An unpretentious, if rather low-key, story about a pastor looking for the hand of God.

WHEN GOD MAKES HIMSELF KNOWN

A married pastor confronts long-dormant romantic feelings in Epps’ debut Christian novel.

Fifty-five-year-old Robert Maxwell, the pastor at Believer’s Community Fellowship Church in Graceville, Alabama, feels tempted every Sunday as he looks out and sees Emma Crane sitting in one of the pews. “What is wrong with you?” he chastises himself after one service. “You have the most amazing wife on the planet, and you love her with all your heart, so why does this continue to happen to you?” Forty years ago, Robert and Emma were middle school sweethearts; sometime after she moved away, he became a devout Christian, married a woman named Amelia, and had children. But ever since Emma moved back to town two years ago, Robert has felt old feelings stirring—and he’s asked God for help in dealing with them. Robert already has enough on his plate between his duties as pastor and his day job at a business-operations consulting firm, not to mention the troubles of his daughters and their husbands—one of whom he likes, and one he doesn’t. As he goes through his daily life, the various challenges he faces test his faith in ways great and small. Emma is perhaps his greatest test of all—but how should a true man of God face it? Epps writes in an easygoing prose style that effectively channels the rhythms of his protagonist’s daily life: “Robert was looking forward to his week off….Saturday at his in-laws was very peaceful. Amelia brought the ingredients to cook two-pound cakes.” It isn’t a very gripping yarn—Robert is hardly Job in terms of the trials that God sets before him—and it wraps up in a way that one might expect in a Christian novel about a devout man. Even so, Epps presents a realistic tale that’s firmly religious without being overwhelmingly dogmatic. Christian readers looking for a low-stakes slice-of-life story about family and community will likely enjoy this short volume.

An unpretentious, if rather low-key, story about a pastor looking for the hand of God.

Pub Date: May 31, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-973661-96-2

Page Count: 162

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2019

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

THE ORPHAN'S TALE

A Jewish trapeze artist and a Dutch unwed mother bond, after much aerial practice, as the circus comes to Nazi-occupied France.

Ingrid grew up in a Jewish circus family in Darmstadt, Germany. In 1934, she marries Erich, a German officer, and settles in Berlin. In 1942, as the war and Holocaust escalate, Erich is forced to divorce Ingrid. She returns to Darmstadt to find that her family has disappeared. A rival German circus clan, led by its patriarch, Herr Neuhoff, takes her in, giving her a stage name, Astrid, and forged Aryan papers. As she rehearses for the circus’ coming French tour, she once again experiences the freedom of an accomplished aerialist, even as her age, late 20s, catches up with her. The point of view shifts (and will alternate throughout) to Noa, a Dutch teenager thrown out by her formerly loving father when she gets pregnant by a German soldier. After leaving the German unwed mothers’ home where her infant has been taken away, either for the Reich’s Lebensborn adoption program or a worse fate, Noa finds work sweeping a train station. When she comes upon a boxcar full of dead or dying infants, she impulsively grabs one who resembles her own child, later naming him Theo. By chance, Noa and Theo are also rescued by Neuhoff, who offers her refuge in the circus, provided she can learn the trapeze. The tour begins with a stop in Thiers, France. Astrid is still leery of her new apprentice, but Noa catches on quickly and soon must replace Astrid in the act due to the risk that a Nazi spectator might recognize her. Noa falls in love with the mayor’s son, Luc, who Astrid suspects is a collaborator. Astrid’s Russian lover, Peter, a clown, tempts fate with a goose-stepping satire routine, and soon the circus will afford little protection to anybody. The diction seems too contemporary for the period, and the degree of danger the characters are in is more often summarized than demonstrated.

An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1981-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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