Book Review: Imagine… The Great Flood

Imagine… The Great Flood
Imagine series book #1
by Matt Koceich

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Children’s Biblical fiction

While lamenting an imminent move to another state, ten-year-old Corey is suddenly transported to Old Testament times–right before the flood of Noah’s day!

I read this book (audiobook) in an attempt to make some sense of the most recent book in this series to come out (

As mentioned above, this series is up to 6 books, each focusing on a different Biblical account. After reading 2 of them, I don’t believe I’ll continue with this series, or recommend it to my 10-year-old daughter.

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Book Review: Imagine… The Tower Rising

Imagine… The Tower Rising
Imagine series book #6
by Matt Koceich

My rating: ? / 5
Genre: Children’s Biblical fantasy-ish?

While on the observation deck of the Willis Tower in Chicago with her family, Bella is suddenly transported to Shinar in 2300 B.C. There she sees the Tower of Babel mid-construction and becomes caught up in a dark plot to lead the people astray.

I am not completely sure what I just read. I expected an adventure similar to Superbook or Adventures in Odyssey, but there is definitely something else going on here. The tower being built, the reasons behind it, and Bella’s attempt to stop the people and explain why what they’re doing is wrong is a small part of the book (which is quite short anyway). But then there are some strange and unexpected fantasy elements going on, with a boy and a woman who are sort of like her guides through this experience, while also at times seeming to not know anything outside of what they should know if they were just regular people from that time period.

Then there are a couple of chapters that are “outside” of the adventure, involving people who are never properly introduced, and it’s never explained who they are or why they’re involved. One of them can communicate with the “bad guy” involved in the tower building, and gives him instructions. It’s clear from this that there is a whole over-arcing plot going on throughout this series, and I jumped in at book 6. My mistake, but there was nothing in the synopsis at all that would give any indication that these stories are so very connected. Out of curiosity, I have now read the first book in the series, and it was nothing like this book; no over-arcing plot line was set up either, so I can only guess it came up later in the series.

So…I don’t know how to rate this book. It was like reading someone’s account of a dream. I don’t want to down-rate it due to being so completely lost about the series-long story, but it would have been a lot better if I’d known I was being thrust into this ongoing, apparently supernatural battle between good and evil (for as much as I could tell from those sections).

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Publication date: November 1, 2020

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Book Review: The Shepherd’s Wife

The Shepherd’s Wife
Jerusalem Road #2
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

In the Bible, Jesus is said to have at least two sisters, neither of which are named. In The Shepherd’s Wife, author Angela Hunt gives these women names, families, and lives. Pheodora lives in Bethlehem with her shepherd husband, and Damaris is married to a wealthy merchant’s son in Nazareth. While Damaris’s husband takes steps toward becoming a well-respected Pharisee, Pheodora’s husband, Chiram, is thrown in debtor’s prison. It is up to Pheodora to follow through on Chiram’s plan to breed and raise two pure white goat kids for the Yom Kippur sacrifice, which is their only hope to pay Chiram’s debt.

I enjoyed the first book in this series, but absolutely loved this one. By the last third or so, I had a hard time putting it down. All of the brothers and sisters of Jesus (called by his Hebrew name Yeshua in the story) are involved, and I appreciated seeing the family dynamics as they interacted with each other, worked together, and even talked about what their eldest brother was up to. Pheodora, whom the plot revolves around, was determined, loyal, and hard-working, but also had plenty of flaws. The book is probably more character-driven than plot-driven, which is really my cup of tea.

The book is written from the sisters’ alternating perspectives, with Pheodora’s being the one shown most often. I wasn’t sure what the point of showing Damaris’s POV was at first, but it really did add to the story. Especially at a point somewhere in the middle when the suspense ramped up because of something we only knew happened due to seeing Damaris’s home life.

It started to get really difficult to read as the injustice against Chiram was more fully revealed, and though I assumed all would be made right by the end of the book, it was all just too real. And in real life, things usually aren’t made right, so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel by the end. However, the last quarter of the book brought such surprises, emotions, and lessons learned, that I was not thinking about whether or not the incredible injustice was made right.

I have a difficult time giving books 5 stars unless I can see it being a book I’ll re-read at least once in the future. This is a book I definitely will read again someday, at least once. I highly recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction, and I’m really excited about what the author has planned for the next book in this series!

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Publication date: October 6, 2020

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Book Review: Daughter of Cana

Daughter of Cana
Jerusalem Road #1
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

Daughter

At a wedding in Cana, Tasmin oversees the week-long feast, with the help of her twin brother Thomas. But Thomas becomes more interested in what a guest from Nazareth has to say than helping his sister. Then that guest appears to turn water into wine, though Tasmin isn’t convinced. And neither is the guest’s brother Jude. After the wedding, Thomas goes with the Nazarene to Capernaum, and both Tasmin and Jude follow, each determined to retrieve their wayward brothers. But it turns out the task is not so easy, and Tasmin’s and Jude’s lives are upset as they try to balance their own lives with still making their brothers see sense–and hope to prove that the Nazarene is not who he claims to be.

This was an interesting take on the ministry of Jesus (referred to by his Hebrew name, Yeshua, in this book) from the perspective of one of his half-brothers, who did not believe he was the Christ during his ministry on earth, and the perspective of a sister to one of the apostles. As Jesus himself put it, no man is a prophet in his own hometown, and that principle applies in some way to both of the main characters (in their view of Yeshua). Most of Jesus’s works are seen from a distance, and I expected that to become tedious, but I appreciated the way the miracles were told by those benefited by the miracles or even bystanders.

I was a little concerned early on, as it seemed Yeshua was being portrayed as lazy and even slightly belligerent to his parents, slacking off while his brothers did all the work, even before his ministry started. I came to see that as the perspective of a frustrated, even jealous, brother, though. There was also one point where Jude talked to his brother in private, and I mentally winced in anticipation of the words the author might choose to put in Jesus’s mouth. Fiction or not, that strikes me as an unwise thing to do. However, his dialog was still right out of scripture. Granted, he obviously said those things to a larger crowd in the Bible, but there is evidence Jesus repeated some parts of his sermons anyway. It was a good decision on the author’s part, I feel.

While Tasmin and Jude spent most of the book with little in the way of their own story, and even of their own personalities, they grew enough later in the book that I still felt some connection to them. The best thing about the book, for me, was that it gave me the ability to feel like I was there, back in Jesus’s day, hearing him speak, seeing him myself, even if from a distance much of the time. There were Hebrew words and phrases sprinkled here and there, and the meaning wasn’t always clear to me. I didn’t quite see the reason for most of that, but that’s a small down-side to an otherwise lovely book. I would recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Star of Persia

Star of Persia
by Jill Eileen Smith

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

Esther

When the queen of Persia refuses an unreasonable demand of King Xerxes, she is banished. Jewish girl Esther, known as Hadassah for her first fifteen years, is one of many unmarried women who are brought to the palace to contend to be Xerxes’s next wife. Made queen in place of Vashti, Esther and her adopted father Mordecai have to navigate palace politics and eventually, it’s up to Esther to save all of her people from extermination.

Though the Biblical account of Esther is commonly known by most who would read this book, I liked the way the author brought it to life. The struggles that those would have faced due to the politics, culture, and religions of that day were not glossed over. It’s common, and even somewhat necessary, for the author to take creative license in some areas, as not all details are ever known in a Biblical account, and while I didn’t necessarily agree with everything the author chose to do, I don’t think any of it detracted from the story.

I loved the way that Mordecai, who had chosen to stay in Susa when the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem, struggled with his decision to keep his heritage a secret. We all know that even the most prominent figures in the Bible (besides God himself) were flawed humans, some more than others, and that is clear with the two main Jews in this book as well. I also think that the way Xerxes was portrayed was realistic, considering that he does often consult others, even his servants, in the Biblical account, so his character in this book was fleshed out from that perspective, and I loved it.

As I mentioned above, I disagree with one main point the author decided on. It is not immediately evident who King Ahasuerus is in the Biblical account, due to language differences, I believe. He seems to be most commonly accepted to be Xerxes. However, Xerxes has only 1 verified wife–Amestris. I did not do nearly as much research as Smith must have for this book, but I see more evidence that Amestris is another name for Vashti, or even possibly for Esther herself. So having a rival wife that is actually directly or indirectly behind much of the shady things that happen in the account seemed unnecessary to me. However, it did provide more intrigue for the fictional version, and while I would have chosen a different route, I respect her decision and am not saying whatsoever that the book was any worse for it.

I would say the writing itself was what mainly detracted from the story for me. I personally think there was at least one POV too many. The story was told from the following perspectives: Esther, Mordecai, Xerxes, Vashti, Haman, and Amestris. If I’m missing one, I wouldn’t be surprised. But I think we could have done without getting to know Vashti, considering what her parts set up aren’t resolved. And she’s just a shadow of the true heroine anyway. There are also a couple of things that happen with Haman that confused me, like him grumbling about his wife and her back-talk, when the entire rest of the book, she seemed nothing but supportive to me, giving him advice that he followed. He even called her wise at one point. Then suddenly, he’s about ready to punish her if she opens her mouth again. I don’t know what was going on there.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot. I am one who tends to read romance (not just romance in the traditional sense) into certain accounts in the Bible as I’m reading, and it’s nice to see it come alive in this way. I will likely re-read this someday, but first, I plan to check out Smith’s take on Ruth, which is my favorite book in the Bible. As for Esther’s story, though, I highly recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction.

Thank you to Netgalley and Revell for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Star of Persia: Esther’s Story

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Book Review: The End of the Magi

Finished Reading: The End of the Magi
by Patrick W. Carr

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Biblical historical fiction

ARC16

Myrad is the adopted son of a Hebrew magi in ancient Persia. After having a dream of a star in the sky that didn’t move throughout the night, Myrad is brought into the order of the magi, just in time for a massacre. Barely escaping, Myrad now must outrun his pursuers while also attempting to discover the meaning of his dreams about the star and the prophecy of the Hebrews Messiah that his father taught him about.

With Christmas looming, I loved the idea of reading a book about the advent of Christ from the perspective of the magi that visited Him not long after his birth. This book really hit the spot, easing me into the season. With great characters and some fun relationships, following the star with Myrad was an adventure that highlighted some important Biblical truths.

Myrad himself is a decent protagonist, young and inexperienced, learning everything around him along with us. He has a clubfoot, which gets in his way quite often. Walagash is now one of my favorite characters ever. And the relationships between Myrad and Walagash, Roshan, and Aban are enjoyable to watch develop along the way.

One of the main reasons for 4 stars, instead of 5, is that there was a lot of politics in the book, which is the main thing that caused the story to drag in parts. It does make sense, given the state of the empires in that region at the time. But it wasn’t terribly interesting to read the characters discussing it.

(Warning: the following paragraph contains spoilers.) What I loved most about the book, though, was that it went past the birth of Christ to the real root of Christianity–His death and resurrection. We see the rift form between those Hebrews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah and those who don’t, because he didn’t conquer the Romans like they thought he should (or because he died and they left before his resurrection). And when the magi who stayed in Jerusalem even after the resurrection because they felt there was more for them there got exactly what they were looking for, they left changed.

For me in particular, the book really drove home the importance of trusting that God’s way is the best way, even when we can’t see what He’s doing. It’s a reminder that He can and does use anyone He chooses for his plans, even those people who think that they are worthless–even those people who don’t follow Him. We can only do our part and accept His will in our lives, and in this, we can have peace in stressful times. This has been really important for me lately.

While this book could easily be pigeon-holed as a Christmas book, it is so much more than that. I recommend it for all fans of Biblical fiction. In truth, I think it should be read by anyone who enjoys historical fiction or quest-driven stories, because the message contained within is important and should be heard by everyone.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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