Christian Fiction Reviews | November 1, 2005

By Tamara Butler

STILL A WOMAN’S WORLD Although male authors and protagonists have made a strong showing in the genre over the past few years, novels by women writers about strong female relationships still dominate the Christian fiction market. Especially popular are chick lit and "mom lit": Kristin Billerbeck’s "Ashley Stockingdale" chick-lit series and new "Spa Girls Collection" series; Robin Jones Gunn’s "Sisterchicks" series; Neta Jackson’s girlfriend fiction, the "Yada Yada Prayer Group" series; and Judy Baer’s promising "Whitney Chronicles." Also attracting readers’ attention are historical romances (Ruth Axtell Morren’s Lilac Spring), mother-daughter dramas (Lynn Austin’s All She Ever Wanted), and Beverly Lewis’s Amish series (The Preacher’s Daughter).

OrangeReviewStar Christian Fiction Reviews | November 1, 2005 AUSTIN, LYNN. All She Ever Wanted. Bethany. 2005. c.400p. ISBN 0-7642-2889-7. pap. $13.99. CF

Thirty years ago, Kathleen Seymour left Riverside to build a good life with husband Mike and daughter Joelle in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Maryland and never looked back. Lately, however, Joelle’s teenage rebellion is leaving Kathleen exasperated. After a shoplifting arrest, the family sees a therapist, who suggests that the key to helping Joelle lies in her mother’s making peace with her unhappy childhood. While Kathleen wants nothing to do with her estranged family, she is intent on helping her daughter and so accepts an invitation to a party for her father. During the road trip, Kathleen tries to explain her family difficulties to Joelle: with a thief for a father, brothers in and out of trouble, a mother who gave up on life, and an eccentric uncle obsessed with communism, Kathleen has few happy memories. Before long, the reader learns the reasons behind each character’s actions. Austin’s rich portrait of a family’s rise from ruin is marred only by a saccharine ending. Still, it is well worth the read. Recommended for most collections. The three-time Christy Award winner (Fire by Night; Candle in the Darkness; Hidden Places) lives in the Chicago area.

BILLERBECK, KRISTIN. She’s All That. Integrity. (Spa Girls Collection™). 2005. c.256p. ISBN 1-59145-328-3. $13.99. CF

The award-winning author of the "Ashley Stockingdale" series is back with a new chick-lit franchise. Three friends – Lilly, Morgan, and Poppy – stay in touch by spending time together at the Spa Del Mar, where they dish about life, love, and work. The focus here is on Lilly, who knows she has no future at Sara Lang Couture after she’s passed over for a promotion. Although armed with a Stanford MBA, Lilly had left finance to pursue her dream of being a fashion designer, so she is crushed when her boss pressures her to take the job of chief financial officer instead. As bad as she feels, however, Lilly is not ready to give up on her calling from God. Billerbeck is sharp and funny, and the witty adventures of her young women will attract many readers. A plus: the Christian element is front and center but never preachy. This debut title will most likely have crossover appeal for fans of Meg Cabot or Helen Fielding. Recommended for most collections. Billerbeck lives near Sacramento, CA.

DIGIOVANNI, DEBBIE. Reality Queen. Howard Pub. (Motherhood Club). Jan. 2006. c.256p. ISBN 1-58229-487-9. pap. $12.99. CF

Empty-nest syndrome has left fortysomething mom Stephy Daniels with too much time on her hands. Then her neighbor, Katie, sets up an interview for her at the Home Living Channel. Working as a production assistant turns out to be little more than a gopher job, but Stephy starts to enjoy this new phase of her life – only to have it all come crashing down. An unscrupulous co-worker tries to get her fired, but Stephy gets a second chance when she pitches an idea for a reality show revolving around herself, an ordinary woman who gets the chance to produce a reality TV show. This entry in DiGiovanni’s popular "Motherhood Club" series (after Concessions and Tight Squeeze) is a light, breezy read that will appeal to fans of Robin Jones Gunn’s "Sisterchicks" series and mom lit. Recommended for public libraries. DiGiovanni lives in Montana.

EFKEN, MEREDITH. SAHM I Am. Steeple Hill Café. Nov. 2005. c.336p. ISBN 0-373-78551-8. pap. $12.95. CF

Mom lit meets the Internet in this story of stay-at-home women who communicate through an email discussion group. Members include Dulcie Huckleberry, who feels neglected by her husband; the free-spirited Zelia Muzuwa; Brenna Lindberg, a transplanted farmer’s wife; and Phyllis Lorimer, the outspoken minister’s wife. The group is moderated by overly perky Rosalyn Ebberly, who recommends her family tradition of greeting the man of the house every evening with fresh clothes and hairdos while singing the badly written "Daddy’s Song." The women support one other through their shared struggles and experiences with infertility, embryo adoption, and marriage while never forgetting to keep a sense of humor. Written in the tradition of Erma Bombeck, this fine first novel is recommended for CF and women’s fiction collections. Efken lives in Nebraska.

HUNT, ANGELA. The Novelist. WestBow: Thomas Nelson. Jan. 2006. c.320p. ISBN 0-8499-4483-X. $19.99. CF

Writer Jordan Casey Kerrigan has made a comfortable living with her "Rex Tower" spy novels. When she decides to teach a creative writing course at a local community college, one of her students, Ian Morley, challenges Jordan to write something personal instead of formulaic. A practicing Christian, she is afraid that exposing her own reality may turn off her readers, who are used to the adventures of her action hero. Taking up Ian’s challenge, however, Jordan begins to write a novel that she hopes will help her reach Zack, her 21-year-old son, whose volatile behavior has her stymied. This is not Christy Award winner (By Dawn’s Early Light) Hunt’s best work, but it has a quick, thought-provoking plot that will gratify her fans. Recommended where Florida resident Hunt is in demand.

OrangeReviewStar Christian Fiction Reviews | November 1, 2005 LEWIS, BEVERLY. The Preacher’s Daughter. Bethany. (Annie’s People, Bk. 1). 2005. c.352p. ISBN 0-7642-0105-0. pap. $13.99. CF

In this winning first volume of a new series set in Paradise, PA, Lewis once again focuses on Amish life (see also the "Abram’s Daughters" and "Heritage of Lancaster County" series). Creating art has always been a passion for Annie Zook, but it is forbidden in her Old Order Amish community. Her turmoil over it has already delayed her final commitment to the church and caused her to lose the man she loves. The only person whom Annie feels free to share her troubled heart with is her pen pal in California, Louisa Stratford. Although her life is as different from Annie’s as day from night, the two young women share a love of art. Louisa is planning to get married herself, but after finding out some unsavory information about her fiancé, she decides to take refuge with her Amish friend. Lewis’s well-developed characters and absorbing plot will have fans looking forward to the next installment. Highly recommended for all collections. Raised in Pennsylvania’s Amish country, Lewis now resides in Colorado.

MORREN, RUTH AXTELL. Lilac Spring. Steeple Hill. Dec. 2005. c.290p. ISBN 0-373-78550-X. pap. $12.95. CF

Cherish Winslow has admired her father’s shipbuilding apprentice, Silas van der Zee, since she was five years old and he was 12. When she returns home from years of schooling and traveling abroad, Cherish finds that her father has bigger plans for her than a life with the impoverished apprentice; he does his best to push her in the direction of the more socially appropriate Warren Townsend. Morren’s (Wild Rose; Winter Is Past) engrossing style is sure to please her readers as well as win over new fans. Set in 19th-century Maine, this pleasing saga has likable characters and just enough tension to satisfy gentle romance enthusiasts. A former resident of the Down East coast of Maine, the author and her family have recently relocated to the Netherlands.

OrangeReviewStar Christian Fiction Reviews | November 1, 2005 WATSON, JAN. Troublesome Creek. Tyndale House. Nov. 2005. c.370p. ISBN 1-4143-0447-1. pap. $12.99. CF

Laura Grace Brown, nicknamed "Copper" owing to her hair color, loves her Kentucky mountain home more than life (her father, Will, grew up there). So when her aunt (and stepmother) Grace attempts to send her to boarding school for some city refinement, she resists. Grace, who married Will after her sister Julie’s death, longs to return to the life she left behind. But she has fallen in love with her husband, even though she knows she will never replace her sister in Will’s heart. Set in the 1880s, this is a compelling, layered story of love, misunderstandings, and the difficult choices we are all forced to make in life. Surprisingly, the relationship between the secondary characters, Will and Grace Brown, is as satisfying as Copper’s own story. Watson loses some steam in the novel’s latter part, but she hints that there may be more "Troublesome Creek" stories in the future. Winner of the 2004 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild "Operation First Novel" contest, this is recommended for historical fiction collections. Watson lives in Kentucky.

ALSO OF INTEREST

BEDFORD, DEBORAH. Remember Me. Warner Faith. Nov. 2005. c.304p. ISBN 0-446-69043-0. pap. $12.99. CF

Summer vacations at Maine’s Piddock Beach, where he met a girl named Aubrey, are Pastor Sam Tibbits’s favorite childhood memories. Only his feelings for his old sweetheart have never really gone away. The last time he visited the beach town was to propose to Aubrey, but she had moved and left no forwarding address. Thirty years later, Sam is facing a spiritual crisis after his brother-in-law’s tragic death. When his board of deacons insists that he take a sabbatical, Sam revisits Piddock Beach, where fate brings Aubrey into his life once more. RITA-nominated Bedford (When You Believe; If I Had You) spins a rich tale that flows beautifully. Not a typical romance novel, this is sure to please fans of Nicholas Walker or Richard Paul Evans. Recommended for public libraries. Bedford lives in Wyoming.

Thou Shalt Not Kill: Biblical Mystery Stories. Carroll & Graf. Jan. 2006. c.320p. ed. by Anne Perry. ISBN 0-7867-1575-8. pap. $15.95. CF

The Bible provides the themes for this collection of offbeat mysteries by acclaimed writers in the field. In Simon Brett’s "Cain Was Innocent," Inspector Gabriel finds himself in the afterlife lamenting the lack of crimes to investigate. So he and his assistant, Sergeant Uriel, decide to reopen the case of the first murder, that of Cain killing his brother, Abel. Other highlights include the familiar Father Dowling character in Ralph McInerny’s tale of redemption, "Fear and Trembling"; a modern-day telling of the story of King David in Brendan DuBois’s "The Temptation of King David"; and Peter Robinson’s "The Birthday Dance," based on the story of John the Baptist’s demise. Told with quirky humor or dry irony, these tales are thought-provoking in their nontraditional approach to familiar biblical tales. Recommended for both CF and mystery collections. Editor Perry lives in Scotland.

WANGERIN, WALTER, JR. Jesus. Zondervan. Nov. 2005. c.400p. ISBN 0-310-26673-4. $19.99. CF

This celebrated author (The Book of God; Paul: A Novel; The Book of the Dun Cow) tells the story of Jesus Christ through the voices of his mother, Mary, and the Apostle John. There is nothing controversial in this retelling, and readers will be drawn into the unfolding events. The character of Mary is well done, but some of the others lack development. Still, Wangerin provides an engrossing work that will satisfy devotees of biblical fiction. Recommended for most collections. Wangerin resides in Indiana. [Also tackling the Jesus story are "Left Behind" series author Jerry Jenkins's recently published novella Holding Heaven (Integrity) and Anne Rice's long-awaited Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. - Ed.]

CHRISTIAN FICTION IN BRIEF

ARANA, NIKKI. The Winds of Sonoma. Revell. (Regalo Grande, Bk. 1). 2005. c.336p. ISBN 0-8007-3048-8. pap. $12.99. CF

Angelica Amante has been offered a position at a major law firm in New York, but her heart is leading her toward a more rewarding life back home at her parents’ vineyard in California. Angelica soon meets Antonio, who fled poverty in Mexico to find work in the United States. Although they are attracted to each other, their dissimilar backgrounds prove to be an obstacle. The first in a trilogy. Arana lives in Idaho.

BLACKSTOCK, TERRI. Last Light. Zondervan. (Restoration, Bk. 1). 2005. c.352p. ISBN 0-310-25767-0. pap. $14.99. CF

In the opener of Blackstock’s new series, a catastrophe from an unknown source causes all the electricity in the world to fail, cutting off mass communication. Families must decide whether to panic or trust in God. The best-selling author of the "CapeRefuge" and "Newpointe 911" series lives in Mississippi.

BLAMIRES, HARRY. New Town: A Fable…Unless You Believe. Revell. 2005. c.176p. ISBN 0-8007-5997-4. pap. $12.99. CF

Bernard Dayman thinks he has died when he finds himself in the decaying city of Old Town in this allegory about Heaven and Earth written by a friend and protégé of C.S. Lewis. When Dayman learns of the more desirable New Town, he is determined to get there. Blamires lives in England.

BROWN, DON. Hostage. Zondervan. Nov. 2005. c.352p. ISBN 0-310-25934-7. pap. $12.99. CF

JAG Officer Zack Brewer (Treason) wants to live a quiet life after prosecuting three terrorists who had posed as navy chaplains, but he’s targeted for revenge. He is put in an impossible situation where he must choose between peace for the world and the woman he loves. A former navy JAG officer, Brown practices law in North Carolina.

HOPKINS, BONNIE. Seasons. Walk Worthy: Warner. 2005. c.386p. ISBN 0-446-57846-0. $21.95. CF

In this first novel, Jacetta Winters has fought to make a better life for herself, but events conspire to ruin it all when she finds herself facing a middle-aged pregnancy, a rival at work, and the father of her grown daughter. This time, however, Jacetta has God to help her face the seasons in her life. The author lives in Houston. [A Glory Girls selection.]

JACKSON, NETA. The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Tough. Integrity. 2005. c.400p. ISBN 1-59145-358-5. pap. $13.99. CF

The fourth book of Jackson’s popular series (after The Yada Yada Prayer Group; The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Down; and The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Real) brings drama to the friends’ lives. Nony and Jodi are having family problems, Stu is dealing with a difficult roommate, and Chandra is learning lessons about money. Jackson lives in Illinois.

MCCUSKER, PAUL. A Season of Shadows. Zondervan. 2005. c.320p. ISBN 0-310-25432-9. pap. $12.99. CF

A sudden widow, socialite Julie Harris finds herself drawn into a dangerous world of treachery and savagery in World War II London. In her new position with the American Embassy, Julie will be faced with many challenges and must decide who to trust with her life. McCusker lives in Colorado.

NORMAN-BELLAMY, KENDRA & OTHERS. Thicker Than Water. BET, dist. by Kensington. 2005. c.288p. ISBN 1-58314-646-6. pap. $14. CF

Three compelling stories involving twins make up this collection by a trio of popular African American authors. In Norman-Bellamy’s "A Gracious Thanksgiving," fraternal twins Deshawn and Shandi meet after being raised apart. In Maxine Billings’s "A Healing of the Hearts," 30-year-old Kenya and Zaire have grown apart and must overcome misunderstandings to reconnect. Linda Hudson-Smith’s "The Devil’s Advocate" reunites a wealthy man with his estranged children, Stephen and Stephanie. Norman-Bellamy resides in Georgia; Hudson-Smith has homes in Texas and California.

PETERSON, TRACIE. What She Left for Me.Bethany. 2005. c.352p. ISBN 0-7642-2776-9. pap. $12.99. CF

Jana McGuire’s pastor husband has run off with his secretary. Pregnant and left with nothing, she must turn to her mother, who is not too happy to see the daughter who stirs up so many buried memories. An eccentric relative may be their only hope of reaching reconciliation. Peterson lives in Montana.

RANEY, DEBORAH. Over the Waters. Steeple Hill. 2005. c.336p. ISBN 0-373-78543-7. pap. $12.99. CF

Plastic surgeon Max Jordan is transformed by a visit to impoverished Haiti, where his encounters with volunteer Valerie Austin make him rethink his values and millionaire lifestyle. Can he really return to his old life? RITA Award winner Raney (Beneath a Southern Sky) lives in Kansas.

SNELLING, LAURA & LENORA WORTH. Once Upon a Christmas. Steeple Hill. Nov. 2005. c.304p. ISBN 0-373-78547-X. $14.95. CF

In CBA best-selling author Snelling’s "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," Blythe Stensrude and Thane Davidson meet in the park when their dogs get entangled. Sparks fly until Thane becomes the caretaker of his three-year-old niece, and Blythe is not sure she is mother material. In Romantic Times Award – winning Worth’s "Twas the Week Before Christmas," socialite Elize Melancon’s grandmother hatches a plan for Elize to help tame the handsome Theo Galliano so he can date another woman. Snelling resides in California, and Worth calls Louisiana home.

IN BRIEF

Tyndale House recently acquired the rights to best-selling author Dee Henderson’s Multnomah backlist, including her "O’Malley" and "Uncommon Heroes" series.


Tamara Butler (trbutler@bryantstratton.edu) is System Director for Library Services at Bryant & Stratton College in Buffalo, NY. She has several years’ experience in collection development and readers’ services in public and academic libraries.

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