Monthly Archives: November 2015

Book Review: Keepers of the Covenant by Lynn Austin

Title: Keepers of the Covenant
Author: Lynn Austin
Published: October 2014 by Bethany House
Genre: Biblical Fiction
Series: The Restoration Chronicles, Book 2

About the Book (publisher’s description):

In Their Darkest Hour, Where Would Hope Be Found?

In one life-changing moment, the lives of the exiles in Babylon are thrown into despair when a decree from the king’s palace calls for the annihilation of every Jewish man, woman, and child throughout the empire in less than one year.

Ezra, a quiet but brilliant scholar, soon finds himself called upon to become the leader of his people. Forced to rally an army when all his training has been in the Torah, he struggles to bring hope in a time of utter despair, when dreams of the future–of family and love–seem impossible.

In Keepers of the Covenant, acclaimed novelist Lynn Austin weaves together the struggles and stories of both Jews and Gentiles, creating a tapestry of faith and doubt, love and loss. Here, the Old Testament comes to life, demonstrating the everlasting hope displayed in God’s unwavering love for His people.

My Thoughts on the Book:

This epic tale of Biblical fiction has so much to offer the reader. The story takes place in multiple locations in and near Babylon and Jerusalem, with several sets of characters and a variety of viewpoints whose stories intersect over the course of the book. And there are many valuable lessons the characters learn along the way, many of which are applicable in our own time period as well.

As second in the series, Keepers of the Covenant continues Austin’s retelling of the Jewish return from exile in Babylon that began with Return to Me. While the two stories follow chronologically, they’re not overly dependent on each other, so either could be read as a standalone (though I did enjoy seeing a few of the characters make a second appearance). This book picks up in the time of Queen Esther and tells the story of Ezra, a Torah scholar turned leader.

What I enjoyed most about this book, was that it gave me a greater appreciation for and understanding of Jewish history, and showed a consistency between certain aspects of the Old and New Covenants that hadn’t seemed quite so clear before. I loved the way the different story threads wove together to create a picture of God’s plan to save both Jew and Gentile.

Much as I liked Ezra, Reuben, Amina, and Hodaya, I think my favorite character was Devorah, Ezra’s wife. She was portrayed as a strong and intelligent woman, a trusted advisor to Ezra, and a voice for grace, balancing her husband’s focus on law, and I found her particularly relatable and likeable.

I’d like to end my review by sharing a couple of quotes from the book that I found particularly compelling. From page 240:

“It was easy to rise up in faith and heroism when we faced a clear-cut enemy. It’s much harder to resist the enemy of gradualism and assimilation, much harder to maintain a passion for God when we’re bogged down in the daily routine of life.”

And from page 471:

“If things ever look hopeless to you, remember how the Holy One answered our prayers. Don’t ever forget to call on Him in your time of need.”

Great advice, right? This is such a vivid and inspiring book! Highly recommended.

Thank you to Bethany House for providing a paperback copy free of charge.

Three for the Books: Featured Reads in Christian Fiction, November 2015

Three for the Books, November 2015

The monthly “Three for the Books” post is where I feature new (Hot Off the Presses), best selling (Topping the Charts), and award winning (Cream of the Crop) Christian fiction books. I select one title to feature in each category, as well as providing links to where you can browse additional newly released, best selling, and award winning titles. Have you read any of these featured titles? Any others you’d like to give a shout-out? Comments are always welcome!

Hot Off the Presses

The Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson releases this month from Thomas Nelson. This YA Romance features a fairy tale retelling of Rapunzel’s story. Available in print, electronic, and audio editions.

Quick Links: About the Book | Author’s Site | More New Releases

Topping the Charts

By Your Side by Candace Calvert appears on the CBA Best Sellers list for November in the Romance category. Published by Tyndale House, this romantic suspense novel is one I thoroughly enjoyed reading (see my review). It’s first in the Crisis Team series and available in paperback, large print, and electronic formats.

Quick Links: About the Book | Author’s Site | More Best Sellers

Cream of the Crop

Storm Siren by Mary Weber is first in its series (by the same name) and has won multiple prestigious awards including the Christy Award, Carol Award, and INSPY Award for Young Adult literature. It is published by Thomas Nelson and available in print, electronic, and audio editions.

Quick Links: About the Book | Author’s Site | More Award Winners

Audiobook Review: Return to Me by Lynn Austin

Title: Return to Me
Author: Lynn Austin
Narrator: Suzanne Toren
Published: October 2013. Bethany House (print), Recorded Books (audio)
Genre: Biblical Fiction
Series: The Restoration Chronicles, Book 1
Duration: 15 hours, 8 minutes. Unabridged.

About the Book (From Publisher Bethany House):

After decades of exile, the prophesies are coming true–King Cyrus has declared the Jews may return to Jerusalem. Iddo, a priest, is sure this is a sign of God’s renewed favor. For too long they’ve remained in Babylon, and many, including Iddo’s sons, are losing the faith that sets them apart. And so only a few choose to leave everything to return–return to their home and their God.

Nothing about their journey to the Promised Land is easy. As hardships mount, even the faithful, like Iddo’s beloved wife, Dinah, question the sacrifice of following God’s leading. Zechariah, Iddo’s oldest grandson, feels torn between his grandfather’s ancient beliefs and the family they left behind. But one life-changing encounter with the Holy One gives him insight that will change Zechariah–and history–forever.

Bringing the Old Testament to vibrant life, Return to Me tells the compelling story of two men living by faith in the midst of doubt, the women who love them, and the faithful remnant struggling to rebuild their lives in obedience to the God who beckons them home.

My Thoughts on the Story:

Biblical fiction is at its best when it adds new life and understanding to Biblical stories by filling in cultural context and imagining details and characters that could have been. Lynn Austin’s Return to Me does that for the story of the first wave of God’s people returning from exile in Babylon to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.

The story is epic, spanning multiple decades, and featuring a large cast of characters, several viewpoints, and a variety of interrelated subplots. There was Iddo, determined to do God’s will and rebuild the temple, and his wife Dinah, who wasn’t so sure about being uprooted from what had become their home and leaving much of their family behind in Babylon. Then there was Zechariah, a young man of thirteen still growing into his faith as they depart Babylon, and his childhood friend Yael, who is drawn to astrology and the pagan practices of the people of Babylon. All interesting characters facing realistic challenges, that seemed at times surprisingly applicable to modern day life and faith.

This quote by Yael (page 394) particularly resonated with me, probably because I’m in a season of child-rearing myself:

“Yes, I understand. You’ve found joy because you’re doing God’s work. And I’m trying to tell you that I’ve found joy too because if we obey God, then our lives do have meaning, even if all He asks us to do is cook lentils and raise children.”

One of my favorite aspects of the story is the way the events (both good and bad) happening in individual lives and within families parallel what’s happening on a larger scale with God and his people, and lead to the characters coming to realizations about God that deepen their faith. I thought those details were beautifully orchestrated, and really brought home the point of the story in a meaningful and memorable way.

I highly recommend this book to fans of historical and Biblical fiction, and to anyone curious to learn more about Old Testament times and cultural context.

My Thoughts on the Audio:

Suzanne Toren’s voice gives this story a dignified feel, perfect for Biblical fiction. Her reading is articulate and clear. It reflects the emotions of the characters as well as their individual attributes. Despite the sheer length of the book (464 pages in paperback), the time seemed to fly by while listening, leaving me eager to read the next book in the series, on finishing this one.

Christian Fiction Book Club Connection, November 2015

Book Club Connection

Welcome to the November 2015 edition of the Christian Fiction Book Club Connection. Thanks for stopping by! Whether you’re a pastor or ministry leader thinking of forming a book discussion group at your church, a current member of a book club, or simply a fan of Christian fiction hoping to connect with other readers, you’re in the right place. Please consider subscribing to my blog so you won’t miss future posts.

Today I’m providing information on Christian fiction discussions scheduled to take place around the web this month. I’m also featuring a handful of recently released Christian fiction titles for which a discussion guide is available, either included in the book itself or on the author’s or publisher’s web site. Then I’ll wrap up the post with a discussion question I’d like you to chime in on.

Online Discussions Coming Up This Month

The ACFW Book Club‘s November selection is Sophia’s Tune by Cindy Thomson. You can subscribe to the group’s e-mail list now, by following the instructions on their Web site, to be sure not to miss any announcements or discussion questions.

For November, the Christian Fiction Devourers group on Goodreads is discussing It Happened at the Fair by Deeanne Gist AND The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert. Grab your copies and head on over to the discussion forum to check in with others who are in the midst of reading these books.

The Fans of Amish Fiction Goodreads group discusses one Amish fiction title and one Christian fiction title per month. The selections for November are The Forgiven by Marta Perry AND The Widow of Larkspur Inn by Lawana Blackwell. To join in, visit the group’s online discussion board.

Jamie of the Books and Beverages blog hosts a monthly Inklings discussion series for fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Sometimes fiction, sometimes non-fiction, the title for the month of November is Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Discussion is scheduled to begin on November 18, 2015.

The Cherished Book Club, the Christian Fiction Book Club, and the Fans of Christian Romance Goodreads group are taking breaks from discussion for the time being.

Recent Christian Fiction Releases Featuring Discussion Guides

The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison (October 2015, Thomas Nelson, Thriller)

Miriam and the Stranger by Jerry S. Eicher (October 2015, Harvest House, Amish Romance)

Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund (October 2015, WaterBrook Multnomah, Historical fiction)

The Memory Weaver by Jane Kirkpatrick (September 2015, Revell, Historical fiction)

Deadlock by DiAnn Mills (September 2015, Tyndale House, Romantic Suspense)

Let’s Chat!

In my monthly Book Club Connection blog posts, I like to include a question aimed at book group participants. Something to prompt discussion and sharing of ideas amongst book clubs, whether the topic deals with selecting titles, leading discussions, or some other relevant issue. This month, I’m opening the floor to ideas for future discussion prompts. What book club related topics would you like to talk about? This is your opportunity to raise some questions of your own that could be used as discussion starters here in future months.