IN THE BEGINNING: My Review

In The Beginning_CoverEight stories that span the imagination, recreating Biblical events into dark tales featuring young adult heroes. Month9Books released their charity anthology on October 25, 2016.

All the authors cite the “inspiration” for their retelling of common and obscure Bible stories. Two of the stories are more allegorical as opposed to straight retellings.

With the exception of one story, these short tales will appeal to teenagers who like fantasy, dystopian and darker themes. Does it seem odd that this anthology twists Bible stories into something foreboding, even chilling or evil?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

To read and enjoy this collection, one can’t open the cover expecting to see the truth of the Bible. Here the imagination of some storytellers has converted segments of scripture into compelling farcical stories. They just left at the whimsy.

Stories I Enjoyed

I didn’t hate any of these stories. All of them were well-written and well-edited. Some of them took a little bit more of a stretch to accept them. You know how I feel about being kicked out of my fantasy world by unrealistic and unbelievable things.

I really enjoyed “Condemned” by Elle O’Neal. This story gives a Hunger Games spin to the story of Barabbas. If Barabbas were a teenage boy in a dystopian world where people liked to be entertained by televised gladiatorial-type games.

The character of Barabbas was well-constructed. I would have liked a little more explanation about this dystopian society. I never understood why they had the game or what made Barabbas a contestant.

Still, if you’re like me and you’ve often wondered how Barabbas felt when Jesus took his place on death’s row, this is a chilling way to get that insight.

One of the truly allegorical stories, “Babylon” by Nicole Crucial, gave me plenty to think about. The author personifies The Book of Life as the main character in this story. It’s a gut-wrenching tale of a friend who knows her friend is destined for a downfall.

It makes readers ask plenty of insightful questions. And convinced me once and for all that having foreknowledge of the future would be a bad thing.

Why Some Fell Short

For example, “Daniel and the Dragon” by Stephen Clements is inspired by a text that is included in the American Standard Version of the Bible that I had never read. Of course, dragons.

Clements wrote a good story but it includes concepts, wording and practices that will be foreign to most young adult readers. Also, it was more of a fictionalization of the passage rather than a retelling.

What do I mean?

A retelling is exactly what it sounds like: the same story but using different characters in a different setting.

This is not a bad story at all (didn’t I mention there are NO bad stories in this collection?) but it just missed the mark with me.

Other stories were also fictionalizations rather than retellings. “The Deluge” by Marti Johnson is a depressing recount of someone who didn’t survive Noah’s flood. “First Wife” by Lora Palmer gives us a look at Leah and Jacob’s wedding night and the day after.

Palmer’s story had great characterization and emotion. At the end, there’s another character introduced. I would have enjoyed the story more if it was about that “friendship” rather than Laban’s double-crossing of his nephew and daughters.

Even though I couldn’t buy the premise in “Emmaculate” by Christina Raus, I do think most teenage girls will fall for it and enjoy the ride. It’s packed with real-to-our-world issues and plenty of trauma drama.

My Top Pick

When I read the ARC, my favorite story was called “The Isaiah Boy.” So color me shocked when I didn’t even see that title listed on the press release during the cover reveal.

But then I found it. It had a new title, but the same incredible “there has to be more than this” ride. I’m talking about “Last Will and Testament” by Mike Hayes.

To say I was a little outraged when I saw the scriptures from Isaiah 53 at the beginning of the story is putting it mildly. After all that chapter prophecies Christ’s death thousands of years before it happens.

“It’s just a story” I started chanting to myself.

And it really isn’t a story about Christ. It takes the “wounded for our transgressions” literally and gives that “power” to a boy, Baz.  What I really admired was that the story was told in first person by a character other than Baz.

I don’t want to give anything away because you need to read this story. When you do, we need to talk about it. And Mike Hayes needs to write a novel that takes off right where this short ends.

Oh yeah, I’m looking at you Mr. Hayes.

Be warned, most of these stories have an incredibly dark tone. Some of them are downright depressing. But all of them offer more than an hour of entertainment. They give a snapshot of humanity that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

Disclaimer: I have a story in this anthology. I don’t mention “The Demon was Me” in my review because it seems self-serving to do so. Elsewhere I have mentioned it is the best short fiction I believe I’ve ever written. I hope you’ll read it and decide for yourself.

Have you read IN THE BEGINNING? What stories spoke to you?

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Release Day! Get your FREE copy here!

May 5th and Reflections from a Pondering Heart is being released into the wide world of readers.

Today, I’m offering readers of my blog a chance to win a copy of the book. I will give one eBook copy and one print copy (signed, of course) to randomly drawn commenters on today’s post.

Now, for the excerpt I have been promising for awhile.

What a welcome home! I bolted outside and heaved into the waste bucket until I thought my stomach might rend in half. I vomited until all that came out was a thick green slime. It burned my throat as it erupted from my mouth.

It was beginning. I pressed my sleeping shift against my stomach. Elisabeth warned me to expect as much as a month of nausea, usually just in the mornings. She kept flat bread beside her sleeping couch, claiming it helped to have something in the stomach before trying to stand up in the mornings.

I didn’t know if I would be able to convince Anna to let me leave food beside my bed. Even if she allowed it, my brothers might eat it before I did. Those three were always hungry.

I clutched my stomach and returned inside. Tonight, Father and I would meet with Joseph.  An honorable man like Joseph bar Jacob would find infidelity an unacceptable breach of contract. How could I defend my virtue when my body told a different story?

Darkness fell early. Father and I walked to the village and down a small street far from the town’s center to a sturdy brick building. Joseph’s house (would it ever be mine?), a simple two room box, had sturdy wooden furnishings. Two pillows were nestled together near the hearth. Father lowered himself onto one of them. I stared toward the ground and nearly missed Joseph’s gesture for me to sit on the other pillow.

Father shook his head.

“Thank you,” I said, raising my eyes as far as Joseph’s beard, “I will share with Abba.”

Joseph nodded. “Would you care for wine, Father Heli?”

“Not at the moment.”

I squatted beside Father on the edge of the pillow, my back resting against his side. Joseph folded his legs beneath him and nodded to Father respectfully.

In the light of the candles flickering on the nearby table, I studied this man, my betrothed. A few gray hairs dotted his dark brown beard, which he kept closely trimmed to his face. His skin was sun-darkened and weathered.

Pale brown eyes, flecked with amber and green, stared at Father. The planes of his face were broad and masculine, accentuated by his neatly trimmed hair, which hung to the collar of his robe in the back but was brushed away from his face in the front. It wasn’t a traditional haircut, but it made sense for a man who bent over wood and stone, working with tools all day.

The two exchanged greetings and small talk, while I watched Joseph from beneath my lashes. I pulled my shawl further forward to camouflage the inappropriate staring.

“This is more than a social visit,” Father said.

Joseph nodded. “Of course.”

I felt Father glance toward me. I clenched my skirts with suddenly cold hands. Tightness in my chest made breathing difficult.

“Something unexpected has mired our betrothal agreement,” Father said.

Joseph tilted his head toward Father, but his eyes swept in my direction. Heat clawed up my neck and burned my cheeks.

“Just over three months ago, Jehovah’s messenger visited Mary.”

A whisper of wind could have knocked me backward at that moment. Father said we would keep the truth from everyone, and yet he was telling Joseph. I glanced toward my future husband, wondering how he would react to the unbelievable account.

His face didn’t change while Father repeated the angel’s declaration. A calloused brown hand smoothed his beard. He cupped his chin in one hand, a finger straying to cover his strong mouth.

Father’s direct approach shouldn’t have surprised me. Of course he would tell Joseph. How else would he explain my condition?

“Mary is with child,” Father said. “Although she has done nothing to violate the marriage contract, the law gives you the right to divorce her.”

Joseph’s hazel eyes filled with emotion. I guessed it was disbelief. My experience spotting Anna’s disapproval and condemnation made it easy to rule out those emotions. He rested his gaze on me, and I tried to shrink into my robe, wishing for a larger shawl to hide my embarrassment.

If he spoke to me, what would I say? The whole thing sounded absurd when Father admitted it aloud.

“You realize how incredible this sounds?” Joseph drew each of his words out, as if carefully selecting them.

“Yes. Precisely why no one outside this room knows about it.”

“You are claiming she is carrying the Messiah,” Joseph said.

“I claim nothing. I am simply repeating what happened.”

“I’m expected to believe my wife is pregnant but didn’t have marital relations with another man?”

Father’s silence made my stomach clench. Bile burned the back of my throat. I gritted my teeth, keeping the churning acid from making an escape. If I vomited here, I would die.

“I expect you to accept my word, one honorable man to another.”

Silence filled the space around us. It was so complete I could hear the fire hissing against the lard on the candle nearest to me.

Father expected too much.

In order to be entered into the special drawing I’m running on my blog, comment below. When have you experienced the uncomfortable situation of sharing unbelievable news? OR what should Mary do to convince Joseph of her innocence?

I will draw a name in one week and contact the winners via email. Thanks for visiting. Share this page with any of your friends who might be interested in reading this book.

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Reflections from a Pondering Heart by S.L. Hughson

Reflections from a Pondering Heart

by S.L. Hughson

Giveaway ends May 15, 2015.

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