Oct 2, 2009

Bibliophile's Retreat Officially Moved

Originally Posted at Bibliophile's Retreat by Melissa Meeks

Bibliophile's Retreat has officially been transferred lock, stock and barrel to its new and improving home at http://bibliophilesretreat.com on a Wordpress self-hosted platform. Existing readers please join us there for continued bookish musings and such. There are still some things that need work at the new location but all new posts will be at that location going forward.

Sep 15, 2009

Yes I'm A Bad Girl & New Location Coming Soon

Originally Posted at Bibliophile's Retreat by Melissa Meeks

I still haven't gotten back into the routine of posting however I have started a new self-hosted Wordpress Blog to which I will eventually move the existing content here. Once I get it designed and ready, I will shut down this blog as the WordPress.org software allows me more flexibility in design as well as the functionality to give Bibliophile's Retreat it's own domain. Soon you won't have to remember or use the blogspot address. Once the set up and initial move is completed my blog will simply be bibliophilesretreat.com Please remember that until further notice the new location is under construction so it won't be as pretty as this one yet.

Sep 4, 2009

Recent and Coming Attractions

Originally Posted at Bibliophile's Retreat by Melissa Meeks

To all my readers - publicist, publisher, author and reader friends this blog has been inactive far too long for my tastes but I am working on getting it back up and running as well as catching up on reading and posting about all the wonderful books in my TBR and recently completed piles.

The Believer by Ann Gabhart
Revell (August 1, 2009)
Elizabeth and her younger siblings are left to their own devices when their parents are tragically lost to this world. When she learns of a nearby village that takes in needy children she travels with her brother and sister to Harmony Hill hoping for a fresh start and safety for the family she has become responsible for. The Shaker lifestyle is a huge adjustment for all of them but the hoped for refuge seems to materialize despite the new hardships the children face. However Elizabeth soon meets Ethan and must face the choice of once again leaving the life she has grown accustomed to and which protects her only family to avoid the temptation they both encounter when faced with their not so sibling-like feelings for one another. This story encapsulates many heart rending decisions Elizabeth must make for the best interests of those she cares about. The emotional turmoil she faces in sacrificing her own desires for the greater good threaten her newfound security and stability. (ISBN#9780800733629, 394pp, $13.99)

Coming Soon:
The Swiss Courier
by Tricia Goyer and Mike Yorkey
Revell (October 1, 2009)
(ISBN#9780800733360, 336pp, $13.99)

The Swiss Courier by Tricia Goyer & Mike Yorkey from Tricia Goyer on Vimeo

Coming in 2010:
Angel's Den by Jamie Carie
B&H Books (February 1, 2010)
In 1808, when Emma meets and marries Eric Montclaire (the famed “most handsome man west of the Appalachians”), this young daughter of prominent St. Louis citizens believes a fairy tale has just begun. Instead, her husband’s angelic looks quickly prove only to mask a monstrous soul all too capable of possessive emotions and physical abuse. Praying for mercy, she is devastated when Eric insists on her joining his yearlong group expedition to the Pacific Ocean, following the trail Lewis and Clark blazed just a few years earlier. By the time cartographer Luke Bowen realizes Emma’s plight, it’s too late to easily untangle what has become an epic web of lies, theft, murder, courtroom drama, and a deep longing for love. Only God can show them the way out. (ISBN#9780805448146, 320pp, $14.99)

Deliver Us from Evil by Robin Caroll
B&H Books (February 1, 2010)
A beautiful yet tough woman working in a beautiful yet tough setting, Brannon Callahan is a search and rescue helicopter pilot for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Strong faith and a decorated history of service have kept her one step ahead of on-the-job dangers, but there’s no precedent for what’s about to happen. After a blizzard takes down a small plane carrying U.S. Marshal Roark Holland (already haunted by a recent tragedy), Brannon must save him in more ways than one and safeguard the donor heart he’s transporting to a government witness on the edge of death. Otherwise the largest child trafficking ring in history—with shocking links from Thailand to Tennessee—will slip further away into darkness along the Appalachian Trail. (ISBN#9780805449808, 320pp, $14.99)

Once in a Blue Moon by Leanna Ellis
B&H Books (March 1, 2010)
Bryn Seymour was nine years old when her mother died under mysterious circumstances on the same day Apollo 11 made its historic lunar landing. Forty years later—divorced, working as an obituary writer, and duly cynical—she meets Howard, a conspiracy theorist who knew her mom and believes a small Texas town may hold clues to what really fueled her demise. Seeking closure, Bryn goes along for this men-in-black ride. But upon meeting Howard’s son Sam, an outspoken Christian, she can’t decide whose beliefs are more pie-in-the-sky.
The gravity of life has pulled Bryn down for decades. But a perfect love could be her first step to soaring. It only happens once in a blue moon. (ISBN#9780805449884, 320pp, $14.99)

Rooms by James Rubart
B&H Books (April 1, 2010)
On a rainy spring day in Seattle, young software tycoon Micah Taylor receives a cryptic, twenty-five-year-old letter from a great uncle he never knew. It claims a home awaits him on the Oregon coast that will turn his world inside out. Suspecting a prank, Micah arrives at Cannon Beach to discover a stunning brand new nine-thousand square foot house. And after meeting Sarah Sabin at a nearby ice cream shop, he has two reasons to visit the beach every weekend.
When bizarre things start happening in the rooms of the home, Micah suspects they have some connection to his enigmatic new friend, Rick, the town mechanic. But Rick will only say the house is spiritual. This unnerves Micah because his faith slipped away like the tide years ago, and he wants to keep it that way. But as he slowly discovers, the home isn’t just spiritual, it’s a physical manifestation of his soul, which God uses to heal Micah’s darkest wounds and lead him into an astonishing new destiny. (ISBN#9780805448887, 400pp, $14.99)

Aug 8, 2009

End of Summer Giveaways If...

Originally Posted at Bibliophile's Retreat by Melissa Meeks

Unfortunately hits to the site didn't make it to the 7000 mark by the first. However I will still be doing a few giveaways as well as offering a special thank you to those who posted my button during July.

I've also been fighting very frequent headaches and wasn't able to get new reviews up in the last several weeks but am hoping to do some catching up very soon.

I have a box of books stacked up for giveaways. If readers bring my hits up to or over 7000 that's about 1500 hits, by Aug 1st. I will run giveaways to share all of those books with lucky readers during the month of August. That will be 4-5 books given away each week to start your fall TBR piles. Send your friends and drop by often. I will also be catching up on new reviews in the next few weeks so there will be lots to read.

Don't forget to post this logo in your sidebars to tell people about the giveaways as well. If the counter passes 7000 by August 1st and the logo is posted on your blog in July you'll get an automatic entry to all drawings in August. Be sure to leave me a comment with your blog link when you post the logo. The code for the logo linking to this post is in my sidebar. There will also be instructions to enter each week in the contest posts in addition to your automatic entry for posting the logo and linking to me helping reach the goal.

Aug 1, 2009

Chance to Win Michelle Sutton's It's Not About Him at Light of Truth

Originally Posted at Bibliophile's Retreat by Melissa Meeks

Drop by Lynn's Blog for a chance to win Michelle Sutton's book, It's Not About Him. Don't forget to say I - ForstRose (Melissa) - sent you. Also tell your friends. Contest ends at Midnight Sunday.

Jul 30, 2009

Maggie Rose by Sharlene MacLaren - FIRST WildCard

Originally Posted at Bibliophile's Retreat by Melissa Meeks

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: Sharlene MacLaren
and her book: Maggie Rose (Daughters of Jacob Kane #2)
Whitaker House (June 8, 2009)

About the Author:
Born and raised in west Michigan, Sharlene MacLaren graduated from Spring Arbor University, married her husband Cecil, and raised two daughters. She worked as a school teacher for over 30 years, then upon retirement began writing fiction, and now has six successful novels under her belt. The acclaimed Through Every Storm was Shar’s first novel to be published by Whitaker House; in 2007, the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) named it a finalist for Book of the Year. The beloved Little Hickman Creek series consisted of Loving Liza Jane; Sarah, My Beloved; and Courting Emma. Faith, Hope, and Love, the Inspirational Outreach Chapter of Romance Writers of America, announced Sarah, My Beloved as a finalist in its 2008 Inspirational Reader’s Choice Contest in the category of long historical fiction. Her other books include Long Journey Home, and Hannah Grace, the first in her Daughters of Jacob Kane series. (ISBN#9781603740753, 429pp, $9.99)

And Now...The First Chapter:
Maggie Rose Kane settled her temple against the smudged window, blinked hard, and fought back another wave of nausea as the smoke from her seatmate’s cigar formed cloud-like ringlets before her eyes and floated past her nose. Why, her lungs fairly burned from the stench of it, as if she’d been the one chain-smoking the stogies for the past five hours instead of the bulbous, gray-haired giant next to her. Even as he was dozing this afternoon, slumped with one shoulder sagging against her petite frame, the vile object hung out the side of his mouth as if permanently attached. She couldn’t even count the number of times she’d wanted to snatch it from him and snuff it out with the sole of her black patent leather shoe.

“Next stop, Albany,” announced the train conductor, making his way up the aisle.

With a quick intake of air, Maggie lifted a finger and leaned forward. “Excuse me, sir.”

The conductor stopped, turned, and tipped his hat to her in a formal manner. “Yes?”

“Is this where I should disembark in order to change over to the New York Central?”

Tilting his head to one side and slanting a reddish eyebrow, he released a mild sigh that conveyed slight annoyance. “If that’s what your ticket says. You’re goin’ to New York, aren’t you?”

She gave a hasty shake of her head and adjusted the plume hat that had barely moved in all these many hours. Surely, by now, the slight wave in her hair, as well as the tight little bun at the back of her head, would be flatter than a well-done pancake. “Someone’s to meet me at Grand Central,” she explained.

He nodded curtly. “Get off here then and go to the red line, then put yourself on the 442.” This he said with a matter-of-fact tone, as if anyone with a scrap of common sense ought to know about the 442.

Sweaty fingers clutched the satchel in her lap as she peered up at him, debating whether or not to admit her ignorance. “Oh, the 442.” She might have asked him at least to point her in the right direction once she disembarked, but he hurried down the aisle and pushed through the back door that led to the next car before giving her a chance. The train whistle blew another ear-splitting shriek, either indicating that the train was approaching an intersection or announcing its scheduled stopover in Albany.

“What’s a pretty little miss like you doin’ going to the big city all by yourself?” asked the man beside her. Not wanting to invite conversation with the galoot, especially for all the smoke he’d blow in her face, she had maintained silence for the duration of the trip. Still, it was her Christian duty to show him respect, so she pulled back her slender shoulders and tried to appear pleasant—and confident. After all, it wouldn’t do to let on how the combination of her taut nerves and his rancid cigar smoke had stirred up bile at the back of her throat. For the twentieth time since her departure on the five a.m. that very morning—when her entire family, including her new brother-in-law and adopted nephew, had bid her a tearful farewell—she asked herself, and the Lord Himself, if she hadn’t misinterpreted His divine call.

“I’ve accepted a position at the Sheltering Arms Refuge,” she replied with a steady voice. “I’m to assist in the home, and also to work as a placing-out agent whenever trips are arranged.”

He quirked a questioning brow and blew a cloud of smoke directly at her. She waved her arm to ward off the worst of it. “It’s a charitable organization for homeless children. Using the U.S. railway system, we stop in various parts of the Middle West and place children in decent families and homes, mostly farms. Surely you’ve heard announcements about trains of orphans coming through?”

He looked slightly put out. “’Course I heard of ’em, miss, just haven’t never run across anyone actually involved in the process of cartin’ them wild little hooligans clear across the country.” He took another long drag and, fortunate for Maggie Rose, blew it out the other side of his mouth so that, this time, it drifted into the face of the man across the aisle. Apparently unruffled, he merely lifted his newspaper higher to shield his face.

“Where you from, anyways?”

“Sandy Shores, Michigan.” Just saying the name of the blessed lakeshore town made her miss her home and family more than she’d imagined possible. Goodness, she’d left only this morning. If she was feeling homesick already, what depths of loneliness would the next several months bring?

“Ah, that near Benton Harbor?”

“Quite a ways north of it, sir.”

He seemed to ponder that thought only briefly. “What made you leave? You got home problems?”

“Certainly not!” she replied with extra fervor, offended he should think so. In fact, she might have chosen to stay behind and continued life as usual, helping her dear father and beloved sisters at Kane’s Whatnot, the family’s general store. But God’s poignant tug on her heart would not allow her to stay. I sincerely doubt Mr.—Mr. Smokestack—would follow such reasoning, though, so why waste my breath explaining? she thought.

“Well, you can see why I asked, cain’t you? It’s not every day some young thing like yourself up and moves to a big place like New York, specially when she don’t even know her way around.”

“I’m sure I’ll learn quickly enough,” she said, trying to put confidence in her tone. “I hear there’s to be a big subway system opening soon, which should help in moving folks around the city at great speeds.”

He nodded and took another long drag from his dwindling cheroot. “Sometime in the next month or two, is what I hear,” he said, blowing out a ring of smoke. “That’ll be somethin’, all right. Before you know it, there’ll be no need for any four-legged creatures.” He chuckled to himself, although the sound held no mirth.

As they approached the station, the train’s brakes squawked and sputtered, and the mighty whistle blew one last time. Outside, steam was rising from the tracks, and Maggie Rose noticed a couple of scrawny dogs picking through a pile of garbage. Folks stood in clusters, perhaps anxious to welcome home loved ones or to usher in long-awaited guests. A tiny pang of worry nestled in her chest at the sight of such unfamiliar surroundings.

When the train came to a screeching halt, the passengers scrambled for their belongings, holding onto their hats as they snatched up satchels and crates bound in twine. Some of them were dressed formally; others looked shoddy, at best, like her seatmate with his week-old beard and soiled attire. Another puff of smoke circled the air above her, and it was all she could do to keep from giving him a piece of her mind—until the Lord reminded her of a verse she’d read the night before in the book of Proverbs: “He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor” (Proverbs 14:31).

Was she not traveling to New York out of a sense of great compassion for the city’s poor, lost children? And if so, what made her think the Lord exempted her from caring for people of all ages? Moreover, why had she spent the better share of the past several hours judging this man about whom she knew so little?

My child, you are tempted to look on his countenance and stature, whereas I look on the heart. The verse from 1 Samuel came to mind—oh, how the truth of it struck her to the core. Without ado, she looked directly at her seatmate, smoke and all. “And where might you be headed, sir?”

“Me?” A look of surprise washed over him. “My sister just passed. I’m goin’ to her funeral in Philly.”

A gasp escaped. “Oh, my, I’m…I’m sorry to hear that.” Silently, she prayed, Lord, give me the proper words, and forgive me all these many hours I might have had the chance to speak comfort to this poor soul.

He dropped what remained of his cigar on the floor and ground it out with his heel, stood to his feet, and retrieved his duffle from under the seat with a loud sniff. “Yeah, well, we weren’t that close. She quit speakin’ to me after I married my wife, her bein’ a Protestant and us Catholics.” He followed that up with a snort. “My brother died last year, and she still refused to acknowledge me at his funeral, even though my wife passed on three years ago.”

Blended odors of sweat, tobacco, and acrid breath nearly knocked her over as she stood up and hefted the strap of her heavy leather satchel over one shoulder, but newfound compassion welled up in her heart, lending her fortitude. The line of people in the aisle was moving at a snail’s pace, and she decided to make use of their extra seconds together.

“But you’re going to her funeral anyway?”

He nodded halfheartedly. “It’s my duty to pay my respects. She won’t know it, but I will.”

“Yes, and you’ll feel better afterward for doing so.” Suddenly, she had more to say to the man, but the line of anxious passengers was picking up speed, and he squeezed into the tight line. She followed in his wake, doing her best to keep her footing as folks shoved and jabbed. My, such an impetuous, peevish lot, she thought, then quickly acknowledged her own impatience.

“Watch your step, ladies and gentlemen,” the conductor said. One by one, folks stepped down from the train. Her fellow rider took the stairs with ease, then turned abruptly and offered her his hand. Another time, she might have pretended not to notice and used the steel hand railing instead. Now, however, she smiled and accepted his grimy, calloused palm.

“Thank you.”

Drooping eyes looked down at her. “New York, eh? You sure you don’t want to purchase your ticket back home? Ticket booth’s right over there.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder, and for the first time, she sensed that he was toying with her.

“Absolutely not!” Pulling back her shoulders, she gave her head a hard shake, losing a feather from her hat in the process. She watched it float away, carried by the breeze of passengers rushing by. “When the Lord tells a body to do something, you best do it, if you want to know true peace,” she said, lifting her eyes to meet his. “This is something He told me to do—to come to New York and see what I can do about helping the deprived, dispossessed children, just as I’m sure He prompted you to attend your sister’s funeral.”

Surprisingly, he chuckled and bobbed his head a couple of times. “Can’t say for sure it was the Good Lord Hisself or Father Carlson, but one of ’em convinced me to come, and now that I think on it, I’m glad.”

Out the corner of her eye, Maggie Rose sought to read the myriad signs pointing this way and that, hoping to find one to point her in the right direction. Slight queasiness churned in her stomach. Dear Lord, please erase my worries about finding my next train, she prayed silently. The man ran four grimy fingers through his greasy hair. Absently, she wondered if he intended to clean himself up before attending his sister’s burial service.

“You take care of yourself, little lady. It’s a mighty big world out there for one so fine and dainty as you.”

A smile formed on her lips. Fine and dainty. Had he made a similar remark to one of her sisters, Hannah Grace or Abbie Ann, an indignant look would have been his return. She extended her hand. “I’ll do my best, Mr.….”

He clasped her hand and gave it a gentle shake. “Dempsey. Mort Dempsey. And you are?”

“Maggie Rose Kane.”

He gave a thoughtful nod. “Has a nice ring to it.” Then, tipping his head to one side, he scratched his temple and raised his bushy brows. “At first glimpse, you look a bit fragile, but I’d guess you got some spunk under that feathery hat o’ yours.”

Now she laughed outright. “I suppose that’s the Kane blood running through me.

We Kane sisters are known for our stubborn streak. It runs clear to our bones.”

Several seconds ticked by. Mr. Dempsey glanced around. “You got any more baggage, miss?”

“My trunk’s due to arrive at the children’s home the day after tomorrow.” She gave her black satchel a pat. “I’ll make do with what I have till then.”

In the next silent pause that passed between them, a pigeon swept down to steal a crumb, a stray dog loped past, and in the distance, a mother hushed her crying babe. Mr. Dempsey removed his pocket watch. “Well, listen, little lady, my train for Philly don’t leave for another hour yet. What say I take you over to the red line? Number 442, was it?”

“Oh, but you needn’t….”

He’d already looped his arm for her to take. The man’s stench remained strong, yes, but Maggie Rose found that, somehow, in the course of the past few minutes, her nose had miraculously adjusted.

My, but the Lord did work in wondrously mysterious ways! Why, just this very morning, Jacob Kane, her dear father, had prayed that God might send His angels of protection to lead and guide her on her way, and now look: Mort Dempsey was taking her to her next connection.

Imagine that—Mort Dempsey, God’s appointed “angel.”

They parted ways at the Albany platform where she could board Number 442.

When she arrived at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, Maggie Rose saw a confusing mass of railroad lines converged in a place that also contained more people than she thought inhabited the earth.

Mr. Dempsey may have been an unlikely angel, but her next escort fit the bill with utmost perfection. She scanned the crowd and saw a pleasant-looking man, probably not much older than she, standing to one side and holding up a hand-printed sign that read: “Miss M. Kane.” Dressed in an evening suit, a bowler cap, and a bright-red bow tie that was almost blinding, he was searching the crowd with expectant eyes. When their gazes met, a broad smile formed on his face.

“Miss Kane?” he asked, greeting her with the warmth of a clear summer morning.

“Yes!” She had to tell her feet to walk in ladylike strides, even though her travel-worn body wanted to slump into the nearest bench with relief. They shook hands, and he introduced himself as Stanley Barrett, an employee—but more of a lifelong resident—at the children’s home. The Binghams had welcomed him through their doors many years ago when he’d lost both his parents in a fire.

“You must be tired,” he said, freeing her of her satchel without a moment’s hesitation, which suited her just fine. As it was, her shoulder ached from the weight of the bag, which held important papers, several personal possessions, some toiletry items, and the changes of clothing she would need until her trunk arrived.

Dusk had settled on New York City, so, without ado, Mr. Barrett led her like a pro through the throngs and straight to their carriage, waiting with numerous sets of nearly identical horses and black carriages lined up in long rows outside the terminal. Such efficiency impressed Maggie Rose, and she told him so. “I grew up here, so getting around is easy for me,” he explained, helping her onto the carriage. “You’ll catch on, especially once the subway station opens. But don’t worry; we usually travel in pairs or larger groups, anyway.”

Driving the carriage, he kept up his constant prattle as he dodged fast-moving streetcars, stray dogs, scurrying pedestrians, and the occasional motorcar. Even at this late hour, the city buzzed with activity such as Maggie had never seen. Why, in Sandy Shores, everything closes up tighter than a drum at five-thirty, she thought—that is, everything but the several saloons and restaurants. Here, though, people of all genders, races, sizes, and ages roamed the streets. Some were selling wares, others begging for quarters; some were huddled on street corners, others sitting on crates or boxes, perhaps looking for a place to lay their heads for the night.

“I can imagine what you’re thinking,” Stanley said as he maneuvered the carriage onto Park Avenue, heading north, and clicked his horse into a slow trot. “You’ve probably never seen anything like this place. Mrs. Bingham says you hail from some little town in Michigan. What part?”

“The west side, smack on the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan, about halfway up the state. The town is small, yes, but thriving. We have one main street running east and west—Water Street—with lots of little stores and businesses on either side. Don’t be running your horse too fast going west, though, or you’ll fall into the harbor,” she joked. “’Course, the railroad docks and barges would stop you first, I suppose.”

He chuckled, and she decided she liked the smooth tenor of his quiet laughter. “Of all the orphanages in the city, how’d you decide on the Sheltering Arms Refuge?” he asked. “We’re a lot smaller than the Foundling Hospital and the Children’s Aid Society.”

“Someone seeking financial support for your fine organization spoke at our church more than a year ago. I believe his name was Mr. Wiley.”

“That’d be Uncle Herbie—Mrs. Bingham’s brother.”

“He showed us a few pictures and talked a great deal about the destitute children wandering the city—‘street Arabs,’ he called them. Ever since then, the Lord has kept up His constant nudging, so after much correspondence back and forth, not to mention the process of convincing my father to let me loose, I’ve finally arrived!”

Stanley glanced casually in both directions before urging his horse through the intersection at East 50th and Park Streets, crossing streetcar tracks and skirting a good-sized pothole. Their amiable conversation continued, but she had to concentrate to drown out all the commotion going on around her, not to mention the smells—a blend of fried food, gasoline, manure, and rancid garbage. And the sounds! Why, the very streets seemed to reverberate with the clamor of loud conversations, tinny barroom music, thudding horses’ hooves, barking dogs, and the occasional baby’s cry from some upstairs flat.

Stanley Barrett veered the carriage onto East 65th Street, crossed Lexington, 3rd, and 2nd, and made a right on Dover, driving another couple of blocks before directing the horse up a long drive to a stately three-story brick structure. Maggie’s very senses seemed to stand on end. “Is this it?” she asked, feasting her eyes on the edifice, which appeared bigger than what she’d imagined from looking at the few photos she’d received.

Stanley guided his horse to a stop, breathed a sigh, and tossed the reins over the brake handle, turning to her with a smile. She decided he had a pleasant one, tainted only partially by a set of crooked teeth. “This is it. What do you think?”

She gazed at her surroundings—a brick house situated on a sprawling plot of land and surrounded by numerous trees, a stable, and several outbuildings. Who would believe that just blocks from this serene setting lay a whole different world? “I think—it’s beautiful.” Unexpected emotion clogged her throat. She looked up to see a head poke through the curtains of one of the upstairs windows. One of the orphans?

“Beautiful? Well, it’s old, I’ll give you that. Ginny, er, Mrs. Bingham inherited the historic place from her wealthy grandfather back in the 1880s. She and the Mr. have been operating it as an orphanage for the past seventeen or so years. In fact, I was one of their first residents. But I’m sure you’ll get the whole story, if you haven’t already, when you’re more rested.” He winked, gave another low chuckle, and jumped from the rig with ease. “Come on, I’ll help you down.”

With his assistance, her feet soon landed on solid ground. She lifted her long skirts and stepped away from the carriage, eyes fastened on the three-story structure and the aging brick fence that surrounded the property’s borders and was covered by lush blankets of ivy.

Stanley allowed her a moment’s peace as she stood before her new “home” and tried to picture its interior. Suddenly, the front door swung open. In its glow stood a portly woman with an apron tied about her waist; grayish hair hung haphazardly about her oval face, and a smile stretched from cheek to cheek as she lifted her hand to wave.

“Well, glory be, come and look who’s here, Henry. It’s the little miss from Michigan!”

Click the bookcover or title for more info or to purchase a copy. Look for other FIRST Wildcard member posts and opinions also. Don't forget to click the author's name or photo to visit her website. My review is coming soon.

Jul 28, 2009

Montana Rose by Mary Connealy - FIRST WildCard

Originally Posted at Bibliophile's Retreat by Melissa Meeks

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: Mary Connealy
and her book: Montana Rose
Barbour Publishing, Inc (July 1, 2009)

About the Author:
An award-winning author, Mary Connealy lives on a Nebraska farm with her husband and is the mother of four grown daughters. She writes plays and shorts stories, and is the author of two other novels, Petticoat Ranch and Calico Canyon. Also an avid blogger, Mary is a GED instructor by day and an author by night. (ISBN#9781602601420, 320pp, $10.97)

And Now...The First Chapter:
Montana Territory, 1875

Cassie wanted to scream, “Put down that shovel!”

As if yelling at the red-headed gravedigger would bring Griff back to life. A gust of wind blew Cassie Griffin’s dark hair across her face, blinding her.

For one sightless moment it was as if the wind showed her perfectly what the future held for her.


Hovering in a wooded area, concealed behind a clump of quaking aspens that had gone yellow in the fall weather, she watched the hole grow as the man dug his way down into the rocky Montana earth.

Muriel, the kind storekeeper who had taken Cassie in, stood beside the ever-deepening grave. If Cassie started yelling, Muriel would start her motherly clucking again and force Cassie to return to town and go back to bed. She’d been so kind since Cassie had ridden in shouting for help.

In a detached sort of way, Cassie knew Muriel had been caring for her, coddling Cassie to get her through the day. But Cassie had gone numb since Muriel’s husband, Seth, had come back in with the news that Griff was dead. Cassie listened and answered and obeyed, but she hadn’t been able to feel anything. Until now. Now she could feel rage aimed straight at that man preparing the hole for her beloved Griff.

“I’m sorry, little one.” Cassie ran her hand over her rounded stomach. “You’ll never know your daddy now.” Her belly moved as if the baby heard Cassie and understood.

The fact that her husband was dead was Cassie’s fault. She should have gone for the doctor sooner. Griff ordered her not to, but first Griff had been worried about the cost. He’d shocked Cassie by telling her they couldn’t afford to send for the doctor. Griff had scolded Cassie if she ever asked questions about money. So she’d learned it wasn’t a wife’s place. But she’d known her parents were wealthy. Cassie had brought all their wealth into the marriage. How could they not afford a few bits for a doctor? Even as he lay sick, she’d known better than to question him about it.

Later, Griff had been out of his head with fever. She stayed with him as he’d ordered, but she should have doctored Griff better. She should have saved him somehow. Instead she’d stood by and watched her husband die inch by inch while she did nothing.

Cassie stepped closer. Another few steps and she’d be in the open. She could stop them. She could make them stop digging. Refuse to allow such a travesty when it couldn’t be true that Griff was dead.

Don’t put him in the ground! Inside her head she was screaming, denying, terrified. She had to stop this.

Before she could move she heard Muriel.

“In the West, nothing’ll get you killed faster’n stupid.” Whipcord lean, with a weathered face from long years in the harsh Montana weather, Muriel plunked her fists on her nonexistent hips.

Seth, clean-shaven once a week and overdue, stood alongside his wife, watching the proceedings, his arms crossed over his paunchy stomach. “How ’bout lazy? In the West, lazy’ll do you in faster’n stupid every time.”

“Well, I reckon Lester Griffin was both, right enough.” Muriel nodded her head.

Cassie understood the words, “lazy” and “stupid.” They were talking about Griff? She was too shocked to take in their meaning.

“Now, Muriel.” Red, the gravedigger, shoveled as he talked. “Don’t speak ill of the dead.”

On a day when Cassie didn’t feel like she knew anything, she remembered the gravedigger’s name because of his bright red hair.

One of the last coherent orders Griff had given her was, “Pay Red two bits to dig my grave, and not a penny more.”

Griff had known he was dying. Mostly delirious with fever, his mind would clear occasionally and he’d give orders: about the funeral, what he was to be buried in, what Cassie was to wear, strict orders not to be her usual foolish self and overpay for the grave digging. And not to shame him with her public behavior.

“Well honestly, it’s a wonder he wasn’t dead long before this.” Muriel crossed her arms and dared either man to disagree.

“It’s not Christian to see the bad in others.” Red dug relentlessly, the gritty slice of the shovel making a hole to swallow up Cassie’s husband. “And especially not at a time like this.”

It was just after noon on Sunday, and the funeral would be held as soon as the grave was dug.

Cassie looked down at her dress, her dark blue silk. It was a mess. She’d worn it all week, not giving herself a second to change while she cared for Griff. Then she’d left it on as she rode for town. She’d even slept in it last night. . .or rather she’d lain in bed with it on. She hadn’t slept, more than snatches, in a week. Ever since Griff’s fever started.

She needed to change to her black silk for the funeral.

Cassie wanted to hate Muriel for her words, but Muriel had mothered her, filling such a desperate void in Cassie that she couldn’t bear to blame Muriel for this rage whipping inside of Cassie’s head, pushing her to scream.

“Well, he was a poor excuse for a man and no amount of Christian charity’ll change that.” Muriel clucked and shook her head. “He lived on the labor of others ’n spent money he didn’t have.”

“It’s that snooty, fancy-dressed wife of his who drove him to an early grave,” Seth humphed. Cassie saw Seth’s shoulders quiver as he chuckled. “Of course, many’s the man who’d gladly die trying to keep that pretty little China Doll happy.”

Cassie heard Griff’s nickname for her. She ran her hands down her blue silk that lay modestly loose over her round belly. Fancy-dressed was right. Cassie admitted that. But she hadn’t needed all new dresses just because of the baby. Griff had insisted it was proper that the dresses be ordered. But however she’d come to dress so beautifully in silks and satins, there was no denying she dressed more expensively than anyone she’d met in Montana Territory. Not that she’d met many people.

But snooty? How could Seth say that? They were slandering her and, far worse, insulting Griff. She needed to defend her husband, but Griff hated emotional displays. How could she fight them without showing all the rage that boiled inside her? As the hole grew, something started to grow in Cassie that overcame her grief and fear.

Rage. Hate.

That shovel rose and fell. Dirt flew in a tidy pile and she hated Red for keeping to the task. She wanted to run at Red, screaming and clawing, and force Red to give Griff back to her. But she feared unleashing the anger roiling inside her. Griff had taught her to control all those childish impulses. Right now though, her control slipped.

“A time or two I’ve seen someone who looks to be snooty who was really just shy. . .or scared,” Muriel said.

Red kept digging, determined not to join in with this gossip. But not joining in wasn’t enough. He needed to make them stop. Instead, he kept digging as he thought about poor Cassie. She’d already been tucked into Muriel’s back room when he’d come to town yesterday, but he’d seen Seth bring Lester Griffin’s body in. He couldn’t imagine what that little woman had been through.

“When’s the last time she came into our store?” Seth asked. “Most times she didn’t even come to town. She was too good to soil her feet in Divide. And you can’t argue about fancy-dressed. Griff ordered all her dresses ready-made, sent out from the East.”

Everything about Cassie Griffin made Red think of the more civilized East. She never had a hair out of place or a speck of dirt under her fingernails. Red had seen their home, too. The fanciest building in Montana, some said. Board siding instead of logs. Three floors and so many frills and flourishes the building alone had made Lester Griffin a laughingstock. The Griffins came into the area with a fortune, but they’d gone through it fast.

“That’s right,” Muriel snipped. “Griff ordered them. A spoiled woman would pick out her own dresses and shoes and finery, not leave it to her man.”

Seth shook his head. “I declare, Muriel, you could find the good in a rattlesnake.”

Red’s shovel slammed deep in the rocky soil. “Cassie isn’t a rattlesnake.” He stood up straight and glared at Seth.

His reaction surprised him. Red didn’t let much upset him. But calling Cassie a snake made Red mad to the bone. He glanced over and saw Muriel focusing on him as she brushed back wisps of gray hair that the wind had scattered from her usual tidy bun. She stared at him, taking a good long look.

Seth, a tough old mule-skinner with a marshmallow heart, didn’t seem to notice. “This funeral’ll draw trouble. You just see if it don’t. Every man in the territory’ll come a’running to marry with such a pretty widow woman. Any woman would bring men down on her as hard and fast as a Montana blizzard, but one as pretty as Cassie Griffin?” Seth blew a tuneless whistle through his teeth. “There’ll be a stampede for sure, and none of ’em are gonna wait no decent length of time to ask for her hand.”

Red looked away from Muriel because he didn’t like what was in her eyes. He was through the tough layer of sod and the hole was getting deep fast. He tried to sound casual even though he felt a sharp pang of regret—and not just a little bit of jealousy—when he said, “Doubt she’ll still be single by the time the sun sets.”

Muriel had a strange lilt to her voice when she said, “A woman is rare out here, but a young, beautiful woman like Cassie is a prize indeed.”

Red looked up at her, trying to figure out why saying that made her so all-fired cheerful.

Seth slung his beefy arm around Muriel with rough affection. “I’ve seen the loneliness that drives these men to want a wife. It’s a rugged life, Muriel. Having you with me makes all the difference.”

Red understood the loneliness. He lived with it every day.

“She’s a fragile little thing. Tiny even with Griff’s child in her belly. She needs a man to take care of her.” Muriel’s concern sounded just the littlest bit false. Not that Muriel wasn’t genuinely concerned. Just that there was a sly tone to it, aimed straight at Red.

Red thought of Cassie’s flawless white skin and shining black hair. She had huge, remote brown eyes, with lashes long enough to wave in the breeze, and the sweetest pink lips that never curved in a smile nor opened to wish a man good day.

Red thought on what he’d say to draw a smile and a kind word from her. Such thoughts could keep a man lying awake at night. Red knew that for a fact. Oh yes, Cassie was a living, breathing test from the devil himself.

“China Doll’s the perfect name for her,” Muriel added.

Red had heard that Griff called his wife China Doll. Griff never said that in front of anyone. He always called her Mrs. Griffin, real proper and formal-like. But he’d been overheard speaking to her in private, and he’d called her China Doll. The whole town had taken to calling her that.

Red had seen such a doll in a store window when he was a youngster in Indiana. That doll, even to a roughhousing little boy, was so beautiful it always earned a long, careful look. But the white glass face was cold. and her expression serious, rather than giving the poor toy a painted on smile. It was frighteningly fragile. Rather than being fun, Red thought a China doll would be a sad thing to own and, in the end, a burden to keep unbroken and clean. All of those things described Cassandra Griffin right down to the ground. Knowing all of that didn’t stop him from wanting her.

Cassie got to him. She had ever since the first time he’d seen her nearly two years ago. And now she was available. Someone would have to marry her to keep her alive. Women didn’t live without men in the unsettled West. Life was too hard. The only unattached women around worked above the Golden Butte Saloon and, although they survived, Red didn’t consider their sad existence living.

“You’re established on the ranch these days, Red. Your bank account’s healthy.” Muriel crouched down so she was eye level with Red, who was digging himself down fast. “Maybe it’s time you took a wife.”

Red froze and looked up at his friend. Muriel was a motherly woman, though she had no children. And like a mother, she seemed comfortable meddling in his life.

Red realized he was staring and went back to the grave, tempted to toss a shovel full of dirt on Muriel’s wily face. He wouldn’t throw it hard. He just wanted to distract her.

When he was sure his voice would work, he said, “Cassie isn’t for me, Muriel. And it isn’t because of what it would cost to keep her. If she was my wife, she’d live within my means and that would be that.”

Red had already imagined—in his unruly mind—how stern he’d be when she asked for finery. “You’ll have to sew it yourself or go without.” He even pictured himself shaking a scolding finger right under her turned-up nose. She’d mind him.

He’d imagined it many times, many, many times. And long before Griff died, which was so improper Red felt shame. He’d tried to control his willful thoughts. But a man couldn’t stop himself from thinking a thought until he’d started, now could he? So he’d started a thousand times and then he stopped himself. . .mostly. He’d be kind and patient but he wouldn’t bend. He’d say, “Cass honey, you—”

Red jerked his thoughts away from the old, sinful daydream about another man’s wife. Calmly, he answered Muriel, “She isn’t for me because I would never marry a non-believer.”

With a wry smile, Seth caught on and threw in on Muriel’s side—the traitor. “A woman is a mighty scarce critter out here, Red. It don’t make sense to put too many conditions on the ones there are.”

“I know.” Red talked to himself as much as to them. He hung on to right and wrong. He clung to God’s will. “But one point I’ll never compromise on is marrying a woman who doesn’t share my faith.”

“Now, Red,” Muriel chided, “you shouldn’t judge that little girl like that. How do you know she’s not a believer?”

“I’m not judging her, Muriel.” Which Red realized was absolutely not true. “Okay, I don’t know what faith she holds. But I do know that the Griffins have never darkened the doorstep of my church.”

Neither Seth nor Muriel could argue with that, although Muriel had a mulish look that told him she wanted to.

“We’d best get back.” Seth laid a beefy hand on Muriel’s strong shoulder. “I think Mrs. Griffin is going to need some help getting ready for the funeral.”

“She’s in shock, I reckon,” Muriel said. “She hasn’t spoken more’n a dozen words since she rode in yesterday.”

“She was clear enough on what dress I needed to fetch.” Seth shook his head in disgust. “And she knew the reticule she wanted and the shoes and hairpins. I felt like a lady’s maid.”

“I’ve never seen a woman so shaken.” Muriel’s eyes softened. “The bridle was on wrong. She was riding bareback. It’s a wonder she was able to stick on that horse.”

Red didn’t want to hear anymore about how desperately in need of help Cassie was.

Muriel had been teasing him up until now, but suddenly she was dead serious. “You know what the men around here are like, Red. You know the kind of life she’s got ahead of her. There are just some things a decent man can’t let happen to a woman. Libby’s boys are off hauling freight or I’d talk to them. They’d make good husbands.”

Muriel was right, they would be good. Something burned hot and angry inside of Red when he thought of those decent, Christian men claiming Cassie.

It was even worse when Red thought of her marrying one of the rough and ready men who lived in the rugged mountains and valleys around the little town of Divide, which rested up against the great peaks of the Montana Rockies. It was almost more than he could stand to imagine her with one of them.

But, he also knew a sin when he saw it tempting him, and he refused to let Muriel change his mind. She badgered him a while longer but finally gave up.

He was glad when Seth and Muriel left him alone to finish his digging. Until he looked up and saw Cassie as if he’d conjured her with his daydreams.

But this was no sweet, fragile China Doll. She charged straight toward him, her hands fisted, her eyes on fire.

“Uh. . .hi, Miz Griffin.” He vaulted out of the shoulder-deep hole and faced her. The look on her face was enough to make him want to turn tail and run.

She swept toward him, a low sound coming from her throat that a wildcat might make just before it pounced.

She’d heard it. All of it.

God forgive me for being part of that gossip, hurting her when she’s already so badly hurt.

Whatever she wanted to say, whatever pain she wanted to inflict, he vowed to God that he’d stand here and take it as his due. Her eyes were so alive with fury and focused right on him. How many times had his unruly mind conjured up the image of Cassie focusing on him? But this wasn’t the look he’d imagined in his daydreams. In fact, a tremor of fear ran up his backbone.

His grip tightened on his shovel, not to use as a weapon to defend himself but to keep her from grabbing it and taking a swing.

“Stop it.” Her fists were clenched as if to beat on him. “Stop saying those awful things.” Red saw more life in her eyes than he ever had before. She was always quiet and reserved and distant. “Give him back. I want him back!” She moved so fast toward him that, just as she reached his side, she tripped over her skirt and fell. A terrified shriek cut off her irate words.

“Cassie!” Red dropped the shovel and caught her just as she’d have tumbled into the open grave.

She swung and landed a fist right on his chin.

His head snapped back. She had pretty good power behind her fists for a little thing. Figuring he deserved it, he held on, stepping well away from the hole in the ground. He pulled her against him as she pummeled and emitted short, sharp, frenzied screams of rage. Punching his shoulders, chest, face. He took his beating like a man. He’d earned this by causing her more pain when she’d already been dealt more than she could bear. Of course he’d tried to stop it. But he’d failed now, hadn’t he?

“I’m sorry.” He spoke low, hoping to penetrate her anger. He could barely hear himself over her shouting. “I’m so sorry about Griff, Cassie. And I’m sorry you heard us speaking ill. We were wrong. So wrong. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” His voice kept crooning as he held her, letting her wale away on him until her squeaks and her harmless blows slowed and then ceased, most likely from exhaustion, not because she’d quit hating him.

Her hands dropped suddenly. Her head fell against his chest. Her knees buckled and Red swung her up into his arms.

He looked down at her, wondering if she’d fainted dead away.

In his arms, he held perfection.

She fit against him as if his body and his heart had been created just for her. A soul-deep ache nearly buckled his own knees as he looked at her now-closed eyes. Those lashes so long they’d tangle in a breeze rested on her ashen face, tinged with one bright spot of fury raised red on her cheeks.

“I’m so sorry I hurt you. Please forgive me.” His words were both a prayer to God and a request to poor, sweet Cassie. He held her close, murmuring, apologizing.

At last her eyes fluttered open. The anger was there but not the violence. “Let me go!”

He slowly lowered her feet to the ground, keeping an arm around her waist until he was sure her legs would hold her. She stepped out of his arms as quickly as possible and gave him a look of such hatred it was more painful than the blows she’d landed. Far more painful.

“I’m so sorry for your loss, Cassie honey.” Red wanted to kick himself. He shouldn’t have called her such. It was improper.

She didn’t seem to notice he was even alive. Instead, her gaze slid to that grave, that open rectangle waiting to receive Cassie’s husband. . .or what was left of him. And the hatred faded to misery, agony, and worst of all, fear.

A suppressed cry of pain told Red, as if Cassie had spoken aloud, that she wished she could join her husband in that awful hole.

Her head hanging low, her shoulders slumped, both arms wrapped around her rounded belly, she turned and walked back the way she came. Each step seemed to take all her effort as if her feet weighed a hundred pounds each.

Wondering if he should accompany her back to Muriel’s, instead he did nothing but watch. There was nothing really he could do. That worthless husband of hers was dead and he’d left his wife with one nasty mess to clean up. And Red couldn’t be the one to step in and fix it. Not if he wanted to live the life God had planned for him.

She walked into the swaying stand of aspens. They were thin enough that if he moved a bit to the side, he could keep his eye on her. Stepping farther and farther sideways to look around the trees—because he was physically unable to take his eyes off her—he saw her get safely to the store.

Just then his foot slipped off the edge of the grave. He caught himself before he fell headlong into the six feet of missing earth.

Red heard the door of Bates General Store close with a sharp bang, and Cassie went inside and left him alone in the sun and wind with a deep hole to dig and too much time to think. He grabbed his shovel and jumped down, getting back at it.

He knew he was doing the right thing by refusing to marry Cassie Griffin.

A sudden gust caught a shovelful of dirt and blew it in Red’s face. Along with the dirt that now coated him, he caught a strong whiff of the stable he’d cleaned last night. Cassie would think Red and the Western men he wanted to protect her from were one and the same. And she’d be right, up to a point. The dirt and the smell, the humble clothes, and the sod house—this was who he was, and he didn’t apologize for that to any man. . .or any woman.

Red knew there was only one way for him to serve God in this matter. He had to keep clear of Cassie Griffin.

The China Doll wasn’t for him.

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