Esther: Royal Beauty by Angela Hunt

esther book cover

The story of Esther has long been one of my favorites. It’s a fairly short book in the Old Testament (just ten chapters) but is filled with the wisdom and courage of one Jewish girl who risks her life to save her people. But what about the rest of the story? What about the historical accounts that are not found in the Bible? From the opening paragraph of Angela Hunt’s fictionalized account of Esther, I was engrossed.

“You may think you know me, but how could you? Others have related my story, and most of them paint a pretty picture. But unless a woman is allowed to speak for herself, no one will ever fully understand the events of a lifetime … and the secret recesses of a woman’s heart.” –Hadassah in Esther: Royal Beauty

The first book in Hunt’s A Dangerous Beauty series centers on a woman whose story is centered around her beauty. A woman who becomes queen because of that beauty. Through the book, readers follow Hadassah as a young, idealistic girl who dreams of becoming a queen someday until she discovers the sorrows of life. A girl who is selfish and cares about sneaking off with her friends or getting a peak at a boy until life intervenes and her heart begins to break at the loss she must suffer in her life. Even when Hadassah is taken to the king’s palace, she has not grown fully into the woman and the queen that God created her to be. She’s infatuated with life in the palace and with her new husband. She forgets about the cousin who raised her and taught her about her history. And for five years she lives her life wanting nothing, thinking of no one but herself. And then her people, and specifically her cousin, are put in danger and Esther must rise to try and save them, even if it means giving her own life for the cause. Through Esther’s eyes and the eyes of the king’s chamberlain, the eunach Harbonah, the story of Esther is brought to life.

esther quote

When I was about a third of the way through this book, I was ready to pick up my Bible and re-read the book of Esther. I waited until I had finished the story to do that. The details are all there, down to the decorations at the banquet. Hunt mentions in her author’s note at the end of the book that nearly every event that occurs in her book comes from historical record. While the thoughts and actions of her main characters are fictionalized, they bring a newness to this story. I will never read the book of Esther in the Bible the same again after having read his book. I’m looking forward to the stories Hunt shares of Bathsheba and Delilah.

Pick up your copy at your local bookstore or order online today.

****Bethany House provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

The Advocate by Randy Singer

My first experience with Biblical Fiction was several (twenty plus) years ago. I picked up Francine River’s Mark of the Lion series and was engrossed in a time when Christians were persecuted and died horrible deaths for pronouncing their faith in a man many believed would ruin their world. A time when Christians were thrown to lions, made human torches, hung on crosses but refused to denounce Jesus and the one and only Messiah. The true ruler of everyone. It seemed that for a while there, books about the end times and the rapture took over Biblical Fiction. Over the past several months, I’ve noticed the resurgence of Biblical fiction. This is the third book I’ve read in as many months dealing with characters living at the time of Jesus’s ministry and/or death.

advocate

Order The Advocate at Family Christian

The Advocate has a little different spin. Theophilis dreams of making a name for himself in his beloved city of Rome. He longs to be a voice of reason in what he considers the greatest place on earth. The book follows Theophilis from his teenage years where he learns about crucifixion through his time in Greece where he learns much about orating and caring for mind and body. When he is twenty, he returns to Rome where he is asked to advocate for a man who is wrongly accused. This is his chance, the place where he can become known to others in the city. Unfortunately, Theophilis is destined to become the advocate for many wrongly accused people. Each person making him less popular with the Roman Senate. When he is sent to advise Pontius Pilate, he comes across a man who astounds him when he doesn’t defend himself. Trying to give the Nazarene, Jesus, a way out, Theophilis suggests to Pilate that he offer up Barabbas instead. Years later, he is again asked to defend an innocent. This time it is the apostle Paul. Will he be able to appease his guilt over sending Jesus to his death so many years ago or will another innocent man die at his hands?

Admittedly, I have never been a great student of history and it takes longer for me to get into historical fiction. Same with legal fiction (and I’m a fan of John Grisham most of the time). Singer incorporated both of these things, but Rome fascinates me. This book had so much going on throughout. Information about the many Caesars, the Senate, the advocacy, the Vestals (virgins who lead sacrifices) fill the pages of this book. The author’s note even mentions you can go to his website to see all of his research. The meaning of Theophilis’s name in the final pages is an interesting little gift that I didn’t see coming. As I neared the end of the book, the thing that I was left thinking was What kind of Christian would I have been at that time? Would I have been one of the people who gave in and testified against my fellow believers in order to save myself and those I loved or would I have been one of those who professed my faith and sang to God’s glory as I stood in the face of horrendous torture and death? Would my life end well despite mistakes or regrets that litter my past?

Sabotaged by Dani Pettrey

sabotaged cover

The McKenna siblings are back for the final book in Dani Pettrey’s Alaskan Courage Series. Reef McKenna and Kirra Jacobs are volunteering their Search and Rescue (SAR) skills during the Iditarod Race. When Kirra’s uncle doesn’t check in, she gets worried and goes looking for him. Reef won’t allow her to leave by herself and insists they go together. From the moment they find her uncle (well, even before that), the adventure begins. As Kirra and Reef, along with some of Reef’s family, search for Kirra’s kidnapped cousin. If they don’t find her by the end of the race, lives will be lost. As Reef and Kirra fly to several destinations they face not only the elements of the unforgiving Alaska terrain but also horrors from their past. And someone might be following them in an attempt to stop them from locating Meg.

alaskan courage series

Sabotaged is a fitting conclusion to this series. The entire family once again joins together to solve a mystery, putting all of their skills to use. I’ve been to Alaska once (my parents lived there for three years) and Pettrey describes the cold exactly as I remember it. The setting of the famous dogsled race allows readers to learn more about the beautiful state of Alaska and some of the fun stops along the Iditarod. Action, adventure, and lots of romance are Pettrey’s signature and she’s still going strong. The only disappointment is that this series is over, but the good news is this: she’s working on a new series.

Kindle version will be available January 27, 2015 but if you want to add the final to your book collection, you’ll have to wait until February 3, 2015 to buy the paperback in stores and online. But this book is worth the wait.

****Bethany House Publishers provided me a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and fair review.

The Skinnytaste Cookbok by Gina Homolka

skinnytaste cookbook cover

I am always on the lookout for new healthy recipes that don’t taste healthy and are quick. Who wants to spend hours in the kitchen preparing dinner when you have a fulltime job, family, and more responsibilities than you can keep track of? Who wants to run to four stores looking for exotic ingredients?

skinnytast cookbook inside

Gina Homolka runs the Skinnytaste blog where she shares easy, flavorful recipes that are low calorie and made from all natural ingredients. The Skinnytaste Cookbook includes some of those recipes with 125 new ones. Yep, you get 150 total recipes in this collection including some vegetarian and gluten free options. With slow cooker, freezer friendly, or quick meals, you can either prepare ahead for the day or the week or whip something together in 30 minutes or less. The recipes range from Make-Ahead Western Omelet “Muffins” or Pumpkin-Obsessed Vanilla-Glazed Scones for breakfast to Too-Good-to-be-True Potato Soup and Grilled Steak Sandwiches for lunch. Homolka’s appetizers are sure to be a hit at any party (and guests will never know they’re eating healthy). Salads, Poultry (So-Addicted Chicken Enchiladas, anyone?), lean meat dishes (from beef to pork and lamb chops), fish, and meatless mains (Quinoa-stuffed peppers) will give cooks wide menu options. And, of course, no supper would be complete without the sides and dessert (Baked Bananas Foster a la Mode).

skinnytaste recipes

With lots of great pictures to tempt your tastebuds, The Skinnytaste Cookbook is a great source for recipes. While some of the recipes have more ingredients and instructions than I would buy or follow, most of them are truly simply and easy for the person or persons who want healthy, delicious, and fast meals. This is one for your collection.

***Blogging for Books provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review.

Twisted Innocence by Terri Blackstock

I seem to be in a romantic suspense mood this month. Lucky for me there are plenty of new releases from romantic suspense authors I like in January and February. Terri Blackstock has been a favorite of mine for several years now and on February 3, the Cramer sisters return to solve more crimes in Blackstock’s next installment of the Moonlighters series will be available to readers.

twisted innocence cover

Holly Cramer has turned her life around. She’s a mother now and wants to be everything her daughter needs. After a murder gets away and her fiance is given a year jail sentence for violating his probation (which he shouldn’t have in the first place. Most people consider the man a hero). Juliet is struggling with being a single mother to three boys while trying to support her sisters. When police show up looking for information about the father of Holly’s daughter in connection with a murder, Holly decides to find him. She has to know he’ll stay out of her and Lily’s lives. When she does find him, things are more complicated than she realized and she’s pulled into another investigation against the man who has haunted her family for the past few years. As Holly and her sisters race to find the true murders and clear Creed Kershaw, they struggle with the past while learning to place their futures in God’s hands.

“I know I’ve said this before, Lord, but I’m so sorry for all the stupid choices I’ve made. I want to start over, with your guidance. I can’t afford to make mistakes now. Will you turn up the volume of your voice, and turn mine down? Will you give me that wisdoem you promised if we ask?” -Holly Cramer in Twisted Innocence

Once again, I was pulled into a mystery. Because I’ve read the other books in the Moonlighter’s series, I was acquainted with each of the characters in the book but readers will not be lost if this is the first book they pick up. From the first pages, the action begins and it’s hard to put the story down as the sisters and police work to find a man who has destroyed and taken lives. The Cramer family is close and their relationships evolve with each other as well as with the men in their lives.

***Zondervan Fiction provided me with a free copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and fair review. I was not compensated in any way for either a negative or a positive review.