Boyd/Kirk’s Debut of the Month, Fuller, Liggett, Marasco, Parker, plus New Series Lineup | Christian Fiction Reviews, February 1, 2017

Valentine’s Day is not the only holiday we celebrate in February. Did you know that it is also Library Lovers’ Month? According to Chase’s Calendar of Events 2017, it’s a time for patrons and friends groups to celebrate libraries everywhere. And what better way to enjoy this lovestruck month than with a display of new CF romances. Regency fans will delight in the sparks between a haughty earl and a spirited minister’s daughter in Carolyn Miller’s sparkling debut, The Elusive Miss Ellison. Readers who enjoy their Amish romances with a bit of complication will savor Suzanne Fisher Woods’s The Newcomer, whose heroine must choose between two suitors. And what’s romance without a spell of action and suspense as found in Tracie Peterson and Kimberley ­Woodhouse’s historical series launch, In the Shadow of Denali. This month’s column reveals that there’s plenty of love to go around.

debut of the Month

The day Sonny Died-rocking chair-outlinedredstarBoyd, M. Simone & Onnie I. Kirk, Jr. The Day Sonny Died. eGenCo. 2016. 216p. ISBN 9781680198287. pap. $18.99; ebk. ISBN 9781680198294. CF

Constance Jackson has seen her share of destruction in her community. Her husband’s suicide was one more in a long line of violent deaths that have plagued her family. She had high hopes for her son, but he succumbed to the lure of the streets. Her grandson, Sonny, is now her pride and joy. But even her faith in God, guidance, and prayer may not be enough to save Sonny as he approaches adulthood. Boyd, who writes and runs workshops that focus on faith, family, and black history, penned this first novel with her father, who started a ministry for fatherless young men called the Family Foundation Fund. They know their subject matter intimately, and their edgy story line, bittersweet tone, and ominous foreshadowing make for a tension-filled read. VERDICT This eye-opening and heartbreaking tale of one African American family living through repeated tragedy, with only their religious convictions to sustain them, takes readers behind today’s headlines. An excellent choice for fans of Dimos Salaberrios’s Street God. [See Q&A with the authors, LJ 2/1/17, p. 57.]

Amish Corner

Brunstetter, Wanda E. The Seekers. Shiloh Run. (Amish Cooking Class, BK. 1). Feb. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781624167447. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683221630. CF

It’s a motley crew that shows up at Heidi Troyer’s Amish farm for cooking lessons. As each of the five students learns about the others and life itself, Heidi wonders whether she’s started a cooking class or a therapy group. However, she trusts that God knows what He’s doing and follows His lead. Brunstetter (The Revelation) maintains the warmth and love of her other fiction. The mix of well-drawn Amish and “English” protagonists adds a flavorful accent to the narrative. Readers will be hard pressed not to take this book to the dinner table after reading the mouth-watering recipes included. VERDICT Some may be off put by the multitude of italicized thoughts interspersed throughout this novel, but ­Brunstetter’s many fans will clamor for her latest ­charming series launch.

Fuller, Kathleen. Written in Love. Thomas ­Nelson. (Amish Letters, Bk. 1). Mar. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780718082529. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718082536. CF

Phoebe Bontrager and Jalon Chupp have been pen pals since a misdirected letter from Phoebe found its way into Jalon’s hands. Soon their letters to each other blossom into a romance. Jalon is attempting to overcome his troubled youth through reaffirmation of his faith, and Phoebe has a past she would prefer to keep hidden, at least in her missives to Jalon. When he suggests they meet in person, Phoebe is alarmed. Between her over­bearing aunt and her own personal secrets, she is hesitant to accept his invitation. However, Jalon surprises her by showing up on her doorstep without notice, and it isn’t long before her secrets are exposed. Phoebe hopes that God will help Jalon and her move forward together. VERDICT Evoking a simpler time, when letters were handwritten and partially narrated in an epistolary style, Fuller’s (The Promise of a Letter) first volume in a new series introduces two charismatic protagonists and an appealing, heartwarming story line. With elegantly clear prose and evocative settings, the author delivers another captivating read fans will relish.

Gould, Leslie. Amish Weddings. Bethany House. (Neighbors of Lancaster County, Bk. 3). Jan. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780764216947. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441269331. CF

Romantic possibilities complicate the lives of the neighboring Beck and Lehman families. Zane Beck decides to convert to the Amish faith to build a life with Lila Lehman, while Lila’s sister Rose is courted by the bishop’s son, Reuben Byler. The couple hope to announce their marriage when Lila is seriously injured in a terrible buggy accident. After meeting Zane’s old army buddy, Trevor, Rose begins to doubt her feelings for Reuben. Gould’s narrative flows well despite the convoluted plotlines and large cast of characters, both of which might deter new readers. VERDICT Fans of the first two books (Amish Promises; Amish Sweethearts) will line up for Gould’s trilogy finale, although the actions of some of the characters may surprise or disappoint those readers anticipating a different outcome.

Hilton, Laura V. The Amish Wanderer. Whitaker House. Feb. 2017. 240p. ISBN 9781629117980. pap. $12.99; ebk. ISBN 9781629117997. CF

A missed opportunity for love in the past creates an interesting situation for Bethany when she finds former beau Silas Beiler asleep in her hayloft. Too much has happened to Bethany for her to imagine a future with Silas. With her family life falling apart owing to her father’s illness, she believes she has no time for romance. Silas disagrees, and his faith may just save them both. ­Hilton’s engaging protagonists and their dilemmas, accompanied with appropriate use of Scripture, will resonate with readers dealing with their own personal issues. VERDICT Hilton (The Amish Firefighter) proves once again why she is a fan favorite, especially among those who prefer an edgier flavor to their Amish fiction. Through the filter of Amish culture and beliefs, readers get a very different perspective on the situation—a parent with mental illness, family abandonment—that Bethany and Silas face.

Liggett, Cathy. The Sisters of Sugarcreek. Tyndale House. Feb. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781496404893. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781496418999. CF

Amish widow Lydia Gruber lands a job at a knitting/quilting shop in Sugar Creek, OH, after lending a hand to the store’s owner, Jessica Holtz, during a shopping rush. The two women bond over their grief at losing a loved one (Lydia’s husband, Jessica’s Aunt Rose) in a fire that destroyed Faith Community Church. Meanwhile, Rose’s friend, Liz Cannon, convinces Jessica to partner with her Secret Stitches Society, an anonymous group that delivers hope to people in trouble. Their mission is Lydia. VERDICT Liggett’s (Beaded Hope) sweet story about faith, female friendship, and strength in the face of adversity also incorporates attractive scenes of light romance. A good crossover title for women’s fiction readers.

Woods, Suzanne Fisher. The Newcomer. Revell. (Amish Beginnings, Bk. 2). Jan. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780800727499. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493406043. CF

The burgeoning shipboard romance between passenger Anna Konig and ship carpenter Bairn Bauer stalls after they land in 1737 Pennsylvania. The son of the bishop and founder of the new Amish settlement, Bairn takes a hard look at what life on the frontier means for him. If he stays, he will be unable to escape his controlling father or the suffocating Amish community. So, at the first opportunity, he returns to sea, asking Anna to wait for him. However, when newcomer Henrik Newman arrives in the settlement, Anna acquires a new suitor. Upon Bairn’s return, Anna faces a choice: to be with the man who left her at the first chance, or the one who has pledged himself to her happiness. VERDICT This sequel to Anna’s Crossing continues the story of the Amish settlers who arrived in this country in the 18th century. Crisp prose and close attention to historical detail will keep readers engrossed. A solid option for devotees of Wanda Brunstetter, Shelley Shepard Gray, and Amy Clipston.

Check these out

Addison, Corban. A Harvest of Thorns. Thomas Nelson. Jan. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9780718042387. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718042400. CF

After a deadly fire in a Bangladeshi sweatshop, a photograph of a dead factory girl wearing a face mask labeled Presto ­Omnishops Corporation goes viral and ignites outrage. Cameron Alexander, the general counsel for the large clothing manufacturer, investigates the disaster, risking his life as he learns some grim realities about worker abuse and corporate responsibility. Meanwhile, ambitious journalist Joshua Griswold is looking for a break to restore his career. After a whistleblower tips him off about some damaging information, Joshua compiles a case against Presto. The potential ramifications draw enormous media attention and shine a spotlight on the garment industry as a whole, and Presto in particular. VERDICT Addison (The Tears of Dark Water) crafts a stunning legal thriller that will immerse readers in its South Asian setting and fascinating characters. Its focus on workers rights and social justice is also bound to have crossover appeal for readers of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and histories of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

Alexander, Tamera. A Note Yet Unsung. Bethany House. (Belmont Mansion, Bk. 3). Feb. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780764206245. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441230942. CF

Violinist Rebekah Carrington scores an audition for a position with the Nashville Philharmonic. Unfortunately, in 1871, female musicians are frowned upon because of their “inability” to handle the “rigorous” work. No amount of cajoling can persuade either the conductor, Nathaniel Whitcomb, or Rebekah’s new employer, Mrs. Cheatham, the mistress of Belmont Mansion. Devastated at Whitcomb’s refusal to let her play, she is less than pleased when he asks her to help him finish a symphony he’s writing for his ailing father. However, neither Nathaniel or Rebekah can deny the growing attraction between them. Featuring a swoon-worthy courtship, this delightful historical also offers a vivid portrait of a lesser-known chapter in the 19th-century classical music scene. VERDICT This final entry of Alexander’s historical romantic trilogy (A Lasting Impression; A Beauty So Rare) will leave devotees on a high note.

Calvert, Candace. Maybe It’s You. Tyndale House. (Crisis Team, Bk. 3). Feb. 2017. 425p. ISBN 9781414390369. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781496418791. CF

Changing her name and moving to a new city, emergency room nurse Sloane ­Ferrell hopes to put her dark past behind her with a new start at Los Angeles’s Hope Hospital. Enter Micah Prescott, a marketing consultant seeking to find “the face of LA Hope” for his new campaign, and he believes Sloane is it. The two clash immediately, as Sloane wants to stay out of the spotlight. Then a string of violent crimes threaten to expose Sloane, and a relentless reporter is hoping for a big scoop. Adding to her anxiety is her growing attraction to Micah. VERDICT This third installment in Calvert’s “Crisis Team” series (after Step by Step; By Your Side) features fully rounded characters, medical drama, and plenty of suspense. Calvert’s former career as an ER nurse lends authenticity, and her themes of God’s grace, forgiveness, and redemption will inspire readers seeking spiritual ­encouragement.

Gray, Shelley Shepard. An Uncommon Protector. Zondervan. (Lone Star Hero’s Love Story, Bk. 1). Feb. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780310345428. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718078218. CF

In post–Civil War Texas, Laurel Tracey is the last surviving member of her family; she needs help running her 200-acre ranch. Thomas Baker is a former soldier, jailed for nonpayment of fines. The two make a deal: he’ll work for her for one year and she’ll bail him out. They work tirelessly to hold the ranch, while trying to ignore the electric currents flowing between them. After a threat is made on Laurel’s life and her livestock mysteriously die, both realize it’s time to stop pretending they don’t care for each other. Although better known for her Amish fiction, Gray (“Heart of a Hero” romances) launches a new Texas historical series and once again demonstrates her skill at establishing an authentic Western setting and strong, memorable characters. The tense story line and suspenseful tone will have readers rooting for Thomas and Laurel the whole way. VERDICT Gray’s ardent fans will line up for this one.

Green, Jocelyn. The Mark of the King. Bethany House. Jan. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9780764219061. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441231079. CF

When her patient dies after giving birth, midwife Julianne Chevalier chooses deportation to the 1720s French colony of Louisiana over a lifetime of imprisonment. As an unmarried woman, she is forbidden to travel alone, and thus embarks on a marriage of convenience with another convict, Marc-Paul Girard. Struggling to adjust to the rough-and-tumble life in the New World, she also tries to find her brother Benjamin in hopes of restoring order to her chaotic life. With this sweeping historical romance, Green turns from the Civil War era of her “Heroines Behind the Lines” books (Wedded to War; Spy of Richmond) to 18th-­century Louisiana, penning a deftly crafted and gritty portrait of the French colony. VERDICT Readers will be swept away by the themes of faith and redemption woven throughout the narrative as well as the alluring protagonists and setting. Fans of Beth White’s “Gulf Coast Chronicles,” Lynn Austin, and Susan ­Meissner will enjoy.

MacLaren, Sharlene. Summer on Sunset Ridge. Whitaker House. (Forever Freedom, Bk. 1). Jan. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781629117966. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781629117973 . CF

Raised on a Quaker farm, Rebecca Albright is determined to help her father ferrying escaped slaves to Philadelphia’s Underground Railroad. She is almost killed when she confronts Sheriff Clay Dalton, who is trying to apprehend two runaways. When Clay is shot, Rebecca’s father orders her to care for him in their home as penance for her disobedience. Struck with amnesia, Clay witnesses the Albrights’ love for Jesus and the plight of the escaped slaves. He is attracted to the feisty abolitionist Rebecca, but only time will tell if his heart will be turned. Drawing on her own Quaker roots, MacLaren pays careful attention to accurate historical detail and a heartfelt, inspirational story. Although the somewhat stilted King James–style language (“thees” and “thous”) can be off-putting, the engaging plot more than makes up for it. VERDICT MacLaren (Tennessee Dreams; “Gift of Grace” series) debuts a new series set during a turbulent period in American history. Civil War buffs and historical romance fans will appreciate this title.

redstarMarasco, Ron. The Dog Who Was There. Thomas Nelson. Jan. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780718083922. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718083946. CF

In first-century Judea, a half-drowned puppy is rescued by a kind couple who show him love and kindness. When the dog, called Barley, is uprooted from this home and becomes a stray living on the outskirts of Jerusalem, he meets a homeless petty thief named Samid. Together, master and pooch hear talk of a kind and knowledgeable teacher from Galilee who preaches in the streets. When Samid is arrested by Roman soldiers to be crucified, rumors indicate that the preacher will share his fate. Barley observes firsthand the deaths of his master and the teacher of Galilee. VERDICT Through the touching tale of a stray dog who witnesses the ministry of Jesus, Marasco’s (Notes to an Actor; About Grief) first novel offers an unusual perspective on Christianity’s beginnings. Lovers of canine stories and readers of biblical fiction will be pleased by this hopeful tale.

Markert, James. The Angels’ Share. Thomas Nelson. Jan. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780718090227. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718090234. CF

William McPhee desperately wants his father to reopen their noted bourbon distillery in Twisted Tree, KY, now that Prohibition is over. But the old man will not be swayed. Evil lurks in the community, wearing white hoods and carrying weapons. Yet when a drifter dies and is buried in a potter’s field near the distillery, the grave begins to attract attention. Pilgrims insist that the Pauper’s Field Christ, as the deceased vagrant is known, had healed visitors to the site as well as others he met in life. If there is anything Twisted Tree, economically battered by the Great Depression, could use at this moment, it’s a miracle. VERDICT Distinguished by complex ideas and a foreboding tone, Markert’s (A White Wind Blew) enthralling novel captures a dark time and a people desperate for hope. Sensitive readers may shy from the violence depicted. Suggest to patrons seeking fiction with strong character development and themes of revenge, redemption, and miracles.

redstarMiller, Carolyn. The Elusive Miss Ellison. Kregel. (Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace, Bk. 1). Feb. 2017. 228p. ISBN 9780825444500. pap. $14.99. CF

Arrogant Nicholas Stamford, the seventh Earl of Hawkesbury, is home on a brief leave to relax and give himself time to consider the ramifications of the war he left behind. However, rest is not possible when he is called upon to check in with the villagers, which irritates him greatly. Lavinia ­Ellison, the minister’s daughter, finds the young nobleman even more cavalier than he was before the war. Sparks fly between the two immediately. Secrets, society, and attitudes conspire to keep the couple apart, but God may just make a way to place them together. VERDICT Displaying a flair for comedy and witty dialog, Miller is clearly an author to watch. Her debut Regency rockets off the page with clever, snappy repartee, creating an exciting and fast-paced read. Fans of Georgette Heyer and Julie Klassen will love this romance and eagerly anticipate the second volume (The Captivating Miss Charlotte), coming in June.

redstarParker, Samuel. Purgatory Road. Baker. Jan. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780800727338. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493406029. CF

Married couple Jack and Laura decide to see the desert sights outside of Las Vegas, but soon find themselves in their own version of hell when their rental car breaks down. With no cellular service and little water, they are on the brink of death when they are rescued by a desert hermit named Boots. Meanwhile, in Vegas, Colton sets his sights on Molly, clearly a runaway, and abducts her, playing a nasty game of cat and mouse when he chains her up in a cave. Boots and Colton are no strangers to each other, and this turn of events casts an epic battle of good vs. evil. The suspense of this briskly paced, emotionally charged plot becomes almost unbearable as events unfold. VERDICT Written in short, page-turning chapters, Parker’s dark debut thriller will grip suspense aficionados from the first page. Fans of Irene Hannon and Dee ­Henderson who are looking for something a bit grittier will find plenty of it here.

Peterson, Tracie & Kimberley Woodhouse. In the Shadow of Denali. Bethany House. (Heart of Alaska, Bk. 1). Jan. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780764219238. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441231048. CF

In 1923, John Ivanoff and his daughter, ­Cassidy, both work at the Tony Curry Hotel at the base of Alaska’s Mt. McKinley, or Denali, as the mountain is called by the indigenous people. He’s a wilderness adventure guide, and she toils as a cook’s assistant. Allan Brennan arrives, under the guise of hiking Mt. McKinley; however, he is really seeking the man who murdered his father. He suspects that it was Ivanoff who had led Henry Brennan and his business partner Frank on the fatal hike up the treacherous peak. Through the years, Frank did nothing to dissuade Allan of that notion. Now he must put his trust in God and decide what to do about Ivanoff as they, too, ascend the mountain. VERDICT Coauthors Peterson and Woodhouse (Beyond the Silence; All Things Hidden) begin a new series drawing on Alaska’s rich history, featuring the authentic, lushly detailed setting and fleshed-out characterizations that fans of this duo have come to expect. Readers who enjoy Dani Pettrey will delight in immersing themselves in the Last Frontier.

Series Lineup

ljx170201webchristianseriesDeering, Julianna. Murder on the Moor. Bethany House. (Drew Farthering, Bk. 5). Jan. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780764218286. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441230966. CF

In their fifth adventure (after Dressed for Death), Drew Farthering and his wife, ­Madeline, are off to the forbidding Yorkshire moors to help out one of Drew’s old friends from school. A series of troublesome incidents in the area has culminated with the suspicious death of the vicar. Drew has his pick of suspects, including his friend’s new bride, who seems more interested in the gamekeeper than her husband. For fans of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, these charming British mysteries are a treat not to be missed.

Williamson, Jill. King’s Blood. Bethany House. (Kinsman Chronicles, Bk. 2). Jan. 2017. 480p. ISBN 9780764218316. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781441230737. CF

The Five Realms has been destroyed, and the remnant survivors are heading north in search of a new home. When the king falls ill, Sâr Wilek must lead, while also dealing with assassination attempts and other wickedness. A prophecy about a mysterious “Deliverer” looms, and Wilek worries about what it might mean for his people. Williamson’s mesmerizing writing and intriguing characters make this second series entry (after King’s Folly) a must-read for epic fantasy 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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  1. Donna Windish says:

    I’m working on adding some CF to our leased, rotating collection. I can only order hardback and I don’t really want to track series. Can you recommend some titles that meet those criteria?