Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The FAITH and VALUES of SARAH PALIN by Stephen Mansfield and David A. Holland

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 authors are:

and the book:

The Faith and Values of Sarah Palin

Frontline Pub Inc (September 21, 2010)

***Special thanks to Anna Coelho Silva | Publicity Coordinator, Book Group | Strang Communications for sending me a review copy.***


Stephen Mansfield is the New York Times best-selling author of The Faith of George W. Bush, The Faith of Barack Obama, Benedict XVI: His Life and Mission, and Never Give In: The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill, among other works of history and biography. Founder of both The Mansfield Group, a consulting and communications firm, and Chartwell Literary Group, which creates and manages literary projects, Stephen is also in wide demand as a lecturer and speaker.

Visit the Stephen's website.

David A. Holland is an author, speaker, media consultant, and award-winning copywriter who writes the popular blog BlatherWinceRepeat.com and the satirical ChrisMatthewsLeg.com. He is the co-author of Paul Harvey’s America, as well as numerous articles, essays, and opinion pieces. David makes his home with his wife and daughters in Dallas, Texas.

Visit the David's blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $22.99
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Frontline Pub Inc (September 21, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1616381647
ISBN-13: 978-1616381646


Roots of Faith and Daring

Do not handicap your children by making their lives easy.1

—Robert A. Heinlein

It is a warm summer day in June of 1964, and at Christ the King Roman Catholic Church in Richland, Washington, a tender moment is unfolding. A small group of the faithful has gathered before a candled altar and a patiently waiting priest. Though the church is spare, it is transformed into regal splendor by the color of deep green evidenced in the vestments of the priest and in the cloth that adorns the altar. This is the color that the Christian church has used for centuries to signify the liturgical season of Pentecost, in which the coming of God’s Spirit is celebrated, in which refreshing and new birth are the themes. It is a fitting symbolism for today’s event, for a child is soon to be baptized. When all are settled, the priest steps to the fore and nods his head to a young family. They move, solemnly, to the baptismal font—a father, a mother, a two-year-old boy, a one-year-old girl, and the infant who is the object of today’s attention. “Peace be with you,” the good priest begins.“And also with you,” those gathered respond.“And what is the child’s name?” the priest asks. “Sarah Louise Heath,” comes the answer.

“And what is your name?” the priest asks the parents.

The answer comes, but it is obvious to all that the energetic part of that answer, the one filled with eagerness and faith, has come from the child’s mother. She is a striking figure. Slightly taller than her husband, she is lean and feminine, possessing a sinewy strength that is unusual for a mother of three. Her eyes are intelligent, slightly wearied but quick to flash into joy. Her mouth is wise, reflecting a sense of the irony in the world and yet disarmingly sweet.

It is her voice, though, that her children and her friends will comment upon most throughout her life. It has a musical lilt that rises and falls with meaning and emotion. It makes the most mundane statement a song, transforming a book read to children before bed or a prayer said before a family meal into a work of art.

This young mother was born Sally Ann Sheeran in 1940 and so took her place in a large, proud, well-educated Irish Catholic family in Utah. As would become the pattern of her life, she would not be there long. When she was three, her family moved to Richland, Washington. Her father, known to friends as Clem, had taken a job as a labor relations manager at the Washington branch of the Manhattan Project, whose task it was to perfect the atomic bomb sure to be needed before the Second World War, then well underway, was over. From her father, Sally acquired a passion for doing things well, a love of sports, and unswerving devotion to Notre Dame, a loyalty questioned in the Sheeran home only at great peril.

It was Sally’s mother, Helen, who taught her the domestic skills and devotion to community that would become her mainstays in the years ahead. Helen was widely known as a genius with a sewing machine and made clothes not only for her own family but also for dozens of others in her town. She also had an uncanny ability to upholster furniture. Neighbors remember the astonishing quality of her work and how she refused payment, though her fingers were often swollen and bleeding from the hours she spent stretching leather over wooden frames or forcing brass tacks into hardened surfaces. Helen taught her children the joy of the simple task done well, that the workbench and the desk are also altars of God not too unlike the altar at the Catholic church they attended every week.

Sally came of age, then, in a raucous, busy family of overachievers. There were piano lessons and sports and pep squads and sock hops. Achievement was emphasized. All the Sheeran children did well. Sally’s brother even earned a doctorate degree and became a judge. Sally herself finished high school and then began training as a dental assistant at Columbia Basin College.

“What are you asking of God’s church?” the priest intones from the ancient Latin text.
“Faith,” respond the child’s parents.
“What does faith hold out to you?” he asks.
“Everlasting life,” they answer.
“If, then, you wish to inherit everlasting life, keep the commandments, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’”

At this moment the priest leans over young Sarah, still in her mother’s arms, and breathes upon her three times. “Depart from her, unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.” It is then that he traces the sign of the cross upon the child’s forehead and prays, “Lord, if it please you, hear our prayer, and by your inexhaustible power protect your chosen one, Sarah, now marked with the sign of our Savior’s holy cross. Let her treasure this first sharing of your sovereign glory, and by keeping your commandments deserve to attain the glory of heaven to which those born anew are destined; through Christ our Lord.”

At these words, some who have gathered shift their eyes to the young father of the child being baptized. His name is Chuck. He is a good man, all agree, and he loves his family, but he is only tolerant of his wife’s faith. He does not share it. He keeps a distance from formal religion, and those who know his story understand why.

He was born in the Los Angeles of 1938 to a photographer father and a schoolteacher mother. His father, it seems, had gained some notoriety for his work, and there are photographs of young Chuck with luminaries of the Hollywood smart set and even with sports stars like boxer Joe Louis. Something went wrong, though—this is the first of several unexplained secrets in the Heath story—and when Chuck was ten, his father moved the family to Hope, Idaho. His mother taught school again, and his father drove a bus and freelanced.

As often happens after a move to a new place, the Heath family was thrown in upon itself. And here is where the tensions likely arose. Chuck’s mother was a devoted Christian Scientist. She believed that sin and sickness and even death were manifestations of the mind. If one simply learned to perceive the world through the Divine Mind, one would live free from such mortal forces. It likely seemed foolishness to a teenaged Chuck, who was not only discovering the great outdoors and finding it the only church he would ever need but also discovering his own gift for science, for decoding the wonders of nature. There was tension in the home, then, between this budding naturalist and his mystic mother. Arguments were frequent, and from this point on, young Chuck seemed intent upon escaping his parent’s presence as much as possible.

He soon discovered his athletic gifts too, and, though his parents thought such pursuits were a waste of time, he chose to ride the bus fifteen miles every day to Sandpoint High School and then hitchhike home again just so he could play nearly every sport his school offered. He found gridiron glory as a fullback behind later Green Bay Packers legend Jerry Kramer.

These were agonizing years, though. He routinely slept on friends’ couches when he just couldn’t face hitchhiking home. He was nearly adopted by several families of his fellow players. Everyone knew his home life was torturous and tried to help, but for a boy in high school to have no meaningful place to belong, no parents who loved him for who he was without demanding a faith he could not accept—it was, as Sarah Palin herself later wrote, “painful and lonely.”

After graduation from high school and a brief season in the Army, Chuck enrolled in Columbia Basin College. Now he could give himself fully to learning the ways of nature, long his passion and his hope. He collected rocks and bones, found the insides of animals and plants a fascinating other world, and thrilled to his newly acquired knowledge of geology and the life of a cell. He was a geek, but a handsome, athletic geek whom girls liked. It was during this time that he enrolled in a college biology lab and found himself paired with that lanky beauty Sally Sheeran.

“Almighty, everlasting God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the minister implores, “look with favor on your servant, Sarah, whom it has pleased you to call to this first step in the faith. Rid her of all inward blindness. Sever all snares of Satan, which heretofore bound her. Open wide for her, Lord, the door to your fatherly love. May the seal of your wisdom so penetrate her as to cast out all tainted and foul inclinations, and let in the fragrance of your lofty teachings. Thus shall she serve you gladly in your church and grow daily more perfect through Christ our Lord.”

It says a great deal about Chuck and Sally Heath that after they had married—after they had brought three children into the world and begun working in their professions and coached sports and enjoyed their outdoor, adventurous lives—there was still something missing. Sandpoint simply wasn’t enough. Chuck, ever the romantic, had begun reading the works of Jack London—The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and The Sea Wolf—and through these the great land in the north—Alaska—began calling to him. As a neighbor later reported, “The call of the wild got to him.” This neighbor did not mean the London novel, but rather that mysterious draw to the raw and untamed that has lured men to Alaska for centuries. It did not hurt that Alaska was in desperate need of science teachers like Chuck, and that the school systems there were offering $6,000 a year, twice what Chuck was making in Sandpoint. With a growing family and dreams that Idaho could not contain, Chuck Heath turned to his wife and said, “Let’s try it for one year and see what happens.” Sally should have known better. They would never come back to Idaho again. Alaska was the land of Chuck’s dreams and always would be.

It also says a great deal about Chuck and Sally Heath that they ventured north to Alaska just days after the state had been rocked by one of the worst earthquakes in history. On March 27, 1964, what became known as the Good Friday Earthquake shook Alaska at a 9.2 Richter scale magnitude for nearly five minutes. The quake was felt as far away as eight hundred miles from the epicenter.2 Experts compared it to the 1812 New Madrid earthquake that was so powerful it caused the Mississippi River to run backward, stampeded buffalo on the prairie, and awakened President James Madison from a sound sleep in the White House. The Good Friday Earthquake did hundreds of millions dollars in damage, cost dozens of lives, and vanquished entire communities in Alaska, but even this devastation could not keep the Heath family away.

They would live first in Skagway, then in Anchorage, and finally they would be able to afford their own home in the little valley town of Wasilla. Chuck would teach sciences and coach, and Sally would do whatever paid—work in the cafeteria, serve as the school secretary, even coach some of the athletic teams.

This is what they did. Who they were is the more interesting tale.

The Heaths were determined to create an outpost of love, learning, and adventure in their snowy valley in the north. Their lives were very nearly a frontier existence, as we shall see, but their learning and their hunger to explore lifted them from mere survival. Chuck found Alaska an Elysium for scientific inquiry, and as he hunted and served as a trail guide, he collected. The Heath children would grow up in a home that might elsewhere have passed for a small natural history museum. Years after first arriving in Alaska, when their famous daughter had forced their lives into the international spotlight, the Heaths would welcome reporters who sat at their kitchen counter and marveled at the skins and pelts and mounts—dozens of them—that adorned the house. There were fossils and stuffed alligators and hoofs from some long-ago-killed game and samples of rock formations and Eskimo artifacts. The reporters had been warned. In the front yard of the Heath house stood a fifteen-foot-tall mountain of antlers, most all from game shot by Chuck Heath.

Yet what distinguished the Heath home was its elevated vision, its expectations for character and knowledge. There would come a day when Sally’s spiritual search would lead her in a different direction than her husband had chosen—his conflicts with his Christian Science mother distancing him from traditional faith—and this would have to be managed. But there was complete agreement about the other essentials. Work was sacred. Everyone was expected to labor for the good of the family. Knowledge was paramount. Theirs was a home filled with books, and nearly each one was read aloud more than once. Since both Chuck and Sally were teachers, dinner-times were often occasions of debate or discussion, which Chuck frequently began by reading from a Paul Harvey newspaper column or by quoting from a radio broadcast he had heard during the day. So intent upon the primacy of learning were Chuck and Sally that when a television finally did make its way into their home, it lived in a room over the unheated garage where a potential viewer had to have a death wish to brave the cold. Rather than what Chuck and Sally called the boob tube, in the warmth of the house were the poetry of Ogden Nash and Robert Service, the works of C. S. Lewis, and most of the great books of the American experience.

There was also love. It was deep, transforming, and infectious in the Heath home. When friends of the Heath children missed their school bus home, they routinely made their way to the Heaths’ house. Their parents knew and understood. It was the place where strangers were always welcome, where a story was always being told, and where you merged seamlessly into the family mayhem the moment you stepped through the door. Some of those friends of the Heath children, now adults, recall that the closest thing they ever experienced to a healthy family was in Chuck and Sally’s home.

And so the Heaths did it. They carved out the life they had dreamed in the frozen wilds of Alaska. They took the best of their family lines and, refusing the worst, built a family culture of courage and learning and industry and joy. And this was the family soil from which Sarah Palin grew.

Thus, the reverend father comes to an end:

Holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, source of light and truth, I appeal to your sacred and boundless compassion on behalf of this servant of yours, Sarah. Be pleased to enlighten her by the light of your eternal wisdom. Cleanse, sanctify, and endow her with truth and knowledge. For thus will she be made ready for your grace and ever remain steadfast, never losing hope, never faltering in duty, never straying from sacred truth, through Christ our Lord.3

The service concluded, the Heath family and their near relatives walk out into the northwestern sun. It is June 7. Already there are tears, and they are not tears of joy. The Heaths’ presence in Richland is not just for the sake of the baptism. They have come to say good-bye. Alaska calls to them, and they will leave in a few short days to make the nineteen-hundred-mile drive to their new home in the land of the north. Their relatives grieve, but the Heaths, particularly Chuck, cannot hide their joy at the looming adventure. Nor can they hide the sense that they will be changed by their new land, that somehow they will become one with it, and that it will become mystically intertwined with their destiny in ways they could never imagine.

In a matter of few days then, attended by the tears of their loved ones, the Heath family step toward the great land of their dreams.

Our Review:
I’ll admit it was the name of this book that caught my attention and made me want to read it. Sadly, the title of this small, strange book is a misleading and inappropriate effort to trade on Sarah Palin’s popularity. The portions of the book most about Sarah are the profusion of quotes taken from her book, Going Rogue. I suggest reading it instead of this one.

In the beginning the authors maintain a pretense of advocating for Sarah, however, as the book progresses, their arrogance grows and their thinly disguised criticisms become more obvious. Their tone strikes me as arrogant and superficial. Instead of focusing on Sarah Palin’s countless positive accomplishments, these men chose to note anything and everything they perceive as weaknesses and offer recommendations on how t0 improve herself. I hardly see them as qualified to judge her. “…first cast the beam out of thine own eye.”

I can come to only one conclusion regarding this pitiful little book; it’s agenda driven and nothing more than a crass attempt at character assassination. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, when they quote Obama, it’s done in a positive fashion.

This is the first totally bad review I’ve ever given, but in good conscience I can’t justify anything else. I give this book a failing grade. There are plenty of better places one can go to learn the truth about Sarah Palin. My copy’s going into the fire barrel. That’s where it belongs.
— Gail Lewis

Friday, October 22, 2010

KATIA by Bruce Judisch

A common writing class exercise is to provide a phrase or image and ask the students to weave a story around it. Bruce Judisch unwittingly participated in just such an experiment. Years ago, while witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall, he observed a man standing in the crowd holding a hand-lettered sign with only one word on it — Katia. This moment was indelibly burned into his memory and over the years he found himself revisiting it and wondering …speculating. In his first foray outside the Biblical fiction genre, about a year ago Bruce Judisch gathered up those what-ifs and sat down at his computer to weave them into a story.

The result is an emotionally compelling novel populated with a trio of unforgettable characters. Katia, it turns out, is the name of an East German woman who, though crippled by childhood polio, faces life with undaunted courage and an unshakable faith inherited from her clergyman father. Katia’s faithful friend and facilitator, Oskar, is a man with a murky past that he takes great pains to conceal. And last, but certainly not least, there’s the irrepressible Maddy, an American student they engage to transcribe Katia’s memoirs.

As the story unfolds Maddy learns much about Katia, but even more about herself. Told jointly by Maddy and Katia, Bruce Judisch’s well-crafted fiction moves effortlessly between past and present. Unlike some novels, with Katia there are no loose ends or blind allies. His meticulous plotting wastes nothing; seemingly insignificant characters and random events are drawn together into a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

You won’t find any better reading enjoyment than Katia provides. It’s the type of novel that you race through and put down with a happy sigh…and a silent wish it hadn’t ended quite so soon. It has the feel of a breakout novel. Read it today and join me in speculating about who will play Katia, Maddy and Oskar in the movie version.
— E G Lewis

Product Details:
Title: Katia
Trade Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: OakTara
ISBN-13: 978-1-6029024-4-2


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

THE LAST CORDATE by Alison Winfree Pickrell

The Last Cordate is a highly imaginative allegorical tale that spans the gamut of human existence from pure innocence to unspeakable depravity and human experience from sublime ecstasy to utter despair. Striving for a suitable literary comparison, I found myself dithering somewhere between JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and John Bunyan’s A Pilgrim’s Progress. And yet, no. It's really in a class by itself.

The Last Cordate tracks the adventures of the beautiful Talasa of Ny-Da, who carries with her the message of hope that will usher in the final era of Diapason, when all creatures of the planet will once again draw into perfect communion with their benevolent creator, Da-Dat-Shee. Both natural and supernatural forces stand against her, they having successfully foiled the missions of the previous two Cordates. Talasa must face not only these external threats, but also the greatest peril of all—that of untested faith within herself.

Talasa travels with two noble companions, Jare and Worthy, as well as Secret, a scribe whose sole function is to record everything that is said and that happens on the journey to Quala-Da, the ultimate destination of her quest. They learn from each other what it means to listen and to trust not just Da-Dat-Shee’s leading within their own hearts and minds, but to the wise counsel of other Dations—followers of Da-Dat-Shee—along the way.

The previous two paragraphs hint that there is some vocabulary to learn. And, oh, there is indeed. At first I was somewhat nonplussed at the five-page glossary at the front of the book, concerned I’d be able to stay on track without having to keep a thumb wedged in the lexicon of players and place names. I needn’t have worried. Ms. Pickrell’s writing is so crisp, her allegorical ties so strong, I never referred to the word list until I’d finished the book. Then I checked back just wondering if I’d missed anything. I hadn’t.

Well conceived in theme and rigorous in detail, The Last Cordate drives you relentlessly along the road with Talasa from the moment she leaves her sanctuary in Ny-Da to the final step she takes on her quest. Oh, and prepare to meet yourself along the way likely more than once.
— Bruce Judisch

Product Details
Title: The Last Cordate
Trade Paperback: 360 pages
Publisher: OakTara
ISBN-13: 978-1-6029017-3-5

Friday, October 15, 2010

HAND OF FATE by Lis Wiehl with April Henry

After reading, Face of Betrayal, I had to read Hand of Fate.

Living on the west coast makes me particularly fond of novels about this area. Hand of Fate accurately describes Portland, Oregon sites and made me feel like Nicole, Allison and Cassidy are real women.

When radio talk show host, Jim Fate, is murdered, the Triple Threat Club, so named after their favorite chocolate dessert, tackles the mystery together. Lis Wiehl and April Henry portray the three women as real people with realistic problems of their own. Through their friendship with one another, they not only solve the murder, but also several of their own personal issues as well.

This novel is an enjoyable read. The Triple Threat Club delivers again … right up to its satisfying ending.
– Gail Lewis

Product Details
Title: Hand of Fate
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 978-1-59554-706-4

Sunday, October 10, 2010

PEARL IN THE SAND by Tessa Afshar

I read Sibella Giorello's blog post pronouncing Tessa Afshar "a name to remember." As Sibella has this disturbing habit of being right about things like this, I checked out Tessa's Web site. To my utter joy, I found a kindred writing spirit – historical, Old Testament fiction. A godly woman I tell you, godly.

So I bought her book. And I read it. I highly recommend you do both of those things too.

Ms. Afshar has taken the story of Rahab and created a thought-provoking, spiritually uplifting, and dramatically poignant story of tender divine redemption overcoming stubborn human resistance. Liberally sprinkled with snippets of unexpected humor (what a unique writing voice!), A Pearl in the Sand digs deeply into the tortured soul of a woman who simply cannot believe that there could be a future for one with such a past as hers.

Through no fault of her own, Rahab is slow to win the hearts of her newly adopted people – and especially the heart of one in particular (cf. Matt. 1:5). When she does win their – and his – love, she has no idea what to do with it. Shamed by a past she cannot erase by her own power, her life crumbles until, like the walls of her hometown, Jericho, almost nothing is left standing. It is not until she and her husband receive by faith the grace God extends to both of them that she comes to understand her value through His eyes.

At her website, you'll discover she has an MDiv from Yale. She ministers to women. So does her novel, but it's not only for women. There are priceless nuggets of wisdom for both men and women on relating to God and relating to each other, all woven seamlessly into the context of Rahab's and Slamone's story. And if that's not enough to move you, guys, there's also a battle scene, okay? Okay.

Tessa Afshar is indeed a name to remember, but I think she'll prefer you remember the message she delivers so powerfully in Pearl in the Sand. The book is a gem in and of itself.
— Bruce Judisch
Product Details
Title: Pearl in the Sand
Trade Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Moody Publishers
ISBN: 13: 978-0-8024-5881-0

Friday, October 8, 2010

A MEMORY BETWEEN US by Sarah Sundlin

I have a new book to add to my list of favorites and a new hero to add to my list of exemplary writers. The question is, which/who do I fuss over first? (Flipping coin...fumbling it onto floor...picking it up...flipping it again...book wins!)

When I reviewed her debut novel, A Distant Melody, I noted that Ms. Sundin had set the bar so high, I was concerned she'd be able to match it with her second installment in the "Wings of Glory" series. I needn't have feared.

A Memory Between Us excels on several planes. (No pun intended...well, okay, maybe it was a little bit intended.) The tale revolves around Major Jack Novak, a B-17 pilot (and brother of Walt Novak, our hero in Memory), and Lieutenant Ruth Dougherty, the nurse who tends to his wounds after a rather rude burst of Nazi flak grounds him. Jack notices the attractive Ruth through his morphine-induced stupor, but she has fended off the advances of so many male patients that she has a withering retort prepared before the first words are even out of his mouth. Imagine her surprise when he slurringly professes God's love for her instead of his own. Then he drops off to sleep.

Thus begins the stutter-stopping relationship between a woman so emotionally incapacitated by guilt over a horrible childhood secret that she can barely function in a social setting, and a man so self-absorbed he can't figure out whether he's falling in love with the woman or just trying to charm her into falling in love with him. Enter a well developed supporting cast that includes the lovable May, who chips away at the wall around Ruth's heart, and stolid Charlie, who chips away at the pride around Jack's, and you've got a great recipe for an even greater storyline.

Now for the author. As in Melody, Ms. Sundin delivers the raw grit and terror of WWII aerial warfare with all the skill of one who must surely have been there, seen that. She paints an equally vivid picture of the imperfect human heart as it trips along in all its glorious failings on the road to redemption. But another interesting facet of her writing surfaces in Memory that was only hinted at in Melody.

In addition to adeptly portraying the gamut from heart-wrenching turmoil to heart-warming love, Ms. Sundin displays a unique versatility in that she can present the reader with a playful scene--yes, playful--without it coming across as trite or goofy. That's not as easy as it might sound. What do I mean? Shall I share an example or two? Sorry. Read the book.

A Memory Between Us is a worthy sequel to A Distant Melody--and that's saying something. Thanks for a great read, Sarah. Can't wait for the third book!
— Bruce Judisch

Product Details
Title: A Memory Between Us
Publisher: Revell
Trade Paperback: 439 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-8007-3422-0

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Today we present the concluding entry in our Book Review Trifecta.

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:

Surrender the Heart

Barbour Books (August 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to MaryLu Tyndall and Camy Tang for sending me a review copy.***
M.L. Tyndall, a Christy Award Finalist, and best-selling author of the Legacy of the King’s Pirates series is known for her adventurous historical romances filled with deep spiritual themes. She holds a degree in Math and worked as a software engineer for fifteen years before testing the waters as a writer. MaryLu currently writes full time and makes her home on the California coast with her husband, six kids, and four cats. Her passion is to write page-turning, romantic adventures that not only entertain but expose Christians to their full potential in Christ. For more information on MaryLu and her upcoming releases, please visit her website or her blog.

Visit the author's website.
Visit the author's blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (August 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602601658
ISBN-13: 978-1602601659


June 18, 1812, Baltimore, Maryland

“I would rather boil in oil than marry Noah Brenin.” Marianne tossed the silver brooch onto her vanity.

“Hold your breath and stay still.” Rose said from behind her. “Besides, it is only an engagement party, not a wedding.”

“But it is one more step to that horrid destination.” Marianne sucked in her breath as Rose threaded the laces through the eyelets on her stays. “Why must women wear these contraptions?”

“To look our best for the gentlemen in our lives.” Cassandra appeared on Marianne’s left, a lacy petticoat flung over one arm. With shimmering auburn hair and eyes the color of emeralds, Cassandra had no trouble looking her best for anyone.

Marianne huffed. “I have no care what any gentleman thinks of my appearance.”

“Which is why you are still unmarried at five and twenty.”

“Then what is your excuse at three and twenty?” Marianne arched a brow, to which Cassandra responded with a shrug. “I have not yet met a man worthy of me.” She grinned.

“Where on earth is your chambermaid?” Rose grunted as she squeezed Marianne’s rounded figure into the stays and tied the final lace tight. “Shouldn’t she be doing this?”

“I dismissed her.” Marianne waved a hand through the air. “I prefer to dress myself.” She hoped they didn’t hear the slight quaver in her voice. If only they knew that her mother had been forced to let the entire staff go and the ones here today were hired just for her betrothal party.

“There.” Rose finished her work and stepped back as Marianne took the petticoat from Cassandra and slipped it over her head.

“Truth is, I do not wish to marry—ever.” Marianne squared her shoulders as Cassandra slid behind her and latched the petticoat hooks.

Rose put her hands on her waist. “Noah Brenin is a fine man and a good catch.”

Marianne gazed at her friend and couldn’t help but smile at the motherly reprimand burning in her crystal blue eyes. Tall and slender, with honey blond hair, Rose turned many a head in Baltimore. Just like Cassandra.

But not like Marianne.

“He is a boor.”

“Why so low an opinion of him? Haven’t you and he been friends since childhood?” Rose cocked her head and gave Marianne a look of censure.

“I wouldn’t call it friendship, more like forced acquaintance. And my knowledge of him is precisely why I know him for the churlish clod he is.”

Gathering a cream-colored silk-embroidered gown from Marianne’s bed, Rose and Cassandra tossed it over her head and assisted her as she wiggled into it. She adjusted the ruffled lace bordering her neckline and circling her puffy sleeves. Cassandra handed her a jeweled belt which Marianne strapped around her high waist and buckled in front. She pressed down the folds of her gown, admiring the pink lace trailing down the front and trimming the hemline. After slipping on her white satin slippers, Marianne moved to the full length looking glass and paused to eye her reflection.

Plain. Despite the shimmering, glamorous dress, plain was the first word that came to her mind. Perhaps because that was how she had always been described. Brown hair, brown eyes, average height, a bit plump. Nothing remarkable, nothing to catch an eye.

Simply plain.

Which was precisely why, when the other girls her age were being courted, Marianne had preferred to spend her time caring for her ailing mother and younger sister, particularly after their father died. No whirlwind romances, no soirees, no grand adventures lit up the horizon for her. She had resigned herself to lead an ordinary life. An ordinary life for an ordinary girl.

“Come now, it won’t be so bad.” Rose brushed a lock of hair from Marianne’s forehead and then straightened one of the curls dangling about her neck. “You look as though you were attending your own funeral.”

“I dare say I feel as though I am.” Tired of staring into the mirror with the hope her reflection would transform into that of a beautiful woman, Marianne turned aside, picked up her silk gloves from the vanity and sauntered toward the window.

“I, for one, cannot wait to get married,” Rose said. “To the right man of course. He must be a good, honest, god-fearing man. A man who stays home, not a seaman. And he must be agreeable in all respects.”

“What about handsome?” Cassandra asked, and Marianne turned to see a blush creep up Rose’s neck.

“Well, yes, I suppose I would not be opposed to that.” Her blue eyes twinkled.

Facing the window, Marianne slid the white gloves onto her hands and tugged them up her arms. Shouts echoed from the street below, accompanied by the clip clop of horse hooves and the grating of carriage wheels. She brushed aside the curtain to see people running to and fro darting between carriages. A warm breeze, heavy with moisture and the smells of the sea, stirred the curtains. A bell rang in the distance, drawing Marianne’s attention to the maze of ship’s masts thrusting into the blue sky like iron bars of a prison. A prison that could not constrain the ravenous blue waters from feeding upon the innocent—an innocent like her father.

Rose and Cassandra joined her at the window as more shouts blasted in with the wind. “What is all the commotion about?” Cassandra pushed back the other side of the curtains.

“There have been rumors that President Madison will soon declare war on Britain,” Marianne said.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that.” Rose peered over Marianne’s shoulder. “War is such horrid business.”

“But necessary if the British insist on stealing our men from land and sea and impressing them into their Navy.” Marianne felt her ire rising. “Not to mention how they rouse the Indians to attack us on the frontier.”

“They want their colonies back, I suppose.” Afternoon sunlight set Cassandra’s red hair aflame in ribbons of liquid fire. “England never was good at losing.”

“Well they can’t have them.” Marianne’s voice rose with a determination she felt building within. Though she’d been born after the Revolution, she had heard the stories of oppression and tyranny enforced upon them by a nation across the seas whose king thought he had the right to dictate laws and taxes without giving the people a voice. But no more. “We won our freedom from them. We are a nation now. A new nation that represents liberty to the entire world.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” Cassandra nodded with a smile. “Perhaps you should run for mayor?”

“A woman in public office?” Marianne chuckled. “That will never happen.”

The door creaked open, and Marianne turned to see her mother and younger sister slip inside.

Lizzie’s eyes widened and she rushed toward Marianne. “You look so beautiful, Marianne!”

Kneeling, Marianne embraced her sister. She held her tight and took a big whiff of the lavender soap with which their mother always scrubbed the little girl. “Thank you, Lizzie. I can always count on you for a compliment.”

“Now, Lizzie, don’t wrinkle your sister’s dress.” Marianne’s mother sank into one of the chairs by the fireplace and winced. The slight reminder of her mother’s pain caused Marianne’s heart to shrink. She squeezed her little sister again—the one beacon of joy in their house these past three years since Father died—and kissed her on the cheek. “You look very beautiful too.”

The little girl clutched her skirt and twirled around. “Do you really think so?” She drew her lips into a pout. “But when can I wear a dress like yours?”

“Come now, Lizzie,” Mother said. “You are only six. When you are a grown woman like Marianne, you may wear more elaborate gowns.” She gestured toward Rose and Cassandra. “Ladies, would you take Lizzie downstairs for a moment? I need a word with Marianne.”

“Of course, Mrs. Denton.” Rose took Lizzie’s hand. “Come along little one.”

Cassandra followed after them and closed the door.

Marianne sat in the chair beside her mother and gently grasped her hands. She flinched at how cold and moist they were. “How are you feeling, Mama?”

“Very well today, dear.” She looked down as if hiding something..

But Marianne didn’t need to look in her mother’s eyes to know she was lying. The sprinkles of perspiration on her forehead, the paleness of her skin, and the tightening of her lips when the pains hit spoke more clearly than any words.

Marianne squeezed her mother’s hands. “The medicaments are not working?”

“They will work. It takes time.” Her mother attempted a smile. “But let us not talk of that now. I have something more important to discuss with you.” She released a heavy sigh then lifted her gaze to Marianne’s. Though illness had stolen the glimmer from her eyes, it could not hide the sweet kindness of her soul. “You don’t have to do this, you know.”

The truth of her words sliced through Marianne. She stared at the floral pattern woven into the carpet. “You know I do.”

“It isn’t fair of me to ask this of you.” Her mother’s voice rang with conviction and deep sorrow.

“You didn’t ask, Mama. I want to do this.” A truth followed by a lie. Marianne hoped the good canceled out the bad.

“Come now. You cannot fool me.” Mama said. “I know this is not the match you would choose.”

Releasing her mother’s hands, Marianne rose from the chair and sauntered toward the window. The rustle of her gown crackled through the air with conviction. “In truth, I would choose no match.” She turned and forced a smile. “So if I must marry, why not this man?”

Her mother gazed at her with such love and sorrow that Marianne felt her heart would burst. Once considered the most beautiful woman in Baltimore, Jane Denton, now withered away with the sickness that robbed her of her glow and luster and stole the fat from her bones, leaving her but a frail skeleton of what she once had been. The physicians had no idea what ailed her save that without the medicaments they administered, she would die a quicker and more painful death.

Tearing her gaze from the tragic vision, Marianne glanced out the window where it seemed as though the approaching evening only heightened the citizens’ agitation. “Marrying Noah Brenin will save us. It will save you.”

“But what of saving you?” Her mother’s sweet plea caressed Marianne’s ears, but she forced down the spark of hope that dared to rise at her mother’s question. There was no room for hope now, only necessity.

“You know if we continue as is, all that is left of our fortune will be spent in one year on your medicaments. Then what will we do? Without my dowry, no man will look my way, since that and our good name is all that has caught this particular fish upon the hook.” And without a husband to unlock her inheritance, her father had ensured that the seven thousand dollars would remain as far from her reach as if she did not own it at all.

“Perhaps you will meet another man—someone you love?” Her mother said.

“Mama, I am five and twenty.” Marianne turned and waved her hands over herself. “And plain to look at.” She gave a bitter laugh. “Do you see suitors lining up at our door?”

“You are too beautiful for words, dearest.” Her mother’s eyes beamed in adoration. “You just don’t know it yet.”

Shrugging off her mother’s compliment as the obligation of a parent, Marianne stiffened her back before she attempted to rekindle an argument long since put to death. “We could take what’s left of our money and fund a privateer, Mama.” Marianne glanced out the window at a mob that had formed down the street. “War is certain and our fledgling navy will need all the help it can get.”

Her mother’s nervous huff drew Marianne’s gaze. “It is far too much of a gamble. And gambling destroys lives”—a glaze covered her mother’s eyes as she stared into the room—“and families.”

Marianne grimaced. “I am not like Papa. I have heard these privateers can make a fortune while helping to defend our country.”

A breeze stirred a curled wisp of her mother’s hair as she gazed at Marianne with concern.

Marianne twisted the ring on her finger. “Down at the docks, merchantmen are already outfitted their ships as privateers. The call for investors goes out daily.” If only she could convince her mother, not only would Marianne not have to marry that clod, Noah, but she could do something to help this great nation of hers.

Her mother’s boney hands perched in her lap began to tremble. “We could lose everything. And what of Lizzie? I could not bare it.”

Shame drummed upon Marianne’s hopes. She had upset her mother when the doctor strictly instructed her to keep her calm.

“Perhaps a trade of some sort?” Mama offered. “I hear that Mrs. Pickersgill makes a decent living sewing ensigns.”

A blast of warm wind stirred the gauzy curtains and cooled the perspiration forming on Marianne’s neck. “Mama you know I have no skills. I’m not like other ladies. The last gown I attempted to sew fell apart. My cooking would drive the hardiest frontiersman back to the woods, and the pianoforte runs when it sees me coming.”

Mother chuckled. “You exaggerate, dearest.”

But Marianne could tell by the look in her mother’s eyes that despite the humorous delivery, her words rang true. Though a governess in her younger years and her mother in her later years had strived to teach Marianne the skills every proper lady should acquire, she had found them nothing but tedious. She possessed no useful skills, no talents. As her father had so often declared before his death. In essence, Marianne had nothing to offer. If her mother would not agree to fund a privateer, Marianne would have to accept her fate in marriage.

“I’m an old woman and will die soon anyway,” Mama said with a sigh. “But I must ensure you and Lizzie are cared for.”

Gathering her skirts, Marianne dashed toward her mother and knelt at her feet. “You must never say such a thing.”

“Do not soil your beautiful gown.” Her mother smiled and wiped a tear from Marianne’s cheek. “Perhaps we should simply trust God with my health and let His will prevail.”

Marianne laid her head on her mother’s lap like she used to do as a child. She had trusted her father, she had trusted God.

And they had both let her down—her and her mother.

Trust no longer came so easily. “I will not let you die, Mother. I cannot.” Her eyes burned with tears. “As long as I have my inheritance and a man who is willing to marry me, I promise you will be well cared for. And Lizzie too. That is all that matters, now.” Marianne lifted her gaze to her mother’s, feeling strength surge through her.

“And mark my words, Mama. Nothing will stand in my way. Especially not Noah Brenin.”

And now, our Review,
I don’t read a lot of Christian romance novels because they’re often a bit tepid. However, when I heard about the historic direction taken in the novel, Surrender the Heart, I decided to give it a try. History that is accurately depicted in a novel can make learning enjoyable, and makes for a more memorable read. This book achieves that.

I must give credit to MaryLu Tyndall, she’s taken Christian romance to a higher level. Conflicts between Noah and Marianne, and dangerous encounters kept me turning the pages, wanting to know what would happen next. The author’s attention to detail was outstanding. She makes it easy to visualize the sights, sounds and smell of the sea, and of life on both a merchant ship and an English frigate.

There are a few editing faux pas…mistakes in content that an editor should have caught. I’m not talking about copy editing – no book is free of an occasional typographical error. There were a few things that don’t quite fit together. For example, in chapter nine the heroine reads from the Bible to the ship’s crew, but in chapter 14 she notes she hasn’t opened a Bible since her father died much earlier. Granted, later in the novel she remembers reading to the crew, but that comes a little late.

If you’re willing to overlook a few minor disconnects like this, you’ll find the book is a pleasurable read. In fact, rather than assume everything worked out for them in the end, I’d have enjoyed reading more. I would have liked another chapter to reconcile Noah and Marianne with their respective families, and perhaps end with everyone at their wedding after Noah started another successful business, or joined the U.S. Navy, or something.

Expect a fair amount of carefully embedded preaching and Bible quotes. However, Tyndall handles this well, and Surrender the Heart is, after all, a Christian novel.
—Gail Lewis

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

JUDGMENT DAY by Wanda L. Dyson

Today we present the second entry in our Book Review Trifecta

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:

Judgment Day

WaterBrook Press (September 21, 2010)

***Special thanks to Staci Carmichael, Marketing and Publicity Coordinator, Doubleday Religion/Waterbrook Multnomah for sending me a review copy.***
WANDA DYSON lives on a working horse farm, boarding and keeping a menagerie of critters. After writing three critically-acclaimed suspense novels, Wanda was asked to co-author the true story of Tina Zahn, Why I Jumped, a non-fiction work for which both Wanda and Tina appeared on Oprah. Wanda is a licensed Christian counselor who specializes in helping women recover from depression, anxiety, rejection, and the long-term effects of sexual and physical assault.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (September 21, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400074754
ISBN-13: 978-1400074754:



Friday, April 3. Baltimore, MD

Running away from home had sounded like the best idea ever when she was planning it, but now that sixteen-year-old Britney Abbott was tired, hungry, and out of money, it felt more like the biggest mistake of her life. She climbed down off the bus, slung her backpack over her shoulder, and wondered where she was going to sleep for the night.

If only her mother hadn’t married that jerk. He was so strict. According to Ronnie, Britney couldn’t date, couldn’t stay over at a friend’s for the night, and she had to be in the house no later than seven every evening. None of her friends had to live like that.

Last Saturday night her mom and Ronnie went out to dinner, leaving her home alone with the usual litany of instructions: You cannot have anyone over. You will do your homework. You will be in bed by ten. You will not spend the evening on the phone with your friends. And you will not—I repeat, not—leave this house; I am going to call and if you aren’t here to answer the phone, you will be grounded for a month.

Fifteen minutes after they left, Ronnie-the-Predictable called. She answered the phone. An hour and a half later, she was gone.

She looked around at the crowds dispersing in several directions. The smell of diesel fuel overwhelmed her empty stomach and it growled in protest. Everything looked the way she felt— worn-out, dirty, and depressed.

“Hey, you okay?” A girl stood against the wall near the exit from the bus station. Torn jeans, pink T-shirt, high top sneakers, leather jacket, and numerous rings and studs from ear to nose to lip.

“Yeah, I’m cool.”

“You look hungry. I was just going over to Mickey D’s. You wanna come?”

“No money.”

“It’s okay. I think I can buy you a hamburger and some fries.”

Britney was hungry enough to be tempted and wary enough to wonder why the girl would make such an offer. “Me?”

“Yeah.” The girl walked over. “My name’s Kathi. I came to Washington about five months ago. A friend of mine was supposed to be on the bus but either her parents caught her trying to run away or she changed her mind.”

“You’re a runaway?”

Kathi laughed as she shoved her hands deep into the pockets of her jacket. “Look around, girl. There are lots of us. We come to DC to get away. Some stay, some move on to Chicago or New York.”

Britney felt relieved to know she wasn’t alone. “Okay. I’ll take a hamburger. Thanks.”

Kathi linked her arm in Britney’s and led her down the street toward the Golden Arches. “What’s your name?”


“Well, let’s get you something to eat and then you can crash at my place.”

They chatted as they ate their food and drank their sodas, and with each passing minute, Britney liked Kathi more. She might look a little tough, but Britney supposed that living on the streets, you had to be. Her appearance aside, Kathi seemed friendly and generous.

They were about a block past McDonald’s when a woozy feeling interrupted their conversation. When she stumbled, Kathi steadied her. “You okay?”

“Just lightheaded.”

“Tired, more than likely. It’s not far to my place.”

But Britney’s body felt heavier with each step. She struggled to stay awake. She had never felt this way before in her entire life. Not even after staying up for two straight days studying for a math test.

“I don’t feel so good.”

“We’re almost there,” Kathi told her. “Just down this way.”

Britney didn’t like the dark alley or the dark van parked there with the motor running, but she couldn’t find the strength to resist Kathi’s pull on her arm.

As they passed the van, the side door opened and a man

stepped out. “Too bad she’s such a looker.”

“Yeah, well,” Kathi replied. “You get what I can find.”

The man picked up Britney and tossed her into the van. Britney tried to call out, tried to resist, but she could no longer control her arms or legs. She could only lie there and let the fear grow and build until the scream inside felt like an explosion in her head.

The man duct-taped her arms and legs. Then he placed a piece over her mouth. “Don’t worry, kid. This will be over real soon.”


Wednesday, April 15. Outside Washington DC

Suzanne Kidwell shoved her tape recorder in the cop’s face, smiling up at him as if he were the hero in her own personal story. “We have two girls missing now and both were students at Longview High. Are you looking at the faculty and staff at the school?”

The officer puffed a bit, squaring his shoulders and thrusting out his chest as he hiked up his utility belt. “You have to understand that we haven’t finished our investigation, but I can tell you that we found pornography on the principal’s computer. I’d say we’re just hours away from arresting him.”

She lightly traced a glossy red nail down his forearm. “I knew I came to the right man. You have that air of authority and competence. And I’ll bet you were the one who sent those detectives in the right direction too.”

He dropped his head in one of those “aw shucks, ma’am” moves. “Well, I did tell them that he had been arrested about ten years ago for assault.”

“And they made a man like that the principal. What is this world coming to?” Before he could comment, she hit him with another question. “Has he told you yet what he did with the girls?”

“Not yet. He’s still insisting he’s innocent, but it’s just a matter of time before we get a confession out of him.”

“Thank you so much, Officer. You’re a hero. Those girls would be dead without you.”

He blushed hard as she hurried off, lobbing him another dazzling smile as she calculated her timetable. It was nearly four and she had to be ready and on the air at six, scooping every other network in the city.

At the station, she ran up the stairs to the second floor and jogged down to Frank’s office. “Is he in?” she asked his secretary.

“Sure. Go on in.”

If there was a dark spot anywhere in her job at all, it was Frank Dawson. The man delighted in hassling her. Professional jealousy, no doubt. She knocked on his doorjamb. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

Like Frank, the room was heavy on shine and light on substance. Awards and diplomas covered all the walls. Pictures of Frank with politicians, presidents, and the wealthy, beautiful, and powerful were displayed prominently on all the bookshelves. His desk dominated the center of the room, covered in paperwork, tapes, and files.


Suzanne took a deep breath, clutched her notes, and strode into his office. “You know the two local girls that went missing recently?”

He glanced up at the clock, a subtle reminder that she should be getting dressed and into makeup. “I think so.”

“Well, I’ve been doing some digging and they have a suspect.”

“And this is your business exactly why?”

“Because I scooped everyone else. I talked to one of the officers working the case and he told me that they have a suspect, they’re interrogating him now, and they expect to announce his arrest momentarily.”

“And what does this have to do with me?”

She stared at him for a long moment. “I want to go on the air with this late-breaking news.”

He scratched his chin. “Your show is already scheduled, Suzanne. Corruption in the horse industry.”

“I know that, and I can still do that. I just need five minutes at the end of the show to cover this. We’ve got the scoop! How can we not run with it?”

Waving a hand, he said, “Fine. Go with it. I sure hope you have all the facts.”

“I have them straight from the mouth of the police. How much more do you want?”

“Fine. Do it.”

Grinning, she rushed back down to wardrobe and makeup in record time, entering the studio with mere minutes to spare.

Suzanne looked over at one of the assistants. “Where’s my microphone?”

As someone rushed to get her miked up, the director walked in. “We have a job to do, people; let’s get to it. We’re on the air in two.”

She straightened her jacket as the assistant adjusted the small microphone clipped to her lapel. “It’s fine. Move.”

The cameraman finished the countdown with his fingers. Three…two…one. She fixed her expression.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.” Suzanne turned slightly. “I’m Suzanne Kidwell. And this is Judgment Day.”

Suzanne took a deep breath while the station ran the introduction, taking a moment to straighten the notes in front of her and sip her water.

When the director pointed at her, she launched into the ongoing corruption and abuses endangering horse owners.

The camera shifted for a closeup. “And before I close tonight, I want to give you a late-breaking report. Just like you, I’ve been horrified by the tragic disappearance of teens here in the tristate area. But what made me truly sit up and take notice was that within the last two weeks, two young girls—seventeen-year-old Jennifer Link and sixteen-year-old Britney Abbott—were reported as runaways. Same neighborhood, same school, both runaways?

“Now maybe that could happen, but I was skeptical. I did some digging. And I’m happy to report that the police have arrested Peter Fryer, the principal of Longview High School.”

Suzanne changed her expression from a touch of sorrow mixed with concern to outrage. “I spoke to the lead officer and he told me that evidence against the principal included child pornography on Fryer’s computer. In spite of being arrested ten years ago for assault, Peter Fryer was hired on as the principal of Longview just four years ago. He is still denying any involvement, but the police assured me they have their man. I will keep you posted.”

She angled her body. “As long as people out there who betray our trust, there will be Judgment Day with Suzanne Kidwell. Good night, America. I’ll see you next week.”

As soon as she got the signal that she was clear, she pulled off her mike and stood up, grabbing her water as left the studio.

She rushed down the hall, and when she reached her office, she sank down into her chair and kicked off her shoes. She barely had time to curl her toes in the carpet before her phone rang.

She picked it up. “Great job, Suzanne.” It was Frank.

“Thanks, boss. I knew you’d be happy.”

“The phones are ringing off the hook. The other stations are scrambling to catch up to us.”

Smiling, she leaned back. “They’ll be eating our dust for a while now.”

“You’ll stay on this?”

“All the way to conviction.”

And now, our Review:
This is the best book I’ve read in a very long time and I’ve read many. I didn’t want to put it down.

Why are teens being kidnapped? Where were they taken? Will they be found alive? There’s plenty of suspense and you’ll find yourself cheering for Private Investigators Marcus Crisp and Alexandria Fisher-Hawthorne as they try to solve a murder and exonerate Suzanne Kidwell who is accused of the crime.

Judgment Day is the name of a TV cable show that tries to expose and sensationalize the mistakes, or dishonest dealings, of anyone caught in moderator Suzanne Kidwell’s crosshairs. Unfortunately, her investigative reporting often lacks credibility and threatens her professional career. Suzanne is not a particularly nice person, but she does suffer and learn through her mistakes, becoming a more sympathetic character as the story unfolds.

This book weaves an amazing tale without excessive gore. However, people do die…some you won’t want to die, and others you will.

Wanda L. Dyson is an exceptional writer. After enjoying Judgment Day, I intend to get a copy of Shepherd’s Fall, another of her novels. I recommend Judgment Day without reservation. It’s an excellent book.
— Gail Lewis

Judgment Day is available at WaterBrookMultnomah.com

Monday, October 4, 2010

A TREMOR OF BLISS: Sex, Catholicism and Rock 'n' Roll by Mark Judge

Welcome to the first entry in our Book Review Trifecta:

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 Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock 'n' Roll

Doubleday Religion; 1 edition (August 17, 2010)

***Special thanks to Staci Carmichael, Marketing and Publicity Coordinator, Doubleday Religion/Waterbrook Multnomah for sending me a review copy.***
MARK JUDGE is a writer on Catholic issues. His previous books include Damn Senators: My Grandfather and the Story of Washington's Only World Series and God and Man at Georgetown Prep: How I Became a Catholic Despite 20 Years of Catholic Schooling. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Weekly Standard.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.00
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Religion; 1 edition (August 17, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0385519206
ISBN-13: 978-0385519205



On St. Patrick’s Day 2006, the jazz singer and former divinity student Kurt Elling preached the theology of the body. The setting was the Strathmore Center, a resplendent $100 million concert hall outside Washington, D.C., and the sermon was in the form of song.

About halfway through the concert, Elling performed the standard “My Foolish Heart.” It is a romantic ballad, full of the kind of imagery that goes with love—the nighttime, the moon, the erotic charge of lips. Halfway through the song, the band died down, providing only a slow and steady pulse behind Elling.

Then he sang a poem:

One dark night

Fired with love’s urgent longings

Clothed in sheer grace

I went out unseen

My house being now all still

On that dark night

Clothed in sheer grace

In darkness and concealed

My house being now all still

On that black night

In secret for no one saw me

With no other light as guide than the one that burned

in my heart

This guided me more surely than the light of noon

To where she waited for me

The one I knew so well

To the place where no one appeared

In the night

In the mystic night

It was a passage from Saint John of the Cross. Elling was commingling the carnal charge of “My Foolish Heart” with the metaphysical passion of a sixteenth century Catholic Spanish mystic. The band was barely audible, and the space in the concert hall became charged with a sacramental, erotic energy. After several minutes, pianist Laurence Hobgood softly reintroduced the melody to “My Foolish Heart.” Elling sang—“There’s a line between love and fascination, it’s hard to see on an evening such as this.” The lyrics had returned to the pleasures of kisses and the fire of love, but the distance traveled between Saint John and the Great American Songbook was not far. The band charged back, and the audience of several thousand seemed to both sigh as one and applaud. They—we—had been seduced.

In ten minutes Elling had made the point once made by John Paul II in four years of lectures: To the human person, love recalls the “echo” of our time before the Fall, and as such, our bodily love is an icon of the Trinitarian love of God.

Elling had distilled to its essence The Theology of the Body. Based on a series of lectures given between 1979 and 1983 by John Paul II, the book is a theological Mount Everest, considered by most people— including Catholics—too intimidating to approach. Yet at its heart is a fairly simple idea—sex is participation in and a reflection of the love of God; therefore sex, and our bodies themselves, are very good things.

This may seem like an obvious insight—sex has always been associated with the divine. But in the hands of the late pope it reaches remarkable poetic and theological depth. The Theology of the Body signaled a sexual revolution in the Catholic Church, one that is now even underway in the larger culture. But it is a revolution that has been more than one hundred years in the making. It is not, obviously, the sexual revolution of the 1960s and perhaps in the larger culture as well, with its shattering “free love” (which, as writer Stephen Catanzarite has pointed out, was neither). Nor is it exactly a conservative counterrevolution. Rather, it is the fulfillment of the thinking of Catholic intellectuals going back to the early twentieth century. These were defenders of sex as something good and holy, freely talking of orgasms and the language of the body at a time when most Catholics were discouraged from even thinking of such things. While their message never trickled down to Catholic schools or stormed the gates of the Vatican, it found powerful expression in the popular culture— particularly in the poetry of rock ’n’ roll music. And with John Paul II, it found validation. Now it could be the salvation for Western culture, which has gone sexually insane.

For a time, I was part of that insanity. I was born in 1964 to Irish Catholic parents, and the closest I ever got to a sex talk from my parents was when I was about ten years old. At school I had overheard a teenager call someone a “prick.” The next morning, I padded out to the small garden in our backyard where my dad was weeding. “Dad,” I asked, “what’s a prick?”

For a brief second, he hesitated, his sweaty hands hanging over the tulips. Then he simply started weeding again. It was as though he thought he heard a dog barking in the distance.

I asked again. “What’s a prick?”

He weeded.

“Dad,” I said again, stepping over the flowerbed so I could not be ignored. “What’s a prick?”

He looked at me. Then he gently took me by the shoulders and leaned in close. “It’s your penis,” he whispered. I felt myself blush. I knew what a penis was. It had to do with sex and we didn’t talk about sex. I backed away and retreated into the house while Dad tended to his garden.

Yet my father was the furthest thing from a prude. A journalist and world traveler for National Geographic, Dad was brilliant, funny, and passionately loved my mother. The stories he would tell sometimes tended toward the ribald. Once when I pulled a groin muscle playing football, he noticed I was limping around the house. “Were you with a girl last night?” he whispered. I said no, that I had been playing football. “Uh-huh,” he said. A devout Catholic, he loved nature and once told my best friend and me that we were being silly when we laughed at two ducks having sex in the backyard. “Hey, it’s spring,” he said. To Dad, women were magical creatures. He would often become smitten with movie stars and never tired of ballads played by the big bands.

He was, in short, anything but a repressive or hidebound man. Born in 1928, he was of the generation who simply did not talk to their kids about sex— because their parents had not talked to them about sex. We had to find out about sex from other places.

In my case, I learned about love from rock ’n’ roll. I still remember the night I fell in love with the Beatles, which was shortly after I had fallen in love with Lisa, the girl next door. It was a hot summer night in 1970, and I was six years old. When I went to bed in our house in Maryland in those days, it was often to the sounds of my oldest brother Joe playing music in his room a few feet down the hall. One night, Joe put on A Hard Day’s Night, the soundtrack to the great Beatles film.

Many people recall their first experience with the Beatles as cataclysmic, life changing, revolutionary. Like an atomic bomb, the Beatles supposedly destroyed everything that had once stood before, creating the future and a new landscape. Yet on that humid night in 1970, my six-year-old reaction was quite different. I didn’t think of war, revolution, my parents, or drugs. I thought of a girl. I thought of Lisa, who lived next door. I was in love with Lisa, and I found that love reflected back to me in the music of A Hard Day’s Night. In hearing “And I Love Her,” “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” and “If I Fell” from Joe’s room, my imagination took off.

The Catholic theologian Fr. Paul M. Quay would later describe the sexual act as a woman opening herself up to a man, her giving of herself, and the man penetrating her with his very essence—put simply, their mutual self-giving—an expression of the love of God. Though I wasn’t remotely conscious of it at the time, John, Paul, George, and Ringo offered the same message. Like intense and very effective prayer, you could feel God in their sound—the happy bounce of “I Should Have Known Better”; the mystical, hopeful solemnity of “Things We Said Today”; the orgasmic cries of “When I Get Home.” In those brilliant notes, I saw Lisa and me dancing, laughing, kissing, being husband and wife. If this was revolutionary music, it was preaching a very old lesson: the power of love.

I soon realized that love—and its loss—is the great theme of popular music, from Louis Armstrong right down to Justin Timberlake. Popular music was exploring the initial ecstasy Adam felt when he first saw “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.” Whether it was the Supremes declaring there ain’t no mountain high enough, the Beatles heralding the good news that she loves you, or Van Morrison whispering about a marvelous night for a moon dance, this great desire to return to our original union with God—including the conjugal union between Adam and Eve that preceded the Fall—is the urge that launched a thousand hits.

Indeed, it is such a ubiquitous theme that it’s impossible to run through my favorite bands without coming face-to-face with it. The punk group the Replacements, my favorite band when I was in my twenties, have a song called “I Will Dare,” about working up the courage to meet a girl. The Allman Brothers sing of “Sweet Melissa.” The entire Motown canon, from Marvin Gaye to Stevie Wonder, is a joyful soundtrack of the quest for love—more specifically, the quest for the love of that one person you were meant to be with, the one who is the answer to a prayer, who can make time stop.

In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (“God Is Love”), Pope Benedict XVI refers to the love between a man and a woman as “that love which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings.” In the U2 song “Original of the Species,” singer Bono says that love “steals right under my door,” neither planned nor willed. Bono can only cry for more, delirious with the fecundity and gratuitous grace of God. It’s probably no mistake, given his acknowledged Catholic spirituality, that he cries “I want you some more” three times, perhaps reflecting the Trinity.

Of course, the Beatles could not teach me the basics of reproductive biology. I also wasn’t going to get that in Catholic parochial school. In the 1970s my grade school, Our Lady of Mercy in Maryland, was not ready for the sexual revolution. The school was run by two women—Sister Mary, the principal, and Miss Donahue (not their real names), a teacher who would eventually become principal. Both women were tough yet fair; both were feared and respected by the students. Unlike my father, they could not joke about sex. Like any boy with a crush, I found myself obsessing about Lisa during class. Sister Mary or Miss Donahue would be dilating about the nature of angels or conjugating verbs, and I would stare out the window, fantasizing about kissing Lisa.

Finally, one afternoon I was on the street playing wiffle ball when Lisa came walking by on her way home from school. Inspired by “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” I asked her if I could kiss her.

She said yes.

I stood there. We watched each other for a few seconds. Then she turned and walked home. I had lost my nerve.

For the rest of the summer I was slowly tortured by my inaction—but I was also inspired. Lisa had said I could kiss her. All I had to do was do it.

The moment came when school began a few weeks later. I was playing catch with a friend when she came by on her way home from school. She was about to pass by when I spoke up: “Um . . . Lisa? Can I kiss you now?”


I moved in. At the last second she turned, making sure I hit her on the cheek and not the mouth.

For the next several days, I was in a dream world. Sister Mary and Miss Donahue talked multiplication tables and transubstantiation, but only my physical body was in class. I was already married to Lisa, or reliving the kiss over and over again. There was simply nobody in school or at home who could explain to me why I felt the way I did. When I mentioned Lisa, my dad just smiled. I graduated from Our Lady of Mercy in the spring of 1979 having kissed a girl, but still not knowing much about what the rock musician Elvis Costello, who had just hit the charts with his first album, called the “Mystery Dance.”

Things would be explained to me, graphically, when I got to high school. I went to Georgetown Prep, the little brother school to Georgetown University. Apparently by this time the Catholic Church had gotten over its reticence about sex. Our sex-ed teacher at Prep was a man named Bernie Ward, who would later become a well-known left-wing talk show host in San Francisco. Ward would also be arrested and convicted for sending pornographic images of children over the Internet.

On the first day of sex-ed class, Ward, an average sized man with a bad complexion, handed out the day’s reading—a tract about feminism and sex by Betty Friedan. He then went to the front of the classroom and made an announcement: There was nothing wrong with masturbation. It was healthy. It was normal. It would make you happy. In fact, masturbating, even if you were married, would only help the relationship. For the next six months, the female body became a sort of flesh-and-bone vending machine, something that would respond and deliver if you knew where to insert the quarter and pushed the right button.

Mr. Ward’s exegesis on sex did not do me much good when I lost my virginity the summer after I took his class. I met Donna when I had a party when I was seventeen and my parents were out of town. The kids left the house a mess, and Donna and a friend had stayed behind to help me clean up. It was about two a.m. when we were finishing, and as Donna was vacuuming up beer I pulled her toward me and kissed her. Mr. Ward had filled my vocabulary with words like clitoris, orgasm, and ejaculation. What he hadn’t prepared me for was falling in love with a real person. To be sure, hormones were driving me to have sex with Donna. But it was also something more transcendent. As Saint Ambrose once put it, lovers embracing seem to be attempting to breathe their souls into each other.

Again, rock ’n’ roll seemed to describe the powerful parallel world I was entering. Where my parents and their generation considered lovemaking a wonderful taboo not to be spoken of in detail, and Mr. Ward reduced it to Marxism and moving parts, the songs I loved told me that it could be both—the swiveling hips of Elvis and the tender ballads of the Fab Four; the erotic dynamism of Little Richard and the moonlit romance of Van Morrison. To put it in theological terms, the music made the connection between agape, the love of God, and eros, physical desire. At night, from Joe’s room, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers, and the blues musicians he loved would serenade me with the wonder of love.

Yet the Church was catching up with the Top 40. In September 1979—my first week at Georgetown Prep— Pope John Paul II began a series of lectures that would be published as The Theology of the Body. John Paul II went back to Genesis to reveal the true meaning of love and the human body. The pope emphasized that man—meaning all human persons—was made in the image of God. Thus, when we are seeing another person, we are seeing the image of God. We become even more like God through the act of loving that person as an image of God, not as an object of lust. And we can only achieve mastery of ourselves and our sexuality by realizing that we ourselves are also created in the image of God. When we know this fully, we can come to realize genuine freedom.

The Theology of the Body had its origin in early 1940, when a nineteen-year-old Polish seminarian named Karol Wojtyla met Jan Tyranowski, a thirty-nine-year old tailor living in Krakow, which had been taken over by the Nazis. The Germans had stripped Poland of much of its Catholic clergy, and as a result many Catholics were forced underground, where they sought instruction and inspiration from laymen. One of the most charismatic of these was Tyranowski.

As a teenager, Tyranowski had heard a sermon in which the priest declared, “It’s not difficult to be a saint.” Smitten by the phrase, Tyranowski took a vow of celibacy and organized his life around religious practice and reading. He was soon a genuine Catholic mystic. In the words of theologian George Weigel, for Tyranowski, “the goal of contemplative prayer was a release from thoughts and images, a freedom to simply be in God’s presence.”

After the Gestapo sent Polish priests to concentration camps, Tyranowski formed an underground Catholic group called the Living Rosary, made up of groups of young men who devoted themselves to spiritual development and mutual support. Wojtyla soon became a leader of this group. Tyranowski’s example, he later recalled, “proved that one could not only inquire about God but that one could live with God.” It was Tyranowski who introduced Wojtyla to Saint John of the Cross, the sixteenth-century Catholic mystic. Wojtyla, an athlete as well as a scholar who had seen several friends fall in love, was struck by the love poetry of Saint John, who drew a direct correlation between physical experience and the love of God. In works like “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” and “The Dark Night of the Soul,” Saint John combines poetry and prose in an ecstatic ode to union with the Lord:

O lamps of fire!

in whose splendors

the deep caverns of feeling

once obscure and blind,

now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,

both warmth and light to their Beloved.

In his commentary on the last two lines, Saint John writes that “since God gives himself with a free and gracious will, so too the soul (possessing a will more generous and free the more it is united with God) gives to God, God himself in God; and this is a true and complete gift of the soul to God.”

A reciprocal love is thus actually formed between

God and the soul, like the marriage union and surrender,

in which the goods of both (the divine essence

that each possesses freely by reason of the

voluntary surrender between them) are possessed

by both together. They say to each other what the

Son of God spoke to the Father through John: All

that is mine is yours and yours is mine, and I am

glorified in them [Jn. 17:10].

The young Wojtyla became so smitten with John of the Cross that he wrote his dissertation on the Spanish mystic. The future pope would emphasize the Trinitarian aspect of the union between the soul and God—that is to say, the love of God was mirrored in human love, especially human sexual love. Wojtyla: “This concept of the relationship between God and the soul, at once filial and conjugal, is based on two constant elements: [1] the adoptive communication of grace and [2] the power of love.” The soul, Wojtyla wrote, becomes “God by participation” and therefore by participation it possesses divinity itself.

The theologian Michael Waldstein has noted three “points of contact” between John of the Cross and John Paul II. They are “(1) Love implies a cycle of mutual giving, supremely the gift of self. (2) The paradigmatic instance of such self-gift in human experience is the spousal relation between man and woman. (3) The Trinity is the archetype of such love and gift from which the love between God and human persons as well as love between human beings derives as an imitation and participation.” Saint John, Waldstein writes, “describes the soul’s relation to God as a cycle of mutual giving. The deep satisfaction and happiness of love is found in this cycle as a cycle of giving, not only of receiving (see TOB 68:2–3).” Saint John speaks of man and woman in union, and of the bride as giving herself:

There he gave me his breast;

there he taught me a sweet and living knowledge;

and I gave myself to him,

keeping nothing back;

there I promised to be his bride.

The characteristic feature of the spousal love between human beings and God is the totality of the gift of self, which is reflected in the totality of the orientation of affections toward the spouse. “I gave myself to him, keeping nothing back; there I promised to be his bride.” “Spiritual marriage,” Waldstein observes, “is the total surrendering of the self-possession of each to the other, analogous to the consummation of love by sexual union in marriage.” As Wojtyla wrote:

Betrothed [spousal] love differs from all the aspects

or forms of love analyzed hitherto. Its decisive character

is the giving of one’s own person (to another).

This is something different from and more than

attraction, desire, or even good will. These are all

ways by which one person goes out toward another,

but none of them can take him as far. . . . The fullest,

the most uncompromising form of love consists

precisely in self-giving, in making one’s inalienable

and non-transferable “I” someone else’s property.

It’s hardly surprising that on his deathbed, John of the Cross wanted to hear not prayers for those about to die, but the Song of Songs.

For much of the Church’s history, theologians were unsure how to interpret the Song of Songs, a book that can only be described as sexy. It is also the book that has generated more commentaries than any other in the history of the Church. The Song of Songs is a poem spilling over with the joy of physical love. It is fulsome with metaphor. From the Bride:

My beloved is mine and I am his.

He pastures his flock among the lilies.

Before the dawn wind raises,

Before the shadows flee,

Return! Be, my beloved,

Like a gazelle,

A young stag,

On the mountains of the covenant.

On my bed, at night, I sought him whom my heart


I sought him but did not find him.

So I will rise and go through the city;

In the streets and the squares

I will seek him whom my heart loves

. . . I sought but did not find him.

The Bridegroom replies:

How beautiful you are, my love,

How beautiful you are!

Your eyes behind your veil,

Are doves;

Your hair is like a flock of goats

Frisking down the slopes of Gilead.

Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes

As they come up from the washing.

Each one has its twin,

Not one unpaired with another.

Her lips are a scarlet thread

And your words enchanting.

Your cheeks, behind your veil,

Are halves of pomegranate.

Your neck is the tower of David

Built as a fortress,

Hung around with a thousand bucklers,

And each the shield of a hero.

Your two breasts are two fawns,

Twins of a gazelle,

That feed among the lilies.

For virtually all of Church history, the Song of Songs was considered an allegory of the love of God for His people. Origen, Saint Basil, and Saint Gregory of Nyssa in the third century; Ambrose in the fourth century; and Saint Augustine and Saint Gregory the Great in the seventh century all interpreted the song in the same way. At the Fifth Council of Constantinople in 533, they condemned the proposition, held by Theodore of Mopsuestia and not many others, that the song was a purely secular poem. As one scholar put it, “The free love of Song celebrates only one thing: The splendid, radiant, and terrifying glory of eros between man and woman. Eros itself vibrates without any other purpose than natural love. . . . Eros is sufficient unto itself. The eros of the Song is not the agape of God.” In 1983 the Jesuit Blaise Arminjon, in his book The Cantata of Love, examined the Song of Songs from all the different angles. He concludes that the Song is holy not despite being erotic, even carnal, but because it is those things. “There is apparently no concern for theology, apologetics, teaching or morality,” Arminjon wrote. “Contrary to all the other books in the Bible . . . the tone of the Song is so passionate, even so daring here and there, and it makes such an appeal to the senses (to all the senses), that it is difficult to see how it could be suitable to the expression of God’s love. The love of the bridegroom and his bride is that of beings made of flesh and blood.”

Mystics throughout Church history have particularly embraced the Song. When he was seventeen in 1584, Saint Francis de Sales took a course in Paris on the Song, and it became his favorite book. Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Teresa of Avila both adored the Song of Songs. And yet, throughout Church history, there was also suspicion of the Song. Saint Gregory the Great made this assessment: “In order to inflame our hearts to His sacred love, (God) goes as far as using the language of our crude love and, stooping thus in his words, he raises up our understanding. Indeed, it is through the language of this love that we learn how strongly we must burn with divine love.”

Saint Gregory of Nyssa actually advised that “when we want to devote ourselves to contemplation [of the Song], forget thoughts related to marriage . . . so that, having extinguished all carnal appetites, it will be only through the Spirit that our intelligence will simmer lovingly, warmed by the fire that the Lord has come to bring on earth.” Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preached, “One cannot start reading this book unless he has reached a certain degree of purity. Any other reading would be unworthy if the flesh had not been tamed, if it had not yet been submitted to the Spirit by exacting discipline.” When he describes this sermon, Blaise Arminjon imagines in the audience “a small Cistercian novice, still callous and poorly initiated in the Word of Wisdom, quite new to the science of love.” Despite that, he is “listening to the words of the Abbot with delight. He does not bother to ask himself whether he has reached the necessary degree of purity and maturity. Quite simply: He is happy.”

Here is real insight into the Song of Songs and its power. Instinctively, in our conscience and beneath official dogma and theology, we know that there is something holy in our bodies and their sexual expression— that in casting our eyes on the wonderful features of the beloved, we are casting our eyes toward heaven—or, as John Paul II would have it in The Theology of the Body, casting our eyes back to the very beginning, when Adam and Eve lived untainted by sin. I had felt it when I kissed Lisa for the first time. I felt it when I touched


In his biography of Saint John of the Cross, Crisógono De Jesús tells of the great mystic on his deathbed. “Tell me about the Song of Songs,” Saint John told the Carmelites who had started to read the prayers for the recommendation of the soul. “This other thing is of no use to me.”

Kurt Elling and the Fab Four might have said the same thing. And Lisa and Donna.

And now, our Review:
A Tremor of Bliss by Mark Judge is a small book overflowing with big ideas. The book’s tagline is Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll and, interestingly enough, both he and I worked in record shops as young men. However, I freely admit Judge finds a level of spirituality in rock music that apparently escaped my notice.

The book makes good and frequent use of the wisdom and insights of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. If I were to try to extract a single telling sentence, it would be “…the problem with American Catholicism is not that it has drifted to the right, but that Catholic liberalism has drifted left.” I also liked Judge’s assessment that modern liberalism, both religious and political, has shifted from a philosophy of examination to one of resentment.

Whether intentional or not, he exposes Vatican II for what it was: a palace coup by a group unfamiliar with the axiom, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s refreshing to hear someone finally say that things were never as bad as some would have us believe.

For Catholics and non-Catholics alike, A Tremor of Bliss provides insight into the historic and current teachings of the Catholic Church with regard to human sexuality.

It was both enlightening and enjoyable. I highly recommend it.
— E G Lewis