Saturday, October 31, 2009

TALKING TO THE DEAD--CFRB Blog Tour for November



CFRB This month, CFRB presents Talking to the Dead by Bonnie Grove.





About the Book:


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

Is she losing her mind?

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

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


About the Author:

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


You can learn more about Bonnie Grove and her books at her website, http://www.bonniegrove.com/.







Purchase Talking to the Dead at
Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.





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



Friday, October 30, 2009

LAST BREATH by Brandilynn and Amber Collins

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:



Last Breath (Rayne Series #2)

Zondervan; 1 edition (October 1, 2009)

With his last breath a dying man whispered four stunning words into Shaley O’Connor’s ear.
Shaley is reeling after two murders on the Rayne concert tour. But she has no time to rest. If the dying man’s claim is right, the danger is far from over.
Shaley’s quest for the truth leads to the mysterious and wrenching past of her mother and father. Could what happened to them so many years ago threaten Shaley’s life now?

Seatbelt Suspense® for young adults




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Brandilyn and Amberly Collins are a mother/daughter team from northern California. Brandilyn is a bestselling novelist, known for her trademarked "Seatbelt Suspense". Amberly is a college student in southern California. She and her mom love attending concerts together.

Visit the author's website.


Here's a video about the first book in the Rayne Series:



Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Zondervan; 1 edition (October 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310715407
ISBN-13: 978-0310715405

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



Your father sent me.

The last words of a dying man, whispered in my ear.

Were they true? What did they mean?

Your father sent me. The stunning claim drilled through my head, louder than the crowd’s screams.

Guitars blasted the last chord of Rayne’s hit song, Ever Alone, as Mom’s voice echoed through the Pepsi Center in Denver. The heavy drum beat thumped in my chest. With a final smash of cymbals the rock song ended. Multicolored laser lights swept the stadium, signaling the thirty-minute intermission.

Wild shrieks from thousands of fans rang in my ears.

I rose from my chair backstage. Tiredly, I smiled at the famous Rayne O’Connor as she strode toward me on high red heels. In the lights her sequined top shimmered and her blonde hair shone. She walked with confidence and grace, the picture of a rock star—until she stepped from her fans’ sight. Then her posture slumped, weariness creasing her beautiful face. Mom’s intense blue eyes usually glimmered with the excitement of performing, but now I saw only the wash of grief and exhaustion. How she’d managed to perform tonight, I’d never know. Except that she’s strong. A real fighter.

Me? I had to keep fighting too, even if my legs still trembled and I’d probably have nightmares for weeks.

Your father sent me.

I had to find out what those words meant.

“You’re a very brave young lady,” a Denver detective had told me just a few hours ago. I didn’t feel brave then or now.

“You okay, Shaley?” Mom had to shout over the screams as she hugged me.

I nodded against her shoulder, hanging on tightly until she pulled back.

The crowd’s applause died down. A heavy hum of voices and footsteps filtered from the stadium as thousands of people headed for concessions and bathrooms during the break.

Kim, the band’s keyboard player and alto to my mom’s lead vocals, stopped to lay a darkly tanned hand on my head. A strand of her bleached white-blonde hair was stuck to the gloss on her pink lips. She brushed it away. “You’re an amazing sixteen-year-old.”

I shrugged, embarrassed. “Thanks.”

Mick and Wendell, Mom’s two remaining bodyguards, approached without a word. I gave a self-conscious smile to Wendell, and he nodded back, sadness flicking across his face. His deep-set eyes were clouded, and the long scar across his chin seemed harder, more shiny. At five-eleven, Wendell is short for a bodyguard but every bit as muscled. Tonight his two-inch black hair, usually gelled straight up, stuck out in various directions. He hadn’t bothered to fix it since the life and death chase he was involved in just a few hours ago. Seeing that messed-up hair sent a stab through me. Wendell was usually so finicky about it.

Mick, Mom’s main personal bodyguard, folded his huge arms and stood back, waiting. Mick is in his forties, ex-military and tall, with a thick neck and block-shaped head. I’ve rarely seen emotion on his face, but I saw glimpses of it now. He and Wendell had been good friends with Bruce, Mom’s third bodyguard.

Bruce had been killed hours ago. Shot.

And he’d been trying to guard me.

My vision blurred. I blinked hard and looked at the floor.

“Come on.” Mom nudged my arm. “We’re all meeting in my dressing room.”

Mick and Bruce flanked her as she walked away.

Usually we don’t have to be so careful backstage. It’s a heavily guarded area anyway. But tonight nothing was the same.

Kim and I followed Mom down a long hall to her dressing room. Morrey, Kim’s boyfriend and Rayne’s drummer, caught up with us. He put a tattoo-covered arm around Kim, her head only reaching his shoulders. Morrey looked at me and winked, but I saw no happiness in it.

Ross Blanke, the band’s tour production manager, hustled up alongside us, trailed by Stan, lead guitarist, and Rich, Rayne’s bass player. “Hey.” Ross put a pudgy hand on Mom’s shoulder. “You’re doing great.” He waved an arm, indicating everyone. “All of you, you’re just doing great.”

“You do what you have to,” Stan said grimly. His black face shone with sweat.

Narrowing single file, we trudged into the dressing room. Mick and Wendell took up places on each side of the door.

Marshall, the makeup and hair stylist, started handing out water bottles. In his thirties, Marshall has buggy eyes and curly dark hair. His fingers are long and narrow, deft with his makeup tools. But until two days ago, he’d been second to Mom’s main stylist, Tom.

“Thanks.” I took a bottle from Marshall and tried to smile. Didn’t work. Just looking at him sent pangs of grief through me, because his presence reminded me of Tom’s absence.

Tom, my closest friend on tour, had been murdered two days ago.

Mom, Ross, Rich and I sank down on the blue couch—one of the furniture pieces Mom requested in every dressing room. Denver’s version was extra large, with a high back and overstuffed arms. To our left stood a table with plenty of catered food, but no one was hungry. I’d hardly eaten in the last day and a half and knew I should have something. But no way, not now.

Maybe after the concert.

Stan, Morrey and Kim drew up chairs to form a haphazard circle.

“All right.” Ross sat with his short, fat legs apart, hands on his jeaned thighs. The huge diamond ring on his right hand was skewed to one side. He straightened it with his pinky finger. “I’ve checked outside past the guarded area. The zoo’s double what it usually is. The news has already hit and every reporter and his brother are waiting for us. Some paparazzi are already there, and others have probably hopped planes and will show up by the time we leave.”

Is Cat here? I shuddered at the thought of the slinky, effeminate photographer who’d bothered us so much in the last two days. He’d even pulled a fire alarm in our San Jose hotel the night before just to force us out of our rooms. Now by police order he wasn’t supposed to get within five hundred feet of us. I doubted he’d care.

My eyes burned, and my muscles felt like water. Little food, no sleep, and plenty of shock. Bad combination. I slumped down in the couch and laid my head back.

Ross ran a hand through his scraggly brown hair. “Now at intermission folks out there”—he jabbed a thumb toward the arena—“are gonna start hearing things. Rayne, you might want to say a little something when you get back on stage.”

Mom sighed, as if wondering where she’d find the energy to do the second half of the concert. “Yeah.”

I squeezed her knee. If only the two of us could hide from the world for a week or two.

Make that a whole year.

Rich frowned as he moved his shaved head from one side to the other, stretching his neck muscles. His piercing gray eyes landed on me, and his face softened. I looked away.

Everyone was so caring and concerned about me. I was grateful for that. Really, I was. But it’s a little hard to know you’ve been the cause of three deaths. Under all their smiles, did the band members blame me?

Ross scratched his hanging jowl. “We got extra coverage from Denver police at the hotel tonight. Tomorrow we’re supposed to head out for Albuquerque. It’s close enough for Vance to drive the main bus without a switch-off driver, and the next two venues are close enough as well. But that’s just logistics. We’ve all been through a lot. Question is—can you all keep performing?” He looked around, eyebrows raised.

“Man.” Morrey shook back his shoulder-length black hair. “If three deaths in two days isn’t enough to make us quit …” His full lips pressed.

I glanced hopefully at Mom. Yeah, let’s go home! I could sleep in my own bed, hide from the paparazzi and reporters, hang out with Brittany, my best friend—who was supposed to be here with me right now.

But canceling concerts would mean losing a lot of money. The Rayne tour was supposed to continue another four weeks.

Mom hunched forward, elbows on her knees and one hand to her cheek. Her long red fingernails matched the color of her lips. “I almost lost my daughter tonight.” Her voice was tight. “I don’t care if I never tour again—Shaley’s got to be protected, that’s the number one thing.”

I want you protected too, Mom.

“I agree with that a hundred percent,” Morrey said, “but at least the threat to Shaley is gone now that Jerry’s dead.

Jerry, one of our bus drivers—and a man I’d thought was my friend—killed Tom and Bruce, and then came after me earlier that night. A cop ended up shooting him.

Kim spread her hands. “I don’t know what to say. I’m still reeling. We’ve barely had time to talk about any of this tonight before getting on stage. I feel like my mind’s gonna explode. And Tom …”

She teared up, and that made me cry. Kim had been like a mother to Tom. Crazy, funny Tom. It was just so hard to believe he was gone.

I wiped my eyes and looked at my lap.

“Anyway.” Kim steadied her voice. “It’s so much to deal with. I don’t know how we’re going to keep up this pace for another month.”

Mom looked at Ross. “We can’t keep going very long with only Vance to drive the main bus.”

Ross nodded. “Until Thursday. I’d have to replace him by then.”

“With who?” Mom’s voice edged.

“I don’t know. I’ll have to jump on it.”

“You can’t just ‘jump on it.’ We need time to thoroughly check the new driver out.”

“Rayne.” Ross threw her a look. “I did check Jerry out. Completely. He had a false ID, remember? That’s what the police said. I couldn’t have known that.”

“You might have known if you’d checked harder.”

Ross’s face flushed. “I did—”

“No you didn’t! Or if you did it wasn’t good enough!” Mom pushed to her feet and paced a few steps. “Something’s mighty wrong if we can’t even find out a guy’s a convicted felon!”

What? I stiffened. “How do you know that?”

Mom waved a hand in the air. “The police told me just before we left the hotel.”

We’d huddled in the manager’s office after the policeman killed Jerry.

I stared at Mom. “When was he in jail?”

Mom threw a hard look at Ross. “He’d barely gotten out when we hired him.”

Heat flushed through my veins. I snapped my gaze toward the floor, Jerry’s last words ringing in my head.

Your father sent me.

How could my father have sent Jerry if he was in jail?

“Rayne,” Ross snapped, “I’ve told you I’m sorry a dozen times—”

“Sorry isn’t enough!” Mom whirled on him. “My daughter was taken hostage. She could have been killed!”

Rich jumped up and put his arms around her. “Come on, Rayne, it’s okay now.”

She leaned against him, eyes closed. The anger on her face melted into exhaustion. “It’s not okay.” Mom shook her head. “Tom’s dead, Bruce is dead. And Shaley—”

Her words broke off. Mom pulled away from Rich and hurried back to the couch. She sank down next to me, a hand on my knee. “Shaley, you’re the one who’s been through the most. What do you want to do?”

My throat nearly swelled shut. Go home! I wanted to yell. But I couldn’t. It wouldn’t be fair. This wasn’t my tour. I didn’t have to pay the bills.

I glanced around at all the band members. Morrey was holding Kim’s hand. Stan and Rich watched me, waiting. A canceled tour wouldn’t just affect them. Rayne had three back-up singers, one of them Carly, who’d been such a help to me. Plus all the techs and roadies. They’d all lose money.

Wait—maybe Mom would let me go home and stay with Brittany. Now that Tom’s and Bruce’s killer was dead …

“Shaley?” Mom tapped my leg.

“I don’t … I can’t stop the tour.”

Ross exhaled. “Rayne?”

Mom looked at the wall clock and pushed to her feet. “We can’t decide this now. It’s only fifteen minutes before we have to be back on stage. I still need to change.”

Stan stood. “I say we figure on doing Albuquerque, and then we can decide about the rest.”

“Yeah, me too.” Rich got up, along with everyone else. I could see the business-like attitude settle on all their faces, including Mom’s. Soon they had to perform again. Every other concern must be pushed aside. In the entertainment world the saying was true: the show must go on.

Within a minute everyone had left except Mom, Marshall and me. Mom threw herself into a chair by the bright mirrors so Marshall could adjust her makeup. When he left she changed into a steel blue top and skinny-legged black pants.

I sat numbly on the couch, four words running through my mind. Words, I sensed, that would change my life.

Your father sent me.

Mom didn’t know what Jerry had whispered to me as he died. I needed to tell her.

But how? Like me, she was running on empty. It would be one more shock, another scare. I wasn’t sure she could take anymore and still perform.

Had Jerry told me the truth? Had the father I’d never known—the man my mother refused to talk about—purposely sent a killer to join our tour?

I needed to know. I needed to find out. Because if it was true—the danger was far from over.




Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Christmas Treasure





A colorful compilation of anecdotes, very short stories, recipes, crafts, verses, poems, and ideas for the Christmas season, written by the Word Quilters. This group of talented writers includes Brenda Nixon, Terra Hangen, Cathy Messecar, Trish Berg, Karen Robbins, and Leslie Wilson. I picked up an autographed copy when I went to a booksigning with Brenda Nixon and several other authors. It is a perfect gift for just about any lady friends or relatives (and some guys, especially those who cook and have kids), and I sent it to one of my special friends last Christmas. The picture of the cover doesn't do it justice: the colors are vibrant, even twinkling, and the entire book is full of illustrations and colorful backgrounds to set off the contents. You can get an idea of the quality of the illustration in the book trailer below.


There are lots of Christmas idea books available, but the difference with the Scrapbook is an emphasis on keeping Christ in Christmas. Each of the ten chapters is introduced with a verse and the real Christmas story is told. Then there are homey family touches, memories and ideas for making memories. Origins of some traditions, such as candy canes and poinsettias, are presented. I love the inclusion of some of my favorite carols and "favorite things" such as Samaritan's Purse's Operation Christmas Child.


I highly recommend this lovely little book, for yourself and for gifts. You can buy it in many book stores, and online at amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.




Tuesday, October 27, 2009

JESUS--No Greater Love

The Jesus Movie for

the Next Generation

www.NewJesusMovie.com

Guest post by Bruce Marchiano, producer of Jesus...No Greater Love


The truth of the gospel never changes. But Christianity has many faces. They reflect the customs and cultures and the beautiful diversity of the global church. They are lined with the wisdom of age and vibrant with the passion of youth. One gospel for all the world…but how will we deliver it in a way that reaches the whole world? How will we reach the next generation?



Young Christians today are more like St. Francis of Assisi than a circuit riding preacher. “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” This is a generation focused on being the hands and feet of Christ and meeting the physical needs of those in both the local and global community. They are building houses, planting gardens, taking food and clothes to the poor and helping the widows and orphans… and then they are sharing the gospel. And they are using technology like never before. They communicate the message through audio, film, video and the internet, and they strive for excellence within those mediums. They must. This is how they will reach their generation for Christ.



I share their passion. In the film, The Gospel According to Matthew, we were able to capture the heart of Christ that is so often missing in Christian films, but the quality of the film making was constrained by an $800,000 budget. Now we are inspiring a movement that will bring Jesus to film in a version that literally leaps off the screen and into the hearts of viewers.


Jesus…No Greater Love, the new Jesus movie, (http://www.newjesusmovie.com/) will be a word for word, verse by verse film adaption of the Gospel according to John. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. That’s really our concept, that the gospel would go out in the power of the film medium, unaltered by any human script writer.



The budget for a typical Hollywood production is $100-110 million. Actors’ salaries account for much of that cost. Because the new Jesus movie will be not be paying big name actors, our team believes we can produce a world class, state-of-the-art film incorporating the latest cutting-edge technology for just $45 million. The production will be shot on location in Jerusalem and shot digitally using CGI backgrounds and a green screen stage, providing unlimited potential for sharing the gospel for generations to come.



We are inviting people from all nations and all generations to join this movement to bring the gospel to all people. A movement made of 4.5 million people contributing a tax deductible donation of $10 each would fund the cost of the film. The Gospel belongs to everyone, and the new Jesus movie will be produced expressly so it can be accessed by everyone, no matter their financial situation. Our team's vision is to see the film translated into as many languages as possible and supplied to mission organizations and churches all over the world.



You can become a part of the movement to reach the next generation. Please help us spread the word to your friends and family. If you would like to make a donation, you can do so at http://www.newjesusmovie.com./


Also, you can keep up with our progress by visiting any of these links:













~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Bruce Marchiano is an actor, author, international speaker, and the founder of Marchiano Ministries, a non-profit organization reaching out to people both spiritually and practically in the USA and across the world. He is best known for his joyful, passionate portrayal of Jesus in the film, The Gospel According to Matthew.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Interview with James David Jordan, Author of DOUBLE CROSS








Double Cross is an action-packed story that provides thrilling twists and turns as well as a thought-provoking look at the personal and spiritual struggles of characters who are as complex as they are flawed. Ultimately, it’s a story of self-examination that describes Taylor Pasbury’s journey toward the conclusion that some sacrifices can never be earned.




Q: Double Cross is your third novel, but writing is not your full time job. You are a successful business attorney. Tell us how and why you started writing.

A: I’ve always enjoyed writing and always considered it a challenge to write a novel and get it published. Like most beginning writers, I was na├»ve and didn’t know how much I didn’t know about writing. I knew that when I did write, I wanted to write about life’s "big" issue which, at least in my mind, is faith.

Q: How much of your inspiration for writing novels comes from your true life experiences as an attorney?

A: Very little really. I don’t want to write about work because it would be too much like being at work. Writing and sports are what I do to get a break from being an attorney.

Q: Your latest book is a follow-up to Forsaken in which your main characters were presented with what seems an almost impossible dilemma. Can you share what that situation was and why you chose to address this thought-provoking topic for your book?

A: In Forsaken, a famous televangelist is forced to decide between his faith and his daughter’s life. It’s a dilemma that is perfect for a Christian suspense thriller. I chose it because of the Bible verse that says that if we don’t love Jesus more than our family members, we’re not worthy of him. That’s a tough rule, and I wanted to explore what it would be like to be faced with that choice.

Q: Double Cross continues the story of Taylor Pasbury. Tell us about Taylor and what makes her tick.

A: Taylor was raised by her father, a former Special Forces officer, after her mother ran out when she was a child. Taylor knows how to take care of herself and did stints on a Dallas SWAT team and in the Secret Service before opening her own security agency. She’s the person you want next to you in a crisis, but she is terribly insecure on a personal level which makes her attractively vulnerable. Her father was murdered when she was seventeen, and she’s been adrift. She’s not someone anyone would describe as a religious person which makes her an interesting narrator for a novel with a Christian theme.

Q: You have a knack for weaving deep spiritual truths into intriguing story lines. What’s the secret to making a spiritual point without creating a plot that seems too contrived?

A: The trick is to find a story idea in which the characters would naturally be expected to think about spiritual angles. Let’s face it. Despite what the popular press and Hollywood would like us to believe, the average person in this country does think about spiritual issues—not necessarily daily or even regularly—but not just rarely, either. Some events in life naturally focus the ordinary American’s mind on the spiritual. Even people who don’t consider themselves religious are generally willing to consider spiritual issues as long as they’re not presented as part of an evangelical bludgeoning.

Q: This book deals a lot with abandonment. Was there anything in your own life or in the lives of others around you that made you take on this difficult subject?

A: Perhaps, but Double Cross is not a book about me or about anyone I know. My characters tend to be composites, with characteristics of many different people I’ve met.

Q: In Forsaken, Taylor Pasbury deals with the pain of losing her father. In Double Cross, she is set alongside her eccentric mother. What do you hope comes across to readers through Taylor’s relationship with her mother?

A: In many ways Taylor’s mother is remarkably self-absorbed, but Taylor comes to understand, at least to an extent, why it is so difficult for her mother to give unconditional love. She also learns some important things about how faith and forgiveness work. Most importantly, she learns that grace can never be earned.

Q: Taylor, like so many young adult women, has difficulty finding men that she can trust. Talk about the connection between a young woman’s relationship to her father, and how that translates to her relationship with other men. Is there a connection there that you hope will penetrate your readers?

A: First, I don’t pretend to have any unique insight with respect to a twenty-nine-year-old woman’s dating relationships. I didn’t even understand that when I was twenty-nine myself. But I do know that Taylor is hyper-critical of men, perhaps because she believes that none of them can measure up to her father (who made a terrible sacrifice for her when she was young). She has difficulty identifying a good man, even when he’s right in front of her. Like many young women, I think, she’s attracted to the bad boys. For Taylor, part of dealing with the many problems her background has created for her is learning that there are some good men out there if she’ll just cut them some slack.

Q: You write about characters who are very flawed and sometimes self-destructive. Why have you chosen to present a message of faith through such messy characters?

A: I don’t think anyone gets much out of reading about religious super heroes. We’ve all got our faults and our problems, and Christians don’t have to be perfect people. In many ways, I almost think God likes us better when we don’t try to act so perfect and instead acknowledge our own flaws.

Q: Is this the end of the road for Taylor Pasbury, or will we see her again?

A: Right now, it looks as if Taylor is going to appear again in a Michael Crichton-style techno thriller. She is going to walk the border line between science and religion when she’s hired to protect an orphan boy who has a baffling ability that causes a lot of powerful world players to want to get their hands on him. I just need to find the time to write it.




Double Cross by James David Jordan
B&H Publishing Group October 2009
ISBN: 978-08054-4754-5/softcover/302 pages/$14.99







Visit the author’s website to view the trailer - http://www.jamesdavidjordan.com/

DOUBLE CROSS


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:



Double Cross

B&H Books (October 1, 2009)




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



James David Jordan is a business attorney in Texas and was named by the Dallas Business Journal as one of the most influential leaders in that legal community. He holds a journalism degree from the University
of Missouri as well as a law degree and MBA from the University of Illinois and lives with his wife and two children in the Dallas suburbs.

Visit the author's website ,





Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: B&H Books (October 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805447547
ISBN-13: 978-0805447545

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



The day my mother came back into my life began with a low December fog and a suicide. Mom was not responsible for the fog.


I hadn’t seen her for twenty years, and the idea that she might show up at my door was the farthest thing from my mind on a Thursday morning, a few weeks before Christmas, when the music alarm practically blasted me off my bed. With the Foo Fighters wailing in my ear, I burrowed into my pillow and tried to wrap it around my head. I rolled onto my side and slapped the snooze bar, but smacked the plastic so hard that it snapped in two, locking in another minute and a half of throbbing base before I could yank the cord from the wall socket. It wasn’t until my toes touched the hardwood floor and curled up against the cold that I remembered why I was waking up at five-forty-five in the first place. Kacey Mason and I were meeting Elise Hovden at eight o’clock in a suburb northwest of Dallas. We would give her one chance to explain why nearly half a million dollars was missing from Simon Mason World Ministries. If she couldn’t, our next stop would be the Dallas police.


Since Simon Mason’s murder earlier that year, I’d been living in his house with Kacey, his twenty-year-old daughter. I had promised to watch out for her if anything happened to him. It wasn’t a sacrifice. By that time Kacey and I were already so close that we finished each other’s sentences. I needed her as much as she needed me.


I slid my feet into my slippers and padded down the hall toward Kacey’s door. Chill bumps spread down my thighs in a wave, and I wished I’d worn my flannel pajama bottoms to bed under my Texas Rangers baseball jersey. Rather than turning back to my room to grab my robe, I decided to gut it out. I bent over and gave my legs a rub, but I knew they wouldn’t be warm again until I was standing next to the space heater in the bathroom.


I pressed my ear to Kacey’s door. The shower was humming. Of course she was awake. Had there ever been a more responsible college kid? Sometimes I wished she would let things go, do something wild. For her, that would probably mean not flossing before going to bed. If hyper-responsibility got her through the day, I supposed it was fine with me. After all, she was a markedly better person than I had been at her age.


By the time I met her father I was twenty-nine, and thanks to a decade of too much alcohol and too many useless men, I was dropping like a rock. But Simon Mason caught me and held me in place for a while, just long enough to give me hope. Then he did what he had to do, and he died for it. Some things are more important than living. He and Dad both taught me that. So now I was changing. To be accurate, I would say I was a work in progress. I hadn’t had a drink since before Simon died, and I’d sworn off men completely, albeit temporarily. Frankly, the latter was not much of a sacrifice. It wasn’t as if a crowd of guys had been beating a path to my door. I simply figured there was no use getting back into men until I was confident the drinking was under control. One thing I had demonstrated repeatedly in my life was that drinking and men just didn’t go together—at least not for me.


As for Kacey, after everything she’d been through, it was amazing she hadn’t folded herself into a fetal ball and quit the world for a while. Instead, she just kept plugging along, putting one foot in front of the other. I was content to step gingerly behind her, my toes sinking into her footprints. She was a good person to follow. She had something I’d never been known for: Kacey had character.


I shook my head. I was not going to start the day by kicking myself. I’d done enough of that. Besides, I no longer thought I had to be perfect. If a good man like Simon Mason could mess things up and find a way to go on, then so could I. Even in his world—a much more spiritual one than mine—perfection was not required. He made a point of teaching me that.


I closed my eyes and pictured Simon: his shiny bald head, his leanly muscled chest, his brilliant, warming smile. As I thought of that smile, I smiled, too, but it didn’t last long. Within seconds the muscles tightened in my neck. I massaged my temples and tried to clear my thoughts. Soon, though, I was pressing my fingers so hard into my scalp that pain radiated from behind my eyes.


If only he had listened. But he couldn’t. He wanted to die. No matter how much he denied it, we both knew it was true. After what he had done, he couldn’t live with himself. So he found the only available escape hatch. He went to preach in a place where his death was nearly certain.


I lowered my hands and clenched them, then caught myself and relaxed. This was no good. It was too late. Not this morning, Taylor. You’re not going to think about Simon today. I took a deep breath and ran my fingers back through my hair, straightening the auburn waves for an instant before they sprang stubbornly back into place. Today’s worries are enough for today. That was the mantra of the alcohol recovery program at Simon’s church. It was from the Bible, but I couldn’t say where. To be honest, I didn’t pay attention as closely as I should. Regardless of origin, it was a philosophy that had worked for my drinking—at least so far. Maybe it had broader application: Focus on the task at hand and let yesterday and tomorrow take care of themselves.


At the moment, the first priority was to get the coffee going. I started down the hall.


When I turned the corner into the kitchen, I could see that Kacey had already been there. The coffee maker light was on, illuminating a wedge of countertop next to the refrigerator. In the red glow of the tiny bulb, the machine chugged and puffed like a miniature locomotive. Two stainless steel decanters with screw-on plastic lids waited next to the ceramic coffee jar, and the smell of strong, black coffee drifted across the room. I closed my eyes, inhaled, and pictured the cheese Danish we would pick up at the corner bakery on our way out of our neighborhood. That was plenty of incentive to get moving. I headed back down the hall.


When I reached the bathroom I flipped on the light, closed the door, and hit the switch on the floor heater. I positioned it so it blew directly on my legs. Within a minute the chill bumps were retreating. I braced my hands on the edge of the sink, leaned forward, and squinted into the mirror. Glaring back at me was a message I had written in red lipstick the night before: Start the coffee!


I wiped the words off with a hand towel and peered into the mirror again. A tangled strand of hair dangled in front of one eye. I pushed it away, blinked hard, and studied my face. No lines, no bags, no creases—no runs, no hits, no errors, as Dad used to say. I was beginning to believe the whole clean living thing. Zero liquor and a good night’s sleep worked like a tonic for the skin.


It was tough to stay on the wagon after Simon’s death. I had never been an every-day drinker. My problem was binge drinking. With all that had happened during the past six months, the temptations had been frequent and strong, but I was gradually getting used to life on the dry side of a bourbon bottle. There was much to be said for routine. Maybe that’s why dogs are so happy when they’re on a schedule. When everything happens the same way and at the same time each day, there’s not much room for angst.


On second thought, the dog analogy didn’t thrill me. I pulled the Rangers jersey over my head, tossed it on the floor, and turned to look in the full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. Standing in nothing but my bikini panties, I rocked onto the toes of one foot, then the other. My long legs were still lean and athletic. Fitness was something Dad had always emphasized—fitness and self-defense. There were times when I had hated him for it, but now I was glad for the benefits. It would be years before I had to worry about really showing age. I might have lived harder than most twenty-nine year olds, but I could still turn heads in a crowded room. No, the dog analogy was not appropriate. I had plenty of issues, but I was no dog. At least not yet.


I turned on the water and cupped my hands beneath the faucet. It was time to wake up and plan what we would say to Elise. After splashing my face and patting it with a towel, I turned around, leaned back against the countertop, and crossed my arms. I caught a whiff of the lavender cologne I’d taken to spraying on my wrists before bed. The Internet said it would soothe me into peaceful slumber. For fifty dollars an ounce, it should have brought me warm milk and rocked me to sleep. I tried to recall how I’d slept the past few nights, then caught myself. I was just looking for ways to waste time. I needed to focus. The issue at hand was Elise.


Simon informed me about the missing money just before he left for Beirut. His former accountant, Brandon, had confronted him about it, thinking that Simon had been skimming. Simon wanted someone to know that he hadn’t done it, someone who could tell Kacey that her dad was not a thief. That’s why he told me. In case he didn’t come back. And as the whole world knew, he didn’t come back.


Elise was the obvious person for the board of directors to choose to wind up the business of Simon’s ministry. She had been his top assistant for years. When I told Kacey about the missing money, though, she bypassed Elise and went directly to the board to demand an audit—impressive gumption for a twenty year old. It didn’t take the auditors long to confirm that Simon had nothing to do with the missing money.


The accountants concluded that the board had assigned the cat to clean the birdcage. Elise had set up dummy vendor accounts at banks around the country in a classic embezzlement scam. Simon’s ministries had major construction projects going, and Elise issued bogus contractor invoices to Simon Mason World Ministries from fake businesses with P.O. box addresses that she controlled. When the ministry mailed the payments, she picked up the checks from the post office boxes and deposited them in the bank accounts. Who knows where the money went from there?


The ministry had grown so quickly during the years before Simon’s death—and Simon was so trusting—that controls were lax. When the invoices came in, the payables department paid them without question. By now the money was probably stuffed under a mattress in some tropical paradise. That was another thing I intended to pursue with Elise. She had developed a great tan.


Before I stepped into the shower, I wrapped myself in a towel and went back into the bedroom. I pulled my Sig Sauer .357 out of my purse and checked the magazine. It was full. I slipped the pistol into the inside pocket of my purse. Elise didn’t strike me as the type to get violent, but people did weird things when backed into a corner. If I’d learned anything during my time in the Secret Service, it was to hope for the best—and prepare for the worst.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Beauty from Ashes--Thoughts from Laura Davis



This began as an ordinary interview with an author for me, but it turned into much, much more. In fact, this may be the most powerful interview I've had.
Laura's words brought to mind this scripture, from which I took my title--Isaiah 61:3 (NLT): "he will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. For the LORD has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory."
For the first time I conducted more of a real interview by chatting--in writing--on Skype. Unlike chat rooms, Skype conversations can be copied and pasted into Word documents. I liked the real give-and-take that was possible this way. I had no idea where some of the questions would lead. So without further ado, I am pleased to introduce you to Canadian author Laura Davis, author of Come to Me (see previous blog).





Cathi Hassan: First, some questions about you. Tell me a little about yourself: your family, where you come from...



Laura Davis: I live in London, Ontario. I have two children.: Sarah, who is studying animation and Andrew, who still lives with us. I've been married for 27 years to Jim.



Cathi Hassan: Animation? As in cartoons kind of animation?



Laura Davis: Yes. She will have a BA when she is finished.



Cathi Hassan: How did you come to know Jesus as Lord?



Laura Davis: I came to know the Lord through a dream. When I was about 17 years old, I had been reading the book The Omen. It had scripture references in it from Revelations. It started me thinking. So I began to read Revelations. Big mistake! I was terrified by the time I finished it. I had no idea Jesus was coming back again!



I went to bed that night concerned that I wouldn't go to heaven. That was when I had a dream. I was standing on a corner at night and a voice shouted out to me, "Laura! Where are you going?" And I shouted back that I was going to hell. The next thing I knew - I was in hell!



I woke up terrified and wondered what to do. I remembered that someone had given me a tract of the four spiritual laws at school. I had brought them home and thrown them in my dresser, forgetting about them. I ransacked my dresser that night, desperate to find them. When I did, I read the whole thing, realized that I needed to confess my sins to God and repent of my sins. I invited Jesus into my heart and life that night and spent the rest of the evening reading the Gospel of John.



In the morning I went back to bed and had another dream. In that dream, I was coming out of a very dark room. All my friends were there, dressed in black, but I was dressed in white. I stepped through a door into heaven and sat down on a rock, looking around, taking it all in. When Jesus came and sat beside me. He took my hand and said, "Now, everything is going to be alright." And I knew from that moment on that I had done something incredible.



CH: Wow. That's an incredible testimony you have. Was that book the same one as the movie? If so, I guess it proves that God can work through just about anything.



Laura: Yes, it was. I discovered a few years ago that a lot of people came to Christ through that book. I'm not sure if that is what the author intended, but God did indeed use it for His good purposes.



CH: Amen to that. It seems to me that God has worked in unusual ways many times n your life. I understand that you were a singer before? Even wrote some of your own songs and made a living by singing?



Laura: Yes, I had a singing ministry for over 25 years. I had been singing all my life and at the time of my conversion I had an agent and had been singing in bars, etc. with a back-up band. After I came to Christ and started attending church, my pastor asked me what I was doing with the voice God gave me. He encouraged me to sing for the Lord instead and was my biggest fan, in that he had me give a concert of Christian music one Sunday for the entire service! After that, I felt God calling me to sing for Him on a regular basis and without me doing any promotion of any kind for myself, I started receiving phone calls, from various places (even from the States). Before I knew what was happening I was singing everywhere.



My parents encouraged my music and bought me a guitar and (without any lessons), the Lord gave me song after song and I would sing with my guitar (until back-up tapes came out!). Then I just used them and sometimes the occasional band.



CH: This is so cool. I wish I could have heard you sing. So what happened?



Laura: Well, I traveled around quite a bit, appeared on 100 Huntley St. a few times, recorded an album, did some concerts, etc. and then around 10 years ago, I had to go in for surgery to remove a tumour that was discovered in my abdomen. Something went wrong in the surgery though and they had to intubate me. Now, I'm not sure if it was the intubation or just God's will, but after that surgery I couldn't sing like I used to. I tried for several months to get back to where I was, but my voice kept cracking and I had no control over it at all. My singing ministry abruptly ended and that was that.



CH: That had to be devastating.



Laura: It was. I had suddenly lost something very precious to me. I felt like God had left me or was angry at me for some reason and I felt totally adrift.



CH: So how did you deal with this loss?



Laura: I fell into a deep depression. Then I slapped myself across the face and said enough is enough and began to pray. I prayed for the wrong thing though. I prayed to get my voice back rather than seeking God's will on the matter. So, when I finally came to my senses and stopped trying to make deals with God (If you give me my voice back I'll do this...), I finally started to hear Him speak to me. He told me He wanted me to write a book about Him and I said, "No. I don't think so, I just write songs." I then began to argue with Him. I was one stubborn cookie!

Finally, I surrendered to His will and said, "Okay, Lord if you want me to write for you then you will have to show me how and what to write." So I sat down at my computer and said, "Use me Lord as you see fit." Before I knew what was happening a story was flowing through my fingertips. It took me three months to get it all out and another 3 or 4 years to edit.



CH: Cool. You have been a living lesson, I think, of what it means to be open to hear God speak. And to accept His will even when it isn't what we are wanting.



Laura: That has been the hardest lesson for me in life. Accepting new things, new directions that God could be leading me into. I often wonder how many opportunities I've missed because of my stubbornness.



CH: Well, I think that is true for all of us. I know it is for me.



Laura: You are probably right.



CH: So, once you started writing, you told a story from Mary's perspective. What made you choose this story?



Laura: It was what the Lord wanted me to write--about the life of Jesus from Mary's perspective. I sensed that it was to be a book that anyone could read, who was looking for God, to find out about Him. It had to be fiction as well as fact. I included scripture references as well so that the new believer or seeker could look up these stories in the Bible for themselves.



CH: I really like the tone if the book. It made me feel like I was there beside Mary, like she could have been a neighbor, even though it was a very different time and culture. You must have done quite a bit of research.



Laura: Thank you. I wanted to present the people in the Bible as real people, not biblical characters with halos over their heads. They were real people, like you and me, that went through some extraordinary events. I spent a great deal of time in research. Almost three years studying just the Gospels and then more time on the customs and culture of the time period.

CH: I understand that you are working on a new novel now?



Laura: Yes, I have a few on the go actually. The one I'm currently working on is called Finding Claire. It is a coming of age book that deals with suicide and depression in Christians. The other one is called Upon this Rock and it is a sequel to Come to Me. The third one is untitled and is a Christmas novella.



CH: Suicide and depression. Sounds like really heavy stuff, but timely. I used to think that Christians shouldn't ever suffer from depression or mental illness, but I've had to readjust now that the facts have been flaring in my face so often.



Laura: It is heavy. I used to think that way too, until I suffered from it myself. That is why Come to Me is so important today. Mary surrendered to the Lord during difficult circumstances. Jesus surrendered to the Lord, knowing He would be tortured on a cross. Surrendering to God when we are at our lowest is what can take us to the highest levels of joy in our relationship with the Lord.



CH: You've been learning these lessons in your own life, I know.



Laura: Indeed. Writing the book was a healing process for me.



CH: And I believe God is using it to bring healing to others as well.



Laura: I hope so.



CH: I know that Come to Me is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Are there other sources for readers to get a copy?



Laura: Yes, it is available at some brick and mortar stores, but it is best to order through Amazon or B & N. I have a listing on my website of the other stores (they are all in Canada).



CH: Okay. I'll be sure to include a link to your website with this interview.



I really enjoyed talking with you, Laura. You have a sweet spirit that shines through your writings. I know you have gone though many hardships, but, like you said, God has worked through them to bring you to a higher level. Certainly a closer walk with Him.



Laura: Well, I can't take any credit for my spirit. God has given me all these hardships because I'm pig-headed and don't listen to Him enough! He's constantly refining me.



CH: LOL. Yes, I guess many of us have to learn over and over again. Me, too.
Well, thank you so much for talking with me. It's been a pleasure.



Laura: Thank you so much. You are such a sweetheart for doing this.



CH: Nah, I just felt like I was supposed to feature you again. I learned more than I expected tonight. Your testimony was really amazing. God is amazing!



Laura: Indeed He is.








Laura has a wonderful website and blog at authorlauradavis.com. You can also read an excerpt of Come to Me at the website.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Christmas Story--Through Mary's Eyes

It's getting to that time if year when most of us are thinking about Christmas presents. Hopefully, we are also thinking about the real meaning of Christmas. I mean real, not the stuff that shows up in movies and kid's books. It isn't about Santa Claus or Rudolph, snow or pretty lights and decorations. It isn't even about gift-giving and family getting together, as wonderful as that is. You know what it is, but it's hard to find any books that deal with the true story of Christmas. That's the story of the one gift above all gifts--God coming in human form to save us all. This blog is to review one rare book that deals with the true Christmas story. Rarer yet, this book looks at the whole thing from the perspective of one who knew just how everything went down--Mary.




Come to Me by Laura Davis is a loving, well-crafted story of Mary the mother of Jesus. Actually it goes far beyond the night Jesus was born, following Mary until her old age. In case you are wondering, this is historical fiction, taking the Biblical account and careful research to fill out how Mary's life and thought might have been. Truthfully, I was a little hesitant when I first started reading it, but I was soon won over. I'm sure many of you, like me, have wondered about how Mary felt when she was expecting Jesus, how the family reacted, her feelings about Joseph and what it was like for her as she gave birth in the stable. Her thoughts and hopes are considered as Jesus grows up, as he begins his ministry, and in that horrible time when he died. It doesn't end there, of course, but continues to the thrill when Jesus stood before his mother again--alive, when he ascended into Heaven and in that time after the Holy Spirit came and the disciples were scattered around the world as they knew it.




Much of this story is conjecture, of course, but it is based on a lot of research into the life and times of the Jews in that day. While there are some part that I might imagine a bit differently it is still within the realms of possibility. You might ask why we should even venture into this fictional account based on what we really know. For me, it helps to humanize Mary. Sometimes we have this vision of her on a pedestal, not a real person who dealt with all the drudgery and reality of living in that time period under Roman rule. She didn't walk around with a halo on her head. And while we know Jesus was a perfect son, not everything and everyone else had that same stamp of perfection. The love of a mother shines through, a love other mothers can identify with even if their children don't meet Jesus' standard. The rest of us can also identify with Mary's grief and hope, and I think it gives a new perspective to the real Jesus, all human and all divine.




Come to Me would be a good book for gift-giving, for book clubs or just for your own enjoyment and enrichment. I reviewed it last year as part of the CFRB virtual tour here. I felt compelled to revisit it, though, because it is one of the very few books (other than the Bible itself) that deals with the story of Jesus. If you wish to see an excerpt, you can read it here on Laura Davis' website.




Find out more about Laura and her writings at her website http://www.authorlauradavis.com/ . Laura also has a blog for reviews of other people's books.




I don't know where you might find the book on the shelves, but you should be able to order it in most Christian bookstores. Online, you can order it through Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

Monday, October 19, 2009

SOLDIER DADDY is a Heartwarming Tale


Last week I was just tooling through my neighborhood Meijer's store (kind of like a Super Walmart here in the Midwest) when I decided to take a look at their book section. Imagine my surprise and delight to find some familiar Christian books in the romance novel section. Yes, the whole line of Love Inspired novels for October were there, including Soldier Daddy, the latest in Cheryl Wyatt's series about USAF pararescue jumpers and their families. Since I wanted this book, I bought it and set out to read it almost immediately. It did not disappoint.

This story centers on Aaron Petrowski, the fearless and capable commander of the PJ's (pararescue jumpers) stationed in Refuge, Illinois. Since the tragic death of his beloved wife, Donna, Aaron has been struggling to be a good father to his rambunctious twin boys and at the same time lead his team as he should. The only answer seems to be hiring a perfect nanny for the three-year-old dynamic duo. Since Mary Poppins isn't available, Aaron prayerfully searches for just the right person to take on the task.

Enter the eager and vivacious Sarah Graham, a surprisingly young and pretty lady who immediately bonds with the twins. Sarah seems to have everything Aaron is looking for, and after much prayer, he decides that she was God-sent. Even her Christian values are in line with Aaron's, and he knows she intends to help instill those values in Bryce and Braden. Yet, while Aaron believes Sarah is the right one to care for his boys, he has an uncomfortable feeling that she's hiding something. The more he is in contact with her, though, the more he struggles to keep everything at an employer-employee level.

As for Sarah, she is certain that God wants her to help this particular family. She is in constant fear, however, that her past will catch up with her. Whatever secret shame she is hiding, she is always in penance mode, unable to forgive herself or walk in freedom from the punishment she feels she deserves. Hopelessly in love with her two little charges, almost from the beginning, Sarah also finds herself extremely attracted to her boss.

Like all of Cheryl Wyatt's other books in the Wings of Refuge series, this is a very heartwarming and beautiful story. The characters are, for the most part, very endearing and real. At times there are humorous incidents and banter that seem quite realistic. Without being heavy-handed, Cheryl works in many Christian values and spiritual truths that add precious depth to the story. In all of it's Christian morals and values, though, there are serious issues the characters must deal with. It isn't all pie-in-the-sky, but the author makes a point of demonstrating how Jesus deals with hard questions and how Christians should react as well.
Blockquote
In a note at the end of the story, Cheryl writes:
"This story speaks of loss and hope. Loss touches each of us in this life. There's no escaping it. If you have not gone through something hard in your life, eventually you will. But likewise, hope does not disappoint. We have the God of all hope who loves us and is intimate with our pain. He also knows our dreams and hopes. I pray that hope touches your life and heart profoundly, even in the face of any loss or heartache you face. May you always seek Refuge in the haven of His wings."



As I understand it, this book and other Love Inspired titles for October will only be on most shelves until the end if the month, but you will still be able to buy it at Christianbook.com, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.com. Right now you can pick it up at many stores, not just the Christian bookstores. I saw the Love Inspired line at Walmart as well as Meijer's. The suggested retail price is only $5.5
0 U.S., but I bought it for a dollar less at Meijer's. I think this cozy romance is well worth the price.



Cheryl Wyatt has a website at Cherylwyatt.com

She also keeps a blog at Squirrel's Treehouse. I hope you will visit these sites and come to know more if the heart of this genuinely sweet and talented author. She's the real deal.













Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Opening Up THE BLUE UMBRELLA by Mike Mason

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



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


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


The Blue Umbrella

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


I didn't have the chance to review this book, but I intend to get a copy as soon as possible. From what I read in this excerpt plus the slightly different excerpt and information on the website, it looks like a really delightful book. Well, perhaps delightful isn't the right word, since it appears to be in the melancholy vein of the Unfortunate Events series. I expect, though, that since the author is a Christian, there should be more hope and a ray of light somewhere along the way. Most likely this will appeal to those who enjoy reading The Series of Unfortunate Events, The Spiderwick Chronicles and books of that sort.

Book Summary (Taken from Amazon.com):

An orphan faces an evil magician in this literary fantasy for readers of all ages that probes the depths of good and evil.

The life of ten-year-old Zac Sparks changes overnight when his mother is killed by lightning. He's sent to live in Five Corners with his Aunties, two cruel old hags who obviously don't like him. It isn't long before Zac knows something really strange is going on. Five Corners is populated with weird characters--a midget butler, a girl who doesn't speak, a blind balloon seller, and a mysterious singer who is heard but not seen. Then there's the Aunties' father, Dada. Zac's first encounter with Dada is so terrifying he faints dead away.

The one bright spot is Sky Porter, the proprietor of the general store across the street, a friendly soul who encourages Zac--when the Aunties aren't looking--and shows him a kindness that is sadly lacking from his dismal life. But Sky isn't what he seems either, and when Zac learns Sky's amazing secret he realizes, to his dismay, that this wonderful man may have a very dark side as well.

Discovering that Dada is an evil magician who has found a way to live forever, Zac knows many lives are at stake, including his own. With time running out, he must turn to the one person who might be able to help: Sky Porter. Can Zac trust him?






ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Mike Mason is the best-selling, award-winning author of The Mystery of Marriage, The Gospel According to Job, Practicing the Presence of People, and many others. He has an M.A. in English and has studied theology at Regent College. He lives in Langley, BC, Canada, with his wife, Karen, a family physician. They have one daughter, Heather, who is pursuing a career in dance and the arts. The Blue Umbrella is Mike’s first novel.

Visit the author's website.


The Blue Umbrella, by Mike Mason from David C. Cook on Vimeo.



Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434765261
ISBN-13: 978-1434765260

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


FIVE CORNERS


Not many people are killed by lightning.


Zac’s mother was.


Zachary Sparks, though small for ten years old, had a look perpetual astonishment that made him seem larger than life. His eyes were nearly the biggest part of him, round and wide, and his eyebrows had a natural arch as if held up with invisible strings. His voice was high and excitable and his whole body

seemed full of little springs. Even his hair, fiery red and frizzy, looked as if he was the one hit by lightning. Everything about Zac Sparks was up, up, up.


Until his mother died and everything changed.


Zac lived with his mother beside a golf course. Every day after school he picked up balls from his backyard to sell for fifty cents apiece. He was happy and carefree and his mother was good to him. He had no father. At least, he’d never known his father.


At night, when there were no golfers, Zac’s mother liked to go walking across the wide, rolling lawns of the course. To her it was like a big park. She never met anyone else out there. This was a small town and it was quite safe (except for lightning). She liked being in nature and she loved all kinds of weather, especially weather that had what she called character, the kind you could feel on your skin: wind, cold, hail, pelting rain, thunder, and lightning.


Whenever a good electrical storm happened in the middle of the night, Zac’s mother would wake him up and they’d sit on the veranda listening to the long, almost articulate rumbles and watching the lightning illuminate the great treed corridors of grass. The two wouldn’t say much. They didn’t have to. The sky did the talking for them. Some of Zac’s happiest memories were of sitting up with his mother at night to revel silently in storms.


The irony was that Zac’s mother was killed by something she loved. It happened one night when she went walking in the pouring rain, carrying, as usual, her umbrella. Of course, she knew better than to go walking on a golf course with an umbrella in a thunderstorm. But this was not a thunderstorm. On this night there just happened to be one stray bolt of lightning.


One was all it took. Her crumpled body was found the next morning in the center of a fairway. The canopy of her umbrella had been completely consumed, leaving nothing but the skeletal metal frame.


It was the first day of December, just weeks before Christmas, and Zac Sparks was an orphan.


That day and the next were a blur. Even the funeral, on the third day, Zac scarcely remembered—except for the moment when the coffin was being carried outside through the church doors. The weather was unseasonably mild; instead of snow a light drizzle fell. As the coffin moved down the steps and was

loaded into the hearse, the rain turned to sleet, then to hail. Small white pellets of ice filled the air and bounced all around like popcorn—one bounce, then still—as though the ground were alive. The clatter, especially loud on open umbrellas and on the wood of the coffin, was like applause.


Then Zac saw something he’d never seen before: a hailbow. Though he didn’t know to call it that, he knew it was special. It was one of those days when about five kinds of weather were in the sky at once. There were towering clouds, black ones very black and white ones very white and fierce-looking. Between the two the sun came out and brilliantly illuminated the hail. It was like being inside a living diamond. Then the ice wall began to move away and against its glitter he saw the hailbow. It was like a rainbow but pale, almost white, with just the loveliest hint of ghostly hue. The whole scene was so dramatic—huge clouds, falling ice, sunshine, the bow—and in a few minutes it was all over. But it stayed in Zac’s memory, just as if his mind’s eye had snapped a photograph.


After that, everything was swallowed up by the Aunties. Zac didn’t know them; they lived far away in a place called Five Corners. When he first met them at the funeral reception in his home, he began to understand why his mother had never mentioned them. They were horrible.


They were very, very old. Auntie Esmeralda, especially, was so ancient she looked ready to crumble away like a frail piece of lace. Her skin, where not obscured by a thick paste of makeup, was an unnatural, papery white, and she was draped in a long white fur coat. Very tall, she carried a cane, held herself rigid as a ruler, and wore her gray hair long and straight like a girl’s.


As Zac stood bewildered in the midst of the reception crowd, that gray curtain brushed his face and a thin, metallic voice rasped in his ear, “You poor, dear boy. How tragic to lose your mother. And in such a horrid way.” Auntie Esmeralda sounded as if she had a file stuck in her throat, scraping the human warmth off every word. “But don’t you worry. You’re coming home with us, isn’t he, Pris?”


Home with them? Zac’s home was here. With his mother gone, Mrs. Pottinger from next door had been staying with him, just as she had every evening when his mother went walking.


“Dear boy, you have nothing to fear. Your Aunties will take good care of you.” This came from Auntie Pris in a voice two octaves lower than Esmeralda’s. Much shorter than her sister, Pris seemed almost as wide as the other was tall. More than fat, she was big: squarish, broad-shouldered, solid as a stump. In contrast to Esmeralda’s fur, Pris was dressed in a short pink skirt with matching polka-dotted blouse. Perched on top of her blockish head was a pink pillbox hat. Zac was torn between amusement and horror.


Of course, the Aunties were terribly nice to him, hugging him to pieces, patting his extraordinary hair, crooning condolences, and plying him with cookies. Zac hated it all. These strange women were more suffocating than the stiff collar and suit he had to wear.


Sure enough, their tune soon changed. When the reception was over and everyone but the Aunties had left (including even Mrs. Pottinger), they began barking orders: Do this, do that, shut up, stop moping or we’ll give you something to mope about. Finally Zac was sent to his room, where he listened restlessly to a fitful wind that developed into driving rain, horrific lightning, and great claps of thunder exploding like bombs. Amidst this clamor, for some reason the most terrible sound was the occasional tap-tap-tapping of Esmeralda’s cane.


Early the next morning he was roughly awakened as the Aunties, each yanking one of his arms, dragged him from the house and shoved him into the backseat of their big black Cadillac. Throughout that long, stormy day they drove, stopping just once for gas and food. Where did these old women get such energy? It was bizarre—their mysterious vitality combined with an appearance of decrepitude. Throughout the trip

Zac sat silent, dozing or staring out the window, his left leg jiggling in a nervous tic.


Only once did the Aunties speak to him. Esmeralda, who was at the wheel, turned to him and glared. “Zachary”—she spoke his name as if it were a dead rat she held at arm’s length by its tail—“is a ridiculous name. From now on we’ll call you Boy.”


And so they did. But his name wasn’t all Zac lost that day. He’d had no chance to pack any of his belongings or toys—not his giant monkey, nor his collection of soldiers, nor his box of interesting bits of metal. Not even a toothbrush or his army camouflage pajamas. All he had was the suit on his back and a

photograph of his mother that he’d slipped into his pocket.


In this rude fashion was Zachary Sparks uprooted from his childhood home and whisked away to the town of Five Corners to live in a mansion with a plaque by the door that read THE MISSES ESMERALDA AND PRISCILLA HENBOTHER. The Aunties were, it seemed, his only living relatives; there was no one else to take him in. Their house, built of stone—even the floors were marble—had the bleak, dank feel of a castle. No

wonder Auntie Esmeralda always wore furs, though Auntie Pris huffed and puffed about in short sleeves, her bright pink skin glistening with sweat.


The place was loaded with china. Hundreds of figurines occupied coffee tables, glass cabinets, windowsills, every available surface. Zac noted a preponderance of elephants, but there were also large vases, luridly painted plates, baskets of swollen fruit. All were made of the most delicate-looking porcelain, as fragile as they were ugly. How did two such large and ancient ladies manage to navigate this glass jungle without breaking anything? All Zac knew was that it was no place for him.


From the moment they arrived, the Aunties bombarded him with warnings: “Don’t sit there, Boy … Be careful around that lamp … Do try to keep your leg still …” What was Zac to do? At least the Aunties’ silence in the car had left him to sort through his own thoughts. Now every word they spoke froze him tighter until he felt like one of those awful china figurines, condemned to hold one position forever. He was so nervous that, while trying to avoid a row of plates, he backed into a whatnot (a piece of furniture whose only purpose, he decided, was to hold knickknacks in ambush for boys) and broke a small pink elephant.


“Idiot! What have you done!” screamed Auntie Esmeralda in a voice itself like breaking glass. Auntie Pris, down on all fours to scoop together the fragments, sobbed as though tears might glue the elephant back together. How strange to see this huge woman crying over a trinket! Meanwhile Auntie Esmeralda, tall as a thunderhead, planted herself directly in front of Zac and croaked, “You … you wicked, clumsy imbecile! Go straight to your room.”


Zac didn’t move. He didn’t breathe.


“You heard me, young man. March!”


Still he didn’t move. He’d turned to stone.


“What’s wrong with you?” she demanded.


“Auntie,” he finally managed, “I don’t know where my room is.”


Esmeralda’s pale head on its long, wrinkled neck turned once to the left and then around to the right, like a bird’s, as though examining him with each eye separately. “Well, we’ll soon fix that. Pris, escort this boy to his room. Something tells me he’ll be spending a lot of time there.”


Leaving her precious pile of shattered china, Auntie Pris, with considerable effort, heaved herself to her feet. Drying her eyes with an enormous pink hankie, she growled, “That boy needs a cage, not a room.” Spinning him around with surprising force, and poking him in the back with a finger stiff as a billy club, she marched him out of the parlor, up a broad staircase, and along the hall to a door on the right. There, completely filling the door frame, she panted, “You’d better change your ways, Boy, or you won’t survive long around here.” Thrusting him inside, she shut the door and rattled a key in the lock.


So there he was. The room had a bed, an end table, a wooden chair. Its one window was already claimed by darkness. Though the storm had abated, a wind still blew and tree branches scraped against the pane. Rain drummed steadily.


For a long time Zac sat on the edge of the bed, his mind numb. Eventually he recalled the picture of his mother, still in his suit pocket. He pulled it out, but it was too dark to see and he couldn’t find a light. Cold, he climbed under the thin quilt and lay there, stiff as a corpse. He returned the photograph tohis pocket but kept his hand on it.


And so concluded Zachary Sparks’s first day in Five Corners, the first day of the end of his life. The Aunties might as well have put him in the coffin along with his mother and let the dull rain pound them both into the ground.


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. The Blue Umbrella by Mike Mason. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.