Friday, July 31, 2009

Just Dance....

You know I couldn't just let it go.... with Comic-Con wrapping up and living near the Mouse House, here's my inner-geekiness with my inner desire to be able to dance...

Yay! My Summer Va-cay Starts Today!!

I'm feeling rather chipper right now because I have actually started my summer vacation! Yes, I know school was out a few months ago and that it's starting in 2 weeks, but I worked my "last day" today and have the next week off for the summer!

In honor of this awesome time, I found people dancing to the Sound of Music in Central Station in Antwerp, Belgium on YouTube (of course).

I chose this as my celebratory dance because my brother sent my parents plane tickets to visit him in Europe (where is mine?) and while they were there, they actually visited this station.

When they came back and were showing me the pictures from their trip, my dad said, "and this is the station where they did that dance to the Sound of Music. Remember that one in the email?" (Of course I cannot find the picture in the hundreds they brought back, but if I find it, I'll post it here.)

So here's to summer--"Doe a deer, a female deer..."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Deadly Intent by Camy Tang

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)


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


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?


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.

Dynamic Uno here: I haven't read this book yet by Camy Tang, but she's a phenomenal author, so I know it's going to be good. The sad truth is, it's on my wish list for my birthday (next month for anyone who is interested) but I keep eyeballing it in the bookstore and may have to break down and buy it for myself. Camy's writing mixed with mystery and a Spa in California...What's not to love? Not to mention that fact that Camy is awesome! Check out her blog here. She has book giveaways all the time, not to mention that if you sign up for her newsletter she gives you top secret ninja warrior peaks at stories that are not out for everyone else to read. So, go buy Deadly Intent by Camy Tang. Who knows, I may be right behind you in line. Happy Reading! ;)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Love's Rescue (The Sierra Chronicles Book #1) by Tammy Barley

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

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

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Love’s Rescue (The Sierra Chronicles Book 1)

Whitaker House (June 4, 2009)


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

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

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



Carson City, Nevada Territory

April 1860

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

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


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

“Now, what is that smile for?”

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

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

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

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

Her smile faded. “Perhaps you should stay.”

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

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

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

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

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

Their father.

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

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

And the threat had become considerable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jess, I’d like to warn you against—”

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

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

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

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

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

“I will be careful.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Will you write to me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Near Perryville, Kentucky

October 1862

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

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

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

The enemy was fifty-five thousand strong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My dearest Jessica,

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

war and dream of what I will do after.

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

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

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

and to find a way to repair the damage between Father

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Your ever loving brother,…

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

“Jess…,” he rasped.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Menu for Romance by Kaye Dacus

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:

Menu for Romance

Barbour Publishing, Inc (July 1, 2009)


Kaye Dacus likes to say she writes “inspirational romance with a sense of humor.” She lives in Nashville and graduated from Seton Hill University’s Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program. She is an active member and former Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). Her Stand-In Groom novel took second place in the 2006 ACFW Genesis writing competition.

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: 160260455X
ISBN-13: 978-1602604551


“Happy New Year!”

Her thirty-fourth New Year and still no kiss at the stroke of midnight. . .or any other day or time. Meredith Guidry stood in the doorway leading into Vue de Ciel—the cavernous, sky-view event venue at the top of the tallest building in downtown Bonneterre, Louisiana—and swallowed back her longing as she watched hundreds of couples kiss.

A short burst of static over the earpiece startled her out of her regrets.

“Mere, we’re going to set up the coffee stations and dessert tables.” The executive chef’s rich, mellow voice filled her ear.

She clicked the button on the side of the wireless headset. “Thanks, Major.” Turning her gaze back to the main room, she tapped the button again. “Let’s slowly start bringing the houselights back up. I want us at full illumination around twelve thirty.” She strolled into the ballroom, the floor now covered with shiny metallic confetti, the hundreds of guests milling about wishing each other a happy New Year. Out on the dance floor, a large group of men stood swaying, arms about shoulders, singing “Auld Lang Syne” at the tops of their lungs, accompanied by the jazz band.

“Let’s make sure tables are bussed.” Pressing her finger to the earpiece to speak over the network made her feel like those secret service agents in the movies who were always talking into their shirt cuffs. “I’m seeing several tables with empty plates and glasses.”

She kept to the perimeter of the room, doing her best to blend in with the starlit sky beyond the glass walls, barely repressing the feeling of being the loner, the schoolgirl no one else paid any attention to. . .the woman no man ever gave a second glance.

“You look like a kid staring through a candy-store window, wishing you could go inside.”

Meredith’s heart thumped at the sudden voice behind her. She turned. Major O’Hara grinned his lopsided grin, his chef’s coat nearly fluorescent with its pristine whiteness.

“How’re you holding up?” He squeezed her shoulder in a brotherly way, his indigo eyes gentle.

She sighed. “You know me—I operate on pure adrenaline at these things no matter how little sleep I’ve gotten the night before. So long as I stay busy and don’t slow down, the fatigue can’t catch up with me.”

“And stopping to grab a bite to eat would have meant slowing down?”


Coldness embraced her shoulder when Major lifted his hand away. “I set aside a few take-home boxes for you—and Anne. I told her I’d be sure to save a little of everything.”

Anne. Meredith’s cousin and best friend. Her inspiration and mentor. Owner of a stellarly successful wedding- and event-planning business, Happy Endings, Inc. And friends with Major O’Hara on a level Meredith could never attain.

“If you see George, tell him I’ve been experimenting with that plum pudding recipe he gave me. I’ll need his expert opinion before I can officially add it to my repertoire.”

“I’ll tell him—but you see him more often than I do.”

“Yeah, I guess so. I’m glad we convinced Anne to fall in love with him. Finally, having another man’s opinion when we’re all working an event together.” He winked.

Meredith quickly turned her eyes toward the milling crowd so he wouldn’t see how he affected her. It would only embarrass him—and mortify her.

He tweaked her chin. “Come on. Back to work for the bosses.”

Over the next hour, Meredith poured herself into her work to try to keep exhaustion at bay. The last few guests meandered out just after one thirty. Meredith turned on all of the lights, their glare on the glass walls and ceiling nearly blinding her. She tasked her staff to stack chairs, pull linen from tables, and clear the room.

She directed the sorting of the rented decorations and materials into different dump sites around the room. Early Tuesday morning, she would meet all of the vendors here to have their stuff carted away so the building maintenance staff could get in for a final cleaning before resetting the room for lunch service.

“Miss Guidry, are these your shoes?” Halfway across the room, one of the black-and-white-clad workers held aloft a pair of strappy, spike-heeled sandals. Meredith’s medium-height, pointy-toed brown pumps rubbed her feet in a couple of places after six hours—but nothing like the pain those sandals would have caused.

“Lost-and-found,” she called over the music throbbing through the room’s built-in PA system. Not what she would choose to listen to, but it kept the staff—mostly college students—happy and working at a brisk clip. That made three pairs and two stray shoes, five purses, sixteen cellular phones, and one very gaudy ruby ring—and those were only the items Meredith had seen herself. Her assistant would be fielding phone calls for days.

Vacuum cleaners roared to life—a wonderful sound as it meant they were getting close to quitting time. A couple of guys loaded the last of the large round tables onto a cart and wheeled it down the hall to the freight elevator, followed by several more pushing tall stacks of dark blue upholstered chairs on hand trucks.

Vue de Ciel expanded in all directions around her. She hugged her arms around her middle. She’d survived another New Year’s Eve Masked Ball—and the eight hundred guests seemed to have enjoyed themselves immensely. Hopefully her parents would deem it a success.

The soprano of flatware, alto of china, tenor of voices, and bass rumble of the dish sterilizers created a jubilant symphony that thrilled Major O’Hara’s heart.

Simply from the questions the food-and-wine columnist from the Reserve had asked, the review in the morning newspaper wouldn’t be good. It would be glowing.

“Chef, stations are clean, ready for inspection.” Steven LeBlanc, sous chef, wiped his hands on the towel draped over his shoulder. Though Steven’s white, Nichols State University T-shirt was sweat-soaked—much like Major’s own University of Louisiana–Bonneterre tribute—the kid’s blond hair still stood stiff and tall in mini-spikes all over his head.

Major hadn’t yet been able to find anything that would keep his own hair from going curly and flopping down onto his forehead in the heat and humidity of a working kitchen. Yet asking Steven for hair-styling tips—Major grunted. He’d rather slice his hand open and stick it in a vat of lemon juice.

He followed Steven through the kitchen, inspecting each surface and utensil, releasing some of the staff to clock out, pointing out spots missed to others.

“Civilian in the kitchen,” rang out from one of the line cooks.

Meredith, stately and graceful, light hair set off to perfection by her brown velvet dress—like strawberries served with chocolate ganache—swept into the kitchen, drawing the attention of every man present. If she knew she had that effect on his crew, she would laugh her head off and call them all nuts.

“I’m ready to release my staff, unless you need any help in here.” Meredith came over and leaned against the stainless-steel counter beside him. She even smelled vaguely of strawberries and chocolate. . .or maybe that was just his imagination.

He cleared his throat. “I think we’ve got it covered.”

“Dishwashing station cleared, Chef!”

“See?” He grinned at her.

She graced him with a full smile, then covered her mouth as a yawn overwhelmed her. “I’ll let my guys go, then.” She pressed her hands to the base of her neck and rolled her head side to side. “I’ve got to run down to my office to get my stuff.”

“Why don’t I meet you at your office, since I have to come downstairs anyway?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ll be fine—”

“Mere. Stop. I will come to your office to walk you to your car. You’re lucky I’m not insisting on driving you home myself.”

Her nutmeg eyes flickered as if she were about to argue; then her smile returned. “Thank you, Major. I’d appreciate that.”

Good girl. “That wasn’t too hard, was it?” He limited himself to once again laying his hand on her shoulder instead of pulling her into a hug. “Go on. I’ll make sure all the rest get clocked out and then shut everything down for the night.”

Meredith nodded and departed. Major rounded up the last few stragglers and watched them run their cards through the computerized time clock. Returning their happy-New-Year wishes, he ducked into his office at the rear of the kitchen, grabbed his dry-cleaning bag along with his duffel, turned off his computer and light, and locked the door.

The brass nameplate winked in the bright kitchen light. Major O’hara, Executive Chef. He grimaced. What pride he’d taken eight years ago when Mr. Guidry had offered him the position—saving Major years of working his way up the chain of command in restaurants.

He heaved the two bags over his shoulder. Meredith’s parents had been better to him than he deserved, had given him the flexibility in his schedule to take care of family matters no other employer would have given. They had also given him their blessing—their encouragement—to strike out on his own, to open the restaurant he’d dreamed of since working for Meredith’s aunt in her catering company throughout high school and college. The restaurant he’d already have, if it weren’t for his mother.

Major shut down the houselights, guilt nipping at his heels. Ma couldn’t help the way she was. The mirrored elevator doors whispered shut, and he turned to stare out the glass wall overlooking downtown Bonneterre from twenty-three floors above.

His descent slowed, then stopped. The doors slid open with a chime announcing his arrival on the fifth floor. Before he could turn completely around, Meredith stepped into the elevator.

“How long were you standing in the hall waiting for one of these doors to open?”

Meredith busied herself with pushing the button for the basement parking garage. “Not long.”

“Not long,” he imitated the super-high pitch of her voice. “You’ve never been a good liar, Mere.”

“Fine.” She blew a loose wisp of hair out of her eyes. “I was out there a couple of minutes. I didn’t want you to have to wait for me. Happy?”

“Not in the least. But I appreciate your honesty.” Due to the tenseness around her mouth, he changed the subject. “Your mom invited me to drop by their New Year’s open house. You going?”

Meredith shook her head. “No.” The simple answer held a magnitude of surprise.

“She said she had something she wanted to talk to me about.”

The porcelain skin between Meredith’s brows pinched. “Hmm. No—I don’t usually go over for the open house, just for our family dinner later. Instead, I’m fixing to go home, sleep for a few hours, and then head over to the new house. I’m planning to get the paint stripped from all the woodwork in the living room and dining room tomorrow.”

“In one day?” Major grunted. Meredith’s new house was anything but: a one-hundred-year-old craftsman bungalow everyone had tried to talk her out of buying. “Wouldn’t you rather relax on your holiday?”

“But working on the house is relaxing to me. Plus, it gives me a good excuse to go off by myself all day and be assured no one’s going to disturb me.”

The elevator doors opened to the dim, chilly underground parking garage. Major took hold of Meredith’s arm and stopped her from exiting first. He stepped out, looked around, saw nothing out of the ordinary, then turned and nodded to her. “Looks safe.”

“Of course it’s safe. You lived in New York too long.” She walked out past him.

“Meredith, Bonneterre isn’t the little town we grew up in anymore. Even before Hurricane Katrina, it was booming.” He stopped her again, planted his hands on her shoulders, and turned her to face him. “Please don’t ever take your safety for granted. Not even here in the garage with security guards on duty. If anything happened to you. . .”

Meredith blushed bright red and dropped her gaze.

“Look, I don’t mean to alarm you. But in this day and age, anything could happen.” He kept hold of her a moment longer, then let go and readjusted the straps of the bags on his shoulder.

Meredith released a shaky breath. “So, what are you going to do on your day off?”

“Watch football.” He winked at her over his shoulder as he approached her Volvo SUV. The tinted windows blocked him from seeing inside. Perhaps he had lived in New York too long. But Bonneterre had changed even in the eight years he’d been back. Crime rates had risen along with the population. And he would have done this for any other lady of his acquaintance, wouldn’t he?

He heard the lock click and opened the driver’s-side door for her—taking a quick peek inside just to make sure that the boogey man wasn’t hiding in the backseat.

“Oh, honestly!” Meredith playfully pushed him out of the way and, shaking her head, opened the back door and heaved her large, overstuffed briefcase onto the seat.

Major moved out of the way for her to get in. “Drive safely, okay?”

“I always do.”

“Call me when you get home. Nuh-uh. No arguments. If you don’t want to call, just text message me—all right?—once you’re in your apartment with the door locked.”

“Hey, who died and made you my keeper?” Meredith laughed.

He didn’t let his serious expression crack. “Just call me safety obsessed.”

“Okay, Major Safety Obsessed.” She leaned into his one-armed hug, then settled into the driver’s seat. “Thank you for your concern. I will text you as soon as I arrive safely home, am safely in my house, with my door safely locked.”

He closed the car door and waved before walking over to Kirby, his beaten-up old Jeep, a few spaces down. As he figured, Meredith waited to back out until he was in with the engine started. He followed her out of downtown and waved again as they parted ways on North Street.

A few fireworks flickered in the distance against the low-hanging clouds. He turned the radio on and tuned it to the Southern Gospel station. Always keyed-up after events, he sang the high-tenor part along with the Imperials. Though it had taken him a while to build the upper range of his voice—having always sung baritone and bass before—when he, George Laurence, Forbes Guidry, and Clay Huntoon started their own quartet, Major had been the only one who could even begin to reach some of the high notes. Sometimes it was still a strain, but he practiced by singing along with the radio as loudly as he could. . .to keep his voice conditioned.

When he pulled into the condo-complex parking lot, his cell phone chimed the new text message alert. He shook his head. Of course she texted instead of calling. He pulled the phone out of the holster clipped to his belt and flipped it open to read the message:

SAFELY home. : - )

happy new year


While Kirby’s engine choked itself off, Major typed out a return message:

home too

sweet dreams


The phone flashed a confirmation that the message was sent, and he holstered it. Grabbing his black duffel from the back, he left the orange dry-cleaning bag to drop off at the cleaners Tuesday.

To blow off some steam and try to relax enough to fall asleep, he turned on the computer and played a few rounds of Spider Solitaire. About an hour later, his whole body aching, eyes watering from yawning every other minute, he grabbed a shower before turning in. At thirty-eight years old, he shouldn’t feel this out of shape—of course, if he still made time to go to the gym every day and didn’t enjoy eating his own cooking as much as he did, he probably wouldn’t be this out of shape. He weighed as much now as he had playing middle linebacker in college. . .except twenty years ago, it had all been muscle.

But who trusted a skinny chef anyway?

Thunder grumbled, and rain pattered against the window. Major kicked at the comforter that had become entangled in his legs during the night and rolled over to check the time.

Eight thirty. What a perfect day to don ratty old sweats, sit in the recliner watching football on the plasma TV, and eat junk food.

If he had a plasma TV. Or any junk food in the condo.

Alas, though, he’d promised Mrs. Guidry he would drop by. Best check the schedule of games, see which he cared least about, and make the visit then. He pulled on the ratty old sweats and an equally ratty ULB T-shirt, though. As he passed down the short hallway, he tapped the temperature lever on the thermostat up a couple of degrees to knock a little of the chill out of the air.

His stomach growled in concert with the thunder outside. The tile in the kitchen sent shockwaves of cold up his legs. Shifting from foot to foot, he yanked open the dryer door, dug through the clothes in it, and found two somewhat matching socks. Sometimes having the laundry hookups here did come in handy, even though they took up more than a third of the space in the small galley kitchen.

The fridge beckoned. Not much there—maybe he should hit the grocery store on the way back from the Guidrys’ open house.

Half an hour later, with the Rose Bowl parade providing ambiance, he sank into his recliner and dug into the andouille sausage, shrimp, potato, mushroom, red pepper, onion, jack cheese, and bacon omelet spread with Creole mustard on top.

Maybe he should consider making a New Year’s resolution to cut back on calories this year. What was missing? Oh, yeah, the grits. He’d left the bowl sitting by the stove.

Halfway to the kitchen to retrieve the rest of his breakfast, the phone rang. He unplugged it from the charger as he passed by.


“Mr. O’Hara, this is Nick Sevellier at Beausoleil Pointe Center.”

Major stopped. So did his heart.

“I’m sorry to bother you on a holiday, sir, but your mother has had an episode. She’s asking for you.”

Dynamic Uno here: I did not sign up for this tour, but I loved book one (Stand-In Groom) in the series so much that I went out and bought Menu for Romance as soon as I saw it on the shelves. It's now in my ever-growing TBR pile so that I can enjoy it when I want to get lost in a romance that makes me laugh (and has food in it--hello, what could be better?!). Get thee to a bookery and buy now. Let me know what you think. Happy Reading!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

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

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

Amg Publishers (January 22, 2007)


From Mike's Blog's About Me:

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

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

I live in Colorado Springs, Colorado with my bride of 35 years, Susan.

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

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

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

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

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

His website: Matterhorn the Brave Website is temporarily down.



Personalized Autographs

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

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

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

#7 – Tunguska Event

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

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

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

#8 – The Book of Stories

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

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

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

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

And spread the word!

~Mike Hamel

Product Details:

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


Emerald Isle

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

Matterhorn landed like a 210-pound sack of dirt.

His stomach arrived a few seconds later.

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

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

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

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

“What horses?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Never heard of it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s where the horses found them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matterhorn whistled. “Cool!”

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Guess what comes out at Midnight tonight...?

(image stolen from the FaceBook Fan site)

One of my friends from my summer job and I are going to the midnight showing! (Hopefully I'll be able to stay awake.) If I snore, just throw popcorn on me.

My niece saw snow for the first time in her life! She went to Oregon with my parents a few weeks ago and they went to Crater Lake. She didn't realize that the white stuff was snow until someone told her what it was. Her though--"It's cold." However, she did the requisite things--throwing snowballs, making a snow angel, trying to bring a snowball home in a cooler, etc. Here are a few pictures...

My mom gave my niece her socks to use as "mittens" to play since the snow was cold.

Posing with her monster snowball in front of Crater Lake.

Well, I had better go take a nap if I want to stay awake for Harry.

Too bad Cedric Diggory is dead. :)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

4th of July Memorial

I know I'm a bit late to be celebrating July 4th on the blog, but my friend Kirsten just sent this link to me via email and I thought you would enjoy it too. After all, it's NEVER the wrong time to celebrate our heroes!