“Hidden Blessings” by Kim Cash Tate

Summary

Kendra Woods has everything—her dream job as partner at an affluent law firm in D.C., a bright future, and an upcoming wedding to her prince charming. But when a bruise on her chest causes her to make a doctor appointment, leery after her late mother’s battle with cancer, Kendra learns that she has stage IV inflammatory breast cancer. And it’s terminal. Stepping away from her career to undergo chemotherapy, Kendra also loses her fiance who isn’t willing to plan a future with someone who might only live a few more years. Kendra’s world is completely destroyed. She returns to her hometown to work with a doctor she trusts, and to stay with her estranged brother in her absent father’s home. But there’s little peace at home where her brother parties, does drugs, and Kendra is reminded of how her father disappeared after her mom died, only after his affair pushed her mom over the edge.

Not knowing that Kendra returned home, Kendra’s father offers a room in his house to Lance Alexander, a youth minister, in hopes that he will have a positive influence on Kendra’s brother, Trey. Lance disrupts life at the house by becoming a servant to both Trey and Kendra, cooking, cleaning up after Trey’s parties, and sharing how the love of Jesus changed him from an ex-criminal into a youth pastor. As Kendra and Trey begin to heal from the past, Lance starts a Bible study, bringing in neighbors and familiar faces from the past. The more Lance takes care of Kendra, the more she realizes how much she cares about him, and Lance sees how much he wants to take care of her—for better or worse, so long as they both shall live.

Pros

Kim Cash Tate’s moving novel covers a lot of hard-hitting questions Christians struggle with today. Why is there pain and suffering if our God is good? Why would God allow us to go through difficult trials instead of healing us? As Kendra deals with the disease ravaging her body, she finds hope in something greater, in life beyond the flesh, and love greater than death. This poignant story follows well-developed characters who struggle with different flaws. Even Lance, the “saint” of a preacher struggles to let go of the past, and the friendships formed through the novel challenge common stereotypes.

Cons

While I admire the author’s willingness to grapple with multiple emotionally taxing storylines, some of the development was lost in the story. Each character has a lot of baggage, which is true to life, but some of them seemed to change a bit abruptly with little struggle. Kendra’s progression through the novel was believable, but some other more minor characters got short-changed in the telling of the story.

Conclusion

Hidden Blessings in a compelling novel that forced me to stop and think about the value of life—living each day to the fullest, but also, maintaining an awareness of the life beyond death. Definitely a worthwhile read!
You can get your copy of Hidden Blessings through Thomas Nelson or at your local library.

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“On This Foundation” by Lynn Austin

Summary

Nearly thirty years after his parents were murdered, Nehemiah, now a cup-bearer for King Artaxerxes, is visited by his younger brother. Nehemiah learns that the cities walls of his hometown are in shambles and the people are suffering to survive the famine and high taxes placed upon them by wealthy landowners. With this information, Nehemiah feels compelled by God to return home to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall.

Chana, a young woman whose fiance was killed because of the lack of security in Jerusalem, feels pressure to accept the advances of a wealthy vineyard owner, Malkijah, to free her younger sisters to marry. When her father volunteers to help with the rebuilding of the wall, Chana insists on helping, hoping to rebuild her faith and heal from the past.

Nava works with her family on a small piece of land, but with the famine, her father doesn’t have enough money to repay the landowner, Malkijah. Though she wants nothing more than to marry her sweetheart, Dan, when Malkijah asks for payment, Nava agrees to go with him as his bondservant for six years to repay the debt. While missing her family and Dan, trouble follows Nava when Malkijah’s mischievous son begins to follow her around the vineyard.

Many oppose the rebuilding of the wall, especially local politicians who view the positive attention Nehemiah receives as a threat to their own political agendas. As these men attempt to thwart the project, all are challenged to have faith and trust, in God and in each other.

Pros

With great historical detail, Austin tells the story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. There is so much insight into the building procedure and ancient tradition, especially in regard to the Torah. The characters come alive in this well-researched, and well-imagined world, as do their struggles.

Despite the length, the story remains fairly fast-paced throughout as the characters’ struggles and storylines overlap. The narrative switches between multiple perspectives which also makes it an engaging read. In addition, though this book is third in Austin’s The Restoration Chronicles Series, I had no difficulty picking up where this story began and getting to know the characters.

Cons

While I liked the switch between different characters’ perspectives, some of the characters emerged at the end of the story a bit underdeveloped, simply because there wasn’t much time to spend with each character.

Tension built throughout the story as different politicians, attacks, and unforeseen circumstances threatened the building of the wall. In the end, the story fizzled out a bit, in my opinion. There are certainly historical restraints, but I hoped that a story with so much buildup would end with more gusto.

Conclusion

On This Foundation was an engrossing read full of interesting storylines and history. Despite the ending, it’s a great Biblical story that teaches the importance of trusting in God at all times.

Get your copy of Lynn Austin’s On This Foundation at Bethany House or your local library.

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“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck

of-mice-and-menSummary

Over the years, Lennie and George have traveled California together looking for work. They share a dream of owning their very own piece of land and living off of its abundance, a dream that seems well within their grasp when they find a job at a ranch in the Salinas Valley. George worries that as close as they’re getting to obtaining the dream, Lennie will ruin things by accidentally getting in trouble like he did in his last job. Lennie, over-sized and slow-witted, loves petting soft things like mice and rabbits, but often kills them in his over zealous affection. He promises George that he won’t get them into trouble so that George will let him tend the rabbits at their dream farm. Most of all, Lennie promises he won’t fight Curley, the instigating ranch hand, and he won’t talk to Curley’s flirtatious wife who keeps hanging around. But these are promises that Lennie is unable to keep.

A Christian Perspective

Reading this story with a Christian lens, I was struck by the brotherly love George has for Lennie, a man whom George has no obligation to help. While George grumbles that things would be much easier if Lennie weren’t around, that he would be able to find work and have no trouble, he still chooses to take Lennie with him across the state. He knows Lennie has nobody else. Later in the story, George tells one of the ranch hands how he used to tease Lennie by telling him to do things that would hurt him, and how he would laugh when Lennie unflinchingly obeyed. But as time went on, he had pity for Lennie, and realized how vulnerable he was. Lennie needed someone to take care of him, and George stepped up. One could argue that George gains something from the relationship—camaraderie, and financial assistance in the land purchase—but George gives up much more by taking Lennie with him, having to run away from well paying jobs when Lennie causes a ruckus.

Reflecting on this sacrificial relationship, I asked myself if I would be willing to care for someone so sacrificially. If someone needed help, had nobody else, would I take responsibility or simply pass them along to someone who was more “qualified” to help? James 1:27 comes to mind, which says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” While George doesn’t help Lennie in light of God’s love, and though Lennie isn’t an orphan or a widow, this verse speaks to their situation: Lennie is a vulnerable person in need and George provides guidance and friendship for him. This story is a beautiful picture of friendship and love that is genuine and sacrificial.

The ending of the book makes a Christian reading more controversial; how is George showing love through his actions, and was it his responsibility to take matters into his own hands? George wants to save Lennie from certain torture, and he believes that Lennie is his responsibility. Still, the delineation between right and wrong is very grey at the climax of this story.

Cautionary Note

Written by a secular author, this book is full of cursing and some innuendo. In addition, Steinbeck deals with some emotionally disturbing scenes which may not be suitable for younger readers.

Conclusion

Having read Of Mice and Men as a high schooler, I was eager to re-read the slim volume with the Christian lens. I was not disappointed. This story and reading forced me to ask some hard-hitting questions about love, friendship, and sacrifice, well worth the time and reflection.

What do you think?
What aspects of the Christian walk do you see or not see depicted in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men? Are George’s actions at the end of the story justified? What have you learned about life from this story? Please comment below with your ideas and questions!

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“The Legacy” by Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley

Summary

Doug has drifted further from his parents and his faith in the last few years. At college, he is pursuing a career in graphic design with a passion for graphic novels. Doug and his friend, Jason, plan to enter a contest with their collaborative project, though Doug seems more interested working on it than Jason who prefers parties and smoking pot. Then there’s Doug’s girlfriend, Courtney, complicating his relationship with his parents and the girl he used to confide in back home, Christina. As Doug continues to work on the graphic novel and maintains a relationship with a girl he doesn’t genuinely care about, Doug realizes he is living a double life and must choose which version of himself he wants to be.

The Pros

Because Doug is a college student, he encounters many issues facing young adults today, including drinking, drugs, and premarital sex. Authors Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley handle these complex and controversial subjects with wisdom and finesse, discussing both sides of these issues and never lapsing into graphic displays of the aforementioned behaviors.

With Doug’s interest in graphic novels, there are some interesting settings, including a Comic Convention where attendees are dressed up as various superheroes. The reader also gets insight into their graphic novel project which is an adaptation of the Biblical Prodigal Son story, mirroring Doug’s own path.

The Cons

While the idea of a modern “Prodigal Son” story is interesting, I was not engaged with the characters. The Legacy is the fourth novel of Walsh and Smalley’s Restoration Series, which leads me to believe the characters in this novel are better developed in previous installments. However, even if that is the case, the pace of the story was very slow, especially when I didn’t care about the characters.

Conclusion

While I applaud Walsh and Smalley on their discussion of issues facing young adults today, I felt disappointed that such a promising adaptation of a wonderful Bible story fell short.

If you’re looking for a light, predictable, easy read, this might be a good book for you.

You can get a copy of The Legacy from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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“Bathsheba: Reluctant Beauty” by Angela Hunt

Summary

As a young girl, Bathsheba receives a prophecy asserting that she will one day be mother to a man who will affect the fate of Israel. Her family protects her, knowing that Bathsheba’s extraordinary beauty makes her vulnerable to the desires of men. When her father gives her in marriage to Uriah, the warrior, Bathsheba and her family are confident that her fate is sealed and Uriah is the man who will give her this legendary son. But Bathsheba cannot conceive, and Uriah is sent off to war.

Nathan, the prophet, falls for Bathsheba’s beauty at a young age, but God tells him she will not be his wife. Instead, Nathan keeps special watch over Bathsheba from a distance, even after taking a wife and having daughters. When Nathan receives a vision of King David seeing Bathsheba’s beauty and taking advantage of her, Nathan knows he must help protect Bathsheba. God gives him visions of the future, of the son who will build a temple in Israel, and the fate of King David who killed a man to take his wife.

Bathsheba and Nathan tell the story of the ramifications of David’s sin as God’s wrath is poured out generation after generation, from death, to war, to rape, to plagues on the lineage of King David.

The Pros

Angela Hunt took great care in preserving the Biblical accuracy of Bathsheba’s story. While there was no prophecy of Bathsheba’s future son, Bathsheba’s story otherwise lines up with scripture, and the author does not take liberties that alter the meaning of the original Biblical narrative. Hunt masterfully weaves historical detail through the story, creating an intricate tapestry of ancient Israel and the Biblical legends that inhabited it.

Rather than focusing on the single event that makes Bathsheba infamous, Hunt expounds on Bathsheba’s story, showing the impact not only on the woman herself but the fallout in King David’s house for disobeying God. This story is not just about Bathsheba; this book gives insight into the struggles of King David and the lineage of destruction that befell his house.

Bathsheba’s story inevitably deals with some disturbing subject matter, including rape, murder, and warfare. While some material may not be suitable for younger readers, Hunt’s telling of the events is in no way graphic; the author makes these scenes palpable through an emotional connection rather than visual.

The Cons

For a book entitled, Bathsheba, by the end of the book, I still felt that I didn’t really know Bathsheba. This is partially due to the fact that so much happens during the course of the novel which follows Bathsheba from her first meeting with the King until she is an old woman. Because the book is fast-paced and plot-driven, Bathsheba’s character is only faintly sketched out. Similarly, the relationship between her and David is so complex, an entire novel could be written centered around their marriage and emotional healing. My only complaint would be that I wish more time was spent delving into Bathsheba’s character and her relationship with David.

Conclusion

Bathsheba: Reluctant Beauty was a powerful telling of the Biblical narrative with compelling themes of forgiveness and faithfulness. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting deeper insight into Old Testament Israel and a new perspective on one of the Bible’s most controversial female figures.

You can purchase your copy of Bathsheba from Bethany House, or grab a copy from your local library!
Hunt, Angela. Bathsheba Reluctant Beauty. N.p.: Baker Pub Group, 2015. Print.

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“A Love Like Ours” by Becky Wade

LoveSummary

Lyndie James and Jake Porter were best friends till Lyndie moved away with her family to California. Twenty years later, Lyndie’s back in town hoping to land a job exercising Jake’s Thoroughbreds to supplement her income as a children’s book writer and illustrator. While she’s much the same spirited, tender-hearted girl who cared for wounded animals and believed in God and miracles, Jake is calloused to the world after serving as a Marine in Iraq and suffers from PTSD. Jake is hesitant to let someone in, to allow someone to see the dark inner workings of his mind. Lyndie sees Jake as her next project, her next wounded soul to heal. As Lyndie prays for God to heal her old friend, she finds that getting close makes her vulnerable to hurts of her own.

The Pros

In A Love Like Ours, Becky Wade gives readers a meaningful story filled with personality, humor, and sigh-worthy romance. Many of the characters have great depth, including some endearing secondary characters like Lyndie’s downstairs neighbor, Amber. Readers will enjoy a smooth read with the unique backdrop of Texas horse country and insight into jockey life.

Wade also shares insight into family dealing with sickness; Lyndie’s sister, Mollie, has had cerebral palsy since birth. So much of Lyndie’s faith is built from her experience watching her sister and her family trust God through all circumstances. Being Mollie’s sister changes who she is and how she sees the world, also enabling her to see past Jake’s stoic exterior.

Jake Porter’s struggle with PTSD is a relatable story for so many readers; Jake lost his faith in the war, and thinks he doesn’t deserve God’s grace or anything good in his life. Jake’s faith journey though the story is a wonderful portrayal of God’s redeeming love.

The Cons

While Wade’s writing is descriptive, at times, the pacing sags with description and seemingly irrelevant storylines. For example, Lyndie and Amber force each other to go out on dates which brings a little more humor to the story, but some of the scenes seemed unimportant or too long. Overall, the book was evenly paced.

Conclusion

A Love Like Ours is a fun, faith-based romance. If you’re looking for more than a trivial romance, this one’s a good pick. You get an interesting story, great characters, a picture of God’s faithfulness, and a “tall, dark, and brooding” Texan.
Get your copy at Baker Publishing or at your local library!

Wade, Becky. A Love Like Ours. N.p.: Bethany House, 2015. Print.

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“Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe” by Max Lucado

MiracleSummary

After separating from her charming, cheating, NFL superstar husband, Chelsea Chambers moves back to her Texas hometown with their two kids to run her family’s Cafe. Chelsea is anxious for a fresh start, but when she learns that she’s inherited a $86,000 debt from her grandma, that another cafe’s setting up shop down the road, and her philandering husband is moving back and trying to make amends, Chelsea begins to think her plan might not go as smoothly as anticipated. Enter Chelsea’s guardian angel, Samuel, disguised as Manny, the new barista. Manny has a few ideas to help bring in business, including a “God Blog” where people can post ask one question and get answered–by God Himself. But as people begin to flock to the cafe, some people get answers they don’t want to hear, and others are forced to ask new questions that draw them out of their comfort zones.

The Pros

Max Lucado’s book, co-written with Candace Lee and Eric Newman, offers a quirky take on the role of Guardian Angels along with some other interesting concepts, such as the God Blog. What one question would you ask God given the opportunity, and how would He respond? Readers will enjoy the light humor and the small town feel of the novel.

The Cons

For a novel of 184 pages, this story attempts to cover too much ground. Outside of the cafe, Lucado glosses over issues of infidelity, broken relationships, poverty, cancer, Alzheimer’s, unforgiveness, the power of prayer, betrayal and others. The reader is whiplashed from storyline to storyline, never able to delve into the issues and truly experience or glean from the characters’ experiences. There is little depth to this novel, though it had the potential to be an impactful read, especially in regard to the “God Blog.”

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a light, fluffy read, this is the book for you. You can get a copy of this book at Thomas Nelson or your local library.

Lucado, Max, Eric Newman, and Candace Lee. Miracle at the Higher Grounds Café. N.p.: Thomas Nelson, 2015. Print.

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