How Sweet the Sound by Amy Sorrells

Summary

The Harlan family, known for their affluence and their best-selling pecan pies, appears to be the perfect family. But thirteen year-old Anniston knows that isn’t the case. Thanksgiving night, her family comes apart at the edges, frayed from years of deception, buried secrets, and broken hearts. A domestic shooting takes the lives of two of the Harlan men—Cole, the first-born, illegitimate son of Princella Harlan, and Rey, Anniston’s beloved father. Devastated by the violence, the loss, and the town-gossip, the Harlan family strives for normalcy, though Comfort, the third-born, no longer leaves the house. As Anniston begins to learn more of her family history, she finds strength and faith, instilled by her father’s memory, and a desire to bring hope and love to the most desperate of people.

Pros

The setting of this coming of age novel is vivid and engaging. The Harlan family has run their pecan plantation for years, and reading about their land and the small town surrounding them—including the biases, misconceptions, and gossip that shades every conversation—is realistic and engrossing.

Written in rich, descriptive language, Amy Sorrells tells the Harlan’s story through changing viewpoints. Through Anniston’s point of view, we learn all the secrets of the family as she does. Through Comfort’s story, we learn all the heartache and wounds that plague the family. Both women are strong, engaging characters with moving stories and beautiful voices.

Sorrells doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects, and she writes beautifully about characters dealing and healing from rape and abusive relationships, as well as judging people before you know them, suicide, alcoholism, and the dark, dangerous sin of gossip.

Cons

The opening pages of the novel are heart-wrenching and sudden, leaving the reader shocked and dismayed by what she has read. While the events were engaging, it was jarring as a reader to have so much happen right away, and it also made the pacing drop off afterward. The story slowed down dramatically afterward, dipping into the everyday life of the characters dealing with the aftermath. Then, toward the end of the novel, the events seemed a bit cinched in, too tight to allow the characters to breathe and respond.

With the emotionally heavy content, some of the storylines get a bit lost in the upheaval. For one, Anniston’s summer love with foster kid Jed who works on the farm, disappears part way through the book, leaving the reader to wonder how Anniston is coping with the loss of friendship. These are minor, subjective issues.

Note to the reader: Because the novel deals with multiple emotionally heavy situations and storylines, there is some content that is a bit graphic for younger readers. In addition, there is some strong language and innuendo.

Conclusion
How Sweet the Sound is a stunning coming of age novel with real characters, true stories, told through rich storytelling. If you enjoy character-driven fiction with a message of grace and hope, this is a book you won’t want to miss.

Get your copy of How Sweet the Sounds through David C Cook 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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“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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“On Shifting Sand” by Allison Pittman

Summary

Nola Merrill longed to leave her small hometown in Oklahoma long before the Dust Bowl first barreled through. But her husband, Russ, is the town’s preacher, and maintains that they need to keep their family rooted in the community. To Nola, everything is slipping away–she once dreamed of going to college and having adventures–twelve years after their hasty marriage, Nola and Russ have two children, they live above a shop that makes no money, and Nola watches everyone and everything in her landscape drift away or die.

When Russ’s old friend Jim comes to stay with them, Nola is reminded of her desires and is further troubled with discontentment. Jim stirs feelings of adventure and romance in Nola as the two of them plan clandestine meetings to read novels. Nola knows she needs to distance herself from the sinful relationship, but continues to seek Jim’s attention. As Nola’s desire for change grows, and as she shirks her inner voice telling her to plead for help, Nola slips further into an affair and even further from the contentment she seeks. With an unspoken secret between them and the constant threat of dust storms wreaking havoc on their nearly desolate town, Nola and Russ drift further apart, making it increasingly difficult for Nola to find forgiveness.

The Pros

As a historical fiction novel, On Shifting Sand presents great insight into the lives of Americans living through the Dust Bowl. Pittman includes plenty of historical detail in the novel, including the preventative measures people took to keep dust out of their homes, the ailments that plagued them, popular culture of the day, and an overview of the lifestyle. The story is written in clean, descriptive language.

Infidelity is not a common topic in Christian Fiction. Rather, it is something shied away from as too messy and too sensational to talk about. Pittman does a thoughtful job negotiating this delicate topic with honest first-person narration that never slips into graphic explanations of sexual encounters. Nola’s story is an important story to tell. Within the Christian community, people are suffering from the ramifications of adultery, reeling from the loss of trust and the shame. Nola’s story, as well as Russ’s, gives readers a powerful insight into the nature of infidelity–the seeds that plant it and the ways it is nurtured into something even more destructive.

The Cons

While Nola’s discontentment with her living conditions is understandable, the reason for her attraction to Jim is not well-developed. The reader is told they read together and have lengthy, personal conversations while the family is away, but does not actually witness much of this. Nola is suddenly infatuated with Jim with little reason. Thus, Nola’s character is oftentimes unsympathetic. She continually puts herself in emotionally dangerous situations while ruminating on the potential pitfalls, which also makes the plot circular and redundant.

Nola’s marriage to Jim is ultimately meant to be a positive example for readers. However, Jim often makes decisions for the family without consulting Nola, decisions that directly impact their family’s well-being. This may be a character-flaw or a product of the setting in which the story takes place, but Jim often comes across as domineering and apathetic.

With the subject of the novel, some of the content may not be appropriate for younger readers. There is no graphic sexuality, but there are thematic elements including dark emotional content and some innuendo.

Conclusion

On Shifting Sand is a powerful read for those who have dealt with infidelity. Pittman often brings the reader back to the example of Christ’s love for His bride, the church, and His unfailing love for her.

You can get a copy at Tyndale House Publishers or at your local library!

Pittman, Allison. On Shifting Sand. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2015. Print.

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