Shelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette || Review

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You shouldn’t be surprised, I loved this book! But more on that later. First, allow me to share with you the summary of what this book is about. Then I can tell you all EXACTLY why it is so brilliant! P.S. – keep reading until the end for a few words from the author herself!

The daughter of a pagan high priest, Sofea finds solace from her troubles in the freedom of the ocean. But when marauders attack her village on the island of Sicily, she and her cousin are taken across the sea to the shores of Canaan.

Eitan has lived in Kedesh, a City of Refuge, for the last eleven years, haunted by a tragedy in his childhood and chafing at the boundaries placed on him. He is immediately captivated by Sofea, but revealing his most guarded secret could mean drawing her into the danger of his past.

As threats from outside the walls loom and traitors are uncovered within, Sofea and Eitan are plunged into the midst of a murder plot. Will they break free from the shackles of the past in time to uncover the betrayal and save their lives and the lives of those they love?

40417708_1910724655902606_8390603793993039872_oShelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette is the latest book in her Cities of Refuge series, a continuation of her previous series, Out From Egypt. It remains just as captivating and compelling as her previous four novels, without losing any of the creative spark that made her writing so unique and refreshing in the first place!

In the novel, Sofea comes to the land of Canaan, a land where she knows no one, does not speak the language, and is surrounded by strange and unfamiliar customs and rituals all to please a god that she has never seen and can find no idols of anywhere in the house.

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Meanwhile, Eitan, a side character from A Light on the Hill, struggles with the demons of his past. As his feelings for Sofea only deepen as they learn more about each other and get to know one another, the dark secrets of his past begin to cast shadows on his newfound happiness.

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Still, he and his family try their very best to be the light that Sofea so desperately needs to give her new hope and move her from a place of fear and depression, to a place of refuge and joy. The king of joy that only God can bring.

Danger, traitors, pirates, and murder plots ensue, each bringing their own obstacles to Sofea and Eitan’s path as they try to build a love that transcends language.

Like each of this book’s predecessors, it tells an intriguing story which shines a light on a part of the Bible and Old Testament history that we don’t otherwise often hear about. I think that’s what makes Connilyn Cossette’s books so entertaining, that they are so new and unique compared to other works in the Biblical fiction genre. Unless you are a Biblical scholar, you might not have known about the Cities of Refuge in the Bible, but Connilyn Cossette chose to make them the setting for her series. Time after time, she brings to life otherwise forgotten worlds and passages, and each time she does so, she succeeds with incredible triumph.

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This book was deep, hopeful, encouraging, exciting, and it was also entertaining! The things that Sofea so often misunderstood about the Hebrew culture and customs were almost comical, in a sad sort of way. Watching her experience that world and God for the first time was an amazing experience, as was the rest of the book.

I cannot recommend this book (and the previous books by this author) ENOUGH! You should definitely get a copy and consider reading the entire series if you can. You will not be disappointed.

While I did receive a copy of this book for review as a part of being on the book launch team for Shelter of the Most High, all opinions expressed are my own. This did not affect my rating of the book in any way.

BONUS Q&A WITH THE AUTHOR, CONNILYN COSSETTE:

Connilyn Cossette was kind enough to give all of us bloggers on the launch team the opportunity to ask her any questions we would like, in exchange for some general answers we could all share. Being the curious reader I am, I was quick to fire away with questions about the next book in the series, the writing process, and what we can expect to see from her in the future. Here are a few of those questions and answers, JUST FOR YOU!

  1. Is Sofea and Eitan’s story finished, or will we see more of them? The next book, Until the Mountains Fall, opens about 8 years after Shelter of the Most High, so you will definitely see what Eitan and Sofea are up to. I won’t spoil anything about their appearances but I will say that it made me so happy to revisit them and to “see” their love story through the eyes of a grown-up Malakhi (the hero of UTMF).
  2. The cities of refuge in the Old Testament isn’t a topic we hear about a lot in church, how did this play into your research? Did you find it easier or more difficult to portray what life would be like for your characters in such a place?
    That is very true. I knew pretty much nothing about them either but there is research out there, albeit sparing, from Christian and also Jewish Rabbinical sources that helped me fill in some gaps which I then just blended with what I know about God and about the plan of salvation that fits so perfectly into the Cities of Refuge pattern. As I began to “flesh out” the City of Kedesh in my mind it honestly became a real place in my head, so it’s not difficult to place myself there and envision what my characters see. When I went to Israel and drove near the place where the actual city once stood (or at least across the valley from it) it was kind of surreal to blend my “fictional” Kedesh with the actual landscape.
  3. How did you come up with the topic for this story? Well, in the beginning it was an off-hand comment by my husband’s best friend that I actually laughed off at first and then began to realize was a completely cool premise! But I can’t really tell you what that comment was because it’s a major spoiler! But I also did some research about the Bronze Age and found out there was a real problem with pirates back then and knew I had to weave them in too. The original plot idea was very different and involved more pirates and even some ancient drug trade (yes, there was such a thing) and ended up being a tangled mess that didn’t make much logical sense, so I am really pleased with how it all came together…eventually.
  4. Do you relate particularly well to any one of the characters in this book? Why or why not? I always find little ways I relate to many of my characters but in Shelter of the Most High I think perhaps I connected the most with Eitan’s struggle with recurring self-condemnation. In order to avoid spoilers I won’t say exactly how he handles these issues but I think for me, and for many other followers of Jesus, I have a habit of bringing up my past sins and beating myself over the head with them, even though His grace is sufficient and I have no need to wallow in condemnation any more. If we are in Covenant with Jesus through his blood then we have been freely forgiven, so we must stop letting the Enemy whisper in our ear that we are not worthy. Eitan goes through the process of trying to “earn” forgiveness for something he had already been given grace for and I am guilty of doing the same thing at times. His journey was a great reminder to me that I am already free, so I need to stop acting like a slave to my past!
  5. Was there anything interesting that happened during the writing of this book (or that made its way into the writing of this book) that the average reader wouldn’t pick up on? The biggest change for me was traveling to Israel. I went from having to rely on the internet and Google Earth for my experiences of the Land to getting the opportunity to see and feel and taste and touch and smell those places for myself. It shifted my understanding of the “smallness” of the country and how close everything in the Bible is in relation to one another and gave me a wealth of sensory detail to layer into my stories. I’d already written Shelter of the Most High when I went there but during editing I was able to tweak and expand due to my firsthand experiences. It was life-changing in many ways.
  6. Is there any particular message (that isn’t obvious) that you would like your readers to get out of this book? As I began writing the Cities of Refuge Series I came to the realization that the places God set up as sanctuaries for those convicted of manslaughter (Joshua 20) were a wonderful picture of the Body of Christ and how the Church should relate to the world. Our congregations should be a haven for the hurting, a place of safety and provision for those who are suffering, a place where the teaching of the Word (Torah) is central, a gathering of redeemed people who appreciate the grace and mercy they’ve been given, and a light on the hill to the weary and heavy laden. Throughout the series you’ll see cities of refuge like Kedesh where these principles are upheld and valued and others that have became more focused on wealth, power, self-righteousness or have slidden into idolatry and compromise. History shows us that these cities of refuge were kind of a blip on the timeline, in fact scholar think that many of the 48 cities designated for the Levites by Moses were never even settled. If the Church wants to have an impact on the culture around us, instead of the other way around, we would do well to pattern our congregations after these places of perfectly balanced justice and mercy.

Shelter of the Most High releases on October 2nd, and you do NOT want to miss it! As another special surprise, my video discussion/vlog review of this book will also be going live on October 2nd as well, to celebrate the official release! Make sure you are subscribed to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss it!

Until next time,

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Pearl in the Sand || Review

 

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Pardon the generic stock photo above, but BookTubeAThon 2018 totally DESTROYED ME (as I predicted it would), and I’m only just now catching up on reviews!

Since I did read a fair amount during the BTAT, rather than just doing one giant wrap-up post, I thought I would go ahead and take the time to review each book individually, and give them all the bookish love they deserve. Let me tell you, the first book I will be reviewing from BTAT REALLY deserves all the love!

Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar is a Biblical fiction novel which centers around the life of Rahab the prostitute who hid the Israelite spies in her home and was rewarded for this act by being spared by God when the walls of Jericho came crashing down. After this tremendous event, Rahab decides to join the Israelites and worship the One True God. But even after experiencing all the things that God has to offer her, she still struggles with the idea of redemption. Can God ever really redeem her?

You and I both know that the answer to that is yes, for we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but we all saved by grace and through faith in our Savior. But, as a born again Christian, those words are often a lot easier to say than they are for someone who is only just discovering what faith is and means to them to believe. That’s why I loved this book so much!

It isn’t often in Christian fiction that someone really *struggles* to accept God. In a lot of books I’ve read (not all, but quite a few), it seems like the characters have on single “A-ha!” moment and from then on, all of their problems are miraculously solved. Don’t get me wrong, this can happen. God works in amazing ways! But for many people that I know, and even for myself, faith is so much more of a journey than it is a single sentence or paragraph. One sentence may be the catalyst that prods us to dig deeper into our faith and our relationship with God, but we will always be searching for more of Him and trying to understand more.

This book is that journey. Tessa Afshar has written a powerful, deeply moving narrative based on the story of Rahab, unlike any other I have seen before. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who is just discovering what Biblical fiction is, or who has been a long time Biblical fiction fan! People have been recommending this author to me for MONTHS, so it’s about time I started recommending her books to you too!

Don’t forget to check out my YouTube channel where I posted a casual book discussion video, filled with all of my thoughts on this one in particular! Until next time,

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The Heart Between Us || Review

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The Heart Between Us by Lindsay Harrel was perhaps one of the best gifts I have received this year (I’m still holding out that someone will buy me a Barnes & Noble for Christmas)! When my father was in town recently he offered to buy me a book (THANKS DAD!), and after five laps around the store, this was the one that I settled on!

Let me summarize the plot for you! Megan Jacobs has always struggled with her heart. Three years after her transplant, and she’s still in recovery! But she has a lot more to recover from than just her lifelong illness. Now she’s on a mission to travel the world and complete the bucket list that belonged to her heart donor. While she’s certainly seeing a lot of sites and learning a lot about the world, she’s also learning what it means to trust God, how to mend broken relationships, and the true meaning of joy. In the midst of all of that, she tries to simultaneously fix things with her estranged sister, as well as get back in touch with her friend from the hospital (her extremely attractive friend, I might add!!!). How far will Megan travel in order to find healing?

You can read more about the book HERE.

Now, onto my review!

This book was a heart-racing, sweet romance, globe-trotting adventure that explores so many different themes, important issues, and tough topics in a tactful way! We’ve all been damaged in some way. We all might consider ourselves “broken,” whether we’re broken from an extreme illness, or from something else. But God has the power to fix all of us, whether you need an actual heart transplant, or a metaphorical one.

Or if your relationships need major reconstructive surgery.

Or if you’re trapped by your past, stuck, paralyzed, and unable to move forward.

This book was amazing, and I highly recommend it! If you want to hear more about this book, beyond what I have posted here in my review, be sure to go and check out my SPOILER FREE discussion of this book, posted to my YouTube channel!

If YOU’RE participating in Book-Tube-A-Thon 2018, I’ll be seeing you A LOT come July 30th! Until then, happy reading!

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More Than Meets the Eye || Review

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Photo from my Instagram account: @jennavanmourik

I was sent a free copy of More Than Meets the Eye by Karen Witemeyer in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way affected my opinions on the book itself.

Many consider Evangeline Hamilton cursed. Orphaned at a young age and possessing a pair of mismatched eyes–one bright blue, the other dark brown–Eva has fought to find her way in a world that constantly rejects her. Yet the support of even one person can help overcome the world’s judgments, and Eva has two–Seth and Zach, two former orphans she now counts as brothers.

Seeking justice against the man who stole his birthright and destroyed his family, Logan Fowler arrives in 1880s Pecan Gap, Texas, to confront Zach Hamilton, the hardened criminal responsible for his father’s death. Only instead of finding a solitary ruthless gambler, he discovers a man not much older than himself with an unusual family. When Zach’s sister, Evangeline, insists on dousing Logan with sunshine every time their paths cross, Logan finds his quest completely derailed. Who is truly responsible for his lost legacy, and will restoring the past satisfy if it means forfeiting a future with Evangeline?

(Summary)

I took a “gamble” on a new author, and I was NOT disappointed. If you’ve never read anything by Karen Witemeyer, then don’t wait a second longer, because you are truly missing out.

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Before this, I had never read a book by Karen Witemeyer and honestly, I had no idea what to expect! However, I was not expecting perfection in so many pages! Humor, drama, and constant entertainment meets heartwarming dialogue and character dynamics that took me back to a time, not so long ago, when life was a little bit simpler, but the stakes were quite a bit higher! Whatever good things you have heard about this book, I promise you, they’re all true!

From the beginning of the prologue (read the prologue, don’t be like fourteen year old me and skip it because you didn’t think prologues were important), I found myself completely attached to these characters. Maybe it was the fact that it was set on an orphan train that made me want to adopt them all and make them a part of my own family?

Evangeline was the perfect female lead. She is obviously different, sticks out from the crowd, and endures the scrutiny of many of the people who also live in the small town of Pecan Gap. Despite all of this, she does not let it define her, but rather rises above it all, embracing the uniqueness that God has given her, and showing others how to do the same!

Amid the romance and action, there was also a hint of mystery and suspense hidden in the book that made me keep turning the pages! I appreciated that this book had so many different aspects of stories and familiar arcs that I love – that’s why I think it would be perfect for anyone to read!

By the end of the story, the characters have overcome trust issues, deceit, grief, confidence and self-esteem problems, and even anger and grudges! Never has a book made me laugh out loud, cry oh-so-many tears, and still demonstrated important lessons about life and love all at the same time!

If you’re interested in hearing more of my thoughts on this book, then do not hesitate to check out my YouTube channel where I have posted a full, video review and spoiler-free discussion for you! Thanks so much for taking the time to read this review, and now, I must get back to reading more books! Until next time,

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Christian Author Tag || Questions

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Hey all! Recently, Lizzy Murphy and I connected on Twitter. I LOVE meeting fellow readers and writers who also share my passion for God and His word, so when she asked if I would be interested in collaborating on our YouTube channels, it was a no brainier!

I think one of the reasons that this tag appeals to me so much, is because I’ve never seen anything like it before. There a lot of author tags, writing tags, and Christian tags… As a Christian fiction writer, I don’t fit into either category. I’m a little bit of both!

So why not have a tag just for people like me and Lizzy? Hence *dramatic music* THE CHRISTIAN AUTHOR TAG!!!

We both posted the videos to our YT channels today, so you can go and check out all of our answers and how we did the tag. While we both tagged some people to join us in the fun, I thought I’d post the questions here just in case one of you wanted to do the tag too!!!

I think it’s a great way for us writers to connect and I hope to meet lots of Christian fiction authors/Christian authors through this tag! Here are the questions:

  1. What does it mean to you to write Christian fiction?
  2. What is your book about?
  3. What are some books from Christian authors you’ve read?
  4. Did you know you wanted to write Christian fiction? 
  5. How would you say your writing affects your relationship with the Lord and how you view the Bible?
  6. Is there a “sense of responsibility” when it comes to writing Christian Fiction, to be faithful to the message of Christianity? Do you see it as being a stressful or difficult part of writing, or as an great opportunity to share God’s love?
  7. What makes Christian Fiction different from other genres? 
  8. How is it different from writing regular fiction, Christian fiction?
  9. What are some challenges to writing Christian Fiction (that might not be challenges for writing in another genre)? 
  10. Is it harder to write Christian fiction
  11. When strangers ask you what you write, is it ever difficult to explain Christian fiction? Do you struggle to share your faith in these situations.

If you do this tag, please let me know! I would love to watch your video, get to know you, and hear more about your books! Anyways, until next time,

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“Journey to the Well” by Diana Wallis Taylor || Review

Journey to the Well by Diana Wallis Taylor is the tragic story of the life of the woman at the well who found herself face to face with Jesus, confronted by all of her sins, and how she got to that point in her life.
 
I think some of us, if not all of us, are guilty of assuming things about this woman and how she got into the position of being so deep in sin and lies. I think the reality is, is that no one wakes up and just decides they want to ruin their lives in that way. For our main character, it’s one event after another that drains her soul more and more until she doesn’t have any hope left in her.
 
She is abandoned. She is lied to. She is cheated. She is abused. Need I say more?
 
BUT WAIT.
 
The story doesn’t end there. I mean, does it ever? Her life doesn’t even begin until she meets Jesus Christ. Her cup was empty, her well was dry – and yet, the love of God completely refills her until she is overflowing with all of the things she didn’t have before. Hope. Love. Faith.
 
And joy.
 
Some things about this book that I really enjoyed:
1. First of all, you all know I have grown obsessed with Diana Wallis Taylor’s books. She does a great job of packing a lifetime of events into a decently sized paperback book. No surprise there – I loved her writing style.
2. I liked how the Taylor divided up the book for the different relationships in the main character’s life. First of all, it made it easier to separate and establish a timeline of events. Second of all, it was a unique way of breaking up a book as opposed to “part 1” and “part 2” and so on.
3. I really liked the dialogue between her and Jesus (which is obviously from the Bible, I know), and I also liked how you got to read about the other townspeople’s reactions. How her friends and family members noticed a change in her. I thought that was very powerful.
 
To hear ALL of my thoughts on this book, please check out my video discussion:
 
 
Don’t forget to subscribe to my mailing list if you haven’t already, and make sure you’re following me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @jennavanmourik or facebook.com/jennavanmourik so that you NEVER miss an update. Until next time,

“First Impressions” by Debra White Smith || Review

Pride & Prejudice was a book I avoided reading for a long time, like a high school boy might skip reading Romeo & Juliet for homework. The story never grabbed my attention. Maybe I was just immature or going through “a phase,” but nevertheless I just never got around to experiencing the story in any of its many forms (books, film, TV, etc.).
 
IN FACT, one of the two or three times I was punished as a child, my mom said I wasn’t allowed to watch TV (meaning television, DVDs, movies, or VHS!!!) for a whole week, unless I was watching Pride and Prejudice. Stubborn as I was, I proved that I didn’t need to watch TV for entertainment, and that I most certainly didn’t need to watch a snobby romance movie. Please, cut me some slack, I was like eight or nine!
 
Come several years later when I started blogging and became involved in the Bethany House Blogger Reviewer program, an opportunity caught my eye. I heard tell of a book called First Impressions, which is a modern retelling of the popular Austen classic. Yes, the very same one I avoided like the plague.
 
It’s no secret that Biblical fiction is my bread and butter, but every once in a while, I find myself drawn to a sweet, contemporary romance. It’s the start of summer, I just moved into a new apartment complex complete with pool, and I wanted some light reading I could take with me on my many, MANY trips to the pool. This book was the one I chose!
In exchange for a full review posted to my blog, Bethany House sent me a free copy of First Impressions by Debra White Smith. However, just a friendly reminder, this in no way has affected my opinions of this book.
 
Let me just start by saying that YES, before I officially started reading this book I did familiarize myself with the source material by Jane Austen, so that I could write a well-informed review. Now, since I’ve been babbling so long with all of this backstory, let me tell you what I thought of the book itself!!!
 
Debra White Smith has managed to bring a “tale as old as time,” to a new and modern era while still maintaining the original wit and wisdom of Jane Austen. Her adaptation follows the life of Eddi Boswick, and her somewhat difficult relationship with the town of London, Texas’ most eligible rancher, Dave Davidson. When she tries out for the local theatre group’s production of Pride and Prejudice starring as Elizabeth Benett opposite Mr. Davidson’s interpretation of Mr. Darcy, her life slowly starts to mirror Jane Austen’s classic tale of life and love. As a former theatrical performer myself, I found this setting perfect! I enjoyed every aspect of reading about their auditions, rehearsals, backstage drama, and (NO SPOILERS) opening night of the play!!!
 
I particularly enjoyed the relationships between the sisters, Eddi and Jane Boswick (who represent Elizabeth and Jane Benett from Pride and Prejudice). Their relationship was very lifelike and natural, very much like my own relationships with my “sisters” in Christ. The character development in Dave Davidson (Mr. Darcy) rivaled that of the original, and even though I knew how the story was going to end, Smith still managed to throw in a few surprises and things that I wasn’t expecting in his storyline.
 
The ending was and is just as magical as ever. If I had to describe this book in one word? Classic.
 
Just like the original.
 
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves both contemporary romance, as well as classic literature. That is, Austen literature. It is the perfect blend of both and absolutely charming! I will concede that there were some thematic elements that made me feel uncomfortable when reading (an unexpected pregnancy/intimate relationship outside of marriage, several mentions of and references to drug use. If either of these things are an issue for you, you might not want to read this). However, within the context of the story they totally made sense, especially if you know anything about Lydia Bennett’s character in the original novel. I could overlook it for the sake of the plot, but felt like they were worth mentioning in the review for full disclosure.
 
If you read or have read First Impressions by Debra White Smith then PLEASE let me know what you thought in the comments below, or by e-mailing me at jennavanmourik@gmail.com. Remember, you can find me on Instagram and Twitter @jennavanmourik and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JennaVanMourik. I’m also on YouTube! Make sure you watch my full discussion of this video, where I let out ALL OF MY FEELS about each and every one of Smith’s dazzling characters!
 
 
See you next time,