Monday, September 28, 2009

First Look: Three Weddings & a Bar Mitvah

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:

Three Weddings & a Bar Mitvah

David C. Cook (2009)


Melody Carlson has published more than one hundred books for adults, children, and teens, with many on best-seller lists. Several books have been finalists for, and winners of, various writing awards, including the Gold Medallion and the RITA Award. She and her husband live in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and have two grown sons.

Visit the author's website.

Three Weddings and a Bar Mitzvah, by Melody Carlson from David C. Cook on Vimeo.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 320
Vendor: David C. Cook (2009)
ISBN: 1589191080
ISBN-13: 9781589191082


Megan Abernathy

“Okay, then, how does the second Saturday in June look?” Anna asked her housemates.

Megan frowned down at her date book spread open on the dining room table. She and Anna had been trying to nail a date for Lelani and Gil's wedding. Megan had already been the spoiler of the first weekend of June, but she'd already promised her mom that she'd go to a family reunion in Washington. Now it seemed she was about to mess things up again. “I'm sorry,” she said, “but I promised Marcus I'd go to his sister's wedding. It's been scheduled for almost a year now, and it's the second Saturday too. But maybe I can get out of it.”

Lelani just shook her head as she quietly rocked Emma in her arms, pacing back and forth between the living room and dining room. The baby was teething and fussy and overdue for her afternoon nap. Megan wasn't sure if Lelani's frustrated expression was a result of wedding planning or her baby's mood.

“Is it possible you could do both weddings in one day?” Anna asked Megan.

“That might work.” Megan picked up her datebook and followed Lelani into the living room, where she continued to rock Emma.

“Or we could look at the third weekend in June,” Anna called from the dining room.

“Shhh.” Megan held a forefinger over her lips to signal Anna that Emma was finally about to nod off. Megan waited and watched as Emma's eyes fluttered closed and Lelani gently eased the limp baby down into the playpen set up in a corner of the living room. Lelani pushed a dark lock of hair away from Emma's forehead, tucked a fuzzy pink blanket over her, then finally stood up straight and sighed.

“Looks like she's down for the count,” Megan whispered.

Lelani nodded. “Now, where were we with dates?”

“If you still want to go with the second Saturday,” Megan spoke quietly, “Anna just suggested that it might be possible for me to attend two weddings in one day.”

“That's a lot to ask of you,” Lelani said as they returned to the dining room, where Anna and Kendall were waiting expectantly with the calendar in the middle of the table and opened to June.

Megan shrugged as she pulled out a chair. “It's your wedding, Lelani. You should have it the way you want it. I just want to help.”

Anna pointed to the second Saturday. “Okay, this is the date in question. Is it doable or not?”

Lelani sat down and sighed. “I'm willing to schedule my wedding so that it's not a conflict with the other one. I mean, if it can even be done. Mostly I just wanted to wait until I finished spring term.”

“What time is Marcus's sister's wedding?” asked Anna.

“I'm not positive, but I think he said it was in the evening.” She reached for her phone.

“And you want a sunset wedding,” Kendall reminded Lelani.

“That's true.” Anna nodded.

“But I also want Megan to be there,” Lelani pointed out.

“That would be helpful, since she's your maid of honor,” said Anna.

Megan tried not to bristle at the tone of Anna's voice. She knew that Anna had been put a little out of sorts by Lelani's choice--especially considering that Anna was the sister of the groom--but to be fair, Megan was a lot closer to Lelani than Anna was. And at least they were all going to be in the wedding.

“Let me ask Marcus about the time,” Megan said as she pressed his speed-dial number and waited. “Hey, Marcus,” she said when he finally answered. “We're having a scheduling problem here. Do you know what time Hannah's wedding is going to be?”

“In the evening, I think,” Marcus said. “Do you need the exact time?”

“No, that's good enough.” Megan gave Lelani a disappointed look. “I'll talk to you later, okay?”

“You're not thinking of bailing on me, are you?” He sounded genuinely worried.

“No, but we're trying to pin down a time and date for Lelani.”

“It's just that I really want my family to meet you, Megan. I mean all of my family. And I want you to meet them too.”

“I know, and I plan to go with you.”

“Thanks. So, I'll see you around six thirty tonight?”

“That's right.” Megan told him good-bye, then turned to Lelani with a sigh. “I'm sorry,” she told her. “That wedding's at night too. Maybe I should blow off my family reunion so that you--”

“No.” Anna pointed to the calendar. “I just realized that the first Saturday in June is also my mother's birthday.”

“So?” Kendall shrugged. “What's wrong with that?”

Megan laughed. “Think about it, Kendall, how would you like to share your wedding anniversary with your mother-in-law's birthday?”

Kendall grinned. “Oh, yeah. Maybe not.”

“How about a Sunday wedding?” suggested Megan.

“Sunday?” Lelani's brow creased slightly as she weighed this.

“Sunday might make it easier to book the location,” Kendall said. “I mean, since most weddings are usually on Saturdays, and June is a pretty busy wedding month.”

“That's true,” agreed Megan.

“And you gotta admit that this is short notice for planning a wedding,” added Kendall. “Some people say you should start planning your wedding a whole year ahead of time.”

“Marcus's sister has been planning her wedding for more than a year,” Megan admitted. “Marcus says that Hannah is going to be a candidate for the Bridezillas show if she doesn't lighten up.”

They all laughed.

“Well, there's no way Gil and I are going to spend a year planning a wedding.” Lelani shook her head. “That's fine for some people, but we're more interested in our marriage than we are in our wedding.”

“I hear you.” Kendall laughed and patted her slightly rounded belly. She was in her fifth month of the pregnancy. They all knew that she and her Maui man, Killiki, were corresponding regularly, but despite Kendall's high hopes there'd been no proposal.

“I really don't see why it should take a year to plan a wedding,” Megan admitted. “I think that's just the wedding industry's way of lining their pockets.”

“So how much planning time do you have now anyway?” Kendall asked Lelani. “Like three months?”

“Not even.” Lelani flipped the calendar pages back. “It's barely two now.”

“Which is why we need to nail this date today,” Megan said. “Even though it's a small wedding--”

“And that remains to be seen,” Anna reminded her. “My mother's list keeps growing and growing and growing.”

“I still think it might be easier to just elope,” Lelani reminded them. “I told Gil that I wouldn't have a problem with that at all.”

“Yes, that would be brilliant.” Anna firmly shook her head. “You can just imagine how absolutely thrilled Mom would be about that little idea.”

Lelani smiled. “I actually thought she'd be relieved.”

“That might've been true a few months ago. But Mom's changing.” Anna poked Lelani in the arm. “In fact, I'm starting to feel jealous. I think she likes you better than me now.”

Lelani giggled. “In your dreams, Anna. Your mother just puts up with me so she can have access to Emma.”

They all laughed about that. Everyone knew that Mrs. Mendez was crazy about her soon-to-be granddaughter. Already she'd bought Emma all kinds of clothes and toys and seemed totally intent on spoiling the child rotten.

“Speaking of Emma”--Kendall shook her finger--“Mrs. Mendez is certain that she's supposed to have her on Monday. But I thought it was my day.”

“I'm not sure,” Lelani admitted. “But I'll call and find out.”

“And while you've got Granny on the line,” continued Kendall, “tell her that I do know how to change diapers properly. One more diaper lecture and I might just tape a Pamper over that big mouth of hers. Sheesh!”

They all laughed again. Since coming home from Maui, Kendall had been complaining about how Mrs. Mendez always seemed to find fault with Kendall's childcare abilities. In fact, Mrs. Mendez had spent the first week “teaching” Kendall the “proper” way to do almost everything.

To be fair, Megan didn't blame the older woman. Megan had been a little worried about Kendall too. But to everyone's surprise, Kendall turned out to be rather maternal. Whether it had to do with her own pregnancy or a hidden talent, Megan couldn't decide, but Kendall's skill had been a huge relief.

“Now, back to the wedding date,” said Lelani.

“Yes,” agreed Megan. “What about earlier on Saturday?”

“Oh, no,” Anna said. “I just remembered that I promised Edmond I'd go to his brother's bar mitzvah on that same day--I think it's in the morning.”

Lelani groaned.

“Edmond's brother?” Megan frowned. “I thought he was an only child. And since when is he Jewish?”

“Remember, his mom remarried,” Anna told her. “And Philip Goldstein, her new husband, is Jewish, and he has a son named Ben whose bar mitzvah is that Saturday.” She sighed. “I'm sorry, Lelani.”

“So Saturday morning is kaput,” Megan said.

“And Lelani wanted a sunset wedding anyway,” Anna repeated.

“So why can't you have a sunset wedding on Sunday?” Kendall suggested.

“That's an idea.” Megan turned back to Lelani. “What do you think?”

Lelani nodded. “I think that could work.”

“And here's another idea!” Anna exclaimed. “If the wedding was on Sunday night, you could probably have the reception in the restaurant afterward. I'm guessing it would be late by the time the wedding was over, and Sunday's not exactly a busy night.”

Lelani looked hopeful. “Do you think your parents would mind?”

“Mind? Are you kidding? That's what my mother lives for.”

“But we still don't have a place picked for the wedding,” Megan said.

“I have several outdoor locations in mind. I'll start checking on them tomorrow.”

“We'll have to pray that it doesn't rain.” Megan penned 'Lelani and Gil's Wedding' in her date book, then closed it.

“Should there be a backup plan?” asked Anna. “I'm sure my parents could have the wedding at their house.”

“Or here,” suggested Kendall. “You can use this house if you want.”

Anna frowned. “It's kind of small, don't you think?”

“I think it's sweet of Kendall to offer.” Lelani smiled at Kendall.

“I can imagine a bride coming down those stairs,” Kendall nodded toward the staircase. “I mean, if it was a small wedding.”

“I'll keep it in mind,” Lelani told her. “And your parents' house too.”

“It might be tricky getting a church reserved on a Sunday night,” Megan looked at the clock. “And speaking of that, I better get ready. Marcus is picking me up for the evening service in about fifteen minutes.” She turned back to Lelani. “Don't worry. I've got my to-do list and I'll start checking on some of this stuff tomorrow. My mom will want to help with the flowers.”

“And my aunt wants to make the cake,” Anna reminded them.

“Sounds like you're in good hands,” Kendall sad a bit wistfully. “I wonder how it would go if I was planning my wedding.”

“You'd be in good hands too,” Lelani assured her.

“Now, let's start going over that guest list,” Anna said as Megan stood up. “The sooner we get it finished, the less chance my mother will have of adding to it.” Megan was relieved that Anna had offered to handle the invitations. She could have them printed at the publishing company for a fraction of the price that a regular printer would charge, and hopefully she'd get them sent out in the next couple of weeks.

As Megan changed from her weekend sweats into something presentable, she wondered what would happen with Lelani's parents when it was time for the big event. Although her dad had promised to come and was already committed to paying Lelani's tuition to finish med school, Lelani's mom was still giving Lelani the cold shoulder. Make that the ice shoulder. For a woman who lived in the tropics, Mrs. Porter was about as chilly as they come. Still, Lelani had friends to lean on. Maybe that was better than family at times.

“Your prince is here,” Kendall called into Megan's room.

“Thanks.” Megan was looking for her other loafer and thinking it was time to organize her closet again. “Tell him I'm coming.”

When Megan came out, Marcus was in the dining room, chatting with her housemates like one of the family. He was teasing Anna for having her hair in curlers, then joking with Kendall about whether her Maui man had called her today.

“Not yet,” Kendall told him with a little frown. “But don't forget the time-zone thing. It's earlier there.”

“Speaking of time zones,” Lelani said to Marcus. “Did I hear you're actually thinking about going to Africa?”

Marcus grinned and nodded. “Yeah, Greg Mercer, this guy at our church, is trying to put together a mission trip to Zambia. I might go too.”

“Wow, that's a long ways away.” Kendall turned to Megan. “How do you feel about that?”

Megan shrugged as she pulled on her denim jacket. “I think it's cool.”

“Are you coming with us to church tonight, Kendall?” Marcus asked. “Greg is going to show a video about Zambia.”

“Sorry to miss that,” Kendall told him. “But Killiki is supposed to call.”

“Ready to roll?” Megan nodded up to the clock.

He grinned at her. “Yep.” But before they went out, he turned around. “That is, unless anyone else wants to come tonight.”

Lelani and Anna thanked him but said they had plans. Even so, Megan was glad he'd asked. It was nice when Kendall came with them occasionally. And Lelani had come once too. Really, it seemed that God was at work at 86 Bloomberg Place. Things had changed a lot since last fall.

“So are you nervous?” Marcus asked as he drove toward the city.

“Nervous?” Megan frowned. “About church?”

“No. The big interview.”

Megan slapped her forehead. “Wow, I temporarily forgot. We were so obsessed with Lelani's wedding today, trying to make lists, plan everything, and settle the date … I put the interview totally out of my mind.”

“Hopefully, it won't be out of your mind by Monday.”

“No, of course not.”

“So … are you nervous?”

Megan considered this. It would be her first interview for a teaching job. And it was a little unsettling. “The truth is, I don't think I have a chance at the job,” she admitted. “And, yes, I'm nervous. Thanks for reminding me.”

“Sorry. Why don't you think you'll get the job?”

“Because I don't have any actual teaching experience.” She wanted to add duh, but thought it sounded a little juvenile.

“Everyone has to start somewhere.”

“But starting in middle school, just a couple of months before the school year ends? Don't you think they'll want someone who knows what they're doing?”

“Unless they want someone who's enthusiastic and energetic and smart and creative and who likes kids and had lots of great new ideas and--”

“Wow, any chance you could do the interview in my place?”

“Cross-dress and pretend I'm you?”

She laughed. “Funny.”

“Just have confidence, Megan. Believe in yourself and make them believe too. You'd be great as a middle-school teacher.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Because I remember middle school.”


“And most of my teachers were old and dull and boring.”

“That's sad.”

“And I would've loved having someone like you for a teacher.”


He chuckled. “Yeah. If I was thirteen, I'd probably sit right in the front row and think about how hot you were, and then I'd start fantasizing about--”

“Marcus Barrett, you're pathetic.” Just the same, she laughed.

“What can I say? I'm just a normal, warm-blooded, American kid.”

“Give me a break!” She punched him in the arm.

“Is that your phone?” he asked as he was parking outside of the church.

“Oh, yeah, a good reminder to turn it off.” She pulled it out to see it was Kendall. Megan hoped nothing was wrong. “Hey, Kendall,” she said as Marcus set the parking brake. “What's up?”

“Guess what?” shrieked Kendall.

“I have no idea what, but it sounds like good news.” She stepped out of the car.

“Killiki just called.”

“That's nice.”

“And he asked me to marry him!”

Megan raised her eyebrows and looked at Marcus as he came around to meet her. “And you said yes?”

“Of course! Do you think I'm crazy?”

“No. Not at all. Congratulations, Kendall. I mean, I guess that's what you say.”

“So now we have two weddings to plan.”

Megan blinked. She walked with Marcus toward the church entry. “Oh, yeah, I guess we do.”

“And I'm getting married in June too!”

“That's great, Kendall. I'm really, really happy for you. And Killiki seems like a great guy.”

“He is! Anyway, we just looked at the calendar again. And we finally figured that I should just get married the same day as Lelani, only I'll get married in the morning. That way we'll all be able to go to both weddings.”

“Wow, the same day?”

“Otherwise, you'll be at your reunion or Marcus's sister's wedding. Or Anna will be at the bar mitzvah. Or Lelani and Gil will be on their honeymoon.”

“Oh, that's right.”

“And I want all of you there!”

“Yes, I suppose that makes sense.”

“It'll be busy, but fun.”

“Definitely.” Then Megan thanked Kendall for telling her, and they said good-bye. Megan closed her phone and just shook her head. “Wow.”

“Kendall's getting married?” asked Marcus as he held the church door open for her.

“Yes. Can you believe it?”

“Good for her.”

“And her wedding will be the same weekend as your sister's and the same day as Lelani's.”

Marcus held up three fingers and wore a perplexed expression. “Three weddings in one weekend? That's crazy.”

“Yep.” Megan nodded. “Three weddings and a bar mitzvah.”

“Huh?” Marcus looked confused, but they were in the sanctuary, and Megan knew she'd have to explain later.

©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Three Weddings and a Bar Mitzvah by Melody Carlson. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

My take on the book:

I absolutely loved that Ms. Carlson's characters had made some big mistakes in their lives. They were so relatable. There were no perfect little Christians. These ladies were everyday Christians trying to follow God despite having failed in some areas or despite struggling in one or more areas.

I love that she handled relationships in a realistic manner. Not every love relationship between Christians goes well. Even when it does, there are bumps in the road, caused by both people. Even family relationships are not always easy. Sometimes they are downright snarky. All of these things were covered, along with relationships that were pretty smooth and matured. I loved that balance.

I could read this book over again. But first, I want to go back and read the first books in this series. I just have to know how everyone got to this point! They feel like good friends after just one book. Now that's when you know you've read a good book!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A challenge

It's been two weeks since I posted last. That's because the laptop we had been using to replace our computer that got struck by lightening had a hard drive failure. So....we are sans computer at the moment.

Well, that's not entirely true. We have one that no longer remembers it's IP address so we can't connect to the Internet with it. When our lives settle down a bit (yeah right!!) I'll see if a NIC card will fix it. If not, then we have to pray God supplies money for a new one.

In the meantime, let me throw out a challenge to you. I've been studying the term "mercy seat" since I attended the Beth Moore simulcast. Travis sang a song where the mercy seat was referenced. I've been enthralled ever since. So...your challenge...tell me if you know what the mercy seat is :)

Ready, set, go.......................

Be blessed!!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

First Tour - The Pravda Messenger

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

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

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.


I'm still reading this one. I will post a review good!!