ARC REVIEW: All Things Bright And Strange – by James Markert @tnzfiction

Title: All Things Bright And Strange
Author: James Markert
Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian, Magical Realism
First published: January 30th 2018
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Finished reading: February 28th 2018
Pages: 336

“The beauty of the Bellhaven woods was like a desert mirage – an optical phenomenon inviting trouble, an illusion of light rays that disguised the truth.”

*** I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. ***

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There is just something about the cover that immediately intrigued me, and this book has been on my radar ever since I first heard about it. After I finished another book by the same author, What Blooms From Dust, I just knew I had to read All Things Bright And Strange as soon as possible. Magical realism can kind of be a hit or miss for me depending on how the elements are developed, but I really like how James Markert incorporates them into his stories. All Things Bright And Strange is another example of how I can actually really enjoy magical realism when it’s done right. The story starts out as a typical historical fiction read mostly set in the years after WWI. The main character, Ellsworth, is a WWI veteran along with several other characters, while others have lost someone during the war. I think this is probably my favorite element and the after effects of the war are very well described in the different veterans. A very important topic as well since there isn’t enough awareness when it comes to what veterans are going through! Grumpy Ellsworth really grows on you and he even reminded me a bit of Fredrik Backman‘s Ove (HUGE compliment!). The characters in general are well developed and each plays its role in the events in Bellhaven. Some of their names even have special meanings… But that is something for you to discover as you are reading it  to avoid spoiling surprises. The magical elements mix quite nicely with the historical fiction parts, and the author did a great job creating the right atmosphere for the time period. And the descriptions of the chapel in the woods are wonderful. BUT. There was way too much religious talk to my taste, and All Things Bright And Strange should be classified as Christian fiction. True, a lot of different religions are making their appearance in the story, creating diversity, but I simply feel there was too much religious talking going on and some of it sounded almost like preaching. Which is why I ended up enjoying this one less than What Blooms From Dust, but if you don’t mind a healthy dose of religion in your story, you will enjoy it even better than I did. The descriptions of the strange things that are happening in Bellhaven are simply magical.

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The people of Bellhaven have always looked up to Ellsworth Newberry, asking for his guidance whenever problems arise in town. But after he lost his wife in the town fire and he came back from the war with his hopes for a future as a professional pitcher destroyed, he hasn’t been the same old self. Then he finally sees something strange is going on in Bellhaven… A small chapel is discovered deep in the Bellhaven woods, and it seems to have mysterious healing powers. People keep returning to find peace of mind, but is the chapel really a miracle or a potential problem in disguise?

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When I started reading All Things Bright And Strange, I actually thought I was going to enjoy it even better than What Blooms From Dust. Between the WWI veteran element and grumpy Ellsworth himself, it had all the signs of becoming a true winner… I mean, I even compared Ellsworth to one of my all time favorite characters Ove (A Man Called Ove). These feelings stayed for a long time, but slowly something started to irk me. I’m not a fan of a high dose of religious elements in a story, especially when it starts to sound like preaching. And there just was too much of it in All Things Bright And Strange… Especially in the second half. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but I would have liked to see a label calling it Christian fiction. The writing is wonderful though with lots of magical descriptions and a well developed historical setting.


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