Book Review: Redeeming Grace

Redeeming Grace: Ruth’s Story
by Jill Eileen Smith

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction

I’m going to skip the synopsis in my own words this time, because if you don’t have at least a basic understanding of the story of Ruth from the Bible, you probably won’t be paying much attention to this review anyway. Overall, I didn’t like this book nearly as much as I’d hoped. Some of that I’m sure is personal preference, since Ruth is my favorite book in the Bible and the account of Ruth and Boaz has long held a kind of romance for me. Even outside of that, though, I think there were some issues with how the author handled this retelling.

The author spent so much time on some things and not enough time on others, in my opinion. For example, not to be too flippant about it, but the story doesn’t really get going until Naomi’s husband and sons have all died. This is covered in 5 verses of the 4 total chapters of Ruth in the Bible, but by 130 of the 350 pages of the book. Some of that time was spent introducing Ruth’s character, but a lot of her personality and loyalty can easily be seen in her actions later in the story. Some of those pages were given to Boaz, too, during which he had a wife of more than 10 years. If you’re like me and would have thrown the book across the room if this account had made Ruth a 2nd wife to Boaz (while the 1st wife was alive, a common practice in those days), don’t worry. I still don’t care for how it all worked out, romance-wise, but at least it wasn’t that.

What I wish the author had spent more time on was showing and explaining some of the customs that might seem strange to us modern folks, like why Ruth uncovered Boaz’s feet on the threshing floor. And this leads to my other main issue with the story, the blending of the fictional with what is directly out of the Bible. Though Smith does do a decent job of making the dialog seem like something from back then most of the time, when the characters say words that are taken directly from Scripture, the difference is a bit jolting to me. And I believe that Boaz’s first marriage in this story is likely a way of explaining why he is an older man, yet unmarried, but Boaz in the Bible speaks about God as if he fully trusts in Him and believes in His goodness. Yet here we have a Boaz who is broken and questioning God, even for a while feeling a bit numb to Him, yet still speaks those same trustful words to Ruth at the necessary time from the biblical account…it just doesn’t mesh.

What I did love, however, is Ruth herself and how she’s portrayed in this book. I think the author did right by the biblical account in that respect, and I really liked Ruth’s conversion and how she always wanted to know more about Naomi’s God and the Israelite customs. I also appreciated the completely fictional side-story of Hamul, Elimelech’s brother’s son, both in its own respect and in how it showed Boaz following not only the letter of the law, but also the spirit of it.

I do wonder if I should cease attempts to find a fictionalized version of this account, because it may be impossible to find one to my liking. I think, though, that what bothers me most is when the author feels the need to come up with modern-mindset reasons for things from the historical account, even though we all know how different cultures were back then. Also, this is another Christian book where a newly married couple’s first night together is described a bit further than I would prefer. Not graphic by any means, but enough to make me start to feel uncomfortable before we moved on. If you’re interested in reading this book, however, don’t let me dissuade you. Many other people thought it was great, and you can check out their reviews at the link below.

Find out more about Redeeming Grace

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Top Ten Tuesday: 5 Stars or Not?

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is a completely open freebie. Back in February of 2020, there was a TTT topic that I participated in titled “Books On My TBR I Predict Will Be 5-Star Reads.” Every single one of the books on my list that Tuesday I have since read, save one. For today’s post, I thought it would be fun to see how my predictions and hopes turned out. With each entry, I’ve included my original thoughts on the book back in February 2020, before I’d read it, and then the update.

1. Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

I read Anne of Green Gables for the first time a few months ago and loved it. It was one of the 5-star reads I mentioned above. I plan to read the 2nd book in the series this month, and while some of what made me love the first book will likely be downplayed in the 2nd one (because Anne isn’t a kid anymore), I still anticipate loving it!

Sadly, this did not turn out as great as I’d hoped. I gave it 3.5 stars, and that’s largely due to the loss of Anne as a child. See my review here.

2. North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson

This is also book #2 in a series, and I loved book #1 (On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness). The first book was mostly the story of how this family went from a normal family in an oppressed land to finding out that they were so much more than normal. The 2nd book will build on that and start the real saga, and I’m looking forward to it!

This was an accurate prediction! I loved the 2nd book in the series, and went on to love the rest just as much. This book series has become a huge deal in my family! See my review here.

3. The Sea Before Us by Sarah Sundin

I read the 3rd book in this series recently and loved it so much that I knew I needed to read the rest of the series. Normally I don’t like to read out of order, but when I requested the 3rd book on NetGalley, I thought the series was basically stand-alones. However, I realized while reading it that the three books in the series are all about 3 brothers. Though I’ve read a few spoilers of the first 2 books now, it’s not much more than what I would know just from the fact that they’re in the romance genre.

I wasn’t too far off on this one. I gave this book 4 stars, and the 2nd book in the series, the final one for me to read, 5 stars like the 1st one I read (which was 3rd in the series). Overall, it was a great series that I look forward to re-reading someday (in order). See my review here.

4. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

I have watched the BBC mini-series several times. I love it so much. I’ve heard from others who felt that Mr. Thornton (the male lead) has a lot more depth in the book, and I already really like his character. So I’m looking forward to reading it!

Another accurate prediction! Technically, I gave it 4.5 stars, but that’s close enough for me. See my review here.

5. Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman

I was invited to be part of a blog tour for this book, which comes out in June. This is a first for me, and I’m really hoping to be able to give it a good review as part of the blog tour.

Here’s where my predictions turned into hopes–less certainty that I’d like it, and more the hope I would for one reason or another, like being part of a blog tour for this book. Unfortunately, this one didn’t turn out so well. I gave it 3.5 stars. See my review here.

6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

My sister extolled the virtues of this book all through the holidays. She actually recommended several books to me during that time, but she seemed the most sure that I’d like this one. I really hope I love it!

I am happy to report that I did love this book! It earned all of its 5 stars, and I was quite relieved that I so enjoyed a book my sister highly recommended. See my review here.

7.  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

This is another book that my sister recommended, but it’s actually on this list because of the fact that, based on her recommendation, I picked up a copy for cheap at Half-Price Books. And even more than that, I later bought book #2 in the series also at a bargain price. It would be particularly disappointing to not like the first book.

I only read this book earlier this month, and was really caught up in it! I gave it 4.5 stars and am so happy that I already bought the follow-up book at a bargain price. See my review here.

8. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

I’ve never read any Tolkien, and it never used to bother me. But after the LotR movies came out, I found myself wishing I was a fan. I have good reason to believe that I would have a difficult time getting through those books, though, and I don’t really want to deal with that. But with this book being for a younger audience, I thought it might be a good way to start. If I still struggle with it, my sister mentioned that listening to the audiobook helped her to push through the LotR books, and while I’m not normally one for audiobooks, I can see the merit in this case.

I did read this book, rather than listening to the audiobook, and gave it 5 stars in the end. I did, however, listen to the LoTR books and have gotten into audiobooks more in general since February of last year. See my review here.

9. Redeeming Grace: Ruth’s Story by Jill Eileen Smith

I don’t know if other people have a favorite book in the Bible, but mine is Ruth. I have always found the romance in the story of Ruth and Boaz. I watched a movie based on the book once, but it was pretty bad (even though I like the guy that played Boaz as a musician, his performance was terribly stilted). So when I came across this book, I knew I had to read it. And if it doesn’t live up to my idea of the story…maybe I should just write my own version!

I literally just finished this book last night, which was perfect, since it was the only book on the list I hadn’t either read or passed on (see #10). And though I haven’t written the review yet or settled 100% on a rating, it will likely be either 3 or 3.5, sadly. Part of that is because of my own ridiculously high standards regarding this story, but I think there were some other issues too.

10. This Present Darkness by Frank E. Peretti

This entry is quite different from the others. I’ve read this book before, but it’s been at least 15 years. I remember loving it, and gave it 5 stars on Goodreads when I first signed up in 2015. I want to re-read this soon and see if it lives up to my memory of it.

I started reading this several months ago, then stopped. I only got a few pages into the story before remembering how long and drama-filled it is, and realizing that I just don’t want to put the time into it. Then I considered listening to the audiobook, but was disappointed when I didn’t have easy access to the version read by the author (I love hearing him read his own work). I may still come back to it for a re-read of a book I read many times in my younger days, but I have a feeling now that it won’t turn out to be 5 stars.

Have you read any of these books? Were any 5-star reads for you?

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

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Top Ten Tuesday: My Spring TBR

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is my spring TBR. I don’t choose books based on the season (except at Christmas time), but I do keep a short list of the next 5-10 books I want to read out of the longer TBR. In the 3 months since posting my winter TBR, the way that I choose my next few books has become more structured. I didn’t want to leave any books on the list too long, or leave a series sitting too long before going on to the next book. And I’m not a mood reader. So I decided that whenever my short list gets down to 5 books, I’d add 5 more to it based on specific criteria. Each addition of 5 will include:

1 book recommended to me by family/close friends OR a book that was self-published
1 book I own
1 book to continue a series
1 book that’s oldest on my full TBR list
1 book that’s an ARC, if needed (and it always is)

Based on past experience, the below list of my next 10 planned books should be approximately half of what I read during spring. (I don’t think the social distancing will affect how much I read by a lot, since I tend to stay home a lot anyway, and I already work from home, so don’t see a lot of extra time to read in my future. Note: I’m not complaining.) The actual order in which I read these will probably change as I go (plus more will probably be added in amongst some of these):

1. The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun
I read a bit of the Cat Who… series when I was a teenager and really liked them. Straight mystery was my favorite genre back then, but I’ve barely read any since coming back to reading. I’ve picked up 1/3 of the 29 books in the series over the years, from garage sales and bargain bins. It’s finally time to get back to my mystery roots, start at #1 (which I own), and go through the whole series.

2. The House at the End of the Moor by Michelle Griep
This is a Netgalley ARC. I read my first Michelle Griep book back at Christmas time and really liked it, so I’m looking forward to reading a non-holiday book of hers.

3. Landry Park by Bethany Hagen
When I first started to get back into reading seriously, before I built my TBR list up to even what it is now, I found this book at Half Price Books and decided to buy it, with no knowledge of it whatsoever. So this book is currently the oldest one on my TBR list.

4. The Outcast by Taran Matharu
This book qualifies as one that continues a series. It’s technically a prequel to a trilogy, but I’ve read the trilogy and don’t feel like it’s complete until I read this. So not only will this book continue a series, it will actually end a series for me, and let’s be honest–how often do we actually finish series we start?

5. The Treasure Map by Tyler Scott Hess
This self-published novelette is apparently a Christmas book, but I probably won’t have Kindle Unlimited for much longer, so I want to read it while I can do so with that service.

6. The Dandelion Killer by Wanda Luttrell
I’ve had this book since probably not long after it came out (2003) and read it a couple of times back then. Along with the criteria mentioned above, I also want to re-read at least 1 book a month, because I do have a lot of books I haven’t read in years that I want to read again and write reviews for and will ignore them if I’m not intentional about it.

7. Star of Persia by Jill Eileen Smith
This is also a Netgalley ARC, the story of Esther, who saved her people from extermination in Persia in around 486 BC. I’m pretty excited to read it.

8. Storm by Evan Angler
This is book #3 in the Swipe series. I wasn’t terribly excited with the series at first, but it really picked up with book #2, so I’m anxious to see what happens next.

9. The Wounded Spirit by Frank E. Peretti
I’ve had this book for a long time, but haven’t read it yet, even though it’s written by my favorite author. That’s probably just because it’s non-fiction, which I’m not usually very interested in. But I do plan to read it soon, checking off another book that’s been on my TBR for a while.

10. Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
I’ve enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables series so far, and I’m looking forward to continuing with book #3.

Have you read any of these? What do you plan to read over the next few months?

Top Ten Tuesday: 5-Star Predictions

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is “Books On My TBR I Predict Will Be 5-Star Reads”. Now here’s the truth about me: I’m really stingy with 5-star ratings. Last year, with 47 books read, I gave only 3 of them 5 stars, though I did give 7 books 4.5 stars, which is pretty close. I just don’t like to give a book 5 stars unless it truly captivated me, and I can’t think of more than a minor thing that I could see being better. (I’ve already given 2 books from this year 5 stars, by the way.)

So in my list below, I’m listing books that I predict will be 4.5 or 5 star ratings, because both generally leave me with the same great feeling after reading. I’m also listing some books that I’m just really hoping will be a 4.5-5 star read for one reason or another.

1. Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
I read Anne of Green Gables for the first time a few months ago and loved it. It was one of the 5-star reads I mentioned above. I plan to read the 2nd book in the series this month, and while some of what made me love the first book will likely be downplayed in the 2nd one (because Anne isn’t a kid anymore), I still anticipate loving it! (See my review for Anne of Green Gables here.)

2. North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson
This is also book #2 in a series, and I loved book #1 (On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness). The first book was mostly the story of how this family went from a normal family in an oppressed land to finding out that they were so much more than normal. The 2nd book will build on that and start the real saga, and I’m looking forward to it! (See my review for On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness here.)

3. The Sea Before Us by Sarah Sundin
I read the 3rd book in this series recently and loved it so much that I knew I needed to read the rest of the series. Normally I don’t like to read out of order, but when I requested the 3rd book on NetGalley, I thought the series was basically stand-alones. However, I realized while reading it that the three books in the series are all about 3 brothers. Though I’ve read a few spoilers of the first 2 books now, it’s not much more than what I would know just from the fact that they’re in the romance genre. (See my review for The Land Beneath Us here.)

4. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
I have watched the BBC mini-series several times. I love it so much. I’ve heard from others who felt that Mr. Thornton (the male lead) has a lot more depth in the book, and I already really like his character. So I’m looking forward to reading it!

5. Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman
I was invited to be part of a blog tour for this book, which comes out in June. This is a first for me, and I’m really hoping to be able to give it a good review as part of the blog tour.

6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
My sister extolled the virtues of this book all through the holidays. She actually recommended several books to me during that time, but she seemed the most sure that I’d like this one. I really hope I love it!

7.  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
This is another book that my sister recommended, but it’s actually on this list because of the fact that, based on her recommendation, I picked up a copy for cheap at Half-Price Books. And even more than that, I later bought book #2 in the series also at a bargain price. It would be particularly disappointing to not like the first book.

8. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
I’ve never read any Tolkien, and it never used to bother me. But after the LotR movies came out, I found myself wishing I was a fan. I have good reason to believe that I would have a difficult time getting through those books, though, and I don’t really want to deal with that. But with this book being for a younger audience, I thought it might be a good way to start. If I still struggle with it, my sister mentioned that listening to the audio book helped her to push through the LotR books, and while I’m not normally one for audio books, I can see the merit in this case.

9. Redeeming Grace: Ruth’s Story by Jill Eileen Smith
I don’t know if other people have a favorite book in the Bible, but mine is Ruth. I have always found the romance in the story of Ruth and Boaz. I watched a movie based on the book once, but it was pretty bad (even though I like the guy that played Boaz as a musician, his performance was terribly stilted). So when I came across this book, I knew I had to read it. And if it doesn’t live up to my idea of the story…maybe I should just write my own version!

10. This Present Darkness by Frank E. Peretti
This entry is quite different from the others. I’ve read this book before, but it’s been at least 15 years. I remember loving it, and gave it 5 stars on Goodreads when I first signed up in 2015. I want to re-read this soon and see if it lives up to my memory of it.

What planned reads do you expect to love? Link your own list in the comments so I can check yours out too!