Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Bridge to a Distant Star"

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Bridge to a Distant Star
David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2011)
Carolyn Williford


Carolyn Williford has authored seven books, including Jordan's Bend, Devotions for Families That Can't Sit Still, and Faith Tango, as well as numerous articles. She and her husband, Craig, live in Deerfield, Illinois, where he serves as president of Trinity International University. They have two children and four grandchildren.


It All Comes Tumbling Down

As a storm rages in the night, unwary drivers venture onto Tampa Bay’s most renowned bridge. No one sees the danger ahead. No one notices the jagged gap hidden by the darkness and rain. Yet when the bridge collapses vehicles careen into the churning waters of the bay below.

In that one catastrophic moment, three powerful stories converge: a family ravaged by their child’s heartbreaking news, a marriage threatened by its own facade, and a college student burdened by self doubt. As each story unfolds, the characters move steadily closer to that fateful moment on the bridge. And while each character searches for grace, the storms in their lives loom as large as the storm that awaits them above the bay.

When these characters intersect in Carolyn Williford’s gripping and moving volume of three novellas, they also collide with the transforming truth of Christ: Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Bridge to a Distant Star, go HERE.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Rhythm of Secrets" Book Review

Rhythm of Secrets
Kregel Publications (December 22, 2010)
Patti Lacy

I posted about this book awhile ago but needed to come back and give you my thoughts on this great book. Here is my review of a fantastic book by Patti Lacy - and she has a new one coming out in October! I can't wait to see what she comes up with next...

Sheila Franklin has lived three separate lives. Now a conservative pastor's wife in Chicago, she is skilled at hiding secrets--a talent birthed during childhood romps through the music-filled streets of New Orleans. But when the son she bore at the age of eighteen comes back looking for answers and desperate for help, her greatest secret--and greatest regret--is revealed.

MY REVIEW: Patti Lacy has a gift. She has this uncanny ability to find a story and flesh it out to a place where you feel like you are living in that story. I would not say that woman's fiction (you know the kind dealing with heavy subjects that really make you think) is one of my favorite genres, in fact I pass by on a lot of them. But a book by Patti Lacy - it is a must read as far as I am concerned. I loved her first books "An Irishwoman's Tale" and "What The Bayou Saw" but this book was even better! The whole concept behind the book was fascinating... what if a woman grew up thinking that she had to hide the shame of the past she grew up in, and then is confronted with it in the worst way. Will her decision to hide her past cause hurt to others? What can she do to fix it? Will it destroy her marriage? Sheila Franklin is a heroine that makes you cheer for her as you follow her in her choices, good and bad, and I was curious to the end about how everything would turn out. Patti keeps you intrigued until the very end. So worth the read - a keeper!

"She Makes It Look Easy"

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
She Makes It Look Easy
David C. Cook (June 1, 2011)
Marybeth Whalen


Marybeth Whalen is the wife of Curt and mom of six children. The family lives outside Charlotte, NC. Marybeth is a member of the Proverbs 31 Ministries writing team and a regular contributor to their daily devotions. Her first novel,The Mailbox was released in June 2010. Her next novel, She Makes It Look Easy, will be released in June 2011. Additionally, she serves as director of She Reads, Proverbs 31 Ministries' fiction division.


Ariel Baxter has just moved into the neighborhood of her dreams. The chaos of domestic life and the loneliness of motherhood, however, moved with her. Then she meets her neighbor, Justine Miller. Justine ushers Ariel into a world of clutter-free houses, fresh-baked bread, homemade crafts, neighborhood play dates, and organization techniques designed to make marriage better and parenting manageable.

Soon Ariel realizes there is hope for peace, friendship, and clean kitchen counters. But when rumors start to circulate about Justine’s real home life, Ariel must choose whether to believe the best about the friend she admires or consider the possibility that “perfection” isn’t always what it seems to be.

If you would like to read an excerpt of She Makes It Look Easy, go HERE.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Breath of Angel" Book Review

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Breath of Angel

WaterBrook Press (June 21, 2011)

***Special thanks to Lynette Kittle, Senior Publicist, WaterBrook Multnomah, a Division of Random House for sending me a review copy.***

I was looking forward to reading Karyn Henley's foray into fantasy fiction and seeing where she would take me. What a ride. Breath of Angel takes us right into a world where angels are real and order must be restored by opening the pathway to heaven by restoring the tree. Melaia knows all the fairy tales and folk lore, but one day she discovers that maybe it isn't all bed time stories. She is sucked into a world of good and evil and comes to realize that she is right in the middle of it all. Who can she trust? She'll find out the hard way. I look forward to the next book in this series. It made me think and dream - that is good fantasy.


Karyn Henley has written over 100 titles, along with being an accomplished songwriter nominated for a Dove Award. She also received a regional Emmy Award as Music Composer for a television special and lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, a jazz drummer.

Visit the author's website.


In Breath of Angel (WaterBrook Press, June 21, 2011), award winning author Karyn Henley brings to life the tale of Melaia, a young priestess who witnesses the murder of a stranger in the temple courtyard. A place where age-old legends recited in song suddenly come to life, in this story of two immortal brothers quest for restoration.

With Angels. Shape-shifters. Myths and stories… Melaia finds herself in the middle of a blood feud between two immortal brothers who destroyed the stairway to heaven, stranding angels in the earthly realm.

Young readers are sure to be intrigued and dig deeper into this make-believe story that explores the payment for redemption.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (June 21, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307730123
ISBN-13: 978-0307730121


The prick of the thorn drew blood, but Melaia smiled. The last ramble rose of the season was well worth a pierced thumb. She carefully drew the blossom from the vine that clung to the side of the temple. As she breathed its rich, sweet scent, she sensed someone watching and looked up, expecting to see one of the novice priestesses. She saw only dry leaves skittering across the flagstones of the walled courtyard, along with a black feather, no doubt from a bird scavenging seeds in the woodpile.

Then a haggard young man stepped through the gate, and Melaia drew back. The chill autumn breeze riffled the edge of his dirt-stained cloak, revealing the corner of a journey pack and the hilt of a dagger. Melaia gave him a tentative nod.

“I’ve come—” His voice was dirt dry. He wiped his fist across his mouth.

“I’ll fetch water.” Melaia tucked the rose into her waist sash and headed for the stone urn by the arched doorway. “Travelers are always welcome at our temple. We’ve pallets if you wish to stay the night.” She would have to check with the high priestess, but Hanni rarely turned away weary travelers.

“My thanks,” the man croaked.

Melaia flipped back her loose honey brown braid and dipped a pottery cup into the cool water. “I’m chantress here, always eager to hear new tales from travelers.”

The young man looked too weary to tell tales. Or too ill. His dark-ringed eyes darted from one afternoon shadow to another, and he cocked his head as if he heard something beyond the walls.

“We’re healers here as well,” she offered.

For a moment his wild eyes focused on her. Then he glanced above her head, and his hand went to his dagger.

But he never drew it.

A hawk, larger than any she’d ever seen, shot like an arrow past Melaia and sank its talons into the stranger’s chest. The man’s raw screams pierced the air as the hawk’s beak knifed at his throat.

Melaia stood stunned and speechless. But as the hawk flapped its great wings and lifted the man a handbreadth off the flagstones, her senses surged back.

She snatched a branch from the woodpile and swung it at the hawk. The raptor screeched and dropped the stranger. “Fight!” she yelled at him. “Fight back!”

But it was the hawk that fought, its wings beating at her stick as its claws snagged the man again. At last Melaia struck a solid blow to the hawk’s head, and it skidded sideways. She chased after it, but the raptor took to the air, quickly rose, and soared away over the domed roof of the temple.

Melaia flung aside the stick and fell to her knees by the bloodied man. Then she covered her mouth and swallowed a bitter taste. “Most High, have mercy,” she croaked. Seeing wounds so deep and blood flowing freely, she wasn’t surprised that the stranger’s mistlike spirit had emerged from his body.

As a death-prophet, she could see the shadowy echo writhing around his form as he struggled to live.

“Mellie? Is it safe?” Dark-eyed Iona stood in the temple doorway, holding back the other two novices. At fourteen, she was the motherly one, although Melaia was two years older. Curly-haired Peron, still baby plump at six, peered around Iona, clutching her skirts, while twelve-year-old Nuri broke away from them and ran across the yard, her usual dimpled smile gone.

“Is he dead?” Nuri asked.

“Not yet,” Melaia told her. “Take Peron and fetch a basket of plumwort. And water.”

Nuri stared at the man’s wounds. “We saw the hawk.”

“Go!” said Melaia. “I need plumwort to stanch the bleeding.”

As Nuri dashed away, Melaia wondered why the high priestess hadn’t appeared.

“Where’s Hanni?” she called to Iona.

“Summoned to a birthing. The weaver’s wife.” Iona nervously twisted the end of her black braid.

“Then come help me carry the man inside.”

Melaia hesitated. She was often called to the bedside of the dying to confirm the moment of death, but never had she been required to reach through a spirit to touch someone. Of course, other people did it all the time, she told herself. They just couldn’t see the struggling, mistlike layer. She took a deep breath, grasped the man’s bloodied cloak, and pressed it to the gashes in his chest. His spirit pooled around her wrists, vibrating like a throat quivering with speech.

“Can you hear me?” Melaia asked, keeping pressure on his wound. The stranger’s spirit thrummed frantically, as if he were trying to say something.

“Where’s the plumwort?” Melaia yelled.

Nuri ran across the yard, sloshing a jar of water. Peron trotted behind her with the basket of plumwort. Iona knelt at the man’s feet, her mouth moving silently in prayer.

Melaia reached for the plumwort, but the man’s spirit slid off his body, thinned into a stream, and seeped through a crack in the flagstones. A sudden, grim silence fell over the yard. Melaia shook her head at Nuri and Peron and closed the man’s green-flecked eyes.

Peron stuck out her lower lip. “I was too slow.”

“No, I was.” Nuri’s shoulders drooped.

“No one’s at fault,” said Melaia, but she couldn’t help thinking that the man might still be alive if she had only laid into the hawk sooner. “Let’s get him inside.” She lifted his upper body. For his bulk he was surprisingly light.

Iona lifted his legs. “Starved twig-thin,” she said. “Poor man.”

They carried the stranger to the sanctuary altar, the bier for those who

could afford no better. Melaia took a deep breath, wishing Hanni were there.

“Iona, find me a winding-sheet,” she said. “Peron, go with Nuri. Fetch more

water and scrub the courtyard.”

“But it’s bloody,” said Nuri. Peron wrinkled her nose.

“Would you rather clean the man’s body?” asked Melaia. Nuri and Peron

scrambled out the door. Iona followed.

Melaia gently eased the man’s cloak from his chest and winced, wondering where Hanni would begin. She exhaled slowly. “Start with the easiest,” she murmured.

She untangled his pack from one forearm. As she slipped it free, she noticed the end of a small scroll clenched in his fist. “First the pack,” she told herself, glancing around. Her gaze fell on a shelf of incense bowls. She stashed the pack there, then turned back to the altar-bier and froze.

The stranger’s cloak had fallen back and, with it, a long, white, bloodstained wing.

Melaia’s knees almost buckled. “An angel?” she whispered. It couldn’t be. Angels were found only in legends. Chanters’ stories. Bedtime tales.

Iona’s voice echoed down the corridor. “Do we need more water?”

Melaia jerked the cloak back around the man.

Iona strode in with a bundle of white linen. “Do we need more water?”

“We need Hanni,” said Melaia.

“You look as if you’ve seen the man’s ghost.” Iona looked around. “Has he


“Just go get Hanni.”

Distant drums signaled the closing of Navia’s city gates and the change of watch on the walls. On the altar-bier in the temple, the winged man lay serene and clean, covered in white linen up to his chin. Melaia didn’t often sit with the dead, but as she lit the oil lamps behind the bier, she decided that tonight she would request a vigil. She hoped the high priestess would join her, for she had a night’s worth of questions to ask.

But so far, the high priestess hadn’t returned. She had sent Iona back to say

that the birthing was a difficult one and she must stay with it, although she was upset at the news of a death in the side yard. Hanni intended to stop by the overlord’s villa and bring his advisor, Benasin, back to the temple with her.

As Melaia held the flaming twist of rushweed to the last wick, she eyed the three girls munching their supper on a reed mat across the room. With Hanni gone they had asked to stay with Melaia instead of eating in the hearthroom down the hall. She was glad for their company. She felt as shaky as they did, although she hadn’t told them about the stranger’s wings. She wanted Hanni’s opinion first.

Melaia tossed the spent rushweed into the brazier in the center of the room and stirred the coals into flame. For a moment she watched the smoke curl up and drift like a dying spirit out through the roof hole above. Except dying spirits always drifted down, not up.

“I’m saving my scraps for the chee-dees,” Peron said, scooping her crumbs into a tiny hill.

“Fetch your crumb jar from the storeroom, then,” said Melaia. “When you’ve finished cleaning up, I’ll tell a story.”

Peron stared warily at the dark corridor that lay beyond the bier.

“I’ll go with you.” Nuri slipped one of the lamps from its niche. With an uneasy smile she guided Peron to the corridor, giving wide berth to the bier.

Iona stoppered the olive oil. “Peron is telling tales again. This time it’s about two falcons scaring away her songbird friends.”

“She must have been inspired by the hawk in the yard today.” Melaia stacked the empty wooden bowls and glanced at the stranger who should have eaten a meal with them tonight.

“Peron said the falcons were darker than closed eyes,” said Iona. “I can picture that.” Melaia lifted her harp from its peg.

“And they had people hands.” Iona rolled her eyes.

“That I can’t picture,” said Melaia. “Too ghoulish.”

Iona laughed. “With such an imagination Peron will surely become a chantress.”

A shriek came from the corridor. Peron darted into the room, hugging her crumb jar, with Nuri on her heels. Both girls were open-mouthed and wide-eyed.

Behind them limped a sharp-nosed, beardless man wearing a cloak fashioned

completely of feathers—brown, black, and an iridescent blue that glinted in the lamplight. The skin around one of his round gold eyes was blackened, and a scratch jagged across his brow.

Melaia went cold, head to toe. How had the man entered? Had she left the side door unbolted?

Nuri and Peron ran to Iona, and all three huddled by the wall. Melaia stifled her impulse to join them. Hanni had left her in charge, so in charge she would be. She had fought off a murdering hawk. She had prepared a bloody winged man for burial. She would stand up to this intruder.

She strode to the brazier, her hands clammy as she clung to her harp. “This is the temple of the Most High,” she said, hoping he wouldn’t hear the quaver in her voice.

“So it is,” he hissed, limping to the bier. “I believe I noticed that.” “What’s your business here?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Surely you’re not the high priestess.”

“She’s the chantress,” blurted Peron.

“Ah. Singer of songs, soother of sorrows,” he crooned.

“If you’re here for our treasury box, take it and be on your way,” said Melaia.

“I have unfinished business with the high priestess,” he said.

“You can find her at the overlord’s villa,” said Melaia.

“No doubt.” With a gloved hand he slid back the sheet that covered the corpse. He smiled at the gashes, then studied Melaia. “Chantress, play your harp for me.”

Melaia gaped at him. “You have no right—”

“Or let me play it,” he said. “The little girl can bring it. The one who feeds the birds.”

Peron’s eyes grew round as the supper bowls, and she shrank behind Iona’s skirts.

Melaia hugged the harp tighter to her chest and glared at the man defiantly, even as she fought back a fear that curdled in the pit of her stomach. How long had this swaggerer been spying on them?

His unblinking gold eyes stared back at her. “I do not take disobedience lightly.” His voice was ice. “Send the girl with the harp or play it yourself.”

Melaia swallowed dryly. She felt her courage fall as limp as the poor stranger in the yard. Keeping her eyes on the intruder, she sank to a bench by the brazier and positioned the harp in her lap.

“Let us hear the tale of the Wisdom Tree,” he said. “You know it, don’t you, Chantress?”

Melaia scowled at him and motioned for the girls to join her. As she fingered

the melody, they silently gathered around, and she breathed easier. Together they were safer, with the brazier as a barrier between them and the bully.

She turned her attention back to the harp, and over the music she spoke the tale.

In a time long ago, there lived a tribal chieftain whose firstborn son was

a wealthy trader, his second-born a lone hunter. Each year at harvest festival, his sons vied to present him with the best gift. The Firstborn always gave perfumes, musicians, slave dancers, the treasures of his trade. The Second-born presented partridges, deerskins, lion-claw necklaces, the spoils of the hunt. But the Second-born thought his gifts paltry compared to those of the Firstborn. So he set out to seek the greatest gift of all.

Far and wide he journeyed, to no avail. At last, weary and discouraged, he lay to rest in the shade of a tree as tall and wide as the tower of a citadel. The Wisdom Tree it was, bearing fruit that granted the eater knowledge and cleverness.

Peron popped her thumb out of her mouth and chanted, “Within this tree stood the stairway to heaven made wholly of light.”

“Exactly,” said Melaia, glad that for the moment the tale was distracting Peron from the intruder, whose gold eyes held a hungry glitter. Melaia continued:

An angel named Dreia, guardian of the Tree, saw the Second son lying there and asked the cause of his despair. When he told his tale, she pitied him and gave him the juice of one fruit. “This will grant you knowledge and cleverness to find the right gift for your father,” she said.

As he sipped the juice, the man’s eyes brightened. “I know the perfect gift,” he said. “A fruit from this Tree.”

Dreia hadn’t intended to give the man a whole fruit. Its seeds were precious, carried by angels into the heavens to plant wisdom trees in worlds among the stars. Yet the man was handsome, his entreaties eloquent.

At last Dreia said, “You may take one fruit if you vow to bring me the first creature that greets you when you arrive home. This I shall send over the stairway as payment. Moreover, you shall return the three

seeds of this fruit, for they are strictly forbidden to mortals. Should you fail to repay your debt, the Tree itself shall exact payment in breath and blood.”

The Second-born agreed to the bargain, for the one who always greeted his homecoming was his old hunting dog. Taking his dog and the seeds back to Dreia would be good reason to see the beautiful angel again. So he carried the fruit home.

While he was still afar off, he saw, bounding across the field to greet him, his young niece. “Uncle!” she cried. “Terrible news. Your old hunting dog has died.”

The Second-born fell to his knees and wept, not for his dog, but for his niece, the only daughter of the Firstborn, now to be payment for his debt.

Melaia paused as the intruder slipped off his gloves. His fingernails were long, curved, and sharp. Talons. Her pulse pounded at her throat. His blackened eye, his scratched brow, his feathered cloak, his limp.

She had met him before. As a hawk.

“Is there no ending to the tale?” He smirked at her recognition of him and stroked the corpse. “I favor endings.”

Melaia felt foggy, as if she were in a dream. She tried to gather her thoughts.

“The Second-born knew only one way to escape his debt,” Iona prompted.

“Yes.” Melaia cleared her throat and forced out the words.

The Second-born knew he had to destroy the Wisdom Tree.

Dreia saw an army approaching, the Second son in the lead, betrayal in his heart. She gathered what angels she could. Some plucked the remaining fruit and hastened over the stairway to celestial worlds.

Others stayed behind to defend the Tree. But these were not warring angels. The best they could do was save some of the wood as the Tree fell and was plundered by men who wanted pieces for themselves.

“That was the end of the stairway,” Nuri said.

“And the end of angels in our world,” added Iona.

“But the brothers planted the seeds of the Wisdom Tree,” offered Peron,

“didn’t they?”

“They did.” Melaia set the harp aside. “The brothers learned that cultivating wisdom takes patience.”

The girls chimed in, “Wisdom, over time, is earned.”

The hawkman hissed. “A pitiful ending and woefully false.” He pointed a taloned finger at Melaia. “Remember this, Chantress. The Second-born abducted his niece and headed for Dreia. But fortune was with the Firstborn, for

I discovered the treachery in time to rescue my daughter. To ensure that the Tree never collected on the debt, I destroyed it. My daughter and I ate the seeds, round and shiny, red as blood. We became immortal!”

“You’re trying to haunt us with our own tale.” Melaia took up a poker and stabbed the coals in the brazier, determined not to show her fear. “There were three seeds.”

“So there were,” said the hawkman. “The third I crammed down my brother’s throat. Now he owes his debt for all eternity. And it is my pleasure to make sure he never repays.” He grinned at the dead man. “Son of Dreia, this night you are destroyed.”

He snatched up the corpse, and its wings unfolded. The girls shrieked and ran to Melaia.

The hawkman dropped the body back to the bier as if it had burned him.

Then he cursed and shoved it to the floor. He scanned the room. “The man

had a pack. Where is it?”

“Maybe he lost it in the side yard.” Melaia felt her face grow warm at the half lie.

But the man didn’t press his search. Instead, he stiffened and stared at the front door, his head cocked, listening. Melaia heard only wind, but the hawkman slowly retreated, tense as a cat backing away from danger. He glanced from the door to the window to the roof hole, where smoke drifted into the night. Then he hurtled toward the brazier, and his body contorted.

All of Melaia’s instincts screamed at her to run, but she stayed her feet, clenched her jaw, and gripped the poker with both hands. As the hawk leaped into the flames, she swung with all her might.

She struck only air as he rose in the smoke and vanished.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"The Sweetest Thing" by Elizabeth Musser

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Sweetest Thing
• Bethany House (June 1, 2011)
Elizabeth Musser


Elizabeth Musser, an Atlanta native, studied English and French literature at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. While at Vanderbilt, I had the opportunity to spend a semester in Aix-en-Provence,

France. During her Senior year at Vanderbilt, she attended a five-day missions conference for students and discovered an amazing thing: God had missionaries in France, and she felt God calling her there. After graduation, she spent eight months training for the mission field in Chicago, Illinois and then two years serving in a tiny Protestant church in Eastern France where she met her future husband.

Elizabeth lives in southern France with her husband and their two sons. She find her work as a mother, wife, author and missionary filled with challenges and chances to see God’s hand at work daily in her life. Inspiration for her novels come both from her experiences growing up in Atlanta as well as through the people she meets in her work in France. Many conversations within her novels are inspired from real-life conversations with skeptics and seekers alike.

Her acclaimed novel, The Swan House, was a Book Sense bestseller list in the Southeast and was selected as one of the top Christian books for 2001 by Amazon's editors. Searching for Eternity is her sixth novel.


Compelling Southern Novel Explores Atlanta Society in the 1930s.

The Singleton family’s fortunes seem unaffected by the Great Depression, and Perri—along with the other girls at Atlanta’s elite Washington Seminary—lives a life of tea dances with college boys and matinees at the cinema. When tragedy strikes, Perri is confronted with a world far different from the one she has always known.

At the insistence of her parents, Mary ‘Dobbs’ Dillard, the daughter of an itinerant preacher, is sent from inner-city Chicago to live with her aunt and attend Washington Seminary. Dobbs, passionate, fiercely individualistic and deeply religious, enters Washington Seminary as a bull in a china shop and shocks the girls with her frank talk about poverty and her stories of revival on the road. Her arrival intersects at the point of Perri’s ultimate crisis, and the tragedy forges an unlikely friendship.

The Sweetest Thing tells the story of two remarkable young women—opposites in every way—fighting for the same goal: surviving tumultuous change. Just as the Great Depression collides disastrously with Perri's well-ordered life, friendship blossoms--a friendship that will be tested by jealousy, betrayal, and family secrets...

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Sweetest Thing, go HERE.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"How Huge The Night"

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
How Huge the Night
Kregel Publications (March 9, 2011)
Heather Munn and Lydia Munn


Heather Munn was born in Northern Ireland of American parents and grew up in the south of France. She decided to be a writer at the age of five when her mother read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books aloud, but worried that she couldn’t write about her childhood since she didn’t remember it. When she was young, her favorite time of day was after supper when the family would gather and her father would read a chapter from a novel. Heather went to French school until her teens, and grew up hearing the story of Le Chambonsur-Lignon, only an hour’s drive away. She now lives in rural Illinois with her husband, Paul, where they offer free spiritual retreats to people coming out of homelessness and addiction. She enjoys wandering in the woods, gardening, writing, and splitting wood.

Lydia Munn was homeschooled for five years because there was no school where her family served as missionaries in the savannahs of northern Brazil. There was no public library either, but Lydia read every book she could get her hands on. This led naturally to her choice of an English major at Wheaton College. Her original plan to teach high school English gradually transitioned into a lifelong love of teaching the Bible to both adults and young people as a missionary in France. She and her husband, Jim, have two children: their son, Robin, and their daughter, Heather.


Fifteen-year-old Julien Losier just wants to fit in. But after his family moves to a small village in central France in hopes of outrunning the Nazis, he is suddenly faced with bigger challenges than the taunting of local teens.

Nina Krenkel left her country to obey her father's dying command: Take your brother and leave Austria. Burn your papers. Tell no one you are Jews. Alone and on the run, she arrives in Tanieux, France, dangerously ill and in despair.

Thrown together by the chaos of war, Julien begins to feel the terrible weight of the looming conflict and Nina fights to survive. As France falls to the Nazis, Julien struggles with doing what is right, even if it is not enough-and wonders whether or not he really can save Nina from almost certain death.

Based on the true story of the town of Le Chambon-the only French town honored by Israel for rescuing Jews from the Holocaust-How Huge the Night is a compelling, coming-of-age drama that will keep teens turning the pages as it teaches them about a fascinating period of history and inspires them to think more deeply about their everyday choices.

“The Munns have written an engrossing historical novel that is faithful to the actual events of World War II in western Europe during the tumultuous year 1940. But How Huge the Night is more than good history; it is particularly refreshing because the reader sees the conflict through the lives of teenagers who are forced to grapple with their honest questions about the existence and goodness of God in the midst of community, family, and ethnic tensions in war-ravaged France.”—Lyle W. Dorsett, Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

“Seldom have the horrors of war upon adolescents—or the heroism of which they are capable—been so clearly portrayed. I loved this coming-of-age story.”—Patricia Sprinkle, author of Hold Up the Sky

“The book expertly weaves together the lives of its characters at a frightening moment in conflicted times. As we read of their moral dilemmas and of their choices, we too wonder, Would I do has these in the story have done?”—Karen Mains, Director, Hungry Souls

If you would like to read an excerpt from How Huge the Night, go HERE

Watch the book video:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Weight Loss Journey

with Hcg (Part 3)

I have just finished my 2nd Round with Hcg and am in the process of going through Maintenance to stabilize. I started out at 199.7 lbs when I began on January 10th, I am currently working on stabilizing at 138.4 lbs. I have gone from a size 16 to a size 4 in 5 months. The Hcg diet has been the best thing that has happened to me in a very long time.

Let me re-state that the Hcg diet is not for the faint of heart - it takes will power and determination, but when followed correctly it is the most freeing diet I have ever done (and the most effective!)

Round 2 was easier in one aspect because I already knew what I was doing, having learned the ins and outs of the protocol while completing Round 1. So I didn't have to think as hard but it still took about a week to get back in the swing of things. I was concerned that the weight wouldn't come off as quickly on Round 2 but looking back on the completed Round I lost 30 lbs in the same time frame as the first round... about 40 days. I have trouble finding fault with those results. I plan on doing one last round when I finish up with this round of Maintenance in the middle of July. I have the last 12-15 lbs to lose and I figure at this point I am too close to my end goal to not reach it.

One thing I have learned during this round is that while it is vital to follow the VLCD protocol to a "T", it is equally important to follow the Maintenance exactly as specified. I made the mistake of going on a long awaited vacation with my husband (the vacation was not a mistake, but the timing certainly was) while still in the first week of Maintenance. I was not as structured on doing what I was supposed as I should have been and thus I have been having a heckuva time stabilizing. I have had more steak days than I ever thought possible and I am still not out of week 1 of Maintenance. I told my mom yesterday that when I finish my last round and enter Maintenance for the last time I will not be leaving the house for the first 2 weeks of it in order to make sure that I don't have this trouble next time. The vacation was fantastic, but I do regret not being more diligent while out of town. I am hoping that I can still rectify the situation but I have a funny feeling that the only way to do that will be to go to "clean eating" for 3 or 4 days in a row (clean eating is protein and veggies only - I will have to give up my fruits and I will miss them terribly) and then at that point I should be stable (fingers crossed). In order to do so I will make a trip to the store to stock up on veggies and meat.

I say all this to say, everyone makes mistakes and messes up at some point but the Hcg diet is not to blame. The only reason I am having issues right now is my own weakness while on vacation. The end result is that I am still at 138-140 lbs and I look great in a size 4 (smaller than I was when I got married almost 16 years ago). My 14 1/2 year old daughter wears a size 2 and I wear a size 4...really??? Isn't that crazy? My secret weapon is still and will remain the website that I ordered my product from and their customer support system. Check them out at or click on the picture below to go straight there.
Fast, safe, long-term weight loss with HCG drops!

"The Lady of Bolton Hill" Book Review

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
The Lady of Bolton Hill
Bethany House (June 1, 2011)
Elizabeth Camden

This book was riveting to me. I loved the setting and storyline and the characters were fantastic. Clara was the pivotal heroine, in love with the man of her dreams - her boyhood crush... only to find that he may not be all she remembers. After 12 years apart, he has grown into a successful, brilliant railroad magnate that is sadly a bitter, unforgiving man set out to have revenge on his biggest rival. As a Christian, Clara knows that she can't have a future with Daniel unless he can forgive and move on. Behind the scenes, trouble is brewing and Clara's faith will be tested to the utmost when the bad guys get their hands on her.
I can't even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this book. Definitely a keeper... and did I mention that the cover is beautiful too?!?


A research librarian and associate professor, Elizabeth Camden has a master’s in history from the University of Virginia and a master’s in library science from Indiana University. She has published several articles for academic publications and is the author of four nonfiction history books. Her ongoing fascination with history and love of literature have led her to write inspirational fiction. Elizabeth lives with her husband in central Florida.

A word from Elizabeth: I am a college librarian in central Florida by day, but by night I can be found pounding out inspirational historical novels the moment the sun goes down. I love writing books about fiercely intelligent people who are confronted with profound challenges. As a rather introverted person, I have found that writing is the best way for me to share my faith and a sense of resilience with others.

As for who I am? I love old Hitchcock films, the hour before sunset, a long, sweaty run through the Florida countryside, and a glass of good wine. After spending my entire adult life on a college campus (either as a student or a librarian) I have finally been able to pursue my ultimate goal of writing professionally.


Female journalists are rare in 1879, but American-born Clara Endicott has finally made a name for herself with her provocative articles championing London's poor. When the backlash from her work forces a return home to Baltimore, Clara finds herself face-to-face with a childhood sweetheart who is no longer the impoverished factory worker she once knew. In her absence, Daniel Tremain has become a powerful industry giant and Clara finds him as enigmatic as ever. However, Daniel's success is fueled by resentment from past wounds and Clara's deeply-held beliefs about God's grace force Daniel to confront his own motives. When Clara's very life is endangered by one of Daniel's adversaries, they must face a reckoning neither of them ever could have foreseen.

When Clara Endicott and Daniel Tremain's worlds collide after twelve years apart, the spark that was once between them immediately reignites into a romance neither of them thought possible.

But time has changed them both.

Daniel is an industrial titan with powerful enemies. Clara is an idealistic journalist determined to defend underprivileged workers.

Can they withstand the cost of their convictions while their hearts, and lives, hang in the balance?

If you would like to read the first chapter of The Lady of Bolton Hill, go HERE.

Monday, June 6, 2011

"A Killer Among Us" Book Review

Local Detectives Close In On Serial Killer!

Just as Noah open his mouth to respond, the passenger window beside Kit ruptured, glass flew, and Noah yelled. Kit gasped, “Noah!” Kit felt something hit her arm then pain radiated upward toward her neck. “The shooter is on the roof, I’m going for that parking garage,” Noah gritted. “Noah? I think I’m gonna pass out.” Kit’s eyes shut and this time she couldn’t shove the blackness away.

A Killer Among Us (ISBN: 978-08007-3371-1, $14.99, May 2011) is the latest thriller in the Women of Justice series from author Lynette Eason. In the conclusion of this series, A Killer Among Us is full of the heart-stopping suspense and gritty realism that fans of television shows like NCIS or CSI enjoy. Eason brings to life the lives of a negotiator and a detective hunting down a killer in the streets of Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Kit Kenyon is a first-rate hostage negotiator. Noah Lambert is a good detective with excellent instincts. The new partners have hardly had time to get used to each other when they are thrown into this grisly murder case. As evidence mounts and more victims are found, Kit and Noah realize they are on the hunt for a serial killer. The problem is he's hunting one of them...but which one?

The pace never slows in A Killer Among Us as the story offers up clever plot twists, and hint of romance. Readers will be on the edge of their seats as this page-turning suspense keeps readers up late trying to discover who the killer is--and whether Kit and Noah will live to tell about it.


Lynette Eason's Women of Justice series gets wrapped up with "A Killer Among Us" and what a wrap up it is! Each of these books has been more gripping and suspenseful than the last and I have loved all three of them. The bright yellow covers are great because when they show up in the mail I know right away that I am in for a treat and this one did not disappoint!

We get introduced to Kit in the 2nd book when she finds her sisters because she was given up for adoption at birth. She is adjusting to life with lots of family when she gets drawn into the web of a serial killer. She and her new partner, Noah, must try and stop him before anyone else dies but the bodies seem to be dropping like flies. What is the connection? Why is he leaving such weird clues? Can Kit save those that matter to her most?

Awesome, awesome, awesome! This is a series that I really didn't want to see end - I hope that Lynette starts a new suspense series soon because she has a gift for it!

Lynette Eason is the author of Too Close to Home, Don't Look Back, and thirteen other romantic suspense novels. She is a member of American Fiction Christian Writers and Romance Writers of America. A homeschooling mother, she has a master's degree in education from Converse College. She lives in South Carolina.

Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life. They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet.

"Hope Rekindled" Book Review

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Hope Rekindled
Bethany House (June 1, 2011)
Tracie Peterson

I'm honestly not sure how she does it but Tracie Peterson has another great book with "Hope Rekindled". I was sad when book #2 ended, but picking up this one was like no time had passed and I was right back in Texas with Deborah as she awaits her wedding day with Christopher. The whole family is back and so are the friends and secondary characters that make Perkinsville such a great place to visit... even the bad guys that make life miserable for Deborah's family. Many new issues come up in this book to make life full of twists and turns for everyone involved and I loved going on this journey with Deborah. I am assuming that this is the last book (#3) in the series but there is a little part of me hoping for a #4... most loose ends are wrapped up but the White Hand of God (KKK) is still unknown so I'm not sure... Great book!


Tracie Peterson is the bestselling, award-winning author of more than 85 novels.

She received her first book contract in November, 1992 and saw A Place To Belong published in February 1993 with Barbour Publishings' Heartsong Presents. She wrote exclusively with Heartsong for the next two years, receiving their readership's vote for Favorite Author of the Year for three years in a row.

In December, 1995 she signed a contract with Bethany House Publishers to co-write a series with author Judith Pella. Tracie now writes exclusively for Bethany House Publishers.

She teaches writing workshops at a variety of conferences on subjects such as inspirational romance and historical research.

Tracie was awarded the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award for 2007 Inspirational Fiction and her books have won numerous awards for favorite books in a variety of contests.

Making her home in Montana, this Kansas native enjoys spending time with family--especially her three grandchildren--Rainy, Fox and Max. She's active in her church as the Director of Women's Ministries, coordinates a yearly writer's retreat for published authors, and travels, as time permits, to research her books


Will Love Escape Her Grasp?

Life seems to be falling into place for Deborah Vandermark. On the cusp of finally marrying Christopher, the man who claimed her heart, she is devastated when he receives an urgent telegram. Bound to his family obligations, Christopher travels to Kansas City, uncertain of what he will find there.

When her fiancé returns to Texas, Deborah is faced with a very different future than she expected. She finds herself plagued with questions and uncertainty...about marriage, motherhood, and her passion to train as a physician. And when an old adversary reveals a contract that may spell ruin for Vandermark Logging, Deborah's life seems to be spiraling out of control. Can Christopher and Deborah find a way to claim the future they long to share when so much stands in the way?

If you'd like to read the first chapter of Hope Rekindled, go HERE.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Pompeii: City on Fire" Book Review

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Pompeii: City on Fire

B&H Books; Original edition (June 1, 2011)

***Special thanks to T.L. Higley for sending me a review copy.***

I have loved every book by T.L. Higley that I have read and that is most of her books. Pompeii just adds to the stack of keepers on my bookshelf by T.L. In fact this year we will be studying Old World History for our homeschool and I plan on making T.L's books (including this one) required reading for my high schooler. Excellent characters, edge of your seat plot lines and history brought to life are all brought together in a fantastic story that I couldn't put down. T.L.'s grasp of history and it's details are incredible and I eagerly anticipate every book she releases!


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.


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.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: B&H Books; Original edition (June 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1433668572
ISBN-13: 978-1433668579



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


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.


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.