Pilgrimage (review)

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Pilgrimage: My Journey to a Deeper Faith in the Land Where Jesus WalkedPilgrimage: My Journey to a Deeper Faith in the Land Where Jesus Walked by Lynn Austin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A series of losses, disappointments, and unpleasant surprises have pummeled Lynn Austin. She is feeling bruised, spiritually dry, and, in plain words, depressed. And so she has high hopes for an opportunity to travel around Israel for two weeks:

“Spiritual renewal is what I long for … as I begin this pilgrimage. I want to see the bigger picture of His plan and learn to accept His will in all things. I want to revitalize my prayer life. … Maybe I’ll be able to let go of my own will and face the changes in my life with joy and faith” – Pilgrimage, Kindle Location 97.

Pilgrimage is Lynn Austin’s account of that two-week trip. But it is much more than a travelogue. For in it she gives the historical background of each stop. She reviews for us the Bible events that happened in each location. She explains Bible customs from her knowledge enriched by research for the many biblical fiction novels she’s written. And she probes those Bible events and characters for insights and lessons she can take back with her into everyday life.

Some things I really liked about this book were the lyrical descriptions of modern sites in Israel as seen through Austin’s eyes, the review of what happened at each location, and the explanations of interesting customs that add richness and depth to an understanding of the Bible. And I gained an appreciation of the humanity of this author (whose novels I’ve enjoyed) as she shared openly about her life.

One aspect of the book that disappointed me, though, was the way Austin explained her situation and feelings in the first chapter and then, throughout most of her travels, she merely named the feelings she was grappling with (anxiety, discouragement, impatience, worry, etc) without relating them to specific incidents or triggers. It seemed like a type of “telling’ versus “showing” and didn’t have the impact one would expect that kind of memoir-writing to have. Perhaps a more engaging way of relating these personal incidents would have been to leave that list out of Chapter One and tell about these events in bits and pieces throughout her travels. As it was, I had to keep reminding myself why she was feeling so negative—Oh right, that list from Chapter One. When she did include stories of her life that her travels brought to mind, my interest immediately picked up.

Pilgrimage would make a wonderful read-along guide for people touring Israel. Many locations are chapter titles and of course digital copies of the book are searchable so no worries if your itinerary differs from hers, just search the location you wish to read about: Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Joppa, Caesarea etc.

For anyone who loves Israel or hopes to tour the Holy Land, Pilgrimage is a good historical and devotional resource.

I received my copy of Pilgrimage as a gift from Bethany House (via NetGalley) for the purpose of writing a review.

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Return to Me (review)

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Return to Me (The Restoration Chronicles #1)Return to Me by Lynn Austin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Return to Me Lynn Austin returns to writing in the genre–biblical fiction–where I first met her. This story is set in the time of the exile and follows the priest Iddo and his son Zacharias as their family returns to a ravished Jersualem with the intention of rebuilding the temple.

The book is peopled by believable characters who go through the kinds of things you’d expect returning exiles to go through. Iddo’s wife, Dinah, pines for her children and grandchildren that never made the trek back and struggles to be content in her primitive Jerusalem home.

Zachariah’s best friend Yael feels the strong pull of astrology as she seeks to discover whether her sick mother will live. The star charts she gets from the Babylonian seer Parthia become a snare to her as she befriends a Samaritan family.

Main character Zacharias often misses his parents but believes that God has him in Jerusalem for a reason–if only He would make it clear.

It’s a story that takes place over a generation and gives life to an interesting and dramatic era of Israel’s history. However I found it slow-moving in parts, and a tad long. Perhaps this is because the author attempts to stay close to the Bible’s story line where there are years without too much happening.

Lovers of Bible fiction and students of Jewish history will want to add this book to their collections.

I received Return to Me as a gift from the publisher, Bethany House. As usual, my Kindle edition from NetGalley was full of weird spacing and missing ‘ff’s.

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Gods and Kings by Lynn Austin (review)

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Biblical fiction is a genre that helps the Bible come alive for many readers. A nice thing about books in this genre is that they’re virtually timeless.

Over the years I’ve read and reviewed quite a few stories based on the lives of Bible characters. In the days ahead I’ll be reprinting some of those reviews here along with other biblical novels reviewed here for the first time.

Today I’m resurrecting a review of Lynn Austin’s book Gods and Kings: Chronicles of the Kings #1. First released in February 2005, the KINDLE version of this book is currently  FREE!! (but I don’t know for how long, so don’t tarry if you want it).

Here’s my review, excerpted from a longer version on Blogcritics.org.

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Gods and Kings by Lynn AustinGods and Kings is Book 1 in the biblical fiction series Chronicles of the King  by Lynn Austin. It begins in the early years of Judah’s King Ahaz, just as Aram is about to lay siege to Jerusalem. It ends with the coronation of King Hezekiah.

The cast of characters follows the biblical account pretty closely. It includes King Ahaz, his wife Abijah, her father the priest Zechariah, the high priest Uriah, and prince Hezekiah. Minor appearances are made by Hezekiah’s wife Hephzibah, and the prophets Micah and Isaiah. Shebna, Hezekiah’s Egyptian teacher along with many other bit-players, are fictional.

Several elements worked together to make this book a worthwhile read for me.

One of them was in the area of plot, and Austin’s interpretation of how godly belief lines were preserved in ancient Israel. Often when reading the stories in Kings and Chronicles, I’ve been struck by how a God-fearing king is followed by one who is idolatrous. I’ve questioned how that could be. The fictionally-expanded events of this story illustrate that possibility in a compelling and believable way.

A theme element I really appreciated was the analysis of compromise in the character Uriah (Ahaz’s high priest). Promoted from priest to palace administrator, Uriah starts out with the intention of using his position to influence Ahaz away from idolatry. But a series of forces, including his own lust for power, greed, and international pressure, serve to make him, by the end, a promoter of idol worship instead of an opponent.

In the setting department, I felt this book succeeded in educating me about a different time and place—one of the reasons I enjoy reading historical fiction. The descriptions of the idol worship ceremonies were especially compelling, as was the description of the meeting of King Ahaz with the Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser in the captured city of Damascus. Here is some of that section, to give you a flavor of the setting and Austin’s writing style:

“…they mounted his chariot riding in silence to the ruined city. Ahaz struggled to conceal his shock and horror as he saw evidence of the Assyrian’s atrocities. On either side of the road that led to the main gate, row after row of bodies hung from tall stakes.

“The emperor would like you to meet the chief elders of Damascus,” Jephia said. “They were impaled alive and left to die, watching the destruction of their city.”

Ahaz gazed straight ahead, holding a linen handkerchief over his mouth to keep from vomiting. A sign above the gate read: This is the fate of the enemies of Assyria….. (p. 141 – page numbers from the paperback edition)

I found Gods and Kings an engaging and worthwhile read. It left me with the sense of how God was capable of working in the life of a nation, and in the lives of individuals. Austin has left just enough loose ends at the end of the book to tempt readers to search out  Song of Redemption (Chronicles of the Kings #2).

Title: Gods and Kings
Author: Lynn Austin
Publisher: Bethany House, 324 pages, 2005
ASIN: B004X7B8QQ

(Disclosure: The Amazon links on this page are connected to my Amazon affiliate account. If you make a purchase through them a few pennies will be credited to my account. Thanks for your support, if you choose to make a purchase through them. )