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Archive for the ‘Fiction – Christian’ Category

the-last-sin-eaterThe Last Sin Eater

By Francine Rivers

Paperback, 1999

Tyndale House

ISBN-10: 0 8423 3571 4

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Last-Sin-Eater-Francine-Rivers/dp/0842335714

Allegory, Appalachia and Advocates: I’ll use these three words to describe this unique novel. I bought this book a year ago after reading other books by Francine Rivers. I had no idea what the book was about and to be honest, it’s not the type of title that normally appeals to me, but since her other books were so good, I bought it. I guess I must have read the first chapter or two because I found a bookmark placed between pages 20 and 21. I can’t remember why I set it aside originally, but I’m glad I decided to give it another try this week. The book starts off kind of slow and it took me a couple of chapters to get used to the mountain dialect, but it quickly grew on me and the book became enjoyable to read. The premise of the story fascinated me and I feel I got to know the characters right away. I was easily drawn into their lives. The author keeps interest high by hinting of things to come and leaving questions unanswered for a time then returning to them in later chapters.  Events and ideas are masterfully woven together and as an added bonus – – – I loved the ending!!!

Set in the mountains in the 1800’s Cadi Forbes narrates the story of her ancestors and an ancient burial practice involving a sin eater. According to the author’s note “The sin eater was a person who was paid a fee or given food to take upon himself the moral trespasses of the deceased and their consequences in the afterlife. Sin eaters were common in the early nineteenth century in England, the Lowlands of Scotland, and the Welsh border district. This custom was carried over by immigrants to the Americas and practiced in remote areas of the Appalachian Mountains.” Chosen by lot the sin eater in this story became an outcast who lived apart from all others high in a mountain cave and only entered the community at the time of death. Children and adults were cautioned never to speak of him and never, ever dare peek at him during a burial service, for doing so, it was feared, would bring curses down on them. This fictional account tells the story of the last sin eater to be appointed deep in the Appalachian Mountains. Strong, stubborn, Cadi Forbes has done something she thinks only the sin eater can help her with. She has lost a sister and her mother’s love, and after the passing of her dear granny she just can’t rest until she finds this man. Her journey is one of discovery, intrigue, and redemption, as she seeks the truth that turns her isolated community inside out.

Although normally only summoned in times of death, Cadi is determined to seek the sin eater out in life to beg him to take away the guilt for what she has done. Who is this sin eater? Does he help the dead? Can he help the living?

In the midst of the wondering and worrying about the sin eater Cadi becomes soul mates with Fagan the son of the feared and self-proclaimed community leader, Brogan Kai.  To truly help Cadi, Fagan must come to terms with family secrets in a community where questions are unwelcome but truth finds a way to push up to the surface. It’s never easy to confront your own family or to hear of their hand in tragic events. Will Fagan stand for truth even if it means going against his kin? This is a book filled with suspense and a book filled with hope. Readers are reminded that freedom can stand stronger than oppression, fear, and guilt. Readers soon realize that Fagan has his own secrets and his own reasons for seeking the sin eater. The two children work together with the help of an elderly neighbor and a local outcast to try and find answers. As they are seeking this sin eater, they learn that a “Man of God” has come to the area? Just as they have their own reasons for meeting the sin eater they are both curious to find out what this man of God has to say. Does he speak the truth? Will what he says be accepted by the people and what will happen if they won’t listen? Will a child lead the way? And . . . if tradition is broken what will become of the man they call the sin eater? I won’t answer these questions nor tell too much more of the plot because it unfolds as it goes and I’d hate to spoil it for anyone.

If you like a book full of rich descriptions and wonderful characters this is a book for you. These characters have depth and personality. You will grieve with them, pity them, fear for them, and rejoice with them. There are many characters to like in this book. There are plenty to dislike as well. Even the unlikeable characters are well portrayed and well defined by the author.  Themes in this book include mistakes and forgiveness, standing up for what’s right and going against the establishment, folklore and truth. The story is compelling and will make some readers stop and think about truth, traditions and why we do what we do when we do it. I was pleased to see that Rivers addresses the Appalachian culture with honesty and care. She does a great job presenting the tribal character of a mountain culture and easily moves the reader from feeling pity for these people to really relating to the emotions and frustrations they face due to tradition, isolation and a lack of options. Although the notion of the sin eater was new to me, the ultimate redemption presented is a familiar truth. I enjoyed my time with Cadi and Fagan and found myself cheering them on in more than one chapter.

This is a Christian novel that can also be classified as historical fiction. The biblical references are accurate and well placed. The historical aspect was well researched and respectfully presented. The biblical references are so entwined in the story that they don’t come off as preachy or forced. I believe even readers who don’t normally read Christian literature would enjoy this compelling story. The book contains adventure, danger and coming of age of the two younger characters. The characters are presented in a realistic way and placed in a captivating setting that fits the time period and honestly portrays the traditions of the mountain people.

I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the mountain flowers, herbs and plants. It was interesting to be exposed to some of the truths, traditions, fears and beliefs of the mountain people. Although this book doesn’t take long to read, it is suspenseful, heartwarming, and well written. I recommend it for all readers. It would be a good choice for a family read aloud or a book club selection.

–Pearl

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mosaic-amygrantMosaic: Pieces Of My Life So Far

By: Amy Grant

Water Brook Press, 2007

ISBN: 978 1 4000 7360 3

Buy Link for paperback (Flying Dolphin Press, Oct. 7, 2008): http://www.amazon.com/Mosaic-Pieces-My-Life-Far/dp/0767929675

 

I have followed Amy Grant since my college days. I owned cassette tapes of most of her early recordings and even saw her in concert once. Her songs have always spoken to me. She is down home, earthy and real. I kind of lost track of her for several years, but I knew she had gotten divorced from Gary Chapman and remarried to country star Vince Gill. I must confess I wanted to read this book partly to get the details on her breakup, her children’s adjustment and the remarriage. The more I read the book the more I realized she wasn’t going to reveal much of that and then as I read her words I thought, Good for you Amy, you don’t owe me an explanation on your personal life or private pain. Who are we (fans) to think we have the right to know these things? Sorry Amy!

This book is not a novel nor is it an autobiography, but I feel it may be of interest to many readers and therefore worthy of a review on this site. It is, as the title says, pieces of her life. Instead of going into great personal detail of any one event Amy talks about memories of various people she has encountered in her life. Some are family members or people she has known her whole life and others are one time chance meetings with strangers that impacted her in some way. The book is not chronological but simply a mosaic fit together Amy style. Between chapters readers will find the lyrics of more than 30 songs as well as some poems and quotes. The center of the book features 16 pages of color photographs. There are also small black and white photos at the start of each chapter.

The book title is perfect for this journal style writing and the cover photo of Amy pictured in a casual skirt, barefoot and smiling captures the mood of the book. It is interesting the way Amy wove song lyrics, poems, thoughts and photos into this project.  Fans will be pleased to see that the book gives insight into the inspiration behind many of Amy’s popular songs. The format flows smoothly from memory to memory. She mentions memories from her childhood, vacations, her career, her own children, her husband, friends and fans. I read the book in bits and snatches reflecting on her descriptions and her faith. It’s not a book that demands to be read all at once, but rather a book you could enjoy over several days. Readers may bookmark some sections to come back to for a reread.

In Mosaic Amy humbly shares stories about her life, places she has been and people she has had the privilege to meet. She shares her thoughts on an encounter with a homeless man, a friend’s battle with cancer and a visit with an elderly fan. She shares family memories of birthdays, vacations, weddings and funerals.  Fame and music allowed Amy the opportunity to meet many famous people including, Reverend Billy Graham, Presidents Bush and Clinton, Tony Bennett, Kevin Costner, Michael Jordan, the Andretti family, and more. The book captures Amy’s special memories, Amy’s powerful music, and Amy’s deep faith.

Amy admits that there have been rough times in her life but in writing the book she doesn’t ask for sympathy or make excuses. She is human and admits to human struggles in her life. Her honest admission of her feelings of failure and even depression made her all the more human to me. I think all readers who have struggles in this life (which I think is all of us) will easily relate to this book. Family, faith and music are extremely important to Amy Grant and this book weaves them together in an uplifting fashion. Sharing pieces of your life means the happy and the sad, the fame and the failures. For Amy, these emotions have often been captured in her lyrics and now they are also shared in this book.

All in all I found this to be a moving book that gives a glimpse into the person behind the fame. Reading it might cause readers to look at their own life and think what they would include in their mosaic? As I read her writings, I paused to recall some of my good, my bad, my joys and my sorrows – so far. Self reflection is a good thing; disclosing it for others to read is courageous. Whether or not you call yourself an Amy Grant fan I suggest giving Mosaic a try. I enjoyed it so much I might even check her schedule and see about getting some tickets next time she comes to a city near me.

Pearl

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even-nowEven Now                   

By: Karen Kingsbury

Zondervan, 2005

 Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Even-Now-Lost-Love-1/dp/0310247535

Even Now by Karen Kingsbury tackles some tough issues in modern society.  It is well written with gripping characters. It is Christian fiction that doesn’t come across as old fashioned or outdated. The characters don’t live in a perfect world. They aren’t saints and they don’t always do the right thing. In fact, bad choices are what lead to the original problem and a lack of faith perpetuates the tragedy.

Lauren Anderson and Shane Galanter grew up together. They were the children of best friends Angela and Sheila. The families were close for many years. The husbands shared a business, the wives shared friendship and secrets and they all shared dinners, vacations and a church home. Lauren and Shane were friends as they went off to elementary school.  They later shared their first kiss and eventually became high school sweethearts. They had their whole future planned out. It was almost time for their senior year and then it would be high school graduation. This would be followed by summer jobs before heading off to college. After college they would have their wedding, settle into careers and then start a family.  That was exactly what they wanted and what everyone who knew them expected. When Lauren turned up pregnant at the age of 17 their plans went askew. They shared the news with their horrified parents who worried a bit too much about appearances and their own standing in the community. The teens vowed to get married and raise the baby but it seemed both families were against that. Both sets of parents intervened and worked to separate the two. Where lies and trickery begin heartache and loss are sure to follow. This is a story of lost love, lost family and lost faith. It is also a story of true love, finding family and rekindling faith.

Shane gave Lauren an engagement ring and they vowed to love each other forever no matter what.  Lauren toyed with the idea of adoption but as the new life grew within her she decided to keep the baby. Shane chose the name Emily for their baby girl. When Lauren was eight months into the pregnancy Shane’s parents forced him to move with them across the country. In the age before cell phones or my space the teens lost track of each other because both families moved at the same time. As agreed ahead of time neither set of parents registered a listed phone number.  Lauren and Shane spent countless hours trying to reconnect. Once baby Emily was born Lauren took off on a cross country trip to locate Shane. When the baby got sick Lauren reluctantly turned around and went home. She sat by the hospital bed and prayed for a miracle. After an exhausting night she was given incorrect information and believed that Emily’s tiny body was not able to fight off the illness and that she did not survive. Lauren felt like a failure as a mother yet at the same time she was furious with her own parents. Rather than turn to them for comfort and what would have been the truth about her baby she bolts. She felt she could never forgive their deceptions and lies, which led to the loss of Shane.  Now she also blamed them in part for the loss of Emily. She also blamed God for not answering her desperate bedside prayer. The second time she left town she never looked back. She headed off to find Shane but along the way she changed her name, graduated from college and became a journalist. She made her own way in the world for the next twenty years.  It is grown up Emily raised by her grandparents who works to find her parents and reunite them with her grandparents and with each other.

The reconciliation with her parents is bittersweet due to a serious illness of one family member.  Lauren’s reunion with Shane was anticipated and hoped for but not without its problems. As a journalist Lauren spoke out against the war while Shane trained fighter pilots for the war. In their time apart Shane found a deep faith while Lauren turned her back on God. Their love remained but they had changed. Could that young love possibly sustain them now that they were on different sides in a war?

The story has some twists and turns that will keep the readers guessing. There are some tender moments that endear the characters. The author interjects scripture, which I found comforting.  The story introduces opposing views on War but not all readers will agree with the political viewpoint expressed in the book.  In addition there were a few scenarios that seemed to be a bit of a stretch. Lauren’s parents had searched for her for 20 years and had even hired private detectives all to no avail. Then suddenly Emily finds her mother almost effortlessly with the use of an old journal and the internet.  Skeptics might wonder how Shane, a top fighter pilot and Lauren, a journalist for Time magazine never stumbled upon any information about each that would have lead them back together.  Although I kind of wondered about this after the fact, it didn’t strike me as a problem while reading because the author did a nice job of detailing why they didn’t reconnect. Miscommunication, lack of information and multiple moves helped the story unfolded in a believable way. I guess you could chalk it up to destiny. We aren’t the master’s of our own fate. We can work and scheme and try but often things don’t fall into place until it is the right time. I find this to be true in my life and it was true for Shane and Lauren.

Even Now is a story of forgiveness and the power of love. As the book ends the story continues. The characters are on the road to relationship renewal but lingering issues remain even into the last chapter. Story events do not reach a conclusion, which leaves readers eager to read the sequel Ever After. 

Pearl

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