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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Grace Unplugged and Own It- a Review and Giveaway

Today, I'm excited to be able to bring you a review and giveaway for not one, but two different books, both linked to an upcoming movie that will be released October 4th.

About Grace Unplugged:
Grace Trey is an 18 year old singer as passionate about her Christian faith as she is her phenomenal, God-given musical talent. Both traits come from her father, one hit wonder Johnny Trey who found Jesus after losing his chart success two decades ago.
 When Grace encounters her own music break of a lifetime, the sudden dive into the "real world" puts her deeper beliefs to the test. Pop superstardom is just within reach but appears to require some spiritual compromise. Will Grace reject her faith, or will she own it?
 Grace Unplugged is based on the motion picture of the same name starring AJ Michalka (Super 8) and Kevin Pollak (A Few Good Men) with performances by award-winning artists Chris Tomlin and Jamie Grace. 
OBM says:  Okay, so for about 95% of the book, Grace is NOT the child you want your daughter to grow up and become...she's more like the child every parent fears their child will turn out to be- self centered, determined to get her will no matter how ill advised it is, and convinced her parents are either dumb, or out of touch, or super controlling.   Her dad struggles with her rejection of him, her family, and all she has been taught, but comes to realize that Grace is really God's, and it's as her dad lets go that he experiences some healing of his own.  And as Grace sees that her dream life really is way more of a sham, and much closer to a nightmare, she comes to realize that the fame she thought she wanted really means selling out every value she holds dear, and in the end she makes the right choice, and God blesses her for it.  One of the pivotal things that helps Grace see the truth is a book called Own It.  In Grace Unplugged, Own It is credited to Grace's pastor, but Own It is a real book written by Michael and Hayley DiMarco.

Here's the official blurb about Own It:
The movie Grace Unplugged tells the story of Grace Trey, an ideal Christian teenager who is also a phenomenal singer. But when she is pushed into the “real world” at the tender age of eighteen after getting the music break of a lifetime, her faith is put to the test.
Own It mirrors the film by asking what it means to really “own” your personal faith rather than just automatically following in the footsteps of parents, friends, or other influencers. Best-selling authors Hayley and Michael DiMarco help readers understand what to do when faith meets real world challenges.
Without solid beliefs, poor choices are likely to follow. You must take the time to really know who you are, who you are becoming, and who God made you to be. It's your personal faith . . . own it! 

OBM says:  I think that owning your faith is a supremely important point in the lives of most young adults, and especially those raised in the church.  There is a critical time where you have to take all the head knowledge of being raised in the church, and all the innocent emotion of childhood, and really decide to own your own faith.  To be responsible for your own personal relationship with Jesus, and not ride the coat tails of your parents or teachers at church.  I know my oldest 2 children are personally at that place now of having to own their faith and let their personal relationship with their Savior dictate their choices even when it means going against the mainstream.  So I loved having this book as a resource for them to be able to read through and glean information from.

Grace Unplugged will be released as a motion picture on October 4th, but you can own your own copy of the book for $15.99, or you can win one below.  Own It is available for $14.99, or again, you can win a copy of it below.

Wanna learn more about Grace Unplugged?
Grace Unplugged Movie Facebook:
Grace Unpluggled Movie Twitter: @GraceMovie
Grace Unplugged Website:
B&H Twitter: @BHpub

And remember to check out the Grace Unplugged movie trailer

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Machine by Bill Myers

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:

B&H Kids (September 1, 2013)

***Special thanks to Rick Roberson for sending me a review copy.***


Bill Myers is an accomplished writer and film director whose work has won more than sixty national and international awards including the C. S. Lewis Honor Award. Among his best-selling
releases for kids are The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle and The Forbidden Door. He has sold more than eight million books and videos and lives with two cats, two kids, one dog, and one
wife near Hollywood, California.

Visit the author's website.


For ages 10 to 14, Truth Seekers is a fast-paced, thoughtful, and funny new series using a 21st century approach to sharing ancient Bible truths.

In book one, The Machine, twin siblings Jake and Jennifer have just lost their mother and are not thrilled about moving to Israel to stay with their seldom seen archaeologist dad. They don't yet understand how "all things work together for good to those who love God." But they will when a machine their father invented points them to the Truth.

Product Details:
List Price: $10.99
Age Range: 10 - 14 years
Series: Truth Seekers
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: B&H Kids (September 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1433690802
ISBN-13: 978-1433690808


It was like a dream, but not really. I mean it was a dream but there were parts that seemed so real—besides the parts where Mom had actually died in real life. Does that make sense? I get those every once in a while, dreams that are more real than real, ever since I was a kid.

Anyway, in the dream Mom was driving our SUV up the steep, winding road to our home in Malibu Canyon.

Jake and I were in the back, sitting in our clearly designated seating areas . . .

Jake in his WARNING: Biological Hazard Zone, complete with empty Cheetos bags, crumpled McDonald wrappers (which had last seen action months ago), his wadded up T-shirt and crusty socks (which had last seen a washer longer than that), and don’t even get me started on the last time he shampooed his hair.

I, on the other hand, sat in the WELCOME: This is How Normal People Live Zone, complete with breathable air and a place to sit without catching some deadly disease. (Jake accuses me of being a Neat Freak. Maybe, but it’s better than being a toxic waste site.)

And where was our dear father in all of this? To be honest, he seldom shows up in my dreams—just like he seldom shows up in our real lives. Oh, he says he loves us and all, but what’s the saying? Actions are louder than words. Anyway, I’ll get to him a little later.

It was the same dream I’d had a hundred times before . . .

I was busy doing homework when I glanced up to see a monster truck coming around the corner in our lane.

“Mom!” I shouted. “Look out!”

“What’s that?” She reached over to turn down the radio—one of her silly Country-Western songs about some girl breaking some guy’s heart.

“Up ahead! Look out!”

But she didn’t look out. And, just like all the other times, I saw the truck heading towards us, blasting its horn. I’m guessing his brakes had failed by the way he was scraping along the mountainside to slow himself. A good idea, except the mountainside was on our side!

Mom had nowhere to go. She swerved to the outer lane then tried to turn back, but she’d run out of road. We crashed through the guardrail and sailed out over the can- yon floor, which was a good two hundred feet below. There was no sound. I could see Mom screaming but heard only silence—except for that Country-Western singer going on about his broken heart.

I spun to Jake but he didn’t even glance up. He was too busy playing his stupid computer game. Then, just when the singer reached the line, Why you stompin’ on my achin’ heart with your high heel boots, we hit the water with a huge splash.

And this is where things get interesting . . .

In the real world, on the day Mom died, there was no water at the bottom of the canyon. It was September and the stream had dried up. And while we’re doing a reality check, Jake and I weren’t even in the car that day. Jake had been at the beach being Mr. Cool with a bunch of girls, and I was at home doing my algebra. (I know I’m only seventh grade, but besides being a neat freak, I’m kind of a workaholic.)

But in the dream there was plenty of water and the SUV kept sinking deeper and deeper with all three of us inside. Well, actually four, if you count the Country- Western singer who was now sitting in the front passenger seat, strumming his guitar!

Water poured in and quickly rose.  Mom tried opening her door, but it wouldn’t budge. She hit it with her shoulder over and over again, but the pressure of the water outside was too much. It began swirling around our waists and rising to our chests.

“Jenny,” Mom shouted, “roll down your window!”  “It’ll flood us worse!” I yelled.

“It’s the only way. Roll down your window and swim out!”



I threw a look to Jake who had conveniently disappeared. (Even in my dreams, he’s a slacker.)


I rolled down the window. More water roared in, pounding against my chest and face. I had to turn my head just to breathe. Then I grabbed the sides of the open window with my hands, turned my head away for another quick breath, and pulled myself out into the water.

I kicked and swam until I grabbed the SUV and pulled myself over to Mom’s door. By now the car was completely filled. Our faces were inches apart, separated only by her window.  I yanked at the door handle.  It didn’t budge. I tried again. Nothing. My lungs started aching for air, but I kept pulling and tugging as Mom kept pushing and banging.

Still, nothing.

My heart pounded in my ears. My lungs felt like they were on fire. The outside edges of my vision started going white. Mom pounded on the glass. I joined in and hit the window with my fists.  When that didn’t work, I tucked in my feet, raised my legs and kicked it. Still nothing. My lungs were screaming for air. My vision grew whiter. I had to get a breath. I pointed to the surface and shouted, “I’ll be back!”

She nodded and I pushed off, my lungs ready to explode. Sparkly lights danced through my head. I was losing consciousness, I was going to pass out, I was—

Then I broke through the surface, coughing and gasping. Cool air soothed my lungs as I gulped in two, three, maybe four breaths. I forced my head to clear, then took one more breath and ducked back down into the water.

It was dark and murky but I could follow the bubbles. The SUV had settled to the bottom of the river. When I reached the roof, I pulled myself over to Mom’s side. She wasn’t moving.


I yanked at the door. I slammed it. I kicked it. I had to get her out. The door gave, ever so slightly. I pulled harder. It moved some more, then it opened with a groaning CREAK.

I grabbed Mom’s arm and pulled, but she was stuck. I spotted her seat belt and reached down to unbuckle it. My lungs were crying out for air again as I pulled her from the car. But we’d barely started before we were jerked to a stop. I  turned  and  saw  that  something  like  a  shadow  had grabbed  her  other  arm.  At first I thought it was the Country-Western singer.  I pulled but it held her tight.  It was like a tug of war game, me on one arm, the shadow man on the other. And the harder I pulled—this was even weirder—but  the  harder  I  pulled,  the  more  he  started turning into this shadowy creature that kept growing bigger and bigger with huge, bat-like wings.

This is a dream, I kept telling myself, this is only a dream!

But my lungs were on fire. My vision was going all white again. This time I would not leave. I’d stay here and die with her if I had to, but I would not leave.

The pounding in my ears grew louder, filling my head . . . along with the song. That’s right, the singer or shadow or whatever it was, had begun singing again. Maybe it had never stopped:

I’ll never let you go . . . you will always be mine . . . always be mine . . . always be mine.

Well, Mr. Shadow could guess again. Dream or no dream, he could not have her.

Always be mine . . . always be mine . . .

My vision was totally white now. My mind shutting down. I could no longer feel my hands or my legs. I knew I was dying, but I would not let go. I loved her too much, I would never let go. The shadow thing may have won, but—

And then I heard a shout. “Augh!”

It sounded like Jake. But that was impossible. What would Jake be doing down here? I heard him again, even louder.


OBM says: This is the first book review I've done that I actually handed off to one of my kids to read.  Of course, I read it too, but I wanted to get my son's take on it, so I let him read it first.  So this was his take:  "It was good.  I definitely want to read the next one."  Verbose, that kid, no?  So my take on it is that it does a great job of reaching the target age group with an engaging story that also discusses Biblical events/history in a way that they enjoy reading about.  My son was able to recount most of the story to me, which is impressive in and of itself since he has Aspergers and doesn't recall things well.  I liked that the story was from a trusted author and that it was "cool" enough to draw him it.  I would definitely recommend it, and look forward to the next installment in the series.
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Friday, September 20, 2013

Beyond These Hills Review

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:

Harvest House Publishers (September 1, 2013)

***Special thanks to Ginger Chen for sending me a review copy.***


In the romantic conclusion to the Smoky Mountain Dreams series, Sandra Robbins tells a story of love and loss. The government is purchasing property to establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Laurel Jackson fears she’ll have to say goodbye to the only home she’s ever known. Can she find the strength to leave?

Visit the author's website.


In the romantic conclusion to the Smoky Mountain Dreams series, Sandra Robbins tells a story of love and loss. The government is purchasing property to establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Laurel Jackson fears she’ll have to say goodbye to the only home she’s ever known. Can she find the strength to leave?

Product Details:
List Price: $13.99
Series: Smoky Mountain Dreams (Book 3)
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (September 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736948880
ISBN-13: 978-0736948883


Cades Cove, Tennessee

June, 1935

  The needle on the pickup truck’s speedometer eased to thirty miles an hour. Laurel Jackson bit back a smile and glanced at her father. With his right hand on the steering wheel and his left elbow hanging out the open window, he reminded her of a little boy absorbed in the wonder of a new toy.

The wind ruffled his dark, silver-streaked hair, and a smile pulled at the corner of his mouth as the truck bounced along. His eyes held a faraway look that told her he was enjoying every minute of the drive along the new road that twisted through Cades Cove.

If truth be told, though, the truck with its dented fenders wasn’t all that new. He’d bought it a few months ago from Warren Hubbard, who’d cleaned out a few ditches in Cades Cove trying to bring the little Ford to a stop. Rumor had it he kept yelling Whoa! instead of pressing the brake. The good-natured ribbing of his neighbors had finally convinced Mr. Hubbard that he had no business behind the wheel of a truck.

Laurel’s father didn’t have that problem. He took to driving like their old hound dog Buster took to trailing a raccoon. Neither gave up until they’d finished what they’d started. Mama often said she didn’t know which one’s stubborn ways vexed her more—Poppa’s or Buster’s. Of course her eyes always twinkled when she said it.

The truck was another matter entirely. Mama saw no earthly reason why they needed that contraption on their farm when they had a perfectly good wagon and buggy. To her, it was another reminder of how life in Cades Cove was changing. Laurel could imagine what her mother would say if she could see Poppa now as the speed-
ometer inched up to thirty-five. Land’s sakes, Matthew. If you don’t keep both hands on the wheel, you’re gonna end up killing us all.

But Mama wasn’t with them today to tell Poppa they weren’t in a race, and he was taking advantage of her absence to test the limits of the truck. At this rate they’d make it to Gatlinburg earlier than expected. When she was a little girl, the ride in their wagon over to the mountain village that had become a favorite of tourists had seemed to take forever. Now, it took them less than half the time to get there.

She glanced at her father again and arched an eyebrow. “You’d better be glad Mama stayed home.”

Her father chuckled. “Do you think she’d say I was driving too fast?”

Laurel tilted her head to one side and tried to narrow her eyes into a thoughtful pose. “I’m sure she wouldn’t hesitate to let you know exactly how she felt.”

A big smile creased her father’s face, and he nodded. “You’re right about that. Your mother may run a successful business from a valley in the middle of the Smoky Mountains, but she’d just as soon pass up all the modern conveniences the money she makes could provide her. Sometimes I think she’d be happier if we were still living in that one-room cabin we had when we first married.”

Laurel laughed and nodded. “I know. But I imagine she’ll be just as happy today to have us out of the way. She can unload her latest pottery from the kiln and get the lodge cleaned and ready for the tourists we have coming Monday.”

Her father’s right hand loosened on the steering wheel, and his left one pulled the brim of his hat lower on his forehead. “It looks like business is going to be good this year. We already have reservations for most of the summer, and our guests sure do like to take home some of her pieces from Mountain Laurel Pottery.”

Laurel frowned. There would be guests this summer, but what about next year and the year after that? A hot breeze blew through the open window, and she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket. She mopped at the perspiration on her forehead before she swiveled in her seat to face her father. “Having the lodge and the pottery business is kind of like a mixed blessing, isn’t it?”

He frowned but didn’t take his eyes off the road. “How do you mean?”

Laurel’s gaze swept over the mountains that ringed the valley where she’d lived all her life. Her love for the mist-covered hills in the distance swelled up in her, and she swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. “Well, I was just thinking that we get paid well by the folks who stay at our lodge while they fish and hike the mountain trails, and Mama makes a lot of money selling them her pottery. But is the money worth what we’ve lost?” She clasped her hands in her lap. “I miss the quiet life we had in the Cove when I was a little girl.”

Her father’s forehead wrinkled. “So do I, darling, but you’re all grown up now, and those days are long gone. Change has been happening for a long time, but our way of life officially ended twelve years ago with the plan for the Smokies to become a national park. Now most of the mountain land’s been bought up by the government, and there’s a park superintendent in place over at Gatlinburg. I guess we have to accept the fact that the park is a reality.”

A tremor ran through Laurel’s body. She clutched her fists tighter until her fingernails cut into her palms. “No matter what we’re doing or talking about, it always comes back to one question, doesn’t it?”

Her father glanced at her. “What’s that?”

“How long can we keep the government from taking our land?”

“Well, they don’t have it yet.” The lines in her father’s face deepened, and the muscle in his jaw twitched. “At the moment, all the land that borders our farm has been bought and is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There aren’t many of us holding on in the Cove, but we’re not giving up without a fight. I have a meeting with our lawyer in Gatlinburg today to see how our court case is going. You can get your mama’s pottery delivered to Mr. Bryan’s store, can’t you?”

 “I didn’t know you had a meeting with the lawyer. Don’t worry about the pottery. Willie and I can take care of that.”

A smile cracked her father’s moments-ago stony features at the mention of her younger brother, who was riding in the truck’s bed. “You make sure that boy helps you. He has a habit of disappearing every time I have a job for him. I sure wish he’d grow up and start taking on some responsibility around the farm.”

Laurel laughed. “Willie’s only twelve, Poppa. When he’s as old as Charlie or me, he’ll settle down.”

Her father shook his head. “I don’t know about that. He’s always gonna be your mother’s baby.”

Before she could respond, the truck hit a bump in the road and a yell from behind pierced her ears. Laughing, she turned and looked through the back window. Willie’s face stared back at her. “Do it again, Pa,” he yelled. “That was fun.”

Her father frowned, grabbed the steering wheel with both hands, and leaned over to call out the window. “Be still, Willie, before you fall out and land on your head.”

Willie stood up, grabbed the side of the open window, and leaned around the truck door to peer into the cab. “Won’t this thing go any faster?”

Her father’s foot eased up, and he frowned. “We’re going fast enough. Sit down, Willie.”

The wind whipped Willie’s dark hair in his eyes. He was grinning. “Jacob’s pa has a truck that’ll go fifty on a smooth stretch,” he yelled. “See what ours will do.”

The veins in her father’s neck stood out, and the speedometer needle dropped to twenty. “If you don’t sit down and stay put, I’m gonna stop and make you sit up here between your sister and me.”

“I’m just saying you ought to open this thing up and see what she’ll do.”

The muscle in her father’s jaw twitched again, and Laurel put her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. How many times had she seen her no-nonsense father and her fun-loving brother locked in a battle of wills? Her father took a deep breath and shook his head.

“Willie, for the last time…”

Willie leaned closer to the window, glanced at Laurel, and winked. “Okay. I’ll sit, but I still think we could go a little faster. Jacob’s gonna get to Gatlinburg way before we do.”

The truck slowed to a crawl. “Willie…”

A big grin covered Willie’s mouth. “Okay, okay. I’m just trying to help. I know Mr. Bryan is waitin’ for these crates of Mama’s pottery. I’d hate to get there after he’d closed the store.”

“He’s not going to close the store. Now for the last time, do as I say.”

“Okay, okay. I’m sittin’.”

Willie pushed away from the window and slid down into the bed of the truck. Her father straightened in the seat and shook his head. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with that boy. He’s gonna put me in my grave before I’m ready.”

Laurel laughed, leaned over, and kissed her father’s cheek. “How many times have I heard you say that? I think you love sparring with him. He reminds you of Mama.”

For the first time today, a deep laugh rumbled in her father’s throat. “That it does. That woman has kept me on my toes for twenty years now.” He glanced over his shoulder through the back glass toward Willie, who now sat hunkered down in the bed of the truck. “But I doubt if I’ll make it with that boy. He tests my patience every day.”

Laurel smiled as she reached up and retied the bow at the end of the long braid that hung over her shoulder and down the front of her dress. “I doubt that will happen. You have more patience than anybody I know. There aren’t many in our valley who’ve been able to stand up to the government and keep them from taking their land. Just you and Grandpa Martin and a few more. Everybody else has given up and sold out.”

There it was again. The ever-present shadow that hung over their lives. Cove residents were selling out and leaving. How long could they hang on?

“Seems like we’re losing all our friends, doesn’t it?” Her father shook his head and pointed straight ahead. “Like Pete and Laura Ferguson. We’re almost to their farm. I think I’ll stop for a minute. I promised Pete I’d keep an eye on the place after they moved, and I haven’t gotten over here in a few weeks.”

Ever since Laurel could remember there had been a bond between her father and the older Pete Ferguson. Each had always been there to lend a hand to the other, but now the Fergusons were gone. Their land sold to the United States government and their farm officially a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

She glanced at her father’s face, and she almost gasped aloud at the sorrow she saw. The court case he and Grandpa Martin had waged over the past year had taken its toll on him. He was only a few months away from turning fifty years old, and Grandpa would soon be sixty-five. They didn’t need the worry they’d lived under for the last twelve years. Why couldn’t the government just give up and allow them to remain on their farms in the mountain valley that had been their family’s home for generations? That was her prayer every night, but so far God hadn’t seen fit to answer.

Her father steered the truck onto the dirt path that ran to the Ferguson cabin. The wildflowers Mrs. Ferguson had always loved waved in the breeze beside the road as they rounded the corner and pulled to a stop in the yard.

Laurel’s eyes grew wide, and she stared, unbelieving, through the windshield to the spot where the Ferguson cabin had stood as long as she could remember. Her father groaned and climbed from the truck. For a moment he stood beside the vehicle’s open door, his hand resting on the handle. He shook his head as if he couldn’t believe what he saw. Then he closed the door and took a few steps forward.

Laurel reached for the leather bag that sat on the floorboard near her feet, unsnapped the top flap, and pulled out her Brownie box camera before jumping from the truck. She hurried to stand beside her father, who stood transfixed as he stared straight ahead. Willie, his face pale, climbed from the back of the truck and stopped next to their father. No one spoke for a moment.

Willie pulled his gaze away and stared up at their father. “Where’s the house, Pa?”

Their father took a deep breath. “I guess the park service tore it down, son.”

A sob caught in Laurel’s throat as they stared at the barren spot of land that had once been the site of a cabin, barn, and all the outbuildings needed to keep a farm productive. “But why would they do that, Poppa?”

Her father took a deep breath. “Because this land is now a part of the park, and they want it to return to its wild state.”

Willie inched closer to their father. “Are they gonna tear our house down too?”

Her father’s eyes darkened. “Not if I can help it.” He let his gaze wander over the place he had known so well before he took a deep breath and turned back to the truck. “Let’s get out of here. I shouldn’t have stopped today.”

Laurel raised the camera and stared down into the viewfinder. “Let me get a picture of this before we go.”

Her father gritted his teeth. “Take as many as you want. Somebody’s got to record the death of a community.”

None of them spoke as she snapped picture after picture of the empty spot that gave no hint a family had once been devoted to this piece of land. After she’d finished, the three of them returned to the truck and climbed in. When her father turned the truck and headed back to the road, Laurel glanced over her shoulder at the spot where the house had stood. She had always looked forward to visiting this home, but she didn’t know if she would be able to return. Too many of her friends were gone, scattered to the winds in different directions. The holdouts who still remained in the Cove lived each day with the threat that they too would soon be forced from the only homes they’d ever known. If her family had to leave, they would be like all the rest. They would go wherever they could find a home, and the ties forged by generations in the close society of their remote mountain valley would vanish forever.

Andrew Brady set his empty glass on the soda fountain counter and crossed his arms on its slick white surface. The young man who’d served him faced him behind the counter and smiled. “Can I get you somethin’ else, mister?”

Andrew shook his head. “No thanks. That cold drink helped to cool me down some. I didn’t expect it to be so hot in Gatlinburg. I thought it would be cooler here in the mountains.”

The young man grinned and reached up to scratch under the white hat he wore. “Most folks think that, but our days can be a bit warm in the summertime.” He glanced at several customers at the other end of the counter and, apparently satisfied they didn’t need any help at the moment, turned his attention back to Andrew. “Where you from?”

Andrew smiled. “Virginia. Up near Washington.”

The young man smiled and extended his hand. “Welcome to Gatlinburg. My name is Wayne Johnson. My uncle owns this drugstore, and I work for him.”

Andrew grasped his hand and shook it. “Andrew Brady.”

“How long you been here, Andrew?”

“I arrived Thursday.”

Wayne picked up a cloth and began to wipe the counter. He glanced up at Andrew. “You enjoying your vacation?”

Andrew shook his head. “I’m not in Gatlinburg on vacation. I’m here on business.”

Wayne shrugged. “I figured you for a tourist. Guess I was wrong. They come from all over now that the park’s opening up. I hear that we had about forty thousand people visit Gatlinburg last year. That’s a far cry from what it was like when I was a boy. We were just a wide spot in a dirt road back in those days. But I expect it’s only gonna get better.”

Andrew glanced around the drugstore with its well-stocked shelves and the soda fountain against the side wall. “It looks like this business is doing okay.” He shook his head and chuckled. “I don’t know what I expected, but I wouldn’t have thought there’d be so many shops here. Mountain crafts are for sale everywhere, and the whole town is lit up with electric lights. It looks like the park has put this town on the map.”

Wayne propped his hands on the counter and smiled. “I guess folks in the outside world thought we were just a bunch of ignorant hillbillies up here, but we been doing fine all these years. We’ve even had electricity since back in the twenties when Mr. Elijah Reagan harnessed the power on the Roaring Fork for his furniture factory. He supplied to everybody else too, but now they say we’re gonna have cheap electricity when TVA gets all their dams built.”

Andrew nodded. “I guess it’s a new day for the people in the mountains.”

“It sure is, and we’re enjoying every bit of it.” He picked up Andrew’s dirty glass and held it up. “You sure you don’t want a refill?”

Andrew shook his head. “No, I’d better be going. I have some things to do before I head out to Cades Cove tomorrow.”

Wayne cocked an eyebrow. “Only one reason I can think why you might be going out there. You must be joining up at the Civilian Conservation Corps.”

Andrew pulled some coins from his pocket to pay for his soda and laid them on the counter. “No, I’m not with the CCC. Just intend to visit with them a while.”

Wayne shrugged. “There’re a lot of CCC camps all over the mountains, and those boys are doing a good job. You can see part of it when you drive into the Cove. They built the new road there. It sure makes gettin’ in and out of there easier than it did in years past. I reckon Roosevelt did a good thing when he put that program in his New Deal.”

“Yeah, it’s giving a lot of young men a chance for employment.” Andrew smiled, picked up the hat that rested on the stool beside him, and set it on his head. “Thanks for the soda.”

Wayne studied Andrew for a moment. “You never did tell me exactly what your job is. What brought you to Gatlinburg from Washington?”

“I work with the Park Service. I’m here on a special assignment.”

Wayne’s eyes narrowed, and his gaze raked Andrew. “Special assignment, huh? Sounds important, and you look mighty young.”

Andrew’s face grew warm, and his pulse quickened. Even a soda jerk could figure out that a guy who looked like he’d barely been out of college for a year couldn’t have gotten this job on his own. But with his father being a United States congressman and a supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, it hadn’t been hard for his father to arrange this appointment.

The worst part for him, though, had been his father’s command that Andrew had better not embarrass him on the job. He swallowed the nausea rising in his throat and tried to smile.

“I guess I’m just lucky they thought I was qualified.”

“Well, congratulations. Come in for another soda the next time you’re in town.”

“That I will.” Andrew turned and headed for the exit.

When he stepped outside the drugstore, he stopped and stared at the newly paved road that wound through the town. Before long that stretch of highway would wind and climb its way up the mountainsides all the way to Newfound Gap that divided the states of   Tennessee and North Carolina. He’d heard that spot mentioned several times as the ideal location for the dedication of the park, but the event was still some years away. His assignment here would be one of the factors that determined when it would take place.

Andrew took a deep breath of fresh mountain air and turned in the direction where he’d parked his car. Several tourists brushed past him, but it was the approach of a young man and woman who caught his attention. Obviously honeymooners, if the glow of happiness on their faces was any indication. Ignoring everybody they passed, they stared into each other’s eyes and smiled as if they had a secret no one else knew.

Andrew shook his head in sympathy as they walked past him and wondered how long it would take them to face up to the reality of what being married really meant. He’d seen how his friends had changed after marriage when they had to start worrying about taking care of a family. He’d decided a long time ago it wasn’t for him. He had too many things he wanted to do in life, and getting married ranked way below the bottom of his list. Convincing his father of the decision, though, was another matter. The congressman had already picked out the woman for his son’s wife. “The perfect choice,” his father often said, “to be by your side as you rise in politics.”

Andrew sighed and shook his head. Sometimes there was no reasoning with his father. He wished he could make him…

His gaze drifted across the street, and the frown on his face dissolved at the sight of a young woman standing at the back of a pickup truck. Her fisted hands rested on her hips, and she glared at the back of a young boy running down the street.

“Willie,” she yelled. “Come back here. We’re not through unloading yet.”

The boy scampered away without looking over his shoulder. She shook her head and stamped her foot. Irritation radiated from her stiff body, and his skin warmed as if she’d touched him.

As if some unknown force had suddenly inhabited his body, he eased off the sidewalk and moved across the street until he stood next to her. “Excuse me, ma’am. Is there anything I can do to help?”

She whirled toward him, and the long braid of black hair hanging over her right shoulder thumped against her chest. Sultry dark eyes shaded by long lashes stared up at him, and a small gasp escaped her lips. “Oh, you startled me.”

His chest constricted, and he inhaled to relieve the tightness. His gaze drifted to the long braid that reached nearly to her waist. He had a momentary desire to reach out and touch it. With a shake of his head, he curled his fingers into his palms and cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry. I heard you calling out to that boy, and I thought maybe I could help.”

Only then did her shoulders relax, and she smiled. Relief surged through his body, and his legs trembled. What was happening to him? A few minutes ago he was mentally reaffirming his commitment to bachelorhood, and now his mind wondered why he’d ever had such a ridiculous thought. All he could do was stare at the beautiful creature facing him.

She glanced in the direction the boy had disappeared and sighed. “That was my brother. He was supposed to help me move these crates into the store, but he ran off to find his friend.” She smiled again and held out her hand. “My name is Laurel.”

His hand engulfed hers, and a wobbly smile pulled at his lips. “I’m Andrew. I’d be glad to take these inside for you, Laurel.”

“Oh, no. If you could just get one end, I’ll hold the other.”

He studied the containers for a moment before he shook his head. “I think I can manage. If you’ll just open the door, I’ll have them inside in no time.”

She hesitated as if trying to decide, then nodded. “Okay. But be careful. These crates are filled with pottery. My mother will have a fit if one piece gets broken.”

He took a deep breath, leaned over the tailgate of the truck, and grabbed the largest crate with Mountain Laurel Pottery stamped on the top. Hoisting the container in his hands, he headed toward the store and the front door that she held open.

As they entered the building, a tall man with a pencil stuck behind his ear hurried from the back of the room. “Afternoon, Laurel. I wondered when you were going to get here.”

She smiled, and Andrew’s heart thumped harder. “We didn’t leave home as early as we’d planned.” Her smile changed to a scowl. “Willie was supposed to help me, but he ran off.” And just as quickly, her expression changed again to a dazzling smile. “Andrew was good enough to help me get the crates in.”

Mr. Bryan helped Andrew ease the crate to the floor and glanced up at him. “Any more in the truck?”

Andrew nodded. “One more, but it’s smaller. I don’t need any help getting it inside.”

“Then I’ll leave you two. I’m unboxing some supplies in the back.” Mr. Bryan turned to Laurel. “If anybody comes in, holler at me, Laurel.”

“I will.”

A need to distance himself from this woman who had his heart turning somersaults swept over Andrew, and he hurried out the door. Within minutes he was back with the second container, but he almost dropped it at the sight of Laurel kneeling on the floor beside the first one. She opened the top, reached inside, and pulled out one of the most beautiful clay pots he’d ever laid eyes on. Swirls of orange and black streaked the smoky surface of the piece. She held it up to the light, and her eyes sparkled as she turned it slowly in her hands and inspected it.

He set the second crate down and swallowed. “Did you make it?”

She laughed and shook her head. The braid swayed again, and he stood transfixed. “No, my mother is the potter. I help her sometimes, but I didn’t inherit her gift. This is one of her pit-fired pieces.”

She set the pot down and pulled another one out. She smiled and rubbed her hand over the surface. Her touch on the pottery sent a warm rush through his veins.

“Exquisite.” The word escaped his mouth before he realized it.

She cocked her head to one side and bit her lip. “Exquisite?” she murmured. She glanced up at him, and her long eyelashes fluttered. “I’ve searched for the right word for a long time to describe my mother’s work. I think you’ve just given it to me. They are exquisite.”

He swallowed and backed away. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

She shook her head. “No, thank you. You’ve been a great help.”

“I’m glad I could be of service.” He searched his mind for something else to say, something to prolong his time with her, but his mind was blank. He took a deep breath. “I need to go. It was nice meeting you, Laurel.”

She smiled. “You too, Andrew. Goodbye, and thanks again.”

“Goodbye.” He slowly backed toward the door.

Outside in the fresh air he took a deep breath and pulled his hat off. He raked his sleeve across his perspiring brow and shook his head. What had just happened? He’d felt like he was back in high school and trying to impress the most popular girl in his class.

He closed his eyes for a moment, and the image of her holding the pottery in her hands returned. He clamped his teeth down on his bottom lip and shook his head. She’d misunderstood. It wasn’t the pottery he was describing when the word had slipped from his mouth.

Exquisite? The word didn’t do her justice.

And she had a beautiful name too. Laurel. He straightened, and his eyes widened. He hadn’t even asked her last name.

He whirled to go back inside the store but stopped before he had taken two steps. His father’s face and the words he’d spoken when Andrew left home flashed in his mind. Remember who you are and why you’re there. Don’t do anything foolish. People in Washington are watching. He exhaled and rubbed his hand across his eyes.

For a moment inside the store he’d been distracted. He was the son of Congressman Richard Brady, and his father had big plans for his only living son.

He glanced once more at the pickup truck that still sat in front of the store and pictured how Laurel had looked standing there. When he’d grasped her hand, he’d had the strange feeling that he’d known her all his life. How could a mountain girl he’d just met have such a strange effect on him?

He pulled his hat on, whirled, and strode in the opposite direction. Halfway down the block he stopped, turned slowly, and wrinkled his brow as he stared back at the truck. The words painted on the containers flashed in his mind, and he smiled.

It shouldn’t be too hard to find out her last name. For now he would just call her Mountain Laurel. His skin warmed at the thought. A perfect name for a beautiful mountain girl.

He jammed his hands in his pockets and whistled a jaunty tune as he sauntered down the street.

OBM says:  This is a delightful book that really opened my eyes to what it must have been like, and what it must still be like, when the government decides it has a better way to use your land than you do.  While 1900's historical fiction is a little out of my usual eras, I very much enjoyed it.  Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book for review- it was a great read.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Metro Movement's First Student Showcase

Some people's children do normal piano, or soccer, or underwater basket weaving.  My daughter climbs 25 feet in the air and then intentionally falls toward the ground.  Over and over again.  She does aerial silk, sometimes called tissu.  It's the stuff you see in Cirque du Soleil.  She takes classes at an amazing studio called Metro Movement and Aerial Arts.
 We love them to pieces
They are sooooo good with the kids, and the instruction is 100% safe, and top notch.  A week and a half ago, they had a student showcase- their first- and the performances were breathtaking. Completely over-the-top impressive.  Mimi was one of 3 youth to perform, and the only youth to do a solo performance.  She did SO well, and she was totally jazzed that she got to wear one of their costumes (they have a production company that does events, so they have a full warehouse of costumes).  Here are a few pictures.

 This is Stacy- their first student, who then turned teacher.  She now performs as an aerial trapeze artist at Sea World in San Diego.  This is the lyra that she's on.  Mimi does some lyra as well.

And these above and below are Tawni.  She's another instructor at Metro, and she is also "Miriam" at the Hollywood Studios' Indian Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.  This is the cube that she's on.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013


So, being the good parents that we are, we made a deal with out kids...if we can get rid of the dogs, we can get a pool...and a kitten.  We might have been a little bit desperate to get rid of the dogs.  We found a perfect home for Riley- a family from our church who LOVES him to pieces.  Jazzy, being part pit bull, was harder to place, but we hope that she is happy.  We are very happy.  I love animals, but I was over it.  It being the hair, and the dirt, and the having to go out at 0' dark hundred.

So here's the pool.  It was quite a project.  We had to significantly level the ground, and at times I wondered if it would really be worth it, but it TOTALLY was.  We LOVE the pool!!!!

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Monday, September 16, 2013

SOOOOO Blessed

I am so blessed to be able to do what I love to do.  Recently, God brought two photo shoots to me, and while I usually keep my photography and this blog separate, I just have to share.

This is Marlayy.  She's soooo sweet, and I even got to put her to sleep and snuggle her when we were done.  Marlayy's mom and dad are a young couple from our church, and they work hard to provide for their little family.  I mean, like walk to work 'cause they don't have a car hard.  So this shoot was my gift to them.  She was about 7 weeks old here.

 That quilt she's laying on?  It was her mamma's quilt when she was a baby.  Awwww.

And this is our worship leader and his soon to be wife.  They asked me to do this shoot last minute, and we were nearly rained out, but God was gracious and while it was dark and stormy looking, we made it through the whole shoot without a drop of rain falling.  

I'm SOOOO thankful to God for reminding me of my love for photography, and for giving me this talent and the opportunity to bless others with it.
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Sunday, September 15, 2013

LIfe is Short

Just found out a fellow blogger and homeschooling mom that I reviewed with for years died very unexpectedly.  Life is short, and while I firmly believe no one dies before God's appointed time for them, we never knew when that time will be.   Hug your kids.  Forgive those who wrong you.  Love your spouse with all your heart, but love God even more.  Make Jesus the Lord of your life while it is still today, because none of us is guaranteed a tomorrow.
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Saturday, September 14, 2013

TJ's BeyWarriors House Party Birthday

My small boy and his brother are very fond of BeyBlades.  So when the chance came up to host a House Party a week after TJ's birthday, I applied...and we got chosen.  So tonight, my boy and his friends got to battle their hearts out with the new BeyWarriors.  They are like BeyBlades, but have actual "warrior" figures attached.  You can change out the heads, arms, and tips for the warriors, and the boys had fun trying to make the best combination and then having tournaments to see who won.

 TJ opted for "Dirty Snowballs" instead of cake.  They are basically Oreo truffles, and everyone seemed to like them.

 Our group photo :-)
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Friday, September 13, 2013

The Days of Noah by Virginia Smith

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:

Next Step Books (August 13, 2013)

***Special thanks to Keely Leake for sending me a review copy.***


VIRGINIA SMITH, or Ginny to her friends, is an avid reader with eclectic tastes in fiction. She writes stories in a variety of styles, from lighthearted romance to breath-snatching suspense. Her books have been finalists for ACFW’s Carol Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, the Maggie Awards, and the National Reader’s Choice Awards. Two of her novels have been honored with Holt Medallion Awards of Merit—A Daughter’s Legacy in 2011 and Dangerous Impostor in 2013.

When she isn’t writing, Ginny enjoys the extremes of nature—riding her motorcycle, snow skiing, and scuba diving. She and her husband, Ted, divide their times between their homes in Utah and Kentucky.

Learn more about Ginny and her books at and on facebook at


The daughter of a pagan priestess believes Noah’s prophecy…especially when she discovers the horrifying secret behind her city’s primary export.

Belief in the One God is dangerous in Cainlan, a technologically advanced city founded on the worship of the god Cain. But when Eliana meets the son of a religious fanatic she is drawn to Shem’s caring manner and deep faith. She believes his assertion that the One God will wipe the earth clean of the corruption that fills it, especially when she discovers a terrifying secret known only to those high in the government’s ruling council.

Though destined to escape her destiny, Eliana’s life has been preordained. Not even Shem’s God can rescue her from the fate for which she was born – becoming the next high priestess to Cain.

Product Details:
List Price: $13.49
Paperback: 374 pages
Publisher: Next Step Books (August 13, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1937671119
ISBN-13: 978-1937671112


A Note from Virginia Smith

The book of Genesis doesn’t have much to say about the society in which Noah and his family lived. What a delight to an author with a vivid imagination, because the framework for stories set during that time period is wide open. All we are told is that in Noah’s day mankind had become evil and corrupt. Many have assumed the culture to be primitive–but what if that assumption is wrong? What if civilization had progressed to the point of cultivating technology? What if Noah’s society had developed some of the alarming elements of our own society?

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

(Matthew 24:37)

Part One

City of the God

Chapter 1

Behind a well-bloodied altar, the high priestess stood ramrod straight, a razor-sharp blade poised above her head. Eliana matched the rigid posture, her gaze riveted on the glistening knife gripped in her mother’s hands. A lamb lay bleating in terror on the altar, held in place by two blue-robed priestesses. Knots formed in Eliana’s stomach, and she averted her gaze from the struggling animal. Gathered in the courtyard before the open-air dais, the mesmerized crowd drew an audible breath, anticipating the moment of the knife’s descent.
From her position on the rear of the dais, deep beneath the shade of the golden canopy, Eliana watched her mother’s slender back, taut cords of muscle plainly visible beneath the filmy white gown. Her gaze shifted to the opposite side of the platform where another dark-haired priestess waited. The woman’s hand rested gently, almost lovingly, on the shoulder of a child. The last of the morning’s sacrifices stood motionless, watching the ritual through drug-laden eyes.
The crowd roared approval as the knife fell, and Eliana’s stomach lurched. By sheer force of will she remained outwardly passive, though her throat convulsed with the effort of keeping her breakfast in place. Why did the blood still disturb her so? Sacrifices had been part of her daily routine for years, since she ascended from the temple’s nursery to dwell in the upper halls. High Priestess Liadan made no secret of the fact that she despised this weakness in her daughter, and that Eliana must master her squeamishness. She had no choice. For in only a few years, Eliana would be called to take her mother’s place at the altar.
A movement among the masses caught her eye. A man dressed in farmer’s trousers and a loose-fitting shirt turned away to push through the crowd. Before the people closed in and hid him from view, he looked once more toward the dais where the high priestess stood. Even from the distance, his distaste at the spectacle showed clearly on his face. He shook his head sadly before disappearing into the crowd.
As the attendant priestesses removed the lamb’s carcass, Eliana’s gaze traveled once again to the opposite end of the dais. All hair had been shaved from the child’s head, making the gender impossible to determine. A white linen robe hung loosely from thin shoulders, and as Eliana watched, the priestess gently nudged the child toward the stairs leading to the altar. For one moment, dark, dull eyes locked onto Eliana’s in an unfocused stare.
With the speed of a lion attacking its prey, repugnance struck her like a physical assault. Burning acid surged into her throat, and her knees threatened to buckle. She shrank against the heavy gold curtain behind her. One urgent thought pummeled her brain: escape, before she vomited. If forced to watch one more sacrifice this morning, she would shame herself, her mother, and worst of all, the mighty god, Cain.
Though she would certainly be called to task later, Eliana slipped behind the curtain into the temple, and ran.

Breath burning in her lungs, Eliana catapulted through a side door that led from the temple into a secluded corner of the public gardens. Bright sunlight assaulted her eyes after the dim lighting of the temple corridors. She stopped on the cobbled walkway to recover her breath, inhaling deep draughts of rose-scented air to clear the stench of sacrificial blood from her nostrils. In the distance she heard the roar of a hundred exhilarated voices and knew the final sacrifice of the morning had been performed. An image rose unbidden in her mind: sightless eyes, dark and dull, stared skyward as the child’s life dripped into the high priestess’s chalice to appease the hungry god.
Huge gulps of cool morning air tasted sweet against the bitter bile that again threatened to choke her.
No! She pressed fists against her eyes. Think of something else.
“Alms, lady?”
Startled, she opened her eyes to see a filthy urchin before her. He must have been hiding behind the hedge that lined the cobbled path. Beggars were unusual in the secluded cluster of shops and taverns that surrounded the temple gardens. In the unlikely event one decided to try his luck inside the ornamental iron gates separating the private marketplace from the press of Cainlan’s city streets, dozens of uniformed guardsman were normally on hand to point out his error. This child had somehow escaped notice. The bones in his wrist protruded beneath thin, dirt-encrusted skin as he thrust his palm toward her, gazing up with liquid brown eyes.
Eyes that flickered with life.
Eliana reached for the bag that hung at her side when she shopped. Then she remembered. She hadn’t needed a bag for the morning sacrifice. It was back in her rooms in the temple’s resident hall.
“I’m sorry. I’ve nothing to give.”
Disbelief flashed across the child’s features. His gaze dropped to take in her silk gown, followed by a smirk of disgust. He spat, barely missing her embroidered slippers, and ran off. She watched as he ducked under the cover of a thick, flowering bush.
At least he was alive to run away.
When the urchin was out of sight, Eliana hesitated. Duty demanded that she return to the temple. Girta would be waiting in her rooms with something cool and calming to drink. But this morning the thick stone walls of the only home she’d ever known threatened to press the breath right out of her body.
With a guilty backward glance, Eliana turned away from the temple and hurried down the walkway, her silken gown whispering around her feet. The gardens lay inside the high hedge to her right. At the center a statue of Cain towered above the greenery, his back to the temple dedicated to his service. Sometimes that ever-watchful presence comforted her, but in recent days, with her official entry into the priesthood drawing nearer, the god’s regard presented a menacing force that haunted her dreams. She kept her head turned away.
At the far end of the stone and wood shops that comprised the market square rose the imposing building that housed the Cabinet of Energy. She avoided looking in that direction as well. The smooth, polished walls, so different from the rough hewn stone of the temple, stirred feelings of disquiet deep in her stomach. The sun’s rays reflected off glass panels, blinding her and hiding the actions of those who worked within doing … what? The workings of Cainlan’s government were largely a mystery, at least to a fledgling priestess. Each morning men and women filed inside clutching satchels and moving with quick, hurried steps that gave the impression of important activities awaiting them inside the shining walls. At the end of the day, those same men and women filed out carrying the same satchels. At night the energy-powered lights lining the roof cast a harsh glow into the sky and blotted out the twinkling stars. In daylight, the building stood as a gleaming symbol of progress, staring defiance across the gardens toward the ancient temple and the statue of the god the temple served.
When the building was erected ten years before, Liadan’s voice had snapped with irritation whenever it was mentioned. But in recent years the High Priestess’s attitude had undergone a change. Though Eliana still heard the occasional grumble about ‘that monstrosity’ blocking her view of the city that sprawled to the south, her mother had ceased grumbling about the government. The reason, Eliana suspected, had little to do with politics and everything to do with Captor, the handsome governor whose first official project after his appointment was to champion the building project.
 Eliana jumped when a loud blast from a horn signaled the end of the sacrifice ceremony. Within moments the walkway filled with people intent on their own errands. Shopkeepers threw open their shutters and attempted to coax customers through their doorways with promises of bargains and temple-blessed wares. Eliana allowed herself to be swept along toward the far end of the market square, where she turned into the relative peace of a narrow alleyway.
The scent of freshly baked bread carried from the corner bakery, so like the kitchen near the temple nursery. She missed those peaceful years, when she’d been too young to attract her mother’s attention beyond the obligatory monthly visits to the high priestess’s chambers.
A movement ahead caught her eye. The pet shop owner wrestled a heavy iron cage through the doorway of his store. Inside, a colorful bird squawked in protest at the rough handling. Another man emerged from the shop in the owner’s wake, his quiet voice easily heard in the narrow confines of the alley.
“I’m quite sure my father would be interested in a pair, if you could manage to find a female.”
At a glimpse of his profile, her breath caught in her throat. He was the man she had seen in the crowd, the farmer who had turned away before the end of the sacrificial ritual.
The shop owner placed the cage near the window and faced his customer, hands on his hips. “Your father has quite a collection by now, I’d say.”
A warm laugh rumbled toward her. “That he does, but none like this.”
Collection? Was the stranger’s father a bird handler, then? A pair of women entered the alley, chatting with one another as they headed toward the fabric shop at the far end. Curious, Eliana crept closer to the men, her eyes averted but her ears tuned to their conversation.
“My supplier can find a female, but they’re expensive. They come all the way from Enoch, and the roads are dangerous these days.” The shop owner shook his head. “I’ll need payment in advance.”
A shadow fell across Eliana, accompanied by the stench of rotten breath. She whirled and lifted her eyes to a face much closer than she liked. A man, tall and broad-shouldered, towered over her. His companion, whose clothes bore evidence of much wear and little washing, stepped behind her to successfully box her in. Narrowed eyes glinted down at her as cracked lips parted in a grin.
Alarm plunged into her belly.
“What do we have here? A lady in fancy clothes.”
He fingered the gold-embroidered silk of her gown where it draped across her collarbone, and Eliana drew breath to voice an outraged protest. His rough hand brushed against her breast. Her words died unspoken while icy fear froze the blood in her veins. She shrank away, but the man behind her formed an immovable barrier. Twisting sideways, she pressed her back against the stone wall. Why had she run off without a cloak to cover her gown? She might as well have strung gold coins from her ears and invited thieves to take them. Hadn’t Girta warned her over and over? She cast about frantically for a means of escape, but could not tear her gaze from the menacing grin blocking her view. Could she outrun them, make a dash for the alley entrance?
As though he heard her thought, the man raised a meaty arm and planted his hand against the stone beside her, entrapping her in a cage of sweaty flesh.
The second man lifted a fat finger to point at her face. “Hey, I know her. She was up by the altar.”
The first man’s grin deepened. “A priestess, eh?” He put his other hand on the wall beside her head and leaned closer. “I’ve heard some of them priestesses can be mighty friendly to a working man when they’re asked real nice.”
The man’s hand dropped to her shoulder and slid down her arm. A trail of fire seared her skin where his fingers touched, and a fierce trembling in her knees threatened to drop her to the cobbled ground. She had to get away, to run to the safety of the temple, and of Girta’s arms.
“I—” Her voice failed her. She gulped and tried again. “I must get back. I’m…I’m expected.”
The second man’s low chuckle resonated in her ears. “What’s the hurry? We’ve got a nice place out in the city where—”
“Pardon my intrusion.”
Eliana jerked her gaze to the man who suddenly appeared behind her captors. The farmer who’d been bargaining for the colorful bird. Anger erupted on the faces of the ruffians as they turned toward him, shoulder-to-shoulder. Their backs formed a wall of muscle and flesh in front of Eliana.
Courtesy and steel blended in the farmer’s soft voice. “I’m concluding my business here, and then I can accompany the lady back to the temple.”
The backs of her captors swelled until they seemed to double in size. “Mind your business. This lady don’t need no dirt digger to take her anywhere.”
The farmer’s soft voice did not change. “I think she does.”
As one, they took a menacing step toward him. With a quick sideways movement, Eliana slid out of their reach. Without a backward glance, she dashed blindly down the alley. Half a breath later she realized her mistake. She should have run the other way, toward the alley’s entrance and the safety of the wide-open gardens where the marketplace guards would see her. There was no place to go in this direction except into one of the shops in this tiny alley. She skidded to a halt behind the dubious protection of the metal birdcage, just as the animal keeper emerged from the open doorway of his shop. In one hand he carried a short but sturdy club, which he slapped rhythmically into the palm of the other as he stalked toward the place where the farmer stood his ground before the pair of brutes.
“Here now, we’ll have none of this. Be on your way.”
The larger of the thugs glanced toward Eliana, clearly considering whether or not she was worth pursuing. She huddled behind the cage, fear coursing down her spine. Though the farmer stood half a head taller, they both possessed arms nearly the width of Eliana’s waist, and were decades younger than the shopkeeper. If they decided to fight, could she scream loud enough to attract the attention of the temple guards? Were there any guards near enough to come to their aid?
The first ruffian turned his head and spat. “Let’s go.” Apparently he didn’t mind the odds of two men against one petite woman, but didn’t relish the idea of pairing off against other men.
His companion hesitated, and then joined him. Eliana’s rescuers did not move until the thugs had left the alley.
When her would-be attackers were out of sight, she sagged against the shop’s doorway, eyes closed, and willed her heartbeat to slow. Footsteps approached.
“Are you hurt, lady?”
She shook her head and looked up into the kind gray eyes of the farmer. “I’m fine, thanks to you.” She slid her gaze to include the shopkeeper. “Thanks to you both.”
The man slapped his club once more into his palm. “I’ll have a word with the guards, I will. We don’t need their kind in here. The temple marketplace should be safe for priestesses.”  He peered at her. “Seen you here before, I have. You won’t warn your friends not to come?”
Eliana’s smile trembled nearly as much as her knees. She saw no need to correct his assumption that she was a priestess. “I’ll tell everyone I know of your bravery and how you rescued me from…” She shuddered, unable to contemplate exactly what she’d been rescued from at the hands of those crude men. Something terrible, for certain.
He jerked a satisfied nod. “That’s alright, then.”
The farmer smiled, tiny lines deepening around his kind eyes. He was tall and trim with muscular arms evident beneath a loose-fitting shirt the color of mature wheat. A plain strip of leather at the base of his neck secured dark hair sprinkled lightly with silver.
She looked toward the alley’s entrance. “Thank you again. I should go.” The thought of leaving the safety these men provided set her pulse racing once again. Were the two ruffians out of sight, waiting for her to leave her rescuers’ company?
The man followed her gaze. “If you’re returning to the temple, I’ll go with you.”
Relief flooded her. She didn’t trust her voice, but accepted his offer with a nod.
He turned to the animal keeper and gestured toward the cage. “About that bird. I’ll need to check with my father concerning the expense.”
“My supplier leaves in six days. I don’t know when he’ll make another trip.”
The farmer dipped his forehead. “Then I will return in five.”
The shop owner waved a hand in dismissal, and with a final smile in her direction, disappeared into his shop. When he was out of sight, the handsome stranger watched the bird smooth the colorful feathers that covered its wing, an unreadable expression on his face. Wistful, maybe? Or merely secretive?
His expression cleared, and he gestured toward the market square’s main walkway. “Shall we?”
Eliana fell in step beside him. His arms swung at his sides with an easy grace as he walked. She had to hurry to keep up with his long-legged gait.
“I heard you mention that your father is a bird collector.” Her mouth snapped shut on the last word. She’d just given herself away as an eavesdropper.
He seemed not to notice. “Not really, though he is keenly interested in animals of all kinds, especially those from distant lands.”
“Is he a breeder, then?”
“Not exactly.” For one moment, his lips twitched with a secret. “My father is a simple farmer, as are I and my two brothers. He’s also something of a carpenter.” He pulled up short as they approached the end of the alley, and turned to face her. “I’ve not introduced myself. Forgive me. I am Shem de Noah, eldest son of Noah and Midian.”
He executed a formal half-bow and gave her an expectant look.
Eliana tore her gaze from his face. How should she identify herself, her parentage? Hadn’t Girta warned her more than once against telling anyone who she was? She avoided his eyes. The crowd on the marketplace walkways had dwindled to a handful of shoppers who hurried past. The two men she feared were not in sight. Maybe she should forgo the introduction and make a hasty exit.
One look into his warm gray eyes and her desire to part this man’s company dissolved. Her father’s name was a common one. Perhaps Shem wouldn’t make the connection to the famous man who was, after all, a complete stranger to her.
She mimicked Shem’s bow. “I am Eliana de Ashbel.” She left off the traditional identification of her maternal parent. There was, after all, only one Liadan. The name was recognized the world over.
His features did not change as he nodded. “I thought so. You’re the primogenitor, the heiress to the high priestess. I saw you on the dais this morning, behind your mother.”
A quick breath hissed as it entered her lungs. She hadn’t needed to identify her mother. Of course he would recognize the name of the former governor of Cainlan, and make the connection. She’d been foolish to think otherwise. Girta would be beyond furious that she had revealed her identity to a stranger after promising faithfully never to do so.
“I—I shouldn't have stayed so long.” She edged sideways, toward the temple. “Thank you for helping me.”
“Why are you frightened?” Shem’s outstretched hand hovered in the air between them. “You have nothing to fear from me. I promised to see you safely home, and I will keep my word.”
The entreaty in his voice stopped her. Unlike the two who had frightened her in the alley, no hidden intentions lurked in Shem’s face. He would not harm her. She relented and allowed him to walk beside her.
In silence they traveled the wide path toward the temple. A pair of uniformed guardsmen appeared on the walkway in front of them, their faces lighting with recognition when they caught sight of her. One straightened, his shoulders back in an almost-salute, but the other merely dipped his head in a silent greeting as they passed. Eliana did not acknowledge them, but Shem returned the gesture with a pleasant nod of his own.
When the side entryway through which Eliana had escaped earlier came into view, Shem’s step slowed.
“Can you stay a moment and talk?” He gestured toward an empty bench near the tall hedge that bordered the temple gardens. “I’ve some time before I meet my friend.”
Eliana glanced at the position of the sun. She really should return to her rooms. Yet something about this man intrigued her. What harm was there in a moment or two’s delay?
“Girta won’t raise the alarm quite this soon.” She crossed the cobbled path and perched on the iron seat.
Shem joined her. “I never expected to see the primogenitor alone in the marketplace. With a flock of protective priestesses or temple guards in tow, perhaps, but not alone.”
“No one knows I'm here.” Their immediate surroundings were vacant, with no one to overhear her confession. “I slipped away just before the end of the morning ceremony.” She almost added, as you did.
“And is Girta a priestess, then?”
“Oh no, she's my nursemaid. Or—” She fought a blush, embarrassed to have him think she still needed nursing. “—she was my nursemaid, from the day I was born. Now she’s my maid, but she still treats me like I crawled out of the cradle yesterday. She worries that someone will try to steal me away.”
The moment the words were spoken, an ugly realization struck her. Apparently Girta’s fears were not unfounded. That is exactly what nearly happened.
Shem nodded, his expression solemn. “The heir to the high priestess of Cain could command a high price in some quarters. That aside, the city is full of unscrupulous men who would take advantage of a beautiful young woman, no matter what her position may be. You should be more cautious.”
Eliana hid her delight in his compliment by brushing a piece of dried grass from the hem of her silky gown. Did he find her beautiful? When she’d regained her composure, she settled against the back of the bench. In the distance, from the direction of the temple stables, the clang of metal played a rhythmic accompaniment to the low murmur of barely audible shoppers’ voices. “Tell me of your father’s farm. Is it near the city?”
“No, we live to the west of here.”
The temple rested on the northern edge of Cainlan, with the city sprawling outward from its protected gates on three sides. The window of Eliana’s room looked westward upon the city’s narrow streets, crowded with dwellings and packed with people and animals. No farmland lay beyond the city’s edge in that direction, only a barren ribbon of land, and beyond that, a deep canopy of green. “Your farm is in the forest?”
“Just beyond, a half-day’s journey by wagon.”
“Wagon?” She gave a small laugh. “Not many people travel by wagon these days.”
Secrets appeared again in the smoky eyes. “No doubt we’re a little backward by modern standards. My father isn’t fond of landriders, or the energy that runs them.”
Eliana looked away, embarrassed. Perhaps Shem’s family was poor, and couldn’t afford a rider, or the energy cartridges to power it.
She searched for a topic to distract him from her ill-mannered comment. “Tell me of your home. I’ve never seen a real farm, only the lands that surround Cainlan. Girta tells me they’re not proper farms, like the ones where her people used to live in the south.”
Shem extended his long legs and folded his arms behind his head as he described his home. He spoke of working the fields and harvesting produce, of his love for animals, and his favorite exotic birds. He possessed a passion for feathered creatures that surpassed his father’s. Enthralled, she listened as he detailed the ways to care for captive birds, of their strict dietary requirements and the importance of providing an atmosphere free from stress.
Long before Eliana tired of listening, a piercing signal blasted from the Cabinet of Energy building to mark the hour.
He straightened abruptly. “I am late. I’ve delayed you much longer than I realized.”
Disappointment sank through her, but Girta must have noticed her absence by now, and begun to worry. Even worse, what if the high priestess had summoned her daughter to reprimand her for leaving the morning ceremony early, and no one knew where to find her?
That thought sent Eliana scrambling to her feet. “I've enjoyed meeting you, Shem de Noah. Perhaps we can talk again sometime.”
He shaded his eyes with a hand as he stood. “I hope so. Sometimes my wife comes to the city with me, and I think she would enjoy talking with you as well.”
His wife? She struggled to school her features against a wash of disappointment. The term told her much. Followers of the One God joined in marriage for life instead of forming normal marital alliances. For some reason, she found his admission that he practiced this old-fashioned custom oddly embarrassing. “Of course. I’d… like to meet her.”
The proper thing to say, though untrue.
He ducked his head in an invitation to force her to look up, into his face. Smiling gray eyes peered deeply into hers. “I hope we meet again, Eliana. I will add you to my daily prayers, and ask the One God to watch over you.”
Blood surged through her veins to roar in her ears. What daring, to mention the One God to the daughter of the high priestess of Cain. Was this man a fanatic, then?
With a final sideways grin, as though fully aware of the lapse he’d just committed, his fingers touched his forehead and he strode away.
Eliana cracked the door wide enough to slip through. Just before she pulled the heavy iron latch closed, she glanced at his retreating back. Amazing that she, the primogenitor, would meet a follower of the One God in the very shadow of the temple dedicated to the service of Cain.
Now she knew two who practiced that outdated religion.

OBM says:  I like Biblical fiction.  Frequently, I find that whether or not I agree with the author's imagination, it makes me think of what everyday life might have been like during Biblical times.  And this book is no different.  I enjoyed the author's fanciful setting of Cainlan and all the characters she wove into the story of Noah.  My only twinge of discomfort came with Shem developing what, at least at the beginning of the book, was an inappropriate friendship with a "beautiful young girl" while he was already married.  At the end of the book, the inappropriateness is resolved, but for whatever reason, that relationship didn't seem right to me.  I would still recommend The Days of Noah though to anyone who likes Biblical fiction, as it is a good read, and an interesting view of how corrupt society must have been to deserve God's judgement with the flood.
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