Sunday, October 29, 2006

AT LONG LAST! Ted Dekker's SAINT review and INTERVIEW!

Dekker delivers a knockout hit with his new mind-blowing tale, Saint.

Welcome to the world of Carl Strople, also known as Saint. A first rate assassin, he trains to efficiently kill. He has endured memory wipes, identity stripping, and grueling tests that push his body and mind to the limit. But then doubts slink unbidden into Carl’s mind and he wonders who he really is. He doubts the reality that has been drummed into his brain as a black ops sniper. Can he survive the truth?

As is true of any other Dekker book, little can be told without revealing an interesting plot point. No spoilers here. Just know that you will be taken on a ride that slams you one way, then another until you relinquish your preconceived notions and succumb to the story.

Story is what Dekker does best. And in the midst of it all, he weaves in a parallel to life that will stalk you until you deal with it. Prepare for your brain to be rocked, your emotions to be squeezed, and your soul to be stirred. This comes most highly recommended. Go get it. Now. What are you waiting for? The book has been out for almost a month!


Recently, I got the opportunity to ask Ted Dekker some questions. The result was a video shot on an airplane carrying Ted to an unknown destination. I’ve transcribed the Q&A from this video. You can see the video on Ted’s MySpace page sometime this week, and hopefully on his website soon as well. Enjoy!

Q&A with Ted (edited for clarity):

KC: Ted, how long have you been writing?
Ted: I've been writing most of my life, but I've been writing as an author, 6 or 7 years since I've actually been published. Those are the years that I've been writing full time pretty much, so in all about 12 years.

KC: What made you decide to be an author?
Ted: Growing up you know I read a lot of novels because I grew up in the jungles of Indonesia and we didn't have TV’s, we didn't have anything, 'cept for graphic novels and novels and so I consumed them. I was always totally in awe of the stories that I read. And so it probably wasn't until I saw a friend of mine try to write a novel when I was in California about 20 years ago. And I thought to myself for the first time, you know, I could do that. It was quite a while later that I decided, you know, I'm going to try this, I really want to do it. So I began writing a novel in the evening, and you know, the stuff just came out, it was cool, very cool.

KC: How does the writing process work for you?
Ted: The writing process for me is when I actually write a story which means I’m writing full on, flat out, you know, almost, at least 6 days a week. To do that I have to go away from my home, or at least part of that time, totally isolate myself, and I write a tremendous amount of material in a short period of time. It usually takes me a year or so before I get to that point to, uh, really develop a story in my own mind, before I get to put it on paper. I usually got to play with it and shape it, and I mold it’s like clay in my mind. And I work with it and I knead it and I… And then when I'm ready to go, I have a very strong sense of what the story is, the device I'm going to use within the story, what's going to really make this story unique. And, then I write a rough draft within, I could actually write that novel within over a 3-month period. A rough draft, give or take and then the first editing pass so it's pretty much a complete story. That’s the process.

KC: What is Saint about?
Ted: Really, it's all of our story because we all—when you read Saint you're reading about yourself. I told a reader that once after they finished it and they e-mailed me back and said they never thought of that before, but having read the novel they came back and they said: “Oh my goodness, you're absolutely right. This is me.” And it really is. I've written it to be everyone's story, and it’s so true in so many ways. So I'm excited about it in that way, more so than any other book I've written.

KC: What are the main themes running through Saint?
Ted: Definitely a search for identity, understanding of our place in this world, and it's really a kind of modern-day Samson story, it’s understanding who you are, what we do with that, we all grapple with that, with our identities. It was exciting. I loved writing that book.

KC: What can you tell us about your next book, Skin?
Ted: Skin is a little bit of a throwback to some of my earlier novels, in that, it's a psychological thriller with a little bit of horror in it, but has a psychopathic killer in it. It's like Thr3e that way, but it's not very similar to Thr3e at all, it's very different. It dramatically addresses the issue of beauty. That theme is buried into the novel more so than most of my novels, so as such it's quite a secular novel. It's one of those novels where you get to the end and everything gets flipped, in a very big way, and the reveal in the last chapter is a real trip. I know I keep doing that, some people, I don't want people to expect that always, you know, because you get used to it--you put yourself into this kind of mode, where people now expect you to do reversals and so I want to get away from that for a little bit, but at the same time, I just love keeping my readers totally on their toes, uh you know, I don't want to get bored myself in the writing process. I got to, I try to trip myself up, and that works its way into the novel.

KC: What else are you working on?
Ted: I'm very determined to deliver these stories in multiple formats and multiple media including TV, movies, graphic novels, and the internet as well, and we'll just keep plugging away at it, and ultimately we're gonna to see some pretty exciting things impact culture in a positive way.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

CFBA Feature - The Election, by Jerome Teel


Jerome Teel is a graduate of Union University, where he received his JD, cum laude, from the Ole Miss School of Law. He is actively involved in his church, local charities, and youth sports.

He has always loved legal-suspense novels and is a political junkie. Jerome and his wife, Jennifer, have three children-Brittney, Trey, and Matthew-and reside in Tennessee, where he practices law and is at work on a new novel.

The Election.

They seek ultimate power.

Nothing can stand in their way.

Ed Burke has waited a lifetime to become president of the United States. He's not about to let his nemesis, Mac Foster, stop him now...especially when he's sold his soul for the Oval Office.

Claudia Duval has lived a rough life. And finally, things have turned around for her after meeting the wealthy Hudson Kinney. But is all what is seems?

When a prominent citizen is murdered in Jackson, Tennessee, attorney Jake Reed doesn't want to know the truth. He just wants to get his client off. But as he investigates, he uncovers a sinister scheme. A scheme that would undermine the very democracy of America...and the freedom of the entire world.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

New posts coming up...

Please stay tuned for this week's CFBA feature as well as a review of Fury, by Jack Cavenaugh and Bill Bright. An interview with Ted Dekker is forthcoming VERY soon, and will also be featured on Ted's MySpace (with video!), Dancingword, and The Lost Genre Guild website, as well as the new Rise Up e-zine. Whew!

Keep reading!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Gathering Storm, by Barbara Warren

A strong debut for Warren...

There is no love lost between Stephanie Walker and her father Marty. She can’t forgive him for divorcing her mother years ago to marry a country singer and then dropping out of their lives. So when Marty shows up on her doorstep, she figures he wants something. She’s right.

But her heart will not soften toward him, and she declines his request to come home with him to “watch his back”. Finding that he has stolen a piece of jewelry from her house, she relents and drives four hours away to Harrington Lodge. Planning to demand her necklace back, she is shocked when she walks into his room and discovers he has been murdered.

I’ve begun reading murder mysteries more steadily and I enjoyed the story line in this book. Artfully dropped clues continued to divert my attention and fool me. I guessed some things correctly here and there, but I never anticipated the turn it took at the very end. Warren paced the story well, and used the setting to enhance it even more. It’s an easy read in a simple, clear style. There were a few places I felt were a bit contrived, but all in all it’s a good mystery novel.

1. Where did you get the idea for your novel?

I was picking blackberries and while my hands were busy, my mind was wandering. And all of a sudden I had these characters in my head. As soon as I got to the house I wrote them down and started plotting their story. I usually have a notebook handy at all times, but not in the blackberry patch. I don't think writers can really explain where the idea comes from. Something I read or see will spark an idea. I keep a file of ideas, phrases, a snatch of dialogue. Sometimes it's just an idea, sometimes it's the beginning of a plot. There are a lot of things in the business of writing that can't be explained. Like the way we know how our characters look and their personalities. We can't tell someone how it happens. It's just there in our minds.

2. How did you get into the editing business? Do you think that helped you in your writing?

I helped start a writing group and we critiqued each others work. It turned out to be something that other people thought I had a gift for and Cheryl Hodde kept after me to start charging. Finally after years of editing for free, I set up my own business and found I really enjoyed it. Yes it has helped in my writing, because I have a whole shelf of books on editing. I've
studied them and applied what I learned to my client's manuscripts, and that has helped me see the mistakes in my own writing. Of course, my critique group still rips my work apart and I appreciate them.

3. Tell us how you weave your faith into your stories.

I don't like a message that seems to be pasted on, so I try to have my characters live their faith the way I live mine, a natural, normal part of my life. Very few of the Christians I know go around looking holy and talking pious. They are real people, and I try to make my characters seem real too. Faith should be a normal part of our lives, like breathing. Not something we spend a lot of time thinking about, like "I'm really full of faith here," but something that is a natural part of the way we live. Our charcters shouldn't be more holy or preachy than we are.

4. What's coming up next? Do you have another novel in the works?

I am trying to market the next book in this series. Kate, the young girl in The Gathering Storm is a single mother, and this will be her story. And I'm working on a cozy about five women in their sixties who act like me and talk like me, and of course they are wonderful, like me. I'm having a lot of fun with it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

This week's CFBA feature...

Between Here and the past,


a place of longing for what has been rather than hoping for what could be!


Alison Strobel graduated with a degree in elementary education, and in the summer of 2000 she moved from Chicago to southern California where she taught elementary school for three years. It was in Orange County that she met her husband, Daniel Morrow, and the story developed for her first novel, Worlds Collide.

Violette Between is a poinant story of a true artist. When the love of Violette's life, Saul suddenly died, she died too. Then she meets Christian, who also is morning the loss of a loved one.

As Violette and Christian begin to feel something that they both thought was impossible. Tragedy strikes again. Christian finds Violette on the floor of his waiting room, that she had been painting to look like a New York rooftop restaurant.

As Christian holds a vigil at her bedside, begging her to come back to him, Violette is in a coma, traveling to a place where she meets her beloved Saul. And she finds that she may not want to come back!

What would it be like to choose a place between the past and the present?

Violette Between is a powerful character study of a woman finally relinquishing the past to move on, only to be thrust into the quandry of reliving that life and needing to make a choice.

For Christians, this will definitely make you think about heaven and the consequences of eternal life.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Brandt Dodson's Seventy Times Seven

Colton Parker has had it rough lately. His wife died in an accident and his daughter blames him for it. Being fired from the FBI and opening his own private investigation business was easier than single parenting. But at least he has a new client.

Millionaire Lester Cheek's wife, Claudia, has disappeared for no apparent reason. Colton is charged to find her before the poor man dies of loneliness. Seems an easy enough job until Cheek cranks out a long list of enemies. Perhaps there's more to this case than meets the eye.

Before long, Colton is in a race against time to stop a hit man while keeping his own family out of danger. Can he put down his pride and admit past mistakes so he and his daughter can move on?

This mystery breaks a mold for me. It's not your typical whodunit, which I like. The plot was good, but the down to earth characters clinched this for me.

Seventy Times Seven is second in the Colton Parker Mystery series. Number three, The Root of Evil, releases in January, 2007. Can't wait.

Me: What made the Colton Parker Series a "must write" for you?
BD: I think it was my love for the form. I grew up watching the Bogart movies that featured characters from Chandler's and Hammett's work, and that lead to reading them. And, of course, as a Christian, I feel compelled to write from that perspective. As I grow closer to God (and I feel strongly that is something I must do--shame on me if I don't) I find less and less in the world's definition of entertainment that is satisfying. Thank God for the CBA.

Having recently attended the Bouchercon in Madison, Wisconsin, I had the opportunity to meet mystery writers that I've read for years. I even got to sit on a panel with some of them. When I was asked; "As a Christian writer, how do you get around some of the demands for bad language that is inherent in the PI novel?", I answered by saying that neither Chandler or Hammett or Ross MacDonald felt the need for "bad" language in their work--and they are the recognized masters of this particular literary form. After I answered, it was very pleasing to see the other writers on the panel agreed that some of the language in secular writing has gone too far.

Me: How long have you been a Christ follower? What impact does He have on your writing?

BD: I was raised in a Christian home, but didn't commit to Christ until twenty years ago. Having done that, and having the benefit of looking where I've been, I can honestly say that there is no other way to live. Christ is everything. He placed the desire to write within me. He opened the doors at the time I was ready. He directed me to exactly the right editor and publisher. And He has continued to guide me along the way. I promised Him that I would write for Him as long as I live. It's my way of "casting my crown"--giving back, in His service, what He has given me.

Me: Maybe I'm not well-read enough (who knew?), but I found it a bit unusual to see a protagonist who isn't a Christian, nor feels any need to be one. Is it acceptable as long as there are other Christian characters in the book helping him along?

BD: I suspect that you're more well-read than you give yourself credit for. But, yes, you are right in saying that it is a bit unusual for the protagonist to not be a Christian - in a Christian novel. And there is a reason for that. I have always seen the Colton Parker Series as being somewhat evangelistic.

While I attend CBA conferences, I also attend secular meetings as well. The opportunity for a cross-over market is present - and growing - and I want to be able to reach those who, like Colton, (and me), think they can do it all by themselves. Hence the theme in my first novel, "Original Sin". But I also want to reach Christians. All of us were once without Christ. And if He had come for us at that time, we would've been lost. But through His patience, we found Him. Still, I see Christians who tend to separate themselves from those who don't know Christ, and I often believe it is because they have forgotten where they once were. Seeing Colton as he is, should help to restore us to a sense of where we once were, and renew our gratitude to Christ for all that He has done. But, stay tuned.

Me: A little birdie told me that you used to write horror, but you just didn't have it in you, so to speak. Some say that there may be a home for a type of horror in the CBA. Have you thought about revisiting that genre, or do you want to stick to mysteries?

BD: Was that little birdie a bat? I believe, very much, that there IS a place for horror in the CBA. After all, as Christians, we battle spiritual powers all the time. What could be more horrible than that? But I think the writing would have to be very carefully handled if it were to be acceptable to the publisher and the average CBA reader. I do have, in the back of my mind (a scary place in itself), the framework for a horror novel that I would like to write--and someday I will. As far as sticking to mysteries, I would like to write the Colton Parker series indefinitely. At least, if readers still want them. But I also want to do other, more complex work. I have already contracted for a non-Colton novel, with Harvest House, and will do some police procedurals and pure suspense novels as well.

Me: What is your favorite and least favorite part of writing?

BD: Having worked for over 12 years to get here, I really don't have any least favorite parts. I like the writing process, most of all, and I like the re-writing almost as well. When I write, I don't outline. I begin with a premise, and then go with it. I often write 2000 words a day, and 5-6000 isn't uncommon. (That's after coming home from a 8-12 hour day.) But when I get "in the flow", I can go on for a long, long time. It's cathartic. I tend to write the first draft out of my subconscious, with very little thought, then go back and find where the true story is, before I begin the work of carving it out of what I have already written. I enjoy all of it.

Me: Where do you go (cyberspace or real life) when researching your novels? Anyplace unusually interesting?

BD: Since I write crime novels, most of my research is done by contacting family members and asking them. (Nearly all of my family has been police officers, going back as far as 60 years ago.) But I do a lot on the internet, too. In the book I'm currently writing, I will visit a local pathologist and watch an autopsy. So not everything can be done by a phone call, or a click of the mouse.

Me: You're quite a renaissance man, having been an FBI agent, Navy man, and now a Podiatrist. Would it be hard for you to choose just one thing to do with your life?

BD: I enjoyed my time with the Bureau (I clerked. I left the FBI before going to Quantico so that I could go to Podiatry School), and I enjoyed the Navy and I enjoy my work as a Podiatrist. But, to be honest, all of them pale to being a writer. Like most people who write, if I could do this full-time, I would. Choosing one thing to do with my life would be a blessing, if it could be writing.

Me: Can you recommend any good books on writing that have proved helpful for you?

BD: Oh, yes! Lots of them. For starters, I'd recommend:
How To Write Best Selling Fiction by Dean Koontz (out of print, but available)
Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham
Make Your Words Work by Gary Provost
The Career Novelist by Donald Maas
Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman
Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
Writing Mysteries by Sue Grafton
Structuring Your Novel, from basic idea to finished manuscript by Robert Meredith and John Fitzgerald
The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
Simple and Direct by Jacques Barzun

There are many, many others, but this would be a good start.

Me: What else would you like for readers and writers to know?

BD: If you're a reader, and you enjoy what you've read, spread the word. This is especially true in the CBA market. If we do not support the writers we enjoy, they cannot continue to write. And in a world that truly needs what Christians can give, that would be a shame.

If you're a writer, work at the craft. If you're a pre-published writer, work at the craft. In either case, it helps to raise the bar for all of us.

Thank you, Karri for the chance to reach your readers. I've enjoyed it very much.

Me again: You're very welcome. I had fun as well. God bless you!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Rene Gutteridge's new novel, Scoop

My review:

I give grande kudos to the author for fabricating another realistic and winning tale. Her laid-back style and easy wit draw me into all of her stories.

Hayden Hazard’s parents, owners of the Hazard Clowns, are found dead while on vacation, leaving a huge hole in the family. Soon afterwards, the seven Hazard children meet together to discuss the family business’ fate. Hayden’s oldest brother has sold the company. As a result, sheltered Hayden must look for a new job and find her purpose in life. She receives this sage advice from her sister Mack: “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” Easy for her to say.

Fast-forward five years. Hayden is interim assistant for Channel 7 News’ Executive Producer, Hugo Talley. He struggles with anxiety and it’s no wonder—he has an aged anchor who doesn’t realize how old she looks on TV, a womanizing dolt for a weatherman, a too-nice God-spouting assistant (Hayden), and reporter Ray Duffey, who keeps to himself, but doesn’t ever get the good stories. To describe the news team as wild and crazy is an understatement. With each approaching dilemma, Hugo feels as if he may go over the edge. Will Hayden’s presence help or hinder the unstable atmosphere in the newsroom?

This wacky ensemble and a wonderful story line made for many out-loud chuckles throughout the book. I love the author’s ability to explore serious spiritual issues and couch it with humor.

Many of us who work outside the home must deal with people of varied personalities and faiths. This novel explores what real Christianity might look like in the workplace, and how different people respond to it.

I highly recommend this extremely well written and engaging book.

1. Tell us about how your love for books and writing got started.

It really began with a love for reading. I loved to read as a child and read as much and as often as I could. Then one day I decided to try to write. My parents had bought me an Apple computer and I just couldn't stop
myself from writing story after story!

2. What is your favorite genre to read/write?

I don't have a favorite genre to read. I really like to mix it up. And as for writing, I like suspense and comedy equally. It balances everything out for me. (I know, sounds very politically correct!)

3. What are the similarities and differences in writing screenplays and writing novels?

The similarities are that both need to have great characters, great plot, great pacing, great dialogue...essentially a great story. The bigdifference is that screenplays are heavily based on dialogue whereas novels can elaborate with description and get inside the characters' heads. To read a screenplay, you've really got to fill in the blanks and let your mind imagine where and what and who, and novels give you all that.

4. When did you start to dream about being a "full-time novelist" (or did you)?

It never occured to me that I could make a living at writing until I was nearly finished with college. For me, it was a hobby, but one that I was really immersed in. I think had I had a vision to do it as a living, I wouldn't have learned as much because I would've been worried about publishing or selling a script. But once I thought I could do it, then I learned the business side of things.

5. How do you get your creative juices flowing onto the page?

It doesn't take much when I've got a good story to work with. When things aren't flowing, I have to examine the story and see what's going wrong. And occasionally, it's simply that I'm tired and overworked or stressed about other things in my life.

6. What is your favorite and least favorite part of writing?

My favorite part of writing is nailing it, whether it's a character, a passage, a string of dialogue, a metaphor...I love when I slap my hands together and know I popped something good out. The bad part of writing is when I never get to slap my hands together for days on end...

7. What kind of responses do you want to see from people as a result of reading your work?

Spiritually, I would love for people to reconnect with God, to search for Him, to find Him, to get to know Him again. I also like to entertain people. I love that my books can do that without exposing people to things that they may not want to be exposed to. Creating entertainment that is clean yet riveting is a big challenge.

8. Why do you think fiction is such an effective way to reach our hearts?

It helps us understand ourselves and others. When we can get into another person's story and see that they're very much like us, it connects us.

9. Name a few important milestones along the way to publication that you will never forget (good or bad).

The first, of course, was getting that phone call that a publisher wanted my first book. I don't think anything has quite topped that feeling. I'll never forget it. Along the way, the milestones have been personal. And surprising. Sometimes I achieve things I didn't ever dream were possible. I suppose some bad milestones are that sometimes I feel a little too overworked to enjoy this wonderful adventure. I am trying really hard to balance everything, but sometimes there are projects that I love so much I'm willing to put in the extra work. There really are very few bad milestones. They are mostly positive.

10. I can't wait for the next book in the series. Tell us a bit about it.

My new series, "The Occupational Hazards", starts with a book called Scoop. This is a comedy series about a clan of homeschoolers who must shed their sheltered life in pursuit of jobs. Scoop starts with Hayden Hazard, who lands a job at a local news station. The next book, Snitch, is about undercover police officers. I think this series is going to be a lot of fun for readers. Those who liked the "Boo" series will really enjoy it, but I think my suspense readers will like this series, too.

Thanks so much for your time, Rene. I'm sure there will be plenty of fans of this series. It started off with a hit--I'm definitely a fan.

Please visit Rene's website for more information on her books: Rene Gutteridge
Also, find other great fiction here: WaterBrook Press

Sunday, October 01, 2006

FIRST spotlight: Dark Hour, by Ginger Garrett and review

It is October 1st, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and their latest book's FIRST chapter!

This month's feature author is:


About the author:

Ginger Garrett is an acclaimed novelist and expert in ancient women's history.
Her first novel, Chosen, was recognized as one of the best five novels of the year by the Christian publishing industry. Ginger enjoys a diverse reader base and creates conversation between cultures.

In addition to her 2006 and 2007 novels about the most evil women in biblical history, she will release Beauty Secrets of the Bible (published by Thomas Nelson) in Summer 2007.

Ginger Garrett's Dark Hour delves into the biblical account of Jezebel's daughter and her attempt to end the line of David.

And now, a special Q&A with Ginger Garrett:

1.) First, tell us a bit about Dark Hour.

I was praying about what book to write after Chosen, and accidentally left my open Bible on the kitchen table. (A dangerous thing, since in my house, small children and large dogs routinely scavenge with dirty hands and noses for snacks!) As I walked past it, I saw a caption about someone named Athaliah and a mass murder. I stopped cold. I knew it was my story.

Athaliah was the daughter of Jezebel--a real woman in history--who tried to destroy all the descendents of King David in a massacre. God made a promise that a descendent of King David would always sit on the throne, and one day a Messiah would come from this line. If Athaliah succeeded, she would break the promise between God and the people, and destroy all hope for a Messiah.

One woman, her step-daughter, Jehoshebeth, defied her. She stole a baby during the massacre and hid him. Between them, the two women literally fought for the fate of the world.

2.) What drew you to write biblical fiction?

The similarities between the lives of ancient women and our lives. We get distracted by their "packaging," the way they dressed and lived, but at heart, our stories are parallel.

3.) How much time is spent researching the novel versus writing the novel?

Equal amounts, and I don't stop researching while I write. I have a historical expert, probably the best in the world in his field, review the manuscript and point out errors. The tough part is deciding when to ignore his advice. He pointed out that most everyone rode donkeys if they weren't in the military, but a key scene in the novel involves riding a horse to the rescue. It would have been anti-climatic to charge in on a donkey! :) So I ignored his advice on that one.

4.) Dark Hour takes its reader deep into the heart of palace intrigue and betrayals. Were parts of this book difficult to write?

I left out much of the darkest material I uncovered in research. It was important to show how violent and treacherous these times and this woman (Athaliah) could be, but I tried to be cautious about how to do it. The story was so powerful and hopeful--how one woman's courage in the face of evil saved the world--but the evil was depressing. I tried to move quickly past it. I wanted balance. Our heroine suffers and some wounds are not completely healed in her lifetime. That's true for us, too.

5.) What would modern readers find surprising about ancient women?

They had a powerful sense of the community of women. They also wore make-up: blush, glitter eyeshadow, lipstick, powder, and perfume! They drank beer with straws, and enjoyed "Fritos": ground grains, fried and salted. Many of our foods are the same today, but they loved to serve pate made from dried locusts, finely ground. Ugh!

Without further is the FIRST chapter of Dark Hour by Ginger Garrett. Judge for yourself if you'd like to read more!

(There is a prologue before chapter one regarding the birth of Jehoshebeth... Athaliah is not Jehoshebeth's biological mother.)

c h a p t e r O n e

Fifteen Years Later

HER BARU, the priest of divination, opened the goatskin bag and spread the wet liver along the floor, leaving a path of blood as he worked. Retrieving a wooden board and pegs from his other satchel, the satchel that held the knives and charms, he placed pegs in the board according to where the liver was marked by fat and disease. He turned the black liver over, revealing a ragged abscess.

Athaliah covered her mouth and nose with her hands to ward off the smell but would not turn way.

"Worms," her sorcerer said, not looking up. He placed more pegs in the board before he stopped, and his breath caught.

A freezing wind touched them, though they were in the heart of the palace in the heat of the afternoon. Athaliah cursed this cold thing that had found her again and watched the sorcerer search for the source of the chill before he returned to the divination. There was no source of wind here; in her chamber there was a bed, the table where her servants applied her cosmetics from ornate and lovely jars shaped like animals, a limestone toilet, and in the farthest corner so that no one at the chamber door would see it, her shrine. Statues of Baal, the storm god, and the great goddess Asherah, who called all life into being, stood among the panting lions carved from ivory and the oil lamps that burned at all hours. Here she placed her offerings of incense and oil, and here she whispered to the icy thing as it worshiped alongside her.

The baru watched as the flames in the shrine swayed, the chill moving among the gods. The flames stayed at an angle until one began to burn the face of Asherah. Her painted face began to melt, first her eyes running black and then her mouth flowing red. He gasped and stood.

"I must return to the city."

Athaliah stood, blocking him from his satchel.

"What does the liver say?"

"It is not good that I have come. We will work another day."

She did not move. He glanced at the door. Guards with sharp swords were posted outside.

"A dead king still rules here. You set yourself against him and are damned."

Athaliah sighed. "You speak of David."

The baru nodded and bent closer so no other thing would hear his whisper. "There is a prophecy about him, that one from the house of David will always reign in Judah. His light will never die."

"I fear no man, dead or living."

The baru continued to whisper, fear pushing into his eyes, making them wide. "It is not the man you must fear. It is his God."

Athaliah bit her lip and considered his words. She wished he didnít tremble. It was such a burden to comfort a man.

"Yes, this God. It is this God who troubles us. Perhaps I can make an offering to Him. You must instruct me. Stay, my friend, stay." She patted him on the arm, detesting his clammy flesh. "I have dreamed," she confessed. "I have a message from this God, and I must know how to answer Him."

The baru took a step back, shaking his head. "What is this dream?"

"A man," Athaliah said.

"Tell me."

"At night, when I sleep and the moon blankets my chamber, I see a man. He is not as we are: he is coarse and wild. He wears skins hewn from savage beasts, run round his waist with careless thought, and in his mind he is always running, ax in hand, running. I feel his thoughts, his mind churning with unrest, and he knows mine completely. I hear a burning whisper from heaven and shut up my ears, but he turns to the sound. A great hand touches him, sealing him for what lies ahead, and speaks a name I cannot hear, a calling to one yet to be. I try to strike this man, but all goes red, blankets of red washing down."

She licked her lips and waited, breathing hard. The baru nodded.

"You see the prophet of Yahweh, Elijah, who plagues your mother."

The baru began to reach for his goatskin sack. He picked up the liver and put it in the sack, keeping an eye on the door as he wiped his bloody hand on his robes. She knew he was measuring his steps in his mind, thinking only of freedom from here, and from her.

Athaliah grabbed his arm. "I let those who worship Yahweh live in peace. They mean nothing to me; what is one God in a land of so many? Why would this God send a man to make war on my mother and then claim me also?"

The baru narrowed his eyes. "This God is not like the others."

"How can we be free of Him?"

The baru thought for a moment then reached into his satchel. He pulled out a handful of teeth and tossed them on the ground at her feet. She did not move.

He squatted and read them, probing them with a shaking finger. She watched as the hair along his neck rose, and goose bumps popped all along his skin. The cold thing had wrapped itself tightly around him. She could see his breath.

"There is a child," he said. "The eye of Yahweh is upon this child, always. I must counsel you to find this child and kill it, for when it is gone, Yahweh would trouble you no more."

Athaliah murmured and ran her teeth over her lips, biting and dragging the skin as her thoughts worked back in time. "It is my daughter you speak of. Only a girl. But even so, I cannot kill her yet. I would lose my rights as the most favored wife. I will not risk my crown for so small a prize. No, I will find another way to get rid of her, and I will deal with this threat from Yahweh as I must."

Athaliah walked to her shrine and cleaned the face of Asherah. She could hear the baru scooping the teeth back into the bag. She turned with a sly smile, pleased that her mind worked so quickly even with the cold thing so near.

"My mother has already angered this God. We will let her have our problem. She has a talent for these things."

He had finished putting everything back into his two sacks and edged toward the door. She wondered if he would return. He was the best she had at divining dreams and saw in the liver so many answers. She sighed and tried to think of a word to reassure him.

"A farmer may own the field," she began, "but much work is done before a harvest is even planted. Stones are removed, weeds are torn free. We must break loose the soil and uproot our enemies so the field will be ready. On that day I will sow richly."

He managed a weak smile.

"Let your appetite grow, my friend," she coaxed. "The harvest is coming."

He fled so quickly she knew her words had been wasted, as all words were on frightened men. He would never return.


PRINCE JEHORAM nursed a silver bowl of dark wine and wished the business of inheriting a kingdom did not involve so much listening. He rubbed his beard, its thick clinging brown curls now flecked with gray. His beard was weathering his age better than the hair on his head, he realized, which had already surrendered to the assault of time, great gray streaks overtaking the brown. He knew his face was kind, though, not hardened or roughened by his years, but retaining a boyish appeal in his wry mouth and a small scar just under his left eye. Any woman could look upon him and see the child of mischief he once was. All women looked upon him and still thought to correct him.

He dined in a dim, private room with his advisers. The room was adjacent to the throne room, where he would one day rule, and was bare, save for an oil lamp on a low table. Cedar beams topped the limestone walls, giving the palace a sweet, smoky scent under the afternoon sun. The men sat around the table, scattered with maps, sharing a lunch of grapes, bread, wine, and cheese. Normally they would eat more, and in the dining hall, but the kitchen servants were busy preparing for the great send-off feast and it was easier to be served here.

Tomorrow, his father, King Jehoshaphat, would lead Judahís army north toward Israel and King Ahab. Together, the two kingdoms would fight their inconstant friend Ben-Hadad to end his trade monopolies. Ben-Hadad fought alongside them against the cruel Assyrians but turned often and claimed the richest of trade cities for himself.

"There are implications, my prince," Ethan said. Ethan was the tallest, and his skin turned red when he was angry, which was often. His temper had plagued him since he and the prince were boys, but now Jehoram no longer found pleasure in goading his friend. "If the kings succeed at Ramoth-Gilead against Ben-Hadad," Ethan continued, "and the proposed alliance is accepted, your father will have obligations both to the north and south. In this way, Ahab's kingdom will be strengthened by this victory, and your own kingdom will be compromised. Judah may weaken and fall at last to a king of Israel."

"I have married the daughter of Ahab," Jehoram replied. "I have given their daughter an heir and promised her the crown. I have curried the favor of the north well enough. They will not turn on me, for their own daughter is at my side." He tried to entertain himself with the food and wine while his advisers prattled on. He wondered what would be served at the feast tonight. If the servants' exhausted expressions were any indication, the spread would be remarkable.

"That is true, my friend," Ethan said. "But you are wrong to think this is Ahab's war. It is a woman who is shaping this new world. Think on this: What does the powerful Jezebel desire more than to bring glory to her own name? She wants the north and south reunited so that she may one day rule them both, a queen equal in power to Solomon."

Ethan smirked as he continued. "Everyone knows Ahab wears the crown but Jezebel rules. With Ahab and Jehoshaphat together in battle, their voices silenced for a time, Jezebel will be listening for yours. Let her know a lion roars in Judah. We will never be ruled by a woman, especially one who hides behind her husbandís crown."

Jehoram listened, running his tongue across his lips, catching a spot of wine resting just above his lip. Ethan was his truest friend, if a man about to wear the crown had one, but he was always ready for a fight. Jehoram preferred to suffer a blow and stay with his women and wine. He sighed. "Ethan, you look into darkness and see monsters, but I see only shadows. It has always been this way."

Ethan frowned. "We are no longer children hunting with our fathers at night. Listen to me, for I am the voice of God in your ear."

Jehoram turned his face away and crossed his arms. Then he sighed and reached for a bowl of grapes and began to eat. He did not like an empty stomach.

Another adviser bit into some cheese and leaned in. "Mighty Ethan is right. Jezebel wants to see you on the throne because of your union with her daughter Athaliah, but she is no ally. Listen to what I tell you: Something evil here stirs the water and watches."

"These voices of doom!" Jehoram yelled, slapping his bowl down on the table so that it spilled. "These voices and whispers, will they not cease?" He gripped his head and glared at the men. Each had but one wife and thought to advise him on his many? "You warn me against women, even my own wife, but they are women and nothing more!"

Ethan scooted closer to him. "Do not play the fool. Athaliah practices her strange magic and you slip under her spell little by little. There is still time to save yourself, and the kingdom, if you are indeed a man and king."

Jehoram rose and adjusted his robe around his shoulders, staring down at Ethan.

"Do even my friends turn against me now?" he asked.

"I have always been like a brother to you. I desire nothing but your good," Ethan said, rising. Jehoram held his temper and the two men glared at each other, breathing hard.

The adviser Ornat spoke. "May I address the future king of Judah?"

Jehoram nodded and sat, returning to his grapes. He glanced at Ethan and shook his head.

Ornat was new to his inner circle, an adviser Athaliah had recommended for his influence among the people who did not worship the God of Judah. She promised his voice would balance the harsh messages the others always gave. He had long, straight gray hair that always hung as if he had just come in from the rain. A magnificent bump crowned his nose, but it was the only remarkable feature about the man, a man who looked as if he were melting before their eyes.

"Good Jehoram," Ornat began, "the king knows you are a son who is not like the father. King Jehoshaphat has conspired with your brothers to ensure you never take the throne. They plot behind closed doors, taking their meals without you. I have heard the plans from my spies among the servants."

Jehoram felt his stomach churn at the accusation. He would not allow such ridiculous talk and raised his hand to dismiss the man at once.

The arrival of Athaliah interrupted them, and all bowed as she entered.

"Jehoram, I seek your face with a burden on my heart. Hear me and help me, my lord and husband," she said.

Jehoram looked at her a moment, his eyes having trouble adjusting to the light that streamed in when the door had opened. She stirred something in him, as she had from her first night in the palace, rain-soaked and announced by thunder, her sheer robes clinging to her tiny frame. She came bearing boxes of shrines and gods, like the dolls of a child, and she clung to them even in their bedchamber. She was the only wife who did not submit to his will, and he had found her exotic. Now she had grown, but his exotic pet was still wild, shaking off the customs and manners he tried to teach her. He knew she hungered, but not for him. His face burned with shame.

"Speak, Athaliah," he said.

"Your daughter has grown quite pale of late. I have seen this sickness before."

Jehoram sat up straight. Sickness in the palace would spread
rapidly, a threat as swift and fierce as any Assyrian.

"What sickness?" he demanded.

Athaliah smiled at him, then at the men reclining.

"Of course you do not understand," she said. "You are men. You have tended your kingdom well but neglected to see that your daughter has come of age."

Jehoram exhaled and sat back, an indulgent smile on his lips.

"And what remedy does this sickness crave?" he asked.

Athaliah bowed before Jehoram. "She must marry, my lord."

Jehoram waved his hand, a broad gesture. Here he could be master.

"I command, then, that she be married. If there is a commander well thought of, it would be an honor to give a daughter in marriage just before a battle."

Athaliah nodded, just once. He felt his victory slipping away.

"I have sent word to the north," Athaliah said, "to my mother's house, that a nobleman from my own home who serves in the ivory palace of my mother be given her. King Ahab has sent you his favorite daughter." She smiled. "Now let us send ours to him. It will be good for Jehoshebeth to hold your name ever before my father, Ahab. And Jezebel would relish a granddaughter so near."

Jehoram stopped and frowned. "It is Jehoshebeth you speak of? She is a special child to me. I would not have her sent north."

"But you have given the order that she be married. There is no one else worthy of her," Athaliah said.

Jehoram rubbed his chin and pretended to study a map. Finally, he shook his head. "I must think on this."

Athaliah bowed low, her eyes closed. "May the God you serve bless all your decisions, good Jehoram," she said. She straightened and looked at the advisers. Jehoram could not bear to see their eyes upon his bride, the only territory he owned and could not rule. He detected secrets moving between her and Ornat like a sudden spring bubbling up from a dark source. Only a few found it distasteful and turned away. Ethan was the first to scowl and return his glance to the prince.

"I will see you all at the feast tonight," Athaliah said as she left.
She wagged a finger at Ornat. "Take care of my good husband."

Jehoram slouched in his seat and returned to his grapes.

My review:
Hats off to this intriguing author of Biblical fiction. If you’re looking for a vivid and original retelling of a fascinating but disturbing Old Testament story, look no further. Dark Hour’s import will transcend the pages and touch your life.

Israel and Judah, though still God’s chosen, have parted ways and frequently war not only with the foreigners who surround them, but with each other. The two nation’s kings no longer seek God alone, prostituting themselves with strange gods. Jezebel, wife of King Ahab and nemesis of the prophet Elijah, isn’t the only woman making waves. Her daughter Athalia, married to the future heir to Judah’s throne, will stop at nothing to gain control of both nations.

However, another woman holds a secret that can change the course of evil and bring back the throne of Judah to the line of David, where it belongs. Will she risk her own life and those of her loved ones to save her country?

It has been a long time since the Bible has come so alive to me. When was the last time you read 2 Chronicles? It’s more exciting than you think. Dark Hour guarantees it.