Sunday, June 30, 2013

Be Still My Soul: The Hymn

As I finished Be Still My Soul by Joanne Bischof I reflected on her choice of titles. In my experience of writing short stories (a long long long time ago!) titles are hard to choose. As the author, you want the title to tell the reader something about the story, maybe the message or a clue, or a hint at what is behind the cover. As an English major we studied the meaning of the titles (not an easy job!). Sometimes I would conclude that the author hadn't really thought about the title at all. When it is one word you often wonder. However, in my experience with this book I do wonder what Bischof was thinking. Be Still My Soul made me think of the old hymn by the same title. So I looked up the lyrics and then found this version (seen above) performed by David Archuleta. Before you continue reading listen to this song and read (or sing) the following lyrics.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and bless├Ęd we shall meet at last.

Be Still My Soul (the hymn) was written by Katherina von Schlegel in 1752. Schlegel wrote many verses to her classic hymn; however, only five verses were translated into English. The three verses above are the verses most commonly sung by artists and church congregations. 

What I love about this hymn is the wording used. No on writes songs like this one anymore. It is more akin to one of William Shakespeare's sonnets than Chris Tomlin's praise songs. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy worshiping along with Chris Tomlin, but his many praise and worship songs do not sound like this old hymn. 

I am not sure why Joanne Bischof would have chosen this title for her novel without having this hymn in mind. When thinking of the novel and the story of Gideon and Lonnie, this song is a mirror image of what the two characters experience. Throughout the novel and the hymn is a story of struggle, but one with a hope that never ends.

The lesson is this: no matter if you are bearing "the cross of grief or pain" or rejoicing because everything is going well in your life you must urge your soul to be still. Psalm 46:10 says,

"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."

Through anything we face we need to remember to recognize that God is God. He has a plan for us. He will "guide the future, as He has the past." The greatest hope we have is that one day sorrow will be forgotten and joy will be restored as we meet Him at last.

Be Still My Soul: The Novel

"Night’s chill tickled her skin. Lonnie pressed her hands together and glanced up. He was even more handsome up close. Having grown up the shy, awkward daughter of Joel Sawyer, she’d hardly spoken to any boy, let alone the one who had mothers whispering warnings in their daughter’s ears and fathers loading shotguns."

Pretty Lonnie Sawyer is shy and innocent, used to fading into the background within her family, and among the creeks and hollows of the Appalachian hills. Though her family is poor and her father abusive, she clings to a quiet faith.  But when handsome ladies’ man and bluegrass musician Gideon O’Riley steals a kiss, that one action seals her fate.  

Her father forces her into a hasty marriage with Gideon—a man she barely knows and does not love. Equally frustrated and confused by his new responsibilities, Gideon yearns for a fresh start, forcing  Lonnie on an arduous journey away from her home in Rocky Knob. 

Her distant groom can’t seem to surrender his rage at the injustice of the forced matrimony or give Lonnie any claim in his life.  What will it take for Gideon to give up his past, embrace Lonnie’s God, and discover a hope that can heal their two fractured hearts?


After reading and reviewing Though My Heart is Torn, the second book in Joanne Bischof's The Cadence of Grace series, I could not wait to read the story that brought Gideon and Lonnie together. When I finally got my hands on Be Still My Soul it did not take me long to finish. Once again I was enthralled with Bischof's writing style. Bichof writing style includes vivid imagery and believable characters. The pain is etched on their faces (yes I realize this is only a book), but with Bischof's words I could visualize them as though I was watching the story unfold in front of me. 

It was a different experience reading the second book first. Like I said in my review of Though My Heart is Torn, I never read book series out of order! It is against my nature, but reading the second book before the first gave me a different experience. When the characters in Be Still My Soul said or did certain things I wanted to cry out and tell them what would happen in their future. Yes, as you might have guessed, I get really involved in the lives of imaginary people. 

If you enjoy Christian fiction Be Still My Soul and Though My Heart is Torn are must reads. I cannot tell you which one is my favorite. I am hoping it will be number three which is coming in October! :) 

I know I have not said much about this novel, but I want to leave it a surprise. Find out about Joanne Bischof's inspiring story on your own and then tell me how you liked it!

Note: See my next blog post entitled "Be Still My Soul: The Hymn" for insights on Bischof's choice of title and how the classic hymn ties in with her novel.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Have a Kleenex box nearby for Though My Heart is Torn by Joanne Bischof

Gideon O’Riley has two wives—but he doesn’t know it. 
Settling into a simple life in the majestic Blue Ridge mountains, Lonnie and Gideon O’Riley have finally found happiness after the rocky start to their marriage. The roguish bluegrass musician has fallen in love with his gentle wife and the God she serves, and Lonnie rests secure in his tenderness for her and their young son. A heartless ruse interrupts their peace, bringing them back to Rocky Knob—and forces them to face the claims of Cassie Allan, a woman who says she is Gideon’s rightful wife.
As Gideon wades into the depths of his past choices, Lonnie is stunned by the revelations. She has no choice but to navigate this new path, knowing that surviving the devastating blow will take every ounce of strength  she has.
While Gideon’s guilt  and his bitterness towards Cassie threatens to burn up his fledgling faith, Lonnie wrestles to find the courage to trust the God who brought them together in the first place. Will their hard-earned love be able to conquer all? –

   I was drawn to this novel by the cover and the title. I can usually tell when a book will be good by how the characters or the setting is portrayed on the cover, this book was no exception. I was also drawn to this book because a review said Joanne Bischof wrote in the Janette Oke tradition. Oke was one of the first Christian fiction authors I enjoyed as a young teen. I found this review to be true. Bischof’s writing is vivid and pure. She allows the characters to grow and learn through their experience with the grace of God and threads a ribbon of sweet romance through the plot which is very similar to Oke style of writing.
   As I eagerly delved into the pages of ­Though My Heart is Torn, I found myself reading the first chapter twice, confused by the plot, wondering if I had missed something. It wasn’t until later—half way into the book—that I realized this is the second book in Bischof’s The Cadence of Grace series. That is one draw back about reading an ebook, the cover is small allowing me overlook the fact that it was book two. At first this deterred me from reading the book because, as an avid reader, I always read books in order; however, once I got past the second chapter and began understanding the plot I was quickly hooked on the story of Gideon and Lonnie. (I am now eager to read the first book to learn more about Gideon and Lonnie’s beginning. It is too bad I could not have reviewed Be Still My Soul to begin with.)
   In Though My Heart is Torn, Gideon and Lonnie’s relationship is mesmerizing. They are completely in love. Bischof does an amazing job depicting this love with the characters’ loving glances, smiles, charming blushes, etc. The actions of the characters are described so well that it was like I was watching a movie instead of reading a book.  As the plot developed I found myself using several Kleenex to staunch my tears. It is amazing how quickly I became invested in the lives of the characters. I felt Lonnie and Gideon’s pain so acutely that my heart hurt for them. As my Kleenex box became hopelessly low I tried to tell myself this is only a story, but Bischof paints these characters in such a light that I easily thought I knew them and that I was a part of their story.
   At the beginning of the novel it was easy to despise certain unlikeable characters, but as they began to grow and change-through the presence of God in their lives- I couldn’t help but learn to love them too. Because of this, I understood how difficult Gideon’s choice is. Honestly, when has it ever been easy to choose to do the right thing over what your heart wants? The characters learn to ask God for guidance, which is a lesson for all of us. We cannot face trials on our own strength, but with God’s guidance and faithfulness we can walk through the waters because He is with us.
   As I finished reading the final page I found myself holding my breath, not because it was a bad ending, but because I desperately need to know what happens next. Bischof’s final page will leave you hanging which is, for an author, a delightful ploy to get you to read the next book, but for the reader complete torture! I would almost encourage you to wait to read this book until the third one is out then you would have the pleasure of reading them back to back. However, since I have to wait I think you can handle waiting too. 

   Thank you, Joanne Bischof, for this captivating novel! I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it and cannot wait to read the first and third book of the series. I also look forward to any of your future books.

   Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of Though My Heart is Torn in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Inescapable by Nancy Mehl. You won't want to escape this book!

My spare time is almost always spent with a book. I recently started signing up to review books and I was excited to receive Inescapable in the mail from Bethany House Publishers. The following is my review. I hope that it will make you want to read this novel!

“Lizzie Engel is used to running away. At eighteen, she left her Mennonite hometown, her family, and her faith with plans never to return. Five years later, Lizzie finds she'll have to run again. False accusations at her job, a stalker, and a string of anonymous threatening letters have left her with no other options. This time, however, her escape is back to Kingdom, her hometown.

As Lizzie becomes reacquainted with Kingdom, she realizes she may not have left her Mennonite roots and her faith as firmly in the past as she thought. She draws on the support of Noah Housler, an old friend, as she hides out and attempts to plan her next steps.

When it becomes painfully clear that the danger has followed Lizzie to Kingdom, suspicions and tensions run high, and she no longer knows who to trust. With her life and the lives of those she loves at risk, Lizzie will have to run one last time--to a Father whose love is inescapable.” -From

   From the modern Amish buggy on the cover the reader would assume that Inescapable is a typical Amish tale. Book shelves seem to regularly add books with Amish-based plots, but if you are looking for something out of the ordinary with just a hint of Amish—or in this case Mennonite—flavor, Inescapable is the book for you. This book has everything from heart-pounding suspense, family drama, humor, romance, and redemption. The best part of the book is that it is told from the first-person point of view. This allows the reader to hear the main character, Lizzie Engel’s, thoughts and know how she is feeling in every situation she faces. In addition, all the characters found in the pages of Inescapable are well-developed. You will leave this book wishing you could visit Cora’s restaurant to visit the old friends you connected with in the novel.
    Nancy Mehl does an amazing job in this book. Some suspense and romance novels reach the climax too soon, giving the reader nothing to look forward to, but Nancy Mehl allows her plot to reach the climax at just the right time to give the reader that “hold your breath” feeling until almost the very end. I would recommend this Inescapable to anyone who enjoys Christian Fiction (and I have) and I will keep this book with-in reach to read a second and third time.  I also look forward to reading the series’ second book Unbreakable.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.