Friday, March 31, 2017

Getting Jesus Wrong by Matt Johnson

Do we create our own image of Jesus, one we like? Maybe we make Him a life coach, cheering us on like a motivational guru. Maybe we make Him a movement leader, backing our latest missional move. Perhaps we make Him our moral checklist so we know exactly what to do to make Him like us.

Johnson reminds us that the gospel is about a Savior that saves, not a life coach or spiritual adviser. Rather than helping us, God wants to make all things new. He gives a personal and honest account of the made up views of Jesus he has embraced and how they were not good for him.

I really appreciate Johnson's honesty. He admits where he got it wrong in the past and shares what he thinks is a right view of Jesus. But he warns readers that he doesn't have the final word. In a decade or two, he says, he may realize he has gotten this wrong. He does know that our maturing in the faith must be grounded in a true view of who Jesus is and what He has done.

I recommend this book to those who know there is something wrong with a teaching but quite can't identify it. Perhaps it is a church that has gotten off track or a pastor who is preaching a message that just seems off. Perhaps you've been through the glitzy ministry wringer, as Johnson describes it, or seen a church implode. This book is one man's thoughts on what it means to know and follow Jesus. Granted, he was part of a megachurch ministry that went wrong. That has definitely has an effect on what is in this book. The book contains the thoughts of a man who bought into false images of Jesus. I think every Christian could benefit from giving good thought to what Johnson has written.

You can find out more about the book and read a sample here.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here at the end of April, 2017.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Matt Johnson is a husband, father to two little girls, freelance writer and editor, and is an armchair student of theology living in Seattle. Until recently Matt spent seven years as an associate volunteer pastor in counseling and recovery ministry. You can find out more at

New Growth Press, 160 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Litfuse. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

20 Ways to Make Every Day Better by Joyce Meyer

Do you think we can enjoy every day God has given us? Meyer is convinced we can and has written this book to help. It's not what is going on around us that makes the difference, she writes, but what is going on inside us.

Meyer believes there are specific things we can do to make each day better. She has taken what God's Word teaches and identified twenty principles for us. We need a good foundation so Meyer starts with that – conversing with God. She continues on by giving principles that help us get each day off to a good start, that require new steps for us and ones that break detrimental patterns in our lives.

I really like how practical Meyer is in her teaching. For example, on her chapter about dreaming, she reminds us that we must set goals. She also reminds us of the importance of our thoughts, something I've come to expect from Meyer and appreciate greatly. She also says we must submit our dreams to God, a step often neglected in books like this one.

I like Meyer's honesty too. For example, she suggests that many people experience bad days because they are not doing anything that gives them a sense of purpose. One antidote is helping others, another of her principles.

I was happily surprised by some of her principles. Learn something new, she suggests. Be adventurous, seeing each day as an opportunity. And one principle I'll need to remind myself often, be patient with myself.

I highly recommend this book to those looking for an encouraging book to help have a life more like the one God has in mind. The principles Meyer suggests are biblical and life giving. You may want to have a notebook with you when you read this book as Meyer has included practical suggestions at the end of each chapter for putting each principle into practice.

NOTE: the publisher is offering a Joyce Meyer Sampler if you order the book through them before 4/31/2017. You can go here to see the offer, find out more about the book, and watch a book trailer.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Joyce Meyer is one of the world's leading practical Bible teachers. Her daily broadcast airs on television networks and radio stations worldwide. She is a New York Times bestselling author and has written over 100 inspirational books. She travels extensively and is a popular speaker, holding many conferences each year. You can find out more at

FaithWords, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

No Limits by John C. Maxwell

I have enjoyed reading many of Maxwell's books but I think this might be his best one yet. Maxwell is a leadership guru but this book covers much more than leadership. There are so many great lessons in this book I think just about anyone could benefit from reading it.

I was surprised he started this book with self awareness but he notes that it is most often a lack of self awareness that prevents a person from moving forward rather than lack of desire. Knowing myself is necessary before I can move forward.

The book contains all kinds of encouraging material. He provides practical ways to maximize my energy, such as figuring out what energizes me and what exhausts me. I learned about controlling thoughts in the section on increasing my emotional capacity. I discovered the importance of writing in increasing my thinking ability. Maxwell gives practical suggestions in many other areas, like creativity, production, leadership, and being with people. He gives examples from his own life to illustrate the self awareness process. He provides questions for reflection at the end of each chapter too.

The book is lots more than just discovery. Maxwell has included great teaching in many areas of character development, such as writing about discipline. Maxwell reminds us that it is all about choices. The responsibility is ours to choose to move forward. He can give loads of practical ideas but we still have to choose to do them. He encourages us to have a good attitude and advises becoming humble and teachable.

I highly recommend this book to those who are ready to get out of their comfort zone and move forward, becoming more of who God created you to be. You will find practical encouragement and realistic instruction. Maxwell has continued to learn and grow over his career and is book is a result of decades of study and experience. He wakes up excited every day and after reading this book I think you will too.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

John C. Maxwell is a New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 26 million books. He has been recognized as a leadership training expert, having trained millions of leaders worldwide. You can find out more at

Center Street, 336 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Baggage Claim by Cathe Swanson Giveaway

Click here to purchase your copy.

About the Book

Book: Baggage Claim  
Author: Cathe Swanson
Genre: Christian Suspense/Romance  
Release Date: February 14, 2017  

There had to be at least one healthy branch on his family tree…

Who can he trust?

Ben Taylor, widower and father of four lively children, enjoys his easy, uncomplicated life. He likes his work and has a competent nanny to manage his household. Everything is good until he decides to seek out his biological parents and discovers a family tree with tangled roots and broken branches.

His comfortable life crumbles when he gets caught up in a criminal network of fraud and conspiracy at his new job. When Ben is forced into a dangerous alliance, he scrambles to find a safe situation and protection for his children before setting out to clear his name—all without getting himself killed in the process.

A nanny with a past…

Becoming a nanny was the perfect solution when Teresa Cooper needed a place to hide ten years ago, but now that she’s no longer in danger, she’s ready to move on and make a new life for herself. When Ben asks her to take the children to an unknown relative in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, she finds herself in hiding again, this time with four children in tow.

As the children explore the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula, Teresa begins to wonder about God’s plan for her future. Who is this stranger Ben trusts with his children? Why here? Can a city-bred nanny find joy in this wild corner of God’s creation?

My review:

This novel has two plot lines. One is Ben, a single father of four delightful children. Ben had been adopted and is now looking to discover his birth parents. In the course of the novel he unwittingly gets involved in an insurance fraud scam. I learned quite a bit about how the scam worked and how I should pay attention to my medical bills. That was quite interesting.

The other plot line revolves around Teresa, a woman who escaped from her abusing husband and is now a nanny. Ben has hired her and she turns out to be a great nanny.

Much of the novel is about Ben's job. He is an assistant physical therapist and we readers tag along with his appointments. We also get to experience some of the home life of Ben and the kids and the very capable nanny Teresa.

There is a little bit of suspense as Ben fears for his family's welfare while the insurance scam is being investigated. There is also a little bit of romance, but not much. Ben seemed to be a little naive while Teresa is a savvy woman. Ben's kids are the real show stoppers, however. Their characters are well crafted and fun.

I felt the novel was a bit long for the intertwined plots. The relationship focus of Teresa changes in the latter part of the novel as does the plot focus. That was a bit of a surprise after so much of the first part of the novel having been focused on Ben. The Christian message included was well done.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author

Cathe Swanson lives in Wisconsin with her husband of 32 years. They enjoy spending time with their family and being outdoors, kayaking, hiking, birdwatching and fishing, but summer is short in Wisconsin, so it’s important to have indoor hobbies, too. Cathe has been a quilter and teacher of quiltmaking for over 25 years, and she enjoys just about any kind of creative work, especially those involving fiber or paper. She enjoys writing stories with eccentric characters of all ages. Her books will make you laugh and make you cry – and then make you laugh again.

Guest Post from Cathe Swanson

When I was in high school, I thought I might like to become an occupational therapist. Instead, I got married, had babies, raised the children and launched them into the world. I took a few years to regroup, and then I started thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Shortly after that, my dad had a stroke, and when he came home from the hospital, I was fascinated by the work of the visiting therapists. I did some research and learned that physical and occupational therapy assistants make pretty good money and are able to do the best part of the job – the therapy. Therapists are often bogged down in paperwork and periodic assessments. The assistant has all the fun, and it’s just a 5-semester program.

So I trotted on down to the local community college and asked what I had to do to get signed up. The counsellor talked for a while about prerequisites, petitions, waiting lists, internships, and other such things. Eventually I realized she was trying to tell me that I was too old to embark on this career. Too taken-aback to be offended, I went home and wrote a book about it instead. After all, I’d invested a lot of time in research.

I’d been writing stories for years, and already had the bones of Baggage Claim. Once I gave my young hero a job as a physical therapy assistant, the story took on life. My mother’s interest in genealogy had sparked a question: What if a nice, normal person wanted to track down their biological family and it blew up in their face? So that’s where I sent my hero, and as one of my reviewers said, “It was not a Hallmark moment.”

I’m very happy as an author and have no real interest in becoming an occupational therapist. Indeed, that rejection was a turning point for me. I could have pushed forward and got that degree, but instead I went home and wrote. I have no regrets.

Blog Stops

March 29: A Greater Yes
March 30: Genesis 5020
April 1: Quiet Quilter
April 2: autism mom
April 7: Carpe Diem
April 9: Bigreadersite
I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Blu Heat by David Burnsworth

Blu Heat: A Blu Carraway Novella

by David Burnsworth

on Tour March 27 - April 10, 2017


A man walks into a bar, and gets killed. It isn’t just any bar, it’s the Pirate’s Cove located on the Isle of Palms, a barrier island just north of the Charleston, South Carolina harbor. Ex-Marine Brack Pelton tries to stop the murder and almost dies himself. The victim, Skip Romeo, has a shady past and some interesting friends. The friend he’d planned on meeting at the bar before he got shot was lowcountry Private Investigator Blu Carraway.
Brack Pelton hates that someone shot up his bar and Blu Carraway hates that someone gunned down his friend. Both want revenge and justice. And both tend to leave a lot of collateral damage in their wake. Their team-up is inevitable. Individually, they’re each a force to be reckoned with. Together, they’re like an atomic bomb blast at ground zero. Pelton and Carraway and Charleston will never be the same.

My Review:

I enjoyed this action packed novella. I have not read any of the previous novels featuring Brack so I was a bit lost on the references to previous adventures and relationships. Nonetheless, the novella reads pretty well on its own.

This is not your cozy mystery. There are quite a few gunshots and killed people in this short novel. The action is nearly continuous. Yet there is some snarky dialog and some interesting characters as well. The setting of the coastal south is interesting too.

I recommend this novella to readers who enjoy a quick shoot 'em up story with tough but likable protagonists. I'll be watching for more from this author.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Henery Press
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Number of Pages: UKN
ISBN: 9781635111866
Series: A Brack Pelton Mystery Novella, 2.5
Purchase Links: Amazon Barnes & Noble Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Isle of Palms, South Carolina
The crash of the surf pushed itself in between the beats of a forty-year-old Jimmy Buffet song streaming through the sound system of the Pirate’s Cove. Brack wiped down the old oak bar with Murphy’s oil soap, cleaning away invisible dirt. October had brought with it the end of the tourist season, although it would stay around eighty degrees for another weekend or two. No customers meant no messes to clean up, but Brack had developed a slight case of obsessive-compulsive disorder since Darcy and Mutt had moved away. Thus the need to reclean.
The early fall ocean breeze blew steady through large doors open for just that reason, something Brack never got tired of. Paige, the bar’s manager, had taken the rest of the staff out for a harbor cruise, a gift for another great summer season. Brack hadn’t been up for the day trip, deciding at the last minute to man the fort while they were out playing.
Alone with only his thoughts, he finished the last section of oak and was contemplating giving the wide ancient floor planks another coat of oil soap when a man walked in and took a seat at the bar. Aviator sunglasses, shoulder-length hair thin on top, Sam Elliot mustache. Brack pegged him at mid-forties.
Isle of Palms, South Carolina, where the bar was located, had a lot of money. And Americans enjoyed hiding their wealth behind old blue jeans and pickup trucks. This guy could be rich.
Or homeless.
Brack walked over to him. “How’re ya doing?”
“Gimme a Bud and a shot of Jack.” The man’s voice was gruff. “Can I smoke?”
“Not in here, but if you want to set up on the back deck, you can smoke all you want.”
The man nodded. It made Brack miss being able to smoke a cigar in his own bar. He got the drinks and set them in front of his customer.
The man reached into his pocket, pulled out a wrinkled twenty, and said, “Keep it. If someone asks for Skip, tell ’em where I am.”
Brack watched him scoop up both drinks and head outside, irritated that the distraction from his OCD had left the room. The wood tables called his name.
Who was he kidding? If he didn’t keep busy, he’d think about Darcy. She’d moved away from him to be with another man, and that was too much to handle.
And, because when it rained, it poured, the bar had lost Bonny, its macaw mascot and resident, just two weeks ago to old age. She’d started the business with Brack’s uncle in the seventies. And now she was gone, too.
The front door opened again and this time two men walked in. One glance at their dead eyes told Brack they were not here for the fresh salt air. Hawaiian shirts and khaki shorts couldn’t hide the vibe of death they brought with them. Brack had been in enough bad spots before to know these were not tourists looking for daiquiris.
Because Brack had vowed to always have weapons on hand, there were two pistols behind the bar, one at each end and a sawed-off shotgun in the middle. Unfortunately, he was smack dab in between two of the weapons.
The two newcomers looked around the bar, and then they spotted the guy on the back deck.
Brack inched to the closest corner. One set of dead eyes landed on him, a hand reaching behind to what had to be a gun.
Their eyes locked. Brack’s hand was twelve inches away from his own pistol.
Dead Eyes pulled his piece first and fired. Brack’s Marine training dropped him to the ground. The bullet whizzed overhead and a bottle of top-shelf vodka exploded. Glass showered down on him.
More shots fired. Brack wrapped his hand around the Colt Python, his bar manager’s weapon of choice, and felt the thumps as rounds perforated the bar over his head and smacked into the wall cabinet that held all the booze. It seemed like there were more shots than thumps.
He cocked the hammer back, took two deep breaths, and trained the sight around the corner of the bar. It settled on a shin creeping between the chairs and tables.
The Python spit fire and noise and lead. The impact of the bullet blew a crater through the shin. It was as if all the air in the room got sucked through the hole and exited out the back in a cloud of red mist.
A scream followed by two more shots and two more thumps took over all other sound.
The figure owning the useless shin crashed to the ground. With a clear shot, Brack put two center-mass rounds in the man for good measure and then ducked behind the bar again.
One on one now. Even odds. Except they weren’t even. Brack was pinned and he knew it. Two more thumps hit the bar, followed by the sound of the front door banging open and then closing with a whoosh of the air cylinder that pulled it back in.
It could be a trap, the guy just waiting for Brack to fall for it, show himself, and be blasted to Timbuktu. He stayed put a few more seconds which felt like minutes.
A faint siren wailed in the distance. The police station was only two blocks away. Brack hoped to God it was the chief.
After a count of ten more seconds, the front door opened again.
It was now or never. Brack sprang to his feet, Python in hand, sighted in the door, and didn’t fire.
A man a few inches taller than himself held up his hands. Olive skin, short-cropped hair beginning to recede in the corners of his forehead, silver cross on a chain around his neck, black jeans, black T-shirt, Doc Martens, and sunglasses, he said, “Don’t shoot.”
Excerpt from Blu Heat: A Blu Carraway Novella by David Burnsworth. Copyright © 2017 by David Burnsworth. Reproduced with permission from David Burnsworth. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

David Burnsworth became fascinated with the Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel. Big City Heat is his fourth mystery. Having lived in Charleston on Sullivan's Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife along with their dog call South Carolina home.

Catch Up With Our Author On: Website, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!


Tour Participants:

Learn more about Blu Heat: A Blu Carraway Novella and it's author David Burnsworth.
Click here to view the Blu Heat: A Blu Carraway Novella by David Burnsworth Book Tour Participants.

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 I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

If I'm Found by Terri Blaclstock

This is a sequel to If I Run and you can read my review of that book here. This book does not stand well on its own and I recommend the previous novel be read before this one.

In the first novel, Casey is wrongly accused of murder. She goes on the run. In this novel, she is on the run. This book does not move the plot along very much. Casey and Dylan do have some adventures but only a little more of the original mystery is uncovered. Most of the action in this novel is secondary.

The novel is written in first person and present tense. I do not like that writing style at all. Some of the story is from Casey's first person account, some from Dylan's, and even some from Keegan's. It gets really confusing when Casey and Dylan meet and are together for a while. One chapter will be first person Casey while the next chapter will be first person Dylan. I remember that during some of their interaction I read, “I smiled.” I stopped, realizing I had no idea which person that referred to and had to go back a bit to remind myself which person had the viewpoint in this chapter. I ultimately found the writing style disconcerting.

One of my requirements for a good novel is that the suspense not originate from stupid actions by the characters. Unfortunately, Casey does some stupid things, even when she tells Dylan she will not, and then gets into trouble.

I was disappointed in this novel. I have read many of Blackstock's novels and this is not her best.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Terri Blackstock is a New York Times bestselling author with over seven million copies sold. A successful author, she began writing suspense for the Christian market in 1994. You can find out more at

Zondervan, 384 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Is the Bible Good for Women? by Wendy Alsup

I had high hopes for Alsup's book. As a woman I had been told I should not be teaching adult Sunday School classes because there were men present. I saw families leave my church when I was elected as a deacon. So I had high hopes.

My high hopes continued as Alsup pursued the theme of Jesus restoring all that was lost in the Fall. I liked her exploration of God's original perfect purpose for women, working side by side with men in harmony, image bearers of God. I was excited by her assuring me that I have hope in Christ for repossessing all that was lost in the Fall.

Much of Alsup's book deals with the Old Testament. When I got to the New Testament part of her book, my high hopes began to deflate. She encouraged me to take the “long view” of not merely the present but heaven too. She reminded me that the good for women was really the “lose your life to find it” kind of good. I knew then that women repossessing all that was lost in the Fall would be postponed and was not something for this life.

Alsup concludes from her investigation of difficult (for women) passages in the New Testament that women can serve, such as being a deacon, but not lead, such as being an elder. Galatians 3:28 indicates equality of men and women as joint heirs of the promises of God but does not apply to roles and responsibilities in the Christian community. Women are not to lead worship nor make spiritual decisions for the church (nor preach, I would think).

I feel that Alsup gave me false hope by leading me to believe that what was lost in the Fall has been redeemed and restored by Christ. Perhaps in heaven men and women will walk and work side by side but not now. While we as Christians are encouraged to defend the right of a woman to vote or be the CEO of a corporation, we are to not allow her to have a decisive position on a church board.

Alsup admits in the book that she would not answer all the questions regarding woman and the Bible and she has not. This is not a definitive work by any means. I think there are other books addressing the issues that are much better, on both the egalitarian and complimentarian sides.

There are discussion questions included so this book could be used in a discussion group.

You can download the first chapter of the book here.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Wendy Alsup began her public ministry as a deacon of women's theology and teaching at her church in Seattle. She now lives on an old family farm in South Carolina where she teaches math at a local community college and is a mother to her two boys. Her previous books include The Gospel-Centered Woman and By His Wounds You are Healed. She writes at and

Multnomah, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary galley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Outsider by Anthony Franze Giveaway

The Outsider

by Anthony Franze

on Tour March 21 - April 21, 2017


A young law clerk finds himself caught in the crosshairs of a serial killer in this breathtaking thriller set in the high-pressure world of the Supreme Court, from renowned lawyer Anthony Franze.
Things aren’t going well for Grayson Hernandez. He just graduated from a fourth-tier law school, he’s drowning in student debt, and the only job he can find is as a messenger. The position stings the most because it’s at the Supreme Court, where Gray is forced to watch the best and the brightest―the elite group of lawyers who serve as the justices’ law clerks—from the outside.
When Gray intervenes in a violent mugging, he lands in the good graces of the victim: the Chief Justice of the United States. Gray soon finds himself the newest—and unlikeliest—law clerk at the Supreme Court. It’s another world: highbrow debates over justice and the law in the inner sanctum of the nation’s highest court; upscale dinners with his new friends; attention from Lauren Hart, the brilliant and beautiful co-clerk he can’t stop thinking about.
But just as Gray begins to adapt to his new life, the FBI approaches him with unsettling news. The Feds think there’s a killer connected to the Supreme Court. And they want Gray to be their eyes and ears inside One First Street. Little does Gray know that the FBI will soon set its sights on him.
Racing against the clock in a world cloaked in secrecy, Gray must uncover the truth before the murderer strikes again in this thrilling high-stakes story of power and revenge by Washington, D.C. lawyer-turned-author Anthony Franze.

My Review:

I really liked this well crafted legal thriller. The characters were engaging, the plot was captivating, and the action suspenseful.

The novel centers around Grayson, a young lawyer who, through a quirky experience, saved the life of the Chief Justice. In thanks, the justice has Grayson come on staff as a clerk. He is an outsider, not having gone to a prestigious law school. The attempt on the justice may have been the act of a serial killer and Grayson is asked to work with the FBI. They want his help because he is an outsider.

I was amazed at what Supreme Court clerks experience, the work, the pressure, and the play. I learned some things by reading this book, such as that the Supreme Court takes only about one percent of the cases they are asked to review. I also found out who, talking about the limits of free speech, said one should not yell fire in a crowded theater.

I highly recommend this novel to those who like legal thrillers. It's very informative and entertaining. There is a clever twist when it comes to the resolution of the murders – one I didn't see coming at all.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Stellar Reviews:

“THE OUTSIDER is as authentic and suspenseful as any John Grisham novel—and I like Grisham a lot.” —JAMES PATTERSON, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Crafty and clever! Franze’s insider knowledge of the Supreme Court sets this twisty legal thriller apart. The sympathetic plight of the outsider hero, Grayson Hernandez, will keep you glued to the pages; the explosive plot will leave you breathless.” —LISA GARDNER, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Book Details:

Genre: Legal Thriller
Published by: St. Martin's Press | Minotaur Books
Publication Date: March 21, 2017
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 1250071666 (ISBN13: 9781250071668)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:


When her computer pinged, Amanda Hill ignored it. This late at night, she shouldn’t have, but she did.
All her energy was focused on tomorrow’s closing argument. Her office was dark, save the sharp cone of light from the desk lamp. She’d waited for everyone to leave so she could run through her final words to the jury. So she could practice as she’d done a thousand times, pacing her office in front of imaginary jurors, explaining away the evidence against the latest criminal mastermind she’d been appointed to represent. This one had left prints and DNA, and vivid images of the robbery had been captured by surveillance cameras.
She glanced out her window into the night. Normal people were home tucking in their children, watching a little TV before hitting the sack. Her little girl deserved better. She should call to check in, but she needed to get the closing done. Amanda’s mother was watching Isabelle, and her mom would call if she needed anything.
There was another ping. Then another. Irritated, Amanda reached for the mouse and clicked to her email. The subject line grabbed her attention:


Amanda opened the email. Strange, there was no name in the sender field. And the message had only a link. Was this one of those phishing scams?
She almost deleted it, but the subject line caught her eye again. Her seven year old's name.
Her cursor hovered over the link— then she clicked. A video appeared on the screen. The footage was shaky, filmed on a smartphone. The scene was dark, but for a flashlight beam hitting a dirty floor. Then a whisper: “You have thirty minutes to get here or they die.”
A chill slithered down Amanda’s back. This was a joke, right? A sick joke? She moved the mouse to shut down the video, but the flashlight ray crawled up a grimy wall and stopped on two figures. Amanda’s heart jumped into her throat. It was her mother and Isabelle. Bound, gagged, weeping.
“Dupont Underground,” the voice hissed. “Thirty minutes. If you call the police, we’ll know. And they’ll die.”
The camera zoomed in on Isabelle’s tear-streaked face. Amanda’s computer began buzzing and flashing, consumed by a tornado virus.
Amanda drove erratically from her downtown office to Dupont Circle. She kept one eye on the road, the other on her smartphone that guided her to the only address she could find for “Dupont Underground,” the abandoned street trolley line that ran under Washington, D.C.
Her mind raced. Why was this happening? It didn’t make sense. It couldn’t be a kidnapping for ransom. She had no money— she was a public defender, for Christ’s sake. A disgruntled client? No, this was too well organized. Too sophisticated. Common criminals, Amanda knew from her years representing them, were uneducated bumblers, not the type to plan out anything in their lives, much less something like this.
She checked the phone. She had only fifteen minutes. The GPS said she’d be there in five. She tried to calm herself, control her breathing. She should call the police. But the warning played in her head: We’ll know. And they’ll die.
She pulled over on New Hampshire Avenue. The GPS said this was the place, but she saw no entrance to any underground. It was a business district. Law firms and lobby shops locked up for the night. She looked around, panicked and confused. There was nothing but a patch of construction across the street. Work on a manhole or sewer line. Or trolley entrance. Amanda leapt from her car and ran to the construction area. A four-foot-tall rectangular plywood structure jutted up from the sidewalk. It had a door on top, like a storm cellar. The padlock latch had been pried open, the wood splintered. Amanda swung open the door and peered down into the gloom.
She shouldn’t go down there. But she heard a noise. A muffled scream? Amanda pointed her phone’s flashlight into the chasm. A metal ladder disappeared into the darkness. She steeled herself, then climbed into the opening, the only light the weak bulb on her phone. When she reached the bottom, she stood quietly, looking down the long tunnel, listening. She heard the noise again and began running toward it.
That’s when she heard the footsteps behind her. She ran faster, her breaths coming in rasps, the footfalls from behind keeping pace. She wanted to turn and fight. She was a god-damned fighter. “Amanda Hill, The Bitch of Fifth Street,” she’d heard the defendants call her around the courthouse. But the image of Isabelle and her mother’s faces, their desperation, drew her on.
The footsteps grew closer. She needed to suppress the fear, to find her family.
The blow to the head came without warning and slammed her to the ground. There was the sound of a boot stomping on plastic and the flashlight on her phone went out. The figure grabbed a fistful of her hair and dragged her to a small room off the tunnel. She was gasping for air now.
A lantern clicked on. Amanda heard the scurrying of tiny feet. She saw the two masses in the shadows and felt violently ill: her mother and Isabelle. Soiled rags stuffed in their mouths, hands and feet bound. Next to them the silhouette of someone spray-painting on the wall.
Amanda sat up quickly, and a piercing pain shot through her skull. She averted her eyes, hoping it was all a nightmare. But a voice cut through the whimpering of her family.
“Look at them!” Amanda lifted her gaze. She forced a smile, feigned a look of optimism, then mouthed a message to her daughter: It’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay.
It was a lie, of course. A godforsaken lie.


Grayson Hernandez walked up to the lectern in the well of the U.S. Supreme Court. He wasn’t intimidated by the marble columns that encased the room or the elevated mahogany bench where The Nine had been known to skewer even the most experienced advocates. He calmly pulled the lever on the side of the lectern to adjust its height, a move he’d learned watching the assistant solicitor generals showing off. He stood up straight and didn’t look down at any notes; the best lawyers didn’t use notes. And he began his oral argument.
“Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the court—” He was immediately interrupted, not uncommon since the justices on average asked more than one hundred questions in the half hour of oral argument allotted to each side. But the voice, which rang though the chamber, wasn’t from a justice of the highest court in the land.
“I’ve told you before, Gray, you can’t be in here.” The beam of a flashlight cut across the empty courtroom. Gray held up a hand to shield his eyes. He smiled at the Supreme Court Police officer making his nightly rounds.
“Someday, counselor,” the officer said. “But for now you might wanna focus on getting the nightlies delivered.” The officer swung the ray of light to Gray’s messenger cart filled with the evening’s mail.
Gray waved at the officer, and returned to his cart. The wheel squeaked as he rolled it out of the courtroom and into the marble hallway.
In Chief Justice Douglas’s chambers, two law clerks were sitting in the reception area, fifteen feet apart, tossing a football between them. They seemed punchy, wired after a long day at the office, talking about one of the court’s cases.
“A high school has no right to punish a kid for things he says off school grounds. The court needs to finally say so,” one of the clerks said. He was a stocky blond guy. Gray thought his name was Mike. Mike spiraled the ball to the other clerk who looked kind of like a young JFK.
“You’re high if you think the chief is going to side with the student,” JFK said, catching the ball with a loud snap. “You upload a violent rap song on YouTube saying your math teacher is sexually harassing students, you’re gonna get suspended.”
“Even if it’s true?” Mike said. The Supreme Court had thirty-six law clerks, four per justice. It was an internship like no other, promising young lawyers not only a ticket to any legal job in the country, but also the chance to leave their fingerprints on the most important legal questions of the day. The current clerks were all in their late twenties, the same age as Gray, but that’s where the similarities ended. Like the two throwing the ball, almost all were white, from affluent backgrounds. Gray didn’t think there were any Mexican Americans in the clerk pool, and certainly none who grew up in gritty Hamilton Heights, D.C. They’d all gone to Harvard or Yale or institutions that, unlike Gray’s law school, had ivy instead of graffiti on their walls. And they certainly weren’t delivering mail.
Gray nodded hello as he lifted the stacks of certiorari petitions out of his cart and dropped them in the metal in-boxes for the chief ’s clerks.
Mike looked at Gray. “No, not more petitions, I’m begging you.” Gray smiled, but didn’t engage. His boss in the marshal’s office had a rule when it came to the justices and their law clerks: Speak only when necessary.
The ball whizzed across the reception area again. “Is it printed yet?” JFK asked. “I wanna get out of here.” He looked over to the printer, which was humming and spitting out paper. Gray worked tw night shifts a week, and there usually were no less than a dozen clerks still in the office. Theirs was a one-year gig, but they worked as if the justices wanted to squeeze five years out of them.
“It won’t take long,” Mike said. “It’s a short memo, and I just want someone who’s a disagreeable ass to point out any soft spots before I turn it into the chief.”
“You’re wasting your time. He’s never gonna side with the student, he—”
“This case is no different than Tinker v. Des Moines Schools,” Mike countered. “The court said disruptive speech at school could be punished, but not speech made off school grounds. Off-campus speech, including posting something on YouTube, should be covered by the First Amendment just like everything else. It’s none of the school’s business.”
JFK gave a dismissive grunt. “A rap expert from Greenwich, Connecticut, I love it.”
Mike threw the ball hard at his co-clerk. “Hey,” JFK said, shaking off the sting after reeling in the throw. “I’m just saying, the Tinker case was decided in the late sixties. You can’t apply it in the digital world. You’re in an ivory tower if you think the chief will blindly follow Tinker.”
Gray pretended not to listen, but he lingered, enjoying the intellectual banter.
The ball flew by again. “Ivory tower?” Mike said. “Fine, let’s ask an everyman.” He pointed the football at Gray. “Hey, Greg, can we ask you something?”
Mike had once asked Gray his name, a regular man of the people.
“It’s Gray.”
“Sorry. Gray. We have a question: Do you think if a high school student is off campus and posts something offensive on social media a school can punish him for it?”
JFK chimed in: “It’s not just posting something offensive. It’s a profanity-laden rap that accuses a teacher of sexually harassing students and threatens to ‘put a cap’ in the guy.”
Gray pondered the question as he retrieved mail from the outboxes. “I agree with what Murderous Malcolm said about the case.” The clerks shot each other a look. That morning the New York Times ran a story about the case, in which a famous rapper was interviewed and defended the student’s right to free speech. Every morning the Supreme Court’s library sent around an email aggregating news stories relating to the court. Gray was probably the only person at One First Street who read them all.
Gray continued. “I think the First Amendment allows a kid who saw a wrong happening to write a poem about it over a beat.” Gray wheeled the cart toward the door. “And if the chief justice disagrees, you might mention all the violence in those operas he loves so much.”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Mike said, spiking the ball, then doing a ridiculous touchdown dance. He strutted over to Gray and gave him a high five.
For a moment, it felt like Gray was a clerk himself, an equal weighing in on the most important school-speech case in decades.
“Hey, Gray,” JFK said. Gray turned, ready to continue his defense of the First Amendment.
“I’ve got some books that need to be delivered to the library.”
When Gray arrived at the gym two hours later, his dad already had his hands wrapped and was hitting the heavy bag. There was a large sweat stain on his shirt. “You’re late,” he called out.
“I told you, I have the night shift on Sundays,” Gray said. His dad didn’t respond, just pounded the bag. He wasn’t going to get any sympathy from Manny Hernandez about the night shift. This was his father’s one night off from the pizza shop. Since his dad’s cancer went into remission, they’d been meeting every Sunday night at the old boxing club in Adams Morgan. Gray would have preferred that they spent these times together somewhere other than a smelly gym, but it made his father happy to see him back in the gloves. It was these moments that Gray was reminded that he probably wasn’t the man his father had dreamed he’d become. With his books and big dreams, Gray was his mother’s boy. Gray punched the bag, the hits vibrating through him, his thoughts venturing to his earlier encounter with the law clerks. He threw his weight into his right.
Let’s ask an everyman.
Then his left.
I’ve got some books that need to be delivered to the library.
Gray continued to pummel the bag, his heart pounding, sweat dripping from his brow.
“Somethin’ wrong?” His father came and stood behind the bag, holding it in place as Gray kept going at it. “Talk to me.”
“It’s nothing,” Gray finally said, catching his breath, wiping his forehead with his arm. “Just work stuff.”
“I thought it was going well. You’ve loved that building since you were a little kid. And now you’re working there, helping the justices.”
“I don’t think delivering the mail is exactly helping the justices, Dad.”
“It’s a foot in the door. Once they get to know you, see how smart you are . . .”
Things didn’t work that way, but Gray wasn’t in the mood to argue.
“It’ll happen, son,” his father added. “You just gotta pay your dues, Grayson.”
“I know, Dad, I know.”


At seven the next morning, Gray sat at his cubicle, tired and his muscles aching from the workout the night before. He started his day, as always, slugging down a large coffee while reading SCOTUSblog, a website that covered the court. It was the first day of the new term, and the pundits predicted it would be an exciting year with several landmark cases.
Gray turned when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Shelby, one of the marshal’s aides. A mistake he’d made after a night of drinking with the other aides. She made a point of saying she’d never been with “a guy like him,” which he assumed meant a poor kid from a sketchy side of D.C. She worked part-time while finishing her senior year at Georgetown.
“Martin wants to see you,” she said. Gray looked across the expansive cube farm. He could see Martin Melnick, their supervisor, through the glass walls of his small interior office in the back. He was eating something wrapped in foil. A breakfast burrito, maybe. Shelby’s expression summed up her assessment of Martin: Ick. Martin was in his late thirties, ancient by aide-pool standards. Overweight with bad teeth, he was the antithesis of the bright young things who worked at the high court, the butt of many jokes. He was never particularly nice to Gray; the opposite, actually. But Martin was good at his job and didn’t deserve the ridicule, so Gray kind of rooted for him in all of his slobbiness. Before Gray made his way over to Martin, Shelby said, “Who’s that?” She pointed to a photo pinned to Gray’s cubicle. It was of a boxer in the ring, bruised and battered, arms in the air, standing over his opponent who was out cold.
“My dad, back in the day. He was a fighter in Mexico.” Gray had pinned it up his first day on the job. His own Facebook motivational meme.
Shelby squeezed Gray’s bicep. “I see where you get—”
“I’ve gotta get over to Martin,” Gray said, politely extracting himself.
Martin’s office didn’t help his image. Stacks of papers everywhere. Post-it notes all over the place. He glanced up at Gray and handed him an envelope.
“We got a rush delivery for E.R.D.’s chambers.” E.R.D. were the initials for Edgar R. Douglas, the chief justice. In his month on the job, Gray had learned that the Supreme Court was obsessed with abbreviations and acronyms.
“Oral arguments start at ten, so get this to his clerk ASAP. His name’s on the envelope.”
Gray fast-walked up to the main floor, shuttling through the impressive Great Hall that was lined with marble columns and busts of past chief justices. He nodded at the officer manning the bronze latticework door and made his way to the chief justice’s chambers. The chief ’s secretary, a tough old bird named Olga Romanov, flicked him a glance.
“I have a delivery for Keir Landon.” “The clerks are getting breakfast,” she said in her clipped Eastern European accent.
“Do you know where?”
“Breakfast. Where do you think?” Gray forced a smile, then headed back downstairs to the court’s cafeteria. He marched past the assembly line of trays and the public seating area and into the private room reserved for the law clerks. A group of four were sitting at the long table.
Gray cleared his throat when they didn’t look up. When that didn’t work: “Excuse me. I have a delivery for Keir Landon.”
The guy from last night who looked like JFK popped his head up. He walked over to Gray and plucked the envelope from his hand.
“What’s up, Greg?” Mike said from the group. Before Gray could correct him again on the name, Gray’s phone pinged. A text from Martin, another rush delivery.
Gray hurried out, tapping a text to Martin as he paced quickly through the cafeteria. He didn’t look up until he bumped into someone. A tiny woman in her seventies. It was only when the elderly woman’s food tray hit the floor that Gray recognized her: Justice Rose Fitzgerald Yorke. She looked different without the black robe. Always weird seeing the teacher out of school. Yorke was one of the most beloved members of the court. Gray had read that when Yorke graduated from Harvard in the fifties, the only woman and number one in her class, none of the white-shoe law firms would hire a woman as a lawyer. A few had offered to make her a secretary. Maybe that explained why she ate in the public cafeteria rather than the justices’ private dining room, or why she organized the office birthday celebrations for every single employee at the court. She knew what it was like to be an outsider. She brought what some would derisively call empathy to her jurisprudence.
Justice Yorke bent over to pick up her spilled plate and silverware.
“Justice Yorke, I’m so sorry. Please, let me clean this up.” Gray lightly put a hand on the elderly justice’s arm.
“It’s no problem, young man, I can clean up after myself.”
“No, really, it’s my fault. Please.”
The manager of the cafeteria was standing there now looking annoyed. He gestured for Justice Yorke to come with him to get a new plate. The manager shot Gray a hard look as he spirited the justice away.
So there he was on the first Monday in October— the opening day of the term—on hands and knees wiping up the floor, the clerks passing by on their way back to chambers.
You just gotta pay your dues, Grayson.


At the end of his shift, Gray headed down to the court’s garage to get his bike. In the elevator down, he contemplated his dinner options. He wasn’t sure if he could take another night of ramen or SpaghettiOs. Maybe he’d go to the pizza shop. Or to his parents’ apartment. Mom could always be counted on for a good meal, and he could bring some laundry. The elevator doors spread open to a field of gray concrete. The bike rack was empty but for his beat-up Schwinn. As he unlocked the chain, he heard a commotion. In the back, behind one of the support beams.
Gray stepped toward the sound. Next to an SUV parked in a reserved spot he saw two men, one had fallen on the ground, the other standing over him. The guy must have slipped. Was he hurt? There was something about how he didn’t try to get up and the stance of the other man that didn’t seem quite right.
“Everything okay?” Gray said. The man who was standing whirled his head around. That’s when Gray noticed the ski mask.
Before Gray could process the situation, the assailant had kicked the man on the ground and charged Gray.
Gray’s father had taught him that when someone is coming at you, in the boxing ring or on the street, time slows. Nature’s way to give you a chance to evade the predator. And that was how Gray dodged the blade that lashed in a wide arc, grazing his abdomen. A panic washed over Gray. And when the attacker came at him again, it wasn’t one of Dad’s bob-and-weaves that saved him, but a crude kick— more Jason Statham than Cassius Clay— that connected to Ski Mask’s chest. The guy slammed into a car, but he didn’t go down. He roared forward at Gray again. Gray did a bull-fighter’s move and pushed the attacker past him, but felt a bite in his side. Ski Mask then jammed something into the small of Gray’s back. He felt a jolt of electricity burning into him— a shockwave up his spine— causing him to spasm and gasp for air. Gray went black for a moment, and then was flat on the cold concrete.
Gray watched as Ski Mask turned his attention to the other man who was on his feet now. It was only then that Gray got a good look at the victim: Chief Justice Douglas. The chief had scurried behind a car and was frantically thumbing a key fob, his panic button. The elevator dinged and Gray heard the slap of dress shoes on concrete, the court’s police.
Still on the ground, Gray shifted his eyes toward the man in the ski mask, but he was gone. Gray’s vision blurred. He heard yelling. Then things went dark.


Gray awoke to the scent of disinfectant and the presence of a crowd in the small hospital room. He must’ve been given painkillers because it was like watching a sitcom, one of those Latino family comedies written by white guys from Harvard. There was Mom, hovering over him, wiping his brow, pushing the giant plastic jug of hospital water at him. Dad, looking tired and too thin, wearing a flour-stained apron, staring at the old box television mounted from the ceiling. And big sis, Miranda, wrangling Gray’s seven-year-old nephew, Emilio.
When they noticed his eyes open, they called for a doctor, and soon an intern was checking Gray’s pupils with a penlight.
Gray never got into drugs, but as he sat back in the relaxed haze, he was starting to understand the fascination. And for the next hour, or maybe it was longer, his family kept talking to him— asking about the garage attack— and he gave woozy responses. God knows what he said.
Sometime later, Gray’s attention turned to a familiar voice at the doorway.
“Always gotta be the hero.” One of his oldest friends, Samantha. When they were in elementary school, Gray had intervened to save Sam from a schoolyard bully, only to have the kid then pummel Gray until Sam put an end to it by giving the kid the worst wedgie Gray had ever seen. Sam still gave him shit for it.
As Sam hugged everyone hello, Gray’s father shadowboxed and said, “He used the moves I taught him.”
Gray didn’t have the heart to tell him that most of the credit went to Jason Statham.
Sam came to his bedside and punched him in the arm.
“What was that for?”
“For being so stupid. You’re lucky to be alive.”
“That’s what I said to him,” Mom said. The room grew loud again with his family talking over one another. Gray watched as his nephew reenacted Gray’s confrontation with the mugger. He was feeling the pull of sleep, more drugs they’d put in the IV, and closed his eyes. He was just about to drift off when the room went suddenly quiet, a rarity at any Hernandez gathering.
His eyes popped open at another voice. “I owe you a thank you.”
There was a tall man standing at his bedside. He wore a sports jacket, shirt open at the collar. It took Gray a moment to realize it wasn’t the drugs, it was really him. Chief Justice Douglas. “It was nothing,” was all Gray managed in response. “No, if you hadn’t arrived when you did, then . . .” the chief's voice trailed off.
Gray introduced the chief justice to his family. He noticed the chief hold Sam’s gaze a beat longer than comfortable when they shook hands. Sam had that effect on men, and Gray supposed Supreme Court justices were not immune to her beauty. To Gray, she was still the flat-chested tomboy he used to play dodgeball and video games with.
After the introductions, the chief pulled up a chair next to Gray’s bed. It was awkward to talk because the room was compact and his family wasn’t too subtle about the gawking.
“Someone at the court told me you’re a lawyer?” the chief said.
“Top of his class,” Gray’s mother said.
“Mom, please.” Gray felt his face flush.
The chief justice smiled. “The doctors said you’ll be out of commission for a few days.”
“That’s what they said, but I don’t think it’ll be more than a day. I’m already feeling—” He stopped when he saw the hard look his mother was giving him.
“It’s always wise to listen to your mother,” the chief said with a dry chuckle.
His mom nodded, giving a satisfied smile.
“But do me a favor, would you?” the chief continued.
“Of course.”
“When you get back to work, come by my chambers.” Before Gray could respond, the chief added, “You’re not gonna be a messenger boy anymore.”


“Nothing? They found nothing?”
Special Agent Emma Milstein asked. Her partner, Scott Cartwright, stood in front of Milstein’s desk in the FBI field office, staring into an open file. Cartwright wore his usual navy suit, white shirt, plain tie clamped around his thick neck.
Cartwright shook his head. “A guy with a knife strolls into the Supreme Court, attacks a justice, and not one camera catches him, no one knows how he got in or out, nothing?”
“Nada,” Cartwright said.
“What about the kid? What’s his name again?” Cartwright flipped a page in the file.
“Hernandez. Grayson Hernandez. The Supreme Court’s squad interviewed him. Been on the job there for about a month, well liked. They’re confident it was just wrong place, wrong time.”
“Criminal record?”
“No, he’s a lawyer, actually.”
“A lawyer? I thought he was a messenger?”
“Yeah, works in the marshal’s office. Times are tough in the law business, I guess,” Cartwright said.
“I guess so. Our guys agree with the Supreme Court’s police? We’re sure Hernandez is clean?”
Cartwright walked over and put the open file in front of Milstein. “We don’t think he was involved in the attack. He got into some trouble as a kid— joyriding in a stolen car with some friends. But that’s like jaywalking in Hamilton Heights.”
“He grew up in Hamilton Heights? Don’t they call that area ‘Afghanistan’?” Milstein looked down at the file, studying the photo of Grayson Hernandez. He was a good-looking kid. Late-twenties. Striking blue eyes, unusual for a Hispanic. He had a scar that ran from the corner of his left eye to his ear. Jagged, no plastic surgery. “Yeah, he’s a regular local boy makes good,” Cartwright said, heavy on the sarcasm.
“Any criminal associates?”
“He was childhood friends with a real charmer, Arturo Alvarez, who’s just out of prison and already at war with a rival sect. But it appears that Hernandez left the Heights and never looked back. The report says no contact with Alvarez in years.”
Milstein read through the rest of the file. “Does the press know he was there when the chief was attacked? I don’t need reporters sniffing around. If they find out there’s a connection to Dupont Underground they’ll—”
“They don’t know anything,” Cartwright interrupted. “The court released a statement about the mugging, but no details. They’re pretty tight-lipped up there.”
“What’s the Supreme Court’s police chief saying?”
“Aaron Dowell? He’s saying we should mind our own fucking business. They’re in charge of protecting the chief.”
“Yeah, they’re doing a great job.” Cartwright said nothing. “When can we talk to the chief justice?” Milstein asked. “They’re still stonewalling. I don’t think they’re taking the connection to Dupont seriously.”
“You told them we think it’s the same perp?”
“Of course I did. I’m working on it, Em.”
“Work harder.” Milstein let out a loud, frustrated breath.
“You want me to get you a snack or something?” Cartwright said. “When my kids get a little cranky, I bring them some Goldfish crackers and it—”
“Any luck on getting the wires?” Milstein said, ignoring him. Cartwright made a sound of disbelief. “Neal says you’re crazy if you think you’ll get a bug anywhere near that building.” As usual, Neal Wyatt, the assistant director in charge of the field office, was being too cautious, playing politics.
“You need to tread lightly. This is the Supreme Court.”
“The Franklin Theater fire was on July fifth. The Dupont Underground murders on August fifth. Now the attack on the chief October fifth. And we now know it’s the same perp. What’s it gonna take to get the Supreme Court’s squad to take this seriously?”
Cartwright shook his head. “Hopefully not another victim on November fifth.”

Author Bio:

ANTHONY FRANZE is a lawyer in the Appellate and Supreme Court practice of a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm, and a critically acclaimed thriller writer with novels set in the nation’s highest court. Franze has been a commentator on legal and Supreme Court issues for The New Republic, Bloomberg, National Law Journal, and other major media outlets. He is a board member and a Vice President of the International Thriller Writers organization.
Franze lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family.

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