Monday, August 31, 2009

Sins of the Father by Angela Benson

Tour Date: September 3rd

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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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Sins of the Father

Avon A (August 25, 2009)


Angela Benson’s numerous novels include the Christy Award-nominated Awakening Mercy, the Essence-bestselling The Amen Sisters, and Up Pops The Devil. Currently an associate professor at the University of Alabama, she lives in Northport, AL.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Avon A (August 25, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061468525
ISBN-13: 978-0061468520




I know you hate it when I call you that, but if you’re reading this letter, I guess it’s okay since I’ve gone on to glory. I picked up the pen to write this letter right after you left my apartment, the one you bought for me, on Tuesday, November 15, 2006. I had to write it because I couldn’t tell you all the things I wanted to say. Somewhere along the line I became one of the people in your life who received money but very little else from you. I don’t know when it happened, but today I realized that in the process I had stopped being your mother and had become your dependent.

You’ve done a lot for me, Sonny, and I appreciate it more than you ever know, but I don’t think I’ve been a good mother to you. It was much easier when you were a boy and we had so very little when it came to material things. My job then was to keep you off the streets and out of trouble, to make sure that you went to school everyday and that you got your homework done each night. I cheered you on when your team won and encouraged you when they lost. I went without so that you might have the little extras that most kids took for granted – a new pair of off-brand sneakers or a new CD. I celebrated your every accomplishment and always told you that the world was yours if only you worked hard.

And you made me so proud. When I sat in that auditorium at that fancy Ivy League school and watched you walk across the stage, I knew I had done my job and done it well. A single uneducated mother with only her faith in God for support had reared a son who had not become a statistic – dead or in-jail before twenty. I thanked God because I had done my job so well. I even took a bit of pride in what I had done. My pride increased with each of your accomplishments. That’s my boy, I would tell folks, and watch their eyes widen in surprise, as though they couldn’t believe it.

You went beyond what I’d prayed when you started keeping the promises you’d made to me. One of these days, ma, you’re going to have a big house in one of those fancy neighborhoods. Ma, you’re gonna have one of those foreign cars. I’ll make sure you get a new one every year. Once I make it big, ma, you’ll never have to worry about money or work again because I’m gonna take care of you. You’re gonna visit the places in those travel books, ma, just you wait and see. Every promise you made to me you more than fulfilled.

So why am I writing this letter? Because today I realized that I had failed you. Somewhere along the line I forgot to warn you to take care of your heart. Sonny, I fear you’ve lost it in your quest to make money, to fulfill the promises you made to me and yourself. I worry that money and power have become your gods.

I tried to tell you some of this today, but you didn’t hear me. I realized that it’s been a long time since you’ve heard me. I’ve become another check that you write each month. Oh, how I wanted more for us than that! But it’s too late for us. I realized that today.

But it’s not too late for you. While in many ways, you’ve been a wonderful son, you’ve also been a disappointment. I blame myself for not providing you with a male role model who could show you what it meant to be a man. I tried to show you, but I failed. All you learned from me was that a man provided for his family. You didn’t learn that a man also cherished his family. Maybe you mistook providing for cherishing. But they’re not the same. Not by a long shot.

You’ve got some housekeeping to do, Sonny, and it has to start with Leah and those kids. Yes, I know about them, have known for years, but I never said anything. I kept waiting for you to say something and you never did. I have two grandchildren that I never got to know because I was too intimated by you to challenge you on your decisions. A good mother would have challenged you and made you do the right thing. A good mother would have welcomed her grandchildren even if her wayward son didn’t. God help me, but I haven’t been a good mother in a long time.

I love you, Sonny. No mother could love a son more. But I want more for you and expect more from you than you’ve shown. I want you to know love, that sacrificing kind of love that a poor single mother shows her only son. With all your money and all you’ve achieved, I don’t think you know that kind of love. How can you? Everything and everybody in your life have been second to your work and your goals.

I hope to be a better mother now than I was when we were together. Know that I’m watching from heaven and looking for you to become a better man than you are. You know where to start. Take that first step. God will lead you the rest of the way.

Your always loving mother.

Chapter 1

Four months later

You can’t buy me,” Deborah Thomas told the distinguished grey-haired man seated across from her in Justin’s, P. Diddy’s trendy Atlanta restaurant. The previously tasty salmon she’d been eating settled on her stomach with a thud. She met her lunch companion’s eyes. “Or my love,” she finished as she put down her fork. She picked up her white linen napkin and blotted her lips, fighting ball the bile that threatened to spill out. “Neither is for sale.”

She put down her napkin and was about to push back her chair when his hand grasped hers. She looked down at his hand and then back up at him, making sure her displeasure was evident in her glare. The mirth she saw in the eyes that met hers only added to her rising ire.

“I’m glad you find this humorous,” she said. She attempted to pull her hand away but he only held it tighter.

The mirth still in his eyes, he said, “You remind me so much of my mother. What you see is not humor, but joy. You have no idea what it does to me to see my mother’s face in your face, to know that her spirit lives on in you. She would have loved you so.”

Deborah snatched her hand away, remembering the contradicting emotions of joy and pain she’d felt the day he’d shown her pictures of his now-deceased mother. “And whose fault is it that she never had the chance? Whose fault is it that I never knew my own grandmother?”

He sobered then and released her hand along with a deep sigh. “I’ll go to my grave regretting the mistakes of the past.”

Good, she thought, but she didn’t voice the words. The sincerity and pain in his voice stopped her from taking any pleasure in his regrets. A part of her was glad he felt remorse because it meant that he cared a little, maybe. For so long she’d never dared to hope for his caring, couldn’t even dream that he loved her. His absence from her life all these years had been too much evidence for a young girl’s wishes to overcome. He didn’t love her. He never had.

“I’m not trying to buy you or your love,” he said, his gaze holding hers. “But there was a time when that would have been my strategy.”

Deborah didn’t respond.

“Look,” he said, leaning towards her. “I made you the offer because I think you’re right for the job. If nothing else, I’m a business man. I don’t take the future of any of my company lightly. Even though Walk Worthy was a steal and brings needed diversity to my existing publishing holdings, I admit that I had you in mind when I bought it.”

Lord help her, her heart beat faster at his words. She felt like the little girl she’d once been, the one who longed for a daddy to make her hurts go away. “I have a job that I love,” she said, overstating the truth a bit. “Why should I even consider your offer?”

That sparkle returned to his eye. “You might love your job, but I’m offering you your own imprint. Will Prisom Publishing do that for you? Though you’ve been in and around the publishing world since you were in college, you’re young yet, only twenty-eight. You’ll have to wait years to get your own imprint there and you know it.” He reached for her hand again, squeezing it lightly. “It’s a great offer, Deborah. Think about it. Walk Worthy is established enough that it has name recognition in the marketplace so you wouldn’t have to start at ground zero, yet it’s new enough for you to make your own mark both on it and with it.” He gave her hand a quick squeeze, released it, and sat back in his chair. The twinkle in his eyes was gone.

Deborah tried to stare him down, but his eyes had turned to that innocent pleading that reminded her so much of her older brother when he wanted her to agree to one of his schemes. She looked away, toward the piano where a balding man strummed the keys to a jazz oldie.

“I’m not trying to buy you or your love, Deborah,” he said, causing her to turn back him. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know you these last few months. I know it’s too late for me to play daddy to you but I hoped we could at least become friends.”

Friends, she thought. I have enough friends. I could still use a father, she admitted to herself. How she hated that weakness! “So you want me to work for you so that we can become friends?”

“I want you to work with me so that we can continue to get to know each other. I’d also like to think that you can learn a few things from an old fossil like me.”

Deborah couldn’t help but smile at that comment. Abraham Martin had been described in a lot of ways -- an entrepreneurial genius and a publishing trendsetter are two that came to mind –but never had anyone referred to him as an old fossil.

“That’s better,” he said. “I love it when you smile.”

Deborah could feel herself being swept back under the spell he’d begun weaving around her since the first day they’d had lunch together four months ago. “We can’t go back, Abraham,” she said. “It’s too late.”

He shook his head. “It’s not too late. Not as long as you have breathe in your body and I have breath in mine. We’ve lost a lot of years, all my doing,” he said. “But we don’t have to lose another day. You’re my daughter and my business is your business. I’m not offering you a job, Deborah. I’m offering you your rightful place as my daughter.”

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson

Tour Date: September 2, 2009

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Lost Mission

Howard Books (September 15, 2009)


Athol Dickson is an award-winning author of several novels. His Christy Award-winning novel River Rising was name one of the “Top Ten Christian Novel of 2006” by Booklist magazine. He lives in California with his wife.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (September 15, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416583475
ISBN-13: 978-1416583479


Lost Mission

By Athol Dickson

[Howard Fiction Logo] Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

Lost Mission © 2009 Athol Dickson

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Howard Subsidiary Rights Department, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

WordServe Literary Agency

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data TK

ISBN-13: 9781416583479

ISBN-10: 1416583475

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

HOWARD and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Manufactured in TK

For information regarding special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact: Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-800-456-6798 or

Edited by Nicci Jordan Hubert

Cover design by DesignWorks

Interior design by TK

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or publisher.

The two angels arrived

at Sodom in the evening,

and Lot was sitting

in the gateway of the city.

When he saw them,

he got up to meet them

and bowed down

with his face

to the ground.

—The Book of Genesis

In the event of a suspicious find

those exposed should be re-vaccinated

and placed under medical supervision for 21 days . . .

The potential risk to public health is so great

that a contingency plan must be in place.

—Margaret Cox,

“Crypt Archaeology: an approach”

Institute of Field Archaeologists, Paper Number 3

Capítulo 1

La Día de los Reyes, 6 de Enero, 1767

Let us begin the story of La Misión de Santa Delores on the holy day of the three kings, in Italy, in Assisi. To commemorate his twentieth year among the Franciscan brothers, Fray Alejandro Tapia Valdez made a pilgrimage to his beloved San Francisco’s humble chapel, the Porziuncola. For more than a week the friar prayed before the chapel’s frescos, rarely ceasing for food or sleep, But despite his lengthy praises and petitions, despite his passionate devotion to Almighty God, Fray Alejandro was a pragmatic man. He did not believe the rumor, common in his day, that the frescos’ perfection was beyond the reach of human hands. As we shall see, in time the friar would reconsider.

The Franciscan stood five feet four inches tall, an average Spaniard’s height in the eighteenth century. He was broad and unattractive. Heavy whiskers lurked beneath the surface of his jaw, darkly threatening to burst forth. Fray Alejandro’s brow was large and loomed above the recess of his eyes as if it was a cliff eroded by the pounding of the sea and ready to crash down at any moment. The black fullness of his hair had been shaved at the crown, leaving only a circular fringe around the edges of his head. His nose, once aquiline and proud, had become a perpetual reminder of the violence that had flattened it at some time in the past.

For all its ugliness, Fray Alejandro’s visage could not mask the gentleness within. His crooked smile shed warmth upon his fellow man. His hands were ever ready with a touch to reassure or steady, or to simply grant the gift of human presence. When someone spoke, be they wise or not, he inclined his head and listened with his entire being, as if the speaker’s words had all the weight of holy writ. In his eyes was love.

Love does not defend against the sorrows of this world, of course. On the contrary, each day as Fray Alejandro knelt in prayer at the Porziuncola he became more deeply troubled. His imagination had recently been captured by strange stories of the heathen natives of the new world, isolated wretches with no knowledge of their Savior. This tragedy grew in Alejandro’s mind until he groaned aloud in sympathy for their unhappy souls. Other brothers kneeling on his left and right cast covert glances at him. Many thought his noisy prayers an uncouth intrusion, but caught up as he was in sacred agony, Alejandro did not notice.

Then came that holy day of the three kings, when in the midst of his entreaties for the pagans of New Spain, Fray Alejandro suddenly felt a painful heat as if his body was ablaze. In this, the first of his three burnings, Alejandro became faint. He heard a whisper saying, “Go and save my children.” The bells of Saint Mary of the Angels begin to peal, although it was later said the ropes had not been touched. As startled pigeons burst forth from the bell tower, Alejandro rose.

How like the Holy Father to command such a journey on that day of days! Without a backwards glance Fray Alejandro strode away from San Francisco’s little chapel as if following a star, determined to return at once to Hornachuelos, in Cordoba, there to seek permission from the abbot of the monastery of Santa Maria de los Angeles for a voyage to New Spain.

The abbot’s assent was quickly given, but Fray Alejandro spent many months waiting on the vast bureaucracy of King Carlos III to approve his passage. Still, while the wheels of government turn slowly, slowly they do turn.

Finally, in late May of the year 1767 the good friar stood at the bulwarks of a galleon in the West Indian Fleet, tossed by the Atlantic, quite ill, and protected from the frigid spray by nothing but his robe of coarse handmade cloth. In spite of the pitching deck, always Alejandro faced New Spain, far beyond the horizon. His short broad body seemed to strain against the wind and ocean waves with eagerness to be about his Father’s business.

But let us be more patient than the friar, for this is just the first of many journeys we shall follow as our story leads us back and forth through space and time. Indeed, the events Fray Alejandro has set in motion have their culmination far into the future. Therefore, leaving the Franciscan and his solitary ship, we cross many miles to reach a village known as Rincon de Dolores, high among the Sierra Madres of Jalisco, Mexico. And we fly further still, centuries ahead of Alejandro, to find ourselves in these, our modern times.

Accompanied by norteño music blaring from loudspeakers and by much celebratory honking of automobile horns, we observe the burning of a makeshift structure of twigs and sticks and painted cardboard, which seemed a more substantial thing once it was engulfed, as if the trembling flames were masons hard at work with red adobe. The people of the village of Rincon de Dolores were encouraged by the firmness of the fire. All the village cheered as the imitation barracks burned before them. They cheered, and with their jolly voices dared a pair of boys to stay in the inferno just a little longer.

There was much to enjoy on that Feast Day of Fray Alejandro—the floral garlands, the children in their antique costumes, the pinwheels spun by crackling fireworks, the somber procession of the saints along the avenida—but one citizen did not join the festivities.

Guadalupe Soledad Consuelo de la Garza trembled as she watched the flaming reenactment of the tragedy of La Misión de Santa Dolores. Who knew, but possibly this year the boys would stay too long within the flames? Who knew, but possibly this time the sticks would burn, the cardboard become ash and rise into the sky, and “Alejandro” and “the Indian” would not emerge? Spurred to foolishness by those who called for courage, might this be the year when merrymaking turned to mourning? The young woman with the long name—let us call her merely Lupe—feared it might be so, while the imitation barracks burned and the boys remained inside.

As was their ancient custom, after the fire was set by eager boys in Indian costumes, the village people chanted, “Muerte! Muerte! Muerte! Death to Spaniards! Death to traitors!” Their refrain arose in tandem with the flames. Only when the fire ascended to the middle of the mock barrack’s spindly walls did some within the crowd begin to yell, “Salido! Salido! Salido!” Come out! they called, a few of them at first, mostly girls and women, then as the minutes slowly passed this call became predominant, until the entire village shouted it as one, Come out! and the boys inside could flee the fire with honor.

Yet they did not come.

“Agua!” someone shouted, probably the boys’ parents, and nearby men with buckets hurried toward the crackling barracks walls. “Agua rapido!” they shouted, and the first man swung his bucket back, prepared to douse a small part of the flames.

Such wild and forceful flames, and so little water, thought young Lupe. Holy Father, please protect them.

Even as she prayed, the first man thrust his bucket forward. Water sizzled in the burning sticks and rose as steam, and from the conflagration burst two little figures. One boy came out robed from head to foot in gray cloth, the cincture at his waist knotted in three places to bring poverty, obedience and chastity to mind. He carried a bundle, the sacred retablo of Fray Alejandro concealed in crimson velvet, a small altarpiece which no one but Padre Hinojosa, the village priest, would ever see. The other boy came nearly naked with only a covering of sackcloth, his bare arms and legs agleam with aloe sap as protection from the heat. The fire around them roared.

Chased by swirling coals and sparks the two brave boys went charging through the crowd, yet no one turned to watch. It was as if young Alejandro and the Indian were unseen, as if they were already spirits on their way to heaven. All the village chanted “Muerte! Muerte! Muerte!” again. All the village faced the burning barracks. All of Rincon de Dolores called for death to Spaniards, death to traitors as the two small figures fled invisibly across the plaza to the chapel, where they entered and returned the treasure, the retablo handed down through centuries.

Alone among the village people, only Lupe seemed to see the boys escape. Watching from the shop door, she alone thanked God for yet another year without a tragedy; she alone refused to play the game, the foolish reenactment they all loved so well, pretending blindness as two boys cheated death. Lupe’s imagination would not let her join the celebration of their unofficial saint’s escape from murderous pagans. She had never felt the kiss of flames upon her flesh, but she had suffered from flames nonetheless.

Often Lupe recalled the winter’s night when her father had laid a bed of sticks within the corner fireplace. The flames took hold and a younger Lupe drew her blanket up above her head as other children did when told of ghosts. Even now the memory of resin snapping in the burning wood intruded on her dreams, conjuring a thousand nightmares drawn from Padre Hinojosa’s homilies about Spanish saints who perished in the flames, Agathoclia and Eulalia of Mérida, and the auto de fe, that fearsome ritual of early Mexico, the stake, and acts of faith imposing pain on saint and heretic alike. Her most grievous loss, many sermons, dreams and sacrifices of the flesh had left her terrified of fire.

Watching from the doorway, Lupe heard a voice. “Do you think this is how it was?”

Although she had not heard him come, a stranger stood beside her, a man in fine dark clothing with full black hair that shimmered slightly in the midday light like the feathers of a crow. From his appearance this man might have been her brother. Like Lupe, he was not tall. Like Lupe his features called to mind stone carvings of the ancient Mayans. Like Lupe, he had a smooth sloped forehead, pendulous ear lobes, and cheekbones high and proud. His golden skin was flawless, as was hers. Like hers, his lips were thick and sensuous, his teeth the flashing white of lightning, his eyes a pair of black pools without bottoms.

“Pardon me, señor?” said Lupe, unaware she might be looking at her twin.

“Do you think this is how it was?” asked the stranger once again. “With Fray Alejandro, and the Indian?”

Lupe only shrugged. “Who knows, señor? It is a very old story.”

The stranger nodded, his unfathomable eyes focused on the plaza.

Perhaps, being a stranger, he did not know the story of Fray Alejandro, how the Franciscan had walked two thousand, four hundred kilometers to Alta California with two other Fernandino brothers. Because he was a stranger it was possible the man knew nothing of the apostate priests who corrupted Alejandro’s efforts to advance the gospel, how his hope to be the hands and feet of Christ to pagan peoples in the north was undone by Spanish cruelty and indulgence, how Alejandro, forced to flee his beloved mission in the north, had escaped the burning buildings with the Indian, his trusted neophyte companion, the two of them miraculously unseen even as they passed among bloodthirsty savages, much as Saint Peter once had passed his guards in Herod’s prison.

If the man knew nothing of this history he would surely learn that day, for every year at Alejandro’s feast all was reenacted by the village children to commemorate the holy man’s exploits. Rome had thus far not enshrined Fray Alejandro among the saints, but Rincon de Dolores had nonetheless adopted him as their patron, for the man of miracles had settled in their little mountain village when the pagans in the north rejected him, and through many acts of kindness he had become their eternally beloved padre, entrusting them with memories of the mission he had lost up north, somewhere in the hills of Alta California.

Lupe considered speaking to the stranger of these things, but he had departed unobserved. She searched the crowd beyond her door to find him. With the Burning of the Barracks finished now, people strolled throughout the village, passing in the shade of well-trimmed ficus trees around the plaza or along the tiles beneath arched porticos where they haggled with the venders who had traveled from afar to set up booths for the fiesta. Some of the venders offered plastic toys for children: balloons, whistles and balls in a hundred riotous colors. Others hawked recordings of mariachi and norteño music. Sweets, hand tools, shawls and pottery . . . everything was there. Near the chapel on the far side of the plaza one could purchase votive candles and milagros, those tiny metal charms that symbolized the miracles requested of the saints. In spite of so much competition, a few still patronized Lupe’s tiendita, her little shop where soda pop and newspapers and other such necessities were offered to the good people of Rincon de Dolores, Jalisco, high in the Sierra Madres.

Forgetting about the stranger, Lupe left her place in the doorway and tended to the customers who visited her shop all afternoon, both villagers and strangers. She took their pesos as the sun outside moved closer to the western mountains and the shadows lengthened. Finally it was almost time for the best part of Fray Alejandro’s fiesta: the gathering at the plaza. The young woman stepped across the stone threshold of her little shop, where the sandals of a dozen generations had shaped a smooth depression. She closed the wooden door. She felt no need for locks. Dressed in a blue cotton skirt and white blouse with a traditional apron, wearing no jewelry and no makeup, with her pure black hair restrained only by a plastic clip, Lupe approached the plaza.

She followed the familia Delgado along the avenida, Rosa and Carlos in their finest clothing normally reserved for Sunday Mass. Rosa’s blouse was perhaps a bit too tight and too low cut in Lupe’s opinion. Carlos was very handsome with silver tips and silver heel guards on his pointed boots. The three Delgado boys were likewise attired in formal fashion, and the youngest child, darling Linda, toddled on the cobblestones in patent leather shoes, with petticoats and a pretty pink dress trimmed with sky blue ribbons.

Lupe sometimes wished for children. The thought arose in moments such as this, but it was always fleeting. At other times she praised the Holy Father for her call to chastity. It was good to be unmarried unless one burned with passion, as San Pablo said, and her passion was for Christ.

When Lupe reach the plaza, oh, such a festivity! She saw men at their carts selling little whimsies—empanadas and tamales and nopales from the prickly pear—and strolling toy vendors with helium balloons and plastic snakes on sticks, and groups of girls approaching marriage age who moved about the plaza casting covert glances at the boys whom they pretended to ignore. Soon everyone would laugh as mariachis in the central gazebo serenaded blushing grandmothers, then the people would ignore the mayor as he promised vast improvements through a needless megaphone, and they would admire Rincon de Dolores’s own ballet folklorico, the handsome boys in black charro suits with felt sombreros and shoulders proudly squared, and the beautiful girls in swirling multicolored skirts like rose bouquets.

Lupe traversed the plaza, greeting all as friends, for she was a friend to everyone. Like Fray Alejandro, she longed to be the hands and feet of Christ to them. She went slowly, smiling on her way, touching this one, kissing that one, freely offering her kindness. Normally this bonhomie was as natural as breath to her, but that day it was a kind of sacrifice she offered. It came from force of will. She did not feel it in her heart, and she was uncertain why. Perhaps her dread had lingered since the moment when the barracks flames had nearly claimed two boys. Yes, probably it was only that. Yet she sensed something else at work within her heart, a conviction, and a fear.

On the far side of the plaza Lupe approached the embers of the imitation barracks, a mound of charcoal now, a black mark on the beauty of the day. It frightened her, yet drew her closer. Remarkably, it still emitted smoke. Only Lupe gave attention to that fact. All the others laughed and strolled and savored conversations unawares, but Lupe there beside the blackened ruins felt her pulse increase and heard the beating of her heart within her inner ear. She found it necessary to remind herself to breathe. She saw the smoke still rising like a slender column standing far above the village, straight and true, until it met the burning fringes of the sunset. Surrounded by festivities, she turned her face up to the sky and saw the strangest thing among the orange and purple clouds. She saw it, yet it could not be.

“Concha,” she called to a passing friend. “That smoke. Would you look at it?”

The woman, whose seven children swirled around her knees, replied, “I told those foolish men to pour more water on those ashes.”

“But the wind . . . .”

Concha and her perpetually squirming offspring had already passed into the crowd.

Lupe wiped sweating palms upon her apron and tried again to find someone to observe this thing and tell her it was real, but the mariachis had begun their brassy serenades and the people moved away from her, toward the gazebo in the center of the plaza. She stared up at the sky again, and asked, “How can that be?”

Someone behind her said, “Perhaps it is a sign.”

Guadalupe Soledad Consuelo de la Garza looked around and saw the stranger with dark hair that shimmered slightly like the feathers of a crow. She felt comforted immediately, for he too had seen the cause of her confusion; he too stood with face turned toward the sky, toward the smoke arising from Fray Alejandro’s ruined mission, the smoke which drifted north against a wind that traveled south.

The Pravda Messenger by Robert Cornuke with Alton Gansky

Tour Date: September 1, 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!

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

Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

The Pravda Messenger

Howard Books (September 1, 2009)



The president of the Bible Archeological Search and Exploration Institute, Robert Cornuke is an internationally known author and speaker. He has lectured on Bible history around the world more than a thousand times and conducted a Bible study at the White House under special request from the White House staff.

As a former police officer on the Costa Mesa (California) Police Department, Cornuke worked on the SWAT team and as a crime scene investigator. He has led dozens of international Bible research expeditions, including travels to Ethiopia, Israel, Egypt, Arabia, Turkey, Iran, and Malta. His research into the archeology of Bible times has resulted in appearances on the History Channel, National Geographic Television, CBS, MSNBC, CBN, Fox, and TBN's Ripley's Believe It or Not.

Visit Robert's website.

ALTON L. GANSKY is the author of 20 published novels and 6 nonfiction works. He has been a Christy Award finalist (A Ship Possessed) and an Angel Award winner (Terminal Justice). He holds a BA and MA in biblical studies. He is a frequent speaker at writer's conferences and other speaking engagements. When not writing his own books, Alton is often retained by publishers to bring his experience to various projects. He has also written video scripts, radio ads, copy and other material for business of all sizes.

Alton brings an eclectic background to his writing having been a firefighter, spent ten years in architecture, twenty-two years in pulpit ministry. He now writes fulltime form his home in southern California where he lives with his wife.

Visit Alton's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (September 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416549846
ISBN-13: 978-1416549840


The Pravda Messenger

Book Two

Robert Cornuke


Alton Gansky

[logo] Howard Fiction

[Howard fiction logo]Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.,

1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020,

The Pravda Messenger © 2009 by Robert Cornuke with Alton Gansky

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Howard Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

In association with Alive Communications, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

[to come]

ISBN-13: 9781416549840

ISBN-10: 1416562982

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

HOWARD and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Manufactured in the United States of America

For information regarding special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-800-456-6798 or

Edited by Ramona Cramer Tucker

Interior design by Davina Mock-Maniscalco

Cover design by [fill in]

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the authors or publisher.

My grandmother Mary was a short Belarusian immigrant with silver hair and a golden heart. When I was a young boy of seven or eight, my grandmother would walk to the library once a week and carry back a short stack of books that she would return the next week, having read them all cover to cover. My grandmother never owned a car, nor had she learned to drive. She walked everywhere. If my grandparents bought anything, they did so with cash. If they couldn’t afford it, then they believed it wasn’t needed.

I would often interrupt the pleasure of an outside summer day to watch her old but bright eyes dart across the pages of those library books. I remember asking her: of all the books she read, which she considered the greatest. She looked at me with a smile that would melt the Rockies all the way to the sea and said, “The Bible, dear.”

This book is inspired by and dedicated to my grandmother.

—Bob Cornuke

The Pravda Messenger

chapter 1

The Tomb

January 22, 1975

Monastery of the Holy Martyrs, Leningrad, U.S.S.R.

Yuri tucked his chin under his coat collar, trying to ward off the stabbing wind that gusted across the frozen Neva River. The street slithered with white rivulets of snow as Yuri and his young daughter stepped around an old man struggling to shovel a narrow pathway up the monastery steps. Fat snowflakes churning in the raw wind accumulated faster than the old man could scoop them away with his one good arm. A pinned-over coat sleeve covered the stump of his other arm. A row of ribbons and war medals hung from his chest.

As Yuri and his daughter approached, the man paused, squinted against an icy gust, and leaned on the broken end of his shovel. “The monks have bread for the hungry,” he said, then bent over again and scraped his flat, rusted spade over the hard-packed ice that covered the path.

Yuri and Tanya moved up the steps and arrived at a pair of locked, cedar plank doors. Yuri pounded the wood with a leather-gloved hand. A few moments later, the door creaked open, exposing bone-thin fingers that held a thick chunk of brown bread.

“We are not here for food,” Yuri said.

A voice wafted from behind the door. “Then why do you come here?”

“I bring the girl. She has the gift.”


“The gift of the Pravda legend.” Yuri waited for a response.

The thin fingers unfurled and the brown bread tumbled to the floor. The monastery door moved, widening the gap between it and the jamb.

Yuri and his young daughter stepped inside. A gray-bearded priest wearing a brown floor-length cassock with a black Byzantine klobuk perched upon his head watched them with sunken eyes. A large, ornate, silver cross dangled from his neck. He lifted a flickering paraffin lamp and bowed in silent greeting. He then turned and pushed the heavy door shut against the invading blast of cold and latched it with a large sliding bolt.

“I am sorry, but I usually tend to the welfare of men’s souls—not the digging up of their bodies, as we are about to do.” His words flowed over blue lips and lingered in a vaporous mist.

Yuri had no desire for small talk. “We must hurry. The KGB is looking for the girl. We must conduct our business and leave quickly. I will take the girl across the border to Finland and escape the madness of this vile government.”

The priest nodded, then waved for them to follow in the flickering glow of his light.

Two rats nibbled at the fallen chunk of bread on the floor, unconcerned as the priest limped past. Yuri and Tanya followed the priest’s lamplight and descended a steep set of stone stairs. The cold seemed to follow, pushing from behind.

At the bottom of the stairs was an arched stone chamber, its floor covered in a thin veneer of frozen scum that crackled with each footfall. Green water dripped from the ceiling.

The priest pointed to a dark corner, where a large, gray granite sarcophagus rested.

Yuri felt Tanya pull his coat sleeve as she released a muffled sob from under her woolen neck scarf. Chiseled on the face of the crypt, in old Russian Cyrillic, was the moss-encrusted name of Feodor Kuzmich, with the date of 1864 carved below.

A monk, head bowed and hooded canopy shielding his face, stood on each side of the stone coffin, murmuring somnolent prayers.

The old priest bent to the girl. “You are the awaited one of the legend…the girl with the Pravda.” His lamplight reflected in her small, troubled eyes. Tanya took a step back and brushed away a tear. The old cleric spoke slowly, his lips slipping over tarnished brown teeth. “The man entombed here has a message for you.”

Yuri stared at the smooth granite casket. “I bring my daughter at the request of my wife, Natalia.”

“Where is your wife?” the priest asked.

“She has died. Three weeks ago.”

The priest closed his eyes in a moment of reverent reflection. “You have done well to bring her.” Placing his hand upon Tanya’s black hair, the priest asked, “So it is true? I must know for certain. You can hear when a voice speaks an untruth? Do you truly have the Pravda?”

Tanya looked at her father, whose eyes relayed his approval. She then turned back to priest and nodded.

The priest sighed. “At long last the legend breathes.”

Yuri asked, “How did you know that the girl and I would come?”

“Your wife knew the legend. It tells of a girl born with the Pravda—a girl who should be brought here and given a message from the tomb.”

“My wife would have brought the girl, but she was gravely ill for some time.” The memory of his wife’s passing drove a hot blade through Yuri’s heart.

The priest gave a comforting smile. “Do not mourn. She awaits your arrival in Heaven. Her ears will be able to hear, and her lips able to speak words of love for you.” He returned his attention to the girl. “It is a mystery why your daughter was born with the Pravda gift when her mother lived her entire life stone deaf.”

Yuri studied the priest for a moment, long enough to remember the day his wife told him that when their daughter was old enough, they would visit the monastery. That was seven years ago. At the time Yuri didn’t understand his wife’s words. Now he did.

The old priest clapped his weathered hands, and the two monks standing by the stone coffin stepped forward and in unison curled their fingers under the edge of the stone lid. They slid it slightly to one side. The scraping sound broke the chamber’s silence. The lid refused to move easily. With a few more muscle-straining pushes, the heavy slab scooted a few more inches.

The priest turned his wizened face to the girl. “Remember this night well, child. Remember the legend. There is no secret in this world that time and Heaven does not unlock.”

Stepping to the sarcophagus, he held the glowing paraffin lamp over the narrow gap between the grave’s lid and stone side and peered into the coffin’s cavity.

Yuri moved to the priest’s side and craned his neck to see what lay within. He saw a skull topped with a coarse, tangled tuft of gray hair. The tomb’s occupant stared back with black, empty sockets. The skull had no jaw. His head, a stub of a spine, and a pair of arms was all Yuri could see. A full-length peasant chemise blackened with aged fungus covered the skeleton. In the naked bones of the right hand rested an old, golden snuff box.

The priest pulled back the sleeve of his cassock, then slid his arm through the space between the lid and side of the sarcophagus until his searching fingers found the golden object. It was fused to brown, curdled skin. He pulled again and the relic came free, the connected dry sinew disintegrating into gritty granules. The priest drew the box slowly from the coffin and held it close to his light for a moment. Despite a layer of dust, it glinted in the light. He held it out to Tanya.

Tanya looked at Yuri. He nodded. Her hands trembled as she took the box. “What is it?”

The priest spoke softly, as if muttering a prayer. “It is a snuff box, child—a gold snuff box. Inside is a message from long ago—a message for you.”

“Message?” Yuri asked.

“Yes, a message and a small glass vial of bread from Heaven—the manna of God.”

Yuri took the box and examined it. It was heavier than he expected and ornately crafted. Ornate filigree edged the golden lid and a double-headed eagle decorated the middle: the imperial seal of the Royal Romanov family.

“What’s a snuff box?” Tanya asked. She looked confused and frightened.

The priest explained. “Long ago men ground tobacco into powder. The wealthy kept their powder in a golden snuff box.”

Yuri gazed at the box resting in his gloved hand, his mind whirling with questions. “Who is the man in the grave? What does he have to do with us?”

The priest stepped away from the sarcophagus. “He once lived as a czar, his soul lost to the wind, but he died a monk saved by the cross of Jesus.”

“The czar?” Yuri said. The words drained him of strength.


A loud pounding on the upstairs vestibule door rumbled down the stone steps. They froze in silence; the only sound Yuri could hear was the gulping breaths of his daughter.

They heard more pounding, followed by a muffled, harsh voice. “KGB. Open the door, priest.”

The priest’s forehead creased. He motioned for the two attending monks to go up the stairs and tend to the visitor. As they turned to go, the priest spoke in a reassuring tone. “In Christ to die is gain.” The hooded monks nodded but said nothing. Their dark forms ascended the stone steps.

The priest turned to Yuri. “Bring the girl.”

Without waiting for a reply, the priest turned and started down a narrow, low-arched tunnel that snaked into darkness. He was old and bent over but moved with urgency. The passageway’s floor and walls felt slick. Yuri assumed the tunnel also served as drainage for the wet tomb. He gripped Tanya’s hand.

Light from the priest’s lantern reflected eerily off stone cavities cut in the walls. Stacked skeletons in various stages of decomposition plugged each cavity. A sour, pungent odor hung in the air. Yuri saw Tanya pulled her scarf over her face to keep from retching.

After a minute of shuffling and slipping in the icy maze of darkness, they reached the end. Yuri saw the faint blue hue of falling snow through the tunnel’s exterior opening. A moment later they stood in the monastery’s courtyard.

The priest gulped for air—more from exertion, Yuri assumed, than fear. The old man pointed to a dark clump of trees at the edge of the courtyard. “The evil one comes to take the child, so run; run with Godspeed.”

Yuri led Tanya by the hand and had made fifty trudging strides in the snow when he heard a shot split the howling wind. Yuri turned and caught sight of a flashlight beam scanning the courtyard. The beam silhouetted the old priest as he held out his arms in a desperate attempt to stop the man’s advance. The man easily shoved the old cleric aside, his frail form crumpling to the snow.

Yuri heard the crack of another gunshot, and something whistled past his ear. He began to turn when another gun blast parted the cold air, and a searing pain knifed through his leg. He collapsed into the snow. Warm blood seeped from his thigh and wafted steam in the flashlight beam that fell upon his body. The gold box lay in the snow by Yuri’s side. Tanya sank to her knees next to her father and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. He heard sobbing.

Yuri waited. He waited for the bullet that would strike him in the heart or in the head. More than anything he wanted to tell Tanya to run, to flee into the dark forest and hide from the monster with the flashlight and gun, but he knew she would never make more than a few meters before the KGB man caught her or shot her.

As he raised a hand to shield his eyes from the light, he saw the glint of the man’s smile—and his silver teeth. A second later he heard a thud. The beam from the flashlight jerked to the side and dropped to the snow. The man standing over Yuri and Tanya had released the light. A half second later, Yuri watched his pursuer fall facedown, still clutching the gun in his hand. The man fell on the flashlight; its beam now shone upward.

Yuri saw a wide flap of pink scalp hanging from the back of the man’s stump of a head. Thick blood matted his greasy hair.

Yuri turned his gaze to the one-armed man they had passed when entering the monastery. He held the same shovel, now caked with red snow. The caretaker’s chest heaved from the shock and effort of his actions, making the medals on his chest clink like chimes. As he gazed upon the still form below him, he said, “The way of the wicked is death.”

He then let the shovel slip from his hand and helped Yuri to his feet. The pain from the wound raced up Yuri’s leg and into his back as if someone had set fire to every nerve. Yuri winced and swayed despite the support of the one-armed man.

Yuri forced himself to speak. “We owe you a great debt of thanks. Thank you.”

“My name is Sergey.”

“The old priest? How is he?”

A voice came from the darkness. “I do not believe I am dead just yet.” The priest hobbled through the snow to Sergey and patted his back. “One good arm from a righteous man can triumph over an army of two-armed men allied with the devil.”

Yuri looked at the KGB man lying in the snow and wondered if he was just unconscious or dead. Yuri decided he did not care. All he wanted was to get his daughter away from this place.

“I fear more KGB will come soon,” the priest said. “Sergey, take this man to the abbey; he is unable to travel very far. The monks there will tend to his wounds. As for the girl, she needs to be taken far from here. If the KGB knows of her gift, they will take her away, and God only knows what will happen then.”

“Papa, what is happening?”

Yuri struggled to maintain his balance. “I am trying to understand that myself, Tanya.” The snow below Yuri was slushy with dark blood. “You must go with the priest, Tanya. He will know what to do.”

“I don’t want to go, Papa. I want to stay with you.”

A new pain coursed through Yuri, not from a wound to the body, but one to the heart. “Tanya, you are in danger. You must go with the priest.”

“But Papa—”

“No arguments. You will do as I say.”

“Yes, Papa.” She lowered her head. He could hear her broken heart with every breath she took. Every organ, every muscle in him melted.

He pulled her close and ran a hand over her dark hair. “You are all I have left. I see your mother in every twinkle of your eye, hear her in every giggle. I . . . must do everything I can to make certain you are safe.”

She turned her face up. Tears had left moist tracks on her cheeks. “When will I see you again?”

“We will see each other again. I don’t know how long. However long it is, know this: Our time apart can only make my love for you grow. Be strong, little one. Be wise. Will you do that, little one?” Yuri asked.

“Yes, Papa. I will.”

Despite the pain, Yuri lowered himself and kissed his daughter on the top of her head. He prayed it would not be the last time he did so.

Yuri, with the help of the caretaker, limped down a nearby path. He glanced over his shoulder and saw his daughter trailing behind the priest. A stinging gust of ice particles swirled around them, and Tanya wrapped her scarf about her face.

The trail of their steps parted in the dark woods.