“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,

“Mary Magdalene” by Diana Wallis Taylor || Review

Mary Magdalene is and has always been somewhat of an enigma. Whether or not that is to any fault of her own, or rather the historians who sought to personify her still remains unclear. Trust me, I know. I spent a lengthy period of time on Wikipedia before writing this review.
 
This book jumped out at me for a plethora of different reasons. Because Mary Magdalene was such an enigmatic character, several different author’s have tried to make sense of what we know. Each interpretation is vastly different from the other interpretation. Being that Diana Wallis Taylor is a recent discovery of mine, I was eager to read her perspective on the story.
 
After reading Lydia: Woman of Phillippi, I had some pretty high expectations. I really enjoyed her writing and her ability to fit so much information about such a large amount of time, into such a small (but good-sized) novel. Mary Magdalene did not disappoint.
 
The themes of betrayal, how one lie can cause another lie and so on, and forgiveness were so powerful. I found myself pondering the ideas for days after “the end.” The redemption of the characters by the end, was so strong and moving. There were even parts at which I could not help but cry over. This is an emotional journey, and as such, is a prime example of what character development should be in a novel.
 
As far as my list of favorite Biblical fiction authors goes, Taylor is definitely climbing to the top! I can’t wait to read more of her work, and continue to be inspired.
 
If you would like to hear more of my thoughts on Mary Magdalene, then be sure to check out my YouTube video, where I posted a FULL, spoiler-free discussion about the book.
Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this review! As a reminder I’ve got PLENTY more coming up this month that you won’t want to miss. To stay in touch, join my mailing list, and check out all of my social media links!
 
Until next time,

“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!