Ella’s Debut of the Month, Clipston, Wiseman, Reay, Series Lineup, ACFW News | Christian Fiction Reviews, November 1, 2016

Despite reports of falling print sales and last year’s shuttering of the fiction imprint of Abingdon Press, the announcement in April of a new CF publisher shows that life remains in the genre. Founded by two CF industry veterans, Gilead Publishing is distinct in that it will release fiction only, with the intention of marketing stories that appeal to new adult readers, a population that libraries are struggling to define and cater to. This is exciting news! In these troubled times, it is comforting to know that authors and publishers will continue to produce fiction that help readers escape their worries while also drawing them closer to their faith.

Debut of the month

redstarElla, Sara. Unblemished. Thomas Nelson. Oct. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780718081010. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718081027. CF

unblemished-jpg101416A disfiguring facial birthmark has been the source of endless taunting for Eliyana, who hopes to survive high school unscathed. With the exception of her mother, no one treats Eliyana with kindness. Until Joshua. For the three years they have been friends, Eliyana has hoped for more. But then her mother disappears and Joshua becomes her legal guardian and takes Eliyana to an alternate New York City where nothing matters except breaking free from a powerful demon of a man and the horror of the world he has enslaved. Eliyana is an unwitting heroine who finds the internal strength to go beyond her disfigurement and selflessly give of herself in order to save someone else. VERDICT With plenty of YA crossover appeal, this engaging and suspenseful debut urban fantasy features superb worldbuilding and a tightly paced story line. Reading groups will find plenty to discuss concerning self-image, the nature of good vs. evil, and the power of the marginalized to change the world. Suggest to fans of Tosca Lee’s Demon or Ted Dekker’s Eyes Wide Open.

Amish Corner

Clipston, Amy. The Cherished Quilt. Zondervan. (Amish Heirloom, Bk. 3). Nov. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780310341963. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780310342762. CF

In Clipston’s third outing about the Fisher sisters (after The Forgotten Recipe and The Courtship Basket), Emily wonders when it will be her turn to be married. Meeting new employee Christopher Hochstetler in her father’s harness shop, she attempts to befriend him, but the young man, blinded by grief over his brother’s death, remains distant. Emily’s tenacity and determination slowly cracks open his shuttered heart. However, family trouble calls Christopher back home to Ohio. Undeterred although heartbroken, Emily sends him a quilt in the hopes that he will return to Bird-in-Hand, PA, and to her. VERDICT Clipston’s heartfelt writing and engaging characters make her a fan favorite. Her latest Amish tale combines a spiritual message of accepting God’s blessings as they are given with a sweet romance.

Gray, Shelley Shepard. An Amish Family Christmas: A Christmas Novel. Avon Inspire. (Charmed Amish Life, Bk. 4). Oct. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9780062337863. pap. $12.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062337870. CF

Levi Kinsinger, still reeling from his father’s death in a fire, returns home to Charm, OH, and has no idea what to do with himself until his widowed neighbor Julia Kemps asks him for help with her Christmas project. Julia and her daughter are newcomers in need of friendship. In agreeing to assist Julia, Levi finds a renewed purpose—and a growing attraction. Yet a stumbling block to the couple’s blossoming romance is Julia’s secret: she is a single mom posing as a widow so the Amish community will not shun her. The holidays are coming, and the couple hopes for a miracle that will erase their pasts and bring them the love they deserve. VERDICT Gray’s fourth series entry (after A Sister’s Wish) is a touching holiday tale of love and forgiveness that will please her many fans. [See Prepub Alert, 4/18/16.]

Wiseman, Beth. Love Bears All Things. Thomas Nelson. (Amish Secrets, Bk. 2). Oct. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780529118721. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780529119773. CF

In Her Brother’s Keeper, Charlotte Dolinsky had perpetrated a deception on Lancaster County’s Amish community, pretending to be one of them, in an attempt to find out the cause of her brother’s suicide. Now living in Texas and trying to recover from a breakup with her boyfriend, Charlotte receives an unexpected visitor from her former “home” in Amish country, asking for assistance. As her past resurfaces, she realizes that she needs to return to Paradise, PA. Helping Daniel Byler, who’s still spinning from his fiancée’s betrayal, save one of his family members from being shunned by the community is no small task. Daniel is wary of Charlotte. She is not only a stranger but from the English world. Will two brokenhearted souls find a way to mend together? VERDICT Wiseman’s second series installment never loses steam, and the cliff-hanger ending will have fans lining up for the third volume. Although this may work as a stand-alone, readers will better understand the various backstories by starting with the first volume. Suggest to those seeking a more truthful, less saccharine portrayal of the trials of human life and the transformative growth and redemption that may occur as a result.

Check these out

Hannon, Irene. Tangled Webs. Revell. (Men of Valor, Bk. 3). Oct. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780800724542. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493405183. CF

Seeking a bit of rest and relaxation in the woods, former Army Ranger Finn ­McGregor instead comes to the aid of a screaming woman. It seems someone is trying to ruin publishing executive Dana ­Lewis’s retreat at her lakeside cabin. What starts out as a case of vandalism soon turns more sinister, and Dana and Finn are up to their necks in trouble. Hannon crafts their developing relationship with her usual deftness and expertly ratchets up the suspense as the danger intensifies. Although the villains are always easy to identify, the author’s fans still get thrills in following the twisty story line as it spools out. VERDICT Hannon concludes her macho “Men of Valor” (Buried Secrets; Thin Ice) series with an exhilarating tale of danger and romance. Her readers will line up for this one if only to see the McGregor men in action one more time. A solid choice for fans of Ronie Kendig and Brandilyn Collins.

Herne, Ruth Logan. Home on the Range. Multnomah. (Double S Ranch, Bk. 2). Oct. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781601427786. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781601427793. CF

Single father Nick Stafford faces many challenges raising his two daughters alone on the family ranch in central Washington State. In light of her mother’s abandonment, Cheyenne is struggling in school. Enter Elsa Andreas, a former child psychologist whose sister is the school principal. Although there is an initial attraction between Nick and Elsa, who is also nursing her own wounds, their focus is on making sure his children feel loved and secure. Just as the two begin to make progress, Whitney, Nick’s ex-wife, waltzes into their lives once again. ­VERDICT In the follow-up to Back in the Saddle, Herne’s technique of building an authentic slow glow of attraction between the lead protagonists rather than having them plunge into a quick and unrealistic relationship adds to her romance’s appeal. Exquisite prose and lush descriptions of the Western setting in this character-driven novel are impeccably wrought.

Jennings, Regina. For the Record. Bethany House. Dec. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780764211423. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441230553. CF

fortherecord-jpg103116Reluctantly leaving Texas to take the sheriff’s job in Pine Gap, MO, Joel Puckett soon has his hands full trying to maintain law and order while handling an intrepid lady reporter determined to get his story. Aspiring author Betsy Huckabee has a stack of rejection letters from Kansas City newspapers uninterested in her accounts of gangs and vandals. When she meets Joel as he rescues a woman from a husband everyone thought was dead, Betsy finds a new subject for her journalistic ambitions. But she also can’t get him out of her mind. Joel has the same problem. Snappy wordplay and laugh-out-loud humor sets the scene for some truly crazy antics committed by the residents of Pine Gap. VERDICT Jennings’s (At Love’s Bidding) lighthearted tone, likable characters, and feel-good narrative with a touch of drama makes for another swoon-worthy historical romance set in the American West. Readers who appreciate Jen Turano won’t be disappointed.

Kendig, Ronie. Conspiracy of Silence. Bethany House. (Tox Files, Bk. 1). Dec. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780764217654. pap. $14.99. CF

In Saudi Arabia, searching for the historic location of the biblical Mount Sinai, archaeologist Tzivia Khalon has almost given up on her quest when she accidentally uncovers three ancient clay censers. Unbeknownst to her, when one of the censers is stolen, a secret society bent on world destruction sets loose a plague that is dubbed the New Black Death. Cole “Tox” Russell, four years after a Special Forces mission went terribly wrong, is pulled back into action and teamed up with FBI agent Kasey Cortes to track down the society in possession of the biological weaponry and the codex, the Crown of Jerusalem, needed to disable it. The tension-filled, fast-paced plot builds an almost unbearable sense of urgency that will keep readers turning the pages. Despite Tox’s military professionalism, he also reveals his human side quite frequently. ­VERDICT Launching a new suspense series, Kendig’s (Falcon) ­action-packed military thriller has overtones of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code crossed with Robin Cook’s Contagion.

Moser, Nancy. The Pattern Artist. Shiloh Run. Dec. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781634097925. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781634097949. CF

Arriving in New York City in 1911 with her employer, English housemaid Annie Wood is fascinated by all she sees. For the first time, she picks up on the American notion that she could become more than a lady’s maid. Taking a position at Macy’s New York department store as a seamstress, she is noticed by a Butterick Pattern Company representative. Her innate talent as a designer and patternmaker takes her to the heights of the fashion industry. The uplifting tone and turn-of-the-century setting will charm historical fiction readers, and fashionistas interested in the evolution of the clothing industry in the early 20th century will find much to like here. VERDICT Christy Award winner Moser (Time Lottery) pens a rags-to-riches saga that illustrates America’s eternal draw for immigrants. Readers who enjoyed Susan Vreeland’s Clara and Mr. Tiffany may find this appealing.

Parshall, Craig. The Occupied. Tyndale House. (Trevor Black, Bk. 1). Sept. 2016. 423p. ISBN 9781496411358. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781496418395. CF

occupied-jpg103116A childhood warning about the evil just outside human range of vision is all but forgotten until Trevor Black becomes an adult and receives the unwanted gift of perceiving that evil. Trevor’s life as a wealthy New York attorney with a beautiful wife begins to crumble as his supernatural visions of the demonic underworld are misinterpreted as signs of a nervous breakdown. When a high school friend is murdered, he returns home to investigate and confront his childhood experience. Trevor soon realizes that all that stands between humanity and the devil is his faith in Jesus. Parshall’s (The Mark of Evil) spare style and eerie sense of foreboding heighten the tension to an unbearable level until the climatic final battle. ­VERDICT With its well-rendered characters, the author’s latest supernatural thriller offers a realistic portrayal of a fallen world and the one true believer in Christ who can save it, for now. In the manner of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, Parshall pens a horrifying story of the unseen evils inherent in our society.

redstarReay, Katherine. A Portrait of Emily Price. Thomas Nelson. Nov. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780718077914. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718077907. CF

Art restorer Emily Price’s work schedule in Atlanta leaves little time for romance, until she meets chef Ben Vassallo. Charming and attractive, he weaves a spell around her. When Ben asks her to help restore his aunt and uncle’s pizzeria in Atlanta, she agrees, and before she knows it, she is in Italy as Ben’s wife. But Emily soon begins to think twice about her choices as she struggles to adjust to life in a new country. In the character of Emily, the author captures the free-spirited essence of a young woman reaching a crossroads in her life and following a path wherever it leads—sometimes with unexpected consequences. VERDICT Reay’s sensually ­evocative descriptions of Italian food and scenery makes this a delight for fans of Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun. The author of The Brontë Plot writes novels that speak to the universal truths in the human heart, and her latest will appeal to readers of new adult fiction with its focus on the power of ­following a dream. [See author Q&A, LJ 11/1/16, p.66.—Ed.]

ACFW CONFERENCE REPORT

acfw-png103116At August’s American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference in Nashville the excitement was palpable as the crowd of over 600 writers, editors, and guests gathered to meet with publishers or find new voices, attend workshops, and worship together. This year’s keynote speaker was acclaimed author Ted Dekker.At the conference, I had an opportunity to speak to several noted authors who opened up about their process. Amy Clipston (The Cherished Quilt, reviewed on p. 64) sees her Amish novels as helping people to unplug from the noise that is all too prevalent in our society today. Intrigued by the South and how different the culture is from her native Ohio, Mary Ellis (Magnolia Moonlight) writes atmospheric Southern mysteries. Her intent is to portray authentically faith-based people living and thriving in a secular culture. Patricia Bradley (Silence in the Dark) pens Southern romantic suspense that she hopes gives readers a “transformative experience.” In her Amish tales of romantic suspense, Kelly Irvin (The Saddlemaker’s Son) aims to answer the question: “Is there something so awful it cannot be forgiven?” She credits author Dee Henderson for setting her on the course of writing suspense. Tessa Afshar (Land of Silence) crafts her biblical fiction, keeping in mind the sometimes invisible qualities of deep beauty and “specialness” that makes all of us children of God. The conference culminated with the presentation of the Carol Awards for best CF published in the previous year. Here are the winners.

Contemporary The Art of Losing Yourself (WaterBrook: Multnomah) by Katie Ganshert

Historical Secrets She Kept (Tyndale House) by Cathy Gohlke

Historical Romance A Worthy Pursuit (Bethany House) by Karen Witemeyer

Mystery/Suspense/Thriller The Aleppo Code (Kregel) by Terry Brennan

Novella “A Bride for Bear” from The Convenient Bride Collection (Barbour) by Erica Vetsch

Romance Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Howard) by Beth K. Vogt

Romantic Suspense No Place To Hide (Revell) by Lynette Eason

Short Novel Covert Justice (Love Inspired: Harlequin) by Lynn Huggins Blackburn

Speculative The Five Times I Met Myself (Thomas ­Nelson) by James L. Rubart

Young Adult Dauntless (Bethany House) by Dina L. ­Sleiman

Debut Novel The Calling of Ella McFarland (Mountainview) by Linda Brooks Davis

Series Lineup

shatteredvigil-jpg103116Carr, Patrick W. The Shattered Vigil. Bethany House. (Darkwater Saga, Bk. 2). Nov. 2016. 464p. ISBN 9780764213472. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441265470. CF

The second installment of Carr’s epic fantasy (after The Shock of Night) finds the Vigil enjoying what turns into a short-lived victory over dark forces as unseen assassins begin to kill off its members.

Dickerson, Melanie. The Silent Songbird. Thomas Nelson. (Fairy Tale Romance, Bk. 7) Nov. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780718026318. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718026585. CF

King Richard’s young cousin Evangeline is given as a reward to his trusted but shadowy adviser Lord Shiveley, but she, pretending to be mute, flees and joins a group of servants returning to their home village. A terrific YA crossover medieval romance from the author of The Golden Braid.

Phillips, Michael. The Cottage. Bethany House. (Secrets of the Shetlands, Bk. 2). Oct. 2016. 416p. ISBN 9780764217494. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441230584. CF

In this sequel to The Inheritance, new heir Loni Ford arrives on Scotland’s Shetland Islands to find that rival claimant Hardy Tulloch has contracted out the valuable oil-rich land to investors. Meanwhile, Hardy’s cousin David, believed by the islanders to be the estate’s rightful heir, aims to stake rights to Loni’s heart. Fine romantic suspense.

Smith, Fiona Veitch. The Kill Fee. Lion Fiction: Kregel. (Poppy Denby Investigates, Bk. 2). Nov. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781782642183. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781782642190. CF

In her second outing (after The Jazz Files), Daily Globe arts and entertainment editor Poppy Denby covers the opening of a Russian art exhibit, when a guard is shot and a priceless Fabergé egg is stolen. Readers who enjoy fun cozy mysteries set in 1920s London will adore Poppy and her madcap ­adventures.

Wiehl, Lis. The Candidate. Thomas Nelson. (Newsmakers, Bk. 2). Oct. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780718037680. pap. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718038908. CF

This second series installment (following The Newsmakers) sees reporter Erica Sparks observing how one of the presidential candidates seems overly reliant on his wife. Erica’s curiosity is piqued, but as she closes in on the truth, more people die. The sometimes graphic violence depicted here makes this edgier read a great pick for thriller fans.

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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