Sunday, May 31, 2009

4 YA titles: Starfinder by John Marco, Olivia Kidney by Ellen Potter, Gossamer by Lois Lowry and The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

I hate to read great books and not mention them at all, so I'm going to do some quickie reviews of 4 YA titles. The first book I have not yet read, but my son whipped through it in one night and I'm anxious to read it . . . . plus, I wanted to mention it because the author kindly sent me a copy.

Starfinder by John Marco is, according to my son, "a quest story". I don't know the details because I haven't read it, yet, but it's at the top of my "Want to Read ASAP" pile. My copy is an ARC in which the author made a mistake on an autograph and he offered it to me when I declined a poster won through his now-defunct blog. I love books that I can share with my teenager (and Starfinder was already on my wish list), so I said yes and probably peppered my thanks with numerous exclamation points.

When the book arrived, I handed it to my son. He took one look at it and said, "Put it on my bed, please." That night he read it from cover to cover. Last week kiddo said, "I can't wait for the next Skylords novel!" I told him he'll have to wait, since the first just came out in hardback. I thought his enthusiastic recommendation was worth sharing. I'm supposed to ask John Marco to write faster, also. I think I'll skip that bit.

Olivia Kidney by Ellen Potter - After reading SLOB, I vowed that I will read everything Ellen Potter has ever written and I was not kidding. But, boy, was this book hard to find! My local stores didn't carry anything at all by Ellen Potter, I didn't spot any at my library (although I opted not to bother with their insane database; I'm hoping all of her books were checked out) and I had to get help from Ellen -- who told me she thought her books were kept in the independent reader section -- to find a copy of the first in the series at Borders.

All of that effort was worth it. Just like SLOB, Olivia Kidney tells the story of a youngster who is strong-willed and has a sense of humor but is dealing with turmoil from loss. Olivia has just moved to a new apartment, where her father is the superintendent. After losing her key, she meets some oddball neighbors, including a ghost, and goes on a somewhat surreal romp through her apartment building. Talking lizards, a vicious pirate, a princess, a woman whose apartment is entirely made of glass and a medium who wants to talk about her shopping are just some of the characters Olivia encounters. This is a 5/5. I think next time I'll just place an order for everything else Ellen Potter has written.

Gossamer by Lois Lowry is a huge departure from her dystopian series, which began with The Giver. Littlest One is learning her job as a Dream Giver. She and Thin Elderly have been assigned to the home of an older woman. They gather memories from objects and give the woman pleasant dreams. When an unhappy young boy comes to live with the older woman, he is followed by the Sinisteeds -- dark creatures who plague people with nightmares.

The Sinisteeds won't harm the dream givers as long as they stay out of sight, but Littlest One and Thin Elderly must hide whenever the evil creatures arrive to give the little boy nightmares. Together, Littlest One and Thin Elderly decide to combat the Sinisteeds by finding the best possible dream material to strengthen the old woman and young boy while, across town, another dream giver helps a young woman get her life in order.

I just loved Gossamer. It's a sweet, touching book in which little creatures watch over humans and try to make them happier by giving them pleasant dreams. Just after I closed the book, I read Nymeth's post about Feeling Like a Kid by Jerry Griswold, which describes the five areas that are essential parts of the childhood experience and how those become elements in children's novels. I realized Gossamer touched on all 5 of those areas: Scariness, snugness, lightness, aliveness and smallness. The dream givers sleep together in a heap (very snug); Sinisteeds and nightmares are scary; Littlest One wishes she had wings (lightness) and is very small; dreams are created by actual creatures (aliveness). Fascinating! Another 5/5.

The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer has been on my wish list since I finished Life As We Knew It. There were things I disliked about the first in the series, but I still wanted to read the second book to get a glimpse of this dystopian story from a different viewpoint. In Life As We Knew It, the moon is hit by a meteor and shoved too close to the earth, causing panic, tidal waves & massive death, earthquakes and volcanoes and the end of life as those characters knew it. Because it takes place in a northern state, far from coastline, there are hints of the devastation in New York City and other coastal areas, but no actual scenes. The Dead and the Gone follows a young man and his sisters as they try to survive in New York City with both parents and their elder brother away and no way to find out if they're alive.

I liked the book, but I felt like The Dead and the Gone was missing something -- chiefly, I felt like the true dangers of having food to eat while others were starving was watered down. I expected a little more violence and terror. Life As We Knew It made my heart pound. The Dead and the Gone did not. I just love that cover, though, don't you? I want to frame the cover.

3/5 - an average read. I like dystopian novels a lot or I'd probably give it an even lesser rating. I don't regret reading it and might even reread it someday, so I still recommend the book but it's not a favorite.

Next up will be a sneak peek and review of the second book in Dr. Carl Werner's evolution series: Living Fossils.

Right now: I have to do housework. Bummer. Happy Father's Day to the daddies out there!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Holly's Inbox by Holly Denham

Holly's Inbox by Holly Denham
Copyright 2009
Sourcebooks, Inc. - Fiction/British Chick Lit?
665 pages

From: Charlie Denham
To: Holly
Good luck on Mond. If he looks at ya, let me know and e'll be swimming with the daisies.

From: Holly
To: Charlie Denham
Got your email--but did you mean pushing up the daisies, or swimming with the fishes?

From Charlie Denham
To: Holly
Hi Holls
Was wasted on Sunday. I think when I wrote that I was even slurring a cockney accent--the one I usually use when I'm negotiating with plumbers and sparkies (so they think I'm a bit streetwise and don't just rip me off).

From: Holly
To: Charlie Denham
You told me they're always ripping you off.

From: Charlie Denham
To: Holly
Of course they are, because they see some middle class knob putting on a fake cockney accent and instantly double their prices. You seen Toby this morning yet?

Holly's Inbox is written entirely in emails, as you see in the example above. I've read a couple of email books -- I think by Meg Cabot -- and loved them. It's surprising how much character development one can create through a series of emails. But, at a massive 665 pages and given the fact that Holly Denham is a fictional character created by a man, I admit that I was a tiny bit skeptical that I'd enjoy it. It took about two pages to lay that skepticism to rest.

Holly's Inbox is miserably, painfully addictive. I started reading it on Wednesday evening and the pages just kept turning. I didn't want to put it down!! Finally, I decided I'd better try to get some sleep and set it aside at about 2:00 am. Well. That didn't work at all. By then, I was so far into the soap opera of Holly's world that I was a wee bit wired. Plus, my husband was in freight-train snoring mode. I ended up giving up on sleep at around 4:00 in the morning and just stayed up, typing and then reading until I reached the end of the story.

At the beginning of the book, Holly is starting a job as a receptionist at a corporate bank. The two receptionists can't be seen chatting, so they email each other. At first, Holly has trouble keeping up and Trisha seems a bit of a snob, but then the two receptionists become fast friends and allies. Meanwhile, Holly deals with uppity bank employees, chats with her wacky friends and dysfunctional family members, and develops a secret romance with one of the upstairs bankers.

A little bit of a mystery brews when a man named Toby begins working at the bank. Holly and Toby have a history, but it's very, very slowly revealed along with the rest of her past and how Holly, who has a decent education and apparently an upper-middle-class background, ended up working as a receptionist.

Holly's Inbox is unbelievably, compulsively readable. It's very much like peeking into someone else's mailbox, but not quite so cryptic as real-life emails can be. It's a well-rounded story, often funny, sometimes poignant. There's a lot of sex talk and sometimes it gets a little rude, but never enough that I was tempted to put the book down. That would be my only complaint with the book. With a sex addict as a character (Holly's friend, Aisha) and an office romance, you have to expect some rude sex talk. Holly herself is a sweet, lovable character -- very much like the heroines in Jill Mansell's books.

4.5/5 - Excellent, nearly impossible to put down, with great characters, loads of laughs and a little scandal.

Thank you those of you who took the time to tell me your preference for numerical ratings!!!

Coming soon: Two new giveaways!!

Many thanks to Jeanne for the Heartfelt Award! I'm also unable to copy and paste the image, Jeanne. The link, above, apparently goes to the originator of the award.

I want this on one of my walls:

That's a hooked rug, I believe, and it hung behind the reception desk at the hotel in which we stayed in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Isn't it beautiful?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal

A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal
Copyright 2009 (orig. publ'd in 2007)
Little, Brown and Company - NF/Memoir
228 pages

To speak of the Holocaust in terms of numbers--six million--which is the way it is usually done, is to unintentionally dehumanize the victims and to trivialize the profoundly human tragedy it was. The numbers transform the victims into a fungible mass of nameless, soulless bodies rather than treating them as the individual human beings they were.

A survivor of the Holocaust, Thomas Buergenthal was a mere 5 years old when his family was forced to move into a Jewish ghetto in Poland. Four years and two work camps later, they were shipped to Auschwitz, where they were separated. Miraculously, Thomas was able to stay with his father for quite a while and both he and his mother survived their time both in concentration camps and on separate death marches just prior to liberation. A Lucky Child is his story.

Buergenthal chose to write this book solely from his own viewpoint, as he remembers it, in part because the few people he could have consulted to verify details are no longer living and because he simply wasn't ready to revisit that pain until recently. Although the dates and the details may not be perfect, it's a powerful book and an amazing story of survival against odds. In the final pages of A Lucky Child, Buergenthal describes his life after the war and how he has become a vigorous advocate for human rights throughout the world.

I read a lot of Holocaust memoirs and it's amazing to how many different viewpoints one can read. It's simply never-ending, in part because of the sheer quantity of different backgrounds and countries from which imprisoned Jews hailed, a sad reminder of how many countries were conquered by the Nazis during that period of our world's history and an excellent reminder that we're really no different than those who lived and died in that time period. In fact, Buergenthal's mother, when young, bore a somewhat startling resemblance to my own mother when she was the same age.

As in the other books I've read, there was some totally new information. There's always something new. A Lucky Child is beautifully written and very, very moving. I highly recommend it, particularly to those who enjoy reading memoirs or anything relating to WWII. "Fungible" (in the quote, above) was a new word for me, by the way. It means "interchangeable".

I'm thinking about going back to rating books, always something that I've felt iffy about but found that I like at other blogs. What do you think? If I were to rate A Lucky Child, I'd go with 4.5/5.

And, now, to lighten the mood . . . a Costa Rican baby bunny:

Have a hoppy day!

Bookfool, who knows that was really, really bad

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Non-Runner's Marathon Guide for Women

The Non-Runner's Marathon Guide for Women by Dawn Dais
Copyright 2004
Seal Press - Non-fiction/Sports/Running
248 pages

The heel-to-toe method is supposed to absorb some of the shock and allow my knees to stay on my body until at least December. I have yet to figure out a method of absorbing the shock of getting out of bed at 6:30 am on a weekend, though. Any suggestions for remedying that jarring effect would be greatly appreciated.

[Note: The quote above is one of the journal entries interspersed throughout The Non-Runner's Marathon Guide for Women]

My husband and I are doing so-so at marathon training, since neither of us really feels any overwhelming desire to run 26.2 miles, but we both still hope to at least be able to run a half-marathon, at some point. So, when Laura recommended The Non-Runner's Marathon Guide for Women: Get Off Your Butt and On With Your Training, I looked it up. It sounded like my kind of book, I ordered a copy, and, boy, was I right. It's a hoot. My kind of book, definitely.

Dawn Dais decided to run a marathon on a whim, when she received a card in the mail about training to run a marathon with the proceeds going to the American Stroke Association. Dawn's grandfather had suffered a debilitating stroke and died not long before the card arrived. Raising money for the prevention of an illness that touched her personally was her motivation for signing up.

My husband and I were just discussing our motivation, tonight, and he said our goal was, "To get off the couch and stay off." I said, "Yeah, sort of. But, we don't have a couch." He muttered something about semantics and the fat leather chair and other stationary objects upon which to place one's behind and in the end we agreed that the point is that we're spending time together, getting in shape. Plus, someday we'll get our den floor back and buy a couch.

The Non-Runner's Marathon Guide for Women is a nice reference but mostly it's just a really fun, raucous read. Dawn Dais is hilarious. I hope she writes more books. While I don't think everything you need to know is described in detail in this book, that's really beside the point (and she does touch on all the important topics). It's funny, inspiring, funny, helpful, and funny. And, did I mention it's funny? Her sense of humor is sarcastic and sometimes snarky writing irritates me, but it never grated on my nerves. I laughed so much, in fact, that I think I can safely say it's not a book you'll sleep through. The Non-Runner's Guide also a great starting point if you're considering marathon training or you've started and you need a little inspiration.

Dais includes training schedules for a half-marathon and full marathon. I was surprised to find that her schedules are quite different from the schedule we got for our marathon training group. They're much more intense, which is good. I've always thought our weekly workouts were a little on the wimpy side and that it was the lack of intensity during the week that made the Saturday group runs uncomfortably challenging. In fact, I like Dais' schedules so much that I photo-copied them to refer to.

Whether you'd like to run a marathon and need inspiration or just want to read something that will make you laugh, The Non-Runner's Marathon Guide for Women is a great read, highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Winners of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti

The winners of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti are:

Melissa Palmer
jemscout 425
Gentle Reader

Congratulations and happy cooking! I'll get in touch with you soon (probably tomorrow -- be patient with me) so I can collect your addresses.

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer
Copyright 2009 [orig. pub. 1962]
Sourcebooks Casablanca
337 pages

What led you to pick up this book? I read and reviewed my first Georgette Heyer book, Cotillion, for Estella's Revenge last year. It was a hard read because I'd never encountered that level of Regency lingo, but it was a great story and I've planned to read more. When Danielle at Sourcebooks offered up several titles for review, I snatched The Nonesuch (and a couple of others, which I'll get to in the coming weeks or months).

Describe the plot without giving anything away.

Ancilla Trent is in her late twenties and unlikely ever to marry. As the hired chaperone of strikingly beautiful young Tiffany Wield, she's got her work cut out for her. Tiffany has no sense of tact and is tremendously selfish, but thanks to her beauty she usually has a bevy of young admirers to toy with. When she goes too far and humiliation becomes her likely fate, she runs away to London. Will Ancilla be able to stop her?

Sir Waldo Hawkridge is wealthy, philanthropic and stylish. He's also a confirmed bachelor. When he inherits a run-down estate and travels to Yorkshire with his cousin, Lord Julian Lindeth, to supervise the repairs to Broom Hall, it's only natural that such dashing men should be invited into the social whirl. Sir Waldo plans to turn Broom Hall into an orphanage and leave as soon as he's able. But, he quickly finds himself falling for Ancilla Trent. Ancilla knows she's not in Sir Waldo's class and a romance would be scandalous. Is he playing games with her, or is it possible that such a charming man returns her affections?

Describe a favorite scene. Honestly, I loved absolutely every scene in the book. So much happens that I think I'd have trouble singling out any particular scene, but I do love it when Julian offers to teach Patience Chartley (the rector's daughter) the waltz. The waltz is all the rage in London, but in the country people are iffy about it and Julian is trying to explain that the dance is harmless to Patience's mother when this happens:

The Rector, coming into the room and learning what was the subject under discussion, said that since the world began each generation had condemned the manners and customs of the next.

Ha! So true!

What did you think about the characters? Georgette Heyer had a knack for creating beautifully three-dimensional characters. The Nonesuch (Sir Waldo) and Ancilla Trent are charming and witty, and there are some nosy, haughty women and gallant young men. Sir Waldo's cousin Lawrence eventually shows up and he's suitably paired with the uncontrollable Tiffany, for a time. I'd say the characterization is darn near perfect, although I had a little trouble distinguishing some of the secondary characters, for a time, because there are so many.

What did you like most about the book? I love the witty dialogue, the characters, the storyline, the setting, the action. A great deal happens in this book. It was a tremendously fun, light-hearted read.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book? That Regency lingo is rough. Fortunately, there are some helpful sites online (I printed out some of the slang and expressions and kept them with me when I read) and eventually you become accustomed to the mode of speech. Heyer is a little like Shakespeare, in that way. Once you become involved and get into the rhythm and style, most everything makes sense in context -- even if you're too lazy to get up and look up a few expressions online (yeah, sometimes I didn't bother). The ending is also a little odd, but nothing to complain about.

Recommended? Absolutely. I've enjoyed both of the Heyer books I read so much that I'd love to read everything she's ever written, at this point. This is a very romantic story, but so much happens that I'd encourage people who just like a good story to snatch up this book and give Heyer a try.

Cover thoughts: I like the cover. I don't love the cover, but I really like it. I find it a little difficult imagining the way people dressed in that time period without a little visual help and I occasionally closed the book to remind myself of how Sir Waldo was probably dressed.

Coming up: I think I've read about 5 or 6 other books that I haven't reviewed. Since most of them are from my personal collection, I'm planning to just dash off a few mini reviews, this week.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti by Giulia Melucci *DRAWING CLOSED*

Drawing has been closed.

This time I've actually read the book I'm giving away! Here's my review of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti. Sure, you could page down, but I love making things easy for you.

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti is part memoir, part recipe book, the tale of the author's tumultuous and disappointing love life and the foods she's cooked for her commitment-phobic former boyfriends and sometimes just herself. I'm saving my copy because I want to try the recipes (or foist them on my husband -- he'll cook just about anything if I bring him the ingredients and a recipe). It's a really light, fun memoir; sometimes the recipes made me laugh because she added witty little comments. More about that in my review, of course.

I'm giving away 5 copies of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti

To enter, please do the following:

1. Leave a valid email address. Again, this is non-negotiable; I get all pissy and ditch you from the list if you don't leave me an email address -- blogger does not show me your email, so you have to physically type it out (with parentheses or spaces to discourage Ed the Spammer).

2. I Loved, I Lost made me smile a lot (and, at one point, cry so fiercely that I had to set the book down and do some deep breathing -- but it likely won't make you cry unless you were young when your father died), and that made me think about how much I love a book that makes me laugh. If you remember a book that made you laugh or even just smile a lot, please share the title and author with me.

3. This is a great book for the despondently single. I don't do extra entries, but encourage you to nudge your single friends to sign up, especially if they've had a really disappointing dating life. Single women who have gone through a series' of promising dates with men who seemed to love them -- but without the ring and the pretty dress at the end -- will probably really appreciate this book. I love it when a book helps people feel a little less alone.

Drawing is open to U.S. and Canada residents only -- no P.O. Boxes. Winners will receive their copies directly from the publisher.

Drawing has been delayed till Tuesday, May 26, due to a holiday that our school district has unpatriotically decided to ignore (yes, the kids will be in school on a federal holiday -- feel free to write a nasty letter to the Vicksburg-Warren school district quoting President Obama, in my honor). I just figured some of you won't be around to answer an email saying, "You won, you lucky devil!" Happy Memorial Day to the Americans!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

April Reads in Review (a tad late)

I haven't read the book you see, at left. I just thought the title was fitting. Where do the days go? I can't believe it's already the 23rd of May and I'm just now getting around to posting a summary of my April reads. I had a slightly lesser month because of our week of vacation in April, but I still think it was a good one. Links lead to my reviews, if applicable.


YA - Young Adult
CH - Children's
NF - Non-fiction

Bookfool's April Reads in Review:

1. SLOB by Ellen Kennedy (YA/Ages 9-12) - A brilliant, overweight boy tries to unravel the mystery of who has stolen his cookies whilst working on an invention that he hopes will help him see into the past. Funny, poignant, great characters -- just an all-around terrific book.

2. The King with Horse's Ears by Batt Burns; Illus. by Igor Oleynikov (CH) - Irish folktales with stunning illustrations. My favorite is not a traditional tale, but a new one written by the author.

3. How I Got to be Whoever it is I Am by Charles Grodin (NF) - The actor/journalist talks about his youth and how he became an actor then segued into journalistic presentation.

4. Go Back and Be Happy by Julie Papievis (NF) - The memoir of a woman who claims to have died & gone to heaven (briefly), where she met her grandmothers and was told, "Go back and be happy." She then emerged from a coma. Doctors had expected her to die of the severe brain stem injury she received in an automobile accident.

5. Real Solutions for Busy Moms by Kathy Ireland (NF) - Just what it sounds like, practical solutions for making life as a mother more tolerable. Some of the book is written in question/answer format.

6. Spiced by Dalia Jergensen (NF) - (link leads to a mini review below that of Real Solutions) -Wow, I read a lot of non-fiction in April, didn't I? Another memoir, this time from the kitchen as Dalia describes how she turned her love of cooking into a career as a pastry chef. I thought this was really a fun read, apart from the bits about her sex life.

7. The Lost Hours by Karen White - A horse-riding accident left Piper in pain and took away her greatest joy but her grandfather's death, a charm & some scrapbook pages send Piper on a search that will change how she views her past and future.

8. So Not Happening by Jenny B. Jones (YA) - When her mother remarries and her father decides he's not the best parent for her to live with, Bella goes from privileged lifestyle in the big city to life on a farm in rural Oklahoma. This book actually had me laughing out loud and became an instant favorite. I can't wait to read the next in this new series.

9. So Long Status Quo by Susy Flory (NF) - And, I'm not even done listing the memoirs. Part memoir, part inspirational, the story of how one woman decided to get up off the couch and start making a difference.

10. The Blood of Lambs by Kamal Saleem (NF) - Seriously, I had no idea I read so many memoirs in April. The Blood of Lambs was my favorite because it's beautifully written & gripping. Saleem tells about his childhood in Lebanon and how he became a terrorist for the PLO at 7 years of age.

11. Living Fossils - Evolution: The Grand Experiment, Vol. 2 by Dr. Carl Werner (NF) - I haven't reviewed this book, yet, but it's scheduled for review the first week of June. Dr. Verner was challenged to prove the theory of evolution, while still in medical school (he's an ER doctor). This book tells about the challenge and how he went about trying to prove evolution by disproving it -- and why he chose that method. I just read the first book and will review it at the same time.

12. Fire Me by Libby Malin - Anne is tired of her job and on the verge of resigning when her boss announces a layoff and informs everyone that the person who loses his or her job will receive an attractive severance package. Slapstick chick lit ensues as Anne tries to get herself fired.

13. Stop the Traffik by Steve Chalke (NF) - A shocking expose about the widespread problem of human trafficking. Interesting side note: Chocolate producers didn't like what I had to say about the slave boys working on cocoa farms in that region, along with my assertion that I will only buy Fair Trade chocolate (they haven't changed my mind).

That's it! Just 13 books finished in April. Two years ago, that would have been a record-breaker. Not so, now, but I'm satisfied.

Just to pretty up this post a bit, a "nom, nom" photo from Costa Rica:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy

Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy
Copyright 2009
HarperPerennial - Fiction/Short Stories
226 pages

Wait! Don't skip this review just because you don't like short stories! Please read on. Take in a few quotes and see if I can't change your mind because you really need to buy this book.

Children are the closest we are to wisdom, and they become adults the moment that final drop of everything mysterious is strained from them. I think it happens quietly to every one of us -- like crossing a state line when you're asleep.

--from "Tiger, Tiger"

"Every morning can be the beginning of your life -- you have thousands of lives, but each is only a day long."

-- from "The Missing Statues"

"This country is nothing but rain and songs," his father once said in his Romany accent.

A young Walter had asked if that was good.

"Ay, it's grand, Walter -- because every song is a shadow to the memory it follows around, and rain touches a city all at once with its thousand small hands."

--from "The Coming and Going of Strangers"

He remembered all those mornings out in the field beside his caravan, watching storms move across the fields below. Eyes glued to the sky until a fork of lightning hit the earth; wind ripping trees from soggy riverbanks; an early morning blizzard like pillows ripped open. Walter suddenly felt that such things were part of his very being. And that for his entire life, the countryside he'd grown up in was a form of self-portrait.

--from "The Coming and Going of Strangers"

I fell in love with Simon Van Booy's writing in 2007, when The Secret Lives of People in Love was offered to Estella's Revenge writers for review and I waved my little hand (my review of The Secret Lives of People in love -- note that the word "compendium" was substituted for "anthology" by the editor; I believe "collection" is actually the correct descriptive term and we were both wrong). I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. Simon's writing is utterly addictive. I nearly beat my copy of Secret Lives to death and probably should have bought stock in Post-its. I've read all of the stories at least three times and sometimes I just walk to the shelf, pull out the book and flip open at random.

Just a couple of months after reading Secret Lives, I had the privilege of interviewing Simon when I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Really, we just chattered a lot and I gleaned information from our conversation. I'll reprint the interview at Bookfoolery, soon; it was written for Estella's Revenge and I didn't cross-post, at the time, although you can read my interview with Simon Van Booy here, if you're feeling impatient. Simon actually was heading from Detroit to somewhere in Ohio and drove out of his way to meet up with me. He's that kind of guy.

We've kept in touch and Simon sent me an ARC of Love Begins in Winter, earlier this year. I gobbled it up way ahead of its release and just reread it, last week. I don't think I'm ever going to have any trouble at all with that promise I made to myself to read absolutely everything the man ever writes. In fact, I wish Harper Perennial would shove his books through the press a little bit faster. Love Begins in Winter is an anthology containing five of Simon's short stories, in which he once again mines the depths of the human heart.

Love Begins in Winter - The story from which the anthology derives its name, "Love Begins in Winter" weaves together the tales of two people who have spent their lives clinging to private grief but find love when they sense each other's stories through the mingling of their tokens of remembrance.

He looked surprised and I wasn't sure what to do. My hand began to shake and he reached for it. I let him. With his other hand, he took from his pocket a handful of acorns and put them in my palm.

From my pocket I took a large stone and set it squarely in his open hand. If there is such a thing as marriage, it takes place long before the ceremony: in a car on the way to the airport; or as a gray bedroom fills with dawn, one lover watching the other; or as two strangers stand together in the rain with no bus in sight, arms weighed down with shopping bags. You don't know then. But later you realize -- that was the moment.

And always without words.

Language is like looking at a map of somewhere. Love is living there and surviving on the land.

Tiger, Tiger - A slightly darker story in which the heroine shows her love in a most unusual and painful way, by biting the object of her affection.

The Missing Statues - A man notices a statue missing from St. Peter's Square and is reminded of a time when the compassion of a stranger turned a dreadful childhood experience into a moment of transformative beauty and hope. "The Missing Statues" was featured at Fifty-Two Stories with Cal Morgan. Dash over and read it if you're unsure about buying the book. It's an excellent example of Simon's style.

The Coming and Going of Strangers - An Irish gypsy jumps off a cliff to save a child who has fallen and is rewarded for the heroic deed that eventually will cripple him. Years later, his son develops a crush on an orphan from Canada. Throughout this story, strangers touch each other's lives and hearts.

The City of Windy Trees - A very lonely man finds it's still possible to fill gaping holes in his life when he receives a letter containing a photograph of a young girl.

When I opened Love Begins in Winter for a second reading, I had a rather funny experience. I read the first story (the title story) and thought to myself, "Oh, yes, this was one of my favorites!" As I read through the book, I realized that I actually had four favorites. Only one didn't thrill the socks off me. Simon's writing is unflinchingly honest, an exploration of the flaws of humans and the love that binds them together. Unlike a lot of readers, I enjoy short stories but am well aware that very few people know how to do them right. Simon's stories never leave you dangling or drag on long after they should end. They vary in length and each is paced with perfection.

Extra material in the book includes a "Meet the Author" section as well as "How to Find a Story" and "What I Do When I'm Not Writing Books," all written by Simon and each offering some additional insight into the stories in Love Begins in Winter and The Secret Lives of People in Love.

I was a little flabbergasted when Chris of Stuff as Dreams Are Made On informed me that my name is in the acknowledgments (Thank you, Simon!). If you still hate short stories and don't want to read the book, I can give you another excuse to buy it. You can say, "Hey, I know this chick in the acknowledgments!" There you go.

Simon is in the Seattle area today and tomorrow (the 21st and 22nd of May). You can find out if he will be visiting a city near you by checking Simon's tour schedule. Tell him Bookfool sent you!

Just finished:

Gossamer by Lois Lowry (loved it!). More on that, later, I hope. I do have a rather oppressive-looking calendar.

Off to pick up my teenager from school. He has suddenly become disinterested in driving himself to school in the morning.
Happy Trails!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

SLOB by Ellen Potter

SLOB by Ellen Potter
Copyright 2009
Philomel Books - Middle readers/YA (ages 9-12)
197 pages

This is becoming a far too typical refrain at Bookfoolery & Babble, but okay . . . sigh . . . I've misplaced my copy of SLOB, so I can't quote from the book and don't have the text to refer to. The good news is that even though I read SLOB several weeks ago, it is certainly a memorable tale.

SLOB is the story of a brilliant, overweight boy named Owen. Owen is fat, but he hasn't always been that way. He has, however, always had a high IQ which he's learned not to brag about. Owen invents things from found objects and he has a very unusual reason for trying to create an invention that will help him view the past -- a specific date in the past.

Being smart and fat is a rough combination. Owen is regularly bullied at school, not only by the other kids in his 7th-grade class, but also by a vicious gym teacher who deliberately humiliates Owen, apparently for his own entertainment. Owen is trying to lose weight, but one of his small joys in life is the three Oreo cookies he gets in his lunch, each day. When his cookies begin to disappear and the container appears untouched, Owen has his suspicions about the most likely culprit. But, then other clues begin to surface after he creates an invention to stop the thief; and, the answer to the Oreo thefts may be even worse than he imagined.

Owen's sister, Jeremy (also known as Caitlin), is a member of a group of girls who have decided to give themselves boy names --Girls Who Are Boys, or GWABs -- and dress up like boys. When I spoke to the author, she said that SLOB is a bit of a departure for her because it's autobiographical in many ways. Ellen Potter once belonged to a group of Girls Who Are Boys and she knew a very brilliant boy much like Owen. Interesting.

As the story unfolds, the reader slowly becomes aware of the terrifying incident Owen and Jeremy lived through and which now shapes their lives. This is one of the things I loved about the book: Ellen Potter did a brilliant job of slowly peeling away the layers of Owen and Jeremy's past to reveal how they've become who they are. And, she did so with tremendous wit, humor and heart.

I absolutely loved this book and gobbled it up within a couple of hours. First and foremost, the story is absolutely hilarious. SLOB is unique in both its plot and storyline. The characters are quirky and fun, the story extraordinarily creative and written with intelligence. You cannot help but fall in love with Owen Birnbaum. He is brilliant and inventive, but even when he's being picked on and could easily fire back in anger, Owen is a person with tremendous inner resources, very clever . . . and he's really, really nice. He treats other people with kindness, even when he's being abused. When I find my copy of SLOB, it's going on the good shelves. It's around here somewhere, maybe having a party with that other book I misplaced.

Highly recommended, a terrific read with enough depth and wit to entertain older readers of YA. There is truly never a dull moment in SLOB.

And, speaking of YA books, there is a tremendous giveaway going on, here:

Win All Elizabeth Scott books

I've been in a YA mood, lately. I think I mentioned the fact that I whipped through The Dead and The Gone, this past weekend, right? Well, I did. The book hasn't yet made it into my sidebar, but it has a really pretty cover. I think I half wanted to buy a copy for the sake of that nifty green moon cover.

Currently Reading:

Gossamer by Lois Lowry, The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer, and 50 People Every Christian Should Know by Warren W. Wiersbe.

Just Finished:

The Non-Runner's Marathon Guide for Women by Dawn Dais (thanks to Laura)

Next Review:

Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy

If you live in or near Seattle, you can see Simon on Thursday or Friday. Check his tour schedule (that's what I linked to) -- he's headed to Washington, tomorrow, lucky guy. I've always wanted to see Washington. If you go, please tell him Bookfool sent you.

I'm slowly recovering from Blogger Burnout and hope to be back to blog-hopping, soon. I decided I should stay away from the computer as much as possible, and it seems to be helping. But, I'm also getting a little lonely, so I'll be back as soon as possible. Hope everyone is having a terrific week!

Bookfool in Recovery

Mohamed's Moon by Keith Clemons

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:

Mohamed's Moon

Realms (May 5, 2009)


Keith Clemens is a native of Southern California and graduate of English Literature at California State University, Fullerton. His passion for communication has resulted in the publication of more than a hundred articles. Today, in addition to writing, he appears on radio and television where he uses his communications skills to explain coming trends that will affect both the church and society at large. Clemens lives with his wife and daughter in Caledon, Ontario, Canada and has written five novels including Angel in the Alley and the award winning If I Should Die, These Little Ones, and Above The Stars.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Publisher: Realms (May 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1599795256
ISBN-13: 978-1599795256


Sun sparkles on the Nile in flecks of gold, shimmering like the mask of Tutankhamen. The decaying wood boat—a felucca—is as ancient as the flow that passes beneath its hull, its sail a quilt-work of patches struggling to catch the wind. The craft creaks with the prodding of the rudder, bringing it about to tack across the current, cutting toward land with wind and water breaking against its bow. All along the shore a pattern emerges: villages sandwiched between checkerboard squares of cornfields, sugarcane, and cotton bolls. In the distance a barefoot girl herds sheep, goading them with a stick. At the sound of their bleating, a water buffalo foraging in the marsh lifts its head, causing the birds on its back to take flight. A dark-robed woman stoops to wash her dishes in the canal. Purple lilies clog the water in which a small boy also swims.

The cluster of yellow mud-brick homes erupts out of the ground like an accident of nature, a blemish marring the earth's smooth surface. There are fewer than a hundred, each composed of mud and straw—the same kind of brick the children of Israel made for their Egyptian taskmasters. Four thousand years later, little has changed.

Those living here are the poorest of the poor, indigent souls gathered from Egypt's overpopulated metropolitan centers and relocated to work small parcels of land as part of a government-sponsored program to stem the growth of poverty. It's the dearth that catches your eye, an abject sense of hopelessness that has sent most of the young men back into the cities to find work and thrust those who stayed behind into deeper and more odious schools of fundamentalist Islam.

 ... ... 

Zainab crouched at the stove, holding back the black tarha that covered her hair. She reached down and shoveled a handful of dung into the arched opening, stoking the fire. The stove, like a giant clay egg cut in half, was set against the outside wall of the dwelling. She blew the smoldering tinder until it erupted into flame, fanning the fumes away from her watering eyes while lifting the hem of her black galabia as she stepped back, hoping to keep the smoke from saturating her freshly washed garment.

She had bathed and, in the custom of Saidi women, darkened her eyes and hennaed her hair just as Nefertiti once did, though it was hard to look beautiful draped in a shroud of black. She fingered her earrings and necklace, pleased at the way the glossy dark stones shone in the light. Mere baubles perhaps, but Khalaf had given them to her, so their value was intrinsic.

He had been away more than a month, attending school. She hadn't been able to talk to him, but at least his brother, Sayyid—she cringed, then checked herself—had been kind enough to send word that today would be a day of celebration. It had to mean Khalaf was coming home. She brought a hand up, feeling the scarf at the back of her head. She wanted him to see her with her hair down, her raven-dark tresses lustrous and full, but that would have to wait.

She went inside to prepare a meal of lettuce and tomatoes with chicken and a dish called molohaya made of greens served with rice. It was an extravagance. Most days they drank milk for breakfast and in the evening ate eggs or beans. She'd saved every extra piaster while her husband was away, walking fifteen miles in the hot Egyptian sun to sell half of the beans she'd grown just so they'd be able to dine on chicken tonight. Khalaf would be pleased.

She turned toward the door. A beam of yellow light streamed into the room, revealing specks of cosmic dust floating through the air. She brought her hands to her hips, nodding. Everything was ready. She'd swept the straw mat and the hard dirt floor. The few unfinished boards that composed the low table where they would recline were set with ceramic dishware and cups. Even the cushion of their only other piece of furniture, the long low bench that rested against the wall, had been taken outside and the dust beaten from its seams.

Not counting the latrine, which was just a stall surrounding a hole in the ground that fed into a communal septic system, the house boasted only three rooms. One room served as the kitchen, living room, and dining room. The other two were small bedrooms. The one she shared with her husband, Khalaf, was barely wide enough for the dingy mattress that lay on the dirt floor leaking tufts of cotton. The other was for their son, who slept on a straw mat with only a frayed wool blanket to keep him warm.

She wiped her hands on her robe, satisfied that everything was in order. If Sayyid was right and Khalaf had news to celebrate, he would be in good spirits, and with a special dinner to complete the mood, perhaps she would have a chance to tell him.

She thought of the letter hidden safely under her mattress. Maybe she'd get to visit her friend in America and . . . best not to think about that. Please, Isa, make it so.

She reached for the clay pitcher on the table and poured water into a metal pot. Returning to the stove outside, she slipped the pot into the arched opening where it could boil. Khalaf liked his shai dark and sweet, and for that, the water had to be hot.

... ...

The boy danced around the palm with his arms flailing, balancing the ball on his toe. He flipped it into the air and spun around to catch it on his heel and then kicked it back over his shoulder and caught it on his elbow, keeping it in artful motion without letting it touch the ground. He could continue with the ball suspended in air for hours by bouncing it off various limbs of his body. Soccer was his game. If only they would take him seriously, but that wouldn't happen until he turned thirteen and became a man, and that was still two years away. It didn't matter. One day he would be a champion, with a real ball, running down the field with the crowds chanting his name.

He let the ball drop to the ground, feigning left and right, and scooping the ball under his toes, kicked it against the palm's trunk. Score! His hands flew into the air as he did a victory dance and leaned over to snatch his ball from the ground—not a ball really, just an old sock filled with rags and enough sand to give it weight—but someday he would have a real ball and then . . . 

A cloud of blackbirds burst from the field of cane. There was a rustling, then movement. He crept to the edge of the growth, curious, but whatever, or whoever, it was remained veiled behind the curtain of green.

He pushed the cane aside. "What are you doing?" he said, staring at Layla. The shadow of the leafy stalks made her face a puzzle of light.

"Come here," she whispered, drawing him toward her with a motion of her hand.

"No. Why are you hiding?"

"Come here and I'll tell you." Her voice was subdued but also tense, like the strings of a lute stretched to the point of breaking.

"I don't want to play games. You come out. Father's not here to see you."

"We're leaving."


"Come here. We have to talk."

"Talk? Why? What's there to talk about?" The boy let his ball drop to the ground. He stepped forward and, sweeping the cane aside and pushing it behind him, held it back with his thigh.

"We have to move. They're packing right now. We have to leave within the hour." Layla's eyes glistened and filled with moisture.

The boy blinked, once, slowly, but didn't respond. He knew. His mother had overheard friends talking. He shook his head. "Then I guess you'd better go."

"My father came here because he wanted to help, but now he says we can't stay. He says we're going to Minya where there are many Christians."

"Then I won't see you again?"

"I don't know. Maybe you will. Father says he can't abandon his patients. He may come to visit, but Mother's afraid. Why do they hate us?"

The boy shook his head, his lower lip curling in a pout.

"Do you think we will marry someday?"

His eyes narrowed. Where had that come from? "Marry? We could never be married. You . . . you're a Christian."

"I know. But that doesn't mean . . . "

"Yes, it does mean! My father says you're an infidel, a blasphemer. If your father wasn't a doctor, they would've driven him out long ago. Father would never let us marry. He hates it when he sees us together."

"That's why I've been thinking . . . " She paused, adding emphasis to her words. "You and your whole family must become Christians. Then we can be married."

"You're talking like a fool, Layla. My family is Saidi. We will never be Christian."

"But your mother's a Christian."

"No, she's not!"

"Is too. I heard—"

"Liar!" The boy clenched his fists. "My dad says all Christians are liars. My mother would never become a Christian. They would kill her."

Layla reached out, took the boy by the collar, and pulled him in, kissing him on the lips. Then she pushed him back, her eyes big as saucers against her olive skin, her eyebrows raised. She shrank back into the foliage. "Sorry, I . . . I didn't . . . I just . . . excuse me. I have to go. I'll pray for you," she said and, turning away, disappeared into the dry stalks of cane.

It looks like the book's description was left out of this post, so here 'tis:

Twin brothers separated at birth grow up worlds apart. Mohamed, raised in Assyut, Egypt, as a devotee of fundamentalist Islam, comes to Paulo Alto, California, to find he has a twin brother, Matthew, he didn’t even know existed. Worse, his brother is a Christian and is about to marry the girl he once loved. Within three weeks, Mohamed’s militant group plans to bring the United States to its knees, but the operation will destroy both his brother and the woman he believes should rightfully be his.

In the vein of The Kite Runner, this novel introduces the reader to a world where hatred for things not understood is used to justify heinous acts. But if hatred is viewed as potent, it pales in comparison to the power of God’s love.

I'm not finished with Mohamed's Moon, but I started it before I hit the burnout wall, last week, and I liked Clemons' writing style. Since I set the book aside for a few days, I'll probably restart it at a later date. I set it aside, though, at a point where something really shocking had just occurred and I was finding the book quite gripping. I highly recommend that you read the free chapter and see if it intrigues you. When I review the book, I'll try to remember to link back to this sneak peek post.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Beyond Corista by Robert Elmer

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:

Beyond Corista (The Shadowside Trilogy)

Zondervan (May 1, 2009)


Robert Elmer is the author of more than forty novels for young readers. He is a full-time writer, living in Idaho with his wife, Ronda. They are the parents of three young adults.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714230
ISBN-13: 978-0310714231


Because you are the last asylum, spread the light so they will hear beyond Corista—even where the Trion is but a faint glimmer in the night sky.

~ Codex 101:3

Chapter 1

“They’re right on our tail!” announced Margus.

His announcement roused Oriannon Hightower of Nyssa from her fitful nap. Who could sleep in a tinny little transport shuttle, anyway? Especially not when it was taking her farther and farther away from the only world she had ever known.

“Who?” As she slipped up behind her friend in the co-pilot’s seat she did her best to keep her voice down, tried to let her Owling friend Wist sleep the hours away. Perhaps dreams—and a little time—would help smooth the jagged raw edges of the nightmare they’d just been through.

“There, see?” Margus pointed at his long-range scanner. But at first Oriannon couldn’t make out anything unusual. Just a swirling green globe of energy with them in the middle, turned this way and that to give a three-dimensional view of this parcel of space, now distant from the planet Corista, and yet still far distant from the Asylum waystation to which they were bound. Nothing unusual? Oriannon shook her head.

“I still don’t see anything,” she told him, and for a moment he paused. A red warning light blinked, then went out.

“Hmm. I thought for sure I saw something.” He bent closer, fiddled with the scale, and brought it in closer. In and out. Still nothing.

“Well, let me know,” she told him. “But don’t wake everybody else up.”

It would not help to disturb her father, not if he was going to recover from the beating he’d suffered back at the death camp. He had to rest, as well, and not be wakened by every random announcement from Margus Leek who, from the front of the shuttle, pretended he knew how to pilot this craft through space.

An hour ago: “Look, Oriannon, there’s Corista, disappearing behind us.” And had she ever seen their planet from that far away?

No, of course she hadn’t. Margus knew that without asking.

Thirty minutes ago: “Hey, Ori, remember that field of solar reflectors that almost fried us when we flew through it by accident? There it is!”

Yes, she remembered, though she wished she didn’t.

And then fifteen minutes ago: “Well, looks like we’re home-free, now, Ori. It’s been three hours and no Security ships have come after us so far.”

So far? First of all, she’d told him, ‘so far’ wasn’t exactly a huge encouragement, in their situation. And second of all, “home-free” was not the kind of expression she would have used, unless by that he meant that they were free of their home, and that didn’t sound very good at all. In fact it sounded as if he was saying they were homeless, which they technically were, since escaping from Corista.

But who wanted to be reminded of that fact? Sometimes she wished she could act as cool as Margus did, even when everything looked completely and absolutely terminal.

Besides that, Oriannon could think of no one she wanted less with them on this crazy voyage than Sola Minnik, former security advisor to the Ruling Elders of Corista, former dictator. The fiery woman who had deceived and then nearly killed her father and all the other six Elders. Well, in fact, had any of the others survived?

But the same woman now sat on the cold stainless floor in the corner of the shuttle’s main crew chambers, her face tucked between her knees, her shoulders stooped and defeated, alternately sleeping, shivering and (Oriannon thought) crying.

Oh, she was probably sorry, all right. Sorry they had caught up with her and destroyed the death camp, where hundreds and thousands of the Owling people had been imprisoned. After all the work she and her Security forces had put into setting it up, Sola would naturally be very sorry about that. At this point maybe she’d also be sorry they’d saved her life by pulling her up off the shuttle landing ramp at the last minute, while they were taking off from the chaos of the camp, with probes blowing up all around them. Certainly she would be very sorry the flash bomb had exploded in her face, blinding her.

Blind or not, though. Sola could apparently still cry. And now over the background hum of the shuttle Oriannon heard a soft sobbing from the once-powerful leader.

Strange how things had worked out. But now an insistent buzzer drew Oriannon’s attention back to the shuttle’s controls.

“There it is again! See it, this time?” Margus rested his finger at a tiny yellow blip on the screen, and she might not have noticed had he not pointed it out. But yes, there it was—something, or a couple of somethings. Margus tapped another button to increase magnification, and again. This time there was no mistaking.

“Three of them?” she whispered, looking over her shoulder to be sure no one else heard—especially not Sola.

“At least four.” Margus shook his head gravely as he focused in on the blips, still thousands of kilometers away but growing larger ever second. He tapped his finger on a navigation touch screen and spoke into a small microphone mounted in front of him, below the view window.


The screen blinked twice before the unwelcome answer came back at them in the familiar metallic female voice.

“Corista Security cruisers, four, class CS-x, third revision, configured to—”

“That’s enough,” said Margus. They could skip the technical description, already. It was enough to know who was chasing them, and that it wasn’t just some phantom of Margus’s imagination. “Specify time until interception.”

The voice command would understand exactly what he meant, just as clearly as Oriannon understood. In an instant, everything had changed. So how long did they have before this escape was all over, before they were recaptured and dragged back to Corista, to be executed as rebels?

How long before her father would be taken away and killed for what he had tried to do, as well?

Of course the metallic voice couldn’t say “I’m sorry, kids” or “I wish I could help,” nor did she want it to. She just wished someone could have said it. Margus repeated his question, tapped impatiently on the command touch screen.

“At present speed,” reported the nav system’s voice, “zero hours, thirty-one minutes, thirty-seven seconds.”

Margus looked at her with a question in his eyes—a question she knew she could not answer.

“What do we do, Ori?”

Oriannon’s heart fell to the faintly humming floor, where the constant thrum of ion boosters told her they were likely pushing along as fast as the little vessel would go. She looked over to where Margus had set the faintly glowing Pilot Stone, black and polished and guiding them—or so she had thought—toward a safe haven.


She reached over to touch it, felt its warmth flowing up her hand and arm, flooding her entire body with the far-off songs of another place and another time. Jesmet’s songs, from ancient times.

But not just the songs. When she touched it she felt its overwhelming sense of direction, almost a physical thing, as if she could know without a doubt the right direction to travel, like a spiritual GPS. She might have a hard time explaining the stone’s power, but there was no mistaking its pull. And despite the raw fear that had popped up on the nav screens, despite what she saw with her eyes and understood with her mind of the approaching mortal danger, she smiled.

At a time like this, she smiled.

“We keep going,” she finally answered, reluctant to let go of the Stone. But she had to go check on her father and Wist, especially her father. Because while Tavlin Hightower rested in the back room, she could not actually be sure he would wake. With one last sigh she turned away—only to come face-to-face with Sola Minnik.

“Oh!” Oriannon caught her breath in fright, still not used to seeing what Sola had become. The young woman’s eyebrows and eyelashes had been singed completely away, while her once full head of red hair had been reduced to ugly, twisted wisps here and there. In an instant she had gone from someone who had always prided herself on her well-kept good looks to a snarling, helpless apparition.

Worse yet, her face looked as if someone had blackened it with a blowtorch, while angry red blisters rose across her nose and cheekbones, framing sightless eyes still wet with rheumy, coagulated tears.

Of course, considering the flash bomb that had blown up in her face, perhaps she had escaped with comparatively minor injuries. It could have been worse. Before Oriannon could duck to the side, though, Sola blindly reached out and grabbed Oriannon by the collar of her blouse.

“I heard what’s going on over here!” hissed Sola. “They’re coming for me, aren’t they?”

“Zero hours, thirty minutes,” came the voice of the nav screen. “And—“

“Cancel!” Margus jabbed at the screen, but too late to change what it had already told them. Sola straightened out with a smile before she found Oriannon’s cheek with one hand and patted her roughly.

“That’s all I needed to know.” Her jaw tightened and her voice hardened. “So do you know what’s going to happen to you in two hours and thirty minutes? Do you know what’s going to happen to all of you?”

Oriannon tried to wriggle away but the injured woman’s grip tightened now on her shoulder, sharp claws digging through the fabric of Oriannon’s blouse and into the thin skin of her neck. The strength of Sola’s hands made her cringe, and she would have cried out in pain, but could not. Even so, Oriannon would not be drawn into the pit of Sola’s vengeance—not any more, and not the way she had once been.

“You should let us help you,” Oriannon finally managed. “At least let us put something on those sores.”

But that only set the woman off even more, and she shook her head violently.

“No, no, no! Just a few minutes, and it won’t matter for you, any more. And if you try to resist, or even think of holding me captive, I’ll have them destroy the entire ship.” She paused, then released her grip with a savage flip of her wrist. In the process her fingernail scratched Oriannon’s cheek, drawing blood. Sola Minnik, though, only laughed.

“You think I wouldn’t do that? Hmm, well maybe I don’t care, any more. Maybe everything’s changed, now. Maybe you’d like to find out how much it’s changed?”

Oriannon looked over to see Margus standing beside her, his fists clenched. He might have done something stupid, too, if she hadn’t held him back with a wordless shake of her head.

No, Margus. She mouthed the words. Sola stood off a step or two, a wicked smile playing at her lips.

“Go ahead, Mr. Leek.” She taunted him as if she could see his face turning red and his eyes widening with fury. Perhaps she could smell his anger. “Let’s see how much damage you can do to a poor old blind lady. You only have what, twenty-eight minutes, now? Let’s see how brave you are!”

She waited a moment for effect, then laughed again as she would have done when she was still in control of their home world. They watched as she turned slowly and held her hands out in front of her as she returned to her spot in the corner. With an almost uncanny instinct she found her way to the exact spot where she had been sitting just minutes before, crying. As she lowered herself back to the floor she smiled and muttered that this was “much better, now.”

Perhaps it was, with four Security vessels on a course to overtake them in…

“Zero hours, twenty-seven minutes.”

Margus couldn’t seem to shut off that horribly annoying voice, though he punched button after button on the touch screen. And now with Sola listening Oriannon no longer felt free to speak, so she glanced at the Pilot Stone and hoped Margus would understand.

“We stay on this course,” she whispered. “Right?”

Now Margus didn’t look so sure, as he frowned and shook his head.

“Look, that’s all very good and everything.” He focused on the 3-d display showing specks of Coristan Security vessels growing larger and larger. “But if I don’t figure out a away to take it to manual, we’re never going to escape. It may already be too late.”

“That’s right, Mr. Leek.” Sola called out from her spot on the floor. “It’s already too late. Why don’t you just leave it on your nice autopilot, there, and enjoy what little time you have left?”

“Shut up!” Margus yelled her direction, though Oriannon tried to hold him by the arm to quiet him down. “Why don’t you just shut up and mind your own business?”

“Oh, but that’s just it.” She returned a crooked smile in the direction of his heated voice. “This is my business. That’s exactly why we’re being pursued, and that’s why this little game is going to end in my favor. Because it’s my business, and it always was.”

By this time Wist had no doubt been awakened by all the noise. Now the short-statured Owling girl came stumbling forward, wiping the sleep from her eyes and looking from them to their unwelcome passenger with a puzzled expression.

“Is this your little Owling friend, Oriannon?” asked Sola. Naturally Oriannon had no intention of answering, but Sola probably expected that, as well. “I should say thank you for saving my life, back there on the planet. I did get a good look at both of you, before the explosion. But then, you’re probably already regretting what you did for me, aren’t you?”

“Oriannon?” Wist looked to her for help, but Oriannon didn’t know what to say as Sola went on with her tirade.

“In fact, by this time you’re probably thinking, I should have let just that monster drop off the plane, back when we had a chance. Isn’t that what you’re thinking, sweetheart? Well, perhaps you should have, but it appears to be a little late for that change of heart. Even if you dumped me now, you still can’t get away, and I imagine that must be a lovely feeling. Tell her how much time you have, Mr. Leek.”

This time Margus pressed his lips together and said nothing, though by now it was obvious to anyone with eyes that the four Coristan Security vessels were catching up, and fast. Probably even Wist, who was unfamiliar with such things, could see and understand. She took one look at the screen and her face fell, but she stood by the others for the next several minutes. If this escape was coming to an end, they would face it together. But then the ship lurched as a flash of light hit them like a bolt of lightning.

“Whoa!” Oriannon waved her hands for balance, nearly hitting Wist in the face. She caught a handhold and looked to Margus. “What was that?”

“I… I don’t know.” Margus shook his head, but everything looked the same as before. “That was weird. I thought I saw…”

His voice dropped off as he rechecked his instruments, but then shrugged and shook his head. Whatever he’d seen wasn’t there now, or never was.

So Oriannon looked again out the viewport just to be sure, but could make out nothing new except the distant stars—brilliant and piercing but all of them so many light years afar. Whatever had hit them—or whatever they had hit—was nowhere to be seen. Sola brushed herself off in the corner and faced them with that annoying look on her face.

“For a moment,” she said, “I thought my ships had caught up with us ahead of schedule.” The tone of her voice matched her expression. “Are you still learning how to pilot this ship, Mr. Leek?”

He glanced over at the Pilot Stone, which still glowed as it should. His nav screen still glowed steady, apparently as they should. He shook his head and didn’t answer her. Perhaps that was the only way to deal with Sola Minnik for now.

“You can ignore me all you want.” Once again she settled back down. “It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. Maybe I’ll just rattle on and listen to my own voice, while you try to pretend I’m not here.”

They would probably do that, Oriannon thought. Unfortunately, now they could not ignore the nav screen, where four large blips had nearly descended on their position.

“We’re going as fast as we can,” Margus told her in a soft voice, still working his controls. “But we just can’t keep ahead of them.”

Sola smiled to herself as they continued on, their engines humming steadily. But Sola didn’t need to remind them that this race, as their instruments told them, was already lost.

* * *

“We should be almost to Asylum 2 by now,” Margus broke the silence nearly a half-hour later. He pointed to a new dot on the nav screen, a green-colored oasis in the middle of empty space. “We’ll try and dock there as soon as we can.”

“Wonderful idea!” shouted Sola. “Hide on an Asylum station, as if they can’t find you there, too. That is, if we make it there before my people catch up. Which isn’t likely, is it, now?”

How did Sola know so much even being blind? Oriannon supposed she could count the minutes as well as anyone.

“Will we make it in time?” whispered Oriannon. She couldn’t tell from the nav screen. Margus shrugged and shook his head, not looking terribly hopeful. That meant, probably not. Finally Wist motioned with her eyes for Oriannon to follow her to the back room again, probably to get away from the acid tongue of Sola Minnik.

“What’s going to happen when they catch us?” Wist asked, as soon as they had stepped far enough away so that Sola could no longer hear them. That was when, not if. Oriannon swallowed hard, searching for the right words.

“We’re going to be okay,” she answered. “Jesmet’s not going to abandon us, now. No matter where we are. No matter what happens, good or bad.”

She thought she believed her own words. But even as she spoke, their small craft jolted as if they had glanced off a solid wall, throwing both girls off their feet and setting off multiple alarms. This was much more than the gentle bump they’d experienced earlier. Wist screamed as sparks showered down on them from a short circuit in an overhead control panel.

Oriannon could only hold on as the shuttle spun out of control.

Gold of Kings by Davis Bunn

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:

Gold of Kings

Howard Books (May 12, 2009)


Davis Bunn is the author of over nineteen national bestsellers, and his books have sold over six million copies in sixteen languages. The recipient of three Christy Awards, Bunn currently serves as writer-in-residence at Oxford University.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $24.00
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (May 12, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416556311
ISBN-13: 978-1416556312


The rain pelting Seventh Avenue tasted of diesel and big-city friction. Sean Syrrell stared out the limo’s open window and let the day weep for him.

Sean gripped his chest with one hand, trying to compress his heart back into shape. His granddaughter managed to make the end of the block only because her aunt supported her. They turned the corner without a backward glance. Not till they were lost from view did Sean roll up his window.

Storm’s survival demanded that she be cut loose. He had fired her because it was the only way he could protect her. Sean knew the enemy was closing in. He had felt the killer’s breath for days. Storm was his last remaining hope for achieving his lifelong dream, and establishing his


But the knowledge he had been right to fire her did little to ease the knife-edged pain that shredded his heart.

The driver asked, “Everything okay, Mr. Syrrell?”

Sean glanced at the young man behind the wheel. The driver was new, but the company was the only one he used ever since the danger had been revealed. If the enemy wanted a way to monitor his movements in New York, he’d handed it to them on a platter. “Why don’t you

go for a coffee or something. I’d like a moment.”

“No can do, sir. I leave the wheel, they pull my license.”

Sean stared blindly at the rain-streaked side window. He could only hope that one day Storm would understand, and tell Claudia, and the pair of them would forgive him.

Unless, of course, he was wrong and the threat did not exist.

But he wasn’t wrong.

“Mr. Syrrell?”

Sean opened his door and rose from the car. “Drop my bags off at the hotel. We’re done for the day.”

Sean passed the Steinway showroom’s main entrance, turned the corner, pressed the buzzer beside the painted steel elevator doors, and gave his name. A white-suited apprentice grinned a hello and led him downstairs. Sean greeted the technicians, most of whom he knew by

name. He chatted about recent acquisitions and listened as they spoke of their charges. The ladies in black. Always feminine. Always moody and temperamental. Always in need of a firm but gentle hand.

Among professional pianists, the Steinway showroom’s basement was a place of myth. The long room was clad in whitewashed concrete. Beneath exposed pipes and brutal fluorescent lights stood Steinway’s most valuable asset: their collection of concert pianos.

All but one were black. The exception had been finished in white as a personal favor to Billy Joel. Otherwise they looked identical. But each instrument was unique. The Steinway basement had been a place of pilgrimage for over a hundred years. Leonard Bernstein, Vladimir

Horowitz, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leon Fleisher, Elton John, Glenn Gould, Alfred Brendel, Mitsuko Uchida. They all came. An invitation to the Steinway basement meant entry to one of the world’s most exclusive musical circles.

Sean Syrrell had not been granted access because of his talent. As a pianist, he was mechanical. He did not play the keys so much as box with the music. He lacked the finesse required for greatness. But fifteen years ago, he had done Steinway a great favor. He had located and salvaged the grand that had graced the White Palace, summer home to the Russian czars.

After the Trotsky rebellion, the piano had vanished. For years the world believed that Stalin had placed it in his dacha, then in a drunken rage had chopped it up for firewood. But Sean had found it in a Krakow junk shop the year after the Berlin Wall fell, just one more bit of communist flotsam. He had smuggled it west, where Germany’s finest restorer had spent a year returning it to its original pristine state. It was now housed in the Steinway family’s private collection.

The basement was overseen by Steinway’s chief technician. He and an assistant were “juicing” the hammers of a new concert grand. Sean spent a few minutes listening and discussing the piano’s raw tones. Then he moved to his favorite. CD‑18 was more or less retired from service after 109 years of touring. Occasionally it was brought out as a favor to a special Steinway client. The last time had been for a voice-piano duet—Lang Lang and Pavarotti. For fifteen years, Van Cliburn had begged Steinway to sell him the instrument. Yet here it remained.

Sean seated himself and ran through a trio of exercises. His hands were too stubby for concert-quality play, his manner at the keys too brusque. Added to that were his failing ears, which had lost a great deal of their higher-range tonality. And his strength, which these days was

far more bluster than muscle. And his heart, which still thudded painfully from firing Storm.

This time, it took a great deal longer than usual to leave the world behind. He hovered, he drifted, yet he was not transported. The tragic elements of his unfolding fate held him down.

When peace finally entered his internal realm, Sean switched to an ├ętude by Chopin. It was a courtly dance, even when thumped out by his bricklayer’s hands. The instrument was bell-like, a radiant sound that caused even his antiquated frame to resonate.

Between the first and second movement, his playing transported him away from the realm of business and debt and his own multitude of failings. He knew others believed he harbored an old man’s fantasy of playing on the concert stage. But that was rubbish. He was here because twice each year, for a few treasured moments, an instrument brought him as close to divinity as Sean Syrrell would ever come. At least, so long as he was chained to this traumatic ordeal called life.

Sean detected a subtle shift in the chamber’s atmosphere. He was well aware of what it probably meant. He shut his eyes and turned to his favorite composer. Brahms was so very right for the moment, if indeed he was correct in thinking the moment had arrived.

Brahms above all composers had managed to form prayer into a series of notes. Yet Brahms had always been the hardest for Sean to play. Brahms required gentle eloquence. Normally Sean Syrrell played with all the gentleness of a drummer.

Today, however, Sean found himself able to perform the melody as it should be performed, as a supplicant with a lover’s heart.

Then Sean heard a different sound. A quiet hiss, accompanied by a puff of air on his cheek.

Sean opened his eyes in time to see a hand reflected in the piano’s mirrored surface, moving away from his face. It held a small crystal vial.

Sean’s cry of alarm was stifled by what felt like a hammer crashing into his chest. He doubled over the instrument, and his forehead slammed into the keyboard. But he heard none of it.

His entire being resonated with a single clarity of purpose, as strong as a funeral bell. He had been right all along.

Sean did not halt his playing. Even when his fingers slipped from the keys, still he played on.

His final thought was of Storm, which was only fitting. She was, after all, his one remaining earthbound hope.

He was carried along with notes that rose and rose until they joined in celestial perfection, transporting him into the realm he had prayed might find room for him. Even him.