Thursday, May 28, 2009

City of Dead:a Lively Whodunit


Well, City of the Dead has more depth to it than I expected. I realized that a book about the Great Pyramid, in a series called The Seven Wonders, would be a historic novel. The title made sense, too, considering that it was dealing with the tomb of the Pharaoh. I even suspected there would be some romance involved. However, it was surprising to me to find myself reading an ancient murder mystery. Yes, a historical murder mystery with romance. Quite a combination, and one that T. L. Higley pulls off quite well.

The narrator is Hemiunu, Grand Vizier under the Pharaoh Khufu, who begins this tale at a time when the pyramid for Khufu is about half-finished and all kinds of problems plague the work as well as Hemi's personal life. The prologue gives a glimpse into a deep secret that Hemi, his brother Ahmose, Khufu, and three others have buried in their hearts since they were all very young. One of their close friends, Amunet, died when they were all out together. The Pharaoh of the time, Khufu's father, commanded them to all keep this a total secret, to never speak of it again, even though the truth behind her death was never investigated or discovered. Hemi never speaks of it, but it is far from buried from his conscience. And so he has nightmares that replay the scenes over and over.

Suddenly, more of that circle of childhood friends are killed. The first is Mentu, Hemi's best friend. He is found in the animal pens cut with a butchering knife and his face covered with an intricately designed gold mask. The gold masks become the murderer's signature. But who is it? And why? Hemi needs to go on about his responsibilities, overseeing the work on the pyramid, yet his heart and mind won't let him rest until he does all possible to find the killer and bring him to justice. In his search, he seems to make more trouble for himself, but the search also leads him to find a remarkable group of people known as the People of the One; a secretive group themselves who believe in one God, not the many that Egyptians follow, a group who seem to have found peace and security that he does not know.

There are many elements of the story that I could write about, but I don't want to make this too long and boring. First of all, it is very obvious that Ms. Higley carried out extensive research. This story brought the period and the culture out of the dust and made it brilliantly alive for me. She successfully puts the reader smack dab in the middle of the building of the Great Pyramid, smoothly merging engineering stuff, social and religious culture, royal intrigue, and the passions of youth. Geographical details of the Nile (complete with hippos and alligators), the canals, Giza, and the desert make us feel like we are there. Then there is the great story, propelled by events in the present, interspersed with glimpses into the past--the day when the lives of six companions were forever bound together and changed. The way she doles out bits and pieces heightens interest. The characters are quite compelling as well, in particular Hemiunu. This young man is constantly striving to bring all things into order (ma'at) and a disdain for chaos. In other words, a neat freak, even compulsively so. He also yearns for the balance of justice and mercy, something he learns much more about once he meets the People of the One.

And I haven't even brought up the romance angle! Oh, this one gets so complicated! It's intrinsic to the whole story, though.

If you like murder mysteries, historical fiction, or romance, this book is one you will enjoy. Check out the previous blog for a book trailer, information about the author, and an excerpt of the prologue and first chapter.

For more information, visit the author's website at http://www.tlhigley.com.

You can buy City of the Dead at many bookstores as well as online at Christianbook.com, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com.



FIRST look: CITY OF THE DEAD by T. L. Higley

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


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


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


City of the Dead (Seven Wonders Series)

B&H Books (March 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



From her earliest childhood, there was nothing Tracy loved better than stepping into another world between the pages of a book. From dragons and knights, to the wonders of Narnia, that passion has never abated, and to Tracy, opening any novel is like stepping again through the wardrobe, into the thrilling unknown. With every book she writes, she wants to open a door like that, and invite readers to be transported with her into a place that captivates. She has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel and Jordan to research her novels, and looks forward to more travel as the Seven Wonders series continues. It’s her hope that in escaping to the past with her, readers will feel they’ve walked through desert sands, explored ancient ruins, and met with the Redeeming God who is sovereign over the entire drama of human history.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: B&H Books (March 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805447318
ISBN-13: 978-0805447316



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Prologue

In my dreams, it is often I who kills Amunet. Other nights it is Khufu, in one of his mad rages. And at other times it is a great mystery, destined to remain unknown long after the ka of each of us has crossed to the west.

Tonight, as I lay abed, my dreams reveal all the truth that I know.

Merit is there, like a beautiful lotus flower among the papyrus reeds.

“Hemi,” she whispers, using the shortened form of my name in the familiar way I long for. “We should join the others.”

The tufts of reeds that spring from the marsh’s edge wave around us, higher than our heads, our private thicket.

“They are occupied with the hunt,” I say.

A cloud of birds rises from the marsh in that moment, squawking their protest at being disturbed. Merit turns her head to the noise and I study the line of her jaw, the long curls that wave across her ear. I pull her close, my arms around her waist.

Her body is stiff at first, then melts against mine.

“Hemi, you must let me go.”

Some nights in my dreams I am a better man.

“Merit.” I bury my face in her hair, breathe in the spicy scent of her. “I cannot.”

I pull her into my kiss.

She resists. She pushes me away and her eyes flash accusation, but something else as well. Sorrow. Longing.

I reach for her again, wrapping my fingers around her wrist. She twists away from my grasp. I do not know what I might have done, but there is fear in her eyes. By the gods, I wish I could forget that fear.

She runs. What else could she do?

She runs along the old river bed, not yet swollen with the year’s Inundation, stagnant and marshy. She disappears among the papyrus. The sky is low and gray, an evil portent.

My anger roots me to the ground for several moments, but then the potential danger propels me to follow.

“Merit,” I call. “Come back. I am sorry!”

I weave slowly among the reeds, searching for the white flash of her dress, the bronze of her skin.

“Merit, it is not safe!”

Anger dissolves into concern. I cannot find her.

In the way of dreams, my feet are unnaturally heavy, as though I fight through alluvial mud to reach her. The first weighted drops fall from an unearthly sky.

And then she is there, at the base of the reeds. White dress dirtied, head turned unnaturally. Face in the water. My heart clutches in my chest. I lurch forward. Drop to my knees in the marsh mud. Push away the reeds. Reach for her.

It is not Merit.

It is Amunet.

“Amunet!” I wipe the mud and water from her face and shake her. Her eyes are open yet unfocused.

I am less of a man because, in that moment, I feel relief.

Relief that it is not Merit.

But what has happened to Amunet? Khufu insisted that our royal hunting party split apart to raise the birds, but we all knew that he wanted to be with Amunet. Now she is alone, and she has crossed to the west.

As I hold her lifeless body in my arms, I feel the great weight of choice fall upon my shoulders. The rain pours through an evil gash in the clouds.

Khufu is my friend. He is my cousin. He will soon wear the Double Crown of the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt. And when Khufu is Pharaoh, I will be his grand vizier.

But it would seem that I hold our future in my hands now, as surely as I hold this girl’s body.

I lower Amunet to the mud again and awake, panting and sweating, in my bed. I roll from the mat, scramble for a pot, and retch. It is not the first time.

The sunlight is already burning through the high window in my bedchamber.

The past is gone. There is only the future.

And I have a pyramid to build.




1

In the fifth year of Khufu, the Golden Horus, Great in Victories, Chosen of Ra, as the pyramid rose in the desert like a burning torch to the sun god himself, I realized my mistake and knew that I had brought disorder.

“Foolishness!” Khons slapped a stone-roughened hand on the papyri unrolled on the basalt-black slab before us, and turned his back on the well-ordered charts to study the workforce on the plateau.

I refused to follow his gaze. Behind me, I knew, eight thousand men toiled, dragging quarry stones up ramps that snaked around my half-finished pyramid, and levering them into beautiful precision. Below them, intersecting lines of men advanced with the rhythm of drumbeats. They worked quickly but never fast enough.

My voice took on a hard edge. “Perhaps, Khons, if you spent more time listening and less blustering—”

“You speak to me of time?” The Overseer of Quarries whirled to face me, and the muscles in his jaw twitched like a donkey’s flank when a fly irritates. “Do you have any idea what these changes mean?” He waved a hand over my plans. “You were a naked baboon at Neferma’at’s knee when he and I were building the pyramids at Saqqara!”

This insult was well-worn, and I was sick of it. I stepped up to him, close enough to map every vein in his forehead. The desert air between us stilled with the tension. “You forget yourself, Khons. I may not be your elder, but I am grand vizier.”

“My good men,” Ded’e interrupted, his voice dripping honey as he smoothed long fingers over the soft papyrus. “Let us not quarrel like harem women over a simple change of design.”

“Simple!” Khons snorted. “Perhaps for you. Your farmers and bakers care not where Pharaoh’s burial chamber is located. But I will need to rework all the numbers for the Giza quarry. The timeline for the Aswan granite will be in chaos.” Khons turned on me. “The plans for the queen’s pyramid are later than grain in a drought year. A project of this magnitude must run like marble over the rollers. A change like this—you’re hurling a chunk of limestone into the Nile, and there will be ripples. Other deadlines will be missed—”

I held up a hand and waited to respond. I preferred to handle Khons and his fits of metaphor by giving us both time to cool. The sun hammered down on upon the building site, and I looked away, past the sands of death, toward the life-giving harbor and the fertile plain beyond. This year’s Inundation had not yet crested, but already the Nile’s green waters had swelled to the border of last year’s floodplain. When the waters receded in three months, leaving behind their rich silt deposits, the land would be black and fertile and planting would commence.

“Three months,” I said. In three months, most of my workforce would return to their farms to plant and till, leaving my pyramid unfinished, dependent on me to make it whole.

Khons grunted. “Exactly. No time for changes.”

Ded’e scanned the plateau, his fingers skimming his forehead to block the glare, though he had applied a careful line of kohl beneath his eyes today. “Where is Mentu? Did you not send a message, Hemiunu?”

I looked toward the workmen’s village, too far to make out anyone approaching by the road. Mentu-hotep also served as one of my chief overseers. These three answered directly to me, and under them commanded fifty supervisors, who in turn organized the twelve-thousand-man force. Nothing of this scale had ever been undertaken in the history of the Two Lands. In the history of man. We were building the Great Pyramid, the Horizon of the Pharaoh Khufu. A thousand years, nay, ten thousand years from now, my pyramid would still stand. And though a tomb for Pharaoh, it would also bear my name. A legacy in stone.

“Perhaps he thinks he can do as he wishes,” Khons said.

I ignored his petty implication that I played favorites among my staff. “Perhaps he is slow in getting started today.” I jabbed a finger at the plans again. “Look, Khons, the burial chamber’s relocation will mean that the inner core will require less stone, not more. I’ve redesigned the plans to show the king’s chamber beginning on Course Fifty. Between the corbelled ascending corridor, the burial chamber, five courses high, and the five relieving chambers that will be necessary above it, we will save 8,242 blocks.”

“Exactly 8,242? Are you certain?” De’de snorted. “I think you must stay up all night solving equations, eh, Hemi?”

I inclined my head to the pyramid, now one-fourth its finished height. “Look at it, De’de. See the way the sides angle at a setback of exactly 11:14. Look at the platform, level to an error less than the span of your little finger.” I turned on him. “Do you think such beauty happens by chance? No, it requires constant attention from one who would rather lose sleep than see it falter.”

“It’s blasphemy.” Khons’s voice was low. It was unwise to speak thus of the Favored One.

I exhaled and we hung over the plans, heads together. Khons smelled of sweat and dust, and sand caked the outer rim of his ear.

“It is for the best, Khons. You will see.”

If blasphemy were involved it was my doing and not Khufu’s? I had engineered the raising of the burial chamber above ground and, along with it, Khufu’s role as the earthly incarnation of the god Ra. It was for the good of Egypt, and now it must be carried forward. Hesitation, indecision—these were for weak men.

“Let the priests argue about religious matters,” I said. “I am a builder.”

Ded’e laughed. “Yes, you are like the pyramid, Hemi. All sharp angles and unforgiving measurements.”

I blinked at the observation, then smiled as though it pleased me.

Khons opened his mouth, no doubt to argue, but a shout from the worksite stopped him. We three turned to the pyramid, and I ground my teeth to see the workgangs falter in their measured march up the ramps. Some disorder near the top drew the attention of all. I squinted against the bright blue sky but saw only the brown figures of the workforce covering the stone.

“Cursed Mentu. Where is he?” Khons asked the question this time.

As Overseer for Operations, Mentu took charge of problems on the line. In his absence, I now stalked toward the site.

The Green Sea Gang had halted on the east-face ramp, their draglines still braced over their bare shoulders. Even from thirty cubits below I could see the ropy muscles stand out on the backs of a hundred men as they strained to hold the thirty-thousand-deben-weight block attached to the line. Their white skirts of this morning had long since tanned with dust, and their skin shone with afternoon sweat.

“Sokkwi! Get your men moving forward!” I shouted to the Green Sea Gang supervisor who should have been at the top.

There was no reply, so I strode up the ramp myself, multiplying in my mind the minutes of delay by the stones not raised. The workday might need extending.

Halfway up the rubble ramp, a scream like that of an antelope skewered by a hunter’s arrow ripped the air. I paused only a moment, the men’s eyes on me, then took to the rope-lashed ladder that leaned against the pyramid’s side. I felt the acacia wood strain under the pounding of my feet, and slowed only enough for safety. The ladder stretched to the next circuit of the ramp, and I scrambled from it, chest heaving, and sprinted through the double-line of laborers that snaked around the final ramp. Here the pyramid came to its end. Still so much to build.

Sokkwi, the gang supervisor, had his back to me when I reached the top. Several others clustered around him, bent to something on the stone. Chisels and drills lay scattered about.

“What is it? What’s happened?” The dry heat had stolen my breath, and the words panted out.

They broke apart to reveal a laborer, no more than eighteen years, on the ground, one leg pinned by a block half set in place. The boy’s eyes locked onto mine, as if to beg for mercy. “Move the stone!” I shouted to Sokkwi.

He scratched his chin. “It’s no good. The stone’s been dropped. We have nothing to—”

I jumped into the space open for the next stone, gripped the rising joint of the block that pinned the boy and yelled to a worker, larger than most. “You there! Help me slide this stone!”

He bent to thrust a shoulder against the stone. We strained against it like locusts pushing against a mountain. Sokkwi laid a hand upon my shoulder.

I rested a moment, and he inclined his head to the boy’s leg. Flesh had been torn down to muscle and bone. I reached for something to steady myself, but there was nothing at this height. The sight of blood, a weakness I had known since my youth, threatened to overcome me. I felt a warmth in my face and neck. I breathed slowly through my nose. No good for the men to see you swoon.

I knelt and placed a hand on the boy’s head, then spoke to Sokkwi. “How did this happen?”

He shrugged. “First time on the line.” He worked at something in his teeth with his tongue. “Doesn’t know the angles, I suppose.” Another shrug.

“What was he doing at the top then?” I searched the work area and the ramp below me again for Mentu. Anger churned my stomach.

The supervisor sighed and picked at his teeth with a fingernail. “Don’t ask me. I make sure the blocks climb those ramps and settle into place. That is all I do.”

How had Mentu had allowed this disaster? Justice, truth, and divine order—the ma’at—made Egypt great and made a man great. I did not like to see ma’at disturbed.

On the ramp, a woman pushed past the workers, shoving them aside in her haste to reach the top. She gained the flat area where we stood and paused, her breath huffing out in dry gasps. In her hands she held two jars, brimming with enough barley beer to allow the boy to feel fierce anger rather than beg for his own death. The surgeon came behind, readying his saw. The boy had a chance at life if the leg ended in a stump. Allowed to fester, the injury would surely kill him.

I masked my faintness with my anger and spun away.

“Mentu!” My yell carried past the lines below me, down into the desert below, perhaps to the quarry beyond. He should never have allowed so inexperienced a boy to place stones. Where had he been this morning when the gangs formed teams?

The men nearby were silent, but the work down on the plateau continued, heedless of the boy’s pain. The rhythmic ring of chisel on quarry stone punctuated the collective grunts of the quarry men, their chorus drifting across the desert, but Mentu did not answer the call.

Was he still in his bed? Mentu and I had spent last evening pouring wine and reminiscing late into the night about the days of our youth. Some of them anyway. Always one story never retold.

Another scream behind me. That woman had best get to pouring the barley beer. I could do nothing more here. I moved through the line of men, noting their nods of approval for the effort I’d made on behalf of one of their own.

When I reached the base and turned back toward the flat-topped black basalt stone where I conferred with Khons and Ded’e, I saw that another had joined them. My brother.

I slowed my steps, to allow that part of my heart to harden like mudbricks in the sun, then pushed forward.

They laughed together as I approached, the easy laugh of men comfortable with one another. My older brother leaned against the stone, his arms crossed in front of him. He stood upright when he saw me.

“Ahmose,” I said with a slight nod. “What brings you to the site?”

His smile turned to a smirk. “Just wanted to see how the project proceeds.”

“Hmm.” I focused my attention once more on the plans. The wind grabbed at the edges of the papyrus, and I used a stone cubit rod, thicker than my thumb, to weight it. “The three of us must recalculate stone transfer rates—”

“Khons seems to believe your changes are going to sink the project,” Ahmose said. He smiled, his perfect teeth gleaming against his dark skin.

The gods had favored Ahmose with beauty, charm, and a pleasing manner that made him well loved among the court. But I had been blessed with a strong mind and a stronger will. And I was grand vizier.

I lifted my eyes once more to the pyramid rising in perfect symmetry against the blue sky, and the thousands of men at my command. “The Horizon of Khufu will look down upon your children’s grandchildren, Ahmose,” I said. I leaned over my charts and braced my fingertips on the stone. “When you have long since sailed to the west, still it will stand.”

He bent beside me, his breath in my ear. “You always did believe you could do anything. Get away with anything.”

The animosity in his voice stiffened my shoulders.

“Khons, Ded’e, if you will.” I gestured to the charts. Khons snorted and clomped to my side. And Ded’e draped his forearms across the papyrus.

“It must be gratifying,” Ahmose whispered, “to command men so much more experienced than yourself.”

I turned on him, my smile tight. “And it must be disheartening to see your younger brother excel while you languish in a job bestowed only out of pity—”

A boy appeared, sparing me the indignity of exchanging blows with my brother. His sidelock identified him as a young prince, and I recognized him as the youngest of Henutsen, one of Khufu’s lesser wives.

“His Majesty Khufu, the king, Horus,” the boy said, “the strong bull, beloved by the goddess of truth—”

“Yes, yes. Life, Health, Strength!” I barked. “What does Khufu want?” I was in no mood for the string of titles.

The boy’s eyes widened and he dragged a foot through the sand. “My father commands the immediate presence of Grand Vizier Hemiunu before the throne.”

“Did he give a reason?”

The prince pulled on his lower lip. “He is very angry today.”

“Very well.” I waved him off and turned to Khons and Ded’e, rubbing the tension from my forehead. “We will continue later.”

The two overseers made their escape before Ahmose and I had a chance to go at it again. I flicked a glance in his direction, then rolled up my charts, keeping my breathing even.

Behind me Ahmose said, “Perhaps Khufu has finally seen his error in appointing you vizier.” Like a sharp poke in the kidneys when our mother wasn’t watching.

“Excuse me, Ahmose.” I pushed past him, my hands full of charts. “I have an important meeting.”

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Psalm 23, Memorial Day Tribute

I found this touching video on Youtube--http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpLdrvPHYVg&feature=related.
The music is a version of "Psalm 23" sung by Kathy Troccoli. This tribute to our military is quite unusual. The person who posted this video, antoine06066, wrote these words:

"Some people think that the American soldier is A mindless killing machine with no remorse or compassion.
This couldn't be farther from the truth.
The fact is they have emotions like anyone else they feel, pain,happiness, sorrow, pity, compassion, sympathy, remorse, and sometimes pure rage like any person would feel if put into the position they are put in each and every day.
They are doing A job and doing it to the best of there ability.
Don't blame the soldier for the choices are government makes but instead praise the American soldier for being so brave and loyal to his or hers country and to the mission at hand.
This video shows the human side of a soldier.
God Bless our Troops."



Friday, May 22, 2009

BEYOND CORISTA (The Shadowside Trilogy) by Robert Elmer

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



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


Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:


Beyond Corista (The Shadowside Trilogy)

Zondervan (May 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:






Robert Elmer is the author of more than forty novels for young readers. He is a full-time writer, living in Idaho with his wife, Ronda. They are the parents of three young adults.





Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714230
ISBN-13: 978-0310714231

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Because you are the last asylum, spread the light so they will hear beyond Corista—even where the Trion is but a faint glimmer in the night sky.

~ Codex 101:3

Chapter 1


“They’re right on our tail!” announced Margus.

His announcement roused Oriannon Hightower of Nyssa from her fitful nap. Who could sleep in a tinny little transport shuttle, anyway? Especially not when it was taking her farther and farther away from the only world she had ever known.

“Who?” As she slipped up behind her friend in the co-pilot’s seat she did her best to keep her voice down, tried to let her Owling friend Wist sleep the hours away. Perhaps dreams—and a little time—would help smooth the jagged raw edges of the nightmare they’d just been through.

“There, see?” Margus pointed at his long-range scanner. But at first Oriannon couldn’t make out anything unusual. Just a swirling green globe of energy with them in the middle, turned this way and that to give a three-dimensional view of this parcel of space, now distant from the planet Corista, and yet still far distant from the Asylum waystation to which they were bound. Nothing unusual? Oriannon shook her head.

“I still don’t see anything,” she told him, and for a moment he paused. A red warning light blinked, then went out.

“Hmm. I thought for sure I saw something.” He bent closer, fiddled with the scale, and brought it in closer. In and out. Still nothing.

“Well, let me know,” she told him. “But don’t wake everybody else up.”

It would not help to disturb her father, not if he was going to recover from the beating he’d suffered back at the death camp. He had to rest, as well, and not be wakened by every random announcement from Margus Leek who, from the front of the shuttle, pretended he knew how to pilot this craft through space.

An hour ago: “Look, Oriannon, there’s Corista, disappearing behind us.” And had she ever seen their planet from that far away?

No, of course she hadn’t. Margus knew that without asking.

Thirty minutes ago: “Hey, Ori, remember that field of solar reflectors that almost fried us when we flew through it by accident? There it is!”

Yes, she remembered, though she wished she didn’t.

And then fifteen minutes ago: “Well, looks like we’re home-free, now, Ori. It’s been three hours and no Security ships have come after us so far.”

So far? First of all, she’d told him, ‘so far’ wasn’t exactly a huge encouragement, in their situation. And second of all, “home-free” was not the kind of expression she would have used, unless by that he meant that they were free of their home, and that didn’t sound very good at all. In fact it sounded as if he was saying they were homeless, which they technically were, since escaping from Corista.

But who wanted to be reminded of that fact? Sometimes she wished she could act as cool as Margus did, even when everything looked completely and absolutely terminal.

Besides that, Oriannon could think of no one she wanted less with them on this crazy voyage than Sola Minnik, former security advisor to the Ruling Elders of Corista, former dictator. The fiery woman who had deceived and then nearly killed her father and all the other six Elders. Well, in fact, had any of the others survived?

But the same woman now sat on the cold stainless floor in the corner of the shuttle’s main crew chambers, her face tucked between her knees, her shoulders stooped and defeated, alternately sleeping, shivering and (Oriannon thought) crying.

Oh, she was probably sorry, all right. Sorry they had caught up with her and destroyed the death camp, where hundreds and thousands of the Owling people had been imprisoned. After all the work she and her Security forces had put into setting it up, Sola would naturally be very sorry about that. At this point maybe she’d also be sorry they’d saved her life by pulling her up off the shuttle landing ramp at the last minute, while they were taking off from the chaos of the camp, with probes blowing up all around them. Certainly she would be very sorry the flash bomb had exploded in her face, blinding her.

Blind or not, though. Sola could apparently still cry. And now over the background hum of the shuttle Oriannon heard a soft sobbing from the once-powerful leader.

Strange how things had worked out. But now an insistent buzzer drew Oriannon’s attention back to the shuttle’s controls.

“There it is again! See it, this time?” Margus rested his finger at a tiny yellow blip on the screen, and she might not have noticed had he not pointed it out. But yes, there it was—something, or a couple of somethings. Margus tapped another button to increase magnification, and again. This time there was no mistaking.

“Three of them?” she whispered, looking over her shoulder to be sure no one else heard—especially not Sola.

“At least four.” Margus shook his head gravely as he focused in on the blips, still thousands of kilometers away but growing larger ever second. He tapped his finger on a navigation touch screen and spoke into a small microphone mounted in front of him, below the view window.

“Identify.”

The screen blinked twice before the unwelcome answer came back at them in the familiar metallic female voice.

“Corista Security cruisers, four, class CS-x, third revision, configured to—”

“That’s enough,” said Margus. They could skip the technical description, already. It was enough to know who was chasing them, and that it wasn’t just some phantom of Margus’s imagination. “Specify time until interception.”

The voice command would understand exactly what he meant, just as clearly as Oriannon understood. In an instant, everything had changed. So how long did they have before this escape was all over, before they were recaptured and dragged back to Corista, to be executed as rebels?

How long before her father would be taken away and killed for what he had tried to do, as well?

Of course the metallic voice couldn’t say “I’m sorry, kids” or “I wish I could help,” nor did she want it to. She just wished someone could have said it. Margus repeated his question, tapped impatiently on the command touch screen.

“At present speed,” reported the nav system’s voice, “zero hours, thirty-one minutes, thirty-seven seconds.”

Margus looked at her with a question in his eyes—a question she knew she could not answer.

“What do we do, Ori?”

Oriannon’s heart fell to the faintly humming floor, where the constant thrum of ion boosters told her they were likely pushing along as fast as the little vessel would go. She looked over to where Margus had set the faintly glowing Pilot Stone, black and polished and guiding them—or so she had thought—toward a safe haven.

Now?

She reached over to touch it, felt its warmth flowing up her hand and arm, flooding her entire body with the far-off songs of another place and another time. Jesmet’s songs, from ancient times.

But not just the songs. When she touched it she felt its overwhelming sense of direction, almost a physical thing, as if she could know without a doubt the right direction to travel, like a spiritual GPS. She might have a hard time explaining the stone’s power, but there was no mistaking its pull. And despite the raw fear that had popped up on the nav screens, despite what she saw with her eyes and understood with her mind of the approaching mortal danger, she smiled.

At a time like this, she smiled.

“We keep going,” she finally answered, reluctant to let go of the Stone. But she had to go check on her father and Wist, especially her father. Because while Tavlin Hightower rested in the back room, she could not actually be sure he would wake. With one last sigh she turned away—only to come face-to-face with Sola Minnik.

“Oh!” Oriannon caught her breath in fright, still not used to seeing what Sola had become. The young woman’s eyebrows and eyelashes had been singed completely away, while her once full head of red hair had been reduced to ugly, twisted wisps here and there. In an instant she had gone from someone who had always prided herself on her well-kept good looks to a snarling, helpless apparition.

Worse yet, her face looked as if someone had blackened it with a blowtorch, while angry red blisters rose across her nose and cheekbones, framing sightless eyes still wet with rheumy, coagulated tears.

Of course, considering the flash bomb that had blown up in her face, perhaps she had escaped with comparatively minor injuries. It could have been worse. Before Oriannon could duck to the side, though, Sola blindly reached out and grabbed Oriannon by the collar of her blouse.

“I heard what’s going on over here!” hissed Sola. “They’re coming for me, aren’t they?”

“Zero hours, thirty minutes,” came the voice of the nav screen. “And—“

“Cancel!” Margus jabbed at the screen, but too late to change what it had already told them. Sola straightened out with a smile before she found Oriannon’s cheek with one hand and patted her roughly.

“That’s all I needed to know.” Her jaw tightened and her voice hardened. “So do you know what’s going to happen to you in two hours and thirty minutes? Do you know what’s going to happen to all of you?”

Oriannon tried to wriggle away but the injured woman’s grip tightened now on her shoulder, sharp claws digging through the fabric of Oriannon’s blouse and into the thin skin of her neck. The strength of Sola’s hands made her cringe, and she would have cried out in pain, but could not. Even so, Oriannon would not be drawn into the pit of Sola’s vengeance—not any more, and not the way she had once been.

“You should let us help you,” Oriannon finally managed. “At least let us put something on those sores.”

But that only set the woman off even more, and she shook her head violently.

“No, no, no! Just a few minutes, and it won’t matter for you, any more. And if you try to resist, or even think of holding me captive, I’ll have them destroy the entire ship.” She paused, then released her grip with a savage flip of her wrist. In the process her fingernail scratched Oriannon’s cheek, drawing blood. Sola Minnik, though, only laughed.

“You think I wouldn’t do that? Hmm, well maybe I don’t care, any more. Maybe everything’s changed, now. Maybe you’d like to find out how much it’s changed?”

Oriannon looked over to see Margus standing beside her, his fists clenched. He might have done something stupid, too, if she hadn’t held him back with a wordless shake of her head.

No, Margus. She mouthed the words. Sola stood off a step or two, a wicked smile playing at her lips.

“Go ahead, Mr. Leek.” She taunted him as if she could see his face turning red and his eyes widening with fury. Perhaps she could smell his anger. “Let’s see how much damage you can do to a poor old blind lady. You only have what, twenty-eight minutes, now? Let’s see how brave you are!”

She waited a moment for effect, then laughed again as she would have done when she was still in control of their home world. They watched as she turned slowly and held her hands out in front of her as she returned to her spot in the corner. With an almost uncanny instinct she found her way to the exact spot where she had been sitting just minutes before, crying. As she lowered herself back to the floor she smiled and muttered that this was “much better, now.”

Perhaps it was, with four Security vessels on a course to overtake them in…

“Zero hours, twenty-seven minutes.”

Margus couldn’t seem to shut off that horribly annoying voice, though he punched button after button on the touch screen. And now with Sola listening Oriannon no longer felt free to speak, so she glanced at the Pilot Stone and hoped Margus would understand.

“We stay on this course,” she whispered. “Right?”

Now Margus didn’t look so sure, as he frowned and shook his head.

“Look, that’s all very good and everything.” He focused on the 3-d display showing specks of Coristan Security vessels growing larger and larger. “But if I don’t figure out a away to take it to manual, we’re never going to escape. It may already be too late.”

“That’s right, Mr. Leek.” Sola called out from her spot on the floor. “It’s already too late. Why don’t you just leave it on your nice autopilot, there, and enjoy what little time you have left?”

“Shut up!” Margus yelled her direction, though Oriannon tried to hold him by the arm to quiet him down. “Why don’t you just shut up and mind your own business?”

“Oh, but that’s just it.” She returned a crooked smile in the direction of his heated voice. “This is my business. That’s exactly why we’re being pursued, and that’s why this little game is going to end in my favor. Because it’s my business, and it always was.”

By this time Wist had no doubt been awakened by all the noise. Now the short-statured Owling girl came stumbling forward, wiping the sleep from her eyes and looking from them to their unwelcome passenger with a puzzled expression.

“Is this your little Owling friend, Oriannon?” asked Sola. Naturally Oriannon had no intention of answering, but Sola probably expected that, as well. “I should say thank you for saving my life, back there on the planet. I did get a good look at both of you, before the explosion. But then, you’re probably already regretting what you did for me, aren’t you?”

“Oriannon?” Wist looked to her for help, but Oriannon didn’t know what to say as Sola went on with her tirade.

“In fact, by this time you’re probably thinking, I should have let just that monster drop off the plane, back when we had a chance. Isn’t that what you’re thinking, sweetheart? Well, perhaps you should have, but it appears to be a little late for that change of heart. Even if you dumped me now, you still can’t get away, and I imagine that must be a lovely feeling. Tell her how much time you have, Mr. Leek.”

This time Margus pressed his lips together and said nothing, though by now it was obvious to anyone with eyes that the four Coristan Security vessels were catching up, and fast. Probably even Wist, who was unfamiliar with such things, could see and understand. She took one look at the screen and her face fell, but she stood by the others for the next several minutes. If this escape was coming to an end, they would face it together. But then the ship lurched as a flash of light hit them like a bolt of lightning.

“Whoa!” Oriannon waved her hands for balance, nearly hitting Wist in the face. She caught a handhold and looked to Margus. “What was that?”

“I… I don’t know.” Margus shook his head, but everything looked the same as before. “That was weird. I thought I saw…”

His voice dropped off as he rechecked his instruments, but then shrugged and shook his head. Whatever he’d seen wasn’t there now, or never was.

So Oriannon looked again out the viewport just to be sure, but could make out nothing new except the distant stars—brilliant and piercing but all of them so many light years afar. Whatever had hit them—or whatever they had hit—was nowhere to be seen. Sola brushed herself off in the corner and faced them with that annoying look on her face.

“For a moment,” she said, “I thought my ships had caught up with us ahead of schedule.” The tone of her voice matched her expression. “Are you still learning how to pilot this ship, Mr. Leek?”

He glanced over at the Pilot Stone, which still glowed as it should. His nav screen still glowed steady, apparently as they should. He shook his head and didn’t answer her. Perhaps that was the only way to deal with Sola Minnik for now.

“You can ignore me all you want.” Once again she settled back down. “It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. Maybe I’ll just rattle on and listen to my own voice, while you try to pretend I’m not here.”

They would probably do that, Oriannon thought. Unfortunately, now they could not ignore the nav screen, where four large blips had nearly descended on their position.

“We’re going as fast as we can,” Margus told her in a soft voice, still working his controls. “But we just can’t keep ahead of them.”

Sola smiled to herself as they continued on, their engines humming steadily. But Sola didn’t need to remind them that this race, as their instruments told them, was already lost.



* * *



“We should be almost to Asylum 2 by now,” Margus broke the silence nearly a half-hour later. He pointed to a new dot on the nav screen, a green-colored oasis in the middle of empty space. “We’ll try and dock there as soon as we can.”

“Wonderful idea!” shouted Sola. “Hide on an Asylum station, as if they can’t find you there, too. That is, if we make it there before my people catch up. Which isn’t likely, is it, now?”

How did Sola know so much even being blind? Oriannon supposed she could count the minutes as well as anyone.

“Will we make it in time?” whispered Oriannon. She couldn’t tell from the nav screen. Margus shrugged and shook his head, not looking terribly hopeful. That meant, probably not. Finally Wist motioned with her eyes for Oriannon to follow her to the back room again, probably to get away from the acid tongue of Sola Minnik.

“What’s going to happen when they catch us?” Wist asked, as soon as they had stepped far enough away so that Sola could no longer hear them. That was when, not if. Oriannon swallowed hard, searching for the right words.

“We’re going to be okay,” she answered. “Jesmet’s not going to abandon us, now. No matter where we are. No matter what happens, good or bad.”

She thought she believed her own words. But even as she spoke, their small craft jolted as if they had glanced off a solid wall, throwing both girls off their feet and setting off multiple alarms. This was much more than the gentle bump they’d experienced earlier. Wist screamed as sparks showered down on them from a short circuit in an overhead control panel.

Oriannon could only hold on as the shuttle spun out of control.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A FIRST Look at Mohamed's Moon by Keith Clemons

I think it is no accident that this blog is following on the heels of The Blood of Lambs by Kamal Saleem. That book is an autobiography of a former Muslim terrorist; Mohamed's Moon is a fictional account that involves that same Brotherhood of Islam and some terrorist/zealot characters, but focuses more on a Muslim who would rather undermine the Great Satan without bloodshed. Keith has close contact with some in the Muslim world. In particular, he has an Egyptian friend who has become a Christian and experienced much of the content of this novel.

As I have some very close ties to Middle Easterners of several countries, some Muslim and some not, I can attest to the truth of what this book contains. Yes, it is fiction, but it is one of those fictional books that may be able to teach more truth than non-fiction can. I'm not finished with it yet--only about halfway through--but I'll be writing more for sure. If not sooner, I know I'll address it again in September when the Christian Fiction Review Blog is featuring it. I'm anxious to continue.

Suspense, romance, current events, cultural conflicts, many serious spiritual issues--all this and more Mohamed's Moon make it a tale that I recommend to most readers out there.

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

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



Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Mohamed's Moon

Realms (May 5, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Keith Clemens is a native of Southern California and graduate of English Literature at California State University, Fullerton. His passion for communication has resulted in the publication of more than a hundred articles. Today, in addition to writing, he appears on radio and television where he uses his communications skills to explain coming trends that will affect both the church and society at large. Clemens lives with his wife and daughter in Caledon, Ontario, Canada and has written five novels including Angel in the Alley and the award winning If I Should Die, These Little Ones, and Above The Stars.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback
Publisher: Realms (May 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1599795256
ISBN-13: 978-1599795256

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Sun sparkles on the Nile in flecks of gold, shimmering like the mask of Tutankhamen. The decaying wood boat—a felucca—is as ancient as the flow that passes beneath its hull, its sail a quilt-work of patches struggling to catch the wind. The craft creaks with the prodding of the rudder, bringing it about to tack across the current, cutting toward land with wind and water breaking against its bow. All along the shore a pattern emerges: villages sandwiched between checkerboard squares of cornfields, sugarcane, and cotton bolls. In the distance a barefoot girl herds sheep, goading them with a stick. At the sound of their bleating, a water buffalo foraging in the marsh lifts its head, causing the birds on its back to take flight. A dark-robed woman stoops to wash her dishes in the canal. Purple lilies clog the water in which a small boy also swims.

The cluster of yellow mud-brick homes erupts out of the ground like an accident of nature, a blemish marring the earth's smooth surface. There are fewer than a hundred, each composed of mud and straw—the same kind of brick the children of Israel made for their Egyptian taskmasters. Four thousand years later, little has changed.

Those living here are the poorest of the poor, indigent souls gathered from Egypt's overpopulated metropolitan centers and relocated to work small parcels of land as part of a government-sponsored program to stem the growth of poverty. It's the dearth that catches your eye, an abject sense of hopelessness that has sent most of the young men back into the cities to find work and thrust those who stayed behind into deeper and more odious schools of fundamentalist Islam.

 ... ... 

Zainab crouched at the stove, holding back the black tarha that covered her hair. She reached down and shoveled a handful of dung into the arched opening, stoking the fire. The stove, like a giant clay egg cut in half, was set against the outside wall of the dwelling. She blew the smoldering tinder until it erupted into flame, fanning the fumes away from her watering eyes while lifting the hem of her black galabia as she stepped back, hoping to keep the smoke from saturating her freshly washed garment.

She had bathed and, in the custom of Saidi women, darkened her eyes and hennaed her hair just as Nefertiti once did, though it was hard to look beautiful draped in a shroud of black. She fingered her earrings and necklace, pleased at the way the glossy dark stones shone in the light. Mere baubles perhaps, but Khalaf had given them to her, so their value was intrinsic.

He had been away more than a month, attending school. She hadn't been able to talk to him, but at least his brother, Sayyid—she cringed, then checked herself—had been kind enough to send word that today would be a day of celebration. It had to mean Khalaf was coming home. She brought a hand up, feeling the scarf at the back of her head. She wanted him to see her with her hair down, her raven-dark tresses lustrous and full, but that would have to wait.

She went inside to prepare a meal of lettuce and tomatoes with chicken and a dish called molohaya made of greens served with rice. It was an extravagance. Most days they drank milk for breakfast and in the evening ate eggs or beans. She'd saved every extra piaster while her husband was away, walking fifteen miles in the hot Egyptian sun to sell half of the beans she'd grown just so they'd be able to dine on chicken tonight. Khalaf would be pleased.

She turned toward the door. A beam of yellow light streamed into the room, revealing specks of cosmic dust floating through the air. She brought her hands to her hips, nodding. Everything was ready. She'd swept the straw mat and the hard dirt floor. The few unfinished boards that composed the low table where they would recline were set with ceramic dishware and cups. Even the cushion of their only other piece of furniture, the long low bench that rested against the wall, had been taken outside and the dust beaten from its seams.

Not counting the latrine, which was just a stall surrounding a hole in the ground that fed into a communal septic system, the house boasted only three rooms. One room served as the kitchen, living room, and dining room. The other two were small bedrooms. The one she shared with her husband, Khalaf, was barely wide enough for the dingy mattress that lay on the dirt floor leaking tufts of cotton. The other was for their son, who slept on a straw mat with only a frayed wool blanket to keep him warm.

She wiped her hands on her robe, satisfied that everything was in order. If Sayyid was right and Khalaf had news to celebrate, he would be in good spirits, and with a special dinner to complete the mood, perhaps she would have a chance to tell him.

She thought of the letter hidden safely under her mattress. Maybe she'd get to visit her friend in America and . . . best not to think about that. Please, Isa, make it so.

She reached for the clay pitcher on the table and poured water into a metal pot. Returning to the stove outside, she slipped the pot into the arched opening where it could boil. Khalaf liked his shai dark and sweet, and for that, the water had to be hot.

... ...

The boy danced around the palm with his arms flailing, balancing the ball on his toe. He flipped it into the air and spun around to catch it on his heel and then kicked it back over his shoulder and caught it on his elbow, keeping it in artful motion without letting it touch the ground. He could continue with the ball suspended in air for hours by bouncing it off various limbs of his body. Soccer was his game. If only they would take him seriously, but that wouldn't happen until he turned thirteen and became a man, and that was still two years away. It didn't matter. One day he would be a champion, with a real ball, running down the field with the crowds chanting his name.

He let the ball drop to the ground, feigning left and right, and scooping the ball under his toes, kicked it against the palm's trunk. Score! His hands flew into the air as he did a victory dance and leaned over to snatch his ball from the ground—not a ball really, just an old sock filled with rags and enough sand to give it weight—but someday he would have a real ball and then . . . 

A cloud of blackbirds burst from the field of cane. There was a rustling, then movement. He crept to the edge of the growth, curious, but whatever, or whoever, it was remained veiled behind the curtain of green.

He pushed the cane aside. "What are you doing?" he said, staring at Layla. The shadow of the leafy stalks made her face a puzzle of light.

"Come here," she whispered, drawing him toward her with a motion of her hand.

"No. Why are you hiding?"

"Come here and I'll tell you." Her voice was subdued but also tense, like the strings of a lute stretched to the point of breaking.

"I don't want to play games. You come out. Father's not here to see you."

"We're leaving."

"What?"

"Come here. We have to talk."

"Talk? Why? What's there to talk about?" The boy let his ball drop to the ground. He stepped forward and, sweeping the cane aside and pushing it behind him, held it back with his thigh.

"We have to move. They're packing right now. We have to leave within the hour." Layla's eyes glistened and filled with moisture.

The boy blinked, once, slowly, but didn't respond. He knew. His mother had overheard friends talking. He shook his head. "Then I guess you'd better go."

"My father came here because he wanted to help, but now he says we can't stay. He says we're going to Minya where there are many Christians."

"Then I won't see you again?"

"I don't know. Maybe you will. Father says he can't abandon his patients. He may come to visit, but Mother's afraid. Why do they hate us?"

The boy shook his head, his lower lip curling in a pout.

"Do you think we will marry someday?"

His eyes narrowed. Where had that come from? "Marry? We could never be married. You . . . you're a Christian."

"I know. But that doesn't mean . . . "

"Yes, it does mean! My father says you're an infidel, a blasphemer. If your father wasn't a doctor, they would've driven him out long ago. Father would never let us marry. He hates it when he sees us together."

"That's why I've been thinking . . . " She paused, adding emphasis to her words. "You and your whole family must become Christians. Then we can be married."

"You're talking like a fool, Layla. My family is Saidi. We will never be Christian."

"But your mother's a Christian."

"No, she's not!"

"Is too. I heard—"

"Liar!" The boy clenched his fists. "My dad says all Christians are liars. My mother would never become a Christian. They would kill her."

Layla reached out, took the boy by the collar, and pulled him in, kissing him on the lips. Then she pushed him back, her eyes big as saucers against her olive skin, her eyebrows raised. She shrank back into the foliage. "Sorry, I . . . I didn't . . . I just . . . excuse me. I have to go. I'll pray for you," she said and, turning away, disappeared into the dry stalks of cane.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

THE BLOOD OF LAMBS by ex-terrorist Kamal Saleem

This blog is far behind the date that it was supposed to be posted, as I was unfortunately unable to get to a computer for several days. This book, however, may be the most important one that I have reviewed in the two years I have had this blogspot. Having been intimately connected with many Arabs and Muslims for my entire adult life, I know much of the truth that Kamal Saleem imparts in his biography, The Blood of Lambs. Warning: this isn't a story for the faint of heart, but the warning and message here is important for all of us in the so-called Christian countries to read and take to heart. There is also a message about the importance of living real Christianity in everything we do; that's the only way to dispel the lies and propaganda of the devil and those who hate Jesus. It was because of true followers of Jesus that Kamal was able to finally see the lies that had fed him and his hatred all of his life.

I suppose my one concern is that readers may come away with a prejudice against all Muslims and others who come from the Middle East. This is not the intention of Kamal Saleem or his two friends that speak with him sounding the warning. There are MANY others in the USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom who are not zealous terrorists, but the cells are in place and have been for many years, right under our vvery noses. We do need to be aware, and yet we always need to show that real love that only comes from Jesus. I hope you will take the time to watch the video as well: it was that true love of true followers of Christ that won Kamal over at last.


Today's Wild Card author is:

Kamal Saleem
and the book:

The Blood of Lambs

Howard Books (April 7, 2009)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Kamal Saleem was born under another name into a large Sunni Muslim family in Lebanon. At age seven, he was recruited by the Muslim Brotherhood and immediately entered a Palestinian Liberation Organization terror training camp in Lebanon. After being involved in terror campaigns in Israel, Europe, Afghanistan, and Africa, and finally making radical Islam converts in the United States, Saleem renounced jihad and became an American citizen. He has appeared on CNN, CBS News, and Fox News programs, and has spoken on terrorism and radical Islam at Stanford University, the University of California, the Air Force Academy, and other institutions nationwide.

Collaborator Writer, Lynn Vincent: Lynn Vincent, a U.S. Navy veteran, is features editor at WORLD Magazine, a national news biweekly. She is the author or co-author of six books, including the New York Times bestseller, Same of Kind of Different as Me.

This true story of an ex-terrorist reveals the life and mindset of radical Muslims. Now a US citizen, Kamal heralds a wake-up call to America.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $23.99
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (April 7, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416577807
ISBN-13: 978-1416577805



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Beirut, Lebanon

1963

1
It was at my mother's kitchen table, surrounded by the smells of herbed olive oils and pomegranates, that I first learned of jihad. Every day, my brothers and I gathered around the low table for madrassa, our lessons in Islam. I always tried to sit facing east, toward the window above the long marble sink where a huge tree with sweet white berries brushed against the window panes. Made of a warm, reddish wood, our table sat in the middle of the kitchen and was surrounded by tesats, small rugs that kept us off the cool tile. Mother sat at the head of the table and read to us from the Koran and also from the hadith, which records the wisdom and instruction of Allah's prophet, Muhammad.

Mother's Koran had a hard black cover etched ornately in gold and scarlet. Her grandfather had given the Book to her father, who had given it her. Even as a small boy I knew my mother and father were devout Sunni Muslims. So devout, in fact, that other Sunnis held themselves a little straighter in our family's presence. My mother never went out without her hijab, only her coffee-colored eyes peering above the cloth that shielded her face, which no man outside our family had ever seen. My father, respected in our mosque, earned an honest living as a blacksmith. He had learned the trade from my grandfather, a slim Turk who wore a red fez, walked with a limp, and cherished thick, cinnamon-laced coffee.

Each day at madrassa, Mother pulled her treasured Koran from a soft bag made of ivory cloth and when she opened it, the breath of its frail, aging pages floated down the table. Mother would read to us about the glory of Islam, about the good Muslims, and about what the Jews did to us. As a four-year-old boy, my favorite parts were the stories of war.

I vividly remember the day in madrassa when we heard the story of a merciless bandit who went about robbing caravans and killing innocent travelers. "This bandit was an evil, evil man," Mother said, spinning the tale as she sketched pictures of swords for us to color.

An evil bandit? She had my attention.

"One day, there was a great battle between the Jews and the sons of Islam," she went on. "The bandit decided to join the fight for the cause of Allah. He charged in on a great, black horse, sweeping his heavy sword left and right, cutting down the infidel warriors."

My eyes grew wider. I held my breath so as not to miss a word.

"The bandit fought bravely for Allah, killing several of the enemy until the sword of an infidel pierced the bandit's heart. He tumbled from his horse and died on the battlefield."

Disappointment deflated my chest. What good is a story like that?

I could hear children outside, shouting and playing. A breeze from the Mediterranean shimmered in the berry tree. Mother's yaknah simmered on the stove — green beans snapped fresh, cooked with olive oil, tomato, onion, and garlic. She would serve it cool that evening with pita bread, fresh mint, and cucumbers. My stomach rumbled.

"After the bandit died," Mother was saying in her storytelling voice, "his mother had a dream. In this dream, she saw her son sitting on the shore of an endless crystal river, surrounded by a multitude of women who were feeding him and tending to him."

I turned back toward Mother. Maybe this story was not so bad after all.

"The bandit's mother was an observant woman, obedient to her husband and to Allah and Muhammad," my mother said. "This woman knew her son was a robber and a murderer. 'How dare you be sitting here in paradise?' she scolded him. 'You don't belong here. You belong in hell!' But her son answered, 'I died for the glory of Allah and when I woke up, He welcomed me into jannah.' "

Paradise.

My mother swept her eyes around the kitchen table. "So you see, my sons, even the most sinful man is able to redeem himself with one drop of an infidel's blood."

The Blood of Lambs © 2009 Arise Enterprises, LLC

Friday, May 15, 2009

FIRST Look at ON THE RUN by Bill Myers

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

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



Today's Wild Card author is:

Bill Myers
and the book:

On the Run-

Book 1 in new series:

The Elijah Project

Zonderkidz (May 1, 2009)


This is a book that I thought I was getting to review, but somehow I got mixed up. I hope to read it at a later date. Many people of various ages have told me that they enjoy his books. When I was asking for teen favorites last year, is name came up often. This one is apparently aimed at younger readers. The first chapter, as you will see, promises another exciting story. Here's the standard blurb about On the Run:

Zach and Piper aren't the only ones to notice their little brother's supernatural gifts. Something evil is also paying attention. Now the kids must learn to draw strength from heaven while being pursued by the powers of darkness

The only thing more bizarre than the miracles Zach and Piper's six-year-old brother; Elijah, performed is the strange note from their parents. So begins a wild chase across the country as the two attempts to find their father and mother and protect their brother. Unfortunately, trying to look "normal" isn't easy for three kids on the run in a borrowed motor home. And Elijah's habit of performing miracles doesn't help! Will aid from a mysterious stranger be enough to assist in their escape from the evil pursuing them?




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:





Bill Myers is a bestselling author and award-winning writer/director whose work has won forty national and international awards. His books and videos have sold eight million copies and include such titles as The Seeing, Eli, The Voice, My Life as…series, and McGee and Me.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $4.99
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Zonderkidz (May 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310711932
ISBN-13: 978-0310711933
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


“Beginnings …”


Zach Dawkins headed for the schools.

“Schools” as in the high school, junior high, and elementary school that were all lined up side by side on the same street. “Death Row,” he called it.

Zach was pretty good looking—sixteen with dark hair that stuck out in so many directions it looked like it got cut by a lawnmower gone berserk. It’s not that Zack was sloppy … he just had better things to do than worry about his looks—especially when he was late for school, which was like every day.

Zach wasn’t exactly the responsible type.

Unfortunately, Piper, his thirteen-year-old sister, was.

It seemed her job was to remember everything Zach and the rest of her family forgot. Like her brother, she was good-looking (though you couldn’t convince her of that). She had these chocolate brown eyes that were incredible … but you had to work hard to find them beneath all that hair she hid under.

Piper was a bit on the self-conscious side.

At the moment, she was trying to keep up with Zach while also shouting back to her little brother. “Elijah, come on, hurry up!”

As usual, six-year-old Elijah dragged behind them. Nothing new there. The guy was always lost in his own world and he hardly, if ever, talked. Piper loved him fiercely and she always looked out for him.

But there was no getting around it—the kid was weird.

“Come on,” she called. “We’re going to be late!”

Elijah nodded and then immediately slowed to watch a butterfly.

Piper blew the hair out of her eyes and stopped with her hands on her hips. “Elijah … ” She was about to traipse back and get him when she heard Zach use that voice he reserved only for making her life miserable.

“Well, well, lookie here …”

With a certain dread she turned to her older brother … and cringed.

Cody Martin, the all-school heartthrob, walked just across the street. He was tall with deep blue eyes and a smile that literally made it hard for Piper to breathe. Of course he didn’t know her from Adam, or Eve, but that didn’t stop her from pulling up her sweatshirt hood or ducking further under her hair whenever he was around.

Unfortunately, she had stupidly asked her brother about him when the two had played baseball together. And that was all the ammunition Zach needed.

“Look who’s across the street,” he teased.

“Who?” Piper asked, trying to sound bored. “Oh, you mean Cody. What do I care?”

“Yeah, right,” Zach snorted. “So you don’t mind if I call him over?”

Suddenly her heart was in her throat. “Zach!”

With a sly grin, he shouted, “Yo, Cody. What’s up?”

Cody turned and spotted them. “Hey … Zach?” Then, nodding to Piper, he added, “How’s it going, Patty?”

“Piper,” Zach corrected.

She turned away, whispering between her teeth. “Zach!”

“What?” Cody asked him.

“My sister’s name, it’s Piper. Actually, it’s Naomi Sue, but if you don’t want her to beat the tar out of you, I’d stick with Piper.”

“Gottcha,” Cody grinned.

Zach turned to her and whispered, “So do you want me to call him over?”

“Please, no!” She begged.

“Then you admit you’ve got a crush on him?”

“No, I just—”

He turned back to Cody and yelled. “So, Cody—”

“Yeah?”

“Alright,” Piper whispered, “Alright, I admit it!”

Zach grinned. “Nothing. Just wondering if you were going to play ball this spring.”

“Probably. You?”

“Yeah, probably.”

“Cool.” Then, spotting a geeky, overweight friend, Cody speeded up to join him. “Take care.”

“Right,” Zach called.

“You, too … Piper.”

Piper’s head snapped up to him. The only thing more startling than hearing him speak her name was the grin he flashed her before moving on.

He had grinned .... at … her.

Suddenly Piper’s hood was up, her hair was down … and her knees were just a little wobbly.

It wasn’t until she heard Zach snicker that she came to earth and turned on him. “Is it your goal to be the jerkiest brother on the face of the planet?” She demanded.

Zach laughed. “It’s not a goal. It’s a duty.”

She blew the hair out of her eyes. Looking back to their little brother she called, “Elijah, please hurry!”

Elijah came to attention and ran toward them. That’s when Piper noticed the KWIT-TV news van heading up the street.

So did Zach—which explained him immediately waving and shouting. “Hey, TV news guys! Over here. Check me out. You’re next TV star is right here!”

Piper gave another sigh. What was God thinking when he made older brothers?

Suddenly, she noticed a small Cocker Spaniel puppy running into the street in front of them. It was followed by a little girl, probably in kindergarten.

Neither of them saw the car coming from the opposite direction.

“Watch it!” Piper shouted.

The little girl looked up but was too late.

The car hit the brakes, tires screeching. Its right front wheel ran over the dog with a sickening K-Thump while the front bumper hit the little girl. It knocked her hard to the ground causing the back of her head to slam onto the concrete.

Neither the girl nor the dog moved.

The shaken driver opened his car door and slowly stepped out. The crossing guard, who had seen the whole thing, began running toward them. And the news van had jerked to a stop with the woman reporter now leaping out.

“Get the camera rolling!” She called over her shoulder.

“I’m on it!” the cameraman shouted just behind her.

Students quickly gathered, pressing in around the car and little girl. By the time Zach and Piper arrived, the crossing guard was already shouting, “Stand back! Give her air! Everybody, stand back!”

Piper glance around for her little brother, but he was no where to be found.

“Elijah?” She called. “Elijah?”

She turned to Zach but he was too busy trying to get a look at the girl to pay attention.

“Elijah!”

The news crew pushed past them for a closer shot.

“Hey, check it out,” the reporter pointed. But she wasn’t pointing at the little girl. She had noticed something across the crowd and on the other side of the street.

Piper followed her gaze to see … Elijah.

He sat on the curb holding the dead puppy. But instead of crying, his lips quietly moved—almost like he was whispering to it. And then, to Piper’s astonishment, the puppy began to move. A little at first, but it soon began wiggling, squirming, and even lifting up its head to lick Elijah’s face.

“Did you see that?” The reporter cried.

“I’ve got it!” The cameraman shouted.

“It’s like he healed it or something!” She exclaimed.

With a grin, Elijah set the dog down. It began jumping and running around like it had never been hurt.

“Get in closer,” the reporter ordered. “I’m going to talk to him.”

Only then did Piper realize what she had to do. “Elijah!” She brushed past the reporter and raced for her little brother. “Elijah, come on!”

The little boy looked up, grinning even bigger.

“Excuse me?” The reporter called from behind her. “May I ask you a few questions?”

Piper ignored her. “Come on little guy,” she said as she arrived. She put her hand on his shoulder, looking for a way to get out of there. “Mom and Dad won’t like this. Not one bit.”

“Excuse me!” the reporter shouted.

Spotting the school, Piper figured it was better than nothing, and started toward it. “Let’s go.”

“Excuse me?”

They walked faster.

“Excuse me!”

They started to run, neither turning back.


* * * * *


Judy Dawkins was struggling with the vacuum cleaner when her husband burst through the front door.

She looked up startled. Seeing the expression on his face, she asked, “Mike, what’s wrong?”

He tried to smile, but something was up.

“Mike, what is it?”

He walked over to the TV remote. Without a word, he snapped it on and found the news. Finally, he spoke. “They’ve been playing this all morning.”

An anchorman with gray hair was addressing the camera: “Carly Tailor, our Newsbeat reporter is still on the scene. Carly?”

A young woman appeared on the screen. She stood perfectly poised in front of the news van. “Thank you, Jonathan. As we’ve been saying, something very strange happened over on Walnut Boulevard this morning. Let’s roll the footage, please.”

The scene cut to an accident sight where a little girl was being loaded into an ambulance.

The reporter continued. “At approximately 8:00 this morning, LeAnne Howard ran into the street after her dog and was struck by an oncoming car. From there she was taken to St. Jerome’s Hospital where her condition is reported as critical. There is speculation that she will shortly be transported to the Children’s Surgical Unit at Eastside Memorial. But there is another issue to this story that we found most interesting . . .”

The scene cut to a Cocker Spaniel lying if front of a car.

“This footage was taken immediately after the accident. As you can see, the dog looks … well, he looks dead … or, at least severely injured.”

Again the picture changed. This time a little boy sat on the curb holding the dog and whispering to it.

“Oh no.” Mom brought her hand to her mouth. “It’s Elijah!”

The reporter continued, “But moments later, as people were trying to help the girl, this small boy picked up her dog and … you’ll have to see for yourself. This is simply unbelievable.”

Tears filled Mom’s eyes as she watched the dog suddenly sitting up in Elijah’s lap and then lick his face.

“That’s amazing,” the anchorman said. “Let’s see it again.”

While the scene replayed, the reporter continued. “We tried to interview the boy, but a girl, the girl you see here, led him off.”

Mom stared at the screen as Piper appeared and hurried Elijah away from the camera and toward the school.

The report continued but Mom no longer heard. Tears blurred her eyes as her husband wrapped his arm around her.

“Don’t cry, sweetheart,” he said. “We knew this day would happen, didn’t we?”

She tried to answer, but her throat was too tight with emotion.

Dad repeated the words more softy. “Sooner or later we knew it would happen.”


* * * * *


Monica Specter and her two male assistants sat in the dingy, cockroach-infested hotel staring at the same newscast.

With a sinister grin, she switched off the television. “Alright team, the objective’s been sighted.” She rose and started for the adjacent room. “Pack up. We’re leaving in fifteen minutes.”

Bruno answered. He was a hulk of a man, whose neck was as thick as most people’s thighs and whose upturned nose looked like he’d run into a brick wall as a child (several times). “Uh … okay. Where are we goin’?”

Monica stopped, flipped aside her bright red hair, and stared at him in unbelief. “Santa Monica, you dolt. You saw the news. The boy we’re tracking is in Santa Monica.”

Bruno nodded. “Uh ... right.”

She looked at him another moment. Then, shaking her head, she disappeared into the other room.

Silas, their skinny partner with a long, pointed nose, shut down his laptop. “You shouldn’t ask stupid questions like that,” he said to Bruno.

Bruno nodded then stopped. “But how do I know they’re stupid if I don’t ask ‘em?”

Silas sighed. “Because you’re going to try something brand new.”

“What’s that?”

“You’ll try thinking before you speak.”

Bruno frowned, not completely sure he understood the concept. Then summoning up all his brain cells, he answered, “Huh?”

Silas answered. “We’ve been looking for this kid eight months now—checking newspaper articles, surfing the net … and, then out of the blue, he suddenly winds up on TV?”

Bruno grinned. “Yeah, some coincidence, huh?”

“Yeah, right. That was no coincidence.”

“You think Shadow Man had something to do with it?”

Silas shrugged. He never liked talking about the head of their organization. To be honest, the man gave him the willies.

“Come on,” he said, changing the subject. “Let’s get packed and grab the kid.”



Thursday, May 14, 2009

READY-MADE FAMILY by Cheryl Wyatt


Book Three in Cheryl Wyatt's Wings of Refuge series continues to carry out her winning ways. While all of her books are very family oriented, this one has all kinds of family situations that need resolution.

Amelia North is a proud young woman whose life was changed forever by one slip-up in high school, a slip-up that meant pregnancy and estrangement from her father. Her "mistake" brought about a precious little girl, though, who became the most important thing in her life. Amelia finds herself down and out with no money, poor health, and now her car is totaled. She's stuck in the little town of Refuge, on her way to St. Louis for a job she desperately needs.

Enter pararescue jumper Ben Dillinger to the rescue. His heart breaks over the sad state of Amelia and her little girl Reece, and he knows he needs to help them. He feels God nudging him. But Amelia has been let down and shunned so much, even by her own parents, that she is determined that she has to refuse any offers of help from anyone, including God. Besides, she doesn't believe that anyone could really be as nice as Ben or the other people she meets in Refuge. There must be a catch, right?

Cheryl Wyatt has created a novel that will bring tears to your eyes at times, but in the end it will leave you feeling good and praising God for His provisions. She says that her characters are based on people in her own church and on her own life, having been far from God herself until she was an adult. She credits the church she belongs to with being God's instrument to change her. There is a lot in the novel to make us realize how important it is for us to let Jesus and His love shine through us, how living out our salvation and showing real love to others can change lives.

The author has done a lot of research to learn about the pararescue jumpers, research which makes a difference in the authenticity of this tale. This is a special group of people who deserve our respect and admiration, in my opinion, and I'm glad that this series has shone a spotlight on them. I didn't think much about these heroes before, but I certainly do now.

I heartily recommend Ready-Made Family to readers in general, as well as the other books in the series. It is a romance but much more than that. A fairly easy and quick read, it's hard to put down until you're finished.

The book is available at most Christian book stores, on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and Christianbook.com. For more information on all her books and about Cheryl Wyatt, visit her website at Cherylwyatt.com .