Connilyn Cossette Book Reviews
Connilyn Cossette is the CBA-Bestselling author of the Out from Egypt series from Bethany House Publishers. There is not much she likes better than digging into the rich, ancient world of the Bible, discovering new gems of grace that point to Jesus, and weaving them into an immersive fiction experience. Connect with her at www.ConnilynCossette.com.
Counted With the Stars (2016) by Connilyn Cossette is the first book in the Out From Egypt series. This novel comes in all forms including eBook, and is roughly 353 pages in length. With a full-time job and a five-year old at home, I was able to read this novel in two and half days. I give this novel 5 STARS. It is a Christian Biblical novel set during the time of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt.
Here is the GoodReads blurb:
Sold into slavery by her father and forsaken by the man she was supposed to marry, young Egyptian Kiya must serve a mistress who takes pleasure in her humiliation. When terrifying plagues strike Egypt, Kiya is in the middle of it all.
To save her older brother and escape the bonds of slavery, Kiya flees with the Hebrews during the Great Exodus. She finds herself utterly dependent on a fearsome God she’s only just beginning to learn about, and in love with a man who despises her people. With everything she’s ever known swept away, will Kiya turn back toward Egypt or surrender her life and her future to Yahweh?
I want to begin by explaining how exceptionally well researched this novel is. In her Note from the Author, Ms. Cossette explains that she believes, “unapologetically, that the Word of God and its histories are true” (326). Most secular Egyptologists today accept the writings of a 3rd century Egyptian priest named Manetho to accurately illustrate the Exodus period. But, because they conflict with the Biblical account of the Exodus, Ms. Cossette explains that she held Manetho’s work suspect. Cossette goes on to say, “When anything conflicts with the Bible, I will always defer to the Word” (326). When an author is reluctant to use a source because it conflicts with the Bible, you know you have an author after God’s heart! For me, this makes all the difference when I come upon any Biblical novel. If you struggle with Biblical fiction because you worry it strays from God’s Word, fear not with this book.
This novel is told through a first-person narrative. I’m not typically a fan of that type of narration, but it really works in this novel. Kiya, the protagonist, is a genuine character; her reactions, inner dialogue, and behaviors all line up with a very well written, believable persona. Kiya, until 16, was raised in a very wealthy Egyptian home. Anything and everything was at her disposal. She had the best food, the latest clothing, the finest make-ups, and was betrothed to a handsome military man in Pharaoh’s army. But, Kiya’s father loses everything and sells his daughter into slavery in order to pay off his debts. The reader watches as Kiya suffers at the hands of Tekurah, Kiya’s new mistress. Tekurah hates Kiya, and everyone knows it.
In this period of enslavement, Kiya meets a Hebrew slave named Shira and they become friends. Shira, through her kindness, sacrifices, and stories, teaches Kiya about the Hebrew God, Yahweh. Also, during this period, Kiya and her fellow Egyptians are devastated by the Ten Plagues. One of the most fascinating things in this novel is seeing the Biblical story played out through the eyes of an Egyptian. The writing is SO well executed that when Kiya describes the plague of darkness I actually found myself feeling claustrophobic and noticed that my breathing became shallow. I laughed at myself when I realized I was doing this, but this moment made me think on that plague for a minute. Life without LIGHT, which is really life without GOD, would be terribly excruciating. It would make a person go crazy! I mean, imagine days with NO light of any kind. No fires, no lamp, no stars, no moon, NOTHING — just darkness. I once went on a cave tour when I was a kid. I thought I was going to lose it when the tour guide turned off the lights in the cave for five minutes. I couldn’t last five minutes without light! How could I have made it through the plague of darkness?
Experiencing each plague and the actual exodus with Kiya brought the Exodus story to life. It shames me to say, but I don’t think I have ever put myself into the Exodus story before. I’ve read Exodus many times, but never through the eyes of a Hebrew or of one of the “mixed multitudes.” If I am honest, I have really only read Exodus as a cool story I get through and then check it off as I do my daily Bible study. But this is the beauty of Biblical fiction: it forces you to interact with Biblical stories and the Bible with your eyes open! And, that is why I love reading these types of novels so much.
One more issue that this book brought to my attention was the confrontation with untruth. There is a terribly sad moment in the novel where Kiya breaks down and cries out her frustration to her gods. She asks, “Where were the gods?” (111). Then she lists the gods who hadn’t helped her people as she replays each plague that had already hit her country. She realizes that the Hebrew God, Yahweh, is attacking each Egyptian god. That these were pointed, powerful attacks. Then, and to me this is the saddest, she realizes she has no one to ask about this Hebrew God and these plagues. Shira is not available to Kiya at the moment because she had to flee to her own home (getting near the 10th plague at this point). This is sad to me because I think about the many, many people out in the world today who may question their current beliefs, who may want to talk to someone about God, but don’t have anyone to talk to about their questions, feelings, frustrations, and doubts. How many people could believe in the one-true God if only they had someone available to discuss Him with them? This is an excellent reminder for me as a Christian — I need to be more available and I need to pray more for all people regardless of what they believe because God made them all. Again, shamefully, I admit that my prayers focus more on me and my immediate circle, and I tend to never really leave my safe comfort zone of communication.
If you are looking for an excellent Biblical novel that is well written and well researched, then I highly recommend Counted With the Stars. This novel is fast paced, engaging, and thought-provoking. You will not be disappointed with this book.
Shadow of the Storm (2016) by Connilyn Cossette is the second novel in her Out From Egypt series. This novel comes in all forms including eBook, and is roughly 352 pages in length. With a full-time job and a five-year old at home, I was able to read this novel in ONE day. I give this novel 5 STARS. It is a Christian Biblical novel set during the Israelites’ first year in the wilderness after the Great Exodus.
Here is the GoodReads blurb:
Having escaped Egypt with the other Hebrews during the Exodus, Shira is now living in freedom at the foot of Mt. Sinai, upon which rests the fiery glowing Cloud containing the shekinah glory of God. When the people disobey Yahweh and build a golden idol, the ensuing chaos gives Shira an unexpected opportunity to learn the arts of midwifery. Although her mother wishes for her to continue in the family weaving trade, Shira’s gifts shine brightest when she assists with deliveries. In defiance of her mother, Shira pursues her heart’s calling to become an apprentice midwife.
When a delivery goes horribly wrong, Shira finds herself bound to a man who betrayed her, the caretaker of three young children, and the target of a vengeful woman whose husband was killed by Shira’s people, the Levites. As contention between the Hebrew tribes and the foreigners fans the flames of another dangerous rebellion, Shira will come face-to-face with the heartbreak of her past that she has kept hidden for so long. How can she let go of all that has defined her to accept the love she’s denied herself and embrace who she truly is?
I love everything about this novel, but I absolutely adore the main character, Shira. I can relate so much to this character and her struggles throughout this novel. To those who love her, Shira is brave and strong and beautiful, but Shira struggles to believe this. She feels weak and cowardly and small. In the beginning of this novel, Shira is put into positions where she could say something or do something right, but her fear gets the better of her and she feels like a coward. I cannot count how many times in my life, looking back on a moment, I realized I didn’t say or do something because of fear. Then, I sadly slink off asking God why He created such a coward. I truly related so much to Shira in these very real-to-life moments.
As the novel progresses, and Shira continues to learn the Truth about Yahweh, she internally grows stronger in her courage and faith. Some of the best parts of this novel happen when Shira stands up for herself, her family members, and God. I could not help but cheer for her, and feel emboldened by her! Another aspect to Shira that I LOVED is her realization that her past does not define who she is as a woman of God. At one point, Shira states, “It seems to me that Yahweh somehow takes the broken parts of us and builds something better than we could imagine.” SO TRUE!!!! God loves cracked pots, and if we let Him, He loves to heal our cracks.
I also appreciated how this novel illustrates the harshness and frustrations of life lived in a ginormous group of humans out in the middle of a deserted, seemingly nowhere. I am a Type-A introvert. The chaos, complaining, single-mindedness, and fickleness of the people at Mt. Sinai that first year after the Great Exodus would have been enough to drive me insane. Many times while reading this novel, I looked at my husband and asked, “Why does God keep coming to us? Humans are so annoying!” My husband would just laugh at me and shake his head! But honestly, I just don’t get it. God was physically present in the form of the shekinah cloud, and still people were worshiping other deities. False things that could do nothing. Multiple times, God reprimanded the people for their idols and bad behavior, and many still chose themselves over God. CRAZY!!! Shira even asks God at one particularly frustrating moment, “Yahweh, will we never be satisfied? Will we forever be grasping and squalling like infants?” I know Jesus told us to have faith like the little children, but I don’t think we are supposed to behave like little children. At some point, we need to mature in our faith and behave like it!
Oh my goodness…the golden calf fiasco!!! I have always read this part in the Bible and judge. I admit it. I judge the people who worshiped the golden calf. WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?!? ARE YOU CRAZY PEOPLE?!?! Obviously, this judgement is wrong; I am wrong for judging anyone at any time. If I had been there, would I have worshiped the golden calf too? I hope I would have been stronger than to fall back into idol worship, but God purposely did not allow me to be there for that moment, and I think that might be telling. This scene is done so well in this novel — I felt like I was there. The depth of emotion written into this scene is intense. My heart hurt so badly for Aaron. What he must have felt in that moment…the anguish, the sense of utter failure. It hurts to rethink this moment in the book. BUT, it leads to such a great quote. Speaking for Moses, a highly-emotional Aaron states, “‘Yahweh is kadosh. Separate. Holy. There will not be such blatant sin against His Holy Name within this camp’…’You too were called out, to be kadosh. You have broken covenant with Adonai.'” I balled. I cried my eyes out and then asked God to forgive me again for every sin I had ever committed. This moment is so powerful!!!
This book is fantastic. Ms. Cossette has a GIFT. She can take moments from the Bible that we have all probably turned into a one-dimensional picture, and turn them into a 3-dimensional, emotionally-churning, gut-wrenching epoch. I devoured the pages of this novel. I highly, highly recommend this book.
Wings of the Wind (2017) by Connilyn Cossette is the third novel in her Out From Egypt series. This novel comes in all forms including eBook, and is roughly 352 pages in length. With a full-time job and a five-year old at home, I was able to read this novel in five days. I give this novel 5 STARS. It is a Christian Biblical novel set at the end of the 40 years in the wilderness when the Israelites are fighting Canaanites for the Promised Land.
Here is the GoodReads blurb:
Alanah, a Canaanite, is no stranger to fighting and survival. When her family is killed in battle with the Hebrews, she disguises herself and sneaks onto the battlefield to avenge her family. The one thing she never counted on was surviving.
Tobiah, a Hebrew warrior, is shocked to find an unconscious, wounded woman among the Canaanite casualties. Compelled to bring her to a Hebrew healer back at their camp, he is soon confronted with a truth he can’t ignore: the only way to protect this enemy is to marry her.
Unused to being weak and vulnerable, Alanah submits to the marriage — for now. As she comes to know and respect Tobiah and his people, however, she begins to second-guess her plans of escape. But when her past has painfully unanticipated consequences, the tentative peace she’s found with Tobiah, the Hebrews, and Yahweh is shaken to the core. Can Alanah’s fierce heart and strength withstand the ensuing threats to her life and all she’s come to love?
In the first novel of this series the reader is introduced to Kiya, a young Egyptian woman who chooses Yahweh over Egypt and flees with the Israelites into the wilderness during the Great Exodus. The second book, Shira’s story, tells of an Israelite trying to find the place God has created for her out in the vast wilderness. Specifically, it takes place the first year the Israelites are out in the wilderness where they foolishly worship the golden calf, learn the Torah, and construct the Mishkan. The final novel, Alanah’s story, illustrates a young, exceptionally angry Canaanite woman who wants revenge against the people who killed her father and brothers. So, the final setting is the end of the Exodus story when the new generation of Israelites, under Joshua’s leadership and God’s power and grace, fight the Canaanites to win the Promised Land.
Alanah is fascinating. She is beautiful, strong, hardworking, and exceptionally talented with a bow and arrow. But, she is also hard and hopeless. She is a young woman who has grown up around the debauchery and vileness of Canaan, has loathed it her whole life, and feels utter hopelessness by her circumstances (she is a young, unmarried, pretty girl with no money or family, but adamantly refuses to become a cult prostitute; she would rather kill herself). She knows the actions of her people are wrong, but she doesn’t have anywhere to turn. The violence, the prostitution, the blood sacrifices to Baal…all of this literally turns her stomach. This book does not shy away or cover up the truth about what Canaanites practiced on a daily basis. I had to take breaks from this novel to pray and get in the right mindset (that’s why it took me five days to read this book). Canaan was an evil place, and Ms. Cossette aptly illustrates this in a well-written, highly researched manner. In “A Note From The Author” at the end of the book, Cossette states, “Although it may have been difficult to read about the atrocities of Canaan, as much as it was to write some of them, I felt it was necessary to depict the brutal nature of the tribes that made up Canaan…Civilizations that destroyed human life in sacrifice to their gods disappeared, in one way or the other.”
Tobiah, the Israelite whom Alanah falls in love with, is a great character. He is strong, quiet, gentle, and vulnerable. Tobiah, from the house of Judah, is a soldier in the Israelite army. He 100% trusts that God is going to give Canaan into the Israelites’ hands. He is even prepared to fight against the Canaanites at any cost. BUT, he is not expecting to meet Alanah, a Canaanite, and fall in love. The best part of this relationship is the patience. Alanah is clearly a hurting woman. Tobiah has some pain to work through as well. Both are a bit distrustful with one another, as you would expect of enemies, but they are patient with one another. When their relationship progresses to love, it feels incredibly genuine and natural.
One issue that this novel brought up was the Israelites’ complaining against and boredom with manna. At first, I didn’t think anything of the complaints. I actually glossed over that detail. It wasn’t until an outsider — Alanah — was brought into the camp and given some manna that I realized many of the Israelites were being whiny complainers again. When Alanah tastes the manna for the first time, it is such a good experience. This woman came from a drab, dark place. When she eats the manna, begins to learn about Yahweh and His Torah, and experiences respect, she is a bit overwhelmed by it all. At one point, when she can’t take the complaints anymore, she scolds a group explaining that life in Canaan without God is hard. For her it was bone-breaking, long, arduous days. It was working from sun up past sun down with little to show for it. She scolds them for taking for granted God’s protection and daily provision. She is shocked that they could behave so ungratefully.
At this point, my English teacher hat came on and I realized just how awesome this novel, and Ms. Cossette’s writing, truly is. The complaining Israelites, Alanah, and the manna are metaphors. Alanah is the new convert to the manna (JESUS is the Bread of Life!) and she cannot comprehend how the Israelites could possibly complain about daily provision. Alana, who did experience real hunger and want at times, could not understand a people who were ungrateful for a constant, nutritious food they did not have to work for, or for a protective, loving God! The Israelites represent old converts who have made manna a religious ritual — something done by rote and without relationship to the God who provides. This is a GREAT reminder for me: is Manna important in my life? Do I have a relationship with Jesus? Or, has Manna become a religious thing I sort of do?
There is much more I could say about this novel, but I think that would lead me to spoiling everything. Suffice it to say, this novel is beautiful. It is well-written, well-researched, and realistic. It is fast-paced and full of action. You cannot get bored reading this book. Like the other novels in this series, this book has given me a new appreciation for the Exodus story in the Bible, and for the God I love so much. After reading this book in particular, I do have a greater appreciation for the Manna in my life. I highly, highly recommend this series. I am sad that there are no more books in this series, but I do look forward to many future novels by Ms. Cossette.