Relevant Fiction Reviews: Costly Grace

Relevant Fiction Reviews

In June, my Relevant Fiction Reviews comprised several reviews on the theme of love, war, and sacrifice. This month, the novels all examine what in Saving Amelie is referred to as “costly grace” (in reference to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology). This is the sacrificial love that, in the books below, requires giving up an ultimately destructive relationship, sacrificing romantic love for a higher calling, and risking freedom and maybe life to preserve the lives of others.

Each of these books excels at what a novel does best – takes an abstract idea (same-sex attraction, an encounter with Jesus, and dehumanization and destruction of human beings) and gives it flesh and bones, allowing the reader to more fully understand and experience the truth.

As I’ve noted before, I have difficulty with the star system. I wish there were half-stars. I would bump The Lion’s Heart up to 4.5.

The Lion's HeartThe Lion’s Heart by Dena Hunt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. Part of me did not want to read this book because I feared the subject matter would be uncomfortable, but I’m glad I did. To my chagrin, my discomfort was not with the homosexual love depicted in the book so much as my discomfort with universal sin, and that is to the author’s credit. The Lion’s Heart is a multi-layered reflection on beauty/ugliness, truth/lies, love/selfishness – because that’s what the opposite of authentic love is: selfishness. There is plenty of wisdom and truth packed in this love story that resonates well beyond homosexuality or sexual love – selfishness, sacrifice, and the knowledge that we are so much more than our behaviors and proclivities. The ending is a startling contrast between life/death and hope/despair that stays with you well after you’ve finished the book.

I wish I could give it 4.5 stars instead of four.

I received an advance reader copy for an honest review. The author is a fellow member of the Catholic Writers Guild.

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The WellThe Well by Stephanie Landsem

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With the sympathetic plight of young Mara, The Well draws the reader in from its first pages. As Mara’s path intersects with that of Shem, a young Samaritan with reason to hide from Roman authorities, it seems as if they’re headed for a traditional happily ever after. But as the characters move from the periphery of Jesus’s ministry toward the crucible of his radical teaching, love and sacrifice become so intermingled, there will be no escaping the figurative cross for either Mara or Shem.

The Well is expertly-written with one of the most moving endings I’ve read.

The author is a fellow member of the Catholic Writers Guild.

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Saving AmelieSaving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautifully-crafted novel written mainly from the perspective of Americans in Oberammergau, Germany before the United States’ entry into World War II. Author Cathy Gohlke takes the reader inside the lives of a pair of sisters unwittingly used by the infamous Josef Mengele in his eugenics experiments.

By interweaving elite Aryan society with simple Bavarian culture, the author allows the reader to examine the triumph of evil in Nazi Germany from various sides. The vile destruction of life and culture is personalized by the heartbreaking journey of young Amelie, the daughter of a heartless SS officer.

With subtle themes of faith woven throughout the spiritual and geographic journeys of Americans Rachel Kramer and Jason Young, the story examines Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s idea of “costly grace” in the sacrifices each must make for both those they love and relative strangers endangered by Hitler’s destructive rule.

Saving Amelie is a well-written, well-researched story that makes the reader wonder anew how such horrors ever happened and whether they could happen again.

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