come from a surprising source. A trip to Scotland and a potential new love interest help launch an exciting new chapter in her life, and lead Paige to discover that God’s plan for her life promises to be more than she ever imagined.

This latest release in the Getaway Girls collection delivers a smart, funny, and warm account of one woman’s challenge to reconcile who she is—a dutiful Christian daughter—with the fulfilled woman she longs to be. It will appeal to any woman whose ever forgotten, even momentarily, that God’s timing is perfect.

My Review:
The author has the ability to tell an interesting story. The opening foreshadows the tale to come. It reads, "My mother killed my marriage. Stomped all over it with her Pepto-Bismol pink pumps and ground it to divorce dust." I enjoyed this chick lit tale of a middle-aged divorcee who is stuck with the burden of her ailing mother. Although Paige loves her mother, she is frustrated by her inability to find some freedom for her own life. I connected to Paige right away; my husband and I had both of our mothers living with us for a time.

Each chapter contains a quote at the beginning that further foreshadows. The reader gains a good bit of information on flowers--their meaning and the workings of a florist shop. There's a hint of romance. Many places in California and Scotland are visited and described such that this reader feels as if she's taken the trip along with the characters.

Paige's mother, Catherine, is a diabetic and loves her sweets. Paige works hard to rid her mother's house of all sweets and keep her eating a sugar-free regimen. However, the American Diabetic Association states "experts agree that you can substitute small amounts of sugar for other carbohydrate containing foods into your meal plan and still keep [your] blood glucose levels on track." To forbid a diabetic sweets is a mistake that many people make, but an author should not.

Although it's a Christian fiction, there's little to define it as such. The protagonist attends church and works in the children's Sunday School, but that simply serves as the background to move the story along. The topic may sound heavy, but the book is a light-hearted read.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

If you would like to purchase a copy, click here.


I am willing to give away my ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) copy of this book. (HINT: I like to give away books to people who regularly leave me comments.)

  • Winners are restricted to the US and Canada. No PO Box mailing addresses, please.
  • Leave your email address in code in your comment (This is the biggest mistake entrants make. They forget to leave their email address! Please do not ask me to look it up. This is all I ask of you.)
  • I'll close the comments at 6 PM EST April 1st and pick the winner. I will contact the winner via email to get her mailing information. She will have three days to respond. If I do not hear from her within three days, I will select another winner(s).
  • If you're interested, just say so in a comment with that all-important email address in code.
    Example of email in code: you[at]yourmail[dot]com

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Cousin's Promise (Indiana Cousins) by Wanda Brunstetter

Willkumm to the lush and lavish Amish country where this new romantic series, Indiana Cousins, begins. Loraine Miller finds herself torn between the love of two good men.

When a horrific accident cripples Wayne Lambright, he finds it difficult enough to take care of himself, much less Loraine Miller, his future bride. Will he sacrifice his happiness to give her a better life? Having already been jilted once, Loraine is terrified of yet another rejection.

But does she love Wayne enough to marry him, for better or worse? When her old boyfriend Jake Beechy returns from exploring the English world, he hopes Loraine will give him another chance. How will God work to give Loraine the desires of her heart? To which man will she pledge her love and loyalty--for better or worse, until death they do part?

My Review:
The title of this Amish romance should be Accidents as it's loaded with one tragic accident after another. I do not remember ever having read a book so crammed full of mishaps.

The plot is slow moving and repetitive, almost to the point of stopping--only to speed up at the satisfying end. The large cast of characters are rather flat, but since this is the first in the Indiana Cousins series, I expect them to be fleshed out in books to come. Several of the characters have problems that will drastically influence the course of their lives. Tripod is one unique character that's worth watching. I like the author's interweaving of the Plain People's jargon.

Fans of Amish specialist Brunstetter, will enjoy this one, and be interested in some starter for Friendship Bread. Discussion questions are included at the end as well as a recipe for Loraine's Favorite Chicken.

If you would like to read the first chapter, click here.

If you would like to buy a copy, click here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Faith 'n Fiction Saturday - Christian Bookstores

My friend Amy is the host for Faith 'n Fiction Saturday. She poses the questions and we try to answer them. If you're interested, check it out here.

Today's topic is:
While books and bookstores in general are suffering, Christian bookstores are suffering even more in this economy. Do you have a Christian bookstore that you shop at? Why don't you tell us about your local Christian bookstore and the benefits that it offers. If you don't shop at a Christian bookstore, then please tell us where you get your books, music, and other Christian gift items.

My Response:
I'm fortunate enough to live close to two Christian bookstores. One is named Truth, and although they seem to be a bit pricey, they always have a great sale table chocked full of books, most with the black mark on the bottoms. I've picked up some goodies for as little as $2.99. Of course, those were a few years old.

Lifeway is the second Christian bookstore and is by far the best bang for my buck. I love to walk through the door and hear the friendly greeting, while music is playing in the background. They not only have a sale table, but they have an incentive program so that they more you buy, the greater future discount you'll receive. In addition, they have some fabulous decorations for the home. For several years, I have gone after-Christmas shopping. I buy cards, wrapping paper, and this past year, a gorgeous nativity scene. I have a 24" set of pilgrims that I bought there a couple of years ago that really help set the tone in my home for Thanksgiving.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Giveaway! Journey by Angela Hunt

from the back cover:
His younger brother will be greater than he…

With those words, Menashe's dreams collapse. As Yosef's eldest son, his position had seemed secure. But now Efrayim—bold, charming Efrayim, who's everything Menashe is not—is taking his place. With their people. With the pharaoh. With Jendayi, the slave Menashe loves.

Efrayim, meanwhile, sees his dreams confirmed. Surely it's his destiny to unite the Egyptians and Hebrews. To marry a princess and achieve splendor surpassing that of his brother.

Then Menashe's dreams take a dangerous twist as he becomes obsessed with returning the Hebrews to their homeland. If he succeeds, he'll restore their heritage. If he fails…he could destroy them all.

My Review:
Ancient Egypt comes alive. Using the Bible as her foundation, Angela Hunt takes a few verses from Genesis, Joshua, and Nahum and fills in gaps with a believable work of fiction. Her ability to weave a mountain of research into an enjoyable story never ceases to amaze me. This is the third in Legends of the Ancient River trilogy. It can be read and enjoyed without first reading the other two (Dreamers and Brothers).

This narrative description of a love triangle between Menashe and Efrayim, sons of Joseph, grandsons of Israel--and Jendayi, a musician slave to Pharaoh contains many twists and turns along with a heap of palace politics. All ends are neatly tied up at the end, including the solution for Joseph and Tuya.

I learned about Ancient Egypt's embalming process and the funeral trip to bury Israel that took place from Egypt to the land of Goshen. It was enlightening to compare the refined culture of the Egyptians with less sophisticated, sheep and goat herding Hebrews. Equally fascinating is the comparison of the many Egyptian gods to El Shaddai. I enjoyed the game of Hounds and Jackals.

I love this quote from the book: "I do not understand everything God is enough to know He has a purpose for me" (322).

Although anyone can read and enjoy this historical romance novel, I think that those interested in the Bible will enjoy it the most. Discussion questions in the back of the book would make for an interesting group analysis.

If you'd like to get a copy, click here:


I am willing to give away my copy of this book. (HINT: I like to give away books to people who regularly leave me comments.)

  • Winners are restricted to the US and Canada. No PO Box mailing addresses, please.
  • Leave your email address in code in your comment (This is the biggest mistake entrants make. They forget to leave their email address! Please do not ask me to look it up. This is all I ask of you.)
  • I'll close the comments at 6 PM EST April 17th and pick the winner. I will contact the winner via email to get her mailing information. She will have three days to respond. If I do not hear from her within three days, I will select another winner(s).
  • If you're interested, just say so in a comment with that all-important email address in code.
    Example of email in code: you[at]yourmail[dot]com

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Take A Survey; Win Ten Christian Novels!

Do you read Christian novels? Do you buy Christian novels? Glass Road Public Relations is conducting a research study and wants to know more about you! If you would like to participate, go here to take an anonymous survey about buying Christian fiction. At the end, you can enter to win a library of TEN Christian novels!

Rebeca Seitz
Glass Road Public Relations, LLC

Giveaway! Red, White, and Blue by Laura Hayden

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Emily Benton is ready to take her place in the Oval Office, but her closest adviser, Kate Rosen, is plagued with doubts. As a person of faith, Kate owes her allegiance to a power higher than a mere political machine. And though Emily has shown some regret over past choices she’s made, Kate fears that her best friend will still be corrupted by her quest for power. Soon Kate is torn between helping Emily stay at the top—or bringing her down before she can remake America in her own image.

When scandal brings the presidency to the brink of disaster, Kate must weigh the bonds of loyalty and duty, ambition and submission, and choose to stand and fight . . . or walk away.

My Review:
The first female president is Emily--a lady who gains the job because she is the best candidate--not because she is a female. Her BFF, Kate, has a decision to make. Should she accept the position of Chief of Staff? That sounds like a no-brainer, but when the author throws some twists into the mix, this becomes an interesting mystery story. There's an accident--or is it a murder?

The story begins with the transition of power from one party to another. This is a good time to read a book about a new president taking office. It is interesting to experience the workings of the White House. The inaugural balls, the lobbyists, the Oval Office, even the White House kitchen are topics covered.

The only flaw is that the characters are hard to figure out. Right to the end, I could not decided whether or not to trust Nick, Emily's ex-husband. Kate seems to vacillate too much when trying to figure out her direction. I question her relationship with Nick; it doesn't ring true.

Overall, it's a good read. I enjoyed it, and I trust you will too.


I am willing to give away my ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) copy of this book. (HINT: I like to give away books to people who regularly leave me comments.)

  • Winners are restricted to the US and Canada. No PO Box mailing addresses, please.
  • Leave your email address in code in your comment (This is the biggest mistake entrants make. They forget to leave their email address! Please do not ask me to look it up. This is the only thing I ask you to do.)
  • I'll close the comments at 6 PM EST May 15th and pick the winner. I will contact the winner via email to get her mailing information. She will have three days to respond. If I do not hear from her within three days, I will select another winner(s).
  • If you're interested, just say so in a comment with that all-important email address in code.
    Example of email in code: yourname AT hotmail DOT com.

And now, the first chapter:

Kate Rosen sat on the edge of the stage, the large hotel ballroom stretching beyond her, long emptied of people. The only things left behind were the detritus of a grand night of celebration—balloons skimming over the carpet, trampled paper streamers, discarded signs, and swags of limp bunting that sagged against the walls.

No more cameras, no strobe lights, no cheering throng.

The exuberant but exhausted audience had finally faded away hours earlier, the journalists following suit shortly afterward. America had finally gone to bed, either celebrating or lamenting the fact that that they’d just elected their first female president.

Kate cherished the silence. She needed someplace where she could collect her thoughts, which had been shattered tonight. She’d discovered things she could hardly believe even still about her best friend. And she’d been disillusioned in a way that nobody, even a politician’s top aide, was prepared to be. Her headache and heartache had been made worse by the oppressive crush of supporters commemorating their candidate’s—her candidate’s—triumph. Once Emily and her entourage, minus Kate, went upstairs, the party had finally broken up and the ballroom's capacity crowd started to stream home for their own private celebrations.

But Kate’s ears still rang with the sound of more than a thousand people cheering, screaming their support of their candidate.

“Benton! Benton! Benton!”

Emily Rousseau Benton, former governor of Virginia, Kate’s best friend, had been elected president of the United States, in no small part due to Kate’s hard work. Emily’s race for the White House had dominated both of their lives for the past four years. Everything Kate did, every action she took as Emily’s campaign manager, had been done solely in support of her friend’s bid for the presidency.

And now that Emily had won, Kate was alone, horrified at the prospect that she might have made a terrible mistake.

She slipped down from the stage riser and kicked idly at the balloons in her path, creating a slight rippling effect across the bubbled mass of them. An occasional balloon still floated down from the ceiling, a day late and a dollar short.

Kate’s most recent revelation had been like that, one day too late. . . .

“Hey, Kate.”

A lone voice penetrated the silence. She stiffened in surprise and raised her hand to shade her eyes and get a better look at the person standing on the balcony. Her mood lightened and her shoulders relaxed when she realized who had spoken.

“Hey, Wes.”

“Y'all all right? Need some company?”

She nodded.

It was a classic Southern salutation, and the familiarity of it was oddly comforting. Then again, Wes Kingsbury always knew what to say—he was equal parts her friend and her spiritual mentor. Disappearing into the shadows, Wes emerged a few moments later from the staircase leading to the balcony box.

Kate glanced at her watch and stifled a yawn—3:46. That was a.m. Too early to be called morning, too late to be called night. The true dark hours of the human soul, when body rhythm and spirit were at their lowest point.

“I can’t believe you’re still here,” she said. The man had a wife and a small child, a real world and home to which he could return. He hadn’t closed his life down to a single obsessively sought goal. That had been her mistake.

“And I can’t believe you’re not upstairs. M’s still up in the suite, partying hearty.”

She kicked at a balloon, stirring up a small whirl of color. “I know. I’m not in much of a party mood.”

“So I see.” He fell into step next to her. “What’s going on? I would have thought you’d be thrilled. This was the goal, right?” He pointed to an abandoned placard: Benton/Bochner ’08.

“It was. It is.” She couldn’t help but shiver. “It’s complicated.”

“It’s Emily. It’s always complicated.” He chuckled, then sighed. “Okay, what has she done now?” At Kate’s hesitation, he added, “It’s got something to do with Talbot, doesn’t it?”

Charles Talbot had been Emily’s opponent in her race for the White House. As such, he’d pulled out all the stops to find all the dirt he could on his challenger. Kate, as Emily’s friend and ally for more than twenty years, had been positive there was no dirt to be found.

She’d been so wrong. . . .

Talbot’s investigators discovered that Emily’s family had illegally won important highway construction contracts in Virginia while Emily was the state’s governor.

When Kate learned his camp was prepared to release this information, the only way she could stop him was to explain to him exactly the unsavory facts that her own investigations had uncovered on him—details she’d kept out of Emily’s hands.

The last thing Kate had wanted was her friend to strike an ill-timed and unnecessary first blow—using a nuke when a nudge would have worked just as well. She’d learned the hard way that Emily, though a talented politician, wasn’t exactly good at being subtle when she had a bigger weapon handy. But when Talbot made his big, bold move to not only discredit Emily but take down her family by attempting to dismantle the entire Benton legacy, Kate had intervened by threatening to use her opposition research.

Talbot had killed . . . and Kate felt that she had no choice but to remind him of the lengths to which he’d gone to cover up his own crimes. She had the bloody proof that he’d been criminally negligent, if not morally responsible, in the grisly death of his college girlfriend. Talbot might have maneuvered his way out of the scandal, but Kate had the goods on him—incontrovertible evidence.

If released to the public, her evidence would have been sufficient to end his campaign, destroy his reputation, and possibly land him in jail for a long, long time. Talbot saw the light and backed down from his threats.

So Talbot had been stopped. The situation had served to cement Kate’s resolve that Emily Benton would make a far better president than her opponent. Emily was a policy wonk who knew her stuff, she was talented at getting things done, she worked hard for the people she represented, and she was charismatic enough to persuade even those who opposed her to allow time for her ideas to have a chance to work. In other words, Emily was the best politician of her time.

However, Kate soon learned not only that her actions had made Talbot her enemy for life, but also that no one ever wins in a competition of “who has the best blackmail” because the games like that never end. She’d felt sickened, soiled, and finally betrayed.

Kate drew a deep breath. “Emily found out.”

Wes straightened for a moment. He’d been one of only two confidants who knew the sins of both candidates, other than the candidates themselves.

“About . . .” Wes paused and glanced around as if gauging the likelihood of being overheard. Even though no one was in sight, he kept his voice low. “About the ammunition you had? How?”

“I told her I’d stopped Talbot, but I refused to tell her how. I didn’t think she needed to know. So in the middle of the night, my best friend M sent one of her protégés to ‘borrow’ the report from me.”

“‘Protégés’?” Wes’s gaze narrowed. “Maia,” he said in a flat voice.

Kate nodded. “Our very own ingenue in training.” She stared across the vast ballroom, watching a piece of bunting as it slipped from the balcony railing and wafted gently to the floor. “Though apparently she’s more iron maiden than ingenue. Scruples don’t seem to concern her. I rip my heart out every day, trying to find the right balance between my Christian convictions and loyalty to my country and to my friends—especially Emily. I want to make a difference in the world, make people’s lives better. I don’t always like how I do it. Maia didn’t have a second thought when Emily asked her to steal the reports from me in the middle of the night. She made copies, then replaced the originals so I wouldn’t know. Then Emily had Maia contact Talbot with what you’d call a very thinly veiled threat.”

Wes read between the lines. “Destroying any hope of the campaign staying out of the gutter.”

“Yeah. But then came the weird part. It did—stay out of the gutter, I mean.” A shiver coursed up her spine and she crossed her arms in an effort to combat it. “Buttoned up tighter than Fort Knox. Maybe my way wasn’t effective enough. Maybe Emily’s decision to send him a second threat was the only real way to stop him.” A second tremor joined the first, and Kate knew it wasn’t because she was cold. “Maybe I was wrong. Or maybe I’m in the wrong business. Or maybe I’m simply overreacting.”

“Or maybe not.”

They took several more steps through the remains of the revelry before Kate stopped. She reached down and rescued a placard bearing Emily’s likeness.

“In any case, I don’t know . . .” She hated how her voice broke when she spoke. “I don’t know if I can stay. If I can continue working with her. She lied to me, stole from me. Maia actually expected me to be impressed by their cleverness. Emily knew better. But she set it up anyway.” She studied the picture plastered across the placard. Emily’s resolute smile looked effortless despite the fact it’d taken the photographer over two hours to capture the perfect expression.

“You have very high standards for your behavior.” Wes took a few more steps, then stopped, pivoting to face her, his hands jammed in his pockets. “Emily’s a lot more flexible; she’s a big proponent for ‘the end justifies the means.’ You know that. I know that. The question is, can you tolerate that? Jesus himself said, ‘Render unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s.’ But there have to be consequences when a person crosses the line. Nobody’s above the law, not even Emily—though she’d probably argue that point. The big question you have to answer here is what is the right thing for your faith and the right thing for the world. Think hard about that and then move forward. I’ll pray for you. I know it’s going to be a tough decision.”

Kate looked up from Emily’s compelling expression, the look in her eyes that said, You know you can trust me. “A decision I was hoping you’d help me make.”

To her utter surprise, Wes shook his head. “Nope.”


He raised his palm to stop her. “Hear me out. I’m always willing to offer advice, lend a hand or even a shoulder, but when it comes to something like this, you need to work with a higher authority.” He pointed upward.

Kate managed to conjure up a tight smile. “Somehow, I don’t think you mean President-Elect Benton in the penthouse suite.”

“Nope. A lot higher.”


They rode up the elevator in silence. It wasn’t until they reached the door to the suite, flanked by Secret Service agents, that Wes hesitated.

Kate fought the urge to say, “You’re going in with me, aren’t you?” She realized she needed to speak to Emily in private. If any of the campaign entourage still hung about, Kate would have to bide her time, smile, make nice with the natives, and wait for her chance after all the hoopla finally ended. It had been relatively easy to have the candidate’s ear in private, but getting the attention of the next president would be more complicated.

She practiced her smile on the two agents, whose names she needed to learn. Then she stopped herself.

Or maybe after tonight it wouldn’t matter.

“This is where I say good-bye.” Wes leaned over and kissed her forehead. “And good luck. Let me know what happens.”

“Thanks. I will,” she whispered. Drawing in a deep breath, Kate reached for the doorknob, but the agent on the right beat her to it.

“Allow me, Ms. Rosen.” He opened the door.

It was a testament to the construction of the hotel that she heard little in the way of sound from the suite until the door opened. Then a cacophony of laughter and voices met her, the celebration evidently still in full swing. The crowd had dwindled some, but an impressive number of folks still lingered, including several of Washington’s biggest power players, senior members of the party, a large assortment of Benton family members, and some of the key campaign staffers.

Kate didn’t see Emily at first but finally spotted her in a corner of the room, holding court. They made eye contact and Emily raised her hand as if saying, Over here and motioned Kate over. In response, Kate began to pick her way through the clusters of people. She was stopped every foot or so to be congratulated, hugged, and offered a drink.

She felt odd accepting the accolades, but she had no trouble waving off the libations. The last thing she needed was the muddle of alcohol. She could only hope that Emily had kept a clear head as well.

Before Kate could reach Emily’s position, she bumped into a rather solid male form. Before she could recover her balance, a hand grasped her elbow and she was hit in the face with a cloud of whiskey breath.

“Katie-girl!” Emily’s old family adviser Dozier Marsh pulled her into an awkward embrace. He might have looked like someone’s sainted grandfather, but it was as far from what he really was as the North Pole from Antarctica. He was the ultimate political fixer—a devious, dangerous old power broker with a fondness for hard liquor and Emily, though not always in that order. And right now, he was acting like a lecherous uncle.


“Where you been, darlin’?” he wheezed. “Hard to have a party without Emily’s right-hand gal!” He tried to swing her around. The move would have made them both fall over had the young aide standing next to him not reached up and steadied him.

“Sir, perhaps you’d rather sit,” the aide said.

Dozier gave Kate a grin and leaned heavily against his aide. “I suspect you’re right, Percy. The room is definitely leaning to one side.” He dropped heavily into the nearest chair, managing to spill two drinks that were abandoned on the nearby end table. He stared blearily at the mess. “Would you be a dear, Kate, and get me a couple of cocktail napkins so I can clean up behind my sorry, drunken self? I’d ask Perry here, but he’s playing a key role in supporting me.”

“Now, Dozier . . .” Emily’s voice knifed neatly through the chatter, instantly commanding the attention of the room. “You’re not asking the future White House chief of staff to be your fetch-it girl, are you?”

Dozier’s ruddy complexion deepened. “Of c-course not, Emily. . . . I mean . . .” He pulled awkwardly to his feet, away from his aide, and managed a small stiff bow without falling over. “Madam President.”

The room went silent, no one quite sure what direction Emily’s response might head next.

“I’ve never really liked being called ‘madam.’” After a tense millisecond, Emily allowed a smile to spread across her face. “But I guess I’ll get used to it, if president gets to follow.”

Dozier, freed from the sharp conversational hook on which he’d impaled himself, offered a weaker version of her smile and lifted the drink he’d never lost grip of. “Hear, hear.”

With the momentary tension broken, the room went back to its earlier state—celebrating people clustering in small discussion knots. Dozier’s aide, a young man whose name was neither Percy nor Perry but Zack, distracted Dozier with something shiny, giving Kate a chance to escape. Once again, Emily gestured for Kate to follow her and led to the bedroom portion of the suite.

Once the door was closed behind them, Emily gave her a warm hug. “I was starting to get worried about you.” She gave Kate a close scrutiny. “Honey, you look like the weight of the free world is still on your shoulders. But the campaign’s over. We won. You can afford to relax now.”

“No. I can’t.” Kate said. She bit her lip before her words started pouring out, uncontrolled and bitter. She wanted to be completely in control of her emotions before she confronted Emily.

Emily sighed, obviously ignorant of the battle brewing inside Kate. “I know. I feel the same way. Campaigning is hard work, but nothing compared to running a country.” She dropped to the bed. “If I allowed myself a chance to stop and think about what I’m taking on, I’d probably run out of this hotel screaming like the Madwoman of Chaillot.

“Remember when we went to New York on spring break back when we were in school? How we jumped on our beds at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and had a pillow fight? Mom was horrified, but Dad told me that he hoped I’d never get too old to bounce on the bed.”

“Yeah,” Kate said. Decades of memories came crashing down upon her. Room service, going to plays, Emily’s genuine pleasure at sharing the treat with her friend. The phrase had become an inside joke, a motto for that trip and later, the watchwords for those times when the responsibilities of law school—and beyond—threatened to drag them down.

When Nick and Emily got married, their gift to each bridesmaid included a sterling silver box engraved with that motto. Kate still had that box sitting in a place of honor on her dresser.

“Well?” The next president of the United States, the Honorable Emily Rousseau Benton, took off her shoes and took a few experimental bounces on the bed as if to test the bed’s recoil potential.

“Not today.” Kate tried to smile, desperately wanting to recapture that same sense of giddy accomplishment that Emily evidently felt. Kate had indeed expected to feel a sense of joyous triumph when thinking ahead to this day. But now her heart was too heavy, her mind too burdened with the difficult decision that lay ahead of her.

Emily stopped jumping, the bed undulating in her wake. “Why not?” she said. The confusion that initially filled her face dissolved into an expression that Kate couldn’t quite understand. Then it passed almost immediately to a tight, guarded smile. “You have a point. I need to be dignified. Somehow, I don’t think the White House curator is going to let anyone jump on the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom. Not you. Not even me.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

Emily locked eyes with her for a moment. Then she turned away, unable to hold the contact for long. A Benton never crumbled under pressure. A real Benton dodged it. The president-elect slid off the bed, pulled on her heels, and straightened her skirt. She didn’t meet Kate’s gaze.

“You’re right. We’re both exhausted. You’ve always dealt with exhaustion in different ways than I do. Why don’t you take off a—”

“I’m exhausted. But that’s not the problem. I’m confused. Angry. And I’m disappointed in you.” Kate’s heart took the extra beat it always did when she made the final decision to confront her best friend. “You didn’t need to send Maia to steal the files from me. You should have talked to me about it.”

“Oh.” Emily spoke in a low, even voice. “You found out about that?”

Kate nodded.

“I didn’t send her,” Emily said. “She did that on her own, trying to curry my favor.”

Kate didn’t know whom to believe. She knew Emily better than she knew herself in some ways. Emily was brilliant, capable, the best person imaginable to have around in an emergency. She was a born leader. But part of that leadership tool kit was that she would also stop at nothing when she wanted something. Of course, Maia was cut from the same cloth. Emily’s words were plausible. “So did the favor currying work?” She tried to keep any emotion out of her voice. “Did she make a big impression on you?”

“Yes, but it was a mixed bag. I thought Maia showed a remarkable amount of initiative, but I told her that she’d chosen the wrong person to cross.”

“But that didn’t stop you from reading the reports, did it?”

“Of course not. I’d have been a fool to lose that unexpected opportunity. I’m no fool. You know that.”

“Yes, I do. And I guess that’s why you instructed her to send the threatening e-mail to Talbot. Were you just taking advantage of another unexpected opportunity?”

“Sure. It seemed the wise thing to do at the moment. He was a loose cannon. He needed to be locked down.”

“And now? Are you still glad you did it?”

Emily collapsed on the bed, her ice queen facade shattered. A single tear trickled down her face, leaving a glistening trail through her perfect makeup. “No. I regret it more than you’ll ever know.” She bent her head, trying desperately to hide the additional tears, but a sob tore through her, making her shoulders shake.

Kate almost gaped at her friend. She’d seen Emily’s crocodile tears before. But they didn’t look anything like this. This was the real thing.

Real emotion. Real regret. . . .

Emily continued. “Mind you, I didn’t hate what I did to Charles Talbot. He’s a pariah, an abomination. A murderer. He should never have been able to get away with driving that car while drunk, and leaving that poor girl behind, still clinging to life, to take the rap for his actions. Had he gotten her help at the time of the accident, she might have survived the crash as something other than a vegetable. But no, he had to save face, run away, pretend nothing had happened. He left her to die in that car. It took hours for anyone to discover the wreck. Then he had the audacity to bribe and threaten people into giving him an alibi. He had to make everyone think she’d been the one driving while intoxicated, even if it killed her. He’s the lowest of scumbags. I won’t apologize for pricking whatever fragments he has left of his conscience. I’m pretty sure all I did was dent his enormously bloated and unconscionable pride.”

Emily’s flare of anger dissipated quickly, as if she suddenly felt guilty of failing to be remorseful for her own actions. Kate knew that, for Emily, anger was an emotion easier to understand and embrace than remorse. Especially when she felt that anger was righteous. Emily could move mountains when she had on a full load of righteous anger. Kate had seen her shame an entire state legislature into voting for health insurance for disadvantaged children, all because she’d vented her anger into a biting five-minute speech to them.

Kate gave her friend a steady stare. “What he did and what you did are separate issues. And you know it.”

“I’m sorry.” Emily’s voice dropped to a whisper. “You’re right. When Maia gave me those copies, I did exactly what you were afraid I was going to do.” She looked up, naked emotion filling her face, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I allowed my need for revenge to overwhelm my sense of honor. I’m so sorry.” She stood, her arms at her side. Her voice broke in a show of raw emotion that Kate had never seen from her before.

“Kate, can you forgive me?”

Kate felt tears forming in her own eyes.

Could she forgive Emily? Of course she could. Christ was clear on the responsibility to forgive a repentant sinner. Kate could do no less.

But could she trust Emily enough to continue working for her? That was another question entirely.

For now, she reached over and hugged her friend. The two of them cried together for what seemed like hours.

But the big question—whether Kate would stay on after this—hung over them. No matter how often Emily asked it, Kate refused to answer.

Finally Emily said, “Take some time, go home, cool off, and then we’ll talk.”

As was often the case, Emily was right.

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