Vibrant imagery and an entertaining plot ending with a most unexpected twist.


An alchemist and first-century amateur sleuth returns and must rescue a kidnapped friend in the fifth installment in Trop’s (The Deadliest Fever, 2018, etc.) historical mystery series.

It is Feb. 26, 61 C.E., and Miriam bat Isaac bolts from her chair to answer the banging on the door of her town house in Roman-occupied Alexandria, Egypt. She sees her closest friend, Phoebe, badly beaten; within moments she crumbles to the marble floor. She dies in Miriam’s arms, mumbling the word “document.” Distraught, Miriam discovers her friend brought a tube containing a sealed, rolled parchment. With shock she learns the dead woman isn’t Phoebe but rather Phoebe’s hitherto unknown twin sister, Leda, who was raised in Crete. Leda was married to a brute, Pytheus, one of three cohorts who last year stole the jewels from the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus on the island of Crete. According to Leda’s sworn statement, Pytheus intends to have Miriam killed. The sleuth’s momentary relief that it is not her best friend who has just expired vanishes when Phoebe’s husband, Bion, arrives and tells her that his wife is missing—kidnapped, it turns out. A few days later, Miriam encounters the dwarf Nathaniel ben Ruben, a friend from earlier in the series. It seems he, too, is being stalked by someone who sounds very much like Pytheus. Once again, Trop pulls readers into the sounds, smells, colors, and foods of ancient Alexandria. The multifaceted mystery is intriguing, with engaging characters, although they will seem less fully developed to new readers than to established fans. But the real strength of Trop’s atmospherically rich book lies in her ability to transport her audience to a distant time and place, seamlessly sprinkling her prose with period-appropriate Greek and Latin terminology and offering descriptive details that bespeak solid research: One scene has a table laden with “trays of stuffed olives, boiled eggs, and candied almonds; a platter of the cook’s specialty, thin slices of grilled lamb in a fragrant mint sauce; and a salad of dandelion greens, berries, and melon balls.”

Vibrant imagery and an entertaining plot ending with a most unexpected twist.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64437-201-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Black Opal Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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