Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Beautiful Friendship by David Weber

book cover
A Beautiful Friendship
by David Weber

ISBN-13: 9781451637472
Hardcover: 361 pages
Publisher: Baen
Released: January 1, 2011

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Stephanie Harrington always expected to be a forest ranger on her homeworld of Meyerdahl . . . until her parents relocated to the frontier planet of Sphinx in the far distant Star Kingdom of Manticore. Sphinx is a virgin wilderness full of new species of every sort, just waiting to be discovered. But it's also far more dangerous, and Stephanie’s explorations come to a halt when her busy parents ask her to promise not to explore without adult supervision.

The native population has been keeping a watch on the human newcomers to their planet. Climbs Quickly, a treecat with an craving for human celery, comes face-to-face with Stephanie after she sets out to discover who or what has been raiding the greenhouses for celery. An instant bond is created between the telepathic treecat and the remarkable young human--one that has them willing to risk their lives to save each other.

My Review:
A Beautiful Friendship is a young adult science fiction adventure novel. I liked David Weber's early novels in his Honor Harrington series. His later novels were very slow paced with most of the action happening "off screen," so I wasn't sure what to expect from this novel. While I'm pleased that this novel didn't suffer from the same problems, the second half was a bit more slow-paced than I think most young adults would tolerate. The book also felt a little disjointed. Weber basically took previously published short stories from the "Worlds of Honor" collection and filled them out a little for this novel. So if you've read those stories, the most exciting events in this novel won't come as much of a surprise.

The characters were engaging and had realistic dilemmas to deal with--how to deal with prejudice, greed, etc. The world-building was excellent without slowing the pacing as much as in some of his adult novels. The suspense was created mainly by physical danger to Stephanie and Climbs Quickly, but also from some relationship tensions between Stephanie and those she felt might be a threat to the treecats.

Obviously, there were "evolved, alien species" in this story. There was no sex. There was a minor amount of explicit bad language. Overall, I'd say that this book would most appeal to fans of Honor Harrington, but they're also the ones who probably have already read the short stories that make up the backbone of this novel. However, I'm looking forward to future novels in this 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.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Murder on Sisters' Row by Victoria Thompson

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Murder on Sisters' Row
by Victoria Thompson

ISBN-13: 97804252480038
Mass Market Paperback:
292 pages
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Released: May 1, 2012

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Goodreads:
With the help of a charitable lady of means, midwife Sarah Brandt rescues a young woman and her newborn from the brothel where the mother was forced to prostitute herself. But their success comes at a high price when their benefactor is found murdered. Though the brothel's madam is immediately considered a suspect, Sarah and Sergeant Frank Malloy investigate, uncovering some unpleasant truths about the victim and her charity-and the woman and child Sarah risked her own life to save.

My Review:
Murder on Sisters' Row is a historical mystery set in New York, New York in the late 1890's. This is the thirteenth book in the series, but you don't need to read the previous books to understand this one, and this one didn't spoil the previous mysteries.

There was a nice level of historical detail about the setting, social structure, etc., that brought the story alive in my imagination. I've read the first book in the series as well, and I've enjoyed learning more about NY at that time. I like how the author weaves the information into the story so it doesn't slow the pacing or come across as a lecture.

The characters were complex and reacted realistically to the situations, though none of the not-reoccurring-characters were particularly likable. I like Sarah, but I was a bit frustrated when she was all, "I'm not going to tell you were the girl is or anything that will help you find her!" and then gives the madam a whole bunch of information that could put people's lives in danger. And she didn't even realize her mistake until much later. It's realistic, but the scene was....frustrating.

The mystery was basically gathering clues until they all fit together to solve the puzzle. I strongly suspected two people, and I was fairly certain which was whodunit before the reveal, though it wasn't for the reason I'd come up with. The clues and gathering of clues kept my interest. Suspense was created by some potential physical danger to Sarah and from wondering whodunit.

There was a minor amount of explicit bad language. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this interesting historical mystery.

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 using Google Preview.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop

Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop

As a part of the Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop, I'm holding a giveaway for your choice of one of the following books:

book coverMrs. Jeffries Defends Her Own by Emily Brightwell is a historical mystery. You can read my review.

When the general office manager of Sutcliffe Manufacturing is murdered, no one is really surprised. The tyrannical bully had more than enough enemies to go around. But who hated him enough to walk into his office and put a bullet between his eyes? For once, Inspector Gerald Witherspoon doesn’t get the case, it’s given to another inspector. Then someone from Mrs. Jeffries’ past shows up and begs for her help. Now Mrs. Jeffries must step into the fray and stop a terrible miscarriage of justice...

book coverA Deadly Grind by Victoria Hamilton is a cozy mystery. You can read my review.

When vintage cookware and cookbook collector Jaymie Leighton spies an original 1920s Hoosier brand kitchen cabinet at an estate auction, it’s love at first sight. She successfully outbids the other buyers and triumphantly takes home her Hoosier. But that night on the summer porch where they’ve left the Hoosier to be cleaned up, a man is murdered. Who is this stranger—and what was he doing on their porch? Does his death have anything to do with the Hoosier? As the police struggle to determine the man’s identity, Jaymie can’t help doing a little digging on her own. If the murderer isn't found, how will she ever feel safe in her home again?

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 [give the book name and author's name]."


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered and naming which book 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. I'd be fun if you also included why you're interested in reading this novel.

This giveaway ends on May 31, 2012 at midnight. The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner on June 1, 2012 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!

The blogs participating in the Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn

book cover
Voices of Dragons
by Carrie Vaughn

ISBN-13: 9780061798948
Hardcover: 309 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen
Released: March 16, 2010

Source: Borrowed from library.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
On one side of the border lies the modern world: the internet, homecoming dances, cell phones. On the other side dwell the ancient monsters who spark humanity's deepest fears: dragons.

Seventeen-year-old Kay Wyatt knows she's breaking the law by rock climbing near the border. She's feeling pressured by her peers to have sex with her boyfriend, and she wants to be alone to sort out how she feels about this. It's an acceptable risk: dragons don't come near the border, and she knows what areas are patrolled because her parents work to monitor the border. But she's wrong--someone is at the border. She's shocked to learn that a young dragon wants to talk with her and see if humans and dragons can be friends. A secret friendship grows between them.

Suspicion and terror are the legacy of human and dragon interactions, and the fragile truce that has maintained peace between the species is unraveling. As tensions mount and battles begin, Kay and Artegal are caught in the middle. Can their friendship change the course of a war?

My Review:
Voices of Dragons is a young adult contemporary alternate history where dragons return from their hiding deep below the surface of the earth at the end of WWII. I found the "history" and the interactions with the dragons to be interesting.

The other focus of the book was Kay's relationship with her boyfriend. She doesn't want things to change between them, but her female best friend is pressuring her to have sex because "everyone is," "it's great," and "how will you feel if you die a virgin?" Kay's not sure if those are good enough reasons. How can she know when the time is right beyond listening to her hormones or the pressure of her friends? Kay's boyfriend is struggling with the same pressure and confusion, so he doesn't pressure her. He's a really great guy who shares her interests in the outdoors and genuinely cares about her.

Unfortunately, she never did figure out an answer. As she and her boyfriend get more an more physical, it looks like "hormones" will be the answer. But then Kay learns that dragons don't care if you're a virgin or not (which is a relief to her, though I'm not sure in what way) and gets so caught up in saving the world that there is no time for sex.

The ending is likewise unresolved concerning the dragons. Kay and her dragon friend decide to do whatever they can to stop the dragon-human war, even if the impact of their actions is small. I like how coming to this decision was handled in a realistic way. But we never do find out if their actions made any difference. So much is left unresolved. I realize an author doesn't want to say, "Sorry, kiddos, a dramatic, noble sacrifice probably didn't stop things." Or maybe they thought selfless, heroic fantasy wouldn't sell in today's market so they didn't want to end too positive. Let's just say I'm disappointed there wasn't an epilogue if there wasn't going to be a sequel.

There were no sex scenes. There was some swearing and explicit bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this book because I like selfless, heroic fantasy, and at least the heroine dared to question the social pressure to have sex.

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 using Google Preview.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Pursuit of Lucy Banning by Olivia Newport

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The Pursuit of Lucy Banning
by Olivia Newport

ISBN-13: 9780800720384
Trade Paperback: 293 pages
Publisher: Revell
Released: May 1, 2012

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
Lucy Banning may live on the exclusive Prairie Avenue among Chicago's rich and famous, but her heart lies elsewhere. Expected to marry an up-and-coming banker from a respected family, Lucy fears she will be forced to abandon her charity work--and the classes she is secretly taking at the newly opened University of Chicago. When she meets an unconventional young architect who is working on plans for the upcoming 1893 World's Fair, Lucy imagines a life lived on her own terms. Can she break away from her family's expectations? And will she ever be loved for who she truly is?

[Note: This description is deceptive since no one was forcing her to give up her charity work or forcing her to marry the banker or keeping her from living life on her own terms. And the architect is not working on the World's Fair buildings. It's about Lucy sneaking around fearing people won't allow her to do certain things and hurting the people who love her, only to find out no one was stopping her from living life on her own terms.]

My Review:
The Pursuit of Lucy Banning is a historical romance set in 1892 in Chicago. Though the book description mentions the 1893 World's Fair, there is actually very little about that in this book. The author liked lists (like the menu for every meal), and this tended to slow the pacing. Beyond the lists, there was some fairly nice historical detail about the city and events worked into the story.

Using only 282 pages to tell even one story well can be tricky, but this novel was essentially three stories (Lucy's story, Charlotte's story, and Daniel's story) in one book. (Love-interest Will was a minor character until page 161 after which he disappeared from the story for nearly 50 pages, which is odd for a romance.)

Several important scenes were missing, like the scene where Lucy tells her mother/parents that she just broke her engagement, the scene where she enjoyed viewing the art with Will (and started falling in love with him), scenes of her with the orphans (as we see little interaction between them), and the scene where we could see her father's reaction to the stolen items being found.

If Daniel was meant to be a controlling personality (or somehow "off") from the start, I needed to see that from the start rather than an apparently caring, permissive fiancee. If her parents made her worry that they'd react really badly to her taking university courses, we need a scene showing that and subsequent scenes need to back that up. As it was, Lucy's worries seemed unfounded.

I also didn't like Lucy in the first half of the book. We have no evidence that her parents pushed her to marry Daniel (though they hoped for it), and they gave her every opportunity to meet men locally and abroad. She chose to marry Daniel, yet the moment she meets a man she knows little about but who has irresistible cobalt eyes and dimples, she decided she didn't actually want to marry Daniel after all. But she didn't tell Daniel. She just paid unusual attention to Will the few times they meet, and it was to a degree that her mother felt it necessary to remind Lucy that she's engaged and Daniel was rightly jealous. Lucy just got angry at them for censoring her behavior.

I grant that Lucy and Daniel weren't a good match in interests, but that doesn't excuse how badly Lucy behaved toward Daniel in scene after scene.

She also had no problem with lying to her parents about how she spent her time ("I'm being so selfless helping those poor orphans and spending your money to make their life better!") when she's really spending most of that time taking an art history course. And we have no real reason to believe her parents would actually stop her from taking the courses if she'd just asked. They hadn't denied any of her other requests even when they didn't quite approve of them.

By the end, Lucy was a nice person, but not because she saw the error of her ways. It's like those errors never happened. The author just started writing her as nice. Worse, what she learned from all her lying was that, if a man "truly loved her," he'd "trust" her by not showing any interest in what she's up to when he knows she's hiding activities from him. Hmm. It was her who didn't trust those who loved her.

The two characters that bothered to think about God didn't have positive thoughts. Charlotte didn't have time for God because she believed He didn't have time for her. Lucy was more interested in mentally criticizing the church architecture, the preacher, and her fellow rich Christians than in God. She also felt very self-righteous because she helped orphans. I would have thought this novel was a secular one, but it came from a Christian publisher.

There was no sex. There was no bad language. Overall, I wouldn't recommend this book due to the critical, missing scenes.

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 using Google Preview.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

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The Grand Sophy
by Georgette Heyer

ISBN-13: 9781402218941
Trade Paperback: 372 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Released: 1950, 2009

Source: Borrowed from the local library.

Book Description from Goodreads:
When Sophy goes to stay with her cousins in Berkeley Square, she finds them in a sad tangle of affairs--some romantic and others of a more pecuniary nature. Perhaps the Grand Sophy has arrived just in time to save them.

My Review:
The Grand Sophy is a historical romance set in the Regency period in England. Sophy reminded me of Jane Austen's Emma, except Sophy is very perceptive about human nature and so is very good at her match-making and in helping people repair their relationships. Her methods often had me laughing, and it was a very satisfying story. It very difficult for me to put this delightful story down due to the engaging characters, enough setting and historical detail to bring the story alive in my imagination, and the constant wonder of what will happen next.

There was no sex. There was some swearing and explicit bad language. I highly recommend this novel.

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 using Google Preview.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mrs. Jeffries Defends Her Own by Emily Brightwell

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Mrs. Jeffries Defends Her Own
by Emily Brightwell

ISBN-13: 9780425248058
Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Released: May 1, 2012

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
When the general office manager of Sutcliffe Manufacturing is murdered, no one is really surprised. Ronald Dearman was anything but a dear man. The tyrannical bully had more than enough enemies to go around. But who hated him enough to walk into his office and put a bullet between his eyes?

For once, Inspector Gerald Witherspoon doesn’t get the case, it’s given to another inspector. Then someone from Mrs. Jeffries’ past—someone she’d hoped to never see again—shows up and begs for her help. Now Mrs. Jeffries must step into the fray and stop a terrible miscarriage of justice...

My Review:
Mrs. Jeffries Defends Her Own is a historical mystery set in England in the late 1800's, though we don't know the exact year. The period details tended to be a bit vague, though there was enough setting and period detail to give the story a historical feel. The characters were engaging and realistic, though not highly complex.

This book was the thirtieth book (I think!) in the series, but you don't need to read the previous books to understand this one. And this book didn't spoil the mysteries of the previous books, so you can read them out of order.

The story was primarily a clue-based mystery where the reader and characters need to discover and then sort through the clues to figure out whodunit. Though I thought it was fairly obvious that one or both of two specific characters were whodunit, Mrs. Jeffries had a valid reason to be a bit delayed in coming to the same conclusion. And then she cleverly set up a trap to determine whodunit without the Inspector being any the wiser that she was behind it. (This was handled believably.)

There was no sex. There was a minor amount of explicit bad language (some of it was British bad words). Overall, I'd recommend this enjoyable and well-written mystery.

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 using Google Preview.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Swipe by Evan Angler

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by Evan Angler

ISBN-13: 978-1400318360
Trade Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Released: May 1, 2012

Source: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze book review bloggers program.

Book Description, Modified from Publisher's Website:
North America is struggling to recover after famine and global war. United under a charismatic leader, every citizen of the American Union is required to get the Mark on their 13th birthday in order to gain the benefits of citizenship. The Mark is a tattoo that must be swiped by special scanners for everything from employment to transportation to shopping.

It’s almost Logan Langly’s 13th birthday and he knows he should be excited about getting the Mark, but he hasn’t been able to shake the feeling he’s being watched. Not since his sister went to get her Mark five years ago . . . and never came back. When Logan and his friends discover the truth behind the Mark, will they ever be able to go back to being normal teenagers?

My Review:
Swipe is an Middle Grade adventure novel. It'll appeal to both boys and girls, but it was written in such a way that I think Middle Graders will be the ones that love it the most. It's very exciting, with non-stop action as two kids get in over their heads trying to solve the mystery of who is watching Logan and why. The adults don't believe Logan really is being watched, but the kids have a good reason to believe some of the Markless have targeted Logan to kill him. In the process of investigating, the kids get in trouble with their parents and the government. They have to make some rather weighty decisions at the end, and I was delighted that their decisions weren't exactly what I expected (though very believable).

The first twelve pages were written in a very distant fashion, and I couldn't tell when we were in a flashback or not. However, after that the writing settled down and got progressively better. I began thinking that the 14-year-old girl I mentor might really enjoy this story. By the end, everything was coming together, and not only was I was enjoying it but I was looking forward to reading the next book.

The setting was vividly described, though the technology seemed a bit far-fetched. For example, despite of all the natural disasters, houses were built in tall columns on narrow bases. They sounded like they'd fall down in a mild earthquake. This was to save fertile soil for farming, yet no farmyards were described in this area. And why build on the fertile ground, anyway, if you could build sensible housing on the infertile ground and quickly travel in to the fertile ground to farm?

There was no sex. There was no bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this book to Middle Graders who like books like Matched.

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 using Google Preview.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Trauma Plan by Candace Calvert

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Trauma Plan
by Candace Calvert

ISBN-13: 9781414361116
Trade Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Released: May 1, 2012

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
Sidelined by injuries from a vicious assault, chaplain Riley Hale is determined to return to her former duties as an ER nurse. But how can she show she's competent when the hospital won't let her attempt even simple tasks? Determined to prove herself, Riley volunteers at a controversial urban free clinic despite her fears about the maverick doctor in charge.

Dr. Jack Travis defends his clinic like he's commander of the Alamo. He'll fight the community's efforts to shut its doors, even if he must use Riley Hale's influential family name to make it happen.

As Riley strives to regain her skills, Jack finds that she shares his compassion--and stirs his lonely heart. Riley senses that beneath Jack's rough exterior is a man she can believe in. But when clinic protests escalate and questions surface about his past, Jack goes into battle mode and Riley wonders if it's dangerous to trust him with her heart.

My Review:
Trauma Plan is a Christian romance novel. I must admit that I thought this story was going to have a bit of mystery as well: who assaulted Riley back when she was injured? We did get some mystery, but it was why Vesta, a secondary character, knew Jack and was afraid to be around him. I was actually more interested in Vesta's struggle to overcome her fears and in the other secondary characters than in Riley and Jack's romance.

I liked Riley, and all the character were complex and acted in very realistic ways. But I felt like I understood Kate's motives behind her attraction to the flattering man better than I understood Riley's attraction to Jack. My opinion of him was more what she said near the end, but perhaps that's because the author let us see inside Jack's head to his true motives for doing some of the "nice" things he did. It took Riley a little longer to see beyond what she wanted to see.

In Calvert's previous novels, I felt like the characters were more involved in dealing with the God issues in their lives throughout the novel so any reconciliation with God that happened felt natural. Jack refused to even consider God until the very end, so it felt sudden to me even if it was believable. I liked Riley's struggle better--trying to get God to give her what she wanted rather than realizing she's exactly where God wanted her to be.

There was no sex. There was a very minor amount of "he cursed" style bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this enjoyable novel.

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 using Google Preview.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Garden of Madness by Tracy L. Higley

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Garden of Madness
by Tracy L. Higley

ISBN-10: 140168680X
ISBN-13: 978-1401686802
Trade Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Released: May 1, 2012
List Price: $9.99

Book on Amazon

Source: Special thanks to Ruthie Dean of Thomas Nelson for sending me a review copy. This post is part of the FIRST Wild Card Tour.

Book Description:
The Untold Story of King Nebuchadnezzar's Daughter.

For seven years the Babylonian princess Tiamat has waited for the mad king Nebuchadnezzar to return to his family and to his kingdom. Driven from his throne to live as a beast, he prowls his luxurious Hanging Gardens, secreted away from the world.

Since her treaty marriage at a young age, Tia has lived an opulent but oppressive life in the palace. But her husband has since died and she relishes her newfound independence. When a nobleman is found murdered in the palace, Tia must discover who is responsible for the macabre death, even if her own is freedom threatened.

As the queen plans to wed Tia to yet another prince, the powerful mage Shadir plots to expose the family's secret and set his own man on the throne. Tia enlists the help of a reluctant Jewish captive, her late husband's brother Pedaiah, who challenges her notions of the gods even as he opens her heart to both truth and love.

My Review:
Garden of Madness is a historical/biblical romance novel set in 577 B.C. in Babylon. I've really enjoyed this author's previous novels, but I didn't enjoy this one. Though the characters were realistic enough, I didn't care for the much so that I had a hard time caring if the "good guys" won.

Tia was a wild, willful tomboy whose every whim was given in to except in deciding whom she could marry. She was given a private, fully equipped gym; she was allowed to race chariots in public; she was allowed to do her long distance running along the city walls in culturally inappropriate clothing. When people warned her of danger, the warnings didn't seem to stick. She did foolish things for extremely selfish reasons.

And the man that she ended up loving was arrogant and treated her badly on a regular basis. He did have a nice scene where he repented to God for his wrong behavior toward pagans--including Tia. But the romantic pair jumped from "I can't stand you!" to "I devotedly love you...why did I ever think you arrogant?" in a matter of paragraphs.

This happens to be a pet peeve of mine in romances. Why do Christian authors try to convince Christian women that they should fall in love with men who are mean to them or who manage to get on their nerves all the time? That's hardly the stuff of happy marriages in real life. And usually this is paired with the man that angers them suddenly totally reforming their behavior...and it's implied this complete behavior change lasts beyond the point of successfully winning the gorgeous woman. Though, in this story, I think the guy really did have a good chance at staying changed.

The author spent so much time building up how strongly Tia wanted to control her own life and how little she knew of the Jewish beliefs (despite having been married to a Jewish man for 7 years) that I found her conversion scene rather abrupt. Only a paragraph or two were spent with her mostly not-thinking about how her efforts to control things up until then had messed everything up even worse than before, and then she totally surrenders control of her life to God. She'd just learned that her entire belief system was a lie and that her entire life was based in lies, yet she immediately decided to whole-heartedly embrace this new God she knew little about because...he might be real. (She had a better reason to believe, but it wasn't given as the reason why she believed.) She then proceeded to come to some deep, correct theological conclusions about God (based on being told a few Bible stories?) and risked everything to act upon these beliefs about God that she basically came up with on her own. It just felt like it all happened too quickly after such a long build-up of the opposite.

While the setting was nicely described with historical details woven in, I didn't get the vivid mental pictures of the place that the previous novels have given me. Perhaps this was because the author wasn't able to visit the site this time.

Since Tia's efforts to solve the "murder mystery" revealed little (I'm still not 100% certain who all killed whom or how) and only caused problems, I wouldn't call it a mystery. There was some suspense due to relationship tensions and physical and spiritual danger to Tia. I did like how the spiritual warfare aspects of this novel were handled.

There were no sex scenes. There was a very minor amount of "he cursed" style of bad language. Overall, I wouldn't recommend the novel, but I'm certain most readers will still love the novel even if I didn't.

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 Excerpt: Prologue & First Chapter:


Babylon, 570 BC

My name is Nebuchadnezzar. Let the nations hear it!
I am ruler of Babylon, greatest empire on earth. Here in its capital city, I am like a god.
Tonight, as the sun falls to its death in the western desert, I walk along the balconies I have built, overlooking the city I have built, and know there is none like me.
I inhale the twilight air and catch the scent of a dozen sacrifices. Across the city, the smoke and flames lift from Etemenanki, the House of the Platform of Heaven and Earth. The priests sacrifice tonight in honor of Tiamat, for tomorrow she will be wed. Though I have questioned the wisdom of a marriage with the captive Judaeans, tomorrow will not be a day for questions. It will be a day of celebration, such as befits a princess.
Tiamat comes to me now on the balcony, those dark eyes wide with entreaty. “Please, Father.”
I encircle her shoulders in a warm embrace and turn her to the city.
“There, Tia. There is our glorious Babylon. Do you not wish to serve her?”
She leans her head against my chest, her voice thick. “Yes, of course. But I do not wish to marry.”
I pat her shoulder, kiss the top of her head. My sweet Tia. Who would have foretold that she would become such a part me?
“Have no fear, dear one. Nothing shall change. Husband or not, I shall always love you. Always protect you.”
She clutches me, a desperate grip around my waist.
I release her arms and look into her eyes. “Go now. Your mother will be searching for you. Tomorrow will be a grand day, for you are the daughter of the greatest king Babylon has ever seen.”
I use my thumb to rub a tear from her eye, give her a gentle push, and she is gone with a last look of grief that breaks my heart.
The greatest king Babylon has ever seen. The words echo like raindrops plunking on stones. I try to ignore a tickling at the back of my thoughts. Something Belteshazzar told me, many months ago. A dream.
I shake my head, willing my mind to be free of the memory. My longtime Jewish advisor, part of my kingdom since we were both youths, often troubles me with his advice. I keep him close because he has become a friend. I keep him close because he is too often right.
But I do not want to think of Belteshazzar. Tonight is for me alone. For my pleasure, as I gaze across all that I have built, all that I have accomplished. This great Babylon, this royal residence with its Gardens to rival those created by the gods. Built by my mighty power. For the glory of my majesty. I grip the balcony wall, inhale the smoky sweetness again, and smile. It is good.
I hear a voice and think perhaps Belteshazzar has found me after all, for the words sound like something he would say, and yet the voice . . . The voice is of another.
“There is a decree gone out for you, Nebuchadnezzar. Your kingship has been stripped from you.”
I turn to the traitorous words, but no one is there. And yet the voice continues, rumbling in my own chest, echoing in my head.
“You will be driven from men to dwell with beasts. You will eat the herbs of oxen and seven times will pass over you, until you know that the Most High is ruler in the kingdom of men. To whom He wills power, He gives power.”
The tickling is there again, in my mind. I roll my shoulders to ease the discomfort, but it grows. It grows to a scratching, a clawing at the inside of my head, until I fear I shall bleed within.
The fear swells in me and I am frantic now. I rub my eyes, swat my ears, and still the scratching and scraping goes on, digging away at my memories, at my sense of self, of who I am and what I have done, and I stare at the sky above and the stones below and bend my waist and fall upon the ground where it is better, better to be on the ground, and I want only to find food, food, food. And a two-legged one comes and makes noises with her mouth and clutches at me but I understand none of it and even this knowledge that I do not understand is slipping, slipping from me as the sun slips into the desert.
And in the darkness, I am no more.

Chapter 1

Seven years later

The night her husband died, Tia ran with abandon.
The city wall, wide enough for chariots to race upon its baked bricks, absorbed the slap of her bare feet and cooled her skin. She flew past the Ishtar Gate as though chased by demons, knowing the night guard in his stone tower would be watching. Leering. Tia ignored his attention.
Tonight, this night, she wanted only to run.
A lone trickle of sweat chased down her backbone. The desert chill soaked into her bones and somewhere in the vast sands beyond the city walls, a jackal shrieked over its kill. Her exhalation clouded the air and the quiet huffs of her breath kept time with her feet.
Breathe, slap, slap, slap.
They would be waiting. Expecting her. A tremor disturbed her rhythm. Her tears for Shealtiel were long spent, stolen by the desert air before they fell.
Flames surged from the Tower and snagged her attention. Priests and their nightly sacrifices, promising to ensure the health of the city. For all of Babylon’s riches, the districts encircled by the double city walls smelled of poverty, disease, and hopelessness. But the palace was an oasis in a desert.
She would not run the entire three bêru around the city. Not tonight. Only to the Marduk Gate and back to the Southern Palace, where her mother would be glaring her displeasure at both her absence and her choice of pastime. Tia had spent long days at Shealtiel’s bedside, waiting for the end. Could her mother not wait an hour?
Too soon, the Marduk Gate loomed and Tia slowed. The guard leaned over the waist-high crenellation, thrust a torch above his head, and hailed the trespasser.
“Only Tiamat.” She panted and lifted a hand. “Running.”
He shrugged and shook his head, then turned back to his post, as though a princess running the city wall at night in the trousers of a Persian were a curiosity, nothing more. Perhaps he’d already seen her run. More likely, her reputation ran ahead of her. The night hid her flush of shame.
But she could delay no longer. The guilt had solidified, a stone in her belly she could not ignore.
She pivoted, sucked in a deep breath, and shot forward, legs and arms pounding for home.
Home. Do I still call it such? When all that was precious had been taken? Married at fourteen. A widow by twenty-one. And every year a lie.
“I shall always love you, always protect you.”
He had spoken the words on the night he had been lost to her. And where was love? Where was protection? Not with Shealtiel.
The night sky deepened above her head, and a crescent moon hung crooked against the blackness. Sataran and Aya rose in the east, overlapping in false union.
“The brightest light in your lifetime’s sky,” an elderly mage had said of the merged stars. The scholar’s lessons on the workings of the cosmos interested her, and she paid attention. As a princess already married for treaty, she was fortunate to retain tutors.
Ahead, the Ishtar Gate’s blue-glazed mosaics, splashed with yellow lions, surged against the purpling sky, and to its left, the false wooded mountain built atop the palace for her mother, Amytis, equaled its height. Tia chose the east wall of the gate for a focal point and ignored the Gardens. Tonight the palace had already seen death. She needn’t also dwell on madness.
Breathe, slap, slap, slap. Chest on fire, almost there.
She reached the palace’s northeast corner, where it nearly brushed the city wall, slowed to a stop, and bent at the waist. Hands braced against her knees, she sucked in cold air. Her heartbeat quieted.
When she turned back toward the palace, she saw what her mother had done.
A distance of one kanû separated the wide inner city wall from the lip of the palace roof, slightly lower. Tia kept a length of cedar wood there on the roof, a plank narrow enough to discourage most, and braced it across the chasm for her nightly runs. When she returned, she would pull it back to the roof, where anyone who might venture past the guards on the wall would not gain access. Only during her run did this plank bridge the gap, awaiting her return.
Amytis had removed it.
Something like heat lightning snapped across Tia’s vision and left a bitter, metallic taste in her mouth. Her mother thought to teach her a lesson. Punish her for her manifold breaches of etiquette by forcing her to take the long way down, humiliate herself to the sentinel guard.
She would not succeed.
With a practiced eye, Tia measured the distance from the ledge to the palace roof. She would have the advantage of going from a higher to a lower level. A controlled fall, really. Nothing more.
But she made the mistake of looking over, to the street level far below. Her senses spun and she gripped the wall.
She scrambled onto the ledge, wide enough to take the stance needed for a long jump, and bent into position, one leg extended behind. The palace rooftop garden held only a small temple in its center, lit with three torches. Nothing to break her fall, or her legs, when she hit. She counted, steadying mind and body.
The wind caught her hair, loosened during her run, and blew it across her eyes. She flicked her head to sweep it away, rocked twice on the balls of her feet, and leaped.
The night air whooshed against her ears, and her legs cycled through the void as though she ran on air itself. The flimsy trousers whipped against her skin, and for one exhilarating moment Tia flew like an egret wheeling above the city and knew sweet freedom.
This was how it should always be. My life. My choice. I alone control my destiny.
She hit the stone roof grinning like a trick monkey, and it took five running steps to capture her balance.
Across the rooftop, a whisper of white fluttered. A swish of silk and a pinched expression disappeared through the opening to the stairs. Amytis had been waiting to see her stranded on the city wall and Tia had soured her pleasure. The moment of victory faded, and Tia straightened her hair, smoothed her clothing.
“Your skill is improving.” The eerie voice drifted to Tia across the dark roof and she flinched. A chill rippled through her skin.
Shadir stood at the far end of the roof wall, where the platform ended and the palace wall rose higher to support the Gardens. His attention was pinned to the stars, and a scroll lay on the ledge before him, weighted with amulets.
“You startled me, Shadir. Lurking there in the shadows.”
The mage turned, slid his gaze the length of her in sharp appraisal. “It would seem I am not the only one who prefers the night.”
Long ago, Shadir had been one of her father’s chief advisors. Before—before the day of which they never spoke. Since that monstrous day, he held amorphous power over court and kingdom, power that few questioned and even fewer defied. His oiled hair hung in tight curls to his shoulders and the full beard and mustache concealed too much of his face, leaving hollow eyes that seemed to follow even when he did not turn his head.
Tia shifted on her feet and eyed the door. “It is cooler to run at night.”
The mage held himself unnaturally still. Did he even breathe?
As a child, Tia had believed Shadir could scan her thoughts like the night sky and read her secrets. Little relief had come with age. Another shudder ran its cold finger down her back.
Tia lowered her chin, all the obeisance she would give, and escaped the rooftop. Behind her, he spoke in a tone more hiss than speech. “The night holds many dangers.”
She shook off the unpleasant encounter. Better to ready herself for the unpleasantness she yet faced tonight.
Her husband’s family would have arrived by this time, but sweating like a soldier and dressed like a Persian, she was in no state to make an appearance in the death chamber. Instead, she went to her own rooms, where her two slave women, Omarsa and Gula, sat vigil as though they were the grieving widows. They both jumped when Tia entered and busied themselves with lighting more oil lamps and fetching bathwater.
In spite of her marriage to the eldest son of the captive Judaean king, Tia’s chambers were her own. She had gone to Shealtiel when it was required, and only then. The other nights she spent here among her own possessions—silk fabrics purchased from merchants who traveled east of Babylon, copper bowls hammered smooth by city jewelers, golden statues of the gods, rare carved woods from fertile lands in the west. A room of luxury. One that Shealtiel disdained and she adored. She was born a Babylonian princess. Let him have his austerity, his righteous self-denial. It had done him little good.
One of her women stripped her trousers, then unwound the damp sash that bound her lean upper body. Tia stood in the center of the bath chamber, its slight floor depression poked with drainage holes under her feet, and tried to be still as they doused her with tepid water and scrubbed with a scented paste of plant ash and animal fat until her skin stung.
When they had dressed her appropriately, her ladies escorted her through the palace corridors to the chamber where her husband of nearly seven years lay cold.
Seven years since she lost herself and her father on the same day. Neither of them had met death, but all the same, they were lost. Seven years of emptiness where shelter had been, of longing instead of love.
But much had ended today—Shealtiel’s long illness and Tia’s long imprisonment.
She paused outside the chamber door. Could she harden herself for the inevitable? The wails of women’s laments drifted under the door and wrapped around her heart, squeezing pity from her. A wave of sorrow, for the evil that took those who are loved, tightened her throat. But her grief was more for his family than herself. He had been harsh and unloving and narrow-minded, and now she was free. Tia would enter, give the family her respect, and escape to peace.
She nodded to one of her women, and Gula tapped the door twice and pushed it open.
Shealtiel’s body lay across a pallet, skin already graying. The chamber smelled of death and frankincense. Three women attended her husband—Shealtiel’s sister, his mother, and Tia’s own. His mother, Marta, sat in a chair close to the body. Her mourning clothes, donned over her large frame, were ashy and torn. She lifted her head briefly, saw that it was only Tia, and returned to her keening. Her shoulders rocked and her hands clutched at a knot of clothing, perhaps belonging to Shealtiel. His sister, Rachel, stood against the wall and gave her a shy smile, a smile that melded sorrow and admiration. She was younger than Tia by five years, still unmarried, a sweet girl.
“Good of you to join us, Tia.” Her mother’s eyes slitted and traveled the length of Tia’s robes. Tia expected some comment about her earlier dress, but Amytis held her tongue.
“I was . . . detained.” Their gazes clashed over Shealtiel’s body and Tia challenged her with a silent smile. The tension held for a moment, then Tia bent her head.
She was exquisite, Amytis. No amount of resentment on Tia’s part could blind her to this truth. Though Amytis had made it clear that Tia’s sisters held her affections, and though Tia had long ago given up calling her Mother in her heart, she could not deny that her charms still held sway in Babylon. From old men to children, Amytis was adored. Her lustrous hair fell to her waist, still black though she was nearly fifty, and her obsidian eyes over marble cheekbones were a favorite of the city’s best sculptors. Some said Tia favored her, but if she did, the likeness did nothing to stir a motherly affection.
Tia went to Shealtiel’s mother and whispered over her, “May the gods show kindness to you today, Marta. It is a difficult day for us all.” The woman’s grief broke Tia’s heart, and she placed a hand on Marta’s wide shoulder to share in it.
Marta sniffed and pulled away. “Do not call upon your false gods for me, girl.”
Amytis sucked in a breath, her lips taut.
Tia’s jaw tightened. “He was a good man, Marta. He will be missed.” Both of these statements Tia made without falsehood. Shealtiel was the most pious man she had ever known, fully committed to following the exacting requirements of his God.
Marta seemed to soften. She reached a plump hand to pat Tia’s own, still on her shoulder. “But how could the Holy One have taken him before he saw any children born?”
Tia stiffened and brought her hand to her side, forcing the fingers to relax. Marta rocked and moaned on, muttering about Tia’s inhospitable womb. Tia dared not point out that perhaps her son was to blame.
“But there is still a chance.” Marta looked to Amytis, then to Tia. “It is our way. When the husband dies without an heir, his brother—”
The single word came from both her mother’s and her own lips as one. Marta blinked and looked between them.
“It is our way.” Marta glanced at Rachel against the wall, as though seeking an ally. “My second son Pedaiah is unmarried yet. Perhaps Tia could still bear a son for Shealtiel—”
“You have had your treaty marriage with Babylon.” Amytis drew herself up, accentuating her lean height. “There will not be another.”
Tia remained silent. Her mother and she, in agreement? Had Amytis watched her languish these seven years and regretted flinging her like day-old meat to the Judaean dogs? Did she also hope for a life with more purpose for Tia now that she had been released? Tia lifted a smile, ever hopeful that Amytis’s heart had somehow softened toward her youngest daughter.
“Jeconiah shall hear of your refusal!” Marta stood, her chin puckering.
Amytis huffed. “Take the news to your imprisoned husband, then. I shall not wait for his retribution.” She seemed to sense the unfairness of the moment and regret her calloused words. “Come, Tia. Let us leave these women to grieve.” She meant it kindly but it was yet another insult, the implication that Tia need not remain for any personal grief.
Tia followed Amytis from the chamber into the hall, her strong perfume trailing. Amytis spun on her, and her heavy red robe whirled and settled. Her nostrils flared and she spoke through clenched teeth.
“By all the gods, Tiamat! For how long will you make our family a mockery?”