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Jul 27, 2020

Into The Unbounded Night by Mitchell James Kaplan

Monday, July 27, 2020
Into the Unbounded Night

September 1 2020 from Regal House Publishing
Biblical Historical Fiction
Review copy provided by the author in exchange for this review, thank you!

When her village in Albion is sacked by the Roman general Vespasian, young Aislin is left without home and family. Determined to exact revenge, she travels to Rome, a sprawling city of wealth, decadence, and power. A “barbarian” in a “civilized” world, Aislin struggles to comprehend Roman ways. From a precarious hand-to-mouth existence on the streets, she becomes the mistress of a wealthy senator, but their child Faolan is born with a disability that renders him unworthy of life in the eyes of his father and other Romans. Imprisoned for her efforts to topple the Roman regime, Aislin learns of an alternate philosophy from her cellmate, the Judean known today as the apostle St. Paul. As the capital burns in the Great Fire of 64 AD, he bequeaths to her a mission that will take her to Jerusalem. There, Yohanan, son of Zakkai, has been striving to preserve the tradition of Hillel against the Zealots who advocate for a war of independence. Responding to the Judeans’ revolt, the Romans—again under the leadership of Vespasian—besiege Jerusalem, destroying the Second Temple and with it, the brand of Judean monotheism it represents. Yohanan takes on the mission of preserving what can be preserved, and of re-inventing what must be reinvented.

 When a nation dies, destroyed by another, what survives? When great leaders wander like shadows under the Earth, when monuments stare at us silently or disintegrate, what is left?

In today's society of ever prevalent conflicting viewpoints we tend to have a general airing of grievances and then move on. In the age of Early Christianity having conflicting viewpoints would easily get you killed. The author Mitchell James Kaplan brings us several opposing viewpoints in his compelling novel Into The Unbounded Night with an intriguingly unbiased view from each character.

The mystical Aislin and her simple village ways collides with aggressive Roman General Vespasian with his belief in his own gods while trying to put down all of Britannia and Judean revolts. Yohanan, lover of Solomon's Song of Songs, attempts to preserve his family's legacy of protecting treasured historical scrolls and encounters Saul in the temple trying to discredit Yohanan's childhood friend Stefanos. Septimus is a young soldier who survives Vespasian's cruelty once, but can he outlast him during Nero's murderous reign?

The most intriguing thing about this novel is not just that it draws from multiple philosophies skillfully blended together, but that the author was able to pull from actual people who lived two thousand years ago. The novel brings us St. Paul who killed St. Stephen (Stefanos) and also Vespasian, who ultimately became a Roman Emperor; all set against a backdrop of Jerusalem struggling under Roman aggression, not to mention the rumors of a messiah whose prophecy was to save them all.

Into The Unbounded Night by Mitchell James Kaplan is a fascinating tale with the author's knowledge clearly evident as he pragmatically holds nothing back as far as rape, murder and the truth of the barbaric way of life that surrounded the people of the time of Roman oppression. The intricate look at the Christianity tenet of 'the Way' is woven in with the Judean philosophy and helps to bring the many threads together to an ultimate message of hope. This was not an easy read as it does have some triggers with the violence, but I would recommend this to anyone interested in a brilliant telling of how it was to be living in those uncertain times of the earliest days of Christ's followers.

We forget. That is a blessing. If we were unable to forget, the cruelties of our mortal existence would overwhelm us.

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Jul 11, 2020

Stories That Bind Us by Susie Finkbeiner

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Stories That Bind Us by Susie Finkbeiner
Bethany House/Revell June 2020
review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Five Stars All Day Long

Betty Sweet never expected to be a widow at 40. With so much life still in front of her, she tries to figure out what's next. She couldn't have imagined what God had in mind. When her estranged sister is committed to a sanitarium, Betty finds herself taking on the care of a 5-year-old nephew she never knew she had. 
In 1960s LaFontaine, Michigan, they make an odd pair. Betty with her pink button nose and bouffant hair. Hugo with his light brown skin and large brown eyes. But more powerful than what makes them different is what they share: the heartache of an empty space in their lives. Slowly, they will learn to trust one another as they discover common ground and healing through the magic of storytelling. 
Award-winning author Susie Finkbeiner offers fans a novel that invites us to rediscover the power of story to open the doors of our hearts.

I really enjoyed the previous novel from Susie Finkbeiner so I was eager to read Stories That Bind Us. The title refers to the main character's storytelling talents that she would lean on to help get her sister through trying times and later her nephews. Betty's story is a simple one focused on family drama but the setting is an evocative one: set in the sixties with John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King trying to make a difference in the United States. 

With such a prime setting there for an amazing story, Finkbeiner instead focuses on Betty and what happens to her. While the events may not be earth shattering to many of us, it is indeed in the storytelling that weaves us into Betty's heartbreaking world and makes us love her like one of our own. Her resilience and ultimate fatigue are a mirror of ourselves but the beauty of the story and the moral lessons that can be learned are heartfelt and timely. 

Favorite Quote: "Dreams of equality, of the end to racism, that children of all colors would hold hands, that they would be brothers and sisters."

I read this novel in a day and it is one of my favorites of 2020. Themes of grief, racism and love come together beautifully in this timeless (timely?) story. I love Susie Finkbeiner's talents to make me care so much about her words and how her prose does nothing but honor the Lord. And I love her characters that I would love a sequel to see how Hugo grows up to change the world.