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Light from Distant Stars

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When Cohen Marah steps over the body of his dead father on a cold spring morning, he steps into a labyrinth of memory. In the week that follows, he must confront his traumatic past, a violent present, and the most frightening question of all-did he kill his father?

402 pages, Hardcover

First published July 16, 2019

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Shawn Smucker

22 books443 followers

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5 stars
226 (29%)
4 stars
275 (36%)
3 stars
198 (26%)
2 stars
45 (5%)
1 star
14 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 322 reviews
Profile Image for Erin .
1,199 reviews1,105 followers
August 25, 2019
Shout out to Bookish.com for sending me this book!

Light From Distant Stars is my first Shawn Smucker novel. I had never even heard of him before I saw this book. And truthfully I didn't know what this book was about when requested it. I just thought the cover was beautiful in an understated way. And just like the cover the story itself was beautiful in an understated way as well.

Light From Distant Stars is a story that feels no need to rush, instead the author just let's it slowly unfurl. I have a love/hate relationship with Fantastical Fiction with hate usually winning but this book used just enough fantastical elements but didn't over do it.

I love reading books that explore the ways in which grief affects us. Light From Distant Stars is a story about faith, pain, shameful secrets and how our childhood traumas follow us into adulthood.

Shawn Smucker is a masterful storyteller. His characters felt real and multilayered.

I highly recommend Light From Distant Stars.
Profile Image for Susie Finkbeiner.
Author 12 books646 followers
May 28, 2019
I've been looking forward to reading this novel for quite some time. It did not disappoint. Smucker is a magician of a storyteller, mesmerizing his readers into completely suspending their disbelief and going along for the ride. But this isn't just a magical story or one that keeps the reader guessing. It's a beautiful tale about family, redemption, and grace.

One that I look forward to reading again!
Profile Image for Danielle Urban.
Author 15 books133 followers
May 5, 2019
Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker is sad heartbreaking story. The main character is struggling with his emotions as nightmares from his past come to haunt him. Did he kill father? The son, Cohen Marah had a tough childhood. Expectations were rough. He had to behave a certain way. His mother was strict in his up raising. It felt like he was all alone. Neither of his parents smiled much. Then, they divorced. And that left Cohen feeling heavier with emotion. It swallowed me up, as I followed his past and present memories. I got lost along the way, not knowing where the story was leading. But eventually in the end, I understood it. The plot was driven by Cohen's feelings and his memories more than by action or dialogue. It was like being trapped inside just his head. A bit confusing, a bit overwhelming, and a bit crazy. Shawn Smucker has a way of leading readers like me to feel sympathy for his characters. A once strong family, was now a broken one needing healing and forgiveness. Plus, Cohen needed to find the truth...

I received this copy from the publisher. This is my voluntary review.
Profile Image for Amy.
95 reviews9 followers
June 26, 2019
Shawn Smucker did not disappoint once again - this is the fourth book of his I’ve read and I can easily see why he’s been called a “master story weaver.” The real-to-life questions of faith and disbelief, the blurred lines between adult realities and childhood fantasies, and the themes of mystery/suspense/scandal/forgiveness are all woven together to make this book a page turner you can’t put down.
Profile Image for Leah Horton.
404 reviews13 followers
June 30, 2019
The very first reason I wanted to read this book was the cover and the title. I absolutely judged this book by its cover. It was so stunning and eye catching I didn’t even care what it was about. It was so much more than I expected. A story of love and loss, woven into two parallel times in Cohens life. This book touches on the struggles Cohen has within himself, his relationships with his parents, his faith, his past and the loss of his father. I thought the depiction of life and death coexisting in a somewhat symbiotic way was beautiful and sad. It was also beautiful to see how different people deal with (and don’t deal with) grief. I found the battle Cohen had inside himself while he struggled to find his faith was really well done, and relatable even if you are not a religious person.
Profile Image for Andrea Stoeckel.
2,560 reviews103 followers
June 18, 2019
[TW- child abuse, violence]

“Father, are there things that cannot be forgiven?”

This is the story of Cohen Marah;beginnings and endings. Cohen finds his badly hurt father in the basement of the funeral home they both work at, and Cohen must come to grips with a past riddled with holes as he feels he is spinning out of control. In a series of flashbacks we see his attempts to understand if he was his father’s killer.

I spent an intense 5 hours reading this book today. This is how Shawn Smucker’s books hook you and you almost devour them and then spend time figuring out what you just read. This is a book where the past is truly prologue as Cohen, using his faith as a touchstone, deals with trauma, grace and wonder and begins a long recovery of the wholeness and holiness faith promises us all. As a retired minister and a trauma survivor I highly recommend this book. 5/5

[disclaimer: I received this book from the author and voluntarily read and reviewed it]
Profile Image for Marci.
17 reviews
June 25, 2019
I had to chew on this for a few days. The book was surprising in parts, dark in some, and full of light in others. It brings up memories and issues in my own life that I'm not sure I want to deal with yet! :)
There is a blur in this book between memories, reality and imagination that leaves me wanting to read more. I'm not ready for these characters to be over so I hope the author carries their stories to another book!
Profile Image for Nicole Walters.
Author 1 book5 followers
June 29, 2019
A master storyteller, Smucker manages to pull you into an engaging adventure while communicating deeper truths through the story. Light from Distant Stars flashes back and forth from past to present seamlessly, revealing depth in the character and plot that keeps you coming back for more. It's the kind of book that will have you holding your breath, shedding a tear, and reading late into the night to finish. But don't rush to the exciting ending too quickly. Savor the story. You'll be pondering it for a while.
Profile Image for Sara Gorman.
294 reviews6 followers
June 30, 2019
I haven't read any other books by Shawn Smucker, but after reading this one, I want to read them all.
I found this book to be very engaging, hard to put down, and had well-developed characters that I wanted to see the success of.

I received an ARC from the Publisher.
Profile Image for Ingrid Lochamire.
27 reviews1 follower
June 27, 2019
I'm going to be brutally honest with this review, though you'll note I gave the book 5 stars. It took me a minute to settle into Smucker's story. Readers will find themselves moving back and forth between the protagonist's memories from the past and his current circumstances/problems. I've read many books employing this technique, but for some reason, it was difficult for me to get into the rhythm here. But, once I did get on track, I couldn't put this book down. Smucker's choice to trust the reader as he gave us Cohen's back story caused me to pay close attention, look for clues, and to give this book my full attention. The author made us care about the outcome, though we knew from the start where the book was headed, and he obviously believed the reader could suspend belief even in the recounting of a harrowing childhood experience. Smucker is a gifted storyteller. This isn't chick lit, it's not a romance or even historical fiction. It's a fantastic story worthy of your investment of time and attention.
Profile Image for Chris Gilmore.
40 reviews1 follower
July 17, 2019
Shawn Smucker is an incredible storyteller.

I typically do not read fiction, but having read Smucker's memoir on his friendship with a refugee I was excited to try his next offering. I was not disappointed.

The characters are deep without being overly complicated. The storytelling is vivid. The plot is unique and carries itself well. The intrigue keeps you hooked. I read the entire thing in just two sittings, staying up way too late two nights in a row to finish and discover what had happened.

The story follows a man who has discovered his father's dead body (not a spoiler, I promise) and the complexity of grief, family, memories, upbringing, relationships, pain, and all that comes with confronting the death of non-perfect people.

It jumps back and forth from childhood to adulthood, unraveling memories and adding layers to the grief and tension that Cohen is feeling. We get the benefit of watching him grow through some traumatic events and watch how they play out in his adult life, all at the same time.

I highly recommend it for people who like a good story.
Profile Image for Rick Theule.
48 reviews7 followers
June 26, 2019
Shawn kept me on edge and ready to turn the page for the revelation of the next piece of the puzzle. A great story that is more than simply an entertaining read. I found myself contemplating my own relationships with my dad, God, family members, and close friends. I received this novel as part of the launch team. I’ve already recommended it to friends, and will definitely keep it on the shelf to read again soon.
Profile Image for Chris Jager.
302 reviews9 followers
April 12, 2019
Cohen is wrestling with his childhood memories as he stand by his father's hospital bed. As he travels those memories and more from his childhood, he begins to wonder if his father's approaching death is his own fault.
Smucker offers us a understanding of a relationship between father and son. It is not a relationship that is without its pitfalls, but one that each person must negotiate. Raw at times and loving at other times, Light from Distant Stars is not always an easy read, but it is one that will not leave you the same.
Profile Image for Amy Nabors.
10 reviews2 followers
July 1, 2019
“He stares down at the body again, and sadness keeps him leaning to one side. It’s the physical weight of emotion and that weight is not centered inside of him but skewed, imbalanced.”

This second paragraph of Light from Distant Stars hooked me. I think most of us would agree that we all have experiences from our past that the emotions of them can render us skewed and imbalanced. A story isn’t near as impactful unless the author drawsus into the character’s story and make us feel such empathy for him. And Shawn Smucker does just that in his latest novel.

Light from Distant Stars is the story of Cohen Marah, a middle-aged man haunted by his broken childhood. When a tragic accident happens to his father, he wonders if he is responsible and the circumstances plunge him into memories from his childhood, forcing him to face wounds from his past.

My favorite novels have a little bit of mystery, a bit of the supernatural, and the spiritual. Smucker weaves Cohen’s past and present into a dark and sad, but beautiful story. As Cohen works through the memories of a painful childhood, he finds grace and redemption at the end.

Light from Distant Stars kept me turning the page to see what happened next and surprised me with a turn that I did not see coming. I am so glad I discovered Shawn Smucker’s The Day the Angels Fell last year and this year Light from Distant Stars did not disappoint.

I received an advanced reader copy of the book from the publisher and this is my honest review.
1,289 reviews27 followers
July 13, 2019
A masterfully told story!

Light from Distant Stars is an amazing and masterfully told story! There are so many layers and so much mystery. It tells of the journey for the understanding and for the peace which has eluded Cohen for decades. Assaulted by feelings of guilt, he explores memories long buried.

The writing is beautiful in a melancholy way; prose turned to poetry. The imagery created by the words is haunting and poignant and was not overdone or tiresome. I found myself caught between wanting to luxuriate in reading, to slowly savor each word and wanting to hurry through to find out what happened next.

As a side note, the story is written in the third person present tense, except the portions where Cohen is examining his memories. This was surprisingly effective. If you’ve read many of my reviews, you may recall that I do not like present tense much. This was done so well, I didn’t even realize this until I was at least halfway through. It was a great way to separate the memory portions from the events of the “current” time (which was actually 2015).

I am looking forward to reading more books by Shawn Smucker.

Read my full review at Among the Reads


I was given a copy of this book. I was not required to give a favorable review nor was any money received for this review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Jocelyn Green.
Author 28 books1,164 followers
July 10, 2019
I knew early in this book that it would be unlike anything I've read before. The writing is unhurried, deliberate, beautiful. It hints at Marilynnne Robinson and John Steinbeck, while still being Shawn Smucker's very own narrative voice and style. The story spans about a week of actual time, but tucked into the action are pieces of the main character's history which shed led on the present-day situation. It's not written as a time-slip or split-time though, it's just blended together into one seamless tapestry that shows us who Cohen really is. This novel has a genre-defying element to it that kept me guessing until my suspicions were confirmed. I'll not say more about that so I don't spoil anything.

Light from Distant Stars is a brave book that delves deeply into the human spirit. As a reading experience, it cannot be rushed. One cannot force expectations upon it and expect this book to conform. Just step into it and savor the journey. This novel has earned a permanent space on my bookshelf.
Profile Image for Donna.
477 reviews6 followers
June 27, 2019
This book is a powerful story of love and forgiveness, as Cohen grapples with forgotten memories and a difficult childhood. The author expertly weaves two stories together, the present, where Cohen's father is dying, and the past with painful memories that he has suppressed. It is a suspenseful, beautifully written book that will keep you enthralled to the very end. I did receive an ARC of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Dorothy Greco.
Author 5 books59 followers
July 16, 2019
I remained on the elliptical longer than usual the day the book arrived because I just couldn't stop reading. During the next three days, I found excuses to drop what I was doing and read (for pleasure) during the day which is somewhat scandalous for me. As I finished the final chapter, I immediately wanted to go back and reread it. It's that good. Definitely a book to take on vacation this summer. It's compelling, beautifully written, and ultimately redemptive.
Profile Image for Allen Madding.
Author 7 books77 followers
June 15, 2019
I was provided an Advance Reader Copy by the author. Here is my honest review: A thought provoking story on the relationship struggles of a father and son. I couldn't lay it down. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Jaklyn Larsen.
4 reviews
June 28, 2019
From the first page to the last, Light From Distant Stars is captivating. The story eloquently flows between current predicaments to the nostalgic, albeit painful, childhood memories of the main character. The author has an incredible ability to paint vivid imagery, making you feel every moment along with the characters in the book, yet the story-line is never bogged down by unnecessary details. Some books are easy to leave behind after reading, others I find myself wanting to ponder for days after finishing, ruminating on the journey I took through those pages. This is one of those books I will continue to contemplate, and I look forward to reading it again.

(I received an ARC of the book from the publisher and this is my honest review.)
Profile Image for Deanne Patterson.
1,730 reviews121 followers
July 30, 2019
Light From Distant Stars is my introduction to this authors work.
I would call it emotional and edgy. Definitely not my usual type of read.

This is a sad book making you question at times what is real and what is not.
Stepping over the body of his father triggers emotional questions about his past. A flood of memories ensues. What of these suppressed memories are actually real and what is not?

Thought provoking story on the struggle of a
father- son relationship in the past and present.

Published July 16th 2019 by Fleming H. Revell Company.
I was given a complimentary copy of this book. Thank you.
All opinions expressed are my own.

Profile Image for Anne Bogel.
Author 6 books50.5k followers
December 17, 2019
I'm so excited about Shawn's first novel geared toward adults!

The story begins with a death: a son discovers the body of his father, he's filled with guilt and fear, he doesn't want to tell his sister he was the first one to know. But why? As the memories come pouring back over the ensuing days, the reader begins to find out what went on in this troubled family.

Highly recommended for Billy Coffey fans.
Profile Image for Andi.
Author 20 books173 followers
July 5, 2019
This book has all the workings of a powerful novel - characters you care about because their emotions and experiences feel real, a storyline that is relatable while also speaking of things beyond what we discuss in our every day, and a depth of emotion that is powerful and rich. I cannot recommend this book enough.

I received an ARC of this book, but this is my honest opinion of the book.
Profile Image for Timothy Shea.
56 reviews5 followers
June 27, 2019
"Sometimes people don't have the power to be what we need them to be for us." (p. 376)

Family secrets. Unattainable love. Forgiveness and reconciliation. Memories and the ways they shape us.

These are the themes that permeate this dark and sometimes confusing tale of a young man who comes to terms with parents who have disappointed him while grappling with his faith and his own anger.

Smucker's prose is rich with vivid description that makes the reader feel as if they are experiencing the story themselves. Not only that, but he also helps us feel for each of these characters and to relate our own lives to them as they struggle with memory and forgiveness and death. It meanders naturally between the present, the past, and the memories that shape them both.

Readers will be quickly drawn in to these familiar themes and will be moved by this thoughtful read.

(Disclaimer: The reviewer was given an advanced copy of this novel. The views represented here are my own.)
96 reviews
June 29, 2019
This was my first book by Shawn and I will be reading more of his books. This particular book took me a little while to get into it but once I did it was something I could not wait to pick up again. It is a story of Cohen’s past and present life. It gives you an insight of how tries to handle it and come to to terms with these issues.

I am giving a voluntary review because I was asked to read this book by the author.
Profile Image for Kailey.
590 reviews66 followers
June 22, 2019
This was my first book by Shawn Smucker, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. While I didn’t dislike the book, it took a bit to get me hooked into it. The story moved at a decent pace. It just took a little bit to get into the back and forth of the past and present. Once I got into the book, I couldn’t stop. I just had to find out what had happened. I did enjoy this book and plan on trying his other books.



I received a complimentary copy from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are mine alone.
Profile Image for Jennie.
220 reviews17 followers
June 30, 2019
The author writes brilliantly, keeping you turning to the next chapter, a page turner!! Enjoyed his writing style and the story! A wonderful story about redemption and working through difficult memories from his past.
Profile Image for Marian Beaman.
Author 2 books37 followers
July 4, 2019
Shawn Smucker’s latest novel Light from Distant Stars (2019) is challenging to classify – Listed under the category suspense fiction, it is also allegorical in its representation of otherworldly characters, the Beast, for example–and the stars, both celestial and spiritual. The book is surely suspenseful, planting clues such as a monogrammed sock, a brandished gun, a burnt out trailer. The writer’s sleight of hand begs the reader to ask, “What just happened? Who should I believe? Are experiences deceiving?” keeping readers slightly off balance and propelling them to turn the pages.

Death, blood oozing from a corpse sends the plot into orbit, with 9-year-old Cohen at its center. Characters gather: the fractured family; a detective, once a childhood buddy; youngsters playing baseball, an athletic object symbolic of Cohen’s connection to his father and perhaps to a Heavenly Father, whose place in his life shifts with the passage of time and his interaction with Father James at a confessional in a church nearby. The Church, which once represented to Cohen a place of betrayal, over time, becomes his true sanctuary. Underlining the macabre mood of the novel, the family resides in a funeral home. Indeed, the pall of death hangs over the entire tale – but new life too, culminating in the birth of twins.

Structurally, the past and present are braided, their plots intertwining and illuminating one another, a device that could be off-putting to some readers who overlook the shift in verb tenses or the fluctuating ages of the characters. The novel spans six days in March 2015, each highlighted with the six days of creation depicted in the Genesis account. I observed that the novelist is deliberate in his choice of names. Marah, the last name of Cohen’s family, a Hebrew word that means “bitter,” may represent the journey of the Israelites through the desert toward liberation, perhaps symbolic of Cohen’s own odyssey toward personal freedom from the indignities of the past.

Surprisingly, I could relate easily to the setting, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I am very familiar with street names and with the hospital, a place teeming with action. As Smucker observes: “The forest of tangled oaks and maples and pines transformed into straight lines of sycamores lining streets named after the monarchy: King and Queen and Prince and Duke. A sky once filled with the light from distant stars was overwhelmed by streetlights and headlights and the glow of the monolithic hospital a few blocks south.” As a young Mennonite woman, Lancaster represented a place to go shopping. Now, I remember it as the scene of death too, my parents both dying at Lancaster General Hospital.

Smucker’s descriptions are vivid and graphic. You are THERE in the narrative. His novel rewards readers with a unique depiction of the human condition, acknowledging the presence of good and evil in the world.
Profile Image for Karrilee Aggett.
50 reviews3 followers
July 2, 2019
I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book from the publisher and this is my honest review.

I had started reading Once We Were Strangers, also written by this author, before joining the launch team for Light from Distant Stars, so I already knew I would enjoy the book. I had been saying for months that I needed to add more fiction to my reading list so this was perfect timing! I had picked up a different novel last month (written by a different author) and it was alright --but nothing I couldn't wait to pick back up. So I had high hopes for this one, and Shawn Smucker did not disappoint!

Light from Distant Stars is a great story, with twists and turns throughout! The characters are fast friends and you won't want to put this down until the last page! Even then, you just may wish for more!

This novel is full of intrigue and mystery mixed in with some spiritual wrestling and family dynamics! The author pulls you in with the first line and --you know how I love to underline, highlight, and dog-ear pages? Well, I usually don't do that with a novel but, you guys... some of the lines/paragraphs... woah!? So good! This gave me flashbacks to Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness and other similar classics... I loved how there was just enough spirituality in there --but no matter what your personal religious beliefs are, I think you will enjoy this book!

If you are looking for a great summer read (or any time of year read!) --look no further!

(You know it's a great novel when after finishing it, I'm searching for and ordering his OTHER works, too!)
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