A New Gem In Christian Fiction

UPDATE: I’m updating this post to include Tessa Afshar’s newest release – In the Field of Grace. Her expert retelling of Ruth’s story from the Bible is just another example of Afshar’s deserved rise among Christian fiction authors. Read on for more about her delightful books and a review of her latest. 

Despite my love of browsing Barnes and Noble, or any bookstore for that matter, I rarely find myself looking to buy. I have stacks of unread books in boxes from previous book buying bonanzas and a queue of books on my Nook.  Sometimes, however, the browse and pluck method is quite fortuitous. Sometimes you stumble on a true gem that is worth sharing with everyone. This happened recently in the form of an author and her name is Tessa Afshar.

I can’t take the credit for this browse and pluck find. My mom was the plucker, but since we end up reading much of the same things anyways, I benefited by association (and the speed of Amazon Prime). She pulled Tessa’s first novel, Pearl in the Sand, off the shelf and a couple months later we have both read all three of her novels.

Tessa writes Biblical fiction with a personal and scholarly background that makes her characters and plot convincing. Her novels feel like a cross between The Lineage of Grace series (Francine Rivers) and the Chronicles of the Kings series (Lynn Austin). Read her full bio here.

Why I Love Her: Tessa’s years working in women’s ministry has given her valuable insight into a woman’s psyche. All three novels demonstrate a true understanding of women’s fears, insecurities, doubts, joys, and sorrows. She addresses these with sensitivity and sound advice spoken through other characters. The plots in her novels are biblically based, but they also include political intrigue and romance (not that the Bible is devoid of romance) that makes you stay up far to late reading “just one more page.” Despite her MDiv and personal experience living in Iran, she always points the reader back to exploring the Biblical text instead of taking her word for events and traditions.

Her Books:

Pearl in the Sand is a fleshed out retelling of Rahab from the book of Joshua. The story encompasses Rahab’s beginnings, the Israelite’s journey to defeat Jericho, Rahab’s involvement in hiding the spies, her and her family’s life post fall of Jericho, and Rahab’s relationship with Salmon.

I had never considered the difficulties of Rahab and her family assimilating into the Israelite community. Tessa’s take on the story made me appreciate the power of forgiveness, God’s grace, and His bigger picture approach to our lives.

Harvest of Rubies introduces Sarah, cousin to the prophet Nehemiah and talented scribe. Sarah lands herself a coveted position as the Queen’s senior scribe but finds the royal favor she earns causes her more harm than good. She is forced into a loveless marriage, isolated from everyone she knows, and has to grapple with her fading faith.

Most women will find parts of themselves in Sarah. Her struggles as a daughter, as a wife, and as a believer in the Lord are as relevant today as they were in 460 B.C.

Harvest of Gold continues the adventures of Sarah, her husband Darius, and Sarah’s cousin Nehemiah. Sarah and Darius are thrown into the middle of a plot against the King while they are still struggling to maintain a healthy marriage. As they begin to fit puzzle pieces together, Nehemiah launches the effort to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem requiring both Sarah and Darius come along.

I loved reading Nehemiah alongside Harvest of Gold. I was astonished by the little nuances from the Biblical account that Tessa was able to weave seamlessly into her account. I’m really hoping Tessa’s next novel involves Lysander and Roxanna, two characters introduced in Harvest of Gold.

(UPDATE: Her next novel did not involve Lysander and Roxanna, though I still have hopes that their story will be picked up again. Afshar’s latest novel, released July 2014 retells the Biblical story of Ruth and Boaz)

In the Field of Grace is based on the biblical account of Ruth. Afshar adds detail to the intersecting stories of Boaz, a wealthy landowner in Bethlehem, and Ruth, a poor widow from Moab. Their love story is familiar, but I enjoyed the fictional (but plausible) nuances that Afshar draws out of their individual stories. It was intriguing to consider the circumstances of both Ruth and Boaz’s lives before they met one another. I especially enjoyed the epilogue – a look at David’s reaction to his great-grandmother’s heritage.

Like in her other novels, Afshar is an expert at revealing wisdom through her character’s dialogue. I underlined many truths about suffering and God’s timing.

Bottom Line: Read them all with a pen in hand. You’ll want to remember many things said in these novels. All three are worth buying, reading, and sharing.

P.S.  If you want more book suggestions along these lines, check out From Fact to Fiction: the best retellings of biblical narratives, my post for Kindred Grace which includes Tessa Afshar.

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