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Review of Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker   Leave a comment

 

When Cohen Marah steps over his father’s body in the basement embalming room of the family’s funeral home, he has no idea that he is stepping into a labyrinth of memory. As the last one to see his father, Cohen is the primary suspect.

Over the next week, Cohen’s childhood memories come back in living color. The dramatic events that led to his father being asked to leave his pastoral position. The game of baseball that somehow kept them together. And the two children in the forest who became his friends–and enlisted him in a dark and dangerous undertaking. As the lines blur between what was real and what was imaginary, Cohen is faced with the question he’s been avoiding: Did he kill his father?

***

 

So where to start? Well first of all, lets get to the finer points of this novel. The writing is beautiful. Shawn Smucker knows how to write a haunting tale with vivid imagery that leaves you feeling like you’re walking between a dream and reality. Shawn explores the depth of a father-son relationship and awakening the faith of a man who’s questioned it ever since the loss of his family when he was young.
It’s a good premise and one I was looking forward to, especially when reading about the mysterious supernatural creature called the Beast that haunted Cohen’s childhood.

The sad thing is that the story never delivered. While the writing is excellent, the story is downright flat and ends up going almost nowhere. Cohen doesn’t know if he’s responsible for the death of this father, hence his nightly visits to confession. Then it’s back to the hospital for some dialogue with his sister before collapsing in a chair and crying about the futility of things and loss of something he can’t explain on the inside. And…we repeat. See where I’m going?

The most interesting parts is when Shawn does the flashback scenes to Cohen’s childhood where he meets two mysterious children on their quest to stop the Beast. Honestly, I feel if Shawn had focused on that part of the story from the start and not bothered with an adult Cohen, it would have been a much stronger and interesting story.
But then we come to the end, where everything we think we’re seeing…we’re really not.

I admit, I wasn’t quite sure where Shawn was going with the story, other than trying in a way to show how fathers can hurt their sons. With the endless repetition and focusing on trivial details that (while written beautifully) didn’t add anything to the story, I feel a lot of what he was trying to tell ended up getting lost.

Verdict: If you’re after good writing, obviously this is a book to enjoy for that. For a good story worthy of keeping on your bookshelf, I’d advise looking for something else.

(I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and author from the blogging program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.)

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Review of The Heart of a King: The Loves of Solomon by Jill Eileen Smith   Leave a comment

 

King Solomon was wealthy and wise beyond measure. He could–and did–have anything he wanted, including many women from many lands. But for all his wisdom, did he or the women in his life ever find what they searched for all of their lives?

In this engrossing novel, you’ll find yourself whisked away to ancient Israel, where you’ll meet Solomon and four of the women he loved: Naamah the desert princess, Abishag the shepherdess, Siti the daughter of a pharaoh, and Nicaula the queen of Sheba. As you experience the world of Solomon through his eyes and the eyes of these women, you’ll ask yourself the ultimate question: Did Solomon’s wisdom ultimately benefit him and those he loved . . . or did it betray them?

***

At last, my collection of Biblical fiction from Jill Eileen Smith on the shelf is about complete. I’m happy now. 😀 I’m a huge fan of her work, having collected all of her Daughters of the Promised Land, Wives of King David, and Wives of the Patriarchs series. So I was happy to get her collection of the loves of Solomon, which before was only available as an ebook.

So for the story itself. It focuses on Solomon, of course and 4 women (out of a thousand) who loved him. Naamah, the Ammorite who has come to accept God; Abishag the Shulamite who is first wife to King David and then his son and entrances Solomon with her passion for songs and poetry; Siti, the spoiled Eygptian princess whose intelligence and desire to challenge his belief in God; and lastly Nicaula, the great queen of Sheba who alone he felt to truly be his equal in life.

What I have always liked with Jill Smith’s work is how she manages to portray the people we read about in the Bible and in my opinion, captures their essence perfectly. Solomon’s life was filled with abundance and love, his wisdom unmatched with any. But with all that he had, it was never enough, and Solomon could never find true peace. Even the gift of wisdom he so desired felt like a burden.

I felt both annoyed and sorry for him. Honestly, you can’t help feeling at least a little disgusted how he reuses the same lines of mushy poetry you read in the Song of Solomon on each woman he comes across. But reading on, you can see how in his own way, in those moments he really did love the woman he was with, but his heart was never content.

In this you can’t help but feel for him. For how many times have we made “things” in our own life more important than the One who made them and allowed us to have them? And in so doing, we feel nothing but emptiness inside, only able to feel some spark for the briefest of moments before seeking some new pleasure to try to awaken it back in us again.

Jill portrays that accurately with Solomon, a man who had it all and sought to have so much. He became so enamored with his own wisdom and power he forgot to honor and seek the One who gave it to him. And so nothing in his life satisfied him. Not even love.

Of the women who loved him, Siti was probably my least favorite because she was so whiny and spoiled. But I did like in the end how she started to question her belief in the Egyptian gods and was beginning to make an effort to understand the one God. Naamah was a like a promise that went unfulfilled. She loved Solomon since they first met as children, and marrying him was like a dream come true, even though she knew he would take other wives. In the end, she had to stand off to the side and watch as he went with woman after woman, and ended up forgetting her.
And poor Abishag. She had a lot of love to give, and was probably the most understanding woman ever. She knew what her fate was, but didn’t complain. Even though her moments with Solomon were few, she was happy for them. Because of her gentle nature, she ended up even befriending Naamah, who before was seeing her as just another rival.

And then there is Nicaula. She is beautiful and intelligent, with enormous wealth and power. But she longs for the one things denied her: love. When she hears the tales of Solomon’s wisdom she sets forth to not only see if the tales are true, but find the answers to the burning questions in her soul.

While the story lagged a bit in spots and some moments lost their impact because they were chopped short, Heart of a King is a great read that shows how empty life can be when pursuing things and ignoring God. Because without Him, everything truly is meaningless.

Verdict: Buy

(I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and author from the blogging program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.)

 

Review of the Refuge by Ann Gabhart   Leave a comment

When Darcie and Walter Goodwin hear of a new cholera epidemic sweeping the area, they join the Shakers whose villages seem immune to the disease. It’s meant to be a temporary stay, but Walter is killed in a riverboat accident. With no family and no money, Darcie has little choice but to stay with the Shakers. To complicate matters, she is expecting a baby conceived before she and her husband came to the Shaker village. Marital relationships are considered sinful in this celibate community, putting Darcie in a unique–and lonely–position. Can the arrival of widower Flynn Keller and his headstrong daughter offer Darcie the hope of happiness . . . and family?

Ann H. Gabhart returns to the enigmatic world of the Shakers in this emotional exploration of the power of love and the bond of family.

***

Darcie and William are fleeing a cholera epidemic and hope to escape the dreadful disease by taking shelter with the Shakers. When William is killed in an accident, Darcy is left alone in a community that forbids marriage and worse, is now pregnant—a visible sign as to the consequences of the ultimate “sin”. With nowhere to go and little money, she sees no other options left to her other than to stay with the Shakers and hope they have mercy on her.

Flynn Keller is still grieving for his wife and struggling to manage his headstrong daughter Leatrice who seems fixed on getting into mischief. After losing his wife because of that same impulsive behavior, he’s determined not to have his daughter killed because of some reckless act on her part. But he needs to give both of them a decent home to stay in and Leatrice needs to learn how to read and write. He doesn’t like it, but the Shakers are looking like the only people he can go to for help.

Honestly, the story turned out better than I expected. It was interesting to read about the Shaker community, even if you were left scratching your head as to how they could have accepted some weird thinking.
The characters Ann Gabhart introduced us to were solid and real. I liked the Shaker women who befriended Darcy, and it was wonderful to read how the birth and taking care of Darcy’s baby brought them even closer and softened the hearts of even the hardest person. A major point of the story is learning not to worry, to take each day as it comes and trust God to work it out, despite what the circumstances look like.

My only quibble is with the romance between the two main characters. I already suspected the author was going to rush it at the end when I reached the three-quarter mark in the book and there was still nothing going on. And then close to the end, a Shazam! is pulled. And you can guess the rest. 😛

While something more natural would have been preferred, this was still a great story to read and one I recommend if you’re looking for solid characters and writing, with a good plot that will keep you turning the pages.

Verdict: Definite buy.

(I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and author from the blogging program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.)

 

Egypt’s Sister by Angela Hunt review   Leave a comment

Five decades before the birth of Christ, Chava, daughter of the royal tutor, grows up with Urbi, a princess in Alexandria’s royal palace. When Urbi becomes Queen Cleopatra, Chava vows to be a faithful friend no matter what–but after she and Cleopatra have an argument, she finds herself imprisoned and sold into slavery. 

Torn from her family, her community, and her elevated place in Alexandrian society, Chava finds herself cast off and alone in Rome. Forced to learn difficult lessons, she struggles to trust a promise HaShem has given her. After experiencing the best and worst of Roman society, Chava must choose between love and honor, between her own desires and God’s will for her life. 

As soon as I saw this book up for review, I immediately sent in my request. I have a love for biblical fiction, and reading the synopsis alone captured my attention. And yes, the great looking cover just enhanced the appeal.

We begin the story with Chava, daughter of the royal Jewish tutor, who becomes friends with Urbi, the girl one day destined to become the famed Queen Cleopatra. The story chronicles their friendship as children, up to Urbi’s rise to power.

I will admit, the first part of the story felt slow. While Chava is intended to be the main lead, we’re more often just narrated the events that occurred in Cleopatra’s life. And Cleopatra ending being the more interesting person you wanted to know more about when you watched her go from princess to Queen and married to her ten year old brother. Her war in a game of wits to stay ahead of her enemies ended up pulling your interest more than the spoiled Chava.

Chava holds onto the promise she received from HaShem one night “Your friendship with the queen lies in my hands. You will be with her on her happiest day and her last. And you, daughter of Israel, will know yourself, and you will bless her.”

To this end, she follows Cleopatra faithfully, to the point of refusing to marry out of the devotion to her friend. And yes, Chava was a touch clingy and possessive because of it.

But then Chava’s life takes an unexpected turn, and she goes from friend to one of the most powerful woman in the world to a slave struggling to stay alive. From there, we watch as Chava is stripped of everything: home, wealth, possessions, family. And left with nothing but the bitter taste of betrayal and a broken faith.

This where Angela Hunt begins the crafting of Chava’s story and her growth from a pampered and spoiled child with no care for the rest of the world, into a strong woman. Through all the hardships, and the brutality of first century BC, you see God’s hand upon her, guiding her to that one pivotal point in history she was destined for.

I will caution readers that there are some scenes that might be a little hard for those who are more sensitive to those things. The story does not dwell overmuch on them, but it’s enough for you to feel the impact of it.

The writing was excellent, and once we got over the first part, the character development picked up drastically. If you are looking for solid, well-researched Biblical fiction with strong emphasis on faith, then I highly recommend this book.

Verdict: Buy immediately.

(I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.)

Wings of the Wind by Connilyn Cossette   Leave a comment

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Hello, everyone! Been awhile since I’ve posted on here, but I’m finally back again. And with another book review, since I’ve finally followed one of secret desires and joined Bethany House’s Blogger Review Program. *does happy dance* So without any further delay, here we go!

I’ve always loved Biblical stories. Maybe it was because I grew up with them as a kid, and even though I am a devoted fantasy buff, the nostalgia for Bible stories has never left. When I first found out about this series, I was excited. And it just exploded when I finally got this book. This is the third and final book in the series. I was initially a little concerned about starting a series right at the third book, but after a little research, found each story is self-contained so you don’t need to worry about missing anything. Without further ado, I plunged right on in.

The story covers the Israelites long awaited entrance into the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. But in their path stands the Canaanites.

Alanah is bitter over the loss of her brothers and home. Feeling she has nothing left to her in life, she dresses like a man and joins one of the battles against the Hebrews, hoping to avenge herself on as many as she can before dying in the onslaught.

But Yahweh has a different plan. Instead of dying, she is rescued from the bodies of the slain and brought back to live with the very ones she planned on destroying, and her growing attraction to a certain Hebrew warrior called Tobiah.

Alanah’s feelings of hate and revenge, and her sense of low worth are all portrayed and written vividly by the author. And Tobiah, the quiet warrior, who tries to take care of everyone and lamenting over loss he feels he could have done something to prevent. Both carry deep wounds inside, and both have to learn to surrender them to the Creator guiding their steps.

It’s rare to find good Biblical fiction, let alone a good romance. This is one of those that manages to do both justice and sticks with you long after you finish reading it. The writing was smooth, the character development solid. You’ll love the sense of companionship and family when walking with the Hebrews, and cringe when you walk through the mire of Canaanite culture.

Love and loss, grace and redemption, all weave together in beautiful harmony within the pages of this tale.

If you are looking for a solid Biblical story with a core of faith and hope, I highly recommend you purchase this series. As for me, I intend to get my hands on the first two books and add them to my collection.

Verdict: buy immediately

(I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.)

Beyond Reflection’s Edge   Leave a comment

I just got done reading a book called Beyond the Reflection’s Edge, the first in the Echoes from the Edge trilogy written by Bryan Davis, and decided to go ahead and post a review on it. It’s the first book review I’ve ever done so if there are any mistakes let me know.

The story begins with sixteen-year-old Nathan Shepherd, who lives an anything but dull life with his father, an investigator, and his mother, a renowned violinist. Everything seems to be going great until at a concert he finds his parents murdered and lying in a pair of coffins. He’s left with only a mirror that reflects his thoughts, a camera and his mother’s violin. His tutor takes him in a secluded area of the country to the house of his father’s old friend Tony Clark, for safety.

Teaming up with Tony’s teenage daughter, Kelly, they try to protect the mirror from falling into enemy hands and at the same time unravel the mysteries surrounding it.

The story deals a lot with alternate dimensions which I thought would be interesting. It starts out fairly fast-paced although it lags in a few places, but the suspense and action are there to hold your interest.

I enjoyed the book but I have to honest and say that it’s not quite as good as the Dragons in our Midst series, which was written by the same author. There was a depth and mythology to that series that the BTRE couldn’t match. Still it was an enjoying read and I definitely give it four stars.

There is one thing I do wish to point out and that is the author’s overuse of the word, ‘fetal.’ I lost track of the amount of times that one word kept popping up in the story. I wondered if the author knew any other poses other than that one. For me it was slightly annoying but still, it is a minor quibble.

If you’re looking for a great story that’s clean and has not only good action but morals to boot, then you’ll enjoy this story. One thing I’ll warn you about though is that some of the themes in there are a little more mature and for an older audience. Particularly the gory parts so be prepared.

Anyway that’s my take on the book. I would appreciate any comments as to what you thought and ideas to make any future book reviews better. Thanks to all for taking the time to read this.

Posted July 12, 2012 by J.M. Christian in Christian Fantasy Reviews

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