Stories of faith, life, and love

Category: Fiction Review (Page 1 of 14)

What I’m Reading: My First Historical Romance

I think a lot of people my age (and no, I’m not telling) probably read Janette Oke as their first Christian historical romance author. I did read read her books early on, but it was long before I was reading romance. She had a children’s book series I enjoyed. You’d think being familiar with her would have translated into choosing to read her historical fiction. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever read any of her books in that genre. Maybe I should.

So, if it wasn’t Janette Oke, who was my first historical fiction author? My first experience with not only Christian adult fiction but also the historical romance genre was made possible by Lori Wick. I started with her Place Called Home series. It includes A Place Called Home, A Song for Silas, The Long Road Home, and A Gathering of Memories.

The series opens with Christine running from her home after her grandfather’s death. She’s facing a danger she doesn’t quite understand, and she’s doing it alone. She has no family or faith to guide her through. When she ends up in Baxter, she develops relationships that could evolve into a surrogate family and through their example Christine is introduced to God and what it means to live a life of faith.

The second book continues telling the story of the Cameron family in Baxter, Wisconsin, focusing this time on Silas. When he answers the need for a close friend, he realizes the girl he once thought of as a sister has grown into a woman he could love. But she’s been hurt before, and he’s not sure the change in his feelings would even be welcomed. Faith and family, again, play an important part in helping the main characters find their way.

The third book in the series takes a serious turn. After losing his new wife, Paul Cameron runs from everything he’s known including his family and the God he’s preached about. It takes an injury and the patient care of Abigail to open him up to the possibility that the end of one dream doesn’t have to mean an end to all dreams. God is faithful in the pain as much as in the joy, and He can redeem what’s been lost.

The final book focuses on the instant family of Silas and Amy after they take in five children who have lost their mother and are without their father. The oldest really isn’t a child at 18. When she consults a lawyer named Ross about a legal matter regarding the family farm, the young man can’t help feeling attracted to her. But another girl and Amanda’s lack of faith are roadblock’s to anything developing between them.

While this series is not my favorite from this author, it holds a special place in my reading heart. The stories are simple and sweet. Each book is a quick and easy to read, providing a great evening escape for the reader. And now that I’m reminiscing, I may have to visit our local used bookstore and add this series to my shelves once more.

What was your first experience with Christian historical fiction?

What I’m Reading: My First Suspense

I can remember my first day of school. I can remember my first kiss, my first time having frozen yogurt, and the first movie my family went to a theater to watch together. It was E.T., by the way.

Some things stick with you through the years. Others leave you with only the impression they made. Over the next few weeks, I want to share some first books with you. These are books I clearly remember as being my firsts for various reasons. Most of them are older books, but you should still be able to find them. I’d encourage it, because they are well worth it.

I have a confession to make. I tend to steer clear of suspense. I get creeped out way too easily. But I think today’s author began writing romantic Christian suspense before it was a standard genre in the Christian fiction world. And while each of her books have a little mystery in them or a little danger, today’s series held more than I was used to from her. At least, it read as more suspenseful to me, a bit creepier. And so, I include it as my first Christian romantic suspense.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to find a copy of the Egypt trilogy by Linda Chaikin. The series’ World War I backdrop of battles and intrigue are enough to add action and suspense, but the author weaves a deadly who-done-it throughout the three stories. We’re left questioning the motives of characters we think are true. We fear for the safety of the characters we love.

Arabian Winds begins the series with Nurse Allison Wescott serving on a medical mission boat in Egypt. Her life is full of promise, as she’s engaged to a man who is working to serve as a chaplain in Oswald Chambers’s camp. When war breaks out during her holiday, Allison becomes part of a mystery surrounding two dead bodies and Brett Holden, a British officer determined to interrogate her. But there are also sparks, and Allison is faced with more choices for her life than she ever imagined.

Allison’s story continues in Lions of the Desert. World War I has begun, and Allison has moved from serving on the medical mission boat to tending wounded soldiers on the front lines. When Brett Holden reappears, Allison is unprepared for his return. However, the two find themselves in the middle of murder, and Allison has to figure out who she can trust before it’s too late.

The series ends with Valiant Hearts. With Brett in hot water with his superiors, Allison wants to trust him and his motives. But there are too many secrets and a treasure map that promises to bring its owner great riches. Before she can figure out whether Brett has “gone bad”, they’re thrown into danger from a deadly German spy who wants what everyone says Brett has. With Allison caught in the middle, her life is at risk if they can’t unmask the spy and find out the truth about Brett.

I’ve read this series many times since it came out in 1997. It gives me just enough mystery to make me want to read it with the lights one without making me want to sleep with them on too! And while there are clues throughout the stories, the author does a great job of keeping the reader off balance just enough to keep the ending a surprise.

I hope you enjoy this first as much as I have. Do you remember your first Christian romantic suspense? Have you read this series?

What I’m Reading: London Tides

Sometimes our past choices leave us wishing we could do it all over again. Maybe it’s the way we treated someone when we were young and impulsive. Or it could have been a chance we didn’t take because of fear. It might even be a path we took against our better judgment that causes us to wonder what life would have looked like had we listened more to those who warned us to go in a different direction.

Even if we don’t wallow in regret, I think we all face those “what if” thoughts on occasion. Second chances don’t come along for every situation, but sometimes life brings us back around to familiar places and faces. This can be a second chance to get it right, or it can be what tempts us back into old patterns.

Grace Brennan, the main character in Carla Laureano’s London Tides, finds this out the hard way. Years ago she walked out on the man she loved to prove herself as a photojournalist. In honor of her brother, she wanted to change the world through showing the devastation and need of people in high conflict areas. And she succeeded, until she was faced with one loss too many.

Knowing she can’t face the horrors any more, she seeks out the one place and person that feels like home, London and Ian MacDonald. She knows it’s a long shot. Ian gave up his Olympic dreams to make a life with her, a life she rejected without reason or warning. But she has to try.

Ian knows there are things Grace isn’t telling him, but he’s drawn to the woman he never stopped loving despite the risks. He gives Grace a second chance, but he’s also forced to deal with his own choices from the past. He stopped living after she left him, and he’s never really started again. Until her return.

Grace has returned to faith, and she’s determined this time with Ian will be different. Neither let faith enter into their relationship decisions in their previous time together, and they ended up going places they shouldn’t have. Grace is also aware some of her coping mechanisms out in the field were not healthy, and she has decided to leave all of that behind. She is a different person now, and she won’t do the things she’s done before.

When a deep tragedy occurs, Grace falls into old patterns. Has she really changed at all? Is her faith real or just something she’s pretending? Can she be a new person with the weight of the past she’s refused to deal with clinging to her? If she can’t, is there any hope for her and Ian to have a future? She’s been given a second chance, but is it only going to end like it did the first time?

As I read about the sinful choices Grace fell back on, I was tempted to be disappointed with her. But God reminded me of the times I’ve also resorted to old behaviors. While they may not have been the same struggles, they were just as wrong.

Second chances are tricky, for Grace and for us. London Tides reminded me of that. It also reminded me how thankful I am that there’s no limit to God’s forgiveness when I fail to be the new me and fall back into the behaviors of the old me.

Have you ever gotten a second chance? Did it turn out the way you expected?

What I’m Reading: The Enlightenment of Bees

I’m usually a straight up Christian fiction girl. I’ll throw in an occasional clean read or inspirational read, but I want to choose it for myself. I like to read Christian fiction, because I want to be encouraged in my faith. I want to be challenged to grow closer to God as I read. I want to read about people who, while living very different lives from me, are making choices based on the Biblical worldview I hold.

When I saw The Enlightenment of Bees by Rachel Linden on the shelf at a local used book store, I was instantly drawn to it. The title alone is enough to peak interest. With equally interesting back cover copy and a Christian publisher, I went ahead and added the book to my stack.

I was a little caught off guard by the story being more what I would consider inspirational or clean reading. I expected Mia’s faith to factor into the decisions she made and how she chose which paths to take. I expected her relationship with God to grow through the challenges and triumphs she faced. And while I realize every Christian book doesn’t have to “preach” to you in an open way, I believe to call it a Christian book, the faith element should at least be present in ways the reader can see.

That being said, I did enjoy this book. Rachel Linden tells an interesting story that does challenge the reader. There were several times I found myself taking screenshots of the pages so I could revisit beautiful, thought-provoking quotes. There are lessons in the pages ranging from caution in shaping our lives around childhood perceptions to realizing people are more than what we see on the outside to being open to taking risks.

One of the most prominent and challenging ideas sparked through Mia’s story is presented through a character named Delphine. It blends with the lessons Mia learns from other women on her journey and provides her the final confirmation of the direction she should go. Saying her good-byes to Mia, Delphine says, “Remember, Mia, your place in this world is the space where your greatest passion meets the world’s great pain.”

For Mia, this means accepting that the thing she’s felt is not enough to give to the world is really the best thing she can give to others. She can be herself and make a difference.

For me, the message is a reminder. While faith may not have played a part in Mia’s decisions, it does in mine. Mia’s story reminded me that God wants to use my passions, talents, and personality to reach out to others with His love. Her journey gave me an outlet to examine my own life and see if I’m doing that faithfully. Even her lack of seeking His guidance was a gentle nudge to seek His plan for me as I look for the paths I should take and which ones I should avoid.

The Enlightenment of Bees may not be what I expected, but it was a well-told story that left me encouraged to let God use me to reach others in need.

What I’m Reading: Before I Called You Mine

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost

We understand actions have consequences. We teach young children not to touch the hot stove because they will get burned. We show them how to look both ways before crossing the street. We explain that a failure to do so could get them hit by a car. Every day we have choices to make, and intellectually we understand each of those choices will come with a consequence.

I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a writer. I also knew I needed to have a “real” job to pay the bills until I became an award-winning, best-selling author in the Christian market earning a salary that would allow me to live comfortably without any other income. I’m still waiting for that to happen!

Honestly, I could probably spend time writing full-time, if not for one choice my husband and I have made. We sent our children to a Christian school for their education. Some years, we paid tuition for four children at a time. Now, we are down to one. He has another year left, and he wants to finish up at the school where he started.

Our choice to give our children this education brought with it the consequence of me having to work until tuition is paid off. It is a choice I would make again, but it doesn’t mean I don’t wish I could have both my child in Christian school and a full-time writing career. I serve a God who can make it happen, but most times He lets us live with the consequences of our choices. Sometimes it’s about giving us the choice of whether or not we will follow what He has put into our hearts to do.

It’s this kind of decision Lauren Bailey faces in Before I Called You Mine by Nicole Deese. Lauren feels God has called her to adoption. The rules in adopting from China are simple. She can adopt as a single woman, or she can wait until she’s been married for a specific amount of time and adopt as a couple. Since her previous boyfriend ended their relationship, that doesn’t seem like a viable option. She starts the process to adopt as a single woman.

Keeping with her plan to avoid romantic attachment and possible derailing of what she knows God wants her to do is easy, until she meets the sub across the hall. Joshua is everything she ever dreamed of finding in a man, and he’s completely into her. The timing couldn’t be worse.

Lauren is determined to keep on her path to adopt and keep her growing friendship with Joshua. But as they grow closer, she is forced to a hard look at what she’s giving up and what waits for her in return. Being a mother to a child in need has fueled her decisions for so long she’s almost forgotten the time when her heart wanted more. Now that her dream of love has reawakened, Lauren fears whatever decision is made, her heart will break in the process. Only God can make both her dreams come true. But will He? Or will He allow her to live with the consequences of her choice?

Whether you’ve been in Lauren’s shoes or not, you’ll find yourself crying with her in the hard times and hoping with her for God’s best in her life. You’ll cheer her on as she learns some important truths about herself. And you’ll walk away from the story with a greater understanding of the heartaches and joys those who choose adoption face as they become family to those who have none.

What I’m Reading: Forever Music

We’ve all seen the saying admonishing us that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing while expecting different results. But I’m also pretty sure we’ve each found ourselves in a situation like that at some point in our lives.

It’s easy to do. And, honestly, it isn’t always as clear cut as the phrase would make us believe. What’ s that other saying? If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

The funny thing about quotes and quips is that what works great in one situation could bring disaster in another. They’re usually more accurately described as principles, not laws of life. It’s important to recognize the difference.

Just ask Josie Daniels, the main character in Forever Music by Hope Toler Daugherty. When she meets Ches, it’s apparent he’s a successful, driven business type. Josie has been there, done that. Her former boyfriend, BJ, taught her the hyper focused, career driven type is not for her when he broke her heart.

But Ches is more than he first appears. Friendship develops, and Josie quickly realizes keeping her distance is going to be harder than she thought. Her daily monologue includes reminders that she’s traveled that road before, and it led no where good. He’s a lawyer with a girlfriend. There is no room for her in his life as anything more than a friend.

Josie knows their friendship is good for Ches. He knows it too. But will their friendship survive as their feelings for each other deepen? Will her heart’s refusal to accept the truth that she’s repeating history leave Josie with her newly healing heart shattered once more?

There are no easy answers for Josie and Ches, no matter what wise sayings might indicate. The answers aren’t always easy for us either. That’s why we need to anchor our thoughts and decisions in scripture, pray, and follow God’s leading even when it goes against common thought.

Throughout the story, Josie comes to a deeper understanding of this truth. She learns the answers she seeks aren’t always as black and white as she’d like. Pain does come when we cross lines we shouldn’t, but it can also come when we’re not making bad choices.

Forever Music is a great story with relatable characters that drew me in and kept my attention from the first page. I enjoyed the reminder that although situations may be similar, we need to rely on God’s wisdom instead of our own (or that of bumper sticker wisdom) to make our choices. It won’t make things easy or prevent hurt, but it will mean we can go through those times with grace and peace knowing we’re inside God’s plan for our lives.

What I’m Reading: Secrets Over Sweet Tea

Bread pudding. Five years ago, I would have said those words didn’t belong in the same sentence much less their ingredients in the same recipe.

I love bread. I love pudding. But the concept of pudding made out of bread sounded incredibly mushy and gross. To be honest, it still does. However, the reality of bread pudding is no longer something that causes me to scrunch up my nose in disgust.

One day, I got brave. Though at the time, I may have wondered if it was bravery or stupidity that lead me away from more known desserts like cheesecake and chocolate lava cake.

My husband and I were at an Irish Pub, and I was taking risks and trying new things. It was my birthday, after all. And the restaurant’s limited dessert menu left me with a choice between three items. I found myself requesting the bread pudding, and am I ever glad I did. I could be wrong, but I believe I heard angels singing as I took that warm, comforting first bite. Paired with salted caramel ice cream and filled with the flavors of fall, this dessert was as close to perfection as anything I’m going to find this side of heaven.

My foray into the wonderful world of bread pudding was unexpected but definitely worth it. I love it when something works out differently than I thought but much better than I’d anticipated.

That’s exactly what happened as I read Secrets Over Sweet Tea by Denise Hildreth Jones. I picked up the book on a whim in a used bookstore my husband and I frequent. With all the seriousness going on in our world currently, I wanted a light read, full of humor and good times. The cover was inviting, the author new to me, and the back spoke of a boisterous southern pastor’s wife. It sounded like a perfect little ball of fluff for my weekend.

Scarlett Jo Newberry is as full of life and love as the back promised she would be. Not your typical pastor’s wife, her outgoing, outrageous personality is a turn off to some, but as people warm up to the woman underneath they see what an asset she is to their church and community.

But this story isn’t all fun and games. There’s a lot of heavy stuff in the secrets her congregation tries to hide. From adultery and addiction to divorce and sexual assault, all the characters twined together in the story have a serious, real to life issue they’re trying to keep secret. When truth comes out, the resulting mess is not easily contained.

It would have been easy for Secrets Over Sweet Tea to leave one bogged down with the reality of it all. It would also have been easy for the story to make light of the heavy issues and avoid any talk of repercussions. This story doesn’t go either of those directions.

Real issues are dealt with in truthful, scriptural ways. Discussions around how each person’s decisions affect those around them are realistic and honest. But the story balances the heaviness of the themes with faith and the vibrant personality of Scarlett Jo. The end result is an entertaining, truth filled story that makes you want to go back for seconds.

https://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Over-Sweet-Tea/dp/B00FE3IFB4/

On Tour and Free Read

My second book, Grasping Hope, is currently on blog tour with Celebrate Lit. If you’d like to see what others are saying about Grasping Hope, here is a link for the main page of the tour.

While you’re checking out Grasping Hope, I have a special deal to tell you about on the first book in the series, Faith’s Journey. From April 4-8, you can get an eBook copy of Faith’s Journey for free on Amazon. During this time of social distancing and spending more time at home, I hope this gives you a relaxing and encouraging way to use some of your time and helps forget about all the craziness that’s been happening around us for a while.

What I’m Reading: Five Days in Skye

I have a love/hate relationship with books set in places I have never been. And to be honest, that’s most of them since I’m not well-traveled. As pathetic as it is, I’ve only visited (not including those I’ve passed through on my way somewhere else) nine states, and I don’t even have a passport. Most of those were for martial arts tournaments or writing conferences. If you make me narrow it down to places I’ve actually spent at least three days in for something other than tournaments and conferences, I have to lower it to four, possibly five. My point is, there are a lot of places I haven’t been. So, I read about a lot of places I’ve never seen.

I love reading a book and being able to clearly picture the mountains in Colorado, the vinyards in California, or the colors of fall in New England. They create in me a desire to see these places for myself, and that’s where the hate comes in. Do you realize how many places are now on my “someday I’ll go there” list? It’s been steadily growing since high school, and I’ve yet to check one place off.

Take my latest read, Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano. Andrea Sullivan is set to vacation on a tropical island, and when her boss sends her on a business trip to Scotland, she is less than enthused. (I really don’t know what her problem was. I’d choose Scotland any day. Have you heard the way they speak? And who doesn’t want to explore castles?) Andrea goes because work is what she does, and she is in line for a VP position. Impressing the boss is more important than a little rest. Besides, she can relax any time.

The quick change in plans makes Andrea a little moody, and after a rocky start with her client, James MacDonald, she’s not feeling any better about the whole ordeal. James, on the other hand, is determined to help Andrea see how much there is to love about Skye. After slowly eroding some of her defenses, James succeeds in getting Andrea to stay longer than she expected, a total of five days in Skye to learn to live life away from work and love Skye. And despite previous hurts, family drama, and a strict code about mixing business with pleasure, Andrea may find she loves the man she met in Skye as well.

While the entertaining, well-told story and likable characters are enough to give the story a great review, the descriptions of Skye make it even better. As James and Andrea explore in and around Skye, the images readers are left with are a little more than enticing.

As I finished, I contemplated the need to get a passport, and I was only stopped by the reality that I don’t have the means to go anywhere right now, much less fly to Scotland. And with that truth, you can clearly see why I have a love/hate relationship with stories like Five Days in Skye. I love the story and the way the setting comes alive in my imagination, but I do kind of hate that I know I’m not going there any time soon. Of course, if the desire to visit Scotland hits me in the future, I could always spend more time there by re-reading Five Days in Skye!

Main Character Monday with Dean Blackburn

Welcome to Main Character Monday. Today’s guest is homicide detective, Dean Blackburn, from Song in the Dark by Jessica White. Thank you for joining me.

Thanks for having me. But honestly, I’m used to being the interviewer not the interviewee.

What three words would you use to describe your author?

Curious, tenacious, and courageous enough to discover the truth. She reminds me of my three Dobermans when they catch a scent and refuse to abandon it until they discover the source. She never stops digging until she gets to the heart of the story.

Just for fun. Go with your gut.

Sunrise or sunset?

Sunset. It means I get to go home and spend time with my dogs.

Pie or Cake?

Honey Cakes & Moon Pies makes this pomegranate cake that’s to die for.

Tulip or Iris?

I guess irises, because they were my mother’s favorite. But whatever Jenna prefers.

Chocolate or Vanilla?

Hands down, dark chocolate.

Interesting. Next question. If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?

I’d probably get out of Albany, New York and visit some warmer climates. I’m not really the touristy type, but I like quiet places where the boys can stretch their legs and I can relax and read a book cover to cover without worrying about looking over my shoulder. Perhaps discover some unique bookshops hidden around the world, like the one in Coober Pedy, Australia that’s built inside a cave. Or Atlantis Books in Santorini, Greece that carries old hardbound books.

Speaking of books, let’s talk the Bible. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which of these traits do you find easiest to display in your life? 

Wow. I guess self-control would be my strongest. You can’t be a good detective if you don’t learn to control your thoughts and emotions and not let them get in the way of the evidence or project onto your victim or your suspect.

Which of them is the hardest to display?

Hardest? All the rest! Again, with my job, it’s really hard to see the good around you—but that’s why Jenna amazes me. She’s got the whole package. She even makes my curmudgeon of a neighbor grin like an old fool.


Jenna sounds like someone we all need in our lives. I’d love to meet her, but for now, we should continue with the interview. What is your favorite story from the Old Testament?

Old Testament? Probably the story of Gideon. Growing up a military brat, I learned to trust in numbers and weapons. But since meeting Jenna, I’ve learned God has us covered. Whatever we need, we’ll have when we need it.

What is your favorite book in the New Testament?

Acts. It’s practical. Stories like Ananias and Sapphira really hit home. I hate it when perps get away with lying to the cops. It’s good to know that even when I can’t see the truth in a situation, God knows. In the end, justice is His. If He chooses to let me be a part of that, then it’s a privilege.

If you could leave us with one message, what would you want us to know?

That darkness can’t extinguish light, but light can expel darkness. So surround yourself with people who bring light into your life. And never take them for granted.

Thank you for joining me today. I think you must be the first detective I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing, and it gives you a slightly different perspective than most of the characters I interview.

Readers, you can find out more about Dean and meet Jenna in Song in the Dark by Jessica White. Keep reading for more about Jessica and where to find her book.

More on Song in the Dark:

After graduating from Juilliard, harpist Jenna Fields returns home to Albany to escape her manipulative ex and prove to her controlling mother that she can orchestrate her own life.

Homicide detective Dean Blackburn spends his days seeking justice for the dead. But darkness taints everything, including him.

When his three Dobermans lead him to Jenna playing in the park, he tries to resist the beautiful musician and focus on his cases. At least until he witnesses Jenna’s ex attempt to blackmail her and learns she’s being stalked, just like one of his homicide victims.

When her world crumbles beneath her feet, and Dean learns she has her own dark secrets, he helps Jenna see that the key to escaping her mother’s gilded cage is already in her hands.

Where to connect with Jessica: AuthorJessicaWhite.com for more info

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