Tuesday, May 26, 2009

By Darkness Hid, The Blood of Kings, book one by Jill Williamson

Tour Date: June 6, 2009

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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!

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By Darkness Hid, The Blood of Kings, book one

Marcher Lord Press (April 1, 2009)


Jill Williamson is a novelist, dreamer, and believer. She writes stories that combine danger, suspense, and adventure for people of all ages. An avid reader, she started Novel Teen Book Reviews to help teens find great books to read. She lives in Oregon with her husband and two book-loving children. By Darkness Hid is her first novel.

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Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 508 pages
Publisher: Marcher Lord Press (April 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0982104952
ISBN-13: 978-0982104958


Achan stumbled through the darkness toward the barn. The morning cold sent shivers through his threadbare orange tunic. He clutched a wooden milking pail at his side and held a flickering torch out in front to light his way.

He wove between dark cottages in the outer bailey of the castle, mindful to keep his torch clear of the thatched roofs. Most of the residents of Sitna still slept. Only a few of the twenty-some peasants, slaves, and strays serving Lord Nathak and Prince Gidon stirred at this hour.

Sitna Manor sat on the north side of the Sideros River. A brownstone curtain wall, four levels high, enclosed the stronghold. A second wall sectioned off the outer bailey from the inner bailey, temple, and keep. Achan wasn’t allowed to enter the inner bailey but occasionally snuck inside when he felt compelled to leave an offering at Cetheria’s temple.

The barn loomed ahead of him in the darkness. It was one of the largest structures in Sitna Manor. It was long and narrow, with a high, thatched gable roof. Achan shifted the pail to his torch hand and tugged the heavy door open. It scraped over the frosty dirt. He darted inside and pulled it closed.

The scent of hay and manure drifted on the chilled air. He walked to the center and slid the torch into an iron ring on a load-bearing post. The timber walls stymied the bitter wind, and Achan’s shivering lessened.

The torch cast a golden glow over the hay pile, posts, and rafters and made Achan’s orange tunic look brown. A long path stretched the length of the barn with stalls on each side penning chickens, geese, pigs, and goats. Two empty stalls in the center housed hay and feed. He approached the goat stall.

“Morning, Dilly, Peg. How are my girls? Got lots of milk for me?”

The goats bleated their greetings. Achan rubbed his hands together until they were warm enough to avoid getting him kicked. He perched on the icy stool to milk Dilly and begin his tedious routine. He could have worse jobs, though, and he liked the goats.

By the time Achan had finished with Dilly, the stool under his backside had thawed, though his breath still clouded in the torch’s dull glow. He lifted the pail to get a better look. Dilly had filled it a third. Achan set it between his feet, slapped Dilly on the rear, and called Peg. When he had finished milking her he moved his stool outside and set the milk on top of it. He grabbed a pitchfork off the wall.

“Anyone hungry?”

Dilly and Peg danced around as Achan dumped fresh hay into the trough. The goats’ excitement faded to munching. The other animals stirred, but they were not his responsibility. Mox, the scrawny barn boy, had arrived a few minutes ago and now shuffled from stall to stall at the other end of the barn.

As Achan leaned the pitchfork against the wall, he had to pause. A chill ran through him that had nothing to do with the temperature. He felt the familiar pressure in his head. It wasn’t painful but it brought a sense of a looming, sinister shadow. Someone was coming.

“Lo, Mox!” a familiar voice called from near the barn’s entrance.

“Moxy poxy hoggy face, we know you’re in here.”

Achan sucked in an icy breath and slid back into the goat stall. The voices belonged to Riga Hoff and Harnu Poe, Sitna Manor’s resident browbeaters.

Mox’s young voice cried out. “Stop it! Don’t do that! Ah!”

Achan set his jaw and thunked his head against the wall of the stall, earning a reprimanding look from Dilly. Poril would flay him if he returned late. And there was no guarantee he could beat both boys. He should mind his own business. Regular beatings had made him tough—they could do likewise for Mox.

Or they could cripple him for life. An image flooded his mind: a young slave being dragged through the linen field by Riga and Harnu. They’d crushed his hands so badly that all the boy could do now was pull a cart like a mule. Achan sighed.

He edged to the other end of the barn, stepping softly over the scattered hay. Two piglets scurried past his feet. He clenched his jaw. If the animals got out, Mox would be punished by his master too. Riga and Harnu knew that, of course.

Achan spotted them in a pig stall at the end of the barn. Harnu was holding Mox’s face in a trough of slop. The mere thought of the smell turned Achan’s empty stomach. Riga leaned over Harnu’s shoulder laughing, his ample rear blocking the stall’s entrance. Fine linen stretched over Riga’s girth and rode up his back in wrinkles, baring more skin than Achan cared to see.

He sent a quick prayer up to the gods and cleared his throat. “Can I help you boys with something?”

Riga spun around, his mess of short, golden curls sticking out in all directions. His face was so pudgy Achan could never tell if his eyes were open or closed. “Stay out of this, dog!”

Harnu released Mox and pushed past Riga out of the stall. The torch’s beam illuminated his pockmarked face, a hazard from working too close to the forge. “Moxy poxy piglet got out of his pen. He needs to learn his place.” Harnu stood a foot taller than Riga and was the real threat in the barn. He stepped toward Achan. “Looks like you need to learn yours too.”

Achan held his ground. “Let him go.”

Harnu’s gaze flitted to a pitchfork propped against the wall. He grabbed it and swung. Achan jumped back, but the tines snagged his tunic, ripping a hole in the front and scratching his stomach. Achan squeezed his fists and blew out a long breath.

Harnu jabbed the pitchfork forward. Achan lunged to the side and grabbed the shaft. He wrenched the weapon away and spun it around, prongs facing Harnu. He waved it slightly back and forth, hoping to scare the brute into flight.

“The barn is off limits to your instruction. Anything else I can do for you boys? A little hay? Some oats, perhaps? Drag you to the moat, tie a millstone to your ankles, see how well you swim?”

Like a dog being teased with a bone, Harnu lunged.

Achan stepped back and raised the pitchfork above his head the way he’d seen knights do in the longsword tournaments. With nothing to stop his hurtling bulk, Harnu stumbled. Achan swung the tines flat against Harnu’s backside, and the bully knocked head first into the chicken pen. The birds squawked and fluttered, sending a cloud of dust over Harnu.

Riga slipped past the stall and made toward the milk pail. Achan darted forward and stuck the pitchfork in the clay earth to snag Riga’s foot. The big louse tripped and sprawled into the dirt and hay.

Footsteps behind Achan sent him wheeling around just in time to lift the pitchfork to Harnu’s chest. Over Harnu’s shoulder, Achan could see Mox climbing out of the geese pen with a squirming piglet under one arm.

Harnu raised his hands and stepped back, a thin scratch swelling across his reddened cheek. “Lord Nathak will hear ’bout this, stray. You’ll hang.”

Achan knew he wouldn’t hang for a tussle like this, but he might be whipped. And Lord Nathak’s guards were merciless. Besides, Achan doubted Lord Nathak’s servants would bother their master with such a trivial matter. He shrugged. “Not much to tell. You fell into the chicken pen.”

“You attacked me with a pitchfork when I caught you trying to steal a horse.”

A tremor snaked down Achan’s arms. Stealing a horse was cause for a hanging. And no one—especially Lord Nathak—would take the word of a stray over a peasant, even one like Harnu. Achan jabbed the pitchfork out. “If Lord Nathak hears a breath of that tripe, I know where you lay your head.”

Harnu snorted and beat his chest with a clenched fist. “You dare threaten me?”

Achan glanced around for Riga, but the swine had vanished. He backed toward the hay pile, feeling cornered. Achan took another step back, keeping the pitchfork aimed at Harnu. His boot knocked against something.

Harnu cackled and pointed at the ground behind Achan’s feet. Achan looked down. The stool and pail lay on their sides, milk seeping into the clay soil.

Pig snout!

Riga charged out of the hay stall with a roar. Achan turned but Riga jerked the pitchfork away. Harnu rushed forward and battered Achan to the ground.

The pitchfork dug into Achan’s back. He gritted his teeth, not wanting to give the brutes the satisfaction of hearing him scream. He was more upset over the spilled milk than the pain.

Pain, he was used to.

Mox pointed at Achan from the end of the barn, his face gooey with slop. “Ha ha!”

The ungrateful scab was on his own next time.

Dilly and Peg kicked against the wall of their stall, agitated by Achan’s distress.

Harnu crouched in front of him, grabbed the back of his head, and pushed his face toward the puddle seeping into the dirt floor. “Lick it up, dog!”

Achan thrashed in the hay but lost his battle with Harnu’s hand. He turned his head just as his cheek splashed into the milky muck. The liquid steamed around his face. Harnu released Achan’s head and sat back on his haunches, his wide lips twisting in a triumphant sneer.

Riga chortled, a dopey sound. “I’d like a new rug, Harnu. What say we skin the stray?” He dragged the pitchfork down Achan’s back.

They never learned.

Achan pushed up with his arms. The prongs dug deeper but he was able to slide his right arm and leg underneath his body and twist free. He grabbed the handle of the pail and swung it at Harnu’s face. Harnu fell onto his backside, clutching his nose.

Achan scrambled to his feet. He grabbed another pitchfork off the wall and squared off with Riga.

The fat boy waddled nearer and lifted his weapon. Achan faked an upswing.

When Riga heaved the pitchfork up to block, Achan swung the shaft of his weapon into Riga’s leg.

The boy went down like a slaughtered pig.

Harnu approached, pinching his nose with one hand and wiping a fistful of hay across his upper lip with the other.

“This does grow old,” Achan said. “How many times do I have to trounce you both?”

“I’m telling Lord Nathak,” Harnu said, sounding like he had a cold.

“You’ve no right to attack us,” Riga mumbled from the dirt floor.

Achan wanted to argue, And what of Mox? but he’d sacrificed enough for that thankless whelp. He grabbed both pitchforks and fled from the barn.

Pale dawn light blanketed Sitna Manor. He ran toward the drawbridge, glancing at the sentry walk of the outer gatehouse. The squared parapet was black against the gray sky. A lone guard stood on the wall above like a shadow.

Achan ran through the gate and over the drawbridge. As usual, the guards ignored him. Few people in the manor acknowledged anyone wearing an orange tunic. One small advantage of being a stray. He sank to his knees at the edge of the moat to wash the blood off the pitchforks.

Riga and Harnu wouldn’t let this go easily.

Achan sighed. His fingers stiffened in the rank, icy water. One of these days he’d accept pretty Gren Fenny’s offer to weave him a brown tunic, and run away. He was almost of age—maybe no one would question his heritage. He could tell people his mother was a mistress and his father was on Ice Island. Sired by a criminal and almost sixteen, people wouldn’t ask too many questions.

When the pitchforks were clean, Achan returned to the barn. His attackers had left and, thankfully, had not done any damage they could blame him for. He shuddered to think of what their feeble minds hadn’t. The torch still burned in the ring by the door. They could have burned the barn to ashes. They were truly the thickest heads in Sitna, maybe even in all Er’Rets.

Not that Achan was much brighter, sacrificing himself for an ingrate who was probably out chasing piglets.

Achan hung one pitchfork on the wall and used the other to clean up the hay. When the ground was tidy, he picked up the empty pail and sat on the stool to catch his breath.

The consequences of his heroism were suddenly laid before him. The scratches on his back throbbed. The goat’s milk had completely soaked into the ground, the front of his tunic, and his face. Only the latter had dried, making the skin tight on his left cheek. His nose tingled from the cold. He shivered violently, now that he’d stopped moving. He scowled and pitched the pail across the barn. It smacked the goat stall, and the girls scurried around inside, frightened by the sound.

But Achan didn’t want a beating. So he picked the pail up againa, dragged the stool into the stall, and managed to squeeze another two inches of milk from the goats. It was all they had. Poril would be furious.

Achan jogged out of the barn, around the cottages, and across the inner bailey. By now, more people were stirring—it was almost breakfasttime. He wove around a peddler pushing a cart full of linens and a squire leading a horse from the stables. A piglet scurried past, just avoiding the wheels of a trader’s wagon. Achan ignored it. Mox could hang for all he cared.

Pressure filled his head again.

This time the insight that followed was not dread but kinship and hope. Achan paused at the entrance to the kitchens and turned, seeking out the source of the sensation. His gaze was drawn to the armory.

There, Harnu slouched on a stool clutching a bloody rag to his nose. His father stood over him, hands on hips. The warm glow of the forge behind their menacing forms brought to mind the Lowerworld song that Achan had heard Minstrel Harp sing in the Corner last night:

When Arman turns away, Shamayim denied

To Lowerword your soul will flee.

At the fiery gates meet your new lord, Gâzar

And forever in Darkness you’ll be.

Achan shuddered. The sensation of kinship was definitely not coming from them.

He spotted someone else. A knight stood leaning against the crude structure of the armory watching Achan with a pensive stare. He wore the uniform of the Old Kingsguard—a red, hooded cloak that draped over both arms and hung to a triangular point in the center front and back. The crest of the city of Armonguard, embroidered in gold thread, glimmered over his chest. The knight pulled his hood back to reveal white hair, tied back on top and hanging past his shoulders. A white beard dangled in a single braid that extended to his chest.

Achan recognized him immediately. It was Sir Gavin Lukos, the knight who had come to train Prince Gidon for his presentation to the council.

For what purpose did the knight stare? Achan had never met anyone above his station who hadn’t wished him harm or hard work. Yet his instincts had never been wrong. Sir Gavin harbored no ill will. Achan gave the old man a half smile before entering the kitchens to face Poril’s wrath.

* * *

Achan settled onto a stool by the chest-high table. The table was worn by years of knives and kneading. Poril, a burly old man with sagging posture, poured batter into stone cups and carried them to the hearth oven. Serving women scurried about filling trays with food and gossiping about Lord Nathak’s latest rejection from the Duchess of Carm.

Achan’s stomach growled at the smell of fried bacon and ginger cake. He wouldn’t be able to eat until after the nobility were served, and then he would be allowed only one bowl of porridge. Poril had a knack of knowing if Achan had eaten something he shouldn’t have. Achan suspected the serving women’s tongues flapped for extra slices of Poril’s pies.

The scratches on his back burned. He was in no mood for Poril’s daily lecture, nor could he stomach the cook’s nagging voice and the queer way he spoke about himself using his own name. Especially not when he was hungry and had a beating coming. He only hoped Harnu would keep his accusations of thieving to himself. Maybe it was time to talk to Gren about that brown tunic.

Poril scurried back to the table with a linen sack of potatoes. His downy white hair floated over his freckled scalp. Sometimes Achan wanted to laugh when he watched Poril. The man looked more like he should be wielding a sword than a wooden spoon. Some of the serving women said Poril was part giant. Achan wasn’t convinced. The cook might be tall and thick, but his sagging posture and thinning hair just made him look old.

“It’s what comes from giving a stray responsibility, that’s what. But Poril’s a kind soul, he is. Mother was a stray and no kinder woman there ever was, boy, I’ll tell yeh that. Worked hard so Poril could have better, she did.”

Poril dumped the potatoes onto the table. Several rolled onto the dirt floor, and Achan scrambled to pick them up. He spotted a crumbled wedge of ginger cake on the floor and stuffed the spicy sweetness into his mouth. It was even a bit warm still. Achan took his time setting the potatoes back on the table and pressed the lump of cake into the roof of his mouth to savor it, hoping Poril didn’t see. Then he grabbed a knife and hacked at the peel of the biggest potato.

Poril pointed a crooked finger in Achan’s face. “It’s only ’cause Poril’s the best cook in Er’Rets that Lord Nathak won’t be aware of yer blunder with the milk today, boy. ’Tis my responsibility to beat some sense into yeh, not his. Poril’s a fair man, and yeh deserve to be punished, that’s certain. But turning yeh over to the likes of the master is cruel. And cruel, Poril’s not.”

Achan set the peeled potato aside and picked up another. Poril always threatened to tell Lord Nathak of Achan’s every misstep, but the man was all talk. He was more scared of Lord Nathak than Achan was of Gâzar himself. True, Poril was not as cruel as some, but he was of the opinion that beatings with the belt were kinder than beatings with a fist. Achan grew tired of both.

Poril clunked a mug of red tonic onto the table beside Achan’s potato peelings. Achan glanced at it.

The old man’s gray eyes dared him to refuse. “Drink up, then. Poril’s waiting.”

Achan sucked in a long breath and guzzled the gooey, bitter liquid. He’d been fed the tonic every morning his whole life, and every morning Poril insisted on watching him drink. The taste killed the lingering ginger cake flavor on his tongue.

The thick mixture always churned in his gut, begging to come back up. Achan sat still a moment, breathing through his nose to calm his nerves. Then he rose to settle his stomach with a few mentha leaves from the spice baskets. Achan might not have free range of the kitchens, but Poril had learned long ago to allow Achan as much mentha as he needed.

Poril always claimed that Lord Nathak had insisted Achan drink the tonic to keep away illness—that strays were full of disease. But the tonic hadn’t prevented Achan from being ill several times in his life. Plus no other stray he knew had to take the drink. The one time he’d refused, he’d received a personal summons from Lord Nathak.

Achan shuddered at the memory and chewed on the leaves. Their fresh taste dissolved the tonic’s bitterness and tingled his tongue.

Poril wiped his hands on his grease-stained apron and sprinkled a bit of sugar over the prince’s ginger cake. Hopefully he’d forget to clean the crumbs off the table when he left to deliver it.

“Never wanted yeh, Poril didn’t. But the master brought yeh to Poril to raise and that’s what Poril’s done. Yeh brought none but trouble to the kitchens, the gods know. None but trouble. ’Tis why I named yeh so.”

As if an orange tunic wasn’t humiliation enough, achan meant trouble in the ancient language. Achan returned to his stool and raked the knife against another potato, trying to block out Poril’s braying voice. His pitchfork wounds stung but it would be at least an hour before he could tend to them.

“…and Poril will teach yeh right from wrong, too. That’s Poril’s duty to the gods.”

If that was true, Achan would like to have a little talk with the gods. Not that the all-powerful Cetheria would be burdened by the prayers of a stray—despite all the pastry tarts Achan had offered up at the entrance to the temple gardens over the years.

Day-old tarts didn’t compare to gold cups, jewels, or coins when you’re trying to win a god’s favor.

An hour later, Achan stood over the sink basin washing dishes while Poril delivered Lord Nathak and Prince Gidon’s breakfast. There were servants to do the task, but Poril insisted on being present when the first bites were taken.

Achan shifted his weight to his other leg. He hated cleaning dishes. Standing in one position for so long made his back ache, and today, with his pitchfork wounds, the pain doubled.

Though strays were lower even than slaves in most parts of Er’Rets, Achan had more freedom than most slaves. Poril kept him busy tending the goats, getting wood, and keeping the fireplaces hot and both kitchens clean, but at least there was variety. Some slaves worked fifteen hours a day at one task. Such tediousness would have driven Achan insane.

Achan dried the last pot and hung the towel on the line outside. When he came back in, Poril had returned. The cook wiggled his crooked fingers, beckoning Achan to follow him down the skinny stone steps to the cellar. Achan sighed, dreading the bite of Poril’s belt buckle.

The cook lived in a cramped room off of the cellar, furnished with a straw mattress, a tiny oak table, and two chairs. Achan slept in the cellar itself, under the supports that held up the ale casks, although he barely fit anymore. He feared to be crushed in his sleep one night when he rolled against one of the supports and it finally gave way.

As per routine, Achan went to Poril’s table, removed his tunic, and draped it over the back of one chair. He straddled the other chair in reverse and hugged it with his arms. His teeth fit into the grooves of bite marks he’d made over the years. He clenched down and waited.

Poril ran a finger down one of the scratches on Achan’s back. “What’s this?”

Achan quivered at the feel of crusty blood under Poril’s touch.

“Well? Speak up, boy. Poril don’t have all day to waste on yer silence.”

“I met some peasants in the barn this morning.”

“Spilled yer milk, did they?”

Not exactly, but Achan said, “Aye.”

“Yeh cause trouble?”

Achan didn’t answer. Poril always complained when Achan defended himself or anyone else. He said a stray should know his place and take his beatings like he’d deserved them.

“Ah, yer a fool, yeh are, boy. One of these days yeh’ll be killed, and Poril will tell the tale of how he knew it would come to pass. The boy wouldn’t listen to Poril. Had to smart off. Had to fight back. Not even Cetheria will have mercy on such idiocy.”

Achan doubted it mattered if he stuck up for himself or not. If a stray was invisible to man, how much more so to the gods?

He heard the swoosh of Poril pulling his leather belt from the loops on his trousers. He hoped his pants fell down.

When Poril was done flogging Achan, he kindly swabbed his back with soapy water, washed the blood from his tunic, and gave him an hour off to rest while it dried.

Good old Poril.

* * *

A kindly presence flooded his mind.

Achan was returning from the well carrying a heavy yoke over his shoulders with two full buckets of water. He rounded the edge of a cottage and found Sir Gavin Lukos heading toward him. Achan stepped aside, pressing up against the cottage and turning the yoke so the buckets wouldn’t hinder the great knight’s path. The buckets swung from his sharp movement, grinding the yoke into his shoulders.

Sir Gavin slowed. “What’s your name, stray?”

Achan jumped, wincing as the yoke sent a sliver into the back of his neck. Sir Gavin’s eyes bored into his. One was icy blue and the other was dark brown. The difference startled him. “Uh…Achan, sir.”

The knight’s weathered face wrinkled. “What kind of a name is that?”

Poril’s voice nagged in Achan’s mind, ’Tis trouble, that’s what. “Mine, sir.”


Achan lifted his chin and answered, “Cham,” proud of the animal Poril had chosen to represent him. Chams breathed fire and had claws as long as his hand. Such virtues would tame Riga and Harnu for good.

Sir Gavin sniffed. “A fine choice.” His braided beard bobbed as he spoke. “I saw a bit of that ruthless bear in the barn with those peasants.”

Achan stared, shocked. He’d seen the fight? Would he tell Lord Nathak? “I…um…” Had Sir Gavin asked him a question? “I’m sorry?”

“I said, what’s your aim, lad?’

“I should like to serve in Lord Nathak’s kitchens…perhaps someday assist the stableman with the horses.”

“Bah! Kitchens and stables are no place for a cham. That’s a fierce beast. You need a goal fit for the animal.”

What could the knight be skirting around? “But I…I don’t have a…what choice have I?”

“Aw, now there’s always a choice, lad. Kingsguard is the highest honor to be had by a stray. Why not choose that?”

Achan cut off a gasping laugh, afraid of offending the knight. “I cannot. Forgive me, but you’re…I mean…a stray is not permitted to serve in the Kingsguard, sir.”

“It wasn’t always that way, you know. And despite any council law, there are always exceptions.”

Achan shifted the yoke a bit, uncomfortable with both the weight and the subject matter. He cared little for myths and legends. Council law was all that mattered anymore. Despite his fantasy of running away, he was Lord Nathak’s property, nothing more. The brand on his shoulder proved that. “Even so, sir, one must serve as a page first, then squire, and no knight would wish a stray for either.”

“Except, perhaps, a knight who’s a stray himself.” Sir Gavin winked his brown eye.

A tingle ran up Achan’s arms. He’d known Sir Gavin was a stray because of his animal surname, but it had been years since strays had been permitted to serve. Surely he couldn’t mean—

“Come to the stables an hour before sunrise tomorrow. Your training mustn’t interfere with your duties to the manor. Tell no one of this for now. If I decide you’re worthy, I’ll talk to Lord Nathak about reassignment to me.”

Achan’s mouth hung open. “You’re offering to train me?”

“If you’re not interested, I’m sure another would be eager to accept my offer.”

Achan shifted under the weight of the yoke. “No. No, sir. I’ll be there tomorrow.”

“Good. I’ll show you a trick or two you don’t yet know.”

Achan grinned. “Yes, sir.”

The Diversity Culture by Matthew Raley

Tour Date: June 4, 2009

When the tour date arrives, copy and paste the HTML Provided in the box. Don't forget to add your honest review if you wish! PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS POST WHEN THE TOUR COMES AROUND!

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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:

The Diversity Culture: Creating Conversations of Faith with Buddhist Baristas, Agnostic Students, Aging Hipsters, Political Activists & Everyone in Between

Kregel Publications (April 28, 2009)


Matthew Raley is senior pastor of the Orland Evangelical Free Church in Northern California, where he lives with his wife and two young children. He is also the author of the fiction book, Fallen.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Kregel Publications (April 28, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 082543579X
ISBN-13: 978-0825435799



A woman rolled over and reached, but remembered that her new friend had already left. She sat up, staring at the impression he had made on her bed. At least he had his own life.

Past cold candles she shuffled to her bathroom, the air inside still fragrant, condensation still clinging to the window after his shower. He would be wearing that Huntsman suit made for him last time he was in London—the suit he wore when she first saw him two weeks ago at Davies Symphony Hall. And maybe the same tie from Arnys. When you’re on a team preparing to argue before the Ninth Circuit you don’t wear your beloved tie-dye and jeans—even on Columbus Day.

The woman was annoyed that her new client had insisted on meeting. Even though the holiday is totally imperialist, she wished that she didn’t have to get into business mode, and she was bored by the prospect of yet another menu-design. Still, the meeting wasn’t until early afternoon, so she lingered over her makeup.

The TV remote called from the kitchen counter to her pre-election obsessions. She switched on MSNBC and caught the headlines. Weekend poll shows Obama up seven.1 Cool. Europeans try to keep their banks from collapsing. Not cool.

She poured coffee out of the French press and held the mug under her nose while she scanned the San Francisco Chronicle. Predictions that the financial collapse will stall climate change initiatives, anxious summary of the economic developments over the weekend, analysis of McCain and Obama avoiding the immigration issue.2

After the computer finished clicking and sighing, she checked how much e-mail had piled up over the weekend. Amid the flurry of personal messages were two articles from the New York Times. One friend had bragging rights, a mention of the bookstore where he worked, City Lights, in a travel article on Buddhist attractions in San Francisco.3 Another friend was gloating over Sarah Palin’s splitting right-wingers, forwarding a column by David Brooks that dissed the Alaskan governor.4 The friend wrote, “McSame’s going down! You betcha!”

Time kept on slipping, slipping, slipping.

The woman opened a cupboard. Froot Loops! It was very cute. Her new friend had gone out this morning and brought back Froot Loops and put Toucan Sam just inside the cupboard smiling down his beak at her. She loved a guy who could keep an inside joke going. All weekend bumming around Half Moon Bay it had been, “Follow my nose! It always knows!”

But if he went any further with it, she’d get annoyed.

Attired in the black trousers and narrow-shouldered jacket she found in Milan, her funky boots that clopped on her wide floorboards, and a low-cut, fitted T-shirt, she strode out of her loft into the fog, down to her Outback.

At this hour, the drive along I-80 and across the Bay Bridge into the City would not be enraging but still long. That was why they had KQED. “Talk of the Nation” was all about lynching—“How Far Have We Come?” Ted Koppel was talking about his new documentary on the subject, and a congressman described his experiences as an 18-year-old Freedom Rider in Mississippi.5 Mississippi, where they still believe the Bible’s commands to hate and kill people. The woman glanced at a billboard against the proposition banning gay marriage. We haven’t come all that far, have we. Still fighting hate.

She parked, slung her large leather portfolio over her shoulder, and walked to Café Siddhartha around the corner from her studio—as if she needed more caffeine. What she wanted was the aura of the place, the energy. It was like stepping into one of the temples where she’d meditated in Tibet. The walls were floor-to-ceiling saffron. Deep chimes spoke, and the Buddha laughed. The café had an authenticity she needed—in spite of the hissing espresso machine.

The woman took her mocha and turned to the seating area thronged with people. There was only one chair at a common table—right next to . . . whoever this was.

Well, she knew exactly who he was: he was her mental picture of a Mississippi bigot. He was fat, his face all soft and oily. He wore this dark blue cardboard suit with the jacket buttoned over his paunch. And where could he have gotten it? And when? It could only have been Penny’s, circa 1995, what with the wide lapels and sloping shoulders. This he had mated with a white shirt and skinny red tie—1984, Nancy Reagan red. And the pre-folded, matching pocket square.

His hair was Grecian Formula black, parted on the right by a razor blade and swirled above his forehead, apparently under thermonuclear heat.

He was reading a book by—no, surely not. It couldn’t have been Nixon’s Chuck Colson. But it was: his picture was on the back.

How was she to bask in the Tibetan aura sitting next to a Baptist? He reminded her of the imported southerner her parents’ church hired in 1979 when she was in high school—Mississippi in the San Joaquin valley. Had he gotten lost passing out tracts at Pier 39? Really lost?

The Barriers

Many evangelicals fear this woman.

They don’t know what to do with her hostility: confront, mock, soothe? There’s no soothing an attitude so visceral. Confronting it is asking for hostility times ten. That leaves mockery—the talk radio mode most evangelicals have learned by now—which fire-bombs whatever bridge there might’ve been.

But the fear goes deeper. Many evangelicals sense the woman’s hostility is the least of their problems.

Evangelicals in America have a distinct subculture. They tend to worship in churches with conservative political and theological views. The strongest bases of evangelicalism are in suburbia, and the movement is disproportionately white and middle class. Evangelicals have their own media, reading different books and magazines than secular people, visiting different Web sites, listening to Christian music and radio, and often watching Christian TV stations and movies.6

The woman, many evangelicals feel, has built a life in which they have no place. She didn’t just stop going to church after escaping her parents; she moved to the big city and changed identities. Her adopted ways were a point-by-point rebuke to her inheritance—not small-town or suburban, but urban; not Western but Eastern; not Christian but New Age; not monogamous but liberated.

I believe the woman now lives in her own distinct culture, one that is full of paradox.

While her culture is often urban, it thrives just as powerfully in Boulder as in San Francisco. The culture is often highly educated and artistic, embracing the preacher’s daughter who came out as a lesbian, went to Reed College in Portland, and became a visual artist. But it also belongs to the straight, blue-collar guy who, despite never finishing college, does well painting houses in Fresno, the guy whose history is unclear—the salt of the earth, but with a ponytail. While this culture is hostile to America’s vast consumer society, rejecting mass-production aesthetics and corporate values, its adherents have well-tended investment portfolios and are influential in the business world, nurturing such successes as Ben & Jerry’s and Starbucks. Yet Starbucks both appeals to and repels them (which is why our woman supports the independent café rather than hanging out at the chain). Politically the culture is blue: antiwar, environmentalist, pro–gay marriage, secular. But it consistently seeks to preserve local traditions.

This culture cries for a label. It needs to be distinguished from the consumer society, but a tag remains elusive. David Brooks calls it Bobo, “bourgeois bohemian.” Bill O’Reilly calls it “secular progressive.” Rush Limbaugh calls it “liberal wacko.”

I call it the diversity culture, after its top priority. Café Siddhartha is about a convergence of influences, insights into life that come from exploration, openness, and freedom. The worst evil to the diversity culture is bigotry. Every shelter for narrow thinking must be eroded by fresh winds.

The Diversity Culture: The dominant American ethos of openness toward all beliefs and spiritual traditions.

Most evangelicals have difficulty penetrating this culture’s ways, and seem to feel it was designed to exclude them. They feel the sting every time the woman talks about bigotry, not knowing whether to embrace the label or fight it. Multicultural talk is not merely irritating to them, but is insulting: “Diversity means every culture but ours.” So the rise of the diversity culture, especially when it wins elections as it did in 2008 with the triumph of Barack Obama, fills them with fear—the fear of having to interact with someone who looks down on them.

Evangelicals as a group feel they don’t belong in Café Siddhartha.

The barriers between the diversity culture and evangelicals are real. The hostility is not a misunderstanding, and the roots of it are often deep in the soil of family. The issues that have fed the hostility are consequential: disagreements about spirituality, cultural principles, history, politics, and the nature of free society. Mere dialogue will not make the hostility wither.

But evangelical fear can be dispelled—and must be.

Fear sabotages interactions with the woman of Café Siddhartha through pride, contempt, suspicion, and cynicism. Evangelicals’ inferior status in the diversity culture’s pecking order is often just as significant as the eclipse of their principles in provoking these emotions. They often react to Subaru Outbacks and the New York Times. Fear and its comrades can make evangelicals petty.

In addition, the fear often drives evangelicals to a blanket rejection of every aspect of the diversity culture without asking enough questions. For example, the diversity culture is overwhelmingly on the political left, while evangelicals are mostly on the right. But progressive political views are not necessarily anti-Christian. Is evangelism about winning souls, or votes? Further, the diversity culture often looks down on middle class life, provoking defensiveness in evangelical suburbia. But middle class life is not inherently godly. Should evangelicals be willing to question their social assumptions? More deeply, evangelicals can easily brand an openness to new perspectives as “relativism.” But is it relativistic to hear someone out, or to participate in discussions that may not resolve neatly?

The evangelical sense of calling in America needs to be refocused, which cannot be done wisely by reacting against the diversity culture in fear. The evangelical mission should be defined by God’s call in Scripture.

Fear of the diversity culture is not just a barrier to interacting with those outside evangelicalism, but even with some inside. The fear can be a generational marker: young believers, coming of age under the dominance of diversity, often do not identify with older believers’ suspicions. Truth be told, many young believers view the Baptist at Café Siddhartha from the same cultural point of view as the woman—fairly or unfairly. But they also sense that their heritage is a vital part of their calling to influence their secularized peers, and they desire wisdom from their elders about how to display Jesus Christ to a culture that will not acknowledge the category of Truth. Can older Christians impart that wisdom if they are fearful of interacting with Café Siddhartha?

There is an even more fundamental problem with evangelical fear. Amid similar conflicts, there was no such fear in Jesus.

A Heavenly College Education on an Earthly Budget by Lee Martinson

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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!

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A Heavenly College Education on an Earthly Budget

Dog Ear Publishing, LLC (December 4, 2008)


Status: Married, dad to 4 homeschooled kids

Occupation: College Financial Aid Consultant (Diploma Therapist), author

Member: ACCA American College Counseling Association

Passion: Brain and biblical principles based learning - Advocate for intellectual freedom.

Hobbies: Table tennis; humor; collect and learn words like nikhedonia (which means pleasure derived from anticipating success), and absquatulate (which means to get up and depart quickly) etc.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $23.95
Paperback: 348 pages
Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing, LLC (December 4, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 159858667X
ISBN-13: 978-1598586671


Introduction: Why a College Degree May Be a Financial Disaster

The numbers are disturbing.

According to Kenneth Gray, Professor of Workforce Education and Development for Penn State University, 50% or more of college graduates with a social sciences degree end up in a job for which they are overqualified, and therefore underemployed.

Regarding the definition of underemployment, many in-laws offer a simple one: It is any job that their son-in-law has. For the record, underemployment as referenced here, is being in a job that doesn’t utilize all the skills and knowledge a person was trained for, and therefore doesn’t pay as well as a job that is designed for the person’s level of education. In professor Gray’s study, those with technical degrees, such as engineering and computer science, faired better at 20% or less being underemployed.1

A couple of years after professor Gray’s study, Steve Giegerich wrote an article for the Associated Press stating that even tech degrees are no longer a sure-fire ticket. Many of the jobs are going to China and India.2

And according to economist and former representative of the Board on the California Postsecondary Education Commission, Velma Montoya, growing global jobs competition has reduced the payoff to U.S. college attendance. She says that exports of skilled U.S. jobs to foreign countries have rapidly narrowed the income differences for college- and high school-educated workers.

She also says that high-paying, post-college jobs now are either for academic and athletic college superstars or those willing to go on for graduate or professional training.3

According to another study done by the Nebraska Department of Labor about workers in Nebraska, 67% of workers said they were underemployed.4

There are many other such studies and expert opinions like the ones above.

Underemployment is a huge problem. It’s not just about which kind of majors are in demand—oh no, if only it were that simple, but it’s not. I suspect that it’s even more complicated than what is reported, and what is more menacing and ominous about it is that it isn’t going to get better any time soon, in fact it will only get worse.

Here’s why:

According to Professor Kenneth Gray of Penn State, only 23% of all jobs require a four-year college degree. Years ago, when a much smaller percentage of the population got college degrees, merely having one was almost a guarantee of a good job. However, fast-forward to today and what do you have?

I did a bit more research, and according to my estimate, for at least every 35 college graduates there are only 23 jobs available that require a four-year degree. The bottom line? Thirty-four percent of all college graduates are not going to get a job that is equal to their training. That means that many college graduates will end up in a lower paying job. It is an economic fact.

People often talk about how since everybody is getting a degree these days, it isn’t worth as much as it used to be. However, as we see here, it is much more than that. It’s not just that he who has a degree is not as special anymore; it is the hard math reality that there are too many degrees chasing too few degreed jobs. Ouch! Now mind you, that is based on good economic times, but if the times are bad, well… double ouch!

On top of that, not all college degree jobs pay well. Some earn substantially more than the median, which obviously means others earn much less.

Have I mentioned debt yet? Debt at graduation is very commonly in the $20,000 to $30,000 range, and for a smaller but growing number of graduates, it even gets into the $40,000 to $130,000 range. Many experts say that student loan debt is becoming overwhelming for too many graduates.

Imagine graduating with a lot of debt and then getting a low paying job. A growing number of students wish it were only their imagination. Unfortunately, it has become a reality for them.

According to an article by Tosin Sulaiman of Knight-Ridder Newspapers, many college graduates are turned down for jobs because the potential employer runs a credit check on them and after viewing their credit history, believes them to be financially unstable.5 Such an unfortunate graduate as that is probably thinking, “If you’d just give me the job, I wouldn’t be unstable.” Life is like that sometimes.

Speaking of instability, you should also know that bankruptcy doesn’t discharge student loan obligations.

Another problem is that because debt is overwhelming for many students, more of them are defaulting. This is causing there to be less funding available. With less funding available, more students are dropping out of college because of lack of funds.

Getting heavily into debt for a degree that doesn’t teach you how to think and gain good vocational skills is not worth it. You could often do just as well or better without a college degree. Therefore, you have to ask yourself, “Do I really want a degree, and if so, what am I going to do differently so it will be worth it?”

What do you think then; do you still want to try for a college education? Are you sure that it will be worth it? I don’t blame you if you still want one, but as you can see by the above information, it isn’t as good of an idea as you might think unless you do it right and increase your odds for success. If you do the things the average high school and college student does, the odds are not going to be in your favor, especially since there are probably some hard economic times ahead.

When they pick a college, students mean well, they really do. But often they don’t know what they are picking. The average high school student often picks a college based on what friends say, or on the colleges’ prestige, or simply because the college is supposed to be good at a certain major.

The student waits until it is time to apply and then wonders how it is all going to work out. The average college student goes to the average college, has fun, maybe gets drunk a bit too often, cheats here and there, gets in debt, plows his way through college, and then hopes for a good job, which he may or may not get.

How are you going to set yourself apart from other graduates? What is it going to take for you to be among those who are considered very desirable for hire, and who don’t have a mountain of debt over their heads? How can you increase your odds of being one of the degreed 35 who gets one of the 23 degreed jobs?

After graduation, you will have to promote yourself to the business or labor market. What are you going to say? What will you show them besides a diploma? Think about it. One potential employer was quoted as saying that hiring isn’t just about having a college degree; it also has a lot to do with character. That is worth your consideration. Besides character, many jobs require specific vocational skills and you would do well to know what those skills are for your chosen major.

Time out. Stop reading now and write down what you would like to market yourself as in the future…

Done? Now your job is to learn how to get an education that will make it all true. Your ideas may change over time, but you will be further ahead by having something to work towards. Actually, after reading this book I hope you will revise your plans and have a much better idea. So, make sure to go over your plans again later.

While you are at it, don’t simply trust that a given college will provide the appropriate training in the required skills for your major. Talk to some employers, find out what they are looking for, and then make sure that you get training in those skills.

Doing these things is more than just working towards getting to college, and it is much more than just working towards a specific degree. You need to look at yourself as an entire person and look at what you want to do in this world. That is a much better approach.

You, and anyone else who does this, will have a bright future ahead of them. On the other hand, the average student will graduate with perhaps a very disappointing future. I say that because I am also considering debt, not just whether the student gets a good job or not. Some get a great job, but face paying student loans for 30 or 40 years and it isn’t very pleasant. For graduates in that situation, it might mean that financially, college didn’t really get them ahead.

A college education is probably going to be the second biggest purchase of your life, and a huge investment of your time; so you can’t afford to wing it on this one. You have to go into it knowing that you are going to be one of “too many degree holders” for the number of degreed jobs. To set yourself apart, you will have to really learn something of value, get some good skills, learn how to think, and be a person of good character. You need to know it is those things and not the degree itself that matters most.

If you get a narrow-minded degree, for which you were narrowly trained, and you graduate with your debt in tow and there is no job available for you, that will be a disaster. If you don’t get an adequate job, that will be a disaster. Conversely, if you learn how to think, analyze, make good decisions, obtain some good life skills along with your training, and can get through college with little debt, then college will not be a waste of time and money. You will be able to either find a great job or be capable of creating your own.

If you want to do this and increase your chances of success, I believe it will take a Heavenly Education. In the chapter after the next one, we will talk about the difference between a Heavenly Education and a regular education. By the way, in this book I use regular education and training and stuff education interchangeably.

The truth is, the right kind of education won’t create a problem of too many degrees chasing too few jobs, because the right kind of education will give a person versatile skills and the mental capacity to learn how to create opportunity even where none seemed to exist. Mind you, the right kind of education is not necessarily the same for everyone—it should be within the framework of a person’s particular talents.

It is worth noting that many jobs don’t require a degree yet pay very well and are very rewarding. There’s nothing wrong with graduating with a degree and getting one of those jobs. You’ll know that you got the right kind of education and that the skills and knowledge you acquired, combined with an ability to analyze and think well, will still help you excel.

In the end, if you get the wrong kind of education at the wrong price, it may turn into a big disappointment. If you even get the wrong education at a cheap price, it will still be a big disappointment. On the other hand, the right education at the right price will benefit you no matter what.

That is why the first part of the book is dedicated to defining what a great education is. That is the starting point, and it is what you must know before anything else. Until you know there is enough worth in the education you are pursuing, there is no point in looking at price.

Welcome to the new millennium, where any old degree at any price is no longer worth it. We are fast becoming a global economy with fierce competition for the better paying jobs. You aren’t only in competition with American students.

Once you can see how to ensure that you will get an education worth something, then later in the book we’ll look at lowering the cost. The case I will make is that if you get an education that is worth something, and you learn to rely on the Lord, there will be nothing to fear—you will be fine.

One of the problems with people and jobs is that they don’t understand economics very well. Their only concern is for getting their slice of the economic pie, as understood by themselves and the rest of the masses. They are only concerned with the distribution and redistribution of what currently exists, and how to train and get one of the jobs that those in charge are willing to “hand out.”

One of the things that they don’t understand is that we unintentionally limit the portion of the pie we receive. We even limit what we perceive to be the whole size of the pie. While there is only so much of any one thing that people need, there are plenty of other things that haven’t been discovered. There are new products and services that haven’t been offered yet. There are niches that are underserved, just waiting to be discovered and filled. We can always make the pie bigger.

There are usually at least two options. If we lose jobs to other countries, we can retool and get more competitive, or we can make new and different jobs. It just takes the right mentality and the right education.

You need an education that will help you understand this and help you develop some skills that support this idea. If you get any old degree, you would be right to be very concerned about the future. If you receive the proper education and preparation, there will be nothing to fear.

We’ve gone over some of the serious financial problems that can occur in pursuing a degree, and that is part of what makes many modern degrees not worth much. To avoid all of those problems, you really need a Heavenly Education. A Heavenly Education doesn’t just prepare you to face the future; it prepares you to shape the future.