Hadassah: One Night With the King by Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen

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.

Hadassah: One Night with the King by Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Perhaps a young Jewish woman, a peasant from Susa, should have been the most unlikely possibility, the most unlikely candidate to be the next Queen of Persia. Nevertheless, her ascension to the throne turns out to be a timely rise to meet impending danger in Hadassah: One Night With the King by authors Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen.

The first time I read this book over a decade ago, it became one of my all-time favorites. The flawed heroine’s journey in this novel that’s part thriller, part fictional memoir based on the biblical book of Esther was a needed balm for me during a dark season in my life.

Reading the novel for the second time years later, I again have found it to be a rich, nuanced, violent, poignant, deftly written story. It has so much of what makes historical/period reads engrossing to me. And Tenney’s intent stands out in the spiritually driven metaphors that speak to close relationship with a King.

Even so, the metaphors will never make a hero out of the cruel, vulnerable, weary, changeable man of excess and war, Xerxes. And despite what Hadassah/Esther comes to feel for the king, this novel isn’t a romance.

While I in no way need this to be a romance or a fairy tale, one of its key ironies didn’t strike me earlier in my life, but it strikes me now. The irony of the story’s genocide. An Amalekite is out to exterminate Jewish (Hebrew) men, women, and children—a mission stemming from a time when Israelites (Hebrews) were out to exterminate Amalekite men, women, and children.

Yet, only one of these extermination missions is really painted in a negative light here. Of course, I know why, but I’m not okay with it. I’m not okay with genocide.

It may be additionally ironic that I still consider this work of Biblical Fiction to be one of my all-time favorites. While it’s partly due to the deep, beautiful writing and to my previous experience with the novel, it’s also partly because reading this book has again shown me something so important about myself.

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Hadassah Series

 

The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr

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.

The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr

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

As a young, lame magus who has lost his family, Myrad is running for his life when he joins a merchant’s caravan for protection. A perilous journey ensues, and all the while, Myrad can’t forget his dream of a star and a centuries-old message of a coming Messiah in The End of the Magi by author Patrick W. Carr.

Since I’ve been planning for a while to try some fantasy by this author, I was particularly interested when I saw he’d written a Biblical Fiction novel. It’s important to note that even with its connection to the magi and the Messiah, this book isn’t a “straight shot to the manger” or necessarily a Christmas read. I appreciate where the author begins, tying in familiar and relevant Old Testament figures, and the opening of Myrad’s tale is both heart-gripping and intriguing.

While I couldn’t help but to develop a soft spot for Myrad as I read, he starts to seem something like the awkward pet of the story, in a sense, and it isn’t only on account of his physical condition. The tolerant people around him, male and female alike, are a good deal savvier in their situation than Myrad, as he stumbles into mishaps and foolish decision-making.

Some of the danger feels redundant, the development of a romantic attraction takes an approach I tend to find pretty weird in any story, and there were times when I lost a real sense of a plot driving the events. The read began to lag for me, and after getting past the halfway point, I didn’t have enough interest to press through to the end.

Nevertheless, I still plan to try a fantasy read by this author sometime.

 

The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke

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.

The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

“But it is better to follow even the shadow of the best than to remain content with the worst. And those who would see wonderful things must often be ready to travel alone.”

Artaban is all prepared to join three of his Magi companions to go and present gifts to a new King whose coming is declared by the heavens. But Artaban’s trip encounters delays, profoundly altering his quest in The Story of the Other Wise Man by author Henry van Dyke.

I’d never heard of this classic before I came across it some weeks ago. No, it didn’t hold groundbreaking revelations or unimaginable surprises for me.

But even having a good idea ahead of time about where such a tale would go didn’t stop the tale from being beautiful to me. Beautiful in its atmospheric detail as well as in its compelling message about what’s important to the King. Yes, the story has some old-fashioned quirks, like the fact that some of the characters speak in “King James” now and then, but the message itself is timeless.

Not at all hard to see why this tale is indeed a classic.

 

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett

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.

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

“We are all destroyed, everyone, in our lifetime, but few will rebuild. You must redeem your suffering, Esther.”

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by author Ginger Garrett is the fourth novel I’ve read based on the biblical book of Esther. After reading the story however many times in the Bible, enjoying three other novels, and watching four different film adaptations, yes, I’m still intrigued.

Even so, with a story that’s been retold so many times, in order for me to really get into a new-to-me retelling, it has to give me something the previous retellings haven’t given me already.

On that score, this novel delivered for me.

No, it’s not a romance novel, with King Xerxes painted as a shining romantic hero. And no, this book isn’t a rags-to-riches fairytale full of prettiness that ties everything up with a Happily Ever After bow at the end.

Nah.

This novel’s strength is in the way it tackles difficult, sacred tension. How it paints a bold but deft picture of schemes, depression, injustice, murder, and suicide in a realm of royalty and excess. How it addresses so many ironies, not the least of which is the pairing of power and imprisonment.

How it depicts the conflicting emotions of a young Jewish woman stolen from the life she loved. Stolen by a king.

Granted, I wasn’t too impressed with Esther’s voice in the first few chapters. (Perhaps it’s a reflection of her initial immaturity.) And given that she tells her story in diary entries, the plot development is choppy at times, and Esther’s limited vantage point hampers the development of some other characters. (For instance, seeing Haman from an additional perspective might have made his personality and villainy more convincing.)

Nevertheless, this substantive account of a woman in an impossible situation, using what resources she can to save her people, and even to empower women…

It’s beautiful. Inspiring. Timely, timeless—for such a time…

The king has asked for a whore; I will show him a queen.

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The latest cover of Chosen is pictured below, along with the rest of the Lost Loves of the Bible series.