Christian fiction always deals with faith, but these five books demonstrate how differently authors approach the matter. There’s something here for most readers, including those who are simply looking for wonderful, well-written stories.
A twist of fate
Tracie Peterson kicks off an engaging new series with Dawn’s Prelude. It is 1871 when Lydia Sellers receives word that both her father and abusive husband have been killed in the same accident. A legal twist names Lydia heir to both fortunes, and while her scheming stepchildren are determined to prevent Lydia from inheriting any of their father’s money, Lydia realizes that she is pregnant with her deceased husband’s child. Having been forced into marriage at the age of 16 by her father as part of a business deal, Lydia believes that God “didn’t care about [me]. If He did . . . why He would allow [me] such a heinous existence for twelve years of [my] life.”
Lydia flees Kansas City to live with her aunt in Alaska. But not only is she dangerously close to her murderous in-laws, she’s also landed among believers: both her aunt and the man whose arms she literally falls into are firm in their faith. Dawn’s Prelude has turns galore and convincingly scary villains, and it’s clear that Peterson will have plenty to work with in future books.
To follow an impossible dream
Jane Kirkpatrick bases her young protagonist—Jessie Gaebele, who yearns to become a photographer in 1907 Minnesota—after her grandmother in A Flickering Light. Jessie comes from a religious family with a long list of things that are not allowed. Though money is tight, they agree to allow her to work as an unpaid apprentice for six months to photographer F.J. Bauer. Bauer has a troubled marriage to another Jessie and is still reeling from the loss of a child. A Flickering Light makes small-town Minnesota come alive, and the difficulties, dangers and early growth of photography are vividly portrayed; so too are the inner conflicts faced by the two Jessies and the man between them. It is here that faith and its requirements reside. Jessie finds herself increasingly attracted to her employer; he returns her feelings. Mrs. Bauer, perhaps the most fascinating character in a story filled with well-drawn ones, is battling her own demons. But the novel is young Jessie’s story—she is blessed with faith stronger than she realizes, as well as parents wiser than she suspects. Jessie finds herself “given grace, an unwarranted second chance.” She will use it to follow her dream.
For chick lit fans
Another Jessie takes center stage in Never the Bride, contemporary chick lit by Cheryl McKay and Rene Gutteridge. Jessie Stone has spent much of her life planning how she might be proposed to. But she’s in her 30s, with no proposals in her past or near future. After a discouraging evening of speed dating she wonders aloud, “[W]hen has God ever shown up to help me?” Almost impossibly, God—young, good-looking and funny—soon shows up in her living room, offering his own challenge: let him write her love story. He knows what kind of man she wants and is prepared to find him.
Never the Bride is often laugh-out-loud funny, but it is also a poignant tale about Jessie’s past and what happens when an ordinary person begins to see God—and those around her don’t. That Jessie has a history of seeing people and things others don’t—at nine she was sent to a psychologist because of an imaginary friend—further complicates matters. Jessie has a lot of difficulty letting go, refusing at times to listen to God and to do what he asks. She’s a loveable character and you want her to have her happy ending, but also to realize that her fantasies have never gone beyond the wedding to recognize the hard work of marriage. Contemporary romance Judy Christie begins her career as a novelist with Gone to Green, the first in the Route 2 series. Big city newspaper editor Lois Barker inherits The Green News-Item, a twice-weekly paper in northern Louisiana. She can sell the paper, but only after she’s run it for a year. Lois quickly has to adjust her ideas about what the town of Green will be like, while acknowledging that Green and the paper have its own expectations of her. Lois lost her faith after her mother’s death, and she’s reluctant—despite a positive encounter with a minister—to become involved in a church.
Green weaves a spell on Lois, who becomes actively involved in the community that proves to be rife with corruption, scandal and racial discrimination. Still, she resists the pull of the town and its people, planning on selling the paper. No astute reader will be really surprised at what Lois finally decides, but the journey is enjoyable, and it will be interesting to see where the series goes next.
The end of days
Whether it’s in L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, or Rob Stennett’s The End is Now, there’s something about Kansas. In Stennett’s case, the inaptly named Goodland, Kansas, is about to play host to the apocalypse. What’s worse, Goodland is the only target; consider it a dress rehearsal to work out all the kinks for the real deal. Practice run or not, this is little consolation for the Henderson family, who find themselves smack dab in the middle of all the chaos. While lost in a cornfield, it is 10-year old Will who first receives visions of the darkness that will descend, as if he didn’t already have enough on his plate trying to navigate the fifth grade. The news isn’t much welcomed by his sister Emily either, who fears the end may come before homecoming queen is announced. Through it all, their parents, Amy and Jeff, struggle to keep the family afloat and themselves out of hot water, all while the rains get thicker and the clouds get darker.
With good humor tempered by tenderness, Stennett offers readers a thoughtful, fresh spin on the traditional teachings, and effectively portrays the apocalypse in our modern world. With equal parts thriller, mystery and satire, this is a novel almost guaranteed to enrapture readers of all beliefs.
Joanne Collings writes from Washington, D.C.