Further Deconstructing “For Such a Time,” Part 2: Allegory, Schmallegory

In case you missed it….

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I believe any allegory or a re-telling or even a “reframing” promises the reader a more than superficial resemblance. As an inspie reader, my Default Reader Trust Mode tells me that the author of a fictionalized Bible story — even one described in such vague tones as a “reframing” — has taken on the greater responsibility to go beyond the surface to tell the whole story.

A biblical story calls its readers to enter its world, to be captivated by its characters, intrigued by its plot, and affectively engaged through suspense and complication till its final denouement. Biblical stories invite us into a world contoured by ancient conventions, yet pulsing with continuous relevance. …[A] story is a whole that conveys meaning through its totality, through the choice and placement of its parts, and through the sum of its parts.1

megillat_esther

The parts of the story can be understood only as they relate to the integrity of the whole literary structure, and, conversely, the point of the story in all of its complexity can be best understood by pondering the significance of each part.3

If I’m reading a retelling a book of the Bible, I take it as a given that the author will be faithful to the meaning and intent of that story — not just the character names and superficial plot points.

In all fairness, not every character and verse needs a corollary in a fictionalized Bible story. Other Esther-inspired novels do without Queen Vashti, and the beauty contest, and the poetic justice and the glorious irony of the scriptures, and still give good story.

For Such a Time is not “good story.”

Yes, I know that “reframing” equals “jumping off point.” But when you jump off something, there’s an implication you’re reasonably assured of a safe landing without falling on your arse.

For Such a Time shows its arse on nearly every page.

Arse is not profanity because it’s British.

I’d like to say I am confounded why author Kate Breslin chose the specific elements of the Esther story that appear in For Such a Time and ignored others. However, it’s painfully obvious (I’m using that phrase repeatedly, but argh) which elements got in the way of the story she wanted to tell. Some are of the “huh?” variety, while others are downright “WTF???” egregious.

Acronyms do not count as actual profanity. I checked.

In my one week of research, I found dozens of books and articles on the story of Esther, from Christian exegetic textual analysis to Talmudic and rabbinic commentaries to YA novels to preschool coloring books.

Also, Joan Collins movies. Totally not kidding.

Esther and the King, 1960

If I was an inspie author, I would bury myself in these sources and wallow in them. I would absorb everything and pick it apart and put it back together again to figure out how best to relate God’s word to readers looking for a good story.

[NOTE: I would wallow in the Joan Collins movie, but I’d probably avoid actually absorbing anything.]

I honestly believe the Breslin — and her editors — read none of the same non-fiction titles I did. I seriously doubt the editors of the book consulted even one of the eleventy-five Bible study guides available from their own publishing house.

Eleventy-five is hyperbole, not snark.

Allegory, Schmallegory

Esther is one of only two women with a book of the Bible named after her. That’s why so many modern authors look to her as inspiration for their inspirational fiction.

And they do that for damn good reason.

Remarkable changes take place in the heart of this once young, dependent orphan who finally becomes a confident, assertive, and competent leader. In the final chapters, she speaks in imperatives and authorizes edicts.1

Boldness and faithfulness in a crisis. Esther had to make a stand in spite of the potential consequences. She had to decide whether to step forward in a crisis or shrink back from it.2

Ignoring long-standing protocol and refusing to be intimidated by the thought of being put to death in doing so, she courageously stepped into the king’s private “war room,” expressed her concern for her people (and in doing so, revealed to him for the first time that she, too, was Jewish), exposed the deceptive wickedness of Haman’s heart, and only hours later, pled that the decree might somehow be altered—or, at least, defended against. All these things occurred in a relatively brief period of time, but they resulted in a remarkable turning point, not only in the colorful story of Esther but in the dramatic history of the Jews. The results? Everything changed.4

Esther Accuses Haman, Doré's English Bible, 1866

This choice of a female hero serves an important function in the story. Women were, in the world of the Persian diaspora, as in many other cultures, essentially powerless and marginalized members of society. Even if they belonged to the dominant culture, they could not simply reach out and grasp power, as a man could; whatever power they could obtain was earned through the manipulation of the public holders of power, men. In this sense the exiled Jew could identify with the woman: he or she too was essentially powerless and marginalized, and power could be obtained only through one’s wits and talents. But, as the actions of Esther demonstrate, this can be done. By astutely using her beauty, charm, and political intelligence, and by taking one well-placed risk, Esther saves her people, brings about the downfall of their enemy, and elevates her kinsman to the highest position in the kingdom. Esther becomes the model for the Jew living in exile.5

The Biblical Esther finds strength and courage from her faith, and becomes a dynamic leader. Esther struggles with her choices, both past and future, but she ultimately chooses to do the right thing — no matter the cost to herself — because that’s where God has directed her.

Breslin’s version of Esther waffles and whines and goes stupid at a glimpse of broad uniformed shoulders.* Stella momentarily considers the effects of her choices on her fellow Jews, but she winds up getting distracted those broad shoulders* every single time.

Let’s review that again: Breslin’s Stella/Hadassah — a character named for and supposedly based on a Biblical heroine celebrated by Jews every year for thousands of years — “reframes” her thoughts and reactions and choices by how they might affect her relationship with a career Nazi.

Stella watched him go, her despair at Morty’s situation warring with her growing attraction toward the man responsible. Had God planned this new anguish to replace the physical torment she’d suffered at Dachau? ~ page 112, Kindle location 1557

Whatever reasons had brought him to be in this place, in this time, he had no more choice in the matter of conscience than she did. And, it seemed, less hope of any deliverance. ~ page 144, Kindle location 1987 [immediately after she’s typed the first Auschwitz deportation list]

The beating she’d endured at Dachau before they dragged her off to the shooting pit had nearly killed her. Was she supposed to simply forget that? Or what they had done to her people? Should she pray for them while they continued to send death trains to Auschwitz like so much stock being shipped to the slaughterhouse? And what about the colonel? Should she pray for him, as well? But her anger died abruptly, seized by a hailstorm of emotions she wasn’t ready to face. He was unlike anyone she’d ever known: his warm sense of humor, the way he smiled at her. His kiss . . . ~ page 156, Kindle location 2138

“Stella, I don’t wish to fight with you,” he said in a tired voice. “Finish eating, and just for a little while, we’ll have no more talk about Jews or Nazis or wars. All right?” His appealing look melted her obstinacy. ~ page 157, Kindle location 1266

She knew that death awaited the Jews at the station outside the ghetto. Would Joseph one day be forced to board that train? Stella reached to brush back his silken curls. Restless, he turned his head, revealing the angry scar where his ear had been. Brutality is the Nazis’ wheel, crushing everything in its path. Was that what Aric tried to explain to her? Had the monsters become victims to their own destruction—killing with such ease and abandon that now, like cannibals, they preyed on each other? That meant no one was safe. Not even Aric. ~ page 168, Kindle location 2312

Despite his accurate logic, he could have left Morty to his tormentors in the Kleine Festung a few more days. No doubt untold others had died in that place without the commandant of the camp giving the slightest notice. Yet her uncle had been spared because Aric was a fair man, and though he denied it, a compassionate one, as well. And he had done it for her. ~ page 228, Kindle location 3106

“Oh, but I do. You bargained for this all along, didn’t you? Using your beauty, your charm, to get what you wanted from me. For those Jews.” His face moved so close that their lips nearly joined, but anger—not desire—burned in his eyes. “You were even willing to bed the general for one of them, weren’t you?” “Would that have been worse than your dying?” She searched his harsh features for some sign of the man she’d fallen in love with.  ~ page 298, Kindle location 4029

If she didn’t, they would all die. She felt cornered; self-loathing washed over her. Why hadn’t she been shot that day in Dachau instead of Anna? Why did God spare her . . . only to make her an accomplice to murder? Tell me, Lord. I promise to listen. Hadassah cast a desperate glance at the Bible on the table beside her. The book had fallen open to a page, marked by the photograph of Aric. ~ page 310, Kindle location 4196

“But I’d rather risk my life and what’s left of my soul with these people than do nothing and prolong a miserable existence.” Hadassah squeezed his hand, overjoyed by his change of heart. She was also frightened by the realization he would be more likely to die than those he tried to save. She gripped the Bible she still held, hoping to gain strength. Hours ago she’d put herself into God’s hands; she’d accepted the possibility of her own death at Auschwitz for her people—but not Aric’s. Please, Lord, don’t let me lose him. Not now . . . ~ page 342, Kindle location 4628

Time and again throughout the novel, Breslin sets up her heroine in situations like these, placing her literally and symbolically between the Jews in the concentration camp and the officer in charge of transporting them to Auschwitz. Breslin gives Stella occasional twinges of…something…regarding her fellow Jews, then deliberately shifts the focus back to the “Christian” Nazi. Every. Single. Time.

Wealth, prestige, and personal security could never satisfy Esther so long as her people were still in danger. To her, the most important thing in life was not her comfort but their deliverance, and she couldn’t rest until the matter was settled. …It was her interceding at the throne that saved the people of Israel from slaughter. She was asking nothing for herself, except that the king save her people and deliver her from the heavy burden on her heart.6 [emphasis mine]

Breslin’s Stella is NOT a Biblical Esther. At all. Period.

I do not understand why an author would choose to base a story on someone whose been a heroine for MILLENNIA and IGNORE the actual REASONS she’s A HEROINE AND OMG I’M ALL-CAPSING AGAIN.

*sits on hands*

Wasting the good stuff

AND.  What a complete and utter waste of the true dramatic moments in the Book of Esther.

…this is Esther’s moment in history, the reason she had to go through the dehumanizing process to become royalty five years earlier. Will she seize the opportunity? 2 

NO. NO SHE WON’T.

Esther, Chapter 4:

[12] When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, [13] he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. [14] For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Esther Denouncing Haman - Ernest Norman, 1886

[15] Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: [16] “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

For Such a Time:

Never happens. NEVER HAPPENS. ::headdesk::

esther_haman_1

“Oh, wait – you say you’re not a Real Nazi? Let’s kiss and ignore the crematorium next door.”

This is Esther reclaiming her heritage. She’s been in the palace for over a year, being pampered and beautified and carried on a litter by muscular eunuchs and lounging on silky pillows and whatnot. Mordecai’s three simple sentences shock her out of her complacency.

Verse 14 contains one of the most memorable lines in the story of Esther. At the height of this intense interchange, Mordecai persuades Esther with words of hope and threat. The hope is found in an unexplained assurance that relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place. Esther must decide whether or not she will accept her appointed role in their deliverance..1

God gave Esther the opportunity to surrender herself and serve Him and His people, and she seized the opportunity. …Queen Esther bravely interceded for her people.6

Nothing. Nil. Nada.

Esther, Chapter 7:

[3] Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. [4] For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated…..”

[5] King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”

Esther by N.C. Wyeth

[6] Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

For Such a Time:

Aric’s fury gave way to exhaustion; he felt as though someone had bludgeoned him. He stared at her — she who had been his hope, his future. “Get dressed, Sarah.”

“Not Sarah.” She rose off the bed, her large eyes blazing blue fire at him. “Hadassah. Is that Jewish enough for you?”

Seizing the opportunity = “Is that Jewish enough for you?” Really? That’s what you’re going with?

These famous verses from the Book of Esther are more than just throwaway catchphrases. Those monumental words are in the Bible for a very specific reason. They are pivotal moments of faith showing us Esther choosing her path and giving her future over to God.

That’s what the story of Esther is all about. We get none of that in the novel.

Nada. Naught. Nil. Zero.

I am using a lot of italics for dramatic effect because aaaarrrgggghhh why would an author leave that out of a story of Esther???? aaaarrrgggghhh.

Esther-Chapter-1-1

“Ist thise naught Jewishe enuf forst thou?”

Breslin’s Stella never “chooses” anything. In deflecting a direct question, she’s showing her continued shame at being a Jew. Breslin’s Stella gives her future over to an SS officer who two chapters earlier called the Jews “nothing but a nuisances” and a waste of Nazi resources.

When you have a story that compelling and a plot that intriguing, revolving around a woman that dynamic, you can’t miss! Furthermore, you who have decided to read of her exploits will quickly discover what hidden treasures we have in this biblical character most folks have never stopped long enough to appreciate. Trust me on this one: You’re going to fall in love with Esther. Then you’re going to wonder how you could have lived so long without realizing what a magnificent realistic and balanced message she models, especially in this day of wild fantasies and radical extremes.4

Oh, the burning, itching irony. “Wild fantasies and radical extremes,” indeed. There is nothing “inspirational” about Breslin’s version of Esther. Blech.

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1 Leslie C. Allen and Timothy S. Laniak, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Baker Books, 2012.

2 A Walk Thru the Book of Esther: Courage in the Face of Crisis, Bake Books, 2010.

3 Karen H. Jobes, Esther, Zondervan, 2011.

4 Charles R. Swindoll, Esther: A Woman of Strength and Dignity, Thomas Nelson, 1997.

5 Sidnie Ann White Crawrod, Esther: Bible, Jewish Women’s Archive

6 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Committed (Ruth & Esther): Doing God’s Will Whatever the Cost, David C. Cook, 2010.

7 The Holy Bible – New International Version

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*Did you catch the part about the broad shoulders? The Nazi hero has broad shoulders. Just wanted to make that clear in case you were curious about that whole “attracted to a Nazi” thing. I think Jesus had Mighty Shoulders of Broadness too.

Speaking of Jesus and His Mighty Shoulders of Broadness, someone should write a book “reframing” Jesus as an MMA fighter. I would totally read that. Or wait – even better! — wait for it — Saul as a scarred and bitter MMA fighter from the Evil Jew Motorcycle Gang That Runs Illegal Underground MMA Fight Clubs and his former-arch-rival-but-soon-to-be-trainer Jesus says “Hey, if you want to be a Real Fighter for God™ you should switch sides and change your name and ignore all that Jew stuff and then you can totally get as many tattoos as you want because that will prove the whole Not Jewish thing even though everyone in the locker room already knows about the circumcision thing.”

Please note that I said someone else should write this. There are many, many reasons I am not a fiction writer. My brain at work is not a pretty sight.

This, my friends, is what OH HONEY NO friends are for. Kate Breslin, please find yourself one.

I'm not coming down until someone apologies

Further Deconstructing “For Such a Time”: An Angry Book Nerd Manifesto

NOTE: I had all this written and formatted and was doing a final proofread when this popped up in my Twitter feed:

NO, A GRANDDAUGHTER OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS DOES NOT WANT TO HELP PROMOTE A BOOK COSMO CALLS

Bloody hell. Un.Effing.Believable.

Related posts:

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Oh. You thought we were all in the “Over It” phase of the Outrage Cycle? I want to be “over it.” But I’m not.

I'm not coming down until someone apologies

This epic manifesto is an attempt to render my tangle of thoughts into a coherent analysis. By “epic,” I mean long (you are not surprised). By “manifesto,” I mean pseudo-intellectual ranting with fake academic subheadings and loads of pretentious “-ism” words and footnotes. I think “manifesto” implies “long” as well, so I’m already being redundant but I really like the word “manifesto” because it makes me feel very…powerful…in a “didn’t-even-have-to-get-off-the-couch-woohoo!” kind of way. I’m keeping “epic” too because people look for “epic” stuff and that will totally boost my SEO and I might even go viral.

I really like run-on sentences.

This post is the first of…several? I keep finding new stuff and then I have to rewrite everything and I have no idea how you author types ever actually get anything done.

If you’re sticking around for this, get yourself a snack and settle in.

*girds loins*

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*AHEM*

The obligatory #NotAllChristians intro to prove how enlightened I am about my recognizing and acknowledging my privilege and no that’s not hypocritical at all shut up and let me finish I’m just getting started here

As with my previous posts, I am thinking and researching and writing about For Such a Time1 because I am part of the target market. I’m writing this to (1) justify how much time I’ve spent obsessing over this book; (2) validate my righteous indignation; and (3) process why this has become some kind of personal mission for me.

I know the author and publishers have their fingers in their ears. They clearly don’t care.

The truth doesn't change just because you don't want to hear it

Bethany House’s Statement and Our Response

I do care. I care a lot. I’m learning a lot. I hope my voice will help escalate the discussion from a different kind of “Christian worldview” – one that not only cringes at but thoroughly disavows self-righteous revisionism and supersessionism.

I can’t write about it from anyone else’s point of view. I can only read what others have written2 and internalize their stories to reinterpret what I’ve read and inspire me (see what I did there?) to learn more.

I think I will request “Learn More” as the epitaph on my gravestone. When I die in a book avalanche.

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Abstract

In which I use the word “deconstruct” unironically.

I know. I had to. It’s the only way some high-minded people will take this manifesto seriously. Which is completely understandable what with all the gay werewolf orgies and whatnot around here.

Are you ready? Here we go:

*straightens bra straps*

The purpose of this post is to deconstruct why the novel For Such a Time by Kate Breslin fails its intended audience and its sub-genre of religious fiction.

Whether we call label it “Christian fiction” or “inspirational fiction,” whether it’s marketed as an “allegory” or a “retelling” or a “reframing” or even a mere “inspired by,” this book is a full-on hot mess of plug-n-play Bible verses presented with all the subtlety of a Looney Tunes anvil dropping.

Looney Anvil Dropping, featuring Road Runner and Wile E. CoyoteIf you mess with — or ignore — the basic elements of the original story, you change the outcome. Unless you’re specifically calling it a fairy tale or alternate history, not acceptable in an allegory/retelling.

If you mess with — or ignore — the basic elements of the original story, you change the meaning and the impact. Never acceptable in a retelling of a Bible story.

By (1) ignoring reader expectations; (2) cherry-picking superficial bits of the source material; (3) conflating the story with scriptural themes unrelated to the source material; (4) relying on deus ex machina and proof-texted divine interventions to drive the plot; and (5) deliberately choosing a setting solely for shock value, this so-called “inspirational” novel ignores and subverts the themes and messages of the Book of Esther so badly as to be nearly unrecognizable.

Instead of “reframing” the characters and themes of the Book of Esther to support the message God wants us to hear, Breslin uses whatever Bible verses she can find to support the story she wants to tell.

DISCLAIMERS:

  • I am not a Bible scholar; all opinions and observations and conclusions are my own. If you don’t agree, please – in all sincerity – call me out. I’m here to learn.
  • I’m using the terms “Bible” and “Biblical” for simplicity and my own familiarity.
  • I’m trying very hard to avoid snark and profanity and all-caps ranting. Wish me luck.

Also, please note I used a Looney Tunes analogy before the disclaimer. If all abstracts had Wile E. Coyote shout-outs and kicked off with a Ritual Straightening of the Bra Straps, I would have stayed in grad school.

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Methodology

I started out with a detailed plot summary to make sure I captured all of the key scenes and characterizations in For Such a Time.

After a lengthy brain-bleach, I began a “side-by-side” analysis of the key verses and themes in the Book of Esther and the counterparts in FSAT, using the New International Version of the Holy Bible, cited on the copyright page of the novel as the primary source of scripture quotes.

Side by Side: The Book of Esther and For Such a Time [Google doc3]

I gave up. Beyond the character names, the parallels were hollow and uncomfortable at best, frequently eye-rolling, and all too often utterly disgraceful.

Oh, fudge. I’m not supposed to opinionate in the methodology, am I? Oops.

That was sarcasm, not snark.

Also, my overuse of adjectives and adverbs is completely intentional because I too have access to a thesaurus and I’m not afraid to beat people over the head with it for dramatic effect.

That was sarcasm as well. Still with me?

I then delved into Bible studies and commentaries on the Book of Esther published by Bethany House and other leading Christian publishers. For this post, my expert advisory panel includes:

I also read numerous commentaries and articles from Jewish authors and bloggers5; I am purposefully not referencing these here to keep with my “intended audience/target market” perspective. Also, because it’s painfully obvious the author actively avoided anything actually, you know, <whisper>Jewish</whisper>. Because of…you know…*looks around suspiciously*…<whisper>Jew cooties</whisper>.

That was snark. See the difference? It’s a fine line sometimes.

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A “Hey! I researched stuff! Lookit lookit lookit!” sidebar

Megillat Esther, Italy, 1616 - The National Library of Israel Collections

Megillat Esther, Italy, 1616 – The National Library of Israel Collections | View larger image >>

How can you look at something that stunningly beautiful and glowingly spiritual and not want to learn where it came from and who created it and where they lived and how they used it and…everything? What is the point of being a novelist if you don’t geek out over stuff like this???

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

Rats. There goes my “no all-caps ranting.”

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Ignoring reader expectations

See, I can get to an actual point. Eventually.

To steal the words of a Twitter friend, Bethany House broke a contract with me as a reader.

I championed the publisher as a great source of non-preachy inspirational romances with great non-Regency historical settings.

“Trust me!” I said. Because I trusted them.

Now, my rallying cry is “I am not affiliated with them! They do not represent me!”6

As an inspie reader, I trust7 that authors and editors and publishers of “Christian fiction” know their Bible. I trust inspie authors to do their research, both historical and Biblical. I trust editors at religious publishing houses to do their due diligence to ensure their fiction titles are theologically sound.

I just invented a name for this: my Default Reader Trust Mode. It works for any and all genres.

Yes, “theologically sound” is impossible to define; the translations and interpretations and commentaries are endless. But the whole point of fictionalizing Bible messages and Bible stories is that there are universal truths and guiding principles that still apply to our everyday lives.

Biblical characters experienced God in complex situations, and so do we. By portraying those situations realistically, we learn how to apply the Bible to our own lives.

~ A Walk Thru the Book of Esther

Emphasis mine on the “realistically.” Nearly every inspie I’ve read – including those from Bethany House – focuses on one of those universal truths. There’s a single Bible verse as an epigraph, and the story is built around characters struggling with understanding and living out that seemingly simple but ever-elusive faith message.

Why the author, editors and publisher of For Such a Time ignored this construct is completely beyond me.

What the **** am I reading?

Instead of a story of people struggling with faith and hope in a real-life version of hell on earth, we’re force-fed a “romance” built on Stockholm syndrome surrounded by Hollywood melodrama and stuffed with Dial-A-Scripture platitudes.

*sits on hands* <muffle>nosnarknosnarknosnark</muffle>

After three close reads, I still don’t know what the central faith message of this book is supposed to be, much less how it applies to my own spiritual life. And that’s because it’s trying to tell too many stories at once – and not telling the whole story.

To be continued…. How’s that for a cliffhanger, eh?

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Footnotes

1 I am purposefully using the full title and author’s name, because at this point in the Outrage Cycle, euphemisms like “That Book” only serve to diminish and ignore the issues we still need to talk about.

2 Here are just a few of the voices I’ve been listening to:

I “met” all of these people online only because of the controversy, and they’re doing an excellent job at poking holes in my white privilege. They’re probably getting tired of me favoriting and retweeting everything they post.

3 The Google doc is open for commenting – have at it.

4 Yes, “Thru.” I’m not kidding.

5 My starting points:

Don’t ask where those starting points led me. I haven’t really come back yet.

6 I use that same rallying cry whenever anyone mentions Rep. Steve King (R(abid Bigot)-Iowa).

7 I debated for quite a while whether to use “trust” or “trusted.” I reserve the right to change my mind. Again.

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Required reading

Most of these aren’t new, but they’re too powerful to let slip into the cracks.

Recommended reading

Recommended viewing

Fuck It. I’m Going Full Snark.

In case you missed it, here are the related posts:

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Me to myself yesterday:

There’s a lot of confusion about what exactly does and doesn’t occur in That Book. I think it would be worthwhile to lay out the critical plot points and character backstories.

Today on Twitter:Writing an FAQTwo hours later:

Full SnarkYou’ve been warned.

If you’re looking for smart people saying smart things, go here:

Otherwise, GFTO, I’m going in.

The main characters

Stella Muller/Hadassah Benjamin. Our heroine. She’s Jewish, but had false papers claiming she’s Aryan. It’s easy to believe because thanks to her Dutch grandmother, she has hair the color of gold and eyes as blue as the Judean sky. Hadassah is her Hebrew name and Stella is her Aryan alter ago; this mirrors the holy texts, except the ancient Hadassah becomes Esther when she’s made Queen of Persia. In the book, she’s known as Stella until she proclaims her Jewishness.

Colonel Aric von Schmidt. Our hero. He’s the SS officer newly assigned the command of Theresienstadt. But he’s not really SS – he was invalided out of the Wehrmacht (the field army) after ten years and many battles. He calls his new SS colleagues “mangy curs” and “uniformed thugs” which proves that he’s not a True Nazi. Aric is  Austrian; his father was a baron and a self-described “gentleman farmer.” His name is spelled with an “A” because he’s the modernized version of Ahasuerus, King of Persia. I have no idea how to pronounce “Ahasuerus.” It keeps coming out as “Asuharious.”

Uncle Morty, full name Mordecai Benjamin. He’s Stella’s uncle, but has raised her as a daughter after she was orphaned. Morty is the conscience on Stella’s shoulder, whispering to her to keep the faith.

Captain Hermann. He’s second in command at the camp, a career SS man, and a brutal bully. He’s kinda pissy that he didn’t get promoted to commandant. Hermann = Haman, chief toady to the Persian king and Mordecai’s archenemy.

Hardly any snark! Except for that one bit about the True Nazis. If you can’t handle that, GTFO because there’s more.

Chapters 1-4

Stella wakes up in a strange room and meets Colonel Aric. We learn she was at Dachau, but she was there by mistake and he’s the kind of officer that doesn’t tolerate mistakes made against women with blond hair and blue eyes. Stella has exactly the secretarial skills he needs, because of course she does, so he’s taking her with him to his new post as commandant of Theresienstadt.

“…as easily as I netted you from that cesspool Dachau, I can toss you back.”

Stella’s blond hair is shorn, so as they’re getting in the SS car to head out to Czechoslovakia, Aric reaches into his pocket and pulls out a red wig.

No, really.

For Such a Time - The Red WigThere’s a bit of anxiety when they’re questioned at the border.

“This is the not the Jew you’re looking for.”

When they arrive at the camp, they meet Captain Hermann. Just picture Hogan’s Heroes and you’ll have a good mental picture of Hermann the Horrible.

Stella is to live at Aric’s house outside the walls of the ghetto. She meets Joseph and Helen, the palace eunuchs. Oh, wait, sorry – Joseph the one-eared Jewish houseboy and Helen the mute Catholic housekeeper.

At dinner, Stella ponders Aric’s handsomeness and is forced to eat pork.

When she returns to her room, the Magic Bible appears! She knows about the Christian Bible from her friend Marta. The Bible magically falls open to Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Because of course it does. Continue reading

Just Because You CAN….

…doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Yes, this is about That Book.

Let’s go ahead and Voldemort it now that it’s hit mainstream media:

For Such a Time by Kate Breslin, published in April 2014 by Bethany House.

Last week, a bunch of us on Twitter decided to actually read the damn book. We all read it for different reasons — as romance readers and romance authors, as Protestants and Catholics and Jews and Hindus, as educated people who like to think of ourselves as enlightened, open-minded human beings.

We are still in the midst of an epic discussion via Google doc¹, and I am learning so much. I am obsessing over this book, because the unpacking is endless.

ETA:  The great posts by our discussion group

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This post is my introductory brain dump on why I read it. Stayed tuned, and hang in there with me. This will require a lot of wine and chocolate.

ETA: My follow-up posts:

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I read this book because…

I am an inspie reader.

I’m a (former) participant in the Bethany House blogger review program (I am soooo getting kicked out for this), and a (former) fan of the imprint and most of their authors. I’ve read dozens of Bethany House books, rated many 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads, and full-on squeed over a few.

I feel like I should apologize to everyone for this.

I am very disturbed that book people I felt a spiritual affinity with could possibly think the premise of this story was acceptable. Continue reading

TBR Challenge: RITA-Nominated Inspirationals

I read three again. Because I’m an over-achiever, not because I’m obsessive-compulsive. Shut up.

I chose inspie nominees from the past three years, from three different eras.

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Betrayal by Robin Lee Hatcher

  • Betrayal by Robin Lee HatcherTitle: Betrayal
  • Author: Robin Lee Hatcher
  • Series: Where the Heart Lives, Book 2
  • Published: Zondervan, November 2012
  • Source: Purchased ($1.99 promo on Amazon)
  • Length: 273
  • Tropes: Deep Dark Secrets, Widow, Drifter, Western
  • Quick blurb: A drifter helps a lonely widow in 1899 Wyoming.
  • Quick review: Quietly angsty, but a noticeable lack of tension.
  • Grade: B-

He turned his back to the wall of the barn, leaned against it, and closed his eyes. Then he waited. Waited for the last dregs of the nightmare to fade away. Waited to forget the man he used to be. Waited for the fragile peace he’d found in a Savior to sweep over him, even though he didn’t fully understand that Savior yet. Waited.

He was good at waiting. It was a trait he’d learned in prison. If he hadn’t learned it, the cramped space he’d lived in for so many years would have driven him mad.

I’ve read a few by Hatcher before, including the first book in this series, and I enjoy her understated style and the way she makes the faith messages part of the characters’ everyday lives.  This one was a little too understated — it was good, but not different enough from every other Western inspie to make it worth a re-read. There wasn’t much tension beyond the mostly unseen Evil Ex-Brother-In-Law, and the way that conflict fizzled out left me feeling cheated of a Total Drama Moment.

Betrayal was nominated for Best Inspie of 2012, but lost to one of my top favorite books of all-time DIK forever, Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden.

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Promise to Return by Elizabeth Byler Younts

  • Promise to Return by Elizabeth Byler YountsTitle: Promise to Return
  • Author: Elizabeth Byler Younts
  • Series: The Promise of Sunrise, Book 1
  • Published: Howard Books, October 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 320
  • Tropes: World War II, Amish
  • Quick blurb: A young Amish couple’s faith in God and each other is severely tested during World War II.
  • Quick review: Spiritual conflict and romantic angst to the NTH DEGREE.
  • Grade: C

“The way I see it is that God usually has us on this narrow path where we can only see the step right in front of us. Then sometimes,” he paused and looked away again, “sometimes I feel like He opens a huge door or a field or, I don’t know, opens something that shows me how big His plans are, and suddenly I have all this room to move around. Sometimes it’s way off the path I expect. Do you know what I mean?”

I feel ridiculous whining about being depressed by a book about World War II, but jeepers, there was nothing uplifting about this inspie. The romance is achingly lovely, the spiritual conflict is heartbreaking, and the ending made me weepy. It’s really well-written, it’s completely different from every other inspie I’ve read, and it’s fully deserving of a RITA nomination. But I did not enjoy reading it it — the angsty dreariness was relentless.

Believe it or not, this was the first traditional Amish romance I’ve ever read (not counting the m/m series by Keira Andrews, which is utterly brilliant). Of all the weird shit I read (I work for Riptide, remember), I avoid Amish stories, mostly because I feel like (a) I’m violating some unknown person/character’s much-valued privacy and (b) someone is making money off their faith without their consent. I didn’t feel quite as squicky about this one because the author grew up in an Amish family and I felt she wouldn’t be exploitative.

For whatever reason, Promise was one of only two inspies nominated last year — the winner was the contemporary Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano.

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Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie

  • Hope at Dawn by Stacy HenrieTitle: Hope at Dawn
  • Author: Stacy Henrie
  • Series: Of Love and War, Book 1
  • Published: Forever (Grand Central), June 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 384
  • Tropes: World War I, Iowa, Small Town
  • Quick blurb: A young schoolteacher finds herself facing unexpected drama when she falls in love with a German-American farmer in World War I.
  • Quick review: I just bought all the sequels. At full price.
  • Grade: B+

“Perhaps your real question is not how to stand for goodness, but when. Am I right?”

After reading Promise to Return, I was really iffy on another wartime homefront weepfest, but then I realized Hope was SET IN IOWA and I COULDN’T NOT READ IT. I only cried a little.

The basic premise is similar to Promise: the onset of war forces an insular community to interact with the outside world. In this case, the conflict is prejudice and discrimination against German-Americans during World War I — prohibitions on speaking German, “vigilance committees,” extortion to buy war bonds to prove patriotism. The pacing is much  better than Promise, with some high points to balance out the angst.

I’m giving it a B+ instead of an A because despite my love for it, I couldn’t stop thinking that whatever German-Americans were facing in 1918 Iowa, it was nothing compared to the horrors to come.

I read Henrie’s debut during the Summer of Harlequin, but didn’t realize it was the same author. Hope is the only current RITA inspie nominee I’ve read so far, but I just bought Huckleberry Summer despite the ridiculously dopey title and cover because it’s about a big slobbery dog and the hero is an environmental protester who chains himself to trees. I had to move the ARC of For Such a Time by Kate Breslin to the DNR-DNR and WTF-UGH-BLAH-ICK-STFU shelves because apparently I did not read the blurb closely before requesting.

Weekend O’ Random Lists: The Colonial/Revolutionary Binge

The party continues with a list that’s not so random – my recent reads about colonial, revolutionary and post-war/frontier America. I’d been hoarding most of these for years, but finally got inspired by — wait for it — Jude Devereux’s The Raider.

Most are from inspie publishers, who seem to be the only ones interested in non-Brit settings. Maybe someday Harlequin will discover early America. I would GLOM THAT SO HARD. That sounds vaguely dirty, but you know what I mean.

All the family pics are from a trip to Washington D.C.,  in 2008 to visit my little sis, who had an actual job actually schmoozing actual politicians. She likes that sort of thing (*~*shudder*~*).

Kids_MtVernon2

Damn, my kids are cute.

Things 1&2 were eight and five. We spent July 4th at Mount Vernon, where it was approximately 157 degrees, with mosquitoes the size of bats and restroom lines nine miles long. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

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The colonial era

The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton

The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton
The story of Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake Hallet,  a founder of Greenwich, Connecticut, and ancestor of Howard Dean,  John Kerry, Amelia Earhart, Bill Gates and Johnny Depp. No, seriously. Not quite as good as Seton’s Katherine, but definitely a must-read. There’s some info-dumping when the narrative skips ahead a few months or years, but the heroine’s struggles with her Puritan community and the harshness of the early settlements are incredibly vivid and memorable. Grade: A- (HMH, 1958; purchased (I own all of Seton in paper, ebook and audio)) Continue reading

Weekend O’ Random Lists: The Carla Kelly Backlist Binge

I expanded it from a day to weekend because I am Having Ideas.

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Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla KellyWhy I Am A Carla Kelly Fangirl:

1. The historical worldbuilding. Total immersion book trance, every single time. No one does military romance better than Carla Kelly, and from what I can tell, her accuracy is nearly flawless.

2. The joining of equals. The heroines always have — or find — their agency, and their heroes are quietly heroic in the best possible way.

3. The mix of drama, high comedy, adventure, angst (and more). Nearly every heroine is a direly impoverished (see below) orphan or widow, and nearly all the heroes are stoic military men, but the width and depth of CK’s storytelling is truly impressive.

The must-reads:

Channel Fleet Series
(Marrying the Captain, Surgeon’s Lady, Marrying the Royal Marine)
My first and truest loves. Connected, but each is unique in story, tone and romance. On my DIK list. A+ for all three. (Harlequin Historical, 2008-2010)

The Wedding Journey
A marriage of convenience between an army surgeon and a dying officer’s daughter who’s threatened by a lecherous major. If you liked Marrying the Royal Marine or Balogh’s Beyond the Sunrise, you will love this one. (Signet, 2002)

With This RingWith This Ring by Carla Kelly
Plain Jane debutante volunteers to nurse wounded soldiers and finds herself in a fake engagement to a lordly major. It’s a glorious road-trip comedy with a lengthy rest stop at a friendly village where the heroine opens a barbershop (no really). (Signet, 1997)

The Lady’s Companion
A penniless companion and her employer’s cranky bailiff. Quietly funny and achingly romantic, with a great side story about the lonely aging dowager who schemes to bring them together. Added to my “Best Beta Heroes” list. (Signet, 1996)

Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind
A poor relation caring for her orphaned nephew slowly learns to appreciate the mill owner who lives nearby. A slow-building romance (on her side) and Deep Dark Secrets (on both sides) make this a really compelling and memorable read. (Signet, 1998) Continue reading