Good Christian fiction does what all great fiction does—it introduces us to characters and stories that make us think, feel and reflect. And this year’s crop is no different. From a retelling of a classic biblical story to a modern take on faith and family, our selections will have you reading late into the night.
A versatile writer, Walter Wangerin Jr. has written fiction and nonfiction for adults and children. In Naomi and Her Daughters, Wangerin utilizes the books of Judges and Ruth to boldly retell an often-marginalized biblical story. Not a child’s Sunday-school version, Naomi’s life story is sometimes a tough read; the environment was harsh, the language rough, and women and children were treated as a second (or third) class during the Old Testament era. Still, timeless issues like murder, war, heartbreak and, of course, the power of love, manage to come to the forefront. Wangerin is adept at neither glorifying nor mollifying this pivotal biblical character, who changes not only the lives around her, but also the course of an entire nation. This novel might forever change the way you think about brave, heroic Naomi.
River Jordan’s The Miracle of Mercy Land is set before WWII when the name Hitler was unfamiliar to most. Mercy, a preacher’s daughter raised in rural Alabama, moves up to the “big city,” Bay City—not much of a city at all. There she lands a job as an assistant editor to Doc, head of The Banner, the largest newspaper around. And just as world events are about to change everything, Doc discovers an omnipotent, mysterious book that details the choices each citizen of Bay City has made, paths taken and paths abandoned. Mercy is brought in on Doc’s overwhelming discovery, which forces her to make hard decisions, ones that will determine causes and effects for the rest of her life. Jordan’s writing is as smooth and Southern as molasses, all the way to the last page. And there the reader, like several of the characters in this novel, will leave with a sense of wonderment at how life might have changed if we had made different choices along the way.
ANYTHING BUT ORDINARY
Kit Livingstone has led a terribly humdrum life. Even his girlfriend is dull. But soon all that changes when, with the help of his deceased great-grandfather, Kit is catapulted into worlds unknown in The Skin Map, the first book of the Bright Empires series by prolific writer Stephen R. Lawhead. Dynamic settings are mixed with unpredictable adventures as we follow Kit through his new life, which includes parallel worlds and time travel. Most interesting is the lost map many are battling to find, the map that is crucial to traveling the cosmos and, more importantly, getting back to Earth. And yes, it’s tattooed on the mapmaker. But soon the reader discovers that, as intriguing as the map is, that’s not the real prize. It’s only square one. Although some of the characters seem a bit underdeveloped, this fantasy adventure is a terrific foundation for the next books coming in the series.
AN EPIC LOVE TRIANGLE
Valeria’s Cross, by Kathi Macias and Susan Wales, has everything a love story should have: clashing religions, adultery, murder and betrayal. That pretty much describes Valeria’s newly arranged marriage, too. The co-authors create authentic kings and countries, castles and bravery in this tale of a third-century Roman marriage. Against panoramic settings and woven with accurately portrayed history, the story centers on Valeria, the young daughter of a Roman emperor. She falls in love with a captain of the Theban Legion who is murdered by Galerius for being a Christian. Soon Valeria is caught in a political nightmare and is forced to marry the man who murdered her true love. Strong-willed Valeria has many hurdles to overcome, not least the challenge of becoming a loving wife to a man she despises. A strong thread throughout this tale is how Valeria, like most of us, struggles with her beliefs when life hits hard. This is a story of how faith and love can overcome even the most impossible hardships.
WE ARE FAMILY
Carla Stewart’s debut novel, Chasing Lilacs, plunges right into serious life challenges, including some 1950s methods of dealing with mental illness, suicide and painful coming-of age traumas. But overshadowing all that is a warm, compelling tale with characters who will stay with you for quite a while. Sammie Tucker, who lives in a small town in Texas, is forced to grow up fast. Her mom has, as they used to say to hide the shame, “nerve problems,” something that keeps Sammie questioning her own emotional health long after her mother’s suicide. Full of unanswered questions, Sammie has to learn how to trust and love again. Stewart’s storytelling has readers feeling the Texas midday sun, smelling whiffs of lilacs and remembering the taste of Ovaltine. Those who lived during the 1950s will have delightful flashbacks, and those who didn’t will get a true glimpse into that era. All will identify with Sammie and the friends and family who deeply influence her search for the truth about her family—and herself.
SAVOR THE MOMENT
In Billy Coffey’s Snow Day, Peter Boyd is an ordinary man who learns to look at even the most insignificant things in life just a bit differently. Against the setting of a surprise snowfall, Peter’s cozy world is turned upside down when he hears the dreadful D word at work: downsizing. This news, coupled with an unplanned day off, forces him to move a little slower and look beyond the shallows. Each chapter, a story within itself, allows us to visit a simple town to meet lively characters, each worth taking the time to get to know. It’s a heartwarming story about how God speaks to us in the most unexpected ways, even when we aren’t paying attention. Snow Day is a well-written reminder: Don’t wait for a detour to force you to pause and savor life’s little moments. Savor them now.