Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review: "Dirty Little Angels" by Chris Tusa

Dirty Little Angels
Author: Chris Tusa
Publisher: Livingston Press (AL) (March 30, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-1604890303
Genre: Adult, Fiction, Southern Grit Lit

About the Book: (from publisher)

Set in the slums of New Orleans, among clusters of crack houses and abandoned buildings, Dirty Little Angels is the story of sixteen year old Hailey Trosclair. When the Trosclair family suffers a string of financial hardships and a miscarriage, Hailey finds herself looking to God to save her family. When her prayers go unanswered, Hailey puts her faith in Moses Watkins, a failed preacher and ex-con. Fascinated by Moses’s lopsided view of religion, Hailey, and her brother Cyrus, begin spending time down at an abandoned bank that Moses plans to convert into a drive-through church. Gradually, though, Moses’s twisted religious beliefs become increasingly more violent, and Hailey and Cyrus soon find themselves trapped in a world of danger and fear from which there may be no escape.

My Thoughts:

I had a hard time reading this book - not because of the quality of the writing, but because of storyline. The story centers around the poor and the broken: an alcoholic father that won't hold a job, a mother that suffers from depression, and two teens who try to survive with a broken down family that doesn't seem to care about them.

The harsh reality, broken dreams and lack of morals makes this a bleak read. It is gritty and heartbreaking, and to call it a good read doesn't really seem to fit. It is a captivating read, and no matter how much I wanted to abandon the book, I couldn't.

Parental note: Contains alcoholism, sex, abortion, murder, violence, language, drugs, and adultery.

About the Author:

Chris Tusa was born and raised in New Orleans. His work has appeared in Connecticut Review, Texas Review, Prairie Schooner, The New Delta Review, South Dakota Review, Southeast Review, Passages North, Spoon River, New York Quarterly, Louisiana Literature, Tar River, StorySouth, and others. He has studied under a number of notable writers, including Tim Gautreaux, Sidney Wade, and Debora Gregor. With the help of a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, he was able to complete his first chapbook of poetry, Inventing an End. His debut collection of poems, Haunted Bones, was published by Louisiana Literature Press in 2006. His debut novel, Dirty Little Angels, is currently agented and under consideration. He holds a B.A. in English, an M.A in English, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Florida. Aside from teaching in the English Department at LSU, he also acts as Managing Editor for Poetry Southeast.

To learn more about the author, you can visit his web page at: http://www.christophertusa.com

E-book was supplied by author for me to honestly review.

Monday, June 28, 2010

FIRST Wildcard Tour & Review: "Way Back in the Country Garden" by Kay Wheeler Moore

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:


Way Back in the Country Garden

Hannibal Books (May 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Jennifer Nelson, PR Specialist, Hannibal Books for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Author Kay Wheeler Moore has written and spoken widely on the subject of relationships and family life. She is the author of Way Back in the Country; When the Heart Soars Free, a book of Christian fiction; and Gathering the Missing Pieces in an Adopted Life, based on her Houston Chronicle newspaper series that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She has also been a newspaper city editor and a reporter for United Press International.



Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Hannibal Books (May 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1934749710
ISBN-13: 978-1934749715

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter 1: “We Were Rich”


The screen door to the farmhouse creaked open and then quickly slapped shut.


Without glancing up from her ironing board Grandma Harris knew the next sound would be that of feet pit-patting from the front porch into the living room and halting abruptly at her dining table.


Those feet, Grandma knew, could belong to any of several of her grandchildren, whose stopovers at her house were part of their regular home-from-school itinerary.


“Oh, yum, she’s got a fresh bowl full,” Grandma heard a high-pitched squeak emerge. That would be Mable, the youngest of Grandma’s daughter, Mattie, who lived across the pasture with her family.


“I was here first, Mable,” a slightly older voice cajoled. Frances, Grandma’s namesake, got irritated easily with her smaller sibling. “Don’t hog the crackers so I can have the first dip.”


“We’ve all gotta be quick before the others get here,” the oldest one, Bonnie, warned her younger two sisters. They glanced over their shoulders to see whether any of their cousins were hungrily making their way onto Grandma’s porch.


“Girls, I got plenty of tomato preserves fer ever’one—for you and yer cousins,” Grandma gently chided. She stepped from the kitchen to hug her granddaughters, who competed for the first taste of the thick, sweet treat that awaited them as an afternoon snack. “Take turns, now, so I won’t have t’ tell yer mama ya didn’t share politely.”


Grandma Harris had put out the new batch of tomato preserves earlier that day after Grandpa fetched several jars from the storm cellar which had housed them since the summer’s canning. Grandma’s long, hot days of putting up delightful red tomatoes from their garden had yielded a treasure trove of preserves Grandma could share throughout the fall and winter.


In mid-afternoon Grandma had opened the first jar and ladled its contents into a wide-rimmed, cutglass compote that stood on a gleaming, glass-stemmed pedestal in the center of her dining table. The cutglass glistened like diamonds as it reflected the sun’s light filtering through the room. Into a separate dish Grandma had set out some saltine crackers. On this particular afternoon her red-haired granddaughters—Bonnie, Frances, and Mable Miller—were the first snack-seekers.


No doubt they’d soon be followed by some of the youngsters of her other sons and daughters whose homes were also nearby.


Ultimately Grandma Harris would go on to begat 52 grandchildren in all, but she never ran out of treats for them or resourceful ways to prepare the many vegetables that she and Grandpa Harris grew in their everlastingly prolific garden. Every Sunday Grandma prepared an enormous, after-church dinner for all of her 11 children and their families who could attend.


Because their farmhouse was closest to Grandma’s, the “Three Red-Haired Miller Girls”, as many in their community of Brushy Mound knew them, hardly ever missed a Sunday—or an after-school afternoon—at Grandma’s house, where her good cooking always abounded.

* * * * * * * * * *


A century later the Harris farmhouse built on the rich, black soil of Delta County, TX, has long ago crumbled down. Grandma’s abundant garden has been plowed under with only a few derelict weeds to mark the spot where those sweet-ascandy tomatoes grew so bountifully. For more than 65 years grass has grown unbidden around the tombstone marked “Frances E. Harris”—the Miller girls’ beloved “Grandma”.


But down all the decades, the memory of Grandma’s delectable tomato preserves served in the sparkling, pedestaled compote would remain fresh in the mind of her namesake—little Frances, who was still recounting the tomato preserves story well into her 103rd year on this earth.


“We were rich,” Frances recalled to us nieces and nephews, who discreetly pumped her for just one more of her “olden-days” country tales before night would fall on her memory forever. This font of family lore was the last surviving member of that generation of our kin. At 102 years and 1 month of age Frances could still describe picking melons the size of basketballs, okra rows that were city blocks-long, and cornstalks that seemed to stand tall as skyscrapers.


Although farm families such as hers usually lacked financial means, the garden insured that no one would go hungry. Just before supper each night Mama faithfully sent Frances and her sisters out to see what was ready to be plucked from the vine and cooked up for that night’s meal.


“We had no idea we were poor,” Frances mused from her wheelchair, “because we always had food from the garden.”

* * * * * * * *


At the time Frances related her last tomato preserves story before her passing in May 2009, people everywhere were turning to backyard patches of earth again for the same reason the Miller girls and their mama and grandma did in the early part of the last century.


Economic woes in the United States and around the world have caused family incomes to plummet. Home-gardening has become a passionate new interest for people who have never planted a seed or worked a hoe. Even the wife of the U.S. President at the time, as an example for others, grew vegetables in her own White House garden. Heads of households can gaze on small stretches of garden dirt and comfort themselves in the same way Frances’ family did. After all, the Great Depression, which clouded the Miller Girls’ youth in rural northeast Texas, did not sting as much to those who could till the soil and cultivate its yield. With food from the garden, they could always feed their families and feel “rich”, no matter how lean the times or how thin the pocketbook.


My earlier cookbook, Way Back in the Country, emphasized that food, the recipes for how to prepare it, and the stories of people who cooked them are all interwoven into the fabric of family life. Way Back in the Country encouraged families to preserve not just their legendary recipes but the lore of the loved ones—such as the indomitable Grandma Harris—who made them popular. Through tales of the Red-Haired Miller Girls—my mother, Mable, and her two sisters, Frances and Bonnie—and six generations of their farm kin and the recipes that have been regulars at family gatherings for decades, Way Back in the Country inspired others to get their tape-recorders out and investigate why “Great-Aunt Gertie” always brought lemon pound cake whenever their extended families dined.


With gardening surging in popularity once more, the time seems right to revisit the Miller-Harris legends and recipe chests—this time to celebrate the role that food from one’s own soil has always played in American homes and how, in the Tight Times of this Great Recession, it makes us feel “rich” with hope and comfort afresh. Way Back in the Country Garden again will intertwine six generations of my family’s anecdotes with cooking instructions that will probably remind you of some of your own family favorites.


So prepare to laugh, cry, and traipse down memory lane once again with the Red-Haired Miller Girls and their progeny—through yarns my family told—yarns that I didn’t always witness firsthand but can try to recreate as I can envision them happening in my mind’s eye. May you soon be preserving some country gardening tales of your own and savoring the memories and tastes of yesterday.


Copyright © 2010

All rights reserved under International Copyright Law. Contents may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form without the express written consent of the publisher.



My Thoughts:

I absolutely love this book! It contains so many fun and well told stories of family in East Texas with recipes that go with each story. The way the stories are told, makes me think of how I used to set among the elders at our family gatherings and listen to them tell their tales - some funny, some informative, but all heartwarming and entertaining.

More than two-thirds of the book is composed of a story with a recipe. The author also included a family tree and photo album filled with pages of family photographs. The last part of the book contains many family recipes.

I enjoyed the tales of the Miller girls and the Harris family, and the recipes I tried were not only delicious, but some were surprisingly similar to those that my own family made.

This is the second book in Kay Wheeler Moore's series. "Way Back in the Country" is the first, and must find its way into my collection. Kay has not only given her family a treasure with the recording of her family stories and recipes, but she has also blessed the rest of us.

"Way Back in the Country Garden" is a must for any kitchen library or anyone interested in American history. I highly recommend it!


This book was provided by FIRST for me to honestly review.

Friday, June 25, 2010

FIRST Wildcard Tour: "Victory Song" by Jeri Doner

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:


Three Paths Publishing; 1st edition (May 7, 2007)

***Special thanks to Ruth Doner O'Neil for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Jeri Doner was an active member of the North-South-Skirmish-Association for over twenty years. This sparked her interest in the 149th NYVI of the Civil War. She is the mother of four children and has seven grandchildren. She was an avid seamstress often making reproduction gowns and uniforms from the Civil War time period. Her love of writing and history led to the novel Victory Song.

Visit the publisher's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 284 pages
Publisher: Three Paths Publishing; 1st edition (May 7, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0978933737
ISBN-13: 978-0978933739

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


It was not a good time to be leaving that was certain. His mother said so often enough. She never missed a chance to remind him of the harvest, that it was a monumental task at best. It would be almost too much for one aging farmer and a sixteen-year-old boy. He half listened. There was always too much work, and that was not going to change. He knew his father was not getting any younger, and his brother, Peter, was not doing well in school. He knew that his mother’s work had increased since his big sister, Lydia, had married and moved to her husband’s home.

Andy had always been the bright one, the strong one, and the reliable one. He was tired of it. He had listened eagerly to the army recruiters, and read all the patriotic articles in the newspapers. They had promised much in the way of adventure, glory, and victory. They had called for the people to sacrifice for the good of the country. While the war might seem remote and irrelevant to the rest of the Richardson family, it was very real to Andy. He wanted a part in it. He had heard all the colorful words until they circled continually in his mind. Adventure. Glory. Victory. Sacrifice. He admitted only to himself that the most prominent and appealing word of all was none of those. It was the word that had become the theme of his existence, his prayer and constant desire. Escape.

He did not feel guilty about leaving the milking chores on this last day of boyhood. His father did not approve of his enlisting in the army, but he had given permission for him to have this time for himself. If they could get by without him tomorrow, they could just as easily begin managing today, the old man had said. It was his stern way of expressing that, though he disapproved, he was trying to understand.

Andy wandered along the windbreak at the edge of a field, enjoying for the last time the peacefulness of the land, which had been his lifelong home. He let the slope of the ground carry him down toward the brook where the cattle were watered. Many a summer day had been spent fishing in that stream. Through a tangle of brush, he located the well-worn path, which led to the swimming hole. A stout rope was still suspended from an overhanging branch. It had been the most important thing in his world the year he and his best friend, Eddie, had hung it there. The water was still now, for Eddie had moved away to distant Auburn, and Andy had grown up. Not many splashes were heard in the old swimming hole these days. This summer of 1862 had been an uncommonly dry one, and the water level was low.

Childhood was a thing of the past, Andy told himself. Only one day separated him from manhood and a life of his own. In the morning he was leaving for Syracuse to be mustered into the 149th New York Infantry Regiment, and the farm boy life would be over. For now he could afford to stop resenting the confines of the farm, the dullness of life here, and the everlasting chores. He could simply meander about enjoying his surroundings.

There were things to enjoy here. September in central New York was a brightly busy time. The heat of summer was, for the most part, past. Though there was still an occasional hot day or two, the air more often than not held a chill that warned of winter’s inevitable approach. The southwest breeze blew about industrious honeybees as they salvaged the last useful specks from brilliant goldenrod blossoms. Gray squirrels that had been summer-sleek were now fall-fluffy, romping with their abundance of hickory nuts and black walnuts. The stately maples had not yet reached their peak of color, but lacy sumac fairly blazed from every neglected hedgerow and patch of wasteland. Fruit trees were heavy with spring promises kept. Pale Queen-Anne’s lace and blue chicory cushioned the fall of ripening apples, pears, and plums. The hills lay in gentle folds, no longer green, but gold and brown awaiting the scythe.

Andy had circled back toward the house, and could see a horse saddled and hitched to the fence in the side yard. He felt a sudden excitement upon recognizing it as his Aunt Jen’s. She was one of the few people he would miss. As he neared the door, he mentally braced himself, anticipating that because of Aunt Jen’s presence he was about to walk into a roomful of tension.

“He’s leaving, Callie, and there’s nothing more to be done about it. You’ll have to face the fact.” The voice was raspy with age, edged with impatience.

Callie Richardson looked up from the pot of apple butter she had been stirring, and eyed her sister-in-law across the steamy summer kitchen. “I’m trying to make the most of this, Jen, and I don’t need you to tell me what I already know. I just can’t feel the way you do about it. I think he’s making a big mistake.”

“Don’t you read the papers, girl?” Jen asked. “There’s a war going on in this country. The worst kind of a war. Tearing the country apart. And your son is going for a soldier in Mr. Lincoln’s army. Can’t you be proud of him?”

“I am. In my own way. But he’s needed here at home. He never gave that a thought when he signed up.”

“Pete is sixteen. It’s time he did his share around here. Andy did at that age.”

“Pete is not Andy,” the mother replied. “He needs more time with his school work. He tries his best, but he can’t keep up like Andy did.”

“That’s not Andy’s fault,” Jen pointed out. “He’d be leaving home one of these days, no matter what. If it weren’t for the war it would be for something else. You know I’m right, Callie.”

Callie’s brow was moist, and so were her eyes. She wiped her face on her apron. “I know, Jen. But you really can’t understand. He’s not your son.”

“He’s my brother’s. And since I never had a family of my own, he’s as close to being mine as anyone can be. It’s not a secret Andy was always my favorite. I’ll miss him something awful, but I’d never try to keep him from going. He’s nineteen. He’s not a child.”

Callie decided the apple butter had cooked long enough, and lifted the heavy kettle from the stove. She moved to the wooden table in the middle of the room and set it down a little harder than necessary. “I suppose I wouldn’t mind so much if he just wasn’t going with that Henry Birch. That boy worries me.”

“Oh, they’ll be all right!” Jen tried to assure her. “I thought you liked Mrs. Birch. Don’t they go to your church?”

“They did years ago. They’ve been to all different churches since then. Never satisfied. I don’t see Henry’s mother any more. But hear plenty about him. He’s a wild one. I don’t like Andy with him.”

“It’s time you started trusting Andy. He’s a grown man, and your job of raising him is over. You’ve given him a proper Christian upbringing, and that’s all you can do. Besides, I hear that Captain Townsend that was recruiting in Elbridge was some kind of a preacher in civilian life. He was a chaplain in the cavalry before he resigned to raise a company for the Fourth Onondagas. That’s whose company they’ll be in, isn’t it?”

“Yes…that gives me some comfort,” Callie admitted. “But I still worry that he’ll turn out like that good-for-nothing Henry.”

“Or like me?” Jen asked.

Callie let the exasperation show on her face. Something was wrong here. She was a Godly woman, but it was Jen’s total honesty that made her the most uncomfortable. It was hard enough making polite conversation after all the differences they had suffered over the years. She did not know how to respond to this. Jen was the undisputed black sheep of the Richardson family, having rejected the strict moral standards of the rest of the clan. She was a painfully honest woman, and occasionally used some colorful language to tell her relatives what she thought of the way they pressured their children to conform. She was a true non-conformist, dressing as she pleased, coming and going bareheaded in the streets at all hours. She commonly hung laundry out on Sunday, read scandalous novels, and it was said she used alcohol to relieve a chronic cough. Callie wondered once or twice if the cough could have been the result of the use of tobacco, but that seemed rather outrageous, even for Jen. It was true she found it easy to disapprove of the old woman, and the more she gave voice to her disapproval, the more Andy seemed to admire his aunt. Perhaps he would turn out like her, a religious agnostic and a social outcast. There was nothing wrong with wanting more for him than that.

Before Callie had a chance to think of anything to say, the front door banged and loud footsteps came through the house toward the summer kitchen.

“What’s cooking?” Andy’s voice called. “It smells great in here!”

Both mother and aunt turned toward the doorway as he entered. His gray-green eyes blinked as he tried to hurry the adjustment from outdoor sunlight to the dimness of the room.

“Aunt Jen! Glad you came over,” he said, looking with satisfaction at the old woman sitting near the table. “I figured on coming over to your place tonight to say good-bye.”

“You’re a fine one!” Jen scolded playfully. “I come visiting and you’re off someplace!”

“I just went for a walk in the woods and down by the old swimming hole. Wanted to see it once more before I leave. Water sure is low this year.” Having discovered the apple butter, he cut a generous slice of bread from a loaf on the sideboard and sat down on the edge of the table to dip it into the steaming kettle.

“Get out of there!” Callie chided, swatting him on the thigh with a dishtowel to remove him from the table. “You know better than that!”

“How come you’re making this stuff when it’s so hot out?” He asked with his mouth full. “Apples ‘ll keep till cold weather.”

“Because it’s your favorite, and what I made last year is all gone,” the mother replied.

“Mom, you didn’t have to do that.” He tried to sound grateful, but suspected that she was too busy or too tired to notice.

“When you were gone so long I thought you walked into Canton to good-bye to somebody,” she said.

“I said all my farewells Sunday,” he told her. “And it’s Memphis, not Canton.”

It seemed he was forever correcting her about that. The nearest village was always called Canton, short for Canal Town, and that word best described the little settlement. A year ago, for some obscure reason, the name had been changed to Memphis. Andy had no trouble recalling the new name, and thought his parents should have been able to keep it in mind, too coming as it did from the Bible. He would never understand how older people could bring to mind lengthy passages from their favorite book, quoting chapter and verse without error, and not recall that they were members of the First Baptist Church of Memphis, not Canton. The inconsistency baffled him; if that was a characteristic of old age, he hoped never to reach it.

The door banged again, and a familiar voice called, “Mom, we’re finally here. Where do you want the pies?”

“I’ll take care of them,” Andy offered, bounding into the dining room where his sister Lydia was unpacking her contribution to dinner.

“Not a chance, little brother,” she said. “Somebody else might like a taste.”

It was a joke they shared, her calling him a little brother, for she said it looking up into his face as she had been doing for years. Not all Richardsons were tall; when it came to height, Lydia favored Callie, but Andy had inherited all his father’s considerable size and more. While many youngsters experienced a winter of illness sometime during their growing years resulting in a slowed growth rate, Andy had always enjoyed excellent health and an unimpaired appetite for the abundance of good food with which the family had always been blessed. Besides his long, muscular arms and legs, he received from his father a distinctive face, which was easily recognizable in the locality as belonging to a Richardson. The forehead was broad and high, the nose a bit longer than most would consider becoming. The cheekbones were prominent and deeply tanned from exposure to sun and wind. The mouth was the most distinctive feature of all, and the one Andy liked the least. It had a tendency to turn down at the corners, producing a look of immovable sternness on his father’s face. On Aunt Jen the look was one of impudence. On Lydia it was just plain pouty. Andy, when he thought of it, smiled a lot in hopes that the effort would make him look less like the rest of the family.

Callie came in from the summer kitchen to greet her only daughter. The oldest of the three children, Lydia had married the son of a neighboring farmer less than a year ago. She was still much in evidence about the homestead, and especially on important occasions like today.

“Where’s Don?” Callie asked, referring to Lydia’s husband.

“He went down to the barn to meet Daddy and Pete,” the girl explained. “I hope they finish milking soon. I’m starved. Too bad SOME people don’t see fit to help with the chores any more.” With that she nudged Andy in the ribs.

“Before you barged in I was trying to have a nice visit with Aunt Jen.” He said.

Lydia made a face at the mention of the aunt, but dutifully went to the doorway and called, “Hello, Aunt Jen. I hope you’re staying for supper.”

The old woman got to her feet and replied, “No, I got my own food at home. Just came over to see Andy before he goes off tomorrow. Now if you’ll walk me out to my horse, boy, I’ll be on my way and out from under foot.”

They all politely tried to convince her to stay, but she would not be persuaded. Callie and Lydia did not seem overly disappointed when she insisted upon leaving, but Andy was reluctant to walk out into the yard with her.

“I hoped I’d get to see you in your uniform,” Aunt Jen said when they were outside and the commotion left behind.

“We have to go to Syracuse to get all our stuff issued. I don’t know how quick the government can supply us. You’ll have to come to the camp at the fairgrounds to see us in uniform.”

“I ain’t traipsing all the way to Syracuse!” Aunt Jen informed him. “You send me a picture.”

“I’ll try. But I won’t be gone forever. I’ll be over to see you when I get back, and that’s a promise.”

She did not respond except to shake her head sadly. “It won’t be the same here with you gone.”

Andy nodded. “I can’t say I’ll miss everything here, but I sure will miss you, Aunt Jen.”

They had been close, and he thought he knew her as well as anyone alive, but he was surprised when she did something uncharacteristic. She stretched to hug and kiss him. When he lifted her onto her horse she did something else he did not expect. She wept.

“Aunt Jen, I only enlisted for three years. And if we get the Rebels licked before then, I can come back earlier. Please don’t act as if it’s the end of everything.”

She wiped her eyes and cleared her throat as if to speak, but said nothing. She had the unladylike habit of riding astride, and had designed her skirts to accommodate the man’s saddle she used. Once sure of her seat, she slapped the horse on the withers and cantered off down the road.

Andy watched for a while after the dust settled. After a few moments he looked out across the field to see his father, Pete, and Don leaving the barn. They were weary, but walked quickly toward the house, for supper would soon be ready. Andy thought of the same thing, but waited for them to catch up to him so that they could all enter together.

The sun was beginning to fade when he turned back to the old house. It was painted barn red, and looked dark in the shadows. It sat on a hillside, protected from the ferocity of the north wind, its front yard sloping down toward the road, which ran south of it. Light spilled from the kitchen window, along with mingled smells of roasting beef, fresh bread, and the apple butter. Behind the house the kitchen garden looked well used, offering the last of its beans and squash. The corn stalks were brown and dry, holding one another erect against the autumn winds. His eyes followed the road until it twisted out of sight among surrounding maples. It was edged by a split rail fence he had built with his father. Beyond that lay a field newly cultivated this year. Wrestling the stubborn sumac out of the ground had been an ordeal he would not soon forget. He came up to the house and pumped some fresh water up from the well he had helped to dig and keep clean. It was good water, and had proved sufficient for their needs. He took a last look around the place and sighed. While his parents took pride in the home and saw in it a testimony to achievement, Andy saw only backbreaking work—work that would never be done. It was not the sort of life he wanted for himself, and he was excited to think that his escape was only a day in the future.


My Thoughts:

"Victory Song" is a wonderfully researched historical novel that brings the Civil War to life. It focuses on the thoughts and feelings of a group of enlisted boys, dealing with their hopes, prejudices and fears.

The main character, Andy Richardson, enlists in the military (against his parents' wishes) to get away from the farm. Andy leaves as a selfish and self-centered teen and over the next few years, he grown into a man that has grown physically, mentally and spiritually.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the way that Mrs. Doner pulls the reader into the story. She focuses on the personal side of war, and creates a characters that will stay with you long after you put the book down.

This is a fantastic book that would work well with the older home school student as well as anyone that is interested in historical fiction.

I have received a copy of this ebook through FIRST for me to honestly review.

Virtual Book Tour & Review: "My Dog Tim" by Garasamo Maccagnone


Yesterday, we were entertained with the Author Spotlight guest post by Garasamo Maccagnone. Mr. Maccagnone is the author of the literary anthology "My Dog Tim and Other Stories". Today, for the second day of the tour, you will find my thoughts on his new book.

My Dog Tim and Other Stories
Author: Garasamo Maccagnone
Publisher: Outskirts Press
ISBN: 9781432755621
Genre: Adult, Fictional short stories

About the book:

My Dog Tim and Other Stories is an anthology of Garasamo Maccagnone’s finest works. The anchor of this collection is “St. John of the Midfield”. With newly added scenes, “St. John of the Midfield” is an almost mystical story of Bobo Stoikov, one of the world’s greatest soccer players, who escapes death in communist Bulgaria to find the American Dream. Due to severe injury during Bobo’s escape, he is unable to play once he arrives in America. Though he finds peace and happiness in simply coaching soccer to youth travel teams, his eccentric ways of teaching and his success lead to a hate-filled rivalry, and eventually, his death.

Other stories in the anthology include:

1. White Chocolate
2. Girl Dream
3. The Note Giver
4. Church Dream
5. White Fang
6. My Dog Tim
7. Goalie Boy
8. Last Dream






My Thoughts:

This book is not intended for children or adolescents, and Mr. Maccagnone states this on his Author's Note page in the beginning of the book. I was surprised at that, as I had assumed by the title and photo that this was an anthology of dog and child oriented stories.

"My Dog Tim" is a well written anthology. The stories were well written, and at times felt almost too real to be fiction. I grew up in a home where many members of the family were from the "old world" and Mr. Maccagnone captures that essence in those characters throughout his writings. Sometimes his characters were so real, they made me uncomfortable - especially when it came to the temperaments of the males.

These stories would definitely appeal to the male reader, since many are based on sports with the main character being male. They are gritty and carry a realistic and sometimes harsh tone. They aren't sugar-coated and contain offensive language, violence and tough lessons. Truly a book that would appeal to the male audience. At the same time,  these stories also appealed to me, and for the same reasons. The realistic factor was probably the largest reason. Mr. Maccagnone must have known the same people I grew up with, as I swear there were times that I could pick out an aunt, uncle or a friend of the family. I could actually hear the tones of voices and the way things were said. My favorites from the whole anthology were "My Dog Tim" (about a boy and his dog) and "White Fang" (a  humorous story about two brothers) with “St. John of the Midfield” coming in closely behind.

Parental note: This book contains offensive language, violence, sex, adultery, abuse, bigotry and racism.

About the Author

Garasamo Maccagnone studied creative writing and literature under noted American writers Sam Astrachan and Stuart Dybek at Wayne State University and Western Michigan University. A college baseball player as well, Maccagnone met his wife Vicki as a junior at WMU. The following year, after injuring his throwing arm, Maccagnone left school and his baseball ambitions to marry Vicki. After a two year stint at both W.B. Doner and BBDO advertising agencies, Maccagnone left the industry to apply his knowledge of marketing in a new venture in an up-and-coming industry. Maccagnone created a company called, “Crate and Fly,” and turned it from a store front in 1984 to a world-wide multi-million dollar shipping corporation by 1994.

In the mid 90’s Maccagnone decided to fulfill the promise of his writing career, by first penning the children’s book, The Suburban Dragon and then following up with a collection of short stories and poetry entitled, The Affliction of Dreams. His literary novel, St. John of the Midfield was published in 2007, followed by his For the Love of St. Nick, which was released in 2008. Maccagnone expanded the original version of For the Love of St. Nick and had the book illustrated for a new release in June 2009. My Dog Tim and Other Stories is a literary anthology of the author’s best work.

Garasamo “Gary” Maccagnone lives today in Shelby Township, Michigan, with his wife Vicki and three children. At this time, he is researching the location for his second novel, tentatively titled, He Lay Low.

You can visit Gary online at www.garasamomaccagnone.com

Book was supplied by Pump Up Your Book for me honestly review.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Virtual Book Tour Author Spotlight: Garasamo Maccagnone


Today's Author Spotlight guest post is by Garasamo Maccagnone, author of the literary anthology "My Dog Tim and Other Stories". Please make sure to stop back tomorrow as we continue the Virtual Book Tour with Mr. Maccagnone and a review of his new book.

Shira by Garasamo Maccagnone

My daughter turned sixteen today. Back when she was nine, she cajoled me into getting her a dog. Since I have bad allergies, for the years we raised her older brothers, we were petless.  The boys never really cared much for a dog. With Sophie, it became a relentless pursuit.

I’m not the first father to cave into a little girl’s tears and pleas. It wasn’t long after her tenth birthday that we brought home a puppy of a Japanese breed called Shiba Inu. Sophie named the dog Shira and it wasn’t long before the entire family, including Dad, fell in love with her.

The breeder we purchased the puppy from told us that the particular breed we had chosen would always have to be on a leash. The dogs are incapable of being trained to stay in a yard or any open area. If they’re not on a leash, and they see daylight, they bolt for freedom. Not even an invisible fence can set them back.

In six years, the dog has snuck out five times. In each case, my daughter panics while our entire family runs through the neighborhood looking for Shira. No matter how obedient she is at home, when she sees you chasing her, she completely ignores you and dashes off. What’s terrifying, is that in a couple cases, she ran across the main road that connects to our suburb. Only fate allowed her to survive. Two years ago, when she escaped, the young female driver had to brake and skid to avoid her. Once she stopped, she opened her car door and Shira jumped in the car and started licking the young lady’s face as she sat on her lap.

Just the other day, as I was writing in my den, something caught my eye as I swiveled to use the fax machine. There, in the window, I saw Shira, unleashed, squatting in our front yard. “Oh, crap,” I thought. When I shouted that Shira was outside my daughter jumped from the couch while my boys came racing downstairs prepared for the chase. When Shira saw us flying out the front door, she jammed it into high gear and raced off, easily getting two homes in front of us. As usual, my heart dropped, thinking the worst could happen, which of course would devastate my daughter.

Fortunately, a realtor, who was ready to show a home ten doors down, opened his car door. With only a second to see Shira running toward him, the man braced himself for her leap to his lap. Just like the last incident, Shira wasted no time in acting like he was her best friend as she spent a good thirty seconds or so washing the realtor’s face with her loving licks. Thank goodness he was another dog lover!

We now have Shira on a double leash. At fifty-one, I’m just too old to chase her anymore. 
                  
Garasamo Maccagnone studied creative writing and literature under noted American writers Sam Astrachan and Stuart Dybek at Wayne State University and Western Michigan University. A college baseball player as well, Maccagnone met his wife Vicki as a junior at WMU. The following year, after injuring his throwing arm, Maccagnone left school and his baseball ambitions to marry Vicki. After a two year stint at both W.B. Doner and BBDO advertising agencies, Maccagnone left the industry to apply his knowledge of marketing in a new venture in an up-and-coming industry. Maccagnone created a company called, “Crate and Fly,” and turned it from a store front in 1984 to a world-wide multi-million dollar shipping corporation by 1994.

In the mid 90’s Maccagnone decided to fulfill the promise of his writing career, by first penning the children’s book, The Suburban Dragon and then following up with a collection of short stories and poetry entitled, The Affliction of Dreams. His literary novel, St. John of the Midfield was published in 2007, followed by his For the Love of St. Nick, which was released in 2008. Maccagnone expanded the original version of For the Love of St. Nick and had the book illustrated for a new release in June 2009. My Dog Tim and Other Stories is a literary anthology of the author’s best work.

Garasamo “Gary” Maccagnone lives today in Shelby Township, Michigan, with his wife Vicki and three children. At this time, he is researching the location for his second novel, tentatively titled, He Lay Low.

You can visit Gary online at www.garasamomaccagnone.com

Virtual Book Tour: "Paul is Undead" by Alan Goldsher

Paul is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion
Author: Alan Goldsher
Publisher: Gallery Books
ISBN: 9781439177921
Genre: Fiction, humor, paranormal

Book Description (from publisher)

"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, IT'S TIME TO REALLY MEET THE BEATLES.


For John Lennon, a young, idealistic zombie guitarist with dreams of global domination, Liverpool seems the ideal place to form a band that could take over the world. In an inspired act, Lennon kills and reanimates local rocker Paul McCartney, kicking off an unstoppable partnership. With the addition of newly zombified guitarist George Harrison and drummer/Seventh Level Ninja Lord Ringo Starr, the Beatles soon cut a swath of bloody good music and bloody violent mayhem across Europe, America, and the entire planet.


In this searing oral history, discover how the Fab Four climbed to the Toppermost of the Poppermost while stealing the hearts, ears, and brains of smitten teenage girls. Learn the tale behind a spiritual journey that resulted in the dismemberment of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Marvel at the seemingly indestructible quartet’s survival of a fierce attack by Eighth Level Ninja Lord Yoko Ono. And find out how the boys escaped eternal death at the hands of England’s greatest zombie hunter, Mick Jagger.


Through all this, one mystery remains: Can the Beatles sublimate their hunger for gray matter, remain on top of the charts, and stay together for all eternity? After all, three of the Fab Four are zombies, and zombies live forever. . . ."








My Thoughts:

I enjoy somewhat off-color humor, so I jumped at the chance to read this book. I was prepared to snuggle down with a fun story about zombie Beatles, but was disappointed. This book is done in an interview style, between a writer and each of the Beatles as well as other important people involved in the Beatles lives.

To be honest, I just couldn't "get into" the story. I didn't care for the interview style of writing. Why?  I'm one that will skim over interviews as I find most of them boring. That was my downfall as I want to curl up with a flowing story with setting, plot, descriptive scenes and characters. This was more like a magazine type interview including the bold names with their comments after.

The content was humorous and if one loves zombie based stories or the Beatles, you will probably really enjoy "Paul is Undead". There are definite chuckles and the illustrations are gross and giggle worthy. The book has "blood spatters" throughout and even includes some "news clips".

Parental note: Contains offensive language and light sexual content.

About the Author:

Novelist/ghostwriter/journalist Alan Goldsher is the author of the forthcoming Beatles/horror/humor mash-up Paul is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion (Gallery Books, June 22, 2010), as well as Hard Bop Academy: The Sidemen of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Modest Mouse: A Pretty Good Read, and the novel Jam. Midnight Movie, the novel he co-wrote with director Tobe Hooper ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre") will be published in 2011. Written as A.M. Goldsher, his chicklit novels The True Naomi Story, Reality Check, and Today's Special were released in the U.K. and Marabout in France in 2008, with No Ordinary Girl to come in 2011.

As a ghostwriter, Alan has collaborated on projects with comedians Bernie Mac and Fred Willard; actor Robert Englund, Ironman triathlete Sarah Reinertsen, and "American Idol" contestant Sanjaya Malakar, among other notable celebrities and public figures.

Alan's sportswriting has been seen in ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, NBA.com, and ChicagoBulls.com, and he reviews books for Kirkus.

During his 10-plus years as a professional bassist, Goldsher recorded with Janet Jackson, Cypress Hill, and Naughty by Nature; toured the world with Digable Planets; and performed at the 1994 Grammy Awards.

Alan lives and writes in Chicago.

Book was supplied by the publisher for me to honestly review.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book Review: "The Last Queen" by C. W. Gortner




The Last Queen
Author: C. W. Gortner
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 9780345501851
Genre: Fiction, Historical fiction

About the Book (from publisher):

In this stunning novel, C. W. Gortner brings to life Juana of Castile, the third child of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand of Spain, who would become the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit her country’s throne. Along the way, Gortner takes the reader from the somber majesty of Spain to the glittering and lethal courts of Flanders, France, and Tudor England.

Born amid her parents’ ruthless struggle to unify and strengthen their kingdom, Juana, at the age of sixteen, is sent to wed Philip, heir to the Habsburg Empire. Juana finds unexpected love and passion with her dashing young husband, and at first she is content with her children and her married life. But when tragedy strikes and she becomes heir to the Spanish throne, Juana finds herself plunged into a battle for power against her husband that grows to involve the major monarchs of Europe. Besieged by foes on all sides, Juana vows to secure her crown and save Spain from ruin, even if it costs her everything.






My Thoughts:

It takes a special author to bring a character to life - especially a famous figure from the past. C. W. Gortner is one of those gifted authors. From the first page, Juana of Castile comes to life and holds you captive as she reveals her life to the reader.

I must confess, I've never really known anything about Juana of Castile. By the time I had finished this novel, I felt like I knew so much about both the woman and the land. Mr. Gortner's descriptions made me feel like I was there, like I could feel the air and breathe the scents and feel the wind on my face. He also made Juana so real that he caused many feelings from anger and frustration to joy to sadness.What an amazing woman she was!

Like "The Confessions of Catherine de Medici", I found "The Last Queen" to be captivating and impossible to put down. Mr. Gortner has quickly become one of my favorite authors. His uncanny ability to climb into his character's head is astounding and leaves the reader both breathless and unable to forget the characters long after the book is finished.

I highly recommend this book (as well as "The Confessions of Catherine de Medici")!!!!

About the Author:

C. W. Gortner, half-Spanish by birth, holds an M.F.A. in writing, with an emphasis on historical studies, from the New College of California and has taught university courses on women of power in the Renaissance. He was raised in Málaga, Spain, and now lives in California.

If you'd like to learn more about Mr. Gortner, you can visit his website at: http://www.cwgortner.com/. He can also be found on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/christopher.w.gortner


"The Last Queen" was sent to me by the author for me to honestly review.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book Tour & Review: "The Confessions of Catherine de Medici" by C. W. Gortner

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici


Today, I'm very pleased to be able to participate in this tour featuring C.W. Gortner, author of the historical novel, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici.

C.W. GortnerAbout C.W. Gortner


C. W. Gortner, half-Spanish by birth, holds an M.F.A. in writing, with an emphasis on historical studies, from the New College of California and has taught university courses on women of power in the Renaissance. He was raised in Málaga, Spain, and now lives in California.

Acclaimed for his insight into his characters, he travels extensively to research his books. He has slept in a medieval Spanish castle, danced in a Tudor great hall, and explored library archives all over Europe. His debut historical novel The Last Queen gained international praise and has been translated into eight languages to date. His new novel, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, will be published on May 25, 2010. He is currently at work on The Princess Isabella, his third historical novel, and The Secret Lion, the first book in his Tudor thriller series,The Spymaster Chronicles. You can visit C. W. Gortner’s website at http://cwgortner.com/.

The Confessions

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici
Author: C. W. Gortner
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN: 9780345501868
Genre: Historical Fiction

About The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

"The truth is, none of us are innocent. We all have sins to confess."

So reveals Catherine de Medici in this brilliantly imagined novel about one of history’s most powerful and controversial women. To some she was the ruthless queen who led France into an era of savage violence. To others she was the passionate savior of the French monarchy. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner brings Catherine to life in her own voice, allowing us to enter into the intimate world of a woman whose determination to protect her family’s throne and realm plunged her into a lethal struggle for power.

The last legitimate descendant of the illustrious Medici line, Catherine suffers the expulsion of her family from her native Florence and narrowly escapes death at the hands of an enraged mob. While still a teenager, she is betrothed to Henri, son of François I of France, and sent from Italy to an unfamiliar realm where she is overshadowed and humiliated by her husband’s lifelong mistress. Ever resilient, Catherine strives to create a role for herself through her patronage of the famous clairvoyant Nostradamus and her own innate gift as a seer. But in her fortieth year, Catherine is widowed, left alone with six young children as regent of a kingdom torn apart by religious discord and the ambitions of a treacherous nobility.

Relying on her tenacity, wit, and uncanny gift for compromise, Catherine seizes power, intent on securing the throne for her sons. She allies herself with the enigmatic Protestant leader Coligny, with whom she shares an intimate secret, and implacably carves a path toward peace, unaware that her own dark fate looms before her—a fate that, if she is to save France, will demand the sacrifice of her ideals, her reputation, and the passion of her embattled heart.

From the fairy-tale châteaux of the Loire Valley to the battlefields of the wars of religion to the mob-filled streets of Paris, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is the extraordinary untold journey of one of the most maligned and misunderstood women ever to be queen.


My Thoughts:

This book has left me breathless. No matter how many times I try to write a review that captures the essence and beauty in which it was written, I cannot do justice.

C. W. Gortner captures Catherine de Medici and brings her to life. So many times I've had to remind myself that this is fiction, and not taken straight from Catherine herself. Gortner makes her so real - so able to capture your heart with his masterful insight. He was brilliant at crawling inside her head and "becoming" Catherine.

I did not know much about Catherine de Medici before this book. What an amazing woman she was. The strength and gracefulness that she held throughout her life is truly astounding. With the hand she was dealt, I know that I would have never been able to end up as anything except bitter and vengeful.

This is a book that should definitely make everyone's reading list. It's a captivating read, and was extremely difficult to put down.  I highly recommend "The Confessions of Catherine de Medici"!!!

**Parental note: Book contains some detailed sexual situations.

Make sure to stop back tomorrow when I post my thoughts C. W. Gortner's "The Last Queen".

Book was supplied by Pump Up Your Book for me to honestly review.

Monday, June 21, 2010

FIRST Wildcard Tour & Review: "Healer" by Linda Windsor

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:


Healer: A Novel (The Brides of Alba Series)

David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




With an estimated one million books in print, Linda Windsor is an award-winning author of fifteen mainstream historical novels and one contemporary romance. She has also written another thirteen books for CBA publishers, including nine romantic comedies, laced with suspense, and a Celtic Irish trilogy for Multnomah entitled the Fires of Gleannmara series. A former professional musician, Linda speaks often (and sometimes sings) for writing and/or faith seminars. She makes her home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and prays for courage and strength to meet the needs of today's readers with page-turning stories that entertain, teach, and inspire.


Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764788
ISBN-13: 978-1434764782

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



Glenarden, Manau Gododdin, Britain


Although cold enough to frost one’s breath, the day was as fair as the general mood of the gathering at the keep of Glenarden. The only clouds were those breaking away, fat with snow from the shrouded mountains—and the ever-present one upon the face of the bent old man who stood on the rampart of the gate tower. No longer able to ride much distance, Tarlach O’Byrne watched the procession form beyond.


Clansmen and kin, farmers and craftsmen—all turned out for the annual hunt, but they were more excited over the festivities that awaited their return. In the yard about the keep, gleemen in outlandish costumes practiced entertaining antics, delighting the children and teasing the kitchen servant or warrior who happened to pass too near. Great pits had been fired. On the spits over them were enough succulent shanks of venison, boar, and beef to feed the multitude of O’Byrnes and the guests from tribes in the kingdom under the old king’s protection.


Below the ramparts, Ronan O’Byrne adjusted the woolen folds of his brat over his shoulders. Woven with the silver, black, and scarlet threads of the clan, it would keep the prince warm on this brisk day. A fine dappled gray snorted in eagerness as Ronan took his reins in hand and started toward the gate. Beyond, the people he would govern upon his father’s death waited.


The youngest of the O’Byrne brothers rode through them, unable to contain his excitement any longer. “By father’s aching bones, Ronan, what matters of great import keep you now?”


Were the pest any other but his youngest brother, Ronan might have scowled, deepening the scar that marked the indent of his cheek—the physical reminder of this travesty that began years ago. Alyn was the pride and joy of Glenarden, and Ronan was no exception to those who admired and loved the precocious youth.


“Only a raid on the mill by our neighbors,” Ronan answered his youngest sibling.


His somber gaze belayed the lightness in his voice. The thieves had made off with Glenarden’s reserve grain stores and the miller’s quern. Ronan had already sent a replacement hand mill to the mistress. But now that the harvest was over and the excess had been sold, replacing the reserves would be harder. It galled Ronan to buy back his own produce at a higher price than he’d received from merchants in Carmelide. This was the hard lot he faced—this farce, or hunting down the scoundrels and taking back what was rightfully his.


Every year on the anniversary of the Gowrys slaughter, Tarlach insisted that the O’Byrne clan search the hills high and low for Llas and Joanna’s heir. But instead of going off on a madman’s goose chase after his imagined enemy—a mountain nymph who was rumored to shape-shift into a wolf at will—the O’Byrnes manpower spent their time ransacking and burning one of the Gowrys mountain settlements in retribution, for they were undoubtedly the culprits. It was the only reasoning the Gowrys thieves understood—burn their ramshackle hovels and take some of their meager stock in payment.


Even so, taking such actions only stalled their mischief for a little while. Then it was the same thing all over again. As it was, Ronan had sent trackers out to mark their escape route, lest the wrong camp be destroyed.


“Can I ride after them on the morrow with you?” Alyn’s deep blue eyes, inherited from their Pictish mother, were alight with the idea of fighting and possible bloodshed—only because he’d never tasted it firsthand. “After the Witch’s End?”


Disgust pulling at his mouth, Ronan mounted the broad and sturdy steed he’d acquired at last spring’s fair. Witch’s End. That’s what Tarlach O’Byrne had dubbed the celebration of the massacre that had made him an invalid and driven him to the brink of insanity. In the old chief ’s demented thought, he’d brought justice to those who had betrayed him and stopped an enchantress forever. Sometimes, as on this particular day, it pushed him beyond reason, for it was a reminder that there was one thing left undone. The heiress of Gowrys still lived to threaten Glenarden … at least in his mind.


“The mill raid is no different from any other raid and will be handled as such,” Ronan answered.


“So I can go?”


“Nay, return to your studies at the university.” The hunt for a nonexistent witch was one thing, but Gowrys were skilled fighters. “’Twould suit a Gowrys naught better than to send a son of Tarlachearthways with an arrow through your sixteen-year-old heart.”


“So you and Caden will go after the brigands.”


Alyn’s dejection rivaled that of Tarlach’s, except the youth’s would be gone with the next change of the wind. The older O’Byrne’s would not leave until his last breath faded in the air.


Ronan opened his mouth to assuage the lad when a downpour of water, icy as a northern fjord, struck him, soaking him through. “Herth’s fire!” Startled, his gray gelding danced sideways, knocking into the door of the open gate. “Ho, Ballach,” Ronan soothed the beast. “Easy laddie.”


“Take that, you bandy-legged fodere!” a shrill voice sounded from above.


“Crom’s breath, Kella, look what you’ve done,” Alyn blustered, struggling to control his own spooked steed. “Called my brother a bandy-legged deceiver and soaked him through.”


Wiping his hair away from his brow, Ronan spotted the cherub faced perpetrator of the mischief peering over the battlement, eyes spitting fire. Lacking the ripeness of womanhood, Kella’s overall appearance was unremarkable, but she surely lived up to her name with that indomitable warrior spirit, bundled in the innocence of youth. It was an innocence Ronan had never known. The daughter of Glenarden’s champion, Kella O’Toole was like a breath of fresh air. For that Ronan could forgive her more impetuous moments.


“And for what, Milady Kella, do I deserve the title of a bandylegged fool, much less this chilling shower?”


Kella gaped in dismay, speechless, as she took in Ronan’s drenched state. But not for long. “Faith, ’twasn’t meant for you, sir, but for Alyn! ’Tis the likes of him that finds the company of a scullery maid more delicious than mine.”


Ronan cast an amused glance at his youngest brother, who had now turned as scarlet as the banners fluttering overhead.


“Ho, lad, what foolrede have ye been about?” Caden O’Byrne shouted from the midst of the mounted assembly in wait beyond the gate. Fair as the sun with a fiery temperament to match, the second of Tarlach’s sons gave the indignant maid on the rampart a devilish wink.


“’Tis no one’s business but my own,” Alyn protested. “And certainly not that of a demented child.”


“Child, is it?”


Ronan swerved his horse out of range as Kella slung the empty bucket at Alyn. Her aim was hindered by the other girls close at her elbows, and the missile struck the ground an arm’s length away from its intended target.


“I’ll have you know I’m a full thirteen years.”


“Then appeal to me a few years hence when, and if, your Godgiven sense returns,” the youngest O’Byrne replied.


Ronan moved to the cover of the gatehouse and removed his drenched brat. Fortunately, the cloak had caught and shed the main of the attack. Already one of the servants approached with the plain blue one he wore about his business on the estate. Irritating as the mishap was, his lips quirked with humor as his aide helped him don the dry brat. It wasn’t as princely as the O’Byrne colors, but it was more suited to Ronan’s personal taste.


It was no secret that Egan O’Toole’s daughter was smitten with Alyn. With brown hair spun with threads of gold and snapping eyes almost the same incredible shade, she would indeed blossom into a beauty someday. Meanwhile, the champion of Glenarden would do well to pray for maturity to temper Kella’s bellicose manner, so that his daughter might win, rather than frighten, suitors.


Then there was Alyn, who hadn’t sense enough to see a prize in the making. Ronan shook his head. His brother was too involved in living the existence of the carefree youth Ronan had been robbed of the night of the Gowrys bloodfest.


“So, are you now high and dry, Brother?” Caden O’Byrne called to Ronan with impatience.


Ronan’s eyes narrowed. Always coveting what wasn’t his, Caden would like nothing better than to lead the hunt without Ronan. Would God that Ronan could hand over Glenarden and all its responsibilities. But Caden was too rash, a man driven more by passion than thought.


“Have a heart, Beloved,” a golden-haired beauty called down to him from the flock of twittering ladies on the rampart. Caden’s new bride spared Ronan a glance. “Ronan’s had much travail this morning already with the news of the Gowrys raid.”


“Had he as fair and gentle a wife as I, I daresay his humor would be much improved.” Ever the king of hearts, Caden signaled his horse to bow in Lady Rhianon’s direction and blew his wife a kiss.


“No doubt it would, Brother,” Ronan replied.


There was little merit in pointing out that the ambitious Lady Rhianon had first set her sights on him. No loss to Ronan, she seemed to make his more frivolous brother a happy man. The couple enjoyed the same revelry in dance and entertainment, not to mention the bower. Too often, its four walls failed to contain the merriment of their love play. Neither seemed to care that they were the talk of the keep. If anything, they gloried in the gossip and fed it all the more.


Battling down an annoying twinge of envy, Ronan made certain his cloak was fast, then swung up into the saddle again. Alyn’s problems were easier to consider, not to mention more amusing. “Is your wench disarmed, Alyn?” Ronan shouted in jest as he left the cover of the gate once again.


Beyond Lady Kella’s tempestuous reach for the moment, Alyn gave him a grudging nod.


Ronan brought his horse alongside his siblings, facing the gatehouse of the outer walls, where Tarlach O’Byrne would address the gathering. Like Alyn’s, Caden’s countenance was one of eagerness and excitement. How Ronan envied them both for their childhood. He longed to get away from the bitterness that festered within the walls of Glenarden. His had been an apprenticeship to a haunted madness.


Tarlach straightened as much as his gnarled and creaking joints would allow. “Remember the prophecy, shons of mine,” he charged them. He raised his withered left arm as high as it would go. It had never regained its former power since the night he’d tried to attack Lady Joanna of Gowrys. Nor had his speech recovered. He slurred his words from time to time, more so in fatigue.


“The Gowrys sheed shall divide your mighty house … shall divide your mighty housh and bring a peace beyond itch ken.”


Ronan knew the words by heart. They were as indelibly etched in his memory as the bloody travesty he’d witnessed through a six-yearold’s eyes. The quote was close, but whether Tarlach’s failing mind or his guilt was accountable for leaving out “peace beyond the ken of your wicked soul,” only God knew. If He cared … or even existed.


“Search every hill, every glen, every tree and shrub. Find the she-wolf and bring back her skin to hang as a trophy in the hall, and her heart to be devoured by the dogs. Take no nun-day repast. The future of Glenarden depends on the Gowrys whelp’s death.”


At the rousing cry of “O’Byrne!” rising from his fellow huntsmen and kin, Ronan turned the dapple gray with the group and cantered to the front, his rightful place as prince and heir. He didn’t believe the girl child had survived these last twenty years, much less that she’d turned into a she-wolf because of her mother’s sins. Nor did he wallow in hatred like his father.


A shudder ran through him, colder than the water that had drenched him earlier. Ronan looked to the west again, where thick clouds drifted away from the uplands. May he never become so obsessed with a female that his body and soul should waste away from within due to the gnawing of bitterness and fear. Superstitious fear.


On both sides of the winding, rutted road ahead lay rolling fields. Winter’s breath was turning the last vestiges of harvest color to browns and grays. Low, round huts of wattle and daub, limed white and domed with honey-dark thatching, were scattered here and there. Gray smoke circled toward the sky from their peaks. Fat milk cows and chickens made themselves at home, searching for food. Beyond lay the river, teeming with fish enough for all.


Glenarden’s prosperity was enough to satisfy Ronan. Nothing less would do for his clan. The tuath was already his in every manner save the last breath of Tarlach O’Byrne … though Ronan was in no hurry for that. Despite his troublesome tempers, Tarlach had been as good a father as he knew how, breaking the fosterage custom to rear his firstborn son under his own eye. A hard teacher, he’d been, yet fair—equal with praise as with criticism.


“You are the arm I lost, lad,” Tarlach told him again and again, especially when the drink had its way with him. “The hope and strength of Glenarden.”

~~~~~


Ronan humored the old man as much as followed his orders. At midday, instead of stopping as usual for the nun repast, he paused for neither rest nor food for his men. They ate on the move—the fresh bread and cheese in the sacks provided by the keep’s kitchen. The higher into the hills they went, the sharper the wind whipped through the narrow pass leading to the upper lakelands. Ronan was thankful that the former stronghold of the Gowrys wasn’t much farther.


“Faith, ’tis colder than witches’ milk,” Caden swore from the ranks behind Ronan.


“Witches’ milk?” the naive Alyn protested. “What would you know of such things?”


“A good deal more than a pup not yet dry behind the ears. ’Tis a fine drink on a hot summer day.”


“Or for the fever,” Egan O’Toole chimed in.


His poorly disguised snicker raised suspicion in the youth. “They play me false, don’t they, Ronan?”


“Aye, ask our elder brother, lad,” Caden remarked in a dry voice. “He has no sense of humor.”


Somber, Ronan turned in his saddle. “I have one, Brother, but my duties do not afford me much use of it. As for your question, lad,” he said to their younger brother, who rode next to Caden, “there’s no such thing as witches, so there can be no witches’ milk.”


“What about the Lady Joanna?” Alyn asked. “She was a witch.”


“Think, lad,” Ronan replied. “If she’d truly possessed magic, would she or her kin have died? It was love and jealousy that addled Father.”


“But love is magic, little brother,” Caden put in. “Make no mistake.”


“’Tis also loud enough to set tongues wagging all over the keep,” Alyn piped up. He grinned at the round of raucous laughter that rippled around them at Caden’s expense.


But Caden showed no shame. “That’s the rejoicing, lad.” He turned to the others. “Methinks our Lady Kella has little to fret over as yet.” With a loud laugh, he clapped their red-faced little brother on the back.


Rather than allow the banter to prick or lift an already sore humor, Ronan focused on the first few flakes of snow already whirling in and about the pass ahead of them and the nightmare that already had begun. Twenty years before, this very pass had been just as cold and inhospitable. With possible flurries blowing up, Ronan had no inclination to prolong the outing.


The crannog, or stockaded peninsula, was now little more than a pile of rubble rising out of the lake water’s edge. Cradled by overgrown fields and thick forest on three quarters of its periphery, the lake itself was as gray as the winter sky. On the fourth was the jut of land upon which Llas of Gowrys had restored an ancient broch, bracing it against the rise of the steep crag at its back. With no regard for what had been, yellow spots of gorse had taken root here and there in the tumble of blackened stone.


Ronan could still smell the blaze, hear the shrieks of the dying.Ignoring the curdling in the pit of his stomach, a remnant of the fear and horror a six-year-old dared not show, Ronan dispersed the group. “Egan, you and Alyn take your men and search north of the lake. Caden, take the others and search the south. When I sound the horn, everyone should make haste back here. The sooner we return to warm hearths and full noggins of ale, the better.”


“I want to go with you,” Alyn declared, sidling his brown pony next to Ronan’s gray.


“I intend to stay here in the cover of yon ledge and build a fire,” Ronan informed him, “but you are welcome to join me.”


“I think not.”


Alyn’s expression of disdain almost made Ronan laugh.


“What if a raiding party of Gowrys happens upon you?” Caden spoke up. A rare concern knit his bushy golden brows.


“Then I shall invite them to the fire for a draught of witch’s milk.”


Caden laughed out loud. His square-jawed face, bristling with the golden shadow of his great mane of hair, was handsome by even a man’s standard. “I misjudged you, Brother. I stand corrected on the account of humor but would still hold that you act too old for your twenty-six years.”


“The Gowrys aren’t given to visiting the place where they were so soundly trounced … and I’m no more than a horn’s blow from help, should my sword not suffice,” Ronan pointed out.


He had no taste for this nonsense. What he craved most at the moment was the peace that followed after the others rode off, whooping and beating their shields lest the spirits of the slain accost them. The hush of the falling snow and the still testimony of the ruins were at least a welcome change from the ribald and oft querulous babble of the hall. Time alone, without demand, was to be savored, even in this ungodly cold and desolate place. All he had to do was keep the memories at bay.


A movement from just above a hawthorn thicket near the base of the cliff caught Ronan’s eye, raising the hackles on the back of his neck. With feigned nonchalance, he brushed away the snow accumulating on his leather-clad thigh and scanned the gray slope of rock as it donned the thickening winter white veil. Nothing.


At least, he’d thought he’d seen something. A flash of white, with a tail—mayhaps a large dog. Beneath him, the gelding shivered. With a whinny, he sidestepped, tossing his black mane as if to confirm that he sensed danger as well. A wolf?


Drawing his sword in one hand, Ronan brought the horse under control with a steadying tone. “Easy, Ballach, easy.”


The speckled horse quieted, his muscles as tense as Ronan’s clenched jaw. The scene before him was still, like that of a tapestry. At his gentle nudge, the horse started around shore toward the high stone cliff. Dog, wolf, or man, Ronan was certain the steel of his blade was all the protection he’d need.

©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Healer by Linda Windsor. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.


My Thoughts:

If I had to choose my favorite genre, I'd have a difficult time choosing between fantasy and historical fiction. With this book, I don't have to choose! "Healer" is an amazing story that takes place during the times of King Arthur and contains some "magic" but not the blatant wand-waving kind. Instead it is more of the magic of the use of herbalism and foresight.

I found myself wrapped up in Brenna's world from the beginning of the book. It was a time and a place I became immersed in, and I found it difficult to put the book down, and hated to see it end. I am excited that there will be more, as this is the first book of The Brides of Alba Series. This book allows itself to be a stand-alone, having no frustrating cliff-hanger ending, however, I can't imagine anyone not wanting to continue with the series!

Lisa Windsor has an amazing way with prose. Her lyrical use of the language and the apparent amount of research that she did made this novel realistic. Making the book even more realistic are the notes on history, definitions of some of the Celtic words, and a wonderful section of all types of goodies located at the back of the book.

I can't wait to find more by this author. This is the first book I've read by Linda, and I can't believe I haven't stumbled across anything she's done before now. I'm adding her other books to my must-read list!!

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