Christian Fiction Reviews, November 15, 2011

HISTORICAL FICTION, an always popular CF subgenre, takes center stage this month. Two titles deal with the aftermath of the American Civil War. Tamera Alexander sets her first Southern historical series (A Lasting Impression) in 1860s Nashville, while Serena Miller’s The Measure of Katie Calloway moves from postwar Georgia to Michigan’s North Woods. Dale Cramer explores 1920s revolutionary Mexico in The Captive Heart, and Lauraine Snelling’s new series debut (Valley of Dreams) follows a Wild West traveling show. Medieval Britain inspires authors like Melanie Dickerson (The Merchant’s Daughter) and Jennifer Hudson Taylor (Highland Sanctuary).

Alexander, Tamera. A Lasting Impression. Bethany. (Belmont Mansion, Bk. 1). Nov.2011. c.384p. ISBN 9780764206221. pap. $14.99. CF
Claire Laurent is a gifted artist who is forced to paint forgeries by her scheming father. Eventually, she flees New Orleans for Nashville, where she accepts a position working for Mrs. Adelicia Acklen, the richest woman in post‚ Civil War America. Hiding from her past, Claire is thrust into Nashville’s upper echelon, where she meets Sutton Monroe, a lawyer bent on avenging his father’s murder. VERDICT Rich in period details and set in Nashville’s historic Belmont Mansion, this historical romance by RITA and Christy Award winner Alexander (The Inheritance) is a sure bet for fans of Tracie Peterson and Melanie Dobson. [60,000-copy first printing.]

Bricker, Sandra D. Always the Wedding Planner, Never the Bride. Abingdon. (Emma Rae Creation, Bk. 2). 2011. c.320p. ISBN 9781426731600. pap. $14.99. CF
Sherilyn Caine has landed the perfect job as the wedding planner at Atlanta’s famous Tanglewood Hotel. Her attention to detail has made her successful in her career, so one would think Sherilyn would have no problem pulling off her own nuptials to Andrew Drummond IV. Why then is everything going wrong, from her wedding gown disappearing to poisoning the chef? To top things off, Sherilyn thinks she might have developed an allergy to her own fiancé. VERDICT Introducing the college roommate of Emma Rae (Always the Baker, Never the Bride), Bricker’s second humorous contemporary romance will entertain readers who enjoy Rene Gutteridge’s comic novels.

Cantore, Janice. Accused. Tyndale House. (Pacific Coast Justice, Bk. 1). Feb. 2012. c.300p. ISBN 9781414358475. pap.$12.99. CF
Following a shooting in which she was involved, detective Carly Edwards is put on desk duty in the juvenile section, and she hates it. Then she is called to a murder scene. The victim is Long Beach’s mayor, and the top brass suspect teenager Londy Atkins. But after investigating the case, Carly believes not only that Londy is innocent but that he is the victim of a cover-up. Enter Carly’s ex-husband and fellow officer, Nick. Nick wants to convince Carly that he’s a changed man, but can she trust him? Can she trust anyone? VERDICT Cantore is a former cop, and her experience shows in this wonderful series debut. The characters are well-drawn and believable, and the suspenseful plot is thick with tension. Fans of Lynette Eason, Dee Henderson, or DiAnn Mills and readers who like crime fiction without gratuitous violence and sex will appreciate discovering a new writer.

Coffey, Billy. Paper Angels. FaithWords: Hachette. Nov. 2011. c.256p. ISBN 9780446568234. $18.99. CF
Andy Sommerville’s best friend since childhood is an angel who has helped him through life’s most difficult moments. The Old Man has also encouraged Andy to collect mementos from 12 people who cross his path over the years. But Andy’s life is upended when his gas station is torched, leaving him badly burned. In the hospital, Andy awakes and becomes distraught when the Old Man informs him that he will no longer visit. Why has God abandoned Andy? But God has other plans when Elizabeth, a visitor whom Andy assumes is a counselor, stops by to talk with him. Taking the wooden box in which he had collected his mementos, Andy shares them‚ and their stories‚ with Elizabeth. With each object, the wounded Andy draws closer to reconnecting with God and his community. VERDICT The small-town charm and fully developed characters of Coffey’s second novel will delight readers who loved Snow Day. Those who enjoyed William P. Young’s The Shack for its spiritual themes will also revel in Andy’s story. Likewise, fans of Max Lucado and Jill Marie Landis will appreciate the book’s inspirational message and homespun feel.

Copeland, Lori & Virginia Smith. Lost Melody. Zondervan. Nov. 2011. c.320p. ISBN 9780310289869. pap. $12.99. CF
Jill King’s lifelong dream of becoming a concert pianist was shattered when a terrible accident scarred her hand and left her unable to play. The untouched piano in her home serves only to remind Jill of what she has lost. Still, she is thankful for her life and for the love of Greg, who shares her faith. When she dreams of an impending tragedy that will affect her tiny Nova Scotia village, Jill must decide if she should warn her community and risk her reputation if they don’t believe her. VERDICT Despite the tragedies Jill faces, this collaboration between Christy Award finalist Copeland (Monday Morning Faith) and Smith (A Deadly Game) is a hopeful novel whose inspirational tone will appeal to readers who enjoy Richard Paul Evans.

Cramer, Dale. The Captive Heart. Bethany. (Daughters of Caleb Bender, Bk. 2). Jan.2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780764208393. pap. $14.99. CF
This sequel to Paradise Valley revisits the Bender family, now building an Amish settlement in Mexico after emigrating from Ohio. Things are not as easy for Caleb and his family as he had hoped. The country is still caught in the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution. When Caleb’s daughter Rachel is kidnapped by a bandit, the community must remain true to their pacifist nature despite their anger and the danger they face in trying to rescue her. VERdICT Drawing on the true-life experiences of his grandfather, Cramer (Levi’s Will) does not flinch from depicting the harsh reality of settlement life. Grittier than most Amish novels, this will attract readers who like Lauraine Snelling’s Western series.

Dickerson, Melanie. The Merchant’s Daughter. Zondervan. Dec. 2011. c.288p. ISBN 9780310727613. pap. $9.99. CF
Dickerson’s second novel (after The Healer’s Apprentice) is a twist on the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale (with a little Cinderella thrown in). Annabel, the daughter of a once-wealthy merchant, must become an indentured servant to get her family out of debt after her father’s death leaves them in dire straits. Her new master is Lord Ranulf le Wyse, who is so disfigured physically and emotionally that Annabel would rather die than have to serve him. Over time, she comes to see that there is more to him than meets the eye. VERDICT Dickerson’s writing doesn’t meet the high expectations set by her acclaimed debut. The pacing sometimes lags, and the conflict is not believable enough. Still, adult and YA readers who enjoyed the previous novel will pick this one up.

Hackett, Mary Curran. Proof of Heaven. Morrow. Nov. 2011. c.336p. ISBN 9780062079985. pap. $14.99. CF
Seven-year-old Colm, who suffers from a disease that causes him to go into cardiac arrest, knows he is dying. His mother, a devout Christian, tries to find comfort in her faith, but Colm is not so sure that he even believes in God. But he has one wish‚ to find the father who abandoned him before he was born. VERDICT Colm’s journey will move and charm readers who are also searching for answers to their own questions of faith. Hackett’s lovely debut is a good choice for Melody Carlson devotees.

Hunter, Denise. The Accidental Bride. Thomas Nelson. (Big Sky Romance, Bk. 2). Jan. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9781595548023. pap. $15.99. CF
Life has have never been easy for divorcée Shay Brandenberger. Still, she has done an amazing job raising her daughter alone. When the bank threatens to foreclose on her ranch, she prays for a miracle, but sometimes these come from the unlikeliest places. Agreeing to play the role of the bride in the Moose Creek Founders Day wedding reenactment, Shay doesn’t realize that the groom is played by Travis McCoy, her high school love who broke her heart when he left home to become a rodeo star. Through a series of mishaps, the phony wedding turns out to be legal. Shay wants nothing more than to end the humiliation but staying married may save her home. VERDICT Hunter’s second cozy, gentle series romance (after A Cowboy’s Touch) should appeal to fans of Lori Wick and Tracie Peterson.

Kingsbury, Karen. Longing. Zondervan. (Bailey Flanigan, Bk. 3). Dec. 2011. c.352p. ISBN 9780310276340. pap. $14.99. CF
Kingsbury’s third title about struggling actress Bailey Flanigan (Leaving; Learning) picks up her story in Hollywood, where Brandon Paul, her one-time costar, is wooing her with a more upscale life than she could ever have with Cody Coleman. Meanwhile, Cody is enjoying the success that has come from coaching small-town football. He’s also getting closer to another woman who seems to understand him better than Bailey did. Can Cody and Bailey find their way back to one another? VERDICT Readers who were disappointed with the second book will be glad to see Kingsbury moving forward with Bailey and Cody’s story. Still, it’s nowhere near as promising as the first volume. Bailey is just not likable, and readers will again root for Cody. For better inspirational fiction about actresses, try Christopher Coppernoll’s Screen Play.

Mabry, Richard L., M.D. Lethal Remedy. Abingdon. (Prescription for Trouble, Bk. 4). 2011. c.288p. ISBN 9781426735448. pap. $13.99. CF
One of Dr. Sara Miles’s patients, a teenage girl, is dying from a bacterial infection highly resistant to antibiotics. Hope comes in the form of Sara’s ex-husband, Dr. Jack Ingersoll, who believes he has discovered a miracle cure. Sara administers the drug to her patient, and the girl miraculously recovers and goes home. But she returns to the hospital a week later, suffering from paralysis. Now it is up to Sara and her colleague Dr. John Ramsey to beat the clock and reverse the effects of this lethal remedy. VERDICT Mabry’s fourth series title (after Diagnosis Death) is a fast-paced, intricately plotted page-turner that mixes a healthy dose of suspense and faith. Patrons who enjoy other inspirational medical thrillers like Candace Calvert’s Mercy Hospital series (Code Triage) will find this the perfect antidote to boredom.

Meissner, Susan. A Sound Among the Trees. WaterBrook: Random. 2011. c.336p. ISBN 9780307458858. pap. $14.99. CF
Adelaide is the matriarch of Holly Oak, an antebellum mansion said to be haunted by the ghost of her great-grandmother, Susannah Page. But Adelaide believes that it is not Susannah but the house that has brought nothing but loss to her, including a daughter addicted to drugs and the death of a granddaughter. When Carson, the grand daughter’s widower, remarries a young woman from the West, Adelaide has nothing but contempt for the new bride. But Marielle soon gets caught up in the mystery of Holly Oak. VERDICT Meissner (The Shape of Mercy) shifts between the past and present with some success, although the switching of time periods can be confusing. Rich dialog and the hint of long-buried secrets help move the story. This might be enjoyed by fans of Michael Phillips, whose novels also focus on family secrets.

Miller, Serena. The Measure of Katie Calloway. Revell. 2011. c.352p. ISBN 9780800719982. pap. $14.99. CF
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Katie Calloway and her young brother flee Georgia and Katie’s violent, abusive husband, Harlan. Landing in Michigan, she is hired as a cook by logging company owner Robert Foster. Having assumed a new identity, Katie hopes that her husband will never find her. Harlan, however, has other plans. To marry a wealthy woman, he must first find‚ and kill‚ Katie. Can Katie trust Robert with her secret? Will he help her? VERDICT Miller’s (Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, Ohio) mix of endearing characters, a bit of suspense, and a touching love story makes this a good choice for fans of Gilbert Morris.

Mills, DiAnn. Attracted to Fire. Tyndale House. 2011. c.416p. ISBN 9781414348643. pap. $12.99. CF
When a drug lord threatens the U.S. vice president’s rebellious daughter, special agent Meghan Connors is assigned to protect her on a secluded ranch in western Texas. But working with Ash Zinders, the special agent in charge, proves to be almost as difficult. A first-class male chauvinist, Ash makes it clear that he does not want to work with a woman. Plus he is gunning for the same promotion as Meghan. But when security at the ranch is breached, they must work together to stop a conspiracy. VERDICT Mills’s (Pursuit of Justice; Sworn To Protect) fast- moving tale of light suspense will attract Dee Henderson fans with its well-drawn characters and snappy dialog.

Owens, Tim. The Search Committee. Tyndale House. Feb. 2012. c.350p. ISBN 9781414364452. pap. $12.99. CF
Seven congregation members, differing in age and life experience, set out on a series of weekend trips to visit other churches in the hopes of recruiting a new minister. They are all dealing with their own personal issues, yet they start to bond on these road adventures. VERDICT Humorous yet poignant, this winner of the Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel Contest is a good pick for readers who like uplifting stories with multiple story lines as well as fans of Philip Gulley’s gentle and charming novels.

Snelling, Lauraine. Valley of Dreams. Bethany. (Wild West Wind, Bk. 1). Nov.2011. c.352p. ISBN 9780764204159. pap. $14.99. CF
Addy has spent her life perfecting her skills as a trick rider with her father’s Wild West show. It’s the only real home she’s ever known, and it was a life her father loved before he died. When she learns that Uncle Jason, her father’s trusted manager, has run the show into the ground and has taken what little money was left, Addy decides to find the hidden valley where her father had longed to settle. All she knows is that the valley is marked by three special stones. With two of her closest confidants, she embarks on a new adventure. VERDICT Launching a new historical series, the prolific Snelling (Home to Blessing and Red River of the North series) incorporates period details and well-rounded memorable characters into a lively tale that will please her many fans and attract new ones, especially those who enjoy Lynn Austin’s novels. [75,000-copy first printing.]

Taylor, Jennifer Hudson. Highland Sanctuary. Abingdon. 2011. c.336p. ISBN 9781426714214. pap. $14.99. CF
Gavin MacKenzie, heir to the chieftain, has been hired to restore the ancient Castle of Braigh. There, he discovers a small village of outcasts. Among them is Serena Boyd. Gavin is taken with the beautiful Serena, but she has a secret. Serena suffers from epilepsy, and the villagers believe she is possessed by a demon. VERDICT In her second historical romance (after Highland Blessings), Taylor does a wonderful job of bringing 1477 Scotland to life. Kathleen Morgan fans and readers who enjoy Scottish romances will delight in Taylor’s strong heroine and delightfully dashing hero.

Warren, Susan May. The Shadow of Your Smile. Tyndale House. (Deep Haven, Bk. 5). Feb. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9781414334837. pap. $13.99. CF
After 25 years of marriage, things have gone sour. Noelle and Eli Hueston want to get their youngest son through his high school graduation so that they can divorce. But one snowy night, Noelle gets injured in a car accident that erases part of her memory. She doesn’t remember her husband or children. When Noelle returns home, she struggles to recall an old life that is no longer hers. Can her amnesia give her and Eli the second chance they need? VERDICT Warren’s fifth entry (after My Foolish Heart) in her popular romantic series is a warm and charming tale that features well-developed characters and a solid story line. Series fans and devotees of Judy Baer and Deborah Vogts will want to put holds on this title.

Wiehl, Lis with Pete Nelson. Waking Hours. Thomas Nelson. (East Salem Trilogy, Bk. 1). 2011. c.336p. ISBN 9781595549402. $26.99. CF
Dani Harris, a forensic psychologist, and Tommy Gunderson, a former NFL linebacker, team up to investigate the strange occurrences that are shaking up their small town of East Salem, NY. A brutally murdered high school girl, erased memories, an elderly woman with superhuman strength, and troubling nightly dreams all figure into the mystery. Could something more demonic than human be at work? VERDICT Partnering with Nelson (I Thought You Were Dead), Wiehl, author of the Triple Threat series (Heart of Ice), launches an exciting faith-based series that skillfully blends romantic tension, gripping supernatural suspense, and a brutal crime. A sure bet for fans of Frank Peretti and Terri Blackstock.