Christian Fiction Reviews | June 1, 2005

By Tamara Butler

A Man’s World

After several years of domination by female-centered plots, Christian fiction is now burgeoning with novels that deal with the earthly and spiritual struggles of men. Portrayed with more flaws and rough edges than the female protagonists found in women’s fiction, these men suffer from failed marriages, problems with alcohol, bad career choices, and, in some cases, bad attitudes. What they all have in common, though, is the desire to do better here and now and to discover God’s plans for their lives.

This season’s strong male characters include an Old Testament king seeking redemption for himself and his kingdom (Lynn Austin’s Song of Redemption), ministers facing crises in their personal and professional lives (Britta Coleman’s Potter Springs, Patricia Hickman’s Whisper Town), young men running from their mistakes (W. Dale Cramer’s Levi’s Will, Eric Wilson’s Expiration Date), and guys finding love in unexpected places (Xenia Ruiz’s Choose Me and Linda Windsor’s Fiesta Moon).

AUSTIN, LYNN. Song of Redemption. Bethany. (Chronicles of the Kings, Bk. 2). 2005. c.321p. ISBN 0-7642-2990-7. pap. $12.99. CF

Austin’s rewritten and repackaged ‘Chronicle of the Kings’ series continues the story of Hezekiah (716-687 B.C.E.), King ofJudah, first begun in Gods and Kings. Hezekiah is determined to return to the God of his forefathers, but this requires him to give up his concubines and to choose only one wife. The king also must learn to trust Yahweh over his advisers as he faces the cruel Assyrians, who have wreaked havoc in the northern kingdom of Israel and who are moving southward to Judah. Three-time Christy Award winner Austin (Fire by Night, Candle in the Darkness and Hidden Places) tells a compelling, multilayered story with richly drawn, believable characters who will engage readers’ sympathies. Highly recommended for all collections. Austin (www. lynnaustin.org) lives near Chicago.

COLEMAN, BRITTA. Potter Springs. Center Street: Warner. Jun. 2005. c.291p. ISBN 0-446-57778-2. $18.95. CF

Next in line to become senior pastor of one of Houston’s largest churches, Mark Reynolds thinks he has all his ducks in a row. But when his fiancée, Amanda, becomes pregnant, the only congregation he can lead is in the small town of Potter Springs. The repercussions of their actions have a profound effect on Mark and Amanda’s relationship, creating emotional as well as physical distance. Although this is a competent first novel, the stilted dialog and underdeveloped characters diminish the overall effectiveness. Purchase for regional collections only. Coleman (www.brittacoleman.com) lives in Fort Worth, TX.

.CRAMER, W. DALE. Levi’s Will. Bethany. Jun. 2005. c.281p. ISBN 0-7642-2995-8. pap. $13.99. CF

Running away in the middle of the night, 19-year-old William Mullet flees not only a dogmatic father but a pregnant girlfriend and his Old Order Amish community in Ohio. It’s 1943, and William enters an unfamiliar world. Changing his name to William McGruder, the young man enlists in the military and begins living a lie that becomes more complicated with each turn. Cramer’s third novel (after Sutter’s Cross and Bad Ground) expands on his unique talent for creating complex, fallen heroes and examining the complicated relationships between fathers and sons. Readers who enjoyed Evie Yoder Miller’s Eyes at the Window or Beverly Lewis’s ‘Abram’s Daughters’ or ‘The Heritage of Lancaster County’ series will want this title. Highly recommended for all collections. Cramer (www.dalecramer.com) resides in Georgia.

GULLEY, PHILIP. A Change of Heart: A Harmony Novel. HARPERSANFRANCISCO. JULY 2005. C.256P. ISBN: 0-06-076245-4. $18.95. CF

The fifth novel in Gulley’s popular ‘Harmony’ series (after Home to Harmony, Just Shy of Harmony, Christmas in Harmony, and Signs and Wonders) is yet another delightful account of Pastor Sam Gardner’s trials and tribulations with the quirky residents of a small Indiana town. Local beauty Deena Morrison is finally getting married, and the whole town is caught up in the wedding festivities. The cantankerous Dale Hinshaw faces his greatest challenge yet, and Ellis and Miriam Hodge feel threatened by the biological parents of their adopted daughter, Amanda. Gulley’s rhythmic prose flows like honey, and it’s impossible not to feel for Sam as he tries to guide his flock even though they don’t listen to him most of the time. Fans of Jan Karon’s ‘Mitford’ series and anyone who enjoys gentle reads will find Gulley’s natural storytelling irresistible. This gem deserves a place in all public libraries. Gulley (www.philipgulleybooks. com) is a Quaker minister in Indiana.

HICKMAN, PATRICIA. Whisper Town. Warner Faith: Warner. (Millwood Hollow). Jun. 2005. c.264p. ISBN 0-446-69234-4. pap. $12.99. CF

The third book in Hickman’s ‘Millwood Hollow’ series (after Fallen Angels and Nazareth’s Song) continues the saga of minister Jeb Nubey and his three adopted children in Depression-era Nazareth, AR. When he finds an African American infant abandoned on his doorstep, Jeb’s decision to care for her will test the character of his neighbors as they battle their own racism. The author’s skill in weaving her story keeps the novel from becoming overly sentimental, and readers will care about the likable characters. Hickman (www.patriciahickman.com) lives in North Carolina.

RUIZ, XENIA. Choose Me. Walk Worthy: Warner. Jun. 2005. c.376p. ISBN 0-446-57670-0. $23.95. CF

Surviving cancer has changed Chicago probation officer Adam Black; after radiation and chemotherapy took its toll, he withdrew from people, especially women. He also allowed his spiritual life to grow cold. When best friend Luciano tries to set him up with the sister of his mistress, Adam is not sure it is such a good idea. Still he agrees to meet Eva Clemente, a 40-year-old Afro-Latina single mother who has committed herself to a celibate life for the last five years out of frustration with men and a desire to enrich her relationship with God. Narrated in the alternating voices of Adam and Eva, Ruiz’s novel mixes a conversational tone with realistic, flawed characters to create a refreshing story of love and reaffirming faith in midlife. Recommended for all collections, especially those with a demand for African American and Latino titles. Ruiz (www.xeniaruiz.com) makes her home in Chicago.

WILSON, ERIC. Expiration Date. WaterBrook: Random. 2005. c.400p. ISBN 1-57856-745-9. pap. $13.99. CF

Coming back to his hometown of Junction City, OR, is a bitter pill for ex-basketball player Clay Ryker to swallow. An unsuccessful business and a failed marriage have left him alone and miserable. Clay also harbors a shocking secret; he can foresee the exact date that a person will die merely by touching their skin. While Clay races against time to prevent these deaths, a sinister plot dating back to the 1917 Russia of Rasputin and the Romanovs unfolds. The plot is intelligent but can be tedious, and the main character could have been fleshed out more. Still, readers who like Ted Dekker’s thrillers may enjoy this novel. It may also have crossover appeal for Dean Koontz fans. Recommended for public libraries. Wilson (www.wilsonwriter.com) lives in Nashville.

WINDSOR, LINDA. Fiesta Moon. WestBow: Thomas Nelson. (Moonstruck). Jul. 2005. c.224p. ISBN 0-7852-6063-3. pap. $13.99. CF

Arrogant playboy Mark Madison has just received his third DUI, and his older brother, Blaine, will give him only one more chance to shape up or lose his job at their family’s engineering firm. Blaine arranges for his little brother to do community service building an orphanage in a Mexican village instead of going to jail. Mark eagerly accepts his sentence but only because he first plans to make a side trip to Acapulco for fun and bikini-clad women. It is a dark-haired beauty named Corinne Diaz, though, who turns Mark’s world upside down. The second book in Windsor’s ‘Moonstruck’ series (after Paper Moon) is a spirited, modern inspirational romance full of charm, humor, and a touch of magic (an enchanted pig attaches itself to Mark). The spiritual aspects are never heavy-handed and are woven into the story realistically. There is also plenty of romantic tension and witty dialog, which will please romantic comedy fans and those who enjoy the feisty heroines of Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones’s Diary) or Jennifer Crusie (Bet Me). Highly recommended for CF and romance collections. Windsor (www.lindawindsor. com) lives in Maryland.

ALSO OF INTEREST

.ALEXANDER, HANNAH. Last Resort: A Hideaway Novel. Steeple Hill. Jun. 2005. c.303p. ISBN 0-373-78540-2. pap. $12.95. CF

The premonitions that once tormented former nurse Noelle Cooper have returned. Noelle knows that someone she loves is in danger. After her childhood friend, Nathan Trask, informs her of her 12-year-old cousin Clarissa’s disappearance, she returns with Nathan to her hometown of Hideaway, a place that for Noelle represents tragedy and grief. The third novel in Alexander’s ‘Hideaway’ romantic suspense series (after the Christy Award-winning Hideaway and Safe Haven) is a gripping tale with sympathetic characters that will draw readers into its web. The kidnapped Clarissa’s inner dialog may remind some of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Conservative Christians may be offended by the protagonist’s gift for discerning future events, but this aspect of the novel makes it a great book for discussion groups. Highly recommended for public libraries. Mel and Cheryl Hodds, the husband-and-wife team who are Hannah Alexander (www.hannahalexander.com), make their home in the Ozarks.

.BILLERBECK, KRISTIN. With This Ring, I’m Confused: An Ashley Stockingdale Novel. WestBow: Thomas Nelson. Jun. 2005. c.288p. ISBN 1-5955-4033-4. pap. $13.99. CF

The conclusion to Billerbeck’s ‘Ashley Stockingdale’ chick-lit series (after What a Girl Wants and She’s Out of Control) begins with 32-year-old Ashley planning her dream wedding to Dr. Kevin Novak, who happens to come from a wealthy Southern family. Arriving to help Ashley is Kevin’s sister, Emily, who takes over the planning and turns the wedding into an over-the-top Gone with the Wind extravaganza. If Emily does not push Ashley over the edge, the reappearance of her former love, Seth, just might. He had avoided marriage like the plague before but now seems interested in getting back together with Ashley. Snappy dialog and a smart, amusing writing style will satisfy Billerbeck’s many fans. Essential for public libraries and those who own the earlier series titles. Billerbick (www.kristinbillerbeck.com), who is winner of the American Christian Writers Association (ACRW) 2004 Contemporary Book of the Year (What a Girl Wants) and the Romance Writers of America’s Reader’s Choice Faith Hope and Love Award for her novellas, lives in Silicon Valley, CA.

GIST, DEEANNE. A Bride Most

Begrudging. Bethany. Jul. 2005. c.316p. ISBN 0-7642-0072-0. pap. $12.99.

CF

Virginia tobacco farmer Drew O’Connor needs a wife to do the housework and take care of his three-year-old sister, Sally. A ship from England arrives with a cargo of ‘tobacco brides,’ mostly female ex-convicts seeking a better life in Colonial America. Drew ends up purchasing two women, one of whom happens to be the daughter of an earl and held against her will on the ship. Drew does not believe Lady Constance Morrow’s story and marries her despite her obstinacy and inability to cook and run a household. What Drew and his bride do share is a strong faith in God and an attraction that just might grow into something more. This clever first novel will remind romance readers of Johanna Lindsey’s style and feisty heroines. Highly recommended for CF and romance collections. Gist lives in Houston.

HUNT, ANGELA. Unspoken. WestBow: Thomas Nelson. 2005. c.336p. ISBN 0-8499-4482-1. pap. $14.99. CF

Glee Granger is devastated when a court orders her to relinquish Sema, the gorilla she has reared and on whom she is writing her dissertation, to a life of captivity in the Thousand Oaks Zoo. Her experiences in having and losing Sema teach Glee important lessons about the relationships between humans and animals as well as between herself and the unseen world that defies scientific understanding. This latest novel from Christy Award – winning author Hunt (By Dawn’s Early Light) is a thought-provoking, intelligent work that asks the reader to consider how God communicates with his creations, both human and animal. It will please readers who thrive on books that educate as well as entertain. Recommended for all collections. Hunt (www.angelaelwellhunt. com) lives with her pastor husband near Tampa,FL.

CF IN BRIEF

BULOCK, LYNN. Love the Sinner: A Gracie

Lee Mystery. Steeple Hill Café. 2005. c.247p. ISBN 0-373-78539-9. pap. $12.95. CF

Amateur detective Gracie Lee Harris must rely on her quirky group of church friends to help clear her name in the murder of her two-timing husband. With suspects that include his pregnant mistress and the daughter he swindled, Gracie has her hands full. Like her character, Bullock, originally from Missouri, now lives in California.

COLLINS, BRANDILYN. Dead of Night. Zondervan. (Hidden Faces) 2005. c.400p. ISBN 0-310-25105-2. pap. $12.99. CF

In the third installment of the ‘Hidden Faces’ series (after Brink of Death and Stain of Guilt), forensic artist Annie Kingston is again called on to help catch a serial killer in Redding, CA. She must turn to God and the power of prayer to solve these murders. Collin (www.brandilyncollins. com) divides her time between Idaho and California.

COTE, LYN. Chloe. Warner Faith: Warner. (The Women of Ivy Manor, Bk. 1). Jun. 2005. c.296p. ISBN: 0-446-69434-7. pap. $10.99. CF

Cote’s new historical series focuses on the live of four generations of 20th-century women. In the first entry, Chloe Kimball embraces the bohemian lifestyle in New York City of the 1920s until the Great Depression strikes. Cote (www.booksbylyncote.com) currently lives in Iowa.

GANSKY, ALTON. Before Another Dies. Zondervan. Jun. 2005. c.352p. ISBN 0-310-25935-5. pap. $12.99. CF

Mysterious occurrences and unsolved murders are threatening Mayor Madison Glenn’s town of Santa Rita. Can she figure out what is going on before anyone else gets killed? And who, if anyone, can she trust to help her? Author of the ‘J.D. Stanton Mysteries’ series, Gansky (www. altongansky.com) makes his home in the California desert.

PALMER, CATHERINE. Love’s Haven. Steeple Hill. 2005. c.248p. ISBN: 0-373-78538-0. pap. $12.95. CF

The last man that recently widowed and pregnant Mara Rosemond wants to marry is Brock Barnett, the man she blames for her beloved husband’s death. Mara knows that she must put her baby’s happiness first, though, no matter what. Palmer (www. catherinepalmer.com) lives in Missouri.

PATTILLO, BETH. Heavens to Betsy. WaterBrook: Random. Jun. 2005. c.320p. ISBN 1-4000-7044-9. pap. $12.99. CF

With wit and faith, Rev. Betsy Blessing thinks that she can deal with just about anything until her limits are tested when she becomes senior minister at her church. On top of that, she is starting to have romantic feelings for fellow seminarian David Swenson. An ordained minister, Pattillo (www. bethpattillo.com) resides in Tennessee.

RICHER, LOIS. Shadowed Secrets. HeartQuest: Tyndale. 2005. c.280p. ISBN 0-8423-6438-2. pap. $10.99. CF

Angie Grant will do anything to protect her six-year-old child, the only witness to a murder. When Angie’s old friend, Sgt. Rich Mercer, discovers her taking refuge in her childhood home, Angie’s only hope is that he will follow his heart instead of turning her over to the police. Canadian author Richer (www.loisricher.com) is a resident of the province of Saskatchewan.

SAMSON, LISA. Club Sandwich. WaterBrook: Random. Jun. 2005. c.352p. ISBN 1-57856-885-4. pap. $13.99. CF

Super wife and mom Ivy Schneider knows she cannot do it all alone. With her husband away, she seeks out other women of the ‘sandwich generation': women like herself who are caught between the demands of taking care of young children and an aging mother. A 2004 Christy award winner (for Songbird), Samson (www.lisasamson.com) is a native of Baltimore.

BRIEFLY NOTED

This July Nelson Books will publish best-selling thriller author Ted Dekker’s first work of nonfiction, The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth (ISBN 0-7852-1223-X; $19.99). Dekker (Red, Black, White) argues that modern Christians need to rediscover their true pleasurable inheritance from God and escape the joyless, powerless existence many have fallen into.

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