The Making of Isaac Hunt by Linda Leigh Hargrove

It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book’s FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and her book:

The Making of Isaac Hunt

Lift Every Voice (June 1, 2007)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Linda Leigh Hargrove blends suspense, humor, and faith into compelling stories about race and class in America. Her writings include two novels: The Making of Isaac Hunt (June 2007) and Loving Cee Cee Johnson (September 2008). The former environmental engineer currently resides in North Carolina with her husband and three sons where she occasionally designs a Web site.

Visit the author’s website and her blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Lift Every Voice (June 1, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0802462693
ISBN-13: 978-0802462695

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Chapter One

Prologue

On an ordinary afternoon in late October I discovered the truth about me. Like fire, that single truth stirred a hunger and created a hurt, but in the end it opened the door to a wholeness beyond my wildest dreams. All in all, I don’t regret embracing that truth. I only regret the time I wasted in running from the freedom that came with it.

I was planning to drive to Richmond that Sunday afternoon a few hours ahead of my parents. I told them I wanted to visit old school friends before our Sunday visit to the rest home where granddaddy stayed.

“I know it’s kind of a last minute thing,” I said, hoping it didn’t sound like another one of my lame stories. “But I haven’t seen any of them in a couple years.”

“Oh?” was mom’s response. It had been a long ‘oh’. She had stared at me with those big brown eyes over her half glasses and brought her Eartha Kitt-like voice up a half dozen notches. “Sounds interesting, Isaac,” she added like she expected to be invited along. Then she winked and said, “Give Senator Holloman’s daughter our love.”

Dad gave my hair a once-over, wagged his head, and grunted. “Behave yourself. Your mother and I will meet you outside your granddaddy’s room around two. Don’t go trampling in bothering him before we get there. He needs his rest. You need a haircut. How can you even see to drive?” He screwed up his brown face and went back to rummaging through his briefcase. Making preparations for upcoming meetings at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals took front seat to his concern over his only son’s dishonesty.

Later, I had sat in the Alzheimer’s wing outside my grandfather’s room for over an hour waiting for the woman I had lied for. A single white rose in my lap.

Her name was Rose. She had eyes the color of milk chocolate, skin like the choicest cream, and the pinkest lips. She was real and easy to be with. Every third Sunday for more than three months she’d dodge work at the front desk and meet me on the bench outside granddaddy’s room. We had a special spot in the woods.

I closed my eyes and leaned my head back against the mud colored cinderblock wall and pressed the rose to my lips. Then I placed the rose on the seat beside me and linked my hands behind my head.

Someone was walking toward me. The footsteps were muffled and slow. I kept my eyes closed, faking sleep. The footsteps stopped and someone poked me in the chest.

“Wake up, Isaac,” came the whisper.

Another poke to the chest. “Isaac.”

“Good afternoon, Mr. Patterson,” I said without opening my eyes.

He snorted and moved in closer. I felt his warm breath on my cheek. “We’ve been waiting all day, kid.”

He had been eating raw onions again. I coughed. “I’m not doing it anymore. That’s what I told you last time, Mr. Patterson.” I looked up into his blue-gray eyes “It’s over. Remember?”

He stuck out his bottom lip and gave me a squinty-eyed frown.

I shook the hair out of my eyes and looked at him hard. “I’m not doing it anymore.” I waved my arms like an umpire calling a man out. “No more.”

“What do you mean, you’re not doing it no more. Kid, it was your idea.”

“Well, it was a bad idea. And I don’t want to do it anymore. Besides, they know.”

Mr. Patterson sat down beside me and placed his silver cane across his lap. He stroked it with the heel of his hand. His age spots looked like coffee stains on white china. “They don’t know a thing we don’t let them know.”

He looked at me sideways and winked. “You know what I mean, bro.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Little white men with canes should only say the word bro if they want to be laughed at. “They know.” I winked hard and tipped my head toward the surveillance camera down the hall.

“Playing checkers,” he whispered, “That’s all they think we’ve been doing. Nobody has to know it’s anything more.”

The squeak of a wheel cut Mr. Patterson short. He was looking over my shoulder with wide eyes. The scent of cheap aftershave rose around me.

“Yes, Isaac. It’s just a friendly game of checkers,” said the voice behind me.

I turned and nodded to the thin clean-shaven man in a wheelchair. “Good afternoon, Mr. Smith. Getting a little exercise?” I forced a smile. Sweat glistened on the loose skin of his neck. There was a bead of sweat on his upper lip that made his face look dirty. His eyes, as pale as mine, sparkled irony.

He was pulling at his black leather biking gloves. For a few seconds I couldn’t take my eyes off them. That’s when I noticed what he had tucked in the folds of the blanket spread across his legs – an envelope marked I. Hunt.

Mr. Smith finished looking me up and down then nodded back at me. “Mr. Hunt.” Then he gave Mr. Patterson a smile that did nothing to warm the air and barked, “Bye, George Patterson.”

Mr. Patterson stood and gulped. “Afternoon, Mick,” he said and left.

Mr. Smith stared at me some more. I stared back some more.

“You’re quite the young entrepreneur for a shaggy-headed college student, Isaac Ulysses Hunt.” He jerked his head toward my grandfather’s door. “Old Ulysses would be proud.”

I glared at his white face then clenched my teeth and looked away.

He wheeled himself closer to me and lowered his voice. “They don’t know. That note you received came from me.”

I looked at him. He was a thin pasty old man. His Aqua Velva or whatever it was was starting to burn my eyes. The insulated shirt he wore only concentrated the aroma. His blue eyes were set back under a heavy brow with wild salt and pepper eyebrows. He narrowed those eyes and smiled at me. I looked away.

“That’s a very nice rose you have.”

“What do you want from me?”

“Want?”

“Yeah. This is where you ask me for that little favor so you can keep my little secret.”

He sighed. “If I wanted to black mail you I would have done it a long time ago. Besides it was kind of interesting watching you operate. Getting all these old white folk to trust you with their money. It beat Bingo and reruns of Diagnosis Murder, that’s for sure. What’d you do with the money?”

I stared at him. That’s for me to know and you to find out. My turn to narrow my eyes and smile.

His smile faded. “Doesn’t matter, I guess. Push me.”

“I’m waiting for someone.”

“Rose? She’s not coming.”

I frowned.

He glanced down the hall past me. “I’ll tell you outside. Just push me, Isaac. Too many eyes here.”

I laid the rose across the back of his headrest and I pushed.

Mr. Smith directed me toward a back entrance and down a wide leaf-littered path to a clearing with stone benches overlooking a small pond. Dry leaves rattled in the breeze. A few squirrels frolicked on a log nearby. I knew the spot well. It felt empty without Rose.

Mr. Smith shifted in his chair and reached under his blanket. He pulled out a half empty bottle of whiskey.

“Here, hold this.”

I took the bottle and sat on the bench beside his chair.

He reached under his blanket again and pulled out two crinkled paper cups. He handed me one and took the bottle back. His clammy white fingers brushed mine. I flinched.

“Hold your cup closer.”

And you’re against me gambling? I almost said. I rolled my eyes and placed the empty cup on the bench beside me.

“I take it you don’t care to drink with me then.”

Mr. Smith shrugged and screwed the cap back on the bottle before tucking it under his blanket again.

“I need to get back. My parents should be here soon.” Upsetting my parents was only a distant thought, I still had Rose on the brain.

“She’s not coming back, Isaac. Rose, I mean.”

“You’re repeating yourself. How do you know that anyway?”

He slumped and looked out over the pond. “Yesterday, Rose and I sat here and we talked about you.”

I frowned at him.

“Rose was my daughter.”

I couldn’t help but gape.

He shrugged and with a smirk said, “She got her mother’s looks.”

Mr. Smith shifted in his chair and gulped the rest of the whiskey in his cup. He poured himself another and continued. “She’s a bright girl most of the time but put her in the same room with a handsome face and a single white rose and she turns into a naïve flighty little thing. I asked her what she knew about you. Your work. Your family. She said she thought you were in finance and came to visit your mother every month.” He looked at me.

I winced. “We haven’t exactly talked about …”

“She said she thought your mother was the widow Inez Hunt, a white woman that lives across the hall from me.”

I winced again.

“Then she went on and on about you. Your clothes. Your car. Your looks. ‘He has the most exquisite coloring, daddy.’ That’s what she said.”

Exquisite? She was one for strange words.

He shook his head. “That’s when I knew I had to tell her my little secret. Though I knew as soon as I opened my mouth that she’d do the same thing her mother did ten years ago. Leave me.”

He hung his head and stayed quiet for several minutes. He coughed and ran the back of his hand across his top lip. I stood up. Rose was a wash and I didn’t want to hear the rest of what this old white man had to suggest about me. “Mr. Smith, I …”

“You know what passing means, Isaac? Passing for white, I mean.”

A stiff breeze blew between us. I pulled the collar of my pea coat in tighter and leaned over him. “I’m not trying to pass, Mr. Smith.”

He tucked his cup and bottle away and stuffed his hands under the blanket. “My daddy was about like your folks. Real fair. My mother she could have passed. But she didn’t. She was a proud woman. Proud to be black. When I was seventeen, they were both killed in a car accident. Daddy’s brother took me in. I graduated high school. Enlisted Army. Did nine months in Korea. That’s where I was wounded.” He pointed at his legs. “And that’s where I discovered the benefits of passing. I came back. Conveniently forgot my uncle’s address. Fell in love with a white woman. Married her on her daddy’s front porch overlooking the Chesapeake. Had our lovely Rose. Made a nice living passing for white.

“My sweet Leslie thought the sun and moon rose and set at my command till the day my uncle shows up and I have to tell her my little secret. She took Rose and left. All these years I thought she’d told Rose. Yesterday, when I realized Rose didn’t know …

He shook his head and ran a shaky hand through his thinning hair. “You know what your granddaddy told me one day? He said ‘A lie is a lie is a lie. No matter how pretty you tell it or how long you live it, it’s still a lie and in the end when it’s brought to light, it breeds misery.’ Right out of the blue. That’s what he said. I was sitting in his room playing old Al Green and he kinda woke up and came to his senses just for a few seconds.”

He glanced at me and stopped short. I was trying hard not to roll my eyes. I’d heard that lie line many times from my grandfather. It was as tired as Mr. Smith’s blanket.

“‘I’m not black, daddy.’ That’s what my Rose said before she left me.”

He stretched out a hand, palm down, and looked at it. His hand started to tremble and he caught his breath. Tears dropped into his lap. I looked away then turned to go.

“Isaac. Wait.”

He handed me the envelope, “From Rose.”

I took it and stood there for a few seconds. Looking at that wilted rose and the shrinking old man. I remember thinking as I shifted on my cold feet that this talk had really been more for him than for me. It was obvious he didn’t care any more for me than the man in the moon but he needed to say these things to unload some guilt. He was old and guilt ridden. I knew the truth about who I was. I wasn’t living a lie, I told myself.

Man, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

# # #

“Where’s Betty’s boy?” came the scream a second time. It was my grandfather’s voice a few thousand decibels louder than anything I had heard coming out of him in a coon’s age, as he would say. And it was certainly louder than anyone at Glenbrook Rehabilitation Center would appreciate.

I chuckled and said something about his medication needing adjusting as I entered granddaddy’s room. My parents weren’t amused. Dad was hovering over his father’s bed. Mom was standing near the door wringing her hands.

When I walked in she pushed me back and pointed to the bench outside the room and said, “Sit.”

“I want to see Betty’s boy.” came another yell. “Can’t a dying man have a last request?”

Last request?

I pushed past my mother. “No, Mama. I want to talk with granddad.”

“Isaac …” my father started, then muttered, “Chloe, honey, stop him.”

Granddaddy’s eyes widened. He smiled and stretched his yellowing brown arms toward me. “There’s Betty’s boy. Come give me a hug, Isaac.”

I studied the old man from where I stood. His light brown eyes didn’t look like they had three months ago – wild and glassy like those of an animal in pain. During that visit, he’d talked endlessly to an invisible person named Mimi. The woman, I found out later, had been his secretary for a few months during his many years at the Department of Justice in D.C. Their affair had lasted for several years.

“Guilt will do that to a man in his last days,” Ricky Hunt, my father the wise judge had pronounced on the ride back to Raleigh.

Granddaddy had on one of those 9/11 tee shirts with a large bald eagle and flag enfolding the Twin Towers, and the words ‘In God We Trust’ across the top. I stared at it for a few seconds, not sure what to make of the words. God and Granddaddy? I chalked it up to another slip in reality for him.

I glanced behind me to where my parents stood – their eyes stretched wide. Dad shifted toward me a bit but stopped short when his foot hit the corner of a bulging duffle bag propped against the wall.

My mind went briefly to Mr. Smith out there crying in the woods. Racked with guilt and regrets. Weighed down with the burden of lying all his life.

What kind of burdens were weighing on my grandfather I wondered?

I stepped closer to the bed. His blue bathrobe, the one I had given him when I was twelve, was stretched over his thighs. I placed my hand on the worn terry cloth and leaned in. “Who’s Betty, granddaddy?”

“Your mama, Betty Douglas. She lives in North Carolina. In Pettigrew.”

The two adults behind me descended on the old man like an ER team, doing everything but cover his mouth with their hands. Looking back on that day, I think if they hadn’t been so obvious I wouldn’t have gotten so suspicious. I would have marked it up to another Mimi incident. Maybe he had had more than one tryst. He was a handsome old guy with those eyes and that square jaw, and probably had played the field as a younger man.

“What’s going on, Chloe?” asked granddaddy. His body fell back onto his pillow and he gasped, “Good Lord, help us all.”

Ulysses Hunt, the man I had grown to love and trust and learned to call Granddaddy Ulysses, died the next morning. Two days later, I hired a private investigator to help me find this Betty of Pettigrew.

MY REVIEW:

I began reading The Making of Isaac Hunt with no preconceived expectations as Hargrove was an unknown author to me. I have since learned that this is her first novel. Wow – quite impressive for a first novel!

Isaac Hunt has always felt caught between two worlds – too white for the blacks and too black for the whites. When his dying grandfather reveals the name of his birthmother and her location, Isaac began a quest to find out his true identity. As he gets closer to finding the truth, Isaac discovers that nothing is as it seems and that someone desperately wants him out of the way.

The Making of Isaac Hunt is a book about a small town riddled with rascism and those of both races who have taken a stand against it. It is a story of both love and unbridled hate; desperation and redemption. The Making of Isaac Hunt is filled with twists and surprises around every corner, action and suspense. But most important, it is a book that will make you stop and think.

Twice Loved by Lori Copeland – CFBA

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Twice Loved

Avon Inspire (July 22, 2008)

by

Lori Copeland

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lori lives in the beautiful Ozarks with her husband Lance. Lance and Lori have three sons, two daughter-in-laws, and five wonderful grandchildren. They are very involved in their church, and active in supporting mission work in Mali, West Africa.

Lori began her writing career in 1982, writing for the secular book market. In 1995 after many years of writing, Lori sensed that God was calling her to use her gift of writing to honor Him. It was at that time that Lori began writing for the Christian book market. To date, she has more than 95 books published including Now And Always
and Bluebonnet Belle.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Texas, 1865 Willow Madison and her friends, Copper and Audrey taught school in neighboring Texas communities until the Yankees rode into the area and burned them out. In the midst of fear and chaos, survivors banded together to fight for what remained of their homes. Then word reached the people that the terrible war was over.

Now penniless but still hopeful, Willow vows she will take care of her friends, Copper and Audrey, and her ailing uncle, in Thunder Ridge, Texas, even if it means having to marry wealthy Silas Sterling, a man thirty years her senior. But standing in her way is handsome sawmill owner Tucker Gray, with his enticing eyes and infuriating headstrong manner—the man Willow cannot get out of her head . . . or her heart. Even though her friends beg her not to give up her dream of happiness, Willow is determined to do the right thing for those who are dearest to her. But which path does God want Willow to take: a life of duty and commitment . . . or a life of everlasting love?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Twice Loved, go HERE

MY REVIEW:

Twice Loved literally begins and ends with a bang and the pages between contain enough action, humor, conflict, and romance to keep the reader engaged. Set in the appropriately named town, Thunder Ridge, Texas, Twice Loved is filled with well developed characters who are essential to the appeal of the story.

It is difficult to add to the description from the back cover without revealing too much about the plot. Willow’s determination to sacrifice her own happiness to help her friends and family is tested as she and Tucker battle their unwelcome attraction. Will Willow rely on God or her own strength to decide her future? I suggest that you get a copy of Twice Loved and enjoy Willow’s story in order to find the answer.

Fans of Lori Copeland will not be disappointed by Twice Loved and those unfamiliar with her books would do well to start with this series.

The Book of Names (Legends of Karac Tor) by D. Barkley Briggs

It’s the 21st, time for the Teen FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book’s FIRST chapter!

and his book:

NavPress Publishing Group (July 15, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dean Barkley Briggs is an author, father of eight, and prone to twisting his ankle playing basketball. He grew up reading J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Patricia McKillip, Guy Gavriel Kay, Stephen R. Donaldson, Ursila K. Leguin, Susan Cooper, Madeline L’Engle, Terry Brooks, Andre Norton and Lloyd Alexander (just to name a few)…and generally thinks most fantasy fiction pales in comparison. (Yes, he dabbled in sci-fi, too. Most notably Bradbury, Burroughs and Heinlein).

After losing his wife of 16 years, Briggs decided to tell a tale his four sons could relate to in their own journey through loss. Thus was born The Legends of Karac Tor, a sweeping adventure of four brothers who, while struggling to adjust to life without mom, become enmeshed in the crisis of another world. Along the way they must find their courage, face their pain, and never quit searching for home.

Briggs is remarried to a lovely woman, who previously lost her husband. Together with her four children, their hands are full.

Product Details

List Price: $12.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 397 pages
Publisher: NavPress Publishing Group (July 15, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 160006227X
ISBN-13: 978-1600062278

Watch the Trailer:

Enter the Contest:

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

In final days / Come final woes
Doors shall open / Doors shall close
Forgotten curse / Blight the land
Four names, one blood / Fall or stand
If lost the great one / Fallen low
Rises new / Ancient foe
Darkest path / River black
Blade which breaks / Anoint, attack
If once and future / Lord of war,
Queen la Faye / Mighty sword,
Rises ‘gain / As warrior king,
Prepare / For day of reckoning
If Aion’s breath / For music cursed
Sings making things / Made perverse,
Fate shall split / Road in twain
One shall lose / One shall gain
If secret lore / Then be found
Eight plus one / All unbound
Beast shall come / Six must go
Doors shall open / Doors shall close
If buried deep / Hidden seen
Ancient tomb / Midst crim
son green
Nine shall bow / Nine more rise
Nine horns blow / Nine stars shine
If falling flame / Burning pure
Ten thousand cries / For mercy heard
Then plagues, peril / Horns of dread
End of days / Land be red
When final days / Bring final woes
Doors shall open / Doors shall close
Fate for one / For all unleashed
Come the Prince / Slay the beast
Cross the water / Isgurd’s way
White horse / Top the waves
Aion, fierce! / Aion, brave!
Aion rides / To save the day

— The Ravna’s Last Riddle

Chapter 1

BLACK BIRDS

The day was gray and cold, mildly damp. Perfect for magic. Strange clouds overhead teased the senses with a fragrance of storm wind and lightning and the faint, clean smell of ozone. Invisible energy sparkled like morning dew on blades of grass.

Standing alone in an empty field on the back end of their new acreage, Hadyn Barlow only saw the clouds. By definition, you can’t see what’s invisible, and as for smelling magic? Well, let’s just say, unlikely. Hadyn saw what was obvious for late November, rural Missouri: leafless trees, dead grass, winter coming on strong. Most of all he saw (and despised) the humongous briar patch in front of him, feeling anew each and every blister and callous earned hacking through its branches.

Making room for cattle next spring, or so he was told; this, even though his dad had never owned a cow in his life. He was a history teacher for crying out loud. A college professor. Hadyn’s shoulders slumped. It didn’t matter. Everything was different now. Mr. Barlow didn’t let his boys curse, but low under his breath, Hadyn did, mildly, just to prove the point. Life stunk. That was the brutal truth.

All true for the most part. Yet standing alone in the field, bundled in flannel, something else prickled his skin—something hidden in the rhythm of the day, at its core—and it wasn’t just the chill wind. He couldn’t shake it. A sense of something. Out-of-placeness. Faced with a friendless sophomore year, Hadyn knew that feeling all too well. It attacked him every morning, right before school.

But this was something more, more than the usual nervousness and name-calling stuff. His intuition was maddeningly vague. Hadyn sniffed the air, eyeing the field. A fox scampered in the distance. Bobwhites whistled softly. This had been his routine for weeks. Go to school, come home, do chores. Today was no different. Except for the clouds.

He looked upwards, struck again by the strange hues. The colors were still there; kinda creepy. They had lingered since the bus ride home. He had seen it happen with his own eyes, though he didn’t think much of it at the time. Right about the time school let out and the yellow buses began winding home, the skies had opened and spilled. Low banks of clouds came tumbling from the horizon like old woolen blankets. Like that scene from Independence Day, when the alien ships first appeared. Hues of purple, cobalt and charcoal smeared together. Not sky blue. Not normal. Riding on the bus, face pressed against the cold window, he didn’t know what to think. Only that it looked…otherworldly. Like God had put Van Gogh in charge for the day.

Strange.

Earlier, the day hadn’t felt weird. If anything, he had felt relief. Two days until Friday…until Thanksgiving Break. Only two days. He could make it. Standing by the mailbox with his three brothers, waiting for the bus—he couldn’t wait to get his own car—mild winds had stirred from the south, scampering through row after row of brittle stalks in the neighbor’s cornfield across the road. He heard them in the leafless oak and elm of his own yard, hissing with a high, dry laughter. Warm winds, not cold. But about noon, the wind shifted. Again, no big deal for Missouri, always caught in the middle between the gulf streams of Mexico and Canada’s bitter cold. Temperamental weather was normal in these parts.

Yet there it was. From the winding ride home to this very moment, he couldn’t rid himself of that dry-mouthed, queasy feeling. It was more than a shift in wind. It was a shift in energy. Yes, the dark clouds and strange colors reminded him of the thickening air before a big, cracking Midwestern storm, but that wasn’t it. This was different.

Hadyn being Hadyn, more than anything else, wanted to identify the moment. To name it.

Though he didn’t actually verbalize until age three, Hadyn was born with a question mark wrinkled into his brows. Always searching, always studying something. He couldn’t speak a word before then—refused to, his dad always said—yet he knew the letters of the alphabet at a precocious 12 months. When he finally did decide to talk, words gushed. Full sentences. Big vocabulary. Not surprisingly, it was clear early on that Hadyn was one of those types bent toward structure, patterns. He hated incongruities, hated not knowing how to pinpoint the strange twist in sky and mood right in the middle of an otherwise typically dreary day. If it was just nasty weather, name it! What did it feel like? Wet fish guts? Not quite. A full wet diaper? He remembered those well enough from when the twins were little, but no. A three day old slice of cheese?

Yes, that was it. Cold, damp, moldy.

Velveeta, actually, he decided, feeling a small measure of satisfaction. He fumbled for the zipper of his coat as another icy breeze prickled his skin. Yep, another lousy Velveeta day in the life of Hadyn Barlow.

He thought of the roaring wood stove back home. Hot cocoa. Little consolation. Until dusk, the oldest Barlow boy was stuck outside in a field with hatchet and hedge shears. Stuck in a foul mood, stuck with a knot in his throat. Just plain stuck. His task, his life, seemed endless and pointless.

“Just a little bit every day, however much you can manage after school,” his father would remind him. “And don’t look so grumpy. The days are shorter and shorter.”

But not any warmer.

“Grr!” Hadyn grumbled aloud, snapping at the cold in his thoughts. He had chosen to “clear” the massive beast by carving tunnels in it, not just hacking mindlessly. Probably not exactly what Dad had in mind, but, well, to be honest, he didn’t really care. He was the one stuck out here in the cold. He had already carved several tunnels, and reentered the biggest one now, loping and clicking his shears at the endless mess of thorns and branches, alternated by halfhearted swings of the hatchet. The briar patch sprawled a couple hundred feet in every direction, comprised of dense, overgrown nettles, blackberry bushes and cottonweed. Untended for generations, the underbrush was so thick and tall a person could easily get lost in it, especially toward the center, where the land formed a shallow ravine that channeled wet weather rains toward the pond on the lower field. Hadyn guessed the height at the center point would be a good 12 feet or more. Enormous.

Really, it was a ridiculous task. Dad had to know that.

“Why not just burn the thing?” Hadyn had asked him. Burn it, then brush-hog it. Throw a hand grenade in and run.

Mr. Barlow never really answered, just said he wanted him to clear it by hand. After the first day of grumbling and complaining (which proved none too popular with his father), Hadyn started carving tunnels. His plan was to craft a maze out of it, maybe create a place to escape…at least have some fun before his dad made him level the whole thing

Fun? He caught himself, tasting the word like a spoonful of Nyquil. Fun is soccer with the guys back home.

He paused for a moment to wipe his brow. Home was no longer a city, not for four months now. It was a cow pasture. Home had been Independence, the suburb of Kansas City whose chief claim to fame (other than being the birthplace of Harry S. Truman) was that Jesus would return there, at least according to one of numerous Mormon splinter groups. For Hadyn, it was all about skateboards and traffic and rows of houses. Noise. Friends. Now, all that—everything familiar and good—was exactly three hours and nineteen minutes straight across I-70 on the opposite end of the state. Might as well have been on the opposite side of the planet. Home now: three hundred acres in the middle of nowhere, away from all he had ever known.

The town was called Newland. The name seemed like a smack in the face.

New town. New school. New faces. New troubles to deal with. New disappointments. His dad had tried to make a big deal of the “new” thing. This would be a new start for their family, a new chapter, blah, blah, blah. A change, from sadness to hope, he said. Hadyn hated change.

He didn’t want new. He wanted it how it used to be.

How it used to be was happy. Normal. Right. Fair. How it used to be meant they were a family of six, not five. Hadyn felt a familiar pang slice across his chest. He would have traded all the unknown magic in the world for five more minutes with—

Mom…

It had been a year since she died. His mental images of her remained vivid, of a beautiful woman with porcelain smooth skin, naturally blonde, witty, vivacious. All four Barlow brothers shared her spunky attitude, as well as an even mix of their parents’ coloring: mom’s fairness, dad’s darker hair and complexion, the boys somewhere in between. Hadyn, rapidly entering his adult body, was tall for his age, muscular, lean, possessed of a sometimes uncomfortably aristocratic air. Some days his eyes were smoky jade, others, iron gray. But he had Anna’s cleverness.

His parents had been saving money for several years, studying the land all around Newland. Hadyn could not fathom why. What was so special about Podunk, America? But he knew his mom had been happy to think about life in the country. Once upon a time, that was enough. But now? Without her, what was the point? Why couldn’t they have just stayed in Independence? Moving wasn’t going to bring her back. Didn’t Dad know that?

For the second time that afternoon, a tidal wave of loneliness nearly drowned him, left him in a goo of self-pity, the sort of sticky feeling he didn’t want anyone to spoil by cheering him up. He took one more angry swing. Done or not, he was done for the day. Work could wait. Dad would just have to deal with it. Already, he had built a pretty impressive maze, though. Six unconnected tunnels so far.

Like I give a rip about these stupid tunnels, he thought as he crawled from the center toward the mouth of the largest, longest shaft. Or this stupid land, or town, or patch of—his knee jammed against a thorn protruding from the soil—thorny! ridiculous!…

He clenched his jaw, flashing through dozens of choice words, using none. Honoring his dad. Pain streamed as tears down his cheek, and it wasn’t just the thorn in his knee. It was life. Crawling forty more feet, he emerged to face the slowly westering sun melting down the sky. The otherworldly colors he had seen earlier were gone. Only the cold remained. And now, a bleeding, sore knee.

Behind him, he heard heard rustling grass and the high pitched, lilting notes of his brother’s tin whistle. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve and grimaced. Ewan, like his mother, was musical. Even more like her, he was sentimental. He often carried the whistle she had brought him as a gift from Ireland. It would, no doubt, have seemed humorous to some, to see him wandering the field, playing a spritely little tune. It only annoyed Hadyn. Thankfully, as Ewan drew closer, the song trailed away.

“Hey, Hadyn.”

Hadyn grunted. “What do you want?”

Ewan shrugged, tucking the flute into his back pocket. He wore blue jeans, and a blue embroidered ball cap, initialed ‘ECB’.

“Wondered how things were going.”

“Dad sent you to help, didn’t he?”

Ewan frowned. “Yep. Got done with my chores sooner than planned.”

“Bummer.”

“Major bummer,” Ewan emphasized. “Looks like you’re near the center, though. That’s pretty cool.”

Hadyn didn’t reply. With only two years between them, the two brothers had always been the closest of friends, the fiercest competitors, the quickest of combatants. They understood each other’s rhythms like no one else in the family. Whereas Hadyn was studied, wise and cautious, Ewan was quick, fearless and comfortable with long odds. No one could make Ewan laugh—gasping-for-air, fall-on-the-ground-cackling—like Hadyn. Likewise, Ewan could frustrate Hadyn to no end, or, with the sheer power of silliness, cheer him up when a sullen moment was about to strike. Not much wanting to be rescued from his mood at the moment, however, Hadyn let his silent response wrap around him like a barrier against further penetration. He didn’t notice that Ewan’s gaze had drifted from the briar patch to the low sky and paused there.

“What do you make of that?” he dimly heard his brother say, distracted, curious. Through the haze of his own thoughts, Hadyn followed Ewan’s line of sight, his pointing finger, straight into the sunset. At first, he saw nothing. Then it was obvious. Several large, black birds were swooping low on the horizon. Even at a distance, it appeared they were headed straight for the two boys, unveering over the slope of the ground, drawing swiftly nearer, a hundred yards or so away. From the sound of their raucous cry, they were like ravens, only larger, throatier, and if possible, blacker.

“Cawl-cawl,” they cried.

Hadyn counted four total, wings outstretched, unflapping, like stealth bombers in formation. There was something organized and determined about their flight. It lacked animal randomness.

“Do they look strange to you?” Ewan asked, cocking his head.

Hadyn pretended to be uninterested. It didn’t last. “What is that in their claws? What’re they carrying?”

“Yeah, I see it. Sticks?”

“Too thick. It would be too heavy. Wouldn’t it?”

“Hard to tell at this angle. Are they heading for us?” Ewan held up his hand to shield his eyes. “Man, they’re fast. What are they?”

“I don’t know, but they’re still—”

“Look out!” Ewan dove to the side, tripping Hadyn in the process. Both boys hit the ground on a roll, turning just in time to see the birds swoop suddenly upward, arcing high into the sky, turn, then turn again. The lead bird, larger than the others, croaked loudly; the other three responded. Over and over, the same phrase, like a demand: “Cawl!”

All four were pitch black, having none of the deep blue sheen of a crow’s feathers, or so it seemed in the failing light. They flew as black slashes in the sky, all wing and beak, not elegant in the air, but fast. Disappearing completely against the lightless eastern expanse, they reappeared again as silhouettes skimming the western horizon. At first it seemed to Hadyn the birds would fly away, as they swept up and out in a wide arc. But the curve of their path soon came full circle. They were attempting another pass. Both boys nervously scooted further outside the angle of the birds’ approach.

“What in the world?” Hadyn said, hatchet raised and ready. It was clearer now in silhouette form. Each bird carried the form of a long, thick tube in their talons.

The brothers hunched on the ground, motionless, muscles tensed, watching as the birds continued their second approach. Hadyn held his breath. The birds didn’t veer, nor aim again for the boys. Instead, they formed a precise, single-file line, a black arrow shooting toward the main tunnel of the thicket. With a final loud croak—“Cawl!”—and not a single flap of wing, all four swooped straight into the hole, one after the other. As they did, each released the object clutched in its talons. The tubes clattered together with a light, tinny sound at the mouth of the tunnel, literally at the boys’ feet. The birds were already beyond sight. Their throaty noise echoed for a moment, evaporating into an obvious silence marked only by the faint breeze of wings passing over broken grass.

Hadyn and Ewan stared first at the tunnel, then at the objects. Then at each other. Then back at the tunnel. In the same instant, each of them leaped toward what the birds had left behind: four thin, black metallic tubes, trimmed with milky white bands at top and bottom.

Hadyn slowly stretched out his hand and picked up a tube. He rolled it between his fingers. It was about the length of Ewan’s Irish whistle, but thicker, maybe the circumference of a quarter. Not heavy at all. In the middle of each tube, finely wrought in scripted gold filigree, the letter ‘A’ appeared.

Ewan lightly shook his tube, listening for clues to its contents. It sounded hollow.

“They didn’t even have us sign for delivery,” he deadpanned. “What do we do with these? They look important.”

“How should I know?” Hadyn said contemptuously, flicking his eyes cautiously toward the tunnel. “Where’d they even go? I mean, really. Are they just hiding back there until we leave?”

“Who cares!” Ewan said. His disgust was obvious. Hadyn’s was being an analyst again. “This isn’t hard, Hadyn. Some big birds dive bombed us. They dropped these cool tubes. It makes no sense. It’s awesome. Totally, factor 10 cool.”

Hadyn mulled it over. “Maybe they’re some sort of carrier pigeon, but…do carrier pigeons even fly anymore?

“Only on Gilligan’s Island. TV Land. Listen to me, you’re just guessing.”

“Have you got a better idea?” Hadyn demanded.

Ewan waited, considered. Hadyn knew he hated being put on the spot like that, in the inferior position. Now it was Ewan’s turn to think.

“Okay, maybe you’re right. Maybe those birds really are carriers of some sort?—” Ewan held up a tube, “—obviously they are. What if they need to carry these things farther still? What if they’re just resting? What if they are trained to do this when they need to rest? Drop their packages, find a hole, rest, then grab their stuff and carry on?”

“So…are you suggesting we flush them out? Cause there is no way I’m going to crawl back there. They can get out later on their own.”

Ewan didn’t reply. Instead he dug into his pocket, pulled out a small flashlight, and scuttled into the tunnel the birds had entered. “Wait here,” he ordered.

“Hey, watch it back there!” Hadyn cautioned. Secretly, he wanted him to go, knew how to punch his brother’s buttons to make it happen. “Those claws looked sharp!”

While he waited for Ewan to return, Hadyn examined the tubes further. He shook one tube, flicked it, smelled another; picked up and twirled the third and fourth tubes. His efforts yielded the same muffled sensation of something barely shifting inside. Maybe a rolled up piece of paper? If the ravens (or crows, or whatever they were) were carriers of some sort, a written message did make the most sense. But who in the world still sent paper messages…by bird? By raven, no less. Hello, email anyone?

Presently, Ewan reappeared, breathing hard.

“They’re gone,” he said simply. “Must have flown out one of the other tunnels.”

Hadyn creased his brow. “No way. None of the tunnels connect yet.”

“They don’t?” Ewan’s eyes widened as it dawned on him that he hadn’t seen any other tunnels. “No…they don’t.”

The two boys stared at one another in silence. Evening enfolded them; soon, darkness. “They must have crawled through the branches,” Hadyn surmised, but he hardly sounded convinced. “Are you sure you didn’t see them?”

Ewan rolled his eyes. “Hello? Big, black flappy things. Yes, I’m sure.” He grabbed one of the tubes, shook it again. “This band looks like ivory, but it’s hard to tell in this light.”

“Reminds me of one of mom’s necklaces.”

Ewan grabbed the end and twisted. “Only one way to find out.”

This time Hadyn didn’t argue or analyze. Curiosity had gotten the best of him. The lid twisted off with surprising ease, followed by a thin hiss of sealed air. Ewan wrinkled his face. “Smells old. Yuck. Turn on your flashlight. Mine is getting weak.”

He tapped the open end against the palm of his left hand. The coiled edge of a piece of thick, cream-colored parchment slipped out. Hadyn leaned in closer. Ewan gingerly teased the scroll out. It had a heavy grain of woven cotton, with rough edges trimmed in gold foil. Both boys let out a long slow breath. Neither the silver moon hung off the treeline, nor the winking stars, provided light enough to clearly see. Hadyn turned on his flashlight as his brother unrolled the parchment. The paper was larger than normal, rich to the touch. Pinning both ends to the ground, both boys read at once the simple message beautifully scripted on the inside in golden ink: “You have been chosen for a life of great purpose. Adventure awaits you in the Hidden Lands.”

“Dude!” Ewan whistled softly. “Looks like something from King Arthur. What in the world are the Hidden Lands?”

Hadyn, who actually loved the lore of King Arthur—and Ewan knew it—was already reaching for another tube. Ewan followed his lead. Within twenty seconds, all four tubes were opened, and four identical parchments lay spread on the ground in the dark, illuminated only by flashlights. Golden ink glimmered, subtly shifting hues. Each bore the exact same message.

“You have been chosen for a life of great purpose. Adventure awaits you in the Hidden Lands.”

Hadyn grabbed the four sheets, quickly rolled them up, and inserted each back into its thin metal sleeve. “We need to head home before Dad gets worried,” he said. “You take two and I’ll take two. Stick them under your shirt and act cool. I have no idea what these are. But for now, they’re our little secret.”

He puffed up for a moment, the older brother. Still out of sorts with the world.

“And none of your games, either, Ewan. I mean it. I’m not in the mood.”

MY REVIEW:

The pure beauty of Briggs’ lyrical style instantly drew me into the story on the very first page. It is not often that I find a writer so skilled in making me “feel” the very atmosphere of the story. The Book of Names is a beautifully written story of courage in the face of great evil- a story of finding one’s true calling in a world that discourages individuality.

The Book of Names is a fantastical adventure of ancient portals, alternate worlds, mystical powers, and heroic quests. When Hadyn and Ewan Barlow suddenly find themselves in Karac Tor with no clue about how to return to their home, they become unwitting participants in an attempt to save the kingdom. On their journey across Karac Tor, they encounter the unique inhabitants of the land including both heroes and villains.

D. Barkley Briggs is a master storyteller and The Book of Names will appeal to both his target teen audience and adults. I highly recommend it to all.

House of Wolves by Matt Bronleewe – CFBA

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing

House Of Wolves

Thomas Nelson (August 12, 2008)
by

Matt Bronleewe

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Matt Bronleewe is a recognized producer, songwriter and author. The former member of the band Jars of Clay, has earned numerous awards producing and co-writing albums that have sold a combined total of over 20 million copies. His songs have recently been recorded by Disney pop sensations Aly & AJ, American Idol finalist Kimberley Locke, and more. Bronleewe has worked with Grammy Award-winning artists such as Michael W. Smith, International pop singer Natalie Imbruglia and Heroes star Hayden Panettiere.

Born in Dallas, Texas, Bronleewe was raised on a farm in Kansas, where he lived until he left for college in 1992. At Greenville College in Illinois, Bronleewe formed the band Jars of Clay with his dorm roommate and two neighbors, and the group soon found success. Though Bronleewe opted to leave Jars of Clay early on to pursue an academic career, he soon found himself in Nashville, co-writing, producing, and playing music professionally.

To add to his list of accomplishments, Bronleewe has expanded his love of story telling beyond music into authorship. He is currently penning a 5 book series for Thomas Nelson Fiction. His first book Illuminated began the adventurous series about rare manuscripts and the mysteries within.

Bronleewe currently resides in Brentwood, Tenn., with his wife and three children. He continues to write and produce music, and he also volunteers through his church to help disadvantaged youth in the community. Bronleewe enjoys reading, taste-testing good food and watching sports, as well as indulging his interests in art, architecture, design and science.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

A mysterious book with a dangerous secret.

An evil brotherhood out to conquer the world.

One man stands between them . . . with his family in the balance.

In the twelfth century, Henry the Lion collected the rarest relics in Christendom. And to protect his most precious acquisitions, he encoded the whereabouts in a gorgeous illuminated manuscript called The Gospels of Henry the Lion.

The manuscript has been showing up and disappearing ever since. No one knows where the relic has been hidden . . . or its ultimate power.

Only one man holds the key to the mystery.

He’s carrying it in his briefcase at his son’s school for show-and-tell, and he thinks it’s a fake. But he’s about to find out just how real it is.

Because the wolves are rapidly closing in. And if August Adams can’t decode the secret in time, the world’s balance of power will forever be altered.

If you would like to read an excerpt of House Of Wolves, it will be HERE

MY REVIEW:

Once again, Matt Bronleewe has taken well researched historical facts, added his well developed imagination, and  has deftly woven them into another blockbuster tale. In House Of Wolves, rare book dealer August Adams suddenly finds himself in a race against time to uncover the mysteries of yet another ancient manuscript in order to save his family.

A fitting follow-up to Illuminated, House Of Wolves is a fast paced, action packed, international thriller filled with secret societies, rare manuscripts, mystery, intrigue and a small dose of humor.  Laced with violence necessary to the plot, the book illustrates the measures men (and women) are willing to take to gain power.

As a lifetime book lover, the plot was especially interesting to me. In addition, the way the author used real manuscripts and the facts and myths surrounding them made the story even more appealing.  I enjoyed both Illuminated and House Of Wolves and look forward to the next installment in the series.

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