It is 2011, and Mel Taylor appears to be just a regular guy—and yet he is anything but ordinary. Despite being born in 1916 and witnessing the devastation of World War II, Mel is only forty-four years old. Now this genealogist is trapped between painful memories of his past and his life in the present where he is plagued by confusing nightmares that rob him of his sleep. He is simply doing his best to find his way in the world.
When his friend, Joseph, asks for a favor, Mel finds himself helping a father desperate to find his missing son. He follows a dangerous path into his past—and his secrets, one of which he holds in his possession called the sapphire staff, a holy relic of incredible power.
As Mel and his assistant, Emily Haptonstall, embark on an investigative journey to find the missing boy that leads them on a search in the Iowa cornfields for a rogue Nazi scientist, they soon find their lives in danger. Now Mel is left with no other choice but to remove the staff from its hiding place and rely on its powers to save the boy and others from a ruthless individual who will do anything to acquire the staff.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.53(d)|
Read an Excerpt
THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND
BOOK ONE OF THE SAPPHIRE STAFF SERIES
By CYNTHIA SENS
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2013 Cynthia Sens
All rights reserved.
Millions of burning needles lanced my skin and scorched my senses in a nightmare flash of instantaneous pain. White blinding light became everything then nothing, nothing but consuming darkness. A black that was palpable. I willed my eyelids to open but their muscles were paralyzed and unresponsive to my brain's demands. The searing needles stabbed deeper, deeper until they pierced muscle, sinew, bone; deeper still until I felt them stab my very soul. Suddenly I jolted forward out of the swallowing black into the night, out of the dream and into what I hoped was reality. For a moment I believed I felt cool grass beneath my fingers. Believed I smelled the wet odor of earth that hung in the night as its air invaded my nostrils, then my hands grasped the sweat wrung bed sheets and I remembered. Remembered I was no longer there, no longer in the past. I was at home, in the present, in the future, in bed a thousand miles away from that memory. A memory I knew was no figment of nightmare or of imagining. I was awake and alive.
"Agh ..." I let out a breath signaling I was still in existence, barely. "Ahh ..." I moaned with a low guttural tone. I had too many nights like this.
There are two things I need to explain. First I was born in 1916 and it's 2011. No I'm not ninety-five, because the second thing is my age. I'm forty-four years old. Yeah, I know I was never good with math. Weird, but the way my life goes it only gets weirder. You may ask how does something like that happen, being born in 1916 and only forty-four years of age in 2011. When I should be ... well old ... a few years shy of one hundred anyway. I could tell you it involves a lot of things, but mostly stupidity, anger ... and a whole lot of grief. The truth is I really don't have a clue why I'm here. But then I guess cosmically we can all say that ... why are we here. I don't have the answer and I doubt I ever will. Ok so that was just a little too metaphysical for my brain to noodle, at this time of night or anytime. How I got here well that's what the nightmare had been about ... what all my nightmares were about.
I inhaled a long breath. I flopped back to the mattress and the fist wrinkled sheets and breathed a shallow sigh of what I guessed was relief. I lay there motionless, staring a moment longer into the placid night. Large puddles of sweat pooling on the surfaces of my skin, my heart slowed finding its rhythm; before I finally swung my legs off the bed and rose to my feet. I didn't bother looking at the clock I knew what time it was, 12:34 a.m. It was always 12:34.
I wandered down the short carpeted hall from my bedroom into my small kitchen, clicking the light on as I went. The bright overhead bulbs, in the circular frosted glass fixture, flashed against my eyes with glaring intensity. I'd barely started across the floor before one of the two light bulbs popped with a sizzling wheeze. I blinked in a wincing fashion. It was a manly wincing all the same. What ... that made seven bulbs this week ... higher than average. These nightmares were cutting through my supplies. The stone covered kitchen floor was cold to my feet but it felt good against the sweating heat of my tired body. I opened the old curved lime green fridge. The old thing looked more like a Buick than an appliance and it was about as tough. Its motor purring like a perfectly tuned car as I stood before the exhale of icy air. I shivered slightly, again in a manly fashion mind you; as the hair on my arms and body raised and the remaining sweat on my skin chilled. I really didn't want anything, but finally grabbed a bottle of homemade mead from the two dozen I had just bottled the week before and headed through the living room of my house toward my office.
My living room wasn't a huge area by any means, but it was probably as big if not bigger than my front office. It held an old davenport by the cream painted bedroom wall. The old thing weighed more than my three other comfortable old upholstered arm chairs together. Two of the chairs were age softened leather, worn and cracked in places but still with another couple of decades worth of use to be had. The third chair with its cushioned footstool was upholstered in a natty old green material, similar to a laundered army uniform, that would probably last forever, because it was tougher than iron. There was a small golden coffee table with numerous ring stains on its wooden surface, particularly a red ring that was most likely from wine, giving it a used character I liked. I side stepped it making sure I didn't crack my bare shin against its tapered ledge. But the most prominent feature of the room wasn't furniture at all but a black spiral wrought iron staircase that wound upwards to the second story of my house.
I pushed past the brown dividing curtains to my office. My home and office were divided by thick curtains, of flecked brown fabric, that could be pulled across to separate the two rooms during business hours. They seemed to do their job. My office was a large glorified entryway with partially exposed brick walls. It had enough room for a desk some filing cabinets and furniture. That was if I had any furniture besides the two wooden chairs that sat in front of my old desk. It was more than an office; it was my store front livelihood to the world even though I rarely had the open sign out.
My small two story old brick building wasn't very big but it was stone and solid. Two stories of old style construction when workers cared about their jobs and two by four's actually measured two by four inches; besides the basement of the old building alone had sold me. That and no one else had wanted the old mom and pop store. Originally it had been a dry goods store, built around the turn of the century. That's the nineteenth century since me and centuries have an odd relationship. It was a shoe and clothing store, an insurance company and finally the final indignity it had been split up into miniscule apartments, abused before abandoned and put up for sale. It had taken me months of gutting the shreds of apartment grim, dead mice and squirrel nests, of stripping, cleaning and repair. But she finally felt happy now, happy to be a home.
I tied my robe around me, blocking the cold and sopping up the remaining sweat as I sat down at my worn old wooden desk. Half the finish on its flat surfaces was rubbed away leaving a golden well used patina of hand worn areas and grooved away use. I unsnapped the top of the brown chilled bottle, letting the porcelain white plug dangle against my fingers before taking a needed swig. The taste was mellow and sweet but had a hardy after taste, a good batch if I said so myself. The front windows to the street were dark except for pale shadows cast by the high overhead street lights a few houses down the street. A moment from my nightmare flashed back into my mind. I shook my head and noticed a blinking red light on the edge of my desk. It was the light of my answering machine. I disliked the foul contraptions, especially this new digital one. It unfortunately had become a reluctant necessity; I couldn't be here all the time. Now if the blasted thing worked long enough for me to get a message I might learn to tolerate it. I hesitated as I pushed the tiny round button and waited. I'd already popped a light bulb. What was one more answering machine. I gave a distained glance to the other side of the room. There was already a cardboard box in the corner with two predecessors to the current one that was glaring at me with its red little eye.
"Mr. Taylor?" The voice said my name as if it were a tentative question. "Joseph Morgenstein gave me your name...." There was a long drawn out pause. "Umm...." Another pause as the man stuttered to find his opening. "I don't know if you can help me, but ... my son ... Jeffrey ... he ... disappeared almost a year ago...."
A little late to be calling me then, I thought taking another swig from the cold bottle as the sweat on my body started to lessen.
"Joseph said, well he told me to call you ..."
"... the police have all but given up.... they think, they think he ... he's just a run away ... but he didn't run away." The man's statement was emphatic. "I know he didn't ..." There was another pause.
I could tell just from the man's voice he was at his rope's end and the rope was fraying. The poor guy sounded desperate and he must have been if he was calling me.
"If you could help me I would apprec ..." he cut off. "I need your help, any help...." There was a deep undertone of pleading sorrow in the man's voice. "Please Mr. Taylor, my name is Isaac Zalbowski, you can reach me at 555-0941.... please ..." The machine beeped.
I didn't have time to think before the machine made a second beep.
"Mel ... Melburn are you there?" The second message had started. "It's Joseph ... pick up if you're there ..." he waited. "Mel ..." he waited again. "... you may not like this but I gave your name to someone I think you might be interested in ... or ... I know ... anyway his name is Isaac ... Zalbowski. And just ... don't shoot me the next time you see me, ok ..." The machine beeped once more and then paused before the light shut off.
"Thanks Joseph," I said running my hand over my stubbled face and yawning before taking another swig. Joseph was a good friend, hell he was probably my only friend in town. We had hit it off after only the first few minutes of our initial meeting. I'd come to the Midwest just over a year ago and at the time had conversed with no one other than real-estate, bank and general fun contract type people. Joseph was the first actual person I'd befriended ... or he'd befriended me. I wasn't sure which; we just seemed ... familiar around each other ... like old friends. Which hadn't happened to me much in the last few years or decade.
Joseph owned a small independent bookstore and publishing company. His bookstore consisted of an ever revolving collection of not only his own published works but a myriad of used, rare and unique antiquarian books. While the publishing end specialized in alternative history and science along with a few choice novels Joseph liked, thrown in for good measure. Rounding off his little business empire he also had an environmental lawn service catering to everything from aquaculture to snow shoveling and everything in between. That's right bookstore, publisher and lawn guy. He called the whole thing the Rose Tree. A small topiary red rose bush decorated the end of each spine on his books and his multiple business cards, multiple because he was his own printer. He had three businesses but at last count he had about twelve different business cards.
I had gone into the bookstore that was only a few blocks away from my building and within walking distance on a different street, a few days after purchasing my old derelict building. Its restoration had overwhelmed me and I decided to walk the neighborhood wondering if I could remember anything. I had come from this area years ago, a lifetime ago, but then I had never lived in the city, so reminiscing was a bit of a long shot. I had grown up on a farm and well ... when I had gotten old enough I'd moved away. Needless to say the neighborhood didn't look anything like it would have if I'd remembered it from nearly seventy years earlier anyway.
Joseph's 'Rose Tree' was in a block of buildings dating from the 1920's. It was on one of the few business streets in this area of town. My old building had gotten lost among the residential houses over the years and now appeared the odd ball among the clabbered single family houses and duplexes. One more reason I'd liked the brick dinosaur. Joseph, however, had taken three different buildings next to each other. Two tall, three stories and a squat one story and remodeled the facade in matching renown, all warm green and bright gold with a bright red rose tree painted on the bookstore's front door. It was quite impressive between the beauty parlor, with its peeling window sign and the blue haired grandmothers who exited it in clouds of permified wonder. On the other side of the Rose Tree was a dingy Mexican restaurant on the corner, which always appeared to be open for business but you couldn't tell if it was or not through the grungy dirt covered windows. The Rose Tree's front windows however screamed to be investigated. The stunted bay windows were filled with dozens of titles that begged to be read. Titles that promised the solved wonders of the ancient Egyptian pyramids, the legends and lore of the Sasquatch, free energy devices, underwater worlds, and Mayan languages, all mingled with the classics of Dante, Verne, Stevenson and Shakespeare as well as organic chemistry, religion and medicine; all woven in what seemed to be endless aisles of shelves and rooms. Joseph had about twenty-four employees in total, not counting the army of teenagers that seemed to renew and change every summer with his lawn service. I had been in luck, that or fortunate to find Joseph that day in the bookstore. He was bustling around putting out new inventory, some new book on lost civilizations. They were lost but that didn't seem to stop people from writing about them. He liked to keep his hands in every part of the business including trimming hedges and mowing lawns with his fleet of rechargeable mowers, on of course the cooler days of autumn.
Joseph had helped me out of a scrap right after I had moved in, a year or so ago, I guess I owed him some help especially after what had happened to his lawn service truck. I hadn't told Joseph a lot of the details about exactly what had happened. Maybe because I didn't remember a whole lot, concussions tend to make you a little foggy on details. I'd rammed his truck into a car going the wrong way on a bridge at midnight, well 12:34 a.m. to be precise. I told you it's always 12:34. It wasn't an accident or anything like that; I meant to run into the car. Hey I stopped the lady I was helping from taking a header into the Mississippi river ... after I'd had to tackle her ... when she ran from the car ... it's a long story. She'd gotten involved with the wrong people in some guinea pig drug trial at the local college. I'd run into her, well met, I ran into her later, when I was doing some research at the college. I'll just say she really wasn't herself that night on the bridge, or for about two or three hours after that. It was a swell time trying to keep her from running out into my street. I'd only let her get away once, and then for just a minute. But somehow she still made it three blocks before I caught her again. Luckily my neighbors hadn't called the cops. She was a quiet runner, not a screamer. I think that had made the difference. Maybe the drug made you faster as a side effect, I don't know. It must have because it took me forever to catch her. I could still feel the ache in my shoulder from that miscalculated tackle on the bridge. I'd tell Joseph the full story sometime, if I remembered it, till then I could help out his friend with the missing kid.
I'd only told Joseph I helped people sometimes nothing more. I mean it wasn't my day job, but then my day job wasn't really my day job. I'd had to tell him something to explain how I had destroyed his truck. Leave it to Joseph to recruit more unsolicited, unpaying and probably difficult work for me. Helping people generally only landed me in more trouble, I say more because there generally wasn't a time when I wasn't having some problem. After all it was one in the morning and I already had two appointments lined up.
I played Mr. Zalbowski's message again and wrote down his telephone number. I'd have to deal with it in the morning. I finished off the mead and headed back to bed, hoping to get some needed rest before tomorrow.
Excerpted from THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND by CYNTHIA SENS. Copyright © 2013 Cynthia Sens. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Devil’s Playground (Sapphire Staff #1), by Cynthia Sens, is an action-packed novel that’s hard to put down. Mel Taylor was born in 1916. He’s lived through World War I and World War II. Now he’s forty-four years old and the year is 2011. No, he’s not some old dude that looks really young. He’s really only forty-four. Somehow he has traveled through time. In 2011 he is plagued by nightmares and hardly ever sleeps. Then his only friend, Joseph, asks him to help one of his buddies. Joseph’s friend is a father and his son has been missing for over a year. Mel can’t say no and begins his quest to find the missing child. What he finds along the way is shocking, thrilling, terrifying, and good fun for the reader. This novel starts off slow and can be somewhat confusing. It’s made clear that Mel is from a different time period, but the information is dropped here and there and the reader has to connect the dots along the way. This may annoy some who have to know everything right away and have zero patience and the inability to suspend their disbelief. Other readers, who like to have a story unfold slowly, will enjoy the mystery and intrigue about Mel and his past. It would be helpful in the rest of the series if the author continues to share more and more about Mel since there seems to be so much still unknown about his past. As for the actual mystery that Mel is trying to solve (the missing boy), once again the author demands that the reader just go with the flow. Parts of the mystery are so far-fetched it distracts some from the actual story. However, if the reader is able to ignore the implausibility, the story is quite entertaining. In fact, it would be easy to read this novel in one sitting since once the action gets going, it doesn’t stop. The best part of this book is Mel. He’s from a different era and the author does a wonderful job of staying true to Mel’s character. She’s made him into a crotchety person that is more like a grandfather who has lived through much instead of a man in his forties. He’s witty, incompetent when it comes to technology, snarky, reliable, and honest. It’s easy to fall for Mel and to cheer for him. Without such a strong character this novel would not work. The story is good, but Mel is fantastic. This is the first book in the series and it’s a wonderful start. After you read the epilogue you’ll be anxious to read the next installment. I read this book in one sitting. It has a little bit of everything: history, action, humor, adventure, and even the supernatural. It’s the type of book that once it gets going is a true page-turner. Just don’t over think it. Go with the story and enjoy. It really was a delight to read and Mel is a wonderful character. Hopefully the next installment will be out soon. It’s exciting to read the first book in what appears to be a promising series. Well done, Cynthia Sens.
Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Readers' Favorite The Devil's Playground - Book One of the Sapphire Staff Series by Cynthia Sens is a thriller peppered with history that makes it an interesting read. Mel Taylor has witnessed the devastation of World War II even though he is still in his early forties. He has many painful and traumatic dreams and memories that haunt him. Mel finds himself helping a father find his missing son. He and his assistant Emily Haptonstall find themselves on a dangerous mission as they search for a Nazi scientist. This mission also takes him to the locked secrets of his past and reveals his possession of the sapphire staff, a holy relic of incredible power. But now with their lives in danger, he has to bring out the staff from hiding and use its power to save them. The story is set in 2011 and it is a blend of history woven with intrigue and a certain amount of suspense that holds the reader's attention till the end. There are many twists and turns in the story and all the characters lend support to the plot. The story is entertaining with a dash of the supernatural running through it, which enhances the mystery angle. The characters of Mel and Emily have been described well with all the nuances that add to the thrilling aspect of the story. Will the sapphire staff with its power be able to save Mel and Emily?
Reviewed by Melinda Hills for Readers' Favorite Captain Taylor suddenly finds himself in a difficult predicament in The Devil’s Playground by Cynthia Sens when he realizes that his troubles have followed him. Thrust into the future as he tries to destroy a secret device invented by Nazi scientists, Taylor adjusts to his circumstances while trying to retain a connection to the past. Taylor finds that he must rescue people from the evil surrounding him as the noose is drawn tight to capture the relic he holds. Experiments begun on concentration camp prisoners are followed up on the grandchildren of the survivors. Taylor confronts the madman responsible when he is called upon to rescue the kidnapped victims. A strange chain of events is uncovered and the relationships between Taylor and his modern friends are not as random as he had originally thought. Although he appears to have been successful in thwarting the plans of the scientists, there is still a big question that remains unanswered – is it really over? Espionage and the horrifying experiments conducted by Nazi scientists come to life in this fast-paced story about Mel Taylor, an American army captain who is inexplicably catapulted from Nazi Germany fifty years into the future. The Devil’s Playground is a creative tale combining the Nazi interest in the occult, their experimentation on human subjects, and their intention to rule the world, and transplanting it into modern America. Trying to live in the present, Taylor is forced to confront the horror of his past and try to prevent the past from repeating itself.
Reviewed by Kathryn Bennett for Readers' Favorite The Devil's Playground Book One of the Sapphire Staff Series by Cynthia Sens takes us to 2011 and introduces Mel Taylor, a guy who on the outside seems like a normal everyday 'guy next door.' He is, however, not a regular guy. He was born in 1916, saw the devastation that World War II brought to the world, and yet he is only 44 years old. He has nightmares of the past and is trying to blend the past and the present and find his place and way in the world. When a friend asks for his help, Mel and his assistant Emily embark on a perilous journey to find a missing boy. When things get dangerous while looking for a Nazi scientist, Mel must take a powerful secret from its hiding place, a holy relic called the Sapphire Staff. I feel with this book Cynthia Sens has put down a strong opener for a series. The book is entertaining and well written. It did take a little bit for me to fully get into the story, but once I did I was committed to it. Mel is an interesting character and I look forward to learning more about him because I plan to read more of the series. There is a really good blend of adventure along with the character development, and you cannot beat a book that brings a holy relic out of hiding. So, if you like history, magic, and adventure, The Devil's Playground is going to be a read for you to enjoy.
Reviewed by Katelyn Hensel for Readers' Favorite In The Devil's Playground, book one of Cynthia Sens's Sapphire Staff Series, we meet Mel Taylor. Mel is your average, middle-aged man living in the 21st century and working as a genealogist. But with Mel, what you get on the surface isn't all that is true. He transcends time, in a manner of speaking, by living almost a century and appearing half his age. Nightmares of the brutal battles of World War II plague his sleep, and he struggles to find his way in the world. The story really picks up when Mel is asked by an old friend to help him search for his missing son and he, along with his companion Emily, embark on a journey of mystery, intrigue, danger, and most interestingly of all, Mel's history. Well, the opening scene sure was an explosive one. Literally. We meet the main character as he's dying of a grenade blast, but also as his soul is "melting in the crucible of time." A fascinating play of words, I must say, but what does it all mean? This is at the very point in time when Mel leaves behind the typical trappings of an average man and becomes extraordinary. Somehow, he starts aging slower, and in his possession is the Sapphire Staff, the device that made it all possible. What an interesting concept. Our hero was born in 1916, yet in the year 2011, he's only 44. No, you didn't just fail basic mathematics. Something happened to make Mel Taylor someone out of the ordinary. He's a fascinating character, and so are the side characters. The Devil's Playground is a unique work. It may not appeal to everybody, but those with an interest in science fiction and history should give it a try!