Awards Season Gets Underway | Christian Fiction Reviews

Awards season began this past March, when the organizers of the Christy Awards, the most prestigious literary award in CF, opened the nomination pool for the 2017 honors. On September 20, the finalists will be announced, and on November 8, winners will be named. Recipients of the Carol Awards, sponsored by the American Christian Fiction Writers, will be presented at the organization’s annual conference September 21–24. Like other genre prizes, these awards are given to the best of the best, which make them great choices for your library. If you are thinking about adding to your collection, keep an eye on the lists of award nominees from previous years at www.christyawards.com and www.acfw.com.

Debut of the Month

redstarLinden, Rachel. Acension of Larks. Thomas Nelson. Jun. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780718095734. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718095741. CF

Renowned photographer ­Maggie Henry is on a shoot in Central America when she receives shocking news. Marco ­Firelli, the only man she ever loved, drowned while he was trying to save a fellow kayaker. She flies to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State to comfort his widow, Lena, and their three children. At the same time, she secretly mourns her own loss. ­Maggie, Lena, and Marco had been close friends in college, but Marco had chosen Lena. Living with Lena and the children, Maggie soon realizes that the bonds of this adopted family are worth more than her unreciprocated feelings for Marco. Linden’s characters are deeply flawed, but their humanity shines through. And the hushed tone captures the loss and grief experienced by the protagonists. VERDICT Linden’s debut novel is a bittersweet tale of enduring friendship, family ties, and the complexities of love that will engage readers of thoughtful women’s fiction.

Amish Corner

Gray, Shelley Shepard & others. An Amish Summer: Four Novellas. Thomas Nelson. Jun. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9780718078843. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718078980. CF

In Gray’s novella “A Reunion in Pinecraft,” miscommunication leads to romantic problems for Graham Holland when he visits the Kramer sisters and discovers that he has been writing to the wrong sibling. Can he appease one sister while winning the heart of the other? In Amy Clipston’s “Summer Storms,” Arianna’s dreams of a perfect wedding day dissipate when an alcohol-fueled buggy race involving her brother Tobias and fiancé Jesse lands both men in trouble. Unrequited love and sibling rivalry are at the heart of Kathleen Fuller’s “Lakeside Love.” Esther has always adored Judah, who only has eyes for her sister Sarah. But Esther’s affection for Judah creates problems for handsome Englisher Rhett, who is interested in her. Kelly Irvin rounds out this collection with “One Sweet Kiss.” Martha Byler, whose hands are full caring for her large family, refuses to see Jacob King as husband material, but a kiss may change everything. VERDICT Four popular authors of Amish fiction are at their very best with these novellas. Perfect for a short summer literary escape.

redstarReid, Ruth. Abiding Mercy. Thomas Nelson. (Amish Mercies, Vol. 1). Jul. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780718082444. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718082451. CF

Fifteen years ago, Adriana Colepepper, then a toddler, was abducted from a Michigan parking lot and never found—until now, when Roslyn Colepepper receives the shocking news that her daughter may be living among the Amish. Faith Pickering and her older sister Olivia work for the family restaurant the Amish Table. Olivia is as mean-spirited as Faith is kind. Faith’s friendship with Olivia’s beau, Gideon, turns into a budding romance. But then her life is thrown into upheaval when she learns a devastating secret. Reid’s exceptional writing sets her apart from other authors in this subgenre. Her refreshingly different story line, likeable characters, and the themes of forgiveness and faith result in a memorable, emotionally rich novel. The issue of child abduction is handled thoughtfully and should not be a problem even for sensitive readers. VERDICT Reid (Brush of Angel’s Wings) is in a class by herself with this tender love story with an unusual twist. Fans of Amish fiction and readers seeking a satisfying and heartwarming inspirational novel with a touch of romance will savor this series launch.

Check these out

Afshar, Tessa. Bread of Angels. Tyndale House. Jun. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781496406477. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781496425294. CF

In the town of Thyatira, Lydia and her father manufacture the purple cloth prized by wealthy Romans. When her father dies, she continues the business alone, but in the ancient Roman world a single woman with no family to protect her is vulnerable. A chance meeting in Philippi with the Apostle Paul changes Lydia’s life when she converts to Christianity. Will the Gospel preached by Paul as well as Lydia’s faith allow her to survive the heartbreak of all that life has taken from her? Afshar (Land of Silence) retells the New Testament (Acts 16:15) story of the first European convert to Christianity. With sublime writing and solid research, she captures the distinctive experience of living at a time when Christianity was in its fledgling stages. Ashfar is much more sympathetic than other authors in her depiction of St. Paul, characterizing him as a gentle leader who respects women. ­VERDICT A solid choice for readers interested in the lesser-known figures of the Bible.

Breslin, Kate. High as the Heavens. Bethany House. Jun. 2094. 400p. ISBN 9780764217814. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441231222. CF

Trapped in German-occupied Brussels in 1917, widowed nurse Eve Marche claims loyalty to Germany while secretly working for British allies and a local resistance group. When a British plane crashes in a local park, Eve rushes in to see if there are survivors. She is shocked to recognize the injured pilot. Although glad to see him, he could blow her cover if the Germans find out their true mission. Not knowing whom to trust, Eve must hide the British captain from the Germans; it is a delicate thread that tethers the couple to life. Breslin’s exceptionally detailed historical setting and story line will keep readers engaged from the start, and gradually increasing tension and sense of urgency will keep them turning the pages until the gratifying ending. VERDICT Carol Award–winning author Breslin’s (Not by Sight) latest historical novel reflects her eye for detail and talent for shaping realistic and sympathetic protagonists. This is sure to be a favorite for historical fiction fans who are especially fascinated by World War I.

Carlson, Melody. Under a Summer Sky: A Summer Romance. Revell. (Follow Your Heart, Bk. 3). Jun. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780800723590. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493407156. CF

Spending the summer managing an art gallery in Savannah, GA, for a friend of her mother’s is not what high school art teacher Nicole Anderson expected when school ended. Unprepared but railroaded into the job by her mother, Caroline, Nicole accepts the position with reservations. Snarky gallery employee Amyra, unhappy with Nicole’s arrival, does her best to make her feel unwelcome. But as the summer progresses, Nicole settles into her new role and along the way reconnects with two brothers she knew as a child. Opportunities for romance abound, but only one brother will be the right choice for Nicole. VERDICT Moving from the breezy San Francisco of All Summer Long to the Deep South, this third volume in Carlson’s travel-based romantic series evokes another colorful and atmospheric setting for her quirky and endearing characters. A treat for aficionados of character-driven fiction.

Caroll, Robin. Weaver’s Needle. Shiloh Run. Jun. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781634099943. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781634099967. CF
Now rival recovery specialists, ex-Army MP Landry Parker and retired New Orleans police officer Nickolai Baptiste are summoned to the luxurious Winslet mansion to meet with widow Winifred Winslet. Winifred offers $50,000 for the recovery of the treasure map stolen from her murdered husband. Pitted against each other in the search for the map, Landry and Nickolai eventually join forces against an unknown third party who knows their every move but does not reveal himself. The trail leads them to an Arizona mine, but other secrets uncovered along the way may cost them their lives. Caroll’s (Bayou Blackmail) latest tale imagines the real-life legend of Dutchman’s Lost Mine, reportedly hidden in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. Plenty of dialog makes for a fast-paced read and the steadily developing romance between Landry and ­Nickolai adds to the satisfying ending. ­VERDICT For romantic suspense fans, especially those who like a bit of Western flavor and lore mixed in with their thrills.

Dobson, Melanie. Catching the Wind. Tyndale House. May 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781496417282. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781496417312. CF

During World War II, childhood friends Brigitte Berthold and Dietmar Roth make a harrowing escape from Germany to England after the Gestapo arrests their parents. Placed in an orphanage, the two are separated when Brigitte is taken in by a family. Seventy years later, a wealthy Daniel Knight (aka Dietmar) hires investigative journalist Quenby Vaughn to find Brigitte. His story tugs at Quenby’s heart, and she accepts the case without thinking through her reasons for doing so. However, the more she investigates, the closer she comes to finding answers that link her own past to that of her employer’s. VERDICT Carol Award–winning author Dobson (Chateau of Secrets) skillfully interweaves three separate lives as she joins the past and present in an uplifting tale of courage, love, and enduring hope. A strong choice for historical fiction fans who appreciate well-developed characters and settings.

Groot, Tracy. The Maggie Bright: A Novel of Dunkirk. Tyndale House. May 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781496422569. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781496406705. CF

In 1940, Clare Childs unexpectedly inherits a yacht, the Maggie Bright. She also inherits its secrets, hidden documents someone is willing to kill for. As British and Allied troops retreat from the ­advancing German forces to the French port of Dunkirk, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill decides that civilian craft must be put into service to rescue the surviving army from certain defeat and captivity. It looks like Hitler’s war machine may win this one, but the Führer didn’t count on the Maggie Bright coming to the rescue. VERDICT Groot (The Sentinels of Andersonville) vividly portrays both the heroism and the horrors of World War II. The graphic descriptions of Nazi atrocities may be too much for some readers, but with the July release of Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirk, there is bound to be interest.

Hunt, Angela. Egypt’s Sister: A Novel of Cleopatra. Bethany House. (Silent Years, Bk. 1). Jul. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780764219320. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441231239. CF

Childhood friends Chava, daughter of the royal tutor, and Urbi, a princess, often play together in Alexandria’s royal palace. When Chava receives a prophecy from Ha-Shem telling her that she will see Urbi’s happiest day and her last, she confides in her friend, who is displeased. When Urbi becomes Queen Cleopatra, an argument with her old friend results in her selling Chava into slavery. Remembering the prophecy, Chava, who now finds herself in Rome, struggles to trust in a God that seems to have abandoned her. VERDICT Setting her new biblical series half a century before the birth of Christ. Hunt (Delilah) once again vividly brings the ancient world to life, although she focuses here on the military and political climate of the time with her protagonists more in the background.

Johnson, Todd M. Fatal Trust. Bethany House. Aug. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780764230448; $25.99; pap. ISBN 9780764212352. $15.99. CF

For young Minnesota attorney Ian Wells, keeping his deceased father’s law firm afloat while contending with his mother’s deteriorating health pushes him to the brink. When a new client promises him $200,000 for a week’s work, he jumps at the chance. It is not long before Ian realizes that the case is a Gordian knot of corruption and decades of criminal dealings that will put everything he loves at risk. A relentless pace drives the plot forward, intensifying the dark tone of the multilayered story line. VERDICT With its dizzyingly twisty, engrossing plot, Johnson’s (Critical Reaction) latest legal thriller is a perfect match for fans of John Grisham and ­Robert Whitlow.

Ladd, Sarah E. A Stranger at Fellsworth. Thomas Nelson. (Treasures of Surrey, Bk. 3). May 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780718011857. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718011871. CF

After the death of their father, life with her cruel and controlling brother Thomas becomes unbearable for Annabelle. Finding refuge at her Uncle Edmund Langsley’s estate, she takes a tutoring position. Still grieving his wife’s murder, gamekeeper Owen Locke has sworn never to love again—until he meets Annabelle. A sudden rash of poaching, a murder, and Thomas’s arrival with a fiancé in tow for Annabelle forestall any future the two may have. As the story unfolds and the well-rounded, likeable protagonists play out their drama, the rising tension keeps readers in suspense. VERDICT Ladd’s third Regency outing (after Dawn at Emberwilde and The Curiosity Keeper) can easily stand on its own, but readers who enjoy this book will want to devour the trilogy.

McHale, Celeste Fletcher. The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories. Thomas Nelson. May 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780718039844. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718034245. CF

Three days stranded on a rooftop waiting for rescue from Mississippi floodwaters marks the start of a relationship between Jacy and Colin. When a rescue boat arrives with limited room, he gives her his phone number and extracts a promise from her that she will call. A year passes with no contact between the two until Jacy attends best friend Willow’s wedding as the maid of honor and realizes that the officiating minister is none other than Colin. He is as shocked as she is. Neither Jacy, who is just recovering her memories of the traumatic event, nor Colin know if there is more between them than a natural disaster. Only time will tell if they are meant to be. VERDICT McHale’s (The Secret to Hummingbird Cake) conversational tone, flawed characters, and feel-good ending make for an uplifting read that incoporates themes of healing and redemption.

redstarSleeman, Susan. Fatal Mistake. FaithWords. (White Knights, Bk. 1). May 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781455596461. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781455596447. CF

The identity of the Lone Wolf Bomber continues to remain a mystery, even though he has murdered several women in Virginia. Investigating a problem at the pump house on her aunt’s farm, Tara Parrish stumbles upon a stock of explosives and bomb-making equipment that belongs to her estranged childhood friend Oren Keeler. Somehow she manages to escape his attempt to silence her and is rescued by FBI explosives expert Cal ­Riggins. Tara goes into hiding, knowing it’s only a matter of time before Oren comes back to finish what he started. A deadly cat-and-mouse game ensues, but Cal vows not to rest until Tara is safe. ­VERDICT ­Sleeman’s (Emergency Response) gritty, high-octane plot will keep the pages flying until the heart-stopping finale. A terrific choice for readers who like their romantic suspense fast paced and terrifying.

redstarSproles, Cindy K. Liar’s Winter: An Appalachian Novel. Kregel. Jun. 2017. 264p. ISBN 9780825444531. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780825487408. CF

Lochiel Ogle was a foundling born with a strawberry mark on her neck. Now 19, she has never known kindness or love. The couple who took her in claim she bears the devil’s mark and hide her when they receive visitors. Their malevolent son, Gerald, decides Lochiel must die and attacks her, abandoning her in a mountain cave. Rescued by peddler Walton Grubbs, she reluctantly travels to the safety of his mother Edna’s house, where she eventually learns that the Grubbs are blood relatives. Converting to ­Christianity, Lochiel begins a new life until Gerald shows up once again. VERDICT Sproles (Mercy’s Rain) powerful novel about life in 1893 Appalachia is deeply affecting in its depiction of human cruelty and the strength of faith to overcome such brutality. Readers who enjoy character-centered stories with an edge will find this compelling.

White, Roseanna M. A Name Unknown. Bethany House. (Shadows over England, Bk. 1). Jul. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9780764219269. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441231215. CF

Rosemary Gresham’s unusual skills, learned from a life on London’s rough streets, land her an assignment to investigate the background of author Peter Holstein, who writes under a non-German pen name. For the Crown, loyalty is of utmost importance. As tensions escalate between England and Germany, anyone with a German name is suspect. As Rosemary observes Peter’s gracious interactions with his scornful neighbors, she sees a very different man than his dossier would indicate. By helping the Crown, she could be indicting an innocent man solely on the basis of his surname. ­VERDICT White (A Lady Unrivaled) once again demonstrates her mastery of historical detail with polished prose and thorough research. Fans of Edwardian romances will be adding this to their summer reading lists.

series Lineup

Jagears, Melissa. A Love So True. Bethany House. (Teaville Moral Society, Bk. 2). May 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780764217524. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441231284. CF

Evelyn Wisely continues her good works for the orphans of Teaville, and now her cause has turned to the local prostitutes. One man, newcomer David Kingsman, offers his support, but the odds for help from the community are not in their favor. A wonderful, romantic sequel to A Heart Most Certain.

McMillan, Rachel. The White Feather Murders. Harvest House. (Herringford & Watts, Bk. 3). May 2017. 224p. ISBN 9780736966443. pap. $12.99; ebk. ISBN 9780736966450. CF

In 1914 Toronto, female detectives Merinda Herringford and Jem Watts investigate the murder of a member of the Cartier Club, whose corpse bears a white feather symbolizing cowardice. Corruption is rampant in the city, and suspicion of foreigners such as Watts’s husband, Ray DeLuca abounds. This third entry in McMillann’s upbeat historical series offers a quick, fun read.

Richardson-Moore, Deb. The Cover Story. Lion Fiction: Kregel. (Branigan Powers, Bk. 2). Jun. 2017. 281p. ISBN 9781782642404. pap. $14.99. CF

Branigan Powers returns to investigate a hit-and-run accident that leaves one girl dead and the other seriously injured. In an eerie twist, the car involved was an antique hearse. This follow-up to The ­Cantaloupe Thief features a ­well-conceived plot that will keep readers guessing. Cozy fans will be delighted.

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

This article was published in Library Journal's June 1, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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