When you hear the term Christian fiction, what comes to mind? Preachy reads with no sex, profanity, or other elements that do not seem “Christian,” perhaps? As a fairly new librarian, I have to admit to a previous aversion to the genre based on nothing more than my own ignorance of what the literature really was. But as I tried my first Christian fiction novel and continued to educate myself about the genre, I realized that this misunderstood and diverse material could appeal to a much broader readership—much broader than perhaps librarians realize.
In this month’s column, readers will find the expected biblical and uplifting inspirational fiction (Leslie Cannold’s The Book of Rachael; Donald W. Bartow’s The Gospel According to Mary, Mother of Jesus); Brennan Manning and Greg Garrett’s The Prodigal). But there are also those edgier titles that showcase the darker side of the human condition: sex trafficking, murder, and the stigma that still attaches itself to mental illness (Erin Healy’s Stranger Things; Suzanne Field’s The Painted Table).
As I move forward as LJ’s new Christian fiction columnist, I will offer more crossover and read-alike titles to assist librarians, especially those who do not read these books regularly, in helping their patrons explore a gem of a genre and to discover that, as with Carla Kelly’s Safe Passage, readers do not have to give up action, adventure, and romance because a novel is labeled “Christian fiction.”
Field, Suzanne. The Painted Table. Thomas Nelson. Dec. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781401689704. pap. $15.99. CF
Having lost her mother at an early age, Joann Kirkeborg found refuge from sadness and fear by hiding under the large table the family brought with them from Norway. But after her marriage to Nels and the birth of their daughter, Saffee, Joann develops a mental illness and focuses her attention on the table of her childhood, now in her possession. She repeatedly paints it, perhaps in the hopes of erasing a painful past that she cannot escape and questions that she is afraid to answer about the present. After Joann’s death, Saffee receives the table and worries that she, too, may have inherited Joann’s psychosis. VERDICT In this beautifully written debut novel, the author expertly depicts the devastating impact that mental illness can have on family members. Recommended for fans of Michael MacDonald’s All Souls: A Family Story from Southie.
Reay, Katherine. Dear Mr. Knightley. Thomas Nelson. Nov. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781401689681. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401689698. CF
Orphaned at an early age, Samantha Moore comforts herself by escaping into classic novels. Confronted with uncomfortable situations, she retreats, acting out the roles of the heroes and heroines. When an anonymous benefactor known only as Mr. Knightley offers to pay her way through Northwestern University’s prestigious journalism school, the only condition is that Samantha write regular letters to him detailing her progress. College life is not easy. Samantha’s classmates find it odd that she cannot converse in her own words, and her journalism professor threatens her with expulsion if she cannot put some of herself into her work. Slowly, she begins to find her own voice while her relationship with the mysterious Mr. Knightley deepens. Can she develop enough self-trust to create meaningful friendships, improve her writing, and possibly engage in a romantic relationship? VERDICT This delightful debut novel about how one young woman learns to become the person she was meant to be will resonate with fans of New Adult fiction and with readers who enjoy Jane Austen spin-offs.
Kelly, Carla. Safe Passage. Bonneville: Cedar Fort. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781599558967. pap. $8.99. CF
The violent upheaval of the 1912 Mexican revolution has forced the members of a Mormon settlement to flee across the border into New Mexico. But Ammon’s estranged wife, Addie, is not among them. Her father pays Ammon to return to Mexico and find his daughter; however, conditions in the country have worsened, and Ammon is unsure if Addie is still alive. Eventually they reconnect, but the journey is not over, as the couple encounter dangers that try their faith and their marriage. VERDICT The Whitney Award–winning Kelly’s (Borrowed Light; My Loving Vigil Keeping) latest work is an inspirational story of love and strength in the face of adversity that is sure to appeal to fans of Western romances and tales of romantic suspense.
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Bartow, Donald W. The Gospel According to Mary, Mother of Jesus. Wholeness. Dec. 2013. 192p. index. ISBN 9781893042162. pap. $22.99. CF
Cannold, Leslie. The Book of Rachael. Text. Dec. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781921758089. pap. $15.95. CF
Dobson, James & Kurt Bruner. Childless. FaithWords: Hachette. 2013. 448p. ISBN 9781455513154. pap. $20. CF
Gabhart, Ann H. Christmas at Harmony Hill: A Shaker Story. Revell. 2013. 208p. ISBN 9780800719821. pap. $15.99. CF
Healy, Erin. Stranger Things. Thomas Nelson. Dec. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9781401689582. pap. $15.99. CF
Lankford, J.R. The Covert Messiah. Great Reads. (Jesus Thief Thrillers, Bk. 4). 2013. 276p. ISBN 9780971869486. pap. $16.95. CF
Love, Dorothy. Carolina Gold. Thomas Nelson. Dec. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781401687618. pap. $15.99. CF
Manning, Brennan & Greg Garrett. The Prodigal: A Ragamuffin Story. Zondervan. Nov. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780310339007. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780310339021. CF
Carlson, Melody. A Simple Christmas Wish. Revell. 2013. 176p. ISBN 9780800719654. pap. $15.99. CF
Lauer, Rosalind. A Simple Faith: A Lancaster Crossroads Novel. Ballantine. (Lancaster Crossroads, Vol. 1). Nov. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780345543264. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780345543271. CF