Biblical · Full Reviews

Full Review, In the Field of Grace

I really had no intention of reading another Tessa Afshar book so soon! Back in January I reviewed Land of Silence; besides that, I have an ever-growing pile of works by unknown (to me) authors begging to be given a little time. But In the Field of Grace popped up in the audio book section of the library, and I gave in. I haven’t had a good audio book in a while… I can listen with my phone using free services like Hoopla, but lately I’ve been struggling to keep my phone charged. For that reason alone I tend to prefer audio books on CD rather than digital format. Someday I’ll get around to buying a charging cable for my car…

In the Field of Grace, ©2014 by Tessa Afshar, Moody Publishers.

In the Field of Grace is a retelling of the story of Ruth (from the Biblical book of the same name) with imagined details filling in the areas of her life we don’t know from Scripture. Afshar conjectures what Ruth’s Moabite backstory may have been like; considers her daily life in Israel; explores her relationship with Naomi.

The difficulty in writing this book, in my mind, is that I think most Christian women have read and heard the Old Testament passage preached so many times that they have already imagined for themselves many of the unknown particulars of the account. Challenging those interpretations makes it difficult for them to feel as if this could be how it “really happened.”

Afshar does a wonderful job, as usual, of painting with words a vivid world, but somehow it felt disconnected from the Biblical account to me. Maybe it’s the aforementioned problem (though I tried to have an open mind.) Mostly, however, I thought the romance between Ruth and Boaz was exaggerated and modernized in a way that somewhat cheapened the known Biblical narrative (which I’m sure was not Afshar’s intent). By way of example, in this fictionalization Boaz is instantly enamored with Ruth’s beauty upon first sight. Her eyes, her height… I actually rolled my eyes when he notices her long slender fingers (which are covered in dirt from working in the fields all day but still manage to be alluring!) Despite Afshar’s efforts to show that Boaz is a Godly man of character, the over-romanticizing detracted from Boaz’s words of blessing a few minutes later. This is because it felt as if he only showed her kindness, in large part, because she was so attractive to him. Would the wealthy landowner have shown the same generosity if she had not been beautiful, or was just too dirty, tired, and gaunt for him to notice her lovely features? Something in my gut tells me the real Boaz would have.

Ruth’s life also takes on a more precarious nature . She is nearly killed by thieves; struck down with heat stroke in the fields; is burned and suffers from smoke inhalation after beating back a fire in Boaz’s field alone; and… well, I’d better stop before I give away crucial spoilers. I wouldn’t mind the suspense if I wasn’t left wondering if most of the excitement was set up just so Boaz would have a couple opportunities to carry Ruth home in his arms, trembling with concern and hidden ardor.

But wait! Despite some of the issues I take with the book, I really don’t mean this to be a scathing review. I’m rating this 3 stars–lower than Land of Silence or Bread of Angels–but I wouldn’t say it’s devoid of merit. In keeping with Afshar’s signature style, there are plenty of moments of spiritual reflection throughout the book that are thoughtful and encouraging, so if you’ve enjoyed her other titles you will find similar here. I also particularly liked Afshar’s rendering of Ruth’s background in Moab as well as her relationship with Naomi.

In closing, have you read any other books based on the life of Ruth? Also, what are your favorite verses from the Biblical account?

 

Full Reviews · Historical

Saving Amelie, Full Review

I’ve been busy, book friends—I’ve been on a trip to Germany! More than two weeks spent mostly in the little Bavarian village of Oberammergau. It’s a place where fragrant breakfast rolls and strudels warm your mouth and your heart… and the Alps reach up with snowy hands as if ready to catch the sky if it falls. This is the home of the Passion Play, which has been performed by the locals once a decade for over 350 years.

Of course, I haven’t been there literally; who has money to travel? I’ve been immersed in a WWII novel by Cathy Gohlke—Saving Amelie. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember it as one of the books in my bargain haul from Tyndale. $5 for a ticket back in time is certainly a fare I can afford!

Based on the back-cover summary, I initially thought that the story would be at least partly from the point of view of Kristine Schlick, a young mother unsure how to protect her deaf daughter. Married to an SS officer who views the little girl as a blight on his Aryan bloodline, Kristine is forced to turn to an old friend for help. Rachel Cramer, the true protagonist, steps in as a hesitant hero and escapes with Kristine’s child to the little village of Oberammergau. There, she deals with some shocking discoveries about her own past.

Rachel isn’t a gallant hero, despite the whirlwind of danger and deception she finds herself entrenched in. She’s somewhat selfish, a consequence of being raised in the affluent and prejudiced home of a eugenics scientist. Unable to stomach the depravity she comes face to face with among her father’s circle in Germany, Rachel takes a stand for morality… but remains reluctant to help others with their more mundane and down-to-earth needs.

There’s a romantic interest—Jason Young, an American journalist with resistance connections—as well as a whole host of other lovable characters. As both Rachel and Jason begin to understand Christ’s sacrifice for mankind, they also become more selfless… and this is where the core of the story lies, in what Gohlke emphasizes as “costly grace”—grace that requires a servant’s heart and a surrendering of your own desires.

Despite the hard realities of WWII, Gohlke manages to keep the book from becoming too gritty. She deftly paints the heartaches and struggles of her characters but manages quite a bit of good luck (or perhaps she would call it providence!) for them as well. One or two key plot lines seemed utterly far-fetched and unconvincing to me—ultimately hurting my rating of the book, which otherwise could have been a 5/5. That said, if you relish stories that feature undercover subterfuge or a mysterious underground resistance, you’ll probably still find yourself thoroughly enjoying Saving Amelie.

4/5

Biblical · Full Reviews

Full Review, Land of Silence

LandofSilence1

Close your eyes for a moment… (not too long, or you won’t be able to read this post!)

You’re me. You’re at work at the library. The automated materials handler (a.k.a. the book sorting machine) is humming and spitting books into different bins behind you; someone’s mom is reading aloud in the children’s area; coworkers in sweaters and cardigans answer the telephone at the help desk in a professional tone.

You just received the daily delivery from our sister library in Fairbanks… and opened the lid of one box full of brand new shiny books. If this didn’t already happen every week (and you didn’t have to wonder about little details like shelf space) you might expect some angelic music to fly out when that box opens. Or confetti. With sparkles!

Of course you’re only a little surprised when Land of Silence by Tessa Afshar makes its way out of the box– after all, your ARE the one who requested it for purchase… Continue reading “Full Review, Land of Silence”

Biblical · Full Reviews

Full Review, Take This Cup

 

The last jar remained to be opened. I plucked at the red wax seal and pried the lid off, welcoming the whoosh of ancient air. I peered in. This time there was no scroll, but a fleece wrapped package.

“Rabbi Kagba. It’s not like the others,” I said, some nervousness returning.

“Fetch it out, boy. My hand is too large.”

Reaching in elbow-deep, I grasped the prize and brought it into the light. Beneath thick wrapping, with smooth leather on the outside and fleece on the inside, I felt something the size and shape of a cup. Three strands of knotted leather bound the hide to it. On the exterior of the skin the label read, BEHOLD THE SILVER CUP OF JOSEPH, SON OF JACOB, PRINCE OF EGYPT.

Take This Cup
By Bodie and Brock Thoene
Zondervan, ©2014
Rating: 3/5 Stars

Continue reading “Full Review, Take This Cup”

Allegory · Full Reviews

Full Review, Hinds’ Feet on High Places

HINDS'Feet1

Hinds Feet on High Places
by Hannah Hurnard
Tyndale Publishers

I gave you a sneak peek of Hinds’ Feet on High Places a few weeks ago (you can find that here). In case you missed that post, Hinds’ Feet is an allegory detailing the journey of little “Much-Afraid”, a crippled and disfigured young woman following the Shepherd up to the High Places. In my interpretation, the High Places do not represent Heaven and the end of earthly life, but rather the reaching of a deep spiritual relationship with God which continues to grow. Continue reading “Full Review, Hinds’ Feet on High Places”