Stories of faith, life, and love

Category: Historical Christian Fiction (Page 1 of 6)

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: Lane Steen

I admit I shed a few tears the first time I listened to Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s rock opera, Beethoven’s Last Night. When Mephistopheles strikes a bargain with Beethoven to give up one piece of the music he’s created in exchange for his soul, Beethoven rants at Fate for having left him with this awful choice after the lifetime of hurts he’s already faced. She allows him to revisit scenes from his past and erase their pain from his life. But the hurts, disappointments, and losses sprinkled throughout his memories aren’t what moved me.

After reliving each painful experience, Beethoven makes his choice. As he sings “This is Who You Are”, it becomes clear. Beethoven can’t erase any of his past without erasing the beautiful music created from the things he experienced. One event changed in his past would change everything else about his life. He chose to keep the pain so the world would not lose the beauty drawn out of it. It’s a choice that probably hits close to home for many of us as we consider the mistakes and hurts of our own lives.

I imagine it’s a theme that played throughout Lane’s life in Lane Steen by Candace West.  Before she was out of her teenage years, Lane Steen’s life held enough hurts to fill ten people with the ache to erase the past. Raised in a shack on the outskirts of town was enough to make Lane feel like an outcast without adding in her tattered clothes and father’s bad reputation. Even those paled in comparison to the horror of living with an alcoholic father who didn’t need the addition of alcohol to make him physically and verbally abusive to his wife and daughter. With her own mother being emotionally disconnected from her, the only bright spots in her life are school and her friendships with Tabitha, Guy, and the new teacher who encourages Lane to find what she’s good at and pursue it.

Even these gifts in her life don’t lessen the hurt she feels or take away the hate Lane has for her father. Her only thoughts are to escape the town and her family and never look back. As opportunities open up small windows of hope into Lane’s life, Lane begins to wrestle with the possibility that God is there and, despite her awful circumstances, He may care about her.  

Lane takes a journey of self and faith discovery through the story. Each secret revealed about herself and her family’s past gives her more understanding. Lane learns what brings her joy and purpose. She finds out how healing God’s forgiveness and love can be to receive, and she is confronted with the need to extend that forgiveness and love to others. Lane’s eyes and heart are opened to what it really means to love someone and let them love in return. And she struggles to define what forgiveness should look like on a daily basis as she tries to move forward from the damage caused by others in her life. Lane had to learn how to let the past shape her without allowing it to trap her in a world of hate and retribution.

Whether it’s in the fictional world of Lane Steen or in our sometimes all too real lives, the past plays its part in who people become. Good and bad circumstances influence our outlooks, decisions, and emotions. Left on our own, we often turn to unhealthy ways of dealing with the past. We, like Lane, attach ourselves to ideas of retribution, hate, or despair.

It doesn’t have to be this way. God’s word offers hope that as we’ve been forgiven, we can forgive others whether they deserve it or not.  They don’t even have to accept it. We find freedom in ourselves to move into a better place when we choose forgiveness.

Scripture promises us that while the hurts may not fall away, God can grow good things in us despite and even through the pain. God assures us He will never leave us. When we feel we are all alone, we can cling to this promise and know that feeling is not from Him. He’s there to provide strength, encouragement, and direction in the middle of our hurts.

Navigating our pasts to become God’s best for us in the present and future isn’t an easy path. And it’s relevance in our lives is what makes Lane Steen’s fictional story resonate even if your pains are very different from hers. But coming to the places of acceptance of our pasts, forgiveness for those who hurt us, and allowing God to work in us will bring us to the place where we can be everything we were created to be.

What I’m Reading: Spring of Thanksgiving

My family is experiencing first-hand how God works in what our very limited human perceptions label as good and bad events. Dealing with dementia, strokes, and a gradual decline leading to what we hope is soon to be my grandmother’s heavenly homecoming we are swimming in a sea of what feels like bad events. But God has given us so many good gifts during this time.

Through the years of dealing with her dementia, God has grown us and provided for us in ways we never expected. He’s brought beautiful things out of the experience and taken care of details we didn’t know would be necessary. Some of the good has been spiritual in nature, but He’s worked out just as many of our physical needs.

I gave up my job to help my mother care for my grandmother. I didn’t hesitate when she asked for help though I knew my position as a full-time caregiver could end at any time, and I have one large bill that my salary pays for each month. When my grandmother went into the memory care facility, I was left without a job. Within a week, I gained employment at my previous job. It’s very part-time, but it’s enough to pay my bill each month. As an added bonus, the limited hours leave me more room for writing and learning about the business side of writing. God provided when I couldn’t. I had to wait and trust until He did.

Waiting when the answer isn’t readily seen is hard. Ivy Cooke, the main character in Liz Tolsma’s book Spring of Thanksgiving, knows that from experience. Ivy and her father are facing tough times on their Texas ranch. A seemingly endless drought and the need to fence their land to protect their property and others due to the railroad has put them in a hard place. Deeply in debt, Ivy has no idea how they will come up with the money to get caught up on their loan.

Facing the loss of their property to the bank is hard enough, but problems seem to pile on. New neighbors claim the spring necessary for getting Ivy’s ranch through the drought is on their property, and there’s nothing they won’t do to prevent Ivy and her father from using it.

Dell Watson is determined to show his father his worth, and the spring in question is his way to do it. Dell’s plan to secure the rights means he has to entice his beautiful neighbor to marry him. Circumstances change when Dell discovers Ivy is far more to him than a tool to get what his family desires. But his family still needs the spring, and the only way he sees to get it is through Ivy.

Dell and Ivy both face difficult circumstances without easy answers. As with most people, their minds work to find solutions to their problems. With their minds and hearts giving conflicting answers, they have to choose whether or not they can trust God with their problems and wait for His solution.

Dell and Ivy may get what they want, or God could give them something entirely unexpected. No matter what the circumstances, they have the choice to trust God’s goodness no matter what happens. Like us, they can choose to let trust lead to praise for His work in the hard and unexpected situations of life. But you’ll have to read Spring of Thanksgiving to find out if they do and if the path God gives them leads them closer or further apart.

What I’m Reading: Under Moonlit Skies

Sometimes God asks us to do the hard thing. I’ve experienced times when God wanted me to say something to someone I knew they wouldn’t like. Confrontation makes me sick to my stomach. Doing what God put in my heart to do was difficult during those times.

People I love have made poor choices that could have led to permanent, disastrous results. I wanted to help fix things for them, but God led me to give them to Him instead. Taking my hands off the situation and limiting myself to being there to listen and to pray for them was incredibly difficult.

I’ve experienced numerous occasions where God has nudged me from my comfort zone. He’s grown me as a person, a Christian, and a writer during those times. Knowing that’s how He works doesn’t make it any easier to choose to immediately listen to His prodding.

Doing the hard thing is, well, hard. It can lead us into situations where the outcome is not guaranteed. Stepping out in obedience to the nudge of the Holy Spirit has worked that way in my life, and it works that way for Esther Stanton in Under Moonlit Skies by Cynthia Roemer.

Esther grew up on the prairie until her father’s death. Being the younger of two sisters, she follows her mother to Cincinnati, Ohio. Life is good there. Her mother remarries, and though they are not close, Esther’s stepfather provides a good, comfortable life for them. Esther has a life-style that doesn’t exist on the prairie. But in her heart, Esther longs for the kind of life she knew growing up.

The flame of this desire is fanned when Esther returns to her hometown to care for her sister’s family while her sister recovers from giving birth to her second child. Time on the prairie brings back to life a vitality Esther has lost since moving to the city.  And time with Stew, a ranch hand working for her brother-in-law, only makes living on the prairie that much more attractive.

Esther and Stew’s attraction grows to friendship and continues on the path to love as they spend time together each day. What Esther feels for him and the life they could share together makes the prospect of returning to a man she doesn’t love in Cincinnati seem like a prison sentence. She knows a return to the city and the man who can give her everything financially is exactly what her mother expects, but Esther’s heart longs for more.

The nudge of the Holy Spirit for Esther to honor her mother’s wishes creates conflict in her spirit. She goes, leaving her hopes for a life of love on the prairie in limbo. Her return sets her on a path she doesn’t want but feels she must accept. Only time reveals if Esther’s obedience will lead her back to the life she dreams of or if she will be forced to find contentment in the life her mother wants for her.

There are no guarantees in how the circumstances will work out for Esther as she steps out in obedience, and it’s often the same with us. We have a limited view of our circumstances, but God sees how our picture intersects with the pictures of every other person in our lives. We see many possible outcomes, but He can see infinitely more. We think we know what’s best for us, but God knows what’s going to be best for all involved and bring Him the most glory in the end.

No matter what’s going on, no matter the possible outcomes, there are certain scriptural promises we can cling to. Philippians chapter four tells us we can know peace that goes beyond our circumstances. Jeremiah twenty-nine assures us God has plans for our good, and Psalm one hundred thirty-nine tells us God knows all our days before we’re even born. Romans eight promises that no matter what happens, God can bring good things into our lives through it.

It’s easy to throw these promises out without thought. But they aren’t magic words that make our hurts disappear. While they’re simple to say, living them during our hardest moments is never easy. We can’t pick and choose when to live out scripture and which verses we want to claim. The promises come alive in our lives when we live in active relationship with our heavenly Father in both the good times and the bad. If we’re drawing close to Him, He will draw close to us in our hard times. It’s a promise.

What I’m Reading: In Pursuit of an Emerald

I’ve got four amazing kids. I know, every parent says their kids are amazing. They’re probably right. I don’t know their kids, but I know mine. They are amazing. This isn’t to say they’re perfect. I can’t say I agree with all of their life choices or beliefs. And while those things matter to me and I spend time in prayer for them every day, my kids don’t have to be perfect to be amazing.

It amazes me how different they are from each other. There are physical traits linking them together, some more than others. There are looks and attitudes they have that mirror each other. But they are each very much their own person. They grew up in the same house. Their father and I had the same set of core beliefs we tried to instill in each one. But they still turned out remarkably different from each other, and I find that amazing.

Two are athletic. Two couldn’t care less about sports of any kind. All of them are creative though two focus more on the written word, one focuses on music and art, and one tends to put it all together. One is book smart, given to the role of student. The others are just as smart but not given to the strict structure of a traditional classroom. One has a natural talent to business that the others don’t possess. One is completely organized making lists while another flies by the seat of his pants. They are each their own unique person, and I love them for it.

A parent’s love and parenting style is as varied and complex as their children. Each child’s personality plays a role in how a parent chooses to encourage and discipline them. But a parent’s past can also make a difference in how they approach parenting.  Just ask Viollette McMillan, the main character from Jacqueline Freeman Wheelock’s book In Pursuit of an Emerald.

Viollette has a lot to overcome, not the least of which is parenting her child when her child believes Viollette is her older sister and not her mother. Emerald’s childhood years were spent as a slave on a plantation before the Civil War made her and Viollette free. Viollette’s decision to pass her daughter off as her younger sister was born of a desire for safety for both of them, but it has come with a hefty price of guilt.

As Viollette and Emerald struggle to learn what it means to be free in the post-Civil War south, they fight fear of the past, concern for the future, and long held prejudices. They even find it difficult knowing who to trust. Though it’s supposed to be a new world for them, many negative attitudes from the past still burn in those who could do them great harm.

While learning to navigate the confusing times, Viollette yearns for the mother-daughter relationship to grow between her and Emerald. Stretching her wings as an adolescent, Emerald equally wants the mother she doesn’t think she can have and the ability to think and act for herself. Secrets and regret often cloud Viollette’s attempts to parent her child. She wants what’s best for Emerald. Everything she does is to better Emerald’s future, but the past keeps all the dreams she has for her child out of reach. With everything falling apart around her, Viollette has to face the past and embrace truth if she’s ever going to realize the dreams she has for the daughter who means so much to her.

By the Book: Parents, even the most well-meaning Christian parents, make mistakes. Our past experiences color the way we see the world and often impact the way we raise our children. Our sins, both those we’ve sought forgiveness for and those we have yet to purge from our lives, can create difficult circumstances to overcome in our efforts to be the best parents we can be. The influence of society can also be a roadblock to effective, godly parenting by telling us we need to do this or avoid that without any respect to what God tells us about the same subjects. But through His word, God’s given us what we need to be godly parents. He’s given us His Spirit to guide us in our decisions if we’ll listen to Him. And when we mess up, isn’t it great to know we are covered by grace and mercy? Our parenting mistakes can’t hurt our children beyond God’s ability to set things right. And if we have a heart to raise our children according to His word, God will be faithful to show us how best to parent each of our amazing children.

Be Like . . .

We’ve all seen them. They flash across our Facebook and Instagram feeds trying to lure us in with their cleverness. Their goal is making a sale based on our nostalgia for a particular television series. Love like this character. Be brave like that character. Remember to laugh like this character. On through the cast the list goes until each of the show’s characters is given a trait we remember them for most. It’s a way to announce our show loyalty to the rest of the television viewing world. Tonight I’m taking a page from their playbook.

While I could easily make a list of favorite movies or television characters, I’m a reader. Instead, I’m going to give you a list of the characters I love from my favorite author. Why? Because more than any television show or movie I’ve ever watched, these characters impacted me. They showed me parts of myself or things I wish were part of myself. I learned lessons beside them. I grew in my understanding of faith right with them. They have challenged me and encouraged me through the years, and I want to thank them (and Kristen Heitzmann, the author who created them) in this small way.

I want to . . .

be RESILIENT like Abbie Ferrel (Rocky Mountain Legacy series)

be PASSIONATE like Carina Maria DiGratia (Diamond of the Rockies series)

learn to “WANT THE WAY (THINGS) WORK OUT” even when it hurts like Morgan Spencer (A Rush of Wings series)

be a completely WILLING vessel God can use like Lance Michelli (Michelli Family series)

and finally,

be REAL like Grace Evangeline who messed up big time but owned it, repented, and kept letting God use her despite the fall-out. (Told You series)

What about you? Is there a character who has touched you in a major way? How do they inspire you?

 

What I'm Reading – A Bound Heart

Ever read a book that’s so well written you come away from it thinking it was a simply beautiful story to read? That’s what I experienced reading A Bound Heart by Laura Frantz.
The cover caught my attention first. It has a very Scottish or Irish look to it. If that wasn’t enough to tempt me into buying the book, (and really why wouldn’t it be? I’m fascinated with anything Irish or Scottish) I realized the author was Laura Frantz. I’ve only read one other book by this author, but A Moonbow Night was a wonderful book.  The author’s style was impressive. I hoped it would be the same with A Bound Heart.
I was not disappointed. The story, which takes place in Scotland in the 1700s, drew me in immediately. Lark’s life on the Isle of Kerrera is simple and sweet. Raised with Magnus, the laird of Kerrera, Lark has known privileges others of her station did not. Her friendship with him changed when he married, but Lark still serves faithfully raising and preparing the herbs for the castles medicinal and culinary needs.
Rory is a ship’s captain, smuggler, and friend. Though questioning how it fits with her Christian beliefs, Lark helps him avoid capture when he brings his ship to the island. Can it be all bad when he’s taking from those who have much in order to feed those who would otherwise have little? This struggle is one issue holding Lark back from giving him her heart, though she believes it would be easy to do so.
When circumstances land all three in legal troubles, they find themselves indentured and sailing for the colonies and Jamaica. Each struggle to adapt to new surroundings and ways of life while fighting homesickness for the land and people they love.  It’s especially hard for Lark as one of the men she cares about seems bent on choices that could lead to his end and the other is in an unknown land with a reputation for putting the indentured servants in an early grave due to illness.
Lark’s faith remains throughout these trials. She turns to God for answers and strength. She trusts He has a plan for her future, but what will that future look like?

What I’m Reading – A Bound Heart

Ever read a book that’s so well written you come away from it thinking it was a simply beautiful story to read? That’s what I experienced reading A Bound Heart by Laura Frantz.

The cover caught my attention first. It has a very Scottish or Irish look to it. If that wasn’t enough to tempt me into buying the book, (and really why wouldn’t it be? I’m fascinated with anything Irish or Scottish) I realized the author was Laura Frantz. I’ve only read one other book by this author, but A Moonbow Night was a wonderful book.  The author’s style was impressive. I hoped it would be the same with A Bound Heart.

I was not disappointed. The story, which takes place in Scotland in the 1700s, drew me in immediately. Lark’s life on the Isle of Kerrera is simple and sweet. Raised with Magnus, the laird of Kerrera, Lark has known privileges others of her station did not. Her friendship with him changed when he married, but Lark still serves faithfully raising and preparing the herbs for the castles medicinal and culinary needs.

Rory is a ship’s captain, smuggler, and friend. Though questioning how it fits with her Christian beliefs, Lark helps him avoid capture when he brings his ship to the island. Can it be all bad when he’s taking from those who have much in order to feed those who would otherwise have little? This struggle is one issue holding Lark back from giving him her heart, though she believes it would be easy to do so.

When circumstances land all three in legal troubles, they find themselves indentured and sailing for the colonies and Jamaica. Each struggle to adapt to new surroundings and ways of life while fighting homesickness for the land and people they love.  It’s especially hard for Lark as one of the men she cares about seems bent on choices that could lead to his end and the other is in an unknown land with a reputation for putting the indentured servants in an early grave due to illness.

Lark’s faith remains throughout these trials. She turns to God for answers and strength. She trusts He has a plan for her future, but what will that future look like?

Pick and Choose

I’ll admit it. I only bought Thorn in My Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs because of the setting. Ireland and Scotland have always been areas of interest to me. So, I bought the book. I bought the rest in the series because of the story in the first.

I bought The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson because someone at the book store recommended it. I bought more of her books because I enjoyed the stories.

It was the cover of Carolina Dream by Regina Rudd Merrick that first drew my attention. It’s beautiful and inviting. The images on the front made me want to visit the world within. I’ve visited twice more since then as the next two books in the series were published.

I’ll buy anything with Kristen Heitzmann’s name on it. I’ve yet to find something she’s written that I don’t enjoy. In fact, she is re-doing one of her earliest sets, and I will get those when they become available. It doesn’t matter that I have the originals. Her skill has earned her books a place on my shelves every time.

Whether it’s the setting, a recommendation, a cover, or a name there is always something that draws a reader to a particular book. Occasionally we stumble onto a new writer by accident. I found Morgan Busse when I won a copy of Tainted. The book is not in my preferred genre, and I would not have purchased it for myself. It would have been my loss. I couldn’t put the book down, and I bought book two immediately. But happy accidents like this aside, most of the time some element lures us in and inspires us to choose a particular book.

In a similar way, we tend to gravitate toward certain scriptures or books of the Bible. I love a good story. Genesis, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles overflow with stories. The four gospels in the New Testament all tell the story of Jesus’ life.

I don’t like cliff-hangers. That’s why Jonah tends to frustrate me. It just sort of ends. I’m also not a fan of having to decipher between literal and figurative. I like it when things are clear and easy to follow. Though I have read it, Revelation isn’t usually my first choice because of this.

I will always have my favorites and the reasons I love them. I think most people do. But I don’t want that to stop me from seeking out God’s truth and wisdom from the entirety of scripture. The Bible, while separated into individual books, is meant to be taken as a whole as well. Each part backs up and enhances the message in the rest. It’s when the parts are put together that we get the clearest picture of who God is and what His plan for us is.

Besides, sometimes the most impactful lessons come from the place we least expect them.  Much like I was surprised by Tainted when I read it, I’ve been surprised by scripture. Doing an inductive Bible study of Romans was not something I looked forward to. Our group finished Kings and Chronicles which I loved. There was story after story to learn from and enjoy in those books. The idea of going to Romans was not as appealing. But I joined the study and gave it my best, and I came out with a new appreciation of the book. The lessons I took from that Romans study have had a big impact on my faith. Years later, truths I learned come flooding back with clarity when I need them most. I would have missed these if I’d decided not to take part.

How do you choose the books you read? Have any surprised you?

Which books of the Bible are your favorite and why? Have you ever been surprised by scripture?

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