Interview & giveaway!

5 Comments

Destiny's Hands - Violet NesdolyIt’s May 1st. Time to announce the winners of the giveaway. They are: Bonnie and Patricia.  Congratulations!

I’ll be getting in touch with both of you for your mail addresses. Hope you enjoy!

***********

I (and my book Destiny’s Hands) are thrilled to be featured today on the blog Interviews and Reviews. Thank you, Laura Davis, for interesting questions and an opportunity to talk about this project.

Though Destiny’s Hands is not a new book (it came out in 2012) it is a timely read as it tells the story of the first Passover. The modern celebration of the Jewish Feast of Passover begins at sundown tonight, April 14th.

To complement Laura’s interview, I’m giving away two paperback copies of Destiny’s Hands.

Interested in winning a book? Simply sign up in the comments below (by April 30th) and I’ll put your name in the draw. I’ll announce the winners here on May 1st.

Digital copies are also available for new-school readers who prefer the weightless version. (Sorry, I can’t give those away.)

The Queen’s Handmaid – review

Leave a comment

The Queen's HandmaidThe Queen’s Handmaid by Tracy L. Higley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lydia, slave of Cleopatra, is not only lovely but also ambitious. Her artistic pottery is in demand and already she has collected a bag of coins against the day she can escape from the palace and start her own business. But the night Herod comes to visit, everything changes. Cleopatra, stymied in her attempt to seduce Herod, takes out her anger on those around her. After doing away with loose-lipped Andromeda, Lydia is in her sites.

Lydia, meanwhile, responds to an urgent call from her elderly Jewish friend Samuel. Determined to hear what he has to tell her, she goes to his home only to find it a shambles and the old man beaten and all but dead. With his last breath he entrusts her with an ancient parchment to deliver to Jerusalem and gives her a unique necklace. “It was your mother’s,” he manages to gasp—and he’s gone.

What’s she to do? Suddenly Herod’s earlier offer to take her with him from Alexandria to become a maid to his betrothed Mariamme seems like a good idea. And so the next day finds her on a boat fleeing murderous Cleopatra while on a secret and dangerous mission of her own.

We follow Lydia for the next few years as she travels from Egypt to Rome, on to Masada and finally Jerusalem in Tracy Higley’s historical fiction The Queen’s Handmaid. Lydia always manages to find work at the highest levels and so we get close-up glimpses of the political life and the power characters during the time period just before Christ.

The characters, real and fictional, are rendered vividly and with confidence. In a note at the end of the book Higley tells us what she was hoping to achieve. She invented Lydia as a fictional “witness” character through whom we would see some of the major political players of the day: Cleopatra, Caesar Augustus, Marc Antony, Herod, his sister Salome and wife Mariamme. As well, Higley’s own travels to Alexandria, Rome, Jerusalem and Masada lend accuracy and detail to descriptions of the setting.

The plot kept me engrossed and pressing on to see what happens next. The intrigue in each palace made for great human interest and the author’s familiarity with the various locations gave me confidence that I was in good hands. Lydia, the orphan, is a sympathetic character in her search for identity and worth. Her romantic interest in Herod’s administrator Simon added another magnet to the plot.

If there was one thing that seemed little unbelievable, it was how Lydia always managed to be working for one of the land’s leading ladies (Cleopatra, Octavia, Mariamme). But that aside, The Queen’s Handmaid is a well-plotted, well-written historical fiction that I’m sure lovers of historical and biblical fiction will enjoy. A Reading Group Guide at the end of the book makes it a fine choice for book clubs as well.

I received an ebook version of The Queen’s Handmaid as a gift from Thomas Nelson for the purpose of writing a review.

View all my reviews

Return to Me (review)

Leave a comment

Return to Me (The Restoration Chronicles #1)Return to Me by Lynn Austin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Return to Me Lynn Austin returns to writing in the genre–biblical fiction–where I first met her. This story is set in the time of the exile and follows the priest Iddo and his son Zacharias as their family returns to a ravished Jersualem with the intention of rebuilding the temple.

The book is peopled by believable characters who go through the kinds of things you’d expect returning exiles to go through. Iddo’s wife, Dinah, pines for her children and grandchildren that never made the trek back and struggles to be content in her primitive Jerusalem home.

Zachariah’s best friend Yael feels the strong pull of astrology as she seeks to discover whether her sick mother will live. The star charts she gets from the Babylonian seer Parthia become a snare to her as she befriends a Samaritan family.

Main character Zacharias often misses his parents but believes that God has him in Jerusalem for a reason–if only He would make it clear.

It’s a story that takes place over a generation and gives life to an interesting and dramatic era of Israel’s history. However I found it slow-moving in parts, and a tad long. Perhaps this is because the author attempts to stay close to the Bible’s story line where there are years without too much happening.

Lovers of Bible fiction and students of Jewish history will want to add this book to their collections.

I received Return to Me as a gift from the publisher, Bethany House. As usual, my Kindle edition from NetGalley was full of weird spacing and missing ‘ff’s.

View all my reviews

Journey by Angela Hunt (review)

Leave a comment

JourneyJourney by Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Suspicion and jealousy cause a rift between Yosef’s sons Efrayim and Menashe when grandfather Yakov speaks a firstborn blessing over second-born Efrayim in Angela Hunt’s biblical fiction Journey. This schism is magnified by their dissimilar personalities. Menashe is serious, brooding, and intense while Efrayim is charismatic, fun-loving, and ambitious.

But sibling rivalry is not the only thing that separates these handsome, twenty-something brothers. When Menashe stays in Goshen with his relatives to mourn Grandfather Yakov’s death, he hears stories of his ancestors, the patriarchs, for the first time—stories his busy vizier father Zaphenath-paneah (Yosef) never told him. With these stories the dream is birthed in him of his people again living in their own land. Efrayim, meanwhile, in love with all things Egyptian, oversees the embalming of Yakov.

A trip to Canaan to bury Yakov, close encounters with Pharaoh and his powerful wife Tiy, Menashe’s obsession with the lovely but sightless slave harpist Jandayi, together with his growing conviction that it is his destiny to lead his countrymen back to Canaan make Journey a spell-binding read.

I especially liked the way Hunt brought Egypt to life in her well-researched setting. Here, for example, is the scene that meets Zaphenath-paneah and his sons as they enter the banquet room of the feast Pharaoh’s holds to honor them:

“In the centre of the vast hall an Egyptian drummer held his instrument at a jaunty angle and thumped out a steady beat. A line of trumpeters blew their instruments; one man lifted his horn toward the painted ceiling in a vain attempt to make his instrument heard about the others. A group of Libyans, recognizable by their ornate feathered headdresses, beat their clappers in a staccato rhythm, while in another corner a band of priestesses played their sacred sister, the delicate thumping sounds echoing through the room. The chamber seemed alive with noise, the sound rising from the musicians and dancers and then spiralling down again from the tall ceiling” – Kindle Location 2322.

For those interested in Bible themes, the story also delves into who God-Shaddai was to the Hebrews at this time through Menashe’s growing understanding of the history and destiny of his people.

Characters are complex and believable. I was especially fascinated by Tiy, Pharaoh’s scheming and powerful first wife.

For anyone wanting a rich, thoughtful, sometimes suspenseful experience of the Israelites in Egypt at the time of Joseph, Journey (Legacies of the Ancient River) is an excellent choice.

View all my reviews

Love at first sight?

Leave a comment

‘Valentine’s Day’ in my novel Destiny’s Hands comes on the day the Israelites celebrate their final defeat of the Egyptians after they cross the Red Sea.

In the story Moses leads in a celebration dance and main character Bezalel joins in. Then he looks on as Miriam leads the women in their part of the dance and catches a glimpse of…. Who is she?

Here is that bit from Destiny’s Hands (Chapter 14):

 
destiny's hands ebookMoses led them back to his own camp spot. As they approached, his sister Miriam—a tall woman with snowy hair and a tanned, wrinkled face—came out of her tent. Though Bezalel hadn’t seen her for years, he recognized her regal air and remembered how,
as a little boy, he had been in awe of her. As far back as he could remember, she had been known as a prophetess with unusual talents and insights.

She listened to Moses and the crowd for a while, then disappeared into her tent coming back a few minutes later with a timbrel in her hand. In a voice that sounded
much younger than one would expect from such a wrinkled visage, Miriam took up Moses’ song. Moses stopped, smiled broadly at his sister, and motioned to her with his hand as if to say, “It’s your turn!”

“Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted,” she began, taking up his refrain. She wove
through the crowds as Moses had. This time the women followed her and soon Miriam led a throng of them. They danced through the camp as Moses and the men had, picking up followers as they went.

They made their way past Bezalel and he caught sight of his mother and Zamri in the
crowd of dancers. It was good to see his mother so light-hearted, and Zamri able to express her naturally bubbly nature.

Of course there were others too, no lack of lovely women on which to feast one’s eyes.
Bezalel watched one, and then another, until he saw a delightful creature such as he had never seen before. She was a few women away from Zamri and had thick, wavy hair the color of copper. Her eyes, when they were open, flashed green malachite. Her skin was tanned, her face and lips flushed with exertion. Damp tendrils of hair clung to her face and neck. She was beautiful!

But more than her physical beauty attracted Bezalel. Fascinated, he watched her dance with abandon and not a shred of self-consciousness, as if performing for Yahweh Himself. Her movements were the exact physical expression of lightness and  joy Bezalel had felt after he had removed his charm during the plague of darkness.

He had to find out who she was.

*************

Want to read more? Destiny’s Hands is available from Amazon and other online booksellers (in paperback or e-book). You can also order it  from me (author-signed if you like), details HERE.

Biblical fiction—adaptations

Leave a comment

Do you read biblical fiction, that  is fiction based on the stories in the Bible? Maybe you write it.

The most common way of writing such a story is to fictionalize the Bible characters, perhaps create a few new ones, and tell the story in all its imagined detail but still set in the time and place that the Bible events occurred.

There is another way. It is taking the Bible themes and characters and transplanting them into another time and setting.

A few years ago Pacific Theatre did this with the story of Joseph and his brothers, performing what they called an ‘adaptation.’  Here’s is a description of that play, “Remnants (A Fable),” from the theatre’s website :

“…this refreshingly direct variation of an ancient tale traces a young man’s journey from a Polish shtetl to the work camps of depression-era Canada. Rising to become an advisor to Prime Minister Mackenzie King, Joseph is sent to turn back a boatload of European Jews – only to discover his brothers among the refugees.” Read entire …

Another adaptation I bumped into recently was the story of Esther with mouse characters (read “The Mouse King” on the website of Clubhouse Jr.).

Below is a review of still another adaptation. The Bark of the Bog Owl is Book One of a series about King David from the Old Testament. Author Jonathan Rogers has set this story for middle-grade readers in a fantasy time and place. Though this series is several years old (Book 1 came out in 2004), books like this are really timeless. If you’re looking for a fun series for children 8-12, consider these Wilderking books (Book 2 – The Secret of the Swamp King; Book 3 – The Way of the Wilderking).

My review of Bark of the Bog Owl:

Bark of the Bog Owl - Jonathan RogersTake places like Tambluff Castle, Feechiefen Swamp, Bonifay Plain and Greasy Cave. Now mix them with characters like Aidan Errolson, Dobro, King Darrow, Bayard the Truth Speaker, a contingent of scheming Pyrthens and you have The Bark of the Bog Owl, the first book of Jonathan Rogers’ Wilderking Trilogy.

In this series Rogers retells the story of David from the Old Testament. However, with the exception of the main plot line there is little else predictable about the story. The reworked characters have been transplanted to a medieval fantasyland which has a more-than-passing resemblance to Rogers’ native Georgia — as the jacket notes describe it: “a fantasy-adventure story told in an American accent.”

The book is a lively read. Twelve-year-old Aidan, his new friend Dobro, the Feechiefolk, Aidan’s brothers and the Pyrthens mix it up in play, celebration, arguments, hand-to-hand fights and a genuine battle. The action and adventure are also delivered with generous doses of humor in silly songs, rhymes and Mr. Rogers’ droll way with words.

Themes that come out in this tale are love of God and country, bravery, honor and on Aidan’s part, a thirst for action and adventure.

Though we get to know Aidan best, there are other interesting characters as well — the mysterious Dobro, Aidan’s somewhat jealous and condescending brothers and my favorite, Bayard the Truth Speaker.

It is Bayard’s wisdom, delivered in the mysterious voice of an authentic but weird prophet that had me, adult that I am, reaching for my highlighter. “Live the life that unfolds before you,” he tells Aidan on their first meeting. Later he reassures him, “Do not ask, ‘Am I being a fool?’ Ask, ‘Am I being the right sort of fool?’” It is this sage foundation that anchors the story and gives it a value which extends beyond hours of entertaining reading.

Kids in Grades 3-6 will enjoy this series. If I were the parent though, I wouldn’t give it to them to read. Rather I’d read it aloud to them myself and join in the fun.

Find out more about the author, and the Wilderking Trilogy plus see other books Jonathan Rogers has authored) on Rogers’ website (click on “About the books”)

(This review was first published on Blogcritics in 2006)

Title: The Bark Of The Bog Owl (The Wilderking Trilogy)
Author: Jonathan Rogers
Publisher: B&H Publishers, 2004, Hardcover and Kindle editions, 231 pages.
ISBN-10: 0805431314
ASIN: B002U0KPPS

Do you read biblical fiction? What do you like about it? Dislike?

February prompt: love is in the air

Leave a comment

It’s February and time for another writing prompt. With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching let’s explore love!

The Bible is full of love stories.

Isaac found his love, Rebekah, through a marriage arranged by his dad (Genesis 24:1-67).

Rebekah meets Isaac

Rebekah meets Isaac

Jacob knew whom he loved, but found his cagey father-in-law knew better, at least in the how to get his less attractive but older daughter off his hands department. This love triangle is full of heartbreak and jealousy, and not only for the unloved wife (Genesis 29:1-32).

Jacob meets Rachel

Jacob meets Rachel

Then there’s the story princess of Michal who loved David—yes, a woman-instigated romance (1 Samuel 18:12-29; 19:10-14)

Michal helps David

Michal helps David

And there’s the mixed race, December-April marriage of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 2-3).

Boaz gives Ruth protection

Boaz gives Ruth protection

Here are some suggestions of ways you might approach a piece on love:

For poets:

Write a poem from the viewpoint of one of the men or women above. Choose a moment in time within their story, and express their thoughts, emotions, hopes, fears, and frustrations at that moment.

or

Write an ekphrastic poem, inspired by one of the artist renderings above.

For fiction writers:

Imagine and recreate a scene between one group of lovers above. For example write about:

  • the first time Isaac and Rebekah meet.
  • the first meeting of Jacob and Rachel after Jacob has been tricked into marrying Leah. (Is Jacob suspicious that Rachel was party to her father’s ruse?)
  • the meeting of Ruth and Boaz after he has secured the right to marry her.

or write a modern love scene based on one of the scenarios above.

For non-fiction writers:

Write about your personal experience with one of the the types of relationships from our Bible examples (arranged marriages, love triangles, women instigating romantic relationships, marriages of mixed race and/or disparate age).

or

Express your opinion about one of the types of relationships.

If you choose to accept the challenge and publish what you write on your blog, let me know in Comments and I’ll post a link to your piece.