For the Samaritan women of Sychar, the well is a place of blessing---except for Mara, whose family has been shunned for the many sins of her mother, Nava. But will their encounter with two men---a mysterious, wealthy man from Caesarea named Shem and a Jewish teacher called Jesus---change their lives forever?
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Customer Reviews for The Well, Living Waters Series #1
Review 1 for The Well, Living Waters Series #1
Hope can always be found in the darkest of places!
Ever since reading The Thief, Stephanie Landsem's second novel in The Living Water Series, I felt I missed out on her debut novel, The Well. I was so impressed and lost in her novel, I had to read this one just to see where it all began and to satisfy the longing in my book lover's heart. You know when you find an exceptional author, you have to pick up everything they write. I was not disappointed in my discovery. Thank you to Howard Books for generously sending me this copy to read and review without any monetary compensation for a favorable review.
One of the things that make Stephanie's novels so exceptional is she doesn't leave out any details when taking a known event from the Bible and expounding on the details that we don't know. Given that very little is known about the Samaritan women at the well that Jesus encounters, I love how Stephanie elaborated on what her life must have been like to bring her to that fateful life changing encounter we all know about from the Bible.
In the novel The Well, the reader is transported back in time to the Samaritan village of Sychar, where we find ourselves meeting the famed adulterous woman, Nava who is once again bringing much shame and disgrace not only to the village but more importantly to her daughter Mara and her disabled brother Asher. Knowing that her mother has completely lost sight of what this could bring to her family if anyone discovers what she is doing, Mara takes on the role of the mother, providing for the care and feeding of her mother and Asher. Since they are among the poorest in the village, they are only able to get by with the charity of the women in town who leave whatever they can spare so Mara and Asher won't go hungry. But Mara knows the charity will only last for so long as she manages to care for her family any way she can.
Fate intervenes when Jesus comes to the town of Sychar and meets Nava at the well. Just when it looks like things will get better for their family, those in the town that seek revenge instead of grace won't stop until they ensure that the laws of God are upheld in town. But once her mother is brought before the court, will there be anyone willing to stand up for righteousness against the odds? You just might be surprised at how well Stephanie writes the conclusion of her debut novel.
I received The Well by Stephanie Landsem compliments of Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster Publishers for my honest opinion. The one thing I didn't realize is how she will preserve some of these characters for their reprising role in The Thief. I don't want to spoil it for you but trust me, if you love Biblical Fiction, you will definitely want to pick up The Well and The Thief. This is such an exceptional journey because you feel as though you're not just reading the story but actually living there. Just the violent act of stoning is something I am glad we don't do any longer and it seems it would be a painful and slow death at the hands of people who believe their are justified in their actions. This reminds me of mob-like vigilante's of the ancient days. I easily give this a 5 out of 5 stars in my opinion.
The Well - Stephanie Landsem A wonderful book, Stephanie Landsem breathes fresh life and understanding into the story of the woman at the well. Under her skilled pen, the characters, the setting, the history of ancient Samaria spring to life. A captivating account based on a familiar biblical story, Stephanie Landsem brings her reflection, and enchantment, as she gives authenticity to the setting and the complex history of Jews and Samaritans, and to the overall feel of the story from John 4:1-40 in the Bible. Yes, it is a story about the women at the well and how it might have been for her and her family, and excellently done, but what is even more intriguing about the story is Stephanie interpretation - and is that maybe, just maybe Shem (that is in the story) could have been Stephen. – St Stephen, the first martyr that is written about in the book of the Bible, Acts of the Apostles. The only primary source for information about Stephen is the New Testament book Acts of the Apostles. Yet, there is a debate among scholars and some Samaritan and Bible scholars, on the belief that Stephen could have been a hellenized Samaritan— a well-educated Samaritan from a Greek-speaking, cosmopolitan city, such as Caesarea and one of the Samaritans that heard the words of Jesus when he was in the town of Sychar from the story of 'the women at the well' in the passages from the Bible. Stephen is one of the most interesting characters in the New Testament. His story is short--but intense. His work belongs to a few days, and he makes but one speech--but his influence belongs to all after time! He was the first deacon and the first Christian martyr. Acts 6:1-8, 7:54 to 8:2. So as Mara, reflects in the story line of "The Well" this is not really about me, but about Shem, to whom the Lord has called and renamed Stephen, for he will be the first of many.” Stephen's name means "crown," and he was the first disciple of Jesus to receive the martyr's crown. So it is quite intriguing to think that this could be the early life of Stephen the Martyr, (later anointed St Stephen by the Catholic Church) is one and the same. Excellent analogy! Because I absolutely loved it, I recommend it to all readers, not just a few. I am highly anticipating the next book in the series "The Thief" (The Living Water Series).
I do love a good Biblical fiction--and this is one great Biblical fiction!
Mara is the daughter of the Biblical woman at the well, Nava, and the sister of a cripple, Asher. Many of the people at Sychar have decided they should be shunned. Nava because she sent her husband away and indulges in things she shouldn't; Asher because he is crippled, and it must be because he or his mother deserve punishment; and Mara by association.
Shem is the son of a wealthy Jewish merchant and a Samaritan mother and the possessor of a hot temper and arrogance that doesn't endear him to the Romans in Caesarea. A fight with two soldiers one night first to protect a woman about to be raped and then to protect his younger brother results in the violent death of one of the soldiers.
Now Shem's father must send him to Sychar, to his grandparents, to hide. Shem is mortified, at least until he catches a glimpse of Mara.
I enjoyed this Biblical fiction novel. It had a different twist to it than other versions I've read. In this book the main character was the daughter of the woman who went to the well in Samaria -- the one who said Jesus told her everything she'd ever done -- not the woman herself. There were a lot of tense moments in the story... but at times Mara got on my nerves. She was such a worrier, and very stubborn.
The way the author had several different stories going at the same time was cool, and the way they were merged together when Shem met Mara worked well. The scene with Nava at the synagogue was pretty intense. At that time I grew to admire Mara's faith and her pursuit of Jesus. The people in their town were cruel and judgmental, but I suppose that self-righteous attitude is pretty prevalent with a lot of religious people.
I liked Shem a lot. The tension between him and Mara was well done. Poor Mara had no clue that he would be fond of her as a woman. Even though in theory I should not have liked how things turned out in the end, I was satisfied with the resolution. The twist with Shem was pretty cool. I'm sure that's all fiction, but I still liked it.
I would recommend this novel to people who enjoy Biblical fiction and don't mind a lot of improvising with the facts. There are a lot of stories that don't have the details needed to make a complete novel. As long as it goes with the culture of the times, I enjoy seeing how different authors use the setting to bring out different points.
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Review 5 for The Well, Living Waters Series #1
A Jesus Episode Fleshed Out
Date:June 7, 2013
The story byline, "A desperate girl, a dangerous journey, an extraordinary sacrifice," says it well. Using a palette of multiple hues, the author paints sacrifice into the novel from Chapter One right through to the surprising and effective ending. The plot follows an appropriately crooked path and is driven by a relentless search for Taheb, the longed-for Samaritan Restorer.
Dysfunction shapes many of the characters, but a few sturdy individuals serve as tent pegs of stability. The major players, along with the dialogue, are believable for the most part, though the horse ride might be off-putting to people who know horses.
Landsem shines best in her meticulous research. She gives authenticity to the setting, to the complex history of Jews and Samaritans, and to the overall feel of the story. Having written my own biblical novel, I know how difficult a task that is, but the end product of her diligence lives and breathes and generates energy.
Mara is a 15 year old Samaritan girl who lives with her younger, crippled brother and her mother in a small clay house in Sychar. Mara’s mother, Nava, is mentally unstable, and Mara is trying to take care of her mother and brother. She is scorned in the village because of her mother’s sins, so life is not easy for Mara.
There’s a pagan man named Alexandros who stops by their house once in a while to stay the night with Nava. No one can know about this because the people of Sychar will stone Nava if they ever find out. Mara is trying to persuade Nava to turn Alexandros down next time, because she is living in constant fear that her mother’s ‘secret’ will be exposed.
Shem is a young man from Caesarea where he received a good education, and where he could live a good life…if he hadn’t gotten himself into trouble. His father is sending him away to his grandparents in Sychar. Once there, he rescues Mara from three boys who are bullying her on her way to the well—and in doing so he makes his first enemies in Sychar.
One day Nava is going to the well where she meets Jesus. He knows all about her husbands and doesn’t condemn her. She receives new life at the well and is changed after that. But the village people refuse to believe she’s changed—they want to punish her for her sin.
When something bad happens to her mother, Mara is called in a dream by Jesus. Meanwhile Jesus has left Sychar and has gone elsewhere. Mara and Shem go after him—together they travel from Sychar to Nazareth, and further. On the way they get into several dangerous situations.
Will they find Jesus? Will her mother get healed? And what is the reason Jesus called Mara to come to him?
I enjoyed this book immensely! It is hard to believe this is a debut novel. The writing is excellent; the author has a pleasant voice, the plot is very well done, the characters are so real, easy to love, and easy to identify with. From the first till the last page, this book is a pure delight. I highly recommend this book!
The Well is an intriguing story that is set in biblical times in the Samaritan village of Sychar. Mara has been taking care of herself, her sick mother and her crippled brother since she was eight years old. She cooks, cleans, plants a vegetable garden and tends it, gets water, raises goats, weaves wool into thread to barter for food and much more. She is now of marriageable age, but knows no one in the village will want to marry such a poor girl with a lame brother and scandalous mother to take care of as well. Her mother, Nava, has been married five times and currently “entertains” a pagan from a nearby town some evenings. Mara lives in fear that the people of Sychar will find out about her mother’s visitor and stop their charitable donations to her family so they will starve to death or exile them from the village. Mara has lived with persecution because of her mother’s deeds all her life, but most of the people have still tried to help out she and her brother when they could. What will happen when they find out about her mother’s latest goings on? Will she be forced to marry a shepherd old enough to be her grandfather in order to provide food for her brother and mother? Nava is still beautiful at age 30. She, however, does nothing to take care of her children. She sleeps most of the day and when she is awake just sits and stares at the wall. She has been like this since the birth of her lame son, Asher. She begins to think her children would be better off without her. One day when they are visiting her sister, she forces herself off of her pallet and walks to the city well. She is almost to the point of throwing herself into the well, which would make it ceremonially unclean and force the villagers to walk quite a distance for water and in her mind, is just revenge for how they have treated her and her children. Just as she is poised over the lip of the well, a man asks her for a drink of water. She is surprised and astonished enough at this man talking to a Samaritan woman that she complies with his request. Soon they have a conversation that will change her life. Shem arrives in town as a spoiled, rich, young man to stay with his maternal grandfather until the trouble he created in Caesarea blows over. His grandfather thinks he is there to learn about the olive farming business so his grandfather will have a male heir to take over when he dies. Shem only plans to be there a few months, but says nothing about this to his grandfather. Shem has always had a tender spot for the underdog and jumps in without thinking to defend the downtrodden. He rescues Mara from some village youths and thus begins their friendship. Will it develop into something more? When the most difficult decision of his life has to be made, can Shem release his vengeance and give his whole heart and soul to Jesus? Can Mara, who has come to believe fully Jesus is who he claims to be, do what is best for everyone with the choice she must make? This is just a wonderful story of self-sacrifice, total surrender to God, journeys taken and lives forever changed. The depths of the character development are compelling. I found it fascinating to think about the different aspects of this story, the historical accuracy and events as well as “what might have been”. I would recommend reading this very entertaining story, and I’m looking forward to the author’s next book, Siloam.
I took a trip to Sychar today, to The Well in the village center. There I met a young, half-starved girl who had eyes of jade and amber under her striped headcovering. The girl's name was Mara, which means bitter, and life had mirrored her name for far too long. She was the daughter of Nava, the infamous village scandal: the woman who has been married five times. Her mother's sinful reputation and obvious emptiness left Mara torn to pieces... she wanted to shake her mother for ruining their family, and she wanted to find whatever her mother needed to heal and live again.
Over the years, Mara swallowed her sorrow and buried her dreams, providing the best she could for her beloved brother and desperately trying to hide her mother's secret. Nava had been married five times, but she also had another man who was not her husband. No one else knew of this but Mara, and no one must ever know. If Nava's adultery were ever proved to be more than just gossip at the well, no pardon would be granted to her. Samaria was a harsh land, and judgements there were harsher, judgements unmixed with mercy or grace and tainted with pride and revenge.
Mara lived with the hope that someday the Taheb (The Restorer) would come. Though of course He would not care to help outcasts such as Mara's mother, would he?
After visiting with Mara at The Well, I will not read John Four the same way again. I had never imagined what this woman's children would have felt like, and I hadn't thought too deeply about Nava herself. Stephanie Landsem has made them real people.
Stephanie has woven another story into Mara's, the story of Shem ben Ezra. Shem was a cultured young scholar, skilled in languages and laws, exiled to the olive groves of his Samaritan grandparents to escape Roman crucifixion. When Shem found Mara weeping in a moonlit olive grove, he was drawn to help her. Soon, Shem and all of the village must look into the Taheb's face and decide whether they will drink of the living water only He can give. Shem must come to terms with this question: If following Jesus meant denying something you desire, will you lay that desire aside and answer His call?
Questions of Law, Mercy, and Love are raised in The Well, leaving you with much to think about. The truth of the living water and its source flows through these pages, cool and cleansing, calling us to come and drink deeply. The ending may shock some people, but when I reflect on it I think it is the most beautiful, fitting ending any of our stories could hope to have.
Thank you Stephanie Landsem for this worthy Biblical fiction, and thank you for sending me a copy to review. I hope to have the honor of reviewing your next books!
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Review 9 for The Well, Living Waters Series #1
A Bible Story You Think You Know
Date:June 3, 2013
Mara is a young woman shunned and harassed because of her mother's sinful choices. Determined to provide for her crippled younger brother, Mara must rely on the begrudging charity of the townspeople, but the unexpected attentions of a stranger provokes jealousy she can't afford.
Wanted by the Roman government, Shem has fled Caesarea to hide at his grandfather's farm in the village of Sychar, but trouble seems to always find him. He must respond to injustice, even if he doesn't always respond wisely. Will his rash actions hurt those he's trying to protect?
I can't tell you how excited I am about this book. Although familiar with the first century stigma against adultery I never stopped to consider the social implications for the children of an adulterous woman...and these women almost certainly would've had children. Landsem takes a story that you think you know and leaves you breathless with unexpected discoveries. I found myself stunned with the turns in the story and setting the book down to reflect and pray before I could go any further.
I like the cover of this book. I think it fits perfectly with the story itself and the darker colors seem to fit the emotions of the woman at the well. It's in humble colors that are not very bright and the woman is not in clear focus.
The woman at the well is a fascinating story in Scripture and I liked how well this book depicted that scene. I had forgotten how often the children are held responsible for the sin of the parents, whether they were guilty of the sin or not. For some reason I remembered it in the Old Testament, but forgot of that in the New. Seeing Nava stoned and not forgiven by those who should have been the first to forgive was sad. It always makes me mad when I read of those who were "religious and followed laws" instead of Christ and His teachings. Then I remind myself that I have the whole Scripture and they didn't, so who knows what I would have thought had I been there.
I wanted to reach through the pages of the book to help Mara. It was hard to watch her struggles, knowing that someone should help her! I was glad when she found Jesus because then I knew she'd have all she ever wanted and/or needed.
Stephanie Landsem turned this beautiful story into a journey where the readers get to imagine what the woman at the well was feeling and perhaps some of her thoughts/feelings/struggles. She takes you through the scriptures and writes a book based on a true biblical account. It was fun to think about a woman that I so often read about and never stop to think about or ponder on. Her life dramatically changed when she met Jesus and how fun it was to think about that transformation and excitement! _________ I received this book free from Howard Publishers in exchange for my honest opinion of this book.