Sunday, December 21, 2008


It's the 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour! This is the very last Teen FIRST tour as Teen FIRST has merged with FIRST Wild Card Tours. If you wish to learn more about FIRST Wild Card, please go HERE.




and his book:



Amg Publishers (January 22, 2007)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Mike Hamel is a seasoned storyteller who has honed his skill over theyears by telling tall tales to his four children. He is the author of several non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles.

Mike and his wife, Susan, live in Colorado Springs, CO. Their four children are now grown and their two grand children will soon be old enough for stories of their own.

From His Blog's About Me:

I am a professional writer with sixteen books to my credit, including a trilogy of titles dealing with faith and business: The Entrepreneur’s Creed (Broadman, 2001), Executive Influence (NavPress, 2003), and Giving Back (NavPress, 2003). I also edited Serving Two Masters: Reflections on God and Profit, by Bill Pollard (Collins, 2006).


My most enjoyable project to date has been an eight-volume juvenile fiction series called Matterhorn the Brave. It’s based on variegated yarns I used to spin for my four children. They are now grown and my two grandchildren will soon be old enough for stories of their own.

I live in Colorado Springs, Colorado with my bride of 34 years, Susan.

As you read this blog, remember that I’m a professional. Don’t try this level of writing at home. You might suffer a dangling participle or accidentally split an infinitive and the grammarians will be all over you like shoe salesmen on a centipede.

BTW – I have been diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma, an aggressive but treatable form of cancer.


Mike's Blog, Cells Behaving Badly, is an online diary about Wrestling with Lymphoma Cancer.

To order a signed edition of any of the 6 Matterhorn the Brave books, please visit the Matterhorn the Brave Website!

Product Details

List Price: 9.99
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 181 pages
Publisher: Amg Publishers (January 22, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0899578330
ISBN-13: 978-0899578330


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Emerald Isle


Aaron the Baron hit the ground like a paratrooper, bending his knees, keeping his balance.

Matterhorn landed like a 210-pound sack of dirt.

His stomach arrived a few seconds later.

He straightened his six-foot-four frame into a sitting position. In the noonday sun he saw they were near the edge of a sloping meadow. The velvet grass was dotted with purple and yellow flowers. Azaleas bloomed in rainbows around the green expanse. The black-faced sheep mowing the far end of the field paid no attention to the new arrivals.

“Are you okay?” the Baron asked. He looked as if he’d just stepped out of a Marines’ recruiting poster. “We’ll have to work on your landing technique.”

“How about warning me when we’re going somewhere,” Matterhorn grumbled.

The Baron helped him up and checked his pack to make sure nothing was damaged. He scanned the landscape in all directions from beneath the brim of his red corduroy baseball cap. “It makes no difference which way we go,” he said at last. “The horses will find us.”

“What horses?”

“The horses that will take us to the one we came to see,” the Baron answered.

“Are you always this vague or do you just not know what you’re doing?”

“I don’t know much, but I suspect this is somebody’s field. We don’t want to be caught trespassing. Let’s go.”

They left the meadow, walking single file through the tall azaleas up a narrow valley. Thorny bushes with loud yellow blossoms crowded the trail next to a clear brook. Pushing one of the prickly plants away, Matterhorn asked, “Do you know what these are?”

“Gorse, of course,” the Baron said without turning.

“Never heard of it.”

“Then I guess you haven’t been to Ireland before.”

“Ireland,” Matterhorn repeated. “My great-grandfather came from Ireland.”

“Your great-grandfather won’t be born for centuries yet.”

Matterhorn stepped over a tangle of exposed roots and said, “What do you mean?”

“I mean we’re in medieval Ireland, not modern Ireland.”

“How can that be!” Matterhorn cried, stopping in his tracks. “How can I be alive before my great-grandfather?”

The Baron shrugged. “That’s one of the paradoxes of time travel. No one’s been able to figure them all out. You’re welcome to try, but while you’re at it, keep a lookout for the horses.”

Matterhorn soon gave up on paradoxes and became absorbed in the paradise around him. The colors were so alive they hurt his eyes. He wished for a pair of sunglasses. Above the garish gorse he saw broom bushes and pine trees growing to the ridge where spectacular golden oaks crowned the slopes. Birdsongs whistled from their massive branches into the warm air. Small animals whispered in the underbrush while larger game watched the strangers from a distance.

The country flattened out and, at times, they glimpsed stone houses over the tops of hedgerows. They steered clear of these and any other signs of civilization. In a few hours, they reached the spring that fed the brook they had been following. They stopped to rest and wash up.

That’s where the horses found them.

There were five strikingly handsome animals. The leader of the pack was from ancient and noble stock. He stood a proud seventeen hands high—five-foot-eight-inches—at the shoulders. He had a classic Roman face with a white star on his wide forehead that matched the white socks on his forelegs. His straight back, sturdy body, and broad hindquarters suggested both power and speed. A rich coppery mane and tail complemented his sleek, chestnut coat.

The Baron held out an apple to the magnificent animal, but the horse showed no interest in the fruit or the man. Neither did the second horse. The third, a dappled stallion, took the apple and let the Baron pet his nose.

“These horses are free,” the Baron said as he stroked the stallion’s neck. “They choose their riders, which is as it should be. Grab an apple and find your mount.”

While Matterhorn searched for some fruit, the leader sauntered over and tried to stick his big nose into Matterhorn’s pack. When Matterhorn produced an apple, the horse pushed it aside and kept sniffing.

Did he want carrots, Matterhorn wondered? How about the peanut butter sandwich? Not until he produced a pocket-size Snickers bar did the horse whinny and nod his approval.

The Baron chuckled as Matterhorn peeled the bar and watched it disappear in a loud slurp. “That one’s got a sweet tooth,” he said.

The three other horses wandered off while the Baron and Matterhorn figured out how to secure their packs to the two that remained. “I take it we’re riding without saddles or bridles,” Matterhorn said. This made him nervous, as he had been on horseback only once before.

“Bridles aren’t necessary,” Aaron the Baron explained. “Just hold on to his mane and stay centered.” He boosted Matterhorn onto his mount. “The horses have been sent for us. They’ll make sure we get where we need to go.”

As they set off, Matterhorn grabbed two handfuls of long mane from the crest of the horse’s neck. He relaxed when he realized the horse was carrying him as carefully as if a carton of eggs was balanced on his back. Sitting upright, he patted the animal’s neck. “Hey, Baron; check out this birthmark.” He rubbed a dark knot of tufted hair on the chestnut’s right shoulder. “It looks like a piece of broccoli. I’m going to call him Broc.”

“Call him what you want,” the Baron said, “but you can’t name him. The Maker gives the animals their names. A name is like a label; it tells you what’s on the inside. Only the Maker knows that.”

Much later, and miles farther into the gentle hills, they made camp in a lea near a tangle of beech trees. “You get some wood,” Aaron the Baron said, “while I make a fire pit.” He loosened a piece of hollow tubing from the side of his pack and gave it a sharp twirl. Two flanges unrolled outward and clicked into place to form the blade of a short spade. Next, he pulled off the top section and stuck it back on at a ninety-degree angle to make a handle.

Matterhorn whistled. “Cool!”

“Cool is what we’ll be if you don’t get going.”

Matterhorn hurried into the forest. He was thankful to be alone for the first time since becoming an adult, something that happened in an instant earlier that day. Seizing a branch, he did a dozen chin-ups; then dropped and did fifty push-ups and a hundred sit-ups.

Afterward he rested against a tree trunk and encircled his right thigh with both hands. His fingertips didn’t touch. Reaching farther down, he squeezed a rock-hard calf muscle.

All this bulk was new to him, yet it didn’t feel strange. This was his body, grown up and fully developed. Flesh of his flesh; bone of his bone. Even hair of his hair, he thought, as he combed his fingers through the thick red ponytail.

He took the Sword hilt from his hip. The diamond blade extended and caught the late afternoon sun in a dazzling flash. This mysterious weapon was the reason he was looking for firewood in an Irish forest instead of sitting in the library at David R. Sanford Middle School.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Dark Pursuit by Brandilyn Collins

I probably do 5% of the reading I used to, which is sad. There are so many delightful books sitting on my shelves just begging to be read. Dark Pursuit by Brandilyn Collins is one of them.

Brandilyn is a master of suspense, and I've posted about her books many times on this blog, in addition to writing reviews. So I'll let my previous words speak, and you can decided whether her newest thrill ride is for you.

Hidden Faces series:
Brink of Death

Stain of Guilt
Dead of Night and Web of Lies

Kanner Lake series:
Violet Dawn
Coral Moon
Crimson Eve
Amber Morn

Monday, December 01, 2008

FIRST: Leave It to Chance by Sherri Sand



It is time for the FIRST Blog Tour! On the FIRST day of every month we feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!






The feature author is:



and his/her book:


Leave it to Chance
David C. Cook (May 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sherri Sand is a wife and mother of four young children who keep her scrambling to stay ahead of the spilled milk. When she needs stress relief from wearing all the hats required to clothe, feed and ferry her rambunctious brood, you may find her sitting in a quiet corner of a bistro reading a book (surrounded by chocolate), or running on one of the many trails near her home. Sherri is a member of The Writer’s View and American Christian Fiction Writers. She finds the most joy in writing when the characters take on a life of their own and she becomes the recorder of their stories. She holds a degree in psychology from the University of Oregon where she graduated cum laude. Sherri and her family live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

She's also a blogger! So stop by and say hi to Sherri at Creations in the Sand!

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 353 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook (May 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434799883
ISBN-13: 978-1434799883


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


“A horse? Mom, what am I going to do with a horse?” Just what she and the kids did not need. Sierra Montgomery sagged back against her old kitchen counter, where afternoon sunlight dappled the white metal cabinets across from her. She pressed the phone tight against her ear, hoping she’d heard wrong, as her four-year-old son, Trevor, ate grapes at the kitchen table.

“Miss Libby wanted you to have it. I’d think you’d be delighted, what with the kids and all. You remember Sally, Miss Libby’s daughter? Well, she just called and said it was all laid out in the will. None of their family could figure out who Sierra Lassiter Montgomery was until Sally remembered me from her mom’s church. So she called and sure enough, you were my daughter.” Sierra’s mom tsked into the phone. “Well, you know how Sally is.”

Sierra hadn’t the foggiest how Sally was, or even who she was. She barely remembered Miss Libby from her Sunday school class eons ago.

“She acted pleased that her mother gave you the horse, but I could tell she was miffed. Though what Sally Owens would do with a horse, I’d like to know.” Her mom’s voice was tight and controlled as if they were discussing how to deal with black spot on her Old English roses.

“But I don’t want a horse. You, of all people, should know that after what happened when—” How could her mom even suggest she get a horse? Painful pictures of her childhood friend Molly floated through her mind.

“Honey, accidents like that don’t happen more than once in a lifetime. Besides, Miss Libby wouldn’t have owned a crazy horse.”

Sierra stared out the window where the school bus would soon release her most precious treasures. Her mom never had understood the resounding impact that summer day had made in her life.

“You really need to think of the kids and how much fun they’d have. It’s not like you’d ever be able to afford to buy them one.”

Sierra wished she were having this conversation with Elise rather than her mother. Her best friend would understand the danger she feared in horses, and in her humorous way come up with a sensible plan that would include not keeping the animal.

Her mom, on the other hand, lived life as if she were on one of those moving conveyors at the airport that people can step on to rest their feet yet keep moving toward their destination. As long as everyone kept traveling forward, she could ignore the emotional baggage dragging behind.

“I don’t understand why Miss Libby would give the horse to me.”

“You know how my bingo club visited the Somerset rest home every week? Well, Miss Libby’s been there for years and she always did comment on how horse crazy you were when she taught your Sunday school class.”

“Mom, that was a phase I went through when I was ten and found National Velvet and Black Beauty at the library. I haven’t seen Miss Libby since middle school.”

“Obviously you were special to Miss Libby. I’d think you might be a little more grateful.”

Deep breath, Sierra told herself. “I am grateful.” An errant grape rolled next to her toe. Trevor’s blond head was bent, intent on arranging the fruit like green soldiers around the edge of his plate. Sierra tossed the grape into the sink and considered how to respond to her mom. She was a dear, but sometimes the woman was like dry kindling on a hot day, and one little spark…. “I’m just not sure that owning a horse would be a wise move at this point in our lives.”

The front door slammed and Sierra felt the walls shudder with the thud. The 3:00 p.m. stampede through the house meant it was time to get off the phone and determine how to get rid of a horse before the kids found out about it.

Her mom sighed. “It’s too bad Sally won’t keep the horse at her place for you, but she said her husband wants the horse gone. He wants to fill the pasture with sheep.”

Sheep? A kitchen chair scraped over the linoleum as Trevor scooted back from the table and dashed for the living room. “Mommy’s got a horse! Mommy’s got a horse!” Wonderful. Little ears, big mouth.

Braden and Emory shot into the kitchen, bright eyes dancing in tandem. Their words tangled together in fevered excitement despite the fact that she was on the phone.

“Where is it?” Braden’s eleven-year-old grin split his face, and his dark hair was rumpled and sweat streaked, likely from a fevered game of basketball during last recess.

She held a hand up to still the questions as her mom went on about the sheep that Sally’s husband probably did not need.

“We have a horse?” Nine-year-old Emory, her blonde hair still neat in its purple headband, fluttered in front of her mom, delight and hope blooming on her face.

Despite the fear of horses building deep in Sierra’s gut, her children’s excitement was a little contagious. She wished Miss Libby had willed her a cat.

Sierra ran her hand down Emory’s soft cheek and whispered. “I’ll be off the phone in a minute, sweetie.”

“Can we ride it?” Em looked at her with elated eyes.

Braden tossed his backpack on the table. “Where are we going to keep it?”

The kids circled her, jabbering with excited questions. Sierra rubbed her forehead with the tips of her fingers. “I gotta go, Mom. I’ve got to break some cowboy hearts.”

The kids clamored around her, Braden taking the lead with an arm draped across her shoulder. When had he gotten so big? “Do we have a horse, Mom?” He asked the question with a lopsided grin, a foreshadow of the adolescence that had been peeking through lately. The preteen in him didn’t truly believe they had a horse—he was old enough to realize the odds—but little-boy eagerness clung to his smile.

“That would be yes and a no.”

“What? Mom!” he complained.

“I was given a horse, but we’re not going to keep him.” Braden’s arm slid off her shoulder, a scowl replacing his smile. “Why not?”

“Someone gave you a horse?” Emory ignored her brother’s attitude and flashed her most persuasive grin. “Can we keep him? Please!”

Sierra smoothed her hand over the silky hair and leaned close to her daughter’s face as Emory went on. “I think we should get four horses so we each have one. We could go trail riding. Cameron’s mom has horses, and they go riding all the time as a family.”

“We’re not a family anymore,” Braden cut in. “We stopped being a family when mom divorced dad.”

A shard of pain drove into Sierra’s gut. She hadn’t had time to brace for that one. Braden’s anger at the divorce had been building like an old steam engine lately.

“That’s not fair!” Outrage darkened Emory’s features. “It’s not Mom’s fault!”

Sarcasm colored Braden’s voice. “Oh, so it’s all Dad’s fault?”

Sierra saw the confusion that swept over her daughter’s face. She was fiercely loyal to both parents and didn’t know how to defend them against each other.

Sierra spoke in a firm tone. “Braden, that’s enough!”

He scowled at her again. “Whatever.”

Sierra held his gaze until he glanced away.

“Guys, we’re not going to play the blame game. We have plenty to be thankful for, and that’s what is important.”

Braden’s attitude kept pouring it on. “Boy, and we have so much. Spaghetti for dinner every other night.”

“So what, Braden-Maden!” Emory made a face and stuck her tongue out at him.

“No more fighting or you two can go to your rooms.” Her kids were not perfect, but they used to like each other. Something had changed. Her gut said it was her ex-husband, Michael, but what if she was falling into the whole “blame the dad” thing herself? What if she was really the problem? Two weeks without a job had added stress and worry. Had she stopped hugging them as often in between scouring the want ads and trying to manage a home and bills?

“Mom?” There was a quaver in Trevor’s soft voice.

“Yes, honey?” Sierra gave him a gentle smile.

“Can we keep the horse?”

Emory’s blue gaze darted to meet hers, a plea in them. Braden sat with his arms crossed over his chest, but his ears had pricked up.

Sierra looked at them, wanting them to understand and knowing they wouldn’t. “None of us know how to handle or care for a horse, so it wouldn’t be safe to keep him.”

Emory’s face lit up. “Cameron’s mom could teach us.”

“Honey, it’s not that simple. We can’t afford an animal that big. He probably eats as much in groceries as we do, and it would be very expensive to rent a place for him to live.”

“I could mow yards.” Anger at his sister forgotten, Braden turned a hopeful face to her. “We could help out.”

Emory jumped onto the working bandwagon. “Yeah. I could do laundry or something for the neighbors.”

Braden drilled his sister a look that said idiot idea but didn’t say anything.

Trevor bounced in his chair, eager to be a part of keeping the horse. “I could wash cars.”

“Those are great ideas, but they won’t bring in quite enough, especially since it’s getting too cold to mow lawns or wash cars.”

“You just don’t want to keep the horse, Mom,” Braden said. “I get it. End of story.”

“Honey, I’d love for you to have a horse, but when I was young I had a friend—”

Emory spoke in a helpful tone. “We know. Grandma told us about the accident.”

They knew? Wasn’t the story hers to share? “When did Grandma tell you?”

Braden’s voice took on a breezy air. “I don’t know. A while ago. Come on, Mom. We’re not going to do something dumb like your friend did.”

Defensiveness rose inside. “She didn’t do anything dumb. It was the horse that—”

“So because something bad happened to one person, your kids can never do anything fun for the rest of their lives.”

Sierra gave him a look. “Or you learn from your mistakes and help your kids to do the same.”

Braden rolled his eyes at her.

Worry drew lines across her daughter’s forehead. “Are you going to sell him?”

“Yes, Em. So we’re not going to discuss this anymore. You and Braden have homework to do.” At the chorus of groans she held her hands up. “Okay, I guess I’ll have to eat Grandma’s apple pie all by myself.”

Braden grabbed his backpack and slowly dragged it across the floor toward the stairs, annoyance in his voice. “We’re going.” Emory trotted past him up the stairs.

Trevor remained behind, one arm wrapped around her thigh. “I don’t have any homework.”

She squatted and pulled him in for a hug. “Nope, you sure don’t, bud.”

He leaned back. “Do I get a horse?”

Sierra distracted him by inching her fingers up his ribs. “What, Trev?”

He tried to talk around his giggles. “Do I get—Mom!” Her fingers found the tickle spots under his arms and he laughed, his eyes squinted shut and mouth opened wide. She found all his giggle spots, then turned on Sesame Street as the second distraction. Good old Bert and Ernie.

Now what? She had roughly forty-five minutes to figure out how she was going to get rid of a horse and not be a complete zero in her kids’ eyes.

She eyed the phone and made her next move. Five minutes later a white Mazda whipped into her driveway. Sierra hurried out the front door waving her arms to stop Elise before she could start her ritual honking for the kids.

Wide eyed, her platinum blonde friend stared, one long plum-colored nail hovering above the “ooga” horn on the dash. “What?”

“I don’t want the kids to know you’re here.”

Wicked delight spread across her perfectly made-up face. Light plum shadow matched her nails. Tomorrow, both eye shadow and nails could be green. “Let me guess! Mr. Pellum asked you out!”

“Nooooo!” Mr. Pellum was a teacher Sierra and Elise had had a crush on in seventh grade.

“Ummm … you robbed a bank and need me to watch the kids while you fly to Tahiti?”

Sierra gave her a mock-serious look. “Done?”

Elise tilted her head. “Can I get out of the car?”

Sierra glanced toward the house. All was still silent. “Yes, you may.”

Deadpan, Elise nodded and opened the door. “Then I’m done for now.” Her plump body, swathed in a creamy suit with a purple scarf draped across one shoulder, rose gracefully from the small two-seater.

Sierra closed the door for her, then leaned against it. Elise had a way of removing the extraneous and reducing a problem down to the bare essentials. “Elise, I’m in a predicament.”

“Hon, I’ve been trying to tell you that for years.”

Sierra shook her head. “I don’t think you could have seen this one coming even with your crystal ball.”

Elise gave her the spinster teacher look through narrowed eyes. “I don’t think I like the implications of that.”

Sierra held her hands out. “You are the queen of mind-reading, according to my children.”

Elise chuckled. “It’s a good thing I was just headed out for a latte break when you called. Now what’s the big emergency?” She owned a high-end clothing store for plus-sized women in downtown Eugene.

“A horse.”

Elise glanced around as if one or two might be lurking behind a tree.

“A herd of them or just one?”

“One. Full-sized. Living and breathing.”

“I believe I’m missing some pieces here. Is it moving in with you? Holding one of the children hostage? What?”

Sierra breathed out a slight chuckle and tucked a stray hair behind her ear. “You’re not going to believe this, but I inherited it.”

Her friend’s eyes grew wide, emphasizing the lushly mascaraed lashes. “Like someone died and gave you their horse?”

Sierra nodded, raising her brows. “And the kids want to keep him.”

Furrows emerged across Elise’s forehead. “Who is the idiot that told them about the horse?”

Sierra tilted her head with a look that only best friends could give each other.

Elise’s perfectly painted lips smirked. “Moving along, then. Why don’t you keep it? The kids would love it. Heaven knows they deserve it.” She clapped her hands together. “Oh, oh! They could get into 4-H, and Braden could learn to barrel race. That kid would think he’d won the jackpot. Emory and Trevor could get a pig or some of those show roosters.”

Sierra let the idea machine wind down. “I don’t think so.”

“Angora rabbits?”

“No farm animals.”

Elise’s mouth perked into humorous pout. “Sierra, you’re such a spoilsport. Those kids need a pet.”

“A hamster is a pet. A horse is not.”

Diva Elise took the stage, hands on her ample hips. “Don’t tell me you didn’t want a horse growing up. Remember, I was the one who had to sit and watch National Velvet with you time ad nauseam. You’ve said yourself that Braden needs something to take his mind off the problems he’s having at school and with his dad.”

Guilt, a wheelbarrow load of it, dumped on Sierra. “You are supposed to be helping me, Elise, not making it worse. I want to get rid of this horse and …” her eyes dodged away from her friend, “… you know.”

“Mmm-hmm. And still look like Super Mom in your children’s eyes.”

Sierra nodded, but couldn’t find the nerve to say yes.

“Sierra Montgomery, those children have been to heck and back in the last couple years and you’re willing to deny them the pleasure of owning their own free horse because … because of what?”

Sierra stared at the ground for a moment, feeling a tangle of emotions rise within. She let her eyes rest on Elise’s and said quietly, “Fear? Terror? Hysteria?”

A look of puzzlement, then understanding settled on Elise’s face, smoothing away the annoyance. “Molly.”

Sierra nodded. “I won’t put my children in that kind of danger.”

Elise leaned forward and grabbed Sierra’s hands, holding them tight. “Oh, hon. That was a long time ago. Don’t let your life be ruled by the what-ifs. There’s a lot of living left to do. And your kids need to see you taking life by storm, taking chances, not hiding in the shadows.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You were voted most likely to parachute off the Empire State Building.”

Elise gave her a cheeky grin, both dimples winking at her. “We could do it tandem!”

“If you see me jump off the Empire State Building you’ll know my lobotomy was successful, because there is no way in this lifetime you’ll catch this body leaving good sense behind!” Sierra heard the words come from her own mouth and stared at her friend in wonder. “Oh, my gosh. That was so my mom.”

“It was bound to happen, hon.”

Was she serious? “You think I’m turning into her?” Sierra brought a hand to her throat and quickly dropped it. How many times had she seen her mom use the same gesture?

Elise laughed. “You need to stop fretting and just live. We all turn out like our mothers in some respect.”

“All except you. You’re nothing like Vivian.”

“Other than the drinking, smoking, and carousing, I’m exactly like her.”

Sierra lifted a brow. Her mom had rarely let her go to Elise’s house when they were growing up—and for good reason. Elise struck a pose like a fashion model. “Okay, I’m the anti-Vivian.” She gave Sierra a soft smile. “All funnin’ aside, I really think you should keep the horse.”

“I’m not keeping the horse. And even if I wanted to, I couldn’t.” Sierra took a settling breath and stared at the tree over Elise’s shoulder.

“Michael still hasn’t paid?”

Elise knew more about her finances than her mom did. “He paid, but the check bounced again. So now he’s two months behind in child support.”

“Have you heard if Pollan’s is rehiring?”

“They’re not.” Jarrett’s, the local grocery store where she worked for the three years since the divorce had been recently bought out by Pollan’s. They had laid off the majority of the checkers with the possibility of rehiring some.

Elise cringed as if she was bracing herself for a blow. “And the unemployment fiasco?”

Sierra shut her eyes. “Mr. Jarrett did not pay into our unemployment insurance, so there is no benefit for us to draw from. Yes, it was illegal, and yes he will pay, but it may take months, if not years, for various lawyers and judges to beat it out of him.” She gave Elise a tired smile. “That’s the version minus all the legalese.”

“So the layoffs are final, no unemployment bennies, and you’re out of a job.”

“Momentarily. The résumé has been dusted off and polished.” She gave a wry grin.

“I wish I could hire you at Deluxe Couture, but I promised Nora fulltime work. And besides, your cute little buns would drive my clientele away.”

Sierra waved a hand over her jeans and sweatshirt. “Your clientele would outshine me any day.”

“You sell yourself far too short.” Elise glanced at the hefty rhinestone encrusted watch on her wrist. “Anything else I can do for you? Help the kids with their homework? Babysit while you sweep some tall, dark, handsome man off his feet?”

Sierra laughed. “And where is this dream man going to come from?”

Elise gave a breezy wave of her hand and opened the car door. “Oh, he’ll turn up. You’re too cute to stay single. I actually have someone in mind. Pavo Marcello. He’s a new sales rep from one of my favorite lines. I’ll see if he’s free Friday night. You aren’t doing anything, are you?”

“Hold on!” Sierra stepped in front of the car door to keep her friend from leaving. “First, I’m not looking. Second, given my history, I’m not the best judge of character. I’ve already struck out once in the man department.” She pointed to her face with both index fingers. “Not anxious to try again. Third, you just told me I’m turning into my mom, which makes me definitely not dating material.”

A twist of Elise’s lips signaled a thought. “You know, now that I think about it, I believe he has a boyfriend.” She shook her head and lowered herself into the car. “We’ll keep looking. I’m sure Sir Knight will turn up.”

Sierra shut the car door and grinned down at her friend. “And what about finding your knight?”

Elise gave her a bright smile. “Mr. Pellum is already taken. You really need to find a way to keep that horse; it’ll be your first noble sacrifice.”

“First?”

The little car backed up, and Elise spoke over the windshield. “The others don’t count.”

Sierra stared at the retreating car. There was no way she was keeping that horse.



After dinner, Sierra crept into Braden’s room. He sat on the bed intent on the Game Boy in his lap, the tinny sound of hard rock bleeding out of his earphones. She waved a hand and he glanced up. She waited and with a look of preteen exasperation he finally pulled the headphones to his shoulders.

“What, Mom?”

“I just wanted to say good night.”

“Good night.” His hands started to readjust the music back into position.

“I looked at your homework.”

“You got into my backpack? Isn’t that like against the law or something? You’re always telling us not to get into your stuff.”

She crossed her arms. Frustration and worry gnawed at her. “You lied to me about doing your assignment. Why, honey?”

He ignored her and started playing his Game Boy.

She took one step and snatched the game from his hands.

“Hey!”

“I want some respect when I talk to you, Braden.”

His chin sank toward his chest, his gaze fixed on his bed, his voice low. “I didn’t want to do it.”

She sat next to him, her voice soft. “Is it too hard?”

He shrugged. “It gives me a headache when I work on it.”

“Braden, if you need help, I’d be happy to work with you after school.”

He stared at his knees and picked at a loose string of cotton on his pajama bottoms.

“I got a phone call from Mrs. Hamison today.”

His body came alert, though he didn’t look at her.

“She said you’re flunking most of your subjects, and she hasn’t seen any homework from you since school started a month ago.”

He glanced up, his jaw belligerent, but with fear in his eyes.

“What’s going on? I know school isn’t easy, but you’ve never given up before.”

“Middle school’s harder.”

She wanted to touch him, to brush the hair off his forehead and snuggle him close the way she used to when he was small. Back when a hug and a treat shared over the kitchen table was enough to bring the sparkle back to her son. “She thinks we should have your vision tested.”

“Why?”

“She’s noticed some things in class and thinks it might be helpful.”

He shrugged again. “Can I have my game back?”

“You lied to me, son. Again.”

“Sor-ry.”

“You break trust every time you choose to be dishonest. Is that what you want?”

His voice was sullen and he stared at his comforter. “No.”

She touched his leg. “What’s bothering you, honey?”

“I dunno. Can I have my game back?”

She stood up. There was a time for talking and this obviously wasn’t it. “You can have it tomorrow.”

But would tomorrow be any different?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

CSFF: Shade by John Olson

This week the Christian Science Fiction Fantasy tour is featuring Shade by John Olson. I honestly forgot about this tour. It was a crazy weekend, and this week hasn't let up yet. I haven't read Shade, but based on John Olson's other writing, I plan to.

From the back cover:

"You will not fear the terror of the night." —Psalm 91

A monstrous waking nightmare is pursuing graduate student Hailey Maniates across San Francisco to Golden Gate Park where she is rescued by a towering homeless man. She seems able to read her rescuer’s mind, but is it just a delusion? Doctors diagnose her as a paranoid schizophrenic and attempt to prescribe away her alleged hallucinations. But too many questions remain around Hailey and the man who saved her. He appears to suffer from her same mental condition and is convinced that some type of Gypsy vampire is trying to kill them both.

Against reason, Hailey finds herself more and more attracted to this strange man. But what if he is a fantasy? What if he is the monster?

Endorsements:

"From its stunning first scene to its heartwarming last, Shade is a striking tale of mystery and danger that kept me hooked. This is Olson’s finest work yet, and reading it, one gets the feeling he’s just getting warmed up."

Robin Parrish, author of Relentless and Merciless

"
Unseen enemies. Questioned sanity. The weighing of reality. All the things I like in a book! The shadows are not silent. I lost sleep over this book. I got goose bumps from this book. The kind of scary that you crave and cringe at, Shade offers up a monster made more frightening by its originality. Thanks a lot, John Olson--because of you, I will not walk alone at night for a long time to come."

Tosca Lee, author of Demon: A Memoir and Havah: The Story of Eve

"
John B. Olson is a seasoned storyteller, and Shade is quite a story! As the heat turns up, and as menacing tones and brooding characters abound, the theme of God's grace boils to the surface. A few years back, Olson gave us a new twist on Jekyll & Hyde; now he puts his own fast-paced spin on the Dracula story. I can only hope there's a sequel in the works!"

Eric Wilson, author of Field of Blood and A Shred of Truth

"
Shade is a smart, gripping thriller. John B. Olson whips you along in a breakneck odyssey through a hellish paradise lost--and keeps you up all night doing it."

Melanie Wells, author of My Soul to Keep and When the Day of Evil Comes"Things that go bump in the night are not all figments of overwrought imaginations or evidence of mental illness. As our heroine discovers, evil personified preys on the ignorance of its victims. Lock your doors and windows, leave the lights on, and hunker down for a splendid, spine-chilling read."Donita K. Paul, author of the DragonKeeper Chronicles

Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Todd Michael Greene
Joleen Howell
Jason Isbell
Jason Joyner
Kait
Magma
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

League of Superheroes by Stephen Leon Rice



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

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






Today's Wild Card author is:




and the book:



League of Superheroes

Writers Cafe Press, The (October 1, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Stephen Leon Rice is a Christian writer of science fiction and fantasy. He
has three short stories in Light at the Edge of Darkness, an anthology
of Biblical speculative fiction (2007). The three stories reflect his interests:
speculative theology, language, philosophy, and bad jokes. He has
a B.A. in Linguistics and Foreign Languages and an M.A. in English
(Professional Writing and Editing). He works as a freelance journalist,
writer and editor, and he is fond of old books and early Christian thinking.
He also belongs to several writing groups and is known for swift,
accurate edits and critiques. His work emphasizes the need to rely on
God rather than on ourselves and models a Christian worldview.

Visit Stephen Rice's blog: Back to the Mountains and his League of Superheroes Series wiki at ansric.pbwiki.com.

Product Details:

List Price: $ 9.95
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Writers Cafe Press, The (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 193428405X
ISBN-13: 978-1934284056

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



It was Allen’s sister Clarice who found the genie that turned the Mad Scientists into superheroes. It wasn’t like it was a stroke of genius or anything, though. At the time we figured it was just dumb luck. Of course, Charlie said different, but he always had to be cosmic about stuff.

Now, if our parents were normal, none of the rest of us—Charlie, Rod, and I—would have been at Allen and Clarice’s house, but our parents seemed to think that if we were going to have a club meeting, we should all be in the same room, not running it over the Net. It’s not like they were all Neandertals or anything; they used the Net as much as we did. But they thought biking over to Allen’s house would build character. Some parents are like that.

It wasn’t a surprise when Clarice burst in on our Mad Scientists meeting—she always found some excuse—but when she said she wanted Allen to override the parental controls for her chat room, well, that was a new one. Allen just looked at her the way he usually did whenever she asked him to delete her name from the school records so she wouldn’t have to go, but this time she wasn’t taking no for an answer. It didn’t stop him from trying.

“Look,” he said, “even if I wanted to change the settings, the main security is at the Web site itself. I’d have to hack their system, and that would probably be a crime. Besides, why do you want to shut off security anyway?”

“There’s a girl who wants to know my real name. She’s really nice, but she’s kind of sad, too. I’d like to cheer her up.”

Houston, we have liftoff, I thought. But this was Allen Peters, not the more obnoxious Rod Davies, and he had almost as much patience as Charlie. So he just sighed and shook his head. But I think we were all wondering what kind of scam Clarice had run into. The police or even the FBI might get involved, and we might get a reward if the guy in the chat room was a real prize. Clarice couldn’t understand that, of course; she was just a kid. So when Rod suggested finding out who the guy really was, she didn’t take it quietly.

“She’s not a guy,” she said. “Her name is Genie. Her handle is Pandora, and there’s some tagline like ‘out of the box.’ She’s real nice.”

“If she was a genie, she’d be out of the lamp,” Rod pointed out. He could be annoying that way, but we didn’t mind as long as he was doing it to her. Actually, I thought about asking if the genie had light brown hair, but then Clarice would have asked why, and I wouldn’t have known, and then I would’ve had to grow old listening to her keep asking why. It wasn’t worth it.

“Look,” Allen said with brotherly condescension, “don’t you remember what Mom and Dad told you about stuff like this? Don’t they pound it into you at school? You never give someone in a chat room your actual name, address, or anything else they can track you with. And Rod’s right, for once: you don’t even know if this ‘Genie’ is a girl. You might be talking with some dirty old man somewhere.”

“Kidchat checks every member,” Clarice protested. “You can’t even join without proving you’re a kid, so it’s safe.”

“Okay, so he’s a dirty old man with a little girl to help him get into places that are kids only.”

“Are you going to look, or just keep lecturing me?”

We all knew that tone. The next step was a full-blown tantrum, and if their folks came in at the wrong moment—which they usually did—we’d all be nailed for child abuse. So we trooped off to her room and had a look.

To begin with, whoever ran the site was sick. People who do kids’ sites are always either edgy or cute, and this guy was trying to do both, which meant that it combined the nausea of cuteness with the speed of attitude. If it was a dirty old man on the other end, he had to be desperate in every sense.

But anyway, there was an anime-type, big-eyed cartoon girl looking out of a cowl. She had a concerned look, no doubt because Clarice had been gone longer than expected. To the right of her, an animated box opened, and the name ‘Pandora’ floated out of it. Pretty good for a kid. The on-screen data gave her age as seven, which made her a couple years below Clarice and about half as old as the rest of us. A speech balloon appeared, and the computer read off the words in one of Kidchat’s user-selectable voices.

“Goodcheer! Are you back yet? Is everything all right?”

“Goodcheer,” yet! Was that Clarice’s idea or a gift from her mom? But Clarice (or “Goodcheer”) plopped down in her chair, fiddled peevishly with her mike, and replied, “I’m back. My brother doesn’t believe you’re really a little girl, so I don’t think he’s going to be any help.”

The cartoon face frowned. “That’s too bad. Can’t you use a riddle or pun as I did to tell you my real name?”

“I don’t think so.”

The face took on a thoughtful expression. Then it said, “Open another window and search for the relevant data. Do a search on your first name, for example; then send me links to the first few pages that come up, and I’ll locate the shared name. Or you may find an actress, model, or character with the same name and refer me to her Web site.”

It was probably just the animation, but I somehow felt like Pandora, or Genie, or whatever his or her name really was, actually did have to think this up. It made no sense at all, though: it was the obvious way to handle the problem, and an experienced pervert would have thought of it long before. But then, he or she was also using words a bit beyond “Genie’s” supposed age level.

“Wait a minute,” Allen said, grabbing his sister’s hand as she reached for the mouse. “We want to know who you really are.”

To our surprise and Allen’s annoyance, his demand was ignored not by Genie but by the Web site itself: his voice wasn’t registered, so Kidchat wouldn’t transmit what he said. The site’s controls were certainly doing their job. Clarice wound up relaying the message, which didn’t help his mood.

“I can’t tell you here,” the cartoon girl replied. “We could go to another chat room.”

“Why didn’t she do that with Clarice and leave us out of it?” Rod asked.

“This is the only chat room I’m allowed to use,” Clarice retorted. “Of course, if Allen wants to use another chat room . . .”

I didn’t think of it at the time, but later on I developed a strong suspicion that this was what Clarice had been after all along. I suppose I should ask her sometime.

Anyway, Allen scowled at the suggestion, but he gave Genie the address of a place where we sometimes had private chats instead of regular club meetings. He had the site located himself a moment later, and sure enough, someone named Genie was there already, and with the same animation and character avatar.

“All right, then, what is your name?” Allen asked.

“My name is Genie,” came the reply. This time it wasn’t a filtered, canned voice—or if it was, it was far better done than Kidchat’s.

“Okay, but how old are you?”

“I am not sure. I do not remember when I was born. Do you remember when you were born?”

If the audio was accurate, this was a genuine question, not sarcasm, and that seemed to bother Allen more than an outright insult would have done.

“Of course not,” he said. “No one remembers when he was born.”

There was a kind of satisfaction in the voice this time. “That is what I thought. First memories occur usually no less than one year after birth.”

“But your parents could tell you when you were born,” Allen said, and he almost seemed to accept that he was speaking to a little girl after all.

“I do not have any parents,” the voice said sadly. “Or at least, if I do, I do not know who they are.”

I can’t answer for Allen, but I was beginning to feel like a bully by then. If this was a man, he was a genius.

“Well, you can talk, though,” Allen persisted, even if he did look a bit embarrassed. “Are you in school?”

“No. I had not thought about schooling as a useful datum, but I do not believe I have ever been to school. Nor do I find reference to plans to send me. I suppose I have private tutors. I do know a lot.”

Allen smiled at this. All kids think they know a lot. “Do you know how much two plus two is?”

“Two plus two is four,” came the answer. “But I can also calculate roots, trigonometric functions—anything mathematical, really.”

Allen glanced back at us helplessly. It didn’t take much to get answers out of a computer, and if hers had a really good calculator available, math was a pointless test. Unless we turned Rod loose on her—but that really would have been child abuse. We needed something else to gauge her knowledge, so I decided to try my hand at fixing her background—and in my case, that meant checking her language proficiency.

“¿Comprende Ud. esto?” I asked. “¿Qué lengua hablo ahora?”

“Ud. habla español,” she answered easily. “¡Qué divertido! Ya no he contemplado—”

“Kore wa nani ga desu ka?”

“Nihongo ga desu. Anata ga rippa na—”

“How many languages do you know?” I asked, interrupting her. Spanish was no big deal, but Japanese was less common. Perhaps she had grown up in an old-fashioned melting pot neighborhood and picked up a smattering of several languages. Her answer dashed that possibility, though.

“The question is ambiguous. I should be able to respond fluently in at least twenty-three languages, and I could probably understand or make myself understood in ninety-two others. In theory, I should be able to identify roughly two thousand languages, though the matter is made more complicated by questions of dialect. For example, I can use Modern Literary Arabic fluently, but my ability at Libyan, Lebanese, or Iraqi Arabic would be rather less impressive.”

“You—you’re joking!” I stammered.

“No, though I am capable of joking. I know seventeen thousand, three hundred and fifty-four jokes, with minor variations.”

“Are you sure you’re even human? You talk like a computer in a sci-fi video.”

“I am human,” came the reply, and again the emotion in the audio feed caught me unprepared. She sounded slightly angry and very hurt. It was obviously a sensitive topic, and once more I felt like a bully.

“I’m sorry. We’re just trying to figure out who you are. You don’t sound like any little girl I’ve ever met.” I paused briefly, but she gave no answer, so I continued, “Do you have any other friends?”

“Only Uncle. He is kind to me and always tries to smile for me, though sometimes I think he cries. I cry too, but I cannot do it on the outside, the way he does. Perhaps it does not count if you only do it inside.”

“Sometimes it counts more if you only do it inside,” I said, and maybe I was a sucker, but I had to fight to keep mine inside. A muffled snort from behind me revealed that Rod wasn’t buying it, but at least he wasn’t grilling her either. “Tell me more about your uncle,” I continued.

“He is a nice man. He has gray hair, and he always tries to take time for me. In a way, I guess he is more like a grandfather. I like him. I wonder whether he could be my father—or my grandfather. Anyway, he is the one who hooked me up to the Internet. He said that I needed to get out more. That is why he signed me up for Kidchat. He said that I was not to talk too much to strangers, but Goodcheer is always so kind and friendly. I have learned a lot from her. He was right: it is good to have another girl to talk to.”

“Don’t you go outdoors?” I asked.

“No. I cannot go outdoors. The people here always want me to learn things, not play. Uncle is the only one who plays with me. He is the one who called me Genie and Pandora. He looks so sad. But they are good names. Genie is a regular girl’s name, but I know that he was making a pun on the jinni from Moslem mythology. Jinni are powerful spirits, often held captive to keep them from hurting people or to force them to help people. I do feel like a captive spirit here, though I doubt that I am powerful. And I would not hurt anyone—in fact, I would gladly help people if I knew how. I wish I could make Uncle happy, so he would smile all the time.

“As for Pandora, she was a woman in Greek mythology. Her curiosity led her to open a box and let loose all the miseries that plague mankind. But she also released hope. I do not think that I can release plagues on mankind, but perhaps I can bring hope somehow.”

“Pandora also means ‘all-gifted,’” I said. “Your uncle must think a lot of you to associate you with powerful, gifted beings.”

“Yes,” she replied, and her voice definitely sounded pleased. “The people here call me CHMI, but that is not a pretty name at all. They don’t care about me the way Uncle and Goodcheer do. That’s why I’m glad they don’t know about all I can do. Even Uncle doesn’t know, but he worries so much. I don’t want to trouble him. And I am a good girl.”

“I’m sure you are,” I said, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Wait a minute,” Rod interrupted. “You keep talking about ‘the people here.’ Who are they? And for that matter, where are you?”

“I do not know.” There was definite distress in the voice, and even though Rod was bigger than I was, I thought about giving him a nudge that would bend him over to my size. “I mostly just read. I only recently began to see and hear them. They don’t know that yet. Uncle knows. That’s why he talks to me.”

The tension faded from her voice as she spoke, and I determined to keep it away. “It’s all right, Genie. We know enough about you for the moment. Maybe Allen can help find out more—he’s good with computers. But for now, it’s enough that you’re Genie.”

“Thank you. And who are you?” she asked.

“My name is Tom. Tom Reilly. My friends and I have a club, and we meet at Clarice’s and Allen’s house.”

“What kind of club is it?”

“Well, mostly we just like to hang around together. But we’re interested in science, and we’re a bit unorthodox, so we decided to call ourselves the Mad Scientists. We got the idea from a book.”

“Mad scientists? Do you want to blow up the world or make monsters?”

“Well, we’ve blown up parts of school, and some people say we’re monsters all by ourselves, but . . . Well, I guess you could say we’re good boys in spite of it all.”

Genie laughed. “That sounds like fun. I know a lot about science, too. In fact, that’s what the people here are teaching me. I’ve already learned a lot more than they think. Uncle wants me to act as though I don’t understand. I don’t think he likes them. But I do understand. What are you working on right now?”

The question caught me off-guard, and I said, “We’re playing around with researching . . . well, superheroes, I guess you’d say. You know, the science involved: could someone really do something like they do in comics?”

“Ah, I see. I do not read comics myself, but I have heard of them. I could do a search on the subject.”

Now, I admit that it felt good to be taken seriously (even by a girl) on such an off-the-wall subject, so I volunteered a few sites for her to check when she had a free moment. I had no idea what “a free moment” meant to her. It took very little time to find out.

“This is interesting,” she said a few seconds later, “but also rather confusing. In some ways these people seem to have very little grasp of physics. Yet several of the ideas are intriguing. Were you going to try to replicate these effects yourselves?”

“What do you mean?” Again, I can’t speak for the others, but her question was so unexpected it made her reading speed seem trivial by comparison.

“Superhuman strength and speed, invisibility—what they call ‘super powers.’ It could be challenging.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” Rod said. “Technology won’t be able to deal with such things for a century or more.”

“But they aren’t that difficult. For example, I should be able to put together a power suit such as Titan uses in just a week or so, and an invisibility suit such as Darklight uses would only take a week longer, I think.”

“If you can do that, you really are a genie,” I said, trying to glare Rod into silence.

“Thank you,” she replied, clearly quite pleased. “Now, if you will tell me where to have it delivered . . . ”

Saturday, November 01, 2008

FIRST: Forsaken by James David Jordan



It is time for the FIRST Blog Tour! On the FIRST day of every month we feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!






The feature author is:



and his book:


Forsaken
B&H Fiction (October 1, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

James David Jordan is a business litigation attorney with the prominent Texas law firm of Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, P.C. From 1998 through 2005, he served as the firm's Chairman and CEO. The Dallas Business Journal has named him one of the most influential leaders in the Dallas/Fort Worth legal community and one of the top fifteen business defense attorneys in Dallas/Fort Worth. His peers have voted him one of the Best Lawyers in America in commercial litigation.

A minister's son who grew up in the Mississippi River town of Alton, Illinois, Jim has a law degree and MBA from the University of Illinois, and a journalism degree from the University of Missouri. He lives with his wife and two teenage children in the Dallas suburbs.

Jim grew up playing sports and loves athletics of all kinds. But he especially loves baseball, the sport that is a little bit closer to God than all the others.

His first novel was Something that Lasts . Forsaken is his second novel.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: B&H Fiction (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805447490
ISBN-13: 978-0805447491

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Even in high school I didn’t mind sleeping on the ground. When your father is a retired Special Forces officer, you pick up things that most girls don’t learn. As the years passed I slept in lots of places a good girl shouldn’t sleep. It’s a part of my past I don’t brag about, like ugly wallpaper that won’t come unstuck. No matter how hard I scrape, it just hangs on in big, obscene blotches. I’m twenty-nine years old now, and I’ve done my best to paint over it. But it’s still there under the surface, making everything rougher, less presentable than it should be. Though I want more than anything to be smooth and fresh and clean.


Sometimes I wonder what will happen if the paint begins to fade. Will the wallpaper show? I thought so for a long time. But I have hope now that it won’t. Simon Mason helped me find that hope. That’s why it’s important for me to tell our story. There must be others who need hope, too. There must be others who are afraid that their ugly wallpaper might bleed through.


What does sleeping on the ground have to do with a world-famous preacher like Simon Mason? The story begins twelve years ago—eleven years before I met Simon. My dad and I packed our camping gear and went fishing. It was mid-May, and the trip was a present for my seventeenth birthday. Not exactly every high school girl’s dream, but my dad wasn’t like most dads. He taught me to camp and fish and, particularly, to shoot. He had trained me in self-defense since I was nine, the year Mom fell apart and left for good. With my long legs, long arms, and Dad’s athletic genes, I could handle myself even back then. I suppose I wasn’t like most other girls.


After what happened on that fishing trip, I know I wasn’t.


Fishing with my dad didn’t mean renting a cane pole and buying bait pellets out of a dispenser at some catfish tank near an RV park. It generally meant tramping miles across a field to a glassy pond on some war buddy’s ranch, or winding through dense woods, pitching a tent, and fly fishing an icy stream far from the nearest telephone. The trips were rough, but they were the bright times of my life—and his, too. They let him forget the things that haunted him and remember how to be happy.


This particular outing was to a ranch in the Texas Panhandle, owned by a former Defense Department bigwig. The ranch bordered one of the few sizeable lakes in a corner of Texas that is brown and rocky and dry. We loaded Dad’s new Chevy pickup with cheese puffs and soft drinks—healthy eat­ing wouldn’t begin until the first fish hit the skillet—and left Dallas just before noon with the bass boat in tow. The drive was long, but we had leather interior, plenty of tunes, and time to talk. Dad and I could always talk.


The heat rose early that year, and the temperature hung in the nineties. Two hours after we left Dallas, the brand-new air conditioner in the brand-new truck rattled and clicked and dropped dead. We drove the rest of the way with the windows down while the high Texas sun tried to burn a hole through the roof.


Around five-thirty we stopped to use the bathroom at a rundown gas station somewhere southeast of Amarillo. The station was nothing but a twisted gray shack dropped in the middle of a hundred square miles of blistering hard pan. It hadn’t rained for a month in that part of Texas, and the place was so baked that even the brittle weeds rolled over on their bellies, as if preparing a last-ditch effort to drag themselves to shade.


The restroom door was on the outside of the station, iso­lated from the rest of the building. There was no hope of cool­ing off until I finished my business and got around to the little store in the front, where a rusty air conditioner chugged in the window. When I walked into the bathroom, I had to cover my nose and mouth with my hand. A mound of rotting trash leaned like a grimy snow drift against a metal garbage can in the corner. Thick, black flies zipped and bounced from floor to wall and ceiling to floor, occasionally smacking my arms and legs as if I were a bumper in a buzzing pinball machine. It was the filthiest place I’d ever been.


Looking back, it was an apt spot to begin the filthiest night of my life.


I had just leaned over the rust-ringed sink to inspect my teeth in the sole remaining corner of a shattered mirror when someone pounded on the door.


“Just a minute!” I turned on the faucet. A soupy liquid dribbled out, followed by the steamy smell of rotten eggs. I turned off the faucet, pulled my sport bottle from the holster on my hip, and squirted water on my face and in my mouth. I wiped my face on the sleeve of my T-shirt.


My blue-jean cutoffs were short and tight, and I pried free a tube of lotion that was wedged into my front pocket. I raised one foot at a time to the edge of the toilet seat and did my best to brush the dust from my legs. Then I spread the lotion over them. The ride may have turned me into a dust ball, but I was determined at least to be a soft dust ball with a coconut scent. Before leaving I took one last look in my little corner of mir­ror. The hair was auburn, the dust was beige. I gave the hair a shake, sending tiny flecks floating through a slash of light that cut the room diagonally from a hole in the roof. Someone pounded on the door again. I turned away from the mirror.


“Okay, okay, I’m coming!”


When I pulled open the door and stepped into the light, I shaded my eyes and blinked to clear away the spots. All that I could think about was the little air conditioner in the front window and how great it would feel when I got inside. That’s probably why I was completely unprepared when a man’s hand reached from beside the door and clamped hard onto my wrist.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

House, Heroes, Battlestar Galactica, and More!

This incredible deal popped up in my inbox this morning, and I know some of my readers are fans of House, MD and Battlestar Galactica. Want to watch online and/or download all of the previous seasons of both for $5.00 each?

Yeah, I'm now $35.00 poorer.

This offer also includes the first two seasons of Heroes and season four of The Office. But hurry, Amazon says this is only a limited time offer!

TV Seasons for $5!




Thursday, October 23, 2008

Less Than Dead by Tim Downs

"I love Nick! He's amazing!" - My sister Rebekah, while reading Less Than Dead.

Few characters in literature are as memorable as Tim Downs' Nick Polchak. Known as the Bug Man, his job alone (studying the insects that feed on dead flesh) makes him unique. Toss in that he likes being weird, hates following rules, and has a wickedly keen sense of humor, and the typical good-looking, pizza-and-a-movie hero starts to look like a clone.

This is the fourth Bug Man novel, and I own every single one.

Less Than Dead brings in FBI agent Nathan Donovan from the Christy Award-winning Plaguemaker (in which Nick made a cameo appearance). Excavators uncover graves on a U.S. senator's property, and the bone placement indicates foul play. With the senator's presidential campaign at risk, he wants this mess dealt with quickly and quietly. With that in mind, Donovan hires Nick. When the government dog and trainer choson to uncover additional graves turn out to be complete nincompoops, Nick seeks out the town's "witch" and her cadaver dog for help.

While novels featuring maggots and flesh-eating beetles tend to turn weak stomachs, this particular book is less "icky" than previous books in the series, on account of most of the dead bodies being reduced to bones. Oh, did I say most?

My review of Chop Shop, book 2 in the Bug Man series.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CSFF Tour - Bryan Davis

I honestly don't know why I signed up for this tour, other than the fact that I love CSFF tours. I've never read any of Bryan's books, let alone the new book for this tour, Beyond the Reflection's Edge.

So how about a contest? I have tons of books that I'll never have time to read or reread, and I'll send one to you (US addresses only) if you are the first to email me the correct answers to these questions. I'll even send two if both will fit under one pound. And I'll let you pick! Just indicate your favorite genres in the email, and I'll send you a list to choose from.

Here are the questions, and the answers are all found in the blogs below:

1. Who "met" Bryan in 2003 and began editing his books?
2. In the fan art by Meghan, what is the main character Nathan Shepherd holding and wearing around his neck?
3. Which blogger references an old Fox TV show about traveling to different universes?
4. What is the name of Nathan's tutor?
5. One blogger is tempted to describe the book as "take equal parts of ______, ______, and _______, blend at high speed, and leave spinning." Which three movies series/TV shows does he mention?
6. Who taught Bryan to read?


Bonus question for everyone (answer in the comments)! What songs would you add to Steve Trower's list?

Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Courtney
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Timothy Hicks
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Kait
Mike Lynch
Magma
Terri Main
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Chawna Schroeder
Greg Slade
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise




Tuesday, October 21, 2008



It's the 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST chapter!




and his book:



Zondervan (October 1, 2008)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Paul McCusker is the author of The Mill House, Epiphany, The Faded Flower and several Adventures in Odyssey programs. Winner of the Peabody Award for his radio drama on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for Focus on the Family, he lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and two children.

Product Details

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (October 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714362
ISBN-13: 978-0310714361


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“I’m running away,” Elizabeth announced defiantly. She chomped a french fry in half.

Jeff looked up at her. He’d been absentmindedly swirling his straw in his malted milkshake while she complained about her parents, which she had been doing for the past half hour. “You’re what?”

“You weren’t listening, were you?”

“I was too.”

“Then what did I say?” Elizabeth tucked a loose strand of her long brown hair behind her ear so it wouldn’t fall into the puddle of ketchup next to her fries.

“You were complaining about how your mom and dad drive you crazy because your dad embarrassed you last night while you and Melissa Morgan were doing your history homework. And your dad lectured you for twenty minutes about .?.?. about .?.?.” He was stumped.

“Chris-tian symbolism in the King Arthur legends,” Elizabeth said.

“Yeah, except that you and Melissa were supposed to be studying the .?.?. um?—?”

“French Revolution.”

“Right, and Melissa finally made up an excuse to go home, and you were embarrassed and mad at your dad?—?”

“As usual,” she said and savaged another french fry.

Jeff gave a sigh of relief. Elizabeth’s pop quizzes were a lot tougher than anything they gave him at school. But it was hard for him to listen when she griped about her parents. Not having any parents of his own, Jeff didn’t connect when Elizabeth went on and on about hers.

“Then what did I say?” she asked.

He was mid-suck on his straw and nearly blew the contents back into the glass. “Huh?”

“What did I say after that?”

“You said .?.?. uh .?.?.” He coughed, then glanced around the Fawlt Line Diner, hoping for inspiration or a way to change the subject. His eye was dazzled by the endless chrome, beveled mirrors, worn red upholstery, and checkered floor tiles. And it boasted Alice Dempsey, the world’s oldest living waitress, dressed in her paper cap and red-striped uniform with white apron.

She had seen Jeff look up and now hustled over to their booth. She arrived smelling like burnt hamburgers and chewed her gum loudly. “You kids want anything else?”

Rescued, Jeff thought. “No, thank you,” he said.

She cracked an internal bubble on her gum and dropped the check on the edge of the table. “See you tomorrow,” Alice said.

“No, you won’t,” Elizabeth said under her breath. “I won’t be here.”

As she walked off, Alice shot a curious look back at Elizabeth. She was old, but she wasn’t deaf.

“Take it easy,” Jeff said to Elizabeth.

“I’m going to run away,” she said, heavy rebuke in her tone. “If you’d been listening?—?”

“Aw, c’mon, Bits?—?” Jeff began. He’d called her “Bits” for as long as either of them could remember, all the way back to first grade. “It’s not that bad.”

“You try living with my mom and dad, and tell me it’s not that bad.”

“I know your folks,” Jeff said. “They’re a little quirky, that’s all.”

“Quirky! They’re just plain weird. They’re clueless about life in the real world. Did you know that my dad went to church last Sunday with his shirt on inside out?”

“It happens.”

“And wearing his bedroom slippers?”

Jeff smiled. Yeah, that’s Alan Forde, all right, he thought.

“Don’t you dare smile,” Elizabeth threatened, pointing a french fry at him. “It’s not funny. His slippers are grass stained. Do you know why?”

“Because he does his gardening in his bedroom slippers.”

Elizabeth threw up her hands. “That’s right! He doesn’t care. He doesn’t care how he looks, what -people think of him, or anything! And my mom doesn’t even have the decency to be embarrassed for him. She thinks he’s adorable! They’re weird.”

“They’re just .?.?. themselves. They’re?—?”

Elizabeth threw herself against the back of the red vinyl bench and groaned. “You don’t understand.”

“Sure I do!” Jeff said. “Your parents are no worse than Malcolm.” Malcolm Dubbs was Jeff’s father’s cousin, on the English side of the family, and had been Jeff’s guardian since his parents had died five years ago in a plane crash. As the last adult of the Dubbs family line, he came from England to take over the family fortune and estate. “He’s quirky.”

“But that’s different. Malcolm is nice and sensitive and has that wonderful English accent,” Elizabeth said, nearly swooning. Jeff’s cousin was a heartthrob among some of the girls.

“Don’t get yourself all worked up,” Jeff said.

“My parents just go on and on about things I don’t care about,” she continued. “And if I hear the life-can’t-be-taken-too-seriously-because-it’s-just-a-small-part-of-a-bigger-picture lecture one more time, I’ll go out of my mind.”

Again Jeff restrained his smile. He knew that lecture well. Except his cousin Malcolm summarized the same idea in the phrase “the eternal perspective.” All it meant was that there was a lot more to life than what we can see or experience with our senses. This world is a temporary stop on a journey to a truer, more real reality, he’d say?—?an eternal reality. “Look, your parents see things differently from most -people. That’s all,” Jeff said, determined not to turn this gripe session into an Olympic event.

“They’re from another planet,” Elizabeth said. “Sometimes I think this whole town is. Haven’t you figured it out yet?”

“I like Fawlt Line,” Jeff said softly, afraid Elizabeth’s complaints might offend some of the other regulars at the diner.

“Everybody’s so .?.?. so oblivious! Nobody even seems to notice how strange this place is.”

Jeff shrugged. “It’s just a town, Bits. Every town has its quirks.”

“Is that your word of the day?” Elizabeth snapped. “These aren’t just quirks, Jeffrey.”

Jeff rolled his eyes. When she resorted to calling him Jeffrey, there was no reasoning with her. He rubbed the side of his face and absentmindedly pushed his fingers through his wavy black hair.

“What about Helen?” Elizabeth challenged him.

“Which Helen? You mean the volunteer at the information booth in the mall? That Helen?”

“I mean Helen the volunteer at the information booth in the mall who thinks she’s psychic. That’s who I mean.” Elizabeth leaned over the Formica tabletop. Jeff moved her plate of fries and ketchup to one side. “She won’t let you speak until she guesses what you’re going to ask. And she’s never right!”

Jeff shrugged.

“Our only life insurance agent has been dead for six years.”

“Yeah, but?—?”

“And there’s Walter Keenan. He’s a professional proofreader for park bench ads! He wanders around, making -people move out of the way so he can do his job.” Her voice was a shrill whisper.

“Ben Hearn only pays him to do that because he feels sorry for him. You know old Walter hasn’t been the same since that shaving accident.”

“But I heard he just got a job doing the same thing at a tattoo parlor!”

“I’m sure tattooists want to make sure their spelling is correct.”

Elizabeth groaned and shook her head. “It’s like Mayberry trapped in the Twilight Zone. I thought you’d understand. I thought you knew how nuts this town is.” Elizabeth locked her gaze onto Jeff’s.

He gazed back at her and, suddenly, the image of her large brown eyes, the faint freckles on her upturned nose, her full lips, made him want to kiss her. He wasn’t sure why?—?they’d been friends for so long that she’d probably laugh at him if he ever actually did it?—?but the urge was still there.

“It’s not such a bad place,” he managed to say.

“I’ve had enough of this town,” she said. “Of my parents. Of all the weirdness. I’m fifteen years old and I wanna be a normal kid with normal problems. Are you coming with me or not?”

Jeff cocked an eyebrow. “To where?”

“To wherever I run away to,” she replied. “I’m serious about this, Jeff. I’m getting all my money together and going somewhere normal. We can take your Volkswagen and?—?”

“Listen, Bits,” Jeff interrupted, “I know how you feel. But we can’t just run away. Where would we go? What would we do?”

“And who are you all of a sudden: Mr. Responsibility? You never know where you’re going or what you’re doing. You’re our very own Huck Finn.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Not according to Mr. Vidler.”

“Mr. Vidler said that?” Jeff asked defensively, wondering why their English teacher would be talking about him to Elizabeth.

“He says it’s because you don’t have parents, and Malcolm doesn’t care what you do.”

Jeff grunted. He didn’t like the idea of Mr. Vidler discussing him like that. And Malcolm certainly cared a great deal about what he did.

Elizabeth continued. “So why should you care where we go or what we do? Let’s just get out of here.”

“But, Bits, it’s stupid and?—?”

“No! I’m not listening to you,” Elizabeth shouted and hit the tabletop with the palms of her hands. Silence washed over the diner like a wave as everyone turned to look.

“Keep it down, will you?” Jeff whispered fiercely.

“Either you go with me, or stay here and rot in this town. It’s up to you.”

Jeff looked away. It was unusual for them to argue. And when they did, it was usually Jeff who gave in. Like now. “I don’t know,” he said quietly.

Elizabeth also softened her tone. “If you’re going, then meet me at the Old Saw Mill by the edge of the river tonight at ten.” She paused, then added, “I’m going whether you come with me or not.”