Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Off Season: My Review

The nice folks at Hatchette are allowing me to give away five copies of Off Season, and I posted that giveaway last week. Well, my copy of the book arrived, and I just wanted to tell you that it is a worthy read. Siddon is a first-class wordsmith and this in not formula fiction. It is a story of loss and love and intertwined lives. It is one of those books where you take away something different with each reading.

There was no explict sex, and religion didn't really seem to play much if any part in these people's lives, so this book is a little different from what I've been reading lately (yes I have somewhat eclectic taste in books). I do want to share a quote with you, that while it had little to do with the overall story, struck a chord with me:
(part of a page-long sentence about the 1960's) "the pill that was supposed to liberate young women enslaved a generation with rote sex that many of them did not even want yet"

My giveaway post has a plot summary, and if you haven't read this book, I'd encourage you to enter the contest; the book is a winner, even if you don't win.

My Review: A Hint of Wicked

I'd like to thank the nice folks at Hatchette for the chance to review Jennifer Haymore's A Hint of Wicked. In this mass-market romance we watch the heroine, Sophie, learn that her husband Garrett was missing and presumed dead at the Battle of Waterloo. Seven years later, she marries his relative and best friend, Tristen. Eight years later, Garrett reappears. He had suffered from amnesia but had recently regained his memory. Sophia loves them both. She can't have them both. Which will get to keep her?

This was an entertaining read and different from your standard romance. Besides the quandry of which man will end up with the lady, there is a subplot about Garrett's companion, who had helped him regain his memory, but who ends up trying to take much more.

As I noted earlier, this is mass-market romance with steamy sex scenes. It is too bad there isn't much middle ground between these steamy novels and Christian romances where the main coflict is often the lack of faith of a character or his/her inability to accept forgiveness. The story here would have been good even without the sex scenes, but it seems that in order to get a romance without the sex scenes you have to read the Christian versions.

Knight of Desire: Review, Giveaway and Blog Tour

Romance novel time! Yes, my favorite type of mind candy is romance novels. Like any other kind of candy, a steady diet of them probably isn't good for you, but in moderation....

Knight of Desire is pretty typical of the genre. The night before a wedding was to take place, William was sleeping in the castle stable. He is awakened when someone with a lamp appears. It turns out it is the bride-to-be, who wants one last night of joy and freedom before she is forced to marry a man she strongly believes is evil. William goes with her on her midnite ride to protect her, and while he does nothing dishonorable, she remains in his memory.

Five years later William approaches the castle of the traitor who has just been defeated. The king has given him the castle and the land. The king also gave him a choice--he could marry the traitor's widow, or he would throw her into the Tower. William decides to marry her, and as he approaches the castle, he realizes it is the girl from five years ago. When given the choice of marriage or the Tower, she reluctantly agree to marry him. On their wedding night he allows her to refuse him, and sets out to win her body, if not her heart. As her first husband abused her, she does not have a postive view of the marriage bed; something he sets out to heal.

The book is set in the early 1400's in England and deals with the battles between the English and the Welsh as well as the battles with the French.

It is mass-market romance and has vivid sex scenes, though they take place within the context of marriage.

One thing I liked about the book was that the female characters were strong women. They were involved in spying, the took care of the castles when the men were at war; they were concerned about far more than what to wear to the next ball.

If this sounds like your kind of book, leave me a comment including your email address--no email address no entry, I'm not playing detective, sorry. For a second entry, leave a second comment telling me what you look for in a romance novel. For a third entry, blog about this giveaway and leave a comment giving me a link.

If you'd like to know what others think of the book (and get another chance or two to win it) check out these blogs:
www.thisbookforfree.com - June 29 giveaway
http://mustreadfaster.blogspot.com/ - June 29 review and giveaway.
http://yankeeromancereviewers.blogspot.com/ - June 29 to July 10 review and giveaway
http://rannthisthat.blogspot.com - June 30 review and giveaway.
http://BookSoulmates.blogspot.com - July 1 review and giveaway.
http://epicrat.blogspot.com - July 1
http://www.loveimpossible.com - July 3
http://www.morbid-romantic.net - July 4 review, giveaway, and Q&A.
http://www.chickwithbooks.blogspot.com/ - July 4 review and giveaway
http://booksandneedlepoint.blogspot.com/ - July 5 review; July 19 giveaway.
http://bookinwithbingo.blogspot.com - July 5
http://ajourneyofbooks.blogspot.com - July 6 review and giveaway.
http://seductivemusings.blogspot.com/ - July 7 review and giveaway.
http://alphaheroes.blogspot.com/ - July 8 review and giveaway.
http://www.bookwormygirl.blogspot.com/ - July 8 review and giveaway.
http://martasmeanderings.blogspot.com - July 9 review and giveaway.
http://reviewfromhere.com/ - July 10 review.
http://www.startingfresh-gaby317.blogspot.com/ - July 10 review and giveaway
http://reesspace.blogspot.com - review and giveaway.
http://www.myspace.com/darbyscloset - review.

Monday, June 29, 2009

My Review: Womenomics

Womenomics, written by two high-powered female journalists, challenges women to decide what they want out of their careers, and out of the rest of their lives, and then to take the steps necessary to get as much of both as possible.

On the positive side, this book talks about how women's approach to work, as their approach to most other things, is different from men's and that companies are starting to find value in women's collaborative approach and to our ability to think with both sides of our brain unfettered by testosterone, the hormone of instant gratification and competition. The authors remind women, especially post-boomer women, that they are needed in the workforce and that as a needed commodity, they have bargaining power. Further, they quote studies showing that companie with more women managers are more profitable. They also point out that Generation X and Y males are less likely than their boomer dads to allow work to control their lives. Womenomics gives concrete ideas about how to achieve flexibility in your job, how to set limits so that off-time really is off, and how to be more efficient while at work (turn off your email alerts and only check and reply to email twice a day is one hint). The main positive I found in the book was that, unlike some "having it all" books, these authors realize that you can't be in two places at one time. It just isn't possible to be the person who jets around the country working 20 hr days on a regular basis, and be the person who puts your baby to bed every night. They accept that obtaining a sane schedule in some of these highly competitive career fields may require a cut in pay or turning down a promotion.

The book is aimed at women who, in my words, have careers, not jobs. The authors talk about the highly educated women and the examples that populate the book are attorneys, investment bankers, vice presidents and the like. I'm not in a position like that. I'm every bit as smart as the attorneys for whom I work, but I've chosen the sane hours a paralegal works over the weekends in the office required to meet attorney's billable hour quotas. To some extent, I guess you could say I've already negotiated my reduced hours for reduced pay by making that decision; but on the other hand, I find that a lot of the ideas in this book are more aimed at those who are at a higher level than most women are. Negotiating for flexible hours, working from home, or part-time work is a lot easier when replacing you is harder than calling the staffing agency and having them send three candidates out for interviews.

This was a very readable book with personal examples from the lives of the authors. If you are a woman who has a career rather than a job, and wants some ideas about how to gain more time for family or for other personal reasons, I think you will enjoy this book.

I'd like to thank FSB Associates for sending me a review copy of Womenomics.

Book Review: No, Never!

Today there were four packages waiting for me when I got home with my five year old, and she was sure that at least one of them would have a good book in it. Luckily, from her viewpoint, one did.

No, Never! by Sally O. Lee is a beautifully illustrated book about a little girl (dog) who doesn't want to do chores or homework, or take a bath. She wants to be a famous writer or bicycle racer. Her mother explains that we have to practice achieving small goals (like a clean room) to get us ready to reach our real goals, like writing a great book.

I loved the illustrations; they are painted, bright and colorful. The expressions on Daisy's face are perfect. You can see other books Sally O. Lee has written and illustrated on her website. The website also contains crafts and puzzels that go with some of her other books, but I didn't see anything that went with this one. Maybe that's because it is new.

My five year old enjoyed the story and when asked to tell me if it was very good, good, ok or yucky, said it was good. We'd like to thank Sally Lee for sending us this book.

Mailbox Monday

My mailbox hasn't been that full this week. The Catholic Company sent me a booklet on St. Gianna Molla. (Click title to read review)

The nice folks at Hatchette sent me Jennifer Haymore's A Hint of Wicked. My review is scheduled for Wednesday.

For an upcoming blog tour I got Snow Melts in Spring.

The Thomas Nelson Book Review program sent me The I Believe Bunny. (Click title to read review)

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marica at the Printed Page. Stop by and see what everyone else got this week.

Blog Tour and Review: Mom Needs Chocolate

Mom Needs Chocolate is a humorous devotional book aimed at moms. It is divided into 58 chapters, each with a funny title, of four to five pages each. The chapters being with a quote from literature and a quote from the Bible. They are followed by a reflection that generally includes a story about the author's family life. The chapters end with a section titled "Faith in Action" that has three questions related to the chapter for you to answer.

For example, chapter 46 is titled "Poxes on Those Little Foxes" and the scripture quote is from Song of Songs "Quick! Catch all the little foxes before they ruin the vineyard of your love". She compares the foxes to the small irritants in our marriages--like toilet seats left up. There is a story about putting up wallpaper and how she and her husband have learned to capitalize on their different styles rather than fight over them. The "Faith in Action" questions are:
  1. What is the security status of your vineyard of love?
  2. Name three of the "little foxes" that threaten your grapevines.
  3. What are some creative ways you can trap those sneaky little foxes and protect your beautiful vineyard blossoms? (A good place to start is 1 Cor. 13:4-8.)

I enjoyed this book and think most moms would.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Review of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living Catholic Faith

If you are Catholic and like Chicken Soup books, you'll like this one. Like other Chicken Soup books, this one has 101 stories that warm your heart. Most are two to three pages long. They are stories about the nun who really cared, despite her gruff exterior, about the prayer for a sign answered by a rosary, about the food that was offered when the cupboard was bare and about an adult returning to his childhood faith. The stories are sweet. Some evoke smiles, others tears, but all make you feel good.

As far as whether the book is theologically or doctrinally pure, I didn't read anything that I felt was an inaccurate representation of Catholic doctrine or anything I thought was heretical. However, this isn't a doctrinal book. It doesn't push the necessity of confession, the primacy of the Pope, or the sinfulness of birth control. It talks about answered prayers, the family rosary and realizing Jesus' suffering though the Station of the Cross. Mary gets mentioned frequently. One of my favorite stories in the book was about an All Saints Day costume party at a Catholic school. A girl dressed as Mary won, even though she was one of many Marys that day. Her distinguishing feature is that she brought her doll dressed as Jesus; the other girls didn't bring Jesus with them.

Thanks to Shelby at Phenix & Phenix for providing a review copy.

Review: St. Gianna Beretta Molla A Modern Day Hero of Divine Love

Thanks to the Catholic Company's review program, I was able to review Thomas McKenna's booklet, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, A Modern Day Hero of Divine Love. This 32 page booklet is illustrated with photographs of St. Gianna and her family. It also contains several prayers to St. Gianna, a novena and a litany.

I've never read a biography of St. Gianna before, so I enjoyed learning more about her. In short, she was an Italian woman born in 1922. As a child she was very religious and wanted to be a missionary. However, she had health problems that led her to believe this wasn't her vocation. She became a doctor and, at age 33, she married. She had three children and continued to work as doctor. She suffered from two miscarriages and then, in 1961, became pregnant with her fourth child. During the pregnancy she suffered from a fibroid tumor which needed to be removed to save her life. She chose the riskiest surgical option because it was most likely to save the life of her unborn child. The surgery was successful. Unfortunately, St. Gianna died from an infection following the c-section by which this baby was born.

The booklet speaks of St. Gianna's sprituality and gives more details on her life than I am able to tell you here. It also includes several pages on her writings. If you are looking for a quick introduction to this modern-day saint, I'd recommend this booklet. The writing style is a little flowery, and while a full-length book of this style would probably annoy me, in this short booklet it was tolerable. Click here to purchase the booklet.

Blog Tour: Review and Giveway of My Forbidden Desire

I've said before that one fun part of book blogging is getting to try books you wouldn't pick up at the bookstore or library. I keep reading rave reviews of paranormal romances, so when Anna at Hatchette offered this one for tour, I figured "why not?" and signed up.

This is the first paranormal romance I've read, and while I won't say it will be my last, I wouldn't be surprised if it is. I could see why people like these books--there were types of characters invented by the author, sexual tension so strong it crackled and the usual happy ending. However, it just wasn't my cup of tea.

Have you ever read a paranormal romance? If not, here is your chance. Anna is allowing me to give away five copies of Forbidden Desire. To enter, leave me a comment that includes your email address (I'm not going looking for them; no address, no entry) and tell me if you've ever read a paranormal romance. I'll draw a winner July 12. Good luck!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sunday Snippets: A Catholic Carnival

I'd like to welcome everyone to this week's edition of Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. It is our opportunity as Catholic bloggers to share our best posts with other Catholic bloggers. To participate, go to your blog and create a post entitled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, briefly describe and link to the posts you want to share with the rest of us. Then, come back here and sign Mr. Linky and leave us a link to your post. Finally, click on other folk's links and read thier posts. Leave a comment to say hi! If you'd like a weekly reminder to participate, subcribe to our yahoogroup.

I reviewed three books this week that I'd like to call to your attention. Love Equals Sacrifice is the story of a man, who as a result of caring for his father who had Alzheimer's, returned to the Church. The I Believe Bunny is a cute children's book. The Book of Life is a retelling of the Gospels, all together as one story.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Review: The I Believe Bunny by Tish Rabe

Thanks to the Thomas Nelson Book Review Program, my five year old assistant and I spent some time tonight with The I Believe Bunny. This lovely hardcover book is illustrated in pastel colors and the cover shown above is illustrative of the style of the pictures. The words have rhythm and rhyme, making it a fun book to read aloud.

I Believe Bunny heard a mouse drowning in the river. He stuck a stick in the river to pull the mouse to safety, but felt he was losing his grip, so he prayed that God would help him be strong. Friends showed up and together they pulled the mouse to safety, showing that God answered his prayer. Near the end of the book, it says:
Have faith in God's love,
and you'll find when you do,
nothing you try will be
impossible for you.
This a beautiful book and my daughter enjoyed it. I can see it becoming part of the regular rotation of bedtime stories. However, I'm a little concerned about the message shown above. Yes, I believe God answers prayers. No, I don't think that praying about something means you are necessarily going to get it. Now, in this story, the bunny prays for strength, but gets friends instead, so I am going to point out that God knows better than we do, and that He doesn't always give us what we want. However, there are going to be times in that bunny's life when he prays for strength to be able to do something, and what he'll get is the strength to deal with the fact that he couldn't. I know that doesn't make for cute kids stories, but I'm a little concerned with telling kids that if they want something, they just need to pray and have faith and it will be granted.

Children's Book Giveaways

Children's Book: Ok Go. Ends June 30.

Let's Get Ready for Kindergarten Ends July 8.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Worth A Thousand Words--Blog Tour and Review

Worth a Thousand Words is the second book in Stacy Hawkins Adams' Jubilant Soul series. You can read my review of the first, The Someday List, here, and it will give you a link to the first chapter as well. While The Someday List focused on a middle-aged married couple, Worth a Thousand Words is about Indigo, at whose college graduation party the story opens. At that party, her long-term boyfriend, who is about to join the navy, publically asks her to marry him. She loves him, but had planned to go to graduate school in New York.

She is in her hometown for the summer, working as a photography intern for the local paper. She loves her boyfriend, but isn't sure that she wants to marry him, at least at that time. She has health problems that summer which cause her to lose her internship, and her aunt, who owns a beauty shop, has a stroke, so she ends up spending the summer running the business end of the salon. She is trying to discern what to do with her fiancee, her schooling, her career. In the meantime, her fiancee is dealing with his own secrets. Telling you how it all worked out would be a spoiler, so I won't.

The book is Christian fiction, and it shows. It definitely preaches "trust God and He will work things out" and "pray and listen to God". It also strongly pushes Christian sexual morality.

Adams did a good job with her characters; they are complex people with many facets to their behavior and personality. However, she should have let them carry more of the story. There was too much narration, too much telling the reader what was going on rather than showing them-I'm not sure I'm explaining it right, but there was just something about the writing style that struck me as needing work, not quite there, but the characters themselves and the story were good.

Take a little time and visit the other stops on this tour:



LaTara Ham-Ying

DAY 2 | Tuesday, June 23

DAY 3 | Wednesday, June 24


DAY 4 | Thursday, June 25

DAY 5 | Friday, June 26



JUNE 23 - WordThirst Literary Journal Online Radio Show (8:00 pm EST)

JULY 9 - Chocolate Pages Show (6:00 pm EST)

JULY 16 - Inspiration Station (6:30 pm EST)

First Wildcard: Talking to the Dead

Click here to read my review.
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:

Talking to the Dead

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


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

Author website: www.davidccook.com – www.bonniegrove.com

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition edition (June 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434766411
ISBN-13: 978-1434766410


©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Talking to the Dead by Bonnie Grove. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Kevin was dead and the people in my house wouldn’t go home. They mingled after the funeral, eating sandwiches, drinking tea, and speaking in muffled tones. I didn’t feel grateful for their presence. I felt exactly nothing.

Funerals exist so we can close doors we’d rather leave open. But where did we get the idea that the best approach to facing death is to eat Bundt cake? I refused to pick at dainties and sip hot drinks. Instead, I wandered into the back yard.

I knew if I turned my head I’d see my mother’s back as she guarded the patio doors. Mom would let no one pass. As a recent widow herself, she knew my need to stare into my loss alone.

I sat on the porch swing and closed my eyes, letting the June sun warm my bare arms. Instead of closing the door on my pain, I wanted it to swing from its hinges so the searing winds of grief could scorch my face and body. Maybe I hoped to die from exposure.

Kevin had been dead three hours before I had arrived at the hospital. A long time for my husband to be dead without me knowing. He was so altered, so permanently changed without my being aware.

I had stood in the emergency room, surrounded by faded blue cotton curtains, looking at the naked remains of my husband while nurses talked in hushed tones around me. A sheet covered Kevin from his hips to his knees. Tubes, which had either carried something into or away from his body, hung disconnected and useless from his arms. The twisted remains of what I assumed to be some sort of breathing mask lay on the floor. “What happened?” I said in a whisper so faint I knew no one could hear. Maybe I never said it at all. A short doctor with a pronounced lisp and quiet manner told me Kevin’s heart killed him. He used difficult phrases; medical terms I didn’t know, couldn’t understand. He called it an episode and said it was massive. When he said the word massive, spit flew from his mouth, landing on my jacket’s lapel. We had both stared at it.

When my mother and sister, Heather, arrived at the hospital, they gazed speechlessly at Kevin for a time, and then took me home. Heather had whispered with the doctor, their heads close together, before taking a firm hold on my arm and walking me out to her car. We drove in silence to my house. The three of us sat around my kitchen table looking at each other.

Several times my mother opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Our words had turned to cotton, thick and dry. We couldn’t work them out of our throats. I had no words for my abandonment. Like everything I knew to be true had slipped out the back door when I wasn’t looking.

“What happened?” I said again. This time I knew I had said it out loud. My voice echoed back to me off the kitchen table.

“Remember how John Ritter died? His heart, remember?” This from Heather, my younger, smarter sister. Kevin had died a celebrity’s death.

From the moment I had received the call from the hospital until now, I had allowed other people to make all of my bereavement decisions. My mother and mother-in-law chose the casket and placed the obituary in the paper. Kevin’s boss at the bank, Donna Walsh, arranged for the funeral parlor and even called the pastor from the church that Kevin had attended until he was sixteen to come and speak. Heather silently held my hand through it all. I didn’t feel grateful for their help.

I sat on the porch swing, and my right foot rocked on the grass, pushing and pulling the swing. My head hurt. I tipped it back and rested it on the cold, inflexible metal that made up the frame for the swing. It dug into my skull. I invited the pain. I sat with it; supped with it.

I opened my eyes and looked up into the early June sky. The clouds were an unmade bed. Layers of white moved rumpled and languid past the azure heavens. Their shapes morphed and faded before my eyes. A Pegasus with the face of a dog; a veiled woman fleeing; a villain; an elf. The shapes were strange and unreliable, like dreams. A monster, a baby—I wanted to reach up to touch its soft, wrinkled face. I was too tired. Everything was gone, lost, emptied out.

I had arrived home from the hospital empty handed. No Kevin. No car—we left it in the hospital parking lot for my sister to pick up later. “No condition to drive,” my mother had said. She meant me.

Empty handed. The thought, incomplete and vague, crept closer to consciousness. There should have been something. I should have brought his things home with me. Where were his clothes? His wallet? Watch? Somehow, they’d fled the scene.

“How far could they have gotten?” I said to myself. Without realizing it, I had stood and walked to the patio doors. “Mom?” I said as I walked into the house.

She turned quickly, but said nothing. My mother didn’t just understand what was happening to me. She knew. She knew it like the ticking of a clock, the wind through the windows, like everything a person gets used to in life. It had only been eight months since Dad died. She knew there was little to be said. Little that should be said. Once, after Dad’s funeral, she looked at Heather and me and said, “Don’t talk. Everyone has said enough words to last for eternity.”

I noticed how tall and straight she stood in her black dress and sensible shoes. How long must the dead be buried before you can stand straight again? “What happened to Kevin’s stuff?” Mom glanced around as if checking to see if a guest had made off with the silverware.

I swallowed hard and clarified. “At the hospital. He was naked.” A picture of him lying motionless, breathless on the white sheets filled my mind. “They never gave me his things. His, whatever, belongings. Effects.”

“I don’t know, Kate,” she said. Like it didn’t matter. Like I should stop thinking about it. I moved past her, careful not to touch her, and went in search of my sister.

Heather sat on my secondhand couch in my living room, a two seater with the pattern of autumn leaves. She held an empty cup and a napkin; dark crumbs tumbling off onto the carpet. Her long brown hair, usually left down, was pulled up into a bun. She looked pretty and sad. She saw me coming, her brown eyes widening in recognition. Recognition that she should do something. Meet my needs, help me, make time stand still. She quickly ended the conversation she was having with Kevin’s boss, and met me in the middle of the living room.

“Hey,” she said, touching my arm. I took a small step back, avoiding her warm fingers.

“Where would his stuff go?” I blurted out. Heather’s eyebrows snapped together in confusion. “Kevin’s things,” I said. “They never gave me his things. I want to go and get them. Will you come?”

Heather stood very still for a moment, straight backed like she was made of wood, then relaxed. “You mean at the hospital. Right, Kate? Kevin’s things at the hospital?” Tears welled in my eyes. “There was nothing. You were there. When we left, they never gave e anything of his.” I realized I was trembling.

Heather bit her lower lip, and looked into my eyes. “Let me do that for you. I’ll call the hospital—” I stood on my tiptoes and opened my mouth. “I’ll go,” she corrected before I could say anything. “I’ll go and ask around. I’ll get his stuff and bring it here.”

“I need his things.”

Heather cupped my elbow with her hand. “You need to lie down. Let me get you upstairs, and as soon as you’re settled, I’ll go to the hospital and find out what happened to Kevin’s clothes, okay?”

Fatigue filled the small spaces between my bones. “Okay.” She led me upstairs. I crawled under the covers as Heather closed the door, blocking the sounds of the people below.

Click here to read my review.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Giveaway: Imposter's Daughter

One final giveaway for tonite: Imposter's Daughter.
Laurie Sandell grew up in awe (and sometimes in terror) of her larger-than-life father, who told jaw-dropping tales of a privileged childhood in Buenos Aires, academic triumphs, heroism during Vietnam, friendships with Kissinger and the Pope. As a young woman, Laurie unconsciously mirrors her dad, trying on several outsized personalities (Tokyo stripper, lesbian seductress, Ambien addict). Later, she lucks into the perfect job--interviewing celebrities for a top women's magazine. Growing up with her extraordinary father has given Laurie a knack for relating to the stars. But while researching an article on her dad's life, she makes an astonishing discovery: he's not the man he says he is--not even close. Now, Laurie begins to puzzle together three decades of lies and the splintered person that resulted from them--herself.

This giveaway is subject to the usual Hatchette guidelines: US or Canada only, no PO boxes, let someone else win if you already have elsewhere, please. To enter, leave me a comment with an email address (no address, no entry) naming a celebrity you'd like to interview. For a second entry, blog about this. For a third, fourth or fifth entry, comment on one of my other posts (not contests) and then leave a comment per post here, telling me that you commented on a particular post. Good luck. I'll draw five winners July 10.


Giveaway: Julie and Julia

Julie & Julia, the bestselling memoir that's "irresistible....A kind of Bridget Jones meets The French Chef" (Philadelphia Inquirer), is now a major motion picture. Julie Powell, nearing thirty and trapped in a dead-end secretarial job, resolves to reclaim her life by cooking in the span of a single year, every one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child's legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her unexpected reward: not just a newfound respect for calves' livers and aspic, but a new life-lived with gusto. The film version is written and directed by Nora Ephron and stars Amy Adams as Julie and Meryl Streep as Julia.

This is subject to the usual Hatchette conditions: US and Canada only, no P.O. boxes. For one entry, leave me a comment with your email address; no address no entry. For a second entry, leave another comment telling me a book made into a movie that you liked. For a third entry, leave another comment telling me a book made into a movie that you didn't like. For a fourth entry, blog about this giveaway and leave a comment with a link. For a fifth entry, leave a link to a favorite recipe. (you may do any or all of 2-5). I'll pick five winners July 10.


Giveaway: Off Season by Anne Rivers Siddon

Thanks to those nice folks at Hatchette I have a bunch of giveways. The first is for one of five copies of Anne Rivers Siddon's book Off Season.

Here is what the publisher has to say about the book:
Acclaimed novelist Anne Rivers Siddons's new novel is a stunning tale of love and loss.

For as long as she can remember, they were Cam and Lilly--happily married, totally in love with each other, parents of a beautiful family, and partners in life. Then, after decades of marriage, it ended as every great love story does...in loss. After Cam's death, Lilly takes a lone road trip to her and Cam's favorite spot on the remote coast of Maine, the place where they fell in love over and over again, where their ghosts still dance. There, she looks hard to her past--to a first love that ended in tragedy; to falling in love with Cam; to a marriage filled with exuberance, sheer life, and safety-- to try to figure out her future.

It is a journey begun with tender memories and culminating in a revelation that will make Lilly re-evaluate everything she thought was true about her husband and her marriage.

The giveaway is subject to the usual Hatchette conditions: US or Canada only, no P.O. Boxes, and if you win elsewhere, please allow someone else to win this one. To enter, leave a comment that includes your email address. No email address, no entry. For a second entry, blog about this giveaway and leave me a comment with a link. For a third entry, find a picture of Maine on the web, and leave a comment giving me a link to the picture. Good luck! I'll pick a winner July 10.


Monday, June 22, 2009

The Book of Life: My Review

I'd like to thank the Catholic Company for the opportunity to review The Book of Life: The New Testament Retold.

This book, which was first published in French in 1955 and was translated into English in 1956. It is published now as an "Arkive Edition" from Sophia Institute Press. Arkive editions are exact photographic reproductions of books published in previous decades or centuries. They have not been updated for modern readers, which will explain some of the things I'll discuss below.

The Book of Life appears to have been written for children, both because the author addresses the readers as "children" at times, and because he speaks of things like obeying one's parents and attending catechism classes. However, the language is not simplistic, so I'd guess the original target audience was older elementary/middle school. Though the subtitle is "The New Testament Retold", it should say "The Gospels Retold", because besides a few words about things that happened in The Acts of the Apostles, everything came from the gospels. The author, Henri Daniel-Rops, basically takes the stories from all four gospels and puts them together in a running narrative. The writing style was obviously pedagogical. The purpose of the book is to teach, and Daniel-Rops sounds like a teacher.

The commonly used Bible among Catholics in 1955 was the Douay Rheims version. The Book of Life, as the Douay Rheims, uses the word "Messias" rather than "Messiah" and Isiais rather than "Isaiah". Also, when speaking of the four Evangelists, The Book of Life states that they were written in the order presented, whereas today scripture scholars generally believe Mark was written first. I point these things out simply as a reminder that this is an old book.

One thing I found interesting is a list of dates at the back of the book. The author lists John the Baptist's ministry as starting in December of A.D. 27. In the years A.D. 28, 29 and 30, he gives the months during which various gospel events took place, and he lists the exact dates of Holy Week. Since this is a children's book rather than a scholarly tome, he didn't footnote or give reasons for his choice of months, but I'd be fascinated to know what they were.

The book also includes maps of the area and a diagram of the temple. Most chapters have black and white line drawings illustrating one of the described events.

There is a lot of interesting information in this book, but I personally didn't care for the writing style.

Mailbox Monday

Well, this week didn't equal last week, which is a good thing. However, the mailman still had to stop here regularly.

I got Mom Needs Chocolate from Glass Media for a June 29 blog tour. For a tour the week of July 6, I got Sunset Beach by Trish Perry. Maggie Rose will be toured by First Wildcard. Elizabeth at Phenix & Phenix sent me Love Equals Sacrifice a short volume about a man who returned to the Church after caring for his father who had Alzheimer's. My Bookmooch binge brought me two more Lisa Kleypas romances, Worth Any Price and Someone to Watch Over Me. Speaking of romances, I'd like to invite those of you who consider yourselves Christian (and even those who don't, if you hold sexual moral beliefs similar to those of traditional Christians), particularly if you like romances to participate in a discussion I'm trying to get going regarding morality and reading, particularly as it relates to romance novels.

As always, the links in the titles above will take you to the reviews.

Thanks to Marcia at the Printed Page for hosting. Stop by and see what everyone else got this week.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Review: Maggie Rose

Maggie Rose is the second book in Sharlen Maclaren's "Daughters of Jacob Kane" series. I reviewed the first, Hannah Grace, when it first came out.

Maggie Rose (the girl, not the book)leaves her home in Michigan to work in an orphanage in New York City. She heard of it when the brother of the woman who owned it spoke at her church. Shortly after she gets there, Luke moved in. He was a newspaper reporter who recently lost his fiancee to a tragic boat accident. Because he got too emotionally involved in investigating that accident, his editor pulled him off the story, and sent him to the orphanage to work on a human interest story, during a three month leave of absence. He moves into the orphanage and works with the orphans in an effort to learn their story. One of the girls escaped from a brothel and wants help getting a friend out. He helps.

This orphanage is one of those which put the orphans on trains and sent them across the country looking for new families. Luke and Maggie accompany them and something happens to build suspense. It is a romance novel so I'll leave the final resolution to your imagination.

The book is Christian fiction and like Hannah Grace, on the religious side of spectrum. The characters are constantly praying or hearing God's voice. Faith is Maggie's primary motivation for just about everything she does. We go to church with the characters, and hear them discussing sermons. It is definitely one of those "one of them has to find God before they can get married" type romances.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Love Equals Sacrifice: My Review

Love Equals Sacrifice was written by a Catholic business man who enjoys golfing, a sport which he played with his father. It is a 90 page story of how caring for his father after his mother died, and while his father was suffering from Alzheimer's, led him back to the Church. While it is a short, easy, inspiring read, I think Stidham should work with an editor and submit it to a magazine (perhaps Columbian, since he is a Knight of Columbus) as an article.

If you purchase the book, you receive a code which allows you to download the audio version of the book.

Thanks to Phenix & Phenix for providing me a review copy.

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Welcome to all. Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival is a chance for Catholic bloggers to share their best with other Catholic bloggers. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, describe and link to one or more of your posts this week that have a least a little to do with Catholicism (even if you are just showing off the cute Catholic kid). Also, provide a link back to this post. Then, come over here and use Mr. Linky to give us a link to your post. Mr. Linky has been troubled lately, but he should be working properly this week, as he is on a new server now. Then, go visit other participants, and leave comments saying you visited.

Some who post infrequently have asked if they could use Mr. Linky to link directly to one of their posts. That's fine, but since part of the point of this is for us to share readers with each other, a link in your post back here would be appropriate.

Most of my posts this week were book reviews, and none were particularly Catholic, though you are invited to look around while you are here. I do invite you to a post which I hope generates some discussion about choice in reading material.

Thanks for joining us, and if you'd like a weekly reminder to participate in Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival, join our yahoogroup.

Be Careful Little Eyes What You Read?

There is a children's song that includes the line "Be Careful Little Eyes What You See", reminding them that "The Father up above is looking down in love". This week someone I invited to participate in Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival suggested that some of my choice in reading material was "erotica" and not compatible with Catholicism. I suspect he was referring to the mass market romance novels, since the Christian stuff I read could hardly be referred to as such.

I like romance novels. I know they are mind candy. I know the plots are predictable. I know a lot of them glorify relationships that are not compatible with Catholic (or any traditional Christian) moral teaching. I know a steady diet of them would get old fast. Since I read (and enjoy) the Christian version (see for example my reviews of Critical Care and The Reluctant Cowgirl)and the mass market version (see Blue-Eyed Devil and Seduce Me at Sunrise) I think I can safely say that I'm not reading them FOR the sex scenes, though the sex scenes don't bother me. To me, erotica is books about sex--books where a very thin plot sort of connects a series of sex scenes, and, no, those aren't the books I'm discussing here.

To what extent should the literature a Catholic (or other Christian) reads reflect his/her moral beliefs? Christian fiction is often panned for being unrealistic or preachy, but it doesn't glorify sex outside of marriage and it doesn't include explicit sex scenes. There are lots of books out there not labelled as romances that include sex outside of marriage and which may or my not have explicit sex scenes. Are they morally acceptable? Is it morally acceptable to read a book which you can tell by the cover/title will likely have explicit sex scenes (and does whether they happen before or after marriage make a difference)?

I don't care for blood and gore, but some folks do. Is it morally acceptable to read books that give very gory descriptions of what some killer did? Is it ok if he gets away with it, or must he be punished? What about books that glorify war, or make heroes of people with obscene wealth who do not share any of it with others?

Again I ask, to what extent should a reader's choice in reading material reflect his/her moral values?

Friday, June 19, 2009

First Wildcard: Veiled Freedom

Click here to read my review

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:

Veiled Freedom

Tyndale House Publishers (May 6, 2009)


As the child of missionary parents, award-winning author and journalist Jeanette Windle grew up in the rural villages, jungles,and mountains of Columbia, now guerilla hot zones. Her detailed research and writing is so realistic that it has prompted government agencies to question her to determine if she has received classified information. Currently based in Lancaster, PA, Jeanette has lived in six countries and traveled in nearly thirty, including Afghanistan. She has more than a dozen books in print, including the political/suspense best-seller CrossFire and Betrayed.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (May 6, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414314752
ISBN-13: 978-1414314754



November 13, 2001
“Land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The radio’s static-spattered fanfare filtered through the compound wall. Beyond its shattered gate, a trio of small boys kicked a bundle of knotted rags around the dirt courtyard. Had they any idea those foreign harmonies were paying homage to their country’s latest invaders?

Or liberators, if the rumors and the pirated satellite television broadcasts were true.

Scrambling the final meters to the top of the hill, he stood up against a chill wind that tugged at his light wool vest and baggy tunic and trousers. Bracing himself, he turned in a slow, stunned revolution.

From this windswept knoll, war’s demolition stretched as far as his eye could see. Bombs and rockets had left only heaps of mud-brick hovels and compound walls. The front of an apartment complex was sheared off, exposing the cement cubicles of living quarters. The collapse of an office building left its floors layered like a stack of naan bread. Rubble and broken pavement turned the streets into obstacle courses.

But it wasn’t the devastation that held him spellbound. So it was all true—the foreign newscasts, the exultant summons that had brought him back, his father’s dream. Kabul was free!

The proof was in the dancing crowds below. After five long years of silence, Hindi pop and Persian ballads drifted up the hillside. Atop a bombed-out bus, a group of young men gyrated wildly. Even a handful of women in blue burqas swayed to the rhythms as they bravely crossed the street with no male escort in sight.

Nor was blue the only color making a comeback against winter’s brown. To his far right, a yellow wing fluttered skyward. There was an orange one. A red. Scrambling on top a broken-down tank, two boys tossed aloft a blotch of green and purple.

Kites had returned to the skies above Kabul.

Another tank moved slowly down the boulevard. Behind it came a parade of pickups and army jeeps, machine guns mounted in their beds. A staccato rat-tat-tat momentarily drowned out the music. But the gunfire was celebratory. The dancing mobs were not shrinking back but tossing flowers and confetti, screaming their elation above the noise.

He shouted with them, the fierceness of his response catching him by surprise. He’d hardly thought of this place in long years, the warm, fertile plains of Pakistan far more a home now than this barren wasteland. Yet joy welled up to squeeze his chest, the watering of his eyes no longer from wind and dust.

“Land of the free and the home of the brave.” Down the hillside behind him, the radio blasted a Dari-language commentary. But the words of that foreign music still played in his mind. The sacred anthem his American instructors had taught their small English-language students in the Pakistani refugee camps.

As they’d taught of their homeland, America. A land where brave and honorable warriors guarded peace-loving and welcoming citizens who lived freely among great cities of shining towers and immense wealth. A land of wheat and rice and fruit trees, grape arbors and herds of livestock that offered to all an abundance of food. The very paradise the Quran promised to the faithful.

And Afghanistan? Land of his birth, his home? Brave, yes. No one had ever questioned the courage of the Afghan tribes. Not the Americans and Russians who were history’s most recent invaders. Nor in turn the British, Mongols, Persians, Arabs, all the way back to Alexander the Great, whose armies were the first to learn that Afghanistan could be taken with enough weapons and spilled blood but never held.

But free?

He blinked away the sudden blurring of his vision. When had Afghanistan ever truly known freedom? Not under all those centuries of alternating occupations. Certainly not when the mujahedeen had finally brought the Soviet empire to its knees because then they—and the Taliban after them—had turned on each other. The rockets of their warring factions had rained down on Kabul in such destruction that his family was driven at last to exile.

“Have faith,” his father had whispered into his ear. “Someday Afghanistan will be like America. A land of freedom as well as courage. Someday we will go home.”

Even then he’d known the difference between wishes and painful reality. And yet, unbelievably, there it was below him. Today the liberators’ anthem, his father’s dream had come true at last for his own country.

Yes, his country.

His people.

His home.

He’d missed dawn’s first call to prayer. Now he stripped his vest to spread it over the dirt. Prostrating himself, rising sun at his back, he began the daily salat: “Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem. In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.”

The memorized Arabic prayers were rote, but when he finished, he whispered his own passionate plea against the ground, “Please let it be true this time. My father’s dream. His prayers. Let my people know freedom as well as courage.”

Standing up, he shook out his vest. Beyond shattered towers of the city’s business center and compounds of the poor lay a quiet, green oasis. The Wazir Akbar Khan district, home to Kabul’s upper class. Its high walls, spacious villas, and paved streets looked hardly touched by war.

His sandaled feet slipped and twisted in his haste down the hillside. At street level, his old neighborhood proved less untouched than he’d thought. The walls were scarred by rocket blasts, sidewalks broken, poplar trees lining these streets in his memory now only stumps.

He headed toward the largest compound on the street, its two-story villa built around an inner courtyard. A brightly patterned jinga truck indicated the others had already arrived. The property differed so little from childhood memory he might have stepped back a decade. Even the peacock blue house and compound walls showed fresh paint. The Taliban officials who’d commandeered his home had at least cared for their stolen lodging. Or perhaps it had been his family’s faithful chowkidar who’d stayed when his employers fled.

Music and cheerful voices drifted over walls along with a hot, oily aroma that brought water to his mouth. Frying boulani pastries. He quickened his steps. He’d be home in time for the midday meal.

At first he thought this gunfire too was celebratory, but when the unmistakable explosion of a rocket-propelled grenade shook the ground, he broke into a run. A mound of rubble offered cover as he reached the final T-junction.

His mind reeled. Surely he’d seen this victory convoy from the hilltop. But why were they firing on his home?

Even as he crouched in bewildered horror, the distinctive rat-tat-tat of a Kalashnikov rifle crackled back from a second-story window. Down the street a fighter rose from behind a jeep, an RPG launcher raised to his shoulder. A single blast. Then a limp shape slid forward over the windowsill and toppled from view.

The action unfroze his muscles, and he sprinted toward his home. A shout, the whine of a bullet overhead told him he’d been spotted. Apple trees edging the property wall offered hand and foot holds.

His feet touched brick, then ground on the other side. The acridity of gunfire and explosives burned his nostrils as he raced forward. He stumbled across the first limp shape facedown on the lawn. Turning the body over, he fruitlessly tried to stem a red sea spreading across white robes. Their faithful caretaker would never again tend these gardens or paint these walls.

An explosion rocked him as he raced around the side of the villa. Just inside the main entrance, the painted wooden frame of the jinga truck was burning. Behind it, the blast had blown the metal gates from their hinges. Invaders poured through the breach.

But he only had eyes for another huddled shape on the mosaic tiles of the courtyard and a third sprawled across marbled front steps. The second-story gunman had fallen across a grape arbor. Through tears of smoke fumes and grief, he noticed the Kalashnikov rifle dropped from a dangling, bloodied hand.

Before he could snatch it up, a boot kicked the AK-47 out of reach. Another smashed his face into the grass. Hot metal ground into his temple. He closed his eyes. Allah, let it be quick!

“Don’t shoot! We need live prisoners. Here, you, get up!”

As the gun barrel dropped away, he struggled to his knees. Except for the poorly accented Dari and a shoulder patch of red, white, and blue, the flat wool cap, dark beard, hard, gray gaze, tattered scarf over camouflage flak jacket could have been as Afghan as the mujahid whose weapon was still leveled at his head. He knew immediately who this tall, powerfully built foreigner was. For weeks Pakistani news had been covering the American elite warriors fighting alongside the mujahedeen Northern Alliance.

Our liberators! His mouth twisted with bitter pain.

“Where are your commanders? Mullah Mohammed Omar? Osama bin Laden?” The American must have taken his blank stare for incomprehension because he turned to his companion, shifting to English. “Ask him: where are the Taliban who had their headquarters here? And if any of these—” a nod took in the sprawled bodies—“are bin Laden or Mohammed Omar. Tell him he just might save his own neck if he cooperates.”

“There are no Taliban here!” he said in English. He pushed himself to his feet and wiped a sleeve to clear dampness from his face and eyes. It came away with a scarlet that wasn’t his own. “This is a private home! And you have just murdered my family! Why? The fighting was over. You were supposed to bring peace.”

“Your home? With a house full of armed combatants?” The American’s boot nudged the Kalashnikov rifle now fallen to the grass. “You were firing on our troops.”

“They were defending our home. They weren’t soldiers. Just my father and brothers and our caretaker and his sons.”

“You lie!” A blow rocked his head back as the mujahedeen translator snapped in rapid Dari. “You speak to me! I will translate!”

“I am not lying!” He spat out blood with his defiant English. “This has been my family’s home for generations. Any neighbor can tell you. Yes, the Taliban stole it from us, but they have been gone for days. We only came back from Pakistan this very day.”

He threw a desperate glance around. The last pretense of fighting was over, the mujahedeen drifting off except for those making a neat, terrible heap like laundry sacks near the broken gate. Wailing rose from a huddle of burqas and small children being herded out into the street. Were his mother and sister among them? Or had caution left them behind in Pakistan?

Then his gaze fell on a face he knew. A mujahid in full battle fatigues instead of the mismatched outfits of the others. The mujahid turned and stared at him indifferently.

Yes, it was he. Older, gray streaking beard and hair. But it was the family friend who’d supplied his father’s business with imported goods. Who’d been in this home countless times before their exile. Who’d brought him and his siblings small gifts and strange foreign sweets.

“Ask him. He will tell you who I am. He knows my family. He bought and sold for my father when I was a child.”

“Who? The muj commander?” For the first time he saw a crack in the American’s disbelief.

The family friend walked over. His cold, measuring appraisal held no recognition as the translator intercepted him for a brief conversation. Then, unbelievably, he swung around and marched up the marble steps into the villa.

The translator spread out his hands to the American. “The commander says he knows neither this youth nor his family. And it is well known that all in this house have served the Taliban.”

“No, it isn’t true! Maybe he does not recognize me. I was only a child when we left. But he knows this house and my family. Please, I must speak to him myself.”

Another foreign warrior emerged from the villa, clipped yellow hair and icy blue eyes shouting his nationality louder than curt English. “All clear. Body count’s six male combatants. Minimal damage except the gate. This one’s the only survivor minus a handful of female dependants and kids. From what the muj told us, I expected more bodies on the ground. They must have been tipped off.”

“Maybe. Or the muj were fed some bad intel.” The foreign soldiers moved away, and he missed the rest of their low-voice exchange.

Then the yellow-haired American waved a hand. “We followed the rules of engagement. They were armed and shooting.”

“A handful of AK-47s. The kid’s right—that’s practically home protection around here. And the prisoner; he’s no combatant. I saw him come over that wall. Should I turn him loose?”

“You know better than that. The interrogators are screaming for live ones up at Baghram. Besides, you’ve no idea what else he might know. If he’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time, they’ll sort it out and let him go.”

A radio on the yellow-haired American’s belt sputtered to life. “Willie? Phil? Either of you available? We’ve got brass touching down at the airport. They need an escort to the embassy.”

“Okay, we’re out. The muj will finish here and deliver the prisoner. They’ve got a load of Arab fighters and al-Qaeda types heading to Baghram this afternoon.”

The translator snapped his fingers, and a knot of mujahedeen stepped forward to take his place. The translator hurried after the yellow-haired American, now marching toward the gate.

But the other foreign warrior hesitated. “Be there in a minute.”

He braced himself as the first American walked over. He didn’t allow himself to imagine sympathy in the foreigner’s gray eyes.

“Look, I’ve got no choice but to send you up to Baghram with the other battlefield detainees. But if you aren’t al-Qaeda or Taliban, you’ve got nothing to be afraid of. We don’t shoot prisoners. And the muj commander’s a stand-up guy. If there’s been an intel error, he’ll make things right.

“I can at least report that you arrived after the fighting was over and never raised a weapon. If I can find something to write on.” The American dug through the interior pockets of his flak jacket and pulled out an envelope, removing a folded note paper, then what looked like a snapshot of a yellow-haired young female surrounded by too many children to be her own.

A tiny, olive-colored volume fell into the American’s palm. Western script read New Testament. “I wondered what I was supposed to do with this.” Taking out a pen, he scribbled inside the cover. “Here. I’ve explained what I witnessed and given my contact info if Baghram needs confirmation. It might at least make a difference in where you end up. If you’re telling the truth.” The foreign soldier dared to offer a smile with the book.

Fury and hate rose in an acid flood to his throat. With a scream of rage, he struck at the outstretched hand. “You think this makes up for murdering my family? once again stealing our home? You call this freedom? How are you any better than the Taliban or the Russians?”

A rifle butt slammed him again to his knees. The blow scattered not only the olive-colored volume but the envelope and its other contents. The folded note fell into a sticky puddle, white rapidly soaking to scarlet.

The American made no attempt to retrieve it but scooped up the envelope, snapshot, and book. Above the dark beard, his mouth was hard and grim as he tucked the small volume into the prisoner’s vest. “I really am sorry.” Then he too headed toward the gate.

The foreigner was hardly out of sight when a bearded figure in battle fatigues emerged from the villa’s columned entryway, an honor guard of mujahedeen at his heels. The one-time family friend strolled over. This time his survey was no longer indifferent or unrecognizing. But nothing in the unpleasantness of that smile, the merciless black eyes above it renewed hope.

“So you are the offspring of—” His father’s name splashed in spittle across his feet. “You’ve grown tall since you abandoned your people. And now you think you can simply return to claim this place?” The mujahedeen commander pulled free the American’s offering. Its pages drifted in shreds to the grass. Then a rifle butt slammed into the prisoner. No one called for it to stop.

He closed his eyes, his body curved in supplication, forehead touching the ground. But this time he didn’t bother to pray. His father had been wrong. The dream was over. It would take far more than dreams, a few impassioned prayers to Allah, before his homeland could ever be called land of the free and home of the brave.


“So who’s the blonde chick? Picking them a little young, hey, Willie?”

The two Americans had commandeered one of the convoy’s pickups and a jeep for the airport run along with a volunteer posse of mujahedeen. Their translator was at the wheel of the jeep. Willie, the only name by which their local allies knew the twenty-two-year-old Special Forces sergeant, and his companion clambered in behind to brace themselves behind the roll bar.

Willie glanced down at the retrieved correspondence still clutched in his hand. The girl who’d drawn his teammate’s suggestive leer did indeed look very young, a pack of preschoolers crowded around her. “Nah, just some kid Sunday school teacher who pulled my name out of a hat. Like we don’t have enough to do looking for bin Laden and taking out Taliban, we’ve got to answer fan mail.”

“Why do you think I don’t bother picking mine up?” As the jeep engine roared to life, his companion plucked away the photo for a clinical scrutiny. “Though maybe I should. Cute kid. How about I take this one off your hands? The way things are shaping up over here, she’ll be old enough to date before we rotate home. So what’s she got to say?”

Willie didn’t bother explaining. But the accompanying note had been brief enough he had no problem recalling its contents:

Dear Sergeant Willie:

My Sunday school class picked your name to pray for. We’re so fortunate to be living here safe in the land of the free and home of the brave, and we’re so proud of how you all are fighting to bring freedom to the people over there. I’m enclosing a class picture and a New Testament if you don’t have one already. Someday when the fighting’s over, I’d like to go to Afghanistan to help make the kind of difference you are. But since I’m only sixteen, I guess I’ll stick to praying and writing for now. Anyway, we’re praying for you to be safe and that you’ll win this war soon so Afghanistan can be as free as we are.

The jeep jolted out onto the street. Willie turned his long body to run a swift appraisal over the rest of their convoy. The mujahedeen volunteers were still scrambling on board as the pickups moved into line behind the jeep. They didn’t look like men who’d reached the finale of a brutal military campaign. They were laughing as they jostled playfully for a position at the mounted machine guns, flower garlands from the morning’s victory parade draped across bandoliers, wrapped around rifle barrels, even tucked behind ears.

But Willie had witnessed these local allies charging suicidally into enemy entrenchments, even with American bombs crashing down all around them. If he was so sick of this war after a few weeks, what had it been like for them to live decades, for many an entire lifetime, of unrelenting fighting and death? Simply to have survived in this country required courage and fortitude seldom required of Willie’s own compatriots.

Freedom was another matter.

Catching Willie’s eye, a fighter barely into his teens raised a flower-festooned AK-47 from the next pickup. “Is it not glorious? We have won! We are free!”

Willie had divested himself of sentimentality before he’d ever made it through basic training. So it had to be the cold winter breeze that stung his eyes, dust gritting in his teeth that made him swallow. Willie had never doubted the value of his current mission. Nor even its ultimate success. Serving his country was a privilege, spreading freedom an honor worth these last difficult weeks.

But not even his rigorous training had prepared him for the brutality and ugliness of combat. The ragged chunks of flesh and bone that had once been human beings. Even worse, the screams from broken bodies that still held life. Too many of them his own comrades.

Yet scarcely two months since plane-shaped missiles had slammed into the heart of his own homeland, the people of Afghanistan were taking to these very streets to celebrate their liberation. Even now his countrymen were touching down to raise the flag over Kabul’s long-abandoned U.S. embassy compound. Okay, so everything hadn’t run as smoothly as their mission training. Maybe there’d been mistakes. Maybe even today. But at least those raucous dancing mobs with their music and kites, the battle-wearied fighters in the pickups behind him finally had a chance for real freedom.

A chance he’d helped to give them.

You can tell your kids their prayers have been answered, Willie composed a mental reply to that bright smiling young face. It’s all over but the mopping up.

The thought prompted him to lean forward, tapping the driver on the shoulder. “You’re heading back over here after the embassy run, right? Do me a favor and check on that kid for me. Make sure whoever’s hauling them up to Baghram delivers him in one piece. Some of the muj are a little trigger-happy.”

The translator turned his head after he maneuvered between rubble heap and a pothole. “I am sure the commander will have given orders for anything you have asked. He is very happy with you.”


“But of course! Because of the property you have secured for him. The finest residence in the Wazir Akbar Khan. The commander has desired it for his own possession since before the Taliban. And now because of your weapons, it is his at last. We will move our headquarters here this very day.”

Willie went rigid in furious comprehension.

“Hey, easy, man!” The blond soldier’s arm was an iron-hard barrier, his voice low and warning. “Back off. It’s not his doing.”

Willie’s grip tightened to white knuckles on his M-4 assault rifle. “We’ve been had!”

“Hey, it’s not the first time, and around here it sure won’t be the last. Are you that naive? This is war. Their war. We’re only advisors, remember? And that doesn’t include refereeing property disputes.”

That his teammate was right didn’t temper Willie’s mood. The crinkle of paper reminded him his fist wasn’t empty. The envelope was a crumpled mess, and only now did he notice the rusty smudge blurring what had been a return address. He wouldn’t be answering this fan mail. Which was just as well.

Willie tossed the wad of paper over the side of the jeep, the adrenaline rush of this morning’s victory draining to intense weariness, his earlier elation as acrid in his mouth as the smoke rising from a burning truck just inside the wrecked gates. It was going to take a whole lot more than wishes and a few kids’ prayers before Afghanistan could ever be called land of the free and home of the brave.

Chapter One

Baghlan Province, Afghanistan
Present Day
A day from the past.

No, a day for the future.

The farmer stood proud, tall as he shuffled down the crowd-lined drive. A switch in his hand urged forward the mule pulling a cart piled high with huge, swollen tubers. They looked like nothing edible, but their tough, brown hide held sweetness beyond the sucrose to be squeezed from their pulp. The firstfruits of Baghlan’s revitalized sugar beet industry.

In a long-forgotten past, when the irrigated fields stretching to high, snow-capped mountains were not known best for landmines and opium, the farmer had worked his family’s sugar beet crop. He’d earned his bride price stirring huge vats of syrup in the sugar factory, Afghanistan’s only refinery and pride of the Baghlan community. Until the Soviets came and Baghlan became a war zone. For a generation of fighting, the sugar factory had been an abandoned shell.

But now past had become future.

The massive concrete structure gleamed with fresh paint, the conveyor belt shiny and unrusted, smokestacks once more breathing life. By the throngs packing both sides of the drive, the entire province had turned out to celebrate the factory’s reopening. In front of the main entrance was a dais, destination of farmer and cart.

The token harvest followed on the stately tread of regional dignitaries making their way toward the dais. Students, neat in blue tunics, offered pink and white and red roses to the distinguished arrivals. Among them the farmer spotted his grandson. No smile, only the flicker of a glance, a further straightening of posture, conveyed his pride. Too many sons and brothers and kinsmen had died in the war years. But for his remaining grandson, this day presaged a very different future.

On the dais, the factory manager stood at a microphone. Behind him, chairs held the mayor, regional governor, officials arrived from Kabul for the inauguration ceremony. “The government has pledged purchase of all sugar beet. Our foreign partners pledge equipment to any farmer who will replace current crops. So why plant seed that produces harvests only of violence? On this day, I entreat you to choose the seed of peace, of a future for our community and our children.”

The procession had now reached the dais. But it wasn’t the dignitaries’ arrival that broke off the factory manager’s speech. The roar of a helicopter passing low overhead drew every eye upward. Circling around, the Soviet-made Mi-8 Hind hovered down until skids touched pavement. Crowds scattered back, first from the wind of its landing, then as the rotors shut down, to open passage.

The government minister who stepped out was followed by foreigners, the allies who’d funded the refinery project designed to entice Baghlan farmers from opium poppies to sugar beet. The newcomers leisurely moved through the parted crowd. The minister paused to speak to his foreign associates, then turned back toward the helicopter.

The explosion blasted through the factory, blowing out every window and door. A fireball erupting from the open entrance enveloped the dais. A panicked swerve of the mule placed the heavy cart between farmer and blast, saving his life but burying him in splinters of wood and beet. He could not breathe nor see nor hear. Only when the screams began did he realize he was still alive.

Pushing through the debris, he staggered to his feet. Shrapnel had ripped through the crowd where the fireball had not reached, and what lay between dais and shattered cart was a broken, bleeding chaos. Those uninjured enough to rise were scattering in panic. The farmer ran too but in the opposite direction. Ignoring moans and beseeching hands, he scrabbled through the rubble. Then with a cry of anguish he dropped to his knees.

The school uniform was still blue and clean, a single white rose fallen from an outflung hand. The farmer cradled the limp form, his wails rising to join the communal lament. For his grandson, for so many others, the future this day had promised would never come.


Kabul International Airport
“Oh, excuse me. I am so sorry.”

Steve Wilson barely avoided treading on heels as the file of deplaned passengers ground to a sudden halt. A glance down the line identified the obstruction. In pausing to look around, a female passenger had knocked a briefcase flying.

The young woman was tall enough—five foot seven by Steve’s calculation—to look down on her victim and attractive enough that the balding, overweight Western businessman waved away her apology. Platinum blonde hair spilled in a fine, straight curtain across her face as she scrambled for the briefcase. A T-shirt and jeans did nothing to disguise the tautly muscled, if definitely female, physique of a Scandinavian Olympic skier. Though that accent was 100 percent American.

Steve had already noted the woman several rows ahead of him on the plane. With only a handful of female passengers, all discreetly draped in head shawl or full-body chador, her bright head had been hard to miss, face glued to the window as the Ariana Airlines 727 descended through rugged, brown foothills into the arid mountain basin that was Kabul.

Now as she handed the briefcase back, Steve caught his first clear glimpse of her features. It was a transparently open face, hazel eyes wide and interested under startlingly dark lashes and eyebrows. The candid interplay of eagerness, apprehension, and dismay as she turned again to take in her surroundings roused in Steve nothing but irritation. Wipe that look off your face or Afghanistan will do it for you.

As the line moved forward, Steve stepped out of it to make his own survey. Next to a small, dingy terminal only one runway was in service. Down the runway, a red-and-white-striped concrete barrier cordoned off hangers and prefabricated buildings housing ISAF, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Dust gusted across the runway, filling Steve’s nostrils, narrowing his gaze even behind wraparound sunglasses. He’d forgotten the choking, muddy taste of that dust.

The taste of Afghanistan.

Beyond the 727, a guard detail was uploading passengers into a white and blue UN prop plane. Steve recognized the bear paw and rifle scope logo on their gear. Private security contractors. He’d done contracts for that company, and if he dug binoculars from his backpack, he’d likely spot guys he knew. But the wind was picking up, the other passengers disappearing inside the terminal, so instead Steve lengthened his stride.

He needn’t have hurried. The immigration line was excruciatingly slow, the Afghan official scrutinizing each passport as though he’d never seen one before. The single baggage conveyor was broken, its handlers dumping suitcases onto the concrete floor with complete disregard for their contents. Air-conditioning was broken as well, the lighting dim enough Steve pushed sunglasses to his forehead.

But Steve had endured far worse. Besides, he was already on the company clock, so it wasn’t his loss if he wasted half the morning in here. With a shrug, he peeled a trail mix bar from his pack and settled himself to wait.

“Worse than Nairobi, isn’t it?”

Steve swung around on his heel. “Maybe. But it sure beats Sierra Leone.”

The man offering a handshake sported the same safari-style clothing Steve was wearing. There resemblance ended. Half a foot shorter and twice the circumference of Steve’s own lean frame, he was bald, by razor rather than nature from the luxuriance of that graying red beard, a powerful build sagging to fat.

Though there was nothing soft in his grip. Nor in the small, shrewd eyes summing up Steve in turn. Cop’s eyes. Steve could read their assessment. Caucasian male. Six-foot-one. Dark hair. Gray eyes. Tanned. Physically fit.

“Craig Laube, logistics manager, Condor Security. Call me Cougar. And you’re Steve Wilson, security chief for our new PSD contract.” The file with attached photo in his hand explained why his statement included no question mark. “If you’ll come with me, our fixer’s made arrangements to fast-track your team. The rest came in on the New Delhi flight. They’ve already left for the team house.”

The fixer evidently referred to the Afghan in suit and tie who plucked Steve’s passport from his hand, tucking a local currency note inside before moving to the front of the line. On the nearest wall, a sign advised passengers to report any requests for bribes to airport security. Not that Steve suffered any qualms of conscience at following on the fixer’s heels. In his book, a bribe involved paying someone to break the law. Tipping local bureaucracy to speed up what they should be doing anyway was a survival tactic in every Third World country he’d known.

At least fast-track was no exaggeration. The line had barely inched forward when they left the security area, entry stamp in hand. The scene was repeated at Customs, where Steve’s two action packers and duffel bag were waved through without a glance. A grin tugged at Steve’s mouth as he took in a bright head still far back in the first line. The woman from the plane looked frustrated, one small boot tapping impatiently, by her expression only too conscious of the stares her wardrobe choices were attracting.

Dismissing the hapless blonde from thought, Steve followed Cougar across a parking area to a black armored Suburban. The Afghan driver already had the engine running. Though an unnecessary swarm of porters had accompanied the baggage trolley, Steve counted out a bill into each outstretched hand. “Tashakor.”

Steve’s thank you engendered beard-splitting grins as the porters scattered.

Pulling his head from inside the Suburban, Cougar raised bushy red eyebrows. “So you speak Dari. I’d understood this was your first contract in Afghanistan.”

“It is.” Steve sliced into one of the action packers. The tactical vest he strapped on was not the screaming obvious black of a private security detail, where you wanted unfriendlies to know you were on alert, but a discreet utility vest style. “But I was in Kabul during liberation. And after. Picked up a fair amount of Dari and Pashto along the way. I assumed you knew that’s why I pulled this contract.”

“Sure, your bio says Special Forces. So you were Task Force Dagger, first boots on the ground, all that. That must have been a trip.” Cougar studied his taller companion’s clipped dark hair and deep tan. “Your coloring, I’ll bet you pass as a native if you grow a beard. Gotta be useful in these parts. So when did you make the jump to the private sector?”

“I was in Afghanistan about eighteen months. Got tired of being shot at so switched to a Blackwater private security detail. Then ArmorGroup embassy detail. Back to PSDs. Most recently Basra in southern Iraq. That was Condor Security, so when this came up, they gave me a call.”

Steve could have added, “And you?” But his contact info had included a bio. Craig “Cougar” Laube had done an army stint a lifetime ago, then put in twenty years with NYPD, more of them behind a desk than on the street. A second career as a security guard hadn’t proved lucrative enough to support an ex-wife and three kids because he’d jumped at the post 9/11 boom in the private security industry.

Strapping on his own tactical vest, Cougar retrieved M-4s and Glock 19 pistols for both from the back of the Suburban before handing Steve a manila envelope. So the guy had his priorities right.

The SUV’s air-conditioned interior was a far more comfortable ride into Kabul than the dust and jolting of an army convoy. As the Afghan driver eased past a mounted Soviet Mig fighter jet that marked the airport entrance, Steve rifled through the manila envelope. Mini-Bradt Kabul guide. Dari-English phrase book. List of embassy-cleared restaurants and lodging. An invite to an open house Thursday evening at the UN guesthouse. It was a welcome packet! Underneath were some blueprints and a city map.

“The diagrams are your two primary security zones.” Cougar carried his M-4 unslung, looking out the double-paned windows as he spoke. “How much did they fill you in?”

Steve stuffed the material back into its envelope, retaining the blueprints and a personnel data printout. “Just that CS picked up a private security detail for some Afghan cabinet minister, and they want me to pull together a team ASAP. So who is this guy, and what’s the big rush?”

“Our principal’s the new Minister of Interior. He figures he’s got a bull’s-eye painted on his back. Which isn’t such a stretch when you consider what happened to his predecessor.”

“You’re talking the sugar factory bombing.” Steve straightened up with sudden alertness. Bombings had become a dime a dozen lately in Afghanistan, but that incident had been significant enough to make international news. Reopening a sugar factory in the northeastern province of Baghlan was the crown jewel in an alternative development program intended to soften the impact of the US counter-narcotics campaign against Afghanistan’s proliferation of opium poppy. Any number of dignitaries had been on hand when a bomb went off inside the factory. With more than fifty killed and hundreds wounded, it had been the largest single-incident civilian death toll since liberation.

“Sure, I saw the Minister of Interior on the list of VIP casualties. And weren’t there Americans involved too? But that was more than two weeks ago.”

“It’s taken this long to get all the ducks in a row. There weren’t any American casualties, but a helicopter load that included embassy and DEA reps had just touched down for the ribbon cutting when the bomb went off, one reason the incident got so much international press. In fact, the chopper belongs to the current minister. If he hadn’t forgotten his briefcase in the chopper and just happened to turn back, there’d be two dead ministers instead of one.

“What makes this more interesting is that the late MOI had just been in office a couple months himself, appointed when his predecessor was removed for gross corruption and incompetence. Only after plenty of pressure from the West, I might add. The MOI’s by far the most powerful cabinet seat short of the president himself. It oversees the Afghan National Police, counternarcotics, the country’s internal security, and provincial administration. Which includes appointing the governors and regional law enforcement officials.”

Steve let out a low whistle. “So what’s left for the president?”

“There’s a reason they call our friend in the Presidential Palace the Mayor of Kabul. Not that anyone really runs the provinces except the provinces themselves. A lot of people point to MOI for Afghanistan’s current security failings. Not that there isn’t plenty of blame to go around, but the Afghan National Police are a joke, and too many provincial officials are former warlords up to their own ears in drug trafficking. Our late MOI had made it his mission to clean house and rein in the regional warlords.”

That drew Steve’s sharp glance from the data sheets. “You don’t think—”

“The sugar factory bombing could be payback—or just the local opium cartels trying to stamp out competition. But the new MOI’s taking it personally. He asked for a personal security detail as soon as he nailed the promotion. No local bodyguards either. They might be infiltrated. Western. And since Khalid’s a former muj commander—”

“Khalid!” Steve interrupted. “Khalid Sayef?”

“That’s right.” Cougar looked at Steve. “Hey, come to think of it, Khalid was part of the coalition that took Kabul. Any chance you ran across him?”

“Yes,” Steve responded. “Though when I left Afghanistan, Khalid was up to his neck in local politics, nothing like this.”

“Khalid’s still governor of his home district up in Baghlan. But like most of the muj commanders, he picked up a cabinet seat when the new government was signed in. But when the Minister of Counternarcotics threw in the towel a couple years back, it seemed like Khalid was in the right place to move up. Instead they brought in a complete outsider. Minister of Commerce originally. Moved up to Counternarcotics Minister a couple years ago. Since counternarcotics is the biggest piece of MOI, everyone figured Khalid would take over when his boss got the boot. Instead . . . outsider.”

Cougar’s shoulders hunched under his tactical vest. “Well, Khalid’s got the job now, and it’s our responsibility to keep the guy alive. The contract’s a Level One three-month renewable personal security detail. We should have on hand most equipment you’ll need. Ditto, transport. Scrambling a team wasn’t as easy on such short notice. But the bunch that flew in this morning are pretty decent. Their bios are in that packet. All Special Ops, all with security detail experience. Navy SEAL. Ranger. Delta. SAS.”

Steve’s attention shifted from data sheets to the windshield as the militarized airport zone gave way outside to bustling streets. Kabul had changed since he’d last passed this way—and it hadn’t. Steve wasn’t sure which was worse.

The biggest change was congestion. Vehicle traffic must have multiplied ten times over without a corresponding expansion of the street system. If there were traffic lanes or even sidewalks, no one was taking them seriously. Toyota Corollas, wood-framed trucks, motorcycles, and mule carts oozed through swarming pedestrians and street venders. Late-model SUVs, mostly white, bore acronyms on doors and roofs. Agency vehicles of the numerous Western government and aid organizations now making Kabul their home.

“The two security zones are Khalid’s personal residence and the Ministry of Interior,” Cougar continued. “The residence’s already in a high security district, but the MOI building’s smack downtown.”

City limits too now crawled much farther up the mountain flanks. Construction was still largely mud brick, but the glitter of Kabul’s new business skyline thrust itself like misplaced jewels above a haze of dust and smog. The Mashal Business Center, all futuristic blue glass and chrome. The five-star Serena Hotel rising like a sultan’s palace on a busy intersection. The Safi Landmark shopping mall where, according the welcome packet, any number of trendy restaurants offered foreign cuisine and forbidden alcohol.

Who in this dirt pile has disposable income to support this kind of infrastructure?

Cougar pointed at another new glass and brick department store. “Kabul isn’t the hardship post you all rolled into. Anything you want, some Afghan will have started an import outlet. The expat social scene’s pretty decent too. Mostly in what we call the green zone, Wazir Akbar Khan, Shahr-e-Nau and Sherpur districts where security’s tight enough you don’t have to worry about locals crashing the party. Or some mullah screaming over Jack Daniels or bikinis. Stay here awhile with all those burqas, and you won’t believe how good any woman in a bikini starts to look.”

Steve grunted. Astonishingly, the burqas hadn’t changed. He spotted many headscarfs, many of them expatriates by their features, as well as the more enveloping black chador. But the burqa remained the female norm, flitting like silent white or pale blue ghosts through an overwhelmingly male pedestrian mob, the face panels thrown triumphantly back when he’d last been in these streets now firmly in place.

The commercial district wasn’t the only construction boom. Steve counted the third rounded dome and tall minaret the SUV had passed in the space of five minutes. This one was a massive complex, gleaming with sparkling new mosaic tile. Behind it rose a series of five-story buildings Steve had assumed to be a housing development until he saw that the mosque’s perimeter wall enclosed them.

Cougar caught his stare. “Really something, isn’t it? That’s a new Shiite madrassa built by Iran. Bigger than the university. New mosques have been going up all over Kabul, mostly donations from other Muslim governments.”

“Useful outlay of aid funds,” Steve commented sardonically.

Cougar shrugged. “We build malls; they build mosques.”

For all the city’s new infrastructure, the acute poverty Steve remembered seemed little diminished either. They’d passed miles of hovels clinging to hillsides like human-size termite cells. How did people live without running water, sewage, or electricity? As for that apartment complex mujahedeen rockets had ripped open, Steve could swear it hadn’t been touched in all these years. Then he spotted plywood and plastic tacked down across a concrete cubicle, a burqa hauling a bucket up a shattered staircase. People were living in that ruin!

Beggars remained everywhere. Men missing limbs squatted on sidewalks or negotiated traffic on wheelchairs crafted from bicycle tires. Women in burqas exposed a cupped palm at intersections, small, ragged children at their skirts. Nor in the glut of automatic weapons and armed vehicles did Steve see any indication of a country at rest from war. It wasn’t just the ISAF convoys with their armored Humvees and turret guns. A dozen different uniforms belonging to the Afghan police, army, or hired security firms roamed sidewalks, stood guard at intersections and outside buildings, and crouched behind sandbags on the tops of walls.

And I thought we’d freed this place.

Just what did those war victims in their wheelschairs and burqas scrabbling for a daily food ration, the shopkeepers and street venders with their watchful eyes think of the new Afghanistan he’d helped create? Or of the Westerners flooding their city with new cars and shining towers and shopping malls and restaurants few Afghans could ever afford to enter? For that matter, of those equally ostentatious new domes and minarets that did nothing to put food on their tables?

Steve felt a sudden weariness that was not from jet lag. Why did I come back here?

Because it’s safer than Iraq, and the money’s even better. I was tired of being shot at, remember? After all, who was Steve to sneer when his own latest contract would net him five times what he’d ever earned as a proud member of his nation’s Special Operations Command?

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