“The Prophetess” by Jill Eileen Smith || Review

“Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera…” Judges 4:4 – Judges 4:7 (NIV)
Have you read the story of Deborah in the Bible? As a kid, whenever the girls got to read a Bible story in Sunday school, Deborah was almost always the one picked. I was more on the side of wanting to hear the love story of Ruth, or the story of Queen Esther. The idea of a leader never really appealed to me; in hindsight, this is probably because I had no interested in leadership myself. I was far too obsessed with unicorns and poodles.
 
Now, having prefaced this review, I think that it is only fair to say that it is entirely because of this bias that I avoided reading this story for so long. Of course, I’m older now and hopefully wiser. Deborah is “way more cool” to me now than she was when I was hosting tea parties in my imaginary castle tower. Still, the book didn’t appeal to me AT FIRST because of my childhood bias, but when I started reading it recently I had a much greater depth of respect and understanding of Deborah.
 
I finally did get around to reading it, and it absolutely blew my expectations away! This book feminized Deborah, in a way my Sunday school classes didn’t when I was growing up. As a kid, Deborah was often presented as a kind of warrior or a cardboard cutout of a superhero, without any flaws or anything to make her relatable to me. Jill Eileen Smith endows Deborah with far more realistic qualities: a romantic relationship, marital distress, disconnect between a mother and her daughter, anxiety, fear, and a desire to remain in the background; not to lead.
 
All of those struggles give Deborah’s character arc a lot of potential to grow. To realize that God called her to something in her life, and that she must rise above her self-doubt to fulfill His great plan and give her life over to Him. But for me, the character development wasn’t there.
 
When I reached the end of the book, I felt somewhat let down. I didn’t really feel like Deborah had triumphed over her struggles, but rather that she had settled into a more comfortable rhythm in her life. There wasn’t a lot of noticeable change between the version of Deborah we are introduced to at the beginning of the story, and the version of Deborah we see at the end of the story, except for the fact that she is older. At least, that’s how I felt. I’ve read a lot of different reviews that had different takeaways from the novel (which is what I love about books. They’re art and can be interp so many different ways).
 
She finds balance at the end, but as a reader I was not able to take any life lessons away from her journey. I didn’t feel particularly inspired or motivated as I had hoped I would.
 
Now I promise you, about 100 pages into the story, I was so excited to see how it would all pan out! Any previous misconceptions about Deborah were gone, and I was overwhelmed with anticipation for the end of the story. I just found the end, well, less satisfying than I had desired.
 
Overall it was a good book, with a good story. There were several subplots I enjoyed very much, but Deborah’s specific arc was underwhelming for me. I guess you could say it was mediocre. 3.5-4/5 stars from me.
 
If you’re interested, you can watch my video review on YouTube where I discuss the book and my feelings about it at this link:
 
 
Of course I will continue to read Jill Eileen Smith’s books in the future! Her Wives of the Patriarchs series remains one of my favorite Biblical fiction series of all time! This book just wasn’t for me, and that’s okay. Maybe it was for you! I would love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read it, or if you’ve ever felt a similar way about another book! Let’s chat about it! It’s really easy to connect with me. You can comment on this post, use the contact form on this site, or follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jennavanmourik.
 
As always, keep reading and keep living your life for the One who made it all!

“Live Fearless” by Sadie Robertson || Review

You have trouble breathing. Your heart is racing. Your mind? Consumed by the worst of thoughts. Your whole live is plagued by fear, by crippling anxiety. How can you live like that?
 
Answer: you don’t.
 
In Live Fearless: A Call to Power, Passion, and Purpose by Sadie Robertson, Robertson details her personal struggle with anxiety and how she went from letting it control her life, to giving control over to the only one who deserves it. God.
 
You might know Robertson from Duck Dynasty, or from her appearances on Dancing With the Stars. What you don’t know, are the true stories of the battles against fear she fought each night before a performance. Which, to be honest, if you can be absolutely terrified and yet STILL go out on stage, represents and incredible amount of bravery in my opinion. To ignore fear and carry on, is courage in and of itself!
 
But where did she get that courage from? From prayer, studying the Bible, receiving encouragement from her mentors, and being in constant communication with God
 
Throughout the book, Sadie Robertson sets apart paragraphs that example how to pray, encouragement for those still struggling, and questions to ponder as you continue your own battle against fear and anxiety.
 
As an anxious person myself, Sadie Robertson’s uplifting book and positive perspective on life has given me a lot to think about. The verses and life lessons she shared have helped me armor up with the Word of God, so that next time an attack comes, I’ll be prepared to fight it.
 
You can watch my FULL video review on YouTube and see exactly why I loved this book so much. It has had such a tremendous impact on how I view fear and anxiety.
 
 
As always, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to read this post. I really hope that you enjoyed it, as I always enjoy writing these for you. Don’t forget to subscribe to my mailing list if you haven’t already, to ensure that you NEVER miss new content from me, and if you want to keep up with my life on a daily basis then don’t forget to follow me @jennavanmourik on Instagram and subscribe to my YouTube channel.

“Lydia: Woman of Philippi” by Diana Wallis Taylor || Review

Before I get into my review of this book, I want you to know who the real Lydia of Philippi was – because I knew nothing about her. First, let me quote a passage from the book of Acts (Where Lydia’s story is briefly documented. She is first mentioned in Acts 16:13-15, as read here:
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatiranamed Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
The only other time she is mentioned is at the end of the chapter (Acts 16:40):
After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.
Not a lot to go on, but I’ll fill in some of the background information. She was known as a dealer of cloth, clearly a wealthy and capable woman who may or may not have been a widow or free woman, and is widely considered to be the first documented European convert to Christianity.
 
This is another one of those cases where an under-appreciated, unknown, or often-overlooked Biblical figure has their story expanded on through the form of writing. I’m sorry, but I just LOVE that words have the power to do that. To give life and a deeper meaning to someone who might otherwise just be considered another name on a long list. To take the Bible’s already extraordinary message, and translate it to something that can be received by an wide audience.
 
 
Lydia: Woman of Philippi by Diana Wallis Taylor is an intriguing book about a Biblical figure that I had not always considered as important, interesting, or as a relatable example that I could look to in my personal walk with Christ. The thing is, when you add in the narrative that Taylor has created, combined with the cultural significance of the real Lydia’s actions, and of course the context surrounding the story, Lydia becomes an incredible Biblical heroine.
 
Taylor’s book reminds us of the importance of scripture. For the character of Lydia, having God’s word in her heart and repeating it to herself over and over again keeps her going. The LORD is her STRENGTH! I think that’s something that I rarely see in action. You can go to church, read the Bible, etc., but do you really hide God’s word in your heart, as a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path? Sometimes we forget just how powerful scripture really is.
 
Her journey to faith is unlike most we read about, because she already believes in God. No one has to convince her that there is a God, she must be convinced that there is a Christ.
 
Overall, a wonderful Bib. fic. read that left me craving more! (You can bet I went straight to Amazon after reading this, flooding my wishlist with a whole host of other books by Taylor). If you would like to hear more about this book, I HIGHLY recommend that you watch my video discussion of it. Don’t worry, all my videos are spoiler-free, so it’s perfectly fine for you to watch if you haven’t read Lydia: Woman of Philippi yet.
 
 
As always, thank you so much for taking the time to be here today. If you aren’t already, make sure you’re subscribed to my mailing list (I promise I won’t spam you!!!), subscribed to me on YouTube, and of course following me on Instagram, so that you can stay up-to-date on my life, chapter by chapter, page by page! Until next time,

“A Passionate Hope” by Jill Eileen Smith || Review

Have you read Hannah’s story in the Bible? Perhaps in Sunday school as a kid or in a sermon more recently as an adult? I’ve heard Hannah’s story a million different times, but I never connected to it until I read Jill Eileen Smith’s latest Biblical fiction novel, A Passionate Hope.
 
This book is exactly what it says it is: the story of deeply passionate people who never stop hoping for a miracle to happen.
 
Hannah, who was barren, waits patiently for God to grant her wish to have a child but not without some trials along the way. Having read this story, it’s only endeared me more to Hannah and I’ve learned so much just by reading this book.
 
For more details on my thoughts, I would love it if you would check out my video review of this book over on my YouTube channel! And of course, don’t forget to like this post, subscribe to my mailing list if you haven’t already, and go check out all of my other social media links (Instagram in particular: @jennavanmourik).
Thank you so much for stopping by today. Really, your support means the world to me and I’m so glad we’re on this literary adventure together!

“Keturah” by Lisa T. Bergren || Review

Keturah by Lisa T. Bergren has been out for a while, and admittedly, it took me a while to cross it off my “TBR” list and move it over to my “Read” shelf on Goodreads.
 
Being that this is the first book I’ve read by Bergren, I expected that. I always struggle when trying to get used to new authors, their voices, and their different styles of writing. As a side effect of that, I rarely ever pick up a new author. I like to stick to my “auto-buy” authors. The ones I know, love, and trust. However, this one had a plot that I simply could NOT ignore. Plus, the setting?! Caribbean?! YES, PLEASE.
 
Here’s the summary for you:
“In 1772 England, Lady Keturah Banning Tomlinson and her sisters find themselves the heiresses of their father’s estates and know they have one option: Go to the West Indies to save what is left of their heritage.
Although it flies against all the conventions for women of the time, they’re determined to make their own way in the world. But once they arrive in the Caribbean, proper gender roles are the least of their concerns. On the infamous island of Nevis, the sisters discover the legacy of the legendary sugar barons has vastly declined–and that’s just the start of what their eyes are opened to in this unfamiliar world.
Keturah never intends to put herself at the mercy of a man again, but every man on the island seems to be trying to win her hand and, with it, the ownership of her plantation. She could desperately use an ally, but even an unexpected reunion with a childhood friend leaves her questioning his motives.
Set on keeping her family together and saving her father’s once-great plantation, can Keturah ever surrender her stubbornness and guarded heart to God and find the healing and love awaiting her?”
 
The Caribbean is definitely on my travel-buckatlist and while I probably won’t be making a trip their anytime soon, I seriously enjoyed traveling there in my mind’s eye thanks to the wonderful descriptions by Lisa T. Bergren.
 
I felt like the first third of the book moved very slowl, and it took me a while to get hooked on the characters. There were so many, each with their own arcs and motivations. I think that’s where I struggled the most, but once I hit chapter 12, I was gone! So deep in love with Gray, Ket, Selah, Verity, and the rest of the crew.
 
Gray is a romantic interest that I did not like at first. In fact, I found him rather loathsome. Kudos to the author for making me go through such a range of emotions with this character! From being the bored and disinterested reader, to being the reader who cheers him on as he passionately pursues Keturah’s affection. That’s real growth, and I love that a book can do that.
 
Keturah is a strong character, but she obviously sets herself apart from the rest. She’s scarred, she’s a victim, and she doesn’t trust anybody. Still, she’s strong and determined to succeed on her own, regardless of her past.
 
The different plot twists and revelations had my jumping off my couch (an impressive feat, by the way).
 
I really appreciated how the author handled the topic of slavery in the novel. It was a very real part of life in the colonial West Indies, and while it would be easy to sugarcoat it (no pun intended) and present instead a love story set against the backdrop of a glorious sugar cane plantation, the author does no such thing. I mean, sure, it is a love story set against the backdrop of a recovering plantation, but the author deals with issues of racism and slavery skillfully and I admire that.
 
Overall, I really loved it and I especially loved the sisters’ relationships with each other. It was very sincere and authentic, and I really enjoyed that. I always love when a book manages to capture raw human emotion and actually portrays real life rather than just mere caricatures of such.
 
I stand by my opinion that this book moves a bit slowly, but I strongly encourage you to give it a chance nonetheless. I will definitely be picking up the sequel to this book when it comes out. Of course, I do hope that in the second installment the pace picks up a bit more and the other characters’ arcs are deepened, because I’m very interested in what will happen to Ket’s younger sisters.
 
I’m sure you will be too, if you read this book!
 
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Until next time,