Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Pharaoh's Daughter

Cover image for Pharaoh's Daughter      "I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Egypt; the lifestyle and religion (how did they remember ALL those gods!?) I find most interesting. Even in the Bible, some of my favorite stories involve ancient Egypt: Abraham and Sarah’s encounter there, Joseph, and (obviously) Moses.
     The story follows Anippe: daughter of pharaoh and the possible victim of Anubis, god of the afterlife, who has already taken her mother and baby brother. So when she is married off to Sebak, captain of Pharaoh Tut’s army, she comes up with a plan to make sure she won’t bear his child; a plan that involves two Hebrew midwives who have been ordered by Pharaoh Tut to drown newborn boys of their own people in the Nile. But when she happens upon a baby floating in a basket down the river, Anippe believes her prayers have been answered by the gods, burying her even deeper into the deceptions she has already created, placing her and her son, Mehy, or Moses, in danger.

     If I’m being completely honest though, there is always a bit of skepticism when it comes to reading historical Christian fiction for me. One of my favorite secular historical fiction authors is Margaret George, and so I tend to put down a book if it doesn’t come to par with her writing and her depth of research for the given topic she’s chosen to write on. But my OH my, this book totally captivated me the moment I read the prologue.
     Mesu Andrews does a beautiful job at making the story jump off the page and come to life. This is a story I’ve always wanted to know more about and wished that the Bible went in to just a bit more detail, and I love what Andrews adds. This book is right up there with Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series and Redeeming Love. If you are a fan of those books, I highly recommend you pick up this book as well."

     --The other Elise--
For more information on The Pharaoh's Daughter by Mesu Andrews, visit our website here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Progeny

     More than one review of this book told me that it was impossible to put down once you started reading. I didn't take them quite seriously enough. Sleep deprived and gushing praise for this book from my very pores, I bring The Progeny to you from Tosca Lee. What a marvel. What a story. I am overwhelmed again.
     "I'm twenty-one years old and my name doesn't matter because it's about to be erased forever."
     Meet Emily Porter. All she knows about herself is that she forgot the rest of her life on purpose, with very good reason, and her only instructions are to live, love, and discover. Anything except the details of her past.

     Aside from riveting, gripping storytelling and fascinating characters and plot, before I read this book I actually took a look at the summary on the back. I tend to avoid this because too many books overshare and spoil most of the story for me. The Progeny is a beautiful, wonderful exception. The summary made me want to know more, for once.
"Intricately woven, intriguing, and romantic - I literally couldn't put it down."
     ---Jennifer L. Armentrout
     Which about sums up my exact feelings on this one. This book was absolutely thrilling, and so very enticing. It follows Emily Porter as she struggles to remember, to forget, and to escape the death that hunts her. I was totally captivated by the turning of the first page. I lost myself in these chapters, in the lives of these characters and all of their emotions - tragedy, pain, loss, desperation - from the beginning, when Emily is struggling to come to terms with the fact that she specifically made herself forget everything, through every car chase, fist fight, crossfire, and trial of will or heart or logic.

     Tosca Lee brings these different parts of Europe and North America to life, making me want to travel and discover, and plunge into conspiracy theories for the rest of my life. She always has a twisted, terrible, incredible historical aspect to her novels. The Progeny manages to maintain some of these key elements of history, research, and credibility that I've found in Lee's previous books, and still be so vastly different from everything else she's written before.

     Tosca Lee is right up there with Ted Dekker for me, which is an even sweeter realization with the fact that they co-authored a trilogy together: The Books of Mortals series - Forbidden, Mortal, and Sovereign.

     Any book by Tosca Lee is bound to be an unforgettable adventure.

     --Elise--

For more information on The Progeny by Tosca Lee, visit our website here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Ringmaster's Wife





     The 1920's, from London to New York, from the perspective of an English Lady and, contrarily, a working woman in the states. The Ringmaster's Wife flits back and forth in perspective between Lady Rosamund, a young lady who abandons her home and arranged marriage in order to thrive in the world of circus life, and Mabel, a simple girl with big dreams that she carries around in an old cigar box.

     The circus has always been a fascination of mine, from the flying acrobats and showy displays of the Cirque de Soleil, to the run-down rides in a forgotten town, or even the sinister settings of stories like Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury). Cambron winds the fascination of the circus lights and the excitement of the Roaring '20s into a descriptive and emotional narrative, with a sense of mystery, intrigue, and suspense.

     In The Ringmaster's Wife, she opens with a curious prologue, and from there on we are introduced to various different sides of different lives. Mabel displays a willingness, perseverance, and belief in dreams. Her story starts simply, on a farm, surrounded by siblings and chores and a quiet life. Lady Rosamund strives for much of the same, with confidence, independence, and a talent for knowing her own mind, but she comes from a rich family in high-class London and a lifestyle that she as good as throws aside for the pursuit of freedom. The question is if that freedom will prove to be more than either of them bargained for.

     --Elise--

For more information on The Ringmaster's Wife by Kristy Cambron, visit our website here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom From Shame

Shame: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
     In Chapter One of her book, Unashamed, Heather Davis Nelson makes an important distinction: “Guilt is associated with actions while shame taints your entire identity.” She quotes BrenĂ© Brown to explain that “the majority of shame researchers and clinicians agree that the difference between shame and guilt is best understood as the difference between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad’.”

     Guilt is as simple as a natural response to wrongdoing, where you know what you have done is wrong. On the other hand, shame is better described as:
“The feeling that we have missed the mark according to our own standard or our perception of someone else’s standard for us. Shame keeps us from being honest about our struggles, sins, and less-than-perfect moments. Fear of shame drives us to perfectionism in all areas of our life, so that there would be no imperfection to be noticed and judged. Shame is what we heap on others when they fail us.” (p.20)
     Shame burrows into your very being and instills in you this sense that everything you do and say – your very existence – deserves punishment. It is a waking purgatory for every wrong you have ever committed. Realizing this, we must therefore come to the conclusion that shame is wrong, and this is what Nelson wants to instill: shame is wrong, and damaging, and rooted in brokenness. The only true way to curing this disease is through the hope of Jesus Christ, who covers our shame like God covered Adam and Eve in the garden. Nelson returns to this image several times throughout her book as a beautiful picture of what Christ can do for our brokenness.

     Unashamed is a message of hope, of finding "healing [for] our brokenness and freedom from shame". The book is organized into nine sections, aside from the introduction on what shame is and the conclusion that ties together the shame-free destiny available to all of us. The sections she addresses include body shame, performance shame, and shame in marriage, parenting, and the church. Each section features discussion and reflection questions at the end, in order to ease the reader into response. Aside from blaring fundamental truth from the loud speakers, Unashamed invites the reader into the beginnings of healing - this being, first of all, the realization that everybody struggles with shame in one way or another.

     I am in no way shame-free as a result of reading Unashamed, but I am more acutely aware than ever of what differentiates shame from guilt, and what areas of my life might be tainted by the former. Nelson helps the reader identify in their own life the kinds of things that they struggle with in shame, and identifying those elements is one of the keys to healing.

     --Elise--

     For more information on Unashamed by Heather Davis Nelson, visit our website here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Risen (DVD)

     My dad taught grade nine social studies some years ago, before he changed professions. I never saw socials as my favourite class in school - some years, in fact, I downright despised it. But recently, the history of things has grown in value in my mind. Pair that with a good couple hundred pages of detailed, researched fiction, and I am a happy reader. From Iscariot by Tosca Lee, to the Dangerous Beauty series by Angela Hunt, I have a growing adoration for historical fiction.

     Angela Hunt also contributed to the novelization of the recently released DVD, Risen. Normally, I would default to reading the book. But I happened to have sooner access to the DVD this time, and at high recommendation from my parents who saw it in theatres, so I will be reviewing the DVD here today.

     A little change from routine.

     Roman military Tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is tasked with solving what happened to the body of Jesus, the Nazarene. With the help of his aide, Lucius (Tom Felton), Clavius enters a kind of investigation on what happened to the body, under the assumption that certain zealots stole it in order to spread rumours about a risen Messiah and cause an uprising in Jerusalem. The resurrection, as told through the eyes of a non-believer.

     This movie was utterly fascinating, and so, so well done. The investigation holds Calvius' career and his favour with Pontius Pilate in the balance. The evidence does not point where he wants it to, and this Jesus who is supposed to be a mad zealot or something nonsensical is starting to be a real possibility. It becomes an obsession. A fascination. And he is forced to abandon his aide and logic when he sees the risen Jesus with his own eyes. The story turns into a journey with the apostles, chasing after the teacher, Lord, Messiah, and the Tribune does not know what he should believe.

     --Elise--

For more information on the movie Risen, visit our website here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Delilah

     Samson and Delilah. Delilah and Samson. Stories we think we know. It always fascinates me, how someone can take these told and re-told stories and twist them into something I had never imagined before.

     In her Dangerous Beauty series, Angela Hunt has portrayed the ladies of the Bible, Esther and Bathsheba, and now Delilah, in an exceptional form of art and historical fiction. In the other two renditions, books, I know that I gushed about the incredible roller coaster of emotions that Hunt took me through. Delilah carries a different kind of feel.

     The first few chapters portray a young woman, headstrong, healthy and mostly well-off. And then a rapid decline, spurred by the death of her step-father, into abuse at the hands of her monstrous step-brother. Imprisonment in their home, a cruel separation from her mother - the only other person she knows in Gaza since they moved from Egypt. This story of Delilah is cruel and heart-wrenching, perhaps no more or less so than Esther or Bathsheba, but Delilah's response to this life that continues to rob her felt very different to me. Less emotional. More  calculated, even cold and distant at times. Her life is driven by the instinct for survival and she is very much alone through those initial, crucial hardships. She learns to fend for herself, occasionally receiving generosity at the hands of strangers, but for the most part she feels very much secluded in her struggle. It is her against the world, and she adopts that outlook to the very end.

     And who can blame her?

     A point that I think Hunt is trying to make - and if not, it's a point that I very much appreciate through her series all the same - is that it is very difficult to deal out judgement when you know the whole story, from all sides. It is very difficult to label someone as a bad person if you know exactly what they've been through.

--Elise--

For more information on Delilah by Angela Hunt, visit our website here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Visual Theology

      Exploring what you really believe, Tim Challies and Josh Byers bring basic theology, presented in understandable text and colourful diagrams. They have a Periodic Table of the Books of the Bible, graphs, flow charts, Venn diagrams, and all-around great illustrations.

     As someone who doesn't read much non-fiction, I've always found the theology books rather intimidating, and occasionally wordy. Challies and Byers make theology more approachable, and for the visual learner, so much easier to tackle and remember. The illustrations and colour make every point stick that much more.

     Tasteful, and creatively done!

--Elise--
For more information on Visual Theology by Tim Challies and Josh Byers, visit our website here.