Book Review: A Woman of Words

A Woman of Words
Jerusalem Road #3
by Angela Hunt

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

Matthew, one of the twelve apostles and former tax collector for the Romans, has been living in Capernaum in the years since Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) death and resurrection when he is summoned to Jerusalem by Peter and John to help them with the growing church there. He anticipates preaching and performing great miracles like his brothers have been doing over the years, but is disappointed to discover that they are more interested in the skills he honed while collecting taxes. Then Mary, Yeshua’s mother, approaches him with a request that he help her write down all of the teachings of Yeshua and accounts of his miracles before they’re forgotten by those who witnessed them. Matthew does not want to sit and write, either words or numbers, when there are souls to be reached. As he comes to terms with what God wants of him, the Roman emperor prepares to set himself up as a god to be worshiped, which would force the entire Jewish community–Yeshua-follower or not–to make a choice between their life or their obedience to God.

I have really liked this series so far and was excited to read the 3rd installment. It wasn’t quite as good as the first two, to me, but I still really liked reading more in the fictional Biblical world Hunt has set up in the series. I’m not completely sure what it is that I liked less about this one. It seems to have less of the charm the other two had, and I think that might be partly because one of the things I liked the most about the other two was that Yeshua was still on Earth. Even though he was in the background, he was there, and I was really drawn to that. I liked hearing both Mary and Matthew talk about his teachings and how special his friendship and love was, how he made them feel when he talked to them, etc. But despite Hunt’s attempts to infuse emotion into these accounts, somehow it didn’t work as well for me.

I do appreciate that Matthew was led to go back to the Old Testament and discover more about who Yeshua was before he became a man, the connections to the prophesies and such. And to be clear, because I didn’t get this until near the end of the book and also from the author’s note–this is not a fictionalized story of the book of Matthew as we know it being written. Matthew and Mary are writing more of a history of Yeshua’s life on earth, in Hebrew (the book of Matthew was written in Greek), that is not meant to be that which later became scripture. But the idea is that this book essentially became a launching point for the Gospels. I wonder if I would have read it differently with that in mind, but it’s hard to say now.

Another thing I really liked is that both Matthew and Mary are presented as real humans with flaws and issues that they have to deal with as they work together on this story. But I also think it’s important that Mary can tell that people are treating her differently because of her son and that she does her best to remain humble and steer people away from treating her like she’s deity herself. She repeats often throughout the story that she’s always been simply a servant of God. While many of us might fall into the trap of allowing ourselves to be set on a pedestal, God chose her because He knew her heart and that she would willingly serve Him, so I like seeing this woman continuing steadfastly in her role as a servant. I think that the reasons I didn’t like this book as much as I did the first 2 are my own fault, not a fault with the book. And even saying that, I did still like it, would recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction, and am looking forward to seeing what else Hunt has in store for this series (she says in the author’s note that she does have another in mind).

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

Find out more about A Woman of Words
Publication date: May 4, 2021

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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.

Find out more about The Shepherd’s Wife
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.

Find out more about Daughter of Cana

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