Thursday, June 30, 2011

Freedom Giveaway Hop

Freedom Giveaway Hop

Since the cozy mystery giveaway was so popular in the last hop, I thought I'd do it one more time. So, for the Freedom Giveaway Hop, you can enter to win up to four of the novels below. This contest is for USA & Canada residents only.


Note: I haven't read all of these novels, but cozy mysteries tend to be free of sex scenes and gore. They also tend have no to minimal explicit bad language.


book coverA Parfait Murder by Wendy Lyn Watson. Read my review to learn more about this cozy mystery novel.

When Tally's cousin Bree spots her deadbeat ex-husband strolling the Lantana County Fair with a fat wallet and a vixen on his arm, she threatens to file for back child support. But when his lawyer is found dead, things get a little sticky. Did Bree serve up a dish of cold, sweet revenge?



book coverLet's Play Dead by Sheila Connolly. Read my review to learn more about this cozy mystery novel.

The new exhibit at the Philadelphia children's museum, Let's Play, isn't meant to be shocking-but when one of the installers is zapped with a fatal electrical charge, it's up to Nell to put her detective skills on display.




book coverSentenced to Death by Lorna Barrett.

When her friend is killed in a freak accident, Tricia Miles--owner of mystery bookstore Haven't Got a Clue--must use her sleuthing skills to solve a murder mystery that promises to be much more sinister than the books on her shelves.





book coverBooks Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay.

Lindsey is getting into her groove as the director of the Briar Creek Public Library when a New York editor visits town, creating quite a buzz. Lindsey's friend Beth wants to sell the editor her children's book, but Beth's boyfriend, a famous author, gets in the way. When they go to confront him, he's found murdered--and Beth is the prime suspect.


book coverHow to Moon a Cat by Rebecca M. Hale.

When Rupert the cat sniffs out a dusty green vase with a toy bear inside, his owner has no doubt this is another of her Uncle Oscar's infamous clues to one of his valuable hidden treasures. Eager to put together the pieces of the puzzle, she's soon heading to Nevada City with her two cats, having no idea that this road trip will put her life in danger.




book coverA Killing in Antiques by Mary Moody.

Treasure hunting is not for the faint of heart. Luckily, Lucy St. Elmo, owner of the Cape Cod antiques shop St. Elmo Fine Antiques, has more than enough heart. Lucy's long-time friend is killed with a strip of lace at Brimfield, the largest outdoor antiques and collectibles show in all of New England. Silent Billy is arrested. While Lucy combs the market for treasures, she starts collecting clues to clear her friend's name.



book coverDire Threads by Janet Bolin.

Willow Vanderling's quaint new embroidery shop is not a hit with the local zoning commissioner. He's denied her request to renovate the charming cottage behind the shop, and then he tricks some tourists into signing a petition to knock it down to make way for an ATV trail. Willow's furious and everyone knows it, which is a bad thing when he turns up dead in her yard.




book coverLouisa and the Missing Heiress by Anna Maclean. Read my review to learn more about this historical mystery novel.

Boston, 1854. Long before she achieves fame as the author of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott is writing stories of a more lurid nature, inspired by her fascination with the dark and mysterious. When the body of her dear friend, wealthy newlywed Dorothy Wortham, is found floating in Boston's harbor, Louisa is determined to discover who did it. It's well-known that Dorothy's family didn't approve of her husband, a confirmed fortune hunter. But Louisa suspects that some deeper secret lies behind her friend's tragic murder--and she sets out to learn the shocking truth.



To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "Hi @genrereviewer. Enter me in the giveaway for [fill in the titles of the 1-4 books listed above that you want to win]"

OR

2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered and naming which 1-4 books you'd like to win. Please also leave some way for me to contact you--or follow this blog so you can see the winner announcement.



This giveaway ends July 7th at midnight. I'll announce the winner on July 8, 2011 on this blog. The winner will be randomly selected.

If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ or DM telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to leave your e-mail address so I can contact you or check back to see if you won so you can e-mail me your mailing address. If the winner hasn't responded with a mailing address within seven days, I reserve the right to pick a new winner.

I hope everyone has fun with this!


The blogs participating in the Freedom Giveaway Hop:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Death at the Chateau Bremont by M. L. Longworth



book cover

Death at the Chateau Bremont
by M. L. Longworth


ISBN-13: 9780143119524
Trade Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Penguin Group
Released: June 28, 2011


Source: Unrequested review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, my take:
Filmmaker and nobleman Etienne de Bremont falls to his death from a high window of the family ch√Ęteau near the idyllic town of Aix-en-Provence, France. Antoine Verlaque, the charming chief magistrate of Aix who'll date practically any good-looking female, decides to join in the investigation since several of Etienne's relatives suspect murder. When he discovers that his ex-girlfriend, law professor Marine Bonnet, had been a close friend of the Bremonts, he uses that as an excuse to spend some time with her (though she's got a boyfriend).

When not at cigar clubs, dining at restaurants, or visiting the local winery to stock up, they investigate Etienne's death, which is soon followed by the murder of another family member. There are plenty of people with a motive, but they all have alibis. The question is: is someone lying or are they overlooking someone?


My Review:
Death at the Chateau Bremont is technically a mystery, but it read like a travelogue about Aix, France with a mystery going on in the background. There was no urgency to the mystery, so I felt very little suspense. The characters were varied, complex, and flawed. The story was mainly about how Judge Verlaque (who's not the courtroom type of judge) and his ex-girlfriend are still attracted to each other despite how Verlaque is constantly critical of her. While realistic, I was rooting for them to not get back together.

The story was full of details about Aix, France--both the attractions (sight-seeing areas, famous artwork, etc.), and the daily life. There were a lot of details about cigars, fine food, and wine. If you're a fan of those, then you'll probably enjoy this book.

Unfortunately, I don't care about those three things. The high level of uninteresting-to-me detail slowed the pacing down to a crawl. With so much detail, it was hard to tell what would play a critical role later, so I stopped trying to solve the mystery. While eventually we did get clues that pointed to the whodunit, that part didn't really kick in until near the end. My mom (who also read the story) said she thought the book had so many daily-life details because there was so little to the actual mystery.

There were some words in French, and some of it was obvious from context or explained. There were no graphic sex scenes. There was some explicit and some "he cussed" style bad language. Overall, I didn't find this mystery very interesting, but I suspect mystery-lovers who are cigar-wine-and-fine-food fans would enjoy it.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt from Chapter One
Saint-Antonin, France
April 17, 5:30 P.M.

Verlaque stood in front of the caretaker's house. It was a medieval cottage; its thick walls made of golden, rough-hewed stone that glowed in the late afternoon light. The windows were small, to keep out the summer heat, and their wooden shutters were painted a faded gray-blue. Behind Verlaque loomed the mountain. He remembered what Paul Cezanne had said of the montagne Sainte-Victoire--that he could move his easel half a meter and see a totally different mountain. Verlaque tried it now, shifting his heavy body slightly to the right. It worked. The spiky top of one of the mountain's many limestone knobs--its south flank resembled a dinosaur's back--came into view. A shadow suddenly floated cross the peak, and its color changed from dusty rose to gray.

He turned back around and looked at the chateau, not really a chateau but a bastide--a country home built by Aix-en-Provence's wealthy seventeenth-century citizens, who every July would leave their downtown mansions and make their way, servants in tow, to the cooler countryside. It was cold up here--although less than ten kilometers from Aix, Saint-Antonin was five hundred meters above sea level--and Verlaque realized that he had left his jacket in the car.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

And the winner is...

It's time to announce the winner of the Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop cozy mystery giveaway. Including Twitter entries, 87 people entered. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:


Tammy
who won: Foulplay at the PTA, Square Root of Murder, and Lets Play Dead.



Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always buy a copy of these books from your favorite bookstore or see if they have them at your local library.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Pieces of Light by Julie Cave



book cover

Pieces of Light
by Julie Cave


ISBN-13: 9780890516089
Trade Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Master Books
Released: June 6, 2011


Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Washington D.C. is gripped with fear at the hands of a deadly serial bomber. Churches are being bombed during their Sunday morning services, and lives have been lost. Former FBI agent Dinah Harris is asked by her old FBI partner to act as a consultant on the case. Also working with them is a handsome FBI bomb expert. He and Dinah are interested in each other, but Dinah wonders how quickly he'll run when he learns about her past mistakes and current struggles.

As the investigation progresses, it becomes clear that the bomber is angry at Christians for letting him down when he was in desperate need of help as a child. Now he's decided to direct his anger and urge for violence into a bombing spree that will show the world what hypocrites Christians are. Will the bomber complete his deadly goal or can Dinah stop him before more people are hurt?


My Review:
Pieces of Light is a Christian suspense novel. This book was the third in a series, but you don't need to read the previous novels to understand this one...though you'll probably like the ongoing characters better if you have. Also, this one didn't spoil the mysteries in the previous novels.

The suspense was built nicely by having Dinah and the FBI try to stop the bomber before another church was bombed and more people died. There was also some suspense about how her relationship with the handsome guy would work out. Though the bomber wasn't named from the beginning, the author wasn't trying very hard to hide "whodunit." There were only two possible suspects (from the reader's point of view), and only one would connect the plot threads together.

Actually, the novel felt disjointed because there were several seemingly unrelated plot threads going on. The purpose of one thread seemed solely to argue against the political agenda promoting "separation of church and state." Even the child abuse element was pushed to the point that the purpose seemed more to raise awareness about the results of child abuse than simply provide a driving motivation for the bomber.

Several of the main characters were complex and dealt with realistic personal struggles (like being abused). However, the reoccurring characters weren't really developed and would probably come across as simplistic if you haven't read the previous novels. For example, in this novel, the bomber had a valid and developed reason to hate Christians, but the Senator seemed to hate Christians, be greedy, etc., "just because."

Dinah was a Christian. She engaged in daily Bible study, small group Bible study, and an occasional prayer. While we're told her relationship with Christ is vital to her life, we don't see that so much in this novel as in the previous one.

I'll mention that I also had a "believability" problem near the end. I can't believe that a leader of a SWAT team, when faced with the choice of injury to two civilians or injury to his team members would immediately and unhesitatingly plan for the civilians to be hurt instead of his team.

There was no sex or bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this interesting novel to those who have read the previous novels in the series.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt from Chapter One
Sussex 1 State Prison
Waverly, Virginia
Prisoner Number: 10734
Death Row


I am on death row and they say I deserve to be here. I suppose I agree. I don’t really know. I don’t have any feelings about it. I know I killed some people, and that’s why I’m here.

I live in a cell that feels like the size of a postage stamp, but at least I’m by myself. I have my books, a television, and some paper on which to write. I have my thoughts, which are strangely muted as though they have jumped into someone else’s head and I’m eavesdropping. They’ve been that way ever since they arrested me. Before that, my thoughts were all mine and I could hear them just fine.

Apparently, this didn’t help me during the trial. The prosecutor called me a “cunning, cold killer who took great pleasure in planning the details of his innocent victim's deaths.” The judge told me that my unemotional response to the guilty verdict read out by the jury foreman “chilled him to the bone.” Even the newspaper, brought by my family when they visited the first time, had a picture of my blank face with the headline: “No Remorse Shown by Bomber.” "Why didn’t you show any remorse?" my family asked me. "Why not at least apologize"?

Because I don’t feel remorse. I don’t feel guilt. I don’t feel sorry. I feel nothing. Somebody has hit the mute button on me and I no longer can communicate the way I used to.

I’ve heard the rumors about me — that I’m a sociopath, that I’m angry and hatred-fueled, that I’m mentally impaired because I have no conscience.

I have felt anger, hatred, frustration, guilt, and even love before all this happened. I used to be a fully functioning, reasonably normal human being. I think that pieces of me are dying slowly, so that by the time my execution date rolls around, I’ll be almost dead anyway. There are pieces of light inside of me, slowly extinguishing themselves, one by one.

Read more using Google Preview.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop

Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop

As a part of the Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop, you can enter to win up to four of the novels below. This contest is for USA & Canada residents only.

Note: I haven't read all of these novels, but cozy mysteries tend to be free of sex scenes and gore. They also tend have no to minimal explicit bad language.


book coverFoul Play at the PTA by Laura Alden. Read my review to learn more about this cozy mystery novel.

PTA meetings at Tarver Elementary School can get pretty heated. But after parent Sam Helmstetter is strangled in his car following a meeting, mom and PTA secretary Beth Kennedy and her best friend Marina fear there may be a cold-blooded killer in the group.


book coverA Parfait Murder by Wendy Lyn Watson. Read my review to learn more about this cozy mystery novel.

When Tally's cousin Bree spots her deadbeat ex-husband strolling the Lantana County Fair with a fat wallet and a vixen on his arm, she threatens to file for back child support. But when his lawyer is found dead, things get a little sticky. Did Bree serve up a dish of cold, sweet revenge?


book coverLet's Play Dead by Sheila Connolly.

The new exhibit at the Philadelphia children's museum, Let's Play, isn't meant to be shocking-but when one of the installers is zapped with a fatal electrical charge, it's up to Nell to put her detective skills on display.





book coverThe Square Root of Murder by Ada Madison.

Dr. Sophie Knowles teaches math at Henley College in Massachusetts, but when a colleague turns up dead, it's up to her to find the killer before someone else gets subtracted.





book coverSentenced to Death by Lorna Barrett.

When her friend is killed in a freak accident, Tricia Miles--owner of mystery bookstore Haven't Got a Clue--must use her sleuthing skills to solve a murder mystery that promises to be much more sinister than the books on her shelves.




book coverBooks Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay.

Lindsey is getting into her groove as the director of the Briar Creek Public Library when a New York editor visits town, creating quite a buzz. Lindsey's friend Beth wants to sell the editor her children's book, but Beth's boyfriend, a famous author, gets in the way. When they go to confront him, he's found murdered--and Beth is the prime suspect.


book coverHow to Moon a Cat by Rebecca M. Hale.

When Rupert the cat sniffs out a dusty green vase with a toy bear inside, his owner has no doubt this is another of her Uncle Oscar's infamous clues to one of his valuable hidden treasures. Eager to put together the pieces of the puzzle, she's soon heading to Nevada City with her two cats, having no idea that this road trip will put her life in danger.



To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "Hi @genrereviewer. Enter me in the giveaway for [fill in the titles of the 1-4 books listed above that you want to win]"

OR

2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered and naming which 1-4 books you'd like to win. Please also leave some way for me to contact you--or follow this blog so you can see the winner announcement.



This giveaway ends June 24th at midnight. The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner on June 25 on this blog.

If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ or DM telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to leave your e-mail address so I can contact you or check back to see if you won so you can e-mail me your mailing address. If the winner hasn't responded with a mailing address within seven days, I reserve the right to pick a new winner.

I hope everyone has fun with this!


The blogs participating in the Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

And the winner is...

I apologize for not getting this up yesterday. But now it's time to announce the two winners of Missing Persons by Clare O'Donohue. Including Twitter entries, 14 people entered. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:


Marjorie

and

Mona


Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always buy a copy of this book from your favorite bookstore or see if they have it at your local library.

Foul Play at the PTA by Laura Alden



book cover

Foul Play at the PTA
by Laura Alden


ISBN-13: 978-0-451-23408-7
Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Obsidian Mystery
Released: July 5, 2011


Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
PTA meetings at Tarver Elementary School can get pretty heated. But after parent Sam Helmstetter is strangled in his car following a meeting, mom and PTA secretary Beth Kennedy and her best friend Marina fear there may be a cold-blooded killer in the group.

Meanwhile, rumors spread that Beth's newest employee at er children's bookstore is the murderer. Yvonne served time for a similar crime, but DNA evidence eventually proved her innocent. As the new PTA vice president organizes a boycott of the bookstore and the real killer roams the streets of Rynwood, Wisconsin, Beth realizes she'll need to stick her own neck out to catch an elusive strangler...


My Review:
Foul Play at the PTA is a cozy mystery. It's the second book in the series, but you don't need to read the first to understand this one. Some events from the first novel are spoiled, but not the mystery.

The characters were complex and varied, and Beth dealt with realistic struggles (financial worries, raising her kids, dealing with an ex-husband, etc.). However, the main character trait for Beth, Marina, and a few other characters was exaggerated to the edge of what was believable, probably to create humor. On the other hand, I normally wouldn't like or accept a mystery novel main character who was very non-confrontational and a chronic worrier, but I loved how Beth would stand up for what was right even when people tried to bully her out of it and she felt scared.

A mild level of suspense was created by the threat to Beth's business (and thus her much-needed income) and by a certain level of physical danger to the characters. I did not guess the whodunit. In a way, it wasn't guessable until near the very end, but I didn't guess right even once the characters were certain. Perhaps that's because they kept being certain about each latest suspect. Also, while I know people will kill for the stupidest reasons, I was never convinced that the motive would realistically result in a killing spree when whodunit could have skipped to the end intent without killing and had a much higher likelihood of succeeding.

This book almost hit a pet peeve when the characters delayed in calling the police when they knew whodunit and were in pursuit. It did hit a minor pet peeve in that two characters were seriously, er, ill, which provided a clue, but one of them suddenly showed no signs of illness (when it would have been inconvenient) and we never found out how the other one ultimately fared.

There was a brief Christian prayer at the Thanksgiving dinner. There was no sex. There were 10 uses of fake bad language. Overall, the mystery was engaging and interesting even if it didn't strike me as particularly realistic.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt from Chapter One
"You've got to get rid of her."

I ignored my best friend. Once again, she was trying to arrange my life for me, and I was much more interested in planning the Thanksgiving menu. Maybe I could swap the butter-laden, sugar-saturated squash for a simple broiled version. But the sugared version was the only kind of squash that Jenna, my eleven-year-old daughter, would eat.

"Beth, are you listening to me?" Marina scrubbed at her temples, frizzling her light red hair. "When was the last time Marcia was worth what you're paying her? It's time for her to go."

"Um." What I really wanted to put on the menu was a platter of cute little Cornish hens instead of a monstrous hormone-laden turkey, but that wouldn't fly with my family. "It won't fly," I murmured, and chuckled at my own stupid joke.

"This isn't funny." Marina waggled plump fingers at me. "Hey, pay attention. What are you doing over there, anyway? Tell me you're not making a list."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Clean novels or not?

Hi, everyone.

First, thank you for taking the time to follow my blog and read my reviews. I appreciate your interest.

Since I've had a lot of new people start following me recently, I probably need to make a few things clear. While I am "in search of well-written, clean novels," that doesn't mean only "squeaky clean" novels are reviewed here. I usually have no way of knowing if a book is "clean" before I agree to review it. I've read novels from usually "clean" publishers and imprints that have had an unexpected written-out bad word in the text or contained high levels of graphic violence.

Once I've agreed to review a book, I feel like I need to honor my word and review it--especially if I want future review copies from that publisher. However, I also find it helpful to know what a book does contain--should I avoid it?--rather than only having a limited list I know is acceptable. I assume others find this information useful, too.

Plus different people have different desires for what they want a book "clean" of and tolerances for books that don't meet that standard. I decided I should clearly let people know what my review phrases mean.


Levels of sex:
When I say "no sex" in a review, I mean anything from there literally was no mention or implication that sex occurs DURING this novel to "sex was implied (like a woman becomes married and has a baby) but it wasn't specifically stated in the text."

"No sex scenes" means there were no sex scenes. There may have been a lot of hot kissing or the characters may have talked or thought about sex, but I try to mention this and if arouse-the-reader language is used.

"No graphic sex scenes" means that the characters clearly had sex, but the scene was brief and didn't explicitly mention sexual body parts or give a graphic play-by-play. This generally includes some play-by-play foreplay action involving kissing and often caressing the face or upper body areas. I try to mention if any of the foreplay travels below the neck.

If there was graphic sex, I mention that and try to describe the length or frequency. I skim over these parts, but I can still include that information.


Levels of bad language:
"Explicit bad language" or just "bad language" means that spelled out bad words--what Americans generally consider to be bad language in a swearing/cussing/cursing sense--were used. These are words generally understood to be offensive to some degree, even if these words don't bother you. I don't count it as bad language if the words are used in correct, non-offensive contexts. I mention if British or other bad words were used, but I'm American so I might unintentionally miss some of those.

"'He cussed' style bad language" means that we're told the character uses bad language but the actual bad words were not spelled out.

"Fake bad language" refers to words that people use instead of bad language to mean the same thing but without offending other people.

"No bad language" means that no bad language was used.

Before June 18, 2011, the following rate definitions weren't always exact. Sometimes I counted the bad words, but sometimes I didn't. I'll stick closely to these definitions in the future.

"A very minor amount" of bad language means there were only 1-5 bad words in the whole book. Usually it's only 1 or 2 bad words total.

"A minor amount of" means that bad words were used at an average rate of 1 per every 30-65 pages.

"Occasional use of" means anything over "a minor amount" to an average of 1 bad word per every 20 pages. I started to use this on October 1, 2014, and it used to be included in "some."

"Some" bad language means anything over "occasional" to an average of 1 bad word per every 10 pages.

"A fair amount" of bad language means anything over "some" to an average of 1 bad word per every page.

"A lot of" bad language means anything higher than "a fair amount." It's unlikely I'd review such a book on this blog.

I also mention if crude language is used.


Levels of violence:
I generally only mention the level of violence if the book contains detailed, graphic gore or a high level of violence. I try to specifically explain what's in the book rather than falling back on code phrases.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson



book cover

Hell is Empty
by Craig Johnson


ISBN-13: 9780670022779
Hardback: 320 pages
Publisher: Viking
Released: June 6, 2011


Source: Unrequested review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
"Hell is empty and all the devils are here."

Sheriff Walt Longmire has been maintaining order in Wyoming's Absaroka County for more than thirty years. When Raynaud Shade, an adopted Crow Indian, confesses to murdering a boy ten years ago and burying him deep within the Big Horn Mountains, the FBI asks Walt to transport him and several other dangerous criminals to where the boy is buried. Once there, the FBI agents explain that the victim's name is White Buffalo--the nephew of a man Walt knows.

When the criminals escape into the remote mountains during a horrible snowstorm, Walt sets out after them alone. He's determined to follow them to the end of Dante's icy Hell if he has to.


My Review:
Hell is Empty is a suspense/thriller about a sheriff tracking down a bunch of very bad criminals--including a serial murderer--during a horrible blizzard on an isolated mountain all by himself. There was a also paranormal (ghost/spirit) element. The draw of the story was mainly the suspense created by the physical danger, which it did well.

This was the seventh book in the series. This novel referred briefly to a couple of events in previous novels, so you might wish to read them first. Besides, you probably won't care what happens to Walt unless you've already formed a bond with him in the previous novels.

If you're a fan of Dante's Inferno--or have even read it--then you might get more out of this than I did. Since I haven't read Inferno, I felt like I was missing some subtle symbolism he was trying to create.

The characters were interesting though not very complex. I understand that the bad guys had hostages, that Walt knew it was foolish to go after the bad guys alone, and that later Walt was so tired that he was going on autopilot. However, I was a bit exasperated that he kept turning down help and refused to wait for backup when it made sense to do so.

There wasn't much job or setting development beyond prisoner transport procedures, cool guns, and the effects of a bad blizzard and a firestorm.

There were no sex scenes. There was some explicit bad language (though less than the previous novel, Junkyard Dogs). Overall, if the whole chase-scene thing sounds interesting to you, then you might like it.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt from Chapter One
"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to talk with your mouth full?"

I tried to focus on one of my favorite skies--the silver-dollar one with the peach-colored banding that seriates into a paler frosty blue the old-timers said was an omen of bad times ahead--as I stuffed a third of a bacon cheeseburger into Marcel Popp's mouth in an attempt to silence the most recent of his promises that he was, indeed, going to kill me.

Read more from chapter one using Google Preview.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dragons: Legends & Lore of Dinosaurs by Bill Looney



book cover

Dragons:
Legends & Lore of Dinosaurs
by Bill Looney


ISBN-13: 9780890515587
Hardback: 24 pages
Publisher: Master Books
Released: December 28, 2010


Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Publisher Website (modified):
An enigmatic source of fascination, dragons are the stuff of fantasy - or are they? Dragon legends can be found around the world. This fascinating presentation on dragons will shed light on the truth of their existence and their connection to the last living dinosaurs.

Dragons: Legends & Lore of Dinosaurs is a juvenile nonfiction title that takes you back to the days of these amazing creatures in various cultures including Asia, the Americas, and Europe. Read of thrilling historical battles between dragons and saints and of the references to dragons in the Bible. Beautifully presented using original illustrations, envelopes, fold-outs, gatefolds, and more!


My Review:
Dragons: Legends & Lore of Dinosaurs is a juvenile nonfiction book about the ancient eyewitness accounts of dragons and how their descriptions match those of dinosaurs. The book is illustrated with full-color pictures--mainly of dragons and dinosaurs--and contains information in pull-out cards, fold-out pages, attached booklets, and more. Kids will enjoy the interactive nature of this book, but the removable parts could potentially be lost if the reader forgot to return them to their envelope on the page.

The book covered topics like the various dragon legends from cultures around the world, preserved eyewitness accounts about dragons, the connection between dragons and dinosaurs, dragons in the Bible, sea-serpent legends, and answers to several Christian questions about dragons (like when were dragons created, what did they originally eat, etc.).

I'd highly recommend this Christian book to children (and adults) who are interested in dragons and/or dinosaurs.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt: Read an excerpt.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Giveaway: Missing Persons by Clare O'Donohue

book cover
Since I enjoyed Missing Persons by Clare O'Donohue so much, I agreed to host a giveaway for this book. (I'll pick the winners, but the publisher will provide 2 books and send them to the winners.)

You can learn more about this novel by reading my review. (Please note that this novel contains explicit bad language.)


There will be two winners. This contest is for USA & Canada residents only.


To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "Hi @genrereviewer. Enter me in the giveaway for mystery novel MISSING PERSONS by Clare O'Donohue."

OR

2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered. Please also leave some way for me to contact you--or follow this blog so you can see the winner announcement. It'd be fun if you also included why you're interested in reading this novel.


The two winners will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winners on June 18, 2011 on this blog.

If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ or DM telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to leave your e-mail address or check back to see if you won so you can e-mail me your mailing address. If the winner hasn't responded with a mailing address within four days, I reserve the right to pick a new winner.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

Missing Persons by Clare O'Donohue



book cover

Missing Persons
by Clare O'Donohue


ISBN-13: 9780452297067
Trade Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Plume
Released: May 31, 2011


Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Kate Conway's husband--soon-to-be ex-husband--is dead of what appears to be a heart attack. Initially, his family blames the stress of the divorce proceedings--and Kate, though Frank was the one who was having an affair and who started the divorce. But since Frank was healthy and had no heart problems, the police start looking into it as a suspicious death. If it turns out to be murder, it's clear they think Kate is a prime suspect. To make matters worse--and weirder--the woman Frank was having an affair with suddenly wants to be friends with Kate.

So when she's offered a new freelance TV producer assignment on a series called Missing Persons, it's a welcome distraction. Kate eagerly throws herself into the story of Theresa Moretti, a seemingly angelic young woman who disappeared a year earlier. All Kate wants is a heart-tugging story on tape that will earn her future work, but apparently someone feels threatened by the questions she's asking: a dead bird is left for her and other strange things occur designed to scare her. Or is that connected with her husband's death? She's not sure, but she's certain she wants it to stop. The only way to do that is to keep digging for the truth...


My Review:
Missing Persons is a fast-paced, well-written mystery. Actually, there's several mysteries: how did Kate's husband die, what happened the the missing girl that she's producing a TV episode about, and who is trying to scare Kate? The mystery wasn't predictable--in a good way--and was handled more like these things would occur in real life. And while there were plenty of clues, I never felt certain about the "whodunit" until after the reveal.

The characters were realistic, varied, and complex. They dealt with realistic struggles about life not ending up like they had expected. Vivid details about her job as a freelance TV episode producer for Crime TV and about the people brought the story alive in my imagination. I would become so immersed in the story that I lost all track of time, and I had a hard time setting the book down even when I really needed to. I felt like this story really could have happened, and I plan on re-reading it someday.

There was some explicit bad language. There were no sex scenes. From the book description, I wasn't sure I'd like the story, but I did. Overall, I'd highly recommend this very well-written book.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt from Chapter One
"I want you to tell me about the day your husband was murdered."

The woman glanced toward the camera before returning her eyes to me. Then, in a quiet tone, she launched into the story. It was one she must have told a hundred times in the last three years--to police, family, friends, prosecutors, and, now, to me.

Her husband had managed one of those excessively cheerful chain restaurants in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. He'd recently started putting in a lot of hours because the couple was saving for their first home and planning a family. He'd wanted, as the woman now told me, to give them a secure future. But it wasn't to be. One night, after he'd closed the restaurant and let the rest of the employees go home, he stayed to send some e-mails to the corporate office. While he worked, two men broke into the restaurant, one of them an ex-employee. Fearing identification, the men shot the husband in the face. His last words, apparently, were, "Tell my wife I love her." The killers were caught six hours later, having stolen only forty dollars. The rest of the day's take had already been deposited at the bank by the assistant manager.

"Forty dollars," the woman repeated, still struggling to believe that her husband had been murdered, and her future shattered, for so paltry a sum.

She told the story beautifully, and with remarkable composure. But as I listened, nodding my head empathetically, my eyes glistening as if on the verge of tears, all I could think was--this would be so much better if she cried.

Read more from chapter one and two.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken



book cover

Brightly Woven
by Alexandra Bracken


ISBN-13: 9781606840382
Hardback: 354 pages
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Released: June 2010

(paperback release on June 28, 2011)


Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Sydelle Mirabil's dusty village at the edge of the kingdom has suffered under a ten-year-long drought...until a travel-worn young wizard arrives and brings the rain with him. In return, Wayland North is offered any reward he desires. Sydelle is shocked when he asks for her. He wants her to act as his assistant due to her ability to mend his magic cloaks--something few people can do. There's an invading army right behind him and he needs to get a critical message to the capital that will save her village, so she agrees to go with him.

Wayland is fiercely protective of her, but secretive--especially about the curse that leaves him in agony after using his magic. Unusual storms and earthquakes occur as they journey, and wizards seem drawn to her. Sydelle must discover what is going on if she's to survive and be more than a fought-over tool in the hands of others.


My Review:
Brightly Woven is a young adult fantasy novel set in a fairly generic medieval-type world. Unfortunately, the setting and culture weren't very developed. The magic system (based on individualized talismans used to do magic) was potentially unique and interesting, but even that wasn't developed very deeply despite the large role that magic played in the story.

I found the characters engaging and their road of discovery intriguing. The suspense was created by uncovering the various important secrets and the urgency of reaching the capital in time to stop the war. Both kept me reading. I thought the rate that new information about the various secrets was uncovered was excellent--not too quick, not too slow.

Another reviewer mentioned how Sydelle tended to need rescuing when she ignored people's advice to stay away from a fight. This didn't bother me since she ran into danger to figure out what's going on and due to a desire to help. Also, she's not supposed to be competent against magic. (If she did it to prove something or was competent but still needed rescuing, then it would have bothered me.)

Some details were left uncertain--though tending a certain direction--in a way that made me think a sequel is planned. There was no sex. There was a very minor amount of "he cursed" style of bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this intriguing, enjoyable tale.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt from Chapter One
The day the rains finally came was like any other, with blistering air coating the canyon in a heavy stillness. By late afternoon, the only thing more suffocating than the air was the dust kicked up by our feet. We were as quiet as the dead, moving from rock to crevice, always watching the paths for a sign of movement. Not even a desert hare emerged from the shade. In a way, we were grateful to be left alone, but it was a haunting reminder of what waited for us in the valley below: a village of deserted streets, of wood and mud houses, and of the slow, creaking swing of the well's empty pail.

I crouched beneath the cover of the jutting rocks, my legs aching with exhaustion and my chest as tight as dry leather. The dust was hot between my fingers, and my knees stung with all the jagged little rocks that dug into them. I was awful at this game--I was awful when I was a kid and still awful now, years later, when Henry had decided that the best way to watch his little brothers was to play go-seek-find.

Even with all of the hiding places the Sasinou Mountains had to offer, none ever seemed good enough to mask the red hair that grew out of my head in every which way. I wasn't exactly an image of grace and lightness of foot, either, which made hiding more difficult.

Earlier that day, Mother had given us a disgusted face when Henry came to our house, begging me to join them in the mountains. For weeks, she had worn the strip of black cloth like armor, knotting it fiercely around her upper arm every morning in the dark since the news had reached Father by post.

"Out playing games--now, of all times? It'll do nothing more than show the young ones how to be disrespectful," she had said, working a slab of dough on the countertop.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Louisa and the Missing Heiress by Anna Maclean



book cover

Louisa and the Missing Heiress
by Anna Maclean


ISBN-13: 9780451233240
Trade Paperback: 322 pages
Publisher: Obsidian Mystery
Released: June 7, 2011


Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
Boston, 1854. Long before she achieves fame as the author of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott is writing stories of a more lurid nature, inspired by her fascination with the dark and mysterious. Although her famous philosopher father, Bronson Alcott, knows nothing of her lowbrow literary pursuits and would not approve, her mother, Abba, and three sisters appreciate her vitality, independence, and ambition.Theirs is a frugal but always welcoming household where enlightened beliefs vie with the practical necessity of earning a living. But no previous experience prepares Louisa for the role of amateur detective she assumes when the body of her dear friend, wealthy newlywed Dorothy Wortham, is found floating in Boston's harbor.

Dorothy was clearly distraught in the days following her return from her yearlong honeymoon abroad. It's well-known that her family didn't approve of her husband, a confirmed fortune hunter. But Louisa suspects that some deeper secret lies behind her friend's tragic murder--and she sets out to learn the shocking truth...


My Review:
Louisa and the Missing Heiress is a historical mystery set in 1854 in Boston. The title is misleading since the heiress in question was never really missing, just late to tea parties and then killed. The story contained rich, but not overwhelming detail about everyday life at that time and the real Louisa May Alcott's life.

I found the Louisa character charming, and I enjoyed the underlying humor in how she viewed others and herself. The other characters were vivid but generally not very deep or distinct from each other.

The whodunit wasn't very difficult to figure out. I was sure who the murderer was very early in the story, and it only became more obvious. The author was able to extend the mystery by having Louisa have so many questions to ask that she didn't ask some obvious questions early on. However, she still hadn't asked these questions when, near then end of the story, Louisa knew she was missing something but couldn't think of any questions she'd neglected to ask. The character was smart, so this didn't strike me as realistic.

When Louisa did figure it out who the murderer was (along with some details that, indeed, I never would have guessed), she acted stupidly: she didn't tell anyone who the murderer was, sent her only backup away (to fetch the police), then went alone and without a weapon to confront someone whom she suspected was about to kill again. This didn't increase the suspense for me. During her confrontation with the murderer, the author didn't use the murderer's name in order to "surprise" us with it later. That just made me feel insulted and irritated.

So, while I found the first two-thirds of the novel charming and enjoyable, the author hit too many of my pet peeves in the last third for me to enjoy it. If the things I pointed out above don't annoy you, then you'll probably enjoy this novel. There were no sex scenes. There was a very minor amount of both explicit and "he cursed" style bad language.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Excerpt from Chapter One
"I suppose it is some strange new custom," complained Miss Alfreda Thorney. "Inviting guests and then not being there to greet them. I never."

Miss Thorney was the personage we referred to in private as the Medusa, for the thick, curling salt-and-pepper hair that snaked around her forehead and cheeks in a style of hairdressing that had been popular some thirty years before; and because her glance could turn men to stone. Or so I had imagined as a little girl, when the mere sight of her would compel me to run away in terror. Unfortunately, as an adult I found her only slightly less terrifying. There were, after all, those rumors of her instability, of a two-year period when she had been locked into a room with only the family doctor for a visitor.

"Mrs. Wortham is only back from a long voyage," I protested gently, braving the Medusa's stern glance. "I am confident that some pressing matter arose at the last minute, and that she will be home soon. Have another slice of seedcake, won't you?" I picked up the silver cake tray to pass it, but before I could, Mr. Wortham's man, Digby, stepped forward and took it. This sort of formality was not what I was accustomed to.

"I'll do that, miss," he said, and with great stateliness, as if he held the crown jewels, he silently moved around the little circle with it, his highly polished black boots giving off occasional glints of light.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

And the winner is...

It's time to announce the winner of the Slash into Summer Giveaway. Including Twitter entries, 97 people entered. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:


Michele L
who won Eona by Alison Goodman


Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always buy a copy of this book from your favorite bookstore or see if they have it at your local library.

Pompeii: City on Fire by T. L. Higley


book cover

Pompeii: City on Fire
by T. L. Higley


Trade Paperback: 390 pages
Publisher: B&H Books
Released: June 1, 2011

List Price: $ 14.99
ISBN-10: 1433668572
ISBN-13: 978-1433668579

Book on Amazon


Source: Special thanks to T.L. Higley for sending me an Advanced Reader Copy of her book for review. This post is part of the FIRST Wild Card Tour.

Book Description:
A city shadowed by a roiling volcano
A young politician running from his destiny
A Jewish slave girl with a desperate plan
Are any of them safe from harm?

Pleasure-seeking Romans find the seaside town of Pompeii the perfect getaway. But when the rich patrician Cato escapes Rome, intent on a life of leisure, he is unprepared for the hostility he encounters. In the same place, but at the opposite end of society, Ariella has disguised herself as a young boy to be sold into a gladiator troupe. Survival is her only ambition.

But evil creeps through the streets of Pompeii, and neither Ariella’s secret nor Cato’s evasion is immune to it. Political corruption, religious persecution, and family peril threaten to destroy them, even before an ominous mountain in the distance spews its fire.

As Vesuvius churns with deadly intent, Cato and Ariella must bridge their differences to save the lives of those they love—before fiery ash buries Pompeii, turning the city into a lost world.


Review:
Pompeii: City on Fire is a well-written, fast-paced Christian historical novel that contained some romance. It's set mainly in Pompeii in 76 AD. I suspect that both men and women would enjoy the story. The author expertly used historical details to completely immerse the reader in the culture, setting, and time period without slowing the fast pacing. I was left feeling like this was the true story of the dead people you see--as plaster casts--when visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum. (Yes, I've been to both and seen the houses, shops, and other places mentioned in this novel. That gave a haunting quality to the story for me.)

The characters were complex and realistic, and I cared about what happened to them. While Ariella had every reason to be skeptical of Cato's motives, I found her initial complete skepticism a little puzzling since she knew that he'd helped her in the past without expecting favors in return. I think it would have helped me if, in the first chapter set in Rome (instead of near the end of the book), the author had given a bit more information about what Ariella's former master had done to her. Then we'd know from the start that she had a really good reason to run away to a life of danger as a gladiator and to expect bad treatment from any male Roman.

The suspense was high throughout and was mainly created by the looming possibility of physical harm to Ariella and Cato. However, it was hard to feel high suspense about the goals they're striving so hard to achieve since we know Mt. Vesuvius is about to destroy everything they've so staked their future on. I liked how this was handled, but it did leave the suspense a little lower than it otherwise would have been.

The Christian content was woven into plot. Several Christian characters, who lived very differently from those around them, kept catching the eye of Cato--a pagan Roman--and Ariella--a "God let harm come to me, so I refuse to deal with Him" Jew. There were conversions to Christianity, but this element flowed as a natural part of the story. I received an Advanced Reader Copy, so perhaps this will be changed by the final product, but I found the characterization of Mt. Vesuvius as a sort of avenging nature goddess odd for a Christian novel. I would have liked it better if the mountain was not personified.

There were no sex scenes (though forced sex was vaguely referred to) or bad language. Overall, I'd highly recommend this novel as very well-written, exciting historical.


If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


About the Author:
Tracy started her first novel at the age of eight and has been hooked on writing ever since. After earning a B.A. in English Literature at Rowan University, she spent ten years writing drama presentations for church ministry before beginning to write fiction. A lifelong interest in history and mythology has led Tracy to extensive research into ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome and Persia, and shaped her desire to shine the light of the gospel into the cultures of the past.

She has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Italy, researching her novels and falling into adventures.

Visit the author's website.


Book Trailer:



Excerpt from Prologue & Chapter One
Prologue

Jerusalem
August 9, 70 AD

Ariella shoved through the clogged street, defying the mob of frantic citizens. Men, women, and children crowded the alleys, senseless in their panic to flee the city. They carried all they could, packed into pouches slung across their chests and clutched in sweaty hands. Soldiers ran with them, as though they had all joined a macabre stadium footrace, with participants who clubbed and slashed at each other to get ahead. Beside her, one of the district’s tax collectors tripped and fumbled a latched wooden box. It cracked against the cobbled street and spilled its meager hoard of gold. The tax collector was dead before he hit the ground, and the Roman soldier pulled his sword from the man’s gut only to scrabble for the coins.

Ariella turned her head from the gore, but felt little pity for the tax man, cheated of life by the Romans for whom he had betrayed his people. Still, concern flickered in her chest at the sudden violence in the street.

Something has happened.

The city had been under siege for months. Three days ago her mother announced that the sacrifices in the Temple had ceased. But today, today was something new. Perhaps three days of sins not atoned for had brought the wrath of the Holy One down on them all.

Unlike those who ran the streets with her, Ariella’s destination was neither Temple nor countryside. She returned to her home—if the dim tenement could be called such—from another useless excursion to secure food.

At sixteen and as eldest child, it fell on her to search the famished city for a scrap of dried beef to feed her brother, perhaps a thimbleful of milk for the baby, crumbs for her father whose eyes had gone glassy and whose skin was now the color of the clay pots he once turned on the wheel.

But there was no food to be found. Titus, the emperor’s son, had arrived in the spring with his army of eighty thousand and his siege wall served well its double function—the people were trapped and they were starving.

Not even such a wall could prevent news from seeping through its cracks, however. From Caesarea, word escaped of twenty thousand Jews slaughtered in a day. Fifty thousand killed in Alexandria. Ten thousand met the sword in Gamla. Such numbers were incomprehensible.

Here in Jerusalem, the bodies thrown outside the city were too numerous to count, piled high in rotting mounds, as though the city itself were defiled and would forever be unclean.

Yet we are not all dead. Ariella’s hands curled into tense fists as she rounded the last corner. She would cling to life as long as she had strength, and like her untiring mother, she would hold tight to that elusive thread for each member of her family.

She pushed against the rough wood of the door and slipped out of the rush of the street. The home’s tomb-like interior had the peculiar smell of starvation. In the corner, her baby sister whimpered as if in response to Ariella’s entrance. Micah met her at the door, his sunken eyes fixed on her and his lips slightly open, as though anticipating the food she might have brought. Or perhaps he simply lacked the strength to close his jaw. She shook her head and Micah turned away, hiding his disappointment as all boys of eleven do when they are threatened by tears.

Her father did not speak from his mat on the floor. Ariella scooped the listless baby Hannah into her arms and gave her a finger to suck. Small consolation.

“Where is Mother?” She scanned the room, then looked to Micah. A low groan from her father set her heart pounding. “Where is she, Micah? Where has Mother gone?”

Micah sniffed and glanced at the door. “To the Temple. She has gone to the Temple.”

Ariella growled and pushed Hannah into her brother’s arms. “She is going to get herself killed, and then where will we be?”

She bent to her father’s side. The man had been strong once. Ariella could barely remember. She touched the cool skin of his arm. “I will bring her back, Father. I promise.” Her father’s eyes sought her own, searching for reassurance. The hunger seemed to have stolen his voice. How long until it took his mind?

She turned on Micah, grabbed his shoulder. “Do not let anyone inside. The streets--” She looked to the door. “The streets are full of madness.”

He nodded, still cradling Hannah.

She kissed the baby. “Take care of them, Micah.” And then she left to retrieve her mother, whose political fervor often outpaced her common sense.

The mid-summer sun had dropped in the sky, an orange disc hazy and indistinct behind rising smoke. The city burns. She smelled it, sensed it, felt it somehow on her skin as she joined the flow toward the temple – a heat of destruction that threatened to consume them all.

Her family enjoyed the privilege of living in the shadow of the Temple Mount. A privilege that today only put them closer to folly. She twisted through the crazed mob, darted around wagons and pushcarts laden with family treasures, swatted at those who shoved against her. Already, only halfway there, her heart struck against her chest and her breathing shallowed, the weakness of slow starvation.

She reached the steps to the south of the Temple platform and was swept upward with the masses. Why were so many running to the Temple? Why had her mother?

And then she heard it. A sound that was part shrieking anger, part mournful lament, a screaming funeral dirge for the city and its people. She reached the top of the steps, pushed through the Huldah Gate, dashed under the colonnade into the Court of the Gentiles, and drew up short. The crowd pressed against her back, flowed around her and surged onward, but Ariella could not move.

The Temple is on fire.

The next moments blurred. She felt herself running, running toward the Temple as if she alone could avert this monstrous evil. Joining others who must have shared her delusion. She saw Roman legionaries club women and children, voices raised in a war cry. The yells of zealot rebels and the shrieks of those impaled by swords returned like an echo. The dead began to accumulate. Soldiers climbed heaps of bodies to chase those who fled. She tasted ashes and blood in the air, breathed the stench of burning flesh, and still some pushed forward.

She fought the smoke and blood, climbed the steps and entered the Court of Women. All around her, peaceful citizens were butchered where they stood. Ahead, a current of blood ran down the curved steps before the brass Nicanor Gate. The bodies of those who had been murdered at the top slipped to the bottom.

Ariella swayed on her feet at the carnage. That her mother was one of these dead she had no doubt. Elana’s outspoken defiance of Rome had earned her a reputation among her people, one that matched the meaning of her given name, torch.

She could go no farther. The entire Temple structure flamed now, from the Court of Israel to the Holy of Holies, its beauty and riches and sanctity defiled, raped by the Romans who even now risked their own flesh to steal its treasures.

A groan at her feet drew her attention, and she saw as if from a great distance that indeed her mother lay there, a bloody slash against her chest and a vicious purpling around her eyes. She lifted a hand, claw-like, to Ariella, who bent to kneel beside her and clasp her fingers.

Ariella had no words. What use to say good-bye, when they would all be in the same place soon?

Strange, she was very cold. With the flames so near and so fierce, still her fingers felt numb as she wrapped them around her mother’s hand.

Elana whispered only “Never forget…” before she was gone, and Ariella nodded because it was the expected thing to do. She studied her mother’s face, the eyes open and unseeing, and felt nothing. Was that right? Should she feel something?

After awhile she thought perhaps she should go home. She tried to stand, slipped in some blood that had pooled on the marble beneath her, and tried again.

The noise seemed far off now, though she could see the faces of citizens, mouths gaping as though they screamed in agony, and soldiers, feral lips drawn back over their teeth. But the sounds had somehow receded.

She weaved through the upright who still lived, stepped over the prone who had already passed, and drifted back to her house. Behind her, the Temple Mount was enveloped in flames, boiling over from its base, though there seemed to be even more blood than flames.

The stupor that had fallen over her at the Temple seemed to slough away as she traveled the streets. From open doorways she heard an occasional wail, but largely it was quiet. Too quiet. As thouh a river of violence had washed down the street while she’d been gone and swept away all that lived.

Her own street was not so peaceful. From end to end it burned.

She searched the crowd for her father, Micah, the baby. Grabbed hollow-eyed friends and wailing neighbors. One old woman shook her head and pointed a withered hand to the end of the burning street. “Only Micah.” She coughed. “Only he escaped.”

Micah. She called his name, but the word choked in her throat. Where would he have fled?

They had whispered together, one unseasonably warm night a few months ago on their roof, of running away from Jerusalem. Child’s talk, but now… Would he have tried to leave the city, to make it two hours south to family in Bethlehem?

Minutes later, she stumbled toward the Lower City. The Dung Gate would lead her south, to the valley of Hinnom and onward to Bethlehem. If she could escape.

Too many joined her. They would never be allowed to pass. She climbed crumbling steps to the rim of the city wall. Would she see a thread of refugees weaving out of Jerusalem, beyond the gates?

There was a procession of Jews, yes. But not on foot, fleeing to safety. On crosses, writhing in death throes. An endless line of them, crucified in absurd positions for the Romans’ entertainment, until they had run out of crosses, no doubt. Ariella gripped the wall. She would have retched had there been anything in her stomach.

She considered throwing herself from the wall. Was it high enough to guarantee her death? She would not want to die slowly on the ground, listening to the crucified.

The decision was made for her. From behind, a Roman soldier grabbed both her arms, laughing. She waited for the air in her face, for the spin of a freefall in her belly, that feeling she loved when her father rode the donkey cart too fast over the crest of a hill.

Instead, the soldier spun her to face him, shoved her to the stone floor, and fumbled at her tunic.

No, she was not going to die like that.

She exploded into a flailing of arms and legs, kicks and screams. She used her fingernails, used her teeth, used her knees.

From behind her head another soldier called. “That one’s a fighter, eh, Marcus?”

The soldier on top of her grunted.

“Better save her for the general. He wants the strong ones to sell off, you know.”

Ariella realized in that moment that since the siege began months ago, she had believed she would meet her death in the City of God. But as Jerusalem died without her, something far worse loomed in her future.

Life in the slave market of Rome.





Chapter 1

Rome
Nine years later

Night fell too soon, bringing its dark celebrations to the house of Valerius.

Ariella lingered at the fishpond in the center of the dusky atrium, slipping stale crusts to the hungry scorpion fish one tiny piece at a time. The brown and white striped creature snapped at its prey with precision, the venomous spines along its back bristling.

The fish food ran out. There was no delaying the inevitable.

Let the debauchery begin.

Nine years a slave in this household, nine annual tributes to Dionysius. The Greek god, embraced by the Romans and renamed Bacchus, apparently demanded every sort of drunken vice performed in his honor. And Valerius would not disappoint the god.

Indeed, Valerius flaunted his association with the mystery sect, though its practice was frowned upon by the government and disdained by most citizens.

Ariella inhaled, trying to draw strength from the deadly fish her master kept as a pet. For we are both kept as such, aren’t we? The scorpion fish’s body swayed like a piece of debris, its disguise needless in its solitary enclosure.

Within an hour Valerius’s guests poured into the town house, sloshed up most of the wine she’d placed on low tables in the triclinium, and progressed to partaking of the extract of opium poppies, tended in red-tinged fields beyond the city. The sweet, pungent smoke hung like a smothering wool toga above their heads.

A traveling guild of actors somersaulted into the room, their lewd songs and costumes an affront to decency and a delight to the guests. Ariella lowered her eyes, embarrassment still finding her even after all she had endured, and cleared the toppled cups and soiled plates. She passed Valerius, sprawled on a gold-cushioned couch, and he rubbed a hand over her calf. Her muscles twitched like the flank of a horse irritated by a fly.

Her master’s high-pitched laugh floated above the general noise of the intoxicated. Ariella winced. Valerius performed tonight for his honored guest, another politician from the south somewhere.

“Perhaps we shall make a man of you yet, Maius.” Valerius waved his slender fingers at the larger man. “I shall take you out into the city and declare to all that you are one of us.”

The politician, Maius, reddened. Ariella leaned over him to refill his cup. Clearly, he was here to humor Valerius but not align himself with the vile man.

When the actors had twirled their final dance and claimed applause, the herd of guests took their revelry to the streets. Valerius dragged Ariella through the door, always his special companion this night. Her breath caught in her throat. It was not the streets she feared. It was what would come after.

Mother, why could I not be strong like you?

The insanity built to a crescendo as they wound their torch-lit way toward the Via Appia, where the procession would climax. The Bacchanalians howled and pushed and tripped, their vacant eyes and laughing mouths like the painted frescoes of her nightmares. Hair disheveled, carrying blazing torches, they danced along the stones, uttered crazed predictions and contorted their bodies impossibly. Back in Jerusalem, her father would have said they had the demons in them. Here in Rome, Ariella rarely thought of such things.

It was enough to survive.

They passed a cluster of slaves, big men, most of them, herded into a circle amidst a few flaming torches. Strange time of day for a slave auction. Ariella met the eyes of a few, but their shared circumstance did not give them connection.

Snatches of speech reached her. A gladiator troupe. A lanista, the trainer for the troupe, called out numbers, making new purchases. A memory of home flashed, the day she had been sold to Valerius’s household manager. She had thought herself fortunate then, when so many others were sold off to entertain in the arena. Foolish child.

The unruly procession passed the men bound for death and Ariella’s gaze flitted through them. Did they feel the violent shortness of their lives press down on them? Before her stretched nothing but endless misery. Was their lot not preferable?

A muscled slave with the yellow hair of the west shifted and she glimpsed a face beyond him. Her blood turned to ice, then fire.

Micah?

She yanked away from Valerius’s sweaty grip. Stood on her toes to peer into the men.

Valerius pulled away from the raucous group, wrapped a thin arm around her waist, and brought his too-red lips to her ear. “Not growing shy after all these years, are we?” His baby-sweet voice sickened her.

She leaned away. Caught another look at the boy.

Turn your head. Look this way!

Valerius tugged her toward the road, but her feet had grown roots. I must be sure.

But then he turned, the boy about to be a gladiator, and she saw that it could not be Micah. He was too young, older than she remembered her brother but not old enough to be him. Though the resemblance was so strong perhaps he was a distant cousin, she knew he was not her brother. In fact, the boy looked more like her than Micah. If she were to cut her hair, she could pass for his twin.

She let Valerius pull her back to the procession, but the moment had shaken her. Memories she had thought dead turned out to be only buried, and their resurrection was a knife-blade of pain.

She sleepwalked through the rest of the procession, until their drunken steps took them to the caves on the Via Appia, dark spots on the grassy mounds along the road where greater abuses could be carried out without reprisals.

Valerius and his guest, Maius, were arguing.

Ariella forced her attention to the men, leaving off thoughts of Micah and home. It did not pay to be ignorant of Valerius’s moods.

“And you would sully the position you’ve been given by your dissolution!” Maius’s upper lip beaded with sweat and he poked a finger into Valerius’s chest.

Valerius swiped at the meaty finger. “At least I am not a coward! Running home to pretend to be something I am not.”

“You think me a coward? Then you are a fool. I know how to hold on to power. Yours will wash away like so much spilled wine.”

Valerius cackled. “Power? Ah yes, you are a mighty man down there in your holiday town by the sea. I daresay you couldn’t put a sword to a thief if he threatened your family!”

Ariella took a step backward. Valerius misjudged Maius, she could see. The man’s eyes held a coldness that only came of cruelty.

Before Valerius could react, Maius had unsheathed a small dagger from his belt. He grabbed for a nearby slave, one of Valerius’s special boys, wrapped a meaty arm around his forehead, and in one quick move, sliced the slave’s neck. He let the boy fall. Valerius screeched.

“There.” Maius tossed the dagger at the smaller senator’s feet and glared. “I owe you for one slave. But perhaps now you will keep your pretty mouth shut!”

“What have you done?” Valerius bent to the boy and clutched at his bloody tunic. “Not Julius! Not this one!”

The moon had risen while they marched, and now it shone down on them all, most of the guests taken with their own lustful pursuits and senseless to the drama between the two men. Ariella traced the path of moonlight down to her feet, to the glint of iron in the dirt. Maius’s dagger.

She had not held a weapon for many years. Without thought she bent and retrieved it. Held it to her side, against the loose fabric of her robe.

She could not say when the idea first planted itself in her mind. Perhaps it had been back in the city when she had seen the boy who was not Micah. Perhaps it only sprang to life at this moment. Regardless, she knew what she would do.

She would not return to Valerius’s house. Not participate once more, behind closed doors, in the mystery rites that had stolen her soul. Her nine years of torture had come to an end.

No one called out, no one pursued. She simply slipped away, into the weedy fields along the Via Appia, back to the city, the dagger hidden under her robe. She unwrapped the fabric sash at her waist and wound it around her hair. A few quiet questions and she found the yard where the newly-purchased gladiators awaited their assignment. A little flirtation with the loutish guard at the gate, enough to convince him that she was one of the many Roman women obsessed with the fighters, and he let her in with a wicked grin.

She found the boy within moments. His eyes widened as though she were his first opponent. She pulled him to the shadows, to the catcalls of his fellow fighters.

The dagger was steady in her hand and sharp enough to slice through large hanks of hair. The boy watched, wide-eyed, as she disrobed in front of him, modesty ignored.

He was young enough to easily convince.

Within minutes she had donned his leathers and taken his place on the ground with the other fighters. The boy stumbled across the yard, awkward in his new robes and headscarf.

It was done.

Elana would be proud.