Archive for the ‘Christian fiction’ Tag

Review of Miriam’s Song by Jill Eileen Smith   Leave a comment

In her eventful lifetime, Miriam was many things to many people: protective older sister, song leader, prophetess, leper. But between the highs and the lows, she was a girl who dreamed of freedom, a woman who longed for love, a leader who made mistakes, and a friend who valued connection. She navigated the challenges of holding on to hope, building a family in the midst of incredible hardship, and serving as a leader of a difficult people, all while living in her brother’s shadow. Follow Miriam’s journey from childhood to motherhood, obscurity to notoriety, and yearning to fulfillment as she learns that what God promises He provides–in His own perfect timing.
***

I am a huge fan of Jill Eileen Smith’s work, so I make it a point to try to collect all her books. When I saw Miriam’s Song, there wasn’t any hesitation on my part to request the title. We all know the story of Moses, how he was placed in a basket and sent over the Nile to save his life, raised as prince of Egypt, fled to the wilderness, and then sent by God to deliver Egypt. But what were things like from the eyes of Miriam, his sister?

There really isn’t a lot in the Bible on Miriam, other than she was a prophetess and then later condemning Moses for marrying a woman from Cush before getting punished by God with leprosy. So I have to take my hat off to Mrs. Smith for being able to create an entire story with little to work with.

I have to say this is one of her weaker novels which I warrant to the limited amount of info she had to work with. The beginning started out great, with us being treated to the perspective of Hatshepsut, the Egyptian princess who would become Moses’s adoptive mother.

Then on to our main protagonist Miriam as she tries to help her family hide Moses and has to take on a lot of responsibility early in life. Which grows even more as she gets older and starts her own family.

But then we start having time gaps. Sometimes it’s months, then years, and even decades. Mrs. Smith tries to cover the entire story of Exodus, so we end up speed-traveling through the novel. Adding to the problem is that a large portion of the book is actually from the perspective of Moses. His character is probably the most developed, and therefore, also the most interesting. When we do get back to Miriam, all she can do is worry and obsess over Moses.

Despite all that, there’s still several strong points in the story I enjoyed. Miriam loves her family and God, and she does all she can to encourage the women around her to follow Him, in spite of the distrust and resentment some of the Israelite women have towards her because they think she and her family are privileged. She feels discouragement wondering if God has forgotten about them and if His promises would ever come true. And then even her relationship with God is put to the test as she sees Moses bask in His presence more and wonders why Moses is being so privileged while she is forgotten.

Final verdict: Buy if you’re looking for a decent read.

(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.)

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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?

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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.)

Review of A Bound Heart by Laura Frantz   Leave a comment

 

Though Magnus MacLeish and Lark MacDougall grew up on the same castle grounds, Magnus is now laird of the great house and the Isle of Kerrera. Lark is but the keeper of his bees and the woman he is hoping will provide a tincture that might help his ailing wife conceive and bear him an heir. But when his wife dies suddenly, Magnus and Lark find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of accusations, expelled from their beloved island, and sold as indentured servants across the Atlantic. Yet even when all hope seems dashed against the rocky coastline of the Virginia colony, it may be that in this New World the two of them could make a new beginning–together.

Laura Frantz’s prose sparkles with authenticity and deep feeling as she digs into her own family history to share this breathless tale of love, exile, and courage in Colonial America.

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This is my first book by Laura Frantz, and I have to admit, A Bound Heart is definite a keeper. Frantz transports you to Scotland in the 1750s and the little island of Kerrera. Lark and Magnus are people who live in 2 different worlds. Lark, daughter of a noble clan, is now just the keeper of the castle stillroom where she makes her herbal brews and also tends her bees. Magnus, a laird bound in an unhappy marriage and trying desperately to take care of his people.
When circumstances rip both from the land of their birth, they’re left with only their faith to see them through an ocean-voyage of hardships and then further testing in America.
Frantz is excellent at creating vivid imagery, and the characters are very well-developed. While the story is slow in places, it never gets boring, and it’s wonderful to watch how God takes care of Magnus and Lark through the trials that come their way.
If I have any complaints with the story, it’s only that I wish the romance between Lark and Magnus was better developed, and also that some threads were resolved more fully and fleshed out instead of being brushed aside to hasten the ending.

Verdict: If you’re looking for a good read with inspiring characters, buy this book!

(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.)

 

PS: My apologies if this review is a wee bit rushed. That’s what happens when you got too little time and a deadline to post this. 😛

Review of Thief of Corinth by Tessa Afshar   3 comments

 

First-century Corinth is a city teeming with commerce and charm. It’s also filled with danger and corruption—the perfect setting for Ariadne’s greatest adventure.

After years spent living with her mother and oppressive grandfather in Athens, Ariadne runs away to her father’s home in Corinth, only to discover the perilous secret that destroyed his marriage: though a Greek of high birth, Galenos is the infamous thief who has been robbing the city’s corrupt of their ill-gotten gains.

Desperate to keep him safe, Ariadne risks her good name, her freedom, and the love of the man she adores to become her father’s apprentice. As her unusual athletic ability leads her into dangerous exploits, Ariadne discovers that she secretly revels in playing with fire. But when the wrong person discovers their secret, Ariadne and her father find their future—and very lives—hanging in the balance.

When they befriend a Jewish rabbi named Paul, they realize that his radical message challenges everything they’ve fought to build, yet offers something neither dared hope for.

***

 

I’ve been wanting to read Tessa Afshar’s work for a long time, as I see a lot of her books in the Biblical fiction section. So at long last, I finally got my wish!

The story takes place in ancient Greece and introduces us to a young woman, Ariadne, who is forced to live with her harsh grandfather and a mother who treats her with disdain. When her grandfather tries to marry her off to a cruel man, Ariadne decides to take a risk and run away with her foster brother back to her father in Corinth where she hopes to find love and acceptance. Unfortunately, things are not so easy. Ariadne and Theo both deal have to deal with the pain and trauma left over from their parents’ divorce. Theo, the adopted one, struggles to rise above the stigma associated with an orphan child, and prove himself to be just as worthy as the next person. Ariadne looks for meaning and purpose in her life. First the games, where she develops her athletic abilities, then in parties, and finally is drawn into her father’s lifestyle as a thief. With the latter, she discovers she has a natural talent as a thief with her speed and athletic prowess. Despite the danger, she enjoys the thrill and excitement of robbing the rich to help the poor until a fateful accident occurs that puts a loved one in jeopardy.

The story is a lighthearted one for the most part, but it does explore the damage divorce leaves on children and how it effects their lives growing up. And also the consequences of wrong choices made in life and how they can rip a family apart, which Ariadne’s father has to live with.
But the best part is that God can restore what was lost and heal the broken pieces, which Tessa Afshar does a beautiful job of writing. And as Ariadne discovers God, she finds rest and contentment for her soul, as does the rest of her family.

The romance is light and could have been better in my opinion, but that’s a trivial thing. The characters are well-written and though the story has some slow spots, it keeps things going at a decent pace with the intriguing adventures Ariadne faces.

Verdict: If you are looking for a lighthearted read with great characters and a good story to enjoy that deals with loss and restoration, I highly recommend this book!

(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.)

Review of Together Forever by Jody Hedlund   Leave a comment

 

Marianne Neumann has one goal in life: to find her lost younger sister, Sophie. When Marianne takes a job as a placing agent with the Children’s Aid Society in 1858 New York, she not only hopes to give children a better life but seeks to discover whether Sophie ended up leaving the city on an orphan train.

Andrew Brady, her fellow agent on her first placing trip, is a former schoolteacher who has an easy way with the children–firm but tender and funny. Underneath his handsome charm, though, seems to linger a grief that won’t go away–and a secret from his past that he keeps hidden. As the two team up placing orphans amid small railroad towns in Illinois, they find themselves growing ever closer . . . until a shocking tragedy threatens to upend all their work and change one of their lives forever.

***

 

Years ago I read another book by Jody Hedlund called Unending Devotion. The story impressed me so much that when I saw Together Forever available to review, I immediately grabbed it. Unfortunately, this latest installment I did not find to be as inspiring.

The story deals with the orphans of New York in the 1800s, and how the Children’s Aid Society endeavored to get them out of living on the streets and place them with families who would give them a start at a new life. It’s a great premise to explore, and Jody Hedlund explores a little the fears of children as they journey on the train to a new life, and how the endeavor was more like selling the children than anything else. But for the most part, these parts are small and glossed over in favor of focusing on the attraction between Marianne and Drew.

Marianne Neumann’s goal is finding her lost sister, Sophie. Joining the Children’s Aid Society not only allows her the chance to find out her sister’s whereabouts, but also to stand on her own two feet and make a difference in life.

Andrew Brady is a former teacher with a Southern charm and good looks to make any lady swoon. He’s got a talent with children, but carries a dark secret from the past that haunts him.

Both characters carry their own burdens and secrets, but are passionate about taking care of the children they are charged with placing in good homes. Most of the story is focused on riding the rails and going from town to town sending children to families and then watching Marianne go all fluttery because of Drew and vice-versa…

I enjoy a good romance just as much as the next person, and that’s something I like reading in books such as these. But honestly, the romance stinks because there really isn’t any. Just mooning over how darn good-lookin’ the other person is. Which can be overlooked, provided the characters are deep and compelling enough to hold your interest. These, sadly, are not. Marianne is just the doughty maid determined not to fall for the charming and smooth gentleman (but does anyway), and Drew, well, he can’t resist a challenge. When they end up getting trapped in an engagement together, I perked up, hoping the story might improve for them…but a murder mystery thrown into the mix for the heck of it spoils that. Which I might add, did not even have the fun of a good mystery.
Reinhold, like a couple reviews mentioned here, was probably the best developed character WITH the best story. It’s too bad his role was so brief. I would have liked to read more about him.

The spiritual elements were okay. There is a theme about learning to forgive yourself and let go of guilt. And of course learning that when you love someone enough, love them to let them go if you have to. Nothing preachy, but I also felt the spiritual elements were not very deep either.

Verdict: If you’re looking for a gentle read, then I think most of you will like this story. If you want something memorable and more compelling, you will probably want to pass.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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