Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Book Review: Between the Wild Branches by Connilyn Cossette

“My opponent wavered on his feet, catching his breath from the relentless attack I’d delivered to his torso, and in that brief moment, my attention flitted up to the balcony that surrounded this royal courtyard….Surely it was only a trick of the light that familiar hazel eyes gazed down at me…”

-Lukio, Between the Wild Branches

Between the Wild Branches by Connilyn Cossette is the continuation of the duology, The Covenant House series. In this story, we get to experience the continuation of the story of Lukio, and his closest childhood friend, Shoshanna.

At the beginning of Between the Wild Branches, Lukio is back in Ashdod, one of five cities occupied by the Philistines, as a successful fighter, and has achieved wealth and notoriety because of his skills in fighting. Shoshana has been brought to Ashdod as a slave after the Philistines raided the Hebrew land where she lived. They are reunited under some precarious circumstances, and the plot begins.

Between the Wild Branches was a great sequel and wrap up to the first book. It was great to see the characters again because I enjoyed their stories so much.
 I read it in about two days, and a lot of my time was spent fighting the urge to turn to the end and find out how the author resolved everything that was going on. It was that intense!

There was lots of action, unique surprises, and scenarios that I kept wondering how the author was going to work out. The characters got themselves into so many predicaments that you wondered how they would ever untangle themselves. The plot was brilliant!!!

There was some violence in this novel that was not for the faint of heart. The Philistines were brutal and had some horrible practices. I didn’t know a lot of details about them, other than what I have read in the Bible in relation to well known people like Samson and David.

The setting is during the time period of the Judges in the Old Testament. So if you like historical fiction set in Biblical eras, you will enjoy this novel. 

Many blessings as you read!

To learn more about Between the Wild Branches, please go here.

To learn more about the author, please go to her website at ConnilynCossette.com.

To read an author interview about Between the Wild Branches, go here.

To read my review for the first book in the series, To Dwell Among Cedars, go here.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Q & A with Connilyn Cossette on Between the Wild Branches

Between the Wild Branches is the second in the Covenant House series and is set to release July 6th! It is the continuation of the story of Lukio, and Shoshanna, his childhood friend, as we find them in perilous circumstances in the city of Ashdod, the Philistine city where Lukio was born. In honor of her book release, I thought I would share some Q & A with the author, Connilyn Cossette, about her upcoming book!

This series is a duology, what made you decide to only write two books this time?

I was really intrigued with telling the story of two siblings and how their journeys intertwined to form one whole story that was satisfying both to myself and to my readers. Of course I usually fall in love with secondary characters along the way and wish I could tell their stories too, and the Covenant House was no exception. There is one character in particular in Between the Wild Branches that my beta readers wanted to know more about. So who knows, maybe in the future I’ll have the chance to expand that storyline a bit! The great thing is that my next series is a spin-off and readers will get to meet my next four heroes in BTWB, so keep your eyes peeled as you read, especially near the end!

What drew you to this period in history to place a series?

When I had the opportunity to go to Israel a few years ago we traveled right through the Beth Shemesh valley, where the ruins of that town are just off the highway. And when our tour guide mentioned that this area was near where Samson lived and was also the exact place where the Philistines returned the Ark of the Covenant after they stole it in 1 Samuel. That day, I had a distinct vision of that ark bumping along on the road with two curious children following after it and decided that I needed to tell their story. Fortunately for me, at the same time I was plotting/researching the Covenant House series, scientists were proving from DNA evidence gathered in a Philistine graveyard that these enigmatic people actually came from Crete just like the Bible says they did. This new information gave me lots of fodder for book material and made my imagination spin like mad about the culture of the Philistines, which most likely was rooted in the Minoan and/or Mycenean people during the Bronze Age. They were certainly not simple shepherds and farmers like the Hebrew people were at that time and likely worshipped the precursors to the Greek gods we all know, so I had lots of fun contrasting the two opposing cultures and religious systems. There are still a lot of unknowns with the Philistines and we don’t have a handle on their language or writing system yet but I suspect more will come to light in the future that will continue to prove the Bible historically accurate.

This series has underlying themes of adoption, why is this a special topic for you?

Well, for starters, I am an adoptee myself. I was adopted at birth and grew up knowing that my adoption was a special thing and what a loving choice my young birthmother made to place me in a stable, two-parent home. When I was twenty-two I actually got to meet my birth mom, after stumbling across a web posting way back in the early days of the internet, and have since gotten to know both her and my half-siblings. My brother, too, was adopted from Korea when he was four and I am also the mother of two adopted-at-birth children myself. So adoption is such a precious theme in my own life that it just naturally spills into my stories. And our adoption into the family of God through the sacrifice of Jesus is, of course, the most beautiful story there is, so there are shades of that built into Eliora and Lukio’s union with the Hebrew family that take them in and introduce them to covenant life. Of course, adoption is a precious thing and full of beauty but it is also rooted in loss, so I do not shy away from some of the challenges and questions that adoptees face, such as: Who am I? Where do I belong? How do I define my past and how does it affect my future? Or what if I’d never been separated from my family of origin? Eliora and Lukio struggle through these questions in different ways and I found great satisfaction in working through their healing and self-acceptance, since their journeys at times mirror my own, my brother’s, and those of my children.

Between Eliora and Lukio, which sibling did you relate to the most and why?

Hm. That is kind of tough. I’m actually quite different from Eliora, who spends a lot of time trying to “earn her place at the table” but I also have a tendency to try and blend in with the background because I hate spotlights. And I am certainly not an aggressive bare-knuckle fighter like Lukio, but I have struggled with some of the same identity issues he has and tend toward walling myself off in difficult relationships and compartmentalizing things to the point of isolation. So I am not like either of them, but yet I am. There are probably pieces of me in all the characters I write. Even the villains ;)

What makes the characters in Between the Wild Branches different from any others you’ve written before?

I had lots of fun writing a more hero-centric story this time and Lukio is hands down my favorite male character to have written. First of all, he is a no-holds-barred bare-knuckled fighter (which is rooted in the ancient and brutal sport of Pankration) so I got to channel my inner MMA fighter and have some fun getting out some imaginary aggression. But he is also a hurting little boy on the inside, one who feels deeply and is wounded from what he perceived to be devastating betrayals. His journey to healing was so satisfying for me and no matter how many times I edited it all, I cried every time I read the final scenes. Also, since there was a childhood friendship/romance between Lukio and Shoshana, there was lots of intriguing history between them which added a different dimension to their reunion. Since ten years have passed since they’ve seen each other and a lot of life, and in Shoshana’s case pain, has occurred in that gap, they are in some ways completely different people by the time the book opens. It was an interesting challenge to think about how they relate to the “newness” of each other, while at the same time holding on to the sweet, secret friendship they enjoyed in the past. I love how they complement each other and how their relationship develops over the course of the story, despite all the obstacles between them.

What part of BTWB did you have the hardest time writing?

Honestly, this story poured out of me in a way that none of my books have before. I wrote the entire manuscript by hand and was so in love with the characters that there was not any part that was a major challenge. This is why the next series is a spin-off, because I just couldn’t let go of my friends!

Thank you Connilyn for answering these questions, and for continuing to write these stories of healing and redemption!

To learn more about the author, please visit her website at connilyncossette.com.

To learn more about the first book in the series, To Dwell Among Cedars, please click on the book title, or go here to read my review.

Note: This post contains affiliate links from Christianbook.com. This means if you purchase one of these books after clicking on the link, I will generate a commission from that purchase. This does not influence my recommendation of the books.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Summer 2021 Reading List

I signed the kids and myself up for the summer reading program at one of our local libraries this year! Since I will be reading quite extensively,  I thought I would create this list to show you what I have plans for this summer! I have already finished 6 of the books, which leaves me with 6 more to go!  What are you reading this summer? Have you read any of the books on the list?

Daughter of Jerusalem by Joanne Otto

I stumbled across this book while searching for others on Amazon. I wasn't familiar with this author, but I ordered it anyway because of the subject matter, and because I read a sample first. I have already finished this book. It was a short read, and meant for probably middle school readers or young adults. Because it was a story about a girl who lives in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus, I enjoyed reading it.

Between the Wild Branches by Connilyn Cossette

This is part of a two book series called The Covenant House series, and is the story of two siblings, a brother and sister.  The first book was To Dwell Among Cedars If you click on the book title for To Dwell Among Cedars, you can read a review I did previously. I have finished Between the Wild Branches, and am currently working on a review for that as well.

Encountering Jesus in the Real World of the Gospels by Cyndi Parker

This book is a nonfiction book that takes us from Eden to the Resurrection. It covers the history of Israel and other people groups leading up to the time of Jesus, in an effort to give the reader/learner a clearer picture of what the time/space/place was like during the time of His earthly ministry. I first listened to this book on audio, and loved it so much I had to buy a paper copy. There is a lot of information about place and history, which is usually hard for me to follow unless it is in story form, but the author made it so relatable that it was easy to connect. It helped that the subject was Jesus.

When Calls the Heart by Janette Oke

I have started reading this book, but haven't finished yet. I love the tv show that was based on the book series, so I wanted to give the book a try. So far, I am enjoying it. It is a nice, peaceful read, which is a pleasant change from some of the more intense books I have read! Not that I didn't like the other books, but that this is a little different in nature and has a more calm tone. It's sort of like comparing a thunderstorm to a general rainstorm. You can enjoy both, just one is more intense than the other.

Fearless Daughters of the Bible by Lee Grady

I haven't started this one yet, but purchased it because it is about women in the Bible, a subject with which I am moderately familiar, but always wanting to learn more about. So many times women in the Old Testament are a picture of Jesus or the Church, so I am eager to learn as much about them as I can.

Daughter of Light: Charilene's Story by Melanie Dobson

This book is one of the Ordinary Women of the Bible series published by Guideposts. I believe this one is about one of Philip's daughters from the Book of Acts. I have read other books in this series, but have not started this one yet. I will publish an update when I am finished.

A Man with a Past by Mary Connealy

I am not familiar with this author or book, but I am looking forward to reading A Man with a Past. What I know so far  about the book is that it is the second in a series, and is a Western Christian Fiction type book. I have not begun reading it yet, so I will post an update when I am finished.

Jerusalem's Queen by Angela Hunt

I am very interested in reading this book. It is based on history that took place between the Old Testament and the New Testament, also known as the Intertestamental Period. The main character is Salome, who was the Queen of Jerusalem during part of this time period. I know very little about her, other than she was responsible for setting up the educational system for children, and her brother was a Pharisee or a Saducee. I will post an update after I have finished this book.

Michal by Jill Eileen Smith

This book is Biblical fiction and is based on King David's first wife, Michal. She was King Saul's daughter. I have read other books by Jill Eileen Smith. She has written many about women in the Bible, so I am looking forward to this one.

Missionary of Hope: Priscilla's Story by Ginger Garrett

This book is part of the Ordinary Women of the Bible series published by Guideposts, and is the story of a women whom we first meet in the Book of Acts, chapter 18. She is also mentioned in Romans and a couple of the other epistles from Paul. I love her story in the Bible, and I have read several books about her. This one was super intense. I enjoyed it so much, and was unable to read anything else for a few days after because I was still processing. I had not read a book by this author before either, so that was nice to read something by someone new.

Her Source of Strength: Raya's Story by Jill Eileen Smith

This is another book in the Ordinary Women of the Bible series. Raya's story is about Samson's mother. She is mentioned a couple of times in Judges, but only as Manoah's wife I believe. This novel went through the story of Samson, beginning to end,  from what it might have been like to view from his mother's perspective. Samson kind of bothered me a lot because of the choices he made, but since reading the story, I have re-read parts of the Biblical account, and I am beginning to see Jesus more clearly in there.

Jewel of the Nile by Tessa Afshar

This novel is also fiction set during the Biblical era of the Book of Acts. The main character is Charilene, and she is from Cush, also known as Ethiopia. In this book, we get to see some other well known Biblical people from the Book of Acts, as well as a character that has been in two of her other books, Theo. I loved this story. It is in my top 5 books of the year so far. I have read all of Tessa's books, and this one is close to being my favorite. 

*To learn more about the books, click on the book title. To learn more about the author, click on their name.

Note: This post contains affiliate links from Christianbook.com. This means if you purchase one of these books after clicking on the link, I will generate a commission from that purchase. This does not influence my recommendation of the books.

Five Minute Friday: Deserve

Today I am participating in Five Minute Friday, where a group of writers get together and free write about a one word prompt for 5 minutes. Today's word is "deserve."

Deserve-to have earned because of some act or quality

I don’t or haven’t really liked the word “deserve” in the past. I think it conjures up all the thoughts in my head about what I am not, where I am lacking. And I don’t really need any help in that area- I already know.

And I didn't already know, there have been people who were eager and ready to let me know.

I feel as though I don’t measure up on a daily basis in so many areas.

In Ephesians 2:8, it says,

By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.
                                       -Ephesians 2:18

God had to tell us twice in that Scripture that we didn’t deserve it.

By grace you are saved.

Grace is God’s undeserved, unmerited favor. You can’t earn it. It’s only because of His goodness.

That not of yourselves…

You didn’t do anything to earn it.

He told us twice. This means we just have to trust Him.

Under the New Covenant, we get nothing by earning, or by deserving it. It’s all by grace through faith, by trusting what He said was true.