Interview & giveaway!


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

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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.

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Hiking around in a wilderness odyssey

Israel tabernacle & encampment in the wilderness

The Israelite tabernacle & encampment in the wilderness

“Are you going to write another book?” I’ve heard that question a lot since publishing my novel in 2012.  I suppose it’s a question writers inevitably face after finishing a first book.

My plan, when I published Destiny’s Hands (a biblical fiction exploring the life of the Bible character Bezalel from when he was a slave in Egypt until Moses gave him a divine assignment), was to tell this one story and be done with fiction. But the process was satisfying in a way that few other writing projects have been. The characters I created are still with me. And since finishing I have wondered how they’re faring.

One person intrigues me more than the rest. Zamri, Bezalel’s younger sister, has the individuality, rebellious streak, and softness that make me think maybe, just maybe I could do something with her during the nomadic years that follow Israel’s exit from Egypt.

I am still in the research stage of my present work-in-progress. It feels like a base camp from which I could be making reconnaissance hikes into this wilderness odyssey for quite a while. But ideas are beginning to come as I familiarize myself with the story world—a world as exotic and strange as any fantasy planet.

Blog hop for writers - logoDo you have a work in progress? Do tell us about it in the comments.

Read what other blog hop contributors are working on HERE.

Return to Me (review)

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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.

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Journey by Angela Hunt (review)

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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.

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Love at first sight?

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‘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

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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

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

Michal: A Novel by Jill Eileen Smith (review)


Michal: A Novel by Jill Eileen SmithMichael: A Novel (Wives of King David) by Jill Eileen Smith is a fictional retelling of the story of King David’s first wife Michal—the daughter of Saul. Smith follows Michal from the time she is a teenager cowering under the rages of her demonically possessed father, to middle age when her scorn at David’s exuberant dance causes her to fall from the king’s favor. (Though this latter may sound like a spoiler it really isn’t because Smith follows the biblical account where the events of Michal’s life are written plainly for anyone to read.)

I found the book an interesting story. Through it I experienced the confusion and strife of King Saul’s home. I felt the conflicting emotions of a young woman who weds the man she loves, only to have him driven away by her father who is possessed by jealousy over David’s popularity with the people. When she and David are reunited, she faces issues like being part of a harem and belonging to a former king’s family. Though her personal ambition, together with the strong, determined personality Smith has given her make her a somewhat unsympathetic character, it seems a realistic interpretation of one of the Bible’s fascinating females.

I appreciate the respect with which Smith handles the biblical account. In an author’s note at the end of the book she says, “I have done my best to stay true to Scripture throughout the novel.” In that vein she begins each major division of the story with Bible quotes that foundation the events within the section. Of course her telling adds many details, but I never felt that they were inconsistent with or contradicted the Bible account.

If you’re a fan of biblical fiction, you won’t want to miss Michal.

Extras from the author’s website:

Title: Michal: A Novel (The Wives of King David)
Author: Jill Eileen Smith
Publisher: Revell, March, 2009, available in hardcover, paperback & Kindle editions, 383 pages.

Gods and Kings by Lynn Austin (review)

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Biblical fiction is a genre that helps the Bible come alive for many readers. A nice thing about books in this genre is that they’re virtually timeless.

Over the years I’ve read and reviewed quite a few stories based on the lives of Bible characters. In the days ahead I’ll be reprinting some of those reviews here along with other biblical novels reviewed here for the first time.

Today I’m resurrecting a review of Lynn Austin’s book Gods and Kings: Chronicles of the Kings #1. First released in February 2005, the KINDLE version of this book is currently  FREE!! (but I don’t know for how long, so don’t tarry if you want it).

Here’s my review, excerpted from a longer version on


Gods and Kings by Lynn AustinGods and Kings is Book 1 in the biblical fiction series Chronicles of the King  by Lynn Austin. It begins in the early years of Judah’s King Ahaz, just as Aram is about to lay siege to Jerusalem. It ends with the coronation of King Hezekiah.

The cast of characters follows the biblical account pretty closely. It includes King Ahaz, his wife Abijah, her father the priest Zechariah, the high priest Uriah, and prince Hezekiah. Minor appearances are made by Hezekiah’s wife Hephzibah, and the prophets Micah and Isaiah. Shebna, Hezekiah’s Egyptian teacher along with many other bit-players, are fictional.

Several elements worked together to make this book a worthwhile read for me.

One of them was in the area of plot, and Austin’s interpretation of how godly belief lines were preserved in ancient Israel. Often when reading the stories in Kings and Chronicles, I’ve been struck by how a God-fearing king is followed by one who is idolatrous. I’ve questioned how that could be. The fictionally-expanded events of this story illustrate that possibility in a compelling and believable way.

A theme element I really appreciated was the analysis of compromise in the character Uriah (Ahaz’s high priest). Promoted from priest to palace administrator, Uriah starts out with the intention of using his position to influence Ahaz away from idolatry. But a series of forces, including his own lust for power, greed, and international pressure, serve to make him, by the end, a promoter of idol worship instead of an opponent.

In the setting department, I felt this book succeeded in educating me about a different time and place—one of the reasons I enjoy reading historical fiction. The descriptions of the idol worship ceremonies were especially compelling, as was the description of the meeting of King Ahaz with the Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser in the captured city of Damascus. Here is some of that section, to give you a flavor of the setting and Austin’s writing style:

“…they mounted his chariot riding in silence to the ruined city. Ahaz struggled to conceal his shock and horror as he saw evidence of the Assyrian’s atrocities. On either side of the road that led to the main gate, row after row of bodies hung from tall stakes.

“The emperor would like you to meet the chief elders of Damascus,” Jephia said. “They were impaled alive and left to die, watching the destruction of their city.”

Ahaz gazed straight ahead, holding a linen handkerchief over his mouth to keep from vomiting. A sign above the gate read: This is the fate of the enemies of Assyria….. (p. 141 – page numbers from the paperback edition)

I found Gods and Kings an engaging and worthwhile read. It left me with the sense of how God was capable of working in the life of a nation, and in the lives of individuals. Austin has left just enough loose ends at the end of the book to tempt readers to search out  Song of Redemption (Chronicles of the Kings #2).

Title: Gods and Kings
Author: Lynn Austin
Publisher: Bethany House, 324 pages, 2005

(Disclosure: The Amazon links on this page are connected to my Amazon affiliate account. If you make a purchase through them a few pennies will be credited to my account. Thanks for your support, if you choose to make a purchase through them. )