A Heart Renewed by Karen Baney

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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


Today’s Wild Card author is:



and the book:


Karen Baney (April 17, 2011)

***Special thanks to Karen Baney for sending me a review copy.***



Karen Baney, in addition to writing Christian historical fiction and contemporary novels, works as a Software Engineer. Her faith plays an important role both in her life and in her writing. Karen and her husband make their home in Gilbert, Arizona, with their two dogs. She also holds a Masters of Business Administration from Arizona State University.

Visit the author’s website.




Headstrong. Unconventional. Until life turns upside down…

Julia Colter struggles to accept life under her controlling brother’s greed. The suitors he selects would benefit him, but are far from the ideal husband for her. When her rebellion against her brother puts her life at risk, she turns to her friend for help.

Adam Larson longs to train horses and plans to head west to the Arizona Territory to see his dreams fulfilled. When his sister’s best friend shows up in the middle of the night, he agrees to help her flee. The decision changes his life, in more ways than he expected.

Can Julia forget the pain from her past and open her heart to love?

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99

  • Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Karen Baney (April 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0983548625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0983548621


Star C Ranch, Texas

July 4, 1864

“You cannot be serious, Reuben!” Julia Colter shouted, not caring that she might wake her niece and nephew from their afternoon nap. Pacing back and forth across the length of the kitchen, she stopped in front of her older brother, her temper flaring almost as hot as the stove. “He is balding and fat and twice my age!”

“You will marry who I say!” Reuben thundered. “I expect you to treat Mr. Hiram Norton with the utmost respect this evening. He has shown great interest in you and the least you can do is be civil with the man.”

“But, I could never love him!”

As Reuben shoved her violently up against the wall, Julia’s breath left her lungs in a rush. Digging his fingers into her arms, she could feel the bruises starting to form. His brown eyes darkened with unrestrained anger as he glared down at her. She swallowed in fear, stunned by his abrupt action.

“Stop, you’re hurting me,” she said, trying to break free from his vice like grip.

He raised his hand as if he meant to strike her—something he had never done before. The action startled her to silence. Instead of hitting her across the face, as she thought he might, Reuben returned his hands to her upper arms squeezing even harder.

Leaning so close the heat of his breath warmed her cheeks, he said, “You have no idea what hurt is, Julia. You are an insolent little whelp. You will paste a smile on that tart little face of yours. And you will do your best to win his affections or,” his voice menacing, “you will suffer my wrath, the likes of which you have yet to see.”

Releasing his hold, he pushed her so that she tumbled to the floor in a heap. As he turned to walk away, he added in a sinister tone, “It would be best if you get used to the idea of Hiram Norton and give up fanciful notions of love, dear sister. You will not have that luxury. The sooner you come to accept that, the better it will go for you.”

She sat in stunned silence as Reuben stalked to his office down the hall. Tears streaming down her face, Julia bolted to her feet, running out the front door of the ranch house to the nearby stables, still frightened by her brother’s brutal behavior.

The smell of hay and horse assaulted her delicate senses as she selected a gentle mare. Throwing her saddle on the horse’s back, she led her from the barn. Once under the open blue skies, she shoved one foot into the stirrup, swinging her other leg over the mare, riding astride. Nudging the mare into a full gallop, Julia fled to the one place she would always feel free—the back of a horse in the wide open pastures.

Reuben may be her guardian now, but she had only to endure a few more years of this before she would be of age and in control of her life. If only she could stop him from marrying her off before then.

At seventeen, she considered herself too young to get married, though many women her age and younger married. She wasn’t ready. She didn’t pine for the responsibilities marriage entailed. She liked her freedom. But, when she was ready to marry, she would marry for love and not because Reuben wished it.

Certainly, she would never marry Hiram Norton. The thirty-seven year old rancher was the exact opposite of what Julia wanted for a husband. His short stature and fading hairline made him look even older. He had a reputation for loving excess. When it came to food, his waistline showed the results of that love. There were other unsavory aspects to his reputation as well which included rumors that he frequented the saloon and brothel.

No, the man for Julia would be young and handsome. His character would be impeccable, his honor undeniable. Land, money, and wealth held no importance to her. She only cared that her dream man would be able to provide for her and their family.

As the wind tangled her long, sandy brown curls, she continued to press the horse for more speed—needing it to soothe her fear and anger. In the distance she saw the herd of longhorns kicking up dust. The sight sparked a memory of Will, the kinder, more honorable of the Colter brothers, sending her mind racing in another direction. So many times he’d taken Julia out to the pasture, teaching her how to rope, ride, and work with the cattle. Some thought such behavior unacceptable for a lady. She was glad to learn these skills. Should her handsome young dream man end up being a rancher, he might appreciate her ability to work the ranch by his side.

Why hasn’t Will written? The thought of Will brought fresh tears as memories of his hasty departure flooded her mind. Not only had she buried her father, but she also lost the brother she was close to—all within a few short weeks. Almost a year ago, following her father’s death, Reuben forced Will to leave the ranch when he had been deeded the house and ranch. While Will and Reuben both received half of the herd and the financial holdings, Will was left with no home or land. Unable to find anything close, Will moved to the Arizona Territory, leaving Julia behind. Alone.

The only time she heard from him was in November 1863. Will wrote that he, his men, and his cattle arrived safely and set up their new home near the Granite Creek settlement in the Arizona Territory—wherever that was. No other letters came.

Despite the thirteen year age difference between Will and Julia, they adored each other. She followed him everywhere, never far from his side even when he worked with the herd. When she needed protecting, it was Will who came to her defense.

Oh, how she could use his protection now. If he were here, he would stop Reuben from forcing her to marry that awful Hiram Norton.

But, he wasn’t here. He was in a distant territory, far from Texas, far from her aid. Her father left her in Reuben’s care—not Will’s—even though Will would have been the better choice as far as Julia was concerned.

Their father never saw the evil that clouded Reuben’s heart and he knew nothing of his manipulative ways. In her father’s eyes, Reuben was as good of a son as Will. If her father knew of Reuben’s late nights in town or of his forceful tactics for bankrupting other ranchers and taking over their lands, he turned a blind eye. She found it hard to fathom that father could have missed such thinly concealed behavior.

As the mare started to struggle for breath, sides heaving with great effort, Julia eased up the pace. She was so torn. She had thought more than once to runaway to Arizona, but was afraid Reuben would find her and drag her back. Now he wanted her to flirt with Hiram Norton and get him to marry her. She had no desire to do what Reuben was asking. Mr. Norton may be wealthy, but he was twenty years older than her. There was something indecent in that alone. Nothing about him or his character appealed to her.

Realizing she was nearing the outer pasture, Julia turned the mare around to head back to the ranch house. She did not want to risk angering Reuben further by being unprepared for their dinner guests. Lord, please don’t make me have to marry that repulsive man. Will always said you could work things together for good. I am not seeing much good right now. Please give me the strength to make it through this evening meal.

As she pulled the mare to a stop in front of the stables, she slid off the horse. One of the young cowboys, Bates, took the reins from her hand.

“Miss Colter, you best hurry,” he said, nodding toward the lane leading to the ranch house.

A cloud of dust at the far end of the lane indicated their guests were already arriving. Julia shot a quick word of thanks to the friendly cowboy before picking up her skirts and running to the house. As she threw the door open, panting for breath, she caught Reuben’s seething look.

Rushing down the hall she slammed her bedroom door shut. She splashed some water on her face, wiping away the dust from her ride.

“Where have you been?” Mary’s panicked voice preceded her entrance into Julia’s room. Reuben’s normally calm, quiet wife seemed rather anxious as she picked up the corset she laid out.


“Whatever for?” came the squeaky, agitated response.

Julia tore off her day dress, tossing it over a chair. As Mary came to assist her with the corset, Julia took her last deep breath of the evening. She hated the confining contraption. Once the stays were tightened, she lifted her arms as Mary helped settle the lovely yellow silk down over her shoulders.

“You should have been in here an hour ago,” Mary lamented. “Now there is no possible way we can fashion your hair into ringlets. The other women will think you don’t care about your appearance.”

They would be correct, Julia thought. “You fret, too much,” she replied, brushing out her tangled curls. She would be content with twisting her unruly hair into a chignon, despite how much it fought against the pins.

“Go on. I’ll finish,” she instructed Mary, hoping to have a quiet moment to compose herself before entering the fray.

Mary hesitated for a brief moment before softly exiting the room. Taking as deep a breath as she could, Julia let it out in a heavy sigh. Undoubtedly, Hiram Norton was already here, waiting for her in the other room. Pasting a smile on her face, she squared her shoulders and left the solitude of her room.

“Hiram,” Reuben said as Julia approached, “I do not believe you have met my sister, Julia.”

It took every ounce of courage to hold her smile steady and extend her hand towards Mr. Norton’s rotund frame. Taking her hand, he placed a sloppy kiss on top, before asking, “Reuben, where have you been hiding this lovely filly?”

Filly? The distasteful comment sickened her.

“Mr. Norton, a pleasure to meet you,” Julia said with more decorum than she thought she possessed. As soon as his hold lifted, she discretely wiped the back of her hand on her dress.

“Miss Colter, you are absolutely stunning,” he replied, allowing his lustful gaze to rove over her neckline, down her curvy figure, making overtly inappropriate stops along the way.

She fought to tamp down her mounting abhorrence. As the guests were seated around the table, she eagerly helped Mary set out the food.

Still irritated by Mr. Norton’s uncouth comment, she decided to fight back as she took her seat. “Mr. Norton, my brother tells me you have been very successful with your ranch, despite the Union’s blockade. Tell me, how do you do it?”

Reuben’s eyes narrowed slightly, letting her know he caught her barely hidden sarcasm.

“My lovely Miss Colter, such matters are too complicated for your simple mind to understand.”

Another mark against Mr. Norton—condescension towards women, she thought, keeping the sweet smile firmly in place. Lobbing a spoonful of potatoes on her plate she waited for him to continue.

“However, I shall endeavor to enlighten you,” he said with an air of superiority, snatching the potatoes from her hand. “While the Union may have blockaded our route to drive cattle to the New Orleans market, they have made no such effort to stop us from driving to points north or west. It seems that as long as we aren’t supplying the Confederate Army, they care little where we sell our cattle. We have simply changed our route north to the railways in Missouri. While I don’t care for the Union and their imposing ways, a profit is a profit. And I have made significant gains by being one of the first Texans to sell to eastern markets by way of Missouri.”

“Mr. Norton.” As her irritation rose, Julia retorted, “If a large profit is to your liking, why not drive the cattle west towards the California market where prices are more than triple that of the eastern markets?”

Reuben shifted in his chair uncomfortably. His darkening eyes warned her to hold her tongue. Julia knew she should have heeded the warning, but she preferred being forthright. Let Mr. Norton find that out now.

Mr. Norton laughed off her question, causing her to dislike the man even more. “You are a spirited little woman, I will give you that. But your comment shows your youth and your naivety.”

Taking not one, but two large pork chops from the platter she handed him, he said, “While the prices west are much higher, so is the cost to drive the cattle such a great distance. The length of time it takes to drive the cattle to California is almost three times as long as the northern route. It is also much more dangerous. There are many more Indians and cattle thieves westward. It would simply not be profitable to drive the herd west.”

His snooty tone grated on her nerves. When she opened her mouth to speak, Reuben interrupted. “Perhaps, dear sister, you should leave the business matters to men. I’m sure you would be much more interested in knowing how Mrs. Withers’ new baby is faring.”

Mrs. Withers quickly picked up the conversation, monopolizing both Julia and Mary’s time. While Julia was surprised Reuben even knew the woman had a child, she was thankful for the opportunity to ignore Mr. Norton.

As the conversation continued, she felt something brush against her knee then move away. She kept her focus on Mrs. Withers’ overlong description of her young son and on eating the meal, until she felt the unmistakable presence of a man’s hand move above her knee. She stole a glance and confirmed Mr. Norton’s hand rested most inappropriately on her thigh. Angling her legs further away from him as discreetly as possible, Julia’s stomach churned. When Mr. Norton pressed closer, she thought she might lose her dinner. The man appeared to have no limits.

Standing abruptly, she said, “If you’ll excuse me. I’m not feeling quite myself.” Without waiting for a reply she hurried to her room.

Reuben scowled after his sister. Her behavior had been completely unacceptable, despite his attempt earlier in the day to reason with her. This silly idea of marrying for love must have worked its way into her thinking from the stories their father told of their mother. No one married for love.

He certainly hadn’t. While Mary was pleasant looking enough and easy to control, he did not love his wife. He had married her to increase his social standing among the area ranchers—something his father never seemed to care about. Her father had been one of the wealthier men in the area and he was easy to win over. In fact, Reuben thought, most everyone he met was easy to manipulate—except Will and Julia.

It didn’t matter. Will was gone and out of the picture. He was no longer a nuisance, even though it was Will’s fault that he was in such a financial mess. The timing of Will leaving with half the herd and half the financial holdings was disastrous, leaving him unable to pay debts to some very powerful men—a situation he was desperately trying to resolve.

The last bite of his pork chop churned in his stomach as fear gained a foothold. He needed Hiram’s money from the marriage arrangement to Julia. It was his only hope of turning things around.

As his guests finished the meal, Reuben stood. “Gentlemen, shall we retire to the front porch for some refreshments and cigars?”

The men eagerly nodded, obviously wanting to be away from the women as quickly as he did. As Hiram stood, Reuben pulled him aside. Speaking loud enough for the others to hear, he said, “We’ll join you in a moment. Hiram and I have a few business matters to discuss.”

Leading Hiram back towards his office, Reuben hoped Hiram would still be amiable to the agreement they discussed several days ago at the saloon, despite Julia’s less than enthusiastic attitude this evening.

Before he offered a seat, Hiram took one, starting the conversation on his terms. “Julia is quite lovely, Reuben. You’ve been holding out on me. When you asked for such a large sum, I assumed she must be dreadful to look at.”

“So you are pleased?”

“To a point,” Hiram admitted. “While she’ll keep me entertained well, she needs to learn to control her tongue, especially in front of guests. I’m surprised you haven’t dealt with this already.”

Reuben frowned. If only Hiram knew what he was up against. With any luck, he wouldn’t find out until after his wedding day. “Well, father has only been gone a short time. He doted on her, so it will take some time to get her to properly respect a man.”

“Ah, there’s the catch. I’ll have to train her myself then.” Hiram laughed. “It will be a fun challenge—breaking her. Too bad you didn’t have more time to do the job yourself. You could get a much higher price for her, as beautiful as she is.”

The price he was asking was enough. Normally prone to greediness, when it came to selling his sister’s hand in marriage, he felt it prudent not to get too greedy. He was running out of time and needed to pay his debts soon. Once that pressure slackened, he could focus his energy on rebuilding his wealth.

A brief hint of remorse came over Reuben. Had he stooped so low that he was selling his sister for money? But, it was not as if he were selling her to a brothel. No, he was just selling her to a wealthy rancher. She would live in luxury. What could be bad about that?

He knew living with Hiram Norton would not be pleasant. The man had a reputation for being ruthless to his business associates, to his women, and even to his mother. He had no limits. He made Reuben look like a saint. Julia would undoubtedly be miserable married to him until she learned her place.

Chiding himself, he refocused his attention back to what Hiram was saying. He needed this man’s money, not a sudden case of conscience.

“After we have our cigars,” Hiram was saying, “then, I will take Julia for a walk. See if I still fancy her. When I return, we will announce our engagement. It will be short. No longer than a month.”

Reuben held back a gasp. He hadn’t expected Norton to want a short engagement. “You know what the townsfolk will say with such a hurried wedding. They will think my sister has been compromised.”

Pulling a large stack of bills from his coat pocket, Hiram slammed it down on the desk. “I don’t think you will care too much what is said about your sister’s reputation. Who knows, what they say may end up being true anyway.”

The dark look on Hiram’s face sent shivers down Reuben’s spine. Ruthless seemed rather inadequate of a word to describe the man before him. He had to make sure Julia did not ruin this deal, for he did not want the added pressure of Norton’s anger.

Mary knocked on Julia’s door not more than ten minutes after she left the meal. Her voice was timid when she spoke, “The men have retired to the front porch for cigars. Reuben requested that you return to the parlor with the women.”

Sighing, Julia did as instructed. She listened to the gossip of the rancher’s wives and wished her friend Caroline Larson was in attendance, so she might actually be able to enjoy the evening. The Larsons owned a ranch to the east of the Star C and they had been long-time family friends. Up until last year, before father passed away, the Larsons were always invited for every social gathering—sometimes they were the only guests. Since then, Reuben saw little use for Mr. Larson’s moral ways and only included them on rare occasions to pacify her or his wife.

Not paying attention to the boring conversation, Julia missed seeing the men return from the outdoors. Mr. Norton’s hand on her forearm jolted her from her thoughts. “Miss Colter, I was hoping you might take a walk with me.”

“And who will be acting as chaperone?” she replied curtly, not wanting to be alone in his presence.

Mr. Norton laughed, a sound she was beginning to detest. “Silly girl, I am much too old for a chaperone. I assure you, your reputation will be safe with me. I simply want to stroll for a few moments with a beautiful woman on my arm.”

Julia thought a stroll might be too much for the man. He was sweating profusely and seemed to have difficulty walking the distance to the door, as his breath came in short, heavy bursts. She looked to Mary for support. She smiled and nodded her approval, oblivious to Mr. Norton’s reprehensible behavior. As Reuben stood next to Mary, his eyes narrowed with a silent warning. Heeding the unspoken message, she stood and accepted Mr. Norton’s arm.

Outside, the air barely cooled in the waning sunlight, causing Julia to grow warm in a matter of seconds. She wished she thought to grab her fan when a sour odor wafted from the man at her side. Averting her face, she tried to catch an untainted breath of air. Unsuccessful, she decided parting her lips to breathe through her mouth might be preferable.

Nearing the stables, Mr. Norton stopped abruptly, turning towards Julia. The quick motion—seemingly impossible coming from the man who seemed to struggle walking much of a distance—frightened her. Sucking in air quickly through her mouth, a slight tickle lingered in the back of her throat, almost bringing on a cough.

When he spoke, his voice took on a sinister edge. Even in the dimming light she could see the contempt in his eyes. “Miss Colter, while I admire your feisty spirit,” he said as he grabbed her wrists, “It would serve you not to embarrass me again, especially by questioning my business practices in a room full of my peers. I can make your life most unbearable if you cross me.” Without warning he pulled her close and crushed his mouth down on hers as his hands took great liberty in exploring her body.

The shock of his action took a moment to register. Once it did, Julia brought her booted heel down hard on the top center of his foot, just as Will showed her. He dropped his hold instantly, crying out in pain. As he limped toward her, she ran for the front of the house to put some distance between them. Tripping over something, she stumbled, giving Mr. Norton time to catch up. He grabbed her bruised upper arms with surprising strength.

“Do not ever do that again,” he said in a hostile tone. “Do you not know that Reuben has promised you to me? Make no mistake, Miss Colter, I am a powerful man. If you want to live a decent, peaceful life under my roof, you best lose some of your haughtiness… Or, I will take whatever measures necessary to force it out of you.”

Julia blinked, trying to absorb all that he said. Was he saying that Reuben already agreed to her marrying this loathsome man? An ominous chill swept over her as he continued his intense stare. Her heart beat rapidly within her chest as her panic rose. She could not—would not—marry this dreadful man.

Dropping his hold on her, Mr. Norton extended his arm and placed her hand in the crook. “Smile,” he commanded as he limped to open the front door.

While her smile came insincerely, his seemed quite pleased. He crossed the room slowly, still favoring his injured foot, before stopping in front of Reuben and Mary. “Reuben, it gives me great pleasure to announce that Julia has eagerly agreed to accept my offer of marriage,” he said smugly. “She was so delighted that she agreed to a short engagement. We will be married in a month.” His fingernails dug into her arm daring her to speak otherwise.

The smirk on Reuben’s face told her this had been their plan all along. Such a public announcement, even though it was completely false, would be difficult to break. Lord, help me. I cannot marry that man.


A Heart Renewed continues the historical saga that began in A Dream Unfolding, the first volume of the Prescott Pioneers series. Featuring Julia Colter, the younger sister of Will Colter, this second novel of the series also includes many of the characters introduced in the earlier book and sets the stage for Baney’s next offering.

As in A Dream Unfolding, this book highlights actual history and people of  Prescott, Arizona and the surrounding area but since the historical foundation was laid in the first book, A Heart Renewed is a much more character and action driven story. Baney has bravely held nothing back in relating a tale that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly facts about life in the old west, yet she manages to do so with a restraint that gets her point across without unnecessary offensive details.

A Heart Renewed is an emotion filled story that covers everything from joy to despair. A very strong theme of the importance of forgiveness runs throughout the narrative and affects more than one of the characters. This is a book that will have you rooting for some of the characters and hating others. Baney left just enough unresolved issues for me to look forward to reading the next installment.

I would recommend that the entire series be read in order although each book could easily stand alone.

The Christmas Singing by Cindy Woodsmall

If you have someone on your Christmas list who enjoys Amish fiction, The Christmas Singing would be a thoughtful gift or stocking stuffer for them. The publisher is offering 30% off plus free shipping of The Christmas Singing (and any other title) through December 20, 2011. To take advantage of this generous offer, purchase the books at WaterBrookMultnomah.com and use the promo code CHRISTMAS11 at checkout.

Watch a video trailer for The Christmas Singing:

Read the first chapter of  The Christmas Singing:
The Christmas Singing (Chapter 1 Excerpt)

A Dream Unfolding by Karen Baney

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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


Today’s Wild Card author is:


and the book:

A Dream Unfolding
(Prescott Pioneers 1)

CreateSpace (December 19, 2010)

***Special thanks to Karen Baney for sending me a review copy.***


Karen Baney, in addition to writing Christian historical fiction and contemporary novels, works as a Software Engineer. Her faith plays an important role both in her life and in her writing. Karen and her husband make their home in Gilbert, Arizona, with their two dogs. She also holds a Masters of Business Administration from Arizona State University.

Visit the author’s website.






The promise of a new life and a chance to start over…
Hannah Anderson had the life she always wanted, married to the man of her dreams. When her husband’s brother gets in trouble with the law, the town turns against them, shattering her perfect life. Now they are left with only one choice—to head west to the Arizona Territory in the hopes of creating a new life. Will the journey be worth the cost?

Will Colter, after burying his father, is forced to leave the ranch he has called home for nearly thirty years. The journey is dangerous, challenging him and his men. Will he find the new life he was hoping for?

Or, is there a new dream quietly unfolding before their eyes?

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace (December 19, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1456512315
ISBN-13: 978-1456512316


Cincinnati, Ohio

July 15, 1863

“Gunshot wound!”

Hannah sighed at the tense sound of her husband’s voice filtering down the hall from the parlor to the kitchen. Though she clearly heard the urgency in Drew’s tone, she took a moment to remove the half-baked biscuits from the heavy iron stove, lest they burn before she returned. This would be the third batch of baked goods she would toss this week so she could assist Drew in his surgery with one medical emergency or another.

Biting back a second frustrated sigh, she removed her cooking apron to don a fresh one. Tying the apron strings around her back, she entered the chaos of Drew’s surgery room. The heavy shuffling of feet echoed in the small room as four men grunted under the weight of the injured man. The acrid smell of blood hit Hannah full force. She recalled the days when the odor and sight of blood caused her stomach to roil. Nearly two years working by Drew’s side cured her of some of that sensitivity. Heart pounding rapidly, she prepared the ether cone, anticipating the forthcoming request.

“Get him on the table.” Drew instructed the men carrying the wounded bank manager, Mr. Davis, in a calm voice. As he turned to face her, his tone remained steady, “Hannah, I need the ether now.”

Hannah’s breath caught in her throat as she looked into Mr. Davis’s panicked eyes—her earlier frustration vanished. Whispering words of comfort, she placed the cone over his nose and mouth, silently counting out the seconds. Around the third second, his thrashing stopped and his body relaxed into an unconscious state. She let out a shaky breath, relieved by the sight.

Drew’s lanky form bent over Mr. Davis’s left leg as he intently studied the blood soaked trousers. Hannah offered Drew scissors and he cut the pant leg to better see the wound. The bullet was lodged in Mr. Davis’s thigh. He placed a tourniquet above the gaping hole to stop the flow of blood. Hannah mopped up what she could with rags silently praying for their patient and for her husband’s skill. As he requested the small forceps, she handed them over. Watching, she could not help but admire his steady hand and careful movements as he grasped the bullet with the forceps. Gently he removed the bullet.

As she administered another dose of ether, Drew threaded a needle with his long slender fingers, seemingly unaffected by the gravity of his task. He doused the wound to clean it before starting slow deliberate strokes with the needle to stitch the hole shut. When sweat beaded on his forehead, he barely noticed her swift action to dab it dry, his concentration so intense. Once he finished with the stitches, he wrapped the leg in bandages before checking for other signs of injury.

“I don’t see any other wounds,” Drew said meeting her gaze as he washed the blood from his hands. His expression remained unreadable. “Please sit with him for a minute while I speak with the men who brought him in.”

As Hannah pulled up a chair next to Mr. Davis’s still form, she caught most of the conversation playing out in the parlor, though slightly muffled from the distance.

“Bank robbery,” one of the men replied in response to Drew’s query.

Gasps echoed in the small parlor that served as a waiting area for patients, followed by the hiss of rapid whispering. Hannah, knowing who was scheduled for appointments, imagined their shocked faces at the unexpected announcement.

“Will you let Mr. Davis’s wife know he is here and resting comfortably?” Drew requested.

The men replied affirmatively before the sound of their feet faded behind the closed front door.

“Bank robbery,” Hannah muttered, surprised someone attempted such in the middle of the day in their peaceful town. She chided herself for thinking of Cincinnati as a town. With the large number of German immigrants arriving daily to work in the meat packing factories, her childhood home was quickly becoming a large city.

She checked Mr. Davis’s pulse again which returned to normal. The faint smell of ether hung in the air, intermingled with blood, causing her to take shallow breaths. Drew returned to the room with a deep frown on his face, obviously concerned with the news. As he listened to Mr. Davis’s breathing, Hannah went about cleaning and sanitizing the room and instruments, trying to hold her emotions at bay just a little longer.

As soon as she finished mopping up the trail of blood from the parlor to the surgery room, she jumped at the sound of the front door bursting open again.

“Phillip!” called out Mrs. Davis as she ran into the room. “Oh, Phillip!”

The frail woman gasped at the sight of her pale husband sleeping. Hannah breathed a sigh of relief that she completed the cleaning before Mrs. Davis arrived, fearful for the woman’s constitution. Glancing down at her blood splattered apron, she hoped to go unnoticed, certain the sight would send Mrs. Davis into a fit of apoplexy.

“Mrs. Davis,” Drew said, speaking in calm soft tones as he clapped his hand over the older woman’s, “he will be just fine. He is resting now, but should be awake later this evening. I would like to keep him here for a few days to make sure he is doing well, and then I’ll send him home to your capable care.”

“Thank you, Dr. Anderson,” Mrs. Davis replied, blotting her tears with a handkerchief before taking a seat next to her husband.

Quietly exiting the room, Hannah paused inside the doorway of the kitchen. The intensity of the preceding hours drained her energy as the emotions rushed forward. Leaning her head back against the wall, she let the tears roll down her face. Please let the image of Mr. Davis’s fear-stricken face fade from my mind quickly. The look had been so intense that she felt his fear as if it were her own—not in the moment she looked at him, but now as she returned to the calmness of her kitchen.

Wiping the tears from her face with the back of her hand, she removed the stained apron and threw it into a bucket to soak. Picking up a clean apron, she returned to the now half crunchy half soggy biscuits next to the oven trying to push the morning from her mind. Knowing there was no way to salvage the biscuits; she threw them into the waste and started on a fresh batch.

Carefully, she measured out the flour and buttermilk. The familiar actions of baking soothed her edgy nerves. Using the technique her aunt taught her, Hannah rolled out the biscuit dough and cut round forms, repeating the steps until all the dough formed raw biscuits. Numbly she continued through the motions until lovely golden brown biscuits emerged from the oven.

As Drew saw his last scheduled patient for the day, Hannah started her afternoon routine of tidying the clinic. Starting in the parlor at the front of the house, she straightened chairs and dusted the furniture. From the parlor, she turned left into Drew’s office since both surgery rooms on the right were occupied, one by Mr. Davis and the other by Drew and his patient. Hannah dusted her husband’s desk and stowed the patient charts in the largest drawer at the bottom of the oak desk. Taking a seat, Hannah flipped through the stack of bills. There never seemed to be enough time to see to everything. She needed to spend some time updating the ledgers soon.

Hannah stood listening as Drew escorted the last patient to the parlor. She entered the now vacant surgery room, wiping down all the surfaces. Once the room was cleaned, Hannah checked on Mr. Davis again. He was still resting peacefully, his wife clutching his hand as she sat in the chair, her chin resting against her chest either in prayer or in sleep.

Walking down the hall to the kitchen at the back of the house, Hannah began supper preparations. She felt most at peace in her kitchen—her domain. Perhaps it was from the few years she spent by her loving aunt’s side learning how to bake and cook, those domestic skills her mother had not instilled before her passing.

Shaking off the mounting melancholy, she shifted her thoughts back to Mr. Davis’s care. Following the meal, she would send Drew upstairs to their bedroom to get some rest. She would take the first shift watching Mr. Davis and then, sometime in the middle of the night she would wake Drew to take over.

At times like these, she wished Drew would hire a nurse. Hannah barely kept up with the laundry, cleaning, and meal preparations without overnight patients. Whenever a patient required round the clock care, she fell woefully behind in other chores. What would she do when she had children to care for?

“Barnes,” Drew greeted, with some hesitation, as one of the city’s policemen entered the clinic alone. Being one of two doctors in town, Drew often patched up robbers or drunken brawlers before Barnes hauled them off to jail. Occasionally he even visited the jail when Barnes deemed it too dangerous to bring the criminal to the clinic.

“What brings you here?” Drew asked, still unable to shake his concern that Barnes accompanied no one.

Barnes, his voice low and serious, asked, “May I have a word with you and Mrs. Anderson?”

Drew showed him to his office where their conversation could remain private. Once the bulky man took a seat, Drew quickly fetched Hannah. The lack of sleep from the night before did not help his increasing nervousness about the policeman’s unusual behavior.

As Hannah took a seat, Barnes started, “We have your brother, Thomas, in custody down at the jailhouse. He was identified as one of the men in yesterday’s failed attempt to rob the bank.”

Drew felt his throat constrict and his heart started beating rapidly, distressed over his brother’s increasingly wild behavior.

Sinking into the remaining chair, he asked tensely, “What happened?”

“From what we pieced together,” Barnes’ deep voice added to his air of authority, “it looks like Thomas, along with Sam Rogers and Ed Rogers, stormed the bank yesterday afternoon as one of the patrons was leaving. They pulled their guns on Mr. Davis and forced him to open the safe in the back room. Mr. Davis kept a loaded revolver in the safe, so once he opened it, he turned the gun on Sam and shot him in the foot. Then Ed fired on Mr. Davis.”

Still stunned, Drew merely nodded. He did not want to believe his brother was party to this crazy affair, crossing the line from rebellion to crime.

“After Mr. Davis was shot,” Barnes continued, “all three men took off, leaving the money behind. A few pedestrians noted the direction. We followed the trail and it led us to the Rogers’ house. We arrested all three men. Like I said, they are in jail and will remain there until a judge decides what is to be done.”

Drew looked over at Hannah. Her eyes widened with concern. Thomas rebelled for years, though never so boldly. Disappointment washed over Drew, quickly follow by guilt. If only he had been able to get through to Thomas. Maybe this would not have happened.

Ever since their father died, Drew’s brother could not contain his restless spirit. Thomas started hanging out with the Rogers brothers and things went downhill from there. The Rogers brothers bullied classmates during their school days and as they aged, they got worse: petty theft from the mercantile, vandalizing businesses, and picking fights with anyone who would pay them mind. When Thomas started staying out late and carousing with Sam and Ed Rogers, Drew did not hesitate to warn Thomas of the dangers of his actions. Closing his eyes, Drew clearly remembered the day he confronted his brother.

Drew woke to a thudding sound on the stairs. Sitting upright, he remained completely still, trying to determine if what he heard was real or imagined as his heart pounded against his chest. Thud. There is it was again.

Slipping from the bed, Drew carefully crept to the closed bedroom door. Slowly he cracked it open, just as a muffled curse reached his ears. Thomas!

Stepping from the room, Drew pulled the bedroom door closed behind him, so as not to wake Hannah. At the top of the stairs he made out Thomas’s limp form lying prostrate across several of the stairs. The stale cigar smoke and sickening sweet smell of whiskey clung to his brother’s clothing. As Drew approached, Thomas looked up and cursed again.

At first, Drew thought Thomas was merely drunk again—a frequent occurrence. But when he tried to help him up, Thomas recoiled and moaned in pain. Drew led him down the stairs and into the surgery room for a quick examination. Lighting the oil lamp, Drew saw the extent of his brother’s injuries. Besides the swollen black eye, his face and knuckles were covered with numerous cuts and scrapes. His ribs were also bruised. This must have been his worst fight to date.

“You must stop this Thomas,” he warned his brother, keeping his voice low. “The drinking, the gambling—it is only going to lead to trouble.”

“What do you care?” Thomas roared.

He grew weary of the familiar accusation. Thomas always thought Drew did not care—Drew always tried to show his concern. He was letting him live here. Wasn’t that proof enough that he cared? As his anger rose, so did his voice. “Look at yourself. Night after night you come home drunk or—”

“You have no right to lecture me! I’m old enough to take care of myself and do as I please. Mind your own business!”

“It is my business, as long as you are living in this house!” Drew volleyed back. Taking his brother in had been a mistake. He thought providing a home and some structure would help Thomas give up his wild ways. Instead, no matter what Drew did, Thomas threw it in his face.

“Don’t act like you are doing me a favor, Drew,” the hatred poured from his brother’s lips. “I know what you are doing. You just don’t want to feel guilty for leaving me here while you went to medical school. But you should! Living with Uncle Peter was awful!”

“Uncle Peter did his best to help you grow up with some discipline,” Drew countered.

“Don’t defend that selfish old man!”

The argument escalated until Hannah appeared in the doorway. When she looked from Drew to Thomas and back again, Drew shut his mouth mid-sentence. Thomas frowned, cursed, then turned and stormed out into the night.

He never saw his brother again, except once in passing on the street.

Hannah’s dainty cough brought Drew’s attention back to the discussion with Barnes.

“Dr. Anderson,” Barnes continued as he stood and walked to the front door, “I suggest you consider getting legal representation for your brother.”

Closing the door behind Barnes, Drew snorted. He refused to bail Thomas out of trouble again. Aware of the waiting patients, Drew ushered Hannah back to his office and closed the door, wondering just how much they overheard.

“What are you going to do?” Hannah asked, her anxiety evident.

“What can I do?” Drew replied, acknowledging his own helplessness in this situation. “He is a grown man and he is not my responsibility any longer.”

“Will you get an attorney as Mr. Barnes suggested?” she asked, her voice full of compassion.

“No,” he answered angrily. Seeing the shock on Hannah’s face, he quickly explained, “At some point Thomas must choose his own way. Well…he already has. He made that clear more than a year ago. There is nothing I can do or say that will change anything.”

Drew ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. His heart broke again as he thought of how disappointed his father would be. Perhaps his father passing on was a good thing. At least he would not witness his youngest son’s destructive behavior.

Sunday morning, Hannah put the finishing touches on the roast and slid it into the oven. Bounding up the stairs she quickly untied the apron from her waist. Standing before the mirror she brushed out her long strawberry blonde hair then twisted it into a chignon at the base of her neck inside the decorative black netted hair piece. She smiled, pleased with her appearance.

“You look lovely,” Drew commented as his pale blue eyes surveyed the light blue calico dress before resting on her eyes. Color flushed her face with the intensity of his appraisal.

“Come here,” he added, pulling her close. “Your eyes look bluer than the sky in that dress.” He brushed lips lightly across hers in a brief kiss.

Releasing her, he asked, “Looking forward to Emily’s visit?”

“I can hardly wait,” Hannah answered giddily.

As Hannah preceded Drew down the stairs, she could not contain her excitement over the planned Sunday dinner guests—Levi and Emily Werner. It had been two months since Hannah had seen Emily. Earlier this week, Levi stopped by the clinic to let Hannah know Emily would be back to church this week, having sufficiently recovered from her morning sickness. Hannah quickly extended an invitation for dinner, missing her best friend dearly.

Emily and Hannah grew up on adjoining farms several miles outside of Cincinnati. Hannah could not remember a time when she and Emily weren’t friends, despite being such opposites in looks and personality. With her dark curls and flashing nutmeg brown eyes, Emily charmed everyone, from the most reserved students to the toughest bullies in their school. As she grew older and began filling out her dress, boys noticed her long before noticing Hannah—not that any had noticed Hannah in school. Walking to and from school together, Hannah often found herself in the role of quiet listener to Emily’s constant chattering about what Amanda Taylor wore that day, or how the pigs on the farm gave birth to a large litter, or who danced with who at the last barn dance. Perhaps if Emily had set her mind on memorizing her lessons at school and not on such things, she would have made higher marks and Hannah would have spent less time trying to help her catch up.

Besides helping Emily with her school work, Hannah found in her a friend with whom she could confide her deepest sorrows, especially following her mother’s death. Even when her father sent her away to live with her aunt, she wrote letters to Emily almost weekly. When Hannah moved back to the farm with her father, years later, she easily picked up her friendship with Emily. Sadly, she was the only constant person in her life.

As Drew pulled the phaeton carriage to a stop down the street from the large whitewashed church building, Hannah scanned the crowd for her tall friend. Spotting her, she threw her arm up for a quick wave after Drew helped her to the ground. Emily turned without acknowledging Hannah and entered through the large dark wood doors. Perhaps she just didn’t see me.

Placing her hand in the crook of Drew’s arm, Hannah smiled, confident nothing could ruin her good mood in anticipation of a wonderful afternoon.

Once inside the church, Hannah watched as Emily and Levi took their seats in their normal pew. Drew led Hannah to the same pew. As soon as Drew and Hannah sat, she leaned forward to greet Emily, who immediately, without word, stood and followed her husband out of the pew.

“Emily, wait—”

“We’ll talk later,” Emily hissed, glancing back over her shoulder with a frown.

When Levi and Emily took a seat on the other side of the sanctuary, Hannah couldn’t help but feel hurt by her friend’s angry response. Had she unknowingly done something to offend Emily?

Feeling Drew’s body stiffen, Hannah peeked his direction. The couple on the other side of Drew stood and moved elsewhere. Soon, the pew in front of them emptied, as long time friends scattered to the edges of the room like marbles spilled on the floor.

Looking up at Drew she saw the stoic expression etched on his face.

“What’s going on?” she whispered, still trying to determine in what way she or Drew might have offended so many people.

Drew shook his head curtly.

When the music started, she shifted her gaze to the words in the hymnal, not needing to read them, but needing to hide her growing sadness over the rejection of her friends. Her voice sounded forced as she tried to sing praises to her God. Inside, she felt anything but gratitude.

Hannah shifted in her seat as the service dragged on. Her attention waned, not really hearing the words of the pastor.

As the last strains of the final hymn echoed in the wooden room, the pastor stood and gave a blessing. The sound of booted feet heightened as the crowd exited the church. Not waiting for Drew, Hannah hurried to catch up with Emily outside.

“Emily, we’ve been sitting together for years. Why did you move this morning?” Hannah asked as her friend tried to dodge her for a second time. “Aren’t you coming to dinner?”

“No, we are not,” Emily replied emphasizing each word, not looking Hannah in the eye.

“Are you not feeling well?”

“I am feeling fine,” Emily said, glaring at Drew as he came to stand next to his wife.

Hannah held her breath, hoping Emily might elaborate on her strange behavior.

“If you’ll excuse us,” Emily snapped as Levi started leading her around Hannah again.

Confused and hurt by Emily’s behavior, she reached out, placing her hand on Emily’s arm. “Please tell me, what have I done that offends you?”

Emily’s dark eyes flashed with anger as she turned to face Hannah. Brushing Hannah’s hand from her arm, she said, “It was our money, Hannah. We sacrificed and saved for years for that money. Levi took on that second shift at the meat factory so we would have enough for a home of our own to get out of that horrible squalor.”

“I don’t understand—”

“No, you don’t understand. And neither did Thomas. He just thought he could walk right into that bank and take what we worked so hard for,” Emily wagged her finger in Hannah’s face, causing Hannah to involuntarily take a step backwards. “And him, a worthless, gambling scoundrel! Never worked an honest day’s labor in his life. But, he thought he could just take what wasn’t his.”

“I understand your anger with Thomas, but—”

Levi, who stood with arms folded across his barrel chest, finally spoke, directing his comments to Drew, “A doctor is nothing without his reputation and yours is tainted by your brother’s wild ways. Tell me, Drew, did he try to hide out at your clinic when his plan failed?” Anger shrouded his words.

Drew dropped his arms to his side, stepping closer to Levi. “How could you think such a thing?”

Hannah bit her lower lip, hoping Drew and Levi would not come to blows. She was certain Drew would not win against the much larger man.

“Everyone knows you’ve been bailing him out of trouble for years. Well, this time the people of this city are not going to stand for it,” Levi responded through clenched teeth.

By now, several other couples gathered around listening to the heated conversation. Friends, who greeted her with a hug and warm smile last week, looked on with hatred carved on their faces. Tears threatened at the corners of Hannah’s eyes as the pain of betrayal heightened.

“There is nothing to get upset about,” Drew pleaded, looking around the crowd. “I have not seen Thomas in over a year.”

“That’s not what Mrs. Pierce said!” one woman from the crowd shouted. “She said she saw a man who looked like your brother going into the clinic late that night.”

Hannah frowned, balling her fist at her side. How can they believe that busybody over my husband?

“If anyone did enter the clinic that night,” Drew’s voice boomed, “it was without an invitation.”

“So you don’t deny what Mrs. Pierce said?” Levi pulled Drew’s attention his way.

Running his hand through his short sandy hair, Drew said, “I’m saying that it is possible someone could have entered uninvited without our knowledge.”

Emily raised her voice above the growing murmurs, “It doesn’t matter to me if Thomas entered your house with your blessing or not. I for one,” she said, resting her hand on her protruding belly, “will not be birthing my child at your clinic or with your assistance.”

Hannah’s tears streamed down her heated face as Emily’s words pierced her heart. How could Emily say such a thing? She talked for months about how wonderful it would be to have her best friend by her side as she labored to bring her first child into this world. Now, the friend who stood by her in a school yard full of bullies was acting the part of instigator. Did their friendship mean so little?

“And I won’t be stopping at your clinic for Franklin’s medications!” another older married woman shouted.

“When my niece has her child, I’m telling her to go to Doc Henderson!” A typically quiet man shouted.

As others added in vehement voices their promise to no longer visit Drew’s clinic, Hannah watched his face harden. Closing his eyes, he bowed his head.

Don’t give up, Drew! Her heart shouted.

When he lifted his head again, he held out his elbow for Hannah wordlessly. With a firm nod to her, she read the silent message: it was time to go. In the midst of angry murmurs circling about them, Hannah followed her husband to their carriage. As he took the seat next to her, his eyes faced forward. His jaw set in a hard line. His shoulders slumped in defeat.


A Dream Unfolding narrates parallel stories that illustrate two separate journeys with the same destination. Drew and Hannah Anderson join a wagon train to the Arizona Territory after certain events make it impossible to continue his medical practice in Ohio. After the death of his father Will Colter is forced to leave his Texas home and take his share of the inheritance to start a ranch of his own in the Arizona Territory. This historically accurate novel details their trips from beginning to end with a mix of drama, action, hardship, joy, and romance. A dependence upon faith is woven throughout the story.

I enjoyed A Dream Unfolding overall but at times I nearly got lost in all the details that stretched for a span of nearly five hundred pages.(on my iPad. The print copy has 352 pages.) Unfortunately my attention span (or lack of it) nearly caused me to give up before I reached the end. However I just knew that if I persisted I would discover the reason for the two independent stories. My persistence paid off so my time was not wasted but I won’t divulge what I found out. That would just spoil the story for other readers.

A Dream Unfolding is a book that is perfect for history buffs who enjoy LOTS of details. A pretty good story can also be found within those details.

Smitten by Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Denise Hunter, & Diann Hunt


What could be more exciting than  four of your favorite authors collaborating on an anthology with related stories? That is just what happened when Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Denise Hunter, and Diann Hunt got together and came up with the idea for “Smitten”. Each author penned the story of one of four young women who reside in the Vermont town of Smitten and each story took up where the previous one left off. These ladies not only produced an interesting and fun tale, but the continuity between each installment was impeccable. I barely noticed when the story was handed over to the next writer. And the story works – even though the genre is very different from the usual styles of several of these authors.

The town of Smitten’s very existence was threatened by the closing of the lumber mill that employed much of its population. Unwilling to allow its demise, best friends Julia, Natalie, Shelby, and Reese come up with a brilliant idea to promote the town as a romantic getaway. Although most of the residents are eager to help, the four women meet resistance from some of the single men who can’t imagine how such a scheme could be successful.

What would a book with the title “Smitten” be without romance – lots of romance? Each of the friends has pretty much given up on finding a husband in their town. All of the eligible men have been their friends for years. It never crossed their mind to view these guys in any other light – until they began working together on the town projects. One by one, Natalie, Julia, Shelby, and Reese come to realize that the men they have always known are exactly the right men for them.

The story is rife with miscommunication, misunderstandings, and humor. Drama, action, and romance abound. I enjoyed the revelation each of the women had when they realized the love of their life had always been so close at hand. I also found myself a bit frustrated at the way they handled the situations which means that I got into the story enough to care about the characters.  I am actually having a difficult time reviewing this book without totally giving everything away. Just let me say that if you enjoy a good romance and would like a great book to escape into, then “Smitten” should be on your list.


This book was provided for review by BookSneeze.



Four friends devise a plan to turn Smitten, Vermont, into the country’s premier romantic getaway-and each finds her own true love along the way.

With Smitten Lumber closing, residents wonder if their town can stay afloat. Then four friends and local business owners-Natalie, Julia, Shelby, and Reese–decide the town is worth saving. How will they do it? They’ll turn Smitten into a honeymoon destination!

As Natalie, Julia, Shelby, and Reese work to save the town, each discovers romance in her own life. Meanwhile, the faith of a little child reminds the whole town what it means to have real faith in the God who is the always and forever Love.

Discover a novel written by four of Christian fiction’s most popular romance novelists- friends in real life who’ve drawn an amazing story of four friends! Includes a Reading Group Guide as well as “Conversation over Coffee with the Authors”.



Colleen Coble: Best-selling author Colleen Coble’s novels have won or finaled in awards ranging from the Best Books of Indiana, ACFW Book of the Year, RWA’s RITA, the Holt Medallion, the Daphne du Maurier, National Readers’ Choice, and the Booksellers Best. She has nearly 2 million books in print and writes romantic mysteries because she loves to see justice prevail. Colleen is CEO of American Christian Fiction Writers and is a member of Romance Writers of America. She lives with her husband Dave in Indiana. Visit her website at www.colleencoble.com. Twitter @colleencoble
 Kristin Billerbeck: Kristin Billerbeck is the bestselling, award-winning author of several novels, including What a Girl Wants. A Christy Award finalist and two-time winner of the American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year award, Billerbeck has appeared on The Today Show and has been featured in the New York Times. She lives with her family in northern California.
 Denise Hunter: Denise Hunter is the best-selling author of many novels, including The Convenient Groom and Driftwood Lane. She lives in Indiana with her husband Kevin and their three sons. In 1996, Denise began her first book, a Christian romance novel, writing while her children napped. Two years later it was published, and she’s been writing ever since. Her books contain a strong romantic element, and her husband Kevin says he provides all her romantic material, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too! Visit her website at www.DeniseHunterBooks.com. Twitter @deniseahunter, facebook.com/group.php?gid=124248046980
 Diann Hunt: Diann Hunt has lived in Indiana forever, been happily married forever, loves her family, chocolate, her friends, her dog, and, well, chocolate.

Light Under the House by Aaron L and Donna Dawson

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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


Today’s Wild Card author is:



and the book:

Light Under the House

Ravensbrook Press (October 8, 2011)

***Special thanks to Aaron L for sending me a review copy.***


Aaron might be a newcomer to the creation of fiction but is not one when it comes to the arts and all things creative. Growing up in places from Seattle to South Africa, he spent a lot of his time drawing. Aaron always knew that his future lay in a creative field. In 2010, he graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in graphic design. Although the usual application of this degree is in the creation of different types of art and design, Aaron chose instead to focus his creative skills on the task of storytelling. He lives near Chicago, Illinois.

Visit the author’s website.

As a suspense writer, Donna looks for the intrigue in life and she is able to share it in her role as Creative Writing Instructor for Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. “If you do nothing else you should write.” The words of her Grade 12 high school teacher still ring in Donna’s ears some thirty years later. Not only did she heed her English teacher’s advice but she has made it into a career. With her last novel, Vengeance (Word Alive Press), receiving award winning status in two categories with The Word Guild and her new release, Fires of Fury (Awe-struck e-books), creating a buzz with reviewers, Donna continues to fulfill her teacher’s request. Enjoy as you dive into a new adventure between the pages of this novel.

Visit the author’s website.


The Levi family has a secret lying just beneath their house that could potentially ruin them. Light Under the House by Aaron L. and Donna Dawson, story-telling duo readers are certain to come to love, chronicles the lives of the Levi family for a generation, taking readers on an exciting and thought-provoking journey that is certain to leave them with profound lessons and meaning.

This page-turning story is set in the late 1960s during a period of cultural rebellion, with a flashback to Biblical times, as well as a flash-forward to the 1980s and the present (2005). There is an ancient evil that will stop at nothing to uncover the secret that the Levi family is hiding. The events of this allegoric novel are interwoven within several themes that create cohesion for the story. Messages of courage, forgiveness, faith, the power of consequence, and the hope of redemption are all found within the pages of Light Under the House.

This novel also tells how the hope of redemption can dwell in the hearts of people who are begging God to not let them suffer the consequences of their actions. This begging of forgiveness from a supernatural being is done in hopes of restoring dysfunctional family relationships; throughout the process of attempting to obtain peace and happiness, the Levi family encounters many trials and tribulations.

Light Under the House stands out from other novels of its genre, establishing Aaron L. and Donna Dawson as true masters of their craft. The fusion of a riveting plot with compelling characters and deep thematic elements takes this novel out of the sphere of the ordinary, catapulting it into the sphere of the true literature. The story found within its pages is certain to leave a lasting impression on readers, as it is simply unforgettable.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 362 pages
Publisher: Ravensbrook Press (October 8, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0615556035
ISBN-13: 978-0615556031


841 B.C.


Drums pounded their wicked message, bouncing off the rock faces and outcroppings of the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. The valley mourned. Rocks in various shades of gray cast shadows of slightly darker colors of that washed-out hue. The sky hung heavy with the deep slate of thick smoke. The only variation came from the stirring of light on the walls of the ravine that ran south along the west wall of the Old City. As the rock-cut reached its southernmost limits, it veered east along the side of Mount Zion. And as it headed to its destination, the Kidron Valley, it became a most accurate depiction of hell on earth.

A line of figures crept along the edge of the valley like fleas along a cur’s backbone. Many were drawn to the blessings promised by the gods of the place. Yet not all of those following the ridge path were there because of misplaced faith.

Areli smoothed his hand over his bearded face, wiping the sweat from his sun-bronzed skin. Sweat. The only moisture in this God-forsaken land. And God had forsaken it. That was evident by the length of the drought that fed the crops of dust which clung to clothing, hair, and skin. Plant life had long been dead. He sighed. Dead since the Tophet had been kindled. Now it was a refuse dump. A place to burn the corpses of criminals. A place that had returned to its original, wicked purpose. A place of worship to heathen gods.

Areli recalled more prosperous days. A time before Ahab, king of the Israelites, married Jezebel, the Sidonian princess. The new Queen Jezebel had introduced many idolatrous acts the people of Jehovah—including worshipping at the Tophet. Areli had been much younger then, yet he remembered it well.

A skittering of stone interrupted Areli’s thoughts and announced the presence of his fellow rescuers. He turned back and batted his hand at the air, signaling his brother Huri to be quiet. Huri in turn, passed the signal to their friend Kenaniah who shrugged apologetically. Huri had already lost three grandchildren to the Tophet. It had been the goad that had driven the three men to their midnight pursuits. They had managed to rescue Kenaniah’s son and had then gone on to do so for a number of others who still followed Jehovah. Even now, Uriah, the fourth of their group, was on his way to the temple mount with the child from their latest rescue.

The final rays of the piercing Israeli sun caught the gold of Solomon’s temple and turned it to brilliant hues of rust, bronze, and copper. It twinkled just above the oily smoke that was ever present in the valley. Areli frowned. Only an hour of sunlight remained. An hour in which to save his grandson from a fate that no human should be forced to face. Squaring his shoulders, he motioned to his cohorts to move on and the three of them continued their secret journey from one rock shadow to another.

Kenaniah cocked his head up.“The drums have stopped.” The words echoed in the sudden silence. A silence punctuated by the roar of the fire stove and distant weeping. “Another is lost.” Kenaniah’s whispered voice carried urgency, and Jabez nodded. He wiped at a tear of his own and held his finger to his lips. His heart pounded the rhythm abandoned by the drums. They didn’t have much time. The silence and the heat bore down on them, screaming the truth of the scene they were approaching—one more child was dead. Burned to death in the great maw of the Tophet.

Rage seared through Jabez once more as he thought back on his daughter’s foolish decision. Had he not taught her that Jehovah did not look favorably upon the cruelty of child sacrifice? Yet Shani had chosen to disobey him. Disobey her own father! A thing unheard of in Israel in his younger days.

Movement ahead caught his attention and he forced his boiling emotions into submission only to have them flare again. He wiped at his eyes with the back of a dust-caked hand. Shani. He could tell by the way she tipped her head slightly to the side. She was far enough away but he’d know that stance anywhere. So like his beautiful wife, Mahlah. And wasn’t that Mahlah’s shawl that Shani carried her infant son in? Silently he cursed the weakness of youth. His wife’s stark beauty had ensnared him and he realized only too late that she was a follower of the hated gods Moloch and Baal. He had forbidden her to bring the foul idols into his home but she had easily outmaneuvered him. And passed her love of evil onto their daughter.

Jabez increased his speed. He must reach Shani before she passed the entrance to the Tophet area. He would have called out to her but he knew she would ignore him. In her defiant state, she might even speed her gait to escape him. No, he would have to overpower her. It was the only way. And together he and his two companions would take her and the child to his home where the infant would be safe. In the times of earlier kings, she would have been stoned for considering offering her child to Baal. May his name be cursed in all the heavens and earth!

The three men dropped to the path that led to the sacrificial area and tried hard to blend in with the milling masses going to watch the gruesome proceedings. The heat pushed at them as though a living thing. Reaching out to touch them with its cruel fingers. Shani had stepped to the end of a line of women, all holding children of various ages, and Jabez felt the urge to throw up. How could a woman love her child so little? He worked to fix his features. It wouldn’t do to have someone see the rage on his face and try to stop him from interfering.

Only six stood ahead of her. Fire consumed with great speed and appetite. Their pace quickened and they elbowed past those who walked ahead of them. The drums began their chant again, drowning out the screams of the infant that had been placed into the metal idol, covering the wails of the mother who had changed her mind too late.

Jabez watched it all through the flickering light, smoke and waves of heat; he moved faster. The woman reached for the idol as it was lowered into the great pit of flames. Her mouth opened and her face contorted, and then she fainted. Searching back along the line, he caught his daughter’s face. Her deep brown eyes glittered. Was that excitement? Her brown hair was plastered to her face with sweat and the heat blew the ends of the long strands away from her body. Evil was present. Jabez could see it clearly and he shuddered. The drums ceased again and the scuffle of rocks and pebbles shouted their approach.

The crowd had thickened and many shouted to the heavens; they called out the names of various gods as they begged for rain, prosperity, and fertility. Some laughed while others cheered for the mothers willing to give their children to the flames. If only Jabez were a warrior and not a simple farmer.

Movement to his left drew his attention and he stopped, the fear of being caught drawing a new batch of sweat on his brow. Three priests of Baal stood on top a small cluster of boulders away from the main path. The boulders were wet with blood and the men were crisscrossed with gaping wounds. They held ceremonial knives in their hands and with every request, every plea, every shout, they gashed yet another portion of their bodies. For a moment Jabez stood disbelieving. He had heard of the ritual cuttings before but never had they seen the gruesome act.

Huri turned to the side and emptied the contents of his stomach. Four women had come up behind to better view the sacrifice and they stepped out of the way, giving him a strange look. He wiped his mouth on his mantle and nodded apologetically to the women. “It must have been the lamb. It tasted off. My pardon.”

The women tisked in sympathy and daintily bypassed the fouled area. When they were out of earshot, Huri growled his disgust. He was about the say something to his companions, but the drums filled the air with a crushing sound. Three children had yet to depart.

Elbowing their way into the crowd, they cut toward the line of women. A woman stood near the edge of the pit, her crimson gown stained darker red in splotches. The lengthy garment flapped against her body and billowed out behind her as the furnace’s blast maintained a perpetual scorching wind. Her hair swirled about her head in black snaking ropes. If she wasn’t truly a demon, she certainly looked the part. Jabez saw Kenaniah shudder and he nodded as though reading his friend’s mind. A terrifying picture to be sure.

The priestess reached for another idol and held it open for the next blood offering. It was made of heavy bronze and Jabez was amazed at the woman’s ability to hold it while the mother placed her infant into its hollow. He wanted to shout for them to stop. He wanted to grasp the child in his arms—all of the children—and run away. He continued to push against the flow of humanity as he edged closer to his goal. He could see the details of his daughter’s profile. Praise Jehovah that she hadn’t seen them yet. Shani watched the scene at the pit’s edge, her face emotionless. But her eyes had widened. Jabez glared at her as she took in each detail of the idol.

The front was a man, fearless and awesome to behold. On its right was the form of a cat and on its left the form of a toad. The three figures were joined to make a three-sided idol to represent the three entities of Baal. The man-form opened on a hinge at the bottom of the body—large enough for a child—and the priestess braced herself as the mother placed the child into the warm metal. The door was closed and clamped shut. Solemnly, the priestess set the idol down and attached a heavy chain to it. And then the demon woman raised hands to the sky and began to scream incantations and chants in foul languages that could barely be heard over the drums. The hideous metal beast was cranked into the air with the aid of a metal beam and the muscles of a Canaanite slave. Hand over hand, the slave lowered the monster into the pit and the awaiting flames.

Jabez stopped in his tracks. Just when he thought he had seen the worst, these people showed him that they could go even further. The drums ceased again and he was prodded into action. One more baby and then his precious little Yeseph would be next. He could see tufts of black hair peeking out of the shawl and he ached to snatch that small bundle away from the careless arms of its mother. Soon! Very soon! He could almost smell the sweet fragrance of the child’s skin—the warmth of his breath.

The drums. Again. Another hideous monster was fed. Jabez was amazed at how many idols sat behind the priestess waiting for their innocent meal. Another slave stood beyond waiting for the consumed sacrifice to be raised. The Canaanite pulled on the chain, drawing the bronzed creature from the depths. The metal glowed an unearthly hue and the second slave reached forward with a long pole. Snagging the chain, he guided the idol to a huge pot of water. Steam billowed up from the pot as the sacrifice was lowered and the chain unhooked. There would be nothing left inside. The child had been incinerated.

Twenty cubits. It was all the distance that remained. Jabez shoved harder against the crowd as his daughter stepped up to the priestess. Shani had chosen to honor Moloch. A different idol was brought forth. It had the head of a bull, its horns turned up and drawn together to meet the ring that would connect with the chain. He watched in horror as the priestess unhinged the door and his daughter set his beloved Yeseph inside. The drums! The hated drums! He lunged, breaking free of the ring of spectators, and Huri and Kenaniah stumbled into the clearing behind him.

Jabez felt his mouth move. He sensed the knotting of his vocal chords as he screamed his grandson’s name. Charging across the clearing, he shouldered his daughter aside, not caring that she fell. Gripping the hated idol by the horns, he vented his rage on the demon woman. Shouting maniacally, he wrenched at the cage and was surprised by the priestess’s strength. Her dark eyes flashed with power and lust for blood and a tug-of-war ensued. The drums stopped and Jabez could hear his brother and friend as they fought the guards and priests. The crowd began to mutter. They would have a time of it escaping with the child. They could dispose of the idol later. With a final heave, he pulled the idol free and turned to flee.

Leaping into the space between his daughter and the Canaanite slave, Jabez could taste victory as he ducked to the left, hoping to out-maneuver anyone who would follow. From out of the darkness, a clink of metal caught his foot and his ankle turned. The chain! He rolled onto his back, hoping to protect the child from the fall. Yeseph’s cries echoed from inside the metal bull, and then Jabez hit the ground hard. His wind was gone and he threw his arms wide. The idol rolled away from him. Struggling to draw in breath, he made to lunge for it again. But it was too late!

Hands clamped upon his arms and the two slaves hauled Jabez upright. He watched helplessly as some of the crowd subdued Huri and Kenaniah. Shani rose and meticulously dusted off her homespun dress. She was furious. Clearly. Jabez lifted his head and glared at her. Perhaps she would listen to him now. Now that she saw how important it was to him.

“Stop this, Shani. Do not do this evil thing.”

Gasps came from various spots in the crowd and a man shouted, “He has blasphemed the god! Moloch will punish us now! Don’t we already feel his wrath? He is burning our lands!”

“Silence!” Jabez roared the word. “Are you so foolish as to believe that this piece

of metal—” He nodded to the abandoned idol “—can make any difference in the weather?

“You think he is the god of the sun! Bah! Foolishness! He can no more keep the sun from scorching the land then I can make the sun rise in the west! He cannot bring us rain!”

The child continued to wail, clearly upset with finding himself trapped in darkness. Jabez looked at his daughter again. “Open that foul cage and bring my grandson to me. I command it as your father!” He watched his daughter straighten her skirts. Standing then, she turned to face him. He gasped, suddenly frightened by the look in her eyes. The same look as the priestess’s.

“No, Father. I will not. Your Jehovah is dead. I will not follow a weak God. I will follow a god of strength.” Reaching down, Shani gripped the horns of the abandoned sun god. At the touch she closed her eyes and smiled, lifting her face to the heavens. With a heave, she dragged the idol across the ground to where the priestess stood. The metal scraped and grated on the loose stones, punctuated by the steady wails of its occupant. Singing softly through her thin lips, Shani cooed to her infant son who had worked himself into a frenzied state. Jabez shook his head, speechless.

The priestess nodded sharply and the drums began their final serenade for the day. Jabez screamed. He thrashed and flailed, but his captors held him firm. Step by step, Shani dragged the bronze bull to the pit’s edge. The priestess made to fasten the chain, but Shani shook her head. Reaching out, she gripped the chain and worked the hook into the ring. Jabez knew she was still singing. He could see her lips moving. At that moment, the urge to kill made his body tremble. Was he so different than his daughter? Yes! As angry as he was he would never carry out the deed! He squeezed his eyes shut, praying it was all simply a bad dream—an evil vision of what might be. The drums continued their symphony, pounding out the child’s death sentence. He opened his eyes again and bellowed his rage, straining against his bonds.

Shani stepped back then and smiled at the priestess. The witch woman stepped forward and cupped his daughter’s face, her eyes tender. Leaning forward she kissed her. And then she turned to Jabez’s captors. Another stepped in to take the Canaanite’s place and Jabez wrenched free. Hope! One last hope! He flailed and stumbled his way to the edge, his eyes fixed firmly on the bull. And then Shani was there. With a mighty heave, she pushed the idol from the edge. The Canaanite saw Jabez lunge and he let go of the chain, allowing the bull to plunge to the depths.

Jabez landed on his belly, his arms reaching out over the edge. “No!” His words were lost in the roar of the flames, and the skin on his hands blistered with the intense heat. Someone tugged at his tunic and he turned to see his daughter working to pull him from the brink. His eyes narrowed into slits of hatred and he thrust her hands away. “Don’t touch me! You are no longer my child!” He hissed the words and Shani sat back quickly. Shaking his head, he pulled himself to his feet, his great chest heaving like the billows that fanned the flames in the idol smithy. Tears ran freely down his weathered face, cutting tracks through the sweat and soot and dust. He turned his gaze on the crowd. They had released Huri and Kenaniah and those two stood aside, Jabez’s sorrow mirrored on their faces. Then he bellowed to the crowd, “A day will come when you will pay for this!”

A rustle of heavy material drew his attention to the priestess. She stood there with a smug grin on her face. Jabez wanted to wrap his hands around that scrawny throat, lift her off her feet and pitch her into the pit after her beloved god. Instead, he spat on her. Brushing past his daughter he scooped his mantle and rope from the ground. Leaving his brother and friend behind, he shoved his great bulk through the crowd and away from the horror. Those gathered were all too eager to step aside.

The sun was down to a sliver on the horizon when Jabez left. The celebrating had begun. Celebrating. Bah! His daughter might just have well ripped his heart from his chest. His beloved Yeseph was gone. Jabez wound his way up toward the great city. He needed to pray. The grief tore at him and tears ran freely. He batted at his nose with the back of his hand and received strange looks from those who hadn’t witnessed the scene at the pit. To his right the priests continued their ritual, the gore of their worship making the stones around them dark and slick. Off in a grove farther down the path an orgy took place—they offered themselves to the fertility god. He snorted. No doubt they would think the useless, lifeless gods had helped them conceive. An inevitable event in such circumstances. Farther west, the cacophony of a bigger, more boisterous gathering filled his ears and he shuddered to think what took place there.

He squinted through the dark, the burnished flames of the Tophet flickering in the background—his only light to see by. It was the grove of Asherah where the revelers cavorted. Tall poles stood out against the night sky like silent fingers clawing at the stars. Again he spat. Queen of the Heaven! More like Queen of the Heathen! Picking up a rock he roared out his anger and pitched the missile at one of the posts. The celebration continued on, oblivious to his pain—his torment.

At every turn of the path in the Valley of Hinnom, abominations were acted out,

and his rage swelled as he trudged toward the holy hill to the temple. He knew what he would find there too. Asherah poles. Idols. Temple prostitutes and blood everywhere. But it was Jehovah’s house first. He would not enter. He would sit at the wall and pray. Beg Jehovah to pour His vengeance out on those who had dishonored His name. Pray for Him to hear an old man’s cries.
An hour later, Huri and Kenaniah found Jabez sprawled face down weeping just outside the western wall. They watched in apprehension as the claws of night reached up to grab the last shades of orange, pink and crimson out of the sky.

* * *

Jezebel knew she should still be in mourning—had been in mourning—until she had heard of the arrival of Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat. The name was a curse running through her mind. The man would dare to declare himself king of Israel! She pushed away from the window she had gazing from and paced. Some fool of a prophet had called Jehu away from his military post, dumped oil on him, and told him he was now king. In spite of the fact that her son and Ahab’s direct heir was already king—and had been for some time. And Joram was the right kind of king—one through which she could rule discretely. Like his father had been. Oh Ahab had his moments of fidelity to the Hebrew God, but Jezebel had quickly worked her charms to bring him back to the Baal. Back to child sacrifices.

She checked her image in the beaten bronze mirror. Flawless. Her gown of crimson shimmered in the reflection. Black paint framed her eyes and her thick hair coiled about her head in a sleek halo. She was aging but the mirror didn’t show it.

Jezebel had seen the coming and of many prophets, including Elijah and Elisha. While those two pesky prophets had slipped through her hands, she had been present for the slaughter of the others. And this new upstart would be no different. After she saw to it that Jehu paid for his treason, she would personally sacrifice this new prophet to her god.

Returning to the window, Jezebel allowed her mind to replay all she had been told. The battle against Hazel of Aram over the city of Ramoth Gilead had failed. It turned out that Joram wasn’t the military strategist he thought he was. And that idiot from Judah. Ahaziah, king of Judah, had had the audacity to come to Jezreel while Joram was convalescing from his war wounds. Jehu had followed, and Joram had sent out a messenger to ask the commander’s intentions. The rider had simply joined the hoard of soldiers at Jehu’s back. The second rider had done likewise. Joram, in his frustration, had ordered his chariot to be ready. And Ahaziah had done likewise.

Jezebel shook her head. She never would have thought it would have come to this. Joram dead. Ahaziah dead. Jehu hadn’t even been respectful of the body. Picked up and tossed aside like a carcass of meat. Naboth’s field. That was where her son’s body lay. Just as the prophet had said. The thought came on its own and she pushed it away. As for Ahaziah, news had only just reached her that he was in Megiddo and likely wouldn’t survive the night.

She looked down at her dress. It should be black and her hair should be filled with the dust of ashes. But there was no time for mourning. She was queen and absolute ruler now. Forcing her eyes back to the road that stretched away from the city, she waited for the man who wanted to call himself king.

Hooves clattering on cobblestone alerted Jezebel that Jehu and his men had arrived. But what could he do to her here? Jezreel was a fortress. She shuddered. The prophecy about Ahab and his line had another side to it. She leaned over the parapet and allowed her eyes to scan the streets for dogs. She hated dogs. They were part of the prophecy. A mangy mongrel skulked out of an alley and she pulled back into the room.

Her mind abandoned all thoughts of dogs as Jehu and his men came into sight. She allowed a leer to rest on her painted lips. For all his stature and pomp and ceremony he still couldn’t touch her in her safe haven. And it wouldn’t take her long to rally her supporters.

She leaned back out onto the sill again and called to the armored rider. “Have you come in peace, Zimri, you murderer of your master?”

A gasp reached her ears and she knew the insult had found its mark. Zimri had seized the throne of Elah not more than forty-five years back. He, too, had assassinated his master and then destroyed the whole house of Baasha. She smiled then. The jibe had more depth, for Elah had ruled a mere seven days before he was destroyed. She could wait a week for rescue and it didn’t hurt to remind Jehu of that fact.

Jehu’s face turned toward her and his voice echoed through the streets and into her chambers, “Who is on my side? Who?”

And then, to Jezebel’s horror, three of her eunuchs were beside her.

Jehu didn’t wait for an answer. “Throw her down!”

Jezebel struggled against the strong hands that clamped onto her. Screeching, she thrashed against the efforts of her servants. They would pay dearly! The stone ledge scraped down her back as she was hoisted into the air and stuffed out the window. And then Jezebel—queen of Israel, worshipper of the Baal and the dark arts, murderer of children and prophets—plunged to the stones below.

Her mind bellowed its anger and in its protest it slowed and drew all around it into deep focus. She could see every hair on each horse that pranced and milled around in the courtyard. She could see each expression on every face as she dropped. And her final awareness was of the gathering of dogs—the ones that the prophet said would lick up her blood and devour her broken flesh.


I wouldn’t say that Light Under the House is a bad book, but it is seriously bizarre. The only way I know to classify it would be as speculative fiction. Where else could I find two women who welcome  total possession by the spirit of Jezebel? Under her control they not only manage to abduct millions of men, turn them back into young boys, and keep them hidden away from all the authorities who are searching for them.  And that is just a taste of what this story has in store for the reader.

On the positive side, Light Under the House showcases a keen imagination and an obvious devotion to biblical research. The narrative contains numerous symbolic events as well as several parallels to biblical themes.  The story is filled with plenty of action and suspenseful twists. Unfortunately I found the story just a bit too disjointed to follow easily. It just lacked  the cohesiveness that would have made it all work. It also lacked the type of character development that makes me actually care about what happens to them. In fact, the only character I even liked died way too soon. There was also an obvious lack of attention to detail in the proofreading with way too many missing words, etc. within sentences. I found myself having to backtrack several times to clarify what I had just read.  Normally, I would have finished this book in one day but it took me several days simply because it didn’t draw me in and I tended to avoid it.