Category Archives: Book Excerpts

Book Excerpt: Miracle Man by William R. Leibowitz

Title: MIRACLE MAN
Author: William Leibowitz
Publisher: Manifesto Media Group
Pages: 385
Genre: Thriller

REVERED     REVILED      REMARKABLE

 

The victim of an unspeakable crime, an infant rises to become a new type of superhero.  Unlike any that have come before him, he is not a fanciful creation of animators, he is real.

So begins the saga of Robert James Austin, the greatest genius in human history.  But where did his extraordinary intelligence come from?

As agents of corporate greed vie with rabid anti-Western radicals to destroy him, an obsessive government leader launches a bizarre covert mission to exploit his intellect.  Yet Austin’s greatest fear is not of this world.

Aided by two exceptional women, one of whom will become his unlikely lover, Austin struggles against abandonment and betrayal.  But the forces that oppose him are more powerful than even he can understand.

Miracle Man was named by Amazon as one of the Top 100 Novels of 2015, an Amazon Top 10 thriller, an Amazon bestseller and an Amazon NY Times bestseller.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

 

Book Excerpt:

A tall figure wearing a black-hooded slicker walked quickly through the night carrying a large garbage bag. His pale face was wet with rain. He had picked a deserted part of town. Old warehouse buildings were being gutted so they could be converted into apartments for non-existent buyers. There were no stores, no restaurants and no people.

“Who’d wanna live in this shit place?” he muttered to himself. Even the nice neighborhoods of this dismal city had more “For Sale” signs than you could count.

He was disgusted with himself and disgusted with her, but they were too young to be burdened. Life was already hard enough. He shook his head incredulously. She had been so damn sexy, funny, full of life. Why the hell couldn’t she leave well enough alone? She should have had some control.

He wanted to scream-out down the ugly street, “It’s her fucking fault that I’m in the rain in this crap neighborhood trying to evade the police.”

But he knew he hadn’t tried to slow her down either. He kept giving her the drugs and she kept getting kinkier and kinkier and more dependent on him and that’s how he liked it. She was adventurous and creative beyond her years. Freaky and bizarre. He had been enthralled, amazed. The higher she got, the wilder she was. Nothing was out of bounds. Everything was in the game.

And so, they went farther and farther out there. Together. With the help of the chemicals. They were co-conspirators, co-sponsors of their mutual dissipation. How far they had traveled without ever leaving their cruddy little city. They were so far ahead of all the other kids.

He squinted, and his mind reeled. He tried to remember in what month of their senior year in high school the drugs became more important to her than he was. And in what month did her face start looking so tired, her complexion prefacing the ravages to follow, her breath becoming foul as her teeth and gums deteriorated. And in what month did her need for the drugs outstrip his and her cash resources.

He stopped walking and raised his hooded head to the sky so that the rain would pelt him full-on in the face. He was hoping that somehow this would make him feel absolved. It didn’t. He shuddered as he clutched the shiny black bag, the increasingly cold wet wind blowing hard against him. He didn’t even want to try to figure out how many guys she had sex with for the drugs.

The puddle-ridden deserted street had three large dumpsters on it. One was almost empty. It seemed huge and metallic and didn’t appeal to him. The second was two-thirds full. He peered into it, but was repulsed by the odor, and he was pretty sure he saw the quick moving figures of rodents foraging in the mess. The third was piled above the brim with construction debris.

Holding the plastic bag, he climbed up on the rusty lip of the third dumpster. Stretching forward, he placed the bag on top of some large garbage bags which were just a few feet inside of the dumpster’s rim. As he climbed down, his body looked bent and crooked and his face was ashen. Tears streamed down his cheeks and bounced off his hands. He barely could annunciate, “Please forgive me,” as he shuffled away, head bowed and snot dripping from his nose.

 

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Chapter reveal: Ninth-Month Midnight, by Marie Bacigalupo

Ninth-Month_Feb9 (2)Title: Ninth-Month Midnight

Genre: women’s fiction

Author: Marie Bacigalupo

Websitewww.mariebacigalupo

Publisher: KDP

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book

Ninth-Month Midnight is contemporary women’s fiction with a paranormal twist. The novella focuses on Dolores Walsh, a bereaved mother who, hiding a guilty secret and verging on mental breakdown, defies her husband and her religion to get what she wants. With another pregnancy highly improbable, she wants the seemingly impossible: she wants her baby back. The loss has transformed Dolores into a zombie-like chain smoker who stays unwashed and unnourished until her husband, Joe, bathes and feeds her.

Enter Salvador Esperanza, a charismatic psychic who helps the grief-stricken communicate with their dead. Dolores cannot resist this new hope or the man who offers it. But in order to attend Sal’s séances, she must do battle with her jealous husband’s hard-core rationalism. When Sal decides to move on, only a miracle can save Dolores from the numbing despair that threatens her sanity.

About the Author 

When Marie Bacigalupo was nine, she read Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins and was instantly hooked on fiction. She grew up to teach high school English before focusing exclusively on fiction writing, studying under Gordon Lish at The Center for Fiction, taking classes at the Writers Studio, and attending a number of university-sponsored craft workshops.

Marie won First Prize among 7000 entries in the Writer’s Digest 13th Annual Short-Short Story Competition with her entry, “Excavation.” Her other works have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Journal of Microliterature, The Examined Life Journal, Romance Magazine, and elsewhere. Ninth-Month Midnight is her debut novella.

The author is a native New Yorker who lives and writes in Brooklyn. Visit her at www.mariebacigalupo.com.

Connect with the author on the web:

FB: https://www.facebook.com/mariebacigalupo.writer

Twitter: http://twitter.com/windhover813

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Ninth-Month Midnight

Chapter 1

A year has past, and still Dolores hates waking up to another day. The morning light pours, unwelcome, into her bedroom. Dolores feels her husband shift position behind her on the king-sized bed, his lanky six-foot frame extending only four inches beyond hers. She looks outside the open window where the first buds peek through the dogwood branches that front her Fresh Meadows Cape. April again. She fumbles for her pack of Salems on the dusty night table and knocks over the ashtray teeming with butts. Ashes scatter. The odor of stale smoke clings to the carpet, the linens, the furnishings, her clothes. No matter. She props herself on her elbow, lights up, drags deeply, and exhales with a raspy cough.

Dolores turns to her husband. “I can’t find her, Joe,” she whispers in his ear. “Today’s her birthday, and I can’t find her.”

Joe, his sandy hair tousled, faces his wife and draws her close. “I’ll run you a warm bath,” he says, then pushes himself off the bed. He walks barefoot in his jockey shorts to the bath that adjoins the bedroom. When the tub is half-filled, Joe walks back to Dolores, who allows him to draw the faded gown over her head and lead her to the tub. When her husband leaves, she reaches for the pack of cigarettes and lighter on the bathroom vanity. She has scattered cigarettes and lighters around her house and her person—on counters, tables, shelves, and niches, inside handbags and pockets—so they’re always in easy reach.

Ten minutes later, water streaming down her torso and legs, Dolores throws on a white terrycloth robe, and towels the dripping strands of her shoulder-length hair. She walks back into the bedroom, tripping on an area rug and knocking over a night-table photo of three-year-old Bertie at the beach, the child’s hands reaching out, hungry for all the wonders that life promised to serve up—rolling waves, billowing sand, boundless sky. She wears a powder blue playsuit. The wide-brimmed straw hat that protects her face against the high-noon sun has no power to shade her smile. Dolores runs an index finger over the plump cheek.

The sun no longer shines for Bertie. Now it’s always midnight.

Dolores loved being pregnant, and in labor she welcomed the searing pain and pounding pressure that pushed her baby home. She loved being a mother. Who is she now? she wonders. If both her parents were dead, she’d be an orphan, but her mother isn’t dead. If Joe were dead, she’d be a widow, but Joe isn’t dead. Her baby is dead. What does that make Dolores? There’s no word for her because mothers aren’t supposed to outlive their babies.

“Did the bath help?”

She replaces the photo on the table and shuffles into the kitchen, where her husband waits for her, as always willing her into his meaningless world, his eyes full of fear that she might slip away from him.

The white wood cabinets and yellow walls once made the kitchen warm and sunny; now they mock her grief. She sits at the white-tiled table under the pricey pewter chandelier, a relic of the time when she devoted a lot of money and most of her energy to making a home for her family.

A damp curl hangs over her cheek, obscuring one brown eye and a new pimple on her once flawless olive complexion. Joe winds the curl around his forefinger and tugs gently. He’s calling her back.

“I’ll be okay. Please stop worrying.” Dolores checks her pocket for a cigarette and finds one, bent but serviceable.

Her husband opens a window.

“Your mother called me at the office yesterday, said you keep pushing her away.”

“She spent weeks here a year ago. I couldn’t bear it, remember? All she did was follow me around the house and yak, yak, yak.”

“She loves you. She wants to help.”

“Let’s not talk about my mother.”

He waits a beat. “Okay. Let’s talk about our four o’clock appointment with Dr. Kaur. I’ll leave work early, meet you there.”

She says nothing.

“Dee? You were walking in your sleep again last night.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be all right.”

“Don’t worry? It’s been a year, and it’s not getting any better. You don’t even go to Church anymore. You used to find strength in your faith. I’m telling you, we need help. Give Dr. Kaur a chance, please.”

“I’m not ready for a shrink.” She flinches when he cracks a knuckle.

“It’s time, Dee, time to pick up the pieces. Maybe go back to teaching.”

“I have no interest in other women’s children.”

“Please don’t give up. You have to go on living.”

“Why?”

Dolores is sorry as soon as the word leaves her lips. Joe looks stricken. She knows it’s guilt, not empathy, she feels. No surprise, considering Catholic nuns used to be the voice of her conscience. Dolores can still hear Sister Ann’s last-chance admonitions before she entered a secular high school: Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost; keep it pure for the man you marry. And remember, a good wife supports her husband.  She stopped listening to that voice when the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, all three of them, let Bertie die.

Maybe Joe’s pain should move her more than it does, but right now, she needs him to stop nagging. “Okay,” she says, “I’ll see Dr. Kaur.” Even though it’s pointless, a certainty she leaves unsaid.

#

When Joe leaves for work, Dolores remains at the table and thinks about her mother’s last visit. She recalls the time her mother was washing dishes, blocking her cigarette drawer. Dolores, standing behind her, addressed her by her given name. Did she mean to goad the woman? She’s not sure, but the reaction was instantaneous. Her mother spun around. “Don’t you call me Roseann!” she said, her voice rasping. “I’m your mother, so it’s Mom when you talk to me!” Dolores took a step back and mumbled an apology.

A week later Dolores put her on a plane back to Florida, though her mother resisted. “It’s better if I stay,” she said. “Your heart is heavy. Let me take care of you.”

“Joe’s made that his job. You’d put him out of work if you stayed.”

The truth is Dolores can’t overcome her bitterness toward Mom. The rift widened when her father died, though her mother saw to all his final needs and, she has to admit, was always an excellent caretaker. Dolores remembers when she caught the chicken pox and wanted to scratch her skin raw. Her mother dabbed calamine lotion on the rash and read Dolores’s favorite fairy tales again and again to distract her. After the stroke, she kept watch at her father’s bedside day and night, assisting the nurses, coming home only to feed Dolores and catch an hour or two of sleep. Still, as far as Dolores is concerned, the loving attention to her dad came too late.

Her head is starting to hurt. When her four o’clock appointment worms its way into her mind, Dolores has had enough. She gets up, returns to bed, and wills herself to sleep.

#

The taxi gets caught in traffic halfway over the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge. Hopelessly immobilized in a cab reeking of pot, Dolores regrets her decision to keep the appointment with the psychiatrist. She’s stuck in a bumper-to-bumper lineup. Frustrated drivers crane their necks, step out of their cars, fling epithets, but accomplish nothing. The cabbie, taking it all in stride as the meter keeps ticking away, hums along to lilting West Indian music.

It takes half an hour to cover the short span of the bridge. Dolores decides to get some air by walking the last few blocks to Park Avenue. The gentle breeze, though, does nothing to lift her spirits. And why should it? April is the cruelest month, the poet said. It promises life and warmth forever, but before you know it, the darkness and cold return. She forces herself to focus on the street numbers. The doorman greets Dolores as she approaches the Park Avenue building that houses a half-dozen high-priced doctors, including Kaur. She hesitates in the lobby. Just get it over with.

Exiting the building elevator, Dolores finds the door marked Afifa Kaur, M. D., and enters an office with upholstered period chairs and a rich walnut coffee table displaying late issues of Architectural Digest and Forbes Magazine. She recognizes a print of Hopper’s Cape Cod Afternoon on the wall. Inside the sitting area, Joe is waiting and greets her with a kiss. Dolores leaves her name with the puppy-eyed receptionist, who looks fifteen but is probably closer to twenty-five, young enough to make her feel old. Joe hands Dolores the partially completed paperwork.

She steels herself for the tedious task of completing multiple forms. Opposite her, a wan middle-aged woman reads a hardcover edition of “The Metamorphosis.” She looks up from her book once, dead eyes meeting dead eyes, and returns to Kafka. “If I’m not called in fifteen minutes,” Dolores says to Joe, “I’m out of here.”

She barely has time to complete the questionnaire when a strikingly attractive woman, black tendrils escaping a tight bun, calls her name. Under a white lab coat, the doctor wears a black skirt-suit that is custom-tailored to downplay her full figure. Dolores grabs Joe’s hand, and she walks into a room where a floor-to-ceiling bookcase shelving medical texts, their spines neatly stacked, lines the back wall, and period chairs posture like peacocks on either side of a fireplace. If the doctor is striving for a homey look, she isn’t succeeding. Brass andirons straddle the fireplace, and a gorgeous mantelpiece of ivory filigree frames it. Behind the doctor’s over-sized mahogany desk, eight-foot French windows open inward.

“I hope, for your sake, the insurance picks this up,” she whispers to Joe.

“Sit, please,” says the doctor, pointing to the chairs in front of the desk. She takes a seat behind it. “We spoke briefly on the phone, Mr. Walsh, when you called on behalf of your wife. Tell me again how I can help.”

“My wife and I lost Bertie, Roberta, our little girl, a year ago,” says Joe. “My wife needs help picking up the pieces of her life.”

The psychiatrist fixes her black eyes on Dolores, whose own eyes dare the doctor to comment.

“Do you agree with your husband, Mrs. Walsh?”

“I guess so.”

“You are not sure?” she asks, using the precise diction of a non-native speaker.

“I don’t know.”

The doctor turns to Joe. “Mr. Walsh, since your wife is the patient, I will ask you to leave the room.”

Joe, about to protest, looks to Dolores for a reaction. When he gets none, he squeezes her hand. “I’ll wait outside,” he says, and closes the door behind him.

Again Dr. Kaur fixes her penetrating eyes on Dolores. “He seems like a loving husband.”

“Yes.”

“The two of you obviously share burdens. Do you make time for leisure activities?”

“Joe tries, but he works long hours.”

“How do you spend your time when Joe is working?”

Dolores is confused. “I don’t know. Waiting for it to pass, I guess.” She runs her fingers through hair the color of bitter chocolate, then checks the spaces between her fingers. At least it’s stopped falling out.

“You look tired. Do you sleep nights?”

“Night and day. The sleep of the dead, at least for a few hours.”

“Are you taking sleep medication?

Seconal.

“Mrs.—May I call you Dolores?”

“Yes.”

“Seconal is a dangerous drug. How long have you been taking it?”

Since . . . no . . . a couple of months after . . . I forget.  I need another prescription. Can you write me one?”

“No. It is not good for you.  Tell me, please, do you dream?”

Dolores hesitates. “Maybe.”

“Maybe?”

“I’m not sure it’s a dream. Sometimes I sleepwalk.”

“Please describe what you say may or may not be a dream.”

“I hear my baby crying, but I can’t find her. I search through the house, but I can’t find her.” Dolores bends over in her chair, her knees at her chest.

“How did Bertie die?”

“Yesterday was her birthday. She’s . . . she’d be five years old.”

“How did she die?”

“She had a cold.” Dolores almost giggles, but catches herself in time. Whenever she laughs or cries, she can’t stop until Joe talks her down.

“She died of a rare cancer. The tumor was in the sinus cavity. At first we thought she had a cold.” She clears her throat. Maybe if we had caught it earlier . . .”

“Did you want a child?”

“I wanted nothing more out of life, but we waited till Joe’s career got started–he’s a CPA–and then till his school loans were paid off. In the beginning I suggested we use the rhythm method—that means abstaining from sex during fertile cycles.  The Church condemns all other forms of birth control as mortal sins. But Joe made a joke of it.  ‘Know what they call people who practice the rhythm method? Parents!’ he said. So I went on the Pill, and every First Friday eve I confessed to Father Tom, my parish priest. I’d say the usual ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys till the next time, when I’d make the same confession. Pretty soon I realized I was making a sham of the sacrament.  A person has to be truly penitent to be absolved of sin; you can’t keep committing the same sin and expect God to forgive you. So I stopped going to Confession. And then came the payback: by the time it was okay to conceive, I couldn’t get pregnant . . . eight precious years wasted. Finally, we went to a reproductive specialist.”

“What was the problem?”

“My cervical opening was too small.”

“Please go on.”

“I had an operation to correct it, but the improvement was minimal. Next came injectable hormones followed by endless temperature monitoring, the rhythm method in reverse: wait till the fertile period, then rut like animals.  The sex was joyless. Every month the blood flowed.  Finally someone decided to test Joe. Turns out he has a low sperm count.”

Dr. Kaur keeps her silence.

“The Almighty seemed to be punishing us for our arrogance. We had waited too long. Already thirty-two years old, I would never have a child. But then the miracle happened. I thought God had forgiven me.”

“Do you feel responsible for your daughter’s death?”

“Oh, God, Doctor! That’s so glib! Of course, I feel responsible. I’m her mother. I’m supposed to protect her.” Her broken nails cut into her upper arms. It feels good.

“What did you do wrong?”

“We shouldn’t have waited so long. My eggs got old.”

She can’t continue. She takes time to get herself under control.

“Sometimes I hear her calling me . . . she was talking at two, so bright, my baby, so smart . . . I see her in her Hello Kitty romper. I smell her sweetness. It’s like she’s almost a ghost. I want her to be a ghost. I want her to haunt me, but she’s gone before she fully materializes.”

Dr. Kaur stirs. “Right now you miss your child acutely. You will never forget your child, nor should you, but you can learn to live with your loss, and even in time to take satisfaction in what the world offers.” The psychiatrist ignores Dolores’s twisted grin. “Grief is a process that the bereaved must undergo in stages in order to heal. The danger is getting stuck in one of the stages, in your case despair, and never recovering.”

Dr. Kaur underscores her words with hand gestures, her fingertips adorned by an elegant French manicure. “Right now you are convinced beyond a doubt that you will never be happy again. But if you are patient and kind to yourself, and cooperate with those who would help you, you will one day value life again.”

Dolores hates the doctor’s facile lecture. She rises from her chair. She needs to get out of the office.

Dr. Kaur looks up from her seat behind the desk. “Before you bolt, may I ask what made you come to see me today?”

“Joe. He’s worried that I’m losing my mind, that I’ll do something desperate.”

“Does he have reason to worry?”

“You’re the psychiatrist, you tell me.”

“Those scars on your wrist are not too faint for a doctor to read.”

The antique wall clock ticks off the passing seconds. Kaur’s words have conjured a lurid scene: Only half conscious at the time, Dolores remembers the blood spurting from her wrists, swirling in the bath water, spilling over onto the tiles as she lay face up on the floor. Joe, blue eyes bulging, racing into action, wrapping her wrists, sobs racking his body. Then a shrieking ambulance, jouncing bumps, probing needles, blackness swallowing her.

The doctor breaks the silence. “Those scars tell me your husband has cause for concern. I advise you to get off the Seconal. Barbiturates may be causing some of your symptoms. Sleepwalking and vivid dreams are documented side effects. The drug has even been known to trigger hallucinations.

“I’d like to see you again soon, say in a week. You can make an appointment with Miss Bell at the desk, or call the office at your convenience. For now I am going to prescribe medication to ease your depression.”

“Thanks, but no thanks. My feelings are all I have left of Bertie.”

Kaur writes the prescription and, rising, hands it to Dolores. “Think about filling this. It will make you feel better.”

The psychiatrist continues speaking as she escorts Dolores to the door. “Dr. Kindry tells me he gave you a list of bereavement groups in Queens. I urge you to choose one that is convenient and join.” With her hand on the doorknob, she gives Dolores a final piece of advice. “Build up your physical strength. You need at least another ten or fifteen pounds to support your tall frame. Eat regularly, exercise. The body and the mind work together in the healing process.”

As far as Dolores is concerned, she’s done her part. She has seen the psychiatrist. With a formal handshake, she thanks Dr. Kaur and walks out, ignoring Miss Bell and leaving Joe to make a more gracious exit.

#

Dolores regards Joe’s decision to take a taxi back to Queens as a second exercise in futility. This one forces them to endure the screeching decibels of angry horns and the unintelligible curses of a cabbie brandishing his middle finger.

Joe sits quietly beside Dolores. She knows what’s on his mind and steels herself to ward off his appeals. His final goodbye to the psychiatrist involved an inaudible exchange. Sure enough, even sooner than expected, Joe speaks up.

“A bereavement group makes sense, Dee.” He lists the benefits: she can find out how other people cope; she can talk to mothers who understand; she won’t feel so alone and hopeless.

“I don’t need other people. I need Bertie.” The hurt look on his face annoys her.

When they finally arrive home, Joe wants to talk, but Dolores needs a nap. He helps her out of the worn black coat they picked out together in another life and follows her into the bedroom. Dolores stands motionless as he unbuttons the coffee-stained white blouse and draws it off her arms.

“Dee, please. We need help; we need to learn how to live again.”

“I’m so tired, Joe. Let’s not talk now.”

“We have to talk. You want to give up, and I won’t let you!” He sits her down on the bed, and kneels to remove her scuffed loafers and peel off wrinkled jeans. She smells his pungent after-shave as his lips brush the nape of her neck, and she feels his swelling need against her thigh. She allows his hands and tongue to probe the mounds and recesses of her body in search of comfort; she herself is beyond comfort. He enters her, then heaves his body in desperate lunges. A final frantic thrust brings release. His muffled words moisten her neck. “Dee, Dee, I can’t lose you both.”

“Okay, Joe,” Dolores says, “we’ll try the support group. But, please, don’t expect too much.”

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Book Excerpt: To the Breaking Pointe by Cindy McDonald

To the Breaking Pointe 2Title: To the Breaking Pointe
Author: Cindy McDonald
Publisher: Acorn Book Services
Pages: 250
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Format: Paperback/Kindle

Purchase at AMAZON

Pushed to the breaking pointe!

Five years ago First Force operative, Grant Ketchum, let the ballerina of his dreams dance right of his life. Silja Ramsay returned to her birthplace, Russia, to take the position of principal dancer for the Novikov Ballet Company.

The owner and director of the ballet company, Natalia Novikov, has a dark secret: her beloved ballet company is almost broke. Natalia forces her dancers to prostitute themselves to financial contributors at exclusive after-show parties. Silja has been exempt and kept in the dark about the parties—until an American financier offers to bail the failing ballet company out. His prerequisite: Silja must become his personal companion, live in his home, and fulfill his every desire. Against her will, Silja is taken to the American’s mansion, but before she goes she manages to send a text to the only man who can save her, Grant: HELP!

Now Grant is on a mission to find his lost ballerina and rescue her from this powerful man’s subjugation. He will do anything to get her out alive. If they survive, will he let her chasse out of his life again?

Book Excerpt:

“Where is Silja?” Ballard Crafton asked Natalia as he searched the reception room in the basement of the theatre. The room wasn’t particularly large, yet it was quite elegant with red velvet swags hung in the archways, gilded crown moldings, and crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. A bar was set up in one corner while a violinist played softly in another. The room was filled with men, a few older women, and most of the dancers from the Novikov Ballet Company. Only one dancer in particular was missing… Silja Ramsay.

Natalia picked up her glass of wine from the bar. “Silja is not ready to attend our little soiree yet. She hasn’t been informed of my… financial situation.”

Ballard pulled a bracelet from his suit jacket. “Silja doesn’t like diamonds?” Natalia huffed at the sight of the bracelet that she thought she had convinced Silja to keep. He continued, “She had this returned to me by messenger this afternoon. Doesn’t she…don’t you understand just how wealthy I am?”

Natalia took a sip of her cabernet. “She still believes in love, Ballard—“

“I am in love with her!” he bellowed.

Taken aback by the sudden outburst, the crowd hushed, looking in their direction. Natalia forced a laugh, waving her hands carelessly at the crowd. She spoke to them in Russian, “Mingle, mingle, get to know our beautiful dancers.” With hesitant glances at Ballard, the crowd returned to their conversations. The women in attendance ran their hands up and down the male dancers’ muscled arms, while the men flirted mercilessly with the ballerinas.

“You told me that she would be here tonight, Natalia.” Ballard said, more hushed.

“As always, there are plenty of lovely ballerinas here to choose from this evening, Ballard. Forget Silja for now. I will keep working to make her come around. She still… how do you say… pines for another.”

“Who?”

“I do not know this. Be patient. Pick another for this evening. Here…” Natalia gestured to the bartender. He retrieved a box from behind the bar. Natalia took the box and offered it to Ballard. Lifting a brow, she said, “You may have first pick tonight, yes?”

“No. I am tired of spending time with ballerinas that I don’t want. I only fantasize that she is Silja. I want Silja!” Ballard said.

Natalia set the box on the bar. Slowly she dragged her gaze to meet his. He was like a spoiled child who had not received the gift that he desired on Christmas morning. No, he was worse—much worse. Finally she decided to put Ballard Crafton in his place. “I am quite aware of what it is that you want, Ballard. But I must wonder…will Silja meet the same fate as your other lovers?” His eyes widened in raw indignation, except Natalia did not allow his glare to dissuade her. “The opera singer from New York who no longer sings—instead she sits in a home with head injuries so severe that she can barely speak, or the concert pianist whose fingers are now crippled from the hammer that was used on them? What could these women have done to make you so angry, Ballard? What kind of monster lies within? I am desperate to save The Novikov Ballet Company, this is true. But I won’t let you destroy a beautiful dancer in her prime. How do you Americans say…we understand each other, yes?”

Ballard’s hands curled into fists of righteous agitation. The red flush started above the Armani tie that he wore around his neck and crept to his cheeks. He spun on his heels and marched out of the gathering.

Letting out a relieved breath, Natalia looked into the box which was filled with pointe shoes. Each shoe had the signature of the dancer from the Novikov Company to whom it had belonged. Her nerves tightened the knot in her stomach and shame swelled in her chest. She took another long drink of the wine, and then she managed a faux smile for the crowd, who anxiously anticipated the beginning of the evening’s event.

Natalia called out in Russian, “Who will be first to choose a pair of shoes tonight?” She held the box up high, shaking it. “Edvar! Where is Edvar?”

From the far corner of the room the ballet company’s dance instructor and choreographer, Edvar Kozlovski, brushed his fingers through ballet dancer Dominik Potrovic’s hair. After a whispered promise of return, he raised his hand calling back in their native Russian, “Here I am! Are you ready, Natalia?”

The crowd buzzed with excitement. The dancers exchanged nervous glances. All eyes were on Natalia. She said, “Yes! Who is our highest bidder this evening? Who will get first pick of the shoes?”

Edvar fished a paper from the pocket of his jacket, and then he announced, “Ballard Crafton!”

Everyone searched the room waiting for Ballard to come forward to choose a shoe for his evening of sultry delight, with the ballerina whose name was on the shoe.

Natalia shook her head. “No. He had to leave. Who is the second?”

Edvar squinted in a big show of reading the next name on the list. He proclaimed, “Belsky!”

From the back of the crowd, a tubby man merrily trotted forward to where Natalia stood. He could barely contain his excitement. He danced in place from one foot to the other. The ballerinas were now exchanging curled lips of derision hoping that he would not pull their shoe from the box.

He wiggled his fingers in anticipation of what lovely, well-toned ballerina would be his for the night. Belsky reached into the box and snatched a pair of worn European pink pointe shoes. The crowd tensed waiting for a name to be called as he handed the shoe to Natalia.

“Anna Antkowiak!” Natalia called out. The young girl from Poland shoulders drooped. Her face dropped. She was the newest member of the company. She hadn’t signed on for this. She had heard whispers among the dancers that Natalia’s ballet company was almost broke and about the after-performance requirements: prostituting the dancers for contributions to keep the ballet company above water. Tonight was her fist time to be summoned by Natalia to the contributors’ party. She could barely breathe as she watched Belsky’s eyes scanning the crowd for her.

Locking eyes with the innocent girl, Natalia crooked her index finger at the ballerina to come forward to claim her date. Trepidation filled Anna’s face. Her stomach twisted into a tangle of knots as she looked at the other dancers, who silently urged her to do as Natalia requested. When Anna suddenly noticed the bulge in Belsky’s trousers, she kept her head bowed, as she slowly crept through the crowd. Belsky grabbed her by the hand to hurry her out the door.

Natalia clapped her hands. “Another happy contributor to the Novikov Ballet Company! I’m sure Anna will make his night!” She shook the box again. “Who will be next to choose, Edvar?”

 

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Book Excerpt: When Shmack Happens by Amber Neben

When Shmack Happens coverTitle:  When Shmack Happens: The Making of a Spiritual Champion
Author: Amber Neben
Genre: Christian nonfiction/inspirational stories/sports autobiography
Paperback: 172 pages
Publisher: Neben Px4 (March 18, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0991303008
ISBN-13: 978-0991303007

Purchase at:

Amazon USA:   http://www.amazon.com/When-Shmack-Happens-Spiritual-Champion/dp/0991303008/

Book website: www.whenshmackhappens.com

Amazon UK and Amazon EU

Have you ever been through a hard time in life? Ever wondered why bad things happen? Amber Neben has you covered. The 2x Olympic cyclist for Team USA knows a thing or two about shmack- her word for describing adversity that comes our way in life. Follow Amber’s journey as she overcomes major obstacles both on and off the bike-and encourages you to join her in developing the perseverance, patience, perspective, and power than only Christ can give us. Very few people may know or understand what road cycling is, but everyone knows what it means to be an Olympian. The champion road cyclist chronicles her disappointments and failures, as well as amazing comebacks and victories-while thrilling audiences along the way with gripping stories of faith and hope. After reading When Shmack Happens, you’ll feel equipped and encouraged to face life’s tough moments, and find yourself cheering for Amber to get back on the bike…one more time. Learn what it means to be a spiritual champion in God’s eyes.

Excerpt:

From Chapter 10

Fear gripped me as I skidded to a stop against the guardrail and looked up at the entire peloton riding toward my head. Another rider had just slid into my front wheel, causing it to turn violently sideways, ripping the handlebars out of my hands, and instantly halting the bike’s forward momentum. Since my body was still carrying the 30-plus mph speed and energy, I launched with my arms out like superman until I hit the pavement. Hard. The combination of the friction of my body on the road followed by the impact with the guardrail spun me around, so I could see what was coming at me. For a few seconds more, I was terrified of being run over until the peloton had passed.

After this immediate danger was gone, I realized my finger was screaming at me. I hadn’t initially noticed it, but now it hurt like nothing I had ever felt. Fear grabbed me again as I connected the pain with the blood and the massive gash on it. I thought for sure I was going to lose the tip of it if I didn’t get help fast.

I had no idea what had just occurred. We had crested a climb and started an easy downhill. I was still up front on the outside of the group. The corner was sweeping to the left, and I was looking far down the road…when suddenly I was tossed. It wasn’t until later that night that the rider who was behind me explained what had happened, and why I had no chance to react or had any sense that it was coming.Amber Neben photo

I was in the middle of the 2009 racing season, coming off of the World Championship win the previous year. Only two days prior, I had won the time trial stage in this race, the women’s Giro d’Italia. The win had catapulted me into the General Classification (GC) lead, and although I had cramped the next day and lost it, I was still close enough to fight back. There were enough hill-top finishes remaining, and I wasn’t planning on giving up the race so easily. However, in an instant, everything changed. I went from being in contention, to being bloodied on the side of an Italian road in the middle of nowhere, waiting for the race ambulance and a doctor.

Amber Neben is a decorated international road cyclist with victories in 11 countries and multiple UCI Category 1 stage race wins. She is a 2x Olympian, 2x World Champion, 2x Pan American Champion and 2x National Champion. She holds a B.S. from The University of Nebraska and an M.S. from UC Irvine. Amber and her husband, Jason, reside in Lake Forest, CA. For information on speaking engagements or coaching visit amberneben.com.

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Excerpt Reveal of Camp Utopia and the Forgiveness Diet by Jenny Ruden

ABOUT CAMP UTOPIA & THE FORGIVENESS DIET

 

Camp Utopia and The Forgiveness DietTitle: Camp Utopia and the Forgiveness Diet
Genre: Young Adult
Author: Jenny Ruden
Publisher: Koehler Books
Language: English
Pages: 300
Format: Paperback

Sixteen-year-old Baltimore teen Bethany Stern knows the only way out of spending her summer at Camp Utopia, a fat camp in Northern California, is weight-loss. Desperate, she tries The Forgiveness Diet, the latest fad whose infomercial promises that all she has to do is forgive her deadbeat dad, her scandalous sister, and the teenage magician next door and (unrequited) love of her life. But when the diet fails and her camp nemesis delivers the ultimate blow, Bee bids sayonara to Camp-not-Utopian-at-all to begin what she believes will be her “real” summer adventure, only to learn that running away isn’t as easy—or as healing—as it seems.

Her wry and honest voice bring humor and poignancy for anyone, fat or thin, tired of hearing “you’d be so pretty if…[insert unwelcome judgment about your appearance from loved one or perfect stranger].”

 

AMAZON* BARNES & NOBLE

 

“A funny, poignant, emotionally intelligent and beautifully written novel that takes the reader on a journey that is by turns heartbreaking and inspiring. I highly recommend it.”

 

-Alisa Valdes, New York Times and

USA Today bestselling author

 

 

“Ruden’s debut novel is more than merely funny. It skewers our cultural obsession with the superficial, lampooning everything from fad diets to reality television and self-help gurus. And Bethany’s inner journey from bitterness to forgiveness is one that will resonate with all readers.

 

Read it for the laughs, reread it for Ruden’s profound insight into the transformative power of forgiveness.”

 

-Mike Mullen, author of Ashfall

 

“Anarchic slapstick laced with timely truths make this wry, occasionally raunchy debut a standout.”

– Kirkus Reviews

 

AN EXCERPT:

AMERICAN ENVY ENDED without a miracle. No boulder. No cannibal either. There was only an infomercial TJ and I were obligated to view because the couch had sucked the remote under one of its cushions.

The commercial featured a giant fishbowl filled with multicolored scraps of paper. Xylophone sounds tinkled in the background. At first, I thought the commercial was for some kind of craft, like moonsand or a Chia Pet. Then a voice blasted out from the TV:

DO YOU NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT?

I was lifting scratchy cushions, rummaging for the remote. When I heard the voice, I turned around.

HAVE YOU TRIED EVERY DIET AND FAILED?

On the screen that glass bowl glittered again, rainbow swirls of paper spinning around.

I WANT TO HELP YOU, the voice roared

No doubt I had heard various diet infomercials a million times, but never during prime time and never one quite as hypnotic. I couldn’t look away. TJ seemed rapt too. We studied the screen where the fish bowl overflowed with paper like jewels.

PAY ATTENTION. THESE NEXT FIFTEEN MINUTES COULD CHANGE YOUR LIFE. 

There was something about this voice. Like a magnet.

“It’s not about food,” a lady wearing a giant sunhat said. She lounged beside a pool, the glittery bowl positioned next to her sandaled feet.  “I weighed two hundred pounds and thought it was about food.”

Then the woman stood, dropped her towel, and twirled in a gold bikini. “But I discovered it’s about forgiveness,” she said.

“Hey!” TJ said. “My boss went on this diet.”

I shrugged. TJ’s boss at Rent-My-Ride went on every diet.

YES, the voice intoned, IT’S ABOUT FORGIVENESS.

That was when the room darkened a notch. It was dusk, and Baltimore had just breathed its last streak of sunlight against the pavement outside. The city’s gutter smells and sounds drifted past the open basement window. I should’ve told TJ to go home. It was getting late. And it was hot—too hot to even have the television on, which seemed to breathe fire. But I couldn’t talk or move. Even TJ didn’t get up to excuse himself and walk to his row house across the street.

Like my sofa had been slicked with paste, we watched this commercial as intently as we had American Envy. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen entire minutes. There were testimonials from people all over the country. Men and women held up size 20 pants, size 24 skirts, 3XL sweats. Then they pirouetted in something slinky, showed off their skinny jeans, patted their flat tummies.

“The Forgiveness Diet,” they all chimed, was how they did it. THAT’S  RIGHT,  said  the  voice.  WITH OUR  PROVEN THREE-PART SYSTEM YOU CAN DROP THAT UNWANTED WEIGHT.  INSTANTLY.

On the screen, a middle-aged guy stood before the ocean.

“Hi, I’m Michael Osbourne, and I invented The Forgiveness Diet. At twenty-seven years old and three hundred pounds, I was carrying too much weight and too many burdens. I decided to write everyone’s secrets on a piece of paper. All mine too. Then I put that paper inside a bucket. Enough, I said to myself. It’s time to forgive them.

“Before I knew it, the weight vanished. And yours will too. You can read about my innovative approach to mercy weight loss in my new book. If you call now, we’ll even throw in your very own Forgiveness Jar to get things started. For free. Free!

Call now to find out more about this amazing opportunity. Come on, what do you have to lose?” The corners of his mouth lifted as if attached to strings. “Except weight.”

He turned and ran out into frothy surf.

A phone number flashed across the screen. “Maybe you should buy the book,” TJ said shyly.

“Why?” I asked, still staring at the television.

“Because my boss lost mad weight. And fast!”

I rolled my eyes. TJ’s boss was always trying to thrust TJ onto better things. Like herself.

He nudged me gently. “If it worked you wouldn’t have to leave for camp tomorrow. You could see me graduate. Watch me audition.”

“You mean you don’t want me to go either?”

“I mean you could stay here. Just buy the book.” “I don’t have a credit card,” I said.

“What about PayPal? Order the e-book.”

“No e-reader.”

The fish bowl, on the screen again, brimmed with folded pa- pers. fat people walked up to the jar, kissed their papers, and dropped them inside. As they skipped off it appeared they lost the weight before our very eyes.

“You can do that,” said TJ. “Just write down the names of people who have pissed you off.”

“I’m sure the book has some kind of specific directions. There must be more to it than that.”

“Maybe not,” said TJ. “My boss said she just had to for- give her boyfriend for cheating on her and forgive her fingers for stealing change out of the rental cars, and she lost like ten pounds.” TJ stared at his Converse. “Bee, you have a lot of people to forgive. Maybe all that pissiness is stuck inside you making you big, like that voice said. It makes sense in a way.”

I bristled. “It makes absolutely no sense.”

TJ removed his glasses and rubbed them on his shirt, a ritual he only performed when something bothered him. “You could make it like a bucket list. Write everything down like in those long letters you used to write.”

“Those letters sucked. You’re crazy.”

“Your letters were amazing. Just write it true. Then put it in a Cool Whip container.” he replaced his glasses. “You could start with that night, you know. When we almost—”

“Shut up, TJ.”

“What?”

“It will never work.”

TJ sighed. “It worked for all of them,” he said, nodding toward the television.

YOU CANNOT FAIL the voice bellowed. GUARANTEEDThen the commercial ended.

“I mean you don’t want to go to fat camp, right?” TJ asked. “This might be your only hope.”

“But it’s just an infomercial,” I said. I looked back to the television where a woman discussed a very absorbent paper towel. I dug around behind the sofa, felt the hard plastic of the remote, and pushed the rubber button. The television buzzed off. “How am I supposed to get thin by tomorrow?”

TJ walked to the basement stairs and sat on the third step. Behind him moonlight dripped in the window. It had to be one hundred degrees in my house, yet there was no sweat on his forehead. TJ never sweated. When he opened his mouth, he spoke slowly, as if I were retarded.

“Look, Bee. Remember that guy who levitated on American Envy last season?”

Here we go, I thought. “How could I forget when you bring it up every other day?”

TJ’s eyes darted around the room, and he lowered his voice, conspiratorially, “Well, I finally figured out his secret.”

“Yes, TJ. It’s called Hollywood. It’s called camera tricks.” he stood up on the step and spread his arms wide. Then he brought them together in front of him like he was praying. He put his chin down near his collar and prepared himself for what looked like a swan dive directly into the coffee table.

“It’s called the Balducci levitation. You stand at an angle,” he said, rocking on the balls of his feet. “So from where you’re sitting it looks like I’m floating, but really, my foot is just on my ankle, see?”

We had that American Envy episode on DVR. For weeks TJ was over my house pausing it, flipping his head upside down in front of the television, trying to determine if the contestant had some sort of fan contraption crammed in his pants.

TJ stumbled off the step and landed, face down, on our shag carpet, which was the exact color of a tennis ball.

“Didn’t it look like I was floating a little?”

“No.” I said. Then, “Well, maybe slightly.”

He studied his shoes like they were to blame. “I’m still practicing,” he explained. “My point is that instead of trying to figure out how the Levitator couldn’t do it, I tried to work out how he did.”

“I don’t understand how writing down secrets and forgiving people will make me thin.”

“You don’t need to understand how it works.” TJ stood and stepped closer to me. “You only need to know that it’s possible.” When he reached behind my ear, I expected he would flick out a silvery coin or, if he was feeling mysterious, a gardenia. But he didn’t. He smoothed my hair back behind my ears and looked directly at me.

“You never believe what’s right in front of your face.”

“I believe in you,” I said.

He leaned in. “Don’t believe in me,” he whispered. I could see the red indentations his eyeglasses had pressed into his nose. “Believe in you.”

TJ dropped his hands from my face. When he brought them up again, they held a crumpled ball of paper. I started at it curiously, then I touched it with the tips of my fingers.

“Open it,” he said.

Once in a while, he could still surprise me with a magic trick. “Go on,” he urged.

I slowly uncrumpled the paper.

It read: I forgive my dad for not seeing me.

 “Where did you get this?” I asked, my voice tight.

He shrugged. “It was behind your ear.”

“TJ!”

“You’re full of magic, Bethany.”

“Tell me how you did this. Seriously.”

But TJ had slipped into illusionist mode where every movement was choreographed and every smile insincere. He might explain later how he’d managed to write this on a restaurant napkin when I wasn’t looking. He might cop to how he’d found purple ink, my favorite, and how he’d made the handwriting look identical to mine. Exactly like mine. Maybe he’d admit to somehow crawling into my future ahead of me, but not now. Now he only kissed my forehead, lustlessly. The way you would kiss a cat.

“You could forgive him,” he said, referring to the slip of paper, “your dad, for ignoring you at Chuck E. Cheese’s.”

“Stop,” I said.

He plucked the paper from my fingers. “You could forgive me too,” he continued, “for everything. You know. Last year.”

I could, I thought, but I won’t. Leave it to TJ to present it like an option. An option about as viable as a diet based on forgiveness.

“So if you won’t try the diet then will you at least write to me every day you’re gone?” he asked as he readied himself to leave. “Not just texts, e-mails too. Long, epic ones.”

My phone vibrated in my pocket. I pulled it out and read the text he’d somehow sent when I wasn’t looking. you my girl.

He’d never told me how he’d managed that trick either.

Not that it mattered. Tonight, just like every other night, I’d fall for him all over again. I’d believe I was his girl. I’d accept that someone so extraordinary could have a thing for me—someone so ordinary.

And fat.

So fat.

___________________________________________

ABOUT JENNY RUDEN

 

Jenny Ruden has published short stories and essays in Nerve, Salon, Eclectica Magazine, Literary Mama and High Desert Journal. She won an Orlando award for creative nonfiction, was named a finalist in Glimmertrain’s short fiction contest, and has been nominated for the Pushcart prize two years in a row. She has worked with teenagers for over ten years as a teacher of Reading, Writing and GED, and has an MFA in Fiction from the University of Oregon. She lives with her husband, two daughters, two basset hounds and cat in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

She does a flawless impersonation of a normal person. Don’t be fooled. She’s a writer.

 

TWITTER *FACEBOOK* WEBSITE*GOODREADS

 

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Book Excerpt: The Shu: The Gnostic Tao Te Ching by Thomax Green

The ShuTitle: The Shu: The Gnostic Tao Te Ching
Author: Thomax Green
Publisher: CreateSpace
Pages: 110
Genre: Spiritualism
Format: Paperback/Kindle

Purchase at AMAZON

Author Thomax Green has produced a compelling new book so cosmic in its scope that it has the power to change readers’ lives. THE SHU: THE GNOSTIC TAO TE CHING is a “modern-day Gnostic work which blends all faiths and sciences into a super belief,” Green says. “With this belief system, you can be a faithful individual without the restrictions and classifications that are imposed by religious groups. In short, it is the way to freedom and happiness.”

Book Excerpt:

In the beginning, there was no multiverse. All that existed was a perfect machine called the Light. This light was like a super-giant sun, except it radiated perfect light which did not burn but instead enlightened with complete harmony.

Those who kept the light were creatures of pure energy. We call them angels, and for a time there was bliss like a perfect equation. Until an alien emotion corrupted half the angels; it was a disease born from love. This dark emotion is called desire.

To desire is not evil, if what you obtain does not harm another. But in the beginning this emotion was so concentrated that it created darkness within the corrupted. They are now known as demons.

What they desired the most was the Light itself. They already had it but they wanted to possess it and call it theirs. This caused the angels to defend the Light from the Darkness within the demons. And a battle ensued.

Angels and Demons cannot die, but there were casualties. And when the Darkness tried to touch the Light it caused the perfect machine to explode.

The Light expanded into an infinite amount of pieces. Mass divided by nothing (or antimatter) equals infinite energy. The perfect machine was broken and time began. It became the multiverse and everything within it is the Light which is called the Inner Light or what we call God. That is how it is all powerful and all knowing. For it is within everything, the suns, the planets, the birds, bees and us. The Inner Light within us we call the soul or mind.

The battle is still being waged, for the machine is broken. The angels are pure Inner Light and the demons are now pure Inner Darkness. As humans we possess both from that original corruption.

The demons want us corrupted for they still crave the Light but they live in Darkness. The angels guide us to become better than we are so we may become pure from harmful desire.

The Multiverse is divided into an infinite number of universes. In some Darkness will prevail in others Light will win. That is why the demons do not stop fighting. For no one knows which universe will prevail good or evil.

This is why we have many lives. For in each incarnation we learn something that makes us either better or worse. Some of us will become one with the Inner Light. This is what we call going to heaven. Others will become one with the Inner Darkness and that is what we call going to hell.

There are those who adopt their inner power completely and when they do they will no longer reincarnate into this world. There are perfect examples from both sides like Jesus, Buddha, Hitler, and Napoleon. There are examples all throughout history of people becoming enlightened by their Inner Light or Inner Darkness. Look at Mother Teresa or Jeffrey Dahmer.

Ultimately when this universe comes to an end it will either be controlled by the Light or the Darkness. And when all universes come to an end whichever power is greater will cast out the other and replace it when time travels in reverse back to the beginning.

And that is the story of all things.

 

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Book Excerpt: The Gifted: How to Live the Life of Your Dreams by Daphne Michaels

The Gifted 7Title: The Gifted: How to Live the Life of Your Dreams
Author: Daphne Michaels
Publisher: Daphne Michaels Books
Pages: 130
Genre: Personal Development/Spirituality
Format: Paperback / Kindle

Purchase at AMAZON

In The Gifted: How to Live the Life of Your Dreams author, speaker and licensed psychotherapist Daphne Michaels celebrates the nine gifts that are our birthright, guiding readers in how to recognize and use them to transform their lives.  In her author’s preface, Michaels reveals how her own journey of life transformation began when she was young and realized that human existence wore two conflicting faces–one of love and joy, and one of fear and despair. She decided then to commit her life to reconciling these two visions because she knew that, irreconcilable though they seemed, together these two faces held the secret to living a life of endless possibility and authentic happiness. Her personal journey and formal education in social science, human services and integral psychology led to the founding of the Daphne Michaels Institute, which has helped hundreds of men and women design the lives of their dreams.

In The Gifted Michaels shows us that the first three “gifts” we must recognize and embrace within us if we are to re-design our lives are Awareness, Potential and Stillness. These three allow us to identify and use the remaining six with a life-changing power:  Disharmony, Harmony, Ease, Clarity, Freedom and Engagement.  Each of these six relies on the “essential three” for its own power to change our lives, and each has its own gifts–its “children.” By approaching the nine gifts with real-world metaphors, Michaels answers in easily understood ways what for many readers have been lingering questions about personal transformation—such as how it works, what kind of commitment it takes, and why, if we’re committed, real transformation becomes inevitable—and addresses obstacles that readers may have encountered in the past in trying to reach in life a happiness every human deserves.

While the human universe’s face of love is celebrated in The Gifted, so is the face of fear that haunted a young girl decades ago. As Michaels shows us in her book, even Disharmony—the “quagmire” of life born of the human ego’s fear, defenses, delusions and despair—is a gift, too, and one as important as the others if we know how to see it clearly and use it. Once we understand Disharmony, we are ready to understand the real purpose of Harmony in our lives. Disharmony does not need to rule us.  It is ours to use as we design the lives of our dreams.

The final gift in The Gifted, Michaels tells us, is the gift of Engagement. Engagement—with the universe and with ourselves—allows us to use all of the other gifts with more power and joy than we ever imagined possible.

That mountaintop decision never left me. It drove my life’s work and over the years led me to understand that there are gifts – nine of them, in fact – that we are all born with but rarely experience in their full glory and potential. These gifts – which make each and every one of us “The Gifted” of this book’s title – are the keys to living lives of endless possibilities and, in turn, achieving an authentic happiness that cannot be lost. They are, in other words, the keys to achieving the life of our dreams.

Book Excerpt:

Life’s greatest mystery is inside us. It is inside every living thing. Like the deep secrets of the universe, the mystery inside us will never be fully explained. By exploring it, however, we can discover gifts available to us that can change our lives forever.

Life’s great mystery is awareness. More basic than thoughts and more primal than instincts, awareness does not require a centralized brain, as scientists have proven through studies with invertebrates like starfish. While these beautiful creatures have no centralized brains, they possess awareness. Starfish, like all invertebrates, use awareness to perceive, eat, grow, reproduce, and survive.

Awareness is so intrinsic to life that it defines life: living means being aware. From the beginning of life – before we take an initial breath – humans demonstrate tremendous awareness. Prenatal psychologists have discovered that we experience, while still in our mother’s womb, not only light and sound but, even more astonishingly, emotion. We kick our legs when agitated by loud noises and sway pleasantly to beautiful classical music. Months before birth we grimace at the taste of sour amniotic fluid and drink heartily when it is sweet. Awareness grows as we grow.

As we develop as human beings, our awareness stretches in all directions – from awareness of our five basic senses to awareness of external events around us, from awareness of our emotions to awareness of our thoughts, from limited awareness of a topic that bores us to an expanded awareness of topics we feel passionate about. Of all the many dimensions of awareness, the highest form is self-awareness. With self-awareness we begin to appreciate just how far awareness actually extends. Just as ocean waters are deeper than the surface of the sea, awareness is deeper than the surface of our physical body or our conscious thoughts. The infinite depth and breadth of awareness is filled with gifts that are ours to receive.

 

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