Take This Cup (The Jerusalem Chronicles) book review

 

  • Title: Take This Cup
  • Author: Bodie and Brock Thoene
  • Print length: 388 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Publication date: March 25, 2014
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishing
  • Rating:
  • 2 gingersnaps (out of 5 gingersnaps) for content(1)
  • 3 gingersnaps for craft(2)
  • 4 gingersnaps for its handling of Christian themes(3)
  • Comprehensive score: 3 gingersnaps (average)

Review copy provided by BookLook Bloggers, a subsidiary of HarperCollins Christian Publishing

The periphery details:

Bodie and Brock Thoene are two of my favorite authors of gripping Christian fiction. Their Zion Covenant series stands out as a testament to their ability to make memorizing Bible verses (specifically, verses of Isaiah) seem like a privilege won thanks to the death-defying adventures of our predecessors. I chose to review this book, despite it being the second in a series (and not having read the first) because I love their work.

The book:

(From the publisher)

Nehemiah, the young son of a Jewish woman, a weaver from Jerusalem, is born and raised among the Jews who didn’t return to Jerusalem from the Exile. Educated by Rabbi Kagba, one of the magi present at Jesus’ birth thirty years earlier, Nehemiah grows up with the expectation of a soon-coming Messiah. Could the Yeshua of Nazareth, who is walking the earth, reportedly doing miracles, be that Messiah?
When young Nehemiah must travel the long caravan road to Jerusalem, he is charged with an unusual mission—to carry a mysterious object back to the holy city of Jerusalem . . . an object whose reappearance heralds the Messiah’s arrival.Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem just as the final events of Jesus’ earthly ministry are coming to a climax: the Feast of Dedication, the Triumphal Entry, the last cleansing of the Temple, and culminating at the Last Supper in the Upper Room. Only Nehemiah understands the true sacrifice that is to come as he makes the cup worthy of his Savior.

The positive:

The Thoenes are able writers who spin a tale with skill. They dramatize the last few months of Jesus’ life as told through the eyes of a shepherd boy, along with dream cameo appearances by Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel.

There was a lovely scene between Joseph and Nehi, the shepherd boy, in which they talk about not losing hope.

The use of “Sparrows” for the homeless boys in Jerusalem was well done.

The not-so-positive:

I wanted to love this book. I really did, but it fell so flat that it took me two weeks to finish. I fell asleep for the first five or ten times I tried to read the book. I only managed to finish by using the text-to-speech feature on my Kindle and listening to large chunks of the book while ironing.

It took me most of the book to figure out why this book was dull, and I’ll list them here:

  • Nehi (Nehemiah), the shepherd boy, never does anything wrong and never experiences character growth.
  • The dream visions from Joseph were probably meant to be inspiring, but they felt too much like a deus ex machina to squeeze in narrative that Nehi could not have known.
  • The constant repetition of “This cup is an amazing treasure that will change history” felt forced and did not build a sense of awe and grandeur.
  • None of the characters experience growth or change.

If you want a dramatized version of the Bible verses, akin to a Passion Play, this is a nice (but wordy) way to imagine what it might be like to wave palm branches while shouting hosannas as Jesus entered Jerusalem.

If you want a well-crafted story that can stand on its own merits, this is not it.

Warning: Spoiler!

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I particularly objected to the miraculous reappearance of Nehi’s parents at the end, when they had been presumed dead for the bulk of the book. The book takes great pains to show how Nehi can identify with homeless orphan boys, only to throw him into the joyous arms of his parents a dozen chapters later. Considering the enormous drama involved in the Passion itself, this melodrama was unnecessary and cheapened the narrative. Children do lose their parents to early death, and false death came across as a way to play on the heartstrings of the reader and not because it made narrative sense.

 

Conclusion: Take This Cup gives a dramatized version of the Passion through the eyes of a young shepherd boy. Well-meaning but wordy and slow-moving.

  1. Content refers to the themes and structure of the book. For fiction, this includes macro elements such as the book’s premise, character arcs, and how well the conflict and resolution fulfill the promise of the book. For non-fiction, this refers to the information that is conveyed.
  2. Craft refers to the level of writing technique, ranging from clarity of text to carefully edited prose.
  3. Christian themes refers to the application of Biblical principles as well as the understanding and application of Christian theology.
    .
    Additional note: The combined score generally is a mathematical average of the three ratings, unless an individual rating is especially low or high.
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10 thoughts on “Take This Cup (The Jerusalem Chronicles) book review

  1. Nina says:

    Ana, thank you for reviewing this book. Although I am not too interested in religious topics per se, I enjoy reading stories playing in another period of time, and I am always looking for good books which have been reviewed critically and received a positive recommendation for valid reasons.
    The moment I thought that I would not read this particular book was, when you wrote how troublesome finishing it was for you. Falling asleep repeatedly from reading is no recommendation for an exciting book, is it? … At the moment I suffer from insomnia, maybe I actually should…. 🙂 Sorry, I don’t want to be mean. Anyway, when it turns out a book is too boring, even for you, as the reviewer, I think this is valuable information. I love reading your reviews and think that you succeed in giving the most important reasons why a book reviewed by you, is either worth reading, or not. Thank you for that, and have a lovely relaxed weekend 🙂

    hugs

    Nina

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Hi Nina!

      I struggled with this book review because I *wanted* to love the book. I still would recommend it, but only for people who know what they’re getting. If I’d known it would be a dramatization of the Biblical story, rather than an actual novel, I think I would have enjoyed it. I expected a story on its own, not just a fleshing out of the Biblical story.

      If you want a rip-roaring read, though, I’d suggest their Zion Covenant Series. Warning: There’s some violence and explicit themes (Nazi Germany). The first one is Vienna Prelude. That was back in the 90s, and I remember the shock of paying $10 for a paperback book. 🙂

      And I did sleep soundly last night after trying to read. LOL

      Hugs.

      Like

  2. Nina says:

    Hi Ana, thank you for your tip. I just ordered Vienna Prelude. Too bad they don’t have that one for the kindle, but I am sure that I’ll enjoy the read. The 2nd part is on my kindle now, but I’ll wait until I have finished the 1st part. This is really exciting, because I have not read any of this kind lately.
    The last books I read which also played during the Nazi-regime were ‘The boy in the striped pyjamas’ which I found far too obvious and uninspired, and ‘The book thief’ which I enjoyed in parts. I didn’t like the way the Grim Reaper was depicted in it, somehow as if I was meant to have sympathy with him. I mean, I could, in a parody, but surely not in this story.

    hugs

    Nina

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      They don’t? I thought they did. That’s odd.

      Granted, it’s been many years since I read Vienna Prelude, but I read it under my bedcovers with a flashlight. I also haunted the book store for each new one when it came out, staggering $10 price tag and all. 🙂 Sadly, I had to give away those books in all of my various moves. I’d love to re-read them sometime. Let me know how you like it!

      Like

  3. Ami says:

    I think it will be one book I won’t be reading. However, you have shown yet another facet – you are a professional when it comes to a book review. I am very impressed with the way you are able to deal with negatives and positives.

    I am still, however, of the opinion that stories are like paintings, and what one person loves, another hates. The good thing about your review is that you commented on the structure of the story, which is what I think of as constructive criticism. A pity the person who first read the ‘draft’ didn’t make the same comments.

    Hugs
    Ami

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      I have to admit that this book made me irritated. I LOVE the authors’ work, they’re top-notch writers, and I expected a great story. What they wrote is well done, but it’s not “fiction.” It’s fictionalized Scripture, which is all well and good, but I’d classify it more as supplemental Bible study material for discussion.

      Some parts of the book did catch me, and there are a few that connected with me. I think a three-star review probably is that way–it’s a good enough book that I wanted to like it, but it’s disappointment enough that I don’t enjoy disliking it. One and five star reviews are much easier. 🙂

      Like

  4. annapurna1951 says:

    Hello, Anastasia Vitsky,

    I hope you and your father are doing well today.

    I’m so sorry that Take This Cup made you sleepy, but to your credit, you persevered and gave us a fine report, which I found most helpful, especially the concept of deus ex machina, a literary concept I was only vaguely familiar with until your blog post.

    I find it truly amazing how books, movies, and TV shows are rife with miracle endings and heroes and heroines who seldom, if ever, get hurt, and almost never die, and are able to endure the most difficult of hardships and come through without a scratch or even a locket of hair out of place. (Teflon skin and good hairspray, I would say.) It would seem that most writers and directors have never heard of deus ex machina. Alternatively, maybe they simply choose to ignore it in order to manipulate the heartstrings of readers and viewers alike. I wonder why Bodie and Brock Thoene would choose to use such a device. Doesn’t Bodie have a Ph.D. in creative writing? You’d think she’d know better. Maybe it was deadline pressure.

    Isn’t Nehemiah the one who worked to rebuild Jerusalem and purify the Jewish community? The younger Nehemiah, according to Wikipedia, was also the cup carrier for Artaxerxes, king of Persia. (I really know nothing about antiquity.) So maybe Nehemiah’s character carries symbolic or allegorical meaning.

    Now, I haven’t read the story, but what I find fascinating, as highlighted by one Amazon reviewer, is how an eight-year-old boy was able to walk a thousand miles? I’ve gone on 100- and 150-mile treks in the Sierra. Both times, it was a tough slog for sure. I guess the Middle East is a lot flatter. In addition, how did Nehemiah find food and water and protect himself against bad guys?

    Perhaps the Thoenes could have portrayed Nehemiah as an orphan by separation. That is, the Romans could have taken his parents prisoner, and by some quirk of fate, they could have escaped later while on work detail. Then, Nehemiah’s parents could have traveled to Jerusalem to see Christ, only to run into Nehemiah at the local bazaar while buying a loaf of bread, or something similar. That might be more plausible.

    The lack of character development, though, seems to be a common problem nowadays. Threat Vector, a Tom Clancy novel, certainly has that problem, and the book I’m reading now has zippo character development as well, making the story a real bore indeed.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Does she? I actually didn’t know that, but I didn’t know you could get a PhD in creative writing. MFA in writing used to be a terminal degree.

      Yes, some reviewers took issue that the boy is so young. I don’t have a problem with that (although the lack of characterization includes the emotionless response to his parents’ supposed death) because children grew up much faster in Biblical times. I have seen how children living in certain situations mature and become self-sufficient at an extremely early age when not surrounded by parents to coddle them.

      You’re right. I wouldn’t have minded the separation and reunion story, but in this book one character tells Nehi that his parents are dead. We later find out this is a lie, but it rang false to me.

      Hm, you think there isn’t much character development? I think there is, or perhaps it’s the books that I read.

      Like

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