Saturday, March 31, 2012

From Ashes to Honor by Loree Lough

Ever since I read her book Maverick Heart, I’ve been a Loree Lough fan. She writes historicals and contemporaries. From Ashes to Honor is a contemporary story.

Her characters are believable, the plot impactful and unusual. I like how the author didn’t shy away from a tough topic like 9/11 and its aftermath or the heartbreak for those who knew any of the victims personally. The hero’s brother died in NYC that day. I really felt for him as I well remember the news coverage that morning.

This story was outside the box in a few different ways. One I can share, the other I won’t, except to say some of this story’s question marks are addressed in Book Two of this series. So, one outside-the-box element was that the characters stayed unchaperoned in the same house overnight, often. Now, Loree keeps things wholesome and I certainly didn’t mind. But it’s a bit unusual so it stood out. Kudos to Abingdon (the publisher).

This story held my interest the entire time with great pacing. This story (and series) is a tribute to the heroes and heroines of that painful day. I liked the focus on psychology. Dr. Mercy Samara is a therapist who’s helping the hero through the months following 9/11. The author did a great job of including this element, allowing us to see behind the scenes of healing.

The secondary characters added a lot of soul to the story. I would have liked to “see” (in regards to the other characters interacting directly with) one specific character after her miracle, but the author remained focused on the heroine’s faith (or lack thereof) and that made sense.

I’m reading book two in this series right now. Very enjoyable! Keep watching Net’s Book Notes for my review of Honor Redeemed.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Love's Sacred Song by Mesu Andrews

Welcome to the blog tour for Mesu Andrews’s book, Love’s Sacred Song. This biblical fiction is based on the Song of Solomon.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Standing in the massive shadow of his famous father, young King Solomon wavers between fear and bravado, wisdom and folly. In the uncertain world of alliances and treachery, Solomon longs for peace and a love that is true and pure—a love that can be his cornerstone.

A shepherdess in the northern city of Shunem, Arielah, remembers the first time she laid eyes on Solomon in Jerusalem when she was just seven years old. Since then she has known that it was her destiny to become his bride. When her father, a leader of their tribe, secures a promise from King Solomon to marry Arielah as a treaty bride to help unite the kingdom, it seems her dreams may come true.

But how can this simple shepherdess live as part of Solomon's harem? Can Solomon set aside his distractions to give himself completely to just one woman? Or will he let duty, deception, and the daily routine divide his heart?

And now, my review:

I haven’t read Mesu’s other book, Love Amid the Ashes, based on Job’s life, but after reading Love’s Sacred Song, I’m definitely motivated. What a rich and powerful story this is!

Writing biblical fiction has its advantages and disadvantages. Advantage: your plot is sort of outlined for you in the Bible. Disadvantage: the Bible doesn’t give a lot of details so you have to fill in the blanks around a very different time period and way of life. Which leads me to research.

According to Mesu’s author’s note, she spent well over twelve years researching this book of the Bible (the Song of Solomon, which is also known as the Song of Songs). Her subject matter intrigued me because I’ve been a student of the Song of Songs since the mid-90s myself. I’ve been fascinated with the allegorical application of this Song, and seeing how our Bridegroom God sees us. But Mesu’s focus (for the purposes of this book) were a literal and historical application. (Some marriage counselors teach couples from the Song of Solomon, which is another type of application. This is one multi-faceted book!)

What I appreciated about Love’s Sacred Song was how Mesu made me think in a new way about Solomon’s reign. The novel begins with a thorough exploration of his early reign and all the politics involved when he first ascended the throne. Through her research of what literally happened (specifics the Bible does give) and understanding of the culture, Mesu painted a believable picture of how politics affected not only Solomon’s world, but the Shulamite’s as well. She may have indeed been a treaty bride meant to bring the nation of Israel together.

And then there was the romantic element. If you’ve read the Song, you’ve probably wondered how these verses came about. Mesu calls them shepherd’s verses and shows how they not only could have applied to the character’s lives, but how they show a progression of their lives together, sort of as an timeline.

As usual with this genre, there is much left to the discretion of the author, but Mesu’s humble, well-educated approach shines through in her writing. If you disagree with this element or that one, no problem. Like the Song of Songs, there are so many gems in the reading, it’s worth it.

I recommend this story to lovers of biblical fiction, historicals, general fiction, and romance. There’s something here for everyone.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sarai by Jill Eileen Smith

I read and enjoyed Jill’s Wives of King David series. So, when I heard about her new series, Wives of the Patriarchs, I couldn’t wait to read Book One: Sarai.

Here’s the summary:

Sarai, the last child of her aged father, is beautiful, spoiled, and used to getting her own way. Even as a young girl, she is aware of the way men look at her, including her half brother Abram. When Abram finally requests Sarai's hand, she asks one thing--that he promise never to take another wife as long as she lives. Even her father thinks the demand is restrictive and agrees to the union only if Sarai makes a promise in return--to give Abram a son and heir. Certain she can easily do that, Sarai agrees.

But as the years stretch on and Sarai's womb remains empty, she becomes desperate to fulfill her end of the bargain--lest Abram decide that he will not fulfill his. To what lengths will Sarai go in her quest to bear a son? And how long will Abram's patience last?

And now, my review:

One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed Jill’s biblical fiction so much is her work is obviously well-researched. Of course we’re talking about a fictionalization of real events, but sometimes as I read I thought, “This makes sense. It could have happened this way.”

Some spiritual elements snagged my attention too. One of those elements was how Abram heard from God. Jill helped bring those experiences into the context of anyone in a relationship with God. Abram followed the nudge of God, left his tent and stood under the stars, and there God gave him promises. Yes. Relatable! Made me long for more communion with God, and that’s what great Christian fiction does. Also, the way the story glorifies God for His faithfulness. He will keep His promises.

The unavoidable point in Sarai’s story where she felt she had no other recourse than to offer her maid to her husband in order to help God bring about the promise was heart-wrenching. Though I know the biblical account, I found myself wishing they’d never taken that route. I put myself in Sarai’s shoes. She was in her late 70s. And though 77 back then may have been spryer than it is today, she was still certainly facing the facts. Wouldn’t you? Jill’s supposition that at their marriage (or engagement) Sarai promised a child to Abram if Abram took only her as his wife made sense, though how you can promise to have a child, I have no idea. God’s in charge of those things. But it certainly worked in this fictional account to give Sarai motivation to use whatever means necessary. Who knew (back when the story played out in Sarah’s and Abraham’s lives) that 13 years later, she’d have a son, in her post-menopausal state? The portrayal of Sarai’s wishy-washy faith struck me. But with her name change, came faith, and promise fulfillment. (Hebrews 11:11)

For the first, oh, third or more of the book, I felt it moved rather slowly. But then it really picked up. And knowing about the upcoming drama with Hagar kept me reading. We also saw into Lot’s experiences as well, so the book isn’t solely centered on Sarai and Abram. Lot was their nephew, so it makes sense to expand the story and give more content to the story.

I haven’t found anyone who can render biblical fiction like Jill Eileen Smith. If you’re looking for a means of digging out more gems from the biblical pages, I recommend reading her fictionalizations. She brings in customs of the times and portrays realistic story elements. Of course, you have to remember it’s fictionalization, but it’s worth exploring.

For your convenience, here are the links for Amazon: the first is paper back, the second e-book format.

Available March 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.