Leanne introduced me to Francine Rivers. I’d never heard of this writer before Lee came along. I’m so glad I finally learned about her, because the books I’ve read are always enriching.
The Last Sin Eater — Francine Rivers
This book is Historical Fiction, based on actual folkways brought over from Scotland and Wales. Families landlocked in the mountains of Appalachia, retained these outworn customs, some up into the 1900’s.
One such custom was that of having a “sin eater” performing what seemed to be a vital function to the people. This person was an outcast, feared and yet needed, and was only allowed into the community when someone died. The sin eater was called to the grave site during burial. At this time, he took on the sins of the dead. He was paid by some food, usually, or maybe a small sum of money. Afterward, he dissolves back into the hills and the woods until next time.
What to do with guilt is the overlying theme in this story set around the 1850’s. And 10 year old Cadi Forbs is awash in guilt that makes her want to jump off a bridge to end it all. After her grandmother dies, Cadi does the forbidden at the grave site, and looks straight into the sin eater’s eyes. This action comes with a curse, yet Cadi is cursed enough with her own guilt that she is willing to risk tying to make a connection with this sin eater. What she desperately hopes to receive is some sort of reprieve.
In Cadi’s quest to find the sin eater she becomes friends with Fagan, the son of the feared Brogan Kai, the community’s strong-arm leader. If he is going to be a true friend to Cadi, he has to risk the wrath of his father and the possible ostracism of his people. On the other hand, as seekers of truth, Fagan and Cadi must find out what this sin eater actually does in the lives and in the deaths of these folks. What they discover is that the sin eater himself is full of questions too.
When A Man of God arrives in their hills, a whole grip of family tradition threatens to collapse.
Full of mystery, complex characters, fast paced action, there is not a moment of stock solutions or formulaic epiphany. It is a Christian novel, and it lives rather than preaches.
This is a beautifully crafted tale, with a pure rendering of the mountain lore, language and rich setting found in the Appalachians. And what to do with guilt? Isn’t that what several generations of us have been seeking from psychotherapists, fast cars, self-help books and mind altering activities?
The Man of God tells us that God has cared about this human dilemma from the very beginning. He has an answer. Simple and liberating.
Redeeming Love — Francine Rivers
The story was first told in The Bible. Hosea, a prophet of the Lord, was instructed to marry Gomer, a prostitute. The image, God told Hosea, was for all the people to see, how God loved His people, and how he would go after them even though they were unfaithful to Him over and over again. Gomer was in fact unfaithful to Hosea, returning to prostitution, having other men’s children. Yet Hosea prevailed. Love prevailed.
Redeeming Love is set in the Wild West during the 1800’s California gold rush, and Angel is a hardened prostitute. She’s been used and abused by men for so long, she is only the shell of a person. But Michael Hosea takes her and loves her and loves her and loves her. Not in some namby- pamby “codependent” way, by today’s parlance, but something deep and abiding, strong. He loves her when she doesn’t believe she deserves it and can’t love back. He loves her when she is unappreciative and callous; he loves her through all of her rough shod treatment of him.
Rivers is a crafted and well researched author, and this story is compelling. In her telling of it, she shows us that redemption is tangible and true.
The Book Thief — Markus Zusak
First of all Death tells us this story. He knows humans so very well. He knows their triumphs, their failures, their cowardice, their self sacrifice. Some humans haunt him. Liesel is one of them. But this is not a dark and dreary tale. It is a story full of humor, compassion, the power of words, love and accordion playing.
A story of an orphan, Liesel Meminger, taken in by the tough Rosa and the tender Hans after her brother dies on a train which Leisel, her brother and her mother were traveling. Her brother, buried at the side of the tracks, and her mother, who can no longer care for her are a compound loss for Liesel which haunts her nights with terrors and which leave her wordless by day. At her brother’s gravesite she steals a book fallen from one of the young grave diggers pockets, The Grave Diggers Handbook. When Hans realizes that Liesel can’t read, he begins to teach her. When she is awakened with her night mares, they plow through this book together. A sign painter, Hans also creates a dictionary for her of new words learned painted on the wall of their basement.
Set in Germany between 1939 and 1943, we see Hitler not only as an evil menace to other countries but to his own people as well. It is good to get a story about Hitler’s Germany from the perspective of the German people. Not everyone was thrilled with being forced to be part of The Band of German Girls, or The Hitler Youth. Not everyone thought books considered to be propaganda should be burned. After celebrating Hitler’s birthday by burning books in their village, Liesel steals one that is still smoldering.
The Mayor’s wife sees her do this and admiring Liesel’s courage and love for books, invites Liesel into her own private library.
And then there is Max Vandenburg. A Jew, he arrives at Rosa and Hans’ door seeking refuge. He is the son of a man that saved Hans’ life in WWI. It is then that we discover that the accordion that Hans plays belonged to Max’s father.
Books and words bind Max and Liesel together as Max fights for his life. Books and words bind Max and Liesel together as Max presents her with a book he has contrived for her while hiding in the Rosa and Hans’ basement.
Death plays his part well, as bombs splatter all over Europe. He’s very busy, finally in the town where this story is told. But death sees not only the gruesome effects of war and the hate that powers and people impose on one another, he sees people like Liesel , Max, Rosa and Hans, the other honorable folks we meet in this town. And when it comes to Liesel, especially, our story teller sees something that transcends his final take.
Downfall —Teri Blackstock
We have Emily, a recovering addict, trying to make her life work. Her mom and the rest of her family are still reeling from the chaos the addiction caused them for years and years. The tension in the family is palpable. Trust is difficult to give when it has been broken so often. And on the other hand, when you are not trusted, it is hard to stay on track.
Emily is working and going to school. Then forces beyond her control devise to bring her down long, hard and forever. This is a mystery that twists and turns full of fast paced action. I appreciate Blackstock’s understanding and compassion toward recovering addicts and her understanding of the families that are attempting to negotiate their way through uncharted waters.
A good read.