Tag Archives: Biblical fiction

Review: Under the Cloud, by Violet Nesdoly

Under the Cloud, by Violet Nesdoly (SparrowSong Press, 2020)

What would it be like to be a young girl growing to womanhood in ancient Israel during the wilderness years? With the excitement of the Exodus behind you and the Promised Land not as immediate as everyone had hoped?

Under the Cloud is Zamri’s story. Instead of dreaming of marriage, Zamri longs to become a leader like Moses’ sister, Miriam. She is, however, a daughter in a time when parents are to be obeyed—even when they arrange their daughter’s marriage.

Follow Zamri from girlhood to middle age, and see how she discovers herself able to lead in a very different way than she’d hoped as a child.

I confess when I think of the biblical account Israel’s liberation from Egypt and trek to the Promised Land I don’t have much sympathy—or patience—with their continued doubt. After all, they had the visible Presence of God with them, by day and by night. They saw the Red Sea part, after witnessing all the plagues in Egypt. Yet they grumbled, they disobeyed, and an entire generation ended up dying in the wilderness because of it.

Reading this novel helped me understand some of the fears and influences that make it believable that this rescued people would behave as they did. The faithful knew it wasn’t right, but there would have been many who were still sorting out what it meant to belong exclusively to this One True God.

Under the Cloud is the sequel to Destiny’s Hands, which told the story of Bezalel, a gifted craftsman commissioned by God to craft the holy Tent of Meeting. Zamri is his younger sister. The ending of book two leaves room for a third instalment.

As well as writing biblical fiction, Violet Nesdoly is a poet, artist, and book reviewer. For more about the author and her work, visit violetnesdoly.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: The End of the Magi, by Patrick W. Carr

The End of the Magi: a novel, by Patrick W. Carr

The End of the Magi, by Patrick W. Carr (Bethany House, 2019)

Whether he’s writing historical fiction or epic fantasy, Patrick W. Carr brings exotic settings to life and creates unlikely heroes who inspire strong reader loyalty.

The End of the Magi is an intense, danger-fraught novel of biblical fiction where the magi in question are those who come bearing gifts for the Christ child. But the story—and their role in it—doesn’t end there.

The culture and the prophecies fascinate, and the snippets of wry humour make me smile. And I love how the story shows God choosing to use someone from outside the Hebrew lineage, someone with questionable heritage and a physical deformity, as part of His purposes. How like God to use the unlikely and to include the excluded.

Favourite lines:

“The only thing worse than disagreeing with the king is being right when you do it.” [Kindle location 3182]

“You see yourself as a man cursed with a clubfoot and beset by trials at every turn… But I see a man who has triumphed over every obstacle placed before him.” [Kindle locations 3373 and 3376]

“It’s almost as if God takes delight in accomplishing His ends in the most unlikely way possible.” [Kindle location 3943]

This is a novel for Christmas or for any time of year, for savouring and for discussing. It reminds us that God works in His own methods and according to His own timetable, often in ways that surprise, and that He has a place for the willing heart in His service.

Well done, Patrick W. Carr! As a long-time fan of his fantasy fiction, I give my hearty approval to his first historical fiction.

For more about the author and to read samples of his work, visit patrickwcarr.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher through #NetGalley. My opinions are my own.]

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Author Interview: David Kitz

Author David Kitz, in centurion uniformDavid Kitz is an award-winning Canadian author and Bible dramatist, currently celebrating the release of his newest book, The Soldier Who Killed a King (a true retelling of the Passion).

Janet: Welcome, David, and thanks for taking time to join us. First, I have to ask: what exactly is a Bible dramatist?

David: To put it simply, I act out or dramatize the Bible. For example I have memorized the Epistle of James and present the entire book in costume, often in place of the Sunday morning sermon. I do something similar with fourteen Psalms. In the case of the Psalms, I play the role of David.

Janet: That must have an incredible impact on your own spirit and on those who hear you. Does being able to immerse yourself in the Bible scenes enrich your ability to bring the stories to life?

David: Absolutely. Sometimes we can read the Bible in a detached sort of way, after all it was written in a different time and in a faraway place. But these were real people who lived and experienced these events. Putting yourself in their shoes brings the Bible to life in a whole new way.

Janet: Tell us a bit about The Soldier Who Killed a King.

David: This book was born out of a one-man drama called “The Centurion’s Report” that I have been performing for about twenty years now. After doing this four-act play for a few years I realized that this drama could form the basis for a novel. 

Janet: Did connecting so deeply with the Roman soldier affect you personally?

David: Yes, it did. But even more significantly it affected my identification with the suffering of Jesus. It all happened in a rather mysterious or even mystical way. As my novel writing progressed, I eventually reached the point where I was describing the whipping Jesus endured from the Roman soldiers. At the same time I was diagnosed with a severe case of shin splints. My doctor said, “Things will get worse before they get better.” They did get worse—much worse. Over the next few weeks I wrote the chapters that detail the crucifixion. It was a descent into a personal place of extreme agony. The pain—my pain— kept getting worse until the point when Jesus died. But from that point on I started feeling better. In fact, I recovered rapidly. It seems I needed a taste of agony to make those chapters ring true.

Janet: Wow! God teaches in some unusual ways. What compelled you to write this story?

David: I believe that the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus form the pivotal event in all of human history. As believers we need to experience the personally transformative power of those events. The book is intended to take you there—to immerse you in that life-changing experience.

Janet: Observing with the centurion does bring readers into the story. Any interesting research tidbits?

David: I found Herod Antipas to be a perfect foil for Jesus. In character and conduct he is the polar opposite of Jesus. He’s an ambitious schemer seeking to regain his kingdom.

Janet: It was interesting how you contrasted them in the book. I’m assuming Jesus is your favourite character. Who do you most relate to?

David: Actually, I most relate to the centurion, Marcus Longinus. Maybe it’s because I have played his part so often over the years. He is awestruck by Jesus miraculous power, but quite uncertain what to make of this messianic figure.

Janet: What other books have you written?

David: I’m a rather eclectic writer. My children’s book Little Froggy Explores the BIG World was also a Word Guild Award winner. I have written a devotional study on the psalms entitled Psalms Alive! My literary agent is currently seeking a publisher for my book on the life of James, the brother of Jesus.

Janet: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

David: Don’t give up. This is a very tough business. Learn lots. Pray hard. Know your calling.

Janet: Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?

David:  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

Janet: From the serious to the trivial: Cake or Pie? And what’s your favourite season?

David: Pie by a country mile, and yes, I bake my own pies. Seasons? I like them all. Probably my favourite is a warm sunny day in fall with autumn colours ablaze.

Janet: What do you like to do to recharge?

David: Gardening.

Janet: Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.

David: Access to beautiful cycling trails.

Janet: Congratulations again on your new release, and I pray it impacts many people. Readers who want more can see my review of The Soldier Who Killed a King.



A stunning story of Holy Week through the eyes of a Roman centurion

The Soldier Who Killed a King, by David KitzWatch the triumphal entry of the donkey-riding king through the eyes of Marcus Longinus, the centurion charged with keeping the streets from erupting into open rebellion.

Look behind the scenes at the political plotting of King Herod, known as the scheming Fox for his ruthless shrewdness.

Get a front-row seat to the confrontation between the Jewish high priest Caiaphas and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.

Understand as never before the horror of the decision to save a brutal terrorist in order to condemn the peaceful Jew to death.

If you’ve heard the story of Passion Week so often it’s become stale, now is the time to rediscover the terrible events leading from Jesus’s humble ride into the city to his crucifixion. The Soldier Who Killed a King will stun you afresh with how completely Christ’s resurrection changed history, one life at a time.

Read an excerpt: kregel.com/fiction/the-soldier-who-killed-a-king/

Find more about the author: davidkitz.ca

Review: The Soldier Who Killed a King, by David Kitz

The Soldier Who Killed a King, by David KitzThe Soldier Who Killed a King, by David Kitz (Kregel Publications, 2017)

Remember in the account of the Crucifixion of Christ, the soldier at the foot of the Cross who declared, “Surely this man was the Son of God”? (Mark 15:39, NIV)

The Soldier Who Killed a King is this soldier’s story, told first-person, beginning on Palm Sunday and ending on Resurrection Sunday. One week in the life of an ordinary Roman centurion who was caught in the tumultuous events of Holy Week.

Well-written and with as little brutality as possible, this is a thought-provoking novel worthy to be part of a Christian’s reading each year before Easter. It’s powerful any time of the year.

Sometimes seeing a familiar story through a fresh lens helps us find new insights. This time, I was struck by an aspect of Barabbas’ release that I’d never considered before. (I’ve read the previous version of this book, The Soldier, the Terrorist, and the Donkey King, but somehow this snippet didn’t stick with me.)

The language is fresh and approachable, with just a hint of formality to remind us this is a man from an earlier time. The centurion, Marcus Longinus, is an impartial observer of both Jesus and Herod as each arrives in Jerusalem through the Messiah Gate and proclaims kingship in his own way. Marcus’ language in describing them matches the opinions he forms.

My favourite lines:

The news of Herod’s arrival spread like flies on a rotting corpse. [page 64]

He [Jesus] was the donkey king. A horse would have put him above the crowd. A horse would have meant elevating himself like all the other egotistical men who led in this upside-down world. [page 119]

As a Bible dramatist, David Kitz presents the one-man, four-act play, The Centurion’s Report. He’s also the author of the devotional book, Psalms Alive! and the children’s book Little Froggy Explores the BIG World. And he posts regular reflections on the Psalms on his blog, complete with photos. See davidkitz.wordpress.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher.]

Interview: Canadian author Violet Nesdoly, part 2

Welcome back to part 2 of an interview with Violet Nesdoly, multi-talented writer from British Columbia, Canada. (Click for part 1 of the interview.)

Janet: Violet, last week we talked about the varieties of writing that you do. That’s a lot of work! What would be the perfect writer’s lair for you?

Violet Nesdoly with her new novel, Destiny's Hands Violet: Janet, I have it! When we bought our townhouse in 2007, I laid claim to the largest extra bedroom as my office. I have two desks (one for the computer, one for longhand writing), lots of shelves, a file cabinet. All I need is a lair-fairy to clean it up for me, and to go through and shred all the paper I no longer need to keep.

Janet: A lair-fairy—ooh, I could use one of those too. How does it feel when someone tells you they’ve changed because they connected with something you’ve written?

Violet: As you can imagine, this is huge! One of the reasons I chose to spend my days writing is because the writing of others has made a big impact on my life. I can think of many times a book has brought me to tears with the sense that God is in the room right beside me. The thought that God the Holy Spirit can inhabit words so that they communicate across time and distance is one of the mysteries of life.

When someone tells me that my words have helped them connect with God in some way, I feel a snap of rightness (like when puzzle pieces fit together) and am immensely grateful that I can do this thing that has the potential to impact people for eternity. 

Janet: I like that “snap of rightness” illustration. Those are the satisfying moments that make a writer’s work worthwhile. What do you like best about the writing life?

Violet: The variety. The independence (being my own boss). The challenge to always become a better writer. The vast opportunities because of advances in technology. The fact that I can connect with people all over the world at minimal cost.

Janet: What do you like least?

Violet: Marketing and publicity. Building a ‘platform’ via the social networks. Blowing my  own horn. Knowing that I’m responsible for selling a lot of books. Want to really know? I wrote about it here.

Janet: What do your family think of your writing?

Violet: My family has been so supportive. My husband is the best! He subscribes to my devotions, and gets my back when he finds typos. In all the years I’ve been freelancing, my career has never been a substantial money-maker. But he lets me muddle on, not begrudging me the time or shekels. He even cooks!

Janet: You have a keeper! Let’s step back and meet your non-writing side. What’s the rest of life like?

Violet: My husband and I attend a wonderful church (Christian Life Assembly), and I also attend and have taught at our women’s Wednesday morning program, Women By Design. 

Visiting our daughter, son-in-law and grandkids (a three-hour drive away) is always a treat, as is driving into the big city to dine with our adult son in restaurants of his choosing.

Not to be missed, of course, is the daily hour-long walk hubby and I go for each morning that it isn’t pouring rain. 

Janet: What are some of your favourite things?

Violet: Our grandkids (three beautiful pre-schoolers). Walks in the beautiful outdoors. Bird watching. Identifying wildflowers. My camera. My Kindle e-reader. Scrivener. My New Spirit-Filled Life Bible.

Janet: Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?

Violet: My life passage is Philippians 4:6-7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

A song that has impacted me hugely is “You and Me Alone” by Norm Strauss. Norm is a Canadian singer-songwriter (roots style) and there’s not a lot of his stuff on YouTube. I did write about this particular song on my personal blog way back in 2005. If you’re interested in reading the lyrics and a bit about how the song has impacted me, the article is “marker stone – part 1.”

Janet: That’s a powerful story (I had to read “marker stone – part 2” as well.) I’m glad God has kept you writing! What are you reading these days?

Violet: Since I got my Kindle e-reader, I have more books on the go at one time than ever! The last piece of fiction I read was August Gamble by Linda Hall (downloaded from Smashwords). I also recently finished With Burning Hearts by Henri J. M. Nouwen (that was in hard copy),  Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo, Collections From a Forest – Volume 1, a book of poems by Charlie Van Gorkom, and Journey on the Hard Side of Miracles by Steven Stiles. I’m somewhere in the middle of The Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry Bridges and Rumours of Water by L. L. Barkat.

Janet: What are you listening to?

Violet: I got my husband a Jason Crabb CD for Christmas (Jason Crabb: The Song Lives On – Southern Gospel). I discovered I love it too. Other favourites are The Journey, a project by Stuart Townend, A Way to see in the Dark by Jason Gray, and whenever I’m doing our household’s number crunching, I tune in to Grooveshark Radio, search Andrew Peterson and line up a list of songs by him.

Janet: A number-crunching playlist. That’s a new one. As long as you’re not playing “Mission Impossible” I won’t worry! What do you like to do to get away from it all?

Violet: Hawaii!! We went this January. What fun! We also love to travel in British Columbia and explore out-of-the-way places. I’m always scouting for more murals and funky public art.

Janet:  There are murals in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia too (hint, hint). Thanks so much for taking time to let us get to know you a bit, Violet. May the Lord continue to bless you and make you a blessing to others—in every area of your life.


Destiny's Hands cover art

Destiny’s Hands is available now in print and e-book. You can read the opening chapters of Destiny’s Hands (Kindle version).

You can also find Violet Nesdoly via her main website (previous link) and at the following blogs:

Interview: Canadian author Violet Nesdoly

Today’s visitor is Violet Nesdoly, from British Columbia, Canada. Violet, I often include links to your Other Food: daily devo’s blog, and I realized that’s giving my readers a limited view of who you are. Yes, you write insightful devotionals for adults (and for kids at Bible Drive-thru). But that’s only part of what you do.

I first heard of you as a poet. Care to give us a peek at that part of your life?

Violet NesdolyViolet: First, thanks, so much, Janet, for your support of Other Food: daily devos, and your interest in general.

As you mention the bits and pieces of my writing life, I’m more aware than ever that I’ve built my career the wrong way. Common wisdom is that you choose a subject or genre and become an expert in it. However, it seems I’ve become more of 21st century Renaissance woman, with fingers in lots of pies.

Now, to your question about poetry—I’ve always viewed it as a sideline. But what a fun sideline! My poetry-writing time is my time to play and experiment. Poetry provides the perfect outlet for my love of words and my philosophical bent. It gives me a way to express my enjoyment of nature and dovetails with my hobby of photography.

I’ve put together two poetry collections (available as books) and currently post original poems once or twice a week on my poetry blog  Violet Nesdoly/poems. In addition, I’ve had the satisfaction of seeing my poems published in a few other print and online publications (e.g. Prairie Messenger, Rejoice,  Good Times, Your Daily Poem, Utmost Christian Writers, qarrtsiluni).

I’m also part of a local poets’ group, the Matsqui, Sumas, Abbotsford Poets Potpourri Society (MSA PPS). I am the society’s website administrator and take part in regular readings, open mics and club projects. (Actually, keeps me pretty busy. Maybe it isn’t as much a of sideline as I thought!)

Janet: As well as your own poetry, you’ve written columns on the subject and served as Utmost Christian Writers International Poetry Laureate (2006-2008). And one of your blogs, Line upon line, is writing-related. Teaching seems to be part of your focus too.

Violet: The experience of being Utmost Christian Writers’ Poet Laureate was a huge honour and the wherefore of my second book. 

Writing poetry how-to columns has motivated me to study the craft. I still write a regular (four-times-a-year) poetry column for FellowScript. Writing it forces me to think about how the process of writing poetry works and how I keep motivated so I can pass these things on to others.

As for teaching in general, I guess I have a little of that in my DNA. I have a degree in elementary education and taught in the public school system for a total of five years. Actually, my writing for children has been largely educational too. 

Janet: You also review books at Blogcritics, write a personal blog promptings, and run another blog Murals and More, where you post photographs of murals and public art. Have I left anything out?

Violet: One more thing comes to mind: a little storefront at Constant Content. That’s where I sell content for the web.

Janet: What got you started writing in the first place?

Violet: I started writing when I was in high school. A paper that we got when I was a kid (The Western Producer) had a section called the Young Cooperators Club that published the creative writing of children and teens. To join you gave yourself a pseudonym and submitted writing to the editor of your age group. I got my first taste of publication there as “Nell.”

I didn’t write much for public consumption during my early adult years but the dream of becoming a writer never died completely. After my children were in school, I decided to revive it. At the end of 1995 I enrolled in the “Writing for Children and Teens” course at the Institute for Children’s Literature and  sold my first piece of writing—a Keys for Kids devotion—in March of 1997. I’ve been freelancing ever since.

Janet: And what are you working on now?

Violet: Around 2002 I got an idea for a Bible fiction story (book-length). Over the years I’ve worked on that project, mostly doing research. In 2009 I spent the month of November (NaNoWriMo) writing the story that was in my head. Last spring I worked on it some more and entered it in the Word Alive Press (WAP) free publishing contest.

I was surprised when it made the list of finalists (released in September 2011). Destiny's Hands cover artI have decided to self-publish that book (called Destiny’s Hands, a fictional rendering of the story of Bezalel, the head craftsman of the tabernacle and its accessories—Exodus). I have just finished doing a six-week edit of that manuscript and got it off my desk and into the hands of my editor at WAP  mid-March.

Janet: Congratulations on reaching the publishing stage! Destiny’s Hands is now available, and I’m looking forward to reading it. The cover is beautiful.

Here’s the link to part 2 of this interview with Violet Nesdoly.

Review: Come to Me, by Laura J. Davis

Come to Me, by Laura J. Davis (Word Alive Press, 2010)

Come to Me is the story of Jesus as told by His mother, Mary, near the end of her life. Author Laura J. Davis has compiled the events from the four Gospels and filled in some of the blanks with her imagination. As she writes in the introduction, “If you are familiar with the Bible at all, you will recognize my ‘what-if’ scenarios throughout the book.” She’s invested considerable time in this project, and it makes an interesting and well-thought-out story.

Come to Me is told from a Protestant understanding,  including mention of Jesus’ half-brothers and half-sisters. Roman Catholics and others whose teaching holds that Mary remained a virgin can still read and enjoy the book—just be prepared that you won’t agree with everything. The life of Christ as presented in Scripture has not been changed.

In reading between the lines of Bible text, the author attempts to make sense of how Judas Iscariot, and to a lesser extent Pontius Pilate, came to make the choices they did. The book makes no claim of historical accuracy in these extrapolations, but they’re plausible. Again, if you think differently, remember this is a novel and not a statement of fact.

The story is framed by Mary narrating to Luke and to others. The omniscient point of view keeps the tone somewhat emotionally distant, as we’re told what multiple characters in a scene are thinking. Technically, some of what’s told Mary couldn’t know (Jesus might have later shared His thoughts and feelings with her, but Judas and Pilate wouldn’t).

Aside from that, it’s a good novel to read, and telling “the old, old story” from a different angle lets readers gain new insight into the life of the One whose heart’s cry is “Come to Me”.

It’s especially poignant to read at Christmas or Easter, but it’s a good book for any time of the year. Readers familiar with the Scriptures will recognize many quotes from the Gospel accounts as the novel tells the life story of Jesus.

Come to Me is Canadian author Laura J. Davis’ first novel. You can learn more about Laura J. Davis at her website. Laura also writes two helpful blogs: The Writer’s Keep and Interviews and Reviews.

If you’re planning to buy a copy of Come to Me between now and February 14, 2011, visit Laura J. Davis’ online store. Laura will donate $1.00 from each book sold there to Compassion Canada.

[Review copy provided by the author for the purpose of a fair review.]

Review: What Rough Beast, by Shawn J. Pollett

What Rough Beast, by Shawn J. Pollett (Word Alive Press, 2010)

It’s 253 AD, two years after the events of Christianus Sum. The evil Valerianus is back, and now he’s Emperor of Rome. He establishes his son, Gallienus, as co-emperor, and plans to manipulate him into annihilating the Christians.

Valerianus schemes to eradicate the Christians. But will internal strife destroy them first?

Many of those who denied the Christos under Emperor Decius’ persecution are truly repentant and desperate for forgiveness.

Some church leaders offer certificates of peace, affirming their reinstatement in the body. Others refuse. And understandably, these lapsi have great trouble forgiving themselves.

Damarra’s and Valens’ past suffering at Valerianus’ hands gives them high status among other Christians, and many lapsi come to beg for certificates of peace. Damarra writes them, Valens will not. He, who passed the test in the first book, can’t understand how another could falter—until he reaches his own breaking point.

Before that happens, a stranger comes from one of the Germanic tribes, with a message from the Christos: Valens is to evade the emperor’s clutches and lead a “clan” of 13 to an unknown event at an unspecified time and place outside of the Roman Empire.

The novel follows the assembly and journey of the clan, along with the military and political struggles of each of the co-emperors. The empire is under attack from many sides, including King Kniva from Christianus Sum.

The characters are well-developed, and their relationships add richness to the story. When good characters make bad choices, the reader sees it coming and understands why. Reader tension increases as we keep hoping the individuals will see the truth and turn back in time.

The lapsi make an interesting subplot. This is a new aspect of church history to me, and I can relate to both sides of the issue. Canadian author Shawn J. Pollett has done his research, and he brings the early Christians’ surroundings and issues to life.

The novel’s title comes from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming,” which trembles at the horrors that precede Jesus’ return.

What Rough Beast is book 2 of the Cry of the Martyrs trilogy, and a worthy successor to Christianus Sum. Watch for it in next year’s Canadian Christian Writing Awards.

Both novels are available through local bookstores and online, in print and eBook versions. You can find an interesting introduction to the “Cry of the Martyrs” series at Shawn J. Pollett’s website.

[Review copy provided by the author in exchange for a fair review. A shorter version of this review appeared in Faith Today, Sept/Oct. 2010]

Review: Christianus Sum, by Shawn J. Pollett

Christianus Sum, by Shawn J. Pollett (Word Alive Press, 2008)

In third-century Rome, Christians have enjoyed a time of relative peace…until the installation of Emperor Decius. One of the emperor’s key supporters is Publius Licinius Valerianus, a cruel man who schemes to be next on the throne—and whose hatred of Christianity has already cost many lives.

To refuse to deny the Christos, to adamantly declare “Christianus Sum”—I am a Christian—is to die a martyr’s death.

Roman Senator Julius Valens disagrees. In honour of his dead wife’s faith, he allows a group of Christians to worship in one of the many rooms of his home. Equally indifferent to all deities, he designates other rooms for the other gods his slaves may want to worship.

He doesn’t expect to fall in love with a slave—a Christian slave, at that. The beautiful Damarra and her friends teach him about their faith. Although he’s not convinced, his efforts to protect the Christians from persecution draw him into danger.

Canadian author Shawn J. Pollett has created a complex plot with vivid characters and a strong sense of place and time. I was hesitant to read a novel set in such a troubled era, but the story quickly drew me in. When I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about it.

With long Latin names and authentic details, Christianus Sum (the ‘u’ in ‘sum’ sounds like the ‘oo’ in ‘cook’) isn’t a fast or light read. It slowed me down and made me feel like I was there in the past, in this ornate and formal time of Roman rule. It also let me see a bit of the life and times of the culture.

The novel has plenty of drama and emotion to keep you turning pages, and I appreciated the author’s sensitive handling of the brutality. Much of the suffering is off-camera, so to speak. Readers know what’s going on without being traumatized. The ending does get quite intense, but no more so than necessary and there’s nothing gratuitous about it.

The story is told in the third person with shifts into omniscient, and although occasionally I wasn’t sure of a scene’s point of view it always became clear within a few paragraphs.

As well as the spiritual, persecution and romance threads, Christianus Sum also explores friendship, duty, battles and political intrigues. There’s a lot in these pages to satisfy a reader.

I’m not strong in history and I found myself wondering about these characters, especially the emperors and generals. Were there actual people by these names? How much of this actually happened? The author thoughtfully included an afterward to answer these questions and more.

I’ve finished the novel, but its characters have stayed with me, and I find myself wondering how well I’d stand in such a time of trouble. How my brothers and sisters in Christ would stand. These fictional characters share such a vibrant love for one another and for the Christos, and mine feels so pale in comparison.

As well as love for God, the characters have a strong trust in Him. After one rare, happy experience, we read, “Sometimes, [Damarra] wondered if God worked in unexpected ways for the sheer pleasure of watching his people look up to the heavens, scratch their heads, and ask, ‘How did you do that?’” (p. 49)

In 2009, Christianus Sum received The Word Guild’s Canadian Christian Writing Awards in three of the novel categories: Historical, Mystery/Suspense and Romance. Before that, as an unpublished manuscript, it won Word Alive Press’ 2008 free publishing contest in the fiction category.

Christianus Sum is book one in the “Cry of the Martyrs” trilogy. Book two, What Rough Beast, released in April 2010. I look forward to reading it. Both are available through local bookstores and online. Ebook versions are available through various online stores although not from my favourite, fictionwise.com. I notice a variety of ebook pricing, so shop around.

If you visit Shawn J. Pollett’s website, you’ll find an interesting introduction to the “Cry of the Martyrs” series.

[Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Seeker of Stars, a novella by Susan Fish

Seeker of Stars, by Susan Fish (Winding Trail Press, 2005 and David C. Cook, 2013)

Melchi has always been fascinated by the stars’ slow dance in the night sky. Even after exhausting days learning the family trade of rug making, he steals to the rooftop at night to gaze on his “beauties”.

When his father at last permits him to go and study with the astronomers, Melchi plays a key part in discovering the meaning of a new star and joins the expedition to Jerusalem in search of the newborn king of the Jews.

Told in the first person by an adult Melchoir who looks back over the events leading to his journey—and what happened at its end—Seeker of Stars carries an exotic taste as if this ancient scholar had learned English and invited us to hear the tale.

I love the richness of the language, both in feel and in word choice. Susan Fish says a lot in a very few pages, and creates memorable, complex characters.

This novella has become a part of my Christmas tradition. The season’s first strains of “We Three Kings” bring the story to life in my mind, but I save the reading—like a treat—to savour in the days after Christmas. Ideally I’ll read it around the time of Epiphany, when Christians observe the Magi’s visit.

For more about Canadian author Susan Fish, visit her website: susanfishwrites.wordpress.com. [Note, Seeker of Stars has been re-released with an updated cover. The original is featured above.]

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