Friday, February 27, 2009

Can't write, can't read, can't sleep but my cat still loves me

Okay, that's not an entirely accurate title, but it's close -- the cat definitely loves me.

I've got three reviews to write. Instead, I just keep staring at the screen. I pick up books and admire them but the words are not processing . . . unless they're really flowy. You know flowy, right? I did finish one book, because of the lovely, breezy, flowy writing. I can actually sleep a little. It's not good, solid sleep if you know what I mean, although I really kind of enjoyed last night's dream about adopting an orange cat and naming it "Cheeto". Tomorrow might be better. Sunday might be fabulous. The cat loves it when I lie around being useless and brainless, so I know I'll have company if I give up on everything and rest. Tonight, I'm going to soak in the tub and hope for sleep.

Incidentally, I found the above image by doing a Google image search and it was uncredited, so if anyone knows the source please inform me. I hate to post someone's artwork without asking. But, it's just so darned cute, isn't it? I did finish a book, this morning (only because I was near the end): Word Gets Around by Lisa Wingate. It made me laugh; it made me cry. I loved it.

I'll try writing, again, tomorrow. Nighty-night bloggers!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

For Men Only and For Women Only by the Feldhahns (review)

For Couples Only -- set of two books by Shaunti & Jeff Feldhahn
Multnomah Publishing
Shaunti's website

I'm going to skip posting the cover images of these books for the 3rd time, but if you want to admire the covers and/or read a chapter excerpt from For Men Only or For Women Only, zip down to the post, below.

Shaunti Feldhahn's book For Women Only describes the results of Feldhahn's research on men, how they think and what they want most. I read For Women Only first (I received both books as a set), since I'm a female and men are so baffling. You know, like the way they watch football or tap on their blackberries while you're trying to converse with them and then call you crazy when you say they're not paying attention? Well, Shaunti goes into such things as why they seem to ignore you but say (and think) they're paying attention, what they really want most (to be desired and respected), and why every time they look at you they're thinking, "Sex. Sex, sex, sex, sex." All explained.

If you don't "get" men and you want to understand where they're coming from, grab a copy of For Women Only. I thought it was really eye-opening and my husband and I have had some really fascinating, fun discussions about the material.

After I read For Women Only, I decided I'd better read For Men Only to see what Shaunti and her husband, Jeff, had to say about women. Also, I figured it would take weeks to get my husband to crack the cover. While I often fall into the classification of women who aren't too picky about this and that (I don't need anyone to tell me I'm beautiful or treat me like a princess, for example -- although, of course, everyone in this household knows I was a princess in a former life), I did find a lot of what the Feldhahns had to say was bang on the nose and nicely reminds men that women are not crazy, we're just emotional creatures who need to feel loved.

Both books are short and sweet -- just long enough to give you the information and explain it without becoming repetitive. I highly, highly recommend the set of books, For Couples Only, to anyone and everyone who wants to know what the heck the opposite sex is thinking. They're especially wonderful when read and discussed together, although I have to admit I was right. My husband is probably on page 5 of For Men Only, yet we've talked about both books.

This set is published by a Christian publishing house, but the emphasis is really on the research and results, what men or women who were interviewed by the couple had to say, etc. I don't think most people would find them preachy or pushy on the Christianity issue and think they're worthwhile for every couple to read.

Love As a Way of Life Devotional, For Couples Only and I Do Again (sneak peeks)

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 we are doing something special for Wild Card. Since February is the month of LOVE, we have three (really four, one is a boxed set) books dealing with love. The authors are:

and the books:

Love as a Way of Life Devotional by Dr. Gary Chapman

WaterBrook Press (October 7, 2008)

I Do Again by Cheryl and Jeff Scruggs

WaterBrook Press (December 16, 2008)

For Couples Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn

Multnomah Books (January 13, 2009)


Love as a Way of life Devotional by Dr. Gary Chapman

Dr. Gary Chapman is the author of twenty-six books, including Love As a Way of Life and the New York Times bestseller The Five Love Languages. An internationally respected marriage and family-life expert, he hosts the daily radio program A Love Language Minute. Dr. Chapman and his wife, Karolyn, live in North Carolina, where he serves on a church staff.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (October 7, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307444694
ISBN-13: 978-0307444691

I Do Again by Cheryl and Jeff Scruggs

Cheryl and Jeff Scruggs are the founders of Hope Matters Marriage Ministries, and for the past several years they have shared their incredible story of a marriage restored with audiences across the nation. Jeff is an account manager with OshKosh B'Gosh, and Cheryl has served as director of the Frisco, Texas, office of the Center for Christian Counseling. They live in Dallas, Texas with their two college-age daughters

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (December 16, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400074452
ISBN-13: 978-1400074457

For Couples Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn

Shaunti Feldhahn is a public speaker and the best-selling
author of several books. She contributes the conservative opinion for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's popular online "Woman to Woman" column, which is syndicated nationwide.

Jeff Feldhahn is an attorney and the CEO of the tech company World2One. Jeff and Shaunti each hold graduate degrees from Harvard University. They are active small-group leaders in their Atlanta-area and the parents of two.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $19.95
Publisher: Multnomah Books (January 13, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601422482
ISBN-13: 978-1601422484


Part 1

Love as a New Way of Life

Bedtime Stories

I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

—ROMANS 8:38–39

When my grandchildren were toddlers, I read many books to them about farms, the alphabet, and how to have good manners. A more subtle theme among children’s picture books is unconditional love. “Mama, do you love me?” a child asks her mother. “How much do you love me?” a bunny asks his father. With a variety of settings and characters, countless books represent children asking, “What if I ran away? What if I hurt you? What if I traveled to the moon or broke a vase or hit my sister? Would you still love me?”

“Yes,” the parent says. “I will love you no matter what. I will always love you.”

These cozy bedtime stories reflect a universal need that we never outgrow: the need to know that someone, somewhere, loves us without restraint or condition. What a gift we give each other when we communicate that kind of love every day. We might not say it with words. In fact, we might choose to love by not speaking but by being patient in the face of frustration, kind when someone is rude to us, or humble when it would be easier to talk about our accomplishments. But every time we are purposeful about making love a way of life, we are affirming what we each need to hear— and what God speaks to us every day: You are loved. No matter what. Forever and always.


How would truly believing God loves you—no matter what—change your thoughts and actions in the next twenty-four hours?



October 1999

Do you, Jeff, take Cheryl to be your wife, to love her, honor her, and cherish her, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for as long as you both shall live?”

I looked into Jeff ’s eyes and held both of his trembling hands. He looked back at me, but neither of us could see very well for the tears—mine boldly streaming down my cheeks.

“I do.” Jeff ’s voice was low but strong. The words echoed in my mind.

I do. I do.

The minister repeated the words, this time to me, and it was my turn to say it.

I do. I meant it with every fiber of my being. I wanted to shout it to everyone within hearing distance, scrawl it on the walls, write it in the sky. “I do!” I glanced around me. The tiny chapel nestled in the Colorado mountains was awash with rainbow-hued sunlight streaming through stained glass windows, as if God was personally pouring down his blessings on our little ceremony. I felt a chill run down my spine.

“What token of your love do you offer?”

Jeff and I watched as our twin daughters, eleven years old and sparkling in off-white dresses with matching shoes and tights, stepped forward to offer the minister our wedding bands. Brand-new rings, simple and elegant, perfect for our brand-new life.

“With this ring, I thee wed.” ”We repeated the words, mindful that we’d said them before but knowing this time it was different. I could barely remember the ceremony seventeen years earlier when I’d first promised to love, honor, and cherish Jeff. I didn’t keep my promise. But this time I would. As Jeff ’s eyes locked on to mine, I knew he was thinking the same thing.

“I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

Such simple words: Now. Husband.Wife.

So familiar, yet so…unbelievable. How long had I anticipated this moment? Seven years, for sure. Or was it more like eighteen? my entire life? Jeff and I shared a kiss and then pulled our daughters into the embrace. A family hug. We squeezed each other tightly while our tears flowed, and it was all I could do to keep my knees from buckling. We stood there, embracing, wiping each other’s tears, and laughing together. I smiled at my incredible husband, my heart overflowing with gratitude. So much gratitude. A whole new life together. It couldn’t possibly be real. We were a family again. Who would have thought? Who in the world could ever have thought this would happen?




I don’t love him anymore.” Amy has barely gotten herself settled on the couch in my office when she blurts out her opening line. She is brunette, petite, and cute, wearing fashionable jeans and just a touch of makeup. She’s the picture of a suburban, got-it-all-together mom—every hair in place, her haircut the latest in chic. Only her expression gives her away. She stares at me, defiant. I recognize the anger. Been there, done that.

“Your husband. ”Who else would she be talking about?

“Actually, I don’t know if I ever loved him.”

Here we go again, I think, my stomach clenching. How many times have I heard the grief, seen the desperation, felt the rage? How many times has my heart broken for a despairing woman who’s come for counseling because she’s lost all hope of her marriage ever working? There are so many hurting couples, so many troubled souls.

“Okay. Let’s talk about it.” I open my notepad and prepare to hear the familiar words. She has no feelings left. She is numb. Wants out of the marriage. Never should have married him in the first place. What was she thinking? Picked the wrong guy. Amy takes a breath and hardly veers from the speech I’d anticipated.

“We’re separated right now. John doesn’t love me—he doesn’t even know me. It feels like he never wanted to know me. We don’t talk—we never have. He doesn’t care who I am.” She pauses. “I know this is wrong. I feel bad about the kids and everything, but I can’t take it anymore. I don’t feel like I can do this one more day.” She looks away. There is more, but she’s suddenly clammed up.

“Sounds like you’re in a lot of pain.”

She fidgets. Her stony glare has departed, and now her eyes flit around the edges of the room. I try again.

“Can you tell me why you don’t love him anymore?”

“I told you—he doesn’t love me. It’s dead. There’s nothing there. This

isn’t a marriage. I’m done.”

“Why did you want to talk to me?”

“I just… I didn’t know what to do. I want out. But I know I’m supposed to…you know, try. Everyone says get counseling. So here I am.”

“Are you looking for a way out, or are you hoping we might find a way to make your marriage work?”

The defiant stare is back. She looks at me, her eyes steely. “No, I… I

can’t do it.” She is suddenly looking at her lap. I consider her eyes, her body language. I try to listen to the words she hasn’t spoken. She’s clearly battered, beaten up emotionally. She feels unloved and worthless. And I wonder, Has she met someone who makes her feel loved again?

I’ve never met Amy before, but I’ve seen her countless times, sitting here on my office couch…or sobbing to me over coffee. Other Amys. Other women who find themselves at the same terrible crossroads. I was Amy once. And while my heart breaks for her, it simultaneously surges with hope. If only… Oh, God…My silent words are a prayer, both for Amy and for me.



August 21, 1992. The worst day of my life. Ten years after walking down the aisle as a young, hope-filled bride, I walked into a courtroom to claim a different kind of hope: liberation from my awful marriage. This was the day I’d obtain the freedom to be with my new love, the soul mate I thought I’d finally found. Today I’d hold in my hands the piece of paper I’d been coveting, the ticket to a whole new and much better life. I stood in front of the judge and told him I wanted a divorce. Earlier that morning, I lay in bed for a moment after shutting off the alarm, groggy with sleep. Something’s happening today. What is it? I tried to clear the fog from my brain, and then my heart lurched as I remembered. Today’s the day! I waited for the excitement to kick in. You’re free today, Cheryl! You’ve been waiting for this for so long! But I felt heavy and unable to move. What is wrong with me? The morning passed in a haze as I readied Brittany and Lauren for preschool and got the three of us out the door. I tried to ignore the dull ache in my stomach. Breakfast was out of the question, and it was all I could do to sip a cup of coffee. After dropping off the girls, I sat in traffic on my way to the Collin County Courthouse in McKinney, Texas. With a few moments to think, I tried talking some sense into myself. Buck up, girl! This is what you wanted…the day you’ve been waiting for! You’re finally going to be happy. For the tiniest moment, I glimpsed a truth I didn’t want to see through a crack in the strong facade I’d built around myself. What if I was making a mistake? What if my traitorous stomach was trying to tell me something?

No. I won’t go there. I’m almost to the courthouse; I’m about to get what I wanted. I’ve always worked so hard, and getting what I want has never come easily. Right now, what I want is freedom, and by gosh, I am going to get it. I can’t allow any negative thoughts to distract me. The cold institutional hallway of the courthouse gave me shivers as I stood waiting for an elevator. Although the hustle and bustle of people surrounded me, I had never felt more alone. But I had on a classy suit, stylish heels, and my best determined smile, and I maintained my composure like a pro. Nobody would know I had the least bit of emotion in me. The reality was that feelings swirled in side my head and my heart, and I just wanted to go home, pull the covers over my head, and pretend my life did not exist. I met my attorney at the door of the courtroom.

“Good morning.” His voice was low and smooth, all business. “Today’s the day.”

I nodded, uncharacteristically mute. I don’t remember what happened next. I suppose there were other cases before the judge, other lives being turned upside down. All I know for sure is that my internal battle was raging and I fought to keep it quiet, to disregard it altogether, and make sure the cool detached expression remained plastered on my face. Finally it was my turn, and I stood, trembling visibly, next to my lawyer, facing the judge. Words were spoken; questions were asked. Did I want a divorce? Yes. But at the moment, I couldn’t remember why.

The judge wanted to know why my husband wasn’t there. How could I tell him that Jeff had not wanted the divorce? That he’d fought against it? Through tears of anguish he’d pleaded with me to change my mind. He prayed for reconciliation. He hoped for another chance. He yearned for my heart to soften. But he lost. At that instant, standing in the courtroom, I felt like a horrible person.

I wanted to turn to the strangers around me and let them know I was a good person. I really was. I loved being a wife and wanted to be a good one. I absolutely loved being a mom. Yet I could not go on in the emptiness…or in the dreadful lack of intimacy. I was dedicated and loyal, trustworthy and sweet. But I could not see any other way out of the chronic ache I had felt for years. I had worked it out in my mind and saw no option other than to escape and start over. I knew I would have a label now, even in Jeff ’s mind, of being an adulterer and a mean person. But the truth was that I was broken and hurting. How could I tell everyone this when my actions seemed to say the opposite?

“Jeff needed to work today,” I told the judge, who nodded. I don’t think he believed it for a second. Jeff was at the office, all right. I stood in front of the bench, wondering what was running through his mind as he sat at his desk attempting to work. Would he cry? Was he angry? How was he dealing with the fact that his marriage and family were being ripped apart? How did he feel knowing he would soon officially be a single, divorced dad? And what right had I to be worried about any of that? I was the cause of it. It was a little late for me to be worried about Jeff ’s feelings.

“Divorce granted.” The gavel went down with an authoritative thud.

Was it my imagination, or did the judge look a little sad? Perhaps disappointed. I wondered what it must be like to preside over the dissolution of families all day long. That word—dissolution—so cold and impersonal. I think the judge knew better. I think he knew he was seeing devastation… wreckage…sorrow…and there was nothing he could do but bang his gavel. The sound of that gavel nearly did me in. My hand went to my chest as I felt my heart explode into palpitations like I’d never felt before. The urge to throw up became overwhelming, and it took every ounce of willpower to steady myself and walk to the rear of the courtroom.

My echoing footsteps seemed to pound in my head as I walked down the dreary hallway. Next to me, my attorney was oblivious, moving quickly as always, focused on his dinner plans or his next case. He stopped when we reached the front entrance to the courthouse. At the top of the steps, he offered his hand.

“Congratulations,” he said, giving me a satisfied, I-just-won-a-case smile.

“Mmm hmm…” I shook his hand, but could not muster a response.

“Congratulations.” Did I deserve that? Did he? Something told me the answer was no. But this was what I’d wanted, fought for, worked toward. And here it was. As I drove away from the courthouse, I finally admitted to myself that I was confused. I had honestly expected to feel elated on this day, ready to break out the champagne and celebrate. I hadn’t allowed myself to doubt the course I was on. For over two years I had known in my heart that divorce was the right way to go. The only way to go. It was the single remedy I could fathom for my despairing hopelessness—the only way to find happiness. It was the only way to finally be with my new love, who was even now awaiting my phone call. I scolded myself for being so emotional and decided it was just the newness of the situation that was making me feel so desolate. Soon the excitement of freedom would kick in. Besides, I had no time for wallowing. I had to get to the bank. I stood in the crowded line, tapping my foot, my eyes darting around impatiently at all the people waiting to do their banking. Was anyone else here to divide up a shared existence? It struck me as odd that a relationship— a life—could be reduced to a few lines on a computer screen and declared finished as the numbers were separated and allocated. One life becomes two, just like that. Visions of my sweet family flashed in my mind—family portraits, candid shots—but I thrust them away, an expert now at doing so.

“How are you today?” the teller asked, as I pushed my paperwork toward her.

“Okay.” I managed a bittersweet smile. As she clicked her keyboard and took care of the details of financial distribution, she must have known better. But she gave me a perky smile right back.

“Let me go print out the checks.” She walked away as I nodded. Half an hour later I stood hesitantly at Jeff ’s office and gave a small knock. He looked up and slowly leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head. His red and swollen eyes spoke volumes. But his face was hard, giving nothing away. If I had to say what I saw in his expression, I would have said disbelief. He truly could not fathom that this was happening. I inched my way toward his desk and held out the check for his half. I couldn’t say anything, and neither could he. Jeff looked at the check, then as he tilted his head, his eyes met mine. His hand did not lift to take the check. Slowly I lowered it to the desk, and Jeff ’s eyes followed it. He stared at the piece of paper. I read his mind and answered silently. Yes, this is what it comes down to. A number with a dollar sign next to it.

I turned and walked slowly toward the door. When I got there, I stopped and faced him again, my eyes brimming with tears and my heart aching with sorrow. I wanted to run into his arms but held myself back, briefly wondering at this crazy desire. What was wrong with me? The look on his face stung. I couldn’t believe that after all this time he could still appear so…shocked. I had to ask him a question.

“Did you really think this was going to happen?”

I don’t know what I expected him to say. Part of me harbored an irrational hope that Jeff would suddenly be happy about the divorce—that he would confirm that I’d done the right thing. I needed to hear it. I needed absolution.

“Not until this very moment, Cheryl.”

For a moment I stood paralyzed as the truth hit me. There is not a more heartbreaking sight in the world than a man whose spirit has been crushed. That was the man I saw in front of me. My ex-husband. I quietly opened the door and walked out of Jeff ’s office, out of his life. For good, I thought. My life and my family’s lives were changed forever.

Boxed Set:



Why you need a new map of the female universe

Like some guys I know, you might be tempted to skip this introduction and jump right to the sex chapter. And if you’re chuckling right now, it probably means you already did it. Or were about to. It’s not a bad choice, actually. Just a little self-defeating. If you’ve been in a committed relationship with a woman for more than, say, a day, you know that going just for what you want isn’t actually going to get you what you want for very long. A week, maybe? But let’s be honest—one of the main reasons you’re looking at this book is that you are trying to get something you want. Not sex (well, not just sex), but a more fulfilling, harmonious relationship with your wife, one that isn’t quite so hard or confusing. And the back cover gave you the wild idea that understanding her might actually be possible. Either that, or for some reason, the woman in question just handed you this book. Hmmm. Well, either way, take a look at the revelations we’ve uncovered. We think you’ll be convinced. Each chapter explains things about the woman you love that may have often left you feeling helpless, confused, or just plain angry. Each chapter points out simple, doable solutions. The only genius required is that you make a decision up front that you’re willing to think differently. This is a short book, but if you read it cover to cover, you’ll walk away with your eyes opened to things you may have never before understood about your wife or girlfriend.

__Each chapter points out simple, doable solutions.

That’s what happened with me—Jeff. And I’m just your average, semi-confused guy. (Actually, sometimes totally confused is more accurate.) And since us average, semi-confused guys have to stick together, that’s why, even though Shaunti and I are both authoring this book, I’ll be the one doing most of the talking.

First, Some Background

In 2004 Shaunti published For Women Only:What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men, which quickly became a bestseller. Based on a nationally representative survey, scores of focus groups, and other research, it opened women’s eyes to things that most of us guys had always wished our wives knew. Things like, most of us need to feel respected even more than loved. Or besides just getting enough sex, men also have a huge need to feel sexually desired by our wives. I’m not sure exactly why, but women everywhere were shocked. To me, those revelations seemed obvious. But by the flood of letters from around the country—from both women and their grateful husbands—we’ve seen how much good can come when the opposite sex finally has their eyes opened to things they simply didn’t understand before.

_♦I’m not sure exactly why, but women everywhere were shocked by how men thought.

In this book, the shock is on the other foot. Now it’s been Shaunti’s turn to say, over and over, “I can’t believe you didn’t already know that!” When Shaunti’s publisher first approached us about doing a companion to For Women Only to help men understand women, I had two major concerns. First, I didn’t think guys would read a “relationship” book since, for most of us, the last relationship book we read was in premarital counseling— and then only because we were forced to. But more to the point, I doubted that a woman could ever be understood. Compared to other complex matters—like the tides, say, or how to figure a baseball player’s ERA—women seemed unknowable. Random even. I explained my skepticism to one early focus group of women:

Jeff: Guys tend to think that women are random. We think, I pulled this lever last week and got a certain reaction. But when I pulled that same lever this week, I got a totally different reaction. That’s random! Woman in group: But we aren’t random! If you pull the lever and get a different reaction, either you’re pulling a different lever, or you’re pulling it in a different way.

Shaunti: What men need is a sort of map to their wives. Because we can be mapped. We can be known and understood terrain.

Jeff: See, guys think of a woman as a swamp: You can’t see where you’re stepping, and sooner or later you just know you’re going to get stuck in quicksand. And the more you struggle to get free, the deeper you get sucked in. So every guy on the planet knows that the best thing to do is just shut down and hope somebody comes along to rescue you. When I came to, Shaunti and the other women in the focus group assured me—and I have since seen for myself— that guys don’t have to live in a swamp. That realization led us to the eventual subtitle of this book: “A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women.”

∞_“Guys think of a woman as a swamp: You can’t see where you’re stepping, and sooner or later you just know you’re going to get stuck in quicksand.”

The Seven Revelations

The most important key to “de-swamping” the woman in your life is to realize that some of your basic assumptions about her may be either too simplistic or flat wrong. By simplistic, I mean that we tend to operate with a partial or surface understanding of our wife or girlfriend. And to make matters worse, most guys have no idea how to make their limited understanding work in actual practice. For example, most guys have heard that women want security. Okay—but what does that mean, exactly? A regular paycheck? A big house? A growing retirement fund? It’s a huge shocker to talk to hundreds of women and find that while financial security is nice, it isn’t nearly as important to them as feeling emotionally secure—feeling close and confident that you will be there for her no matter what. And believe it or not, ensuring emotional security turns out to be a lot easier than ensuring the financial security you are probably busting your tail to provide. For Men Only will help you move from surface understandings to the all-important recognition of what those things mean in everyday life with your woman. Once you start testing out these findings, I think you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes for both of you.

__For Men Only will help you move from surface understanding to recognizing what those things mean in everyday life.

The book is organized around six major findings outlined on the next page. Some of these will be surprises to you. Some won’t, at least to begin with. (But that’s the thing about “swamps”—what you see is rarely what is really there.)





Women need to feel loved. Even if your relationship is great, your mate likely has a fundamental insecurity about your love—and when that insecurity is triggered, she may respond in ways that confuse or dismay you until she feels reassured.

Women are emotional. Women deal with multiple thoughts and emotions from their past and present all the time, at the same time—and these can’t be easily dismissed.

Women want security— in other words, financial security. Your woman needs emotional security and closeness with you so much that she will endure financial insecurity to get it. She doesn’t want you to fix it; she just wants you to listen. When she is sharing an emotional problem, her feelings and her desire to be heard are much more important than the problem itself. She doesn’t want much sex; she must not want me. Physically, women tend to crave sex less often than men do—and it is usually not related to your desirability. She wants to look attractive. Inside your smart, secure wife lives a little girl who deeply needs to know that you find her beautiful—and that you only have eyes for her.

How We Found Out: Our Methodology

For nearly a year, Shaunti and I worked to identify inner “map terrain” areas that are common to most women but that most guys tend not to understand. Besides conducting hundreds of in-person interviews, we gathered huge amounts of anecdotal information at dozens of women’s events where Shaunti was presenting materials from For Women Only. I spoke with stay-at-home moms, business owners, and secretaries; on airplanes, in focus groups, and over Shaunti’s book table as she was mobbed after women’s conferences. And I sifted through hundreds of e-mails and forum postings from Shaunti’s website. In all these venues, I was really just the “embedded male.” Like the reporters who rode with the armored cavalry divisions at the opening of the Iraqi war, I kept my helmet on, my head down, and my notebook handy.

_ I was the “embedded male.” I kept my helmet on, my head down, and my notebook handy.

After all that research, we did a scientific national survey. As Shaunti had done for her previous book, we worked with survey-design expert Chuck Cowan, former chief of census design for the U.S. Census Bureau, and professional survey company Decision Analyst. They came together to help us design and conduct a groundbreaking, representative survey of four hundred women all over the country. In the end, between interviews, surveys, events, and other input, we estimate that well over three thousand women provided input for this book. I know you’ll be fascinated by the results. While some of the findings may be challenging or difficult to accept, most men have been surprised by how helpful many of these truths are and how simple they are to implement for a better, easier relationship.

The Map Key

Before we tackle each of the findings, some pointers on reading the map:

• This book holds to a biblical world view. Our aim is to be relevant and revealing, no matter what your worldview is. But because Shaunti and I view life through our Christian faith, we have seen that these findings are consistent with biblical principles. We believe that relationships are most fulfilling when both people have a common commitment to serving Jesus Christ. We do not quote very heavily from Scripture, but we do draw from and reference it as the only truly dependable guidebook for relationships. For example, our starting-point assumption is that husbands need to love their wives just as Jesus does us—which means to love, serve, and be willing to sacrifice everything for her good, even above our own.

• This is not a comprehensive marriage book. There are already plenty of marriage books on the market—including many terrific ones from Christian experts. So we stay away from well covered topics and areas that guys already tend to have a handle on, and we leave the heavy-duty theological discussions for those books. (If you want to investigate those further, we list several recommended resources at our website, Also, while we are writing more for married men, these insights will be helpful for anyone in a committed male-female relationship. That said, if your relationship is seriously on the rocks, this little book will probably open your eyes in some important areas, but it is not designed to cover a real crisis situation. We encourage you to get the kind of counsel and support your marriage deserves.

• This is not an equal treatment. Just as For Women Only was purposefully one-sided—and if your wife read it, you may have benefited from that fact—so is this book. Yes, you have needs too, and there certainly may be relationship issues arising because she doesn’t understand you. But For Women Only addresses many of those, and this book is not about them. This is only about the inner lives of women, and we’re focusing entirely on how men relate to women, not the other way around. (That is also why the survey only polled heterosexual women.)

• There are exceptions to every rule. Recognize that when I say “most women” appear to think a certain way, “most” does not mean all. We make generalizations out of necessity to be helpful in the widest number of circumstances possible. Inevitably there will be exceptions.

• Our findings may not be politically correct, but we try to be true to the evidence. As a newspaper columnist on women’s issues, Shaunti sometimes receives e-mails from women complaining that she is doing exactly what we intend to do in this book—making generalizations about women. Add the fact that I, as a guy, am daring to make those generalizations, and we recognize the potential for controversy. We don’t quite know how to get around that, so we decided to just report what we learned. (For any woman sneaking a peak: We do not intend to be offensive; we just want to speak frankly to men, from a man’s viewpoint, about you. Our sole intention is to help your man understand and love you better. Even if we have to poke fun at the male preoccupation with sex to do it.)

_♦We decided to just report what we learned.

The Thing to Do Next

We think in the pages ahead you’re going to receive a lot of very promising invitations to try some new things. Most are incredibly simple, but they may not come naturally. At least at first. Of course, if all you read about here is already instinctive to you, you wouldn’t be troubled by randomness, confusion, frustration…and did I mention swamps? My encouragement to you: Give the process time as you retrain years of incorrect assumptions and counterproductive reactions. Bring a humble attitude. Be willing to practice. Believe it can be done. Because I’ve learned that it can be. After several months of being the embedded male, I was watching a movie with Shaunti one night. Halfway through, I casually mentioned that I didn’t like the way one female character treated another. Shaunti sat up on the couch, grinned, and said, “You’re thinking like a girl!” Now, she meant it as high praise, but in the small Midwest town where I grew up, that kind of talk could get a guy slugged. But then I realized: Maybe I had learned a valuable thing or two about the female universe, just by listening in. Here’s hoping that you do, too.


How I Woke Up to What I Didn’t

Know About Men

The other half of the people

on the planet already know what

you’re going to read in this book.

As newlyweds, my husband and I lived in Manhattan, and like all New Yorkers we walked everywhere. But I quickly noticed something strange. Quite often we’d be strolling hand in hand and Jeff would abruptly jerk his head up and away. We’d be watching in-line skaters in Central Park or waiting to cross the street in a crowd, and he would suddenly stare at the sky. I started to wonder, Is something going on at the tops of these buildings? Turns out, something was going on, but it wasn’t up in the buildings. Have you ever been totally confused by something the man in your life has said or done? Have you ever wondered, looking at his rapidly departing back, Why did that make him so angry? Have you ever been perplexed by your husband’s defensiveness when you ask him to stop working so much? Yeah? Me too. But now, after conducting spoken and written interviews with more than one thousand men, I can tell you that the answers to those and dozens of other common perplexities are all related to what is going on in your man’s inner life. Most are things he wishes you knew but doesn’t know how to tell you. In some cases, they’re things he has no idea you don’t know. This book will share those interviews and those answers. But be careful, ladies. You might be slapping your forehead a lot!

•I can tell you that the answers to dozens of other common perplexities are related to what is going on in your man’s inner life.


Let me tell you how I got here. It all started with the research for my second novel, The Lights of Tenth Street. One of the main characters was a man, a devoted, godly husband and father. Because I wanted this character’s thought life to closely resemble what real men deal with, I interviewed my husband, Jeff, and many other male friends to try to get inside their heads. It took me a while to figure out how to handle what I found. You see, in the novel my character had a secret struggle: He loved his wife and kids and was a devoted follower of Christ, but he liked looking at women and had a constant battle with his thought life. A constant day-by-day, even minute-by minute battle with the temptations that beckoned from every corner of our culture, from the secret traps of the Internet to the overt appeal of the miniskirt walking down the street. In short—and this is what was such a surprise to me— instead of being unusual, my character was like almost every man on the planet. Including the devoted Christian husbands I was interviewing. That revelation led to others, on a half-dozen other subjects, and following those trails led to the hundreds of personal and written interviews with men—including a professional survey—that form the core of this book. I interviewed close friends over dinner and strangers in the grocery store, married fathers at church and the single student sitting next to me on the airplane. I talked to CEOs, attorneys, pastors, technology geeks, business managers, the security guard at Costco, and the guys behind the counter at Starbucks. I even interviewed a professional opera singer and a former NFL offensive tackle with a Super Bowl ring. No one was safe.

Light bulb on!

It turned out that these men shared some surprisingly common inner wiring. At their secret inner core, many had similar fears and concerns, feelings and needs.

•oThese revelations were mostly things that my own husband always wished I knew, but couldn’t figure out how to explain.

I discovered that there were many things I thought I understood about men—but really didn’t. In several areas, my understanding was purely surface-level. Once I got below the surface and into specifics, everything changed. I felt like a cartoon character who suddenly had a light bulb over my head. Even better, it turned out that those revelations were mostly about things that my own husband always wished I knew but couldn’t figure out how to explain. And that was a common refrain from most of the men I talked to. Although I still make many mistakes in my relationship with my husband—and will continue to!—finally grasping these things has hopefully helped me to better appreciate and support him in the way that he needs. I want that light bulb to go on for you as well

••We all know, for example, that “men are visual,” but, well…what exactly does that mean?

Why was this surprising?

In a way, I was surprised to be so…surprised. We women think we know many things about a man’s inner life. We all know, for example, that “men are visual,” but, well…what exactly does that mean? It turns out that what that means in practice is the key thing—the specific insight that will help you be a better wife, girlfriend, or mother. Using the “visual” example, the difference is vast between having the vague notion that men are visual and knowing that the sexy commercial he just watched has become a mental time bomb that will rise up and assault him the next day. The difference is vast between helplessly wondering what is going on in his head and having the insight of hundreds of men to help you understand not only what is going on, but also how to support him. Actually, there was a kind of double surprise in this research. When I interviewed men and drew some conclusions, they would often say, “But women already know that…surely they know that.” All too frequently, I found myself replying, “Well, I didn’t know that.” I began to realize that there’s so much about men that we don’t understand— and that men don’t even know we don’t know. And that sort of misunderstanding is the stuff that gives birth to a lot of conflict.


So here are the revelations this book is going to cover— seven translations from “surface level” to “in practice” that you, like me, may not have realized before. As with all of us, the inner life of a man is a package, with these elements melded and wrapped up inside. Whether you are relating to a husband, boyfriend, or son, it is impossible to understand one part of his inner life in isolation. Every area affects every other area, and I’m only covering those few areas that I thought were the most important or helpful.

The survey

Thankfully, these revelations are also backed up by evidence— a groundbreaking professional survey of hundreds of men. Since I found no survey data like this on the market, two sets of experts, Chuck Cowan at Analytic Focus, the former chief of survey design at the U.S. Census Bureau, Our Surface What That Means Understanding in Practice and Cindy Ford and the survey team at Decision Analyst, came together to help me conduct this survey.

“Men need respect” ➺ Men would rather feel unloved than inadequate and disrespected.

“Men are insecure” ➺ Despite their “in control” exterior, men often feel like impostors and are insecure that their inadequacies will be discovered.

“Men are providers” ➺ Even if you personally made enough income to support the family’s lifestyle, it would make no difference to the mental burden he feels to provide.

“Men want more sex” ➺ Your sexual desire for your husband profoundly affects his sense of well-being and confidence in all areas of his life.

“Men are visual” ➺ Even happily married men struggle with being pulled toward live and recollected images of other women.

“Men are unromantic clods” ➺ Actually, most men enjoy romance (sometimes in different ways) and want to be romantic—but hesitate because they doubt they can succeed.

“Men care about appearance” ➺ You don’t need to be a size 3, but your man does need to see you making the effort to take care of yourself—and he will take on significant cost or inconvenience in order to support you.

The survey was blind, done at random, and meticulously planned and executed. Four hundred anonymous men across the country, ranging in age from twenty-one to seventy-five, answered two dozen questions about their lives and about how they think, what they feel, and what they need. The survey stressed that we weren’t dealing with outward behavior as much as with the inner thoughts and emotions that led to their behavior. Later, because the survey itself inevitably led to additional revelations, I conducted a more informal follow-up survey of another four hundred anonymous men—this time, specifically churchgoers—to ask a few additional questions (and some of the same ones). And later yet, I validated several of those additional insights with a second Decision Analyst survey. Amazingly, across all these surveys there were very few differences. After all the surveying, the results of my personal interviews were confirmed. Not only had I heard the same things over and over—quotes that I will include in the following pages—but those anecdotal results were now backed up by statistically valid evidence. I hadn’t just happened to interview the hundred weirdest men on the planet! (Since I am an analyst and not a psychologist, and since my grad-school statistics professor might politely question the statistical skills of someone who needed a whole semester to learn regression analysis, I was quite relieved that professional statisticians confirmed my findings!)

••Results were backed up by statistically valid evidence. I hadn’t just happened to interview the hundred weirdest men on the planet!

In the end, the men I spoke with and surveyed appear to have been extremely transparent and honest about some very personal subjects. So, men—whoever you are—I thank you.



You’re probably rarin’ to turn the page, but before you get to look inside the inner lives of men, here are some ground rules:

• First, if you are looking for male-bashing or proof that your husband is indeed a cad, you won’t find it here. I honor the men who shared their hearts with me, and I hope that by sharing their insight, more women might come to understand and appreciate the wonderful differences between us.

•If you are looking for male-bashing or proof that your husband is indeed a cad, you won’t find it here.

• Second, this is not an equal treatment of male female differences, nor do I deal at all with how your man can or should relate to you. Yes, we women obviously also have needs, and many of the truths discussed in these pages apply to us too. But since the theme is the inner lives of men and my space is limited, I’m focusing entirely on how we relate to men, not the other way around. (That is also why the survey did not poll gay men.)

• Third, recognize that there are always exceptions to every rule. When I say that “most men” appear to think a certain way, realize that “most” means exactly that—most, not all. I’m making generalizations out of necessity, and inevitably there will be exceptions. One reason I did the professional survey was to determine what was an exception and what was normal.

• Fourth, I’m addressing what is normal inside men, not necessarily what is right in their outward behavior. And since these pages are not the place for a lengthy exploration of any one issue, you can always go to to explore more resources, including the entire survey.

• Fifth, I need to warn you that some of the enclosed insight may be distressing because it affects our view of the men in our lives and our view of ourselves. It was tempting to exclude certain things, but I realized that I was hearing things men often weren’t willing or able to say directly to their spouses or girlfriends. So it was critical to include these comments. But please realize that in most cases, these comments have little to do with us— they are just the way men are wired. And we should celebrate that fact. After all, it is because he is wired as a man that you love him.

•o The more we understand the men in our lives, the better we can support and love them in the way they need to be loved.

• Finally, and most important, I hope that this book is not just about learning fascinating new secrets. The more we understand the men in our lives, the better we can support and love them in the way they need to be loved. In other words, this revelation is supposed to change and improve us. So read on, ladies, and join me as we look into the inner lives of men.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I Do Again by Cheryl and Jeff Scruggs

I Do Again by Cheryl & Jeff Scruggs
Copyright 2008
Waterbook Press - Christian Living/Love & Marriage

191 pages

Authors' website

I received this book along with three others as part of a Valentine's Day promotion. I'll have a sneak peek post up, tomorrow, and it will include chapters from three other books, as well: For Men Only, For Women Only and The Love As a Way of Life Devotional. I've seriously enjoyed this little pile of books.

I Do Again

is what I guess you could call a couple's memoir that is specifically for people facing divorce (I'm not, but it was still interesting reading). Cheryl & Jeff Scruggs were married for 10 years, made a great deal of money, lived in a beach house and eventually had cute twins. Externally, their life appeared perfect. But, Cheryl was unhappy and didn't know how to express her needs to Jeff. She was a natural flirt and attracted a lot of attention from male co-workers. Eventually, her flirtation with one man turned into an affair. She found someone who listened to her and communicated in a way that she and Jeff had never managed; she thought this new man was her "soul mate".

Eventually, Cheryl divorced Jeff, in spite of his attempts to dissuade her. But, the divorce didn't make her any happier and it was only through prayer and study of God's word that Cheryl eventually realized she wanted to reconcile with Jeff. By that point, Jeff couldn't even look her in the eye. It took a great deal of immersion in the Bible, prayer and effort but seven years after their divorce, Cheryl & Jeff remarried. The book alternates between Jeff's & Cheryl's viewpoints and it leaps around in time quite a bit, but not in a way that ever lost this reader.

As a book designed to give hope for restoration to Christian couples on the verge of calling the whole thing off, I think I Do Again is a very good book. Neither Jeff nor Cheryl attended church when they met, although both grew up in Christian households. They had no spiritual basis to their marriage and their marriage had pretty much been dashed against a brick wall by the time they began to attend church. As much as I found myself wanting to slap Cheryl upside the head, I think most of her problems are pretty common. In this case, the wife didn't really try to communicate. She just cried a lot and shoved her husband away.

What can this book do for a couple on the verge of divorce? I think it could very well help them to slow down and reevaluate options. Cheryl & Jeff's focus is spirituality. They believe that a Christ-centered marriage, in which God is first and the couple second, is most important.

The one thing I really disliked about I Do Again was the repeated references to how perfect their life was (lots of money, great jobs, huge home, etc.), how beautiful Cheryl was and Jeff's handsomeness. That just gets a little tiresome. Okay, so you're pretty and he's good-looking and you had a cushy life. Great. I always find that kind of "Gosh, darn it, I'm so freaking wonderful" focus irritating, regardless of who narrates.

Fortunately, I didn't stop to consider the irritations as I was reading. It's a quick read with good flow and the authors admit up front that you may find Cheryl's past behavior shocking. Since their reconciliation, Cheryl & Jeff have begun a ministry to help other couples focus on spirituality in their marriages and prevent divorce.

I recommend the book specifically for couples who are dealing with similar marital issues that appear unresolvable and who are in need of a little hope and advice from someone who has been there.

Next up will be the sneak peek chapters and reviews of For Men Only and For Women Only.

It's very possible this marathon training thing will kill me before I get around to posting, though. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I'm trying, but I am feeling very old and creaky. Hubby is limping and whining, too. We're such a fun couple.

Two weeks old, but this is what it looked like in Vicksburg, today:

Yeah! Love that cool (but not cold) and dry (but not such that you have to keep lotion in your purse) weather.

Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech

Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech
Copyright 2008
Joanna Cotler Books,
an imprint of HarperCollins
Children (ages 9-12)/verse

148 pages

I went on a library run on Friday, allegedly just to drop off some of our excessive cookbook collection -- those that contain mostly recipes with too many ingredients we can't acquire in our backwards little town. Well, I did drop off the donations. But, I made the mistake of browsing, looking up a few titles in the library database and spending a little time in our library's perpetual sale corner.

Result: The bag didn't come home empty. Ah, well. I found Hate That Cat in the children's new releases, a little table that I invariably end up pawing through (oh, hahaha, that's kind of punny!). That bright red cover with the simple but obviously very grumpy cat made me smile. I flipped through the book and found what little I read funny and light, then on Friday night I read the entire book before turning out the light.

Did the book live up to the flip test? It certainly did. I needed something extremely light to read on Friday. I can't even remember why; maybe I was tired or got to bed late. Hate That Cat is actually a follow-up to the book Love That Dog, which was published in 2001. I didn't know that till I looked up the cover image, but it didn't surprise me because of the way the story is told. Hate That Cat is Jack's story, written apparently as a series of class assignments. Jack writes about how he loved his dog and hates the annoying and haughty neighborhood cat who drops nuts on his head, scratches Jack when he tries to help it down out of a tree and just generally bothers Jack. The cat has an attitude.

Eventually, though, Jack gets a kitten for Christmas and is shocked at how much he enjoys his new little friend. And, then the kitten disappears and he discovers something very surprising about the neighborhood feline. Hate That Cat is funny, sweet, touching and both surprising and predictable at the same time. I like the way the author patterned many of the verses after poems by well-known authors but told an original story.

Also acquired at the library: A used copy of Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murikami for a quarter. What a steal! I also checked out a Charles de Lint book that looks very light. We'll see if I get around to reading that one before it's due back at the library.

And, the weird thing is: I've been wafting past the "G" section and peering at the Newbery shelves, each time I go to the library, for months (the Newbery bit being a recent addition to my route). I never bothered to actually check the database in order to seek out Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. Surely one would eventually show up, right? Guess what? My library only has one copy -- ONE! -- of The Graveyard Book. It's a Newbery winner, people!!! And, they still don't have a copy of The Dead and The Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer. This is why I own so many books. I need to move to a more civilized place. "More civilized" = "City with gigantic, extensive, diverse library stock". Like the library in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I loved the Ann Arbor public libraries.

--End of Rant--

Also recently finished:

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick and
I Do Again by Cheryl and Jeff Scruggs

Hubby and I went for a walk in the Jewish cemetery to snap some photos, yesterday. You will surely understand why this is amongst my favorite headstones:

Off for my daily walk. Happy reading!

Bookfool in exercise duds

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Excessively Diverting Blog Award

Arleigh at has kindly nominated me for the Excessively Diverting Blog Award. Thank you, Arleigh!

Started by the blogging team at Jane Austen Today the “aim of the Excessively Diverting Blog Award is to acknowledge writing excellence in the spirit of Jane Austen’s genius in amusing and delighting readers with her irony, humor, wit, and talent for keen observation. Recipients will uphold the highest standards in the art of the sparkling banter, witty repartee, and gentle reprove.”

I shall do my best to uphold the standards of this award, although I confess to an unfortunate tendency to idle burbling. One must do one's duty.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tuck by Stephen R. Lawhead

Tuck by Stephen R. Lawhead
Copyright 2009
Thomas Nelson - Historical Fiction
464 pages

Tuck was a Did Not Finish book for me, but -- this is a big "but" -- the writing is fabulous. The third book in a series about Robin Hood's little band begins with the group walking together on open road. Friar Tuck notices movement in the trees and guesses that an attack is imminent. What follows is a massively entertaining action scene. Check out the sneak peek post, below, if you'd like to dip in and judge the writing for yourself.

Unfortunately, I felt like I was thrown into the middle of the story without a decent context so in spite of the fact that I loved the atmosphere, the writing and the characters, I chose to abandon the book, for now. Sometimes starting in the middle of a series works for me and sometimes it doesn't. I've added the first two books in the series to my wish list and will read them when I acquire the two books, then I'll return to Tuck. In fact, I'm so fond of the writing that I'd like to read everything this author has written, even though I haven't finished the novel.

Wouldn't you know, my library doesn't carry a single one of his titles? It may take me some time to acquire them but based on the first 3-4 chapters, I would definitely encourage anyone who is interested in historical fiction, retellings of legend or the story of Robin Hood to read the free chapter and start from the beginning if your interest is piqued. The first book in the series is Hood and the second is Scarlet.

Note: I somehow messed up the HTML for the sneak peek post and the free chapter was not showing up, earlier. I've just fixed it, so check back if you looked for the chapter and found just a photo of two book covers.

Tuck by Stephen Lawhead (sneak peek)

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:


Thomas Nelson (February 17, 2009)


Stephen R. Lawhead is an internationally acclaimed author of mythic history and imaginative fiction. His works include Byzantium, Patrick, and the series The Pendragon Cycle, The Celtic Crusades, and The Song of Albion.

Stephen was born in 1950, in Nebraska in the USA. Most of his early life was spent in America where he earned a university degree in Fine Arts and attended theological college for two years. His first professional writing was done at Campus Life magazine in Chicago, where he was an editor and staff writer. During his five years at Campus Life he wrote hundreds of articles and several non-fiction books.

After a brief foray into the music business—as president of his own record company—he began full-time freelance writing in 1981. He moved to England in order to research Celtic legend and history. His first novel, In the Hall of the Dragon King, became the first in a series of three books (The Dragon King Trilogy) and was followed by the two-volume Empyrion saga, Dream Thief and then the Pendragon Cycle, now in five volumes: Taliesin, Merlin, Arthur, Pendragon, and Grail. This was followed by the award-winning Song of Albion series which consists of The Paradise War, The Silver Hand, and The Endless Knot.

He has written nine children's books, many of them originally offered to his two sons, Drake and Ross. He is married to Alice Slaikeu Lawhead, also a writer, with whom he has collaborated on some books and articles. They make their home in Oxford, England.

Stephen's non-fiction, fiction and children's titles have been published in twenty-one foreign languages. All of his novels have remained continuously in print in the United States and Britain since they were first published. He has won numereous industry awards for his novels and children's books, and in 2003 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Nebraska.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $26.99
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (February 17, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595540873
ISBN-13: 978-1595540874



Wintan Cestre

Saint Swithun’s Day

King William stood scratching the back of his hand and watched as another bag of gold was emptied into the ironclad chest: one hundred solid gold byzants that, added to fifty pounds in silver and another fifty in letters of promise to be paid upon collection of his tribute from Normandie, brought the total to five hundred marks. “More money than God,” muttered William under his breath. “What do they do with it all?”

“Sire?” asked one of the clerks of the justiciar’s office, glancing up from the wax tablet on which he kept a running tally.

“Nothing,” grumbled the king. Parting with money always made him itch, and this time there was no relief. In vain, he scratched the other hand. “Are we finished here?”

Having counted the money, the clerks began locking and sealing the strongbox. The king shook his head at the sight of all that gold and silver disappearing from sight. These blasted monks will bleed me dry, he thought. A kingdom was a voracious beast that devoured money and was never, ever satisfied. It took money for soldiers, money for horses and weapons, money for fortresses, money for supplies to feed the troops, and as now, even more money to wipe away the sins of war. The gold and silver in the chest was for the abbey at Wintan Cestre to pay the monks so that his father would not have to spend eternity in purgatory or, worse, frying in hell.

“All is in order, Majesty,” said the clerk. “Shall we proceed?”

William gave a curt nod.

Two knights of the king’s bodyguard stepped forward, took up the box, and carried it from the room and out into the yard where the monks of Saint Swithun’s were already gathered and waiting for the ceremony to begin. The king, a most reluctant participant, followed.

In the yard of the Red Palace—the name given to the king’s sprawling lodge outside the city walls—a silken canopy on silver poles had been erected. Beneath the canopy stood Bishop Walkelin with his hands pressed together in an attitude of patient prayer. Behind the bishop stood a monk bearing the gilded cross of their namesake saint, while all around them knelt monks and acolytes chanting psalms and hymns. The king and his attendants—his two favourite earls, a canon, and a bevy of assorted clerks, scribes, courtiers, and officials both sacred and secular—marched out to meet the bishop. The company paused while the king’s chair was brought and set up beneath the canopy where Bishop Walkelin knelt.

“In the Holy Name,” intoned the bishop when William Rufus had taken his place in the chair, “all blessing and honour be upon you and upon your house and upon your descendants and upon the people of your realm.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” said William irritably. “Get on with it.”

“God save you, Sire,” replied Walkelin. “On this Holy Day we have come to receive the Beneficium Ecclesiasticus Sanctus Swithinius as is our right under the Grant of Privilege created and bestowed by your father King William, for the establishment and maintenance of an office of penitence, perpetual prayer, and the pardon of sins.”

“So you say,” remarked the king.

Bishop Walkelin bowed again, and summoned two of his monks to receive the heavy strongbox from the king’s men in what had become an annual event of increasing ceremony in honour of Saint Swithun, on whose day the monks determined to suck the lifeblood from the crown, and William Rufus resented it. But what could he do? The payment was for the prayers of the monks for the remission of sins on the part of William Conqueror, prayers which brought about the much-needed cleansing of his besmirched soul. For each and every man that William had killed in battle, the king could expect to spend a specified amount of time in purgatory: eleven years for a lord or knight, seven years for a man-at-arms, five for a commoner, and one for a serf. By means of some obscure and complicated formula William had never understood, the monks determined a monetary amount which somehow accorded to the number of days a monk spent on his knees praying. As William had been a very great war leader, his purgatorial obligation amounted to well over a thousand years—and that was only counting the fatalities of the landed nobility. No one knew the number of commoners and serfs he had killed, either directly or indirectly, in his lifetime—but the number was thought to be quite high. Still, a wealthy king with dutiful heirs need not actually spend so much time in purgatory—so long as there were monks willing to ease the burden of his debt through prayer. All it took was money.

Thus, the Benefice of Saint Swithun, necessary though it might be, was a burden the Conqueror’s son had grown to loathe with a passion. That he himself would have need of this selfsame service was a fact that he could neither deny, nor escape. And while he told himself that paying monks to pray souls from hell was a luxury he could ill afford, deep in his heart of hearts he knew only too well that—owing to the debauched life he led—it was also a necessity he could ill afford to neglect much longer.

Even so, paying over good silver for the ongoing service of a passel of mumbling clerics rubbed Rufus raw—especially as that silver became each year more difficult to find. His taxes already crushed the poor and had caused at least two riots and a rebellion by his noblemen. Little wonder, then, that the forever needy king dreaded the annual approach of Saint Swithun’s day and the parting with so much of his precious treasury.

The ceremony rumbled on to its conclusion and, following an especially long-winded prayer, adjourned to a feast in honour of the worthy saint. The feast was the sole redeeming feature of the entire day. That it must be spent in the company of churchmen dampened William’s enthusiasm somewhat, but did not destroy it altogether. The Red King had surrounded himself with enough of his willing courtiers and sycophants to ensure a rousing good time no matter how many disapproving monks he fed at his table.

This year, the revel reached such a height of dissipation that Bishop Walkelin quailed and excused himself, claiming that he had pressing business that required his attention back at the cathedral. William, forcing himself to be gracious, wished the churchmen well and offered to send a company of soldiers to accompany the monks back to the abbey with their money lest they fall among thieves.

Walkelin agreed to the proposal and, as he bestowed his blessing, leaned close to the king and said, “We must talk one day soon about establishing a benefice of your own, Your Majesty.” He paused and then, like the flick of a knife, warned, “Death comes for us all, and none of us knows the day or time. I would be remiss if I did not offer to draw up a grant for you.”

“We will discuss that,” said William, “when the price is seen to fall rather than forever rise.”

“You will have heard it said,” replied Walkelin, “that where great sin abounds, great mercy must intercede. The continual observance and maintenance of that intercession is very expensive, my lord king,”

“So is the keeping of a bishop,” answered William tartly. “And bishops have been known to lose their bishoprics.” He paused, regarding the cleric over the rim of his cup. “Heaven forbid that should happen. I know I would be heartily sorry to see you go, Walkelin.”

“If my lord is displeased with his servant,” began the bishop, “he has only to—”

“Something to consider, eh?”

Bishop Walkelin tried to adopt a philosophical air. “I am reminded that your father always—”

“No need to speak of it any more just now,” said William smoothly. “Only think about what I have said.”

“You may be sure,” answered Walkelin. He bowed stiffly and took a slow step backwards. “Your servant, my lord.”

The clerics departed, leaving the king and his courtiers to their revel. But the feast was ruined for William. Try as he might, he could not work himself into a festive humour because the bishop’s rat of a thought had begun to gnaw at the back of his mind: his time was running out. To die without arranging for the necessary prayers would doom his soul to the lake of everlasting fire. However loudly he might rail against the expense—and condemn the greedy clerics who held his future for ransom—was he really prepared to test the alternative at the forfeit of his soul?

Part I

Come listen a while, you gentlefolk alle,

That stand this bower within,

A tale of noble Rhiban the Hud,

I purpose now to begin.

Young Rhiban was a princeling fayre,

And a gladsome heart had he.

Delight took he in games and tricks,

And guiling his fair ladye.

A bonny fine maide of noble degree,

Mérian calléd by name,

This beauty soote was praised of alle men

For she was a gallant dame.

Rhiban stole through the greenwoode one night

To kiss his dear Mérian late.

But she boxed his head till his nose turn’d red

And order’d him home full straight.

Though Rhiban indeed speeded home fayrlie rathe,

That night he did not see his bed.

For in flames of fire from the rooftops’ eaves,

He saw all his kinsmen lay dead.

Ay, the sheriff’s low men had visited there,

When the household was slumbering deepe.

And from room to room they had quietly crept

And murtheréd them all in their sleepe.

Rhiban cried out ‘wey-la-wey!’

But those fiends still lingered close by.

So into the greenwoode he quickly slipt,

For they had heard his cry.

Rhiban gave the hunters goode sport,

Full lange, a swift chase he led.

But a spearman threw his shot full well

And he fell as one that is dead.


Tuck shook the dust of Caer Wintan off his feet and prepared for the long walk back to the forest. It was a fine, warm day, and all too soon the friar was sweltering in his heavy robe. He paused now and then to wipe the sweat from his face, falling farther and farther behind his travelling companions. “These legs of mine are sturdy stumps,” he sighed to himself, “but fast they en’t.”

He had just stopped to catch his breath a little when, on sudden impulse, he spun around quickly and caught a glimpse of movement on the road behind—a blur in the shimmering distance, and then gone. So quick he might have imagined it. Only it was not the first time since leaving the Royal Lodge that Tuck had entertained the queer feeling that someone or something was following them. He had it again now, and decided to alert the others and let them make of it what they would.

Squinting into the distance, he saw Bran far ahead of the Grellon, striding steadily, shoulders hunched against the sun and the gross injustice so lately suffered at the hands of the king in whom he had trusted. The main body of travellers, unable to keep up with their lord, was becoming an ever-lengthening line as heat and distance mounted. They trudged along in small clumps of two or three, heads down, talking in low, sombre voices. How like sheep, thought Tuck, following their impetuous and headstrong shepherd.

A more melancholy man might himself have succumbed to the oppressive gloom hanging low over the Cymry, dragging at their feet, pressing their spirits low. Though summer still blazed in meadow, field, and flower, it seemed to Tuck that they all walked in winter’s drear and dismal shadows. Rhi Bran and his Grellon had marched into Caer Wintan full of hope—they had come singing, had they not?—eager to stand before King William to receive the judgement and reward that had been promised in Rouen all those months ago. Now, here they were, slinking back to the greenwood in doleful silence, mourning the bright hope that had been crushed and lost.

No, not lost. They would never let it out of their grasp, not for an instant. It had been stolen—snatched away by the same hand that had offered it in the first place: the grasping, deceitful hand of a most perfidious king.

Tuck felt no less wounded than the next man, but when he considered how Bran and the others had risked their lives to bring Red William word of the conspiracy against him, it fair made his priestly blood boil. The king had promised justice. The Grellon had every right to expect that Elfael’s lawful king would be restored. Instead, William had merely banished Baron de Braose and his milksop nephew Count Falkes, sending them back to France to live in luxury on the baron’s extensive estates. Elfael, that small bone of contention, had instead become property of the crown and placed under the protection of Abbot Hugo and Sheriff de Glanville. Well, that was putting wolves in charge of the fold, was it not?

Where was the justice? A throne for a throne, Bran had declared that day in Rouen. William’s had been saved—at considerable cost and risk to the Cymry—but where was Bran’s throne?

S’truth, thought Tuck, wait upon a Norman to do the right thing and you’ll be waiting until your hair grows white and your teeth fall out.

“How long, O Lord? How long must your servants suffer?” he muttered. “And, Lord, does it have to be so blasted hot?”

He paused to wipe the sweat from his face. Running a hand over his round Saxon head, he felt the sun’s fiery heat on the bare spot of his tonsure; sweat ran in rivulets down the sides of his neck and dripped from his jowls. Drawing a deep breath, he tightened his belt, hitched up the skirts of his robe, and started off again with quickened steps. Soon his shoes were slapping up the dust around his ankles and he began to overtake the rearmost members of the group: thirty souls in all, women and children included, for Bran had determined that his entire forest clan—save for those left behind to guard the settlement and a few others for whom the long journey on foot would have been far too arduous—should be seen by the king to share in the glad day.

The friar picked up his pace and soon drew even with Siarles: slim as a willow wand, but hard and knotty as an old hickory root. The forester walked with his eyes downcast, chin outthrust, his mouth a tight, grim line. Every line of him bristled with fury like a riled porcupine. Tuck knew to leave well enough alone and hurried on without speaking.

Next, he passed Will Scatlocke—or Scarlet, as he preferred. The craggy forester limped along slightly as he carried his newly acquired daughter, Nia. Against every expectation, Will had endured a spear wound, the abbot’s prison, and the threat of the sheriff’s rope . . . and survived. His pretty dark-eyed wife, Noín, walked resolutely beside him. The pair had made a good match, and it tore at his heart that the newly married couple should have to endure a dark hovel in the forest when the entire realm begged for just such a family to settle and sink solid roots deep into the land—another small outrage to be added to the ever-growing mountain of injustices weighing on Elfael.

A few more steps brought him up even with Odo, the Norman monk who had befriended Will Scarlet in prison. At Scarlet’s bidding, the young scribe had abandoned Abbot Hugo to join them. Odo walked with his head down, his whole body drooping—whether with heat or the awful realization of what he had done, Tuck could not tell.

A few steps more and he came up even with Iwan—the great, hulking warrior would crawl on hands and knees through fire for his lord. It was from Iwan that the friar had received his current christening when the effort of wrapping his untrained tongue around the simple Saxon name Aethelfrith proved beyond him. “Fat little bag of vittles that he is, I will call him Tuck,” the champion had said. “Friar Tuck to you, boyo,” the priest had responded, and the name had stuck. God bless you, Little John, thought Tuck, and keep your arm strong, and your heart stronger.

Next to Iwan strode Mérian, just as fierce in her devotion to Bran as the champion beside her. Oh, but shrewd with it; she was smarter than the others and more cunning—which always came as something of a shock to anyone who did not know better, because one rarely expected it from a lady so fair of face and form. But the impression of innocence beguiled. In the time Tuck had come to know her, she had shown herself to be every inch as canny and capable as any monarch who ever claimed an English crown.

Mérian held lightly to the bridle strap of the horse that carried their wise hudolion, who was, so far as Tuck could tell, surely the last Banfáith of Britain: Angharad, ancient and ageless. There was no telling how old she was, yet despite her age, whatever it might be, she sat her saddle smartly and with the ease of a practiced rider. Her quick dark eyes were trained on the road ahead, but Tuck could tell that her sight was turned inward, her mind wrapped in a veil of deepest thought. Her wrinkled face might have been carved of dark Welsh slate for all it revealed of her contemplations.

Mérian glanced around as the priest passed, and called out, but the friar had Bran in his eye, and he hurried on until he was within hailing distance. “My lord, wait!” he shouted. “I must speak to you!”

Bran gave no sign that he had heard. He strode on, eyes fixed on the road and distance ahead.

“For the love of Jesu, Bran. Wait for me!”

Bran took two more steps and then halted abruptly. He straightened and turned, his face a smouldering scowl, dark eyes darker still under lowered brows. His shock of black hair seemed to rise in feathered spikes.

“Thank the Good Lord,” gasped the friar, scrambling up the dry, rutted track. “I thought I’d never catch you. We . . . there is something . . .” He gulped down air, wiped his face, and shook the sweat from his hand into the dust of the road.

“Well?” demanded Bran impatiently.

“I think we must get off this road,” Tuck said, dabbing at his face with the sleeve of his robe. “Truly, as I think on it now, I like not the look that Abbot Hugo gave me when we left the king’s yard. I fear he may try something nasty.”

Bran lifted his chin. The jagged scar on his cheek, livid now, twisted his lip into a sneer. “Within sight of the king’s house?” he scoffed, his voice tight. “He wouldn’t dare.”

“Would he not?”

“Dare what?” said Iwan, striding up. Siarles came toiling along in the big man’s wake.

“Our friar here,” replied Bran, “thinks we should abandon the road. He thinks Abbot Hugo is bent on making trouble.”

Iwan glanced back the way they had come. “Oh, aye,” agreed Iwan, “that would be his way.” To Tuck, he said, “Have you seen anything?”

“What’s this then?” inquired Siarles as he joined the group. “Why have you stopped?”

“Tuck thinks the abbot is on our tail,” Iwan explained.

“I maybe saw something back there, and not for the first time,” Tuck explained. “I don’t say it for a certainty, but I think someone is following us.”

“It makes sense.” Siarles looked to the frowning Bran. “What do you reckon?”

“I reckon I am surrounded by a covey of quail frightened of their own shadows,” Bran replied. “We move on.”

He turned to go, but Iwan spoke up. “My lord, look around you. There is little enough cover hereabouts. If we were to be taken by surprise, the slaughter would be over before we could put shaft to string.”

Mérian joined them then, having heard a little of what had passed. “The little ones are growing weary,” she pointed out. “They cannot continue on this way much longer without rest and water. We will have to stop soon in any event. Why not do as Tuck suggests and leave the road now—just to be safe?”

“So be it,” he said, relenting at last. He glanced around and then pointed to a grove of oak and beech rising atop the next hill up the road. “We will make for that wood. Iwan—you and Siarles pass the word along, then take up the rear guard.” He turned to Tuck and said, “You and Mérian stay here and keep everyone moving. Tell them they can rest as soon as they reach the grove, but not before.”

He turned on his heel and started off again. Iwan stood looking after his lord and friend. “It’s the vile king’s treachery,” he observed. “That’s put the black dog on his back, no mistake.”

Siarles, as always, took a different tone. “That’s as may be, but there’s no need to bite off our heads. We en’t the ones who cheated him out of his throne.” He paused and spat. “Stupid bloody king.”

“And stupid bloody cardinal, all high and mighty,” continued Iwan. “Priest of the church, my arse. Give me a good sharp blade and I’d soon have him saying prayers he never said before.” He cast a hasty glance at Tuck. “Sorry, Friar.”

“I’d do the same,” Tuck said. “Now, off you go. If I am right, we must get these people to safety, and that fast.”

The two ran back down the line, urging everyone to make haste for the wood on the next hill. “Follow Bran!” they shouted. “Pick up your feet. We are in danger here. Hurry!”

“There is safety in the wood,” Mérian assured them as they passed, and Tuck did likewise. “Follow Bran. He’ll lead you to shelter.”

It took a little time for the urgency of their cries to sink in, but soon the forest-dwellers were moving at a quicker pace up to the wood at the top of the next rise. The first to arrive found Bran waiting at the edge of the grove beneath a large oak tree, his strung bow across his shoulder.

“Keep moving,” he told them. “You’ll find a hollow just beyond that fallen tree.” He pointed through the wood. “Hide yourselves and wait for the others there.”

The first travellers had reached the shelter of the trees, and Tuck was urging another group to speed and showing them where to go when he heard someone shouting up from the valley. He could not make out the words, but as he gazed around the sound came again and he saw Iwan furiously gesturing towards the far hilltop. He looked where the big man was pointing and saw two mounted knights poised on the crest of the hill.

The soldiers were watching the fleeing procession and, for the moment, seemed content to observe. Then one of the knights wheeled his mount and disappeared back down the far side of the hill.

Bran had seen it too, and began shouting. “Run!” he cried, racing down the road. “To the grove!” he told Mérian and Tuck. “The Ffreinc are going to attack!”

He flew to meet Iwan and Siarles at the bottom of the hill.

“I’d best go see if I can help,” Tuck said, and leaving Mérian to hurry the people along, he fell into step behind Bran.

“Just the two of them?” Bran asked as he came running to meet Siarles and Iwan.

“So far,” replied the champion. “No doubt the one’s gone to alert the rest. Siarles and I will take a stand here,” he said, bending the long ashwood bow to string it. “That will give you and Tuck time to get the rest of the folk safely hidden in the woods.”

Bran shook his head. “It may come to that one day, but not today.” His tone allowed no dissent. “We have a little time yet. Get everyone into the wood—carry them if you have to. We’ll dig ourselves into the grove and make Gysburne and his hounds come in after us.”

“I make it six bows against thirty knights,” Siarles pointed out. “Good odds, that.”

Bran gave a quick jerk of his chin. “Good as any,” he agreed. “Fetch along the stragglers and follow me.”

Iwan and Siarles darted away and were soon rushing the last of the lagging Grellon up the hill to the grove. “What do you want me to do?” Tuck shouted.

“Pray,” answered Bran, pulling an arrow from the sheaf at his belt and fitting it to the string. “Pray God our aim is true and each arrow finds its mark.”

Bran moved off, calling for the straggling Grellon to find shelter in the wood. Tuck watched him go. Pray? he thought. Aye, to be sure—the Good Lord will hear from me. But I will do more, will I not? Then he scuttled up the hill and into the wood in search of a good stout stick to break some heads.