Book Review: Of Fire And Lions

About the Book:

The Old Testament book of Daniel comes to life in this novel for readers of Lynn Austin’s Chronicles of the Kings series or Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series.

Survival. A Hebrew girl first tasted it when she escaped death nearly seventy years ago as the Babylonians ransacked Jerusalem and took their finest as captives. In the many years amongst the Magoi and the idol worshippers she thought she’d perfected pretending, with all the others in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Now, as Daniel’s wife and a septuagenarian matriarch, Belili thinks she’s safe and she can live out her days in Babylon without fear–until the night Daniel is escorted to Belshazzar’s palace to interpret mysterious handwriting on a wall. The Persian Army invades, and Bellili’s tightly-wound secrets unfurl with the arrival of the conquering army. What will the reign of Darius mean for Daniel, a man who prays to Yahweh alone?

Ultimately, Yahweh’s sovereign hand guides Jerusalem’s captives, and the frightened Hebrew girl is transformed into a confident woman, who realizes her need of the God who conquers both fire and lions.

My Thoughts:

I’m sometimes hesitant to read a fictional story about Biblical characters, but I really appreciated Andrews’ tale Of Fire and Lions. I appreciate that Andrews gives an outline for how she writes Biblical, historical fiction.

1) Biblical accounts and Scripture build the foundation,
2) Historical facts support the truth of God’s Word, and
3) Creative fiction holds the historical fact and Biblical truth together.

I absolutely loved that the creative fiction made the familiar stories come alive. For example, I’d never worked out a timeline or thought of the age that Daniel would have been when cast into the lions den. It moved me when I realized he wasn’t a young, strong man at that point, but an older, more vulnerable age. For some reason I tend to create an image of a character and then it never ages, so to meet Daniel in his later years was a gift that I had missed when I read the Biblical text.

There is, of course, a lot of holy imagination happening, but all in all I felt that the story not only stayed true to the Biblical text, it captivated. I now find it easier to put myself in the shoes of the captives than I did before. I stood with awe as I watched the ways that the LORD met with the characters. I remembered, yes, this is my God. I felt their doubts, their losses, their joys, all very real and very familiar.

The book does jump back and forth in the timeline of Belili’s life, but I didn’t find it at all hard to follow. In fact, this was one of those books that I really hated to have to set down and walk away from at any point.

I really liked Of Fire and Lions and would recommend it to you.

I received a free digital copy of this book for review in exchange for my honest opinion.

As You Wish

Are you familiar with The Princess Bride? It’s a movie that I memorized I watched it so often. And of course, “As You Wish” was Wesley’s way of saying “I love you.”

I think we all have those particular ways in which God communicates to us saying, “I love you.” For me there are many. One of them is starfish.

Brittle Star

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with starfish: their textured feel, the way they suck onto a rock (or your hand), their colors. I always scanned the tidal pools of the Pacific for them.

But, they are much fewer and farther between here on the Welsh coast, so they seem especially significant when I come across one.

A couple of weeks ago I took a day of solitude with the Lord and I heard him say, “Come to the beach with me.” To be honest I wasn’t feeling much like prying myself off the couch and I sensed the beach that he was inviting me to was one that’s a bit of a drive from here. But I couldn’t bring myself to refuse the invitation and so I went.

As I walked on the beach I was talking with the Lord and I remember looking down the beach and praying, “I know there are no tide pools here, but even without the starfish I’m really aware of how you show your love for me.”

About two miles down the beach I was focusing on where I was stepping, as there were a lot of jelly fish on the beach that day, and at a curve where the tide was just going out, I saw my first brittle star. So, they might not technically be starfish, but they are starfish in every way that matters to me. And as I walked along I saw not one, but literally hundreds of them. I just wanted to laugh. I’d done it again. I’d boxed God in. As if he couldn’t say “I love you” with a starfish unless there were tide pools.

Rhossili – The Gower
Jellyfish
Going in circles
Wild Welsh Ponies

And to up the ante, I ended up going home on a different route and the wild ponies were right there on the side of the road for me to enjoy.

It was a sweet day and a sweet reminder of the God who has time and again moved heaven and earth to show me his love: in Jesus, in a starfish, in a sunny day on the beach, though a herd of ponies, in the midst of pain, on the days when I don’t want to pry myself off the couch.

I am loved.

You are loved.

Keep your ears open.

You might hear “As You Wish.”

Keep your eyes open.

You might be surprised by a starfish.

Book Review: The Number of Love

About the Book:

Three years into the Great War, England’s greatest asset is their intelligence network–field agents risking their lives to gather information, and codebreakers able to crack every German telegram. Margot De Wilde thrives in the environment of the secretive Room 40, where she spends her days deciphering intercepted messages. But when her world is turned upside down by an unexpected loss, for the first time in her life numbers aren’t enough.

Drake Elton returns wounded form the field, followed by an enemy who just won’t give up. He’s smitten quickly by the intelligent Margot, but how can he convince a girl who lives entirely in her mind that sometimes life’s answers lie in the heart? Amid biological warfare, encrypted letters, and a German spy who wants to destroy not just them but others they love, Margot and Drake will have to work together to save themselves form the very secrets that brought them together.

My Thoughts:

Though The Number of Love is the first in a new Codebreakers series I would highly recommend that you first read the Shadows Over England series. In this series you will be introduced to the characters and learn back story that I would argue is fairly essential to a full understanding of this book.

(The first book in the Shadows Over England series is called A Name Unknown and can be found at Amazon US https://amzn.to/2XcK0R7 or Amazon UK https://amzn.to/2F7ivOy.)

I really appreciate Roseanna White’s writing and anticipate when a new book is released. The Number of Love did not disappoint. It had suspense, intrigue, character growth, grief, loss, triumph, love and faith. I am the polar opposite of the main character in both personality and thought, yet I connected deeply with her story. I think that in itself is quite a feat of writing. I imagine a mathematician would find this story even more riveting that I did. I also found the historical foundation of Room 40 and the code breakers to be fascinating and I walked away from the story with a deep appreciation for people whose gifts are far different than my own.

All in all it was a fascinating story that I highly recommend.

I received a free digital copy of this book for review in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: A Noble Guardian

I’m hoping to get back to blogging more now that my travel schedule has settled down again. I have so many books to tell you about, some lovely photos and a myriad of thoughts. So here’s my first foray back into blogging for the summer. Thanks for sticking with me.

About the Book:

A Cross-Country Trip through Regency England Brings Intrigue, Rogues, and High Adventure

The must-read conclusion to Michelle Griep’s Bow Street Runners Trilogy: Life couldn’t be better for Abigail Gilbert—but it’s been a long time in coming. Having lived with a family who hated her, it’s finally her time for love. Abby sets off on a journey across England to marry one of the most prestigious gentlemen in the land—until highwaymen upset her plans and threaten her life.

Horse patrol captain Samuel Thatcher arrives just in time to save Abby. But she’s simply another victim in a job he’s come to despise. Tired of the dark side of humanity, he intends to buy land and retire.

Abby pleads with him to escort her for the rest of her journey. He refuses—until she offers him something he desperately needs to achieve his goal. . .money. Delivering her safely will give him more than enough to buy property.

So begins an impossible trek for the cynical lawman and the proper lady. Each will be indelibly changed by the time they reach her betrothed, if they don’t kill one another first—or fall in love.

My Thoughts:

This is the third book in the Bow Street Runners series, however, each book stands alone with only minimal cross-over in the characters. You could read this book without starting at the beginning of the series.

I liked all three books in the series, although, I found them each quite different while all containing themes of intrigue and justice, with a bit of romance. For my part, I thought that The Noble Guardian had a lighter readability to it than the previous books. Perhaps it was the way cynicism was challenged with genuine care and the discovery of what love actually is, but this story left me more encouraged that I expected based on the previous books. Or perhaps it was also that they were on the move throughout the story. There was a clear hero, a clear villain and an (almost) epic journey. All favorable elements in my opinion.

I enjoyed the character development, though I was surprised how long it took Abby to re-frame her thinking to what seemed obvious to me. Then again, isn’t that life – none of us change overnight.

I appreciate that Griep writes real characters who have real beliefs. In her writing you will often see a character with a misunderstanding of God and the world, because that is reality. You also have the chance to see those thoughts challenged in the story, but the book never preaches and sometimes doesn’t even make it clear when the character is misled. I actually appreciate that in a novel, but I do understand that it can make some people uncomfortable so you might consider if that matters to you.

All in all, it was absolutely a story worth reading.

I received a free digital copy of this book for review in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Review: Whose Waves These Are

About the Book:

In the wake of WWII, a grieving fisherman submits a poem to a local newspaper: a rallying cry for hope, purpose . . . and rocks. Send me a rock for the person you lost, and I will build something life-giving. When the poem spreads farther than he ever intended, Robert Bliss’s humble words change the tide of a nation. Boxes of rocks inundate the tiny, coastal Maine town, and he sets his calloused hands to work, but the building halts when tragedy strikes.

Decades later, Annie Bliss is summoned back to Ansel-by-the-Sea when she learns her Great-Uncle Robert, the man who became her refuge during the hardest summer of her youth, is now the one in need of help. What she didn’t anticipate was finding a wall of heavy boxes hiding in his home. Long-ago memories of stone ruins on a nearby island trigger her curiosity, igniting a fire in her anthropologist soul to uncover answers.

She joins forces with the handsome and mysterious harbor postman, and all her hopes of mending the decades-old chasm in her family seem to point back to the ruins. But with Robert failing fast, her search for answers battles against time, a foe as relentless as the ever-crashing waves upon the sea?

My Thoughts:

Every now and again I read a book that is exceptional in every way. Whose Waves These Are is one of those books. Let me share with a you a quote from the prologue, because, honestly, the publisher’s synopsis above didn’t capture my interest half as much as these short lines did.

“Every wave in that big old blue sea is a story.”

Bob told me this a long time ago, his voice brined with wind and water.

I laughed and focused on the cresting peaks from his old dock. They disappeared faster than a ten-year-old could count.

“Too many waves,” I said. “It can’t be.”

His smile pushed wrinkles around blue eyes as he squeezed my hand tight.

“So many waves, Annie. You remember that.”

It would be decades before I’d learn the truth of that. So many stories. In this pocket of a harbor where broken lives, like waves on the shore, are gathered up and held close. I never imagined then that it would be my breaking place, too.

Nor how beautiful the breaking could be.

Prologue – Whose Waves These Are – Amanda Dykes

This book caught me off guard in the best kind of way. The writing was captivating. Every page seemed to come alive before my very eyes. There are a number of powerful stories out there, but powerfully written stories are harder to come by. Whose Waves These Are exceeded all my expectations.

The depth of the characters impressed me. The author clearly knows people and she wrote real characters with real souls. I loved the attentiveness that was present on every level of the tale. I’m not normally a fan of stories that shift between the past and the present, but the way that this novel flowed it was like uncovering secret surprises along the way, the very act of discovery bridging the gaps in time.

The plot was imaginative and compelling. The links between WWII and modern day, the impact of lives across generations, the mystery of the rocks and the renewal of broken relationships were all engaging themes.

Yet, perhaps, my favorite thing about the book was that it was truly a Kingdom story. It didn’t just mention God or dabble in truth, but it breathed it. A vision for what God was up to permeated every word of the story, as beautiful and natural as a sunrise, weaving a message of hope that left me with a lump in throat and a light in my heart in a way that few novels do.

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite words of wisdom, spoken in the midst of war, from one of the characters. “Don’t get stuck in the dark…. There’s a whole lotta light…Go there instead.”

Whose Waves These Are is well worth reading and has risen to the top of my Best Books of 2019 list. I would highly recommend it to you.

There is also a (currently free) kindle prequel, Up From the Sea, that takes you back in time in Ansel-by-Sea. It is also well worth reading, but it is short and more of a snack, compared to the meal of Whose Waves These Are.

I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Unhurried Lent: Day 40

Something Transformed

I hope that you have enjoyed these Lenten posts. They have done their work of slowing me down by giving me a theme to stop and reflect on each day. And today’s theme is one that came with many thoughts.

I love the transformation of the seasons, how spring becomes summer, becomes autumn, ushers in winter only to turn around and do it all again.

Spring – Good Friday at Dyffryn Garden – Wales
Autumn in Triglav National Park – Slovenia

I also love the transformation of taking glass shards and making a beautiful pattern that will then become a vase or a bowl or a piece of jewelry.

Glass in the kiln
Glass from the shards – A work in progess

But most of all I love the transformation that Jesus brings.

My Jesus Makes All Things New

The world was good,

The world is fallen,

The world will be redeemed.

So hold on to the promise.

The stories are true.

Jesus makes all things new.

Andrew Peterson – All Things New

Unhurried Lent: Day 39

Waiting

For us, Saturday of Holy Week is all about the waiting. We know the end of the story. We wait for the resurrection. But sometimes I wonder if Friday was the day of waiting for the disciples. Were they waiting anxiously for a miracle, that last minute breakthrough that would change everything?

When Jesus breathed his last it must have seemed, not a season of waiting, but the end of the wait, the end of the hope, the end of everything.


Christ on the Cross, Eric Gill

But I love the symbolism of this song.

God rested.

“He said that it was finished
And the seventh day, He blessed it
God rested”

Holy Waiting begins in the rest of God

“The sun went down
The sabbath faded
The holy day was done and all creation waited”

God Rested – Andrew Peterson – Prolouge

Unhurried Lent: Day 38

Something Given

Life is gift.

On my Facebook page is a cover with a quote by Wendell Berry. “We live the given life, not the planned.” This speaks to me.

And here is another favorite quote, a passage really, from N.D. Wilson in his brilliant book, Death By Living. If Berry’s quote speaks to me, then Wilson’s words are a resounding cymbal in the core of my being.

US: https://amzn.to/2Isf8F0
(As of the writing of this the Kindle version is on sale for $4.99)

UK: https://amzn.to/2DnfkRI

Don’t resent the moments simply because they cannot be frozen. Taste them. Savor them. Give thanks for daily bread. Manna doesn’t keep overnight. More will come in the morning.

Our futile struggle in time is courtesy of God’s excessive giving. Sunset after sunset make it hard to remember and hold just one. Smell after smell. Laugh after laugh. A mind still thinking, a heart still beating. Imagine sticking your finger on your pulse and thanking God every time He gave you another blood-driving, brain-powering thump. We should. And we shouldn’t, because if we did, we would never do anything else with our living; we wouldn’t have time to look at or savor any of the other of our impossibillions of gifts.

My wife and I tend to overgift to our kids at Christmas. We laugh and feel foolish when a kid is so distracted with one toy that we must force them into opening the next, or when something grand goes completely unnoticed in a corner. How consumerist, right? How crassly American.

How like God.

We are all that overwhelmed kid, not even noticing our heartbeats, not even noticing our breathing, not even noticing that our fingertips can feel and pick things up, that pie smells like pie and that our hangnails heal and that honey-crisp apples are real and that dogs wag their tails and that awe perpetually awaits us in the sky. The real yearning, the solomonic state of mind, is caused by too much gift, by too many things to love in too short a time. Because the more that we are given, the more we feel the loss as we are all made poor and sent back to our dust.

Oh, but we notice heartbeats when they stop. And we beg for more. If we are capable of sulking about Christmas while still around the tree half-buried in shiny paper (and we are), then of course we are capable of weeping when Christmas appears to be over. The ungrateful always farm bitterness in their hearts. Those with faith (yet another gift) rejoice even at the end and after. They wipe tears, more profoundly feeling the full wealth of lives given when those same lives are lost.

N.D. Wilson

Book Review: The Artful Match

About the Book:

Cara Bernay has never fit in. At loose ends in 1881 London after a near tragedy costs her a job, she befriends a carefree artist. With his help, she begins planning a new life and developing her own artistic talent. But soon Cara finds herself at odds with the artist’s brother–a handsome but arrogant earl forcing his brother back to a “respectable” life.

Henry Burke, the Earl of Morestowe, feels the weight of growing financial burdens. Despite misgivings about Cara’s mysterious background, Henry sees she’s a positive influence on his brother Langham and on Henry’s young ward, and he strikes a deal with her to return with them to their estate.

But the family has their own secrets, and when all the secrets come to light, Langham, Henry and Cara all have choices to make.

My Thoughts:

I almost never read a third book in a series without reading the preceding books, but this book caught my interest so I decided to give it a try.

It was clear that there was a fair amount of backstory that I was missing, but the author did try to keep me up to date so the lack of prior information wasn’t confusing. And I’m curious enough now that I’ll probably go back and read the other books.

Oddly enough, the character that I connected to the most was the earl’s brother; the migraine afflicted, substance abusing artist. I think it is the mark of a good writer that all the characters in the book are well developed and that you can really see inside the lives of more than just the main character. That said, Cara’s impulsive idealism made for an interesting story.

There were clear indicators that the character’s had more than a passing relationship with God, even though some of their understandings were off at times. In fact, those struggles with false beliefs are what makes the characters so very human.

The writing felt light and easy to read, even when the subject matter was serious. All in all, I am glad that I read this novel and I’ll look forward to reading more by Jennifer Delamere.

I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.