Grace A. Johnson
Review: To Dwell among Cedars by Connilyn Cossette
#1 This is a long review, so pull up a chair and grab a bowl of popcorn. You’ll be here awhile. #2 When I read a review, I want substantial information. So I will not skimp on the details. Which may mean some spoilers, so watch out.
Did I purposely order a copy of a book I had no idea if I would like at all just so that I could read and accurately review the free copy of the second book I was getting in the mail?
Do I have any regrets?
I will try to keep this review short, I promise. Considering the fact that I have no idea how to put into words what I feel about this book, I might be able to uphold that promise.
Or I’ll shatter it to pieces. We’ll see.
After a dry period in the Christian fiction I’d been reading, To Dwell among Cedars was a huge refresher! Unlike contemporary and even some other historical eras, biblical fiction is always very spiritual, so I shouldn’t have expected anything less, but you never can tell these days. Not to mention biblical fiction can be very draining, what with all the pagan cultures of the Philistines or Babylonians or Romans...not fun.
So on that note, Connilyn Cossette did a fabulous job of accurately portraying Philistine culture and just the general degeneracy of the Gentiles of that time, without overloading me with freaky evilness and making me sick. Because seriously, guys, as much as I love the Mark of the Lion series, Francine Rivers nearly made me sick with all that mess. Some things you just don’t want to read about.
Technically speaking, every aspect of this novel was perfect. Cossette’s historical details and content, the way she wove in biblical events and Scripture, the blend of cultures, the splash of imagination, the intriguing plot—all perfect.
On top of that, Cossette’s writing was so beautiful. I wish someone had told me that before, so I could’ve devoured all her other books… Anyway. There were moments of vibrant poetic descriptions, which I always love, but she never went overboard. Everything was so well-balanced, from the descriptions to the action to the inner thoughts of the characters. Perfection on every account!
Speaking of balance, the pacing of this novel was crazy. The whole thing blew by so quickly! I don’t know if I just read it fast or what, but even though it wasn’t rushed in the least, I wolfed this book down in a day. (Pretty sure it only took me a day.) So, yes, the pace was balanced—not rushy but not dragging either—but this is not a book you can read one chapter of at a time. This is one of those all-consuming stories that you drop everything to finish.
As much as I loved how well-executed this story was, that wasn’t my favorite part. That wasn’t what makes me want to rate it a million stars.
It was two things. Just two simple things.
(Okay, technically, it was more like...five simple things, but you can combine four of those to make one and yeah...never mind.)
The characters. And the chills. OH MY WORD THE CHILLS!
Yeah, we’ll start with the chills.
I think, for the longest time, I was torn between how the story was going to unfold—on a spiritual level, mainly—because of Ronen. (Getting to him in a bit.) He was...such a Baptist. Hate to say it, but he really was just like a Baptist. Fundamentalist, political, religious, had absolutely no faith in the supernatural. He was all the time doubting God—and more importantly, His power.
No offense to Baptists, of course. Y’all are great people. My grandparents are Baptists. I come from a long line of Baptists. (And Catholics. And some Jews. And lots of stick-worshiping pagans. Never mind.) My point is just that you had Ronen with his disbelief in the power of God and Eliora with her childlike faith in it. Hence why I would compare her to a Pentecostal.
But all these people are Jewish and I’m not here to debate theology, believe it or not.
Now where was I? Oh, yes. Ronen.
The novel was torn between doubting Ronen who thought the stories of miracles and the Ark were all myths and Eliora who had seen them with her own eyes—so I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Ronen to witness God’s power, unsure how in the world the set-in-his-ways old man was going to literally see the light.
But that wasn’t even the message.
I mean, it was. Because of things I can’t say for the sake of spoilers. But, in the end, what gave me the chills was what Ronen pointed out as wrong in Eliora’s thinking… “No matter what happens now, promise me you won’t hide your light anymore. There is no song more beautiful than the one the Creator is composing in every note of your life, one he’s been weaving together before your first breath.”
Oh, and you know, of course there was the sermon that Yoela preached.
DOES IT GET ANY BETTER? NO. NO, IT DOESN’T.
Seriously, you guys, every word that came out of Yoela’s mouth was so Holy Spirit-breathed—and they didn’t even have Holy Spirit then!
“He is the God Who Sees. There is no place you can go to escape his vigilant watch over you.”
“It is not the Ark you must follow, my precious child. It is the God who made you.”
I mean, that whole time, I was watching for someone to preach to Ronen, and yet it was Eliora who needed to hear from the Lord, and ah! the things she heard!
Amazing. Just...amazing. I seriously did get chills while reading that.
Now, the other thing was the characters. All of them—Elazar, Yoela, Eliora, Lukio, Ronen, Samuel—they were each and every one of them so endearing and lovable.
Not to mention just having Samuel show up was like the most epic thing ever. He was pretty much awesome.
And then there was Lukio. LORD IN HEAVEN I WANT LUKIO.
Okay, so like even when he was a little boy, he was a munchkin. (And the definition of that sentence is that he was a munchkin at fifteen... As weird as that sounds, he was.) I was already claiming him as my boyfriend in this book, so y’all can imagine how serious our relationship was once I started reading Between the Wild Branches.
Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that I adored Lukio throughout this book. The way Cossette developed his character was SUPERB. He wasn’t just a minor character; he wasn’t glossed over; he wasn’t in the least bit unrealistically portrayed. He was so real and just...gosh, he was perfect.
As for Ronen, well, let’s just say that I don’t have the same feelings for him as I do Lukio. I mean, I kinda called him a Nazi and a traitor and just...yeah, suffice it to say I hated his guts for being a lying, cheating, stealing rebel. Or was he a loyalist? Whatever the case, I didn’t like him.
And yet, I did.
In the first part, young Ronen was just adorable, of course. Loved him to pieces. But come the second part, eight years (it was eight, wasn’t it?) in the future, Ronen was so jaded and cynical and evil. (Granted, there are worse people. Like actual Nazis.) I just couldn’t bring myself to fall in love with him, you know? And yet, his character was so real...he was just as blinded and deceived as anyone, and like I said, he did see the light.
Not to mention the way he really and truly loved Eliora and tried to befriend Lukio and was just so vulnerable and lost...okay, yeah, I did love him. It just took me a while to get there.
But this was one of the very rare instances where I actually loved the heroine more than the hero.
Yeah, well, Eliora was FABULOUS. She was my kind of heroine—peaceful and compassionate and caring and loving. She was so tenderhearted and vulnerable without being weak or petty. She wasn’t overbearing or rude or sarcastic or at all like the feminist heroines in every other era. (Because for some reason authors are convinced that all girls must strive to be feminists, no matter who or what or when they are. Like, people, get over your agenda. That goes for Christian authors too. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with heroines who value family, are kind, and respect authority. Eliora proved that.)
And then at the end? She handled Ronen’s lying so well. Y’all, Eliora was just plain perfect. She really was.
And the romance overall was perfection. I know I’m more for passionate, toe-curling kisses and serious tension and enemies-to-lovers romance—but when a writer like Cossette writes a sweet, emotional, slow-burn romance like this? I’m in romantic’s heaven. I loved every subtle moment of emotional connection and tender words and that one sweet kiss at the end...ugh. My heart.
To be honest, this entire book was perfect. I seriously have no idea why I haven’t read anything by Connilyn Cossette before. Suffice it to say that I will be DEVOURING every book of hers from now on—and you should too.
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About the Author
Connilyn Cossette is a Christy Award and Carol Award winning author whose books have been found on both ECPA and CBA bestseller lists. When she is not engulfed in the happy chaos of homeschooling two teenagers, devouring books whole, or avoiding housework, she can be found digging into the rich ancient world of the Bible to discover gems of grace that point to Jesus and weaving them into an immersive fiction experience. Although she and her husband have lived all over the country in their twenty-plus years of marriage, they currently call a little town south of Dallas, Texas their home. Connect with her at www.ConnilynCossette.com
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