A theologically astute and historically authentic transformation of a familiar story.

YESHUA’S THIEF

A novel imagines the lives of Dismas, the thief crucified alongside Jesus, and his son, Ezekiel.

Everyone in Nazareth seems to know that Ezekiel’s father, Dismas, is a thief who brims with contempt for all things Roman. The young boy hopes one day to marry the beautiful Rina, but he couldn’t possibly afford the appropriate bride price, and she frets that he has inherited his father’s dishonesty. Dismas entrusts Ezekiel with a valuable dagger he has stolen from a wealthy Roman and asks his son to secure it until he returns from a journey of indeterminate length. After years pass, Ezekiel sells the dagger for a small fortune in order to start a fishing business and asks Yeshua (Jesus), a carpenter and rabbi, to build him boats. Yeshua refuses and warns him with a cryptic prophecy: “You were entrusted with a stolen dagger by which you came into this money. If I take the money, knowing it was stolen, I am no better than the one who stole it. If I build you these boats and do not have the means to return the dagger or the money, it will result in someone very close to you being put to death.” In Addison’s inventive version of a well-known biblical story, Yeshua’s prediction comes true. Dismas is arrested by Roman authorities and sentenced to be crucified near Yeshua unless Ezekiel can retrieve the dagger he has sold. To make matters worse, the dagger ends up in the hands of Abigail, a Roman woman who has reasons to despise both Ezekiel and Rina’s family and who wants Rina’s father, Hadwin, dead.

Since so little is known about Dismas—virtually nothing beyond the forgiveness Jesus offered him just before his death—Addison had plenty of historical space with which to conjure a backstory, latitude he exploits with impressive literary ingenuity. But it is Ezekiel who emerges as the true protagonist of the story. The author chronicles Ezekiel’s transformation from cynical pragmatist to someone open to a deeper faith, maybe even in the radical teachings of Yeshua: “If God was real, then he was cruel and didn’t fully understand the weakness of men. Still, a beacon deep in his soul told him a different story. A story of redemption if he would just listen.” Furthermore, Addison reconstructs the volatile political environment of the time with impressive subtlety and historical rigor. Yet the plot can suffer from the weight of its digressions—complex, entangled subplots involving Rina’s family begin to feel gratuitous and distracting, even soap-operatic. In addition, Abigail is never a fully believable character—her own moral arc, from someone capable of dastardly deeds to a woman able to show astonishing mercy, isn’t conveyed in a dramatically credible way. Still, these narrative failings are ultimately minor ones—none of them undermine the moral power of the story or the creativity of its rendering. For readers in search of historical fiction with a captivating religious angle, this is a delightful book.

A theologically astute and historically authentic transformation of a familiar story.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63195-531-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Morgan James Fiction

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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Unanswerable questions wrapped inside a thought-provoking yarn.

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THE STRANGER IN THE LIFEBOAT

An inspirational novel about a disaster and an answered prayer by the author of The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2003).

What if you call out for the Lord and he actually appears before you? Days after billionaire Jason Lambert’s luxury yacht Galaxy suddenly sinks in the North Atlantic with many illustrious passengers aboard, a few survivors float in a life raft. Among them is Benji, a deckhand who narrates the ordeal in a notebook while they desperately hope for rescue. Lambert is a caricature of a greedy capitalist pig who thinks only of himself and his lost ship and mocks Benji as “scribble boy,” but the main character is a young stranger pulled out of the water. “Well, thank the Lord we found you,” a woman tells him. “I am the Lord,” he whispers in reply. Imagine the others’ skepticism: If you’re not lying, then why won’t you save us? Why don’t you answer our prayers? I always answer people’s prayers, he replies, “but sometimes the answer is no.” Meanwhile, the ship’s disappearance is big news as searchers scour the vast ocean in vain. The lost survivors are surrounded by water and dying of thirst, “a grim reminder of how little the natural world cares for our plans.” Out of desperation, one person succumbs to temptation and drinks ocean water—always a bad mistake. Another becomes shark food. The Lord says that for him to help, everyone must accept him first, and Lambert, for one, is having none of it. The storyline and characters aren’t deep, but they’re still entertaining. A disaffected crew member might or might not have sunk the ship with limpet mines. And whether the raft’s occupants survive seems beside the point—does a higher power exist that may pluck believers like Benji safely from the sea? Or is faith a sucker’s bet? Lord knows.

Unanswerable questions wrapped inside a thought-provoking yarn.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-288834-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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