The 20th Christmas by Andrea Rodgers

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Ambassador International provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.
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The 20th ChristmasThe 20th Christmas by Andrea Rodgers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Faith is keeping your trust in the Lord, even when life doesn’t make sense.

I feel like The 20th Christmas delivers on what its great cover conveys: clear brokenness, but a sense of beauty, nonetheless. Even with its heavy subject matter, the abduction of Arianna and Alan Tate’s little boy, this novel manages to be Christmassy in a sober but warm way, not too dark.

Author Andrea Rodgers effectively reveals the mixed feelings and reactions of the characters on different sides of this tragedy–the fear, guilt, confusion, helplessness, anger, depression, doubt, and even Arianna’s and Alan’s different attitudes about responding when people ask if they have any kids. For a shorter novel, Rodgers still does a good job of making her supporting characters’ stories engaging; Lydia and Lacey’s story is weaved in well, and Christopher’s account to Alan hit me in the pit of my stomach, as I’m sure it was meant to.

There are some aspects of the novel that don’t seem realistic, like the idea that until Alan’s family misfortune when he’s in college, “nothing bad had ever happened to him,” and before the kidnapping of Alan and Arianna’s son Chase, Alan had “never done or said anything that hurt [Arianna's] feelings,” though they’ve been together for years. Also, as both of Chase’s parents have been quite involved in raising him, and Chase’s first word was “Daddy,” it would seem that after his abduction, when he takes to asking for his “Mama,” he would ask for or at least mention his daddy at some point as well.

On another note, while the issue of Arianna’s understandable feelings of hatred toward Chase’s kidnapper is raised, it seems like this serious heart issue is more or less smoothed over but not really dealt with.

Yet, the tie-in with an important aspect of the age-old Christ-mas story is powerful, and Rodgers’s novel ultimately illustrates how God’s good purpose can be realized even in the midst of life events that don’t make sense. I wholeheartedly recommend this moving Christmas read.

Keepers of the Covenant by Lynn Austin

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Bethany House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.
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Keepers of the CovenantKeepers of the Covenant by Lynn Austin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

We show our faith in God when we keep moving forward even when our prayers aren’t being answered… to keep believing that God is good even when it doesn’t seem that way.

I’ve read more than one biblical fiction novel and have seen at least three different films about the Jews under ancient Persian rule and the origin of Purim. All of those novels and films were primarily concerned with the story of Queen Esther, so it was nice to read an account from another angle, primarily that of the Jewish leader Ezra, and to read more about the aftermath following the well-known Thirteenth of Adar.

In Keepers of the Covenant, author Lynn Austin does a great job of illustrating the likelihood that, even with the Purim celebration, not everything may be all joy and gladness for every Jew after the bloodshed. And how can Ezra succeed in turning his people back to the law of God when many of them now view it as archaic? What about Ezra’s hatred toward Babylonians and other Gentiles–is it justified?

I found the relationship between Amina and Hodaya to be simple and touching, and Reuben’s journey, though rough at times, is well developed. He and his kippah brought tears to my eyes.

While some of the story’s repetition is needful and effective, there are a number of places where the writing is merely redundant, parts when there isn’t any new light being shed on ideas as the narrator rehashes the characters’ same thoughts or the characters (unintentionally?) repeat themselves in dialogue.

Yet, most importantly, this novel’s message about God’s goodness, justice, and grace comes through strong and clear.

If only we had eyes to see how God can weave all the broken strands of our life into something beautiful.

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Keepers of the Covenant is second in The Restoration Chronicles series.

Return to Me (The Restoration Chronicles #1)

When a Bookworm Likes the Film Version Better

Book vs. Flim

*GASP* How could I even give a blog post a title that so borders on bookish sacrilege?

Yes, I know–bookworms all over often proclaim the unfailing superiority of books over their film versions. “The book is always better than the movie.”

Granted, when it comes to books that are later made into films, I often prefer what I read over what I watched. However, as an enthusiast who has, in recent years, been growing to love films about as much as I love books (due to my love of storytelling in general, whether literary or visual), it’s been getting easier for me to view books and films as separate works, which indeed they are.

Books and films are different works of art that have different creative requirements, and oftentimes, varied audiences. Even when a film is based on a book, a filmmaker is creating a whole new, separate work from the original author’s. While one filmmaker who’s obtained a book’s film rights may wish to make the “movie version” of that book, another filmmaker who’s obtained the film rights of a book may not be out to just make the book into a movie but to make a movie based on, but not necessarily limited by, the book’s original idea(s). Both are legitimate filmmaking approaches.

Keeping “separate works” in mind helps me not to downgrade a film merely because it’s different from the book it’s based on, so that I can judge the film for what it is: a film.

A Walk to RememberWith that said, yes, there are rare occasions when this lifelong bookworm enjoys a film more than the book it’s based on. A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks was a nice read to me overall, but it didn’t have a profound, lasting impact on me like the 2002 Warner Bros. film did and does. Shane West and Mandy Moore really add compelling flesh and blood to the Landon and Jamie characters, and I usually have a tear or two during a few scenes in the movie, including the Spring Play when Jamie sings “Only Hope.” (If you click on the Spring Play image below and happen not to have a tear when you watch the scene–of course, the rest of the movie is what gives this part more meaning.)

My Sister's KeeperAs I read My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, I got a pretty immediate sense of why she’s such a popular author, and the book had me all in–right up until the end, which gave me an unpleasant “Wait a minute–huh? That’s it?” jolt, even for a reader who loves to read the unexpected. Apparently, some readers even see the ending as a cop-out from the tough questions the novel raises. I wouldn’t give it that label, but the ending is one reason I enjoyed the 2009 New Line Cinema film more than the book. Some may still see the film’s reworked ending as something of a cop-out or a tidy smooth-over for untidy life circumstances, but the film’s plot has more of a natural flow to me, particularly where the ending is concerned.

So. Are you a bookworm who’s ever liked a film better than the book it’s based on? If so, feel free to ‘fess up!

Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Blogging for Books provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.
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Thief of GloryThief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

I was unprepared for how good this book is. It put me in acute remembrance of humanity’s, and even my own, need for mercy.

I think it’s fair to point out early that this World War II novel’s description/blurb/back cover copy misrepresents what’s actually in the book to a significant degree. (The Goodreads description differs from the official blurb.) Yes, the love between Jeremiah and Laura is important, but their relationship is not what’s at the forefront of much (maybe even most) of what happens in the book. Also, while the blurb paints a picture of how the two of them, apparently together, “reach for God’s light and grace, shining through His people,” I, even in retrospect, have a little trouble placing where that picture is supposed to fit in this story.

Fortunately, as one who isn’t a big fan of book blurbs in general, I take them with a grain of salt (whenever I do actually read them.)

Thief of Glory is heartrending, even raw at points, and superbly written. I’d never read a WWII novel that takes place on this side of the war, in the Dutch East Indies, or Indonesia. Jeremiah’s boyhood rage and cunning doesn’t lead to nice-and-tidy ends, just as war, growing up, and life itself aren’t nice and tidy. Indeed, there is life here, and death, and darkness, and light; a good story entails both sides, and as Jeremiah intimates, “To tell our story makes us human, and to be human is to tell our story.”

What I find the most redemptive about this story is its illustration of looking back into the bad and being able to identify the good that came through it, identifying love and hope and the meaning they give to life. The final word isn’t granted to injustice, terror, devastation, or even resulting grief and rage when any human being, whether during or in the aftermath of tragedy, can honestly say, “I found the strength and courage to fold my hands together and bow my head and finally ask His mercy.”