All Things Bright and Strange

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Mar 2018

Member Reviews

Markert's newest supernatural novel is captivating from the beginning. His prose brings an eeriness to the story that readers cannot quite put a finger on, but feel in their core that something is off about the town of Bellhaven, South Carolina and the little chapel in the woods. Markert's timing is impeccable, giving readers enough, but holding back and letting the story unfold in due time.  Readers of Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker will love Markert's newest release.
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I really, really wanted to love this book, but I just didn’t. Unique concept, but the characters were unlikable to me and I didn’t connect with them.
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Michael Ellsworth Newberry, Ellsworth to many, is the pillar of his town. At least he was, until his wife Eliza died and he lost a leg in the war. Now, he sits around his house, bemoaning the loss of his favorite person in the world, desiring to end his own life. Sometimes, he hobbles to his window and sees his crazy neighbor, Tanner, wander back to his house from out of the woods. Those woods aren't right. Everyone in town knows that. Another neighbor, Anna Belle Roper, dutifully brings Ellsworth his meals, taking care of him because of her loyalty to his deceased wife.

One day, everything begins to change. The cardinals come back into town, and spring comes - early and everywhere. People begin to discover the chapel, and the town begins to change. At first, the changes are good. Everyone is happy, and new people are moving into town. Then people who had lived side-by-side peacefully for all of their lives begin to fight. It begins with little acts of violence and tempting thoughts that are left to simmer until they lead to action. These battles begin to escalate all across town. 

There are a precious few who can withstand the lure of the chapel and see clearly enough to fight against this unnamed evil that has come to their precious town. They'll need Ellsworth to stand with them and fight if they are ever going to win.

In All Things Bright and Strange, you see how something that looks so good and can really be so bad. You see the deceitful and pervasive nature of sin. The chapel is a magical place with the voices of your loved ones telling you everything you ever wanted to hear. You are forgiven. You are loved. We, alongside the characters in the story, can question, "How can something this good really be bad?" 

All Things Bright and Strange is indeed a strange story, but I was drawn into the world of the characters, and cheered for Ellsworth and Anna Bella Roper and for Gabriel and Raphael with their interesting personalities and enough bravado to try to save their town. However, as this book was published by Thomas Nelson, I was surprised by a choice made by the main character, Ellsworth. Portrayed as a true believer, he chooses to sleep with the woman he comes to love before any wedding vows are said (and it is seen in a positive light).

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson Publishers. I received an advanced reading copy through NetGalley for my honest opinion.
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I started reading this book, and I read maybe 7% of the book before deciding I was no longer interested. I will be giving this book 3 stars so that I don't impact the rating in a particularly negative or positive way. This book was just not for me!
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All Things Bright and Strange is an interesting period horror fable set in interwar period in the southern USA. Released 30th Jan 2018 by HarperCollins' Christian imprint Thomas Nelson, it's 336 pages and available in most formats, including large print.

James Markert has a deft touch with plotting and characterization. The dialogue was, admittedly, choppy in places. It wasn't ever egregious enough to yank me out of the story though. What I did find heavy going was the philosophy. There is nothing very subtle about the religious aspects of the book. There are angels (literal angels), a number of religious professionals (priest, rabbi, etc, along with the angels) as well as a large cast of everymen including the protagonist Ellsworth, whose search for meaning and healing for himself and the town drives the story.

The Gothic atmosphere and creeping horror of this book were remarkable. I almost found myself dreading reading because I kept waiting for a jump-scare that never materialized. The author just kept ratcheting up the tension until it was physically uncomfortable to read. (In a good way? I guess?).

I can imagine that some more rigid religiously adherent readers might possibly take exception to the representation of the angelic and demonic characterizations in the book. There is also a feeling of 'all valid roads lead to redemption' with which some readers might take exception.

It is possible to read this book without over-examining and dissecting the religious aspects. I think it compares quite favorably with other fiction with religious overtones (The Exorcist, or Needful Things, for example) and can certainly be read for the story itself. It would make a good reading group selection (and indeed, it includes a number of questions for discussion at the end), and also for horror fans who prefer their books more atmospheric than explicit.

Three and a half stars.
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I got a bit lost in all the symbolism in this story. I did not really understand the colour thing happening to people either. These were both important for this story I think and I do feel I missed out on something essential.
I did enjoy things. The way the townspeople turned on one another. Starting to fight and get selfish. The situations created where people who were always friends now fighting and people harbouring a secret hate now making it very public. There are some really nasty things happening.
Character wise I liked Raphael best and would have loved to hear how he experienced things. Ellsworth was a very difficult and troubled character. I could not connect to him.
The pace and writing style of the story are very good which made that I was able to finish this book.
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one of the strangest things about this book for me is that i have no idea as what i should categorise this book. Is it Science fiction? is it fantasy? horror? mystery? a life story? paranormal? a mixture? What is this book supposed to be?
I have no idea!
The bright thing about this book? The writing is well done and kept me going though i was utterly confused as to what was happening in this book. 
If you don't mind not knowing what is real and was isn't? Great book for you. 
If you need to know what is going on? Might want to skip this one!
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Enter the days of prohibition and bootlegging.

Set in a small South Carolina town, Bellhaven in the 1920s this is a historical fiction with a touch of fantasy and horror. 

I have to say I did find this to be a rather odd book with a mix of romance, war, religious symbolism, magic, and baseball! Touching on issues such as racism and hate crimes. A pretty eclectic range of things all wrapped up in one book where the main theme running through it being Good v Evil.

It takes place after WWI in a small town near Charleston with a mysterious chapel in the woods that people can communicate with their departed loved ones. The 'healing floor' feels like a slice of heaven to the townspeople...until it slowly starts to turn the townspeople malicious.

With some quirky characters, some not so likeable this is a compelling story bringing the characters to live and the book draws you right into Bellhaven.

Reminiscent of Stephen King's Needful Things this is a somewhat unique, mystifying read but all in all I am glad I read it!

Many thanks to the author James Markert, publishers Thomas Nelson--FICTION and NetGalley for my copy in exchange for an honest, independent review.
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All Things Bright and Strange starts off ok, but gets lost in the middle. It's sort of horror but not that spooky, it's sort of science fiction but not that well developed, kind of fantasy? It could have been interesting, but it gets quite muddled and doesn't commit to one direction so I struggled to keep my attention on it.
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This book is hard to categorize.  There are elements of the gothic (Southern gothic), some magical realism, there is some Lost Generation throwback, there are moments where this book grapples with racism, sexism, homophobia, discrimination and bigotry of all sorts.  Despite all those big concepts, it is a book that is light on its feet and imminently readable.  It asks us to consider how, exactly, the collective can continue to push forward and progress without losing the best parts of itself in the process.  Since I think that’s a question worth addressing, I really found value in this book.  There is a wry humor to this book (the main character reminds me of a Hemingway character), with a good dash of whimsy, and the language is at times lush and evocative. There are characters to fall in love with, be angry at, and appreciate for the people they are and the choices they make.

Ellsworth signs up for the War (that would be WWI to us) as a way to process his grief over losing his wife in a fire.  He comes back damaged, as did many young men.  We come to realize that Ellsworth’s life is not one that could simply be explained by the known forces in our world.  As his town struggles to find ways to heal and unite after war, slavery, and in the face of a changing world, they discover a little chapel in the woods.  Although not all can see it, this chapel does not live up to its promise of salvation.  Ellsworth and the team he assembles, so very far from perfect, must work together to be their best selves in order to help the town that they love and the people in it.  

I would recommend this book to: anyone who struggles to accept themself as a result of perceived difference.  Anyone who has wondered about their purpose.  The first half is a slow burn as the reader gets to know the characters, but the plot quickly runs downhill starting at about the 50% mark.  I found this book relevant to the current climate, and so someone looking for a way to encapsulate preoccupation about tolerance in a fiction novel would do well to read this one.
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I admittedly struggled a lot with this book. The premise is interesting enough, but the writing drags forever. There are dozens of characters to keep track of, and they all slip in through the cracks. You don't think anything of them when their names are listed, but suddenly they have portions of chapters and entire background stories that make their actions important. I shouldn't need a map of characters to help me understand and enjoy a book. Sure, it's an entire town that Ellsworth is holding up, but even by the halfway point, I was confused and tired of meeting even more new characters.

I also never truly got the feeling that this book takes place after WWI. Despite the number of times it was brought up, the writing didn't ever encapsulate that. This could have been any old town in any decade, and I was hoping for something more genuinely historical. The main character sounds more like a cranky old man than someone who just came back from the war, and all the characters are almost too old-timey to be believable. They're filled with too many cliches, and maybe that's just my lack of knowledge about the south during that time, but everyone felt like they were on a movie set rather than real characters.
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A really wonderful book. Markert has an excellent writing style that helps the plot and pacing flow along at a great speed. Enjoyable characters and plot.
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A mysterious chapel in the woods draws townsfolk to it. Legend says the church has a healing floor, but the truth is the more time you spend on it, the older you get. Ellsworth, the protagonist is both enthralled by the chapel and decided to get to the bottom of the mysteries that surround it.
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All Things Bright and Strange by James Markert has been labeled Christian fiction, historical fiction, and Southern fiction. It is and it isn't. What I enjoy about the book is its very strong message of tolerance. This small South Carolina town is quite diverse in its ethnic, racial, and religious demographics. Yes, it is constructed to make a point, but it works for it repeats a powerful message. More unites us than divides us, and standing together, good prevails. For that, I label this book enjoyable, thought provoking fiction. 

Read my complete review at http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2018/04/all-things-bright-and-strange.html 

Reviewed for NetGalley
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I really enjoyed this author's voice as much as I enjoyed the story itself. It's a little bit reminiscent of Stephen King (the premise really reminded me of Needful Things) - but it's a unique story all on it's own. Not just a creepy horror story, it's got a social message as well. Using the history of The Old South and placing the characters at the dawn of the modern era (post WWI) really allows the reader to feel and understand the conflicts and struggles the characters face in their every day lives - they are trying to get on with a normal life when the past is literally buried and boiling underneath them. This was a really interesting, engaging read.
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Interesting fascinating book. Sad but...hopeful too
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In the wake of WWI, Ellsworth Newberry is grieving for his wife and the life they could have had together. All he wants is to be left alone. But when a strange chapel is unearthed in the woods, Ellsworth may be the only one who can lead his community in a fight against an unknown, unseen enemy. Part Christian fiction, part horror, part historical fiction, All Things Bright and Strange starts off strong, but gets lost along the way.
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When I think of this book, the word atmospheric comes to mind. I felt transported to Bellhaven each time I picked it up. The people there are essentially good, but some bad things have happened to them, leaving them altered and slightly off. The story of Bellhaven builds slowly but isn't boring as a consequence. It's a comfortable, small town kind of pace that suits the story. I enjoyed it and plan to read more from the author.
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I was given a copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review. 

This is a story about Ellsworth who returns home after losing his wife and being injured in the war. He's coping only just and with a new neighbor moving in and longtime one growing old, something starts happening in the woods. There is a church hidden deep among the trees, visiting it grants peace of mind and brightened spirits, but is it as benevolent as it seems? Strange things start happening around town, people are choosing sides, and Ellsworth is one of the few with a clear enough mind to act.

I have some mixed feelings about this book and my review will contain minor spoilers.

I enjoyed the style and the pacing, it had a very personal feel to it. When I sat down to read the book I finished it in one day, it really pulled me in and kept me engaged. Even though there were a lot of characters I could distinguish them all from each other, although I interposed Raphael and Gabriel often enough I still knew who they individually were. That's probably my dyslexia more than anything!

I really enjoyed Ellsworth and I didn't think I would from the first few chapters. He has a lot of depth and compassion to him. To see his transformation from disabled and suicidal to a person of conviction and determination was fantastic. Eliza, ohgosh I loved the chapter with her diary, the concept of what she was doing and how, it grabbed my imagination. 

I really, really appreciated how race wasn't shied away from, which worried me in the first chapter where they were saying it was a special town that doesn't see race. I thought it was going to be brushed off as no big deal when the time period especially would say otherwise. It was later talked about in a very real and serious way and the inclusion of the KKK was horrific but again, appreciated. 

I have two, two and a half points that sort of took me away from the story. 

The first being when they were talking about their names and how they were named after the archangels and essentially protectors of the town. It's really neat idea and has great symbolism. My issue was that as they were talking I was picking up on it and then flat out, point blank, let me make you a bulletpoint list, one of the characters says exactly that. It was kind of slapped in the reader's face when it didn't need to be. 

And in that same vein, America Ma, while I thought was an interesting concept, made things too easy. Most the time she was unknown and mysterious, a voice, a person, watching over everyone, seeing everyone, whispering words in the night. But then, ahhh, but then when there was an important plot point that needed to happen or be found out, someone would blurt out all the answers and say 'America Ma told me' and that was that. It felt too easy and I hate to use this term because I know how difficult it is to write a book, but it felt like lazy writing. Which I'm certain it wasn't, it just left me feeling let down. 

And lastly there was the ending. I didn't hate it, but I was a little... confused? Maybe. The sword suddenly and the gunfight and what happened to Ellsworth. It made me feel like there were a certain number of pages and everything had to be squished into that. I sort of wanted more. And maybe that's not really a flaw of the book. But it made me feel like there was all this potential and it only got to like 80% In the end, the town wasn't able to choose, Ellsworth picked their path for them and I suppose that made me feel like most the town learned nothing from what had happened with the church. 

There was a lot about race, religion, and addiction and I feel like the message could have been pushed just a bit further to really leave an impact. But I mean, it's been a few days and I'm still thinking about it, it'll probably stay with me for a while.
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Going into this book, I wasn’t quite sure what it was truly about. The summary seemed intriguing, and now having read it, the summary tells you what happens in the book. Personally, this probably isn’t a book I’ll pick up again. For me, it was a tad anti-climatic and the Christian themes were evident and semi-well-written.

This book takes place in 1920’s South Carolina and follows Ellsworth Newberry. Ellsworth is a guy in his 20’s who has just come back from WWI without his best friend and his leg and returns to the town where he grew up but also where he lost his wife, Eliza. Ellsworth, while trying to figure out some way to live is still seen as the undeclared town leader. Everyone looks up to him. After an incident in the woods, Raphael, the boy his wife died trying to save, brings him to this chapel in the woods where he hears his wife’s voice and then everything starts to go downhill from there that ends in a fight between good and evil; pieces on a chessboard that have been moved and put in place in order that evil may win. But in the end, good prevails.

The main thing I liked about this book was the image of what the town was. In the beginning, and again, in the end, the town and the people in it were wonderfully written. It held the idea of being different from the other towns around it because of the inclusion of everyone. The first picture that you get is everyone in the town hall dancing and having fun, regardless of their religion or race. I LOVED that. For me, it reinforced the idea of what true fellowship is supposed to be. On Wednesday nights, the youth group I volunteer at are going through a series that just went over the inclusiveness of Heaven and how it was meant to be multi-ethnic, not segregated. This scene again, reinforced that idea for me before it all was torn to shreds.

All throughout the book, there was this idea of evil showing itself as good; looking nice until you get to the layer underneath. From the beginning, you can tell there’s something off about this “chapel” in the woods. But nothing is really certain until about 75% through and then you hit the point of realizing that it’s more than it seems. There were lots of Christian themes and references that were obvious and some that were hidden and meant to be thought about.

For me, this book at times was a bit confusing, and to enjoy it fully, you might need to have some basis or knowledge of Christianity. If you’ve read anything by Ted Dekker or Frank Peretti, you’ll definitely like this book.
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