Thursday, July 30, 2009

Review and Tour: Maggie Rose by Sharlene MacLaren (Excerpt Included)

I'm having trouble with my internet and cable connections due to extremem heat, so will post my review when the internet connection stays up longer!! Sorry!! (I really loved this book)

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)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


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!”

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review and Tour: Montana Rose by Mary Connealy (Excerpt Included)

I am absolutely loving this book, and will have a review up within a day or so!!

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:


Montana Rose

Barbour Publishing, Inc (July 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



An award-winning author, Mary Connealy lives on a Nebraska farm with her husband and is the mother of four grown daughters. She writes plays and shorts stories, and is the author of two other novels, Petticoat Ranch and Calico Canyon. Also an avid blogger, Mary is a GED instructor by day and an author by night.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc (July 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602601429
ISBN-13: 978-1602601420

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Montana Territory, 1875


Cassie wanted to scream, “Put down that shovel!”

As if yelling at the red-headed gravedigger would bring Griff back to life. A gust of wind blew Cassie Griffin’s dark hair across her face, blinding her.

For one sightless moment it was as if the wind showed her perfectly what the future held for her.

Darkness.

Hovering in a wooded area, concealed behind a clump of quaking aspens that had gone yellow in the fall weather, she watched the hole grow as the man dug his way down into the rocky Montana earth.

Muriel, the kind storekeeper who had taken Cassie in, stood beside the ever-deepening grave. If Cassie started yelling, Muriel would start her motherly clucking again and force Cassie to return to town and go back to bed. She’d been so kind since Cassie had ridden in shouting for help.

In a detached sort of way, Cassie knew Muriel had been caring for her, coddling Cassie to get her through the day. But Cassie had gone numb since Muriel’s husband, Seth, had come back in with the news that Griff was dead. Cassie listened and answered and obeyed, but she hadn’t been able to feel anything. Until now. Now she could feel rage aimed straight at that man preparing the hole for her beloved Griff.

“I’m sorry, little one.” Cassie ran her hand over her rounded stomach. “You’ll never know your daddy now.” Her belly moved as if the baby heard Cassie and understood.

The fact that her husband was dead was Cassie’s fault. She should have gone for the doctor sooner. Griff ordered her not to, but first Griff had been worried about the cost. He’d shocked Cassie by telling her they couldn’t afford to send for the doctor. Griff had scolded Cassie if she ever asked questions about money. So she’d learned it wasn’t a wife’s place. But she’d known her parents were wealthy. Cassie had brought all their wealth into the marriage. How could they not afford a few bits for a doctor? Even as he lay sick, she’d known better than to question him about it.

Later, Griff had been out of his head with fever. She stayed with him as he’d ordered, but she should have doctored Griff better. She should have saved him somehow. Instead she’d stood by and watched her husband die inch by inch while she did nothing.

Cassie stepped closer. Another few steps and she’d be in the open. She could stop them. She could make them stop digging. Refuse to allow such a travesty when it couldn’t be true that Griff was dead.

Don’t put him in the ground! Inside her head she was screaming, denying, terrified. She had to stop this.

Before she could move she heard Muriel.

“In the West, nothing’ll get you killed faster’n stupid.” Whipcord lean, with a weathered face from long years in the harsh Montana weather, Muriel plunked her fists on her nonexistent hips.

Seth, clean-shaven once a week and overdue, stood alongside his wife, watching the proceedings, his arms crossed over his paunchy stomach. “How ’bout lazy? In the West, lazy’ll do you in faster’n stupid every time.”

“Well, I reckon Lester Griffin was both, right enough.” Muriel nodded her head.

Cassie understood the words, “lazy” and “stupid.” They were talking about Griff? She was too shocked to take in their meaning.

“Now, Muriel.” Red, the gravedigger, shoveled as he talked. “Don’t speak ill of the dead.”

On a day when Cassie didn’t feel like she knew anything, she remembered the gravedigger’s name because of his bright red hair.

One of the last coherent orders Griff had given her was, “Pay Red two bits to dig my grave, and not a penny more.”

Griff had known he was dying. Mostly delirious with fever, his mind would clear occasionally and he’d give orders: about the funeral, what he was to be buried in, what Cassie was to wear, strict orders not to be her usual foolish self and overpay for the grave digging. And not to shame him with her public behavior.

“Well honestly, it’s a wonder he wasn’t dead long before this.” Muriel crossed her arms and dared either man to disagree.

“It’s not Christian to see the bad in others.” Red dug relentlessly, the gritty slice of the shovel making a hole to swallow up Cassie’s husband. “And especially not at a time like this.”

It was just after noon on Sunday, and the funeral would be held as soon as the grave was dug.

Cassie looked down at her dress, her dark blue silk. It was a mess. She’d worn it all week, not giving herself a second to change while she cared for Griff. Then she’d left it on as she rode for town. She’d even slept in it last night. . .or rather she’d lain in bed with it on. She hadn’t slept, more than snatches, in a week. Ever since Griff’s fever started.

She needed to change to her black silk for the funeral.

Cassie wanted to hate Muriel for her words, but Muriel had mothered her, filling such a desperate void in Cassie that she couldn’t bear to blame Muriel for this rage whipping inside of Cassie’s head, pushing her to scream.

“Well, he was a poor excuse for a man and no amount of Christian charity’ll change that.” Muriel clucked and shook her head. “He lived on the labor of others ’n spent money he didn’t have.”

“It’s that snooty, fancy-dressed wife of his who drove him to an early grave,” Seth humphed. Cassie saw Seth’s shoulders quiver as he chuckled. “Of course, many’s the man who’d gladly die trying to keep that pretty little China Doll happy.”

Cassie heard Griff’s nickname for her. She ran her hands down her blue silk that lay modestly loose over her round belly. Fancy-dressed was right. Cassie admitted that. But she hadn’t needed all new dresses just because of the baby. Griff had insisted it was proper that the dresses be ordered. But however she’d come to dress so beautifully in silks and satins, there was no denying she dressed more expensively than anyone she’d met in Montana Territory. Not that she’d met many people.

But snooty? How could Seth say that? They were slandering her and, far worse, insulting Griff. She needed to defend her husband, but Griff hated emotional displays. How could she fight them without showing all the rage that boiled inside her? As the hole grew, something started to grow in Cassie that overcame her grief and fear.

Rage. Hate.

That shovel rose and fell. Dirt flew in a tidy pile and she hated Red for keeping to the task. She wanted to run at Red, screaming and clawing, and force Red to give Griff back to her. But she feared unleashing the anger roiling inside her. Griff had taught her to control all those childish impulses. Right now though, her control slipped.


[insert line break]

“A time or two I’ve seen someone who looks to be snooty who was really just shy. . .or scared,” Muriel said.

Red kept digging, determined not to join in with this gossip. But not joining in wasn’t enough. He needed to make them stop. Instead, he kept digging as he thought about poor Cassie. She’d already been tucked into Muriel’s back room when he’d come to town yesterday, but he’d seen Seth bring Lester Griffin’s body in. He couldn’t imagine what that little woman had been through.

“When’s the last time she came into our store?” Seth asked. “Most times she didn’t even come to town. She was too good to soil her feet in Divide. And you can’t argue about fancy-dressed. Griff ordered all her dresses ready-made, sent out from the East.”

Everything about Cassie Griffin made Red think of the more civilized East. She never had a hair out of place or a speck of dirt under her fingernails. Red had seen their home, too. The fanciest building in Montana, some said. Board siding instead of logs. Three floors and so many frills and flourishes the building alone had made Lester Griffin a laughingstock. The Griffins came into the area with a fortune, but they’d gone through it fast.

“That’s right,” Muriel snipped. “Griff ordered them. A spoiled woman would pick out her own dresses and shoes and finery, not leave it to her man.”

Seth shook his head. “I declare, Muriel, you could find the good in a rattlesnake.”

Red’s shovel slammed deep in the rocky soil. “Cassie isn’t a rattlesnake.” He stood up straight and glared at Seth.

His reaction surprised him. Red didn’t let much upset him. But calling Cassie a snake made Red mad to the bone. He glanced over and saw Muriel focusing on him as she brushed back wisps of gray hair that the wind had scattered from her usual tidy bun. She stared at him, taking a good long look.

Seth, a tough old mule-skinner with a marshmallow heart, didn’t seem to notice. “This funeral’ll draw trouble. You just see if it don’t. Every man in the territory’ll come a’running to marry with such a pretty widow woman. Any woman would bring men down on her as hard and fast as a Montana blizzard, but one as pretty as Cassie Griffin?” Seth blew a tuneless whistle through his teeth. “There’ll be a stampede for sure, and none of ’em are gonna wait no decent length of time to ask for her hand.”

Red looked away from Muriel because he didn’t like what was in her eyes. He was through the tough layer of sod and the hole was getting deep fast. He tried to sound casual even though he felt a sharp pang of regret—and not just a little bit of jealousy—when he said, “Doubt she’ll still be single by the time the sun sets.”

Muriel had a strange lilt to her voice when she said, “A woman is rare out here, but a young, beautiful woman like Cassie is a prize indeed.”

Red looked up at her, trying to figure out why saying that made her so all-fired cheerful.

Seth slung his beefy arm around Muriel with rough affection. “I’ve seen the loneliness that drives these men to want a wife. It’s a rugged life, Muriel. Having you with me makes all the difference.”

Red understood the loneliness. He lived with it every day.

“She’s a fragile little thing. Tiny even with Griff’s child in her belly. She needs a man to take care of her.” Muriel’s concern sounded just the littlest bit false. Not that Muriel wasn’t genuinely concerned. Just that there was a sly tone to it, aimed straight at Red.

Red thought of Cassie’s flawless white skin and shining black hair. She had huge, remote brown eyes, with lashes long enough to wave in the breeze, and the sweetest pink lips that never curved in a smile nor opened to wish a man good day.

Red thought on what he’d say to draw a smile and a kind word from her. Such thoughts could keep a man lying awake at night. Red knew that for a fact. Oh yes, Cassie was a living, breathing test from the devil himself.

“China Doll’s the perfect name for her,” Muriel added.

Red had heard that Griff called his wife China Doll. Griff never said that in front of anyone. He always called her Mrs. Griffin, real proper and formal-like. But he’d been overheard speaking to her in private, and he’d called her China Doll. The whole town had taken to calling her that.

Red had seen such a doll in a store window when he was a youngster in Indiana. That doll, even to a roughhousing little boy, was so beautiful it always earned a long, careful look. But the white glass face was cold. and her expression serious, rather than giving the poor toy a painted on smile. It was frighteningly fragile. Rather than being fun, Red thought a China doll would be a sad thing to own and, in the end, a burden to keep unbroken and clean. All of those things described Cassandra Griffin right down to the ground. Knowing all of that didn’t stop him from wanting her.

Cassie got to him. She had ever since the first time he’d seen her nearly two years ago. And now she was available. Someone would have to marry her to keep her alive. Women didn’t live without men in the unsettled West. Life was too hard. The only unattached women around worked above the Golden Butte Saloon and, although they survived, Red didn’t consider their sad existence living.

“You’re established on the ranch these days, Red. Your bank account’s healthy.” Muriel crouched down so she was eye level with Red, who was digging himself down fast. “Maybe it’s time you took a wife.”

Red froze and looked up at his friend. Muriel was a motherly woman, though she had no children. And like a mother, she seemed comfortable meddling in his life.

Red realized he was staring and went back to the grave, tempted to toss a shovel full of dirt on Muriel’s wily face. He wouldn’t throw it hard. He just wanted to distract her.

When he was sure his voice would work, he said, “Cassie isn’t for me, Muriel. And it isn’t because of what it would cost to keep her. If she was my wife, she’d live within my means and that would be that.”

Red had already imagined—in his unruly mind—how stern he’d be when she asked for finery. “You’ll have to sew it yourself or go without.” He even pictured himself shaking a scolding finger right under her turned-up nose. She’d mind him.

He’d imagined it many times, many, many times. And long before Griff died, which was so improper Red felt shame. He’d tried to control his willful thoughts. But a man couldn’t stop himself from thinking a thought until he’d started, now could he? So he’d started a thousand times and then he stopped himself. . .mostly. He’d be kind and patient but he wouldn’t bend. He’d say, “Cass honey, you—”

Red jerked his thoughts away from the old, sinful daydream about another man’s wife. Calmly, he answered Muriel, “She isn’t for me because I would never marry a non-believer.”

With a wry smile, Seth caught on and threw in on Muriel’s side—the traitor. “A woman is a mighty scarce critter out here, Red. It don’t make sense to put too many conditions on the ones there are.”

“I know.” Red talked to himself as much as to them. He hung on to right and wrong. He clung to God’s will. “But one point I’ll never compromise on is marrying a woman who doesn’t share my faith.”

“Now, Red,” Muriel chided, “you shouldn’t judge that little girl like that. How do you know she’s not a believer?”

“I’m not judging her, Muriel.” Which Red realized was absolutely not true. “Okay, I don’t know what faith she holds. But I do know that the Griffins have never darkened the doorstep of my church.”

Neither Seth nor Muriel could argue with that, although Muriel had a mulish look that told him she wanted to.

“We’d best get back.” Seth laid a beefy hand on Muriel’s strong shoulder. “I think Mrs. Griffin is going to need some help getting ready for the funeral.”

“She’s in shock, I reckon,” Muriel said. “She hasn’t spoken more’n a dozen words since she rode in yesterday.”

“She was clear enough on what dress I needed to fetch.” Seth shook his head in disgust. “And she knew the reticule she wanted and the shoes and hairpins. I felt like a lady’s maid.”

“I’ve never seen a woman so shaken.” Muriel’s eyes softened. “The bridle was on wrong. She was riding bareback. It’s a wonder she was able to stick on that horse.”

Red didn’t want to hear anymore about how desperately in need of help Cassie was.

Muriel had been teasing him up until now, but suddenly she was dead serious. “You know what the men around here are like, Red. You know the kind of life she’s got ahead of her. There are just some things a decent man can’t let happen to a woman. Libby’s boys are off hauling freight or I’d talk to them. They’d make good husbands.”

Muriel was right, they would be good. Something burned hot and angry inside of Red when he thought of those decent, Christian men claiming Cassie.

It was even worse when Red thought of her marrying one of the rough and ready men who lived in the rugged mountains and valleys around the little town of Divide, which rested up against the great peaks of the Montana Rockies. It was almost more than he could stand to imagine her with one of them.

But, he also knew a sin when he saw it tempting him, and he refused to let Muriel change his mind. She badgered him a while longer but finally gave up.

He was glad when Seth and Muriel left him alone to finish his digging. Until he looked up and saw Cassie as if he’d conjured her with his daydreams.

But this was no sweet, fragile China Doll. She charged straight toward him, her hands fisted, her eyes on fire.

“Uh. . .hi, Miz Griffin.” He vaulted out of the shoulder-deep hole and faced her. The look on her face was enough to make him want to turn tail and run.

She swept toward him, a low sound coming from her throat that a wildcat might make just before it pounced.

She’d heard it. All of it.

God forgive me for being part of that gossip, hurting her when she’s already so badly hurt.

Whatever she wanted to say, whatever pain she wanted to inflict, he vowed to God that he’d stand here and take it as his due. Her eyes were so alive with fury and focused right on him. How many times had his unruly mind conjured up the image of Cassie focusing on him? But this wasn’t the look he’d imagined in his daydreams. In fact, a tremor of fear ran up his backbone.

His grip tightened on his shovel, not to use as a weapon to defend himself but to keep her from grabbing it and taking a swing.

“Stop it.” Her fists were clenched as if to beat on him. “Stop saying those awful things.” Red saw more life in her eyes than he ever had before. She was always quiet and reserved and distant. “Give him back. I want him back!” She moved so fast toward him that, just as she reached his side, she tripped over her skirt and fell. A terrified shriek cut off her irate words.

“Cassie!” Red dropped the shovel and caught her just as she’d have tumbled into the open grave.

She swung and landed a fist right on his chin.

His head snapped back. She had pretty good power behind her fists for a little thing. Figuring he deserved it, he held on, stepping well away from the hole in the ground. He pulled her against him as she pummeled and emitted short, sharp, frenzied screams of rage. Punching his shoulders, chest, face. He took his beating like a man. He’d earned this by causing her more pain when she’d already been dealt more than she could bear. Of course he’d tried to stop it. But he’d failed now, hadn’t he?

“I’m sorry.” He spoke low, hoping to penetrate her anger. He could barely hear himself over her shouting. “I’m so sorry about Griff, Cassie. And I’m sorry you heard us speaking ill. We were wrong. So wrong. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” His voice kept crooning as he held her, letting her wale away on him until her squeaks and her harmless blows slowed and then ceased, most likely from exhaustion, not because she’d quit hating him.

Her hands dropped suddenly. Her head fell against his chest. Her knees buckled and Red swung her up into his arms.

He looked down at her, wondering if she’d fainted dead away.

In his arms, he held perfection.

She fit against him as if his body and his heart had been created just for her. A soul-deep ache nearly buckled his own knees as he looked at her now-closed eyes. Those lashes so long they’d tangle in a breeze rested on her ashen face, tinged with one bright spot of fury raised red on her cheeks.

“I’m so sorry I hurt you. Please forgive me.” His words were both a prayer to God and a request to poor, sweet Cassie. He held her close, murmuring, apologizing.

At last her eyes fluttered open. The anger was there but not the violence. “Let me go!”

He slowly lowered her feet to the ground, keeping an arm around her waist until he was sure her legs would hold her. She stepped out of his arms as quickly as possible and gave him a look of such hatred it was more painful than the blows she’d landed. Far more painful.

“I’m so sorry for your loss, Cassie honey.” Red wanted to kick himself. He shouldn’t have called her such. It was improper.

She didn’t seem to notice he was even alive. Instead, her gaze slid to that grave, that open rectangle waiting to receive Cassie’s husband. . .or what was left of him. And the hatred faded to misery, agony, and worst of all, fear.

A suppressed cry of pain told Red, as if Cassie had spoken aloud, that she wished she could join her husband in that awful hole.

Her head hanging low, her shoulders slumped, both arms wrapped around her rounded belly, she turned and walked back the way she came. Each step seemed to take all her effort as if her feet weighed a hundred pounds each.

Wondering if he should accompany her back to Muriel’s, instead he did nothing but watch. There was nothing really he could do. That worthless husband of hers was dead and he’d left his wife with one nasty mess to clean up. And Red couldn’t be the one to step in and fix it. Not if he wanted to live the life God had planned for him.

She walked into the swaying stand of aspens. They were thin enough that if he moved a bit to the side, he could keep his eye on her. Stepping farther and farther sideways to look around the trees—because he was physically unable to take his eyes off her—he saw her get safely to the store.

Just then his foot slipped off the edge of the grave. He caught himself before he fell headlong into the six feet of missing earth.

Red heard the door of Bates General Store close with a sharp bang, and Cassie went inside and left him alone in the sun and wind with a deep hole to dig and too much time to think. He grabbed his shovel and jumped down, getting back at it.

He knew he was doing the right thing by refusing to marry Cassie Griffin.

A sudden gust caught a shovelful of dirt and blew it in Red’s face. Along with the dirt that now coated him, he caught a strong whiff of the stable he’d cleaned last night. Cassie would think Red and the Western men he wanted to protect her from were one and the same. And she’d be right, up to a point. The dirt and the smell, the humble clothes, and the sod house—this was who he was, and he didn’t apologize for that to any man. . .or any woman.

Red knew there was only one way for him to serve God in this matter. He had to keep clear of Cassie Griffin.

The China Doll wasn’t for him.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tuesday Thinger: Go Local!

Welcome to another week of Tuesday Thingers! We always love to hear from regular participants as well as new people.

Nicchic over at Obsessed With Books had a great comment last week, and was wondering if other LT members found the Local section useful.

Once you have set up your location (in your profile I believe), you can go to the Local tab and see different venues (bookstores, libraries, etc) and events (book signings, book readings, etc).

There is a trick to using the local tab! SOMEONE has to put the information in there.

Questions: When you click on the Local tab, do you see any information?Do you find the information you see useful? Have you added any information? If you don't already use the Local tab, is it something you would use more often if there were more events listed?

My Answer:
When I first visited Local for the first time, my area was completely blank, so I didn't know what it was all about. A few months ago, I visited again to start adding information in myself, and realized that someone else is also FINALLY adding stuff for my area - how fun!

I have seen a few fun events I'd like to go to, but have yet to attend any.

I think the information that shows under Local in my area now is more useful, but it really depends on how many people are updating the information.

Looking forward to reading everyone's answers!!

~ Wendi

If you are new to Tuesday Thingers: Welcome! The meme was originally created as a way to network with other bloggers and to learn about Library Thing! I'd like to encourage you to join us. If you don't know what Library Thing is - you are in a great place to learn about new things, and if you are an old pro, stick around and share your wealth of information! Visit Library Thing here. To join in, copy the picture and question into your post and link back here so people can read other responses. Make sure you leave a comment here with a link to your post so we can stop by! If you don't have a blog, feel free to leave a comment here!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Review and Tour: Deadly Intent by Camy Tang (Excerpt Included)

Title: Deadly Intent (Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense)
Author: Camy Tang
Pages: 224
Publisher: Steeple Hill (July 14, 2009)
Genre: Fiction / Inspirational Romance / Suspense
Edition: Paperback - Many thanks to the author Camy Tang for sending me a signed copy to review as part of this WildCard Tour!



Perfect for : Personal reading, Book club (reading guide/discussion questions are included in the back of the book)

In a nutshell: A great inspirational and suspenseful romance that will keep your attention and keep you guessing until the end. A spa is supposed to be a place that you can go to relax and unwind. . . and leave feeling wonderful! But in Deadly Intent, within the first two chapters, there is enough luxury to make you dream of visiting the Joy Luck Life spa to get pampered, as well as a grisly murder in a massage room to make you turn and run as quickly as possible. I was instantly pulled into the story and couldn't put the book down until I finished it!

Extended Review: A high-profile client is murdered in Naomi Grant's massage room while she is managing the spa for her family, and to make things worse, she was already attracted to the murdered woman's ex-husband, who happened to ask after the woman just minutes before they found her dying in the massage room! What a wonderful start to a great book, and the story doesn't stop there. As things move along, we as readers find out that Dr. Devon Knightly might also be slightly attracted to Naomi. But things get worse before they get better, and although both of them seem to be prime suspects for the murder of Jessica, Naomi seems to be the main suspect.

Characters: Camy is able to create her characters in such a way so that they seem very real and believable, as well as very enjoyable. I loved watching as the relationship between Naomi and Devon progressed. I also absolutely adored Aunt Becca, who really seemed to be a solid foundation for the family.

Story-Line: With plenty of twists and turns that will keep you guessing who the real murderer is until the last chapter, the focus on the murder, the growing relationship between Naomi and Devon, and the reputation of the spa, the story will certainly keep you entertained!

Readability: A very nice afternoon read!

Overall: Deadly Intent has the perfect mixture of suspense and romance, as well as light faith and inspiration. I love books like this that carry a real story along and interweave just a little faith, when done this way, the more subtle messages of faith don't feel overwhelming, but rather welcoming. Be sure to pick up this book for a great afternoon read, even if you don't normally read suspense or romance!


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:


Deadly Intent

Steeple Hill (July 14, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Originally from
Hawaii, she worked as a biologist for 9 years, but now she writes full time. She is a staff worker for her San Jose church youth group and leads a worship team for Sunday service. She also runs the Story Sensei fiction critique service, which specializes in book doctoring.

On her blog, she gives away Christian novels, and she ponders
frivolous things like dumb dogs (namely, hers), coffee-geek husbands (no resemblance to her own...), the writing journey, Asiana, and anything else that comes to mind.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $5.50
Mass Market Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Steeple Hill (July 14, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0373443471
ISBN-13: 978-0373443475

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One


The man who walked into Naomi's father's day spa was striking enough to start a female riot.


Dark eyes swept the room, which happened to be filled with the Sonoma spa's staff at that moment. She felt his gaze glance over her like a tingling breeze. Naomi recognized him instantly. Dr. Devon Knightley.


For a wild moment, she thought, He's come to see me. And her heart twirled in a riotous dance.


But only for a moment. Sure, they'd talked amiably— actually, more than amiably—at the last Zoe International fund-raising dinner, but after an entire evening sitting next to her, he hadn't asked for her phone number, hadn't asked for any contact information at all. Wasn't that a clear sign he wasn't interested?


She quashed the memory and stepped forward in her official capacity as the spa owner's daughter and acting manager. "Dr. Knightley. Welcome."


He clasped her hand with one tanned so brown that it seemed to bring the heat of the July sun into the airy, air-conditioned entranceway. "Miss Naomi Grant." His voice had more than a shot of surprise, as did his looks as he took in her pale blue linen top and capris, the same uniform as the gaggle of spa staff members gathered behind her. "It's been a few months since I've seen you."


He still held her hand. She loved the feel of his palm— cool and warm at the same time, strong the way a surgeon's should be.


No, she had to stop this. Devon and his family were hard-core atheists, and nothing good would come out of giving in to her attraction. "What brings you here?"


"I need to speak to Jessica Ortiz."


An involuntary spasm seized her throat. Of course. Glamorous client Jessica Ortiz or plain massage therapist Naomi Grant—no comparison, really.


But something in his tone didn't quite have the velvety sheen of a lover. He sounded almost… dangerous. And danger didn't belong in the spa. Their first priority was to protect the privacy of the guests.


"Er… Ms. Ortiz?" Naomi glanced at Sarah, one of the receptionists, whose brow wrinkled as she studied her computer monitor behind the receptionists' desk. Naomi knew she was stalling—she didn't need to look because she'd checked Ms. Ortiz into the elite Tamarind Lounge almost two hours before.


Naomi's aunt Becca also stood at the receptionists' desk, stepping aside from her spa hostess duties to allow Naomi to handle Dr. Knightley, but Aunt Becca's eyes had a sharp look that conveyed her message clearly to Naomi: the clients' privacy and wishes come first.


Naomi cleared her throat. "Are you her physician?"


Dr. Knightley frowned down at her, but she kept her air of calm friendliness. He grimaced and looked away. "Er… no."


Naomi blinked. He could have lied, but he hadn't. "If you'll wait here, I can see if Ms. Ortiz is available to come out here to see you." If Jessica declined to come out, Naomi didn't want to think what Devon's reaction would be.


His eyes grew stormier. "Couldn't you just let me walk in back to see her?"


"I'm sorry, but we can't allow nonfamily members into the back rooms. And men are not allowed in the women's lounges." Especially the secluded Tamarind Lounge, reserved only for Tamarind members who paid the exorbitant membership fee.


"Naomi, surely you can make an exception for me?" He suddenly flashed a smile more blinding than her receptionist's new engagement ring.


His switching tactics—from threatening to charming— annoyed her more than his argumentative attitude. She crossed her arms. "I'm afraid not." She had to glance away to harden herself against the power of that smile.


"You don't understand. It's important that I see her, and it won't take long." He leaned closer, using his height to intimidate.


He had picked the wrong woman to irritate. Maybe her frustrated attraction made her exceptionally determined to thwart him. Her jaw clenched and she couldn't help narrowing her eyes. "Joy Luck Life Spa has many high-profile clients. If we let anyone into our elite lounges, we'd lose our sterling reputation for privacy and discretion."


"You don't understand how important this is—"


"Dr. Knightley, so nice to see you again." Aunt Becca stepped forward and inserted herself between the good doctor and Naomi's line of vision. She held out a thin hand, which Devon automatically took. "Why don't I set you up in the Chervil Lounge while Naomi looks for Ms. Ortiz?"


Aunt Becca whirled around faster than a tornado. Her eyes promised trouble if Naomi didn't comply. "Naomi."


Aunt Becca's taking charge of the conversation seemed to drive home the point that although Dad had left Naomi in charge of the spa while he recovered from his stroke, she still had a long way to go toward learning good customer relations. Part of her wanted to be belligerent toward Devon just to prove she was in the right, but the other part of her wilted at her failure as a good manager.


She walked into the back rooms and paused outside the door to the Tamarind Lounge, consciously relaxing her face. Deep breath in. Gently open the door.


Softly pitched conversation drifted into silence. Two pairs of eyes flickered over her from the crimson silk chaise lounges in the far corner of the luxuriant room, but neither of them belonged to Jessica Ortiz. Vanilla spice wafted around her as she headed toward the two women, trying to glide calmly, as the daughter of the spa owner should.


"Good morning, ladies. I apologize for the intrusion."


"Is it already time for my facial?" The elderly woman gathered her Egyptian cotton robe around her and prepared to stand.


"No, not yet, Ms. Cormorand. I've come to ask if either of you have seen Ms. Ortiz."


An inscrutable look passed between them. What had Jessica done to offend these clients in only the couple of hours she'd been at the spa? Jessica seemed to be causing the spa more and more trouble recently.


The other woman finally answered, "No, she left about a half hour ago for her massage. I thought she was with you."


Naomi cleared her throat to hide her start. Jessica's appointment was at eleven, in fifteen minutes, not now.


"Yes, doesn't she always ask for you when she comes?" Ms. Cormorand blinked faded blue eyes at her.


Naomi shoved aside a brief frisson of unease. Jessica should be easy to find. "Which massage therapist called for her?"


"Oh, I don't know." Ms. Cormorand waved a pudgy hand beringed with rubies and diamonds. "Someone in a blue uniform."


Only one of almost a hundred staff workers at the spa.


"Thank you, ladies. Ms. Cormorand, Haley will call you for your facial in fifteen minutes." Naomi inclined her head and left the room, trying to let the sounds of running water from the fountain in the corner calm her growing sense of unease.


Where could Jessica have gone? And an even juicier question: Why did Devon Knightley need to speak to her?


She peeked into the larger Rosemary lounge, which was for the use of spa clients who were not Tamarind members. Several women chatted in small groups, but no Jessica Ortiz. Naomi hadn't really expected Jessica to forgo the more comfortable elite lounge, but the only other option was checking each of the treatment rooms individually.


She headed into the back area where the therapy rooms were located, navigating the hallway scattered with teak and bamboo furniture, each sporting East Asian cushions and throws, artfully arranged by Aunt Becca. Had Jessica switched to a different massage therapist? And had someone forgotten to tell Naomi in the excitement of Sarah's new engagement?


As she moved down the hallway, she started noticing a strange, harsh scent suffusing the mingled smells of san-dalwood and vanilla. Not quite as harsh as chemicals, but not a familiar aromatherapy fragrance, a slightly discordant counterpoint to the spa's relaxing perfume.


She knew that smell, but couldn't place it. And it didn't conjure up pleasant associations. She started to hurry.


She first looked into the women's restroom, her steps echoing against the Italian tile. No sound of running water, but she peeked into the shower area. A few women were in the rooms with the claw-foot bathtubs, and a couple more in the whirlpool room, but no Jessica. No one using the toilets.


The mirrored makeup area had a handful of women, but again no Jessica. Naomi smiled at the clients to hide her disappointment and growing anxiety as she entered. She noticed some towels on the floor, a vase of orchids a little askew, and some lotions out of place on the marble counter running the length of the room, so she tidied up as if she had intended to do so, although the staff assigned to restroom duty typically kept things spic and span.


She peeked into the sauna. A rather loud ring of laughing women, but no Jessica.


Back out in the central fountain area, the harsh smell seemed stronger, but she couldn't pinpoint where it came from. Had a sewage pipe burst? No, it wasn't that sort of smell. It didn't smell rotten, just… had an edge to it.


She entered the locker area, although the Joy Luck Life Spa "lockers" were all carved teakwood cabinets, individually locked with keys. The smell jumped tenfold. Naomi scoured the room. Maybe it came from a client's locker? No. Maybe the dirty laundry hamper?


Bingo.


She flipped open the basketweave lid.


And screamed.


***


Chapter Two


The scream pierced Devon's eardrums. Beside him, Becca Itoh started. The heavy wooden double doors she'd just opened, leading to the men's lounge, clunked closed again as she turned and headed back down the corridor they'd walked.


"Where—?" He kept up with her, but not easily—for a woman in her fifties, she could book it.


"The women's lounge area." She pointed ahead as she hustled closer. "Those mahogany double doors at the end."


Devon sprinted ahead and yanked open the doors. "Stay behind me."


Becca ignored him, thrusting ahead and shouting, "Naomi!" as they entered a large circular entry area with more corridors leading from it. "Naomi!"


A door to their right burst open and Naomi Grant spilled into the entry room. "Aunt Becca!" Her face was the same shade as the cream-colored walls. "There's blood in the women's locker room.”


“Blood?” Becca reached for her as Devon pushed past her into the room she’d just exited.


Despite the urgency, he couldn’t help but be awed by the fountain in the center of a vast chamber with a veined-tile floor. Scrollwork signs on the walls pointed to “sauna” and “whirlpool” and “locker room.” Luckily, no women appeared. He veered right.


He almost wasn’t sure he’d actually arrived in the right place, but the carpeted room lined with teakwood locking cabinets was in line with the luxurious entry hall of what he realized was the women’s bathroom.


The metallic smell of blood reached him. He followed his nose to the basket hamper in the corner, filled with bloody towels. It reminded him of the discarded gauzes from his orthopedic surgeries, bright red and a lot more than the average person saw.


This was not good.


He returned to the two women. Naomi’s hands were visibly shaking, although her voice remained low and calm. “And I couldn’t find Ms. Ortiz.”


Jessica’s name still caused the reflexive crunching of his jaw. But he’d never wanted any harm to come to her—she wasn’t a bad person, they had just clashed too much on personal matters. And now she was missing, and there was an immense amount of blood in the bathroom. Devon’s heart beat in a light staccato against his throat. She had to be okay.


“Where else have you looked?” He scanned the other corridors leading from the fountain entryway. He’d need guidance or he’d get lost in this labyrinth.


“I haven’t checked the therapy rooms yet.” Naomi nodded toward the larger central corridor, which ended at another set of double doors.


He headed toward them when Becca reached out to grab his arm in a bony but strong grip. “You can’t just barge into private sessions.”


“Why not?” He turned to face the two women. “There’s blood in your bathroom and Jessica Ortiz is missing.”


Naomi’s light brown eyes skewered him. “Do you really think it’s wise to cause a panic?”


“And I suppose you have another option?”


“Sessions don’t last more than an hour or ninety minutes. We’ll wait for those to finish—if Jessica’s just in one of those, there’s nothing to worry about. In the meantime, we’ll check all the empty session rooms,” Naomi said.


Becca turned to leave and said over her shoulder, “I’ll check on the schedule at the receptionists’ desk to find out which rooms have clients and when the sessions end. I’ll call you on your cell.”


Naomi turned down a corridor in the opposite direction, this one lined with bamboo tables draped with shimmery, lavender-colored fabric so light that it swayed as they moved past.


It reminded Devon of the papery silks he’d seen in Thailand, giving the spa a soothing and very Asian atmosphere. His heartbeat slowed. Jessica was probably fine and had accidentally taken someone else’s session in her artless, friendly way. She’d emerge from a facial or a manicure in a few minutes and wonder what all the fuss was about.


A group of three therapists turned a corner. They spied Naomi and immediately stopped chatting amongst themselves, although not fearfully—more out of respect that the boss was suddenly in front of them.


“Girls, have you seen Ms. Ortiz?” Naomi’s smile seemed perfectly natural and warm—inviting a rapport with her staff, yet not too cozy. If Devon hadn’t noticed her fingers plucking at the linen fabric of her pants, he wouldn’t have known how anxious she was.


Two of them shook their heads, but the tall blond woman to his left nodded and pointed directly across the corridor. “I saw her talking to Ms. Fischer about an hour ago before Ms. Fischer went in for her manicure.”


His heartbeat picked up. “An hour ago?”


The blonde eyed him with a hard look, but a quick glance at Naomi seemed to allay her suspicions. He had the impression that if her boss hadn’t been by his side, he’d have been thrown out, even if it took all three women to do it.


Naomi was shaking her head. “Ms. Cormorand saw her leave the Tamarind lounge only thirty minutes ago.”


His hopes popped and fizzled.


The blonde jerked her head at the nearby door. “Ms. Fischer is almost done in room thirty-five if you want to talk to her anyway.”


“That’s a good idea. Thanks, Betsy.”


Betsy nodded, and the silent trio headed down the corridor and around the corner.


Copyright © 2009 by Camy Tang

Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Review and Tour: Toxin by Paul Martin Midden

Title: Toxin
Author: Paul Martin Midden
Pages: 348
Publisher: American Book Publishing Group (July, 2009)
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Suspense / Political Thriller
Edition: ARC - Many thanks to MM Book Publicity for sending me a copy to review



Perfect for : Personal reading, book club read, guy gift

In a nutshell: If you enjoy mystery/suspense/political thriller, here is an edge-of-your-seat page turner that will keep you engrossed and wondering how it all will end! Jake Telemark, a relatively new US Senator, is contacted by the beautiful Isadore Hathaway, the daughter of the late Frank Hathaway, powerful US Senator. She proceeds to tell him that there is a conspiracy to bring down the United States Government and restructure it into a ruling body of 12 men who call themselves The Bookkeepers. As events begin to unfold, Jake begins to believe Isadore and knows that it is time to pull his military past out of the closet and get down to business. She needs his help to stop them, and soon he learns that it is kill or be killed!

Extended Review:
Characters: I really enjoyed the main characters of Jake, Dora and the secondary character of Jefferson, Jake's all-around friend/helper who also happened to be deaf. I thought that the relationship between Jake and Dora progressed appropriately given the circumstances, and I would love to see another book that focuses on Jefferson as the main character. One thing I liked was seeing Jake's thoughts put down on paper. As the action is happening, or he is thinking about something that has already occurred, you get to see his thoughts.

Story-Line: I enjoyed this political thriller. It was not as far-fetched as I had expected, and actually seemed to be very well thought out and researched. On occasion it reminded me of the television series Jericho, which at least proves that a few people are out there who realize that someday we could face some sort of threat from within our own borders that targets our government.

Readability: An easy read, even for those who are not as familiar with politics.

Overall: A fast-paced political thriller that posed a plausible story-line and which provided some great conversations!

From the Omnimystery Tour:
Jake Telemark, a junior senator from Wisconsin, enjoys his position as a moderate, common-sense legislator in Washington, D.C.—until the phone call that changes his life forever. Isadore Hathaway, daughter of the late Frank Hathaway, a renowned senatorial powerhouse, demands to see Jake immediately. During a mysterious meeting with Isadore, Jake learns an uncomfortable truth: a group of fanatical right-wing evangelicals, who call themselves The Bookkeepers, are planning to destroy the US democracy.

Shocked by Isadore’s revelation, but initially unwilling to get involved in something he can scarcely believe, Jake soon learns why Isadore Hathaway singled him out for this clandestine meeting: she’d uncovered a part of Jake’s past that he’d fought to keep hidden, not just by law, but by of the demands of his sanity. Isadore’s plea is both startling and matter-of-fact: she wants Jake to kill the men involved in this sinister plot—because if Jake doesn’t kill them, they will kill him.

When parts of Isadore’s scenario begin to come true, Jake becomes ensnared in a dangerous and deadly plot. With the country at risk and freedom hanging in the balance, Jake is thrust into excruciating circumstances. Forced to confront the demons of his past, and the demons that threaten the future of the country he serves, Jake inconveniently falls in love with Isadore. As this burgeoning relationship plays out against the backdrop of the most tumultuous time in US history, Jake Telemark must wage an intense tug-of-war between his promise to never harm another human being, and his duty to the country, and woman, he loves.

A gripping first person novel that reads like non-fiction, Toxin is briskly-paced and filled with urgency. Part provocative political thriller, part powerful psychological narrative, Toxin delivers a terrifyingly-real storyline that deftly blurs the lines between fiction and reality. Novelist Paul Martin Midden displays remarkable dexterity in his extraordinary character development, exquisite understanding of the texture and complexity of human relationships, and ability to keep the pages turning in this powerful thriller.

About the Author: (from Omnimystery Tour Page)
Paul Martin Midden is a psychologist who currently serves as Clinical Director of a nationally-recognized treatment center. Midden’s debut novel, Absolution, was released to great critical acclaim in 2007. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

Giveaway Details:
Paul Martin Midden is giving away a signed copy of his book, Toxin, to one lucky tour visitor. Go to his book tour page, http://paul-martin-midden.omnimystery.com/, enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 2583, for your chance to win. Entries from Wendi's Book Corner will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on their book tour page next week.”

If you have reviewed this book and would like me to add a link to your review, please include a link in your comment!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tuesday Thinger: Early Reviewers - You've Won WHAT???

Welcome to another week of Tuesday Thingers! We always love to hear from regular participants as well as new people.

This week, I've got an EASY Thinger!! If you have ever participated in the Early Reviewer program (and even if you haven't), you can now check the books you have received and hopefully reviewed against the list that ER thinks you should have. (Hopefully this link will take you to YOUR list, and not mine, which is a whopping ZERO since last September!! Have I set a record here?? No problems - I've always got plenty of books to review) ;)

The list will also allow you to mark a book as NOT received, so that it will not count against you when you request additional Early Reviewer books. :)

Questions: Have you checked out your ER list? Is it accurate? Did you need to mark any books as not received? Any suggestions for upcoming topics??

My Answer:
I'm sort of disappointed here - I WANTED to show you what the page actually looked like. . . is it a grid, a list, check boxes, etc. . . but, all I have is a note saying, "You haven't won any books yet." . . . . do you think they could rub it in any more? Guess I better start tagging some of my books!!

Looking forward to reading everyone's answers!!

~ Wendi

If you are new to Tuesday Thingers: Welcome! The meme was originally created as a way to network with other bloggers and to learn about Library Thing! I'd like to encourage you to join us. If you don't know what Library Thing is - you are in a great place to learn about new things, and if you are an old pro, stick around and share your wealth of information! Visit Library Thing here. To join in, copy the picture and question into your post and link back here so people can read other responses. Make sure you leave a comment here with a link to your post so we can stop by! If you don't have a blog, feel free to leave a comment here!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Review and Tour: God Will Do The Rest by Catherine Galasso-Vigorito (Excerpt Included)

Title: God Will Do the Rest: 7 Keys to the Desires of Your Heart
Author: Catherine Galasso-Vigorito
Pages: 272
Publisher: FaithWords (July 6, 2009)
Genre: Non-Fiction / Christian Living / Inspirational
Edition: Hardback - many thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy to review!



Perfect for : Personal Use, Bible Study Group, Gift

In a nutshell: Reading this book brought me that great feeling of optimism and hope. We all experience ups and downs, we dream and we plan, and sometimes it is hard to let go and believe that God will help us accomplish things. Ms. Galasso-Vigorito shows us that the true/real desires of our hearts are planted there by God, and that we achieve these desires through faith, persistence, optimism, hope, gratitude, love and forgiveness. One chapter that I find myself returning to is the chapter on forgiveness as I sometimes seem to struggle with truly forgiving someone who has hurt my feelings, and sometimes dwell on my own faults. I find her advice and gentle, helpful, and very affirming.


Extended Review:
Content: Acknowledgments, Introduction, Key #1: Faith, Key #2: Persistence, Key #3: Optimism, Key #4: Hope, Key #5: Gratitude, Key #6: Love, Key #7: Forgiveness, Afterword, Notes

Format: The chapters (keys) each start with a scripture from the Bible, which is followed by a statement (almost a letter to the reader) from the author. Next come plenty of real life examples which include additional scriptures and insights. Each chapter ends with a recap of the key points in an easy to read format.

Readability: Easy to read and relate to.

Overall: With plenty of great life examples, the author has shared some wonderful keys to how we can truly accomplish our hearts desires. I have found this book to be helpful in re-looking at some of my attitudes and re-focusing my thoughts and energy to attain a happier and more optimistic outlook on life (not to mention hope and faith).


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:


God Will Do the Rest: 7 Keys to the Desires of Your Heart

FaithWords (July 6, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Catherine Galasso-Vigorito's nationally syndicated weekly column, "A New You", has endeared her to readers across the U.S. for the last seven years. Known for her ability to uplift and encourage and for her warm engaging style and moving stories, Galasso is becoming American's most beloved inspirational columnist. Catherine is a former Miss Connecticut; she makes her home in Connecticut with her husband and three young daughters.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (July 6, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446545694
ISBN-13: 978-0446545693

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Introduction


The Key to the Kingdom of Heaven Is Also Our Key to Happiness on Earth


A dear friend once told me that I am giving to others what I need the most. Those words rang true then and continue to ring true today. What began as a simple idea—to share with others the inspiration that helped me overcome my own challenging times—has become my life’s mission.


As I write this book, I am humbled by the opportunity that I have been given: to impart to you the same seven keys—faith, persistence, optimism, hope, gratitude, love, and forgiveness— that have shaped my daily life, and to help you achieve the very best, your own heart’s desires, in your precious time here on earth.


I know, all too well, how words of encouragement, given at just the right moment, can save a life . . . because they saved mine.


Could it be that more than twenty years have passed since the fateful morning that changed my life? Although time has rushed by, it is still difficult for me to write this, and my computer screen blurs as tears fill my eyes.


One late evening in the spring of 1987, I had just returned home from a friend’s house. Earlier that afternoon, I had appeared in my hometown’s Memorial Day parade. Only six weeks earlier, I had been crowned Miss Connecticut, USA, and I was feeling on top of the world.


As I walked into our kitchen to get a glass of water, I heard a noise behind me. Turning, I saw my mother approaching me. “Oh, you startled me,” I said as I turned toward her, happy to see her. Mother was caring and kindness at its best. As a child, I always felt her love surround me, and even when I grew up, she cuddled me when no one else did. She had the gentlest heart I have ever known, and to me she was a living example of generosity and inner beauty. Relying on her faith in God, she lived life with grace and dignity. I remember her smile most of all, for she was always full of joy and happiest with a life of simple pleasures.


That night, for some reason, she seemed oddly weak and fragile. But I dismissed the thought and we talked a bit before I headed upstairs to my bedroom. Mother followed and told me her plans for the next day. Again I thought, She looks so frail. . . .


In retrospect, I wonder if God was trying to tell me something. But there was no reason to question her good health. Her eyes were bright and shining with her usual tenderness and affection. I recalled, weeks before, that she had gazed often at me with a look of contemplation . . . maybe of unease. What was in that look? Was there love in her eyes? Yes, always. Was there concern for me? Most definitely.


Now, looking back, I believe she sensed that her time on earth was fast concluding. That dim May evening was the last time I saw my mother alive. The next morning when I walked down the hallway, I cautiously entered my mother’s bedroom. There I found her, lying still and unresponsive, her breath silenced forever.


The word devastated cannot begin to describe how I felt upon the sudden loss of my mother and best friend. There were moments that I doubted I could even breathe. But there would be more.


Only one week after the funeral, I was forced to leave the only home I had ever known with barely the clothes on my back. That could have been the beginning of a bitter and discouraged approach to life. But for me, survival would come in the form of heaven-sent inspiration.


My mother was close beside me as I entered the most traumatic period of my life. I felt her presence constantly as she guided me to the Bible to seek comfort and inspiration during those darkest of years.


Gratefully, I filled my mind with God’s affirmative and life-giving promises, which helped me prevail as I pored over the Scriptures and inspirational books. Often I would delight in stories about men and women who had triumphed over adversity, drawing ever closer to God’s light.


Gradually, these stories began to heal my heart. I learned that the secret to getting through life’s challenges is not what happens to you, but what you do with what happens. The way we respond to what occurs will determine whether we will open the door to God’s grace, doing what we can and leaving the rest to Him—or leave it tightly closed.


As I persevered, trying to create the right open door for me, I felt an inspiration: to help other people. I thought, If encouraging, hopeful words helped me survive, then they can surely help others. I wanted to share messages of hope with men and women who, like me, were seeking strength, direction, and courage.


When I became a syndicated columnist, I found myself writing of experiences we all share of both the spirit and the heart. It has been the greatest blessing for me to have received, over the past fifteen years, thousands of beautiful letters from worldwide readers of my columns and the book that followed.


These moments of sharing have brought me an overflow of joyful stories from other lives lifted up from despair and enriched by encouraging words and stories. It has delighted me to see how others have opened themselves to the love and faith hidden deep within them.


Regardless of the present or future challenges they face, these men and women are grateful for every breath they have been given. And with each breath, they are giving thanks for the bright future that awaits them.


Although I would not choose to relive those dark days of long ago, I do give thanks for them, recognizing that they were a test God had set before me. Today, I have a loving husband,

three delightful daughters, and work that inspires me and gives hope to others.


Our magnificent Lord has wondrous plans for your life, too, and I am here to help you unlock those treasures within. All you need do is take each one of the seven keys to your heart’s desires and unlock the storehouse of the Lord’s riches that await you.


And what is the source of this treasure? It is one of the best gifts of all—the strength and faith that allow us to accept every experience as for our good, no matter how it first appears. As Romans 8:28 states, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 NKJV).


Today, the times of change and challenge we face require more faith than ever before. When we support and uplift others, even in small ways, we are serving God. I rejoice in the Scripture that says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40 NIV).


Like an old-fashioned lantern, the Word of God guides us as we take one step at a time. He sheds His light on the paths of our lives—a light of pure love, wisdom, and grace. Step-by-step, day after day, and year after year, the joy of the Lord grows brighter and brighter as we approach our home in His kingdom. Now, with these seven keys in hand, we can unlock the secrets to a life ablaze with the spirit of His love—right here on earth.


Blessings,

Catherine



Courtesy of FaithWords. Copyright © 2009 by Catherine Galasso-Vigorito and FaithWords.

FaithWords is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The FaithWords name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
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