Fantasy · Full Reviews · Science Fiction · Thriller

Forbidden, by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

I was in the mood for something with a bit more “flair” and ended up grabbing Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee. If I can give Dekker credit for anything, it’s that he never seems to think “inside the box”… while I may fault him sometimes for execution, he has no lack of raw originality.  Forbidden, the first in a three book arc, is set in a dystopian future and blends futuristic advancements (e.g. DNA manipulation) with a way of life that in many aspects parallels the far past. (Sword fights! Horseback riding! Underground prisons that are basically dungeons!)

The world of Forbidden is a gloomy one—after a cataclysmic world war, scientists create and unleash a virus capable of altering the genetic codes responsible for all higher human emotions. All human emotions, that is, except fear and its derivatives. With a new world order in place, humanity is at peace for hundreds of years—essentially because everyone on earth is only a few steps removed from being a robot. Devoid of hate and love, people appear to be motivated only by reason and a desire to alleviate their anxieties.
That latter, sadly, struck an all-too-familiar chord with me… how many people do I know that are motivated by fear? How many spend most of their time distracting themselves from the uncomfortable realities of life– like death, pain, and the always unknowable future?

Fortunately for the fictional characters in Dekker and Lee’s work, a vial of blood capable of restoring the full spectrum of feelings to those who drink it (side note: yuck) falls into the hands of the story’s protagonist, Rom Sebastian. Suddenly Rom –and a few friends who also take the restorative blood–are the only people on earth who are truly alive. On the run from the establishment, the group must search for a boy prophesied to be the key to restoring the rest of humanity. Unfortunately for them, someone else has found—and taken—a partial cure. Though whether it can truly be called a cure is questionable, since it only restores the darkest side of the human heart…

I really like the premise of this book, and it grabbed me quickly with plenty of action. I think it had a huge amount of potential, but I’m ultimately going to give it a tentative 3/5 stars, and by tentative I mean that it barely squeaked past the two star threshold. What fell short? In my mind there are two glaring issues.

First off, Forbidden was violent. The antagonist, Saric, is literally incapable of any noble emotions resembling humility, kindness, or affection to temper his villainous passions–so I can understand why Dekker and Lee painted him in such a one-dimensional, sadistic light. Among his offenses (although some are just alluded to) are murder, mad-scientist torture…and a disturbing attraction to his own half-sister despite having what appears to be a hoard of concubines. Saric aside, there was darkness elsewhere in the story I felt was unnecessary…a scene near the end involving a dead body and an internal organ stands out in my mind. I would never recommend this book to a young person. I felt as if Dekker (and Lee) enjoyed focusing in on the disturbing nature of things more than is required of the story.

Second, nothing in the book is very well fleshed out. The characters, for example, are mostly flat; the plot is simplistic. To be fair, the premise of the story makes character building difficult—after all, how to you create connection for your readers with a character that has had essentially no emotions for his entire life? Backstory becomes a challenge, as their lives are nothing but a list of facts that held no deeper meaning for them, at least until recently. After the characters are brought “to life”, many still lack depth or behave inconsistently—although it’s a wonder they can function at all given that processing so many new emotions at once must be akin to being blind and then suddenly given sight.

So what saved the book for me? Why did I let it inch up to a 3/5 stars? Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that this book is the first in a trilogy. Despite all the problems I’ve mentioned (and some that I didn’t) I still walked away really wanting to know what happens in the next book, which to me is a sign of some level of decent writing. The closing reveal had all the dystopian-drama-cliffhanger goodness I was hoping for, and I can’t stop thinking about directions the plot could go. Some of the issues I had seemed less rankling as I considered that this first volume may have been, ultimately, setting the stage for the full-fledged drama of Mortal (the sequel title). How many middling TV pilots have led to an excellent series?

“Love covers a multitude of sins” and in this case, well… so does a good sequel.

Major plot twist I’d love to see in book two? Saric getting some of the curative blood, and either redeeming himself as one of the good guys…or purposely fighting against his “better side” to be a more complicated villain.

Speaking of sequels, I still haven’t read book two of Dekker’s Circle series… which would you rather see me read next? Should I continue with this or head back to his more definitive work? Let me know with a comment, and thanks for checking in on the blog!

Ramblings · Short Reviews (1-2 Star Rating)

Far-fetched Civil War Stories (and One of Them Is Mostly True)

It’s 1861, and eighteen year old Cassie runs away from home to avoid the loathsome marriage her drunkard father has arranged for her against her will. With few options open to her and a fervent desire to hide somewhere her father cannot find her, she joins the Union Army—disguising herself as a man. At first an engrossing and action-packed story, Where Dandelions Bloom by Tara Johnson unfortunately seems to completely lose steam about half-way through, letting loose its grip on the suspense and character development it was building up to that point. Notably, Cassie’s secret identity is discovered by a handsome young photographer, and rather than build slowly on the relationship between the two, the author focuses in on their relationship and the story devolves into near-constant romantic drama. I ultimately lost interest completely around the same time phrases like “It was all he could do not to sweep her up in his arms and cradle her like a wounded kitten” started popping up, which seemed jarring against the raw backdrop of the American Civil War. Somehow I find it hard to believe that in the midst of such a bloody war the main characters would act and think the way Johnson renders them.

Such a lovely cover and title…

It’s 1861, (sound familiar?) and Canadian Sarah Emma Edmonds, who went by Emma, was making a living in the United States. Having run away from her birthplace and her abusive father–who had set up an arranged marriage for her–Emma disguised herself as a man, selling Bibles door-to-door. Moved for the Union cause, Emma managed to enlist under her alias of “Franklin Thompson.” Emma nursed wounded soldiers and buried the dead; later she was assigned the task of regimental mail carrier (which was more dangerous than it sounds, as carriers were prone to being ambushed!). Emma’s true story, unfortunately, has ballooned almost to mythical grounds today because of an at least partly fictionalized “memoir” she wrote called Nurse and Spy in the Union Army. In it, she recounts stories of espionage, such as infiltrating a confederate fort disguised as a black man (having used silver nitrate to blacken her face and skin). That said, a serious study of Civil War intelligence by Edwin Fishel notes that both “Emma’s name and alias are missing from Pinkerton’s [head of the Union Intelligence Service] roster of agents; no information attributed to her is found in the thousand pages of Pinkerton reports in the McClellan Papers.” As a fellow soldier’s diary mentions “Franklin” to have been present in camp during the time frame she claimed to have been serving as a spy, it’s more than dubious that she was ever involved in espionage, but unfortunately her memoir is often taken as gospel to this day, despite being riddled with errors. If you want to read the rest of Fishel’s notes about Emma, or are interested in military intelligence of the Civil War, you might enjoy his book, The Secret War for the Union. Whatever the case may be with regard to Emma’s later adventures, she served for two years before deserting (she insisted that she left for fear of being discovered after she contracted malaria), but returned as herself (in woman’s garb) and continued helping the cause as a nurse for the U.S. Christian Commission. I’ve left out many details, so feel free to google up one of the many articles about Emma’s life–though in my opinion facts drawn from her memoir should be taken with a grain of salt.

Emma, after the Civil War…

Tara Johnson has confirmed that Emma was the inspiration for Where Dandelions Bloom. While I may not care for her twist on the true tale, I’m grateful to her for drawing my attention to Edmonds’ singular and eventful life… it’s certainly a unique piece of the patchwork of American history.

Allegory · Full Reviews

Full Review, The Book of Told

“Where were you when I wrote the first words of this story? Tell me if you understand. Who marked out its chapters? Surely you know. Who stretched the story arc across it? On what were its structures set, or who laid the first cornerstone?”

~The Author, when Brew accuses him of being responsible for the painful death of his brother.

What if you found out you were just a word in an author’s book? That this world was His creation and story, but that he had given you free will to decide what kind of character (word) you would be? What if the author penned himself into his own story and promised that those who were words of life in his book would be granted to become ‘real’ at the end of the final chapters, and live in reality with him? What if in six years, you and the inhabitants of your valley experienced an allegorical version of nearly all of human history?  This is The Book of Told: Mere Words.

No matter how I summarize K. A. Gunn’s work, I feel as if I am swaying back and forth between either over-simplification or representing it as extremely complicated. While it is unique in concept, it is not entirely hard to understand or follow – just challenging to describe. You could almost imagine that it is like Pilgrim’s Progress, if Pilgrim made his journey as a Christian but was also traveling through world history, in addition to his own life. However, unlike Pilgrim’s Progress— or even Hind’s Feet in High Places— the main character is relatively stationary in his valley and the narrative involves all the things taking place between the different people who live there.

The language and plot-line of The Book of Told are much easier for me to follow than the aforementioned allegories, given that it was written in a modern-day style and vernacular. Human history doesn’t always condense down into the smooth pacing desired in fiction, so the story can at times feel… fragmented. That said, Gunn does a decent job of weaving the main character’s life through the larger picture to hold it all together and keep things moving. (Side thought… have any of you read Ted Dekker’s Black? This reminds me of Black’s “other reality”, but a lot less fantastical/outlandish.) Like many allegories, there are plenty of “theological pauses,” where the characters stop to discuss or try to wrap their minds around ideas, such as creation vs. evolution or the dangers of entertainment.

What the book lacked in a few minor ways I’ve already mentioned, it more than makes up for by practically fulfilling the very definition of ingenuity: the quality of being clever, original, and inventive. Gunn employs a lot of wordplay and wit, and some of it borders on genius. But ultimately, what I love about this book is that it doesn’t draw attention to itself, but to our Lord and His brilliance.

At times quiet and reflective, at other times (especially in the second half) full of action and conflict, I would recommend this book to anyone who’s been a Christian for some time. It can be difficult to draw out the parallels and soak up the meaning–frankly, I’m still scratching my head and wondering what a lot of the symbolism stood for. I recommended it to my Pastor, and perhaps he will point me in the right direction; notwithstanding, I can easily see myself re-reading this treasure in the near future to see if I can glean some more goodness from the details I glazed over. When I do, or if I alternatively discover something I disagree with upon understanding the meaning, I would love to write up another post to share my findings.

History lovers, allegory readers, and English language devotees, I hope you grab a copy, and be encouraged that the author pledged all the royalties from your purchases to the A21 Campaign, a non-profit which works to end human trafficking and slavery.

To close, which Christian allegory do you think you’ll be more likely to read next; this one or Hind’s Feet on High Places (review here)? Let me know in the comments.

An arrow zinged too close, and I held up my shield swiftly to stub it. Cheers of approval rang out behind me. Still, Told held us back from the attack.

This time, an Untold phrase charged madly into the dome with weapons aimed. “Between ignorance and intelligence!” they shouted their war cry.

Startled they would claim intelligence, given their name, I laughed tensely. Again, they ran by us to attack Som, Duso, and Reson on the stairs. Again, we shouted tribute. “Fear of the author is the beginning of wisdom!”

– Chapter 59

Disclosure for readers– I should note that a mild swear word is used near the beginning of the book when a character grieves the death of a family member. It is not used in any passage thereafter.

Uncategorized

Magic by the Lake by Edward Eager

Well, here I am, breaking all the long-established rules of good blogging yet again! Post regularly, they say. Stick to your niche, they say. Post on the same day of the week, they say. It’s been a while, this isn’t Christian Fiction, and it isn’t even Monday!– but I don’t care, because this book made me feel as if slipping back into my childhood imagination, optimism, and sense of “silliness” is about as easy and comfortable as slipping into my favorite sweater. The one that I make sure finds its way into the first load in the washer, so I can wear it again as soon as possible.

Magic by the Lake is a children’s book first published in 1957 (not an especially big year for children’s literature, but it did bring us The Cat in the Hat). Second in the Tales of Magic series, it continues the adventures of siblings Jane, Mark, Katherine and Martha as they find themselves “cavorting with mermaids, outwitting pirates, and–with the help of a cranky old turtle–granting a little magical help to the one person who needs it most.”

I fell in love with the book as a little girl; devouring the story of four kids who are lucky enough to end up living by an enchanting, wish-granting lake for the summer… and rediscovered the charm when I was doing a bit of bookshelf spring-cleaning. After all these years, I couldn’t remember most of the plot, so I tried a few pages to see if it was worth all the nostalgic and sentimental feelings the cover evoked, and it certainly was. I couldn’t put it down.

Perhaps it’s the humor; Eager is playful and even a little absurd at times, but he’s also quite clever. He manages to poke fun at tidbits of human nature, particularly the way that children think about things, in a way that is perhaps even funnier to me now as an adult looking back. His stories are always safe, innocent fun (in this case, there’s always a talking turtle to save you if things go horribly wrong) and would be perfect to read aloud to your kids, niece, or even your cat if there’s no one else. (After all, your cat won’t mind your atrocious impression of a pirate accent.)

If you do give this a try (or a re-read) let me know so I can spend far too much time gushing over it with you. Just kidding… I’ll be too busy reading the first book (Half Magic). If children’s literature isn’t your cup of tea, please keep checking in–as I hope to have some new Christian fiction reviews up soon!

All the best,

Rebekah

Ramblings

Christian Fiction Subscription?

Hello ladies and gents!

Sorry, too many hours listening to an audio book with a British narrator has made me feel inclined to be a bit more posh on the blog… anyone want a scone? 😉

I’ll keep this post short and sweet; I’ve had an idea for some time to curate and sell a Christian Fiction book subscription. Here’s what I have in mind: each month, I would put together a package (for each subscriber) with either

A. One brand- new Christian Fiction book (not necessarily a recent release, but an unused copy)

OR

B. Two pre-owned Christian Fiction books, in good used condition

PLUS

One specially chosen additional surprise. This would be something small, along the lines of but not limited to:

a devotional or short Bible study book/ a Bible verse memory card set / Bible highlighters/ a small candle/ a few specialty tea samples / a set of pretty washi tapes / etc

AND ALSO

a bookmark

All wrapped up in pretty tissue and ribbons, perhaps. 🙂

I’m hoping to get some feelers out to see if this is something that fellow readers would be interested in; that said, don’t feel you have to commit to anything! However, if this sounds appealing to you, I’d love to hear your comments. With the price of shipping rising, I would need to ask for roughly $20 a month in order to make a profit, and I’m concerned that might be prohibitive for some. Is there anything that would make the subscription more valuable to you? What kind of items would you be interested in seeing? If this isn’t up your alley, could you imagine a friend purchasing a subscription, or gifting one to someone else? What questions would you need answered? Alternatively, would a book-only subscription, (which could be sent media mail and would therefore be less expensive) better suit your fancy? I cherish your thoughts!

Author Interviews · Uncategorized

Q&A With Tessa Afshar

I told you, dear readers, that I had a lovely Q&A waiting just around the corner for you! In honor of her newest release, author Tessa Afshar has been making time for interviews. I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to ask her a handful of questions! Tessa’s author bio as well as a bevy of other relevant links are at the bottom of this post, so please take a look at those if you are interested in learning more about Tessa after you’ve finished reading through her warmhearted answers. Let’s jump right in!

978-1-4964-2870-7

R: Your newest release, Daughter of Rome, is launching February 4th; I noticed almost immediately that the main characters will encounter Paul the apostle. This isn’t your first book featuring an appearance from Paul (Bread of Angels and Thief of Corinth immediately come to mind), and I’m curious if it’s more than coincidence that you feel drawn to write about him. Do you relate or resonate with his life?

T: What a good question, Rebekah! Because so many of the New Testament letters were written by Paul, we know more about him than almost any other person in the early church. We know of his travels, his travails, his triumphs. We know his friends and his enemies. We know his background and struggles. For a writer like me, Paul’s trailblazing life provides the perfect fodder for a novel.

More subtly, Paul’s presence in different books acts as the cord that pulls the stories together. For example, Bread of Angels is inspired by the story of Lydia, who came to faith through Paul’s preaching in Philippi. Not long after that, Paul traveled to Corinth. So it was natural to have him show up in Thief of Corinth. Paul also first met Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth. Of course, I had to include him in Daughter of Rome as well. He makes a great spiritual father!

R: You also have a number of books set in the Old Testament era—fleshing out the stories of Ruth and Rahab, among others. Do you find it easier to write in one time period versus the other (Old Testament versus New)?

T: I prefer to remain in a specific time period for several years. The more you linger in a certain era, the more you learn about it. Books have a way of expressing that facility and knowledge, creating a more powerful story for the reader. I am currently working on another New Testament book, but eventually I will return to the Old Testament. I have a few ideas percolating in the back of my mind already! I will probably spend the first year in a flurry of research, trying to find answers to too many questions. But it will ultimately be worth it.

R: I was taking a look through your website and noticed that you feature a Bible verse there—Psalm 147:3, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Such a beautiful verse. Do you feel it is the heartbeat of your novels? A message of healing through Jesus Christ?

T: I certainly feel that it is an important part of my writing. Jesus said he came to bind up the broken-hearted (Isa. 61:1). For me, the best of my writing contains a touch of the Balm of Gilead for the reader.

R: Reading through an excellent interview with you by Mesu Andrews (link to that here) I saw that you mentioned working a day job (at least at the time) in addition to writing. Do you mind if I ask what your occupation is when you aren’t crafting a story? English teacher? Caped superhero? Dye master, like Lydia in Bread of Angels?

T: Actually, I have been a full-time writer for some time now. That interview was from five years ago. At the time, I worked full-time in women’s ministry and prayer ministry, writing whenever I could. Looking back, I can see the grace of God made that crazy schedule possible.

R: Do you feel that having lived the early years of your childhood in Iran gave you a better perspective for detailing the settings of your novels? While I’ve never been to Israel, I’m of the opinion that you deftly capture the flavor of the Middle East.

T: Thank you, Rebekah! I think some of my Middle Eastern background definitely makes its way into the novels. My voice as a writer comes out of a well that was once watered by ancient poems and epic tales of adventures in the East. I was raised eating pomegranates and saffron rice. Those sights and smells are still a deep part of my life, and they spill out on the paper when I write.

***

It’s been a pleasure hanging out with you and your readers at A Page Out of Her Book! You are an awesome host, Rebekah. Thanks for asking such great questions.

R: Oh, it’s been a joy having you here! All the best.

 

Tessa AfsharTessa Afshar is an award-winning author of biblical fiction, including Thief of Corinth, a 2019 Inspy Award finalist; Land of Silence, which was voted by Library Journal as one of the top five Christian fiction titles of 2016; and Harvest of Gold, which won a 2014 Christy Award in the Historical Romance category. Born in Iran, Tessa spent her teen years in England and later moved to the United States. Her conversion to Christianity in her twenties changed the course of her life. She holds an MDiv from Yale Divinity School, where she served as co-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship. 

 

Tessa’s Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Daughter of Rome  by Tessa Afshar
ISBN: 978-1-4964-2870-7| Hardcover: $25.99
ISBN: 978-1-4964-2871-4 | Softcover: $15.99
February 2020
Tyndale.com

 

 

Biblical · Full Reviews

Full Review of Jerusalem Rising: Adah’s Journey

What should I say about Jerusalem Rising: Adah’s Journey by Barbara M. Britton? My thoughts about this book have been tumbling around in my mind for some time now, as you can ascertain by the late summer setting of the cover photo!

I first discovered Adah’s Journey when I was processing some new library books to be moved over to our regular fiction section; it’s a small book, and the unknown author and publishing imprint (Harbourlight Books) held my interest. It promised the imagined story of Adah bat Shallum, one of the unnamed daughters recorded as rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem with their father in Nehemiah chapter three. Having no brothers, Adah steps forward and volunteers as a laborer in an act of faith in God as well as a desire to see her father’s name honored and remembered in Nehemiah’s records. Of course, rebuilding the wall is a smooth, peaceful process, right? Wrong, as anyone who’s read the book of Nehemiah knows! Challenges present themselves and Adah plays a role in helping overcome many of them.

Truthfully, this story has what I would call an “unfinished” quality; I felt as if I was reading an excellent second draft that still needed a round or two of polishing. To be fair, most of the problems were small—a number of typos and grammar errors that could have been easily fixed, for example. One fairly substantial character was barely developed and had an unlikely/weak backstory. Even the cover of this book feels underwhelming to me, as if the publishers could have given it a professional finish but perhaps didn’t have the budget. The romances were Hallmark movie style, so expect the characters to experience lots of heart fluttering… and yearnings… and tingly sensations…

All that said, if you’re looking for a lighter, shorter read about a young woman trying to more actively trust God, this may be just the book for you. If you relish a sensory experience, like me, you may also take joy in Adah’s talent as a perfumer– as the different oils and herbs are pleasantly mingled and described throughout the story.  3/5 Stars.

Ramblings

New(ish) Books and Felicitations

Merry Christmas (Eve) everyone! I really should have posted yesterday, but I have a quiet moment now and thought perhaps you might enjoy seeing a rather large pile of books I added to my collection!

Do you have any favorite thrift store memories? I just recently stopped by a local used bookstore that uses their proceeds to do some really great things in our community. Anyways, somebody who lives around here must like Christian Fiction as much as I do because some really fabulous books always seem to find their way (through donation) to the religious section of the store.

I started out with about half this many books at the checkout counter, only to find out all.fiction.in.the.store.is.half.off.

So of course I went back and grabbed some more (I mean, at an average price of $3 a book before discount, whyever not???)

Everything they sell is in wonderful condition, so every cent is worth it. And bonus? My mom bought at least as many more books as a gift for my dad, and guess who’ll probably get to read them all when he’s done? Hooray for book-sharing, haha!

I hope your Christmas festivities are warm, fellow readers, and that you know Christ better this coming year; praise Him for coming, praise Him for all He sacrificed, praise Him for keeping His promises then and the hope we have in trusting Him now.

Ramblings

Goldilocks and the Three Books

I’ve been looking for another great audio book to follow All Manner of Things, as well as trying to get to know a new app I downloaded through our library called RBdigital. The app seems to focus primarily on media, so I’ve been excited to see if they have a good selection of Christian fiction audio to listen to. Of course, whenever I look up Christian fiction in nearly any library app, I end up running into a lot of works by Lynn Austin, who is very loved and prolific in the genre.

In what struck me as an almost comic mirror of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, I ended up “tasting” a few chapters of three different Lynn Austin books, and here are the results:

Too Cold….

The first book I checked out was Wonderland Creek.

This will be great, I thought to myself. It’s about a book lover who works at a library. I ought to be able to relate. Unfortunately, I found myself immediately disliking the protagonist. While Austin was probably setting the stage for character growth, I think perhaps she made this young woman a little too flawed; Lynn may have been better off revealing some of the redeeming sides of her heroine early on. I feel as if Austin was trying her hand at Austen— Jane Austen– style humor, but it felt absurd rather than clever. I work at a library, and even so, I don’t think I’ve ever met a book lover so obsessed with their hobby that they would read during a funeral service for someone they knew. Like Goldilocks, I quickly decided this one wasn’t for me.

Too Hot…

The next book I tried was Candle in the Darkness, book one of the Refiner’s Fire series. Ahhh. This is the Lynn Austin I know and love. From the very first words, this is compelling historical drama. I listened to this for about half an hour, but something was still not quite… satisfying. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve read this series before many years ago; or maybe I’m not in the mood for the heartache and conflict of a full-blown Civil War story. At any rate, I decided to set this aside to “cool down”, so to speak, and I’m sure I’ll come back around to it eventually. Which led me to…

Just Right?

I’d had my eye on All Things New for a while, and I finally gave it a proper try. Mmm, that delicious feeling when you find just what you were craving. Of course, I’m only one chapter in… but so far this is lovely. This is set just after the Civil War, a time period I’m unfamiliar with. Will the main characters ever be able to leave behind their racial prejudice? Will they rebuild their Southern home? Will the former slaves choose to stay on, or will they go start new lives somewhere else?

Have you read any of these three books? Should I give Wonderland Creek a second try? Sometimes a first impression is misleading. And since we’re talking about Goldilocks, what was your favorite childhood fairy tale?

Full Reviews · Historical

Full Review: All Manner of Things, by Susie Finkbeiner

When I took a pre-reading peek at other reviews of All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner, I saw a repetitive comment– “It’s so unique to read historical fiction set during the Vietnam War years!” I won’t talk at length about this aspect of the book, then, since it’s been said before. However, having read a decent helping of historical fiction lately, it is refreshing to see a change from the very common settings of WWII or the American Civil War. The 1960s weren’t all that long ago, so I felt a closeness to the story– after all, it’s the world my mom and dad were born into, with my older aunts and uncles already slipping into bell bottoms and pedal pushers.

All Manner of Things is a coming of age story. Annie Jacobson is on the cusp of full-fledged womanhood, and the novel follows her as she navigates small town life on the edge of Chippewa Lake, Michigan. Already a mature and responsible young lady, she watches her brother enlist as an army medic; works a job as a waitress; and struggles to handle gracefully the return of her father, who abandoned her family twelve years prior. The characters in this book are so alive I still miss them, still see them, as if they were real– and I rarely give out that type of compliment because it can so easily become cliche and hollow.

If you love stories in the vein of Little Women or the Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall (not to be confused with the Penderwick Chronicles), you’ll love this book. Hardly fast-paced, it takes its time, but every moment washes over you like a gold-tinged happy memory or a softly faded polaroid photo. It’s warm and genuine, but not saccharine, infused with everyday happenings and nods to 1960’s pop culture.

I listened to this in audiobook format (downloading it through the library app Hoopla) and I highly recommend you do the same if at all possible! The narration by Tavia Gilbert was among the best I’ve ever listened to. I finished the entire 10+ hours of narration in under a week, which is a record for me.

Perhaps the most important point I can make about Susie Finkbeiner’s work here is that I feel it rides a fine line between “Christian Fiction” and what I would classify as “wholesome reading.” Remember when you were a little kid doing English assignments in school? One of the principal parts of story-telling you learn is that every story has some sort of conflict, be it external (e.g. I need to defeat the ogre to save the beautiful princess) or internal (e.g. I must put aside my cowardly nature for the first time in my life to face the ogre) or both. This is just my opinion, but if a book’s conflict isn’t driven or influenced or affected in some way by the character’s faith, relationship with God, or the Bible– then the religious elements are more a part of the setting than the story. To some degree I think that’s the case with All Manner of Things; Christianity is a part of the characters’ lives in the sense that you see them talking to someone at church or praying at dinner (and that’s certainly a good thing, don’t misunderstand me.) I just wish God had been portrayed as a little more personal, more influential, instead of feeling like an afterthought. I wish more questions had found their answers in God’s Word.

Did I still enjoy the book? Absolutely! Wrapping up this post with a 4/5 star rating.

I would mention to fellow readers that may be concerned about euphemisms that there are many uses of them in this novel (for example, golly or gosh.)

EDIT:

Oops! …this post was accidentally published a week early in addition to the planned post. I am going to leave it up, but will make a few changes and edits as I had not finished “cleaning up” the post and fixing grammar errors, etc. Also, there will be no new post for next week. Thanks!