Five Minute Friday: Repeat

Push (1)

Gentle Reader,

Look up the word “crabby” in the dictionary. See my picture. Send me chocolate.

Kate says: repeat.

Go.

I’m working on a second novel. (Yeah, I wrote a first novel. And never advertised it. Because I’m really bad at promoting things. But you can buy it if you want). “Working” may not be the right word, because I haven’t touched it since February. This year has been creatively difficult; there’s a nasty voice inside my head that likes to tell me how much I suck and that I shouldn’t even bother trying to write. It’s been quite loud for months. So the file has lain dormant in my laptop, a symbol of the struggle that I have been losing.

Today I decided I would get back to it. I would ignore the voice. I would push past all the doubt. Clicked on the Scrivener icon. Waited for the project to load. The first chapter appeared on the screen. I read it. Made a change here, a tweak there. Really, it was pretty good. I thought, Well that’s nice. I’ll keep going.

Something seemed off, though. Four chapters sat in the sidebar. I was sure there were more. There was a scene that I distinctly remembered but couldn’t find anywhere.

More clicking and searching led to the recovery of two more completed chapters and several that had been outlined. But the fifth chapter? It’s gone.

Gone.

Cue the urge to throw my laptop across the room.

I searched the backup files. Dug out my external hard drive and opened every existing file. It’s nowhere.

Whhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyy.

So I get to repeat. Get to go back and do the work again. Maybe that’s okay. Not ideal. Not progression. But okay. Write it once more, Perhaps new ideas will flow. There’s a chance I could have a whole book written here soon.

Even if not, at least I’m writing.

And at least it’s Autumn, whose weather always makes me want to snuggle under a blanket, hot beverage by my side, as I spin a story.

Stop.

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Review: A Light on the Hill

Light on the Hill

Gentle Reader,

Then the Lord spoke to Joshua, “Tell the Israelites: Select your cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that a person who kills someone unintentionally or accidentally may flee there. These will be your refuge from the avenger of blood. When someone flees to one of these cities, stands at the entrance of the city gate, and states his case before[a] the elders of that city, they are to bring him into the city and give him a place to live among them. And if the avenger of blood pursues him, they must not hand the one who committed manslaughter over to him, for he killed his neighbor accidentally and did not hate him beforehand. He is to stay in that city until he stands trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest serving at that time. Then the one who committed manslaughter may return home to his own city from which he fled.”

– Joshua 20:1-6 (CSB)

I like stories that make me think. A Light on the Hill, by Connilyn Cossette, is one such story. Set just prior to the death of Joshua, when the Conquest of the Promised Land was still happening, Cossette tells the story of Moriyah, a woman who experienced great trauma as a captive in the city of Jericho. (Note: The opening chapters contain bits that allude to a previous novel, Wings of the Wind, but it not necessary to have read that in order to follow the plot). This trauma has resulted in what we would recognize today as PTSD; Moriyah has flashbacks, triggered by certain sounds and smells, and does her best to keep out of everyone’s way.

Moriyah’s life begins to spin out of control one night when she dares to take part in a festival at Shiloh. All of the women present are veiled (a key part of her story), which empowers her bold act of joining in a dance. She catches the eye of a soldier named Darek. The attraction is mutual, though Moriyah has just learned that her father has arranged a marriage for her.

To our eyes, an arranged marriage seems horrific, but women did have some agency. Moriyah knows that she could object and that her father wouldn’t make her go through with it. Due to her time in Jericho, however, she believes that it’s best for her to, essentially, take what she can get. She knows that her father is seeking to protect and provide for her out of true kindness. Despite a (chaste) evening spent with this soldier, she chooses to square her shoulders and attempt to get the best out of the situation.

Then two boys die.

She is forced to run.

A Light on the Hill has all the elements of a conventional, gentle romance, but it’s so much more than that. I kept turning the pages because the story was so fascinating to me. Cossette obviously put a lot of time and effort into researching source material, both the Scriptures and scholarly tomes. The reader genuinely feels transported to another time and place, rich with foreign sounds and customs. It was especially interesting to me to learn that the language barrier between the Israelites and Canaanites was not insurmountable, an element that is integral to a good third of the novel.

This book occupies that wonderful space that all good historical novels fall into: a great story and the reader learns something. While the ending isn’t exactly a surprise, I didn’t mind that at all because I had such a good time getting there. Definitely recommend this one, particularly for fans of Mesu Andrews and Francine Rivers.

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Review: Where We Belong

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Lynn Austin is a successful historical novelist. Her series Chronicles of the Kings is on my to-read list. Thus when this title came up for review, I eagerly asked for a copy.

I am on page 253 of this book. The beginning of Chapter 18. A little over halfway through.

Can’t even tell you what the story is about.

Austin has written about two wealthy sisters, Rebecca and Flora Hawes. Throughout their lives they take several trips to Europe, Africa and the Middle East, because they find society life dull and unfulfilling. This would be interesting if not for the fact that wealthy women in the 19th Century often traveled; there’s nothing remarkable about the sisters visiting London, Paris, Egypt and the Holy Land.

The reader is supposed to find them fascinating characters, I guess, because they each long to do something unique in the world, something to serve God. We are supposed to see them as mold-breaking and bold. Instead Rebecca is pedantic and preachy while Flora is somehow both shallow and tender-hearted. There is no nuance or complexity to them, even during that is supposed to be one of the great conflicts of the plotline.

Do they get better? Do they grow and become relatable? I don’t know. The novel is, put simply, boring. Far too much dialogue and far too little action, and this coming from a reader who has enjoyed more than a few slow-moving books. I would press through and finish this one, except that I don’t care about any of the characters. I can’t even begin to imagine how the story ends, because it never really began in the first place.

Much of Where We Belong revolves around biblical archaeology, history and questions of faith, all of which endlessly fascinate me – but Austin managed to write about the discoveries of the years in which this book takes place in such a dull, disheartening way. The average person should know more about Codex Sinaiticus, how Darwin’s theories rocked the academic world and why places like St. Catherine’s monastery matter, yet I don’t think that anyone who reads this book will come away with her appetite whetted. It’s all so dry, so clinical.

There’s nothing more I can write about this one. Every author, no matter how skilled and successful, writes clunkers from time to time. I’ve certainly done so. Someone out there will love this book, but that person just wasn’t me.

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Review: Isaiah’s Daughter

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. …

You shall no longer be termed Forsaken,
Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate;
But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah;
For the Lord delights in you…

– 2 Kings 21:1, Isaiah 62:4 (NKJV)

I discovered Mesu Andrews over the summer, when my mom loaned me a book that she thought I might like. That book was Pharaoh’s Daughter. I was immediately hooked. In just a few short months I have devoured all but one of the books that Andrews has written and that only because I can’t get my hands on it. Andrews spends years researching her novels, placing faithfulness to the test of Scripture over and above her desire to tell a good story. And she is, without doubt, an excellent storyteller. Her ability to delve into the richness of the Bible and explore how people lived, how God moved in their lives is one that I have encountered in only a few other authors.

Isaiah’s Daughter, releasing in January 2018, is both a stand-alone novel and a continuation of the story begun in Love in a Broken Vessel (a fictionalized version of the book of Hosea). Those who have read the former will recognize characters and themes in the latter, but understanding and enjoying the book does not hinge on knowing what came before.

Andrews opens in 732 B.C.. Soldiers from the northern kingdom of Israel have attacked Judah, destroying towns and carrying off hundreds of captives. The reader meets 5-year-old Ishma and her friend Yaira, who are among the captives. The trauma they have experienced has rendered Ishma unable to speak. Yaira attempts to care for her on the long journey, but she, a child herself, cannot ease the fear in Ishma’s heart. This fear is a central theme of the novel.

Yaira’s brother, the prophet Micah, finds the two girls. He is unable to raise them himself due to the nature of his calling, so he takes them to Jerusalem and settles them in the house of Isaiah – fellow prophet and royal counselor who has just been demoted to tutor after angering Judah’s king, Ahaz. The girls expect to be taken into service, but Isaiah and his wife, Aya, embrace them as daughters. A new world is opened to them.

Queen Abijah is part of this new world. One day, she brings her son, Hezekiah, to the prophet’s house. He, too, has suffered trauma. Abijah is desperate for his healing. Nothing she has tried, no prayer or remedy, has made any difference. Ishma is drawn to the little boy with the sad eyes.

Since all of this happened thousands of years ago, it’s not spoiler alert territory to say that Hezekiah grows up to marry Ishma, who is renamed Hepzibah. Normally I loathe a predictable romantic tale, but Andrews masterfully weaves together threads from the 2 Kings narrative, the prophecies of Isaiah and historical record to breathe a freshness into the standard “boy meets girl” formula. Hezekiah and Ishma grow up in dangerous times. Theirs is no easy, simple pairing, before or after their marriage. Andrews writes them as the flawed people they are, a man and a woman who wrestle with what it means to obey God.

My one complaint is in regard to Ishma/Hepzibah’s characterization. It’s a little uneven. As she grows, she discovers a love of learning and nature, both of which help to heal her heart. Then, upon reaching adulthood and marriage, the fear comes crashing back in. As one who battles anxiety on a daily basis, I understand completely how this kind of thing happens. Yet, as a reader, I wanted to see Ishma/Hepzibah become tougher. I wanted her to experience the fear but grit her teeth and battle through. Instead, in a few scenes, she becomes the damsel in distress, weeping in the arms of her husband. Crying is never bad and of course spouses should support each other, but there was just something “off” about that to me.

Part of the unevennness may be rooted in the viewpoint changes that occur each chapter. The story shifts between Ishma/Hepzibah, Hezekiah and sometimes Isaiah. Though we are reading the story of a woman, it’s not completely told through her eyes. I’m not sure why Andrews made this decision. It does work, for the most part, only becoming an issue in later chapters, when, as I pointed out above, I wanted Ishma/Hepzibah to grow more than she did.

Minor issues aside, I wholeheartedly recommend this book (and all of Andrews’ other novels). You will be intrigued and entertained from the first pages. You will be prompted to think and to search the Scriptures. Most of all, you will be moved to worship the Lord, who teaches us to live in this light:

“We must keep our eyes on eternity, my friend, for today is sometimes more than we can bear.”

– p. 318

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I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR MY HONEST REVIEW.