“Still Life” by Christa Parish

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After a fatal plane crash, the lives of Ada and Katherine–total strangers–are jostled from normality and both women are hurdled into a season of self-doubt, questioning, and seeking.

Ada lost her husband in the crash–a prize-winning photographer who married her months before, rescuing her from her domineering father, a prophet leading a fringe religious group.

Katherine was supposed to be on the plane, but she gave up her seat in order to spend one last night with her lover. After the crash, Katherine can’t pretend her life is in order, and she is forced to face the ugly truth of adultery, betrayal, and doubts she’s kept at bay for over fifteen years.

Through changing perspectives, Christa Parrish tells the story of these women–the impact of the plane crash on their lives and the pursuit of love and forgiveness that covers all shame.

The Pros

Parrish’s engaging story considers multiple perspectives on the Christian Faith. From Ada’s self-deprecating, even abusive faith formed beneath her Father’s judgmental gaze, to Katherine’s dismissal of faith as a crutch for the weak, to the example of Ada’s husband, Julian, readers see Christianity in action at its worst and at its best. The changing viewpoints allow readers to see circumstances from another angle, forcing them to grow their awareness and empathy.

Despite the dark subject matter, Parrish manages to keep the pace steady as the characters muddle through the fallout. The questions they face are real, questions readers have likely asked themselves; why do some people live and others die? Where is God in times of suffering? Thoughts and prayers linger, long after turning the final page.

The Cons

While Parrish does a masterful job juggling multiple heavy, emotionally cumbersome storylines, there was one aspect of the story which was seemingly glossed over in order to tie up the story. Ada’s upbringing in the compound is integral to her character; marrying Julian was akin to being reborn, fresh to the world and soft to its thistles and barbs. However, there is surprisingly little insight into life at the compound and the power of Ada’s father, the Prophet. Through back-story and allusions, Parrish brings the reader up to speed on Ada’s emotional slant, the result of her upbringing. But there’s a whole world resting just below the surface, leaving the reader curious to learn more. The story could have started back in time, early enough to see more of Ada’s life in real-time. With the first few chapters, the reader gets a strong impression of the foreboding Prophet, but is never able to fully see him in the light.

Some aspects of the book may be difficult for younger readers, such as the characters dealing with death, affairs, and divorce. While Parrish never pushes the reader into a graphic portrayal of the crash or romantic affairs, some of the content may be unsuitable for very young, impressionable readers.

Conclusion

Still Life is an exceptional novel, written in audaciously honest, and often beautiful prose. This story provides readers with a beautiful depiction of Christ’s love and the unimaginable extent of God’s Grace. Don’t miss this book!

To get your copy of Still Life, visit Thomas Nelson’s site or check it out from your local library!

Parrish, Christa. Still Life. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015. Print.

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“Jaded” by Varina Denman

Summary

Ruthie Turner and her mother have avoided the local church for thirteen years after being shunned for Mrs. Turner’s alleged sins. Everyone in town, besides Ruthie’s cousin JohnScott and her aunt and uncle, ignores Ruthie and her mother until a preacher comes to town and starts paying attention to Ruthie. Between the new preacher and a rapist moving back to the small Texas town, there’s plenty of changes for community and for Ruthie’s family. Ruthie is determined to ignore the preacher’s advances and her cousin’s new interest in the church, working two jobs to pay for college. Despite her efforts, Ruthie finds herself attracted to the handsome preacher and to Jesus whose love could restore her hope in the church and heal the scars etched into her soul so long ago.

The Pros

Jaded is well-written with relate-able characters, plenty of small town charm, and romance. The themes of Jaded are important to contemplate in the church today; how do we treat our neighbors, and do we embody the love that Jesus taught us to give? Varina Denman explores the deep-seeded hurts of a woman who has been expelled from the church through no fault of her own, and the role Christians played in pushing her away from their community. Ruthie’s story urges the reader to consider how one shows love to fellow Christians and non-Christians, and conversely how one allows disappointments in the church to hold oneself back from participating in the community of the Church.

The Cons

Though I was able to engage in the characters’ lives and the setting, there were points in the story where the pacing lagged. Ruthie’s attitude toward the people of Trapp, Texas and the Church is imperative to the story, but I wanted to move past Ruthie lamenting her past and see what was going to happen to her next.

As a romantic, I enjoyed seeing the relationship between Ruthie and Dodd develop through the story. However, there were a couple things that seemed too convenient, such as Dodd working at the school with Ruthie while also being a preacher. In a small town, paths are likely to cross at multiple points, but it seemed unlikely to me that Dodd would be able to move into town and secure a position both at the school and the church.

I was confused as to why a small town would hire a man who had no experience in church leadership, especially when they are so tight-knit. It’s more likely that one of the overseers would have stepped into the position rather than letting an outsider in. In addition, there is little talk of Dodd’s role as the pastor of the church. His leadership in the church doesn’t overlap his daily life very often, it even seems as if this isn’t something he aspires to do long term.

Conclusion

The Cons of this novel are minor; Jaded is a great read and it made me stop and ask a some deep, reflective questions. Denman tells a relate-able story of a woman whose past experiences have pushed her away from faith in God, and the pursuing love of God that draws His children back to Him.

You can order a copy of Jaded through David C Cook or check it out at your local library!

Denman, Varina. Jaded: A Novel. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2015. Print.

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“Miles From Nowhere” by Amy Clipston

Summary

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 12.05.00 PMChelsea Morris is excited for her final summer before going to college. She has big dreams of working in fashion design, and part of making that dream come true is working as the lead costume designer for a local theater group while working a part-time job and babysitting her younger brothers. Chelsea’s dream summer includes spending time with her boyfriend, Todd, but with his schedule filling up with work and Chelsea becoming more involved in the theater, the summer isn’t going quite as planned.

Then, there’s the good-looking actor, Dylan, who’s paying extra attention to Chelsea. Though Todd dislikes the friendship, Chelsea finds herself drawn to Dylan and his free-spirited personality. As Chelsea and Todd grow further apart, and Chelsea shirks her costume design duties to sneak out for parties at Dylan’s, she begins to wonder where God is in her life and how to get back to where she belongs before it’s too late.

The Pros

Chelsea’s story is written in clear, accessible language. It’s a story many can relate with–wondering if the heart is leading in the right direction and how to discern truth from lies. Chelsea is a great character with unique interests. She has passions, goals, and she’s willing to work hard to achieve them. Through her experiences, the reader learns a lot about real friendship with positive examples of Christian girls confiding in one another and encouraging each other in their faith. The author, Amy Clipston, deals with some real issues for Christian teens, including teen drinking. The situations that Chelsea puts herself in are realistic–how should young Christians handle teen drinking and partying? Why is it so difficult to stand up to peer pressure? Clipston doesn’t shy away from this issue, and her characters make decisions that are ultimately a positive example for young readers.

The Cons

It took me a while to connect emotionally with Chelsea. While I knew plenty about her–she’s dependable, hard-working, driven, loves fashion and costume design–I didn’t really connect with her until she started struggling with her relationships. At times, I had a hard time understanding her reactions. While most of the story was relatable and believable, there were moments when Chelsea overreacted or made decisions that seemed out of character, especially when it came to the partying scenes.

Conclusion

This is a great read for young adult and new adult readers. Clipston tells a wonderful story of young love, responsibility, friendship, and faith in the midst of peer pressure. While the story is fairly predictable, readers will be able to relate to Chelsea’s story and will enjoy the insight into the theater scene.

You can order a copy at Zondervan or check out a copy at your local library!

Clipston, Amy. Miles from Nowhere. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015. Print.

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