Reach for Something New | Christian Fiction Reviews

This month’s column features three novella anthologies from popular CF authors spanning suspense, romance, sf, horror, and historical fiction. The Regency Brides Collection, The Assault, and Brides of Montana serve as perfect introductory appetizers for those who may be unsure about what to reach for next.

Generally speaking, patrons who read Christian Fiction (CF) on a regular basis need less help finding their next read than fans of other genres. Usually, they want a new title from their favorite author. However, for readers who are more particular or interested in trying a new genre or writer, deciding what to suggest becomes a bit more difficult. This month’s column features three novella anthologies from popular CF authors spanning suspense, romance, sf, horror, and historical fiction. The Regency Brides Collection, The Assault, and Brides of Montana serve as perfect introductory appetizers for those who may be unsure about what to reach for next.

Debut of the Month

redstarNelson, Christina Suzann. If We Make It Home: A Novel of Faith and Survival in the Oregon Wilderness. Kregel. Sept. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780825444951. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780825487880. CF

After their college graduation, inseparable friends Vicky, Ireland, Jenna, and Hope drifted apart. Almost 25 years later at their alma mater, Vicky, Ireland, and Jenna discover that their quartet is now a trio, as Hope had died of breast cancer. To honor her memory, the three embark on a hike through Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, a trip Hope always wanted to take. But unforeseen events leave the women stranded without a guide or supplies on a mountainside during an early winter storm. As they revaluate their lives and relationships, Vicky, Ireland, and Jenna realize that their friend’s death is also a metaphor for the hope they have lost in their personal and professional lives. VERDICT Nelson’s fiction debut is a tension-filled tour de force of suspense and human emotions. Fans of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild will love this.

Amish Corner

Chapman, Vannetta. When the Bishop Needs an Alibi. Harvest House. (Amish Bishop, Bk. 2). Sept. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780736966498. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780736966504. CF

While birdwatching in a local wildlife refuge, Bishop Henry Lapp stumbles over the body of a young waitress from the local diner. When he is framed for her murder, Henry draws on his photographic memory and pairs up with friend Emma Fisher to search for clues to exonerate himself and identify the real killer. While this follow-up to What the Bishop Saw can stand alone, readers new to the series may prefer to start with the first book for the backstory. Fans will enjoy the nice rapport developing between Widow Fisher and Bishop Lapp, but the murder still takes center stage. VERDICT Faith and friendship are key to solving a crime in this cozy, which seamlessly blends English and Amish worlds. A solid choice for admirers of Amish fiction and for those seeking a gentle mystery.

Fuller, Kathleen. The Promise of a Letter. Thomas Nelson. (Amish Letters, Bk. 2). Aug. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780718082543. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718082550. CF

Welcome back to Birch Creek. Jalon and Phoebe (Written in Love) are married, and Jalon’s sister Leanna now works in Daniel’s shop repairing small engines. But the town busybodies frown on ­Leanna’s unwomanly ways, and Daniel fires her to prevent his wife from worrying about an alleged affair. Meanwhile, his estranged brother Roman returns to town after receiving a letter from their late grandmother. Daniel isn’t happy, but Roman is sincere in his desire for forgiveness and reconciliation. Soon he and Leanna grow close. When tragedy strikes, the family must pull together to let go of the past and deal with the present. VERDICT Featuring an unconventional Amish heroine and written with wit and charm, this sweet and entertaining tale of love and redemption will appeal to readers of the genre looking for something a bit different. Newcomers should begin with the first book.

Gould, Leslie. A Plain Leaving. Bethany House. (Sisters of Lancaster County, Bk. 1). Oct. 2017. 364p. ISBN 9780764219696. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493411955. CF

Jessica Bachmann abandoned her Amish family three years ago after clashing with the bishop. When she returns home for her father’s funeral, she finds herself shunned. Yet her heart still leaps at the sight of Silas Kemp, the suitor she left behind, who now plans to marry her sister. Jessica takes to heart her Aenti Suz’s telling of a Revolutionary War ancestor who had to make similar choices. An inspired Jessica chooses to stay and fight to protect the land her family has farmed for 200 years. VERDICT There’s a sharp edge to Gould’s (Amish Sweethearts) series launch in its portrayal of the Amish as judgmental, arrogant gossips. The hardness in some of the characters is unusual for this genre. Still, fans will root for Jessica to overcome her familial and romantic obstacles.

Check these out

Dylan, Rachel. Deadly Proof. Bethany House. (Atlanta Justice, Bk. 1). Sept. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780764219801. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493411993. CF

Kate Sullivan is about to litigate a lawsuit that could make or break her career. A new drug released by Mason Pharmaceutical has severe adverse side effects, but someone is willing to do anything, even commit murder, to ensure that the case never goes to trial. When a whistle-blower ends up dead, Kate is assigned a security detail, Army Ranger–turned–PI Landon James. Sparks ignite between the two; however, Landon pulls back, afraid to repeat past mistakes. This twisty and fast-paced legal thriller by attorney Dylan offers plenty of insider details on class-action lawsuits, corrupt lawyers, and the power of Big Pharma, with a romance that develops naturally over the course of the story. VERDICT Dylan (Devoted Defender) launches an exciting new trilogy of pulse-pounding romantic suspense set in Atlanta and headed by female lawyers. Suggest for fans of DiAnn Mills, Irene Hannon, and Terri Blackstock.

Gabhart, Ann H. These Healing Hills. Revell. Sept. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780800723637. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441219787. CF

Jilted by her fiancé, Francine Howard needs a new direction in life. A nurse by training, she decides to join the Frontier Nursing Service as a midwife for ­Appalachian women. She heads to Kentucky, where the mountains are a salve to her broken heart. Meanwhile, Ben Locke returns home from World War II, mentally scarred from all he has witnessed. Over time, a wisp of romance begins to develop between the pair, but Francine is an outsider. Only God knows the plans He has for their lives, if they are patient enough to wait. Gabhart (“Hidden Springs Mystery” series) infuses her well-drawn protagonists with faith and encouragement, which helps them deal with the adversity they face. Based on the life of Mary Breckinridge, founder of the Frontier Nursing Service, this novel vividly re-creates the world of postwar Appalachia. The compelling story line resonates long after the last page is turned. VERDICT Suggest to readers who enjoy historical fiction drawn from actual events and those who read for strong character development.

Griep, Michelle & others. The Regency Brides Collection. Barbour. Nov. 2017. 448p. ISBN 9781683223719. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683223733. CF

In this collection of short romances by popular CF authors Griep, Nancy Moser, Erica Vetsch, MaryLu Tyndall, Amanda Barratt, Angela Bell, and Suzanne Dietze, seven couples are bound by love and faith in spite of society’s rules and expectations. Among them, Charity and Luke struggle to adjust to their arranged marriage, Adelaide and Walter share a love of music and a disdain for social snobbery, and Caroline and Henry are brought together by a trio of orphaned children. In all these tales, the authors skillfully evoke England’s Regency period with lively, well-crafted characters. The story lines, while compact, are complete without feeling rushed. ­VERDICT Regency fiction devotees will savor these restrained romances as each couple finds a different way to love.

Hillman, Pam. The Promise of Breeze Hill. Tyndale. (Natchez Trace, Bk. 1). Aug. 2017. 393p. ISBN 9781496415929. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781496425584. CF

In 1791, Connor O’Shea arrives in Natchez, MS, from Ireland as an indentured servant. But his plan to send for his four brothers at the end of his term is thwarted by the untimely death of his master and the purchase of his papers by Isabella Bartholomew, who seeks a carpenter to help rebuild a burned wing of her family’s plantation home, Breeze Hill. Neighbor Nolan James ­Braxton is courting Isabella, yet his intentions are anything but honest. Although ­Isabella and Connor develop feelings for each other, she needs to keep the plantation running and seriously considers Nolan’s proposal. It is not long before Connor realizes that someone is trying to take over Breeze Hill and Isabella’s life. VERDICT Though some readers may have concerns about a relationship between characters with such a power imbalance, Hillman’s (Claiming Mariah) series launch set in antebellum Mississippi effectively mixes intrigue and suspense with a healthy dose of romance and historical ­details.

Hunter, Kristi Ann. An Inconvenient Beauty. Bethany. (Hawthorne House, Bk. 4). Sept. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780764218279. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493411887. CF

True love never runs a logical course, as Griffith, Duke of Riverton, soon learns. Caving to family pressure to marry, the rational groom-to-be sets his sights on a woman not for her heart but for her merits. But his quarry, Miss Frederica St. Claire, frequently avoids him and leaves him in the company of her flirtatious cousin ­Isabella. Finding Isabella’s coquettish nature distasteful, he does not realize her frivolity hides a woman trying to honor a promise in order to keep her family out of dire straits. ­VERDICT Hunter’s final book in the “Hawthorne House” series (after An Uncommon Courtship) is Regency romance at its best, capturing the social pressures placed on both men and women of the time. Her characters play off each other and the societal rules, resulting in a feverish story line that keeps the pages turning. A must for Hunter fans.

Jennings, Regina. Holding the Fort. Bethany House. (Fort Reno, Bk. 1). Dec. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780764218934. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493412006. CF

This series launch is a charming historical romance set in 1880s Fort Reno, OK. ­Louise Bell, aka “Lovely Lola Bell,” is a saloon singer who suddenly becomes unemployed. She heads to Fort Reno, hoping her half-brother Bradley will convince his commanding officer to allow her to perform for the cavalry. Her arrival seems like the answer to a prayer for widowed Maj. Daniel Adams, as his two daughters have reached an age at which they need a governess. As the chemistry between Louise and Daniel heats up, will Louise allow the shame of her past to stand in the way of God’s plan for her life? A custody battle with Daniel’s mother-in-law adds tension and complexity to the somewhat predictable plot. VERDICT Jennings (For the Record) kicks off a new series with a light and enjoyable tale that will delight her fans as well as lovers of historical romance.

Kirkpatrick, Jane. All She Left Behind. Revell. Sept. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780800727000. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493411009. CF

Self-taught herbalist Jennie Pickett dreams of one day becoming a doctor, but the Oregon territory of the 1870s holds no place for women physicians. Suddenly divorced by her alcoholic, abusive husband, Jennie is left with a debt she can’t afford to pay and a young son to care for. Yet Jennie gets a second chance at life and love—if she’s not afraid or too proud to take this chance—when she is hired to nurse the elderly Mrs. Parrish. ­Kirkpatrick (This Road We Traveled) bases her story on the real-life Jennie Pickett, one of the first woman doctors on the Oregon frontier. Painting a detailed portrait of life in the early American West, she shines a harsh light on the cruelty and abuse, as well as the drug addiction and alcoholism that raged in the camps and small towns. VERDICT Strong characters, exceptional settings, and a tender romance make this a story most readers will appreciate. Suggest to fans of Pam Hillman and Tracie Peterson’s “Sapphire Brides” series.

redstarPhillips, Krista. The Engagement Plot. Shiloh Run. Nov. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781683223160. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683223153. CF

Reality TV stars Hanna Knight and Will Preston’s engagement is destroyed when Will suggests an impropriety with “Holy Hanna” on national television. Devastated, she heads home to Minnesota to escape the press and social media gossip. Now six months later, Will has come to apologize. Against her better judgment, Hanna allows herself to fall back into the publicity trap so Will can save his job. However, the road to salvation is fraught with pitfalls and the two are brought to their knees more than once on their journey. ­VERDICT With the message that it is never too late to turn back to God, this faith-filled romance is absolutely impossible to put down. ­Phillips’s (A Side of Faith, Hope, and Love) entertaining, heartwarming, and compelling love story will satisfy admirers of Francine Rivers and Susan Anne Mason.

redstarPhoenix, Michèle. The Space Between Words. Thomas Nelson. Sept. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780718086442. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718086459. CF

After surviving a terrorist bombing at a Paris nightclub, Jessica feels as though her life is over. It is only through encouragement from her friend Patrick that she is able to continue on their trip to the south of France. At a flea market, she finds a document hidden in an antique that details the life of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who managed to endure during the persecution of the Huguenots, French Protestants. Needing to focus on something other than the horror of the attack, ­Jessica begins researching the Baillard family and their amazing tale of survival amidst awful loss. Adeline’s story helps Jessica reframe her own terrible experience. VERDICT Phoenix’s (Of Stillness and Storm) powerful and compelling novel reflects how the past can give us hope for the future. A surprising plot twist adds a bittersweet flavor. Fluid writing and seamless transitions from history to the present make this the author’s best book yet.

Pittman, Allison. Loving Luther. Tyndale. Sept. 2017. 432p. ISBN 9781496426727. $25.99; pap. ISBN 9781414390451. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781496426734. CF

Katharina von Bora gave her heart to ­Martin Luther after reading his treatise, “The Freedom of a Christian.” Years later, she has an opportunity to meet the man whose words led to his excommunication by the pope from the Roman Catholic Church. Katharina is captivated by his fervor, and her expectations are only enhanced by their meeting. Luther is also enchanted but unwilling to foist his simple life as a clergyman upon a woman he feels deserves much more than he can give. As their friendship deepens, Luther realizes that his heart can hold two loves: God and ­Katharina. ­VERDICT Pittman’s (On Shifting Sand) beautifully rendered historical romance is told from the point of view of Katherina von Bora (1525–46), the wife of Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation. Accessible writing infused with romantic tension creates a provocative and heartwarming read.

Scott, Latayne C. A Conspiracy of Breath. Trinity Southwest Univ. Sept. 2017. 430p. ISBN 9781945750069. pap. $15.99. CF

Inspired by the New Testament’s Epistle to the Hebrews, whose authorship is rooted in mystery, this biblical novel revolves around Priscilla, a gentile who witnesses the rise and fall of Yeshua of Nazareth’s ministry and slowly converts from worshipping the Roman gods to becoming a Christian. Scott (coauthor, Discovering the City of Sodom) vividly depicts life under Roman rule, capturing the terror of a time when Christians were subject to severe persecution. Drawing on contemporary detail is impeccable. Her absorbing prose style and skill in managing the many nuances of everyday life in the ancient world bring the historical events to life. Verdict Suggest to readers interested in a story that will make them think in a new way about the Scriptures. Fans of Tessa Afshar, Angela Hunt, and Jill Eileen Smith will find this an intriguing take on a popular subject.

redstarWhitlow, Robert. A Time To Stand. Thomas Nelson. Sept. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9780718083038. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718083748. CF

Rising black attorney Adisa Johnson wins her first big legal case, but her less-than-stellar interview afterward results in her termination from the prestigious law firm. With nowhere to go but home, she returns to find her town divided along racial lines in the aftermath of a white police officer shooting an unarmed black teen, now in a coma. After reviewing the case, Adisa signs on to represent the officer, resulting in a personal and professional backlash. The court scenes by the author, who is also an attorney, are engaging, but the nonlegal dialog can be a bit stilted. VERDICT A nice option for book groups, Christy Award winner Whitlow’s (The Witnesses) timely story shines a spotlight on prejudice, race, and the pursuit of justice in a world bent on blind revenge. Fans of Greg Iles’s Natchez Burning will find this just as ­compelling if not more so.

Series lineup

Bradley, Patricia. Justice Buried: A Memphis Cold Case Novel. Revell. Sept. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780800727123. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493410989. CF

In Bradley’s second “Memphis Cold Case” stand-alone title (after Justice Delayed), security specialist Kelsey Allen’s museum theft case turns into a murder investigation. Complicating her job is the homicide detective, who presents a blast from Kelsey’s past. For romantic suspense fans.

Deering, Julianna. Death at Thorburn Hall: A Drew Farthering Mystery. Bethany House. Nov. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780764218293. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493411931. CF

The 1935 British Open in Scotland is supposed to be a relaxing vacation for Drew Farthering and his wife. But he can’t refuse a request from his host, Lord Rainsby, to probe a possible embezzlement. Shortly after, Lord Rainsby is killed, and the ­Fartherings are once again in the midst of another murder case. This sixth series entry (after Murder on the Moor) will delight Agatha Christie fans.

Hake, Kelly Eileen. Brides of Montana: 3-in-1 Historical Romance Collection. Barbour. (50 States of Love). Oct. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781683222866. pap. $12.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683222880. CF

Set over three different time periods, this latest trio of regional romances (after Tracey V. Bateman’s Brides of Kansas) takes place in Saddleback, MT. When Dustin Friemont’s fiancée arrives earlier than expected in 1864, what she finds could steer her in a new direction. Rosalind MacLean’s excitement over the coming railroad in 1886 is tempered by scout Ewan Gailbraith’s warnings about hidden dangers. Finally, Nessa Gailbraith decides that perhaps Isaac Friemont is not the man of her dreams when another romance interest arrives on the scene in 1916.

Myers, Bill & others. The Assault. Bethany House. (Harbingers, Bk. 2). Aug. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780764219757. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441231468. CF

A looming evil awaits to eradicate humanity, and four strangers, introduced in Invitation, reunite to stop it. Best-selling suspense authors Myers, Frank E. Peretti, Angela Hunt, and Alton Gansky narrate this quartet’s adventures through four interconnected stories of pulse-pounding thrills that will delight fans of Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

Additional Christian Fiction

Alexander, Tamera. To Wager Her Heart. Zondervan. (Belle Meade Plantation, Bk. 3). Aug. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780310349686. $24.99; pap. ISBN 9780310291084. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780310413189. CF

In post–Civil War Nashville, Alexandra Jamison’s world is not changing as quickly as she would like. Her parents want her to accept an arranged marriage after her fiancé is killed in a train accident. Instead, she fulfills her dream of teaching at Fisk University, the first freedmen’s college in the United States, even though it means leaving her privileged lifestyle. Meanwhile, Sy Rutledge has come to Nashville to clear his father’s name as the engineer in the fatal train crash and to place a bid on building a rail line. Sy is a brash outsider who needs to learn how to finesse his way into the city’s genteel high society. His tutor in Southern etiquette is Alexandra. As the two become better acquainted, they begin to build mutual respect, trust, and love for each other. VERDICT A pleasurable read for both historical fiction and romance fans, this novel doesn’t neglect the harsh realities of the time, commenting on the era’s racism, and featuring characters who rely on God. Following To Win Her Heart, this third series title may also be read as a stand-alone. Recommended for readers of Tracie Peterson and Jody Hedlund.—Margaret ­Bentley, ­Shiawassee Dist. Lib., Owosso, MI

redstarParks, Carrie Stuart. Portrait of Vengeance: A Gwen Marcey Novel. Thomas Nelson. Aug. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780718083786. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718083830. CF

In her fourth and final outing (after When Death Draws Near), forensic artist Gwen Marcey realizes that the clues in the case of a missing child in Idaho are similar to a traumatic event she suffered in her youth. With the intermingling of the crimes, past and present, her colleagues wonder if she can still do the job without getting too personally involved. Meanwhile, Gwen’s ex-husband threatens to take sole custody of their daughter. Parks (herself a well-known forensic artist) is a seasoned writer of inspirational “edge-of-your-seat” suspense and mystery. Her latest title is a carefully researched and thoughtfully executed novel that will leave readers begging for more. VERDICT Fans of Dee ­Henderson, ­DiAnn Mills, and Brandilyn Collins will flock to this suspenseful series.—Shondra Brown, Wakarusa P.L., IN

Christine Sharbrough is Head of Reader Services, Chelmsford Public Library, MA. She loves Christian fiction for the inspiration and hope it gives to readers

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