Book Review: ‘Bridge to Haven’ by Francine Rivers

From the back cover:

To those who matter in 1950s Hollywood, Lena Scott is the hottest rising star to hit the silver screen since Marilyn Monroe. Few know her real name is Abra. Even fewer know the price she’s paid to finally feel like she’s somebody.

To Pastor Ezekiel Freeman, Abra will always be the little girl who stole his heart the night he found her, a wailing newborn abandoned under a bridge on the outskirts of Haven. Zeke and his son, Joshua—Abra’s closest friend—watch her grow into an exotic beauty. But Zeke knows the circumstances surrounding her birth etched scars deep in her heart, scars that leave her vulnerable to a fast-talking bad boy who proclaims his love and lures her to Tinseltown. Hollywood feels like a million miles from Haven, and naive Abra quickly learns what’s expected of an ambitious girl with stars in her eyes. But fame comes at an awful price. She has burned every bridge to get exactly what she thought she wanted. Now, all she wants is a way back home.

My review:

I haven’t read a Francine Rivers’ book I didn’t like. I’ve been following Francine on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest on the release of her new book, Bridge to Haven, which hit stores on the 22 April 2014. Despite being thick enough to knock someone out (a handy bedside weapon if ever needed), I read it within two days, almost non-stop. I even read it while eating breakfast, which might be a first for me.

Before I get into my review, I just have to say how much I love the cover of this book!

The story follows Abra through her childhood up until her mid-twenties, and it is not for the faint hearted. The heartbreaking experiences in Abra’s formative years cause her to pull back from others and seek her identity elsewhere. Her need to ‘be somebody’ leads her away from family and God and into the arms of men who only want to use her. This part of the book was hard to read, mainly because I really sympathised with Abra and felt her pain. Those familiar with Francine Rivers’ books will know that she writes about difficult topics such as sexual sin and abuse in a very ‘real’ way.

The saving grace in the book is Abra’s childhood friend, Joshua. His patience with Abra and unconditional forgiveness are inspiring – a picture of Jesus’ love (If you’ve read ‘Redeeming Love’, his character is very similar to Hosea). There are many other heartwarming and colourful characters that paint a vivid landscape for the story.

There were only a couple of minor issues I had with the book, such as some head-hopping in one of the latter chapters in the book. There was also a ‘twist’ at the end of the book that seemed to be quite rushed.

Just as a side note, my husband thought the name Abra was strange and asked me if her last name was ‘Cadabra’ (it isn’t, by the way).

Also, as a word of caution, there is a marital love-making scene in the book, although it is described in sensual rather than physical language so I didn’t feel it was inappropriate, but others may feel differently.

The themes of God’s forgiveness and acceptance are present throughout this book, and make for a challenging but inspiring read. Recommended for those who enjoy Christian romance books without puppies and rainbows.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

To see my ratings system, click here

Book Review: ‘A Lineage of Grace’ by Francine Rivers

Synopsis: This compilation of the five books in the best-selling A Lineage of Grace series shares the stories of the five unlikely women who changed eternity. Tamar, betrayed by the men who controlled her future, she fought for her right to believe in a loving God. Rahab, a woman with a past to whom God gave a future. Ruth, who gave up everything, expecting nothing, and God honored her. Bathsheba, her beauty stirred the passion of a king, her pain moved the heart of God. Mary, all eternity had been waiting for this moment and she responded in simple obedience to God’s call.  Each was faced with extraordinary —even scandalous— challenges, each took great personal risk to fulfill her calling, and each was destined to play a key role in the lineage of Jesus Christ.


*****
My review: When a friend of mine found out that I was writing Christian romance books, she recommended this book by Francine Rivers. I’ve read many of Francine River’s books and have really enjoyed them, so I decided to give this one a chance. The first thing I noticed was how ‘thick’ the book was – This was due to the fact that the book is made up of five novellas covering the stories of five key women in the Bible. My reviews for each of these stories are fairly mixed, so I’ve separated out my thoughts below:
  • The first novella was based on the life of Tamar. Not much is said of Tamar in the Bible, and I loved the way Francine got inside her head and weaved in the cultural customs of the day to create a fascinating view of what life would have been like for her. I was riveted by the story and stayed up well past my bedtime to finish it.
  • The story of Rahab was next – a prostitute from Jericho. I really enjoyed this story too (another one that kept me reading past midnight). The story was fairly true to the text of the Bible, with a few assumptions thrown in, like the identity of the spies that were sent to Jericho. Rahab was portrayed as a woman of faith who took risks for God – very inspiring. I was also pleasantly surprised by the romance in the story.
  • After the first two stories, I had high expectations for Ruth. This is one of my favourite books of the Bible and the story was fairly true to what is recorded in the Bible. However, once the biblical account finished, Rivers took the story on a new tangent, exploring a misunderstanding between Ruth and Boaz, which I didn’t think was necessary. This book did teach me something new though, which was that Boaz’s mother was Rahab (an outsider) – this could explain why Boaz showed such kindness to Ruth, who was a foreigner to the Israelites.
  • Bathsheba was the next woman of the Bible featured. This was a much longer story (a little too long) and started with Bathsheba as a child and her infatuation with David, who would soon become king of Israel. The sexual tension between David and Bathsheba eventually led to adultery and a devastating aftermath. I liked that this story reflected the reality of human sin and God’s forgiveness (second chances). It was also an interesting insight into what life would have been like for one of David’s wives/concubines – vying for his attention. The story finishes when Bathsheba and David’s son, Solomon, becomes King. I felt the story could have done with some heavier editing, as there was a fair bit of repetition of Bathsheba’s internal thought processes.
  • Jesus’ mother, Mary, is the final woman in this series. I liked the way Rivers portrayed the events surrounding Jesus’s birth and infancy, such as the threats from Herod and the arrival of the Wise Men. As a mother, it was also fascinating to think about what it would be like to give birth to and raise the Son of God. It wasn’t until Mary had more children that she realised that Jesus’ sinless nature was not a result of her perfect parenting! What made me feel uneasy with this account was that it features Jesus as a character and talks about things he says and miracles he does that aren’t in the Bible, eg healing his sister who was dying. It seems a little presumptuous for people to think they can imagine what God would do or say. When the story did follow along with the biblical account, it left me feeling flat as it didn’t include the whole story. I think it is better to read one of the gospels and see the truth inspired by God, not as summarised by an author. I skipped through paragraphs towards the end so I could finish it more quickly.

My uneasiness with the final story in this five-book series means that I wouldn’t recommend this book to others, but there are many readers on Amazon and Goodreads who have loved this series, so I’ll leave you to decide if it is something you’d like to read.

Have you read this book? What did you think?
*****

My top 10 favourite Christian romance books

About 10 years ago, I read my first Christian romance novel. I was staying with my aunty, uncle and cousins in north QLD and picked it randomly off the bookshelf. I loved it, and quickly read through the whole series during my two week stay, sometimes staying awake into the early hours of the morning. Over the years, there are some books that have touched my heart – not just because of the wonderful love stories – but because of the way they point back to God as the one who gives true love and everlasting satisfaction.

Here is a list of my top 10 Christian novels/series (in no particular order).

#1 Love Comes Softly Series by Janette Oke (this is the series I mentioned above). This has also been made into a DVD series, but the books are better.

#2 Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers – a wonderful story of God’s forgiveness. This one made me cry. Note: contains some adult themes, so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone under 18 years of age.

#3 Sophie’s Heart by Lori Wick – a story of a family who go through immense tragedy, but learn to love again thanks to a woman named Sophie.

#4 Pretense by Lori Wick – a story of two sisters who go through various tragedies and triumphs, their journey with God and each other.

#5, 6, 7, 8, 9 Christy Miller series by Robin Jones Gunn – great for teenagers and young adults. It follows Christy Miller as an awkward teenager transform into a godly young woman. I started reading this series in my late teens and still read it from time to time. There are a range of books that follow the adventures of Christy and her friends: Sierra Jensen series, Christy and Todd: The College Years, Katie Weldon series and Love Finds You at Sunset Beach.

#10 Fountain Creek Chronicles by Tamera Alexander – I found the first book in this series in our local library and went and bought the rest of the series right away. Three heartwarming historical romance novels.

#11 (had to add just one more!) Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers – a historical novel set in the period just after Christ’s death and resurrection, follows the story of slave girl Hadassah. I am not much of a history buff, and I nearly gave up on this book after the first chapter. But thankfully I was encouraged by a friend to persevere and I am so glad I did. A wonderful story of a young woman’s faith in the face of extreme adversity.

Have you got any favourites you can add to my list? Please leave a comment below 🙂