Friday, July 31, 2009

a FIRST Look at MAGGIE ROSE by Sharlene MacLaren

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:

Maggie Rose – 2nd in the Daughters of Jacob Kane series

Whitaker House (June 8, 2009)


Born and raised in west Michigan, Sharlene MacLaren graduated from Spring Arbor University, married her husband Cecil, and raised two daughters. She worked as a school teacher for over 30 years, then upon retirement began writing fiction, and now has six successful novels under her belt. The acclaimed Through Every Storm was Shar’s first novel to be published by Whitaker House; in 2007, the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) named it a finalist for Book of the Year. The beloved Little Hickman Creek series consisted of Loving Liza Jane; Sarah, My Beloved; and Courting Emma. Faith, Hope, and Love, the Inspirational Outreach Chapter of Romance Writers of America, announced Sarah, My Beloved as a finalist in its 2008 Inspirational Reader’s Choice Contest in the category of long historical fiction. Her other books include Long Journey Home, and Hannah Grace, the first in her Daughters of Jacob Kane series.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 429 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (June 8, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603740759
ISBN-13: 978-1603740753

Personal note: I am sorry to say I haven't read this book yet, but if it is anything like her other books, and I am sure it is, I know it is fabulous. Sharlene researches her places and eras well and skillfully weaves a tale that completely envelopes the reader. You'll feel as if you were there watching it all unfold. I loved the characters in her stories as well. This is something I don't often find, but I fell in love with so many of the folks in Little Hickman before those stories ended. Undoubtedly it is the same with Maggie Rose.


Maggie Rose Kane settled her temple against the smudged window, blinked hard, and fought back another wave of nausea as the smoke from her seatmate’s cigar formed cloud-like ringlets before her eyes and floated past her nose. Why, her lungs fairly burned from the stench of it, as if she’d been the one chain-smoking the stogies for the past five hours instead of the bulbous, gray-haired giant next to her. Even as he was dozing this afternoon, slumped with one shoulder sagging against her petite frame, the vile object hung out the side of his mouth as if permanently attached. She couldn’t even count the number of times she’d wanted to snatch it from him and snuff it out with the sole of her black patent leather shoe.

“Next stop, Albany,” announced the train conductor, making his way up the aisle.

With a quick intake of air, Maggie lifted a finger and leaned forward. “Excuse me, sir.”

The conductor stopped, turned, and tipped his hat to her in a formal manner. “Yes?”

“Is this where I should disembark in order to change over to the New York Central?”

Tilting his head to one side and slanting a reddish eyebrow, he released a mild sigh that conveyed slight annoyance. “If that’s what your ticket says. You’re goin’ to New York, aren’t you?”

She gave a hasty shake of her head and adjusted the plume hat that had barely moved in all these many hours. Surely, by now, the slight wave in her hair, as well as the tight little bun at the back of her head, would be flatter than a well-done pancake. “Someone’s to meet me at Grand Central,” she explained.

He nodded curtly. “Get off here then and go to the red line, then put yourself on the 442.” This he said with a matter-of-fact tone, as if anyone with a scrap of common sense ought to know about the 442.

Sweaty fingers clutched the satchel in her lap as she peered up at him, debating whether or not to admit her ignorance. “Oh, the 442.” She might have asked him at least to point her in the right direction once she disembarked, but he hurried down the aisle and pushed through the back door that led to the next car before giving her a chance. The train whistle blew another ear-splitting shriek, either indicating that the train was approaching an intersection or announcing its scheduled stopover in Albany.

“What’s a pretty little miss like you doin’ going to the big city all by yourself?” asked the man beside her. Not wanting to invite conversation with the galoot, especially for all the smoke he’d blow in her face, she had maintained silence for the duration of the trip. Still, it was her Christian duty to show him respect, so she pulled back her slender shoulders and tried to appear pleasant—and confident. After all, it wouldn’t do to let on how the combination of her taut nerves and his rancid cigar smoke had stirred up bile at the back of her throat. For the twentieth time since her departure on the five a.m. that very morning—when her entire family, including her new brother-in-law and adopted nephew, had bid her a tearful farewell—she asked herself, and the Lord Himself, if she hadn’t misinterpreted His divine call.

“I’ve accepted a position at the Sheltering Arms Refuge,” she replied with a steady voice. “I’m to assist in the home, and also to work as a placing-out agent whenever trips are arranged.”

He quirked a questioning brow and blew a cloud of smoke directly at her. She waved her arm to ward off the worst of it. “It’s a charitable organization for homeless children. Using the U.S. railway system, we stop in various parts of the Middle West and place children in decent families and homes, mostly farms. Surely you’ve heard announcements about trains of orphans coming through?”

He looked slightly put out. “’Course I heard of ’em, miss, just haven’t never run across anyone actually involved in the process of cartin’ them wild little hooligans clear across the country.” He took another long drag and, fortunate for Maggie Rose, blew it out the other side of his mouth so that, this time, it drifted into the face of the man across the aisle. Apparently unruffled, he merely lifted his newspaper higher to shield his face.

“Where you from, anyways?”

“Sandy Shores, Michigan.” Just saying the name of the blessed lakeshore town made her miss her home and family more than she’d imagined possible. Goodness, she’d left only this morning. If she was feeling homesick already, what depths of loneliness would the next several months bring?

“Ah, that near Benton Harbor?”

“Quite a ways north of it, sir.”

He seemed to ponder that thought only briefly. “What made you leave? You got home problems?”

“Certainly not!” she replied with extra fervor, offended he should think so. In fact, she might have chosen to stay behind and continued life as usual, helping her dear father and beloved sisters at Kane’s Whatnot, the family’s general store. But God’s poignant tug on her heart would not allow her to stay. I sincerely doubt Mr.—Mr. Smokestack—would follow such reasoning, though, so why waste my breath explaining? she thought.

“Well, you can see why I asked, cain’t you? It’s not every day some young thing like yourself up and moves to a big place like New York, specially when she don’t even know her way around.”

“I’m sure I’ll learn quickly enough,” she said, trying to put confidence in her tone. “I hear there’s to be a big subway system opening soon, which should help in moving folks around the city at great speeds.”

He nodded and took another long drag from his dwindling cheroot. “Sometime in the next month or two, is what I hear,” he said, blowing out a ring of smoke. “That’ll be somethin’, all right. Before you know it, there’ll be no need for any four-legged creatures.” He chuckled to himself, although the sound held no mirth.

As they approached the station, the train’s brakes squawked and sputtered, and the mighty whistle blew one last time. Outside, steam was rising from the tracks, and Maggie Rose noticed a couple of scrawny dogs picking through a pile of garbage. Folks stood in clusters, perhaps anxious to welcome home loved ones or to usher in long-awaited guests. A tiny pang of worry nestled in her chest at the sight of such unfamiliar surroundings.

When the train came to a screeching halt, the passengers scrambled for their belongings, holding onto their hats as they snatched up satchels and crates bound in twine. Some of them were dressed formally; others looked shoddy, at best, like her seatmate with his week-old beard and soiled attire. Another puff of smoke circled the air above her, and it was all she could do to keep from giving him a piece of her mind—until the Lord reminded her of a verse she’d read the night before in the book of Proverbs: “He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor” (Proverbs 14:31).

Was she not traveling to New York out of a sense of great compassion for the city’s poor, lost children? And if so, what made her think the Lord exempted her from caring for people of all ages? Moreover, why had she spent the better share of the past several hours judging this man about whom she knew so little?

My child, you are tempted to look on his countenance and stature, whereas I look on the heart. The verse from 1 Samuel came to mind—oh, how the truth of it struck her to the core. Without ado, she looked directly at her seatmate, smoke and all. “And where might you be headed, sir?”

“Me?” A look of surprise washed over him. “My sister just passed. I’m goin’ to her funeral in Philly.”

A gasp escaped. “Oh, my, I’m…I’m sorry to hear that.” Silently, she prayed, Lord, give me the proper words, and forgive me all these many hours I might have had the chance to speak comfort to this poor soul.

He dropped what remained of his cigar on the floor and ground it out with his heel, stood to his feet, and retrieved his duffle from under the seat with a loud sniff. “Yeah, well, we weren’t that close. She quit speakin’ to me after I married my wife, her bein’ a Protestant and us Catholics.” He followed that up with a snort. “My brother died last year, and she still refused to acknowledge me at his funeral, even though my wife passed on three years ago.”

Blended odors of sweat, tobacco, and acrid breath nearly knocked her over as she stood up and hefted the strap of her heavy leather satchel over one shoulder, but newfound compassion welled up in her heart, lending her fortitude. The line of people in the aisle was moving at a snail’s pace, and she decided to make use of their extra seconds together.

“But you’re going to her funeral anyway?”

He nodded halfheartedly. “It’s my duty to pay my respects. She won’t know it, but I will.”

“Yes, and you’ll feel better afterward for doing so.” Suddenly, she had more to say to the man, but the line of anxious passengers was picking up speed, and he squeezed into the tight line. She followed in his wake, doing her best to keep her footing as folks shoved and jabbed. My, such an impetuous, peevish lot, she thought, then quickly acknowledged her own impatience.

“Watch your step, ladies and gentlemen,” the conductor said. One by one, folks stepped down from the train. Her fellow rider took the stairs with ease, then turned abruptly and offered her his hand. Another time, she might have pretended not to notice and used the steel hand railing instead. Now, however, she smiled and accepted his grimy, calloused palm.

“Thank you.”

Drooping eyes looked down at her. “New York, eh? You sure you don’t want to purchase your ticket back home? Ticket booth’s right over there.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder, and for the first time, she sensed that he was toying with her.

“Absolutely not!” Pulling back her shoulders, she gave her head a hard shake, losing a feather from her hat in the process. She watched it float away, carried by the breeze of passengers rushing by. “When the Lord tells a body to do something, you best do it, if you want to know true peace,” she said, lifting her eyes to meet his. “This is something He told me to do—to come to New York and see what I can do about helping the deprived, dispossessed children, just as I’m sure He prompted you to attend your sister’s funeral.”

Surprisingly, he chuckled and bobbed his head a couple of times. “Can’t say for sure it was the Good Lord Hisself or Father Carlson, but one of ’em convinced me to come, and now that I think on it, I’m glad.”

Out the corner of her eye, Maggie Rose sought to read the myriad signs pointing this way and that, hoping to find one to point her in the right direction. Slight queasiness churned in her stomach. Dear Lord, please erase my worries about finding my next train, she prayed silently. The man ran four grimy fingers through his greasy hair. Absently, she wondered if he intended to clean himself up before attending his sister’s burial service.

“You take care of yourself, little lady. It’s a mighty big world out there for one so fine and dainty as you.”

A smile formed on her lips. Fine and dainty. Had he made a similar remark to one of her sisters, Hannah Grace or Abbie Ann, an indignant look would have been his return. She extended her hand. “I’ll do my best, Mr.….”

He clasped her hand and gave it a gentle shake. “Dempsey. Mort Dempsey. And you are?”

“Maggie Rose Kane.”

He gave a thoughtful nod. “Has a nice ring to it.” Then, tipping his head to one side, he scratched his temple and raised his bushy brows. “At first glimpse, you look a bit fragile, but I’d guess you got some spunk under that feathery hat o’ yours.”

Now she laughed outright. “I suppose that’s the Kane blood running through me.

We Kane sisters are known for our stubborn streak. It runs clear to our bones.”

Several seconds ticked by. Mr. Dempsey glanced around. “You got any more baggage, miss?”

“My trunk’s due to arrive at the children’s home the day after tomorrow.” She gave her black satchel a pat. “I’ll make do with what I have till then.”

In the next silent pause that passed between them, a pigeon swept down to steal a crumb, a stray dog loped past, and in the distance, a mother hushed her crying babe. Mr. Dempsey removed his pocket watch. “Well, listen, little lady, my train for Philly don’t leave for another hour yet. What say I take you over to the red line? Number 442, was it?”

“Oh, but you needn’t….”

He’d already looped his arm for her to take. The man’s stench remained strong, yes, but Maggie Rose found that, somehow, in the course of the past few minutes, her nose had miraculously adjusted.

My, but the Lord did work in wondrously mysterious ways! Why, just this very morning, Jacob Kane, her dear father, had prayed that God might send His angels of protection to lead and guide her on her way, and now look: Mort Dempsey was taking her to her next connection.

Imagine that—Mort Dempsey, God’s appointed “angel.”

They parted ways at the Albany platform where she could board Number 442.

When she arrived at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, Maggie Rose saw a confusing mass of railroad lines converged in a place that also contained more people than she thought inhabited the earth.

Mr. Dempsey may have been an unlikely angel, but her next escort fit the bill with utmost perfection. She scanned the crowd and saw a pleasant-looking man, probably not much older than she, standing to one side and holding up a hand-printed sign that read: “Miss M. Kane.” Dressed in an evening suit, a bowler cap, and a bright-red bow tie that was almost blinding, he was searching the crowd with expectant eyes. When their gazes met, a broad smile formed on his face.

“Miss Kane?” he asked, greeting her with the warmth of a clear summer morning.

“Yes!” She had to tell her feet to walk in ladylike strides, even though her travel-worn body wanted to slump into the nearest bench with relief. They shook hands, and he introduced himself as Stanley Barrett, an employee—but more of a lifelong resident—at the children’s home. The Binghams had welcomed him through their doors many years ago when he’d lost both his parents in a fire.

“You must be tired,” he said, freeing her of her satchel without a moment’s hesitation, which suited her just fine. As it was, her shoulder ached from the weight of the bag, which held important papers, several personal possessions, some toiletry items, and the changes of clothing she would need until her trunk arrived.

Dusk had settled on New York City, so, without ado, Mr. Barrett led her like a pro through the throngs and straight to their carriage, waiting with numerous sets of nearly identical horses and black carriages lined up in long rows outside the terminal. Such efficiency impressed Maggie Rose, and she told him so. “I grew up here, so getting around is easy for me,” he explained, helping her onto the carriage. “You’ll catch on, especially once the subway station opens. But don’t worry; we usually travel in pairs or larger groups, anyway.”

Driving the carriage, he kept up his constant prattle as he dodged fast-moving streetcars, stray dogs, scurrying pedestrians, and the occasional motorcar. Even at this late hour, the city buzzed with activity such as Maggie had never seen. Why, in Sandy Shores, everything closes up tighter than a drum at five-thirty, she thought—that is, everything but the several saloons and restaurants. Here, though, people of all genders, races, sizes, and ages roamed the streets. Some were selling wares, others begging for quarters; some were huddled on street corners, others sitting on crates or boxes, perhaps looking for a place to lay their heads for the night.

“I can imagine what you’re thinking,” Stanley said as he maneuvered the carriage onto Park Avenue, heading north, and clicked his horse into a slow trot. “You’ve probably never seen anything like this place. Mrs. Bingham says you hail from some little town in Michigan. What part?”

“The west side, smack on the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan, about halfway up the state. The town is small, yes, but thriving. We have one main street running east and west—Water Street—with lots of little stores and businesses on either side. Don’t be running your horse too fast going west, though, or you’ll fall into the harbor,” she joked. “’Course, the railroad docks and barges would stop you first, I suppose.”

He chuckled, and she decided she liked the smooth tenor of his quiet laughter. “Of all the orphanages in the city, how’d you decide on the Sheltering Arms Refuge?” he asked. “We’re a lot smaller than the Foundling Hospital and the Children’s Aid Society.”

“Someone seeking financial support for your fine organization spoke at our church more than a year ago. I believe his name was Mr. Wiley.”

“That’d be Uncle Herbie—Mrs. Bingham’s brother.”

“He showed us a few pictures and talked a great deal about the destitute children wandering the city—‘street Arabs,’ he called them. Ever since then, the Lord has kept up His constant nudging, so after much correspondence back and forth, not to mention the process of convincing my father to let me loose, I’ve finally arrived!”

Stanley glanced casually in both directions before urging his horse through the intersection at East 50th and Park Streets, crossing streetcar tracks and skirting a good-sized pothole. Their amiable conversation continued, but she had to concentrate to drown out all the commotion going on around her, not to mention the smells—a blend of fried food, gasoline, manure, and rancid garbage. And the sounds! Why, the very streets seemed to reverberate with the clamor of loud conversations, tinny barroom music, thudding horses’ hooves, barking dogs, and the occasional baby’s cry from some upstairs flat.

Stanley Barrett veered the carriage onto East 65th Street, crossed Lexington, 3rd, and 2nd, and made a right on Dover, driving another couple of blocks before directing the horse up a long drive to a stately three-story brick structure. Maggie’s very senses seemed to stand on end. “Is this it?” she asked, feasting her eyes on the edifice, which appeared bigger than what she’d imagined from looking at the few photos she’d received.

Stanley guided his horse to a stop, breathed a sigh, and tossed the reins over the brake handle, turning to her with a smile. She decided he had a pleasant one, tainted only partially by a set of crooked teeth. “This is it. What do you think?”

She gazed at her surroundings—a brick house situated on a sprawling plot of land and surrounded by numerous trees, a stable, and several outbuildings. Who would believe that just blocks from this serene setting lay a whole different world? “I think—it’s beautiful.” Unexpected emotion clogged her throat. She looked up to see a head poke through the curtains of one of the upstairs windows. One of the orphans?

“Beautiful? Well, it’s old, I’ll give you that. Ginny, er, Mrs. Bingham inherited the historic place from her wealthy grandfather back in the 1880s. She and the Mr. have been operating it as an orphanage for the past seventeen or so years. In fact, I was one of their first residents. But I’m sure you’ll get the whole story, if you haven’t already, when you’re more rested.” He winked, gave another low chuckle, and jumped from the rig with ease. “Come on, I’ll help you down.”

With his assistance, her feet soon landed on solid ground. She lifted her long skirts and stepped away from the carriage, eyes fastened on the three-story structure and the aging brick fence that surrounded the property’s borders and was covered by lush blankets of ivy.

Stanley allowed her a moment’s peace as she stood before her new “home” and tried to picture its interior. Suddenly, the front door swung open. In its glow stood a portly woman with an apron tied about her waist; grayish hair hung haphazardly about her oval face, and a smile stretched from cheek to cheek as she lifted her hand to wave.

“Well, glory be, come and look who’s here, Henry. It’s the little miss from Michigan!”

Friday, July 24, 2009


It is LATE for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! (I missed the date I'm afraid, but I want to get this one in.)

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Sword and the Flute (Matterhorn the Brave Series #1)

Amg Publishers (January 22, 2007)


From Mike's Blog's About Me:

I am a professional writer with over a dozen books to my credit, including a trilogy of titles dealing with faith and business: The Entrepreneur’s Creed, Executive Influence and Giving Back.

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 35 years, Susan.

In July of 2008 I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer—Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma of the Diffuse Large B-Cell kind. I started this blog to chronicle my journey toward the valley of the shadow of death. I wanted to de-mystify the disease by sharing what I was learning and experiencing.

After several rounds of chemo I was tumor free for the first few months of 2009, but the cancer has returned so the adventure continues.

As you read this blog, remember that I’m a professional. Don’t try this level of introspective 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.

Mike's Blog, OPEN Mike, is an online diary about Wrestling with Lymphoma Cancer.

To order a signed edition of any of the 6 Matterhorn the Brave books, please email the author at

His website: Matterhorn the Brave Website is temporarily down.



Personalized Autographs

Matterhorn Readers – In addition to lowering the price on the six books in print, I am making the last two volumes available as e-books for the same low price of $7.

AMG is not going to publish books 7 and 8 but I will no longer keep my readers in suspense while I look for a new publisher.

E-books of volumes 7 and 8 are now available at

#7 – Tunguska Event

Matterhorn and his friends travel to Siberia to try and prevent the largest natural disaster in history: The Tunguska Event! But despite help from a legion of fairy folk, they fail to stop the blast, which hurtles Matterhorn and Nate into the distant past.

The Baron, Jewel, Sara, Kyl, and Elok search through the centuries for their missing friends, taking incredible risks that will leave two of them dead! Queen Bea and Rylan return to First Realm to persuade the Curia to send the elite Praetorian Guard to Earth.

The inevitable showdown comes inside the sealed tomb of the Chinese Emperor Zheng. The future of the human race will be determined by what happens inside this eight wonder of the ancient world.

#8 – The Book of Stories

The thrilling conclusion of the struggle to control Earth’s destiny between the heretics from First Realm and the human Travelers: Matterhorn, the Baron, Nate the Great, and Princess Jewel.

The year is 1983. The setting is Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois; location of the most powerful machine in the world, the Tevatron particle accelerator. The heretics plan to use the Tevatron to make Carik the unchallenged ruler of the planet! Learning of this plot, Matterhorn and his friends must save themselves before they can save the world.

The Book of Stories is full of surprises, including the most important revelation of all—the identity of the Tenth Talis!

Order copies of all eight books by emailing the author at as his website,, is temporarily down.

And spread the word!

~Mike Hamel

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


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, July 23, 2009

Tammy Barley and LOVE'S RESCUE--A F.I.R.S.T Look

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:

Love’s Rescue (The Sierra Chronicles Book 1)

Whitaker House (June 4, 2009)


Tammy Barley’s roots run deep and wide across the United States. With Cherokee heritage and such ancestors as James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, she inherited her literary vocation and her preferred setting: the Wild West. An avid equestrian, Tammy has ridden horseback over western mountains and rugged trails in Arizona and uses these experiences liberally in her writing. Tammy excelled in her college writing studies, and in 2006 published Beautiful Feet: Meditations for Missionary Women. She won second place in the Golden Rose Contest in the category of inspiration romance, and she serves as a judge for various fiction contests. Tammy is a full time writer and editor who manages to find time to homeschool her three children at her home in northern Illinois.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $6.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (June 4, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603741089
ISBN-13: 978-1603741088



Carson City, Nevada Territory

April 1860

She was going to lose him. With trembling fingers, Jessica Hale pushed back the brown tendrils of hair the wind was whipping into her eyes. Further down the road, her brother handed the last of his cases to the driver on top of the stagecoach, then tossed his hat through the window onto a seat with an air of resolve. He turned and strode toward her.

His wavy, wind-tossed hair gleamed brightly in the morning sun, its sandy hue like gold coins dulled intermittently by shifting dust. His sky-blue eyes—eyes that gleamed with subtle mockery or shone with patient understanding—now attempted to disguise unspoken regret. He smoothed a hand over each of the sorrel coach horses and calmly took in the young town he was leaving behind. Jessica knew better. He was going to miss this—the town, their parents. But his heart called him home. Ambrose was every inch a Kentucky gentleman. He always had been. Her throat tightened.


She couldn’t help but smile. Jessica. Like always, he spoke her name with that deep, flowing timbre that made her think of the brook they had often played in as children.

“Now, what is that smile for?”

“I’ll miss the sound of your voice. It’s so pleasant.”

“It is?” Ambrose’s eyes sparkled at her in amusement. “You never told me that before.”

“Well, now you know.” She loved the Southern lilt of it, the quiet honor he wore just as naturally as his greatcoat. She took a deep breath to steady herself. “Are your bags loaded, then?”

“They are. The driver was kind enough to strap them down. With the rough going, I’ll get bounced out long before they will.”

Her smile faded. “Perhaps you should stay.”

“Jess….” Ambrose patiently drew her hand through the crook of his arm and tipped his head toward the road. “We have a few minutes left before the stage leaves. Let’s walk for a bit.”

Jess sighed in frustration but complied, letting her head fall against his shoulder as they walked. At the edge of town, she looked back at Carson City’s wide streets, lazy with the long, morning shadows of tall buildings and newly built frames that smelled of sawn wood. One by one, other pedestrians appeared, striding briskly; then came rattling wagons, kicking up trails of dust this way and that. The wind whipped at Jess’s skirt and Ambrose’s coat, cavorting among the silvery green desert sage leaves that fluttered around them. The sights and sensations that usually intrigued her had amalgamated into one frolicking, singing fool, playing cruelly to her burdened heart.

Jess’s gaze followed the road out of town, then lifted to rest on the peaks that rose high above. The Mexican people called these mountains the Sierra Nevadas—the snowy mountains. When she had come West with her family a year before, Jess had thought them magnificent. In a wild, untamed way, they reminded her of the Kentucky homeland they had left behind. Instead of the rolling green hills and broadleaf forests she had always known, the Sierras jutted boldly from the desert like a rare stone half buried in sand. Depending on the angle of the sun, their terrain was a glorious red or gold.

For a moment, Jess merely breathed, drawing in the fresh scent of the pinyon pines that dotted the distant slopes and mingled with the earthy aroma of sage. Only a few months ago, winter had prevailed, and so had the glittering snows on the Sierras.

Ambrose, dear Ambrose—had understood her need to be outdoors. He’d convinced their father a time or two to excuse him from work, then would take her riding amid the stark beauty of the mountains.

Their father.

Jess frowned, pushing back strands of hair that had torn from their heavy twist and were stinging her eyes. A brusque but shrewd businessman and horse breeder from Lexington, their father had brought the family West to escape the growing turbulence in the South, and here, his import business thrived. With the recent discovery of untold millions of dollars in gold and silver buried in the land, the eager-to-be-rich swarmed to the Comstock from every major seaport in the world. Those fortunate enough to strike a vein of the mother lode scrambled to Hale Imports to stake their claims in society by acquiring French wines, Venetian glassware, Turkish carpets, and handcrafted furnishings made of dark German wood.

A golden dream for many, perhaps, but not for Jess. Her family had considerable wealth, but possessions beyond life’s basic comforts didn’t matter to her. What did matter were her father, her mother, and her brother, Ambrose, and the strength they had always given one another in face of the threat of war between North and South.

And the threat had become considerable.

Jess tightened her grip on Ambrose’s arm. He patted her hand reassuringly.

Worse, her family hadn’t left war fever behind as her father had hoped they would. Its effects were sweeping across the

country like the unstoppable waves of the sea. Miners and other men in town chose sides as the conflict loomed nearer. Heated political discussions often erupted into fistfights in the streets. In the same way, tension had escalated within the Hale family as their loyalties divided. And now, Ambrose was about to return to Lexington—against his father’s will—to rejoin his militia unit. It was predicted that war would break out within a year. Two days earlier, when Ambrose had announced to Jess and their parents his intent to fight for the South, Jess had stood strong—stunned but unflinching. The announcement was followed by two days of her father and brother yelling and her mother pleading. A lifetime of paternal love was burning to cinders.

Their father was still so angry about his son’s decision that he had refused to see him to the stage stop, coldly disallowing all but the briefest of good-byes between mother and son.

Jess finally broke the silence. “I thought this place would be the answer, Ambrose. I thought here we would be safe from the war.” She stopped walking and tossed him a valiant smile. “What will I do without you?”

Ambrose considered her soberly. She’d hoped he would tease her gently. Not this time. “You’re seventeen now, Jess. At seventeen, most ladies stop concerning themselves with their families and set their eyes on marriage.”

“Marriage? Marriage! How could you suggest that?” She flung aside her earlier self-promise to remain calm. “This particular subject has never come up before, but since it has, let me tell you, Ambrose, I don’t need a husband to manage my life and order me about.”


“I know you want to protect me, and I love you for it. But the South and its marrying traditions are a great distance away. Here, women are strong and independent”—she fought

to control the anger in her voice— “and so am I. I’ve seen too many wives’ hopes destroyed by their husbands’ selfish wants and ambitions. I could never live my life under some man’s boot heel. I’ll make my way on my own.”

Ambrose gave her a reluctant smile. “All right. There’s no talking you into an idea your mind is set against. Keep yourself busy, then. Tell Father you want to keep books at Hale Imports. You’ve been schooled the same as I have. You’ll do well.”

Jess’s legs nearly gave out. “Keeping his accounts is your job!” Ambrose wasn’t coming back at all—not even after the war. She really was going to lose him.

“No, Jess. Not anymore.” He shifted his gaze to the territory around them. “This place has never fit me the way it has you. That house in Kentucky is our house. Its lands are Hale lands. I was born and raised at Greenbriar, and so were you. That’s my home, Jess.” He faced her squarely. “When the war comes, I’ll defend it, whether the invading army is from the North or the South.”

Jess’s throat ached to beg him to stay. Their friendship was special, rare, in spite of growing up together amid talk of secession and war. Or perhaps because of it. She wanted to keep her brother close—and safe. Yet she forced down the urge to give words to her feelings. Ambrose’s blood flowed for Greenbriar, for Lexington. A year away hadn’t changed that. Yes, she loved him. Enough to understand that. Enough to let him go.

“I guess I always knew you’d go back,” she admitted, “and I understand, I really do. I just hate knowing that you’ll be right in the middle of the fighting.” She raised a hand. “And I hate that Father’s turned his back on you when you need him most! How could he do that to you? How could he do that to Mother?”

All at once, she knew. “He’s doing this because of Broderick, isn’t he?”

Broderick had died as a baby, when Jess was only five. Even now, she could clearly remember holding her little brother as his fever raged, could remember how helpless she had felt when she’d lain awake at night listening to his pathetic coughs in the nursery down the hall. Jess had been devastated when he died, but their mother…their mother had never been the same. Her joy and laughter Jess knew about only because Ambrose had told her of the way she had once been.

Ambrose acknowledged the fact. “Father doesn’t think Mother could bear to lose another son.”

Jess nodded slowly. “Then you’d best stay alive.”

The corner of his sandy mustache lifted. “You’re a Hale, that’s for certain. Idealistic and stubborn, through and through.”

“Hopefully stubborn enough to get through to Father. You know I can’t let things remain the way they are between the two of you.”

“Jess, I’d like to warn you against—”

“That would be pointless.” At his gentle frown of censure, she ordered her thoughts and explained. “For as long as I can remember, you were the one who held our family together. Not Father. Even when he was home, it was not Mother or anyone else, but you. You reasoned with Father when business made him unreasonable, you were a constant comfort to Mother, and you sat by my bed at night when storms and thunder threatened to shake the house apart.”

“You just wanted company while you were awake.” He lightly tugged a lock of her hair in a teasing way. “You never feared storms or anything else.”

“For the past few years, I’ve feared the coming war.” She lifted her chin and, with a mental step forward that she would never retrace, left the remnants of her childhood behind. “You won’t be here to keep us together. Now I’ll take your place and do what you’ve always done, and rely on solid Hale

determination to see me through. Ambrose, don’t worry about Mother, or about Father’s anger at your decision to go. I’ll hold our family together, and I’ll do all I can to change his heart.”

Gratitude battled concern in his face as he studied his sister, but Jess knew that he also understood firsthand the inborn loyalty that drove her. “Just be careful you don’t jeopardize your relationship with him on my account,” he said.

“I will be careful.”

There was a movement near the stagecoach. A mailbag was slung aboard.

Jess’s heart lurched. It was almost time for him to go.

Ambrose patted her hand and looked intently into her eyes. “I don’t know when I’ll see you again. We’d better say good­bye.”

“No!” She shook her head, fighting sudden tears. “I won’t say good-bye.”

“Jess, I don’t want to frighten you, but if the war comes—”

“Then the war will end! Ambrose, if we say good-bye, it’s as if we won’t see each other again. I can’t do that. I have to believe—I have to know—that one day you’ll come back.”

“Believe it,” he said, his gaze firm beneath his brows, “because I intend to.”

She tightened her grip until it pained her. “Then we don’t say good-bye?”

He hesitated, then shook his head to assure her. “We don’t say good-bye.”

Suddenly, Jess recalled what she had wanted to do. With a quick tug, she untied the green satin ribbon of the pendant necklace she wore, slipped the ribbon free, and pressed it into his hand. “I’ll want that back one day,” she said. “Until then, keep the best memories of us all close to your heart.”

Ambrose smiled and tucked the ribbon into his shirt pocket with a little pat. “I can’t think of a better place to put them.”

Another movement drew her gaze. The coach driver climbed into his seat.


“Pray for me, Jess. I’ll write to you as often as I can, I promise.”

Ambrose hurried toward the stage, Jess’s hand tucked in his. At the door, he pulled her into his arms and hugged her warmly.

“Will you write to me?”

Jess buried her face into the gray cloth of his coat. “Just try to stop me.”

He kissed the top of her head, briefly hugged her tighter, and then stepped away.

After Ambrose had swung aboard the coach, he turned and leaned out the window. His blue eyes shone. “The Lord has a plan, Jess!” he called. “Remember that!”

The driver cracked the reins and the six-in-hand pulled the stage away from Carson City, away from her. Jess watched until the coach disappeared through a pass in the mountains.

Keep him safe, Lord, she prayed. Whatever lies ahead, please keep him safe.

It was all she could do not to run for her horse and go after him.

Near Perryville, Kentucky

October 1862

His boots firm in the stirrups, Ambrose leaned over the heaving neck of the mare as he charged into the sunlit field. Well-muscled and dappled gray, the mare tore up stones with her thrashing hooves while Ambrose’s cotton shirt ballooned

behind him and snapped in the blowing heat. His fear for General Bragg’s paltry command of sixteen thousand burned like liquid fire in his belly, and with heartrending despair, he recalled Mr. Lincoln’s reputed strong conviction that “to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game.”

His colonel’s rapidly scrawled reconnaissance report was secured in a leather pouch tucked into his waistband. It was the only warning Bragg would have that the Yankee advance at Frankfort was merely a diversion, and that the whole of General Buell’s Union army was, in fact, moving toward Bragg’s position. Buell meant to take Kentucky.

The enemy was fifty-five thousand strong.

Sixteen thousand up against fifty-five. Ambrose whipped a sleeve across his forehead to blot the sweat seeping from underneath his hat. If he didn’t reach Bragg in time for the general to pull back and regroup, Kentucky would fall to the Federals—and to their torches. Ambrose tilted his head to hear the distant pum, pum of cannon fire.

Fields dotted with white and blue wildflowers blurred by. This was his home, his land, and now, Greenbriar was his, too. Ambrose frowned as he recalled the letter written by his stiff-necked, outraged father—the sole one he’d sent—in which he had given him Greenbriar. His father intended the house as an accusatory monument to the heritage he believed his son had betrayed by ultimately fighting for the South. But to Ambrose, if Greenbriar survived the war, it would again become his home, his livelihood, and the place his old bones would be laid. He yearned to fall in love there, to marry there, to raise children amid all its gurgling streams and grassy paddocks. Children who would love it as he always had, and as Jess had.

Memories intruded—memories of the day Jess was born and the moment he first held her. He had been seven, and the tiny, warm bundle that stared up at him with curious green eyes had

captivated his heart. As she grew, it was to him that she would come for comfort and advice; with him, she shared her inmost thoughts. He had taught her more about the person she could become than their parents ever had, and she had matched his strength and dedication toward those whom she loved.

Now, Jess was his proponent and confidante. She wrote to him as often as he wrote to her, discreetly hiding his letters from their father. He knew many of their letters never made it through enemy lines since, in letters he did receive, Jess frequently referred to events he was unaware of, as well as to war news he had previously penned. Even so, they both persisted in sending them. As promised, she patiently worked to sway their father’s heart toward his son.

And she remained firm in her belief that her brother would survive the war.

His mind turned to the letter he had written to her only a few hours ago. He imagined her reading it at night by candlelight, the flame’s glow illuminating her casually knotted hair, highlighting the loose strands she rarely bothered with. He could almost hear the smooth flow of her Southern voice as if she were reading it aloud.

My dearest Jessica,

Like others here, I often look ahead to the end of the

war and dream of what I will do after.

For me, it has never been a question. The day I muster

out, I will come without hesitation to all of you there, to

make up lost years of brothering for you and baby Emma,

and to find a way to repair the damage between Father

and me. I will remain until Mother’s worries for me have

gone, and she sees her family healed. Until then, Jessica,

you must continue to convey to her news of my well-being,

and tell her of my unflagging determination to return to you all.

Then, as Grandfather would have wished for me to do, I will come back home to Greenbriar and rebuild what the war has ruined. I’ll fill its paddocks again with the prized horseflesh that has always graced its lands.

I yearn to walk again the brick path leading to the porch, to step into the downstairs hall and feel it welcome me home,…

Startled, Ambrose entered a town huddled beneath a haze of smoke. Perryville! The mare was slick with sweat and foam, but she had a bold heart, the likes of which he’d rarely seen in an animal. Spying a cluster of saddled mounts, Ambrose halted before a red brick house. The gray tugged at the reins while he listened to a soldier’s instructions on how to find General Bragg.

Ambrose immediately headed northwest on the river road. The roar of battle grew deafening. Yankee wounded and dead lay scattered over the hills.

He topped a rise. Below, gray-clad soldiers swarmed through thick smoke into the enemy, several falling beside their comrades. All around, cannon shells burst in sprays of jagged metal and earth.

“Lord in heaven,” Ambrose murmured, “help us all.”

Urging the mare along a path behind the lines, Ambrose ducked the whizzing cannon fire. He pulled out his leather pouch and withdrew the message.

…to throw open the nursery doors where we played, and step into the sunshine flowing through the window glass. Do you remember how we watched from that high

window the newborn foals bounding about? And the way you were ever leaning over the sill for a better look, know­ing that I would hold you safe? After the war I must find myself a young lady, and convince her that we should fill the room anew with children’s laughter.…

A cannon shell exploded, and a terrible pressure struck his chest. The mare screamed. Groaning through his teeth, Ambrose clung to her neck. To the west, rifles barked flashes of orange as men in blue and gray surged into their enemies.

Ambrose pressed forward, searching the high ridges for the familiar starred collar and white-streaked beard of General Bragg.

…Lastly, I admit to looking ahead to sharing my life with someone who, like you, will write to me when I must be away, who will hold warm thoughts of me in my absence. I pray she may ever keep hope alive for our children that I will return to them, just as you, my sister, have done for our family. You have kept me alive through this war, Jess, for I know one by whom I will always be loved, always be remembered fondly, and always be welcomed home.…

Ambrose kicked the gray forward with all the strength he had. Fortunately, she lunged in response, not wavering at the unsteady weight on her back. Ambrose fought through the thickening fog in his mind and gripped the dispatch tighter.

A sudden burning burst along his thigh, and the smoky daylight and soldiers’ movements began to dim. Beneath him, the mare pulled ahead, pitching like a rocking chair. He imagined the stern face of General Bragg turning in surprise as he approached.

…I keep your ribbon in my pocket and frequently feel it

there. When I think of you, as I often do, the single thought

that comes is this: I cannot wait to see you again.…

He felt himself reaching out to her, to Jess. Wanting to see her one more time, to tell her how dear she was to him, had always been. He was fading. The message. He couldn’t feel it. Did the general receive the message?

Ambrose no longer knew what direction the mare took but threaded his fingers through her mane, imagining he was weaving hands with Jess.

…Your ever loving brother,…

No sky fell under his eyes; he saw only a lone field of dappled gray, oddly crossed with streams of red.

“Jess…,” he rasped.


Monday, July 20, 2009

FIRST Chapter: THE MISSIONARY by William Carrnichael and David Lambert

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 authors are:

and the book:

The Missionary- A Novel

Moody Publishers; 1 edition (March 1, 2009)


William Carmichael is an accomplished bestselling author of marriage, family, and parenting books. He and his wife, Nancie, are popular speakers across the United States and Canada. He is also the founder of Good Family Magazines, which published Virtue, Christian Parenting Today, and Parents of Teenagers magazines. The Missionary is Bill’s first novel.

David Lambert is senior fiction editor for Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. He is the author of nine books, including the Gold Medallion Award winning Jumper Fables (Zondervan), coauthored with Ken Davis, and four novels for young adult readers.

Visit the authors' website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Moody Publishers; 1 edition (March 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0802455697
ISBN-13: 978-0802455697


The tall man guided his new Mercedes out of Avenue Casanova traffic and pulled in behind a battered Volks -wagen at the gutter; he had just seen the Ford van several cars ahead of him pull over, its emergency flashers on. He leaned to the side, straining for a clear view around the cars and trucks honking, jockeying for position, crowding the avenue. It was late—10:34, he affirmed with a glance at his Rolex—and the glare of so many lights on the rainwashed streets made him squint. He watched the van’s driver get out, wait for a break in the traffic, and then jog across the street toward some sort of commotion. There were children running—one was on the ground, a boy. A heavyset man in a dirty white apron was yelling at the fallen boy, kicking him, and the boy curled into a ball. A girl threw herself between the fallen boy and the man; the man pushed her down. The van’s driver arrived and held up a hand, yelling at the man in the apron, who yelled back.

There was nothing unusual about the scene. It was played out scores of times on this and many other Caracas streets every night: hungry, homeless children scrabbling for a living, treated as nothing more than human refuse by the adults annoyed by them or who sought them for other purposes. One needed no more excuse to kick—or exploit, in any of dozens of unsavory ways—a street urchin than one did a stray dog.

The tall man had seen the driver of the van, a missionary, make several such stops over the past few days, usually at night, chatting with groups of these children, teasing them, making them laugh, talking to them as long as the children were willing to stay. Twice the tall man had managed to get close enough to overhear the missionary asking kids where they lived, whether they had enough to eat, whether any of them were sick or knew other children who were sick, whether there were other homeless children nearby. The name on the side of the van was Aldea Esperanza. Hope Village. The tall man knew exactly where it was; he had driven past it, slowly. It was a mission—a place that took in young homeless ones.

The missionary stepped between the angry man and the two children on the ground. The girl was talking to the fallen boy. She looked worried. The man in the apron pushed past the missionary and grabbed something from the young girl’s hand, then brandished it at the missionary —evidence, no doubt, that the children had stolen from him. The missionary pointed toward the children, spoke to the man, and then reached into his pocket and offered to pay for what the children had stolen. The man grabbed it and stalked away, still yelling back over his shoulder.

Three or four other children wandered back as the aproned man disappeared. If any of these children had a home with a bed, they would undoubtedly have been in it by this time of night.

A group of young men walked by, their clothes and voices loud, two of them taking swigs from their bottles of beer. The avenue was crowded with those seeking thrills, as well as the homeless. From across the street, a prostitute caught the tall man’s eye and waved. He ignored her. Peering around a passing truck, he watched as the missionary knelt and placed his hand on the forehead of the young boy.

This was a good thing that the missionary was doing. The tall man admired him for it. Yes, it was time to meet him face-to-face. Maybe he was the right man for the job. Maybe not.

• • • • • • •

The rain had stopped, at least for now.

“¿Hay algun familiar de este chico?” David asked. He removed his hand from the child’s forehead. The boy was burning with fever, gasping desperately; his chest rattled.


David glanced up at the girl who had tried to protect the boy; she could not have been more than ten.

“He is my little brother. He started coughing five days ago,” she said. “And after he runs, he cannot breathe.”

“What’s his name?”

”Ricardo. My name is Angela.”

David smiled and touched her arm. “Angela, where are your parents?”

Angela shrugged. David saw this response often. It meant that the girl’s parents were drug addicts, or that they were dead, or that she had no idea where they were and probably hadn’t seen them in some time.

He brushed Ricardo’s lank hair from his forehead. For five years now David had patrolled the barrios of Caracas, witnessing the misery of an endless supply of impoverished and sickly and homeless children. Was there no end to the suffering here?

Swarms of Latinos hurried by in the warm, humid night, seemingly unaware. Salsa music blared from one of the bars down the street. Honking cars, trucks, and buses jammed Avenue Casanova. The stink of urine rose from the gutter, a bitter note blending with the fragrance of fresh arepas, frying chilies, refried beans, and beer. “¡Vámanos, arriba!” someone yelled from down the street.

Ricardo stared at David with sunken, panicked eyes, his back rising off the broken sidewalk in his effort to pull air into his lungs.

“How old is your brother?” David asked Angela.


There was no point calling an ambulance. They refused to pick up the homeless. David pulled out his cell and called his wife. “Christie, call Dr. Vargas and see if he can meet us at the clinic in forty-five minutes. Tell him I have a seven year-old boy I think is in the acute stages of pneumonia. He can barely breathe.”

There was a pause. “Is he wheezing?” she asked.


“Okay. Get him here quick.”

When David clicked off his phone and reached behind the boy to lift him, large olive-skinned hands reached down to help. David looked up to see a tall, well-dressed man.

“Can I please help you?” The stranger spoke in English.

“We can put him in my car just down the street if you need transportation to the hospital.”

“Thank you,” David said, “but my van’s right here.” He nodded toward the white nine-passenger Ford van he used as both bus and ambulance. It was double-parked, emergency flashers blinking, Aldea Esperanza painted in bright red letters on the side. “I’m taking this child to my clinic.”

Before David could object, the tall man lifted Ricardo’s thin little body into his arms and headed for the van. David grabbed Angela’s hand and, weaving through honking, halting traffic, hurried ahead to open the back doors. Inside lay a mattress neatly wrapped with clean white sheets. The man gently laid Ricardo on the mattress.

David motioned for Angela to climb into the back of the van with Ricardo. She hesitated. “What about my friends? Two of them are also coughing.”

David looked back across the street, where seven children stood watching. He glanced at the well-dressed man, who shrugged.

“We don’t have room,” David said. “I’m sorry. Right now, I can only take your brother and you. And for your brother’s sake, we must hurry.”

“Then take Maria instead of me. She has been coughing for three days,” Angela replied.

David looked at the stranger, then across the street again. “Jesus, help . . .” he whispered, then asked, “Which one is Maria?”

Angela yelled, “¡Maria, ven!” motioning Maria forward. A girl David guessed to be about the same age as Angela wove her way through traffic toward them. Without asking, Angela quickly shoved Maria up into the back of the van next to her brother.

Always choices, David thought, and most of them are bad. How can it be the will of God to simply choose among the least bad alternatives?

He put his hand on Angela’s shoulder, urging her into the van with Ricardo and Maria. As she scrambled in, she smiled. Already a skilled negotiator, David thought. David shook the stranger’s hand and hurried to the driver’s door. “Thank you for your help.” He grabbed a business

card from the dash and handed it to the man, then cranked the engine and slammed the door. “Why don’t you visit us?” he hollered through the window, over the engine noise.

“I would like to. Perhaps soon.”

David waved over his shoulder and inched out into traffic, his headlights reflecting on slick, wet streets. Ricardo hacked a loud, racking cough.

David took a sharp right, leaving the business district and entering a darker, less congested area, a faster way home. Big raindrops began again, slowly at first, then pounding hard and fast against the windshield while the wipers beat like rapid rubber drumsticks. And there was another sound. At first David thought that the windshield wipers were broken—the motor giving out, wheezing . . . and then he realized that the sound was coming from the back of the van. It stopped. David glanced in the rearview mirror.

The boy’s sister hovered over Ricardo. “Angela, how’s your brother back there?” David asked. “Everything okay?”

Angela’s little face tilted up, her eyes frightened.

“Señor!” she said. “He cannot breathe! He is choking!”

Friday, July 10, 2009

Across the Wide River by Stephanie Reed

[First, an apology to Stephanie and the CFRB. I was supposed to have this posted on Wednesday, but I've had some big setbacks this week that kept me away from the computer]

Across the Wide River and The Light Across the River are historical novels of the sort I personally love to read. They are based quite solidly on true historic events and people, yet the story is filled out with imagination. The John Rankin family is in the top ranks of the conductors on the Underground Railroad. Living in a house that sits at the top of a hill overlooking the Ohio River, they had a great spot for the runaway slaves to find refuge as they fled from Kentucky .

Looking down from the front porch of the Rankin house. At the foot
of the hill is Ripley, the Ohio River, and the Kentucky shore.
Picture on the right is looking up at the front of the house.

It is impossible for me to be objective in reviewing this book and the sequel. I have very strong feelings for both of them and believe all middle school students, at the very least, should read them. While I was teaching middle school English myself, I remember a couple of books about abolitionists and the Underground Railroad that were on the summer reading lists (required). These were both good, but I love how detailed Stephanie Reed writes, and how she gives us the point of view of the children rather than the parents. (By the way, the Rankins eventually had 13 children, although not all of them had been born yet at the time of this story) Lowry Rankin, the oldest of the youngsters, was at that point in his life where he was reaching manhood and had many decisions to make. Lowry had memories of life in Kentucky, where his father set up a school to teach slaves. One of Lowry's friends was beaten for attending the school, and John Rankin eventually felt a need to move to Ohio. The Rankin house on the hill became a welcome station for slaves fleeing from Kentucky; the lantern in the window a beacon of safety signalling them to come. In this novel, Lowry has come to an age that he can help with moving the fugitives on up the trail of the Underground Railroad. He's also at an age to be smitten by the love bug, but his shyness gets in the way. In fact, his shyness gets in the way of a lot of things, including decisions about his future. His father wishes Lowry would follow in his footsteps as a preacher and speak out for the cause, but Lowry isn't so sure.

In this story that follows an adolescent growing up in perilous times, we also get to meet some other giants in the abolition movement: Lyman Beecher, the founder of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati; Professor Calvin Stowe; and Beecher's daughter (Stowe's wife) Harriet Beecher Stowe. I can't emphasize enough the importance of this book in bringing to life the times, culture, and real story of a family sold out to God and convinced of the need to help the slaves to find freedom. I encourage all parents of teens and middle graders to give this book to their children and to read it themselves! It would be great to discuss the two novels and the true history they depict.

To see more pictures of the Rankin House and Ripley, check out the Photos section of Stephanie's page on

To learn more about Stephanie Reed and her books, see her website
and blog site.

Purchase The Light Across the River at
Barnes and Noble,, and Amazon.

Check out these other member blogs this week for more info.

Monday, July 6, 2009


The Light Across the River

by Stephanie Reed

This month, CFRB presents The Light Across the River by Stephanie Reed.

About the Book:
In this powerful sequel to Across the Wide River, it's 1837 and the Rankin home is still a beacon of freedom on the Underground Railroad. Johnny, the seventh of thirteen children in the Rankin family, is growing up quickly and in 1837 is eager to take on the same responsibilities as the rest of his family. But Johnny's father and his brother Lowry think Johnny is too young and too hotheaded to help with something as important and secretive as the Underground Railroad. Johnny understands the need for secrecy, but sometimes the secret is just too good to keep to himself!
Unexpectedly, Johnny finds himself in a position to help a woman named Eliza escape to the North. Will he be able to help her to freedom, or will he let the wrong secret slip out at the wrong time? This engaging novel for young adults offers a further glimpse into a dark period of America's past, and profiles the courageous and godly people who helped bring about its end.

About the Author:
During her childhood, Stephanie Reed's family would often pass through Ripley on their way to her grandparents' home. The signs she read there about the Rankin house were what prompted her to write Across the Wide River and The Light Across the River. After working for nearly a decade with the Dayton Metro Library, Stephanie is now a volunteer spotter for the National Weather Service. She lives with her husband and two children in Dublin, Ohio.

I'll be posting reviews later this week on both The Light Across the River and Across the Wide River later on this week.

Watch the book trailer.

Visit Stephanie's Blog.

Purchase The Light Across the River at

Barnes and Noble,, and Amazon.

Check out these other member blogs this week for more info.